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Spe Salvi, Week 2
Reading: Sections 7-12
“Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a “proof” of the things that are still unseen. Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a “not yet.” (Benedict XVI, 7)
Why, in an encyclical about hope, does Benedict begin by talking about faith? Because without faith, you cannot have hope. If we are a people without hope, it’s because we are first a people without faith.
So, what is faith?
It’s a grace, freely given by God to man, that helps us believe in the truths He has revealed. It’s also a relationship, an adherence not simply to truths, but to God Himself. It’s a human act, in which we submit our intellect and will to God, who deepens our understanding through grace. And it is, as Benedict explains, the beginning of eternal life.
That’s the definition most people don’t know. Faith isn’t just about the life we hope to possess. It’s the life we already possess. It’s the truths we already perceive, however dimly. It’s the relationship with God we already enjoy, however distantly. It’s the wisdom and understanding we already have, however imperfectly.
That life—the truths, the relationship, the understanding—is a life of freedom. It’s not constrained by health, limited by age, controlled by fear, or dependent upon material goods. The one who has faith can lose all that the world values, and still have hope, because she still possesses the substance of that for which she hopes. Not the fullness of it. But the beginnings of it. And that makes all the difference. It sustains us as we walk through this valley of tears, reminding us that what we hope for is real.
In this world, however, all life can be lost. No body can live without nourishment. Nor can faith. It has to be fed. It has to seek its nourishment from the source, from God—in the sacraments, in prayer, in study, and in virtuous acts. That’s not us earning faith; it’s us going to God and asking Him to feed our faith. It’s also us saying yes to the grace God wants to give.
Grace isn’t magic. It doesn’t instantly erase our doubts and fears. We will carry some struggles and wounds with us from our journey’s beginning to our journey’s end. But if we avail ourselves of the grace God wants to give, faith will grow. And as it does, hope will grow too.
How, because of your faith, do you live differently from the way the world tells you to live? Are you living differently? If not, why do you think that is?
When you think about the life you live now, where do you see glimmers of the life that is eternal? What are the moments where heaven seems to touch earth for you?
How are you feeding your faith right now? How have you fed it in the past? When you are feeding it, what difference does that make in the rest of your life?
Next Week: Sections 13-23
Relics? Weird or cool?
Ha! Catholics are a “both/and” kind of people, so I say relics are both weird and cool. But more cool than weird!
From the outside, I get that the Catholic veneration of relics looks totally bizarre. Who keeps scraps of bones and hair and teeth in their churches and homes? Who fights for centuries over the bodies of the saints and sneaks into cathedrals to lop off the heads of the dead and smuggle them into to another cathedral? What the heck does that have to do with the Gospel? Clearly this is one of those areas where Catholics have strayed from the Christian reservation, right?
Wrong! So, so wrong. Here’s why.
It starts with matter. God loves it. He loves wood and dirt and water. He loves bones and granite and grass. He loves onions and ore and even beets. He delights in all of it. He created it. He holds it in existence. He also uses it. He takes bread and wine and turns it into Body and Blood. He pours new life into us as water is poured over us and oil is traced onto our heads. He lets grace enter us through the hands of priests and the bodies of husbands and wives. God makes matter holy as He pours His grace through it. And He makes us holy with the help of graced matter, which touches our souls by way of our body.
God is not just making our souls holy, though, and leaving our bodies out of the equation. We are a union of body and soul. We fell as a union of body and soul, and someday we will rise as a union of body and soul. For now, we are being redeemed as body and soul, by the life of God within us. Every Christian, in a state of grace, is a temple of the Holy Spirit. God dwells within. Not in some metaphorical way, but in a real way. And that changes us. It changes every part of us.
Like some faint echo of what happened when God’s presence hovered over the Ark of the Covenant or when God Himself dwelt in the womb of Mary, the presence of Christ in us makes our bodies holy. Each of us becomes, in a sense, a living tabernacle.
But it doesn’t end there. The grace that lives in us seeps out. The more fully and deeply that Christ lives in us, the more His grace flows out from us. It’s like grace can’t be contained. It wants to tumble out of us and touch the world around us. And it can. It can touch the homes where we live, the ground upon which we stand, even the objects we use in daily life.
There is such a wild and radical generosity about it. By God’s grace, the more we’re conformed to Him and the more His love animates us, the more we, in turn, sanctify the world around us. Grace comes to others through us. It comes to the world through us. That’s how abundant grace is. Where it’s welcomed, it overflows. It gets all over everything.
And sometimes, it stays even after we’re gone. This is especially true for the holiest among us. Where Christ has dwelt most fruitfully, in the bodies of those who’ve lived most faithfully, grace mysteriously, inexplicably remains. Like a fine perfume, it can linger in the things we touched and the places we loved. Most of all, it can linger in the bodies we leave behind, in our very bones.
For this reason, the earliest Christians gathered up the bodies, bones, and blood of the first martyrs and brought them into their homes for burial. The ancient Romans feared bodies and disposed of them outside the city walls. The Christians revered the bodies of their departed and kept them close, where they could honor them and venerate them. Eventually, altars were built over their bodies, then later, basilicas.
