Catholic Spirituality, Evangelization

Making disciples

July 28, 2016

“Youth Ministry, as traditionally organized, has also suffered the impact of social changes. Young people often fail to find responses to their concerns, needs, problems and hurts in the usual structures. As adults, we find it hard to listen patiently to them, to appreciate their concerns, demands, and to speak to them in a language they can understand.” – Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium

A couple of months ago, back before my world compressed into a tunnel of moving boxes, copious handfuls of vitamins and lots of Netflix, I had a conversation with a friend who has created something that fascinates me.

Everett Fritz is a speaker, author, and fellow FUS grad who has worked most of his adult life in youth ministry. The past 5 years have been spent working with this particular model – both as a program developer for the Augustine Institute and in exercising best practices in small group discipleship in several parishes around Denver. And the model works; the stories from his students paint a clear picture.

As we chatted on the phone and he explained the vision he has for his new ministry – St. Andrew Missionaries – memories drifted back to me from my own experience in high school youth group. I was really involved as a teen, because ding ding ding, the boy I liked was a youth group regular, as was his popular older brother. So I went religiously. (Har har.)

Every pizza social, every lock-in, every service project. I was your girl.

I played all the games of chubby bunny, I drank all the root beer floats, and I snuck all the late night cigarettes on the roof of the cabin we’d been assigned to for the retreat weeken-wait, is that not the point of youth ministry?

My memory is of 99% fluff and maybe 1% content. I think we went into the church itself to listen to praise and worship once, the boom box blasting Twyla Tharp or Newsboys while we sat in a semicircle around the altar.

My faithful attendance every Sunday night at 7 pm did not, for all the boxes and boxes of pizza consumed and all the ice breakers performed, ensure a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church. Did not, as best as I can remember, communicate a single meaningful thing to me about the faith. 

I did not learn how to pray. I did not prepare adequately to receive the sacrament of Confirmation. (I thought it was an opportunity to stand by the cute boy for the group photo with the bishop.) I did not make good Confessions. I don’t actually remember if we talked about the Sacrament of Reconciliation at all, come to think of it.

And now, 15 or so years removed from the experience, I know of 2 other former members of that youth group who are still practicing Catholics. Out of 35 of us.

That isn’t good enough.

Everett said this in a recent post on his own blog:

In order to meet the basic needs of our young people, we cannot continue to use the same failed paradigms that haven’t been working in our Church for the past several decades. Youth need mentors and examples in the faith – they don’t need silly games, empty teachings and stale pizza. Our Church has to learn to shift its approach with young people from youth groups and/or classrooms into discipleship based structures where every young person has a mentoring relationship.

That last piece is what saved me, is what brought me to my senses and brought me home, finally, coaxing me back through the church doors not just in a physical return, but a whole-hearted spiritual and emotional return.

It was a relationship with a mentor, a FOCUS missionary who invested in me and believed that I deserved to have a personal relationship with Jesus and with my faith. And who believed that it was the beauty and truth of Catholicism that would ultimately draw me in: not a conference (which can be amazing!) or a pizza party (which has a place in the grand scheme of things) or another ropes course (can be fun I’ve heard! Not very outdoorsy.)

That’s what Everett is trying to do, but with kids who are younger than I was. With high schoolers who’ve yet to abandon their churchgoing practices after flying the parental nest, who are still actively engaged in their faith, who want to go deeper.

It gets better though, because the way Everett is building up these small discipleship groups is with and through engagement with the parents. Working with the pastor and existing youth staff to identify key leaders in the parish youth scene, St. Andrew Missionaries then approaches the parents of the suggested teens directly, and invites them into the process, explaining the discipleship model and what kind of buy in is necessary on their part.

From there, from natural and existing relationships between the lead teen and his or her friends, the groups come together: intimate, focused, and centered on intentional growth in a maturing relationship with Christ.

Of course, he makes it sounds a little more fun than that. But the purpose of these discipleship groups is to make disciples. To make adult Christian whose core identities are rooted in Jesus and whose dispositions are focused outward on evangelization and mission.

Sounds pretty amazing, right?

That’s what I thought, too. Because while there are amazing things happening in Catholic youth ministry in some places, in many, many parishes the scene is almost identical to what I experienced in my youth.

The New Evangelization can do better than this. And must, if it is to succeed. This week all eyes are on Poland where Pope Francis is celebrating with a million youth from around the globe, walking in the pilgrim footsteps of that consummate apostle to youth, St. John Paul the Great. I thought it would be the perfect time to introduce you to St. Andrew Missionaries, and to invite you to learn more about Everett and his mission, which is devoted to a series of projects that will assist parishes in developing small group discipleship for high school youth and their families.

What makes this mission unique is that all training services and consulting will be offered to dioceses and parishes for next to nothing. The organization is able to do this because each of its staff members will be missionaries – raising their own salary through a mission support team (much like what FOCUS, Generation Life, and Adore Ministries do).

So what about you guys, what were your experiences of youth ministry like? Did you have a life-changing encounter with Jesus at a retreat, through a relationship with your youth minister? At a Steubenville youth conference or at World Youth Day?

Do you have a young person in your life who could benefit from something like St. Andrew Missionaries?

(To join Everett’s ministry support team, click here. The first project for St. Andrew Missionaries will launch in Fall 2016. Follow Everett on Facebook here.)

st andrew

Catholic Spirituality, Culture of Death, Evangelization, motherhood, Parenting, sin, social media, Suffering

The news is still good

July 25, 2016

The other evening I found myself cruising down one of the main drags through town, passing a swath of car dealerships on my drive through south Denver. The massive American flags that adorn their lots were all hung at half mast, whipping in a late summer thunderstorm, and as I passed them all in a row I flipped through a mental catalogue of disasters and tragedies, wondering which they referred to.

Was it Paris? Istanbul? Dallas? Baton Rouge? Munich? What horrifying thing has recently happened that I’m forgetting?

The thing is, the flags are always at half mast lately, and it’s hard to keep up with why. Not because any of these tragedies aren’t enough on their own to stand out as moments to grieve and self-reflect as a nation, but because they’re coming so fast and furious that it’s becoming less and less possible to keep track of what exactly we’re in a national state of mourning over.

I’m done trying to follow along.

Not because I don’t care, but because we seem to have crossed a threshold into a state of continual mourning, and the news of late – and the need to mourn for real, precious human lives snuffed out – is so horrifically large that it is, in my opinion, beyond what any one human heart can handle.

There is a real and present danger of social media making us less social, not more so. A strange thing to write on the internet, but an observation I’m becoming more confidant in by the day. As a finite human creature with a limited capacity for understanding, I don’t posses the necessary bandwidth to handle all the bad news from all the places. Not if I want to be effective in any real capacity in my actual, daily responsibilities.

There are moments I can clearly remember as rooted in terrible, show-stopping horror that left an entire nation paralyzed in grief and fascination and rage: Columbine, April 20th, 1999; September 11th, 2001. I remember every detail of those days: the color of the sky, the plaid comforter in my boyfriend’s dorm room where we’d all stopped on our way to class to gather around a tiny tv screen and make sense of the images coming across the airwaves, the low hum of a mini fridge stocked with frozen pizzas and gatorade the only noise in a cramped room crowded with nearly a dozen 18 year-olds.

But we are not meant to stay there, in that place of stuck, shocked, sorrowing, and scared. You cannot live in that place. There’s no life there. We can – and we must – pause, bow our heads, say a prayer … but then we must move on.

Because the only real way that I can combat evil in this world is by living out my particular vocation to my greatest possible ability. If I am actively seeking and responding to God’s particular will for my life, I can change the world.

But flipping channels won’t achieve that.

Whipping my internal dialogue into a frenzy of anxiety and despair after consuming “just one more” video stream about such and such situation unfolding live, watching endless content covering bodycounts, hostage negotiations, memorial vigils, and the like is not going to make me a better wife, a kinder mother, a more attentive neighbor.

When I spend my grief out into the diffused ether of Someone Else’s Tragedy, consuming facts and figures and details I don’t really have the right to know, in the first place, I am made impotent in my own little world, drained of the energy and peace that are essential to my primary vocation.

(And this is not to say that mourning for – and always, always, praying for – strangers is ineffective and unnecessary. It is neither of those. But there must be moderation, for our own sakes, and for the sake of those who depend directly on us for security and care.)

Someone told me once that one of the primary responsibilities of a parent is to secure the peace and sanctity of the home for our children’s sakes.

Am I doing that when I mindlessly glut on the Breaking News Situation du jour? Can I really shift my mind from scenes of massacre and chaos to nursery rhymes and reading sessions and diaper changes?

I am not God.

I cannot take in an infinite amount of information and an endless stream of chaotic grief and remain unchanged.

I can try to be like God. I can attempt to fill my finite mind with enough streamed content to overwhelm an external hard drive.

But I won’t remain unscathed.

I am a human being. I have a limited capacity for horror, and a propensity to paralysis and hopeless anxiety when that threshold is violated. Which it is. Routinely, if I allow myself to consume as much content as is available.

I have noticed a direct correlation between my own ability to unplug and my capacity for intimate, personal engagement with real life neighbors, friends, my children, and my spouse.

Even worse, overwhelmed and numbed by chaos and horror, I may withdraw into an apathetic “I can’t look at that so I’ll pretend it isn’t happening” posture, tucking my head down and staring into the infinity of a smartphone and an endless list of open browser tabs, searching for something, anything, to distract me from the pain of too much reality.

I am not advocating for withdrawing from the world, or even from refusing to watch or read the news. But I am advocating for judicious moderation, especially in these increasingly dark and frantic times.

We needn’t be consumed by the evils rampant in the world, not 24 hours a day.

Aware? Yes. Vigilant? Certainly? But over and above all else, at peace.

Unshakable, Gospel-centered peace that Jesus is Lord, that we are not in charge of our own salvation, even in a temporal sense, and that allowing an endless stream of horror and hatred to filter into our living rooms and emanate from our pockets is no way to be salt and light to a hurting world.

The world needs us to be Christ. And we are not infinite. We are not divine. We must take the gifts He’s given us, accept the grace He pours out, and then boldly go out into our neighborhoods and streets, proclaiming the Good News. And it is still good. He’s still there.

