Saturday, July 27, 2013

authenticity and truth

There was a refreshing opinion piece written at the New York Post, "Mass Appeal". A million people are in Brazil this week for World Youth Day. It makes sense that a million young people would gather in the nation with the largest Catholic population to see the world's first latin American pope. But the author points out the large attendance at previous World Youth Days.

In a world where we continuously hear the mantra that the Church is irrelevant and outdated, how can World Youth Day continuously draw large numbers of attendees?
"Then again, maybe the anything-goes culture that so many of our young people are growing up in hasn’t been as uniformly delightful as we’ve been led to believe. Perhaps some have tasted the loneliness and emptiness Pope Francis spoke of in Brazil."
The world makes all sorts of promises to our youth of happiness in possessions and prosperity. But young people are left disillusioned and empty after obtaining these promises. They long for something more.
They may be unable to explain the theological details, but they plainly thirst for authenticity and truth, of the kind that sustains those who have nothing and can fulfill those who can find themselves bored and self-destructive because they have too much.
Truth cannot be found in shopping malls.
Truth cannot be found in fancy new cars.
Truth cannot be found in partying and having a good time.
Truth cannot be found in your boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse.
Truth cannot be found on Facebook.
Truth cannot be found in your 401(k).
Truth can only be found in Christ.
Truth can only be found in Christ.


Friday, July 26, 2013

the beautiful grace of confession

A dear Evangelical Protestant friend asked me,
"I have always wondered about confession. We have a direct line to God, so why do Catholics need a priest to absolve their sins? Why does the priest have this power to forgive on God's behalf?"
GREAT question!

I wondered the same thing for many years. I thought, "Oh those poor deceived Catholics and their man-made rituals - they don't even realize they could just go straight to God to confess their sins." I thought that the Catholic Church had at some point in history invented this man-made ritual of confessing their sins to a priest when what the Bible really said was that you could go straight to God to have your sins forgiven.

The Catholic Church teaches that you can go directly to God for forgiveness of sins. Yes, you read that correctly. Technically, you don't have to go to a priest to have your sins forgiven. You can go straight to God through our "direct line".

I hope you don't think I'm kidding. I didn't believe it myself when I first learned this.

We can go directly to God, but because of our fleshly nature, Jesus gave us another way to help us with special graces granted by God.

Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Penance on the first Easter right after He appeared to the Apostles. In John 20:21 Jesus says to the Apostles, "As the Father has sent Me, I also send you." Here Jesus passes on His authority to the Apostles to forgive sins.

John 20:22-23 goes on, "And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." The only other moment in the Bible where God breathes on man is in Genesis 2:7 when God "breathes" life into man. When this happens in Genesis, there is a significant transformation.

In order for the Apostles (this is where I should mention that today's Catholic bishops are direct succession to the Apostles, which can be traced back through history) to exercise this gift of forgiving sins, the penitents must orally communicate their sins to the Apostles (they aren't mind readers).

So I've just shown where the Bible tells us that we are to confess our sins to a priest, and Jesus in fact instructs us to do so. Can we go to God directly? Sure! So why should we confess our sins to a priest?

Let me pause for a moment and tell you about a growing trend in Evangelical Protestantism. A popular mens group, Promise Keepers, was started in 1990 and brought back the idea of accountability for the purpose of breaking the strongholds of addiction that sin can take on us when we keep sins hidden. Since then, other Christian groups have caught hold of this idea of accountability. You can mostly find confession to an accountability partner encouraged in cases of frequent, recurring sin, often times when the sin has taken root and lead to sinful addictions.

For example, on the "Confession and Accountability" section of Pure Life Ministry's website, ministers emphasize the importance of accountability when it comes to overcoming sexual addictions. They stress is in absolutely key to escaping the darkness that comes with hidden sin. Unconfessed sin leads to self deception about their sin, which in turn causes them to be "quite satisfied with their current spiritual progress, they don't see their need to repent, nor do they even detect the weight of sin which has stagnated their walk with the Lord." (from "The Weight of Unconfessed Sin")

The trend of rising popularity of Accountability Partners in Protestant faiths is due to a timeless truth - the special graces given to us by God - also fully available in the Sacrament of Confession instituted by Jesus on the first Easter. We can confess our sins directly to God, but He also give us a special grace through His Sacrament of Confession. Some benefits of this special grace of confession are:
  • genuine self-knowledge is increased
  • Christian humility grows
  • bad habits are corrected
  • spiritual neglect and tepidity are resisted
  • the conscience is purified
  • the will strengthened
  • a salutary self-control is attained
  • grace is increased in virtue of the sacrament itself
I cannot condemn Accountability Partner for Protestants. In fact, I feel they are a type of the real thing. But I'd rather have the fullness encompassed in the real thing - confession as it was designed  by Jesus. I can tell you from experience that the grace God gives through this sacrament is extremely liberating. By the grace of God I have been able to overcome sins which had become habitual. Jesus knew it would be this way - that confession to a priest would be a special grace in our lives - and He gave it to us out of His perfect love.

