KITCHEN TABLE CHATS

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

Friday, March 31, 2006

Another look at the Da Vinci Code--C.S.Lewis style

This is one of the most clever discussions of the Da Vinci Code I have seen. I really think C.S. Lewis would be proud.

What if the Press admitted its biases?

In today’s Washington Post, Michael Kinsley offers an interesting proposition: Let the American press drop any pretense of objectivity.

Opinion journalism can be more honest than objective-style journalism, because it doesn't have to hide its point of view. All observations are subjective. Writers freed of artificial objectivity can try to determine the whole truth about their subject and then tell it whole to the world. Their "objective" counterparts have to sort their subjective observations into two arbitrary piles: truths that are objective as well, and truths that are just an opinion. That second pile of truths cannot be published, except perhaps as a quote from someone else.

One could make the argument this change has already occurred. Right now I subscribe to the Washington Post, the Washington Times, the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, and The Economist (Yes, I do know The Economist is from the British not American press). Each of these publications offers its own editorial bias. By reading all of them I try to distill the truth. If I only read one of them, my perspective would be markedly skewed. But these biases are understood, not officially stated. Currently, secular newspapers keep up an official position of neutrality, though their practice may belie this position. One expects some bias from a religious publication, but the direction of that bias is unpredictable. The National Catholic Register and the Catholic Reporter both have Catholic in their names. Yet their individual takes on what is Catholic differ greatly.

What Kinsley proposes is that the press drops the pretense of neutrality. The Washington Post would be free to announce it is a left-wing liberal newspaper and all of its articles could be evaluated against that backdrop. I suppose readers who are forewarned of the publication’s tilt are better prepared to ferret out the truth from the opinion. However, I can’t help but think the expectation of neutrality keeps our newspapers from sinking further into the status of propaganda rags.

This is an issue now because the line between news and entertainment have blurred. What does the public want? Do they want to be informed and educated so they can form their own opinions? Or do they want to be treated to thrilling, sensationalized accounts of the day’s events? Is the goal of the press to be the eyes and ears of the public or to garner ratings and readership? Interesting questions. I hope we can figure out the right answers.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Islam a Religion of Peace: Truth or Delusion?

Evidence of Things not Seen discusses the decision by Borders Books not to sell the latest issue of Free Inquiry magazine because it contains the inflammatory cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. The reason given by Borders is that it would compromise the security and safety of its customers. Evidence of Things not Seen points out that Borders has no qualms about selling material offensive to other groups. Is this sensitivity to Muslims really disingenuous?

If the concern is really about causing offense to a religious group then ,yes, I would call it disingenuous. However, I think Borders is really worried about safety. Catholics do not become murderous rioters over the publication of a plethora of anti-Catholic tomes. Radical Islamo-fascists do.

Read the commentary by M. Zuhdi Jasser from today’s Washington Times.
Then read this article by Jesuit Priest Samir Khalil Samir. Finally read this by Richard Cohen in the Washington Post. Three different publications with different political agendas. Yet they all say something very similar and very frightening. Since September 11, 2001 we have been trying very hard to say Islam is a religion of peace. These terrorists do not represent true Islam. Is that just wishful thinking on our part? The entire nation of Afghanistan with a democratically elected government wanted Abdul Rahman to die for converting to Christianity. Is the entire nation a fringe element of Islam?

I want so much to believe that an Islamic nation can really live in peace and respect international standards of human rights. I am praying very hard that is not a Western delusion.

Christ is Calling. Are We Listening?

After too many days of anxiety and anger, I am letting go of the angst. Christ’s Church, the Holy Catholic Church, will survive all the misguided deeds of men. I am still not in agreement with adding girls to the altar server pool in Arlington, Virginia. However, I will trust God to overcome any obstacles this move produces.

My thanks to Fr. Guy Selvester for his post today. It made the transition from anxious dread to confident hope much easier. He quoted Pope Benedict XVI :

...in each generation, Christ calls individuals to take care of His people; in particular He calls men to the priestly ministry to exercise a paternal function. ... The priest's mission in the Church is irreplaceable. Therefore, even though some areas suffer a shortage of clergy, we must not lose the conviction that Christ continues to call men to the priesthood.

The point is, Christ will continue to call men to the priesthood. Even if girls serve at the altar, Marty Haugen directs the music, and liturgical dancers present the gifts at the offertory, Christ still calls. Some things in our world and in our Church can make it harder to hear that call. That doesn’t mean Christ isn’t still inviting men to follow in His footsteps and become priests. In fact, Christ is calling each of us to a vocation. How do we know when we hear a call that it is really from God?

In today’s Gospel (John 5:31-47) Jesus was challenged to prove he was truly of God. He gave four criteria with which he could be judged. Our priest at Mass today suggested we use today’s Gospel as a guide for judging our own vocational path.

Jesus offered the testimony of John the Baptist who was clearly recognized as a holy man of God. Does my calling meet the standards of those whom I respect for their faithfulness and holiness? Have I surrounded myself with people of Faith so that I may receive wise counsel?

Jesus offered the good works he had done. Does my calling produce good fruit?

He offered the words of scripture that prophesied his coming. Are my works consistent with the message of Holy Scripture? Have I studied the Scripture so I can judge?

Jesus states God the Father sent him and challenged his critics to hear God’s voice. Have I spent time in quiet contemplation, open to God’s voice and whatever it may say? Or have I closed my ears to God’s voice out of fear of what he might say?

Discernment is never easy. It is a process that continues throughout our lives. Say a special prayer today for those men whom Christ is calling to be priests and for all who are discerning vocations. Pray that they have the grace to hear the voice of God.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Catholic Communities at non-Catholic Colleges

My neck of the woods is just abuzz with excitement over George Mason making the Final Four. At the beginning of March Madness there was some discussion about the Catholic schools doing well. Georgetown, Gonzaga, Boston College, and Villanova all advanced. Of course some of the discussion was whether or not these were really Catholic schools. Many of the schools’ activities are blatantly at odds with the Church teachings. Now George Mason is a completely secular, public state university. However, if a parent is looking for a school that provides an orthodox nurturing Catholic environment, George Mason is a good choice.

