Category Archives: Catholicism

Miscellaneous Catholic topics, inspired by my religious heritage.

God Needs Gluten

Communion hosts

Image via There Will Be Bread.

Apparently there’s been a controversy in the local newspaper about gluten-free communion hosts for people with celiac disease. Since I don’t receive the local paper, I’ve been in ignorance . . . until my local Catholic Church provided a response in this week’s church bulletin. The response is basically a theological response that tells us why low-gluten communion hosts are inadmissible in Catholic liturgy, and why it doesn’t really matter.

The basic argument for how it doesn’t matter is pretty convincing: at our church we use a type of wafer with a celiac-safe gluten level (0.001%) specially developed by Benedictine nuns and considered glutenous enough to be theologically valid, as far as the Vatican is concerned. So we do have a lower-gluten host available, and we’re offering it. Nice and tidy little non-issue.

But then on the other hand, the argument for why a gluten-free host would be inadmissible doesn’t make a lot of sense at all.

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Can’t Call Me Catholic

Pregnant belly

Image via The God Murders.

I found the story on Beliefnet’s Belief Beat: St. Joseph’s Hospital has been stripped of its Catholic affiliation. (I wonder if the hospital will have to change its name.) Their crime? The hospital’s doctors performed an abortion on a woman who’d been pregnant for eleven weeks because the pregnancy was threatening her life. As blogger Nicole Neroulias observed (a little more sarcastically than I would’ve expected in the site’s news section):

Apparently, the hospital should have allowed her to die, rather than return to her four children at home. Or, perhaps St. Joseph’s could have transferred her someplace that wouldn’t have to answer to religious authorities. God forbid — literally — we leave medical decisions to the doctors and patients.
I felt for this woman and her family, very deeply. I’ve never been pregnant and I can’t swear as to what I’d do if I found myself forced to make that kind of choice. Would I die so my baby could live? And if I did, then who would take care of my baby? I’ll tell you one thing, though – I highly doubt that one partially-gestated foetus could get me to risk abandoning four already-born babies who are counting on me to care for them and help them navigate through this life. There’s no way I’d advise somebody’s mother to risk her life rather than having an abortion.
But apparently a good Catholic would go further than advising and outright demand it. In fact, if the hospital had been following official Church teaching, they would have forbidden any other course of action. She’d have had to either seek help elsewhere or play Russian roulette with the life of her children’s mother.

Celebrating Advent (Realistically)

"Jesse Tree" by Delaire Rowe

Image via Memphis Marsha's Art Gallery & Classes.

Until last year, I had never realized there were Christian traditions out there that made a very careful distinction between Advent and the Christmas season. But last year I’d joined the First Communion Prep team at my little Anglo-Quebecois parish, and all of a sudden, I was part of one.

And they were dead serious about it. I wanted to institute a “giving tree” for the parish to collect items for a local women’s shelter, and the priest gave his blessing – but it couldn’t be a Christmas tree. Ever tried to scour Wal-Mart for an Advent Tree? It’s nothing but naked branches! I found one, though, and the endeavor was a success. We had a Jesse tree, too – though I’m not sure the kids get what that’s all about – and an Advent calendar from World Vision or some other organization with ideas for collecting money each day of the season. (“Put 5 cents in the jar for each toy car you own”; “There are x doctors for every y people in Zambia. Put $1 in your jar for a child to visit a doctor”; and so forth.) Advent wreaths were de rigeur, lit in church every Sunday and also to be lit in the home. Until December 24, there was not a manger or poinsettia or Christmas light to be found.

And then suddenly, an elite task force swarmed in to dress things up for the Midnight Mass. Instant Christmas.

This year, the struggle for Advent has made it to the media limelight, along with all those “War on Christmas” stories you hear where the ACLU bans a nativity scene here or some store tells their employees to say “Happy Holidays” there, or – God forbid! – somebody writes “Merry X-mas!” in a Christmas card. In a culture where many of us have been shopping under red and green garlands since All Saints’ Day, some denominations are getting counter-cultural by delaying their festivities until the very last moment. Check out some of these Advent-related stories from around the blogosphere:

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Can Kitties Wear Condoms?

In practical terms, obviously they cannot. Cat-sized condoms do not exist, and cats lack both the manual dexterity and neurological abilities to make barrier methods of contraception practical. Any methods of contraception, in fact – except of course those chosen by pet owners.

Which is why PETA and other animal-rights organizations advocate spaying and neutering your pets, so they can’t propagate new populations of animals that will suffer on the streets or end up needlessly euthanized in overcrowded animal shelters.

And because condoms are in the news lately, thanks to the Pope’s recent remarks on condom use, PETA has decided to make the point in a new ad campaign using the image of the Pope to remind pet owners that it’s our responsibility to ensure our pets don’t reproduce.

PETA ad: "Dogs and cats can't use condoms. Spay or neuter your pets."

Image via Politics Daily.

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“It Certainly Is Not The Catholic Faith”

Pat Quinn

Image via Interior Design Magazine.

