Sunday, February 13, 2022

I Wish I Knew This When I Was Younger (The Importance of Teaching Theology of the Body to the Young)

Imagine twelve-year-old children wondering when they're old enough to have sex, questioning their sexual orientation, whether feeling more comfortable with your same gender means you are homosexual and if it's okay to love someone and not be sexual with them.  In a group of less than 60, after a 50 minutes presentation on sexual ethics with an emphasis on Theology of the Body, these questions were asked, illuminating the plight that young people are struggling through in this day in age these.  It makes one wonder "How many more are struggling with these thoughts, these questions, these feelings at such a young age?"  Not only was it eye-opening, it was heartbreaking, and it makes one fear the future of these young ones, wondering how many of them will fall into the traps of lust and physical pleasure as they stumble along the wrong path in search for that unconditional love.  Like a plague, this hypersexualized culture has been disseminated through humanity, infecting even the young and innocent minds that should be protected and cherished.  But not only has society become hypersexualized, it has blurred the lines and boundaries between love and lust, male and female, affection and sex, empathy and attraction. 

This comes as no surprise as young people are not only surrounded by this from the various media and entertainment messages but also in their family settings. "Sex sells" and sexualization of inanimate objects to boost public attention for products has been a marketing idea since the 1870s, but the sexual revolution of the 1960s propagated the changed perspective of sexual intercourse and sexuality from being private and monogamous exchange between a husband and wife to one of an outward expression of inner desires and self-serving pleasures with whomever a person wishes, has trickled down the generations.  The concept has been fueled by mainstream media where from concerts, to movies, to music are full of nudity and sex, often without showing the negative consequences that occur with pre-marital sex such as STIs and unwanted pregnancies.

Pornography is a growing issue among teenagers with which 90% of teenage boys and 60% of teenage girls have been exposed to pornography before the age of 18.  Gone are the days of accidentally coming across a dirty magazine on a store shelf or stashed or tossed away somewhere.  Accessibility is fueling the issue as studies show that 95% of teenagers report having access to the internet, and children as young as 8 have accidentally stumbled across pornography.  More than half of children have seen sexual images on a daily basis, and 10% of teenagers claim to access porn on a daily, contributing to the increased objectification and dehumanization of others, including themselves, leading to more risky sexual behaviors without caring what happens to the partner so long as their own sexual pleasures are satisfied. Although there has been a decline in the percentage of teens having vaginal intercourse over the last decade, the number of having oral sex is 1 out 5 teenagers and  60% of teenagers claim to have sent sexually explicit text messages.  More than half of new sexually transmitted infection cases were among youth between 15-24 years old. In only a span of 5 years, the number of teenagers reporting themselves to be "non-heterosexual" rose from 8.3% to 11.7% from 2015 to 2019, with the trend higher in females than males.

Body shaming is also an increasing problem, as  94% of girls and 64% of boys have been shamed for the way their body looks, an issue fueled by social media use as filters in applications such as Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat show a person as the "ideal" face and body type.  The negative body image and negative view of self further increases desperate longing for inclusion, feelings of being love and worthiness that they seek self-destructive means to quell it, impulsively reacting to the immediate gratification of that longing without any thought of consequences.  As each encounter further stimulates the reward circuit of the brain, it leads to addictive behaviors and a reworking of the developing brain that can cause long-term negative effects, often leading to depression and anxiety.

Yet despite immediate accessibility at their fingertips, there still seems to be a subconscious sense of the dichotomy between sociocultural norms and the truth of their dignity burning within their hearts that they are afraid to express or be let known for fear of retaliation, ridicule and ostracization.   There is a way to show them their worth and the love they truly deserve to experience and have rather than settle for being utilized as a tool for the short-lived, immediately gratifying pleasure. The answers lie in Pope Saint John Paul II's Theology of the Body.

The teachings of the Theology of the Body give us hope because of  two basic ideas: 1. Since is God can be seen in all of creation (Romans 1:20) that also means that God is revealed in the human person. 2. If all of creation is good (Genesis 1:31) then that also means that the human person is good. The acceptance of these realities is a life-changing experience that I can attest to.

During my first trip to the Theology of the Body Institute I had Christopher West melt my heart not only with the teachings of JP2, but also with the way he was able to get me to accept the truth of myself. Yes, it was hard because I had to look inward and face not only the things that had been done in my life that hurt me, but also the hurtful things I did to others, with the latter being the hardest because those were certainly examples of me not recognizing the good in others. 

What was most interesting was the fact that while I did go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation in order to make amends with God as well as myself, that was not the main focus of what I did during my first week in the Philadelphia area. I listened carefully, probably like the disciples did to Jesus when He walked the earth because I had great trust in what I was hearing. When I was not in class I spoke to many of my other classmates as we shared our stories with each other with many of those conversations being very personal in nature. The trusting environment was like nothing I had ever felt before as I could really feel that all of us believed the teaching that told us that we are good in the eyes of God and have always been good in the eyes of God. That was a turning point in my life. 

The insecure little boy who was at times picked on for being the smallest boy in class...is good. The scared student who never felt like he was close to being as smart as the best students in his class.....is good. The young man who never felt like he measured up to what a girl his own age would be attracted to....is good. The person who never measured up to members of his family or peer groups....is good. I could really hear the Lord speaking to me in a way like never before. 

I am the Lord thy God and I proclaim to you, My child, that you are good. 

Finally, I believed it.

There was one final moment during my first course at the TOB Institute that I will never forget, when Christopher West told us to take what we had learned and share it with the world. We were also reminded that we couldn't give what we didn't have so, we had to continue living our faith the right way. 

Such an acceptance did not remove my life struggles but it did help me see these struggles in a different way due to the fact that I saw myself in a different way. There are still moments when I had to endure the pain that comes from being hurt by others as well as the empty feeling I have when I fail those who matter the most to me. But, the way I handle it changed because I noticed that none of these painful moments took away my belief that I am good in the eyes of God. This lit a fire in me and I became determined to evangelize what I had learned because if these teachings were able to change my the negative self-perceptions that I held on to for so long, how much impact could this bring on the youth that I teach?

