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Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Earth Day

I spent Earth Day killing plants.

I uprooted them, threw them away. I pulled them out of the ground so that they would grow no more. I disrupted the natural propagation process of trees and flowers. I say that I love the earth, but I spent the whole day impeding its natural processes, killing its fruits.

Or I could say that I spent the day weeding and raking, so that flowers could thrive.

It’s all a matter of how we look at things. One man’s love is another man’s hate. One person’s sin is another person’s justice. We take our best guests, our stabs in the dark, to try and live God’s will. But we can never truly know it.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Is. 55:8

We can never know in this lifetime. Christ rebuked those who chastised people for loving God the “wrong” way. The goal is not to determine who is “right,” the goal is to love.

Let all you do be done in love.

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I support gay rights because I am Catholic, not in spite of it.

I grew up Catholic. Catholicism was early morning and late night masses, hot cross buns on Good Friday, wearing a pretty white dress for my first Communion, confused friends who wanted to know if I worshipped Mary. It was glowing candles on the dinner table during December, and palms folded into crosses in April. It was simple, and it was good. I believed it then, and I believed it now.

But it is not as simple now as it was then. Now I realize being Catholic isn’t defined by whether or not you attend Fish Fridays, but is a complex world of the orthodox and the not-so-orthodox. I am not an orthodox Catholic (used in the sense of one who follows every belief to the letter, not in the sense of the church that became identified as such during the Great Schism). And there is a reason that we have that term “orthodox” or “traditional” (the term my husband’s uncle, a religious, used instead of our term which I believe was “crazy conservatives” at brunch last week). Because despite Catholicism’s call for us to adhere to one set of beliefs, we do recognize, at least popularly, that there is a myriad of beliefs, experiences, and practices that create Catholicism. All this to say, my beliefs here do not reflect the beliefs of the Catholic Church, which opposes the legalization of gay marriage.

But I believe in it, and other gay rights, because I’m Catholic, not in spite of it.

You see, if the Church had wanted to turn me off of supporting the marginalized in our society, it should not have read the Sermon on the Mount to me each year. It should have silenced Jesus’ cry of blessings on the poor in spirit, the persecuted, the meek, the peacemakers, and those who thirst for righteousness.

The Church should not have taught me of the love God has for all of his people. It should have taught me instead that Jesus only came for those who were rich, who were white, who were straight, who were male, who were powerful, who were orthodox.

If the Church wanted me to oppose gay marriage, it should not have taught me that scripture is historical and contextual. It should have taught me instead that it is always literal, but it did not. It should not have taught me that God is love. It should not have taught me about the dignity of the human person, that everyone deserves a place to live, a place to work, a place to eat without being discriminated against.

It should not have taught me about the beauty of marriage. How the love between two people mirrors the love of God and his people. It should not have instilled me with the morals of faithfulness, commitment, and love if it had wanted me to discourage those practices in others.

The Church taught me instead about personal conscience (Catechism) and that “A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself” (1790). It taught me that the conscience is inscribed on our hearts by God.

The Catholic Church taught me not to judge. And not in some trite “love the sinner but hate the sin” (but secretly hate the sinner too because that’s just easier) way, but in a deep, true way.  It taught me to look inwardly to my own faults, not outwardly to the faults of others.

It taught me to fight for the rights of the least among us. It reminded me that those whom society deemed okay to hate, we were required to love.

Of course, some will say that I am a shining example of the fallen American laity. They will remind me that the Church does not conform to the whims of modern society, and instead follows the teachings of Christ.

To which, I would respond that I agree. The Church is bigger than simple societal whims of oppression, of hate, of bigotry, of fear. I would say that the Catholic Church, at its core, preaches love and acceptance, hope and grace. If it wants me to adhere to another belief set, one of prejudice and marginalization, it should have taught me something else.

I support gay rights because I am Catholic. Not because I do not understand the teachings of the church, or because I simply choose not to follow them out of convenience sake, but because I do believe them, because I do follow them. And it’s not just me. A study  in 2011 showed that Catholics are more in favor of same sex marriage than any other religious group, and more than Americans as a whole.

If the Catholic Church wanted me to oppose gay rights, it shouldn’t have told me what Christ taught.

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Women saw him first

Women were the first to see Christ.

Mary became a temple to carry the living God. His heart beat inside of her, she felt his kicks, she fed him from her body. Mary was there.

