Friday, May 29, 2015

Viewing Emotional Chastity through Fictional Characters

Quick apology about the lack of posts and activity here lately. More about that later... For now, I spontaneously felt like sharing some feelings and thoughts milling about my head today. 


OK, I mean, come on: how cute are they?
If you know me in real life, then you probably know I have a small place in my heart for science fiction. Maybe it’s the fact I’m a scientist, or that I have a big imagination. But while I love my British historical fiction, my current “mini-obsession” for the entrance into summer is the ABC show “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” a spin-off from the Marvel “Avengers” franchise. While the series is overly violent and frequently makes me mad because the evil forces are just so powerful and cunning, one of the best parts to me is the science dynamic-duo consisting of characters Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons, or “FitzSimmons.” 

I can’t tell you how often I go for the science-nerds in TV shows or movies. This instance is no different. The two characters enter the series with a deep friendship, like brother-sister bond, and serve as comic relief with their adventures helping the team escape from dangerous missions. Throughout the first season, we see how much they really care for each other – and they’re close enough that in one scene they’re bickering or arguing, and in the other they’re saving each other’s lives and saying sweet things to each other.

Fitz and Simmons both proclaim each other to be best friends in the whole world. That is evident in the way they interact and work for the better of the other person.

As the season progresses it begins to be clear that Fitz cares a little more for Jemma Simmons, triggered by the emergence of a new operations officer who Simmons takes a small fancy too. Fitz is definitely jealous of the interest Agent Triplett holds and wonders why he’s so special. We don’t get any professions of love from Fitz though – just more caring looks and jealousy on his part.

That is, until the Season finale. I don’t want to spoil it too much – since if you’re into this sort of genre, I recommend the series – but Fitz ends up showing Simmons – with his life – how he really feels.

OK. Cue tears and all the emotional feels. I definitely like to live vicariously through other people’s relationships. Even fictional ones. I want them to get together! They’re both so innocent, and don’t really even understand their feelings or what to do with them. Yet my mind will be satisfied with nothing less than a reunion and a romantic love story between the two.

But this got me thinking. Before realizing there was something more romantic on the part of Fitz for his best friend in the world, I was happy to see them love each other platonically. It was refreshing to see a male-female duo live and work beside each other just as friends. But I think that culture has trained us to hope for nothing short of romance between two compatible characters. And the carry those hopes to real life too.

How many times have you seen friends tease a girl about how good she’d be with her best guy friend? “You’re both so great together and so compatible! You have to get together!”

And then the girl begins to wonder if maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. We want to see other people get together and be perfect, happy couples. We “ship” characters on TV. I’ll be honest: I’m shipping FitzSimmons very much right now, and eagerly await season 2. I have a sinking feeling we won’t get the happy ending that’s expected, and I’m bracing myself for the frustration that brings me as I watch through the next season.

But let me go back to uncover the problem here. We’re almost not OK with having a platonic male-female duo. We want any possibility of character chemistry to resolve into romance.

I don’t really think that’s real life though. Real life is hard, and yes, we frequently have feelings for other people that we don’t quite understand. But that doesn’t mean every girl-guy friendship should turn romantic. What is that saying regarding our thoughts about “emotional chastity?” I’m pretty sure projecting our desires for romance onto other character pairings isn’t entirely healthy when those desires become more serious than playful.

And so I’m writing about this. Writing helps me process things, step back from emotions, evaluate the situation. Because isn’t self-sacrifice more important than romantic feelings?

How can we expect to live out chastity in our own lives when we don’t expect characters in TV or movies to act the same? Yes, we’ve come to anticipate risqué relationships in television. From a distance they almost seem romantic. You want the two characters to get together…say the romantic things…do the “romantic” things….

Um. Yeah. Not so good though.

I think that may be why I was so easily attracted to the FitzSimmons relationship – they were platonic throughout nearly the entire first season. They truly cared about each other, and sacrificed for each other. But that doesn’t mean they need to end up together! As much as it would make my heart so much happier in my chest. Real life isn’t like that, and we can’t project our desires for romance onto other couples, especially not fictional couples. It may seem like a safe outlet, but I think ultimately it’s messing with our minds and emotions a little more than is healthy.

I’m curious to hear what you think about fictional couples and their relationships, or lack thereof. Why can’t we all just rest easy, and enjoy a platonic couple – demonstrating real service and love through their actions – without also desiring a romantic conclusion?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Shine Through Me

There's no reason why I should have seen it.  I was driving through wooded backroads -- my very familiar commute to work -- and my eyes darted up and to the left at just the right moment to see a bit ahead of me and atop a steep hill.  The likelihood of the other drivers noticing is very small because, without warning, you'd have missed it.  But I saw.  In that one glance at just the right moment, I was prepared to see the deer.  Standing perfectly still, like a statue.  Hoping my eyes hadn't deceived me, I glanced again a few yards later.  There she stood, in a small clearing just big enough for the entire creature to be seen.  No antlers, no companions.  It was just she: still, silent, and observant.  Watching the traffic go by, unaware of her presence.

