Tag Archives: Christianity

Yoga vs. Catholicism

A little over a year ago, I started attending hot yoga classes.  I have Lyme disease and I find that sweating helps to decrease my symptoms.  In Connecticut, I belonged to a gym that had a sauna, but here in New Jersey, I was unable to find an affordable gym that had one.

Instead, I decided to try hot yoga and I have had very positive results.

However, I remember hearing a Catholic priest warn us against yoga back when I was in high school.  I hadn’t ever practiced yoga at that point, so I didn’t look into his reasoning.  More recently, I decided to look into the stance of the Catholic Church on yoga.

14184379_931559566450_2444349923712427135_n
Yoga practice in my backyard

This article talks about this topic:

“Catholics should not participate in any of the “spiritual” aspects associated with yoga, but technically can do the actual physical exercises. However, many people who practice yoga caution that it is often difficult, if not impossible, to separate the exercises from the meditations.

For example, a common mantra repeated in yoga is ‘So’ham’ that roughly translates to ‘I am the universal self’. This focus on the self is contrary to the focus on God to which we are called. In the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI: ‘Christian prayer… flees from impersonal techniques or from concentrating on oneself, which can create a kind of rut, imprisoning the person praying in a spiritual privatism which is incapable of a free openness to the transcendental God.'”

Another article also discusses the possible problems with yoga:

“Should you take up yoga? As a spiritual path, yoga is incompatible with Christian spirituality. But if you can separate the spiritual/meditational aspects of yoga from the body postures and breathing techniques common to yoga, then you might be able to use those postures and techniques beneficially for health. If you’re at all unsure of your ability to do so, you may well be advised to find another form of exercise.

It is important for Catholics to know that yoga should neither be hallowed nor damned. As a spiritual path for Eastern peoples unfamiliar with Christianity, it may serve to assist them as ‘they seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust’

On the other hand, Christians seek as the goal of their prayer to ‘flow into the way to the Father, which is how Jesus Christ has described himself. In the search for his own way, each person will, therefore, let himself be led not so much by his personal tastes as by the Holy Spirit, who guides him, through Christ, to the Father’.”


 

So to me, it seems that the practice of yoga could be acceptable if a person practices for the exercise and breathing techniques without the spiritual aspect.  That is what I do in my yoga class.  I like to work on my strength and stretching but I do not consider it to be a spiritual activity.  I also prefer certain instructors over others.

One of the instructors always reads from a yoga book that has lots of spiritual passages.  Every time I hear them, I think about how everything that she is saying is good, but it should be centered around Jesus rather than “the universe.”  “The universe” is meaningless.  It is God who reigns supreme; the universe is simply His creation.

So when she reads these passages, I either ignore them, or I think about the way they relate to God.

I do the same thing when it comes time to set an intention.  The instructors tell us to set an intention for our practice, a place to send our energy.  I don’t believe in that part of the practice.  I don’t think that by exercising, my “energy” is going to go heal my sick loved one.  If it did, I would go work out for hours a day to cure the ailing people across the world.  That’s just not reality.

So when it comes time to set an intention, I either just wait for us to move on, or I say a prayer in my mind since I believe that saying a prayer to God is more significant than choosing some place to send my energy.

At times, yoga also seems too selfish to me.  The instructors tell us to pat ourselves on the back for giving up 75 minutes to ourselves each time.  Yes, we must take care of ourselves, but some of the instructors seem too interested in this, which is opposed to the teachings of the Catholic Church.  They act as though we are the center of the universe, which I do not believe to be true.

So I will continue to attend my yoga classes, but I will substitute a prayer for an intention and I will focus on my practice as a physical exercise rather than a spiritual exercise.

14991057_950299286900_3473610729000724932_o
Tripods on my kayak in the ocean

 

 

 

Advertisements

Beauty of the Beatitudes

It’s so easy to become engrossed in the news right now, watching Trump’s every move as new president.  So I would rather take some time to reflect on this past Sunday’s Gospel reading from Matthew 5:1-12, the Beatitudes:

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,
and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.
He began to teach them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”


Blessed are the poor in spirit.  My 7th grade CCD students were confused about this one.  They thought that “poor in spirit” meant that God was speaking about people who lack faith.  I knew that wasn’t it, but I realized that I was also unsure about the actual meaning by the phrase “poor in spirit.”

I like the way that this verse was explained here:

Blessed are those who realize they are spiritually bankrupt, for this realization turns them to God, without whom they cannot fulfill what they are created to do and be. Much of the rest of the sermon rips away from us the self-delusion that we are capable of acquiring a state of blessedness on our own. It aims to produce in us a genuine poverty of spirit.

What is the practical result of this blessing? If we are poor in spirit, we are able to bring an honest appraisal of ourselves to our work. We don’t inflate our résumé or boast about our position.

