Hi all! It has been a little while. Any regular readers probably noticed that I dropped off of the radar, including at Catholic Exchange. I’ve been battling rather painful gall bladder disease for the last 1.5 months. I had to go through a series of tests and finally see a surgeon when it was discovered that my gall bladder was working at a whopping 17%. A surgery date was set for this coming Thursday. That wasn’t good enough for my gall bladder. It decided to tank and I ended up in the ER Friday in excruciating pain. When my surgeon couldn’t get the pain under control with pain meds, he admitted me to the hospital, and performed the gall bladder removal surgery on Saturday morning. So, I am recovering from surgery. I am hoping to return to writing soon. I even had to take a medical leave of absence from graduate school. I will provide another update once I have recovered from surgery. God bless you all!
Here are some thoughts I have in light of observing increased sectarian hostility within the Catholic writing world. First, it might help all of us to remember that each of us has a unique mission as a writer. This is something I am learning as I continue to find my voice and where God wants me to serve Him with this gift *He* gave to me. I am not a mommy blogger. I tried and that is not my niche. There are far more creative and talented Catholic moms who fit that bill. My bent is to the more intellectual.
I don’t really consider myself to be an apologist and I am not an academic, even with formal theological study. I am somewhere in the middle and I am okay with that. God has called me to evangelize my fellow Catholics by sharing the good, the true, and the beautiful that is found within the Church, but far too many people do not know where or how to tap into those resources. I try to take people with me as I stumble, fail, and fall on the path to holiness. I also write for secular and Catholic sites on the Culture of Life because my own grief and pain is being used by God to minister to people in need. This is my minuscule (that’s even too big) section of the deep that is writing on Catholicism.
My point is there is room for different perspectives, talents, emphasis, and understanding. This does not include leading readers into scandal or heresy, as we will all be held accountable for those we drag down with us into error. Sectioning ourselves off from one another and creating “camps” within the writing world only sows division, discord, and scandal. How does that serve God? How does that help others and ourselves achieve holiness? Disagreement is inevitable, but are we disagreeing in charity and truth or anger with a smattering of truth? Part of the reason Confession is so necessary is because we do not fully know ourselves and we are masters of self-deception. We often do not understand our own motives. Anger is a difficult emotion to parse and order properly.
There is an obligation to point out error, but it should be done in charity and detachment. If we are relishing in another’s sin or error, or gossiping in a frenzy on social media, then we have become no better than those we desire to correct. I am a huge fan of intellectual discourse. It’s one of the reasons I struggle with Facebook so much. I am a rather isolated stay-at-home mom and I crave intellectual pursuits, but what I am observing these days is not discussion. Gossip is not a use of reason. It is guided by envy, pride, emotionalism, and sin.
I think all of us–including myself–need to be careful of the very real dangers of the sin of pride for a writer. We can quickly forget that our mission is the conversion and strengthening of souls on the journey to sainthood. God uses us for His purposes. Our writing is not to puff ourselves up or lord over others. Then we do become Pharisaical, as much as I dislike this overused reference at this point in time.
Being a writer is difficult because we take an onslaught of criticism and vitriol. All of us have to learn to let it roll off of our backs and continue in the mission. If a person is ranting and incoherent then there is no point in engaging with them at that point in time. All we can do is commend them to prayer, fast, or offer up our next Mass for them. The last thing we should be doing is falling into the trap of Schadenfreude. We don’t have to agree on everything and we don’t have to like the style of every writer (me included!), but we are called to love one another, and that includes respecting the dignity of each person made imago Dei.
I am taking a few weeks off from writing and from serious use of the Internet. This time I am serious. Being a writer for online publications can be taxing. Unfortunately, people have forgotten what it is to respect others and I often receive nasty, ranting emails. It’s tiresome. It is why so many of my writer friends burnout quickly and switch to books, which is what I intend to do after I complete my Master’s. It is impossible to persuade or win an argument through emotionalism and irrationality, and yet, it is all too frequent in social media.
I am also in the last push through my Master’s. I have four classes left, two comprehensive exams, and my thesis to focus on. My first comprehensive exam is in December, so I have five core classes to re-examine and study in-depth while also homeschooling my daughter and continuing in classes.
I have been asking myself what is most important to me. If I look back 10-20 years from now, what will I hope that I have accomplished? The answer is not being a full-time writer. The answer is that I hope I gave everything I possibly could to my daughter and my husband. Writing can be a serious distraction for me. Like most writers, I have the tendency to retreat inside of myself. Our craft is internal and the thoughts continue cycling and spinning even when a pen and paper or a keyboard is not in sight. My husband has watched me do this before. He is amazed at how much I shut off the outside world when I write. While this is typical, it has also been very destructive. There is a reason why so many writers end up alone, drunk, or high in the pursuit of “great” work. I am in no danger of those things, but I see how it happens and why. I see my own propensity for casting my family and my graduate studies aside as I write numerous articles.
In the end, how many times I was published will matter little. Society tells me that I am wasting my time or potential as a stay-at-home mom and I have battled mightily against that lie in my 6 years out of the work force. I did a lot before I got married and there was major culture shock–and still is–in choosing to stay home. I am an intellectual woman. I like to be challenged, engaged, and involved in discussions that matter. But, there are two people who matter more than my immediate, temporal desires: my husband and my daughter. They suffer when I turn my focus from my vocation.
