Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My Biblical Romance

Seal me to your skin
Like an artist's ink
Seal me to yourself
Unbreakable link

Our love is immortal,
Fiercer than the grave,
A fire unquenchable
In the hearts of the brave

Your waters, Love,
Overtake without kill
Your floods do not drown
Rather, they thrill

I'd give all for you,
Even my life,
To be at your side
Through toil and strife

For the fire shall burn
The flames never cease
Rather their warmth
Shall fill me with peace

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

St. Maria Goretti

*This may contain triggers for sexual assault survivors*

As a teenager coming into the faith, St. Maria Goretti was one of the first saints I heard about. I randomly caught a documentary about her on EWTN (for those who don't know, Eternal Word Television Network, aka Catholic TV). She was born a poor farm tenant's daughter in 1890 in Corinaldo, a town in central Italy. She grew up a devout Catholic girl and was known for her kindness and generosity. When she was not even twelve years old, a neighbor began harassing her until one day, he took her and attempted to rape her. She resisted him physically and, as a result, he stabbed her fourteen times. She died in the hospital, forgiving the man on her death bed. He later repented (after years in prison) and she was canonized a saint by the Catholic Church. She was canonized for "defending her purity".

I have a bit of a problem with that last bit.

I don't have a problem with St. Maria being a saint. I think such forgiveness, at any age, is something to be commended very highly. I also find that she showed courage in the face of huge adversity and worked hard to show a generous and loving soul, no matter what she faced. I believe it is important for young people to learn how to say no, to defend themselves in the face of attack, and, at the same time, to forgive the acts committed against them. However, I do have a problem with the Church using her as a defender of chastity.

You see, when the Church holds her up as a model of chastity (when she's barely even pubescent), it implies that Maria somehow wanted what was done. It implies that she was fighting, not a man trying to attack her, but her own sexual desires. It implies that she was somehow "asking for it." It implies that this violent act, had she submitted, would be "her fault."

It bothers me even more because she was still a child. She was not even twelve years old, may or may not have started her periods, may have just started liking boys, and she's considered a defender of purity? Even if it was his purity she was fighting for (and she did protest the act for the sake of his soul), why would that be her responsibility? As he was the adult in this picture, why shouldn't he be considered the defender of his own purity?

Further, are women who do submit (whether to save their lives or because they simply want it to end) somehow responsible for these crimes? Are children who choose not to fight an abusive adult somehow sinning? Are people who survive an ordeal such as this somehow "less" because they "allowed" someone to sin with them? What kind of message are we sending our Catholic youth, especially the young women?

I believe we should continue to hold Maria as a saint and role model. She is a model of forgiveness, of her willingness to stand for herself and could be considered as someone who stands with those who do suffer from these atrocities. However, to hold her as a model of chastity is inappropriate, as the acts were done without her consent. St. Maria was a child who was brutally killed by an adult who should have known better. This was not a turmoil of inner demons and sexual self-control. This was an act of violence that she had little control over.

I don't believe fighting against a rapist merits a "defense of purity" recognition. It would be the same as if a murder victim was recognized for "defending life" because they fought their killer. Does that mean those who do die are somehow participating in the sin of murder? Absolutely not. Why would we imply the same for those who suffered sexual violence?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Catholic Books for Teens-Disturbing.....

I converted to Catholicism as a teenager. I came into faith precisely at a time most of my friends were starting to fall away, so I was desperate for role models. I found websites such as Pure Love Club, Life Teen, Revolution of Love, and Catholic Answers. For most teen issues, they provided information mainly on the Church's teachings on sexuality, birth control, and abortion. A review of Catholic Answer's available books for teens will show multiple books covering Theology of the Body or Jason Evert's chastity publications. Looking back at this, I am a bit disturbed.

I'm not against the idea of teaching teens about the proper use of sexuality, according to our faith. I understand how crucial it is, especially as young people are just coming into their own sexuality and desperate to figure things out. However, I find myself disturbed by one aspect: sexuality is the main focus in the Church's attempt to reach young people.

