Lessons of Theoden

On a recent revisit to The Lord of the Rings, I was particularly struck by Theoden, the King of Rohan. When we meet him early in The Two Towers, he is an older gentleman, and his mind has been contaminated by evil. However, after an exorcism from Gandalf, he returns to his right mind and leads his people to battle.

But he goes into battle knowing that he will not see the end result. He is fighting for the freedom and preservation of Rohan, Gondor, and all Middle Earth really. However, he knows that he will not see the liberated Rohan (and Gondor) in his lifetime. In all likelihood, he will die in this war or soon after its end. He knows this. He is not fighting for himself. The young men around him-Faramir, Eomer, and Aragorn-fight with the hope that they will see their goal accomplished. They will live in the free Rohan, the free Gondor, the free Middle Earth. Theoden does not go to war with this hope. Theoden goes to war with the mentality that he will not see the end of the war. If his side wins the war, he is unlikely to see the end. He does not fight for himself. He fights for others.

I was struck by this in the context of Christianity. I teach middle school religion, and at times I wonder why I’m doing this. Why am I teaching other people’s children about the history and the faith of the Catholic Church? Why do I as a childless woman pour an hour of my day every school day (and more time preparing myself outside the building) into teaching children about the importance of having a relationship with Jesus Christ? I will probably never really see or know these kids after they graduate from middle school. I am unlikely to see them as adults or to see what becomes of their faith. Why am I fighting for a something that I will never actually see?

Theoden fights because he believes in the cause. He wants his people-especially his niece and nephew-to see better days, to live in a better world. While he may not live to see a free Middle Earth, a Middle Earth free from Sauron’s evil, he wants others to live in this world. He wants to make a better world for others even if he does not have the opportunity to see that world for himself.

Forth, and fear no darkness!

Similarly, I want a better world for my students. I want them to know and understand their faith. I want to share Jesus Christ with them. Even if I never see the end and I never know what happens to them, I want to share Jesus with them. I want them to hear about a Jesus who loves them. I fight to pass down the faith of our fathers. I may not know if they come to a full and deep relationship with Jesus. But I fight to give them that opportunity. Like Theoden, I have hope for their future, for them to find a future full of hope, joy, and goodness.

Why I Celebrate the Lives of Dead Authors

Yesterday, a friend of mine remarked that I had to be one of the only people she knew who celebrated birthdays of authors. (I had just been whining about how I had to celebrate Jane Austen’s birthday alone and I won’t be able to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakepeare’s death because I’ll be at her wedding.) She said this in a manner that implied (probably unintentionally) that it is weird to celebrate the birthdays of dead people whom you never knew “just because” they penned great works of literature.

I agree that it is not terribly common to celebrate the lives of dead people whom I never knew because they penned great works of literature that inspire my life, move my soul, and draw me into closer relationship with the God who made both me and those writers and inspired their souls to write such works. But just because a thing is uncommon, that does not mean that it should not be done. Every November 22 and 29, I drink a toast to C.S. Lewis because while I never met the man, he has inspired my heart and soul and enriched my life in enormous ways. I would not be the woman that I am today without his writing. I am grateful to him for all that he did as a human being, as a Christian, and as a writer. I owe him so much, and those toasts (for his birthday and deathday) are one way that I can honor him.

The good, the true, and the beautiful are often considered to be the transcendentals. I believe that life is meaningless without those three elements. Culture is not worthwhile unless is carries with it those three things. I am enormously grateful to Evelyn Waugh for his openness to those three elements in his writing. In reading his works, I can see the importance that he placed on these elements. In reading Waugh, I have seen his faith and grown in my own. He has encouraged me to think about new ideas and to look at God in new ways.

Similarly, my beloved J.R.R. Tolkien reflects these ideas in his works. Professor Tolkien was a devout Catholic who fervently believed in the Lord of time. He also believed that literature could be (Lewand often is) inspired by the Divine Creator.

“We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien

Lewis, Tolkien, and Waugh are but three examples of writers who reflected their Christian faith in their writings. Other writers did this as well, some in more obvious ways than others. This sort of literature is an important element of high culture. Culture demands truth, beauty, and goodness to survive. Our souls, which eternally crave God, desire this kind of literature, this kind of culture. It is important to celebrate this culture, to embrace it. To me, it is important to take time to celebrate the authors who celebrated and encouraged this sort of culture.