So how can we broach the subject with a generation full of answers that they have searched on the internet?  By ensuring that they are L.O.V.E.D.
Listen
Observe
Validate
Encourage
Direct
Listen to their questions and their stories.  It is important to allow them the chance to express the thoughts on their minds and hearts without fear of judgement or ridicule. More important, listen to the things they are not saying, reading between the lines where we can discover their pain.  In doing so we can gain insight to their personal struggles and can steer the conversation to be more individualized to their needs.

Observe who your audience is and their interactions and their body language.  It is in the unspoken gestures that we get more sense of what they are grasping onto, and sometimes it's the quiet ones who are the deepest thinkers.  As a high school teacher I deal with teens at various phases in their lives and different life experiences. Freshmen can be really unsure and really want someone that they know will listen to them. Seniors have more life experiences and have certainly made mistakes while also having others perhaps do things to them that deeply wounded them.

Validate their feelings and let them know they are not alone.  One thing I loved about Christopher West's approach was that he was not afraid to share his own shortcomings, something that I had already incorporated in my own teaching method.  In doing so, the students are able to see that you are real, relatable and just as imperfect as they are.  In share our own failures with the purpose of showing how God changed our lives it is realistic for our audiences who are filled with people who have their own human story. 

Encourage them to look inward and to pray.  In addition to the usual growing pains of adolescents, some also have family lives that have challenged them in various ways. At times, the teachers are that paternal and maternal guidance that is needed. Teachers can have the positive impact needed to find their inner value and inner peace.

Direct them to the truth: that they are good in the eyes of God. Their thoughts and feelings matter. Their life experiences are valid and important to us as well as the Lord. Further, they MUST know that no other person on this planet can fulfill them. That is the lie that our culture tries to tell us and once they accept the reality that only the all powerful and loving God can truly fulfill them, it will also be a life-changing for them.  Help them to find the answers, guiding them to the right channels should we not have the answers ourselves.

In many cases their lives are literally in our hands.  While we will make mistakes, we can never fail when it comes to showing them not only that God sees them as good but that we love them as well. In doing this, I can promise you that you will see the impact you will have on their lives.  There were many occasions the senior girls tell me tell me, "I wish I knew this when I was younger," perhaps during their freshman year of high school. That alone should encourage us to accept the reality that young people need to learn this message as soon as they can ponder the idea of becoming emotional involved with another. 

The young ladies' reactions are priceless, often becoming emotional as they are not only affirmed as daughters in the eyes of God but also, because they feel the confirmation of a voice that had always been speaking in their hearts that told them that they were both beautiful and valuable even though the world around them tries to convince them otherwise. They expressed an unwillingness to settle for the attention of just anyone who won't value them, expressing that they truly accept their value in God's eyes.

Teenage boys have stated that the teaching not only affirmed them as young men but also allowed them NOT to feel alone in such a chauvinistic world since many of them do come from families that raise them treat girls with respect. It's difficult to act appropriately when their peers do not adhere to the same worldview. When they hear someone else say the things that they were taught in their own homes it encourages them to embrace such a truth. 

Theology of the Body encompasses the spiritual truth within our physical humanness. It is imperative that we reach the young people and show them their worth before they are faced with decisions they could later regret.  Though it may not stop them completely, they at least have heard the truth and know it in their minds with an aim to penetrate their hearts.  This can be achieved by not only speaking to them, but relating to them with our own human stories, while listening to their qualms and letting them know how much they matter and are L.O.V.E.D




Friday, January 21, 2022

Conversion of St. Paul

The story of St. Paul's conversion is a very powerful one. Many Christians refer to the fact that God can melt anyone's heart, even when that person is a great persecutor of Christians. While many debate what St. Paul had actually seen and experienced when he had his encounter with Christ, including the secular world who claim that it was an experience based on guilt or possibly a heat stroke. Still, there is something to be said about a man who turned away from his life of privilege in order to join the movement that he once persecuted. 

In looking at the theological significance of this event it comes down to the reality of what it means to encounter Christ. For St. Paul, it was on the road to Damascus but what is it like for each of us while we walk to our own Damascus. We often hear the stories of those who come from other faiths and their conversion to Catholicism.  Many of them have beautiful stories of how they came to their decision.  But what about those who were born into the faith?  Can they have a conversion story?

Many cradle Catholics are more “culturally Catholic”, practicing the faith without an understanding of the deep-seeded truths within the rituals or prayers,  A 2015 study by PEW Research found that more than half of Catholics born into the faith leave the Church with only a handful coming back.  Another study found that only about one-third of Catholics actually believe in Transubstantiation, that the bread and the wine actually become the Body and Blood of Christ during Consecration. 

Faith is an internal journey, often marred by the struggles we each encounter or even just the day-to-day distractions that pull us away from maintaining our relationship with God.  The issue with Catholicism is it is not a faith that will seek you, you must seek the faith yourself by delving into your interior being.  It takes work, and just like it says in the letter of James “For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”

The word conversion comes from the Latin convertÄ•re meaning “to turn around”, a change in direction.  For cradle Catholics, this conversion can go one of several ways.  Some become atheists, completely abandoning the idea of a faith practice. Some maintain some agnosticism, where they don’t fully believe but don’t disbelieve in God.  Others convert to other denominations of Christianity.  But there are those who actually grasp their Catholicism, rediscovering their faith in a whole new light and go from being culturally Catholic to a faithful Catholic.  There is a transition period that varies in length, for some it’s weeks, others it’s months, and for many others it may take years. 

Each being raised in the faith, partaking in the practices and rituals, neither author of this blog understood the deeper meanings, the why behind the faith and its practices, they just knew the how. Now they reflect on their own conversion stories

 

“Yes, Lord” – Carlos’s story

I was born and raised in the faith, which was why it was always close to me in one way or another. Therefore, my conversion was not so much me discovering the truth of Jesus Christ as taught by the Roman Catholic Church but in the feeling of change during those moments of saying yes to the Lord. This is why I appreciate the Church's teaching on how conversion is a lifelong process as this has certainly been a part of my faith journey. 

