I Pledge Allegiance To…

Let’s talk about flags for a minute.

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Trigger warning: You’re probably not gonna like this post. If you aren’t going to comment with civility, please go to Tumblr and complain there like everyone else.

Flags are symbols. They are both historical and current. They represent a country’s legacy or an idea.

Let’s start with the most controversial flag as of today:

Confederate_flag

 

I distinctly remember driving through Alabama and seeing this flag flying. I don’t have a picture of it, but I also don’t remember people being up in arms about it the way they were with South Carolina. To many people, this flag is a symbol of hate, dissent, and racism.

On the other hand, this flag has historical context, so it should be shown in museums and in historical-based games and on the Dukes of Hazzard merchandise because that flag is still a part of Southern culture.

Rebecca Frech says that the recent controversy over this flag is because the issue was brought up from people outside of South Carolina. “If they were left alone, they’d probably vote to move it elsewhere like we have. But once Yankees start pushing us ignorant southerners around, we dig in our heels and won’t budge an inch. I’m in favor of moving or removing the flag if the people of South Carolina want it moved. But I’m against Yankees coming in and telling them they should move it.”

I am a Yankee by birth. I was born north of the Mason-Dixon line and spent most of my childhood there. However, I’ve been living in Texas for almost ten years. I’ve seen the Southern pride as well as Southern hospitality. Heck, the Texas State Capitol currently flies another form of the Confederate flag to honor the Six Flags Over Texas. (Not the theme park.)

The Confederate Flag can be found right next to the Texas state flag.

The Confederate Flag can be found right next to the Texas state flag.

So while I understand the controversy, I feel like people have gone too far in the name of political correctness.

Speaking of politics, let’s move onto the next flag…

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This flag represents an idea. And it’s been all over my news feed because of the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision to make same-sex marriage legal nationwide. My college was ironically located in the gay district of Houston so if you drove up the block, you would see these flags all over. I’ve been seeing rainbows everywhere on my social media. It honestly feels like a Skittles factory exploded all over my laptop!

I have a good number of LGBT friends. I have friends who support gay marriage. This is for y’all:

I love you. We are still friends. I may not agree with you with where you stand on this issue. I’m still trying to understand what it means to be gay/lesbian/bi/etc and work it into my faith. I also believe that sexuality is part of who you are, but it is not the whole of who you are. We are so much more than our gender/sexuality/race/etc. This “something more” comes from our Divine creator and it reaches out beyond the tangible. I hope that y’all are open to dialogue about ways to be more compassionate towards those on the LGBT spectrum beyond government oversight.

Speaking of government…

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There are days that I love my country. And there are days that I wanna get off this planet altogether. I don’t know if I can say that I am proud to be an American right now because of how people are going to extremes in the name of political correctness. Riots break out in cities over racial issues that never seem to go away. People are taking out historically significant pieces of literature in the name of “safe spaces” on college campuses. We distrust our cops when they shoot African-American young adults, but cheer when a “cop killer” gets caught in New York. In the words of one of my favorite musicals: “How do you document real life when real life’s getting more like fiction each day?” I’m distrustful of politicians in general, especially the blatant opportunists. I want to believe that there is still good in this nation. However, maybe these events and people’s reactions to them remind me that there is a line between patriotism and nationalism. I love the ideas that this nation stands for, but the message is being distorted in the name of entitlement.

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Today is the feast day of Sts. Peter and Paul. This flag would not exist without them. This flag is also covering my face on both my Facebook and Instagram profile pictures. Why do I choose to “pledge allegiance” to this flag as opposed to the other flags I showed here?

Because before anything else, I am a Catholic. I’ve said before that I see being Catholic as something bigger than myself. It transcends beyond my gender, my race, the kinds of people I find attractive, and even the fandoms that I obsess over. The Catholic Church is the glue that binds the pieces of me together. Like Peter, I have a horrible tendency to let my passions overrule being sensible, which ends up with me coming off like a thick-headed idiot. I have the best of intentions, but end up falling short because of the actions I choose. And yet, Jesus chose Peter to be the head of his Church, the foundation that would give way to an entire legacy of popes and bishops and priests who worked hard to make the Church what it is today.

