Amy has written 18 posts for Little Observances

Father Benedict Groeschel: Really?

Article. But I’m sure if you follow the news  you’ve already heard about it.

I’m not afraid to admit that the clergy abuse is one of the major things keeping me from going back to the Church fully. This is the point where some well-meaning Catholic jumps in and says: “Wherever you have humans, you will have sin!”

Yeah, I get that, thanks.

The systematic prevalence and covering up of child abuse by an organization, however, is not just the sin of one individual happening in a vacuum. It has to be chalked up to more than that and these little quips about “wherever you have humans, you will have sin” don’t quite cut it I’m afraid.



My Story with Fundamentalism

Lately when I pray I ask that I be continue to be led through this journey back to God and back to religion. And he’s definitely delivered. I’ve realized some scary and shocking things about the evangelical fundamentalist school that I attended for pre-school through 8th grade.

Mainly, spiritual abuse.

I came across Elizabeth Esther’s blog the other night and I stayed up until three in the morning reading. I could not stop reading because it was like she knew. Her experiences are my experiences. While I’m not willing to go so far and say that I was in a cult (I attended the school but she was in deeper since her parents and grandparents were fully involved) I’ve realized that spiritual abuse did take place.

And after I turned off my laptop I cried. A lot. I went to my room and just sat down on the floor and cried because I realized that some of the things I considered to just be my own personality quirks are not actually quirks at all, they are scars from spiritual and, by extension, emotional abuse. In Elizabeth Esther’s words which fit perfectly: “I am often wary of people’s motives (which comes across as judgmental), I assume future rejection and often disappear into my life to pre-empt abandonment (this comes across as me not reciprocating in the relationship), and I have difficulty and anxiety about attending group functions (which comes across as being a party-pooper).”

The words ‘cult’ and ‘spiritual abuse’ sound so weird in my head. Maybe I’m still in the shock of realization but I’m not sure I could ever say them out loud. Nobody imagines (especially children) that they will have an experience with a cult or with abuse. And that right there is the problem. Our guard is down. Religion can actually be a very dangerous thing yet people in the Western world aren’t prepared for that fact. ‘Fundamentalism’ and spiritual abuse is something that happens to those brain-washed Muslims with brown skin, not Christians. Not in cozy suburbs. Not in my neighborhood.

Well, it happened to me. In a cozy suburb. And my parent’s aren’t even fundamentalists. It happened at school. Go figure.

Things I saw/experienced in a fundamentalist school:
• An unnerving fear of everything government, whether that be government agencies or government schools. The government was out to get Christians. Always.
• People routinely got up and shared their ‘testimony’ and asked ‘are you saved?’.
• Halloween was a holiday of Satan. It was not to be partaken of.
• If you were a girl, the idea of ‘biblical womanhood’ and being ‘a Proverbs 31 woman’ were supposed to be your highest aspiration. (Elizabeth Esther on this.)
• We were reminded that the rapture could come at any moment. I remember being scared, like Elizabeth Esther, that I would be left behind.
• Families within the congregation practiced discipline a la To Train Up a Child. My school actually made the news once because the administration demanded that an unruly child be spanked by one of his parents in their presence to make sure discipline was happening. The mother declined and brought the story to the news.

And that’s only the beginning if I’m honest. I’ve realized that my whole view of God and religion is warped by fundamentalism. I’ve actually slightly ashamed to admit that I’ve been approaching Catholicism in this way. I guess admitting it is the first step right?

I’ve got a lot more to write about my experiences with fundamentalism, but I just needed to get this out.


Thoughts on the Joyful Mysteries

Today I prayed the rosary for the first time. You would think that as someone who is nominally Catholic the rosary would have been taught to me during CCD. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I think of my Grandmother whenever the rosary is mentioned because she always, even to this day, has one of those small one decade rosaries on her key chain.

Today being Monday I meditated on the Joyful Mysteries. I was struck by how the Joyful Mysteries are the essence of motherhood and the relationship between mother and child. While meditating I found it helpful to put myself in Mary’s position whether that was being visited by the angel, seeing Elizabeth, putting the baby in a manger in Bethlehem, presenting Jesus at the Temple, and finding Jesus at the temple. What an amazing strength it took to be the mother of God in the face of so much earthly uncertainty!

The effect prayer has on my life is profound. The key thing is that it reminds be to be content in this season of life and not always looking forward to a time when all the problems of this season will have passed. Prayer also reminds me that there are always challenges in life, that is our cross, but that I shouldn’t romanticize one set of challenges simply because I’m not facing them in this season.



[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!


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!


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.


*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?


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.


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.