Blessed are they who mourn.

He promises to comfort those who are experiencing sorrow.  I know that these words have been a source of encouragement to me in times of struggle and sadness.  I had faith that things would get better and that even if it took a while, God would remain by my side, comforting me through it all.

Blessed are the meek.

The word meek reminds me of someone like Mother Teresa / St. Teresa of Calcutta.  Our society does not view the meek person with high regard.  Our society favors the outgoing, energetic, charismatic personalities.

But with God, that is not the case. It is those who are humble and who do not boast who will inherit the land.

Those who work hard day in and day out without complaint.  Those who volunteer in order to promote good in the world rather than those who volunteer for the acknowledgment and accolades.  They are the ones who deserve to inherit God’s finest gifts.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

These are the people who, although sinners, thirst to lead a holy life.  They acknowledge their shortcomings and failings and try to improve in order to become even more worthy of God’s love.  It is they who will be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful.

These are the people who forgive those who have wronged them.  This reminds me of the Dylan Roof case.  After he killed those people who were at the end of a church Bible study, many of the deceased victims’ family members offered kind words of peace and forgiveness.

I can’t imagine how it must feel to have my loved one murdered.  It would be difficult to forgive the assailant.  But that is what many of these people did.

It will be people like that to whom God will show his mercy.  Their kind actions will be remembered when it comes time for their ultimate judgement.

So many people today harbor anger and ill will toward their fellow brothers and sisters.  They hold grudges over inconsequential things that don’t even matter in the grand scheme of life.  They are being called to step back and show some mercy rather than anger and hatred.


Blessed are the clean of heart.

It is the pure who will see God in all of His glory.  When our souls are stained and blemished by sin, we cannot easily see God and His love for us.  We end up dying to our sins and falling away from Him even though he is always there for us.

It is those with pure hearts who have the advantage of seeing God and understanding Him more full than those who are damaged by sin.


Blessed are the peacemakers.

It is they who strive to unite people who will be called children of God rather than those who separate themselves from others.

We are called to live peacefully, being slow to anger, open to forgiveness, and not dwelling on past wrongs.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.

This last part is the section that stands out to me the most.  Blessed are we who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.  Blessed are we who ridiculed, insulted, and hated because of our faith in God.  Jesus was persecuted in the worst possible way, ultimately leading to his crucifixion.

We will never experience the full pain that Jesus experienced in dying for our sins, but that is not to say that life will we easy.  If we are truly following God’s will for us and his teachings, we will not always have the popular opinion.  We may find ourself the minority in some situations.  We may find people who dislike us simply because we call ourselves Christians.  The path of following God isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.

Rejoice.  That’s a pretty significant word to use there.  We must not just accept these insults, but rejoice in them.  We must take joy in this persecution.  That’s difficult advice to follow.  Sometimes our path in following Christ becomes difficult.  People think that we’re crazy.  People hate us.  People utter false lies against us and the Catholic Church in general.

It is during these times when we must rejoice, with confidence that we are following the truth and doing what is right in order to achieve eternal salvation one day.

 

So while I, too, am nervous to see what happens with our country over the next few years, the Beatitudes give me a feeling of comfort and hope in the future.

 

God is so Good

I’ve been wanting to write a blog regarding my recent joy and gratitude for a while, but because I’ve been so busy (doing a bunch of awesome things), I just haven’t had the time.  So here are some of the things that have been taking up my time:

Bible Study

I am so incredibly thankful for the new amazing Catholics that I have met in my area, mainly as a result of attempting to start a Catholic young adult group here.  Through that, I met a great new friend and through her, I learned about a Bible study that meets each week.

Basically, we meet at a different person’s house most Thursdays for dinner and Bible study.  We share a meal and then study the Bible together.  The first time I was invited, it was a group of 6 or 7 of us.  This was some time in July.  I thought that these people had been close friends for years.  Only weeks later did I find out that their Bible study had started recently and some of them didn’t really know much about each other at all.

Since then, our numbers have continued growing.  Now we also have once a month Thursday holy hours, holding them at a different church each time.  I had been praying to find local Catholic friends basically from the moment I graduated from Franciscan University in December 2009.  It took a while, but I am currently so blessed in that I have met so many amazing passionately Catholic young adults.  And what is crazy to think about is that I didn’t know any of these people before June.  Most I’ve only known since July or August.  It’s interesting how quickly life can change in such dramatic ways.

This past Thursday, I hosted Bible study in my apartment.  We had 15 people there.  It was a little tight since I have a small apartment, but that was a great problem to have.  We just keep growing and meeting more amazing Catholics who desire to grow in their faith.

DSCN5594.jpg
Bible study

Kayaking

I lived here for almost a full year before getting to use my kayaks.  It was tricky getting my ocean kayak to the beach by myself.  There is also a river where I can kayak, but I can’t get either kayak on my car alone.

