Too Much Religion For Me

“I’m sorry, that’s too much religion for me.”

“I wanted to make sure my kids had enough religion, but not that it consumed their whole life.”

“Christianity is about faith, not about religion” or “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.”

I’ve had about enough of this statement. Let’s look at a bit of a hypothetical conversation.

Michael: Here, sir. Consider the Catholic faith. We go to Church every Sunday, we receive the very Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, we go to confession to restore our relationship with God every time that we cause God pain through sin, we hold that sacraments have literal effects in the world, we formally pray about five times a day, and we hold that God wants to invade every part of our lives. Won’t you join us?

John: No, sir, I’m sorry. That’s too much religion for me.

M: Well, then, consider going to Church every Sunday, receiving Holy Communion, participating every so often in the sacraments, pray five times a day, but just ask Jesus to forgive your sins personally.

J: No, sir, I’m sorry. That’s too much religion for me.

M: Well, then, consider going to Church every Sunday, participating every so often in the sacraments, pray a few times a day, and we won’t worry about regular reflection and repentance.

J: No, sir, I’m sorry. That’s too much religion for me.

M: Well, then, consider going to Church every Sunday, we’ll extend the preaching so you don’t have to study Scripture on your own, pray every once in a while, and just make sure you’re baptized at some point.

J: No, sir, I’m sorry. That’s too much religion for me.

M: Well, then consider going to Church every Sunday, and make sure you say some prayer at some point during the week.

J: No, sir, I’m sorry. That’s too much religion for me.

M: Well…come to Church every Sunday?

J:

 

What is the notion of ‘religion’? Where does that come from? Even in ancient Rome the origin of the word was not exactly known. St. Augustine considers multiple, good, potential etymologies, but the most significant one he entertains is connecting the word to religare, which means ‘to bind together again’, ‘to reconnect’.

People who have fallen away from Catholicism or people who would never in their right mind consider it as a legitimate expression of Christianity (much less the expression of Christianity), see the notion of religion as a stumbling block.

“It’s just a bunch of stuffy rules.”

“It’s not authentic.”

“If you are following a religion, you are trying to work your way into heaven. That’s not faith.”

Let’s walk through a little exercise together, if you don’t mind doing a bit of work.

John has, for some personal reason, accepted the Lord Christ into his heart. He believes He died and rose again, won victory over Sin and True Death, and that He truly loves him.

Great! Now what? Does John lie back and wait for Christ to come again, or until death takes him?

I should think not. He should engage his faith! React to it! But how?

He could start by going to Church every Sunday. He could start by joining a community. This way he is not practicing his faith in isolation, something very counter to the nature of God. By going to Church every Sunday he can also open his heart and mind to hear the Word of God, to increase his faith in previously unknown ways. At what point, though, is prioritizing this important faith activity and regularly participating in it then “too religious”?

He could pray more. Prayer is not an act that changes God, as God does not change, but primarily an act that draws us closer to Him! Be it the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), a Hail Mary (Luke 1:28, Luke 1:42-43, James 5:16), singing/chanting/meditation on any of the 151 Psalms, or spontaneous prayer, these are all opportunities to engage with the Lord. St. Paul exhorts us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). All of these are ways for John to do that. At what point, though, is prioritizing this important faith activity and regularly participating in it then “too religious”?

He could follow Christ’s commands.

Christ said for His disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So John could participate in baptism.

Christ said “This is my Body” and “This is the Chalice of my Blood” and “Do this in remembrance of me” (wherein remember means more than just recall the fond memory). He said whoever does not eat His flesh and drink His blood will have no life in Him (John 6:53).

Christ told His disciples that whatever they bind on earth will be bound in Heaven and whatever they loose will be loosed in Heaven. This is the power Christ gives to His disciples to bind and loose sins, not in their own power, but as avatars of Christ on Earth.

At what point, though, is prioritizing these important faith activities and regularly participating in them then “too religious”?

I’m sure you understand my point, but let me make my point clear:

One may shove off religiosity in the name of faith, assuming that these elements are contrary to each other. But in the act of faith, seeking and trying to bind ourselves to our Creator and Sustainer, what better way is there to join ourselves to our God than through regularly practice and custom, or even ritual?

I think there is a misconception against religion that begins with an understanding of God as unchanging and immutable. Because He is unchanging, then we assume that our participation in His saving grace is similarly unchanging and immutable. But remember the dynamic of prayer: it is not about changing God, it is about changing us. While here on Earth our mission as Christians is not about passive participation in faith, it is about actively approximating ourselves to God, it is about sanctification and justification.

A faith without works is dead (James 2:17), but works alone does not save. The Catholic Church has long recognized (since the beginning) that one must receive faith and then respond to the faith with works of love.

The truth of the matter is that religion is a tool wherein one can deepen their faith, their hope, and their charity.

The other truth of the matter is that even those who say they do not like religion, yet have deep faith, actually practice religion. They have habits that actively deepen their faith. They have habits that protect them from sin and from breaking away from God. They have habits of learning more things about God. They have habits of participating in Community around God’s love and grace.

The phrase “I’m sorry, that’s too much religion for me” is a dangerous slippery slope.

Even if one maintains proper religiosity, but utters this phrase or expresses it in some way to the people around them, they promote an air of disregard for the Faith. It tells people that “you can do what you want, so long as you acknowledge God,” yet doing whatever one wants is exactly what drives us away from God.

Don’t be afraid of religiosity. Embrace it.

Watch out, it’s a Trad!

I’ve only been a Catholic for two years. Two years. That’s not long, in Catholic terms. And of course, when you enter a community, you don’t begin by first understanding every nuance of their people. You get to know the surface level of the people and the core tenets of their bond. But as you sink in longer, you start to see more and more sides of people, their delights, their frustrations, their arguments, etc. Since I came into the Catholic faith already barreling through books and podcasts at a million miles an hour, I didn’t stop, and these two years have been almost as enlightening as the one leading up to my conversion.

One thing of interest to me is the general Catholic community’s response to traditionalists (rad-trads, glad-trads, etc). Ironically, since I converted from a pretty vague and liberal non-denominational Christianity, I’ve seen it in other people’s faces as I myself have approached them. My goal in this article is to offer a method of healing conversation in this rift between modern Catholics.

The source of conflict seems to arise from the Second Vatican Council, started in the early 60s, generally concluding around 1965. This council was different than many, primarily being *more of a pastoral council, rather than being a doctrinal council, as almost all others in the past had been. One of the documents from this council was Sacrosanctum Concilium, a document that addressed the shape of liturgical life within the Catholic Church. In and of itself it left a lot of wiggle room, but the idea was to remember the way that the early Church adapted itself to the many cultures it was evangelizing to, and the way that it married the sacred and true, within the church, with the beautiful that was found uniquely expressed in the people it was preaching to. Pretty soon after the Second Vatican Council, however, came up a group called the *Concilium, who took it upon themselves to respond to Sacrosanctum Concilium‘s demands and modify the regular Catholic Church’s liturgy so that it conformed to the Council’s demands. It is generally agreed that the *Concilium was much more left-leaning than the Council Fathers themselves, and modified the liturgy in much more extreme ways than anticipated. The result? The *Missal of Paul VI, or the Novus Ordo Missae, the New Order of the Mass, standing in contrast to the Tridentine Mass of old. As you can imagine, not everyone was happy with the new changes.

