No, We Can’t Fully Protect Our Children From Suffering

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

G.K. Chesterton

Our culture seeks to hide suffering behind closed doors. The elderly are left in nursing homes while the unborn are “humanely” disposed of in abortuaries. We pretend that suffering can be fixed with a small pill, a drink, one more car, another cheeseburger, or dull it with copious amounts of television, drugs, alcohol, or pornography. I see the attempts to hide suffering in the media. We are supposed to keep our children protected from the suffering of this harsh world. This is a lie parents tell themselves and it is an attempt to avoid reality. It is impossible to hide the Fallen nature of this world from our children.

We worship the God-man, who suffered a torturous death on a Cross. Our churches–at least they are supposed to–have a Crucifix front and center as a reminder of the central reality of Our Faith that is the Crucifixion and death of Our Lord. Our homes are also often adorned with this instrument of torture, as a minute-by-minute reminder of the price and sacrifice offered in love for each one of us. As Catholics, there is no hiding the reality of suffering. It’s front and center in our Faith.

Children already know dragons exist. The idea that we can hide pain and suffering from our children comes up against reality once our children come into contact and develop relationships with other children. They see quickly how difficult human relationships are in our Fallen state. Each child comes to learn that they will eventually be left out, mocked or made fun of, left to the mercy of another’s moods or whims, hurt, and that the people we love eventually let us down, move, or even die. It is impossible to hide these realities from children. They know. And, like us, they also know that it’s not supposed to be this way. They rail in angry frustration at the injustice of it all because they know instinctively that we are made for more.

We can’t protect our children from suffering. Last year my own daughter went through a death scare with my husband when he became extremely ill at a rapid rate. At five-years-old she confronted the reality of her own father’s mortality. Thankfully, he survived and is now in what appears to be remission, even though he will have Wegener’s Granulomatosis for the rest of his life and it could take off at any point. It’s something that is always in the back of our minds.

She knows the realities of suffering in her daily life. She knows the pain other people inflict on one another through the disagreements and occasional nastiness of her friends. She sees it when her father and I let her down when our own sinfulness hurts her. She cries the tears of pain when she learns that her best-friend is moving on her birthday and she cries in frustration when she isn’t treated as well as she should be by a friend or their family.

As her mother, I can’t pretend that suffering isn’t a reality for each one of us. I can’t sugar coat it, and often, I don’t even have the power to make it any better. In fact, this has been one of the greatest lessons of surrender that I have learned as a mother. Many of the moments when she is hurting all I can do is hold her close and cry with her. I am not called to protect her from the suffering. I am called to teach her how to embrace it and offer it up to Christ. I do so by standing steadfast alongside her as she cries in agony, even as my own heart bleeds inwardly, longing to relieve her pain.

It is in those moments that I catch a tiny glimpse of what Our Heavenly Mother endured at the foot of the Cross. She shows me how to stand strong in the midst of intense suffering. Our Mother shows me how to love my daughter through the pain and to embrace her Cross alongside her. I remind my daughter to offer it to Christ and to allow Him to help her through it. It isn’t easy. Our Fallen tendency is to flee from the Cross, but as Christians, we are called to embrace it. We are meant to walk together in communion. So often we make the same mistakes of the first Apostles, except St. John. We flee when we are called to endure.

As parents we have to learn to relinquish our own will when our child suffers. It is impossible for us to suffer for them. We can only suffer with them. Suffering is a part of the sanctification process for all of us. It teaches how to love. Suffering shows us what love costs and it is through this pain that we learn to love more deeply. We can’t truly love if it doesn’t lead us to sacrifice a part of ourselves on behalf of the other.

We can’t protect them from suffering, but we can lead them to the One who will help them to persevere, provide them peace, rest, joy, and love them as they are meant to be loved. Other people, even people who love us and who we love, will let us down and hurt us. It is only in Christ that we learn to receive the love we are made for and through Him we learn to love others as we ought to.

