Pull up a chair in my domestic church and let's chat!

I have worn many labels (Not in any particular order): Catholic, Wife, Mom,Gramma, Doctor, Major, Soccer Mom, Military Wife, Professor, Fellow.

All of these filter my views of the world. I hope that like St. Monica, I can through prayer, words and example, lead my children and others to Faith.
"The important thing is that we do not let a single day go by in vain without putting it to good use for eternity"--Blessed Franz J├Ągerst├Ątter

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Back to the Basics

Last night I had the privilege of speaking at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Annandale, VA. My talked was entitled, "Dare to be Catholic: living Catholic principles in a hostile culture. Normally my talks draw on a topic in which I can claim some level of expertise. Last night was a bit different. It was part pep talk and part brainstorming session as I came to the group as just another fellow Catholic trying to proclaim the Gospel. How can we effect a cultural change when the odds seemed so stacked against us?

And then I think of the Apostles. Twelve men. There was no Facebook, no Twitter, no cable news, no email. Yet their faithfulness to Christ changed the world. So what's our problem? There were more than twelve people in the room last night and there are lots more than twelve faithful Catholics in this world.

And wouldn't you know it, Pope Benedict offered his own take on this topic today in his Angelus address:

He continued, "speaking about God means, first and foremost, being clear about what we must bring to the men and women of our time. God has spoken to us, … not an abstract or hypothetical God, but a real God, a God Who exists, Who entered history and remains present in history: the God of Jesus Christ ... as a response to the fundamental question of why and how to live. Therefore, speaking about God requires a continual growth in faith, familiarity with Jesus and His Gospel, a profound knowledge of God and strong passion for His plan for salvation, without giving in to the temptations of success. … We must not fear the humility of taking small steps, trusting in the leaven that makes the dough rise slowly and mysteriously. In speaking about God, in the work of evangelisation under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we must return to the simplicity and essential nature of proclamation: the concrete Good News of God Who cares about us, the love of God which Jesus Christ brought close to us, even unto the Cross, and which in the Resurrection opens us to life without end, to eternal life".
"Without giving in to the temptations of success..." Now that is an interesting phrase. But it means there are no shortcuts. We stay faithful. Even when it means that worldly success eludes us. Even when it means our social standing is threatened. Even when it means family members scoff at us. Even when folks unfriend us on Facebook. Always charitable. But always faithful.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Think outside the big box store

Over the last few decades, I have become less and less enchanted with shopping malls. They remind me of cable television: lots and lots of choices, but very little of any value. So do not expect to see me in the crowds on Black Friday. Actually, I much prefer to do my shopping with a cup of coffee and a keyboard. However, over the last couple of years I have been stirred from my comfy chair to explore some local offering. I have really been enjoying the "buy local" movement, both for food and for unique gifts. 

Here in the DC area, I strongly encourage you to make it over to the Workhouse Arts Center. This is a lively hub of artisans with amazing talent. They will be hosting a special Black Friday showcase from 9am to 7pm.  I also love checking out the many refurbished historic downtowns in the area. Old Town Alexandria is probably the most well known, but I love Old Town Manassas. Historic Occoquan also offers cute shops and restaurants.

Virginia wineries offer another great local shopping opportunity. There are hundreds. My favorites are Cobbler Mountain, Barrel Oak Winery, Paradise Springs, Unicorn Winery, and Morais Winery. Ok. I have lots of favorites.

Of course, I still do a lot of my shopping online. I am more of a Cyber Monday person than a Black Friday shopper. This is a great way to support some of our religious communities.

The Dominican Nuns of Summit New Jersey offer a lovely selection of hand crafted soaps and lotions. I highly recommend the oatmeal face soap. And I love the lavender scented hand lotion.

The Carmelite Monks of Wyoming are roasting the best coffee to be found anywhere. Mystic Monks blend is my everyday coffee but I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of my Jingle Bell Java. This coffee is only available for a limited time and it is amazing. Even my dad, who is not usually a flavored coffee drinker, likes this variety.

For those with a sweet tooth, the contemplative nuns of Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey have high quality chocolate and caramel candies. Rich and smooth, they even come in lovely gift bags so that you have a ready hostess gift on a moment's notice.

