All posts by Laura McAlister

Laura is a baby Catholic, research student, writer, tea-drinker and aspiring countess from Sydney, Australia. Formerly an Evangelical Protestant, she came back to the Catholic Church in 2012. She disturbs the universe at Catholic Cravings.

Calvinism vs the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Calvinism vs the Sacred Heart of Jesus - Ignitum TodayCalvinism is a Protestant theological system based on the writings of John Calvin (1509 – 1564), a Protestant Reformer most famously associated with Geneva. Calvin was brilliant, harsh and very persuasive.

Calvinism almost killed my faith in Jesus.

Like all good heresies, Calvinism is an intellectually coherent theological system that ultimately destroys the heart of Christianity. It starts with a true premise, namely that God is sovereign and all-powerful. It then makes this the controlling principle for everything.

If God is all-powerful, then He decides who is and isn’t saved. God chooses who to save (“the elect”) and loves them. He also chooses who not to save (“the reprobate”) and He hates them because they are sinners. In all His actions, God is glorified because His will is done — both to the elect and the reprobate. Simple, right?

As an evangelical, I was a kind of Calvinist. I accepted the premise that God’s sovereign will was The Most Important Thing. I refused to believe that God didn’t love all people and desire all people to be saved — but I had no idea how to square that with the sovereignty of God. I felt a constant conflict between what I saw as the love and the strength of God.

If God is strong enough to save all but doesn’t, how can He love all?

If God loves all enough to save them but doesn’t, how can He be strong?

Forced by intransigent logic, I kept edging closer and closer to being a full-on Calvinist. I felt like I had little choice if I wanted to be theologically consistent. I couldn’t deny the omnipotence of God because then He wouldn’t be God. So what else could I do?

On the cusp of embracing it all, however, I realised that I’d turned God into something far worse than a weakling. I’d turned Him into a tyrant. When I saw the inevitable outcome of such logic, I was horrified. I was confused and angry. How could I possibly believe that God would will some to hell? That He would create human beings only for the purpose of damning them and all this in order to bring Him glory?

Amid all the Calvinist theology I’d been taught, I’d also learnt much that was true and good. One of those truths saved me: Jesus is the revelation of God. I prayed, begging the Holy Spirit to reveal the real Jesus to me all over again.

That’s when I discovered the Catholic devotion to the Sacred Heart.

I realised that if I wanted to know God’s will, I had to know God’s heart. I had to know the Heart of Jesus, true God incarnate by the Spirit. As I prayed, “O most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in thee”, I read the gospels in a new light. It was the same light that had burst into my life with that first conversion to Christ.

All over again, I met the Jesus who loved and sought all people.

Burdened by their sin, He invited all to follow Him. Christ had such compassion on people. His Heart was moved with love and sorrow for the lost. Because of His love, Christ warned people about sin and rebuked many — but He never turned away from those who turned to Him. He came into the world not to condemn the world but to save it through His love.

His love led Him to the Cross. There, He suffered and was killed, the words “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” on His lips. (Luke 23:34) His Heart was pierced and out came blood and water, blood for atonement and water for new life in the Spirit.

He rose again and ascended into glory. By His Spirit, He is still loving all and calling all to come unto Him: for He is gentle and humble of heart.

The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus changed my focus just when I so desperately needed it. By fixing my eyes on His Heart, my eyes are on Him and on His love.

This is a love I am coming to know more and more deeply as He washes away my tears and infuses His love-filled grace into my own heart.

The devotion to the Sacred Heart points us to Jesus as he reveals Himself, not as we make Him out to be. It invites us to see Christ as a true reflection of the Heart of God, the God who is Love, and who wills the salvation of all.

photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc

7 Reasons Christianity is the Most Persecuted Religion in the World

Last night, I asked my family what percentage of religious persecution in the world they thought was directed at Christians.

They guessed about 30%. After all, they said, Christians are about one-third of the global population so that would make sense, right?

When I told them it was closer to 80%, they initially refused to believe me. Safe in our prosperous, post-Christian Australian culture, it seemed almost absurd. Yet, we have daily, horrifying proof of this reality.

From Northern Iraq to Nigeria, from China to India, the cries of Christian suffering pierces the heavens: A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.” (Mt 2:18)

In all this, our own hearts cry out asking why. Why is this happening? Why do Christians suffer so much persecution today? Why have there been more martyrs to the faith in the 20th Century than the preceding 19 put together?

Untitled design (20)

In his book The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution John Allen cites the work of German scholar Thomas Schirrmacher, an Evangelical Christian human rights activist. Although Schirrmacher acknowledges the deep complexity of this global tragedy, he shows that there are some significant socio-political reasons Christians are so disproportionately persecuted.

He gives 10 points but I think we can summarise them in six — with one more reason which is by far the most important.

1. Christianity — Catholic, Evangelical and Pentecostal — is growing dramatically in the what is often called the Global South. Such growth is only possible because Christians actively evangelize, sharing the gospel of salvation with others. This missionary zeal is seen as a threat and directs attention towards Christians.

2. Christianity is growing rapidly in some of the most dangerous areas of the world, particularly in parts of Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and even in the Middle East. In these volatile areas, any disruption of the fragile status quo is potentially disastrous and Christians are suffering because of it.

3. Christianity is often seen as a form of Western imperialism and identified with “the West.” This makes Christians a natural target for many nationalist movements. Nationalism invariably seeks to unify the nation by excluding minorities. They create unity through hate and Christians, who live for another kingdom, are often the target of this nationalist hatred. An example of this is extreme Hindu nationalism which targets Christians as anti-Indian.

