Thursday, September 27, 2012

Happy Day!

Today is the feast day of my most favorite saint, Vincent de Paul!

I didn't know much about St. Vincent until I attended DePaul University. He's known as the Evangelizer of the Poor and he did tremendous work in France for the priesthood, establishing the Daughters of Charity with St. Louise de Marillac, founding the Congregation of the Mission (the Vincentians), and then inspiring others like Blessed Frederic Ozanam to start the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

The thing that really attracted me to St. Vincent was that he didn't get the whole "holiness thing" down until he was about 40. When I was in my 20s that was really inspiring, but now that I'm close to banging on the door of 40, it's a little daunting; I have only 2 years to get my act together! Getting to know Vincent helped me to understand how to be a follower of Christ in the "real world". His charism (way of living) is my charism.

St. Vincent wasn't born a saint. That might seem obvious, but so often when I think about a saint, well, he or she is saintly. I figure they had the whole Christian life figured out from an early age. Vincent was born into a poor family and became a priest in order to escape poverty. It's not that he was a bad priest before it all clicked for him, but his motivations might have been more financial than saintly.

The pivotal moment in Vincent's life came when he heard the confession of a dying peasant. He saw his own parents in this man and realized that he had neglected the poor. One moment changed his life and he worked with gusto to make significant changes in France.  I could go on and on about St. Vincent, but I'll only share one very cool story.

In a way, St. Vincent saved the Church in France during the Revolution. When establishing the Daughters of Charity, he stipulated that a Vincentian had to be connected to the community. During the French Revolution all the priests and religious were thrown out of the country. As the government was getting ready to chuck the Daughters out of France, someone wised up and said, "Uh, you know they run all the hospitals, care for orphans, and care for the prisoners, right? Maybe we should let them stay." And then, a very crafty Daughter said, "Oh, sure, we can stay, but you have to allow the Vincentians to stay, too. It's part of our founding documents." Absolutely brilliant!

A very blessed and happy feast day to all Vincentians, Daughters, and everyone else in the Vincentian family!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Grace, sin, and hair dye

The other day I went to the salon to get red highlights added to my hair.  I have only gotten my hair colored a handful of times, but I never had any issues.  A strange thing happened this time around, after two attempts only a little bit of the red penetrated my hair.  According to my stylist, that's pretty weird.

I came up with a theological analogy regarding my hair (because all things relate to theology, of course).  Hair dye is like the grace of God in the Sacraments, most especially in the Eucharist.  Hair represents the soul.  Sin prevents the hair dye from penetrating the hair.  

For the sake of my analogy, the sin we're dealing with is venial sin, not mortal sin.  Mortal sin separates me from God because I choose to turn away from God.  In order to commit a mortal sin, three conditions must be met: grave matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent.  Grave matter is a very serious sin against God, like abortion or adultery.  Full knowledge means I know what I doing and I know it is a serious sin.  Deliberate consent simply means I go and commit the sin anyway.  Basically, it's like saying to God, "Up yours!"  Sorry, that might come off as a bit brash in my otherwise family-friendly blog, but mortal sin is bad stuff and there's no point beating around the bush.  

Venial sin works the way my hair did the other day.  It doesn't block the grace of God, but it doesn't allow it through completely either.  Venial sins include those "little sins" I commit everyday: swearing, losing my temper, laughing at crass jokes, gossip, etc.  Habitual, unrepentant venial sin can lead me to commit moral sin.  Or to put it another way, think of your soul like a window.  Imagine if you never busted out the Glass Plus and cleaned that window.  That's how venial works; the light still gets through, but it's not as brilliant.  

Confession is the super-powerful spiritual cleanse that gets my soul right again.  The grace of Confession works its way into every part of my soul and allows all the brilliance of God's grace to shine through.  Or, in the case of my hair, I went back today and my stylist used super strong hair dye to allow the red highlights to shine through.  I've got super cute hair, now to work on getting a super cute soul.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Where was Jesus when I needed him?'s Gospel is one of those where I want to yell, "Hey Jesus, where the heck were you when I needed you?"  I'm guessing most parents who have buried a child would like to ask Jesus the same thing.  The reading from Luke 7:11-17 is the miracle story of Jesus raising the young man from the dead.

Now, while I'd love to give Jesus a piece of my mind there is one line that stands out.  When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and said to her, "Do not weep."  

Being the theology nerd that I am, it shouldn't be too surprising that I have theology nerd friends and we get all geeked out on theology.  Years before my daughter died I had a conversation about whether God is moved by our pain.  Here's the breakdown of the debate: my friend insisted that God was not moved by our pain because God is unchanging.  She insisted that you don't want a God that is changeable (mutable, in theology speak) because that would mean that God might be different tomorrow, for example, God might not love us tomorrow.

My view was that God is moved by our pain, but not in a human sort of way.  His being moved does not change the essence of who God is.  I highlighted that Jesus was moved with pity for people, so why couldn't God (the Trinity)?  It's weird to think of God suffering, but having pity is a kind of suffering and God's suffering is because of his LOVE (in theology speak, kenosis).

When the discussion was over, we agreed to disagree like good and orthodox Catholics should when philosophizing about the nature of God.

I don't know if my position is right, but there have been a few times since I buried my daughter it felt like God whispered to me, do not weep.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Mommy's Work

Oooh geez!  It's one of those readings that get Catholics and Protestants going at each other:

James 2:14-18

What good is it, my brothers and sisters,
if someone says he has faith but does not have works?
Can that faith save him?
If a brother or sister has nothing to wear
and has no food for the day,
and one of you says to them,
"Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well, "
but you do not give them the necessities of the body,
what good is it?
So also faith of itself,
if it does not have works, is dead.

Indeed someone might say,
"You have faith and I have works."
Demonstrate your faith to me without works,
and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.

Saying you have faith won't save you.  And, only doing works (without faith) won't save you.

It's the combination of the two.  My faith should get me off my butt to serve others.  "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words."  I love this quote from St. Francis of Assisi and I think it sums up today's reading well.  My life should be a demonstration of my faith.  Every moment, every interaction should preach the Gospel to others.  It should be, but it's not always.

Each season of life brings new and different opportunities to share faith and works.  As a single person I had far more time to give to ministry and to service.  As a mom with a young child there are days I don't have time to take a shower, but I have more time now than I did when my son was a baby.  While I wish I had the time (and the energy) to do more works of service, it's not possible right now.  Sometimes that makes me sad/discouraged because I feel like I'm not serving the Kingdom.  However, as parent I need to remember that my first mission field is to the little guy who watches me day in and day out.

The season of life with young children can feel long and monotonous, but this season will pass.  The work in this season of the mission is to be an engineer and lay a foundation for my son.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Mommy Measure

"For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you." Luke 6:38

Little did I know that I have actually been thinking about this verse lately. My son, never to be thwarted by our methods of discipline, has found a new way to make me lose my mind. His new way of showing his displeasure is throwing. Now, most of the time, he's an awesome toddler who loves to be tickled and play games, but there are times if he doesn't get exactly what he wants when he wants it or is told 'no', then something is going to fly through the air.

I have not helped this situation of late; I have a hard time keeping my cool when I'm stressed or sick both of which I've been. The other night at the dinner table I told him no about something. He was not happy about it and before I could try to calm him down he picked up his plastic bowl and threw it at me. I'm all about discipline and sometimes that requires raising my voice. On this occasion, I snapped! I yelled at him, but I went too far. I could see that I had scared him to the point that he was afraid. Oh crap! Yeah, sign me up for Mother of Year!

I immediately regretted flying off the handle. It was a very ugly moment in my motherhood...not at all the way I want to be. As I thought more about his throwing, I thought about the way I had responded over the last few weeks. It's not good. I would get mad and yell. So, I decided it's time to reframe the whole situation. I told him that if he throws something or doesn't listen, then I take his B (his favorite blanket). I stay calm when he gets crazy.  Thus far, it has worked like a charm.  He has gotten mad, but I haven't.

My hope is that if I measure out calm, then he will measure out some calm (for a toddler) in return. If I am measured in discipline, then he will be disciplined.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

On miscarriage

" we mourn the death of your child,
we place ourselves in the hands of God 
and ask strength, for healing, and for love."
Book of Blessings - Blessing of Parents after a Miscarriage

The above quote is part of the blessing that the Church offers to a family after a miscarriage.  I didn't know such a blessing existed and the other moms of miscarriages that I've talked to the last few weeks didn't know either.  Please share this with your friends and your priests.

This is what I love about the blessing: the Catholic Church tells it like it is.  Miscarriage is not a happy topic and many people want to change the subject or give simple answers.  Here is a sampling of what is said: you can have another baby, be thankful for your child(ren), you weren't that far along.  While these things might be factual, they do not speak the truth.  

Another thing many women hear is, "You've only had 1 miscarriage, well, I've had x." A friend told me this happened to her on a few occasions.  Loss is not a contest.  I have had one stillbirth and now one miscarriage, the pain is different but that does not make my stillborn daughter any more real than my miscarried baby.  A life is a life, a soul is a soul.  The loss of that life is painful.

The Church speaks the truth when it proclaims "as we mourn the death of your child".  The Church says, "That little life you carried inside you, no matter how long, was a person with a soul.  Now that person is gone and we mourn that loss.  Take heart, God is with you."  

A little over 2 weeks ago my husband and I received that blessing.  It might seem crazy that one line brought me such consolation and peace, but it did.  We didn't have to mourn our baby's death alone, the Church stood with us.  And thanks to Fr. Bruce at St. Brigid's Memphis for taking the time!

Note for priests: I'm the theology geek in the pew with an M. Div. and I didn't know about this blessing.  There are probably many families in your pews who have gone through a miscarriage and didn't know they should call the church office to ask for a blessing.  I know priests are stretched thin and finding opportunities for catechizing can be difficult, especially on something like The Book of Blessings, but it can offer so much healing and encouragement.  I understand there's even a blessing for fishing gear...God knows it would take divine encouragement for me to fish!  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Today is the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Like everyone else, I remember exactly what I was doing that morning: admiring the perfect blue sky in St. Louis on my deck when I should have been studying Christology.

My friend, Fr. Philip Powell, O.P., wrote a great reflection for today at Domine, da mini hand aqua!.

I find it strange that today is not a national holiday - like Veteran's Day. I realize today has been named Patriot's Day, but what does that mean? I think we should take a cue from our friends over the pond who remember their fallen on Remembrance Day.

I vote for 9/11 to be called Remembrance Day. It should be a day off from work and school. I'm a big fan of capitalism and free markets, but all the stores should be closed and there should be a law against crazy sale prices in honor of the day. There is no honor in getting a great deal at the local big box store remembering my fallen countrymen and women who went to work and got on planes.

Today should be a day of prayer and patriotism. I'm cool with there being parades but politicians aren't allowed to glad hand. They can have a float or signs that say something like, "I'm a proud American" or "God Bless America". There is no honor in politicizing when the purpose is to remember.

The emphasis should be on prayer and if anyone gets snooty about prayer on this day, then ask them what they did on 9/11. On 9/11, the midday Mass at my parish had standing room only when normally there were about 10 people. Many of those present on 9/11 weren't even Catholic, they simply wanted to be with others to pray, to mourn. The spirit of community and support in that small church - and throughout the country - was greater than the hatred perpetuated against us. Our country needs an anemesis ('remembering' like in the Mass).

We need to remember because forgetting is dangerous.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Where are the tissues?

I was knocked on my backside by a horrible sinus infection nearly 3 weeks ago.  And, I'm not sure it's done with me yet.  I've managed to get a few posts up, but the pounding in my head and ears made it pretty hard to think.  It was the illness version of Harrison Bergeron, (an awesome short story by Kurt Vonnegut).  In Vonnegut's story, everyone is made intellectually equal.  Those who are "too intelligent" are fitted with mental handicap radios in their ears that transmit loud, distracting sounds to keep them from thinking.  I simply couldn't think due to being sick...and that's about where the similarities end, but do read the story!

While trying to not infect the rest of my family with my cold, I did think quite a bit about illness.  The last couple weeks I've barely been able to pray - my whole world was out of whack.  It reminded me of a discussion from grad school about the blessing and witness of illness.  If you're like me, then you just say, "Huh?!  How is being sick a blessing?"

Here are the basics: people who are sick - and I mean really sick - and keep their faith are a blessing to the rest of the community because they are witnesses of Christ.  Think about someone you know who is really sick and has managed to keep their faith; he/she is inspiring.  Their daily struggles put minor annoyances and inconveniences into perspective.

Speaking of perspective...all I had was a sinus infection, what the heck am I crabbing about?  Being sick is...well, it stinks!  And it reveals the other dimension of the blessing and witness of illness.  I am never so happy for my health as when I get over a long bout of yuck and I will be doing cartwheels in the front yard when this infection is finally OVER!  I will be praising God at the top of my lungs (and I won't even have to cough)!

Take a moment today to pray for someone who is sick.  Maybe it's a friend or family member who has been a witness of Christ to you in their long illness.  Maybe it's for your sister or brother who just can't kick their cold.  Whoever it is, your prayers will be a blessing.