Finding Hope, Finding Myself: Advent Reflections Week 1

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When the end of the year comes around, there’s this desire to reflect on our lives. We think about our successes, our failures, and ways that we can improve in the new year. Each year seems to go by faster. Summer seems like it was just a month ago instead of almost half a year ago. In this holiday rush, I want these reflections to be a time for you and me to reflect.

The Heart of Mary Women’s Fellowship is doing a Bible study for Advent that you can subscribe to and read here. The theme of the first week of Advent is Hope with the “Prophet’s Candle.”

During Mass, the Psalm for this Sunday’s readings particularly resonated with me.

Psalm 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14

R. To you, O Lord, I lift my soul.
Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior,
and for you I wait all the day.
R. To you, O Lord, I lift my soul.
Good and upright is the LORD;
thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice,
and teaches the humble his way.
R. To you, O Lord, I lift my soul.
All the paths of the LORD are kindness and constancy
toward those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
The friendship of the LORD is with those who fear him,
and his covenant, for their instruction.
R. To you, O Lord, I lift my soul.

I feel like the whole Psalm is a microcosm of the spiritual journey I took this year. My trust in the Lord has changed my life in so many ways. He carried me through bad dates and broken hearts. He led me to people who understood my Asperger’s Syndrome and fellow writers who encouraged me to work on my novel. It was through the intercession of the saints and Christ’s wonderful Divine Mercy that I was able to find forgiveness and take another step forward in the process of letting go of all the things that make me anxious.

As the Year of Mercy begins, my intention is to live out the verse from Galatians. This verse is my hope for this new liturgical year as well as the year of 2016.

For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:19-20

Today, I want you to reflect on how you think Christ has changed you and how you think you can live out the verse from Galatians. It’s through Christ that I have hope. My hope for this Advent is that Christ continues to live in me.

Monique and Monica: The Names I Chose

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For those who don’t know, my full name is a long one. I’m Filipino. Long names come with the territory. My first name is Ann Mary, but I go by my middle name “Monique.” This often leads to people calling me “Monica” by mistake. Whenever that happened, I wouldn’t mind. After all, I chose Monica as my Confirmation name. Now unlike my brother and other high school kids, I didn’t choose my Confirmation name after researching the saints. In spite of the fact that I went to Catholic School, I didn’t really get to know the saints outside of information cards and the childish renditions in those books where the saints looked like movie stars. You know the ones. I chose Monica as my Confirmation name out of convenience, not really putting a lot of thought into it.

And yet I still care about what people call me. I don’t mind being mistakenly called Monica, but “Ann Mary” or “Mary Ann” as some may mistakenly say never sounded right to me. I also didn’t like being called “Momo” by some bullies back in high school nor did I like it when someone thought a different name would be better for me than the one I already had.

The name “Monica” means “advisor” and the story of St. Monica shows her trying to advise her son, Saint Augustine, but ultimately she surrendered herself and her son to God in the hopes that Augustine would reform. And reform he did. In my personal life, I do give advice to my friends who ask and I offer to help my friends out with their problems. I also tend to have an “advice column” kind of voice when I write my Bible studies and sometimes on this blog as well.

I don’t ask for St. Monica’s intercession as often as I should, but I feel like the saint whose name I share is still a part of me. Like Monica, I am devoted to my faith and long for the return of my fallen brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m also learning that when you share your faith openly, you will be met with some hostility, but for the most part, people don’t mind as long as it comes from a personal level and not like the Westboro Baptist Church.

I hope that I grow to have Saint Monica’s perseverance and undying trust in God as I get older. And the next time someone calls me “Monica,” I will still correct them, but still feel happy that my name is linked with a woman like her.

Who Am I Exactly Again, Anyway?: How I Identify Myself

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There’s been a lot of talk about identity lately. My friend Emily Allen recently commented on the “trans” issues and I raised the question “How exactly do we identify ourselves?” Some identify themselves by the race or gender or sexuality of their choice. Others identify strongly with their career choice, the place that they live in, or the things that they love. This post will look into how I saw myself in the past, how my identity has changed over time, and how I identify and define myself now.

