What’s In A Name?

I was received into the Catholic Church during Easter of 2010 (a story for another time). Although I was an atheist the 6 years prior, RCIA was a relatively smooth process, except for one thing.

Picking a confirmation name.

Admittedly, in my spiritually immature Catholic-candidate state, I did far too much researching and not enough praying. After years of atheism, everything about Catholicism seemed to magically and logically fall into place. I accepted that Jesus Christ had indeed died on the cross for us and risen again. It only took a little researching of books and blogs to believe in the fullness of the Eucharist, the grace of confession, the communion of saints, and the papal authority. I had what I suspect was one of the best RCIA classes out there – an orthodox priest and a canon lawyer in-the-making gave us an in-depth exploration of the tenants and history of the Faith, complete with weekly reading assignments from the Bible and Catechism.

But when it came to a confirmation name, did I struggle! I took it a little too seriously, but it was the one permanent thing that I couldn’t change later on, which felt like a lot of pressure. So, I agonized over the decision right up until I had to submit my choice. Although I may not have gone about this in the best manner, the saints I was debating over really personify me in terms of their patronage – I hope to some day live up to their virtues too.

St. Angela Merici: St. Angela Merici is the founder of the Ursuline order, which focuses on the educating young women and tending to the sick and needy. I’m currently pursuing my doctorate in computer science right now in the hopes of teaching at a small school some day that is passionate about education. Not to mention that there aren’t many women in the field (I was the only one in my graduating class of 33), so the education of women speaks to me, as I would like to see more of us. Because I hope to be a lifelong learner and teacher, I ended up choosing Angela Merici as my confirmation name.

St. Veronica: St. Veronica came at the suggestion of my boyfriend, who was also my wonderful confirmation sponsor. She’s the patron saint of photographers. Although I’ve always loved taking candid shots (as evidenced by the few thousand photos I amassed during college alone), I’ve recently started working on more artistic photography. One fun thing that photographers sometimes do is pick a category (say, padlocks, or maybe street signs) and push themselves to take many pictures of those. It’s a way to always have a subject to search out when you’re stuck in a rut. My topic of choice is religious buildings.

St. Helena: The patron saint of converts, not to mention a convert and mother herself who traveled a fair amount. I’m a wanderer by either nature or nurture. My parents were both Army officers, so I moved frequently growing up, and having gone from college straight to grad school, I still do. I don’t regret it in the least, although I’ve developed an insatiable desire to visit places.

St. Paul: I never seriously considered St. Paul for a confirmation name, but I did spend a fair amount of time looking for the patron saint of letter writers. I may be a computer scientist, but I’m still stuck in the past on a few things, one of which is amassing elegant cards to send to friends and family for birthdays, holidays, or when I just feel like it. I love to write, but I have a special place in heart for old-fashioned cards. In the absence of a patron saint of letter writers, I’ve appointed St. Paul as such.

In a way, these four also illuminate my reasoning for my blog, Here is the Church. Religion in general has fascinated me from a very young age, regardless of what religion I currently was a part of. Everything from the different threads of thought to how these beliefs permeate our lives and societies, usually in ways we don’t even realize. With that in mind, the idea of starting a project where I travel to religious buildings that pique my interest, photograph them, and then teach the history behind them seemed like a way to incorporate many of my hobbies in one place. Until recently, communities used to be formed around one’s religious congregation, and it’s fascinating to see the traditions that shaped that community, as well as how that community was intertwined with the history of the area.

Even though my day job is as a computer science grad student, I actually wanted to be a writer almost all my life until I took computer science classes in high school. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to write again here, particularly about the Catholic faith. Conversion is a life long process, and with God’s grace, I may one day complete it. During my time at VirtuousPla.net, I hope to further refine my faith through my writing and your thoughts. And if I make a misstep, I look forward to your charitable comments to guide me back.

The featured image comes from my Flickr photostream. Please check there for copyright.

Fear – Not!


Fear. It paralyzes us to immobility. We’ve all experienced it to some degree.

  • we hear a friend saying something skewed about someone else; we want to correct them, but…
  • we see a stranger who obviously could use some assistance, and we hesitate…
  • someone we love tells us a hard truth, and we lash out because we weren’t ready to listen…
  • we want to share our faith with someone really in need of the Lord, and we stay silent…
The list goes on. What are some fears you would add to the list? When have you experienced, those moments where you want to do good for the benefit of another, feeling quickened to act, yet, drag your feet, second-guess yourself. You hesitate, unable to act.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.  (NAB: 1 John 4:18)

Saint John gets it right. He answers the question, “Why do I fear?” saying, “the one who fears is not yet perfect in love.”  It makes sense if you think about it. We have all experienced this too, to some degree, having done things for others because we love them. When there is love, obstacles don’t stop us; we find a way to overcome.

This is what we are called to by baptism. Jesus summed it up:

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”  (NAB: Matthew 22:37-40)

Love God and love your neighbor. The saints and martyrs understood this. Because of their experience of God’s love, they were moved to love God in return, and to express this love by extending it to their neighbor . We have all met people who do this.

