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

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Proud Mama Post

That is artwork done by my daughter, framed and hanging over our guest room bed. You can view and purchase her work at Society6. You can order the work as prints, pillows, totes, phone covers, etc.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Is welfare accountability really libertarianism on overdrive?

Mark Shea is a popular Catholic writer who is not afraid to verbally knock heads together when he sees something he doesn't like. He really dislikes anything that hints of libertarianism. Over at the National Catholic Register he is busy chastising "many prolife people" because they don't want to write a blank check for state assistance to single mothers. His specific quote is "It is indeed a curious disconnect that many prolife people who support the work of Crisis Pregnancy Centers have a strange blind spot when it comes to the state providing help for low-income women in crisis pregnancies."

First of all, I am not sure who these prolifers are. Are they acquaintances of his? Are they blog commenters? How does he know that there are many of them? Has he taken a poll? Is many the same as most?  Shea does not cite one specific example of pro-lifers who work at crisis pregnancy centers objecting to state help for low-income women. He only offers rumors and innuendoes and with one blog post he has tarnished the image of all those who faithfully help women in crisis pregnancies. This broad brush labeling of people is sloppy and a good way to demonize those who might disagree with him on state welfare programs without actually taking on the specific arguments.

Shea compares Al Gore's call for fertility management to prevent increases in the population of developing countries as a way of combatting global warming and promoting economic development to Rand Paul suggesting that the government could put a cap on welfare benefits. Gore is endorsing the strategy of the Gates Foundation and their promotion of contraceptives like Depo-Provera to limit large segments of the world population from reproducing. Paul is not suggesting that the government impose limits on reproduction. He is just saying that the government is not necessarily compelled to pay benefits on a per child basis. Equating these two stances is building a strawman argument and is not justified by facts.

Shea also suggests that there is something hypocritical about those who give generously at prolife  crisis pregnancy centers yet balk at liberal welfare benefits: "Of course, the objection is that this[unlimited welfare benefits] (though, curiously not crisis pregnancy centers, which also give away free stuff to low-income women) is 'enabling' sexual irresponsibility and teaching poor people to game the system." Every time there is any sort of charity, whether it be private or state run, there has to be a balance between eligibility criteria and the liberality of aid. If the screening criteria are too stringent then people who really need help will be excluded. If the criteria are too loose, the program will be abused and limited resources will be wasted.  I do not see why Shea should be surprised that the same people who hand out free stuff willy-nilly at crisis pregnancy centers want more stringent scrutiny of taxpayer supported programs. It is not unreasonable to me that the tolerance for abuse may very well be different when the program is privately funded instead of taxpayer funded.

I resent the insinuation that any attempt at accountability is hard hearted. Whether someone is receiving food from a church food pantry or receiving an EBT card from the state, they should acknowledge that they are subsisting on the beneficence of others and should seek to be good stewards of this generosity. No one should live with food insecurity and the state in collaboration with private entities should make sure that no one goes hungry. People need to be fed without being judged. On the other hand, those receiving aid should not self-righteously proclaim that they are entitled to be supported and any attempt to regulate benefits is evidence of selfishness and greed.

Bookshelf styles

I spent a bit of time at the hair salon this morning and had time to flip through a few of the home decor magazines. I saw something that made me so sad. This is not the exact picture I saw today, but it is same design idea:

See that bookshelf? They have wrapped all the books in craft paper to give them all a uniform look. They hang pictures over some of the shelves so that you can't easily remove some of the books. The books are not meant to be read, but only meant to be adornments to the decor. That might work for some families, but not our household.

This is my den library. I do use some of my shelves for decorative items, but the books are there to be read. We have a similar wall of books in the computer room. Every bedroom has a bookshelf filled with books. Even the television room has books. Military movers always groaned when they saw our house and realized how many boxes of books they would be moving.

When I visit other people's homes, I enjoy looking at other people's bookshelves because the titles they display offer a window into their lives and personalities. I would find it very dull to just look at monochromatic paper spines with no substance.

To each his own. I guess there is nothing wrong with a wall full of books that are nothing but decoration. Still, it does make my bibliophile heart weep a bit. What about you?

Thursday, March 27, 2014


One of the perks of living in the DC metro area is my proximity to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. I needed to get some paperwork to my daughter faster than snail mail would deliver it and she  had class today at the adjacent Catholic University of America so I decided to make a mini-pilgrimage to the Shrine and then meet my daughter.

I do not like driving in general and driving in DC in particular. In spite of allowing ninety minutes to drive what should be a drive that takes less than an hour, I arrived at the Shrine a mere fifteen minutes before the start of Mass. Let's just say the process of getting there heightened my need for spiritual renewal. As I walked in to the Crypt Church I felt the weariness of the world slip away and the peace of that holy space envelope me. I was thrilled to see that the Blessed Sacrament was exposed. I took my place in the pew and let Jesus have all my worries, fears, hurts, and failures. Soon the priest entered for Benediction.

