There has been a steady stream of sexual molestation accounts in the news reports for as long as I can remember. Commentary of coworkers and acquaintances follows each one - the main theme being "these monsters aren't fit to live." They use language to position the offenders as far away from the human race as possible, often calling for capital punishment. And this is all just.

But for some reason, over the past year the news reports and subsequent responses haven't just passed through my mind as ever-present tragedies. They've stuck and started to aggregate so that each new repercussion strikes a gong with all the horrors of the previous ones echoing together. In January, I watched Rachael Denhollander's victim impact statement which had a lot of circulation on social media. It was her contrasting note of justice joined with mercy that made me realize the weight of horrors is not just made up of the abuses, but of our culture's response. It is a justice completely stripped of mercy.

When I see an abuser, I do see someone who should receive, in Rachael Denhollander's words, "the greatest measure of justice available," but I also see a suffering human being. Only the most crushing emptiness drives a person to seek such violent stimulation. In no way does this excuse his sins or unpayable debts, but it's a reality the culture omits.

Visualize the whole life of the abuser. No one develops the capacity for such evil acts in a sudden moment. It's a process that begins with sins not so far removed from ours. He seeks compulsively to fill his emptiness with entertainment, pornography, masturbation. These gradually sink the poisoned teeth of addiction deeper and deeper. Older forms of escape no longer give satisfaction. New forms are needed to arouse and the addiction is a sickness that demands to be fed. Level by level, he descends by increments of violence too small to deter him. He is disgusted by himself, but addiction desensitizes the disgust enough to keep being fed.

In his descent, I see the pattern of my own sins. He's not some monster of a different class of creature. I was born with the same emptiness, the same compulsion to mask it with anything in my reach. I've fallen level by level into disgusting sins, and am only removed from the abuser by degrees. As Pope Francis says in The Name of God is Mercy, "Their fall could have been mine."

I know my weakness is such that I could become an abuser. Only because people around me have allowed the grace of God to work through them have I been protected and restrained. My emptiness was softened by the love I received, not by me. My conscience was well-formed, not by me. My circumstances were wisely hedged, not by me. Even with all these gifts and more, I fall repeatedly. It does no good to stand on this higher ground and claim superiority. The ground of grace is what holds me higher, not myself.

So with Rachael Denhollander, I look on these miserable, utterly evil child molesters with pity, not as "other," but as I might be. And I'm not afraid to proclaim that God's mercy reaches even so low.

A year ago, I thought 2017 would see additions to the "Lessons from the Convent" blog posts. Now I come to the end of December with difficulty grasping any clear lessons at all. I have glimmers and hints of possible ones, but certainly not enough to write a well-formed post about them. Six months ago, it was all I could do to say the prayer, "I believe you have a lesson for me in this." I suppose a new series of posts called "Vague Hints at Lessons from My Roommate's Couch" would be the best I could muster.

Yes, the devil took some swings at me this year. But this is the counterattack:

Thank you, God, for the time I spent in the convent. Thank you for the superior you allowed to be over me. Thank you for the treasured soul of each teacher I didn't understand. Thank you for the work are doing in me that I can't see. Thank you for the work you have given me to do in the moment. Thank you for my boss and colleagues. Thank you for the awesome design with which you created each student and their parents. Thank you for the singleness wherein I can glorify you. Thank you for the body you gave me to experience the beauty of your natural creation. Thank you that every temporal thing I truly need is provided in my scattered possessions. Thank you for the work you are preparing for me.

Thank you for redeeming every sin and sorrow, no matter how deep. 
O come, let us sing to the Lord;
    let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;

    let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,

    and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;

    the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,

    and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
O come, let us worship and bow down,
    let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,

    and we are the people of his pasture,
    and the sheep of his hand.


 

"If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." - John 15:19
   As a new Salesian aspirant, I'm experiencing the "not of the world" which consecrated religious express overtly. With vows of poverty, chastity & obedience, distinctive clothing, daily work & life in community - "set-apartness" is externally very visible. The reason I'm drawn to wear a religious habit is to make Christ's love plain. However, although this is one practically with a habit, it's one in practice by every Christian who lives differently.

   The poverty and detachment of consecrated religious may seem like pious add-ons to Chritianity, but in reality they manifest clearly what all Christians are called to live daily. Colossians 3:2 says, "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." Religious brothers and sisters, by legally owning nothing of their own, are expressing the Christian attitude toward all temporal wealth. Even Christians who are wealthy by the world's standards shouldn't consider money as their own treasure or security. Detachment should be practiced even with the items in one's own possession. Vowed religious and laity both have open palms, not clenching to anything worldly. But by the open, empty palms of the religious we see more clearly the shape of the open palms of Christians holding their possessions loosely.

