My Vampiric Spirit, Confession, and Conversion

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Author note: This is a guest post written by my friend Kristin from Austin and edited by me. Kristin will be received into the Catholic Church on Holy Saturday.  Please pray for her and all others who will be coming Home.

At the time I encountered Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I was fresh out of college, having laid aside my checkered Protestant past for a relativistic agnosticism layered in a pleasant self-deception.  I figured, if any action helped me out within the simple constraint of “not committing murder”, it was certainly without reproach, and I could still consider myself a “good person”.  Then, a pivotal episode in Buffy Season 7’s “Beneath You” tilted my worldview enough to make me uncomfortable—uncomfortable enough to eventually become a Catholic.

In the closing scene of the episode, Spike and Buffy are in an empty, lovely, moonlit church together, and Buffy is concerned that Spike has lost his sanity. Up until this point, the rakish ne’er-do-well vampire was forced by an implanted chip in his brain to do no harm to Buffy Summers, leading him to try and do good out of his love for the Slayer. Unfortunately, his attempts at being good were also mixed in with his complicated, tumultuous affair with Buffy throughout the latter half of Season 6, culminating in him attempting to rape Buffy in “Seeing Red.” His shock at what he was about to do led to him going on a quest to receive his soul so that he can be the man he thinks Buffy deserves. Now ensouled, Spike is uncomfortably, completely conscious and guilt-ridden over his innumerable sins. I realized that there was something true there being spoken about sin and the need for redemption.

It would take me several more years to make my way to the Catholic Church and the lesson I gained from watching “Beneath You” was a crucial reason to why I was becoming Catholic. However, I didn’t fully understand the importance of this scene until I went to my first Confession to prepare for receiving the rest of the Sacraments at Easter. For some inexplicable reason, I found myself terrified of this sacrament.

We are born vampires due to original sin.  Like vampires, we are driven into the black night of our sins and transgressions, subconsciously terrified of being burned alive by the pure light of Christ. Like vampires, we’re driven away from pain and toward hedonistic pleasure, largely propelled by the forces of fear, anger, hate, lust, and greed. We live entirely for ourselves and see others only as a source of food for us—emotional affirmation, physical pleasure, and social recognition—and we’d best eat them before we’re consumed ourselves. We drive our greedy jaws into others without a thought, a care, or a twinge of remorse, and suck them dry, all in a desire to quench our endless thirst, our neverending desire to fill the emptiness within ourselves with something.

In the midst of all this, the deep terribleness of the human heart, Christ the Slayer wants to kill our vampiric selves and ensoul us, which He does so well through the Sacraments. He calls us out of the darkness, and He watches us as we pathetically stagger out from the shadows, crouching, cringing away from the Light.

I spent my first Confession, sitting in very comfortable chair in a cheery, bright, well-lit office, feeling with every fiber of my being that I was about to go up in smoke as I rattled off my list of sins before the priest. And go up in smoke, my ego did. Like the newly ensouled Spike, I stumbled around, slowly realizing for the first time the depths of what I’ve done to Christ and Christ in others. My scarred heart, rife with manipulation, greed, carelessness, and selfishness, was laid bare before me in the harsh Light, no longer fancied up by the clever illumination of the night.

The priest gave me my penance, a single Our Father, and instructed me to meditate on the mercy of God. Not only did I meditate, I was sucker-punched by this overwhelming Divine Mercy toward me.  The emptiness inside of me was filled with the infinite waters that gushed from His Sacred Heart. It’ll be a lifelong process of torching my ego, repairing my heart, and fighting for my soul. I know that even after I am received into the Church, I’ll be in Confession again and again.  But like Spike at the end of “Beneath You,” I embrace the Cross which burns away my sins, and ask “Can we rest?”

Though the episode doesn’t answer the question, Saint Augustine does: “For You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.”

We can rest, brothers and sisters, in the arms of our Lord. As we celebrate Good Friday, let us hide ourselves in His wounds and fill ourselves with the endless fountain of His love and mercy.

Author’s note: If you want to know more about how the theme of forgiveness is seen in the Buffyverse, check out my post from last year.

The Martian: A Movie Review by Joey Garrity

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Last night I saw The Martian with two friends and my college Newman Club’s chaplain.  I am confident saying it is the best movie of this year so far, and that the many good things I had heard about this movie turned out to be true.

The movie opens with an intense sandstorm interrupting a Mars mission, during which the crew’s botanist Mark Watney is struck by debris and lost in the storm, believed by his fellow astronauts to be dead.  The remainder of the crew boards their ship and leaves for Earth, reporting the death of Watney to NASA and the world.  Meanwhile, Mark survived the Martian storm and must find a way to survive on the Red Planet and contact Earth with only the Ares scientific base with its equipment and leftover food, a few bags of potato seeds, a Mars rover, and various buried equipment from past Mars missions.
The best thing about this movie to me was that it reminded me of the survival stories I read or watched growing up, such as Hatchet and Castaway.  And it was very much so the next logical step in the survival genre, as deserted planets are the new deserted islands to a humanity that has expanded its exploration to the stars.  Matt Damon gave a phenomenal performance as Mark Watney, and his resolve to never give up in the face of extreme adversity is a great message for all of us.

One of my favorite moments, however, was when Mark’s former crewmates choose to turn around before reaching Earth and head back to Mars to rescue him against NASA’s wishes, whose director argued that one death would be better than six.  From the view of Catholic Social Teaching, the Ares crew were some of the real heroes of the movie, going out of their way and risking everything to rescue a single person from death.  Sometimes as Catholics we are called to sacrifice convenience for the greater glory of God and His people.

Overall, I highly recommend The Martian to everyone reading this.  It is a fantastic piece of cinematography and storytelling.  The only problematic scene I can think of is when Mark says he is going to burn a crucifix he found in the base to make water, but we never explicitly see him doing it and it is implied there were other “personal items” he may have used instead.  As a final note, I am aware that this movie was based on a book.  I have not read it, but I would encourage both myself and all of you to read it as well, since many things can be lost when translating a book to the screen.  All in all, a great movie that stands above the majority of this fall’s blockbusters.

10430369_975770169104125_6064655856476824348_n Joey Garrity is a 22-year-old Catholic from Ohio studying Computer Information Technology at Northern Kentucky University. He is one of the founding members of The Fellowship of the Geeks, a Life Matters Journal project where he and fellow writers blog about consistent life themes in media and fandoms. He is an avid fan of Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and many others. He enjoys writing, playing his bass guitar, listening to music, video gaming, and hanging with friends.

Transcendent vs. Trans: On Bruce/Caitlyn and Rachel Dolezal by Emily Allen

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Emily Allen is a Catholic writer currently working on a collection of poetry inspired by John Paul II’s Theology of the body. She loves the Catholic Church, her husband, being Polish, the Office, and mac and cheese.

“What is it you want to change? Your hair, your face, your body?
Why?
For God is in love with all these things and He might weep when they are gone.”
~St. Catherine of Siena

To what degree do our physical attributes define us as humans, and to what degree are we defined by common experiences as a result of said physical attributes?
The phrase “appropriation” has been used in regards to a certain Rachel Dolezal, a civil rights leader who has, for years, been “passing” as an African American. She has changed her outward appearance, lied about familial relations, and been the victim of nine racially-charged hate crimes.

Everyone seems to be up in arms about Dolezal: is this race advocate actively living a racist existence? Certainly, if she were living as a black woman for fun, or because she felt she can better represent a minority, this would be true. Or is she “transracial” – no different from Caitlyn Jenner, simply making the changes to be the race she is on the inside?

