I Will Not Be Joining the New Pro-Life Movement Anytime Soon

I will not be jumping on the New Pro-Life Movement bandwagon anytime soon. Mainly because I find the constant bandwagons of the Catholic blogosphere tiresome and intentionally divisive. I have studied moral theology and Catholic Social Teaching in-depth. The two are intimately linked with the dignity of the human person grounding all other aspects of her teaching. That means the right to life holds supremacy and we work from there to achieve the common good through the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity. There is a hierarchy and “seamless garment” arguments only work if the dignity of the human person is at the top of everything else.

Like most movements like this, it seems to be predicated largely upon straw men. The idea that the Republican Party is evil (of course it is, it is run by Fallen men, sin is a part of secular institutions just like the Church. The only thing that keeps the Church from collapsing under the weight of our sins is the Holy Spirit sent by the Glorified Christ) and the folks in the movement clearly support the sacrilege of someone like Fr. Pavone fuels their arguments. Never mind that there are fringes of all movements both inside and outside of the Church.

In reality, a great many of us left the Republican Party years ago sensing the immorality of both parties and decided to begin truly living CST and our mission–as explained in Christifideles Laici–on the ground rather than relying on an immoral and corrupt system in need of major change. We can only change the system from the ground up and that means evangelization, charity, and sacrifice. In-fighting doesn’t accomplish much at the ground level.

What many of these folks forget is that in bringing the Culture of Life to the world, God calls people to different missions under that umbrella. We cannot be stretched across the vast deep that is the Culture of Life. For instance, I have had four miscarriages and suffer from secondary infertility. I understand the gift of motherhood at an ontological level in a way many do not. I know what it is like to lose a child, four children. I also study philosophy and theology, so I can swim deep into the reality of motherhood, as a gift from God, and share it with others. God called me directly to the abortion fight, much like he calls others to slow the tide of euthanasia or other “medical” issues, soup kitchens, refugee ministries, inner city programs, prison ministry, etc.

The idea that those working against abortion–and are in need of saving from more “enlightened” Catholics–do not live CST is a straw man at best and malicious at worst. Our community lives the four pillars of Catholic social teaching by praying in front of PP in order to share the dignity of the human person made imago Dei with everyone. When someone comes into our care (whether a pregnant woman, boyfriend/husband, child, or abortion worker), we employ the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity with an eye on the common good by coming together to find these men and women work (many in our own businesses), medical assistance, childcare, adoption options, education programs, baby and needed items for living, food, financial assistance for debts, bills, or other issues, working with women newly out of prison, friendship and community to those from broken families with poor social networks, and any other need that arises well after the child is born.

I myself am in the middle of walking a journey with a mother who has the same due date that I would have had if Andrew had not died. Yeah, hardcore entering into the Cross and offering it up. I do it regardless of the pain and continue to do it through a lot of tears, but that is what Christ asks us to do. Self-sacrifice. Bloviating in social media does not equate to entering into the suffering of the poor, lonely, and struggling within our communities. And the figureheads of a movement do not automatically point to reality on the ground. I am also a writer, but I am under no illusions that my writing equates to works of mercy.

The idea that the pro-life movement on the ground is out of touch with CST is utter bunk. Many of us help the homeless, do prison ministry, and help in other ways as time allows us outside of the mission given to us by God. We can’t do everything and others have been called to work in different areas of poverty. We have an extensive Haiti mission in our church that I would love to join, but God has called me where He has called me. I see poverty up close and personal with my service to single mothers. Most of these women come from broken and dysfunctional homes, so the healing of marriage is essential, since CST goes from the individual to the family to the local community on up to the federal government and international community. That’s subsidiarity. We are trying, and failing at times, to be the hands and feet of Christ within our communities. I will happily continue to do work in the pro-life movement as we live it here in solidarity and I will continue to study and pray with the Church’s social encyclicals, documents, and the Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching.

Catholic Exchange: Reaching Out to the Suffering

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

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

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

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: St. Monica Teaches Us to Persevere in Hope

Today is the feast of Saint Monica followed by the feast of Saint Augustine, her son, tomorrow. Her life is a tremendous example of perseverance, faith, and hope. She was born in Tagaste in 331 A.D., which is known today as Souk Ahras, Algeria and is believed to be of Berber origin. At a very young age she entered into an arranged marriage to Patricius who was a Roman pagan and official in Tagaste. Monica lived with Patricius and his mother in their home. He was known to have a violent temper and to engage in self-indulgent behavior, as did his mother. It was deeply difficult for Monica to live out her Catholic faith because her husband was greatly aggravated by her prayers, deeds, and alms. Monica persisted regardless of these difficulties in her home.

