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Grace

[I’m back from holiday in the Balkans. I was lucky enough to visit a pilgrimage site in Bosnia that was rather interesting and for which I’ll have a post up soon!] 

Today’s daily meditation on St. Paul is about grace: My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made complete in weakness. After some reading and prayer I came to the conclusion that I’m not sure I know what grace is and what its precise place is in Catholicism. Another place this has come up for me is in literature. I’m starting to read Brideshead Revisited and from what I’ve heard it’s all about grace. Maybe the book will provide some deeper insight, but from what I’ve read on Brideshead it’s definitely a book that needs to be re-read in order to be understood. That being said, I’m looking to some other resources.

Some thoughts on what grace is from the Catholic Answer Forum:

But I think one simple way to think of grace would be as Gods’ love in action.

There are two kinds of Grace. To use Thomistic terminology, there is actual Grace and habitual Grace, but those terms have a different meaning than might be immediately assumed. Actual Grace doesn’t mean “real” as opposed “unreal”, it means “an act of Grace”, like God nudging your heart to accept Him. Habitual Grace doesn’t mean something we do without thinking, it means a persistant state of Grace (persistant states are called habits in this terminology).

So we have Graces which are movements by God on us (actual), and we have Grace which is the indwelling of God’s own Holiness and Divine Nature in our souls (habitual). Actual Grace isn’t “in us”, but is “done to us”, and it can occur at any time. Habitual Grace is aquired with Baptism. In order to be with God we need both kinds of Grace; we need God to move us with His action, and we need His Divinity to dwell in us (temples of the Holy Spirit). When we sin we cut ourselves off from His indwelling, but He can still act on us to bring us back to Him.

As for being born without Grace, yes we are all born without any Grace at all. That is the definition of Original Sin.

I checked out the Catholic Encyclopedia’s articles on grace and, um, I’m just trying to keep up! I understand the summary above loud and clear but all the other details are a bit fuzzy.

“Like St. Paul, our vocation is to respond to the measure of Christ’s grace given us in the particular circumstances of our own lives.” This talking about actual grace, right? So in essence, our vocation is to respond to ‘movements by God on us.’ Or is it talking about both actual and habitual since ‘we need both kinds of Grace.’ How do these two types of grace interact with regards to vocations? Is actual grace is the nudge towards the vocation but habitual grace the actual carrying out in terms of dwelling with Him in harmony with his plans for us?

Any help would be much appreciated!

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Mass, a prayer book, and St.Paul

Thanks to Gudrun Lisa Korell’s suggestion, from over at Prayers4reparation, I headed to Vespers and Mass early Saturday evening so I would have some time to browse through the bookshop, St. Pauls. I was a little overwhelmed by the size of the shop as it is much larger than it appears from the outside. I finally settled on a prayer book entitled “The Greatest of These is Love: Daily Meditations on St. Paul“.

I noticed quite a few books on animals and the environment in the ‘current topics’ section, but none of them really seemed to be calling me. I also noticed a bunch of books written by people who are currently being investigated by the Vatican, so I wasn’t totally trusting that everything in the shop was necessarily Church approved. Needless to say, I’m very happy with this little prayer book as I’m already receiving many blessings from it! (And lucky for me Westminster Cathedral has St. Paul’s Chapel which I can pray in, which I think is pretty neat!)

I’m an academic at heart and the combination of learning about Paul’s life throughout the Bible and the meditation and prayer given by Bishop Campbell strikes a great tone for me in my prayer life. What I really took away from today’s meditation was this line: “Like St. Paul, our vocation is to respond to the measure of Christ’s grace given us in the particular circumstances of our own lives.” 

I find the concept of vocation to be really freeing. As I mentioned in Saturday’s post, there have been a few times when I’ve felt called to travel down a certain path in life. These callings weren’t necessarily long-term vocations (religious life, marriage, etc.), but I’m definitely in the beginning stages of discernment for a longer-term vocation now. Starting in October I’m going to be working for ten months in service of others and I’m praying that through this time away from boyfriend I’ll discern God’s plan. I’ve found this article from the Archdiocese of Washington entitled “Six Principles of Discernment” to be really helpful. Those six principles are going to be meditated on a lot over this next coming year!

I hope everyone had an insightful Corpus Christi!

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Hebrews 1:11

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

I’ve had a strong connection to this verse for a long time. At my Baptist school the graduating seniors got to have their life verse printed under their picture in the yearbook. I always loved browsing through and seeing which verses people felt strongly connected to. I didn’t stay on at that school for high school, but if I had to pick a life verse it would be Hebrews 1:11.

There’s something kind of mystical about this verse to me. I’ve been blessed to have a few moments in life where I definitely felt called by the Holy Spirit to travel down a certain path. To some this might seem a little strange. How could you know? Wasn’t that just you? After experiencing both, of feeling guided in certain instances and then in others left to make my own decision, I can say that there is definitely a difference, and it’s rather astounding.

