guest post

When there *is* no other option (Benedictine or otherwise) {guest post}

April 10, 2017

When I read my friend Christy’s thoughtful reflection on Catholic life far outside the reach of the urban mega-church (or even suburban medium church) I knew immediately I wanted to share it here with you, because I know that while she and her family are rather alone in the literal sense of the word, I know from talking to many Catholics from around the globe that they are not the only ones.

So what does it look like, this “bare-minimum” Catholicism, stripped of programs, support groups, galas and fundraisers and anything beyond the very basic and all-important availability of Holy Mass on Sunday? (And that’s one Mass on Sunday, so no scheduling soccer or bbq’s around a more convenient option).

Can it be done? Can the Faith be transmitted and lived out and nourished in the absence of anything – and I do mean anything – extracurricular to receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus once a week?

In my mind, Christy and her family are living proof that it can. And perhaps this is the kind of Catholicism that more of us will encounter as the Church continues to contract in the West, even while expanding explosively in Africa and Asia. We many not face a single Mass option 40 minutes away in our own lifetimes, but our children very well may.

All food for thought.


There’s a lot of talk surrounding the Benedict Option these days. At its most general, the idea of the Benedict Option promotes a concerted effort on the part of Catholics and Christians to form like-minded communities to support each other and keep the faith alive. As the idea of forming intentional and authentic Catholic communities that strive for orthodoxy gains a foothold in Catholic parlance, I’ve been thinking about how I feel that this has already happened to some degree organically when it comes to where Catholics live.

As someone who has lived the majority of her life in rural areas I want to sometimes shout from the rooftops that the Benedict Option of sorts has already happened; because most of Catholic community is found in enclaves of urban cities.

We all know the reasons why; the increasing urbanization of our populations in general, the lack of priests to serve rural communities and small towns, the shrinking of cultural Catholicism, the complete absence of Generation X and younger at Mass.

If you think you feel the reverberations of these problems in the Church in your city that has a population of more than 10,000 people, imagine how keenly felt this must be in small communities?

Let me give you a peek at what Catholic life in a small town looks like. It looks like sharing one priest with 3 other parishes spread over 100 miles. It looks like no daily Mass or standing confession times. There is ONE option for Mass each weekend. There are no ministries. There is no religious education for children or adults alike. There is no other family with young children who attend weekly at our parish. There is a Catholic school the next town over.

There are no plethoras of religious orders with which to affiliate. There are no small groups for men or women. There are no ministries to moms, divorced people, those struggling with addiction or same sex attraction, or grief. There are no dinners or fundraisers. There are no options when it comes to finding a liturgy you prefer. There are no other Catholics your age in which to build local community.

In other words, I want you to imagine a Catholic life where there is only the Sacraments, a parish that is barely scraping by, and the constant threat that your parish may be shut down by the diocese due to lack of attendance, financial support, or both.

I think most of us believe that in order to live a fully Catholic life we’ve got to have some form of Catholic community. We all are striving for authentic local connections. We know how difficult it is to remain faithful to the teachings of the Church in our culture when we are without any support from real people in our lives. We’ve seen on a parish level how hard it is to evangelize and bring people in when there are hardly any faithful in the pews to begin with. All these difficulties come to a head in a small community where there are hardly any Catholics to begin with, with even fewer attending weekly Mass, and where there are in turn little to no outreach and ministries to the community.

Vibrant, vital, and orthodox parishes are out there, but finding them in a small town is the exception to the rule, and doesn’t even approach a fraction of the parishes that serve rural areas. Parishes with resources, both in parishioners and cold hard cash, are found in cities. If you’re looking for good, life-giving ministries you may have to search your city to find one, you may have to drive across town, but they will exist. There are no ministry options in small towns. As we see orthodox parishes with a focus on beautiful liturgy grow, it is within a city that offers options when it comes to liturgy and the few who know it’s value to support it.

We know our families are the domestic church, and that the beauty of family life is a great gift as we lead and guide our children in faith. But it is increasingly difficult in today’s world to bring up children in a religious vacuum so to speak, where there is so little evidence of faith in their hometown and home parish. Small towns are not just drained of Catholics, they’re drained of believers of all denominations as increasingly our society of “nones” erodes cultural faith. As it seems to be increasingly difficult to even become friends with our neighbours, it’s even more challenging to find friends who share the faith at a local level.

I don’t think there are easy answers to the problem of rural Catholic life just as the Benedict Option isn’t an easy answer to our troubled Church as a whole. As Catholics we value the land, the connection with the land that we live on, the ability to provide for ourselves, to nurture that connection with creation, but as more and more people move to cities, rural towns are emptied of faith. How can we preserve a connection to the land, agriculture, self-sufficiency, and still be part of authentic Catholic community? Is the answer that the Ben-opters start communes in small rural towns? Are there economic opportunities enough for them? Does everyone become farmers?

I can’t help but feel that many rural Catholics are faced with the difficult call to live an almost heroic level of faith based on their isolation from vital Catholic community. Unfortunately in many cases people are in the position between choosing the land and lifestyle they know and love or moving to a more urban environment that provides even a slightly better opportunity for Catholic community.

Whether the Benedict Option takes off or not, there’s no denying that the light of orthodoxy in the North American Church shines from urban enclaves and that rural Catholics are going it alone.

Christy Isinger is a wife and mom to five lovely, loud children and lives in northern Canada. When not homeschooling, she is a devoted reader of English literature from Jane Austen to Agatha Christie. She writes about the beauty of faith, life, and the home at her blog Fountains of Home and is the co-host of the Fountains of Carrots Podcast.
Catholics Do What?, Culture of Death, Evangelization, Homosexuality, JPII, mental health, Parenting, relativism, Theology of the Body

The beauty of gender: our differences aren’t scary, they’re beautiful (and essential)

April 7, 2017

Male and female created he them; and blessed them… – Genesis 5:2

This morning I was strolling a leisurely stroll on the treadmill and enjoying 45 minutes of toddler downtime (thanks, Brandy in kids club) when my eyes drifted to the newsfeed on the bottom of my tv screen where a “breaking news” alert was scrolling.

What constitutes breaking news in 2017? That’s a loaded question. But for this local ABC affiliate station, the answer was “Australia considering banning fairy tales from schools.” I rolled my eyes into my frontal lobe because probably it was offensive to real witches and living fairy godmothers, all that questionable detail Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, etc. go into about their lives and various motivations and ways of being.

But, no.

Apparently, it’s because fairy tales “encourage outdated gender norms” and that children “as young as four” are reportedly manifesting “gender biasing behaviors” in their play and make believe.

(Note: there are real, medical, biological examples of transgendered individuals born with chromosomal abnormalities and ambiguous genitalia. These are real medical conditions from which real people suffer and about which hard decisions and choices have to be made by doctors, parents, and the individuals themselves. What we’re talking about here today, however, is the growing cultural infatuation with what I’ll call “transgenderism by choice,” or the belief that gender is utterly divorced from biological sexual characteristics by desire, not by any design flaw, and that you could possibly have been born with ovaries and a uterus but a brain that “feels” male, and so you choose to discard – whether surgically or behaviorally – the “non-conforming” female part of your identity.

This is a point of real confusion and pain for a lot of people, and the present cultural climate of strangling political correctness makes civil discussion about any kind of gender dysphoria all but impossible. But we must persist for the sake of real human souls. We cannot shrink away from discussing what is fast becoming the defining issue of our age. End disclaimer).

First of all, kids as young as four display “gender biasing behaviors” because children as young as age four do, in fact, have genders.

Fetuses, it turns out, also have genders. Pull up a Youtube video of balloons popping out of giant cardboard boxes and you’ll see this is not a recent discovery. And gender – in parlance common up until just a few short years ago – was basically interchangeable with “sex” – and nobody was going to bat an eye or shred an admission form over it.

Children, like the rest of us, are male or female, and as such, they typically exhibit a few characteristic (but not exclusive) behaviors common to their gender. Boys, for example, as anyone who has ever birthed, raised, or even tangentially known one, are loud and they are intensely physical. Not all boys and not all the time, but overall, there is a certain exuberance that belongs to the male sex that is right and beautiful.

These boys will become men who lend their strong voices to the pursuit of truth and goodness. They will speak up for what is right, and they will take action to defy evil when they see it. Because that is what men are designed to do. Men are action-takers and pursuers of truth by nature. They image God in their strength, both physical and moral. And that is beautiful. (And does not, incidentally, exclude women from being action takers and pursuers of truth.)

So, about those differences. Let’s get into some generalizations here, because there are common features and universal truths that do, in fact, hold water. Not everything that we have collectively amassed over the course of human history needs to be jettisoned just because Mark Zuckerberg has a new global initiative of the month.

Ladies first. Girls are tender. Not all girls and certainly not all the time, but as a general rule, the female sex is superior at feeling and expressing feelings. Emotionally connected and deeply expressive, women possess a relational capacity that is unmatched in men. My daughter can yell down the entire minivan full of warring brothers and silence us all with a shriek of power, but she wears her heart on the outside, feeling the world deeply, and encountering things with her entire being.

This does not make her weak. (And this is not to say that my husband is not tender. That my boys do not feel sorrow for having hurt or disappointed someone, or shed tears of pain.)

Far from it, her depth of feeling and her capacity for emotion render her a force to be reckoned with beyond anything I have yet experienced in my 3 sons. We live in an era which has been captivated by the lie that the heart is somehow disconnected from and inferior to the mind. And that is a lie. The heart is essential. It is where we encounter God in His Holy Spirit, where we give and receive love. The heart is the source of human life, and it is from our hearts that our relationships with one another and with God take their roots. In a culture awash in isolation and alienation, between spouses and families and even within our very selves, it is evident that the price of disregarding and dismissing the heart is deadly high.

And then there are boys. Boys who will grow up to be strong men, and who desperately need to be affirmed in their abilities. They long for the affirmation – especially and essentially from their fathers – that they have what it takes.

A boy who is not mentored into manhood in this way will struggle in his adult life with feelings of unworthiness and shame. A man has to know that he can do it, that he has what it takes, and that there are people – his mom and dad first and foremost – who are cheering him on because they believe he can.

A boy who is denied these opportunities to prove himself is at risk of becoming a man who struggles with his identity and with his understanding of self worth.

For some boys this might look like hunting and fishing trips. Camping and using pocket knives and jumping off of boulders and killing it on the soccer field and generally having the experience of doing the hard thing and coming through the other side with the knowledge that he has what it takes, that he is enough, that he is capable of leading, of providing, of greatness.

This has less to do with being out in the great outdoors, being naturally athletic, or being any particular good shot with a bow and arrow, but it has everything to do with testing himself against some opponent, whether it be the elements, an animal, or even his peers, and discovering for himself that yes, he measures up. He does not fall short.

This does not mean that girls aren’t outdoorsy! I can’t emphasize enough, the stupid stuff we fret over with “gender norming” our kids is so much less about colors and kinds of toys and neutral language and so much more about what is intrinsic to the nature of men and women.

Girls aren’t going to pick up dolls just because they’re silly and pink and soft and isn’t that just adorable how she’s trying to breastfeed her teddy bear? No. I have watched my 3 year old decapitate her brother’s snowman with a lightsaber and then pretend to nurse her stuffed kitty cat, within the span of fifteen minutes. She weeps and rocks her stuffed animals to sleep at night if they’ve had a bad dream. And then she stands on the edge of her bed literally roaring in defiance if anyone should dare trespass and remove one of her beloved “babies” from their positions.

She is not weak because she is drawn to mothering behaviors with her toys, for if she is called to motherhood, it will be the source of her greatest strength and ability. (It’s not for nothing we use the expression of “mama bear” to communicate deep, protective and don’t-you-dare-mess-with-it anger.)

This hysteria over neutral-colored Legos and removing all swords and tutus from toy boxes is missing the forest for the trees. A little boy is standing 12 inches from my elbow right now playing in a pink toy kitchen, stirring soup and preparing steaks to feed the cat. This doesn’t mean his gender is “confused.” It does mean he likes being involved in food prep and his chief enjoyment in the 4’oclock hour is chopping vegetables.

We are foolish when we typecast certain “behaviors” into rigid gender norms and then insist that our children refrain at all cost from manifesting them, should they match up in a way we are currently collectively frowning upon.

What good is there to be gained by discouraging a boy from expressing strength and courage on the playground, whether he is shouting down a bully or rallying his friends to the winning kickball run? And what good is served in correcting a girl who longs to be told that she is beautiful – who in fact has a profound and fundamentally good desire to be affirmed in her beauty on a soul-deep level – that she ought not be concerned with something so trivial or vain?

Conversely, if a boy enjoys cooking and art and a girl is an absolute terror on the lacrosse field, these, too, are good and beautiful manifestations of their particular individual giftedness. This does not indicate a confused or wrongly-assigned gender, but normal and healthy diversity in this thing that we call being human.

Being a mother is intractably a female role; being a hairdresser is not.

While the world frets on about the sexism of fairy tales, about girls dreaming of true love and affirmed beauty, and boys about vanquishing dragons and journeying into uncharted territories, I’ll be sitting here reading Cinderella and the Chronicles of Narnia to all of them, male and female alike. And they will perhaps get different things from the same story. They will perhaps encounter it with their male or female minds and focus on particular aspects which attract or repel them, and that will be fine. That will be good.

Our differences are our strengths, and denying the intricate design of the complementarity between the sexes is to deface the image of the Creator Himself.

(For further reading on the complimentary of the sexes and the essential goodness of gender, I highly recommend reading Dr. Mary Healy’s short, accessible book on JPII’s Theology of the Body, “Men and Women are from Eden.” I also like Dr. Edward Sri’s “Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love” and John and Stasi Eldredge’s books, “Captivating” and “Wild at Heart.” (I’m on a bit of John Eldredge kick myself at the moment, having just finished “Walking with God” and “Waking the Dead” and now about halfway into “Fathered by God.” The last title in particular is great for facilitating a deeper understanding of masculinity.)

About Me, mindfulness, reality check, self care, social media

Disconnect: ditching my smartphone in search of a better connection

April 4, 2017

I’ve been feeling a little tug on the old heartstrings these past 4 weeks of Lent. It began as a bit of a wild hair (hare? Rabbit or follicle growth?) the fleeting thought “you should get rid of your phone” which I promptly batted down with a vengeance. Because wuuuuut. Really, what? Who could live in such a way?

I’ve written before about my addictive smartphone habits (be careful the things you swear you’ll “never” do) and my kind of pitiful attempts at self regulation. So this has been no bolt from the blue. But still? To step away entirely? Seems a little dramatic. And why would I be dramatic? Nobody in my family is dramatic.

But the nudges kept coming. At different times, like stuck in traffic and finding myself frantically scrabbling a blind hand in the bottom of my purse, whereisitwhereisitwhereisitdidIleaveitohcrapwhereisit…there it is. And then feeling a subsiding tide of stress tamp down because I had found it, my precious.

And for what? So that I could flip frantically to the last page of my home screen – where I banished all my social apps and alerts – and see if any new dopamine hits had come in since 9 minutes ago when I’d last checked?

I am not painting a flattering self portrait. Intentionally so. I will be honest with you as I have been increasingly honest with myself this past month or so: I am addicted to my smartphone.