Some years later, it was women at his feet as he hung on the cross, and three days later, it was women at the door of his tomb.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.  So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” Jn 20:1-2

A woman was the first to proclaim the news of an empty tomb. And the men came, and then left. John tells us they believed, but did not understand.

But Mary stayed.

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?: Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jn 20:11-16

 Jesus first appeared to a woman.
 
Luke fills us in on what happened after the women ran to get the male disciples.
 
It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Luke 24:10-11
Women were the first to proclaim the good news of Christ’s resurrection, and they were not believed.
 
And today, when women say that they are capable to proclaim that good news today, they are still not believed. When women say they are able to hold the body of Christ in their hands, they are still not believed. A woman carried the body of Christ in her womb, woman proclaimed the news, and women are told to be silent today.
 
Women are not better than men, but they certainly are not worse. The disciples doubted, and Mary did not recognize the risen Christ. We are all human, we are all flawed, but women not more than men.
 
You can quote Paul’s letters when he tells women to sit down and shut up, and I can counter with historian’s belief that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 was added in later. You can quote 1 Timothy 2:8-15 and I can point out all the women who did serve, did prophesy in the early Church. I can remind you those letters were written to a specific people, in a specific time and place, very different from our own. Women were not educated then, but they are today. We live in a different world, a one where a religion will not be laughed at and mocked because it allows women to lead. The disciples goal was to build the church, a church they did not think would last more than a few years. They were not writing to the 21st century, they were not envisioning a world where one day, women would be treated as equals. They had no time for that. A religion which gave women authority? Surely that would falter and fail.
 
The Catholic Church holds women in high regard, but I would suggest perhaps not as in high regard as we would like to believe. We honor women as saints, we recognize their human dignity, and we prohibit them from the altar.
 
What did Jesus say to the men who rebuked the woman who was attempting to serve?
Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. Mark 14:9
I pray that the Catholic Church continues to grow, continues to evolve, continues to hold steadfast in its desire to be the body of Christ. I believe that his body includes women, though, and does not push them to the margins. I pray that we follow Christ, rather than acquiesce to culture.
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal 3:28
 
The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Gen 2:18

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Lent

Today is a good day.

I haven’t touched on Lent yet this year, not because I am not observing, but out of my attempt to reflect the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 6:16 – “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting.” Not that blogging about Lent is hypocritical at all, I just wanted to do things on my own first and talk about it later.

Lent is a period of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving leading up to Easter. Most people associate it with Catholics skipping hamburgers in favor of fish fries on Fridays and holding off on the donuts. But it is more than that. It is a time of peaceful reflection, of self-denial in favor of something greater.

Note, Lent is a "fast" not a period where we give up sins just to get back to them 40 days later! Still, its OK to use that time to focus on an area that is taking us away from God.

This year I gave up two things for Lent. Not because I am some holier-than-thou look how good I can do perosn, but because I kept wavering back and forth on which I should give up (trying to figure out which was “easier”) and figured I should stop being such a baby and give them both up.

The first was not buying food on campus. I did this my senior year in college, (which my roommate thought was pretty much the dumbest thing she ever heard!) and it was actually really tough for me. I will admit, I’ve broken this more than once. I had gotten in a habit of relying on vending machines and the market store in the University Center for lunch (typically a fresh roll, babybel cheese, and a pear). Not buying food on campus meant I had to either a) plan ahead, or b) go without. The money I saved will go to a charity – either our church’s sister parish in Colombia, or Partners in Health.

The second wasmultitasking. Yup, I gave up multitasking for Lent. I actually decided I should do this last year, but then in preparation for Lent I started cutting back in the weeks before. So when Lent rolled around I decided I didn’t really “need” to do it, but then I realized it was just me chickening out.

So what do I mean by multitasking?

- no listening to music or talking on the phone while driving/walking to or from school

- no reading on e-mails/blogs/news/magazines while watching TV

- no listening to podcasts/music while doing dishes or cleaning

- no watching TV/reading/playing on computer while eating

- no watching TV while cooking

I will admit that I broke all of these. A couple times I put on classical or Christian music so that I would stop going crazy and just finish the damn dishes. My rule was if someone else initiated (like called me while I walked home or if John turned on the TV) I was going to just go with it. Which meant I still ended up doing these things pretty regularly, though way less than I had before.

