10 Myths About Catholicism, Busted

10/24/16

Not long ago I started a little podcast with some dear online friends.  Coincidentally the other four co-hosts of the Upside Down Podcast are all various forms of Protestant, and since we launched a month ago some of them have reported some raised eyebrows from a few blog readers about collaborating with a Catholic.  (A very, very few! Most have enthusiastically been down with the ecumenical aspect of the show.)  But it came as a good reminder to us all that there is still quite a bit of confusion out there about Catholicism, so I thought maybe I should clear it up a little.

The historic Second Vatican Council (or what we generally refer to as "Vatican II") opened from 1962-1965 under Pope John XXIII and positively resulted in a lot of updated clarification on Catholic practice and relation in the world. It has since resulted in great progress for the individual Catholic's catechesis and lived practice.

I've noticed that the Protestants most skeptical of Catholicism are generally of that generation or earlier, as they are more likely to have encountered Catholics who at best struggled to articulate their beliefs, at worst struggled to even understand them. There's room for all of us to grow here, and a great example of the need for ecumenical dialogue and relationships in all our lives.  I thought I'd volunteer to start by dispelling a few of my least favorite myths.  This is obviously not a comprehensive detailing of every Catholic belief, but I tried to hit the biggies.


1 - We Worship Mary

Nope.  We worship Jesus.  Or more specifically, we worship the Triune God.  We do hold Jesus' Mother in high esteem and do have pronounced "Mariology" that might seem foreign, confusing, and downright unnecessary to you.  Believe me, I had all those thoughts too.  But I believe you'll find that if you do some digging in the right places (I recommend Scott Hahn's Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God), you will see that all of our beliefs about Mary serve to glorify Jesus Christ and the beauty of His holiness.  You don't have to agree with us on everything, but please trust that we reserve our worship for God alone.  (Certainly there are those who take veneration of Mary much too far, but it's not fair to judge the rest of us for it.  It's just bad religious education.)

2 - We Worship Saints

Again with the worshipping God and only God.  The point of confusion probably lies in two places: our prayers and our icons.  First, the prayers.  Catholics often say we "pray to" a certain saint, which can be confusing for a non-Catholic when what we really mean is that we are asking them to pray for us.  We talk to them like family members because, hey, they ARE family members.  It's comparable to you calling up your Aunt Bertha and asking her to pray for your troubled marriage because she herself had a troubled marriage and you respect her faithfulness to God in the midst of it.  To be blunt, wouldn't you be kind of crazy NOT to call her?

Icons carry a similar reasoning: if the communion of saints is real (and I think most Protestants assent to the Nicene Creed), then these are family members.  If you love Aunt Bertha, are thankful for her life, and are inspired by the way she glorified God, you might frame a picture of her even after she's passed away.  We see the icons that way: pictures of family members who inspire us, remind us that faithfulness to God is not only possible but worth it, and enhance our spaces with beautiful works of art to boot.

3 - We Don't Have a Personal Relationship with Christ

Well that's just silliness.  But okay, we're talking about 1.2 billion people so sure, not all of us do, any more than all Americans who identify as "Christian" do.  Historically, Catholics have tended to practice their faith somewhat privately, at least in our culture.  Although we see this changing in our generation as more and more become vocal about their faith and active in discipleship, it could still fairly be called part of the culture of Catholicism.  This might be partly a pushback against dark periods like the Crusades and Inquisition: We're not like that!  We'll keep our religion our own business, we promise!  Whatever the reason, don't judge a book by it's cover.  Some of our grandmas never spoke of religion to anyone but had a deeper intimacy with Jesus than we ever will.

4 - We Are Obligated to Have 10 Children

There is no "right size" for a Catholic family.  Large families are welcomed, small families are welcomed; it is strictly up to the discernment of the couple (and, well, nature).  We don't use contraception, which I wrote about here, but there are natural ways to prayerfully manage family size.  There are no medals for having more than two kids at mass.