Just as a warning, this is a long post. So please bear with me!

Diversity wasn’t exactly a huge part of my early life. My family and I are Filipino. I have a very large extended family and I’m pretty sure I’m not exaggerating when I say that I probably have about a million cousins. (This video from Buzzfeed is seriously accurate!) My classmates mostly had Italian, Irish, German and Polish ancestry, the kind of kids you’d find in a typical Catholic school. But I didn’t see myself as any different from them.

In fact, I hate saying this, but for most of my life I have never really been the victim of negative racism. Teachers may have thought I was smart because I was Asian, but that’s about it. The only time I felt like I was being attacked because of my race was when an African-American girl from my English class kept making snide remarks and glaring daggers at me because I was dating a black guy.

I consider being Filipino to be part of my identity, but being Filipino was never the whole of my identity at all. The funny thing about being Filipino is that the ethnic identity is it’s a mix of so many cultures: Spanish, Portuguese, American, Polynesian, Malaysian, etc. There’s no such thing as a “true Filipino.” Instead, the Filipino identity is (for the most part) integrated with the Catholic faith, not to mention lots of food and the importance of family.

I was born a female, but my childhood dream was not to become the first female president. Instead, my imagination jumped between daydreams of being Wonder Woman’s cowgirl sidekick, being a scientist (marine biologist, if I remember correctly), and being an astronaut. I never pursued those dreams, however, because I hated math and was mediocre with science at best. Nobody ever said I couldn’t do math and science just because I was a girl, but it wasn’t exactly drilled into my head, either. I always believe that girls should be encouraged to pursue what they want, even when their interests change. So neither my ethnicity nor my gender defined my identity growing up. What did? The kind of job I wanted and the obsessions I had.

The first time I was called a journalist was back in middle school, when the runningback for the New York Giants at the time came to visit my school. I actually got to ask him questions like I was at a press conference. I didn’t exactly know what journalists did, but the idea of being one was definitely cool, if it meant interviewing famous people. I also wanted to be a forensic science after obsessing over the true crime series Forensic Files. This inevitably led to me watching shows like CSI and Law and Order and reading detective novels. So I went from wanting to be a sidekick/scientist/astronaut to being a journalist/forensic scientist/detective/lawyer.

But if you asked the younger me how I identified myself, I would’ve said that I saw myself as a fan of anime. Japanese animation was huge when I was growing up. I mostly saw it in dubbed form, but I loved watching shows like Sailor Moon, Pokemon, Digimon, Dragon Ball Z and even lesser known ones like Cardcaptors. Eventually, I got old enough to stay up for Cartoon Network’s adult swim block, when they aired animes like Inuyasha and Case Closed. Sadly, I never developed the skills to draw the stuff I saw. Instead, I started writing fanfiction.

Eventually, all that fanfiction led to me writing an original short story in middle school. It was your typical lame Skater Boy inspired story about a boy getting the girl and becoming famous with his cool band, but it was still an original story. I decided, after creating that story, that I wanted to turn that into a novel.

The quest for me creating the next great American novel took up most of my high school life and still continues to this day. Somewhere along the way, I picked up the idea of being creative, being a writer, and being an artist as part of my identity. Mostly it was through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and Anne Lammot’s Bird By Bird. I learned that creativity was God’s gift to me and that I had to develop it and make it my own.

But given that I was also a very pretentious, sheltered, and naive teenager at the time, my identity also got wrapped up in my social life. I didn’t want to be the cheerleader or the class president. I just wanted to be accepted by my friends. I hung out with people who were also fans of anime and spent some time with theatre people as well. There was also my boyfriend, of course, who was the Angel to my Buffy. By that I mean he brooded a lot and I wanted us to go out on actual dates. It’s no wonder that it ended around the same time that I started college.

College, to me, was the buildup to the major identity change I would have later on. I was 16th percentile in high school, was voted School Spirit, and graduated Cum Laude, but in college, it didn’t mean much at all. I learned a lot of humility in college and about how responsible I had to be for myself. I relearned what I forgot in Catholic school and grew in new devotions. I didn’t have a steady group of friends. Instead my circle of friends consisted of two groups: friends who were devoutly Catholic but didn’t share my interests in anime and musicals and friends whom I shared common interests with except for being Catholic. I was so caught up in my identity of being a student that I completely forgot about my future.