The hardest was not doing something wile eating. I had anticipated hours of quiet meditation over my meals – savoring every bite, being truly present to what I ate. In reality, I would scarf down my food because it was boring to just sit there and eat. It made me realize how loud the command in my brain to “DO SOMETHING!” is.

My goal with giving up multitasking was to create more quiet in my life, more time for reflection, more peace. To stop being bombarded with noise, news, information, entertainment all the time. To create more time to listen to God speak.

Did I achieve this goal? Yes and no. I have more quiet and I do feel calmer overall. But I don’t think I have conquered the “BE PRODUCTIVE! DO!” voice in my head. In a way, I almost feel anxious when I’m not “maximizing” my time, even though in reality multitasking helps no one. I don’t think I carved out the hours for quiet prayer that I wanted to, but I still think there is value in the silence and in focusing. It was a hard thing to give up, even if I caved in a lot. I hope that even when Easter comes and I am “released” from my fasting obligations, I will tone down the multi-tasking and focus more.

How did your Lent go? What are you doing these last few days to prepare for Easter?

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March

March is my least favorite month.

There. I said it. I feel very guilty about that since my husband’s birthday is March, but my dislike of March started well before I met him and hasn’t dissipated yet. March is a cruel month, stretching out the wait between winter and spring. And while I know that the spring will eventually come, March makes it feel as if it never will.

And seeing as how William and Mary hasn’t made it to the tournament in its past 320 years, the madness eludes me. Except that one time I did a bracket and won. Remember that, honey? And since I’m batting a thousand, I have retired.

March is long. It is cold. It is damp. It is unceasingly gray, with forecasts of low 40s and snow for the foreseeable future. It is the month of midterms and due dates, smugly nestled between the enthusiasm of a new semester and the promising glimmer of graduation. This weekend I have made it to page 98 of my thesis, an accomplishment made depressing by the realization my 3 committee members will be likely the only people to ever read it. But no matter how many pages I write (at least 20 to go), the sky outside of my office stays gray. 20120318-182329.jpg

And it’s in the middle of Lent. Somber, depressing, Lent. Lent is a time of fasting for Catholics (each person defines what their own fast is though), which lasts for about 40 long days.

But I love it. I don’t love it the sense of “oh my gosh! so much fun! this totally rocks!” love, but love it in the sense of I know it is good. It is hard, but it is good for me. It is amazing that no matter how spiritually subdued I am feeling, entering into this drab, dull season of the Church calendar can make me feel so alive.

I don’t enjoy it, but it’s good.

It’s what I always tell people about my time with JVC. Was it fun, awesome, amazing? Yeah, some days. But was it hard, challenging, stressful, overwhelming? More often than not. But it was good.

And I know that the earth taking this long, deep breath between snow and sun is good as well.

I might not enjoy it, but it is good.

 

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Why I am (still) a Catholic

The answer to why I am a Catholic is simple and would not be worthy of a post. I will not play ignorant to the realities of nurture, socialization, and culture – I am Catholic because my parents are Catholic.

The answer to why I am still a Catholic, however, is much more complex. I know my parents would still love me if I left the church. In my open and accepting community, I cannot think of any real social or financial repercussions if I was to go. So that’s not why I stay. I stay because the Church is where I call home.

The other day someone asked me how as a Catholic I can disagree with the Catholic Church on some topics. I will broaden that to a larger question – why do I stay if I disagree?

Catholics are called to believe in the dogmas and doctrines of the Church. Ask two Catholics what this means, and you will get three answers. In short, we believe in the truths of the Church and recognize that various practices of the Church may come and go; they may evolve over time. But I believe in the Nicene Creed – the first, the simplest articulation of our faith. I renew my baptismal promises without blinking an eye. Because I believe – I believe in a God, in a just and merciful God. And I believe in the Church.

On a logical level, I am Catholic because I believe in the “other”, becaue I look at the spiritual lives of people across time, across the world and believe it is something in our very soul, our very DNA that calls us to look for a life outside of ourselves. I believe in monotheism because a pantheon does not make much sense to me, as I believe in first mover theory. I believe that Judiasm suceeded while Zoroastrianism (the world’s first monotheistic religion) has largely died out, and I believe that Christ is the fulfillment of the Jewish law.  And I believe that the Catholic Church (and the Orthodox, I will split no hairs here) is the Church founded by Christ, founded by Peter, grown by Paul.

