Wednesday, November 24, 2010

So What Is "Church?" #Catholic

This is one of the many questions about church that continues to nibble at me. I'm not saying my musings here are right or wrong. They're just thoughts. Questions. What-if's.

When I attended the non-denominational church, my life was a hectic whirl of activity. Not only was I at church services Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night -- but at Bible study groups and ministry meetings throughout the week. It was a roller-coaster ride of finding out what my spiritual gifts were and then finding places to use them. Or even if I wasn't exercising my gifts, to volunteer for something. No matter what, the message from the church seemed to be: Don't just sit there, do something!

Yesterday, I did some searching on the Internet for my old church and also, another search on my first Vineyard pastor that greatly influenced me. I found a blog that included an interview from one of the pastors and admittedly, felt a sense of relief that my choice of "living church" is more subdued. During the interview, my old pastor said this regarding home churches: We help them to prepare for an encounter with God and His Word.

And I wondered: is this the purpose of church? To me this approach seems backwards. I've always believed that we come to church to worship God first. As we focus on Him, perhaps He may speak to our hearts. Or maybe not. But my decision to attend church is to give worship to Him, not to get something from Him; which may sound snippy but that's not my intent. I love it when I sense God speaking to me through the reading of Scripture or a specific moment in the liturgy. I love those times when I know I'm receiving a revelation of His truth and so very often, they are small but precious, like a diamond. His truth, at least the way I get it, is usually something small but powerful. Like realizing suddenly that my vocation is marriage or how we as a church are to offer God our lives in sacrifice (during the liturgy's offertory).

I don't receive these types of revelations all the time, which I'm fine with. I cherish them when I do. But most of the time, I'm there to worship Him, thank Him, and rejoice with all the saints that we are so loved.

One of my old pastors is affiliated with a Christian college. I found the college's website online and listened to a few videos of the worship band. I couldn't even listen all the way through. The musical style reminds me too much now of the 70's folk tunes. In fact, the style hasn't seemed to have changed much during the past twenty years. It's this dreamy, breathy kind of music that typically has a young "twentysomething" woman holding a mic close to her mouth while her eyes are closed and she's repeating the refrain hypnotically.

It just feels too "me-ish." But maybe it doesn't matter because she's in the place she needs to be during this time in her life. For me, it's only another reminder of how much I've changed; how far into the interior spiritual life I've gone. The music I prefer now is Gregorian chant or classical hymns like Panis Angelicus.

I'm also suspecting that my perspective on church has changed as I've grown older. Before, I liked all the excitement of a large worship band, thumping out a rousing twenty minutes of worship music. Now I want silence. I like being in a pew, kneeling, while everyone else is silent, recognizing there is a time and place for focusing on God.

Have you recognized changes in yourself regarding how you look at church? Has anything shifted for you?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Joy Behar, Bullying, Joel Osteen, the Bible, and Homosexuality #Catholic

Let's take a look at the definition for bully, from Merriam-Webster's Dictionary:

Bully (verb)
bul·lied bul·ly·ing
Definition of BULLY
transitive verb
1: to treat abusively 2: to affect by means of force or coercion

intransitive verb
: to use browbeating language or behavior : bluster

I like to check the dictionary for clarification of a word's meaning, and in this case, it is necessary since people like Joy Behar are trying to redefine the word "bully" to fit their own agenda. To wit:

On November 4, Joel Osteen appeared as a guest on the television program, The View, to promote his new book, It's Your Time. Osteen reminds me a bit of Robert Schuller. He's upbeat, positive, and focuses on God's love for us. However, the "shrews of The View" couldn't resist yet another opportunity to attack Christianity. Specifically, Joy Behar showed a breathtaking amount of hubris by accusing Christians of "bullying" homosexuals by believing the Bible.

From Newsbusters:

ABC's "The View" hosted pastor Joel Osteen Tuesday, author of the book The Christmas Spirit – but the conversation took a controversial turn and went from Christmas to homosexuality. Co-host Joy Behar belittled Osteen about his conservative Christian beliefs on the matter.

ABC's Barbara Walters first popped the question in the middle of the interview, flagging it was a "controversial" topic. She referenced a previous quote made by Osteen on the show about homosexuality not being "God's best" for a person's life. Walters asked him how he felt about a Georgia pastor who recently came out and said he was gay.

After Osteen's tepid response, Behar interrupted him and flatly lectured him that homosexuality is natural. "It's not a choice, Pastor," she asserted. "It's not a choice, and therefore I don't think that God would look askance at homosexuality in that way, because it's not a choice. They're born this way, people are born this way."

When Osteen tried to respond, the comedian-cum-theologian butted in again to assert that "the Christian church should embrace that notion." She later accused Osteen of being a part of the gay bullying problem, telling him that his Biblical interpretation of homosexuality leads to bullying.

"But when you say that the Bible is against gays, that makes people get bullied, and bad things happen to people because of what the people say about that," she told Osteen.

After Behar further interrupted the guest to make her point, Osteen defended his church's stance and said that it welcomes all sinners. "If you came to our church, Joy, you would see people from all walks of life," he explained. "We're for everybody, we're not against people."

"We're not for bullying," he added. "I mean, if you follow our ministry at all, we're for uplifting people. But there's the Scripture that we can't necessarily change."

Co-host Whoopi Goldberg also joined the debate, quoting Scripture to try to prove that God doesn't judge, so neither should humans judge homosexuals. "I really believe that God said very clearly 'No one else can judge you, but Me'," Goldberg expressed.

Full article and transcript

So.... who is bullying whom?

I am getting fed up with these types of attacks on our Christian faith. And Joy Behar's bullying tactics are repugnant; exposing her hypocrisy for being "against" bullying when in fact she herself is a bully when anyone doesn't agree with her position. Her faulty logic is so full of holes and erroneous presumptions that it was amazing Osteen didn't laugh in her face. For instance:

Behar says people are "born gay." They are not. To this day, a "gay gene" has not be discovered. Plus, Behar and Goldberg overlook the fact that many women deliberately decide to live a lesbian lifestyle as a commitment to their anti-male beliefs. I read a book by a Mormon woman who was married. She started asking questions in her church, which didn't make her popular. Her husband was told, in so many words, to rein her in. He was unsuccessful. They ended up getting a divorce and the woman entered therapy with a female psychologist.

After some time, this woman decided to begin an affair with her female psychologist. Her reason? After allowing her resentment of men to reach a boil, she defiantly claimed that she was removing her mind and resources from a male-dominated society; and this included removing her body from being "sexually used" by men. It was a deliberate decision on her part.

I've also said that in the Bible, if God is going to call something an abomination, how much sense does it make for Him to force someone to live such a life by causing them to be born that way? (Lev. 18:22, Lev. 20:13) He wouldn't and He doesn't. Some critics have said that since we don't sacrifice cattle anymore, the Laws of the Old Testament are nullified; as though following one means that all the others must be followed. But in fact, there are three types of Law defined in Leviticus and Deuteronomy- priestly law, civil law, and moral law. Although the priestly law and civil law is not observed by modern society, moral law has not been abolished, for it represents the character of God. Since God is holy and sovereign; and does not change, neither has His moral laws. Homosexuality is also condemned in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Romans 1:26-28. We didn't add anything to Scripture. It is what it is and it's been around for a very, very long time.

Whoopi Goldberg thought she won the point by saying God is the only one who can judge and that "no one else can judge" but God. Well, she's partially right, according to St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (emphasis mine):
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men; not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber--not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Drive out the wicked person from among you."

The Christian is to realize that outside the Church, there are the unsaved, trapped in sin and separated from God. Indeed, they will be judged (as we all will) when we stand before Him in the afterlife. But once a person enters the Church, it's a different story. Then they are held to God's standards, not the world's; and it is incumbent upon them to obey His word.

Christians are being bullied by the gay activists because we do not believe homosexuality is natural. We also believe that according to God's law, it is an abomination. This is a very hard truth. Many of us have family members or friends who are a homosexual or lesbian. But I don't know of any of my Christian friends who deliberately hang out at gay bars and call down fire and brimstone. Most Christians understand that sexuality is one of the toughest areas in which to submit to God. But we're called to surrender it, nonetheless.