After Benediction there was still a few minutes before Mass started. Before the Processional, we prayed the Angelus. Then Mass began complete with majestic pipe organ music. This was a Novus Ordo Mass, done completely in English, with the priest versus populum. This Mass was proof that you can have a Novus Ordo Mass that is as reverent and beautiful as any Latin Mass. I am usually one who like to have at least some of the prayers in Latin but that is because so often the completely English Novus Ordo is shockingly nonchalant about the True Presence of Christ. Not this time.

After Mass I wandered upstairs to the Upper Church. I am always awestruck by the mosaic of Christ as well as the mosaics in the church domes. Walking by all the side chapels I reflected on all the roles Mary fills for the Church. She is a tender mother. She is an unfailing intercessor. She is the model disciple. She is a courageous evangelist. "Do whatever he tells you". She always points away from herself and towards her Son.

I spent some quiet moments in the chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Then I spent some time in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. From Mary to Christ. Lent had started out pretty well for me but I had noticed my discipline beginning to wane over the last week. This little bit of time spent away from my computer, away from my work, and away from all the noisy distractions of the world is just what I needed to spiritually recharge, refresh, and renew my Lenten intentions.

 Lent is about spiritual growth, not about perfection. Christ fell many times on the way to Calvary. We should not be surprised that our own path includes a few stumbles. If like me, you are beginning to feel the fervor of your Lent fading, I encourage to take yourself out of the world for an hour or two to refocus. There is still plenty of Lent left to spiritually prepare ourselves for Easter.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

This old house

A friend posted on Facebook about going by to see an old childhood home.  It is funny how there is always this draw to visit something tangible from our past. So many memories. After 30 years of being a military family we have lots of "old homes".

My favorite home full of memories is the first house my husband and I bought about a year after we got married. It was an old home in Marquette, MI. This is the only house I have ever walked in and felt as if the house had a soul of  its own. I know I wasn't the only one who felt it. I took a good friend to look at it after we bought it but before we moved in. She walked in the door and was moved to tears.It was definitely charming but there was just something else about that house that I can't quite explain.

It looked like a cottage with a stone facade. The first owner was a home builder who built this one for himself in 1942 so the craftsmanship was amazing. Original polished oak was everywhere-- window frames, an oak mantle over the fireplace, doors, built in shelves--and it was all still beautiful. At some point much of the flooring had been covered by carpet but two bedrooms upstairs still had the hard wood floors. Neither my husband nor I had a lot of experience with home improvement projects but with the confidence of the newly married we refinished those floors. His buddy told him how to do it and said it would be a weekend project. Three or four weekends later we finished. They were beautiful. The memories of that project are happy--a joint effort to build our home. I bought some pretty blue fabric with a tiny floral print and made curtains for our bedroom. Before long, I was pregnant. Now we got to fix up a nursery with pastel yellows and greens. I didn't know if I was having a boy or a girl so we went with non-committal colors. Our first son was born there and before we knew it, another son as well. I felt so blessed in that house.

One day we noticed a man standing on the sidewalk outside our house. Then we realized it was a priest. Our home had been his childhood home. His father had been the homebuilder who built our home. His mother had planted all the perennials we enjoyed every spring. He had many happy memories there.

We went back as well. By this time we had four children. As we drove by the house we saw a moving van. The hospital where I did my residency had bought all the homes on the block and was going to move them or tear them down to make way for the hospital expansion. The current owner let us walk around. It was very much as we left it nearly a decade prior. The oak still gleamed and the blue floral curtains still hung in our bedroom. I am so happy we got to see it one more time before it was gone.

Do you have house memories?

I tried to find an old picture of the house but couldn't quickly lay my hands on one that showed the whole house. I did find some that I thought showed how happy we were in that house.
Showing off my first baby bump.

Thinking I might have a future doctor. Nope. None of my kids went in to medicine. 

Like father like son.
Daddy and his boys. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Louisiana considering mandated sex ed from kindergarten through high school

Louisiana state representative Patricia Smith is supporting legislation that would require sex education from kindergarten through high school. There is no problem with teaching basic biological facts, but her legislation requires the presentation of all permutations of gender identity and family composition as just normal variants. It also requires education in all forms of FDA approved contraception as well as barrier methods such as condoms.

Read more here in my latest Human Life International Truth & Charity Forum column.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Taylor Swift and Thomas Aquinas

It may have been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, but it has been quite the week or at least quite the weekend in the Catholic blogosphere. I am going to go all Taylor Swift on you right now and declare that I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever try to carry on a serious discussion in a Facebook com box again! It was horrific. I saw my work taken out of context, misrepresented and posted in a Facebook status update with the specific intention of demonstrating how stupid some readers are. Fans and friends of the poster hopped right in like sharks after chum. They heaped sarcasm on top of ridicule without even knowing if the statement offered was true or having any way of seeing it in context. I thought if I put a face and a link to the source of the statement so it could be read in context it would tame the venom. Nope. It rained down ever harder. I suppose I can now invoke another Taylor Swift song.

We complain about political campaigns taking half-truths and sound bites and twisting them into false issues. As I witnessed this weekend, it is not just politicians who do this. We do it to each other all the time. We gossip and sensationalize an issue because we thinks it gives us an air of authority. We exaggerate offenses because victimhood brings us sympathy. Out of pride we dig our heels in and deny that we could possibly be wrong about anything or our opponents could possibly be right about anything.

Here's where Thomas Aquinas comes in. In his work Summa Theologica he argues all the significant principles of Christianity as understood in the 13th century. His format is instructive. Before he launches in to a defense of his position, he voices the position of the opposition. He takes great pains to accurately and completely delineate their premises and conclusions. He even provides cogent arguments for why such conclusions could be drawn. Thomas Aquinas would never demonize his opponent and dismiss their opinions with a "Well that is just a stupid person talking". Only after he had demonstrated that he understood the opposition would he begin to refute their position. Imagine how civil our society would be if every time there was a disagreement both sides accorded each other that level of respect.

I have a long-term project simmering on the back burner that I may just have to move up to a higher priority. I am hoping to develop some guidelines for discussing Catholic health care ethics in every day settings like over a cup of coffee or at the Thanksgiving table. We need to be able to evangelize during these informal but teachable moments without driving a wedge between us and them. This weekend's experience demonstrates how difficult that can be but also how terribly necessary it is to learn to converse on controversial topics with kindness, charity, truth and respect.

Saturday, March 22, 2014


I woke up early this morning. Nothing on the schedule so I could have slept a bit more but savoring a cup of hot, fresh, black coffee in the stillness of a house where even the dogs are still sleeping is too inviting. It is early morning but there is no brilliant sunrise. There is a gray morning sky outlining darker gray trees. Against this background there is a dot of brilliant red. A beautiful male cardinal is sitting in a tree on the edge of the woods. He looks like a colorized image in a black-and-white photograph. I needed to see that image this morning.

As part of my professional life, I have chosen to delve into the field of bioethics. I research and write on any topic that impacts the dignity of human life. This work includes wading into the political arena and looking at policy. There is a lot of ugliness and evil out there. There are days that I feel like I climbed out of the sewer. The stench is overwhelming.

So I need the beauty of a cardinal in the morning. Yes, I have the Grace of the Sacraments and prayers to renew and refresh and give me the strength to go back to the sewer again and again. But I need the tangible beauty of life to remind me why I go back. I am so grateful for my grandchild's smile, a gentle touch from someone I love, kindness from friends, the beauty of music, literature, and the visual arts, and the wonder of God's creation that all point to the world as God intended it to be. I can be in the sewer of this fallen world but I do not have to be of it.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Snark is in the eye of the beholder

Because I am taking a beating in several comboxes because the fans of Simcha Fisher are outraged that I should criticize her approach to Emma Smith, I am going to take advantage of the fact that I have my own blog and get a few things off my chest.

Simcha Fisher is known for her snark. Got it. However, just because she has a way with words that can slash someone down to size in a heartbeat does not mean that when her words are mere pin pricks in comparison, they are not still hurtful.

If one takes Emma Smith's piece in the context of her entire series, it is clear that she is trying to show there is an alternative to the secular approach to marriage. I know she published her piece on the internet and opened her life up to public criticism. And there are some fair critiques that can be made about her current article. But coming about it with the attitude of "Stupid girl! She is really going to be embarrassed by this in a few years!" is just cruel.

If I had been writing Simcha's piece I would have approached it something like this:
Emma Smith got a lot of things right in her latest edition of her engagement chronicle. Her perspective is understandable considering that she is engaged and anticipating marriage, but has not actually been married. Since I am further along this marital journey with a few more miles on the treads, my perspective is a little different....
I would have then given my perspective without taking on Emma Smith point by point. Of course, I am not an A-list blogger and published book author so maybe I don't have the creds to criticize. I certainly don't have legions of fans to rush to my defense with ad hominem attacks in the com box. I wonder what Simcha Fisher will think about her response to Emma in another ten years.

UPDATE:  I am not going to wade back in to the Facebook combox discussions still brewing on this topic. When defenders of one position start calling those who disagree with them nimrods you know the opportunity for civil discourse is long gone. However, I will say that it seems that the bone of contention has to do with how you read the original article. I read Emma Smith's article as a testimony that anchoring your marriage in God gives you the confidence to go forward and believe that fidelity is possible. This is counter to our secular culture that views infidelity as inevitable. In no way did I see this as a statement that as long as you have enough faith everything will be roses and rainbows and if your marriage doesn't work out it is a clear reflection on your inadequate faith, piety, etc. Those who read the article as I did saw Simcha Fisher's response as harsh and an unnecessarily personal attack. It reminded me of one of those ladies who has to tell you every horror story about pregnancy, childbirth, and newborns as soon as she finds out you are pregnant. My impression is that Simcha Fisher and others read Emma Smith's article and drew the conclusion that she was saying that you can guarantee earthly happiness if you just trust in God enough. They viewed this as a slam at everyone who has experienced marital tragedies, seeing it to be akin to viewing physical afflictions as evidence of sin. If I had read the article that way, I would have been up in arms too. I honestly do not believe that is what she was saying and I suspect her editors also did not read it that way or they would never have published it. If that is not the crux of the misunderstanding, then I have no idea what it is. It is very sad that it cannot be discussed without people casting aspersions on those who disagree with them. Holding people up for ridicule and starting new Facebook threads to make fun of those who commented on blogs or other Facebook threads is in no way ennobling and does nothing to enrich a community of faith.

If I could write a letter to me...

Country singer Brad Paisley recorded a great song, "If I could write a letter to me" a few years ago and that is going through my head as I read a couple of internet exchanges. Emma Smith has been chronicling her engagement and marriage prep over at Catholic exchange. Her latest post entitled Marriage is Work is a reflection on how differently she feels about marriage than do her secular divorced coworkers. Emma is full of faith, hope and optimism. She really believes that her marriage is not going to be like theirs. She and her future husband are anchoring their marriage in a divine love, not a temporal one and Emma is confident that will make a difference. If she really did not believe with all her heart that her marriage is going to be one of faithfulness, unlike the marriages of her coworkers, should she even be getting married?

Well known Catholic blogger Simcha Fisher could not abide such youthful optimism and felt the need to bring Emma Smith back to reality. Simcha (Maybe I should say Fisher. She keeps referring to Emma Smith as "Smith" in her rebuttal piece.) is absolutely right in everything she says about marriage. However, what she says has been gleaned from years of experience. She even says that what Emma wrote is what she would have written at that stage in her life. So I have no idea why she feels the need to belittle Emma Smith's piece. When I suggested in the comment box that the view from a few years down the road could have been offered without personally attacking the bride-to-be I was told by all the Simcha fans that considering the level of snark Simcha is capable of, this was a kind and charitable response. "But I hope to God she is never involved in any kind of marriage ministry" does not sound very kind and charitable to me.

I really did not read Emma Smith's article as a declaration that because she is a faithful Catholic nothing bad will happen in her marriage. I read it as the reflection of a young woman who is immersed in a cynical, secular culture of failed marriages and she still has the confidence to go forward in marriage because she has faith in God and will anchor her marriage in that faith. Those of us who have been married for a few years know with all our hearts she is going to need that faith. She will be tested. Her husband will be tested. They will be tested together. So for now, at her stage in life, she needs that optimism and confidence to jump with both feet into marriage. If she just dips a toe into marriage now, how will she stand firm when the trials of heartaches, sickness, and whatever other misfortunes that are the reality of life strike?

Some have said that Simcha is just saying what a wiser, older sister should say. If I had an older sister and she had said these things to me as I was getting ready to be married I would have been crushed. I am way too old to be Emma Smith's sister, so I will speak as an old aunt. Go forward in faith. Be not afraid. You will grow. You will learn. But for now, you are where you should be.

UPDATE:  Mea Culpa to Simcha Fisher because she took issue with my parenthetical comment about referring to Emma Smith as just "Smith". It is AP style to write that way. Ok. I had been criticized in her com box for suggesting that her critique of Emma Smith was harsh as Simcha Fisher was just offering "sisterly correction". Well, I never called my sister by just a last name so that seemed an odd way of doing it to me. So noted. She is just following the AP style book. Since the gist of my concern is that Fisher's piece was critical of Emma Smith for not speaking with the wisdom of experience she did not have, it is a minor issue.

UPDATE #2: Wow! Dare to disagree with Simcha and the hordes descend upon you. Glad I have comment moderation turned on. One last word from me on this here.

UPDATE #3: Emma Smith has written her own response with maturity and grace. Do read it here.