With that being said, I would like to share three significant moments in my life that have brought me to where I am today. Yes, I am still a student of the faith and I relish the idea of having to spend the rest of my life growing as a Catholic, but these moments helped define me in a way that allowed me to arrive to the place where I belong, which is right here and right now. 

My parents made the decision to put me in Catholic school when I was about to start high school. It was not something I appreciated at the time having to start over and leaving friends and acquaintances I’d known since preschool.  However, I did appreciate the fact that it was a campus that I was familiar with: St. Anthony High School in Long Beach, CA. My father worked there for many years and remained until he retired years after I completed my high school studies. 

I did not have the highest grades, nor was I the most vocal, but there was something about these classes that really made me think about my faith. In fact, it was as early as my freshmen year when I first contemplated the idea of being a theology teacher. The seed had been planted. 

Drumming is one of my passions, and I began college at at El Camino Community College in Torrance, California as a music major.  In my second year, I befriended many devout Christians who challenged me as a Catholic.  I don't know if this was a coincidence or God keeping an eye on me due to the fact that I was already performing in night clubs.  Many of my evangelical friends asked a lot of intriguing questions, and I often felt unqualified to answer them.  This led me to ask my father to take me to a couple of Catholic bookstores so I could get pick up some books that really explained the faith.

The light of Spirit not only shone on me, but it also illuminated the faith that was in my heart. Now I had a deeper understanding of the things that I had believed and done all my life, and was now I was able to go back to school and explain my Catholic beliefs to my peers. Aside from that, I was now able to say that I was now Catholic because I choose to be and not just because I was raised in the faith. How important was this to me? Within a couple of years when I was not studying at Cal State Long Beach I would eventually change my major from Music to Religious Studies. 

Fast forward to 2021. I was an experienced veteran teacher, had already co-founded HCD, published author while still working as a professional musician. Everything seemed to be going really well. My faith was a part of my livelihood and right there hovering over me, keeping me out of trouble. But was that enough? Is that how a Catholic is supposed to live? Is it a day job at work and Mass on the weekends or was I supposed to do more? 

I looked in the mirror....and with the help of ministry partner, I made a leap of faith. I let go of a big part of my life: performing in nightclubs and casinos. Yes, there are the occasional dinner gigs and time spent working on my own music but, it was time to focus more on my faith life, our ministry and giving more of my time to my family rather than thinking about how my working gigs were providing for my family or, admitting to myself that I not only enjoyed performing but that I was trying to let a part of my ego fill a void in my heart that only God could fill. 

How was this a conversion experience? I saw what God gave to me after trusting in Him. As soon as I took that leap of faith HCD got even busier. My family life improved. I was even more focused teaching my classes at work. And, in doing God's work my heart was filled by the Lord and it made me feel like a new man. Of course I am far from perfect but the newness I felt was this notion that I was on the right path, which was a path I could not find had I not made a big decision.  

Yes Lord, I trust in You. 

 

Listening to the Call – Angel’s story

You might ask how someone whose family went to Church every Sunday and went to Catholic school for twelve years felt they knew nothing of their own faith, but by the time I had graduated high school, I knew the basics and that was it.  I knew the prayers, I knew the responses to Mass so I didn’t look like a fool.  But how deep did I actually take the words of the prayers I recited?  I didn’t even know or understand where many of these prayers originated or what they meant.  But I memorized them, I knew how to behave in Church, when to sit, when to stand, when to kneel.  So how did I go from someone who knew the bare minimum to suddenly founding a ministry and teaching Catechism?

Firstly, being raised in a Catholic family and going to Catholic school for so long actually can, and hopefully does, instill some intrinsic values planted deep within.  But at the time I saw no value in my education and took theology classes for granted.  Once it went beyond memorizing the 10 Commandments and the words to the prayers, nothing stuck.  Years later, with what I have to do in ministry, I looked back and wished I had paid more attention in theology classes because it could have cut some time on my research, but I realized I just was not ready to take it in.

One of my earliest faith awakenings happened during my Confirmation 3-day retreat when I was 16.  It was an emotional experience, one that I had not expected.  I’ll be honest I did not find my catechists those two years very inspiring, but the sense of community I felt during those 3 days up on the snow-filled mountains with my peers and the all-powerful working Spirit ignited a fire in me.  I came down from that mountain on what I called a “Jesus high” which was only fueled by the Youth Day celebration the following week.  To be in an arena with thousands of other teenagers listening to stories and testimonies of hope, to be chanting and battling at each other “We love Jesus” as different groups went by, and to be singing along praising and worshipping God, it was awe-inspiring.  I did decide the following year to become a teacher’s aid, but due to the Catechist quitting, ended up teaching what I could.  Then life happened.

It did not occur to me when I started dating my husband how important it would be for me to have not just a life partner, but a partner in faith.  He was one of those who was “baptized Catholic” but only went to Church at Christmas and Easter, if he even went at all.  When I’d say let’s go to Church, we often found ourselves “too busy” at times to go.  Eventually I stopped going altogether.  I prayed the Rosary at family gatherings because I knew how.  But none of it felt like it meant anything.  Then one day, I drove by my Church, the one I was baptized, went to school, had my First Reconciliation and First Community, Confirmed and married at.  There was no Mass and it was empty, the lights were dimmed.  I was suddenly overcome with emotions and felt this sense of “I’ve come home.”  From then I began to go to Church more regularly again, often without my husband.

A friend of mine moved from Hawaii to Santa Monica to help start a Christian Church.  They had no one to do any music so she asked me if I’d help and sing.  At one point, I was going to 6 am Mass at my Catholic Church then going to the protestant church to help set up and sing.  It became too tiring and felt I was more useful at the other church, so I stopped going to my Catholic Masses, in my head thinking “I’m still praising God and going to church.”  Still, there was something missing.  Being part of it for a period of time, I could see why others would be drawn to this type of faith practice.  They knew how to appeal to your human desires.  But I often questioned what the pastors were preaching about abundance overflowing as they were talking about the riches and material goods.  Where was Jesus’ humility? Occasionally they would partake in their own communion, which I never felt right participating in.  I sometimes took the bread and the grape juice they handed me (they were pre-packaged in little plastic cups and containers) because I didn’t want to be rude, but I just held onto it without consuming it.  It felt wrong and I couldn’t understand why, but even then, there was this sense of greater meaning that I could fathom in the traditions held by the Church.