Monica and Patricius had three children who survived passed infancy and they were Augustine, Navigius, and Perpetua. She was unable to baptize them at the time and was very distressed when Augustine became severely ill at one point. Her husband agreed to allow the Baptism because of the illness, but then Augustine recovered, and he would no longer allow it. Monica’s concern would not subside for long because Augustine grew up to become a man who lived a misspent youth. He became a Manichean at Carthage and his mother told him to leave her table for sharing such heresy with her.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…

Honesty About Being a Stay-at-Home Mom

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There are a lot of mommy blogs out there and I read various authors to get ideas for my daughter and my home. I am not crafty or creative in the same sense as many of these mothers, so I appreciate their help. Sometimes, though, I wish stay-at-home moms would be a bit more honest. In our rush to fight the stigma that has been manufactured against mothers who choose not to work outside of the home, we can put on airs that isolate other women.

Here is my honesty. Being a stay-at-home mom is hard. There are days I am bored out of my mind. Days I am not sure how to keep my insanely active daughter entertained. How to get through the drudgery of singing Old McDonald for the twentieth time in a row. How to establish the ideal schedule for us. I struggle to find the organizational system that we need. I am starved for adult interaction because, let’s face it, being the mother of a young child means isolation. I battle my call and desire to serve my daughter with my desire to write or engage in intellectual pursuits. There are days those two are at war within me.

To put it in perspective you have to understand my life before I was a stay-at-home mom. It is similar to many other women. I worked for over a decade before I got married and had my daughter. I had a job that college graduates only dream about at the age of 20, thanks to the Navy. I lived in Europe and traveled all over. It’s always amusing when someone finds out about my past, which I don’t discuss often these days, and says “Oh, you did something before your daughter?!” It’s as if it is impossible for people to realize that I worked before I was stay-at-home mom. It is funny, but also strange.

My biggest struggle is the very active intellect God gave me. I want to be engaged in profound and deep study and writing. It’s a drive he gave me, but one that has to take a backseat to my daughter. That is the great struggle for me; doing what I am supposed to do versus what I want to do. That is the meaning of vocation.

In the end a vocation is our slow dying to self. It is where we learn to serve God and to allow things to happen in His time rather than our own. It isn’t that God does not want me to engage in these pursuits, I am in grad school, it just means that I must learn a proper ordering. While prayer is a priority, reading for leisure is not. I have to choose between the book I want to read and playing soccer with my daughter. The latter is more important in most instances.

I think that there are some women who naturally enter into motherhood. I have met women like this and I am amazed. I am not one of them. Motherhood has been a major struggle and change for me. I love my daughter with a type of love I did not know I was capable of before her. I know that staying home is the right thing for her, but that does not mean that it is not hard for me some days. There is nothing wrong with being honest about the hardships. It makes it more real. It also doesn’t mean that I would or will change things. I am firmly set on being home and schooling my daughter for the foreseeable future. It does mean that God is doing some serious pruning within me in the process.

Let’s remember that when we have tough days, it is good to be honest. It does not change our choices or question our decisions to be open. Yes, others will take it as proof that all women should be working, but other women who are isolated during this period of time will know that they are not alone. They will also be reminded that this is only a season. My daughter will start co-op this fall and soccer, so the isolation will not be quite as intense.

We also need to be honest with God. We need to ask him for the grace and strength to persevere. He is the only one who can truly help us in our moments of frustration and loneliness. He gave us this vocation and He will provide what we need to endure. We have an amazing task in staying home with our children and denying a part of ourselves in the process. This is the sanctification process and it has very painful moments. In the end, the goal is holiness and we can only get there by the slow process of dying to self and putting others first. Just remember, this too shall pass, and the reward is truly great. God bless.

Catholic Exchange: St Maximilian Kolbe, Heroic Witness to Our Lady

I have not blogged a whole lot this summer. I have August off from graduate school, so I am only writing pieces for Catholic Exchange, Epic Pew, and Catholic Link until September. I will return to blogging then. For now I am having fun with my daughter and catching up on deep cleaning projects around the house. Here is my article for Catholic Exchange today.

