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Divine Mercy

(I know I’m two days late. Shut up.)

On Sunday, the priest (who is from an African country that leaves him with a nearly-incomprehensible accent), started off the homily with some general thoughts about mercy. I think everybody’s attention kinda wandered, since the words were generic and it was hard to understand, anyway.

Then he said, “My father left us when I was ten,” and everyone’s attention SNAPPED back. He told of his father abandoning them, and not seeing him for 20 years — when, as a condition of his ordination, he was required to have both parents present him to the bishop. The priest told of how he had to have mercy towards and forgive his father, and he said, “Jesus forgave without people even asking for forgiveness.”

That’s when I heard the record scratch. Mainly because it was the same thing I’ve heard, over and over, my whole life. And because it was one of the most harmful things that I’ve ever believed. Every time my husband mistreated me, I would automatically put the incident out of my mind, think, “I forgive him,” and move on. The problem is that our relationship was never healed; none of the wounds he caused me were ever dealt with; he never ASKED for forgiveness, intended to change, or even, to the best of my knowledge, thought that there was anything wrong with his behaviour.

And from what I understand, in view of many aspects of Church teaching, forgiveness CANNOT BE HAD without the offender recognizing the need and ASKING FOR IT. Obviously, the Church has a very well-though-out theology of reconciliation and salvation. The whole point of God being nailed to a piece of wood was to reconcile us to Him. But I don’t know of ANYWHERE the Church teaches that forgiveness is given without requesting it.

To wit: One of the seven sacraments is Reconciliation, wherein Catholics go to a minister and ask for God’s forgiveness in order to receive it. And not only do you have to ask, but in order to be forgiven, you must: be contrite (be sorry for your sins, and resolve not to repeat them), ask for forgiveness, and perform penance (doing something to make up for the wrong we did).

Also: The Church teaches that Jesus’s death on the cross was sufficient to attain forgiveness for all of humanity’s sins for all time. However, that doesn’t mean that all of humanity’s sins were instantly forgiven on Good Friday. Everyone wasn’t instantly forgiven, sanctified, and transmuted into heaven that day. They weren’t even made perfect on earth on that day. Not even Jesus’s followers were instantly forgiven at 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon. All forgiveness necessary is available, but it is not automatically applied in each individual case.

Again: When Jesus taught His followers how to pray, He included “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” He taught them 1) that they must ask for forgiveness, and 2) that forgiveness is even conditional upon their actions! Not only do you have to be contrite, confess, and try to fix the problems you caused, you have to offer the same to people who offend you!

CLARIFICATION: At this point, I feel it is incumbent for me to say that when I speak of withholding forgiveness, I do not mean deliberately nurturing bitterness and hatred in your heart toward people who hurt you until they sufficiently debase themselves to earn your forgiveness. You must always love everyone, recognizing their intrinsic value, and desiring their true good.

That DOESN’T mean, however, ignoring offenses against you and allowing people to mistreat you without any consequences or any signs of repentance on their part. Especially in the context of a close relationship, to allow offenses to multiply, and to never address the damage to the relationship and to the people involved, is a recipe for disaster.

In Matthew’s Gospel, immediately before Jesus tells Peter to forgive seventy-seven (or 490) times, He says, “If your brother sins against you, GO AND TELL HIM HIS FAULT.” [emphasis added] When people speak of immediate forgiveness, they usually ignore this part. Jesus, having a pretty decent grasp of human nature, understands that relationships must be healed if they are to survive, whether between God and man (His death, and the sacrament of penance), or between people. And for people’s own sakes, they must be told that they’ve done wrong! Forgiveness doesn’t help if they don’t know that they’ve done anything, so they don’t fix themselves, so they never get better!

As for Jesus forgiving people without them asking, do we really have evidence of that? I propose the following:

1) that since Jesus is God, He knows what is in people’s hearts, so of course He can tell if they are sorry without being verbally told, and

2) although it’s not recorded, I’m sure that people Jesus forgave DID ask His forgiveness, whether the authors of the Gospels recorded it or not. Can you imagine that, after the Resurrection, the disciples picked up with Him as if everything was normal, and just never mentioned how they all abandoned Him? You don’t think that there were tears and apologies and active sorrow for what they had done? I guarantee that there were, because I’ve lived in a relationship where those things never happened, and it was a living hell. You cannot have a healthy relationship with someone who constantly hurts you, yet never takes any responsibility for it or acknowledges that you’ve been hurt.