I mean, if gender is a construct, so is race: it’s an expected set of behaviors, inclinations and values arbitrarily based on outward physical appearance (skin color/hair type/body parts/etc.) that is used to “identify” ourselves. We do not ask to be identified as male or female at birth, this is assigned based on the genitalia we are born with. Likewise, we do not ask to be identified racially at birth, but the doctors check a box based on external traits.The physical traits we carry is “nature” but the attitudes we adopt are “nurture”- based on how we are raised and our own preferences, so wouldn’t it be possible to identify differently from what we were assigned at birth and had no say in?

With that said, this woman clearly believes she is African American (or possibly has a personality disorder) – and has made changes to be so, and has supposedly had hate crimes perpetrated against her so that she shares the common experience of being suspicious of white people and feeling victimized de facto by her “race”- after all, what is the “common experience” she would need to share in order to be “properly” black? Being on welfare? Having a baby daddy? No, African American advocates would argue those are destructive stereotypes. One would think the common experience is being a victim of racism and facing discrimination, which, according to her, she has been.

If saying the common experience of a woman is having a period is being transphobic, and all that is required to be woman is to want to be a woman, then why can’t this woman be black? She clearly desires to represent herself as African-American. With race as a construct, and having shared in the common experience of African Americans, is she really appropriating? Or is she transracial?

If, however, race is not a construct but a fact, if our physical biology is allowed to dictate who we are and what experiences we are allowed to have, what sort of privilege we are allowed, (ie white privilege, male privilege) then gender must also be a fact as well. When we say that gender is a feeling based on interior identity, our humanity and sense of self become entirely subjective. In the same breath, we are rejecting stereotypes with disdain while simultaneously using them as rubrics to form our “new” identities. This is the crux of the matter: the seeking of body/mind harmony is a direct adherence to classifications, not a rejection of it. I feel female so I need feminine parts and must do girly things, but gender is an oppressive construct used to box me in. I feel African-American and must darken my skin and wear a weave and do “black” things, but race is an oppressive construct used to box me in. The mental dissonance required to do this is simply dizzying.

However, for those who celebrate Caitlyn Jenner and in the same breath condemn Miss Dolezal, you need to take a step back and look at what you believe biology dictates in regards to a person. Biology either has some dictates in who we are, in our experiences and in our identities, or it doesn’t. It cannot be true in one case and false in the next.

We have so many trans labels coming out now: transracial, transgender, transabled. transspecied. We are placing so much emphasis on the importance of the body, of our appearance and how it looks that we are forgetting about the soul. Our bodies are not our own toys, but should seek to glorify God: they are a temporal expression of our transcendent souls.

I sympathize with Caitlyn Jenner and with Rachel Dolezal (assuming she truly believes she is a woman of color.) I have not had the experience of feeling foreign in my body to the point of drastically changing my appearance to feel peace. I have not felt that I was limited by my appearance, that I must like feminine things simply because I am a woman, or that I must like Uggs because I am white, or that I cannot assist a movement simply by remaining as I am. I do not know what such things are like, and in a world where we can mold our appearance to our desires, it’s easy to understand why doing so affords a sense of control and relief. I do not envy the struggle they live with on a daily basis.

However, I also believe that our bodies are meant to be an expression of our souls, and that God does not mistakenly place a woman’s soul in a man’s body or vice versa. Our bodies express our inmost being, which is more than inclinations towards sports, or nail polish, or certain clothing. Perhaps harmony can be found by going deeper than those surface desires which are gendered by society. I highly recommend anyone who desires to better understand what it is to be human, what it is to be male and female, and where identity comes from, to study John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

I am not an expert on this subject and I do not wish to invalidate anyone’s experiences. I am simply a woman with access to the internet and an opinion, but I believe we can embrace our bodies even when our mental interior does not match up by looking at the deeper meaning of what we are called to, and- more importantly- what God calls us to. It’s natural to feel some dissonance between the body and the spirit, but the key to putting them into harmony is not by drastically altering them, but recognizing that we are merely temporal stewards of our bodies and giving them over to God in love and obedience.

We are meant to be transcendent, not “trans.”