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 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 know 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 under such 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 is longs for simpler days of highly regulated social behavior, when roles and intentions were much more clearly communicated than they are today, and therefor 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 life and will be 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 someone 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 we do today.  Well written stories bring to life the human drama that has 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 been 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 the human person that resides in every individual.  The list is too long to include here, but the upside of that is that you never need be at a loss of something to read.  It stretches back to Homer and many you already know of: 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: 

February 2, 2018

Do You Hate Small Talk? Maybe You're Doing It Wrong

I've heard many people claim they hate small talk like it's a mark of distinction.  I'm not sure that's something worth boasting of, though.  Small talk gets a bad rap, but making it is a skill well worth having.  It's a skill that smooths the way for friendships and relieves uncomfortable social situations by getting conversation moving.  It's like the Ex-Lax of the conversational world!  If you've ever attended a bridal shower or youth group function you have played games and "ice-breakers" designed to make small talk happen.  The whole point of these is to ensure that everyone is comfortable enough with each other to enjoy a pleasant time even if they entered as strangers.

While silence is necessary for a healthy life, interaction with others is too.  Conversation is the thing that helps strangers become acquaintances and even friends.  Small talk is merely introductory conversation.  It functions like a search engine for commonalities with a potential friend.  Of course, if the talk remains small, the relationship will too.  But that's part of the beauty of it.  Sometimes you want to make a strange situation more cozy with chit chat, even if you don't intend to take these new folks home with you.  Maybe you're standing in a long line, sitting on a plane, or at a table full of strangers at a wedding.  The person who can begin an engaging conversation with a diverse group is generally admired for their social ease.

Small talk can also be employed to keep an acquaintance an acquaintance.  Perhaps the person you just met is angling to get to know you more deeply than you desire.  Restricting the conversation to small talk gets this message across without directly rejecting their efforts.

The purpose of it lies in the conversation itself, not in the topic, so, what makes it "small" is that it is introductory.  If you don't know someone well, it would be odd to dive into intimate topics before surfing the areas you have in common.  Who doesn't wish they could surf?  I think most people already knows this intuitively, but I'm here to offer a defense of the often maligned small talk.  The very name "small" may suggest superficiality of though in contrast to having the command of grand and important ideas - and folks don't wish to seem small of mind.

Oftentimes, it is introverts who claim a dislike of small talk - at least I've seen articles outlining the tendencies of introverts making this claim.  Perhaps what they really mean is that they are uncomfortable in situations where they are surrounded with strangers - the very people we use small talk to transform into acquaintances.  Well, that's the discomfort that well crafted small talk is supposed to relieve!

Perhaps when people say they hate small talk, they have in mind the chatter of people who do it poorly.  Someone endlessly talking, especially about himself, is as intolerable as the one word answerer.  But, neither of these is proper small talk - just poor social skills.

Mark Twain's illustration 
In A Tramp Abroad, Mark Twain humorously describes a chattering American youth traveling in Europe whose main occupation is making acquaintance with all the Americans he lays his eyes on and interrogating them in the most superficial manner and without even taking in their answers.  "That's the way I always do -- I just go 'round, 'round, 'round and talk, talk, talk -- I never get bored."  He asks the same loop of inconsequential questions - what hotel they're stopping at, what boat they came over on, and so on - until they can escape or are driven to distraction.  Twain catches on and answers the questions differently each time they come around, unnoticed by the lad, because the purpose of his talk is mainly to please himself.

Twain's comments upon the young man's departure echo the popular inclination to hate small talk, a proper response to its unskilled application: "And away he went.  He went uninjured, too -- I had the murderous impulse to harpoon him in the back with my alpenstock, but as I raised the weapon the disposition left me; I found I hadn't the heart to kill him, he was such a joyous, innocent, good-natured numbskull."

On the contrary, a person skilled in the art of small talk is a sort of hero.  A magician.  An engineer.  An artist!  They can facilitate introductions, entertain a group of reluctant talkers, draw out quiet but fascinating people.  They know how to make other people socially comfortable.  One who is very skilled can seamlessly referee a group discussion, temper the attention hog or even orchestrate a bit of match making. 

There are a few things we can all do to improve in this underappreciated skill.  I fall a bit more on the introvert side and am sometimes apprehensive about entering a group or meeting new people.  When my husband and I will be dining with colleagues of his, I pick his brain to learn what I can about them that will help me prepare to make conversation.  It's good to have a place to start and questions to ask certain people about themselves to pave the way for further discussion.  People like talking about themselves and things that interest them - and it shows that your interest in them preceded your meeting.

It also helps to have some current event or topic of recent interest up your sleeve to pull out at the right opportunity.  Reading books and articles on various subjects can aid you in this.  I know that other people may be uncomfortable too, and it’s inevitable they will ask questions about me, so it’s a good idea to think of how I can answer those in a way that might lead to further conversation, rather than falling flat.  Bring in other information to expand the possibilities.  Rather than answering, “I’m just a homemaker” when asked about myself, I can mention my kids, hobbies, interests and bring up a whole new line of conversation.  It’s like playing scrabble.  For a more interesting game, you need to open up the board for the other players.

When you keep your focus on the other person’s comfort, small talk becomes an act of charity.  The aim of it is to forget yourself and your own awkwardness in an effort to help the other person feel welcome.  Even if you claim to hate small talk, you probably need to engage in it on a regular basis.  You're probably better at it than you think.  With a little more intentional effort, you can be a small conversation master in no time!

November 15, 2017

Nothing Says Fall Like . . .

Nothing says Fall like pumpkins!

So orange and round; so full of possibilities!  They are the official mascot for Fall's first really Autumny holiday, Halloween.  Just cut holes in it and let it sit on your porch till it collapses of mold!  If you're too lazy (or smart?) for that, you can simply strew them on your front steps and leave them through the whole long season as decorations.

These pumpkins were grown in my best ever garden.  The vine sprouted in our compost area and they just grew with no work on my part whatsoever!

And not just decorations - you can eat them!!  Roasted pumpkin, toasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin soup, pumpkin pie!  Let's not forget the ubiquitous pumpkin spice latte - which is really just a hot coffee and pumpkin pie smoothie.  If you like that sort of thing.  And many do!

Pumpkin pie works right through Thanksgiving and even into Christmas ("There's a happy feeling nothing in the world can buy, as we pass around the coffee and the PUMPkin pie.")  (Perhaps that's where the idea of the pumpkin spice latte originated)

Yup.  Nothing says Fall quite like pumpkins.

Except maybe falling leaves. When they're falling from all the trees after turning the bright hues of the sunset of the year.  Because, you know, isn't that where the season got that name?  They say Fall, by actual example.  How lovely!  I like how the tippety-tappety-tip of the leaves sounds like rain.  Forget all that stuff about pumpkins saying Fall.  Nothing really says Fall like leaves falling.  (What was I thinking?!)

Lots of people start speaking of Fall when school starts up again.  Not me!  It's still summer till that long day, right around September 22nd, when the day and night tip from lengthening to shortening.  That's what the calendar says.  And the earth gets to that point in its journey around the sun.  But, I am not an astronaut; I must trust the calendar.  And calendars do not rule my life.  Fall is when those leaves change color and fall.

Don't those falling, burnished leaves make you think of warm sweaters?  For a moment the world looks like Mother Nature crocheted an afghan of warm colors to lay over for the woods in preparation for the chill air.

It's true.  Nothing says Fall quite like the falling of leaves.

But you can't eat leaves falling from trees, however bright they are.  If something says Fall, I want it to be edible.  Apples!  Apples are both edible and fall from trees in the autumn!  Nothing says Fall like apples!  I didn't know what I was talking about before.  Cross out all that drivel about leaves.  Leaves.  Apples are what really does it.  They just shout Fall!  They have everything going for them!  They're pretty Fall colors, you can eat them, they fall from trees.  Perfect.

And no one associates them with having to go back to school.  You can give one to your teacher, which seems to be a tradition for some reason.  But you can give one to anybody to sweeten them up.  And, it's a scientific fact that eating one a day keeps the doctor away.

The eating of them spans the effort spectrum from more complex, like apple strudel (Look, I have no idea what apple strudel is, which is the only reason I chose it as my example), to no effort whatsoever – just take a bite of the apple.

People start posting pictures on social media of their families going apple picking and I know Autumn has arrived!  They tell you how many gallons of apple sauce they made that day.  They show you their latest apple pie creation.  So, that’s my cue to go to the store and buy a few Honey Crisps (who doesn’t want crisp honey?!), Fujis (which will bring you all the joy of a tropical island) or Galas (a party in every bite!). 

Sometimes my family cooperates and they eat them, sometimes they just grow lonely and shrivel up.  My personal favorite fall apple treat is warm, tasty and easy as pie.  Actually, it’s way easier than pie and that’s why it’s my favorite.  I like baked apples.  Here’s the recipe:  you basically turn on the oven and put them in.

Okay, it’s a little more involved than that, but that’s the gist of it.  You just bake them!  And then you put your mouth around theur warm sweetness, they bespeaks the best of the season of Fall.

Nothing says Fall like baked apples!

It's a comfort food, and not very attractive, even in a pretty bowl.  But what comfort food is?

My Baked Apple Recipe

The first thing to keep in mind is that you can get baked apples by shoving a stick into a whole apple and holding it over a fire.  With that in mind, follow as much or as little of these suggestions as appeal to you.

- Core the number of apples that will fit into your oven safe dish with a lid.
- Set them into the dish (I know, but if I didn’t say it . . .) 
- Put some raisins into the bottom of the hole in each apple. 
- Then fill the apples with the following in no particular order, but I tend to do it in this order. 
- Put a little granulated gelatin into each apple.  (This step is totally both optional and optimal.  It makes a sort of syrup at the bottom of the pan and adds a little nutrition.  Yum!)(It will still get syrupy without it)(I've included a link to my Amazon thing just so you can see what I'm talking about it and, if you ordered it from there, I might benefit financially, but I doubt it!)
- Stuff a bunch of butter into each apple.  (Don’t skimp.  It’s going to run out the bottom and add to the deliciousness of that syrup.)
- Sprinkle (or just pour) spices such as cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, allspice in the proportions you like.  (Think apple pie or pumpkin spice) 
- Add a little water to the pan. 
- Maybe sprinkle with chopped nuts.
- A little alcohol might be nice, too.  You decide. 
- Really, you get the idea.  You’re baking apples filled with pie flavors that will melt down into the moisture at the bottom and can be spooned back over the baked apples. 
- This is not rocket science. 
- Bake in the oven at a temperature determined by your level of patience (350 is they standard go-to temperature for baking, but you’ll get to eat them sooner if you set it at 400) 
- Bake them till they’re as soft as you think you’ll like them.  Personally, I like the skins to burst and the insides to be almost mushy.  Occasionally, I have forgotten them until they resemble applesauce in deflated apple skins.  Others say they like a little firmness.

They will be quite hot when you take them out, so for heaven sake, don’t burn your tongue!!  Consider serving with vanilla ice cream or a little heavy cream or half and half poured over.