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

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Joyous Sacrifice

Elizabeth Schiltz at Mirror of Justice offers a thought provoking passage from The Church and Culture War by Joyce Little:

The fact that self-sacrifice is regarded by less than half of all adults in this country as a positive moral virtue tells us far more about the current state of American religious belief than do all the polls indicating that more than 90 percent of the American public still believes in God. It tells us that the Trinitarian Godhead which is within itself a communion of self-giving love is no longer the God in whom the American public believes. It tells us that Christ, the source of the sacred or sacramental ordering of our lives, who becomes Head of the Church and source of that order by virtue of his sacrifice for the sake of the Church, no longer informs American religious sensibilities.

This is important to reflect on as we enter Advent. Our secular culture will drive us to material gluttony during the next few weeks. It is wise to spiritually prepare to resist this onslaught. The next four weeks are a time of repentance, anticipation, and preparation. Begin with the Sacrament of Penance. What better way to get ready for the coming of Christ than to cleanse our souls with the grace of the sacrament? Then practice the virtue of self-sacrifice. That does not mean we shouldn’t enjoy Advent and Christmas. Make the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy the focus of your Advent. Feel free to buy Aunt Sally that new sweater, but don’t forget to pray a decade of the Rosary for her as well. Bake Christmas cookies to your heart’s delight, but don’t forget to give food and financial assistance to the food bank. Anticipate the smiles of your children as you pick out their gifts, but include some infant items for the local crisis pregnancy center on your shopping list.

Self-sacrifice is not gloomy. It is a celebration of the countless gifts and blessings that we are given by God. During this Advent season, reflect on the greatest gift of all: Jesus. If you meditate on His perfect self-sacrifice, it becomes easy to make the next few weeks a time of joyous self-giving.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Domestic Church News

Blogging has been pretty sparse since Thanksgiving. My list of blessings for which I am thankful is so very long. My Rice student came home for the holiday and it was such a joy to once again have him at the dinner table and in the church pew. This was a quick trip but he will soon be home for Christmas break. My Aggie stayed in College Station for Thanksgiving since the annual Aggie vs Longhorn football game was played there on Friday. The Aggies won, 38-30. Woo-hoo!! It makes not having my son make Thanksgiving dinner a little easier to bear. I’ve also been blessed with my parents’ visiting. They are still here as we are preparing for my youngest son’s Confirmation tomorrow. After tomorrow, all of my children will have completed their Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist). It is hard to believe that those milestones will be behind us now. Of course, since this is a Sacrament of Initiation, it is only a beginning. There is a whole lot more learning ahead.

Speaking of learning, I just have to share my joy over the parent participation in my CCD class. I invited parents for another parent/child lesson. This time we covered the liturgical calendar and explored ways to live the rhythms of the liturgical year in our homes. You can see a summary of my presentation on the blog I have set up for the class. Fourteen students showed up last night and ten of them brought their parents. Another two parents had already contacted me and expressed their disappointment at not being able to attend. So fully two-thirds of the parents are interested in learning how to build the Domestic Church.

My next presentation will be on sacramentals. I hope to do it at the end of January and tie it into the celebration of Candlemas. When I first proposed these parent/child classes there were several naysayers who said parents would never participate. I have to admit I had my doubts as well. However, I gave this endeavor over to the Holy Spirit and the results have been so much more than I hoped for. Please keep these catechetical efforts in your prayers. I am praying that my students’ families will be stronger because they have learned together. I then hope they will serve as examples to the families around them. We will strengthen our Catholic culture one Domestic Church at a time.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Catholic Carnival 146 is a feast for the mind!

Take a look at Catholic Carnival 146! There is definitely a scholarly feel as we are immersed in a Thomistic theme. You will feed your mind and soul with the offerings. Enjoy! Thanks to We Belong to The Lord for hosting.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Prayers answered...But Wait--There's More!

We had our second meeting of The Apostles study group on Sunday night. Our group is growing. I think we have about 15 or 16 participants. That is about the right size for a discussion group format. After some initial stumbling at getting the word out, I think we have our act together and things are running pretty smoothly. The study guide by Amy Welborn is very good. I find it most helpful to read the study guide first then read the book. This serves to focus my reading on the key points. I am very grateful to the Holy Spirit for stirring the hearts of those who are attending.