Imagine Father Michael, a priest at a pretty normal parish. He knows most of his parishioners well. One of the parishioners, John, has talked with Fr. Michael often about the Liturgy and traditional elements of the old Latin Mass. But John is not the only trad that Fr. Michael has known. He’s encountered many trads in the past who are angry, perhaps vitriolic in their speech, and who waste no time in correcting Fr. Michael or his fellow priests on ‘abuses’ of the liturgy. John has never himself demonstrated these negative behaviors towards Fr. Michael, but he has been talking more and more about traditional liturgy and traditional Catholic practices.

One day, John approaches Fr. Michael with a calm smile on his face, excited to talk about a new element of traditional liturgy he learned about the other day. Fr. Michael sees John coming and immediately tenses. What will he do this time? Is he finally going to be angry? Reprimand him with false authority? Call him a bad priest? Fr. Michael steels himself, puts up a wall to genuine conversation, and hopes the barrage passes soon.

Sadly this reaction is not uncalled for. Recently Bishop Barron directed a video to trads who, while claiming to uphold a better example of the faith, are spewing vitriol all over the internet and social media, committing the mortal sin of calumny. Despite the novelty of my own Catholicism and the staunchly different origin of my conversion, I have encountered the same measure of ‘shut down’ from priests and other church leaders that I have directly spoken with. Once they learn that I’m even interested in elements of older liturgy, they seem to stop listening, and steel themselves against whatever I might say next. It seems to me that this conflict of the recent past has erupted into mountains of pain and ill-speak. The result? Liturgy has almost become a taboo topic within the Catholic Church. People put themselves and others into camps, they don’t open themselves up to hear what other influences might offer, and nothing productive seems to be done.

My goal here is to offer a bridge of connection, a way for non-trads to understand trads.

Firstly, why are trads always so angry? Why do they hurt people so recklessly? There may be a mountain of reasons, but one thing most trads have in common is this: a desire for beauty.

Think about walking into a beautiful old Cathedral, that has stood since the time of the Roman Empire, but has been burned down and abandoned. What is that pain that you feel, watching something so beautiful be cast to the wayside?

Recently I walked into St. John’s Episcopal Church for the first time in Tallahassee, Florida. BeautifulStunning. Compared to the Catholic Cathedral of St. Thomas More down the street? A hundred times more beautiful. But when I thought about that Church not being in Catholic hands? When I thought about the Catholic Church just down the street not having the same level of beauty? I felt a pain in my chest. A heartache.

The main source of anger, or, if more vulnerably revealed, sadness and hurt, is having a high expectation of beauty and reverence in every aspect of the Catholic faith, but not having those expectations fulfilled.

The Catholic Church is nigh 2,000 years old. It’s traditions are old and beautiful, and have had much time to refine themselves and become elevated to all new levels. Architecture, music, art, iconography and liturgy have all had so much time to be taken to such high levels of sophistication that the trad has many expectations for the current Church. Yet when a trad walks into a Church shaped by the Novus Ordo Missae, he typically does not find these things. Along with many of the adaptations of the Novus Ordo in the late 20th century, architecture became increasingly simplified. Music was taken in from local cultures, and Gregorian Chant was all but deleted. Art was infiltrated by modernists and postmodernists. Liturgy had many elements of mysticism erased, and, comparatively, can be incredibly less reverential.

When a trad looks at a ‘progressive’ Catholic Church, they feel pain from the lack of fulfillment of their expectation.

Regarding Vatican II

Certainly, yes, there are trads who actually have beef with the Second Vatican Council documents themselves. They think the Church has somehow ‘protestantized’ itself, abandoned Church teaching, and is living in some sort of apostasy. But not all trads are that way. I, for one, enjoyed the Vatican II documents. Were it not for them, I don’t think my article here would be very welcome by clergy. Even understanding Sacrosanctum Concilium, while I admit has been difficult for me, is something I can get by. But in processing that document and coming to terms with it, it has helped me understand something about the relationship between more progressive and conservative strains of Catholics.

The Sacredness of the Liturgy

What I think non-trad priests and clergy may not understand about the trad movement is that the manner of celebration of the liturgy and conformity to the Second Vatican Council are not a unified identifier for trads. In other words, just because I as a trad do not like the Novus Ordo Missae as much as I like the Tridentine Mass, does not mean that I don’t agree with the Second Vatican Council. These things are separate.

Bishop Barron, in a video (1:20) recently about the Second Vatican Council, reminded viewers that the Novus Ordo Missae spiritually fed the lives of saints such as Mother Teresa and St. John Paul II. While it might be easy to retort that the Tridentine Mass spiritually fed almost all of the other saints in Catholic history, it is important to recognize what Bishop Barron is getting at. In many ways this is what a lot of non-trad clergy would wish for trads to understand. Since the Novus Ordo is valid and licit, it means that Christ is present just as much there as it was in the old Mass. It is an objectively good thing. We don’t need to return to an older liturgy just to find Christ’s presence, or to be reverent when praying the Mass. Reverence is just as possible in the Novus Ordo as it is in the old Tridentine Mass.

Fr. Michael O’Loughlin, a Byzantine Rite Catholic priest, once said something that made me think about this. He highlighted on the podcast Catholic Stuff You Should Know that the Novus Ordo may not be as outwardly obvious when it comes to portraying reverence for Christ, but does not negate it. It just means that the responsibility for reverence lies more within the heart of the mass-goer to seek out and give that worship. This, compared to something like the Tridentine Mass, where directions for reverence and general beauty are simply more obvious and easier for people to understand. Fr. Michael’s point here is that it actually demonstrates a stronger faith if someone is able to find Christ in the Novus Ordo, as much as that person is able to find Christ in the heart of a homeless person, because they don’t need all of the outward beauty in order to carry their minds into the deep heart of Christ’s love.

A bridge between these two perspectives.

Wise trads will legitimately recognize the validity of the Novus Ordo, and should even agree that reverence is just as possible. But how do we find a path forward between self-identified trads and non-trads? What do we talk about?

The first point is that just because reverence and beauty are possible does not mean that they are effectively implemented. In order to make the Mass adaptable and understandable to the many cultures it has reached out to in this globalized world, many optional instructions had to be introduced. Even though the general structure is the same as the old Tridentine Mass, there are many ways to adapt the Novus Ordo Missae that may make it look very similar or incredibly different.

One of my firm beliefs, and this may be the most important section of my articleis that there are many ways that the Novus Ordo Missae can be implemented that would actually form a bridge to those trads that people seem to be so afraid of. My suspicion is that upon implementing these changes, or at least seriously entertaining these more traditional aspects, many may find that rad-trads will be plenty appeased. As I previously said, the source of pain in a trad’s heart is usually about a lack of beauty within the Church. When the only people offering these elements of beauty are those offering the Tridentine Mass, should we be surprised that people would flock to that? *After listening to a recent episode of the Burrowshire Podcast, I would even go so far as to say that the Novus Ordo Missae can be done incredibly reverently.

Here is a list of things (in no particular order of importance) that should not bring any conflict, and, if implemented reverently, may inspire all to a deeper beauty and reverence for the Mass, all the while *properly and actually conforming to the demands of Sacrosanctum Concilium:

A. Reception of the Eucharist

Typically in a Novus Ordo Parish, the Eucharist is primarily received on the hand, while standing. After receiving, the communicant steps to the side and then crosses themselves. They then receive the Eucharist under the species of wine from a common cup. Communicants alternatively may receive the Eucharist, under the species of bread, directly on the tongue, usually while standing as well.

