Bridging the Divide Between the Sexes on Our Worldviews

Recently I have had discussions with my husband and a close female friend of mine who is also married with children. We’ve been talking through the differences between the way men and women communicate and understand the world and relationships with other people. I’ve worked with a lot of men over the years and many of my closest friends have been men. I don’t have any brothers, since I have two sisters. Through both marriage and my friendships, I’ve noted that there’s always been a barrier in understanding between men and women. It’s a barrier that is very difficult to make clear to either sex. We often make parodies of it, fight about it, or ignore it.

This difference is most easily seen and understood in married life, but it also manifests between co-workers, friends, in ministry, and any other area where men and women interact. Many of the fights men and women have center around the same types of things and the difference in worldview, communication style, and understanding. This often reveals a barrier between a husband and the wife in how a particular topic or issue is approached or comprehended. The same is true in other interactions between men and women. In many cases, both parties acknowledge this gap in understanding and simply find a way to compromise without ever dealing with the gap itself.

The most common complaint women will make is about how they simply want to vent about a problem because women often work through things relationally or socially. We talk it out and in the process sort out the problem. Men on the other hand want to fix the problem since they are problem-solvers. The problem is, most problems women work through don’t have a clear solution and men are left trying to work against their nature through discipline and listen to their spouse, friend, co-worker, daughter, or sister work through the issue. While this is indeed a struggle–and an understandable one–in my mind, it doesn’t get to the issue of how the two sexes actually understand the world.

Men are global thinkers. They focus on the big picture. There are all of these things that need to be done and they are prioritized a certain way in order to fit into the whole. The hierarchy of importance is much larger for men than it often is for women. Our focus is usually smaller scale. We are more focused on the smaller tasks that are given to us. We focus on the relationships around us and if we have been asked to do a particular thing, we put our energy into doing it well. Men place value on the overall picture, while women value the work they may be doing on a smaller scale. It is why we are mothers and are primarily charged with the nurturing of souls and men are not. We are caretakers. We are able to focus on the smaller scale dimensions and not get lost in the big picture or the rest of the world “out there”. This would be detrimental to the souls and people in our care if all we thought about was “out there”.

These two world views fit together and are complementary when they are balanced properly and when a mutual respect and understanding of these differences is understood. More-often-than-not, we either don’t understand the differences or we forget them when conflict arises. I can only speak as a woman, but one of the most destructive things a man can do to a woman is minimize the tasks she has been given or taken on simply because they aren’t as important as X, Y, or Z. We don’t compare our tasks to everything else. If we did, then our tasks wouldn’t ever get done because we’d be too busy comparing what we are doing to everything else of more “importance.”

Why is this damaging? Men attach value on the things they see of most importance in order to achieve the big picture. If a woman minimizes the big picture and says it doesn’t matter, then a man is going to bristle because he knows it’s important. Women objectively get that the big picture matters, even if it isn’t our primary focus and mission. Men unfortunately minimize the “seemingly” smaller tasks of women quite often. I usually give men a pass since–although I get frustrated at times too–unlike much of modern feminism, I don’t view men as a threat, rival, or an enemy. I get we are different, but recently I started to consider why women have coined the term “mansplaining.” I don’t agree with where it’s roots lie, but I see at least part of the reasoning for it.

I suspect it comes out of this difference in understanding of the world and our missions. Men will inadvertently–or even intentionally, depending on the man–talk down to women who focus on the things they have said they will do or have been assigned to do that are a part of the big picture, but not the big picture itself. Men will solely focus and compare it to the “big picture” and minimize and even dismiss the work a woman is doing. Comparing our work to the big picture is almost always interpreted by women as a man dismissing our effort as useless or unimportant. He will tell us how everything else is more important and this is utterly irritating to a woman, because we also know that our part is of value. This is really destructive when a husband views his work as of more importance than what his stay-at-home wife is doing to raise their children. Both tasks have been assigned for the good of the family and are indispensable.

In a woman’s mind she is putting everything into and trying to do the task well, but has now been told that it’s not worth while. This typically illicits both anger and hurt in women. Husbands will do this to wives when a woman is struggling in a particular aspect of her vocation. Focus on the overall goal or picture is what they will tell us. That’s fine and good, but women aren’t wired to focus on the big picture all of the time. We are more detail oriented. We are more relationship oriented. We are focused on each individual task assigned to us. If we’ve been given a project, we will put our entire selves into it in order for it to be done well.

My husband struggles to understand why I will sometimes put off a chore around the house in order to spend quality time with our daughter. I will place that relationship before a chore because I see something that our daughter needs at an emotional level. My primary love language is also quality time. I’ve focused on my daughter’s individual needs over the overall goal of taking care of our home (big picture). He is correct that the chores need to get done, but oftentimes women instinctively know to place other human beings before a task that needs to be done. This may not always be the case, but it seems to be much easier for a woman to understand than a task-oriented man.

These same issues arise in the workplace and in ministry. There’s nothing like a meeting to reveal these differences in understanding. Women will focus on the relational, emotional (this can be good, but a lot of times not), or smaller tasks that are needed to achieve the whole. We are bottom up thinkers while men are top down thinkers. Women build up, while men go out and conquer. Scripture is very instructive here in that the women are often building up the men–that bottom up approach–while the men sort out how to go out into the world to bring the world to Christ. Women are called to do the same, but our approaches vary quite a bit. It’s also one of the aspects of masculinity that makes the all male priesthood instituted by Christ logically consistent to me.

