Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Weekly Writing Update: Lillian Lives!

So, my writing goal this week was to write a chapter of Lillian. And guess what? I succeeded. I now have Chapter One written.

Granted, I don't know if this Chapter One will work or not. It might be way too boring to hook readers. But at least now I can forget about setting the stage and dive into telling a story.

Mrs. Tittlemouse - Beatrix Potter:

My word count in Lillian is now 3,196. About two-thirds of that was written this week. Not very impressive, but it's a start. :)

Next week's goal? I hope to add at least another chapter, and get into the habit of writing every day no matter what. That's a habit I'll need if I want to win NaNoWriMo in November.

Well! That's it for me. What are your writing projects looking like? And does anybody have any tips on what makes a good first chapter? 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Catholicism Explained - the Assumption

Our discussion about Marian Dogmas is almost at an end - we've discussed the first three and are about to launch into the fourth, the Assumption.

So far, our Catholicism Explained posts have covered:

Mary Ever-Virgin
The Immaculate Conception

What the Assumption Is

What is the doctrine of the Assumption? Basically, it's the belief that, at the end of Mary's life, God took Mary's body into Heaven along with her soul.

The Immaculate Conception, Depicting Canvas Print / Canvas Art by Everett:

"'Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.' The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son's Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians:

In giving birth you kept your virginity;
in your Dormition you did not leave the world, 
O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life.
You conceived the living God and, by your prayers,
will deliver our souls from death."

- CCC 966

What the Assumption Is Not

While the pictures of Mary's assumption and Jesus' ascension are certainly similar, there is a big difference between the Assumption and the Ascension: Mary did not ascend into Heaven on her own power. Jesus did. 

Jesus rose into Heaven; Mary was taken into Heaven.

As always, Jesus is active and Mary is passive. God is the source of all greatness and grace; Mary accepts His gifts, as all of us are called to do.

THE ASSUMPTION OF BLESSED VIRGIN MARY:

Evidence for the Assumption

As with Mary's perpetual virginity, there is not much said in Scripture regarding the Assumption. The event is not recorded in the Bible; rather, we know it happened based on Sacred Tradition (the non-written kind).

This article on the Assumption states, 

"That belief was ancient, dating back to the apostles themselves. What was clear from the beginning was that there were no relics of Mary to be venerated, and that an empty tomb stood on the edge of Jerusalem near the site of her death. That location also soon became a place of pilgrimage. (Today, the Benedictine Abbey of the Dormition of Mary stands on the spot.)"  

Those two words "no relics" are very significant. Relics were very important in the early Church; Christians would go through great lengths to gather the remains of Apostles and martyrs, and these relics were cherished as great treasures. The greater the saint, the more prized the relic.

Since Mary is the greatest of saints, her relics would be prized above all others, even those of the Apostles. But while the relics of the Apostles and early martyrs were so jealously guarded that they can be seen even today, Mary's relics are nowhere to be found. 

No bones. No hair. No teeth. 

There's something mysterious about that.

Significance:
Why Did God Take Mary's Body Into Heaven?

God's ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts; but His taking His Mother into Heaven body and soul is understandable even to our human brains. As this simple little poem by John Bannister Tabb states,

"Nor Bethlehem nor Nazareth
Apart from Mary's care;
Nor Heaven itself a home for Him
Were not His Mother there."

The Glorious Mysteries:

There are deeper theological explanations for why Mary was given the privilege of being assumed into Heaven. One of the most foremost states that since Mary was God's mother, since she had carried the God-Man in her womb and never been defiled by any sin, it would have been unfitting for her to be touched by the decay of death.

(I wonder - and this is my own personal conjecture, I'm not sure if there's an official teaching on this - I wonder if Mary could have decayed. Since God had saved from Original Sin through the Immaculate Conception, she was exempt from all the effects of sin, and "the wages of sin is death." But anyway. That's just me thinking.)

God always rewards His servants magnanimously. Letting Mary be resurrected, in a sense, before anyone else, was His reward to her for a lifetime of perfect service to Him.

Was Mary the Only One Assumed?

I've heard a couple different opinions on this and thought I'd throw it into this post.

Some people think Mary was not the only one upon whom God conferred the grace of assumption. It's been said that Elijah also was assumed - we know that he was "taken up in a fiery chariot." There is also conjecture that Enoch, who is said to have "walked with God" in Genesis 5:24, did not die but was taken directly to Heaven.

I've heard that from a couple different places. If it were so, then the Assumption of Mary would not be such an isolated instance, and it could be argued, "If God took the imperfect prophet Elijah into Heaven body and soul, then why not His sinless mother?"

