Category Archives: Catholicism

Neophyte No Longer

My term as a neophyte officially ends today.

The past year has been exceptionally rich in sacraments. Last Easter marked my first confession, my confirmation and my first communion. The months immediately following were devoted to preparing for the sacrament of marriage. And this year, on the Monday of Holy Week, we were able to celebrate the baptism of our first born son. We cannot, of course, maintain this pace of sacraments, or we’ll arrive at last rites far too quickly. But they’ve made for a wonderful start.

The ebb and flow of the liturgical year is becoming a more familiar mark of the passage of time than turning over pages on the calendar. I love the intentional focus of each season: the simplicity of Advent, the warmth of Christmastide, the stark solemnity of Lent, and the burst of joy at Easter. With all the solemnities and feast days in between, we never lack for reminders of the hardships and blessings of following Christ whole-heartedly.

While preparing for one of his recent lectures on the tragic Death of a Salesman, my husband remarked that the curse of Eve is not simply pain in child birth (though that one IS a doozy), but more so, the pain of passing on the curse, of seeing our children succumb to sin and suffer the consequences of sin in their own lives and in the community. It’s tempting, as a new mother, to let fear of all the “what-ifs” in Sam’s future overwhelm me: What if he gets sick? What if he becomes a rebellious teenager and hates his parents? What if he doesn’t like to read? Terrifying possibilities.

How grateful I am, especially now, that we have been provided with the sacraments, with these physical signs of the spiritual realities. Seeing my child blessed with holy water and anointed with the fragrant chrism oil was not just a comforting ritual: from that moment, he has been truly free from the curse of original sin. And as he grows in understanding, I pray he’ll come to claim that truth for himself.

Little Samuel, all dolled up for his first Easter Mass

And how grateful I am, too, for the communion of saints! My godmother, Eve, has been so encouraging through RCIA and this whole year of changes and celebrations. And now one of my dearest friends, Amy, has joined our little family as Sam’s godmother. Their prayers, along with those of our patrons St. Francis de Sales and St. Philip Neri and the prayers of all our friends and family, have certainly blessed Zach and I as we’ve adjusted to marriage, and now parenthood.

So, Happy Easter, dear friends and readers. May this joyful season nourish fresh hope and new life in your spirits.

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He Only Asked Him Not to Leave His Cell

A practical experience of acedia is described by the desert hermit Heraclides, who received a brother troubled by restlessness in his new cell. Heraclides advised him not to follow an extreme regimen of self-discipline but to eat, drink, and sleep as needed. He only asked that the brother not leave his cell…

Simply stay where you are: A small thing to ask, right? But the young brother couldn’t do it. His cabin fever got so bad that he saw demons lurking in ever corner, even under the covers of his bed. Terrified by the vision, he disobeyed the sagely advice of his elder and ran to Heraclides’ door. Though the hermit was displeased and made him sit outside all night, he finally had pity on the weaker brother and showed him the path to spiritual maturity.

In January, I resolved to fight against acedia. Knowing my tendency towards slothfulness, especially when alone for many hours of the day, I’ve been intentional about using my time well in work and leisure.  For the most part, this experiment has gone fairly well. My daily task lists diminished as my belly grew, and now that Sam is here, I am grateful to do two or three things a day in addition to feeding, changing, and holding him.

Yet acedia may loom over the most orderly of days. Restlessness persists, despite the most intentional use of time and resources. Answering a vocation to stay put when you’re itching to move on is just as hard as following a call to some far off mission.  Lately, I’ve felt a certain solidarity with that poor acedia-ridden monk: even though he wasn’t requiring a hard life of himself in his cell, remaining in one place was just too much for him.

I’m accustomed to four-year stints: four years in high school, four years in college, and now I’m wrapping up my fourth year in Colorado Springs. I struggled through my freshman initiation to the working world, got more comfortable during my sophomore year, enjoyed the settled satisfaction of a junior and now….well…I’m ready to graduate, to move on to the next thing.  Is this an acedian habit of mind?

Springtime in Colorado hardly inspires hope for new life: a few bold crocuses peek out of the gravel here and there; early daffodils droop after a cold snap; some tint of color returns to the patches of brown grass. There’s no burst of color, no refreshing rains, no encouraging warmth. A robin might have the temerity to whistle a tune once or twice, but the dry air soon leaves him parched.  (April is the cruelest month, indeed.)

