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, December 31, 2015

On Yellow Journalism and Immigration Reform

The Artist's Father Reading his Newspaper by Paul Cezanne, 1866
The Washington Post ends 2015 with a report on a protest by immigration activists opposed to the Obama administration plan to deport families from Central and South America. There are some aspects of both the reporting and the story that are notable.

First of all, the story is the lead article of the Metro section of the paper. It is accompanied by full color pictures of the crowd. The crowd shot is comparable to the crowd shot offered each year for the annual March for Life. However, the article indicates that the immigration protesters numbered about one hundred while the March for Life marchers number in the hundreds of thousands. If you were basing your estimate on the pictures in the Post you would think they were similar in size.

Secondly, the Post makes mention of the political ramifications of the proposed deportations without commenting on the fact that President Obama is moving to deport thousands of immigrant families from Central and South America at the same time he is pushing to welcome over 10,000 Syrian refugees. Isn't that a significant juxtaposition that a serious journalist should explore?

Before commenting further on the substance of the article, I want to make it clear that I believe our immigration system is broken and in need of substantial reform. Mass indiscriminate deportations are not the answer. As a wealthy nation we should generously welcome those who wish to immigrate to our country and contribute positively to our culture and society. Generalized fear of foreigners has no place in our immigration policy.

On the other hand, as a sovereign nation, we have every right to control who crosses our borders. We have an obligation to our citizens to do what we can to prevent those who bear our country ill will and pose a danger to our nation from entering.

The dilemma of immigration policy is to find the right balance between these concerns. It must be a balance. Either extreme--completely opening our borders with no questions asked or completely closing our borders and isolating ourselves from the world--is a mistake.

The protesters are not doing their cause any favors when they protest based on emotion and illogical statements rather than make arguments based on reason. For example, the Post quoted protester Jennifer Romero, “We are going to be out, and we are always going to keep fighting for our rights.” Actually, as an illegal immigrant you do not have any rights to stay here. Immigrating to this country is a privilege, not a right. Presuming a right that you do not have is not a way to win support.

Similarly, the protesters were carrying signs that read, "If you want our votes, no deportations!" Only legal U.S. citizens can vote. If non-citizens--legal or illegal--are planning on voting, we have a voter fraud issue.

As a nation, we do have a moral duty to help those who are fleeing persecution if we are able to safely do so. Reasonable vetting of immigrants is necessary for national security. Those on the receiving end of this help have to understand this entry is a privilege and they can request it but cannot demand it.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Family Life is a Domestic Pilgrimage

Jesus Found in the Temple by James Tissot ca. 1886

I always gravitated towards Pope John Paul II's description of the family as a domestic church. I will now add Pope Francis' description of family life as a domestic pilgrimage to my characterizations of the family. It is easy to be discouraged when our family does not look like bright images of television or social media. Take heart! Even the imperfect families are a source of holiness!

Head on over to Catholic Stand and see my reflection on the family as a pilgrimage in light of Pope Francis' Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

When the teacher is getting test anxiety

A Scholar by Rebrandt ca 1631
It is hard to believe that it has been over three months since I last blogged. I have been teaching a 400-level Anatomy & Physiology course and I have not worked this hard since I was a student. I can honestly say that the last few months have been little more than a blur. It has been a good blur, but it is not a pace I can keep up indefinitely.

As always, challenges provide opportunities for growth. I think I learned a few things along the way.

1. It is okay to say "no". I have often been accused of having a helium hand. When a request for volunteers is made, my hand just floats up. This past semester I had to weigh the hand down and let others carry some of the load. I have to admit feeling a bit guilty when I didn't participate in every event and effort, but I am not the lynchpin.

2. I don't have to engage every argument or discussion. I admit I am opinionated. I also enjoy intelligent, reasoned discussion. I am not offended by a differing point of view and do my best to understand the premises that support it. I do not have time to argue emotions and feelings. Logical discussion is only possible with those who have a mind open to truth. If the discourse has devolved into name-calling and snark it is better to walk away and say a prayer.

3. There are a lot of things that I think I have to do that are really elective. I like to do them. I want to do them. It is nice to do them. I do not have to do them. 

4. Chocolate makes the world seem a brighter more welcoming place.

5. Coffee makes me seem brighter and more welcoming.

No promises that I really will write more often, but that is on my list of resolutions.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Is gossiping beneath the concerns of a pope?

Gossip by Giovanni Boldini, 1873

My latest article is up at Catholic Stand and I am a bit surprised by the reaction. I explored why Pope Francis has addressed the sin of gossiping on so many occasions. The first response was a diatribe on the "liberal" takeover of the Church and how the discouragement of gossiping is an effort to quash dissent. The next response complained that the Pope's frequent use of hyperbole makes it impossible to take him seriously.

Neither of these commenters addressed my analysis or the spiritual lessons I gleaned from Pope Francis. Rather, because my starting point was a homily by Pope Francis they ignored my words and attacked their inspiration.

Pope Francis is very different in style from both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Yet I have heard nothing that he has actually said that is a departure from Catholic teaching. I have seen many headlines written in the secular press that attribute meanings to his words that are just not there. I have seen many articles written in the Catholic press that claim his words support this controversial positions but when I go back and read the actual address I just don't see the controversy.

Pope Francis declaring a Year of Mercy is very consistent with his inclusive approach. This is not an approach of syncretism that puts equal value to disparate ideas. This is the approach that says we are all sinners and the Church welcomes all sinners to find salvation in Jesus Christ and His Church. We do not say repent and be saved over there and then you can sit by us in the pews. We say come sit by us now and feel the healing mercy of Christ.

