Category: Nonfiction (Page 1 of 2)

The Reason for the Season of Advent

Originally published on Catholic Stand

Excitement is in the air as the “holiday season” begins. Around the same time as the reunions and feasts of Thanksgiving, Christmas lights begin to appear on houses. In many stores, similar lights and decorations have probably been in place since before Halloween, marketing Christmas-themed products within.

Of course, this is to be expected. People naturally become excited for festive occasions long in advance, and the commercial world regards these holidays as financial opportunities to be seized before the day arrives. Most people in our culture have no reason not to begin their Christmas celebration right after Thanksgiving.

On the other hand, there is something strange about seeing Catholics beginning their celebration of Christmas as much as a month in advance. This practice essentially skips over the four weeks of Advent, the period of preparation for the great holy day.

Given this occurrence, before any discussion of what’s better to do in December, perhaps it would be helpful to explore what exactly Advent is and why the Church has given us this tradition.

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Waiting in Peace for our Vocation

Originally published on Catholic Stand

“Why am I still waiting for my vocation?” I’ve heard variations on this question many times from friends and other young people searching for long-term places in the world. Why the waiting indeed? Reflecting on this lament impelled me to consider more deeply these times of waiting and what place they hold in our lives.

Long waits must be among the most frustrating experiences of human life, even in trivial cases like a check-out line. The time spent in waiting feels like simply a negative quantity, of which one eagerly awaits the end so one can get on to whatever one wants to be doing.

That frustration and longing is all the greater when the goal is one’s vocation. So many wait for the right job, the right potential spouse, the right religious order, or even some hint of what to do with their lives at all. As many young people have found, that waiting can go on for years with little or no sign of change, even after the most fervent prayer, research, and advice-seeking. When this happens, it’s easy and natural to ask what one is “doing wrong,” especially as friends and peers enter their various states in life, prompting one to wonder why one’s own search has been less successful.

In the two years since I graduated college, I’ve come to know this sorrow well: a long-time aspirant to religious life, I have yet to find a place in an order. However, through the longing and searching, our Lord has been gradually teaching me, leading me toward a peace deeper than having every question answered. By sharing here what I’ve learned, I hope to help other “seekers” find, here and now, the peace that is our heritage from Him (cf. John 14:27).

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Warmth in the World of Religious Sisters

Originally appeared on Catholic Stand

Like many things, the religious life is sometimes regarded with fear and suspicion because it is not known or understood. (Throughout this article, unless otherwise specified, I will use the word “religious” to refer to religious orders.) At their most bizarrely hideous, the caricatures look like the murderous albino monk of The Da Vinci Code’s opening scene. However, even in generally more openminded, tolerant circles—even among Catholics—questions and doubts may persist: Why do men and women disappear into these orders, and what are their lives like after they do so?

Regarding women’s religious communities, the negative conception I’ve most often encountered is that they are cold, without feelings, or that their feelings have been suppressed or drained out by the harshness of their life. The idea seems to be that their life is very disciplined, demanding and rigid, and therefore calls for someone ruthless with herself and others.

Now some may think this simply because they’ve had a poor sampling. Even merely seeing images of Mother Teresa’s radiant smile can demonstrate that the above is not the essential nature of a religious sister. Still, ideas that gain a significant hold want careful consideration. Two questions, then, are in order: what exactly is the popular negative image, and what relevance—if any—does it have to reality?

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Practicing Kindness in a Harsh World

Originally appeared on Catholic Stand

In recent months, the Holy Spirit has shown me some things about kindness through two mostly-isolated elderly people.

One, a friend from my family’s parish, has been confined to a nursing home of late. My father, in his capacity as a deacon, has been bringing her Communion on weekends, and my mother and I usually accompany him. Despite her physical ailments, this dear lady invariably greets us with smiles and concludes the visit with, “Thank you so very, very much for coming, and God bless you.”

Needless to say, hearing those words makes me feel good about having come. It also reminds me of the importance of being personally present to the lonely and suffering, of spending time with those whom the world has forgotten.

The second person was a homeless man whom I began to see on walks through our neighborhood. Bundled in a thick coat and hat in all weather, he would sit on a bench with his bags or walk slowly with a cart. I began trying to talk to him, thinking that he must be lonely, and knowing the importance of being present to someone abandoned. He appeared glad enough for the company, though he quickly refused anything like an offer of help, and seemed reluctant to discuss his own life. From what he did say, I became increasingly sure that he was not quite in his right mind.

Then, one day, I came walking along as usual and saw the man sitting with his bags, hunched over a camera. I turned and approached, whereupon he jerked upright and exclaimed, “What’s wrong? Why are you here?”

Confused, I stammered, “I’m walking in the park, as usual.”

“All right, that’s great, take care,” he said abruptly, and went back to fiddling with his camera.

My homeless acquaintance had rejected my attempts to be kind. I had extended the same toward him that I had toward our friend in the nursing home—an attentive, caring presence—but with the opposite outcome. I will probably never know why, but for me, the episode shed a multifaceted light on the Christian practice of kindness.

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The Transformative Power of Memory

Originally appeared on Catholic Stand

“When you and I met, the meeting was over very shortly, it was nothing. Now it is growing something as we remember it . . . What it will be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes in me all my days till then—that is the real meeting. The other is only the beginning of it.”