Toward the end of the summer, I used my kayak twice in the ocean.  Then I figured out how to get both of them to the river by putting one in my trunk and one on my roof rack.  I’ve gone kayaking there 4 or 5 times since September with two of my friends.

I love living in a place where I can walk a few feet and be at the ocean or drive a few blocks and be at the bay.  (They call it a river, but to me it seems to be a bay since it’s connected to the ocean.  I don’t know).  It’s pretty awesome.

14731270_941763008670_1598195912193083975_n
Kayaking Shark River

It’s also great that I have a job where I can finish a full day of work, be home by 3, and still get a few good hours of kayaking before it starts to get chilly.  It has been a nice autumn because the weather has been pretty warm even into November.

Here’s a quick video of getting to see the train while kayaking and also seeing the drawbridge:

Tenth Avenue North concert

I went to this concert back in October and it was just amazing.  They are my favorite Christian band and I had never seen them live before.  It was just what I needed at the end of a great, but long week.

This is my video of compiled video clips from the concert:

I am so happy that my friend Amanda invited me because I would have never known about the concert if it hadn’t been for her.  She is another friend who I met as a result of trying to start the area young adult group with my church.

At the concert, the lead singer for Tenth Avenue North talked about Compassion International, which is the organization I found in order to sign up to sponsor Patience, my sponsored child in Rwanda.

I know from my own experiences in meeting Patience back in August 2015 in Rwanda that Compassion International seems to be doing great things across the world, but hearing even more accounts about it solidified my view of the organization.

11822405_853285348610_6617077975484104705_n
With my sponsored child, Patience, in Rwanda

What is great about Compassion is that they don’t bring in Americans to do the work overseas.  Rather, they use local churches and hire people within each country to oversee the program.  In some places where other sponsorship organizations were denied the opportunity to work in some dangerous areas, Compassion is allowed since they are based out of churches  that already exist in the community.

Catholic Underground

For Catholic Underground, a group of us from our Bible study drove up to NYC.  The church we went to for adoration was completely packed.  They had confession and praise and worship music during adoration and then there was live music downstairs afterwards.  It was an awesome experience, and great to get to know some of the people from my Bible study a little bit better through the long car rides.  I am so thankful for all of these new friends, even though I have only known them since this past summer.

img_8477
Some of the people from our Bible study at Catholic underground

I’m also excited about Catholic Underground because I met a guy from Connecticut there who also has an interest in overseas volunteering.  Through him, I might be able to find a connection to Catholic volunteer organizations to potentially serve with in the future.

The beach

It’s so simple, but I just love the beach so much.  I never expected this fall to be so warm that I could continue swimming so late into the year, but I’ve been lucky.  Maybe it’s a sign of global climate change, but for now I’ll just be thankful for the many beach days I’ve had since the end of the summer.

I’ve gone out for many morning beach walks, looking for beach glass and seashells.

I was even able to go swimming the day before Halloween!

14729237_941970797260_7643199945378235167_n.jpg

And THEN there was a whale at the beach on a few separate occasions.  Most recently, though, the whale was really close to the shore and it was feeding, so it kept leaping out of the water.  It was so incredibly exciting.

There is a person who lives in a house that overlooks the ocean and early last Saturday, I saw that he posted a live video of a whale.  I could tell it was right by my house.  I was still wearing pajamas, so I pulled on some leggings, threw on a jacket, grabbed my camera, and ran outside.

It was incredible.  The whale stayed in the general area for over an hour.

The picture below is just amazing.  I didn’t take it, but I did see the whale doing that multiple times.  The picture was taken by the guy who lives in the house right by the beach.

14900389_870353719732279_3700921162615339114_n

Who needs to pay for a whale watch when you live right by the ocean and can watch them swimming on a random Saturday at 9am?

Here is my video of the whale:

Atlantic City Marathon

Although I’m not completely satisfied with my result since I had an injured achilles tendon and subsequently didn’t beat my previous marathon time of 4:20 (I finished this one in 4:29), I’m happy that I have gotten my health back to a place where I’m even able to attempt (and finish) a marathon in the first place.

When I first moved to New Jersey, I was pretty healthy, but then I quickly started experiencing my Lyme symptoms again.

Last February I started going to hot yoga and that has helped a lot.  Last March I started running again for the first time after almost a year off.  In that  year I did go running, but never enough to actually train for any races.

I also found that I love yoga…something that I had never expected.  I always looked at yoga as glorified stretching, but it’s definitely more than that.

13654231_916281089640_4050698838434566425_n
Backyard yoga practice

I think that yoga helped me to get back into running.  It also seemed to make me faster.  I ran a 10k in May in Sandy Hook, a half marathon in June in Connecticut, a five mile race in July in Belmar, a relay race across the state of New Jersey in August, a half marathon in Sandy Hook in October, and a full marathon in Atlantic City in October.  I had a full year off from running, completing no races at all in 2015 and then I was able to compete in 6 races in 2016.

race_3218_photo_47975113

Now that I finished the marathon, I have to take a few weeks off from running to rest and heal my achilles.  I know that I would have done better if it hadn’t been for the injury, so I need to make sure that I don’t get back into running too quickly only to re-injure it.


I’m so incredibly thankful for my faith.  It’s not easy.  Sometimes I wish I learned about my faith about an older age.  But right now, I’m so at peace with my life in general and I think that a huge part of that has to do with my faith.

I know that God has a plan for me.

It’s really interesting because it’s the first time I’ve been single in five years.  I’ve been single now since February.  Back when I was in my last two relationships, I really thought that I was happy…especially in my more recent relationship.

Was I happy?  Sure.  But now I feel so much more peace and joy.

I have never been the type of person who needed a relationship to give me confidence in myself, but at the same time,  I liked being in relationships.  They were comfortable.  As a person who likes routine, I liked knowing what to expect each weekend.

But I realize now that both of these relationships were holding me back.  Yes, I was Catholic, and my exes were Catholics as well, but I wasn’t being pushed to grow in my faith.  I was remaining static.

Upon finding myself single last February, I started focusing more on God.  When I prayed, I kept getting the same message.  “Wait.”  Through the entire spring, I just kept doing just that.  Summer arrived and I was still without local friends.  I was still just trying to follow His advice, but it was hard.

I turned to God and running to maintain some sanity.

And then, without even realizing it at the time, things started changing.  I started to meet new people who have turned into new friends.  I found out about Bible study, which has led to many other events.  I found out about the race across the state which led to other new friendships.

Here I am now in November.  I’ve been single for almost exactly 9 months.  And I feel so incredibly joyful.  I feel like my life is exactly where it needs to be right now.

I am healthy.  I am running and going to yoga.  I have awesome students this year at my job and I’m getting to teach the AP class that I love so much again.  I’m living by the beach going for walks, bike rides, and kayaking.  I just got a stand up paddle board this week.  I have amazing friends and Bible study.  God is a main focus in my life right now, and I just feel so blessed.

I didn’t know how to word this post because I know that other people are facing more struggles than I am right now, so I don’t want to sound like everything is sunshine and rainbows.  But at the same time, I can’t contain my gratitude.

I literally drove to work this week with a smile on my face, just thinking about the place I am right now in my life in general.

So if you’re a person who isn’t yet in a good place, you need to turn to God first.  None of my happiness found me until I left it in God’s hands, waiting for things to fall into place.  I was on my knees in tears at adoration.  I was at Stations of the Cross on Friday nights with no other plans for the upcoming weekends.  I was at Mass by myself each Sunday just praying and trying to be patient.

Things do get better.  It may not be according to our own timeline.  God’s timing may not be what we want.  But I don’t think that the joy I feel now would be the same if I hadn’t had the difficult times last winter and spring.  I needed that to now see the dramatic shift that my life has taken.

I don’t know where things will go from here.  But I am content in my belief that God has good plans for me.  He is in charge of my life and I am trying my best to make choices that reflect His will for me.

And right now, it all seems to be working out.  I am joyful, I am thankful, I am blessed.

Laying Down My Life

Last night I went with four friends to Catholic Underground in New York City.  It was my first time at Catholic Underground.  There are hundreds of young adults (in addition to people of all ages who are there to worship Jesus.  It is simply amazing.

img_8462
Catholic Underground NYC

First is Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  During adoration, there are a bunch of priests hearing confessions.  They sing the night prayer and then they turn down the lights while singing some praise and worship music.  After adoration, they have music downstairs in the basement of the church, with different performers each month.  While the music is playing, people share in fellowship, meeting new people, and finding old friends.  I was excited to run into a friend from college who is now a sister, which I hadn’t even realized.  It was so nice to see her again after so many years.

fullsizerender-10
My friend from college

So the main song they sang last night was Hillsong United’s “Touch the Sky.”  I had not heard this song until last night, but the lyrics really struck me.  Today when I woke up, I had the song stuck in my head, so I looked up the video on YouTube and I watched it on repeat a few times, tears streaming down my cheeks.  These weren’t tears of sadness but rather tears of awe in realizing all of the blessings I have received from God in the past few months.

Here is the video if you aren’t familiar with the song:

Last night, this part of the lyrics kept being repeated while we prayed at adoration:

My heart, beating

My soul, breathing

I found my life, when I laid it down

Upward, falling

Spirit, soaring

I touch the sky, when my knees hit the ground

The line in particular that resonates with me is this: “I found my life, when I laid it down.”  I always try to remember to ask for God’s will when I pray for the desires of my heart.  Sometimes it’s difficult to know whether I am following my own path or the path that God wants me to follow.  But I also believe that the things that I want the most, in the depths of my heart, must be things that God also wants for me.  Not passing wants like material items, but the things that I yearn for in the depths of my soul…I believe that God placed those yearnings there because He wants them for me as well.

It had been my desire to move to New Jersey for years, since high school or possibly even middle school.  I was so excited to finally move here last September.  I had wanted to live here for so long, and it was great in the beginning, but then when my boyfriend broke up with me in February, I was a mess.  My Lyme was acting up.  My job was stressful.  Things seemed to be falling apart.  I started wondering if my move was a big mistake.

I began doubting myself and my trust in God, wondering if maybe things weren’t working out because it had been my desire to move here and not His.  But now that months have passed, I can see how His plan was unfolding all around me while I was completely oblivious.

I didn’t move here because of my boyfriend, but he definitely made the transition a lot less frightening.  I knew him, his family, and his friends.  I knew which towns I liked, which schools I might enjoy working in.  I was relatively familiar with the area.  We were both confident that our relationship was headed toward marriage.

So February tore me apart.  I had envisioned us together forever, without a doubt in my mind.  Suddenly all of my plans for the future were discarded.  I was left alone, without a single friend in the area.

I was lonely.  I didn’t understand what God wanted from me, but I focused on Him as much as I could.  I was on my knees in adoration, crying, not understanding His plan.  It was lent, so I was at Stations of the Cross every Friday.  I was reading the Bible and devotionals.  I was coming closer to Him than I had been in a while.

Eventually, through a small Catholic young adult group, I met someone who I now consider to be one of my closest friends.  During my loneliness, I really just longed for a friend.  I dated a little bit, but I didn’t really want to jump back into another relationship after having been in 2 long-term relationships back to back, which accounted for the past five years of my life.

It required me losing everyone around me to find this new friend, and I bet that if I had still been in a relationship with my ex-boyfriend, I may have never ventured out to the young adult group.  I may have never met her because I had been spending most of my free time with him.

So my friend (her name is Gabriella) invited me to her Bible study.  Through this Bible study, I have met even more Catholic friends in the area.  Some I am closer to than others, so I was excited when Gabriella invited me to Catholic Underground last night because we would be carpooling with three other members of the Bible study who I didn’t really know too well.

The five of us drove to NYC, talking, praying, and learning about each other on the way.

img_8477
The five of us from Bible study at Catholic Underground

During adoration, I thought about myself just a year ago.  At the time, I thought that I was happy.  I was with a guy I was positive I would marry.  But that relationship wasn’t truly fulfilling the desires of my heart when I really think about it.  We went to church together, but we never prayed together or went to Catholic events together.  We didn’t really talk about God all too often.

Then I thought about my sadness back in February, without any friends in the area.  I felt like life was just ruined.  I hated the weekends.  During the work week, I was busy, but weekends would come and I had exactly zero plans.

Now I consider this weekend.  On Friday night, I went to a Tenth Avenue North concert with one of my new friends from my young adult group.  Yesterday I went to Catholic Underground with four friends from Bible study.  Myself back in February would have never believed me if I had told her to just keep waiting and praying and that everything would get better.

img_8457
My friend and I at Friday night’s Tenth Avenue North Concert

Last night I realized that although I didn’t intentionally lay down my life for Christ, as the lyrics in that song mention, it is what happened unintentionally after my breakup.  I had nothing but my faith.  I was falling to my knees in adoration (“I touch the sky when my knees hit the ground.”) and slowly I started to meet people.  My breakup was in February and I don’t think I met Gabriella until around June, so it took a little while for things to start falling into place.  I needed that time to myself to focus all of my energy on the Lord.

Today I am so incredibly grateful of the way everything has happened.  I now can’t imagine life without these new friends.  We meet every week on Thursday evenings for Bible study.  We have a young adult holy hour once a month.  This past Thursday there were 12 of us at Bible study.  12 young adults eating dinner together, reading the Bible together, providing advice and a listening ear to each other, laughing together, and simply sharing time with one another.  I feel so incredibly blessed.

14556721_10154614210252138_3523172331071857695_o.jpg
This past Thursday’s Bible study group

Last night all of this really hit me because it’s so easy, like mentioned in today’s Gospel (Luke 17:11-19), to forget to thank God for all that He has given us.  It is easy for me to turn to Him when I am brokenhearted, sick, or dealing with the loss of loved ones.  He is my go-to when I am struggling.  But I sometimes forget to look back in thanksgiving to see everything that he has bestowed upon me.