I hope this clarifies questions that may arise about the sacrament of confession. Feel free to bring up any further questions you have. I know this is a lot to chew on, and I'm quite sure that my brief explanation will not answer all questions about the sacrament of penance!


Thursday, July 25, 2013

why on Earth would Catholics be having better sex?

I was honestly surprised when I read the US News and World Report article that "Devout Catholics Have Better Sex, Study Says" that came out last week. Who knew that a bunch of devout religious people were the ones who knew how to have the most fun in bed?! I mean, this goes against all "conventional wisdom" of the world's view of married sex, especially Christian sex. The study shows that weekly church-goers have better, more frequent sex than couple who do not attend church weekly.
Devout, married Catholics have the best sex of any demographic group, the Family Research Council said at an event Wednesday, pointing to a collection of studies from the last several decades.
As a Christian, this makes complete sense. When couples are sitting in church pews week after week, they are learning about Jesus and the way He loves us. Jesus' love is total giving of self.  Couples also hear ways they can mirror their love to Christ's love. Only when we understand the author of love, God himself, can we begin to show love to others. 

But why would Catholics be leading this group in the amount and quality of sex? It must be in the way they understand Jesus' love. One way that devout Catholics are different than any other Christians when it comes to marital sex is the absence of contraception. God designed sex to be the total and complete physical and spiritual given of one another. If you hold back your fertility from your spouse (contracept), you are holding back a part of your self and therefore changing what God designed sex to be.

Believe me, I know this doesn't make sense at first. How could holding back your fertility - something you can see or touch - hinder sex with your spouse? Even if you put all of the side effects of hormonal birth control (nausea, weight gain, abdominal pain, chest paid, headaches, eye problems, blood clots, cancer, and chemical abortion just to name a few) aside for argument's sake, contraception goes against God's design of the marital act. You are mutilating your body in some form in order to experience the pleasure of sex without the God-designed life creating potential that is intrinsic to sex.

Come on! Is contraception really that big of a deal? The Catholic Church teaches as an infallible doctrine (my friend Leila at Little Catholic Bubble explains infallible doctrine concisely here) that contraception is intrinsically evil. That is, in its very design, in its very makeup, it is evil. I don't know about you, but when someone calls something evil, they aren't playing with words. (And since this is infallible doctrine, no one - not even the Pope - can change it.) 

My point is that contraception is no trite matter. It is sin, and sin separates us from God. So if we are separating ourselves from God, how could we experience the full potential of the God-designed marital act? The marital act is not only physical, but it is also spiritual. Not contracepting allows couples to open themselves to the full physical and full spiritual benefits of the God-designed martial act. And when we open ourselves up to the fullness of God in any in life - especially in marriage and sex - we experience tremendous freedom and joy and peace.

Peace to all!


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

day #2 of 7-day blog post challange

Here's the deal - I'm participating in Jennifer Fulwiler's 7 posts in 7 days challenge. I don't know what I was thinking. I work part time during the day and my husband is 14 hours away at his sister's funeral with his family. So the only time I can write is at night after the 5 kids go to bed. So I took up the challenge thinking that I'd be able to write the next day's post the night prior. 

All five of my kiddos go to bed pretty good (I'm blessed!), but of course Zoë decided she wasn't going to go to bed last night. (She never does this.) All she wanted to do was cuddle on my lap. So I got nothin' for today. Nothing, that is, except for a tiny nugget of the cuddlefest that took place until late last night:

Why would I want to write instead of cuddle-time anyways...

Peace out.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Zoë Allison

I guess I should mention that we had our first baby GIRL (you know, since she's 8 months old now)! She's our first baby girl after four consecutive loud, stinky boys.

She was born November 18th of last year. (Yes, last year. That's how far behind I am.) She looked so much like her brothers when they were born that I accidentally called her a "he" a couple of times to the nurse. I had a hard time getting it through my brain that first day and a half that I had given birth to a daughter this time, not another loud, stinky boy.

Her name is Zoë Allison. Allison is my sister's middle name, and Zoë became "the name" when we found out it is Greek for life. Life. It is a beautiful word that I am still gaining understand of. I do know that life is I just don't think I fully comprehend the depth of that awesomeness, yet.

I was induced with all four of my sons for different reasons. And fitting of a female, Zoë decided to shake things up a little for her entrance into the world. She decided to come on her own a week early. So even though she was baby #5, this was my first dance with that little experience called "going into labor".