But lilacs blossom eventually, even in these dead lands. We just have to wait until late May or early June for spring to settle in around here. Maybe I need to settle in a little, too.


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Quadragesima

Zach and I celebrated Shrove Tuesday Denny’s style last night: my reward for grading that batch of tests was a decadent platter of French toast at 8pm. It was a good end to Ordinary Time.

Today, as you know, begins the forty days of Lent. I was going to go all English-Teacher on you and write about T.S. Eliot’s lovely Ash Wednesday poem, but since Dr. Birzer has already done a beautiful job of it over here, I’ll let well enough alone. (I do encourage you, though, to take some time over the next few weeks to read through Eliot’s  piece: it’s as much prayer as it is poem.)

This is the first year that I’ve wondered why these forty days are called “Lent” and the only reason I wondered is because I was trying to come up with a play on words for the title of this post. Unable to make any connection between the past tense of lend and fasting, I found the following explanation on ye olde world wide web:

“Lent was originally known by the Latin term “quadragesima”, which translated means the fortieth. This relates to the fortieth day before Easter and the forty days of fasting to come.It was during the Middle Ages, when sermons were no longer given in Latin that the English term “Lent” was adopted. Lent is derived from the Germanic name for Spring “Lencten” and the Anglo-Saxon name for March “Lenct”. “Lencten” comes from the Germanic root for “long” as Spring is the time of year when the days become longer.”

There you go: as Anglo-Saxon as can be.

You Latin lovers can give up some indulgence for Quadragesima if you like.

Pregnancy and the prospect of nursing make traditional fasting rather difficult. (Besides, since I’ve been abstaining from alcohol and coffee for nine months already for the baby’s sake, adding desserts or meat to the list doesn’t wouldn’t seem to carry much spiritual significance.) In past years I’ve given up time wasters like Facebook, or vanities like make-up (remember that spring, Amy? Not a pretty time). And while each demanded some measure of sacrifice, I don’t know that those practices actually contributed to my spiritual growth.

This year will have to be a little different. But I’m not going to bother you with details, lest I become like the Pharisees on the street corners who announce their prayers and fasting with trumpets and thus receive their meager reward in full.

It was a strange experience this evening, going up to receive ashes at Mass. I’m so conscious of life within me these days: I cope with the discomforts of full term pregnancy by trying to focusing on the joyful mystery that is this miracle of life (you know, Gaia-style). Being reminded that I am dust and to dust I shall return was a little shocking. What’s more, it made me realize, for the first time, honestly, that this little baby–truly on the brink of birth, within a few weeks of his first breath–is doomed to dust, as well.

He and I both have a lot of life to live in the interim…but it’s hard to keep in mind that this IS just the interim, you know?

“And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us”

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Saturday Sampling

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Perspective

I’ve been fortunate to spend my pregnancy in a community that’s very supportive of our decision to start a family. With the exception of a few irritated glances from people who may or may not have been victims of an accidental belly bump as I wrangled my six-month-stomach down the narrow aisle of a plane, I have not been subject to any discrimination, harassment, or abuse. No one has accused me of single-handedly over-populating the world. And though I’ve been overly sensitive to the “Wow-you-look-ready-to-pop!” comments, no one has actually made any untoward remarks about the physical changes I’ve experienced during the process.

Instead, I have been showered with encouragement, empathy, and gifts for the little one. My boss (who is a mother herself) has put absolutely no pressure on me to make a decision about returning to work next year. My friends have listened sympathetically to my litany of woes (the kicking! the swelling! the exhaustion!) and have managed to compliment my figure with a straight face. Or, you know, at least my hair cut. My parents have made plans to drive out here all the way from St. Louis, to take care of us and just be here to welcome the baby when he comes. Dad is even building a bassinet for him.

And my husband: where do I begin? He has endured over 15 hours of birthing classes where words like “perineum” and “amniotic fluid” are mentioned about 5 times a minute…and he’s taken notes! Just to make sure that he can be as supportive as possible during labor. Instead of making fun of me when I burst into irrational tears, he kisses me and offers to indulge my every craving or whim. He’s actually excited about trying the whole cloth diapers things. And, most importantly, he’s even more eager than I am for the baby to actually be here.

