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

Monday, February 28, 2011

More on those trying to undermine the role of parents

In my last post I linked to Rob Vischer's Mirror of Justice post in which he offers the work of Jeffrey Shulman for consideration. Mr. Shulman believes it is important for the law to protect children from the social values of their parents. Naturally, there were quite a few objections to this point of view in the comment section. However, the ninth comment sends shivers up my spine as I think of people with this mindset deciding public policy for my children and grandchildren:

Most parents agree with the parents who have posted in this thread. The conflict of interest itself is sufficient to judge that reaction as unworthy of consideration. It is not at all interesting that the group whose control over other persons is at stake takes the position that the control should remain not only undiminished, but completely free from outside review.

I hate to be harsh, but those of you taking the view that the public school system and/or the medical system shouldn't interfere with the parent-child relationship are complicit in the victimization of millions of physically, psychologically, and sexually abused children.

This man understands nothing about being a parent.

Parents beware!

Rob Vischer at Mirror of Justice offers an example of what current secular cultural elites think of the family. It is frightening. Those who embraced Hillary Clinton's concept of the state as the village to raise your child will embrace Jeffrey Shulman's new book. He writes:

Physically and intellectually transporting the child across the boundaries of home and community, a public education can bring its students a much needed respite from the ideological solipsism of the enclosed family. Of course, public education comes at a cost. It disrupts the intramural transmission of values from parent to child. It threatens to dismantle a familiar world by introducing the child to multiple sources of authority - and to the possibility that a choice must be made among them. Indeed, the open world of the public school should challenge the transmission of any closed set of values. Unless children are to live under "a perpetual childhood of prescription," they must be exposed to the dust and heat of the race - intellectually, morally, spiritually. A public education is the engine by which children are exposed to "the great sphere" that is their world and legacy. It is their means of escape from, or free commitment to, the social group in which they were born. It is their best guarantee of an open future.
Reading those words makes me feel like a mama grizzly. Mr. Shulman and his ilk better keep their paws off my cubs.

Keeping my feet on the ground and my heart in Heaven

Yesterday Pope Benedict XVI offered these words in his Angelus address:

"Clearly this teaching of Jesus, while it remains true and valid for everyone, is practiced in different ways depending on our different vocations: A Franciscan friar may follow it more radically, while a family man will have to take account of his duties towards his wife and children. Yet in all cases Christians stand out for their absolute faith in the heavenly Father, just like Jesus" Who "showed us what it means to live with our feet firmly planted on the ground, attentive to the real situation of our neighbours and, at the same time, with our hearts in heaven, immersed in God's mercy".

I love the image of our feet firmly planted on the ground but our hearts in heaven. This is important as each of us considers our vocation. Our calling by God requires certain practical considerations. As a mother, the care of my children means meeting my children's physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. I do need to look forward and plan for the future. Yet none of these efforts is an end in and of itself. Each must be focused on the ultimate end of serving God's plan. When I am pushing my son to do well in school and prepare for college, it is not because he should be seeking mere earthly success. It is because he has been given certain gifts by God, and to fully use those gifts in God's service, he must be intellectually prepared. As my husband and I make career decisions, the choices are not guided by the standards of the world for professional success. Rather, they must be guided by how our professions serve our vocations of marriage and parenthood.

So today's prayer is that God will grant me the discernment to keep my practical, earthbound feet and hands always subservient to my heaven-seeking heart.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A three-step approach to Lent

Lent is around the corner (March 9) and the blogosphere is filling up with recommended devotions, readings, and sacrifices. Rather than offering a specific reading list or a specific prayer plan, I would like to propose an approach to the Lenten triad of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. I am a firm believer in the Pizza Dough Spirituality approach. Just as pizza dough cannot be stretched across the pan too quickly, growth in our spiritual life must be undertaken in small increments. Therefore, when looking at your Lenten practices, carefully assess what you are doing and where you can realistically expect to improve. I recommend a three-step process.

