The case against the bikini

I am one of those girls who generally does not like to swim.  It’s not that don’t know how to swim, but I just haven’t ever enjoyed it that much.  My innate fear of fish probably does not help the case, either. (Guys, fish breathe out of the side of their face. Lakes literally are giant fish toilets. Need I say more?)

However, with summer right around the corner, I have noticed that there is an issue with pools that reaffirms my hesitancy to venture out to the pool with my stack of summer reading list books. 

The bikini.

Please keep reading, despite your feelings on the subject.  Maybe you agree.  Maybe you disagree.  Maybe you are reading this post by the pool, wearing a bikini.  Read on, dear readers, read on.

My inner history major is coming out, so I’d like to start off with a brief history of the bikini.  Louis Reard was a French man who worked in his mother’s lingerie shop.  He went to work every day and looked at women in their underwear.  I’m sure his complaint list was pretty low in relation to his work environment.

One day he had the idea that women should wear these kinds of style in public, and the place that made sense to introduce the fashion trend was the beach.  So he made a swimsuit that was, essentially, water proof lingerie.  If you look at the style through the lenses of the modern era, this swimsuit is now considered “conservative” in comparison.  However, back in the year 1946, it was scandalous. 

Time came for the fashion show to introduce the debut of the new swimwear, and Louis began to recruit his runway models.  It was harder than he thought – no model would have anything to do with waterproof lingerie, poolside wear or not.  So who did he have model this fashion?

A Paris stripper named Micheline Bernardini.

So we have water proof lingerie, and today it seems that most swimsuits actually cover less than what is worn under our clothing.  Even if modern opinion of the appropriateness of a swimsuit has changed, the brain has not. 

Let’s try this in a different situation with a different vantage point – this first scenario is from Jason Evert. 

As a young woman, you are at your house getting dressed and, for some unknown reason, your bedroom wall fell down.  If a group of people were running by, would you stand there in your underwear and wave hello?  Basically the same coverage as a bikini, right? NO! In this case, you would dash for cover as soon as possible.

Then why is it socially acceptable to wear this kind of coverage, if not much less, if there is a body of water around?

Some will say “Well, a guy’s brain is his own responsibility and if he can’t control himself, it’s his fault.”  Others say, “If a woman wants to dress in a way that will objectify her, it is her fault.”

Grow. Up.

Bikinis and modesty are not a ‘guys issue’ or a ‘woman’s issue.’ Modesty is a human issue.  And the problem concerning the blatant objectification of women in the fashion industry and the world in general was never solved by point fingers and blaming people.  We should be viewing our interactions with others as a way to help each other to Heaven.  It needs to be a mutual endeavor, and finding ways to place blame will not help the situation improve.

It is not that a bikini shows too much of a woman – it reveals too little.  Saint Pope John Paul II wrote extensively on the subject of modesty in his Theology of the Body discussions.  A bikini does not reveal a woman’s worth as a daughter of God.  It does not reveal her brilliant mind, beautiful heart and eternal soul.  It reveals only her body – and that is not nearly close enough to describing who she is as a child of God.

How ‘hot,’ ‘fit’, or ‘attractive’ a woman looks in a bikini does not define who she is as a human being with an eternal soul.  Her figure is not her greatest accomplishment.  How sun-kissed (or, in my case, sun burned) one looks at the end of the summer and where one’s tan lines are is not the sum of a person’s being.  We are more than just bodies and we are more than the tone of our skin…regardless and despite what society screams from advertisements, billboards and get-fit-quick ten day programs on Facebook.

On top of this, women reduce themselves to the level of objects when they wear bikinis.  That statement is not a stab-in-the-dark guess or a matter of opinion.  There have been multiple studies done, but one of the most convincing is the scans of a male brain while looking at pictures of women in bikinis.  The study was conducted by National Geographic (Fiske and associates, 2009).

Men look at pictures for a portion of a second, while their brain was being scanned in a laboratory situation.  In the rotation of pictures was nature, cities, random events, and, of course, pictures of women in bikinis.