This distinction between the sexes is extremely important for building and maintaining communion within the Mystical Body. Women cannot focus too much on the smaller tasks, the emotional response of other people, relational aspects, and the details too much or men are not going to respond or want to be active in a ministry run in that manner. The same is true for men in the way they respond to women. Telling a woman that what she’s offered to do is not important compared to everything else is destructive for morale. Women do not want to work in those conditions because they do not see their effort as being valuable to the men in the group. Even if men don’t mean it in that manner–although oftentimes they do–women will take it as a direct attack on her person. This is an innate aspect of our nature. We can’t help that our focus is where it is and so when we are told it’s not as important as something else–when it is important to us–we shut down. It’s difficult to want to keep helping if that help is seen as minor, when in reality, the small tasks help form the whole and the mission cannot be achieved without both the small picture and the big picture working together: Complementarity.

The solution is for both sexes to come to understand these differences and figure out a way to bridge that divide. Women need to acknowledge that the big picture is essential and to support the men in our lives through that goal. By the same token, men need to understand that in constantly comparing our “minor” tasks to the big picture they are in fact hurting the women in their lives. It is human nature to want to disengage when the value is taken away from our work. This isn’t some silly emotional response that men often simply attribute to the emotional nature of women or that we aren’t thick-skinned enough. This is in fact tied directly to our nature. If you minimize our efforts, then our response will be anger and hurt because you’ve directly attacked an aspect of our womanhood.

We are never going to fully understand one another on this issue, but if we are truly seeking communion in Christ through the Mystical Body whether it be in our marriages, friendships, parish communities, or our secular responsibilities, then we need to at least acknowledge that this difference in understanding exists and patiently try to find solutions that will appease both men and women. When conflicts do arise, we need to forgive quickly so that any damage done to that communion can be repaired as quickly as possible.

We Need to Stop Gossiping About Our Priests

I have been in active ministry for over ten years. I’ve had occasional breaks as my vocation has required, but I’ve worked with a variety of people and priests over those years. In all of my time serving in the parish and local community I have observed–as Pope Francis has said many times–that gossip is a cancer within the Mystical Body that we must cut out. All of us who are not yet saints engage in gossip. Unfortunately it comes easily to us in our Fallen state. It is something that is found where multiple people are gathered and it is highly destructive in an upending of Christ’s promise to be present where two or three are gathered in His name (Matthew 18:20). I cannot say that I have overcome this sin, but I hope to by God’s grace.

Gossip is a form a character assassination. It greatly wounds those who are its victims as well as those who are perpetrators. Rather than see people as made imago Dei, we see them through our own broken, wounded, judgmental, and pride filled eyes. We see them through our own perceptions, desires, sin, and anger. We also often engage in Schadenfreude, which is often a form of envy or essentially ‘joy at another person’s sorrow’ (St. Thomas Aquinas). Rather than cheer on the successes of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we often relish their failures. It gives us an opportunity to come together in an inversion of true community to enjoy the pain of our neighbor.

More than anything gossip is tied to the very heavy sin of pride. Gossip typically erupts in the face of disagreements with other people. We do not like what someone has done to us, so we seek vengeance. More-often-than-not, we feel that we have lost some kind of power or authority and respond in anger and vengeance. How dare so-and-so treat me this way! How dare they question me! If we pay attention to what is going on inside of us then we will quickly see the root cause of our response.

Gossip is a powerful form of vengeance. It can tear ministries apart, churches become places of deep seated sinful anger, and it can create outright wars between priests and the laity. I’ve actually seen this happen, so I am not engaging in hyperbole. Entire books could be written on the topic of gossip. This particular blog post will focus on the destructive nature of gossiping about our parish priest(s).

In our sinful state, there is always a level of tension within the Mystical Body. Our competing agendas, opinions, ideas, and wants tend to meet resistance from people with counter points of view. There are obvious issues in which heresy and heterodoxy must be rooted out and those who do not submit to Holy Mother Church in the obedience required of us need to be encouraged to pray for conversion of heart and humility; as well as make use of the Sacrament of Penance in order to worthily receive the Holy Eucharist. Setting these situations aside, tension often exists within ministries and parish communities themselves and in their relationship with the parish priest.

We live in an age when people believe they are little gods ruling the universe. This nihilistic and relativistic thinking is also prevalent within the Church. Most people do not even realize how greatly they are influenced by these philosophies that pervade our culture. The focus here is not in converting those who have fallen for the heresies of our day, rather, it is on how we treat our priests within our parish while coming to understand our place within the Mystical Body. We must consciously overcome the sinful drive within us to rule over others.

When we are baptized every single one of us enters into the common priesthood. We share in the divine offices of Christ which are priest, prophet, and king. The common priesthood–the laity and all baptized–differs greatly from the ministerial priesthood (Holy Orders). This difference is not only in degree. Lumen Gentium 10 states:

Christ the Lord, High Priest taken from among men,(100) made the new people “a kingdom and priests to God the Father”.(101) The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, in order that through all those works which are those of the Christian man they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the power of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.(102) Therefore all the disciples of Christ, persevering in prayer and praising God,(103) should present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.(104) Everywhere on earth they must bear witness to Christ and give an answer to those who seek an account of that hope of eternal life which is in them.(105)

Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ.(2*) The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the Eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. But the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist.(3*) They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity.

The word “essence” is a metaphysical/ontological term. It means that at the deepest levels of reality and being the ministerial priesthood differs from the common priesthood. This passage of Lumen Gentium explains the Church’s understanding that there is a rather large difference in character or type between the ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood. It’s important to understand this distinction because it matters when it comes to authority (auctoritas).

Lumen Gentium goes on in Chapter IV to discuss the role of the laity in the Church. Our role differs quite a bit from the ministerial priesthood. Both Lumen Gentium and Christifideles Laici affirm that the role of the laity is primarily secular. Our job is not primarily to run the Church–that is the role of the ministerial/hierarchical priesthood–instead we are meant to take the Good News out into the world and bring the world to Christ in our families, careers, civic engagements, and community interaction. The ministerial priesthood runs the Church, shepherds the people of God, brings the Sacraments to the worshiping community, and safeguards Church teaching through magisterial authority. We bring people to the Church.