But then I've also read something saying, "Mary was the only one God took into Heaven body and soul." According to that article (I think it was in Catholic Answers magazine), neither Elijah nor Enoch was taken bodily into Heaven (Elijah, this author said, was not transported to Heaven in the fiery chariot but only to another place on earth). 

Anyway. I don't know if there is a definite teaching on this, or if it's one of those things that has to be clarified yet. And I don't want to put forth heretical teachings on this blog. So I'm just throwing it out there. :)


Conclusion

Glorious - The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Artist, Lisa Andrews, The…:

Because God willed Mary to be the Mother of God, He bestowed on her great graces - the Immaculate Conception, perpetual virginity, and bodily assumption into Heaven. The generosity with which He lavishes graces on Mary is an example of His supreme goodness. While Scripture does not explicitly state that Mary was assumed into Heaven, Tradition has always understood that to be the case, and the idea of God granting great graces to His faithful ones is very in line with Biblical teaching.

So that's that for today! What do you think? Questions? Comments? Concerns? 

And now that we've reached the end of Marian Dogmas, do you have any suggestions for the next Catholicism Explained post?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Gregory's Bio

Well, our last "character election" was quite an exciting one, and in the end, Gregory was the winner by a very narrow margin. Now we bestow upon him the laurel wreath of victory - that is, having his bio posted as prelude to an interview.

(Yikes, to read this introduction you might think Gregory was a centurion or something. Indeed, someday I shall write a book set in ancient Rome...but it is not this day.)

Gregory
Age: 9

Medieval little boy:

Gregory is a fun-loving, mischievous little boy whose life so far has been very poor materially but very rich in family love. He's a little ball of pranks and sunshine, hair always tousled, eyes always dancing. He loves and adores those who love and care for him, and he hates Ellen's onion-and-carrot soup.

Go ahead and ask Gregory any questions you can think of in the comments, and I'll post his interview soon!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Weekly Writing Update

For a few weeks now I've been playing with the idea of giving weekly writing updates on this blog. After all, what's more fun than blabbering about characters and plots and writing block and such? Besides, having a certain day when I have to answer the question "What have you been writing lately?" might motivate me to actually write.

Exquisite - writing anything with a fountain pen.:

Because I've been in a bit of a slump lately. That seems to happen whenever I'm confronted with the Herculean task of - editing. (Cue thunderclap, please.)

Or maybe it's not such a Herculean task. Maybe I would like it if I sat down and tackled the beast. Like math; math works that way. But I ramble.

There's so much on my writing to-do list I haven't been getting any of it done. It's sad. I just don't know what to focus on. Should I take out decade-old Lillian and whisk it into shape? Or start on that second draft of Ellen's story? Or should I run off with that entirely new and temptingly tantalizing time-traveling story?

Well! I finally decided to save the time-traveling idea for NaNoWriMo. And focus on Lillian. And save Ellen for a later date.

Nevertheless, I didn't get much Lillian written this week.

What did I do?

I wrote an outline. For the beginning of The Time-Traveling League. And I am prodigiously proud of myself.

See, usually I'm a panster, not a plotter. But I was talking to my dear friend Anna the other day (you can find her splendiferous blog here), and her beautiful precious sparkly crisp outlines stole my heart. Call me a copycat. But I had to try this outlining thing if only to have such a pretty document among my files. :)

(Actually I really am a copycat. You see that new "My Writing Projects" tab up there? That's in emulation of Anna's blog. Sorry if that's plagiarism, Anna dear. Imitation is the highest form of praise, you know.)

Anyway! So that was this week. By next week I hope to have actually given Lillian some serious attention...

(Poor Lillian. The dear girl is actually starving for care. Practically my first-born baby, abandoned to survive as best she can among reams of yellowed paper and old forgotten Microsoft Word documents!)

So, fellow-writers, I'm dying to know - do you outline or not? Anybody else a coward when it comes to editing? And are you familiar with that quandary of not knowing which story to work on? 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Catholicism Explained - Thoughts on the Immaculate Conception

So, as I complained last week, I didn't cover the Immaculate Conception very well in last week's Catholicism Explained post. Which is a shame, because the Immaculate Conception is one of my favorite things to think about.

Therefore I have decided, instead of doing a structured CE post today, to ramble a little bit on why we flawed humans need the Immaculate Conception - why we need a woman who never sinned.

Oh, and here are links to our past Catholicism Explained discussions.


Mother Mary:



So, Catholics believe that God preserved Mary from Original Sin from the moment she was conceived, and that she never committed any sin throughout her life. That's rather a nice thought, but it doesn't seem to have much impact on our practical spiritual lives, does it? 

I think religious doctrines are like most of life's greatest blessings - we get so used to having them we don't realize they're there. We don't think about them anymore, don't take the time to appreciate how awesome they are. 

The fact that Mary was immaculately conceived can make a huge difference in our daily lives - if we let it. 

G. K. Chesterton once said that the best way to love anything is to think that it might be lost. So fellow Catholics, think for a few moments what it would be like to have no Immaculate Conception. Imagine that Mary was a sinful woman like any other. That there is no utterly pure Queen of Heaven towards whom we can turn our thoughts. That there is no impeccable mother to whom to run.

We could get along without her. Certainly, we could. We have an example of supreme holiness in God, and of supreme human holiness in Jesus. It's not like we're wandering in a desert with no signpost to guide us.

Jesus did indeed say, "Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect." That is our vocation. We are called to nothing less than Godly perfection.

But God also knows that's a daunting image. 

A person looking up at the perfection of God is like an ant looking up at Mount Everest. There is an immeasurable and impossible gap between our imperfections and His perfections. We can imitate them, oh yes we can and yes we must; but it's hard. Our sinful hearts shrink and squirm away from the idea of becoming like God

We look around at this huge mountain and we see others, just as flawed as we, struggling up it as well. And although we are heartened by their progress, their valiance, their perseverance, we are discouraged by their weakness. We see them stumble. We see them falter. We see them fall. Even the most heroic, the most virtuous, have only climbed halfway up the mountain. Even the most saintly are marred by imperfections and sinful tendencies.

Jesus alone stands at the top of the mountain where man is called to stand. To see Him there is more than encouraging, heartening, hopeful. 

But still we can make excuses. "Jesus is God. Of course it's easier for Him to be perfect. Sure, He's a man, too, and He was tempted and everything - but He's got a divine nature as well as a human one. It's impossible for a mere human to become perfect like Him."

Now imagine that the Immaculate Conception exists again. Beside that pedestal atop the mountain, at Jesus' feet where all men are called to be, stands Mary. Her arms are outstretched, and she's smiling. She's saying, silently, humbly, "I am just a woman. I am a mere human, like you. I am not divine. I am not God. And yet I did everything God asked of me; I obeyed His will without reserve. I have become perfect, as my Father is perfect."

And suddenly the mountain does not seem so impossible. One of our own kind has reached the top. There she stands, reflecting God's radiant light as the moon reflects the sun. She is not God - there is still an immeasurable distance between her and Him - but she is untainted. She is sinless. She is white and shining and holy. She stands in that closeness to God for which all man was originally created.

She is our example. Our champion. Our hope. As long as Mary has lived the perfect life, perfection does not seem so hard. We don't have to say, "It's never been done before." We can say, "It has been done before; it can be done." 

And another, more practical, thing: while we are definitely called to imitate Jesus, we are not meant to fill Jesus' role. Jesus is the Savior of Mankind, the Word through Whom all was created, the Head of the Church. We're all supposed to develop Jesus' virtues - selflessness, charity, humility, chastity, obedience, etc., etc. - but we're not supposed to, say, found a Church and go around telling people "No one comes to the Father except through me." There are certain things that only Jesus could do. 

The Church is kind of like an army. Jesus is our general, our perfectly heroic general. We are supposed to copy his good qualities and bring them to life within ourselves. We are supposed to make ourselves miniatures of Him in that sense.

But can you imagine what would happen if every soldier acted like a general? If every private began to give orders as though he were in charge? It would be absolute chaos! 

As soldiers, we're supposed to love and imitate and obey our general, but we're not supposed to be exactly like our general. 

That's where Mary comes in: she is the example of the perfect soldier. The one who obeys orders without question, the one who submits her will totally to the will of God, the one who is nothing in herself and realizes that. 

I'm going to put it very crudely and use an analogy of poultry showmanship. Those who exhibit fancy chickens (as I do in 4-H) might be familiar with the Standard of Perfection, a book published by the American Poultry Association. It is said in the poultry world that "the perfect chicken has never been hatched." Nevertheless, every poultry exhibitor strives to turn out the perfect chicken. Perfection is what a poultry judge will look for in every show, even though he knows he won't find it. How does he know what the perfect chicken looks like if the perfect chicken has never been hatched? Through the Standard. Likewise, a poultry breeder will have to familiarize himself with the pictures and descriptions of chickens in the Standard so that he will know a good chicken when he sees one and be able to breed chickens with desirable traits.

