Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Poke and a Prayer

We have always taken a minute or two after tucking the kids in to think about things we are thankful for during the day.  I am not sure exactly when our middle child started adding the pope to her nightly  list but I am sure I commented on what a good thing this was to do as this was surely no easy job.  Our youngest, not wanting to be bested in any way or not wanting to leave ANYONE out (or speed up the process of the lights getting turned off) started to add the pope to his nightly list too.  However, he thought his older sibling had said the "poke".  So every night for about a year we gave thanks for the poke.  I always pictured God chuckling when he was asked for this odd special request.  (I also imagine being all knowing would come in handy trying to interpret the mind of a child.)
While this story is dear to my motherly heart, it also reminds me of the need we have to pray for those who guide and lead us in our faith.  Especially lately when ideas that are not readily welcomed by society are discussed.  It is never an easy thing to share unpopular truths.  The pope, bishops, and priests are people, and no person likes to be unloved or unwelcomed. What strength of character it must take to speak truth when it is not popular.  How trusting in the Lord they must be to get up infront of masses of people and speak on things that make some present squirm and bristle.  How lovingly generous they are to do the work they do.
So...Thank you priests, bishops, and pope! May the Holy Spirit guide and strengthen you!-joze

Friday, March 23, 2012

Our Raucous and Rambling Rituals

Photo taken by Heidi Knofczynski
"Behold, you desire true sincerity; and secretly you teach me wisdom."  Psalm 51:8 

We have the most slapdash family Lenten prayer rituals of anyone I know, sort of like our Advent traditions, without the fire hazard.  I do try hard to make Lent meaningful for our whole family, yet in the middle of the season it is hard to see any benefit from the effort at all.  And it is an effort. This year has been the most disorganized ever! Still, we stick to it, but I really do long for a tangible outward sign that sticking with our devotions is transforming our hearts to be like His.

Photo by Heidi KnofczynskiOne of our family Lenten devotions is praying the Stations of the Cross in our family room.  It is a raucous affair, as children climb on and over furniture to take turns reading the prayers written on paper plates with rudimentary drawings of each station hung around the room.   Like the candles during our Advent prayers, I wonder if the whole devotion is distracting, or worse, not dignified enough for such a solemn and profound prayer.  Can the deep and sacred mysteries of faith break through all the noise?  Maybe it is not helping my children sincerely desire to encounter Jesus Christ, Crucified and to look for Jesus Christ, Resurrected.  Maybe I should change course now, while their is still a little Lent left.

Photo taken by Heidi Knofczynski
A 4 year old's drawing
of the 14th Station
Perhaps I could do something to bring about a more dramatic atmosphere.  I could play a reverent song like Via  Dolorosa before our prayers, to quiet us down and center us better (I hesitate to suggest this because my husband will just look at me like I am delusional, and point out that no one will be able to hear the music over the crying baby and fidgeting, sometimes fighting kids).

Even as I am ready to completely give up the whole thing and just go back to the fairly calm decade of the Rosary we pray at other times of the year, I spy my little boy Max, pointing to a station saying "Jesus," and them babbling a stream of baby talk that has the exact cadence as "We adore you O Christ and we praise you, for by your holy cross you have redeemed the world."  Amazing!

Photo taken by Heidi KnofczynskiAmazing that he picked that up in the circus that is our nightly Stations of the Cross.  Amazing that even when nothing seems to be happening, grace, received by a baby, reveals the wisdom of our nightly devotions.  It is not in manufactured drama to increase superficial feelings of devotions and love, nor is it in perfectly performed prayers. The awareness of God, and of His saving love for us is the quiet, secret wisdom that opens little hearts and minds to God in familiar and sincerely done rituals and devotions.  In pondering this, something stirred in my heart, and a question arises, very much like the question God asks Elijah on Mount Horeb:  "Why are you doing these devotions?"  And instantly, I answer, "because I love you, Jesus."

Photo taken by Heidi KnofczynskiAnd that brought to my mind the verse from Psalm 51.  It is our prayers that are offered with a sincere heart that yield the humble wisdom to begin to see truth in the mystery of the Way of the Cross, and to trust and love God enough to step into it.  I am strengthened by it, unknowingly, and so are my children.

So, the mystery contained in these chaotic, rambling, noisy Stations of the Cross devotions have an impact that is more profound than it seems at the moment.  Like so many things of God, grace is hidden in the messiness of life.  Like seeds in muddy soil.  The perception of something greater is aroused, and it is nurtured deep into Ordinary Time, long after the Lenten penances have gave way to Easter celebrations.  Our family will continue to faithfully enter into Lenten traditions and rituals because we love Him, and His grace remains with us.
Photo by Heidi Knofczynski
Photo by Heidi Knofczynski
And His grace works not by our power, but by His. God's work is more subtle, more intricate and much more powerful than the signs I want to see.

