Monday, December 15, 2008

The Great Catholicity of Catholic Colleges Debate might be the last place you'd expect to find good, orthodox Catholicism, but I really enjoy Scott Richert's posts. The weekly emails from bring good articles to my attention, this being one of them: Are Catholic Colleges Really Catholic?

The main focus of the blog post is a new survey of current and former students at Catholic colleges by the Cardinal Newman Society, with some very sad results. According to the survey, 60% of these students believe abortion should be legal, 60% believed premarital sex was not a sin, 57% supported gay "marriage" and 57% said the experience of attending a Catholic college or university had no effect on their participation in Mass and the sacrament of reconciliation. 1 in 5 students knew another student who had or paid for an abortion. The survey reported that “Most respondents say that the experience of attending a Catholic institution made no difference in their support for the Catholic Church or its teaching or their participation in Catholic Sacraments."

The numbers look pretty bleak, but I wanted to know whether the whole story was being told. The article did not say whether the students surveyed identified as Catholic. Clicking through to the Newman Society's web page, I found the PDF of the survey report. According to the report, 58% of students surveyed were Catholic in college and are still Catholic now. (Sadly, not many non-Catholics were inspired to convert by their college experience - only 1% were not Catholic in college and are Catholic now.) The survey identified "sacramentally active" Catholics as those who attended Mass at least once weekly and Confession at least once yearly. Just 48% percent of the survey takers fell into this category (vs. the 65% who identified as Catholic while in college).

Did being an "active" Catholic make a difference in attitudes and behavior? Not really - the sacramentally active Catholics were only slightly less likely to have gotten drunk or had premarital sex in college, and were just as likely to have viewed pornography. They were only slightly more likely to agree with Church teaching. A full third of the sacramentally active Catholics did not believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist!

Did the study turn out to be just as depressing as I thought it would be? Well...yes. There was a shockingly large number of active Catholics who did not know or disagreed with Church teaching. If we Catholics don't take our doctrine seriously, how do we expect anyone else to, really? But are Catholic colleges to blame for this state of affairs? I'd argue that by the time students get to college, their views are well-formed. It's hard to meet an age group more opinionated - and more steeped in the morally relativistic culture - than high school and college students. When it comes to forming Catholic values, the seeds are planted long before students ever reach college. I wonder how many of these students come from homes where Mass is a once-weekly event that doesn't really impact our lives at all. From the way even the practicing Catholic students seemed to compartmentalize their faith, I'd say a lot of them do.

I also wonder how much of this is a crisis of catechesis vs. a crisis of faith. I used to think, smugly, that "they just don't KNOW" Catholic doctrine. But watching what happened with the election, and so many Catholics voting for Obama, I think the reality is that young Catholics know church doctrine and just don't care. The encounter with Christ is what seems to be missing here. The good news is, we young Catholics can do something about that. A Catholic college gives us the unique opportunity to wear our Catholicism on our sleeve, so to speak. Bringing Christ to our peers is an important mission for serious Catholics on campus. How can we do a better job?

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, pray for me! I surely need a spirit of wisdom and right judgement this week. Finals week has arrived with startling rapidity. It is hard to believe I have already been here at ND for an entire semester. My two final project presentations are over - one went well, the other not so well, but they're over. Thankfully only one of my classes has an in-class final, but that is tomorrow!

It's hard to know exactly what my final grades will be because of all the various and sundry factors that play into that magic number. I hope to at least have the GPA of 3.5 that I need to take the qualifying exam next semester.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What is at stake

Well, it's happened. The people have spoken, and Barack Obama has just been elected president of the United States. But this is not a political post, although I'll pause to note that never before have so many trusted a man who has been so untested on the national stage. After watching the election last night, I'm trying to move through the fear, anger and frustration to figure out just what this means for me and for other Catholics.

Many others are speculating on the ramifications of the policies Obama and the majority-Democrat Congress will enact. Economic and military policy aside, I predict a lifting of all state restrictions on abortion, national legalization of gay "marriage" and other measures designed to demoralize conservative Christians. The effect on the culture will be to make us even more unfashionable and socially unacceptable than we already are. Already we're being characterized as "bitter," "hateful", and "racist" over our stubborn refusal to celebrate this win, and Day 1 post-election has barely begun. There will be no need to muzzle free speech with laws when social pressure makes dissenting speech unacceptable. The laws will also be seriously detrimental to Catholic charitable works. Already Catholic charities in some states have shuttered their adoption operations rather than adopt out children to gay couples. A law mandating that all hospitals and doctors provide abortion may do the same to Catholic hospitals. Our country will be the poorer for it, but sadly few will notice.

