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 J├Ągerst├Ątter

Friday, March 30, 2007

Walking In Memphis

Soon I will be walking in Memphis. Daughter and I are off for college visit. We will be attending St. Anne’s Church for Palm Sunday Mass then off to Graceland for a tour. Then the work begins as Daughter tries to see if she can picture herself studying and playing soccer amidst the blues and barbecue. Keep us in your prayers!

Welcome One and All

In a little over a week, thousands of people will come into full communion with the Catholic Church. If one makes a cursory perusal of the blogosphere one sees numerous conversion stories, old and new.

One making headlines is that of Daniel Herzog, the former Episcopal Bishop of Albany, New York. The Rt. Rev. Herzog retired as Bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Albany on January 31. On March 19 he announced to his former diocese that he was joining the Roman Catholic Church.

In his letter to Bishop Love, Bishop Herzog stated that his decision was based on more than three years of focused prayer and study.

“My sense of duty to the diocese, its clergy and people required that I not walk away from my office and leave vulnerable this diocese which I love,” he wrote. “I believed that it was my responsibility to provide for a transition to the future. Your subsequent election and consecration discharged that duty and has given me the liberty to follow my conscience, and now resign my orders and membership in the House of Bishops.

The priest at Mass this morning mentioned this high profile conversion. He likened Bishop Herzog to the prophet Jeremiah in today’s first reading. Jeremiah saw his own people, the Israelites, walking a path away from God. He called on them to repent and return to God. He knew this message would not be well received, but he persevered, trusting in God’s Providence.

These dramatic conversion stories are inspiring. As a cradle Catholic I am somewhat in awe of those who definitively choose to be Catholic. Yet, the truth of the matter, is even us cradle Catholics must choose to be faithful, active Catholics. We must choose to live our lives in full communion with the Catholic Church and all of her teachings. This conversion process is often gradual and subtle.

Falling away from the Church can also be an almost imperceptible process. Day by day challenges and choices define our faith. If we do not allow our Catholicism to direct these decisions, we find ourselves standing outside the Church, perhaps wondering how we got there. It then becomes very easy to dismiss the Church as irrelevant. Yet by the Grace of God, a remnant of faith often remains.

We will see this remnant this Sunday, Palm Sunday, and even more so next week on Easter Sunday. Numerous Catholics who only see the Church when it is decorated with poinsettias or lilies will be in the pews with us. I implore you to welcome them with charity and not the least hint of condemnation or condescension. Open your arms to the return of the prodigal sons and daughters. Your gracious hospitality may be exactly what is needed to soften a heart and make it receptive to grace.

Here are some practical suggestions:

  • It is going to be crowded. Arrive early.
  • Slide to the middle of the pew. Nothing is gained by giving latecomers a self-righteous scowl and making them climb over you to get a seat.
  • Share your hymnal or missal with a smile!
  • Since cars will have overflowed the regular parking spaces and will have improvised a space in every nook and cranny, exercise the virtue of patience. Leaving Easter Mass and encountering a cacophony of snarls and honking horns will not entice a C&E Catholic to return next week. Consider your good humor in this situation a form of evangelization.
  • For those of you who plan to give your young children Easter baskets filled with chocolate candy: Do not present these treats until after Mass. Because Santa arrives overnight and children wake up to Christmas presents, some have extrapolated this to the Easter Bunny. However, you will not elicit a joyful “Alleluia” when your child leaves chocolate fingerprints on your pew mate’s white linen suit. My solution is to have the baskets ready to go but hidden in my room. Dad loads kids in the car. I place the baskets in a prominent place in the living room then join him out in the car. When we return from Mass, the kids are wide-eyed and amazed because Easter baskets have miraculously appeared. This also puts the initial focus of Easter on Mass. Treats are an afterthought.

So let us prepare to welcome our brothers and sisters who are entering the Church. We also will welcome our brothers and sisters who have been away. By welcoming these we will truly be ready to joyfully welcome our Risen Lord.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI on St. Irenaeus of Lyons

In my efforts to promulgate greater familiarity and appreciation for papal teachings, I encourage you to read Pope Benedict’s Wednesday General Audience address from yesterday. He continues his teaching on the Patriarchal Fathers of the Church with an overview of St. Irenaeus of Lyons. This reflection is particularly relevant in light of the many candidates and catechumens making their final preparations to enter full communion with the Church.

Irenaeus is above all a man of faith and a pastor. Like the Good Shepherd, he has prudence, a richness of doctrine, and missionary zeal. As a writer, he aims for a twofold objective: to defend true doctrine from the attacks of the heretics, and to clearly expound the truth of the faith. His two works still in existence correspond exactly to the fulfillment of these two objectives: the five books "Against Heresies," and the "Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching" (which could be called the oldest "catechism of Christian doctrine"). Without a doubt, Irenaeus is the champion in the fight against heresies.

The Church of the second century was threatened by so-called gnosticism, a doctrine which claimed that the faith taught by the Church was nothing more than symbolism for the simpleminded, those unable to grasp more difficult things. Instead, the initiated, the intellectuals -- they called themselves gnostics -- could understand what was behind the symbolism, and thus would form an elite, intellectual Christianity.

Obviously, this intellectual Christianity became more and more fragmented with different currents of thought, often strange and extravagant, yet attractive to many. A common element within these various currents was dualism, that is, a denial of faith in the only God, Father of all, creator and savior of humanity and of the world. To explain the evil in the world, they asserted the existence of a negative principle, next to the good God. This negative principle had created matter, material things.

Firmly rooted in the biblical doctrine of Creation, Irenaeus refuted dualism and the gnostic pessimism that devalued corporal realities. He decisively affirmed the original holiness of matter, of the body, of the flesh, as well as of the spirit. But his work goes far beyond the refutation of heresies: In fact, one can say that he presents himself as the first great theologian of the Church, who established systematic theology. He himself speaks about the system of theology, that is, the internal coherence of the faith.

