punchy line

...and he (Simon Peter) saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth ... not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. - Jn 20: 6-7
-Jn 20: 6-7

Monday, December 31, 2012

Why is the Generation of “Tolerance” so Complacent to Religious Persecution?

If you are following current events, especially those involving Hobby Lobby and the lack of public outcry over the injustice of their predicament, it would be a fair assessment to suppose that, never in the course of all our schooling, was my generation ever exposed to 'tolerance' and 'anti-bullying' education.   In fact, the opposite is true.

To all the Gen X’ers and Y’ers out there: didn’t we all read the Diary of Anne Frank, or Night by Elie Wiesel, which detail what happens when a religion is demonized by the government and almost totally annihilated from existence?

If so, then why, when religious persecution begins to crop up in our own backyard, do we not even protest?

And why do I get the un-funny feeling that, not unlike the townspeople of Aushwitz who cheerfully sat sipping lemonade on their porches while the smoke stacks of the death camp daily bellowed black ash above their rooftops, our generation will be characterized as distractedly updating their Facebook statuses while the fate of the First Amendment is similarly and tragically ignored.

Sadly, a day at the office for many.
It should be a worrying thing to any rational person when those presently in their 20s and 30s, who were the population most indoctrinated with phrases like,  “Bad things happen when good men do nothing,” and  “Become the change you wish to happen,” are also the most ostentatiously mute when their own government tries to force its people violate their religious beliefs.

Hm. Methinks the ‘lessons’ we were taught in school never took – or they just took on the same tone of superficiality and commercialization that characterizes our age.

How else could it happen that an imposed healthcare system arises where every employer of faith must choose between not offering healthcare to their employees or funding abortion inducing drugs – a decision, which historically, has never befallen any freely worshiping individual in our nation?

Martyrdom: always been a spectator sport, apparently.

The most popular argument one hears in favor of the HHS mandate is this: Religious employers can't "force" their beliefs upon their employees. What those who hold to this argument don't see, is that now the government is imposing its beliefs upon privately enterprising employers who wish to operate their businesses (and their whole lives) in accordance with the tenets of their faith.

The government’s message is simple: the religion of the state trumps yours.  Since what the Obama administration dogmatically believes regarding healthcare is widely held amongst individuals than your religion's tenets (because popularity has always been religion's aim) then you must violate your beliefs to publicly uphold the state's beliefs. 

If that isn't blatant infringement of the practice of religious freedom, I don't know what is.

It begs the question of why now?  Did the administration know that there are few of us remaining, would become indignant at their actions?

It used to be that anyone with a backbone could be trusted to call out bullying when they saw it.  Now, it seems, that so long as our medical bills are covered, all is well and good.  

To a point, I sympathize with the silence of so many.  There is a feeling of, "What can I do?" in the face of such unprecedented evil.  That and my generation is poor, very poor.  Because most of our parents aren’t going to retire, ever, we don't want to jeopardize our chance to take the handouts the government is willing to give us, since we don't have a way of becoming sufficient for ourselves.

Also, why “become the change we want see to happen,” when we can now all run out now and get our tubes tied or our urethra severed for free?  Apparently, that's the pinnacle of everyone's middle age, as my husband and I are now learning from most of our peers. 

We no longer need to become those proverbial “good people” who speak up when bad things happen because the media is not going to report all that dreary bad stuff anyway, and, heck, most of us probably even voted in the guy doing all the persecuting.

So, sorry, persecuted religious people, you’re on your own in this fight.

Along the way, my generation had to pick its battles, and it seems we’ve chosen to save our own necks and stay silent while those who are being unjustly treated are silently lead to martyrdom by the state who is trying to forcibly excise their right to practice their beliefs in the secular sphere.

Instead of reacting, here we sit comfortably, while it all occurs, sipping our Moscato in our apartments, while the ashes of the first amendment rise above our heads.  Just like every other do-nothing-about-it generation of people who allowed evil to rule and themselves to be ruled by evil.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

To My Daughter, I Hope I Can Still Hold Your Hand at 18 (And You Will Still Hold Mine at 80)

Author’s note: I wrote this post before the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.  It has taken on a new sentimental significance since then.

As she grows up, my firstborn is hitting her milestones at lightning speed.

And I don’t like it.

On the one hand, her unfolding maturity and blooming language acquisition is a wonder to witness.  On the other, it’s utterly terrifying and makes me slightly sad.

My baby is growing up, and I can’t stop it. I don’t want to stop it, but I can’t believe it’s here.

She’s almost five and about to enter kindergarten.  In a few months, we will welcome our third child to the family.  Maybe it’s this impending reality that has me reminiscing back to my first pregnancy and thinking of my first most especially.

I can’t help but think of my eldest baby in a special way as the one I’ve lived the longest with.  She’s my proverbial “first pancake” child, the one I’ve made most of most of my mothering mistakes on.  The one whose forgiveness I will probably need more than any of the others.

She’s the one most like me in sheer stubborn will, but most unlike me in her general interests.  She’s a dress and skirt preferring, princess-loving, daddy adoring, lego-building and cake baking little math whiz.  I was none of those.  Not even close.

Yet I know her so intimately, and, if I’m being very honest, she knows me just as thoroughly.  It’s an amazing mystery, the bonding that takes place between mother and daughter.  We know how the other ticks.  And when she does little impressions of me (especially when she’s ‘disciplining’ her little brother, it’s scary just how accurate her imitation actually is).

Where will she and I be in 13 years, when she is 18 years old?  Or what about the next 50 years, when I am 80.  Well, I know where I hope to be, and what I still hope we do.  And if I had to make a list now for her, based on all of our experiences together so far, it would read something like this:

To my four-year-old daughter; when you are eighteen, I still hope you let me hold your hand – yes, in public (and I pray you will continue to hold mine when I am eighty and crippled).

Hopefully we will still bake together for family birthdays and holidays and look at pictures of baked goods in books and on the internet.  Maybe Cake Boss’s grandkids will be running the family business by then.

I hope I can still cook you steak (and that you never stop asking me to make it for you).

I hope you will always adore your father (I know it sure helps me to do so, wink) and are patient with your mother – and visa versa.

I hope you always want to share the big decisions in your life with me.  This week it was deciding to share your dessert with your brother.  Who you will marry, where you wish to travel to, and the projects you love the most – I hope I can be there to witness them all (and there’s an extra ticket for mom if you’re going someplace tropical or ancient).

I hope that one day you too will know what it is like to have a daughter.  To brush her hair while she squirms, to find her raiding your makeup, to walk in just as she’s flushed your pearl necklace down the toilet.  And I hope you know what it is to watch a pint-sized version of yourself scarily remind you of all the ways you struggled as a child.

I hope that, despite all of my mistakes, you still are proud to call me your mother. That you see how hard I tried in between those unfortunate blunders and that you come to love the person who, at the end of the day, was learning just like you were. 

I hope you still retain a little of an English accent – for daddy’s sake.

I pray that we will always forgive each other.

Lastly, I hope your gift of Faith grows and cements you more firmly to God’s will for you.  I don’t know what Our Heavenly Father wishes for you yet, but I’d love to be there in some way as often as I can.

And if you are a mommy one day, I hope you remember to call me and invite me to mass with you and the grandkids– that way I can encourage when you have to take your daughter outside a million times, knowing that she does outgrow it.

And really, they all outgrow it far too soon.

Dear baby girl, you are my first and will always know me at my best and worst.  Hopefully, the bests are what you remember most.  That I was there for every ballet class and every math problem, as well as every sign of the cross you made before meals and bed.

I hope I am made worthier of your love with every passing year, and that you can always find a way to love this mama of yours, who will never outgrow her role, ever.

All my love, signed the one making you steak again tonight.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tragedy In Connecticut

For my next writing deadline, I'm writing a post formatted as a letter to my daughter Abigail.

She's almost five.

Most of the children who died in yesterday's massacre in Connecticut were just a year older.

I can't imagine the grief of those parents.

Further, I'm struggling to comprehend how such a great evil could take place.

Every life is precious, from the moment of conception and beyond.  Until we recognize this as a culture, there will be more massacres.

We're already in the midst of the largest running assault on the most innocent among us.

So pray for those families, for the souls of the deceased and for the soul of our nation.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, let the perpetual light shine upon them, may they rest in peace.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Regretting your Marriage Doesn’t Mean it was a Mistake

Right now, like millions of other married couples, you may be suffering in what you consider to be a tough marriage.

First, take heart! There is good news about perseverance through these difficult times.  Featured recently on the National Organization for Marriage’s Facebook page is the following, hopeful quote:

"In studies of 700 miserable, ready-to-split spouses, researchers found that 2/3 of those who stayed married were happy five years later. They toughed out some of the most difficult problems a couple could face... What was their strategy? A mix of stubborn commitment, a willingness to work together on issues, and a healthy lowering of expectations." -featured in Prevention Magazine (from Marriage Missions International)

I can personally relate to this quote.  In the past, I have regretted my marriage many times (especially during those moments where the bitter cup tasted down right poisonous).  But, even in those dark moments, I’ve come to realize, it didn’t necessarily mean that my marriage was a mistake.  What am I getting at?

First, let me be clear, that God never intends a bad marriage.  We do that ourselves.  Living a good, fruitful marriage is entirely possible and the Church gives the surest way of achieving this such as abstaining from premarital sex and being open to children (neither of which is easy to do, mind you). 

Sometimes (most of the time) though, life still happens.  Things still happen. Our fallen nature still happens. But human beings are also capable of redemption and that’s what I’m getting at.

During our first years together, I struggled daily against believing that my marriage was some sort of critical error and that God had duped me into undertaking a path too difficult for any human being.

But this was only a temptation and one that is very prevalent today.  Why so?

Just look around.  Missing from the current media frenzied over-glorification marriage is the unending mileage of forgiveness required for its harmony.   Instead it is depicted as a romantic, cozy adventure for the benefit of the spouses alone.  

But, boy, when do people do marry, then what happens? 

They quickly encounter the universal difficulties that have always plagued marriages such as breakdowns in communication, conflict, and difficulty raising children.  No wonder so many people call it quits, thinking it was a mistake!  It looks and feels and tastes like nothing they expected!
But again, take heart if you’ve found yourself in the boat of those who have contemplated ‘ending things.’ Yes you may feel regret over you marriage, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was mistake.  In fact you may discover, as I and so many have, that my perseverance through my marital difficulties has added to me.

For instance, I am far less judgmental of people in general.  I get it now.  I’m not perfect – neither is my spouse.  What was I thinking all those years that I felt “we” could do no wrong together? Our particular rough “patch,” lasted almost two years – and to be honest, we’re still trying to get things right. 

Believe it or not, some of the most saintly couples currently walk this earth have been there.  They have endured addiction, adultery, abuse, depression…sometimes all at once.  And many have walked the healing path and come out victorious.

Why mention all of this?  Because I’ve learned that marriage, more than anything else, is a path to sanctification. As a vocation, married life will cleanse your heart and exercise your faith muscles in an almost inhumane regimen of sacrifice and death to self ad-nauseum – and that’s if you’re doing it right!

I used to think of being married as some sort of security blanket.  Now I see it as a journey I travel everyday, arming myself through prayer and the sacraments to face it’s sometimes blistering conditions.  Christ’s own example shows us that the way to Heaven is the cross and marriage is not impervious to this reality. 

 But what about happiness?

Here God surprised me.  When I finally abandoned the notion that I had made a mistake in marrying my husband, and started to focus on doing God’s will alone, things got better. I was suddenly happy. And I finally came to see that the marriage I so often regretted was not necessarily a mistake. In fact, it really is the best thing that has ever happened to me.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t immediate marital bliss or anything, I have grown up from that young college girl clutching on to her, high, unrealistic ideals which in the end, only hurt me and my opinion of my husband.

Certainly the world says suffering within marriage is pointless, and that it’s best to discard it if things aren’t working.  Barring abusive circumstances, we Catholics know better. The saints, who suffered far more than any of us, show us the ultimate reward for undertaking our crosses: peace of heart, and heaven.

God has proven time and again, in even the most broken of circumstances, when His mercy is applied, they become light for the world.    He does have a plan for married people who are hurting and we are capable of being the saints we are all called to be. We need only seek it in all confidence and love.

I’m writing to reassure you that searching for God’s will in the midst of your painful marriage is possible; that perseverance is worth it and that you will be the more peaceful person for doing so.  In the end, you cannot fix another person, you can only change yourself.

(And please, get real marriage help!  Retrouvaille ministries is one such resource. We recommend them.  Also Marriage Ministries.  See link above.)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Confessions of a Mom Standing In Line for Confession

Phew, I made it, Lord!

Well, …we made it didn’t we?  Me, my four year old, my two year old, and every other person in this valley who heard that this parish offers confession during all masses.

Although they all probably made it here more quickly than I did, what with my two year old’s bowls becoming vigorously active right before walking out the door, and my four year old’s recalcitrance not to leave the house without her Cat Woman mask.

And let’s not forget the person who thought it would be a good idea to do a three-point turn right at the mouth of the Church’s driveway as slowly as they possibly could (but, hey, if I was at a loss for things to confess, I acquired at least 3 new sins just in trying to park the car).

But here we are, baby, in our favorite confession line!

I know my children always look forward to trying to play ‘piano’ on all of the “button candles” in front of the image of Our Lady of Perpetual help.

Speaking of perpetual help.  Thank goodness for that one sympathetic older lady who only took about 3 minutes for her confession. 

It’s only been a seven to ten minute average for everyone else so far.  Don’t we have spiritual direction appointments for that?  (I’m not sure that I packed enough snacks to stand here for an hour).

A line like this one makes that confession app look like a better idea all the time.

But, no, shoo!  Away, negative thoughts! I am happy for those souls coming to confession today!  Really!  No, really.  Even if it means I might not make it into the confession today, or for another month. Perhaps it means that someone needed it more than I did! 

And hey, I have three words for you:  confession-of-desire. 

Should I tragically kick-the-bucket before the next time I head to confession
I can point to St. Peter’s clipboard and say, “See!  Right there. On Tuesday. Tried!” 

This might help explain why I hardly see other moms in the confession line. Ever. 

They’ve all either just given up, figured out a way to stop sinning or maybe they have just gotten wise and found someone to watch the kids.

Not I, though Lord.  Horribly sinning, incapable of thinking ahead Catholic mom, I. Am. Still. Standing. Here.

Barely.  Now, I’m more leaning my aching vertebrae against the wall.

If the other people in line only knew, Lord. 

But then again, maybe today we aren’t really lined up for a confessional. Maybe on Tuesdays it morphs into a gateway to Narnia and those that enter find themselves in a snowy, dreamlike wood and proceed to have centuries of adventures before emerging after only a few minutes in our world’s time.

By that measure, all those minutes don’t seem very long at all. 

Anyway, it’s a more pleasant thought than thinking about all the times my daughter has already asked to go play outside on the kid structure.

Oh that reminds me, add “I’ve tried researching boarding schools for the four year old already,” right after, “I’ve been impatient” to the list.

I get it, Lord. In your Mercy, you have called me here and this is part of the penance.  It must be – this line is punishing.  If nothing else, please help me remember the line because standing here for so long makes acquiring a plenary indulgence look like a cake walk.

Which reminds me, did I shut off the oven before we left?

Lord, in your mercy, hear my prayer.

Friday, October 26, 2012

How to Respond to Mean Moms

Once a week I am catechist assistant, and the other day, after class, I met her. 

She is a Catholic mom, who obviously cares enough to enroll her kids in religious education classes, with a baby on the hip and six more beautiful look-a-likes in tow.  Based on appearances only, she struck me as quite a good profile of where I’ll probably find myself in a few years.

One thing I didn’t anticipate though: she was mean.

I’ll spare you all of the gory the details, except to say that she was very put out by having to fill out the paperwork required for the program for all of the children (which is tough when you have more than two, granted, but you know, that part is not really our fault or anything) and she practically slammed the binder out of a good nun’s hands as she wrote in it.  But you get the picture: she was mean. 

She was angry, no, livid, and she was going to let the other adults, know it.  And she was going to do it in front of her kids right after catechism class where they just learned about becoming saints.

I have to confess, the tragic irony of the scene made me chortle as she stomped away closed fisted, with a set of small heads trailing behind her (but the best response award goes to the nun at my side who called after her cheerfully, “God bless you!”).

As is the case with most disturbing scenes that strike someone as just plain wrong, the incident stayed with me and forced me to pray.  How could someone who professes to be so Catholic act so poorly?

Something a priest said from the pulpit has always remained with me: that the moment you dislike something about someone else, it’s because they are showing you something you don’t like about yourself.

I realized the incident affected me so much because, I too have been bitter and resentful and have complained about my crosses.  Yes, I have critiqued parish catechism programs and bemoaned certain  hoops I’ve had to jump through to complete them.  In general, I too have been overly angry and behaved in a way that has embarrassed my children as well as my spouse.  Yes, I have vented anger and harmed myself and my relationships with others.

In short, I have been that mean mom, maybe not in public, but at different times; in private, in prayer, to my children and those who I should love the most.

The whole week I struggled with the incident, “Lord, what was her problem?  It’s not like anyone is forcing her to be in the program.  It’s not like we’re the ones that made her have that many kids.  Her crosses certainly aren’t heavier than all the other big families I know where the mom is actually kind hearted and nice to people.  What a grouch, what a -, and those poor kids!”

As you can tell, I too was venting.

God’s classic response to me: “What’s your point, Marissa?”

You have to imagine it a bit like an Austin Powers moment, where you’ve just elaborated some important point in detail and were only met with a shallow, “And?”

It was perfect. 

It forced me to consider: what was my point anyway?  A mom was mean, so what? The lesson was simple enough: learn from her example, don’t imitate it, and move on.  

And lastly, love her.  This is God's response to mean moms and un-peaceful souls everywhere: love them.

This was also so eloquently worded by Mother Theresa when she wrote."People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway.”   I realized that dealing with one frustrated parent certainly wasn’t the last time I was going to encounter illogical behavior in my life…or even within that week.  So I moved on.  In all my venting, I really didn't have a point – but God did: love those who have no peace, and you will have found your own.

So I prayed for her and for myself and I was able to wish love and peace on that mom, in the end. And yes, in doing so, I was able to have peace myself. (And the good news is she did come and apologize later!)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

During This Year of Faith, Pray for Supporters of Same Sex "Marriage”

As someone who lives in the Bay Area, it’s tough to be apart of the decided minority of those who revere marriage as a sacred institution, designed by God to be between one man and one woman for life.

It’s crummy to constantly be accused of being hateful and fearful and so filled with animosity that I will be content with nothing else but ruining the lives of a historically oppressed people.

But it’s even more difficult to watch such a large number of folks, many of them Christians, completely misunderstand Church’s position on marriage as bigoted and somehow oppressive of secular society (they miss the whole point of marriage by doing so, I would argue).

Instead of becoming angry at them, however, or retreating to the emotional gush of “Mine is the just cause and everyone who disagrees with me is just a mean-spirited poo-poo head,” I’ve decided that, during this year of faith, I’m going to pray for supporters of same sex marriage in all seriousness and charity.

And I invite you to do the same.

Pray for them, because supporters of same sex “marriage” whether they are gay, straight, Catholic or otherwise are doing more harm than they probably realize.  In fact, they don’t see it this way at all, which is exactly why they need prayer.

Pray for them because not only are they abetting the federal government’s efforts to “redefine” marriage for everyone, they’re enabling it to take it’s sledgehammer to our religious freedom, which will eventually affect them personally.  More on this in a minute.

Pray for them because, while many simply want their same-sex oriented friends and family to be happy, they are actually harming those same loved ones.  Supporters of same sex marriage are essentially handing gays a death sentence by remaining silent on the topics of early death and disease, which come lock, stock and barrel with the practice of homosexuality.  They are therefore, even without wanting to be, actively complicit in the self-destruction of other human beings.

I haven’t even mentioned the spiritual harm being caused.

Pray for supporters of same sex marriage because, whether they want to admit it or not, they are causing our gay brothers and sisters to fall into and remain in a state of mortal sin. By doing so, they are causing scandal to the Body of Christ and their own children (and recalling Christ’s words about  how one would be better off flung into the ocean than doing so shows just how seriously God takes such an action).

Society’s already gnashing intolerance of the Church has been swelling with confidence due to their dissent from Church teaching.  The world is content to stop at nothing to destroy us on this topic – and all, it seems, with their blessing.

What will happen when their side wins, I wonder?

Will they joyously be celebrating each blessing of gay nuptials when their Churches can no longer perform any marriages or hold receptions on their own grounds, which will, of course, impact their children’s ability to marry in the Faith?

Will supporters of SSM’s zeal for equality and compassion extend to those who no longer have the right to express themselves in public because the side of ‘tolerance’ won?  Or will they enjoy watching the Christianity they profess to love maligned to the fringes of society? 

Are they going to rejoice when their fellow parishioners are perpetually at risk for losing their careers, their money, their businesses and their ability to adopt children because of their beliefs?  Will they ever be able to truly build any sort of community with them knowing that they are in part responsible for tying up and leveling the heavy burden of oppression on their fellow traditional marriage supporting Christians?

I wonder.

Our opponents are going full gusto, and doing so by support of those in favor of so-called equal marriage rights and their assenting silence to the bullying of all those brave enough to speak out in favor of true marriage.

So pray for them.  Dedicate a family rosary for them once a week.

Do so, because they are inviting more harm than good to come upon our nation, upon their fellow Christians, upon the homosexuals they claim to support, and lastly, upon themselves.

What does it say when you have to look to secular society for consolation, while you fling the tenets of you Faith as far as you can throw them?

Hint: it’s called being led by the Evil One away from the Truth.  Pray for them and everyone in this battle that we may all resist the devil’s snares and enticements to reject the Truth, no matter how delightfully enlightened, progressive and ‘tolerant’ he makes them sound. 


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Catholic Motherhood and Depression

Catholic Motherhood and depression are frequently viewed as mutually exclusive of each other.

After all, isn’t mothering a beautiful vocation as well as a graced state wherein instances of depression aren’t supposed to occur?  Aren’t we Catholic wives and moms not living as God intended us to live?

While our vocations are indeed bolstered by grace, and the joys of motherhood in Christ are real, moms out there everywhere, good Catholic ones even, sometimes endure serious bouts with depression.

And many suffer silently, alone and in the fear that others will judge them or their faith, or their Catholic Faith (which is already barraged enough these days with accusations of waging a “war” on women, nuns, harp seals, sunshine and prunes) should they speak up and appear to have un-met needs.

For someone like myself, I never believed I could ever become depressed. 

I don’t know.  I guess I figured that if I followed all of the rules I’d land in some euphoric state here upon God’s high mountain, set apart in my primordial, Catholic, maternal-ness.  Or maybe I’d just want to bake all of the time.


Reality check: genuinely living one’s vocation is hard especially when the pay off is eternal.  There’s no way around it. 

Becoming a stay at home mom after one has gone to college, established their career and then one day just stopped can be a shock to the system. At least, it was for me.  I've also had many working mom friends of mine, when they’ve seen me with my kids, admit quite honestly that they returned to their jobs because it was easier than what I’m doing. 

If nothing else, their testimony helps me to hear that what I’m doing is universally acknowledged as hard and a genuine sacrifice.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  Making the decision to give up my career and raise my children was a good decision.  In fact, it’s probably the best one I’ve ever made.  But it’s also one that literally almost killed me because of how deeply I sank into a mire of depression.

I lived in a rut for a year, and it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.  It’s not that my career was superior to staying home, it’s just that nothing prepared me for type of all encompassing toughness, nor the sometimes gaping isolation of motherhood (especially with two kids under two years old).   

Eventually though, instead of beating myself up for not savoring the divine glory of every moment, through grace I realized that to ignore one’s genuine suffering, or to try to pretend that grief and chemical imbalances can’t occur even in these circumstances is harmful. It took getting real help – marriage help, personal counseling and a brief stint with medication to finally get better.

My advice to all moms and spouses is this: get help! And don’t wait – a woman can live a long time ignoring her feelings, needs and desires until everything becomes so heavy and lonely and burdensome, she’s done herself a disservice in faking like she’s Wonder Woman’s second cousin.

Women require a community of support.  Making a woman feel like she’s weird, proud, ungrateful, or just crazy for having low moments as she is trying to persevere in being a mom is very destructive.

Catholic women especially need to hear from other Catholic women what their struggles have been and how they, and their spouses, have persevered.

Instead of frightening off secular people from marriage (which was always my fear should I dare share about my hardships), we might be surprised to find they too are grateful for that authentic witness to the truths of life.  Secular moms, I’ve discovered, feel just as lonely as anyone as they live trying their best to serve their loved ones. 

Remember, the enemy hates to see a happy family, and immobilizing the mother, the heart of that home is, I’m convinced, one of his most malicious devices.

So why don’t we talk about it more?  Many suffer.  To my knowledge, not many people write or blog about this topic. But perhaps a reader may be aware of where I might find more information about this? 

I’m all ears.  Any seasoned moms out there care to share how they’ve undertaken and perhaps bested their season of trials?

St Monica, pray for us!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Are You Guys Ready For Kids? Are You Guys Done?

My girlfriends run the gamut of being the long-skirted, homeschooling Catholic types to the secular-moral-code-but-loving kind. 

In comparing one end of the spectrum to the other there is a huge difference between how both groups decide when to start and stop having kids.

It's a division can be pretty accurately summed up in two little questions:

“Are you guys ready?” “Are you guys done?” With children, that is.

Interestingly, it’s not the answers to these questions that divides my friends so much as the fact that amongst those who are actively practicing their faith, the queries of being ‘ready’ and ‘done’ with childbearing don’t come up.  Oh, they (we) ask things like, “So, when can we expect a little so-and-so?” but always with an underlying assumption that children will inevitably come along.  And in regards to ‘done-ness,’ with children, I’ve heard Catholic moms say things like, “Well, I guess no more are coming,” but more as resignation to the fact and not like the shutting off of a perfectly good water faucet forever.

So why does one group of friends pose these questions while the other does not?

I have two ideas about this.  The first regards the question of higher authority.

The contents of the bottle won't guarantee her happiness.
Whether you claim to be religious or not, when your higher authority decrees that you must have a mortgage, new cars, the ability to travel and afford private school (all of which usually requires a double income) then only one, two and maybe three children will ever be permitted in your life. Those who wish to attain to this end measure preparedness for children based on the acquisition of goods and then they must cap the number of kids they allow themselves in order retain the lifestyle they are used to.

In contrast, those fully adhering to their faith view money through a different higher authority: God’s will for them their family. 

On God’s balance sheet, the numbers may not seem as child-friendly upon first glance, however His form of assets includes various factors that will lead to different type of fiscal security including the ability to discern one’s true needs (which requires wisdom, a gift of the Holy Spirit), persevere in sacrifice (which requires fortitude, a cardinal virtue), and yes, other people’s help given in the way of one’s community or even parish (which is the charity we are all called to). 

The only way to trust in God’s Providence for your family, I’ve found, is to just go for it.  But for many people, making that act of faith without the back up plan of contraception, in vitro fertilization and abortion is asking too much.
I know plenty of families whose homes, salaries, cars, vacations and toys I’d love to have, but my higher authority requires I think outside my ‘bank account box’ as well as my socially engrained notions of success.

My second idea on this topic is that, as far as practicing Christians never asking each other: it's because we already know the answers.  For us, it’s equivalent to being asked if we are ready or done with doing God’s will, to which the answers are always going to be, respectively, “I hope so,” and, “Never.” 

But it’s different with my secular friends for whom the topics frequently, and I do mean frequently, come up.  At times I’ve gotten the feeling that many are searching for validation for their own personal choices. It’s not my place to approve or disapprove someone’s decision, but I do find it a bit tragic that they feel they need the thumb’s-up from other people, or society, or even the Internal Revenue Service, in order to either follow or ignore the desires in their hearts that are written by God. 

In radical contrast to them, are those who aren’t asking anyone’s permission to have a big family.

For the latter group, having more children than is considered practical, without the comforts that others find essential, during the times that most would call inconvenient or even unwise, is not only possible but very welcome throughout their lives.  Why?

Perhaps it all goes back subordinating their lives to will of God, in which lies the true peace, joy and security that only He can give in the midst of the most unlikely of circumstances and oftentimes in the most unexpected of ways.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

How Often Do We Say No?

At times, observing two-year-old behavior grants the most profound insights into humanity in general, doesn't it?

My son who is two has just now fixated on every toddler's favorite word.  Parents, let’s say it in unison: “no.”  It’s a good thing the word ‘no’ doesn’t have a Facebook page, because with how technologically savvy little kids are, it would probably have a million ‘likes’ or more by now.

And so everyday, I am met with a ringing chorus of  “no” to any and all requests.  “Come here!” No!  “Say sorry!” No!  “Eat a cookie!” No! (really?). Thus, my task of transforming my little guy back into a lovely boy again over the course of the next year lies before me.

Interestingly, since I’ve started paying more attention to his shenanigans, I've become more observant of grown ups.  Happily, I’ve found is that adults hardly ever say the big n-o.  It seems that our parents did a good job rooting it out of us when we were two!

Here’s the thing though,  we still turn each other down frequently.  However, instead of just refusing outright like a toddler would, we utter non-committal phrases such as, “I’ll get back to you on that,”  “Maybe next time,” or “Maybe when I’m not so busy.” 

In many ways it’s not surprising that we do this.  As a word, “no” has a feeling of definiteness and finality to it and, for whatever reason, subconscious residual toddler trauma maybe, that makes us uncomfortable. Try to remember the last time you turned someone down.  Most likely, you didn’t say flat out ‘no.’  That would sound strange. 
“Hi! Do you want to get together for a play date?”
It just doesn’t happen.  More than likely, you gave a reason, prefaced by a sentiment of regret.  “Oh, I wish I could, but, you know, (insert reason here).”   

Coordinating a play date is a tame example.  What about those times someone asked you to do something in which there was really nothing in it for you (watch the kids, cook a meal, give up a weekend for an event).  Chances are you had the same reaction – you humbly declined and you told them why.

And it was probably for a good reason, right?

Now, maybe you don’t do this, but I do, and I've caught myself doing it with God also. I give my watered down negative response to Him and then I give my wonderful reasons why not. 

The thing about reasons, is that there are always going to be good, no, great reasons for saying no to God (and to each other, for that matter).

In fact, I’ve never given God or another person a bad reason for being a lame friend. My degree in English Literature assures that my reasons are fantastic and well worded! 

I mean, come on, sometimes it’s really just not good timing and I’m busy.  Or my family is in the midst of a transition or on vacation.  Or maybe what God is asking of me is really just not ‘my thing,’ or maybe I’m under the weather, or I’ve had a rough day, year or life. Maybe I’m too hungry or tired, or to preoccupied with getting ready for the holidays or with a project or with schooling my kids.  Or perhaps I’m just not sure if I’m the right person for the job. Or maybe I’ve already done a lot of good in my life and it’s time to give someone else a turn, or maybe I’ve been neglecting my to-do list or my bucket list and want to accomplish a few things first.  Or maybe my spouse won’t support me, or people will judge me or maybe God’s request falls outside of my comfortable cultural sphere. In retrospect, all of reasons I’ve ever given God for why I'm unable to comply with His will have been good, solid reasons.

And yet, it all amounts to a big, fat ‘no.’

When was the last time we told someone or God,  “I want to do this because I simply appreciate the value of living in imitation of Christ!”?  Um, never. 

The truth is, as good as our reasons are for turning down an opportunity to be charitable, I’m willing to bet that they are never going to be as good the Good we forgoing by not saying yes.  And that Good is capitalized because it is God, it is the chance to grow in His friendship that we are letting go of when we place our lazy human will above His.

And then we're the first ones to wonder why no one does anything extraordinary anymore, aren't we?  If only someone would say yes to God. Hm...if only we set our hearts on being that person.
Of the two servants Jesus spoke of in the Gospel who were commissioned with a task, one refused at first and the other accepted.  But the one who accepted didn’t follow through, while the servant who said no, thought better of it and did it anyway.  Which one will we be?

Even better, though, is the third option and that is to be like Christ himself; to say yes and to follow through with trying our best to do it.  Try it sometime.  Take note: how many times do you say no…without saying no, outright, really?    And more importantly, how often do you actually and genuinely say yes?

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Amazing and Universally Appealing God and Spiderman

Yes, in case you were wondering, the comic book-like title was on purpose.

The reason? Marvel’s superhero Spiderman is back in theaters … again… with a story that’s a remash-up of it’s most recent, er, remash-up.  And for my sweet, un-tainted toddlers, viewing but a single trailer for the film (with their father, I might add) and they were instant causalities to the web-shooting franchise. 

Well played, Marvel.  How did you know that the same generation of young adults that watched Toby McGuire’s abs mutate into their own zip code as he played Spiderman during their college years would, a decade later, have children whose limited phonemic vocabulary wouldn’t hinder them from exclaiming ‘Piedooman!” every chance they got?

He's happy mama's taking a picture, really...
Oh, believe me, my kids weren’t the only ones sucked (webbed?) in.  We were happy to run out and purchase them Spidey action figures, t-shirts and books. My husband and I have spent time reminiscing about our mutual childhood fascination with the comic book character.  I can still remember the theme song from my favorite Spiderman cartoon.  My mom, this would be my children’s grandma, keep in mind, remembers it with fondness as well.

What is it that makes this blue and red spandex clad, uber-flexible figure, so universally appealing to everyone?

And where does God fit into all of this? 

Well, there are some similarities between the whole Spiderman story and the Almighty.

The first is a spider.  Peter Parker owes his literally ‘gripping’ career to a radioactive-spider whose bite enhanced his physique, gave him a his famed danger-detecting sixth “spider” sense, and his trademark web shooting ability.

Concerning God, according to legend, one spider played a significant role in the Nativity story by spinning its silvery web to disguise the birthplace of Christ to the Roman Soldiers. Today some commemorate this story by hanging a spider on their Christmas trees. As a complete spider-phobe myself, that idea creeps me out but the legend itself is still pretty cool.  

The second is heroic virtue.  As Spiderman, Parker could have used his powers for evil.  “With great power comes great responsibility,” Aunt Mae to pronounces to both Peter, readers and movie goers throughout the various versions of the story. It is the ultimate moral lesson of Spiderman.

Similarly in Gospel, we have an imperative to virtue from Christ who tells us, “10 “ He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.”(Luke 16: 10).

God, of course, is the first one to live the axiom, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” He is powerful and trustworthy in all matters, great and small.  He could end all existence in a milo-second, but in His goodness, and for no other reason, He doesn’t.   And He is the inventor of virtue, if you will, and unmatched in His displays of mercy, the greatest of these being the sacrifice of His Son. 

The third is the suit.  Well, not really.  My daughter pointed this out to me.  She ran around telling me that Spiderman was ‘cool,’ to which my Catholic spider-mom reflexes caused me to ask, “Abby, is God cool, too?”   She unflinchingly retorted, “No, mommy. He doesn’t wear a cool suit.” Okay, She stumped me there.

As I thought about it a little more, I realized that one day I will have to tell her about the ‘cool’ armor of God that St. Paul spoke of in Ephesians:

Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil… Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph 6: 11, 14-16)

For my kids the ability to shoot webs would certainly complete this divine ensemble.  Now all that remains is for theologians to rename the vices after Spiderman villains where envy is the Green Goblin, pride is Doc Ock etc.

For me and for many, it would seem that God and Spider man do have a shared universal appeal, and overlapping in the stories of both is a spider, keen sense of justice and a suit. 

And I haven’t gotten to the best part: one less spider in the world.  The eight legged creepy crawly that got Parker thankfully, met its end never to bite again.  That’s as happy an ending this spider-phobe, Spiderman and God loving mom can ask for.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Lest We Forget What Pride Actually Is

As we bloggers say, "I'm dusting this one off, from last year."  It's still pertinent:

Pride is the deadliest of all the seven deadly sins.

We seem to have forgotten this lately.

I came across a timely post from the Archdiocese of Washington, and, in light of current social trends, one paragraph defining pride, worth reading and re-reading, intrigued me:

Pride is the sinful refusal to recognize anyone or anything greater than us, to whom, or to which we owe reverence and obedience. Modern man has not only abandoned God, but even natural law. In Original Sin Adam said, “I will do what I want to do and I will decide if it is right or wrong.” Thus he refused submission to God. Modern Man extends this concept beyond God’s law, even to reality itself. In this attitude, there is no reality outside himself to which he must conform himself or to which [Man] woes any allegiance. In abandoning natural law, modern man increasing says that reality is what he says it is. Reality no longer matters, all that matters is what I think or feel. *

What's interesting is how the mainstream media portrays 'pride' as something healthy and favorable to people, when, as the quote above reveals, precisely the opposite is true. As June 2011 concluded, it found itself dedicated to a specific variety of 'pride.' I don’t feel I have to mention which variety explicity because, in essence, all pride is equally destructive no matter how flamboyant or celebratory we’ve become of different displays of hubris.

But isn’t there such a thing as healthy pride, you may ask? Such as in the face of an accomplishment or when one pays homage to their nation, ancestry or ethinicity?

In those cases, it’s not really pride (e.g. “I’m so proud of you, family member X …” or “We come from a long line of proud So-and-Sos…) at all. But since we must use language to express the combination of satisfaction, joy and gratitude for an earned success as well as the respect, reverence and humility experienced with ‘honoring one’s roots,' we tend to distill these concepts down to the current banal usage of the term ‘pride.'

If you look closely, however, in those cases there is a recognition or an acknowledgment of being blessed that does not self-aggrandize but which gives credit where credit is due: to the One who gives us our talents, history, nation and family.

Of course, it still remains possible to become disordinately proud when one succeeds, such as when one attributes all success and personal merit to oneself. There is also a way of overemphasizing the importance of ancestry, race and nationality, such as when one considers it their primary identity and starts to conform their entire lifestyle to it rather than to God's will for their lives.