More traditionally, the Eucharist is only received on the tongue while kneeling at an altar rail. Yes, many elders find it difficult to kneel, and an accommodation seems to be in order, but on the whole, what is the best way to receive the sacrificed corpus of the King of the Universe? Tradition says that we should kneel before our King. By receiving directly on the tongue, we are letting the hands that consecrated the Eucharist, the hands of the priest, be the only hands that are worthy of touching something so precious. This posture of receptivity, more reverential towards the magnitude of God-made-flesh, communicates this reality not only to the communicant, but the whole community around them. Then, the communicant does not cross themselves. Why? When crossing oneself, we are calling to us the presence of the triune God in our prayer. In the reception of the Eucharist, have we not received the most perfect earthly presence of God into ourselves? At best, crossing oneself is redundant, and at worse, it is border-line heretical, not acknowledging the true presence of Christ within the Eucharist, thinking that there is some ingredient further necessary in the reception of the Eucharist.

Lastly, regarding the common cup containing the Eucharist under the species of wine, we traditionally find that the laity does not regularly consume it. The Catholic Church teaches that the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist under each species. If you only receive one form, you receive it all (hence during this time of pandemic, we do not commonly find the distribution of the common cup). At times of importance in one’s life (confirmation, first communion, marriage) it is encouraged that the laity may receive under both species, but certainly not every Sunday. Some of the reasons are for logistic purposes, but generally it is so that the Eucharist is handled as carefully and reverently as possible.

B. Celebrating Mass Ad Orientem

Typically in a Novus Ordo Parish, the priest celebrates Mass while facing the people. More things are typically pronounced aloud so that the people can hear and generally feel more included in the act of consecration.

More traditionally, the priest celebrates Mass while facing away from the people, typically facing the crucifix that the laity themselves look at. Did you know that Catholic Churches are typically constructed so that the laity faces the east (oriens)? The idea of the Mass is that the priest, as the representative of Christ, offering up the sacrifice of our Lord, is doing so with the people. In the modern sense this would seem to suggest that the priest face the people, as an act of cooperation, but in tradition the priest also faces the east (ad orientem). With everyone facing the same direction, it helps everyone call to mind that what is happening during the mass is not something that is internal to the Church; it is directed towards something Heavenly, something outside of the Church.

An often circulated idea around the internet is this question: Which way would you prefer your bus driver to face? Towards the passengers, or away from the passengers, leading them as they travel on?

C. Using Gregorian Chant

Typically in a Novus Ordo Parish,  Sacred Music takes on the form of hymns in the local language, or in the language of most of the parishioners. Sometimes other music like popular Christian Rock songs may find some adaptation into the liturgy as well. Many instruments are potentially used: guitars, violins, trumpets, keyboards, pianos, etc, in addition to the traditional organ. There are many ways that the ordinaries of the Mass can be sung, usually with one overriding melody that repeats throughout the ordinaries.

More traditionally, Sacred Music exists in the form of Gregorian Chant or Polyphony. Many people find this daunting because of the use of Latin, but more on Latin in a second. Polyphony is when multiple voices come together and harmonize around the traditional Gregorian Chant music. This music has, intentionally, a more solemn tone than much modern music. This is not contrary to the Christian image, it is to be encouraged! The documents of the Second Vatican Council say that Gregorian Chant should be the golden standard of Sacred Music. This does not mean to cast it aside: it means that Sacred Music should conform largely to the form of Gregorian Chant, excepting some differences for how it can be localized in different regions. One example of this is how we might view chant in the High Anglican Church or in The Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (The rite within the Catholic Church that is an Anglican celebration of the Mass properly ordered under the rule of the Catholic Church). Because of a more intimate familiarity of the use of the English language within a holy setting, the Ordinariate and the Anglican Church, I believe, contain more Sacred Music that is in the form of Gregorian Chant, but which properly recognizes the way that it interacts with the English language. In the end, this is what I think Vatican II wanted to see, not upbeat guitar music in Mass.

Unfortunately when the Norvus Ordo was implemented, the standard of Gregorian Chant materials for it were delayed and not fully implemented. The result is that Gregorian Chant has fallen to the wayside in the modern Church. It needs to be revitalized!

D. Using Latin for the Ordinaries of the Mass

Typically in a Novus Ordo Parish,  Latin is not used. It might be used on occasion during extra solemn occasions (during Lent or Advent). Even then it might only be used for the penitential rite and for parts of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, like the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei. When combined with some sort of chant, the music tends to have a simple tone (compared to a highly variant tone).

More traditionally, Latin is used for the whole of the Mass, except for the Homily. Vatican II documents call for, at the very least, that Latin be used for all of the Ordinaries of the Mass. These are the parts of the Mass that don’t change week to week. The goal is that the laity learn what the Latin is for these parts of the Mass and don’t have difficulty encountering them on the regular.

Further, by using Latin, a language not commonly used by the laity, the Mass becomes a place of extraordinary difference. It becomes the most out-of-place element of our lives. It stands out. By using this different, albeit common, language across the same rite, the liturgy itself helps Catholics remember that the world they are living in is a passing and fleeting place, that the reality of Heaven is more beautiful and other compared to the world that we currently live in. Latin helps draw the Catholic out of the haze of this world and encourage them to seek what is holy, which is often considered illogical by the world.

The goal is not to alienate the laity from the Church, it is to remind the laity that they are aliens to the world and the world’s ways.

E. Bowing when certain names are pronounced during the Liturgy

Typically in a Novus Ordo Parish,  everyone bows during the pronunciation of the Nicene Creed, when acknowledging the conception of our Lord by the Holy Spirit through Mary. Entering the Church, and ideally every time that someone crosses in front of the altar, all genuflect.

More traditionally, in addition to the elements above, everyone bows at the pronunciation of the name of our Lord and when the Trinitarian doxology is pronounced, and during the Nicene creed everyone genuflects instead of bowing. These extra gestures of physical movement, which are inherently reverential, direct the worshiper towards Christ and towards God many times throughout the liturgy. Call it Active Participation, if you will.

F. Forgoing the assistance of Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist

Typically in a Novus Ordo Parish,  there are a regular squad of Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, who help distribute the Eucharist and, ideally, speed up communion. They make the whole process more efficient. These are especially necessary when considering the distribution of the common cup, as the priest alone cannot effectively distribute both forms of the Eucharist in a timely and careful manner. By distributing the work out, it is possible to help everyone receive under both species in a safe way.

More traditionally, the laity do not receive from the cup. They only receive the Eucharist under the species of bread, except for special occasions. Calling back to the idea of receiving the Eucharist in a more reverential way, the use of Extraordinary Ministers presents conflict for the traditionalist. Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist are not able to consecrate the Eucharist itself. They have not been ordained to consecrate it. The priest’s hands, by virtue of his priesthood and by virtue of the hand cleansing that he does prior to the consecration of the Eucharist, is particularly disposed to handling the Eucharist in a reverential way. No matter how much hand sanitizer an Extraordinary Minister uses, it does not change that they do not share themselves in the priesthood and that they do not set aside their hands for holy purposes the way that a priest does, especially during Mass. They are not as “set-aside” as the priests intentionally are. You will also find trads become uncomfortable if they see a priest touch his face after having consecrated the Eucharist, prior to completing the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Ironically, while Extraordinary Ministers are Extraordinary, they are a pretty ordinary staple of most Novus Ordo parishes.