The question of the "rule of faith" and its transmission lies at the heart of his doctrine. For Irenaeus, the "rule of faith" coincides in practice with the Apostles' Creed, and gives us the key to interpret the Gospel, to interpret the creed in light of the Gospel. The apostolic symbol, a sort of synthesis of the Gospel, helps us understand what the Gospel means, how we must read the Gospel itself.

In fact, the Gospel preached by St. Irenaeus is the one he received from Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, and the Gospel of Polycarp goes back to the apostle John, Polycarp having been John's disciple. Thus, the true teaching is not that invented by the intellectuals, rising above the simple faith of the Church. The true Gospel is preached by the bishops who have received it thanks to an uninterrupted chain from the apostles.

These men have taught nothing but the simple faith, which is also the true depth of the revelation of God. Thus, says Irenaeus, there is no secret doctrine behind the common creed of the Church. There is no superior Christianity for intellectuals. The faith publicly professed by the Church is the faith common to all. Only this faith is apostolic, coming from the apostles, that is, from Jesus and from God.

Some may be familiar with St. Irenaeus as his writings were often mentioned in the refutation of The DaVinci Code. During the whole dust up surrounding The DaVinci code, I became convinced that my own woeful ignorance of Church history, especially the first few centuries of the Church, was a common state among Catholics. Obviously Pope Benedict agrees. He is dedicating his General Audiences to addressing this deficiency.

I would like to recommend some reading options to help with this task. Ten Dates Every Catholic Should Know and What Every Catholic Wants to Know, both by Diane Moczar, are short, easy-to-read, treatises on Catholic Church History. Alan Schreck’s The Compact History of the Catholic Church is another very good introduction to Church history. This book is used by my daughter’s CCD high school CCD class. She is not a fan of history in general but found this book as well as the class enjoyable and informative.

In Communion

Ebeth posts a wonderful essay by Deacon Keith Fournier on the inseparable nature of Christ and His Church.

How many Catholic Christians truly understand the implications of their own Baptism? How many have experienced the grace of identification with the Church as a “mother”, or the interior dimension of living in the Church as a “communion” of persons, flowing from the Communion of the Trinity? Is this all supposed to only be the experience of the “mystics”, the talk of the Saints and Fathers, or, is it supposed to be the truly common experience of every Christian? I believe it is supposed to be the common experience of all who bear the name Christian. In Catholic theology and practice, we teach -and we are called to practice - the truth that the early fathers, Saints and Councils throughout the ages have affirmed; to belong to Jesus is to belong to His Body. Our membership in the Church is a very real participation in the very life of God; what the Apostle Peter referred to as a “participation in the Divine nature”. (2 Peter 1:4) This kind of real, tangible experience of life in the Church is meant to be the lived experience of every Baptized Christian…

There is a movement toward a dynamically orthodox Catholic faith and life taking deep root among the young. I choose to not refer to any of this as a “re-covery” or even a “re-storation”, although it is both. The reason I avoid the “re” words is that such a language makes it sound as though we are going back to something. If we are, it is “back to the future”. The Church and the message that she proclaims is always about the future. Christians believe in and are following a linear timeline of God’s plan in human history. This is all going somewhere; and that somewhere is into the fullness of some One, who is Jesus Christ. In Him we are all invited into a participation in the very life of the Trinitarian communion. Every man, woman and child on the face of the earth are invited into that communion of love. Proclaiming that and demonstrating it are the mission and the message of the Church. In Him we participate in the re-creation of the world, through the work of the Church. The Church is to be both the witness of - and the means to - the fulfillment of the mission of Redemptive Love revealed in the Paschal mystery of the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Do read the whole thing. As we approach Easter, many catechumens and candidates are readying to enter full communion with the Church. It is important for each of us to reflect on the implications of that communion.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

It's Carnival 112!

Profound Gratitude is hosting this week's Catholic Carnival.Wander over and find a multitude of good posts to help you finish your Lent on a spiritual high note.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Voice of Reason in HPV Vaccine Debate

Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine recommends changes to the recently passed legislation requiring all girls entering the sixth grade to receive the HPV vaccine.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's amendment would eliminate the need for parents or guardians to submit written requests for their children to opt out of the vaccine, called Gardasil.

"While I believe that this vaccine shows great promise for preventing cancer, I believe that the decision to administer this vaccine should be made by parents," Kaine said in a statement.

I believe this is a very reasonable approach. As I wrote here, the decision to vaccinate does not belong to the state.

Monday, March 26, 2007

It is a Parenting Issue--Not Daycare

I certainly hope we are not spending too much money on this study. Its conclusions sure rank high on the “Well, duh!!!” meter.

Children who got quality child care before entering kindergarten had better vocabulary scores in the fifth grade than did youngsters who received lower quality care. Also, the more time that children spent in child care, the more likely their sixth grade teachers were to report problem behavior…One possible reason why relations between center care and problem behavior may endure is that primary school teachers lack the training as well as the time to address behavior problems, given their primary focus on academics.

Do you really think it should be up to primary school teachers to address the behavior problems? The ultimate responsibility of these behavior problems rests on the shoulders of the parents. Teachers should cooperate with parents in finding a solution to problems but parents should assume the leadership role.

It is study reports like this one that ignite “mommy wars”. The big problem here is not child care. The problem is parenting. Do the parents assert their roles as parents when they pick up their children from daycare or do they focus on themselves in the after work hours?

