Virgin Shaming: It's A Thing That Exists

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Warning: This post is gonna sound like I’m being a bit-ca. Not my usual sweet tone. But that’s what happens when I get on the soapbox.

I will be the first to admit that this country isn’t perfect. We fought over the color of a dress and think that “Deez Nuts” is an actual person that could run for President. We also think that a guy who’s more famous for his hair, beauty pageant and reality show than for any actual actions relating to politics and philanthropy is presidential material. But last week, I came across an article that made me think this country just hit a whole new level of stupid: The Catholic Response sharing the internet’s confused and hateful reactions to Jessica Hayes becoming a Consecrated Virgin.

I’ve written about consecrated virginity on this blog before. Heck, one of my friends became a consecrated virgin this summer. So why is it that the internet is going nuts now?

I guess it’s because Indiana was prominent in the gay marriage debate and Jessica Hayes happens to be from Indiana. But seriously, people, women marry Jesus more often than you think. Most of them do so by becoming nuns. Jessica Hayes, however, chose to remain a lay person and devote her entire life to serving Christ. It’s no different than a man choosing to be a diocesan priest instead of entering a religious order.

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I don’t understand why people don’t give a hoot about the Dalai Lama being celibate but yet want priests to be married. I don’t understand why gays demand to be married in a church that won’t comply to them and sue people who refuse to bake cakes for them instead of taking their business elsewhere. I don’t understand why people aren’t arguing for civil unions. And think of the divorce rates!

It really stems from a misunderstanding of what love and marriage mean. Society these days sees sex as the be-all, end-all with marriage being just a “bonus.” Marriages aren’t about big weddings and exotic honeymoons or even about being with somebody until you can’t take it anymore. Love and marriage are about sacrifice. And love can manifest in a million different ways that have nothing to do with relationships.

Being a virgin isn’t a disease or something to be ridiculed. At the same time, people shouldn’t put such an emphasis on “purity” that they have entire dances revolving around it. Being a virgin means simply to embrace a life of chastity, which means putting one’s desires aside for a greater cause.

 

When I first read about Jessica Hayes choosing consecrated virginity, my first question wasn’t “Why isn’t she getting married to a man?” but “Why isn’t she going to be a nun?” She answers that question in an article she wrote in Our Sunday Visitor.

“Miss Hayes, why did you want to become a consecrated virgin instead of a religious sister?” posed an inquisitive student in my Women’s Dignity class. “Because I wanted to stay with you,” was my immediate and honest response. Without missing a beat, she replied, “We wanted you to stay with us, too.”

Hayes is a teacher. She wants to devote her life to serving the church through her teaching. She’s not denying herself sex or children.  The bishop who consecrated her goes more into this in his homily that you should seriously read. While many, many nuns out there serve as teachers, the life of a nun belongs to her convent first. By choosing to marry Christ and stay a lay woman, Hayes has a bit more freedom than a religious sister. Her time can be her own, to do whatever she pleases. She’s giving her love to the diocese she serves and to the kids that she teaches. I think that pretty much trumps whatever stuff a certain HBO show can come up with in regards to sex in the city.

So yeah, people. Stop shaming Jessica Hayes for choosing to stay a virgin. Learn from her. And learn what love and marriage really mean.

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Images by Joseph Romie. Posted with permission.

 

Thomas Merton: The Best and Most Unlikely Travel Companion

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Back in my college days, my friends and I were huge fans of Thomas Merton. I read his short essay “Firewatch” while I was in college and found his journals on retreat but it wasn’t until I traveled to Florida in May that I started reading The Seven Storey Mountain, the story of his life leading up to him becoming a Trappist monk. It wasn’t until I was helping my brother move into his new apartment that I was able to finish it.

One reason my friends and I are huge fans of Merton is that Merton took a long and winding road to find home in the Catholic Church and like many of us, had vocation issues. Throughout his travels, God was always with Merton even when he wasn’t aware of it, through the poetry that he read. Merton had his conversion in New York City and after a few years, finally found his vocation as a Carthusian monk in Kentucky.

Whenever I picked up The Seven Storey Mountain, I felt like I was travelling with Merton wherever he went, whether it was in England or France or Cuba or New York. His words conveyed so much beauty, especially when he talked about observing the Mass as an outsider. And this was back in the days where Latin Mass was the norm. But when I was sleeping up in my brother’s loft apartment, Merton’s words of him visiting the monastery for the first time and starting his life as a monk were a beautiful solace where wi-fi couldn’t be found.

I understand that Thomas Merton is a bit of a controversial figure. But last time I checked, he didn’t leave his monastery for either Buddhism or a woman. He never broke his vows. I understand being fascinated by different religions, even enthralled. But if Thomas Aquinas was able to learn different things from the religions of his time as well as the atheists, then I wouldn’t put it past Merton to try and do the same if he lived longer. I also understand falling in love. It happens even to people who take a vow of chastity.