Though the world be burning down all around us, at least from what the cable news channels would have us think, Jesus is still Lord. And if we keep our eyes fixed on Him alone – no small “if” in a world so filled with distraction and pain – He will lead us to a peace that surpasses all understanding.

It is a peace the world does not know. But it’s one I’m desperate to know. So I must fix my eyes on the One who can, and will, deliver it.

Peace be with you.

Lent tv

Catholics Do What?, Evangelization, JPII, Pope Francis

Why World Youth Day still matters

July 21, 2016

The Pope is on Instagram, and the world is flat. Flatter far than it was back in the 1980s when Pope St. John Paul II first conceived of an international gathering of Catholic youth to come together to meet Christ, along with the Holy Father, for a powerful encounter of truly catholic communion with one another and with the Church.

Spain, Germany, America, Australia…there have been 13 international world youth days to date, and the crowds – multitudes, as John Paul the Great preferred to call them – keep growing.

But why does it matter in 2016? Can’t the average high school junior with a smartphone pull up the Pope’s Twitter feed and see what’s on his mind? Hasn’t Snapchat made the ability to physically gather in person an obsolete relic of the past?

Not so fast.

There is something almost incommunicable about the catholicity of Catholicism if you’ve never experienced the Faith outside of your own culture. And there is something critically important about having a personal encounter with the Faith. Something that no amount of virtual connectivity can ever hope to replicate.

I remember the first time I heard Mass in another language. I was young – too young to remember the specifics – but it was in a California Mission church, and the Mass was in Spanish. While the unfamiliar words washed over me I remember the little jolt of familiarity and joy when the consecration still happened after the Our Father, when hands reached across pews to shake and to hug during the Sign of Peace.

Several years older and several thousand miles away, I heard the Mass in Latin for the first time, in a grand medieval cathedral in Ireland, and I experienced once again that joyful recognition of sameness in the liturgy.

We’re all one. The Church really is universal! I remember marveling, even as a sullen 17 year old who was more interested in the lack of a legal drinking age than in the culture and history of that beautiful country.

I’ve heard other people’s stories about their own “aha, we’re huge” moments: Steubenville conferences, international trips, pilgrimages to Rome. Walking through the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time, completely overwhelmed by the sheer size of it, and secondarily by the sights and sounds of a hundred other cultures funneling into one grand sanctuary.

And the big one, for young people, is World Youth Day. There is an unspeakable power to seeing the Holy Father in the flesh, the charism of the papacy made incarnate in a joyful overwhelm of familiarity and relationship. He really is our father. And the grace of office is palpable.

Our young people need to be transformed by an encounter with the living Christ. In the worlds of my favorite saint,

“It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle.

It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.”

This is a living faith. A faith worth fighting for. A faith worth committing to and sacrificing out of love for, in spite of the demands and denials of the world.

And the millennial generation were a source of great hope for JPII. He didn’t see slackers and gamers, a generation destined to live in basements and occupy parental couches. He saw hope. He saw the future of the Church. He saw world-changers and hope-bringers. And above and before all that, he saw future saints.

And now World Youth Day, in it’s 14th iteration, comes home to it’s founder’s roots: Krakow, Poland. From July 26-31.

St. John Paul II could never have imagined how the world would flatten and transform in the 31 years since he first called together 300,000 youthful pilgrims in Rome, but surely he will be watching from his heavenly vantage point as his beloved Poland hosts more than a million young Catholics from around the globe, spilling into the very streets he walked, come to encounter the person of Jesus Christ and His present day vicar on earth, Pope Francis.

So in the lead up to WYD, we pray for protection and for a profound outpouring of the Holy Spirit on these young pilgrims. St. John Paul II, pray for us. Pray for the youth from the nations around this weary world who have been called to Poland, answering a pilgrim’s invitation to experience the universal church in a literal, tangible way. Pray that they would find Jesus whom they seek, who alone can satisfy.”

(And hey Papa, it looks like some of your opening acts are already getting warmed up.)

World_Youth_Day_2013_in_Rio_Michelle_Bauman_CNA

Family Life, motherhood, Parenting

Someday they’ll stop asking

July 18, 2016

Hey, is this thing still on?

Welp here we are, 2 weeks later and not even a new baby or an international trip to show for it. But a much, much needed respite from blogging and all things internet-related was had by me, courtesy of the punishing process of home-buying in a seller’s market and a mild case of adult chicken pox, just to spice things up.

I feel better now. But my doctor warned me with a waggling eyebrow to chill out and get a handle on that stress, else I wanted to be a 33 year old woman with, well, stress-related illnesses. More on that later. The chilling out part, not the stress-related illness part.

So, where was I?

Ah yes. Last night around 10pm. Kids abed, but the biggest boys only just. (Something about weekends and popsicles and the sun staying up so dang long has pushed and pushed and pushed bedtime until the precious sliver of adult swim between diapering, teeth-brushing and cuddling and my own unconscious head hitting the pillow has been whittled to nil.)

