Sunday, October 25, 2009

Got Guilt?

Whenever I hear the expression "Catholic guilt", I can't help but cringe. What does that even mean? I had struggles with overwhelming feelings of guilt long before I became Catholic. I know some folks have grown up in Catholic environments that were more concerned about right and wrong than about why right and wrong matter and Who calls us to share in His right living. This is a travesty, but honestly, not uncommon within Protestantism either.

In a sense, all proper guilt is "Catholic". Catholic means "universal", and the Catholic Church is the only Church that upholds the fullness of Christian moral truths everywhere and at all times. These truths apply to all Christians and even non-Christians whether they know it or not. So any rightly placed guilt in having done something that is truly wrong or failing to do something one ought to have done is guilt against the universal truths of moral right and wrong revealed by the Maker Himself (and defended and promoted by His Church).

The sense of being crushed under the weight of ceaseless guilt may be understandable before one has brought their failings intentionally before Christ for forgiveness, but why does it often linger for Christian folks of all different faith traditions? It's a psychological struggle to which human beings are simply susceptible. It may be conditioned by overbearing religious persons from one's life, or it may be an innate struggle with perfectionism. Sometimes we just have a hard time forgiving ourselves or believing God can forgive us when we've done something "so terrible". In a sense, it's natural to feel that way. Complete forgiveness is supernatural, and it can be hard for our human minds and emotions to grasp.

I struggle much less with that sense of lingering guilt as a Catholic Christian than when I was Protestant. The reason? The Sacrament of Penance (or Confession). When I examine my conscience as thoroughly as I can, accuse myself point blank of all intentional and unintentional sin, desire to sin no more, and hear Christ's words of absolution spoken through His priest, I know my sins are forgiven. Christ, in His mercy and understanding of human needs has given us the Sacrament of Penance so that we may hear His words of forgiveness (just as we hear His words spoken in Scripture through his chosen human authors). In Confession we find certainty to ease our tendency toward harboring guilty feelings; we hear Christ's words of forgiveness for our personal sins with our own ears.

Let us never fail to remind one another and ourselves that God is calling us to freedom... freedom from being a slave of sin, freedom from being crushed by guilt, freedom to confess and get back up and press on every time we fall, freedom to find true love, joy and happiness in our merciful Savior.

In Matthew 5:25 Christ says: "Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison." We can apply these words to those instances when we are being accused by the enemies of our souls (Satan and his fellow fallen angels). If the accusations are legitimate, agree with them, and quickly confess your crimes directly to the Judge Himself for He will be your defense and pardon. The accuser no longer has anything to hold over your head.

Reflecting on the final petition in the Lord's Prayer - "but deliver us from evil", Rev. Peter John Cameron, O.P., writes in this month's Magnificat :
Christians do not try to deny their evil, rationalize it, make excuses for it, blame others for it, or despair over it - all marks of being black-mailed by the Evil One. Rather, in the knowledge of our sins, we simply turn in confidence to the Father and ask him to deliver us. The "glory" of the Christian is our great certainty when accused by what is scandalous and damning about us. We are not defined by our sin. We are defined by who we belong to: our Father.
We've all got guilt; give me the Catholic kind!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow, Annie

Below is my response to the most recent post on the Abortion Clinic Day's blog. Please see their post titled: "Annie's Story" - Saturday, April 12, 2008 - before proceeding.

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I appreciate the realism expressed thus far regarding the difficulty people have with overcoming drug addiction. I too hope and pray that Annie's mother will truly be motivated to reach out for help and find permanent healing from her addiction so that she can be the mother and now grandmother she ought to be. It could very well be that her moral compass isn't so badly broken after all.

Perhaps she realized "I'm a grandmother!" (even though her grandchild is still in the womb) and that this little one's life is in jeopardy partly due to her own failings. Perhaps she was able for the first time in a long time to see beyond herself, her problems, and her cravings. Perhaps she knows the physical and emotional trauma that her own daughter was about to enter into.

I too hope that Annie will not place her hopes so heavily upon her mother's promise that she finds herself regretting the decision to continue the life of her child. But, even if her mother breaks her heart again, it seems that this promise is still a great blessing. For if this emotional outcry from her mother had not occurred when it did, Annie would be today recovering from a long abortion procedure with her head swimming with questions in the wake.

Although carrying her child for another 4 months or so and facing the various medical costs and difficult decisions regarding parenting will be an uphill battle in many ways, hopefully it will allow Annie to also see the world through new eyes. Perhaps she would consider blessing a couple out there who is ready and eager to have a child. It is a courageous and self-less act of love for a child to find him or her a loving home when one feels they are not able to provide well themselves.

[By the way, I know a woman who aborted her first and unexpected child and another who gave her child to an infertile married couple due to great financial and emotional difficulties in her own life. Both have regrets and don't like to talk too much about their experience, but one of them also gets to see pictures of her beautiful daughter and hear updates about her life with her adoptive family - healthy, involved, secure - and hear about her own successes in college.]

Or perhaps one day, several months from now, after hours of intense labor, she'll hold a helpless, soft-haired baby girl in her arms, oblivious then to her pain and fatigue and think, "You are mine! I love you. I would do anything for you. How could I have ever thought of not having you in my life." And perhaps Annie's prerogatives will change. She'll still want to succeed in life and move far beyond the dysfunction she was submitted to, but now she will want to be a strong example to her little girl (or boy) of overcoming adversity and sacrificing oneself for another. (Something her own mother, by God's grace, just might learn to do at last.)

Annie's dreams are beautiful. She has looked at the cards she's been dealt and said, "I don't want to play this same old game. I'm getting out of here and going to go out into the real world and make a life for myself." The problem is, poor Annie doesn't seem to be getting any good advice re: her choices on the front end of things. I am referring to her sexual choices. These choices preceded and directly lead to her pregnancy.

I understand if Annie is sexually active with someone because she wants to feel loved, to enjoy the exhilaration of sexual pleasure or even to feel like she is making someone else happy and is thus "wanted". These are pretty natural longings, but there are unhealthy and imprudent ways to go about seeking to fulfill them. If Annie continues to choose to engage sexually with a man this side of marriage, even if she uses "protection" (as if she is going into battle), she is risking the natural consequences (see below).

And if she doesn't want that man to be the father of her child, all the more reason to abstain. Contraception isn't fool proof, and unfortunately, its use can also lead a couple to a false sense of safety from conception and STDs. (Not to mention the unnecessary, negative, physical side-effects of hormonal contraception vs. no side affects with abstaining from the get go.)

Abstaining is not easy when one is thirsty to feel loved, when one has had their sexual drive stroked by countless perverse examples at every turn in our culture, and when one is in the habit of being sexually involved. Saving sex until one is married to the man they WANT to have children with has many physical and emotional benefits. Annie would be free now to focus on her education, to discern a respectful and loving relationship with someone, and not have to worry about contraception, pregnancy, or the emotional woes of a sexually involved, pseudo-committed relationship right now if only someone had taught her all this sooner.

If you talk to Annie again, please send her first of all to Gabriel Project, a national charitable, pregnancy-assistance organization that can help her find housing, pay her medical expenses, get on her feet before and after the birth, and even pair her up with another woman who can support her through her pregnancy and decisions she will face with the approaching birth of her first, and unexpected child.

Secondly, please let Annie know that she needs to change her course regarding her sexual decisions from this point forward. This really is more loving than arming her with contraceptives and sending her back out into the battlefield that is casual sex. The risks of continued pre-marital sexual activity are clear:
- Future unexpected pregnancy and possible abortion(s)
- Contracting an STD (or two)
- Unpleasant side-effects from hormonal contraceptives
- Bonding emotionally and biologically with someone who is not her ideal husband/future-father-of-her-children or who is not going to be committed to her for the long haul [We can't divorce our body and soul from one another, after all, nor can we suppress forever the desire written on our hearts for an intimate, loving, life-time relationship]
- Habituating herself to compromise
- Damaged reputation
- Lost time and energy spent worrying about any/all of the above
- Loosing the novelty and beauty of sexual union with someone who knows and cherishes her completely, for life [Isn't casual sex a second rate experience in light of all that it could be and is meant to be?]

I'm not advocating mere abstinence-only, nor am I advocating a joyless life in long skirts, high-buttoned sweaters, and a chastity belt. I'm advocating that Annie take a look at the gift of her sexuality and embrace it more fully. She should know that is something to not be wasted or treated casually; it is something to treasure and enjoyed to the fullest, in self-respect and complete giving of self with the man who has taken her as his own beloved partner for life. What woman doesn't want that?! (And who says it will never come so we might as well take what we can get now?! Besides, I'm not going be on my death bed one day thinking, "Man, if only I'd had a whole lot of sexually stimulating experiences before marriage! That's the whole purpose of life!")

She can start fresh. But it takes lifestyle changes. Yeah, she may have invest in a spunky, but modest wardrobe that helps her show outwardly her inward self-respect - not allowing herself to seek love in the dime-a-dozen, lustful gaze of men on the street or at a bar. (Not that I have any idea if this is Annie's lifestyle at all. Just an example of a practical change of action and perspective.) It's about living the attitude of purity (no matter what one has done or been through before) in all of life's little decisions - not just saying, "Hey, I'm not going to have sex with you, but I don't mind getting as close as we can and making ourselves sexually frustrated and tempted to the max."

So send Annie to something like the Pure Love Club website or Dawn Eden's book THRILL OF THE CHASTE for some guidance on this crazy concept of chastity. Choosing (even as a single-mother) to save sexual intimacy for marriage from this point forward is really one of the best steps Annie can take to help her focus her energies well on succeeding in school and a career and ending the cycle of poverty and dysfunction in her life.

Also, once Annie is married, she can consider postponing having children via Natural Family Planning (NFP) if need be. There are several of these all-natural methods to choose from that are: safe, scientific, and highly effective if practiced properly. Plus, it can further unify a couple as they must work together to practice NFP. It can also be used (without any reversal time) to seek conception when desired. And it familiarizes a woman with her body in such a way that she is more likely to notice any abnormalities in her reproductive or general health. It just requires some discipline and communication. Not bad things to have in a marriage I think. :-)

Don't get me wrong, I commend all of the posters and bloggers here for the clear desire to help Annie and women who are in similar situations. It would be strange if any of us wished for her to not succeed in life or to be stuck in a dysfunctional, drug-filled environment. And of course, none of us want her child to have to live through those same things. But there are many charitable groups out there who will help Annie get out of and away from her family of origin, find safe housing and support, stay healthy during her pregnancy, re-evaluate her goals, and make the best decision for herself AND her baby.

Annie is a mother already; her child is merely growing in the shelter of her womb. He or she is utterly dependent on Annie now. It is an inhumane choice for a woman to go against her maternal instinct and will the death of her child. Women choose abortion because they feel they have no other choice, and in that sense it is not a free choice - although we are each ultimately culpable for what we decide in the end.

This is Annie's chance to make a courageous sacrifice for another, a choice for which God will no doubt bless her. She is not the first to choose to say, "This is my body given up for you," and she will be richly rewarded for it! Is not the gift of life itself more valuable than having a life without hardship? I understand why many feel it is a lesser evil to take a child's life in his earliest stages than to risk having him endure horrible life circumstances and also having his mother's life plans disrupted. But we cannot commit a direct evil in order to thwart another potential evil. Evils cannot be avoided in this life; we will each endure them.

Is the purpose of life to have it easy? Is not the human will designed such that it rails against injustice and fights against all odds to achieve what is good? Have not countless people throughout human history bravely fought their way out of horrendous circumstances (such as Annie has been in her whole life) only to achieve great things? (Think of Frederick Douglas!) And none of us yet knows just who Annie's little boy or girl will grow up to be and what he or she will accomplish!

There are groups very willing to help Annie secure a good life for her child as well as herself, so please pass along the info I mentioned above to her and any other women like her. (And may I add Feminists for Life?) This situation is not at all what Annie has wanted or envisioned for her life, but why can she not look back on it in the end and say, "It's not what I wanted. It's not what I would have chosen. It was not easy. But I did what was right and good and self-less in the face of it, and the story has woven together with such a beauty as I could never have imagined. I lived life to the full; I lived it well, and all unexpected things were actually unexpected opportunities for deeper happiness."

I'm glad Annie will now have the chance to stop and think beyond the utter overwhelmingness of her circumstances in this one period in her life.

"Women with unplanned pregnancy deserve to experience unexpected joy." - Patricia Heaton, Actress (Everybody Love Raymond)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Lover, What's on Your Mind?


Ever been in love? Ever long simply to hear what the other is thinking? And you want to tell them what's on your mind because they have a way of clarifying your thoughts? You "get" each other. You "click". Conversation flows. And there is serenity even in silently breathing in the same space.

A religious sister told me a story last night about a couple she knows. They married young and had children, then the wife developed Multiple Sclerosis that eventually completely debilitated her. She had to be hospitalized and could no longer speak. The only way she could communicate was with her eyes which she could still move at will. Her husband would often come to her side, tenderly holding her hand, and they would stare into one another's eyes for hours. They were communicating without words. He would later say that the most intimate, profound times he ever shared with his wife were those silent moments of a thousand words passing through their mutual and loving gaze.

I've often prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide me out of my perfectionistic tendencies via some miracle or word of wisdom from without. (This is going to tie in with all I've said. Hang in there.) I've also been asking St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (aka Edith Stein) to pray for and guide me in simmering my many interests down into one substantial passion so that I can focus on what the Lord would most have me focus on. Sister Teresa Benedicta was particularly gifted with single-minded determination and an unusual ability to focus on one thing at a time and see it through. (She would posit in her talks on the "feminine soul" that this is often one of woman's greatest challenges.)

Edith Stein always had an intense gaze and seemed to be pondering mysteries far beyond the present moment. After her conversion to the Catholic faith from atheism, she would grow to love spending hours at a time before Jesus in the most holy Sacrament in adoration. This silent, penetrating gaze shared with our Lord delighted her soul more than anything.

