Religion as luxury

Consider this incredible quote I found attributed to the Venerable Fulton J. Sheen:

“Most people today want a religion which suits the way they live, rather than one that makes demands upon them. Religion thus becomes a luxury like an opera, not a responsibility like life.” 

Don’t these words sum up what is wrong with Christianity today, particularly in the United States? It’s been noted that most “mega churches” today are located in affluent suburbs. I know firsthand that for many of these folks, the idea of faith is just a nice thing to have around. Like most material gain, the novelty eventually wears off and that’s about the end of it. 

Perhaps I’m being bitter and negative, but I prefer the term “disillusioned.” Imagine what Joel Osteen’s fans would do if he suddenly reverted to some semblance of orthodox Christianity and denounced contraceptive use. Or abortion. Or serial marriage. The place would be a ghost town. Too much sacrifice. Not enough fun. Not enough luxury. And very, very sad. 

I really don’t get this kind of faith. Christ came to earth, declared Himself to be God and gave very simple terms: eternal life in exchange for our entire being. Our whole heart, our whole mind, our whole soul. It took me a very long time to accept his offer because I knew that everything about my life would have to change – everything! Though I sin like any other person (oh, do I), indeed nothing about my life resembles the life I used to live. The ship changed direction. Certain dreams had to be revised. Certain relationships were altered. Some of it has been very unfun. Very unluxurious. Blessed and grace-filled times, but very hard. 

Here’s what puzzles me – who on earth would bother with Christianity unless they were really “sold out” for Christ (to borrow a term from my Evangelical youth group days)? What exactly is the point? To feel good about life? To be emotionally stimulated during five worship songs every Sunday? Atheist me would have rather stayed home. Venerable Fulton Sheen’s seemingly pessimistic quote about “luxurious” Christianity is sadly correct. Religion is becoming a first-world luxury. Its what all the put-together people are wearing.

I’ll never forget the scary period of my life when I considered “quitting” my faith. I was a faithful Protestant and hit a massive road block in my faith that I couldn’t reconcile. Somebody asked me, “Why do you care so much about being right?” That person didn’t understand that I wasn’t trying to be right – I was trying to be faithful. If I didn’t care to be faithful, then to hell with it all. Self-styled religion is a waste of my time. Call me a pessimist, but I’m with Venerable Fulton Sheen on this one.

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A brief reflection on living after Christ

I visited a neighboring parish this past weekend for confession. As is always the case, I went in feeling anxious and left wondering why I don’t go more often. The priest asked me to spend some time in the pew to prayerfully read a selection from the missal, one of the readings or a hymn. I chose the second reading from a Sunday I had recently missed due to illness – Sunday, January 5th, the Epiphany of the Lord:

Brothers and sisters:
You have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace
that was given to me for your benefit,
namely, that the mystery was made known to me by revelation.
It was not made known to people in other generations 
as it has now been revealed
to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: 
that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body,
and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Ephesians 3:2-3A, 5-6

God really spoke to me through this reading, especially having just left the confessional. It was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed… How blessed we are to live today. Despite all the evils of our day, we are children of the New Covenant. We enjoy union with God in ways our forefathers could have never fathomed. We are so blessed to have the Sacraments of the Church. I left that night with a renewed sense of awe at the grace of God and a new resolve to receive the Sacrament of Penance more frequently. I’m grateful to live after Christ’s coming.

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Merry Christmas (still)!

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Christmas Day 2013
(Christmas, Day 1)

Merry Christmas from my family to yours!  We had a great December 25th this year and I am making an intentional effort to keep the Christmas spirit alive awhile longer. The tree is staying up and the lights will remain on the house until January 12th. Thanks to a really weird change in holiday trends in our part of the world, most people seem to think December 25th is the last day of Christmas. It’s not. The time leading up to Christmas is called Advent. Actual Christmas is December 25th through January 12th when we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This is really great news for people who love Christmas (and procrastinating). If only the retailers could figure this out!

So to those of you scrooges posting pictures of their Ordinary Time-esque living rooms ON CHRISTMAS DAY, baby Jesus is not impressed. Stop it. Merry season of Christmas.

May the remainder of 2013 be blessed and restful for you and yours. We are thankful to God for all he has given us this year and pray for His continued blessings in the year to come.

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Want to read the Catechism in a year?

As a still fairly-new Catholic, I’ve spent the past several months frustrated by my inability to learn everything about Catholicism at once. It reminds me a lot of how I felt at our recent Thanksgiving feast – so much to eat that even if I just sampled everything I wouldn’t get to it all. Scripture, the Catechism, the lives of the saints, Marian devotion, the daily prayers of the Church, not to mention an ever-growing reading list of books and even blogs about Catholicism – there is just so much to know about our rich and beautiful faith.  I really haven’t been successful at even choosing an area on which to focus other than the Sunday readings and my own Scripture reading.

flocknote-logoThen a friend told me about a neat opportunity from Flocknote – read the entire Catechism in a year with daily emails delivered right to your phone or computer. For me, this means that I can join thousands of other Catholics in really learning the finer points of the faith right from my smartphone. Flocknote is also offering a daily email program which will deliver the four gospels over the course of one year. My hope is that studying my Catholic faith will now be easier than ever – and for this busy mom and entrepreneur, that’s really great news.