Dave swung his head into our room to ask me “the usual,” which is our shorthand for “mommy kisses and cuddles,” performed after the exhaustive storytelling and wrestling routine that is daddy’s domain. He gave me a nonchalant smile, “I told them I’d ask, but that you’d probably give the standard reply.” And then he was off to find his book and a nightcap of peanutbutter from a spoon.

I meant to shrug and roll over, resuming my Kindle session, but I couldn’t get my head back in the book. About 5 minutes later I heaved myself reproachfully out of bed and padded downstairs, making my way into the room we affectionately refer to as “the troll cave.”

It smells and resembles such.

I knew they’d be long asleep, and that they’d be sleeping so hard that nothing I could do would wake them, should I have wanted to. I also knew I’d be free to whisper, tousle bleached blonde hair, and stroke still baby-soft cheeks without wiggling and farting noises and getting drawn into a wrestling match. It’s easy to be a tender-hearted mother while they’re sleeping.

I stood in the dark troll cave and whispered my dreams for their futures in their sweaty little ears, telling them what good and strong and joyful boys they are. That God has a great plan for their lives. That they are on an amazing adventure. That I was sorry for million ways I’d failed them that day.

After a few minutes I made my way back upstairs, flicking lights off and closing down the house for the first night shift. A teething baby has made uninterrupted sleep patterns once again a thing of the past, but I’m hopeful that this too shall pass.

Because this, too, has already passed. Is already in the past. I’ve had too many moments with each baby slip away into the hazy recesses of time, all but irretrievable, blurring together in a storm of exhaustion and endurance.

And even though every season of parenting can feel like It Will Surely Be the End of Me…it does pass. And like a hormone-addled idiot, I sometimes find myself longing for the sweeter moments that were present there too, alongside the hardship, because once they’re gone, they really are gone. Having 4 kids hasn’t made me more immune to the transient wonder of a crawling baby in the house, sending a panicked flurry of door and babygate-slamming adults fanning out in his trajectory, trying in vain to intercept any and all danger. Luke started crawling last weekend, and you would have thought he was not only my first baby, but the first baby I’d ever seen, period, to rise up on hands and knees and drunkenly careen into sliding glass doors and under end tables.

So last night when I got back into our bedroom and Dave smiled at me over his book and asked what I’d been doing, I told him.

“Someday they’re going to stop asking for me to come in and kiss them.”

And when that day comes, I don’t want to look back and hang my head over all the times I was too tired to say “yes.” I want to smile as we move into a new stage of late-night ice cream bowls and heart to hearts during drive time, remembering when they were tiny and slept like hibernating bears, and I could lavish them with kisses and cuddles and tell them they were my sweet babies.

Doesn’t mean I’ll say yes every time they ask, by any means. Mama’s still wrecked after a long summer day of full contact parenting. But I want to say yes most of the time. And I want them to remember the yeses.

So here’s to doing better. Upward and onward.

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About Me, Evangelization, Family Life, motherhood, Parenting, toddlers

Grocery shopping with kids, and other small sufferings

July 5, 2016

They only occasionally nap together still. Today I figured, still hopped up on legal fireworks lit well into the 10 o’clock hour last night and an endless infusion of high fructose corn syrup and food dyes, would be a rare quad-nap opportunity. Perhaps the last of an era, with the eldest kindergarten-bound in August.

No such luck.

I’ve threatened to pull the plug on Netflix indefinitely, held out the specter of a week without popsicles, and made various empty threats about skipping the zoo with grandma tomorrow, and still they lurk in the shadows, popping up from the basement to inform me of waking nightmares, spooky noises, uncomfortable Star Wars pillowcases lacking sufficient starch, and a host of other ailments too ridiculous to recount here.

I just disciplined thin air. Head whipping around at the sound of crinkling plastic, I barked at a grocery bag to “get downstairs if it ever wanted to play with Toby across the street again.”

My bad, grocery bag. We’re well into mommy PTSD territory now.

Still, when they do awaken for the 43 time from this “nap,” I will probably load them into the car and head to the library down the road. I will probably not put on makeup before lugging the double stroller out of the trunk and filling it with babies and overdue batman comic books, (and actually, this really great YA fantasy novel from Raymond Arroyo that is guaranteed to scratch a lingering Harry Potter itch if there are any other recovering fans out there in blogland) and we’ll stumble into the air conditioned oasis of learning and distraction and at least one or two mom/nannies will raise eyebrows and give a verbal salute to the insanity of taking multiple children anywhere in public.

And I will smile.

Because they will be right, and because it is hard. So is hitting up the doctor’s office and the pharmacy back to back with octopuses leaning out the cart, swiping foodstuffs from shelves left and right and hoping against reasonable hope that today will be the day mom forks over $5.99 for the lego star wars mad libs in the stationary aisle. Dare to dream, little ones. Dare to dream.

Raising children is a lot of work. It’s worthwhile work, but it’s grueling. I feel like those two things go hand in glove more often than not.

I have no lesson to share. I have no happy ending for today. My kids are a hot mess of needs, and I am a hot mess of frustration and pain from a viral illness I thought only people in nursing homes could contract. I cannot call in a sub, hit time out, or free myself from the next 4 hours of life. At least not responsibly, given that I’m the only adult home.

