August 13, 2018

The Lady Vanishes: The Great Value of Invisible Motherhood

Years ago, we were watching a 1946, black and white movie co-starring a talented young actress.  Someone recognized her from one other movie, and commented that she seemed to have just disappeared after that.  It's not an unusual comment, but that time, the word "disappeared" bothered me and set me thinking about how our superficial culture values visibility.  Disappeared?  The assumption is that since audiences never saw her on the silver screen again, it was clear that her career as an actress had fizzled.  She had failed in Hollywood.  She was a nobody.  Poor girl.

But, as a new wife and mother myself, that attitude of our culture wasn’t good enough for me.  I suggested that the actress hadn’t failed; she had likely achieved what was, for her, a better and sought after position, for which she happily traded the fun of her acting stint and hope of future riches.  She probably got married and raised a family.  She had weighed her options and chose the better portion – for her.  While it’s true that some actresses of that time were able to do both, the 1940s and ‘50s were a time when being what is now called a “stay-at-home mother” was seen as the norm.  Hollywood often made women choose between stardom and motherhood through violent end to pregnancy.*  Hollywood has never been kind to women.

Our society tells us we must be seen succeeding to matter.  This supposed scandal of invisibility reveals not only a grossly self-centered sense of importance in the viewer – if I can’t see you, you don’t really matter – but also the lie that our own most important audience is that of our peers.  Naturally we come across this in the celebrity culture; being noticed is what celebrity is all about.  But celebrity based on ethereal appearance, momentary popularity, outrageous behavior is not what really gives us importance – or dignity.  It is a lie to believe that we are important only to the extent that others admire us for how we appear or what we do.  Our human dignity does reside in an image, but it lies in the fact that we are made in the image of God.  And He is our most important audience.

This great source of dignity surpasses our visibility to our peers.  The dignity of each human person is to be respected, whether that person is a movie star, a stay at home mother, a billionaire, a person living on the street, a sports hero, a prison inmate, a monk, or the tiniest child hidden in a womb.

Mother Dolores Hart now and as rising starlet
You may have seen articles about women who gave up everything to be a nun.  Dolores Hart, for instance, acted opposite Elvis Presley and was his first screen kiss, but followed God's call to a Benedictine Abbey.  We love to hear stories about what they gave up.  Why is it always that they “gave up everything” or “threw it all away”?  It’s really more like they quit a very public, superficial job to receive everything.  They sold all they had to buy a pearl of great price.

And a person following the will of God in his or her life, aspires to a far, far greater goal than the person who merely “follows her dream!”  Hard work toward a goal is admirable of course, but the prize of mere glory and celebrity rather lacks luster compared with the crown of glory given by God to one who has lived a life of self-sacrificial love for the good of others.  Sometimes, when the latter is the goal, the former accompanies it.  Just think of Mother Theresa who became famous and beloved even though she did not seek celebrity.

 There is great dignity in being a mother that transcends visible glory.  Or, maybe “eludes it” would be more accurate.  It’s not glamorous.  It’s generally hidden.  It’s often lonely, isolated, monotonous, and difficult.  You could say the same about climbing Mt. Everest – or any great endeavor.  But, in the glamour-seeking world “out there,” devoting one’s life to one’s children is not awarded the same glory as those great endeavors.  We have all heard - or maybe used - the phrase, “just a mother.”

When I lived in a university community amongst professors and their families, I would often see mothers of young children and big families, whose previous accomplishments were unseen in their current context.  Unless you knew them, you wouldn't know that the mom patiently pacing the sidewalk with her newest walking baby was a pharmacist.  That lady piling her crew into the minivan had been a smart, D.C. attorney.  The woman pushing two cherubs on the swings had starred in an opera in Italy.  Now, they were anonymous moms.

Even though the role of mother is highly sought after by many women and dreamt of by many doll-toting little girls, the actual job does entail a good deal of tedium and hiddenness.  Often, the world doesn’t even want to see this job happening.  At least, that is the experience of many mothers when they take a gaggle of children to the grocery store, cope with a screaming toddler at Mass, or nurse a baby in public.

Mothers would do well to meditate on the greatest event in time and space, the Annunciation, for inspiration and aspiration.  While the greatest event ever, it was among the most hidden.  On the human scene, Mary was something of a nobody.  But, in reality, she was The Woman, anticipated from the beginning of history.  The Angel Gabriel appeared to her with the announcement that changed human destiny – and awaited her assent.  The Incarnation of God occurred in a hidden womb in a private room without an audience, without a press release, without even a Selfie taken of the event!  Mary told no one.  She sought no celebrity.  God handled the publicity.

 Fra Angelico's Annunciation

There is another film that gets this right, but it didn't come out of Hollywood.  Alfred Hitchcock's 1938 English made film, The Lady Vanishes, presents to us an unassuming woman, overlooked and seemingly insignificant, doing great work in secret.  The film's young leading lady embarks on a train journey where she befriends a dowdy older lady, Mrs. Froy, a governess and music lover, who vanishes almost without a trace.  The young woman is the only one who remembers her because the older lady did her a kindness and accompanied her.  Mrs. Froy was not significant enough in appearance for any of the other passengers to even remember (or they had reasons not to).  Perhaps the hit to the head the young lady had suffered was causing her to hallucinate?  Only the attractive leading man came to believe her, and in the end, she was vindicated.  It turns out the older, unassuming woman was a spy!  She was the target of intrigue because she carried the coded, top secret message across enemy lines and delivered it, once again, to the good guys, saving the day.  (I didn’t bother with a spoiler alert because this film has been around since 1938 and if you haven’t seen it by now, it’s your own fault.) 

Mrs. Froy in a scene from the 1938 The Lady Vanishes

The unassuming job you mothers are doing in the isolation of your home, with little adulation, apart from flowers and burnt breakfast every Mother’s Day, is important.  The little secrets you are protecting and caring for may be what saves the day.  So, it's no wonder your apparent worth is being attacked!  You certainly have a good model in the Blessed Virgin Mary.  If God has called you to motherhood, you are not giving up everything worthwhile, you are choosing the better portion and it will not be taken away from you.

June 22, 2018

Bring Back the Family Phone

Phones aren’t what they used to be!  (Cranky old man voice)  Back in my day, we use to talk on the phone!

What the heck is going on??  Why do we even call these giant dominos everyone has in their back pockets “phones” anyway?

When people say "phone" these days, we generally mean a tiny, portable, internet device they use to take photographs, send text messages, look up information, get driving directions, listen to music, watch movies and check the time.  If you think about it, the word "phone" doesn't even make sense any more.  "Phone" is short for telephone, which means "far sound".  The original device that bore the name was made for talking to someone at a distance.  The one thing many smartphone users don't seem to use their phone for is to talk to someone!  (It doesn’t help that the sound is so bad for calls).

I think a lot has been lost by this original use being ejected.  I think we ought to re-think the whole phone thing.  I think that land lines should come back into fashion for everyone who shares a home with any other people.

I'm all for the benefits of personal cell phones, such as increased safety, time-saving efficiency, and getting to our destination by the shortest route.  But I’m not sure it’s really always an advantage to be able to directly contact only the one individual you want, at the moment you want to.  There are times, of course when this may save lives and avert disaster.  But, there is a lot to be said for making a phone call, not knowing who will answer – like used to happen before cell phones.  Remember when there were only land lines?  Connected to the wall and a hand piece attached by a tightly curled cord?

This is actually one of the phones in my house.  Crazy!

Recently, I phoned my distant friend, Karen, on her home phone.  I still knew her land-line number by heart, so I dialed it.  The phone was answered by her husband, Mike, also a dear friend.  Karen wasn't home, but I had a wonderful catch-up conversation with him!  It is because they still maintain their land-line that I had the pleasure of speaking with him - because it would have been weird for me to call his cell phone just to chat as we did.  I have even had some fun conversations with her children, whom I’ve never met.

This is the brilliance of a land-line – a family phone.  They connect more people, not fewer, and in a more social way.  They are inclusive and foster communication and a greater sense of community.

How can I say they foster communication more than a device that enables you to send an instant message directly to the intended individual, in writing, complete with photographs and web-links?  It’s because they are not individual that they foster communication.  When you call a family phone, you really don’t know who will answer.  You have to be prepared.  You may have to confirm that it’s the right person and may even have to let them know who’s calling (if like us, you don’t even have caller ID).  You feel like you’re calling that family, not just the individual – for better or for worse!  A family phone has a broader spectrum of communication potential than a cell phone.

They tell me I'll only get away with this
 for two more years!
So-called “Smart” phones divide people at least as much as they connect them.  Maybe more!  My recent experience is that calls are often replaced by text messages for smartphone users.  Even the voice is removed, along with all its nuance, familiarity – and personality.  I do have a cell phone – and I use it – but I avoid texting as a way of chatting.  Not because I’m morally superior, but largely because I’m still clinging to my flip-phone.  It’s really cumbersome to text.  And I like it that way, because it forces me not to use that as my default communication. 

More and more of my friends have changed their outgoing voice mail message to request that you not leave a voice message because they just don’t listen to them.  They see that you called and call back – or, you can text them!  I’m not criticizing them for this.  It works for them, all those I know having a house-full of children, including toddlers.  But, it does create both an immediate connection AND a distance.

One of the truths about human persons mentioned early in Holy Scripture is that it is not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18).  Even earlier, we learn that man is made in God’s image; it’s recorded as God saying “in our image” because, as we know, the one God is a Trinity of divine Persons (Gen 1:26).  The human person is made to be in relationship with others, like a family.  And we see who, from the beginning, is out to wreck relationship connections.  Satan wants to isolate us – from each other, from God, from truth.  Just look at the rest of the story in the book of Genesis.

I think getting back a family phone also may be just the answer for parents who are struggling with the decision of whether or not to get their adolescent a smartphone.  That all their friends have one, may be just the reason not to get them one!  We’ve all seen a family group gathered around a living room or a restaurant table, where the teens present are, shall we say, not really present.  They are swiping and tapping, gazing slack-jawed at their phones, maybe texting a friend or a group of friends.  They are actually checking out of their family to foster a relationship with preferred others not physically present.

If you’re a parent seeking an answer to the kid-phone dilemma, consider hooking up a landline for all of them (and you!) to use when at home.

Here are some great advantages  to get a Family Phone:

·        The quality of the connection is radically superior to that of cell phones.

·        You can’t take the land line to the dinner table to text your friends below the tablecloth.

·        Since it is less private, it can actually be safer because it’s hard to have sneaky conversations.

·        It’s only a phone, so no worries about inappropriate or unsafe internet use.

·        Children can begin to use the phone at a younger age.  Even a four-year-old can answer the phone and retrieve the person the call is for.  (“Hello, Pearce residence”)

·        You have a chance of knowing who your kid is friends with when you happen to answer the call.  It’ll be good for them to have a chance to talk to a grown-up.

·        It forces you to speak in complete sentences.

Obviously, this doesn’t solve all the logistical problems like communicating with them when they’re out, but there are many other solutions for that that are not smartphones.  It really is possible to make the family phone their primary means of communicating with friends.

If you still have your old land line, start passing that phone number around to friends and see if you don’t feel even more connected as a family.  If it catches on, we’ll all be reconnecting with the others in our friends’ households we probably haven’t spoken to in years.

One more antiquated phone in my household

May 17, 2018

Unless You Become Like Little Children

When Jesus’ disciples asked Him, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” our Lord answered, "Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."(Matt 18:3).  It’s a clear message that aiming for greatness and prestige is not going to help us when it comes to the Kingdom of Heaven.  He redirected the disciples to aim low – to the level of a child.  But in exactly what way are we to become like children?  As I want to enter the kingdom and you probably do too, we’d better get this right!  What, could He mean?

Little children are small and cute.  The theory of many a parent is that God made them cute so we'll take care of them and help them continue to live – especially when doing so might not otherwise seem worth it, like when they take all your stuff and don’t let you get a good night’s sleep for three years.  But, clearly, that's not what Jesus meant, because grown-ups trying to be cute have the opposite effect.  So, we'd best look for other features and behaviors of little children that we are to emulate in order to enter the kingdom!

Christ Blessing the Children by Cranach the Elder - Detail

What do children do?  Babies spend a lot of time - all their time - eating, filling diapers, learning and sleeping.  Mostly sleeping.  Nice life, but surely He didn't mean that we should limit ourselves to those activities either.  It doesn’t jive with the whole rest of the Gospel message.

Perhaps you have heard someone wax lyrical about the difference between childishness and child-likeness.  I live with an ardent admirer of G.K. Chesterton, who likes to point out that children are filled with wonder and see God's creation with a sense of magic.  Well, as much as I love Chesterton and his own sense of wonder and magic, I must be contrary and point out that G.K. Chesterton did not have any children, so what does he know about them?

I only have two children, but you only need to live with one from its infancy to dispel the notion that they float trough their days awed by the wonder of creation, in a ray of golden sunlight, emitting the lilting laughter of delight when the sun comes up on another day, or when they encounter a beautiful flower.  More likely they'll pull the flower apart and attempt to eat it.

Photo courtesy of Jenni Callahan
Let's remove the romantic, soft focus lense from this Hallmark inspired picture and find the reality of child-likeness.  What are real children like?

Little children are demanding!  By which I mean they require a lot of care (feeding, changing, clothing, making sure they sleep enough, loving, and speaking to so they will learn).  A nursing mother may feel that her infant is literally draining life out of her!  She pours out from her own self and body, part of what she is, to enable the child become who he or she is designed to be.  It doesn't even matter if she is feeding her child at her breast; she will be drained.  

They are also demanding in that they loudly demand this care if we happen not to meet their current need immediately!  They are not patient creatures.  When they do not get what they need at the moment the need arises, they cry and scream.  That feature was put there by God to ensure their needs are met and that we parents learn to overcome our self-centeredness.  Demanding is in their job description.

Clearly, these little creatures expect us to do these things.  They are not customers, who will say, "Here, here, if I don't receive better service than this, I shall take my business elsewhere!!"  They are children, who look at their parents and simply expect us to provide for them - because it's what we are supposed to do.  They can't get to the fridge on their own legs to satisfy their hunger, so they simply expect our legs (and hands, and body) to be at their service.  If anyone else assumed that we existed in their life to serve them like this, it would be outrageously rude.  But when it is a child in our care, our heart is moved by love and responsibility to get up and do the thing, whether we feel like it or not.

An expectation like this signifies boundless trust.  Babies don't use question marks.  It's never, "Would you mind feeding me, Mother?" or "Will you please change my diaper when you have a minute?"  It's always simply "I thirst!!!!!"  And the parent, who knows to whom this demand is directed, never has to ask, "Who me?"

Even older children demonstrate amazing faith in their parents’ love and care.  Whether it’s a tantruming toddler or a back-talking school-age child, in the very midst of rejecting you, they often come to you for comfort.  It always astonishes me when my child can say, with utmost sincerity and love, at the end of a day filled with contention, “I love you, Mama.”  It is a love and trust that entails forgiveness of my failings and assumes my forgiveness of hers.

This unabashed trust and confident dependence on one side and limitless providence and love on the other defines this relationship between parent and child.  The relationship demands it.

We all know it is a great evil when a parent betrays this relationship.  A betrayal of a parent toward a young child is more than simply a failure of duty, or a lack of respect for the dignity of a person.  It is a lie told about God.

Saint Paul tells us in Ephesians 3: 14-15 that parenthood is derived from God’s fatherhood.  This makes it more clear what it means to turn and become like a child.  It lies in our relationship with God, who is our Father. Our Lord wants us to demand, expect and trust in Him for those things we need.  And He will not fail to provide.  He says, “And I tell you, ask and it will be given you; seek, and you will find, knock, and it will be opened to you. . . .  What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent? . . . If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9-13).

Lest you think that God is there to be our vending machine of goodies, remember, He did not say, “What father among you, if his son asks for a bicycle, will give him a serpent?”  Babies demand what is good for them, according to their nature.  We must do the same.

Photo courtesy of E. Pearce
Babies know the secret to entering the kingdom of heaven.  They have the password – and they don’t hesitate to us it loudly!  It was given to them by God, as Jesus tells us: “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was they gracious will.” (Matt 12:25-26)  

He teaches us to become like children in the way He taught the disciples to pray, saying, “Our Father, who art in heaven . . . give us this day our daily bread.”  (Matt. 6:9-13).  Father is who He is to us.

So, turn.  Turn and become like little children, whether it's a cranky, colicky baby or a contentedly sleeping one, Our heavenly Father is attentive to our needs with limitless providence and love.  Know that He will not abandon you.

St. Augustine said it like this:  “Our Father: at this name love is roused in us . . . and the confidence of obtaining what we are about to ask . . . What would he not give to his children who ask, since he has already granted them the gift of being his children? (CCC 2785)

May 4, 2018

IS Good Enough Good Enough When It Comes To Parenting?

Is "good enough" good enough when you're raising a Catholic family?  Colleen Duggan thinks so.  And she ought to know!  Colleen is a self-professed recovering type-A perfectionist, who has struggled in her quest to become the "perfect" Catholic mom of the "perfect" Catholic family.  And she has succeeded - not in achieving perfection, but in learning that God is only asking her to live faithfully with all her imperfections to lead her imperfect family to the perfect love only God can offer.

Colleen shares the wisdom and peace she has gained through her fifteen years of parenting a large catholic family in her bookGood Enough Is Good Enough: Confessions of an Imperfect Catholic Mom (Ave Maria Press).  Colleen's story of acceptance and letting go is a welcome encouragement for those of us who don't have it all together - so, pretty much every mother.  I love her observation that it’s so easy to compare the inside of our family with the outside of someone else's.  Colleen doesn't just stop at the usual, "everyone has their cross" line of encouragement, but focuses on the fact that the cross God gives you in the form of your particular family is the one through which you, your spouse, and your children are meant to become holy.  And He will give the grace to carry it.

Part of the struggle is that our expectations of family life are formed by unrealistic examples presented by the various media and even the dishonest public image of friends who are also struggling.  Most of us have been fed the fantasy that the fairy tale of romance ends in a perpetuity of "happily ever after."  In reality, marriage and family is something more like the Cinderella story run back to front.  The royal wedding is followed by a big ball, children enter the story and the shiny coach you drive becomes a Cheerio and mouse filled pumpkin, your clothes go from elegant to dowdy, the people you live with treat you like a servant, and then your parents die.

We moms need to hear others honestly sharing their difficulties, discouragement, and discoveries of what works for them without judgement that if we just tried hard enough, we could make this work.  Colleen's book offers us this honest encouragement and compassion.  She invites us to suffer with her through being the daughter of an alcoholic father, a surprisingly difficult transition from career to stay-at-home motherhood, the scary medical diagnosis of a child, many children in rapid succession, and coming to terms with the fact that she can’t control everything.

It is good to know we’re not in control!  There is simply no way to make your family be the way you thought it was going to be.  If yours is, you’re incredibly lucky that it worked out that way for you – because it’s probably not simply a result of your superior parenting skills.

The reality of raising a family feels something like riding a bicycle in a tornado, a feat bound to transform any woman into a witch!  If you don't want to be crushed by your household, you're going to need a game plan that will work now and down the road.  Try to keep up an impressive fa├žade and you will inevitably be "found out" and want to shout, "Pay no attention to the woman behind the green curtain!"  But, you don't need a wizard to help you get home.  You need to use a little brain, more heart and a lot of courage to hold the hand of God and realize that you are already home.

Now, I know what you might be thinking.  When my friend recommended Good Enough is Good Enough, I figured that the very fact that Colleen Duggan wrote a book disqualifies her from understanding my own imperfect and scattered parenting experiences.  And, please don’t be tempted to decide from the picture on her website (and the fact that she has a website) that a woman who knows how to accessorize couldn’t possibly understand that you are really just treading water.  Trust me, she has been there and she’ll be there with you, holding your hand (well, metaphorically).

The book itself is slim enough to slip into your diaper bag or purse and read while you’re in the car line.  It’s not daunting.  Rather than chapter headings, Colleen has designated her five “confessions” about motherhood that will resonate with many mothers.  They include: “I Don’t Know How to Master Motherhood,”  “I Don’t Always Take Care of Myself as I Should,” “I Don’t Know How to Keep My Kids Catholic,” “I Don’t Like Watching My Children Suffer,” and “I Sometimes Compare Myself with Other Parents.”  And, with a foreword by Lisa Hendy, founder of the “Catholic Mom” book series this one is part of, you’ll find something to love – and help you on your parenting path.

If you know a type A mother, even if she seems to have it all together or a mom who clearly doesn’t and frets about it, buy this book for her.  Pastors, this would be a good one to recommend or give to mothers.  I would go so far as to say if you know a couple planning their fairy tale wedding and happily-ever-after family life, make this book your bridal shower gift.  She’s going to need it!  And the sooner, the better.

Colleen's book is available from Ave Maria Press:

You can visit her website at:

April 15, 2018

In Jane Austen's World, Ladies Did Not Watch Television

I've been reading Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice to my ten-year-old daughter.  I admit it was immediately motivated by my desire to watch with her the BBC mini-series, which the book was clearly written in order for them to produce one day.  There's a rule here that they have to do the book before they do the movie.  Well she still reads too slowly for me to wait, so I'm reading it to her.  We're both loving it - I have the actors in mind as I try to emulate their voices for each part.  She is enjoying it almost as much as I am.

She has a set of paper dolls of Jane Austen characters, which she has enjoyed because of the beautiful costumes and general loveliness.  But paper dolls are rather two dimensional - in the most literal sense.  So, we're breathing life into the characters by placing the characters in their rather more interesting literary world, by reading the novel.

I find I must explain some of the social rules to her as we go.  There was serious protocol for every public interaction!  But the behind-the-scenes behavior of the characters reveals to us that however dignified a time in history, a culture in the world or a rank in society appears, human character, in its strengths - and especially weaknesses - has always been a constant.

People in Austen's world (always those wealthy enough to have leisure time) dressed up to dine and then sat around together watching television.  Just kidding, there wasn't television then.  You could say that in Jane Austen's world, ladies did not watch television; they were the television!  That seems almost to be the whole point of their existence (the point of men's existence is unclear).  Young ladies became "most accomplished" in playing the piano-forte and singing, in painting and crafting pretty (and marginally useful) things for the entertainment and enjoyment of those around them - and often for their own vanity.  I'm not making a judgment as to whether this is a good or a bad thing.  I mean, in our world, we binge watch T.V. shows on the internet; who are we to judge?

Austen's people also played cards, took a turn about the room to show their figures to greater advantage and, very occasionally it seems, read books for entertainment.  I can only assume that there were men who knew how to perform musically, but mainly, we hear about the ladies.  They played well or ill - and there was nothing you could do about it.  You had to sit there and listen.  In addition to the value in the musical entertainment itself for a social group, a lady's talent provided material for others to discuss her worth when she was not present.

Electricity and recorded music not having been invented either, ladies also provided the music for dances.  And, since social media wasn't a thing yet, dances were essential for meeting, watching and gossiping about one's neighbors, old and new.  Just like us, they were not too dignified to pick apart their friends, acquaintances and strangers at the smallest provocation.  The internet simply allows us to judge people even more remotely.

And then there's that business we read about in many old fashioned books of ladies having days when they went calling and days when they received visitors.  They did their work in the morning (those low enough to have any work to do) and in the afternoon they changed into a nice dress and sat in the parlor waiting for other ladies to visit.  This set me off thinking about what it would be like to live in such a well-regulated society.  I'm sure I'm not the first person to apply my mind to how to work this system to my advantage.

Naturally, the first thing to do is to find out when everyone else is receiving and visiting.  Then you make sure you will be in on the same days as the ladies you don't want to have to visit with.  However, that means you may run into them at someone else's house on your visiting days.  But the chance is slimmer.

The next thing to do is to find out who serves the best snacks, of course.  This is not just for your own culinary pleasure, though.  The person serving the best goodies will have a purpose behind it.  She is either showing off or trying to attract people (because everyone will know whose goodies are to be sought and whose to be avoided).  If she is trying to attract people, it is either because no one would visit her otherwise (caution!), because she aims to collect the news on everyone for future use (again, caution!), or because she is really fun!

If she succeeds in attracting many people to her house on her receiving days, then, chances are, you will run into everyone else there.  So, you should plan accordingly and try not to display any visible flaws, physical or behavioral - because people need something to talk about.  If you are more inclined to a quiet gathering, you may prefer flavorless biscuits at the home of a quieter lady.  She will probably appreciate the company more than the other - unless she deliberately scheduled her receiving day at that time in order to deter visitors.

If you are one of those who longs for simpler days of highly regulated social behavior, when roles and intentions were much more clearly communicated than they are today, and therefore people were better, I advise you to pick up a Jane Austen novel to discover that behind the long gowns and country dances, real people in every age have struggled with the same weaknesses we struggle with today.  People have always been pretty much the same.  Ages and societies are not good or bad, virtuous or evil.  The battleground is in the heart of each individual born.  It is a never ending battle throughout each and every life and is true for every person from Adam to the last man standing.

Aleksander Solzhenitsyn said it like this in The Gulag Archipelago:
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart. 

I often cringe when I hear someone explain that those people of a time long ago didn't understand this or that like we do today - as if they simply didn't think.  Or when tales of times past cast the heroes and villains as all and only good or evil.  Or that those living in a place more burdened with poverty or war, who perhaps lack every technological advantage we expect in our society, do not suffer just as acutely as I would at the death of their child or the bombing of their city.  That just because they haven't electricity, they may not feel the fear or jealousy or joy that every human person has experienced from the beginning of humanity.

Just one of the many benefits of reading great literature (especially that written long ago not just set in the past) is that in it we see that people of every time have struggled to answer the same great questions, to overcome the same sins and pettiness as we do today.  Well-written stories bring to life the human drama that iss played out in every age, in every heart.  The same can be said of well made accurately portrayed historical films.  It is good for us to see that mundane human emotions felt by us today were likewise felt by people remote from ourselves in culture and time.  It reinforces in us in an experiential way the reality of the dignity of the human person.  We are just like them.

Great literature has come to be known as great because it has endured - for hundreds, even thousands of years.  We have it now because it brings to life the drama within the human heart and shows us ourselves.  Through it, we are lead to more fully appreciate the dignity of our neighbors, past, present, and future.  The complete list of great works of literature is too long to include here, but the upside of that is that you never need be at a loss for something to read.  There's Homer, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Coleridge, Austen, Hugo, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, and so many more!  As time marches on, more great works are added - though their greatness will be determined by their durability.  So, if you have not done so before, pick up some great literature and become a student of three dimensional human character, and grow in respect of the dignity of the human person through delightful stories that reflect the virtue and ridiculousness of us all.

March 13, 2018

Lent: Sometimes You're Just Lying There Like a Slug In the Desert

I don't think I'm the only one who hasn't been having a very good Lent this year.  By which I mean I haven't been having a very bad Lent.  I mean, it hasn't been hard; I haven't been taking full advantage of the opportunities this liturgical season offers in terms of increased prayer, fasting and alms-giving.

As a matter of routine I put away the little espresso maker, which is a source of great joy in our house, omitted the sugar in my tea, nixed the sweet treats.  So, Lent feels a little like going on a diet.  But the more important treasures of spiritual growth are a bit lacking for me this time around.  I haven't availed myself of weekday mass or Stations of the Cross at my parish.  I haven't managed to add to my meager devotions nor been challenged by sacrificial giving.  It's hard to feel the pinch with electronic giving.  In a word, this Lent, I am pathetic.

It's like I'm in the desert, but I'm just lying there waiting.  Waiting to be dragged out at Easter.

I feel bad about this state of things.  I feel bad about just lying there.  When Our Lord was in the desert, He was fielding temptations from the devil himself!  He didn't eat anythingHis desert was an actual desert - in was hot and bleak!  He was preparing for His mission to redeem the whole world!

But then, He is God the Son, the Christ.  I am a weak sinner.  A weak sinner with concupiscence.  And I'm weak.  (I know it sounds like a proof-reading miss, but I meant it that way.)  I'm just lying here in the desert of Lent like a slug.

But, you know, maybe that's okay.  Maybe that's the best I can get out of Lent this year.

There are lessons that can be got out of every circumstance.  If all I can do is lie there, then I shall have to count on efforts outside myself.  That's good, too.  "But he said to me, 'My power is made perfect in weakness.'" (2 Corinthians 12:9).

It is okay to ask for - and count on - the efforts of friends, as well.  Remember this one from Luke's gospel?
"And behold, men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they sought to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus.  And when He saw their faith he said, 'Man, your sins are forgiven you.' . . . 'I say to you, rise, take up your bed and go home.'  And immediately he rose before them, and took up that on which he lay, and went home, glorifying God." (Luke 5:18-25)

It's good to have friends!  Sometimes my friends and I seem

to take turns lying there and carrying each other a few inches, even if we can't lower each other through roofs.  I was moaning about this to my good friend, Carol.  She suggested, "Just put some purple place-mats on the table and you'll feel better."  She understands.  We pray for each other as well.

But, even if you haven't any good friends around to carry you to Him, all is not lost.  The Church carries us.  The whole cloud of witnesses, visible and invisible.  In every Mass, we are all prayed for, whether we're at that Mass or not.  Whew!  And it's not just the prayers of those in attendance.  The liturgy is the work of all God's people.  The Mass is the drawing back of the veil of space and time to attend both the sacrifice at Calvary and the heavenly banquet attended by the angels, singing "Holy, holy, holy!"

Another episode from the Gospels that may give you hope when you're lying there in the hot desert, unable to get up, is the story of the poor paralytic who was lying in the portico by the pool of Bethesda, where healing could be obtained by the first person to enter the pool when the angel stirred up the waters each day.  The poor man was lying there for thirty-eight years because he had no friends to carry him.  Oh, my heart goes out to him every time I hear his story! What happened next?
"When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, 'Do you want to be healed?'  The sick man answered him, 'Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.'  Jesus said to him, 'Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.'  At once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked." John 5:6-9

Jesus did not carry him first to the pool to be healed.  He gave the man the healing he desired!!  Healing came to the man while he was lying there!

Another account in the Gospel of Luke tells us of a blind man, sitting there who seized the moment.

"As [Jesus] drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging; and hearing a multitude going by, he inquired what this meant.  They told him, 'Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.'  And he cried, 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!'  And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent; but he cried out all the more, 'Son of David, have mercy on me!'  And Jesus stopped, and commanded him to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, 'What do you want me to do for you?'  He said, 'Lord, let me receive my sight.'  And Jesus said to him, 'Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.'  And immediately he received his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God." (Luke 18:35-43)

If you're having a pathetic Lent, maybe that's okay.  Maybe just lie there if that's all you can do.  Our Lord knows your desires and He will come to you.  He may send friends to carry you to Him.  He may offer you the grace you expected would come from the devotions you wish you were doing.  He may pass by and hear you calling out.  But He will hear your prayers, even if, like mine, they consist mainly of walking around muttering, "Jesus, have mercy on me."

If you're just lying there like a slug in the heat of the desert this Lent, be sure to offer the sort of prayer you can for all the others just lying there in the desert, because the prayers of a parched slug availeth much.

February 19, 2018

Scripture or Tradition? Which Version of The Lord's Prayer Do You Pray?

As a Catholic, I have wondered why non-Catholic Christians pray the Lord's Prayer differently than we do.  I mean, it's pretty straight forward in the Bible.  The disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray and He says, "Pray like this."  And what follows is what we call the Our Father - because it begins, "Our Father" (clever, eh?).  And it ends, "but deliver us from evil."  Amen!  But, if you've ever been at an ecumenical gathering, you may have noticed not everyone stops there.  This can be somewhat awkward.

And more than a little confusing!  Why are they saying, “For Yours is the power and glory forever” and we’re not?

When I first encountered this, my reactions included the thoughts, "What?!?!?!  How can we differ in this most basic of Christian prayers, taught by Jesus himself!?!"  "Well, they're supposed to be more adept in the Bible.  Maybe Catholics are just stopping short."  "Hey!  I recognize that extra part from the Mass!"

So, by and by I have gathered more information about the discrepancy.  I first looked to the Bible to be sure my ignorance didn't begin with an ignorance of Scripture.  (You know what St. Jerome says: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”  That’s something I hope to avoid!).  This passage where Jesus teaches the disciples to pray in those words occurs in two Gospels, Matt 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.  Both accounts end the prayer where Catholics do.  Of course they do; mine is a Catholic Bible, right?  Maybe theirs is different?

So I asked a Baptist friend why they said the Lord's Prayer that way and where she thought the additional words came from.  It had never occurred to her.  Obviously, she had never felt the discomfort of praying in a mixed-Faith group in which some people stopped at "deliver us from evil.  Amen" while she carried on with "For Thine is the kingdom . . ."  She hadn’t noticed that the phrase wasn’t recorded as Our Lord’s words in her Bible.

She, too, looked up the Bible passage on line right away.  Looking in a Protestant edition Bible, she found that the line in question was not in the text.  There was, however, a footnote at the conclusion of the text of Jesus’ prayer.  Apparently, "Some later manuscripts" contain the extra doxology.  That was the only explanation.  Whoa!!  A person could find this unsettling!  Is it or isn't it part the inspired, inerrant Word of God?  The footnote suggest that they're not sure.  Where do those words come from and why the discrepancy?

I mean, we want to pray as Jesus taught us to, so we ought to know with certainty the prayer He taught.  Either it is an extra-biblical tradition, or it is what our Lord taught.  If it is part of the Word of God, then why isn’t it in Bibles?

Apparently I'm not the first person to be interested in or concerned about this discrepancy.  I typed the question into the magic 8 ball we call the internet.  Who knew there are forums populated with pastors and Bible scholars devoted to discussing the various possibilities to determine whether or not this sentence is, in fact, part of the inspired Word of God?  And, if it’s not, what to do about it.  They discussed probable dates of its inclusion in certain manuscripts (hand copied Bibles) and archeological discoveries that might help tease out whether it can be truly considered Scripture.

To quote George Baily, “this is a very interesting situation.”  If one’s faith – in creed and practice - is determined solely by what is contained between the covers of one’s Bible, then one will want to be sure of what is and is not in there.  “For Thine is the power and glory, forever.” is said to be found in some old manuscripts of the New Testament – but not others.  How did it get into some and not others?  Who gets to decide which versions are really Scripture and which are not?  It either is or is not part of the inspired Word of God.  If you can not tell for this passage, then you can not know the inerrancy of any passage of Scripture!

I know that Catholics use the phrase in our liturgy (the Mass), and that we know it is not part of Scripture.

Naturally, I did more research to find out when that phrase first appeared on the Christian scene.  That is to say I asked my theology nerd friends.  I am blessed to have several.  They are friends from the graduate theology program I was in, who have continued studying and working in the field since that time, more than a decade ago.  It's like having a research department at my disposal!

They directed me to the Didache (The Teaching of the Lord for the Nations through the Twelve Apostles), a short document generally believed to be written between 50 and 150AD.  It contains teachings regarding morality, liturgical practices, Church structure and eschatology (the last things) for Christian communities.  Scholars of all stripes accept that “the Didache was known and used in the ancient church.  In the first three centuries, some authors cited or referred to it as if it were part of the Scriptural canon.” (Clement of Rome & theDidache: A New Translation and Theological Community by Kenneth J. Howell, p.58).  It is the earliest known mention of the doxology in conjunction with the Lord’s Prayer, and this appears in what is likely to be a liturgical setting (that is, the Mass).

Of course this makes sense to me, as I grew up saying this doxology following the Our Father during Mass!  This wonderful document, the Didache, highlights the incredible continuity of our liturgical celebrations from very early in the life of the Christian Church.  Now, why didn’t I ever read it before this?  Some have suggested that perhaps during the arduous task of hand copying the Bible, a tired monk slipped it in after Our Lord’s Prayer from long familiarity with it in daily Mass.  Perhaps.  We can’t be sure.

Obviously, the practice of praying the Lord's Prayer and including the doxology, "For Thine is the power and the glory," came into the practice of Protestant Christians through its use in the Mass, not from the possibility of it being part of Sacred Scripture.  When their predecessors departed from the Catholic Church, they took much of the liturgical tradition with them and it has only gradually and partially fallen out of use.  Some parts have remained (like the doxology following the prayers of the priest after the Our Father at Mass), but the knowledge of its origin has been lost to them.  What they're left with is a discussion of whether or not these words are part of Scripture - because they are erroneously contained in some manuscripts.

But, the question remains for our Christian brethren.  How can we know what is and is not contained in the Bible and how did what’s in there get there in the first place?  Why this letter and not that letter?  Why this book and not that book?  Who decided this a way back when?  The books in the New Testament were separate, written accounts, letters and instruction circulated and read within the liturgical celebrations.  At some point, our early Christian predecessors had to assemble them in an approved collection of those considered to be Scripture, leaving out some letters and accounts that had been read and valued by Christian communities as if they were Scripture.  Many of these other instructions, like the Didache, continued to be valued as teaching sources, but were not treated as the inerrant Word of God.  Who were these people and how is it that we trust their decisions today?  Do we even know this?

Oh, if only Jesus had left us an authoritative body that would remain with the Christian community to speak on His behalf, to guide them in these difficult matters, to teach them, to “guard the deposit” (cf 2 Timothy 1:14), so we wouldn’t have to wade through archaeological evidence (once it is eventually discovered).  Ah, but He did!  He left people, not a book.  He left his Apostles.  And they left apostles behind them by the laying on of their hands (see Acts 1:15-26 & 13:3), and so on right down to today.    We can be sure of what is the inspired, inerrant Word of God, because of the authority Jesus gave to them.

This amazing picture was taken by my friend, Mike Denz, who leads pilgrimages to Italy.

This is a great unifying principle that Our Lord left us, without which, His Church splinters as individuals decipher different meanings from Scripture.  Without which they do not even know what is the inspired, inerrant Word of God.  Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ, indeed.

“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as though, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.  The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and has loved them even as thou hast loved me.”  John 17:20-23

Photo credit: Mike Denze, pilgrimage leader.  See below for contact info below.

 Further reading about the origin of the Bible and the Church that will rock your world:
 Why Are Catholic Bibles Bigger and The Case for the Deuterocanon: Evidence and Arguments by Gary Michuta.

Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church by Henry G. Graham

Clement of Rome & the Didache: A New Translation and Theological Commentary by Kenneth J. Howell

Many, many more at

For more information on a pilgrimage to Rome with my fun friend, Mike and his lovely (and also fun) wife, Sue, visit  You can be edified and engaged about Catholic teaching at his blog: