Pull up a chair in my domestic church and let's chat!

I have worn many labels (Not in any particular order): Catholic, Wife, Mom,Gramma, Doctor, Major, Soccer Mom, Military Wife, Professor, Fellow.

All of these filter my views of the world. I hope that like St. Monica, I can through prayer, words and example, lead my children and others to Faith.
"The important thing is that we do not let a single day go by in vain without putting it to good use for eternity"--Blessed Franz Jägerstätter

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

It's An Opportunity!

I am just now catching up on my favorite blogs after Christmas activities and guests kept me from the computer for a while. Jimmy Akin has a lively discussion on why or why not we should get two-for-one credit by attending Mass on Sunday, Christmas Eve or Sunday, New Year's Eve.( The answer is we should be attending Mass twice on these weekends!) However, the comment below pushed my buttons!

Why do so many people make their best efforts to avoid going to

And why do we (including the Church!) use terms like "obligation"
when referring to the honor and privilege and celebration of Mass, as if
it is this terrible, awful burden that we must endure?
But the fact is,regardless of whatever terms the Church uses, you are not "obligated" to do anything with respect to God. Do whatever the hell you
feel like doing. You don't "have" to go to Mass both Sunday and Monday. Sit at home watching TV and drinking beer and eggnog if you want. Nobody is forcing you to do anything.

Now, of course, if you don't want to spend an hour or two with Jesus, if you don't want to receive Jesus' gift of His Body on the day of giving, you just may end up
finding out that, in the end, He won't oblige you to spend eternity with Him

If you love someone, of course you want to spend time with him or her, and you don't consider it an "obligation."

Exactly! As Catholics we can get so tied up over the rules that we develop a check-list mentality to our faith. We try to meet the minimum requirements to keep ourselves out of Hell. I heard a priest address this at one of the school Masses a couple of years ago and his analogy really resonated with me. Who sets out to be a "C" student? No one. We hope to be an "A" student, though sometimes, in spite of our best efforts we fall short. So why are we satisfied with being a "C" Catholic? Are we trying to just squeak by and get into Heaven by the skin of our teeth? Or are we trying to make the God's honor roll? This isn't meant to be a discussion of salvation by works vs grace. Rather this is a push for us to remember that just as we want to excel in our earthly endeavors we should want to excel in our spiritual endeavors as well. So get rid of the word obligation when thinking about your acts of faith. Consider New Years weekend as an opportunity for twice the grace!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Traveling again

We are off to another soccer tournament. This time it is in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. This is a huge college recruiting tournament so say a prayer that each girl shows her talents well. We are planning on attending St. Gregory Catholic Church Saturday evening. I'll give a full report when I return. In the meantime, enjoy the Christmas season. Remember we still have twelve days of Christmas to go!

The Gift

We attended Midnight Mass and with my parents joining us we filled up one of the pews. Having all of my children home and at Mass with me on Christmas is truly the greatest gift I received. As I looked at our clan in the pew I realized only my twelve-year-old really qualified as a kid. We are primarily a group of adults now. Some a bit on the younger side, and some a bit on the older side, but mostly grown up nonetheless. My daughter is pushing seventeen and taking on an adult perspective before my eyes. I consider it a great blessing they each still embrace our faith. I can only give credit to the Grace of God. I have done my best to share the faith but it is only through the Grace of God that they can claim this faith as their own. I’m not done yet and I know I have much time on my knees yet to go. I do pray daily that each of my children discerns God’s call and discovers his or her vocation. I also pray daily for the future spouse of any of my children who are called to the vocation of marriage. Since I don’t think any of my children are inclined to the idea of arranged marriages, prayer is my only alternative. (By the way, I am also continuing to pray for those of you who have requested my prayers as you search for a spouse!)

The focus on family at this time of year always has me reflecting on my own vocation as a wife and mother. I was single when I chose to be a physician. I really did love practicing medicine and taking care of patients. Yet the satisfaction of my career could not rival the rewards of being a mother to my children. This became very clear to me a couple of weeks ago. My youngest needed a couple of merit badges sewn on his sash and as usual I was getting it done just prior to the meeting. After I dropped him off at the Scout meeting I stopped by the grocery store. In the window of the dry cleaning store I saw two Girl Scout vests that had just had patches sewn on. I realized that a great deal of the tension I felt while working was due to my refusal to let go of a lot of little tasks that I viewed as motherly. I could have been much less stressed if I had paid a seamstress to sew on patches, purchased more pre-cooked dinners, and settled for store bought birthday cakes. But I wanted to be the one to sew on Boy Scout patches, cook dinner, bake birthday cakes and drive kids to soccer. I wanted to be the one to help with homework and make sure projects were completed. I never did figure out how to get home from work and still have enough brain cells to actively listen to the stories of the day’s events. My boys loved to give long detailed accounts of their recess football exploits. When I was working outside the home I struggled to enjoy these tales of athletic adventure. Fatigue left me numbed to their excitement.

This is not a state that I generalize to every mother. I just know that for me, my career asked me to sacrifice too much of my motherly vocation. Something had to give. I gradually cut back on working until I found myself home full time. I know not every woman has this luxury. I consider it a great blessing that I have been able to continue this through my children’s high school years. As I look at my children in the pew I can honestly say I have done my best to be worthy of such a gift.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve

I was up early this morning—before sunrise. I had to get my turkey dressing into the crock pot so it will be ready for our midday Christmas dinner. We always do our big dinner on Christmas Eve. Today’s menu will be an encore presentation of Thanksgiving with the addition of a pecan pie.

With a house full of family it is hard to find a quiet moment and private space for reflection. But as I watch the sunlight creep over the horizon I can breathe deeply and remember the reason for our excitement. Christ, our Lord, became like one of us. Out of love, he humbled himself to become a man. Through his infinite love and mercy he redeemed us by the Cross and His resurrection. At the end of time He will come again to lead us into His eternal kingdom.

Therefore, today I will not fret about the consistency of the turkey dressing, the perfection of the table setting, or the decorative beauty of the wrapped presents. Food, decorations and presents do not exist as an end in themselves. They are merely sign posts reminding us of the true reason to celebrate.

Blessings to all as we joyfully proclaim the Incarnation and birth of Our Lord.

Friday, December 15, 2006

"O Come All Ye Faithful?"

Here is an interesting response to C and E Catholics
The Christmas rush has taken on a whole new meaning at St. Maur Parish, where tickets were issued to control crowd numbers at its annual Christmas Eve children's Mass.

Last year the children's Mass in Rush, in northern Dublin County, was so crowded that one girl fainted from the heat. Many were concerned about elderly people and young children forced to stand in the aisles.

The introduction of tickets for the Mass made national headlines at the end of November after some parishioners contacted RTE radio to complain that access to the Christmas Eve Mass was being limited to regular Mass attendees. They argued that Mass should always be open to all, whether they regularly attended church or only at Christmas and Easter.

Under the ticket distribution scheme devised by the parish council, tickets were available only from the sacristy after Saturday vigil and Sunday morning Masses the first weekend in December.

One of my seventh grade CCD students expressed his frustration with all these extra people at Christmas Mass. “They are sitting in my pew, they don’t know what to do, and they talk through the whole Mass”. Fair enough. Those of us who attend Mass every Sunday can feel quite inconvenienced by the sudden crowd. After all, where were these people during Ordinary Time or even Advent? They were hitting the snooze button while we were dragging ourselves out of bed to get to Mass.

But look at the opportunity for evangelization we have at Christmas and Easter. These are seeking souls. Do you think they will keep seeking from the Church if we glare at them as they squeeze into the pew? Welcome them. Smile. You know it is going to be crowded so arrive early and move to the center of the pew. No one enjoys climbing over a dozen knees to get to his place. Help them find their place in the hymnal or missal. I know the song says “O Come All Ye Faithful”, but a more accurate though admittedly less melodic phrase would be “O Come All Ye Who Seek To Be Faithful”.

Reach out to the “C&E” Catholics. Perhaps next Christmas they will feel like one of the regulars.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

O Christmas Tree

Don’t know how much blogging will occur over the next few weeks. Company arrives tomorrow. The tree is done. I didn’t get our entire ornament collection on its branches, but whatever didn’t make it this year will have to wait until next year’s tree. As I mentioned in the Christmas meme our tree decorations are a hodgepodge of knick knacks.

I will post again when I can. Right now it is time to restock the refrigerator. College boys will be home soon!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Our Mother

"Let not your heart be disturbed. Do not fear that sickness, nor any other sickness or anguish. Am I not here, who am your Mother? Are you not under my protection? Am I not your health? Are you not happily within my fold? What else do you wish? Do not grieve nor be disturbed by anything." (Blessed Mother’s words to Juan Diego)

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Being of Mexican American heritage, the vision of Our Lady of Guadalupe has always been part of my montage of Catholic images. Yet, I think it has only been in the last ten years that I have found a personal devotion to Mary under this title. Her words are so calming. Her perfect faith strengthens my own.

I really struggle at this time year. I can easily let the preparations for Christmas overwhelm the spirituality of the season. I need to throw myself into Blessed Mother’s arms and let her tell me, “There, there, it will be okay. My Son is with you. You don’t have to do Christmas cards, garlands, wreaths, and cookies. If they bring you closer to my Son, enjoy them. If not, let them go.”

I need the intensely maternal image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to nurture me as her child. Then I can turn to my own children, embrace them, and say “There, there, it will be okay. Christ is with you.”

Monday, December 11, 2006

Back from Memphis

I’ve just returned from a wonderful soccer weekend spent outside of Memphis. For you soccer parents out there, I highly recommend this tournament especially if your team is of the college recruiting age. The soccer complex was spectacular and we a great turnout of college coaches. For those of you not in the soccer world, colleges do not recruit soccer players from their high school teams as happens in other sports. The best soccer players play on club teams and travel to showcase tournaments. The college coaches attend these tournaments and recruit players there. Our girls won the tournament championship this weekend and got lots of looks from colleges so it was a very successful weekend.

As always, we found a local church and attended Mass on Sunday. Church of the Incarnation looked to be very close when I checked the online map. When we got to the hotel we found the hotel parking lot and the church parking lot were separated by only a thin strip of grass. Convenient indeed!

The parish has just completed their brand new sanctuary. It is lovely. The tabernacle is centrally located behind the altar. The celings are high with arched entrances and alcoves. A huge bay window to one side houses a beautiful statue of Blessed Mother. I noticed they are still collecting funds for an organ but are using a piano in the meantime. The adult choir was a very pleasing mixture of male and female voices. We opened with On Jordan’s Banks. Throughout the Mass the hymns were thoughtfully chosen to reinforce the Scriptures of the day. And not a Haugen or Haas or Shutte tune in the bunch!

After reading the amazing Mass stories on the blogosphere or after a visit to some of the parishes in the neighboring diocese, I feel like I must be living in an enclave of orthodoxy here in the Diocese of Arlington Virginia. Then I do a little traveling and find that more times than not, the Mass is very much in accord with the GIRM and the Eucharist is the center of the parish community. Have I just been lucky or do you find that to be true as well?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Blessed Feast Day to All!

A blessed Feast of the Immaculate Conception to all!

I won't be blogging much for the next few days. I am off to Memphis for a soccer tournament. I haven't been to Mass in that diocese before. I will be attending Church of the Incarnation in Collierville. I'll tell you about it when I return.

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Christmas Meme

Argent tagged me for this Christmas meme:

1. Egg nog or hot chocolate?
Okay, the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte is not a choice. In that case how about egg nog in my coffee?

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
Santa’s are unwrapped. They are placed in a nice little pile with the stocking taken down from the mantle and placed on top. Since iPods etc. are getting so small, that pile is looking pretty tiny as they kids get older.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?
White lights on the house, colored lights on the tree

4. Do you hang mistletoe?

5. When do you put your decorations up?
Advent wreath and nativity scene are up by the first Sunday of Advent. The rest continue through the next few weeks. But anything not done by one week before Christmas is not going to get done and we leave it at that.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?
Turkey dressing!

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child:
Going to Midnight Mass then going out to Denny's for breakfast then going home and opening presents then sleeping in! (This happened after we were all school age)

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
I suspected for a while and then confronted my mother when I was about ten. She couldn’t bear to tell me so she just said, if you believe in Santa, there is a Santa. If you don’t believe, there isn’t one.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
Not usually.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree
Hodgepodge of ornaments collected over the years. Thematic elements include an ever increasing collection of owls (Go Rice! They are playing in a bowl game for the first time since 1961!), an ever increasing collection of soccer players, daughter’s ever increasing collection of penguins, a smattering of Texas A&M ornaments courtesy of oldest son, and an assortment of vacation souveniers.

11. Snow? Love it or Dread it?
I’m dreamin’ of a white Christmas anywhere else but here!

12. Can you ice skate?
Can but prefer not to.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
I don’t think I want to name one in particular for fear of hurting the rest of my family. I will say they are always so diligent about finding something I will love.

14. What's the most exciting thing about the Holidays for you?
Anticipating having the whole family together including extended family. This is even more precious now that older children are in college.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert?
A properly made pumpkin pie, meaning a flavorful, tender homemade crust. No refrigerator crusts in this household.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
Going to Midnight Mass.

17. What tops your tree?
A lighted star

18. Which do you prefer - giving or receiving?
Giving. I love to shop for others!

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song?
Silent night and Carol of the Bells

20. Candy canes?
I can do without them unless they are the soft peppermint kind.

Okay, I tag Michelle, Sarah, and Tony

Big Families are not just for Catholics

Argent offers this link that illustrates being open to God’s gift of children is not just a Catholic issue.

Many of our friends, for the most part Orthodox Jews like us, have similarly chosen to raise large families, sometimes with six, seven, even 10 or more children. To others, we must seem at best unbalanced, at worst irresponsible, for our choices - choices we regarded, and still regard, as entirely wise and proper.

The disapprovers are entitled to their opinion, of course. But it can become irksome when strangers, confronted with the sight of my beloved family, offer unsolicited judgments.

The smiles and even the pointing fingers don't bother me; I try to follow the Talmud's dictum to judge others favorably, to assume the best: here, that the smilers and pointers are happy for us.

But commentators like the fellow in the airport who snidely query-editorialized, "Catholic or careless?" leave very little room for good will. ("Jewish and caring," I responded; it was all I could summon at the moment.)

Like the author above, my husband and I have opened ourselves to the gift of life. God has blessed us with four children. Recently my husband attended our twenty-fifth year college reunion. Unfortunately, I couldn’t accompany him so he represented the two of us to our family and friends. My husband and I have more children than any of our circle of college contemporaries. We are also the only couple living on only one income. I cannot complain. I feel financially secure. Our lifestyle is extremely comfortable. It is definitely not lavish. If I am honest, I will admit I feel a twinge of envy when I hear of our friends and their economic wealth, exciting travels, and country club social life. We could have been there too. But if I continue to be honest, I know that the choices we made were the right ones. Would I really rather be jet-setting than attending soccer games? The sights of Europe cannot compare with my twelve-year-old’s eyes.

We Can Make You Talk!

Sarah at Another Day of Catholic Pondering has a cute post on rhetorical questions we ask our children. It made me think about the more serious questions I ask my teens to keep the lines of communication open. Sometimes the questions act like keys to open the doors to their thoughts, fears, and dreams.

I pick my kids up from school every day. They could ride the bus but they are the last stop on a very long bus route along a very winding road. Since they are prone to car sickness I spare them the unpleasant ride on most afternoons and have them home about twenty minutes earlier. This also gives me the opportunity to see them while the school experience is still at the forefront of their consciousness. This is the perfect time for getting them to talk. The first hour or so after school is prime time for finding out how things are really going. After that, the kids have shifted gears and information about school is less readily revealed. Even when I worked outside the home I tried to arrange my schedule to see them as soon as possible after school. (Kids, if you happen to be reading this blog, all tricks of the trade mentioned in the following paragraphs were done only out of love and concern for you!)

Every parenting expert tells you, “Don’t ask yes/no questions.” What then do you ask instead? I will admit that I usually greet my children with a “How was your day?” I get the predictable “Fine” in response. The key is to keep going. An elementary school teacher told me the first writing assignment of the year is always about pets. Children love to talk about pets. Teens love to talk about themselves, their friends, and the drama of their lives. Make mental notes of people they mention so you can ask about them again on another day. It shows your children you are really listening and makes them more likely to keep talking. Here are a few of my favorite conversation starters:

  • What was the most surprising thing that happened today?
  • What made you laugh today?
  • Who is your best teacher? Why?
  • I was reading an article about teenage stress. Among your friends, what do you think is the biggest cause of stress? (I use the “I read an article/heard a radio report/saw a television show” preface often) Also, by allowing them to attribute the response to generic “friends” it makes the question less threatening.
  • Which of your friends is the funniest/most serious/most unpredictable/etc?
  • My friend’s daughter is having a problem with (fill in the blank). What would you recommend?

Of course this is not a comprehensive list and of course you don’t ask these questions all at once. Sometimes, no questions are needed and conversation just flows. Having a few key questions in your parenting armamentarium keeps you ready for those times you need to kick start the process. And if occasionally your teen really needs silence, respect that. I know there are times I just need peace and quiet too.

Once your teens start talking, don’t forget to listen. Be an active listener. Affirm your understanding of their words. “So you think Mr. Brown’s class is so interesting because he uses lot of real life examples?” Ask for more details if they seem especially enthusiastic about a topic. Remember to keep your commentary and pontifications to a minimum. You are trying to find out what they are thinking. You already know what you are thinking. But if they give you an opportunity to give your opinion, don’t hesitate to do so honestly. Establish this habit of conversation with the easy topics and talking about the harder topics will go more smoothly.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Christmas books for snuggling

We are a family of bibliophiles. I am always on a quest to increase the bookshelf space in our home. Our Christmas decorations reflect this. I have put a red metal sleigh in front of the living room fireplace and filled it with children’s Christmas books. This didn’t actually start out as a Christmas decoration. When my children were small there were picture books we would read together during Advent. I kept them in a decorative container in the family room. A few years ago I realized my kids had outgrown Christmas picture books but I couldn’t bear to leave these favorites packed away. So now they are out reminding us of happy times spent snuggling on the couch and listening to stories. But don’t think they will stay in that sleigh for long should I happen to have a young visitor who would enjoy them. ‘Tis the season for reading.

There are so many Christmas books published for children. Many have merchandise tie-ins. Of course I always found versions of the story of Jesus’ birth. But we had a few other favorites as well. I cannot count how many times I have read the Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. I once heard Garrison Keillor reading this story. His deep smooth voice was perfect for this story. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find this recording.

If you pick no other author, do read Tomie DePaola Christmas stories. The illustrations are beautiful and the stories perfectly capture the sentiments of the Christmas season. Merry Christmas, Strega Nona adeptly incorporates the season of Advent. I used this when my children were attending a small private secular school in California. (The Catholic school was full) The school had all kinds of holiday displays with a menorah for Jewish Hanukkah, and a crescent and star for Muslim Ramadan and posters about the Hindu Festival of Lights. Christmas was relegated to snowmen and evergreen trees. I couldn’t convince the administration to allow some of the more religiously connected icons of the season, but they did let me read Merry Christmas, Strega Nona and bring in our Advent Wreath. I guess since it involved the ritual lighting of candles it seemed like a diverse cultural experience.
Other Tomie DePaola books we have enjoyed are the Legend of the Poinsettia, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and The Night of the Posadas.

Children remember the evenings spent reading and rereading these stories far longer than the transient thrill of the latest electronics. Give your children the gift of your time.

Signs of Advent

Christmas decorations at our house do not change too much from year to year. I am not one to pick a different theme or color every year then decorate accordingly. Rather, our Christmas decorations are like old friends. We greet them during Advent and say good-bye after Epiphany. Every year we eagerly anticipate their arrival and the warm memories they carry.

The first thing to be displayed is our primary Nativity scene. I hesitate to call it part of the Christmas décor because it is so much more than an adornment for the season. It is our family catechesis of the Incarnation of Christ. I purchased the stable and Holy Family figures when my oldest was three. My criteria were it had to be durable enough to be around children, pretty to look at, and the baby Jesus had to come out of the manger since he would be absent from the scene until Christmas morning. I found this lovely set at the local Christian bookstore. I paid no attention to the brand name. Well, lo and behold, several years later I realized it was a Fontanini nativity set and with all the matching figurines available I could build the entire city of Bethlehem. I am such a sucker for collectibles. Since it has to fit on the dining room sideboard, I have shown some restraint in the addition of accessory pieces.

This display has been such a vital part of my children’s Christmases they have each indicated they must have similar sets when they have their own homes. So packed away are starter sets for each of my children to take with them when they leave home. I purchased brand new sets for each of my boys. However, Fontanini restyled the Holy Family a few years ago. My daughter could not bear to have a Mary and Joseph that did not look like the ones with which she has grown up. So I scoured eBay and found the old style figures. She is satisfied and I am thrilled the Nativity has made such an indelible impression on her memories of Christmas.

I did mention that this was our primary Nativity set. As I said, I am a sucker for collectibles and collections. Somehow my Christmas decorations have evolved into a collection of nativity scenes. Music boxes, snow globes, candle toppers, and candle holders all depict the birth of Christ.

A very sweet addition to this assortment is the very simple nativity scene my mother-in-law used during her own childhood.

I have some more thoughts about preparing my home for Christmas but they will have to wait until a later post. Until then, a Blessed Advent to all!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Celebrate December!

image source

Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Nicholas. I am reminding you today in case you would like to have your children leave out their shoes tonight and find a little treat in them tomorrow morning. We started doing that about five years ago and it has become a treasured tradition. Read more about St. Nicholas here.

December is a treasure trove of feast days. Don’t forget that Friday, December 8, is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation.

December 12 is one of my favorites, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Enjoy some Mexican Food and read the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The Feast of St. Lucy on December 13 is traditionally celebrated by sharing sweets with friends and family so this is a good day to concentrate on holiday baking.

Make the effort to mark these feasts with your family and keep the Church as the center of this season of Advent. You will make many wonderful memories. The spiritual gifts you give your children by keeping them centered on Christ and His Church will be far greater than anything you can put underneath the Christmas tree.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Our Christmas Purple Cow

As I gradually bring out our Christmas decorations I am reminded of so many family memories. One tree ornament in particular brings back an episode in our family lore. When my daughter was around four years old we were scouring the Christmas tree farm for the perfect tree. She could not see much difference between one tree and another. So she piped up with the question, “What are we looking for?” My husband, not understanding that she was asking for the properties of a proper Christmas tree, thought it was too silly a question to respond with the obvious answer, “A Christmas tree” and answered instead, “A purple cow”. Well, she then went about dutifully checking each tree for a purple cow, thinking that once she found it we could wrap up this expedition and get back home to the warmth of a fire and hot chocolate. We did eventually settle on a tree and had a perfectly wonderful Christmas. The next year when we were again trying to pick out a tree and I noticed my daughter carefully peering between the branches. When asked about this, she explained she was trying to be the one to find the purple cow this year and choose our tree. I had to break the news to her that there was no purple cow but only a flippant response from Dad. She was crushed. I eventually found a whimsical cow ornament and painted it purple. Our Christmas tree now has a purple cow.

Children can be so literal sometimes. When another mother takes the same parenting approach on an issue as I do, I often say we went to the same “Mom School”. I just found out that until recently my youngest was under the impression there really was a “Mom School”. This is the same child that kept combing my hair in search of the “eyes in the back of my head” that he was certain existed.

During my own childhood I can remember my mother repeatedly saying “Men can’t tie bows”. This was her way of ensuring I asked her, not my father, to tie the sash on the back of my dresses. I was probably a teenager before it dawned on me that the entire male population was not incapable of tying bows. It was only my father who could not tie my little girl dress sash in a bow that met my mother’s approval.

All my children are now past the stage of a strictly concrete interpretation of language. They enjoy the nuances or the subtle humor of a clever twist of words. This makes for very enjoyable family conversations, but I will always remember fondly the times when a purple cow could be real.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Providential Advent Reading

Have you ever noticed that once learn a new word, you hear it everywhere? Or perhaps you become aware of a new model of car and you suddenly see it all over the roads. This also works with facts and ideas. When I was practicing medicine I was amazed how often I saw a patient with a medical condition I had just read about in a new journal. I know some of this is my consciousness of this condition had been raised by my reading so I was more sensitive to its presence. However, in some cases, I also think that Divine Providence was at work. My newly acquired knowledge was the answer to someone’s prayers.

I also see this phenomenon in my spiritual studies. Guy Selvester has a wonderful post on Advent at Shouts in the Piazza.

The word “Advent” means the arrival and we should use this all too brief four weeks to prepare not only for the commemoration of the Lord’s first arrival but for His continued arrival in our lives and in our hearts. In the Western Church it is separated into two stages. The first runs from December 3rd through December 16th. The second, from December 17th-24th focuses attention more on the feast of Christmas. The two prefaces of Advent used in the mass highlight each of the two stages.

Advent, like Lent, is a penitential season. Unfortunately, over the course of time much of the penitential character of the season has been lost. Nevertheless, the Church always encourages the use of acts of penance as a means of preparing for any great celebration. Just as anyone will clean their house in preparation for hosting a party or other large celebration so, too, should we spiritually clean house as we prepare to renew our celebration of the Incarnation.

…Likewise, altars and sanctuaries should NOT be decorated with flowers during Advent. That may not seem like such a big deal until you take into account the ramifications of such a custom with regards to weddings that may take place during Advent. In many churches weddings simply aren’t permitted in Advent. However, in places where they do occur the couple getting married needs to be catechized as to the character of the season and the limitations that will place on the liturgy celebrating their matrimony. Another exception to the custom concerning flowers takes place, again, on Gaudete Sunday. This day, which reminds us to rejoice in the midst of our preparations, serves the same function as the fourth Sunday of Lent, also known as Laetare Sunday. A genuine effort should be made to relax the penitential and anticipatory atmosphere in the liturgical celebrations of Gaudete Sunday. However, if the organ has been going full guns and there have been flowers all over the church throughout Advent then the exceptions for Gaudete Sunday become devoid of meaning and really almost comical.

This morning our young priest gave a rousing homily (At 7:30 in the morning it has to be a bit rousing) about the second coming of Christ and our need to prepare. I also noticed we had no flowers in the sanctuary. After reading Guy’s post I understand why this was so. Stapled to our bulletin this morning was a guide to confession with a very nice examination of conscience. I am sure this is the same pattern that has been present in my many past Advents. However, a little Providential reading has made me more receptive to the liturgical lessons of this Advent season. Do read Guy’s full post. I hope you find it as beneficial as I did.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Keeping Your Kids Catholic, Chapter Ten

Chapter nine is here.

The last chapter of Keeping Your Kids Catholic by Bert Ghezzi is tough. After everything we have done for nearly two decades, our children may still leave the faith. Our fledglings leave the nest and test their wings. Some fly straight and true and keep the vibrant fire of their faith ever burning. Others bob and weave a bit before they find their way. Unfortunately, some take off, head the wrong way, and never look back.

What do you do when children leave the faith?

After investing your heart and soul into building a Catholic family it can come as a devastating blow when one of your children says, “No Thanks”. But this faith we long to share with our children must be their faith. They must hear the call and respond “Yes, Lord”. We may have done everything within our power to point this child in the right direction, but in the end, it is his choice. God gave each of us free will. If each of us is capable of turning away from God who is all-knowing and all-loving, then it is understandable that a child is capable of turning away from an imperfect merely mortal parent. Yet just as God never stops loving us when we turn away from him, as a parent we never stop loving a wayward child.

First and foremost we pray for our children. For the ones that have strayed from the faith, we pray that like the prodigal son they will return. We also need to stay strong in our own faith. When someone we love and respect chooses to leave the Church, it can sow a seed of doubt in us. Rather than allow this seed to grow, we need to stand as a beacon of faith so when our children need to find their way home we will be there to guide them. It is easy to feel angry and betrayed. We need to resist the temptation to lash out, criticize or nag. Paul Lauer, a young man who left the faith but eventually returned, writes in this chapter:

I and others who have had a “miraculous conversion” were not converted because we were shown that what we were doing was wrong (nobody ever wants to hear that, eh?), but rather because we were shown that something more right. Instead of being forced to turn off to evil, we were invited to turn on to good.

He goes on to describe an important principle of reaching out to young people:

Young people have enough energy to climb tall mountains of faith, hope, and love. If all we offer them are little molehills, they’ll simply go elsewhere for their challenges.

So don’t water down your faith. If your grown children turn away from the Church, don’t try to make faith seem easy in the hopes of bringing them back. Instead, stand strong. Don’t pretend you approve of choices that run contrary to your Catholic virtues. Yet, don’t condemn either so that you leave the door open for conversion.

Hopefully, with much grace and prayer, the lessons learned in the first nine chapters of this book will lessen the likelihood of chapter ten’s scenarios. Our success as parents cannot be measured by the faith of our offspring. As Mother Teresa said, “God did not call me to be successful, but to be faithful.” I hope this book has helped you to become a more faithful parent.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Do we need pretty churches?

Why do we need pretty churches? A discussion on Richmond Catholic has digressed a bit from the placement of tabernacles to the general need for Catholic iconography in churches. Consider this comment:

I don't agree about the need for churches with icons. I grew up in a parish where we had Sunday Mass in the school auditorium. We had a movable altar and I never heard anyone comment that they did't feel like they were in the presence of the Lord during Mass. The parish church was several blocks away from the school. I attended Mass on a cruise ship...converted movie theater....I felt the presence of the Lord. What about Mass being said on battlefields and on battleships? Yes, I love all the icons, but it is ambience, not essence.

