Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Holding on for a hero

To develop my Catholic identity, or to develop it in my family, requires intentional living. It is not enough to float through my life, to be comfortable in my Catholicism. If I'm comfortable, I'm not doing it right.

By intentional living, I mean that my life has to be specifically oriented toward the Lord. Everything I do has to be toward His greater glory. In other words, I have to live the way the saints did, with heroic virtue. (Being human, I will probably stumble. Praise the Lord then for the gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.)

Fr. Z wrote about heroic virtue, the quality that defines a saint, the other day. I'm going to quote him here:
"But Father! But Father!”, some of you are about to say. “Heroic virtue? Really?
How can any of us aspire to such a thing! That’s sounds terribly difficult!”

It isn’t easy, but it is possible.

We are all called to be saints. God wouldn’t ask something of us that isn’t possible. And when He asks things that are hard, He also provides the means and the occasions. Even in your suffering, for example, or your obscurity, you can serve Him. God knew you before the creation of the material universe. He called you into being now, in this world. Of all the possible worlds God could have created, He created this
world, into which you would be born. He has a plan and purpose your you, if you
will embrace it.
Heroic virtue isn't developed overnight. I can name several places in my own life right now where I can do better to develop that heroic virtue. I can take a set time out of my day for prayer (Divine Mercy Chaplet takes 5 minutes to say!). I can read scripture instead of that new chick lit book before I go to bed. I can read about the faith.

I teach a group of kids on Sunday mornings. They range in age from 9-16. Some haven't been baptized, and some are from families who are coming back to the Church after some time away. None of them have made their First Communion nor have they been Confirmed. When we came to the Feast of the Epiphany, our first class back after the Christmas break, I challenged them to make a "New Year's Resolution." It was to be one small thing that they can do in their daily lives to show love for others and love for God. Maybe it was to say a decade of the Rosary every day. Maybe it was to talk to one lonely person at their school every day. Or to help do one extra thing around the house every day. Something that they could do and that they would do. I have made it a point every week to remind them of their resolutions and to encourage them in these things. It takes 6 weeks to change or to start a new pattern of behavior. In a few more weeks, we'll revisit these resolutions and see how we're doing. If we've got the new pattern mastered, we can add something else (like, bumping it up to two decades of the Rosary, etc.).

You don't run a marathon without training for it. You start out running short distances and then you gradually work up to that 26.2 miles. I believe that the best way to cultivate that heroic virtue within myself and my family is to start with one small thing and do it faithfully for a while and then to add something else to do.

One of the best things I've read on this is "Introduction to the Devout Life," by St. Francis de Sales. I am also seriously afraid right now that I may have co-opted this great work. If I have, I am so sorry. Anyway, you should buy it and read it. Or borrow it from the library. It's written for people who are living in the world, not in a cloister. How to cultivate devotion in your daily life of taking care of your kids and husband. And he just makes sense.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Identity crisis

These three things (confusion, negotiation, and loss of Catholic identity) are some of the things that are causing the Church to bleed people out to the evangelical Christian churches. Poor catechesis is the biggest reason (why on earth would you leave the Church if you know that it's where you can get the Jesus in the Eucharist-and what that means?), but a close second is a loss of our Catholic identity (Pope Benedict is all about this. So is Fr. Z.).

Why else would a "Good Catholic family" choose to send their kids to a decent public school when they could send their kids to a decent Catholic school? Why else would a good family leave St. Peter's for the Hope Evangel Church of Christ (led by a former Catholic who is now their pastor)? It's not really because they can't afford the tuition (if it's important to your identity, you find a way to sacrifice to make it happen). It's not really because the evangelicals demand less than the Catholics do (I think in many instances, it's the opposite).

It's because Christian denominations have become interchangeable to Catholics. On the whole, many adults don't know basic truths (facts) about the Church and what She teaches. A 2008 survey by CARA showed that just 57% of all adult Catholics surveyed believe in the real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

I've seen it myself in the parish where I am. I have seen families who think that going to any church is ok, if they go at all. I've worked with families that have the kids go to CCD and to Sunday school or youth group at another Christian church-and see nothing wrong with it. They don't know there are theological differences between the different approaches to Christianity and they don't seem to be aware of any confusing messages that the children might pick up.

We have lost a sense of what makes Catholics, well, Catholic. How many families do you know that gets together for a Rosary every night-or once a week? Gosh, how many of them even get together for dinner every night? How many people do you know who wear a scapular? I can only think of one I know for sure-and he's a 90 year old priest. How many people do you know who wear a Miraculous Medal-and WHY? Wearing a cross around your neck is kind of fashionable. But how many people do you know who do it with real devotion and not just as another piece of jewelry?

In the interest of full disclosure, the only one of those things to which I can say, "yes, I do that myself" is the one about the Miraculous Medal. I was going to say that our family is doing it's best, but we're really not. We're not doing our best because it's a little work to do all of those things.