Which I believe is why the Pope is talking about gossiping. No one feels welcomed when they face a gauntlet of disapproving looks and wagging tongues. If our snark, biting sarcasm, and snide criticisms drive people away from the Church and away from their potential salvation then we have contributed to the demise of their souls as well as our own. This is not a petty parish problem that is beneath the concerns of the Holy Father. This is an obstacle to effective evangelization and the Pope is right to take it on.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Why students are unprepared for college

St. Augustine reading philosophy and rhetoric in Rome by Benozzo Gozzoli, 1464

A recent Washington Post edition featured a front page article on the declining SAT scores over the last 10 years. In spite of overhauling the test ten years ago the trend is consistently downward.

Cyndie Schmeiser — chief of assessment for the College Board, which owns the SAT — said she is concerned because the share of students prepared for college has stagnated for five years. Close to 42 percent of students who took the SAT reached a score of at least 1550[out of 2400], a benchmark for college and career readiness. The share was far lower for Hispanic students (23 percent) and African Americans (16 percent).
 As a mom, a physician, and an adjunct college professor I have my own ideas as to why so many of our students are not ready for college. I wrote here about my recent adventure teaching a 100-level course at a four-year university. I recently received the report of my evaluations by students. They weren't too bad but there was a definite trend. The number one complaint that students had about my teaching is that I taught them too much. I gave them information that did not show up on the test. These students are totally unprepared to learn a body of knowledge and apply that knowledge. They did not understand that my job is to teach them the foundational knowledge they need to move forward in their chosen career field. My job is not to give them the answers to test questions so that they can regurgitate these answers on an exam. 

Much of this can be traced to the deemphasis of learning in our schools. We are not teaching students how to think but what to think. The teaching-to-the-test mentality makes learning all about performing well on the next metric whether that is an AP exam, the SAT, or the next iteration of a learning standards exam. Only information that shows up on a test is relevant. All other information is a waste of time.

We are also asking our schools to do so much more than provide an academic education. We are asking them to be teachers of morals, work ethics, and various social agendas. There seems to be an abundance of ideologues in the upper levels of academia and they embrace this opportunity for indoctrination. The study of history, literature, and so many other subjects  are exercises in diversity training, the study of microagressions, the chronicling of the evils of Western civilization, and the reinforcement of the perpetually offended.  There is no education in the rational, reasoned evaluation of ideas since any disagreement with the agenda du jour is labeled bigotry and hate-speech and categorically dismissed. Logic has been replaced with emotion.

I see this emphasis on victimhood and entitlement in my students. There is a constant request for special "accommodations" because of their hardships. For example, "I have a job and may not be able to arrive to class on time. Can you administer my tests to me on a different day and time that does not interfere with my work schedule?" Or how about, "If you give me a grade lower than a C it will not count towards my major. The cost of this class is a major financial hardship for my family and we cannot afford for me not to get credit for it. Therefore, you need to give me a C." 

These are only two of many requests I get from students who try to justify why the standards of performance and the course policies do not apply to them. These students cannot see that if I make a unique consideration for them I would have to do the same for every other student who comes to me with a sob story. They are so focused on their own exceptionalism that they do not recognize the obstacles and challenges of every other student in the class. Interestingly, I recently had the opportunity to chat with some high school teachers. They see the same sense of entitlement not only from their students but also from their parents.

College readiness has little to do with our feelings or emotions. Praising effort is fine for young children but as students approach adulthood the truth is results matter. College courses, especially in the sciences, involve a critical analysis of written material and quantitative calculations. It is a very Joe Friday approach: just the facts, ma'am. If you do not know the facts, you will fail. That is the harsh reality.

If we want to prepare our students for college we need to give them some of that realism. Parents need to teach their children that it takes more than desire to succeed. It takes the will to make hard choices and give up some play time to work towards success. It also takes some talent, aptitude, and even a little luck. Life isn't fair. There are always going to be people with more talent, aptitude, and luck than you. Instead of lamenting what they lack, students need to suck it up and do the most they can with what they have.

Let the parents parent. Let them address issues of morals, values, manners, and work ethic. Schools can reinforce a good work ethic and respectful manners, but leave the instruction in morals and values at home. Then let teachers teach without the interference of an agenda-driven curriculum. Maybe then we will have more students who are truly educated and ready to take the next step and enter college.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Walking the path of St. Monica

St. Monica by Gozzoli, 1464

St. Monica has always been a favorite of mine. You will notice I have her as a patron of this blog. I dearly love Mother Mary, but let’s face it, she was “full of grace” and was the Mother of God. I can often relate much more to St. Monica who had her own set of failings and was the mother of a real hellion,( Not that I am saying any of my children have come close to the exploits of the young St. Augustine). 

My prayer list used to include young moms with intentions for safe pregnancies, babies that sleep through the night, toddlers with fevers, and grade school struggles. Now that my circles have aged I am praying for elderly parents, sick spouses, college admissions, job applications, and holy spouses for grown children. And I am praying for a plethora of good and holy mothers and fathers who are having their own St. Monica experiences. Today on the Feast of St. Monica I knelt in Mass with a heart full for prayers for so many mothers and fathers whose hearts are breaking from wayward children. 

In today’s society it is counter-cultural to be a faithful Catholic. We do our best to teach our children and give them the tools they need to stand firm in their faith. But faith is a gift that must be accepted. The Sacraments are not magic. Individuals have free will to cooperate with the grace of the Sacraments or not. Unfortunately, too many of our children forge their own way, ignoring the gift of faith they have been so lovingly offered and choosing instead the lures of shallow pleasures in a secular world.

This is not a new problem. St. Monica walked this path as a mother in the fourth century. She is the model for mothers grieving from the sinful choices of their children. She never compromised her own faith in order to entice her son to return to the fold. She never enabled his sinfulness. But she also never stopped loving him. She never stopped praying for him. She never gave up hope. 