Our response to this coming darkness cannot be anything other than to shine even brighter. We can't afford not to! Remember that Christianity was born into an equally dark time and stood in sharp contrast to the excesses of Pagan Rome. I hope we won't see Christians vs. lions again anytime soon, but I think it's going to affect every one of us profoundly. We may be at risk of losing our careers or our friends if we speak out about our beliefs. We need to not be afraid to call evil, evil even if we are accused falsely of bigotry and hatred. The best witness we can provide is a life well lived in the service of Christ, fearlessly proclaiming him in deeds and words.

I have a sense that personal sacrifice is going to be required of each one of us. In the near future I will be trying to discern what I am being called to do. In the meantime, may God help us as we face what is ahead.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Render unto Caesar

I just got back from a fun weekend in Chicago with my husband. We went to Sunday Mass at Holy Name Cathedral there, which is a lovely church indeed. This past Sunday's readings provided a lot of food for thought in these days right before the election. I learned a while ago that there is generally a connection between the Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel readings at Mass. Sometimes the connection can be hard to tease was late last night when I finally thought about this.

The first reading is from Isaiah (45:1, 4-6), which is one of the prophetic books of the Bible. The prophet Isaiah talks about God giving authority to Cyrus, one of the great kings of ancient Persia. Cyrus was the king who released the Jews from Babylon and permitted them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. Although Cyrus was not a Jew, God was able to act through him for His own purposes.

In the Gospel reading (Mt 22:15-21), the Pharisees are trying to test Jesus. They ask him if it is lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar. (I love how they try to flatter Jesus at the beginning, saying he always speaks truthfully. They were right, but didn't know it!) Then Jesus holds up the Roman coin and says, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and give to God what is God's." What does this mean? It would seem that Jesus is telling us to recognize that Caesar would have no earthly authority unless God permitted it. This links up to the Old Testament reading - even pagan kings can be instruments of God's purpose.

What does this mean for us today? We are in the middle of an election season that has been very heated and intense. I will be honest and say that I do not want Barack Obama to win. His positions on abortion are completely unacceptable to me, as they should be for any Catholic. If he carries out his promise to sign the Freedom of Choice Act into law, he will deal a serious legal blow to the pro-life movement by effectively lifting all state restrictions on abortion. This is an infringement on the states' authority, not to mention gravely immoral. I am one of very few people at my workplace who supports McCain. He is not a perfect candidate by any means, but he recognizes that we have to defend the defenseless.

I and other McCain supporters have not given up yet, but things are looking bleak. The nation's love affair with Barack Obama continues strong. No revelation about his true character or the ideology of his close friends will deter his fans. I have heard him referred to as our "savior" and "our only hope," terms that are indecent to use about any mere man. I hold fast to Psalm 146:3 "Put not your trust in princes, in mere mortals powerless to save." Barack Obama is just a man, he is by no means the Second Coming!

BUT, at the same time, I have to recognize that if he IS elected - somehow, that is God-willed and part of God's plan. Perhaps it will be a wake-up call for a nation that has been sluggish and complacent in defending the rights of the innocent and helpless. If Obama is elected, I won't be happy, but I will acknowledge his authority. I will pray for God to give him strength and wisdom - and I have faith that God who softened the heart of Pharaoh can do the same for Obama.

I am going to pray and fast before the election, not that my chosen candidate will win, but that God's will be done. Never doubt the power of prayer to work miracles.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Anti-contraception != anti-science

I've found in my very brief time here that Notre Dame, despite its identity as a Catholic school, has a student body that is much like that of any other college. The student paper is as much a rag as the paper at my alma mater. Sorry, college newspapers - it isn't that you never have any good writing, it's that looking for it is like finding a diamond in a dung heap. It's generally the same predictable, pseudo-progressive navel-gazing everywhere - although I do have to give the Observer credit for publishing articles with real news in them. That IS a step up from my alma mater.