The George Mason St. Robert Bellarmine Chapel community is vibrant and growing. They are aided by theFOCUS ministry. Thursday night suppers draw upwards of 75 students. There are multiple Bible studies. Several young men in the community are discerning priestly vocations.

My son has found a similarly dynamic Catholic community at Texas A&M. St. Mary’s is a very orthodox Catholic Church that offers daily Mass, Eucharistic adoration and promotes religious vocations. Their web site indicates in the last seven years, fifty-eight Aggies have entered seminaries, convents or monasteries. Their graduates include 1 bishop, 36 priests, 1 brother, 12 sisters, and 19 permanent deacons.

The National Catholic Register offers an on-line guide to Catholic Universities. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a similar guide for Catholic communities at secular schools. Most of our Catholic college students are attending non-Catholic schools. I am sure many of you have uplifting stories about wonderful Catholic communities at secular universities and colleges. Let’s share them and find out what non-Catholic schools provide the best opportunities for college students to nurture and solidify their Faith.

All will be welcome on Easter Sunday! (And other Sundays too!)

Three Sundays from now tens of thousands candidates and catechumens will come into full communion with the Catholic Church. However, just as importantly, three Sundays from now there will be many cradle Catholics in the pews who attend Mass on no other Sunday during the year. Are we reaching out to them? Elena Curti takes a look at programs in Great Britain to help lapsed Catholics return to the Church.

It is hard for many of us not to feel like the other brother in the story of the Prodigal Son. Here we have been attending Mass faithfully all year long. Now on the greatest feast of the year we have to fight for pew space with these folks who have been sleeping in or playing golf the rest of the year. Don’t you feel a “That’s not fair!” welling up? I had a friend who suggested we hand out tickets to Easter Mass on Palm Sunday. Yet, that is not what our Lord wants. His Passion and Resurrection was for the redemption of all of us: the Daily Mass attenders, the Sunday Mass attenders, and even the no Mass attenders.

Our pastor spoke about this at daily Mass last week. He asked us to pray every day during the remaining days of Lent for all those who will be attending Mass on Easter Sunday after a long absence from the Church. Pray that something touches them on Easter that will bring them back to the Church the following Sunday. I have a few more requests. You know it is going to be crowded. Arrive early. The church will be packed so go ahead and move to the middle of the pew. It is very intimidating for newcomers to climb over a dozen knees to get to a seat. Offer a welcoming smile as people join you in the pew. If someone seems a bit lost, don’t hesitate to help find the hymnal or guide him through your parish’s procedure for communion.

I have another request for all those with small children who are receiving baskets from the Easter Bunny. Leave the baskets and candy at home. Chocolate fingers and Easter finery are not a good combination. In our household, the Easter Bunny came while we were at church, not during the night like Santa. I had Easter baskets ready to go. My husband would load all the kids up in the car. I would be the last one out the front door and would set out the Easter baskets before I left. When we returned home, the baskets would be waiting. This way I never worried about chocolate stains on the Easter clothes before Mass.

I welcome all those who come to us on Easter from outside the Church. I welcome those who are renewing their acquaintance with the Catholic Church. As we squeeze into the pews, let us be joyful that so many members of the Mystical Body of Christ have gathered to celebrate our redemption.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Raising real Adults

Dominico Bettinelli has an interesting post about a blogger needing advice on how to be a grown up. It does seem strange that one would have to ask that question. Yet there are plenty of examples of petulant defiant chronological adults who seem more on the maturity level of two-year-olds. I admit my husband does have a T-shirt that reads “You are only young once but you can be immature forever!” and another reading “As bad as the kids”. Still, despite his best efforts, maturity found him and I would classify him as a real adult.

Actually, it found both of us because our parents modeled adulthood for us. They prioritized their lives around faith and family. Responsibility was not a dirty word. I hope we are doing an equally good job of modeling for our children.

A central feature of being an adult is being able to turn one’s gaze outward and realizing you are not the center of the universe. My children have been required to address adults with a “yes ma’am” and “yes sir” since they were young toddlers. This did two things. It satisfied my Southern penchant for good manners. It also showed my children from an early age there was a higher authority. Proper gratitude also prevents a sense of entitlement. Efforts on one’s behalf should always be acknowledged with a “Thank you”. When I prepare a meal, my family thanks me. When we eat out, we thank my husband. Gifts from outside our immediate household are acknowledged with a written thank-you note. All requests should be prefaced with “please”. Being sensitive to the needs and dignity of others goes a long way to becoming a real adult and not just a chronological adult.

Unfortunately, too many parents are more concerned with being their children’s best friend instead of being their parent. These children never hear the word “no”. I think about this as I read about French 20-somethings rioting because they may now be fired if their employer is unhappy with their performance. I recently blogged about American 20-somethings whining about their mounting debt. It doesn’t occur to them they have to earn enough money to afford cable television and designer clothes. Their parents taught them they were entitled to these things.

Some of this stems from our culture’s focus on self-esteem. We each should have a sense of personal dignity if for no other reason than we are children of God made in His image. However, self-esteem is developed from real accomplishments. It cannot be bequeathed. In our rush to safeguard our children from the pain of being compared to others we have doomed them to achieving mediocrity. Why should they aim for excellence when everyone gets a prize just for showing up?

I love my children and will sacrifice many things for them. I strive to nurture my children. I do them no favors if I coddle them into a perpetual state of terrible twos.

Oh, those poor 20-somethings! They can't afford their Starbucks habit!

First published here 3/24/06

Charlotte Allen at Inkwell posted a short discussion of two new books, Strapped by Tamara Draut and Generation Debt by Anya Kamenetz. These books are supposed to pull our heartstrings because those poor college-educated 20-somethings are having such a hard time making ends meet. I mean they have run up their credit card debt with life’s little necessities like trips to Paris and the perfect wedding. If only this age group could politically organize as well as the AARP. Then we could have tax-payer subsidies to fund their lifestyle.