My daughter is going through one of those difficult times when she is suffering pain and disappointment and I can’t take it away. What I can do is love her through it and stand fast when the tears start flowing. I can show her my own vulnerability and the tears I shed on her behalf as her loving mother. In some small way, I pray we are both brought closer into the loving embrace of Our Heavenly Mother, whose great desire is to lead us to the Most Loving and Sacred Heart of Her Son, Jesus Christ.

Catholic Exchange: Lessons on Motherhood from the Visitation

Today is the Feast of the Visitation of Our Lord. It is a feast day that draws us into a deeper love of Our Lord and Our Heavenly Mother. It is also through the Visitation that mothers can enter more deeply into the joy of their vocation, as well as the joy of ministering to one another on the journey. After the Annunciation and Mary’s fiat to God’s plan of salvation, she proceeds “in haste” to her cousin Elizabeth.

During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me. For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Luke 1:39-45

There is much to be gleaned from this beautiful passage. It is the coming together of two women, united by joy and the promise of salvation. Two women sharing the great gift of motherhood. One bears the son who will pave the way for the coming of the Lord and the other is the New Eve whose son will take away the sins of the world. They greet one another as kinswomen united in a deep communion. The encounter between these two women invites us to be drawn closer to God by the gift of not only their pronouncement, but their pious love for one another. Their womanhood and motherhood is an example for all, but mothers can learn quite a bit through the Visitation.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: On Being Human and the Need to Wonder

I stood on a cold, frosty afternoon looking out the window at my daughter playing in the snow. She was bedecked head to toe with winter gear to protect her from the bitter wind, a wind she hardly noticed. Her fuchsia snow pants insulated her knees from the icy snow and she sat contentedly eating snow. She examined each handful before placing it in her mouth. She was struck by the uniqueness of each new handful. As I watched her, I was drawn into her wonder. I was struck by the obvious joy of that moment for her.  I realized in that moment, children often have their priorities in order, while we adults grasp at all the wrong things.

A pile of dishes was awaiting my attention, textbooks for my graduate courses sat opened, reminding me of work to be done. My elliptical machine, cold and mechanical, stood in the living room corner as an oppressive force of health and fitness. My mind was running with an endless list of things that must get done. And yet, I stopped to see what my daughter was doing in our backyard on a bitter cold winter afternoon. She had been begging me all morning to go outside and I made her wait until it hit 25 degrees. I have grown soft living in Southwestern Virginia; away from the arctic subzero temperatures of my upbringing in Montana.

I couldn’t help, but stop. There she sat, engrossed in wonder and serene contentedness. The very same serenity that alludes so many of us in adulthood with our deadlines, duties, and responsibilities. I realized that my daughter’s work was probably much more important than what I felt bound to complete in a begrudging sort of way. She was examining the secondary causes of God’s free and self-emptying Creation. I stood watching her examine each snow crystal before she placed it in her mouth. I entered into her wonder, her total giving of self to the moment. How could I not be drawn in along with her?

She did not feel the cold or complain about the weather the way we adults often gripe. Instead it was an opportunity for joy, play, discovery, imagination, and love. It was a moment for her to experience God through the beauty of His creation. She was living the good, the true, and the beautiful. How often do we brush off our child’s excitement over something seemingly mundane? How often do we miss out on the opportunity to enter into their wonder and joy of discovering something new for the very first time, or even the twentieth? How much do we ignore that God calls us to fully live in the present? Our children teach us the presence of God, but we pay little attention.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: Raising Daughters Like St. Elizabeth of Hungary in a Disney Princess World

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. St. Elizabeth was born on July 7, 1207 as the daughter of Hungarian King Andrew II and Gertrude of Merania. While still a young child, Elizabeth was betrothed to marry Ludwig IV of Thuringia, who was a German nobleman. She was sent to the court of Landgrave of Thuringia to receive her education at 4 years of age. During that time her mother was murdered and Elizabeth turned to ardent prayer in order to find peace and hope.