Don't believe me? At Catholic Answers' online store, for example, the options for young people are here. Aside from basic guides to the ABC's of our faith, I spot seven tracts on chastity and three books dealing with Theology of the Body. Other than that, I see one book on Catholic faith in college, others on basic discipleship and the rest being geared toward little kids. In addition, an advertisement for a book on Maria Goretti talks about how she "chose to die rather than be violated by a neighbor" and how it can help young people grow in chastity.

Why is this a problem? As I mentioned, there is the assumption that youth issues are mainly sexual ones. There are no books on the Christian way to handle peer pressure, on teachings of alcohol and drug abuse, none on the Christian way to handle parental disagreements, on expressing individuality within a Christian context (ex. "Are tattoos OK?" "Is coloring your hair purple OK?" People do think Christians have to dress a certain way and many young Catholics can get confused. Answer to both? Yes, you can). Nothing on how to manage your money (including tithing/giving to charity, supporting companies with values of justice, consumerism, and debt). Nothing about going to parties or the pressure to fit in. Nothing even on music, on Christian rock stars, punk artists, etc. For college aged students, you would think you could find books on how to handle those situations in a Christian context. Nope. Nada. You would also think there would be resources for teens on how to discover their talents and use them to serve God's glory (and how to stand against an opposing parent who may have good intentions but isn't going with their best interests....including on how to financially support themselves as soon as they were old enough, if it meant following their desires and integrity). Nope. Zilch. Anything on how to handle bullying? Haha, you must be joking!! How to handle abusive situations? Yeah, right! How to form true friendships with people who respect you? As the wise guys would say, "Fogettaboutit!!!!!!"

There also are few resources for Catholic teens and college-aged students who want to take action in various causes. On the websites I've found, abortion and contraception use were the big issues. Taking action meant praying or protesting abortion clinics (a practice I've found to be morally repugnant, even as I identify as pro-life), volunteering at crisis pregnancy centers, teaching abstinence to high school kids, but very little on other issues such as homelessness, teen prostitution, environmental stewardship, ending the death penalty or hunger (global and local). While our Church teaches that these are important issues, I've seen little to no marketing to young people on how to get involved and organize. Even as we've had a tradition of activism domestically and internationally (with figures such as Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, Dorothy Stang, etc), there has been little incentive to get young people involved.

What are my findings? We've reduced teens to "one thing" even as we try to tell them they're worth more than that "one thing". We've told them that their goodness wrests, not with how just they are in other areas, but with how well they can keep it in their pants. We've neglected to address other areas of their lives because we've decided which teachings are most important. I find this problematic. I think it's about time we started addressing other issues.

Five, Six, Seven, Eight! Time to Excommunicate!

Excommunication is a big deal in the Catholic faith. Ex, for outside, communication for community, it means "cut from the community". It means your sins are so great that you can no longer participate in the sacramental life of the Church, unless you either confess or have it lifted by the bishop. The principle of excommunication is taken from various New Testament passages where St. Paul declares apostates to be anathema (Gal 1:8, for example). One has to wonder: What can you do that is so terrible, the Church can basically cut you off?

According to the Church, you can be excommunicated for the following: 1) Violating the sacrament of Confession (whether using it to solicit sex or by breaking the seal), 2) Using physical force against the Pope, 3) Desecrating the Eucharist (the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ), 4) Procuring a completed abortion, 5) Belonging to the Freemasons, 6) Heresy, apostasy or schism. In recent news however, excommunications for abortions have been the most prominent (Sister Margaret McBride, for example or the Brazilian mother whose nine-year-old was carrying twins). For some reason, given our recent scandals, this bothers me.

First, with the teaching of abortion, we profess that all life is sacred, from conception to natural death. While very strict exceptions are made for self-defense, war, and even the death penalty (though the bishops hold that there is no justification for its use in the U.S.), it is a serious crime to kill anyone. So, I'm wondering why you cannot also be excommunicated for participating in euthanasia or serving as an executioner. Furthermore, since quality and dignity of life are included in our pro-life definition, should you not also be excommunicated if you allow someone to starve or otherwise fail to aid the least of these? Should you not be excommunicated if you pulled a Bernie Madoff and made so many people lose their livelihoods?