So, it was quite a pleasant surprise to find this article, An Anniversary Worth Remembering, in Tuesday's Observer. The author is emeritus professor Charles Rice, clearly a man of learning and strong Catholic faith. I read it with pleasure, but also with a sinking sense of dread. No college paper could publish an article like this without a stream of indignant letters to the editor crying, "Up with the Pill, down with the Pope!"

And sure enough, today's paper brought the all-too-predictable response. I'll leave the endless glorifications of the Pill to others to address, but this sarcastic paragraph in particular caught my eye: "But fear not! For those married couples who choose to express their love for one another without the burden of raising a family of 15 or so children, the Professor offers the superb counsel of Paul VI: "take into account the natural rhythms [of a woman's reproductive cycle] to regulate birth without offending the moral principles." That's some top notch advice from someone who obviously is not a medical professional."

Clearly Brendan, for all his lamentation of how Notre Dame's "spiritual traditions [...] corrode science" has a very poor understanding of female reproductive physiology and is totally ignorant of the modern methods of Natural Family Planning, or NFP. NFP is not the rhythm method of old, which was somewhat but not completely effective. NFP is based on observing a woman's signs of fertility - mucus, basal body temperature, and cervical positions. Depending on the method the woman might observe mucus only or all of the signs. His implication that natural fertility awareness is unscientific doesn't hold up to scrutiny. The method I use, the Billings Ovulation Method, was formulated by Drs. John and Evelyn Billings and tested in multiple scientific trials. They were "medical professionals" (very highly regarded in their field, as a matter of fact) so their credentials ought to be good enough for Brendan, right? A quick search for "billings ovulation method" in PubMed yields numerous peer-reviewed articles on the effectiveness of the method. Here's a study that was done in China, where women are highly motivated to avoid due to the government's repressive one-child policy. This is a similar study done in India among poor urban women - the use effectiveness rate of 97% is impressive to say the least, and runs counter to the popular belief that natural methods "don't work."

And this also should not be left unaddressed: "The closing paragraphs of Rice's argument are a dishonest discussion of abortion, in a manner which is framed to cause the reader to interpret contraception and abortion to be one in the same. They are not. Contraception prevents pregnancy; abortion terminates it. Each of the two topics deserve their own discussion."

On the contrary, abortion and contraception are two halves of the same coin. Arguments for their legitimacy are based on the fundamental assumption that man is free to control and manipulate new life into or out of being in any way he chooses. Leaving that aside, the reader is also clearly unaware that the Pill has multiple modes of action. The first, and most familiar, is to prevent ovulation. The Pill essentially tricks the woman's body into a state of pseudo-pregnancy, stopping the release of an egg from the ovaries. The second mode of action is to thin the lining of the uterus, making it hostile to the fertilized egg. Should a lucky little egg manage to slip through and somehow be fertilized, the small new human would be unable to attach to the uterine lining and would not survive. Effectively, this is a very early abortion.

Lastly, I find it quite appropriate that the letter has been written by a man, since men are the primary beneficiaries of the sexual revolution. Of course, he extols the benefits to women, but the reader is left wondering if his vehement defense of the Pill is due to the way it allows him to enjoy strings-free sex.

Hello Notre Dame

Wow, what a long time since my last post! It is now the second week of classes at Notre Dame and things are finally starting to fall into place. I still feel a bit lost here though. It sounds strange because this is a Catholic school but I haven't really found a group of Catholic buddies to socialize with. I think about Starkville and St. Joe and I miss it so much! I suppose in the Bible Belt we Catholics have to band together. The undergrads here are mostly Catholic, of course, but I believe most grad students are not. And of course, other grad students are the group I'm interacting with the most. Campus Ministry offers so many activities but they all look overwhelmingly undergraduate-focused. I'm not averse to socializing with undergrads, but truthfully I'm at a very different place in my life, being married and such.

I did sign up for a class that's being offered by the diocese on the Theology of the Body. I'm really looking forward to it. On one hand, I worry that it will take up too much time since it meets for 2 hours a week for six weeks. I am on campus most of the day and try to limit activities during the evening so I can spend time with Matt. On the other hand, I think it is a great opportunity to learn more about TOB and meet some like-minded folks. It is a shame there isn't anything like that on campus. (In fact, there was actually a letter in the student paper today extolling the wonders of contraception, which I mean to blog about shortly.)

