March 14 was a great day to be a sixth grade math teacher! My students and I celebrated Pi Day by exploring the characteristics of circles. I began class by standing at the board with a marker in my hand, asking, "What is a circle?"
"A shape with no edges!" responded one student.
I drew a squiggly blob on the board that had fingers sticking out of it; an absurd-looking shape that had no edges, but was as far from a circle as I could make it.
"No," they protested, "it has to be round!"
I drew a rounded figure that resembled a crescent.
An outpour of demands broke out. "Make it without vertices," "It has to be 2-dimensional," "It's not concave," "You know what a circle looks like, Miss Ulmer!"
Yet still, they could not define a circle. Finally, one student got a clue and looked it up in the back of the textbook: "The set of all points equidistant from a fixed center." Finally, I could use a compass to construct a true circle.
In all the posts, tweets, statuses, and discussions about "gay marriage" lately, I have noticed many people continuously throw out characteristics of marriage, yet never give a definition.
"Marriage is about love!"
That's true. It's also true that a circle has no edges. But "love" does not define marriage, just like "no edges" does not define a circle. Ellipses, cylinders, and spheres also have no edges. Other kinds of relationships are also about love.
"Marriage is when two people love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives with each other!"
That's true. So is a set of twin sisters who love each other and want to always live together married? A group of close friends who run a business together? A father and his disabled son?
"Just last week a debate opponent defined marriage as 'a legal institution with legal rights and legal responsibilities.' Well now, we know that cannot be. After all, a police department, an incorporated business, and even Congress fit that definition. Can any of these reasonably be called 'marriage?'" - Leila Miller, Catholic Exchange
Well, I know of at least one institution that is not afraid to define marriage clearly:
"...husband and wife, through that mutual gift of themselves, which is specific and exclusive to them alone, develop that union of two persons in which they perfect one another, cooperating with God in the generation and rearing of new lives." - Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae
State-recognized marriage would not exist if it weren't for the complementary nature of the union between man and woman, the procreative power that results from it, and the environment it provides for the rearing of new life. If we throw away the things that define marriage for sentiment and all-inclusiveness, we will be going down a path that is senseless.
A circle is important enough that I won't let my sixth-graders senselessly define it. The definition of marriage holds infinitely more weight, and I won't sit quietly while it is senselessly defined.
Symbols, foreshadowing, allusions, analogies - these things delight a literature person like me. But those who don't consider themselves "literature people" love these things as well. Oh, they may not enjoy the process of actually reading, of searching through pages to find significant passages, of long hours of paper-writing only to have the final product handed back with red slashes and a grade at the bottom. But every one of us loves stories. Whether we can write expository essays on them or not, we know that the best stories have these things. I think this is because we are story people. We all live in one of our own with real-life characters, plots, and conflicts.
We're also surrounded by and use symbols every day. This very blog post uses squiggly lines and shapes of the alphabet to represent my thoughts. You, the reader, are looking at the letters and comprehending the deeper meaning attached to them. This is a symbol: a material object used to represent something else (often immaterial).
Humans are material, the stuff of symbols. But what is the invisible reality that our flesh and blood represent? With the marvelously complex, ordered, and intricate design that our bodies have, it must be something very great.
Then God said: 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.'- Genesis 1:26
What is God "like" then?
God is love. - I John 4:8
We understand that love requires a giver and a receiver. Therein we discover that there is more than one person in God. Indeed, the Son is "eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father." And just as the Son is from the Father, woman is from the side of man.
The man said: 'This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall
be called 'woman,' for out of 'her man' this one has been taken.' - Genesis 2:23
And just as the Father and the Son are both "True God," so man and woman are both fully human, equal in dignity and value.