Want to join me? This program begins TODAY, December 9, (the feast of the Immaculate Conception). We’ll be done by next Christmas! Go HERE to sign up for the Catechism program and HERE to sign up for the gospels program. I’m happy to see that Flocknote is using the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible for the gospel program. It’s a great source. I hope you’ll consider signing up.

Stay tuned for a new post coming up in which I muse about my new experiences as a catechist. As you can tell from the absence from my blog, it’s been keeping me busy. :)

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Tiny new Catholics

In August, our son Jameson Elliott was baptized into the Catholic faith.

jamie baptism

In early September, our dear friends asked us to be the godparents to their daughter Tracy. What an honor! Tracy’s parents are the godparents to our middle child, Maddie.

This is NOT a bib for cake. :)

This is NOT a bib for cake. :)

The deacon who baptized Tracy made a memorable remark. Parents and godparents don’t promise to raise “good kids.” Everybody wants a good kid. At baptism, we promise to raise a child in the faith, to know and profess the faith as their own. We know what this looks like for parents. We bring our children to mass, we teach them faith-filled living through example at home, we study the Bible and the inexhaustible riches of Catholicism with our children. Parents are a child’s first teacher. But what does the godparent’s role entail? Almost all godparents are present on the big day of baptism, but a godparents’ involvement should not end there. 

130915_0003I am now the godmother of two dear little girls in my life (little Tracy as well as my cousin who is now eight years old). I am brainstorming ideas for meaningful involvement in their Catholic lives. One idea that I particularly like is to remember each girl’s two birthdays – their day of biological birth and their day of birth into the Body of Christ. Godparenthood is a role that I will take seriously. It is a responsibility that will involve prayer, love, and hopefully a lifelong relationship of shared faith. Maybe someday I can tell my goddaughters about my journey to the Church and the challenges and trials I experienced in the process of becoming Catholic myself.

So – who else has godchildren? What do you do to stay involved in your godchild’s life? Leave me a comment with your tips and ideas for these tiny new Catholics in our lives.

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7 Quick Takes, Volume 24

— 1 —

Well it isn’t Friday, but this is a handy meme and I have lots to update about. Happy Sunday! Looking forward to waking up for mass here in a few hours. :)

— 2 —

A big date on our calendar this month is August 31st – our son’s baptism day. We are excited for this blessed day as we baptize our third child into the kingdom of God.

— 3 —

We are remodeling our kitchen. I call it a remodel, but really it’s a kitchen rescue. The entire kitchen was sinking into the earth due to poor worksmanship by a prior owner. Ugh! I have never been so grateful for a handyman husband. He has saved us about ten thousand dollars by my estimates due to his ability and willingness to do the bulk of the work himself. We are also grateful for the help of several friends who have helped us with demolition and rebuilding our floor. Currently, we’re down to the bare joists (which we had to replace) and a dirt crawlspace beneath them.  This week we will be completing the new plumbing, laying the subflooring, and hopefully moving our appliances and counters back in. We’re reconfiguring the layout and adding a window above the sink so I can see the kids play in the backyard. :) We also sprung for ceramic tile flooring and a top-of-the-line garbage disposal, both luxuries we did not have before. We have paid for everything with cash, which was a lofty goal for us. But we did it! Whew.

In the meantime, I’m washing our dishes in the bathtub and the refrigerator hums away in the living room. All of our food is in laundry baskets and quite frankly, I’m ready to wrap this project up. I really hope this will be done in time for the baptism or our guests may find themselves eating out of a crock pot in the bathroom…

— 4 —

Today I bought new shorts. After each of my three births, I have managed to lose the weight I gained during pregnancy pretty easily through a rigorous program of breastfeeding, forgetting to eat, and almost never sleeping. However, those stupid shorts from my pre-mommy days just never looked right again. They fit, but man…not flattering anymore. So today, after just one too many mornings of stuffing myself into ill-fitting shorts, I marched into Kohls determined to buy whatever shorts would fit, regardless of the size on the tag. As someone who once struggled with a mild eating disorder, I knew this might be hard for me. Sure enough, the shorts that fit were two sizes larger than I wore before. But the shorts looked pretty good! I haven’t felt this comfortable in summer clothing since 2008. Somehow, I weigh the same but I now fit into larger clothing. Just goes to show you that motherhood changes your shape but not necessarily in bad ways. I felt like I conquered a bit of my self-esteem issues that once had a pretty strong hold on me. If you’re in a similar life stage, I recommend ignoring what the tags say and just finding something that fits well. What a difference.

— 5 —

Enough about shorts. Summer is almost over anyway, which means that its back-t0-school season in this part of the world. My oldest is four (turns five in May) and officially a preschooler. However, we homeschool and have been learning at home for quite a while. When people ask me why I want to homeschool, I say that there are many reasons, but the main and most important reason is that I wish to remain my child’s primary influence for as long as possible. I can’t maintain that role if my kids are going to school for seven (or more) hours per day. It all begins with preschool, so off we go! (By the way, I’m also a state-certified elementary teacher. That’s usually a debate-stopper when someone is confronting me about our decision. Ha!)

