Catholic Spirituality, Culture of Death, current events, Evangelization, synod2018

A mother’s hope for the synod

October 3, 2018

“The Church is in turmoil.” Archbishop Charles Chaput

Today begins a multi-week convergence in the Eternal City of some of the best minds from around the global Church. Laypeople, seminarians, priests, bishops, and the Holy Father are coming together to discuss that which is the future of the Catholic Church in a very literal sense: her youth.

The working document for the 2018 synod on young adults, the faith, and vocational discernment is, one can only hope, a jumping-off point from which deeper conversation and consideration will flow. It touches nicely on some of the sociological and psychological needs shared by youth the world over, but is light on faith and belief. It misdiagnoses the illness, if I may be so bold. Allow me to explain.

I am the young-ish mother of five little kids. A millenial by the skin of my teeth and 10 calendar days, I’ve observed – and participated in – the digitalization of life and culture. I’ve participated enthusiastically in the social media revolution. I have friends of all stripes and types. I like pourover coffee and locally roasted beans.

I also recognize that we are hemorrhaging believers, and belief. That our modern way of living lacks a depth and breadth that once rooted people deeply in their communities and in their families.

Young people are delaying or forgoing marriage. Couples are refusing to have children. Mothers and fathers are losing a sense of the deep sacrificial identity of parenthood, and how it disciples us to become more and more like God our Father. And no wonder, since many young people can’t look to an earthy father – or mother – for an example. Increasingly, there are fewer spiritual fathers that can be trusted, as this summer has shown us in spades.

As I read through the Instrumentum Laboris, the working document for this gathering, I kept coming back to the idea that “you can’t give what you don’t have,” and there’s the rub: I don’t think the Church is living in a way that is sufficiently attractive to most young people.

Simply put: holiness is attractive, and examples of authentic holiness, both within and outside of the Church, seem in short supply.

If the Church is wrestling with attracting and retaining young believers, it is because she has too few saints perfuming her earthly body with the aroma of sanctity.

JPII had no trouble drawing crowds of millions. Mother Teresa, too. Were the times in which they lived any less complicated?

I look into my kids’ faces and think about their futures, and my larger concern beyond all the talk of identity and accompaniment and inequality that I found in the IL is this: “when they are mature, will they find that our Church that is sufficiently attractive to capture their hearts?”

Only Jesus, our Eucharistic Lord, can do this work. To the extent that we preach the Gospel and allow Jesus to transform our lives, we will evangelize the culture. Including the youth culture.

It’s ridiculously, pathologically simple.

Young people need priests who would die for love of the Eucharist. Who spend hours a day on their knees in prayer, celebrating the sacraments for their flocks. Who shun political and social media hyperactivity and draw deeply into the presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament every single day. Who are intensely masculine in the sense that their capacity for self-sacrifice grows and grows as they enter more deeply into their identity of being an alter Christus.

Young people need mothers and fathers who prioritize faith above all else. Who would sooner miss a season of soccer games than a Sunday Mass. Who spend more time praying for and over their children than they do checking social media and the family activity calendar. Who prioritize their faith lives above all else, including their professional lives.

Young people need to be exposed to a radical idea: that Jesus Christ is the only answer to the deepest longing of the human heart, and that Jesus Christ alone can give them true freedom.

No focus group can come up with a better form of accompaniment. No clever theologian can sufficiently modernize the Gospel to make it the most compelling choice in an endless buffet of attractive offerings.

This was the most disturbing section of the IL for me to read:

  1. Consequently, the Church “is brought into being” with young people, by allowing them to be true protagonists without telling them “it has always been done this way”. This perspective, which determines a pastoral style and also a way of internal organisation for the institution, is perfectly in tune with the request for authenticity that young people are addressing to the Church. They expect to be accompanied not by an unbending judge, nor by a fearful and hyperprotective parent who generates dependence, but by someone who is not afraid of his weakness and is able to make the treasure it holds within, like an earthen vessel, shine (cf. 2Cor4:7). Otherwise, they will ultimately turn elsewhere, especially at a time when there is no shortage of alternatives (cf. PM 1.7.10).

This fundamentally misunderstands what the Church is doing wrong, if I may be so bold. She is not failing to fragrance the modern world with sanctity because she is “unbending judge” or “hyperprotective parent,” but, rather, because she is a neglective mother and an absentee father.

We are in a crisis of parenthood. Nowhere is that more brutally evident than in the Pennsylvania report. In the McCarrick story. In case after case of Fathers failing their children utterly, destroying their lives when they should be offering their own as a willing sacrifice.

The Church will continue to fail to compete with “no shortage of alternatives” so long as she is playing on the same field as the world.

We can’t win in any other category but holiness.

It is our smallness, our seeming weakness – perhaps especially financially and politically in the coming decades – that magnifies the largeness of God.

These weeks of discussion and document drafting in Rome would be well spent hemmed in on all sides by deep, authentic and personal prayer on the parts of every participant. Would that the Holy Father would lead a public, global day of penance, on his knees, in front of the Blessed Sacrament, exposed for all the world to see on the altar in St. Peter’s Basilica, or out in the Square.

Therein lies our hope. There could be no more powerful witness.

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some thoughts on parenting, 8 years in

September 24, 2018

I sat in the therapist’s office confessing my difficult feelings toward one of my children, wondering how it had come to be that I found myself sitting knee-to-knee with a mental health professional whose office was strewn with kinetic sand and dinosaurs. The child whose woes we were addressing sat waiting in the adjacent receiving room, while mommy ate up some of the billable hours.

Parenting has been such a weird experience. Weird those first tremulous months before pregnancy shows, walking around in a fog of exhaustion and wonder, not understanding how the entire world can keep spinning while there is an actual HUMAN PERSON GROWING INVISIBLY INSIDE YOU, and weird on those nights when tossing five kids without shoes into a minivan at 5 pm for a quick pre-dinner run to the grocery store that leaves innocent bystanders gasping in awe and throwing an arm across their vision to shield their eyes from the horrors they’re witnessing seems like a reasonable thing to do. And you do it. Because you’re out of shredded mozzarella.

Sometimes I feel like a brand new mom still, dragging a mewling toddler angry from the pew during the consecration and slinking out the back of daily Mass before another sweet old woman can grab my sleeve and tell me how much easier it will get.  Other times I feel like a veteran ninja, like when someone has a public potty training mishap so spectacular that tears would be justified, and I laugh instead. (related: the precise moment I witnessed my beautiful 22-year-old sister earnestly consider a religious vocation for the first time.)

One thing is becoming clear as my children age, with a wise old 8-year-old now captaining our basketball team: the older they get, the more I realize how ill equipped I am to raise them. I’m not a bad mom – I’m actually a pretty good mom – but I’m as broken and human as the next guy. And while one kid needles my extreme introversion which can tend towards selfishness, another mirrors back to me my inappropriate reactions to anxiety, and I want to climb the walls of my domestic realm and run for the hills of my single 20’s, when nobody needed me and I could hide my weaknesses from the world.

Gosh, but I was unhappy then, too. Far less happy than I am now, truth be told, even if my skin was firmer and my sleep less fragmented.

No doubt there are other ways to mature as a human person, and to subject one’s unsavory qualities to a process of purification. But gosh darn it if parenting my junior varsity squad hasn’t thus far proven to be as enlightening as obtaining a master’s degree in meditation, as challenging as training for multiple marathons in varying terrains and in inclement weather.

Remember, Jenny, you can’t yell at this kid with increasing intensity to communicate the increasing urgency of the situation, because it will have the opposite of the intended effect. It doesn’t matter that it works on his brother! He is fundamentally different. You have to use soft words and gentle physical touch.

Or

Don’t surrender this molehill, or you’ll be facing an insurmountable mountain in her tween years. Yes, her brother would forget this conversation in 24 hours. No, she will not do the same.

And so on.

It seems like parenting requires a basic “tool box” with standard tools that work on every kid: food, clothing, shelter, affection. But then there are necessary attachments that you won’t know you need until you meet each particular child: peaceful patience for this one, a will of iron for that one, saintly gentleness with another. Sometimes you have the tools you need for the job, and other time you literally don’t. Not even if you are smack dab in the middle of Home Depot with a black AMEX in your pocket and a rolling forklift behind you.

I don’t have everything it takes parent. I can’t plug numbers into a formula and guarantee x results. I can’t even make weird bargains with God (usually involving sleep) and trade away years of my life in exchange for 8 solid hours now.

All this to say, I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time, even if it often feels like I do because I’ve been on autopilot for the better part of a decade. But then a receptionist will ask me for a particular kid’s immunization record and I’m like, wait, aren’t you the one who hangs onto those?

I love being a mom, but it’s nothing like I imagined it would be. My kids are autonomous beings with free will. Immortal souls. Unrepeatable and never-before-seen personalities. It’s fascinating and rewarding and paralyzing at turns, and I guess this is a glimmer of what the Fatherhood of God might be like, except, horrifyingly, He knows how it will end for each of us, and He pours Himself out entirely in spite of that.

I’ve got a broken tool box and a house full of imperfect kids. God only knows how it’s all going to turn out. I’m just along for the ride. As I embark on week two of my fourth round of potty training, it is proving to be a somewhat more thrilling ride than was advertised.

Catholic Spirituality, current events, Pope Francis, Rome, sin, Suffering

Finding grace in the Eternal City

September 19, 2018

I woke up blinking and disoriented in the chilly darkness of our hotel room, craning my neck to see if any light was squeezing through the cracks of the blackout shutters. I rolled over and grabbed my phone, which was displaying the current time on the east coast of the United States in military format. Zelie’s morning chortles echoed from down the hall, bouncing off the marble floors and reassuring me that it was, in fact, morning and we’d all mostly slept through the night.

I roused Dave, lifted the baby from her plush Italian pack-n-play, and we padded upstairs to the breakfast room, situated on the enclosed rooftop of the 7-story apartment building-turned-boutique hotel 5 blocks from St. Peter’s Square. We blinked in wonder at our birdseye view of the cupola while wrestling Zelie into a comically oversized Italian highchair, un seggiolone, threading a swaddle blanket around her waist and securing her to the chair with a sloppy, oversized knot. That blanket would become at turns a changing table, sun cover, sweat towel, handkerchief, and soothing object in addition to a lap restraint. I’m always amazed by how little baby gear we can get by with while traveling.

As we munched on prosciutto and powdered scrambled eggs, we discussed plans for our first full day in the city. The flight over was arduous but manageable (unlike the flight home. Ahem. #foreshadowing) and we’d taken only a modest nap the day before to ensure a quick adjustment to local time. The whole day stretched before us with possibility, already shimmering with the late-summer heat of the city. I wanted to hit a few churches – one, St. Mary Major, I couldn’t remember having been inside at all. Also on the list: The Gesu. Sant’ignacio. Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Sant’agostino. I was hoping to find Ignatius, Catherine of Siena, Francis Xavier. I had some specific prayers in my heart to entrust to the earliest Jesuits, those spiritual and missionary giants. We made it to every church on the list, but mistimed our visits to Santa Maria Sopra Minerva and the Gesu to coincide unfortunately with siesta.

