Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Prayer for When I *Can't* Pray

Here is a prayer I wrote while I was in college.  It was one of those times when I couldn't sift through all the various friends, preachers and other influences that surrounded me with different and conflicted urgings on how to think, how to relate to the Almighty, and what I should or should not pray:

Oh God, my Creator, I humbly ask you for the privilege of knowing you according to the way that you alone choose for me to know you.

And I ask you to keep me from hardening my heart to the ways that you alone choose, and help me to discern your most perfect will, so that in knowing the will of the One who created me I may have true peace and a better knowledge of my true self. Amen.
Friday, December 24, 2010

There's Something About Mary

I have spent over 20 years among American Catholics as a convert from fundamentalist/pentecostal protestantism.

In that time I have listened to many, many people say the prayers of the rosary when they have little knowledge and even less inclination to investigate the meaning and significance of the words--

Blessed are you among women!”

In my personal experience, asking a “cradle Catholic” in Alabama to explain these words will yield results such as:

That means that she is God's favorite woman.” “It means that she is more beautiful and pure than all other women.” “It means that God will give her more blessings (rewards) than anyone else.”

Quite frankly, though these answers are applicable to Catholic teachings about the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ, in my opinion they do more to explain the words addressed to her immediately prior: “FULL OF GRACE.”

I never see or hear anyone looking in the Bible for examples to better illustrate what it means to be BLESSED AMONG WOMEN. And what a pity, because I found two (2):

Jael, the wife of Heber, crushing the head of Sisera, the enemy of God. (Judges 4:21)

In the Book of Judges, the Israelites were going in to battle against the Canaanites, and the general leading the Canaanite army was a man named Sisera.  The prophetess Deborah had promised the Israelite commander (whose name was Barack, FWIW) that the Israelites would prevail, but that their enemy would be delivered into the hands of a woman.  As the battle progressed and the Israelites were winning, Sisera ran away from the battle and came to the tent of Heber the Kenite asking to hide there.  Heber wasn't home, but his wife Jael let him come inside.  She gave him curdled milk to drink which caused him to fall into a deep sleep.  Then she took a tent peg and with a hammer she drove it straight though his temple into the ground. 

When the Israelites learned how their enemy was killed, and who killed him, the prophetess Deborah sang:

Blessed among women be Jael,
blessed among tent-dwelling women.
Judges 5:24

She hammered Sisera, crushed his head;
she smashed, stove in his temple.
Judges 5:26

And the second example is to be found in the deuterocanonical works:

Judith, the widow of Manasseh, striking the head of Holofernes, the enemy of God. (Judith 13:8)

In the Book of Judith, the Israelites are being attacked by Holfernes, the general of the Assyrian King Nebuchadnezzar.  Judith, a widow of stunning physical beauty negotiates with Holofernes alleging that she will come to his bedchambers and share the secrets of the Israelites with him.  He accepts her offer, earnestly desiring to get her into his bed, and she gives him so much wine to drink that he falls unconscious.  Then Judith takes Holofernes' own sword and hacks off his head in a bloody mess.

When the Israelites learn how their enemy was killed, and who killed him, their leader Uziah prophesied and said:

"Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth, who guided your blow at the head of the chief of our enemies." (Judith 13:18).

And this brings us back to Mary the Virgin, who is not only BLESSED AMONG WOMEN but is also traditionally associated with quite a bit of head-crushing  as regards the enemy of God, namely Satan.

Mary the Virgin, Mother of Jesus Christ, crushing the head of Satan, the enemy of God. (Genesis 3:15)

Mary is given credit for crushing the head of the serpent as a result of a prophesy to the serpent as Adam and Eve are ejected from the Garden of Eden after the first instance of sin entered mankind.

"I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel."  (Genesis 3:15).

The consensus is quite clear that the actual "head-crushing" to be done in this prophecy is that Jesus Christ, the promised offspring of the promised woman, will defeat Satan through his cross and resurrection.  But to be fair to Mary (the undisputed mother of the promised "offspring"), the Lord clearly has informed Satan that he's got a fight on his hands (enmity) and that his fight will be BOTH with the promised woman and her son.  Since she shares in the fight wherein her son Jesus heroically and divinely prevails, she shares in the victory.

The head of Satan, the enemy of God, has been CRUSHED!  Blessed among women is Mary the Virgin!

Tonight we (are supposed to) celebrate that prophesied birth of the Messiah, born to the Promised Woman. 

I pray that Jesus and his Virgin Mother will get a bit more attention than the (secular version of) Santa Claus!
Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The American Catholic Girl's Guide to Getting Married!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Persecution of Catholics in Alabama?

For over 20 years I have listened to rank-and-file Cradle Catholics whine and complain about being approached by their Evangelical or Pentecostal neighbors and co-workers. To hear them talk one might think that the Fundamentalists were running rampant through the State of Alabama physically torturing people for the “crime” of just being a Catholic.

Can you guess what horrible thing these Protestant Christians are doing to torment these Cradle Catholics so?

The ask one question: “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?”

There a a few Catholics who hear this question with joy-- because they actively love Jesus. They love praying to him and reading the scriptures-- their faith is active and personal. They are happy to have a chance to talk about him.

But such Catholics are a tiny minority, and they are hard to find. (Trust me, I have been trying for 20 years.)

The majority of people in Alabama who were raised Catholic hate this question for one very important reason:

The question shines a light upon the true state of their spiritual lives-- and exposes them as hypocrites.

The prevailing culture of Catholics in Alabama is one of spiritual passiveness at best. There is very little knowledge of the Bible and I found it common for people to tell me that they just wait for the priest to tell them what to think about scripture. Their only efforts toward a spiritual life were to attend Mass on Sunday (if at all) and a quick prayer before going to sleep.

In the case of most Alabama Catholics: the Catholic faith, much less the Christian faith, is not something that they actively live and do-- it is something that happens to them.

For them, being Catholic is not a matter of the heart that draws them deeply close to the Heart of Jesus Christ, but rather merely a TRIBAL IDENTITY.

Their grandparents were Catholic. Their parents were Catholic. All their cousins are Catholic. They cheer for Notre Dame football and all their major family events are hosted at Catholic churches. They have an aunt or other older female relative whose home is festooned with rosaries, pictures of the Virgin Mary, various medals and brown scapulars.

The Catholic Church is their TEAM and that is all they know. They are unable to intelligently answer an honest question about the teachings of the Catholic Church or even about their own spiritual lives.

Since they feel they do not have a good answer to the question, they childishly respond with anger towards the questioner:

“How DARE you ask me that?”

“Well, I don't think it's appropriate to wear your religion on your sleeve! It's too personal!”

“I'm a Catholic! And I am NOT going to let you trick me into praying to Jesus!”

But how does this encounter look from the standpoint of the Protestant Christian co-workers or neighbors? Like this:

Most Catholics become angry or merely rude when someone mentions Jesus. They deflect and evade the subject, and they say that the reason they don't want to talk about Jesus is because they are Catholic.

After this has happened so many times over so many years Alabama Evangelicals and Pentecostals have been given a very strong impression that the Catholic Church is teaching people to avoid being real Christians.

Who can really blame them, given the behavior of Alabama Catholics?

“By their fruits you shall know them.” (Matthew 7:16-20)

The behavior of Alabama Catholics towards other Christians is one of the main reasons that I am embarrassed that I was ever called by the name “Catholic.”
Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Enemy Among Us is Me-- Or So I Have Been Told

I am a Catholic Convert. Or at least I used to be.

As far as American Catholics are concerned, especially in the South where I have lived all my life, it makes a big difference what religious group or denomination a new convert belonged to before he or she became Catholic. 

In my case I had been a member of a very Fundamentalist Charismatic Protestant Church. 

A substantial number of people who convert to Catholicism do so because they are planning to marry or have already married someone who is a Catholic, but I am not one of those people.  I came into the Catholic Church all alone as an unmarried person. 

I didn't find out until after I became Catholic that my former faith community-- where I first was encouraged to pray with enthusiasm and worship the Lord Jesus with all my heart-- was considered to be “the enemy.”

When I joined the “Church Founded by Jesus Christ” I had honestly expected that the both the priests and the laypeople would have a greater sense than other Christians of the need for the fractured parts of the Body of Christ to be brought back together in love and unity, seeing as how they had (allegedly) been taught that the Church was meant to be “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.”1 I thought that Catholics believed baptized Christians in other denominations were their “separated brethren” whom the Church loved and wanted.2

Boy, was I in for a shock!

Catholics and Fundamentalists in Alabama do not trust one another when it comes to matters of faith, and in my experience Cradle Catholics in particular are quickest to announce that their side of the ongoing conflict is completely “justified.” For over twenty years one person after another in the Catholic Church has recounted to me how painfully they believe they suffer as a result of living and working among Baptists and Pentecostals, and how firmly they are convinced that they are constantly under siege.

