Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Top 5 (I mean, 6!) Guys.

I had so much fun contemplating my top 5 gals last week, that for the past few nights Ana and I have turned our thoughts to compiling another list: the top 5 men in my formation. This one was much harder, both because Ana decided to start sleeping for seven hours (less quiet time to contemplate) and because there are so many men around. It's raining men! I had to allow for one more, since... who can choose between priests and who can possibly not include the Pope? So, in no particular order, here's what I came up with:

The Top 6 Men in my Formation (minus Super-formators Jesus Christ the King of Glory, Todd, and my father)

1. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. The late, great Neuhaus was probably the first Catholic intellectual I really got to know well. I started reading his Public Square early on in high school and devoured his books and longer articles in college. His political thought in particular (for example, see American Babylon) helped me to navigate the perils of formative years spent in Washington, DC. His meditations on death--told with reverence and wit--and the irreplaceability of each human life are challenging as well as supremely hopeful and comforting. And finally, the group of people he gathered around himself so as to make their thought available and present to the Church in America has in turn provided endless riches in all things Catholic (and simply Christian). A Chestertonian, into-the-breach-men, sort of love for God and the Church. At his death, I felt I had lost my grandfather.

2. Sheldon Vanauken. This is one odd duck, but A Severe Mercy, which I read at least twice yearly through high school and college, probably formed my understanding of human love and suffering more than any other book (aside from Jane Austen's novels). It is the story of his devotion to the beloved Davy and their conversion to Christianity; it ends with her early death from cancer and his grief. Although he himself was an unfinished work at the time he wrote, his language and poetry taught me what to look for in a man's love: it is only a gateway for divine love.

3. John Paul II. Well, duh. I can't even begin. So, I'll let this piece from the opening of Veritatis Splendor speak for him:

"Called to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, "the true light that enlightens everyone" (Jn1:9), people become "light in the Lord" and "children of light" (Eph 5:8), and are made holy by "obedience to the truth" (1 Pet 1:22)."

He was (and is) what he preached, and we saw the Truth in him with our very own eyes. Joyful obedience. Fervent devotion. Total gift of self. These were all the phrases he embodied. He is now a dear friend, bringing many of my petitions before the Father for me.

4. C.S. Lewis. He's always been there. From the Narnia books in my childhood, through the Abolition of Man and Surprised By Joy, Until We Have Faces and The Space Trilogy--everything I read of his clarified and articulated the truths of orthodoxy for me. I would say his writings were my first foray into logic and philosophy in high school. He, along with Neuhaus and Chesterton, set the standard for clear thinking tethered happily to reality.

5. Fr. Robert Schlageter, OFM. For twelve years, he was the chaplain at the Catholic University of America and helped transform so many young lives. I listened to his preaching--always gentle--and received his admonishment in Confession for four years. He grew more bold in proclaiming Christ as time wore on--more bold and more loving--and he always encouraged me in pro-life work (even when it was hardly the glamorous or acceptable thing). Urban legend has it that he would find porno VHS's in boys dorm rooms and make the lads smash them up then and there.

6. Fr. Dennis Billy, CSsR. A dear friend of my father's from college, and now a dear friend of the family. We were blessed to have him at our wedding, as well as for a little private Pre-Cana at Mt. St. Alphonsus. He told us, "The world puts a lot of pressure on young married couples. Put your trust in Christ, and He will be your foundation." He was right. He gave me a blessing once right in the middle of a crowded restaurant. A priest for the Lord.

Honorable Mentions (oh, so many!)
~Evelyn Waugh
~GK Chesterton
~Blaise Pascal
~Fyodor Dostoyevsky
~St. Augustine

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My Top 5 Gals.

There was a super-cool meme going around last week: Your Top 5 Catholic Devotions.Because of the summer virus, I never got around to it. But often in the wee hours, I play around with my own "Top 5" lists. This one has been revised numerous times and will continue to shift, but here's my best shot at

The Top 5 Women in My Formation (minus Super-Formators Mom and the Blessed Virgin--that's too easy!

(If you want to play, please leave your top 5 in the comments box, or post them on your own blog and link back here. You can use your awesome mother or the Sweet Mother of God; I just had to limit myself!)