Those words from C. S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet present a thought we may seldom consider. Memories are not merely records or images of things gone, like photos on a wall. They develop inside us and become parts of us; they can change our lives in the present and the future.

Why should that be? Of course years gone by were important as they happened, but how can they continue to affect us, in a real, tangible way, after they have passed? Do they matter enough to warrant thought and discussion? After all, the past is gone; we must live in the present.

While that statement is certainly true, we sometimes also find that we need to develop our understanding of our past to better live a whole, healthy life in the present. Each life is a story, and how we understand the previous chapters does much to determine how we see ourselves and our world.

Memories can do this in two main ways. They can preserve wholesome and precious times, treasures to enrich us in the future. They can also become dangerous when they store our experiences of darkness and injuries, in which case they require healing.

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What Does It Really Mean to be Pro-Life?

Originally appeared on Catholic Stand

The March for Life has just passed. The shouts, chantings, and ever-creative handmade signs are still vivid in many minds, images vibrant with pro-life passion. I’ve been to the March several times, and in other years have assisted spiritually from a distance. Every year, I see much that’s beautiful and inspiring—many souls full of dedication, courage, and love, giving me hope for the advancement of the “culture of life.” Of course, this kind of action isn’t limited to the penultimate week of January; it’s at work all year.

Unfortunately, I’ve also seen much less encouraging things within the pro-life crowd. The desire to save the unborn, noble as it is, can become so consuming that it blinds one to other persons in need, who also deserve concern and help, and to evils in the world or in oneself. Furthermore, when passion is not purified and directed, it easily degenerates into hate and vitriol. Demonizing those who support abortion becomes too easy a temptation. Politics, ever a divisive and emotional subject, explodes into the discussions. Too often, it’s not long before those who should be friends or at least allies end up turning on each other.

Need this be so? Of course not. We are called to defend life—but not by doing the things just described. It’s not hard to see that this kind of behavior is really detrimental to the pro-life movement.

Thus, we might benefit from considering: what does it really mean to be pro-life?

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Don’t Miss the Magic of Childhood

Originally appeared on Catholic Stand

Every year around this time, I notice a widespread, often implicit idea that Christmas is a particularly special time for children. Of course, this attitude follows logically if the occasion consists only of emptying packages and stockings under an explosion of lights and tinsel. Decorations and presents generally become less exciting as we grow older.

On the other hand, if one understands Christmas as anything more substantial—certainly for Christians rejoicing in the newborn King, but even for those who view it simply as a day to celebrate values like kindness and family—one should be able to take joy in that as an adult, instead of regretting the diminished excitement of the sparkling wrapping paper.

While this problem seems especially pronounced at Christmastime, it exists all year. Adults talk about the “magic” of childhood, and wistfully remark on its fading as they mature. The ability to greet life with wonder and delight seems to be widely considered the exclusive property of the under-age-twelve crowd.

This line of thought may be understandable, but does not work long-term. Nature shows us that children are meant to become adults; this is fulfillment, not degeneration, for them. From the added perspective of faith, God made humans to grow up. Lamenting His design for us hardly makes sense.

To offer a more effective, helpful response to this issue, however, we should first consider: why do people feel this way, and need they feel so?

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Consecrated Virginity: The Obscure Glory

Originally appeared on Catholic Stand

Consecrated virgin: To many, the phrase sounds outlandish, not only unfamiliar but unsettlingly strange. To most of the world outside the Church, it means a crazy woman who has promised to renounce marriage for an unfathomable idea. Even to many Catholics, such a woman looks like a puzzling quasi-religious, taking vows but not entering an order. The subject evokes blank looks or dubious, fumbling responses, as I’ve found from my own experience. Some even suspect that such women may simply be too lazy to look for the right religious community, living their lives by a sort of half-measure.

Some of this confusion may be understandable. A consecrated virgin doesn’t look different from a laywoman, as a nun in a habit would. She lives in the world and supports herself; she wears ordinary clothes and is not called any special title like Sister. Her way, however, is based on a special calling. Her whole life is sacred to Christ, and she serves Him in a way that nuns cannot. Hers is a life of love for Him, and she follows Him wherever He asks her to be.

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Purgatory is Not an Insult

Originally appeared on Catholic Stand

As All Souls’ Day approaches, homilists may find themselves tiptoeing around discussion of Purgatory. Advising people to pray for their deceased family or friends can be difficult. Many perceive this as an insult to the departed, contending that their loved ones are surely in Heaven already and need no prayers.

Much of this mindset is based on emotions rather than intellectual decisions, and so calls for a tactful, gentle response. Part of the problem, however, arises from misunderstandings about Purgatory. Those unfamiliar with Catholic theology often seem to confuse Purgatory with Hell. Even in Catholic circles, popular assumptions imply that genuinely good people always go straight to Heaven, while Purgatory is for the mediocre souls not quite bad enough for Hell. Another phrasing of this idea is that, to compare these states to school grades, Heaven is an A, Purgatory a C, and Hell an F.

None of this is even remotely true.

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Solomon, Aquinas, and Lilies

A reflection on 1 Kings 3:5-15

 

What do a king, a friar, and a flower have to do with each other? The question sounds like a very strange riddle. I unexpectedly discovered the answer while rereading 1 Kings 3:5-15, coming upon a sequence of thoughts that initially seemed both familiar and sobering, but ended on a fresh and deeply joyful note.

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