Yes, to reinforce a Catholic identity, or to develop one, takes work. It takes living intentionally. So many of us (me especially) are content to float through life, going through the basic motions of what it means to be a Catholic Christian. We say grace before meals (most of the time), we go to Sunday Mass, we say goodnight prayers with our kids, and all of these are good things. BUT aren't we all called to do more? Didn't Jesus give His life for us? Doesn't that require a radical commitment from all of us? And a renewal of that commitment every day?

(stay tuned for part 3)

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Lower your expectations; get less than you expect

I am a firm believer in setting your expectations for others to be reasonably high. Take my children for example. I expect them to put their dirty laundry into the hamper. I remind them, but I expect it from them. I expect them to be polite not only to others, but to each other and above all, to their parents. And they do these things. Not always, and I do sometimes have to remind them, but overall, they do what I expect.

Why would they live up to my expectations? 1. They know I love them, 2. My expectations are reasonable: things that anyone their ages should be able to do. (I'm not asking the 4 year old help shovel the walk-though she does it readily. She thinks it's FUN!) and 3. They love me and they do not want to disappoint me. Nor do they want the consequences of failing to live up to the expectations.

Yes, consequences. If you don't eat your dinner, you will not get dessert. If you don't put your dirty socks in the wash, you will have no clean socks to wear. If you are rude to mom, you get to deal with dad.

I have been trying to drill into my 7th grade CCD kids' heads the holydays of obligation in the USA. And I have been trying to impress upon all of the kids I am in contact with (in my class and the 8th grade Confirmation candidates) the importance of weekly (and Holyday) Mass attendance.

To review, the Holydays of Obligation in the USA are:

January 1, feast of Mary, Mother of God
40 days after Easter, Ascension Thursday
August 15, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
November 1, All Saints' Day
December 8, Immaculate Conception of Mary
December 25, Christmas

So, after the boys, Scott, and I stayed up to watch the ball drop on New Year's Eve, we woke in time to get to 9:00 Mass for the Holyday of Obligation. We thought. Yes, I work at the parish, but I forgot the Holyday schedule is not the same as the Sunday schedule, and we were late for Mass by half an hour. Mass was nearly over by the time we arrived. So, we went home. Then I thought to myself, "Is it even a holyday this year? It's Saturday." So I googled it. And lo, the holyday was abrogated this year. Because it fell on a Saturday. The Holyday is also abrogated when it falls on a Monday, too. So, let's look at that list again for 2010:

January 1, feast of Mary, Mother of God (not abroagted in 2010)
40 days after Easter, Ascension Thursday (transferred to the following Sunday in all but 6 dioceses in the US)
August 15, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (happened to be a Sunday in 2010)
November 1, All Saints' Day (abrogated)
December 8, Immaculate Conception of Mary (never abrogated)
December 25, Christmas (never abrogated)

In 2010, 3 of the 6 Holydays were transferred or abrogated in almost all of our nation's dioceses.
Did you know that according to the code of canon law (canon 1246), there are actually 10 holydays of obligation? Yes, it's true! In the USA, we have either dropped or transferred to Sunday: Epiphany, Corpus Christi, and the Solemnities of St. Joseph and of Sts. Peter and Paul.

I can appreciate what I think our Bishops Conference is trying to do. I think that they don't want people who wouldn't go to Mass those days to have mortal sins on their souls for choosing not to go to Mass. I really think they decided to do what they thought was best.

I am not a bishop. I don't even play one on TV. I don't claim to know more than our shepherds, nor do I claim to be more Catholic than any one of them. I know that the Lord has chosen them to lead us and we should be willing to be led.

It just seems to me that what this abrogation of holydays and what this removal of holydays really is, is a lowering of our bishops' expectations for us. It's kind of like, "We know it's really hard for you to take an extra 10 hours out of your year to go to Mass for special days, especially since most of you don't go to Sunday Mass at all. So, we're going to make it easier for you. You only have to go on these few days. Not so bad, right?"

There are a few downsides to this line of thinking: 1. It's confusing. I mean, I work at a church and I go to Mass every week and I don't even know when it's really an obligation or not. 2. It leads people to wonder what else is negotiable. This is a very slippery slope. I saw it in people in my parents' generation after Vatican II: "Now it's not a sin to eat meat on Friday (but you have to remember to make a different act of penance)." "Not a sin to eat meat on Friday?! What else isn't a sin?" 3. To take away or abrogate Holydays of Obligation, which are important because of the events and people they celebrate, chips away at our Catholic identity. There is less and less that separates us from Protestant Christians.

(tune in next time for part 2)

Hello, blog? It's me, Margaret.

No, it's Amy. And things are better. We're all settling in here and getting used to one another.

Baby 4 seems to be growing nicely. I have a doctor's appointment tomrrow morning, barring any more snow-related weirdness (we got about 30 inches of snow December 26-27, 2010). We'll see how much weight I've gained and whether or not my doctor will yell at me.

Well, that's all for now. I have a church-related rant coming up. And I do have to start getting back to all of the stuff I owe you about going to Europe last summer.

Good night!