I remember how freaked out I was when I first looked at that pregnancy test…and by the time I took the test, I already pretty much knew (thanks, NFP). That confirmation, though, was terrifying: I didn’t feel ready at all. But, with time and prayer and the reassurance of mothers who have gone before, I’ve become accustomed to the idea of being a mother. And, of course, I’m terribly curious to meet the tiny creature who has been tucking his feet under my ribs for the past few months.

It’s hard to imagine what this year would have been like if no one else had been excited with me, if no one else thought that having a baby was a good idea. I’ve always been adamantly pro-life in principle, but I don’t think I realized how much support I would need to carry my own child.

I came across this article earlier today: Ask an Abortion Provider (warning: explicit language). It’s basically a young woman’s defense of her choice to abort her baby and her aspiration to become an abortion provider. Her tone attempts a weird form of jocularity, but ends up sounding, not surprisingly, defensive and militant. And the “warm fuzzy” moments she’s experienced during her training fall rather flat as she celebrates the success of the procedures she’s performed.

She sees herself as courageous for daring to enter a profession so fraught with danger (from pro-life activists) and so laden with stigmas (from pro-life culture). And that she has plenty of examples (death threats, verbal harassment, people egging the family planning building) to add some legitimacy to her self-victimization is definitely discouraging.

Frankly, the article is kind of obnoxious and I don’t recommend you spend time reading it (or getting involved in fights in the comment box, for that matter). I just bring it up here as a point of contrast: I wonder how differently this woman’s life would have turned out if her loved ones had been able to celebrate her pregnancy and her baby instead of celebrating her independence. Yes, she’s responsible for her own choices and yes, I think she’s making poor ones. But, ironically enough, after experiencing pregnancy, I’m no longer able to see her as an independent agent.

She is a victim, but not in the way she thinks. She’s the victim of a pro-choice culture that did not support her life-giving potential and denied her baby a loving, welcoming community.  Her failure is our own.

***

I’ve always loved this Lauryn Hill song, but I appreciate its simultaneous struggle and celebration even more now.

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The Hallmark Holiday Revisited

St. Valentine’s Day is often berated as “fake” holiday, a contrivance of florists and greeting card companies. And, yes, certainly it has become a source of commercial revenue, as well a source of anxiety for those with or without romantic relationships. But, as my priest reminded me today, this day is a time to remember and celebrate a love that goes deeper than romantic devotion, a love that leads unto death.

There are three different Valentines in church history, but all of them were canonized because they suffered martyrdom for their faith. At least two of the three were priests. It’s curious, I think, that a holiday we associate so strongly with roses and chocolates and candle lit dinners is a HOLY day because of the passionate love that these celibate men cherished for God. They were so devoted to Christ, so eager to give all of themselves to Him that they didn’t hold back a thing, not even their very lives. Is this not more inspiring than a Hallmark card? Does this rich, painful history not cause you to question the very nature of love itself?

A traditional icon for St. Valentine, patron saint of love and marriage, along with bee-keepers, epilepsy, fainting, and plagues.

I never put much thought into joining holy orders or taking a vow of celibacy–I suppose you could say it just wasn’t my vocation. But I’m fascinated by people who make that choice: such a wildly counter-cultural, fanatical choice! They must say No to dating and kisses and marriage and babies and so many aspects of family life. It seems like a little tragedy–a woman giving up the opportunity to be a mother or a man letting go of the hope of finding the perfect girl.

Yet, in return for this sacrifice, they’re given the grace to say Yes to so much more. Monks and nuns say yes to communal life, and in doing so gain hundreds of true brothers and sisters. Priests say yes to their parish, gaining countless children to watch over, love, and receive love from. And in some mysterious way, these souls who reject earthly romance are allowed to discover a beautiful, romantic intimacy with Christ. Like St. Teresa of Avila, who was literally swept off her feet by the love of God as she levitated in prayer, I think those who have chosen Holy Orders come more easily into an experience understanding of sacred romance.

