Tuesday, September 27, 2011

An open letter to Secretary Sebelius.

Below is a copy of what the Scientist Dad and I sent in. Please email the Department of Health and Human Services (Kathleen.Sebelius@hhs.gov) by Friday to comment on the health care reform regulations. It may be "but a drop in the bucket," but I will in future years be glad I said something rather than nothing.

Dear Secretary Sebelius,

We would like to express our opposition to the current religious exemption which Health and Human Services has granted to healthcare institutions in reference to the new health care reform law. As Roman Catholics, we are deeply concerned about the implications and precedence this regulation holds for religious freedom and the free exercise of conscience.

The current proposed religious exemption applies only to those organizations employing and serving primarily members of their own faith community. It requires these institutions, such as Catholic hospitals, to proselytize those citizens coming to them for help.

We are aware, Madame Secretary, that you are yourself a professed Roman Catholic. Although we also understand that you hold a very different view of human reproduction and fertility than we do, we hope that we can appeal to you and your Department on the level of fellow citizens and members of the same faith community. It would violate the whole purpose of the Catholic Church's service to the poor for the government to require that we provide services (e.g., contraception and sterilization) that violate our deepest held beliefs about the human person. It would also violate the American view of public service to require Catholic institutions to either close their doors to the poor or proselytize those coming to seek comfort and aide. Please remember what you do love about your own faith community--it's free service to the poorest of the poor--which cannot be forcibly divorced from its ancient respect for the human person.

We disagree with your political stance on reproductive rights, but we are also glad that you are free to exercise the dictates of your conscience. Please protect the rights of Catholic healthcare workers and administrators to do the same.

Expand the religious exemption to allow Catholic institutions (and all other religious institutions) to serve and employ the entire population without recourse to indoctrination.

Thank you for your service to our country and for your consideration.



Monday, September 26, 2011

Oh, those eyes.

...look so much like my Belle's.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Let it all hang out!

Head on over to Catholic Exchange today for my article (post?) on abstinence in marriage. This is a sort of combination of my two previous posts here and here, with some added twists thanks to y'all's profound commentary.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Feminine Genius: We know D.R.A.M.A.

Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa: Girls are OK.

(First, a note! Some commenters on "Abstinence in Marriage: Que Pasa?" were unceremoniusly dumped into my spam folder. Sorry! Now you're published, as you should have been long ago. Y'all are brilliant.)

After confirming that I "really have three girls," the next insight offered me by most strangers is, "Oh, your poor husband."

The third apothegm runs along the lines of consolation to the downtrodden, "Oh, well, don't worry. Girls are so much easier than boys."

If I have allowed the conversation to get this far, I am obviously too weary to deflect their advances with humor. Either that, or I have become so accustomed to the inane babblings of the pre-schooler mind that two or three more idiocies aren't likely to bother me.

But, really, people. Girls are easier than boys? Have you spent much time with a 12-year-old girl? Have you spent much time with any woman between, say, the ages of 10 1/2 and 51? I hear echoing in my head, "The days are coming, sayeth the Lord, when I shall strike the land with doom."

We are sugar and spice for about 5 years, then fade into a sweet sort of lemon-zest dessert, and then. Just plain lemon juice.

Poor Miriam. She's had a brilliant 5 weeks (almost) of homeschool. She's had a brilliant childhood, in general, to be honest. She's smart. She's gorgeous. She's good at almost anything (except opening doors or jars). She is sweet and eager to please.

But oh, the drama.

Today the world fell apart. I asked her to narrate for me (just me! her mother!) the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. She knows this story (we've been reading it since she could talk!), she loves to narrate (she's been talking since she was 10 months!), and she has memory like glue (when she was four, she memorized an entire Dr. Seuss book!).

But today, she froze. She couldn't even begin. Because I was asking her to do something different: "Just tell me the story."

"Mommy, I can only think if you're writing it down!"

"Miriam, I'm not going to write this one down. I'm helping Belly build her Lego house, and this is also an important way of telling for you to learn. Just tell me."

Tears. A full-out fit. Neither of us backed down. But what struck me was her (ir)rationale: "Mommy, it's too embarrassing!"

Embarrassing is her code word for: I might mess up. I'm going to make a mistake. It's not worth trying, because I can't do it perfectly.

It's the same reason she won't try her new bike: I might mess up. I might get hurt. It's not worth trying.

It's the same reason she won't play the new piano song: I might mess up. It's not worth trying.


This runs deep in the family: It's too hard. Our over-achiever front belies a deep insecurity: What if I mess up? It's better not to try.

I remember piano pieces I refused to learn, races I refused to run, classes I quit, and professors I never went to for help. All because of this fear, paralyzing and ugly. The woman hates to be wrong, but even more so to be caught being wrong. I don't mind a mistake that no one can see, that I can fix on my own (Spanx, anyone?), but oh! to be seen in my imperfection. That makes me throw a fit.

So, today's drama was less about my daughter than about me: I can see with a magnifying glass into her soul, even at the moment she feels most alone.

And that, too, is a mark of a woman. We hate to be caught in the fault (as do men), and all those hormones and intensity of feelings can make us cry and fight and throw ourselves to the floor in despair. But that intensity also gives us--poor children of Eve--the possibility of that deeply personal bridge: I know you. I have been where you are. I will be there with you again.

I want to try to teach my daughter, poor little daughter of me, to take that drama all locked up inside herself and let it out. Let her recognize that her struggle goes on in the hearts of so many others. Let the drama breed, not more drama, but womanly compassion and a fierce devotion to the weakest souls still in the grip of that struggle. Let her drama and fear of embarrassment translate into understanding and gentleness.

The feminine genius, without which the world could not be saved.

Image source: Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa.
Image source: The Repentant.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

If you came this way.

Here is Eliot for Thursday. Ten years ago, I was studying in England and coping with being abroad for 9/11. I will always think of England as "the end of the world" and of Eliot as my voice of those days.

From "Little Gidding," No. 4 of 'Four Quartets'

"I. .... There are other places

Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and in England.

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always."

Image source.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Difficult Lesson.

We read whole chapters of the Gospels aloud. I let the girls color and play, and I just sit and read the words. I don't ask them to narrate the stories or sayings, but just to listen as they can while they play. Today we read Matthew 10. I didn't think Miriam was listening (she was coloring the Hagia Sophia and singing about the "barbarians who stole your tabernacle").

But she was.

Miriam: "Mommy, why does Jesus say he comes to bring a sword and not peace? Because, he is the Prince of Peace. I am confused."

That is confusing. So, here's what I tried for a little exegesis.

"Well, it is confusing. Let's think about Jesus' commandments. If we love Him, He says, we will follow His commandments."

"Yes," she said, still coloring and humming.

"So, people have to make a choice: they can either walk to Jesus in the light or turn around and walk the other way into the dark."

"Yes," she stopped coloring.

"I think that is the sword he might mean: If some people choose to walk to Jesus and other people choose to walk away from Jesus, then who has the Peace of Christ?"

"The people walking to the light," she nodded.

"Yes. But what happens if you choose something dark?"

"Then you don't have the Peace of Christ!" she was very happy now.

"And not having peace is like a sword?"

And we were both happy. This is why she's at home this year.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Miriam the Dominican.

Four little girls in pink and white, seated on the hardwood floor at the feet of their ballet teacher, listening with rapt attention to Angelina in the Palace.

"... and Angelina said, 'I won't make a mistake! I will be perfect!'" reads the lovely lady. "But, girls! No one is perfect, isn't that right?"

Noooo, three little heads shake.

Noooo, all the watching parents shake their heads.

Noooo, the ballet teacher approvingly shakes her head.

"That's not true!" says one little girl named Miriam, offended.

Everyone looks at her, the tallest girl dressed all in white.

"Well, I wonder..." begins the teacher.

"Jesus never makes mistakes. He is perfect." Miriam's eyes are anxious, but firm. Her cheeks and neck are flushed. I wince. I've been right there in her seat.

"Well, I wonder," says the teacher, "I really wonder..." She continues the story and it all brushes past.

Miriam sits stolidly in her rightness and in the immutable rightness of God. I am in the corner of the room, hugging my toddler, throwing graham crackers to placate the baby, and wondering... "I wonder.... I wonder." I wonder at the perfect Word made flesh. I wonder at the spine of steel in my little girl, and I wonder how it will all be for her.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11, Ten Years

Just a song from one of my favorite artists.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Abstinence and marriage, Part II: Bueno!

I've read some exquisitely thoughtful and transparent comments from yesterday's post, Abstinence and marriage: ¿Que pasa? The only worthy response would be to continue with a few more thoughts.

Jen wrote that she finds an inherent difference between priestly (or monastic) celibacy and periodic (or permanent) abstinence in marriage. I think she's right on this: Celibates (priests and religious) have freely vowed not only to live a life without sexual intercourse but also detached from the particular, one-on-one friendship that the marriage vows demand. Very few men and women get married expecting years and years of sexual abstinence. One anonymous commentator wrote that "the single person and the religious are both called to live chastity for many years. What makes it possible for them is fidelity to the spiritual life and the life of prayer. What is four weeks in comparison?

My response would be that four weeks living in the same, close quarters after years of a shared bed, shared sleeplessness, shared affection, and shared tears can make the shift from "sexual active married couple" to "sexless married couple" very different from life in a cell or large, lonely rectory. I'm not denigrating either sacrifice, I just think it might seem callous to compare (much like comparing the struggle of an infertile couple to my struggle).

The same anonymous commentator makes, however, an excellent point about the nature of human life: The great equalizer for all vocations and states of life is the call to sacrificial love. It's a difficult teaching, but, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

Anonymous: "My recommendations to you aren't rocket science— daily Mass, weekly confession, weekly adoration, weekly fasting. Fasting, in particular is key to taming one's desire to engage in the marital act. I know that this sacrifice isn't easy— but it's part of what the marital vocation calls on you to do— but in a marriage— every step of the way is paved by sacrifice..."

April puts a positive slant on it: "God is making us into saints and THAT is beautiful. That is life-giving." She's put her finger on a truth we hold dear: All suffering can give life. It is all able to bear fruit.

I was listening to Abbot Tryphon this afternoon. He said, "When we are free, there are no battles. Life is a constant battle with the material world." As we battle in our desire to have it all--sex, health, avoid pregnancy, achieve pregnancy, Brownie Sundaes, a slim figure, plenty of sleep, completion of all projects--we inevitably feel the pull of the "flesh" (as in, the things that are transitory) to compromise. "If I just used a Pill, I could have sex and avoid pregnancy." "If I just made myself throw it all back up, I could eat Brownie Sundaes and be slim!" The killer argument comes from the psychologist: "You will go crazy if you don't have it all!"

But new life is not born of these compromises. It is born of becoming free of the desire to compromise. I think anonymous #2 gives good suggestions for training our souls and bodies to become free: fasting, prayer, the sacraments. It is only if we live in the very life of Christ himself that we can be free as he is free.

The Abbot also said that--as he was feeling miserable one day in all his accumulated wealth--he realized suddenly that this life was given him only as a time to prepare for eternity. The married life is only a sign of that real life: eternal consummation of our union with God. It is a means, not an end, to bring us to our true end.

In a sacramental and faithful marriage, abstinence is going to happen. For various reasons--voluntarily or involuntarily--we cannot always come together physically. Another friend pointed out to me the many examples of saints and blesseds who have chosen abstinence within their marriages either permanently or for a short period of time. We can join secular culture and psychoanalyze these men and women to pieces, or blame the Church for bashing sex in honoring them, or we can assume the best: They were seeking freedom, total freedom for the things of God. Their joy and final victory doesn't denigrate large families or sexually active marriages: It uplifts "those who are bowed down" under a battle they did not originally anticipate.

I am grateful for your company and witness.

Image Source: Blessed Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi and Blessed Maria Corsini

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Abstinence and marriage: Que pasa?

A friend and I were ruminating under the hurricane about the meaning and role of sexual abstinence in marriage. She is a pre-Cana NFP coach and noted that, "We just don't seem to be preparing couples for the reality of abstinence: It's going to happen." We also noted frustrations with the tendency to present NFP as the Catholic birth-control (it's not!): Safe! Effective! Simple! Morally Upright!

Since the good Lord has seen fit to grant unto me some serious reasons for postponing pregnancy right now (oh, that's a whole 'nother discussion), I've been discovering the realities of prolonged periods of abstinence and what they mean for our particular marriage. The old NFP courses I took long ago (nine years!) warned, "Couples may need to abstain from the conjugal embrace for up to two weeks in order to guarantee avoidance of pregnancy."

Try three or four weeks. This is sacrificial.

And that's three or four weeks of feeling deep sadness (we would love more children--they're so different and irreplaceable); guilt ("Are you having any more?" "Look at the Martins! They have seven! What a good, Catholic family!"); and frustration. We sometimes feel fruitless, when our deepest convictions tell us that marriage is intended by God to be fruitful.

But I do not believe that, simply because pregnancy is not currently an option (again, a whole 'nother subject, so just trust me on this one), we have to cease being fertile or sexual or, in the combination of the two, fruitful.

The question is, just... how?

What new ways of bearing new life are there for us? What does this time of abstinence mean for us? How will it build up our life together? Because, you know, the trendy answer is, "Sexless marriage!? You're dooommmmmmed!"

No, we are not. Fidelity means life.

I've only just started mulling this over. The first fruit of abstinence was obvious: Sacrifice! Offer it up for the world! Well, that only goes so far. Anyone who has suffered chronic pain knows that sometimes "Offer it up, and the holy souls will get to heaven" is no justification and little comfort.

Look! Joseph is offering it up for holy souls while beating a fig tree to ward off temptation!

Please leave comments here, because there are more women out there who have lived this vocation for much longer than I. I'm looking for opportunities and joys that come from a life of abstinence together: What are the positive ways in which abstinence affects your marriage, your children, your friends, and the Church? What could we tell young couples who are about to set out on a difficult life, sacramental marriage, to encourage them that this is a beautiful and holy life?

I think of another kind of difficult life: the religious vocation.

The most convincing argument for entering an order and taking on the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience is surely the joy of those already living it: men and women have been very happy, have found the strength to sacrifice everything the world holds in value, and have--through their vows--been gentled and molded into the image of Christ. In spite of all the very wicked priests and religious, the fact remains that many have become very good through this way of life. The religious life, therefore, bears great fruit in spite of the fact that it is an odd way to flourish as a human being. It is not un-natural, but it is surely supra-natural.

I think the same thing might be said of a marriage that is periodically sexless for long periods of time: the only way I will ever convince myself or anyone else that this is a holy and happy life is if I myself become holy and happy through fidelity to my vows, both my marriage vows and my baptismal vows.

Check back in when I've completed my course and run my race. I have great hope that you will be convinced, by the grace of the Father. Ora pro nobis. But also, please add your encouragement:

What are the fruits and peculiar marks you have seen in marriage during the hard times?

Favorite NFP and posts:

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Miriam's narrative.

We're two weeks and one hurricane into the Ages of Grace curriculum. Miriam, the 6-year-old 2nd-grader, is in love with learning: She loves the books, the copywork, the icons, and the hymns. She loves poetry and arithmetic and maps. "Mommy, I think second-grade is the most wonderful grade in the Whole World, because you get to learn so many things! I want to be a monk--or maybe a nun--so I can copy books all day long everyday and study every day." Second-grade with one student is sugar and spice and everything nice.

Well, pat me on the back, but two weeks in and I sure look like a pro. The hardest part has been keeping the littler ones happy and semi-quiet so that I can explain something or finish a story out loud for their big sister. Bella, 3 years old, will listen well to most of the stories (think, Tomie de Paola and Trina Hyman), but loses focus as I try to explain nouns. The baby is into everything, and my clutter-standards have dropped drastically.

I've been happy with the curriculum thus far: I haven't added in the Prologue readings yet, but plan to do so this week. There has been no tension between East and West as of yet, since we're only to about 500, A.D. The saints are saints for all (such as today's Gregory the Great, Patrick, Columba, and Helena).

The pace seems just right, as well: We're spending three or four weeks (as needed or desired) on the British Isles and the fall of Rome. I'm using The Story of the World at the moment for a sort-of history spine. I anticipate dropping it, however, before we get to 1500. Lines such as, "Queen Elizabeth's greatest accomplishment was that she allowed her subjects to choose whether they wanted to be Catholic or Protestant," leave me wondering about the objectivity of its treatment of the Church. The first few chapters on the pre-Reformation West are decent enough, however. I'm still looking for that elementary-level history text that doesn't ignore 400-1500, takes a universal view of salvation history, and doesn't exude this "History is the story of progress" motif.

Let me know if you find it.

For now, I'm glad to rest in Level A, where no real textbook is necessary. We can read endless chapter and picture books and simply absorb the beauty of Christendom. There will be time for hard questions later.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Gregory the Great, Gregory the Humble

On September 3rd, the Church in the West remembers one of the great successors of Peter. Gregory the Great (or Gregory the Dialogist) was the son of a saint, the evangelist of post-Roman Europe, patron of the arts, and would-be simple monk.

"At length being anxious to avoid all these inconveniences, I sought the haven of the monastery… For as the vessel that is negligently moored, is very often (when the storm waxes violent) tossed by the water out of its shelter on the safest shore, so under the cloak of the Ecclesiastical office, I found myself plunged on a sudden in a sea of secular matters, and because I had not held fast the tranquillity of the monastery when in possession, I learnt by losing it, how closely it should have been held." ~Moralia

Gregory always sounds a little wistful--he would, at the natural level, much rather have stayed in his cell (the days are many when I can completely relate). But he took on his vocation to the papacy with great strength and grace (may I do the same).

I have a soft spot for Gregory: I wrote my 40-page thesis at Oxford on his understanding of the vocation to marriage. The pages are lost (these were the days before Gmail, after all), but I still love him. He spoke words that brought me home to Todd and marriage.

So, sweet Gregory, pray for us. Pray for your little sisters and brothers still here on this side of death. Be with us in our own turmoils, and ask the good Lord whom you served to grant us His Mercy.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Children of the storm.

Well, it wasn't quite as bad as all that (but doesn't "Irenian refugees" just sound desperately romantic?). We were very fortunate to sustain no damage to house or cars or selves. We even got to host a refugee from New York City for a couple of days and really enjoyed her company. We slept all downstairs the night the hurricane hit and woke up to the wind and rain. We ate pancakes cooked over our gas stove and sang songs on the ol' guitar.

But we are still without power. I have headed north to the great state of New Hampshire where my parents' home sits as a place of refuge and rest. And I can access the Internet. I felt rather like an addict as I logged into Facebook for the first time and drooled a little. Oh, sweet, instant gratification!

I hope you are all safe and well. My one recommendation: Next time, stock up on candles. Their light is far superior to any noisy generator or waning flashlight.