If we're all the imperfect chickens and the breeders of imperfect chickens, then Mary is the Standard of Perfection. 

She's what a human is supposed to be - what every human is supposed to be, really. If it hadn't been for the Fall, every man and woman, including you and I, would have been immaculately conceived. Only in a fallen world is an Immaculate Conception a big deal. It's really supposed to be the norm.

The Fall not only deprived us of our own innocence, it took from us the chance to see what usual human innocence looks like. In His great mercy, God gave us that chance back. He gave us Mary.

Isn't that just like Him? 

Those are my rather random thoughts on the Immaculate Conception! Do you have anything to add? Agreement? Disagreement? Ramblings? Wonderings? 


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Arthur's Interview

It's time for Arthur's interview! High time, yes?     

Castle Gate, Scotland:

Me:
So, you've been a guard at the palace for about a year now, Arthur. Are you proud of that position?

Arthur:
Well, I don't think it's any more honorable than working in the fields, if that's what you mean. But I am proud that I was chosen for the job.

Me:
Are you happy?

Arthur:
*shrugs*
As happy as I'll ever be. Guard duty is more enjoyable than field work, and now that I earn a small salary I can help Mother more than I could before. As long as I've got Mother and Gregory and Ellen and Abel, I can't complain.

Me:
Do you have any plans for the future?

Arthur:
I don't know. It's hard to see farther than a few days at a time. Most men of my position marry and start a family eventually, so I guess that's what I'll do.

Me:
Who is your best friend?

Arthur:
*thinks for a moment*
Abel. Nothing against Gregory, but Gregory's too young to be interested in the same things as I am. And Ellen - well, Ellen's a girl.

Me:
If you had but one wish, to hold and keep and have for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Arthur:
*furrows his brow*
That's hard.

Me:
Maybe there's a certain somebody you care about?

Arthur:
I guess I'd wish something for my family. I'd like them to have a nicer house and warm clothes and plenty of food. I'd like to know they were provided for.

Me:
What makes you laugh?

Arthur:
*smiles*
Gregory. He's our little court jester.

Me:
What disgusts you?

Arthur:
Hmm. *thinks for a moment* Nobles. Not all nobles, just the really foppish or over-dignified ones who have more than is good for them and don't ever seem to think of lesser folk. I've seen a few of those. *smiles* Actually, they make me laugh sometimes, too.

Me:
What are the pains and rewards of being a guard?

Arthur:
Well, the biggest pain is how boring it is.

Me:
Boring? *smiles* Why?

Arthur:
Well, I'm used to working in the fields all day, feeling dirt between my fingers and going to bed tired as anything. Now there's nothing to do but stand poker-stiff at attention all the time. When I'm on sentry duty, that is.
Garlon doesn't really need a guard, you know. He just has one because the castle would lose its last smidgeon of grandeur otherwise. Or maybe because he's a coward.
*shrugs*
But it's not all boring. I like the training - exercising and fencing and things like that.

Me:
Would that fit under "rewards"?

Arthur:
The biggest reward is bringing my pay back home, sometimes with a treat for Gregory. Or maybe just the way Mother looks at me when I'm in uniform.

Me:
You wish Ellen would be a little more impressed with your sword and armor, don't you?

Arthur:
*surprised*
How did you know about that?

Me:
I'm your writer. You can't keep secrets from me. Now. This is a very important question, so you must answer it truthfully and completely. Tea or coffee? With cream and sugar?

Arthur:
*laughs*
Coffee, if I can get it. With sugar.

Me:
Thank you. Would you like to be king one day?

Arthur:
*starts*
King?!

Me:
Mm-hmm.

Arthur:
Me? The king?
*stares*
*laughs*
Goodness, I don't know. I suppose it'd be nice. I could make laws requiring noblemen to treat their serfs well.

Me:
I'm pretty sure there are laws like that.

Arthur:
Really? Then why doesn't Garlon follow them?

Me:
Hold on, Arthur, we'll get to your opinion of Garlon later. Do you think you could fight if need be?

Arthur:
I think so. Maybe not as well as some, but I think I could. I can already handle a sword pretty well.

Me:
Who is your favorite person in the world besides your family?

Arthur:
Well, Ellen and Abel aren't technically my family, but I feel like they are. Then there are a few men in the guard who are good friends. I can't say I have a favorite, though.

Me:
What's your daily routine as a guard like?

