Friday, March 29, 2013

Seven Last Words

Father, forgive them, they know not what they do. 
Luke 23:34

Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. 
Luke 23:43

Woman, behold, your son. 
John 19:26

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 
Mark 15:34

I thirst. 
John 19:28

It is finished. 
John 19:30

Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. 
Luke 23:46

Stained glass image courtesy of

Monday, March 25, 2013

American Catholic

I was recently contacted* by Nathan, a Mennonite seminary student. He informed me he was using my blog as the subject matter for a response paper in a comparative Christianity in America course. The assignment was to find a first-person Catholic source and compare it to the depiction of American Catholics in Sense of the Faithful (which I haven't read). Here are some excerpts from his paper that roughly summarize it:
The ways in which Catholics negotiate with and appropriate Church teachings, as described in Sense of the Faithful, seem to result in a trend toward either increased noncompliance with Vatican rules (e.g. contraception) among loyal Catholics, or narratives of opposition to the wider Church... parishioners approach their doctrinal strictness from an oppositional point of view, meaning they create “narratives of resistance” to the trends in the Catholic Church and American society. Their opposition is reactionary, responding to changes they don’t like, such as Vatican II reforms and increasing indecency in the broader culture... Liana is not reactionary or oppositional in her obedience, but intentional and positive... Moving toward greater obedience and doctrinal strictness, [she and her husband] are definitely bucking the dominant trend. Doing so in a positive and non-reactionary way is even bucking the resistance to the dominant trend... I don’t think US Catholics are lining up to follow Liana’s family planning choices, but her idea of surrender and obedience bringing freedom may be the start of a different trend.
My personal experience with American Catholics generally mirrors what Nathan summarized from Sense of the Faithful. The vast majority of Catholics I know disobey the teaching authority of the Church and usually not in ignorance. I also know a few Catholics who hold strictly to Church teaching, but are bitter toward the current Magisterium and many Catholic communities.

C'mon, what's not to like?

I think part of the problem is the tension between being an American and being a Catholic. As Americans, we treasure our independence and individuality. Our history boasts of exploring the New World and being revolutionaries. Obedience isn't an American virtue. The fact that the teaching authority resides in another country really goes against the grain. (One of the biggest challenges in JFK's campaign was the perception that the Pope would take over the USA.)

All that being said, I do know other American Catholics who are happily living out their obedience to God through obedience to the Church. A couple in L.A., another in Syracuse, my cousins outside of Dallas, and probably others with whom I just haven't had enough deep conversations to know. Many of them have found communities of like-minded (like-souled? J) folks with whom to share this journey. Perhaps we are starting a new trend. I hope so.

*In his email, Nathan said, "Is there any chance you'd be available to call me tomorrow or Sunday? Selfishly, I could basically guarantee myself an A if you were willing to answer a few survey questions for me. ...Since you are both busy parents, I would totally understand if you wouldn't be available. If you're creeped out by a random dude in Colorado thinking your blog is paper-worthy, I'd understand that too! If you're not too busy or creeped out, my number is..." I thought he sounded fun, so I called. He did get an A. :-)

Friday, March 22, 2013

7 Quick Takes (Vol. 34): Mercy for Parents

"Some people just shouldn't have kids."
"Well, neither should we, but someone's gotta do it."

While Jeremy and I were engaged, we were visiting my cousins who asked us about having children. I admitted I was somewhat scared, afraid I would mess them up. "Oh, you will. We all mess up our kids. The question is just how badly." This assurance, from parents I greatly respect, made the whole endeavor much less intimidating.

I question my decisions about my children frequently. When should I insist on a particular schedule? How much of that does he really need to eat? Since he missed his nap, what time should we put him to bed tonight? Daily choices need to be evaluated to increase the odds that I am doing what is best for our family.

The question that most plagues me, though, isn't one I can answer by doing enough research or reading parenting blogs. Am I living out my faith authentically? I know, from inspiring first-hand experience, that what parents model is crucial for a child's faith.