As I mentioned in the comment box, we must distinguish between times when Catholic symbols are absent out of necessity and when they are absent by choice. I frequently attend Mass at St. Raymond of Penafort parish on Saturday evenings. They celebrate Mass in a local firehouse as they await the completion of their church building. They bring in a crucifix, a beautiful statue of Mary, and a tabernacle. As you enter for Mass, you can pick up a small foam cushion to serve as your kneeler. The music is sung a cappella. The congregation is reverent. There is no question that this parish appreciates the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

I also refer you back to the blog by the Marine chaplain, Fr. Deusterhaus. He describes his minimalist surroundings but the Marines knelt on stone at the presence of our Lord. There is also a very moving picture on display at the newly opened Marine Corps Museum in Quantico. A priest is celebrating Mass in the field. The troops kneel in the mud. They have constructed a make shift communion rail.

Contrast this to the parishes that willingly remove any symbol or sign that Christ is present. The tabernacle is hidden. The cross has no corpus. There is no holy water. The building is devoid of any representation of saints. The focus becomes those who have gathered rather than He who has redeemed us. This is not to say that all church architecture must resemble the Vatican. I attended Mass in a beautiful small church in Arizona. The style clearly incorporated features of area’s Native American heritage. There was not a lot of gold and glitter. (The vessels used at Communion were appropriately of a noble metal. No pottery.) Yet, this was clearly a Catholic church. The tabernacle was prominently placed in the sanctuary. There was a crucifix. There were depictions of the saints.

My daughter the aspiring architect believes church architecture is a profession of faith. What are we professing if we choose to have only an empty room? My fighter pilot husband proclaims “Train like you fight. Fight like you train.” If you “train” or worship with no sense of the awe or majesty of the Eucharist, how will you ever grasp that which the Catechism states should be the source and summit of our Christian life? I believe there has long been a similar phrase in the church: Lex orandi, Lex credendi. The manner of our prayer is the manner of our belief.

So the real issue is not a matter of church beauty or artistic merit. Rather, the call to bring back the tabernacle as well as Catholic iconography into our sanctuaries is a call to bring back the visible and physical reminders of the central dogmas of our faith as a sublime form of catechesis.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Feeling like Peter

I am feeling a bit like Peter. You remember how he tried to tell Jesus not to make the trip to Jerusalem? Part of me is telling Pope Benedict XVI to stay home. Why do you want to go to Turkey? There are some not-so-nice people there who really don’t like you. But I don’t want to be a stumbling block to the will of the Holy Spirit. If Pope Benedict feels called to go to Turkey, I will trust in Divine Providence.

The Vatican has a very nice summary of the goals of this trip. This journey is meant to be pastoral, ecumenical, and an opportunity for interreligious dialogue.

It is significant that the Holy Father’s first journey to a predominantly Muslim country begins in the very land from which Abraham, the common patriarch of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, undertook his journey of faith in God. It was from Harran, a village in present-day Turkey, that he set out in a spirit of total dependence upon God, trusting solely in the word that had been revealed to him.

The renewed memory of these common roots linking the three religions, which the Holy Father wishes to evoke in his journey, is an invitation to overcome the conflicts between Jews, Christians and Muslims that have taken place over the centuries.

So, my dear Holy Father, go if you must. Do be careful. I will be praying for you.

Ora Pro Nobis!

Please add the following intentions to your prayers:

Rin Tin Tin Grin

As I watched a little bit of college football this weekend I kept seeing a commercial for an upcoming “news” story. It started out with a description of “your baby” having an underbite that caused eating problems. But it is fixable. For around $1200 “your baby” will be playing and eating normally. The catch: “your baby” is a dog. The fix is braces.

We are truly a very wealthy society that we can now put braces on our poodles. I usually don’t like to criticize how people spend their discretionary income. But orthodontia for the dogs seems a bit much. Perhaps my years of practicing medicine makes me especially sensitive to anything that looks like the squandering of our medical resources. Of course, it may also be that my youngest gets his braces this Friday. Having already been through the ordeal of braces with two older children I know this is a long-term commitment of time, care, and money. I just can’t justify making this same investment for a dog. Don’t expect to see any Rin Tin Tin Grins in our household.

Pray for the Pope!

The Knights of Columbus ask that all Catholics pray each day for the Pope as he journeys to Turkey. The following prayer was composed by Bishop William E. Lori, supreme chaplain of the Knights of Columbus.

Heavenly Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name, we humbly ask that you sustain, inspire, and protect your servant, Pope Benedict XVI, as he goes on pilgrimage to Turkey – a land to which St. Paul brought the Gospel of your Son; a land where once the Mother of your Son, the Seat of Wisdom, dwelt; a land where faith in your Son’s true divinity was definitively professed. Bless our Holy Father, who comes as a messenger of truth and love to all people of faith and good will dwelling in this land so rich in history. In the power of the Holy Spirit, may this visit of the Holy Father bring about deeper ties of understanding, cooperation, and peace among Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, and those who profess Islam. May the prayers and events of these historic days greatly contribute both to greater accord among those who worship you, the living and true God, and also to peace in our world so often torn apart by war and sectarian violence. We also ask, O Heavenly Father, that you watch over and protect Pope Benedict and entrust him to the loving care of Mary, under the title of Our Lady of Fatima, a title cherished both by Catholics and Muslims. Through her prayers and maternal love, may Pope Benedict be kept safe from all harm as he prays, bears witness to the Gospel, and invites all peoples to a dialogue of faith, reason, and love. We make our prayer through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Please join your prayers to those of the Knights and pray this every day beginning tomorrow, November 28 and continuing through Friday, December 1.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Rice 31, SMU 27

Rice 31, SMU 27

Perhaps not as significant to the national college football scene as the Texas A&M win I mentioned below, but this is a big game to my beloved Rice Owls. This seven win season gives Rice its first bowl bid since 1961. My freshman at Rice has seen nearly as many football victories at Rice during his first year as my husband and I saw in our four years at Rice.

Go Owls!

Texas A&M 12, Texas 7

Texas A & M 12, Texas 7

I didn’t get my oldest home for Thanksgiving. He had an important appointment in Austin. Even if I didn’t get to have my oldest home, I did enjoy the game. I do wish the television coverage had included the Corps of Cadets marching in. Of course, recognizing my son would be easy.

He’s the one with the really short hair.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Menu

I don’t experiment too much with our turkey dinner menu, but it has evolved over the years. Cooking the turkey is the easy part. Getting all the side dishes ready so everything is done together is the challenge.

Of course we are eating turkey. The first Thanksgiving dinner I ever cooked was during my first year of marriage. I had my Doubleday Cookbook. I looked up “how to cook a turkey”, followed the directions, and ended up with a picture perfect roasted bird. I used the beer-and-butter basted recipe. Since we aren’t beer drinkers around here the beer for the turkey was always a special purchase. For the last few years I have just used sherry or another wine I have on hand and it has worked fine.

I make dressing—not stuffing. And it is made out of cornbread, not white bread. This recipe has evolved from my Aunt Vee’s recipe. The key here is to have a well-seasoned turkey broth made from the turkey neck and giblets. I do not chop up and include the liver and gizzard in the dressing. My mother and aunt did that and I always hated the surprise bite with a chunk of turkey liver. I crumble one batch of homemade cornbread with a melted stick of butter, two eggs, and enough broth to make it the consistency of pancake batter. I add a couple of chopped boiled eggs and the shredded meat from the turkey neck. I season it with a little more poultry seasoning and maybe a little Cajun seasoning. I used to bake it for an hour but now I make it first thing on Thanksgiving morning and pour it into my oval crock pot. By the time we eat dinner in the early afternoon it is fully cooked but moist and delicious.

Mashed potatoes are a must. When the whole crew is home this can mean cooking a full five-pound bag of potatoes. The trick is to mash the potatoes without whipping them until they are gummy. Making gravy has been my Achilles heel. I admit that for several years I gave up and served the instant gravy made from the powdered contents of an envelope. However, I think I have finally figured out how to brown the flour in the drippings and add water or broth until the consistency is just right.

My recipe for sweet potatoes is another recipe I picked from the Doubleday Cookbook for that first Thanksgiving dinner. It is called “Sweet Potato Puff” and is sweetened sweet potatoes seasoned with cinnamon and mixed with a bit of orange.

Years ago my husband got me a bread maker. That was the end of our store-bought rolls. We now have butterhorn rolls. These look like the refrigerator crescent rolls but taste so much better. It is a recipe from the best bread machine cookbook I have ever seen, Bread Machine Magic by Linda Rehberg and Lois Conway.

Cranberry sauce is the jellied Ocean Spray canned sauce. You know Ocean Spray changed the design of their can so you can no longer open up both ends and push the whole cranberry sauce cylinder out. However, with a bit of shaking I can still get it out in one piece and slice into circular slabs.

Dessert is pumpkin pie. The pumpkin is canned but the crust is homemade. Just follow the directions on the can of Libby’s pumpkin. It works every time.

My prayers will be with all my readers tomorrow. I feel truly blessed to be able to share this faith journey with you. I hope you are able to gather around the table with family and friends and give thanks for many blessings. Bon Appetitie.

Parenting with Love

You must read this essay. Simon Barnes, the chief sports writer for the Times, writes a remarkable, love-filled account of his life with Eddie, his son with Down's syndrome:

Some bits are hard, some bits are easy, some bits are fun, some bits are a frightful bore. That’s true of life with Eddie, it’s also true of life with Joe. But you don’t even begin to break it up into categories: it is the one endless, complex business of being a parent. You don’t go into parenthood to make sure that the benefits outweigh the deficits: you go into it out of — brace yourself but no other word will do — love.

Parenthood is not really about the traditional round-robin Christmas letter: Jasper is school captain and is having trials for Middlesex at both cricket and rugby and played Hamlet in the school play of the same name, while Oxford and Cambridge have both offered scholarships. He has just passed grade ten on the cello. Parenthood is not about perfection, it’s much more interesting than that: it’s about making the best of what you have. Define best, then? Do that for yourself, but I’ll give you a clue: if you think it’s all about A levels, you’re on the wrong track.

So my task, then, is to bring the best out of Eddie. That is unlikely to involve A levels. I know that there will be many harder things to face as he grows older. No doubt we will take these things in the order in which they come. We can imagine a few horrors, of course, but we will live through the actual events day by day. And we will continue with other important tasks such as giggling and playing ball and providing hats and dealing with a world that can’t imagine the dreadful fate of being a parent to a child with Down’s syndrome.

This essay is not about parenting a child with Down’s syndrome with great love. It is about parenting in general with great love.

(H/T to ,Amy Welborn for the link)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Bless Us O Lord....

As usual, Jen at “Et tu, Jen” asks a question that makes me think.

Why is it so firmly embedded in Christian culture to pray before eating but not before receiving other life-sustaining gifts?

I know that I am very uncomfortable if I sit down to a meal with others and we do not say grace. Now I will not say that if I am eating alone I always say grace, but definitely if I am eating with someone else it feels awkward to dig in unless I have given thanks. Thirty years ago when I was just getting to know the man who would someday be my husband, I invited him over for dinner. As the two of us sat down at the kitchen table we hesitated and squirmed a bit. I realized he didn’t feel right eating without saying grace either. We bowed our heads, recited “Bless Us O Lord…” and enjoyed the first of many meals together. My mother-in-law used grace as a screening tool for her children’s dinner guests. She would invite them to say grace. If they began “Bless Us O Lord” she knew they were Catholic. So how and why did we develop this attachment to giving thanks before meals?

I think the practice of grace before meals is a way of humbling ourselves before God. We acknowledge that even the bread on our table is not really the work of our own hands but of His. Of course, as children the theology of this escapes us. We just form the habit of praying before meals. As we get older we grow in understanding the practices of our faith. Sometimes a practice or posture is the result of our understanding and other times our understanding is the result of our practice or posture. For example, our priest made a point of asking people to bow reverently before receiving Holy Communion. Most complied though after Mass there was a little grumbling about meaningless rituals. Yet over time, many people were surprised how this gesture increased their appreciation for the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In the same way, saying grace may seem like a mindless habit, yet our persistence in this habit is a daily reminder of our dependence on Divine Providence.

Certainly we could express this same humility and gratitude for God’s gifts before other events of our day, but the communal expression at the dinner table is often associated with many poignant memories. So in addition to the obvious theological basis for giving thanks there is an emotional attachment to this practice as well. Now that my children are heading off to college one by one, the holiday reunions when I have a full complement of knees under the table and my entire family’s voices joined in prayer before meals can bring tears to my eyes. My prayer of thanksgiving is more for these moments in our lives than it is for the turkey dinner.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Maybe it Was Just a Botched Joke?

The New York Times interview with the presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, is making the rounds of the blogosphere. This quote in particular is garnering attention:

How many members of the Episcopal Church are there in this country?

About 2.2 million. It used to be larger percentagewise, but Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. Roman Catholics and Mormons both have theological reasons for producing lots of children.

Episcopalians aren’t interested in replenishing their ranks by having children?

No. It’s probably the opposite. We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion.

So Catholics are now a bunch of uneducated, environmentally hazardous, baby makers? Actually this statement is very interesting in light of the American Bishop’s assertion that 96% of married Catholics are using contraception. Maybe this was just a “botched joke” One of the best responses to this elitist attitude is this.

The truth of the matter is The Episcopal Church has become nearly indistinguishable from the Unitarians and is hemorrhaging members. Many of them are “swimming the Tiber” and coming home to Rome. We must welcome them with open arms and keeping praying for those remaining on the far shore.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

I am so proud of our priests!

I have written so many times about how blessed we are to have the three priests assigned to our parish. Each serves the parish in his own unique way. This past week’s National Catholic Register features a great profile of our youngest parochial vicar, Fr. James Searby. (For a limited time the print version of the National Catholic Register is available online).

Today at Holy Spirit parish, where he’s served since being ordained in June 2005, Father Searby brings that sense of holy adventure to youth — and makes promoting confession a keystone of his priestly ministry.

“He has a great zest for life and particularly seems to connect with young people,” says Father Edward Hathaway, pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Front Royal, Va. “They’re attracted to him for his enthusiasm as a priest and his love for the Church, which is evident.”

Holy Spirit’s youth minister, Christine Najarian, sees that process constantly unfolding. “He gets kids excited about seeking the Lord and growing in holiness,” she explains. “He definitely models it and speaks it.”

No wonder the number of attendees for the church’s annual teen retreat weekend nearly doubled this year. The number of boys quadrupled. Afterwards, when Najarian asked the young Catholics where they’d grown most, she consistently got the same answer: in confession.

“Father preaches a lot on the need for confession,” she says. “The kids have taken that challenge and now make confession an important part of their lives.”

You can also hear Fr. Searby preach on his podcasts found here.

Fr. Searby does not try to attract young people to the Church by making the Church blend in to the popular culture. Rather, he gives the young and old alike the Truth of the Gospel. He speaks clearly about sin and about forgiveness. He promotes reverent liturgies with a generous helping of Latin. He is ardently devoted to Our Lady. He brings to life the stories of the saints. Our parish is so blessed to have him.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Bishops Have Spoken. Spread the Word!

