Little Sins Mean A Lot: A Book Review

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Little Sins Mean A Lot is a book about the bad habits we have, our venial sins, which can add up to a lot of damage if we’re not careful. I read through this book in one day, finding bits of myself in most of the chapters. Each chapter starts off with a story or several stories that relate to the topic of the chapter. There are quotes from the saints, the Catechism, and Bible verses to show what Catholicism has to say about these little sins. The third part of the chapter looks into how we can break those bad habits. The book isn’t too long, but each chapter packs up a whole lot in a relatively short amount of pages.

I like that the book gives a lot of starting points in terms of identifying and breaking the bad habits. My favorite chapters are the ones that center on procrastination, small indulgences, and “clinging to our narratives beyond their usefulness.” I’ll go into detail on these so that you can get a sneak preview of why I like this book so much.

Procrastination: Like a lot of other writers, I struggle with procrastination. I am way too easily distracted by the latest hashtag or whatever notifications go off on my phone and I tend to dedicate more time to my “short time wasters” than I should. In true Dante-esque fashion, Elizabeth Scalia counters this bad habit with an example from Mary: The Annunciation. Since I consecrated myself on the feast of the Annunciation, I found myself wanting to imitate Mary’s example. There are several root causes to why we procrastinate and Elizabeth tackles every single one of them.

Small Indulgences: Ask those who know me best and they will tell you that I always love to treat myself whenever I get the opportunity. Usually, it comes in the form of food. It’s okay when it happens once in a while, but too much indulging will lead to cravings for more of whatever you indulge in. In other words, small indulgences can be an addiction if we’re not careful. I particularly like how she suggests asking the saints and our guardian angels for help. One example I can give (and trust me, I never get tired of telling this story) is when I wanted to indulge myself at a convention by having the actor I was gonna meet take a picture with him pretending to bite me, vampire style. However, my guardian angel suggested otherwise, leading to a more heroic picture that’s still one of my favorites to this day!

Clinging To Our Narratives Beyond Their Usefulness: An alternative title I have for this chapter is “Selling Ourselves Short.” As a writer, this chapter felt particularly personal for me because I practically worship the idea of “the narrative.” I always see my life as a huge, neverending story. Except I also know that way too many people cling onto their “victim narratives” in order to justify why they act a certain way. One friend told me that she thought that I hid behind my writing. I don’t think that I use my writing as a shield, but I’ve been defining myself by this narrative that I created for a very long time. The chapter calls for detachment, to let God write our story instead. The only other thing I would add is a suggestion about what true humility looks like. As CS Lewis said: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” As in thinking of yourself less often than you normally do.

 

I think the biggest lesson that can be learned from this book is that it completely and totally destroys the lie that “as long as you’re not doing harm to anyone, you’re a good person.” These little habits can harm ourselves and others in a big way if they are taken too far. We all have times when we procrastinate, indulge a little too much, and sell ourselves short. We can swing from being too full of ourselves to outright hating ourselves. The trick to all this is finding balance. I highly recommend this book to everyone, especially to 12-step programs.

Saint Gemma Galgani: Women of Christ Wednesday

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Sometimes, people discover saints, like how many teenagers and young adults search for a good saint for their Confirmation name. And other times, the saints have a way of finding you. For me, I got introduced to Saint Gemma Galgani through my friend Amy over on Catholic Girl Bloggin.

I learned a lot more about Saint Gemma on her feast day, which was about a month ago. It comforted me when I learned that Gemma never became a religious sister. She was in poor health and didn’t qualify to be a Passionist Nun like she wanted to be. Instead, she became a lay Passionist, wearing all-black and keeping the badge of the Passionists close to her. She never officially took any vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but she essentially lived out the life of a nun. She chose to stay single, to devote her entire life to serving Christ. It’s very inspiring to me, as a modern day single woman. I don’t have to be married or be part of a religious order if I want to serve Christ. As Saint Therese said, “My vocation is love.”

Back to Saint Gemma, though. Like my other Sister Saint, Saint Gemma had a great devotion to Saint Gabriel Possenti, who, like her, died young, but lived his life serving Christ as a Passionist. She also lost her mother at a very early age and her father passed away when she was 19. She was adopted into the Giannini family and lived a simple life. By modern standards, Gemma seems too perfect, too sheltered, too good to be true. As the saying goes, however, still waters run deep.

The aspect of Saint Gemma’s life that I admire the most is her interior life, especially her periods of spiritual warfare. Like a Slayer, she constantly battled demons who attacked her on a daily basis. This fight would go on and off up until her death. The last battle she had was the worst because she experienced a heartbreaking desolation, the kind that Mother Teresa would endure. And yet, she kept to her resolve, her loyalty, her devotion to Christ. It’s no wonder that I call her “the little ninja saint” because while her life wasn’t anything that would stand out in worldly terms, she fought evil in the shadows. As of now, she’s one of my go-to saints whenever I have to deal with my own spiritual warfare.

If you want to know more about Saint Gemma, check out this website that has tons of pictures and biographical information. Also, check out Amy’s Victim Soul series on her blog, which dives into Gemma’s spiritual warfare with epic dramatic detail.

Women of Christ Wednesday: Mother Teresa, a Saint for the Millenials

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Mother Teresa was someone I knew ever since I was a kid. I didn’t get to see her in action because she died around the same time I was old enough to receive first communion, but her legacy lives on in the Missionaries of Charity. I’ve mentioned before that I kind of fangirl whenever I see sisters wearing the blue and white habits because to me, they represent Mother Teresa.

In contrast to certain other people who claim to preach God’s word while their actions indicate otherwise, Mother Teresa serves as a great example of how the Catholic faith is lived out. In Rediscovering Catholicism, Matthew Kelly shares an anecdote from Jim Castle, who encountered Mother Teresa on a flight from Ohio to Kansas. Jim prayed the Rosary with the soon-to-be saint and when the flight was over, she gave him her Rosary. Praying the Rosary led to many graces for Jim and his friends and family, but it never would’ve happened if Mother Teresa didn’t take that opportunity to evangelize. Her evangelization was simple: sharing a moment of prayer with a stranger. It’s definitely something to think about. Times that we would perceive as being inconvenient (long flights, commutes to work) can easily be opportunities for prayer and evangelization if we’re open to that possibility.

Another way that Mother Teresa seems to be a great saint for this modern age is her struggles with staying true to God. I’m currently reading her autobiography Come Be My Light and I’m already finding myself relating a lot to her spiritual journey. Creating her own order wasn’t an easy task, nor was organizing the Missionaries once the group was established. But as Bishop Robert Barron pointed out, what makes Mother Teresa stand out the most is how she endured the darkness inside of herself.

So many people think that religion and spirituality are supposed to be “feel good” things. In reality, to use a very millenial hashtag, #thestruggleisreal. It’s a constant struggle to stay true to God’s will. What made Mother Teresa extraordinary was that she kept on living her vocation in spite of what she felt. And up until recently, very few people knew of the struggle she lived with throughout most of her life.

There are a lot of other things that Mother Teresa taught me. They’re mostly little things. But my favorite thing from her is the “I Thirst” meditation.

The word “thirst” is also something that gets used a lot in millenial slang. When a millenial says that “the thirst is real” or someone is “thirsty,” they usually refer to someone being desperate for affection. Mother Teresa, however, understands that the thirst that we have for love is a reflection of Jesus thirsting for our love.

Mother Teresa is one saint that I want to model in my life and I can’t wait for her canonization!

Women of Christ Wednesday: Purposes Lost and Found

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Today’s Women of Christ Wednesday will be a bit different. I am going to share with you two books. These two books are about women who thought they lost everything when their lives were radically changed by unforeseen circumstances and yet, through the grace of God, they were able to find a new sense of purpose and gained an authentic, wonderful love along the way.

The first book is Fractured, Not Broken, a memoir by Kelly Schaefer and M. Weidenbenner. Kelly Schaefer became a quadriplegic after an accident involving a drunk driver.