I’ll leave you with a portion of the Catechism:

There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive. “There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest.” Christ who died for all men desires that in his Church the gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin. – CCC 982 [emphasis added]

 

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I don’t understand the crucifix

One thing I’ve heard, over and over and over, since I’ve been studying Catholicism, is the importance of the crucifix. Well, and Christ’s Passion inclusive. Fr. Serpa, lately from Catholic Answers, used to say that we should meditate on the crucifix in order to understand God’s love. But I don’t see how looking at a crucifix makes you understand love; for me all it has ever done is fill me with condemnation and guilt.

Basically, when I see a crucifix, this is the message I receive: “You are so terrible, that even without your knowledge and consent, your actions caused an innocent man to experience unimaginable suffering. If it wasn’t for you, he wouldn’t have had to undergo this. All of this is your fault. And it’s not like you were given a choice. Just by existing, your evilness is so extreme that it reached back through time and caused the ultimate innocent suffering.”

There’s also the “in case you didn’t realize how awful you were, here’s an image of how much God hates sin, which is the primary constituent element of your being.”

I’ve never understood how anyone could glean love and hope from a crucifix. I know that I should, as a Catholic, display one more prominently in my home, or spend more time meditating on one in church, but I just cannot endure the crushing despair that it causes.

Maybe someday I’ll have the chance to take the red pill and find out why so many people are so enthusiastic about the contemplation of the Passion. But until then, I’m just going to leave them to it.

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Holy Thursday

I had a job interview today for a job that I’d really, really like to get. (Like, “I’d be able to pay my bills,” like to get.) I just hope I’m one of the seven they pick out of the at least 40 that showed up…

So as the anxiety began to mount, it occurred to me that today is the perfect day to pray, “Lord, if you are willing… nevertheless, let not my will but Thine be done.”

Which is much, much, MUCH harder than it seems. Truthfully, almost physically hard. To let go of desire, and fear, and anxiety, when they are such a part of you that they find physical expression, is almost painful. It’s not just an intellectual exercise; you actually have to relax your body, and release the tension when you consider that you might not get what you want. And you have to do it again, and again, and again.

That, of course, reminded me of Jesus sweating blood as He prayed those words. I had never really considered why that anxiety produced a such a physical result; I just pictured Him knowing the inevitable result, and just play-acting the trauma so that we would have a good example, you know? And then something occurred to me: for Jesus, choosing to suffer would have been particularly stress-inducing because He could have prevented it. 

We can afford to be fatalistic, and accept suffering in a passive way, because very often there’s nothing we can do about it. We suffer, and we don’t have the power to change it. All we have to do is accept it. But what if we COULD change it? How much harder would it be to really voluntarily undergo suffering — not just endure something over which we have no control? And that would go not just for our suffering, but for others — imagine Jesus’s pain when He saw other people suffering, and knew that He had the ability to stop it, but for greater reasons had to let it be? When you have the almighty power of God at your immediate disposal, how much self-control would it take to say, “Not my will, by thine be done”?

There ought to be a word for the action that is not only saying something, but physically acting it out as well. Like, the difference between saying, “I love you,” and actually doing something about it. When you say to God, “I trust you,” there’s a physical component that can be just as exhausting as the mental part. This weird fusion of the spirit and body, where they must both agree, otherwise one puts the lie to the other.

So for the next week, every time my over-active brain reminds me of the job that I might be getting, I have to say, and act out, “Lord, not my will, but thine be done.”

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Mother Angelica

shrine of the most blessed sacrament

I will always remember Mother Angelica’s date of death (March 27, 2016), because I joined the Church the day before. Also, that year was one in which the Annunciation fell on Good Friday.

I believe Mother Angelica is a saint, and am waiting impatiently for the five-year minimum to elapse before a cause can be opened… She is a wonderful example of what God can do with someone who is willing to give everything to Him, and of heroic acceptance of suffering.

I had read descriptions of what saints were like, but she was the first I actually saw. Her lack of fear, devotion to the truth, and the fact that she was the most… like herself person I had ever seen made a deep impression on me. I know now why people wanted to be around the saints, and emulate them. They didn’t terrorize people, or make them feel inferior, or hopeless… It was like they had found the most desirable thing in the universe, and it constantly oozed from them. When you saw them, you saw what you wanted to be more than anything else. It truly did seem like they had found the pearl that was worth giving up everything else they had and not even feel the loss.

