Friday, July 31, 2009

Spiritual Freedom

After reading Fr. Dave Pivonka's Hiking the Camino, a friend put me on to his Spiritual Freedom: God's Life-Changing Gift. In the interests of full disclosure, I only read about 3/4 of it. This had nothing to do with the quality of the book. I left it in Nashville. My sincerest hope is that whomever found it is right now enjoying it as much as I did.

Pivonka's language is simple and to-the-point. God wants us to be perfectly free to live the abundant life. Simplicity does not mean, however, that Pivonka sacrifices a good lesson in distinctions. He uses the Catechism and Church documents to explain what God's freedom looks like, over and against our cultural understandings.

The popular understanding of freedom is maximized and unfettered choice. The more things I have to choose from, the more free I become. 3,000 songs for my iPod! 500 interfaces for my blog! 44 flavors of ice cream in the store! 65 menu choices at the local chain restaurant! Pregnant? No problem! Should you choose, no baby is necessary! Should you choose otherwise, 850 outfits for the Little Dear at Target!

You get the point.

Spiritual freedom does not look like this. It is not having 626 religious practices to dip into at your wimsey. True freedom--God's perfect freedom--is to be perfectly in union with Him. Freedom is rooted in the truth, and the truth is that we are infinitely loved by our Creator. All those choices we enjoy from day to day may be taken away (and will be taken away when we die). But nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ crucified. (The late Avery Cardinal Dulles had a beautiful explanation of this concept of freedom in the 1995 First Things.)

When we are free, nothing can compel us to deny God or to imagine he does not care. This means freedom from sin (which is, simply, to deny God) and even from feeling the need for all these little "choices." It is freedom from death--in the soul and also, ultimately, in the body.

All this can become a little heady. Fr. Pivonka does a wonderful job of bringing it down and--most importantly of all--giving flesh and blood to the idea of true freedom. Through stories gleaned from his extensive ministry, he invites the reader to encounter men and women who have chosen the truth. And the truth set them free.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Spiritual Freedom.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Oh, I could never...

Here are some beautiful thoughts on that common phrase. Read the whole thing, but here's the conclusion:

"So dear friends, today I exhort you to reexamine the story you tell yourself about your life. Where are you limiting yourself? What kinds of things do you routinely tell yourself you just can't do? Let's encourage each other to stretch a bit."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Miriam's Credo.

With the general craziness surrounding a Big Trip for the Scientist Dad, getting ready for school to begin, and finding all Miriam's kindergarten (wow.) supplies, philosophy has been left in a dusty little corner in my brain.

Fortunately, Miriam has not allowed her little metaphysical inclination to rest. She has been busy concocting a brand new heresy, which she will combat when she becomes a Dominican (they've been bored ever since the Albigensians disappeared).

I took the time on our morning walk to listen carefully to her formulation of the new Creed.

in God the Father Almighty
the Baker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ,
his one, our Lord,
who was received by the Holy Spirit
bored of the Virgin Mary,
and died.
He ascended into hell. (I think we missed something important here.)
He will come again... (distracted by pink flower)
I believe in the Holy Spirit
the Holy Catholic Church
the communion of saints
the give-ness of sins (is that givenness?)
the resurrection of buddy
and life again, Amen."

I asked her to start the decade, and she complied:

"Our Father, who art in heaven, yellow be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven..."

Other than the obvious implication that God is material (yellow?), she got that one right. It's funny to me that she will probably have to re-learn many prayers as she gets older.

Because I didn't become Catholic until my teens, I never had the difficulty of learning my child's version of a prayer only to discover that's not what the prayer really says after all. Many cradle Catholics I know still sometimes exclaim, "I never knew the Church said that!" Really, though, I think they must have been told or at least heard it a million times.

We must have the humility to recognize that we may not have picked up everything there is to know along the way. Human learning is cyclical, as Laura Berquist says: We must constantly re-learn and re-examine the same thing. Or we will never know it. Like Miriam's Credo.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Where we've been...

Miriam gleans wisdom from Sr. Beatrice, OP. "Mommy! She is named for Saint Beatrix Potter!" Well... sure.

Two philosophy moms--one spiritual, the other biological. Sr. Alexandra and I take a turn.