Arthur:
Rise at sunup - I sleep in the castle now - report for duty and do what I'm told. The guards get rotated out for different positions in shifts - usually two or three hours on sentry duty broken up by breaks and meals, and two training sessions a day. Things are pretty well-regulated.

Me:
Can you tell us some funny/happy/interesting things you remember from growing up with Abel and Ellen?

Arthur:
Well, there was the way Ellen always used to fuss over Abel and I. I suppose she still does a little, but not as pathetically as she used to. She was such a mother hen as a little girl!
And then, Abel's fear of snakes could get pretty ridiculous. He's not a coward, but snakes were one thing that could make him look like one. Sometimes in the fields, he would break off in the middle of a sentence to jump back when he thought there was a snake. And once he fell down. The look on his face! I laughed so hard.

Me:
Off the record, what is your opinion of Lord Garlon?

Arthur:
He's a selfish coward, and I don't like him.

Me:
Do you know Ellen or Abel better?

Arthur:
*cocks head*
I wouldn't say I know one of them better than the other. I might be a little more familiar with Abel.

Me;
What's your favorite memory?

Arthur:
Huh. *scratches head* That's hard. There are so many.
I suppose my memories of my father. He died when Gregory was a baby.

Me:
What are you afraid of?

Arthur:
Not snakes. *laughs*

Me:
Spiders? Heights? The dark?

Arthur:
Well, actually, I'm always afraid someone in my family will get sick. Like my father. Serfs are always getting sick and dying without any warning.

Me:
Probably because of poor living conditions. When was the first time you picked up a sword?

Arthur:
The day of the contest - when Garlon was choosing a serf to join the guard.

Me:
You'd never touched a sword, and you were chosen?

Arthur:
None of the other serfs had, either. I told you, Garlon doesn't really need a guard. He doesn't care if it's made up of clumsy peasants as long as they look intimidating.

Me:
Hate to break it to you, Arthur, but you don't look very intimidating. *laughs* All right, Arthur, I'll let you go now. Don't want you to be late for sentry duty!

So there's Arthur! I hope you've enjoyed meeting him. 

Who would you like to meet next? Our candidates are:
1. Romuald - a rather mysterious visitor to the castle who has an eyepatch and a black griffin
2. Gregory - Arthur's mischievous little brother

Leave your vote in the comments! Majority rules!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Catholicism Explained - The Immaculate Conception

To paraphrase Aragorn: Someday I will put up a Catholicism Explained post early in the day...but it is not this day. 

(Note: because of my extreme procrastination, I feel that this post is exceptionally poorly-written. I may have to come back and rewrite it at a later date. So bear with me, and be sure to tell me exactly where I fell short in the comments, okay?) :)

We're three-quarters of the way through our discussion of Marian dogmas! So far, this series has covered the following topics:


Today we're going to talk about the Immaculate Conception.

The Immaculate Conception

by-grace-of-god:  Mary, most pure, lead us to your Son.:

When Catholics talk about the Immaculate Conception, they're referring to the belief that Mary was preserved from Original Sin from the moment of her conception. Because He knew the role she would play in salvation history, God gave her the supreme grace of being preserved from sin from the very first second of her existence. 

The Catechism explains it the best:

"To become the mother of the Savior, Mary 'was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.' The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as 'full of grace.' In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God's grace.

"Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, 'full of grace' through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:

"'The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.'

"The 'splendor of an entirely unique holiness' by which Mary is 'enriched from the first instant of her conception' comes wholly from Christ; she is 'redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son.' The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person 'in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places' and chose her 'in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love." (CCC 490-492)

Scripture

The Annunciation by Bartolomé Murillo:

As with Mary's perpetual virginity and her assumption into Heaven, Mary's Immaculate Conception is not explicitly put forth in Scripture. There's no part of the Bible that talks about Mary's sinlessness in great detail. Rather, this is a dogma which is drawn mainly from Oral Tradition and the consistent teaching of the Church through the ages.



+The Scripture verse which gives the single best evidence for the Immaculate Conception is probably Luke 1:28, in which Gabriel greets Mary, "Hail, full of grace!" Catholics have always understood this term "full of grace" as meaning "empty of sin." Mary was the only person besides Jesus who was free of sin.

Church Fathers

As with all dogmas, belief in Mary's Immaculate Conception can be traced back to the beginning of Church history. For an extensive discussion of this history, see this article. For a shorter and more readable argument, read this one.

Significance

So, why do Catholics believe in the Immaculate Conception?

Why would God give this special grace to Mary?

Well, basically it's because Mary is the Mother of God. Everything comes back to that. Because Mary had such an awesome vocation ("awesome" in the old sense of the word, awe-inspiring), God gives her awesome graces. 

