Friday, October 3, 2014

Feminine Genius!

Hello Ladies,

Lately I've been hearing a lot about a "war on women" and "what the church says". The thing is that the loudest voices have never even read humanae vitae or any other document. Many of them haven't even read the bible. One person admitted that he googled passages from the bible to support his point but never read the passages in their original context. As a scholar I find this insulting. I do not tell a lawyer the law. I do not correct a physicist. I do not tell a neurosurgeon that she her published medical paper is wrong because of my lack of understanding. Yet everybody owns theology - without even studying it. And unlike rocket science, everybody is capable of studying theology! 

Well, ladies, do not let it be said that I have not done my bit to inform the population. I believe that women are smart and capable of rational thought. So below I'm listing some links from the Vatican website which discuss the church's view on the role of women is society. Happy reading!

The Feminine Genius.

This is it: The big bad document which prohibits artificial birth control. This was written in the 60's and is somewhat prophetic. Be informed and read it before you judge.

Have any questions? Contact me and we'll start a conversation. No subject is taboo! These are our bodies, our families. Our sons and daughters are watching us. They respect themselves only as much as we respect ourselves and those around us.

May God continue to bless you!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Conundrum of the Educated Mother

Hello Ladies,

You're all moms. You know what it's like to be grateful for that job but still wish you were at home with the kiddos. Or maybe you're grateful to be a stay at home mom who wishes she could get out more. This delicate balance is as old as motherhood. After all, women are capable creatures who keep society moving forward in spite of all obstacles - with screaming babies on our hips!

So I'm NOT saying that a woman's place is in the home or convent and that's it. I'm certainly NOT saying that a woman's life is over because she has children. There is a balance and our faith helps us find it.

What got me started with all this? Well, lately I feel like getting out of "mom mode" and using my theology degree. On a practical level this is much harder than it first appears. There are plenty of budding theologians who teach classes, work the speaking circuit and (shudder) blog. How am I to enter this world without putting my family out? And do I really want to?

On the other hand, I'm intelligent, motivated and educated. Shouldn't I be working to my capacity or working toward a PhD.? Should't I be planting the seeds of success now so that I can harvest them when my kids are a few years older?

It's really hard watching the years go by, helping others accomplish things and never seeing your dreams come to light. I don't claim to be the best parent but we've all seen children experience bad parenting. It's devastating. I don't want that for my children either.

So what to do? Being the reasonably good Catholic that I am my first course of action is to pray. After all, God did create me. I'm His daughter, too. He had dreams for me before I could dream for myself. And He can see all things which means that I will never waste my time by listening to His advice.

And do you know what I learned? Not that I'm stuck, but that He really values what I'm doing now. So what if I'm only volunteering for a parish women's bible study? Are they any less worthy of learning His word? (Not that I'm teaching it. But just being part of the group gives these ladies more confidence in their studies.) Should I take any less joy in their process of discovery than He does? And who better to raise my children to know and love Him than me?

In short, do I value what God values? Or would I rather be "a success", admired by the world? If I cannot do what is in front of me with great love how can I call myself Christian at all??

I am forced to admit that God values His children, the people in my home and who I meet in my daily life, more than He values my idea of success.

The beautiful thing about prayer is that it doesn't "keep you in your place" but helps you see the world as God sees it. I don't know where He will lead me but I know that it will be a much better place than I had envisioned for myself.

May God continue to bless you!!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Crazy Days!!

Hello Ladies,

Things here have been crazy and I can't admit that I've been dealing with them well. One of the things I've been struggling with is migraines. These lay me out flat and it is so hard, so hard to do what I need, much less with great love. Mostly I just want to puke and pass out. Yes, my husband is a fantastic support. But when dad is out of commission it takes a few days for things to start to topple. When mom is sick this takes a matter of hours. So instead of being 'laid low' for a half a day it became over a week simply because I couldn't get the rest I needed. Combine this with the well meaning "why don't you just" and "you need time for you" and I was about ready to lose it.

Why do I mention this? Because at some point, no matter where we are or what we do, we are in danger of blowing it. In my case it was behaving poorly to my young children who cannot defend themselves. At other times it might have been yelling at a poor person who works behind a counter. Or perhaps yelling at a cop for pulling me over. You get the idea.

Sometimes my problems should not be the problems of the world around me. I'm an adult. It's not my right to make those around me feel bad. I'm a mother, so it's my responsibility to model proper behavior for my children. Actually,  I have always believed that it is the responsibility of every adult to model proper behavior for children. I seem to be in the minority. But I digress.

Or maybe this digression is important. I don't think that people set out to be jerks. Maybe we've just forgotten that we have a choice and tools to deal with things when we are at our lowest.

One thing I've notices about western society is that we know everything. Yes, people without kids tell me how to parent. Parents tell teachers how to teach. I can tell a physicist until I'm blue in the face that gravity does not exist and then cry when I feel the effects of it. But I still know best, right?

Well, coming from a place where I nearly yelled at my kids for making noise while they were playing nicely with each other, I don't know it all. Obviously.

Let me repeat: I do not have all the answers all of the time. I do not always have it all together. Some days I feel like a failure. Some days I don't like myself very much. And I do not think it is acceptable for others to be the target of issues that I refuse to deal with.