The greatest gift I can offer the world is my daughter properly formed by the Catholic Faith who has an ardent desire for holiness. The goal is for my daughter to achieve more than I possibly could and to help transform the world and bring it into communion with the Most Holy Trinity. When I stand before God, my career–while it can be sanctifying–will not matter as much as what I did with the child He gave me. She’s 5 years old and soon she will be 18 and moving out on her own. I won’t regret the writing projects I missed nearly as much as if I miss out on the next few years because I become consumed or distracted by other work. This is only a season and God will use me where He wills when He wills it. My daughter and my husband need me to work on being more fully present. I still need to learn the Little Way.
The world may not understand and that is fine. I know where my priorities truly lie and so I am taking a break from writing for a few weeks and then I will only write as time permits in the future. I plan to continue my relationship with Catholic Exchange, but I cannot possibly continue to write for a variety of publications as I have tried to do recently. Something has to give and I don’t want it to be my family. I am looking forward to some silence because the Internet is cacophonous these days. Pax Christi.
This article by Andrew Sullivan at New York Magazine is worth a serious read. It is lengthy, but he uncovers some truths about being a blogger, writer, and user of social media. I found myself nodding knowingly many times throughout.
***The following is an article my dad wrote over at Ricochet and I wanted to share it here on my blog. My penchant for writing comes from my very talented father: A lawyer by trade in years past, philosopher by hobby, and writer by night. This is a story based on my grandfather with the occasional creative license. It caused knowing tears to stream down my face. My grandfather taught me how to fish and all of us grand kids. I will forever remember him fishing the ponds and lakes near Lewistown, Montana. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. He’s been gone 15 years, but looms large in our family’s memory.***
As the sun traveled westward a single tear dropped slowly down the old man’s face. He stared transfixed. Diamonds seemed to float atop the surface of the lake. He’d fished the lake for nearly thirty years, but he’d always been busy with the trout, unaware of the revelation atop the waters. He tried to add up the days he’d spent here. Like another old man, he’d seen many a great fish, and it was always bad news for those fish.
Today, though, he knew that the fish would have the final victory. The old man, bent and crippled now, quietly accepted that his fishing days were over.
Still, he couldn’t quite lay hold of the thought. Wetting a line was his entry into transcendence: Timeless and eternal. He knew now he’d deluded himself. He had always believed that God had revealed himself in the fish teeming in the depths. How could it be that God would take away the old man’s link to Him?
But God had spoken through the old man’s sufferings. The journey was at an end.
Now there was only time to reminisce, and what great memories the old man had!
So as he stood paralyzed with awe, the old man thought of the days when, as a boy, his father took him and his brother from New Mexico, across Texas, to Corpus Christie and the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. These were glorious times. The old man’s father was a master of the sea, and guided his apprentices through the eternal truths of angling. Especially the lessons of humility. The fish, after all, prevailed far more often than the fishermen.
The old man half chuckled as he remembered the morning he and his brother woke early and sneaked off to rent an eight foot skiff and took to sea in pursuit of the creatures of the deep. Boys, of course, are boys, which means they are often too young to know they are fools. Not paying attention to anything but the fish, they’d not seen the tanker bearing down on them until the wake lifted the skiff skyward. At the last moment they heard a horn blast and looked up. Blue words shot from their mouths like a Gatling gun in perfect rhythm with the frantic oars: “Sh#t! Sh#t! Sh#t! Sh#t! Sheee###t!!!”
Needless to say, they’d kept that story to themselves. They would live to fish another day, so long as they didn’t tell their mother.
Back in New Mexico the old man fished the tributaries of the Rio Grande or hiked the rugged Organ Mountains in a sometimes fruitless effort to find a promising fishing hole. In springtime he could spy the full reaches of the Mesilla Valley. When the rains came the Valley would burst in the colors of the wild flowers; then in an hour the colors would be gone. That’s life, he thought, a now you see it, now you don’t affair.
Life never stands still for long and the day came when the family’s prospects in New Mexico dimmed. Like so many families of the times they set off for California in search of the promises of that land. They settled along the shores of Monterey where the old man cast his line into the bay. He loved to try the patience of the nuns by skipping school and disappearing into cannery Row to buy bait before heading to the Wharf. He learned so much more from the schools of fish than from the schools of fancy learning.
But he grew up and life would not leave him to himself. The war came and with it his sense of duty. Three years in the South Pacific left little time to fish; only time to seek the enemy. He’d been tempted to try the waters off Saipan, but the blood of battle had yet to wash out to sea.
But, with God’s good grace, and his mother’s endless petitions to St. Jude, the old man made in back, all his fingers and toes where they were meant to be.
He went back to the Wharf in search of peace and redemption. And he sought out a soul mate, someone who could tame the demons that chattered in his mind. He found her, or rather she found him, and they quickly joined hands—and created many children.
And he fished with a new urgency. Kids have a nasty habit of wanting to eat. There was little money, but there were many fish, and he cast his line and filled his creel, offering a prayer of thanks for each catch. In later years, his oldest son would say that no man ever praised God more.
And he taught his boys to praise through the fish. Now living in Montana, where fly fishing is the unofficial religion, he took them to the rivers and ponds and tirelessly guided them in the finer aspects of catching big ones. Three of the four turned into scholars of the art, while the fourth excelled at throwing rocks to scare the fish away. The boy had no concern for the fish; he simply lived to irritate his brothers, who themselves learned something about blue words. The old man was stern in his warnings, but lax in enforcement. Boys must fight their way to manhood, and the old man figured his sons wouldn’t kill each other—probably.