...revelling in the spousal love of Christ. Sr. Anna, OP, took her final vows--for all her life--on July 24th.

(These are the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. I was in college with the three pictured here.)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

He says it all.

I was thinking about a post on marriage. But then Aaron Martin just said what I wanted to say. By the way, the answer is, NO, the YouTube video is not worth 5 minutes of your time. But the rest of his post is.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Healthcare "reform" and abortion.

Amy Welborn has everything you need to know about the extensive allowances for federal funding of domestic abortions (remember, you already fund international abortions). The comments in her box are a sweet sampling of the emotional charges surrounding this bill!

There are a myriad of options for you to register your own complaints with your representatives. I like the Susan B. Anthony List. Whatever your politics, I think we can find "common ground": No one should be forced to fund abortion under the aegis of "healthcare."

And, not that we should be indulging in nightmares, a little moral imagination is always helpful to light fires under our seats. And Sometimes Tea imagines a scenario that is all too real for some of us. OB's already give women a hard time for these sorts of things, it's just that right now we have a choice whether to cave under pressure or not.

Hey, I know her!

A little boasting today: Check out the featured essay, Part 1 (of 3) of "On the Vocation of the Christian Artist," in the current issue of Dappled Things. That's my mom! If I do say so myself, it's a wonderful essay.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

'Tis passing Strange.

Here is a wonderful book review, via Tea at Trianon: Roderick Strange's Newman 101. Another book for my (endless) wishlist.

Aahhh. Lovely.

From the inimitable Fr. Jean-Pierre Caussade, via Happy Catholic.

I experience impetuous desires of acquiring the gift of prayer, humility, gentleness, the love of God; to this I reply: Let us not think so much about our own interests: my duty is to occupy myself simply and quietly with God, to accomplish his will in all that He asks of me at the moment. That is my task; everything else I leave in the care of God; my advancement is his business as mine is to occupy myself ceaselessly with him and to execute his orders.

It occurs to me that I am still so imperfect, so full of defects and meannesses, of infidelities and weaknesses; how long will it be before I am delivered from these things? I reply at once: By the grace of God I do not love my faults, I am resolved to combat them; but I shall only be delivered from them when it may please God to deliver me. That is his affair, mine is to hate these faults and to fight them with patience, penitence, and humility until it pleases God to give me the victory over them.

The thought occurs to me: But I am so blind that I do not even know my faults, yet my duty is to lament them before God and confess them; I at once reply: I wish to know my faults, I no longer live in voluntary dissipation of mind, I spend a certain time quietly examining my conscience. This is what God demands of me; he will give me more light and knowledge when he thinks it well to do so; that is his affair; I have placed all my spiritual progress in his hands; it is, therefore, enough for the present for me to accuse myself of a few daily faults, as God gives me to know them, adding to them a sin of my past life.
Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade, SJ

The Melancholic.

Miriam is one intense child.

When she can choose from 60 Art Masterpieces--Botticelli's Madonna, Velasquez's princess, Parrish's nymphettes--what does she choose to color?

The Mondrian. For an hour. I like her colors better, though--pink, purple, and blue.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Cypresses in Spain

"Spain is a peculiar country... In every instance what is characteristis is a tendency toward the instinctive, toward the individualistic, and toward the anarchic. Spaniards follow men better than they follow ideas, which are judgued not by their content, but by the men who embody them. This accounts for the incelmency of personal relationships, the small respect for laws; this, too, is what causes our periodic civil wars." ~Jose Maria Gironella, 1954, Note for the American Edition

The Cypresses Believe in God surely ranks with the greatest historical epics--Doctor Zhivago is the most common comparison--as well as with the deepest explorations of the human heart--nearing (but not equalling) Brothers Karamazov. Its ambitious blueprint is a maze of politics, coming-of-age stories, ideologies, explorations of faith and morlas, and anthropology: it attempts to chronicle, through the eyes of a single family in eastern Spain, the onset of the Spanish Civil War. Coming in at about 800 pages, it seems at the last too short.