G. Vestments for Lectors and Cantors

Typically in a Novus Ordo Parish,  Lectors and Cantors (much less Extraordiary Ministers) are not vested. They are not marked as set aside for the purpose of Holy Mass. I have always seen Altar Servers vested, but I have only ever seen Lectors vested in one Church, and I have only ever seen Cantors vested in one other.

More traditionally, anyone directly supporting the flow of Holy Mass, be it lectors, cantors, or altar servers, are all vested. By having some kind of vestment, however simple, it helps all involved recognize the measure that the Holy Mass is “set-apart.”

Something else about these roles that disrupts an air of reverence is how the altar is approached and treated by these figures. In the Tridentine Mass the priest spends a significant time in prayer before ascending to the altar to begin the Mass, yet in the Novus Ordo Missae lectors, cantors, and extraordinary ministers seem to simply walk up to that area around the altar with a simple bow, if any reaction at all. My wife and I first served as lectors at our Church, but thinking about how casually we were able to enter the area of the altar put us in a place of great discomfort. We initially thought that our Pastor’s restriction of needing to wear fancy clothes was a burden, but we came to think that even that wasn’t enough.

H. Incense. All the time.

Typically in a Novus Ordo Parish,  incense is used on special occasion, typically in times of solemn celebration.

More traditionally, incense is used

every.

single.

Sunday. (and every sung mass)

’nuff said.

In Summary

Should all of the more traditional elements of the liturgy, as lain out above, be incorporated into the Novus Ordo Missae, I imagine you would find many trads happily cooperating and participating in non-Tridentine Mass. I truly believe that much of the unrest in trads’ hearts lies with the way in which the Liturgy is reverentially treated.

These suggestions are not somehow contrary to the Second Vatican Council. They are very much in line and are able to be used in the Novus Ordo Missae. The desire for their inclusion is not bad, either. The desire for the more traditional implementations of these elements of the Mass are holy. We are an institutional Church. We desire not only to be more holy at the individual level, but also as parochial , diocesan, national, and global communities.

Don’t be afraid talking to a trad. Some are scary, I give you that. Some are spiteful, hateful, and are in deep need of love, just as much as anyone. But if we, as Catholics, were more unified and more reverential in our conduct of the Mass? I think we would find this source of division to be a source of holy unity and power in the modern world. Church isn’t where we go to be comfortable. It’s where we go to seek that which is out of this world, which is truly “set-apart,” or holy. Let’s treat it like that.

The most important thing is that we celebrate one Eucharist, and that we know Jesus loves us.

Yes, yes, we know. We get it! But more and more young people do not platitudes. We don’t want to be appeased. We don’t want to be handheld through the faith and through the liturgy.

We want to be challenged.

We want the liturgy to put us in our place.

We want to worship God.

We want to break that jar of perfume for our Lord’s feet.


Post Script

Resources:

#011 – What You Need to Know about Vatican II – Burrowshire Podcast

This podcast, hosted by Brandon Vogt and Father Blake Britton, delicately and profoundly engages the meat of the Second Vatican Council. They address the notion of the Para-Council which dramatically affected the Post-Conciliar Church, especially when considering the Liturgy.

*Based on listening to the Burrowshire podcast, I made a number of edits to this article. Any changes will be noted by this asterisk note.

Will They Know Us Through Our Love?

How will the world know who I am? How will the world know what I believe?

Growing up as a Protestant, I knew a few certain things about love:

  1. Jesus loves me, and I love Jesus
  2. Love your neighbor
  3. Tell other people that Jesus loves them, too

One of the chosen names of modern Protestant Christianity is ‘Evangelical Christianity.’ It denotes those who follows the message of the ‘Good News’ (Gospel) and who spread the Good News. Inherent to the idea of Protestant Christianity (or at least for me, growing up) is that your faith in Jesus Christ is never a personal one that you keep all to yourself. It is about sharing, sharing, and sharing. Not everyone is called to be a missionary that gets shipped out overseas, but you should be ready to try it out, and at the very least you should be a missionary to your friends around you.

This image of ‘missionary’ was pressed so hard on me that I often wondered what was so wrong of me to not join up on every single mission trip I heard about, and why I was so bad at telling my friends about Jesus. In short, it was those questions above that I thought most about: How will the world know who I am? How will they know what I believe?

As a child I was of course no theologian. I didn’t even know what a theologian was, much less that being one was a serious affair. For all I knew, it just meant you were really really good at reading the Bible, not that it had anything to do with outside argumentation and academic work. Yet even then I didn’t think that sharing the faith was a matter of arguing about truth, it was a matter of experience, and having a convincing experience.

In retrospect I now realize that I was coming of age in a time that was riding on the curtails of the rise of New Atheism. Since Protestantism isn’t exactly founded in a rich and firm tradition of theology and philosophy, the general response from theologically illiterate Christians was to resort to use ‘faith’ against New Atheists. An Atheist can bring up arguments that disprove God’s existence, and they could tell you having ‘faith’ was an aspect of the simple minded, but by American right they couldn’t tell you what to believe. And faith is what I went with.

Yet faith, as its own notion, is really difficult to share with others. You can share your experience, but we are all so unique. Sharing your ‘testimony’ (as it is known) of your faith journey may have an impact for some, but not necessarily any more than that.

Towards the end of middle school and definitely by the end of high school, I had what I thought I understood to be the answer: Love. Love is how you preach the faith.

Now objectively speaking, love is a hallmark of Christian faith. Literally since the inception of Christianity, love is what made Christians stand out. For the more selfish pagans, the self-sacrificing love of Christians was a bit of a mind-blowing concept. Sacrifice was a commonly held notion in pagan culture (which helped facilitate conversion to Christianity), but not self-sacrifice. Corruption was a common assumption, even for many years afterwards in the Roman Empire, and the idea that you would give up what you had for others was opposite of what you would expect.

In many ways, from that time until now, that idea is still very true. Selfishness is an inherent tendency within the human person, and sacrificing that selfishness for the good of others is exactly counter-human (if not counter-cultural).

The idea of evangelizing through love, service, and sacrifice, is that by living a life so centered around Christ, and not yourself, you make people curious and want to buy-in to whatever belief system you have. By being so radically centered around love, you become the lighted city on top of the hilltop, shining into the darkness around you. All will gather around the light, simply because it exists and is baffling for its generosity. While I say many things facetiously, realize that this is not. Radical selfless love is necessary for Christian evangelization.

Recently, though, I’ve wondered about this. Is this truly the way to evangelize to our modern time? Do I work through charity and charity alone, in the form of service and kindness, so that I bring thousands to baptism? It worked in the Roman Empire, it worked for Mother Teresa and it works for her order the Missionaries of Charity, but what about in the United States?

In many ways, I would like to present the idea that American culture has moved to the point of accepting that love and service are, or should be, just normal characteristics of a good person. Self-sacrifice is exactly the quality of a hero personality. If you want to be a recognizably good person, you just do these things. One of the hallmarks of modern thought is “I don’t have to be religious to be a good person.” In many ways this can be an excuse to just not be a religious or a good person, but overall people still strive to be that ‘good person,’ if for no other reason than the fact that it’s just expected for people to be that way.

Behold, the Postmodern Creed, where nicety, kindness, and ‘love’ prevail over all, no religion required.

In other words, if you’re loving, serving, and self-sacrificing in the modern day, well…people just say ‘Cool, good job. Keep it up. You’re a good person.’ and they move on. If you don’t do these things then you’re just not a good person and nobody likes you. PBS Kids is entirely built on the idea of teaching kids to be ‘moral’ and ‘good’ without any attachment to the idea of religion, and news stories will circle occasionally about a few kids or young adults who did a really great service, and that their work is amazing.