There. Now that I've established common ground let me get to the point: At some point we need to take responsibility and work towards healing so we can be good caretakers of others. But how do we do that?

The first thing is know thyself. This is more difficult than it sounds because we are bombarded with images of how we should be in order to be acceptable. For the purpose of this exercise ignore those voices. Turn off the tv, radio, computer, and phone if you need. to. Keep them off for a day, a week, even longer. Don't worry, the world will continue to spin.

The second thing is to try to see yourself as God sees you. Let me expand on this one a bit. Try thinking of God as the Source of All Goodness. Now imagine God getting down in the dirt, molding your body with His hands (yes, even the bits you don't like). Now image Him smiling at His masterpiece and blowing life into your nostrils.

Imagine the gut-wrenching pain Jesus felt when He walked among us on earth, seeing us suffer. Do you really think that we were created to suffer? Do you really think Jesus suffered and died for us to suffer? Did I go through the agony of childbirth to hurt my children? Do I get up in the middle of the night to comfort them so I can berate them later?

Okay, sometimes I totally blow it with my kids. I shamefully admit this. But the only way I can get through this is to remember that me and my children (and everybody around me) have been created by the Source of All Goodness and bear His fingerprints; our creator is present and wants to help.

When I lose myself I ask God to find me. This is a simple thing but it is hard. I have been abused and neglected as a child. I have suffered postpartum depression. Twice. I know what it is to be lost, over and over. This works.

I am reminded not that I am nothing, but I am in communion with all around me. Those who suffer despair suffer from isolation. We can do nothing on our own. My suffering is important because it reminds me that I can still achieve great things in the midst of seemingly impossible odds. I am stronger than I think. It also reminds me of what is important. Do I need to take a break? Will the world end if I do? Will I end if I can't? My choice.

I am reminded of God's grace, and I am thankful. I am not thankful for my suffering but for God's steadfast mercy. One day the house was a wreck. My husband would be home soon and I wasn't up for explaining why the kids weren't in bed and the kitchen a mess. (I was assuming that he would judge me and find me failing.) My children were eating and having fun together. (Telling potty jokes, no less. They did NOT learn this from me!) And I was about to lose it! So I took a moment where I was and I asked Jesus to enter. Then in my mind's eye I saw Jesus sitting at the table with my children and he was laughing! I felt a rush of peace. Suddenly the mess was no big deal. There was no need to start yelling. Jesus was delighting in my children, potty words and all. So I bit my tongue. And you know what? By the time my husband came home the house was clean and the children had gone to bed nicely. Don't tell me that wasn't a miracle! My husband told me what I great mommy I am. Gosh. And it almost wasn't so.

Sometimes I need to spend time alone with Jesus. I love going to Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. I can ask Jesus what He wishes me to do.  He never wastes my time. I allow Him to remind me of who I am. After all, He did make me. And in all honesty, He likes me better than I like myself. And I cannot be at peace with others unless I am at peace with myself.

But now I must go and make food for my family. One day the children will be off and I will not have the opportunity to 'do for' them.

May God continue to bless you!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Forgiveness- At Last!!

Hello Ladies,

If you've read any of my earlier posts you know that I have a problem with forgiveness. Or perhaps I should say that I have a problem forgiving others. I know that withholding forgiveness is a heavy burden that I impose on myself. But really, how can I forgive when I did nothing to deserve such treatment?

One of the latest instances has to do with the behavior of an elder family member around the time of the birth of my third child. This elder resented my latest pregnancy and told all of the family who would listen (and who wouldn't listen to an elder?) that I did not want my child and had no business being pregnant. So around the time of the birth of my precious child we were receiving phone calls and e mails stating that "the child should not be".  It also happened at this time that the elder in question was dying. You might think that the illness had some part to play is this horrible behavior but it was not so; this elder was known for lying and selfishness. For the life of me I cannot understand why other family members would add to the drama. This send my little family into a tail spin and I sunk into postpartum depression.

Several months ago I was praying about this. I was ranting to God about the unfairness of the situation. It has taken almost two years for those closest to this elder to admit that the baby might actually be wanted, loved, and well cared for and that my husband and I were in no way slighting this elder by having a baby. So as I was pouring my heart out to God,  I heard him speak in my heart: "Yes, it was wrong. You were trying to honor this elder but this elder did not allow it. You daughter is precious to me and I rejoice in her. But before you take this too far remember that I was with you the entire time." Boom! Suddenly a floodgate of memories opened up and I was able to see so many blessings  given during that time. I realized that God truly has been with us the entire time.

For me, it all began with gratitude for God's grace and wanting to remove all obstacles that I place between me and God.

So I went to confession.

You might wonder why I, who was wronged, would go to confession. Well, Ladies, all that I can say is that I really needed healing and in the confessional I encountered Jesus the Great Physician. If you have chronic pain you go do a doctor and let the doctor make the diagnosis so that you can heal. I wanted healing. And I found it.

As I left the confessional I realized why I couldn't forgive this elder before: Because you cannot give to others what you yourself do not have. I could not forgive because I did not have forgiveness. Think of all the time I wasted in anger!

It comes down to this: when you allow yourself to harmonize with Love your heart is too full for anger. When you feel that healing and peace you will happily let go of anything that keeps you from the Source of that healing and peace.

I cannot wait to go back to confession. (And since I am so much more at peace with myself those around me have been asking what I did to change. Imagine!)

May God continue to bless you!

Mariam Mom

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Power of Words

Hello Ladies,

Lately I have been faced with something that saddens me to no end. Some of my friends from long ago have been speaking really, really nasty things. They have been going beyond political activism to outright viciousness. These are good people. Maybe when I was younger I would have appreciated their cutting remarks as a form of clever humor. Now I see it for what it truly is: a way of destroying bridges and building walls of isolating self-righteousness. Opposing political views I can handle, but not meanness.

It gets worse.

To be fair, I went to the websites that my friends had been quoting. Wow! What slander! I cannot believe that my friends would consider anything based on repetition, loudness, and catchy slogans. But they are. Try to discuss with them? Suddenly I'm a bigot or worse.

I had been inclined to make careful consideration of their opinions but I can't find any substance other than "I'm right, you're wrong, and you have no compassion if you dare disagree." I am forced to shake my head in sadness.

We deal with situations like these all the time. It can be a belligerent family member or somebody on the street. It can be a political rally or the evening news. At some point we're going to have to deal with the power of words.

And our children are watching. We are the ones who teach them whether or not it's okay to hurl insults at others. We're the ones who intentionally watch or avoid shows that degrade others.

Notice that my sadness is not due to my friends having opposing views, but that they would rather hurt me than talk with me. I doubt that they even know what they are doing.

At church the other day I found a prayer card talking about the power of words. There is no copyright, author, or company name stated or I would cite it. But before I read this prayer card I had not really put together the use of words and the sudden anger in society. Now it seems much clearer to me.

The Power of Words

Detraction: repeating something true without good reason (Sirach 21).

Racial jokes that encourage hatred or sexual jokes which use impurity for entertainment (Ephesians 5:3-4)

Calumny: talking about someone's faults. "Do not judge, and you will not be juded; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned..." (Luke 6:37).

Sarcasm: a way to put others down and disguise it as humor.

Arguing: speaking nasty or using biting remarks.

Criticizing: constant complaining and scolding to vent rather than a desire to help another out of love (Proverbs 21:9).

Breaking confidences: "Don't tell anyone else, but..." (Proverbs 11:13).

Listening to the words of others can be wrong: "An evildoer listens to wicked lips; a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue" (Proverbs 17:4).

Pretty scary, isn't it? I know I'm guilty of all of the above.

But there is hope. Words of patient love always prevail. Don't believe me? Ask the Roman emperors. Ask how the Soviet Union felt when the Polish people began chanting "we want God!". Ask the US government when Martin Luther King Jr. cried out "I have a dream".

Slogans are not truth. Emotional arguments are not truth. Insults are not the truth. If someone uses these tactics to push an agenda or gain ratings they are not speaking the truth. Do not listen to them. If they tell you to mistrust your neighbor do not listen. If they can not calmly state their arguments then they have none. If they tell you that you cannot work towards healing, they are wrong. Remember that we need to treat others with respect and dignity, just as we wish to be treated with respect and dignity.

Someone disagrees with you? Love them. Who knows, they might be right. Someone refuses to listen to you? Love them. We know the truth. The truth is a Word. And the Word was God. And that word is Love. Want to be on the right side of history? Love. Always.

May God continue to bless you.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Living on a Prayer

Hello Ladies,

The strangest thing happened to me a few months ago.

I was thinking back to the drama that was happening in my family at the time my youngest daughter was born. It's really hard to let it go of the pain because there was so much nastiness going on. (Look back to entries from 2012 for more details.) I'm not really into drama. Been there - done that. So it seems really unfair that other people's drama should have poisoned what should have been a beautiful experience. But it did.

So I began to pray: "God, why did this have to happen to us? It was so wrong! What did we do to deserve it???" Like Job, I demanded an answer from God for my suffering.

And God answered. Suddenly peace filled my entire being. And then I heard a whisper in my heart: "My daughter, you are right. It should have been beautiful. Your family did nothing to deserve such cruelty. But I was with you every moment and I carried you through it."

Some people might think that this is too little, too late. And really it is. I gave too little, too late. What would it have taken for me to have trusted God from the beginning of the ordeal instead of being angry that He didn't act in a way that I wanted Him to??? Or maybe I did trust in Him and that is what got me through the dark place of post-partum depression?  Or maybe it's a bit of both. Or maybe I'm just asking the wrong question.

So I began to pray again. This time I thanked God for ALWAYS being there for me and asked Him to increase my faith. But I'm finding this easier because I know I didn't get through the depression or the family drama on my own. Now I can enjoy my life and my children. That dark, lonely time is only a means to increase my compassion for others who are trapped within the teetering chemistry of their brains.

I know this change in prayer is working. Instead of asking to change my circumstances, I'm asking God to give me strength to get through this moment. Then the next moment. Then the next. Walking with Jesus on a journey with no limits is pretty darn cool.

Sometimes I hear about spiritual warfare. It's an intriguing concept though it's not one I've really taken seriously. I don't know if it's cool or hokey and slightly paranoid. But I will say that faith in God's love for me and my children has led me out of some really dark places. Looking around, I notice that the world has become a cynical place. Joy is being traded away for instant gratification. Prayer is considered a superstition. A good friend of mine from way back, one who was once comforted by the prospect of being prayed for, literally laughed in my face when I mentioned prayer.

I begin to wonder if prayer, beginning with gratitude and ending in faith, is not a power in its own right. If it were merely superstition, why would it be so upsetting? (Knock on wood and no jinx!) Why would people prefer to believe that love is merely an emotion or a limited resource? Why is it so hard to believe that we are worth dying for? I think that if we understood the love that God has for us that our world would be a more beautiful place. And yet, we too afraid to reach out for our birthright.

I have no answers tonight. I only have faith that God knows what He is doing.

(Jesus, I trust in You!)

Heavenly Father, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for having taken such wonderful care of my family when I could not. Please grant us the grace to see you working in our lives. May we always have the courage to do what we know is right, especially when it is difficult. Help us to forgive ourselves and others for the suffering we encounter in the world.  My we always trust in your Sacred Heart.

For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world!

May God continue to bless you!

Thursday, May 22, 2014


Hello Ladies,

In spite of all the wars, misery and pettiness in the world I am experiencing an unshakable calm in my soul. It's as if Jesus is about to come to heal the world and make things right. I'm trying to rationalize myself out of it. It can only lead to disappointment. Or could it be I'm feeling the peace that only God can give resulting in, well, hope for all humanity? If the latter, bring it on!!

May God continue to bless you!


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Things I Love

Hello Ladies,

Today I'm going to talk about things that I find really useful in understanding my Catholic faith. Realize the best way to teach your children is by example, and how can you live something you don't understand? The really neat thing about the Catholic faith is that it stands up to scrutiny.  Don't understand a doctrine? Look it up. Find out more. There is always an answer based on scripture, tradition, and philosophy. It invites intellectual inquiry. Don't take someones else's word for it. Find out for yourself.

1. Read the Bible. It sounds obvious but not many people actually do it. What's in the bible? It is the written history of how God choses to reveal Himself to us in space and time. It is the history of a people. It spans thousands of years and continues to impact us today. It is the basis for Western laws, art, music, and governments. Plus it's a great read. I would go as far to say that everyone should read the bible if only to truly understand today's society.

2. Go to mass. Another obvious one. Without the Eucharist we are not Catholic. Catholics believe that the Eucharist is Jesus. Literally. In the mass we pray with all the angels and saints. In the mass the veil between heaven and earth is removed and we get a glimpse of heaven.

3. Laudate: This is a free app I found for my phone. It has everything from prayers, saints' days, and Vatican documents to podcasts of prayers - in Latin! (Yes! You had me at Latin!)

4. Immaculate Heart Radio: Believe me, I really dislike sugary, dreamy voices talking about Jesus. Blah, blah, blah. But what I found here was intelligent discussion. Why do Catholics believe what they believe? Listen to Catholic Answers Live. You can even call in to ask your questions. Want to hear world news without dramatic commentary? You can find it here. (To be fair BBC also does a good job as does the Wall Street Journal. But I digress.)

5. While we're at it I might as well mention EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network), the Catholic cable channel based in Alabama of all places. My son likes watching the shows about the saints. He likes that the saints are portrayed as people who struggled to attain an everyday holiness.

6. Prayer. Yes, another obvious one. But I have had secular friends prefer to hear that I 'wish them luck' than I would pray for them. There is little understanding of what prayer is. If we do not teach our children what prayer is and how to pray then they're going to believe some crazy things.

7. Read Catholic authors. Theology is FUN, my friends. Well, Catholic theology is. It's history, philosophy, languages,  and sociology. Just looking at my bookshelf I spot Scott Hahn and Dorothy Cummings MacLean along side Saint Augustine, Mother Teresa, and Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Well, Ladies, my time is up. My daughter has just set up a tea party for her dolly who turned four today. If I remember correctly we sang 'Happy Birthday' when her dolly turned seven just a few days ago.

If you have any other suggestions feel free to comment.

May God continue to bless you!

PS: (Sorry, I don't always get to things when I want to because of the children.) A Mother's Bouquet written by Sherri Boas is the best book or rosary meditations I have ever read.

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Change of Pace

Hello Ladies,

Today I'm going to do something that I thought I would never do: get personal. I've tried to be as anonymous and neutral as possible because I want to be a source of comfort to all moms and not just those who fit into my racial/political/religious/educational strata. What would be the point of that? Also I've looked at other 'mom blogs'. They are entertaining, well written, and sometimes wise. But to write about myself? Well, I prefer reading about their lives to explaining mine.

But then I got to thinking; who wants to read about dry theology, anyway? Perhaps this "Everywoman" approach is informative but lacks the intimacy of a friend. I have also come to the realization that I want other women to share in my journey. Why would you post a comment if you have no clue who I am? Yes, my posts will continue to be theology based and anonymous but from now on I'm going to write to you as a friend.

So friends, here is a little about myself.

I chose the name Mariam for my blog because it was the name I chose for my confirmation when I was 16.  I have always felt close to Mary but that relationship continues to be conflicted because of the strained relationship with my earthly mother. My mother died several years ago as a direct result of her addictions. Even though I went through a tumultuous childhood I no longer blame my mother for all the bad things in my life (probably because she can't cause any more damage). I miss her.

I am the mother of three children: boy (7), girl (4), and girl (almost 2).  They keep me exceedingly busy but they are worth it.

I was raised Catholic and continue in my Catholic faith because the elders in my life whom I greatly respect continued in their faith. They overcame great hardships with patience and grace. I saw firsthand that the power of love could conquer self-loathing and hate.

Things I like about being Catholic:

The Eucharist. Whether in mass or at adoration it is the only place where I feel I am "good enough". I am in the presence of Love, after all. I also feel closer to those who have died and yes, even the children in my family waiting to be born.

The communion of saints. Time and space don't matter. I continue to be close to my grandmother. Sometimes I feel my mother's love surrounding me. I'm not saying that she suddenly became a saint when she died. But I do believe that once she saw the power of Love she could finally love in ways that she couldn't manage while trapped in her diseased body. Sometimes I think that watching over me and my children is a part of her purgatory. I have no theological basis for this. I just feel that to give and receive love is healing for us both.

The prayers. Yes! The prayers! I love that Catholic prayers, especially the mass, (and the Our Father, of course) have been said, sung, and chanted for thousands of years in countless languages. Now THAT is stability.

Things that drive me crazy:

Criticism. I put my best into everything I do. I'm not a perfectionist but I set high standards for myself. I work hard to be accountable for all of my actions. So I HATE being second-guessed. Have a problem with my kitchen? Go ahead and clean it. Just don't ask me what I've been doing all day. If being a mom were simply an exercise in time management... Grrrr...

People who speed through school zones. 'Nuff said.

Popular media: I'm supposed to think uncharitable thoughts about people I have never met because of some unsubstantiated sound bite? I think not. And PLEASE, before you criticize the church, study history, or philosophy, or the doctrine in question.  Then come talk to me. I cannot believe that people can make money using arguments that would have earned me a failing grade. And do not get me started on advertising or "feminist" magazines that promote sex as the pinnacle of feminine power and freedom.

Things that I love but maybe shouldn't:

The shows "Say Yes to the Dress" and "What Not to Wear". I also love "Rehab Addict" and "Property Brothers". I also like "Doctor Who", "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", and "Babylon 5". I don't have the time to keep up with "Downton Abbey" or any show with a continuous storyline.

I love 'The Dresden Files' written by Jim Butcher. Like 'the kids have to wait while I read' kind of love.

"Lord of the Rings". The books - not the movies. Also "The Chronicles of Narnia".

My kids know the words to "Not My Mama's Broken Heart" by Miranda Lambert. I think I should be concerned about this.

Random tidbits:

My favorite time period is the Middle Ages. I have no fear of Old and Middle English.

I love Latin but I'm terrible at it.

I read theology books in my spare time.

I hate mornings and run on coffee. A friend of mine told me that I don't eat as much as I think I do because of the children distracting me or eating off of my plate.

I hate to admit it but I've been diagnosed with postpartum depression after the birth of both of my girls.

Well, that's about it.  I hope this makes me seem more accessible and, well, human. I am looking forward to getting to know you.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What Is a Catholic Mom?

Hello Ladies,

I have been putting off this question for a long time. I don't like it. If you are Catholic and a mother then you are a Catholic mom. But lately a friend of mine (not a mother) was asking me why I do things one way and not the way other Catholic mothers seem to. Do you need to go to church every Sunday as a family? Do you pray the rosary (or a decade) nightly? Do you work outside the home? Do you home school or send your child(ren) to Catholic schools? Do you wear long skirts? Cover your head in church? Obey your husband?  Use cloth diapers? Carry your baby in a sling as opposed to using a stroller?

To be fair, my friend couldn't care less about diapers or strollers; but other moms DO care. And they WILL give their opinion.

Before I get derailed in the politics of motherhood I would like to make one thing perfectly clear: No matter our vocation, we are called to do it with great love. This includes motherhood. This includes working outside the home. This includes our studies. This includes our family life. In fact, it begins within our own family. To be precise - with the most vulnerable within our family: our children, our elderly, and our most vulnerable.

Perhaps the first question we should be asking is what does it mean to be a Catholic? After all, motherhood is one of many roles we are called to play. We do not start out as mothers and one day our children will leave our home. But God calls each and every one of us to follow Him.

The reason I am taking a step back from motherhood is that it is so all encompassing that sometimes it does not make the best starting point. As I said earlier, it's too easy to get derailed. Yes, the above questions are important. Yes, every mother needs to explore them. That is why it is so important to have a firm understanding of what you, as a Catholic and as a mother, bring to your home and to society.

The rules and the Spirit:

Okay, I already said that being a Catholic is more that following 'the rules'. In this context I'm talking about the outward trappings and not substance. Do I wear a long skirt? Do I have rosary beads hanging off my rear view mirror in my minivan? Do I make it to church every week with all of my children freshly scrubbed and in their Sunday best?

But there are other, more important rules; rules that are as unpopular as they are important.

Some people think that we don't need rules, that we are intelligent human beings who can handle the consequences to our actions. Fair enough. I am not the morality police. Nor do I want to be. But let's take a closer look, shall we?

Imagine driving a car in a town without any traffic laws. A car is not evil. The driver is probably not evil. But together it can make for a dangerous, even deadly combination. Now I have several friends who are firefighters and police officers. I can tell you that they have absolutely no sense of humor when it comes to running red lights, speeding through school zones and cross walks, drunk driving, or using a cell phone while driving. Does that make them fascist? Cruel? Eager to exploit their authority and hand out tickets? Possibly. Or maybe they're just sick of scraping innocent people off the street. Maybe they want to go to sleep without having nightmares. Maybe they are just, gasp, trying to protect us from our own stupid and thoughtless decisions.

Now let's look at the moral equivalent of a car wreck. Ever talk to a Catholic mother who is wondering when she should take her daughter to the doctor to be put on birth control? Twelve is too early but kids are having sex earlier these days... What if she's at a party and gets drunk? Is thirteen too early or too late? CRASH! How are these questions even possible?? But you can't get away from what is 'out there'. The problems of children raping children and drug and alcohol abuse have been featured on Oprah, Dear Abbey, and countless news stations.

And who is to blame? The television? The parents? The children themselves?

There are also other, smaller rules that we break every day and we don't think much about them until the consequences creep up on us. This is where I really appreciate speaking with priests because they have heard everything. People do not go to confession when they think that what they're doing isn't so bad. People go to confession with their regrets and their heartbreaks, desperately wanting to undo the past. No priest can ever say the specific sins he hears in a confessional but a priest can speak in generalities. Most frequent cause of divorce (for men): pornography. That's right. They begin to see women as sexual objects instead of people. This attitude spills over into their marriage and parenting. Biggest regret for women: allowing themselves to be seen or used as sexual objects and/or what they have done to "prove" that they are free from the shackles of their femininity. For children: what they have done to gain love or approval from their peers, including lying.

Somewhere along the line we have forgotten the critical point: each and every one of us is made in the image and likeness of God and is worthy of dignity. This means that I have been created to be more than a sexual or political object. I am more than a woman silently raising her children. I am more than my education, my paycheck, the fulfillment of my ambitions or what I contribute so society. And I firmly believe that this is where so many of us get it wrong. Our imaginations cannot encomapss the wonder of God so we wonder if God is even there. So we get it into our heads that our ambition is more important than God's will for us. We can't fathom God's love for us so we settle for what we can quantify. It is time to stop.

How can we teach our children that they have worth if we believe that our own worth is limited to our achievements or based on the approval of others? How can we help others if we are suffering from the consequences of breaking the rules ourselves?

Jesus is continually reminding us of our worth when He invites us to partake of His presence in the Body and Blood in the sacrament of the Eucharist. He continually reminds us of the dignity of others. He is constantly inviting us into a personal conversation with Him about how best to use our time, talent, and treasures. Why do we continually deny the dignity that God Himself instilled in us when we were conceived? Why do we deny it in others? We all want to live in a just world where we are respected and treated with dignity but we don't dare reach for it.

Every single Christian has been commissioned by Jesus to seek out and serve the most vulnerable of society.  This service may include fixing food and keeping house. It may include changing the diapers of an infant or an infirm adult. This service will probably be unglamorous and frequently isolating. Do it anyway. This service might call an educated woman to work within the home or challenge an uneducated woman to further education. This will probably be frightening. Do it anyway.

We all know this. This is nothing new. Perhaps what I am trying to say is that Catholicism isn't merely a set of rules which must be obeyed. It is not a way of differentiating ourselves from others. It is an invitation by God to live more deeply in Him. It is joyful and adaptable. (Frankly, anything that has been around for over 2000 years and spans continents needs to be adaptable.) It has structure that is timeless and recognizable. It is a way of asking God "what do I do with my time, treasure and talents?" in a way that there is hope of hearing a personal answer instead of in formulaic response.

And for us Catholic mothers? It begins within our own homes, with our children, our elderly, and our most vulnerable. It begins before we are mothers and will continue after the overwhelming aspects of motherhood are over.

And through the grace of God the rest will fall into place from there.

May God continue to bless you!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Different Thoughts on Lent

Dear Ladies,

I have been working hard on this latest blog. Honest! I have been writing, citing sources and editing. I have been contemplating kenosis, death, suffering, and holy week. And what have I come up with? A lot of interesting academic work that probably nobody wants to read. I have been discussing how kenosis and suffering have been used to keep women and the poor and oppressed in their place. I have been writing about how oppression is contrary to the will of God. Then a good friend sent a link from another theology blog, Experimental Theology, which ably discussed the same thing. Well.

Then I got to thinking about Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. This is where Jesus emptied Himself so that God could enter: Kenosis. (Our kenotic relationship with God only merits a small 'k': kenosis.) If we were to see Jesus suffer and sweat blood, would our first thought be "what are the socio-economic implications?" I hope not. Our thoughts should be along the lines of "how can we alleviate the suffering?" Most likely we would be like to disciples, focused on our own pain.

Now I'm not trying to say that wrongful use of theology isn't worth talking about. I'm just saying that there comes a point when we walk the path or we don't. It's time to walk the path.

So, what did Jesus ask us to do? He asked us to sit with Him in his suffering. Just sit there with Him. Strange to think that our mere presence is pleasing to God, isn't it?

Have you ever taken the time to wonder what Jesus would say to you if you were to ask "Lord, what are you doing? Can you teach me to open myself to God as you do?" I think He would probably say something like this:

Be who you are.
Let the rest go.
Allow God to enter.

Obviously this isn't an easy thing to do. Jesus sweat blood. He was there for hours. AND He already had practice living a life totally reliant on God. Notice that the difficulty isn't in becoming somebody different or fulfilling a role imposed on you. The difficulty lies in accepting who you are and letting everything else go.

Luckily, God has given us aids along the way. What pops immediately to mind is adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and confession. I love going to adoration because all you do is sit there quietly and be yourself. The fact that Jesus is there is an added bonus.

Confession is a whole other matter. A few weeks ago I wouldn't have bothered writing about it. Why? Because, well, it's complicated. Suffice it to say my childhood was really, really messed up (as many sadly are) and for many years I didn't know which way was up, much less worry about sins. Then later I didn't want to hear how terrible I was. (I was often told by my mother that I was a whore, a failure, and an idiot. I was none of those.) I just didn't think I could bear any more criticism just for existing.

But a few weeks ago I went. By the time I got to the confessional I was shaking. By the time I sat down I was bawling my eyes out. Name my sins? Forget about it! I nearly ran out of there! But the priest was kind and compassionate. He told me that God loves me and that I am enough. Obviously I know that. I've been writing about it for years. I've been telling that to others. And yet I was so afraid. Nay, terrified.

When I left I felt like a new person. I was giddy in love because my love was returned.

I'm only writing this because I think people can get funny ideas about church and religion. For me, if it's not practical it's useless. I just want people to know that there are things that have existed for millenea to help us grow in faith. These are the things that say "all life has value - regardless of past mistakes and weaknesses. You are important. You are irreplaceable to God and to others." We are told over and over again that these things are put in place to control us. Maybe others used these things to control and abuse. But those particular voices live in fear. I have lived too much of my life in the fear of my own inadequacies. Am I perfect? Far from it. The idea is laughable. But I can tell you that when enough people who believe in the salvific power of love get together, it changes the world. Ask the ancient Romans. Ask the Soviet Union about Pope John Paul II's  trip to Poland. Ask why Christian churches all over the world are being targeted.

All because you have worth. All you have to do is claim it.

Be who you are.
Let the rest go.
Allow God to enter.

May God continue to bless you!

This entry is dedicated to The Lovely Claire. I hope you like it.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Meditation on Suffering

Hello Ladies,

Lately I have been asked to give a reflection to a bible study based on the book of Isaiah. After it was done several people asked me for my notes. They said they liked the reflection. Maybe they were being nice. But then I thought, hey, why not put it up on my blog?

So without further ado I humbly offer a fuller version of my notes on how to read the book of Isaiah.

What is the purpose of studying the Bible? One way to approach the Bible is to think of it as a history of God's self revelation of his love for us. It is, in essence, a love story, a how-to manual between the lover (God) and the beloved (you, me, all of humanity). This is a story that will never end. God does not change so we must allow God's love to change us. As we change, we become more like God, who is Love.

How do we enter into this relationship? Variations of this question have been asked throughout all of time. God call us, but how can God, who is All, call us without, well, squishing us like a bug? Nicholas of Cusa asked this question of God and God answered thusly: Be yours and I too will be yours. Yes, the answer is to be yourself and God will be yours. In order to be yourself you must know yourself. In order to know God you must enter into a unique relationship with God.

So who is our lover? How has God chosen to reveal himself to us? For this we will look at Isaiah 53:1-12 NRSV.

53 Who has believed what we have heard?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by others;
    a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him of no account.
4 Surely he has borne our infirmities
    and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
    struck down by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
    and by his bruises we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
8 By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
    Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people.
9 They made his grave with the wicked
    and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
    he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
11     Out of his anguish he shall see light;
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
    The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors.

Let's carry this through to what Christians believe is the fulfillment of this passage. (Philippians 2:5-11 NRSV)

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8     he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Our beloved suffers for love of us!

Since God suffers for us and we are to be like God, I am going to make four points concerning suffering. 

Point 1 - The world is full of reasons why you should suffer. I have been told I should suffer because I am a woman, because of my looks, my education, my accent, my income, and my place of birth. God did not put you on this earth to suffer. You may suffer to do the will of God. Look at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta as an example. She did no more and no less of what was asked of her. She did not believe that anyone should suffer the loss of human dignity. Never once did she give up her dignity to restore dignity to others. Never.

Point 2 - The world will never understand that we suffer for love of others. The world likes to choose winners, not those who give day after day for no apparent reward. This includes mothers and fathers, caregivers, social rights workers, religious, volunteers, and anyone who goes the extra mile for others and asks for nothing in return. Do not ask for permission or validation from the world.

Point 3 - Why suffer? This is an interesting one. The world didn't understand why Jesus suffered and died. His followers didn't want him to die. It wasn't better for one innocent man to die for the good of the Jewish nation. Jesus died for the redemption of the world. God's way is always greater than we can imagine. Turn to God in your suffering. 

Point 4 -  To be more of yourself is to become more like God. Or - the more you love the more God - like you become.

Obviously there is much more that I could have said but my time was limited. Hopefully you will find this meditation useful in some small way. Okay, the notes for a meditation, a smaller offering.

May God continue to bless you!

(Special thanks to Bible Gateway which allowed me to cut and paste bible verses instead of typing it all out on my own.)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

True Love - The Integrity Project

Hello Ladies,

You may have been wondering why I repeat (over and over and over) God's love for you. The answer is simple: If God is the center of your life then your life makes sense. Without God as the center even the most beautiful relationships become warped. Think this is an exaggeration? Read on.

Ever hear a husband or wife say "We'll never get divorced because we don't believe in it?" How about a mother angrily saying "I'm pretending this is my son's face" while pounding out meat for dinner.  Or "I cannot possibly have this baby. There isn't enough love in the world." "We used to be in love but we just lost it. Isn't that the way it goes? Better to split up now than have things drag out." "The Christian model of marriage is for the woman to stay in the home. She finds joy in the success of her husband and children." We are so willing to conform our thoughts to our worst nightmares. "We have to keep our children safe!" instead of "Our society needs to teach that rape, shooting children (or anybody) is unacceptable." What are we thinking??

We have downgraded love, the greatest power in the universe, to an emotion, a finite, dwindling resource. We know that we cannot maintain even the most basic human relationships on our own. We question the existence of God and the purpose of our own creation: to be loved by God and to love in return.

Let's take a look at the Catholic view of what a loving relationship looks like. For reasons of convenience I will start with marriage. The most obvious Christian view of marriage is: man plus woman equals children. This is true. It is the most stable building block of society. But when have I ever taken the simplest answer?

We are not created simply to do as we are told. We are created to be in relationship with God. What is your ideal, healthy relationship? It is one of mutual respect, trust, and support. It is a relationship in which one draws life from the other and gives it back again. It honors vulnerability as a gift, not as an excuse to victimize or berate. It is the ultimate "I've got your back" so that you can walk on your journey to heaven together.

Let me tell you a story before you think I'm deluding myself. My mother had some severe mental problems which resulted in various addictions. My father didn't realize the full extent of the damage to the family (mental illness can be hidden and tricky) but when he did, he made moves to protect his children and help his wife. She did get medical help and she was able to give up some of her addictions and attain some stability. They separated (her idea). He was told, over and over, even by me, to divorce his wife. If she had ever asked for a divorce he would have granted it. But she never did. He paid her bills and forgave her for her nastiness. Why? Not because of church doctrine. Not because he believed that he deserved to be abused (though he felt extreme guilt for not catching on earlier). He did it because he knew that she was incapable of caring for herself. She would have ended up on the street and would have died alone, a bitter woman.

One day, a few years ago, my mother called my father asking if they could meet for dinner. (This was unheard of.) My father said that she was always welcome, she need not even ask! Just show up! He was surprised and thrilled. So they met at a restaurant for dinner. My mother was gratified at the love and forgiveness that had always been there. My father was grateful to be able to show his love and respect for her. And then she died. Literally. She had a heart attack right in front of him. She was pronounced dead at the hospital but the restaurant had to fill out "death on premises" paperwork.

It was only at my mom's funeral that I truly began to understand my dad. God is the center of his life. He did not simply accept the situation; he prayed daily for strength and guidance. He knew that if he gave up on his wife that she would give up on herself. As he told me once: "I promised her. I promised to be there for her in sickness. How is this different? Would you want me to treat you that way?"

God's love is fulfilling but it can also be difficult. Jesus died for us. But even He took strength from God. Even Jesus took the time to discern God's will for him.

The Holy Family is often held up as the ideal Christian family. Yet St. Joseph wasn't Jesus' father. This caused great scandal at the time or the Bible wouldn't mention it. Catholic and Orthodox tradition clearly state that Mary and Joseph did not have children of their own. They were chaste. BUT THEY WERE OPEN TO LIFE IN THAT THEY WERE OPEN TO THE LIFE GIVING WILL OF GOD.

I'm not saying that children aren't important. I am not negating the man plus woman equals children equation. But I am saying that having a full relationship with God should shake your foundations a bit. How so? Have you ever objectified yourself or others because you were lonely?  Because you wanted to be popular? Or loved? Do you hold back from your beloved because you're afraid of getting hurt? In short, do you believe that love is a limited resource?

Loving fully is hard. It's scary. It is not to be done lightly. It takes constant care and attention. And it's totally worth it.

One of my favorite things to do is to go to adoration of the blessed sacrament. I highly recommend this even if you're not sure of the body and blood of Christ thing. What do you do? Find a church that has adoration. Go into the chapel or church and sit. Just as you are. Sit quietly for a few minutes or a few hours. Even if you're not Catholic. Nobody is going to be looking for a membership card at the door. That's it. But it is truly profound.

God calls us to love by loving us first. He is not asking us to do something which he has not already done. He walks with us during our bad times. We have to make him breakfast, keep a perfect house for him or go to bed with him to 'prove' our love or value. He simply loves us. No matter what.

May God continue to bless you.