I have even witnessed priests encouraging and fomenting this sense of paranoia and persecution as if it were an official teaching of the Catholic Church. For example, shortly after I became Catholic I attended a special lecture for “Young Adults” by Rev. Philip N. O'Kennedy at a parish in the Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama to teach them how to respond to Fundamentalists.

O'Kennedy began his lecture with a spirited narration of his encounter with a young Baptist coed during the time he was assigned to campus ministry at the University of Montevallo. He described how the girl went to great efforts to catch up with him, climbing up a grassy hill so that she could engage him in conversation. When she finally reached him, she asked the priest simply whether he had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ-- a question normally asked as an introduction to evangelization.

At this point O'Kennedy didn't speak kindly with the girl and encourage her to be strong in her faith in Jesus. He didn't even smile at her-- a grown man, a Minister of the Gospel, talking to a college girl who was probably only about nineteen years old.

Instead he caused a scene, raising his voice angrily and castigating her for her boldness. He said to her: “I know what you are and I know what you are trying to do!” He berated the girl and yelled at her to leave him alone.

From the way he told the story, I could see that O'Kennedy was clearly proud of the way he had abused this young woman. He then proceeded to advise the young adult Catholics there assembled to follow his example and be wary of their neighbors (lest they attempt to do something horrible like invite them to a non-denominational prayer meeting). As far as Phil O'Kennedy was concerned, local Protestants were intent on stealing everyone away from the Catholic Church and the only proper response was fear and loathing.

I regularly attended Mass for well over fifteen years at different parishes in the South. When Cradle Catholics learned that I was a convert from a Fundamentalist Charismatic Church, their reactions in general were less than warm and loving. Rather, they were somewhat demanding-- I found that I was almost universally expected to do one of two things:
  1. That I should always immediately express some sort of contrition for ever having been a member of a Fundamentalist Church (after all, can any good thing come from those places?3), or
  2. That I must entertain them with witty stories about my conversion, and that those stories were supposed to explain that the Christians with whom I used to pray and worship were monstrously bad.

There were many times when I was told by other parishioners that they didn't believe I was ever going to be a “real” Catholic because of my Protestant background.

I learned eventually to try to keep my conversion a secret in my own Church. But that wasn't always easy.

When I would ask people that I thought were my friends if I could sit with them in Church they would often question why I didn't sit with my family or say that they were too busy with their own families to include me. Then I would have to explain: I am a C-O-N-V-E-R-T.  By definition that means my relatives are not Catholic.  In fact they are not churchgoers in any faith. They were less than enthusiastic about my conversion to Catholicism and I have never been able to convince any of them to come with me to Mass. Not even for Christmas or Easter.

Sometimes I just couldn't bear the thought of sitting all alone at Mass again.  But the reality is that I was considered unwelcome, and that message was made clear, both by priests and laypeople.

820 "Christ bestowed unity on his Church from the beginning. This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time." Christ always gives his Church the gift of unity, but the Church must always pray and work to maintain, reinforce, and perfect the unity that Christ wills for her. This is why Jesus himself prayed at the hour of his Passion, and does not cease praying to his Father, for the unity of his disciples: "That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, . . . so that the world may know that you have sent me." The desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit.  (emphasis added)
821 Certain things are required in order to respond adequately to this call:
- a permanent renewal of the Church in greater fidelity to her vocation; such renewal is the driving-force of the movement toward unity;
- conversion of heart as the faithful "try to live holier lives according to the Gospel"; for it is the unfaithfulness of the members to Christ's gift which causes divisions;
- prayer in common, because "change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and merits the name 'spiritual ecumenism;"'
-fraternal knowledge of each other;
- ecumenical formation of the faithful and especially of priests;
- dialogue among theologians and meetings among Christians of the different churches and communities;
- collaboration among Christians in various areas of service to mankind. "Human service" is the idiomatic phrase.
822 Concern for achieving unity "involves the whole Church, faithful and clergy alike." But we must realize "that this holy objective - the reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ - transcends human powers and gifts." That is why we place all our hope "in the prayer of Christ for the Church, in the love of the Father for us, and in the power of the Holy Spirit." (emphasis added)
Catechism of the Catholic Church,, Part I, §2, Ch. 3, Art. 9, 3, Ref. #820-822.
The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter. For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm of belief and a pattern of life, and who show a sincere zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and Saviour. They are consecrated by baptism, in which they are united with Christ. They also recognize and accept other sacraments within their own Churches or ecclesiastical communities. Many of them rejoice in the episcopate, celebrate the Holy Eucharist and cultivate devotion toward the Virgin Mother of God. They also share with us in prayer and other spiritual benefits. Likewise we can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power. Some indeed He has strengthened to the extent of the shedding of their blood. In all of Christ's disciples the Spirit arouses the desire to be peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ, as one flock under one shepherd, and He prompts them to pursue this end. Mother Church never ceases to pray, hope and work that this may come about. (emphasis added)
Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, Chapter II § 15 ¶ 1.
John 1:46
Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Jawbone of an Ass

There's no use sugar-coating what I've got to say in this blog. I'm not inclined to try, either.