I’m a big fan of Emerson’s writings. He is not Catholic, but I find his life and work very interesting.* He wrote that:

Our faith comes in moments; our vice is habitual. Yet there is a depth in those brief moments which constrains us to ascribe more reality to them than to all other experiences.

When I watch that flowing river, which, out of regions I see not, pours for a season its streams into me, I see that I am a pensioner; not a cause, but a surprised spectator of this ethereal water; that I desire and look up, and put myself in the attitude of reception, but from some alien energy the visions come.

And in those moments of discerning, the realization that I was hoping for these things to work out was not just because it was what I wanted, but also because it was what I was being called to do. There’s a beautiful kind of mesh that occurs in which I’d like think that these were things that I also wanted to do, but maybe, just maybe, the whole thing was totally the Holy Spirit guiding me. Isn’t that amazing to think about? That the Holy Spirit could guide us in such a way that we don’t even know because we think it’s our ‘own path to follow’ and then perhaps one day we will have the humility to see the truth: there are no such things as ‘my interests’ or ‘my life’ but rather there are merely ‘my God-given charisms’ and ‘my life according to God’.

Another verse I really like is Romans 12:6 which backs this up.

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;

Every gift and charism we have was given to us for a purpose. It’s easy to look around and wish that you had other gifts or charisms, but it’s crucial to recognize that what we have been given has been intended precisely for us and it is no more or less important.

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*Which, of course, need to be taken with a grain of salt because he advocated a kind of pantheism.

There’s only one question: Does it honor God?

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to approach these topics that I’m both interested in and feel are crucially important: environmentalism, Catholicism, veganism. Putting those three words together can be somewhat controversial. My approach is not arguing about whether it’s ‘right’ or ‘ethical’ to eat meat or whether environmentalism is just some ‘leftist conspiracy theory’ that should be ignored. My approach is simple: does it honor God?

Over 90% of meat in the United States comes from factory farms.*
Does the factory farm system of production honor God?

We increasingly value convenience in the form of plastic bags over conscientiousness. There are 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in every square mile of ocean.**
Does using the oceans as a dumping ground honor God?

We have the opportunity to honor God every time we sit down to eat, every time we choose something to drink, every time we go grocery shopping. I think that’s pretty darn amazing.

*calculation based on U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2002 Census of Agriculture, June 2004. **http://www.statisticbrain.com/plastic-bag-statistics/

What I’ve been reading

Climate change statements from world religions via Yale (fascinating!)
Pope Benedict preaches environmental protection at World Youth Day
Earth Day 2012: Quotes on the environment from Pope Benedict XVI

Books I need to get:
The Environment, Benedict XVI
Ten Commandments for the Environment: Pope Benedict XVI Speaks out for Creation and Justice, Woodeene Koenig-Bricker
Embracing Earth: Catholic Approaches to Ecology, Albert J. Lachance

Have you already read these books? What did you think of them?

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Quotes from the United Methodist and Roman Catholic Churches on the Eucharist and Ecology

Access to the full paper on the Eucharist and ecology.

In Scripture, Jesus rejects the Pharisees’ appeal for signs from heaven. Jesus chastises the Pharisees for being able to interpret the skies while being unable to interpret the signs of the times. (cf. Mt 16:3) In our time, the appearance of the skies has become a sign of the times. The threat of climate destabilization, the destruction of the ozone layer, and the loss of bio-diversity point to a disordered relation between humankind, other living beings and the rest of earth.

We are called to listen to creation’s groaning (cf. Rom 8:22) and to respond in hope because of the promise of God’s reconciliation of all things in Christ (cf. 2 Cor 5:19)

… John Paul II and Benedict XVI remind us, human dominion “is not an absolute power”, but rather, ” a summons to responsibility” which must be ordered by a humble awareness of our dependence on God’s generosity and mercy.

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Environmentalism & Catholicism

I’ve been reading quite a few Catholic blogs lately and one issue that I keep seeming to come upon is environmentalism. The majority of these bloggers take a rather harsh tone toward environmentalism and suggest that many are putting the earth before God.

I would agree that many environmentalists put the earth before God, but that’s mainly because I’ve never actually met a Catholic/Christian environmentalist. The earth doesn’t generally seem to be on many people’s agenda as much as abortion, marriage, etc. within the Catholic community. The Baptist fundamentalist school I attended was, in fact, very anti-environmentalism as it denied climate change and took the position that God gave us the earth to squander as we see fit. I guess if you’re constantly acting as if the Second Coming is going to happen tomorrow then why would you care about the earth, animals, clean water, etc.?

The Vatican does take a position on quite a few environmental issues, which means I have a bone to pick with the Catholic media. Bloggers, Catholic online magazines, I’m looking at you! Why aren’t you covering these things as much?!