So what’s the point of using love as a point of evangelization? No one cares anymore. It’s the norm and it’s expected. It brings nothing of note to the conversation and doesn’t necessarily do anything to bring others closer to Christ. What’s more is it has created apathy. Not only do people stand back and say ‘well I’m living a faith-filled life, so I’m fine’ but also ‘well people will see my faith-filled life and they can ask about it if they want to.’ They get filled with sloth!

“Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15, RSVCE).

My belief is that the Devil has had a serious victory in the ‘progress’ of modernity. Not only have many fallen away from leading a faith-filled life, but the Devil has made it so that living a virtuous life almost seems to fade into the background. It is not of note to just live out a virtuous life, simply because ‘that’s just what good people do, religion or not.’

But if we can’t use love as the primary point of evangelization, what do we use? My answer is theology. My friends, the world will not know us through our love but what we teach. I say this, not talking about preaching a simple message of love. I say this talking about our rich tradition that is nearly 2,000 years old, pulling out the rich intellectual history that belongs to us as Christians. Bishop Barron has been saying this for a long time, blaming a dumbing down of the faith that occurred in the latter half of the 20th century for much of the loss of religion in modern times.

Now, more than ever, people need to see that Christianity is a religion of no shallow faith. We are a religion with a strong tradition of knowledge, philosophy that bows to theology, that has resolved many of the questions of man’s spiritual ailments through Divine intervention and nearly 2,000 years of study of that Divine revelation, guided by the Holy Spirit.

One of the revelations made to me, that kickstarted my whole discovery of Catholicism, is the fact that Catholicism has possessed, since the 13th century, not one, not two, not three, but five distinct philosophical proofs for the existence of God. Religion never developed because of an ignorance of knowledge, it was coaxed to existence in relationship to knowledge.

Christian teaching, Christian doctrine, is filled with a long list of other-worldly beliefs. We eat the sacrificed flesh of the God-man Jesus Christ. Our God is three persons in one essenceOur God is the Creator and Sustainer of the universeThe purpose of man is first and foremost to know and worship God. The Christian people participate in and become the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We can communicate with our Christian brothers and sisters who are in Heaven. Our God is not being but IS being itself. There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” [The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis].

All of these beliefs also have mountains of theological and philosophical backing – they aren’t just random shots in the dark, a desperate grasp for an answer to the question of ‘how does lightning/an earthquake/a hurricane happen?’

My friends, they will not know us through our love, they will know us through what we teach. I dazzle more people with the mere fact that I hold any strong religious beliefs than I dazzle them by being nice.

Of course, the only caveat I make is that we must follow that latter part of Peter’s encouragement: yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Just because they will not know us through our love does not mean that we are excepted from having Christian love. As I stated, true love, caritas or agape, is a hallmark of the Christian faith. If we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t be the Christians we claim to be.

It’s not hard to learn some basic theological facts about your faith, and it’s not that hard to share them. You don’t need to be an advanced scholar to know of a good book reference here and there to direct conversation with someone. It is biblical, in fact, for us to follow Peter’s direction:

“Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15, RSVCE).

 

I Am Still Pro-Life (Feat. Paige Skipper)

In other words, we tell people that sex is necessary but babies are bad.  It is an ugly trap indeed.

Hello! I’m Paige, Robert’s wife. And despite miscarrying twins and a traumatic birth, I am loudly pro-life.

Let’s get right to it, shall we?

The fact that we even have to engage in a debate over whether or not certain human beings count as human beings is absurd. The fact that we think we can arbitrarily decide when an existing human becomes a human is absurd. The fact that we think it is okay to place one person’s right to bodily autonomy over another person’s right to life is absurd; one is clearly more precious than the other.

And yet, here we are. There are a million factors contributing to this attitude, ranging all the way from selfishness to cruelty, but today I want to tackle what I think is a major factor: ignorance.

I often hear pro-choice people claim that nobody actually wants an abortion and that women only seek them out of desperation. While this is demonstrably not true, desperation and societal pressure clearly influence many women toward aborting their babies. There are so many voices that tell women our dreams and careers die as our children are born, that it is irresponsible to have babies until we are “well established” by others’ standards, and that the resulting physical changes that come with pregnancy and childbirth are unnecessary and even cruel to “force” women to undergo if not explicitly desired.

That is a lot of noise assaulting the ears of shell-shocked women who have missed a period. As a culture we have told women that pregnancy, childbirth, and mothering are unattainable things we cannot handle until other people decide we can. We tell women that their lives are entirely and forever forfeit if they have a baby.

Did you read that correctly? Our culture, decades after our foremothers fought to end cultural entrapment, tells women what they can and cannot do. We tell women that they cannot handle having babies, and thus put pressure on them to seek abortions. The pro-choice argument often spins that in reverse by claiming that the pro-life gang tells women what they can and cannot do by telling them they can’t have an abortion. Thinking about it for a second makes it clear where the pro-choice argument gets it wrong, though. If you are old enough to access the internet, stumble upon this article, and read this far through, I’m going to assume that it is not a revelation to you that babies are a result of sex. Yes, babies are a result of sex; sex results in babies. Intervention is required to prevent sex from resulting in babies, because babies are the natural end of sex. When a person, regardless of gender, consents to have sex, they are thereby consenting to the possibility of creating a baby. There is no other way to look at it. Trying to be “safe” by using pills or condoms or both give you a good shot at not getting pregnant, but neither are guarantees. I shouldn’t have to list any examples here proving that young women, men, girls, and boys are pressured into having sex; turn on the radio, open up Netflix, look at the advertisements popping up everywhere you turn, and you will find sex e v e r y w h e r e. Glamorized, sensationalized, and set as an expectation. In other words, we tell people that sex is necessary but babies are bad, so every effort needs to be put into preventing the creation of a baby as you participate in the aforementioned necessary sex, and if the little bugger manages to slip by anyways, abortion is watching your six. It is an ugly trap indeed.

Empowering women definitionally looks like helping them discover their power, not telling them they don’t have enough and thus need to kill an innocent baby to stay afloat.

Because we don’t have a culture of empowering women, there are a lot of roadblocks put in our way that make having a baby scarier and indeed more difficult. Our healthcare system, lack of maternity leave, lack of education, and insistence that children are a nuisance who belong anywhere but here make it hard for mothers to navigate participating in society while also thriving in their motherhood. The pro-choice argument says the solution is to allow women to end pregnancies even though they cost innocent human lives. The pro-life approach, also clearly pro-women, says that the solution is to change our culture to support women when they become pregnant.

 

It’s clear, then, that despite miscarrying twins and a traumatic birth, I did not waver for a second.

 

That’s what Robert invited me here to talk about. I am his wife, and he has walked beside me through it all. My relationship with my body disintegrated when I was diagnosed with epilepsy, and I had reconciled it just in time for me to get pregnant with my eldest daughter.

She’s two and a half now. She knows all the lyrics to every Elsa song, could eat nothing but chips and dip with a side of olives all day and every day in total contentment, and sometimes pees on the floor. She’s beautiful.