God gives us the grace we need to carry out our calling, right? He always equips us with the exact things we need to get the job done. He'll never thrust upon us something we can't handle.

Being the Mother of God is something so big our human brains can't really fathom what it means. To carry the incarnate God in one's womb - to feed Him and clothe Him, shelter Him and nurture Him - to be the one He goes to when He's sad or afraid - that's a big deal. A really big deal.

It wasn't a job for just any woman. It was a job for a special woman. 

So God made one who would be perfect for the purpose.

In His infinite wisdom, He chose her from before she was born. At the moment of her conception, because she was destined to be God's mother, she was preserved from Original Sin. 

Mary didn't deserve this grace, just like we don't deserve anything God gives us. Like all graces, the Immaculate Conception was a free gift, totally unmerited. 

But like all gifts, it had to be accepted. Mary wasn't just a robot who did God's will because she had been programmed to obey; she freely chose to obey, at every moment of her life. It was a lot easier for her than it is for us, since she didn't have to deal with the effects of Original Sin on her soul; but she still did everything by her own choice. 

Mary, then, is the only mere human who was perfect - the only human who carried out perfectly God's plan for her life, the only human who turned out as God intended for all humans to be. In the beginning, God created man free of sin. He wanted us all to be immaculately conceived.

Adam and Eve ruined that plan when they sinned. 

A sinless pair were responsible for the Fall; it would take another sinless pair to be responsible for the Redemption. Jesus has long been acclaimed as the New Adam - the sinless man who undid Adam's terrible decision at the dawn of time.

And Mary is the New Eve - the sinless woman who undid Eve's act of disobedience with an act of obedience.

So that's another reason the Immaculate Conception is so important - it adds to the rich symbolism and parallel structure of the story that is Salvation History.

Yawn! It's 10:28 p.m. and I'm sleepy, dear people. Forgive my grousing - I know being tired is a terrible excuse for a terrible post. :) But hopefully even these ragged shreds of thought can spark some discussion! What are your thoughts on the Immaculate Conception? And what points in this article need the most improvement? (There will be an imaginary prize for the person who finds the greatest number of weak spots and poorly-executed points!) :)

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Beautiful People - August

And Beautiful People strikes again! ("Strikes" may be the wrong word, as strikes are not normally welcome and Beautiful People most certainly is.) This fantabulous link-up is hosted by Cait and Sky.

Dare I introduce not only a new character, but a totally new book, in this Beautiful People post? Of course I dare! To be sure this book isn't serious at all, more of something I'm writing just for fun than something I hope to finish and polish and publish someday, but - hey, I can dream, right?

PAPERFURY

So I might as well feature Jeanie Mulligan from my newly-started story The Time-Traveling League today.

Give a brief overview of her looks. (Include a photo if you want!)
Jeanie's on the short side and looks rather younger than her thirteen years. She's got a round, childish face with big blue eyes and long, curly brown hair.

Brooklyn, 1947:
Do you know how frustrating it is, scouring Pinterest for pictures of specific imaginary people?? Of course you don't find anything quite satisfying. This isn't perfect but it's the best I could get. If only she had glasses.

Share a snippet that involves description of her appearance.
Haven't got one yet, but I'll pull a few sentences from the thousand words or so I do have jotted down:
"She had her chin propped on her fist, and her blue eyes behind her glasses had a far-off look to them."
"There were other differences, too, Alice reflected as she let a spoonful of vanilla ice cream melt on her tongue - differences in the way they looked, from Jeanie's curly brown hair to Alice's long beanpole of a figure."

What is the first thing people might notice about her?
Her shy sweetness. Those who meet her usually catch her in the middle of a daydream, or else in the middle of trying not to be noticed, and when she realizes someone's actually talking to her she kinda comes to the outer world with a start and smiles and blushes. She's prone to be thought of as "a sweet little girl" by pretty much anyone.

Classic beauty:
Frankly, Jeanie's not this pretty. But she's got that same gentle innocent look.

What are her unique features? (Ex: freckles, big ears, birthmark, scars, etc.)
Big dark blue eyes which, together with her mouth, make her feelings and opinions clear as day. Also her curly hair.

How tall is she? What is her build (Ex: stocky, slender, petite, etc.)?
Eh, she's pretty short. I'm thinking a head shorter than me, so probably....5'2" or something? I'm so bad with measurements. And she's on the chubby side.

What is her posture like? How does she usually carry herself?
She doesn't slouch, but she's got this way of drawing into herself, making herself as much a part of the background as possible. Think one of those roly-poly pill bugs that go into a ball when they're afraid. She just - tries to shrink a little.