Mother Angelica, pray for us!

 

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Catholicism: 2 years and counting…

I really ought to have done this yesterday, since that was my two-year anniversary of entering the Church, but I got busy. It’s close, right?

I don’t really have a lot of deep insights right now, but I feel like I should put something down for the historical record… Being a Catholic is like life, you know? Some things good, some things bad, most things just running in the background.

I guess the main thing that I didn’t anticipate was that my (now soon-to-be-ex) husband would follow me into the Church within a few months. Almost as soon as I joined, he suddenly became much more interested, received personalized, expedited instruction from the chaplain at his command, and was confirmed that October.

On one hand, that’s good. Obviously, I believe that the Church is true, and that to align oneself with Her is the correct thing to do. On the other hand, given my personal situation, the Church suddenly became much less safe for me. Previously, the Church had been a safe haven; I knew that I could always go there to be safe — mentally AND physically, since it was once place my husband wasn’t. But things like the Rosary, Adoration, and Catholic radio became things that brought me nearer to my husband’s orbit, instead of farther away.

Of course, if we had a healthy relationship, this would have been great news. Many converts’ journeys into the Church are burdened by their spouse NOT agreeing with what they’re doing. As with so many things, my problems are the mirror-image of normal… As it is, my entry into the Church was followed by a swift cooling of interest and decline in practice (although not below the required minimum), because my attempts to stay as far away from my husband as possible led me in the opposite direction.

I believe that one’s journey toward Truth is necessarily paved with difficulties. It’s like you have to prove you want it, you know? In my case, before I entered the Church, I had to accept that I may have to endure a sacramental marriage until death, despite abuse and civil divorce. After I entered the Church, I had to force myself to continue to be faithful, despite wanting to flee in the opposite direction to avoid my husband. The timing is important: had he shown interest beforehand, I may have thrown over the whole thing to get away from him. But since I had been confirmed, I was committed…

The greatest benefit to being a one-religion family is that our daughter will be raised in agreement. She attends Catholic school, and I have every reason to expect that we both will do our best to raise her in the faith. We may live in different houses, and attend different parishes, but there’s consistency.

The other challenge to my young Catholicism has been the normal strains of everyday life. Attending college, moving, trying to find a job and support myself, illness… I no longer have the time available to spend researching and studying the Faith. And truthfully, that’s something that I have always appreciated about Catholicism: it’s for the merely human! You don’t have to study, read, and devote all your spare time to trying to determine what the truth is. The Church has done that for you, and She gives you a very, very light minimum weight to carry to continue to be in good standing. The Church understands the difficulties of life, and constantly makes allowances for them. It doesn’t take much to be a Catholic, fortunately. Or it takes everything, whichever. Depends on which day I’m looking at it…

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A theory on suffering

A while ago (man, QUITE a while ago now), I was having a conversation with someone about suffering; to wit: why? Human beings have an innate sense of justice, and sometimes it’s hard to understand why we have to endure suffering, especially when it is long, painful, and seemingly un-earned.

Well, I had an epiphany on the way home from Wal-Mart a few minutes ago, and here it is:

I was talking to someone who is kinda resentful about some broken relationships from his past. I told him that I believed that, in general, everybody in the situation made the best decisions that they could with the understanding and resources that they had at the time. But, I thought, that doesn’t mean that you get to be immune from the consequences. Even if your culpability for a particular action is small, you still have to live with the results of it, and sometimes that means that certain people never want to see you again.

So, you ask, what do you do with that suffering? In this case, it seems obvious that your own actions caused this suffering, so you should do what you should do with all temporal consequences: learn from them, and use them to further perfect your soul. You know, get a head start on purgatory.

That makes sense to us, right? When we do something wrong as suffer as a result, we can see both the justice and the practical aid that the suffering brings us: we rightly suffer for our sins, and we can use the suffering to learn our lesson. But what about suffering that we DIDN’T cause?

That’s where the epiphany came in: I suddenly realized that I have done tons of wrong things that HAVEN’T necessarily caused me great suffering. I still need redemption both eternally (the consequences paid by the death of the infinite God), and temporally (the consequences within time that I have to pay in order to perfect my soul). But — and here’s the kicker — the suffering you use to learn your lesson doesn’t have to be directly related to the sins you committed.

