Interlocutors, Conversions, and Outside Views

Standard

As late, it appears that I’ve been sort of “collecting” Orthodox friends. This is really fun for me because it grants me the opportunity to think about things from the perspective of the East, just for a little while. However, I know next to nothing of their internal politics; I just know that I long for the day that East and West are reunited.

The Orthodox friends I have are fairly well-versed in their faith. I haven’t pressed them on it — I’m not here to test them, just to compare notes — but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were also somewhat ignorant of the internal politics. It’s common in the Catholic church, too, so I don’t really think much of it. But it makes it very difficult for me to make the Catholic church sound attractive when we’re still recovering from the 1960s and 70s, and I know it.

Additionally, I run into a bit of a dilemma. I want to make the Church sound attractive. Actually, I want to make Her so attractive that these friends come home to Rome. But that would leave me sans Orthodox friends. We would agree on all the important matters and then some. Which is so excellent! But the idea of the loss of my interlocutors makes me sad.

Why is it sad that you’d lose them as interlocutors? you may ask. What makes them any different from Protestants? And these are very legitimate questions. It’s taken some chewing to think it through.

I think the biggest difference between the Orthodox and the Protestants is that the Orthodox split off before the Enlightenment. There was no rise of individualism. They are still a church almost as unattractive as the Catholic church to the modern world because they still support difficult and unpopular ideas like self-sacrifice. (They’re just not as reviled because they’re considerably lesser-known.)

Losing the outside view of my Orthodox friends would mean that I’d lose a perspective that’s ever-so-slightly different from mine. It’s one I don’t get to discuss nitty-gritties with very frequently. I’d like to.

This probably isn’t going to happen at all — I’m not sure why I’m worrying about it. But it has been occurring to me and I thought it may be worth exploring.

The problem of the Catholic university

Standard

As with every subculture, there are some ugly sides to the Catholic bubble. Some–like the radical traditionalists–are somewhat prominent in the public eye. Others, however, are rarely addressed. Like the oft-unspoken (but sometimes actually said) prejudice against secular universities.

The sad blunt truth of the issue here: Catholic schools suck at STEM. Full stop. They kinda suck at art and design, too. …Actually, if it’s not liberal arts, it’s probably not a very strong program.

The second part of the sad, blunt truth: it doesn’t matter if you want to go into a STEM field, or study art or design. Those people who live in the Catholic bubble will still judge you for going to a secular university (or sending your children there). CUA, Steubie, Christendom, and the UDs become the be-all/end-all for students in the Catholic school system. Places like Notre Dame and Drexel are declared “acceptable” for students wishing to study architecture or design, but they’re obviously not nearly as preferable as the Great Catholic Universities. And don’t even think about going to Georgetown.

What’s wrong with this picture? you might ask. Why can’t students just go to a secular university and deal with it? or, if they want the Catholic experience, why can’t they just accept that the program won’t be nearly as strong? I ask in return: why must students choose? The first universities arose out of monasteries, and the most prestigious ones were run by the Church for the longest time. Some of the most famous Doctors of the Church (like Thomas Aquinas) taught at these universities.

Historically, universities as a whole tended towards the liberal arts. Technical training was received through apprenticeship and on-the-job experience. Today, however, that is not the case. Students in the STEM world often need a bachelor’s degree to get anywhere. They are also more likely than liberal arts students to be employable with only a bachelor’s degree. For STEM students–and often art and design students as well–their undergraduate university is the top name on their resume, not a graduate school.

How do we solve this problem, then? A few solutions come to mind. If you happen to be marvellously rich and extremely generous, and you support this cause, donate to an existing Catholic university to help boost their science program. If you’re extravagantly rich and every bit as ambitious, start your own Catholic university which focuses on STEM as opposed to liberal arts. (I’m not saying to completely ignore the liberal arts but to instead put lots more attention into the STEM side.) If, like me, you lack money to do anything, you can help bring the issue to the attention of the world. If you go to a Catholic university, you can be grateful for the environment. You can stop judging students who go to secular universities to follow their dreams. You can not assume the worst of us. If you go to a secular university, you can try to get involved in the Catholic center. You can keep going to Mass and keep praying for the state of the world. You can quietly witness the Faith even amongst the heathens or fallen-aways.

Some part of me thinks that this divide is also propagated by the false dichotomy between faith and reason, between science and the Church. The Church employs an enormous number of scientists, but they’re never spoken-about. And a whole heck of a lot of those scientists went to secular schools. See? they’re not all bad.

So it begins…

Standard

A blessed Lenten season to you all, and my sincerest apologies for not posting more. I’m currently studying abroad in Italy and have been quite busy with architecture school here.

I’m giving up chocolate for Lent.

It’s the age-old cliché… chocolate is something everyone loves and it’s tasty and good and easy to remember to avoid. It seems trite. But frankly, it’s going to be harder than ever. The only food-vice I love more than chocolate is coffee, and I can’t give up coffee lest it become the most penitential Lent ever for the other 41 students here with me. At least chocolate doesn’t have withdrawal symptoms.