To know how I share my faith with my children requires soul-searching. A lot of it. (I've found those 5AM nursing sessions to be good for this type of thing.) This isn't like deciding whether or not to circumcise, a one-time decision. I need to be diligent in seeking God, daily, relying on his grace to pull us through this messy life.

I must be able to identify my faults in order to correct them. I must strive always to live out the calling to which I have been called. But just as importantly, I must accept God's mercy. When he forgives and calls me out of darkness into light, I must be willing to answer. Accepting mercy requires humility.

It's hard for me to accept mercy. I want to be good enough, to do it on my own. If I cannot accept God's mercy, though, I am in no position to give it to those around me. Pray for me, would you? And for every other parent raising a child. We can't do this alone.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

St. Patrick's Day

May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
The rain fall soft upon your field
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of His hand

Monday, March 18, 2013

Blessings through Discipline

My family has a tradition of adding a second verse when singing Happy Birthday - "May the dear Lord bless you." Peter has recently taken to singing Happy Birthday frequently throughout the day to whomever is around, often accompanying himself on the ukulele. His rendition of the second verse is just a bit different, though - "Let the dear Lord bless you."

For the first couple of days, the substitution just struck me as funny, another cute "Peter Says" moment. After all, do we really need to be told to let God bless us? Who would resist a blessing? I chuckled to myself, feeling so confident in my adult understanding of the world.

As I continued to hear him over the past week, though, I've begun to think he is on to something. We know that God is all things good and desires to bless us. Perhaps we turn away blessings more frequently than we realize. "Oh, thanks God, but trust me, I've got it figured out. My plan will be excellent and will surely bring me joy. Your plan sounds, well, kind of hard. I'm sure you mean well, but my way is more fun and brings some immediate satisfaction."

For example, the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Even labeling them disciplines makes it obvious they aren't going to be care-free and fun. Why would we choose to do these things? Fasting is not fun, especially when tasty things are being served. Almsgiving, while sort of rewarding because I know others are benefiting, means I am sacrificing whatever I could have done with that entertainment money. Lent is not a time when we feel showered with blessings.

We observe Lenten disciplines out of obedience. And how else do we open ourselves to God's blessings except through obedience? Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving get us moving in the right direction. Practicing these disciplines requires grace and simultaneously draws us closer to God to receive more grace. Tonight, I pray that I will let the dear Lord bless me.

Friday, March 15, 2013

7 Quick Takes (Vol. 33): Smiles from Ireland

St. Patrick's Day is approaching. For simplicity's sake I usually say I'm half Irish and half German. In the interest of full disclosure, I'm a quarter Irish and a quarter Scotch-Irish, so perhaps I'm less entitled to celebrate than some. :-) (I'm also a quarter German and a quarter Alsatian, so German or French depending on the year.) I did, however, study there for five months, so I feel a bit privileged by that account.

If you want to hop around my blog a bit, you can read a primer on Irish culture for children (food, music, history, etc.) and a story of me getting absolutely soaked one lovely Irish day.

Peter, St. Patrick's Day 2011

A joke from "me dear mither": Timothy was a popular man, so it was no wonder his wake was full to overflowing. There weren't enough chairs to go 'round, so someone slipped the middle chair out from under the casket, reasoning that the end two would be enough to support it. When Fr. John arrived, he was appalled. "Have ye no respect for the dead?! There must be THREE chairs, for the Holy Trinity!" Michael looked up from his beer and shouted out, "Hic! Hic! Hooray!"

While I was studying in Galway, friends back home would ask, "Can you do the Irish accent yet?" Sort of. I could do an Irish accent, but there are as many different accents as there are counties, if not more, and a good deal of pride about each. I once asked my friend, "Kevin, where are you from? You sound different from everyone else." He replied, "I'm from Roscommon. And I sound different because I'm cultured." :-)

My friend Karra and I visited the shrine in Knock, County Clare, where Mary appeared. In this apparition, unlike many others around the world, she said nothing. Those who live in County Clare say of course she didn't, there was no need to give advice to people so surely on the road to heaven. Those not from Clare believe she tried, but couldn't get a word in edgewise in such a place.

My mom has had a tin whistle since I was a little girl, so I bought myself one while I was over there. It can be a bit shrill, but Peter likes to hear me play and enjoys blowing into it himself, producing a variety of squeaks and squawks. My husband commented to me today, "I wouldn't mind if you wanted to play bassoon instead."

One weekend, my roommate's family took me sightseeing. Her younger siblings were very impressed that I could sing Fields of Athenry in its entirety. Their mother encouraged, "Now that she sang one of our songs, why don't you sing one of hers?" They immediately broke into an enthusiastic rendition of Waltzing Matilda. Australian, American... same difference.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Habemus Papam

I even broke the "no screen time before age 2" rule and let Anne watch for a few minutes, 
just so she can say she saw this Pope's first appearance.

Monday, March 11, 2013

On the Eve of the Conclave

The cardinals gathered in Rome begin their conclave tomorrow to choose who will fill the chair of Peter. It's not an election in the typical sense of the word. There are not official candidates, although there are many authorities putting forward their list of top ten most likely for the position. There are no campaign managers, no opinion polls, and no platforms.

I'm glad I'm not part of the conclave. The cardinals are charged with the weighty task of discerning God's call, of acting in accordance with His will to choose the next Pope. They are called to put aside any personality conflicts, regional interests, or church politics. They must empty themselves in order to be filled by the will of God.  It's a daunting task. They are, after all, human and likely experience the same pettiness all of us find in ourselves now and again.

Tonight, I pray for them. I pray for patience, wisdom, and hearts that seek God. Thy will be done.

Friday, March 8, 2013

7 Quick Takes (Vol. 32): Forgiveness

First, a link to my letter to the editor of the Catholic Courier on how the sacrament of Reconciliation is (mis)handled in our diocese: Restore established order. (Their title, not mine.)

I am so grateful for the sacrament of Reconciliation. It is a way to learn more about my relationship with God, a mirror to help me see my own failings more clearly. It is a call to conversion, a push in the right direction. It is an avenue of grace.

I generally don't have difficulty forgiving people. I'm like Sid from Ice Age: "You know me, I'm too lazy to hold a grudge." Harboring anger and resentment seems like a waste of time.

I have explained to my Sunday school class that Jesus calls us to forgive as many times as we are wronged, but doesn't say we need to forgive and forget. There are times when it is healthy to remember, so as to avoid a situation that can hurt you again. (Being bullied, for example.)

When should we forgive and forget, then? An isolated incident within a healthy relationship (not just romantic - any relationship) can and should be forgotten. Sure, the other person was inconsiderate and hurt you, but if it's not a pattern, it's good to forget. Hurt caused unintentionally, or by someone you're unlikely to see again, should be forgotten. It's a case-by-case decision, a reason for discernment.

I pray that you are able during this Lenten season to experience the healing forgiveness God offers us. Forgive others, forgive yourself. Let God back into your heart. He already knows what's there and loves you anyway.

On a completely different topic, please pray for a dear friend of mine whose child was called from her womb to Heaven. Thank you.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Power of Prayer

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways," says the Lord.
"For as the heavens are higher than the earth
so are my ways higher than your ways
my thoughts higher than your thoughts."
Isaiah 55:8-9

This is my fourth year teaching third grade for Sunday school. I've realized that each class has its own character, which is interesting. I would have expected one class to be much like the next, with a small amount of variance due to different personalities. I've found, though, that what captivated the class one year has left another class utterly bored.

I was spoiled my first year. The character of that class was academic. They wanted to know why we learned things, enjoyed new vocabulary, could discuss concepts, and soaked up information like sponges. In short, their learning style aligned with my teaching style. It was great!