Elizabeth married Ludwig IV in 1221. She deeply loved her husband and the couple had three children. Two became members of the nobility while the third entered into religious life and became the abbess of a German convent. Throughout her married life, Elizabeth was deeply dedicated to prayer and charity towards the poor. Her husband supported her religious work. She lived a simple life of penance in devotion to works of charity. She used the abundant blessings God had given her as royalty to serve others in charity.

St. Elizabeth was greatly influenced by the Franciscan friars who arrived in her kingdom around 1223. She took up their austere practices in dressing simply and feeding hundreds of the poor bread daily. Both she and her husband were known for their great dedication to the poor in their kingdom. Elizabeth also treated the sick when illness ravaged the kingdom. Her husband was struck with an illness and died in 1227. After her husband’s death, Elizabeth devoted her life to celibacy and lived a life mirrored after a nun. She spent the rest of her days in ardent love and service of God and neighbor. She died at the age of 24 on November 17, 1231.

St. Elizabeth is one of many saints who was a member of royalty. Most parents of daughters discover very quickly the female fascination with princesses and queens. Disney has spent decades marketing off of this interest among young girls. Beauty, gowns, crowns, princes, and castles dazzle young girls as they twirl around their homes decked out in their finest. I remember being quite astonished at how quickly my daughter became enamored with Disney princesses at 2 years of age and she still is to some extent at 5 years old.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Holiness: What Really Helped Me Leave Facebook, Again

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

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

Writing and Internet Break

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.

Miscarriage Grief: No We Aren’t Going Crazy

Grief is an arduous journey for all of us to walk. It is also a process we have very little control over and we have no choice but to walk it; often only relying in trust and hope that God walks beside us. Grief is a lot like being in a dingy in the ocean. The shore is somewhere off the port side, but we can’t see it. It’s foggy and dark and all we feel are the enormous swells. When periods of peace do come, they are often not serenity, but numbness. In fact, we may have days, weeks, months, years of numbness and then some trigger will pierce through and torrents of tears fall once again.

I have been in a period of numbness for a couple of weeks. Once the miscarriage finally ended the initial intensity subsided and the numbness set in. The miscarriage itself stopped and started over a period of 2.5 weeks, prolonging the initial agony. It now seems to have completed and the numbing–somewhat zombie like–period has begun. I started to wonder why I couldn’t seem to cry. I cried for days in the beginning, but then I couldn’t cry anymore and the ache turned to emotionless nothingness. This numbness is often worse than the intense suffering. Numbness leaves me wanting to reach out, but I can’t seem to grasp anything solid.

The numbness lifted temporary in the last few days. The tears began anew. Every mother and father grieving a child lost in miscarriage has different triggers. In the past, an infant Baptism at Mass would reduce me to a blubbering mess. I battled mightily in my first three miscarriages with the pain caused by my inability to baptize my babies before they died. Years of theological study and my trust in God’s mercy finally lifted that burden. Through the direction of different priests  and theologians, I was guided to a place of trust, even if I lacked solid answers. God assuaged the pain I felt because my babies died unbaptized.

This time the trigger is toddler and infant boys. My husband and I believe our most recent loss was a son, Andrew Thomas. Named for St. Andrew and my hero St. Thomas Aquinas. This past weekend, I once again returned to tears after attending Mass where five male altar servers served with great reverence in the more traditional cassock and surplice. This is such a rarity in my Diocese that the beauty from seeing it alone would have reduced me to tears. Instead, watching the youngest boy serve with the teenage boys reminded me of how much I miss my sons Andrew and Caleb.

The youngest boy serving must have been 7 or 8. He clearly had just received his first Holy Communion this year and the teenage boys towered over him, but they treated him with great care and guided him through the Mass. This young boy followed the great dance of the Liturgy (no I didn’t say liturgical dance….shudders) beautifully. His reverence and attention were remarkable in one so young. He did just as well as the older boys.