This means that when we run ministries within our parish, we do not hold ultimate authority over anything that happens at the parish level. Most priests allow volunteers and parish staff to use prudential judgment while monitoring what takes place within their assigned church. They do not hinder freedom and creativity, but monitor and decide how best to approach certain tasks or activities. Vatican II has brought about  more cooperative work between the priesthood and the laity. This is a good within itself. The unfortunate reality is that this relationship and understanding of authority can easily become disordered because of sin. This is where gossip becomes a problem.

Most gossip about parish priests comes from a place of pride or a lack of humility. That’s where gossip tends to be rooted regardless of situation. Leaving aside the heretical priest who needs to be dealt with through the proper hierarchical channels without gossip, the issue is often one of power. A member of the laity mistakenly believes they have ultimate say over their ministry. First, notice my use of “their”. In reality we do not own our ministries. We are merely stewards serving Christ in the Church under the ministerial priesthood. Second, humility is a requirement of ministry, just as it is of the ministerial priesthood. This is a battle for all of us. If our priest tells us that he is going to do things a certain way and that he is not going to choose our particular option, then we need to accept that we may not know everything and trust that he is attempting to do what is right and good, even if it is not in line with our opinion. We must all learn to swallow our pride. I don’t agree with every choice my parish priest makes, but I respect his choice and authority to do so. Charity also demands that we give them the benefit of the doubt.

Priests are far from perfect, just like the rest of us. Most are not saints yet, but we need to look at them with charity and some level of trust. So they don’t do it the way it has always been done or the way we want it done, in the end we need to learn charitable obedience and let it go. Have we ever considered that a previous priest may have actually been doing something wrong and it needed correction? I don’t know about you, but I have not studied in depth the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) to the point that I know every required step for every Mass of every liturgical season and any given day. I still mix up technical terms for aspects of the Mass. The Mass is a primary discipline of study for priests and liturgists. I am neither.

For instance, the Liturgy is not meant to draw our human activities to the fore. It is the time of giving right praise and worship to God. We are not the center of that worship. We participate and offer it up to God. The ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood converge in that we offer up praise and worship to God through the ministerial priesthood. Whatever else is going on in parish life has its rightful place outside of the Liturgy. This can be confusing because unfortunately “the spirit of Vatican II” misplaced this proper ordering and now many people do not fully understand what is allowed to take place at Mass and what is not. This is through no fault of their own.

Gossiping or complaining publicly about the priest sows seeds of division. This is especially true in parishes where there is high priest turnover. Gossip inevitably leads to character assassination, sinful anger, and is harmful to the entire parish community. It also makes an already difficult task even more difficult for our priests. I’ve seen it get so bad that a priest almost left the priesthood. Deo gratias he did not! I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to stand before Our Lord and explain how I helped someone leave their priestly vocation through my gossip and backstabbing.

Scripture makes it very clear, especially St. Paul, that we are not meant to align ourselves with a particular leader or priest because it leads to division. We are all one under Christ. Lovingly welcoming and getting to know a new priest is not a betrayal against the previous parish priest. If they are holy men, then they are not in competition with one another. They are living holy obedience to the Bishop in conformation to their sharing in his fullness of Holy Orders.

As with all people, we need to give people a chance and get to know them. In my experience most priests will explain their choices in a charitable manner while also expecting their wishes to be respected. All we have to do is ask, not demand. If we encounter a priest who has mistaken spiritual fatherhood for a dictatorship, then all we can really do is pray for them and treat them with charity and bear this burden patiently. This does happen, but it is a misunderstanding of Our Lord’s call for priests which is most beautifully demonstrated at the Last Supper. Men in both the vocation of the ministerial priesthood and men in the vocation of marriage are called to love and lay down their lives as Christ does.

It is also unjust to make assumptions about each priest. Presumption is often incorrect and sinful. Even though they all share in the same Sacrament and authority through Holy Orders, they are still individual men with unique personalities, backgrounds, gifts, interests, and even theological schooling. Some are more influenced by certain popes, saints, or thinkers, which can actually be a key to understanding them. If they are from a religious order then the Rule of that particular order is going to provide insight as to how they view their vocation and live that vocation in parish life.

In order to overcome the tendency to gossip about the parish priest it is important to consider their role and responsibilities. You and I who are in the laity will have to give account for the people God entrusted to us at our individual judgment upon death. This is typically our spouse and our children first. Priests will give account for every person they’ve been called to shepherd and explain how they shepherded them. They have a tremendous amount of responsibility on their shoulders. It is a tall order and most of them take it pretty seriously, especially the priests of the St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI decades. The “spirit of Vatican II” is dying off and the priests of today tend to be serious about holiness.

Priests have a lot that is required of them and they are extremely busy. We need to look to them with patience and charity. You and I are not the center of the universe. Our email or phone call is not the focus of their day, and depending on their personality, they may prefer to talk to you in person. The written word is very easily distorted and misunderstood. This is something I am keenly aware of as a writer. There’s nothing wrong with a priest wanting to discuss things in person. In fact, in a digital age, it’s a blessing! Figure out how each individual priest likes to communicate and adjust accordingly instead of complaining about them publicly at meetings or church gatherings.

Since our priests are not perfect–just like we are not even close to perfect–we need to bear their weaknesses and shortcomings with patience. The same is true in our families and other relationships. If there is one thing God teaches us as we progress in holiness, it is that we possess a great many weaknesses and character defects in need of fixing. A lot! It is easy to think that we are superior to someone else because we do not struggle with a particular sin or weakness, but God will quickly show us the darkness in our own hearts.  Remember that they too are on the path to sainthood and they need us to patiently bear their flaws just as they bear ours.