Later, when the kids headed off on their own roads to the straight and true, he’d made peace with the fish, which he now caught and then released. He thought often of those days of family fish feasts. Now, however, he heard a whisper reminding him that there were other young fathers and other small children who would need the ones he threw back. Now with each fish he threw back, he added a prayer for young fathers everywhere.
The years wait for no man, but they are also abundant in new gifts. He had time now to sneak off to the lake in the middle of the day, the only fisherman in a suit and tie.
Sometimes his wife would join him. After all those years of cleaning fish she had no desire to wet a line, so she would sit on a lawn chair or nestle in the car reading a book while the old man fished. Truth be told she came along only to make sure the old man was still afloat. He’d taken to fishing by inner tube, a Rube Goldberg contraption made of canvass to cover the tube, which wrapped around the waist. With flippers on his feet, and a plaid newsboy cap on his head, the old man backed into the lake with a Daffy Duck waddle. Sometimes she could almost hear his glee, a Daffy voice shouting “Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy.” Then he would paddle hither and yon in search of the perfect spot.
Once, when his wife decided he was on his own, the tube burst and the old man floundered, pretty sure he was headed for the reaches down under. But his guardian angel, probably a celestial fishermen himself, transferred just enough heavenly power for the old man to lurch and paddle his way to the shore. Shades of the Gulf of Mexico.
But today the old man had only time to reflect. His life, he mused, had been a constant fishing trip. There had been days of abundance when the catch nearly swamped the boat, and days of frustration when nothing would bite. But it was the journey that mattered. He’d traveled far. He had seen a thousand fish, and floated a thousand waters, but his energy sapped, it was time to hang ‘em up. But not a time to give up. Rather a time to keep moving toward a new beginning. Old men ought to be explorers, after all.
In a final valediction, the old man waved his hand to bless the lake, thanked both God and the fish, turned, and waved goodbye.
Our society is filled with “experts”. There are experts in politics, medicine, theology, philosophy, science, sociology, psychology, business, and the list goes on and on. An expert is someone who seems to know everything that needs to be known about a particular discipline. This should immediately put us on guard. Anyone who thinks they know everything that needs to be known about a subject, clearly knows very little. Humilitas is the hallmark of the wise. This is how we have been given the Socratic method.
Socrates is told by his friend Chaerephon that the oracle at Delphi told him that Socrates is the wisest man in the world. Socrates’ first question is: How can this be? How could he be the wisest man in the world? He is even more perplexed because the oracle cannot lie. So he goes on the mission of engaging with other philosophers and “experts” to discover the truth of the oracle. He quickly learns that most philosophers or sages of wisdom held themselves up in high esteem. They do not see their own limitations in knowledge or practice of what they teach. Socrates acknowledges his own limitations, and so, the necessity of humility in attaining wisdom is born. In this humility, Socrates proves to be wisest, precisely because he does not consider himself to be so. He recognizes that truth and wisdom are never fully exhausted. We must first come to know our limitations and then we can proceed on the journey towards wisdom and truth.
The expert is the exact opposite of Socrates. The expert holds up their knowledge as superior and ultimate. We watch news programs and are inundated with experts. The primary goal of all of these experts is to tell us how to think. How often does a self-purported expert tell people to study the matter in question for themselves? True, I am not going to delve into quantum physics at this point in time, but the opportunity is open to me should I decide to learn at least the basics.
G.K. Chesterton lamented the dawn of the age of experts. He saw immediately that it creates a power struggle and make us intellectually lazy. The expert removes our own responsibility in learning. We no longer consider whether or not what is presented comports with reality, which is truth. We are all called to be philosophers, or seekers of truth (Fides et Ratio). In fact, we are all naturally philosophers, that is what Pope Saint John Paul II meant. Every single person asks the question “Why?” on a regular basis. Why am I here? Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the meaning of my life? Does life have a purpose? Is there an after life? And the list continues on.
When we abdicate our own natural inclination to search for truth and wisdom, we leave ourselves trapped in a type of adolescence where we wait for other people to tell us how to live, act, vote, or understand a certain discipline. As Catholics, we submit to Holy Mother Church, but that is because we have learned through faith and reason, that Christ established the Church, it is the Holy Spirit who gives her form (life), and that the Church will guide us ultimately to truth. Our job is to swim into the depths and plunge deep into the truth of the Most Holy Trinity through the Church.
I do not write because I am an expert. Theological study has revealed to me just how little I know. If that is not how a person responds to graduate level work in the expansive mysteries of our faith, then they are doing it wrong and they missed Socrates’ lesson. In fact, every good theology program requires the reading of Plato’s, The Trial and Death of Socrates. Humility is a requirement of any good student of truth. That doesn’t mean we do not battle intellectual pride. That is a great temptation for any student, including the student who labors at home in the autodidact fashion, rather than through formal study at a university.
There is a very real and tempting danger in academia to desire the position of expert. I know that I have fallen into this trap at times. There is great power in knowledge, but it must be harnessed and ordered to the good, the true, and the beautiful. My desire for self-gratification is not a properly ordered understanding of the knowledge God has given me, nor the intellect He gave to me. I did not create this intellect. I did not create the truths I study. I did not create the universe. I merely share in a limited fashion what belongs to Him.