In other words, the subjugation of God’s law as well as our obligation to observe it, to something as dramatically miniscule as ourselves and our personal desires is the essence of pride. Whether contemptuously driven to turn away from God (as in the case of Satan) or simply due to the pull of our fallen nature, the prideful person succumbs to the temptation to consider themselves as the ‘master’ of their own lives rather than acknowledge a higher power and Authority.

This is why when St. Thomas Aquinas writes about pride, he calls it the beginning of all sin after Sirach 10:15, Pride is the beginning of all sin. He explains why:

…pride regards sin as turning away from God, to Whose commandment man refuses to be subject, for which reason it is called the "beginning," because the beginning of evil consists in turning away from God...We must therefore say that pride, even as denoting a special sin, is the beginning of every sin. I-II q 84 a2 c.

In other words, pride is the disposition by which all evil, all 'turning away from God' (i.e sin) becomes possible if not probable. Pride, therefore, can rightly be called the deadliest of all the deadly sins. And so, when our culture as a whole does an about-face from the Truth, instead of admonishing the sin and educating the sinner as we should, we celebrate it and them. And why not? Since we’ve already made ourselves our own Gods, why shouldn’t we spend time honoring ourselves and then punish those who don’t do likewise? The Washington Archdiocese post further elaborates on what happens when we become entirely self-focused:

In severing his relationship with God, and even with reality itself, the human person can turn in almost entirely on himself and be unreachable. He becomes hardened in his self-enclosed thinking and will only admit data and people who conform to his stinking thinking. As time goes by, almost nothing can break through this wall of pride. Scripture says, For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools….(Rom 1:22-23).

I just want to repeat one line of this quote which really struck me: "[He] (the prideful person) will only admit data and people who conform to his stinking thinking." Intolerance, from this perspective, becomes the most immediate and natural offspring of pride. Today, however, we so often hear the term 'pride' and 'tolerance' mentioned in the same breath together that it's now a forgone conclusion that the two are somehow complementary. And yet this spurious claim of compatibility between the two, once properly examined, emerges as inherently fraudulent, as neither tolerance nor pride, by their very natures, can coexist together. Pride can only ever admit to ways of thinking that do not threaten or challenge it, and then persecute any that do.

The foolishness and heresy committed by the Ego who considers itself the source of all truth is rampant and robust in present times. Why? Because we’ve forgotten what pride actually is, and, as such, have become a prideful society. We now throw parades for pride and dedicate full months of the year to it. Imagine that, waving flags and marking our calendars for what amounts to both the root and vehicle of our own self destruction. And yet you don’t need to spend too much time trying to imagine it; I hear it gets great media coverage by all the major networks these days.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What Being a Mom of Two Young Children Really Means

I have great news! I’m going to be an aunt again! My sister is expecting her second child.

Yay! And, forgive me, but muahahahaha…now she’ll understand my pain.

Come on, all of you with two or more thought the same thing. I heard your thoughts from here! And the answer is no, I’m not going ‘break the news’ to them, I am going to let them learn for what having ‘more than one’ is like for themselves.

However, being the compassionate, older sister that I am, I decided that before they learn the secret handshake, I would prepare a short list of what they have to look forward to with the two. 

My own children are four and two years old and so some of these may not apply for awhile, but here goes.

Dear sis, as a mom of two kids, prepare to:

·      Own stock in a dairy farm somewhere with all the galloons of milk your family will guzzle.

·      Buckle, unbuckle; buckle, unbuckle wherever you go.

·      Become the enemy of evolutionists, for you still will not have grown that second set of arms so biologically necessary for caring for two human beings at once.

·      Develop a renewed sense of respect for your own parents, and all parents throughout history who have raised more than one child at one time.

·      Feel the need to wear a plastic rain poncho at bath time.

·      Frequently order one meal to feed the two of them.

·      Feel the need to wear a rain poncho at meal time…and, while you’re at it, why not drape plastic over everything in house, including the dog?

·      Hear the phrase, “My mommy,” “No, my mommy,” and derive a secret satisfaction from it.

·      Catch yourself reminiscing about what it was like when you could go to the bathroom by yourself.

·      Discover how insurmountable and miraculous the simple task of “Getting out the door” can be.

·      Learn the art of healthy, and maybe not so healthy bribery (Cookie?)

·      Find yourself intimidated by how well both can actually understand their unintelligible filial toddler lingo. (Is there anything weirder than seeing two little human beings that you made start conversing?  I don’t know.)

·      Unconsciously accept the five-second rule (or the five minute rule) for fallen food in your household.

·      Resign yourself to the thought, “Well, at least they’re dressed,” more times than you ever believed you would.

·      Be able to distinguish between a ‘good’ loud thud and ‘bad’ loud thud and whether it actually requires your immediate attention

·      Prepare to be amazed at watching two little people do this thing called ‘growing up’ together.

Teach them the Faith and, if you can, make it most beautiful part of their lives. I know you are already doing that with your first one.  Her “Faddah, Sohn, Holy Spit…” Sign of the Cross surely indicates the deep piety rooting itself in her tiny breast.

Do try to enjoy every minute of the aforementioned bath time with your little fishies (for me, this has been one of my favorite parts of this whole parenting gig) and make family meals central to your domestic life.  We’ll all want to hang out with you guys in public and at restaurants if you do.

Congratulations, sis!  That learning curve from one kid to two kids is a steep one, but thankfully, there’s a step-by-step manual you can buy to help you with this.

Oh, wait, no there isn’t! Oh well… don’t worry!  You are actually going to be able to write your own one day and probably just in time for the grandkids.

God bless, you!  Signed, your sister and the future god-mother…right?