The second time I ached for my children was while we were at a park. My family and I went camping this past weekend. On our way home, we stopped at a park so our daughter could play. There was a little boy toddling around the playground. He clearly had only been walking for a short time. He was trying to keep up with the rest of the children playing around him. He was adorable.

My husband and I sat watching our daughter and the other kids play while we discussed adoption. We greatly desire more children, but it does not seem to be God’s will that they come from us. We have been contemplating adoption for over a year, but we are taking our time discerning when to put in our application. We want to make sure we make a clear-headed decision because we are grieving so deeply at this time.

Adoption is a long, invasive, and difficult process. We have four adopted nephews, so we know it is a rough process. It is also extremely expensive. It will cost us $15,000-25,000. Yes, you read that right. That’s for a domestic adoption. We have already been through orientation at our local Catholic Charities, so our decision will be made understanding that we will have to cut back tremendously, save a lot of money, and probably stay in our current home for a few more years rather than buy our dream home, which is a small farm. It’s a matter of choosing greater goods, and a human being is always a greater good. Pray for us as we discern God’s path for us.

Grief is a long process and it never fully goes away. There is always that slight prick whenever the lost person or persons is remembered. The ache to hold my children will never fully dissipate until, Lord willing, I meet them in Heaven. My daughter’s loneliness serves as a reminder that I have not been able to give her a sibling. And I even battle the pain that my writing has expanded to wider audiences because of my suffering. Writers often expand their audience because they are willing to enter into suffering. I would give up writing another word to have my children back, but that isn’t possible. Instead, it appears that for reasons not entirely clear to me, God has called me to bring attention to the miscarriage-abortion connection. Doors keep opening that I never imagined or thought possible, even as I sit in my dingy off the shore.

If like me, you are journeying through grief, you may have moments when you feel like you are going crazy. It seems like small things set you off and torrents of tears come streaming, even in public. There may be times the sobbing is uncontrollable and the wound that seemed to heal ever so slightly is gaping wide open once again. This is a part of grief. The senses are how we understand the world around us, which means our senses will trigger memories. Seeing a baby, hearing their laughter or cries, or any other type of sensory response can remind us of the lost child we miss so deeply. All we can do is ask for God to walk with us during this time of intense suffering. We have to hope that good will come of all of this, even if we don’t understand it on this side of eternity. Know that I am praying for all of you grieving. I know that I am not alone in my pain and so you remain in my thoughts and prayers. Pax Christi.

The Wisdom of Children and Hope in Suffering

My daughter is my greatest teacher. This seems strange in a world where children are reduced to a means to an end or even viewed primarily as accessories. In the West, children are something we have on our own terms. They do not exist for their own sake; they only exist if we will it. This is of course bunk. Any mother or father who has truly embraced parenthood knows that the entire meaning of our lives is to love and be loved in return. We love imperfectly, but it is why we are here.

Children teach us to love. They remind us of how selfish we are, which is the main reason so many in the West have abandoned parenthood. Parenthood comes with sacrifice and hard work. We don’t like having to look in the mirror, and children have a penchant for lifting up the mirror to our faces each day in order to reveal our failings. Parenthood is also the intermingling of joy and sorrow.

Our children take on our worst traits first, and then some of the good. It is one of the great struggles of parenthood. It is something that takes most of us by surprise and causes great disappointment within us. The last thing we want is for them to take on our bad traits. Our child will mutter some expression or respond in a manner that reveals our worst selves and how these little ones have absorbed exactly what we wish them to avoid. It should leave us stunned and humbled; pushing us to do better. Parenthood is to go on a journey. It is to walk along with a person who can reveal the good and the evil inside of our own hearts. The hope is in the end we will both have attained holiness, by God’s grace, and our perseverance.