Oh those poor babies! Quick—someone organize a telethon, marathon, or concert! Sorry. I just can’t generate a lot of sympathy. I am so far on the other side of this generation gap that they are going to have to address their latte fund shortfall without my help. You see these kids grew up with a lot of creature comforts. They can’t fathom that their lifestyle has to change now that they are responsible for the bills.

I know college costs are high. I am about to have two in college now, with a couple more following shortly. Still, this is all about choices. What is a necessity and what is a luxury? Eating out, happy hour on Fridays, daily lattes, cable television, designer clothes, and cross-country airfare to attend a friend’s wedding are luxuries. If you want to indulge in these things, you have to cut expenses somewhere else to afford them. You are not entitled to these things.

At the risk of sounding like my parents (You know—they walked 5 miles to school in the snow, uphill both ways) I have been a broke 20-something. I considered myself an economic vegetarian. I had no philosophical problem with eating meat. I just couldn’t afford to buy it. My apartment was furnished with hand-me-down furniture. I didn’t own a television. I did have a library card.

I wonder how many of these whiny 20-somethings has ever seen real poverty. I made sure each of my children works at the Diocesan work camp or other social service project so they can see up close and personally what a life of real poverty looks like. Not having the latest version of the iPod is not deprivation.

So, Ms. Allen and Ms. Kamenetz, dry your tears. For a little while you may have to settle for Target home furnishings rather than Pottery Barn. If that is the worst of your troubles, you are truly blessed.

Arlington Bishop Yields to Political Correctness

First published here 3/22/06:

Look what the Bishop has done! After I wrote so glowingly about the benefits of using only boys as altar servers, Bishop Loverde has caved to political correctness and opened the door for altar girls. The good news is that is up to the discretion of the pastor to include girls. There is a big discussion of the issue going on at Amy Welborn’s blog. The response of those who live in the diocese is overwhelmingly opposed to the introduction of girl altar servers. There is no liturgical reason to exclude the girls. The problem is it will discourage the boys from participating. From these boys come our priests. Lincoln, Nebraska now stands as the only diocese that excludes girls from being altar servers.

After daily mass today the congregation was abuzz with the news. There is a sense of betrayal and bewilderment. We have a system that is working. A quick poll of those at Mass this morning determined that each of the three parishes in a ten-square-mile area has over 100 boys participating as altar servers. I would like to know how many parishes with co-ed altar servers have that kind of participation.

Upon hearing the news I was at first devastated. I do not think it bodes well for the continued increase in vocations in the diocese. However, once the initial shock abated I read the text of the Bishop’s instructions. This is not a free-for-all invitation to all girls. There are very strict guidelines. The inclusion of girls will be at the pastor’s discretion. It is not mandatory to now have girl altar servers. The girls are not to be dressed in a cassock and surplice so that there is no confusion about them being “little priests”. The boys may still wear cassock and surplice. Every effort is to be made to retain the boys as altar servers. If a parish comes to have girls dominating the altar server pool, the parish can lose its privilege of having girl altar servers.

So after reflection, I will say this change is not the apocalypse. Christ promised his Church would withstand the gates of Hell so I trust it will survive questionable episcopal decisions.

To Be Catholic Means To Accept Church Authority

First published here 3/17/06:

To be Catholic means to accept Church authority. The Pontifications blog has offered a masterpiece in Catholic apologetics on this matter. An “Inquirer” wants to become Catholic but cannot bring himself to convert because of the Catholic church’s stance on divorce, birth control, abortion, homosexuality, and women as priests. Alvin Kimmel gently points out that the Inquirer is asking the wrong questions. The question is not does the Catholic Church believe in the Inquirer’s personal positions on societal and moral issues. The question is does the Inquirer believe the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Christ with Divine Authority. Until he can answer this question, it is pointless to wrestle with the others.

Mr. Kimmel states the crux of the matter: For the Catholic, the decision to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and the decision to accept the authority of the Church is one decision. They cannot be separated, for the risen Christ will not be separated from his mystical body.

Pope Benedict XVI said much the same thing in this past Wednesday’s General Audience:

In the person of the Apostles, charged with the celebration of the Eucharist and the forgiveness of sins, the Church has been made the sign and instrument of the Kingdom of God in our midst. Christ can never be separated from the Church; through the Church he remains ever present in his people, and in a special way in the successors of the Apostles.

We are now four weeks from the celebration of Easter. Thousands of individuals are in the final month of preparation to enter the Catholic Church. They are ready to recite the Creed and say “We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” They are not choosing this Church because it embraces their own personal philosophy. Instead, they are surrendering their personal will to the will of God.

When the Right To An Abortion Becomes A Duty To Abort

The term slippery slope has become almost a cliché when speaking of bioethical issues. However, that is the term that comes to mind when reading Rick Garnett’s post on the Mirror of Justice Blog. He interviewed Professor Lisa Schiltz about the social acceptability of aborting a child with Down’s syndrome or other disabilities. Professor Schiltz is the mother of a son with Down’s syndrome. She speaks of the pressure put on pregnant women to abort their children with disabilities:

Not only have many come to accept that a woman faced with such news is justified in aborting her child, some now go further and insist that she has a duty to abort.

Bob Edwards, the scientist who created Great Britain's first in vitro fertilization baby, gave a speech a couple of years ago at an international fertility conference in which he said, "Soon it will be a sin for parents to have a child that carries the heavy burden of genetic disease. We are entering a world where we have to consider the quality of our children."


Patricia Bauer made a similar point in her Washington Post article, The Abortion Debate No One Wants to Have

Once one class of citizens becomes vulnerable, all citizens become vulnerable. In Great Britain, the courts upheld the appropriateness of a late term abortion for a cleft palate. Who has the wisdom to decide whose life is worthy and whose is not? The Netherlands is developing guidelines known as the Groningen Protocols for the euthanasia of children with terminal illnesses. Both supporters and opponents of these protocols acknowledge that these protocols will be expanded to include all patients who are not able to speak for themselves. This would include the mentally retarded, those with dementia, and those who are comatose. Who is authorized to become their voice? It is obvious from the above discussions of aborting children with disabilities, the concept will grow from the option for euthanasia to the expectation of euthanasia for these patients.

As medical technology advances, who will be the next vulnerable class of citizens? Robert Araujo addresses this in his post, A soul is a terrible thing to waste. As I said at the beginning, the term “slippery slope” seems rather trite. What else do you call this descent into eugenics and the quest for “perfect” humans?

Peggy Noonan and Embarrassing the Angels

First published here 3/3/06:

Yesterday, Wall Street Journal columnist, Peggy Noonan, published a beautiful essay about the need to take a stand for human dignity in our culture. I have very little to add to Ms. Noonan’s words, other than a “Bravo! Well said!” I hope you agree.

Some may argue that the coarseness of today’s culture is liberating. We are no longer constrained by the silly social protocols called manners. In reality, these behavior standards are meant to provide a framework for civil interaction between people. They recognize the essential human dignity of every person, regardless of station in life.

I expect my children to say “Please” and “Thank-you”. A waitress once pulled me aside and complimented my children’s manners. She said she didn’t hear “please” very often when taking food and drink orders. I thanked her for her kind words and assured her many people were just preoccupied and would be more polite if they thought about it. Soon afterwards, a teenage boy joined us at a restaurant for dinner. He was a friend of one of my teenage sons. As we were placing our orders, each of us followed our selection with the word “Please”. That is, each of us except our guest. He then proceeded to chastise my son saying you don’t say please to the waitress. She is supposed to be serving you. I quickly corrected this notion by saying every human being deserves to be treated with dignity and good manners. How sad that this young man could make a conscious decision to treat the waitress otherwise.

In our household, children address adults by their title and, preferably, their last name. They respond to questions with a “Yes Ma’am” or “Yes Sir”. Until now, teachers and other parents always appreciated this. However, the youngest child has many friends’ parents and teachers who are at least ten if not twenty years younger than I am. This behavior seems very foreign to them. In fact, the third grade teacher criticized my son in front of his class for this practice. She is part of the text-messaging telegraphic speech generation. Those words of respect are completely superfluous.

I am going to make a concerted effort to be more mindful of my manners. Every gesture of kindness and respect is a blow against the coarseness pervading our culture. Like Ms. Noonan, I will try to never “embarrass the angels.”

I Don't Think That is What The Bishop Really Meant!

First published here 3/2/06:

Archbishop Wilton Gregory spurred some discussion at Dominico Bettinelli’s blog over the appropriate dress for Mass. I know Bishop Gregory was trying to sound welcoming to all those young teens in his Archdiocese when he said he doesn’t care what they wear to Mass, but I think he must be a little naïve to have given such latitude to their attire. I am certain he does not want to see cleavage or midriffs, jeans cut so low they defy gravity to stay up, buttocks hanging out of shorts or mini-skirts, or pants so baggy we are treated to a substantial view of the boxers beneath. I really think he was talking more about whether you should be in dresses or nice slacks rather than jeans. Do you have to have “church shoes” or are running shoes okay? I really do believe what he was wanting to communicate was he was comfortable with teens arriving at Mass looking like teens with the assumption that these teens would be dressed modestly. After all, none of the immodest dress is appropriate outside of the church. Why should he have to specify it is not to be worn inside the church? As I said, I think he is a bit naïve.

I have set standards for my children’s dress at Mass. Sunday Mass the boys are to be in slacks with collared shirts and dress shoes. My daughter is to be in a dress or nice slacks. No jeans. Occasionally, the Saturday vigil Mass can be in jeans but still needs a nice shirt. No T-shirts. Daily Mass is the most casual with school or play clothes being worn. However, my children aren’t allowed to wear boxer-baring pants or revealing clothing at any time, so clothing is always modest.

It would be considered rude and disrespectful to show up to a wedding looking like we just rolled out of bed. Even Christ spoke of the wedding guest who was expelled for being inappropriately dressed. Preparing our appearance for Mass should not be burdensome, but taking some time to make sure we are neat and clean before we attend Mass shows our respect for Christ whom we will meet in the Eucharist.

Catholic Charity is more than Alms-Giving

First published here 2/26/06:

Right now I am in the middle of organizing the income tax information. This provides an opportunity to review the year’s charitable giving. This issue of charity seems to be popping up quite a bit lately. Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical addressed Charity directly. His Lenten Message does as well. As Lent approaches we are called to serve the season with penance, prayer, and alms-giving. But charity is far more than the alms-giving I have recorded for the benefit of the IRS.

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta is the purest vision of Charity in the modern world. She sought to alleviate the suffering of the poorest and weakest because she saw the face of Christ in each of them. Her love of Christ was expressed in her love for neighbor. Indeed she herself felt the worst poverty was not to know Christ. Pope John Paul II expressed this same idea when he said, “The temptation today is to reduce Christianity to merely human wisdom, a pseudo-science of well-being. In our heavily secularized world, a ‘gradual secularization of salvation’ has taken place, so that people strive for the good of man, but man who is truncated…We know, however, that Jesus came to bring integral salvation”. Pope Benedict XVI states, “We cannot ignore the fact that many mistakes have been made in the course of history by those who claimed to be disciples of Jesus. Very often, when having to address grave problems, they have thought that they should first improve this world and only afterwards turn their minds to the next. The temptation was to believe that, in the face of urgent needs, the first imperative was to change external structures. The consequence, for some, was that Christianity became a kind of moralism, ‘believing’ was replaced with ‘doing’.”