I am addicted to the internet in general, as I imagine many (most?) of us are these days, but it’s a whole lot more manageable, at least for me personally, when it isn’t living in my purse or pocket.

Several times during March I experimented with “blackout hours/days,” leaving the phone connected to the charger, going out for a run or a walk or even on an errand (gasp) without my phone, and I don’t think that I can adequately convey to you the level of anxiety that surged up within me walking out of the house without my trusty device in hand. But curiously – or perhaps it is no curiosity at all – after a few minutes adjustment, maybe 15 or 20, I was stilled. Settled. Resigned that I was going to get nothing in particular “done” in this little chunk of time aside from whatever it is that I’d set out to actually do, whether it was the library with the kids, a long walk through the neighborhood, or a trip to the store.

And it changed things. It has changed the way I react to the world. The way I smell things, (did you know things still have smells?) the people with whom I interact, (mostly my own people, because I almost always have tots in tow) and it changes the pace and rhythm of those specific moments in my day.

I reach over and over and over again into a phantom pocket, hand drifting unconsciously to scour beneath the stroller hood, fingers itching to unlock and swipe and capture. (Admittedly, I have missed some cute pictures.) I may have to start carrying a real, live camera again. Or taking notes. So retro.

But in exchange, I think I stand a chance at getting part of my life back.

I don’t think everyone struggles in this way with technology. But I do think the unconscious, blanket adaptation of every new technology to come down the pike en masse is a real problem.

I don’t think every technology is good for every person.

And I will go so far as to say that on the whole, on a cultural level, connective technology is taking more from us than it is giving in return. We are not more connected, but less so. And at a dear price.

So that’s my piece of it, anyway. In search of a little more peace, I’m trading in a piece of hardware and a whole lot of convenience and connectivity for the ability to go … slower. To be in the dark sometimes. To be intentionally unavailable to most everyone so that I can be tightly focused and targeted on five somebodies who depend on me and deserve my undivided presence. (that’s one husband + four kids, not an announcement.)

I’ve spent a lot of time being loosely available and vaguely attentive to a lot of things over the past 6 years or so of smartphone ownership. I haven’t had a lot of good boundaries or hard stops in place, however, which could help me divide and truly be attentive to the various aspects of my vocation that demand not just physical but also emotional and intellectual presence.

I was trying to mentally tally the amount of time I probably spend on this little device throughout the day, whether for looking up a recipe, reading directions, taking photos, scrolling through apps, and leaving voxes and I flinched when I came up with a number. Tried to remember if I could find anything in my own childhood to compare it with, was there anything my mom spent 5 or more hours a day doing, extracurricular to her parenting? Was it possible she spent 5 hours a day watching television, or on the phone, or reading books?

Not likely. Not during the investment years where she was buried in babies and pouring the foundation for her family’s life. I’m sure she wished most days for a lifeline, an outlet, a support network and in so many instances, my phone has facilitated that for me. And I don’t want to dismiss that or cheapen the reality that in moments, the phone has been a life saver. But those real, important benefits do not, in my life, outweigh the steep cost of distraction. Of unease. Of missing moments and becoming more and more deaf to the movements of the Holy Spirit throughout the day, of the little nudges that God has something to say to me but I need to phone a friend and process it with her first.

So that’s a problem.

And this is my solution.

It won’t be everybody’s solution, and it’s no call for an analog revolution. But I hope if there is something that He is trying to say to you, you feel more free to hear him speaking than I have. I hope if it’s this very issue that He has been in your ear about, tugging on your sleeve, tapping on your shoulder…well, I hope this is a little jolt of solidarity from the ether, a confession that, yeah, me too. I’m also having a hard time with this.

In the meantime, I have no plans to abandon the blog. Or my laptop. The technological revolution is here to stay. And I’m going to pick and choose the winnings from the wreckage and say, yeah, this, this works for me. This fits in my life. And this doesn’t. And discard what isn’t helpful, and full steam ahead with what is.

So long little smartphone. We’ve had some good moments together, and you’ve captured some treasured memories. But I’d like to try my hand again at making some on my own. (Also, you make my ear really, really hot sometimes and I’m a little worried that might be a bad thing #samsungproblems.)

Peace out. 

 

Catholic Spirituality, prayer, social media, Suffering

Drowning in plain sight

March 30, 2017

I was texting with a friend yesterday and was honored to be trusted with a little piece of her story, a little glimpse of the heavy burden she is carrying right now. As our brief exchange came to a close, I told her something I want to tell you all, and it’s that I think a lot of people are drowning a little in plain sight right now.

After I’d moved on with my day, the exchange stuck in my head because from the outside, I’d had no real idea of the burden she was carrying. Social media contributes to that phenomenon, no doubt, but so does the typically frantic pace and kind of insular tendency of modern life, and maybe it’s always been that way and what do I know anyway, a barely-qualifies Millenial with a bunch of kids running around her house and too much time spent inside her own head.

But I do know this, and it’s that everyone I know – to a fault, every single person – is struggling with something, is fighting some great battle.

Maybe it isn’t appropriate to share every detail with every person you bump into, whether virtually or in vivo, but maybe it is appropriate and necessary to share more than we do. We can’t all be “fine” all the time. I actually hate the social nicety more than I can adequately express in words.

Earlier this month my “grandfather” died. He was not my grandfather by blood or relation, but by relationship. And as I stood in line at a grocery store later that night I was crying, and I was mentally chastising myself for crying because it’s so embarrassing to cry in public, and get a grip and pay for this kombucha and get the hell out to your car. And also because grief is weird and it comes in waves, crashing down at inconvenient moments in the produce section and then ebbing back, leaving you red eyed and congested and inexplicably weird for the requisitely surface level social exchange you are summoned to have with this perfect stranger handing you a receipt.

“How is your night going?”

“Fine. Yours?”

Eyes red and nose visibly running. We both knew I was lying, but what was there to be done about it? I couldn’t ask this total stranger to carry my burden, besides, he could just as likely drop it as pick it up.

You’re not allowed to feel things very deeply or very authentically in this culture.

And if you do, you’re a little weird. A little inconvenient. Too intense. And sure, there are people who are safe and less safe to be vulnerable with, but I’ve always struggled with being vulnerable with even the safest people, and in even the most intimate relationships, because here’s the thing: when you express vulnerability, you are expressing a need that you have to someone, revealing an imperfection that is humiliating in some degree. And pride revolts, sickened by the thought of appearing needy or flawed or frail.

I have found, particularly in this past year as our family has walked through some major challenges, many of which revolve around me and my particular set of wounds in need of tending, that it is precisely in revealing the frailty and the neediness that the generous offers of strength, of prayers, and of support are offered in return.

When we let people see our grossness, our inconvenience, our mess, we invite them in to do something about it, whether through prayer, compassion and accompaniment, or material support. And those are all ways that we are called to live out our Christian identities, to be Christ to a hurting world awash in pain.

So whose idea is it then that we hide our scars from each other, putting on a brave, blank face and stuffing down the pain?

Probably not God’s.

I have seen firsthand this past year that in offering my friends, my siblings, and most especially my dear husband the opportunity to come into my pain and accompany me in bearing the crushing weight of my cross, they are manifesting Christ to me.

And all the times I’ve railed against Him in pain or in searing alone-ness, begging Him to reveal the path, alleviate the suffering…almost to a fault, those have been the moments when I am clutching my pain tightly to my chest, refusing to offer even a sliver of it to anyone else, to some member of His body who could very well be the incarnate answer to that desperate prayer I am flinging heavenward.

My pride and my preoccupation with not being “a burden” to anyone keeps me from hearing His answer, from feeling the merciful touch of His providence through the arms and words of other people. And apart from leaving me marooned in my pain and navel gazing into my seemingly intractable problems, it robs people of the chance to live out the Gospel.