Eventually I stopped going but would still visit on occasion as the people there became friends.  On one such occasion, they were doing communion and the pastor made the comment “It’s not like the Catholics who just do it as a ritual” immediately before he read the exact same passages from Luke that our priests recite during Consecration.  He knew I was there and that I had never renounced my Catholic faith. What was his purpose? Was he trying to “enlighten” me in the ways that their form of Christianity was better or more meaningful?  Whatever it was had the opposite effect.  It compelled me to become even more Catholic in my beliefs than before. For the first time in my life, I felt a sense of “loyalty” to my faith and this need to defend it.

Fast forward to two kids in Catholic school, it was here that I learned the value of my Catholic education really held.  My little 5-year-old kindergartener is laying in his toddler bed and says, “Mommy, let’s pray.”  I’ve said in previous blogs how my children pushed me to become a better Catholic.  It was then that I realized I could not just live my faith in the privacy of my own locked door or when I’m in Church.  I had to live it in every aspect, becoming the example my children needed.

For years, there was a gnawing within me that there was more that I could do. The real turning point, though, was in 2018 when Carlos and I began to talk about our ministry and what we wanted to show the world: the value of each person from the moment of their creation.  It was then that I also felt the calling to go back and teach Catechism.  While doing the Stations of the Cross during Lent that year, there was a strong urge to return to teaching, strong enough that I was driven to tears thinking of it.  I did not have to act upon it myself but was asked to do it and I said yes.  Ministry pushed me even deeper into my faith, and for the first time in my life, I was truly hungry to know more and look beyond what was written on the page.  Friends told me they could see a difference, even in my outlook on God’s will and on people.  It seeped into everything I did, even the way I practice medicine.  All the experiences I had since starting our ministry pushed me into a deeper reverence. 

I also realized what was missing when the other church tried to offer me communion.  It was merely an earthly symbol, regular bread and grape juice, not the Consecrated Host. In other words, it was not the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  I gained the confidence to fight for the values I hold, particularly the pro-life issues, because I was thrown into the deep end and forced to look beyond my own fears and speak what I felt was guided by the Spirit in order to evangelize to others.  Things I used to fear, I no longer feared, even something as small as being in the dark.  Because I am finally confident in the Lord’s presence within me.

What is even more affirming is the way my family has changed.  My children are not afraid to show me their faith and love for Jesus.  They talk to me about what they learn in religion class, and know that they can ask me questions about the faith. My husband now joins us every Sunday for Mass, and is more willing than he was before to take the children the times I am not with them.  He does pay attention to the sermons and asks questions.  He has yet to go on his own, but I am grateful that he no longer resists and is an active participant when he is there.

Having answered His call has definitely shown me the challenges I face.  The more faithful I became, the greater the challenges.  Many of them were emotional ones.  But if there is one thing I believe now more than ever, it’s that the Lord always puts us where we need to be.

Conclusion

Faith is an individualized journey affected by many outside factors.  It requires an internal reflection and with an outward expression.  We often encounter moments that can either make us or break us, allowing ourselves to be defeated or to rise to His call, and we have a choice as to the outcome.  Our destination is to get closer and closer to God, to do His will and to find our place in His kingdom both in heaven and on earth.  When we do, we can see the positive effects it has, not only on ourselves, but on those we love around us.  As we see the example in the example of St. Paul, we don’t have to be born saintly.  It takes a willing change in our hearts to answer His call to greatness.




Angelica Delallana

Board-Certified Family Nurse Practitioner
Fertility Care Practitioner Intern and NaPro Technology Medical Consultant Intern with the St. Paul VI Institute
Confirmation Catechist
Co-Founder of Humana Corpus Dignitate

Carlos Solorzano

BA & MA in Religious Studies from Cal State Long Beach
Certified Through the Theology of the Body Institute
Co-Founder of Humana Corpus Dignitate

https://www.hcdtalks.com/    

 

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Encouraging the Miracle Our Children Already Are - Mary's example at the Wedding of Cana

Parents always want the best for their children.  Before having kids, we dream of what being a parent would entail, imagining what our kids would be like.  Many of us have dreams at the moment our children are born, holding them in our arms for the first time, admiring the miracle that brought them into this world then flashing forward in our minds.  But reality can often hit us in ways that we never imagined.  From congenital anomalies, to learning disabilities, to behavioral issues, to social anxiety, chronic illnesses.  A whole slew of issues that none of us had ever imagined going through before becoming a parent.  It can be overwhelming, often making us wonder if we were the cause of our child's ailments/sufferings.  We question if we're even good enough to care for such a child.  The greatest challenge for some is fully accepting who our children are for themselves and finding ways for them to flourish within their limitations.  It is not a easy road, but there is one person we can turn to for guidance: our Blessed Mother.

Let us reflect on what transpired at the Wedding of Cana, the moment of Jesus' first miracle prompted by His Mother. She made her request knowing who He was and all that He could do. She also knew of the impact His miracle would have on his followers along with those who would witness this first sign. Most people focus on everything from Jesus addressing Mary as Woman, the significance of the wine or the reason why this happened at a wedding banquet. Our focus is going to be the confidence Mary had in Jesus knowing what He could do when it came to changing water into wine. This was a mother who not only knew her child, but accepted who He was and encouraged Him to do what He was called for even before He felt He was ready showing her belief in Him.