The Church is by no means perfect. Neither am I, for that matter. But through Christ, the Church and I continue to improve and grow. Like Paul, we are filled with a zeal that drives us to go around the world proclaiming the Gospel. We have a missionary spirit that can’t be stopped. We may not say what everyone likes to hear, but at the same time, these things need to be said. Jesus chose Paul, a man who spent time persecuting and killing Christians thinking he was doing the right thing. After his conversion, Paul preached compassion, but he also preached about having integrity.

So when you see this flag over my face, know that I am not doing it to set up some kind of us against the world dichotomy. I’m doing it to show who my heart ultimately belongs to. I pledge allegiance to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

*Mic drop*

St. Josemaria Escriva: The Spiritual Drill Sergeant

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Don’t let his habit fool you. He’ll have you doing 50 pushups.

St. Josemaria Escriva’s The Way is not the kind of book you would read in one sitting. It’s more like the Catholic version of a devotional. Only it has a tendency to punch you in the gut and make you feel like doing push-ups. I lovingly call him a “spiritual drill sergeant” because The Way challenges everyone who reads it to take their spirituality to the next level. 

Examples:

Character

Conform? It is a word found only in the vocabulary of those (“You might as well conform,” they say) who have no will to fight–the lazy, the cunning, the cowardly–because they know they are defeated before they start.

Direction

If you don’t have a plan of life, you’ll never have order.

Prayer

Persevere in prayer. Persevere, even when your efforts seem sterile. Prayer is always fruitful.

Holy Purity

To defend his purity, Saint Francis of Assisi rolled in the snow, Saint Benedict threw himself into a thornbush, Saint Bernard plunged into an icy pond . . . You . . . what have you done?

Heart

You give me the impression you are carrying your heart in your hands, as if you were offering goods for sale. Who wants it? If it doesn’t appeal to anyone, you’ll decide to give it to God. Do you think that’s how the saints acted?

Mortification

Don’t say “That person bothers me.” Think: “That person sanctifies me.”

Penance

I want you to be happy on earth. But you won’t be happy if you don’t get rid of that fear of suffering. For as long as we are “wayfarers”, it is precisely in suffering that our happiness lies.

Examination of Conscience

“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much.” Words from St. Luke that show you-examine yourself-why you have so often gone astray.

 

St. Josemaria Escriva, pray for us.

Are We Out of the Woods Yet?

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One quote from Buffy the Vampire the Slayer that resonates with me comes from the Season 5 finale “The Gift”:

The hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live.

Season 6 of Buffy was themed around the idea of life becoming the Big Bad. As angsty and heartwrenching as it sounds, Whedon got it right. Going to extremes feels easy because of the high-risk, high-reward gamble. We all jump at the chance to do the extraordinary. We live for the celebration of special occasions.

But ordinary life? Ordinary Time? The daily grind, especially when faced with an uncertain future? That’s hard. It’s hard to just live from day to day if your life is surrounded by uncertainty or sadness or anxiety. There are times in life where it feels like you’re driving down a highway at night with just the headlights showing the next 200 feet. Or you’re wandering around the woods and the trees look like monsters. Or you feel like there’s nothing but fog and rain and no sunlight at all. How do you find your way out?

“We walk by faith and not by sight.” – 2 Corinthians 5:7

There will be times in your life that God calls us to completely surrender yourselves, your lives, and everything in it to Him. Your faith will be tested. It’s during these times that you need to fully rely on God. It’s not an easy thing to do. I know it’s not for me, given that there are a million things in this life that I don’t know for sure.

What I know for sure is that if I didn’t have my faith in God and if I didn’t trust him,  I would just be an empty shell of the woman I am now. In spite of the darkness, the woods, and the fog, God is always with us, leading us out. But sometimes, as I’ve been learning in Vacation Bible School, he just wants us to hold on. As in hold on to Him. Rely on Him. Fully surrender ourselves to Him.