I’ve recently discovered Eco Catholic which is part of the National Catholic Reporter and here are just some of the stories they’ve reported on:
God can always be found in the natural world
Sisters’ polyhouse guarantees fresh produce
California diocese takes on ecological issues
Vatican: Water is human right, not for-profit commodity
Catholics, Methodists unite to craft paper on Eucharist, ecology

Good stuff, huh? I can’t wait to delve deeper into Catholicism and environmentalism. If you’re looking for some prayers, here are few to get you going.

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My first Mass at Westminster Cathedral

I guess it was a little, shall we say, ambitious to make it to the 8 a.m. Mass after two nights of not sleeping very well due to exams. I went in the evening instead and it actually worked out better that way because apparently Saturday evening fulfills Sunday obligation, which I didn’t know before.

I went early and just sat there for evening prayers and afterward I walked around to see all the beautiful mosaics. I’ve come across a few people in my time that think having big, beautiful cathedrals is ‘bad’ because the money spent should be given to the poor. I guess I would have to disagree because these old, beautiful churches really connect people to the history of their faith. I’d much rather worship in an old cathedral than some mega-church that’s more like an event venue. But hey, that’s just me.

There were two things that really jumped out at me. The first being that when I was a kid Mass felt like an eternity. Now as an adult one hour is really hardly anything. Secondly, I am always ravenous after Mass and I’m not sure why! Anyone else experience this one? 😉 I’m assuming so because that’s why Catholics always go out to brunch, right?

Have a restful Lord’s Day everyone!

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Mass, Confirmation, and Ursula Ledochowska

Each day through learning more about Catholicism I am continuously amazed at how much either
A: I was too young to understand at the time.
B: The level of influence my Baptist (i.e. fundamentalist) school I attended had on me and my subsequent conflation of those beliefs with all of Christianity. (Evolution is wrong, the devil is a living breathing creature that wanders around and  actually attacks people, Jonah really did live in the belly of a whale, etc.)
C: Part of me also feels that it isn’t just A & B but also the way Catholicism was presented to me in CCD. Since I was attending a fundamentalist school, I had a lot of questions on the differences between the two branches, but the teacher I remember in particular (who worked for McDonald’s corporate office) never really wanted to talk about fundamentalist assumptions (perhaps he didn’t know?).

Anyway, it is through learning guided by individuals like Fr. Robert Barron which is really helping to bring me back to the Church and I really couldn’t be more grateful for the work that he does which is easily accessible online. I’m heading to 8 a.m. Mass tomorrow at Westminster Cathedral. This will be my first time at Mass in a long time, and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve even planned out my outfit like it’s the first day of school or something!

            

 I recently asked in the Catholic Answer Forum whether I would need to go through RCIA in order to be confirmed. Just to be clear, I have no problem having to do this it’s just that I’m not going to be settled and having a ‘regular’ parish to attend for the next 18 months, so having to wait that long and having to do 9 months of classes seems like forever away! The good news is that since I’ve been baptized, had First Communion, and went through CCD (i.e. I’m definitely a Catholic, not a convert), Confirmation shouldn’t be that big of a deal. I might have to take a class or just have private instruction with a priest depending on the parish.

In the spirit of ‘I’ve definitely decided I want to become religiously observant again!’ I’ve been shopping around, so to speak, to find out who I might want my patron Saint to be.

            

This is Ursula Ledochowska.

[It] is not enough to pray, Thy kingdom come, but to work, so that the Kingdom of God will exist among us today.

Holiness does not demand anything great, beyond the ability of the person. It depends on God’s Love; every daily act can be transformed into an act of love.

Of course the latter is very important to me, as it is the same sentiment that has inspired this blog’s tagline: Cheerfully striving for holiness through the little things.

The former is, however, something I’ve been thinking more and more about today. We have this overwhelming sense of ‘But I’m a good person!’ in our culture, do we not? I guess I’m starting to see this as problematic because I think the majority of people would agree that being a ‘good person’ involves some sort of selflessness, such as almsgiving, giving your time to those who need it, advocating for social justice, which can essentially all be summed up as serving others.

But if we were to ask ‘What are you doing to serve others?’ after every proclamation of ‘But I’m a good person!’ what would we end up with? For sure we would end up with loads of people who are really and truly serving others, but we would also end up with a lot of blank stares. I’m not saying these are bad people in any way I’m merely challenging this idea that we can be ‘good people’  whilst only striving for the bare minimum in the things we don’t do (Well, I haven’t murdered anyone, so I’m a good person! I don’t steal therefore I’m a good person! etc. etc.) Okay, that’s a start, but the vast majority of people on planet earth have never murdered someone.

Let’s set the bar a little higher and, while not completely ignoring what we don’t do, give some precedence for what exactly we are doing.

As you can tell, I’m liking this St. Ursula a whole lot. 🙂

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