Last week the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrapped up their meeting in Baltimore. They published some very important teaching documents. You can download them here. I think the two most significant documents are Married Love and the Gift of Life and Happy Are Those Who are Called to His Supper: On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist. These documents are written for the entire body of the Catholic faithful. The first document on married life outlines the Church’s teaching on married life and its ban on contraception. The second document on the Eucharist clearly states the dogma on the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and goes on to teach that we must be in a state of grace to receive Communion. It outlines conditions that would make us ineligible to receive Communion. Many have criticized the failure to specifically list use of contraception as an obstacle to receiving Communion. While I would have preferred to see such a statement, I think this document taken in conjunction with the document on marriage makes the Church’s stance understandable. A third document Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care is probably written more for priests, but it does an excellent job of stating and explaining the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.

I really do hope you take time to read these words from our bishops. However, what I really want is to hear priests talking about these documents from the pulpits. Most Catholics in the pew are not enmeshed in the Catholic blogosphere and are not reading the Catholic press. Our priests need to get the word out. In addition to a word from the pulpit, it would be good for parishes to post the web site for these documents in the parish bulletin. Adult Catholics need to be told religious education did not end with Confirmation. We've got homework to do.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Playstation 3 Sale becomes a Melee

In my post below I noted that we had never purchased a video gaming system for our children. Now Thomas at American Papist confirms I made the right decision. Just a reminder to folks in line to buy the newest Playstation: the action of a video game is virtual. It is not real. Rediscover the real world. It is far more exciting.

The Family Catechesis Model

I have often expressed my frustration with the CCD as school model of religious education. Over at Amy Welborn’s blog, a commenter offered an intriguing alternative:

As a brand-new DRE at a solid, but small, parish who is now this year (under my inexperienced watch...pray for us!) transitioning into a completely different religious education system, I suggest that others take a look at what we are doing and the program we are using. Individual families who are struggling to find a decent RE program at your parish, read this too!

At my parish are using the Family Formation program out of St. Paul's church in Ham Lake, MN (this is Jeff Cavins' parish, btw, and his family has used the program too!). For us, as an entire parish, to join up with St. Paul's and utilize this program has been remarkably easy, logistically - but there is a huge shift in our philosophical thinking about RE that we are having to make, which is very challenging to our parents.

Take a look at the Family Formation web site linked above. This is the program I have been looking for. It takes religious education and puts it in the home but offers parents the support they need to do it right. Of course, this kind of program requires parents who are committed to passing on their Catholic faith to their children. While every parent promises to do this when their children are baptized, for many it seems to be little more than lip service. Maybe I am the eternal optimist, but I can’t help but think that a core group of parents enthusiastically embracing the role of primary catechist in a parish sanctioned program would inspire the lukewarm parents to give it a try. This would be especially true if the program had the support from the pulpit of the pastor.

Of course, this program only works when there is a consistent family unit. Scroll down the comments of Amy Welborn’s post and read the tragic words of “Brenda of Flatbush”:

3. The notion that most of my kids' families would serve as their 'primary catechists' is so funny I could puke. Many of my kids seem to lack anything resembing a recognizable 'family.' Most are children of divorce. Few ever attend Mass. Many bounce around among 'cousins.' Many come from homes where no English is spoken. I have tried collecting phone numbers and calling parents at home to 'welcome their participation.' Half the time, their phones are disconnected. It would be more accurate to say that their entire lives are disconnected.
3. Every year, I poll my kids (4th through 6th graders), all of whom have made their First Communion with a white dress/suit and party, as to what we do on Sunday as Catholics. The universal answer is: "Go to church?" (Never, ever "mass.") When asked what they do at Church, about half will say: "Get the bread?" When asked what "the bread" is, one or two out of 20 will ask shyly, "Jesus?" This feedback has been identical over 30 years in 3 different parishes of widely varying demographics. Yes, folks, this is the church of tomorrow, as we reap what we have sown. See them signing up in droves for the 'envelope system'??
4. For all this ignorance, my kids are deeply conversant with culturally transferred superstitions and loony New Age notions from TV: ghosts, reincarnation, UFOs. They are also weirdly obsessed with PETA-style messages on animal rights; our discussions of the origin of "lamb of God" invariably must be preceded by a full-force investigation of why it was okay for the mean Israelites to kill a poor little lamb. (Apparently none of them have thought hard about the content of their chicken nuggets.)
5. As they get older, the kids are utterly unprepared for even the most basic apologetics about their faith--duh. And in NYC, they won't make it to the subway in the morning without being leafleted by Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientologists, and Seventh-day Adventists, all eager to tell them what's wrong with being Catholic. My little sitting ducks, ripe for the taking by the hardest-working poacher to follow me.

So maybe a school style CCD is the best we can do for Brenda in New York. Still, I would like to see more of our parishes moving to the family catechesis model. If there was more recognition and support for our “domestic churches” maybe experiences like Brenda’s would become less common.

Keeping Your Kids Catholic: Chapter Nine, Part Two

Chapter nine, part one is here.

Chapter nine of Keeping Your Kids Catholic by Bert Ghezzi discusses bringing a Catholic approach to the world. In the first post on this chapter we discussed bringing Catholic values into our societal concerns. The second part of this chapter address bringing Catholicism into youth culture.

This book was published in 1989. Most of the essays were written in the early eighties. The concerns about youth culture touched on drugs, alcohol, sex, and teen music. The offensive tunes list included Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop”. Well, things haven’t gotten any easier in the last twenty years. Add increasingly raunchy television and the internet to the drugs, alcohol, sex, and teen music. And teen music has gotten a whole lot more vulgar than Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop”. So what do you do?

I wish I had perfect answers. Part of the challenge is to pick your battles wisely. Values and standards must be consistently enforced but some issues are more critical than others. My teens eschew the modern teen music for classic rock. This means my car radio is blasting The Who, Journey, Led Zeppelin, and Pat Benetar. Sure, it would be ideal if we always used this travel time to listen to Christian music, recorded prayers, classical music, or turned the radio off and just talked. Sometimes this does happen. But Led Zeppelin is tolerable. I do draw the line on what sorts of lyrics are allowed. I do not allow my children to swear and I do not allow music that is filled with profanity. We do not listen to lyrics promoting violence, rape, or misogyny.

Television, the internet, video games, and movies are electronic time sinks. They can completely absorb your family. Often the content conflicts with Catholic values. Our approach has been to make it clear that we control these entertainment electrons. They do not control us. Using any of these electronics is a privilege, not a right. When the children are young, it is very easy to limit what they watch and avoid unwanted content. As they get older, it is important to keep tabs on what they are watching and hearing and help them see how well their music and video measures up to Catholic standards. If it is a flagrant affront to Catholic values it needs to be jettisoned. Sometimes just commenting on the conflict will be enough. We watched the movie Bruce Almighty. It really did have a valuable moral to the story. However, half way through the movie it becomes clear that the main characters are not married, but just living together. This was a good time to clearly point out their behavior was unacceptable. Don't let this teaching moment pass. Failure to comment let's your children think marriage is just a matter of personal preference. Even though the characters were nice people they had made a bad choice by cohabitating.