There are so many songs that talk about walking by faith, but one of my favorites is Audrey Assad’s “Lead Kindly Light,” based on a prayer by John Henry Newman.

I pray that no matter what’s going on in your life today, you are taking that first step in faith, trusting in God, and handing everything over to Him.

Laudato Si, Chapter 2, Part 1: Biblical Evidence and Strange Gods

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Chapter 2 of Laudato Si starts out as sort of an “in-house memo,” He knows that there are those who don’t believe in or just barely tolerate (using the original definition of the word here) religion. In spite of what many, many people believe, science, religion, and yes, the environment are all connected to each other. It’s a relationship as old as faith and reason. (And yes, they actually work together.) He hopes that the encyclical will show how having faith provides the desire to make the world a better place. In other words, faith that inspires doing good works. (Are you sensing a pattern here?)

Part 2 of Laudato Si is a long dive into Scriptural evidence that supports Pope Francis’s thesis, to put things into college paper terms. He starts with the first creation account from the Book of Genesis. It follows the theme of last chapter about how being Pro Earth is part of being Pro Life, only in this case, he praises the dignity of every human being. In Paragraph 66, he looks into the relationships between humanity, God, and the Earth, all of which have been broken by sin. By choosing to be like gods, humanity desired “to ‘have dominion’ over the earth…” Today, the nature of sin takes the form of wars, “the various forms of violence and abuse, the abandonment of the most vulnerable, and attacks on nature.” It stems back from making what Elizabeth Scalia calls “The Idol of I.” We keep making ourselves into gods.

The idea that God created man to have “dominion” over the earth has led to people becoming destructively dominant towards nature. In Paragraph 67, Pope Francis says that the quote from Genesis 1:28 has been misinterpreted. The earth doesn’t belong to us alone, but to God and to future generations.

The relationship between humanity and nature also applies in terms of our relationships with animals. I don’t think the Pope is going to be supporting PETA anytime soon, but he shows Biblical evidence against animal cruelty. The respect for other creatures also extends to having respect for our fellow man as well, using the story of Cain and Abel and Noah to show how disharmony between man will reflect in the disharmony in nature. (Sort of Macbethian in that sense.) He emphasizes the importance of renewal periods, such as resting on the sabbath day, having a sabbatical year, and the celebration fo the Jubilee year. The fruits of the laborers were shared with everyone, especially the poor, the widows, the orphans, and the foreigners.

Paragraphs 72-75 look into the importance of having a good relationship with God, once again, citing the Bible as evidence. Without a relationship with God, we end up making anything and everything else our idol. If it sounds like I’m shamelessly plugging Strange Gods alongside reading Laudato Si, you’re probably right.

Standout Quotes

From Paragraph 65 (Emphases mine)

The Bible teaches that every man and woman is created out of love and made in God’s image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26). This shows us the immense dignity of each person, “who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons.” 

Saint John Paul II stated that the special love of the Creator for each human being “confers upon him or her an infinite dignity”. Those who are committed to defending human dignity can find in the Christian faith the deepest reasons for this commitment. How wonderful is the certainty that each human life is not adrift in the midst of hopeless chaos, in a world ruled by pure chance or endlessly recurring cycles!

The Creator can say to each one of us: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jer 1:5). We were conceived in the heart of God, and for this reason “each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary”.

Paragraph 67

Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures. The biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate hermeneutic, recognizing that they tell us to “till and keep” the garden of the world (cf. Gen 2:15). “Tilling” refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while “keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving.

Paragraph 69

Together with our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly, we are called to recognize that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes: “by their mere existence they bless him and give him glory”,41 and indeed, “the Lord rejoices in all his works” (Ps 104:31).

Paragraph 70

Disregard for the duty to cultivate and maintain a proper relationship with my neighbour, for whose care and custody I am responsible, ruins my relationship with my own self, with others, with God and with the earth.

Paragraphs 72-75

72

The Psalms frequently exhort us to praise God the Creator, “who spread out the earth on the waters, for his steadfast love endures for ever” (Ps 136:6). They also invite other creatures to join us in this praise: “Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created” (Ps 148:3-5). We do not only exist by God’s mighty power; we also live with him and beside him. This is why we adore him.