4. Christians are often at the forefront of promoting human rights and democracy as well as opposing violence, corruption, and exploitation of the poor. As such, they are often targeted by the powerful, whether governments or mob groups, who don’t hesitate to use violence or other forces of coercion to get what they want. For example, the Latin American drug lords who murder Catholic priests and other Christian leaders because they are the only ones defending the rights of the poor.

5. Christians have their ultimate allegiance to the Kingdom of God which is not of this world. As such, they are viewed with suspicion by totalitarian governments who, as their name suggests, want total control over the bodies and souls of the people. This is the reason behind much of the persecution in places like China and even more so in North Korea.

6. Christians, on the whole, reject violence and retribution. Persecution is invariably the strong oppressing the weak — or in the case of Christianity, the meek — simply because they can.

7. Christians are persecuted because Christ is persecuted. Satan “knows that his time is short” and so, unable to get to Christ or His Mother (Revelation 12:12), he makes war “on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus.” (Revelation 12:17) This is the hidden reality behind all persecution. The world and the devil continue to persecute Christ through His people (cf. Acts 9:4-5) just as Christ said they would: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.” (John 15:20)

It’s important to understand the social, historical and political reasons why Christians are being persecuted. Understanding them more fully might be able to help us reduce persecution. We must do whatever we can to protect our Christian brothers and sisters, not just in providing short-term relief but helping to build a global culture of religious freedom.

At the same time, we can’t lose sight of the fact that the real enemy here ultimately isn’t the terrorist with the gun or the bureaucrat with the agenda. They need our prayers and yes, our love.

The real enemy is Satan.

If we forget that and believe that people are our true enemies, then we will hate our neighbor and imperil our souls. We will forget the heart of the Christian faith, the merciful Heart of Jesus who willingly bore the persecution of the world for our sake.

Then, we will truly be lost.

Five Ways Christians Live Holy Saturday Every Day

5 Ways Christians Live Holy Saturday Every Day

Holy Saturday is an odd, quiet day. Stuck between the agony of Good Friday and the joy of Easter Sunday, it is a day of middles and “alreadys but not yets”.

In many ways, Holy Saturday is a symbol for the Christian life.

As Christians, we live Holy Saturday.

1. Experientially, we live Holy Saturday.

I don’t spend most of my time in either agony or ecstasy — and I’m guessing you don’t either.

Instead, our days are filled with ordinary, seemingly insignificant things. We wake, eat, pray, work, sleep. We have little joys, like sunlight on a cold day, or little sorrows, like a pile of laundry that just won’t do itself.

They’re not really bad days or really good days, they’re just… middling.

2. Salvifically, we live Holy Saturday.

Good Friday, you could say, is our baptism. In baptism, we have died with Christ and our “old self was crucified with Him.” (Romans 6:6)

But we still wait the completion of our new life: our resurrection bodies. We still wait for our Easter Sunday. We “groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” (Romans 8:22-23)

The resurrection of the body isn’t an after-thought or bonus extra in Christianity. It is not an Easter egg in God’s software. Rather, salvation is for the New Creation. Until then, we are living our Holy Saturday, longing “to put on our heavenly dwelling… so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” (2 Corinthians 5:2, 4)

3. Spiritually, we live Holy Saturday.

Not only our bodies but our souls wait. If Easter Sunday represents our bodily resurrection, it also represents our entry into the glory of heaven: our heavenly birthday. (This is why we celebrate the death of the saints, but it is really their true birthdays!)

In between our baptism and our rebirth into heaven, there is often a mighty struggle. Only by the grace of God, particularly through the sacraments, do we grow in holiness. We slowly learn put on the new self, “which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:10)

This is the Holy Saturday of our spiritual lives.

4. Cosmically too, we live Holy Saturday.

Saturday is of course the Jewish Sabbath, the seventh day of the week. Genesis tells us that God created all that is in six days. “And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done.” (Genesis 2:2)

This has a far deeper meaning too. The Catechism explains that “these inspired words [from Genesis] are rich in profitable instruction.” (CCC 345) It continues,

In creation God laid a foundation and established laws that remain firm… For his part man must remain faithful to this foundation, and respect the laws which the Creator has written into it. (CCC #346)

The seventh day, the Sabbath, completes creation. Our task as Christians now is to remain faithful to this foundation: “to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:11-13)

Fra Angelico, Entombment, 1440
Fra Angelico, Entombment, 1440

5. Finally, we live Holy Saturday in hope.

In a sense, everything I’ve written so far has been incomplete.

Yes, we live in the seventh and final day… but equally, a new day has dawned: the day of Christ’s Resurrection.” (CCC #349) Yes, our bodies haven’t been raised yet… but the Resurrection of Christ is our proof and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is our guarantee that we will be raised with Him.

This promise is trustworthy. It is in this hope that we have been saved. In fact, St Paul is so confident in this hope that he writes that “God… raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” That’s past tense, people. Past Tense.

This is the final way we Christians live Holy Saturday: we live as people of hope.

Hope requires a darkness to be delivered from as much as a light to long for. It is the virtue of the middle: the stem that connects what is to what will be. Indeed, hope is always lived in the inbetween times, the middling times, the “already and not yet” times.

If the virtue of hope were a day, she’d have to be Holy Saturday.

