Catholicism

What Kind of a Catholic are You?

            As a CBC City Coordinator, I notice that many attendees and Catholics become preoccupied with this question, “What kind of Catholic are you?  Where do you go to mass?”  Sometimes, we ask these question to understand what kind of spirituality another person might have.  Other times we might wonder what kind of liturgy he/she prefers traditional/charismatic/somewhere in between.  However, more often than not, I have noticed that this question takes on different meaning depending upon who is asking the question.  On the “right” side of the aisle, believers usually ask each other if we believe in Catholic teaching regarding contraception/marriage/homosexuality.  On the “left” side of the aisle, believers might ask each other about their beliefs regarding illegal immigration/care for the poor/racism.  Sometimes, I feel like we use this question to gauge our ability to befriend or to date others (disclaimer…CBC is not a dating service!!!). 

            As a CBC City Coordinator, I cannot help but struggle with these questions.  Why do we ask them?  Why are we so preoccupied with sorting each other into these two groups?  How can we better accept each other, create genuine friendships, will the best for each other, and accomplish all of this without judging each other for what we struggle with personally?  Sometimes, I feel like I cannot do all of this.  I feel like I cannot appease both crowds, and at different times in my life I struggle with both sides of the aisle. 

            What type of Catholic am I?  When I am asked this question, I balk, squirm, and try to avoid it.  My Jesuit education taught me to prioritize caring for the poor and vulnerable.  However, there are times when I am not as compassionate to the poor as I should be.  These days might include driving past that homeless person holding a sign on the free way, spending money on frivolous things, or choosing to sleep in on the weekend instead of volunteering in my community.  On those days, I feel like a “lazy Catholic,” “in a hurry Catholic,” or sometimes even a “selfish Catholic.”  Sometimes, my prayer life goes well, but often times I forget to pray.  I become a “forgetful Catholic” or an “ungrateful Catholic.”  Sometimes, I believe I am doing really well, and I am a “prideful” Catholic, at which point I bring more harm than good to the world.  However, lately I have learned much about the right relationships with others/theology of the body, but there are times when I struggle to perfect these ideals and nights when fighting for them leaves me full of anxiety more than anything else.  I am a “sinful Catholic” who has made mistakes.  Some days I am a “faithful Catholic” ready to fight the good fight.  Other days, I am a “doubting Catholic,” who struggles to see God’s love in a world full of sadness and cannot see the wisdom behind the Church’s teachings.  In these days of doubt, I am a “trying to understand Catholic.”  I am a “dependent upon the Mercy of God Catholic,” who knows that all these struggles are watched and tended to by a God who loves her profoundly.

            I have to believe, though we may feel differently and struggle with issues throughout our lives, that we can all relate to the adjectives above.  Sometimes we are all, “lazy, in a hurry, selfish, sinful, faithful, forgetful, ungrateful, prideful, and doubting.”  All the while, we are all “trying to understand and dependent upon the Mercy of a loving God.”  We all have our battles.  I think if we are honest with ourselves, we have all doubted, struggled, and fallen into the arms of a God who will always welcome us home.  So, I think it is important that as CBC, we welcome each other.  Though our beliefs are important and sharing them is worthwhile, it is most important that we open our arms and hold each other in our lives, in whatever state we may be at that moment.  When all is said and done, we are all profoundly loved.  We are loved by the Lord, who gives us His Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  This profound love, more than anything else, is what makes us Catholic.  So, the next time you are asked, “What kind of Catholic are you?”…I hope that you respond, “I am the kind who is LOVED.”

Tellin' It Like It Is...But No One is Listening

“Uncharitable.” “Crude.” “Hyperbolic.” “Jerk.” “Condescending.” “Sarcastic.” “I don’t like his tone…” “I don’t usually post his stuff…” “It’s another rant…” Those are all ways some Catholics have prefaced posts they shared from a certain public figure. They follow with “but…”: “…but what he says is true…” “…but he’s telling it like it is…” “…but it needs to be heard…”

These weren’t taken from posts sharing Donald Trump, though they could have been. These Catholics were sharing articles from a certain conservative Catholic commentator and blogger. I don’t want to name the author for one primary reason: He is not the subject of this article. The subject is the decisions we make when we decide to share the truth given to us. If a Catholic post can be fairly characterized as “condescending” or “uncharitable,” for example, it’s probably not worth sharing, even if it says true things.