Because if there are no beggars to shelter, no naked to clothe, no hungry to nourish, then this thing we call Christianity is all a rather dry academic exercise in theoretical virtue and tidy maxims for happy living.

Sometimes I am the beggar. Most of the time, it feels like, lately.

And I need to beg, to have my friends drop my mat in through the roof, carry me down to the pool, yell for Jesus to turn around and come back into town, to do something miraculous, to intervene.

And that miracle might well come through another person, who might be perfectly willing to take all your kids for the afternoon to give you break, who might spend hours and hundreds of dollars helping you stage your house to sell, who might spend 10 minutes during the insanity of the dinnertime crunch to hide in her bathroom with her phone and listen to you cry, who might book a flight to come see you, or send some love through amazon that is shaped like earrings, but you know it’s actually a hug.

I hope if you’re carrying something heavy today you have someone you can trust to put a shoulder under the load with you. Whether it’s an addiction to pornography, a spouse with a drug problem, an unplanned pregnancy, a mental health crisis, a job loss, a searing grief, some kind of spiritual bondage, or a hopeless medial diagnosis.

Everyone is struggling with something.

Let’s not struggle alone.

And let’s be bold in receiving one another’s burdens. Let’s be radically countercultural in our willingness to encounter, to lean in, to put down whatever it is that we are presently engrossed with and be eternally present, in that moment of neediness, to the beggar in the doorway.

We are all beggars. We are all broken. And you are not alone.

(A special shout out to my team of prayer warriors who have carried me so tirelessly this year, and who are just a text message away, always willing to take up arms when my pride gives way long enough to tap out a quick SOS. K, E, M, and S, you know who you are.)

 

Abortion, Bioethics, Catholics Do What?, Evangelization, guest post, infertility, IVF, pregnancy, Pro Life

IVF regrets: one mother’s story

March 27, 2017

Today I have the distinct privilege of bringing a unique voice to the discussion about in vitro fertilization (IVF). Katy* is a wife, mother, Catholic, and a regular blog reader who emailed me a few months ago with a story to share. As I read the email, I was humbled and rocked to the core that she would entrust me with a part of her story, and I knew immediately that it deserved a wider audience. She was gracious – and brave – enough to agree to share it with you here today.

I am requiring that all comments and discussion on this piece, both here in the combox and on social media, be of the highest caliber of respect and civility. This is an emotionally fraught topic, and this is a charged political and moral landscape we are navigating. And … this is a real family’s journey, and a real woman’s story. She deserves our attention and our respect. To that end, I will be moderating.

Now I’d like to invite Katy to tell you her story, in her own words:


“Hello, my name is guilty”

I truly wish I had read your posts about IVF four years ago.

For a few months now, I’ve been reading/following/loving your blog.

I feel compelled to share my story, because even though you don’t know me, I feel that certain kinship that can only come from reading someone else’s blog and becoming somewhat acquainted with their life. So here it goes.

I was raised Catholic and my family is devout, but not in a forceful way, so I never even got to go through the typical teenage rebellion. Religion was always just part of who we were, and I was glad to carry on the Catholic tradition in adulthood.

I had a boyfriend whose family was VERY religious to the point of homeschooling and rejecting the Novus Ordo mass entirely, nightly rosaries, etc. That time of my life helped my faith develop, but then after we broke up and I met my now-husband, a mostly disinterested Methodist, I drifted into a much less strict version of practicing Catholic. I still attended church, but I wasn’t involved.

Fast forward to finding out we were infertile. Of course, I knew the Church’s stance on IVF, but I chose to willfully ignore it.

A control freak at heart, I refused to believe that God had my best interest in mind.

I have felt called to motherhood since I was a little girl and I absolutely could not fathom a world in which I was not a mother.

I didn’t want to wait. I didn’t want to have faith. I wanted my way, and I wanted it then, because I was 27 years old and my biological clock was ticking so loudly it kept me up nights.

Only now do I see how ridiculous I was being.

Thanks to the severity of our infertility issues, we were giving a 1% chance of conceiving naturally (who comes up with those stats, anyway?) and were advised against wasting time and money on IUI. The doctor recommended that we immediately pursue IVF.

Now, I did sort of try to be sensible…you know, to “sin a little less.” I inquired about only fertilizing a small number of embryos so that there wouldn’t be “leftovers.” The doctor thought I was crazy, just another wacko religious person, but she agreed to work with me. Then the estimated cost made it so the whole thing had to be put on hold anyway.

A few years later I stumbled upon a clinical trial which provided IVF to participants for free. The big catch: you had to play by their rules, so no requesting a limited number of embryos be created. Blinded by my manic need to become a mother, I signed my name on the dotted line and entered the study.

I felt both elated and guilty.

It’s a guilt I’m still lugging around today.

As part of the study, we ended up with 8 embryos. I did one round of IVF and transferred two embryos. I was pregnant with twins for 8 amazing weeks before my first miscarriage. The second embryo transfer (2 embryos again) resulted in another pregnancy, but a single that time. I miscarried at 7 weeks. Of course I felt like I was being punished. I know it doesn’t work like that, but still, that’s how it felt.

I waited two months and then did a third embryo transfer with a single embryo. After the two miscarriages I was kicked out of the clinical trial and no longer forced to abide by the study protocol of transferring two at a time (a note for your article: most fertility doctors refuse to do more than two, and my current doctor along with many others strongly advises against more than one. The cases you hear like Octomom are thankfully not the norm. And those doctors usually have their medical licenses revoked. What they’re doing is still not OK… but it’s not like they’re all just throwing in ten embryos at once and then resorting to selective reduction, at least not usually).

I once again become pregnant. That one stuck. My beautiful daughter was born in June of 2014.

Motherhood has been everything I dreamed it would be. My daughter brought so much light, love, and happiness to this world that it’s impossible to put into words. Family members fight over who gets to babysit her. She is so smart, so kind, so good.

She is by far the best thing that ever happened to me, and it absolutely kills me that she was conceived in sin.

I struggle with this every day. The line I read equating the children of IVF to victims, like children of rape? Oh, that one stung, but it was so necessary. You’re right, of course, but the truth hurts. (She is referring to an older piece of mine where I was emphasizing that the dignity of the human person is immutable, that no matter the circumstances of one’s conception, the child is only and always the innocent victim.)

I’m sure you already know about God’s fantastic sense of humor, right? Right. So I had 3 embryos left after my daughter was born (3 miscarried, 1 never took, and she was the 5th one).

I knew I would need to have them all because despite my egregious disregard of Church law in doing IVF at all, I still fervently believe that life begins at conception and that those three little souls would absolutely not be destroyed or donated to science.

But then when my daughter was 8 months old, a surprise happened – a spontaneous unplanned pregnancy. That 1% chance of conceiving the doctors gave us? Yeah. About that…

My son joined our family 17 months after his sister. Sometimes the craziest things are true.

Now I am pregnant once again, but this time with the 6th embryo, while the other two wait in storage until we’re ready for another go-round.

No one will be left behind in the freezer, but I admit it’s so hard.

There are the storage fees, the constant worry… how will we be able to afford another round of IVF? (I had insurance coverage for a brief shining moment, which I used to get pregnant with this one, but now I’ve lost my job and that insurance lapses in February). How will we afford five kids? Am I getting too old? (I’m 32 now). Can I even have that many c-sections? (Both my kids were emergency c-sections, and this one will be scheduled).

I wish I had never done IVF.

I wish it so badly. When my faith was tested, I failed, and yet I was still given the most beautiful and miraculous gift that I surely don’t deserve.

