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, September 28, 2007

Living the Liturgical Calendar

The best way to work family catechesis into family life is to learn to live the rhythm of the liturgical calendar. Keep an eye on the feasts days and use this tool to teach your children about the saints and celebrated Church doctrine. Tomorrow, September 29th, is the Feast of the Archangels and Tuesday, October 2nd is the Feast of the Guardian Angels. These are great opportunity to talk to your children about angels. Recite the St. Michael prayer or the Guardian Angel prayer together as a family.

In addition to marking the feast with catechetics and prayers, use the liturgical calendar to plan your menus. I just received my copy of Grace before Meals by Fr. Leo Patalinghug. This book takes the liturgical calendar and weaves a series of reflections, Scripture, and recipes for these special days. Each chapter begins with a short lesson. Then there is a Let’s Talk heading with a choice of questions to stimulate family conversation. The Let’s Listen heading offers Scripture readings to consider. Finally, the Let’s Cook section gives a recipe to use for a family meal. In addition to chapters for designated feast days, there are also chapters to reflect on special family times like sporting events, getting a first job, or a child leaving home for college or the work force.

I know I have not gotten everything right in this parenting adventure, but the one thing that was definitely a good strategy is our effort to maintain the habit of family meals. Now that the children are teens it becomes harder to get everyone to the table. But because we established this family ritual early on, everyone understands when the dinner schedule fluctuates to accommodate as many schedules as possible. I definitely think this book would be especially valuable to young families trying to bring their faith into their homes and make it part of the fiber of their families.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Learning from a negative example

This past week, the Episcopal Church bishops have been meeting in New Orleans. The Episcopal Church has been undergoing great trials over the last few years. The leadership of the Episcopal Church has headed in a direction that many dissidents in the Catholic Church would like to take our Church. Just read one of arch-dissident Joan Chittister’s latest columns.

So the question the Anglican communion is facing for us all right now is a clear one: What happens to a group, to a church, that stands poised to choose either confusion or tyranny, either anarchy or authoritarianism, either unity or uniformity? Are there really only two choices possible at such a moment? Is there nowhere in-between?

The struggle going on inside the Anglican Communion about the episcopal ordination of homosexual priests and the recognition of the homosexual lifestyle as a natural state is not peculiar to Anglicanism. The issue is in the air we breathe. The Anglicans simply got there earlier than most. And so they may well become a model to the rest of us of how to handle such questions. If the rate and kinds of social, biological, scientific and global change continue at the present pace, every religious group may well find itself at the breakpoint between "tradition" and "science" sooner rather than later.

There was much hope that at the meeting in New Orleans, the Episcopal House of Bishops would fall back into line with the traditional Anglican Communion. Unfortunately, no such movement was seen. This was lamented on many a traditional Episcopal blog. However, I think the following comment from a liberal visitor to one of these blogs is very informative.

Your response was well-articulated and I thank you for that. We do not agree on the direction the Church is progressing but continued dialog is important.

I think you are focusing too much on the after-life and not enough on living the life we have now. I understand how an argument can be created from many different sources within scriptures to support each point of view.

Jesus was a revolutionary for his time and flew in the face of what was accepted authority at the time, kicked the established order out of the church, and supported social justice well beyond what was known at the time for men and women.

People change, the world, changes and as we grow wiser, more intelligent and canny we set aside ideas that no longer hold merit. The Bible has many examples of this and though I could create a rather large list I’ll simply point out Levitical law as a glaring example of my point. These laws have been set aside as generations have passed. Some justify this as Jesus fulfilling the Covenant and that his words were the path on which we should follow now, and that to him the most important of the Commandments was (what you all Im sure already know), Love thy neighbor as thyself, and Love the Lord God with all your heart, mind, and spirit.

He did not say, love thy neighbor as long as he was a conservative, believed as you do, or any other pre-qualifier that to me conservatives seem to want to create. Nor is it a case of loving thy neighbor but if he disagrees with conservative viewpoints squelch his right to exist equally within his country of origin and deny him basic freedoms until he is forced to believe as you do.

The Episcopal Presiding Bishop has said something similar:

Critics say she equivocates on essential doctrine — the necessity for atonement and the exclusivity of salvation through Christ. They cite interviews in which she has said living like Jesus in this world was a more urgent task than worrying about the next world.

"It's not my job to pick" who is saved. "It's God's job," she tells USA TODAY.

Yes, sin "is pervasive, part of human nature," but "it's not the centerpiece of the Christian message. If we spend our time talking about sin and depravity, it is all we see in the world," she says…

Indeed, asked about her critics, Jefferts Schori doesn't blink. She leans in, drops her voice even lower and cuts to the chase.

She sees two strands of faith: One is "most concerned with atonement, that Jesus died for our sins and our most important task is to repent." But the other is "the more gracious strand," says the bishop who dresses like a sunrise.

It "is to talk about life, to claim the joy and the blessings for good that it offers, to look forward.

"God became human in order that we may become divine. That's our task."

The leadership of the Episcopal Church has substituted the United Nations Millennium Development Goals for the Gospel. They even have a Sunday feast day dedicated to the Millennium Development Goals.

This goes back to my last post about peace and justice ministries. Jesus did not come to eradicate poverty, win civil rights for the oppressed, and wipe out disease. Jesus came to redeem us from our sins. He is not calling us to keep our focus on this earthly world. He is calling us to pick up our cross and follow Him to eternal life in Heaven. In the process of following Him, we may very well feed the hungry and clothe the naked. However, I believe Jesus is far less concerned about the physical poverty of this earthly world than He is about the spiritual poverty. Physical poverty is not an obstacle to Heaven. Spiritual poverty is.