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so longs me soul for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When shall I come and behold the face of God?  My tears have been my good day and night, while men say to my continually, "Where is your God?" (Psalm 42:1-3)

Oh, send me your light and your truth; let them lead me, let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling!  Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God. (Psalm 43:3-4)

Lord, you know the longings of my heart, my deepest desires, my hopes, and my dreams.  But my plans are not enough; not even my dreams alone will fulfill me.  You alone satisfy the hungry heart.  Come, O Lord, and fill me with your love so that it is not me that others see, but you shining through me.

I am weak, though my spirit is willing.  Again and again, I try to respond to His call.  I lie awake in bed, night after night, wondering.  How do I live tomorrow?  How do I greet the day in thanksgiving for a new start, a second chance, another opportunity to be fully alive in Him?

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep... I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.  And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also and they will heed my voice.  So there shall be one flock, on shepherd.  For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father. (John 10:10-18)

You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  It is you that I seek when I dream of happiness; you are waiting when nothing else satisfies me; you are the beauty to which I am attracted; you provoked my thirst; you urge me to let go of my past; you read my heart and know my most genuine choices.  There is nothing more beautiful than a grace-filled soul.  Sweet Jesus, I want to be a Saint!  Help me to want what you want for me.

Trust. Faith. Strength. And the chance to put it all into action: courage.

Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.  So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loves, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him."  Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb.  They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.  Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself.  Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.  Then the disciples went back to their homes. (John 20: 1-10)

I am Peter.  Though my spirit may be willing, my flesh is weak.  It would be so easy to tell them that I don't know you.  I would look at the items in the tomb and wonder where you were.  In my heart, it would be worse than Good Friday; we've not only lost you, but now also your body.  I am Peter; I am a coward, I talk too much, I say the wrong things.  You knew all these things about Peter, yet still you chose him for greatness.  You called him a 'rock' even when he did not stay with you.  You built your Church on him.  I am Peter, though I want to be John: young, open, and willing.  He entered the tomb, saw and believed.  He was the beloved disciple, the one closest to your Blessed Mother, the one who knew you.  Through John, you entrusted us to your Mother and gave her to us.  Increase my trust and Faith and help me to always run to her Immaculate Heart.

Every Bitter Thing is Sweet inspired me to pray like this.  I highly recommend this book for reading and studying to delve deeper into your relationship with Christ through Scripture.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What's on your spiritual reading list?

I've always loved this quotation from St. Josemaria Escriva: "Spiritual reading has made many saints."

It's certainly true that, if you look at the lives of the saints, many of them came to know God through reading. Some examples include St. Teresa of Avila, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Edith Stein... can you think of others?

Keeping this in mind, I try to keep a regular habit of spiritual reading. I find that I'm more fervent and dedicated to my faith when I'm reading good spiritual works that encourage and cultivate my interior life.

Here's what I'm reading right now:

I discovered "Searching for and Maintaining Peace" by Father Jacques Phillipe thanks to a blog post by the lovely Martha Reilly (whose blog is no longer public, sadly). Even though I'm only a short way into it, this book is already one of my favorites. I find that it inspires me to seek interior peace while giving me the spiritual tools to maintain it throughout all the little trials that come my way.

Meanwhile, I was inspired to read "The Seven Storey Mountain" by Thomas Merton after seeing a plaque dedicated to him on a recent trip to Louisville, Kentucky. I'm not very far into that one either, but so far it's very interesting and beautifully written.

Here's one of my favorite passages so far:

In case you can't read that, it says: "It is a law of man's nature, written into his very essence, and just as much a part of him as the desire to build houses and cultivate the land and marry and have children and read books and sing songs, that he should want to stand together with other men in order to acknowledge their common dependence on God, their Father and Creator. In fact, this desire is much more fundamental than any purely physical necessity."

Isn't that beautiful?

What spiritual books are you reading right now? Do you have a favorite spiritual work?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Join us for a 54-day Rosary Novena?

Hi ladies! Sarah and I discussed last week via a Skype date about the fact that I have never finished a 54-day rosary novena before. So then we the agreed to pray one of them together -- so as to be accountability partners, and wanted to extend the invitation to all of you lovely ladies as well!

We'll be starting on April 20th, so as to end on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, on June 12th. For the first 3 novenas, or 27 days, we'll be praying in petition for our intention (April 20th -- May 16th), and then the following 27 days are prayed in thanksgiving, regardless of whether or not you've seen any fruit from your petition (May 17th -- June 12th).

Our intention for this novena is for our vocations.

Feel free to join in if you wish, and please leave a comment or otherwise contact us so we can pray for you during the 54-day novena! We can also utilize the CYW Facebook page for encouragement and other prayer intentions as we go through the novena - so check back there for updates!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

We Wait While He Suffered

I wanted to share some reflections on Our Lord's Passion while we wait in anticipation of His Resurrection. These were written while I was on my flight home from college yesterday, and are based on a meditation written by Saint Thomas Aquinas.