I used to keep a diary but I don’t anymore, which is why I’m pouring this all out on you. I do have a blog, but since my readership is mostly fellow IVF veterans, they’re all left-leaning and would never understand my regret.

I’m terrified to write about any of this publically.

I don’t regret my daughter for a second, but I do regret the methods.

I wish I had known.

I wish I could rewind and redo all of this knowing what I know now.

I just hope that you’ll pray for me. It’s very early in this third pregnancy and I’m so nervous (especially with my history), plus I’m constantly worrying about how we will survive the future we’ve created for ourselves.

I am trying so hard to put my faith in God but like I said…I’m a control freak! It’s so hard to let go. I always feel like I’m the one who needs to keep this ship sailing.

Also, if you have any excellent reading or resources for “Woman who Regrets Doing IVF But is Also Joyous to Have Become a Mother”… please send it my way.


*(Katy, whose real name was changed for privacy purposes – is a brave and beautiful mother, and her courage in sharing this story is a testimony and a gift to us all. Please join me in accompanying her family and her current pregnancy with your prayers.)
(UPDATE 3/28/17: *update: FYI, our beautiful author Katy has been to Confession, thanks be to God. And y’all are wonderful missionaries of mercy to suggest it so enthusiastically. Pope Francis would be proud.)
Abortion, Catholic Spirituality, Culture of Death, Evangelization

Joining a chorus of voices

March 22, 2017

From an Endow press release this morning:

Today, we are announcing Endow Voices, an online platform connecting faith, culture and our everyday lives.

The goal is to engage our members with experts in various fields to answer questions from the philosophical to the practical to the mundane on how to be a Catholic woman in today’s crazy world. So far we have been amazingly blessed with the following women signed up as regular contributors, with more to come:

  • Alice Von Hildebrand: Philosophy and Womanhood

  • Marilyn Coors: Science, Medicine, Bioethics and Faith

  • Helen Alvare: Finding Truth in the Age of Relativism

  • Linda Grimm: Defending Dignity and our Legal System

  • Kathleen Domingo: Life Issues and the Public Square

  • Jenny Uebbing: Catholic Culture and the New Feminism

  • Michelle Chandler: Mom, Wife and the Interior Life

  • Jenna Guizar: Leadership and Ministry

Not exactly a shabby lineup, eh? Archbishop Jose Gomez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has also agreed to contribute to this exciting new venture of Endow’s, which I’ve no doubt will do big things for the Church.

If you’re not already familiar with Endow, you need to be! They offer life-changing small group study experiences and have some of the best and deepest content out there, with studies covering everything from the encyclicals of St. John Paul II to Edith Stein and Thomas Aquinas. I have had the privilege to work behind the scenes with them on various projects over the years, and it is wonderful to see how God has called them to expand their physical community into the virtual sphere, the precise opposite trajectory of so many other ministries. It is truly an honor to be contributing to the mission of Endow in some small way, and I hope you’ll read along, and even better, join – or start! – an Endow group in your neighborhood or at your parish.

An excerpt from my contribution this month, Catholic Feminism:

“…I bother with the linguistic parsing because words mean something, and the proper use of language is critical to the building up – or tearing down – of culture. When I speak of Catholic feminism, what I mean is a total embrace of what it means to be a woman: self giving, creative, strong, and capable of profound sacrifice and leadership.

I think that modern feminism has become too conflated with Planned Parenthood’s agenda of sexual free for all and an angry, even violent rejection of motherhood and fertility. Feminism that calls a woman to reject and mutilate her body is only suppression and degradation by another name.”

Click here to read the rest.

Uncategorized

Disney’s new “Beauty and the Beast:” one mom’s take

March 18, 2017

First, let the record show that the 1991 original was, in my humble opinion as a then 9-year-old superfan, Disney’s animated magnum opus. So yes, I bought tickets about 2 months ago to see this new live action version on opening night, along with most of my siblings, adults though we may now be.

So, here are my thoughts, thunk in light of the controversy of the past several weeks and having now actually seen the film:

 *SPOILER ALERT*.

Gaston was the best thing about it. His character was awesomely done. LaFou was the second best.

The much-alluded to gay innuendo wasn’t really all that obvious, but what was there was tasteless and a little wince-worthy (the “wink wink” bite mark on the belly? Really? In a kid’s movie? Just gross.)

The worst part wasn’t some lurking gay agenda, but, rather, that the entire film is basically a line-for-line adaption of the far superior animated original. There were some charming moments and the Gaston song, in particular, was really well done and a rollicking good time.

Emma Thompson was great as Mrs. Potts. And can actually sing, which is a plus in a musical.

Emma Watson, however, cannot, and was flat, charmless, and came off not as “strong” (which is what they were desperately angling for) but bitter and cynical. She was clearly cast as (or at least instructed to be) some kind of updated-for-the-times feminist version of Belle who amplifies all the stereotypical “feminist” qualities written into the original character: strong, independent, intelligent, and courageous. (As if most women aren’t those things?) A woman should be all those things! I pray that my daughter sees those things in me in my best moments, and emulates them. But a woman who is only those things comes off as painfully one-dimensional and makes for an unsympathetic character.

The one glimpse I had of the real Belle  was the sweet moment when the Beast bequeaths the library to her. Otherwise, it was really pretty lame. Nothing like 2015’s Cinderella.

So, my vote? Wait for Netflix. This movie is probably suitable for kids 10 and up, but with some parental guidance about the sexual innuendo: LaFou’s cheeky flashing of his “bite mark during the Gaston song,” some cross dressing, a crude innuendo to Gaston having nursed his war wounds by getting cozy with a plethora of widows (ew), some dudes waltzing in the final scene – but isn’t that the case with most kid’s movies these days, particularly those made by Disney?

What it lacked, and what I look for in a movie that my kids can enjoy now, without reservations or frustratingly premature conversations, is a movie that communicates truth, goodness, and beauty to them. This movie had some beauty and moments of goodness, but there were also enough dark edges with the sexual innuendo, mean spiritedness, and some gun violence that took it beyond being a little kid’s movie.

Overall, this was not Disney’s best work by a long shot, and not one I’ll be taking Evie to any time soon.

And hey, movie executives, if by any chance you’re reading?

Don’t you dare touch the Little Mermaid.

“Beauty and the Beast” offial movie poster / Credit: Disney

And to think, this is why Matthew had to die on Downton Abbey…*

(*Dan Stevens, the actor who played the beast, was the beloved Matthew Crawley on DA who was killed off in season three because he “wanted to pursue other professional opportunities.” Which is well within his rights. But perhaps a CGI beast who comes to life wearing man capris was not an upwardly mobile move, professionally speaking.)

About Me, blessed is she, Family Life, house reno, Lent, social media, Trim Healthy Mama

Lately, in random bullet points

March 15, 2017

It’s full-blown spring here today. Blossoms about to pop into bloom, temperatures creeping up past the mid 70s, and so much wind. A month from now we’ll be buried in 22 inches of snow, I predict, so I try to keep my expectations low this time of year, because for every margarita-on-the-patio kind of afternoon Denver hands out in March, she predictably levies a devastating penalty in the form of spring blizzards come April and May. And sometimes (gulp) June.

But, it’s lovely. It’s lovely to be able to kick the kids outside after school, and to run around with them barefoot with a soccer ball. And oh, speaking of backyards, here’s a little glimpse of our new one:

Let them dissect my broken blowdryer. Very STEM.

That’s right, we moved. #again. It’s a temporary stint in a town north of Denver, in the home of some friends who are living oversees right now, whilst our pristine, staged and mostly packed home sits on the market (hopefully not for much longer, c’mon St. Joseph!) and we search for a new one.

The short version of the “why in the name of all that is good and reasonable would you move twice in 7 months with 4 children” is that our house, a fixer upper if ever the term were applicable, has been fixed. To the level of our competence, and then some. About 2 months ago, after a major construction project in the basement necessitating lots of professionals and lot$$$s of drywall and electrical work, we kinda threw our hands up and were like, um, what are we doing?

We are not handy people. Painting, laying flooring, some light caulking? Sure. We can handle that. But when walls started having to come down, it turned out we’d gotten in over our heads. Happily for us, the market is white hot here in the Denver metro area, and so when we finished up the last bit of work in the basement in February, we made the call to list it, because hey, we don’t love it. And we didn’t relish the notion of spending the next 4 years of weekends at Home Depot. We have had so much peace (after the initial “wth are we actually thinking about doing this???), and it was very providential the way the dominos all fell, including having this amazing home to stay in while we sell it, thanks to the generous hospitality of friends.

So, this whole situation may seem a little crazy to some people, but we’re okay with that. We’ve done plenty of things in the short 7.5 years we’ve been married that have been conventionally crazy. We figured, why stay in a house that doesn’t work for our family while we’re in the business of raising that family? We’d rather get into something smaller, if necessary, if it means we can have our nights and weekends back and can actually spend time together when we’re home. The house was less than ideal before the cascade of interventions, and so this time, we’ll look smarter at things that really do matter with a larger family, like a sleepy street with less traffic, a more suburban location, and a better floorpan that allows for common areas where the 6 of us (plus our large extended families) can gather.

Come on, St. Joseph. You’ve got 5 more days.

Looks good without people living there, doesn’t it?

*

There are some bonuses about this extended staycation situation we’ve entered into, including living in a totally different part of our area that we’d never spend time in otherwise (new parks, friends we don’t usually see, a new parish) and it’s interesting and fun and inconvenient all rolled into one. It has been fun to see familiar faces we only get to see at holiday events or big parties, and it is interesting to see life in a different parish, and to feel both welcomed and totally, totally off our game because our kids are struggling with the layout/lack of grandparent support/different Mass times. It’s given me a deep appreciation for how wonderful our parish really is, and how much of it we take for granted. Also? The drive. OMG THE DRIVING. We didn’t pull the kids out of school because we knew the commute was possible (the family whose home we’re borrowing were also students in our school) but hot damn, going from a leisurely 7 am wakeup and out-the-door-with-daddy by 7:40 am to reveille at still-dark thirty and a frantic scrambling of eggs, cinching of belts, making of lunches and slurping of espressos – and all before 7 am – has been shocking. I know that most grown ups live this way. I just never wanted to be one of them.

“Let’s all go grocery shopping in the snow at 4 pm, it’ll be great!”

My Lenten practice has been to get up early and pray before the kids, which means something starting with a 5. This is not a happy reality for me, but surprisingly, my internal clock has adjusted and I have been waking up on my own around 5:40 most mornings. I have to go to be no later than 10 now, but I should be doing that anyway because, adulthood. It’s been a good practice in self discipline, which I sorely lack. But boy, by 7pm every night, I am d.o.n.e. with parenting, dishes, mopping, answering emails, all of it. So the standards of cleanliness are relaxing, and my need to sit and chill with the kids at night is taking precedence over the need to shine that empty sink or get one more hour or writing squeezed in.

Probably it’s a better way to live. But it has been hard. It’s like I was still coasting on the fumes of survival mode mothering and now I’ve been thrust into the bigger-leagues of “you no longer have any free time during the day unless you guard that 45 minutes of quiet time like a prison sergeant,” because without predictable nap times (hello, crazy school pickup commute and car naps) and without my beloved mother’s helper who is now a good 45 minutes south of us, I’ve been boots on the ground in it in a way I have become unaccustomed to. In some ways it reminds me of our year in Rome, minus the good coffee, the beautiful churches, and the astonishing loneliness. I guess it just reminds me of having to be more self-sufficient and learning to navigate a strange new place (but still, Target. And a mini van.) and not being able to call a friend or sister 5 minutes down the road for some back up babysitting or a quick La Croix.

And, speaking of La Croix. I have a problem.

*

 

Next week I’ll be doing a live teaching event for Blessed is She and I’m kind of nervous. I’ve got plenty of speaking experience under my belt from various mom’s groups, conferences, and retreats I’ve participated in over the years, but for some reason doing it remotely behind a computer screen has me a little more jittery. I mean, I don’t love public speaking to begin with, but I can do it. And afterwards there’s inevitably the huge smile and endorphin rush “I can’t believe I did that!” Anyway, if you want to follow along, you can resister here (and with a Blessed is She membership you have access to all this content, which is so good. I’ve listened to a couple amazing talks this month while I’ve been preparing mine – this one is especially good) and tune in next Wednesday night, 3/22, at 9 pm EST for “Grocery Store Evangelization: engaging in the missionary apostolate of your ordinary life”

*

I’ve spent the past year and some change experimenting with various dietary restrictions, having blood work and hormone levels checked, and adding different combinations of supplements to the mix. It seems like I might have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (I have been hypothyroid since my teens, and on thyroid meds) which is an autoimmune thyroid disease, and is a little overwhelming in terms of the lifestyle changes it demands, but, happily, for lots of people, it can be treated really effectively that way.

I’ve been gluten free for about a year (minus the inevitable gluten exposure from restaurant eating) and it has helped a lot, and now it seems that cutting out dairy is the next step. Which is …. uggggggggh. Just ugh. I love cheese and ranch. But not so much that I want to keep feeling like crap.

So, gosh, that aspirational stuff about God choosing your Lent and all that. Yes. (Did I mention that wine seems to be a terrible culprit too. 5 months off the mommy juice now, and missing it still.) Tequila and vodka seem to be tolerable, in small and occasional amounts, but I’m getting to be a really, really lame happy hour buddy. I have some girlfriends who are also exploring health problems right now and the persistent joke among us has been “welcome to your 30s, when everything falls apart.”

 

I’ve also crashed and burned with THM and have been trying to reincorporate the most helpful pieces of it (namely, the stable blood sugar levels that it delivers) but haven’t been following it religiously by any means. And that’s starting to show up on the scale. Or it’s stress that is showing up. But regardless, trying to get back in the habit of balancing out my meals with protein and separating fats and carbs by several hours. It really does help prevent crashy afternoon syndrome, and I still have about 18 stubborn “baby” (read: cool ranch dorito) pounds to shed.

#paleo

Anything else missing from this novella? Oh, yes, I’m back on Instagram. It’s much more addictive than I remember, so I’m trying to only use it certain days of the week, and to resist the pull of the stoplight/carline scroll. It’s hard!

Finally, any good reading recommendations that don’t involve World War II? I’m a little burnt out on the genre after a slew of fantastic reads, and I’d like to get into some other fiction. Currently reading THM (again), this fantastic book Ignatius sent me to review, and something about some guy in Moscow that Kindle recommended to me that I do not love, at least not enough to recall the title.

Happy hump day, may yours be filled with daffodils and spicy water.

Culture of Death, Evangelization, mental health

Walking each other home

March 14, 2017

This past week, my dad lost his best friend. Jim was 20 years his senior and could technically have been his father – my grandfather – but instead of assuming a parent/child interaction, a 23 year streak of baseball games, happy hours, cigars, Christmas toasts, rounds of golf and countless, countless political conversations around the firepit in the backyard ensued between two unlikely men’s men, guys who could each have run a small country on their own, and yet, still made time and recognized the value – in the most natural and unscripted manner – in cultivating a relationship spanning decades.

They didn’t do programs together. They didn’t meet for any kind of men’s group, nor would they ever have attended had they been invited. Some people, particularly in generations preceding my own, are not “program people,” and that’s just fine.

In fact? It might even be more fine, more natural.

Coming of age in the digital revolution, I observed the bizarre migration of the bulk of my relationships from the real world to the virtual world, and then, more recently, back again. By “back again” I don’t mean that I’ve jettisoned online finds, just that as the shine has worn off for all of us, I’ve started (and it’s really fits and starts in this season) to push myself to be more intentional about actual face time. Not the app. And I’ve observed a lot of other people doing it, too.

It’s a lonely world we’re living in. For all the blessings of technology and cheap energy, the cost ends up being perilously high in terms of overall social connectedness and health. We drive everywhere, spending literal hours “alone together” stuck on the freeway. It has become so easy to be absorbed in a screen at all times. So much less effort to pick up my phone and snap a video of what I’m currently doing and shoot it out to an audience of a thousand “friends” than use it to call one specific friend and connect with, directly. The connection costs something. Maybe I’m too tired. Maybe I’m not really looking for connection, but to scratch the itch of boredom. Maybe it’s too hard to sit with silence, too intimidating to cross the street and knock on the neighbor’s door.

We are a culture dying for a little love. Literally, figuratively, emotionally and spiritually.

Instead of meaningful, sacramental sex, we have porn. Instead of family meals, we have fast food and a screen for every nose to press against. Instead of a vibrant, dynamic parish where one can belong, be known, and be in relationship with others, we have a cold, disconnected group of strangers standing in line to receive their Sacraments, assembly line style, and filing out like a frantic fire drill before the closing hymn is announced, let alone sung.

We are so lonely. We have lost the ability to connect with one another. We say we’re more connected than ever, yet an article about people making eye contact or performing some basic act of human decency in public brings actual tears to our eyes when someone shares it on social media. My God, we think, can you imagine if everyone reacted with such kindness/bravery/compassion/honesty?

Well, what if we did?

What if instead of spending literally hours with our tiny screens opened in our laps, collecting comments and likes and mindlessly scrolling through other people’s daily lives (this is not an anti social media manifesto, said the blogger. Just, we do really have a problem here), we spend an hour or two every day drinking a beer with our next door neighbors. Playing soccer in the backyard with our kids. Invited our coworker to grab dinner as we each exit our soulless work stations for the night, each headed home to dark studio apartments. What if we took the moments at the stoplights to pray a silent Hail Mary for the person in the car next to us, asking the Lord to work in their hearts and meet whatever profound need they are currently struggling with?

Because we all are. We are all in this together, and we are all of us broken, struggling, and in need of saving. 

When I think of my dad and the friendship he’ll lay to rest later this week, I think of it as being sacramental in a way that means incarnate. That it was real, that it was the product of years of interaction and communication and recreation and real fellowship.

They didn’t share all their beliefs, but they shared their lives together. 

That is what we are called to do. To be in communion with one another. To love our neighbor. Not only the neighbor who looks, acts, thinks, and believes exactly as we do. But the neighbor who is vibrantly, unmistakably different. And who we love – and who loves us – anyway.

Real love doesn’t gloss over differences either, no more than it rejects them. Real love stays in the fight and wrestles, chews them over, discusses and debates and banters and walks away at the end of the night with a handshake, and means it.

When did we stop shaking hands? The self-selecting isolation we’ve chosen for ourselves is killing us, destroying our culture, and birthing a generation of profoundly lonely, alienated people who think that to be accepted demands a uniformity that isn’t possible, isn’t necessary, and isn’t in keeping with the profound dignity of the human person.

Never stop working for the conversion of your own heart, and for the heart of every single person you encounter. You never, never know how much work God can achieve within the sacred boundaries of true friendship which wills the good (the authentic good) of the other.

And never for a moment think that real conversion can happen apart from real, complicated, dynamic, sometimes messy relationships.

God can work with that. But He can’t work if we won’t go.

After all, we’re all just walking each other home.

Catholics Do What?, guest post

What’s in a (Catholic) name? {an interview with Sancta Nomina}

March 10, 2017

I had the great pleasure of “meeting” Kate from Sancta Nomina, the completely rad Catholic baby name blog, back when Luke the Duke was still an interior baby. She did a consult for us and correctly identified the Marian and Skywalker significance of the moniker he ended up with, and I knew right then and there that she was good people.

A couple months ago, as I was picking up our 4 year old from his sweet Catholic Montessori classroom, I noticed that I was about to abscond with a lunch cube of a different color. But it did say JP? Oh. But ours said John Paul. I rifled in the mini fridge amidst a sea of lunch cubes and spied  Giovanni Paolo, Juan Pablo, and, aha, there in the back of the pile, plain old John Paul. I stuck JP back in and retried John Paul. 4 different Wojtyla iterations in a single preschool class. My thoughts immediately turned to Kate, and I knew I wanted to have her on to share her craft with us, and to delve into some of the background and the significance of names and what the Church has to say about them.

So, without further ado, I give you the lovely Kate.


The Church is concerned with the names we give our children because names are important! I recently read something our Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (or Papa Benny, as I like to think of him) wrote about the Patriarch Jacob wrestling with God in the book of Genesis, and the subsequent bestowing of his new name (Israel), and BXVI explained that “in the biblical mentality the name contains the most profound reality of the individual, it reveals the person’s secret and destiny. Knowing one’s name therefore means knowing the truth about the other person.”

That’s heavy stuff! And we certainly see names given a lot of attention in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, from God allowing Adam to name all the animals, to name changes that signified a change in identity and mission (Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Simon to Peter, Saul to Paul—we see this even today with Confirmation names, religious names, and papal names), to God Himself choosing certain babies’ names (John the Baptist, Jesus). Some of the most moving verses in the Bible, to me, are from Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:9-11): “God greatly exalted [Jesus] and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”—every time I read them I feel a swell of emotion, they’re so full of the awesomeness and power of God.

Outside of the Bible—and certainly taking example from it—the Church has had a lot to say about names! According to The Catholic Encyclopedia “the assumption of a new name for some devotional reason was fairly common among [early]  Christians” and was usually associated with baptism, especially from the fourth century and later. Examples of new names included those of apostles, martyrs, and even peers who had helped effect one’s conversion to the faith. And St. John Chrysostom advised parents in the fourth century:

“So let the name of the saints enter our homes through the naming of our children, to train not only the child but the father, when he reflects that he is the father of John or Elijah or James; for, if the name be given with forethought to pay honor to those that have departed, and we grasp at our kinship with the righteous rather than with our forebears, this too will greatly help us and our children. Do not because it is a small thing regard it as small; its purpose is to succor us.”

The Catholic Encyclopedia offers several more references to the practice of Christian names being bestowed at baptism throughout history, including pronouncements by the Church (local and universal), and in the old Code of Canon Law, which was in effect from 1917 until 1983, parents were *required* to give their child a “Christian name” (which didn’t necessarily have to be a saint’s name—virtue names, for examples, were fine) or the priest would bestow a saint’s name upon the baby at baptism.

It wasn’t until the new Code of Canon Law took effect in 1983 that the wording was changed to say: “Parents, sponsors, and the pastor are to take care that a name foreign to Christian sensibility is not given” (Canon 855), which, as you can see, allows for a lot of names that might not have been okay before (see my CatholicMom article on names that are foreign to Christian sensibility). Basically, these days most names are just fine, and I feel like the change of wording in Canon Law is further evidence of the wisdom and foresight of the Church because modern parents love individuality and creativity in naming! According to name expert Laura Wattenberg, “it took a list of six names to cover half of the population of children born in England in 1800 (U.S. Social Security Administration records don’t begin until 1880). By 1950 in the United States, that number was up to 79. Today, it takes 546 names to cover half of the population of U.S. babies born.” To parents naming babies in this environment then, the names that are traditionally thought of when “saints’ names” are considered—John, Mary, Joseph, Anne—often feel restrictive and uninspired. Couple that with how many people seem to leap at any chance to dismiss the Church’s teachings as outdated or out of touch, and you can see how the new Canon on names came at a perfect time—now you can be a 21st-century namer AND a good Catholic!