Purity Balls: the Good, the Bad, and the Catholic

He kneels before me, taking my hand in his, and slips a ring on my finger. I look it at: it’s beautiful, so sparkly, and I’m in awe of what it symbolises. This is what love is, I think. He tells me how glad he is so that he is able to give me ring, this pledge, this promise before God Almighty.

SilverRingThing

I am twelve.

We are at a Purity Ball, and “he” is my dad, one of many pledging to protect their daughters’ purity at similar balls across the United States and the World, as recently featured in a Daily Mail article last week.

Okay, so it’s not actually me or my dad. My dad wouldn’t take me to Purity Ball anymore than he would a strip club. (Thankfully!) For many girls around America, however, this is a reality.

What should we make of this as Catholics?

I think these young women and their fathers are to be commended for their intentions, but seriously need to re-think their approach and what it says about it says about sexual purity, paternal authority and self-control.

The good news is that these young women are trying to live the virtue of chastity. As we all know, that’s no easy thing. Purity Balls rightly recognize that chastity is tremendously important, that it is extremely difficult in today’s culture, and that we all need a whole lot of help to remain chaste. 

Purity Balls, however, reveal a distorted view of what purity actually is. Essentially, they say purity = nothing sex at all.

Purity isn’t just about sex.

In both the Bible and Christian Tradition, purity = holiness. Christ promises us that the “pure in heart” will see God. (Matthew 5:8) Indeed, “purity of heart is the precondition of the vision of God.” (CCC #2519) This purity is holiness in heart, mind, spirit and body and without this holiness, “no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)

Purity includes sexual purity or chastity because “chastity lets us love with upright and undivided heart.” (CCC #2520) It is so much more than who you do or don’t kiss, touch, date or have sex with.

The other concerning thing about Purity Balls is the role of fathers. It must be said that these fathers obviously love their daughters and want the best for them.

Still, it is the fathers who are, arguably, the primary subjects of Purity Balls. Their daughters, in contrast, are the objects. This is a problem — not least because WHERE ARE THE MOTHERS AND THE YOUNG MEN??? Leaving that can of worms, Purity Balls reveal a problematic understanding of paternal authority.

Each father makes the following pledge:

I ……’s father, choose before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity. I will be pure in my own life as a man, husband and father. I will be a man of integrity and accountability as I lead, guide and pray over my daughter and my family as the High Priest in my home. This covering will be used  by God to influence generations to come.

In the Purity Balls featured by the Mail article, the daughter signs as a witness to her father’s covenant to protect her purity and makes a silent pledge herself through “the symbol of laying down a white rose at the cross, before engaging in a wedding-type dance with [her] father.” (HT)

For me, this is easily one of the most concerning aspect of the Purity Balls. Why aren’t these girls the primary subjects in this ceremony around their own chastity? Why are they silent?

file1591340859301

Purity Ball pledges like these reinforce a cruel lie: that men control women’s sexuality.

In a sense, all men are responsible for the chastity of women, just as women are for the chastity of men. We are all responsible for each other — we “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 2:6) and make every effort not “to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” (Romans 14:13)

But a woman’s body — just like a man’s — belongs first and foremost to her by the gift of God. Only when this is absolutely fixed in our minds can we begin to comprehend how marriage — and indeed sex — is a gift. You can’t truly give what was never truly yours.

Purity Balls encourage young and impressionable girls into a state of passivity about her own sexual being. That is no healthy preparation for marriage.

Paradoxically, it can damage a woman’s determination to pursue chastity.

If she has wrapped her notion of sexual purity in the authority of her father, what happens if he fails her? If she’s used to a man telling her what she can and can’t do with her body, what happens a more persuasive young man comes along? And what of young women who have no fathers to be “her authority and protection in the area of purity”?

On the contrary, the secret of chastity, for both men and women, is self-control. As one of the seven heavenly virtues, chastity is a corollary of the cardinal virtue of temperance or self-control.

Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom… “Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint.” (CCC #2339)

Young women — all of us — need to know that our bodies and our chastity are our own responsibility.

You might be thinking, that’s just a heavy load! Indeed it is: that is the dignity of human beings, created in the image of God.

Just because Purity Balls have a distorted view of sex and authority doesn’t mean vows of chastity are pointless. Perhaps consider a Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary Immaculate or enrolling in the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, an apostolate of the Dominican Friars for pursuing and promoting chastity.

Saint_Thomas_Aquinas_Diego_Velázquez
Diego Velázquez, St Thomas Aquinas, 1632

Best of all, we have the sacraments. As anyone who’s read Scott Hahn knows, our word sacramentum also means oath or vow. In the Eucharist, truly Christ, we receive all the graces we need to lives of purity. It is our pledge that we belong to Him and better still, His that we belong to Him. Without His grace, self-mastery is impossible.

While the loving support of our family and friends is truly helpful, the only “authority and cover” we need to live a chaste life comes from God.

Our Eternal Father offers purity of heart and eternal life to all — no matter who you are, what you’ve done… or who your dad is.

Which Battle are You Fighting this Lent?

IT-Which Battle Are You Fighting

This week, we are in the midst of the battle.

Lent is a battle. It’s our “campaign of Christian service,” as the Ash Wednesday collect says.

At the beginning, we can be so gung-ho about Lent. We’ve gathered our weapons and put on the armor of God. (If we have loins to gird, we might even do that too.)

We’ve made plans and we know the enemy doesn’t stand a chance. Give up ALL the things! Become Super Awesome Prayer Warrior! Give The GDP Of Small Nation As Alms Every Week! We even wear our Lenten war paint. (#ashtag!)

This Sunday will be the third Sunday of Lent. I think of it as the hump day of  Lent. If you’re anything like me, you are getting weary. The fighting is exhausting, you seem to be losing ground every day and this Lent isn’t turning out nearly as well as you’d hoped.

Perhaps part of the problem is that we’ve actually fighting the wrong battle.

The devil isn’t stupid (more’s the pity really). He knows that if we fight under the banner of Christ, he will lose. Spectacularly. (Seriously, he should really read Revelation 20. It does not end well.)

So he tries to drag us into another battle.

Fr. Jacques Philippe in Searching for and Maintaining Peace explains this beautifully.

Quite often in the daily unfolding of our Christian life it happens that we fight the wrong battle, if one may put it that way, because we orient our efforts in the wrong direction. We fight on a terrain where the devil subtly drags us and can vanquish us, instead of fighting on the real battlefield, where, on the contrary, by the grace of God, we are always certain of victory.

The false battlefield is the battle for PERFECTION. That’s not the holy, humble, joyful perfection of the saints which trusts for all things from God, it’s the PERFECTION OF GETTING ALL THINGS RIGHT.

We believe, for example, that to win the spiritual battle we must vanquish all our faults, never succumb to temptation, have no more weaknesses or shortcomings.

Guess what? We are always going to lose that battle. 

But on such a terrain we are sure to be vanquished! Because who among us can pretend never to fall? And it is certainly not this God demands of us, for He knows of what we are made. He remembers we are dust (Psalm 103).

Vasily Surikov, Temptation of Christ (1872)
Vasily Surikov, Temptation of Christ (1872)

All the while, the real spiritual battle is going on somewhere else.

On the contrary, the real spiritual battle, rather than the pursuit of invincibility or some other absolute infallibility beyond our capacity, consists principally in learning, without becoming too discouraged, to accept falling occasionally and not to lose our peace of heart if we should happen to do so lamentably, not to become excessively sad regarding our defeats and to know how to rebound from our falls to an even higher level.

In that sense, this spiritual battle of Lent is the anti-battle. As Christians, we can’t fight for true peace. We can only receive it with humble and open hands. This is the peace Christ Jesus gives. (John 14:27)

To receive this peace, we have to let go. We have to stop fighting for perfection and let Christ the King do the fighting for us.

We have to put down our weapons, and whisper, “Lord, your will be done. I don’t why I’m so discouraged right now. I don’t know why I can’t be the Spiritual Superhero I want to be. But I’m not asking to like it and I’m not asking to understanding it. All I ask is that you stay with me. Fight my battles because I can’t. Stay with me, my Jesus.”

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:10-12)

Lent, it seems, isn’t the fight to fast the hardest, pray the longest or give the most. It is the spiritual struggle to believe the good news of the gospel:

God gives you His peace.

+JMJ+

Gatecrashing the Trinity: Don Miller and Why Catholics Go to Mass

Don Miller is a prominent Evangelical Christian writer. And he doesn’t go to church much… at all.

But wait, I hear you saying, don’t all Christians go to church? Isn’t that kind of a non-negotiable? I mean, how could he not!?

Don says he doesn’t go to church because “it’s not how I learn.” He describes himself as a kinesthetic learner. Most Evangelical church services, however, are auditory. You listen to the Bible, to a sermon and you sing songs. You really don’t do much (except maybe raise your hands…) and the most visual you’re going to get is the stock photos of sunsets, ripples or clapsed hands on the PowerPoint.

Look! Clasped hands *and* a sunset!
Look! Clasped hands *and* a sunset!

Don says that it’s just not how he worships God, learns about God, or connects with other Christians.

I actually think Don has a point here. As a former Evangelical, I would have said go to church because this is the best place to do those things. But if they’re not working for you, why go? We’re all different, right?

For Catholics, however, it’s a very different story.

Who is the Church Really About?

If you read Don’s article, you will see it’s all about him. I don’t mean that in a negative way. Evangelical church services are about you. They’re all about you worshiping God, you learning about God, and you connecting with other Christians. God is one part of the equation and you are the other. 

The Catholic Mass is different.

While the key relationship at a Protestant church service is between you and God, in the Mass it’s between God Himself. The Mass is, first and foremost, an act of God to God by God. It is the re-presentation of the atoning sacrifice of the Son to the Father by the Holy Spirit.

We’re there too but it’s only by participating in that prior action of Christ. We unite ourselves to Christ, and by this are granted “communion in the divine life.” (CCC #1325) So the main relationship going on at Mass is between the persons of the Blessed Trinity… and we’re the gatecrashers. We’re basically the Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughan of divine life — or the Goldilocks to the Trinitarian Three Bears.

That means, however, that the Mass means something whether or not I’m there. St Padre Pio said that, “It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass.”

To really get the difference here, try imagining a Protestant church service without a congregation. It just doesn’t work. It wouldn’t be a church service; it would be a private devotional time. And why go to a church building for that?

Why Go to Mass Then?

But if the Mass doesn’t need me to do its “job”, then why go?

Bear with me here, but I think because the Mass has an objective meaning outside of me; I am actually more dependent on it. If the most important thing is how I worship and grow in God, well I can do that anywhere I am. (God is always going to be there anywhere because He’s omnipresence.)

If the most important thing, however, is how I participate in already existing action, then I need to be where that action is. To go back to our metaphors, I can’t crash the wedding unless I’m at the wedding. I can’t eat all the porridge unless I’m in the three bears house.