I should tell you right now, one major flaw I have is I often read the last page first. If the ending makes me wonder how the people involved got to that certain point and how they changed, chances are I’m gonna go back to page one and read non-stop until I find out. Kelly Schaefer wasn’t the typical “inspirational disadvantaged” person. The struggles she faced and the losses she endured are shown on each and every page. She longed for the days when she could do backflips and cartwheels and especially hated when her boyfriend pre-accident ended up breaking up with her. And yet, slowly Kelly started turning her life around. She finished college and became a teacher and spoke out about the dangers of drunk driving. Then, all of a sudden, another wonderful man comes into the picture.

This memoir is unique because the story of Kelly’s husband, Shawn, is also included. I was literally screaming at the book, rooting for Shawn to find Kelly. I honestly couldn’t put this book down because I wanted to know how Shawn and Kelly would find each other. Knowing that they eventually did and that their relationship would lead to a beautiful marriage gives me hope that someday, I will find my own wonderful husband.

 

The second book I want to share with you is The Girl’s Still Got It by Liz Curtis Higgs. This book is a Bible study and commentary on the Book of Ruth. While Higgs is Protestant, I have a deep respect for her because her Bad Girls of the Bible series was one of the things that helped me stay grounded in my love for God back in my California days. (Keep in mind, by the way, I was a very pretentious teenager at the time.)

The Girl’s Still Got It is a bit of a departure from Higgs’s usual Bible studies in that there is no “modern version” of the story that Higgs creates to parallel Biblical Ruth with a modern version of her. Instead, each chapter has short testimonies from women who commented on their relationships with their mothers-in-law and their husbands.

The Book of Ruth is one I’m familiar with, but Higgs’s commentary brings new life to the story. Ruth stands out as someone who was a foreigner, who came to Israel to take care of her mother-in-law. Given Pope Francis’s frequent jokes about mothers-in-law and Naomi’s bitter heart at the loss of her husband and sons, it wasn’t exactly an easy task. In spite of that, Ruth devotes herself to taking care of Naomi, even if it means leaving behind the home she knew all her life.

The best part of the story, though, is when Ruth’s kind actions are noticed by her kinsman-redeemer Boaz. Their romance isn’t exactly as much a page-turner, but it’s still heartwarming because Boaz is drawn to Ruth’s selfless love and Ruth sees Boaz as a kind provider. Like any good love story, there are still a couple obstacles for the two of them to overcome before they can finally say “I do,” but the happy ending is very much earned.

 

I have to wonder if Kelly Schaefer ever read the Book of Ruth and saw the parallels between her story and that of Ruth’s. So many women out there, myself included, often wonder if there are any good men out there. These two stories are proof that nothing is impossible with God. If you are like me and you are seeking a godly man, I have a prayer for you.

 

Heavenly Father,

Before the world was created, you knew me. You know all that was and all that will be. You know the man who is best suited to share my heart with You. Lord, I pray that you will prepare my heart for him. I ask that you prepare his heart for me, as well. Whenever I am lonely, remind me to pray for him. Whenever I feel jealous of others’ happiness in relationships, remind me to have hope and to be grateful for what I have right now. Whenever I feel that aching in my chest, that deep sad longing, carry me through it. Let Your love be enough for me, and yet let me be open to receive his love as well.

In Jesus name,

Amen.

 

Women of Christ Wednesday: The Visitation Project

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From left to right: Bonnie, Rebecca, and Heather. Credit to The Visitation Project’s Facebook page.

From The Visitation Project’s Website:

The Visitation Project is a radio show with one goal: meeting Catholic women wherever they are.

Co-hosts Rebecca Frech, Bonnie Engstrom, and Heather Renshaw come from different backgrounds, regions of the country, and perspectives, yet together they offer a fresh voice for Catholic radio. On-air, the TVP Crew discusses issues and challenges significant to today’s Catholic woman, while infusing huge doses of joy and their love of Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith as the underlying thread that ties it all together.