5 - We Believe We Have to Earn Salvation

We have a word for that in the Catholic Church.  It's heresy.  Salvation is only and ever a gift of grace from God.  We believe that we are saved by faith, and we believe James when he says that faith without works is dead (James 1:14-26 no seriously, read it!).  If you're living a true Gospel life of faith, there's going to be some good works.  This really shouldn't be controversial.  What we might disagree on is in the fact that, unlike many Protestant denominations, Catholics don't believe salvation is "one and done".  Catholics like to say we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved.  We can still be confident in our salvation, because we trust that His grace will remain with us.

6 - We Think Priests, Not God, Forgive Our Sins

Did you know that we use the word "confession" interchangeably with "reconciliation"?  The priest is there to aid you as you reconcile your relationship with God after a sin.  As we all know, sin damages that relationship.  Well the priest is simply there to help you get it back on track.  Us Catholics love earthy, tangible faith.  We love a faith that we can taste, hear, feel, smell, and see, which is why we're always using odd stuff like incense, rosary beads, kneelers, and all those icons.  We believe that matter is connected to spirit, that the physical world is not separate from the spiritual.  Having a priest as a sort of "stand in" for God helps us see and hear - and ultimately, believe - the forgiveness we long for.  My family's priest has explained that the sacrament of confession is not for God- God has already forgiven you!  Confession is for us, the sinners: it's a chance for us to be healed and feel fully restored to God.

7 - We Don't Believe Protestants Are True Christians

Nope. You're in the club! You're family.

This actually was a thing, some time ago, but it has since been corrected.

8 - We Believe the Pope Doesn't Sin

Wrong again.  We know they're men who sin just like everyone else.  What we call "papal infallability" applies only to solemn, doctrinal teaching on faith and morals.  It doesn't apply to their personal lives or even to their own theological musings per se.  It is a very formal addressing of doctrine, and we trust that the Holy Spirit will lead the Church into right doctrine.  It's a trust placed in the Lord, not in the pope.  We've had a few horrible popes over the course of history, but doctrine has remained faithful.  What a beautiful testimony to the steadfastness of God over man's waywardness.  So basically, we listen when he teaches on faith and morals.  But as Stephen Colbert once perfectly said, if you're sitting around with Papa Francis and he attests that Godfather III was a worthy follow-up to I and II feel free to call bullshit.

9 - We Are Obsessed with Abortion

Catholics are possibly the most vocal supporters of the sanctity of life and yes, that includes abortion.  But it does't begin and end there.  Our pro-life views have long included standing firmly against the death penalty, euthanasia, war, unjust working conditions, and emphasizing caring for the poor.  (In fact, the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world.) You really can't pigeonhole us into political party lines.

10 - We Don't Mingle with Non-Catholics

{buzzer noise} Wrong.  We are fascinated by science, by the arts, by scholars, by other world religions, by pretty much anyone who is saying anything important at all.  The Catholic "tent" is a broad one and a lot of different kind of people fit under it, but when I was beginning to learn about Catholicism I was inspired to find how highly it values the intellect and how ready it is to take into account different areas of expertise, which frankly was not always my experience as an evangelical.  And not only do we love secular thought and research, we appreciate ecumenicism and learning from our Protestant sisters' and brothers' expressions of faith.  We like to party with everyone.

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I hope this is helpful!  If you have more questions you can leave them in the comment box. (She says with great fear and trepidation.) I absolutely love how ecumenical this slice of internet has become.  You guys each bring something fresh and thoughtful to the table, and you are always so kind even when you disagree.  Love you all, my sisters and brothers!

Autumn Mantel, Autumn Musings

10/19/16

I went to yoga this morning, dropped off two screaming boys at a friend's house so I could be alone for an hour, bending my body into unlikely positions and holding poses for longer than my tantruming muscles would have believed they could.