73.

The writings of the prophets invite us to find renewed strength in times of trial by contemplating the all-powerful God who created the universe. Yet God’s infinite power does not lead us to flee his fatherly tenderness, because in him affection and strength are joined. Indeed, all sound spirituality entails both welcoming divine love and adoration, confident in the Lord because of his infinite power. In the Bible, the God who liberates and saves is the same God who created the universe, and these two divine ways of acting are intimately and inseparably connected: “Ah Lord God! It is you who made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you… You brought your people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs and wonders” (Jer 32:17, 21). “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless” (Is 40:28b-29).

74.
The experience of the Babylonian captivity provoked a spiritual crisis which led to deeper faith in God. Now his creative omnipotence was given pride of place in order to exhort the people to regain their hope in the midst of their wretched predicament. Centuries later, in another age of trial and persecution, when the Roman Empire was seeking to impose absolute dominion, the faithful would once again find consolation and hope in a growing trust in the all-powerful God: “Great and wonderful are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways!” (Rev 15:3). The God who created the universe out of nothing can also intervene in this world and overcome every form of evil. Injustice is not invincible.

75.
A spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable. That is how we end up worshipping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot. The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality.

Laudato Si, Chapter 1, Part 2: Pro-Earth = Pro-Life

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Being Pro-Life to me means going beyond saving the unborn babies. It also means having compassion for criminals (which means no death penalty), making sure that single mothers find work, education, supplies, and babysitters so that they can take care of their children, and caring for the terminally ill (no euthanasia). In Laudato Si, Pope Francis, in this encyclical, takes the idea of being pro-life and puts it on a global scale.

Part 5 of Chapter 1 talks about the quality of life, or lack thereof as the case may be. He acknowledges that there is a connection between the quality of life in terms of the environment and quality of life in terms of how well people are living. Unfortunately, not many people who have the power to influence the quality of life are choosing to do so outside of keeping up appearances.

Paragraph 50 particularly stands out here to the liberals who are dancing on tables about the Pope apparently agreeing with the party line. (Emphasis mine)

Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of “reproductive health”. Yet “while it is true that an unequal distribution of the population and of available resources creates obstacles to development and a sustainable use of the environment, it must nonetheless be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development”. To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption. Besides, we know that approximately a third of all food produced is discarded, and “whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor”. Still, attention needs to be paid to imbalances in population density, on both national and global levels, since a rise in consumption would lead to complex regional situations, as a result of the interplay between problems linked to environmental pollution, transport, waste treatment, loss of resources and quality of life.

Overpopulation Myth Believers, consider yourselves hosed.

Part 6 of Chapter 1 looks into the lack of response and effort people have taken in trying to make the environment better. In his opinion, people in power see the environment as part of their agenda and wars could eventually break out over lack of resources under the guise of being for the greater good. There are positive examples of good change in the world. It’s not much, but it’s a start.  However, Pope Francis warns against sitting on our laurels.

Standout quotes

Paragraph 53

Yet we are called to be instruments of God our Father, so that our planet might be what he desired when he created it and correspond with his plan for peace, beauty and fullness.

Paragraph 54

There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.

Paragraph 59:

Superficially, apart from a few obvious signs of pollution and deterioration, things do not look that serious, and the planet could continue as it is for some time. Such evasiveness serves as a licence to carrying on with our present lifestyles and models of production and consumption. This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen.

Part 7 is entitled “A Variety of Opinions,” which looks into the differing POVs on the issue of the environment and asks for genuine dialogue in order to find solutions.

Standout quote:

Paragraph 60:

At one extreme, we find those who doggedly uphold the myth of progress and tell us that ecological problems will solve themselves simply with the application of new technology and without any need for ethical considerations or deep change. At the other extreme are those who view men and women and all their interventions as no more than a threat, jeopardizing the global ecosystem, and consequently the presence of human beings on the planet should be reduced and all forms of intervention prohibited.