Without the men consciously willing their brains to do so, the scans revealed that when showed pictures of women in modest attire, the part of the brain that uses the terms “She walks, she talks,” and other third person verbs was activated in a guy.  Yet when shown pictures of women in bikinis, the brain automatically switches to the part that is used when using tools, objects and first person verbs (“I move, I walk”)

What does this mean? Why is it significant? Because bikinis are not helping any of us (regardless of gender) get closer to God or Heaven.  

Ladies, I’m not asking you ditch your bikini because you are ugly.  In fact, you are a beautiful daughter of God.  So if you are beautiful, why cover your body?  Not because it is horrible.  Not because we don’t want to see you.

I’m asking you to not reach for a two-piece this summer because we veil things that are beautiful.  Why are veils encouraged at first communions? Because those girls are beautiful, and going up to receive the very body and blood of Christ for the first time. Why does a bride wear a veil on her wedding day? Because she is a beautiful treasure.  Why do we have a curtain in front of the tabernacle?  Because it is beautiful. 

No one looks at the first communicant, the bride, or the tabernacle and says “Oh, how ugly.  Glad we got that covered up.”   The mystery surrounding the girl, the woman, or the Eucharist is amplified because something is left to the imagination.

Do you want people at the pool looking at you and appreciating you as a child of God, or do you want them looking at you and appreciating what you would look like without any clothing on?

Sisters in Christ…you are loved.  You are cherished.  You are desired by a God who would rather die than risk spend eternity without you.  You deserve more than water proof lingerie.
















Fields for Planting

A farmer went out to sow in the field…

This weekend’s Gospel reading is taken from the book of Matthew.  It speaks of a sower who went out to sow.  Although he spreads the same seed around, it falls on different kinds of ground and sprouts in different manners.  Some seeds fall on ground that will never support it, and it perishes in the rocks.  Others fall on thorns, which choke the seed as it comes up through the dirt.  Still others fall on good ground, take root and are able to grow to their full potential.

We’ve all heard this parable many, if not what feels like hundreds, of times.  “The sower went out to sow…” and then we tune out.  Yada, yada, some will grow some will not.  Some of us may wonder if this parable is even relevant to us, because most of us aren’t living in an agricultural-based economy, and even if we are, we don’t sow seeds by hand.

Yet this parable applies to our lives today just as much as it applied to the lives of those hearing it originally from Christ Himself.

The significance could vary from person to person, but what really hit me today at Mass while I was listening was the issue of vocational discernment.

Vocational discernment.  Maybe the term makes you shudder.  Maybe the term doesn’t really have any connotations to you.  Despite feelings on the topic, though, it is something that you need to think about.

Every child of God is called to serve Him in a way particular to them.  Not only do we all have a universal vocation and calling to holiness, but we also all have a primary vocation as well as a secondary vocation.

Prayer is a necessity for any level of discernment. 

The Catholic Church has different paths of primary vocations.  One can be called to marriage, consecrated single, the priesthood, or a religious community.  After that selection, the secondary vocation is what the day-to-day life looks like.  It could be what career path you choose, what your specific religious order is devoted to, or daily life with your family.

But let’s focus on primary vocations today.  For many, me included, the process of vocational discernment can seem daunting.  It could be a long journey from “This is what I’m going to do with my life” to being at a point where you can say “God’s got this, and not my will but His.”

To apply this weekend’s Gospel, vocational discernment can take different paths.  Maybe you went to a phenomenal retreat this summer.  Maybe you’re going to – Steubenville retreats are a popular destination for many Catholic youth.  At many of these retreats, they’ll ask those who are thinking about religious vocations to come down and pray as a group.  The turnout of hundreds of Catholic teens thinking about a religious vocations always puts me in awe.  #Catholicandproud.

This is a seed being sown.  Christ may be knocking gently on the door of your heart.  There are a couple of options at this point.

Option one: “Lalalala.  I can’t hear you.”  This is typically my default, so do not beat yourself up if you can relate to this stage.  It consists of avoiding any situation that would spark any talk about vocations.  The words “vocations” and “discernment” make your hands sweaty and mind race to escape routes.  If anyone brings up the topic, you smile and say “Ummm….it’s an option…I guess.”  Don’t be rocky ground.  If God is sowing seeds in your life, let them take root.