Your character has been seen on a “lazy day” (free from usual routine/expectations): what is she wearing and how does she look?
Lazy days and usual routine mean pretty much the same thing for Jeanie. She always dresses in cute, comfortable dresses of bright but not gaudy colors. 1950s style, because she lives in the 1950s.

Super adorable peachy cotton day dress from the 1950s. This dress features a cute bodice with harlequin style cut out neckline detail, a fitted waistline with matching belt and an open skirt.: Vintage 1950s dress // 50s cotton day dress: Sunnyside dress / vintage 1950s dress / cotton 50s dress:

Does she wear glasses, accessories, or jewelry on a regular basis? Does she have any article of clothing or accessory that could be considered her trademark?
She wears glasses. I don't think there's anything else, though. There might be a necklace or something but if so I have yet to discover it.

Has she ever been bullied or shamed because of her looks? Explain!
Nah, no one could be mean to Jeanie. I mean, I'm sure there are those who could bully her, because bullies don't tend to have qualms about being mean as far as I know; but she's been fortunate enough not to meet any bullies.

Is she happy with how she looks? If she could change anything about her appearance, what would it be?
I don't think she thinks about her looks too much. If there was one thing she could change it'd probably be her figure - she'd prefer to be a beanpole like her older sister Alice.

So that's Jeanie! Anybody else doing Beautiful People this month? (Do share!) Am I the only one who sighs for 50-ish dresses? Or writes silly non-serious stories about time travel? Or gets fed up with Pinterest for not showing me the imaginary faces I see so clearly?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Mary Ever-Virgin

I say, I've got two Catholicism Explained posts one on top of the other again! Dearie me, I don't like when I do that. *Sigh* Oh well. We've only just begin to explore Marian dogmas in relative depth, so let's get cracking!

Previous Catholicism Explained posts have included:


Today (okay, tonight, it's late) we're focusing on Mary's virginity.

Mary Ever-Virgin

Holy Cards For Your Inspiration: *Mother of God.........:

It's a staple teaching of Christianity that "Jesus was conceived solely by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 496). Mary was a virgin when the angel Gabriel appeared to her at the annunciation, and she remained a virgin throughout her pregnancy and delivery of Jesus.

So, as with Mary's divine motherhood, this dogma is not so much focused on Mary as it is on Jesus: by teaching that Mary is ever-virgin, we emphasize that Jesus had no human father but is in every way the Son of God.

I suspect the stumbling block for Protestants comes when we say Mary remained a virgin even after Jesus' birth. I'm going to give the Catechism's paragraph on Mary's perpetual virginity here, and then spend the rest of this post defending/explaining it:

"The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary's real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ's birth 'did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it.' And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the 'Ever-virgin.'" (CCC 499)

Scripturally Accurate?

Annunciation /Jacob Kapkov:

Scripture clearly refers to Mary as a virgin at the time of Jesus' conception: "the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary." - Luke 1:26

Matthew's Gospel goes through pains to point out that Joseph is not Jesus' biological father: "When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived to gether, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit." - Matthew 1:18

But what about the idea of Mary's perpetual virginity? Where is that in the Bible?

As with many of the Catholic Church's teachings, there is no Bible verse which explicitly states, "Mary remained a virgin throughout her entire life." As far as I know, Scripture is pretty silent on the matter of Mary's perpetual virginity, just as it is on the Assumption (which we'll explore in a few weeks). Evidence for Mary's perpetual virginity is found most strongly in Tradition - more on that in the next section.

But while Scripture doesn't come out and say Mary was always a virgin, it never says she wasn't.

I'll turn to the Catechism again:

"Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, 'brothers of Jesus,' are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls 'the other Mary.' They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression." (CCC 500)

In Aramaic - the language spoken by Jesus - the word for "brother" was the same as that for "cousin." So when the Bible speaks of Jesus' "brothers and sisters," it may well be referring to his cousins or other close relatives. That's how the Church has always interpreted it.

Another verse sometimes cited as evidence against Mary's perpetual virginity is Matthew 1:25: "He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus." As the note on my Bible points out, "the evangelist is concerned to emphasize that Joseph was not responsible for the conception of Jesus. The Greek word translated 'until' does not imply normal marital conduct after Jesus' birth, nor does it exclude it."

The word "until," even in modern English, does not necessarily imply that the thing not done before is done after. For example, if I say, "My inscription in that book will remain until the pages are faded and yellow," I do not mean that my inscription will disappear once the pages are faded and yellow, but that it will stay for a long time.