Photo by Heidi Knofczynski


Peace and grace,

Monday, March 19, 2012

A blindfolded society

I have to admit it.  I am tired of people demanding the Church "open her eyes" and get with modern ideas and change so as not to offend anyone.  Maybe the Church is not the one who has her eyes shut or is out of focus.  I would say that the Church is the one with clear vision.

Quickly opponents will remind me of all sorts of murky times in Church history and the present age.  I say yes, corruption occurs like a splinter in the eye causing much pain, a lot of tears, and a need to wash away the offending particle.

Instead of the Church being "blind" to reality, maybe it is society that has been "blindfolded" by easy non-realities.  Take the very pervasive current media and political focus on the topics of contraception and same sex marriages.  I simply ask four questions:  Is fertility really a disease?  Is it really the best health care to chemically alter a female body for years and years?  Is the traditional family unit really not the best environment for a child?  Is the procreative ability of a same sex union really the same as a traditional union?

Opponents will provide me with horrible scenerios of abuse, neglect, and discord to attempt to justify their view.  Then they will demand that the Church open her eyes, abandon her ideals, and get with it.  Why, I ask, does the Church need to abandon it's thought out views right now?  Since the demands are being made, I too demand that those who ask this of the Church take the time to really learn the reasons the Church says what she says, to pray and reflect on what is really being said, and to think of their opponents perspective.

Thankfully the vision of the Church has remained focused as it has for over 2000 years.  Even though I am tired at this moment, I must remind myself that the Church I love still is unchangingly gazing ahead with her eyes on the promises of Christ.        -joze

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Distractions, Lies and Liabilities

A local columnist, in her a recent article, in the Omaha World Herald states:  "I really believe that if we, as women, treat our bodies like big, gross secrets, we make it easy for men to treat us like big, gross, mysterious liabilities." I am not really sure how the detailing of the various physical difficulties women may suffer will prove that our bodies are not liabilities.  Isn't it a rather pathetic way of saying, "look what a liability my body is.... which is why we women need to have free access to chemicals and procedures that will suppress or remove this liability?"  In the blink of an eye, we are distracted from constitutional issues,  and again buying the lie that health care for women is birth-control, and men (non "delightful" "open- minded" men) are standing in the way of it.

Please, most men were sold on the need for the Pill because it meant sex without babies, which is still the main reason the Pill is used.  It's just really nice for them to be able to look like delightful, open minded men when they also claim that in order for women to progress in "equality" they need unrestricted, unquestioned access to the "health care" the Pill provides.  They neither need nor want all the details.

My question is:  if the progress of women in society cannot take place without suppressing normal body functions,  maybe we should ask ourselves where are we progressing to?  And, doesn't that ratify the notion that our bodies are liabilities?

This column took issue with  Rush Limbaugh's crass comments about 30 year old student/activist Sandra Fluke's testimony before a bunch of politicians. Ms. Fluke testified that she is financially oppressed in having to shell out $1,000 a year (or $3,000 over the course of her studies) as a student of the Catholic university, Georgetown.  The columnist dismissed the comment as ignorance about how the birth control pill works.  In fact, Limbaugh's comments were based on the egregiously high dollar amount that Ms. Fluke gave for the cost of her contraceptive prescription. Maybe he should have more directly questioned if she knew how they worked, I mean how many pills are you taking a day if you are spending that much money? Because the numbers do not add up when you look at the price of contraceptives offered at places like Target and other pharmacies, not even if you factor in a physician's examination.

Most importantly, Mr. Limbaugh  is right to question the necessity of forcing a Catholic institution to pay for contraceptives for reasons of a lifestyle choice.  And that is why most women use these pills, so they can have sex without babies.  Moreover, this HHS contraceptive mandate it not about women's health at all,  it's about control and power.  We women should be smarter than this.  We should not allow our bodies to be used as a power grab for the government.

Since we are so easily diverted from the issue of governmental tyranny, lets lay it out on the table:  Is free access to birth control pills the best way to love and honer the women in your life? Does it increase our knowledge, respect and compassion for women and their health, or does it sow false fear and false compassion?  Is the widespread use of a chemical, considered a Group 1 carcinogen, as the go to treatment for so many of a women's reproductive health problems worth giving up some constitutional rights for?

Yes, some women use birth control pills because of health issues, serious ones like poly cystic ovary syndrome.  Even here, the blanket use of birth control pill is a disservice to the women suffering with this debilitating disease.  She needs targeted hormonal therapy, natural hormones  that will preserve the health of her entire body and soul.

If anything, the Pill has stalled advances in women's health because the Pill can suppress many symptoms of reproductive disorders, and allows women to be less attentive to subtly nuances in their cycles that can help alert them early to serious health issues.  The above link is to a Pope Paul VI website on fertility care, there are wonderful things happening in Dr. Hilgers' clinic and research facilities. Here, a women's body is definitely not seen as a gross liability.  Check it out.