Therefore, Catholic Charity must be more than alms-giving to the anonymous poor. I encourage my children to participate in the Diocesan work camps. I want them to put a face on the poor. I want them to hear their stories, feel their suffering, and understand their humanity. It is a good thing to put a few dollars in the collection plate. However, each of us is called to do so much more. We are called to give our physical presence and our spiritual support through prayer. After I sent my monetary donation to the victims of Katrina, how often did I pray for them? Did I see the face of Christ in the beggar downtown and approach him with compassion? Do I treat the disabled with full human dignity? Am I willing to venture to the “bad side of town” and joyfully serve in a soup kitchen? When charity is reduced to a very human, pragmatic, “good” thing to do it is also very empty and sterile. The most complete charity is that which is born out of Love. “Where Charity and Love Prevail, There God is Ever Found…”

A Frightening Pro-Abortion Essay

First published here 2/10/06:

It is with great trepidation that I admit the topic of abortion into my blog. It is a subject about which I am passionate. I am unapologetically pro-life. I hold sacred all human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. I have been a family practice physician for over twenty years. I have nurtured life in the womb and witnessed life’s final breath. It is a very slender thread that separates life and death. I also humbly acknowledge that we humans are not wise enough to decide when that thread should be cut. That decision belongs to God alone.

The reason I fear introducing the subject of abortion into my personal blog space, is because the discussion can quickly turn uncivil. Abortion is an emotion laden topic. The posts often deteriorate to personal attacks on either supporters or opponents of abortion. So why would I introduce this into what has been thus far a fairly innocuous space for pleasant discussion? Well, Amy Welborn’s blog highlighted an LA Times article by Anne Lammott. Ms Lammott’s language is very frightening to me:

I wanted to express calmly, eloquently, that pro-choice people understand that there are two lives involved in an abortion — one born (the pregnant woman) and one not (the fetus) — but that the born person must be allowed to decide what is right.

It is a moral necessity that we not be forced to bring children into the world for whom we cannot be responsible and adoring and present. We must not inflict life on children who will be resented; we must not inflict unwanted children on society.

To me, it is one thing when two people both express a respect for life but disagree over when life begins. However, acknowledgment that the unborn is a fully human life who is without societal protection and whose birth or death is completely dependent on the whim of the mother is barbaric. When does this human life gain societal protection? How is this arbitrary point of protection decided? The same logic that discards the unborn can be applied to the disabled, the elderly, or any other class which is deemed “resented” or “unwanted”. I am not brave enough to pronounce who is worthy of life and who is not. I am frightened that others are.

Our Daughters Deserve Better than Barbie or Bratz

First published here 2/10/06:

“Barbie is a bimbo!” Apparently, my daughter uttered these words years ago in her pre-school class, much to the horror of the teacher and her Barbie-loving classmates. I have to take credit (blame?) for her attitude. Barbie is such a hyper-sexed caricature of women. This is not an image I wanted my daughter to idolize. I am sure I said something to the effect of “You are way too smart to play with Barbie.” And it is very possible I added the line “Barbie is such a bimbo!” (Remember talking Barbie’s declaration that math class is too tough!) And of course my daughter repeated these words without hesitation.

Now my daughter is a high school teenager of whom I am very proud. We have absolutely no arguments over her clothes. (Other than trying to get them off the floor and out of the laundry baskets). She is a very attractive young athlete, who chooses to dress modestly. I don’t give avoiding Barbie all the credit for her modesty. Rather, avoiding Barbie was part of a much larger strategy to help her appreciate her real beauty and talents.

Mirror of Justice has an interesting commentary today about the doll overtaking Barbie. The Bratz dolls are the latest craze. My daughter is way past the fashion doll stage, but I looked at pictures and I think Rob Vischer is correct when he describes them as a “Goth inspired prostitute”. Every doll has the appearance of overdone collagen infused lips, low-slung pants and belly-button-revealing midriff tops. Even the Soccer Bratz is outfitted in a uniform of micro-miniskirt and a cropped jersey.

It is a constant challenge to steer a young girl through the maze of media images of women and help her discover her true “feminine genius” as Pope John Paul II used to say. The first step is to be alert to the cultural messages she is seeing. Every high school girl in a television series is sexually active or wishing she was. The “teen” magazines advertise information about sex on their covers. The clothes in the junior department make the girls look like hookers. You can’t fight the influences if you don’t know what they are.

There is no one-size-fits all solution. The need is to convince our daughters they are so much better than what the culture gives them credit for. They are valued for far more than their sexual attributes. They are smart, athletic, artistic, caring, etc. Help them seek activities and friends that elevate these talents. Recently, my daughter had a group of eight girls over. I did not know all of them before they arrived. It turned out they were all athletes in various sports. They were wonderfully feminine, but there was not a bare belly button or overdone eye make-up in the bunch. There was lots of giggling and chatter about sports, music, and school. None of these girls had allowed herself to be exploited by popular culture. They had risen above this. It can be done.

A Legacy of Virtue

First published here 2/4/06

Two quotes have been on my mind recently. The first is from the will of actress Grace Kelly’s father, Jack Kelly: I can give you only worldly goods…but if I had the choice, I would give you character

The second is attributed to E.C. McKenzie: The worst danger that confronts the younger generation is the example set for it by the older generation

If I had found these quotes when I was just starting out as a parent, I hope I would have been smart enough to post them on the bathroom mirror so that I read them every morning as I started the day. The gift of children comes with this awesome responsibility to instill strong moral values in them. As Jack Kelly realized, character cannot be bequeathed the way material wealth is passed on from one generation to the next. It is molded, shaped, and modeled. And as E.C. McKenzie points out, the example set by parents is the single biggest influence on our children.

When I taught third grade CCD, we were discussing the Ten Commandments. We discussed keeping the Sabbath holy and going to Mass every Sunday. One of the little girls in the class quite earnestly explained to me that her family didn’t attend Mass last week because they had gotten a new puppy on Saturday. Therefore, her mother couldn’t do the grocery shopping on Saturday and had to do it on Sunday precluding Mass attendance. Nothing I said as a teacher was going to alter what her parents had clearly taught her by their actions.

That morning offering of Oh my God, I offer you every thought, every word, every act of today becomes more poignant now that I am a parent. My every thought, word, and act is a character forming lesson for my child. As my children leave home and take responsibility for their lives and choices, I hope they leave with a legacy of virtue.