The Visitation Project is produced through the facilities of Mater Dei Radio in Portland, Oregon. TVPRadio episodes broadcast every Sunday evening at 7:30 p.m. PST on 88.3 FM Portland / Vancouver and 100.5 FM Eugene / Springfield. You can also listen live at http://www.materdieradio.com.

 

1) What is The Visitation Project and where did the idea for this show come from?

The Visitation Project is a weekly half hour radio show that airs Sunday nights at 7:30 PST. Our name comes from the Visitation, when Mary set journeyed to see her cousin Elizabeth. There she was literally with The Lord, but she didn’t ask Elizabeth to come to her. She met Elizabeth where she was, and brought Jesus to her.

That’s the academic answer. What is it really? It’s three Catholic women having an honest conversation about life, family, the culture, and our faith with lots of laughter and the occasional beat-boxing.  We’re meeting women where they are and bringing Jesus with us!

 

2) What do you think makes The Visitation Project different from other Catholic radio programs?

We’re not scholars or theologians, so we’re not talking about things from that perspective. We’re trying, instead, to engage our audience in a conversation about what it means to be a Catholic woman in the modern world. We talk about things no one else is discussing, and we aren’t afraid to say the things you don’t normally hear on Catholic radio.

 

3) You have a few podcasts about vocations. What advice would you give to young adults who are discerning marriage and religious life?

Start off with prayer, asking God to make it obvious where He wants you to be. I always ask him to make it obvious, because I’m not good with subtle. I need big blinky neon lights pointing the way.

After praying, search out people who are living the life you feel called to and ask LOTS of questions about what it really looks like to live that life. Don’t forget to actually listen to the answers, not just the good bits but the bad ones too. Then you can have a full picture of the decisions you are making.

Get all the information you can, and then realize that God is going to lead you wherever He wants you to go.

 

4) What advice do you have for young moms that want to make sure that their kids understand the Catholic faith?

Talk about your faith in front of your kids and let them see you pray. Small children will soak up everything you tell them, but they will believe what they see you do.

 

5) What do you think is the most important thing you guys want people to know about The Visitation Project?

That they need to be listening. Seriously. All the cool kids are tuning in. We’re everywhere – radio, podcasts, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and our website thevisitationproject.com; and we really do want to hear from them. Some of our best shows have come from suggestions or questions from our listeners. We want to know what’s important to you and what crosses you’re carrying. We want to go beyond being your favorite audible addiction. We’re hoping to create a community of Catholic women that helps us all to live our faith out loud and with great joy.

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.

 

Women of Christ Wednesday: Why Ana Plumlee Remains Catholic

Ana is considered a cradle Catholic, but says she is a revert, because she fell away from the Church for a brief time (still continuing to go to Mass!). Many of Ana’s friends joke that she knows half the priests in her home diocese, the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, because it seems as if she knows every priest she meets! She is a Theology major at Notre Dame College in South Euclid, OH. Commonly seen on her college campus (or other places) in leggings and a hoodie and holding a rosary, Ana is a Chai Tea lover, an avid fan of the Harry Potter series, and listens to heavy metal, as well as Matt Maher. She fangirls over Pope Francis regularly. She also enjoys being with friends and family, playing violin, singing, rollerblading, reading, writing, and spending time with her three Labrador Retrievers and her cat. When asked who her favorite saint is, she says, “All of them!” but has a particular soft spot for St. Thomas Aquinas (after whom she was nicknamed, and it stuck!) and St. Pope John Paul II.

 

 

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I’m not a Catholic because I was baptized. I’m not a Catholic because I was born into a family that was Catholic. I am a Catholic because I choose to be. I am so blessed to have had parents who decided to have me baptized and raise me in the Church, but it was me who chose to stay a Catholic. I am a Catholic because I belong in the Church. The Church protects me. The Church loves me. The Church, rather than oppressing me as a woman, cherishes and frees me.

 

I am loved so much that someone died in the most painful way possible, on a horrifying day, killed for doing something that wasn’t even wrong. Someone became sin….my sin. His name is Jesus Christ. He bled. He was whipped, mocked, tortured. But he never fought back. He went to his death…his wrongful death…because he loved me, even before he knew me.