The order of our bodies is seen perfectly in the complementary nature of masculinity and femininity. And the symbol of physical union between man and woman represents the perfect union of God. But God is not two persons only. The Trinity is composed of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son" and "with the Father and the Son He is worshiped and glorified." This shows that the very nature of love is procreative, and it helps us understand the first blessing to Adam and Eve:
- God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them, saying: "Be fertile and multiply... - Genesis 1:27-28
Our very bodies cry out the truth of the Trinity! We are symbol people! In the institution of the family, we can find what love truly is. My heart is so heavy as I see the culture embrace a perversion of the family - contraception - which makes the total gift of self impossible and bars procreation. The contraceptive mindset has fostered infidelity and abuse, so twisting our idea of love that now the culture embraces and even champions homosexual unions. We have given in to lies about love, marring the beautiful symbols of our bodies.
His earnest, focused face; his sweet voice; the way he kept at hymnbook even though it was difficult -- it was a beautiful little moment in which I felt very blessed.
But there was also another feeling that shot through me in those few happy seconds. There was an inner knowledge that said, "This moment is full of joy, but it's almost over. The organist will stop playing, people will go on living, Sam will grow up, and this moment will only be a vague memory." It was a feeling of pain because I knew the moment was leaving me as it was happening.
When I'm listening to a song with just a perfect chord here or a ravishing lift there, I experience the same thing. The music is so beautiful that I hurt just knowing that the song will end. I want to linger in it. I want it to last forever.
Heaven lasts forever, but I don't imagine it as an infinite set of moments that are always passing by. I think it's more like one infinite moment -- one beautiful lingering.
"...a distinguishing feature of the disciple of Jesus is the fact that he
'lives': beyond the mere fact of existing, he has found and embraced the real life that everyone is seeking. On the basis of such texts, the
early Christians called themselves simply 'the living' (hoi zontes).
They had found what all are seeking -- life itself, full and, hence,
Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
How interesting to read about the early family memories of Pope Benedict XVI and his close-call experiences as a youth in Nazi Germany. In one story, he and a group of his comrades were battered by an SS officer trying to make "'voluntary' recruits," but he was sent away (relieved) with "mockery and verbal abuse" because of his stated intention to become a Catholic priest! I also enjoyed seeing the passion he had for his studies in seminary, and how that carried over to his passion for teaching. He wrote with enthusiasm about a great many authors and works, and discussed some of his own first projects. These memoirs confirmed even more for me what a scholarly pope we have.
A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy by Thomas Buergenthal
This was a riveting story, and it was, of course, interesting to get inside another personal perspective of World War II and the Holocaust. I've heard the distant, unsympathetic facts of the Holocaust many times before, but a first-hand account brings the tragedy to life. In one part, he describes how his family took in two young children who had lost their parents. In the short time they were together, the children became like his siblings, but it only took a quick gesture from an SS officer and they were sent away to the gas chambers, never to be heard of again. Things like that stood out to me from the book -- the suddenness of his separation from his mother -- the way that life could be going one way and then change so dramatically in only a few moments. In the end, though, I was disappointed at Buergenthal's attribution to fate and fate only.
I don't normally read this many memoirs, but here is another one I read over the summer. I didn't know much about Justice Thomas, but I had respect and interest for "the silent justice." His memories of the strong, consistent, disciplinary parenting of his grandparents, and especially of Catholic school and serving Mass, held my attention. I learned about the inferiority he felt, even after earning a law degree from Yale. The affirmative action dynamics at the time made him feel that his degree was worthless. He wrote that, "as a symbol of my disillusionment, I peeled a fifteen-cent price sticker off a package of cigars and stuck it on the frame of my law degree...Instead of hanging it on the wall of my Supreme Court office, I stored it in the basement of my Virginia home." His description of the "high-tech lynching" was enlightening. However, he certainly did not paint an idealized version of himself; I was surprised at the candid admittance of faults and acknowledgement of mistakes throughout the book. A disappointment I had was that he didn't give a clear indication of the nature of his faith in the end; however, I thought the book well-worth the read.