 

1) Alienating the audience

Truth and method are inseparable. When I read an article or listen to an argument filled with insults, I don’t become interested in truly listening, much less able to listen. I am not alone in this. I can’t think of a time a person changed his mind because of a condescending, crude, or hyperbolic presentation of the truth, no matter how true the truths were or how badly truth needed to be heard.

There’s good reason for this: The truth communicated and the method of presentation are, at the level of their impact, inseparable. An alienating method creates an alienating message. Every piece of information we acquire, every argument we listen to, every word we read is sifted through our whole self: Our experiences, preconceptions, emotions, needs, and desires. One such desire is the desire to be respected and affirmed. Not to be coddled when in error, but to have our value affirmed even when we are corrected or challenged. Humans don’t listen to people who belittle them. Right or wrong, that’s the way it is.

Please consider your own experience, but I venture that if someone actually does give insult-bathed logic the time of day, the goal for that day is most likely only to prepare a rebuttal, not to consider the truth of the argument presented.

Some of the authors I have in mind know this. That’s why we see statements like this one in a recent post that was more inflammatory than enlightening: “I will not convince them of that…but allow me to waste my breath anyway.” The author may have been writing tongue in cheek, but struck a chord of truth. Interestingly he created a self-fulfilling prophesy: By stating that his opponents cannot be convinced of truth, he implicitly questions their desire or ability to grasp the truth, and further discourages them from receiving the truths he proffers. He was, in fact, wasting his breath.

 

2) Overdoing it

Truth speaks for itself, but can be assisted or hindered. Hebrews calls the Word of God sharper than any double-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, and between joint and marrow. Truth cuts deep into a person and brings change, change that is often painful. If truth is what we say it is, then it does not need our elaboration to be convincing. It pierces us, and as its roots penetrate further depths, it begins to bloom within us. Our heart is set up for this to happen.

Even though truth can hold its own, particular methods and choices about how we deliver truth can assist or impede the listener in his or her receptivity, choices such as whether to be gentle or forceful, serious or humorous, etc. The heart designed for truth can be softened or hardened.

St. Benedict acknowledged the need to pay attention to the personality and dispositions of the one receiving a correction. He recommended that the abbots in his monasteries use gentleness of speech with some, entreaties with others, and even rebuking with others, according to the character and strength of the one being corrected. One method doesn’t fit all.

But there is a reason that although St. Benedict also made provisions for corporal punishment to correct the disobedient, that practice has fallen out of style. As our collective experience and knowledge in the Church grew, we learned of the inefficacy and danger of physical force in the name of the Gospel. Such a method, you might say, “overdid it” and created more grounds for objection than following.

The same is true today for how we disrespect, belittle, and condescend each other over the Internet and airwaves, all in the name of “telling it like it is” (viz. Christ). Truth may be assisted by a spoonful of sugar or even a booming voice, but when our method pushes the listener to humiliation or defensiveness, we’ve done little good for anyone. That’s not the kind of help the truth can use.

 

3) Forgetting gratuitousness

Truth isn’t a trophy. “We do not possess the truth, the truth possesses us.” Pope Benedict XVI drew us to humility with these words. Truth is something that happens to us and takes hold of our being. In Christianity we recognize this as a gift, not the fruit of our efforts or a long, hard, and drawn out philosophical discourse. I can’t explain why truth exists in my life; I can only witness to the fact that it does.

Condescension shuts out this reality. It is premised on presumption of superiority, there’s no way around it. Thus condescension is scandalous. It is scandalous not because it betrays the pride of the one condescending (a sinful Christian is just a Christian, not a scandal), but because it purveys a lie about the nature of truth. It says truth is something to be proud of, not thankful for; that it is something achieved, not given.

We can never share truth without a reverence for its power over us, or without wonder at why such power is exercised. “There but for the grace of God go I.” Any portrayal of truth should inspire humility. And rather than a sense of superiority, a sense of fraternity, love, sympathy, and respect for the person with whom we disagree should prevail. I don’t know why I have received what others have not.