It was a Saturday evening and we were going out to eat at Texas Roadhouse with the boys so that we could use the free kids meal coupons they had earned at school from having perfect attendance. I was having contractions that went from 10 minutes apart to 3 minutes apart pretty quickly and fairly regularly. And since this was my fifth baby and I had no idea how fast labor would be without pitocin, the doctor wanted me to go immediately to the hospital. Do not go home. Do not get your clothes. Do not take the four sons to the relative's house. Go. to. the. hospital. now.

It turned out not to be that urgent. I got to the hospital and the contractions slowed waaaaaay down. We decided to stay and be put on pitocin. It seemed like Zoë was determined to do things her own way, and we weren't sure how crazy this girl wanted to do things. We didn't want to go pick up four boys (who were at my bestie's house by now) and drive 45 minutes home just to have to turn around and rush back to the hospital.

Our excitement for the upcoming birth of our first daughter came to a screeching halt. We called my aunt to tell her we were getting ready to have Zoë, and my aunt had some incredibly bad news to tell us. One of our relatives (third cousin) who is the same age as my oldest - 7 years old - was involved in a tragic, freak accident in his grandpa's yard that same day. My aunt had been at the hospital all day with the family. The little boy was on life support at the children's hospital, it didn't look good for him.

My body was numb. I knew instantly that I had to try to shove this news to the back of my mind and the back of my emotions. I couldn't let this make Zoë's birth more difficult for her or me. I did a fairly good job putting it behind me for the moment, but I never lost that numb feeling. It was impossible for me to be excited or feel any of the emotions I felt when I was laboring with the boys.

The birth was smooth and very normal (except for the epidural which caused a spinal fluid leak and therefore a spinal headache that was excrutiating for the next few days and I had to get a blood patch for - but nothing life threatening). I was with a different doctor this time around than I had for the boys, and this was the first time I had given birth in this particular hospital. The epidural was cranked up so much that I couldn't feel anything. I didn't like that. At the last hospital - for all four of the boys - the doctor lessened the epidural enough so that I could feel what was going on "down there". I couldn't feel a thing this time. I couldn't feel that it was time to push. I was just told to push. How is a person supposed to push when you can't even feel muscles with which you are supposed to be pushing?!

So pushing took a lot longer with Zoë. With the boys, I was a champ at pushing. I pushed with Todd (my first) for only ten minutes. Then I pushed twice with Eli and Isaac (and the first push with both of these boys was just a "practice push" so that the doctor could see where they were. During my "practice push" with my fourth son, Peter, I was told to stop pushing so that the doctor could get ready for the delivery, but there was no stopping. I could feel him coming without me pushing, and he basically just fell out. And I'm glad the doctor was able to catch him!

But Zoë liked doing things her own way, and I was going to push and push and push with this girl. I actually got irritated after about 20 minutes of pushing because I really felt like I was out of sorts with the epidural making everything senseless. So I don't know if I could blame the extra pushing on Zoë being the drama princess or if it was the extra power of the epidural. She waited until early the next morning to arrive and was born on Sunday, November 18th. She weighed 8 pounds 1 ounce and was 19 inches long.

I wish I could say I was excited when she was born. My first thought was that she looked Asian, and neither one of us are of Asian decent. We did the kangaroo care, and it was interesting and neat. But when I got to my room she laid there in her bassinet and I felt nothing towards her. And it really scared me. I love being a mom and I love the first days in the hospital getting to know this little person who had been kicking me from the inside over the last few months. I love holding my newborn and kissing that fresh skin over and over and over. But with Zoë the numb emotions made it impossible to enjoy anything. I was going through the motions. She was my fifth child, so I knew what to do and I was just focusing on doing what I was supposed to do to care for her. I prayed to God that He would help me get out of this funk so that I could feel something for my daughter. I was afraid if I didn't feel something towards her soon that I wouldn't ever feel anything towards her. I was really just an emotional wreck over my third cousin. I was crying on and off just thinking about him and the last time we saw him and what his mom must be going through. I prayed for a miracle for him.

He didn't get the miracle I hoped for. On the same day as Zoë's birth - November 18th - my second cousin and his wife had to watch their little boy pass from their arms and from this world. I am still grieving. Every time I celebrate another month with Zoë, I know that his mom is remembering an entirely different kind of anniversary. The anniversary for an event no mom should have to experience. I think there is maybe no other way for it to be for me. This is just the reality of it. I think when we celebrate Zoë's 10th birthday, 20th birthday, 34th birthday I will have the thoughts of the other mom and the son she lost on my heart as I celebrate Zoë's life.

As for the good news - I got over my lack of emotions towards Zoë. I am so glad that it didn't take long - about one day (it was a weird, scary first day for me). Then the emotions came and I fell head over heels in love with this little princess who has brought sweet smells to our family.

Now for some "oooh"s and "aaaaah"s:

Welcome to the planet! One day old.

Cuddling with Isaac

Love this sweetness! 3 months old.

Mom is having fun with BOWS!