Graduating college was the crisis of my identity change. I expected to have some kind of job, but none came. I didn’t have my friends or my professors. I spent about a year figuring out who I was outside of being a college student. It started with watching movies like Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Princess Bride, and Wreck-it Ralph and eventually led to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I don’t know what it is about Buffy that made it different from all the other Whedonverse works to the point that I can’t imagine my life without it. I loved Firefly, Doctor Horrible, and Dollhouse, but Buffy was different. The last obsession I had that took over my life outside of anime was anything related to Jane Austen, especially Pride and Prejudice. But outside of Jesus Christ, Buffy was the only thing I can say that saved my life after my post-college crisis.

It’s been a few years since I graduated college. I’m in the process of going to grad school again. I’m still working on creating and publishing a novel, but I now know that I still have a long way to go and that there are other ways to express myself through writing. I am not as obsessed with anime as I used to be, but I still like it a lot. I no longer define myself by my career because I’m still trying to build that. As much as I love my fandoms, I don’t define myself as a fangirl, either. I don’t define myself by my ethnicity or my gender, or even by the kind of people I find attractive because as I said before, they are all parts of me.

Before anything else, I am God’s creation. Which means that when I identify myself, I say that I am Catholic. My faith is so much bigger than anything else. It grows along with me. As I continue to learn about life, I learn more about what it means to be Catholic. It sounds like blind devotion, I know, but I’m going into this world with my eyes open. One thing that I know for sure was that my faith saved me from a lot of things and I owe my life to my Creator. As John the Baptist said “He must increase and I must decrease.” But in becoming more Christlike, I don’t actually lose myself. Instead, I am refined like silver, becoming a better version of myself in the process.

So when you ask me about how I see myself, I would say: “I am Monique Ocampo. I am a Catholic writer slash fangirl. And you are?”

Please like my Facebook page so that you can see what I post ASAP!

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.”

The Heart of The Matter: How Do We Identify And Define Ourselves?

It seems like the question of identity has come up a lot lately. I’m not going to be commenting on Bruce/Caitlyn or about people seeing themselves as transabled or transracial.

Instead, I want to ask everyone: How do you define yourselves?

The center of all of these current news stories is the question of identity and how one defines oneself.

What exactly defines being male or female? What defines race? What defines sexuality? Does it really have to do with how you feel? How do you decide that? Society’s definition on masculinity and femininity, race, and sexuality has changed throughout the centuries and depends on the culture. 

I recently found this video on YouTube about dealing with identity and while I agreed with some aspects of it, like how our identity is subject to change as we grow up, I didn’t agree with the idea of being the only one in control of my identity. More often than not, I’ve seen people let things like politics and other people have that control over their identity and yes, that applies to religion as well.

But there’s a big difference between gathering labels in order to figure out aspects of yourself and defining yourself by these labels. The major major problem with defining yourself by the labels the world has to offer is that they are limiting. Marc Barnes AKA Bad Catholic has a wonderful series of posts on his blog that delves more into this current identity crisis

The real question I want to ask is why do we choose things such as our gender, sexuality, or race to define ourselves? They are parts of our identity, for sure, but that’s all they are. Parts. Choosing to define ourselves by just one part of ourselves is like identifying all of Picasso’s paintings by just saying that they’re blue, even though not all of them are. Our identity needs to be rooted in something outside of ourselves, just as a tree is rooted in the ground.

I’m not saying that we should let the world define who we are. I’m saying to look beyond the world. We keep looking around the world for ourselves, but we find the world lacking. I’m not asking that you believe me right away. But then again, you don’t have to take my word for it.

 

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”- C.S. Lewis

“You have made us for yourself,” St. Augustine said. “And our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:2

“My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.” John 18:36

If you’re wondering where to start searching for your identity, start by asking the Sacred Heart of Jesus on this solemnity. Sooner or later, we all find ourselves echoing Paul’s words:

“I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.”- Galatians 2:19-20