Realising that also makes me so much more grateful for my welcome! We might be the gatecrashers but God invites us to become the Bride Herself. Blessed are those called to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb! We might Goldilocks but these three bears of the Holy Trinity are like, EAT ALL THE PORRIDGE!!! AND THEN WE’LL MAKE PANCAKES!!! AND BACON!!! (Hmm, bacon…)

latin mass

Because the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass doesn’t need us, we need it all the more. Christ will be offered to the Father with or without you. But with all His love, He invites you in and offers you everything He has, even Himself, in the Holy Mass.

As St Paul says,

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2:19-21)

So go to Mass.

It’s not every day you get to gatecrash the Trinity.

Oh wait… yeah, it is!

Can You Be Catholic and Feminist?

About a week ago, I saw an article pop up here on Ignitum Today called Roots, Fruits, and Feminism.

I eagerly clicked on the link, wondering what new light it could shed on feminism. (I’ll be honest, I love me some old-fashioned feminist rants!) Then I realised, oh dear me, this wasn’t any old article about Feminism. Oh no.

This one was about… me.

Ok, it wasn’t just about me. The article was a response to a post I’d written a few months ago on my own blog, Catholic Cravings, called “I’m A Feminist Because I’m a Hypocrite.” It was the first in three-part series where I explained three reasons why I’m a feminist. (The other two are “Because Being Female is Dangerous” and “Because I Love Patriarchy“)

I really appreciate Meghan sharing her thoughts on my post. So I thought I’d share mine on hers — as well as some of my concerns. Now, Meghan says this is nothing personal and I believe her. She is courteous and warm throughout her article, and I really appreciate that. I hope I can act with some of that grace in response.

I’ll try be as concise as possible but this is a looong post. Feel free to skim!

So, shall we?

The Issue At Hand: Catholic and Feminist?

The question here is whether Catholics can and should call themselves feminists. I say yes. Meghan, however, says no. She writes that while at first blush, my arguments for feminism seem reasonable, they are actually a capitulation and a compromise.

“It is abhorrent to me that Catholic women like her [i.e., me] feel a compunction to compromise with the feminists and somehow give them credit for misappropriated victories.”

Naturally, I disagree.

I am a feminist and I am proud to call myself a feminist, despite the some of the evils feminism has encouraged. This is because feminism is a diverse movement, including both good and bad “fruits” as Meghan would say. But at its heart, grounded in the full equality of the sexes, it aims to secure the rights of women and to advocate for our inherent dignity and well-being.

feminist

Look up any dictionary or textbook and you will read that definition. I think how could you not want to be a part of that?

In my original post, I argued that many of us have a caricatured version of feminism. We think it’s all sex, abortion, man-hating — and maybe the vote too.

Against this caricature, I briefly outlined the history of feminism from the early 19th Century to the present day, trying to highlight the diversity of feminism and to point out the many good things feminism has achieved.

Generally, feminism is divided into three waves:

  1. First wave (19th Century – 1920s), which was primarily focused on rights to suffrage, property and education.
  2. Second wave (1960s – 1980s), which was mainly about equal wages, sexual abuse, reproductive “rights” and sex discrimination.
  3. Third wave (1980s – ), which seems to be about “things like the ‘right’ to… engage in all kinds of unnatural or promiscuous sexual experimentation on the grounds of a gendered ‘self-expression’” as Meghan aptly put it, but also about how sexism is one kind of discrimination among others, and how feminism has silenced women of colour and from third world countries in its own history.

To these waves, many would add a “first-and-a-half” wave from 1920s – 1950s. Feminism activism was less during this period, but that’s because we had, oh what was it, a World War, a Great Depression, and another World War.

The main point of my post was that feminism, considered as a complex, historically conditioned movement, has more than enough room for faithful Christians.

Was First Wave Feminism Just A Suffrage Movement?

My first problem with Meghan’s critique is that she ignores this complex history. She reduces what historians call first wave feminism (19th Century – 1920s) to a suffrage movement, which she describes as “a totally different beast” from the feminism we know today.

There is no doubt that the right to vote was incredibly important to the early women’s rights movements. But there was so much more!

First wave feminism won us the right to vote, to own property (and manage and dispose of that property), to sit on juries, to take out loans, to attend universities; essentially, to be our own legal persons and not the property or childish dependents of our husbands.

Women’s rights activists also advocated for education reform, set up schools, campaigned for better treatment of prostitutes (who were shamefully exploited by men), and supported improvements in women’s working conditions and wages (which were worse than men’s — and theirs were bad!) Perhaps most importantly, feminists of the 19th Century encouraged women, and society more generally, to see women as rational adultsTo wit,

“My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their fascinating graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone.”

– Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, 1792

Meghan dismisses this rich history by labeling first wave feminism simply as “suffrage.” This means from the start, we are talking about two very definitions of feminism.

So who’s right?

3820613246_8491433450_o
Suffragettes on the way to Boston

Can We Call the First Wave Feminist?

If Meghan provided some historical evidence that first wave feminism wasn’t in fact feminist, but simply a suffrage movement, maybe that would be something. But she doesn’t. Instead, she simply asserts “feminism as we know it has roots only in the Sexual Revolution.” [my emphasis]

Historically, that is untenable.

In both popular and scholarly discourse, feminism refers to the women’s rights movement from early pioneers in the 19th Century to the present day. Admittedly, the term ‘feminist’ itself was not used by the first women’s rights supporters. It was originally a French term and didn’t enter the English language until the 1890s after the First International Women’s Conference in Paris, 1892. Still, that’s a good seventy years before the Sexual Revolution and a good twenty-five before women were able to vote in most Western countries.