Think of it this way: you have run up a huge, huge debt. You were just dumb, made a bunch of stupid financial decisions, and now you’re in over your head. You know you were stupid, you accept responsibility, and now you’re trying to get the debt paid down. So for most of the debt, you are working a second job to EARN the money to pay down the debt. You are suffering in order to reduce the consequences. That makes sense, right?

Then add this: while you’re working and doing the best you can to pay your debt, someone gives you a financial gift. You can use that money to pay down your debt, too. The debt doesn’t care where the money comes from, just so long as you apply it. Same thing with suffering: when you suffer, you are being given currency to pay down the temporal consequences for your sins. Whether the currency was earned yourself (consequences of your own sins), or by someone else (you suffer unjustly due to someone else’s sins), you can use that currency as temporal atonement for your sins.

So when you are suffering because of someone else, not because of anything you have earned, you can rejoice, because you are literally being given the currency to pay down your debt. You didn’t have to go out and earn it yourself; someone just handed it to you for free. That’s why suffering is so valuable: because you can use it to perfect yourself, to learn from your mistakes, and to make up for the harm you have caused to your relationship with God and to your own soul.

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My struggle with annulments

Remember back in 2014-2015 when the Synod on the Family overwhelmed Catholic media? (Aren’t you glad THAT’S over? I am.) I was in RCIA at that point, and I remember hoping that a certain topic would be addressed, but to the best of my knowledge, it really wasn’t. So here’s what I would have liked to have clarification on, as regards marriage and annulment.

I think the most important premise, when talking about annulments, is the concept that a “annulled” marriage had something wrong with it from the very beginning. At the time of “consent,” there existed factors that nullified whatever vows the spouses attempted to make. From what I understand, those are the factors for which the marriage tribunals are looking when they decide annulment cases. In other words, they are searching for known, visible factors to determine if there was a pre-existing problem.

As a survivor of domestic abuse, that is very concerning to me, because one of the defining features of domestic abuse is that it doesn’t show up at the beginning of a relationship. When you think about it, it’s just logical: no one’s going to show up on a first date and punch their date across the room; the victim has no attachment to the attacker at that point, and will immediately terminate the relationship, such as it is.

Abuse is a control mechanism, and treating someone badly early in a relationship ends the relationship, and the potential for control. So abusers play nice — sometimes for YEARS — until the victim is so attached to them, and entrenched in the relationship (financially, emotionally, socially), that they will tolerate all manner of mistreatment.

So when a victim of domestic abuse finally leaves (and abuse is one thing that most Christians will accept as justification for civil divorce), they are in a really bad situation when it comes to getting an annulment. They have clear evidence that living with their spouse is not currently tolerable, but it is unlikely that they have any such evidence from the beginning of the relationship. In fact, their abuser may have been unusually kind and admirable in the beginning, showing all the trademarks of being mature, well-balanced, and reasonable.