So pray very hard for our Catholic Church. Pray that our bishops, especially those in the United States, will resist the pressure to follow the worldly focus as the Episcopal Church has done. Pray that they are truly faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to the teachings of the Magisterium.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

We are called to serve Christ

With all the furor over Kathy Saile’s appointment abating somewhat, I want to carefully address a topic that was raised in the midst of the debate. Over and over, people commented “Oh, she is just one of those peace and justice types”. Now I know in my gut exactly what they mean, but I have a very hard time articulating it. There is nothing wrong with being an activist for social justice. I keep a list of the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy taped to the inside of one of my kitchen cupboards to remind me several times a day how I am supposed to serve others. Then why do so many “peace and justice” ministries set my teeth on edge?

I think my discomfort begins when “peace and justice” ministries become focused on serving man and forget about serving God. They stand with their accusing fingers pointed at government agencies and shout, “You need to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless!” They sneer at those who spend time before the Blessed Sacrament or pray a Rosary because they are “just praying” and not out there “doing something”. They do not see the Mass as a community of believers looking “East” towards Christ. Instead they focus on each other. Christ’s presence is an afterthought. The Mass becomes a pep rally for action or a political statement rather than an encounter with the True Presence.

The best Mass I was ever at was held at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site. The presider did just that—presided, kind of like an orchestra conductor. The setting was extraordinarily powerful!" Kathy Saile, Phoenix, Arizona

The truth of the matter is, I am called as an individual to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter the homeless because I see Christ in the “least of my brethren”. I don’t do these things because I am such a wonderfully nice person. I do them because I am a servant of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. In order to serve Him, I have to know Him. I get to know Him through prayer and through the Sacraments, most especially the Eucharist.

Pope Benedict XVI stated this very clearly in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est:

36. When we consider the immensity of others' needs, we can, on the one hand, be driven towards an ideology that would aim at doing what God's governance of the world apparently cannot: fully resolving every problem. Or we can be tempted to give in to inertia, since it would seem that in any event nothing can be accomplished. At such times, a living relationship with Christ is decisive if we are to keep on the right path, without falling into an arrogant contempt for man, something not only unconstructive but actually destructive, or surrendering to a resignation which would prevent us from being guided by love in the service of others. Prayer, as a means of drawing ever new strength from Christ, is concretely and urgently needed. People who pray are not wasting their time, even though the situation appears desperate and seems to call for action alone. Piety does not undermine the struggle against the poverty of our neighbours, however extreme. In the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta we have a clear illustration of the fact that time devoted to God in prayer not only does not detract from effective and loving service to our neighbour but is in fact the inexhaustible source of that service. In her letter for Lent 1996, Blessed Teresa wrote to her lay co-workers: “We need this deep connection with God in our daily life. How can we obtain it? By prayer”.

37. It is time to reaffirm the importance of prayer in the face of the activism and the growing secularism of many Christians engaged in charitable work. Clearly, the Christian who prays does not claim to be able to change God's plans or correct what he has foreseen. Rather, he seeks an encounter with the Father of Jesus Christ, asking God to be present with the consolation of the Spirit to him and his work. A personal relationship with God and an abandonment to his will can prevent man from being demeaned and save him from falling prey to the teaching of fanaticism and terrorism. An authentically religious attitude prevents man from presuming to judge God, accusing him of allowing poverty and failing to have compassion for his creatures. When people claim to build a case against God in defence of man, on whom can they depend when human activity proves powerless?

I hope the Bishops keep this in mind as they plan their domestic agenda. Our charitable works should be different in character than those of a secular social services agency. We must feed both physical and spiritual hunger. Again I refer them to the words of Pope Benedict XVI:

35. This proper way of serving others also leads to humility. The one who serves does not consider himself superior to the one served, however miserable his situation at the moment may be. Christ took the lowest place in the world—the Cross—and by this radical humility he redeemed us and constantly comes to our aid. Those who are in a position to help others will realize that in doing so they themselves receive help; being able to help others is no merit or achievement of their own. This duty is a grace. The more we do for others, the more we understand and can appropriate the words of Christ: “We are useless servants” (Lk 17:10). We recognize that we are not acting on the basis of any superiority or greater personal efficiency, but because the Lord has graciously enabled us to do so. There are times when the burden of need and our own limitations might tempt us to become discouraged. But precisely then we are helped by the knowledge that, in the end, we are only instruments in the Lord's hands; and this knowledge frees us from the presumption of thinking that we alone are personally responsible for building a better world. In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord. It is God who governs the world, not we. We offer him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength. To do all we can with what strength we have, however, is the task which keeps the good servant of Jesus Christ always at work: “The love of Christ urges us on” (2 Cor 5:14).

Therefore, the primary work of our bishops should not be political action. Rather, it should be pastoral. Our bishops must lead their flocks to Christ through prayer and the Sacraments. Once we really know Him and love Him and center our lives around Him, we can faithfully serve Him when we meet Him in the hungry, the sick, the homeless, the lonely and the disenfranchised. “The love of Christ urges us on.”

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Patron for Family Catechesis

St. John Chrysostom just may be the patron of family catechesis. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of St. John in yesterday’s General Audience.

Chrysostom constantly strove to connect Christian doctrine to daily living, emphasizing life-long human development in a person’s physical, intellectual and religious dimensions. Fundamental to this is the first phase when parents must firmly impress God’s law upon their children’s souls. Young people will thus be strengthened to confront the “storms” of adolescence when they must learn to temper concupiscence and eventually to assume the duties of marriage. Indeed, Saint John taught that the family is a “little Church” within the wider ecclesial community. Consequently, each of us has a responsibility for the salvation of those around us. Through the intercession of this saintly Bishop, may we generously embrace this and all our responsibilities in the Church and in society.