I am now confident that my move to New Jersey was by no means a mistake.  Instead, it was a leap of faith that has now enabled me to grow so much in my friendships and in my faith.  I had to lay down my former life.  I had to move away from the people I knew in Connecticut.  I had to be left single and friendless.  I had to seek God with all of my heart, and slowly but surely, joy has reentered my life, and for that I am incredibly grateful.  God is so good and His plan for our lives, if we listen to Him and pray to follow His will, is more glorious than we could ever imagine.

“I found my life, when I laid it down.”

Do We All Have the Capacity to Commit Evil?

I’m currently reading Jodi Picoult’s novel, The Storyteller. I love her books so much because they always lead me to question my own morals and convictions.  Although her books are works of fiction, she really brings the characters to life because she does so much research about the professions and backgrounds of each person.  In this novel, the main character is a Jewish baker and she meets a man who was an SS officer during the Holocaust.  The detail with which she describes what he experienced while working in a concentration camp gives the novel a nonfiction feel to it.  It sounds like his dialogue is quoted from a real Nazi soldier.

The following quote really caught my eye:

“Inside each of us is a monster; inside each of us is a saint.  The real question is which one we nurture the most, which one will smite the other.”

It made me consider my own convictions.  I try my hardest to be a good person, but do I have the capacity for evil?  I would like to think that no, I cannot be evil, but I don’t think that is true.  I do believe that we all have the capacity for evil.

Although this is another fictional example, I think Shakespeare shows it the best:

Consider Macbeth. Macbeth starts out as a strong soldier who succeeded in Scotland’s battle against Norway.  But then he hears the witches’ prophecies about becoming king.  He starts to thirst for that position of power.  Upon hearing that King Duncan had appointed his son as prince, Macbeth decides that the only answer is to kill King Duncan.  And after that, he continues to kill anyone standing in his way of remaining king.  Most people would argue that Macbeth is absolutely evil by the end of the play.  But in the beginning, he was a normal soldier.  His desire for power led to his downfall.

Could that happen to any of us?  It’s interesting to consider.

Another section of the book stood out to me.  Josef, the character who was the SS soldier, talks about being forced to beat up his brother when in training with Hitler Youth.  He says:

“Did I know this brutality was wrong?  Even that first time, when my brother was the victim?  I have asked myself a thousand times and the answer is always the same: of course.  That day was the hardest, because I could have said no.  Every time after that, it became easier, because if I didn’t do it again, I would be reminded of that first time I did not say no.  Repeat the same action over and over again, and eventually it will feel right.  Eventually, there isn’t even any guilt.

“What I mean to tell you, now is that the same truth holds.  This could be you, too.  You think never. You think, not I.  But at any given moment, we are capable of doing what we least expect.  I always knew what I was doing, and to whom I was doing it.  I knew, very well.  Because in those terrible, wonderful moments, I was the person everyone wanted to be.”

I am the type of person who often feels badly for many criminals.  I always wonder what led them up to committing their crimes.  What was their upbringing like?  How were their parents?  Were they bullied?  Did they have untreated mental disorders?  Were they framed?  I always want to give people the benefit of the doubt.  Really, that is what our country supposedly does as well – considering people innocent until proven guilty (though most people are condemned by the public long before their actual trial).

We learn about the Holocaust in history class.  We learn to hate the Nazis and Hitler.  But most, if not all, of the perpetrators of the hideous crimes that occurred during the Holocaust probably started out as normal people.  What is it that led them to commit such heinous acts?

In this case, Josef talks about how his decision that first time to say yes and agree to beat up his brother was the turning point.  After beating your own brother, how could you then say no to beating a stranger?

To me, this seems to be the same situation that many of us find ourselves in with regard to habitual sins.  Upon committing any given sin the first time, it makes it easier to do it again.  Well, I already made that mistake once, we often think.  And then it can easily become a difficult habit to break.  Eventually, the guilt will be gone.

The same is true when we are desensitized to violence.  We see so many graphic video games, television shows, and movies, that the violence no longer creates any feeling of disgust or negative emotion within us.  Watch too much violence and we become desensitized.  Commit any given sin too many times and it becomes habitual.

Let’s start with the example of a simple lie.  We tell one lie, but that often leads to another lie because we need to make sure that the first lie isn’t exposed.  Then it becomes a sort of routine.  We’re not lying because we’re trying to be evil or evasive, but because it’s usually the easier option.

The same thing happens with sexual sin.  Anyone who struggles with a pornography addiction had to start somewhere.  They had to click on that first video.  And I bet for most of these people, they felt guilt in the beginning, but it was an exciting, intriguing sort of guilt.  When the opportunity arose again to watch another video, it would be harder to say no because of that first instance of saying yes.  Well, I already did it once.  I’ve already dirtied myself.  What more could it hurt to watch another video or look at another picture?

The same goes for premarital sex.  Many girls (and boys) who regret losing their virginity most likely felt some amount of guilt in the beginning.  But it probably became easier to continue having sex because their virginity was already gone.  It was something that couldn’t be taken back.  Thus, a habitual sin is created, one that is difficult to overcome.  And if intercourse becomes a regular facet of their life, the guilty feelings are probably gone.

In terms of Josef, he did feel guilt upon beating his brother.  But then when he had to ruin the storefront of a Jewish shopkeeper, it was more difficult to say no.  If he hadn’t said no to hurting his own brother, how could he now say no to hurting a Jew?  And after shooting his first Jew in a concentration camp, blood was already on his hands, so how could he stop there?  The violence was just perpetuated.

I’m not saying that we all have the ability to commit genocide, but I do believe that somewhere inside each of us we absolutely have the ability to commit evil.  That is why we were given free will.  I can choose the ethical route, but nobody is forcing me to.  I could have cheated on tests that I performed poorly on rather than taking them honestly.  I could have lied in situations where honesty was not the easiest option.  Could I have ever killed?  I hope not, but I don’t think I could ever say with complete certainty that it would be impossible.

We make one mistake and it can snowball into further wrongdoings.

But that is why I love Christianity and Catholicism so much.  Because God will forgive us no matter how many times we continue to make a mistake and commit a certain sin.  His forgiveness has no limits.  If we are truly sorry for our wrongdoings and confess those sins to Him, with a true desire to stop committing that sin, then we are washed clean and we can begin again.

I think that if it wasn’t for my faith, I would be a very different person, and not in a good way.  Because then I wouldn’t have those fresh starts.  I wouldn’t be able to wipe my slate clean.  Sin builds up so much and it starts to weigh us down.  It dirties us and causes us to feel less worth.  If I had to live with all of the sins that I have committed, many of them probably would become habitual sins because I would have the feeling that it was too late to change or go back.

But I am blessed to live with a different outlook.  I can be washed clean and try my best to right my wrongs, to start again.

I hope that because of that, I will never be a person who commits pure evil, but I do believe that within each of us does lie the capacity for evil; it’s just up to us to choose our path.

Before reading this book, I viewed all Nazi soldiers as evil.  And yes, they did commit evil acts, but they didn’t start out evil.  They didn’t grow up as children whose goal was to kill the highest number of Jewish people.  They started out like you and me.  Children who had positive dreams about their futures.

Somewhere along the line, though, they said yes to something that was inherently wrong.  And after making that first yes, the events that followed became easier to justify.  We wonder how terrorists can exist, but we must remember that a terrorist was a child once.  A terrorist was not born with the goal of mass murder.

What is it that leads some of us to commit such gruesome, heinous crimes?  And how many of us, if put in the same situation and with the same background, could have taken the place of a person we view as evil?  How would I act if I wasn’t Catholic?  If I had been raised in another country, in another family, around different people?

If I was alive during the Holocaust and was faced with the same circumstances as Josef, could I have become a Nazi soldier?

These are questions that we don’t like to consider, but maybe that is because deep inside, we realize that we are human and that, as humans, we make mistakes.  It is just up to us how far we actually get with those mistakes, whether we stop after the first few lies, or only after the first few bullets have been fired.

 

 

 

Why I Don’t Believe in Soulmates

GASP – She doesn’t believe in soulmates?!?!  How can that be?

Yeah, yeah, I know.  To some people, my disbelief in soulmates is something that is surprising.

But I just don’t.  And here’s why:

We live in a planet with over 7 billion people.  

In the United States alone, there are over 300 million people.  I just don’t believe that out of all 7 billion total people in the world there could possibly be only 1 who I could happily spend my life with.

People who believe in soulmates disagree, maintaining the romantic notion that in a world of 7 billion people, they were still able to find their one, true soulmate.

Maybe I’m cynical, but I just don’t buy that.  There are plenty of awesome people in the world.  I believe that there are many people on this planet who we could get along with well enough to have a joyful, long-lasting relationship that only ends at the time of our death.

That doesn’t mean that we could have a successful relationship with just anyone.  I still have standards.  I simply don’t think that there’s only 1 person in the world who could make me happy.

What about people who are widowed and then remarried?

I know of people who had lovely marriages, but then their husband or wife died. Some of these people choose to never remarry, but others are able to find new partners.  So what, then, happens with the notion of being meant for just one person?

Does that mean that some people have two or three soulmates?

Not to me.  To me, it proves that there are multiple people with whom we could share a fulfilled life.

The belief in one soulmate leaves us with terrible odds.

In a planet of 7 billion people, I think that I would be disheartened if I truly believed that only one of these 7 billion people was right for me.

My soulmate could be anywhere.  What is it that will bring us together?