Of course with prayers answered for that project, I am emboldened to pray for my next project. As part of teaching seventh-grade CCD, I am inviting the parents in on occasion for some parent/child catechesis. I did this back in September for our second class session and used Cardinal Arinze’s presentation on the five pillars of a Catholic family. I am inviting them again for next Monday’s class and will be talking about bringing the Liturgical Calendar into our family lives. I presented the invitation as a “Happy New Year” event since we will be getting ready for the start of the new liturgical year with the beginning of Advent. I think this is the perfect time to introduce the elements of celebrating the liturgical year in our homes. So please join me in prayer that the Holy Spirit will once again stir the hearts of my students’ parents and they will join our class next Monday and be open to bringing the seasons of the Church into their homes.

Friday, November 16, 2007

She Said....

God made us male and female. Such a simple statement. Such a complex reality. For those with Y-chromosomes who want to unravel some of the mystery, take a look at Karen Hall’s blog today. She offers a translation of frequently used female phrases. For example:

1. Fine : This is the word women use to end an argument when they are right and you need to shut up.

2. Five Minutes : If she is getting dressed, this means a half an hour. Five minutes is only five minutes if you have just been given five more minutes to watch the game before helping around the house.

Be sure and read the rest!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Treasure of the Magisterium

I am beginning my study of The Apostles by Pope Benedict XVI. When I picked this book up I was expecting to read the individual stories of the first followers of Christ. Naturally, I assumed I would identify with aspects of some them and their stories would guide me to more closely walk with Christ. However, this work is much bigger than the stories of a few individuals. It is the story of the conception and birth of the Church. With Jesus as the cornerstone, the Apostles form the foundation for the teaching authority of the Church, the Magisterium. Those on the outside of the Church look at the Magisterium as an onerous, oppressive construct. However, once inside the Church, the Magisterium is truly liberating. Pope Benedict describes it:

The gift of communion is safeguarded and promoted in particular by the apostolic ministry, which in turn is a gift for the entire community. The Apostles and their successors are therefore the custodians and authoritative witnesses of the deposit of truth consigned to the Church, and are likewise the ministers of charity.

Jesus offers each of us Sanctifying Grace through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. However, he established the Church as the vehicle through which we would find this Grace. Therefore the study of the Apostles is as much a study of the Communion of Faith as it is the study of the conversion of individuals.

Yesterday, in his Wednesday General Audience, Pope Benedict continued his teaching on St. Jerome. St. Jerome is known for translating the Bible into Latin. His work is known as the Vulgate. He was convinced that every Christian should study the Scriptures. However, the study of Scripture is not meant to be an individual endeavor, isolated from the Communion.

However, St. Jerome took great care to place the study of Scripture in the context of Church authority, the Pope continued. "For Jerome, a fundamental criterion for interpreting Scripture was that it should harmonize with the magisterium of the Church." In translating and understanding the Bible, St. Jerome looked to the teaching Church for guidance, and for assurance that his own views were not mistaken. Pope Benedict recalled a telling quotation from Jerome: "He who clings to the chair of Peter is accepted by me."

Jesus said he would build his Church on the foundation of a “rock”. This “rock” was led by Peter and supported by the rest of the Apostles. This confidence in our foundation allows us to be sure of our footsteps as we follow Christ. We are not walking on the shifting sands of popular opinion and contemporary fads. Fr. Dwight Longenecker, a former Anglican priest but now Catholic, offers an assessment of the current turmoil in The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

Anglicans need to ask the big authority questions. Where is an authority that is both historical and yet adaptable for the modern world? Where is an authority that is both universal and local? Where is an authority that is congruent with both Scripture and the 2000 year tradition of the Church? Where is an authority that is both intellectually satisfying yet accessible to the illiterate? Where is an authority that speaks with uncompromising candor yet is compassionate to the sinner? Where is an authority that transcends all national, historical and contemporary ideologies yet gathers the truth from them all into a new synthesis?

Anglicanism in its various national allegiances, ideologies, theologies, liturgies and spiritualities can never do this.

Catholicism can. Build on the Rock.

As news outlets continue to report on the upcoming papal visit to the United States, we will continue to hear more and more inane commentary about how the Pope and the Catholic Church as a whole are so out of step with American Catholics and need to be enlightened. The reality is far too many American Catholics are so out of step with the Church and need to be enlightened about the treasure of the Magisterium. As Pope Benedict XVI says in The Apostles:

Truth and love are the two faces of the same gift that comes from God and thanks to the apostolic ministry, is safeguarded in the Church and handed down to us, to our present time!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Beware the Liturgist

Richmond Catholic has informed us that the Diocese of Richmond, home to the “Powerpoint Mass” among other liturgical “innovations”, has invited Jill Maria Murdy to offer a workshop on Church décor. While I have never heard Ms. Murdy speak, the items she offers in her Café-Press store raise some questions.

Is the Liturgy really all about you?

Given the dubious history of the Richmond Diocese’ faithfulness to the GIRM, I wonder if this sentiment is expressing warfare against the GIRM or with the GIRM.

The title of her upcoming workshop is Beyond Flowers: Liturgical Environment and Décor. If any of my readers attend I would love to know the focus. Will she support religious imagery such as statues and icons of saints, candles, and a real crucifix? These elements are missing from many Richmond Diocese churches. Or will she lean toward banners, labyrinths, smooth stones, and fountains? Maybe Richmond Catholic will have an update for us next week.

Catholic Carnival 145 is up!

Another great collection of Catholic writing is here. Many thanks to Fr. Valencheck at Adam's Ale for hosting this week. He starts with a very concise post on prayer from Silent Insight that is packed with wisdom about prayer. As we lurch towards the Thanksgiving and Christmas frenetic pace, this reminder to slow down and pray is a welcome reminder. There are many more posts that will also touch your heart, mind, and soul. Take a look!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Mother of A Soldier

Yesterday evening I received this picture from my son. He is a senior at Texas A&M and in the Corps of Cadets. If all goes as planned he will be commissioned as an officer in the United States Army. Just last week he received his branch assignment, Combat Engineers. He is thrilled.

As I think about this, it is only fitting that I received this picture on Veteran’s Day. November 11 was initially the day we commemorated the end of World War I—the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. However, contrary to the hopes of the time, World War I was not the war to end all wars. In the decades that followed, thousands of men and women have stepped up to serve in the United States military. November 11 is now a day to honor all of them.

Back in July I wrote this post about the growing gap between those who serve in the military and those who do not. I sent this post to Rochelle Reed, editor of the San Luis Obispo Tribune, who wrote of her disappointment when her son chose to join the Army. She responded with a cordial note that asked in all sincerity how I could reconcile my life of faith with service in the military. I sent her this response:

Every time a human being is killed it represents tragic human failure. The United States military does not seek out opportunities to kill. Rather, the military is a defensive body. The members of the military swear an oath to uphold and defend the ideals and principles of the American Constitution even to the point of giving their own lives. No one detests the horrors of war and seeks peace more than soldiers.

It is interesting that you should ask how a soldier can reconcile military service with the Commandment not to kill. I just spent last evening with Fr. Michael Duesterhaus. He is a Catholic priest and a Marine Chaplain. He has already done two tours in Iraq and will leave for a third tour in June. His work has taken him to the outermost reaches of Iraq. He fully supports and affirms the military mission in Iraq. He sees great value in the work done by our military there. He sees no contradiction in military service and the service of God.

I believe the reason for this is that the mission of the military in Iraq is to defend the freedom and dignity of every Iraqi citizen as this nation establishes itself as a democracy. When enemies of this mission try to undermine it with deadly violence, a military response with deadly force may be required. As I said above, every time a human being is killed it represents a tragic human failure. However, it is not always the failure of our military. If a policeman kills a criminal who is threatening to murder his hostages, it is not necessarily the failure of the policeman. I feel the same way about the use of military force. It should never be used wantonly. Every effort must be made to settle disputes via peaceful means. The use of military force represents a diplomatic failure.

The military does not decide when diplomacy has succeeded or failed. That is the job of statesmen. Notice I said statesmen, not politicians. Politicians have partisan agendas to increase their own power. Statesmen have no agenda other than to seek the greater good for their nation. I do believe we have far too many politicians in both political parties and not enough statesmen. When the military is told the nation needs the force the military can bring to bear, the soldier responds bravely. There is no joy in killing. There is no place for vengeance. The military should never be used to settle a score.

Has every decision to use military force been correct? No. Has every military member behaved with the integrity and honor expected of a soldier? No. Just as there are teachers, clergy, journalists, and politicians who betray the ideals of their profession, there are soldiers who do not live up to legacy of honor of the United States military.

I do hope you are proud of your son. It reflects very well on the job you have done as a parent that he will so generously serve a cause much greater than himself. I am sorry others have not communicated this to you. I hope that both you and your son are able to see that members of the military are not blood-thirsty war mongers. Rather they are honorable men and women seeking to do what is right for our country so that our democratic principles are preserved for future generations.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Catholic Carnival 144 is up!

Organ-ic Chemist is hosting a lovely All Saints themed Catholic Carnival with great reading for all of us aspiring saints. (Remember, we are all called to be saints!)

Another Twist to the Catholic School Discussion

I don’t think Catholic vs. public schools is an either/or proposition. The challenge is to strike the right balance. There is definitely a place for Catholic schools in the mission of the Church. Interestingly, one of the roles of Catholic schools I never questioned is their role in educating the inner city poor. Then I read this article in the Washington Post.

The Archdiocese of Washington announced yesterday that it planned to convert seven D.C. Catholic schools to charter schools, a decision that angers some parents, students and teachers who worried over the fate of their parochial schools.

The schools are elementary-level, have nearly all-African American student bodies and are located in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods. To become charter schools, they would have to make changes such as ending school prayer and removing religious symbols. But as charter schools, which are independent public schools, they would receive operating funds from the District.

I understand these seven schools are operating at a four-million-dollar deficit. But what purpose of the Diocese of Washington DC is being served by operating secular schools? As the article points out, part of the reason these schools are struggling is because secular alternatives already exist:

The conversions come at a time when urban Catholic elementary schools across the country are under unprecedented financial pressure. The once-robust inner-city Catholic population has dwindled and, more recently, charter schools, which offer a tax-payer funded alternative to Catholic private schools, have drawn poorer students away from Catholic schools.

If a Catholic Church is going to run a hospital it needs to be a Catholic hospital. It needs to provide medical care within the context of Catholic principles. Similarly, if the Catholic Church is going to run a school it needs to be a Catholic school. Why should a Diocese mask the Catholic identity of its schools in order to provide an education that is no different than Secular Charter School X down the road? It looks like the Diocese of Washington DC is selling its soul for federal funding.

More thoughts on Catholic Schools

The post below has been drawing lots of readers and comments. My reason for writing it was to stimulate discussion about some basic questions concerning suburban parish Catholic schools:

1. What is their mission?
2. Whom do they serve?
3. If a school is parish supported, how does it relate to the parish as a whole?

Parents choose or don’t choose Catholic schools for a wide variety of reasons. I went to a public elementary school and junior high, but attended a Catholic high school. My children have attended private secular schools, Catholic schools, and public schools, depending on where we were living at the time. Five years ago I was sure I would put my youngest in a Catholic school when we moved to Virginia. I arrived only to find the parish school was too full and couldn’t squeeze in one more kid. Within a couple of years, the enrollment picture markedly changed and there was plenty of room. However, I did not feel it was in my child’s best interest to uproot him from a stable quality educational situation just for the sake of having him in a Catholic school. Frequent military moves made me leery of changing schools without strong justification. We need to respect each parent’s choice for the education of his child. The parish has a responsibility to serve all the children, not just the ones in the parish school.

Barb, an ardent Catholic school supporter, made the following observation about CCD in her area:

In the parishes in my neighborhood, CCD is huge, but treated as an afterthought. Many parents I know let their kids "cut" CCD if they have sports practice. CCD is 1 hour a week for 20 weeks, and fifth-graders still spend a good amount of that time on arts and crafts.

My question is “Why does the parish treat the CCD program as an afterthought?” Does the parish feel that the “good” Catholics send their children to Catholic schools so there is no point in expending a lot of energy on the public school kids? Truthfully, I would probably let my child “cut” CCD if it was an hour of busy work and artsy projects instead of an hour of real catechesis. That is why a group of us chose to home school our children for eighth grade CCD this year. What they received during the CCD class was not worth the stress it put on the family to add another scheduled after-school activity. One hour a week may be better than nothing, but a structured program woven into Catholic family life is so much better.

As I pointed out above, there are a lot of good reasons to send your child to a public school instead of a Catholic school. (See Rich Leonardi’s post and subsequent comments on choosing a public high school instead of the Catholic high school) Emotions run high on both sides of the issue. Neither the Catholic schools nor the public schools have a monopoly on either the devout or the lukewarm Catholics. A parish has to honor the school choices parents make. Doing a stellar job with the three hundred students in the parish school does not justify ignoring the four hundred students in the CCD program. The parish must provide faith formation to all its members, not just an elite few.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A Good Start and Lessons Learned

Last night we had our introductory meeting of our The Apostles study group. Looks like we will start out as a group of seven. I am not in the least bit disappointed with that number. It is a beginning. However, I have learned that starting such a group is not as straightforward as one would think.

First of all, in a parish that does not have a culture of adult religious education, a blurb in the bulletin under the religious education banner does not get the word out. Every person that attended last night was there because I contacted them via email about the group. No one saw the notice in the bulletin. The fact that I had their email address means they had shown a previous interest in adult religious education so my outreach effort was made to a receptive population.

Here is my question: How do we draw in those who don’t even know they are supposed to be learning? If you are reading this blog or other Catholic blogs regularly, you are already way ahead of most of your pew mates. How do we convince the rest that continued study of their faith deserves as much attention as their favorite television shows, kids’ sporting activities, and the Indianapolis Colts vs New England Patriots football game? I think we first must do it by example. We must be willing to make time in our own schedules for these programs. Then we have to be willing to extend the invitation to others to join us. The programs need to be structured and well planned. If people are going to make time to come, they need to receive quality instruction. Depending on the parish personnel resources, that may mean utilizing quality pre-packaged programs. There is no reason each parish should be expected to re-invent the wheel.

I would love to hear from you if your parish has been successful in igniting the fire of learning among your members. What lessons have you learned?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Is a Parish School Good for the Parish?

There is an interesting discussion about Catholic schools going on at The Cafeteria is Closed. I joined in the discussion by referencing this post I wrote last year. What seems to be coming out of the comment box is that Catholic Schools are:
  1. Not Catholic enough. There is a distinct impression that the schools are watering down the Catholicism so they are palatable to non-Catholics who are needed to keep the enrollment numbers up. The schools are not much more than generic private schools with crucifixes on the walls
  2. Too expensive
  3. A drain on parish resources without giving anything back to the parish.

The third item is one of my biggest complaints. I have often mentioned that the parish school makes the CCD program feel like unwanted tenants when we use the classrooms after school hours. In fact, this year the school had “smart boards” installed in two classrooms and would not allow the CCD program to use those classrooms.

Our parish is in the middle of a big capital improvement campaign. When the additions to the school building were explained I was told all about the new auditorium with state-of-the-art multimedia capabilities. I specifically asked if this facility would be available for the whole parish to use or just for school events. I was assured that the improvements to the school were for the whole parish. The next week CCD classrooms were shuffled to keep the program out of the schoolrooms with smart boards. That does not give me a warm fuzzy feeling about the whole parish benefiting from the multimedia auditorium. I have not yet opened my pocketbook for this building campaign.

I wrote yesterday about my efforts to bring a culture of adult education to my current parish. There is a parish nearby that does not have an attached school. It seems to have a growing continuing faith formation program complete with a parish library and several adult program offerings. I am wondering if the lack of a parish school allows greater emphasis on catechesis for the general parish population. I would be interested in hearing from you if you think having a parish school affects the parish catechetical program, either positively or negatively.

UPDATE: see more reflections on this in the above post.

Happy Birthday Cardinal Arinze!

Francis Cardinal Arinze turns 75 today. He is truly a remarkable man. Read the book God's Invisible Hand and you will appreciate his unique gifts of profound wisdom and utter humility. He is the epitome of the servant leader. Take a few minutes and go to the Cardinal Arinze Webcast blog and leave a birthday greeting for Cardinal Arinze. God has truly blessed His Church by giving us Cardinal Arinze.