This is my third attempt at giving up chocolate. The first time I tried, I failed miserably. I was going through it with my sister (in an attempt to have some sense of solidarity) and we both caved around St. Patrick’s Day. That was rough. The second time, I was much better, and I think I only broke twice. However, about halfway through Lent I decided I subscribed to the “Sundays don’t count” mindset. This year, it’s day two and I’m already struggling.

Remember, I’m in Italy right now. We can buy Kinder here. And Ferrero everything. And truffles, and pastries with chocolate. Every kind of pastry with chocolate. Oh, and nutella. And, the icing on the cake? It’s the Old World. People expect to walk a lot. So I can literally walk down the street, go into Despar, and buy as much chocolate as my wallet has Euros. This has been very, very dangerous (molto molto pericolo) for both my wallet and my waistline. But how I love it…

Additionally, I am restricting my personal access to cappuccini to one, on Sundays only. This means that my favourite bar is closed so I won’t have to explain to them (in my pidgin Italian) that I don’t actually want chocolate in my cappuccino–since by now, they do it without asking. It means that if I need a kick during the day, I just order “un caffé” and I’ll have to develop a taste for straight espresso. (Sadly, while it’s stronger in flavour than drip coffee, it has only half the caffeine. I don’t know how these Italians do it.)

I may be in Italy, but I think it’s going to be a rough Lent. Or, rather, a purifying one. I hope. Every time I want chocolate I remind myself that it’s a vice, a small pleasure, and to deny myself it is a way of becoming closer to God. It’s little. It’s silly. But it’s really, really hard. Colour me cliché.

The Magic of Imagination

Standard

Continuing in the vein of the past two posts which centred around Halloween, this, too, is a defense of the holiday–for children, this time.

Maybe I was an odd child, but I really loved dressing up when I was younger. (I still do, but that’s a topic to tackle later.) I loved getting dressed up and pretending to be someone else. Halloween was the perfect excuse to do this because I could coordinate my dressing-up with my friends, and we could all be someone else together, and it would be fun! Plus, there was candy involved. What’s not to like about that? I loved Halloween so much that I would spend weeks coming up with costume ideas and pitching them to my mom. She heard me out, and frequently shot me down, but did so nicely. (Like the time I was about… seven? and wanted to wear sparkly gold high heels as part of a fairy princess costume. That got vetoed. I was insistent. She was the mom.)

The point of any and all Halloween-related childhood anecdotes would be this: imagination is magical to a child. There is something unbelievably special about being small and thinking that you’re really a princess or an evil witch for a night. As a rather perceptive child, I knew when grown-ups were just “playing along” with me to make me feel better, so I would often up the ante to catch them off guard. In hindsight I think they were probably just really happy to see me so happy–I love seeing children play now that I’m an old and grizzly grown-up. Nonetheless, why on earth would I take away the opportunity to let a child’s imagination run a little wild for a night?

I’m not going to say don’t dress your kid up as a saint. I’m going to say don’t force your kid to dress up as a saint. However, I haven’t done Joan of Arc yet, and if I ever find myself with excessive free time (ha), you can bet I’ll be making that armour. Point being, sometimes they might think it’s actually cool to dress up as a saint! And that is, I guess, the  ultimate goal. Make them think the saints are cool enough to be emulated on the same level as the fairy princess or superhero. Frankly, if I hadn’t been Elizabeth of Hungary for every saint report I ever had to do, I’d totally have been her for Halloween as a kid. I mean, she was a freaking PRINCESS who would probably carry around a basket of bread or roses. Long flowy dress, crown, and automatic prop to double as a trick-or-treat bag? What’s not to like about that?

Facing the Darkness

Standard

A conversation with one of my friends reminded me that not everyone in the “Christian” camp believes in the perpetual spiritual war between good and evil. This is one of those perks of being Catholic (and another thing which makes most Protestants think we’re all completely mad)–I can say to you, with a perfectly straight face, that we are in the midst of a battleground at this very moment. The war is raging all around us and we are an inherent part of it whether or not we want to be (because as humans we’re inherently spiritual creatures but that’s another Catholic pre-supposition).

Come Halloween-time, it’s a very common practice of Protestants and Catholics alike to “sterilise” the holiday by making it only about saints and churchy things–or making it not exist at all. This is the 180-degree turn from the secular world’s tendency to utterly defile Halloween and turn it into a festival of lust. I take issue with both approaches to Halloween.

Obviously, caving to the secular ideals turns the entire night into an occasion of sin. But it is almost equally detrimental to completely saint-wash the day and ignore the fact that there is a darker side to the world–one we don’t see. All Hallow’s Eve is, technically, the vigil celebration of All Saint’s Day. In the dark vigil hours, however, we should face the darkness. As with Easter Vigil, where the service begins in darkness and ends in light, All Hallows Eve does the same–over longer time and on a much less dramatic scale. The night before All Saint’s Day is dark (because it’s night, and it’s October). And with darkness comes uncertainty–a certain degree of mystery. It is that mystery which keeps children dressing up year after year, and having people ask them who or what they are. In the dark before the light, they can be someone or something else, just for a little while. The mystery turns into magic for them.

This is turning into a post on mystery now, which could easily lead into a discussion of the Eucharist–so I think I’ll leave that for another day.