Modern feminism today definitely draws a great deal from the Sexual Revolution (mostly for worse), but both it and the feminism of the 60s and 70s, are rooted in the older feminism of the 19th Century. We can see this in some of the good things modern feminists have achieved — but I’ll come to do that in a moment.

Is Feminism About Human Rights?

Eleanor Roosevelt with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Eleanor Roosevelt with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

My second problem with Meghan’s response is what I see as a reductionist account of human rights.

Part of my original argument was that while feminists today generally promote abortion (thus violating the most fundamental human right to live), feminists have also been instrumental in securing some of the most basic human rights for women.

As I explained above, Meghan doesn’t address such rights gained from first wave feminism because she doesn’t treat it as feminism.

But she also dismisses such gains from the second wave too.

University Admission, Equal Pay, Consequence-Free Sex, Abortion on Demand, etc: None of these are rights, and all of these are associated with the kinds of feminism that are not suffrage. A right is as narrowly defined as suffrage–it isn’t anything and everything to which you feel entitled. A right is a human being’s claim on their identity as a child of God.  In secular terms, it is ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’.

I agree that consequence-free sex and abortion are not human rights; both are immoral and we never have a right to do what is immoral.

But surely university admission and equal pay for women are human rights? I mean, that’s a pretty basic right against discrimination. Maybe Meghan thought I was saying all women must attend university or must all be paid exactly the same amount — but there is nothing in my article to suggest that. It’s certainly not what I think! (Though I think we could do with a whole lot more equity in both areas.)

University admission and equal pay without sex discrimination are human rights. How could not being discriminated against for being female (or male for that matter), in either education or employment, not be a human right? 

It’s in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, specifically in articles 23 & 26.

It’s also in Catholic teaching. For example, Gaudium et Spes declared that,

Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design. For in truth it must still be regretted that fundamental personal rights are still not being universally honored. Such is the case of a woman who is denied the right to choose a husband freely, to embrace a state of life or to acquire an education or cultural benefits equal to those recognized for men. (Gaudium et Spes, §29)

That’s right, according to Gaudium et Spes, not being able “to acquire an education or cultural benefits equal to those recognised for men” is a violation of a woman’s “fundamental personal rights.”

Did Any Good Come Out of Modern Feminism?

d59d1f4820799db8cf24e4556e8c5e93Meghan’s critique fails to recognise the real achievements of second wave feminism in advocating for women’s rights.

To education and equal pay, we could add a legal right against sexism, stricter laws about sexual assault, greater social freedom in pursuing careers, and the recognition that women can be raped by their husbands. (It was a legal impossibility before.)

Second wave feminists also campaigned strongly against pornography, which they rightly thought was degrading to women, and the sexualisation of women in the media. And feminists continue to do so.

To sum up, I must reject the bulk of Meghan’s critique because in it, she fails to consider feminism as a whole. Instead, she ignores the good of early feminism by reducing it to a suffrage movement and also the good of modern feminism by a reductionistic account of human rights.

Should We Reclaim Feminism?

Nonetheless, the real question at the heart of this article remains.

Given this complex heritage, should Catholic women be feminists? There is a great deal of evil in feminism — and I’m not afraid to describe it as such. So is there any point to calling ourselves feminists? Can we reclaim feminism for Christ?

My answer remains a firm yes.

Meghan writes,

Despite Laura’s optimism that since it has changed twice already maybe it will change again, I don’t think we need to waste anymore time on a cultural identifier that has at its very root things that we as Catholics claim to want to do away with. Be a suffragist, be a woman, be feminine. Don’t try to perform moral and intellectual gymnastics to try and contort feminism into something you can get behind.

Maybe it’s because I was raised by a feminist mother and grew up with feminist friends but when I think feminism, I don’t think Sexual Revolution and I certainly don’t think evil, man-hating, baby-killing slut out to destroy society. (Not, to be fair, that Meghan’s writes that — although plenty think that way!)

I think of equality.

It is equality that truly lies at the very root of feminism. For me and countless others, feminism is a “cultural identifier” that says I am for equality and I am for women.

I don’t want to abandon the legacy of our feminist forebears to a radical feminism which is actually anti-woman. I don’t want my daughters to grow up believing the lie that being pro-woman means being pro-abortion. I don’t want the real roots of feminism to be obscured by bad fruit.

I want in.

Feminism still has so much good to do in the world.

Pakistani-womens-rights-a-007
Pakistani women

Women still make up about 70% of the world’s poorest people, earn only about 3/4 of the amount men do for the same work, and those aged 15-45 are still more likely to die from male violence than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. (Source: Half the Sky Movement)

Of the 775 million people who are illiterate, two thirds are women. Over 600 million women live in countries where domestic violence is legal, around 3 million girls will suffer genital mutilation every year, and over 1000 women are raped every day in the Congo alone.

Across the third world, women are disadvantaged and oppressed in ways we can’t even begin to imagine. Such entrenched discrimination against women requires a specifically feminist response. I’m not saying feminism can single-handly solve these problems. It can’t; it’s a whole lot more complicated than that. (But isn’t it always?)

Conclusion: Catholic and Feminist

If it’s optimistic to believe that feminism can live up, even in part, to its own values and founding principles, then call me an optimist.