Please note the emphasis on “life-long development in a person’s physical, intellectual and religious dimensions”. Parents are expected to keep learning. They are also expected to begin the faith formation of their children’s souls at an early age. With this formation, the teenage years do not have to be a time of great conflict and sorrow. Rather they can be a time of great joy as we watch the seeds of faith we planted and nurtured in early childhood sprout and grow and bear the fruit of a mature faith.

St. John Chrysostom, pray for all of our “Domestic Churches”.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Response

In response to my query about the pro-life credentials of Kathy Saile, the new Director of Domestic Policy for the USCCB, Kimberly Baker of the USCCB Pro-Life Secretariat referred me to this news story.

Saile, 42, said her work in Washington has brought her into contact with an "interesting, diverse coalition" whose members did not always agree on every issue. One of those contacts was Women's Information Network, or WIN, a group that promotes the involvement in politics of Democratic women who believe a woman has a right to choose abortion.

"It's not always easy being a pro-life woman in D.C.," she said. "But one of the things I challenged them on was the Democrats' litmus test on abortion. ... I think the Democrats are hurting themselves by having this litmus test for candidates."

One Catholic media outlet reported after Saile's appointment was announced that she "was a 2006 dinner-party speaker" for WIN, "a group dedicated to empowering pro-choice women."

The dinner in question, she told Catholic News Service Sept. 18, involved about seven women at a private home for a discussion of faith and politics.

"The issue of abortion was raised," Saile said, "and I challenged people that it was not mutually exclusive to be socially progressive on issues like health care, poverty and housing and to be pro-life."

Well, the WIN web site description of this evening does not give any indication that there was a pro-life viewpoint. On the contrary, it definitely indicates the evening was dedicated to exploring how WIN ideals, including its pro-abortion stance, is compatible with people of faith. This is an organization dedicated to electing pro-abortion candidates. Considering this is the cornerstone of WIN’s mission statement, I cannot imagine how a pro-life Catholic could see this organization as an ally. It seems to me that she put her partisan allegiance as a Democrat above any Catholic pro-life commitment.

I will be watching closely to see if Ms. Saile’s leadership is consistent with Catholic teaching or if is merely a parroting of the Democratic party platform. Actions speak louder than words.

Catholic Carnival 137 is up!

Lots of great posts at this week's Catholic Carnival. Do take a look!

A Match Made in Heaven?

I haven’t joined this forum yet, but the idea is intriguing.

Mom as matchmaker? It sounds archaic to modern ears, but the method is tried and true. In fact, in this age of divorce, the concept of moms (or dads) playing matchmaker for their children is making a comeback. After all, who knows a child better?

If your child is a practicing Catholic, faithful to the Magisterium (no Cafeteria Catholics, please!), and if he or she feels called to the vocation of marriage, come on in and chat with other like-minded parents. Geography should not be a barrier to building strong Catholic families.

Let's get to know each other, let's help our children find true and lasting joy through holy marriage, and let's help build up God's Kingdom!

I know that when my college sons visit my mother and attend Mass with her, other grandmothers often drop hints about their Catholic granddaughters who are available. And if I am truly honest, I admit I have my eye on some of the young ladies and young men in our parish as “mommy-approved” candidates for future spouses. However, I don’t know how receptive my children would be if I tried to take an active role as matchmaker.

I do know that every single day, as I pray for my children, I specifically pray:

Dear Jesus,

If you will call any of my children to the vocation of marriage, I ask you now to send your Holy Spirit to their future spouses. Give them the grace to be open to you. May they and my children journey together towards Heaven through your One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Amen.

I suppose I could also add, “And may the Holy Spirit guide my matchmaking!

Very Interesting!

H/T to Kelly for the link.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Invite Them and They Will Come

I probably won’t report on every week of seventh-grade CCD, but I think last night’s class was significant. I invited the parents to stay for class with their students. I sent home a written invitation last week. I called the parents during the week to get their email addresses and remind them of the joint session. I followed this up with an email. Of my seventeen students, thirteen had a parent come to class. That level of participation on a Monday night when the Redskins are playing Philadelphia on television is remarkable.

We used this class time to talk about the family as the “Domestic Church”. I used Cardinal Arinze’s presentation on the Five Pillars of a Catholic Family as the cornerstone of our discussion. I encouraged parents and students to think about and write down how their family was doing in each of the five “pillars”:

1. Keeping the family oriented towards Heaven
2. Family prayer
3. Making the Eucharist the center of the family spiritual life
4. Using the family to teach about true love and charity
5. Continuing Catholic education of both parents and children

They then wrote down ways they could improve in each area. Parents and children shared their perceptions and thoughts with each other. Students who did not have a parent present were encouraged to do this exercise individually and share it with their parents at home.

I encouraged them to keep their ideas for improvement realistic. Small, steady changes are more likely to be successful than are attempts at grand sweeping reformations. Work on getting to Mass every Sunday. Work on getting to Mass on time. Work on getting to Mass early enough to prayerfully prepare and read the Mass readings ahead of time.

Say grace before meals. Say one Hail Mary as a family. Say one decade of the Rosary as a family. Pray an entire Rosary together.

After class I had many parents thank me for bringing them into the class. They really do want to be good Catholic parents. They are open to bringing the faith into their family life. They just need some specific ideas on how to do it.

There was a drastic change in the nature of family life at about the same time as Vatican II. There was a rupture in the transmission of faith from generation to generation. Parents now have to relearn how to pass on their Catholic faith to their children. I don’t think the religious education community has been as sensitive and responsive to this need as it could be. My experience last night tells me that many parents have never been told they are their child’s primary catechist. But if we empower them with knowledge and support, they will teach.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Outsourcing Religious Education

I wrote the following essay for the web site Unfortunately, this is no longer an active site so I am posting the essay here to keep it accessible.