I apologize for the inadequacy of my language in expressing the mystery of truth, grace, etc., but suffice it to say this: Truth is a gift, not a license to be a jerk.

 

So what is the proper method? I hope to dig deeper into this question in future posts. Catholic Beer Club seeks to engage the culture and I will focus my foreseeable monthly posts on fleshing out what this means. I suspect that the answer will be less about strategy and more about witness. Perhaps other contributors will join me in this conversation, and probably disagree with me. That’s welcome. For now, at the very least, I can say this: The methods we choose have a real effect inasmuch as we’re dealing with real people. Out of concern for the real effect of our methods, respect for the dignity of those we engage, and out of reverence for the truth we convey, let’s be solicitous. 

We're Looking for Talent!

Dear CBC community,

So far, it has been a wild but exciting ride, getting the CBC blog up and running, working to provide regular posts and diversified content, but it has been well worth it. As the CBC Times continues to grow, we would love to begin offering more discussion on the intersection between Catholicism and Culture, and we are looking to increase the number of voices we feature on the Catholic Beer Club blog.

If you (or someone you know) are a writer, and you like talking about culture, the church, and community, we are currently taking applications for CBC writers. Please send a writing sample and a brief bio to catholicbeerclub@gmail.com

As we venture into new territory, we would also like to begin featuring the photography of CBCers alongside our written work. If you are a photographer, if you love finding creative ways to capture truth and beauty, please send a link to your portfolio or website, and a brief bio (if it cannot be found on your website) to catholicbeerclub@gmail.com.

Because the mission of the CBC Times is to discuss the impact of the incarnation, and the purpose and beauty of Catholic culture, writers and photographers must be faithful, practicing Catholics, who are willing to collaborate with the CBC team. Please note before applying, this is volunteer work.

As CBC and the CBC Times continue to grow, we are excited to expand, to offer a wide variety of content, and to explore even more questions facing the modern Catholic.

We look forward to hearing from you!

 

Julia and the CBC team

 

 

Save Us, Oh Virgin of Mercy

It is the Year of Mercy, so I submit a humble question into the ether: why don't we see more about the lovely (and formerly quite popular) image of the "Virgin of Mercy?"

As the beautiful painting above demonstrates, this subject of Catholic art, quite popular from the Medieval through the Early Modern period, transmits a potent visual catechism on the Christian teaching pertaining to Mercy. While devotion to the Blessed Virgin is of course spiritedly displayed in her loving protection spanning the faithful, there is much this image instructs us about the Church as a whole, and what it denotes to belong to it.

First of all, much is signified about the Church itself. Mary has long symbolized the Church as Mother of all believers: we were, after all, given to the Blessed Virgin as her children by the Lord Himself while He perished on the Cross. Under this consideration, the warm mantle Mary extends about her children is emblematic of the embrace the world-spanning Ecclesial body should exude throughout the globe and throughout time. Under the maternal embrace of Mary’s mantle, the faithful should encounter love and a spirit of adoption, no matter what physical building they enter across the planet.

Secondly, that Mary is much grander than most figures in these paintings, and the fact an infinite expanse cascades behind her cloak, evokes Mary as the great Queen of Heaven. As her celestial frame swathes all within her cape, from her position on high, she shields the weary believers from the slings and arrows of this life. Here, the Church Triumphant in Heaven is expressed, those who intercede even now for us in this age of pilgrimage. Indeed, it is telling that, in the picture above, the only creatures to match Mary in stature are two hulking Saints who flank the Blessed Virgin, reaching out to the weary in this vale of tears.

Finally, and most importantly, these representations of Our Holy Mother bespeak a copious wealth of insight into the meaning of membership in the Church. Notice: in all these Icons, whether adorned with Kings and Queens, Popes and Bishops, Monks and Nuns, or a whole host of laity, every soul present beneath the cloak of Mary, bends their knee. All, no matter their stature, huddle humbly like Children, snuggled close to one another and with the Virgin Mother herself. Perhaps no other painting conveys this sense better than this:

Beyond bending their knees, their faces incorporated collectively into one amalgamated mass, these great men, though they retain their headwear, are naked (or at least “lightly clothed” to the extreme) under the mantle of Mary. Indeed, they look cold somehow, the colors of the paint seemingly seconds away from shivering. The concept, of course, is this: though we may embody different roles and offices in this life (what the differing head coverings represent), underneath we are as naked and poor as the day we were born, and without the protection of Mary and the Church she signifies and exemplifies, we would die of exposure when turned out to the world.

