Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Catholic Carnival is ... Up and Running!

Come join us at Kate Wicker's blog to read in the Lenten season at her wonderful rendition of Catholic Carnival! (My favorite post is Julie's post about Guardian Angels at "Adoro Te Devote.")

Friday, January 18, 2008

Movies and Books to Shape the Womanly Soul

All of the resources mentioned in this post are available for your convenience in the "Highly Recommended Favorites" widget to the right. Enjoy!

Certain books and movies leave an indelible impression, especially those with characters that make a lasting contribution to the way we understand our place in the world. Some of these people are singularly courageous in love and life, others are fragile and even broken, yet they shine with undeniable gifts bubbling just beneath the surface.

Today I’d like to share with you ten of the book-and-movie heroines that have made a lasting impression on me. Some are historical, others are characters … all have some quality or characteristic or conviction that is sure to inspire.

1. Most recent discovery: Evelyn Ryan in The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. (The image above is from this movie.) The book was based on the true story of the author's mother, Evelyn Ryan (Julianne Moore), an enterprising Catholic wife and mother of ten who used her pen to keep her family afloat during the “contest era” of the 1950s and 1960s. Married to a broken and disillusioned man (Woody Harrelson), Evelyn nevertheless raises her children in a home full of love and warmth, instilling in them the sense of adventure that she willingly set aside for herself.

Evelyn was a woman who was overshadowed by her circumstances. When her husband’s paycheck goes to pay for liquor instead of the family milk bill, Evelyn struggles to care for her children without shaming their alcoholic father – or losing herself. Refusing to resort to blaming or other indignities, she continues to show her husband patience, love, and respect … and wins the love, admiration, and deeply rooted loyalty of her children in the process.

2. Most unforgettable romance: Davy Vanauken in A Severe Mercy. When I managed to reach my mid-thirties without finding lasting love, I persevered largely because I knew such a love could indeed exist because I had read about it here. Though the story is (in the “Love Story” sense) tragic, it was a light for me because Vanauken paints a detailed roadmap not just of the “is” of love … but the “how” as well. In the next book, Under The Mercy, Vauauken paints the story of his journey into the source of all true Love. (The second book is on my “must reads” for converts.)

3. Most unforgettable love story: Amy Carmichael, who was the subject of Elisabeth Elliot's biography A Chance to Die. This Scotch Presbyterian spinster, the soul sister of Blessed Mother Teresa, nearly single-handedly rescued hundreds of Indian children from a fate worse than death as “temple children” and raised them at mission school she founded, Donavhur Fellowship. Like Mother Teresa, Amy did it by taking on herself the culture and ways of her host culture; unlike the dear saint of Calcutta, she did it without coming into the fullness of the faith. (Even so, I took “Amy” as my confirmation name, since her hymns were such a significant influence to my journey into the Church.) In movies, I get a similar rush from Ingrid Bergman in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.

4. Love stronger than death: What Dreams May Come. When Annie Nielsen loses her husband and two children in separate auto accidents, she loses her mind and then takes her own life … and yet her husband Chris braves the very forces of hell to find her, knowing that even heaven would be empty without her. Rarely do you see the afterlife portrayed so vividly, with consideration of how one’s actions in this life have real consequences in the next. Second Glance, by Jodi Picoult, does the same thing in book form. The Great Divorce (C.S. Lewis) for those needing a good resource to give loved ones who don’t believe in Purgatory (or who don’t believe Lewis had Catholic tendencies).

5. Best Dog Story: Jenny Grogan in Marley & Me. I give this book to friends who have lost a pet. It cheered me up when nothing else could after Missy (my border collie) died. There is one scene in particular that is worth the price of the book: When Jenny miscarries, Marley instinctively comforts Jenny in a way even her husband could not.

6. Best Story I Wish I’d Written Myself: The title character in Christy (go for the book; the movie series didn’t do it justice). Young and impressionable, Christy Huddleson breaks out of the comfortable, upper-middle class mold in which she is raised to find herself in a most unexpected place: among the mountain people of Appalachia. Based on the life story of the author’s mother.

7. Saints I’d most like to follow around in heaven: St. Teresa of Avila, second only (maybe) to St. Scholastica (St. Benedict’s twin sister). To find out why, pick up a copy of her biography Teresa of Avila: An Extraordinary Life by Shirley du Boulay.

8. Best Story of Trust: These Strange Ashes, by Elisabeth Elliot, recounts the year of mission service before she and Jim were married. Every time I find myself in a no-win situation, I think of the anecdote in the final pages of this book.

9. Best Friendship: Fried Green Tomatoes. Despite the unhappy images of married life this movie contains, it reinforces the importance of having a good friend to lean on when life gets hard.

10. Family at Its Best: Cheaper by the Dozen. While the book is infinitely superior to either movie version, the earlier (black and white) is preferable to the 2003 Steve Martin/Bonnie Hunt disaster. About the only thing it has in common with the original book is the title. But Mrs. Gilbraithe … now there was a real Catholic woman.