That’s fine by me.

like being optimistic. I will keep believing that women deserve better, can do better, and can use our God-given femininity, by the grace of God, to further His Kingdom. I would never put my feminism above my Catholic faith because that would be putting a human endeavour above the cause of Christ. But where I can, I am glad to be a feminist.

I am a Catholic and then a feminist.

I am a feminist because I am first a Catholic.

I am Catholic and feminist.

Why Do Catholics and Protestants Have Different Bibles?

It was one of the odder things about returning to the Catholic Church.

Suddenly I realised that I had seven more books, and a few extra chapters, in my Bible than I did as a Protestant. This is because the Protestant Bible has 39 books in the Old Testament, the Catholic Old Testament has 46 (yay more bible!). It seems we can’t agree on how many books we should have in the Old Testament.

acdc

These disputed books are called the deuterocanon (if you’re Catholic) and apocrypha (if you’re Protestant). There are plenty of good theological arguments for the deuterocanon/apocrypha, but today, I want to look at the history.

Also, I’ve abbreviated Deuterocanon/Apocrypha to AC/DC for ApoCrypha/DeuteroCanon (pronounced Acca Dacca) because I’m Australian and I refuse to use long, appropriate words when I could use slang, kitschy, and totally inappropriate ones.

So, shall we?

The Jewish Bible

The Christian Old Testament is basically the Jewish Bible. The debate over the Christian Old Testament comes from the fact that the Jewish Bible wasn’t set at the time of Christ or the beginnings of Christianity.

The Hebrew canon was solidified somewhere between the 2nd Century BC and the 2nd Century AD. For example, at the time of Christ, the Sadducees accepted only the Torah, the Pharisees had roughly the modern Jewish canon, Jews in the Diaspora had a wider canon that included the AC/DC and other groups like the Essenes had different lists of authoritative books too.

The Greek Septuagint

To really understand the differences, however, we have to know about the Septuagint and its importance to early Christians.

At the beginning of this period of canonisation for the Jewish Bible, Jewish scholars in the Diaspora (and possibly the Holy Land as well) translated the Hebrew texts into Koine Greek to create the Septuagint. This translation probably took place from the 3rd Century BC to the 1st Century BC. It is said to have been commissioned by the Pharaoh Ptolemy II and carried out by 70 or 72 Jewish scholars in Alexandria — which is why it’s the Septuagint, meaning seventy. As such, it’s also referred to by it’s Roman numerals LXX. (See, acronyms are cool!)

At the time, there were many Jews living in Egypt as part of the Diaspora, as well as throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East. Their lingua franca was Greek and the Septuagint is in Koine Greek, just like the New Testament is.

Importantly, the New Testament almost exclusively quotes from the Septuagint. (It’s why sometimes the quotes OT as quoted in the NT is slightly different from the OT itself.) The early Christians also used the Septuagint almost exclusively and Christians kept using it. In fact, the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox still use the Septuagint. (Some believe the translation is divinely inspired.)

ms2649

Canon of the Septuagint

The canon of the Septuagint, however, isn’t identical to the modern Jewish Bible. (Remember, there was a number of different biblical canons at the time.) The Septuagint had (give and take) seven to ten “extra” books.

  1. 1 Esdras (also called Esdras A or 3 Esdras just to confuse everyone – the whole situation with Ezra is rather complicated)*
  2. Tobit
  3. Judith
  4. 1 Maccabees
  5. 2 Maccabees
  6. 3 Maccabees*
  7. Wisdom of Solomon
  8. Wisdom of Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus)
  9. Baruch
  10. Epistle of Jeremiah*

There were also additions to Esther, Daniel, and sometimes a total of 151 psalms.

The canon of the Septuagint is the same used by Catholics and Orthodox to this day. (The Ethiopian and other Orthodox churches have an even bigger – and stranger – canon.)

The Problem of Canons

The Septuagint itself wasn’t 100% set and there were variations within its canon too. So while the Orthodox have 49 books in their Old Testament, Catholics have 46.

Jacob Jordaens, The Four Evangelists, 1625 (Musée du Louvre, Paris)
Jacob Jordaens, The Four Evangelists, 1625 (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

Catholics have all of the books listed above expect for 1 (or 3) Esdras and 3 Maccabees. (Marked with asterisks above.) We also have 150 psalms and we include the Epistle of Jeremiah in Baruch. So it’s actually a difference of 2 books that because of our counting systems, comes out as 3. These differences come from the different canons of the Septuagint circulating at the time.

There were also quite fluid concepts of what was truly canonical, what was deuterocanonical (and what that meant), and what was apocryphal. If the boundaries of the New Testament were still a little “porous” at the time, that’s nothing compared to the Old Testament. 

It was messy.

Very messy.

Sometimes, the Church Fathers quoted from the deuterocanonical books as Scripture, other times they distinguished them from Scripture. Often, the same Church Father would do both – along with occasionally quoting as Scripture other things no one accepts anymore, and even rejecting other things we all agree are Scripture as not Scripture.

The Latin Vulgate

By the end of the 4th Century, Christians in the Latin West had settled the matter of the deuterocanon, accepting the seven books of our current canon as Scripture. The Synod of Hippo in 393 and the Council of Carthage in 397 confirmed this.

This process of solidifying the canon was helped by the translation of the bible into the Latin. In 382, Pope Damascus I commissioned St Jerome to translate the whole Bible into Latin, the vulgar or common tongue of the West (hence, Vulgate).

St Jerome was unusual for his context, however, because he thought that the AC/DC was apocryphal and didn’t belong in the Bible. Luckily, he was over-ruled — further proof of how well accepted the AC/DC was even at this early date.