It is this paradoxical holding of two extremes—the power of mere hats but the nakedness of the mere individuals who wear them—that addresses me so profoundly here in the middle of Lent.

Here we devote an entire month plus to fasting, almsgiving and prayer, and yet our daily lives--subsumed as they are in the hats we must wear--go on as usual. Jesus instructs us to fast for an interior reason, and not for the respect of others—to wash our face and anoint our head. I know people are fond of posting their Ashes on Social Media each Ash Wednesday, while others with equal gusto castigate those who do so, but as good intentioned as it is, the latter practice goes back to a much more basic Protestant objection to the ashes. I heard it plenty growing up—does not publically wearing ashes go against the grain of what Our Lord protested against when he admonished those who fast outwardly?

We must remember that the ceremony of ashes came about in cultures where nearly everyone was Catholic. You did not need to remind anyone you were fasting—the great majority of everyone you knew did the same. What the ashes reminded everyone of was something akin to this picture—everyone will be dust someday soon, from the lowest pauper to the highest prince.

Underneath the diadems and miters, we are all naked, we are all ash. If it was not for the Church, if it was not for the prayers of the Mother of God and the Saints, if it was not for Jesus Christ, who lived, died, and was resurrected so that all this could exist to shelter us, we would perish, and return to the dust from which we came.

In Lent, we learn to kneel, we learn that we are fundamentally naked, we learn that we are in this boat together, huddled children imploring our Mother to protect us from the relentless storm. We do this while we wear our various hats, realizing that what we wear is not who we fundamentally are, but who we have been asked to be at the good pleasure of Our Lord and his Mother, the Church.

But we are not only our nakedness—we are the children of this loving mother, who wraps us in Her mantle and protects us. But we can only fit under the mantle if we bend our knee, and while there is a vast amount of room under her cloak, we can only fit in next to her if we are willing to sidle up, side-by-side, with our brothers and sisters underneath.

Virgin of Mercy, pray for us this Lent!

Suffering Makes Us Stronger...But Why?

They decorate colleges across America, my Facebook newsfeed is brimming with them, and for some reason, I’m always torn between fascination and annoyance when I confront them. If you’re thinking “political shouting matches” – well, you’re probably right – but this time I’m talking about motivational quotes, particularly motivational quotes about suffering. Suffering, and defeating it, are often the subject of catchy lines, in trendy fonts, across mountain-scapes. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Inspirational quotes offer us some variation on this theme. I think the appeal of these formulations has two parts:

First, it gives meaning and purpose to suffering. This sentence fosters the belief that suffering is happening for a reason, and, consequently, the world happens for a reason.

Second, it gives us a sense of control. We have power, not only over the suffering, but over our response to it. Hiding in this statement is another statement as well: We will make ourselves stronger by defeating suffering.

Perhaps the easiest answer to these inspirational quotes is dismissal. Try to power play with the universe, just try. The skeptic argues. Ultimately the universe wins. We die. I admit sometimes “the skeptic” speaks in my own voice. Like I said, I’m frustrated – frustrated with the pretty-packaged enthusiasm of “inspirationalism.”

Yet I’m still fascinated by inspirational messages.

But – why? Well, I have both suffered and watched others suffer. I want something to say. I want an answer. I can philosophize on “the problem of evil” or “the problem of pain” – but most importantly, it is a question that demands an answer from me.

Is there meaning in suffering? What about meaning in the world? Is there a plan? I experience these questions most when, selfishly I admit, I personally am the one suffering. But I also desire happiness for other people. 

And I’m not alone. This desire is a great human trait. We find it in history, in literature, in art, and in science. Seriously, who has browsed through “Humans of New York” and not wanted each person profiled to live a happy life? We want their lives to have meaning too. I’ve seen too much love for my voice to be the skeptic’s voice. Still, something nags me at the words “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Makes me stronger. 

