Catholic Exchange: Confronting Death in a Culture of Avoidance

Death comes to us all. It is a hard reality, but it is a reality that we can face with hope through our faith in Christ Jesus. Meanwhile, we live in a culture that largely ignores death. We hear mantras such as “You only live once” or “Live today like it is your last”, but these are typically expressions to assuage guilt over leading an immoral life. The reality of death is also ignored by the majority of people because death is something that is hidden or locked away in Western culture until we are faced with it. The only time it seems to be discussed is when a group is pushing for “mercy” through euthanasia.

I know I have largely lived as if death was some far-off reality. This makes little sense since I was a 9/11 relief worker and confronted the hard realities of violence and death at 20 years of age. I profess, along with my fellow Catholics, the teachings of the Church each Sunday which discuss the Last Things. It was not until recently, when my husband’s health took a dramatic turn, that I began to confront death. We are confronting it together, as married couples must.

Two months ago, I woke up at 4:30 AM to my husband yelling for me. He was standing over our sink coughing up a large quantity of bright red blood. He had coughed up blood a few years ago and had a lesion on his lungs, but it healed and we thought it was some kind of fluke. It wasn’t. Instead, what happened a few years ago was the first sign of symptoms of a mysterious disease. Over the course of the last couple of months, doctors have ruled out every normal possibility from tuberculosis to bronchitis to fungal infections. He’s been negative on every single test and more cavitary lesions (holes, for lack of a better word) continue to form in his lungs. We are now faced with a series of intense tests to definitively see if my husband has a very rare disease known as pulmonary vasculitis. He will have an open lung biopsy performed by a thoracic surgeon in the next couple of weeks along with a MRI, MRA, even more bloodwork, and the list goes on. A neurologist has also been brought in to begin seeing if he has the even rarer form of brain vasculitis. It’s a difficult disease to diagnose and treat. It comes with serious risks, including premature death.

This period has been marked by immense grace. God truly gives us the strength we need to confront the hardships of this life as they come. It doesn’t mean any of this is easy.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: Seeing Our Neighbor and the Long Loneliness of December

Every year a discussion about the startling rise in suicide rates during the holidays makes national news. More often than not, the cause is relegated to mental illness, stress, or family situations. While all of these may be true, they betray a purely materialist view of the human person. Mental illness in itself is a tremendous Cross for those who carry it. All illness has a bodily and a spiritual dimension. That’s why Christ gave the Church the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. There is a very real need for physical treatments, but we live in an age that focuses on the body and ignores the spirit. Far too often we ignore the needs of our neighbors. Whether it is the deepening darkness leading to the winter solstice or a heightened awareness of one’s loneliness due to the holidays, people who struggle with mental illness, family problems, stress, or a whole plethora of other issues find themselves undone this time of year. What are we doing to help them?

Do we truly see our neighbor?

I find that one of my greatest shortcomings in social gathers is that I cannot remember people’s names. This is a shortcoming, because it means that I do not stay present and truly focus on each person I meet at an event. In fact, it may take me many meetings to remember the name of a person. I am so self-absorbed that I cannot focus for a couple of minutes to remember a person’s name. It also means that I am not listening to everything else they are telling me. I am not seeing my neighbor. I do not see Christ in them either. It’s impossible to see either if I am not fully present in charity.

Everyone suffers at some point in their lives. For some people suffering is chronic and is a lived affliction. My own father has suffered with chronic illness ever since he had rheumatic fever at 7 years of age. He has lived with intense pain for 53 years. The level of his suffering over the years has only been revealed to me as an adult, since he tried to keep it from my sisters and me as children. While he would not want attention to be drawn to him, I have to wonder if people have cared to notice this Cross in their brother in Christ? Would I have noticed if he were not my own father? Chronic illness is inherently lonely, but often we fail to notice its effects in the person sitting or standing beside us. The Mystical Body is called to walk into the joys and sufferings of their neighbor. Pope Saint John Paul II in Novo Millenio Inuente explains:

A spirituality of communion also means an ability to think of our brothers and sisters in faith within the profound unity of the Mystical Body, and therefore as “those who are a part of me”. This makes us able to share their joys and sufferings, to sense their desires and attend to their needs, to offer them deep and genuine friendship.