Both of us are hit hard by such an idea due to the fact that we have sons on the autism spectrum. For years, many would ask such parents if your child as Asperger's Syndrome with the assumption that each child had a specific condition. Today, this language is no longer used because the idea is to identify the child for who they are and where they fit on the spectrum. There are certainly specific traits that such children demonstrate in their day to day activities but again, there is always an intention for the professionals to know the child for their unique characteristics.  The second reading today, the second Sunday of Ordinary time, says it in the letter to the Corinthians: “There are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”

Despite the number of tests medical professionals perform, there are persons’ whose observations are very important in assessment, diagnosis and care planning, whether it is for physical ailments and disabilities, mental health ones, learning disabilities, behavioral concerns, emotional ones or any other issues a child may be going through: the parents'. No one knows a child like their mother and father.  No battery of tests can ever truly determine the nuances in our children's strengths or areas of improvement.  Most especially, no test can ever diagnose the greatness of their hearts.

It couldn't have been easy for our Blessed Mother.  How many of us look back at old photos of our children, hoping and wishing they would stop growing?  At each stage of their lives, we begin to loosen the reigns, allow them room to grow and be who they are.  But that doesn't mean we don't pine for the days they would just fall asleep on our chest and be in our arms.  By asking Jesus to perform this miracle, she essentially was saying, "Son, I believe in you.  I believe in what you could do.  I accept who you are. I love you for who you are.  I'm willing to let go so you can do what God called you to do."  She proved this even more by telling the servants at the wedding “Do what he tells you.”  She did not try and control the situation herself, but trusted in what Jesus could do.  And rather than the wedding party seeming to follow the traditional norm, the best wine was given last.  Our children who do not follow the norm of growth and development, of average milestones, they have a very special gift that when it manifests can be the greatest gift, and we have to trust that it is there within them, and that it will bless us and touch our lives in a way that we could never have imagined.

From a Christian perspective, this should make us reflect on the passage from Isaiah 43:1: I have called you by name. Our God is a God of love who wants to know each of us as the individual that He created out of love. This was best demonstrated in the coming of Jesus Christ not only as one of us but to also teach us of the kind of relationship that God wants with all of us, a personal one (Romans 8:15 & Galatians 4:6). He has extended the invitation for us to go to Him in prayer and to love Him through our faith life and by loving our neighbor. This can also be done through our struggles when we take them to Him in prayer and allow Him to offer the graces that we need at that moment.


We can deduce that having Jesus as a son very likely challenged Mary's faith.  Knowing, from the moment of His conception, who she was carrying, it's a great weight and burden.  How could she not feel the challenge to do all she could to make sure that Jesus "advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man" (Lk 2:52)?  When we teach our children at a young age who God truly is, we can begin to see faith through their eyes.  The gift of the innocent love for God can motivate us, and should motivate us, to love God more so that we can be better examples of that same faith to our children.  As it was through Mary's faith that she believed in her child, it is through faith that we should believe in our own.

But another challenge that plagues most parents in today's society and economy are the normal day-to-day barriers that get in the way. The Church teaches that the parents are the primary educator of the child. However, this is changing  as more and more children are having to turn to teachers, coaches and other adult mentors for the guidance that they should be getting from their parents. While, such love and generosity is appreciated it still does not remove the reality of a parent being absent either physically or psychologically. We sometimes justify our absence with the idea that we are providing for our families. While that is true, it is only providing the basic necessities needed for physical survival, but not necessarily the love, support and personal attention needed by our children to grow.  Often with this busy lifestyle, parents become mentally removed from the presence of their children that they lose sight of who their children truly are. Children need their parents and we have to find ways to better balance our lives so that we can physically provide for our children while still giving the emotional support that they need.

Psalm 127:3 speaks of the value of children and this is a mindset that Jesus would have grown up with. That and the love and support he would have received from Mary and Joseph. Parents always speak of their own struggles and the gift they feel when they receive guidance from other adults who have experienced these same struggles. Taking these struggles to prayer is not only a way to empower our parenting skills but another way for us to grow closer to Christ in our own relationship with Him. Further, this is something parents can share with their children who should also be encouraged to pursue their own relationship with the Lord.

Mary had faith in who Jesus was, hope that He could help those in need with the gifts that she could see in him and unconditional love for her son.  Let us learn to have the same faith, hope and love in our own children, building on their strengths, helping them through their weaknesses, and allowing them to flourish with the unique gifts that they have to share to the world.




Angelica Delallana

Board-Certified Family Nurse Practitioner
Fertility Care Practitioner Intern and NaPro Technology Medical Consultant Intern with the St. Paul VI Institute
Confirmation Catechist
Co-Founder of Humana Corpus Dignitate

Carlos Solorzano

BA & MA in Religious Studies from Cal State Long Beach
Certified Through the Theology of the Body Institute
Co-Founder of Humana Corpus Dignitate

https://www.hcdtalks.com/    

 

Friday, January 7, 2022

May the Dove Descend Upon You

 "On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him  And a voice came from the heavens, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."
- Mark 1:10-11

    Imagine going in for a procedure and the doctor telling you "I haven't been trained as a surgeon and I just got whatever tools I could get my hands on for your procedure, but I'll do my best to save your life."  It's not going to give you confidence in the doctor, nor is that doctor going to feel confident in what he is doing.  You're very likely to leave without getting anything done, afraid to place your life in their hands.  Going into anything without guidance, training, or the proper tools we need makes it difficult to properly endure and complete any task proficiently.  Although some may be able to figure it out, it's not without mistakes, failures, trial and error that we learn the right way to do something.  We falter, some give up.  There is frustration and anger and the insecurity of not knowing whether or not we are even capable.  Our spirituality is no different

    Jesus' baptism was revelatory as it was the moment He became known to the world.  He was baptized by John in the Jordan River, the gates of heaven were opened, and the Spirit came down like a dove.  It was only after His baptism that Jesus began His ministry; driven into the desert to fast and was tempted by the devil, gained His first disciples, began preaching in Galilee, performed His first miracle at the wedding in Cana, and exorcised one possessed evil.  Let us think for a moment, though.  

    John himself felt that he was "not worthy to carry" or "loosen the thongs of his sandals".  He questioned Jesus saying "I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?"  Yet, Jesus chose to be Baptized, allowing the gates of heaven be opened and the Holy Spirit to descend upon Him.  If Jesus, who it was revealed in this moment as the Son of God, needed the Holy Spirit upon Him to start His mission, what more do we need the Spirit within us, guiding us, giving us the tools to overcome the adversity of the world we live in, especially during these trying times?