Another way to help in overcoming the tendency to gossip is to remember that we do not need to provide our priest or fellow parishioners with every opinion we possess. I come from a very opinionated family. This can be a real struggle, but my opinions do not necessarily comport with the truth. They may be my own personal desires or understanding, but not be true, correct, or the only way. If there is one thing being a graduate student in theology has taught me it is how little I know. We women especially seem to feel the need to tell the men in our lives any opinion that comes to mind. This is the same with priests. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said something to one of my priests and later regretted it. I didn’t need to say it. It was wholly unnecessary, unhelpful, or even critical. I’m also rather blunt (I’m slowly getting better about this!) and I won’t mean to say things a certain way and it will be taken completely out of context. If we keep in mind that our opinions probably don’t matter in the long run then we can prudently consider when to express our opinion and when not to.

The most significant way to avoid turning to gossip about our priests is in learning holy obedience. We are called to obedience to God and Holy Mother Church. This means that we must learn to submit in obedience. We are not God or gods. This also means that if we are friends with a particular priest we need to know exactly when they are responding to something in the role of the priesthood and when they are acting as a friend. This distinction is vital to avoid conflict and it requires the willingness to humbly submit to authority outside of ourselves. Remember, even if your priest is also your friend, he differs greatly from you in his vocation. His primary role is priest first and friend second. Obedience, charity, and humility are necessary for maintaining these relationships and for growing in holiness. It also requires a clear understanding of the distinction in order to avoid misplaced anger. Far too many people get upset with their priest because he is also their friend and they confuse the two roles. This can become problematic for people who work in parish offices. In cases when authority is exercised we also have to see past the man and see the priestly office he holds and submit. We don’t have to agree, but we do have to submit and accept his authority.

I’d like to specifically offer some thoughts to my fellow sisters in Christ on how we treat our priests. St. John Paul II brilliantly outlines the role of women in Mulieris Dignitatem. He explains that each woman is called to spiritual motherhood, regardless of if she is a biological mother or not. This is a unique aspect of our nature. We are meant to pray for, encourage, befriend, and help our priests through spiritual motherhood. We are not, however, called to mother them. Every single one of them has a mother on some level, so they don’t need a bunch of women trying to mother them.  It’s important that we understand how to live spiritual motherhood in relation to them without overstepping lines. When they do not respond to our mothering, temptation can arise to begin gossiping about them. Ladies, we are terrible at gossip. It’s tied to our more overt social nature. We have to pray to overcome this weakness.

I’ve contemplated the topic of gossip for years now. I went through a very difficult period when I was gossiped about and stabbed in the back by people I trusted within the Church. If you’ve been the victim of gossip then you know how quickly things turn into falsehoods and outright lies. It’s painful and God used that pain to reveal to me just how destructive gossip is for the Mystical Body. I have sat in on far too many meetings or been to parish events where pockets of people are complaining and gossiping about the priest. He may even be in the same room. Anymore, I try to find ways to encourage people to avoid this sinful practice, help them to consider something they may not know about him, or I refuse to engage in it. We cannot come together in charity to love and serve God if we are busy killing (Pope Francis) the reputation of another, especially the priest appointed over us. Without our priests there would be no Sacraments and no Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The next time you feel tempted to gossip about your priest consider two things. First, what has it been like in your life to be the victim of gossip? Two, would you say the things you are saying about your priest to Christ? A blessed Advent to you all!

 

 

Miscarriage: The Pro-Life Movement’s Inconsistency

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Has the pro-life movement fully embraced what it espouses? This is a question I am left pondering in the wake of my most recent miscarriage. I have sensed for some time that there is indeed serious cognitive dissonance going on within the movement of which I am a member. My miscarriages have taught me that while we preach to the world that a child is  murdered through abortion, we do not fully live that message in our response to families who have experienced a miscarriage or recurrent miscarriage.

As we pray in front of Planned Parenthood, we are so sure that a child is being torn apart, limb-from-limb with each abortion. We even believe this about a child aborted at 7 weeks, which was the age of my child who died a week ago in a miscarriage. Our hearts ache, we grieve, we pray fervently. I know from personal experience that surgical abortion day is truly tragic. It is not only heart-breaking because a child has been murdered, but it is painful to watch these women stagger out of the clinic. I have watched women unable to get home, who were either too sick, hopped up on medications, or too emotional to leave. I can’t approach them or offer them comfort lest I be arrested, although, the compulsion has occurred more than once in me. There may come a day when I say “the hell with it” and walk over to check on those women regardless of the consequences. This desire grows in me after each of my losses. They may not know that they have killed their own child, but I do, and the denial of their motherhood will have long term consequences. I weep for them and greatly desire to console them.

I have never questioned, even before I lost a child in miscarriage, that a child dies in an abortion or miscarriage no matter the gestational age. When I found out that I had lost my daughter’s twin, I mourned the loss of a child. With my third miscarriage the child died days after conception, and yet, I knew that I had lost my child and I grieved as one who has lost a child. My grief has compounded over the years as I have now lost four babies.

So what is the disconnect I see? People within the movement far too often do not show the same care, concern, or understanding of those families who have lost a child to miscarriage as they do to an abortion. Now it is understandable that abortion is truly horrendous and it is the great moral and human rights issue of our day. There is no doubt of this fact, but a miscarriage is also the loss of a child. Why is it then that rather than allow or encourage the grieving process we tell people who have suffered miscarriages some of the following: You can always have another child (can I really?!), they are in a better place, how disappointing for you (I just experienced this one), something was clearly wrong with the child, a miscarriage is just a hiccup on the road to parenthood, and the list goes on and on. If we truly believe what we say, then why are we treating families grieving a miscarriage in this manner?