I did an Enneagram test recently and it said I'm a 9.  Nines have an unfortunate tendency to forget that our bodies and minds are connected.  We forget to eat, we forget to exercise, we love to sleep but don't get enough of it.  It was noteworthy to read that two months after starting a twice weekly yoga practice, and no wonder I've latched on to it so. My body has been something carrying me around, something birthing and nourishing babies, something I will to shuffle into a much despised jog.  Doing yoga makes me feel alive in a way I can't put words to; I feel strong and healthy and almost like someone who doesn't forget that her body is not just a shell.  It reminds me I'm more than the demands put upon me, I'm more than my usefulness and certainly more than my shortcomings.



My ears tend to perk up when an inner change falls in step with an outward one.  While I'm beginning to teach my lungs to breathe wide and slow, the air is cooler when I step out the door and neighbors have started putting pumpkins on stoops.  I notice the changing season, and I take stock of my own heart while I'm at it.  I'm reading Daring Greatly and studying Enneagram research and learning new things about myself at an age when I thought I was mostly done with all that.


Autumn tumbles on and conversations turn soft and low between my husband and me.  He wrestles and I discipline myself to listen, so familiar in our roles as 4 and 9.  We'll be taking a trip together soon, with only our nonverbal child accompanying us, and the timing couldn't be better.  The Holy Spirit seemed to blow in with Hurricane Matthew, and we're still trying to understand what it all means.  But we've gotten good at our dance, ten years into it, and it's nice to know we'll still be holding hands as we look for the ground beneath us in thirty years too.  Maybe by then I'll remember what it means to have a body.


I usually change up our mantel with the seasons but I was slow on the draw this time around.  A month ago I removed the bright, colorful knick knacks from summer but found I didn't know what to do with the deserted space as fall closed in.  It just didn't seem time.  I halfheartedly put a few squash on it, trying out my harvest spirit, but it fell flat and they sat -awkward and lonely- for weeks.

It was weird.

But I found my autumn.  It came yesterday afternoon, hard and fast and unexpected, and found me scurrying to the basement (where I keep the quasi-seasonal junk I love) with a baby on my hip, pulling out random pieces of wooden and ceramic symbols of... something. Succulents I'm trying not to kill (one is fake but I bet I could kill it anyway), children's books, a thrifted mirror, those damned squash.


I hunted through the sunroom for more inspiration and came across St. Francis.  There was no doubt in my mind he was due for some mantel time.  Eric's been talking to him more and more lately, requesting some prayers if it's not too much to ask.  And he's in heaven, after all, so it's probably not.

Saints Paul and Lydia made the cut too, though my reasoning was less sure. They just felt right, like maybe we're needing a heaping dose from a few family members who were more certain about it all than we are.  Lydia, wasn't she the one who sold purple cloth?  Purple is a 4 color; maybe she gets my husband.  Maybe I should start heckling her for some prayers.


I'm drinking black coffee today and no one's more surprised about it than me.  That sounds like it could be a metaphor for something but as far as I know, it's nothing. It's just black coffee and it's just finally autumn and I have dead but alive saints of God on my mantle.


*last year's autumn decor post was here, if you're bored :)

Fall Book Stack ('16)

10/14/16

Grab some coffee and a thick slice of pumpkin bread (extra butter, please!), because this fall book list is where it's at.  Uncharacteristically, there are quite a few heavy hitters and not a shady comedian in sight.  Must be the chill in the air?  I'm sure I'll make up for it in the winter by reading a bunch of YA fiction.  Y'all know me.

Click the title or image to view in Amazon.  Links are affiliates.

Just Finished Reading



Anne Lamott is probably not for everyone, but I enjoyed my first full taste of her writing in this book. She drops four-letter bombs like a sailor and is awfully hard on ol' George W, but none of those things were enough to make me quit reading her enchanting words.  Lamott has the gift of articulating the human experience with wit and candor and just manages to say the right thing in exactly the right way.  I liked it.

Currently Reading



This one has been on my list for more than a year now, and I'm finally diving in with my local book club.  Brown's accessibility makes you sure you'd be best friends, and for a researcher that's a pretty impressive feat.  I'm about halfway through, and although I consider myself to be someone already comfortable with vulnerability, I'm still seeing new opportunities for growth and being challenged to look at myself and my responses a little harder.  I highly recommend this one!