I know there must be some serious, practicing Catholics around here...I'm just not sure where to find them. It's not like I can really go up to random people after Mass at the Basilica and say, "Hi, I noticed you took communion on the tongue, want to be friends?" Ugh, no, won't be doing that any time soon. Notre Dame so far seems like any other college, just with "Catholic frosting." I find the social climate to be very different from the South in that people are less willing to share their faith. I think maybe I need to hit up the Extraordinary Form Mass on campus. I don't really consider myself a traditionalist but that might at least help with the "meeting other practicing Catholics" part.

So my prayer these days is for God to guide me to make new friends who can support me spiritually. I hope it happens soon!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Vocations: Marriage and Priesthood

My diocese, like many in the US, is undergoing a serious shortage of priests. The problem is particularly acute here because Catholics are only a tiny percentage of the population, and the diocese is geographically large. Oftentimes one overworked pastor in his 60s or 70s is driving around to 3 or 4 far-flung churches on a weekend to say Mass. I know I have been very, very lucky while I lived in this state to always be in a place where Mass was available every weekend. Even during Fr. Jerry's illness, before Fr. John came to Starkville, the Bishop kindly sent priests up from Jackson so we could have Mass every weekend. Other churches have to make do with much less.

There has been a series of articles in the diocesan paper about the bishop's proposed solutions, which include appointing lay ecclesial ministers to lead communion services at the rural churches. While many people are unhappy at these changes, I think the bishop is acting prudently overall. Unfortunately much ink has been spilled in letters to the editor about how the Catholic Church should allow married priests. Fortunately, there's been no call for "womenpriests" which shows our good people haven't entirely gone off the deep end. But I feel there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the vocations crisis here. A college classmate of mine of mine who is currently in the seminary wrote this letter last week: "May I make the proposition that our current "crisis" is not one of a lack of religious vocations but is instead a lack of understanding and respect for the sacrament of holy matrimony, as is set out in sacred Scripture, the catechism, and Vatican II, to name only a few places. Am I correct in saying if we were to promote a better view of the sacrament of holy matrimony, beginning at home, then we might have more priests and religious in our diocese?"

My answer to my friend is: YES! Undoubtedly the breakdown of marriage contributes to a lack of priestly vocations. The home is the "domestic Church." Fr. Lenin in his homily last Sunday pointed out that priests do not grow on trees. Priests come from strong Catholic homes with a good mother and father. The challenge to us laypeople called to the married life is to build the kind of homes that nurture future priests and religious. That is a HUGE challenge in today's world, which leads me to my next point.

It seems like the writers all these letters see abolishing priestly celibacy as a "quick fix" solution. They seemingly envision a world in which thousands of married men would stampede to the seminaries once Rome lifted the rule of priestly celibacy. I don't see it that way. The big challenge to vocations today is the "me-centered" approach to life. It is all about ME, and what I want in life. God's will is only something for me to pay attention to when it happens to coincide with mine. This is not the kind of attitude that breeds a lot of priestly vocations. This is also not an attitude that fosters strong marriages! We forget we are called to give everything to God, to give Jesus nothing less than our whole lives. It is easy to relate this total self-giving to the priestly vocation. We must not forget that total self-giving is the call of married people too!

One can see that marriage and the priesthood are two distinct vacations. Could a person follow both? I really think it would be exceedingly difficult for a man to do both jobs well. A priest belongs to his parishioners and they to him. They are his spiritual children, the souls for whom he has responsibility. Not only does he administer the Sacraments, he must be teacher, father, and friend to all. He must respond with love to the mean-spirited and firmly correct the rebellious. He must be there for them at all hours of the day or night. He may have days off, but he never stops being a priest. And in addition to this, he must not neglect his own spiritual life, and must faithfully pray his Daily Office. Whew!

The job of a husband and father is equally all-consuming. Surely we remember from our childhoods how "Daddy is the strongest man in the world." In some sense, he always is. A good husband pursues honest work to provide for his children. He is also teacher, father and friend to his little flock. He is the head of his domestic Church. His model is St. Joseph, the protector of the Virgin and the Child Jesus. In addition to the duties of his life in the world, he has duties in the home. He teaches his children how to pray. He is a tender and gallant lover to his wife. That is really a lot to live up to!