Second, with the issue of abortion, we also have teachings on the levels of culpability. For mortal sin to take place, there must be three qualifications: 1) Grave matter, 2) Full knowledge, 3) Full consent of the will. You have to be extremely convicted that the decision is wrong, but you decide to do it anyway. However, if you are coerced, if you do something because you believe it will save someone's life or otherwise produce good, your culpability is lessened. In addition, with regards to life threatening complications in pregnancy, the idea is that doctors must try and save both the lives of the mother and child but, if they can't, they have to at least save one. For the nine-year-old girl raped by her stepfather, she was carrying twins. I can only imagine her mother's agony, whether at the fact that her husband betrayed them both, at the fact that a prepubescent child was impregnated, or at the fact that now she's faced with the decision of having her daughter's pregnancy terminated to save her (not how most of us imagine becoming first time grandmas). For the more recent woman, her baby would have died anyway (because she would have died and her child was not viable) but the doctors decided that abortion was the only way to save her life. I can only imagine Sister Margaret's inner turmoil as she made this decision. So, while I am not God or these women, I cannot imagine that these were acts willfully done with the intention of shedding innocent blood. They were faced with a difficult decision of either ending one (or more than one) life to save another or to watch all lives end in the process.

Third, I cannot imagine that there are no political motives behind the decision to (not) excommunicate. As we all have seen, there have been horrible scandals involving the institutional sexual abuse of children and teenagers at the hands of parish priests. The Pope's initial response has been an accusation of media bias and bigotry. While he later amended this and realized the necessity of protection, he has taken little measures to either punish this crime inside the Church or emphasize the need for cooperation with law enforcement. Indeed, when I mentioned my disgust, Catholic friends of mine made excuses, saying, "You don't know what's been confessed!" and "The Church isn't perfect!" While it is true that priests have been defrocked for these crimes and that dioceses have taken stronger measures, it is dependent on the individual bishops and we have yet to see the clergy as a whole address this. In addition, within my home state of CT, the bishops have actually lobbied against a law that would end the statute of limitations, stating it would harm them. What relation does this have? The Church considers a sin to be so great, you can be excommunicated (regardless of culpability or complications) but lets its own leaders off scot-free for the crimes of not only sexual abuse (horrific in and of itself) but the abuse of power and the very destruction of an individual's relationship with God.

While I believe it's important to protect the dignity of the sacraments, of life, and the unity of our faith, I do believe that we have been failing in accountability. I also believe that the priorities used for excommunicating have not sent a strong enough message to protect all tenets of our faith. In addition, I believe it has been used more as a political measure rather than as a genuine concern for our faith. Rather than pointing the finger at people, I believe the Church hierarchy needs to take an honest look at itself and realize what truly is worth fighting for. I want to see my Church truly defend the innocent, not just paying lip service and meting out severe punishment in the process.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

"OMG, Fat People" and Other Inane Comments

I wish I could say I was shocked by the elitism, arrogance, ignorance and prejudice I hear out of the mouths of the college educated, especially those who claim to be all about "peace, love, and social justice." However, hypocrisy is common in many areas, including this one. Recently, at my job, I was part of a conversation where two coworkers started bashing on people's body types. The conversation was originally about clothes, but then a girl mentioned a lady she saw in short shorts and how that lady was "not the smallest." The conversation spiraled downward and I ended up changing the subject, because I got uncomfortable. Still, I was amazed at the comments.

"So I had to sit next to two fat people on an airplane. How gross!"

"Well, that wasn't OK that she wore it!"

Et cetera. Et cetera.

I found it appalling for a few reasons.

First of all, it's amazing how we can judge a person for their body type, all the stereotypes and such we come up with without having lived that experience. The girls in question have society's mandated body type: small bones, slender waists, noticeable breasts, and a slight curve for their hips. They've probably never had to deal with weight issues, they've never given birth to children, they have no idea what it's like to not have that body. While people like to think they're acting out of concern for the person's health, that really isn't true at all. I know because I'll tell people that I work out and try to eat healthy and they always respond with, "But you don't need to! You're so skinny! You have such a cute figure!" I cannot begin to tell you how many of my friends are on crash diets or talking about how they need to fit a dress. To them, it's not about health as much as they don't like the way they look after finals week. The whole prejudice against those who break the body mold have nothing to do with health but more to do with our idea of physical beauty, our idea of what bodies, especially women's bodies, should look like.