That is the Church I believe in.

I struggle with her. Some of her teachings, her decrees make me physically ill. I cried a bit when I heard that women would not be allowed on the altar during the Extraordinary Form (old school Latin style) mass. I cried because I care, not because I no longer do. But the Church does not call us to blind faithfulness to her, she calls us to Christ. James Martin, SJ, writes of people who are now saints who once were excommunicated. He writes,

The church’s long history of ”faithful dissent” offers both hope and perspective to Catholics in our time. It echoes the call of the Second Vatican Council, which, in 1964, declared that expressing opinions ”on matters concerning the good of the church” is sometimes an obligation for the faithful.

Each week at mass we pray for the leaders of the Church. We pray because we recognize the need for God, the need for God to prevent the likely failure and disappointment of our human selves. We are human. The Church is led by humans. She is the body of Christ, but a very human body.

We can see and justify changes in the Church in the past, but it is naive to assume those are limited to the past and we have already reached a state of perfection.  Were those who fought for the addition of the filioque to the creed heretics? What about Catholics who practiced the rhythm method before it was approved? Was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, a paleontologist who took part in the discovery of the Peking Man,  a sinner because his books were censured by the Catholic Church, even though they would later come to accept evolution? What about those who believed the mass should be in the Vernacular while it was still in Latin?

 And so I ask, is it a sin to believe that the Church might one day change it’s position on birth control since it has allowed it to evolve in the past? Is it blasphemous to believe priests should be allowed to be married, as they used to be?

Perhaps it is, and if so, I appreciate you allowing me the chance to struggle through anyway. But if a sin, a mortal sin, requires grevious matter, sufficient reflection, and full consent of the will, I wonder if I really am fully consenting my will to blaspheme if I truly believe that I am attempting to follow the teachings of Christ.

On the other side of the proverbial aisle, there are those who feel as if I should leave as I profess to be a feminist, a liberal who believes in the rights of women and the righs of gays and lesbians. How can I lend my participation to an institution which discriminates so? I do not believe that abandonment is a solution. I believe in staying and calling for change. I believe in a Church which teaches love, equality, justice, and mercy, and believe that it will continue in its efforts to enact those ideals. I hope that my staying is not viewed as a statement of hate, judgment of condemnation of another group. That is not my desire; that is not my goal.

Some days I wish I had been born in to an Episcopalian family and I could have my church with female, gay, married priests and without all the controversy. Other days I am grateful I was born Catholic and do not have to make a decision about all of these complicated teachings before I decided if I want to convert or not. But it does not matter. It is not about me, it is about God and where I find him.

I am Catholic not because it is I believe in the perfection of each interpretation of its teaching, but because it is where I find God. I am Catholic because of the history, because of the richness, because of the mercy, because of the community. I am Catholic because I am willing to accept that I may be wrong, and no one has kicked me out yet. I am willing to follow the teachings of those who have spent much more time and energy reflecting on the complex issues than I have. I am also willing to accept that I am less mired in tradition, less pressured to conform, than many of these theologians, and believe I am no less a part of the Church than they. I am no less a daughter of God. But I do not want to strike out on my own, form a religion solely around what I happen to believe that day. I am willing to follow. But I am not willing to follow blindly.  I will call out what path I think is best, I will pray that are following God, and I will hope that no matter the path we take, we will end up with him. And that he will forgive us our missteps along the way.

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Non-religious hymns

TheRemember how we all read The Perks of Being a Wallflower in our angsty, need more Holden Caulfield days? The book, I could take or leave but there is one sentiment I remember. What it is like to be driving down the road and the perfect song comes on and you feel simply infinite. It’s as if your soul swells up inside you, and it’s more than you can handle.

There are some songs that make me feel that way that I would like to share with you. Songs that, despite their intended purpose, make me feel infinite. Or have some spiritual meaning to them for me. And I would love to hear yours, the songs that touch your soul.

First up, Mason Jenning’s I Love You and Buddha, Too.

