How Are We Called to Be Holy?

How Are We Called to Be Holy?

I had a crisis of faith over the past few weeks. I was not questioning any points of doctrine or doubting God and His existence, but I was doubting whether or not I, as a middle class American with so many comforts, could ever really live life of heroic virtue. The doubt came from a combination of circumstances, the first being the bleakness of a winter that has no end in sight, the second being the deaths of a number of people close to me or close to those I know, the third being considering the lives of a couple of saints through film. The winter is self-explanatory. It is getting pretty long here in Minnesota, even though it has been mild compared to last winter. But when the 20s seem warm, you know you have a winter problem. The glumness of winter wears a person down, and opens one up for doubts. Further, Lent is looming on the horizon and as I think about what to do for Lent, all of my faults and tendencies towards sin stare up accusingly at me. Then there are those who have died. The first was a neighbor, an elderly man of Christian faith, leaving behind his kind widow. They have been great neighbors, and for my children he is the first person that they knew personally to pass away. They pray for his soul daily, just as they prayed for him to overcome his cancer daily. The second was the father of a good friend. This also affected my kids, since he is the grandfather of some of their friends. The...
Learning Virtue From Jane Austen

Learning Virtue From Jane Austen

Every couple of years (usually during pregnancies) I pull out our tattered volume of the complete works of Jane Austen and read it from cover to cover. And with each reread of her novels, I discover more about how she saw human nature. This past reading I was struck with her exploration of her characters’ natural inclinations. We all have them, an inclination to certain sins like sloth, gluttony, selfishness, or over-indulging various pleasures. But we also have inclinations to good things. Some of us are more inclined to quiet prayer, while others are inclined to a long run, and others to friendliness. And while we are to spend our lives overcoming our weaknesses, we do so with the aid of our good inclinations. In Austen we see her heroines and heroes overcoming their natural weaknesses, and her villains succumbing to them. The villains of her stories, such as Mr. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice or Mr. Crawford in Mansfield Park, have no guidance or inclination to seek virtue, and often they are influenced by others with the same weaknesses to lead a life of vice. A character that is inclined to self-indulgence often has been raised by someone of the same character or been spoiled in their youth by a well-meaning adult. Those who overcome their weaknesses, such as Emma in Emma and Marianne in Sense and Sensibility, are encouraged to do so by a good upbringing or by another character who is self-aware enough to see the need to overcome weakness. In Austen we see these good influences in the forms of a mentor or of a romantic interest who sees...
Missing Mediation in Exodus: God and Kings

Missing Mediation in Exodus: God and Kings

Last week, my husband and I got out to the movies to see Hollywood’s latest adaption of the Exodus story, Exodus: God and Kings, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Christian Bale as Moses and Joel Edgerton as Ramses II. The movie was full of striking imagery, and the music was reminiscent of the 1998 soundtrack of the Prince of Egypt. It followed the basic plotline of the Exodus story, while taking artistic license in the interpretation of the story. The director, Scott focused largely on the brotherly rivalry between Moses and Ramses, starting the movie off with a battle against the Hittites in which Moses is a hero. Their relationship plays a key role in the progression of the movie. When Ramses discovers Moses’ true origin he banishes Moses to the wilderness. In the wilderness Moses meets Jethro and his family, and eventually marries one of Jethro’s daughters, Zipporah. Through his relationship with Zipporah, we learn about Moses’ lack of faith in any god. When Moses encounters the burning bush, it is unclear to him whether it was a dream or whether God is really asking him to do something. Through further subtle urging, Moses decides to go back to Egypt and see about freeing his people. He believes that God wants him to be a military leader. Throughout the rest of the movie, Moses spends a lot of time trying to figure out what God wants him to do and acting according to his own judgment. It seems that God has left Moses to free the Israelites through guerilla warfare. Only when Moses attempts fail, does God...
What We Can Learn from the Benedictines

What We Can Learn from the Benedictines

It was a mild December night in Minnesota as a hundred Catholic adults converged upon the beautiful house of a lovely young couple in order to meet a monk. They entered the house and, having been welcomed with a smile, dove right into the fudge and wine and entered into conversation with the other like-minded acquaintances present. After and hour of socializing, the monk, Fr. Cassion Folsom, O.S.B., the founder and Prior of a new community of Benedictines, began to speak. He told us about his order, which established themselves in a monastery in Norcia, Italy, the birth place of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica, in 2000. Benedictines had been in Norcia for hundreds of years until they were suppressed by Napoleon in 1810. This group of monks has been growing well and is nearing 20 monks. It is not a coincidence that the Benedictines are drawing new vocations. The work in which St. Benedict engaged, preserving the Church, community life, knowledge, and virtue, is a work that is again of immense importance today. Fr. Folsom shared this quotation from Alasdair Macintyre, from a book published in 1981, which is still relevant today: “It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the...
Overcoming the Advent Grumpies

Overcoming the Advent Grumpies

My favorite Advent was the year my second was born. She was due the second week of December and I decided to do all of my shopping and card writing in November so that I could just rest and not worry about the physical Christmas preparations. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, I decided that we had to finish everything for the baby even though we were still 12 days before the due date; I had a hunch. And sure enough, I woke up in labor at 4 am on the First Sunday of Advent. My daughter was born before dinnertime, and because I had been so well prepared, I spent all of Advent not worrying about the physical Christmas preparations and just contemplating Our Lady waiting for her newborn baby. There was something nice about not being apart of the busyness normally associated with Advent. I sat on the couch, nursed my baby, read to my toddler, napped all the time, watched it snow almost everyday that December in Buffalo, NY, and was readying my heart for Christmas day. I was free from the pre-Christmas craziness. Without a due date to motivate myself to do things early, I am not usually done by Advent, but I do get most of the shopping and card writing done by the first week of Advent. I do not see it as getting caught up in Christmas early, but preparing for Christmas in all the many ways that we have to. We also have a number of family Advent traditions, such as the Jesse Tree, an Advent Wreath, an Advent calendar, and not decorating...