Starting in 1931, Gironella follows the Alvear family from 1931--a time of relative peace and prosperity--to 1936, immediately after the first violent outbreaks of the war. In that time, the three children grow up influenced by the various ideals clashing around them, but most of all by the deep love and faith of their parents. From the very first, Gironella makes clear that the experience of family is the implacable factor in every human person's life story. As the world beings to fragment around them, their family in the little apartment on the Rambla becomes the heart of the story: "The inner life of the flat was festive, and all the doors had to be closed to create an atmosphere of intimacy. If one of them was carelessly left open, all the clocks in the city could be heard; nevertheless, the Alvears knew that in a fistful of space they could create an intimate and impregnable world of their own."

Ignacio, the eldest son, is the protagonist of the story, however, and in his heart plays out the mighty struggles of the opposing sides of the revolution. As Gironella leads us through Ignacio's youth, we can begin to tease out the why's, not only of the civil war, but also of the disintegration of any society into violence. How can human beings living so close and happily together in a few short years devolve into hatred? How can "the Church" end up on the side of fascism in any situation? As Ignacio's confusion and convictions grow, so does our understanding of the human condition.

The very last scenes of the novel describe the nights of terror inflicted on the Church and fascists by communist/anarchist leaders. Men, women, and children are gunned down in the darkness by their neighbors; sisters who haven't left their convents in decades are led out to be stripped and slaughtered. In all this chaos, however, Gironella is at pains to insist on this truth: The contentions of this world are passing away. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

That he does so in the most natural, unforced manner possible places this book on the top of my shelf. There is no pretention or preaching--his characters are real, he sympathizes clearly with every side he protrays. In the end, he allows the True, the Good, and the Beautiful to speak for itself.

Carmen Elgazu, the Alvears' mother, speaks poignantly its message. The city's head policeman, Julio, has visited them in the wake of a bombing that left a nun dead, much to the joy of the "Left." He feigns indifference to the edict forbidding any religious symbol or prayer at her funeral. Carmen Elgazu replies:

"You know better than we do what is going on. They are doing everything they can to banish the name of God. That's all they concern themselves about, and to accomplish it they seek the support of anybody, even the anarchists.... To them a cassok or a crucifix is deadly as poison. Mother of God! They could not be more mistaken. Without religion, there is only hatred. Religion is the only brake, even though you don't think so... A family gathered together, as we are here, is old-fashioned, out-of-date. One should do like ... they do abroad. It's all so distressing. Because it is so useless, you know. They won't accomplish a thing. Do they think they've hurt the nun? She's where she wanted to be. Listen carefully to what I'm saying to you, Julio. They can fight God, but they'll lose... They have their work cut out for them. Nor should they think they've won because they see us weeping. They can burn down as many churches as they like. They can forbid crosses at funerals, and altar boys; but they'll never be able to stop us from praying here"--she pointed to her breast--"and that's what counts."

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Which Father of the Church am I?

You’re St. Melito of Sardis!

You have a great love of history and liturgy. You’re attached to the traditions of the ancients, yet you recognize that the old world — great as it was — is passing away. You are loyal to the customs of your family, though you do not hesitate to call family members to account for their sins.

Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!

Hooray! Wait... who? (Not that a philosopher should ever admit to ignorance of a Great Thinker. What I ought to have said was, "Oh, yes, St. Mileto. His thought reminds me of St. Augustine's thought, which clearly... Hang on a sec, the baby's crying.")

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

Today the Church celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. It is a great day for the Carmelite Order and its friends. Take some time today to learn more about this beautiful family within the Church. Here are some fun and thoughtful links. (If you have any favorite Carmel sites, let me know!)

Saints of Carmel
The Institute of Carmelite Studies
Byzantine Carmelite Nuns
Carmelite Sisters (Association of St. Joseph)
Monks making coffee! And praying for the Church...
A biblical perspective of Mt. Carmel
Carmel Decor (I'm a sucker for icons!)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Thoughts on Iran.

No, not another attempt at politics. I want simply to draw your attention to a post at Feminine Genius: Two young women in prison for the capital offense of converting from Islam to Christianity. And some interesting speculation from church leaders, too. I've been thinking a lot about how rare a time and place we are blessed to inherit. So much freedom... let's not waste it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Hiking the Camino

Fr. Dave Pivonka's Hiking the Camino: 500 Miles With Jesus was a bit of a mental break for me. After the intellectual rigors of Authentic Sexuality, I wanted something lighter to review. Furthermore, pilgrimages have a soft place in my rocky heart: Todd and I were given the pilgrimage to Jasna Gora (in Poland) as a wedding present and hiked there from Krakow in August 2003.