I don’t agree with all the sentiments in the song – I am largely not a relativist, however there are pieces that really speak to me. “You are unnameable, you are unknowable, all we have is metaphor, that’s what time and space are for.” I believe that the search for God, the search for meaning is fulfilling and noble, but I believe we can only do so much, go so far. I believe that we can only come up with more questions than answers. And I find comfort in that, in knowing this life is not a quiz, not a test to see who has the best answers, but a continual search.

Next up, Old Crow Medicine Show’s Wagon Wheel.

Okay sure, this song is a little bit about sex and drugs. But there is more to it than that. It’s about searching, about leaving pain behind for the hope of love. We’ve all felt that fire under our feet at some point in our lives, an indescribable restlessness, an urge for something more. In this song it takes the life of a lonely man driving through the country in the middle of the night to find his true love, and while I’ve never done that, I can relate to the sense of urgency to find something more.

Next, David Berkeley’s Little Fists

If you haven’t listened to this guy, drop everything you are doing right now and go buy his CDs. Or look him up on Grooveshark. I saw David Berkeley a million years ago opening up for Nickel Creek my freshman year of college, and he remains my favorite musician to this day. (If you want to hear a fantastic song about the Civil War – check out ‘Shiloh,’ which I would have posted here but I can’t find a video for it. Did you even know there were fantastic songs about the Civil War?) This song, Little Fists, is about the futileness of fighting against war. He tells us we’re asking the leaves to change. Which is pretty much what faith calls us to do – stand up and scream for something better, no matter how difficult or unlikely it is.

Jesus, etc. – Wilco

I’m sure this song is one that is too deep for me to understand what it’s about and so I don’t want to read into what the artists’ original interpretation is supposed to be. But when I listen to it, I hear how everything around us crumbles except love. Anything we rely on is temporary. Anything but love.

Flogging Molly’s Therefore the Grace of God Go I

I’ve probably seen Flogging Molly more times in concert than any other band. Okay, maybe more than any other band combined. And I can never decide where they stand – rebelling against their Catholicism, or standing up for it as a part of their Irish Heritage? Or some complicated mixture of both, as it is for all of us. But this song, more than any of the previous, is as close as you can get to a hymn. The sentiment is simple – Therefore the Grace of God Go I. And so it is for us all.

 

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The Litany of the Workers

For those who built this sacred ground, we pray.

For the workers who molded the bricks out of clay, laid each down by hand, one after another, after another. For the callouses that formed on their hands while they they spread the mortar, one day after another.

For the trees that laid down their life to become pews and pillars, to uphold after they have fallen down. For the birds who were once nested in their branches and for the forest animals whose bodies nourished the roots after their time was done.

For the artists who stained the glass with great care, and for the patient assistants who sweeped up the shards of their mistakes.

For those who worked masterpieces from the wood, intricate carvings and detailed sculptings. For those who painted the columns to mimic the marble in the cathedrals of Europe, knowing it would never be the same and trying none the less.

For those who who dug the stones out of the quary. The one who fell and broke his arm on the job, never to work again.

For the nuns whose long dark habits were covered in flour as they kneaded and kneaded and kneaded the bread into new life. For the farmer whose nose got sunburnt while he harvested the wheat, and for his grandaughter thrilled at her first trip out on the tractor.

For the stings on the hands of the beekeepers, who crafted the candles and lit the dark corridor aglow.

For the florist who wakes up early each week to finish the arrangements, making sure every detail was exactly right, knowing no one would notice and caring none the less.

For the woman who dug the beets out of the earth to create the perfect dye for the vestments, whose fingertips carried the signs of her work for weeks.

For the horses who carried the luggage across the country, fine paintings and golden chalises, and for his driver who never once complained when he had to stop to change his shoe. For the streams they stopped beside and the woven blankets which kept them warm.

For the miner who dug the coal to light the room when the beekeeper was no longer needed. For the long and dirty days in the mine where he suffered, died, and was buried.

For the light in the eyes of the couple who recited those promises on the same steps where their parents and their grandparents had stood before. For the mother who stayed up late the night before to finish working on the veil, and the teenage girl at the cafe who brewewd the cup of coffee needed to make this morning possible.

For the shoulders upon which the coffins have rested, and the shoulders upon which the weight remains, who have borne their load out of the doors and into the world.

For the woman who remembers to dust behind the radiators and pretends not to notice the homeless man who snuck in for a warm place to sober up.

For the vineyardist who would have cursed where his wine was going had he known, for he hasn’t forgotten the sting of the hurtful words spoke to him in a place not unlike this one, not long ago.