And hey, as of now, Merton has a bishop-elect’s approval. That’s gotta give him some cred.

 

Everyone has spiritual and emotional crises that they have to overcome. Whatever happened to  Merton could easily happen to any of us. But the best saints come out of the best sinners. If I learned anything from Thomas Merton this past weekend, it’s that when I have a crisis, I have to turn to Jesus and cry out to him if I must.

One particular passage from The Seven Storey Mountain stood out to me. It was from Merton’s first encounter with the Gethsemani monastery, after celebrating Mass with them.

“See Who God is! See Christ here, on the Cross! See His wounds, see His torn hands, see how the King of Glory is crowned with thorns! Do you know what Love is? Here is Love, Here on this Cross, here is Love, suffering these nails, these thorns, that scourge loaded with lead, smashed to pieces bleeding to death because of your sins and bleeding to death because of people that will never know Him, and never think of Him and will never remember His Sacrifice. Learn from Him how to love God and how to love men! Learn of this cross, this Love, how to give your life away to Him.”

I have been emotionally exhausted this summer, coming down from a flurry of changes in my life. People come and people go, but God was always with me. And just when I thought I could settle down, I was given one more trial of complete isolation. It wasn’t until I cried out to Jesus that I knew that the trial was over. I wrote a long prayer, asking Christ to hide me in His wounds and let me know that everything will be okay. I told him everything that I missed and how I wished things could be different. Like Merton, I realized that God was calling me to be alone with Him so that I would know how much I really needed him.

Ghost of the Robot's Bourgeois Faux Pas – An Album Review

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Pronounced “boar gee oh is fox pass”

So who exactly is Ghost of the Robot, you ask? They’re a multi-genre band based in Los Angeles, California. Their music ranges from pop-rock to hard rock to metal with a bit of country thrown in for good measure. How exactly do I know about this band? I have a crush on the lead singer.

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Photo and stickers were sent by a dear friend who is a fellow Buffy fan.

That’s right, people. James Marsters from Buffy is the lead singer and guitar for Ghost of the Robot. It’s basically his band, one that he started with his friend Charlie de Mars. Kevin McPherson, Jordan Latham, and James’s son Sullivan make up the rest of the band.

To date, the band has 3 albums: Mad Brilliant, B-Sider, and Murphy’s Law. James Marsters also has 2 solo albums out. Bourgeois Faux Pas is available for pre-order on their site and hopefully it’ll be available on Spotify soon. Until then, I’ll review the album and you decide if it’s worth pre-ordering.

Warning: I’m not a music expert so I don’t know what kind of instruments are being used. Plus, fangirl squee will ensue.

1) Hello “Hello” was the first single from this album. It’s an upbeat track about meeting someone for the first time with love being a definite potential maybe. When I listened to the single version of this, it evoked memories of when I met James Marsters at Comicpalooza. And no, I’m still not over it!  The vocals and instrumentals are great in this track and I like the lyrics. It’s a great opening track that has an excellent electric guitar outro.

2) Back To Act Too When I checked up on the news surrounding the album, the band said that different members of the band would sing lead in different songs. This is the first instance of that. This song is pop-rock, a breakup song that feels like it would belong in a beach movie. It’s a good track.

3) Three This was where I said to myself “Okay, I’m officially dead!” because James Marsters’s voice is distinct in this song. The song reminds me so much of Spuffy in Season 6, specifically, the angst that Spike feels about Buffy having the weight of the world on her shoulders and using him just to feel something. It’s a touching ballad and yes, I am melting as I type this.

4) Mother of Peril This song starts out slow and then goes into a hard rock intro. Lyrically, it’s a bit confusing, but it picks up towards the second half. I like the fake out outro guitar bridge. The music evokes a feeling of sadness, like a relationship issues kind of song, and yet there’s a bit of hope in it.

5) Bad This is one of the songs originally from James Marsters’s solo albums. This is what I call the “hard rock remix” version of the song. I still giggle when I listen because the song is basically a bad boy anthem, but the echos of the electric guitars almost drown out the vocals here. Otherwise, I think it would be great to hear live and I love the new bridge. He may be bad, but he does it so well.

6) All That She Wanted The song has uplifting instrumentals, but the song itself a post-breakup song about a guy kicking himself about not treating his girl right. It has a great beat (bass line?) with a repetitive chorus that is likely gonna get stuck in my head all week. There’s an awesome electric guitar solo midway through the song. It’s basically lyrical dissonance in the best way possible.