The next year's class was polite. No behavior problems, very few inattentive kids, but also no apparent enthusiasm for what I taught. They willingly completed what I asked them to do, but were usually so quiet I couldn't tell how much they actually learned. I felt like I never really got to know them.

Last year's class was creative. If they had made the lesson plan, we would have colored pictures and done skits all day! I did manage to work something artistic into most lessons, so they had a good time. They were a pretty happy-go-lucky group; the one time I pulled out my "teacher voice" to correct a student, they were all stunned. :-)

This year's class is a challenge. My impression is that they view Sunday school as just another subject, akin to social studies. They frequently toe the line of disrespectful and need frequent redirection to keep them on task. They're intelligent, but rarely pay enough attention to remember what I've taught. They're very active, so I try to incorporate one or two moving activities into a class, but it's an ongoing struggle. Although a rebuke is effective, they're not very responsive to praise and encouragement. It's draining.

Yesterday, I taught an overview of prayer. This included two consecutive quiet reflection activities (examination of conscience and lectio divina). Truthfully, I didn't expect to get through both of them. I was pleasantly shocked that they kept quiet and focused. Furthermore, they were able to explain, in their own words, what types of prayer we learned. I am so joyful knowing what captured their attention was communion with God. That is the most important thing I can show them. It's good to know that there are plans in effect much more powerful than my lesson plans.

Friday, March 1, 2013

7 Quick Takes (Vol. 31): Some Days are Stones

"Some days are diamonds, some days are stones..." Oh how true. My husband started work early today, by our standards, to get a few hours of work done. I packed our things (we'd spent the night at his parents' house) and we were ready to go around 11:15. Peter was not ready to go. He never likes leaving his grandparents' house and it was even harder because they weren't there to say goodbye (both at work). And Anne was gassy. As we pulled out of the driveway to attend the funeral of Jeremy's friend who died suddenly last weekend, both kids were crying.

My sweet boy with his new haircut

After the funeral (a good tribute to a wonderful man), we got our car into position to join the funeral procession. The funeral had ended around 1:00; we didn't park at the cemetery, about 3 miles away, until just after 2:00. So that was frustrating. There was a luncheon afterwards, which Jeremy attended while I stayed in the car with two sleeping children. He brought me out a plate and we were on the road shortly after 3:00.

We had intended to leave by 3 at the absolute latest to give ourselves time to clean and have dinner when we got home because we were hosting a Pampered Chef party that started at 6:15. When we got home, our house was 53F. The thermostat was set for 65. We still haven't figured out what is wrong with it... It seems to be turning on and off without reason. Thankfully, the furnace is fine, just the thermostat is wacky, so at least it will be a relatively cheap repair.

However, this meant we had about 90 minutes to get our house up to a habitable temperature. I decided we would have a very cozy party in the family room, which has doors to shut it off from the rest of the house. We put the space heater in there on full blast and I brought the electric kettle and the coffee maker down, planning to serve beverages there.

The Pampered Chef consultant arrived and began setting up in the kitchen. The power went out. Apparently the family room and kitchen are on the same circuit, which had been overloaded by the space heater, kettle, and coffee maker. My husband went to the basement to flip the switch while I moved the drink makers to the dining room. Plugged them in. Power went out on that circuit. Eventually we decided to just make the coffee and worry about the hot water later.

Through all of this, of course, we have two children who are hungry and stressed. Both need a diaper change, both want to be held. My husband is hungry and stressed. My stress had killed my appetite and, by this point, the stress was melting away as the comedy of everything going wrong at the same time started to get to me. I told him, "At least I'll have something to blog about tonight." "Do you think you can get it down to only seven?" :-)

On the plus side, I had a good time with my friends and family, the chocolate lava cake the consultant made was delicious, and one of our friends saved the evening by bringing pizza for us. Peter had a good time playing at the mall with his Papa and Anne enjoyed being held throughout the party. Still, it was quite a day. Someone else can host the next party.