As far as the major use of the Pill, which IS for contraception and not the other reasons that are so emphasized,  there are problems here as well. It will not protect against sexually transmitted diseases, which are a terrible epidemic in some areas, and which are far more devastating to a woman's body.  There are also many other documented problems with the Pill.

 The cultural damage it has done has been devastating. Divorce, single motherhood, fatherless children (why, because the Pill encourages risky behavior, and it is not 100% effective), and of course, when the Pill does not work, abortion is a "solution", Planned Parenthood banks on it.  Men are so taken in by a contraceptive culture that they assume that infertility is the default setting of intercourse.  Does this make them more "delightful", or "open minded" (qualities of men who the columnist feels are very worth while)?  Are these men that you can rely on for strength when you are facing a crises?

 There are men out there who know about their wives cycles intimately. These men practice Natural Family Planning with their wives.  These men are more than merely "delightful, open minded men", they are courageous and committed.  They value their wives in their integrity, mind body and soul. These men appreciate the gift of a women's fertility and would not seek to suppress it's natural function through a artificial, environmentally destructive, libido suppressing carcinogen (the Pill).  If intercourse results in a scary pregnancy (all methods to regulate birth have failure rates), they have the strength and fidelity to man up and protect and provide, which I do not see as patriarchal or oppressive, but as necessary if women want to be truly free in their marriages and society.  Yes, this demands more of them, but it also deepens his commitment and compassion to his spouse, and vice versa.  They are real partners.

 Fear of fertility is also a real cultural issue as well, fear is an pathway for oppression.  So, while it may seem that taking the Pill is a way to relieve this fear,  it really only weakens the virtues of fidelity and courage.  We see the material things of this world as our way to freedom and security,  anything that interferes with that is our enemy.  Contraception pits women against their fertility, but, , a woman's body is not her enemy; her body is not a liability!!

Are we truly a more compassionate culture with birth control already, so readily (and cheaply) available.  Why should men bother with the every day happenings in a women's cycle when the Pill means even the women can worry less.  In many ways the birth control pill have made all of us more ignorant, and it seems that we are happy to be so. So, "delightful, open minded" men, who accept the premise that women ought to be able to see their bodies as an enemy that should be manipulated and controlled are not really what we need.  This type of complacent compassion underwhelms me, and will devastate our country.

How about an honest discussion that has more depth than complaining about our bodies and our cycles to men (you know, as a way to let them know that our bodies are not liabilities ~ really, does that make sense?).  Lets discuss how Misogyny masquerades as women's health and how women's rights are connected to barrenness.  Lets talk about how  how men no longer have to be respectful and watch how they speak about women ~ well, "delightful, open-minded men" don't anyway, men who agree that a women's fertility is a liability.

Misogyny will not go away if women are forever de-feminizing themselves, or throwing their body function and sexuality out for vapid and vulgar public discourse.  We cannot continue to be arbitrarily outraged by some men, but not others who speak appallingly about women; inconsistently demanding respect for only certain kinds of women; not you Bachmen or Palin, you are clearly enslaved to your biology!

Lets discuss what women's health care could look like  if we stop treating out healthy, functioning bodies as liabilities that prevent us from fully using our intellects, our sexuality, and even prevent us from being a better person, (you know, we get cranky at certain times of the month, the Pill helps that too!)  What if we demanded better, more targeted treatments of disorders of the female reproductive system, rather than dismantling or hormonally altering it?

Oh, and there are some very intelligent women speaking on this issue:  Try Elizabeth Scalia's blog, The Anchoress, or read  Dr. Janet SmithKathryn Jean Lopez, or Jennifer Fulwiler .  Watch this articulate women, Gloria Purvis, speak on this issue:

Read this poem, posted on the Patheos blog, called The Myth of Sex: Sex and Christianity, by Tim Muldoon.  Here is one powerful stanza.
"Fertility becomes the enemy of their lust for power.  Instead of learning compassion they learned more and more how to subdue their fertility.  And when their fertility was fruitful, they killed the children they conceived."  
 Really, read it, the whole thing!

Finally,  and more importantly, the crux of the political issue is not birth control at all, it is about power.  It is about expanding the power of the federal government.  They get to determine what is a ministry of a religious institution, not he institution itself.  They get to determine what will or will not violate the conscience of  employers who hold to certain unalterable teachings of their faith. So, not only are women demeaned by capitulating to the idea that we must control and subdue out femininity because it is a liability to our  full participation in society.  We women are also being used and manipulated by this administration to grab more power than should ever be granted in a nation that values the freedom.