Today at Mass, I was contemplating my struggles with perfectionism and scattered passions, and also thinking of how much I love to hear the thoughts of a particular friend and to share our hearts with one another. I often turn to them when I need help thinking through important subjects about which I know little. And then it dawned on me ... I long to be in the presence of our Lord and say...

"Tell me what's on YOUR mind. Help me focus my thoughts by sharing Your own with me. Tell me so that I can learn to see through Your eyes what is really important and what I ought to think upon above all else. When You think about me and my life, what thoughts pervade? Tell me so that I can think them too, so that I can rethink my own thoughts and desires. Bring me out of my own head with your intimate gaze, and bring me into Your world. Let me rest my head on Your chest, and tell me Lover, what's on YOUR mind?"

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Do Not Toast Walnuts in the Same Oven in Which You are Baking Fish

This is my personal proverb for the evening. Eating such walnuts is about as enjoyable as drinking a glass of orange juice right after you have brushed your teeth.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Happy Holy Thursday!


It's Holy Thursday (or Maundy Thursday) of Holy Week!Holy Week began last Sunday - Palm Sunday - with the commemoration of Christ's "triumphal" entrance into Jerusalem. (See John 12:12-17) Tonight is the anniversary of the night that Jesus instituted Holy Communion (or the Eucharist). This night He also instituted the priesthood during the Last Supper in which he gave His Apostles the authority to consecrate the elements for Communion. At the Masses being celebrated tonight, the priests will wash the feet of 12 men just as this night Christ washed the feet of His Apostles, even knowing that many of them would deny Him shortly thereafter during His passion. (See John 13:1-17.)

See Luke 22:1-38, Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-31, and John 12:12-18:11.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Long time no blog :-)

For many months now when I go forward to receive our Lord's body & blood in Communion, I have found myself praying, "Mary, thank you for saying 'yes' to God. Thank you for offering your body for the creation of the body of our Lord so that I may receive Him now. Help me to be like you in holiness, purity, and love and total surrender to our Lord."

This prayer organically sprung up from within me one day as I was in the Communion line and looking up realized that the church's lovely statue of Mary is directly behind where the priest stands and in my line of vision as I look ahead. I find this statue particularly beautiful; it is a welcome aid to my devotional thoughts on the historical reality of God's plan unfolding in human history and time through the lives of real people of day's past.

When receiving Christ's body, we are in a certain sense also receiving Mary's body. If (as the Church has held from the earliest days) the Eucharist is substantially, in essence, the actual body and blood of our Lord (although in it's accidental properties it remains bread) then we are consuming the body of Christ which was formed from Mary's flesh and no other person. It is an interesting thing to meditate upon. It just makes me appreciate her role and the special bond she must have felt with Jesus as she nurtured him, marveled at his growth in wisdom and grace, saw him begin His public ministry, saw him scourged and tortured, then encountered Him in His glorified, risen body. I find it very helpful to my own faith to try to view the Lord through her eyes, especially when contemplating His passion and the reality of the Eucharist.

Just this morning I was marveling at the gift of life which you and I have. (At least if you are reading this, I assume you are alive. :-) We get one shot, if you will, to live this life to the fullest. How we live here and now - in our particular time and place in human history, with our particular gifts, interests, family, and sphere's of influence and socialization - will affect how we live for eternity. It is a beautiful privilege. Life is so short; I do not want to squander it. I want to love well, and I want to be fully alive. I want to enjoy my time with those whom God has placed in my life, and to love them as best I can. I want to develop my mind to its fullest, and face things squarely as they are, and to face squarely the ability I may or may not have to change different things.

And lastly, I am very grateful that with God nothing is ever lost forever. A lover, a deceased loved one, innocence taken or given, youth and good times now become memories ... all continue to exist with God in an eternal present ... and if you and I will share eternity with Him, then we shall have all those things yet again in a fuller and permanent way.

So wherever we find ourselves today (i.e. unhappily single, up to our eyeballs in homework, in between jobs, in a financially precarious position, overwhelmed with the demands of being a parent, etc...), don't forget to lift up your anxiety, fears and dreams to God - however choppy or brief. He cares. "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." (Matt. 10:29-31) And realize that this is just one part of your story, your moment of privilege to be alive and trust in the Lord (and to act) as Our Lady did. This moment, although passing, matters in eternity. Pray for the ability to enjoy it for it is a moment that is shaping who you are and giving you an opportunity for faith and to love generously; it it will not remain forever.

May God bless you!
Natalie

**This post dedicated to "Pete" - a fellow blogger whom I do not know - who recently insulted my weblogging or lack there of. Thank you. :-)