Care to share your list? If you'd like to order any of these, I've put them in my "resources" section at "Mommy Monsters."

Thursday, January 10, 2008

From "Deadly Sin" ... to Alive in Christ!

From this weekend's readings:

If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly. From 1 John 5:14-21

I don't know how I did it, but for the first thirty years of my life (including four years in Bible school), I managed to gloss over this passage in the Bible without ever stopping to think what it might mean. "Deadly" sin? Isn't all sin automatically forgiven the moment we become Christians?

Read it again. "If anyone sees his brother sinning..."

Therefore, we must assume that it is possible to fall out of grace through our own bad choices, even after we belong to God. This is what the early Church Fathers taught as well; they identified seven "deadly" sins: pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth. Fortunately, the Church has always taught that by practicing the corresponding virtue, by God's grace, we can eradicate the habit of sin. These virtues include humility, trust, temperance, courage/modesty, compassion, generosity, and industry/prudence.

The Catechism distinguishes between mortal (deadly) and venial (not deadly) sin; sin that breaks our spiritual connection with God, vs. sin that damages but does not break it off altogether. Mortal ("deadly") sin, according to the Catechism meets three conditions: its object is "grave matter ... committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent" (CCC 1857).

The good news is that it is never too late to start over. There is no sin so great, but that God's love and mercy is not greater still. This is not cheap grace -- it cost God dearly to redeem the human race. Nor is that damage repaired without effort on our part. It requires repentance, restitution ... and, in some cases, a lifetime of deliberately and even painfully choosing the virtuous habit over the sinful one.

In the March/April issue of Canticle, I write about how I discovered this reality to be true in my own life, in an article called: "Tender Mercies: The Story of St. Faustina Kowalska" (to order a copy, call 800-558-5452). This was a difficult article to write -- I had to relive parts of my life that frankly I'd just as soon forget. And yet, I know there are others who (like I did) continue to struggle under the weight of the past. The good news is, you don't have to.

Lent is just around the corner now (is it possible?). And so it is a good time to take stock and resolve any outstanding issues that might still be niggling at your soul. Perhaps it's nothing that you've done, but something that was done to you. Something you can't get past, can't let go of.

Something just too awful to contemplate. I understand. More importantly, so does God.

As we enter the Lenten season, consider whether this might be the year to let the Great Physician plumb the depths of your heart, and take away that little hard spot you've never quite known what to do with. No matter how big and ugly it seems to you, it's nothing He can't handle. Go to Him and receive His healing touch in the sacrament of reconciliation. He's waiting for you!

Here's a song I grew up with, that I always think of when I remember that dark time in my life ... You can listen to it here. Here's the chorus:

He touched me, oh He touched me.
And oh, the joy that floods my soul.
Something happened, and now I know ...
He touched me, and made me whole.

God bless you!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

In Memoriam: Pastor Carl Luthman

I got a phone call today from my mother, and learned that Pastor Carl Luthman passed away on December 22. Pastor Luthman was my childhood pastor, when my family attended Lafayette Federated Church.

Pastor Luthman was a loving and generous man, and served God with all his heart and soul. He was remarkable in that his love extended even to those whose theology was significantly different from his own. He was intent on loving and serving Jesus; nothing else mattered.

I've known many Christians to profess that they "know" they are going straight to heaven when they die. Most of the time, I pray for them anyway when the time comes (just in case they find themselves in need of intercessors). In this case, however, I'd add, "And if you find yourself inside the gates as you expected, Pastor Luthman, then please pray for me!"

Eternal rest grant to him, O Lord,
And may perpetual light shine upon him.
May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed,
Rest in peace.

Thoughts for the New Year

Sarah at "Just Another Day of Catholic Pondering" has posted the new Catholic Carnival. Her blog is a fun-and-informative read anytime ... but she really rocks with the Carnivals! Be sure to check it out!

“Let us look at our own shortcomings and leave other people’s alone, for those who live carefully ordered lives are apt to be shocked at everything, and we might well learn very important lessons from the persons who shock us.” (Teresa of Avila)

"There's a tendency among some Christians to assume they are always right because the Lord is on their side. The problem is, this type of thinking makes the Christian only one step removed from being God Himself. As a consequence, it's pretty easy for such a person to accept even his most base emotions, opinions, or reactions as nearly divine and, therefore, correct." (Eric Scheske, "God on the Sleeve")

This post is going to be uncharacteristically brief. I'm home alone with two little squirrels, and Mother Nature has just dumped over a foot of white stuff outside that they seem DETERMINED to bring back inside. But Carnival is coming, and I wanted to give Sarah something to pick from.

Recently Mark Shea wrote an article on the liberty of the believer that provided a useful glimpse into the freedom -- intellectual and otherwise -- that the Church extends to the faithful. While there are some ideas that are the bedrock of the faith, absolute and non-negotiable truths, Mark's article reminded me how much latitude the Lord gives us to experience and explore the world around us, and to learn from each other.

My resolution this year: More listening. Less judging. Especially of those I love most.