Being pregnant with her was rough, to say the least. My center of gravity was thrown off majorly as my body decided to carry her entirely in the front, to the point where if you looked at me from behind I didn’t look pregnant. I was tired basically all the time. It felt like my body looked different every time I walked past a mirror, and feeling like a stranger in your own body is a surreal experience. She was born after an eighteen-hour labor. It was a textbook birth, no complications and no intervention necessary. The hospital I gave birth in was great: I was allowed to have as many people in the delivery room as I wanted (which resulted in quite the party, with a minimum of five people besides me hanging out at any given moment) and my daughter was immediately laid on my chest skin-to-skin for a full hour before a doctor touched her. Then Robert and I brought her home, and ever since we have basically been pressing random buttons and hoping things turn out right.

I breastfed her for fifteen months. This meant that after 36.5 weeks of donating my body to her via pregnancy, and then eighteen hours of the worst pain I had experienced up to that point, I also donated my breasts to her for over a year. I was her sole source of nourishment for a while. My body bore the incredible responsibility of producing food ‘round-the-clock for her as it also carried out my normal day-to-day tasks.

All of this put that reconciliation my body and I had done into jeopardy.

Then I got pregnant again. I was ecstatic, for sure, confident that any issues my body and I might have would be solved soon. But at my first ultrasound I found out I was having twins, that they were 10 weeks along, and that their hearts had stopped beating.

The ground fell out from under my feet. I hadn’t even considered the possibility. I had been caressing my stomach, talking to them, talking about them, while they were dead inside of me. I had never felt that hollow.

But I wasn’t given the opportunity to mourn, because I had to protect them first. My doctor wanted to usher me over to surgery where they would be removed from me and treated like medical waste. Human beings. Treated like medical waste. That’s how disgusting our society has gotten. That is the result of our insistence that women aren’t strong enough to have babies.

Robert and I had to navigate figuring out the most ethical thing to do for them and sign so much paperwork to ensure their tiny, tiny bodies were treated with dignity and sent to the funeral home that cremated them for us for free. (Shout-out to Beggs Funeral Home!)

I shared the experience on Facebook and many people offered their condolences; including my loudly pro-choice friends. And let me tell you, that was more insulting than anything I had experienced before. People who thought that either my babies weren’t people or, even if they were, I should have been allowed to kill them if I wanted to, were trying to offer condolences for the fact that they died. That lack of cohesive logic hurt me deeply, especially in the immediate aftermath of the incident. If I had chosen to kill my babies they would have supported me, but since it wasn’t my choice it was a tragedy. If I had chosen to kill my babies they wouldn’t have actually been babies, but since it wasn’t my choice they suddenly were. That kind of warped logic is what happens when we try to piece together a philosophy that allows people to have as much sex as possible with zero consequences.

But I pulled myself together. It was a long process, but I did it. Robert and I gave them names, my family helped me make a shadowbox with their urn in it, and I mourned them.

And then I got pregnant again with my youngest daughter. She is two and a half months old now. She can hold her head up for small periods of time, smiles, and gets very upset when she can’t see or touch either Robert or me. She’s beautiful.

Being pregnant with her was even more rough than my first pregnancy. Rougher emotionally for obvious reasons, but also rougher physically. I was chasing a toddler around the whole time, dealt with extreme fatigue, constant headaches, and gagged every time I changed a diaper or smelled sausage. I ‘dropped’, or ‘lightened’, about two weeks before I actually went into labor, which meant I literally couldn’t close my legs and waddled everywhere because she was so low. I also dilated at least four days before labor began (though it was probably earlier than that) which meant that once labor began it ran. I had my first contraction and my next one about five minutes later. For reference, you are supposed to get to the hospital when they are four minutes apart. After frantically packing, getting to the hospital, passing my daughter off to my grandparents to watch, and lots of squatting while my husband read The Ball and the Cross aloud, my second daughter was born. The whole process took four hours. Four hours between “ow” and “hello.” I couldn’t believe it.

It was also a very smooth delivery. I had chosen to run this race completely unmedicated, which made it even more painful than my first birth. It was truly excruciating, and I could spend several pages breaking the physical sensation down for you. But everything checked out, and no intervention was needed.

Until I went to the recovery room.

I had stayed in the delivery room for a while, holding my daughter unimpeded for over an hour, and then she was weighed and whatnot. My body had been shaking, but both my doctor and my nurse assured me that the hormones and physical exhaustion could cause it and that it was perfectly normal. Everyone thought I was in the clear.

It was probably 3am at this point. After eating something from McDonald’s my family was about to go home. I wanted my mom to help me to the bathroom before she left, so I called my nurse so they could both help me pee and change my pad. I swung my legs off the bed and suddenly felt something falling out of me and down my legs. It was blood. Lots and lots of blood.

Everything happened very quickly after that. The one nurse I had called multiplied into six. I was rushed to the bathroom to sit on the measuring cup they put on the toilet to measure the amount of blood and clots I was passing. Then I was rushed backed to the bed where the nurses pressed and pressed and pressed on my stomach to force all of the clots out, changed the bedpad underneath me constantly in an effort to continue measuring the amount of blood I was losing, and got me on an IV so quickly that the nurse was holding it up on her tip-toes because she couldn’t get a pole fast enough. I was naked, cold, and couldn’t stop shaking. Robert was holding our daughter and my mother was holding my hand down in order for the IV to work.

I think I was in shock. Like, actual, physical shock.

I couldn’t stop shaking.

I was asking the nurses questions to try to understand what was happening. I wasn’t screaming. I don’t think I was even crying. My mom says I was apologizing to the nurses. I was really worried about my cat pajama pants being stained. It felt like hours. I kept thinking about the donation Robert and I had made two months earlier to Partners in Health, an organization training doctors and building infrastructure to lower the extremely high maternal mortality rate in Sierra Leon. If I was there instead of here, I would have died. I kept looking at Robert holding Nora and imagining how he would parent two children without me. I kept repeating the mantra I had clung to throughout the pregnancy and childbirth: this is my body given up for you.

The lead nurse followed her instincts and checked for one more clot, and she was right. After she pushed it out, it ended. They left. I put clothes on. Robert put the big blanket we had brought from home on me. My family left.

And two and a half months later I am in one piece, but still processing the trauma of what happened. All of the effort I had put into befriending my body again, trusting my body, being grateful to my body, had shattered. Delivering my daughter without medication made me feel so powerful. I had never loved my body more than I did in that moment. In that moment I discovered just how strong I am, how capable I am, how Big I am. That high was taken away so soon.

I felt so betrayed. I couldn’t stop shaking.

While I did physically stop shaking in the hospital room, I don’t think I’ve stopped shaking inside yet. My daughter is here and I am healthy. Despite that physical trauma I am able to breastfeed, which means my body is still producing nourishment for my daughter, and I try to remind myself frequently what a miracle and a power that is. It swings like a pendulum: sometimes I feel like a warrior, sometimes I don’t feel anything, and sometimes I feel deep contempt for my very broken body.

And yet, friend…

I will not stop engaging in the marital act with my husband, because it’s really great (sorry, mom) and when it inevitably ends in a baby I will once again embrace that power. I will continue tithing part of our family’s paychecks to organizations that support women. I will continue engaging in debates and discussions to fix the aforementioned roadblocks put in place by our culture that make parenthood difficult, including paid parental leave, healthcare costs, childcare costs, absurd expectations that both parents need to work over forty hours a week to maintain enough income for a household to survive, and stigmas around single parenthood. I will continue setting our family up to foster and adopt children.

And I will continue to be pro-life. Nothing, not even my broken and unreliable body, will stop me from acknowledging the truth that life is precious even when it is inconvenient. As long as I have sex I will be prepared to have a child, because that is how sex works. I will love babies, because they are valid members of our society regardless of how many people claim to dislike them due to their inconvenience.