St. Maximilian Kolbe was born on January 8, 1894 in Zdunska Wola, Poland. His entire life was centered on his great love and devotion to Our Lady through her Immaculate Conception. At the age of six he had a vision of her:

That night I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.

—Regis Armstrong and Ingrid Peterson, The Franciscan Tradition, 50

Kolbe and his older brother entered the Conventual Franciscans in 1910 and he made his final vows to the evangelical counsels of poverty, obedience, and chastity in 1914. He was then sent to Rome to study at the Pontifical Gregorian University where he pursued a doctorate in Philosophy. He then continued on to receive a doctorate in Theology at the Pontifical University of St. Bonaventure in 1922.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…

Catholic Link: 7 Things I Didn’t Fully Understand Before Parenthood

Each of us has a vocation from God and mine happens to be marriage.

My husband and I got married nearly five years ago and I was pregnant with our daughter four months after we got married. That means my husband and I went into parenthood right away and both of us have learned a lot in the four years we have been parents. Parenthood is a journey as these parents will tell you.

Read the rest over at Catholic Link…

Mass is Boring?!

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It is something that many Catholics hear often from others: “Mass is boring”. Their reasons for feeling this way are varied: the Homily, music, tradition, to the movements of the Mass themselves, bore them. If there is something we Catholics know how to argue about and disagree on it is the Mass. I have no desire to jump into the “Liturgy wars”. I have plenty of my own opinions that are my own and not universal and I am no fan of Marty Haugen or Dan Schutte music, but those fights accomplish little and continue to muddy the waters for those Catholics who really do not understand the Mass. In fact, I would argue that the number one problem for those Catholics who are bored at Mass is that they just don’t understand what exactly is going on during the Liturgy. In my mind, it is impossible to be bored at Mass if you truly grasp what is unfolding. So, I want to briefly explain the Mass from a theological understanding without getting too deep, so that I bore people who do not share my love of reading Church documents and the Summa.

When God created the Heaven’s and the earth, he made everything in a free act of love. This action, referred to in theological terms as exitus, is God sharing of Himself. In this sharing, God intended that His creatures would return to Him in love and worship through charity and faith. This is referred to as reditus. This essentially means that the created order is meant to return to God. Theological terms can be fun, right?! The first thing for us to keep in mind is that we were created to return to God in love and admiration. This is what we were made for. God wanted to share Himself with us and wants us to return to Him in that love. Pretty simple!

Now, how exactly does God want us to return to Him? Yes, there is a clear answer. He desires our worship through the only acceptable sacrifice, namely Christ’s Crucifixion and our obedience. On the night He was betrayed, Our Lord began a new Passover, so that His body (yes, His actual body) could be left with the Church that was to be founded by Him and led by Peter. Jesus was fulfilling His mission as High Priest in that He would become the new Paschal Lamb that had been sacrificed through the Levitical priesthood. He did this through the establishment of the Holy Eucharist and by His Paschal Mystery. He was the new sacrifice and he made a total act of obedience to the Father that we are to emulate. In fact, His sacrifice transcended the previous sacrifices of the Jews because Christ being both God and man he entered into the veil of the Holy of Holies. Meaning, he brought the sacrifice of Himself before the Father in Heaven for His people. Pretty amazing stuff! The Old Law had a prescribed liturgical form and sacrificial ritual that had been commanded by God, beginning with Abraham. Christ completed that ritual through His own Crucifixion and established the New Law, which is what most of us are familiar with in the Catholic Church.

How is this connected to the Mass? Well, the Mass as we know it today was formed over centuries of tradition. The Holy Eucharist has been celebrated from the very beginning of the Church, as is evidenced by the writings of the Early Church Fathers. The actual rites have undergone changes here and there, but the reality has been the same. The purpose of the Mass has always been the same. First, we are living what St. Thomas Aquinas called the virtue of religion. When we go to Mass we fulfill our purpose in life to give right worship to God. Remember how I explained reditus? The Mass is our return in love to the Most Holy Trinity. Second, we offer sacrifice. The Mass is often referred to as The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and that is because Christ commanded that we offer sacrifice to the Father through the Holy Eucharist. Third, we are entering into communion with the actually body of Christ through our reception of the Holy Eucharist. Let’s look at each of these points individually.

First, by virtue of our Baptism and entry into the visible structure of the Church (membership in the Church) we are called to worship and glorify God. The largest action of charity we make in our lives is to attend Mass. It is there that we return to the Father in thanksgiving for all He has given us and seek reparation for our sins (we do this in the Sacrament of Penance too). This is also why the Mass is not about us. That’s right, the Mass is not about me or you. It is not a time for the choir to perform a concert, for me gain recognition for my working in the parish, or for the priest to dazzle an “audience”. The Mass is entirely about the Mystical Body gathering together to praise God, offer sacrifice, and move deeper into communion with Him. This is even more crucial in understanding when we realize who precisely is presiding over the Mass and who is present with us during the Liturgy.

Second, the Mass is the sacrifice offered by Christ on Calvary. No, we do not re-crucify Christ. Rather, we offer the glorified Body of Christ present in the Heavenly sanctuary, which is made present on our altars. The priest offers the sacrifice in the two forms of bread and wine. That is because in the Old Law, sacrifice was bloodless flesh separate from the blood. In a sacrificial understanding they must be separate. This does not mean only receiving the precious Body is invalid. The flesh contains the blood and Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity in its entirety. It just must be separate during the sacrificial portion of the Mass. Now there are differing schools of thought on my next point, but I am Thomistic in my school of Theology. Thomists would say that it is Christ Himself presiding over the Mass and offering sacrifice to God. That’s right, Jesus Christ Himself offers our Mass. He offers Himself to the Father along with the Mystical Body of Christ, through the visible ordained priest. Mass isn’t so boring anymore, is it?! Not only that, by virtue of the reality of Heaven reaching our altars, the Church Triumphant, the souls and angels in Heaven are also present. There is an invisible company of witnesses present at every single Mass. It’s incredible!

Third, Christ left His body, under the guise of bread so that we may reach out and touch His body that was broken for us. We enter into an intimate union with Christ that unites us body and soul to Him every single time we receive Holy Communion. He is physically with us for the 15 minutes or so it takes for our body to digest the consecrated host. Christ loves us so much that He wants nothing more than to be united with every aspect of what makes us human. So when someone asks you if you have a personal relationship with Christ you can reply that you have the most intimate relationship with Him by virtue of the Holy Eucharist. This is one of the key issues that separates us from our Protestant brethren. Our churches house the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. The King of the Universe dwells in our Tabernacles and waits for each one of us. That is how He always wanted it to be and that is why He left us His body in the Holy Eucharist.

This, in a very short blog post, is what we participate in when we go to Mass. The Mass is not where we are entertained. The Mass is where we enter into the presence of Jesus Christ. It is where we offer our love and devotion to the God who made us and died for us. It is where Christ reaches down and physically touches us in our brokenness. It is where we can unite our own sufferings to His. The Mass is quite literally the most important thing that we do in our lives. The next time you are at Mass meditate on what is actually going on. Approach the Holy Eucharist as if you were bowing down before the King of Kings, because that is precisely what you are doing. It is quite impossible to be bored at Mass when you know what is taking place.

For further reading on this topic, I recommend Scott Hahn’s The Lamb’s Supper and Edward Sri’s A Biblical Walk Through the Mass.

Love Changes the Ordinary, the Mundane, and the Ugly

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Yes the picture above is an ordinary dandelion. The weed that is the bane of gardeners and lawn owners in their quest for spring and summer perfection. To adults it is nothing more than a pest to be rid of. In fact, most people would either look at this image that I took with derision or scorn. What they do not realize is that this dandelion was a gift from my 3 year old daughter. My birthday is Friday, Good Friday. She knows that it is coming, so she ran up to me with this bright yellow “flower” and presented it as an early birthday gift. My cup floweth over.

My daughter had found something of beauty and wanted to give it to me as a gift. In that moment she transformed that pest and weed into a thing of love and beauty. And I saw it. Mothers tend to see it. We see how much our children desire to share their wonder and fascination in the ordinary with us. I took the dandelion in my hand with great joy.

Christianity is where paradoxes meet and mingle. This truth is a major theme of the writings of G.K. Chesterton. I thought about it in light of my dandelion gift. Our Lord took an instrument of torture and fear and turned it into a gift of love. On Good Friday, Catholics hold up the Cross in veneration. We look upon the crucifix and experience joy and sorrow. We experience them together, not apart. One of the great mysteries of the Incarnation is the transformation and return of Creation to God. The transformation of sin into redemption. The combining of joy and sorrow. Torture is made into love.

Is this a bit much for a dandelion? No. Everything around us has been transformed in light of the Cross. This Holy Week is the culmination and fulfillment of our return to grace. All because of an act of love that changed the cross from an instrument of power and torture, into Divine Love and Divine Power. Love, in its truest sense, changes the ordinary into the extraordinary.