I’ve always been extremely glad I’m not a Catholic politician. I’m all too aware that I don’t always live by Catholic orthodoxy. (Oh, who am I kidding? I hardly ever do.) But I would still be distressed to have bishops calling me out on it in public and telling me that I am not a Catholic when, for better or worse, that’s what I am.

Which is why I want to write a few words of encouragement for Illinois governor Pat Quinn, who just got called out by Bishop Thomas Paprocki for supporting legislation to permit same-sex civil unions. Bishop Paprocki warns that a true Catholic is “accountable to Catholic authority”, and reminds Quinn – and the rest of us – that homosexuality in any context, from the street-corner hookup to lifelong love, is “contrary to the natural moral law”.

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Mother Mary: True To Who God Made Her

I found this story in a forum on, asking whether it was okay (culturally, I gather) for the Virgin Mary to travel while pregnant. It’s a fresh new take on the Christian story that made me feel uplifted and comforted as we get ready to celebrate Christmas.

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The Catholic Condom Conundrum

By now we’re probably all aware – or at least mostly aware? somewhat aware? heard a joke on the Daily Show? – that Pope Benedict has made a somewhat uncharacteristic statement about condom use: he said it’s not automatically, inherently evil. For AIDS-infected persons, choosing to use a condom instead of risking a sex partner’s infection would be the morally superior choice.

Read that statement over one more time. Now marvel at the fact that it’s newsworthy. A seven-year-old could tell you that it’s wrong to give somebody a bad sickness when there’s a way to prevent it. And yet we celebrate as if this is the depth of moral clarity because – let’s be honest – we’re used to the Catholic Church being totally out-of-step with humane morality when it comes to contraception.

Condoms with a message from the pope: "I said no!"

Image via Spanish Inquisitor.

I wanted to write about this earlier in the week, actually even sat down and started to draft a post about what this moral shift means. The more I wrote, the more I realized that, in some ways, it’s not much of a moral shift at all. It’s a media shift. The Pope hasn’t changed Church teaching. He’s changed his public relations.

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The Welcoming

Catholic infant baptism

Image via Reuters FaithWorld.

Yesterday I attended my nephew’s baptismal ceremony at the Catholic church where I attended as a fairly-fundamentalist Catholic teen, which is always a strange experience. For one thing, this nephew is the son of a pair of my dearest friends, people who have genuinely been there for me through the darkest points in my life, and have allowed me to be there for them when they’ve felt the need for an extra pair of hands – deeply beloved, deeply valued people in my life. But at the same time, this church is also frequented by people who have been deeply unkind to me across a very long time, betrayals of friendship going back all the way to my primary-school days and as recently as a few weeks ago. There have been so many relationships made and lost and awkwardly patched over here, it gives the building a very strange emotional resonance for me.

But there was more to it than just the awkwardness of a lifetime’s good and bad memories collected in one church building. There was a very deep familiarity to the ritual, and a sense of belonging that grows out of knowing it all so well. I’ve been a Catholicism junkie in the past; there’s not much I don’t know about the religion, its history, its origins, and its beliefs. It’s all left me a bit jaded about the Church. But the ritual is beautiful – blessing oneself with the baptismal waters, genuflecting before seating oneself in the pew, making the Sign of the Cross – and it creates a sense of belonging to know them so well. As the ceremony began, I felt very deeply connected to the other worshipers, the community of faith, the Church as a whole . . . and yes, even to God, though the ceremony was rooted in an understanding of the Divine that I can’t quite say I accept or believe.

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My Common Ground with Christian Fundamentalism

The Bible, which may or may not be inerrant, according to some fundamentalists.

Image via NewsBiscuit.

I thought that might get your attention. There’s a certain way of thinking about Christian fundamentalism – essentially, if a fundy says it, it must be insane. This stereotype (as far as I can tell) grows out of belief in the Rapture, collective hoop-jumping to deal with contradictions and inconsistencies in the Bible, and popular support for Sarah Palin.

But today I was surfing Answers in Genesis (mostly because fundamentalism amuses me) and I found a statement that I deeply agree with. It was buried in the testimony of a student who is “not ashamed to be a Creationist”. On Biblical inerrancy and its role in his choice of college, this unashamed student  had this to say:

“Without a commitment to biblical authority (that the Bible’s teachings must be the final, absolute authority to which we defer), a Christian simply has no true basis for discernment on essential doctrinal matters and morality.”

I’m not agreeing with this as an absolute – that the Bible is the only truthful way to discern reality. But it is true that, if you don’t put faith in the Bible, your reasons for being a Christian start to crumble away beneath you.

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The Words To Pray

Lately I’ve been feeling the impulse to pray – sometimes just at random or when I learn of someone else’s misfortune and want to send good wishes for them into the universe, and sometimes as a way to get through some of the more difficult moments of my daily life. I close my eyes, focus my thoughts, and search for the words that will put me in touch with the divine.

That’s when I run into a bit of a problem. All the prayers I know are Catholic.

Catholic woman praying.

Image via Loyola Press.

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