If we are truly committed to walking as disciples of Christ, then we will step into the Crosses of our neighbor, rather than flee. This requires great courage, charity, and the forming of habitual action.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Holiness: What Really Helped Me Leave Facebook, Again

I will admit that after I wrote about leaving Facebook again, I struggled to deactivate. That is until God knocked me upside the head. This is the “letter” I wrote to my Facebook friends, many of whom have been very important to me at various times in my life.

To My Dear Facebook Friends,
 
I just had one of those jaw dropping (to me) moments of clear prodding from God. They don’t happen often, so He’s clearly trying to get my attention. During Mass I was contemplating all of the distractions in my life and how I had allowed Facebook to really distract me again. I was thinking about the things I need to do to help Michaela, my husband, and me on the path to holiness, especially in light of this Sunday’s Gospel reading which focuses on eschatology. I then thought about how I wanted to do prayers and read to Michaela this evening (yes my mind wandered a bit…I am a work in progress. 😉 when we got home. The book that came to mind is a children’s book called The Weight of One Mass. I bought it at a Catholic bookstore in MT when I was visiting this past summer. I really enjoy it, but it is not one Michaela usually picks. We haven’t read it in months and I chose it every time we’ve read it. We got home and after dinner I told her to go pick a book for us to read together. I kid you not, she walked out with The Weight of One Mass. Okay, Lord. I hear you. It’s time to pull the plug on Facebook and other distractions in order to focus on holiness.
 
There’s a lot of turmoil and anger in social media right now. The world is Fallen and full of suffering. It has always been this way and will continue to be so until the Parousia (Second Coming). The only way we transform the temporal order and fulfill our ontological and eschatological end is holiness. We can argue, battle it out, demonize one another, scream, rant, rave, plot our vengeance, and stomp our feet, but it accomplishes nothing. People are so charged, angry, and blinded right now that reasoned pleas for civil discussion are ignored and vilified. People have quite literally lost their minds.
 
Evangelization in the post-modern era poses unique difficulties. As I pointed out earlier today, we are no longer evangelizing peoples who worship gods outside of themselves, such as elements of nature. Today’s gods are ourselves. We are in a battle against billions of people who think they themselves are god. That truth is set by the individual; dependent entirely on their feelings and emotions, not reason and rational thinking. This leaves us to the whims of our neighbors beholden to their desire to be worshiped no matter what they do. This is dangerous and destructive. Remember this years from now when this thinking fails in tremendous and tragic ways. This is the dictatorship of relativism and the impacts of nihilism on our culture. We are seeing it on full display now.
 
How do we reach people who worship themselves? Something Christians all need to ponder very seriously. The mission is the same no matter who is in power or what happens in the future. We are called to be saints, even if our family, friends, neighbors, etc. give us over to be fed to the lions. We live our faith in truth, charity, and hope. Holiness is infectious. If we fulfill our mission and work to become holy saints, then others will be attracted to the joy, peace, and love of God within us. Once we encounter the Living God, truly encounter Him, the moral issues fall into place because we see as God sees rather than how *we* want to see. It makes little sense to many now, but the Cross is hope. Sacrifice is freedom. I had to walk in tremendous darkness before I could fully see it and I am still only beginning to get the paradox. In reality we can only grasp in faith at paradox, but we still have a deep understanding through the eyes of faith.
 
I write about holiness and the call to sainthood a lot, even though I fail daily. But our parish priest’s Homily was exactly on this topic tonight. Too many “coincidences” not to be the Holy Spirit prodding me to relinquish my grip on my distractions. I need to focus on personal holiness and my family. I will check in again at some point, but sparingly. I will continue to pray for all of you. Good-bye for the present. Take good care of yourselves. Pax Christi.
 
Love,
Constance

The Strange Ways God Heals Our Sufferings

**I will be on Al Kresta’s radio program, Kresta in the Afternoon, on Wednesday, October 19th at 4pm EST.**

To be a Catholic is to live paradox. We may not be consciously or intellectually aware of this fact, or refer to it as paradox. Our Faith is centered on the greatest paradox of all, namely, the Cross. It is death that brings new life. Christ’s bloody, tortuous self-gift on the Cross brings about salvation for all of mankind. Saint Paul says it best in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25:

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside.” Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

While I study and marvel at the paradoxes of our Faith, it is only recently that I found myself living paradox at a visceral level. In fact, when the world looks at someone in my circumstances it sees either “folly”, envy, or hatred. The truth is always stranger and much more interesting than fiction or perception.

My Cross becomes heavier.

Two months ago I lost my fourth baby in miscarriage. We named him Andrew Thomas. We discovered his death on August 8th, the Feast of St. Dominic. We named the baby after my hero, St. Thomas Aquinas, on a Dominican feast day. The pain of the last couple months has been intense and filled with questions, anguish, anger, and confusion. The sorrow of this miscarriage is coupled with the very likely reality that I will not be able to bear any more children to term. The NaPro hormone treatments I was on throughout the pregnancy did not increase my hormone levels at all, and after seeing a beautiful healthy baby with a strong heartbeat twice, our baby boy died. My family and I carry the dual Cross of the death of another child and infertility. We are living proof to a world that thinks it can control fertility that only God decides family size. It should also be a reminder to Catholics who struggle with being self-righteous, that not every family with one child is using contraception.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

First Grade: The Homeschooling Journey Continues

My five year old daughter started First Grade yesterday. We have been homeschooling for a year. Kindergarten was very relaxed because I didn’t want to force her too quickly into a rigid school routine. She was interested in starting some school at three and became very interested at four. To my delight, not so much surprise, she breezed through Kindergarten and was ready to jump into First Grade early. The reasons we homeschool are vast. Some of these reasons include: religious conviction (this is the biggest), conscience issues, intellectual rigor, immorality within the culture, and the desire to go at our daughter’s pace.

Thankfully, we live in a state where homeschooling is respected and we live in great freedom. We do homeschool under a religious exemption and I applied under Virginia state code with my local school board using a variety of quotes from Popes and other Catholic resources. The great gift of the Church’s 2000 year history! It makes finding resources easy. Our exemption was granted with no trouble at all. It is very difficult to argue conscience of homeschooling with a Catholic because the Church has made it very clear that it is the parents’ right and duty to school their children in the manner they see fit and which will lead their children to Heaven. That latter part can be something we forget at times.

Part of homeschooling is to focus on going at the child’s own natural pace. My husband and I knew from birth that our daughter is smarter than both of us combined. While this does invoke some level of pride in us, some good and some bad, having a very smart kid comes with interesting problems and times of great comic relief. There’s nothing quite like your child pointing out your errors from a very young age. In fact, yesterday I was on the phone with my husband explaining to him a situation in which I felt powerless. When I hung up the phone, my daughter said to me: “Mommy, only God has power.” I was momentarily stunned into silence and then told her she was absolutely right.

Since I am a newer homeschooling mom, I try to read a lot of different books by veteran homeschoolers. I have read books on unschooling. I have read books on classical education of which I am a fan. I have read books on discipline and the need for tight schedules. I have read books on monastic living within the domestic church and the list goes on and on. These books have been helpful to a point, but really they tend to point to the author’s individual preferences over any universal necessity or practice in homeschooling. There is a need in day-to-day living and the spiritual life to instill discipline from an early age. Even though I was in the Navy for 6 years, I still struggle with discipline. One of the real difficulties is finding books that fully apply to us. I can learn a good amount from a mother with 10 children, but her situation is drastically different from my own. Homeschooling an only child comes with great blessings and difficulties that differ greatly from a large family.

First, I do not have older children or younger children who my daughter can learn from throughout the day, weeks, months, and years. Many of these moms discuss the great gift of learning from siblings, of which I have no doubt, but at this point it is God’s will for us to have only one child and that may remain. I do not know. We are looking into adoption, but just like my fertility, these things are entirely up to God. So the gift of a large family is wholly unhelpful to me and at times is painful for me since one child was never our plan. In all honesty, It makes it hard for me to want to attend a Catholic homeschooling conference since all of the speakers seem to have 6-10 children while the rest of us with one child or small families, through no fault of our own, are not represented in the speakers. My other friends who homeschool one or two children feel the same way.

Second, since it is just my daughter and me, there are times she is going to get tired of me and there will be burn out.There will also be burn out for me. Let’s be honest, homeschooling is something we are called to and it is by the grace of God that we are successful and survive. This is precisely why I cannot express enough gratitude and extol the blessings of our local Catholic homeschool coop.

Mondays are Coop day and while it is exhausting and crazy, it allows my daughter to be in a classroom with other kids of a variety of ages–I might add. She learns from other teachers on a whole host of subjects, many of which I do not do at home. This year she is learning Art, Italian, Classroom Concepts, as well as two programs we are doing at home, Harcourt Science (I am her teacher at Coop for this) and Classical Catholic Memory (CCM). She learns from me at home four days a week: Reading, Math, Religion, Science, Spelling, Writing, Art Appreciation, and CCM (a memory program that includes Latin, Religion, History, Science, Math, Poetry, and Geography each week). Coop gives her the opportunity to spend time with friends and to communicate with a wide age range of people from 3-18, as well as adults.  There are over 30 kids in our Coop. Each Monday, she spends all day with other kids and moms and we both get a break and guidance as we go through this homeschooling adventure.

This year’s journey has only just begun. She seems to enjoy learning, and because it is just the two of us, we are done for the day by lunchtime. I am sure we will hit bumps on the road frequently. There will be days she isn’t as interested or a topic is a bit of a struggle. That is when we can take our time and down shift or up shift depending on her needs. Her being ahead allows for flexibility in future years. If she hits a subject in junior high or high school that is difficult for her, then we can take two years if we need to. She will graduate at 16 based on where we are now, but homeschooling her means that we can move her back to 18 if we need to. The point is to stay at her pace, so that she can foster a life-long love of learning from a very early age rather than become frustrated by either being ahead or behind. Pray for us. Like I said, no homeschooling family would ever pretend that it is an easy road. It is deeply difficult and one completely dependent on God, but it is rewarding, and in my view, the most assured (there are no guarantees, we can only do our best and rely on God’s grace) in keeping our daughter on the path to holiness in later life.

 

 

Catholic Exchange: Reaching Out to the Suffering

One of the dangers of our weakness in the face of suffering, is the propensity to cave in on ourselves. We can turn inward and isolate ourselves from the people around us and the world. This is a natural response to pain. We want to lick our wounds and deal with the pain on our own. The problem with this tendency is that it cuts us off from others and our loved ones. Suffering and grief are not experienced in a vacuum. Oftentimes we overlook the people grieving beside us. We also can forget that suffering is not a unique experience. We are not the only ones who suffer, far from it. This is not to limit, deny, or ignore our own personal sufferings. Suffering is universal, but the experience of suffering is as varied as there are evils and pain in the world. There are people who are starving, victims of violence and war, cancer patients, those battling natural disasters, and yes, people like me who are grieving the loss of a child in miscarriage. It is important that we not isolate ourselves or the notion of suffering when grief and pain come our way. We must suffer, but it is important for us to avoid self-pity.

Suffering is often a missed opportunity. We live in a world that runs from suffering. This is of course logical, since suffering is to endure immense pain. The reality is, however, that we live in a Fallen world where suffering and sorrow are an everyday occurrence for somebody. Oftentimes that suffering is a shared experience, like miscarriage. There are many, even millions of people, who know the profound pain of loss. The opportunity in the face of this type of suffering, or any type of suffering, is to learn to minister to one another. In giving of ourselves, our pain is lessened. In giving away love, we are filled up. It is one of the great paradoxes of Christianity.

I thank all of you who took the time to write to me or post a comment on my recent piece on miscarriage, both here at Catholic Exchange and on my personal blog. Your comments were appreciated, but they also revealed to me that the suffering brought on through the loss of a child in miscarriage is widespread and often ignored. It showed me that by sharing my own pain, I am able to share in the burdens of others. This is one of the great lessons of suffering. If we turn inward and ignore others while resting in the delusion that we are alone, then our pain intensifies. We become cut off from others and from God. In suffering we are called to give of ourselves in order to lessen the pain of those around us. Grief cannot be taken away. It must be endured by the individual who has lost a loved one, but we can reach out to others and simply remind them that they are not alone. We make helping others too complex. We can’t take away another’s pain, but we can recognize it. All we can tell the grieving is, “I am so sorry for your loss” and continue to be a presence walking with them on their journey.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.