Summer swimming at 6 months old

Life is!


(I'm posting every day this week. For a list of other bloggers doing the same check out this list.)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

7 posts in 7 days

Jennifer Fulwiler at Conversion Diary is hosting a challenge to all bloggers to write 7 blog posts in 7 days, starting tomorrow. I'm taking the challenge. I love to write - it's therapeutic for me. But I always have so many reasons not to write - I have too many things I want to write about and can't commit to any of them, I don't have any writing experience to make me a really good writer, I am afraid of people seeing that I'm not good enough. Enough with the excuses, and this challenge is the perfect chance to get over all of my focus on myself. I don't care if it's perfect. There, I just let myself off of the hook if I say things that aren't perfect.

I would appreciate some ideas on what I should write about. I have around 74 things I'd like to write about. Maybe you can give me some additional ideas - something that's maybe not already on my list of 74 topic ideas.

My passion is theology. I haven't had any formal training in theology, but I love reading and learning theology. I used to think the very word "theology" was for people who were too smart to have a relationship with Jesus. But the definition of theology is the study of the nature of God. Wouldn't knowing God through a deeper understanding of his nature cause a person to have a deeper relationship with him?

As a former nominal Catholic turned Baptist turned Pentecostal turned on-fire, Jesus-freak Catholic, I have a heart for (1) Catholics who don't know the faith and (2) Evangelicals who are misinformed about what the Catholic church teaches (pssst we don't think we're getting to Heaven by our works). I was an anti-Catholic Evangelical (I'm not saying all Evangelicals are anti-Catholic - I'm just saying I was) for 18 years. I always wondered how in the world Catholics could believe this or that, infant baptism or confession to a priest, for example.

I should also point out that I'm not perfect in all matters of Catholic teachings, although I strive very hard to diligently and thoroughly present the truth of Catholic teaching. I will always present fact, not my opinion (because truth is not based on my opinion). And if ever I write something that is contrary to what the Magisterium teaches, go with the Magisterium. And if there are any Catholic readers who want to correct my errors, please do. I never want to lead anyone astray from the truth.

So what is the one thing you'd like to see discussed?


Monday, July 1, 2013

a glimpse of what unity looks like

Once upon a time a long time ago I tried to understand denominations. When I gave my life to Jesus at a Southern Baptist youth convention at the age of 15, I didn't have any information about church history. All I saw were lots of good, well-meaning Christians attending their individual churches and doing their own thing. They each had their church camp. They each had their youth conventions. I didn't understand why the Southern Baptists didn't go to the same church camp as Methodists or Presbyterians or the Church of Christ believers. Why did we all have our separate youth conventions? I didn't know what Methodists or any of the other denominations even believed nor how it was different from what I believed. And on top of that - we all believe in the same Bible! How can one book lead to so many different beliefs?

This lead me to wonder if I could really be in the right church if I didn't know what the other denominations taught. Would I need a degree in theology to determine the right denomination? Furthermore, where were denominations even in the Bible? No one talked about it much, and as an introvert I pondered these things in my heart without asking these questions. I would ask God about these things, with no answer (well, He began to slowly reveal an answer about 14 years later when an evangelical Catholic I worked with said, "Imagine what we could do against evil if we were united!)

The word "unity" never entered my ears as a young believer. Maybe I thought we were all united by the bond of our faith in Jesus. But this unity is not a true unity. One doesn't have to go through too many church splits (I've experience two church splits myself and one happened after I left a church and one happened to a church before we joined - that's 4 out of 5 Protestant churches we belonged to that I know had gone through a church split!) to figure out there ain't much unity going on within the body of Christ. This invisible "unity" was more of a common trait - the common trait of believing in Christ - than anything that bonded people together as one body.

So what does the Bible say about unity? In John 17:20-23 Jesus prays before his death that all believers would be one so that "the world may believe that you sent me". Jesus refers to his church as the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven many times through the Bible and in Matthew 12:25 Jesus warns that "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand." Jesus' words express close unity.

Likewise, Paul insist on the unity of the church. In speaking to the Galatians he includes dissension and factions as sins of the flesh that will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:20-21). In 1 Corinthians 1 Paul explains to the believers that they need to be unified. He asks the important question, "Is Christ divided?" In Ephesians 4 Paul emphasizes the importance of being one in unity and peace and warns the believers to not succumb to every wind of doctrine that will lead them astray. 

Oh, so that's what the Bible says about unity. There is no Biblical evidence that denominations/divisions are the will of God. I want to be in the will of God. In order to be in God's will I have to give up my will. Even if that means going where I never thought I'd go.

This is a glimpse of what unity can be like. I say a glimpse because, while all Catholics share a visible unity, we have brothers and sisters in Christ who do not share this same unity. While this is awesome and exciting, it could be much, much more if ALL believers were united: