Monday, August 30, 2010

One thing

During my adult life, I have been introduced to so many great and holy people who have been instrumental in my life of faith. From time to time I find myself revisiting these nuggets of good advice. One of these popped into my head as I was planning for the upcoming school year. It came from a mother of ten children... “Just do one thing.”

I think that so many of us try to take upon too much when we get excited about organizing our lives. We like looking forward to the possibility of change that could occur provided we follow our strictly regimented plans. The plans are often developed with an idea about ourselves that we are superheroes, not subject to fatigue, frailty or failure. What happens when our overly ambitious expectations collide with the reality of the unanticipated? We come to a stand-still.

That is why the wise and holy mother of ten suggested that instead of trying to reform our whole existence in a list that would take us hours to write, we should practice one small virtue, something that we know we need to improve. It is marvelously simple but difficult enough to challenge even the most skilled people among us. We all have certain virtues we struggle with.

It reminds me of a book that I read in college by Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue. In it, Kreeft explains how the Cardinal Virtues (prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude), the virtues that we practice in our daily lives, prepare our souls to receive the Theological Virtues of faith, hope and love. It is a remarkable book that I highly recommend for anyone who would like to understand more about the Church’s teaching about virtues. Certainly all of the virtues are important, but we all know that there is one in particular that God is calling us to grow in. It is not the same for everybody.

As fall approaches and the kids head back to school, it is a wonderful opportunity to begin to work on my one thing, and I look forward to God’s grace in helping me with it. He knows I am going to need it.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The beautiful process of learning

This weekend, I am away from my family, on a retreat of sorts. I am currently enrolled in a master’s program of theological studies through the Institute for Pastoral Theology based out of Ave Maria University (IPT). This is my second of three years that I will be attending classes once a month, eighteen hours at a time. “Why are you doing this to yourself,” many have asked. I couldn’t always answer that question, but this weekend it became clear.

I love to learn. I love to discuss. It is not satisfying to engage myself in a hobby that simply occupies time. Dr. Herrman, my professor for Christian Anthropology, gave me this thought that I had needed to express my reasons for wanting to return to the academic life...“knowledge augments the soul.” I had experienced that last year in my first two semesters of theological studies, though I could not have proclaimed it in such a concise statement. As I learned more about God and who we are in relation to Him, my prayers became more vivid, less nebulous. I suddenly was aware of beauty that I had recently taken for granted. I made connections that had eluded me up to then. It is again as it was on my first day of class. I am realizing that the more I learn, the more I am blown away by the unfathomable, audacious love of God.

Thank God for good and faithful professors who love Christ and His Church! It is a joy to study at the feet of great scholars who are dedicated to Truth. Instead of spending all of my time sifting through mounds of dirt in order to find one gem, I am privileged to open a chest of treasure and study each jewel for as long as my time will allow. It is the eighteen hours in a weekend that some have told me would be too much for them to sit through. I cannot imagine there being any fewer hours. There is no wasted time in IPT. We are beholding precious gems that our loving God has been itching for us to uncover.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A mother’s powerful love

Today we celebrate the feast of one of my favorite saints, St. Monica. I love St. Monica because she had the tenacity of a faith-filled mother, and without her constant intercession and suffering on behalf of her misguided son, we would not have the great St. Augustine, his skillful defense against the Pelagian heresy, or his beautiful theological works. St. Augustine offered momentous contributions to the Church in a time when people were confused about doctrinal fundamentals. A man with such an important role in the Church would have simply “not been” if not for a mother’s love.

It cannot be repeated enough that mothers have great power, but not in the way society defines power. This power cannot be claimed, bought, or even earned. It is a gift that grows within the recipient, sparked by humility and an awakening of love. It is nourished by the Sacraments and flows out of the recipient. This power comes from Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God.

Some women clamor for what they have been told will give them greater power. They cry about the injustice of not having their contraceptives covered by insurance. They whine about having pressure from the Church to vote with a Catholic conscience on matters of life. They complain about not getting to stand in front of a congregation and “play priest”. In each of these attempts to grab for power is the failure to understand that in denying who they are as women, as mothers, as sisters, they are giving up the only true power that was ever available to them.

St. Monica, though she most likely didn’t have to struggle with such silly notions of a modern feminist agenda, must have struggled with questioning the pain of motherhood. Her son was blatantly living in a sinful manner, not having regard for moral teaching or authority. She must have found the burden of being a wife and a mother difficult. She must have felt completely powerless, but in that powerlessness, she found a strength that did not originate from her own doing. She found the power of a mother’s love that Mary knew, a love that would suffer completely for the love of her Son.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Reality and beauty: seeing as Christ sees

As we approach the weekend, I am getting more and more excited about returning to classes. This is my first weekend of my second year of theological studies. I’ve ordered all my books, scheduled the sitters and arranged for my lodging. Each month for the next ten months will be spent reading, writing, studying, and, of course, praying. It is such a joy to have the opportunity to study theology, because, in the words of one of my professors, I love to study what is REAL.

Since my classes are held away from home, each weekend of classes is like a monthly mini-retreat. A generous Mother Superior has offered us rooms at the nursing home and convent she runs. This opportunity further enhances the retreat-like experience and also provides multiple opportunities for inspiration. It is commonplace to observe one of the sisters giving the elderly residents hugs or listening patiently to their conversations that may, at times, be confused. It was something that struck me so deeply last year that I became devoted to praying for these sisters and their mission. Residences for the elderly are places that are often joked about as drab institutions where undesirable old people go to live out the rest of their miserable days. While some institutions unfortunately may not recognize the gift of the elderly, the home run by the sisters gives hope to any visitor. It is a place that gives the comfort and the peace of Christ at a time when it is most needed. These sisters are preparing their residents for Heaven. It is beautiful to witness.

So why do I like studying what is real? Reality helps us to recognize beauty in places often overlooked. It enables us to see past this existence into a world where everyone is wanted and appreciated. In reality, we get to see as Christ sees.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Family time

This weekend our family has set aside time to be with each other. We had our Saturday morning obligations, but after those were over, we spent the entire day together. That’s not to say that every moment was perfect, but an overall joy pervaded throughout the course of the day. As I unloaded the dishwasher, my three-year-old came up and danced to the music I was listening to. I took some time out to dance with him. His bright face glowed as I spun him around the kitchen. My husband and other son were talking and folding clothes in the next room. Our daughters were floating in and out of the rooms, dancing in the kitchen, taking clothes from the stacks of folded laundry and putting them away. We were all working together, not seeking the escape of entertainment, but connecting amidst the work of daily household chores.

The joy of family life is as simple as this. Children love being with their parents, laughing and talking, and, yes, even sharing in the work. Not every day is as easy as this, but a day like this is worth ten of the days when I felt overwhelmed, tired or frustrated. It is a testament to the grace of God within the Sacrament of Marriage...easy yoke, light burden. My husband and I fortunately took to heart the advice of an old priest who told us that the priorities of marriage are as follows: God first, spouse second, children third. He was so right! When we prioritize our lives in this way, there is work, but it is a joyful, fruitful work that is evident in days like these. Thank you, God, for yoking me!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The role of parents in education

As we approach another start to the school year, I would like to share some thoughts about the parental right and responsibility of parents to educate our children. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the “crowning glory” of marriage is the procreation and education of children. Procreation and education are inseparable in the openness to life within marriage. One cannot exist as a fruit without the other. Sadly, in our culture today, the concept of procreation itself as an element of marriage is questioned, but even beyond procreation, our right and our duty to educate our children is often downplayed, even among serious Catholics.

“The fruitfulness of conjugal love extends to the fruits of the moral, spiritual, and supernatural life that parents hand on to their children by education. Parents are the principal and first educators of their children,” CCC 1653.

For this reason, my husband and I set out to take on the whole kit and caboodle when we were in our early years of marriage. We attended our first homeschooling conference when our oldest daughter was just six months old. We did research, bought a great number of books and other resources, and loved many of the aspects of teaching our own children at home. Five years ago, we uncovered another option for our children...a wonderful private classical academy right in our own area.

Providence Academy is a private, independent, classical academy that teaches in the Catholic tradition. Our children go to daily Mass, attend weekly Adoration and Benediction, learn about history, literature, science, music, math, etc. in the context of Christ, the center of our lives and of all of history. What changed us from homeschooling parents into Providence Academy parents was the realization that our children would have greater opportunities for growth in this environment. It has always been our philosophy that we would homeschool until we were convinced that we could entrust the grave responsibility of forming our children to an institution that could give them more than we could.

While we still incorporate aspects of a homeschooling culture into our home environment, it is a great gift to be able to experience our children coming home from school and engaging us in conversation about something wonderful they have learned that day. It is also gratifying to know that other children are getting the same opportunity for formation and having the same discussions with their families when they return home.

The Church, in Her infinite wisdom, has declared that the education of children is the primary responsibility of their parents. Whether homeschooling or otherwise, I am glad that God has given us the ability to discern what type of education fits the needs of our children. After all, education is for the child, not the child for the education. Who better to determine that than the ones who have loved them the longest on earth?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mary and the unanticipated gift of humility

Every once in a while, because of the pacing of our lives, I find myself completely out of juice. Today was one of those days. It seemed that all of us were exhausted from the events of this past week and my husband was out of town for the weekend, so the executive decision was made to go to the later Mass at the cathedral downtown. The kids started arguing in the car and I was at my wit’s end with them as we pulled out of the driveway. Eventually I remembered to keep our Sunday tradition of saying a family Rosary on the way to church. But truthfully it was the incessant fighting that jolted my memory. I was out of sorts, not in a good mood, not feeling the urge to pray but knowing that I had to. Thankfully we were able to complete the entire rosary just as we were pulling into the parking lot of the cathedral, which, I might add, was quite a feat since every decade or so I was yelling at one of the kids to “face forward!” or “stop whining!” or “get back in your car seat!” I arrived at Mass frazzled, thinking “Mary, I thought you were on my side here...isn’t the Rosary supposed to make everyone peaceful and serene?!” Embarrassingly, I didn’t even realize that it was the Feast of the Assumption until I saw it on the Mass sheets.

Mass didn’t go much better. The fights continued in the pew and my three-year-old son kept attempting to climb over the pews and mess with his older brother and sisters. We had to go out twice, once for potty break and once for behavioral issues. While in the corner for time out in the gathering area, he kept saying, “YET ME GO!” and struggling. Mind you, I have written a pamphlet for parents giving tips on getting their kids to behave properly during Mass. There’s nothing like misbehaving children to reduce a parent to utter humiliation.

That’s when it occurred to me...gratitude for humiliation, for spiritual ineptitude, for exhaustion, for irritation. It is when we have these profound experiences of inadequacy that our faith in God is given an opportunity to grow. All I could say after a day like today is thank you, God, for allowing me to stay grounded. I am closer to dust than I ever knew, and I have faith that you are molding me each day, even though I don’t see it.

Though I didn’t really understand the connection when I began to write this evening, I suppose this post is fitting for the Feast of the Assumption. It reminds me that Mary is always interceding for us in Heaven, praying for us to become humble and open to God’s grace. Thanks, Mary! You must have been praying extra hard for me today!

Christ's victorious love

This past week I got to witness some great events that gave me glimpses of the victorious love of God. In our Church right now we are encountering an opportunity, an invitation to become transformed by Christ’s love. This call is perhaps more palpable now because of the mounting tension between the culture and Christ. Everyone seems to feel it, yet only a few are able to recognize how Christ is calling us to an increasing holiness of everyday life.

Unfortunately, we see the effects of sin all around us. It is in the culture in which we live, and if we don’t constantly protect ourselves against its powers of seduction, we are in danger of losing our souls as well. The Sacraments are God’s armor against the onslaught of sin that is waged against us. The Sacraments give us the strength to love and remind us that in order to become who we were truly meant to be, we must become more like Christ and less like the world. In other words, when we, as the Church, take on the social habits of the culture, we are nothing more than a sham. If there is scandal in the Church, it is because we are not acting in accord with Christ. The answer is radical transformation that starts in the hearts of each individual member of the Church. The awareness of the harsh reality of sin in the Church should compel us to recommit ourselves to Christ, not to become detached from His love.

For this reason, I was especially moved this week in seeing a new bishop take firm hold of a diocese in crisis. He is embracing the members of a suffering parish in a time of need. It is the fatherly love of a man whose heart is centrally focused upon the mission of Christ.

I also had the providence of attending a wedding of a young couple deeply in love with God and each other. It is a beautiful reminder of Christ’s love for each one of us whenever we see true married love, a covenantal union that mirrors the relationship of Christ to his people, the Church.

And lastly, today, though I am not able to make the trip, a former teacher of my oldest daughter will make her first professions as a religious sister. The faith of this young woman has impacted our parish and her former students profoundly. Her holy example of dedication in listening and responding to her vocation inspires all of us to rededicate ourselves to being open to Christ’s call in our lives.

Christ is victorious! We know how the story ends, but it is frustrating sometimes to feel that the world is crashing in around. It gives me great hope to witness these victories of Christ’s love over a culture of sin and death.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"An awakening to the Gospel"

I had the honor and the privilege of attending the Installation Mass of Bishop William P. Callahan yesterday afternoon. It was a breathtaking liturgy, one of the most beautiful I have ever attended. Dr. Brian Luckner and his choir were accompanied by an orchestra and filled the cathedral with the most beautiful music, a sound certainly befitting of such a blessed event.

Bishop Callahan delivered a theologically deep and passionate homily about Christ as the central focus in our lives and the gift of His Church in unifying His believers. I have included some of my favorite parts in the following collection of quotes:

“God speaks to us in our humanity, in the performance of our ordinary daily tasks. We have come to know by our faith and our direct experience that God is not an ‘intruder’ from outside the human condition imposing Himself upon humanity; rather, God has revealed Himself as one with the human condition, radically and profoundly present in the mystery of human life and experience.”

“Throughout history Jesus continues to speak through His Church and its apostolic witnesses. Today the Church marks with great joy the feast of St. Clare, the Virgin and the companion of St. Francis of Assisi. The witness value of their lives of holy poverty in obedience to the Gospel continues to inspire people of all ages with a vision of hope that is born from the truth of its teachings and the reality of its practice in daily human life. The marrow of the Gospel continues to give life and hope because it is born from the teachings and the life of Christ Himself. It is not mere philosophy or a self-help program; it is the very essence of human need, fulfillment, and the blueprint of our very destiny.”

“Christ is, and always must be the starting point of our faith! It is He who sets our human compass; it is He who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. It is He who in the face-to-face communication with the Father shares an authentic and personal dialogue of love. This Trinitarian companionship forms the grist of the establishment of all life and most certainly is the epicenter of the formation of the Church.”

“In sending forth of the apostles, Trinitarian love is articulated and becomes fully expressed in the apostolic life and mission of the Church. The invitation to witness to Christ begins with sharing His—Trinitarian—life and work of bringing the Gospel to all creatures. From the beginning, Our Blessed Lord chose human companions to be with Him in the task of establishing His Church. He sent them out to call others to penance, to heal the sick, and to proclaim the Good News. He sent them out together so that they might have the strength of fraternity, the assurance of protection on the way, and the guarantee that the integrity of the message would remain true and verifiable. This apostolic nature of the Church remains intact to this day and is fulfilled particularly in and through the ministry of bishops for the authentic sanctification, education, and leadership of God’s people.”

“As we gather in this beautiful cathedral today, we witness a ceremony that is different from other rites of passage or the mere ‘passing of the baton’ to a new chief executive officer. This is an event that affects all of our lives throughout this diocese. The recognition of a new Shepherd for this local Church is truly meant to be an awakening to the Gospel—an awakening that stirs devotion and love, honor and service to Jesus Christ – the focal point and the only true constant in our lives.”

It is apparent from these words of Bishop Callahan that he is eager to get to work. What a great gift to be given a bishop that is so full of the energy and the passion of Christ! It will be wonderful to experience the flourish of life that will come out of this diocese under the leadership of Bishop Callahan.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Welcoming a bishop

The Feast of St. Lawrence always reminds me of my college Catholic campus center. Each year we would have a barbeque on the memorial feast of St. Lawrence. Gotta love that Catholic humor! This year I experienced a very different feast of St. Lawrence. I attended the traditional vespers prayer vigil that is a part of the installation ceremony of a new bishop. Beautiful psalms, hymns and chant were all part of this prayer that is integral to daily Catholic liturgy, the Liturgy of the Office. It was a fitting welcome for our new bishop, the Most Reverend William Callahan. The feast of St. Lawrence was also a most fitting feast to hold this special welcoming because of the manner in which St. Lawrence suffered and died for Christ.

As the homilist noted this evening, suffering is beneficial to others. Whenever we give of ourselves, suffering comes with it. We die to the part of us that wants to do what we want and we give that service, that time, that food, that money—whatever it was that was going to be used to please ourselves—to another person. This is what St. Lawrence did. He sacrificed his life, his comfort, his flesh for the souls of those who witnessed his death. There is no greater witness to faith than a person who suffers for Christ.

Why suffering? Suffering goes against our nature. Every inclination tells us that suffering is bad and pleasure is good. Avoid pain, seek pleasure. Psychologists have developed whole treatment regimens based upon this axiom. It is for this very reason that suffering is such a valuable witness. We are not inclined to suffer, yet we welcome it when we know it will benefit our beloved. Love’s evidence is suffering. If our beloved is Christ, how is it possible that we could benefit Him? We cannot contribute to Christ’s intrinsic glory. The glory of Christ is intrinsically complete. We can, however, contribute to the glory of Christ that extends outward and encompasses the Church. Our suffering allows us to participate in the redemption of man with Christ through His suffering on the cross. As a wise professor of mine said, we are either crucifying Christ or being crucified with Him. As I would say, there is no mushy middle.