    The word baptism comes from the Greek baptizein which means to "immerse" or "plunge" (CCC 1214). We are plunged and buried in the death of Christ and born into the a new life, regenerated and renewed by the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself was reborn into a new life, leaving behind the home He had always known and going on His mission set forth by His Father in heaven. 

    With anything in life, there are challenges.  Jesus was not freed from the challenges and the burdens.  In fact His were greater than the weight we carry ourselves.   From being rejected in his own homeland, the temptations of the devil, the challenges and questionings he faced repeatedly during His earthly ministry, to the betrayal, the false accusations, the torture, the mockery, the denial, until His death.  All of that He endured with the Spirit within Him.
 
    This is best stated by Cale Clarke in the article where he shows how baptism is in fact more than just for the forgiveness of sins: 

    Christian baptism is of course greater than John’s baptism, even as Jesus himself is far greater than John (Matt. 3:14, John 3:30). Christian baptism not only forgives sins, but infuses the life of God into the soul, making us God’s children. And the origin of this sacrament is Jesus’ own baptism. Jesus had no need to be cleansed by the waters of baptism, for he had no sins to be washed away. Rather, he sanctified the waters by his descent into them.

    We as Christians are also not freed from the burdens and challenges.  Sometimes we feel it even more because we can see the truths of the pains of the world through our spiritual eyes.  But when we allow the Spirit to descend upon us, and when we open our own hearts and minds to it, we are given the tools we need to face these challenges and overcome the burdens.  What are these tools?  We are given wisdom, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord.  In other words: the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  God has  wrapped them in the most beautiful wrapping paper: they are wrapped within us. But how many of us open ourselves to these gifts, look back at them and even use them?  It is our choice to utilize the gifts God has graced us with in our own Baptism, allowing ourselves to be infused with the same spirit that descended upon our Savior. 




 

Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Imperfect Holy Family

"He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man."
Luke 2:51-52

There is no such thing as a perfect family. In most cases it is because none of us are perfect. Aside from that, there is also the reality that the circumstances that surround us are flawed because of the different types of people that we deal with on a daily basis. 
 
With that being said, even the Holy Family was far from perfect.  I'm sure we heard many examples of this in the multiple homilies we heard over this past Christmas weekend with all of us being able to relate to each idea in our own way. As always, the bible is not only filled with stories of real people whose faith in God made a big difference in their lives but also lessons for all of us to apply to our own lives.  
 
Firstly, imagine Mary's position: a teenage girl betrothed to a man (so in all essence she was already his wife in those days) and having to tell him that you are going to have a child that is not his.  Imagine being in Joseph's shoes, having the responsibility of raising such a child after accepting the truth of the origins of this child, which for many would have been all but impossible without the grace of God. This certainly serves as a source of inspiration for those of us who have been faced with a task that seems all but impossible. 
 
From the moment of Jesus' birth, there were many challenges that they faced.  As parents we all want the best for our children, some couples choosing what nice hospital, with large birthing rooms to give birth at, or having elaborate home births with a doula.  Yet, for the parents of our Lord and Savior, no one had room for them except in a stable, born among the animals, where they fed, slept and even urinated and defecated, then laid in a manger, the container from which animals fed.  I could only imagine what Joseph would have felt like, not being able to find a comfortable room for his wife to give birth after traveling for so long.  Imagine Mary being far from everyone she knows, far from the comfort of her own home.  

Aside from not having the comfort of a room at an inn the couple would barely have time to stop and celebrate the birth of Jesus nor could they simply go home following Joseph fulfilling his obligation to register for the census. Herod's obsession to find the Holy Child, which led to the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, forced the Holy Family to flee to Egypt. We could only wonder the fear and anxiety felt by the couple while they fled along with whatever concerns they had once they settled into the land of Egypt. All they could do was have faith in the where the Lord had guided them in order to keep them safe. Still, the Holy Family would eventually be allowed to go home while many before and after them would experience similar dangers while never having the chance to return home.

Even the moments of enlightenment and joy do not always start out that way. During the moment known as the Finding in the Temple the couple would have endure searching for Jesus for three days before finding Him among the teachers of the Temple. Perhaps that could remind us of the many unsettling moments we have experienced in our lives when we were searching for our own answers....or when we await to hear from someone else the important details that they need to share with us. 

There are so many who speculate on what many call The Lost Years of Jesus: His teen and early adult years. There are so many traditions and stories that have developed over the centuries with the Church not recognizing these as authentic mainly because they do not fit a typical narrative of Jewish man from the first century. Perhaps the answer to such questions lies within Jesus' followers. We have all experienced things within ourselves and with our families that have led to feelings of love and joy along with pain and growth with us admitting that we would not trade those experiences for anything. This is part of being human. Jesus Christ was true God and human so while we may not have specifics we know more about Jesus' earthly life than we realize. We can take those to prayer and ask for the Lord to guide us during the difficult times while also giving Him thanks for the joys that come from being human. 

For Mary, she had the experience of presenting her child to the Lord before being told of the pain she will undergo as the mother of Jesus. For years she would see this manifest itself in so many ways before having to endure the death of her Son before her eyes. With only her faith and trust in the Lord to hold on to she would wait three days before experiencing the Rising of her Son, the fulfillment of His promise, the fullness of the gift that she accepted in her womb. Her trust rewarded. Hope fulfilled not just for her but for her people; for all of humanity. We also have those moments where our faith and trust are challenged; when we simply cannot comprehend all that is happening us. But, if we keep our eyes on the Lord and remain in faith we will see all that God has planned for us.

But what of Joseph, the parent who would not be present for such events? The earthly father who was charged to love and protect our Blessed Mother along with the Holy Child. What did he endure while approaching his last breath knowing he would have to leave his family behind? Knowing the woman that he called his wife he had to know that she would do whatever it took to be there for Jesus when He needed her. And, knowing the Son her raised was certainly comforted by the fact that this young man would not care for His mother but also fulfill all that He was called to do by His Heavenly Father. As spouses we are comforted in knowing that we can rely on our partners to do what must be done for our families. As parents we can also feel the joy of seeing our children grow into capable adults fulfilling the will of God in their own lives. 