Our culture has grown more and more accustomed to outsourcing household tasks that were once typically done by family members. We now hire others to do the cooking, house cleaning, laundry, yard work, and routine auto maintenance. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this. Consider it the perks of prosperity. However, this outsourcing mentality has extended into parenting. In addition, to basic childcare, parents are paying others to teach their children everything from math to manners.

Once upon a time, children learned to say “Please” and “Thank You” and to keep their elbows off the table at the family dinner table. Now this education is expected to take place in the pre-school, elementary school, or the local cotillion class. Parents send Junior off to Miss Emily’s School of Etiquette and consider their obligation for educating Junior in the social graces fulfilled with their writing of the tuition check. Discussion of manners, or more importantly, the insistence on the practice of good manners in the home is disappearing.

Unfortunately, this same attitude creeps into religious education. Parents drop their children off at CCD and pick them up an hour later assuming their little brains have been adequately filled with religious knowledge. Parents abdicate their role in faith formation. They outsource it.

Having been a catechist off and on for nearly twenty years, I know this is the perennial catechist’s lament. How can we teach children about the faith when their families are not living the faith? What can we really accomplish if the first time our students hear about prayer is when we ask them to memorize prayers as part of First Communion preparation? How can we tell them their Faith is important when a round of golf or just sleeping late trumps making it to Mass on Sunday?

Too often the response of the religious education community is to try and fill in the gaps. We try to cram more and more into that tiny little block of time we have the children in CCD class. Confirmation preparation becomes a last gasp effort to cover a lifetime’s worth of religious education. Yet faith cannot be taught in a classroom. If faith is not being lived at home, all our efforts in the CCD class are like the seed that fell on the pathway or the rocky soil. They are never watered and nurtured. They never take root.

If I were going to propose a solution, I would begin by moving away from the classroom model of religious education and towards the family catechesis model. Parents and children gather together on a monthly basis. They study lessons on a monthly theme, then take those lessons and incorporate them into their family life. For example, if the lesson of the month is on the Eucharist, families may try to attend at least one Daily Mass together or go to Eucharistic Adoration together. Families are also encouraged to make the liturgical calendar part of their family life by celebrating the feast days and liturgical seasons at home. They mark family occasions with Mass or a family Rosary. Family prayer is crucial. It is sad to see how many Catholic families don’t even say “Bless Us O Lord…” before eating. A routine of family prayer lays a strong faith foundation.

Rather than excluding parents and enabling them to outsource their child’s religious education, those of us who are catechists need to work harder to draw parents into the process. This needs to be a parish wide effort. Our priests, our religious education program and our various parish ministries need to be advocates of family catechesis. Religious education is much more than memorizing the precepts and tenets of our faith. It is living them as well.

Champions of Faith

I’ve written about teaching seventh grade religious education this year. My own son is in eighth grade and will be confirmed in November. The parish eighth grade religious education class has been pretty unfocused in recent years. The bulk of confirmation preparation is done in seventh grade. Soon into the eighth grade year the students are confirmed. A large number of them drop out of the religious education program and the classes seem to flounder. A group of us who have been doing faith formation as part of our family lives for years and years wanted more for our sons. We decided to form a home school group for our boys. We want to focus the boys on where they take their faith and where their faith takes them after confirmation. With confirmation they complete their initiation into the Church. What do they do next?

To help answer this we are working on enrichment activities that point to how we take our faith into the world. Last night we gathered at my house and watched the movie Champions of Faith. This was a great way to begin. This film lets professional baseball players, coaches, and managers speak of how their faith strengthens and sustains them both on and off the field. Mike Piazza, David Eckstein, Jeff Suppan, Mike Sweeney, Jack McKeon, and Rich Donnelly share how they work to keep their baseball careers in perspective by staying strong in their Catholic faith.. In addition to hitting, throwing, and catching, we see these baseball players are attending Mass, praying the Rosary, reading the Bible, and making God the center of their lives. Jack McKeon declares St. Therese was the MVP of the Florida Marlins’ World Series Championship. Hearing these athletic heroes speak of the importance of the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist made a real impression on the boys.

I am excited to be embarking on this religious education experiment with my son. I am grateful that our pastor and our religious education director are supporting us in this endeavor. I will keep you posted on our activities.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Was There No One Else?

I have never met Kathy Saile. Actually, I never heard her name until it was announced yesterday that she is the new Director of Domestic Policy for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Msgr. David Malloy, USCCB General Secretary, announced her appointment with these words:

“Kathy Saile brings to this important position strong commitment to the Catholic Church and its social teaching, impressive knowledge of key domestic issues and extensive policy and advocacy experience. Her service in diocesan social ministry and here in the nation’s capital will be great assets in helping the bishops articulate and advance the Church’s principles and policies seeking economic and social justice in our nation.”

These seem like perfect qualifications for someone to help the Bishops formulate their positions on domestic policy issues. In fact, I would like to substitute the word "unequivocal" for "strong" in the description of the director’s commitment to the Catholic Church and its social teaching. Unfortunately, that substitution cannot be made in the case of Kathy Saile. It seems Ms Saile’s last job was with the Lutherans. They apparently did not mind that Ms. Saile was a featured speaker at a 2006 WIN conference. From the WIN website:

WIN is Washington’s premier professional, political, and social network dedicated to empowering young, Democratic, pro-choice women. Founded in 1989 on the idea that women can help women climb the ladder of success, WIN is now over 1,000 members strong and growing.