Is that really what I want?

Well, no. Not exactly. I do want to be stronger, but only so I can have something else, like the admiration of my friends or recognition as a cool person. This realization has helped me understand St. Paul’s frequently quoted words about suffering from his Letter to the Romans. 

" . . .We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character. . .”

Exactly! You might be thinking. Suffering makes you stronger! But read on.

 “. . .and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5).

Suffering produces many things, but ultimately the most important is hope. St. Paul is clear. We don’t don’t become stronger and that’s it. We become hopeful because of God’s love.  This matches my realization that I don’t really want to be stronger for its own sake, I want to be loved.

Furthermore, St. Paul deliberately draws us back to God’s love which is “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” We are given the love that makes the hope possible. The love makes the hope not disappoint us. We are given these things. I think that’s important. Hiding in inspirational mantras is that second appeal I mentioned earlier: the sense of control. But St. Paul’s ideal is different. Suffering for a Christian is not just another power play. It is not simply another way for us to flex our muscles and create ourselves. 

God’s love poured into our hearts is radically different than the other options. It’s not a stronger, leaner, tougher me who can simply take more. It’s not a submission to the mindlessness of the universe. It’s a question of whether God’s love has given meaning to our suffering. Will he be with us, strengthening us through his outpouring of love to make us strong, full of character, and ultimately, hopeful?

For me, yes, but for you, I have to ask you, which do you prefer?

Commitment in the Modern Age

At a conference in January, I was planning on getting together with some friends for drinks one evening. We set a time and a meeting place. As the time drew closer, we heard the place we wanted to go was filling up, so I sent out a quick text to change the plan, in the hopes of expediting the process of getting a table. Then we got word of another party. Only half of the group had arrived, so I sent out a quick poll to see if we wanted to change our plans. We ended up making the new party our new meeting place before going back to get our drinks—so another text went out to inform all those who were still catching up to all the changing plans. Someone had to run back to the original meeting place to find someone who got lost, someone went to make sure we didn’t lose our table, and someone texted that they were getting food before meeting us. At some point I realized how ridiculous the whole situation was becoming, and marveled that anyone ever did anything social without a cell phone. When I mentioned this, a friend put it rather simply,

“People made plans and they stuck to them.”

People made plans and stuck to them. What’s funny, is since it has become relatively easy to change plans on the go, doing so is no longer considered a breech of commitment. We can change our plans to fit our current whims, and it isn’t considered rude, so long as we keep everyone informed.

Now, before I get going on this one, I must say there are legitimate reasons to change plans, and cell phones make this process much smoother than communication technologies past. When it’s pouring rain on the site of you picnic, or your roommate broke her leg, or you realize you double booked yourself, or there was a car accident on the way, it is proper to change plans as necessary, and communicate clearly with those who are involved.

BUT, does this mean that when something more exciting comes up, or when we realize we don’t feel like doing what was originally planned, changing our plans to suit our new interests is ok? I can think of instances when I was planning on having dinner with a friend, and when other options presented themselves, the plans were changed. I was included in the new plans, but I am not convinced this means that the original commitment was fulfilled. Why?

The original commitment wasn’t made a priority, it was weaseled into something new. The planned event occurred, but it was changed to fit a different context than originally intended. It was changed to prevent it from getting in the way of something else. And because I was still being included, I wasn’t asked, but was told.

It is no secret that our generation is talked about as one that is afraid of commitment. Is it possible that we simply don’t understand commitment? Is it possible that we see commitments as things we can alter to fit our preferences, even as they change? Is it possible our fear of commitment comes from our lack of practice? From our (somewhat lazy, and selfish, in my personal opinion) idea of what keeping a commitment means? And is all of this being disguised by the fact that constantly changing plans, constantly trying to fit it all in, is socially acceptable?

It is hard to constantly strive to keep to commitments, and to keep them as they are, especially in most modern social landscapes where last minute events are constantly popping up. I hope, however, that you will ask yourself these questions, and then take a look at your own habits in light of your response. Determine what it means to keep your word. And then make sure you keep it. Determine what it means to fulfill a commitment, and then fulfill it. Doing so in small matters is the only way to prepare yourself to do so in large ones.

