Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
~ GK Chesterton

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Wistful Thinking

After dinner one night, it occurred to me that the people in my family (those who share my household, not those who have visited as guests) hardly ever, if ever, thank me for cooking meals other than the ones they happen to like.

That stings a bit.  The hundreds (thousands!) of times I prepare food, the only time I get a thanks is when picky people are actually pleased with what I’ve prepared.

I don’t like to be a Negative Nelly and I don’t approve of sulking, even when I’m the one doing it.  I share these wistful thoughts because I have a positive remedy.

I wonder what things I neglect in telling or showing my family.  What things do they do that go unappreciated by me?  Please, God, open my eyes!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Creating a Catholic Culture in Your Home

The Lord is the living stone, rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him; set yourselves close to him so that you too, the holy priesthood that offers the spiritual sacrifices which Jesus Christ has made acceptable to God, may be living stones making a spiritual house.
1 Peter 2: 4-5

We are called to be living stones.  We should strive to be living stones. 

This section is a challenge to write, only because “Creating a Catholic Culture in Your Home” is going to look different for every family.  It’s akin to writing about how to create a comfortable home – the definition of ‘comfort’ is fluid, varying from person to person, family to family.

I’ve written that I believe a Catholic culture is one in which Catholicism is woven into the fiber of life.  It seems to me that this infusion can be split into two aspects: a personal expression of Catholic culture and a societal expression of Catholic culture.

One’s personal Catholicism might be obvious, but it might be subtle, or even hidden.  Obvious signs you are a practicing Catholic: you attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, you have a Mary statue in the garden, you have icons on your walls, etc.  Less obvious expressions of your Catholicism:  it inspires you to volunteer to coach your kids’ baseball teams, run for public office, or to go out of your way to be respectful to cashiers, clerks, or servers you meet outside your home.  It’s not that perfectly nice secular people wouldn’t do these things, but it could be that you choose these things as a result of reflection on how you will live out your faith.

A societal expression of Catholicism, too, can be either obvious or subtle.  Obvious signs that Catholicism has touched a society: beautiful churches that are architecturally obviously Catholic, businesses that  are closed on religious holidays and Sundays, the presence of wayside shrines, crucifixes on display, and the like.  Subtler signs are the things that are so subtly Catholic that the secularists think they invented them out of the kindness of their heart.  Here I channel Thomas Woods and his How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization: universities, hospitals, charitable organizations, international law, or the concept of human rights, to name but a few. That was not the United Nations that gave us all that, folks; it was the Catholic Church’s influence on culture.

Western civilization is not only rich with Catholic identity, its very DNA is Catholic.  Art, science, literature, music, architecture . . . it’s all there.  While Catholics of good conscience can disagree on what makes good art, literature, music, etc., it’s my opinion that the secularization of our culture shows all too well in many aspects of art, science, literature, music, and architecture.

A note of caution here.  I do not believe that creating or reviving a Catholic culture means turning a cold shoulder on the things that aren’t strictly Catholic.  Many years ago, one of my daughters was part of a discussion in which the children were told they should avoid all TV and read only saints’ biographies.  I disagree.  I believe, passionately, in seeing the world through Catholic-tinted lenses.  This means engaging the culture where it is.  There are books, movies, pieces of art that don’t mention God or Christianity once, yet are imbued with lessons in virtue, messages of redemption, or that show the Holy Spirit can work through anyone.  There are also forms of art that purport to be meaningful (things secular, but sometimes things labeled ‘religious’) that are junk.  A person who lives with Catholicism infused into life, who sees the world through Catholic-tinted lenses,  can discern the difference.  I repeat, beauty in art is something about which Catholics of good conscience can disagree.  I’m fine with each person sorting this out for themselves, acknowledging that this isn’t black and white.  Thus, you are free to dislike the works of Jane Austen or Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, but don’t tell me that I shouldn’t enjoy them because they aren’t Catholic.

There is a book I stumbled upon just recently.  Rebuilding Catholic Culture: How the Catechism Can Shape Our Common Life by Ryan Topping.  I haven’t had the chance to finish it, but I shall borrow from it because something from the Introduction fits perfectly with what I’ve been trying to describe.  In the Introduction, Dr. Topping has this to say about Catholic culture:

We can pray for Catholic renewal everywhere; but all good work begins at home.  Thus, Catholic culture refers to that excellence in thought and manner of life which properly accrues to a people, namely, the Church.  The center is the celebration of the Mass.  Swirling out from this is a way of life elevated and ennobled by the gospel, touching, as it must, upon the artistic, economic, philosophical, and communal dimensions of existence.  At the same time, a culture so defined can take on distinctive forms.  Catholic thought and piety will surely not look the same in America as in Armenia; that our Lady appeared at Guadalupe takes nothing away from the devotion that Europeans give to her at Lourdes.  Every nation can contribute distinctively to this universal human culture; none can flourish apart from it.