When my oldest two children were ages two and six months respectively, I entered the Air Force as a physician to fulfill my commitment to the military since they had paid for my medical school training. The boys went to the base daycare. I worked full time. My husband was stationed at a base located five hours away. In spite of my limited time with the boys, I did not abdicate my role as a parent. When I picked them up from daycare I ceased being a doctor and became a full-time mother. In spite of fatigue and frustrations I had to provide nurturing, discipline, character development, and faith development. We read together. We played together. We prayed together. To say that this was a difficult, stressful time is a bit of an understatement.

Not too long after my arrival at this base I am sitting in the morning physician meeting. I am the only female physician out of about a dozen doctors present. The chief of staff, a pediatrician, takes this opportunity to expound on the grave harm women do to their children when they put them in daycare. His remarks were pointedly directed at me. It took every ounce of my self-control to keep from collapsing into a blubbering heap or exploding in an indignant fit of rage. He had no clue how much effort I was expending to make sure my children were not part of the daycare children negative statistics. One of the greatest compliments anyone ever paid me was when another mother commented that my children did not act like “daycare children”.

As I reunited with my husband, had more children, got out of the Air Force, and had more control of my life, my husband and I made the decision to gradually reduce my time at work. Eventually, I found the available job opportunities did not justify the sacrifices required at home for me to work outside the home. I became a stay-at-home mom. I do not expect every mother to reach this same conclusion. Parents must weigh their own unique situations at any given point in time and figure out what options best suit their own families. As long as the career is fit within the vocations of marriage and parenting and not the other way around, these decisions must be supported and respected.

Solemn Feast of the Annunciation

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be it done to me according to your word.”

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation. With Mary’s humble, unconditional obedience, the Word became Flesh. In yesterday’s Angelus address, Pope Benedict XVI marked the significance of this event with these words:

The Annunciation is a humble, hidden event that no one saw or knew except for Mary. But at the same time it is a decisive moment in the history of humanity. When the Virgin said ‘Yes’ to the Angel’s Annunciation, Jesus was conceived and with Him began a new era in history, which was eventually sanctioned by the ‘new and eternal covenant.

In fact, Mary’s Yes was the perfect reflection of that by Christ when he came into the world as one can read in the way the Letter to the Hebrews interprets Psalm 39: “Then I said, 'As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God' (Heb 10: 7).”

The Son’s obedience mirrors that of the Mother and thus, thanks to the meeting of these two “Yes”, God was able to take a human form. Since it celebrates a central mystery of Christ, His incarnation, the Annunciation is also a Christological event.”

Mary’s response to the Angel continues in the Church, which has been called to make Christ present in history, making itself available so that God may continue to visit humanity with His Mercy.

Individually we are also each called to continue Mary’s response. Individually we are called in humble obedience to serve God and make Christ present to those around us.

Because today marks the beginning of Christ’s very real but yet unborn presence within Mary’s womb, today is also designated the Day of the Unborn Child. Spend a few extra minutes in prayer today, offering petitions for all unborn children. Pray that our culture eventually mirrors Mary’s “Yes!” to life with its own respect for all human life, especially the unborn.

At Mass this morning, Father mentioned we are excused from our Lenten penance because today is a Solemnity. We must celebrate this Solemnity of the Annunciation with great joy. If we become so attached to our sacrifices that we cannot let go to celebrate, then we have allowed our self-denial and mortifications to become a matter of pride. Oh, what a joyous day indeed! I do believe a coffee house latte is waiting for me!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

A Busy Week for Guardian Angels

It has been one of those weeks. Four days ago I got the phone call that my daughter had been hurt in a soccer game. We spent the rest of the night in the emergency room. Her soccer was put on hold for a couple of weeks, but nothing too serious. She should have a prompt full recovery.

Even though my daughter couldn’t play, this morning we traveled to Richmond for a tournament. Just before the game, one of the mothers was visibly upset. She just received a phone call her son had been in an accident and was in the hospital. Details were sketchy. I offered prayers and we chatted about how we still worried when the kids were grown and far away. A follow-up call indicated her son would be okay in a few days. A few hours later I needed the prayers as I received the phone call that my oldest had been in a car accident. He called. He said he was fine. The car was totaled. I feel emotionally overwhelmed knowing how bad it could have been and how blessed I am that he is safe and sound.

I really am ready to put everyone in a padded room for a few days. I think we have given our guardian angels quite the workout this week. In spite of these unfortunate incidents I really do feel very grateful. These events could have been catastrophic. Many parents I know have not been so fortunate. Looking back, it was really very nice to have children small and underfoot. I had so much more control and could keep them safe. Now they have spread their wings and I am left on my knees, counting my blessings and praying hard.

Friday, March 23, 2007


It is Spring! My garden says so. I am very successful this year with daffodils. I love their sunny yellow clusters.
The crocus are like hidden Easter eggs beneath the shrubs.

Unfortunately, the deer and rabbits have made short work(literally!) of my tulips. I planted these a couple of years ago and every year they make a valiant attempt to grow. However, they are far too tasty to the wildlife palates so I never get to see them blossom.

Continuing Education

Ebeth at A Catholic Mom climbing the Pillars discusses the perils of finding Catholic reading material.

There is so much information and people to learn from and those to NOT learn from that this is a challenge. For the past 2 years, I have been working on obtaining my Master Catechist certification. Through the diocese of my parish, we are supposed to go through a certain avenue of learning programs. One such avenue is Dayton University online learning. Dayton has become the most LIBERAL Catholic higher educational source I have ever seen. Be sure that if you take courses with them that you are prepared to fight the good fight in defense of celibacy and the priesthood, women NOT becoming priests, Sacraments remaining in the Church and NOT phasing out, Satan being a real entity, not just a mere illusion called the absence of God. Oh, along with this list of individualistic theology, CarolAnn, one of the facilitators for the courses on Ecclesiology that I took, came on my private email to e-slap my hand for taking the story of the "fall" in Genesis "too seriously!" That if I wanted to, I could, but it was far more rational to realize that angels didn't really fall from grace and she chooses to follow some other "priest" and his theology of Satan and the first fall, which is inconsistent with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, much less the Bible itself!