I guess my question is: what are victims of abuse supposed to do? Do they just get the short end of the stick? They are unable to get an annulment, but their relationship is the very definition of irreconcilable? I understand that in this world, sometimes innocent people just get the shaft. I guess I just would have liked that particular situation to have been addressed more explicitly in the document from the Synod.

~~~~~~~~~

For example, if a person has been abused, yet there is no evidence for nullity, then what they’re being told is that their marriage is valid and sacramental — that God gave them and their spouse special grace to be able to live marriage out well — yet in their case, it seems to have had the opposite effect. How can they reconcile the validity of a marriage that seemed to destroy them, instead of build them up? If the sacramental grace of marriage allowed their spouse to tear them down, then of what good is it? Is there no way to take evidence from after the marriage was attempted, and to conclude that the current situation demonstrates a lack of sacramental grace from the very beginning, even if there were no explicit indications at the time?

I’m not saying the Church is wrong; I’m just struggling to understand her teaching in light of how my life has played out. As I’ve said before, it’s irrelevant to me because I plan on avoiding marriage like the plague for the rest of my life, so I shouldn’t find myself in a canonically-irregular situation regarding reception of the Eucharist, for example. But I nevertheless struggle to reconcile that my marriage is valid and sacramental with my husband’s abuse.

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“I WISH I had your cross!”

(Simcha Fisher had a good post today that got me thinking about cross-comparisons. 

So, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, here’s my contribution to NFP week:)

I can’t believe that all of you are complaining about NFP, or infertility, or subfertility, or super-fertility (is that a word?). I WISH I had those problems! It’s hard to feel sorry for people whose problem is that they desire their spouses TOO much! They’ve obviously never considered that they could be in an abusive marriage, where they don’t have to worry about NFP because just being in the same room with their spouse is terrifying, much less sleeping with them!

I WISH that I had to worry about having too many kids, instead of spending the rest of my life as a single parent. And I’m not even in the position of being a single, never-married Catholic, because if I don’t get an annulment, then I will NEVER have the option to have all the kids that some Catholics think are required to be faithful. And since I already have a child, I can’t even turn the loss of the marriage into a vocation to the religious life!

If I have to hear one more person complain about their squishy new babies, or talk about how hard it is to abstain from their smoking hot spouse lying a few inches away, I will punch somebody. How about being forced to have nauseating sex in the attempt to persuade your spouse to treat you like a human being, instead of like a piece of garbage? Boo hoo, it’s so terrible that you have a spouse whom you like, and actually want to be around, and have children with! Cry me a river.

Just the fact that you have a spouse with whom you WANT to have kids must be the greatest thing in the world. How can you possibly complain when you don’t dread going to bed every night, afraid that your spouse will touch you and you’ll get sick to your stomach. How bad can life really be if you don’t have to worry every day about committing imaginary offenses that will cause your spouse to throw you and your new baby out into the street? If I could merely feel safe and secure in my own home, then I would HAPPILY endure any type of family-planning issues.

(Okay, that’s my rant! Next person’s turn! You can tell me how lucky I am that I at least have the possibility of getting away from my spouse, or at least I have one child already, or once I’m divorced I’ll have tons of free time to devote to serving the poor, or whatever. Tell me what I should be grateful for that I’m overlooking!)

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How to be a faithful Catholic

I’m probably just giving myself a complex; I shouldn’t spend all my time reading Catholic mommy blogs. But it presents a question: how should I live as a faithful Catholic, given my state in life, when my state in life is all kinds of messed up?

I wasn’t Catholic when I married (neither was my husband), but our goal was that we would have a bunch of kids, he would work, and I would stay home and care for / homeschool the kids. (We kinda did this backwards, I see now. Usually people decide to do all those things AFTER they convert.) But in my back-asswards world, I’ve moved FARTHER from the desirable “Catholic wife/mother” state AFTER my husband and I joined the Church.

I realized that my husband’s behavior was abusive about 4 years after we married, 3 years after we started living in the same place. This was before I had any interest in Catholicism. I told myself that marriage was for life, and that I would stay with him for our child. Perversely, my journey toward the Church aligned with the eventual collapse of our marriage. The closer I got to Catholicism, the more I came to realize that I could not live with him any longer, not for the rest of my life, not for 12 more years, not for any longer than absolutely necessary.

So now I’m in the weird position of becoming a single mother, who has to send her child to group school so that she can work to support them — AFTER having joined the Church and acceded to its teachings. Hence my question: how should I be a faithful Catholic? The mommy bloggers talk about serving their husbands and children, confident in their vocation to matrimony. What about those of us who lost our traditional family since joining the Church? Discerning a vocation to a contemplative convent seems impossible, as much fun as it sounds. I will have no husband toward whom to direct a vocation. If no evidence for nullity is found, I will spend the rest of my life alone. (Honestly, even if we do get an annulment, I have no intention of ever marrying again. Knowing the potential for marriage becoming a living hell, I can’t imagine ever taking that risk.)

Is there a blogosphere for divorced Catholic single moms? Or should I just stop torturing myself via the Internet?

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Timing of Evening Prayer

I’ve been struggling to get Evening Prayer in lately. I can do Morning Prayer when I get up, and sometimes can get in one or two daytime hours. And then Night Prayer as I’m going to bed. But once I get dinner done, and the dishes done, and homework done, the whole evening has rushed by and I’ve forgotten it, again.

I try to stick close to the every-three-hours schedule, just because it’s easy to remember: 6 for Morning, 9 for Midmorning, etc, which puts Evening Prayer at 6 p.m. But because I keep forgetting about it until late, I just tried to look up what the ACTUAL requirements are for Evening Prayer.

Guess what I found? That Morning and Evening are more closely linked to sunrise and sunset than to a clock-time. And at my latitude, at this time of year, sunset doesn’t happen until 7:56 p.m.! So I’m totally justified in doing Evening Prayer at 8 p.m. 🙂

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