About what did Ms. Saile address the gathering of WIN members:

14. Did the Left Cede Heaven? The Intersection of Faith and PoliticsThroughout American history religion has shaped US politics. Recent history has focused on the efforts and effects of Conservative Christians in the Republican Party, but the Left continues to be a party of people of faith. This dinner will highlight the way liberal people of faith organize to further progressive causes.
Planners: Maggie Rosenbloom & Ellen Banakis
Host: Shannon Hughs, Account Executive, Stones’ Phones Consulting
Speaker: Sammie Moshenberg, Director of Washington Operations, National Council of Jewish Women; Kathy Saile, Associate Director of Public Policy, Lutheran Services

So we can see that the new Director of Domestic Policy has a recent history of supporting a highly partisan, political organization that dedicates itself to the pro-abortion cause. Exactly what were the "progressive causes" that she advocated in her presentation? Gay marriage? Abortion? I would like to hear her answer to this. Were there no faithful Catholics suitable for this USCCB position? Has Ms. Saile publicly repudiated her past involvement in the pro-abortion cause? We have some wonderful bishops in this country, but as an organization, the USCCB leaves much to be desired. This appointment is another example of how it has failed in its pastoral duties. I suspect we will not see any bold initiatives on pro-life issues coming from the USCCB under her leadership. It will be interesting to compare her priorities with that of the Democratic Party platform.

UPDATE: If you would like to express your concern to the USCCB, you can email their communications office at

UPDATE #2: If you care to see the "progressive causes" that WIN champions, take a look at their Networks.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI on St. Gregory of Nyssa

I am a week late reading this, but as always, I am just blown away by Pope Benedict XVI’s teaching. He has been dedicating his Wednesday audiences to the study of key figures in the early Church. On September 5, he concluded his discussion of St. Gregory of Nyssa, a fourth-century bishop and scholar..

First of all, Gregory of Nyssa had a very lofty concept of human dignity. Man's goal, the holy Bishop said, is to liken himself to God, and he reaches this goal first of all through the love, knowledge and practice of the virtues, "bright beams that shine from the divine nature" (De Beatitudinibus 6: PG 44, 1272c), in a perpetual movement of adherence to the good like a corridor outstretched before oneself. In this regard, Gregory uses an effective image already present in Paul's Letter to the Philippians: épekteinómenos (3: 13), that is, "I press on" towards what is greater, towards truth and love. This vivid expression portrays a profound reality: the perfection we desire to attain is not acquired once and for all; perfection means journeying on, it is continuous readiness to move ahead because we never attain a perfect likeness to God; we are always on our way (cf. Homilia in Canticum 12: PG 44, 1025d). The history of every soul is that of a love which fills every time and at the same time is open to new horizons, for God continually stretches the soul's possibilities to make it capable of ever greater goods. God himself, who has sown the seeds of good in us and from whom every initiative of holiness stems, "models the block..., and polishing and cleansing our spirit, forms Christ within us" (In Psalmos 2, 11: PG 44, 544b).

This is exactly the concept I am striving to instill in my seventh-graders and hopefully in their parents as well. We are never done growing and learning about our faith. I love that phrase “God continually stretches the soul’s possibilities.” It is a much more elegant phrasing of my own pizza dough spirituality.

Pope Benedict goes on to discuss Christ as our Model and Teacher:

In this journey of spiritual ascesis Christ is the Model and Teacher, he shows us the beautiful image of God (cf. De Perfectione Christiana: PG 46, 272a). Each of us, looking at him, finds ourselves "the painter of our own life", who has the will to compose the work and the virtues as his colours (ibid.: PG 46, 272b). So, if man is deemed worthy of Christ's Name how should he behave? This is Gregory's answer: "[He must] always examine his own thoughts, his own words and his own actions in his innermost depths to see whether they are oriented to Christ or are drifting away from him" (ibid.: PG 46, 284c). And this point is important because of the value it gives to the word "Christian". A Christian is someone who bears Christ's Name, who must therefore also liken his life to Christ. We Christians assume a great responsibility with Baptism.

As you can see, WWJD (What would Jesus Do?) is nothing new. St. Gregory of Nyssa didn’t have the cute bracelets and T-shirts, but he definitely had the concept back in the fourth-century.

Modeling ourselves after Christ requires that we love our neighbor.

But Christ, Gregory says, is also present in the poor, which is why they must never be offended: "Do not despise them, those who lie idle, as if for this reason they were worth nothing. Consider who they are and you will discover wherein lies their dignity: they represent the Person of the Saviour. And this is how it is: for in his goodness the Lord gives them his own Person so that through it, those who are hard of heart and enemies of the poor may be moved to compassion" (De Pauperibus Amandis: PG 46, 460bc). Gregory, as we said, speaks of rising: rising to God in prayer through purity of heart, but also rising to God through love of neighbour. Love is the ladder that leads to God. Consequently, Gregory of Nyssa strongly recommends to all his listeners: "Be generous with these brothers and sisters, victims of misfortune. Give to the hungry from what you deprive your own stomach" (ibid.: PG 46, 457c).

This journey towards God is sustained by prayer:

To progress on the journey to perfection and to welcome God within him, to bear the Spirit of God within him, the love of God, man must turn to God trustingly in prayer: "Through prayer we succeed in being with God. But anyone who is with God is far from the enemy. Prayer is a support and protection of charity, a brake on anger, an appeasement and the control of pride. Prayer is the custody of virginity, the protection of fidelity in marriage, the hope for those who are watching, an abundant harvest for farmers, certainty for sailors" (De Oratione Dominica 1: PG 44, 1124ab). The Christian always prays by drawing inspiration from the Lord's Prayer: "So if we want to pray for the Kingdom of God to come, we must ask him for this with the power of the Word: that I may be distanced from corruption, delivered from death, freed from the chains of error; that death may never reign over me, that the tyranny of evil may never have power over us, that the adversary may never dominate me nor make me his prisoner through sin but that your Kingdom may come to me so that the passions by which I am now ruled and governed may be distanced, or better still, blotted out" (ibid., 3: PG 44, 1156d-1157a).