For the tears shed and for the elbows which found their way into their sisters sides, for the pages ripped out of the hymnals by impatient toddlers. For the cheerios spilled and the tired parents who pick them up.

For the pianist who stayed up late, night after night, trying to find a better way to rework that tricky bridge, and for her neighbor, who stayed up night after night as well.

For those who have wept here, slept here, prayed here, left here, shared here, and loved here, we pray.

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I’ve given myself a few days to cool off before I write about this issue, because on Sunday I was fuming over it. The problem is, I’m pretty mad at both parties over it. Who can tell me what to do with my body? Who can tell my Church what they can do?

Let’s back up. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Catholic Church’s teaching on birth control, artificial birth control such as condoms, contraceptive pills, etc. are considered immoral because they take the act of sex from being unitive and procreative to solely unitive. Since contraception discounts half the purpose of the act, it isn’t doing what it was meant to do. Now it doesn’t have to be procreative – it’s still OK to have sex when you wouldn’t get pregnant, i.e., not ovulating, infertile, post-menopausal. Additionally, it’s OK to use contraception for medically necessary purposes, that is taking the pill for painful periods or endometriosis, or using a condom to not give your partner HIV.

As I’m sure you all have guessed, seeing as how I’m Catholic and married for 1.5 years and have yet to pop a baby out, I’m on the pill. (Shock! Awe! Fainting! The smelling salts, please!) I know I usually only write about my bladder problems, but those are just the tip of the iceberg and some of the other issues I have mean birth control means my life is a whole lot easier. Discussion closed, please refrain from commenting on it.

Additionally, I have issues with how the Church came to the conclusion that birth control is immoral. The thought behind sexual ethics has evolved over time. Not to bore you but the gist of it is that Aquinas philosophy used to think sex was only procreative, even the rhythm method used to be banned, and the committee formed by the Vatican to assess the morality of the pill deemed that it did not go against Catholic teaching (source). Humanae Vitae, the letter which banned the pill for Catholics, was largely away to slow down the rapid progression of the Church which was becoming much more liberal.

The funny thing is though, even though I disagree with these interpretations of Catholic teaching, I don’t think I’d be using the pill if I didn’t have to. Not because of “scary side effects” that are pretty much common with any prescription, but because I appreciate my body and what it can do and don’t like the idea of artificially altering it. But I don’t think that using the pill means that sex is closed to the possibility of life either.

Back to the controversy.

Recently, Pres. Obama’s administration has required that all employers cover contraceptive medicines and procedures (not abortion though) under their insurance plans.  While this plan did include a religious exemption, it was limited to organizations whose primary purpose was faith instruction and primarily hires members of its own faith. That is, actual churches. The Catholic Church though is huge and has many organizations – universities and charities, that anyone can work for. The Catholic Church feels that this requirement to cover birth control violates their religious freedom. While the government’s response is that this mandate doesn’t require anyone to use it, the Catholic Church feels that allowing it is still going against God’s will.

Here’s why I’m conflicted.

Like I said, I need to be on birth control and it hurts that my Church wouldn’t want to support my health care needs. Now some people have said that they would still cover medically necessary contraception, I have yet to hear anything from the Church to support that claim. It’s not a sin for me to be on the pill, but this stance still leaves me feeling like a second class citizen, that I’m still not good enough, that they don’t care about the pain I’m going through. Okay, I realize that sounds dramatic, but it nevertheless hurts to feel that the Church things that they don’t have to be concerned with people who have problems like yours.

I don’t like the precedence this creates. While the Church doesn’t generally see contraception as “health care,” the rest of the medical world does.  So if they have the right to decide what kind of health care to cover, what other decisions can they make? They don’t need to cover pre-natal care for single moms? AIDS medicine for homosexuals? While I don’t think they would take it that far, the equation of health care and morality is troubling.