I guess those who believe in them would say that it’s God, or fate, or some sort of romance.  But looking at the numbers, those are pretty awful odds, trying to find that one person in a sea of seven billion.

The romance movies are lying to us.

I like a good chick flick or romance movie from time to time.  It’s nice to see the picture-perfect couple who finally ends up together by the end of the movie.  But it’s also just that — a movie.  Not real life.

Hollywood tells us that there is some person we are destined to be with.

In films like The Notebook, we are told that even if we are engaged to the wrong person, we will find our true love just in the nick of time to call off that wedding and flee to the man who has loved us all along.

Doesn’t it bother anyone else that Allie sleeps with Noah while she is still engaged to the other guy?  Everyone falls in love with her, yet she’s actually a cheater!  Look at that picture below.  She’s kissing Noah, yet that ring is not from him.

“But it’s different,” people will argue, “because she now knows that Noah is, in fact, her soulmate.”

I guess I will just have to agree to disagree.

poster_notebook

Movies like Titanic break our hearts for characters like Rose who lose their one true love, left to a life of endless nostalgia in remembrance of their Jack Dawson. (Maybe she should have left more room for him on her raft.  I mean, if he was her soulmate, then she just blew her chances.)

set_titanic_640.jpg

Films like Pretty Woman lead us to think that damaged people will change in order to be perfectly suited for us.  Prostitute one day, elegant wife and mother the next.  I know that people can change, but we can’t wait for, or expect, someone to change for us.

pretty woman.jpg

Sometimes Hollywood even changes movies that have been adapted from books to fit that whole soulmate formula.  Take Dear John, for example (spoiler alert!).  I read the book first.  I loved it, but the ending was so incredibly sad.  John tries to go back to Savannah, but sees how happy she is with her husband, so he lets them be.

dear john.jpg

Of course the movie couldn’t end like that.  John is her soulmate, after all, isn’t he?

In the film, he and Savannah end up together.  Surprise, surprise.

But life goes a little bit more like the book version.  It doesn’t always have a perfect happy ending, the same way that we can’t ever find that one perfect person.

The belief in one soulmate leads to unrealistic expectations.

I don’t believe in perfection with anything.  There is no perfect human being because we’re just that — human.

The same is true of relationships: none are perfect.  I will never find the “perfect man.”  He does not exist.

Likewise, I am not the perfect woman for anyone, and I don’t hope to ever become her.  I am a flawed person.  I don’t want someone to view me as their perfect complement because that won’t ever happen.

Jesus Christ was the perfect man.  No human being can achieve that level of perfection.  We all have our own sins, vices, and temptations.

Many people who are seeking their soulmate are looking for this unrealistic perfection that simply does not exist on this earth.

If you are looking for the perfect man, you will continue searching until you die.  It’s an unattainable goal, yet it’s exactly what people are looking for in their soulmate.

They want someone who fits each of their relationship criteria.  Now, I have my own criteria as well.  There are certain people who I wouldn’t ever consider dating, based on my own standards.

For example, I wouldn’t date someone who does drugs, who is a smoker, or who is not a Christian.  I don’t think that is too much to ask for.

But some people have a list 2 pages long of necessary traits their spouse must have.  What they are looking for is perfection that they may likely never find.  At some point, they are going to need to make some compromises.  That’s what being in a relationship entails.

I believe that strong relationships are those in which the couple puts forth the most effort.

To me, love is a choice.  People who are in a relationship must choose each day to love the person they are dating.   They must put their effort into it, or cracks will begin to appear.

If someone thinks that a soulmate will be so perfect that life with that person will be all sunshines and rainbows, they are sorely mistaken.

Now, as an unmarried 27-year-old, I know that I can’t really speak on behalf of married life, but I do see how it is no easy task.  There will be times of frustration and anger, and at that point, people must still choose to love their spouses.

This only happens as a result of effort.  It doesn’t just magically happen once somebody finds her soulmate.

I don’t believe in soulmates, but I do believe in true love.

That might sound like an oxymoron, but there’s a difference.

True love, at least to me, is when people are so in love with each other that they put their partner’s needs above their own.

True love involves compromise.

True love entails making sacrifices in order to maintain the best scenario for the relationship.

True love is trying to help one’s partner to attain holiness so that he can one day reach the ultimate paradise, in heaven.

True love is difficult and it is a choice.

To me, that is a better option than a soulmate.  I want a man who is willing to work for my affection, not one who is just content in believing that I am his soulmate or his destiny.

I want a man who is going to put effort into our relationship, not just being happy that he finally found “The One.”

I want a man who will lead me to holiness so that, by being around him, I can become a better version of myself, and closer to God.

That is true love, and it is a choice.  It’s not some magic fairytale where we simply end up with Prince Charming because of luck or fate.

That is what I want for my life: true love and NOT a soulmate.