KITCHEN TABLE CHATS

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

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Why wage a battle against the HHS mandate?

My latest article at the HLI Truth and Charity forum is the final contribution to a four-part series on the HHS mandate. The first three articles explored the level of cooperation with evil required for business owners to comply with this mandate.

In my article, I argue that we will eventually have to fight assaults on religious liberty. Our culture is growing more and more hostile to religion.  It is better to fight now than to allow the government to gain an even stronger foothold and try to fight later.

Please take a look at my article as well as the other three pieces of the series. I would love to know what you think as well!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Disciples of the Lamb of God--Sam-I-am

In my last post, I tried to explain how gratitude means understanding that we are unworthy of all our blessings, but God bestows them anyway out of mercy. Our gratitude must be active and an effort to imitate that mercy. We can never shut anyone out of our lives because we deem them to be unworthy.

Pope Francis offers a similar message in yesterday's Angelus:
“What does it mean for the Church, for us today, to be disciples of Jesus, lamb of God?” asked Pope Francis. “It is a good task! As Christians we must replace malice with innocence, force with love, pride with humility, and prestige with service. Being disciples of the Lamb means living not like a besieged citadel, but rather as city set on a mountain, open, welcoming and supportive. It does not mean adopting a closed attitude, but rather proposing the Gospel to all, showing by the witness of our lives that following Jesus makes us freer and more joyful”.
I think this is Pope Francis's papacy in a nutshell. It is all about joy. The New Evangelization is not about beating people over the head with the stick of truth. It is about living the truth so joyfully that others are drawn to it.

One of the books I loved as a child and loved to read to my own children is Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. In addition to the fun rhymes, this is the book that urges children to try new foods before rejecting them. Sam-I-am proffers green eggs and ham to another character who is adamant that he will not like them. No matter how they are presented--in a box, with a fox, on a train, in the rain--he does not like green eggs and ham. Sam-I-am never offers an alternative. It must be green eggs and ham. He just keeps smiling and looking for a setting that will make the green eggs and ham appealing. Finally the reluctant diner tries them. And guess what? He likes them!

Perhaps we should approach the New evangelization like Sam-I-am. We are to go out and meet others wherever they are and offer the Good News of Christ, Salvation, and the Church. We are not going to change what we are offering. There will be no watering down of doctrine or changing of teaching. But if we have to meet them in a house with a mouse to get them to try it, then that is what we do. And we will smile as we do it.

We should not judge our evangelization efforts by the immediate results we see. Maybe we will witness an epiphany and a new convert greedily gobbling up every morsel of Church teaching. More likely, we will be completely unaware of any impact of our efforts. We may influence someone to take a small bite. He may be intrigued and set it aside. But he will think about it. And sometime in the future he may again sample it. Instead of a feeding frenzy, his conversion is more like an acquired taste.

We cannot have salvation without the Cross. There is suffering. But we will not win hearts if we have dour faces and exhort others to follow us to the stark prison of Christianity. Pope Francis is telling us to let go of our anger, pride, and malice and live our lives like we really believe the great joy of the Gospel.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Gratitude and Mercy

For those who have read my blog over the years, you may have noticed that I find themes or words that become the focus. These are not consciously crafted, but patterns that evolve. Sometimes it is a word or theme that permeates a liturgical season like Lent or Advent. I am finding that the start of 2014 is developing a theme for the year and it is Gratitude.

In this post-Christmas season of thank-you notes it is easy to contemplate gratitude. We all have those gifts that we absolutely love and for which we cannot say "thank you" enough. Then there are those that we look at and say, "Well, that is interesting." And while we are tempted to roll our eyes and grumble about having to deal with more useless stuff, it is always good to remember that it is rare that a gift is given for any reason other than to bring you joy. Sometimes it misses the mark, but the intent was there so our thanks may be for the intention rather than for the gift itself and that is ok.

The initial way to think about gratitude is to just count our blessings. It is rather passive. "Thank you, God, for my family, my health, my job, my daily bread, etc." But I am finding that 2014 is making me look at gratitude from a more active perspective. I have been blessed and I do need to be cognizant of all the gifts I have been given from God. Yet I can not just sit idly and count my treasure. I must humbly admit that I am unworthy of any of it. God has blessed me in spite of my sinfulness. My gratitude for all these wonderfully happy blessings must be overshadowed by my gratitude for God's incredible mercy. I do not deserve these gifts yet they are given anyway.

Therefore, my gratitude needs to progress from a childlike litany of "Thank you God for..." to a gratitude that seeks to imitate God's mercy. Thank you, God, for my family. Help me to do what I can to support and strengthen other families. I know some family problems may be due to poor choices and mistakes. They brought these problems upon themselves. That should never stop me from offering love, mercy, and support instead of judgment and condemnation.

Thank you, God, for my daily bread. I do not support the way many government or private programs address the problems of poverty and hunger. But that cannot allow me to tolerate a single person going hungry or wanting for clothing or shelter no matter the reason for his suffering. Maybe he screwed up. Maybe he didn't. He may be hungry because of poor choices. He may be hungry because of bad luck. It doesn't matter. He is a human person with intrinsic dignity and must be fed. In respect for that dignity, I will feed him, but I will also enable him to feed himself in the future.

Now here is the really hard one for me: I will not shut anyone out of my life because I think their offenses, opinions, or ideology make them unworthy. Shunning them is withholding love. Loving them does not mean I will condone and support everything they do. They may choose to avoid me because I do not give my approval to their actions. But I will not be the one to shut the door.

It is easy to see myself as the Brother of the Prodigal Son and resent the mercy offered to others. My goal is 2014 is to remember how often I have actually been the Prodigal Son and received mercy and express my gratitude for that mercy by offering it to others.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Proclaiming the Good News face to face

I just read about this amazing parish evangelization effort by a parish in St. Louis. Parishioners are trained to go door to door in their neighborhood and invite the community to join them. The thought of that sends shivers through my introverted soul. As noted by one of the parishioners:
“All four of us felt very uncomfortable going (on) cold calls, door to door. We thought, ‘Are we Jehovah’s Witnesses? Are we Mormons?’ I mean this is something Catholics typically don’t do,” 
But maybe this is exactly what Catholics should be doing. I am very comfortable sitting with my keyboard and proclaiming the Gospel with blog posts and articles. As one who does not always like to be center stage, it is a bit unnerving for me to know that my name, picture, and written words are indelibly etched on cyberspace, but except for the occasional internet stalker who tracks me down wherever I publish in order to spew ad hominem vitriol, my personal space is not breached.

The problem is that my written words are out there but easy to ignore. Think about all the links that show up in your inbox or on your Facebook wall that go unread. It is much harder to ignore a warm smile and an outstretched hand. And when I am solely focused on rearranging the electrons on my computer it is easy for me to lose sight of the humanity behind words like "the poor", "the lonely", "the sick", and "the suffering".

The solution is to look up from my computer and my cell phone and have an in-person encounter with the world around me. I must be the Face of Christ to everyone I meet and I must see the Face of Christ in them as well. It is important that I write about the value of motherhood, but it is also important for me to lend my hands and heart to another mother who is feeling burdened. My treasure is sorely needed by those in need so I must continue writing those checks to my favorite charities. But I also need to be alert to individuals who my cross my path who may not be plugged in to this or that charity. I need to keep the spiritual and corporal works of mercy at the ready so I can offer them at a moment's notice.

Like so many things, this is not an either/or paradigm, but a both/and. Sharing treasure and talent from afar is good but we also need to stretch our comfort zone and be willing to proclaim the Gospel face to face.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Prayer to the Magi

Fr. Z offered an excerpt from the book Helena by Evelyn Waugh (author of Brideshead Revisited, a book I thoroughly enjoyed) which is a prayer to the Magi by St. Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine. 

This is my day, and these are my kind.
“Like me, you were late in coming. The shepherds were here long before, even the cattle. They had joined the chorus of angels before you were on your way.
How laboriously you came, taking sights and calculating, where the shepherds had run barefoot! How odd you looked on the road, attended by what outlandish liveries, laden with such preposterous gifts! 
You finally came to the last stage of your pilgrimage and the great star stood still above you. What did you do? You stopped to call on King Herod. Deadly exchange of compliments in which began that unended war of mobs and magistrates against the innocent! 
Yet you came and were not turned away. You too found room before the manger. Your gifts were not needed, but they were accepted and put carefully by, for they were brought with love. In that new order of charity that had just come to life, there was room for you, too. You were not lower in the eyes of the holy family than the ox or the ass. 
You are my especial patrons, and patrons of all late-comers, of all who have a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents. 
Dear cousins, pray for me, and for my poor overloaded son. May he, too, before the end find kneeling space in the straw. Pray for the great, lest they perish utterly. 
For His sake who did not reject your curious gifts, pray always for the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let them not be quite forgotten at the Throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom.”
This is a prayer I need to reflect on often. Why don't I run with abandon to Jesus. No, all too often I have to think, plan, and calculate and when things don't seem to be going right I remember, "Oh yeah, I better pray about this." This year I will work to be more like the shepherds and hasten to Our Lord. And like the Magi, I will ofter my gifts to Him because I know that any gift I have was given to me by Him.

Epiphany blessings to all!


Friday, January 03, 2014

Subsidiarity, solidarity, and being a good steward

If you are friends with Catholic author Simcha (Somechop) Fisher on Facebook you may have seen the rather lengthy discussion about an essay by Pat Buchanan that questioned whether or not the income disparity between the "haves" and the "have nots" is really the crisis we are being told it is. He also stated that the standard of living now considered as dire poverty was considered normal middle class living in the not too distant past.

Well this got a great number of people all riled up. Quite a few of those who were upset are receiving government assistance of some kind and were highly offended that Pat Buchanan would suggest that they may not be as poor as they think they are.  There was all sorts of talk about how we needed to raise the minimum wage to guarantee that even the workers at McDonald's could support a family on their pay. 

I waded into the fray in the comments just briefly, but I did not think the Facebook comments could do the discussion much justice. This was especially true since a significant number of the commenters were incensed that anyone would question their need for assistance. Obviously anyone who would expect justification for their need for aid is a greedy, hard-hearted miser who has never experienced want and therefore has no understanding of what the poor are going through.

Pat Buchanan may have phrased his opinion in a caustic manner, but his perspective raises some good questions. Mainly, to what standard of living can individuals expect to be entitled? I wrestled with this question over Christmas when our parish put up a "Giving Tree". There were paper ornaments with very specific requests from families in need. You take an ornament, buy the specified gift, wrap it, and return it to the tree with the paper ornament serving as the gift tag. The gifts are then distributed to the appropriate family members.

As the deadline for turning in the gifts approached I noticed there were still several ornaments hanging. This is surprising since our parish is usually very generous and it is unusual for any request to be left unfulfilled. Then I looked at the requested gifts: One pair of Toms blue sequined shoes, size 6 1/2. A collection of latte and cappuccino cups for a Keurig coffee maker.  LL Bean silk skiwear base layer. That explained why these gifts had not been selected. That pair of Toms shoes runs $54. A Keurig coffee maker is an expensive way to get your daily coffee fix. To get both the top and bottoms of the silk underwear would run over $100. Doesn't it seem rather presumptuous when you are asking for charity to request such high-end items? I know many of the members of the parish can afford to give such expensive gifts and I know many did spend this much and more on gifts for the Giving Tree. There is no reason that those who are financially struggling are not worthy of such nice gifts. However, when such generosity is demanded it gives a bitter taste to the whole Giving Tree experience.

This brings me back to the Pat Buchanan article and the brouhaha on Facebook. Asking for an honest analysis of what is a necessity and the responsibility of government to provide and what is a luxury does not a priori indicate a lack of solidarity with the poor. Rather, it is part of being a good steward. Resources are limited. We will do the greatest good for the most people if we support only the necessities. It seems a bit like asking for blue-sequined Toms to demand that money be given to you based on your own perception that you deserve it. 

If I want to throw five dollars out of my pocket in the cup of a pan-handler without making a thorough assessment of his true needs I am free to do so. In fact, I often do this and figure God will sort it out. On the other hand, government programs are not run by freely given charity. Money is demanded from people via taxes and redistributed to others. It is only fair that these handouts be scrutinized closely. Programs that prolong the need for dependence on government assistance need to be transitioned to programs that promote independence. It is unfortunate that there is great wailing and gnashing of teeth from those on the government assistance rolls because they might have short-term pain on the road to long-term gain.

My first comment on the post was:
First of all, insisting on increasing the pay for minimum-wage jobs is too narrow. Not every job is meant to support a family. Food service, discount stores, etc provide starter job. You make a few bucks and learn what it means to be employed. You take on a part time job to pad the family budget. You generate some income while you are in school. Then you move on.

After the predictable complaints that the current economy offers no position to move on to I wrote:
That is true. I do understand the unemployment issues going on now. My college graduate son is still living with us and it has taken a year for him to get a job that pays well enough for him to start planning to move out. My son-in-law is also unemployed and looking. But forcing companies to raise their pay is going to hurt not help the economy making those jobs even more scarce. A mandated pay raise is a short term fix with long term consequences.Government meddling, not corporate greed is what is holding down the economy.

and


I teach at a community college. Every day I see students coming in, working hard, and succeeding. It is not a glamorous big name school to put on their resume but the price is right and they are getting the skills they need to be productive. For many, this is a second start, or maybe a third or fourth start. I am in awe of their perseverance. But I also see students with a sense of entitlement. It is not fair that they are getting a C for C-level work. They need a B to advance in their program so they tell me to make the course easier so they can get a B. Should I redistribute the grade points so that no one gets an A and everyone gets a B? I am all for making sure everyone has equal opportunities for success, but in a community of diverse talents, motivations, and priorities, there will be diverse outcomes.

So accepting that there will be some rich and some poor and some in between is not uncharitable or un-Christian. We should always be seeking to love our neighbor and lift him up spiritually and physically. We have both spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Solidarity with the poor means understanding that trickle-down economics alone will not meet everyone's needs. We are going to have to fill in the gaps. But subsidiarity and good stewardship demand that government handouts that do not foster independence and self-sufficiency must be minimized.