Finally, I wish I could send this message to Hollywood and everyone else who is attacking the Church on this issue: Recognize boundaries. The world and the church are two separate entities. Our country has a history of enforcing a separation between church and state; and although the First Amendment of the Constitution never said that the state is to be free of religion, it does say the government should not force religion upon any citizen.

You can't have it both ways, Hollywood. You can't keep screaming at the top of your lungs that the Church can't erect nativity scenes on federal property, display the Ten Commandments in a judicial building, or hold prayer meetings during city council; yet insist that the Church reflect the world's value system. The Church is not a democracy. It does not submit to the world's system because the world's system conflicts with the Kingdom of God. In fact, it is diametrically opposed to God's divine plan.

So to "demand" that the Church start marching to the tune of the world is completely laughable. Yes, our current culture can bring lawsuits against Christians if they don't want to do business with homosexuals or lesbians (Which emphasizes my earlier question: who really is the bully?). Most of the time these cases go to court, gay activism wins. And if it is truly discrimination, those cases should win. But too often, there is an intentional aim to totally destroy anyone who does not agree with the gay activists.

After going through some soul-searching of my own, here are my positions:

1) I do not believe in gay marriage, because marriage is a sacrament of the Church. It is meant for those who have surrendered their lives to God through the sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ. I do, however, believe in civil unions. If this will give the individuals involved the rights to be involved in health-care issues and receive benefits, fine. To me, that seems to be the main point, anyway. If gays, who for many years have lambasted and vilified the Church for their doctrines suddenly now want the sanction of the Church, one must ask why? It makes no sense. Stick with civil unions.

2) I have no problem doing business with gays, lesbians, transsexuals, transgendered, or little green men from Mars. It's not my place to judge you. You're outside of the Church and will have to answer to God someday. However, if you do start going to church (and especially if you join the Roman Catholic Church), then you're going to be faced with many doctrines that will require obedience. Meanwhile, my prayer is that all would consider the claims of Jesus Christ and be open to being changed for the Kingdom of God.

3) I do have a problem with bullying on any level. Sixty years ago, homosexuals didn't appreciate being put in a closet, have snide comments made about them, or worse -- physically attacked. Guess what? No one likes this type of treatment. If you believe that it's time you've been let out of the closet, don't try forcing Christians into one. Christianity has been around a heck of lot longer than you've been in a closet and will be around long after you're dead. Live and let live. People have differences of opinion and if it's not affecting you directly, then let it go. The clothing industry isn't trying to force Mormons to wear hot pink underwear in their temples or trying to get the Jainist Digambaras to wear clothes, period. So stop trying to bully other people into believing what you believe. Just because some groups believe that I'm a "white devil" doesn't mean I obsess on trying to prove them wrong. It's a waste of time and an infringement on the freedoms this country enjoys.

So Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg, the next time you want to start tearing apart the Church because it doesn't answer to you; remember to Whom it does answer. And I'll give you a hint.

It's not Hollywood.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why Can't Parishioners Know When To Shut Up? #Catholic

I'm talking about arriving ten minutes before Mass and finding the sanctuary filled with the sounds of a subdued suburban mall instead of silence for a sacred space. Several parishes I've visited have had people yakking to one another as though they're in a town hall rather than a place for prayer and meditation.

Is what I have to say to my neighbor so important that it can't wait until after Mass has ended?

Recently, I visited my father and stepmother in Florida. Both are very devout Catholics. They told me about their chatty parishioners, so I was prepared. At least I thought I was. We arrived about five minutes before Mass and filed into a pew near the sanctuary. In the pew in front of us, a couple were chatting animatedly with a gentleman who was sitting in the pew in front of them; and was turned almost completely around as his arm extended casually on the top of the wooden pew. My father and his wife wasted no time in shushing them. "Psst.. quiet, please. We're trying to pray."