Lately I have been contemplating the nature of suffering. I myself have entered a period of intense suffering. It has been a month since my fourth miscarriage. The original grief started with frenetic energy, an attempt to avoid the inevitable spiritual and emotional pain, and it has now lulled into the numbness that inevitably surfaces after a loss. I am also not one of those women who bounces back quickly physically. My body is a complete mess right now and all I can do is wait for it to reset. It took a year with my third miscarriage. Hormone deficiencies are exacerbated through miscarriage and the intensity of grief adds great emotional and spiritual weight.

My daughter has responded as well as a 5-year-old can be expected to respond in the face of my recent miscarriage. She only knows what it is to be an only child and she does not have the ability to comprehend the depths of grief at this point. I am thankful for this because no 5-year-old is mentally prepared for such gulfs. That does not mean she does not suffer. In fact, she suffers deeply through loneliness.

If ever there was a child who should not be an only child it is my daughter. Since a very early age, she has demonstrated a deep and open love towards other people. She is social, kind, and greets everyone she meets. She is an extrovert to the core, which she gets from her daddy. She accepts every child she comes across as a new friend and she is deeply hurt when that friendship is not reciprocated. She engages adults and children in conversation wherever we go and she is wholly unaware of her place as a child in society. She functions as a human person among other human persons.

She greatly desires a sibling. Yes, much of it has to do with the desire for a playmate, but she also wants a sibling to love, take care of, and lead. Mommy can only fill that void to a very limited extent. She reveals the ontological reality that all people are made for communion with God and with other people. We are social creatures by nature. She intuitively knows that she doesn’t belong alone. She knows that she is made to commune, to be in deep relationship with other people. She feels her status as an only child at a profound level. As her mother, I share in this Cross with her. The Crosses I face on my own are nothing compared the level of pain I endure in watching my daughter suffer. I would take all of her Crosses on if I could, but I know that is impossible and not even what is best for her.

It is a mother’s greatest desire to relieve their child’s suffering. One of the great battles I wage right now is in realizing that my daughter’s suffering comes from the fact that I cannot seem to have any more children. I cannot will my body to carry a pregnancy to term. I could not keep the four babies I have lost alive. My grief is exacerbated by my daughter’s loneliness. I can’t take her loneliness away. For reasons that are largely mysterious to me, God has willed only one child for us. No matter how much I yell at Him or my own body, I cannot change that fact.

My daughter is very good friends with our neighbors who have four children. She plays with them frequently, but she does not understand why she can’t play there whenever she is available. She doesn’t understand their need for family time. There are many times I have stood watching her, shoulders drooped, tears streaming down her face, and wails coming from her throat, because she is not welcome to participate in whatever is happening next door. She wants to commune and come to the party. She sees that community is a part of her deepest self and that Heaven is the realization of this reality as we enter into communion with the Most Holy Trinity.

No my daughter does not understand this at a theological level. She understands it at the deepest level of experience and I see it every single day. I walk it with her as I watch her struggle with loneliness. I long to take her loneliness from her. She isn’t a play-by-herself kind of person. She doesn’t cut herself off from her neighbor. Instead, she invites others in and she wants others to invite her into relationship. She waits for others to play and then she embraces everyone she meets.

My only hope is to trust that God will use her loneliness for some good. I must trust that He gave her the heart that he did because of the mission He will give her later in life and so she can touch lives now in true charity. I have to find some comfort, no matter how difficult right now, that all of this intense grief and suffering will come to some glorious end in God’s infinite wisdom and plan. Right now, I can’t see it, and chances are, I will never understand why my body is the way it is or why my husband and I have lost four children. It is as Bishop Barron points out in his Catholicism series: I am staring at a pointillist painting from an inch away and all I can see are dots. All I see is my pain and my daughter’s suffering. I am unable to stand back to see the whole masterpiece until I stand before the Glory of God, and based on past writings of the saints, the answers probably won’t even matter. Pax Christi.

 

No, an Essay on the Internet is Not Enough

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.

First Grade: The Homeschooling Journey Continues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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