Easy for me to say, right? I’m grateful for my warm-hearted, loving husband and the security he brings to my life. I’m still in awe of the child that’s growing inside me (so heavily these days) and so eager to meet him. I have not chosen the difficult path of loneliness and isolation that many brothers and sisters must travel, and so it’s easy for me to romanticize that life. Let me just say that I’m thankful for those who sacrifice for a greater love: grateful for their prayers for the world, grateful for their work in the world, and grateful for their devotion to lives of holiness.

And in the meantime, I pray I’ll continue to grow in love and gratefulness for my own valentine–the best in the world.

My dear and loving husband took me out for a guilty-pleasures dinner of sushi and (just a little bit of) wine. Bliss!

 

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Seven Quick Takes – Husband Edition

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The format and inspiration for this post are brought to you by Conversion Diary. Jennifer Fulwiler runs a great blog where she shares her thoughts about motherhood, Catholicism, writing, and the struggles and triumphs that accompany each. I highly recommend her.

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I’m midway through Week 3 of p90x. Along with everyone else in the western  hemisphere, I resolved to eat better and work out in the new year. So far, with the help of my fellow X-men (i.e. work out buddies/former housemates, Leroy, Josh, and Brad, and remote support from college roommate Mike) I’ve been sticking to both a high protein/low fat diet and a daily workout that alternately makes me feel like one of the super-ripped Uruk-hai and Steve Urkel.

Mike has been chronicling his X-journey on his blog. It’s witty and challenging, and you should check it out.

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Last night Laurel and I attended our second Preparing for Birth class. So far I’m pleased with the instructors and the information they’ve been giving us. The biggest source of anger and worry I’ve had since we found out we were having a baby has been on account of the general incompetency of doctors. Laurel’s dad, a longtime family physician, told us early on that many doctors lack experience in natural child birth. We’ve heard and seen since that incompetency manifests itself in the manipulation of due dates in order to pressure mothers to induce labor and a the unusually frequent resort to a C-section when any aspect of the process is less than ideal.

The women at Preparing for Birth, however, have been excellent about explaining the physical processes that happen during pregnancy and labor, as well as empowering the expectant mothers (and fathers) with the knowledge that childbirth is a natural process that happens more often than not in the home (worldwide) and should not be treated like a surgery or the removal of a tumor.

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This semester I’ve begun teaching an elective called Lyric Poetry. The class is small and the students are motivated, and so we’ve set out to conquer the Norton Anthology of Poetry. Alongside our reading we’re beginning to memorize and compose poetry with the aid of Sound and Sense, an introduction to the principles and conventions of poetry analysis and composition. This week we read selections from Robert Herrick, Andrew Marvell, and George Herbert. I especially liked returning to Herbert’s poem “Prayer (I)”.

PRAYER the Churches banquet, Angels age,
Gods breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth ;
Engine against th’ Almightie, sinner’s towre,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six daies world-transposing in an houre,
A kinde of tune, which all things heare and fear ;
Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse,
Exalted Manna, gladnesse of the best,
Heaven in ordinarie, man well drest,
The milkie way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bels beyond the stars heard, the souls bloud,
The land of spices, something understood.

While he’s (in)famous for his oft-anthologized shape-poems, George Herbert’s “Easter Wings” is not representative of his best work. He is a fine theological thinker, and I recommend his work as worthy devotional writing and an excellent aid in grammar instruction (Notice that this poem is a giant series of appositives with no main verb).

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I’d like to share with you a quick snapshot of my son at age 5:

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Does anyone out there have personal experience with aquaponics? Since reading Hilaire Belloc’s The Servile State this summer I’ve been thinking more and more about the possibility of liberty, private property, human dignity, and wealth being coexistent and the means by which such a state might be widely or universally attained.  Along with a number of other resources I’ve found the writers and resources gathered at The Distributist Review to be helpful. John Médaille, a regular contributor and instructor at the University of Dallas, posted an intriguing article yesterday called “The Economics of Abundance”. Check it out and while you are there read Dr. Peter Chojnowski’s  “Distributism: Economics as if People Mattered,” which provides a general outline of Distributism. Then, let me know what you think.

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Finally, I’d like to close with the most entertaining video I’ve seen so far in 2011. Check out Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric circa 1994 putting their heads together in order to define “an internet”:

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