Oh, how right she is! Reading and studying about my Catholic Faith has not been a life-long habit with me. For many years I figured if I made it to Mass every Sunday I got everything I needed. By the grace of God I emerged from this spiritually ignorant bliss and developed a hunger for Catholic knowledge. Then came the shock. There is a great deal of material out there with “Catholic” in the title that is a far cry from Catholicism. Authors who are called “Sister” or who wear a Roman collar promote a self-styled ideology that never saw the light of day in Rome. Just today the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) published a statement declaring the writing of Professor Daniel Maguire, a “Catholic” Theologian from Marquette University, gravely in error.

On June 19, 2006, Professor Daniel Maguire of Marquette University sent two pamphlets to all of the Catholic Bishops in the United States, one entitled The Moderate Roman Catholic Position on Contraception and Abortion and the other A Catholic Defense of Same-Sex Marriage. These pamphlets do not present Catholic teaching. His views about contraception, abortion, same sex "marriage", as well as the very nature of Church teaching and its authoritative character, cross the legitimate lines of theological reflection and simply enter into the area of false teaching. Such mistaken views should not be confused with the faith and moral teaching of the Catholic Church. Since it is apparent that considerable efforts have been made to give these views the widest possible distribution as if they were a valid alternative to the teaching of the Catholic Church, the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops considers it important to offer a public correction of the erroneous views proposed in these pamphlets. At the same time, the Committee on Doctrine calls attention to the Catechism of the Catholic Church where correct and authentic teaching can be found. This readily available source of the faith and moral teaching of the Catholic Church clearly demonstrates the mistaken character of the positions found in the two pamphlets and their unreliability as a guide for Catholics seeking to know and live their Catholic faith.

So what do you do? How does one discern faithful teaching? I suggest we take the advice of our USCCB and begin with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. While it may be a challenging read, it is well worth the effort. For a quicker reference, use the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This condensed version written in question and answer style can easily be read cover to cover. Then as you explore the writings of Catholic authors you have a baseline against which to judge their teachings. Are their teachings consistent with the Catechism? Do they try to excuse or rationalize away behavior that contradicts Church teachings?

Deepening our faith is a life-long process. You will never know it all. If I were going to make suggestions, in addition to the Catechism, I would subscribe to a Catholic weekly newspaper. This puts the news of the day in a Catholic perspective. It gets us in the habit of incorporating our faith in every aspect of our lives. It is also a great source for reviews of contemporary Catholic writers. If you could only subscribe to one periodical, I would recommend the National Catholic Register. It is unswervingly orthodox and supportive to the Magisterium. Our Sunday Visitor is another option, though their coverage of current events seems to lag the news. DO NOT rely on the National Catholic Reporter for Catholic teaching. This publication is filled with writers advocating positions in direct opposition to Church teaching.

Of course, going to the source is always a good idea. The Vatican web site is filled with a lifetime’s worth of reading material. The papal archives give you all the teaching material from the more recent pontiffs. I really think much of the chaos following Vatican II resulted because the faithful in the pews never bothered to read the Vatican II documents. It was easy for those with an agenda to promote distorted interpretations of these documents because no one was reading these important teaching documents for themselves. And don’t forget our Communion of Saints! The writings of the Church Triumphant have much to say to us in our current lives.

Finally, seek out others who also desire to read faithful Catholic teaching. Share the authors and books you have discovered. Then share your zeal with the rest of your community. Inspire those around you to move beyond what they learned in Confirmation class. We have a lifetime of lessons awaiting us.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Soccer Lesson in Faith

This weekend was supposed to be an exciting one for my daughter. Her travel soccer team is going to be playing in a big tournament. She heard from three college coaches at schools she is very interested in attending that they would be coming to watch her play. This is the way college recruiting is done in soccer. They don’t watch you play for your high school team. They want to see you playing the higher level club soccer.

Unfortunately, things will not go as planned. My daughter does play for her high school team and in Tuesday night’s game she was injured. It is not a severe injury. She should be back to her playing form in a couple of weeks. However, that will be too late to showcase her skills at this tournament. She is feeling pretty heartbroken right now.

No doors have permanently closed yet. There will still be future tournaments. The question is whether or not these coaches will be available to see her then. It feels like a very good opportunity has just vanished.

My daughter had her soccer plans all mapped out but suddenly she isn’t in control anymore. It is times like this we have to just let go. That is so tough for her. After the initial tears and anger, she just has to trust that God has a plan for her. The right things will happen at the right times if we just keep trusting and praying. It just isn’t easy to always recognize what those right things and right times are.

Faith gives us hope at times like this. How sad it would be to see life as nothing more than random twists of fate with no higher purpose. With faith we trust God to bring good fruit from our disappointments. It doesn’t take away all of the sting. But it does make it more bearable when we say, “Thy will—not my will—be done”. This is such a tough lesson. On the one hand my maternal heart aches with her sadness. On the other hand, I am trusting God’s plan to be so much better than anything we could ever devise on our own.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Please Pray

As the mother of three Boy Scouts, this story strikes very close to my heart. Please add Michael Auberry and his family to your prayers.

Blessed Mother, please wrap your mantle of protection over this child of yours.
St. George, please pray for Michael.
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us this day in battle,...

UPDATE: Probably nearly simultaneously with my posting this request for prayers, Michael Auberry was found after four days of being lost. The news story stays he was found just before 11:00 AM and I posted at 10:53. Thanks be to God for this joyous news.

