Category Archives: c for Catholic

Catholics have birds on their heads?! Sweet!

My parents came to visit me today, and brought me a bag of goodies to compensate for having to talk about what I’m doing with my life. In amongst the shoes, soda, and mail, was this little theological treasure: A Catholic’s Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, first printed in January 1964.

A Catholic’s Ripley’s Believe It or Not: cover

(All of these little images enlarge when you click on them.) I am not, nor have I ever been, a fan of the Ripley’s schtick, so I find the description of the facts within (“all surprising, all true”) a little confusing. All true? What’s with the “or not” then? I mean the back cover is almost taunting: Catholics: Believe it or not! Believe it or we tie you to the stake!

I was going to make an imprimatur/ nihil obstat joke, and then I read the author’s note:

A Catholic’s Ripley’s Believe It or Not: author’s note

So I guess the “or not” is that some are not tenets of faith. Actually, if you set aside that this is kind of oblique and in a 45¢ paperback — not bad.

And check out the very serious little mission statement there. I always associated Ripley’s with the grosser parts of Guinness’ records: the longest fingernails, siamese twins, etc. And here they are trying to spread the faith!

This is a strange, strange little book. One thing it is not, however, is disrespectful, so far as I can tell from flipping through. In fact, given my expectation of when dealing with Ripley’s, the facts are almost dull. It also doesn’t lack for pen drawings.

A Catholic’s Ripley’s Believe It or Not: inside pages

Here is a sample page spread — there’s a drawing on every page. I haven’t read through the book yet (I’ve just been looking at the pictures, to be honest…) so really the only reason I took this particular page was because apparently, in 1964, the Four Chaplains might still be considered “famous”.

I’ll try to go through and pick out some interesting bits if I get the chance later. What an odd find!

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Your soul won’t fit on a syllabus

From a New York Times article on religion and college students:

“My theory is that the baby boomers decided they weren’t going to impose their religious life on their children the way their parents imposed it on them,” Mr. Steffen continued. “The idea was to let them come to it themselves. And then they get to campus and things happen; someone dies, a suicide occurs. Real issues arise for them, and they sometimes feel that they don’t have resources to deal with them. And sometimes they turn to religion and courses in religion.”

This is a very interesting analysis, and I think it has a lot of merit. What caught my eye was this last sentence, since I’ve been frustrated with this very phenomenon, namely the part about religion classes.

I’m taking an Intro to Judaism class and it really, honestly pains me the types of problems people are bringing into that class. People getting impatient with “all the historical stuff” — who want the professor to cut to the chase of “what Jews believe”? When people respond to a textbook chapter by evaluating whether they agreed with certain practices? The girl who said she didn’t “like” the ideal of always putting God first? “That was a little disturbing to me,” she said. “I didn’t like that. I mean, always?”

Setting aside for the moment that this girl had an issue with the entire ethical foundation of the Judeo-Christian world, not to mention the common thread among — deep breath — setting that aside — that’s not what religion classes are for.

And I grant that I do have an issue with the whole idea of a “religion major”. These people are generally the most confused when it comes to spiritual matters — and that’s when they’re finished.

So with all that full disclosure out there, I say unto my spiritually seeking peers: hie thee unto a church/mosque/synagogue/whatever. Don’t expect a class to teach you what to believe. It doesn’t work that way.

See, the thing is, if you think that religion is essentially a tool developed by humans for dealing with emotional trauma and the inscrutables of the world — you take a fairly detached view. It’s like buying a computer: sure, you may be aesthetically drawn to one or another, but when it comes down to it, you want a spec sheet so you can compare, one to one.

But you’re not really looking for rituals. The world is full of rituals to help you cope with things, and you know it. It’s all within your grasp. If what you want is faith, you can’t take a class for that. That’s going to take some investment.

Not to mention the general value of a 101 class…. seriously, people. Less than a 200-level usually won’t count toward your major. It’s a little insulting.

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Words are overrated

I have been so blessed in the last week; it takes my breath away to think about it.

How many things have come into place? The things I sweated over; the things I prayed for; something I had hardly hoped for.

Most of all, though, the thing that makes me feel grateful and awestuck at the graces I’ve been given, is the feeling of groundedness that has come along with them. I feel totally at peace with all of it.

Is this humility? Probably not. But I can’t remember ever feeling this earnestly grateful; this thankful without all the elation that usually comes with. My happiness is not dependent right now on how things turn out, or whether the hopes and promises come true. This is enough, and whatever comes cannot sink me again.

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Compassion and forgiveness

The BBC reports on Virginia Tech memorials and notes a trend of including the gunman in the count of victims:

The Reverend Howard Anderson drew comparisons between Cho’s bloody rampage and the carnage in Iraq, but he also called for compassion for the gunman.

He too is a child of God, and a victim of the social stigma attached to depression and other mental illness which prevents people from getting the help they need,” Mr Anderson said.

I’ve bolded what I think the Reverend should have stuck to. This is the salient fact for Christians; this is what counts. “Victim of the social stigma” etc? Personally, I think this is debatable and has to be assessed in light of the relevant facts; but the big point is that it doesn’t matter. We include Cho and pray for him not because he “wasn’t really at fault,” whether or not we decide he wasn’t wholly culpable. We pray for him because Christ told us to love our enemies and not to judge the state of other people’s souls, because every person is a child of God, and because we have faith in God’s mercy — not to mention the fact that life and death are full of mystery that we cannot comprehend.

This is a difficult thing. Perhaps some people would be angered by it.* But it is what we are called as Christians to do, and we must trust that our example will be a sign of hope in the world, even if the immediate reaction is, “I always knew those Christians were nuts.”

* I don’t say this to be an annoying martyr-type. What I mean is, it’s perfectly understandable to be concerned about the reaction your words might cause. The forgiveness angle is, after all, a very idiosyncratic one, and it makes sense to try and bring in some outside justifications that don’t rely on faith; this happens all the time with chastity advocates, pro-life campaigners, etc. But I think in this case, it would be better just to speak for your own selves: we pray for him because this is what we believe.

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Week of a thousand days

This week really could not be more insane. I am still alive and it will be over eventually, but not until Monday and not possibly until Monday the 16th.

I don’t think I’ve ever had this many deadlines sitting over me, nor so much to do that is essential to my future. Appropriately enough, I don’t think I’ve ever been quite this inarticulate and unsure about what I want to do with my life. So it all works out, really. Continue reading

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Smooth that rough touch with a tender KISS

You know how it’s really easy to notice when something isn’t phrased right, regardless of whether you know how it ought to be phrased?

A French nun says she was cured of Parkinson’s Disease after companions appealed to the late pontiff’s spirit.

Yeah.

On a related note, CNN was on in our breakfast room several weeks ago, talking about a man who had been cured of blindness by the intercession of Mother Theodore Guerin. Throughout the report they kept referring to her as — oh, what was it? —  “revered nun” I think. Like, I’m not kidding, “the revered nun” and “Revered nun Mother Theodore Guerin” over and over again. It was really frustrating (especially at 8 am); I was practically shouting “saint! saaaaaaint!” at the TV. I mean, the woman’s been canonized; there’s a perfectly good way to refer to her; it’s short; it’s precise; and best of all, it wasn’t made up by some intern. Finally at the end they “revealed” that she’s been canonized.

This frustration is probably related to the frustration I feel at the Campus Ministry Center’s (and others’) tendency to use phrases like “Eucharistic celebration” and “liturgical reader” rather than simple words like “Mass” and “lector”.

Anyway. You’d never believe it, but I actually do advocate simplicity of language in some cases.

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I never promised you coherence

Now is the moment of truth. As Christ enters Jerusalem, everything is converging. We hear of Him riding the donkey; we hear His prayer in the garden; we hear Him questioning Judas at the moment of betrayal; we hear Peter deny Him. It’s all happening, now.

Holy Week is a weird time warp. There is a clear historical, temporal flow: Christ enters Jerusalem on Sunday, he celebrates the last supper on Thursday, is arrested that night, is crucified on Friday and rises on Sunday morning. And yet the liturgy reminds us that God is outside of time: the Passion is repeated, the story is told over and over again before it happens. It’s coming, it’s happening, it’s on the altar, it’s now.

At the end of a quarter you suddenly realize that that 12 page final will be due; the facts will be tested. And so at Mass tonight I realized that Lent was nearly over. Have I done the things I set for myself? Kind of. Have I been aware of the passage of time? Not really.

A couple of things jumped out at me from the scripture tonight.

From the Passion, Christ’s words to the women of Jerusalem have always had a fascination for me. Every year, I comprehend the horror and the imminence of those words a little more clearly. They sent a particular chill up my spine this year. What will happen when the wood is dry? As a child I could not imagine what He meant when he said people would ask the hills to cover them; the barren wombs part I understood from an early age, and has sometimes been a challenge to me. For reasons that are unclear to me, though, the mountains and hills have been creeping closer and closer, particularly since I’ve been in college. I have difficulty understanding how people can see the world as essentially pointless, and when I meet that view in others it’s like looking into a dark, cold crawlspace. I don’t know how much more clearly I want to understand those words of Christ, but I am inching wordlessly closer.

From the opening reading, of Christ entering Jerusalem: the stones will cry out. These words leaped out at me; I saw them referenced somewhere recently and while I knew it was a biblical allusion, couldn’t place it (unsurprisingly). I can remember discussing in a class or Bible study setting, several times actually, the concept that our worship adds nothing to God. It’s a massively difficult thing to comprehend. And here it is: if you silence the people, the very stones will cry out. God is too great, to use an inadequate adjective, not to be praised. We can refuse, but His creation gives him glory regardless of our consent. We accomplish nothing by petulantly rejecting him. And when I am willing, when I am open, how can I keep from singing? Through these words of Christ tonight, I really felt, maybe for the first time, what it means when we say that we worship not to benefit Him, but to benefit ourselves, and because it is the only just answer to the reality of His love.

Here we go, swirling into Holy Week. This is the time of year when I become aware of how much is happening, every day, every moment. It’s huge; all the infinity of God come to earth and dwelling in our midst.

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