Tradition and Early Writings

Mary and Baby Jesus:

We've discussed in an earlier post the importance of Tradition and mentioned how there is Oral Tradition to compliment and complete Written Tradition (Sacred Scripture). From looking at early Church Father writings, we can see that Tradition has always held the belief that Mary is ever-virgin. Here are a few early quotes I snagged from this webpage:

"Heretics called Antidicomarites are those who contradict the perpetual virginity of Mary and affirm that after Christ was born she was joined as one with her husband".  - St. Augustine, A.D. 428

"If they [the brethren of the Lord] had been Mary’s sons and not those taken from Joseph’s former marriage, she would never have been given over in the moment of the passion [crucifixion] to the apostle John as his mother, the Lord saying to each, ‘Woman, behold your son,’ and to John, ‘Behold your mother’ [John 19:26–27), as he bequeathed filial love to a disciple as a consolation to the one desolate." - Hilary of Poitiers, A.D. 354

"And to holy Mary, [the title] ‘Virgin’ is invariably added, for that holy woman remains undefiled." - Epiphanius of Salamis, A.D. 375


"You had good reason to be horrified at the thought that another birth might issue from the same virginal womb from which Christ was born according to the flesh. For the Lord Jesus would never have chosen to be born of a virgin if he had ever judged that she would be so incontinent as to contaminate with the seed of human intercourse the birthplace of the Lord’s body, that court of the eternal king." - Pope Siricius I, A.D. 392

There are some other very interesting quotes included in that article, including ones from St. Jerome and St. Ambrose, but I won't copy and paste them here because I want to focus on another writing: the Protoevangelium of James, which you can find here.

(I had no idea this writing even existed until a few months ago when googling apologetics regarding Mary's perpetual virginity, and pretty much all my information is being pulled from the same article where I found the Church Fathers quotes. Just so you know.)

The Protoevangelium is one of the earliest indicators that Christians have always believed in Mary's perpetual virginity. Like the Book of Enoch (which might sound familiar to any Bryan Davis fans out there), this early religious writing is NOT part of the canon of Scripture - in other words, it's not divinely inspired and shouldn't be taken as 100% infallible Gospel truth. However, it is still valuable for its historical significance. Because it was written in the year 120 A.D. or so, some sixty years after Mary's lifetime, it gives us a good idea of what people believed about her when memories of her life were still fresh and false teachings about her could have been scorned and stomped out by those who knew those who knew her.

According to the Protoevangelium, Mary was dedicated to God at the age of three years and lived in the temple from that point on as a consecrated virgin. Joseph was a widower with children  (some believe Jesus' "brothers and sisters" were actually Jesus' step-siblings) who was selected as Mary's husband - not for the purpose of procreation but so that Mary would have someone to guard and protect her. So there was never any intention that Mary should lose her virginity. As St. Augustine said, Mary "chose to remain a Virgin even before she knew who was to be born of her."

If you take the above story from the Protoevangelium with a pinch of salt, I can't blame you - I do myself. But I found it very interesting and thought I'd share it. :) More importantly, it's early evidence of belief in Mary's perpetual virginity.

Protestant Reformers on Mary's Perpetual Virginity

Our lady of Sorrows:

Not only is Mary's perpetual virginity supported by early historical writings and long years of Church traditions - but by Protestant reformers, too! I found the following quotations on this webpage:

"A new lie about me is being circulated. I am supposed to have preached and written that Mary, the mother of God, was not a virgin either before or after the birth of Christ, but that she conceived Christ through Joseph and had more children after that." – Martin Luther

"The word ‘brothers’, we have formerly mentioned, is employed, agreeably to the Hebrew idiom, to denote any relative whatever; and, accordingly, Helvidius displayed excessive ignorance in concluding that Mary must have had many sons because Christ’s ‘brother’ are sometimes mentioned." - John Calvin

"Then the pious mind finds wonderful delights in searching for the reasons why the lamb chose to be born of a perpetual virgin..." - Huldrych Zwingli

Why Not Believe?

Scripture is silent. It does not proclaim Mary's perpetual virginity, but it does not contradict.

Oral Tradition, the Church Fathers, and the Magisterium of the Church all insist that Mary was a perpetual virgin.

Early writings, not divinely inspired but historically plausible, agree.

Generations upon generations upon generations of Christians have acclaimed Mary by the endearing title, "ever-virgin."

Even the Protestant reformers who rejected the Catholic Church embraced this doctrine.

What could be the harm in believing?