It is with this knowledge about suffering that the installation of a bishop commences. The faithful are aware of the sacrifices this man of God has made up to this point in his life. We are also grateful that he is about to witness Christ’s love in a very special way for each one of us in the diocese he is about to shepherd. Thank you, Bishop Callahan, for loving all of us enough to suffer for our salvation. We look forward to having you lead us by your holy example.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Christ-inspired hospitality

Every so often we visit an extraordinary family on a beautiful piece of land that we so lovingly refer to as “the farm”. This closely-knit family has built separate residences on the same acreage and often still meets at the main house for dinner together each day. All of the cousins get to play together and are quite good at including all of the different ranges in age. My children have a blast whenever we visit. The greatest part about being there is the hospitality. Visitors are welcomed with such warmth and generosity that one cannot help feeling that this farm is a special place of the grace of Christ.

It has become a tradition that whenever we visit we bring the ingredients to make a special meal. Since my husband is Vietnamese, the most requested recipe seems to be eggrolls. It is a combined effort of mixing, rolling and frying that brings the whole family into the kitchen. Everything is done in shifts, and the fruits of the effort are enjoyed by all.

The conversation is another phenomenal aspect of the gathering. Culture and politics, religion and entertainment are all topics of conversation. No subject is left unturned, and by the end of the day, the world has gotten smaller. Neighbors will stop by, extended family members from a different country are sometimes in town for a visit, and each person contributes a little bit more to the richness of the experience. Not every visitor to the farm is Catholic, but each person who walks onto this hallowed ground of hospitality knows that there is something spectacular about it. It is the love of Christ that welcomes them, and it impresses upon me the universality of the call of Christ.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The beauty of a good confession

I am employed part-time as a library substitute. Since I started my job at the library, I have come across all sorts of interesting books, some that make me wish I had more time to read and some that inspire me to pray for the soul of the person who just read them, if you catch my drift. One of these books that I recently noticed upon check-in was a book that documents what seems to be a fairly new trend, postcards or letters sent anonymously with the most horrid written, sometimes typed, confessions. As I looked through the book, the thought occurred to me that confession is a natural desire of the human soul.

St. John Vianney, whose feast is celebrated on this date, is most well-known for his hours devoted to hearing confessions. This dedicated priest had such a deep respect for the value of confession to the souls of the faithful that he would remain in the confessional for up to sixteen hours at a time. It is wonderful to read about his life and all of his sufferings he endured for the sake of his devotion to our Lord and His Church.

Confession seems to be one of those misunderstood things. It seems that some people find it adequate to confess their sins directly to God and be done with it. However, the psychological aspect of grave sin is not addressed when this is done. It seems that we, as humans, need to have human verification that God has forgiven us. All of the sacraments have these tangible aspects. God knows that our faith is aided by our senses, so sacraments are the perfect instruments by which we receive God's grace. I pray that those people who feel the desire to confess will have the grace to recognize God's gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the Church.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hob-knobbing with the good guys

Tonight I had the pleasure of attending dinner with my husband at a Canon Law convention. Though I only joined him for dinner, the conversation was intellectually stimulating and very pleasant. It was no ordinary Canon Law conference. This was put together by our good friend, Archbishop Raymond Burke, whose reputation for fidelity has become legendary. Fr. James Conn, S.J. (another super-cool Jesuit) and Fr. John Coughlin, O.F.M. also joined the panel discussion that followed which happened to be moderated by my husband. It was delightful to hear these fine canonists converse about the application of the Church's law, not at all like the American legal system. As all of the panelists reminded us, the Canon Law system is not primarily focused on penalties. It is a law that is geared toward the sanctification of its members. The good of the person or persons is always the goal. Frankly, this type of law interests me more than any other. Would that all law had as its end the true good (the good that God intends for us).

There is a misconception that canonists are stuffy legalists that never make it out of the chancery to converse with real people. This could not be further from the truth. The canonists I encountered tonight were witty, charming and full of conviction. They also love the Church. I cannot vouch for every canonist, but it has been my experience that people who are in love with Christ and His Church and have the knowledge to pair with their faith serve as the most delightful company. Thank you, gentlemen, for the great conversation.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Looking forward

One of the great joys of motherhood is knowing that all the effort, all the tears, all the messes and the daily grind of life is not pointless. We are raising a small army of warriors for Christ. It is not a physical battle (although some days I think my kids could hold their own in that way as well) but primarily a spiritual battle in which the spirit of the world constantly seeks the weak and the disillusioned as its prey. Strong souls and strong minds will allow the light of Christ to work within them and through them to combat the culture of death with love.

It is so gratifying to have conversations with my older children now that involve faith and morals. I sometimes smile at the prospect of some poor atheist encountering my grown children and being totally caught off-guard by their cheery quick-witted responses. This, more than anything on earth, is what I look forward to...seeing my children in action for Christ.