7) Why Do We Love The song begins with a vocal harmony. The first thing I notice is that the first verse gives way to a counterpoint duet in the chorus. The song itself wonders what love is and why people experience it. It’s not an easy thing to figure out, sad to say, and the song doesn’t answer the question that it brought up but the song’s outro is fantastic.

8) Katie This is another song originally from James Marsters’s solo albums. The band performs this live at their concerts and the remix evokes that showy concert feel, with more hard rock style instrumentals. I can imagine myself in a crowd dancing along to the song. Lyrically, the song talks about a girl named girl who has a lot of tattoos and might have a boyfriend but it’s never certain but the singer is definitely interested. I still prefer the version on the solo album, but again, I think this song would be great to hear live.

9) The Weight This song is sadly a huge contrast from the rest of the album. It sounds like a Pink Floyd track in the middle of a Journey album. The lyrics are kind of Holden Caulfield-esque talking about phonies, but the words go by too fast for me to really understand. The vocals are almost hard to understand because they yell out a lot of the lyrics. It’s not my favorite track.

10) Fall Away This is a rock ballad, more emphasis on the vocals than on the instrumentals. It starts with a mix of piano and guitar (I think). The lyrics don’t really make a lot of sense though. They sound like words scattered in a dream, like a musical version of a surrealist movie. The vocals turn into outright yelling for a bit halfway through the song, but there’s some harmonizing towards the end. But just when you think the song is about to end, there’s a bit of vocalizing and music that outros out the song instead. Overall, the song feels like a dream.

11) Dark Matter The first thing you hear is the sound of water with island instruments that quickly get drowned out by the hard rock guitars and drums. The other thing you notice in this song is that there is a female backup singer in this song. I honestly don’t know who that mysterious female singer is. I almost wished that they made a Game of Thrones shout out with them saying “You are my sun and stars,” but then again, I’m not a Game of Thrones fan. The lyrics evoke a love song that would belong in a space opera. The song itself is a great closer to the album.

 

Overall, the album gets an 8/10 for me. My favorite album from Ghost of the Robot is still Murphy’s Law. And some fans of the band are mixed about this one. Ultimately, though, I hope that the album comes out on Spotify so that you can listen and see if it’s a keeper.

How to Handle an Anxiety Attack

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Thunderstorms are breaking out all over Houston and it seems like my anxiety has come back right along with them. Sometimes anxieties aren’t exactly triggered by anything. Sometimes, like how I was this morning, a small worry would escalate into a panic-induced meltdown. The anxiety attacks I endure aren’t as frequent as they used to be, but they still happen. So for anyone out there suffering with anxiety issues, know that I am right there with you.

First of all, it’s important to ground yourself. I found a post that has these wonderful tips:

1) Look around you

2) Find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

 

This morning, when I had my anxiety attack, I focused on the room I was in. I saw the dining room table, the placemat, the bowl of cereal (gluten-free Cheerios), the spoon in the cereal bowl, and the tablet in my hand. I could touch the chair I was sitting in. I could hold the spoon and my tablet. I could grab a bottle of water cooling in the fridge. I could hear the distant thunder, the rain falling, and the praise and worship music I was playing on my tablet. I could smell the rain and the cereal. I could taste the cereal as I ate it.

Once you’ve grounded yourself, you need to take a step back and remember that the problem in your mind isn’t as big as you think it is. Anxiety is like walking through a dark tunnel with just a magnifying glass, making you think that the tunnel is longer and darker than it really is. The worst part is that sometimes, the negative thoughts will lead you into doing something completely irrational if you let them. 

There are a lot of crisis hotlines out there. If your anxiety spirals you into thoughts of suicide, call  1-800-273-TALK (8255) or your local suicide hotline. 

Prayer also helps in anxiety. Send a text or a social media message to your friends and ask them for prayers. If you don’t want them to know about your anxiety, just ask them to pray for a special intention. If you have a small group of friends that you trust to understand, send them some kind of message. They will come to you as soon as they can. 

St. Bernard of Clairvaux (whose feast day is today) said:

Does one of us feel sad? Let the name of Jesus come into his heart, from there let it spring to his mouth, so that shining like the dawn it may dispel all darkness and make a cloudless sky.

There’s also a great prayer to Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help:

Mary, dear Mother of Perpetual Help, I ask that you would walk beside me at all times leading me toward the goal of Heaven. In times of doubt, bring comfort and restore my soul. Help me to make good decisions that reflect my love for your Son. I ask that you would intercede on my behalf for the intentions that I hold in my heart. I desire that I would come to know you better as the Mother of Perpetual Help. Amen.