Sheen's writing is like his speaking: passionate, clear, and to-the-point, but not just to any point, to the right one. He hits on the true nature, purpose, and fulfillment of man. He is knowledgable about the field of psychology, and this was one of the first works I read that really connected psychology and spirituality. He exposes the lie that selfishness will bring any kind of peace, and shows how peace can only come from selfless love. He also proclaims unashamedly that selfless love can only come from God. My commonplace book has almost two full pages of quotes from this book; it is full of truisms. Something I especially loved was his line-by-line exposition of parts of Francis Thompson's The Hound of Heaven,which has become a new favorite poem. It's a pleasure to read someone so devoted to Christ who is also so well-read!
Being a Christian is like being a superhero. Absolutely nothing can conquer us if we choose to follow Christ, because Christ has already conquered it all.
Embarassment can't cast us down; jeers do nothing to us; we can take misunderstandings and even hatred from others. We can live through, sickness, pain, hunger, and thirst with actual joy and contentment. Even being stabbed to death; tortured & beheaded; hanged, drawn, & quartered; or murdered in gas chambers can't defeat us.
St. Paul told the Philippians, "I know how to be abased." I am learning this as I grow as a Christian. I can count it all joy when anything horrible, disappointing, or even irritating happens to me. If I have a headache, it's a joy because I can become more united to Christ. Every bit of suffering drives me to Him, my Love. Every bit helps me understand His Passion a little more. And anyway, He suffered it all before me, so I know I have nothing to fear.
You know what else? What's earthly suffering when we are living for an eternal Heaven? Nothing.
So HA, Pain! Love trumps you!
St. Paul also said, "I know how to abound." Everyone thinks they know how to do this, but few truly do. The Christians do because, when they have riches, they aren't attached to them, so they can use them freely. When a Christian enjoys earthly things, they can truly enjoy them. Why? Because they aren't trying to make them something they're not. They're NOT the end-all. We know that they are only tastes of the beauty of the life to come.
"In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want.
"I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."
The search for the Fountain of Youth has never ended. Humans have always been trying to cure themselves of Mortality's children - Aging, Disease, Plague, Famine, War, Flood, &c. The most unhealthy thing that can happen to you is to die.
Death is a natural process, but everything in us screams DEATH IS NOT NATURAL!!! when we are faced with it. Face a corpse and see how natural you feel. We can't look at a body stripped of its spirit without a deep sense of strangeness. Death is so wrong for us.
Why, when people come to the end of their lives, do they wonder at "how quickly time went by"? A minute is always 60 seconds, an hour is always 60 minutes, a day is always 24 hours. We have never known time to be any slower; death has always come at the same, ceaseless pace, so when we meet it, why are we so surprised? To have a sand glass emptying our lives away is so wrong for us!
What would you say to a man who, not only affirmed the existence of a Fountain of Youth, but claimed to be the very Fountain!
Some said, "This saying is hard, who can accept it?"
One said, "You have the words of eternal life."
Others said, "Crucify him!"
Are we so resigned to the wrong of death that we would kill One who offered the right? He claimed, "Whoever believes has eternal life," "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life." "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish."
I don't know about you, but I think I would like to be immortal! Not living forever with pain and decay, but with love and vitality. This man offers that! And He is called the "Firstborn from the Dead" -- having ascended from this earth in a physical, human, but imperishable body. He sent for his mother in the same way, and He promises us a "Resurrection from the Dead."
I think I will enter His Immortality School. I'll feast and celebrate on the Firstborn's birthday - Sunday - when He was born from a tomb to an everlasting life. I'll follow His words to the death, and without fear, because He literally conquered death.
Death has no power over me; I am freed! Alleluia!
His canvas is the sky; His media are water and air.
Every painting is a study of His original.
His most prized works of art, the ones that He labored over most to make perfect, are little artists.
These artists are fashioned in such a way that they can choose to embrace or deface the Artist's creations, and they have chosen wrongly.
Their colors run together and become confused, they become darkened, and are thrown about without any thought of preserving their original beauty. They were not made for this.
But, if they will let Him, the Artist will painstakingly re-fashion them into the perfect works of art He designed. Then they will be more beautiful than any of His landscapes or sunsets, His moonrises or constellations.