The hardworking Trappist monks of Gethsemani Farms offer delicious assortments of cheese, fudge, and fruitcake. You can also add a musical component to your gift with one of their CD's.

I must mention one of my favorite orders, the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles. They have just released a new CD of Advent music. I have their previous Christmas CD and I feel like angels are singing to me whenever I listen to it. This order has a special place in my heart because they are devoted to praying for priests. They support their community by sewing liturgical vestments. In their work room they have a large crucifix. Every day they place the name of a priest at the foot of the crucifix and offer their prayers and work for his benefit. I sent them the names of several priests to include in their prayers.

I am not getting any kickbacks for endorsing any of these shopping opportunities. I am just hoping that this post will prompt you to think outside the big box store and the mall and make your gift-giving a more community focused endeavor.

Do you have any favorites?

Friday, November 16, 2012

God Answered Our Prayers

I have been musing a great deal about the state of our country and our culture. The recent election results were heartbreaking for anyone who holds to the Catholic principles of human dignity, the sanctity of life, subsidiarity and solidarity, and the defense of marriage as between one man and one woman. But I had a little epiphany the other day and I want to see what you think.

President Obama's agenda discards the most vulnerable--the unborn, the elderly, the disabled.  His health care plan relies on utilitarian ethics to save money. He promotes abortion as a good thing and asserts that women cannot succeed unless they thwart their feminine physiology. He usurps the authority of religious leaders to delineate the essential tenets of their faith. He usurps the rights of parents to make educational and health care decisions for their children. He rejects the uniqueness of marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman. The fact that our country elected a president who pursues such a radical agenda means that the United States is really a mission territory. There are many hearts and souls that need conversion. And I do not mean they need conversion to the Republican party. They need conversion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We cannot bring about the Kingdom of God through politics. That does not mean that it was wrong or fruitless to have worked tirelessly to support leadership that would be more in line with our principles. But political power reflects the culture more than it changes the culture. We cannot be victorious at the ballot box until we are victorious in the culture war. And we are at war. However, this war will not be won through violence. It will be won through prayer, through evangelization, and through love.

Now think about it. When has God ever used a person or a group of people who were rich and powerful when He needed to effect a major change? Abraham, Moses, David, John the Baptist, the Apostles, and Jesus Christ Himself? One of the most powerful aspects of the evangelization of the Apostles is that they persisted in their message after the Ascension even though doing so led them to their deaths. So that is where we are. Are we willing to persist in the Good News, in Catholic principles, even if it means a degradation in our public standing and power? Are we willing to suffer insults, discrimination, and persecution for the sake of the Gospel? Are we ready to give our lives for our faith? If we can answer yes to these questions, then the impact of our evangelization will be multiplied. Perhaps our culture is not ready to hear the Truth from those protected by positions of power. They must first hear it from those who proclaim it in spite of the personal costs.

We prayed our Rosaries, novenas, and prayers of supplication for the defeat of the Culture of Death at the ballot box. God answered our prayers. He said, "No." Or at least He said, "Not yet."

The Psalmist said:

Put no trust in princes,
in children of Adam powerless to save. (Ps 146:3)

So now our job is not to start grooming a candidate or platform to woo the voters in 2016. Our mission is the same as it was on November 5: to pray without ceasing, to love God with all our hearts and minds, and to lover our neighbor as ourself. We must commit ourselves to both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy--feeding the hungry and instructing the ignorant. Future elections may provide a crude metric of our success, but as Mother Teresa said, we are not called to be successful, but to be faithful. With God's help and grace, we may someday look at our culture and find that it reflects the Gospel. Only then will there be a chance that we might elect a leader of righteousness and virtue.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Spiritual Informed Consent

A couple of days ago I wrote about how the bishops have not done a good job protecting our Catholic brand. They have allowed too many people to wave the Catholic banner as they offer false and damaging teaching. We are a thinking Church. Every Catholic must follow his informed conscience. In addition to knowing what the Church teaches and why it teaches what it does, an informed conscience must know the repercussions of a given choice or action.

As a physician, I am very familiar with the concept of informed consent. Patients cannot make intelligent information about their health care unless they have all the information about the benefits and risks of their medical options. It is my job to give my patients this information.  I think it would be helpful to use this approach as part of catechesis. Consider it spiritual informed consent.

The goal of medical care is optimal health. The ultimate goal for spiritual health is Eternal Life. Christ died for us that we might live. The gift of Salvation is ours if we choose to accept it. But we do have to accept it. How do we accept it? By doing the will of the Father. Therefore, we reject this great gift when we choose not to do God's will. Every time we sin, we are turning our back on Eternal Life.

Now just as diseases vary in their severity and curability, so too our sins vary. Some are more lethal to our souls than others. The sin of missing Mass, sexual sins, the sin of abortion, murder, and others are so significant that we call them mortal sins. They completely separate us from God. Even these mortal sins can be forgiven. Nothing is too big for God's mercy. But we have to approach God and ask for this forgiveness. We must be truly repentant. And if we have not confessed and received absolution for one of these mortal sins, we should not present ourselves to receive the Eucharist.

So here is where spiritual informed consent comes in. Catholics need to know what constitutes a mortal sin. Having taught seventh grade religious education for many years, I learned that many Catholic families had no idea that missing Mass for reasons like  soccer games, vacation, or visiting relatives is a serious sin that needs to be confessed. Catholics need to be told that defying Church teachings has consequences. If you know that the Church forbids the use of contraception and you do it anyway, you have put yourself out of Communion with the Church. It is no different than if you defy Church teachings on marriage and get a civil divorce and remarry without a decree of nullity. There seems to be no problem telling divorced Catholics who remarry not to receive Communion. Priests should tell Catholics using contraception the same thing. If these Catholics choose to persist in using contraception, then at least they do so knowing full well the consequences. It is not right to let them go their merry way without giving them all the ramifications of their choices.

This information needs to be given by priests from the pulpit. In addition, every marriage prep class needs to offer the full Catholic teaching on marriage and the reasons for this teaching. But it also needs to include the serious effects of ignoring this teaching. Similarly, every Baptismal preparation class, First Communion class, and Confirmation class should offer sound teaching that includes the spiritual injuries that occur when this teaching is rejected.

God gave us the gift of free will. We can choose to follow Him or to go our own way. In order to make an intelligent choice, we need to have the whole truth about the consequences of our actions. We need spiritual informed consent.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

My annual Veterans Day Post

This is my annual Veterans Day Post. It seems fitting to publish it again. The picture is my oldest son from his college Corps of Cadets days at Texas A&M. He is now an Army officer and has one deployment to Afghanistan under his belt. I again ask that you keep him and all our military in your prayers. Consider adding this Rosary to your devotions.

Using the sorrowful mysteries:
Agony in the garden: for deployed soldiers and their safety
Scourging at the pillar: for wounded soldiers and for their healing
Crowning with thorns: for deceased soldiers and repose of their souls
Carrying of the cross: for families of deployed, wounded and deceased soldiers, and for strength and comfort.
Crucifixion: for our nation, for the victims of war and for peace in the world.
And now for an encore presentation of 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.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Protecting the Catholic Brand

An article by Lisa Fullam at dotCommonweal erroneously proclaims same-sex marriage is consistent with Catholic social teaching. Fr. Araujo at Mirror of Justice offers an excellent response to this article and rightly notes that part of the reason that many young people are accepting same-sex relationships as the norm is because they have never been offered a clear presentation of the Church's teaching. Many of those who wrongly claim to speak for the Church are giving a distorted version of Catholic teaching: 
...nominally Catholic institutions of higher education, which have an extraordinary influence on the young, are not teaching what the Church teachers; moreover, these institutions are not exploring why the Church teaches what she teaches in spite of assertions to the contrary. For the most part at many institutions that claim the moniker “Catholic”, students are being exposed to a shadow magisterium which is a corruption of rather than intellectual fidelity to Church teachings on the neuralgic issues of the day including marriage. While these young may be receiving a great deal of education, they are not receiving the wisdom of the Church; hence, their knowledge of what the Church teaches and why she teaches what she does is being eviscerated. In addition, both catechesis and evangelization are suffering rather than prospering as a result of false doctrine being disseminated by a growing number of teachers who are employed at the once-traditional but now-nominally Catholic institutions.
Fr. Z also questions the use of the moniker "Catholic" by the National Catholic Reporter. This periodical is a hotbed of dissent from Catholic teaching yet it is still allowed to call itself Catholic. Fr. Z notes that in the issue before the election the paper gushed with support for same-sex marriage and trivialized the importance of pro-life issues.

I lay the dismal state of catechesis of Catholics in America at the feet of our bishops. They have not spoken out boldly enough when those waving the Catholic banner spout erroneous teachings. They have not protected the Catholic brand. Ex Corde Ecclesiae demands that Catholic universities uphold Catholic teaching and theologians must obtain a mandatum from their bishop to ensure they are faithful to the Magisterium. Yet the bishops have been passive and not vigorously supported compliance by theologians. The result is that there has been no quality control and catechetical chaos has ensued. It is time for the bishops to offer definitive guidance about who speaks with the Church. When someone claiming to be Catholic spews catechetical nonsense, there must be a clear and public correction. Failure to do so will, as Fr. Araujo rightly points out, eviscerate the knowledge of Church teaching.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Are you better off now...

The Good News is that God still loves the world through you. You are God's Good News. You are God's love in action. Each time anyone comes in contact with us, they must become different and better people because of having met us. We must radiate God's love."

—Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

The lovely quote above was sent to me by the good folks at If you have not signed up for their services, I highly recommend it. It is a wonderful online prayer community that takes advantage of the Church's great treasury of novena prayers. You get a daily email reminder each day during a novena. There is not an active novena going on now so they posted the above reflection on Facebook. It was exactly what I needed.

The last year has been nothing but political candidates flooding the airwaves with messages that we will be better off if they are elected. But politicians are not the only ones who should be asking the question, "Are you better off now than you were before?" Each of us needs to be asking that question. When I open my mouth to speak or post a comment on Facebook or write a blog post have left I my audience a little bit holier? Are the people standing next to me in the grocery line a little bit better off for having stood next to me? Did I bring my family closer to Heaven today?

This does not mean that I should  always be somber and do nothing but spout Scripture and platitudes. St. Teresa of Avila said, "A sad nun is a bad nun. I am more afraid of one unhappy sister than a crowd of evil spirits." Joy, humor, and even a little snark are very effective in conveying the love of God. A smile or a word of encouragement may brighten the day of the harried mother in the grocery store. 

Making someone smile or offering comfort is actually the easy part of radiating God's love. Sometimes, God's love does not make others feel all warm and cozy. Instead, it makes them downright uncomfortable. Offer it anyway. But instead of offering it as a condemnation, offer it as an invitation. Be prepared. This very likely will not give us immediate positive feedback but we have to be confident that when we offer the truth, we are planting seeds. The Spiritual Works of Mercy demand that we admonish sinners and instruct the ignorant. There is nothing loving about turning a blind eye and allowing others to persist in error.

In the months ahead, I know that I will be encountering friends and family members who are living outside the Church. It doesn't do any good to sneer at them or shun them. It also doesn't do any good to pretend that I condone their choices. I will steadfastly offer my family and all I meet the teachings of the Church. I will propose the Church by example and with words if necessary. I want all those I love to accept these teachings. I will pray for them. (See St. Monica's list!) After they encounter me, I hope they know that there is a real alternative to their current path and it is the path that leads to eternal life. This is the hard part of radiating God's love. It is not illustrated with hearts and flowers and rainbows. It is illustrated with tears. But if the tears flow from repentance and conversion, they will be followed by everlasting joy.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

The Participation Trophy Generation

First let me say that I love teaching anatomy and physiology at the community college. It is a tough course.  Students enter this course with great dreams of becoming a nurse, doctor, pharmacist, physical therapist, dentist, or other allied health professional. Then they meet the mountain of minute details that must be memorized. Some dig in and get the job done while others realize the biomedical sciences are not their real love after all. Every semester I am in awe of some of my students as they overcome obstacles, appreciate the opportunity to get an education, and excel.

Then there is another segment of students. And, unfortunately, it seems this group is growing. These students tell me the course is too hard and I need to make changes to accommodate their desire to make a B, the minimum grade required to enter many of the health professional programs. These students think that because they signed up for the course and paid the tuition they are entitled to a B.

Sorry. This is not your rec league soccer team where every one gets an impressive trophy just for being on the roster. Too many of these kids have been coddled and sheltered. Mom and Dad did not let them taste failure. Protecting the almighty "self-esteem" was paramount. For a short time one of my sons was in a Cub Scout den whose den leader would not allow any boy to receive an award until the whole den had achieved the honor. That way no one felt inferior to anyone else. But that also meant no one felt the thrill of exceptional achievement. It was mediocrity for all, excellence for none.

It is a shock for some of my students to find out the real world does not hand out participation trophies. Your success or failure is based on performance and no one is there to cushion the fall when you don't perform.

I put a lot of work into my course. I show up early so that I am available to answer questions. I provide detailed study guides and scour the internet for helpful web sites and videos to share with my students. I do my best to make the lectures interesting and give them clinical anecdotes to make the dry facts more memorable. But they have to meet me half-way. I cannot help them if they do not show up on time to class, do not do the homework, or do not study outside of class. Cramming the night before an anatomy and physiology test is like trying to memorize the phone book.

So maybe as parents, we need to rethink this whole non-competitive, self-esteem boosting movement. Now I agree that kindergarteners do not need to be playing cut throat competitive soccer. But at some point they have to learn that just showing up is not enough. Failure is a real possibility.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

St. Monica's List

Do everything without grumbling or questioning,
that you may be blameless and innocent,
children of God without blemish
in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation,
among whom you shine like lights in the world,
as you hold on to the word of life,
so that my boast for the day of Christ may be
that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (2 Phil: 14-16)

This is from the first reading today. I am disappointed by the election results, but I am not disheartened. I know that I voted according to faithfully Catholic principles. I worked with many good and holy people to educate others about these principles. Even if we did not sway the votes for this election as we would have liked, I am confident that we planted seeds.

So what now? Actually, not a lot changes. I still pray. I still serve God. I still know that my salvation resides in Christ. And I still take to heart the Great Commission to make disciples of all the nations.

With that in mind, I have a challenge for you. Make a list of the people you know whose hearts have turned away from God and are in need of conversion. They can be public figures whom you have never met or they can be family members who have fallen away from the faith. Now pray for their conversion. And tomorrow, pray for them again. And pray the next day and the next day. Just keep praying.  Add more people to the list as you think of them and make a note when you think there has been progress. 

This is going to be my St. Monica list. St. Monica is my patron saint and she is a fervent intercessor for those who have strayed from the Church. I know she will be happy to join me in prayer for the return of lost souls to the objective truth of Christ. I hope you will join me as well.

Monday, November 05, 2012

In case you missed it...

I have been busy churning out words but most of them have not appeared on these pages. In case you didn't catch these articles:

Seeking the Kingdom of God Transcends Politics  I am down on me knees begging that Mitt Romney wins. However, I also know that my vocation does not change based on the election results. I will seek God no matter what. An Obama administration will make it harder to live as a Catholic. But with God, all things are possible.

The Affordable Care Act and its Unaffordable Costs  The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, presents a real danger for the elderly, disabled, unborn, and others who are infirmed. Committees and agencies that use utilitarian principles will be making judgments about who is fit to receive medical care and who is not.

Obama's "Equality" and "Liberty" for Women  This president believes that women cannot succeed unless they thwart their natural female physiology and become more like men. His lack of respect for women is appalling. He treats like we are just a bundle of lady parts that vote.

HPV Doesn't Make Young Girls Go Wild  A new study that demonstrates girls don't go sexually wild when they get the HPV vaccine is supposed to put parents' fears to rest. What many people don't get is that the controversy is over making the vaccine mandatory. This decision belongs with parents, not the state.

Happy Reading!