When Jesus died on the cross He gave us three things to suffer for:

1| He showed us what kind of Passion it was. He endured great spoken opposition to His plan for our salvation. We can look to Him for strength and example when we face opposition in our prayer lives. Jesus calls us to follow in His steps of being persecuted for our beliefs. Because none of our suffering will ever be as great as His Passion. Any persecution we face is at least more deserved, as we are all sinners. He died through undeserving punishment.

2| It was all of us who crucified Him. And yet it was for us that He was dying. How can we crucify Him again and again everyday by our sins and thoughts? When He constantly forgives us and He would undergo His Passion again if it meant that one of us would be saved in His Sacred Heart. Wow. His love for us is so great that it bathes us and drowns us.

3| It was Jesus who suffered. In the beginning He suffered through His members. But now He suffered in His own person. By suffering, He bore all our sins on His sole body. No wonder His cross was so great. But He taught us perseverance to the very end, and a trust that God will make all things new for us.

On these things must we think and draw into our heart, so that we may make a sanctuary within ourselves. We can go to this inner room when the world bombards us with sin and temptation. And it is through a mediation of Christ's Passion that will keep us from growing weary on our own journeys.

"You must not faint at these anxieties your own troubles cause you. You have not yet borne as much as Christ. For He indeed shed His blood for us."
-Saint Thomas Aquinas

Friday, April 3, 2015

My Faith Will Be Shaken

shared from Sweet Wakings at the encouragement of Sarah :)

All week it's been perfect. This spring is perfect. Soft sunlight, greenery, birdsong, and gentle warm beauty. 70 degrees. Not a bit of humidity. Just cool and clean and alive. 

Do you ever wonder what it was like the day Jesus died?

Do you wonder if the birds sang as He suffered, as He bled, as He loved us with His whole life?

Sometimes I do. And then I stop because it frightens me. My imagination comes alive and I stand on Calvary, and I watch Him and keep Him company. 

Or do I?

By grace alone I'm not passing by and jeering at Him. My heart breaks...

...but maybe it breaks somewhere hidden. Maybe my fear was stronger than my love. I weep for Him, but I weep skulking wherever His other disciples ran to. I weep for my shame. 

That's why I stop imagining. It's painful. It's humiliating. 

"I wouldn't be hiding! I would be right there with Him. I love Him. I'm one of the faithful ones."

We love to bluster like that. We all like to think that we're brave and strong. We like to think: "Though all may have their faith shaken in you, mine will never be."

We all know how that turns out. Denial. Three times. And bitter tears. 

Pride and falls. 

Would I be there with Him?

One of His disciples was. John. Quiet and contemplative. 

He shows me the way. 

Because while Peter boasts of his unwavering faith, of how much stronger he'll be than all the others, John is silent. He lays his head against the Heart of Christ. He leans on Him. 

The one who leans on Jesus is the one who has the strength to stay with Him. He draws his strength not from Himself but from the Strongest One, the One who has the strength to bear the sins of all the world. And he is the one who stays at the foot of the Cross. Not the proud one whose belief is in his own faith.

Jesus, I want to stay with You. But I don't have a chance. My fear is stronger than my love. You've watched me deny You again and again these past forty days.

I'm not one of the faithful ones. I'm so breakable. I'm weak. I would run and run and not look back until I found a safe place and then I would sit next to Peter and I would weep bitterly. 

Now You know. This isn't to tell You that I give up, though. It's so You know just how much I need You. Then You can't say no. 

I'm weak. I need Your strength. 

Here I come, like John, to rest against Your Heart, to lean on You. Help me to stay with You. 

Others will have their faith shaken, and so will mine be. Have mercy on me. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Holy Week

A year has passed and here we are, again, at Palm Sunday, the day that we cry out with our own voices, "Crucify him!"—reminding us that we bear the guilt for His wounds and death, He who gave himself as a victim out of love.

This year, I spent the Gospel in the mothers' room at the back of our church, nursing a wriggly baby who refused to sit still. Yet the force and meaning of this day—of the palms waving in the air, of the statues throughout the church veiled in purple cloth—was at the forefront of my mind.

Now that I am a mother, I find that I spend a lot of time thinking about which of the countless possible traditions I want to incorporate into our home and family life throughout the liturgical year. Our baby is still too young to know or remember what we do, so I still have time to figure it out, and I want to choose wisely.

This year, we are planning to attend a Tenebrae service on Wednesday night. On Holy Thursday, after evening Mass, we have big plans to visit 7 churches in our city, provided the baby cooperates. Have you ever done the 7 Church Visitation? I didn't grow up with this tradition, but high school friends introduced me to it, and I love the chance to check out some of the beautiful, new-to-me churches in my city of Chicago, which is known for its breathtaking church architecture. On Good Friday we will attend Stations of the Cross and I will probably make hot cross buns for Holy Saturday. Maybe dye some eggs too. Holy Saturday we hope to attend the Easter Vigil, my favorite liturgy of the year, and Sunday will be full of family and feasting at my mom's famous Easter brunch.

I'm curious to know, what are your favorite traditions for Holy Week and the Easter season? How will you be celebrating these holy days both personally and with your community?