 

The rules? Yeah, there’s rules. But the rules are freeing. To be bound to be obedient is a very freeing thing. That sounds oxymoronic, but it’s really not. If I’m bound to be obedient to the Church, I don’t have to choose whom to obey….the secular world, or God? Every time, the choice is to be obedient to God. I have a set moral code. Obedience requires me to stick with it.

 

Not that I’m saying it’s easy. It’s actually really hard to be obedient. I’m not having a ‘holier than thou’ attitude…I’m a sinner, too, and I have broken my fair share of commandments and Canon Laws. I have done so many bad things….and let me say this: When I go to confession, it takes me more than the 5 minutes that I want to give it. I am so ashamed of what I do, because it’s not what God would want me to do. My humanity makes me go off the path, but I can’t use that as an excuse. Confession is when I take things like a woman, and go own up to my actions. Not in a way that makes it seem like I’m proud of it, but in a way that humbles me.

 

I am a Catholic because I have Jesus in the sacraments. Every time I go to Confession. Every time I receive the Eucharist. When I go to weddings, baptisms and confirmations. I see Christ in funerals. I see Christ at the Mass, during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. I could go on and on about the Eucharist…..but I don’t just see him in the Eucharist……Christ is the Eucharist. It becomes him through transubstantiation. Which is a completely humbling and mindblowing thing. When I go to Mass every day, I witness a miracle, daily. Christ literally comes to Earth to dwell in me. Every time I’m there, I am brought to tears during the Consecration.

I am Catholic because I don’t have to search for father figures. Priests have been there for me every step of the way. They have challenged me during my spiritual upbringing. I would be nowhere without them. 

I am Catholic because I have a Mother. Mary is my mother. The Church is my mother.

 

I’m not a Theology major because I’m a Catholic, nor am I Catholic because I am a Theology major. I am a Theology major because people inspired me, and God called me.

 

I’m not Catholic because I get what I want from God. I’m Catholic because God gave me his all.

Women of Christ Wednesday: Leah Libresco

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Leah Libresco grew up as an atheist in New York.  When she went to college, she picked fights with the most interesting wrong people that she met, who happened to be the campus Catholics.  After a long series of coffees, late night conversations, and book swaps, she would up changing her mind and leaving her deontological beliefs behind to be recieved into the Catholic Church in 2012.  She blogs about religion at Unequally Yoked and her first book, Arriving at Amen: Seven Catholic Prayers that Even I Can Offer explains how she learned to pray to God, instead of just argue about Him.

 

When I was browsing around the Patheos site in my college days, I used to see Leah Libresco on the atheist channel. When I saw her blog on the Patheos channel a few years later, I was like “Oh, she converted. Good for her.”

She delves a lot more about what life is like for her as a Catholic in her book Arriving at Amen. I’ll be posting a review on that later this week. For now, I wanted to ask Leah some questions relating to her book and about apologetics in general.

1) Where did the inspiration for Arriving at Amen come from?

 

Becoming Catholic wasn’t as simple as just changing my mind about God.  I needed to learn how to have a spiritual life at all, and I couldn’t avoid prayers that were hard for me — that would have meant skipping all of them!

 

I wound up finding my way into prayer by relying a lot on analogies and examples from things I loved in the secular world (so, the repetition of ballroom dance helped tutor me in how to approach the Rosary, and some of what I’d learned about the Sunk Cost Fallacy helped me prepare for Confession).  I hope that the book can be helpful both to anyone who is stymied by one of the seven prayer practices I discuss or someone who’s a little more comfortable but would like to see a prayer from a new angle.

 

2) What do you tell atheists when they ask you why you became Catholic?

 

Well, when I want to tell the whole argument, it usually takes about three hours and starts “There are three major schools of ethical reasoning: utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics…”  I can’t promise the short version is satisfying, but the gist is that the thing I was most certain of was that morality was real (something we discover, not something we construct) and that we were able to percieve it (albeit imperfectly).  Holding on to this idea created a lot of confusion about how we wind up having access to a transcendent kind of truth, and, in the end, I was more sure of this than I was that God didn’t exist.