 It was fortuitous timing, finding this book just now.  This paragraph proves I’m on to something:

All good work begins at home  =  personal expression
Universal human culture  =   societal expression

Below is a list of concrete things Catholic might do to create a Catholic culture in the home.  This is just the tip of the iceberg; I will be adding more to the blog in part of the ongoing collection of activities, lessons, and spiritual practices.

·         Celebration of Feasts:  celebrate feast days special to your family such as the child’s patron saint day, the Baptismal anniversary, etc.
·         Reclaim Sundays as a special day: Mass and a special meal with a special dessert.  Try to do some fun family-centered activity.  A picnic, movie night, etc.  Some families won’t do any shopping or participate in sports on Sundays. 
·         Mass.  Adoration.  Are you able to add a weekday Mass to your schedule? Attend Adoration as a family?
·         Pay attention to the liturgical calendar and weave the feasts and seasons into daily life.
·         Reclaim Catholic disciplines that have been forgotten, such as Friday fasting from meat.  This practice was never abolished, but merely expanded to include other forms of fasting.  It isn’t easy for young children to fast from food; it’s impossible for children with health concerns, such as food allergies.  That doesn’t mean you cannot fast from screen time or desserts.  
·         Begin the discipline of choosing to fast the day before a feast.  A child once told me, regarding giving up treats, “It’s more special, when you cannot have it all the time.” 
·         Homeschoolers: weave religion into all subjects; interdisciplinary.  All parents: weave it into conversation at dinner, in the car, etc.

My whole reason for the “Children and Prayer” section of this blog is to create a collection of writings about how to raise children to be prayerful, so that they can develop their relationship with God.  Thus, the following quote is a fitting conclusion to the idea of creating a Catholic culture in your home.  It’s from Pope Benedict XVI, from December 28, 2011, on the importance of family prayer:

The house of Nazareth is a school of prayer where we learn to listen, to meditate, to penetrate the deepest meaning of the manifestation of the Son of God, drawing our example from Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.

The Holy Family is an icon of the domestic Church, which is called to pray together.  The family is the first school of prayer where, from their infancy, children learn to perceive God thanks to the teaching and example of their parents.  An authentically Christian education cannot neglect the experience of prayer.  If we do not learn to pray in the family, it will be difficult to fill in this gap later.  I would, then, like to invite people to rediscover the beauty of praying together as a family, following the school of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Outrage Addicted?

Here is an article that has been haunting me.

Outrage Addiction: Its harm on the spiritual life and on the mission of the Church

I am guilty, guilty, guilty of getting very caught up in current events.  When crises hit, I can get a little addicted to checking the latest news headlines.  There's a lot of outrage to be found in the events of the day.  The problem I have is that I tend to slip into despair needlessly.

Happily, remedies are provided in the article.  Prayer as a remedy is already practiced by the wise; one that the Catholic outrage-addicted know about, but still have to work a bit before it is their default setting.
Their relationship with God suffers as the outrage becomes an idol unto itself.  The outrage-addicted seem to believe that the power of outrage is greater than the power of God to move hearts and souls.  One clue is when more time is spent reading and discussing things to be outraged over than there is invested in prayer over those things, and for the people involved in them.  A cloistered monk or nun does more to move hearts of stone through their sacrifices and intercessions without being aware of anything to be outraged over. 
Yes.  I have been guilty of fuming over injustice when I could be praying over it.  I agree that the cloistered religious are choosing the better part, even without being aware of the issues at hand that cause the outrage.  I have faith that prayer is efficacious, when offering up general terms for those struggling with difficulties, even without having each detail as it is reported by the 24/7 news cycle.

Now, I don't believe that noticing the injustice of this world is bad, in and of itself.  But when knowledge fuels despair, a different approach is needed.  Sure, scan the news headlines of the day . . .  but then do something positive about the bad things in the world by offering a spiritual approach.  Interestingly, even voices in the secular world call for re-evaluating our approach to current events as this approach pertains to our general well-being: see Dr. Weil's recommended news fasts.

Let us look at the Carmelite approach, shall we?