On the other hand…

While I disagree with how the teaching is interpreted by the Church, I agree with the philosophy behind it and respect it. It makes me uncomfortable with how this teaching is generally viewed by the rest of the world. It’s not necessarily backwards and oppressive, although it does ask for a tremendous sacrifice from women. I’m sure you have heard over the last few days that the vast majority of sexually active Catholics attempting to avoid pregnancy use birth control. But I don’t think that’s a reason to ignore the teaching. If the majority of Jews don’t observe the sabbath, can a federal employee still be forced to work on the Sabbath? Does overall adherence really determine the degree to which we respect religious freedom? Again, I feel this is a disturbing precedence. On a more political level, I feel this is a poor move of the Obama campaign, which had a chance at bringing more Catholics back to their traditional Democratic roots, especially those disgusted by Gingrich and Romney’s uncaring attitude to the poor.

The truth is, I don’t think that God will hold a Catholic paying into an insurance policy ultimately responsible for any babies that are unborn. And I don’t think that if I have to end up paying for my own birth control it will break the bank. If need be, I can always go to Planned Parenthood to get it for free (Shock! Awe! Fainting some more!). But I’m still disappointed. I’m disappointed the White House has treated the Church so flippantly, and I’m disappointed the Bishop here threatened to drop health care coverage for all employees in the Diocese if forced to cover birth control. I’m supremely disappointed that people at mass on Sunday clapped and cheered for that announcement.

I don’t know where to stand. It’s an issue that has been handled poorly by both sides. Yes, there are costs more expensive than birth control but there are also many worse infringes on religious freedom in the world. So let’s all take a big step back, a deep breath, and realize this is not the end of the world.

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Sex, Nuns, and Football

I like to put a damper on exciting things, so while I’m just as pumped as anyone (okay, decidedly less pumped than anyone in the Northeast) to watch the Super Bowl this Sunday, I want to talk about a real problem with our nation’s favorite sporting event.

And it’s not concussions. It’s sex trafficking.

I didn’t know anything about sex trafficking until a few years ago when I watched an absolutely amazing movie called Trade. I can’t recommend it enough, even though it’s incredibly heavy and heartbreaking.  You can see for yourself:

The most striking thing about the film is that it brings sex trafficking home. Because while we would like to think of it as a far off problem affecting only places like Taiwan, Haiti or Mexico, the reality is that the US estimates there are 10,000 sex trafficking victims in this country. Some estimates are higher. Miami police estimated that in 2010 there was as many as 10,000 prostitutes from outside the area for the Super Bowl, considered one of the largest sex trafficking events in the country and possibly the world.

I can’t think about it without tearing up. Women, men, boys, girls being brought as an extra sideshow, extra entertainment.

If you think back to Econ 101, most every business operates on a simple premise: increase supply to meet the demand. So what do we need to do to stop sex trafficking? We need to stop the demand.

That’s not what we’ve been doing. According to a 2005 bill in Congress:

According to recent studies –

  • a) 11 females used in commercial sexual acts were arrested in Boston for every arrest of a male purchaser;
  • b) 9 females used in commercial sexual acts were arrested in Chicago for every arrest of a male purchaser;
  • c) 6 females used in commercial sexual acts were arrested in New York City for every arrest of a male purchaser.

There’s something not right here. And Indiana has been rushing through the legislator bills to crack down on sex trafficking. But what can we, as people probably not engaged in the sex trade or law enforcement do to stop the demand?

A group of Catholic nuns has reached out to local hotels training and educating them on how to recognize and prevent sex trafficking. 200 hotels in a 50 mile radius of the city have agreed to or had participated in training or receiving information on local safe houses and help lines. The nuns have enlisted local congregations to pray and take action for those engaged in sex trafficking.

The problem of sex trafficking is large and complicated. It’s not just evil men in back alleys, it’s a world where families are so impoverished selling oneself is sometimes the only option. It’s a culture that turns a blind eye to sex crimes, or even glamorizes it. We can think it’s not our culture all we want, but I go to a school that ignored rapes on campus. We hear about the Penn State scandal every day. Big scandals aside, we watch sexist TV commercials and laugh and them like they are funny. But there’s nothing funny about treating women like they are less than what God created them to be. There’s nothing okay about a culture that refuses to stop the demand.

I can’t rush in to Indianapolis and save everyone, as much as I would like to. But I can be a person who respects life, respects human dignity, and respects sex. I wish I knew how to take a bigger stand than just yelling at the internet. But I can tell you this, when I’m cheering on the Giants (or Patriots? Have we decided yet, John?) on Sunday, I’m going to be cheering on those nuns, and men and women all over the world who are taking a stand against sex trafficking.

Even if it’s just a small voice saying this needs to stop.

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