I think that C.S. Lewis might find it odd that I celebrate his birthday. I’m sure that Jane Austen would look a bit askance at the idea that I celebrate her birthday. But they celebrated culture. They embraced the idea of celebrating life. Their characters embraced life. Their characters rejoiced in good things. And while they might not completely understand this, I believe in celebrating them as a way of honoring what they did for literature and as a way of celebrating life, of celebrating the good, the true, and the beautiful.

These authors wrote in part because of a desire for another world. Faith inspired these authors. Hope inspired them. Look at the worlds that they created. Look at the characters that they created. Shakespeare, Austen, and Waugh give us characters who at the very least reflect strong virtue, high virtue. They show us right and wrong, good and evil. They show us morality and the exercise of such a thing. Lewis and Tolkien give us glimpses of eternity, of heaven. These authors must be embraced and celebrated. They point us towards God, and that is a beautiful thing, which must be embraced and celebrated.

Halfway Out of the Dark

For regular readers of my blog, it can be no secret that I love Advent. I love this season of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s coming into the world. I have to admit that one of my favorite things about Advent is my Advent wreath.

IMG_2388

Here’s the thing about that “wreath.” I love light. I love candles. I think that candles and candlelight are beautiful. But I also love these particular candles because they represent Christ the Light of the World. I love the idea of Christ the Light coming into a world made dark by sin and Death. He brought his brilliant radiance into the world and changed everything.

As the Byzantine Tropar of Christmas says,

Your birth, o Christ our God, has shed upon the world the light of knowledge. For through it, those who worshipped the stars have learned from a star to worship thee the Son of Justice and to know you, the Dawn from on high. Glory be to you, o Lord!

Christ came into the world bringing light and truth. Even if Jesus wasn’t actually born on December 25, it is appropriate that we celebrate the coming of Jesus just after the Winter Solstice. As the days begin to lengthen and the daylight begins to increase, we celebrate the birth of him who must increase in our lives and our hearts, of him who brings light into our lives. And the darkness flees from Christ, the Light of the World. Darkness does not understand Christ. When we welcome Christ into our hearts and our homes, darkness has no choice but to flee from his light.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness could not comprehend it.

-John 1:5

Christmas is in 20 days. We are halfway through the Fast of Philip. My Advent wreath is half illuminated. We are halfway out of the dark. We are halfway to the great celebration of the coming of the Light of the World. As we complete these forty days, I encourage you to seek out the Light of the World and ask him to dwell more fully in your heart.

38 Days

Christmas is 38 days away. I have 38 days of Advent in front of me. That really is not a long time.

Earlier this evening, I was looking at all of the things that I have to accomplish in the next 38 days. I have work demands. I have school goals. A dear friend is getting married in 31 days. There are some potential changes in my future. And some of those things can feel big and scary. Some of them make me nervous. Others can be a bit overwhelming.

But it’s 38 days. And each of these 38 days is in the hands of God. That is not a scary thought. These 38 days are in a good and safe place. They are in the safest place ever. They may not be easy. They may bring challenge and change. I do not know exactly what my life will look like in 38 days.

But I do know who holds those 38 days. I know that they are held by someone who loves me and desires only the best for me. That best may not always be fun or easy or comfortable. But it is good. HE is good.

And really, 38 days…that is not so many days. That is not so much time. Yes, much can happen in 38 days, but God will not bring me to anything that he cannot or will not bring me through.

Bring it on.

” For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

-Jeremiah 29:11

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Luke 1:38

The Promise to Pray

Over the summer, I’ve been dealing with a tough situation. I’m looking for a new job, and the search has been difficult at times. I’ve talked with various friends and family members about this over the summer, and I’m grateful for the enormous amount of support that I have received.

I recently realized that the people who I view as most supportive are the ones who promise to pray for me. I’ve asked several friends to pray for me, and they always respond in the affirmative. One of my coworkers ends every serious (more than a quick “hi, how are you?”) conversation we have these days with “I’m praying for you.” It’s a simple four-word sentence, but it means the world to me. Someone is praying for me. Actually, a lot of someones are praying for me.

That means the world to me. These people are showing me their love and support by promising to ask the Lord to help me. We don’t know how this situation will end. We don’t know exactly what the Lord’s will is in this moment. But we’re surrendering it to him. We’re asking him to bless it. We’re trusting him with it. And praying for someone else’s needs and wants-that’s an act of love.

These people can’t find me a new job. They can’t change the circumstances of my life. But they can love and support me in a difficult time in my life. And that is what prayer is. Prayer is an act of love. Praying for another person is an act of love. In our prayers, we are submitting ourselves to the Divine Will. We are humbling ourselves before the Lord and placing our trust in him.