I am overwhelmed by the wisdom of the words of St. Gregory of Nyssa as well as by the clarity with which Pope Benedict XVI is able to share this wisdom. God is truly generous and good to give the Church such leadership both in the fourth century and today.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Angelus

One of the things I love about the Catholic Church is its bountiful repository of prayers and devotions. Of course, I can pray in my own words and often do so. But there is also something very profound about uttering words that have been prayed for hundreds of years. I feel much more connected to the saints in Heaven knowing my prayers echo the ones they said when they walked the earth.

Recently, I have come to appreciate the Angelus. I can’t say that I am faithful in reciting it in the traditional thrice-daily fashion. My day is not so structured that I can reliably recite it at 6am, noon and 6pm. But I keep an Angelus holy card out to remind me to say it when I can.

The Angelus offers the opportunity to meditate on two important tenets of our faith: The Incarnation and Mary’s Fiat. God loves us so much that he was willing to take on our human nature in order to redeem us from our sins. He dwelt among us.

Mary fully cooperated with God in His plan for salvation. She unconditionally responded, “Fiat!” “Be it done according to thy word.”

Life is full of ups and downs and twists and turns. We often don’t know what is over the rise or around the bend. But we do know that God loves us. He walked the earth as one of us. He suffered and died for us. His resurrection and victory over death is our victory too. Secure in that knowledge we can trust Him. No matter what challenge lies over the rise or around the bend, He will be there with us every step of the way. We have nothing to fear.

God calls each of us to cooperate in His plan for salvation. Armed with our trust in His love, we can confidently respond as Mary did, “Fiat!” Obviously my role in Salvation History is far short of the role Mary played. This is probably why the angel Gabriel isn’t delivering the message. Praying the Angelus reminds me to listen for God’s call. Sometimes it is an inspirational thought or idea that comes to me during prayer. More often it is the unexpected opportunity to show love and mercy that is God’s call. A beggar who needs a hot meal, a lonely person who needs a smile, a child who needs a teacher, a young mother who needs a mentor and a friend, are all calls from God. “Fiat! Be it done according to thy word.”

V: The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary

R: And she conceived by the Holy Ghost.

V: Hail Mary, full of grace: The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

R: Holy Mary, Mother of God: Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

V: Behold, the handmaid of the Lord.

R: Be it done unto me according to thy word.

V: Hail Mary ...

R: Holy Mary ...

V: And the Word was made flesh

R: And dwelt among us.

V: Hail Mary ...

R: Holy Mary ...

V: Pray for us, O holy Mother of God,

R: That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

V: Let us pray.

All: Pour forth, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy grace unto our hearts, that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ, thy Son, was made known by the message of an Angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ, our Lord, Amen.

More Proof that Legality Does Not Guarantee Morality

I realize this is a French company, but can such an innovation in the United States be far behind?

Looking to get away for a weekend fling without getting caught? A new French company provides would-be adulterers with custom-made excuses that help take the danger of discovery out of cheating.

Founded six months ago by former private eye Regine Mourizard, Web-based Ibila can cook up invites to phony weekend seminars, fake emergency phone calls from work, invitations to nonexistent weddings — anything to justify cheating spouses' absence.

Mourizard said her service is aimed at protecting couples and families by allowing adulterers to live their flings undetected.

"If the alibi is well done and the spouse doesn't suspect anything, this can sometimes save marriages," Mourizard told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

School Supplies

Required supplies for the current college student include more than I thought. Textbooks, computers, and steady supply of coffee seem pretty reasonable to me. But birth control pills?!!!

The price of prescription contraception, including pills, patches, and other devices, sold by schools has jumped, with a package of birth control pills going from about $7 to between $30 and $50, according to local college health officials. The increase was the result of a change in the 2005 Medicaid rebate law that eliminated the large discounts drug companies had offered to college health clinics.

Although the law has been in place since January, students are feeling the effects now because schools' stockpiles of the discounted prescriptions are running out.

The price increase has left Massachusetts college campuses scrambling to accommodate students' needs.

Needs? Am I reading that correctly? Cheap prescription contraception is a student need? Sexual activity outside of marriage has physical, emotional, moral and financial costs. I see no reason anyone should be subsidizing these costs. If these students are old enough to choose to have sex, they are old enough to foot the bill. There are many truly critical health care issues that Senator Edward Kennedy and company should be addressing. I can’t imagine why he is focusing on making sure college coeds get their birth control pills.

A "Heretic" and Other Challenges of Religious Education

The first night of seventh grade religious education went pretty well, considering I am facing a room full of kids who are trying their best to prove they have graduated from elementary school enthusiasm to teenage sullenness. I definitely need the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to get through these classes. I thought I would share a couple of things that seemed to work last night.

One of the concepts introduced last night is the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church. I explained Christ gave this authority to the Church so His teachings would be protected from generation to generation. To illustrate this, we played the “telephone game”. I gave one student the phrase, “Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal”. She whispered it into the ear of a classmate. This classmate whispered it to the next student. This continued until the message had been given to each student. About half way through it was clear there was a problem and by the time the last few people received the message it was obvious the content had been lost. The final student reported she was told “Bobby got his first chest hair”. I have an idea that one of the boys in the middle of the group substituted his own message for the original. But that was okay. It provided the perfect opportunity to show how the Magisterium protects Jesus’ teachings from both innocent misunderstandings as well as outright heresies. I don’t think my prankster "heretic" was expecting to be part of the lesson plan.

The other demonstration that seemed to speak to them was to draw an arrow that stretched the length of the chalkboard. I told them this arrow represented their life. At the very beginning of the arrow I shaded in a box just a few inches long. I then asked them what they thought this box represented. Someone said it was birth. Someone said it was the time they were baptized. They were surprised when I told them that little shaded box represented their entire earthly life. The rest of the arrow is their eternal life. However, the choices they make and the way they spend this short time on earth will control how they will spend eternity. It was a good reminder that their earthly goals must be oriented towards Heaven.

Next week will be an even bigger challenge. I have invited parents to join us for a class. I don’t think many of my students ever really talked to their parents about faith. Church is what they do on Sundays. Religious education is left to the parish staff. True faith formation has not crossed the threshold at home. Most of their jaws dropped in surprise when I suggested their parents should still be studying and learning about their faith. Adding to the challenge, after scheduled the parent class for next week, I found out that the Redskins are playing next Monday night. Attending class with their children will keep parents from seeing the opening kick off. Please keep my class in your prayers. I will let you know how many parents show up.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Story

This past week we had our orientation meeting for catechists. I have to admit I sometimes cringe at having to attend these meetings. I had more than my share of bureaucracy during my working days, so I approach anything that hints of an administrative meeting with a bit of trepidation. I was pleasantly surprised. Only a small portion of our meeting dealt with administrative details. Our new catechetical leadership wants to feed our souls so that we are ready to feed the souls of the students in our classes. The highlight was the presentation of The Story by our new assistant Director of Religious Education. In a matter of fifteen minutes or so, he took us from the mystery of the Trinitarian God, through creation of the angels, the rebellion of Satan, the creation of Man, the Fall, the promise of Redemption, the revelation through the Old Testament Prophets, the “fiat” of Mary, the Incarnation, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, the founding of the Church and the continuing of this Salvation History as we, the Church Militant, continue our earthly pilgrimage towards Heaven.

I now have approximately thirty hours to teach a class full of seventh graders The Story. I need to convince them each of us is called to holiness and is an integral part of Salvation History. Through the Church and her Sacraments, we are given the pathway to holiness. God invites each of us to join His Story, but it is up to each of us to accept.

Last year I just covered each chapter in our textbook. This year I hope to begin with the broad theme of The Story and then use each chapter to fill in the details. With a little help from the Holy Spirit, I hope I can convey to my students a unified picture of our purpose, our raison d’etre. We are here to know God, to love God, and to serve God here on earth. We will then spend eternity loving and praising Him in Heaven. If Heaven is the goal of our earthly journey, the Church is our roadmap for getting there.

Do say a prayer for all catechists. Pray that we can convey the Good News of Salvation to the children we teach. Pray the parents of these children will welcome the Good News into their homes and build up their domestic churches. Pray that we can all embrace The Story as our own.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Religious Education Year begins on Monday

Religious education classes start this coming Monday evening and I am once again teaching seventh grade. My real passion is teaching the parents but the religious education program is geared for teaching the kids. So, that is what I am doing. Last year I hoped for an indirect trickle up effect. I tried to motivate the children to share their lessons with their parents. This year I am going for a more direct approach. I am going to have three or four class sessions where the parents are invited to join in and learn alongside their children.

The first of these will be during our second class session. At that time I want to introduce the concept of the domestic church. Each of us as individuals has a role to play in Salvation History. However, each of our families also has a distinct calling to evangelize as a family unit. I am going to play the Cardinal Arinze webcast, Five Pillars on Which a Family Stands, and then allow parents and children to discuss how they can strengthen these pillars in their own families. After laying this groundwork, when we cover various topics during the year, I will give concrete ways these topics apply to our families and fit in the Five Pillar framework.

Perhaps at the beginning of Advent I would like to do a session on the Liturgical Year. I will talk about ways of incorporating the rhythm of the Liturgical Seasons into the rhythm of our family lives. Since the Advent and Christmas seasons offer so many opportunities to do this, I would like to help these families plan for these seasons.

The last week of January I want to do a session on Sacramentals. February 2 is Candlemas. This is a day when we traditionally have our devotional candles blessed. Since it falls on a Saturday this year I am going to speak with our priests about inviting parishioners to bring their candles to the Saturday morning Mass and have them blessed. I would use our class session prior to this feast to speak of the use of candles and other sacramentals.

I think I would also like to work in a session on the saints and intercessory prayer. The seventh graders are required to do a report on the saint whose name they choose for their Confirmation name. It is important they realize the saints are more than historical figures. They are the Church Triumphant and are waiting to join us in prayer. They are a very real part of the Church community. Since Easter falls fairly early this year, I can do this right after Easter and it will still give the kids plenty of time to complete their saint report.

I am very excited because the Director of Religious Education as well as her assistant are very supportive of bringing the families into the religious education process. Please keep this endeavor in your prayers.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Generous Wish and a Miracle

Grab your box of tissues and go read this amazing story at Creative Minority Report.

Casual to the Point of Disrespect

One of my favorite bloggers is Christopher Johnson at the Midwest Conservative Journal. Christopher is a conservative Episcopalian who is trying to keep a sense of humor and keep his faith as the Episcopal Church takes one step after another towards a meltdown. His writing is a steady reminder why we need to keep ourselves anchored to the Truth and the Magisterium and not allow ourselves to be led astray by the “Spirit of Vatican II” folks. Interestingly, a sizeable number of liberal Episcopalians are former Catholics, including their current presiding bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori.

Today Christopher writes about dignity and respect. He wonders when it became the fashion to address bishops by their first names.

I guess this idea began around the last time the Episcopal Church, with its "who the hell says 'vouchsafe' anymore" attitude toward liturgical reform, revised the prayer book. Ain't no miserable offenders around here, the changes said. Ain't nobody here but us regular folks and that attitude filtered up to the clergy.

So when some of these clergy became bishops, they took that attitude with them. I may get to wear a funny hat and carry this cool hooked stick in procession. I may get to decide who gets to be a priest in this diocese and who doesn't. If I don't put my hands on you, you ain't confirmed. baby. But I'm really just the same as you. So call me Gene or Cate or Marc.

I think something important was lost when that mindset took hold. The fact of the matter is that you should be scared of bishops. Bishops should intimidate you. Actually, you should be a little scared every time you walk into church whether a bishop's there or not.

Because you're not there to shoot the breeze with a divine District Manager you play golf with sometimes whenever He hits town. God is not your contemporary but your Creator. And Jonathan Edwards was right; the only reason you draw another breath is because God permits you to. So as soon as you walk through the church door, dignity had better drench everything you do and say and think.

Humility is good. But humility does not mean denying one’s authority or one’s responsibilities. When I was in medical school, one of my classmates was a brilliant student from the plains of West Texas. He had little use for the trappings of “doctor”. His down home manners made some uncomfortable. He was critiqued by one of the resident physicians as “casual to the point of disrespect.” His good-old-boy charm was wonderful at times, but there were also times when he didn’t maintain the dignity of leadership that was needed to stand at the head of a medical team.

I do not want the priest to behave as if he is just another member of the congregation. He is the leader of the congregation. He stands In Persona Christi. After Jesus washed the feet of his Apostles he said:

”Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master’, and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13: 13-14)

Jesus did not deny or diminish his authority or stature among the Apostles. He accepted it but emphasized with this authority came a responsibility for service. St. Augustine also spoke of this when he said, “With you I am a Christian. For you I am a Bishop”. As the parents, my husband and I are not just members of our family on equal footing with the children. Our children call us “Mom” and “Dad” instead of using our first names out of respect for our roles as the parents. We are the leaders of our family. And we serve our family in that leadership position.

The only Catholic bishop I know of who consistently uses his first name is Bishop Sean O’Malley of Boston. However, I think that may be related to his being a Franciscan.

I know many priests do go by their first names. If a priest does so and still maintains the dignity of his office, there is no problem. However, too often this familiarity is part of an overall effort to diminish the priesthood. The priest and the parish become “casual to the point of disrespect.”

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Mulieris Dignitatem

August 15, 2008, is the twentieth anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter, Mulieris Dignitatem (The Dignity of Women). Anyone who has ever claimed the Church does not hold women in high regard has never read this letter. Here is the opening paragraph:

THE DIGNITY AND THE VOCATION OF WOMEN - a subject of constant human and Christian reflection - have gained exceptional prominence in recent years. This can be seen, for example, in the statements of the Church's Magisterium present in various documents of the Second Vatican Council, which declares in its Closing Message: "The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at his moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling".

Pope John Paul II closes with these words:

The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine "genius" which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness.

The Church asks at the same time that these invaluable "manifestations of the Spirit" (cf. 1 Cor 12:4ff.), which with great generosity are poured forth upon the "daughters" of the eternal Jerusalem, may be attentively recognized and appreciated so that they may return for the common good of the Church and of humanity, especially in our times. Meditating on the biblical mystery of the "woman", the Church prays that in this mystery all women may discover themselves and their "supreme vocation".

May Mary, who "is a model of the Church in the matter of faith, charity, and perfect union with Christ",63 obtain for all of us this same "grace", in the Year which we have dedicated to her as we approach the third millennium from the coming of Christ.

With these sentiments, I impart the Apostolic Blessing to all the faithful, and in a special way to women, my sisters in Christ.

Wow! Those are powerful words. We women are not on the periphery of the Church. We are front and center with an awesome responsibility. In honor of the twentieth anniversary of Mulieris Dignitatem, The Pontifical Council for the Laity is encouraging women to reflect on this papal document in light of the theme: The Dignity of Woman in a Technological and Consumeristic Society. You may have noticed the new banner at the top of my blog. This is a link to a web site that has been set up to offer resources for the study of Mulieris Dignitatem. There is a study guide offered on the web site but I am also going to be on the lookout for some alternatives. If anyone has any suggestions, please leave them in the comment box. I am hoping to find a way to offer a discussion of this in my parish. At Sarah’s suggestion, I will host an online discussion as well. Let’s find the right study guide and get going!

Catholic Carnival

Ebeth at A Catholic Mum Climbing the Pillars is hosting this week's Catholic Carnival. And I must say, her post is a feast for the eyes as well as the mind. Take a look!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Still So Much To Learn!!!

I saw this post at Postscripts from the Catholic Spitfire Grill and just have to share it with you.

Frankly Catholics need Sunday School more than Protestants. We have 2,000 years of incredible scholarship to learn about not to mention that book "we" put together and agreed on in 397 at the Council of Carthage. As Catholics we have the fullness of the Christian faith....that means we have MORE to know. It's time we started acting like it.

Then of course I see Rich Leonardi is picking up the adult faith formation ball and running with it.

Rich Leonardi is interested in forming a group to study the recently-released United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. This catechism is “written specifically for the ongoing catechetical formation of adults, to help Catholic adults in America continue to grow in faith in the person of Jesus Christ -- as God’s revealing love for the world -- and to live in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Teacher of us all.”

Rich also offers this challenge:

Members of St. Blog's spend a fair amount of time complaining about the lack of solid faith-formation programs at their parishes. Here's your chance to 'put up or ...'

You do not know how excited I am to see these efforts. Red Neck Woman is right on the money when she says Catholics still need Sunday School. Our Protestant brethren have done a far better job of creating a culture of continuing religious education than have we Catholics.

About a month ago I was asked to once again teach the seventh grade CCD class. In spite of my yearnings to teach the parents of these seventh graders, I agreed. However, much to my delight, the religious education director has agreed to move forward on my suggestion to offer a study of Pope Benedict’s new book, The Apostles. Please keep all these efforts for adult faith formation in your prayers. I also ask that you search your heart and see if perhaps you are called to lead such an effort in your own parish. Remember, God does not call the equipped. Rather He equips the called.