Let me repeat it one last time:

I am still pro-life, and I will continue to be pro-life, and I will always be pro-life.

What is the deal about the Eucharist?

Surrounded by your glory

What will my heart feel

Will I dance for you Jesus

Or in awe of you be still

Will I stand in your presence

Or to my knees will I fall

Will I sing hallelujah

Will I be able to speak at all

I can only imagine

Yeah

I can only imagine

 

These lyrics are from a song by Mercy Me, a popular evangelical music band. When I myself was a non-denominational Christian I knew these lyrics well, and often we would use it for worship music in church. Since converting to Catholicism I haven’t listened to music like this in a while, but as I was preparing this article, this specific song came to mind.

This song, I Can Only Imagine, is about being in the presence, the very face of God. It contemplates the impossible majesty one must be confronted by when they are finally able to see God’s presence directly in heaven. There is a strong conflict for the singer as he contemplates a strong pull towards multiple, appropriate, responses. Which would he do? It’s an answer as mysterious as God’s face itself.

One answer might be to think about the Disciples. They were in the presence of Christ, saw the very face of God, and how did they react? Another answer can come from a good Catholic. You see, this sort of song wouldn’t likely come from a Catholic, because while they would still contemplate the direct light of God in heaven (read: St. Thomas Aquinas), they have something of an idea about what it is like to be in the presence of God.

Today, Sunday, March 15th, 2020, the pandemic of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is at large in the United States. What we are doing now, which itself is perhaps novel, is an attempt to act in a preemptive way by stemming off the spread of this disease on the front end. We’re trying to cut it off before it becomes too drastically serious. Schools are closed (duh, because schools are western society’s infection breeding houses), gatherings of a certain number or above are prohibited or strongly discouraged, and social distancing is encouraged practice. This affects, naturally, religious institutions as much as any others. Churches are faced with the decision of staying open or closing, wondering what their place is. Do they stay open as a way to foster faith and hope or do they close for fear of catalyzing the spread of the novel Coronavirus?

The secular response is obviously that churches should close immediately. Any maintaining of an open church where many people come is a prime opportunity for the disease to spread. But the Christian faithful know there is something more at stake here than our physical well-being. We know that there is a huge significance to place of church within ours and others’ lives. We all have a ready acknowledgement of our own mortality and know that coming to understand and being closer to God is more important than any relatively earthly struggle.

Now, in my old non-denominational setting there is something to be said about the value of learning together, singing to honor God, and being close to your community members. So much hope comes from living in community with others and being close to God through them. As much, I do not discredit the value of such a gathering, but I must say that Catholics do not gather just for these things; there is a more central element that Catholics gather around.

In the documents produced by the Second Vatican Council, it was emphasized that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Catholic Faith. You see, Catholics believe something quite miraculous and absurd in the context of modern thought. The world sees what is in front of it and considers not much further than that, but Catholics see something deeper. Of course, I must present the caveat that when I talk about “Catholics” believing this, I’m talking about what a surprisingly small amount of Catholics and the official documents of the Church profess. In a recent Pew Study it was found that a mere third of U.S. Catholics actually believe  one of the most central Catholic teachings.

All Christians practice communion, where each week or every so often they eat bread and wine (or grape juice) as a commemorative act that recalls the Last Supper. For most Christians, and for two thirds of “Catholics,” this is a symbolic act. It is representative of Christ’s sacrifice and we eat it to remember what He did for us. Except what one third of Catholics believe, and what the Catholic Church teaches, is that this is not a symbolic measure. It is literal. Literally…what? The bread and wine are not symbols of Christ’s body and blood, they literally are the body and blood of Christ.

That’s why a Catholic isn’t likely to sing or have come up with a song like I Can Only Imagine. In a great many respects, Catholics don’t really have to imagine. Every time a Catholic goes to Mass, the presence of Christ is real and right in front of them. Even more than that, the Catholics profess a wild claim that they must eat Christ in the form of bread and drink Christ in the form of wine. What other religion professes such a wild claim as that of eating their deity?

This belief is not rooted in nonsense, either. Let’s look at the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 6. In the original Greek, Christ tells his disciples that they must chew him, chew him in the way that animals eat, not in the way that humans may daintily consume a delicacy. This chewing consumption of the very body of Christ is a necessary path to salvation, says the Lord:

“The Jews were arguing among themselves, “How can this man give us flesh to eat?” So Jesus replied, “Truly, I say to you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives with eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day. My flesh is really food and my blood is drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood, live in me, and I in them. Just as the Father, who is life, sent me and I have life from the Father, so whoever eats me will have life from me. This is the bread which came from heaven; unlike that of your ancestors, who ate and later died. Those who eat this bread will live forever” (St. John, Ch. 6 Vs. 52-58).

So the consumption of the Eucharist, bread and wine turned into the very body and blood of Christ, through the power of Christ via the institution of the Church and her priests, is no casual affair for the Catholic. For this reason there is an extra emphasis on the value of the Eucharist and going to Mass during a time of pandemic. In some ways it is absurd to ask a Catholic to casually give up going to Mass because you are asking him to refrain from seeing the miracle of Christ’s most tangible presence on earth. The Eucharist, the most regularly recurring miracle in the world, is the very heartbeat of the Church and it is the very heartbeat of the Catholic.

It is allowed, of course, that Catholics miss Mass. In times such as these when the threat of disease is so high, our Bishops are cancelling Masses. Large gatherings still present a threat of extending a pandemic. NPR and others are casually reporting on these affairs as well as what other religions are doing for their regular weekly gatherings, and while they have gotten better at using Church terminology to refer to things like the Eucharist, they still treat it as some sort of alien practice that has no inherent significance. But it is no casual affair – it is the most important affair.

“What? You’re still having Church? They didn’t cancel? Why would you risk going to Church?”

Because it’s not just church – it is the Mass. Further, it is the Eucharist, our Lord Himself. When push comes to shove I will respect my society and community, staying home when appropriate, but in no way will I diminish the value of Mass and the Eucharist. Its value and the consequences of its consumption are way more important than these earthly affairs of ours, and it will always come first. While I yet imagine what being in the presence of God is like, for now I will live in the presence of the Eucharist, the presence of Christ until He comes again, as much as I can. Should it be imposed, I will obey and stay home from the Mass, but the priority of my life is Christ, because whether it is COVID-19 or not, Christ is what I plan on seeking.

 

For an extra resource on this topic, listen here (part 1) and here (part 2) to a talk by Bishop Robert Barron (one of my heroes).

Caritas in Disney’s Frozen

It takes but a casual observer to note that love is the theme to one of Disney’s largest franchises, Frozen. One can look at the theme of self-love, in the case of Elsa, romantic love, in the case of Anna and Kristoff, or sisterly love, in the case of Anna and Elsa. But as in any sort of literary analysis, it is too simple to look at just one level of love within the movie. Instead, one must look further and above to find a more central theme that courses through the whole piece. To get the best perspective on the value of love in Frozen, we must look at the character with the most amount of connections to others: Anna.

Of course if you take my mother’s view, there is no point in overanalyzing a cartoon, but the substance here is too much to avoid.

Anna begins in the first movie as one of the most innocent and naive characters. The creature in most need of human contact and care is the most isolated for a large part of her childhood. While she has her parents for some part, there is a significance to the fact that she is deprived of love for a significant part of it. She never comes to know what it means to truly be loved by someone else, and when the gates are finally opened for the first time in forever, a naive and delicate figure is launched at the world. She literally is throwing her love at the first handsome figure she meets because it’s the little amount of love that she has learned about.

