A House Divided

Y’all, I’m literally to the point of feeling sick over this election.

Like, I’m reading things that are posted by family and friends (and even strangers) and I feel physically ill.  I can’t take the arguing, the “fact-checking” back and forth, the he-said-she-said, the “who’s a worse person”, the “the Church says this, not that” and “the Church DOESN’T say this, it says that”, quoting from questionable sources, blogs, & opinions.  Etc, etc, etc. picard-facepalm-who-voting-for

I’m over all the arm-chair politicians and moralists and theologians and philosophers of social media.

I’m tired of reading things and being surprised and saddened and shocked at what the people who I know and love are spewing that seem so out of character for them; that seem inconsistent with how I’ve seen them live and speak;  that are just not well-thought-out before being spoken.

But, as my dear, fellow author recently posted on her Facebook, it’s basically like this every four years, with every election.
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The Suffering of the Good & Faithful

There’s never a lack of tragic situations happening in the world at large as well in our specific communities, families, and churches.  Sometimes, though, it seems like certain communities are hit really hard in relation to others.

2490e6dc072645fae6916b3526032d48One of my “circles” of people is my alma mater, Franciscan University of Steubenville.  Being that it’s a university, my connections and friendships spread much wider there than some of my smaller, more personal circles.  Though it is not a large university, there’s been a specific contingency of people (Catholic young families) overwhelmingly affected by hardships in the past year.

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Lenten Requirements

Lent, and especially Ash Wednesday, is such an interesting thing in this era of social media and technology.

Back when I was young, Ash Wednesday was a big deal to us because, well, we are Catholic AND we went to Catholic school.  Other than McDonald’s offering fish sandwiches on the menu, the rest of the world didn’t seem too clued in to what we over in our Alabama 1% Catholic community were doing.

When we would show up places after school, we were looked at funny or asked what was on our head.  I don’t even really remember there being a lot of Ash Wednesday services at all the Protestant churches like there seem to be today.

Lent-pixBut, now, social media is exploding with reminders of the beginning of Lent and Ash Wednesday.  The hashtag #AshTag is trending on Twitter.  There’s blogs upon blogs upon blogs suggesting ways to make the most of your Lenten season.  There’s Instagrams left and right of people’s ashy foreheads (guilty!).  There are even a few new and very cool apps out there that are specifically for meditation and reminders to pray daily and not to eat meat on Fridays during Lent.

It’s an incredibly interesting time to live.
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Wise Men Still Seek Him…

Wise Men Still Seek Him

When I was a child, the magi’s story captured my imagination.  I remember my parents drawing out the Christmas season through the Feast of the Epiphany.  Presents stayed under the tree, decorations stayed up, the Christ candle at the center of the Advent wreath was lit, and even Christmas music echoed in the halls of our home all the way through January 5.  Without fail on the day after Christmas, the wise men would begin their journey from the far east (sofa table) traveling a little each night while we slept as they made their way to Bethlehem (next to the fireplace).

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One nativity in our house this year – with wise men, wise Calico Critters, wise ninja turtles, wise Batman, and wise Peter Pan… all seeking Him.

My adult imagination was sparked in a whole new way as I read how the early Church fathers interpreted the magi story in light of Old Testament prophecy:

Justin Martyr

Justin cites Isaiah 8:4, where the prophet predicts that “before the child knows how to call ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the spoils of Samaria will be carried away by the king of Assyria.” For Justin, the magi were priests of an eastern cult and practitioners of magic and astrology. The wealth of Damascus and spoils of Samaria represented the sorcery and idol-worship that the pagan magi gave up when they worshiped Jesus. The magi’s visit to the crib was thus their moment of conversion and the renunciation of their misguided, idolatrous practices.*

Origen

According to Origen, after the star appeared to the magi, they noticed that their magic spells faltered and their power was sapped.  Consulting their books, they discovered the prophecy of the oracle-reader Balaam, who saw a rising star “com[ing] out of Jacob” (Numbers 24:17) that indicated the advent of a great ruler of Israel. The magi thus conjectured that this ruler had entered the world. So, the magi traveled to Judea to find this ruler, and based on their reading of Balaam’s prophecy, the appearance of the comet and their loss of strength, they determined that he must be superior to any ordinary human—that his nature must be both human and divine.*

Irenaeus of Lyons

According to Irenaeus, the magi offered Jesus myrrh (used for anointing corpses) to indicate that he was to die and be buried for the sake of mortal humans, gold because he was a king of an eternal kingdom, and frankincense (burnt on altars as divine offerings) because he was a god.  As the first visitors to recognize who this newborn child was, and what his birth would mean to the whole world, the witness of the magi was not insignificant to these controversies. Their three gifts seemed to demonstrate their understanding of the three distinct persons who shared a single “nature” within the Trinity.*

The wise men did not simply seek Him, they were the first to recognize Jesus as messiah.

As the Magi strove to find the newborn king, may the Feast of the Epiphany find us not only seeking out Christ each day of our life, but actually recognizing Him as Priest, Prophet, King, and Messiah.

As the Magi renounced their magical idolatrous practices in the infant face of God incarnate, may we renounce whatever worldly idols have thickened the veil between us and Christ.

As the Magi blessed the Holy Family with their humility and homage, may our families be blessed humility and may we keep the adoration of Christ at the center of everything we do this year.

Epiphany Prayer


* From: The Magi in Art and Literature by Robin M. Jensen

Remembering 9/11: Sharing & Praying with My Children

No adult can forget where they were or the emotional turmoil of September 11, 2001. Even if the frequency of our prayers or the urgency of our commitment to peace has wavered over the past 12 years, each September 11, we remember, we pray for our country, those who were lost, and those who mourn, and we recommit to working for peace in our homes, our families, and our world.

I sometimes find it hard to believe that while the emotions and images of that day are seared into my memory, my children will only read about it in textbooks and hear the stories second, third, and fourth hand. For them, September 11, 2001 will be like the Pearl Harbor bombing or the WWII concentration camps were for my generation – something understood intellectually, but not experienced emotionally.

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There’s a part of me that is okay with that. I don’t necessarily want my children to experience the frightening emotions of that day and the weeks the followed. I don’t necessarily want my children to know the shock of watching the attack on our country happening live on TV or sorrow of watching people fall from building sides and hearing the death toll continue to rise. I don’t necessarily want my children to feel the bitter emptiness of the New York skyline. There’s a part of me that wants to protect them from all of that.

However, if I engage only in an emotionless dissection of the September 11 event, my children will also never know the hope and unity that, if only for a short while, overshadowed the fear, sorrow, and brokenness of those days. I do want them to know the feelings of comfort we got from gathering as communities to pray together. I do want them to experience the unity of “one nation under God” that we were at that time. I do want them to know that divisiveness and partisanship have not always been the name of the game in Washington. I do want them to feel the peace and hope that came from the stories of ordinary people demonstrating extraordinary heroism and compassion.

So, I will remember 9/11 with my children – not with clinical facts, but with all of the emotion those memories raise in me. I will be honest with them about what it was like to witness evil that day, and I will delight in sharing with them the many, many ways we saw good overcome evil, light overcome darkness, and hope overcome fear.

9-11-cross-prayer

My grandfather was a POW who recorded interviews and about his horrific experiences in the German camps in WWII, and he presented me the model of how I plan to remember these events with my children. He never forgot the evil of that time in his life, but each time he shared a dark or frightening story, he followed it up with a story about goodness, about the human capacity for compassion and generosity, about the power of prayer, and about how he managed to find moments of true joy in the midst of tortuous pain and overwhelming fear.

Tonight and each year on this date, I’ll spend time remembering and sharing with my children the story of how we witnessed the Paschal Mystery of suffering and death leading to resurrection – of many tiny individual acts of good triumphing over a few big acts of evil. And then we’ll pray together – for those who were lost, for those who mourn, for those who still suffer from acts of terrorism, for our country, and for peace in our world.

Father,

We pray for all of the people who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001. Comfort them and continue to guide them in your hope. Help us to honor the lives of those who died, through our thoughts and our actions, and grant them the happiness and joy of heaven with You. Fill us with love and forgiveness, and help us to live peacefully with each other.

As we see pictures and hear memories of the suffering and confusion of September 11, help us to remember all the good that you have put in Your world. Help us, most of all, to share Your love and promises with those we meet that are suffering and confused.

Amen.

adapted from
Peaceful Remembrance of September 11, 2001
Forty Days of Prayer for Children

(download PDF)

Do you talk about the events of 9/11 with your children?  Why or why not?  If so, how do you remember that day with them?

September11Children

Oh, Happy Day!

It’s really easy to focus on all the negative and bad things going on in the world and our own lives, too.  And, let’s face it, there really are a lot of crappy, upsetting, unfortunate, and sad things going on around the world.  It’s easy to rue the world and our society.  It’s easy to become bummed out.

But, as much as Facebook drives me crazy at times, I have to admit that I’m thankful that I have a lot of uplifting and joy-filled people in my life who make it their business to keep the good in the forefront.

Sure, there’s lots of beautiful pictures of babies and weddings and family that celebrate the miracles and happiness of our daily lives.  However, there’s lots of great stories and articles circulating about society and culture at large that continually bring me hope (and often a teardrop or two).  God made all of us very good – and that’s really what’s deep in the souls of all people…

Goodness.  Beauty.  Joy.  Love.

Click one of the words above and you’ll be taken to one of my favorite stories and articles of the past few days.  Don’t forget to keep a tissue nearby – I promise you’ll need it!  Hope this brightens your day as much as it did mine.

(Oh, and here’s a bit more happy just for the heck of it…don’t even act like you aren’t singing, clapping, and chair dancing along with it!)

I Am Not Fearless

This morning, I brought my two children to a large playground that is in a more urban setting than most of the playgrounds by our home.  Okay, it’s not like it was in the middle of downtown, but it’s right next to a large, busy intersection bordered on one side by a very upscale neighborhood and on the other side by less-than-upscale apartments.  It’s a playground that is frequented by families with children, people of various ages and races, runners and bikers, and…….the people who make you nervous.

You know what I mean when I say that.  And, I don’t say it to be mean, rude, or unloving.  It’s a reality that all of us are familiar with, especially if you have children.  Sometimes in public areas, there are people who put you a little on edge, who cause you to watch your children a little closer, who’s movements you watch out of the corner of your eye.

It happened twice today.  

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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.

Love Revolution

As with everyone else in the nation, I am saddened and disheartened about what happened at the Boston Marathon yesterday.  Once again, our sense of peace and security has been rocked.  And, I’ve noticed people saying that events such as these are upsetting when they happen, but not really “shocking” any more since it seems like something major like this happens fairly regularly nowadays.

But, on the flip side, I noticed almost immediately people throwing up the Mr. Rogers quote about looking for the “helpers” in the tragedy.  I’ve seen it quoted more times than I can count.  And, it’s a great thought, especially for children and really for all of us.

The wisdom of Mr. Rogers

The wisdom of Mr. Rogers

When things like this happen, we first have the shock and awe of graphic pictures and videos on the news and Internet.  Everyone’s emotions get all keyed up as we try to take in exactly what happened and understand the details of the situation.

But, again, it seems more quickly than usual that the stores of heroism and “helpers” have cropped up equally as fast.  From runners finishing the race and running to the hospital to give blood to former NFL players helping others who were hurt to the volunteers of the race who ran towards the blast to strangers taking people in and giving basic first aid right on the scene – the good of people, of a city, of a nation suddenly came out in ways that inspire and move us.

And, this is wonderful.  And, it gives us hope in humanity.  And, it proves that we were made good, not evil; to love, not hate.  It proves that “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

John 1:4-5

John 1:4-5

But, why, oh why, does it take a tragedy – a bombing, a school shooting, a natural disaster – to get the best out of us?

Somehow, on a daily basis, we miss the need of our neighbor to be carried, to be comforted, to have the “bleeding” of broken hearts and lives tended to.

We don’t run towards those who are suffering in less obvious ways – from loneliness, fear, being unloved.  We aren’t rocked by the events that are blasting apart families and taking innocent lives.  We walk past those crying, calling out, shell-shocked, who just need someone to see them and care for them in their hour of greatest need.

St. José Maria Escriva said, “If we Christians really lived in accordance with our faith, the greatest revolution of all times would take place.”

This is what our country needs – a revolution.  But not just any revolution.  We need a revolution of Love.  We need to be fighting to out love each other, to see who can do more, give more, who can be pushed to the highest heights of the love we were meant to share.

We’ve proven over and over again when tragedy has struck that we are, indeed, a Christian country, who’s values are firmly planted in the understanding that God IS love and we have a responsibility and innate desire to show that love to others.  But, when will we start living that on a daily basis?  When will we stop waiting for things to get really bad to start doing the most good?

I am praying for the people of Boston.  I am praying for those “helpers” and heroes.  I am praying for those who inflicted this type of pain on innocent people.  But, mostly, I am praying that we, as a nation, as people of God, will not stop here.  I am praying that we will really begin to live our faith and start the revolution of love.  It’s time.

It-Is-Time-For-A-Love-Revolution-7