Guess what You’ve Won?!

635107935778714956This Yahoo! article came across my feed today:

Pakistani Game Show’s Baby Giveaway Sparks Controversy

Orphaned infants are being given away as prizes on a TV game show in Pakistan, prompting both condemnation and praise of the show and the organization behind the scheme.

Apparently the show, Aman Ramazan, is like Pakistan’s Price is Right, a TV game show where contestants answer questions about the Quran to win various prizes, stuff like motorcycles and dryers and … babies. The show, which broadcasts for seven hours a day during Ramadan, has given away two infant children to be adopted by the winners.

My initial gut reaction:  How can you possibly argue that giving a baby, a child, a human being made in the image and likeness of God as a prize upholds the dignity of the human person?

Dignity of babies

Well, the director of the welfare organization that provides (donates?) the babies for the game show answered my question:

Chhipa Welfare Association, which takes in abandoned babies and provides a safe haven for parents to drop off those they are unable or unwilling to care for, said it receives up to 15 infants a month.

“Our team finds babies abandoned on the street, in garbage bins—some of them dead, others mauled by animals. So why not ensure the baby is kept alive and gets a good home?” director Ramzan Chhipa told CNN. “We didn’t just give the baby away. We have our own vetting procedure. This couple was already registered with us and had four or five sessions with us.”

Hussain said the drive for ratings is not what’s behind the idea, and also said he disagrees with critics who feel the show is trivializing the issue of abandoned children. “These are the disenfranchised babies that grow up to be street kids and used for suicide bombing attacks. We have tried to show an alternative,” he told CNN. “Telling people to take these kids off the rubbish on the streets, raise them and make them a responsible citizen, not to destroy society through terrorism.”

He added, “We’ve created a symbol of peace and love, that’s our show’s theme—to spread love. I’m setting an example, giving a childless couple an abandoned child.”

What do you think?

Checked Out & Distracted

This weekend, I was one of many, many Catholics we find in the pews at Mass: Distracted and Checked Out.

Some of it was because I am the mother of three kids who takes her kids to Mass.  This means that during various points of the Mass you may find me:

  • writing my three year old’s name for him over and over on the back of the worship aid just to keep him quiet.
  • shushing the 6 year old who keeps up a constant stream of chatter no matter the time or location (she even talks in her sleep).
  • elbowing my 8 year old and pointedly gesturing to the worship aid when he isn’t engaging in “full, active, conscious participation.”

Screaming-3-year-oldThis week, before communion, as I was trying to pray to prepare myself to receive the Eucharist, the 3 year old slipped off the kneeler and smacked his head on the pew and meditative prayer quickly took a back seat to kissing the injury and active pleading to God that he would quiet down so we wouldn’t have to sneak out the side door (He did and we didn’t).

As much as I’d like to blame it all on the kids – it’s not just their fault.  At various points during Mass, I caught my mind wandering in ways totally unrelated to their distratctions:

  • Did my husband take the fish we were planning to have for dinner out of the freezer to thaw?
  • Is it going to be warm enough to go out on the boat or to the pool?
  • I should talk to Father about how he could easily Tweet this homily.  Maybe I’ll just get him to give me a copy and I’ll Tweet it.
  • on and on and on….

After Mass I realized that there are a lot of times (not just during Mass) that I’m checked out of and distracted from my faith.

Today, I took some time to pray through the readings for today’s Liturgy of the Hours and found both comfort and challenge. (If you don’t know what Liturgy of the Hours is, that’s okay – I didn’t until a few years ago either!)

Today is the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist, and in reading through the story of his birth, I realized that even some of the holiest, most church-going people in Scriptures shared in the struggle to pray well, to have faith, and to truly engage in that faith.

John the Baptist’s father Zechariah was a priest who knew the promises of Scripture inside and out.  While I’m sure he had faith, he also had moments of doubt, moments where he didn’t really believe with his whole heart.

Read his story in Luke 1:5-25, 57-80

Zechariah was like many of us – good people who occasionally check out and end up just going through the motions – so much so that he missed the miracle before him.  Zechariah learned to trust God the hard way – nine months of being deaf and dumb. But Zechariah’s 9-month “incarceration” in a prison of silence served a greater purpose: he was able to meditate deeply on Scriptures, and then filled with the Holy Spirit, to proclaim the beautiful canticle that shows what it means to truly believe with all of his heart, soul, mind and strength. B_US

I take comfort in knowing that even a faithful old priest like Zechariah could lose a little bit of his faith, become distracted, and check out.  I’m also challenged to make sure it doesn’t take an angel rendering me deaf and dumb for nine months to refocus my heart and bring me back to the joy of a relationship with a living, loving God who fulfills his promises.

The Canticle of Zechariah has been a reminder for me that while God’s faithfulness is not dependent upon my ability to see it, my own faith is.  Even if the words don’t always ring true, I pray them with hope that they’ll open my eyes so that I can remain checked in and focused on the victories – large and small – He has won, is winning, and will win for me.

Sacrament of Love

8712117476_70c31dfe68_b

My son received his First Communion last week.  Amidst all the processions, bread sharings, Scapular inductions, white dresses and camera-wielding in laws – amidst all the hoopla – the parish photographer managed to snap this photo of my son at the moment he received Jesus for the first time.

I cannot get enough of this picture.  I look at it every day.  Not just because it’s my kid (but seriously, check it out – that’s my boy! – he and Jesus are tight now).   I also look at it every day because every time I do, the look on his face brings me to tears.

I know my son well enough to know that there are a thousand different thoughts that could have been running through his head at this moment:

Don’t drop it…don’t drop it…don’t drop it…don’t drop it.

I wonder if Mom will let me play Minecraft when we get home.

I hate tacos, why are we having tacos for my First Communion party.

I’m totally giving my load of bread to Zach.  He’s cool.

Cake…frosting…cookies…party!

Do I HAVE to take the cup?  It tastes nasty.

Father needs to cut his fingernails.

My eyes itch.

(Poor kid had nasty allergies all week – in some of the pictures he looks like he has two black eyes).

As much as I would like to believe he was having a Blessed Imelda Lambertini moment, I know it’s possible (ahem – likely) that’s far from the case.  After I saw the picture the next day, I asked him: “What were you thinking about right then?”  His response, complete with the dismissive shoulder shrug, was all 8 year old boy:  “Dunno.  Jesus, I guess.  Can I go play a video game now?”

But you know, it kind of doesn’t matter.  Because the look on his face in this moment speaks a thousand words.  They may not be his words, but I am certain that they are our words.  They are the words of the Bride to the Bridegroom – of the Church to Christ – of us to Our Lord.  They are the words of the deepest love.

The words of love visible on my son’s face in that moment are an echo of the words of Pope Benedict in his encyclical Sacramentum Caritatis (Sacrament of Love):

Receiving the Eucharist means adoring him whom we receive. Only in this way do we become one with him, and are given, as it were, a foretaste of the beauty of the heavenly liturgy.

Oh, would that our hearts, souls, minds, and faces would reflect this same look each and every time we receive this Sacrament of Love!

 

Eyes Wide Open

It’s been a rough 2 weeks.  I’m not looking for pity, and I know that others’ have crosses that are a lot bigger than mine, but the past few weeks have been one thing after another going wrong.  I feel like God’s putting me through a second Lent – a season of penance – but I don’t know why.  Didn’t I do Lent well enough the first time?  When do I get my Easter, damn it?

Again?  No!

Again? Please no!

That’s just part of an email I sent to a friend yesterday morning.  I was cranky and mildly depressed wondering why all of these little things kept going wrong.  Then, yesterday, I was reading through the letters to the Bishop written by the high school Juniors who will be receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation on May 19.  They write these letters to the bishop requesting the sacrament and telling him why they want it.  Even through they’re addressed to the bishop, I read each one.

This screening helps me discover who has slipped through the cracks in our Confirmation process and maybe isn’t ready for this Sacrament quite  yet:  “I’m really a practicing Buddhist, but my parents are making me do this.  I don’t believe in Jesus at all – but whatever.  Better safe than sorry, I guess.”  (Direct quote from a letter 3 years ago).

It also saves me the embarrassment of revealing the catechetical confusion that occasionally results from our faith formation classes: “I picked the name Jacob for my Confirmation name because he was Joseph’s dad. If Jacob done even one thing differently when he raised Joseph, Joseph might not have married Mary and become a father figure to Jesus.” (sigh)

See, Jacob's son Joseph was the one with the technicolor dreamcoat

See, Jacob’s son Joseph was the one with the technicolor dreamcoat…

Mary's husband Joseph lived thousands of years later and his father was...Oh nevermind.

…but Mary’s husband Joseph lived thousands of years later and his father was…

Awww hell, just forget it.

It’s not all weeping and banging my head on my desk though.  Often, I am privy to some deeply faithful insights.  Usually those make me beam with no small amount of pride, but I’m working on eradicating pride right now, so this year I read them asking God to reveal to me, through these teenagers, what I needed most to hear.  And then I read this:

“God plays a big role in everyone’s life.  You just have to open your eyes to see how. Sometimes He speaks in ways that seem little, but are really the most important.”

Bam. Continue reading

Don’t you know?

Have you seen the Dove Real Beauty Sketches video?  Dove’s statistic says that  only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful.

Who are you?  How would you describe yourself?  How would your friends describe you?  Your husband/boyfriend?

Here’s how God would describe you:

You shall be called “My Delight”… for the LORD delights in you…As a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you. (Isaiah 62:4-5)

The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.
(1 Samuel 16:7)

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?
(1 Corinthians 3:16)

You are more beautiful than you think.

I am so proud of this blog post!

The kitchen drawer was jammed. When we bought the house, it was in rough shape, but two years of 3 kids pulling and slamming it, packing it full of coloring books, and letting markers drop behind it had done it in for good. It was hanging opening, reams of construction paper half falling out of it when my husband got home from work. He walked past the drawer and tried to push it closed, but it wouldn’t budge, so he leaned on it, wiggled it, and wrestled with it for a whole two minutes before the swearing started.

The crux of his frustration: “These kids don’t take good care of the things they have! We need to figure out how to get them to take pride in our home!” (expletives have been removed)

Stuck in drawer

Although I suppose it’s better for the kids to get the drawer stuck than for the kid to get stuck on the drawer.

Then today, I was talking about this article on the gay marriage debate on Facebook, and a friend commented:

I think we need to start with the notion of pride. It seems like pride is behind every sin. Yet we focus on the idea of pride in our schools, our athletic programs and eventually our careers. The word pride is painted on walls of many of our schools across the nation. I have seen children wearing athletic shirts with the word pride printed across it. We take this for normal. But would we respond the same to any other sin written in our schools or taught to our children? This has become so normal it barely registers a blip. We are setting our children up for spiritual difficulties by doing this.

Her comment got me thinking.  Is pride always a sin?  Does it always come out of a place of darkness and/or lead me into that darkness?

What about if I say I have Catholic pride?  Or that I am proud of myself for finishing my Master’s Degree?  Or that I have pride in my 8 year old son who went to talk with his Den leader “man to man” about the reasons he wanted to quit Cub Scouts instead of letting Mom & Dad take care of it all for him?  Or that I am proud of the teen who talked her friend out of having an abortion?

In my reflections on pride I came across Romans 15:17.

In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast in what pertains to God.

Paul was boasting about what God had done through him.  Being proud of God’s work is not a sin – it is worship.

The Devil cannot create anything new – he can only take what has been created by God to be good and twist and turn it into something ugly.  The fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not ugly or bad, but the Devil took the goodness of that tree, the goodness of the free will of Adam and Eve, and twisted and manipulated them into the ugliness of Original Sin.

Paul tells us that pride is good – when it is pride in what God has done.  Sometimes, though the Devil takes that goodness and manipulates it with our insecurities and selfishness and twists into something so ugly it is one of the Deadly Sins.

The Devil is in the details…

When my pride in my home (or car, or boat, or kitchen drawer) is about the object itself, or when I find my own worth defined by that object, it’s a sin.  When my pride is really gratitude to God for the abundant blessings (that I live in a country where I have opportunities, that I have been blessed with the ability to get a job, that that job has blessed me with the money to buy these items), then it is a good and holy pride.

When my pride in my education is about how I feel, how I look, or how others perceive me, it’s a sin.  When my pride is really gratitude to God for blessing me with the intellect, financial means, and opportunity to get an education so that I can better serve Him, then it is holy.

When my pride in my son is about his Den leader thinking I’m a good parent, or about self righteousness in my own parenting decisions, or even about wanting my son to feel better about himself, it’s a sin.  When my pride is really gratitude to God for the chance to pass along life skills that will create my son into a man who will serve God, then it is holy.

When my pride in that teen is about what a great youth minister I have been to encourage her to stand up to the dignity of human life, it’s a sin.  When my pride is gratitude at God working through me and through that teen to save the life of an unborn child, then it is holy.

Pride goeth before a fall…

The line between sin and holiness, between holy pride and the sin of pride is thin and incredibly nuanced.  It’s a short hop from gratitude for my blessings into the idolatry of me.  It’s a quick slip from knowing I have dignity and worth because I’ve been created in God’s image to believing that what other people think of me is what creates my worth.

Maybe I can avoid that slip by changing the words I use.  Instead of telling my son I’m proud of him, I can express the same thing by telling him I saw God working through him.   Instead teaching my kids to take “pride” in our home, I can get the same result by teaching them that our home is a blessing from God.  Instead of having Packer Pride, Loyola Pride, or Hawk Pride, I can be grateful for the community that those institutions have created and show my fellow Packer fans, Master’s graduates, and high school classmates the respect they have earned as individuals created in the image and likeness of God.

There's a difference between being finding your worth in your sexual orientation and letting that identity determine how you relate to God, and finding worth in knowing I am created in the image and likeness of God and letting that identity guide how you choose to live with your sexual identity.

There’s a difference between being finding your worth in your sexual orientation and letting that identity determine how you relate to God, and finding worth in knowing you are created in the image and likeness of God and letting that identity guide how you choose to live with your sexual identity. See…nuanced.

What do you think?  Is pride always a sin?  Can changing our language help us avoid the slippery slope from goodness into sin?

Announce the Resurrection (Don’t Argue It)

Cardinal Dolan was recently asked in an interview who was the most influential person in his life. He answered, “That’s easy. Jesus Christ.” When the reporter said that it had to be someone alive today, Dolan said, “My answer is still Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is alive.” The Easter resurrection reminds us that Jesus was not a glorious historical figure who left behind a rich tradition of faith, but a presence, a person, who is alive at this very moment.

The women who first encounter the reality of Jesus’ resurrection remember his words, and then rush off to share the Good News with the apostles. The apostles do not believe the women. They do not accept their testimony, but notice that when they are faced with this disbelief, with the ridicule of their friends (it “seemed like nonsense”), the women do not engage in lengthy theological debates, they do not argue. They tell their story and their witness stands for itself.

Christ_empty_tomb

They didn’t argue it, they witnessed to it.

Their witness is enough to spark something in Peter. Their story, despite sounding like nonsense, inspires Peter to run to the tomb and experience the reality of the Risen Christ for himself.

People cannot be argued into believing the gospel. Philosophical arguments are not what change hearts. People are not argued into the Christian faith, they are loved, welcomed and invited into it.

We need to proclaim the gospel—not debate it. That is what the women did. That is what Peter did after his encounter. The first disciples did not argue the resurrection; they simply announced it: “This man [Jesus] was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death” (Acts 2:23-24). Announce the resurrection—don’t argue it. God wants witnesses, not lawyers.

How will you proclaim the good news of Christ alive today? How can you witness to the Christ’s living presence in your life with the same joy and astonishment of the women who first encountered the empty tomb?

He is Risen, Alleluia, Alleluia!

449px-5267-20080122-jerusalem-tomb-of-jesus

Inside the (empty!) tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – Jerusalem.

Originally written for and published in Life Teen Lenten Companion.

Our Hope is Too Small: Palm Sunday

As Jesus entered into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, those people were honoring him as a king – as one who would deliver them from the oppression and persecution of the Romans, one who would deliver them from their fears and insecurities. However, Jesus was there to do so much more than that – to offer a deliverance that would surpass the depths of their understanding. On that first Palm Sunday there wasn’t a soul in Jerusalem who understood what Jesus was really up to.

Palm Sunday

On that first Palm Sunday there wasn’t a soul in Jerusalem who understood what Jesus was really up to…and we still don’t get it.

The same is true of us today. Like the crowds of Jerusalem, we often come to Jesus with certain expectations. We want him to calm our fears, overcome our insecurities, heal our addictions, fill our loneliness. The reality is that what Jesus has to offer us goes so much deeper and is so much more fulfilling than anything we could ever think to ask him for.

We ask him to heal one hurting aspect of our lives, but he wipes away every tear from our eye and offers us the promise of a place where there will be no more death, pain, or tears. We ask him to comfort one area of worry, but he offers us peace that surpasses understanding. We ask him to fix one broken relationship, but he makes all things new.

How shocked we are to see that just a few short days later, the same people who were shouting their praise and adoration are now shouting for Pilate to “Crucify him!”

Yet, standing before those same crowds bloodied and broken, Jesus’ desire bring deliverance, comfort, healing, and salvation does not waver. Today we commemorate Jesus’ unflagging determination to rescue people who had no idea the depths of the rescue he was bringing. Hosanna! Let us take time today as we enter into this holiest of weeks to sing shouts of praise and adoration for our Savior who is always doing more for us than we could possibly imagine.

Palm Cross

Sing shouts of  praise and adoration..and make Palm leaf origami!

Originally written for and published in Life Teen Lenten Companion.

Relevance or Truth? (circle one)

I usually love Bad Catholic Marc Barnes’ blog. I love how he is able to be smart and witty at the same time and that he writes at above a 7th grade level (while most blogs seem to fall below that mark).  On many days, I agree with him 100% and can point people to his writing and say, “Read this!  He speaks for me – and does it much more eloquently than I!”

Today is not one of those days.

In his typically eloquent response to a horrid opinion piece in the Washington Post called The church young Catholics want, I think Marc misses the mark.  In the WaPo piece, the author demands that the Catholic church become relevant to the youth today, and in her opinion, relevance means toeing the cultural line on issues like homosexuality, abortion, contraception, and women’s ordination.

Marc argues

Relevance is the worst factor for determining the goodness of a thing since we dunked witches in the river to see whether they’d float.

After railing against youth ministry that uses skits, contemporary Christian music, and social media, Marc concludes:

Kill relevance, seek transcendence.

While I think Marc is absolutely right to rail against “relevance” to the exclusion of everything else – including the Truth – I think his piece is missing something.

This is not an either/or situation, but a both/and.

We do not have to reject true relevance that goes where youth are.  And yes, social media IS where they are.

We do not have to reject relevance that speaks to their life experiences.  From the very real experiences of suffering, sin, and grace they encounter as youth to the real experience of listening to One Direction and texting during class.

We do not have to reject relevance that speaks their language.   The only way they can learn the rich vocabulary of theology and ecclesiology in the Church is if we help them translate it.

The combox kills again

I think what Marc is trying to say is that people who do crappy youth ministry, who water down the Truth in favor of a pandering, cheesy theology, and who do it all in the name of “relevance” are missing the boat because their watered down, effeminate, pansy gospel is actually irrelevant.

Unfortunately, if that is what he is trying to say, the message is lost.  If he’s arguing for both relevance and the Transcendental, if he’s arguing for us to consecrate (as we are called to do by virtue of our common priesthood) the world in which these youth live instead of condemn it, if he’s arguing for us to just be more cautious in our use of the secular and to temper our desire to be relevant with good, solid catechesis and sharing of the Truth, then I’m not the only one who missed it – so did most of the commenters in his combox.

I’m fifteen, and “happy happy joy joy” Christianity just ticks me off. In an attempt to be hip and cool, all formality, reverence, and beauty is muffled.

I don’t want relevance, I want reverence!

From her article: “We do not need answers; we need to engage the world.” False. They need solid catechesis and sufficient explanation.

If I wanted a church that was “with the times” and “relevant” I would become one of those non-denominational hipster Christians.

Relevance AND Truth

The Gospel can be shared in a way that is relevant without being watered-down.

Good youth ministry can catechize and still include skits, and even KLove on occasion.

Good youth ministry can be on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and can evangelize in those places and teach the teens to be evangelize there as well.

Good youth ministry is first and foremost about sharing the Truth with them, but it also must be relevant.

After all, Jesus showed us over and over again how to be relevant without losing the beauty of the Truth.  He started where the people were (oftentimes in the midst of sin and in sinful places), they used the life experiences of the people to teach (parables of shepherds and farming) and to share the truth.

On the road to Emmaus Jesus walked with those two disciples (they were going the wrong way), asked questions, and really listened to them before he spoke a single word of Truth to them. And when he did speak Truth, he answered the questions they had, and spoke a language they understood – he was relevant.

What do you think?  How can we better balance the need to be relevant while at the same time sharing Truth and allowing them to opportunity to experience and reflect on the Transcendental?

Being Present

I wrote this blog about how volunteering at our local warming shelter opened up my eyes to much more than just the plight of the homeless.

The unexpected happened. Something none of my mission trips, immersion retreats, or service outings had prepared me for. This was the first time I had served the homeless community in my own town, and I was not prepared to know some of the guests. I was not prepared to see former teens and the parents of teens come in from the cold with everything the owned in a backpack on their back.

At first, I felt helpless. I felt so inadequate, certain that futzing with the finicky washing machine for my shift couldn’t do anything for these individuals. I felt like all I could do was to be there, and that being there wasn’t enough.

Read the whole thing

While I focused on how this experience challenged me to be a better youth minister, the reality is that it challenged me to be a better – well, everything.  A better wife, a better mother, a better friend, a better Christian.

The thing is, it’s REALLY hard to be present – there are so many little things that require immediate attention – all at once.

On Saturday, I found myself trying to convince the not-yet-potty-trained-because-apparently-we-don’t-have-this-parenting-thing-figured-out-yet 3 year old not to pull down his dirty diaper in the living room and playing a game of Uno while at the same time showing my husband how to open the vacuum cleaner (which promptly dumped out all over the couch, the kids, me, and the Uno game).  In trying to be present to the dirty diaper, the Uno game, and my husband’s battle with the vacuum, I ended up being present to none of them.

So, I’ve made a commitment to re-read this blog every morning during Lent and to try to focus on just one person or situation I can be fully and totally present to that day – no distractions.  We’ll see how it goes.

How can you be fully present today?