I love how you phrased your question: “Why should we think with the mind of the Church when naming?” We’ve just discussed the Church’s history of understanding how important names are, and I also really like this explanation given by Cathy Caridi, J.C.L., at the Canon Law Made Easy blog:

“This is not merely a question of personal taste … if a priest is to baptize a child, there must be a well founded hope that the child will be raised in the Catholic faith … If the parents wanted to give a bizarre, unchristian name to their child, it would be altogether natural for the parents’ pastor to question their intentions! Are they serious about rearing their child as a Catholic? Or do they regard the whole baptismal ceremony as an empty tradition or even a joke? It is the pastor’s duty to find out.”

And I love how St. John Chrysostom pointed out that the purpose of giving one’s children the names of saints is to help us, and that by doing so we allow the name of the saints to enter our homes and strengthen our relationship with those holy men and women, and encourage our reliance on their example and intercession. That’s how I think of all the names that I consider to fall within the sphere of Catholic names (saint/biblical/virtue names, and names of prayers, Marian titles/adjectives and apparition sites and other holy places; other ideas here)—they all allow our faith to enter our homes and families and stay top of mind and heart.

What uniquely Catholic naming trends have you observed in the years you’ve been following/studying? Any crazy things stand out to you? Any commentary on the insanely wonderful JPII situation in my preschool, for example?

I really love seeing the variety of tastes among devout Catholic families! Among the families I’ve connected with through my blog and name consultations, I’ve seen children with really classic, traditional names, and children with totally outside-the-box names, and everything in between. I’ve gotten loads of ideas and inspiration from the names of the babies I’ve encountered—beautiful names connected to both little-known and well-known saints and other holy people (Servants of God, Venerables, Blesseds), and creative twists like double first names (Anne-Catherine) and names that recall prayers through their sound (Sylvie Regina, Agnes Daisy). Marian names are some of my very favorites, and there are so many! I’m also a big nicknamer, so I think it’s really fun to see a serious, sophisticated formal name with a playful nickname (like Romy for Rosemary or Bash for Sebastian).

I like to spotlight families on my blog who have done something different and eye-opening with naming their babies, in order to show others the wide array of Catholic naming possibilities—names like Vianney, Clairvaux, Kapaun, Lourdes, Bosco, and Tiber and combos like Indigo Madonna and Hyacinth Clemency Veil. Each one of those names has impeccable, uber Catholic ties to holy people, places, or ideas while still being unexpected. I also love encountering real-life babies with hardcore old-school Catholicky Catholic names like Perpetua, Philomena, Gerard, Augustine, and Clement, as well as sibling sets with a mix of names—traditional and modern, unusual and familiar—like brothers Michael, Benedict, Kolbe, and Casper.

I really really love the “insanely wonderful JPII situation” in your son’s class! I definitely see a lot of love being given to our St. John Paul the Great through names—your son and his classmates demonstrate perfectly the various ways to use his papal name, and I know both boys and girls named after him using his pre-papal name, Karol (Polish for Charles), as inspiration: Karol, Carol, Charles, Charlotte, Caroline, Karoline. I’ve even seen some Loleks, after his childhood nickname! I’ve also had several conversations with parents who want to use the name John Paul but aren’t sure how to handle it: is it a double first name, and therefore they should choose a middle name? Is it a first name and a middle name? Should they spell it John Paul or John-Paul or Johnpaul? I spotlighted one family who solved the issue of a middle name for John Paul in a really interesting way, and I really love that families are willing to wrestle with it for the ultimate goal of giving their boys such an amazing and beloved patron saint.

Another name that’s been really hot with Catholic families is Zelie, both with and without the accent on the first ‘e’ and in all its forms, including Azelie, Zellie, Zaylee, and Zaley, and also used in combos like Zelie-Louise, thus really reinforcing the connection to the Martin saints, Zélie (born Marie-Azélie) and Louis. (I wrote more about the whole phenomenon here.)

What advice do you give parents when they’re naming a new baby? Any do’s or don’ts you care to share? (don’t involve family/do involve family/social media silence/etc.?)

Hm, interesting questions! So many things that I believed in the past to be naming “rules” have shown themselves, through real-life examples, to not be so hard and fast and to be really changeable on a family-by-family basis. I really love hearing the song in a parent’s voice when he or she tells me the story of their child’s name, and sometimes the name they’re telling me about goes against all the “advice” I might feel like giving! I do have my personal preferences though, based on my own experiences—I like hearing feedback on our name ideas from friends and family, to be sure we aren’t missing some huge negative association of which we’re unaware. I think floating names in online discussion boards or running them by a name blogger (ahem) can be a good way to get feedback if going the friends and family route is going to cause rifts in relationships. At the same time, I think it’s important to feel free to dismiss others’ negative reactions if they’re based on pure opinion—we’re all allowed to like and dislike names, and in the end the parents alone have the gift and responsibility of naming their baby.

Pope Francis touched on this in Amoris Laetitia, saying: “For God allows parents to choose the name by which he himself will call their child for all eternity” (no. 166). The Catechism reminds us that “God calls each one by name. Everyone’s name is sacred. The name is the icon of the person. It demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it” (2158). There’s reassurance in those statements (“For God allows the parents to choose the name”) and also responsibility (“for all eternity”; “Everyone’s name is sacred”; “The name is the icon of the person”). Keeping all that in mind, as well as approaching the naming process with maturity and prayer, will surely help lead parents in the right direction when choosing their children’s names.

And really, anything else you want to answer that comes to mind

I really like to remember that God meets us where we are—for example, a name chosen without regard to the faith might end up being the name of a saint that one comes to have a devotion to later on (I wrote here about how sometimes patron saints find us—sometimes through names!). Name norms also vary depending on cultural considerations and points in history, which is important to remember. Also, regarding the strife I see in families and online discussions surrounding a baby’s name, a good rule of thumb for all concerned is to be kind and reasonable.

Also, please share your social media locations and where my readers can read you, whether it’s on your blog or any recurring features you run.

My blog is http://sanctanomina.net, where I post several times a week on whatever namey thing’s on my mind—questions from readers, name spotlights, birth announcements, random thoughts. I also do name consultations (info here), and post one every Monday for reader feedback, which are a lot of fun.

You can find me @SanctaNomina on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I also write a monthly column for CatholicMom.com (they can all be found here) and have had several pieces on Nameberry’s Berry Juice blog (all found here).

I have a couple of exciting things coming up: I’ll be on the Go Forth with Heather and Becky podcast, airing March 21—we’ll be discussing name ideas for Heather’s baby-on-the-way! Also, I contributed to the Catholic Hipster Handbook, compiled by Tommy Tighe (*the* Catholic Hipster) and published by Ave Maria Press, which will be available for pre-order this spring and released in the fall (2017). Here’s a little blurb about it: “Coming this Fall from Ave Maria Press, The Catholic Hipster Handbook is going to rock your world.  This book is going to cover everything about the Catholic Hipster life and features contributions from an amazing lineup  including Jeannie Gaffigan, Lisa Hendey, Arleen Spenceley, Anna Mitchell, Sarah Vabulas, and many more!” I’m thrilled to be included in an actual published book, and with such amazing people!

All in all, I’m humbled and honored at all that God’s allowed me to do with my funny little interest in names! Reading back over my answers, I see that I wrote, “I really love” quite a few times—I was going to try to change up the wording but it just expresses so exactly how I feel about the gift of my blog and my readers that I decided to keep it in.