No doubt, there will be readers who conclude that I am nothing but an angry but well-educated bitch who shouldn't be allowed into any church, much less the “Church founded by Jesus Christ himself” --the Catholic Church, of which I became a member on April 2, 1989. Perhaps they are correct.

The fact of the matter is: I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore.

I do not accept the notion that a “true Christian woman” must be at all times and in all places passive, submissive, docile and silent. I will not accede to the proposition that in order to be an authentic follower of Christ one must sit quietly as a doormat and endure one abuse after another which is perpetrated in the name of and under apparent authority of “the One True Faith.”

For many years, and especially within the Catholic Church, I have encountered what appears to be a prevailing opinion: that being an Imitator of Christ is synonymous with merely putting on a tame and subdued demeanor at all times -- that one must never question authority and one must never complain.

I can never accept this. Jesus, who was the “Rock of Offense”1 constantly challenged the religious leaders of his day and in a decidedly non-pacifistic fashion physically attacked and beat the money changers with a whip he fashioned from cords while he drove them from his Father's Temple.2 The Apostle Paul made it a habit of pissing off various leaders so much that a substantial portion of his writings were produced while he was incarcerated-- and his letters which we now venerate as scripture include some rather scathing language leveled at the Judaizers3 and their followers, not to mention a cuss word or two that are masked by more politically correct terminology in our English translations.4

St. Jerome, a Doctor of the Church, is remembered for his hot temper and vitriolic pen, and not for a docile temperament. For Jerome “anyone who taught error was an enemy of God and truth, and St. Jerome went after him or her with his mighty and sometimes sarcastic pen.”5 And in modern times Mother Teresa of Calcutta was described by biographers as stubborn, controlling, unrealistic, demanding and difficult to work with.6

I am full of character flaws-- a fact that has been explained to me on numerous occasions by multiple sources. But I am also someone who has loved Jesus Christ and his Gospel very deeply and intensely, and not without sacrifice. Though I am no friend to the concept of “Catholic Guilt” I take my own sins very seriously. And even though it may appear otherwise at times, I do rely on the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in the hope that he will be faithful to complete the good work that he once began in me7 in spite of myself.

You will have to decide for yourself whether the content of this blog is merely a demonstration of my character flaws and my sinfulness or whether I have presented a true and valid challenge to the status quo that plagues the Body of Christ in this culture we live in.

Though we have examples of Christians who have been recognized as saints throughout history who have been feisty, ill-tempered and combative, I would be delusional to count myself among them simply because I am often feisty, ill-tempered and combative. Rather I would ask you to consider that the Lord has delivered his messages through unseemly and unsaintly messengers before. Remember Balaam's donkey8?

Perhaps, despite my personal failings, there will appear here in this blog some nugget of truth that will challenge you to demand something more and better from your Church.

Whether I am actually being used to accomplish the Will of God or not I can only truly claim one accurate label:

I am the Jawbone of an Ass9.

1. 1 Peter 2:8, Isaiah 8:14
2. Matthew 21:12-17, Mark 11:15-19, Luke 19:41-48, John 2:14-17
3. Galatians 3:1-5
4. Philippians 3:8
5., "Saint of the Day: September 30, St. Jerome," retrieved 9 November 2010.
Appears to have been republished from: Foley, Leonard O.F.M., ed. Revised by Fr. Pat McCloskey, O.F.M. Saint of the Day: Lives, Lessons, and Feasts: 6th revised edition. Cincinnati, Ohio: St. Anthony Messenger Press, September 2009. 408 pages. ISBN 978-0-86716-887-7

6. Greene, Meg. Mother Teresa: A Biography (Greenwood Biographies), Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press (August 30, 2004) 176 pages. ISBN 978-0313327711. p. xii & 140.
7. Philippians 1:6
8. Numbers 22:23-30
9. Judges 15: 15-16