We avoided the mindless television habit by setting pretty stringent limits when the children were young. We didn’t own a television for many years and just subscribed to cable two years ago. A television has never been the center of our family room. No television is ever allowed at meals. No televisions in the bedrooms. We sit down to watch specific shows, not just channel surf for something to watch. When the show is over, the television is turned off. It is never just background noise. Watching television is a deliberate choice, not a default activity. While we have been much quicker to adopt a computer-assisted lifestyle, the computers are located in central locations that are subject to parental viewing. We have allowed strategy computer games, but no first person shooter games. We have never purchased a video gaming system. I don’t believe computer games, video games, and television are inherently immoral. I do believe it takes an enormous amount of discipline to keep them from crowding out far more valuable family activities. The benefit of these activities is often not worth the effort to control them and it is easier to just get rid of them.

My teens have not rebelled too much against these limits because these limits have been presented as part of the Catholic identity they have always known. We warned them being Catholic means being counter cultural in our modern society. Their music, movies, television, internet, and clothing can all be held up to judgment against Catholic standards. The older they get, the more I let them do the vetting, but if I think they have grossly erred, I will step in.

Encouraging groups and activities that foster Catholic values is a big plus. We have been blessed with a dynamic high school youth group at our parish. I cannot overemphasize how critical it is to build a community of support for Catholic culture. We do our children a great disservice when we assume they will have no interest in an authentically Catholic life. Low expectations become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

More on Infant Euthanasia in the UK

I am happy to report that the Vatican has weighed in on the issue of infant euthanasia in Great Britain.

Speaking with Italian reporters, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care, deplored the “cruelty” of a proposal to allow newborns with severe handicapped to be euthanized in the United Kingdom.

The cardinal noted that the position of the Church “is unchanged, life does not belong to man but to the Lord. The life of an innocent being cannot be taken either by direct or indirect means. Euthanasia is never permissible. This goes for the terminally ill and for children, including those born with serious problems.”

According to Cardinal Lozano, “Ending the life of an innocent person, even if it is a premature baby who is gravely ill, is the equivalent of euthanasia, and this is an illicit action, as well as an act of cruelty.”

Cardinal Lozano also emphasized that the Church does not teach that doctors must use disproportionate means or medicines that will only prolong the agony of a person who would otherwise be close to death. “Nobody should be obliged to accept this kind of therapy,” he said. “But in the case that is being presented here, we are dealing with murder. We must remember that the fifth commandment says, Thou shalt not kill.”

You may remember it was reported that the Church of England was in agreement with the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecology in its support of euthanasia for severely disabled newborns. The Anglicans have clarified their position and stated they were only referring to rejection of extraordinary care and not euthanasia.

Keeping Your Kids Catholic: Chapter Nine, Part One

Chapter eight is here.

Chapter nine of Keeping Your Kids Catholic by Bert Ghezzi is subtitled Communicating a Catholic Approach to the World. It is very appropriate that this falls near the end of the book. Through the first eight chapters we have talked about why we teach our children about the Faith, how we teach our children about the Faith, and what we teach our children about the Faith. Now we take this Faith and put it into action. I am going to divide this chapter into two posts. The first will deal with instilling Catholic social principles. Tomorrow I will address keeping Catholic values in the youth culture.

I have to admit the title of the first essay in this chapter, Raising Kids with Concern for Social Justice by James D. Manney, is one that I approached with trepidation. Unfortunately, the term “social justice” has been hijacked by those within the Church who wish to downplay any concern for the liturgy. “Why are you worried about the vessels used at Mass or adherence to the liturgical norms? There are social justice issues that need addressing.” Yet this essay did a very good job of depoliticizing the term. Social justice is not a new idea. The Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy are very old precepts of the Faith.

How do we teach our children to view the world within the framework of these Works of Mercy?

As this first essay points out, we must not be overwhelmed by the big picture. World hunger, substance abuse, homelessness, domestic violence, etc. are huge problems. No one individual, no one family, no one community is going to resolve these issues. Yet each of us is called to address his own little corner of the world and make it better.

I live in the second most affluent county in the nation. It is commonplace for the children in this community to have expensive cars, expensive clothes, attend expensive schools, and have lots of discretionary spending money. We live in a very nice house and can afford for our children to participate in a variety of activities. We eat out occasionally. Yet in this community we appear almost counter cultural. Even though I could be practicing medicine, I have elected to manage our household and be the primary parent at home. I am probably the only person on the block that does her own housework. (I am afraid it shows sometimes, too) We drive practical cars. None of my teens has his own car. My older boys did have access to a 1992 minivan with 189,000 miles on it. We have no gaming systems. Up until two years ago we had no cable television. We now subscribe to the smallest cable package available just so that we can get a cable internet connection. Last year we replaced the television that had been purchased in 1988 because the plastic knobs and buttons were starting to fall off. No plasma screen. No HD. No big screen. Yet my children are not rebelling at our modest lifestyle. Why?

I believe because of the foundation we established with our children early on, we have not had to struggle to explain to our children why we don’t have all the toys and gadgets their peers do. This begins first by acknowledging every thing we have is a gift from God. We must humbly give God credit for our blessings. Once we release our “ownership” of the blessings it is much easier to share them. People may laugh at the cliché “Clean your plate. There are starving children in Armenia!” Yet that is exactly the sentiment that we must convey to our children. We have many blessings by the grace of God. There are many less fortunate than we are. Our Faith demands that we share our bounty. This needs to be done in very concrete ways from the time children are very young. It is not enough to write a check to the parish or to your favorite charity. Kids don’t connect with that. Instead, try eating a “meager meal” such as rice and beans or vegetable soup once in a while. Donate what you would have spent on a more elaborate meal to the local food bank. Our parish in Florida invited children to bring canned goods up to the altar at every Mass. I noticed that my four-year-old always managed to pick out a food that was not high on his favorites list. One Sunday I grabbed a can of tuna—one of his favorite foods. He had tears in his eyes as he gave away this delicacy. He learned we are called to sacrifice.

We moved to Virginia from Florida so falling leaves followed by falling snow was a new experience. Our neighbors were elderly. It became a ritual that if school was canceled all four children donned their snow gear and cleared the neighbors’ driveways and walks before they began their own activities of sledding and snowball fights. I know our neighbors were very grateful for the service. I don’t think they ever realized how grateful I was for the opportunity to teach my children to think of the needs of others first.

The children see both my husband and I giving of our time and talents. Even when I worked outside of the home I taught CCD and was a Cub Scout Leader. My husband is a Boy Scout leader. They see me making casseroles for families dealing with an illness or death. We have participated as a family in numerous service projects for the church, school or community. Giving is a way of life.

How do we raise pro-life children?

This question gets its own answer separate from the general charitable virtues. If we can truly imbue our children with an appreciation of God’s great gift of life, so many other issues become clear. For example, even chastity is a pro-life issue. When we teach our children that our sexuality is God’s way of giving us the privilege of participating in the creation of new life, then it follows that sexual relations belong within marriage. When we respect every human life as being made in God’s image then we afford each person the intrinsic dignity he deserves. We do not measure the worthiness of a life by earthly accomplishments.

As with every other aspect of raising Catholic children, the best way to teach these values is to model these values. We must rejoice in the gift of children. We must practice kindness and patience with the elderly. And our children need to see us make choices that reflect our pro-life views.
Over the years, we have participated in many other projects for crisis pregnancy centers, made signs for the March for Life, and had long discussions about bioethical issues. As a physician, I share with my children the dilemmas I faced at work as I tried to practice medicine and stay true to my pro-life principles. The foundation for these pro-life activities began when the children were young. In those days Cheerios were a favorite breakfast cereal. However, we learned General Mills was donating to Planned Parenthood. We stopped buying General Mills products, including Cheerios. This simple sacrifice made an indelible impression on my children. They became keenly aware of the abortion issue and its seriousness.

Kids need to see that respect for all life is not just something we trot out in January every year for Respect Life Sunday. It has to be a principle we life every day.