We don’t know exactly how the Lord will answer our prayers, but we believe that he will answer them. And so we pray. We pray for our own wants and needs. We pray for others. And the promise to pray is an act of faith in God and of love both for God and for the other. After all, prayer is one of the most powerful things in the world.

“Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.”

-Mark 11:24

Please keep praying. Keep your eyes fixed on the Lord.

Lord, You know all things.

On this, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, most Catholics are inclined to think of Matthew 16 in which Christ changes Simon’s name to Peter and declares him to be the rock upon which He will build His Church. This is important, but it’s not my favorite verse associated with Peter.
That is, rather, John 21 in which Simon Peter who thrice denied the Lord is now asked three times “Do you love Me?” Christ tells Peter to “Tend My lambs,” “Shepherd My lambs,” and “Tend My sheep.” This is commonly called the restoration of Peter.
Then the Lord tells Peter that “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go…Follow Me.” St. John tells us that Christ said this to indicate the death by which Peter would die, and Tradition holds that Peter was crucified upside down.

To me, Peter is a great example of living for Christ. He is not perfect. He falls. He denies knowing Christ on the eve of the Passion. But when mercy is offered, he eagerly accepts it. Yes, he is frustrated by the repetition of the question “Do you love me?” He is human. He gets frustrated. He does things that aren’t the wisest. Honestly, sometimes, Peter is a loudmouth idiot. But he is also an amazing example of repentance, of humility, and of faith. He loves God. He believes in God. After Pentecost, he is filled with an incredible passion for the Lord and for preaching.

And that should be an example to us. St. Peter loved God ardently and wanted to share Christ with others. We should imitate that. St. Peter accepted love and mercy when they were offered to him. We should do likewise. St. Peter followed Christ regardless of the cost. We should do likewise.

St. Peter, pray for us!

I Belong to…

In a recent interview, Iggy Azalea said that she belongs to no one, a strong feminist statement. And it’s a statement that I really understand and even agree with, something about it started bothering me. It took me a while to figure out what bothers me. It’s not because I think that people should belong to one another-literally or figuratively. I don’t like the idea that a woman becomes a man’s property when they’re in a relationship or at any other time.

Rather, what bothered me was something that probably wasn’t anywhere near Iggy Azalea’s mind when she said that. See, I have no problem with saying at a purely human level that I belong to no one. I don’t belong to any human beings. Neither does Iggy Azalea. No human being should own another human being. However, in a spiritual sense, I do belong to someone. I belong to God.

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”

-I Corinthians 6:19-20

This basic concept presented by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians carries so much meaning. “You have been bought with a price,” Paul says. The price he references is Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. The New Testament is filled with the idea that we as Christians belong to Christ.

This is an incredibly important part of my life and of my identity. At some point in the past year, I was challenged to rethink my identity. I had hit a point in my life where being a teacher was pretty much my sole definition of who and what I was. Now, being a teacher isn’t a bad thing. I really believe that I’m called to be a teacher. But I’m more than that. I’m a daughter of God. I’m the daughter of my earthly parents. I’m my brother’s sister. I’m a friend. I’m more than just my profession. And somehow, I had forgotten that. I had forgotten that first and foremost I belong to God. I had forgotten the most important part of my identity.

I mentioned in a previous post that about a year or so ago I started praying on a daily basis “Be real to me, Lord Jesus.” In that prayer, I started to find myself again.

Last summer, I started talking to a few friends about wanting to DO something to help support and encourage the ideals of strong, holy Christian women. I wanted (and still want) to work to promote the integration of faith and femininity. I want to show the world that there is nothing wrong with me being an almost twenty-seven-year-old woman who is single, who is Byzantine Catholic, who wears skinny jeans, who is actively pursuing her career, and who wears a chapel veil.

What does it mean to be a Catholic woman? It means living a life that is given wholly to the Gospel, given wholly to the Lord of the Universe.

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

-Ephesians 4:1-6

I have been called to follow Christ, and I have chosen to accept that call. I have chosen to live my life not for myself but for the Lord. I have chosen to belong to the Lord. Admittedly, that is my choice. I have chosen to give my life over to a higher power and to trust Him. Every day, I choose to live not for myself but for God. It isn’t easy. I can’t do it on my own. But I ask the Lord to help me and strengthen me. I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. But I have been called to follow the Lord, and I want to live a holy life, a Godly life.

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

-Galatians 2:20

Iggy Azalea is right that she doesn’t belong to anyone. She doesn’t belong to her father or her mother or her fiancé or any other person. As I said previously, I belong to no human beings. But my life belongs to the Lord. I belong to the Lord.

To whom do you belong?