Roman Catholicism and the Marian Miracles
I grew up in a 1950s Roman Catholic culture in which I was taught that a virgin gave birth to Christ. I was later told that, several centuries later, the same virgin, Mary, appeared to a select group of barely literate, impoverished Portuguese children at a place called Fatima. Secrets were to have been revealed to these children, the specifics of which, to the best of my recollection, neither my elementary school teachers, nor my pastor ever revealed.
The dogma of the virgin birth was complemented by the infallible ruling of a nineteenth century pope that Mary was taken to heaven, body and soul. This dogma is celebrated in the church as the feast of the Assumption.
The Catholic Church, an untiring supporter of these Marian miracles, added to the repository of these mysterious events by claiming that Mary was to have been conceived without sin (the Immaculate Conception) and that she was to have received a visit by an angel announcing to her that she would be the mother of Christ, the Messiah (the Annunciation). Continue reading
I grew up in a family of screamers, duckers, fighters, and scramblers. If that didn't work, my family withdrew into icy silence. That's what we thought bedrooms were for: our little caves of isolation where we could get our way in frozen-lake invisibility.
If that didn't work, we could always go to plan B: smart-ass sarcasm.
At the same time I was watching the pro-active survival skills of my siblings, I was being taught in Catholic elementary school that saints suffered quietly. They accepted their lots in life with passive surrender. And many quietly walked the gauntlet of martyrdom with angelic resignation, assured of a first-class room in the heavenly kingdom.
In my little elementary school mind, Christ was the icon of emotional stability. He may have thrown the gambling rabble out of the synagogue in a fit of rage, but his life seemed more about waiting his turn in the queue of acceptance and surrender. He was the gentle fisherman, the quiet shepherd. Not the raging truck driver or the sweaty faced hockey player, fists thrashing the air.
In my childhood, adolescence, and throughout my adulthood, I constantly pursued the “key” to sanctity. At one time, I thought all I had to do was go to mass, receive holy communion, confess my sins, and read spiritual books. The world, over time, I thought, would adapt to all the higher spiritual goals I had set out for myself. Or, on my journey to sainthood, I would be above it all. Continue reading
This is the first in a series of blog posts in which I expand upon key concepts from my e-book, “A Recovery Journey: The Beginnings”
Knowledge has always been important to me. I grew up believing that if I knew things, I wouldn’t be invisible, especially in a family where high drama and chronic volatility were more the rule than the exception.
Knowing things gave me the kind of security I could not depend on my family to supply. If I had intellectual competence, I knew, at the very least, that my worth would be valued, that I would not be another cog in the machine of my family’s dysfunctionalism.
Little did I realize that, over the years, I often used knowledge as a substitute for living. I came to believe that my identity was exclusively defined by my ability to acquire information, know historical time periods, pass a college test, get a good grade on a paper, give a convincing presentation in a speech class, shape a college lecture. Continue reading
“Abandon holiness,” says Lao Tsu. and “See with original purity.”
Although these lines are just fragments of Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching, they are typical of the ancient thinker’s radical take on reality.
Who, for example, would “abandon holiness”? After all, Western culture prides itself on Christian values, especially those values gleaned from the Old and New Testament, saintly teachings, and church pronouncements. And, for those who believe in an afterlife, heaven, the “holiest” of places, is the ultimate goal of those on a Christian journey of virtue and sinlessness.
Lao Tsu challenges us, however, to give up the pursuit of the holy, for it is a goal fraught with other people’s notion of what holiness is. It is also a journey that can be riddled with self-righteousness and arrogance. And it can be a path that will often distract us from paying attention to what is in front of us. Continue reading
In the first part of this two part series about where we learn our attitudes about good and bad, I discussed the “interventionist school” of Christianity, a narrative that teaches the followers of Christianity that all of our notions of good and evil are created or altered by an interventionist deity through grace, epiphanies, miracles, the handing down of the “ten commandments,” the incarnation of Christ, and a divinely inspired Biblical text.
The interventionist school of Christianity has been the guiding model of Western Christian morality for centuries. It is a model that relies heavily on a Church hierarchy and ancient texts (the Old and New Testament) as the icons of moral authority.
The Catholic Church goes even further in portraying itself as the recipient of powers to round out all of the intricacies of sin, morality, and faith-beliefs through a clerical hierarchy, which, according to the church’s narrative, is a direct descendent of St. Peter, the alleged first appointed leader of Christ’s followers.
There are many of us, however, who believe that morality can be gleaned from many sources other than a theistic or religious institutional model. Although most religions seem to adhere to some version of the do-unto-others golden rule, I believe that generosity is often at the root of all of our optimal behavior patterns. Continue reading
“You know, John, there’s another school of thought.”
I always loved that phrase, “another school of thought.” It seems less hostile, less likely to deteriorate into a conflict-driven debate. Especially, if the sentence comes from a close friend. It is even more poignant when the discussion is about religion.
I grew up in a very Catholic environment. In fact, my entire education was in Catholic schools—elementary, high school, and college. Unlike some of my friends, the experience, in general, I found rewarding and nurturing. I truly admired the clergy-in-the-trenches who taught me what it meant to live in the world of “service.” It has made a marked difference in my life. Continue reading
“My ten year-old spends too much time on computer games.”
“Well, what you need to do is to ration his time. If he goes over the limit, you reduce the appropriate time on his next session. That’s what I do.”
Now, keep in mind, this might be the advice of your best friend, someone you have known for most of your adult life. You want to keep the friendship, but you know that your friend loves to give advice, to seep into the quagmires of your marital problems, to find just the right herb or vitamin for your rash, to come up with “just the recipe” for your Thanksgiving dinner. Continue reading
I remember the day. It was fifteen years ago. I was standing outside my father’s apartment. We were engaged in a conversation about Mary, my stepmother, who had just been diagnosed with esophageal cancer.
My dad made a vain attempt at telling me that he wasn’t bothered by my stepmother’s inability to travel. I didn’t believe him. Continue reading