   The vow of chastity is lived out by a few in celibacy, but the practice of the virtue of chastity is the vocation of every Christian. The Catechism defines it as "the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being" (#2337). How can celibates have integrated sexuality? There are some thoughts on this already in Lesson on Marriage from the Convent, but in sum, the purpose of our sexuality is to physically symbolize the mutual self-giving love of the Trinity. We have Trinitarian love stamped on our bodies to foreshadow the perfect union of Heaven. Celibates witness that the shadow doesn't fulfill, but that only the real, original divine love fulfills. This reminds us that a Christian husband and wife don't ultimately seek fulfillment in each other. Just like the celibate, they depend completely on God's love together. By the dependence on God by the unmarried chaste, we see more clearly the dependence on God by the married chaste.

   What does the vow of obedience have to show us about Christian laity? In the Salesian order, obedience is lived out by going to serve in whatever ministry position is assigned by the superior. This is radically putting aside personal ambition and having enough trust in God to be content in every circumstance. But again, radical trust isn't only practiced by a few people in some kind of higher echelon of Christianity. Due to the stripped-away nature of religious life, it's more recognizable, but St. Paul is clear that every follower of Christ is called to this. "And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Colossians 3:17). Not that I complain of want, for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:11-13).

   If I profess the three vows as a consecrated religious someday, I hope my life can remind the baptized that worldly things are temporal and unfulfilling in themselves, calling them back to Christ as everything. To the unbaptized, I hope I can be a bright sign pointing to the radical life of the born-again - these people surrounded by worldly things, but moving among them as free people, not grasping or choked.
"I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away." - 1 Corinthians 7:29-31

There are often moments I feel I've just stepped out of a time machine and can't believe I've arrived here - as if my 12-year-old self is looking at a strange future self. With two weeks before I enter the convent, there have been several of these "how did I get here?" moments. This is my attempt to answer that question for the sake of that 12-year-old and perhaps any friends who are wondering the same thing.

I saw religious sisters for the first time at a youth retreat and remember thinking what a great service they gave with their lives. I had a gravitational attraction to them along with a sinking feeling of inevitability. The thought was pushed out of my mind or at least relegated to a far corner until junior year of high school when I started commuting to classes at the community college. The church was on the way, the side door was always open, and I made a habit of stopping in to visit the Real Presence. Here is where my desire for God grew, imperceptibly, in quiet stillness before the Eucharist. The universe was posed like a mad, giant, swirling question, but that little tabernacle held the answer.

How can I describe time spent with God? Sometimes I'd just float in my amazement, too big to fit in my head, of his plan for creating and saving humanity out of love - marvel at how all the pieces fit together so unexpectedly yet so naturally. Sometimes I'd read the Scripture and laugh at an inside joke between us or realize clearly something I always vaguely knew. I'd bring the smallest irritations to have them blown open as grand opportunities to further the kingdom. And there's nothing like the realizations of deeply rooted personal sinfulness followed by immediate outpourings of mercy. Sometimes I'd sit in boredom, head bowed from fatigue more than reverence. But that time spent with God fixed me on him, placed the primacy of his kingdom on my heart, and made me fall in love with him.

Someone in love doesn't care where they go or what they do so long as their lover is there. They have a boldness to go on adventures they might never attempt otherwise. Those instances where God's love gave me courage to say something controversial, do something difficult or uncomfortable, step out on a limb for his and others' sake have been the most joyful, exhilarating moments of my life. A religious sister finds strength in the chapel every morning to go out on the limb of the mission field, only to return to the sturdy trunk of the Real Presence in the evening. The Eucharist is truly my home and that's why I have such peace going to the convent.

He's Here

I've never had my own baby, but I've had 8 little siblings. Over time, those experiences have interwoven themselves into Christmas meditations. The birth of a new baby is a completely unique occurrence. Everything changes when you see that tiny person. You get the feeling that, even though you've spent months waiting for this baby, in all that time you had no idea what a life-changing event would actually happen. There's an exhilarating sense that a person is now here in the world who wasn't here just a few moments ago.

But the weirdest part is that you know he was here a few moments ago. That small, red, squishy human was present in the room just before birth. He was present all those times we were going about life as usual. And even though we technically knew about his existence, that baby's presence was hidden.