St. Teresa of Avila, the antidote to outrage addiction:
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
St. John of the Cross:
"For the afflictions and disturbances engendered in a soul through adversities are no help in remedying these adversities; rather, distress and worry ordinarily make things worse and even do harm to the soul itself.  Thus David proclaimed: 'Indeed every human being is disturbed in vain. [Ps. 39:6]"
Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Ch. 3

"Clearly, it is always vain to be disturbed, since being disturbed is never any help.  Thus if the whole world were to crumble and come to an end and all things were to go wrong, it would be useless to get disturbed, for this would do more harm than good."
Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Ch. 3

Friday, July 25, 2014

7QT: Hot Button Topics for Contemporary Catholics

Is there something in the air?  I don’t usually plan a theme, but a theme seems to form itself very often.  This week’s theme seems to be “hot button topics for contemporary Catholics.”

~  ONE  ~
Those “coexist” bumper stickers annoy me.  Not because I am against mankind learning to get along, but because I know the spirit in which we’re being lectured to co-exist.  I have a secular humanist past.  I know that the religious believers of the world are being looked down upon as petulant children who cannot get along.  You know, bitterly clinging to our guns and religion.  That’s why I love this graphic, borrowed from Fr. Z.

~  TWO  ~
My answers to questions about gay “marriage.”  Leila’s gonna get some hate mail about this, but she handles it well.   The Church cannot change on this position any more than they could say that water has three hydrogen atoms.  Just because you may FEEL the sun rises in the west and you convince legislators to say so doesn’t mean it is so.  That secular humanist I was?  She would have said that marriage was a bourgeois institution and who would want it anyway.  But if she was intellectually honest, she would have said gay ‘marriage’ made no evolutionary sense.  If I’m a Catholic hater, I guess I was a pseudo-marxist hater, too.  Still, I wouldn’t call myself a hater, I call myself a person who has been desperately seeking logic and order most of her life.  Secular society hasn't done well at helping fulfill that need.  Hence, I'm not longer a secular humanist!

~  THREE  ~
From Pat Archbold.  Why Prophesy? A very balanced look at prophecies.  I am never comfortable with the extreme positions on prophesies.  The takeaway:

Why prophecy?  Correction and hope. Is it necessary for our salvation? No. But I am very grateful that we have it.

 ~ FOUR  ~
Elizabeth Foss does a recurring post: needle & thREAD.  A link-up in which readers share what they are sewing and what they are reading.  I wish I could participate, but any sewing I do drags out so long that my thread part of thREAD would likely be the same project for about three years.  Ahem.  The most recent post contains a book recommendation: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.  I would say that my husband and I are doing the marriage thing pretty well, but one point in particular has been haunting me: EDIT YOURSELF.  Ouch.  I know, I know!  Just plain shutting up can be so very hard, but so very valuable in the long run.

~  FIVE  ~
I read Fr. Fox’s The Problem with Pornography on the same day a friend posted her thoughts on FB about the whole Fifty Shades phenomenon. She asked how women would feel if their husbands were getting all excited about a new porn movie, because that’s what women are doing. Yes, men who are susceptible must avoid getting sucked into pornography; women need to realize that there are female versions of it, too.

But, let us poke fun at Fifty Shades.  I have an amusing story.  A couple of years ago, a woman came to the community pool and took out a book to read whilst her kids were swimming.  Another woman there noticed what it was and the two chatted in a shouldn’t-we-be-ashamed/I-can’t-help-it-it’s-fun conversation.  I tried to surreptitiously glance at the book in question, never having heard such talk since the seventh grade when a few girls were reading Jackie Collins.  I could only make out that the author’s name was E /Some Initial/Some Last Name.  Being a political geek, I thought they were embarrassed to be reading a book by E.J.Dionne, since he’s a liberal writer.  No, it was E.L. James.  Ugh.

~  SIX  ~
Small Things is a blog I visit regularly.  Ginny did a guest post over at Ann Voskamp’s site.  She wrote a touching and personal story of what she learned about letting go.  The Secret Relief You Have to Know When You’re Overwhelmed.  At first, I didn’t think I was going to connect with this article, because my need for order and control come from a different place than hers.  Fitting the profile of Highly Sensitive Person, I have come to understand that mess and clutter aren’t about control (for me!) as they are about too much visual stimulation making me stressed and tired.  But, at the end of the article, Ginny writes about learning to rest, taking time to relax, following God’s decision to have us rest one day a week.  It hit me that a lot of my chaos is internal – and her advice was spot on!

~  SEVEN  ~
Fabulous link here.  Anti-Woman?  Five Reasons the Catholic Church is the Most Pro-Woman Institution in Existence.  That secular humanist I was once upon a time?  She needed this!  Would her heart have been moved?  Meh . . . likely, she would have scorned the list as being too heavy with women in support positions (mothers, wives).  However, that would go to show how na├»ve she was about the hand that rocks the cradle being the hand that rules the world.  Her vision of power was very worldly.

Controversial enough for you today?  Thanks to Jennifer for hosting 7 Quick Takes!