My purpose as a writer is to open up the world to my readers. We are sojourners. We are on a journey towards truth together. Teachers, writers, artists, etc. are not meant to be “experts” we are meant, first to be students ourselves, and second, to point the way in whatever limited way God allows us to do so. When I write, I want to point towards the ultimate Source. I want my readers to jump into the deep. I want you to open up great works of theology, literature, philosophy, Church documents, Church history, art, etc. Sure everyone’s intellect is different, but that does not mean we cannot learn something, even if we walk away somewhat baffled. We should all walk away feeling small and unworthy in the face of great mystery.
There is nothing more complex or humbling than studying the very limited theology we have on the Trinity. Upon reading treatises–what few there are–on the Trinity our brain should hurt, and yet, our souls should soar. Terms such as procession, filiation, circumincession, spiration, paternity, relations of opposition, and tota simul are enough to make a person’s head spin. They only scratch the surface of the great mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.
When we read an article or a book, we should look to the author as a guide and fellow traveler. We do not hold them up in some supreme place and presently halt our own thinking and philosophizing. Instead, we should mull around what the author is saying and truly come to understand within ourselves what is being said. In the case of Church documents, there may be times we are quite literally wrestling with God, as Jacob did. We all wrestle with God and we all lose, but we become closer to our true selves as we allow God to deepen our understanding of Him, even in the struggles.
When you read my work, no matter where it is found, never think of me as an “expert”. I want you to go read the resources I provide. I want you to learn more than me. I want you to swim deep into the truth. There are so many great teachers in world history and I only play at it. I am formed by my teachers: Aquinas, Aristotle, Plato, Augustine, Justin Martyr, Benedict XVI, John Paul II. These are only a few in a very long and ever expanding list. Take my 1500 words and allow them to point you towards your destination: truth. That’s it. I want you to pick up the books I have read. The documents I study. That’s where I want you to go. The last thing I want is for you to think my 1500 words are good enough or the end of the story.
We live in a culture of instant gratification. We think 1500 words is good enough. It’s only good enough if we do not desire truth. It is only good enough if we want to remain trapped in mediocrity or to never try to understand why we are here. If you read one of my articles and do not desire to plunge into the depths, then I am failing you as a writer. God bless you on the journey….
I have mentioned this before, but I am going to discuss this topic again. A person cannot know everything about a topic or an author based on 1500 words. We live in an age of immediate gratification. Far too many of us want short answers to complex questions and we make the mistake in thinking that an essay on the Internet is going to give us the total picture or explain complex realities to us. If we want to truly understand a topic then we have to do the work and study it on our own.
Writers who write for national/international blogs or news magazines have a word limit. Depending on the site, the editor imposes a word count that is considered ideal for their readership. Catholic Exchange, where I have been a weekly contributor for nearly 18 months, tends to shoot for 1500 words; however, the editor is lenient with me and has allowed me to hit close to 2000 depending on the topic. The Federalist on the other hand is definitely more interested in keeping to a strict 1500 word count and their editors shorten pieces to fit their readership. That’s the job of an editor.
This word count limitation makes sense. We are writing essays, not books. Most people get bored or tired reading long articles on the Internet and are less likely to finish reading one in its entirety if it drones on. The Internet by its very nature is a place of short, pithy, and introductory explications. It is the medium of books to go into further detail on a particular topic.
This is important to keep in mind when reading any author’s essay on the Internet. I commonly receive complaints that I missed this topic or that, or that I didn’t give a thorough explanation on an issue. How could I? My job as a writer on the Internet is to provide an introduction or a short explanation of complex topics. I also have to keep to one topic at a time. I obviously missed all of the other topics outside of my scope.
I published a piece on Fides et Ratio, a 130 page encyclical. I am not positive, but it may be Pope Saint John Paul II’s longest encyclical. The aim for my essay was to help Catholics see that resources, vast resources, exist inside of the Church to help us confront the claims of agnostics, atheists, and other interlocutors in the culture. I was not giving a thorough reading of the encyclical. To do that I would have to write a book and, quite frankly, I introduced the encyclical because I want people to go out and read it. It is hyperlinked in the article I wrote and above.
The Internet is a great tool for gathering information. I use it regularly as a writer and a graduate student, but in order to delve deep into a topic I have to read books, many books, on different topics. There are no quick, short, easy answers to complex questions. My essay on FR wasn’t even meant to be taken as a response to atheism and agnosticism. You have to read FR or the Catechism to begin to understand the Church’s teaching on faith and reason. I cannot possibly provide the necessary arguments to scientific or philosophical questions in 1500 words which would prove satisfactory to our critics. Instead we must study our resources, learn the arguments, and use them in proper mediums.
Not to mention that, in my experience, those interlocutors who communicate in comboxes are more interested in ad hominems and assumptions than serious intellectual inquiry and honest intellectual discussion. My atheist friends are much easier to engage in discourse in person without the temptation to incivility that is prevalent on the Internet today. That is why I dealt with the one troll in the article by suggesting they study the Catholic understanding first and then come back for discussion. I was encouraging honest intellectual inquiry, something that is vastly ignored in the new and arrogant atheism. I read atheist philosophers to understand their position. Atheists need to read actual Catholic sources first before they can engage in intelligible discussion. You can’t debate a position you have not studied.