I’m not saying that you are called to a religious vocation.  But everyone should take the steps to discern a call to the priesthood/religious sister/religious brother.  You don’t have to discern marriage.  Not only is marriage man’s natural vocation, it’s also an aspect of whatever vocation you decide to follow.  Either you will be married to another human being of the opposite gender, as a guy you’ll be married to the Church spiritually, or as a gal you’ll pledge yourself as the bride of Christ.  Don’t be the heart as hard as rock that never lets even the slightest idea of religious vocations take root.

Life will require weed pulling

Option two: Weedville  Let’s go back to the same seed being sown for vocational discernment.  You feel a tug from God to look into a certain order, you follow the path out.  Then you get home and your friends say that you think you are “holier than them” and you must be crazy.

Or maybe you sit around after a weekend and the more you think about it, the crazier it seems.  You, a religious vocation? Really?  You have a boyfriend!  You love wearing clothes that aren’t all one color!  You don’t think nuns can even have a Facebook page!  That solved that, you “discerned” long enough and it’s just not for you.

Hold on now.  While you’re on the right path with an open heart, don’t let the day-to-day weeds pull you down.  I’m not saying your friends are horrible people, that your boyfriend isn’t a good guy, that you can’t like fashion or that social media is the son of the devil.  What I am saying is that everyone/everything isn’t always going to work in your favor.  We’re called to be different.  To stick out in the world.  G. K. Chesterton once said “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”

Be like the lilies of the field in
Matthew 6:28. 

Option Three: Open Heart Open Arms Obviously, the only option left for the seed is flourishing in fertile soil.  While this is the optimal option, all of us know that this is the hardest.  It’s hard to put God in the center of your life, especially when other things that you really like feel like they should be number one.  It also takes time and effort, and that can be a challenge too.  There is a lot of effort that goes into making a commitment to daily scripture reading, finding a spiritual director, visiting orders and talking to others who are actively discerning.  It can be a lot easier to do nothing and tell yourself that it’s okay, and if God wants you somewhere,  He’ll open the doors.  He can’t open doors if you don’t leave your house.

Don’t be afraid to bloom to your highest potential.  Make your heart a good field for Christ to plant in.

Si vis amari ama,

Chloe M. 

Why homosexual unions aren’t marriage

There is a move in the current culture to redefine marriage to include the supposed healthy union between two members of the same sex.

As a Catholics, respecting and obeying all that the Catholic Church stands for, there is no way that we can accept this radical cultural shift.  There are many reason why, but today’s post will focus on why a same-sex marriage, whether defined legally as such or not, does not line up with what the Catholic Church defines as marriage.

What is marriage then?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 1601) says, “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.”

Essentially translated, this paragraph means that marriage is a covenant (a promise between God and man) between two people of the opposite sex.  It is a permanent institution, as pointed out by the wedding vows themselves (what God has joined let no man tear asunder).  What really is emphasized here, though, is the two characteristics of marriage: unitive and procreative.  Drawing the spouses together, while simultaneously closer to Heaven, and a blatant openness to life.   This union ultimately becomes part of the Church that is regarded as an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace – a sacrament.

What, then, are the characteristics of marriage that homosexual unions can be compared to in order to understand the difference between homosexual and heterosexual couples?

Characteristic One: Free 

Definition: This love is not free in the sense that it does not have to be paid for.  Rather, free love is not controlled or manipulated by another person or by a disordered desire, according to Christopher West in his commentary on the Theology of the Body.  Not forced upon one of the parties (such as in the act of rape), but rather chosen out of free will.

Free from shame.  Free for God.  

In traditional marriage: In the context of sexuality in a traditional marriage, this characteristic of freedom is fulfilled when a married man and woman are able to give themselves freely to each other.  This includes the elimination of lustful desires, disorders such as contraception or pornography, and not being a slave to sexual passions.  In this type of love, we see a man and a woman seeing each other in the image of God and willing the good of the other as other.