Dear St. Monica, please pray for all mothers and fathers whose children have rejected the faith. May these parents persevere in faith, hope, and love as you did and may they see their own children find their way back to a life of virtue in Christ. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Looking for Air Fryer recipes


I really did not think I needed another kitchen appliance. But then I got an email suggesting I try this air fryer. I had no idea what an air fryer was but this sounded intriguing. Using a convection heating system I could get crispy results just like deep frying while using little or no oil. I have a wonderful Calphalon deep fry pan that is perfect for Friday fish dinners but I have to buy an extra large bottle of cooking oil every time I use it. If I am just cooking for two that is a bit much.

My E'Cucina Air Fryer arrived yesterday. It is amazing! I made french fries from fresh potatoes. The instructions said to toss those with a little oil before cooking. They came out crispy and delicious. For lunch today I made my husband a Monte Cristo style grill cheese. Again, turned out wonderfully. He enjoyed the first one so much he asked me to make him another. Tonight I made coconut shrimp using one of the recipes in the pamphlet that came with my fryer. It was amazing. It was a three step breading process just like I have done before. Then into the basket and into the fryer. In 10 minutes I had perfectly crispy coconut fried shrimp. Absolutely no oil was added to the fryer. It is all done with circulating air.

I am wondering if any of you dear readers have experience using an air fryer and have a good resource for recipes. I've looked a couple of cookbooks on Amazon but none of them looked very inspiring.

This machine takes up about as much room on the counter as a bread maker. I could cook about a pound of shrimp in a single batch.

I do get a little kick-back if you enter Amazon through one of my links and buy anything (not just what is featured in the link) but the real reason I am writing is to share my discovery of this appliance and find out if anyone can steer me towards some good air fryer recipes. Look forward to hearing from you!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Gramma's House

Woman Preparing a Meal by Vincent van Gogh, 1885

This morning I tackled my wildly overgrown backyard garden. The garden is such a hodge podge of flowering plants. There is no master plan. I see something at the nursery or in a garden catalog that I just have to have and I make room for it. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. And while I have cured myself of my packrat tendencies in many areas of my life, the garden is not one of them. I need to thin out some of the plants but just hate throwing away perfectly good plants so I am always looking for a new home for the extras.

Today was more weeding than tending to established plants. There is something therapeutic about ripping weeds out of the ground by their roots. I had thought about taking my phone outside with me to listen to an audio book as I worked, but I decided I needed the silence. Nothing but the natural outdoor noises and my thoughts filled my head.

After so many years as a nomadic Air Force wife I find myself just now realizing I am settled. We have now lived in this current house longer than I have ever lived in any other house in my entire life. It is not a temporary lodging in a long line of other temporary lodgings. It is my home. Anyone who gets to know my home also gets to know me. I love watching the HGTV programs about renovating and decorating houses. I look around my own home and I am sure an interior designer would click her tongue at how many of the cardinal rules of decorating I have broken. I have too many photos and too many knick-knacks. There are little shrines everywhere as the saints accomany me from room to room. This house will never grace the pages of Southern Living but that is ok. I hope it will grace the memories of children and grandchildren.

Of course, my children have varying attachments to this house. The oldest never really lived here. He just visited during college breaks. The Army now has him and his family completely on the other side of the continent so spending time in my home is impractical as well as near impossible. And besides, there is nothing about this particular house that draws him so he is just as happy to have us visit him as to share this house with his children.

I find myself feeling a little sad about that. This is not his childhood home but it is now my home. I want it to be Gramma and Granddad's house where so many happy memories are made. I still have the blocks and the wooden toy trains and the kitchen playset waiting to be enjoyed by grandchildren. Every time I bake cookies or make applesauce or can jams I imagine what it would be like to have grandchildren helping me in the kitchen. As I watch my garden bloom I think about sharing the love of gardening with the next generation and having them by my side as I plant and weed.

There is certainly no reason to think this will never happen. But I also know I can't just wait around for the tableau I created in my mind to materialize. I do what I can to build a relationship with my grandchildren across the miles. I visit when I can. I video chat with them. I write them letters. I pray for them. Parenthood and family life took a much different course than I envisioned when I started the journey. There is no reason to expect grandparenthood to be any different. I will always do my best to be a good Gramma even if that means being Gramma somewhere other than Gramma's house.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The taint of abortion on fetal tissue donation

The Doctor by Gerrit Dou, 1653

The donation of human tissue and organs, including fetal tissue, for research and therapeutic purposes is not intrinsically evil. In fact, if done according to strict moral standards it is a very positive and generous act. However, tissue recovered from an abortion bears the stain of the evil of abortion and must be rejected. In my latest article at the HLI Truth & Charity forum I try to get past the "ick" factor and delve into the roots of why the use of tissue from aborted fetuses fails the test of moral acceptability.

Here is a snippet:

... Celebrity Sarah Silverman distills the support for this with her Twitter message that it would be “insane” not to use the fetal remains of abortion for the greater good of science and education. Her utilitarian ethos decries the waste of perfectly good fetal tissue. 
But there is the rub. Organs and tissue obtained from aborted fetuses are not “perfectly good”. We need to apply the same moral principles to the use of fetal tissue for scientific research that we apply to other uses of human organs and tissue for either transplantation or research. The fact that the tissue proffered by Planned Parenthood was obtained by the intrinsically evil act of abortion renders this tissue morally unsuitable for medical and scientific purposes.
Please head on over to the forum and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Mother's Heart: When things go awry

Sorrows by Titian, ca 1554

My latest article is up at Catholic Stand. Perhaps because I am working on a presentation that deals with how a mother relates to adult children, Pope Francis' general audience last week struck a chord with me. He used the imagery of a mother's heart to describe how the Church deals with the civilly divorced and remarried. Here is a snippet of my response:

Those of us who have children have felt the pain of a child’s misbehavior. It may be something minor such as the disobedience of a young child. It may be something more significant during the rebellious teenage years. It may be something heartbreaking as our adult children make poor life choices and face devastating consequences. No matter how old our children are or how badly their actions hurt themselves or us, they never stop being our children and we never stop loving them. 
I believe that is what Pope Francis was trying to convey about the relationship of the Church with those who have divorced and remarried. They are no different than the rest of us, in the sense that they are sinners as we all are. The Church does not condone the sins but does love the sinners. Perfection is not required to sit in the pews or participate in the life of the parish.

The article has only been up a few hours and already there are comments that prove Pope Francis was right to address the issue. The tone of these comments reflects a hostility towards these families that certainly would not make them welcome in any parish. I am even being accused of trying to negate explicit Church teaching because I endorse the Pope's view that those in irregular marital situations need to be welcomed into the fold of the parish to the full extent that Church doctrine allows.

To digress to another issue, perhaps the problem is that we think going to Communion is automatic if one attends Mass. Actually, every time  attend Mass one must discern the state of our soul. Are we in a state of grace to receive Communion? Have we observed the Eucharistic fast? Should we go to confession before we receive?

The usher driven pew-by-pew style of going up to Communion puts a spotlight on anyone who does not receive. There was a time when people prayed silently first then approached Communion when they were properly disposed. Since everyone is coming forward in a somewhat random order it is not so obvious when someone stays in his pew. I have to wonder if our drive for efficiency has taken away from the solemnity and gravity of receiving the Eucharist as well as kept some from attending Mass for fear their avoidance of Communion will stigmatize them.

There are so many children whose parents are in irregular marital situations and who are being deprived of Sunday Mass. For the sake of these children as well as their parents we should do what we can to make these families part of our parish families. Holy Mother Church loves all of her children.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

The Intergenerational Domestic Church

The Holy Family with St. Anne by El Greco, ca. 1600

I have a new project I am excited to share with you. I will be speaking at the Together in Holiness Conference in Houston on April, 2, 2016! I am very excited to be working with the wonderful folks at the John Paul II Foundation for Life & Family who are organizing this event.

I started this blog in 2006. It has gone through a couple of iterations. In the beginning I was writing as a Catholic mother and doing my best to keep my kids Catholic and maintain our domestic church. But time marches on and the kids are grown and now my husband and I are looking at an empty nest. What does "downsizing" the domestic church look like?

My presentation at the conference will focus on three main areas. First, how does my relationship to my spouse change once the kids move out. Secondly, How do I relate to our adult children especially in matters of faith? And finally, where do I fit in, or for that matter, do I fit in at all into the domestic churches my grown children have established in their own homes? 

From time to time I will probably be working out the answers to these questions on the pages of this blog. I would love your input. If you are going to be in Houston this spring, I hope to see you at the conference!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Some Thoughts After Teaching College Freshmen

Baby Marcelle Roulin by Vincent van Gogh, 1888

Where did July go? It seemed to disappear as I taught a very fast paced 100-level course to mostly college freshman at a four-year university. I have been teaching this same course in a community college for over five years. It was an interesting and perhaps even an enlightening experience.

I would first like to say that about a third of my class was a joy to teach. They came to class well prepared. They were attentive, inquisitive, diligent, and motivated. They give me hope for the coming years. I am sure they will do great things in the future.

I am really not sure about another third of the class. They never came to lecture. I saw them on testing days but that is about it.

Another third came to class but never really seemed engaged. They were always looking for a shortcut. Their most frequent question was, "Do we have to know all of that?"

Since this was a summer course the students had various motivations for attending. Some, I think, were hoping a summer course would be less intense than a semester-long course. Wrong! We cover the same amount of material but you have less time to absorb it. One day in summer is the equivalent of a week during the regular semester. One week during the summer session is the equivalent of a month during the regular semester. If the regular semester was trying to drink from a fire hose, summer is trying to drink from Niagara Falls!

Some of these students really resent having to take a summer course and cannot believe I expect them to study during their summer vacation. I received questions like, "Do you really think we should read the textbook?"

I am left wondering if the experience of so much standardized testing during their primary and secondary school years has perverted their understanding of what it means to learn. For so many years the focus has been on teaching to the test. Their purpose for learning information was to perform well on the SAT, AP exam, or some other metric. Now they are in college and I am asking them to learn a subject matter. I am not teaching to a test but trying to give them the foundational knowledge they need to apply when they take advanced courses in nursing, physical therapy, or medical school and ultimately engage in their future occupations. Yet for every one time someone asks me to clarify a fact I am asked at least six times, "Is that going to be on the test?" They are very annoyed when I teach them something and then do not include it on the test. How dare I waste their time with non-testable information!

I also have a sense that too many of these students have never faced the consequences of their actions. They have never been allowed to fail. Someone always bailed them out. I received multiple emails from students saying "I need to get at least a B to get in to program XYZ. This is not happening. You need to do something so that my grade improves."  I spent hours outside of class helping students who requested help or needed tips for studying the material. I offered study guides for each chapter. It was clear that some students felt this was insufficient and I should provide test questions ahead of time so they could simply regurgitate the answers on an exam. But this is college. You have to learn a body of knowledge and show you can apply that knowledge.

Which brings me back to my community college students. I teach them the same material and use the same sort of study guides and exam questions. While not everyone excels in my community college classes there is far less wailing and gnashing of teeth and far better performance on the exams. Most of these students have faced hardships of one kind or another and they know their choices have consequences. Performance matters. Failure is a real possibility.

I do not think we are doing our children any favors when we are constantly cushioning their falls. At some point the safety net goes away. Wanting to do well is not enough. There has to be enough drive to make the sacrifices of time and energy to study and learn. And not every student has the aptitude to get an A or B in every class. Grades are not participation trophies. They are earned. The sooner students understand that, the sooner they will be mature enough to realistically evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses and select a path that leads to success.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Wherein I get a bit radical

Wedding Procession by Maurice Denis, 1892

My latest piece is published over on Catholic Stand.  The Obergefell decision is now the law of the land. There are lots of Protestant sects falling all over themselves to embrace it and include same-sex marriage as part of their religious doctrine on marriage. So be it.

I am not sure that the Catholic Church can or should focus on turning back the clock to a time when the legal definition of marriage matched the Church view. In my article I argue that now that civil marriage as well as marriages in numerous Protestant churches includes same-sex couples, it is clear that the underlying view of marriage in these settings is incompatible with the Catholic view. Therefore, we need to stop assuming or pretending that they are the same thing. Actually, they have not been the same thing for decades. When marriage is viewed as a union that can be easily dissolved because one or the other party no longer finds the union personally satisfying that union was never a marriage in the Catholic sense.

My proposal is that we own up to this difference and act accordingly. Please head on over to Catholic Stand and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

For the Supreme Court It is All About the L-U-V

Marriage at Cana, 1304, Giotto

Like the free-love advocates of the 1960's, the Supreme Court has declared that marriage is just a piece of paper. There is nothing unique or transcendent about this union. What is really important is all the happy-clappy, rainbow-filled "luv".

I am not happy with this development, but I am also not surprised. Perhaps now those of us who believe that marriage is something more than the legal recognition of the mutual affection of consenting adults will awaken from our delusion that the state ever shared our view of marriage.

It has been decades since legal marriage has been more than a partnership that impacts taxation and property ownership. With the onset of no-fault divorce it became easier to dissolve a marriage than to dissolve many business relationships. While the words of the ceremony may say, "until death do us part", the state view of marriage is "until it is no longer fun for one of the parties".

In my latest article at the HLI Truth and Charity Forum I talk about the appropriate response to the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. Just as Roe v Wade was a call to evangelize and educate on the sanctity of all human life, this ruling is a call to evangelize and educate on the unique nature and grace of Holy Matrimony.

Matrimony is more than a self-serving pleasure experience. It is vocational, self-giving, and sacrificial. It is about the joining of one man and one woman to serve God together and to cooperate with the creation and nurturing of new life, if that is God's will for them. Matrimony is intrinsically and inseparably linked to procreation.

The secular world wants its luv-fest. They call it marriage. We need to speak of matrimony.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

When life gives you beets...Make chocolate cake!

Cake City by Ivan Bilibin, 1912

Today's produce  box from the farm co-op arrived today. I unpacked lettuce, green beans, squash, blueberries, cherries, peaches, eggs, and beets. About those beets... I am just not a fan. I have tried. I roasted them. I boiled them. So what else can I do with beets? I can make chocolate cake!

With the help of Google I found this recipe for chocolate-beet cake. As far as I am concerned, chocolate covers a multitude of sins and this was a wonderfully moist, fudge-like chocolate cake. The recipe called for topping it with creme fraiche and poppy seeds, but I just made a sauce from a few of the fresh cherries I had. It was lovely!

I feel a little guilty about using my vegetable to make chocolate cake. But I did use cherries to make a salsa to serve with grilled chicken so I guess it evens out. In any case, I think everyone in my household is now looking forward to finding beets in our farm co-op box if it means chocolate cake is on the menu.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Eat your vegetables!

Market Woman at a Vegetable Stand by Pieter Aertsen, 1567
Pope Francis asked us to receive his encyclical, Laudato Si', with an open mind.  We need humility to accept God is the Creator and we are the created. We need enlightenment to see all life is a gift but human life is uniquely made in the image of God. Because of our exceptionalism we need wisdom to be good stewards of life on earth.

The entire encyclical is a call to conversion which means each of us needs to take an honest look at our lives and lifestyle to see where our relationships with God, with other people, and with nature need improvement. This evaluation must be based on reason, not emotions. For example, many of us want to do our part and recycle and we feel good when we throw our paper, glass and plastics into the  big blue recycling bin. Yet, this article in the Washington Post shows how our emotional need to do something and be "green" may lead us to misguided efforts that accomplish little and may actually harm the environment. Pope Francis points out in Laudato Si'  our efforts to be good stewards must be based on science that is truly free from ideological and political biases.

One area that I have been working on for the last several years is to make my eating habits more ecologically friendly. Now, I must say that I chuckle every time I see an environmentalist rallying around meatless Mondays as if abstaining from meat one day a week is new innovation. We Catholics have been going meatless at least one day a week for centuries. We just do it on Friday as an act of penance to join our sacrifice with that of Christ. But there are some new considerations for planning my family meals that I think make our meal times more environmentally friendly.

I have become a huge fan of shopping for locally grown meat, dairy, and produce. When we insist on eating strawberries in December, we end up with bland pale orbs that offer but a subtle reminder of what strawberries are supposed to taste like but cannot compare to the freshly picked juicy red berry that shows up in the farmers markets in spring. In addition to offering second-rate flavor, the out-of-season strawberry shows up in our grocery stores only after great expenditures of energy to transport them hundreds or even thousands of miles.

In addition to making our lives more energy efficient, eating what is in season and locally grown makes our lives richer as we celebrate the arrival of our favorite fruits and vegetables. We rediscover the rhythms of nature. In Germany, the arrival of asparagus is the cause of grand celebrations and festivals. Here in Virginia I savor the berries of spring followed by the corn, tomatoes, peppers, and squash of summer followed by the apples, pears, pumpkins, and other squash of autumn. I am becoming more adept at freezing and canning produce when it is in season so I can still enjoy it when it is not.

I joined a farm co-op and get a weekly box of produce straight from the growers. I am learning to cook vegetables that I would never have tried otherwise. I found out I really like both turnips and collard greens. I have also learned that while produce can make a beautiful still-life paining, fruits and vegetables do not have to be picture perfect to be both healthy and tasty. I was appalled to learn how much of our food supply is plowed under because it is not pretty enough to sell. Being willing to eat "ugly" produce prevents the waste of both perfectly edible food and the resources required to grow it.

Buying local food does not have to be an all or nothing endeavor. Here in Virginia I will never have locally grown bananas, avocados, and mangos so I will still rely on imported produce. But if there is a local alternative, I will try to wait for the season and celebrate the bounty of home.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Laudato Si'

I have finished my first, albeit quick, reading of Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si'. My first thought is no one should draw any conclusions about this encyclical unless you read it yourself. There are enough phrases and ideas that can be cherry picked to support diametrically opposed ideologies and media news outlets are already doing so. This encyclical is not wed to any ideology. This is not an encyclical about climate change though climate change is discussed. It is a statement about the reality of Man and his place in the world. Such truth transcends politics.

The overarching  theme is that as human beings we are in a relationship with God, in a relationship with each other, and in a relationship with the natural world. These relationships are intrinsically interconnected and any distortion of one of these relationships will distort the others. They cannot be addressed in isolation from each other.

The Pope reminds us we are called to be good stewards of creation. A consumerist-focused culture that does not take into account the larger impact of more production of consumer goods is disordered. We cannot expect to have wealthy segments of the world population generating large amounts of waste at the expense of the environment for the poorer, less technologically developed societies.

At numerous points in the Encyclical, Pope Francis goes to great lengths to state that genuine concern for the environment must be accompanied by a genuine respect for all human life. He pointedly states that concern for endangered species is meaningless if such concern is not also extended to the most vulnerable humans including the unborn, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor.

The Pope is not anti-technology but he states over and over again that technology must be our tool and not our master. The one paragraph that I would like to quote right now seems strange to do so on this digital platform of communication but perhaps because my work requires me to have such an extensive presence on the internet it strongly resonated with me:

 Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload. Efforts need to be made to help these media become sources of new cultural progress for humanity and not a threat to our deepest riches. True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution. Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature. (47)
There is a great deal of wisdom in this Encyclical but many will miss it because they insist on reading it through the lens of politics and power.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Saga of Anna's Promise

I am going to admit that I sometimes buy a bottle of wine because I like the cutesy name or the clever label or the pretty bottle. Likewise, I am a sucker for roses named for people or places or ideas that are special to me. Which is why I bought the rose pictures above. This is Anna's Promise, named for one of my favorite Downton Abbey characters. 

The fact that I am now seeing my first blossom on this rose seems like a miracle. I am not sure naming a rose after a character who always seems to be facing a traumatic experience is a good idea. I ordered the roes online and it arrived as a seemingly healthy bare-root rose with no leaves but several very thorny canes. I promptly planted it in a large pot with quality soil and gave it a good feeding. Alas, Virginia had an exceptionally long winter which subjected this poor rose to multiple snowfalls and numerous freezing nights.

I waited and waited for signs of life after the temperatures warmed. All of my other roses were sprouting leaves and buds within a month or so of our last frost. Not Anna's Promise. Months passed. Thorns fell off the canes. Green canes turned black. I kept wondering if I should just throw it out since it looked much more like it was dying than growing. I just couldn't give up on it. I scratched at the base and there was still a bit of green, evidence of a living plant. I just kept cutting away the black dried canes. 

Then one day I saw it. A small sprout. And before I knew it sprouts were coming up everywhere. Buds formed and I anxiously awaited the first blossom. But this is Anna's rose. The first bud on the top looked like it would be a gorgeous long-stemmed flower when an inadvertent bump against the plant chopped the bud off. It didn't kill the plant, but I was going to have to wait a bit longer to see my first flower.

Then there are the pests. I have a love-hate relationship with roses.  I absolutely love the flowers but they require so much attention. They are the fragile needy residents of my garden. One day as I checked on Anna I found the telltale evidence of sawfly larvae. Leaves were spotted with the brown webbed chewed lesions. I picked off and squished the small worms that I found and then gave Anna a good spraying with a natural insecticide.

Success! I now have a thriving lovely rosebush offering me this beautiful flower whose color reminds me of the sunrise. I am sure there is a life lesson somewhere in there if I think about it enough. But right now I think I shall just pour my morning coffee and enjoy gazing at Anna's Promise.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Lord, to whom shall I go?

Penitent St. Peter by El Greco

Here is my contribution to the discussion of #WhyRemainCatholic instigated by Elizabeth Scalia.

Essentially, I believe the Catholic Church is who she says she is: the one, holy, catholic apostolic church founded by Christ. I trust the words of Christ when he declares that He will found his Church upon the Rock of Peter. Peter and his successors hold the keys to the Kingdom. That which they pronounce bound on earth will be bound in Heaven. That which they pronounce loosed on earth will be loosed in Heaven. (Cf. Matthew 16:17-20)
I have a lot more to say about this so head on over to Catholic Stand and read the whole thing!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Gardening Lessons

I come from a long line of gardeners. I have happy memories of spending time in the garden with both of my grandmothers. Sometimes we were tending vegetables that would eventually end up in cans or frozen so that the fruits of summer could be enjoyed long after its warmth had faded into the cool gray of winter. Even as a child I found this self-sufficiency very satisfying. I still always have a pot of something edible growing. This year it is jalepeno peppers and lots of different herbs.

My real passion, however, has been growing flowers. My goal is to always have something blooming from spring through fall. Most of my plants are perennials so it is fun to welcome them back each year. The daffodils are first. Then the peonies. Eventually the azaleas begin to bloom. Early spring also features the bleeding hearts, amsonias,   and wisteria. I supplement with a few annuals, especially those that either reseed themselves like morning glories or allow me to gather their seeds in the fall for planting the next year like marigolds.

The front yard is a very orderly, manicured garden with trimmed hedges and color coordinated pots.

The backyard, however is my playground. It is a mass of vegetation with no particular plan other than to see what will grow.

Right now I have these red hot pokers blooming. Their official name is kniphofia. They provide a splash of color but the blooms always look a little raggedy. The lower edges are dying off as the top top florets bloom. Still, I like them. They require little attention and come back reliably every year. 
I also have my first moonflower bush blossom. This is different from the moonflower vine. The scientific name is Datura inoxia. I bought this plant at a farmers market many years ago. It produces these huge white trumpets in the evening. They last through the next morning. Such a beautiful flower produces a wicked spiny seed pod. I have shared the plant with my mother-in-law and my father and they have thoroughly enjoyed its nightly show in their own gardens.  A word of caution, this plant is highly toxic. The Aztecs used it as a hallucinogen and it is apparently easy to overdose. My dogs leave it alone but I would be cautious if there were small children around.

I really do love sharing plants. My favorite gardening books is Pass-Along Plants by Steve Bender and Felder Rushing.  I love sharing plants with friends and especially with family. I have irises and lilies in my garden that came from my mother-in-law. This climbing rose came from a cutting of a rose bush my parents planted when my daughter was born. (I have no idea why I can't get the rotated version of this photo to upload!)

I once visited a home where the entire backyard garden had been created with plants propagated from cuttings or seeds of plants from other family members. It was a gardening family album. I loved that idea. Unfortunately, I am in a different gardening zone from most of my family so our ability to share is limited. It is special, though, when gardening allows us to connect generations.

 I know the saying is "bloom where you are planted" but sometimes you have to make a change. This white hydrangea was having a tough time when I planted it against the back of the house a couple of years ago. I purchased it in a 10-inch pot and it didn't get much bigger for an entire year. I moved it to the more open garden and now look at it!
Take a look at these two pots of morning glories. They were planted on exactly the same day in the same kind of potting soil with exactly the same number of stray seedlings that sprouted from last year's morning glories. They get the same amount of water and fertilizer. Yet the one on the right is twice as big as the one on the left. I think the difference of just a few feet changes the amount of sun they get with the one on the right spending more time in full sun. A small adjustment can have huge results!

Among my other backyard bloomers are the astilbe filling in the shade
and the bee balm thriving in the sun.
Every one has his niche. You just have to find it.

 I am loving this pot of Gerbera daisies. It was a gift from one of my last semester students. I enjoy the bold bright flowers and am cheered by the gratitude with which they were given. An expression of gratitude lasts far longer than the moment it takes to offer it.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Why I want my grandchildren to remain Catholic

Madonna and Child by Parmigianino, 1525

Elizabeth Scalia has challenged Catholic writers to expound on why they remain Catholic. I will probably join in that discussion more directly in the next few days but first I wanted to combine this theme with another that has cropped up among Catholic authors--the Benedict option (Saint, not Pope Benedict). The Benedict option suggests that the future of Catholicism will be small enclaves of faithful believers who withdraw from the world in order to nurture and grow the faith.

In my latest article at the HLI Truth & Charity Forum I address why not only will I remain Catholic, but I pray that my grandchildren and their children and their children will remain Catholic as well. I cannot withdraw from the world when there is work to be done and battles to be waged to protect my grandchildren's religious freedom and spiritual future.

While being faithfully Catholic may have created some social hurdles for my children, there was never a real threat to their lives or livelihood. I have no confidence that will be true for my grandchildren. The secular culture is aggressively narrowing the window of tolerance for the public exercise of faith...Those of us who work now to defend the faith, defend religious liberty, defend the dignity of marriage, and defend the sanctity of human life do so to profess the truth and to perhaps ease the road ahead for our children, our grandchildren and the generations beyond.
I invite you over to the Truth & Charity forum to read the whole thing. What is your own response to, "Why do I remain Catholic"? How do you envision the Catholic experience of future generations in America?

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

A Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything May Not Be for Everyone.

The Miracles of St. Ignatius by Peter Paul Rubens

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am reading The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything by James Martin, SJ. There is so much wisdom here that I always come away with a valuable insight. Yet, I hesitate to recommend this book freely. My problem is not with Ignatian spirituality. My difficulty lies with Fr. Martin's application of this spirituality. As always, the devil (quite literally) is in the details.

For example, I found Fr. Martin's discussion of an Ignatian approach to prayer to be inspirational. The idea of bringing everything to God, holding nothing back, and of taking quiet time to listen to God's response caused me to slow down. It is similar to the reminder to pray a Rosary, not just say a Rosary. The difficulty comes with the lack of discussion of discernment. Fr. Martin speaks of our desires as urgings from God that we should listen to rather than resist or dismiss. He leaves the poorly catechized reader with the idea that one only truly desires what God wants. There is no mention of the fact that desires need to be carefully evaluated to see if they truly emanate from the Divine or if they are, in fact, part of a deception by the Devil.

In a discussion of the lectio divina method of prayer, Fr. Martin seems to suggest that reading the passage about Jesus preaching in the synagogue of Nazareth could give you courage to dissent from Church teaching. You are just being prophetic like Jesus was and you will be rejected by your hometown just as Jesus was, but in the end, you will be justified. As is often noted, the Devil can quote scripture just as well as the most faithful Christian. No single verse of Scripture can suddenly change something that is wrong to something that is right.

I am still reading this book and I am enjoying it, even though I am uneasy with much of the presentation. Fr. Martin writes the book with the hopes of it being accessible to believers and nonbelievers alike. I have not yet finished reading it, but I do not think I can make such a universal recommendation. I would hand this book to an atheist or agnostic because I think it would effectively challenge some of their misconceptions about believing in God. I could offer this to someone who is well-grounded in their Catholic faith because their understanding is sophisticated enough to recognize the gaps in the discussions of prayer and discernment and appreciate the heart of Ignatian Spirituality.

At this point I would not offer this book to the lukewarm Christian or the poorly catechized Catholic because Fr. Martin's words can easily be misunderstood as a rationalization for doing almost anything and calling it the Will of God or consistent with Catholic teaching. I still have a little more to read before I finish the book so I will let you know if my perception changes.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Sin, Righteousness, and Condemnation

The Last Judgment by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel, Vatican

The Gospel this morning had some interesting words from Jesus:

For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes he will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation: sin, because they do not believe in me; righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me; condemnation, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. (John 16:7-11)
It is not our job to convict the world. That has already been done. Our job is to believe in Christ and lead others to believe. Our job is to align our desires with Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life and help others to do the same--for God's glory, not our own. Failure to see past the power and principalities of this world condemns us.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

For many years I have been drawn to Ignatian Spirituality. Yet it has been somewhat of a pushmi-pullyu relationship. My experience with the Jesuits calls to mind the nursery rhyme about the little girl with a little curl in the middle of her forehead. When Jesuits are good, they are very very good. When they are bad, they are horrid!

I once was part of a weekly prayer group. We used a book series of daily meditations that I found both quite helpful and quite troubling. I loved the essential principles introduced each day but their practical applications seemed twisted. Both the author and members of the prayer group were using these principles to endorse homosexuality, contraception, women priests, and general dissent from the Magisterium. It was only later that I realized this series of meditations was written by a Jesuit and based on the Spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius.

On the other hand, I have found many Jesuits who are  brilliant and ardent defenders of the Faith. They apply the tenets of Catholicism to the everyday world with both charity and clarity yet never compromise the truth. Every encounter with these men, whether it is in person or through their writings, is an ennobling experience.  They draw wisdom from the Spiritual Exercises without casting aside Church teaching. Their everyday lives exude the Jesuit motto: Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam--for the greater glory of God.

Perhaps prompted by both the election of Pope Francis and the urgings of the Holy Spirit I have found myself reading and thinking more and more about St. Ignatius and the Jesuits. This past Lent I used  a devotional based on the writings of St. Ignatius. Currently, I am reading The Jesuit Guide to (almost) Everything by James Martin, SJ. This is an introduction to Ignatian Spirituality written in a very folksy style. I am not far enough into the book to give it a thorough review, but so far it rings true. It is definitely not a scholarly tome but there is plenty of material to make you think. I like the summary of the Jesuit  charism:

1. Find God in all things
2. Become a contemplative in action
3. Look at the world in an incarnational way
4. Seek freedom and detachment.

I look forward to developing a deeper understanding of each of these points as I journey through this book. I will try to keep you posted on the progress.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Writing Round-up

Once again I find my words showing up more at other venues than here. You might enjoy these articles.

At I address the issue of religious liberty and healthcare workers. Read the whole article at the link but here is a snippet:

Every profession is vulnerable to this religious discrimination, but perhaps none more so than the medical profession. Health care workers are intimately involved with matters of life and death on a daily basis. Catholic teaching, in accord with natural law, professes that all human life has intrinsic dignity from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death and faithful Catholics seek to uphold this dignity in every aspect of their lives, including their professional activities. Catholic health care workers are increasingly challenged by a secular health care system that offers little or no protection for the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly, and has little regard for religious principles.
Writing at the HLI Truth & Charity Forum I talk about how the times of Downton Abbey prompted Pope Pius XI to write Casti Connubii.  A preview:

As I watch this story unfold and with the benefit of knowing what ensues in the next ninety years, I find myself wanting to grab Lady Mary by the shoulders and scream, “Please, no! You are on the road to heartache. Abandoning chastity will not strengthen your eventual marriage. Contraception and eugenics advocate Marie Stopes is a false prophet!” Unfortunately, I cannot change history.
Please head over to the HLI Truth & Charity Forum to read the whole thing.

Finally, at I weigh in on the Pope's remarks about large families made during his flight from Manila to Rome. They are not as radical as hyperventilating pundits declare:

Much of this angst could be alleviated if everyone remembers that Catholic doctrine and teaching do not turn on a single utterance of the Pope. This interview is not an encyclical, an apostolic letter, or even a formal address. It is a conversation. One must look at the entire context.
 Thank you for all you support and I would love to know what you think about any of these issues.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Little Epiphanies and Old Habits

It seems like many of my recent posts address the recent transitions of my life like spending Advent as empty nesters and musing on the why's and what if's of Christmases past. Tonight I had another little epiphany about my current state in life. As I begin to pack away Christmas ornaments I don't really have to pack them away so that they are ready to move across the continent on a moment's notice.

For thirty years I carefully secured every single ornament so that it could withstand a military move. Even though the last nine years of my husband's career were spent in the DC area I was always prepared for the announcement that we would be moving again. My husband has been retired for three years now and we are not planning on leaving our current home for the foreseeable future. I probably don't have to make sure every breakable ornament is cradled and cushioned. Barring another rogue earthquake, once the boxes are put on the basement shelves they will not be moved again until Advent of 2015.

The thing is I am not sure I can break this habit. Many of these ornaments are like old friends. They have hung on our Christmas trees in Upper Peninsula Michigan and in Florida. They have seen Christmases in Georgia and Christmases in California and several spots in between. I don't think I can just carelessly fling them into a box. There is something comforting about packing them away for the year and something joyous about unwrapping them as Advent begins. I know they are inanimate objects and will be totally unaffected by their state of storage, but their state of storage emotionally affects me. Taking a little time with the ornaments gives me a little more time with the memories they contain. Maybe all the wrapping I have been doing over the years was less about ornaments withstanding the rough and tumble handling of military moves and more about me withstanding the rough and tumble realities of military life.