Now let us ponder the last two verses in the second chapter of Luke after Jesus was finally found in the temple: He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man. What the last line implies is that He was not already born fully with the wisdom and knowledge that Jesus had during His ministry.  He gained more wisdom as He grew up.  What a great responsibility that was placed on Mary and Joseph's shoulders, to have to raise, nurture, and teach the Christ child who would be the Savior of the world.  Consider the kind of environment Jesus needed to grow up in, to have already been wise enough to preach at a young age.  Then to be willing to go back home, already knowing His calling, and continue to be raised by Mary and Joseph is a testament to the amount of love they gave, and it shows in the compassion He showed in His ministry.

For His mother, twice Luke's Gospel mentions that Mary "kept... these things in her heart."  The first time was when the shepherds told her what the angel told them of Jesus when he was born (Lk 2:19) and after Jesus was found in the temple preaching.  It did not say that she kept these things in mind, where she just remembered and thought of it.  But she held on to it and felt it deeply. She is not God, so she did not have the gift of omniscience.  But considering that the first miracle Jesus ever performed was encouraged by His mother, she truly believed from within who He was.  She did not shy away from the responsibility, but she with Joseph did what they could.  In looking all that Mary, Joseph and Jesus had to go through, there was no room for pride.  They constantly, obediently, faithfully and willingly followed God's plan for them.

Living as imperfect families do not remove the reality of love and the sense of hope and commitment that come from that love. Even the holiest families will never be spared the struggle and suffering that comes from the human experience but the love and commitment that was modeled in the Holy Family should also he the focus on how we should live within our own families, humbly and faithfully, which in turn will allow us to say, Thy will be done.....as a family.  
 
 

 

Carlos Solorzano

BA & MA in Religious Studies from Cal State Long Beach
Certified Through the Theology of the Body Institute
Co-Founder of Humana Corpus Dignitate


Angelica Delallana

Board-Certified Family Nurse Practitioner
Fertility Care Practitioner Intern and NaPro Technology Medical Consultant Intern with the St. Paul VI Institute
Confirmation Catechist
Co-Founder of Humana Corpus Dignitate

https://www.hcdtalks.com/    

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Are Pregnancies Really Unplanned or Unintended?

Having a conversation on the topic of abortion is never comfortable, but for me it is rather frustrating because, as I tell my students, it tends to focus only on words. Very few people want to look at the evidence of what occurs during the procedure. We faithfully speak of the a woman's right to choose along with statements of fear of what could happen if the procedure was outlawed along with many personal stories that reinforce our positions. 

Now, with our society being made up of so many people who claim to focus on the science I am still amazed at the use of a certain idea that will be the focus of this blog. Are we really unaware of the FACT that sexual intercourse can lead to the conception of an unborn baby? It is true that conception may not have been one's intention but it is also the true to say that one's intention will not always agree with how our bodies work. 

Is it our intention to get into an accident when we drive a car? Is it our intention to become ill when we eat certain foods? Is it our intention to get hurt when we participate is some kind of physical activity? And, in our current social setting, do we intend to have our reputations shattered because of something we said or posted in the past? With all of these proposals we know one thing for sure: we are have to deal with whatever consequences come out way, even if we DID NOT seek some form of negative outcome.   

There was a time when a man would find out that his partner was pregnant and once he shared that with others would be asked if he was planning on marrying her. No, this is not always the best way to start a marriage but there was an important implication in such a question: are you planning to take responsibility for your action? Why have we as a culture moved away from such an idea? Sure, our attitude has changed but our bodies are the same so why not accept the truth of our bodies that has been given to us by science? 

Yes, there are those who state that they did behave in a responsible way by using contraception. Let us take a look at another fact. Whether it is due to user error, a defect in the product, or the body's inability to respond, there is no form of contraception that is 100% effective. So, what do we do when it fails to work? And, how do we find out that it failed? Conception.  

Rape and incest? This seems to be the time when we accept the possibility of conception with this happening in the most horrific way for the woman who may be pregnant. There is so much to be said about this terrible act of violence towards women, which we could explore in a whole other discussion about the way we are rearing men in terms of their attitude towards women. But for the sake of this discussion, yes, there is the possibility of the human bodies doing what they could do during this horrific misuse of sexual intercourse. This terrible reality is why so many people are passionately pro-choice. 

Of course, there are is also another approach where a couple's situation could be ideal for bearing children. There could be that married couple that conceived and upon sharing the news they might be asked: were you trying? With the knowledge of how the body works as well as the fact that some couples actually include some affirmation of accepting children as a gift from God during their wedding vows, it could be suggested that such a question in irrelevant for that couple. After all, to affirm that they would accept children as a gift from God is an affirmation of: Yes, we will consummate this marriage. Yes, the marital act will be done on numerous occasions during our life together. Yes, we realize that there are times when the act will lead to conception. Yes, we accept this responsibility, together.  

We have so many ways of expressing this idea: You weren't planned. You were a surprise. You were an oops. Then, when there is a serious discussion like abortion we hear the words unplanned or unintended. With the way things are going right now in our social discussion on the issue we even have media stories where people are heralded as heroes for making the choice to abort.  


https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/music/stevie-nicks-if-i-had-not-had-that-abortion-there-would-have-been-no-fleetwood-mac-1.4380717 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/12/01/billie-jean-king-mississippi-abortion-supreme-court/


Without passing judgment, I do not believe for a moment that neither of these intelligent and talented women were unaware of the possibility of conception. We are all guilty at times for trying to make excuses for our behavior while trying to appeal to some form of ignorance. Further, this whole use of unplanned or unintended is tied to a method based on emotion to network and maintain the current majority outlook on the issue of abortion. 

In reality, to be successful in any endeavor requires commitment and sacrifice. This is also why some people choose not to get married and have children until after they retire from a profession that they will no longer be able to do after a certain age. Further, if people are going to in fact become sexually active, it should not be considered offensive to suggest that they reevaluate their attitude towards what it means when conception occurs. Yes, it would be a struggle at times to not seek out the gift of love as well as one of the many ways to express that love but it's much harder to carry the burden of the potential negative outcomes that could come out of that now lost love, which lasts a lifetime. 