And if you want some comfort from the Word of God, there are a lot of Bible verses to give you some comfort. I’ll list 10 of them here.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. – Philippians 4:6

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:7

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. – Matthew 2:25-34

Psalm 6 could be interpreted as a prayer about anxiety.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”- Jeremiah 29:11

Read the story of Jesus calming the storm from the Gospel of Matthew and let him calm the storms of your heart.

But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.  Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:6-10

Romans 8:28-39

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“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” – 1 John 4:18

Seek out help through counseling or with a spiritual director who specializes in anxiety. Listen to a lot of good encouraging music and find people who will talk you through it even if they’re not professional counselors. And once you’ve calmed down, find something to be grateful for. It doesn’t have to be anything big like a gold medal or a promotion at your job. Sometimes, happiness can be found just by finding gluten-free Cheerios at your grocery store or from a hug from your best friend or knowing it’s the birthday of someone you love.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope. Magnify the God who is bigger than your fear and He will carry you out of it.

 

Audrey Assad: Women of Christ Wednesday

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Audrey Assad is a worship leader and musician who writes, in her own words, “soundtracks for prayer.” She has penned her contemplative songs of worship with (and for) Matt Maher, Christy Nockels, Brett Younker, Sarah Hart, Meredith Andrews, and others—Audrey’s passion is to write fragrant, prayerful music that truly leads to encountering Jesus Christ, even in the silence of the heart.

The Pledgemusic pre-order for Inheritance is still going! It can be found at http://pledgemusic.com/audreyassad and there are amazing new items in the store, including shirts and posters in partnership with St. Vincent DePaul Society!

 

Where did the idea for Inheritance come from?

I was raised in a church that only sang hymns, a cappella and out of the hymnal. I learned to sing harmony and read music in church, and all these years later I just really wanted to make an album that paid homage to that heritage. The name is a nod to the musical traditions that helped shape my art, as well as the wealth of wisdom the Church has to offer us in the form of hymns.

 

How did you create the band LEVV? ETA on the first album from that band?

LEVV was begun three years ago, and it was initially a solo project—I named it after Leo Tolstoy (Leo is ‘Lev’ in Russian) because reading his work and reading about his life inspired me to make some much-needed changes in my career. After working with Seth Jones (a friend in LA) quite a bit on the music, it became apparent that he was meant to be part of the band, and we made it a partnership.  The album (Strange Fire) releases in September.

 

How do you balance motherhood and your career and your marriage?

Every day and week is different. Some weeks I get more sleep and more coffee time and others, I get less. My son is over a year old now so some of that stuff is a bit easier than it used to be—but then again I have to chase him around all over the house making sure he doesn’t cause too much destruction, so it’s a tradeoff. I work three days a week on emails, admin stuff, and/or writing, so we have a babysitter for two days a week and my husband stays home one day a week to make that possible—I travel 3-4 times a month to play music, and somehow we just kind of make it all work. Teething is always a game-changer. 😉

Tell me about how you met your husband and what it’s like being married now.

I met my husband in Tucson, AZ at a youth conference where we were both working. We stayed friends loosely over Twitter and Facebook for a year, and then started dating after I figured out that he was young, Catholic, artistic, and handsome and I was crazy for not putting myself out there.

Being married is a gauntlet of emotion and selfishness and I am a much better and humbler person for it, but I still have a long way to go. I married someone very different than me, and someone who is also creative—we disagree (strongly) a lot and that is very refining. Love grows well under those circumstances if one keeps remembering to put the other person first, so we are better off for being together and growing in happiness every year.

 
How exactly did you convert into Catholicism?

I started RCIA after a year of personal study — I had been turned on to the Church’s teachings by a young student I met in a coffee shop, and from the first daily Mass I attended I was so intrigued that I had to keep learning. One thing led to another and I found myself entering the Church at Easter Vigil 2007. I am long past the ‘honeymoon phase’ most converts experience and have been down in the mire with everyone else, trying to live a holy life in union with the Church and figure out how to engage culture’s unbelief and my own unbelief in the midst of that. It’s a constant journey. I’m still converting, really.

 

What advice would you give to young adults who are discerning marriage?

Steer clear of extremes. Being extremely uptight about morals and discernment can be dangerous, as can being extremely carefree about them.

 

What advice would you give to those struggling with pornography, male or female?

Visit The Porn Effect for a wealth of helpful resources and ways to stay committed to chastity in this area. Make sure you have friends willing to support and help you—addiction has a much easier time surviving in a vacuum.

 

What’s your opinion on music liturgy?

That’s a big question, with many nuanced answers I could give. A short (and incomplete) opinion I hold is that it is very hard to do modern music tastefully at Mass, but it is possible and I have heard it done. Most of the time, keeping it simple really helps. Guitar and drums are hard to keep in the realm of tasteful (for Mass) so sometimes, something like piano and voice is the better choice.