And I wish I could spin this into some fluffy parable about redemptive suffering and the privilege of being a mother, but while those things are real and true, they’re not always in the forefront of my sucks-at-suffering brain.

Nevertheless, I do have a few gems of experience to polish and throw out onto the internet, in case nobody else has explicitly told you these things before.

First, doing errands with kids probably won’t kill you. It will make everything take longer, but it will also create a magical time-sucking portal in your day whereby you can burn 1, 2 or even 3 hours of prime whine-time real estate out in the wild public square instead of your own backyard. Maybe this is a downside for some? But my kids seem to thrive in public settings. Perhaps because we have done so many things as a family unit, minus daddy, for so many years. They’re 100 times more likely to tantrum at home than abroad, and for whatever reason, the gas station and the grocery store are 100 times more interesting to them than their own playroom. Go figure.

Second, people need to see moms doing stuff with their kids in public. When I walk into Whole Foods with half a preschool class and a dead eye stare on my face  smile for anyone to see, I’m sending a very simple message just by existing. It’s something along the lines of, “hi, we’re a biggish family. We come in peace. Where are your sparkle waters and diaper wipes, por favor?”  Why, I’ve trained a whole cadre of food service industry professionals in a 5-mile radius to hardly startle at all, at least visibly, when we walk into their establishment.

Third, my life is actually really easy. Maybe yours is too? I can say this with boldness because even with a teething baby in the house, the aforementioned elderly viral illness, and a pair of cracked out 4th of July sugar junkies “sleeping” downstairs, my life is really easy.

I have very little actual suffering to my name thus far. I’ve had the usual share of heartaches, disappointments, wounds, and losses to bear, but in the grand scheme of things, my house is not going to get torched by militants, my children are not going to starve to death, and I’m (probably) not going to die in a terrorist attack. There are so many suffering souls in this troubled world of ours, and it is good for those of us who live privileged lives to embrace the small suffering we do encounter and bear it, if not well, than at least adequately. And yes, it’s pathetic that my suffering involves trips to the dentist and pained attempts at daily Mass spent mostly kneeling in the vestibule angry-whispering, but you’ve got to work with what you have.

Finally, people are really, really good. They are! Deep down most people want to interact with you in a positive way, even if they think the proper foray is a question about your sex life. I can count the truly mean-spirited comments on one hand, and that’s in 6 years of motherhood. I cannot count the positive comments, because they’re well into the hundreds. If you go out in public with your children, I can almost guarantee someone is going to smile and say something so undeservingly good to you that you might choke back tears.

Agree? Disagree? Rather have a root canal than take your kids into the liquor store for a bottle of wine and a handful of suckers? I know at least one of my sisters will read this and shake her head over my gluttony for punishment here, but surely I am not all alone.

bottle service

Catholic Spirituality, Evangelization, Family Life, JPII, motherhood, Parenting, Theology of the Body

Theology of Little Bodies

June 29, 2016

St. John Paul II is my homeboy 4 life. When I have trouble connecting the present moments to eternity, when I wonder how the life after this one could be better/richer/fuller, sometimes it’s the thought of meeting him and falling into his arms for a giant bear hug that reorients me correctly towards heaven.

I’m so grateful, then, to have his intercession from above and his seminal work here on earth, the Theology of the Body (TOB – a series of teachings St. John Paul II gave on human life, love and sexuality – 129 in total – over a 5 year span at the beginning of his pontificate), as a roadmap for this exhausted mother with children who are growing, seeking, asking questions and expecting increasingly complex answers. Even at 4 and 5. Even at 2. (Not so much at 10 months though, but Luke, you know mommy loves you too.)

I don’t have a perfected “method” for beginning to communicate the timeless truths contained in the masterpiece of TOB to people without an advanced theology degree, let alone the ability to write their own names, but happily, that doesn’t seem to matter. Kids are great BS detectors. It’s an innate survival mechanism or something. And they’re equally great truth-receivers. So if you tell them something that is true, they tend to accept it more readily than we world-weary skeptics who wear big boy pants and pay bills do.

The biggest hurdles I have encountered in communicating matters of faith and morals to my children have been my own ego, laziness, and the inertia of daily life.

For example, “Am I doing this right? Is this a great catechetical technique? Can they tell I’m making this up as I go along?” all actually much, much less important than my doing the thing in the first place: having the conversation, answering the hard question honestly, giving a ready and imperfect answer in the moment rather than kicking the can to a more comfortable moment down the road in some nebulous future where I sip placidly on chamomile while discussing Plato’s Republic round the breakfast table.

It’s easy, too, to just lumber along in an unending series of days, lessons, errands, and chores, forgetting that our kids are learning from us as we go along, and that for most parents, the primary transmission of the Faith to the children we’re trying to keep alive will not take place in a lecture setting.

Far from it. There is public nudity and screaming and lots of broken bits of water balloon strewn about the yard while I bark reminders of dignity, modesty, and respecting the neighbors’ point of view. Enhanced (or not) this summer in particular by a critical absence of 5 feet of fence between our yards.