Life is sacred. All human life is worthy of great dignity because all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. The image is no less at the moment of conception when full potentiality has entered the human being or in a person who is 107 years old. When a woman finds out that she is pregnant, she isn’t rejoicing over tissue. We constantly state this argument to the pro-choice side, and yet, we don’t fully embrace it ourselves. If we truly understood these words then we would be grieving with miscarried families. We would be reaching out to them with support and resources and we would be learning from their experiences.

The available resources are sparse. I’ve looked and only recently has miscarriage become a more open topic of discussion in social media. We should be recognizing that they, that I, have lost a child or children. We certainly should not tell them that they can always have another child or that a miscarriage is disappointing. A miscarriage is agony and comes with profound grief. While we all grieve differently, a person who truly understands when life begins, knows they have lost a child in a miscarriage. A child they will never hold.  Would we go to a funeral and tell someone that the loss of their loved one is a great disappointment?

The reality is that many times we are not fully aware of the philosophies within our culture that influence us. It took me taking an entire graduate course that focused on the philosophy of nihilism for me to understand how I too have been shaped by false philosophies. The advent of medical technology in the area of fertility and sexuality has completely reshaped how our culture understands children. Even within the pro-life movement, the lie that we are in control of our own fertility is believed. This blog post is not meant to address the contraceptive mentality, but that is an issue I plan to address at a later date. While it may not be intended, this influence is betrayed in words which imply that a family can control whether or not they have a child or more children. We do not know if we can have more children, if any. It isn’t up to us, it is up to God. This erroneous thinking is largely subconscious and unintended, but it can do damage to those who are suffering from the real pain of miscarriage and infertility.

Tied to the on demand fertility of our culture, is the belief that each pregnancy is a part of the journey to having a child. In some cases the desire to become a parent supersedes everything else and miscarried babies are disposed of and not even recognized as lost children. They are dehumanized. This understanding that miscarriage is a part of the process points to a disconnect within a movement that argues the sacred nature of all unborn children in the case of abortion. This is precisely why implying that the loss of a child in miscarriage is merely a disappointment betrays the errors of our culture. Pregnancy is not a trial and error presupposition. I do not get pregnant as if I am playing Russian roulette. I get pregnant in the belief that I will give birth to each unique child I carry. My immediate response to a pregnancy test is one of love. When that child dies, no matter what age, the loss is devastating precisely because it is the death of a child. I am not test driving a car. I am a co-creator in an “embodied spirit.” Each unique baby is a gift and many of us can forget this fact, even if we do not mean to forget.

When an individual said that I must be disappointed in my loss, I was taken aback. Disappointed is not a word I would use to describe my emotional state at the moment. I didn’t just lose my job or the house of my dreams. I lost my fourth child. The bleeding of this miscarriage has only begun to let up. Grief-stricken, agonized, in anguish, angry, sorrowful, suffering, these are words that describe how I feel right now. I am not disappointed. I am suffering tremendously from the loss of my fourth child. And, no, it does not appear that I can just have another child. While I know this person meant well, it is crucial for us to understand that words matter. If we want to win this fight and end abortion, then we need to truly live the pro-life message. We need to celebrate each human life as sacred and discard any part of the “throw away” culture or erroneous philosophies which may have infected us. We need to stop telling people that they can always have more children, that a miscarriage is only a stumbling block on the road to parenthood, or that parents who have lost children in miscarriage should not grieve as if they lost a child. These are all lies. They are lies that we have mistakenly taken on from the culture of death.

I understand and I have learned that people do not know how to respond to grief. It’s awkward for people, which I understand to a point; however,  if we are truly going to bring a Culture of Life to the world then we need to stop ignoring the very real grief families suffer from with miscarriage. We need to stop using accolades and partial truths in response to their pain, to my pain. After four miscarriages, I pray at Planned Parenthood precisely because I understand, better than most, a child is being lost, as well as motherhood. A mother who has miscarried understands abortion in a completely different light. No, we don’t know the trauma and horror of abortion, but we certainly know what it is like to bleed out our beloved child. We know intimately that life begins at conception. We know it in our very being.

Compassion for the grieving goes a long way. Movement towards the grieving and tangible support can in some way lessen the burden of grief. We cannot take away another’s suffering, but we can walk alongside those suffering from miscarriage. I have learned from relief work during the largest terrorist attack in our nation’s history, as well as in my own suffering, that the grieving are not looking for great gestures, profound thoughts or answers, or for someone to fix their pain. The grieving only desire a recognition of their pain and the understanding that it is warranted.  They are looking for a human response from the people around them. “I am sorry for your loss” is enough, because, quite frankly, it is all that can be said. This type of response recognizes the child lost and does not minimize or dehumanize the unborn child. In the case of miscarriage, people are also looking for guidance. They need to know how to respond to a miscarriage, especially Catholics. There is no reason why the pro-life movement cannot devote some time and effort into resources and ministries for those bereaved by miscarriage.

The pro-life movement cannot be fully effective while ignoring its members and countless families who have experienced miscarriage. We cannot continue to treat miscarriage like an “unfortunate” event. This type of approach is patronizing and insensitive and it is completely contradictory to the arguments, the true arguments, we use to fight abortion. It flies in the face of the very mission we have all signed up for, which is the protection of children, women, and men. It is incoherent to fight abortion in one breath while remaining silent or responding hardheartedly to the pain of miscarriage. Either life begins at conception or it does not. We don’t get to hold onto abortion as a great horror while ignoring the anguish of miscarriage. Both result in the tragic loss of a child. The pro-life movement needs to fully embrace the message found in the Culture of Life and that means responding to the great sorrow of families grieving the loss of a child to miscarriage. If life does begin at conception, which it does, then miscarriage should be recognized as the great tragedy it is, which is the loss of a child that comes with profound grief.

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Stopping Division in Our Church Communities

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The biggest struggle in Church community is overcoming ourselves. There is a current within ministry, community, and other aspects of the Church that works hard to cling to power and stomp out opposition.  This is tied to fear and our own immature understanding of living a life of virtue and in communion within the Mystical Body of Christ.  We all do it from time-to-time. There are some things that all of us are going to have to confront in order to overcome the obstacles, hostility, and pain division causes.  We have all experienced disagreements or conflict within the Church.

First, we need to know ourselves.  We need to understand what sets us off and what fears we carry.  Then we need to examine whether or not we project those fears on others within our parish or community.  Human beings cling of counterfeits.  That is the nature of sin and the driving force of concupiscence.  Most of all we cling to power.  Power is a false sense of security for us.  In clinging to power, individuals or groups can begin to focus more on power than living the Gospel.  Any “power” that we have within the Church is from Jesus Christ.  If we are leader, it is a position of stewardship and service.  It is not meant to be used to squash others and create some form of authoritarian rule.  Obedience is never about power.  Power also tends to feed on fear of how things look.  In fact, an overemphasis on caring about what people think is toxic to the Christian mission.  People will reject us.  We must accept that.  We have no power over other people’s choices.   It is about understanding that Christ is King and we are not.  This is an easy temptation for all of us.  We are called to serve and share the message, the rest is up to God.  Let’s keep that in mind.

Second, we need to get a firmer grasp on what love actually means. Love is not sentiment, it is not feelings.  In fact, I can wholly dislike a person and still love them.  I have to do it.  We all do.  Love is action.  As St. Thomas Aquinas defined love, “it is willing the good of the other.”  That means I love when I choose the good for a person.  This can in fact include punishment which is linked to justice; however, love never includes vengeance, pay-back, or answering upset feelings.  In fact, a decision to love cannot be based on feelings.  Feelings are largely involuntary and can be driven by the Passions.  That means we must overcome our feelings to choose to love, even the unlovable, and the difficult.  It doesn’t mean our feelings change per say.  It just means that we choose to overcome those feelings.  Love is an act of the will.

Third, gossip is grave matter and usually results in mortal sin. Yes, that is right: a mortal sin.  Why?  Gossip very quickly turns to denigration, division, character attacks, and causes deep hurt.  It is always the result of half truths or imagination and does not allow for a person to defend themselves. It is an attack against the virtue of justice.  We all fall into it, but it is time we start to understand the seriousness of gossip.  We can chat with our friends and work through problems, but we cannot divulge private information, provoke character attacks or personal attacks, launch plans for revenge, and we most certainly cannot use gossip to cause division and hostility.  This is the Mystical Body of Christ.  We are meant to overcome the world and that includes the natural inclination to gossip.  Gossip usually results in back-stabbing.  Gossip within the Church community needs to stop.  If we have an issue then take it up with the individual and deal with it like the adults we are supposed to be.  Once the issue has been talked about, we move on.  This is a problem for women more than men.  We all need to stop poisoning the well against others.

Fourth, we need to start to recognize the different gifts of each person.  This is tied to power and pride.  Each person is a unique body and soul created in the “image and likeness of God”.  That means that God created me to be me and you to be you.  You may not have the same talents, gifts, interests, etc. as I do.  You may be better at prayer, service, or hospitality, while my gifts are largely intellectual and in teaching, with some hospitality.  We are all meant to work together to bring the Good News to the world. We cannot do that when we are too busy trying to tear others down.  We need to stop fearing or trying to control other people’s gifts.  We need to embrace them so that we can learn something that may be lacking within ourselves.  We need to trust in God’s mission for each one of us and stop scrambling for some worldly prize or control.  Embrace everyone’s gifts!  We are all infants on the spiritual journey and we need to learn from the people God puts in our path.

Fifth, we need to accept that conflict will arise.  It is inevitable that conflict will arise at various times.  Even priests and religious have conflict. Gasp!  They are human too. That is how human interaction works.  What we need to do is resolve conflict quickly and move on.  Punishment may be necessary as long as it conforms to justice, which many times it does not because of a lack of understanding of justice.  We need to be mindful and make sure that our choices conform to the virtues.  We work through it, forgive, and move on.  That is the point of the Our Father and Jesus’ call to forgive.  Frequent Confession can also help in dealing with conflict.  The longer we hold on to anger or rage the more likely it starts to destroy groups within the Church community.  Conflict may mean changes in relationships, but it does not mean that sinful anger should be given free reign.  Sinful anger very quickly escalates to mortal sin.  The more I study theology, the more I realize just how easy it can be to fall into mortal sin.  This is very true when dealing with one another within the Church.  Sinful anger that turns to rage is a great threat to The Mystical Body of Christ.  I know.  Anger is something that I struggle with at times.  If this is an issue, go to Confession for healing.  And keep going because some sins are stubborn.

Sixth, everything should be centered on Christ.  All of our actions, choices, movements should reflect our love and service to Christ the King.  The Church is our guide on the path to holiness.  Holiness is the goal.  If all of us set that goal a lot of conflict will begin to disappear.  When holiness is not the primary goal, conflict escalates and grows.  Serving within the Church is not meant to fulfill some desire for recognition or pride.  It is meant to be a self-giving act of love.  That is the same for leaders in ministries as well as other members of the Church.  If that is why we are serving, then we may need to consider a break.