We may belong to a generation notorious for being flaky. That doesn’t mean we should settle for being flaky ourselves (or letting others get away with being flaky with us for that matter). Let us be men and women of our word, and show our peers the joy that comes from doing so.

 

 

 

What Are You Going to do About it?

“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” -Edmund Burke

 

The importance of knowing your place in history is no secret. Auschwitz and other concentration camps from the Nazi regime have been preserved and turned into museums precisely for this reason. It is (almost) universally acknowledged that what happened in Nazi concentration camps was horrific, inhumane, and should be prevented from ever happening again. Walking through Auschwitz just over a week ago, I saw prisoners’ quarters, starvation chambers, gas chambers, and walked the path from the train station to the gas chamber which anyone considered unfit for work would have walked. There is no doubt the gravity of the history in these places has an effect on anyone who visits, but as I walked out, I wasn’t overwhelmed with the horror or the sadness of it, as I had expected to be. Instead, there was a question plaguing me.

What are you going to do about it?

 Notice the question was not What would you have done? or What should have been done? but What are you going to do about it?

 Obviously, I can’t do anything about the horrors that happened at Auschwitz, or any of the Nazi concentration camps at this point, I can’t turn back time. But as we look around today, how often do we see things that are manifestations of similar attitudes, of a similar disrespect for the sanctity of life? How often are the religious in a community seen as a threat, or an undermining of state power? How often are children seen as a nuisance, or as people who haven’t earned enough to be worth anything? How often are pregnant women seen as those who have chosen to stop contributing to society in favor of contributing to overpopulation? How often are the elderly treated as living waste? And most importantly, how often do we let these attitudes fester in the minds of the people around us?

What are you going to do about it?

These attitudes are often pushed aside as major concerns in favor of evangelization, assuming that once people know Christ, they will accept the doctrines against abortion and euthanasia. There is no doubt that grace plays a huge role in helping a person come to understand counter-cultural teachings, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t responsible for speaking the truth on these issues. In some cases, life-issues are a road-block to someone’s acceptance of Christ. In others, someone who has had a life-changing encounter with Christ still doesn’t understand these teachings, and still needs someone to explain it to them.

What are you going to do about it?

 I have come up with a few answers for myself, but here are some things I think we should all seriously consider important tasks, if not responsibilities, when it comes to life issues in modern society.

1)   Pray for an end to abortion, euthanasia, mass murder, and an increase in the respect for life. Prayer is an incredibly powerful spiritual tool. Let us not waste it.

2)   Educate yourself. People have questions. People often have misconceptions about what the Church actually teaches. Be the person who can shed light on the situation. Evangelium Vitae is a great resource for this.

3)   Realize, you are your brothers keeper. Cain got this one wrong. We are responsible for the sanctity of life. We will have to answer for all the times when we drop the ball. This is worth addressing in detail, and perhaps will one day become it's own post, but for now check out Evangelium Vitae for a discussion on the idea.

4)   Do not be afraid. The King of Heaven and earth is on your side.

It is also worth considering, that while these are tasks we all must do, some of us may be called to dedicate more of our time to the defense of life and the eradication of attitudes in opposition to it. Defending a culture of life is an incredible way to give glory to God, and to pave a path for more people to find and love Him.

We have a hard road ahead of us, but this is no reason to stop asking ourselves what we are going to do about the injustices of the world. If we let these attitudes continue to fester, we will find ourselves moving closer and closer to the next Auschwitz. And so I now ask you, What are you going to do about it?

 

 

  

Are we failing advent?

Are we failing advent?

Advent has been distorted by our rampant consumerism. It use to be that prior to the Celebration of the Lord’s Nativity, there were no Christmas parties. Christmas parties for work and other circles were celebrated after Christmas. But this year, I was in Macy’s the day before Halloween and they were decked out for Christmas! I mean, seriously, Christmas on October 30th? 57 days before Christmas? And practically a month before Thanksgiving? We have a crisis amongst believers on what is the spirituality of Advent...