We are using a curriculum called “Letter of the Week” by Confessions of a Homeschooler. So far, I’ve found it to be excellent. You have to print, laminate, assemble, and prepare all the materials yourself, but the curriculum was only $10! Of course, teacher that I am, I’m also supplementing the curriculum with a host of other resources. This fall we’ll be learning the geography of the Unites States. Remember the Highlights magazine from your childhood? Well not only are the magazines still around (available for preschoolers AND older children now), but they’ve also just come out with this really cool subscription-based program called “Which Way USA.” It is AWESOME and if you have young kids (homeschooled or not), I really encourage you to check it out. The maps, activity books, and other materials are beautiful and even include online interactive activities for learning about each of the fifty states.

It will be interesting to see how my two year-old picks up this information as she watches and joins in on her older sister’s school time. I imagine she’ll become advanced over the years. I’m really excited for our homeschooling journey to come. Teaching my own kids – does it get any better?

— 6 —

Speaking of teaching, my percussion program is wrapping up its summer session with a big recital at the studio on August 18th. My students are performing together onstage in a large ensemble. The instruments are ready, the t-shirts have been ordered, and we have just one week of class left to practice (which for my students means one class session). I’m feeling a little nervous, but I’m confident that it will be a great evening.

— 7 —

Speaking of teaching again, I’m excited to end this post with an announcement. I’ve been asked to teach first grade religious education at my church this year (CCD, for all you cradle Catholics out there)! After talking it over with my husband, we both quickly agreed that this would be an excellent opportunity to serve my church family and use my gifts for the Lord. I am humbled to have a hand in the faith formation of young people. Class begins in September. Can’t wait to get my hands on the curriculum and peruse the Catholic blogosphere for ideas. Pray for me!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary.

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To be Martha and Mary

Yesterday’s Gospel reading was from Luke 10:38-42 – the story of Jesus with Mary and Martha.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her,“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Much ink has been spilled exploring the many applications of this verse. Entire books fill the women’s section of Christian bookstores and lengthy bible studies focus on what it means to be “Mary in a Martha world.” When I saw the passage appear in today’s readings, I almost tuned out. I already know this story.

I’m glad I paid attention to the homily, however, because I was challenged to discover a perspective on the verses that I hadn’t yet considered. In almost every commentary of the Mary and Martha story I’ve ever studied, the two sisters’ behaviors were juxtaposed to illustrate two opposing attitudes; Mary was “good” and Martha was “bad,” so be like Mary. In reality, however, which woman chose Jesus? They both did! Mary chose to sit and listen to Jesus, to completely focus on him. Martha, following the customs of the day, focused on hospitality and making sure that Jesus was welcomed into the sisters’ home.

“The two women signify two dimensions of the spiritual life. Martha signifies the active life as she busily labors to honor Christ through her work. Mary exemplifies the contemplative life as she sits attentively to listen and learn from Christ. While both activities are essential to Christian living, the latter is greater than the former. For in heaven the active life terminates, while the contemplative life reaches its perfection.”

- Commentary from the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible

Thus, two takeaways here: 1) The “active life” of service is important and necessary. 2) The “contemplative life” is more important and more necessary.

I can almost hear the voice of Jesus speaking directly to me in this passage: Christina, Christina, you are anxious about many things… I might not be boiling water over a fire or washing my clothing in a river, but it is very true that I have a lot of “stuff” going on in my life that is causing angst (children! husband! homeschooling! bills! chores! business!). The angst leads to distraction and before I know it, the kids are in bed, the house is clean, the bills are paid, and I go to bed with the sinking realization that I’m living for… a to-do list. I could give you a very convincing explanation about how everything I do is part of my God-given vocation, and it is clear from the scriptures that hospitality and busyness around the home are virtuous and important. But my vocation does not glorify God if these things serve to distract me from Him!

This is not my sink, but its an accurate depiction. The Corona box is a nice touch.

This is not my sink, but its an accurate depiction. The Corona box is a nice touch.

I do not write this post as a woman who has conquered this problem. I am just one of many women who struggle with a solely active life which lacks ample time for a contemplative life. Being Martha isn’t bad, but I must emulate Mary, too. It is difficult for me to choose to attend daily mass while the laundry must be done. It is difficult for me to ignore a big after-breakfast mess so that I may take time to read the day’s scripture passages. At the end of a very tiring day, it feels almost impossible for me to forgo television time with my husband so that I might pray the evening prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours (a practice I’ve been wanting to commit to so badly). And why am I so tired? Because I’m too active – too Martha – and too tired to be Mary! No, this is not how things should be.

I hereby commit to a concerted effort at less activity and more contemplation. My house will be messier and I will learn to make peace with it. And I’ll probably never let myself zone out during the gospel reading again, either. I really needed to hear this.

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