My daughter’s act of love changed that dandelion into a gift of self. She wanted to give me a gift. A gift to me, who is an avid gardener, and lover of all things that grow. She found a beautiful yellow weed and changed it into a flower of love. No the object itself is not changing. It is still a dandelion, but in her hands to mine, it becomes her joy and mine and a thing of great beauty.

You might not ever look at a dandelion the same way again. I hope you have a very blessed Holy Week.

Motherhood vs Talents: The Internal Battle and Trusting God

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My regular Confessor knows just how much I struggle with being a stay-at-home mom. The reasons are varied, but more than anything, I am trying to find the balance between doing what is best for my daughter and using the gifts that God has given me. I know that the best thing is for me to stay home at this point. I love being with my daughter all day, even when she is throwing her 3 year old tantrums. I get to see her develop and grow. I get to read with her and snuggle with her. I get to teach her the alphabet and about the Church. I am called to homeschool her, even though I know that will be a major challenge and sacrifice.

On the flip side of that, I get lonely and I crave intellectual stimulation at a deeper level. I have always been this way. My Dad and I spent hours talking philosophy and theology while I was in high school. That fire was stoked at a young age and has burned, even as embers, for decades. Unfortunately, this has turned my primary vocation into an internal battle ground.

There is no reason why being a stay-at-home mom should be pit against the gifts that God has given me. I turn it into a battle. I realized recently, that while I was focused on my own struggles, God has been taking care of it for me. It is possible for me to serve and teach my daughter and use the intellectual gifts that God has given me. It just happens that it will not be on my terms, but on God’s.

When I focus on gratitude and pay attention, I can see where God answers those struggles. I am a full-time graduate student. If that doesn’t fill an intellectual void then I don’t know what will. Out of nowhere an opportunity to teach theology for an online homeschooling academy popped up. I have an interview for the job today. Even if I don’t get the position, God is saying that options are available to me. I can serve my daughter and share my studies with other people. He is not asking me to sacrifice one for the other, but He is asking me to trust Him.

The world can make women feel like our only option is to work long hours outside of the home or stay home. It’s an all or nothing. Women who are stay-at-home moms are made to feel like second class citizens, while I know many women who work feel tremendous guilt for not being home. Women are not in competition with one another. We need to find the balance that works for our family and that is in line with our vocation and gifts. I made the decision before I got married that I would be home with any children we had, but that didn’t mean forever and it didn’t mean that I am lazy or lack intellectual capabilities.

I have found that these stereotypes or hostilities are most telling when someone learns about the life I had before motherhood. You did what?! As if my entire life has been me at home. You means stay-at-home moms have something to give?! It’s amusing and annoying at the same time. My husband and I both lived in Europe in our 20s before we met. I worked for government agencies and tried my hand at politics. I lived all over the U.S. As far as our culture is concerned, I truly lived in my 20s. I guess the difference is that none of those things satisfied me the way that motherhood and theological studies do.

Even though our culture can be anti-motherhood, I need to examine those areas where I have taken on that mantra. My battles come in part because I have accepted some areas of the cultural cry for productivity. That productivity is strictly defined by full-time work and long hours. I am firmly opposed to that idea.  For me, I want to find the balance between giving my daughter what she needs from me and serving others with my talents. That is where God wants me.

I need to look up more, so that I can see how God is working in my life. He provides. I have wandered a bit in the past few years as I adjust to this period of my life. It is an adjustment to go from the rugged individualism of my single life to the union of marriage and family. I am finding that this period is a lot quieter in many ways than the past. It is also noisier, at least volume wise. There is real peace in learning to live the vocation God wills for me. It takes the pressure off of me to try to figure it all out on my own.

Do you struggle in your vocation? If you do, let go. That is what my husband is always telling me. “Stop fighting it and just be.” If you haven’t figured it out by my blog, my husband has me more figured out than I do. God knows the desires of your heart and He will provide in His time. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what we need when we need it. So utter that prayer for guidance or tell him of your dreams.  Then make sure that you are looking up to see what wonderful things He has in store for you. It probably won’t be how you expect it or want it, but what you need will come. Embrace what He gives and that storm inside will quiet.

I actually have an interview for that teaching position today. Say a prayer for me. I am looking up, and if God wills it, I will begin teaching once a week for a homeschool academy this fall. If not, then there will be more on the horizon.