Second, if we truly are concerned about health, why don't our politics and culture reflect that? For example, why are we still subsidizing corn products and dairy products, when we could be subsidizing organic vegetables for the health of our nation? Why don't poorer neighborhoods have grocery stores and farmer's markets (the latter being very affordable) instead of families having to rely on convenience stores and the high caloric/low nutrition content of the food options there? Why do our work weeks allow us little time to exercise, to cook our own meals instead of relying on processed quick ones, to really strengthen our bodies? And why don't our beauty standards reflect those of healthy people (regardless of body type) rather than an airbrushed ideal who barely exists?

Third, ladies, you won't stay Skinny Minnies forever. Pregnancy and breastfeeding change your body forever (not in a bad way, necessarily, just different). Age slows your metabolism. Maybe you'll end up with medical conditions that cause you to gain weight or medicine that includes weight gain as a side effect. Your life may become so busy at times that going to the gym is out of the question. You may not be able to afford or want plastic surgery. You may end up as one of those people you like to make fun of. And no one will have mercy on you, either.

So, dear fellow college students, grow up and educate yourselves. The world is better off without your "benevolent, concerned" condescension. And seriously? You can survive an airplane ride. Besides, long plane rides aren't supposed to be the epitome of fun anyway. Get over it.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Pro-Life and Pro-Choice.....Yes, We Can Be Friends.....

My social circle is full of interesting people. From artists to economists to activists, my friends are very unique, which is why I love them dearly. After graduation, they take their own paths, whether through Teach for America, Peace Corps, the military, entry level jobs (private, public and non-profit), or other adventures. For many of my friends, these paths take them along a journey to work toward their ideals for the world. This includes my friends who work for pro-choice organizations. Of course, people wonder: As a Catholic, should I support these decisions?

While I am irrevocably pro-life, I believe the answer is yes. For one, I believe that pro-life and pro-choice activists, those ardent and pure in their intentions, truly believe they are fighting for the best quality of life for all women and children. While they both disagree on the methods and importance of the life of the fetus (the latter causing a huge divide), there is a genuine desire to reduce situations that leave women feeling stuck. They both find a need to increase access to education and health care, to remove stigma against pregnant women (especially low-income women, women of color, young women, and single women), and to love a woman no matter her choices (note I am not speaking of the judgmental, hypocritical, violent anti-abortion activists out there). While none of my money will go to these organizations, I do understand where my friends are coming from and commend them for fighting for a better world for women and children.

I also find it the same for friends who choose other adventures. For example, I can support my soldier friends, even as I find myself disagreeing with the war in Iraq. I can support friends in the Peace Corps, even if I have major problems with the organization. I can support friends in Teach for America, even if I don't find it an effective solution for America's educational issues. I can support my friends in the Foreign Service, even if I am not a fan at all of U.S. foreign policy motives. I have my ideals to live by. However, they do not include alienating everyone I know for the sake of following them. I can fight for my own and pray that God's will be done in this world. That's the best I can do.

Of course, people will tell me to admonish the sinner. First, who am I to tell someone that they are in a state of sin? Second, my faith teaches that there are levels of culpability. If you are doing something with the best intentions, even if it turns out wrong, God does not hold that against you as if you knowingly and willingly committed it with evil in mind. Third, at this point, my friends know where I stand on everything and they know what I fight for. I can only live by what I know inside is right. They can only do the same for themselves. We live in a broken world, we're doing the best we can.

I pray one day, we can all see the full picture, whether we be right or wrong. I pray that we see the beauty that was intended from the beginning of time. Until then, we're simply trying to fight for what it was. Yet, as humans, beauty is all about perception. We see what we see and we can't acknowledge what doesn't pass our field of vision.