1. Elisabeth Elliot. A Protestant missionary whose first husband, Jim Elliot, was martyred in the Amazon jungle in 1956, Elisabeth Elliot was probably the biggest influence on my young, pre-Catholic spiritual life. As an eleven-year-old, I devoured her Shadow of the Almighty and Through Gates of Splendour, both of which cover the story of Jim and his companions, as well as A Chance to Die. The zeal for God and His Word made an enormous impression on me and encouraged a lasting love of the Christ who "calls us apart" and asks us to pay the price for His Crown. Passion and Purity, when I was about 13, confirmed in me a love of the Christian sexual ethic that I still believe saved me endless heartbreak in high school.

2. Edith Stein (Teresa Benedicta of the Cross). Where to begin? I think I encountered her in my senior year of high school, as I was deciding to major in philosophy. At the time, I was sure I would become a nun, and her story captivated me. Because of her, I wanted to study phenomenology, the meaning of which I couldn't (and still can't) really grasp. Again, she was a woman of total integrity. Like Elliot, she believed that a life worth living was a life totally given over--no half measures. At first, she was convinced this meant a total devotion to philosophy, which led her inexorably to a total devotion to Truth, which she suddenly found was a Person, was Love. Since I was now Catholic, I needed someone who went beyond Elliot and Stein provided this for me. She continues to challenge me each day, even though I did not follow her footsteps into the convent.

3. Sr. Anna Wray, OP. No link available here! Sr. Anna, who I mentioned in the last post, showed up during my first week at Catholic University. I had never had a friend before of my own age who loved Christ (and was a total dork about philosophy). She was flame. She began a weekly adoration hour of praise music, followed by a short sermon from the friars, silent prayer, and Confession. She was also my dearest friend. We discerned together, prayed together, fasted together, and I listened to her talk philosophy (I couldn't always follow her). She, soon joined by many other young women, taught me that we cannot do this alone. Total gift of self is not just something I can do all by myself. I need the example of those holier and more zealous than I. "Losing" her to the convent was a wrenching experience, but also one of the most beautiful gifts I ever could give to God (and it made room for Todd!).

4. Therese of Lisieux. Ah, Therese. It's been a long, long road. When I first read Story of a Soul in high school, I was a little befuddled and even turned off. She was so ... drippy. But she has a habit of hanging onto one. A friend and I later joked that, instead of being our "Little Flower," Therese was our "Little Weed." I started to pray for her help in early college and entrusted Todd's conversion to her. It was highly effective. The woman pulled no punches, even sending me numerous snowstorms (she loved snow) and roses on various and appropriate occasions. I began reading her autobiography yearly, and ever since have been completely hooked on her Little Way.

5. Laura Ingalls Wilder. I had to dig back into the early childhood influences, since Miriam is almost to this point in her little life. It was a close call with Little Women, but the Little House (so many "littles"!) books certainly influenced both my imagination and hopes for the future. I couldn't imagine a memory or play without some reference to life on a farm, in the woods, on the prairie, or in a family. Charles and Caroline's marriage was so beautiful to me, as was the children's love of learning and the hard work of daily life. Surely that had something to do with where I am today.

Runners-Up (because I can't stop!)
~ Clare of Assisi
~ Mother Angelica
~ Kari Beckman
~ Ann Hartle
~ gosh, there are so many more ...

Friday, August 20, 2010

May your tribe increase.

I've been blessed with the friendship of many women espoused to Christ. I like to raise eyebrows when telling how three of my four bridesmaids became sisters--all in different congregations (Servidoras, Disciples, and Dominicans). My correspondence with each of them has continued intermittently through the years, and I hope that my girls will get to know these "aunts in Christ" well as they grow up.

One of the greatest gifts to come from these friendships is a deep gratitude for the complementarity of vocations in the Church. You can hear lots of complaints from the grayer folks about "the lack of vocations" or "the priest shortage" flying right on the heels of how "back when I was a kid, priests were seen as gods and sisters as saints... well, we know better now!" Now as I become gray, I can see a shift from complaining to (a) rejoicing in the fact that there is no vocation shortage and (b) a willingness to revere the consecrated/celibate life as actually lifting up the married life instead of competing with it.

The sisters in my life aren't an accusation that my choice to marry was somehow less-than-holy. Rather, in the words of Jerry Maguire (yes, I saw that movie), they say: "You complete me."

Sr. Anna, of the Nashville Dominicans, and I have been exchanging letters for eight years now. In each letter, one of us is bound to ask eagerly how God is working in us through our vows (either to Christ or to Todd) and through our children (hers spiritual, mine physical). She just sent me a doozy:

"Does motherhood grow deeper as you have more children? What do you learn with a third child that you did not know with two? Does wifehood grow deeper with a third child? I am always encouraged by the thought of your striving for holiness in the domestic church, and I often wonder ... how spiritual motherhood mirrors that of holy women in the world."

What a challenge and encouragement in that small paragraph!

What has changed with the coming of Ana? Is my motherhood "deeper"? I can hardly say. It's only been a few months, although the upheaval began one year ago this week when hyperemesis struck.

If motherhood is a forgetting of self, then, yes. I forget about myself much more often now. Literally. I forget to brush my hair before going out of the house. I forget to change my shirt covered in spit-up. But then, it's hardly a virtue, since I also forget to brush my children's hair and change their shirts.

Simply: I think the more children there are in my life, the more I encounter opportunities to love. And the more opportunities I have to love, the more I see my own unwillingness to love. With just Miriam, I was that great mom--answering every call and need with cheer. Then came Bella, and I noticed how much more mothering there was to be done. And how little I wanted to give more. But more I gave. Now with three little black-holes of need, the demand is almost constant. And in answering those demands, sometimes it is all I can do to keep from screaming (and sometimes I just scream).


The joy has also deepened. There is more to wonder at. I laugh more. I watch them love each other in their little baby-ways, and I think, "May it always be so!"

In these precious moments of consolation, juxtaposed right next to a temper-tantrum in my heart, I see how motherhood deepens. There is a perfect Mother--in Mary and the Church--and every child given from God challenges me to a more perfect imitation of her. With each child, I also see more ways in which I could be better. And how deep, even deeper than I imagined a year ago, my need is for Help.

It is the same with being a wife. Each child transforms--in fire and water--our marriage. Fire, in the physical (and financial!) suffering. Water, in the irreplaceable-ness of each new little person.

So, I thank my dear Sister in Christ (who will never read this post). Her questions, from a spiritual mother who is no longer "in the world," give me pause and a chance at humility. May her tribe increase.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Godless Delusion

I seem to be on a atheist kick here... In The Godless Delusion: A Catholic Challenge to Modern Atheism, Patrick Madrid and Kenneth Hensley present a sort of no-argument-left-unsung challenge to current atheist claims. It is a good book, but doesn't approach The Loser Letters (about which I cannot say enough) for wit and even persuasiveness (is that a word?).

The philosophical explanations are clear and well-presented--a great introduction to Kant and Darwin for anyone with little experience! The authors intersperse the heavier stuff with concrete examples, anecdotes, and analogies. They do good work describing the so-called "problem" of evil, the moral implications of atheism, and the inability of atheism to account for the human experience.

Atheists reading might be offended by the constant claim that "all atheists know in their hearts that God exists." It's a sort of "anonymous Christian" claim that may shut down a dialogue (not that Christopher Hitchens isn't completely offensive to theists). Then again, if what I believe is true, then atheists do "know" God exists if only because they have to live with reality each and every day.

The most thought-provoking bits for me were the explanations of the basic atheist philosophy: naturalism. Naturalism is the assumption that matter--atoms, molecules, cells, etc.--is all that there is and provides a sufficient explanation for all phenomena in the world. The authors are particularly concerned to drive home the consequences of a society built on naturalistic principles: When God is dead, all is permitted. They contend that the basic assumption of our current society is increasingly naturalistic, specifically in education. Most educational institutions in the West now implicitly tell students that God is irrelevant to knowledge. We can know the world and live good lives without any reference to the spiritual or supernatural. (I think naturalism is one reason why we're homeschooling. I don't want my children to spend eight hours a day in a building where God is, if not explicitly denied, at least considered unnecessary to life and learning.)

It's worth a read.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company, and the reviewer received a free copy of the text in exchange for her opinion. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Godless Delusion.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Maximilian Kolbe--August 14

Today the Church remembers St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Franciscan priest known for giving his life in place of a fellow prisoner in the starvation bunker of Auschwitz I. Seven years ago today, I was blessed to be in that bunker (under much different circumstances--it was our honeymoon). It was a tiny and dark cell, but all around me everyone was singing praise to God. On the wall of a nearby cell, a condemned prisoner had etched an image of Jesus and we kissed it without fear. Outside, the sun shone and a clear, beautiful wind refreshed the visitors to the death camp. "And He shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying and there shall be no more pain; for the former things have all passed away." ~Revelation 21:4

The sound is broken on my computer, so I haven't been able to preview this video, but I seem to remember that it's a good one. (Please let me know if you get to the end and find an obscenity!)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

All things to all people.

I recently overheard (actually, I was stuffing my face with shortbread cookies at the same table) yet another conversation lamenting the divisions between so-called Traditionalist Catholics and, for lack of any term, Non-Traditionalist-but-still-Totally-Orthodox Catholics (NTTO--"orthodox" here meaning obedient to the teaching Magesterium of the Church). The particular case in question was a refusal on the part of Traditionalists to participate in the same homeschooling cooperative as the NTTO's. The divide seems particularly silly given the dearth of passionate Catholics in our area.

As an NTTO who often contemplates turning Traditionalist (usually when I hear the strains of "Sing a New Church" or "Rain Down" or see those "boy briefs" shorts at Mass), I have friends on both sides of the divide. At our previous school, there was a sort of understanding between the two. Women who never wore skirts above the knee happily taught alongside women who were (!) lectors at Mass. Head-covering Catholics happily received instruction from those who served hamburgers for dinner on Fridays. Once in a while, some bad feeling would erupt (usually over the interpretation of Humanae Vitae or Gaudium et Spes or whether or not John Paul II is a saint), but it was a working relationship.

The reason it worked there and does not work here seems simple to diagnose and harder to fix. The way I came to think about it was in three pieces.

1. We have to know the difference between what is essential to and what is merely a help toward salvation. There are some things that are absolutely necessary for a professed/believing Catholic: belief in Jesus Christ, following the Ten Commandments, fidelity to the precepts and moral teachings of the Church, including visiting the Sacrament of Penance if you sin. These are the basics. Then there are things that are merely aids toward holiness or salvation: the scapular, Daily Mass, chapel veils, certain hymns, Gregorian Chant. Even the liturgy of the Church, which is not a thing to be fabricated or created by man, is a changing, organically growing aid to bring us to heaven. But it is not essential to salvation that we hear that liturgy in English. The Church and various saints sometimes prioritize these helps (for example, Gregorian Chant is said to be a better form of praise than popular hymnody), but they remain outside the category of "essential to salvation." We need to cultivate a healthy sense of what is and is not necessary.

2. We must not take what merely helps us toward salvation and make it an absolute. Women who do not wear headcoverings at Mass may yet be saved, and those who do may yet not. Heaven, if we look at the lives of the saints, is already peopled by those who attended Mass in Latin and at least one who attended the Novus Ordo. This principle goes both ways: NTTO's can sometimes seem to Traditionalists like they're compromising with the world, while the Traditionalists come across as reactionary. Both Traditionalists and NTTO's need to be sure that they are making these non-essential choices for the right reasons: as positive lifestyle choices (oh, ack) rather than rejection of other valid ways of practicing the faith.

3. We have to cultivate a respectful sense of humor toward all these (sometimes wacky) helps toward salvation. You have to admit. From a non-Catholic point of view, some of these devotional practices are a little crazy. Scapulars? Novenas? Doilies on our heads (as some say)? But each has its own reasoning, its own tradition, and its own lovable-ness. The Church is a big family, replete with the odd cousin who always shows up an hour late, the sincere aunt who gives you an applique sweater every Christmas, and on and on... Even if you don't personally like the flavor of Latin, the tinny sounds of modern hymnody, or those denim jumpers all seven Jones girls wear to Mass, all these various practices make up the delightful (sometimes delightfully funny) family of the Church. Both Traditionalists and NTTO's should assume the best: We are all striving mightily for holiness. (There are days when the best I can assume is that my interlocutor is a victim of invincible ignorance.) We must speak to one another as best we can, using each other's vocabulary to encourage one another to holiness:
"I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." (St. Paul, I Corinthians)

Which brings me to...


There is not one of us who can fulfill The Requirement for salvation: Total abandonment to the will of God. The Law of Love is so very demanding that, in the end, for all our practices and devotions, we are simply going to have to cast ourselves on his mercy on our last day. I'm not saying, "Do whatever," here. I have my own very pointed opinions about the liturgy, devotions, female dress, and song. The point is that, after having taken care of the essentials and choosing the very best for our families and ourselves, we need to assume that everyone else is doing the same. The thoughts of all will be revealed in the end, and our hope is that all thoughts, both NTTO's and Traditionalists and the Rest, will be pleasing in the sight of God.


NB: Mark Shea's piece on the Theology of the Body is precisely the kind of peace-making I'm talking about. Give it a gander! Thanks to Wine Dark Sea...

Monday, August 9, 2010

Feast of St. Teresa Benedicta

Yikes, it's been a crazy day. Fortunately, Apple Cider Mill has a great post up on St. Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein), who is one of my all-time faves. And she's got a great statue, too!