 

3) How do you balance working in news with apologetics?

 

Most of the time, there’s no balancing act at all — I don’t write apologetics at work; I cover statistics-heavy facets of the day’s news.  The biggest way that my faith impacts my writing is that I try to reflect on the effect my pieces will have on my readers.  I try to avoid writing anything that leaves the reader with a feeling of contempt or hatred, even if I’m discussing a tragedy that’s being treated callously.  I want to follow the Campsite Rule and leave my reader better than I found them, and not just in terms of new facts discovered!

 

4) You’re obviously not one who shies against politics and religion. What are some tips for having a good civil debate?

 

A good debate is one that you and your opponent expect won’t be solved in a single conversation.  It’s pretty hard for someone to find out that they’re wrong in a single argument (and it’s prudent to go home and reflect on what you heard before conceding completely).  So, in general, you should be playing a long game.  That often means I put less of my energy and attention into arguments I can’t stick with (drive by commenters, etc).  Starting a fight means starting a relationship — I can only take on so many!

 

If you’re trying to lay the foundation for future conversations, you need to make it as pleasant as possible for your opponent to fight with you — after all, you want them to invite you over again for a second round.  I try to do this by asking a lot of questions about whatever I’m genuinely curious about, making sure I really understand my opponent, rather than trying to box them in our first discussion.  I try to be honest about which parts of my argument I think are weaker, so my opponent can trust me to be truthful and so that it’s clear it’s worth their time to ask questions of me.

5) With the recent news about the decline in Christianity, what are some reasons for staying Catholic?

 

I think there’s really only one — because I think it’s true.  It would be silly to stay Catholic just for community or to not disappoint someone or because you haven’t made up your mind what you’re leaving for.  Catholicism shapes my life in a way I wouldn’t want it to if I didn’t think it was rooted in truth.

 

6) Who are your go-to saints?

 

My confirmation saint is Augustine.  I wanted a saint who had experience with some of my temptations (gnosticism, Manichaeism, and others) who I could turn to in faith that he knew the troubles I was having.  I also really love St. Maximilian Kolbe, whose love cast out hatred when he volunteered to die for another prisoner in a concentration camp.  I think about St. Catherine of Siena, but mostly in the context of how intimidating I find her, rather than in prayer!  And I love the Breastplate of St. Patrick.

 

7) What advice would you give to young adults who don’t identify with any particular religion, fallen-away Catholics, and those just struggling with their faith in general?

 

Unfortunately, I don’t have any good advice in general.  I think advice in this domain tends to be best when more specific and tailored to the particular person.  If someone came to me and said that they were struggling with their faith, I’d wind up asking a lot of questions before I had any ideas on how to be helpful (including “What information or experiences do you think would give you peace on this topic?”).  If the person were interested, I might recommend Fr. Thomas Green’s Weeds Among the Wheat, which is a book on Ignatian discernment, but, if I were going to summarize it in a single idea, I’d say this: make choices from a place of consolation, not desolation.  If you’re not sure where you belong and feel conflicted/torn/lousy, try to think about what will lead you to a good choice, but also, just take care of yourself and be patient — don’t rush into anything without a feeling of peace and settledness about your choice.  If you keep pursuing truth faithfully, that sense of being welcomed will come.

 

Women of Christ Wednesday: Mary Cieslak

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Mary Katharine Cieslak is 22 year-old college grad who aspires to be a filmmaker, whatever that may mean in this ever-changing media landscape.

1) Tell me your “coming out” story.

I mean, my “coming out” story is still happening: I only just came out to my little sister last week!! That’s two out of eight people in my immediate family. Personally, I find people’s stories of coming out to themselves infinitely more fascinating. I think in cultures where it is dangerous to come out—and it is undeniable that Catholic culture is generally negative towards accepting anyone other than cisgender and heterosexual persons—there tends to be this self-repression of people within that culture. It took me 12 years to realize I was gay. I just compartmentalized all the little hints, the nagging doubts, and forced myself to forget. That’s just not healthy, and I think there’s also a danger that people will ultimately leave the faith altogether. Heck, it’s already happening, it’s been happening!!