The Sacrament of Holy Orders makes an indelible mark on a priest's soul. Because he has been made a priest, he has been changed. So too with the man who receives the Sacrament of Matrimony - he has been changed. Both have been given the graces needed to live out their vocations. Both husband and priest must be willing to give all of themselves to their vocation. Divided hearts can never be fully given. Protestant ministers are usually married, but many of them can tell you it is very difficult to juggle the obligations of a family with the obligations of ministry. The Catholic priesthood is quite different from Protestant ministry as well. They share some of the same duties, true, but the names say it all. A priest is not the same thing as a minister and cannot be treated as such. Again, priesthood is not a day job, but something that a man IS.

We should avoid looking on our priests as "Sacrament dispensing machines" or looking on priesthood as being just another job that they do. That does them no favors. We have to recognize the need for them to give themselves over wholeheartedly. To say that celibacy is too difficult for men to handle is a slap in the face to the men in the seminary who have chosen it freely. We have to remember that married life can be equally difficult and challenging. At the same time, marriage is very good. If marriage were not good, celibacy would not be the beautiful sacrifice that it is. What kind of person would offer God something that was bad or inferior? Instead we always offer him the most precious things we have.

I would never choose a man for marriage who was half-hearted about marrying me! In the same way, I don't want a priest who is afraid to make sacrifices. Let him serve the Church in some other way, if he can. But what this Church needs is strong, faithful priests - not priests who waver, or priests who are unwilling to give Christ all.

Saying "just let them marry" does not strike at the root of the problem - a culture and home life that does not breed vocations. I believe we must do two things to see real results. The first is - pray for vocations. The second is - catechize our children. Are married couples living out their vocation as beautiful examples for their children? Are they teaching their children about the Catholic Faith? Are Catholic school and parish religious education programs faithful to Catholic doctrine, or are they stuffing the children full of meaningless feel-good fluff? It is disturbing to me how many people spend years in religious education classes without learning anything of substance. People who do not understand the basic tenets of their faith are hardly likely to enter the priesthood or religious life.

At the bottom of it all is this: We are called to be the Salt of the Earth, as Pope Benedict so beautifully reminded us in his sermon at Yankee Stadium. We must bring Christ to the world. Priests do not grow on trees, it's true. But I believe that the lives of married people, lived vibrantly for Christ, can nurture the seeds of a priestly vocation in their sons. This is the responsibility each one of us bears. I know it's one I can only live up to with the help of the Holy Spirit.

"But we need priests NOW!" Yes. There is no denying this. There is absolutely no glossing over the hardship and the hunger for the Eucharist experienced by so many in this state. Our foreign-born priests are a blessing in this. Of course we would all like to see more native-born priests, but the Irish priests have a long history in this diocese. I feel the priests from Mexico are a real blessing and have so much to teach us. The Bishop is making efforts to recruit more seminarians for the Diocese from Mexico with the help of Fr. Lenin, and I think this is commendable.

Oftentimes it is hard to pray and wait. If the rule of priestly celibacy is ever to be changed, I trust the Pope and bishops to act with the guidance of the Holy Spirit for the betterment of the Church. In the meantime, we should go to the source to solve the vocations issue, instead of rushing to implement a "solution" that may not turn out to be a solution at all.

Monday, March 31, 2008

First Post

I've wanted to start this blog for some time. I've had a Livejournal since junior high, but I increasingly feel the need for a different place for less "personal" posting. My thoughts and reflections on Catholic issues and my spiritual life feel a little out of place on Livejournal - and although I shouldn't, I feel shy about sharing them with my Livejournal friends.

So, why a blog? Because I am about to embark on an entirely new phase of my life, and I need a new place to reflect on it all. In the span of three months, I will marry, move to a new state, and begin a Ph.D. program. I'm feeling both exhilarated and overwhelmed.

I should also mention that I will be attending Notre Dame. I am a lifelong Catholic but have never attended Catholic school. I've been a proud public school brat all my life! I am serious about my faith and I want to think and reflect on what it means to be a faithful Catholic at Notre Dame. It seems that Catholics are in the minority in the graduate student population. I enjoyed my visit to ND this weekend, but I was left wondering if Catholicism, like football mania, is regarded by grad students to be an annoying undergraduate quirk. I find myself looking for a community at Notre Dame, a place to fit in. I am asking myself what God has in mind for me in directing my path towards Notre Dame. This blog will be a place for me to collect my thoughts as I tease out those answers.

Expect posting to be light for the next few months. Things should really start to pick up post-wedding and especially once I start graduate school.