Our [Imperfect] Family Rosary

“Continue to pray the Rosary every day.”
(Our Lady of Fatima to Sister Lucia)

I don’t think there’s any practicing Catholic out there who would deny the importance of daily recitation of the rosary.  The saints, the Popes, and even the Blessed Mother herself invites us to pray it on a regular basis, promising great spiritual wealth and growth as a result of it.  And, I have no doubt at all that that is true.

childs+hands+holding+rosaryBut, for the vast majority of us, praying the Rosary daily is actually rather challenging.  Or, maybe that’s just me.  I am not sure if it’s that I lack focus or the ability to sit still that long, but when I am attempting to pray it alone (which, let me tell you, happens about 0.1% of the time of my life) or when I am driving (which is more realistic), I easily get distracted.  I do much better when I pray it aloud with other people.

But, the only people I am with on a regular daily basis are these tiny human beings that I call my children.   Which, hey, is GREAT!  Because, praying the FAMILY rosary is possibly an even more beneficial and spiritually efficacious type of prayer than praying it alone.

Maybe efficacious isn’t the right word.  Perhaps saying it’s a source of “great sanctification” is more appropriate.  Especially when your prayer partners are 5, 3, and 20 months old.

Read More

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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.

The Pope for Everyone

Meet the Pope!

Meet the Pope!

The Church as a whole has seemed overjoyed and hanging on every move of our gutsy new Pope, Francis. The fever ran high immediately: a Jesuit Pope? Just earlier that day I was having a conversation with someone about how there’ll never be a Jesuit Pope. Maybe not never, but not in my lifetime, that was I oh so convinced of. And then he chose the name Francis – it took a while to really get an answer about which St. Francis he was taking the name from – there are 3 pretty big name St. Francises (is that really the plural of Francis?) in our Church history. It came out later that he chose it after Francis of Assisi, for his love of the poor.

St. Ignatius of Loyola gave Jesuits 2 mottos: "for the greater glory of God" and "sinners yet called"

St. Ignatius of Loyola gave Jesuits 2 mottos: “for the greater glory of God” and “sinners yet called”

On top of all of that, he is an American pope – not from the USA, as we so easily think of America, but very clearly, he is a Pope from the Americas. And yet, his family has Italian roots – returning the Papacy to where it had been for hundreds of years prior to Blessed John Paul II.

Ok, so we’ve got an Italian and an American Pope, a Jesuit who took the name Francis.

Everyone got this guy figured out yet? Me neither. And my guess is, the second you think you’ve got Pope Francis figured out, you’re just begging to be proven wrong. Read More

Ray Lewis is half right.

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“If God is for us, who can stand against us?” retorted Ray Lewis to a reporter’s question about how he won the Super big game played in a stadium shaped like a Bowl. Really Ray?! Honestly I was a little pissed. What a stupid thing to say. What bad theology. Do you really believe God picked you, Ray? Forget about Mr. Lewis’s well documented trouble with the law or his pregame hysterics. Put aside any personal like or dislike for the now retired linebacker for the Ravens.  It was this ridiculous statement that irked me and caused me to make that disapproving “tisk” sound through my teeth like a Midwestern grandmother.

The humor twitter account Unvirtuous Abbey may have tweeted it best:

Twitter Post

After my judgmental cacophonous noise making, I instantly thought about Jim Harbaugh, the losing coach of the big game. Following Ray’s line of thinking, the God of the universe pre-ordained John Harbaugh (coach of the winning Ravens) to defeat his brother Jim in a football game.  I’m not sure who is Cain and who is Abel in this, but the logic follows that Jim is God’s enemy and John is the righteous and worthy champion of goodness and light. Come to think of it, the entire 49ers organization must be fallen rebels, akin to Lucifer and his cohorts.  Who can stand against Ray Lewis and God? Not the 49ers, the devils they are.

Fully pleased with my exaggerated self-righteousness, and even more pleased that I kept it to myself and only privately judged this man and his words, I promptly turned off the TV and played Ruzzle for 45 minutes. But something wasn’t right. Maybe it was the nachos or homemade honey mustard sauce, or maybe it was that still small voice that speaks to the deepest parts of ourselves when we haven’t uncovered God’s full story, but something wasn’t letting me rest comfortably in my righteous indignation.

Finally I found it. Ray is half right. God is for Ray Lewis. God desires the absolute best for Ray. God loves Ray Lewis beyond measure. God is also for Jim Harbaugh, even though he didn’t win the shiny football trophy. God is for the 24,000 children who will die today from preventable diseases resulting from unclean drinking water. I have no doubt God will weep for them. God will also weep because we didn’t do anything to stop it.

God is for me. God is for you.

Ray is also half wrong.  God doesn’t love Ray more than Colin Kaepernick. God didn’t choose the Ravens over the 49s.

Fortune doesn’t equal blessing.

God doesn’t prove his love for us through worldly fortune. To believe that is to say God doesn’t love the poor, vulnerable, marginalized, abused, hungry, thirsty, or dying. To say that is stupid and bad theology. Quite frankly it goes against everything Jesus said and did.

God is for all of us and no one can stand against us, and sometimes we lose. God being for us doesn’t always look like winning. Jesus on the cross didn’t look like winning. God is for us, when it comes to what is best for us. Winning the Championship might not be what is best for us.

And here is the key; God has bigger plans for us than our earthly mini-battles.  God has bigger plans for Ray Lewis than football champion. I’m not talking about Ray retiring and becoming a minister or founding a youth sports organization or helping out families in Baltimore. I’m talking about forever.

God’s big plan for all of us is heaven. God being for us is only completed and perfectly experienced in heaven, forever. God is for us spending that forever with him in eternal praise and total bliss. God is for us experiencing the beatific vision.

God is for us going to heaven. When we choose God, nothing can stop us from spending forever with Him.

Cutting through the B.S.: A Catholic Voting Guide

I am so fed up with this election (is it November 7th yet?). I have been stubbornly attempting to ignore anything even remotely connected to it.  I have refused to watch any debate, I have “hidden” my political advocate Facebook friends, and I have been flat out avoiding Twitter.

Then, almost by accident, I stumbled upon a blog post that outlined the moral implications of this election.  In it, the author asserted that the way in which I vote has eternal implications – not just for our country, but for my soul.

He quoted Bishop Lori:

“The question to ask is this: Are any of the candidates of either party, or independents, standing for something that is intrinsically evil, evil no matter what the circumstances? If that’s the case, a Catholic, regardless of his party affiliation, shouldn’t be voting for such a person.”

Lori certainly is not the only one to point out the dangers to salvation that can be found at the voting booth on November 6th.  Bishop Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois recently commented:

“A vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.”

I’ve spent many hours in prayer and consideration since reading these words.   I realized that while I knew where I stood on most of the hot-button issues of this election and had (along with most of the country) already made up my mind about who I was going to vote for, I hadn’t truly considered the weight of these issues – nor had I really considered the many important issues that no one was talking about.  If my soul is on the line, perhaps a little more due diligence was in order.

So, I took to the magical interwebs to find out what the Church really teaches in regard to voting and my soul.

Here is a short compilation of what various Catholic/Christian bloggers and theologians are saying:

…discover they all were over the age of 18 during the 2012 Presidential Election.

Well, that’s it – I suppose we can all just jump in the hand basket and get ready for Hell…

I decided not to give up hope just yet.  I imagined that perhaps this collection of would-be political theologians was missing some essential Truth – some nugget of salvation that would save my immortal soul from the imminent damnation of the 2012 Presidential Election.

The core of the “you’re going to hell if you vote for (insert candidate name here)” argument is based around the Church teaching that we cannot condone intrinsic evils with our votes.  As the Bishop’s document Faithful Citizenship states:

There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called “intrinsically evil” actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned. (22)

I figured this idea of intrinsic evil seemed to be a good place to start informing my conscience on who should get my vote (if anyone).

Catholic Voter’s Guide: First Draft

  1. Read More

Jesus is Sneaky.

I didn’t expect the hand rung bell. I was at a Saturday Evening Mass at a parish in Miacatlan, Mexico.  The Priest had just finished the consecration. We prayed through the Our Father and shared a sign of peace. The Church was mostly a large roof over an open air seating area. Out of the back and around the corner of the far wall came the clanking sound of two hand rung bells. I didn’t know what it was at first. Then I realized; the head communion minister, the two servers, and about 10 other people with banners were processing the Eucharist from the tabernacle to the altar for Communion.

The ministers and honor guard walked slowly and with purpose.  They were careful in their task. Every step and every movement showed the great care and deep respect they held for what they were doing and who they were carrying.  Every couple steps the servers rang these impossibly heavy looking bells. The group was so careful with the Eucharist.  It was as if they were carrying the very body of Jesus Christ (which of course they were).  I was left asking if we are that careful. More importantly I asked, am I that careful with what I carry when I walk out of Church having received Jesus and I am a tabernacle of the Eucharist?

Curiously, this wasn’t the only time I encountered Christ in the Eucharist that trip.  When we stopped by a small chapel in Cuernavaca where the founder of NPH was first pastor, the chapel was open for walk-ins for noontime adoration.  When we visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, a huge monstrance was exposed in a side chapel and many of us stopped to worship. It seemed everywhere I went Jesus was present in the Eucharist.

Reflecting on a summer of Youth Ministry with the CREW at HNOJ, it became abundantly clear God was near us in the Eucharist. At Christpower, our Mission trip to North Minneapolis in partnership with Church of the Ascension, we had a powerful night of Eucharistic adoration.  At the Steubenville Youth Conference in Rochester, Jesus once again came to our young people in the Eucharist during the large session, and our small groups always seemed to end up by the small Adoration Chapel.

Everywhere we turned Jesus was offering us his very body in the Mass and Eucharistic Adoration.  I shouldn’t be shocked that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, but I was legitimately amazed all the times that Jesus snuck himself into a day of Youth Ministry when we had no purposeful intention to meeting him the Eucharist.

I guess Jesus is sneaky. 

Besides being sneaky, Jesus is persistent.  I really felt like Jesus was pursuing us all summer. Every event, every day it seemed like Jesus was physically really there. Every corner we turned at each event, Jesus was there. Jesus just wouldn’t leave us alone.  This is closer to reality then I normally think about.  Jesus really is chasing after us.  He really is coming for us.  Jesus won’t let us just wander without coming to find us.

We are the dropped coin, the lost sheep, the prodigal son, and our God is coming for us.

I think we often talk about people “finding God.”  People may say, “Oh he found Jesus.”  But in reality, Jesus is finding us.  And here is the thing, Jesus doesn’t just come in some metaphorical way or some random turn of events or some supernatural sign – no. Jesus is coming for us physically, really, truly, completely in the Eucharist. Jesus is literally physically running down the road to meet us.  Jesus in the Eucharist isn’t a symbol, idea, poem, or myth.  The physical, fleshy God of the universe, incarnate (which means ‘taking on flesh’) in Jesus Christ, has come to find us.  God doesn’t send an angel or a cloud shaped like heart to tell us he loves us and wants to be with us, God comes himself.

No messenger, no poetry, no text message or tweet – the God that breathed the stars has come physically to find you and me.

What are you going to do when he finds you?  How are you going to respond when God Almighty offers his body to you at the next Mass you attend?  What are you going to do the next time you step into that Eucharistic Adoration Chapel at HNOJ?  How will you react the next time you come into the physical present of God?

Cardinal Dolan, President Obama, The Dinner, and A Lesson

So, for the most part, we here at The Catholic Realist have stayed away from discussions about politics – even Catholic politics.  I can’t speak for my fellow realists, but I often find that political discussions, no matter how well-intentioned – end up divisive and destructive.  However, every so often a story grabs my attention and I feel like it’s worth a comment.

Indulge me for a moment, won’t you?

According to reports, Dolan has extended an invitation to President Obama to the annual Al Smith dinner in New York City. The president, reportedly, has accepted.  The dinner is one of the most prestigious political events in New York City particularly during a presidential election year and candidates from both parties usually attend.

Known for its lighthearted political speeches, the major speakers deliver a series of self-deprecating jokes while ribbing their opponent at the same time. In October 2008, Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama both attended the dinner, accepting an invitation by Cardinal Egan of New York. During the dinner, Cardinal Eagan expressed his “delight” that Obama and McCain had attended, called them “outstanding exemplary Americans.”

But this year, some Catholics are surprised to hear that Archbishop Dolan had invited Obama, now that he is president. Should the Archbishop associate a fundraiser for Catholic Charities with a leader whose administration remains defiantly opposed to Church moral teachings?

It’s not unprecedented in a presidential election year for a candidate not to be invited. In 1996, Cardinal O’Connor did not invite President Clinton or Senator Dole to the dinner and, in 2004, neither Sen. John Kerry nor President Bush were invited.

Obama’s attendance at the dinner this year could be awkward, particularly since the Catholic Church’s relationship with Obama has been severely tested in the battle over his administration’s contraception coverage mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services.

According to Dolan, Obama assured that his administration would not “impede” the work of the Catholic Church. But once the mandate was issued, Catholic bishops publicly denounced the move, calling it a threat to religious freedom.  What’s worse, administration officials who met with the bishops about the mandate refused to compromise in any meaningful way.

– From Crisis Magazine

“Obama’s attendance at the dinner this year could be awkward…” Awkward?  Talk about an understatement!  The invitation itself has inflamed the ire of Catholics across the country.

Jason Jones, Catholic film producer and advocate for the dignity of human life around the globe had this to say:

Man-up Catholics! We should be plotting a coup d’etat not inviting the enemy of the Church to our parties!

Michael Hichborn of the American Life League said:

Regardless of what they’ve done in the past, it is unthinkable for a Catholic charity to invite the man [President Obama] seeking the destruction of religious freedom in America to a fundraising event. This sends the wrong message to pew-sitting Catholics, who are anxiously looking to our bishops to stand up and fight against this clear enemy of the Church who will be joining them for dinner.”

Even Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life got in on the anti-Obama action saying,

“I’m all in favor of protocol and understand the difference between respecting the president’s policies vs. respecting his office,” he said in a statement. “But there comes a time when the polite putting aside of differences for a while amounts to scandal.”

There’s a whole group of Catholics who have started an online petition begging Cardinal Dolan to rescind his invitation to the President.

We find it to be an outrage and a scandal that in light of ongoing court litigation due to President Obama’s HHS Mandate forcing Catholic organizations to violate conscience, shut down ministries, or pay an excessive tax to continue operations, that one of the most recognizable Cardinals in the United States, would bestow such an honor on President Obama at an election year event that the world will be sure to receive as you giving him your tacit blessing.

We the undersigned prayerfully implore you to halt this travesty immediately and call on you to uphold the sacred mission of your Catholic Diocese. May God grant you the courage and wisdom to do what is right.

Matthew 5:22 my friends…Jesus had something to say about anger that is destructive and unnecessarily demeaning.

Those of you who know my tendency toward argument and my proclivity for contradiction won’t be surprised to find that I respectfully disagree with these fellow Catholics. Read More

One Catholic’s Opinion on Fifty Shades of Grey

NOTE:  I’ve revised and amended my opinion of these books based on conversations and a quote from Pope Benedict I found.  Feel free to read through this post, but then go check out my second opinion.

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Well, I did it.  I read Fifty Shades of Grey .

I had been hearing a lot about it.  I saw an SNL skit about it and heard The Today Show talk about “mommy porn.”  I’ve encountered Twitter debates about the morality of the book, and seen my Facebook friends post all about it.

As a high school youth minister I’ve found myself reading and watching things I never would have chosen myself just because I want to be able to talk to teenagers about their faith using stories and examples from things they love.  That’s why I read Twilight and Harry Potter, it’s why I watched Glee (though I only made it through 3 episodes) and Jersey Shore (not even one full episode with that one).

Then, my husband sealed the deal when he came home one night begging me to read this book.  I love to read and I can be a bit compulsive and addicted to it – sacrificing things like making dinner or doing housework in favor of a good book.  My husband is not a fan of my reading addiction – he even has a special eye roll and sigh that he pulls out when he sees me sitting in the recliner with a book – so when he came home asking me to read something, I jumped at the chance for some uninterrupted and non-badgered reading time.

I knew very little about the book before I read it – just that it was a modern romance novel with some pretty explicit sex scenes in it.

The New York Times describes the content of the book saying, “The books, which were released in the last year, center on the lives (and affection for whips, chains and handcuffs) of Christian Grey, a rich, handsome tycoon, and Anastasia Steele, an innocent college student, who enter into a dominant-submissive relationship.”

That’s putting it mildly.

The sex scenes certainly are beyond steamy – some of them are pretty kinky and a few are downright freaky.  Let’s just say items like riding crops, rulers, floggers (whatever those are!), and the like are not within my comfort zone – they’re not within a lot of people’s comfort zones.  So why are these books (they’re a trilogy) sitting atop the NYT’s Bestseller List and showing up on SNL?

The Times says quotes one married woman who says:

“It’s relighting a fire under a lot of marriages,” said Lyss Stern. “I think it makes you feel sexy again, reading the books.”

It certainly worked for one friend of mine.  Her husband texted my husband telling him that he had to get me to read this book because his wife read it and they were definitely “relighting a fire” in their marriage (now I know why my husband was so eager for me to read it).

For the record, they do a lot more talking about tortuous sex than actually doing it. And yes, the writing is really that bad.

On the other hand, the book has quite a few critics.  It’s slow moving plot and overblown prose won’t win it any literary awards.  Then there are those who object to the bondage and dominant/submissive content of some of the scenes saying its degrading to women.  There’s some weird stuff in the female main character’s head about her “inner goddess” and her “subconscious” who play basically play the role of her id and superego respectively.  But the criticism that’s engaged me the most is from the Christians I know who are warning their friends off of them saying that it’s basically pornography and is would be sinful to read it.

I’m not sure I agree… Read More

I’m More Catholic Than You

“It is dangerous to make everyone go forward by the same road, and worse to measure others by yourself.”  (St. Ignatius of Loyola)


Dear Fellow Good, Practicing Catholics,

Please stop trying to “out-Catholic” others all the time.

I get it, you know the faith really well.  You’ve read some (or maybe many) books and watched some faith-based shows and movies.  You’ve heard some great speakers and been on some highly spiritual retreats.  You’ve had deep encounters with God and maybe have a deep understanding of one thing or another.  Perhaps there’s someone in your family with religious vocation or you are good friends with a priest or a nun.

Maybe you are able to get to daily Mass.  Or have a daily Holy Hour.  Perhaps you serve the Church in some form of ministry.  Possibly you have a deep devotion to Mary or one (or many) of the saints.  Novenas might be a regular form of prayer for you or perhaps you never miss praying your daily rosary.

Uh-oh! I made a joke about holiness...i must not be very Catholic!

You might be an activist who stands outside of Planned Parenthood every Saturday morning to pray for the end of abortions.  Or, maybe you write letters to your congressmen on a regular basis trying to get laws changed.  Maybe you vehemently oppose all things secular or use Facebook as a platform to preach the word of God.

And, every one of those things are good and noble.  But, they don’t make you a “better” Catholic than everyone else.

 Read More

Good Coffee won’t save your soul – Part 3

What do we do when we go to Mass and we “don’t get anything out of it?”Coffee Cup

I think at some point in the Mass as our boredom or frustration mount, we have to make a decision.  Are we going to let something as insignificant as bad coffee get in the way of encountering God?

Sometimes going to Mass is like getting great coffee in a bad cup.

The other day I bought a coffee and didn’t realize that the seal on the bottom of the cup was imperfect. The leaking coffee made huge stains over the front my sweater.  I was hacked off to the point of not being able to enjoy the coffee. Then I considered that there was nothing I could do to change the cup at that moment, so either I could be angry and not enjoy my coffee or I could drink it and enjoy every drop that wasn’t on my shirt.

Even when everything seems to be going wrong at Mass, God is still present. And if God is present, we have an opportunity to find Him. The path to finding God in the midst of the messiness of imperfect Church is a shift in focus from our needs or wants to God’s outpouring of love.  When we move our focus from us to God, the bad coffee matters less and less.  In other words we have to name the coffee as bad, and then get over it.

This is hard.

It is hard to experience God in the midst of poorly done Church. So what do we do? I don’t have a great answer. I wish I did. What I do have are two suggestions for making sure every time we walk out of Mass we know God moved in us. Read More