Santa Maria Maggiore was a wonder. It is deceptively nondescript from the outside, rendering the breathtaking vaulted, gold coffered ceilings all the more striking. We wandered around the perimeter, pushing Zelie in her $14 umbrella stroller with the squeaking, battle weary wheels tested by cobbled streets. We’ve learned our lesson never to travel with the “good” stroller. Zelie’s legs dangled from the fraying hammock of the seat, kicking like plump sausages and delighting the crowds of tourists we threaded through.

The basilica houses a relic of the creche – of the manger itself, where Mary swaddled Jesus and laid him to rest on a pillow of straw. It was hot and crowded in the crypt beneath the altar, different languages flowing past my ears like water while I struggled to focus my mind and heart in prayer. I don’t pray well when we make these trips, battling the temporal elements of travel: the sleep disruption, the weather, the crying baby. I’m a comfortable American, safely ensconced in a suburban neighborhood marked by convenience and privacy. I’m never more aware of my personal shortcomings and my impoverished capacity for suffering than when I’m in a foreign country.

Rome is neither comfortable nor private. It is gaudy, glittering, dirty, ancient, intimate, and overflowing with humanity. There are architectural masterpieces on every corner and there is graffiti on most surfaces. Pigeons and garbage, relics and riches. It is a study in contradiction, a layer-cake of human history piled one era atop another, the ancient crumbling in the midst of the modern. Workers erect scaffolding to update and reinforce, polishing away layers of pollution and grime while dropping pieces of trash and debris around their workspace. Ducking into a shabby, off color apartment building on a nondescript sidestreet can yield a magnificent grotto carved from plaster and beams, a 5-star culinary mecca hiding behind the peeling stucco facade.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed in Rome. Spiritually, emotionally, certainly physically. The soundtrack of wailing sirens whose cadence is off just enough to remind you how far you are from home, bells tolling joyfully or solemnly at turns from the thousands of bell towers dotting the skyline. The steady, constant thrum of traffic, of motorbikes weaving through throngs of pedestrians and taxis scraping down streets that seem too narrow for golf carts.

I stood in St. Mary Major with all the feelings of the past summer swirling in my head and my heart, willing myself to connect emotionally with what I saw before me: a piece of the cradle that held our Savior. I was tired, sweaty, and heavy with the grief of being Catholic. As we’d walked out of our neighborhood and past St. Peter’s that morning, we heard the Pope’s voice ringing out from the loudspeakers, drifting down Via della conciliazione during his regular Wednesday Audience, causing my heart to constrict painfully in my chest. We didn’t attend the audience, didn’t even linger at the perimeter of the undersized crowd.

I was too angry.

Ascending the steps from below the splendid altar in St. Mary Major, I made my way back to Dave and the stroller. We spotted a traditional confessional where a white robed Dominican priest was seated, administering the Sacrament of Reconciliation to an Italian woman standing as if at a drive through window at a bank. The sign affixed to his booth read “Polish/Italiano/English” so we took our places in line.

When it was my turn to confess, I lowered my head and laid bare my anger, my hurt, and my rage at the seeming impotence of the episcopacy, the sorrow at being in Rome and feeling estranged from my own faith. The confession was brief and, I hoped, thorough. Father cocked his head to the side and looked at me thoughtfully, speaking perfect English in a thick Polish accent,

“It is okay to be angry. It might even be good to be angry. We are all angry. This is a difficult moment for the Church. Particularly the Church in America.” He smiled sadly, “but the Church is hurting everywhere at this time. And if God is giving you anger that will not leave, He may want you to do something with it.”

I searched his face while searching my own conscience, probing to see whether the anger I harbored was righteous and rightly-ordered, or whether it was shot through with self interest and pride.

I think it was both, to be honest. Anger over the profound injuries caused, and the egregious sin. Anger for the victims’ suffering. Anger for the hypocrisy of churchmen who lived double lives as predators.

But also anger at being humiliated by my own Church. And this may be the selfish, pride-filled anger that had no useful function. The anger at being exposed for being a fool for taking seriously the moral teachings of the faith while men in positions of power and influence laughed and derided our sacrifices. Was I living my faith for the approval of some bishop or cardinal, then, or even the Pope? If all of these apostized and rejected the faith wholesale, would I also leave, citing the evolution of eternal truths into something more relevant to modernity?

I saw immediately the distinction between the anger that father spoke of as being righteous, and the anger that was rooted in self interest. The first kind of anger, Father explained, was given as a kind of energy by God, it was a right response from a properly formed conscience.

“Righteous anger,” he explained, was “applying your energy to make right the wrongs.” He encouraged me as a parent to embrace this righteous anger, pointing out that if I had no immediate capacity for righting the wrongs which I encountered but still harbored this anger, that perhaps God was giving it as a gift, designed to be transformed into fuel for the engines of prayer and sacrifice.

“Anger has a purpose.” He concluded. “Anger that is free from sin and persistent is God offering you an opportunity. Do something with the anger. Ask Him what he wants from you.”

I left that Confession feeling 20 pounds lighter. I’m still angry, sitting at home a week later, nursing a slight headache from the jet lag while I pound the keyboard. But the anger no longer feels suffocating. I can pray and be angry. I can be faithful to my vocation and be angry. I can go to Mass, frequent the Sacraments, pray for the Church, and be angry.

That Confession in the heart of Rome left me with a new understanding of what St. Paul means when he says: “be angry, but do not sin.”

Of all the beautiful sights and sounds from our trip, the sacramental conversation I had with a stranger from Poland is the one that stands apart from all the rest.

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Gelato and grace

September 11, 2018

About 2 months ago we got the news that Dave would be going to Rome in September in connection with his work on the cause for canonization for Servant of God Julia Greeley. I was ecstatic for him, of course, and encouraged him to set other appointments and meetings and make the most of it by staying for a full week. One does not “weekend” in Europe from middle America, considering the 13+ hours of flight time to get there.

I felt a little sorry for myself, if only that I would miss out on a trip to our “second city” and that Dave would be catching up solo with all our old friends and coworkers, sipping espresso with Tonio and catching an appartivo with Alan, while I would be here holding down the fort at home, because our days of toting the whole family abroad are firmly in the rearview. One does not work for the Church and simply “take 5 kids to Italy” on 2 month’s notice.

But. We began to tentatively consider, could I possibly come too? Would anyone want to take a kid or two off our hands while we made a couple’s trip out of it? And at the beginning of the school year? Could I get some things done for work there? Was there a possibility of redeeming points for airline miles, of getting Zelie a passport in time, of coordinating all the moving parts of leaving 4 kids behind for 7 days?

The answer to all of the above proved to be a resounding: yes. I prayed and worried and second guessed and honestly felt a little sheepish because how many times can one family go to the Eternal City? It’s ridiculous. I know how ridiculous it looks and sounds. But after a few phone calls and one effortless passport appointment (at one of the 5 expedited passport offices that print onsite in the US – located in Denver), we were set.

So although my heart is grieving for the grave evil that has been unmasked within the Church during this “summer of shame,” it rejoices, because I love her still.

I love Rome. I love standing beneath the majesty of Bernini’s baldacchino and marveling at the splendor of St. Peter’s Square. I never feel more “at home” in the universal Church than when I’m inside the basilica, soaking in the mystery and grace of 2,000+ years of courage and sacrifice and love.

And while we absolutely, without a doubt do not deserve a trip like this, we’re choosing to see this ridiculous grace for what it is: God spoiling a couple of His undeserving children after a long, dry season.

We’ve joked together repeatedly over the past 6 months that 2018 has been our rebuilding year. Little did we know how much water that analogy would carry.

As we’ve adjusted to life with baby number 5 and settled into our new home, the stress of the previous 18 months slowly but surely started to dissipate. We started exercising again. Laughing again. Making time for nothing. I started going to therapy, both the physical and the emotional kind, while at the same time we trimmed back our expenses and got serious about our budget. I began praying in a way that was more personal and more intentional, edging closer and closer to a God whose apparent silence I had mistaken for indifference when in fact it was a severe mercy.

I look back at the previous year and some change of real estate disasters, at the 6 months we spent commuting an hour each way to school from our temporary digs at a friend’s home in a neighboring city, at a surprise pregnancy resulting in a surprisingly delightful baby, at financial worries that ended up being catalysts that nudged us further into God’s will, and I am humbled. Ashamed by my own failure to trust. Touched by God’s gentleness with me when He knew, as He always does, that I would fail. And so excited to introduce little Z to the cold stuff in the little paper cup that dreams are made of. (spoiler alert: she tried crema and cioccolato tonight and loved both).

If you want to follow along with our trip I’ll be checking in on Instagram under the hashtag #Zelitalia. I mentioned there that I’d be honored to take any prayer intentions along for the ride. We always make it a point to visit JPII in St. Peter’s one of the first days we arrive, and I will happily carry your intentions there with me tomorrow morning. Arrivederci!

Different babies, same piazza.

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Pray, fast, sign

September 5, 2018

Guys, what a couple weeks. I’m reeling. Everyone I know who takes their faith seriously is reeling. I have prayed more in the last month than in perhaps the last 6 months combined (which does not paint me in a good light, I can assure you).

First and foremost, I encourage everyone reading this to make time for an hour a week for Adoration. Get to confession as frequently as you can. I try to go once a month because our parish has incredible access to this sacrament, but I need to go once a week. The more I go, the more I find to confess. If your parish doesn’t have regular hours for confession, call up the parish office and make an appointment with your pastor. It is one of his most important and privileged duties as a priest, and the more they are asked for it, the more the good ones will make it available.

If your parish doesn’t have Adoration, visit the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle.

If your parish is locked during the day, park your car in the lot closest to the back wall of the sanctuary (or wherever Jesus is reposed) and pray there. I’m not kidding. My mom made many a holy hour in her parked minivan this way when we were growing up in a small town with a single, mediocre parish that had never heard of a monstrance.

Make time for a daily rosary. We have tried (and failed) to pray it as a family, but we’re at least getting one decade done most days. I pray the other four in sections throughout the day, and if it’s not the best effort I can put forth, it is 1,000 times better than the rosary I don’t pray at all. Divine Mercy chaplets are great – and fast – too. We do a decade of Divine Mercy as soon as the kids get in the car after school, even if they scream about it.

Make time everyday to read Scripture. If I had spent half the time in the Word today that I spent on Twitter, I would wager my blood pressure would be in a better place right now.

While you’re making time to read Scripture, why not commit 5 or 10 minutes a day to reading some papal encyclicals? If you’re confused about which ones to start with, how about those penned by previous Holy Fathers who have been beatified or canonized by the Church: Humanae Vitae, Evangelium Vitae, and Mulieris Dignitatem would all be great places to start.

And what else?

Sign this letter, presently going viral online.

Comment on this post and I’ll add your name to the list of signatures on the letter I wrote last week. Write your own letter to the nuncio, to Cardinal DiNardo, to your local bishop, or to Pope Francis himself. Feel free to adapt mine to your own use.

Make a specific sacrifice tied to the crises in the Church right now. I’m fasting from social media on Fridays and Sundays, and it is hard and also very, very refreshing. We’re also trying to be better about the thing we’re all supposed to be doing (in lieu of an alternate intention that we actually carry out – we never seem to) and abstaining from meat on Fridays.

I’ve heard people complain that prayer doesn’t change anything, that prayer is useless in the face of such evil. I get it. I also wonder, since what prayer changes is actually, well, us, whether a deeper and more sincere prayer life in the lives of some of our priests could have spared us a universe of heartache.

Finally, do not let the chaos of this time of uncertainty (looks meaningfully into mirror) rob you of the joy of ordinary time. We are still mothers, fathers, roommates, friends, and sons. We still have jobs to attend to and dishes to wash and trains to catch. I tried to spend a few moments this morning paying special attention to my baby’s fluffy head, the lovely flower my destructive toddler liberated from the garden, the soft warm late summer air in our backyard. It feels like the sky is falling, but in reality, all is still as it was before.

The difference is, now we know about it.

I don’t mean this to minimize the scandal or the evil in any way, but to remind myself, foremost, that life as we know it has not ended. We are still called to become saints, to give our lives to our vocations, and to pay the bills and keep the lights on.

May God grant us the grace to desire it.

abuse, Catholic Spirituality, current events, Family Life

Go to Joseph

August 28, 2018

“May you live in interesting times.”

This purported ancient Chinese proverb is usually ironically bestowed as more curse than blessing. We are certainly living in them, we Catholics in these waning days of the summer of 2018.

I feel an almost crushing burden of confusion, more than anything else, when I spend too much time going down rabbit holes and clicking over to related content, my mind swirling for somewhere firm to land. I told a friend this morning that I’ve had the sensation of my brain, not unlike an airplane, circling the airport looking for an open runway and, finding nowhere safe to land, being forced to remain in a frustrating holding pattern. I feel like I’m running out of fuel, to add insult to injury.

But when I ponder these days of crises with a more sober and serious disposition, I am forced to admit that my lived reality, my day-to-day tasks and struggles and responsibilities, remain almost maddeningly the same: deepen my own interior life. Be faithful to my vocation – and to the sacred vows I made. And teach my children the Gospel.

All else is, as they say, vanity.

And perhaps if I spent overly much time before July of this year letting priests and bishops and “the hierarchy” carry water for me, spiritually speaking, that time has passed. I cannot rely any longer on my own nasty little habit of clericalism, assuming the best of men of the cloth.

Are there good and holy priests? Of course. Real saints among us. And devils, too? Yes. Aren’t we finding out how very many…

And yet, what is this to you, and to me? Will a holy priest get me to heaven? Not if I don’t avail myself of the Sacraments of which he is a humble custodian, pursuing my own path of holiness with the aid of the mysterious sustenance Christ left for our earthly sojourn. A wicked priest is, too, only a humble custodian of God’s mercy, no matter the delusions of grandeur or murderous arrogance he may harbor.

I keep coming back to the thing I know to be true in these difficult times: Jesus.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. As I am not without sin like the first two, I find myself wanting to cling to the best practices of that last guy and live as closely by his example as possible.

How did Joseph become a saint?

He lived with Jesus and Mary.

He was probably rarely outside of their physical presence, and he carried their spiritual presence with him like a flame in his heart at his work table. How often he must have paused in his necessary, earthly, mundane, exhausting work to take a cool drink offered by the little boy Jesus, to share a quick visit with Mary and feel the consolation of her gentle hand on his aching back. His sole concern as their provider and protector was to do his work to the best of his ability so that they would be fed, clothed, and sheltered for the glory of God.

Are my responsibilities as a mother much different? Can I push aside my immediate responsibilities to fret over what more I should be doing besides working quietly to the absolute limits of my human frailty to provide for the family whom God has entrusted me with?

Maybe you’re not a parent. Maybe your current vocation is to a classroom full of children or a conference room full of employees, or even an auditorium full of fellow students. But I feel certain that we are each being called to emulate Joseph to the best of our abilities, executing our work on earth with as much care and humility as possible.

I cannot hope for Mary to hand me a cool drink of water or offer a clean cloth to wipe the sweat from my brow while I toil in the laundry room downstairs, fighting spiders and acedia to fulfill my daily duties, but I can turn to her in the rosary. I can align my heart with hers, praying for her Son to intercede in the lives of those other sons of her heart, her priests, that they would become more conformed to His passion.

I can’t open my arms for toddler Jesus to come running full tilt to leap in after a long day in the woodshed, but I can open my arms to my own children, pulling them into my lap to pray through the Scriptures, or bringing them along for the world’s fastest and least reflective visits to Jesus, fully present in Eucharistic Adoration.

I can go to Joseph. The first disciple of Jesus Christ in so many ways. I can love what he loved and live for what he lived for: the Mother, and the Son.

St. Joseph, terror of demons, pray for us.

abuse, Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, Culture of Death, current events, Pope Francis, scandal, sin, Suffering

Flipping tables in the temple

August 22, 2018

I have fielded countless emails, Instagram messages, comments, and texts from faithful Catholics these last few weeks. Most carry the same tone of concern and horror for what is coming to light: an egregious lack of transparency and honesty in the hierarchy, a terrifying lack of integrity where it comes to matters of sexual morality, and a smug assumption that the average Joe – or Jane – in the pew would never find out.

We’re finding out.

I shared my frustration with a priest friend yesterday, a faithful man who is valiantly struggling to lead his religious community in holiness. He shares my rage. He sent a letter to the parents of the young men who are in formation in his community, outlining the steps their community takes to ensure that chastity is the rule and not the exception. It gave me some ideas for what I can do as a parent to ensure that my children are safe and well-informed, as it becomes necessary and age appropriate, of the current crisis we face in the Catholic Church.

My oldest is not yet 8, so thankfully we are not having detailed conversations or answering horrifying questions about the current news coverage. We have done an okay job of shielding them from the details. I could probably be more careful with my phone conversations or dinner table talk when the kids have scooted off to play.

We have always instructed our kids openly about body safety and boundaries, encouraging them to tell us if anyone ever makes them uncomfortable or asks them to do something that scares them or makes them feel funny.

We’ve given them the real names for the various components of the reproductive system, and have emphasized repeatedly that only mommy and daddy and the doctor (with a parent present) ever have the right to touch their genitals, and then only to help them if they are sick or to wash them in the bathtub or at diaper changing time.

We’ve talked about grown ups or older kids or even age-group peers who make their tummies feel funny, who hug too hard or touch in the wrong places. We’ve had a couple incidents with our kids being put in uncomfortable positions by other children, and as we’ve navigated the fallout we’ve refined our family rules and our best practices as parents.

We don’t do sleepovers. We don’t do overnight camps or send our kids on out of town trips with other families. We have certain family members and friends whom we trust to baby-sit, and we politely decline other offers or avoid situations where we are not 100% confident in the sexual and moral integrity of the adults in question. We don’t send our kids to the neighbors’ houses to play for the most part, and we don’t allow them to play with their friends in our own home with their bedroom doors closed.

It sounds overprotective, but from our experience, it is basic common sense. Our kids are not smothered. They ride their bikes unescorted around the block, they run wild and free in playgrounds and parks and at parties and barbecues with our friends, they speak confidently to adults when they are in our presence, and they climb as high as they are able to in the trees of their choosing.

We do not want them to have a stilted childhood, but we do want them to have a safe one.

As they get older, we will increase their freedom. We will let our boys serve at the altar if they feel so called, and we will ensure that any altar server training or trips include parent volunteers. We will continue to welcome our priest friends into our home, providing concrete examples of holiness in religious life to our children. We will bring our kids to the sacraments, particularly reconciliation, trusting that our pastor and associate pastors are beyond reproach, and also insisting on confessionals with see-through doors or confession in an open pew in the main sanctuary. We will begin having the painful conversations about bishops who hurt seminarians, about priests who hurt children, about men who pledged their lives to God, but who lived their lives for satan.

We will do this in conjunction with instructing them about healthy sexuality. About the good and holy gift of marriage, and of sex within marriage as a bonding and creative force for holiness and sanctification and new life.

We will teach them about the complementary nature of men and women, explaining that some people struggle in their sexuality and have wounds that cause them great difficulty in their lives. We will teach them about the inexhaustible mercy of God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the life-long struggle for chastity and sexual integrity that is the responsibility of every baptized Christian.

So my question to you, dear fathers and bishops, is this: what will you do to help us?

Will you continue to turn a blind eye to sexual deviance in your seminaries? Will you turn a blind eye to homosexual activity in your ranks? Will you shuffle the bad apples around from assignment to assignment, destroying the lives of children and entire families in the process? Will you own up to the mistakes that have been made in the past, and commit to taking immediate action when predators strike in the future? Will you hold yourselves to a level of purity that is beyond reproach as an example to those who are subordinate to your authority?

Will you overturn some tables with us, now?

Will you rage with us against the evil that stalks our institutional Church like a demonic predator, rooting out the perpetrators and helping bring them to prosecution to the fullest extent of the law?

Will you link arms with us in fasting, in penance, and in prayer; in calling for and facilitating the criminal prosecution of the men who have ruined lives and snatched away souls?

Will you bring to bear on the problems we face the full weight of your priestly authority, performing exorcisms as necessary and demonstrating with your own example a model of

penance and purification that we can all emulate?

Will you wage war with us?

We, the parents of those who are the greatest in the kingdom of God, the children, await your answer.

And we won’t accept “no”.

I have linked here to a letter I drafted to the US nuncio on behalf of mothers, in particular, calling for a full criminal and ecclesial investigation of the US bishops, initiated by Pope Francis. Feel free to adapt and copy for your own use, or to respond to have your signature included with my letter. I plan to send it on August 31, the final day of a novena of penance that our local religious community is leading.

abuse, Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, Culture of Death, current events

A letter of petition to the Nuncio for the Roman Catholic Church in the United States

August 22, 2018

Most Reverend Christophe Pierre

Apostolic Nuncio to the United States

3339 Massachusetts Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20008

Your Excellency,

We are Catholic women, baptized members of the Body of Christ. Mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters. We are faithful to the Magisterium and reliant upon the mercy of God which is poured out upon us in the sacrament of penance when we fail to live up to the demands of Jesus Christ who is the only way to the Father. We are filled with sorrow and rage at the accusations and allegations, the cover ups and controversies, all the vile and demonic filth that has spilled forth in the news in recent weeks.

We weep for the victims, for the shattered lives, the broken bodies, and the tortured souls. We turn to His Holiness Pope Francis, and we beg, we implore, and we demand that he take action against any credibly accused predatory priests, bishops, and religious. These men and women to whom the children of God were entrusted with the most precious gift a human parent can offer – his or her child’s physical and spiritual safety – have failed utterly in their mission from God Almighty to defend the least of these. We demand that he as pastor of this universal flock take swift and severe action against those who committed heinous crimes against children and against adults over whom they held positions of power.

We also ask Pope Francis to proclaim boldly the universal call to chastity for every baptized believer, to condemn unequivocally all sexual acts outside of the holy bond of matrimony between husband and wife. We humbly submit ourselves to this same standard and beg the mercy of Christ when we fall short. We must be able to trust that our chanceries, our rectories, and our seminaries are submitting likewise to uncompromising purity and fidelity, and that there is zero tolerance for homosexual or heterosexual activity of any kind.

For the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Judge, we implore you to take action now. Do not delay where justice and mercy demand a cleansing by holy fire. Do not withhold the least authority of the law, both civil and canonical. Root out this duplicitous and satanic rot which compromises the integrity of the very foundation of our One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

In the name of Mary, Mater Ecclesia and Theotokos, we entrust our petitions to you,

Signed:

(your name here)

(All content is available free for use and reproduction in its original form for the use of the Catholic faithful. You may change the pronouns and references to suit your station in life.)

abuse, Catholics Do What?, Contraception, Culture of Death, current events, Parenting, prayer, scandal, sin, spiritual warfare, Suffering

What’s a faithful Catholic to do?

August 16, 2018

There is a tremendous – and warranted – outcry of rage and betrayal in the Church right now.

I’m not talking about the usual suspects in the media and the voices coming from the cafeteria line, either. I’m talking about the men and women who have sacrificed and stood steadfast, serving the Church with their professional lives, settling for smaller salaries and raised eyebrows at cocktail parties when they disclose their line of work. The little old ladies who are daily communicants. The blue collar workers who pray a Rosary on their lunch breaks and fast on bread and water on Wednesdays. The underpaid Catholic school teachers and the harassed Catholic healthcare professionals.

In other words, the faithful.

The ones raising larger than average families on smaller than average budgets. Refusing to cave to the extraordinary societal pressure to relieve the emptiness of their wombs at any cost, and opting for adoption or even childlessness over IVF. Bearing patiently the slings and arrows of public opinion when it comes time to defend the Church when her ways are not the world’s ways. Tossing aside the contraceptives and using NFP instead. Forgoing the “pleasures” of pornography and honoring their marriage vows. Remaining celibate and suffering in loneliness as an abandoned spouse or a same-sex attracted person. Sacrificing to educate their children in the Faith in the face of extraordinary difficulty. Refusing to reduce the immutable dignity of every single human person to an object to be used or discarded.

And defending Holy Mother Church with the ultimate gift – one’s fidelity to the Faith – even as the world around us spins farther into secular materialism.

Fathers, these children of your flocks are suffering. Suffering over the grievous injuries done to those other children, the ones named in the Pennsylvania report, the ones whose innocence was shattered, whose dignity was spat upon, who suffered in their very bodies the wounds of Christ tortured and crucified.

We cannot sleep for weeping over these images, crying out to heaven that men ordained to act in the person of Christ at the altar could also rape, pillage, and destroy the most innocent.

We need to hear from you.

We need to hear lamentation and rage, resolution and public penances. We must know that you stand on the side of Christ, crucified and risen. That even if your diocese is beyond a shadow of suspicion in August of 2018, your father’s heart breaks and your stomach roils in anger over what happened in our Church – no matter which diocese and no matter what year.

Many of us carried heavy hearts into Mass for the Feast of the Assumption of Mary yesterday, lifting red and swollen eyes to heaven during the readings and beseeching God for any answers, any explanation.

Too many of us – not all, but many – were met with deafening silence from the pulpits when the time for the homily arrived. The silence tore deeper into the wounds rent by the horrifying grand jury report; there was scarcely time for a scab to form over last month’s McCarrick revelations.

We need to hear from our fathers. We need to hear your anger, your shame, your outrage, your sorrow, and your profound and sincere resolution that this evil will be purged from the ranks of the Church hierarchy, no matter what the cost.

When someone intentionally injures or violates my child, even if – and perhaps especially if – I am not the cause of the injury, he or she can count on my swift and unapologetic rage.

We need to see your hearts, fathers. We need to see and hear our bishops doing public acts of reparation and penance, or resigning the privilege of office if the circumstances warrant it.

We need to hear our priests – especially our pastors – speaking uncompromisingly and unceasingly about what is happening, about the war zone we American Catholics find ourselves in, about the corruption and satanic violence within our own ranks, and about what is being done to bring about justice.

If your bishop hasn’t issued talking points yet or the diocesan-level HR department is cautioning restraint, damn the restraint. Your people are suffering, and they need to know their spiritual fathers are mad as hell and they aren’t going to take it anymore.

What can we, as lay people, do at a moment such as this?

Pray. Pray as you never have before. Pray a daily Rosary with your family, if you have one. With your spouse or significant other or roommate. Alone or with a recording, if you have nobody else to pray with. Ask especially for the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima, St. Charles Lwanga (Google his martyrdom story) and St. Catherine of Siena.

Fast. Give up social media one day a week, or limit it to a few minutes a day. Get rid of one of the three or four platforms you’re using entirely, maybe. Offer up those pinpricks of dopamine denial for the cleansing of the Church, and for the souls of the victims living and deceased.

Purge your home of anything that is complicit with this culture of death. Vaguely pornographic media. Explicitly pornographic media. Showtime or HBO DirectTV or maybe even your high speed internet, if it’s an occasion of sin for you. Go through your library and destroy anything that is influenced by the occult. If your right arm causes you to sin, cut it off. We must be beyond reproach as Catholics going forward if we are to have any credibility with this world and, more importantly, with Christ.

Throw away your contraception. Your mind altering drugs. Your habit of gossip, of masturbation, of criticism, of getting drunk, of cheating “just a little” on your income taxes, of cheating on your spouse, of ignoring your children.

In other words, be a saint.

Our times call for great sanctity to counter this grave evil. And sinners like us, myself first and foremost, are the only material Our Lord has to work with.

Other practical suggestions:

Email, call, and write to your bishop’s office (and while you’re at it, to the Holy Father himself.) Be respectful and unrelenting in asking for a public meeting or an explanation of what your diocese is doing to address these evils. Ask your bishop what his plans are to clean up your local church if housekeeping needs to be done. Find out what measures are in place to protect youth and children and seminarians and old people and not so old people. Ask what standard of sexual integrity is set and maintained by the diocese of X. Do the same with your pastor. Be persistent. But love your Church enough to not stop until you get a satisfactory answer.

Tell your priest, once you’ve finished asking when his next related and excruciatingly clear homily will be preached, that you are praying for him. And then do so. Offer a specific act of penance every day for your priest. For any priest you know. Give up your daily coffee, your nightcap, your nighttime pleasure reading, a workout, salt on your food, etc. Do not leave our courageous priests and bishops unarmed in this time of agony for the Church. They are suffering as Christ did in the Garden of Gethsemane, and they need our prayers.

We have decided for our family, that to avoid even the appearance of scandal and to protect all parties involved, it is best to avoid ever putting our priest friends – or any priest – in a situation where they are alone with a child of ours. I’m not talking about casual one-on-one talks with Father on the playground during recess, but being alone in a car, in a closed room, in a private home, etc. We are also exceedingly cautious about whom we leave our children with, and take into consideration the circumstances of any home or place they’ll be visiting. Most abuse takes place within the context of the extended family or trusted circle of friends, and we have chosen to err on the side of potentially giving offense by being “too careful.”

May Christ Jesus in whom we place our trust and confidence convict in our hearts a profound sorrow for all who suffer, and a firm resolution to spend ourselves utterly in striving to prevent future evil.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.

 

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Back to school vibes and spiritual prep for the new year

August 14, 2018

It’s that time of year again. Starbucks is toeing the line of impropriety with the August release of the Pumpkin Spice Latte, Crayola is tempting mothers everywhere to pick up “just one more” 24 pack for an additional penny, (Don’t do it if you value your baseboards though. Just saying) and school children everywhere are eyeing with suspicion the mounting piles of clean and untorn clothing being amassed in their closets.

I am feeling the forced strain of the fake smile that is the end of summer with kids. They are bored of the trampoline, the slip-n-slide went home to the big recycling bin in the sky weeks ago, and mama has resorted to throwing cold hot dogs and chocolate chip granola bars on a plate every day at noon and calling it good.

I am looking forward in expectant hope to a more scheduled existence, one devoid of neighbor kids knocking on the screen door at 8 and 12 and 6, and 8, again, of too-late bedtimes and wet piles of swimsuits piled moldering in the backs of closets.

But I’ll also miss them. I remember putting our firstborn in his first year of full-day school, and what a shock to my system it was to have a limb missing for much of the day. How strange I found it to field comments of “you’ve sure got your hands full!” whilst strolling the produce aisle with “only” three in the cart.

I remind myself of this when someone is four inches from my nose asking for another episode of Wild Kratts and whining that his brother took his Beyblade apart.

I will miss you, darling child I mentally remind myself at bath time and bedtime and all the times in between, while tugging up somebody’s wet swimsuit and wiping poop off the pool deck and wondering if it’s too soon to start listening to Christmas music.

We’re trying a few new things after a summer of spiritual sloth, hoping that the upheaval of a new academic year will afford us the momentum to make some adjustments to our family prayer time. Since everyone is going to be shocked and awed by the sudden 8 pm bedtime/6 am rise time, may as well toss a family rosary in the mix.

We’re planning to surprise the kids tomorrow night with a big feast (read: not hot dogs) for the Feast of the Assumption, and then pop the full on nightly family rosary on them. We were talking last night during a rare moment of quiet about what we’d like to do to improve in our spiritual life as a family. We take our kids to Mass on Sundays and we pray with them in the morning, at grace, and at bedtime, but we are both feeling like there needs to be more, particularly in the midst of this current cultural and ecclesial climate.

I think it has helped to have a summer of lowered expectations for excellence, as bad as that sounds. We’ve sort of slid into mediocrity and have been going with the flow in terms of media consumption, friends over, endless fun activities, etc. Through it I’ve noticed a creeping sense of entitlement in the older three in particular, a restlessness after they’ve watched too many episodes of whatever happens to be on PBS Kids, and a sassiness when their neighborhood friends are over.

I, too, have seen my capacity for self denial and sacrifice plummet as I bury myself in my Instagram feed or mentally tune out while answering work emails instead of refereeing another sibling smackdown. I wave a hand at the offending party, my face hidden behind a screen, hoping that they’ll somehow resolve it amongst themselves.

I’ve also seen the first inklings of what will be true all too soon: that Dave and I are no longer Joey’s whole world, or the ultimate authorities on all the things.

I figure at almost 8-years-old, we’ve got maybe another two years of holding his complete attention until his peers begin to win every competition – maybe less since he’s a consummate sanguine. I want to savor his intense desire to beeeeee with me, but I also tend to mentally check out by about 8 pm most nights, and so his pleas for more quality time fall too frequently on cranky ears.

Some other things I’m considering as we count down the remaining days of summer:

Praying about/using Jen Fulwiler’s saint name generator to pick a patron saint for each child for the coming academic year and dedicating their year to his or her patronage.

Choosing a Scripture to memorize as a family each month of the school year (though I’d be happy with even a single verse. #cradleCatholicproblems.

Reading the coming Sunday’s Gospel aloud at dinner one or two nights during the week to prepare to receive the Word at Mass.

Making a specific sacrifice for each child during the school year, to correspond with a challenge they’re working to overcome or a virtue or quality I’d like to see them attain. What comes readily to mind is making it relevant to each child’s struggle/aspiration. So delaying my morning cup of coffee by 30 minutes and offering it up for Joey to grow in patience or focus, or giving up complaining about housework (not that I would ever) and offering it up for John Paul’s attitude about getting ready in the morning, etc.

I’m all ears over here as a still relatively fresh school mom, so come at me with your big ideas and best practices for preparing your little saintly scholars.

And finally, I would be remiss if I failed to thank my awesome, faithful readership for the two categories Mama Needs Coffee took home in the 2018 Sheenazing Awards: Best blog and Smartest blog (beating out Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire was a personal high for sure. Dave made sure to bring me down to earth by pointing out the heavily-populated-by-moms voting demographic. Thanks, honey.)