A Nagging Mom Explains

First posted here 2/3/06

One of my boys just completed the last requirement for the Boy Scout rank of Eagle Scout, the highest rank in the Boy Scout program. It is a great honor and a great accomplishment to reach this pinnacle. Let me also say, that behind every Eagle Scout is a parent, usually a Mom, with a little more gray hair from the coaxing, cajoling, and just plain nagging it took to get an adolescent boy to keep pushing and complete the path to Eagle. I jokingly told my son I expect to receive my Nagging Mommy Merit Badge at his Eagle Court of Honor.

It takes a lot of energy to be a Nagging Mom. When the children were very little, I was like a set of training wheels. I was constantly there, making corrections and shielding them from disasters. The older they get, however, the harder it is to keep them from falling. Most of the time they are riding the bike without training wheels. I am still always there if they need me. I offer suggestions. I cheer loudly when the ride is successful. Sometimes, though, I can only watch as they take an unexpected turn and find themselves flat on the ground. I help them get up, dust themselves off, figure out their mistakes so they don’t make them again, and make them get back on the bike.

The best example of a really effective Nagging Mom is St. Monica. In my mind, she is the Patron Saint of Nagging Mothers. She chased her son Augustine all over the Mediterranean trying to convince him of the errors of his ways. She also never stopped praying for him. Eventually, he found his way back to the Faith and became St. Augustine, one of the great theologians of the Church. Monica died a happy woman. My admiration of St. Monica prompted my most recent Eagle Scout to choose name Augustine for his confirmation name. I will take that as a compliment.

Therefore I will continue to be a Nagging Mom. I will try to figure out when the kids need training wheels, when they need a steadying hand, and when they need me to just be ready to pick them up. I will also never stop praying for them.

It'sMy Job, Not the School's Job, To Teach My Child About Sex

First published here 2/2/06


There was a time in my life when I understood calculus, differential equations, and advanced physics. Now, however, those brain cells have been permanently deleted. Therefore, I am happy to have someone whose advanced math and physics brain cells are still intact teach my children the wonders of integrals, vectors, and quantum mechanics. On the other hand, it is my job to teach my children about sex and sexuality. Because of this, my 10th grader is now happily engaged in a study hall each day, rather than sitting through the “morally neutral” presentation of human sexuality offered by this quarter’s health class. The public school program pays lip service to abstinence but with a “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” says, “Here is the rest of the story.” They proclaim to the students, “You are not ready to have sex now!” Okay. When will they be ready? The program can’t say “after marriage” because that is a moral stricture and this program is ---all together now—“morally neutral”. So they use the tried and true parental line, “When you are older.” This is followed up with “We know some of you will not follow our advice and are going to be sexually active, so here is what you need to know.”

I am not going to hide any information from my children. Discussions about sex and sexuality have proceeded in an age appropriate fashion their entire lives. I want them to have all the facts. I talk to them about contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, and homosexuality. I want them to receive this information within the framework of our values formed by our Catholic faith. My children need more than abstinence education. They need character formation and development of the virtue of Chastity. The virtue of chastity is not the same as abstinence. Abstinence means the absence of sex. Then you get into the semantics game of “Does this count?” “How far can I go and still be abstinent?” Chastity offers an understanding of the gift of our sexuality. It promotes respect for one’s own body. It offers the appreciation that a sexual relationship is a giving relationship. Sexual love is the result of rather than the source of marital love. In the first encyclical of his papacy, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI describes this marital love as the ultimate reflection of God’s loving relationship with mankind. This is what I want my children to learn.

The CCD program offers a morally acceptable education on human sexuality. Still, this is an adjunct to what my husband and I teach at home. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: Education in the faith by parents should begin in the child’s earliest years. This already happens when family members help one another to grow in faith by the witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel. Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith (2226). Very clearly, my husband and I are in charge of educating our children.

This can be a daunting task. It is not easy to talk about sex and virtue when your kids are in the middle of an adolescent hormonal milieu. That is why we have to start talking early. Prepare them for the changes of puberty, both physical and emotional. As with any other aspect of faith formation, parents need to be ever alert to the “teachable moment”. This is a very gradual process, not a sudden epiphany. We don’t give one long talk about sexuality. We give hundreds or even thousands of small comments that shape and mold our child’s character. So as parents, we need to prepare ourselves. We need to be clear about the Church’s teachings. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is a pivotal work on human sexuality. However, the full text can be intimidating. I recommend one of the works by Christopher West as a good starting point. In addition, read Real Love by Mary Beth Bonacci and Did Adam and Eve have Belly Buttons by Matthew Pinto. Once you are finished reading them, give them to your teens to read. Then listen to them. Don’t launch into your analysis of the books. Let your children tell you what they understood. Ask questions. Help them to make the lessons their own conclusions, not just parental lectures.

It is not easy to be the primary source of information on human sexuality. That is why so many parents abdicate this duty to the school system. When I opt my child out of the school sex education program, it is not because I don’t want her to receive this education. I am just giving the school system a polite “no thank you. I appreciate your offer to teach my child about sex, but this is my job. Please feel free, however, to cover calculus and physics.”

Boys Only For Catholic Altar Servers

First posted here on 2/1/06

Perusing my blog entries, I am concerned that I am doing way too much complaining. I don’t like the music, , The Da Vinci Code is offensive, and Catholic Schools Week is divisive. So what is working well in my Catholic community?

Actually, what is working well is something I would never have expected to be so positive. The Diocese of Arlington, Virginia allows only boys to be altar servers. When we moved here several years ago, my first reaction was a panicked, “What about my daughter?” After living with the program for a few years I have gone from a knee-jerk, “That’s not fair!” to a real appreciation for the program.

Our parish has over 120 boys from the 5th through 12th grade participating as altar servers. We have at least two altar servers at each of two daily Masses, and six altar servers at each of five Sunday Masses. We also have at least two altar servers for the weekly Holy Hour on Wednesday nights. We always have altar servers for weddings and funerals. In no other diocese have I seen this much enthusiasm for serving. What a wonderful way to plant the seed of priestly vocation! I believe our diocese is already harvesting the fruits of these seeds.

I have to believe this participation level is related to it being a boys only program. When girls participate as well it diminishes the desirability of the activity in the boys’ eyes. This is a bold approach during these politically correct times. However, it is definitely an approach that is working.

So the question remains: What about my daughter? Have we sacrificed the girls to cultivate vocations among the boys? Not at all. There are many opportunities for the girls to serve the Church. They are the primary participants in the music ministry. They help as ushers. Young women lead the high school youth group activities. Many girls participate in the Diocesan Work Camp service project. The girls see they have many talents to offer the Church, but don’t expect every position in the Church to be available to them. Rather than whining about not being an altar server or women not being priests, the girls learn to apply their “feminine genius” (as John Paul the Great would say) and serve the Body of Christ just as nobly as the boys.

A Sampling of Catholic Churches

First posted 1/28/06:

I mentioned before that finding a church while traveling, is an adventure. Truly, you never know what you will find. My children and I travel frequently for soccer tournaments. We have been doing this for seven years and have never missed Mass because we couldn’t find a church. We have discovered some interesting churches over the years. I know we are “one, holy, apostolic Church” but that doesn’t mean each parish doesn’t put its own spin on Mass.

One Sunday we found ourselves at Mass with the choir being led by a country gospel music singer. The recessional required us to sing something along the lines of “Ain’t God Great” then the right side of the church jumps up and yells “Yee” then sits while the left side of the church jumped up and said “Haw”. Great for pre-school or aerobics class but not so great for Mass.

Not too long ago we arrived at the church to find a great big auditorium-like room. There was no holy water,no kneelers, no saints, no crucifix, no stations of the cross, and no tabernacle. The room was abuzz with conversation. Pretty soon the lights blinked twice and Mass began. Behind the altar was a digital screen that flashed up "inspiring" landscape photography, changing as the different parts of the Mass progressed. It was the most Protestant representation of the Mass I had ever seen.

In a small town in New Jersey, we attended a beautiful newly built church. The church was not a cathedral, but great care had been taken in its architecture to preserve the ambience of sacred space. The lovely stained glass windows depicted various American saints. It was a church that truly called us to personal holiness.

Last summer we were in New York City. My daughter and I stepped into St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The beauty and majesty brought tears to my eyes. I could see why people streamed to this church after 9-11. It proclaims, “God is here!”

I can’t talk about various churches without mentioning my personal favorite. If you are traveling to the Washington D.C. area, you must visit the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Make time to take a guided tour. It is a magnificent church built by the various Catholic communities of the United States. It beautifully reflects the various ethnic heritages that comprise American Catholics.

We may be many parts. But we are all parts of One Body of Christ.

Find Catholic Mass even when Traveling

First published 1/27/06

There is no such thing as a travel dispensation. Even when you are away from your home parish, you are expected to take advantage of your Sunday opportunity to attend Mass. With most communities offering a Saturday evening vigil Mass as well as Sunday Mass, there is really no excuse for missing Mass while traveling unless you are backpacking beyond the reach of civilization. It takes just a little planning and effort on your part. The question is, “Do you really want to go to Mass?”

Why should we worry about missing Mass while traveling? Well, the easy answer is “’Cause the Church says so!” Missing Mass is considered a serious sin. Jesus told Peter Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven (Mt 16:19)so we must take the edicts of the Church quite seriously. Still, this is a child-like level of understanding. The more mature answer is we have a responsibility to maintain our relationship with God. Like any relationship, if it is neglected, it weakens. God never neglects his relationship with us. For Catholics, the central path to our relationship with God comes from the Sacraments, most importantly, the Eucharist. What is more important to us than spending one hour during the weekend with Christ at Mass? So you had not the strength to stay awake with me for one hour? (Mt 26:40)

Parents attending Mass, even when traveling, send an incredibly powerful message to children. It unequivocally states that our Faith is a priority above all else. We do not set it aside for soccer tournaments, trips to Disney World, or visits to Aunt Sally. It can be very awkward when visiting non-Catholic relatives to break and go to Mass, but it is a very positive way to be a witness to our faith.

The mechanics of finding Mass times are very simple. Anyone with internet access can have the information in minutes. You need the address of your starting point. It may be your hotel or relative’s house. It may also be the athletic field or other event venue if you are going to go directly from there to Mass. Go to Google Maps
Map your starting point. Go the the “find businesses” link”. Type in Catholic Church. You will get a list of nearby churches and can easily get directions to each. Now go to Mass Times.org Check out the Mass times for the churches you found on Google Maps

Finding and attending Mass has become part of the traveling adventure for my family. Seeing various church architectures and worship styles has been a tremendously rewarding and educational experience. The little bit of effort it requires will pay huge dividends in strengthening your faith and the faith of your family.

Silent Prayer

First Published 1/26/06
Recently I wrote about how distracting I found most modern liturgical music. This past Sunday, I attended a no-music Mass. Our parish eliminated the choir as well as hymns from the 7:30 AM Sunday Mass. This sounded rather stark to me, but my youngest was assigned as an altar server to this Mass so we gave it a try. It was lovely. I had forgotten how prayerful silence is. My senses relaxed and my heart and mind could just be in God’s presence. After a particularly hectic week, I don’t need more noise in my life. I need quiet peace.

Silence can be intimidating. I am much more comfortable using my personal prayer time to say a Rosary, to offer petitions, to ask for intercession, or to read Scripture. I get uncomfortable when there is an “awkward silence” in my conversation with God. However, sometimes I need to just shut up and listen. How am I ever going to get God’s side of the conversation if I won’t let Him get a word in edgewise. Therefore, I have to think of my Rosary, petitions, intercessory prayer, and Scripture reading as only the first steps in my prayer. I have to take the next step and sit silently. I need to let God fill my heart with His conversation. When I am silent, God is not.