Photos taken by Catherine Tardeiu Schroeder
 at the Stand Up For Religious Freedom Rally/OmahaMarch 24th 2012

Saturday, March 10, 2012

First God

A few days ago, my son Stephen and I were stopped behind a car with two bumper stickers, one of them was that tired and disingenuous coexist slogan.  The other one, (which, I believe, bears out my opinion on the disingenuousness of the coexist bumper sticker) was a long sentence that amounted to: "While you are at church, I am out doing good things." Really!?  I question the spirit in which the good works of Coexist are motivated by when they are proclaimed with such adolescent hubris. Such is the blindness of our age.  But the readings for today, the Third Sunday of Lent, I think help instill a little clarity about what comes first, or I should say who comes first and why.

"I, the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.  You shall have no other gods besides me.  You shall have no other gods besides me,  You shall not care idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them.  For I, the LORD, your God, and a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers' wickedness on the children of those who hate me down to the third and fourth generation; but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments."  Exodus 20:2-6

The first commandment delivered with great detail is concerned with worshiping God, who frees us from the slavery of working for our own destruction. We are to know that God is the one who rescues us from this slavery, and he is distinct and different and wholly above contemporary gods, whatever they are. Be it Anubis, or Ra, Baal or Moloch or power or politics or wisdom or charity. No matter what power they seem to exert over your life, or what good they claim they can do, they will not free you; if they are your god's they will only blind you, and enslave you. And if it is your good works that you worship, I believe that even they will become atrocities if they are the end in themselves, because our vision without God's light is so limited.  Our current Holy Father during the January 19th ad limina visit of the bishops of Washington DC and surrounding areas puts it this way:
 "When a culture attempts to suppress the dimension of ultimate mystery, and to close the doors to transcendent truth, it inevitable becomes impoverished and falls prey, as the late Pope John Paul II so clearly saw, to a reductionist and totalitarian readings of the human person and the nature of society."
For the beginning of wisdom is "fear of the Lord" and, though goodness can be perceived by those who do not know God, it is impoverished and darkened, often reduced to what can be quantified and manipulated, either by spells, enchantments and tallisments of a pagan era, or in our own time to a scientific method, or therapy (which is manifestly worse than our pagan ancestors because at least they understood spiritual powers and principalities. Though good may be sought through manipulations, it is not done out of a love that has a vision of the human person as made in the image and likeness of God and what is considered good, especially in the political realm, is coldly utilitarian.

What is worse, some have fallen under the delusion that we have a more humane approach than our more ancestors to the struggles of this world. Yet, we commit some of the most unthinkable crimes, not just against ourselves, but against the generations to come, (and I am not talking about climate change)!  And we commit them against the most vulnerable and unseen among us.  Yes, I would say that we lack vision, we cannot see the progression of our progressive ideas to their natural end, or we refuse to.

"You shall not invoke the name of the LORD, your God in vain.  For the LORD will not leave unpunished anyone who invokes his name in vain." (7)
To utter the name of the Lord casually, or profanely diminishes our ability to worship the Lord with our whole heart, and it darkens our perception of the mysteries of the world.  This lack of wisdom is the punishment, and its consequences are generational! (check out Wisdom 1:4-6.)

We also need to worship God and keep holy the sabbath day.  Coexist may find this foolishness, and a waste of time.  Time which would be better spent doing good (or sleeping in).  Maybe she feels only weak willed people need to be told by a preacher to go out and do good. But the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom.  And prayer and authentic worship calls us to bring everything to the Lord and, if it is becoming an idol, no matter what it is, submit it to Him.

So, for the children of Israel, following the commandments of God, which is the natural law,  is enlightened and empowered by the proper order, which means God first.  No idols, no blasphemy, and every week lay down at the feet of the Lord and let Him give you His heart, His strength and His vision. Again I go to the words of Pope Benedict XVI in the same speech I quoted above:
 "The Church's defense of moral reasoning based on natural law is grounded in her conviction that this law is not a threat to our freedom, but rather a "language" that enables us to understand ourselves and the truth of our being, and so to shape a more just and humane world.  She (the Church) thus proposes her moral teaching as a message not of constraint, but of liberation, and as the basis for building a secure future."  
Grounded in the recognition that we first serve God, who gives us the wisdom of the commandments, we are set free to work for humanity with the endurance,love and vision of God, who gives us "the words of everlasting life". (John 6:68)  In this is hope that endures even in the most desperate situations of this world.

Coexsit may be going about doing good works, just as many in my parish also do, but if the works are done out of your own wisdom and charity, they will not do all the good they could because they will be limited, and worst of all they could lead to self-righteousness and pride.  If Coexist truly wanted to coexist with her brothers and sisters, she would put aside the vapid rhetoric, bow down before the God who gave her the heart to serve, and with gratitude and humility, let His supernatural power and wisdom guide her and empower her. For "Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God." 1 Corinthians 1:24

Praise Be to God!