Seventh, burn out is inevitable.  Serving in many groups will eventually lead to burn out, especially when we have families to raise.  When that time comes, it is time to take a break.  “No one else will do it”, we tell ourselves.  False.  We are not indispensable that is the devil feeding our pride.  We cannot serve if we are tired and depleted.  We cannot share joy if we feel exhausted and dead inside.  If you get burned out, then take a break.  It doesn’t matter if people get upset or are angry with you.  After loving God, we are told to love ourselves.  Christ’s command to love others is based on our love for ourselves.  If we do not love and take care of ourselves, then we cannot love and serve others.  Take a break when you need it.  You can replenish your spiritual life and return to serving within the Church when you are ready and God calls you back.  Even Christ went up on the mountain to pray and replenish.  He did so not because He needed it, but because we do.  I made this decision earlier this year.  I needed it so I did it.  It worked out because God called me to work on my Master’s degree in Theology and Philosophy while I take a break from leading ministries.  Take a break when needed!

I have written this because I have either done or been the victim of all of these items.  I know the pain and damage that they cause.  I have seen a lot of these things within my own faith community over the past few years.  These are problems throughout the Church because we are sinful. We struggle, but we are called to overcome these struggles.  If all of us can agree that holiness is our calling, then the rest of these things will disappear over time as we work in holiness.  As always, I recommend frequent Confession in order to help us heal from our own iniquities.  The more we go to Confession the more we realize just how stubborn sin is within us.  Do you have any thoughts?  God bless.

Just Say “No” to Busy

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I have not written much on this website lately.  I was taking a break to focus on my family and faith journey.  I had gotten myself into a rut where I was doing too much and accomplishing very little.  I was leading or helping out in five ministries while trying to balance being a wife, mother, and Lay Dominican.  Needless to say, it was not working out very well.  So, I took a step back and gave up two ministries in my parish for at least a year and I also am taking a break from writing for CatholicMom.com.

There is a major tendency in our culture to think of any woman who is staying home i.e. not working outside of the home and who is focused on her family, is lazy and worthless.  Only a woman who has a career or is involved in fifteen volunteer activities is worthy anything.  This is because our culture glorifies busyness, rather than authentic, quality service.  The most important job that we moms have, is just that:  being a mom and a wife.  Our families are relying on us to keep things together and then stumble along leading our family towards Heaven.  I got caught up in this thinking when I left the workforce four years ago and became pregnant with my daughter.

I always imagined myself teaching at a university after completing a PhD program.  God had other things in mind.  After I was accepted into a Master’s program in theology, I found out that I was pregnant with my daughter.  It became clear very quickly, that my schooling would have to be put on hold.  I am glad that I made that decision, because I had some health issues throughout that time period that would have made it difficult to focus on a newborn and theological studies.  I did struggle for a while, though.  I had sacrificed my dream of an education and everything our culture has to say to me would point to my being a failure.  

The fact is that society’s thoughts on my life do not matter.  What God has called me to is what matters.  For reasons that I do not entirely understand, God has called me out of professional life for now and into our home.  Being home with my daughter is a tremendous blessing and I would not change a thing.  It is a struggle for me some days because I am an intellectual woman.  Singing Old McDonald does not challenge me intellectually, but it is precisely where God has asked me to serve right now.  And that is the point of this life: service in love.  I am choosing the greater good for my family. Love comes with great sacrifice.  It means opening wide and giving everything we have, even though we do not want to do it.  It means that people may judge our actions as futile or wrong.  I always point to the fact that I will be held accountable for how I raise my daughter.  I will stand before Our Lord and give an account for my choices and whether or not I listened to Him.  I could not care less about the account some neo-feminists think that I owe them.  I am tired of feeling guilty for doing the right thing.

This means that I will no longer try to fill my calendar full to the brim.  It means that I will say “no” at times because it is what is best.  Yes, playing with my daughter is more important work than me leading every ministry possible because no one else will do it.  If I abandon her, then I will fail at the vocation Christ has called me to.  By the way, spending time in prayer is also more important than most of our activities.  Are there areas of your life where you just need to cut back?  Have you told yourself that saying “no” is okay?  Do you glorify busy?  Do activities take away from your family or your prayer life?

 

Serving the ‘Least of These’

Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers, you did for me.
Matthew 25:34-40

 

 

I just threw a pan of cornbread in the oven and I have a big pot of chili in the slow cooker.  I will pop in some chocolate chip cookies here in a bit.  It is a perfect day for a hearty meal.  Rumor has it we might see a single snowflake fall in these parts.  Snow in November is not common, even though we live in ancient Appalachian hills, I mean mountains.  I am a Montanan, I just can’t seem to call them mountains, yet.  This large autumn meal is going with us to our church tonight to share with some homeless families staying in our parish for this week.  We participate in a program called Family Promise, formerly Inter-Faith Hospitality Network.

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It is a  national organization that takes in homeless families.  The families are provided transportation, classes, and help finding work and housing. They move from church to church each week, as various churches in the area host them.  Our parish has shower facilities, a kitchen, and rooms where beds can be placed.
 
My husband and I decided to volunteer when Michaela was under a year old.  It was our family service project, since many of our ministries are separate.  It is also a good way for Michaela to grow up feeding and serving the poor in our community.  We have met lots of different families.  It is nice to hear when they have gotten into their own home. It has also been eye-opening to me to see people from all different walks of life.  We all, including myself, have a tendency to cocoon ourselves within our own circle and not see everyone else around us.
 
Ministries like this one are perfect for families.  They need people to provide meals, unlocking the facilities, stay overnight, or spend a couple of hours being available should someone need help.  I really enjoy cooking meals and hosting dinner.  It allows me to use the hospitality gift God gave me.  My husband is really good a striking up conversations with people.  I am terrible at starting conversations with complete strangers.  I am getting better at it, but my husband helps pull me out of my shell.
 
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I would encourage you to look into opportunities like this in your area.  My husband and I walk away with way more blessings than we could ever give to these families.  We are called to serve the poor and marginalized in our communities.  And with an economy like this, we  never know when we could be in need.  It does require courage and strength to get outside of ourselves and our comfort zones.  Pray for Our Lord to give you the desire to serve.  He will make up for what you lack in spades.
 
What are some ways you serve your community.  Can you imagine what our country, what the world would look like, if each one of us took just one day a year to serve others? How about more than one day?!
 
 
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The Foot of the Cross

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November is the month in the Church when we remember and pray for the dead.  The month begins with the Solemnity of All Saints to celebrate the men and women who have gone before us and who pray for us from Heaven.  Then All Souls is on the 2nd, which is dedicated to the dead and most especially those souls in Purgatory.  My parish has had a major influx of priests this year.  This summer we had a different priest each weekend because our priest was very ill.  A very good friend of mine died in July and I needed to have a Mass said for the baby we lost in February.  It happened that this past weekend is when those Masses were said.

 
In the middle of all of this, I quite unexpectedly had my first duty as a Eucharistic Minister of Holy Communion (EMHC) to the sick in the hospital.  I have had this ministry since June, but I live in an area that is only 2% Catholic so there have not been any Catholics in the hospital on my weekends.  I was surprised to be called to this ministry.  I prayed and genuinely asked The Lord if he was serious.  Me?  I am not exactly the confident type that likes to walk into complete strangers’ hospital rooms.  I am also very sensitive and struggle greatly with fears of death.  After intense prayer, I felt like He was surely calling me to minister to the sick.
 
I was a relief worker, so I have been around extreme suffering, but nothing could prepare me for what I experienced this past Saturday evening.  The first family that I saw were in good spirits.  It made it easy for me.  I was nervous and unsure of myself.  There was a woman who was ill, her husband, and their son present.  The husband needed to get on the road because he did not like to drive in the dark.  I did the short version of prayers. It went well.  The gentleman gave me a tip and that surprised me greatly.   I promptly put it in the basket at Mass on Sunday.
 
The second family I went to was completely different.  First, they were in the hospital room directly across the room my 2 year old was in in August.  They were an elderly couple.  The woman barely spoke English and suffered from dementia.  The husband was trying to explain to his wife that I was there to pray with them and give them Holy Communion.  She spoke in German.  Eventually we calmed her down and I began.  I only had one host left because there had been 3 people in the previous room and I had only brought 4.  I had to break it in half.  As I did so, a voice clear as day in my head said, “You should not be doing this, you are a woman.”  I struggle with being an EMHC because my husband and I are more traditional, but I know that I am called to this ministry.
 
I wasn’t expecting attacks from the enemy.  I should have been.  Given that I am directly confronting  suffering and bringing Our Lord’s body, blood, soul, and divinity given out for us.  It solidified my belief that I need to wear a scapular.  Our Lord is not going to question  me in a moment I am ministering to His sick.  He is not going to accuse me.  I should probably take holy water with me next time too.  To be quite honest, it took it out of me.  I was exhausted by the end.  For those who don’t believe in the Devil, you know him when you hear him, trust me.  He is usually much more subtle and operates in temptations, but occasionally, he comes out in force.
 
This couple desperately needed Holy Eucharist.  The gentleman  was 91 and struggling mightily with his wife’s illness.  He felt alone.  His wife was confused and in tremendous pain.  He began to tell me about his life.  He has truly suffered.  He was in the Nazi Navy and had survived his U-boat being sunk by a US ship.  He was rescued by a US Navy Destroyer and brought to a POW internment camp in the US, where he stayed for 4 years.  After the war ended he went back to Germany and to his wife.  Even after all he had endured he wanted to live in the US.  After a few years he was able to get a job in Virginia and he and his wife emigrated.  His wife has been ill for 20 years.  He did not know what to do.  He did not want her alone in a nursing home.  So this elderly man was trying to care for his sick wife on his own.  It reminded me how the fringes of our society (as Pope Francis talks about) are the unborn and the elderly.  It made me deeply sad.
 
Even with all of his suffering, he always trusts in the “Good Lord” as he referred to Our Lord.  I stood and listened to him,  amazed by his life story.  He gave me a hug.  Even though it was hard, this is clearly where Our Lord wanted me.  I am a Navy Vet myself and I happily listened to him talk.  He thanked me in  German and I returned with “you’re welcome” in German; one of the three words I know of German.  His wife told me “good-bye” in German, as did he, and I returned the German.  If there is one thing I learned living in Europe and being a linguist, even if you do not know a language, people greatly appreciate you trying their native tongue.
 
I left and met my husband and daughter for dinner.  I was emotionally drained and my heart hurt for that suffering couple.  I have seriously prayed for them and the other family every day since.  Being an EMHC to the sick is going directly to the foot of the Cross.  It is meeting people in their affliction and brokenness.  For those few minutes, I share in that pain and bring them the only help available: Our Lord in His Real Presence.  It is a humbling experience.  I feel wholly unworthy and truth be told, I walked out of the hospital unsure that this is where God wanted me.  Given that my response has been prayer, I think that this is where He wants me, but it is a very hard ministry.
 
The Lord calls us out of our comfort zone to serve him.  I have not gone into the deep of other people’s suffering since my 9-11 relief work days.  I never expected to be called back in after all I endured in the years that followed.  I may not fully understand what He is up to in my life right now, but he is also healing my own brokenness in some way.  And so I will persevere and continue to bring Him to those in need.
 
What are some ways Our Lord has called you into the deep?