First, decide one thing that you can do with a pretty sure chance of success. For example, perhaps you are perpetually late for Mass. How about this Lent offering the effort required to get you and your family in the pew every Sunday ( or Saturday evening) on time? Think about what changes you need to make to your Saturday evening and Sunday morning schedule to accomplish this goal. Do you need to set out clothing the night before? Do you need to forgo coffee and the paper in the morning so you can focus on getting children ready? Do you need to write the check for the collection plate the night before so that you do not waste time on Sunday morning looking for a pen and the offertory envelope?

Next think of a slightly bigger step that is probably doable, but a little bit more of a stretch. Once you are getting to Mass on time, can you get there just a few minutes earlier so that you can be mentally prepared for the Mass? What are you going to do during this time? This is a good time to read the Sunday readings so that when you hear them proclaimed in Mass you can listen more intently. Maybe you can offer a decade of the Rosary for a special intention.

Now consider something that you would really like to do, but are pretty sure it is beyond your spiritual capability. For example, you have always wanted to extend your participation to parish prayer other than Sunday Mass? If you have barely been making it to Sunday Mass, it is unrealistic to think that you will suddenly become a daily communicant. Yet, once you have mastered getting to Sunday Mass early enough to prayerfully prepare for the Mass, you might be ready to branch out a little bit. Can you make it to daily Mass once during Lent? Can you make it once per week? Can you attend a Friday Stations of the Cross devotion? Can you attend a parish holy hour?

You do not need to declare all three steps at once. Throughout Lent assess where you are. Then think about where you can "stretch the pizza dough". Once the novelty of giving up chocolate wears off, there is often a staleness to such simplistic Lenten sacrifices. This gradual approach allows continual growth during Lent. It can be applied to all three types of Lenten observances: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Lent is not just about giving up something. It is not about shedding a few pounds so that we look better in our Easter dress. We die to the world so that we may live in Christ.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Thinking about Baptism during Lent

On December 26, the day after Christmas, my husband and I along with my oldest son, his wife, their newborn daughter, and my three other children gathered at my mother and father's home. We went to my parents' church to witness the baptism of my granddaughter, Trinity. This Baptism was so important to my mother. She knew that my oldest son was deploying to Afghanistan and it was important that the entire family stand in support of his family. So she made it clear to the parish staff that this Baptism had to happen during this very busy time of the year when everyone could be present. Once my mother made up her mind, few could resist her. It did happen and it was beautiful. My second son was the godfather. The young woman who was my daughter-in-law's sponsor when she entered the Church was now my granddaughter's godmother. The deacon offered excellent catechesis about the Sacrament of Baptism as he conducted the liturgy. The ceremony was followed by a joyous reception at my parents home.

That night my mother fell ill. She was taken to the hospital. She never came home. The Sacrament of Baptism will forever be linked to my mother. That is why it is very poignant that one week after her death, the Vatican news service announces that Pope Benedict XVI's Lenten message will focus on Baptism. I know my mother is pleased.


VATICAN CITY, 22 FEB 2011 (VIS) - Made public today was the 2011 Lenten Message of the Holy Father Benedict XVI. The text, dated 4 November 2010, has as its title a passage from St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians: "You were buried with Him in Baptism, in which you were also raised with Him". Extracts from the English-language version of the document are given below:

"The fact that, in most cases, Baptism is received in infancy highlights how it is a gift of God: no one earns eternal life through their own efforts. The mercy of God, which cancels sin and, at the same time, allows us to experience in our lives 'the mind of Christ Jesus', is given to men and women freely".

"Hence, Baptism is not a rite from the past, but the encounter with Christ, which informs the entire existence of the baptised, imparting divine life and calling for sincere conversion; initiated and supported by Grace, it permits the baptised to reach the adult stature of Christ.

"A particular connection binds Baptism to Lent as the favourable time to experience this saving Grace. ... In fact, the Church has always associated the Easter Vigil with the celebration of Baptism. ... This free gift must always be rekindled in each one of us, and Lent offers us a path like that of the catechumenate, which, for the Christians of the early Church, just as for catechumens today, is an irreplaceable school of faith and Christian life. Truly, they live their Baptism as an act that shapes their entire existence.

"In order to undertake more seriously our journey towards Easter and prepare ourselves to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord - the most joyous and solemn feast of the entire liturgical year - what could be more appropriate than allowing ourselves to be guided by the Word of God? For this reason, the Church, in the Gospel texts of the Sundays of Lent, leads us to a particularly intense encounter with the Lord, calling us to retrace the steps of Christian initiation: for catechumens, in preparation for receiving the Sacrament of rebirth; for the baptised, in light of the new and decisive steps to be taken in the 'sequela Christi' and a fuller giving of oneself to Him".

"The Lenten journey finds its fulfilment in the Paschal Triduum, especially in the great vigil of the Holy Night: renewing our baptismal promises, we reaffirm that Christ is the Lord of our life, that life which God bestowed upon us when we were reborn of 'water and Holy Spirit', and we profess again our firm commitment to respond to the action of the Grace in order to be His disciples.

"By immersing ourselves into the death and resurrection of Christ through the Sacrament of Baptism, we are moved to free our hearts every day from the burden of material things, from a self-centred relationship with the 'world' that impoverishes us and prevents us from being available and open to God and our neighbour. ... Through the traditional practices of fasting, almsgiving and prayer, which are an expression of our commitment to conversion, Lent teaches us how to live the love of Christ in an ever more radical way.

"Fasting, which can have various motivations, takes on a profoundly religious significance for the Christian: by rendering our table poorer, we learn to overcome selfishness in order to live in the logic of gift and love; by bearing some form of deprivation - and not just what is in excess - we learn to look away from our 'ego', to discover Someone close to us and to recognise God in the face of so many brothers and sisters. For Christians, fasting, far from being depressing, opens us ever more to God and to the needs of others, thus allowing love of God to become also love of our neighbour.

"In our journey, we are often faced with the temptation of accumulating and love of money that undermine God's primacy in our lives. The greed of possession leads to violence, exploitation and death; for this, the Church, especially during the Lenten period, reminds us to practice almsgiving - which is the capacity to share. The idolatry of goods, on the other hand, not only causes us to drift away from others, but divests man, making him unhappy, deceiving him, deluding him without fulfilling its promises, since it puts materialistic goods in the place of God, the only source of life".

"The practice of almsgiving is a reminder of God's primacy and turns our attention towards others, so that we may rediscover how good our Father is, and receive His mercy.

"During the entire Lenten period, the Church offers us God's Word with particular abundance. By meditating and internalising the Word in order to live it every day, we learn a precious and irreplaceable form of prayer. ... Prayer also allows us to gain a new concept of time: without the perspective of eternity and transcendence, in fact, time simply directs our steps towards a horizon without a future. Instead, when we pray, we find time for God, to understand that His 'words will not pass away', to enter into that intimate communion with Him 'that no one shall take from you', opening us to the hope that does not disappoint, eternal life".

"The Lenten period is a favourable time to recognise our weakness and to accept, through a sincere inventory of our life, the renewing Grace of the Sacrament of Penance, and walk resolutely towards Christ.

"Dear brothers and sisters, through the personal encounter with our Redeemer and through fasting, almsgiving and prayer, the journey of conversion towards Easter leads us to rediscover our Baptism. This Lent, let us renew our acceptance of the Grace that God bestowed upon us at that moment, so that it may illuminate and guide all of our actions. What the Sacrament signifies and realises, we are called to experience every day by following Christ in an ever more generous and authentic manner".

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A different sort of TSA story

I will be returning home soon. We had my mother's funeral this past Friday and I am needed back at my own home front. I will be back here before too long. I cannot begin to thank everyone who offered prayers, logistical help, food, prayers, etc. The generosity of everyone has been overwhelming.

However, I must share one episode of kindness. Upon hearing the news of my mother's death I was consumed with making the arrangements to get all my children and my husband to the funeral. Once I found myself actually at the airport I had time to absorb the reality of the situation and was feeling a little teary eyed. I handed my ID to the TSA agent at the entrance to the security screening line. He asked how I was doing. I am not sure why I didn't just say "fine". I said, "I've been better." He looked up and asked what was wrong. I told I was on my way to my mother's funeral. He said, "I am so sorry." Then he handed me my ID and said, "God bless you." He certainly did not have to take such an interest in my emotional state and he certainly took a chance by saying "God bless you." In this day and age such a simple kindness could be construed as inappropriate by many people who seek to exclude God from all public places. I am grateful for this agent's simple prayer. It strengthened me for the journey ahead.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Requiéscant in pace

Delia Sanchez Jackson

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon her.
May she rest in peace. Amen.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Catholic In the Name Is No Guarantee

My father, my siblings, and I are facing a difficult time right now. My mother became ill the day after Christmas as her chronic leukemia transformed into an acute leukemia. Within days she was intubated in the ICU of MD Anderson. She has remained hospitalized though no longer requires intubation. Initially, it was felt that if we could just support her through the chemotherapy, she could recover. There were complications with one organ system after another, but each was dealt with and the ultimate goal remained recovery. However, in the last week all systems crashed. There is kidney failure, heart failure, respiratory distress, and probably a stroke. In addition, her response to chemotherapy has been less than ideal. We understand that recovery is no longer the goal. Comfort and preparation for death is. So it is time to seek out hospice in the Houston area.

Let me be clear that not all hospice organizations are the same. Some truly seek to care for the patient and provide a dignified and patient centered end to life. Others want to provide minimal care and collect their payments from Medicare. I am sorry to say that the hospice organization affiliated with the local Catholic health care institution falls in the latter category. The representative of this organization spoke to my father, my sister, and me before she had any knowledge of my mother's condition. Her focus was on providing morphine for "pain". My mother has no pain. When I asked her about nutrition and hydration she immediately told me to remember that we are talking about hospice care. They do not do hydration or any form of artificial nutrition. John Paul II, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops Ethical and Religious Directives for health care, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith all clearly state that nutrition and hydration are ordinary care even if administered by artificial means. If a patient can benefit from such care, we are morally obligated to provide it. I find it appalling that a hospice organization that purports to be Catholic would shun this basic principle. I do not know if my mother needs artificial nutrition and hydration. However, I cannot in good conscience entrust her to the care of an organization that views this basic level of care as extraordinary and unnecessary. Similarly, when I asked about the use of oxygen for her respiratory distress, I was told that while they do administer oxygen, their immediate response to a patient struggling to breathe is to administer morphine. They would not check an oxygen saturation (a non-invasive test done at the bedside by clipping a sensor to my mother's finger) to see if my mother was getting adequate oxygen. It is true that morphine can help some respiratory distress, but the hospice representative presented it as an agent of sedation to stop the discomfort of shortness of breath. She had so many different reasons to offer morphine, it seemed she just couldn't wait to euthanize my mother.

My father will be speaking with a representative from a different hospice agency this evening. I have already spoken to a representative from this agency and found it to be much more in line with Catholic bioethical principles. It is a sad commentary on the state of Catholic health care when a secular for-profit hospice agency sounds more Catholic than the local Catholic agency.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Vocations and Discipleship

This essay on vocations by Fr. Damian J. Ference hits all the right notes. First of all, Fr. Ference does not isolate the religious vocations. He includes marriage and chaste single life in his discussion. He understands that all vocations are the fruit of discipleship.

Millions of dollars have been spent by vocation offices on prayer cards, lesson plans, vocation week activities, homily helpers, discernment brochures, websites, and an array of other vocation promotion materials, but have these approaches really made a significant impact on our young people? Sadly, the answer is no. For all the effort that has been put into vocation awareness in recent history, our returns have not been very good, but it is not for lack of effort. Bishops, vocation directors, DREs, catechists and parents, have been working diligently to address the lack of vocations in the Church, but very little has changed. Sure, there are some orders and some diocesan seminaries that are doing better than others, but the overall vocation picture remains the same. It seems to me that the real problem is that we’ve misdiagnosed the vocation situation, and therefore, we’ve been spending all our time, effort and money on the wrong things. In other words, we’ve been treating the symptoms without ever recognizing the disease.

The root of our current vocation problem is a lack of discipleship. Of course, a disciple is one who encounters Jesus, repents, experiences conversion and then follows Jesus. All too often those of us in positions of Church leadership presume that all the folks in the pews on Sundays, all the children in our grade schools, high schools and PSR programs, all the kids in our youth groups, all the men in our Men’s Clubs and all the women in our Women’s Guilds, and all the members of our RCIA team are already disciples. Many are not. (The same can be said of staffs and faculties of Catholic institutions.) Our people may be very active in the programs of our parishes, schools and institutions, but unfortunately, such participation does not qualify for discipleship.

The answer to the crisis of all of our vocations comes from forming and strengthening disciples of Christ. As I wrote here, vocations are a natural response to understanding that we are servants of Our Lord. A man does not become a priest in order to serve himself, but rather to serve God by serving His Church. A man and a woman do not rightly enter into Holy Matrimony for their own benefit, but rather to love and serve God through the vocation of marriage. A woman does not enter a religious order to please herself, but rather to serve and please God. This desire to serve comes from knowing and loving Christ. Without this relationship to Christ, all of our good works will be empty actions devoid of any transcendent quality. Fr. Ference touches on this when he discusses youth groups.

Let us take the example of a parish youth group to serve as a microcosm for our current situation. A youth group has a similar structure to most parish groups, in that most parish groups identify themselves in four ways: spiritual, service-oriented, social and catechetical. For a parish youth group to be what it is supposed to be, the first priority of the group must be to make disciples of young people who do not know Jesus, and to make stronger disciples of the ones who already know him. Such a suggestion seems quite basic and even simplistic at first glance, but this is precisely the point. Far too often we as a Church have failed with the most basic principle of discipleship while loading up on service projects and social activities, and the parish youth group becomes just one more line on a young person’s college résumé, without ever calling that young person to real conversion.

Pope Benedict emphasizes the same point in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est:

Individuals who care for those in need must first be professionally competent: they should be properly trained in what to do and how to do it, and committed to continuing care. Yet, while professional competence is a primary, fundamental requirement, it is not of itself sufficient. We are dealing with human beings, and human beings always need something more than technically proper care. They need humanity. They need heartfelt concern. Those who work for the Church's charitable organizations must be distinguished by the fact that they do not merely meet the needs of the moment, but they dedicate themselves to others with heartfelt concern, enabling them to experience the richness of their humanity. Consequently, in addition to their necessary professional training, these charity workers need a “formation of the heart”: they need to be led to that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others. As a result, love of neighbour will no longer be for them a commandment imposed, so to speak, from without, but a consequence deriving from their faith, a faith which becomes active through love (cf. Gal 5:6).

The final words spoken by Christ to the Apostles did not command them to alleviate earthly suffering. Rather Christ said:

"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age." (Mt. 28:19-20)

We are each charged to do the same.

Bargain hunting to make Mom proud

My mother is still critically ill and in the ICU at MD Anderson. She has been hospitalized with acute leukemia since December 26. For over a month now her condition has been tenuous. As I mentioned here, I feel empty since I can no longer just pick up the phone and share a moment with her.

Yesterday I found a great deal on Craigslist. It is the perfect cabinet for a small space I have off my kitchen. It is sort of a mud room since it is the entrance off the garage. However, there is no door separating it from the kitchen so everything that gets tossed in there is clearly visible. Now I have a cabinet to hold dog food, dog dishes, first aid supplies, soft drinks, etc. I so wanted to call Mom and tell her about my find.

My mom loves a bargain. It must be genetic. Both my daughter and I love the thrill of a treasure hunt at the local garage sale or thrift shop. And we have found treasures: her prom dress; my china; a couple of paintings; lots of handy household items; and more than a few really great outfits.

I am very grateful my mother taught me that the value of our purchases has to do with their usefulness and not the store label that accompanies them. It seemed almost ironic the other day when the thrift shop cashier put my $8.00 worth of treasure in a used Nordstroms shopping bag. It was a very sturdy bag with secure handles. The name on the side did not make my dishes any prettier. But it did make the bargain seem a little sweeter. My mother would have loved it.