How to pray has been a topic since ancient times. The Apostles asked of Jesus, “Teach us to pray.” Jesus responded with the Lord’s Prayer. I ask, how do I learn to listen when I pray. The best instruction I have found is in a short book entitled Armchair Mystic by Fr. Mark Thibodeaux, S.J. See a wonderful review from the Sioux City, Iowa Catholic New Service. Fr. Thibodeaux has also written another book God, I Have Issues. This book offers fifty different personal prayers to help you pray no matter how you feel. The good news is there is no really wrong way to pray. God listens equally to our brilliant prayers and our very imperfect prayers. It is very easy for God to hear us. The challenge is for us to hear God.

Sing a Joyful Song of Catholic Music

First posted 1/16/06 at

I admit it. I am somewhat of a traditionalist when it comes to music during Mass. I love good rock and roll as much as anyone. My cell phone ring is Led Zeppelin. However, as we gather and celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass, I want something that conveys the awe, reverence, and majesty of the Mass. In my humble opinion, much of the liturgical music written after 1970 just doesn’t fit in that category. Most of it is impossible for congregations to sing together. The musical intervals and rhythms are too complex for unrehearsed participation and often change from verse to verse to fit the forced rhymes of the lyrics. The lyrics are stylized versions of scripture, gender neutral nature worship, or sappy poetry with the literary quality of greeting cards. The congregation ends up just standing there with open hymnal and awkwardly lip syncing. Many give up and don’t even open the hymnal and pretend to participate. Apparently I am not alone in my disdain for the music of Marty Haugen, Dan Shutte, and David Haas. Our new priest scrapped the OCP Music Issue in favor of the St. Michael’s Hymnal. Hallelujah!! The St. Michael’s Hymnal is a treasure trove of traditional hymns and chants as well as a few of the more singable modern hymns. It was a wonderful way to return to reverent hymns without throwing out everything modern. It still didn’t please our guitar based choir. This past Sunday they picked only those trite little dittys that remain in the hymnal. I really had to pray for grace because I found the music even more distracting than before since I knew they had such an ample supply of beautiful worship music at their fingertips. These folks view their ministry as a weekly concert instead of an enhancement of worship. Our priest addressed this by putting them in the back of the church in the balcony so that we only hear them. We are no longer distracted by their emotional facial expressions and rhythmic gyrations. I want to see the musicians when I attend a concert. Mass is not a concert. What is wonderful is the youth of our parish understand this. They have put together a monthly Praise and Worship night. The music ranges from rock to meditative ballads to traditional Gregorian chant. There is nothing wrong with making a joyful noise unto the Lord. However, when it is done at the wrong place or time, it is just noise.

Bluebell Ice Cream Heaven

Because my previous site seems to be having major technical difficulties, I will be moving some of the more popular posts from that site this site.

First posted 1/24/2006:

For now I am living in the Washington D.C. suburbs. I love my home. I live near woods and all manners of wildlife appear outside my window. I am beginning to appreciate the cycle of four seasons I really didn’t have in my Texas home. I have wonderful friends in the area. There is a powerful faith community here. But I just don’t know that I can really put down roots and retire here. You see, there is no Bluebell Ice Cream.

Now if you are a Bluebell Ice Cream fan, you are nodding your head right now. For those of you who are looking puzzled, let me explain. Bluebell Ice Cream was originally produced at a little creamery in Brenham, Texas. This little creamery has grown into a major commercial enterprise. Of course, any ice cream produced in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, has to incorporate the taste of heaven. Bluebell tastes as if they bottled that pure right-out-of-the hand-cranked-freezer flavor and put it in their store bought cartons of ice cream. They personally handle getting the ice cream from their production facility to the supermarkets so you can only buy Bluebell if you live within their distribution area. This used to be only a small part of Texas. With improved transportation and refrigeration, and with the addition of new production facilities in Alabama and Oklahoma, the availability of Bluebell has expanded to cover most of the Southeastern United States and some of the Southwest. Alas, this treasure has not reached our nation’s capital.

Did you know Bluebell invented the Cookies ‘n Cream flavor? I remember when it was first introduced. Bluebell took their perfect Homemade Vanilla ice cream and liberally incorporated chunks of Oreo cookies. You knew they were Oreos because the chunks were big enough to read the word “Oreo” on some of them. I always felt like I had received a special prize when I found an entire, unbroken Oreo in my scoop of ice cream. Legal wrangling determined that Cookies ‘n Cream is a description of the ingredients and not a proprietary name, so now everyone makes Cookies ‘n Cream. However, Bluebell is still the gold standard no one has matched.

As much as I love Cookies ‘n Cream I cannot limit myself to this Bluebell masterpiece. When searching for comfort food, Bluebell Banana Pudding ice cream can take my heart right back to my grandmother’s kitchen. When fresh peaches are in season, Peaches and Homemade Vanilla is sublime. And nothing takes me to my Texas home like Bluebell Buttered Pecan. And when I have gone to the trouble to make a real Texas pecan pie, nothing is going to go on top of that pie except Bluebell Homemade Vanilla.

So you can see, as much as I love my home here in the D.C. suburbs, I am not sure I can sacrifice Bluebell ice cream for a lifetime. Especially when January skies are gray, memories of bluebonnet covered fields and Bluebell ice cream are calling me home.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Previous posts

You can find my previous blogs at this site

A little publicity and a new home for Catholic Mom

What a surprise! Before I even finished my first cup of coffee this morning I was seeing my name in the Washington Post. The follow-up article on the introduction of girl altar servers in the Arlington Diocese included quotes from the blogosphere. My comment from Amy Welborn’s Open Book blog was highlighted. If you want to know what I really think about girl altar servers, please take a look at this. After all my unpublished letters to the Washington Post editor, I was surprised to see my opinion in print.

In other news, I am grateful to Eric Scheske for mentioning my blog in the National Catholic Register. Also to Kelly Clark for a nod from The Lady in the Pew.

I have been blogging for just a short while. I really just happened on to it by accident. I like the format of this site better than my former site so we will see how it goes. If you have been reading me regularly, I hope you didn’t have too much trouble finding me at my new cyberspace home. If you are new to my blog, welcome! I hope we can share many interesting thoughts in the coming days.

Friday, March 17, 2006

I am in the process of moving to this site. Catholic Mom is currently located here.