 

Laudato Si, Chapter 1, Part 1: The Throwaway Culture

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The first part of Chapter 1 of Laudato Si talks about the everyday pollution we deal with as well as the more unhealthy stuff that can be found everywhere. “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” (Paragraph 21)

Pope Francis links this to what he calls a throwaway culture. starting with something as simple as throwing away paper instead of recycling it. This entire chapter then goes into detail about how the throwaway culture extends beyond merely not recycling paper. “The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.” (Paragraph 23) However, this chapter shows that at the moment, people aren’t treating the Earth like it should be treated.

Most of this chapter feels like something out of a college-level environmental class, with Pope Francis explaining the environmental damage that is going on in our world. He also says that climate change especially affects those who live in poor areas. The problem, according to him, is that those with the resources to change things would rather mask the problem and conceal symptoms. He suggests investing that money towards things that can consume less energy and constructing and renovating in ways that increase energy efficiency.

There’s an entire section in this chapter that focuses on the issue of water. Paragraph 28 explains why having fresh drinking water is an important issue and points out that many areas are especially affected by lack of access to safe drinking water. Paragraph 29  explains the dangers of not having safe drinking water. Paragraph 30 admonishes making water a commodity.

Part 3 of Chapter 1 is entitled “Loss of Biodiversity.” He spends about eleven paragraphs explaining how human activity affects various ecosystems. He also stresses the importance of protecting ecosystems such as the rainforest. (Cue Captain Planet theme. And yes, I did grow up watching that show.) Two paragraphs focus on ocean environments. Again, this entire section feels very much like a textbook. Too bad nobody likes to study.

It’s no surprise, then, that I like Part 4 of this chapter the most because it finally brings in the human factor. He points out how artificial things are. It brings to mind, at least for me, the contrast between the ostentatious and meticulously maintained estate of Rosings and Mr. Darcy’s wild and vast estate of Pemberley in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  He also looks into the social impact the environment has. Paragraph 47 particularly stabs at my heart because it looks into the pros and cons of being a world immersed in technology.

I’ll look into the second half of Chapter 1 tomorrow. For now, I’m going to share some parts of Chapter 1 that particularly stood out for me.

Standout quotes

Paragraph 30

Even as the quality of available water is constantly diminishing, in some places there is a growing tendency, despite its scarcity, to privatize this resource, turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market. Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity. This debt can be paid partly by an increase in funding to provide clean water and sanitary services among the poor. But water continues to be wasted, not only in the developed world but also in developing countries which possess it in abundance. This shows that the problem of water is partly an educational and cultural issue, since there is little awareness of the seriousness of such behaviour within a context of great inequality.

From Paragraph 34:

We must be grateful for the praiseworthy efforts being made by scientists and engineers dedicated to finding solutions to man-made problems. But a sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves.

From Paragraph 42

Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another.

From Paragraph 43

Human beings too are creatures of this world, enjoying a right to life and happiness, and endowed with unique dignity. So we cannot fail to consider the effects on people’s lives of environmental deterioration, current models of development and the throwaway culture.

Things Adults Can Learn from Vacation Bible School

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Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

I’ve been a regular volunteer at my parish’s Vacation Bible School for a couple years now. I love working with kids, even if they can be exhausting. There’s just something about kids that makes me smile.

Summertime is a popular time for retreats. Unfortunately, these retreats are often expensive, so for the past couple years, Vacation Bible School has been the closest thing I get to a summer retreat before I go off to volunteer for my local Awakening retreat. (If you don’t know what an Awakening retreat is, go to the Awakening Retreat site and find one in your area. It’ll change your life.)

I’ll be the first to admit that the idea of VBS is kind of ridiculous. It’s watered-down Scripture lessons with more time spent on games and food than actually learning anything. The themes are bit silly as well and it boggles the mind how you can relate themes like “G-Force,” “Jungle Safari,” and “Treasure Island” to the Bible. Not to mention that the songs range from pretty good to mediocre to just plain awful. And this is coming from the girl who listened to the many, many one-hit wonder bands that came out in the early 2000s.

But truth is where you find it. And while the music, the games, and the activities can all be very silly, there are still things adults can learn alongside their kids from the lessons that Vacation Bible School teaches.

The theme for the first VBS I volunteered at was Athens. I played the role of a shopkeeper who did crafts with the kids. The stories in VBS focused on Paul preaching the Gospel to those who didn’t know or didn’t believe in God in Athens. The shopkeepers were asked to portray different perspectives. I pretended to be someone who didn’t believe in God but grew to understand Paul’s teachings. It was my first time volunteering and there were some messes made, but I was inspired by how the kids kept cool under pressure, even when I spilled a bottle of ink while in the middle of teaching them how to write Greek letters.

A year ago, the theme my parish did was Wilderness Escape, which coincided nicely with a period of spiritual dryness that I struggled with at the time. The Bible adventures focused on Moses and the Hebrews wandering in the desert. This time, I was a group leader. The lessons that I was teaching to the kids also applied to me, in a great instance of Divine Providence. I also learned that sometimes, I’m just as temperamental as the kids can be when they act like sore losers, but in the end, it’s all in good fun.

This year, my parish is doing Everest. The Bible stories that the kids will learn will center on the prophet Elijah, the healing of Naaman, Jesus having the power to forgive sins, and Jesus’s promise of everlasting love. The catchphrase for Everest is “Hold on!” and the songs center on holding onto our faith and trusting in God. My favorite one is “One Thing Remains,” given that it’s an actual song. But given how my faith has been constantly tested this year, I hope to get as much out of the lessons and key verses this week as much as the kids do.

There will hopefully be pictures at the end of the week. Pray for the earthquake victims in Nepal as well as for the kids going through VBS this summer.

Looking Into Laudato Si Part 1: Charity Begins at Home

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One of my friends from college asked me this question recently in regards to Pope Francis’s latest encyclical Laudato Si.

No liberal, democrat millennial is going to read the encyclical so why in the world did he highlight the saving the environment (even though Catholics take care of it most) and not something else? There are so many lax Catholics and young Catholics who are missing something: The teachings of the Catholic Church. Why couldn’t he highlight that? Why aren’t things like that coming out from reading the encyclical instead of the environment?”

I’ll be honest when I say that I don’t have an answer for that right now. Pope Francis has never been one to go with expectations. And I’m not even halfway through finishing this encyclical!

From what I read so far, I’ve gotten two things. First of all, it reminds me of something my mother always said: “Charity begins at home.” Even though we were created for Heaven, the Earth is our home. A temporary home, yes, but still our home. So if we’re gonna start changing ourselves, we have to start by taking care of our home first.

I also felt major Josemaria Escriva vibes from this encyclical. Yes, Pope Francis is channeling major Franciscan spirituality, but there’s also the challenging tone that only St. Josemaria Escriva can bring to the table. The encyclical is direct and challenging, forcing us outside of our comfort zones, forcing us to think outside of ourselves. It could also be the Jesuit spirituality as well, given that St. Ignatius has a military background.

Tom McDonald of God and the Machine has been live-tweeting the encyclical, which has inspired me to do something similar here. I’ll be going through a chapter of the encyclical (or as much as I can, depending on how long the chapters are). Today, I will start with the introduction.

The encyclical opens with where the title of the encyclical came from: St. Francis’s Canticle of the Sun. He refers Earth as a sister, which makes sense because ontologically, we are related to the Earth by the fact that both the Earth and us are created by us. He also reminds us that we are created from the Earth and we depend on her to sustain ourselves.

Paragraphs 3-6 cite his predecessors’ viewpoints on the importance of taking care of the Earth. He starts with Pope Saint John XXIII and ends with Benedict, showing that this issue isn’t just a hot-button trend, but something that previous popes have brought up before.  The ones that stand out the most to me are, of course, the paragraphs where he refers to St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Standout quotes from Paragraph 5:

The destruction of the human environment is extremely serious, not only because God has entrusted the world to us men and women, but because human life itself is a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement.” “Authentic human development has a moral character. It presumes full respect for the human person, but it must also be concerned for the world around us and ‘take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection to an ordered system.’

Being pro-environment is being pro-life.

Standout quote from Paragraph 6:

Pope Benedict asked us to recognize that the natural environment  has been gravely damaged by our irresponsible behavior. The social environment has also suffered damage. Both are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless. We have forgotten that “man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature.

Have I ever mentioned how I hate existentialism?

Paragraphs 7-9 emphasize the universality of this issue by citing Patriarch Bartholomew’s views on the issue. The Patriarch’s opinions support Francis’s views on the connection between the fallen state of humanity and the fallen state of the world as a whole.

Paragraphs 10-12 brings up Pope Francis’s namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, and how exactly the saint inspired this encyclical. His love for nature isn’t “naive romanticism” or flower child delusions, but comes out of a genuine awe and wonder. And the lifestyle St. Francis chose to lead wasn’t done for show, but from “a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.” (Again, take that, existentialism!) I also liked that Pope Francis brings up Scripture a few times in this introduction.

The last four paragraphs of the introduction focus on Pope Francis’s appeal. He knows that the world is not beyond saving and he knows that “young people demand change.” He calls for a new dialogue about how to make the world better and for cooperation. He also says that there won’t be any easy answers to the questions that my friend asked me, but layers.

I look forward to continuing my commentary, but before I do, I have some snarking that I’ve been saving since last weekend.

Dear pundits and politicians, I really hope that you actually read this thing and aren’t just citing the party line script. I don’t care if you’re liberal or conservative, but the fact of the matter is that this encyclical is challenging you. So if you’re gonna go on your cable news program and talk about how you know more about economics and the environment than a man who actually lived in a country that had constant economic struggles and studied about the environment as part of his science degree, then do us all a favor and keep your mouth shut. Your logic is not compatible with our earth logic.

In The Body of Christ, We Are Never Alone

alone

 

The word “catholic” means “universal” and it always makes me happy to know that no matter where I go, I’ll find a church. It might take some driving, but there’s at least one Catholic Church in every state in the US and in every country. But what’s even better than that is that I know that I am never alone.

Even though I consider myself to be an introvert, I feel lonely very often. I may not feel comfortable making small talk or being in a room with loud, chatty people, but if I ever find a friend that I feel comfortable with, I like talking to that friend often. In fact, my deepest longing is for a friend that I can talk to about everything and nothing with. Someone I can ramble to about all of my crazy fandom-related stuff, but at the same time, I can just be with that person without having to talk.

But since I am Catholic, I am part of the Mystical Body of Christ, which means that I have God and a whole communion of saints that I can pray to whenever I feel lonely. It’s not the same as physically being with a person or hearing a voice, but it provides some solace. Being part of the Mystical Body of Christ also means that I can pray for my friends and I know that my friends are praying for me. Intercessory prayer is a very powerful thing and my life has shown evidence of that.

When I heard about Thomas Peters AKA American Papist’s accident almost two years ago, I felt a strong desire to pray for him because I didn’t want him to end up as a vegetable in the hospital. Whenever I prayed for him, I would hear some kind of news relating to his recovery and was happy to see that he recovered well enough to check out of the hospital a month after the accident. As of now, he is back to writing and undergoing regular physical therapy. Given what could’ve happened, I consider this to be a minor miracle.

I also feel like the Mystical Body of Christ applies to my own life as well, even when it comes to people I never met. When I was nursing my latest broken heart, I was browsing my social media feed when I saw a link to a music video to a song I’ve been anticipating for a long time. It brought me out of my misery. I later said to the artist “To say that your timing is impeccable is an understatement.” This wasn’t the first time that this particular artist would inadvertently save my day and inspire me and it won’t be the last. In fact, they share a lot of wonderful pieces of wisdom on their Instagram and Twitter, but they aren’t Catholic. In spite of our spiritual differences, I feel like they are part of the Mystical Body of Christ with me and everyone else. After all, we are all God’s creation.

The Mystical Body of Christ reminds us all that we are not alone. We can find friends in the saints, in our churches, and even in people we’ve yet to meet.