A good, old-fashioned hike--usually 15 to 20 miles per day--is often good medicine for the soul. Even if it does a number on the flesh. (Or, perhaps, because it does number on the flesh!)

This little book tells the story of a much longer hike in little episodes. Fr. Pivonka leads us along his journey through northern Spain, using the physical trials and joys as introductions to the interior transformation he experienced. His self-effacing humor and evident joy in his vocation (I think he says, "I love being a priest," nearly once per page) gain the reader's trust. He also avoids all pretention or superiority. The spiritual reflections are very simple, but always profound. He references Scripture and John Paul II, thus bringing a broader perspective to his own thoughts.

If you want to learn more about a contemporary experience of a medieval pilgrimage, this is a good pick. If you are planning or dreaming of a pilgrimage yourself, it is inspirational.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Hiking the Camino.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Thanks to Christine for reminding me of one of my favorite "yearning" poems...

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

~William Butler Yeats

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Pulling together.

Am I ready to ask the question? A Holy Experience shares an intimate moment.

Friday, July 10, 2009


During a brief (and recently rare) encounter with my Creator, I became enthused: "At last! Contact with You! Now you can solve all these problems I have..." And I began to list them. They were all noble struggles--dealing, of course, with matters of heroic virtue and the various ways in which I was trying flex my saintly muscle.

But then, I had one of those quiet moments. No. There were no answers. He didn't give me my marching orders or a list of directives. He was simply there.

Presence. Communion with He Who Is.

And then, suddenly, that was all I needed. Him.

All I need to fulfill His will is Him. In obedience to what He sends, I dwell constantly with Him and move with Him from moment to moment, decision to decision. If I can accomplish one thing, what joy in His presence. If I fail at another thing, what joy in His mercy.

Which made today's meditation from Magnificat so beautiful. Nothing can replace this truth:

"We, the ordinary people of the streets, know very will that as long as our own will is alive, we will not be able to love Christ defninitevly. We know that only obedience can root us in his death. We would envy our religious brothers and sisters if we too could not 'die to ourslves' a little more each day.

"However, for us the tiny circumstances of life are faithful 'superiors.' They do not leave us alone for a moment; and the 'yeses' we have to say to them follow continuously, one after the other.

"When we surrender to them without resistance we find ourselves wonderfully liberated from ourselves. We float in Providence like a cork on the ocean owaters ....

"When we thus become accumstomed to giving up our will to so many tiny things, we will no longer find it hard, when the occasion presents itself to do the will of our boss, our husband, our parents. And our hope is that death, too, will be easy." ~Servant of God Madeleine Delbrel (d. 1964)

Image here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Speaking of charity...

Jen over at Conversion Diary has begun posting a breathtaking interview series on a couple who have adopted children with HIV/AIDS. My only complaint: I have to wait for weeks to read the rest! Please head over there right now.

Caritas in veritate!

Benedict XVI's latest encyclical is here! His first "social encyclical," he chooses to approach the question of Christian justice and social responsibility through the words of St. Paul in Ephesians 4:15: "truth in love."

"Truth," writes Benedict, "needs to be sought, found and expressed within the “economy” of charity, but charity in its turn needs to be understood, confirmed and practised [sic] in the light of truth."

He makes no bones about it: a world that relativizes truth is incapable of practicing charity, just as a world without charity has no knowledge of truth. "Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word “love” is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite."


UPDATE: Links to commentary.

Amy Welborn is first.
The Catholic Register provides the "unofficial Vatican synthesis."
Let's Get it Right!
Catholic Manhood has three more...

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy news!

Benedict XVI has announced that John Henry Newman will be beatified, most likely next spring! The well-known (some would say infamous) convert contributed an inestimable wisdom and humility to all human beings, and this will be a wonderful opportunity to study his thought, rejoice in his life, and ask him to be with us on our own sojurns. His words, in fact, fly under the masthead here on this very blog. (For more on the process of canonization and the Catholic Church's understanding of sainthood, click here.)

Here is his 1829 poem, "A Voice from Afar":

Weep not for me;—
Be blithe as wont, nor tinge with gloom
The stream of love that circles home,
Light hearts and free!
Joy in the gifts Heaven’s bounty lends;
Nor miss my face, dear friends!

I still am near;—
Watching the smiles I prized on earth,
Your converse mild, your blameless mirth;
Now too I hear
Of whisper’d sounds the tale complete,
Low prayers, and musings sweet. {41}

A sea before
The Throne is spread;—its pure still glass
Pictures all earth-scenes as they pass.
We, on its shore,
Share, in the bosom of our rest,
God's knowledge, and are blest.

Asking for prayers.

For those of you who pray, please ask God's mercy for a dear friend of mine whose wife lost a baby today to an ectopic pregnancy. They've spent most of their Independence Day in the ER and surgery, and the outcome for her body is still uncertain. Thank you.

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.


UPDATE: She came out of surgery and, after a night in the ICU, is stable and doing well. Now please continue to pray for the healing of their hearts. Thank you to all who have been praying!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Independence Day.

Here is the poem I spoke of earlier. It appears in Richard John Neuhaus's American Babylon. Striking a balance between the devotion we celebrate today and the heartbreak we feel as pilgrims on a separate course, the poem upholds what is good even as he remembers our national failures. The poet, Richard Wilbur, does not mention all evils that we have inflicted on ourselves, of course, but the salvage can be applied to each.

"Whose minds went dark at the edge of a field,
In the muck of a trench, on the beachhead sand,
In a blst amidships, a burst in the air ....
Grieve for the ways in which we betrayed them,
How we robbed their graves of a reason to die:
The tribes pushed west, and the treaties broken,
The image of God on the auction block,
The Immigrant scorned, and the striker beaten.
The vote denied to liberty's daughters ....
From all that has shamed us, what can we salvage?
Be proud at least that we know we were wrong,
That we need not lie, that our books are open,
Praise to this land for our power to change it,
To confess our misdoings, to mend what we can,
To learn what we mean and make it the law,
To become what we said we were going to be."

Today, remind yourself and your families of what we said we were going to be.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Finding direction, Part II.

Continuing on this spiritual direction theme, I must admit my greatest concern is obedience. I firmly believe in the importance of obedience. One of the main attractions of spiritual direction is the opportunity to further exercise that "obedience unto death."

But in the practical world, how do I find someone with the authority worthy of such obedience? In the confessional, I have found many priests who give great advice ("You should make at least one act of charity toward your husband before he leaves for work every morning." Amen.). I have had very bad advice in the confessional ("Oh, that's not so bad! You really shouldn't worry about it." OR "Well, you're a poor student. Stealing stamps from work is really very understandable."). And so, I obey their advice only upon consideration, not out of obedience to their authority (unless, of course, they prescribe a certain action as my penance).

There are clear cases when one should not obey advice--for example, when the director is unfaithful to the Scriptures or the mind of the Church. Then you must find a different guide.

It would be wrong, however, to disregard a director's advice simply because he contradicts what I want to do. This would point to a lack of will on my part to convert my heart, to allow it to be led "where I do not want to go."

How do you recognize the director who will lead you where you would not go on your own, but at the same time may be obeyed with trust and confidence? Dubay gives an impressive, but nonetheless helpful description of the ideal director:

1. a prayerful person who takes seriously both liturgical worship and contemplation
2. one who thinks "with the Church" and is known for ecclesial fidelity
3. one with an adequate theological education (if not formal, then at least years of extensive reading and serious reflection)
4. one with sound judgment
5. a man (or woman) with an understanding of psychology that enables him/her to recognize when a problem is more psychological or neurotic than spiritual
6. one to whom the directee readily relates and with whom she is at ease.

I feel a little like the astonished disciples, "Lord, who then can be saved?" Or, rather, who then can qualify? It is a daunting list, but not an impossible one. As St. Francis de Sales reminds us, God will provide what we need in order to find Him: "Besides all this beg the Most High to guide your steps in the truth." (Sirach 37:19)

Time to beg.