We’ve always tried to speak very honestly about bodies, about the differences between bodies and the dignity we afford to one another and to ourselves, from an early age. They know the proper terms for male and female genitalia. Which I am more or less glad for, but mostly less when checking out at the grocery store. At bath time we remind all butts on deck to treat their siblings with the utmost respect, because God created each of them – body and soul – for a magnificent mission that only they can fulfill. And that they have been created as a gift to the world by a God who loves them, and that their body is part of that gift.

Also, lots and lots of reminders to please put on some underwear.

I’ve heard of a few existing resources for teaching TOB to little people, but haven’t used any of them myself yet. (Here, and here (coming soon) have been suggested to me.)

The basic truths from TOB I’m hoping to communicate them, in whatever way I can hope to achieve while they’re all still south of the age of reason, are these:

Your body is good,

You are your body, just as much as you are your soul, (and you’re in control of that body. So pick up those Legos.)

God has a specific plan for your life, and your body contains the blueprints for it,

God created us, men and women, in His own image, in order to tell us specific things about Himself (in other words: gender is important, intentional, and immutable.)

Anything beyond that gets through to them?  I’m counting it as gravy, at least until middle school.

Any great resources out there I’m missing for starting to lay the foundation for Theology of the Body with little ones?

TOB for kids

Abortion, Bioethics, Culture of Death, politics, sin, social media, Suffering

Abortion {still} isn’t healthcare

June 27, 2016

It’s not. And in an ironic convergence of worldviews, I can see why SCOTUS would overturn a Texas law requiring certain minimum medical standards be met by abortion clinics.

Because abortion isn’t healthcare.

Which is why, I suppose, the Supreme Court refuses to hold abortion clinics to the same standards as other ambulatory surgery centers or, as it turns out, Botox clinics.

Makes sense, if what goes on behind closed (filthy, substandard, unhygienic) clinic doors isn’t under the purvey of actual healthcare, anyway.

Because abortion isn’t healthcare.

And since abortion isn’t healthcare, and women’s lives are less valuable than, say, the political capital to be gained in such a move by SCOTUS, overriding common sense and biological reality in the name of so-called reproductive freedom, then the ruling makes perfect sense.

Because abortion isn’t healthcare.

And it is more essential that we remove any barriers – even those pertaining to minimum standards for a surgical facility –  so that women may avail themselves of the opportunity to have their fetuses forcibly evacuated from their wombs, than that we pause in any manner of regard for the woman’s health.

Let’s put aside the immorality of abortion for a moment. Abortion, which isn’t healthcare.

And let’s speak of the procedure in a vacuum, as it were, leaving aside the obvious, ludicrously-demonstrable humanity of the baby, and focus solely on the invasive surgical procedure of a second trimester abortion.

And let us examine why it is that today, a friend I know will check into a major hospital for a dilation and curettage (D&C) procedure to evacuate her womb of the remains of her precious unborn baby, now deceased several weeks, in order that her body will  heal properly following a tragic miscarriage.

She will be attended by a trained, competent surgeon who passed her medical boards and is in good standing at an actual hospital. Her cervix will be dilated by unexpired medicine. A camera will guide her surgeon’s hands as the contents of her uterus are removed, carefully and methodically. Her vitals will be monitored by licensed nurses assistants, and an RN or perhaps a LPN will see to her post op aftercare. She will be accompanied every step of the way by licensed, trained medical professionals who, to the best of their ability, will keep her comfortable, will honor the dignity of her body and the body of her deceased child, and who will maintain the highest standard of medical care.

Because in her case, the surgery to remove her dead baby’s body from her uterus is healthcare.

But abortion isn’t healthcare.

Does SCOTUS recognize this on some unconscious level? That a D&C abortion procedure, unlike the medically-necessary D&C I describe above, is something harmful. Abhorrent. Relegated to a realm of hidden horror which sees neither the obvious humanity of the unborn child victim nor that of the mother herself. 

How else could such a ruling be justified?

How else could a 21st century judicial body – the highest in the land – rationalize the decision to strike down legislation requiring that an abortionist be an attending doctor at an actual hospital, should the procedure incur complications and the need to transport the patient arise. How else could the justification be made that an abortion clinic needn’t meet the same hygienic standards as an outpatient vein clinic, or perhaps a freestanding plastic surgery practice?

Because abortion isn’t healthcare.

And, in a twisted obeisance to reality, the Supreme Court of the United States of America acknowledged that today, by failing to require minimum standards of medical competence – laughably low as they were – that would have at least ensured a higher level of physical protection for women who engage in a practice which is both emotionally and physically catastrophic.

Because abortion isn’t healthcare.

scotus

Bioethics, Catholic Spirituality, Culture of Death, euthanasia, relativism, sin, Suffering

What’s wrong with the world today?

June 23, 2016

I am.

Me, me, meeeeeeee.

GK Chesterton was and is and will be until kingdom comes, right about that.

As any sense of sin and evil and wrongdoing has receded into the background of our collective consciousness, I’ve noticed an alarming uptick in the propensity for people to sling vicious mud at one another all the while maintaining that notions like wrong, evil, and immoral fade into antiquity.

How can a culture embrace atheistic secularism wholesale, jettisoning any shared code of moral ethics, and expect to remain cohesive? How, if there are no objective standards of reality, of common decency, of truth tethered not in fads and feelings but in time-tested knowledge about reality and human nature, can we go forward?

The past several months have seemed increasingly insane. Because the world is going mad.

How can we converse in earnest about women’s safety, bemoaning the rise in rape culture while all the while continuing to protect the “rights” of hardcore pornographers and pimps in the entertainment industry?

How can we pontificate on the horrors of modern day slavery and sex trafficking while continuing to champion – and publicly fund – Planned Parenthood, perhaps the largest corporate enabler in the West of underaged victimization?

How can we champion inclusivity and acceptance for some disabled persons, while actively campaigning for the deaths of others?

Easy. Because we’ve jettisoned our individual consciences.

When human beings outsource morality, which was designed to operate in accordance with a well-formed conscience, we get the tyranny of the now.

When we allow the larger culture to dictate morality back to us rather than speaking wisdom and life into the culture from the knowledge contained in our own soul, meant to be the dwelling place of Wisdom, then we are met with chaos. An anarchy of opinions and competing worldviews, and an utter lack of consensus on what it means to be good, to do good, and to refrain from evil.

If you carry relativism to its logical conclusion, you arrive at a world so totally unmoored from reality that there is hardly room for a conversation about anything of substance.

When we stop informing our own hearts and forming our own consciences with something – Someone – greater than ourselves, we become enslaved to sin. Even if we won’t admit sin exists. 

And only a world bereft of properly-formed consciences and selfish, small hearts (raises hand) could produce times such as those we are living in.

Rejecting the notion of sin has not liberated us, as was promised.

Plugging our ears and closing our eyes to the reality of evil has not rendered for us a more humane planet on which to dwell. If anything, the less religious our society becomes, the more cruel and the more brutal – however masked by convenience and technology – our lives become.

Jettisoning traditional religious practices and a stodgy, smothering Deist worldview was supposed to make us more free. So why then is our society coarsening as we strip away traditional values and reject moral norms?

Because we weren’t made to work this way.

Because original sin.

Because everything that’s wrong with the world we’re living in, past, present, and future, has its locus in human frailty. And the moment I forget that and try to remake myself in some benign, secular post-modern image is the moment I begin to lose sight of my neighbor’s humanity.

Of her needs and her pain. Of her fundamental orientation to love and to be loved, in her entirety. Of the truth that certain rights belong to her, utterly separate from my opinions or ideas about her, by virtue of her human nature itself, created in the image and likeness of a Creator.

Otherwise, if her rights depend upon my capricious appetites and ideas? Quite frankly, she doesn’t stand a chance.

Listen, I believe people can be good and just and noble apart from practicing a traditional religion. But only when they behave accordingly: justly, nobly, and with goodness. And noble pagans such as these are practicing the essence of Christianity, whether or not they acknowledge it as such. And that’s how civilizations flourish. Because without it, there is only suffering.

Plato, in his Republic, said as much: “In all of us, even in good men, there is a lawless wild-beast nature,” and “there is no conceivable folly or crime which . . . when he has parted company with all shame and sense, a man may not be ready to commit.”

This thing we’re giving a go right now here in 2016, with individual “rights” rooted in appetites and passions and personal opinions unmoored from reason or reality, is not gonna fly. And to the extent that I can properly form my conscience and then (the hard part) behave accordingly, I can help to save the world.

Because we each of us, simultaneously, both “what’s wrong with the world,” and also the antidote.

Chesterton was right, And Plato was too. We are what’s wrong.

And we can become what is right, to the extent that each of us makes the effort to form and then follow our consciences, based not in passing trends, but in timeless truths, which are far less likely to be persuaded that some lives, after all, may be more valuable than others.

ocean mercy

Catholic Spirituality, Evangelization, JPII, motherhood

Support a Prodigal {Stefania Elsmore}

June 21, 2016

I’ve had a few lucky breaks in my career slash stay at home mom life slash ministry, which leads me to believe that much of what we call success in this life depends upon the goodness of other people and being in the right place in the right time, plus a dash of talent and more than a dash of hard work, repeated early and often.

I have the gift of this platform to share words and tell stories, and it’s always my goal to be worthy of the microphone I’ve been given. Which of course I am not. But it’s always good to have goals.

Since I hail from Denver, hotbed of the New Evangelization and home to approximately 220 amazing ministries, I get to attend church with, send my kids to school alongside of, and bump into at Costco some of the most passionate evangelists and talented speakers and musicians of the 21st century. Jason Evert (hi, fellow parishioner) recounted in his book “St. John Paul the Great, His 5 Loves” that my favorite Pole, greeted Denver’s Cardinal Stafford 2 months after World Youth Day 1993 with the exclamation “Ah, Denver! The revolution!” in a not so subtle nod to the role he believed the Mile High city would play in the New Evangelization.

Catholic News Agency, FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, ENDOW, the Augustine Institute, the Servants of Christ Jesus, Christ in the City, St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, and the career launches of Christopher West, Chris Stefanick, Jason Evert, Curtis Martin, Ted Sri, Tim Grey, Mary Beth Bonnaci, and dozens I’m probably forgetting right now would seem to underscore the Holy Father’s point; a revolution indeed.

And now another name that I’ve little doubt belongs on the roster: Stefania Elsmore.  A woman with a beautiful voice and a gift for speaking and sharing her heart. And one of only a handful of female Catholic worship leaders who plays, sings and speaks. And she’s from my parish. Lucky us.

Guys, this girl needs to cut an album. And we’re going to help her do it.

I’m putting the button for Stefania’s kickstarter campaign here in this post, and I’m kicking it off with a $10 donation. Because I can give the cost of admission to the pool down the block, and my kids can play in the wading pool for the day instead. If you can share $5, $10, or $100 towards this campaign, I encourage you to do so.

Let’s launch another voice for the New Evangelization, and help Stefania hit her goal of 20k towards a professional studio album that she can share with – and advance her ministry by the sale of – the teens and young adults she loves.

To learn more about Stefania’s music click here.

To fund Stefania’s kickstarter campaign for “Prodigal” click here.

Signed,

another prodigal.

stefania

Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, Evangelization, Marriage, motherhood, Parenting

Drowning in grace: why Catholics practice infant baptism

June 17, 2016

I have a 2 year old who is incorrigible, in the most generous application of the term. If she were a little Austrian boy, her finger would be forever in her teacup. If I tell her to stop, she runs faster. If I yell about staying on the sidewalk, she jumps defiantly off the curb, cackling over her shoulder. I’ve shown her markers on paper and emphasized their fundamental relationship of belonging. I find scribbles on hardwood floors (washable is an accurate descriptor) and on clothing (not so much).

In sum? She needs a lot of encouragement to make good choices. Which is a diplomatic way of identifying her as a class 1 terrorist.

I know she’s not actually bad. She’s just fresh to this planet, and she’s learning about right and wrong, dangerous and safe, and the best way to drive her mother straight up crazy.

Part of my job description as mommy is making sure she becomes a functional adult one day, and stays alive in the process. So as much as I’d like to let her learn everything via that helpful phenomena known as “cause and effect,” her reptile brain is frequently encouraging her tiny body to do things which are deadly dumb. See: stovetops, parking lots, adult-depth swimming pools, etc.

So I make some choices for her. I choose what foods are nourishing and safe, and I prepare them for her and make sure she has enough. One day, years from now, she might throw down her sausage link and embrace a vegan diet. But until then? I’m the one cooking her 3 squares, and they’re chock full of animal products.

Veganism is an imperfect analogy, but it illustrates the point I’m coming to, which is that children require their parent’s best efforts, on their behalf, in order to arrive safely in adulthood.

The most essential thing I’ve done for all 4 of my kids so far has taken place in the front of a church, tiny baby held aloft over a basin of water, candles burning and the tang of chrism oil in the air.

An inoculation of grace, administered to a helpless babe, with the aim of eternal life.

Catholics don’t baptize their children as babies simply because it’s our religious custom, or merely to satisfy the grandparents’ desire to see that hand-me-down gown on the next generation. We baptize them because it’s a transformative sacrament which initiates them into the very family of God.

My babies don’t need to wait until they’re 12 years old, or 18, to enter into the Uebbing family. They belong there, no matter what choices they make, and no matter what their future holds. It is pure, unmerited belonging.

And when we pledged our fidelity to one another and to God on our wedding day, those yet-unborn children were already present in the mind of God, woven into our wedding vows to accept, nurture, and bring them up according to His laws and the laws of His Church.

I’ve heard the case made for letting children choose their own way, waiting and seeing if the religion thing “sticks” once they’re fully grown. And I think that’s kind of crazy.

I mean, I’m not waiting until they’re old enough to choose whether they’ll wear underwear before stepping outside (always debatable) or if they’d like to practice oral hygiene each day (could really go either way).

Why, then, when I make dozens of choices for them day in and day out, always with their eventual happiness and health in mind, would I delay in extending them an invitation into eternal life?

That’s why we bring our children to the Sacraments, isn’t it? To strengthen them on their journey through this life and orient them toward life in the world after this one. I can’t think of a single reason I’d want to hedge my bets against my children choosing God.

(It’s helpful to pause and consider that the Church has always taught that, while we are bound by the Sacraments, God is not. So babies who die unbaptized, at any age, are entrusted to His unfathomable mercy.)

Infant baptism speaks beautifully of the reality of our helpless state before God, crying out, perhaps literally, in surprise and maybe a little fear as He pours out His grace. None of us fully “get” the reality of our neediness before God, or the staggering price He paid to redeem us. But redeem us He did, and He wants us for his own. And because He is God and we are not, He comes to us in little, ordinary moments of extraordinary encounter that even a child can understand.

Bread. Wine. A splash of water. A cross traced in oil. Bent knees and folded hands and a tiny red flame flickering beside a golden box. God speaks transcendent mysteries in baby talk, showing us His heart in a way we can comprehend it.

Kind of like how I’m trying to woo my wild toddler into civility. One teachable moment and shriek of resistance at a time. She’ll get there. And thanks to a cold morning in January of 2015, she has all the grace available to her little soul that she needs for the journey.

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