What they discovered as they did that was that sometimes God still chose to work through the bodies of His holy ones in death, as He had in life. Sometimes those who venerated the relics of the saints found their bodies healed. Other times, they found their souls healed. Very early Church records attest to this. For example, in 415, when the relics of the first Christian martyr, Saint Stephen, arrived in Hippo, the city’s bishop, Saint Augustine, was so impressed by the number of healings which occurred, that he ordered a book made, recounting every miracle God worked through Stephen’s relics.
In the fourth century, writing about how such things could be possible, Saint Cyril of Jerusalem pointed to the Old Testament, where a body thrown into a grave of the deceased prophet Elisha, is brought back to life. That, he argued, was proof that “a power lies in the bodies of the just, even when their souls are not present.”
So, that’s why Catholics venerate relics. Not because we think they’re magic. But because we think they’re graced. We think God loves bodies so much that He uses them in life and death. And even if He chooses not to work any miracles through bones, He still plans on calling those bones to Himself on the last day, and transforming them as He reunites them with their soul. Where those bones are going makes them as worthy of reverence as where they’ve been.
If you want to read more about relics and the resurrection of the body, check out the book I wrote with Scott Hahn back in 2020: Hope to Die: The Christian Meaning of Death and the Resurrection of the Body. Also, if you’re ever in Rome, do yourself a favor and check out the crypt, also known as “the Bone Church,” underneath the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. If you’ve read my book These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body, you’ll know why. If you haven’t, you should read that, too.
I’d like to know more about why you came back to the Catholic Church. Is your story posted anywhere?
I’ve only written in little bits and pieces about it, but I was on The Journey Home way back in 2017, and told my story there. You can still watch it online. I’ve never seen it (I have a rule about never watching or listening to interviews I give!), so I have no idea if it’s a good interview or not, but you can be the judge of that!
(And before you ask why my nose looks so different—because everyone does whenever I share old pictures…In 2018, I was diagnosed with a large growth in my left ear called a cholesteatoma. It was causing me to go deaf in that ear and threatening to cause other serious complications…like eating into my brain stem. When Toby was 7 weeks old, I had major surgery to remove that and widen and straighten my nose. The doctor believed that my severely deviated septum, caused by a nose break in college, and unusually narrow nose was causing an imbalance of pressure in my head that had, in turn, caused the cholesteatoma. I don’t know if he was right or not, but it was super crazy and super awful, and I do not recommend having surgery on your head with a newborn. I wrote about it all at the time, and if you scroll way back into my Insta feed, you can see a lovely post-surgery picture of bandaged up me.)
Do you think White families should adopt Black children?
Well, since I have a Black son, I’m obviously not going to say no. Regardless, I think that’s the wrong question. Because White couples are going to adopt Black children. And Black couples are going to adopt White children. And Latino couples are going to adopt Asian children. That’s just what happens in an ethnically diverse society, especially one with a foster system as strained as ours, where we value mothers getting to freely choose the family with whom they place their child, and where we don’t want the government again legislating if one drop of African blood makes you Black and therefore capable of adopting or being adopted by someone who doesn’t look like you.
So, if that’s the wrong question, what is the right question? It’s, “Should my family adopt a child of a different ethnicity than our own?”
That’s the real question for prospective adoptive parents. Because the answer isn’t always going to be yes. In a perfect world, it would be. But in a perfect world there would be no adoption, so the point would be moot. Either way, it’s not a perfect world, and for now, not all families are equipped to raise a child who looks different from themselves. Before checking the box that says they’re willing to adopt a child of any ethnicity, prospective parents need to think about a great many things, starting with whether or not they harbor any prejudice or racism within their own hearts. Do they have negative attitudes towards different ethnicities or skin colors? Are they willing to embrace another culture as part of their family’s own? Are they capable of seeing a child first and foremost as the image of God or will they always see color first and impose racially biased expectations on the child?
They also need to think about immediate family members and friends; do they have people close to them who won’t welcome the child or will say hurtful things? Conversely, they need to think about if they have any friends or family members who have a common heritage with their prospective child and who will be happy to support their family as they navigate life together.
The questions don’t end there. Families need to consider if they’re willing to make changes to their home—to the art on their walls and the books on their shelves and the shows they watch, so that their child grows up in a home where the culture of their birth and people who look like them are represented and represented well. They need to think about their city, their neighborhood, their local schools, and their church—are those places that will not only be welcoming to a child of a different background, but also where their child can fit in? If not, are they willing to change those things for the child? Are they willing to be uncomfortable for the sake of their child? Are they willing to take their children to barber shops or cultural events or museums where they, the parents, will be the minority? Are they willing to defend their child against racism or colorism or others forms of prejudice? Are they willing to learn new things, have new experiences, and reevaluate parts of their life, beliefs, and culture through a new lens? Last but not least, are they willing to deal with harsh looks, unfriendly comments, and questions from strangers who think they have no business raising their child?
These are important questions to consider. And even if you can check all the right boxes, you still have to recognize that your child might someday feel like you didn’t do enough. Your child might feel like you weren’t enough. But that’s not unique to adoption, transracial or otherwise. None of us can truly give our children everything. We all fall short in some way. Adoption just forces you to reckon with that truth sooner rather than later.
So, no, I don’t think transracial or transcultural adoption is something to be entered into lightly in this current culture. Five minutes talking to adult transracial adoptees will usually tell you that much. There are serious questions you have to consider (and often serious changes you have to make) for the sake of the child,. But if you’re willing to ask those questions and make those changes, then you just have to trust the rest to God. After considering all those questions, Chris and I ultimately said yes when we were offered the chance to adopt Becket, knowing we couldn’t give Him everything, but trusting we could give him the most important things: two healthy parents who love one another and love God; a rich and joyful home life; a childhood soaked in prayer, grace, and beauty; and lots and lots of love. It was enough for Becket’s birth mother. And we’re counting on God to help with the rest.
Summer Reading Recommendations?
All Spring, I’ve been planning on announcing a summer reading group for full subscribers. My hope was to read C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength with as many of you as possible. The book takes the ideas he wrote about in The Abolition of Man, but shows their implications in the context of a fictional story. It’s a little weird, a lot excellent, and super relevant to the age in which we live. This week, though, something came up which is going to significantly change my family’s summer schedule and make it unwise for me to commit to one more thing over the next few months. But you should still read it on your own if you’re interested. It’s actually the third book in his Space Trilogy. I loved all three and reread them every few summers.
If you’re looking for mysteries and have run out of Agatha Christie’s (because always start there), other good options are the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy Sayers, books by Mary Roberts Rinehart, Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen mysteries, and Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody mysteries. You could also read something big, serious, and Russian, but if it’s big serious books you want to lug to the beach with you, take Sigrid Undset’s Master of Hestviken instead. It’s much less depressing than your average work of Russian literature…at least eventually.
Five Things I’m Loving
Right now, Ellie is in full on toddler food throwing mode, and she will not be dissuaded from this pursuit. Which means I am vacuuming my floor at least 7 times a day, and am more grateful than ever for the Dyson stick vacuum we bought two years ago. I used to hate vacuuming, and now I do it sort of joyfully, while professing my deep love for my Dyson the whole while. If you’re registering for baby items, forget all the baby blankets and just ask people to chip in for a Dyson instead.
There are a lot of YouTube and Podcast bros these days, who are amassing followers by sharing profoundly unhelpful and unCatholic takes on marriage and family life. Which makes Dr. John Cuddeback’s YouTube series, “LifeCraft,” all the more important. Cuddeback is a philosophy professor at Christendom College, and one of the sanest, most faithful voices around when it comes to the practical aspects of marriage and family life. I shared this clip of his about NFP on Instagram yesterday, but his whole YouTube Channel and website are worth checking out. They reflect deep wisdom and real spiritual maturity, which are both so needed in online spaces today.
These Simply Merino summer weight bicycle shorts are awesome. They are lightweight, help regulate body temperature, and are my last hope for breaking one of my children of their habit of walking around in their underwear all morning. I think my code Emily10 still works, if you want to save 10 percent on them (or anything from Simply Merino).
Last year, my friend Kate introduced us to Revelations, Alvin Ailey’s stunningly choreographed modern ballet. It’s become a favorite of our whole family, and when Toby asked to watch it the other morning and all the kids started dancing to it, I realized I had never shared the YouTube link to it with you. So, here you go. YouTube has about 8 million problems with it, but I’m still grateful it makes it possible for me to introduce my children to cultural experiences like this long before they’re actually ready to sit through a ballet in a theatre.
Day dates. Chris is taking me on one today, so I’ll be offline all afternoon. He has the day off school, and we love sneaking out on afternoon dates now and then because it’s so much easier to ask a sitter to hang out with our kids in the afternoon than it is to ask them to run the gauntlet of bedtime. If you haven’t tried day dates, I highly recommend them!
In Case You’ve Missed Them
The Deep Work of Homemaking: The Difference Between Housework and Heart Work (Full Subscribers Only)
A People Without Hope, Plus saints, Drag Queens, and Strung Out Moms (Free for everyone)
A Wounding Church: A Short Catechesis on Sin, Grace, and Christ’s Body on Earth (Full Subscribers Only)
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 Quoted in Caroline Walker Bynum, The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 80.
I highly recommend Patricia Wentworth and Ngaio Marsh for mysteries as well. :)
Ok first off, a solution for those who still want to deep dive into Lewis’ Space trilogy... Close Reads has a subscriber only section for this. I believe they’re on Perelandra right now. They’re on Substack, so check them out.
Spe Salvi is my fave papal encyclical and I forgot until today that you’re reading it. I’ll pick it up next week! Gosh it’s so encouraging.
Lastly, I second your rec for day dates. A recommendation for you... Emily you MUST go to Severina in the NH, right past the west view exit on 79. Think Serafino’s but in the NH. The desserts😍. His meatballs 🥰🥰🥰 and I almost drove there today for arancini bc I will not make them here but he was closed until 5/2.