Catholic Carnival 111

It is Catholic Carnival time again! Edward at Marion Devotions offers a lovely selection of readings for our Lenten meditation. I especially like Why is my Cross Heavier? at

Monday, March 19, 2007

These are really cool!

Take a look at Catholici Sumus for these great wristbands. I think these may find their way into an Easter basket or two.

Sounds of Silence

My house is amazingly quiet this morning. I am alone in the house for the first time in two weeks. First I had my son home from Rice University for spring break, and then the next week my son from Texas A&M was home for his spring break. They did overlap for a couple of days so I had one Mass with all my children in the pew. It was glorious!

I am not sure why I am so aware of the silence this morning. My boys did a good job of sleeping until the crack of noon every day so I really didn’t hear a sound from them in the mornings. Yet this morning their absence is palpable. It was a great comfort to my heart to have them so close.

So as I work I am filling the silence with music and consoling my heart with prayer.

Feast of St. Joseph

A blessed Feast of St. Joseph to all. St. Joseph is the Patron of the Universal Church as well as the Patron of Fathers and Patron of the Family. These words from a 1999 Angelus Address by Pope John Paul II are an excellent meditation for today:

Through the exercise of his fatherhood, Joseph cooperates, in the fullness of time, in the great mystery of salvation (cf. Redemptoris Custos, n. 8). "His fatherhood is expressed concretely in his having made his life a service ... to the mystery of the Incarnation and to the redemptive mission connected with it; ... in having turned his human vocation to domestic love into a superhuman oblation of self, an oblation of his heart and all his abilities into love placed at the service of the Messiah growing up in his house" (ibid.). To this end, God shared his own fatherly love with Joseph, that love "from [which] every family in heaven and on earth is named" (Eph 3:15).

Like every child, Jesus learned about life and how to act from his parents. How could we not think, with deep wonder, that he must have developed the human aspect of his perfect obedience to the Father's will particularly by following the example of his father Joseph, "a just man" (cf. Mt 1:19)?

3. Today I would like to invoke the heavenly protection of St Joseph on all fathers and on their duties in family life. I also commend to him Bishops and priests, who are entrusted with the service of spiritual and pastoral fatherhood in the ecclesial Family. By concretely fulfilling their responsibilities, may each of them reflect God's provident and faithful love. May we obtain this through St Joseph and Blessed Mary, Queen of the family and Mother of the Church.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Family Prayer: Imperfect yet so precious

We have completed day 24 of our 40-day family retreat for Family Consecration. I was skeptical that we would really keep this up. And I confess not all evening sessions have been conducive to peaceful contemplation. Fatigue, anxiety over pending homework, and the general business of the day have intruded. Several evenings we have been missing one or more members of the family. There have been two or three evenings when we found it impossible to gather. I really feared that once we broke the chain of nightly prayer and reflection we would not restart. Yet I have found after missing a session, all members of the family are eager to resume.

While the readings from both John Paul II and St. Louis de Montfort are profound, I look forward to the family Rosary more than anything else. The retreat started out asking for a single decade. Then we noticed that one day the instructions required two decades to complete our evening session. Then a few days later we said three decades. Now we are up to four decades. We have said the Rosary as a family in the past but never on a regular basis. The idea of such a commitment was daunting. However working up to it one decade at a time has been amazing. Once again it is pizza dough spirituality at work. Little by little we nudge our spiritual boundaries. I hope that after the formal retreat is concluded we will continue this family time in prayer.

Yesterday’s readings included these words by Pope John Paul II:

To return to the recitation of the family Rosary means filling daily life with very different images, images of the mystery of salvation: the image of the Redeemer, the image of his most Blessed Mother. The family that recites the Rosary together reproduces something of the atmosphere of the household of Nazareth: its members place Jesus at the centre, they share his joys and sorrows, they place their needs and their plans in his hands, they draw from him the hope and the strength to go on. 42. It is also beautiful and fruitful to entrust to this prayer the growth and development of children. Does the Rosary not follow the life of Christ, from his conception to his death, and then to his Resurrection and his glory?

You know, Pope John Paull II is right. (That really isn’t surprising, is it?) The Rosary brings holy visual images into our daily lives. Calling to mind these mental pictures of our faith, even if only briefly, on a daily basis helps to sanctify our everyday lives. And while doing this as individuals is certainly beneficial, doing this as a family feels even more powerful.

So don’t be afraid to push your own family’s spiritual limits just a bit. Maybe you want to begin with a single Hail Mary together every evening. Maybe you are ready to try one or more decades of the Rosary. Do not be discouraged if you don’t look like the Holy Family with shining halos over each family member’s head. If you can’t gather the whole family, gather what you can. Your imperfect efforts, when placed in the hands of our Blessed Mother, will be magnified and purified as they are offered to Christ.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Attention! You have an Important Message from Pope Benedict XVI

Did you know there is a hierarchy to papal documents? Of course, an ex cathedra statement is the highest form but this has only been used a handful of times. The most recent ex cathedra statement was from Pope Pius XII when he formally defined the dogma of the Assumption of Mary. Following that is the papal encyclical. Next in teaching importance is the Apostolic Exhortation
Pope Benedict XVI just released the Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis. Actually, the full title is:


Did you notice that this document is addressed to bishops, clergy, consecrated persons, and the LAY FAITHFUL? That’s right. Pope Benedict XVI is talking to you and me. This document is not meant to be only read by those with collars who then filter it on to us. This is critically important. Failure of the lay faithful to actively read the documents of Vatican II is what allowed so many misapplications and abuses in the implementation of Vatican II documents.

This is a long document. Don’t try to print it out directly from the Vatican web site. The parchment paper background makes reading the text difficult and it wastes a whole lot of printer ink. Copy it and paste it into your favorite word processor application.

We have three weeks left in Lent. Why don’t we all try to read about five pages of this document every day? Then by Holy Thursday when we celebrate the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist we will be well prepared.

I would like to offer these words from the introduction for your reflection:

"Jesus is the lodestar of human freedom: without him, freedom loses its focus, for without the knowledge of truth, freedom becomes debased, alienated and reduced to empty caprice. With him, freedom finds itself." (3) In the sacrament of the Eucharist, Jesus shows us in particular the truth about the love which is the very essence of God. It is this evangelical truth which challenges each of us and our whole being. For this reason, the Church, which finds in the Eucharist the very centre of her life, is constantly concerned to proclaim to all, opportune importune (cf. 2 Tim 4:2), that God is love.(4) Precisely because Christ has become for us the food of truth, the Church turns to every man and woman, inviting them freely to accept God's gift.

Monday, March 12, 2007

S.O.L.--It's not what you think

The Washington Post KidsPost section has an article on the standardized tests being given to middle school students now in order to comply with the No Child Left Behind legislation. Actually, it is not an article about the test. It is an article about the hoopla that surrounds the test. Lee Middle school held an elaborate pep rally complete with the school counselors dressed as superheroes. The idea was to pump the kids up to bring their A-game to the test.

Excuse me. Does time spent clapping and rapping really raise test scores? I naively thought that a teacher would teach a subject to the best of his or her ability. The students would be assessed for a minimum level of competency. If a significant number of students did not reach this minimum level, it would signal the teacher or the curriculum needed to adjust. However, this approach throws the entire education establishment into a frenzy. Because the students’ performance is actually a test result for the teachers and school system, the focus shifts from teaching the material to teaching the test. Like kudzu vines along Southern roadsides, these tests have swallowed the curriculum.

In Texas they are known as TCAT’s. In Florida they are FCAT’s. In Maryland they are MSA’s. Here in Virginia the assessment tool is the SOL. (Standard of Learning) Do you think there is a subliminal message in this name choice? One must pass a minimum number of SOL’s for high school graduation. My oldest son transferred into a Virginia high school from Florida during his junior year. There is no reciprocity between states. The FCAT’s he passed with flying colors in Florida were not sufficient to satisfy the Virginia SOL requirements. For one week he was pulled from his junior level classes to take SOL’s on courses he took his freshman and sophomore years. Of course that meant he had to learn the junior level material on his own since checking off the SOL box for his past school work was more important than receiving instruction in his current classes.

For an interesting contrast, please read this article from the Atlantic online.

Tooley is a professor of education policy at England’s University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Several years ago he was working as a consultant in Hyderabad, India, for the International Finance Corporation, an arm of the World Bank. One afternoon, while wandering around the alleys beside the Charminar (a sixteenth- century monument and Hyderabad’s best-known tourist attraction), he came across a school for the children of slum dwellers. To his surprise, he found that this was not a state school but a private one—providing education to the extremely poor and collecting fees (of a few rupees a day, or less than a dime) for its services. Intrigued, he kept looking, and found other, similar schools. They were typically small and shabby operations, sometimes occupying a single classroom, staffed in some cases by just the teacher-proprietor and an assistant. Yet they were busy—crowded with eager pupils—and the teacher was actually teaching.

The point of this is that when teachers are there to teach and students are there to learn, learning occurs. The challenge is to ensure accountability without the assessment tool becoming a distraction and hindrance to actual learning. Is this really that hard?

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Boy, does my house smell good! I am just about finished with the last six Irish whiskey cakes for the annual parish youth group fundraiser. This weekend they will be selling theses yummy cakes after every Mass to finance their trip to the Diocesan Work Camp. My daughter will be joining the group this year so I am providing twelve cakes for the sale. Don’t think I am going to share the recipe. That is proprietary information. I do believe our parishioners look forward to this annual event. Even those who gave up sweets for Lent can indulge in one of the cakes since they freeze very well. So if you find yourself in Annandale, Virginia this weekend, feel free to stop by Holy Spirit Catholic Church and pick up one of these culinary creations. They are a perfect dessert for St. Patrick’s Day.

Angelus Address March 4, 2007

The Pope’s Angelus address from this past Sunday is now translated into English on the Vatican web site. Here is a nugget to ponder today:

Dear brothers and sisters, prayer is not an accessory or "optional", but a question of life or death. In fact, only those who pray, in other words, who entrust themselves to God with filial love, can enter eternal life, which is God himself.

Personal Piety

Rich Leonardi writes of his transition to receiving Communion on the tongue. This is not a required transition. Rich in no way suggests it makes him more Catholic than those who receive in the hand and it certainly doesn’t offer more grace than receiving reverently in the hand. But predictably, someone objects to this practice with the words “I don't understand why people like you think that your way is always better. And that you are in someway a better Catholic.”

I cringe at that comment because it is such sentiments that keep me from wearing a veil. Personally I find the idea of wearing a veil appealing. I know it is not mandatory. The Church neither encourages nor discourages it. It is not nostalgia for the doily covering I wore as a child. No. It is a desire to mark my unique womanly vocation within the Church. At the same time it is a personal reminder of the necessary humility with which I should approach Our Lord. There are a couple of things that stop me. I don’t know that my teenage children are up to the shock. I can hear it now: “Mo-o-om!” It is the way they stretch that three-letter word out to two or three syllables when I have done something so totally uncool. And then there is the indignation it can inspire in those around me. We have a dozen or so women in our parish who regularly wear a veil. I have heard others murmuring, “I don’t know why she has to act so holy. There is just no reason to fall back to the old ways. It is just too showy!” I don’t want to be “showy”. I don’t want to be a distraction to those around me. So I am still bareheaded. Maybe someday.