In the six-plus years of working as part of the formation team for VOICA (Volontariato Internazionale Canossiano), it always amazed me when I would ask our volunteers arriving in Rome for their preparation, “Why did you come?” Many came to have an experience of mission, to travel, to ‘give back to God’ in thanksgiving for what they have received.

But it would happen from time to time, someone would arrive at our door to begin their preparation for two years in the missions, and when asked, would reply, “I don’t know why I’m here. I was compelled somehow. It was all I could think about.” 

But that doesn’t sound rational, does it? Yet, love is like that. It makes us do things that take us beyond our fear because we are immersed in another reality. In the case of these volunteers, they had no plan what they would do when they would get back home after mission, only that they had to respond.

This reality (virtue of love) is the root of vocation (which will need to be discussed in a forthcoming post!). Vocation is what makes it possible for the heart to commit to something greater than itself; to give of itself to another.  We get a sense of such a capacity in meditating on the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. God’s angel presents himself, tells the person(s) not to fear, and then gives news which will change their lives (commit them to something not currently in their plans):

Luke 1:13 “But the angel said to him: Fear not, Zechariah, for thy prayer is heard.” (Zechariah and his wife were to expect a child in his old age)

Luke 1:30 “And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God.” (Mary’s great response, ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord; do unto me according to your word!)

Luke 2:10 “And the angel said to them: Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be to all the people.” (The shepherds left the comfort of their fires to go to seek the baby Jesus)


Is it possible for us, too, to respond in love, and put aside our fears? Let us, then, ask the Lord to help us to grow in love for Him, that we too will be compelled to be agents of love; always grounded in that of God. A love that drives out all fear, allows us to commit to the Lord’s plans, and that makes us courageous witnesses to His glory and goodness.

Therefore, I tell you, too, “Fear not.”


“Let nothing trouble you
Let nothing frighten you
Everything passes
God never changes
Patience obtains all
Whoever has god
Wants for nothing
God alone is enough.”

St Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)


Blown Off the Hinges

I used to be pro-choice. I rolled my eyes with fierce contempt whenever the very active pro-life ministry at my college would have a table in the dining hall, or posters in my dorm. In fact, so adamant were my pro-choice views that I tried to start a Planned Parenthood “resource center” at a college on the Cardinal Newman list You can imagine how successful I was with that endeavor.

When I arrived at “The Mount” as a freshman, I was deeply interested in politics, veering left with rapid speed on every possible topic, including abortion. I read Ms. magazine with a passion and obviously I, in conjunction with the feminist movement, knew more than the collective wisdom of the holy Spirit and 2,000 years of unbroken teaching on the sanctity of life. It was easy to ignore those who upheld the Church’s teaching, and when necessary treat them with disdain until they left me alone. So imagine my surprise when I went from having a “Stop the War on Choice” poster  hanging in my dorm room to praying in front of Planned Parenthood for an end to abortion as part of 40 Days for Life,  all in the span of six years.

“How did it happen?”, you might be wondering. I often wonder that myself, and while I can trace points on the path, there was no magic moment, no immediate transformation. I suppose the nail in the coffin of my pro-choice views was when I attended the March for Life in 2006 as a “casual observer” and heard story after story of women whose lives were tragically altered by their choice to abort. The witness of the Silent No More  campaign made me realize once and for all that killing someone can never be a social panacea or the solution to anyone’s problems. Violence only begets more violence and despair, as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta famously said, “But I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child…And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?…Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching the people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. That is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”

However before that, there were a lot of things which came together and caused me to re-think my views on “choice”. While studying my required theology courses, I felt drawn more to the Church and her teachings, and it became more difficult to simply ignore those who were pro-life; they were my classmates and started becoming my friends. They wanted to know why I thought there was a “war on women”, and why I thought women had to have “abortion rights” to be free. They challenged me to really study the teachings, and to do so with an open mind. Mostly, they prayed for me. It was the prayers of many a pro-life friend that helped me have the humility to consider being open to the Church’s teaching.

As God is famous for doing, I opened the door an 1/8 of an inch; He blew it off the hinges. I forced myself to read through the Catechism and Evangelium Vitae. All the while, I prayed that if I was missing something, I would see it. There was so very much to see. I prayed for a well-formed conscience. That prayer softened my heart. After much soul searching and many hours spent in prayer and reflection, I saw the beautiful truth of these words:
“As far as the right to life is concerned, every innocent human being is absolutely equal to all others. This equality is the basis of all authentic social relationships which, to be truly such, can only be founded on truth and justice, recognizing and protecting every man and woman as a person and not as an object to be used.” (EV, 57)

This is the kind of statement that either is true, or is not true. It finally became that clear to me. It was the beginning of a fundamental shift in my attitude about the purpose of the human person, and the primacy of the social teaching of the Church as the thing that forms and guides my beliefs, choices, and attitudes.

We all struggle with Church teaching at some point. At least one aspect of Catholicism will stump, challenge, or make us uncomfortable during our journey. Part of growing in faith is to engage those questions and challenges. The primacy of conscience must be respected, yes, but too little attention is paid to how to create a conscience worth following. It is through prayer, reception of the Sacraments, and reading of Scripture and Catechism.

What I learned in my journey from pro-choice advocate to passionately pro-life is that the attitude with which we approach our questions and doubts will affect whether or not we are truly open to the Spirit. Once I approached the teachings on abortion and sexuality with the humility to admit that it was possible I could be wrong, and actively sought the direction of the holy Spirit, the rest, as they say, was history.

Young Guns

A Young Teddy Roosevelt, via Historical Stock Photos

There’s a new kind of sheriff in town…or at least a new crop of deputies.

They’re young Catholics–cradle and convert–who are ushering in a new era of apologetics. If you haven’t discovered their blogs yet, start by visiting Brent Stubbs, Brandon Vogt, Joe Heschmeyer, Pat Vandapool, Tony Layne, and Called to Communion (CtC). In this post, I’ll look at where they came from, the new approaches they are using, and the results of their work.

Paving the Way

It’s hard to imagine these young apologists existing without the hard work of their predecessors. Scott Hahn, Mark Shea, Dave Armstrong, Patrick Madrid, Karl Keating, Jimmy Akin, and many others hacked through the tangled jungle of apologetics with machetes, leaving a trail for others to follow.

They wrote books, took part in heated debates with Protestants, and traveled around the country giving talks. They were the first Catholics who went online when the internet boom began, establishing Catholic outposts on the Wild Web. The younger generation came behind them, learning from them, even becoming Catholic through their work. And now a happy complementarity exists between the two groups.

Old Wine in New Wineskins

So what’s different about these young guns of Catholic apologetics? Three things:

1. They’re always charitable

Keeping your cool is tough, especially when you’re being baited by the most virulent of anti-Catholic polemicist. But these guys do it. “I’m amazed by how gracious those Called to Communion guys are!” That’s a comment I’ve heard from many people. Indeed, the respectful tone of these apologists by itself is often enough to intrigue our Protestant brothers and sisters. Something is different here. They turn the other cheek when hit. They focus on the arguments and avoid ad hominems.

2. They use the new media

They’re blogging. And they’re commenting on other blogs, including Protestant ones. They’re creating podcasts and videos. They’re tweeting and using facebook and Google+. They’re saturating the web with authentic, compelling Catholic truth. And tens of thousands of people are finding their work and seriously considering their arguments. God does the rest, as we will shortly see in the last section of this post.

3. They’re systematic

Joe Heschmeyer of Shameless Popery uses his attorney-honed analytical skills to break down every Protestant argument. The guys at Called to Communion are about a third of the way through their ambitious roadmap of articles that build the case for the Catholic Church from the bottom up, brick by brick. These guys desire the truth, nothing less will do. And with clock-like precision, they present arguments to show the solid reasoning behind the Church’s teachings.

Reaping the Harvest

The fruit of their work is apparent: thousands of faithful and intelligent Protestants have entered full communion with the Catholic Church. Some we know about, those vocal few who comment and share their journey with the world via comments or their own blogs. Many more silently make the decision to become Catholic, after months or even years of reading these blogs and prayerfully considering the claims made.

We’ve entered a new era of history. The internet has made the truth of Catholicism more accessible than ever, and the young guns of the Church are there, firing off round after round in shots heard round the Web. Whether God is calling you to join their ranks or not, you can learn from their wisdom and experience to promote the Faith in your own sphere of life.

Ride on, Young Guns!

New Ideas and Old Mistakes

I believe that every college freshman should, upon arriving at the orientation of his campus, hear the following sentence: “Nine out of ten of what we call new ideas are simply old mistakes.” Actually, it would not be a bad idea to post this short sentence over the door to every office in the philosophy department–to say nothing of theology or religious studies–as it would help to avoid much mischief. Chesterton’s wit in this case might, if taken to heart, be worth more than a semester’s worth of any freshman orientation classes, or most any other introductory classes for that matter. Indeed, it is advice for more than freshmen, more even than students, but for the professors and professionals as well.

Supposedly new ideas run rampant on college campuses, and not merely in the liberal arts. It is an unfortunate fact of life at most research-driven institutions–which now include not only the large state universities but also the smaller “liberal arts” colleges–that the faculty will be largely possessed by any number of new “philosophical fads,” many of which are quite old in their origins. Moreover, any idea no matter how old is new to us when we first encounter it: and college is nothing if not a time during which we first encounter many ideas–to say nothing of ideologies–for the first time.

Many of these supposedly new ideas are even ideas which we have heard before, but in a different context, or with a different spin. They are perhaps articulated in a new and more eloquent manner than we have previously heard. It may even be an old idea with which we are somewhat familiar, but repackaged with  a new name to sound more palatable.

What, for example, do we make of the supposedly “new” idea that civilization in general, and Catholic civilization in particular, has a corrupting influence? Men are all naturally good, and it is the influence of the Church, or of religion in general, which makes good men do bad things; we need only throw off the shackles of religion and tradition to create a paradise of our own on earth. Of course, this is at odds with the doctrine of Original Sin, but the main hypothesis might be repackaged, for example as Professor Stephen Weinberg has done in saying that bad men will do bad things, and good men will do good things, but only religion can make good men do bad things.

Therefore, we need only to put aside religion, tradition, and perhaps those people who or classes which supposedly prop these things us, and we will have a better world. Perhaps this is the Marxist paradise ruled by “the proletariat,” or perhaps the Nietzschean paradise ruled by the best, the overman; more likely it is the paradise of “reason,” in which reason (or science) will finally rule supreme. We have a theoretical formula for creating heaven here and now, and we don’t need to wait on God to do it. Have another apple.

These theories became especially prevalent among the intelligentsia during the latter half of the nineteenth century, though heir origins are much, much earlier. We saw attempts to implement them, especially in the twentieth century, but also in earlier times. Such ideas of a Godless heaven on earth, when actually implemented, have ushered in the hell of the concentration camp, the gulag, and (in earlier times) the guillotine.

The idea that we don’t need God, that our reason will suffice in some way or other to create a better world, is what led to the loss of the original paradise. Since that time, man has always yearned to reclaim paradise, be it by building a tower to heaven or by attempting to remake man on earth. It simply won’t work, we are barred from paradise not only by angelic powers, but also demonic ones; and even by our own fallen nature. No amount of technical skill, no amount of socio-economic or political re-arranging, nor any amount of education will ever allow us to create our own paradise. We are, after all, not the Creator but rather co-creators, dependent on God the Creator in this world, and on His grace to enter the real paradise in the next. We cannot, in the words of Eric Voegelin, immanentize the eschalon, cannot bring that other worldly paradise to this world through human efforts.

“Nine out of ten of what we call new ideas,” writes G.K. Chesterton,

“are simply old mistakes. The Catholic Church has for one of her chief duties that of preventing people from making those old mistakes; from making them over and over forever, as people always do if they are left to themselves. The Catholic Church carries a sort of map of the mind which looks like the map of a maze, but which is in fact the guide to the maze. It has been compiled form knowledge which, even considered as a human knowledge, is quite without any human parallel. There is no other case of one continuous intelligent institution that has been thinking about thinking for two thousand years.”


Picking Your Nose and Confession

Picking your nose is something no one has to teach you. I know. I have 4 children, ages 5 and under. No one teaches them this craft, they just immediately recognize that if something is in their noes, they should get it. Sense boogie. Get boogie.

At times, I’m worried that one of my sons will actually pull out his brain or pop a nasal sac. Their ferocity, focus and persistence is admirable. Similar determination would likely benefit them if they were ever air-dropped in the middle of the Amazon. I just hope it gets them a scholarship to college.

No one teaches you to pick your nose. In our culture, we teach you not to pick your nose. Culturally it is faux pas and just plain unhygienic. Which made me think about other things we might be inclined to do, but our culture trains us to ignore.

Matthew 7:5 says:

“Hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine eye, and then thou wilt see clearly to cast out the mote out of the eye of thy brother.”

Isn’t it outrageous that the guy misses the fact that he has a beam in his eye? Imagine what this would look like:

“Hey bro”

“What’s up?”

“Dude, you gotta beam in your eye.”

“A what?”

“A beam, you know like a large piece of wood.”

“A what?”

“Reach up and touch your eye”

“Dude! I don’t know how I missed it. Thanks.”

[dude takes beam out of eye]

Like nose picking, beam picking is taught out of us. We are conditioned to think that so many sins, so many *grave* offenses against charity, faith, chastity, you name it, are just our struggles. Even worse, sometimes we buy the lie that “everyone is doing it”, and thus go around with a huge beam in our eye and call it our Louis Vuitton accessory or our way of “keeping it real”.

Unlike a boog in your nose, sin requires a lot more than a tissue. It requires a bath–and sometimes with a fire hose. Through Baptism, we receive our initial cleansing from what we inherited from Adam and Eve. Yet we continue, against what is obviously in our best interests, to place beams back into our eyes. We are insane and gluttons for self-mutilation. We don’t quite see it this way because we are more into being members of this world, and less into following Christ in and with His Church. We should remind ourselves of St. Peter’s words:

“Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, to refrain yourselves from carnal desires which war against the soul” 1 Pet 2:11

Don’t pick your nose.

Get to Confession. At Confession, we are reminded that a beam is a beam, and that if we have no intention of taking it out, it won’t get out.

“I refuse absolutions for certain sins, when one goes from confession to sin, and from sin to confession. That soul needs to place itself on the right road.”


A good scrubbing is what you need, but you have to have the will to be clean.”
-St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio)

Like what I had to say? Hate it? Check me out at my blog where I discuss why I’m Catholic and other things about that @ www.almostnotcatholic.com

Advice to Singletons

Dear Miss. Fabi,
My aunt asks me every Thanksgiving if I finally have boyfriend. I feel peeved, dismayed, bereft. What should I do?

Single Sally*

I’m sure you love your aunt. I love my aunts. I love my aunts, girlfriends and even the silly people on tv commercials who arc their eyebrows to enquire if I’ve finally captured a man. I respond, “Yes, I finally caught one with my man trap I set up in the backyard!” But inside I think, “No, it isn’t God’s time yet.” Or is that the other way around? I forget.