This is the problem, though. People think that it is possible to get the entire answer in 1500 words or less. The Internet runs the risk of making us intellectually lazy. We want immediate answers and gratification, rather than doing the work that is needed. Nobody is expected to embark on the path of a theologian or philosopher if it is of no interest to them, but it is possible to study the basics in order to develop enough of a grasp to respond when questions arise. St. Paul tells us we must be able to give account for our joy. We cannot do that if we are ignorant of what our Faith teaches us.
My husband and I had heated discussion about this last night. He was complaining about the lack of fire in Homilies and how theologically minded priests tend to bore the parishioners. I guess because I study theology, I greatly enjoy the deeper Homily. My husband wants to hear more about living the mission and the fear of Hell. Fair enough. There is a dearth of Homilies on the Last Things and many have devolved into the current heresy of moral therapeutic deism. I agree with him, but I disagree with him that this would be enough to help people respond when they go off to a secular university.
A relationship with God, I prefer communion to relationship because of its ontological implications, is crucial and foundational for the Christian. If we do not love God, then we cannot grow in holiness and work towards our eschatological end which is to be united in communion with the Beatific Vision. This is all well and good, but our relationship with God cannot be our justification in the face of rationalism, reductionism, materialism, nihilisim, relativism, scientism, and utilitarianism, all of which are prevalent systems in our culture. The answer “I have a relationship with Jesus Christ” is not going to satisfy the scientific atheist, not mention that it oversimplifies greatly what it means to be a Catholic. Instead we must appeal to the reasoned arguments of our tradition, most widely laid out by St. Thomas Aquinas and other saints, or the recent work of Pope Saint John Paul II or Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, as well as the whole host of orthodox theologians at our disposal through a plethora of books.
Yes, there has been a major break down in catechetical development over the last 50 years, chances are, even longer. My experience of CCD classes in the 80’s and 90’s can be summed up in one word: felt. God gave me a dad who is a philosophy major with a profound love of Aristotle and Aquinas, which inflamed a love of learning within me at a young age. For that I am eternally grateful.
We must acknowledge that the Church suffers from self-inflicted wounds. This is an area in need of serious attention, but we also must come to accept that it is our responsibility to learn the faith. It is not our priest’s or the religious education coordinator’s, it is ours. All of the documents we need are on the Vatican website, in the Catechism, or in Scripture. Not to mention that thousands upon thousands of books have been written over the last 2000 years to guide us on the journey to holiness. We must take responsibility for our faith and not pass the buck elsewhere.
As parents, it is our duty to pass down the Faith. We will all stand before God some day and have to give account for what we did with the children He gave to us and whether or not we taught them the Faith while they were young. If we don’t know the answer to a question, then we find it. Children learn to pray, give, attend Mass, and live lives of holiness from their parents first and everyone else second. The catechist at our parishes cannot possibly teach our children holiness in one-hour a week, nor should we want them to. If our children are not living the faith or interested, then we must look to ourselves. Now, when they are adults they make their own choices. As long as we do the best we can, the rest is left up to prayer and fasting.
Reading blogs, essays, and articles on the Internet is a worthwhile pursuit. We learn news and new information from a wide variety of sources. We connect with the rest of the world in an instant. While it is a good, we cannot fall for the trap of thinking we can know everything we need to know about a topic or an author in 1500 words, or worse, when we only skim an article and then comment on it or email the author. We all skim at one time or another.
The Internet is a great place to begin, but we must be willing to enter into deeper study through books and documents that go into greater depth. You cannot understand FR in its depth and beauty from my 1500 word essay. You have to read it for yourself. You won’t be sorry and even if some of it is confusing, you can at least begin to understand the basic arguments. While Pope Saint John Paul II was a brilliant philosopher and complex thinker, many of his Church documents are widely accessible in understanding. May God bless you on the journey of growing in deeper communion with the Most Holy Trinity through the use of both faith and reason.
I had to make the decision, as my writing progresses into new circles, that I will be unable to respond to all emails or comments I get on specific pieces I publish. I cannot respond to complex theological, moral, or ecclesial issues in emails. There is a reason books are written. I do not have the time between my family and my school obligations to do justice to such topics. I’m sorry. I have tried to respond in the past, but I realize my efforts are often futile and only put a burden on my family and me. I am juggling homeschooling my daughter, papers, finals, and comprehensive exams for graduate school, and multiple articles on a weekly basis. Something has to give and email is it.
Many writers reach this point when they start writing for bigger websites. The emails and comments I received over the last year and a half at Catholic Exchange were manageable, but now that I am also contributing when I can at The Federalist and I am working on pieces for other large websites, I cannot keep up with all of the emails. I don’t even read the comment sections on my articles once they devolve into ranting. I will also continue to write regularly for Catholic Exchange and blog as time allows.
I do read all of the emails I receive and I am grateful for the people who take the time to write to me. Thank you! In the future, however, I will only respond to those emails asking urgent questions or work related inquiries i.e. re-publishing of work, other publications, radio or other interview requests, or speaking engagements. I will respond to the occasional comment here on the blog or elsewhere when I have a free moment.
I do want to express my gratitude for all the messages I received in the past and any I receive in the future. Thank you for your feedback, encouragement, insights, the occasional grammatical or typo correction, and stories. As to the people who wrote, or in the future, write to rant and rave at me, I am not sure what all of you thought you would accomplish in doing so, but I wish you the best. Yelling at me is never going to change my mind, and if it is the truth, then nothing will change my mind. :o) God bless.
I survived my first major secular publication, and I mean, literally survived. I knew sharing my miscarriage experiences and framing it within the abortion war raging in our culture would unleash fury. I’ve been serving in front of Planned Parenthood and on pro-life committees in enough parishes and areas to know how abortion divides and how it brings out a great deal of depravity and hatred. To share honestly about miscarriage, is to automatically step onto the battlefield of abortion. Miscarriage implicates abortion by its very nature.
I genuinely enjoy good discourse. My parents were college debate partners and I was a debater and debate coach at one time. I experience great joy in intellectual discussions. I’ve also worked briefly in politics as an intern at The Heritage Foundation and now find myself in more theological circles, but discourse is a natural part of these environments.
The problem with Internet comboxes is they are devoid of true discourse. They turn into yelling matches from the get go and it is impossible to engage in a debate with someone who shifts the argument to fit their desires. It is even less possible with those who are blinded by pure hatred. There is no common ground with a person who thinks that it is a mother’s right to kill her child because the baby is in her body and purely because she “feels” like it. It is very difficult to reach people who are so turned in on themselves and trapped in that level of selfishness. It requires prayer and fasting on our part, quite frankly. It also requires a great deal of compassion, which has to be expressed in person and cannot be fully appreciated in the fighting of Internet comboxes. That’s why we pray at Planned Parenthood.
We are well past the clump of cells argument. The abortion industry realized that fight was lost with the advent of transvaginal ultrasound technology, which can detect a heartbeat shortly after conception. The real fight is about whether or not a mother has a right to murder her child. The abortion industry is out in the open and the ugly truth is that so many people have given into the nihilist lies of the last two centuries that they believe they have a right to kill their unborn child. There are a few who cling to the fetus (which in Latin means unborn, this has of course shifted overtime, due to the abortion agenda) is not a person, but by and large, people are fully conscious that they are ending their child’s life. They may not admit it publicly, or even fully to themselves, but what we have now is a group of people who think that whatever I want, I have a right to do, even murder. We are now in an age of self-worship where the false gods are not the sun or the moon, but are in fact, ourselves.
What’s more is that people are so entrenched in their ideology, or grappling with their own guilt from a past abortion, that a grieving mother is seen as “offensive” or “disgusting”. When asked what exactly a “fetus” is, nobody can seem to answer except to say a potential human. How does that change the unborn into something other than a human being? When is full potential realized and the “fetus” turned into a human being? They will not come out a moose, water buffalo, or Labrador Retriever. They will, and are a human baby, with all of the DNA to prove that point from the moment of conception.
We need to be careful. The potentiality argument is the most dangerous one to evolve within the pro-abortion movement. If that is the argument, what makes a full human? People like Peter Singer say it is someone who is over two years of age, so that means two year old’s should be freely exterminated by their parents. We are only beginning to see the true, radical, and horrible reality of abortion out in the light. Satan is more brazen these days because so many have walked away from the Faith and into his lies. The real agenda is full on infanticide and the extermination of anyone who is not seen as “fit” by the powerful. This isn’t conspiracy theory, this is reality. This is nihilism: Will to power and might makes right.
It is impossible to discuss a topic that is based entirely on one’s own feelings. I ran into this the couple of times when I tried to engage with a person. Everything is contingent on me. If everything is based on how I feel then I have the right to go carte blanche and do whatever I want. I tried to explain this argument to no avail. The reality is that comboxes are places for people to level vitriol at one another. They think because they have anonymity to a certain extent, that they can say the most vile and offensive things to a complete stranger. I have written about this problem before.
Writers take a good deal of risk every time they publish. There is always somebody who is offended even at the most innocuous of blogs or articles. When you step into an arena that is wholly uncivil and unjust it becomes clear that discussion will go nowhere, which is why I stopped reading the comments on my latest piece for The Federalist once they surpassed 15. My husband read them last night with great humor, but was astonished at the lack of intelligent discussion. He saw the same thing as me: Satan’s trick of turning woman away from God, herself, and man. Abortion is the continuation of Satan and Eve at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The temptation has always been God-like power and now women have power over life and death and it is intoxicating and enslaving. My husband is not one to read comboxes, and by and large, I stopped responding when I started getting hate mail or nasty comments over at Catholic Exchange, but he was strangely fascinated by the train wreck on my latest article.
The unfortunate reality is that I was wasting my time, energy, and breath trying to respond to people who cannot understand me, let alone themselves. It takes a certain kind of person to write hate mail to a grieving mother. All I can do is write and pray for the conversion of souls. I pray for each one of those people who launched terrible words my way and I will continue to do so, but I won’t fight with them. In fact, it says much more about the author of the email or comment than it does about me. I can handle the hatred and vitriol sent my way, but I am certainly not going to waste my time engaging with people whose only interest is revenge or self-gratification in attacking a woman who loves all life from conception to natural death.
As a Christian, I am reminded of the demonic forces always at work and I see the great dangers of the mob mentality, even on the Internet. Don’t expect to see me debating in comboxes again anytime soon. I write. People either like my work, hate it, are apathetic about it, or it helps them. That’s all I can ask for as a writer. My hope is to touch the lives of those God wants to touch through my work. I have been blessed by all of the emails and comments from people suffering or who have suffered as I do.That is the greatest blessing of all. Pax Christi.
In the past week, I have received more emails and comments from readers than I have in the last year and a half as a regular contributor at Catholic Exchange and in my years as a blogger. People from all over the world have written to me about their experiences with miscarriage. More often than not, these families have suffered grief in silence and not even shared it with family members. Most of them felt like they had to keep their pain to themselves. A good many of these people are Catholics; members of the Church that tells us to be open to life and to celebrate each life, and yet, so many suffer in private.
I am not entirely sure why this miscarriage unleashed a fury of writing inside of me. I have barely been able to stop since I learned that I lost my baby, Andrew, two weeks ago. If I am not blogging or writing articles for other websites, then I am writing pages upon pages in my journal. It’s as if the pressure of so much loss and pain has been released and it is coming out at an astounding rate. In sharing my own agony, I have been able to share in yours. Thank you for your courage to write to me or even to write public comments in an arena that is often unjust, uncivil, and insensitive.
What all of this has revealed to me is that there is a serious disconnect going on in our culture, and at times, within the Church when it comes to miscarriage. As I wrote at The Federalist today, abortion has a major part to play in this problem. Since unborn life has been dehumanized and discarded within our culture, miscarriage is not recognized as the loss of a human being. The families who have experienced miscarriage, and who have not been blinded by the ideology of abortion, know they have lost a child. The problem is, that when the loss occurs, they feel that they have no one to turn to, not even the Church.
I don’t have all of the answers to this complex issue, but I am trying to find as many of them as I can. I, and a few other brave writers, have identified this issue and are trying to bring it to light. It will be a process. In sharing the pain of miscarriage, we are automatically stepping onto the battlefield within our culture over the dignity of the human person. In sharing our own stories, we will be attacked by those who hold abortion to be sacred, and it is a religion for some. It is this assault that I fear has kept so many people silent. No more.
The lives of our babies are precious, unique, and beautiful. We have every right to mourn their passing and the loss of motherhood and fatherhood here on earth. We will live the rest of our lives wondering who our sons and daughters would have become, while hoping to meet them someday before the Beatific Vision. The hope of eternity does not mean we do not suffer and ache because of the death of our unborn children. Death is a product of the Fall and not a part of God’s original design and desires for us. That means death is painful. It is painful in losing someone and it is painful in that it will come to each one of us eventually.
I will continue to write on this issue and to clarify the abortion-miscarriage connection. I also want to advocate for those who have experienced miscarriage and recurrent miscarriage in any way I possibly can. I want families to know that they are not alone and grieving over a lost child to miscarriage is completely natural and warranted. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. This is a journey. I don’t know where it will lead. That is up to God. I am still in the throes of grief myself, but I am trying, granted imperfectly, to use my pain for good.
Thank you to all of you who have shared your stories with me. I am sorry that I haven’t been able to respond to all of you individually. Part of that is because my own grief makes it difficult for me to write everyone back at this time, but I do hope to respond in time. All of your emails and comments are read. I briefly engaged a few naysayers at The Federalist today and was able to maintain a good sense of humor and a level head in the face of great ignorance and insensitivity. That must be God’s grace, because my grief should have warranted a different response. I guess I realize that in my walking onto the battlefield, I have to learn to deflect such attacks without emotion. The problem is that our culture cannot engage in reasoned discourse, so all arguments are seen as emotional. Engaging while grieving is definitely a test of mettle and patience. It is the perfect learning ground. I study philosophy and theology regularly and as a formal graduate student. I have the tools at my disposal to focus on reason over emotion and I want to keep it that way, even when truly hateful things are leveled my way. Above all, prayer for conversion is key. God bless all of you.
I fully intended to take a break from writing. I thought that my anguish would keep me from putting down a single word, but the opposite has happened. I have written and submitted two articles on miscarriage in the past 48 hours and written 30 pages in a journal I purchased for this trip into grief. Countless people have asked me to write a much needed book on miscarriage. Perhaps it will come out of this fourth loss and perhaps not. All I can do is scribble in my journal what feels like the ravings of a person detached from myself.
For the writer, pain tends to bring forth work that is more real, raw, and intense. It is as if we can see the human condition more clearly through the haze of our grief. It is the only clarity given as all else appears a dull gray. There is beauty all around, but I cannot touch it right now. I sense it from memory, but there is no deep connection to it at present. This is typical of the grief stricken.
I am re-reading C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed. In my view, it is the most honest look at grief that has ever been written. I largely skipped over the Introduction. I have been a Madeleine L’Engle fan since childhood, but her theology always leaves something wanting and is too relativistic. She is a much better fantasy writer. I recommend skipping straight to Lewis’ work if you have the same volume as I do.
While some of the experiences of grief may differ from person-to-person, Lewis looks at every aspect of grief in relation to himself, his lost wife, and God. He freely admits the struggle between believing in a benevolent God and a malevolent God. The problem for a Christian is that we tend to no longer be capable of atheism. Once we have met the Living God, even our grief doesn’t fully send us into an existential crisis that ends in materialism. We may have an existential crisis, but we usually end up in the Father’s arms once the intense pain and anger has subsided. No. The battle wages over God’s goodness.
I am thankful that Lewis delves into this struggle. It is one I face, and have faced, through all of my losses. A pregnancy feels like a promise and a miscarriage makes it all seem like a lie. The heart beating on the screen is the definition of hope and then that hope and joy is stolen. Instead, my heart is ripped from my chest and I am left reeling. I am turned into an empty shell that has to be filled up again. My previous joy and excitement over the coming of another child is taken away and I am left sobbing in front of an ultrasound picture and the onesies I picked up to celebrate the new baby.