Personal piety is—well—personal. The Church has a rich history and treasure of devotions and practices. There is no compulsion to engage in them all. In fact it would be impossible to participate in every Novena, chaplet, and special prayer. Each person will develop the complement of prayers and practices that best serves his personal spiritual development. This is likely to change over time as an individual passes through the various stages of his life.

Perhaps especially during Lent, it is good to be reminded that another’s personal piety may prompt us to evaluate our own, however, we should not consider it an indictment of our own. We must respect each other’s choices for private prayer even when those choices are publicly visible.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Catholic Carnival 109 is up

Jay at Living Catholicism is hosting this weeks carnival. What a great collection of Lenten reading. If I had to pick one "don't miss" post it would be Catholics Gone Wrong from Postscripts from The Catholic Spitfire Grill. Any post that uses GK Chesterton as the starting point is on the right track. Do read all the really wonderful entries on this week's carnival.

New Digest of Catholic Writing

Take a look at This site is an interesting mix of Catholic news as well as individual essays by a variety of Catholic writers.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Spirit of the Liturgy

Much will be written across the blogosphere over the next few days as reports of the spectacle from the Diocese of Los Angeles known as the Religious Education Congress trickle in. This gathering is known for its dissident speakers, inappropriate Communion vessels, elaborate liturgical dancers, and other dramatic innovations that could only come from the land of Hollywood. I realize it is Lent and I need to be charitable in my comments--hate the sin but love the sinner and all that. So I guess my commentary will actually be the words of Pope Benedict XVI. When he was Cardinal Ratzinger he wrote the book Spirit of the Liturgy. This is the final paragraph of the first chapter.

The worship of the golden calf is a self-generated cult. When Moses stays away for too long, and God himself becomes inaccessible, the people just fetch him back. Worship becomes a feast that the community gives itself, a festival of self-affirmation. Instead of being worship of God, it becomes a circle closed in on itself: eating, drinking, and making merry. The dance around the golden calf is an image of this self-seeking worship. It is a kind of banal self-gratification. The narrative of the golden calf is a warning about any kind of self-initiated and self-seeking worship. Ultimately, it is no longer concerned with God but with giving oneself a nice little alternative world, manufactured from one’s own resources. Then liturgy really does become pointless, jus fooling around. Or still worse it becomes an apostasy from the living God, an apostasy in sacral disguise. All that is left in the end is frustration, a feeling of emptiness. There is no experience of that liberation which always takes place when man encounters the living God.

As reports of the Los Angeles event roll in, keep these words in mind.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Recommended Lenten Reflection

We are on Day 13 of our 40-day family retreat for Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary in union with St. Joseph. The first twelve days have spoken of the Spirit of the World. Now we are called to a deeper knowledge of ourselves.

Ask for the graces to humble yourself as a spiritual child of Mary and ask her to help you to renounce your own will and to realize that God has a plan for your life, one that is better than you could ever imagine. Whether it be in sickness or health, you just need to strive to know and accomplish God’s Will. Our Lord said in Matthew 7:21, “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

Mary is the perfect model for doing God’s Will. She will form you into His image and likeness if you let her. Your most precious Mother will protect you if you let go of your self-will and let her take possession of you.

Even if you are not participating in this retreat, I encourage you to view the video introduction to Knowledge of Self. This is a wonderful Lenten reflection that covers sanctifying grace, actual grace, and the need to let go of our own will and embrace God’s will. It also speaks of the power of God’s love and mercy and perfect forgiveness that are available to us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. While it is immensely valuable as an individual reflection, I think watching it with your spouse or even your whole family if you have older children is even better. I would guess children ages twelve or older could certainly benefit from this.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Trust and Faith

Oh, we are impatient people. We want to understand things and we want to understand them right now! Give me the staff summary sheet or white paper and let’s move on. This is fine for the CEO or government official, but it is not the way to approach our faith.

This weekend I will meet with a young man who has decided to enter the Church. He is entering the RCIA program a little late so I am going to do some one-on-one time with him to catch him up with the RCIA class. I’ve been mulling over what I really need to tell him. What is the essential nugget he needs to know? Do I start with the Eucharist? Do I start with God’s love and mercy? I’ve been developing the ideas of what does it mean to be Catholic and what does it mean to be in communion with the Church for over a year as I’ve posted on my blog. Stay with me here and let me see if I can take you down the short but very challenging road I think this young man needs to traverse to be ready to enter the Church. He has been baptized so he is preparing for confirmation. This is a sacrament of initiation not a graduate degree in theology.

First consider the Gospel of John 6: 51-66

I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.

Then the Jews started arguing among themselves, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ Jesus replied to them: In all truth I tell you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Anyone who does not eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise that person up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person. As the living Father sent me and I draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will also draw life from me. This is the read which has come down from heaven; it is not like the bread our ancestors ate: they are dead, but anyone who eats this bread will live forever.

This is what he taught at Capernaum in the synagogue. After hearing it, many of his followers said, ‘This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?’ Jesus was aware that his followers were complaining about it and said, ‘Does this disturb you? What if you should see the Son of man ascend to where he was before?

‘It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.

‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the outset who did not believe and who was to betray him. He went on, ‘This is why I told you that no one could come to me except by the gift of the Father.’ After this, many of his disciples went away and accompanied him no more.

I have always pointed to this Gospel as the justification for the Real Presence of the Eucharist. Today, however, I found another concept central to our faith nestled in these words. Many disciples left because they found the teaching too hard. But some disciples stayed. Why? They didn’t understand Jesus’ words any more than those who left? The idea of eating flesh was just as repulsive to them as it was to those who walked away. Why did they stay?