I know a lot of people who complain often about how single they are, as if one’s ability to find a sunset beautiful or company delightful depended solely on having a significant other. I’m not saying that it isn’t difficult to see couples staring into each other’s twinkly eyes for hours. What I am saying is that is the equivalent of spending your day looking through a keyhole of a locked door. If you stop doing that you’ll realize you’re standing in a hallway of plenty of open doors.

You do have to build a bit of a backbone in order to weather the pressures of your family and friends and I see boy and girls try to do just that all the time but fail miserably in the attempt. I didn’t quite get the hang of it myself until a little bit ago. Now I have to bite my lip in order not to respond to intrusive questions with, “Yes, I’m single, isn’t in awesome!” without a hint of irony.

First of all you can’t build a good backbone unless you have friends who couldn’t care less if you’re single or not. Usually they won’t even ask about your love life unless you bring it up because if you had one you’d talk about it right? Treasure your friends and if you don’t have good friends pray for them and look for them. Who will go to your puffed up future wedding otherwise? Seriously though find your friends before you find your groom or bride.

Learn to trust God and give Him some real credit. A marriage takes two, and you can’t just wave your magic wand and have Prince Charming appear. God’s providence will play a hand in your love life. You don’t know where you’ll meet your true love so you have to leave that part of to Him. There is one huge load off your shoulders.

What do you do in the mean time? Worship God, have adventures, become a better person, learn to play the saxophone. Be creative. There are a million things you don’t even realize will become a lot harder to do once your married. So treasure your single time and make it a rich time. Soon you’ll realize you’re not thinking about being old and alone forever because you don’t feel old and alone at all. *You will be thriving and not just surviving.

Single Sally I wish you well, keep praying and live well.

Yours truly,
Miss, Fabi

*Sally’s imaginary inquiry that I think is throughly plausible given the way she follows Linus about.

* Phrase coined by Mr. Matthew Kelley about living a good life in general.

This is Fabiola Garza’s first article for VirtuousPla.net. You can find her art and other writings @ Catholic Colors

That’s not fair…

I think that hedonism makes sense.


You see, we know that we are made for goodness and evil is just not helpful to our well-being. There are two approaches to this reality. Either accept that there is evil and reject it or reject that there is evil and accept it. I can tell you right now that one is easier to do than the other. It is easier to let yourself be swept away than to swim, to fall than to fly (except in the case of Buzz Lightyear who does both simultaneously and with style). The thing is, Original sin made it hard to do what is right. But, as the song “Be My Escape” by Christian Punk-ska band says: “The beauty of Grace is that it make life not fair.” The hardships in life seem unfair because it’s not supposed to be this way. We messed up and now we have to deal. We once lived in Original Innocence and the Grace of God was with us, but because that is our purpose and our telos, sin seems to have cheated us out of it.

Because it is hard to do what is right, and we want to escape evil, we turn toward hedonism. We see a pleasure (which in itself is not bad and is more than likely actually Good) and we say “Oooh!” This exclamation is a rejection of evil and the doorway to an escape…at least so we think. Once we have opened the door to pleasure-seeking, we will forget a truly free use of pleasure which does not involved in being lost in the current of our times. Once again, as Relient K says, “I’m giving up on giving up slowly and blending in so you won’t even know me apart from this whole world that shares my fate.” We can’t just give up.

We instead look for an escape from the seemingly meaningless things that happen. From the evil that men do that “live after them.” (Julius Caesar, Shakespeare) The thing we have to remember is that the way to respond to meaninglessness is not to say “whatever” but to find the meaning in things. And the true and full meaning, the reason behind things we can only find in the Logos who is Christ our Saviour who did not escape the bonds of death by fleeing them, but by embracing them and shattering them forever. Denying the shackles may feel better for a time but that will not help us escape. Living as though we are free when we are not feels good but it is a lie. The signpost to hedonism reads, “Escape evil,” and it is internally coherent. It makes sense that if there is only good (pleasure) in your life, there will be no room for evil. You will have escaped it. But it is not true, and only He Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life can be the Escape Route, the Meaning and the Goodness in life we all desire.


The Burden of Sola Scriptura

Photo credit: Western Theological Seminary on Flickr

Once upon a time, in a college classroom, a professor asked me what I believed about some arcane theological subject. At a total loss, I responded: “I don’t know. What did Aquinas think?”

The professor burst into scornful laughter. I was too stung to reply, and I turned red in silent anger. I’d been corrected and criticized by professors before; never had I been on the receiving end of their contempt.

I wasn’t embarrassed by my answer, though. I still think it’s reasonable. Who was I — a 20-year-old American who hadn’t learned Greek, Latin, or Hebrew; who was not overly familiar with even the English-language Bible; who had never read the full works of any notable religious thinker — to opine on matters theological? Isn’t it more logical for such a person to admit her ignorance and inquire what the Angelic Doctor believed? I was not equipped to answer my professor’s question; I admitted it and tried to turn to a more knowledgeable source.

(A parenthetical note: Asking what Aquinas had believed was my shorthand for asking what the Church taught. But it would’ve been awkward to bring up the Church: the whole class knew that I was Catholic, and thus should already know what the Church taught, and knew also that the professor had converted to, and later rejected, Catholicism.)

The professor apparently believed that rather than turning to Aquinas or other theologians, we must all formulate our own religious convictions.

I think that’s ridiculous. Would a loving God seriously expect all his fallible, sinful, ignorant servants to figure out for themselves what Christ taught? Can you just pick up a Bible and independently glean from it all that God intends you to know?

Blessed John Henry Newman thought not. On the inherent difficulty of reading and understanding the Bible, he wrote this:

It is easy to imagine a Code of Laws inspired, or a formal prophecy, or a Hymn, or a Creed, or a collection of proverbs. Such works may be short, precise, and homogeneous; but inspiration on the one hand, and on the other a document, multiform and copious in its contents, as the Bible is, are at first sight incompatible ideas, and destructive of each other. How are we practically to combine the indubitable fact of a divine superintendence with the indubitable fact of a collection of such various writings? …

Surely, then, if the revelations and lessons in Scripture are addressed to us personally and practically, the presence among us of a formal judge and standing expositor of its words, is imperative. It is antecedently unreasonable to suppose that a book so complex, so systematic, in parts so obscure, the outcome of so many minds, times, and places, should be given us from above without the safeguard of some authority; as if it could possibly, from the nature of the case, interpret itself. Its inspiration does but guarantee its truth, not its interpretation. How are private readers satisfactorily to distinguish what is didactic and what is historical, what is fact and what is vision, what is allegorical and what is literal, what is idiomatic and what is grammatical, what is enunciated formally and what occurs obiter, what is only of temporary and what is of lasting obligation? … The gift of inspiration requires as its complement the gift of infallibility.

In a different and more famous work, as he surveyed the wretched state of the world and the tendency of human reason toward skepticism, he came to this conclusion:

Supposing then it to be the Will of the Creator to interfere in human affairs, and to make provisions for retaining in the world a knowledge of Himself, so definite and distinct as to be proof against the energy of human scepticism, in such a case,—I am far from saying that there was no other way,—but there is nothing to surprise the mind, if He should think fit to introduce a power into the world, invested with the prerogative of infallibility in religious matters. Such a provision would be a direct, immediate, active, and prompt means of withstanding the difficulty; it would be an instrument suited to the need; and, when I find that this is the very claim of the Catholic Church, not only do I feel no difficulty in admitting the idea, but there is a fitness in it, which recommends it to my mind. And thus I am brought to speak of the Church’s infallibility, as a provision, adapted by the mercy of the Creator, to preserve religion in the world, and to restrain that freedom of thought, which of course in itself is one of the greatest of our natural gifts, and to rescue it from its own suicidal excesses.

I have nothing to add. Praise God for the gift of an infallible Church.

How To Kill Yourself

Imagine this:

The day is beautiful, the birds are singing, and you’re standing on the edge of cliff, with every intention of hurling yourself off. It’s not that your life seems unbearable to you; it is unbearable. Pick your demons, choose your wounds and name your reasons. Perhaps your family died, your lover left you, or your doctor called to inform you that he’s so very, very sorry, but yes, you have the same terminal illness that killed your mother. Perhaps all three.

But all this misfortune is rather unlikely to result in you standing on the edge of that cliff, looking down and wishing yourself dead at the bottom. It’s rarely the big tragedies that lead a man to jump, but the internal tragedies. Let’s be honest, then.

Perhaps your insides have been steadily and constantly gnawed by a nameless angst ever since you turned 13. Perhaps you are a product of the 21st century; a post-Christian, post-atheist, post-caring, only child of a divorced family, and you cannot recall a single moment of being loved. Perhaps you have a desperate need for someone, anyone, to pay attention to you. Perhaps you hate yourself, not wanting to be yourself, but not knowing who you’re supposed to be. Or perhaps you know exactly who you’re supposed to be, but have failed to live up to every expectation ever set for you. Perhaps you feel worthless, foul, haunted, and ruined. Whatever the motives, you are sick of having no control over your self, your situation and your life. So you trot up to the top of that chalky cliff, toes curled over the edge. For all your despair, you still fear the jump. The blood pools in your legs and your face feels numb and cold, though the day is warm. And you hesitate. You’re going to do it alright, but in a moment, in a second.

Some 700 miles away, a fault line in the earth’s crust shifts minutely, sending tremors throughout the country, 5.2 on the Richter Scale. The earth shudders and the cliff edge you are standing on crumbles and gives way. You begin to fall, and instinctively reach out and grab a root growing out of the side of the cliff. You kick your legs madly, giving your actions all the thought of a frightened animal, and scramble back over the edge.

You hear the thud of the earth hitting the ground at the bottom of the cliff. The earthquake ends as quickly as it began. Your toes are curled over the new cliff edge. Do you jump?

Or perhaps you live far away from the range of that earthquake, but have likewise decided that death is far better than waking up in your own skin once more; you’re going to poison yourself. You are standing in the middle of a road. You’re about to put an arsenic pill in your mouth and bite down hard when a semi-truck comes barreling around the curve, headed straight for you. Adrenaline pumping, you instinctively leap out-of-the-way, feeling the wind and the roar of the truck as it passes by. The pill is knocked out of your hand, and lies on the road three feet away from you. Do you, also lying on the road, heart hammering, pick up the pill?

While there are always exceptions, and especially so with such a miserable topic, I hold that for the majority of us, the answer is no, we could not resume killing ourselves. And this is an incredible thought. We would walk back from that cliff edge and leave that pill behind. Why? What changed? You are still the miserable, unloved wretch that you were before the earthquake, or before the truck. But something is different. This much is apparent, this much is undeniable; something has changed.

The earthquake teaches us something, or rather, our instinctive response to being thrown off a cliff or run down by a car teaches us something; that our life has intrinsic and manifest worth. The reason we would walk away is that we have been reminded of a truth long forgotten, that no matter how awful things get, or how deep suffering jabs into our hearts, our very bodies, our very nature, our instinctive, child-like reactions scream that “Life is worth living!” and are not easily silenced. In that moment of survival we transcend all the crap that drove us to suicide, we are given control, and we choose life. Suddenly the dirt and grime is cleared, and by an oncoming semi-truck. We cannot lose our lives once we’ve found them, even if we’ve only found them by accident.

But the really incredible thing is this: Imagine that you were considering jumping off the cliff, it fell out from under you, you saved yourself, decided not to kill yourself, and now you start to walk back down, along a steep and rocky goat-path. How do you feel? Or to make it simpler, are you depressed again or are you happy?

Now the reasonable response should be that you’re depressed. After all, you have failed what you intended to do. But it is a wonderful truth that man is not always reasonable – or rather, that he does not always conform to what the world believes is reason. This I hold to be self-evident; that you would be happy, and perhaps for the first time in many years. Again, why?

It’s not just that you saved your life, though that would certainly make you grin. It’s that walking up to the cliff edge, and all the years before that, you were an individual who did not kill yourself. You resisted. You lived your days in misery, considering death as a way out. It loomed over you, lived with you, whispered constantly in your ears. To resist that temptation merely because you don’t want to upset your family, or because you’re too scared – while these reasons are as good as any not to kill yourself – these would not make you happy.

Think about that. What joy is there in saying, “I really want to die, but…”? Phrases like that always wish death. Walking away from that cliff, however, you are not merely someone who “really wants to die” but someone who decidedly goes on living. You are someone who has actively chosen to live, for no other reason than that it is good to live. You have weighed the options and chosen to walk away. Now you are happy. Because death no longer has a hold on you. You lacked control over your life, and suicide was a desperate attempt to gain that control. But now you have absolute control. As the great southern Catholic writer, Walker Percy puts it, “All at once, you are dispensed. Why not live, instead of dying? You are free to do so. You are like a prisoner released from the cell of his life. You notice that the door to the cell is ajar and that the sun is shining outside. Why not take a walk down the street? Where you might have been dead, you are alive. The sun is shining.” What a difference between the man who does not kill himself, and the man who chooses to live!

G.K Chesterton famously said that “man is always something worse or something better than an animal[…]thus no animal ever invented anything so bad as drunkenness – or so good as drink.” I believe that his quote could reworked to read, “and thus no animal ever invented anything so bad as suicide – or so good as hope.” The truth is that if man is the only animal who kills himself, which he is, than it must also be true that man is the only animal with the capacity to actively choose to live. That’s hope. Sometimes it takes an earthquake to remind us that these lives are worth living. But it need not be anything so dramatic, it need only be an honest consideration of the terrible question, “What if I decided to live?” To anyone who has been considering the act of suicide, I ask you, have you taken the time to consider the awesome, fearful, and earth-shaking act of life?

As for the rest of us, I can only say that this is what it means to be pro-life. Life is not some sentimental state worth defending for the warmth of the thing. Otherwise we must be called to defend the ant about to be crushed. No, it is worth defending in a human person – and indeed, necessary to defend in the human person – because, amongst many other reasons, a human being has the right to actively choose life. You make that choice. To wake up each morning and decide, against all the powers and principalities that speak otherwise, not to kill yourself.

Serving With Mustard

I have a tennis ball shaped bruise on the side of my thigh. In grotesque literary fashion, I see the bruise as God’s grace literally leaving its imprint on me.

This was not the first time I have been hit with a ball: earlier in the set, I had been nailed in the stomach. I used to play lacrosse and soccer. I play kickball and SPUD with my family. I’m tough, but it still hurts.

Then there’s the metaphorical ball: the ball and chain effect of our fallen nature, giving us whip-lash as we attempt to control life’s adventures.

I can only imagine how fervently the saints are praying for us to let go and let God. “The world promises you comfort,” says Papa B., “but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”

Did you know Papa B. said FOUR days before he was elected Pope that he was looking forward to retirement? Talk about greatness! To accept the seat of Peter, take up the staff and lead Christ's Holy and Apostolic Church into the new century!

Yet, how many people shy away from the prospect of being made for more? How many of us remain stagnant? Does life happen to us, or do we make our own life happen?

After college, I happily worked as a statehouse reporter. In a simple twist of fate, as Bob Dylan so aptly phrased it, I decided to quit my job and move home to work for the family business. Then, at age 22, I got my dream job offer at a major newspaper in Washington, D.C. It was if Heaven was shining down on me!

Still, I turned it down, and for so many reasons, none of which had to do with the actual job. Instead, I continue to work at my family’s business. I also review books, research and read for side projects, keep up a generous epistolary correspondence rotation, spend time with loved ones, and write as much as I can in those free moments I’m not getting pelted with tennis balls.

But I digress.

In my still-feels-like-new adult freedom, I am even more convinced of what love God has for me, and for all of us.

“God does not force us to believe in him,” says Pope Benedict XVI. “God does not force us to believe in him but attracts us to him with the truth and goodness of his incarnate Son: love, in fact, always respects freedom.” Faith, freedom and free will are intricately connected; one must make choices to grow, and accept the gravitas of the decision-making process.

It can taste bitter at first- to know and let people be wrong and, humbly, accept that I am going to continue making mistakes as well. This is part of growth. God lets us fall so that we can choose to get up again.

Heidi, beloved family dog, picks my baby sister over me. Humbling comes in all shapes and sizes!

Take tennis, for example; I picked it up again this year, and I’m miserable at it. I am improving, but progress feels slow. Moreover, I’m usually playing with people I’d rather spend my time impressing. Unfortunately, one hot day and two sets of tennis led to my on-court meltdown last weekend: as the heat oppressed my spirit and will to go on, I barely managed to hit the balls back across the net and offered little more than a tame game, causing one of my fellow players to say, “Put some mustard on that serve, Julie!”

This comment aptly planted a seed in my mind, and I have thus gained insight into my relationship with God: he doesn’t want me to impress him, per se. To be perfect as our Heaven Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48), he merely wants me to love him wholly and have an honest relationship with him; it is not in blindness, but informed reason and overwhelming love that I worship him, believe in him, obey him, joyfully follow his commandments and serve him.

Blessed John Paul II exhorted young people thus: “When you wonder about the mystery of yourself, look to Christ, who gives you the meaning of life. When you wonder what it means to be a mature person, look to Christ, who is the fullness of humanity. And when you wonder about your role in the future of the world, look to Christ.”

My name is Julie Robison. I’m 23 years old and I don’t need a governess! I like talking to the people next to me on airplanes; I like ordinary things like walking my dog and attending Mass with the Dominican friars; I like that God has turned my writing ambitions from purely political to explaining tax code nuances and Bright Maidens escapades; I like humans, books and sweet tea. I blog at The Corner With A View (and tweet too!) and I’m excited to be here– come join in the conversation!

As a side note: I’m traveling to Germany with my sister Katie next week. I’ll be there for a week, and she for a month—please pray for us!

Big Bro

The editors of this site asked me to write a post introducing myself.

Greetings earthlings.

[Full Stop]

I don”t think that will quite cut it. So, I”ll try again.

When I was 21, I started teaching 17 year olds religion in high school. That next year, I became the assistant varsity basketball coach, and through a twist of unfortunate events, became the head coach for most of the year. So there I am, all of 22 and staring down the eyes of guys bigger and only a few years younger than me.

At this time, before my body gave up on me, I was very athletic. In high school I had competed at the top level in four sports, had a 38 inch vertical, ran a sub-5 minute mile, could bench press twice my weight, and squat almost three times it (not to mention leap over medium size lego buildings in a single bound–yes its all true). I am taking 4 Advil right now as you read this…

During a heated moment in the locker room, I decided that I needed more leverage than the fact I could beat them in a wind sprint or pick up their father. I was clearly not the “father” these young men never had. I was teaching at a private school and I was fairly certain (a) almost everyone had an active father in their lives and (b) it was genetically and physiologically impossible for me to claim paternity for any of these young men.

What would be my leverage?

I could be their big bro!

That”s right. Been there. Done that. And only just a few years ago. Listen to me young people, I”m no sage with a graying beard but I can remember like it was yesterday what Saturday morning cartoons and endless video games on Friday nights feels like. I”ve tasted Saved By the Bell, and I have survived Screetch. If you don”t know what Saved By the Bell is, it is this show…

…never mind, I”m showing my age.

When I looked at the site contributors, I realized I was one of the older contributors. Sniff, sniff. I turn 30 in a few weeks, so this post is a perfect opportunity for me to come to terms with the gray hairs in my sideburns. At VP, I”m here to be a “big bro”, to witness to the “road you are about to travel”. If you happen upon this site and we are peers or you are older than me, then just completely disregard this post. I am not your big bro, I am your little bro so go ahead and give me a noogie.

Like what I had to say? Hate it? Check me out at my blog where I discuss why I’m Catholic and other things about that @ www.almostnotcatholic.com

For a little more about me, .

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