2) What are your perspectives on SSA and being Catholic?

I really dislike the term “SSA” (same sex attraction). To me, it’s another way of disassociating queer people from that identity: “You’re not gay, you’re just a person with same sex attraction!” But you can’t discuss accepting your identity when it’s considered a tacked-on attribute, akin to having brown eyes or blonde hair. I admire how words and meanings matter very much in the Catholic Church, but here? It’s a conversation-halter. That shouldn’t be our goal. Catholicism isn’t a one-liner, so please, stop quoting Galatians 3:28 like you’re dropping the mic. Our faith is a constant dialogue between Scripture and Tradition. And a 2000+ year old conversation will not be nullified by people identifying as queer any more than people identifying by race, ethnicity, or nationality did.

3) How has coming out affected your life?
Well for one thing, a lot of personal questions were answered! But of course, many more took their place. It reminded me of how I felt immediately after I was confirmed in the faith: “Okay but, now what do I do?!?” In an unexpected but pleasant surprise, I do feel more sure in my body now that I recognize its intricacies better, even as I slowly, anxiously come out to people one-by-one. It’s become a journey of self-discovery, and I find myself getting excited each time the Church talks about this subject. More than anything, it’s has made me realize that my faith is happening, it is ever-present, and I must engage in dialogue with it! How could I not?

4) Who are your go-to saints?

Saint Jude, patron saint of hopeless causes!! *laughs* But in all seriousness, my go-to is my namesake, the Virgin Mary; she is such a benevolent Queen, a comforting Mother in a time where I am afraid to come out to my own. And I’m intrigued by the various discussions of saints and Biblical figures who were queer. The tomboy in me has always loved St Joan of Arc, so even if the idea that she is transgender is unfounded, make her the patron saint of it. Right now there is no official patron saint of any queer or MOGII persons. Give us someone, please!!

5) What advice would you give to Catholics who identify as having SSA?

You are made in the Image and Likeness of God, and you are loved by the Creator who made you. Now that you have discovered this new part of yourself, you can embark on this spiritual journey! And you do not have to make that journey alone. There are more and more of us realizing and accepting God’s creation within us every day. Seek us out. You were made from Love; you were made to be loved. Just knock.

6) What would you say to adults who struggle to understand homosexuality?
I was once like you. I thought, love the sinner, hate the sin. But love is not manifested through disapproval and disregard. How uninspired, how lazy of the Church Militant to approach its vulnerable members in this way.
Listen to the people who come forward. Make a safe space for people who do not. You are eager to direct people to God and show his love, but you cannot welcome them with one arm wrapped around them, while the other pushes them away.
Do not assume that you are never in the company of queer persons. Many times my father has unwittingly belittled his lesbian daughter at the family dinner, while in fear I bit my tongue on the truth.
Be gracious to people who fall from grace. The amount of times I’ve come back to confession pleases my priest to no end. Because the Church was made not to condemn but to save. Continuously. Constantly. Limitlessly: “A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will — well, who am I to judge him?”

 

Coming This Summer: Dissonance by Mariella Hunt

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Fifteen-year-old Allie Grant lives crippled by her illness. Though kept in isolation, she’s never alone: A spirit named Song lurks in the silence of her bedroom.

When Song reveals its dark nature on the night of her recital, the show ends in tragedy. Verging on death, Allie’s taken in by an uncle she’s never met.

Julian claims to be a Muse with power over music and answers that’ll heal her. The cure she needs is rare, requiring of him a difficult sacrifice. Allie soon suspects her uncle has a secret that’ll turn her world around.

But with days left to live, she might fade without learning the truth…like the finishing chord of a song.

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About the Author:

Mariella Hunt is a writer with a strong love for coffee and guinea pigs. She likes using big words in everyday speech, and keeps journals of quotes from the greats.

Most days you’ll find her on a well-loved armchair, reading–or working on one of her many projects. As she cannot stick to an outline, she rewrites way too much.