Do you know the feeling when you discover something that makes you rethink everything that happened before? That moment when you realize the mouse had really been Pettigrew the whole time, or that Jared had been living in a colorless world, or that Darth Vader was really Luke's father? That's the feeling I get when a new baby is born. I suddenly see the past 9 months in a different light, because all that time I didn't really know who was with us. And when I think about the next 9 months, I know that the rest of my life will never be anywhere close to the same.

When Christ comes again, I imagine that we'll get that feeling multiplied by ten thousand. Now we know and feel Christ's hidden presence on earth, but what a revelation it will be when we see him face to face! Maybe we'll look back at our earthly lives and wonder how all that time we lived in the presence of such immense love and power and still went on with "life as usual." We'll be overwhelmed by the knowledge that our lives are so changed - that they were changed before, but we never understood how much. 

Today, people are celebrating breaking free of repression and finally enjoying the liberty denied because of unfair prejudice against a specific group of people. Some of my friends are trying to wrap their heads around the fact that 'm not celebrating this. The fact is, if unjust prejudice on the part of the government were ending, I'd be thrilled. If civil liberties were being restored to a heretofore repressed population, I'd be overjoyed. But despite the fact that folks are proclaiming a great victory for equal rights, this SCOTUS case (Obergefell vs. Hodges) is about something very different.

In the Opinion of the Court, Justice Kennedy cites several cases as precedent. The most well-known, of course, is Loving vs. Virginia which struck down bans on interracial marriage. In Loving, a marriage license was refused because of the unjust idea that blacks are intrinsically inferior. In Zablocki vs. Redhail, the court stated that denying marriage to fathers behind on child support was "deliberate discrimination against the poor." Turner vs. Safley ruled that prisoners could not be denied marriage simply because of their status as prisoners. In each of these cases, the issue at stake was equality and civil rights. These people had marriage licenses unjustly withheld because of the fact that they were black, poor, or incarcerated.
the message of the Court's opinion is that Wisconsin may not use its control over marriage to achieve the objectives of the state statute - See more at: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/434/374.html#sthash.NsmaWhc9.dpuf
the message of the Court's opinion is that Wisconsin may not use its control over marriage to achieve the objectives of the state statute - See more at: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/434/374.html#sthash.NsmaWhc9.dpuf

However, in Obergefell vs. Hodges the plaintiffs had been denied because they weren't even applying for something considered "marriage." They were NOT denied licenses because of the unjust belief that their sexual orientation makes them lesser humans, or undeserving of marriage at all. 
"Respondent declined to issue the license on the sole ground that the petitioners were of the same sex, it being undisputed that there were otherwise no statutory impediments to heterosexual marriage by either petitioner." - Baker vs. Nelson
This is what makes this case different than any of the cases cited as precedent. The plaintiffs had the same liberty to marry as any other person. No screening of their sexual tastes preceded their application, no box checked "gay" disqualified them from receiving a marriage license. They were petitioning the state for something not in legal existence. The question of whether or not homosexual marriage should be in legal existence is another matter (and whether it should be defined and implemented by the judiciary is another). My point is that this case is about a legal redefinition of marriage, not about civil rights or equality of persons.

The instances where wedding services were refused gay couples are also not about equality. The business owners who refused to bake a cake or rent out a venue did so because they disagreed with the definition of marriage, not because they considered gay people to have less dignity. Many have publicly said that they would gladly bake a birthday cake for a lesbian woman, or rent out a venue for the family reunion of a gay man. Indeed, if they refused those services because they somehow thought that homosexuals were inferior, I would protest against them too.

Discrimination of ideas, not of people, is the heart of this case, and we would be better served if SCOTUS could discriminate between the two.

As to Cana you draw nigh,
two souls joined till one shall die,
may you gracious vessels be,
poor in all but He gives thee.

All thy lacking may He fill,
as at that first miracle--
water meager turned to wine,
human frailty to divine.

When the store of patience fails
and from a grievance each one ails,
let His virtue manifest
and every grievance lay to rest.

When you feel that naught remains
and love is changed to dying flames,
see Him work a marvel rare
and quicken fire from empty air.

 At every moment of thy need,
a mother's intercession plead.
May each of those needs be among
the prayers she takes before her Son.

Days when weariness and care
upon thy mind and body wear,
I pray a faithful servant stands
to hear and follow Christ's commands.

Through that attentive, willing soul,
the power of God I pray to flow,
and with His strength thy life revive--
the choicest drink to last imbibe.

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