Thus, between the Septuagint and Vulgate, the vast bulk of Christians for the first 1,500 years had Bibles with the AC/DC in them.

deuterocanon 2

The Protestant Old Testament

Fast forward to the Protestant Reformation, and these “extra” books were “removed” from Protestant Old Testaments.

This is because they weren’t in the Jewish canon, specifically in the Masoretic Text, a 7th to 10th Century AD Jewish standardisation/translation of the Hebrew texts.

As mentioned above, the Jewish canon was finally set around the 2nd Century AD — and a good two centuries after the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the biblical canon of Rabbinical Judaism, which emerged after the destruction of the temple and the rise of Christianity.The Protestant Reformers believed that this was a far more reliable translation than the Vulgate and Septuagint. (This is doubtful…)

In fact, the evidence suggests that it the Septuagint with its wider canon fell out of favour with the Jews because it was seen as being too Christian.

Apocrypha in a King James Bible

So Protestants re-classified the deuterocanon as apocrypha, and that’s how we find ourselves in the mess we’re in today.

Conclusion

Protestants and Catholics disagree over the Old Testament canon because the canon of the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament, was still pretty fluid at the time of Christ.

To put it simply, Catholics and Orthodox follow the canon of the Septuagint, the translation used by the New Testament writers and early Christians, while Protestants follow the canon of Rabbinical Judaism that was set after Christianity began. 

I said I wasn’t going into theological arguments… but I know which one I’d choose!

What to Expect When You’re Converting to the Catholic Church

Becoming Catholic is a tricky business.

When I left my wonderful Evangelical church two years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. Now I’m a self-confessed Converty Pants (a term I made up for nerdy converts/reverts like myself!) So I’d like to share with you what you can expect when you’re converting to the Catholic Church…

What to Expect Pin

Expect to be excited, scared, joyful, anxious, and overwhelmed all once.

Expect to be “rebuked” and accused of betraying the Gospel, the Reformation, John Piper, Al Mohler, Mark Driscoll, [insert prominent Christian here], your ancestors, and all the martyrs who ever lived.

Expect to be told that you’re not a Christian anymore and ergo, you probably never were. But if you just read Galatians, all your problems will disappear!

Expect your friends to be (understandably) confused and/or concerned. Expect them to keep loving you just the same because that’s what friends do. (Give them some time but if they don’t want anything to do with you, they were never real friends to start with.) Also, expect your mum to cry, your dad to make dad jokes, and your whole family to think you’re quite weird.

Expect to love receiving Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Expect to feel unworthy to do so, and just a bit light-headed and clammy when you receive Him. This is normal because DUDE, YOU JUST ATE JESUS.

Expect some serious awkwardness when, after a glass of bubbly or two, you bring up the morality of contraception at your Protestant friends’ engagement parties and kitchen teas.

Expect some serious awkwardness in general.

Expect to feel conflicted about a whole host of issues, whether contraception, gay marriage, women priests, health care, or singing “Come As You Are” for the fifth Sunday in a row. Trust me, these will resolve themselves in time.

Expect to meet some of the loveliest people, and some not so lovely people, and some strange people. Actually, scrap that. Expect people. The Catholic Church is full of them. (“Oh look, here comes everyone!”)

Expect to be scandalised by other Catholics. Not in the gossipy — “oh ma word! Didya see what Susie-Anne wore to church today?” — way, but in the genuinely shocked — “your irreverence, ignorance and blatant disregard for the teachings of the Church actually makes me wonder what on earth I’m doing here” — kind of way. (This isn’t fun.)

Expect to get over-excited about the liturgical calendar. (This is a lot more fun!)

Expect to start loving the Pope. Expect to start calling the Pope Papa, and then expect to start casually referring to him as Papa Frankie. Because that’s just what you do now.

Expect several people to ask if this is really just about a boy. Do not expect them to be amused when you answer, “I wish! Joining the Church established by Jesus Christ Himself, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail, and getting a boyfriend all in one go? Saweet!”

Expect to be blown away — repeatedly — by the depth, breadth and richness of the Catholic tradition. Expect to be overwhelmed by all the possibilities, all the doctrines, and all the devotions. Expect to get into scapulars, mantillas, holy cards, Introits, crucifixes, Latin missals, rosaries, fish on Fridays, and even those horribly tacky Sacred Heart fridge magnets. (A personal favourite of mine.)

Expect to find the Rosary way more compelling than you thought you would. Also expect to lose a rosary at least once a month, so buy the cheaper ones until you’re used to remembering where you left the Weapon Against Satan this time. 

Expect people to assume this is just a phase, just an emotional crisis, just a little rebellion, just an aesthetic longing for a vanished past, or just a post-modern experiment in theological pastiche. And after a year, if you joke – on April Fool’s Day no less – that it was all a ruse, expect some people will find it easier to believe that you faked being Catholic for a year than that you genuinely converted to the Catholic Church. (Not that I speak from experience…)

Expect to have times of peace and joy, but also times of doubt and fear. Expect that there will be times you wish you didn’t have to convert, but also expect to remember that if you had the chance, you’d do it all over again.

Most importantly, expect to love being Catholic, not because it makes you different or better or holier or smarter, but because it draws you closer to Christ. It’s His truths in the dogmas, His grace in the sacraments, His presence in the Eucharist, and His Spirit uniting us all. It’s His Church.

So expect Jesus.

You won’t be disappointed.