Personified by Christ: Christ loves us enough that he would rather die than risk spending eternity without us.  Despite the sins and transgressions that we laid upon his back on the way to Calvary, He loves us unconditionally.  

Not seen in homosexual unions:  The inability to fulfill the characteristic of freedom in pertinence to homosexual unions is as follows: Freedom to love is defined as freedom from disordered desires.  Yet desiring sexual pleasure from a member of the opposite sex is a disordered form of love.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 2358) reads, “This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial.  They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity….these persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”

Characteristic Two: Total

Definition: Once again from Christopher West, total love is defined as “love without the strings attached, love that holds nothing back.  In it you make gift of yourself to another –  a total self donation.”  Complete.  Absolute.  Your whole self.

Even when it hurts.  Even when it’s hard
Even when it’s all just falling apart.  

In Traditional Marriage:  This instance is where the notion of Natural Family Planning and the absence of any form of artificial contraception is key.  When in a marriage between a  man and a woman, the presence of a contraceptive essentially says this: “I love you darling.  I love all of you.  Except your fertility.  Because nothing would be worse to me than having another one of you running around.”  Instead, by removing contraception and being open to both the unitive and procreative aspects of marriage, the husband and wife say “Take all of me.  Here is everything, including my fertility.  Here are my future children.  The grey hairs they will cause you when they run a muck in the church pew.  The cost of their school.  Our shared tears and laughter.  My hip replacement.  Our retirement plans.   Because you are more than just a body for my pleasure – you are a soul and body which I love totally.”  

Personified by Christ:  This is where Christ shows us true and total love.  When in the garden, he sweats drops of blood because of the agony anticipated in the slow death and torture on the cross.  Yet he says, “Not my will but thy will be done.”  This is total giving.  Giving one’s all for the benefit of the other and holding nothing back.  Blessed Charles de Foucland (1858-1916) penned the prayer, “I love you Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands, without reserve and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.  Amen.”

Not Seen in Homosexual Unions:  The totality required of a marriage is lost when applied to homosexual unions.  There are two good analogies that I have heard this explained in layman’s term.  The first is that one cannot appreciate a gift they already have.  If I own my favorite movie of all time already, when someone gives me that favorite movie as a gift for my birthday, I will not appreciate that gift.  After all, I already own that movie.  A second ownership of the same object is pointless.  Similarly, in the natural world, the two ends of a magnet only connect if they have something that the other does not.  The polar opposite ends connect because they offset each other.  The two southern poles never connect – they each possess what the other has.  Thus, in a homosexual union, one cannot give the totality of oneself to another – because that man already has masculinity as part of his genetic makeup, or that woman already possess femininity both physically and mentally by her very nature as a woman.

Characteristic Number Three: Faithful 

Definition: Once again said more eloquently than I could ever hope for, Christopher West says, “Faithful love is love that is committed.  That commitment guides all other actions.  You keep your promises once you have made them, no matter how your feelings may change.”

Perseverance even in
the face of adversity

In Traditional Marriage:  True marriage is living one’s wedding vows every day.  I cannot speak from experience here, but I know from observation alone that this is not the easiest thing to do.  There are (or may be in the future, depending on your state of life) days when the feeling of infatuation simply isn’t there anymore.  You realize that the honey moon is over and there the supposed love of your life is, lying in bed snoring while dirty socks decorate your room like stinky, old confetti.  It is in these times that you have to put your nose to the grindstone and decide that love, despite what Hollywood will so convincingly try to portray, is not an emotion but an action and devoted decision.

Personified by Christ:  Once again to the crucifix, we see Christ’s faithful love.  Despite the ease of simply saying, “Well guys, I think I’ve proved my point here” and walking off the cross, Christ hung on the cross until the last breath of air fell from His lips.  He can sympathize with our pain, but also with our struggle to endure in faithful love, even when the going gets tough.

Not Seen in Homosexual Unions: The Catholic Church is not being a prude by saying that homosexuality does not line up with God’s plan for the human heart, soul and body.  Instead, it calls all people (regardless of sexual tendencies) to a life of purity.  It is calling you to live as you were created – to be God’s.  Any marriage would not be functioning properly if one spouse was continually cheating on the other.  Similarly, the marriage cannot work if the union itself constantly cheats the other out of who they are able to be in the light of Christ’s redemptive love. Homosexuality never allows both parties to daily renew the wedding vows because the very act of homosexual physical relations are not marital.  This is not to say that those who struggle with homosexual tendencies are evil people who deserve final damnation.  They simply are looking in the wrong places for authentic and faithful love.

Characteristic Number Four: Fruitful

Definition: This characteristic is self explanatory.  Love that is truly fruitful is constantly open to life.  It is open to both the sides of physical fertility, procreation, and the raising of children, but also open to the life of Christ in the spiritual life of the couple.

In Traditional Marriage:  The Catholic Church never defines how many children a couple must have for a “authentic Catholic” marriage.  However, the Catholic Church does establish the fact that the couple needs to be open to children from the moment “I do” is said.  This means an absence of contraceptives of any sort, despite any perceived exception.  Responsible spacing of children is advised with the help of Natural Family Planning, the method that uses the woman’s cycle to track fertile and infertile times.  If the presence of contraceptives is in the marriage, both the nature of the unitive and procreative aspects of marriage is destroyed.  This only applies to marriages that deliberately block the procreative side of life and fertility.  The naturally infertile couple is not willing infertility.  Yet any marriage that reduces one or both of the parties down to an object for the other’s sexual pleasure is violating the fruitful characteristic

Be open to Christ’s life in your marriage and family.  

Personified in Christ: Christ’s love for His Church is always open to life.  Pope Francis spoke on this subject a homily on June 2, 2014.  The love of Christ, he said, “makes the Church fruitful” by her children through the sacraments of Baptism.  “This culture of well-being from ten years ago has convinced us: ‘it’s better not to have children!  It’s better!  you can go explore the world, go on holiday, you can have a villa in the countryside, you can be care-free…it might be better, more comfortable to have a dog, two cats and love that goes to the cats and dogs.  Is this true or is it not?  have you seen it?  Then, in the end this marriage comes to old age and solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness.  It is not fruitful  It does not do what Jesus does with his Church.  He makes his Church fruitful.”

Not Seen in Homosexual Unions: Not matter how much perceived emotional love that occurs between two members of the same sex, life can never be produced.  Two men, no matter how they try, will never be able to produce a child without the assistance of a woman, and the help of modern medicine.  Biologically, the fruitful aspect of the homosexual union can easily be pointed out as non-existent.

To read more on the free, total, faithful and fruitful love as taught by the incredible Saint Pope John Paul II, read the Theology of the Body online here.  For more Christopher West, go here.  For discussion on the topic of TOB, you don’t have to go anywhere though, the comment box is right below.

Si vis amari ama,

Chloe M. 

Which politician should I support as a Catholic?

The election season is looming upon us.  TV ads urge us to vote for their candidate.  We come home from work and find our voice mail box blinking with messages of why so-and-so politician is the answer to the nations problems.

In no way is the election on November 4, 2014 a small deal.  This midterm election year has all of the seats in the United House of Representatives open for election, as well as 1/3 of the United State Senate seats open.  In terms of governor positions, 36 of the 50 states will be voting on who will lead them at the state level.  

Despite the fact that the presidential ticket will not be on the poll, these house and senate elections play a large roll in the legislature that will be passed in the coming years.  

So, this begs the question : How do we vote as Catholics?

This is an age old question.  In fact, a question that even Catholics themselves do not know.  In the 2012 election year, Barack Obama and Joe Biden gathered 47% of the Caucasian Catholic votes, and ultimately won the presidential election.   However, to put this percentage in context, the Obama/Biden ticket only won 34% of the Caucasian Protestant vote.  

Can Catholics vote Democrat?  Should Catholics always vote Republican?  Can someone be a fully faithful, practicing member of the Catholic Church and still with good conscience vote for the lesser of two evils in a political election race?

It is at this time that another question should be answered.  Are we aligned to our political party first, Catholic second?  Or Catholic first, political affiliation second? 

Saint Thomas More, patron saint of Lawyers and Politicians, was born in London in the year 1478.  He focused his primary studies on religion and the study of classic literature.  He then attended Oxford, where he underwent legal studies.  Upon the completion of these studies, his intelligence and quick wit landed him a job in Parliament.  Before he was 40 years old, he had already written the famous book “Utopia.”  Eventually, King Henry VIII gave him the position of Lord Chancellor in the year 1529.  

Thomas only held the job for three years before he resigned from the position because of a heated debate rising over the issues of King Henry’s marriage and the Pope’s position as head of the Church.  Only two years later, Thomas refused to swear allegiance to King Henry, who now claimed possession to the title of “Head of the Church of England.”

He was convicted of treason.  He was told by the court that he would be put to death.  These were no easy times, easy choices or a situation of comfort.  But invasive Catholicism does not shirk from responsibility when the going gets tough.  As Thomas stood and faced the people of England on July 6, 1535, he told those present that he was being killed as “the King’s good servant but God’s first.” 

“The King’s good servant……but God’ first.”

Can this be applied to today’s situation that voting Catholics find themselves in?  I would have to say yes.

Is there a blanket answer to the political parties that are in power today?  No.  There are, however, major marking points to which candidates can be held up to for comparison purposes.  The first of these is the undeniable right to life that should be respected in each person – from womb to tomb.  

The first issue that comes to mind with the term “respect life” is that of abortion.  Concerning the party of the Democrats, this issue is an interesting one, to say the least. 

Michael Sean Winters is the author of Left at the Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics.  In an article entitled “Dear Democratic Catholics,” Winter pointed out the irony of the support of abortion coming from the Democratic party.  

“Even though I know the history, it remains a mystery to me that a party committed to the downtrodden, to those who are voiceless, to protecting the weak, could have failed to recognize that their concern should be extended to the unborn. I can understand, and sympathize with, a woman who feels an abortion is a remedy to an unwanted pregnancy. I cannot understand, and have no sympathy, with the idea that this decision is right. Here we see again the evil consequences of replacing a substantive ethic of the good with a formal ethics of rights. The issue is, for me, and for all Catholics, first and foremost an issue of justice. This failure to protect the weak does not only run contrary to Catholic teaching, it runs counter to the entire humane impulses of the Democratic Party. And, the moral imperative to confront this failure finds ample warrant in our Scriptures. This past Sunday, we heard in the Letter of St. James that we Christians are called to special concern for the widow and the orphan. Who is more a widow than an unwed mother, abandoned by the man who got her pregnant? Who is more an orphan than the child who is unwelcomed even before her birth?”

When judging a candidate, one has to realize that no matter how much he/she supports job growth, clean streets, responsibly funded schools or a good environment, if they support abortion one cannot in good conscience vote for them.  Who will good job positions be filled with if the future job earners are murdered in their mother’s womb?  Who will walk down clean streets in the future?  Will the desks at these well funded schools be empty?  A clean earth and no children’s laughter?

Beautifully,though, unlike many unified groups, the Catholic Church is not founded on the terms and definitions of a political party, the color of one’s skin, or heritage.  What we do draw our sense of community from is the fact that each and every one of us, despite what party affiliation we favor, are formed, created and living as images of God, the creator and lover of our souls.  We thus should be Catholics first, politically involved second.  We are called to demand honesty, transparency and responsibility from all candidates.  We are called to actively research and discern the weight of each vote in any type of election.

Because any election, rather at state level or national level, is ultimately selecting a person who represents you and what your values are.  Our vote should support  people who represent us and the values of Catholicism.  

The answer then is to learn the sides and full stories of both candidates and then to compare them to the Catholic conscience.  Parties aside, we must vote in order to protect the inherent rights to life,liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Rights given not by any legislature, presidential candidate or party.  But rights given by a God who we are called to know, love and serve.

Vote.  But vote wisely.  

Si vis amari ama,

Chloe M.