The first franchise installment is important to Anna’s character development because she comes to understand what healthy and loving relationships can even look like. While Elsa is singing, desperately, “Let it go,” Anna is desperately singing ‘Let me in.’ She has been shut out from those that were close to her, and to even know how to form relationships and love someone, you have to have the opportunity to be in other peoples’ lives. Eventually the first movie shows the viewers that healthy love consists of a two-way street. You have to be in other people’s lives, and you have to let people in. Anna also grows in her understanding of love by understanding the key notion of sacrifice.

Reflected in all characters is the beauty that love is based first in sacrifice. What? What does sacrifice have to do with love? Sacrifice is the act of denying oneself (perhaps to the extreme degree of death) so that someone else may find a benefit of some nature. When the self is denied, the other is elevated. True love, the first movie teaches, is just such a love, where the good of another person is willed with disregard to one’s own benefit from the act or situation. True love is more powerful than evil and is bigger than any romantic relationship.

This notion of selfless love, willing the good of the other, is an ancient one: in Latin it is known as caritas (from where we get the word charity), in ancient Hebrew it is known as chesed. It is the most true form of love that we can describe, and it is the love that God extends to humanity and all of creation. He wills our good without benefit to Himself. There is nothing we can do that benefits God, but he chooses to love us anyway.

So this sets the stage for the real point of focus I want to take for this article: Anna as she appears in the second movie. While Anna learns about charity in the first movie, she ends up displaying an extension of her original naivete. The opening song, led by Anna, demonstrates that her love is fragile. In other words she does not have caritas, she has a lesser form of it. She has delectatio.

In no way has Anna’s love for her family decreased. If anything, her attachment has increased. With the immediate threats of the first movie’s finale gone, Anna’s sincere caritas took a step down in devolution and instead became delectatio. Instead of truly willing the good of the other without return expectation, we see that Anna’s love has devolved into total dependency on those she loves. She now requires their returned affection and gratitude in order to feel okay. She does not truly love them as much as she is delighting in them. They bring her delight, and the delight that she receives from them is what motivates her. This is what makes her love fragile, and what drives her through the first part of the second movie.

To the casual observer, Anna’s actions are eccentric and unnecessary. She goes way too far to make sure others are okay with the same sort of disregard for her own well-being, but it is not purely sacrificial, and it is not within full awareness of what is good for those she loves. At the slight appearance of Elsa’s discomfort during charades, Anna is sent herself into great internal turmoil, questioning every one of her recent actions towards her. At every one of Kristoff’s bumbly lines she perceives a threat in loss of his affection. When Elsa is even slightly in physical danger, Anna feels the need to dash brazenly into the fray, regardless of Elsa’s capacity and Anna’s incapacity. And finally, of course, when she believes Elsa is dead, Olaf is gone, and Kristoff has deserted her, Anna also believes she has nothing left that is precious and worth living for. That is how fragile her love is, and it is because it isn’t true love, it is a fragile delight in her family’s affection. Without their present affection and her inability to bring them back to where she can receive that affection, she is completely lost.

Important to note is that delectatio is not an inherently bad form of love. It is, however, a lesser form of love than caritas. It is not bad to delight in something or someone, but if that delight becomes more important than the good of the other, than it becomes a disordered and harmful love.

We see this exact problem between Anna and her sister. Elsa’s role in the second movie is about actualization, or becoming a more complete version of herself, or a higher or better version of herself. This actualization is definitively good for Elsa – she is lacking a knowledge of a powerful part of herself, and needs it to serve not just her own people of Arendelle but her ancestral people of Northuldra by discovering her side of the ‘Fifth Spirit.’ Anna explicitly hinders this development in Elsa. Every time Anna feels her loss of control over Elsa and restrains her so that she can still bring Anna delight and comfort, Anna keeps Elsa from fully engaging her development. In effect, Anna fails to will Elsa’s good, even though she thinks she is loving her in the best possible way.

Of course this strange perception of love that she has adopted is mostly fictitious. Kristoff certainly had a true love for her. Need I mention his constant and sincere sacrifice of self for Anna’s well being? Elsa never once doubts the strength of their bond. Olaf knows he can rely on Anna. Anna is the one who doubts, and who perceives her relationships in such a fragile way. At the end of her song she follows the advice she heard from around, to choose the next right step. Her delights have abandoned her and now she is alone with herself, and nothing else. Her option? To move forward. And since she has literally hit rock bottom, the only place to go is up and out into the light. Behind in that cave she leaves her attachments and her desires, exiting a better person, for she now seeks something entirely external to herself, rather than internally seeking delight. Actualized herself, she rediscovers that sense of bravery that she first experienced when she sacrificed herself for her sister against Prince Hans. With no thought of seeking delight in her mind, she seeks not what is directly good for her but what is good for everyone – the destruction of the dam that sowed such harm between her two ancestral peoples.

Funnily enough, this means she engages once again in the act of true sacrifice, knowing that she might be destroying her home of Arrendelle, i.e. herself, and destroys the dam in a heroic fashion. As she engages in this sacrifice, she realizes that she is not actually alone. Kristoff sacrifically serves her (and saves her from the giants) and she is reminded of his sincere caritas and delectatio for her. Later Elsa returns and she is given comfort for the fact that she was separated from Elsa for a time. She even has Olaf return to her.

The more she restricted her family’s movements so that she could hold on to their delight, she limited their good. But by letting them go and allowing Elsa (specifically) to become more actualized to the good, she finds that delectatio came anyway, and she needn’t have such a fragile love. More importantly she realizes that the love she has for her family is beyond momentary struggles and pain, and that the love persists beyond it, meaning that she can have hope in a more objective love and reality. As Kristoff tells her, “My love is not fragile” (“slap in the face, because yours was”). And as Olaf encourages her before his passing: “Anna, I finally found something that is permanent: love.”

Of course, following this logic, we see that Anna’s love is still not fully actualized in and of itself. She regains her independence, and relearns to love and will the good of the other without being dependent upon the delight she gets from them. Having the abstract object of their mutual bond as the higher object of her desire, rather than the more tangible object of their affection, she still has a materially bound object for the understanding of purpose in love. Her love is still dependent upon the people of her experience.

Observing Anna’s move to independence, most viewers might objectively agree with her choice to do the next right thing, and to base her love on more long term and abstract notions instead of affections, but what is it about the higher notion that we all assent to? The truth is that we assent to an unconditional love higher than any of us, but that would be a singular, unconditional, love that Anna does not have the virtue of exploring (due to her nature as a character of Disney property that would never explore theology lest they be cancelled by culture). A singular, higher, objective love that is independent from any of us and therefore can be inspiring to us, regardless of how dark our current situation might be, is of course God. He is Himself the fullest act of love, and therefore is Caritas and Delectatio. When all the fleeting pleasures of the earth fade away, as they inevitably will, what hope do we have that is left? What do we look forward to? How to rise from the floor when it’s not these we’re rising for? The answer is that we have to put stock into something, and our natural inclination as humans is to put it not into just some abstract and impersonal deity, but in someone that is capable of loving us at all times, regardless of whatever pain we face. The Christian God is such a God.

And so, we see, that a major underlying theme of Frozen I and II is not just any love but caritas itself, inviting us as the viewers to not be shallow in our relationships but to push deeper and to find a love not based in the people immediately pleasing to us but in some higher love that can motivate us when our delights inevitably fail us.