This exploration of the spirituality of St. Francis (and St. Clare's in there too!) is truly excellent.  Eric began reading it first and I can't stop picking it up and chewing on a few pages at a time when I see it lying around the house.  If you're unfamiliar with Franciscan spirituality, it embodies an emphasis on the dignity of all life, simplicity, peace, our interconnectedness, and pretty much every good thing that should make Christianity attractive to the rest of the world.  You'll be inspired and challenged, I assure you.  (*edited to add: I just read the chapter on Bonaventure and wanted to scream "yes!!" most of the way through.)



The small group that I host once a week is studying this right now and even though I read most of it several years ago, I'm getting just as much out of it the second time around.  This work is all about making the Good News good again for a world who has grown tired of getting spankings from Christians all the time.  This book makes me proud to be Catholic.  (For the record, I know Protestants who have loved it as well so you don't have to swim the Tiber to be fed by it!)

Will Be Reading



So I guess technically I should have read this one before"Plan B".  Always the rebel.
(edited to add: I left this one halfway through after a few strongly written chapters on assisted suicide and abortion. I appreciate dialogue on these topics but couldn't handle them that day.)

The Kids Are Reading 



We randomly found this lovely picture book at the library and I just adore it.  The author has written Goodnight Moon, Runaway Bunny, and My World, which are obviously timeless classics and this one deserves its spot at the table.  Death is such a difficult topic to navigate with children, yet they have a natural curiosity about it and there is a sad lack of good books on the topic.  We had to return this one but I plan on buying a copy for our personal library.  Really well done!



Another random library pick-up, but this one I was less impressed with.  My friend said she loved this author (Avi) as a child and Alyosha certainly seems happy with it, so maybe it's just simply one of those that kids like and adults don't.  Which is fine... but a lot more fine when the child can read it independently, can I get an amen?

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Alright, your turn!  What are you reading lately?  I specifically need good recs for fiction to tear through when the winter months keep us hunkered down inside!

Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy!

A Modest Proposal Concerning Feminism and Contraception

10/4/16


If the topic of having babies comes up and you're savvy on your religious Jeopardy, you'll give me one of two looks when I tell you I'm Catholic. Either a sympathetic, pitiful look that says, ahh poor you, your masochistic hierarchy forbids you to be a liberated 21st century woman OR a snide smirk that says, oh right like you're really following THAT rule.

Because everyone knows that Catholicism and contraception don't party together.  Like, EVER.

I get that it sounds archaic in the culture that we live in today.  It sounds like a mastermind plan to keep all the dern females barefoot and pregnant and in the kitchen.  I get that.  But don't get it twisted here: I am no one's victim.  Would it blow your mind to know that I, a feisty, stubborn, self-assured feminist actually chose it?

Oh you heard me right.  I wasn't born Catholic, I converted for a hundred reasons and one of them was theology of the body and sexuality.  (Apparently that's not an uncommon thing... just ask Blythe and Anna and many more I'm sure.)  There are thousands of words I could write about why a contraception-free life is particularly appropriate for a Christian, but I'm not going to.  Because the point of this post is not meant to be religious.  Others have done that, and done it well.

What I want to talk to you about is straight up feminism, and why our culture of contraception is destroying women.

Ready?

Let's look at human history.  Before the mid 1800s condoms did not exist.  Before the mid 1900s the birth control pill did not exist.  Certainly humans are humans and there were plenty of people who found ways around pregnancy before then, but in general fertility was a "take what ya get" type of situation.  That means that for thousands of years people assumed that sex very, very frequently made babies.  The potential for new life couldn't be removed from the sexual act because there just weren't many options about it.  It was simply physiology, a part of the human experience that was taken for granted.

In the past 60 years this has changed drastically.  There are now more options for birth control than I can even keep up with (and the overwhelming majority put the burden of both responsibility and side effects on women, but more on that later).  All of this "advancement" is hailed as progress for feminism, but is that really accurate?