I was slightly surprised that this little social gathering didn't even take a breath when realizing newcomers were kneeling behind them. To their credit, they did immediately stop chatting when asked to pipe down, but for the love of pete, they had to be asked? What has happened to the Catholic Church?

I remember when I was younger and the nasty looks we'd get from our teachers if we tried to whisper something to our neighbor. I also remember the first time I heard clapping during a Mass. I was mortified. It wasn't because I didn't like clapping or celebrating. It was because I was raised to see Mass as a very holy and silent hour within a busy week.

When you think of it like that -- that Mass is only one hour (and for us blessed with a Latin Mass, an hour and twenty minutes), is it too much to expect those who attend to be silent and respectful of that time?

Our society has become even chattier with the addition of technology. So not only do we have that old relic of a standby -- the telephone; we now have the Internet, email, text messaging, and even location-based social media services so we can let everyone on the planet know that we're at a McDonald's in Ashland, Kentucky and enjoying the Best. Fries. Ever. There seems to be an ever-increasing need to talktalktalk and let everyone know what we're thinking during every waking moment, everyday.

If you suspect I have a few drops of contemplative blood in my veins, you'd be correct.

But I'm also half-Italian; which means I can jawbone like a Southerner at a family reunion. However, chalk it up either to my upbringing or my temperament, I know there are times to be silent. Mass, certainly, is one of those times.

One time I was visiting my brother in Cincinnati. I had left to return to Columbus, but not before attending Mass. I visited my father's parish and arrived about twenty minutes early. I thought I'd spend some quality time in prayer and silence. I entered the church, and made my way to an empty pew. I passed two women a few pews back. One was sitting and the other was standing alongside the pew, in the aisle. They were chatting in normal voices as though they were in a grocery store. I thought once I knelt they'd at least lower their voices, if not stop altogether. Nope. Nothing was going to interrupt their little tête à tête. I don't think I lasted a minute before I got up and walked out. I realized I'd be really early for the only Latin Mass in town, and even though it was out of my way, I headed toward that parish. The silence was entirely worth it.

I think it says something about us as a Church when we can't stop thinking about ourselves for just one hour so we can focus totally on God. I include myself in this because I still have moments when I'm distracted. I also think that engaging in social conversation within what is supposed to be sacred space, sets a bad precedent.

It shows a complete lack of regard and sensitivity for our fellow parishioners. How do we know what is going on in someone's life? Attending Mass that morning may be the only peace they will experience for an entire week. Pouring out our heart to God in preparation for Mass is not easy. It is so much easier not to face our frailties, our shortcomings, and our sins. It is easier to shrug off the suffering of the world in order to focus instead on The Me Show. Placing the needs of others above our own while setting aside our own preferences is a beautiful act of worship that we can give God.

I know this is a huge issue. I have a great deal of empathy for our priests who realize the problem but not sure how to solve it. My father's parish had the announcements before Mass and there was an admonishment to remember to be quiet because people were trying to pray. (Good night. Didn't we learn anything in kindergarten?)

I have a feeling that the only way things will change is if a few brave priests spend time on the subject during their homilies, and when other parishioners start to do what my father and stepmother did -- pointedly reminding people that they're not at a baseball game.

I know not all Catholic parishes are like this. But I can't help but wonder that if a congregation cannot recognize that the time to pay homage to the mystery of our faith, once a week, for one hour, is during Mass - then when is that time?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Noteworthy Blog: Orwell's Picnic and Her Dead-On Pieces on Feminism #Catholic

A friend of mine recommended the blog "Orwell's Picnic." I remember reading it and instantly liking the opinions of its author, Hilary Jane Margaret White. Recently, a blog post of hers was featured on Pew Sitter and I loved it. The post, "A Hateful Ideology," showcased a video where a U.K. psychologist and Men's Rights activist said, "There's no way I would regard feminism as anything but an evil in our society."

Hilary Jane may categorize her post under the title "Why I don't like women," but she is one woman I do like. And there are many others who share the same opinion: that radical feminism has brought destruction and misery in to society.

I'm a very strong, independent woman, myself. But in my early days of being drawn to feminism, I quickly sensed something wasn't completely right. I didn't want to see men as the "enemy" but simply wanted my talents and expertise compensated fairly. I also am not the kind of personality that welcomed a full tank of anger and as I started to visit feminist events, I saw first-hand several patterns: women were either angry, frustrated, or depressed. None of these traits were attractive to me. Years later, as I've watched feminists gain more and more "rights" (sometimes at the expense of men's rights), I thought I'd finally see some satisfaction from their ranks. Not a chance.

Instead, it seems that many of these women are caught in a relentless wheel of dissatisfaction and that any victory they achieve is only celebrated for moments before cranking out more demands to be seen as equal. Equality, in my eyes, has been reached. Discrimination is not nearly as much of a problem as it was, say, in the sixties. I am grateful for this but yet am amazed that many of these radical feminists cannot rest and enjoy what has happened. Instead there is this joyless trudging through life as though a battle-ready existence is much more preferable to relishing peace-time.

Women do have the ability to influence society for the good. (Instead of embracing oppressive philosophies such as socialism.) But more women who reject feminism need to start becoming involved by sharing their views with their own families, friends, and within their churches. I continue to think of our Blessed Mother when I think of feminism. She was truly feminine, not weak at all but full of God's grace, bestowed upon her through humility. She didn't insist on her own way but instead surrendered to God everything. She trusted Him above all things and was used as His instrument in bringing salvation to the world. There are so many lessons women can learn from her that can enrich our lives.

Hilary Jane has more posts under the category "why I don't like women" but I fully understand her reasoning. Over the past sixty years in the U.S., there has been a systematic attack on the traditional family, in which women played a core role. Once you get a woman confused and dissatisfied, the structure of the family unit is weakened. It is, in my mind, evil -- and straight from the pit of hell. The devil sought to destroy the birth of Jesus and it has been the same ever since. The devil seeks death and destruction. Feminism is his tool.

If you find yourself in agreement, I heartily recommend visiting Orwell's Picnic. Hilary Jane has some very interesting thoughts on the topic.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

There Is Healing After Abortion #prolife

I came across this article, which has a woman speaking about her decision to have an abortion and the consequences of that afterward. I am saddened by the pain that these women have gone through, often pressured to have an abortion by either the father of the child or a parent. I mourn the loss of life. But perhaps if more voices like this make it to our local newspapers, there is the opportunity to save someone else from making the same mistake.

For the first several months after the abortion, Thompson said it was “very difficult for me to see a baby.” She supported a woman’s choice to have an abortion, noting “it was the thing to do.” It wasn’t until later that she realized “it was nothing but to cover the pain and anguish” of her own abortion. She also considered suicide.

Years later, Thompson married and had a child. She later became pregnant again, but lost that child through a miscarriage, an experience she said was sent to her by God.

“The child I lost in a miscarriage was the same age of the aborted child,” she recalled. “That’s when life really became worse for me. I realized what had been bothering me.”

Thompson, who had strayed from her Catholic upbringing, returned to the Church. She sought forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and attended a retreat through Project Rachel, the Church’s ministry to those who have experienced an abortion.

Today, the member of St. Ferdinand Parish in Florissant helps organize the semi-annual 40 Days for Life campaign, an effort which calls on people of all faith backgrounds to pray and fast for an end to abortion. Among their duties, participants take turns keeping a prayer vigil outside of the local Planned Parenthood abortion facility during the 40 days of the campaign.

I've had some conversations with a fellow co-worker who strongly believes in a "woman's right to choose." A favorite example of hers is asking what if a young 11 year-old girl was raped and then got pregnant? Wouldn't abortion be a more compassionate choice? I disagreed with her.

I said, "I would much rather see that girl give birth than condemn her to a life of pain and sorrow by putting her through something much more traumatic, which would be to undergo the horrific experience of an abortion. Abortion not only kills the baby, it emotionally and spiritually kills a woman."

My co-worker doesn't bring it up too often. But there are hundreds of thousands of women all across our nation who think like she does. Speak life, love life, bring life to all you do.