This is why I admired many of the disciplined students I met while I was in college. Many of them were just as hungry for love, companionship and any other form of affirmation sought out by people their own age. Yet, many of them denied themselves such experiences because of their commitment to their studies as well as their future, stating on a regular basis that they did not want either the unnecessary distractions or potential heartbreaks that could prevent them from getting those most out of their collegiate studies. These are true examples of mature adult behavior 

The truth of our bodies is one of many reasons for the Church's teaching on chastity. It is not just based on some supposed rigid teaching on our sexual behavior that is meant to deprive us of one of life's greatest pleasures. One simply has to see all of the pain, brokenness, diseases and other serious issues that exist in our world due to our misuse of the gift of our sexuality. Obviously, our attitudes and behaviors towards sex are not working in the healthiest way.  If we look deeper, an unplanned pregnancy is not a failure of the contraceptive method.  Rather we failed our own bodies, not recognizing and accepting the awesome power and gift we have of being able to create new life and choose instead to fight against its very nature and essence.

In regards to this discussion, chastity could lift the burden that a woman would have to carry for the rest of her life along with the impact this decision would have on those closest to her. How many of these cases would be avoided if we embraced true freedom, which is to be able to do what we ought to do? Of course that takes courage to stand up to the expectations of our culture, which is why we need God's grace to strengthen and guide in acting in accordance to His will. Let us be reminded that Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to do just that. 


But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. (John 16:13) 


That includes accepting the truth of our bodies when it comes to what really happens or could happen when we choose to be sexuality active. 

  



Thursday, December 16, 2021

Reclaiming the Reason for Christmas for Future Generations


The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. 
- Luke 2:10-11

Santa Claus, elves, snowmen, snowflakes, garlands, Christmas tree, mistletoe, holly, candy canes... When I look at all the images that are supposed to represent Christmas and how little of it makes people think of the reason we are celebrating the day and why it is even called Christmas, it does make you stop and think.  Of the religious/cultural holidays that are celebrated, it seems to be the most removed from its religious origins.  A survey by Pew Research Center (PRC) found that 81% of non-Christian celebrate Christmas.  A quote from History.com stated "Christmas, a Christian holiday honoring the birth of Jesus, has evolved into a worldwide religious and secular celebration, incorporating many pre-Christian and pagan traditions into the festivities."  In another survey, the PRC found a decline in Catholics who believe in the religious aspects of Christmas and find it more to be a cultural holiday.  This is more true in the younger generations than the older generations.  In fact, when I did my own Google search using the word Christmas, the only image of the baby Jesus was an outdoor light display that was not clear.  All other images were of snowmen, Christmas trees by the fireplace and Santa.

So easily do we get trapped into the material aspects of celebrations that we forget why Christmas was so important and what it meant for us.  Holiday sales bring in billions of dollars of revenue for the economy.  The National Retail Foundation estimated that even in the pandemic of 2020, holiday retail sales grew over 8%, estimated to total over $789.4 billion. Americans spend hours shopping online or going into the stores.  Yet there is a decline in the number of Catholics who attend Mass for Christmas. How ironic that we create such elaborate and extravagant parties and focus on the materials we give and receive to the point that the extravagance appears to take precedence over what/Whom we are celebrating in the first place: the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (Lk 2:12)  Jesus was born humbly from the moment of His own birth.

The first wake-up call for me came not during Christmas, but during Easter one year, when a relative of mine who is very much into family traditions but not at all religious, looked at me funny when she asked if I did anything about Easter with my children prior to Easter Sunday. I told her that I had taken my kids to Church and we did the Stations of the Cross.  She was most likely referring to the Easter bunny and egg coloring.

Family traditions are important, as they create memories that children can grow up and remember fondly.  I have my own memories of Christmas as a child that I look back at and reminisce on with my many cousins including good food, putting on our own Christmas concert, the mountain of gifts that covered the Christmas tree and holiday games we would play.  Some years "Santa Claus" would even drop by and hand us a few presents. Yet when I look back at those photographs, amidst all the good cheer and the smiles, there is something... or rather some One... who is missing.

But why is it becoming less and less religious?  In a previous blog, I had talked about how the Catholic education begins at home.  What we emphasize to our children, even in the way we decorate for Christmas, shows them what the focus should be.  Growing up I don't remember a Nativity scene, not even a photograph, in the house.  Even though my grandparents, particularly my grandfather, was "very Catholic" (in the words of my aunt when he just recently passed), they also did not have any Nativity scenes in their home.  It was only in my Catholic school that we lit the candles of the Advent Wreath.  Yes, we attended Mass, a few Midnight Masses, but definitely the daytime Masses on Christmas day.  Yet when we arrived home there was increased tension and stress of making sure we had the food and all the presents ready.  Once Grace had been said before the meal, all thoughts of Jesus were out the window and it became about how many presents we had received or who won what game.  Time with family was definitely enjoyable, but what little kid wouldn't be looking at that mountain in front of the tree thinking "I want to open them already?" before littering the living room floor with scraps of wrapping paper and ribbons?

I'm not saying that having a Nativity set is a requirement.  But when we remove the image of our Lord as the child He was born, only surround our children with gingerbread houses and tinsel, they will lose focus.  We must integrate celebrating the anticipatory coming of our King, our Messiah, into our holiday traditions.  It takes more than just going to Mass for an hour on Christmas day.  It takes daily family prayer and reflection during the Advent season.  It takes redirecting our children to focus not on the material gifts they will receive but what Jesus should mean to them.  The secular world is doing its part to remove Christ from being the center of our lives and focus. It is up to us to help the next generation keep Him in focus.  Help our children be as excited for the birth of Jesus as they are for the stocking stuffers that they will wake up to on Christmas morning.  Let Jesus be the one to fill them with joy.  If we don't do this now, it will be even worse for future generations.  Christmas will be less and less about Christ and more and more about the commercial hoopla it has already become.