Looking at today's society, I'm thinking not.

You already know the stats, or at least you can probably guess at them: divorce, single motherhood, abortion, and pornography have skyrocketed in the past 60 years.  (Speaking of porn, researchers are finding that the demand in pornography is not only for easier accessibility - most of our children will be exposed to it before they are teenagers - but for increasingly violent depictions.  The violence and humiliation, of course, is against the women.)  Certainly these things would exist had the world never been introduced to contraception, but the scale at which we're seeing them and the impact on society is tremendous.  And in the majority of these cases women are the ones suffering, women are carrying an unfair weight of society's burden.

Speaking of unfair weight, the consequences of contraceptives on the female body are steep indeed. Someone very dear to me almost died this year when her IUD ruptured inside of her and she was saved by emergency surgery.  When I did a little research, I quickly learned that this is not unheard of.  This is something that happens with IUDs.  And what about hormonal birth control?  Well for women over 35 it puts them at risk for a heart attack or stroke, and even young women often suffer side effects like horrible mood swings, chronic headaches, and weight gain in addition to a greater risk for breast cancer.

Did you catch that I mentioned weight gain? It's ironic that a contraceptive should make you gain weight, because after we removed the dignity of fertility from sex our female bodies became available for public consumption.  Suddenly everyone is invited to weigh in (no pun intended) on what a woman "should" look like, what our respective "flaws" are.  We are left with poorer self image, more body dissatisfaction, and more eating disorders than ever before.  This isn't feminism, but no amount of  naked celebrities on magazines seems to be fixing it for us.

Additionally, we are hearing more and more about the issue of "consent", which is of course an important point (and always has been) but the degree to which the conversation is widespread and necessary these days is disturbing to say the least.  Rape is being seen as something that "just happens" at parties now. Formed in a culture of sex removed from reproduction, young men and teen boys in particular are increasingly demonstrating a warped sense of entitlement to the female body.  This is dangerous and dehumanizing for both parties.

Well, you say, those idiots just need to respect women.

No argument here, and I will never stop advocating that individuals be held accountable for their actions.  Absolutely.  But when the problem is as looming and as widespread as we are seeing it in our cultural landscape, shouldn't we start addressing the disease?  The problem has only gotten worse in the past decade, despite our self-congratulatory strides in feminism.  Maybe, just maybe, we should try another angle.

Simply put: sexuality and fertility were never meant to be separated. When they are, society breaks down.

So now that I've been a total downer, what's my modest proposal, you ask?  Well quite simply, doing away with it all.  Starting over again and seeing if we can repair this broken system we've fractured left and right: seeing if we can rediscover the mystery and dignity of the female body.

Eric and I decided a few years ago to use Natural Family Planning, and it's transformed our understanding of intimacy, sexuality, and quite honestly, acceptance of babies.  No it's not the rhythm method, yes it really works (well, for most people and if used correctly), yes it requires periods of abstinence, no that's really not going to kill anyone, yes there are professionals out there who can teach it to you and even doctors that practice it, yes it can be practiced by anyone, married or not.

{NFP deserves its own thorough post, but there is plenty of excellent information at the tip of your fingers these days.  It doesn't have to come from me.}

I'll end with a quote by Wendell Berry, that well of wisdom on American social change:

"We have been unable to see the difference between this kind of restraint- a cultural response to an understood practical limit- and the obscure, self-hating, self-congratulating Victorian self-restraint, of which our attitudes and technologies of sexual 'freedom' are merely the equally obscure other side. This so-called freedom fragments us more vehemently and violently than before against our own bodies and against the bodies of other people."

Is there a possibility of me having more babies than I "plan"?  Sure there is.  But I've seen the correlation between contraceptives and a very broken society, and I just can't un-see it anymore.  Having my family plans changed unexpectedly seems to me a very small price to pay for the welfare of my fellow women, and my country as a whole.


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Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)

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