The problem with the grieving is that we are a bit inconvenient for everyone else. We are a reminder that death is real and that deep suffering and agony await all of us. We don’t know when that time will come, but we don’t like to be reminded of it, especially us Americans with our keep-insanely-busy-in-an-attempt-to-outrun-fate-or-destiny-or-whatever-we-imagine-is-really-in-charge. Pain makes people scatter and only the truly brave are able to stick around and enter into the suffering of others. This is an experience that I have been through four times, as well as in the grips of PTSD and post-partum depression, and as a 9-11 relief worker.
In truth, it has made me more patient with the weaknesses of others. I know that most of my friends will run away during this time. The truly close ones will stick it out, but others will wait until I am less likely to break into uncontrollable sobbing or when I can at least hide my pain better. My suffering makes people uncomfortable and I know it. What they don’t realize is that I am not looking for them to fix it. They cannot fix it, nor can I. All that is needed is authentic compassion, but even that is hard for people to summon. We assume because we have never been through something that we cannot be compassionate. I didn’t lose anyone in 9-11, but I rushed in to help as a relief worker. My presence was enough. Your presence is enough to the grieving people in your life.
Platitudes get the grieving nowhere. It is useless to tell us that they are in a better place, something was clearly wrong with the baby, or it was God’s will. How is that supposed to take away our pain? Somehow the loss is supposed to be assuaged by this knowledge and yet the ache still remains. The grief doesn’t lessen because somebody tries to tell us something that makes them feel better in that moment because they are not the grieving. In reality all we can say to someone who has lost a loved one is “I am so sorry for your loss”. That’s it. Nothing else will help or matter to the person who is mourning for someone they loved. Nothing will bring my child back. Something being wrong with the child does not take away the pain of lost motherhood. Even though A Grief Observed is about his wife, Lewis has the clearest understanding of what miscarriage or the loss of a child means, and why theological platitudes are unhelpful to those in the grips of early grief:
If a mother is mourning not for what she has lost but for what her dead child has lost, it is a comfort to believe that the child has not lost the end for which it was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, in losing her chief or only natural happiness, has not lost a greater thing, that she may still hope to ‘glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ A comfort to the God-aimed, eternal spirit within her. But not her motherhood. The specifically maternal happiness must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will she have her son on her knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan for his future, or see her grandchild.
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed.
We have a tendency within the Church to not allow people to grieve. We think that theological explanations should be enough. This is an utter denial of the human experience. It is to ignore the horrendous reality of death and the toll it takes on all of us. The separation between a mother and her lost child is an infinite chasm on this side of eternity. The pain of never hearing the child’s first cries, or seeing their first steps, or witnessing the man or woman they would become renders a mother heartbroken in ways previously unimagined. I cannot make you experience my pain, but the level of its intensity on certain days almost makes it seem like it will kill me, but it won’t. Grief takes us to the outer reaches of suffering. It takes us to our limits, but we survive it, even if we don’t think that we will in certain moments.
So why is it that we try to brush this pain off and pretend that the tenants of our Faith are enough to take away that grief? This isn’t even a Catholic approach, for Pete’s sake! We are body and soul and our bodies and souls grieve. We do not pretend that death isn’t real. We do not pretend that grief is not crushing. It is soul-crushing. It is a journey that must be walked. No amount of exegesis is going to remove the suffering that must be experienced when a child dies. The theological and spiritual answers and eschatological hope are only healing after the deep pain has run its course. I am a theology graduate student. I know what the answers are supposed to be, but that doesn’t take away the intense agony and grief. The hope of Heaven cannot shorten the journey that must be walked through this grief.
The Cross comes before the Resurrection and the Cross must be endured first. I once again must walk to Golgotha, to the foot of the Cross, and take the agony I feel to His feet. I must cry out “why” and endure the pain of loss. And, yes, I will wonder if God is good or not. It is hard for a mother to imagine why she got to see a strong heartbeat two weeks in a row only to have it snatched away from her days later. It makes a person question, but God makes us stronger through the questions and the suffering. At least, that is what I remember even though I don’t “feel” it right now. My faith isn’t dependent upon my feelings. If it was, I would have left after 9-11, or during the PTSD, or when I lost my first child in miscarriage. Thank God my feelings matter so little.
- Some of the resources for Catholics who have suffered from a miscarriage are dreadful. I think this is a cause of frustration for so many families. I know it has been for me and my friends who have suffered from miscarriage. The resources are sparse and some of the ones that are available are inaccurate or do not clearly understand Church teaching. The concept of unbaptized babies is a gray area theologically, but the nature of the Sacrament of Baptism is not.
There is no doubt that a devout Catholic would have Baptism in mind for their lost child; however, a miscarriage means the child has died. We do not baptize the dead. Sacraments are reserved for the living. There may be a rare case when the child is born from induced labor and may take a few breaths. That child can be baptized. Those of us who have suffered from 1st trimester miscarriages are not able to baptize our children. By the time the baby’s body passes out of our body the child is dead. More often than not, we are not even able to find the body for burial. I have never gotten a funeral for any of my miscarried babies.
Even though we cannot baptize them, we leave our children to the mercy of God since He knows we most certainly would have baptized them had they been full-term. In the grips of grief with my second one, a priest had to kindly remind me that I could not baptize my dead children. This realization was painful, but I appreciated his willingness to be honest and remind me of the nature of the Sacraments. This in no way lessens God’s power or mercy. Grief does make us grasp at straws….