The disciples who stayed trusted Jesus. All through the Gospels are notations of how the Apostles or other disciples did not understand Jesus’ words. Yet even with their imperfect understanding they continued to follow Him. They believed in Him and trusted Jesus would not lead them astray.

Jesus established His Church to continue teaching His message from generation to generation. Just like His disciples, we sometimes do not fully grasp the lesson. Some will hear the Church’s teaching on sexuality, priestly celibacy, an all-male priesthood, divorce, abortion, contraception, or a whole host of other topics and say, “That is too hard”. They will leave. But we must be like the disciples who stayed. We must continue to listen to Jesus through the Church. When we don’t understand we do not discard the Church or the teaching but rather trust that with God’s grace the insight will eventually develop. To humbly obey the Church in light of our imperfect understanding is a great act of faith.

So before I delve into the Mass, the Sacraments, or the Precepts of the Church with this young man, I want him to know that finding a teaching hard is to be expected. If he wants to be Catholic he must be willing to stick with it even when his understanding is incomplete. He must humbly submit to the Church’s authority because like the faithful disciples, he trusts that Jesus through His Church will never lead him astray. With patience and with God’s grace, some understanding will come. However, our understanding is never complete. The process of growth and development in our faith never ends.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Prayer Requests

As you say your prayers today please remember one of my daughter's soccer teammates who suffered a serious head injury last night. She is hospitalized but stable.

Also pray for Bill who was diagnosed with lung cancer. He is well known and loved by the youth of our parish as a CCD teacher as well as a substitute teacher in the local public school.

Coffee Comments

I have mentioned on more than one occasion I am a caffeine-based life form. A proper cup of coffee is essential to start my day and a little java keeps me plugging away when the afternoon doldrums hit. Right now I am sipping St. Peter Claver all day blend coffee from the Oregon Jesuits. I mentioned these St. Ignatius blend coffees here. The St. Peter Claver blend is a very smooth coffee. For my first cup in the morning I think I need to brew it a bit stronger. However, later in the day it is just right. Perhaps the St. Francis Xavier French Roast will be better as my morning choice. This is certainly good coffee but I am not so impressed that I feel the need to switch from my customary Larry’s Beans order. I do think these Jesuit inspired coffees would make great gifts for my Catholic coffee-drinking friends.

In other coffee news I just read that McDonalds beat out Starbucks in a coffee taste-test show down. Apparently McDonalds changed its coffee formula and has greatly improved since I last tried it. I really am not surprised that Starbucks lost the competition. I have never cared for Starbucks plain brewed coffee. It always tastes burnt to me. When you drink your coffee hot and black, it needs to be good coffee. Now I do love the various Starbucks lattes. Milk and sweet flavoring can salvage an underlying lesser brew. Even at home I like to use a flavored creamer if I find myself microwaving leftover coffee. I am surprised it was McDonalds that had the upper hand. Perhaps McDonalds has become a bit more scrupulous about keeping their coffee fresh. My complaint with McDonalds coffee has always been it tastes like it has been sitting on the burner for hours.

I haven not given up my coffee for Lent but I have sworn off the coffee house lattes. The money I save will be given to a worthy charity. (Like the Paul Stefan Home for Unwed Mothers) Well, my cup is just about empty so it is time to refill. St. Peter Claver and I will get to our tasks for the day.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

A Miraculous Pro-Life Effort

Read this article from the Arlington Catholic Herald but be prepared for tears in your eyes and chills up your spine. Fr. Stefan Starzynski has followed the guidance of the Holy Spirit and started the Paul Stefan Home for Unwed Mothers. Learn of the inspiration for this project and the seemingly miraculous events that made it a reality.

During a pilgrimage to Israel in February the following year, Father Starzynski found himself in the Prophet Elijah’s cave praying for a release of the Holy Spirit and for the hopeful project. Upon his return to the parish, Father Starzynski celebrated a Mass, which culminated with a healing service. During the service he felt inspired to tell his congregation that five parishioners who were present would donate $1,000. After the generous act of faith was made, the concrete plans for a home for unwed mothers would commence. As it was divinely ordained, the very next day what the priest had prayerfully predicted came true. Upon receiving exactly $1,000 from five different parishioners, Debbie Patterson, also a parishioner, approached Father Starzynski and told him that her husband would give him two homes and 50 acres of land a few miles from the parish for one dollar a year. “So many extraordinary things have happened … that I almost expect the extraordinary … and lots of miracles,” said the priest, who firmly believes that the project is being guided by the Holy Spirit.
The donation was nothing short of extraordinary and miraculous. Exactly nine months after the baby’s death, the Paul Stefan Home for Unwed Mothers was born. With the help of Randy James and other parishioners, the two homes were renovated. Various people and organizations donated furniture and their services, and one of the homes is already being used.
After living in an area shelter, a young unwed pregnant woman has found a safe haven at the Paul Stefan Home. She went into labor on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and gave birth the next day, exactly one year after Paul Stefan was born and died. “Now, I’m convinced that this is what we’re supposed to be doing,” said Evelyn.

You can learn more about the Paul Stefan Home for Unwed Mothers here.

The Papal Lenten Retreat

Argent has a report on the Pope’s Lenten retreat. It is being led by Cardinal Biffi. Contrast the cardinal’s words with those of Katharine Jeferts Schori posted below.

Quoting the work "Three Dialogues on War, Progress and the End of History," Cardinal Biffi told his listeners that "the Antichrist presents himself as pacifist, ecologist and ecumenist."

"He will convoke an ecumenical council and will seek the consensus of all the Christian confessions, granting something to each one. The masses will follow him, with the exception of small groups of Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants," he said.

The cardinal added that Solovyov says in that work: "Days will come in Christianity in which they will try to reduce the salvific event to a mere series of values."

Or perhaps to a series of Millennium Development Goals?