Monday, September 15, 2014

A Book Event with Cardinal Wuerl

Cardinal Wuerl, the head of the diocese of Washington DC, will speak about his new book, The Feasts: How the Church Year Shapes and Forms Us, at the Catholic Information Center, in downtown DC, this Thursday, September 18, at 6 PM.

To RSVP to this free event click here.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Anniversary of 9/11

I moved to Washington DC a few years after 9/11. It's been interesting as a historian to learn about other people's first hand accounts of how 9/11 impacted this City. We're not New York City. Yet it has shocked me at how deep the trauma remains 13 years later.

My grandfather's house is less than a mile from the Pentagon. He was an eye witness to the plane crashing into the Pentagon.

My best friend from High School lived in Pentagon City, a residential and shopping district around the Pentagon, on 9/11. She was 9 months pregnant and working at home. He husband worked outside the beltway. After the explosion at the Pentagon, every single street was closed around her house. It took more than 12 hours for her husband to get home. She spent the day afraid that she would go into labor all alone. She was scared that there was no way for her to get to the hospital, even if she called an ambulance, because her immediate neighborhood was on total "lock-down."

This year I met a veteran who was actually working at the Pentagon that day. He earned the nickname "Hit The Deck Harry" because he saved lives by calling out a warning to his co-workers before the plane hit the building. He told me that he was so close, that he could see the pilot's face before he crashed into the Pentagon. I asked him "What did he look like?" He said "It was bad."

In 2005, I was in the middle of a Catholic Moms group. It was a normal sunny morning. One of the Moms started talking about some Muslims taking pictures of a Target in a DC suburb. She was so upset that she saw them taking pictures, that she started screaming at them to stop and reported their "suspicious" activity to a Target security guard. Myself and a couple of other Moms suggested that these were probably just tourists. (DC has nothing but throngs of international visitors in the summer). The Mom violently disagreed. "Who takes pictures of themselves at Target? Target? They were planning something!"

I just saw in that moment how deep the scar of 9/11 remained, even in families far from the actual attacks on the Pentagon. The "fear scar" was deep enough that 4 years later a Mom's first reaction to seeing people in headscarves posing in front of a Target store in Northern Virginia wasn't "happy tourists or new immigrants", but "dangerous terrorist casing the joint." I said a prayer for her. I couldn't imagine carrying around that level of daily anxiety while driving with my kids to pick-up extra paper towels and peanut butter.

Update: Leila has a great post titled "Where were you on 9/11?" Check out her interesting comments.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Cardinal Donald Wuerl & Mike Aquilina's The Feasts Blog Tour-- A Reflection on All Saint's Day

Welcome to the kick-off of Image Books' Cardinal Wuerl and Mike Aquilina's The Feasts Blog Tour!  Enjoy the reflections of 11 bloggers as they recall one of their favorite feast days. Pre-order the book, The Feasts: How the Catholic Year Forms Us as Catholics, available on September 16, 2014, in either hardcover or eBook here.

A Reflection on Halloween, All Saint's Day, and All Souls Day (October 31-November 2)

I grew up in a Protestant home. I had a weak understanding of the Bible's prohibition against sorcery. I had no understanding of the concept of purgatory. At age 5, I dressed up as a nearly naked Wonder Woman, despite the threat of lake effect snow. At age 8, I dressed up as a black hatted witch. I carried an orange box next to my candy bag in order to Trick Or Treat for UNICEF. Later, I used an Ouija Board in what seemed like a harmless sleep-over party game among my fifth grade friends.

After I became an adult convert to the Catholic Faith, I learned that my use of a Ouija Board was a sin. Many of my other 'normal' childhood experiences during Halloween seemed vaguely harmful as well. I knew that I needed to change what Halloween traditions I passed along to my own children. However, I wasn't sure what a fun, authentic Catholic Halloween was supposed to look like.

Feeling lost, I started crowd-sourcing for ideas among my rosary praying friends.  "How does you family celebrate Halloween?" 

That question can ignite a firestorm of controversy among certain Catholic bloggers. Some orthodox families seem to think that Harry Potter costumes and bloody vampire fangs are totally fine. Other families ban Halloween celebrations all together and substitute Fall Harvest Festivals.

I once had the misfortune of helping a small parish plan an All Saints Day Party. A mother asked if her toddler could substitute a beloved Lady Bug costume for a proper saint costume at our parish hall event. Within hours, bitter points of view among fellow Catholic mothers erupted over a long series of email exchanges. The party-planning committee split into two camps. Should our church require that guests only wear saints costumes on November 1st? Or should we rephrase the event title to include "All Saints and All of God's Creatures?"

As a trained lawyer, I solved this intense church member fight with wisdom worthy of St. Paul. I told my fellow members that we shouldn't vote on this divisive matter democratically. Instead, we should ask our parish priest to make a final ruling on the All Saints Day costume issue. Obedience is a virtue that can tame many harmful internet exchanges!

Over the years, my husband and I have gradually adapted a "Middle Way" of celebrating Halloween. Each of our five kids are natural actors who love to play dress-up. Sometimes a kid picks their Halloween costume from among the Angels and the Saints. Other times, a kid picks a favorite Super Hero or Disney Princess.

After a couple of years of skipping Halloween Night altogether, I discovered that I really enjoy going Trick-Or-Treating with my large family. It's a chance to meet new neighbors and smile at the children of strangers. It's a chance to gather new prayer intentions. On Halloween Night, there is a softness in the air. There are many gruff neighbors who break into smiles while watching preschool boys happily showcase their manly Captain America costumes.

I feel comfortable letting my kids dress up and eat too much sugar on Halloween, because I know that the real spiritual party is coming up the next day on November 1. All Saints Day is a Day of Holy Obligation. Catholics attend a special Mass to celebrate the diversity of spiritual heroes within the Catholic Faith.

All Saints Day remains a special joy to me because I grew up knowing so few of the Catholic Saints as a child. All Saints Day feels like a giant family reunion. There is one grand day on the Church Calendar where we celebrate everyone of heroic virtue. The sheer diversity of Catholic saints is astonishing. All Saints Day is a clear reminder that God calls all people--from every time period, every culture, and every walk of life--to embrace his gift of holiness. A saint is simply a person who used their ordinary daily life well and won a great victory for God at their death.

As a Mother, I use All Saints Day to help my children form unique friendships with their own special Saint friends. One daughter has a devotion to the extremely popular St. Therese of Lisieux. Another daughter has a strong connection to the much less popular St. Margaret of Scotland. On All Saints Day, I encourage my kids to make Art Projects on their Favorite Saints. We share their insights with Dad after he comes home from work.

My husband and I take our kids to All Saints Day Mass, usually at night. The baby is extra hyper after being awake past her bedtime two nights in a row. Yet there is a beautiful reverence which comes from praying at our familiar church at an unfamiliar time of night. All the stain-glass windows are dark and the candlelight feels extra bright. I poke my older kids meaningfully in the arm whenever their favorite saint is mentioned in the extra long, Litany of the Saints.

On the car trip home, my family talks about all the favorite saints that we have forgotten about during most of the year. There is Saint Perpetua who was calmly eaten by a bear inside the Roman Colosseum and St. Lawrence who joked "I'm done on this side, you can turn me over" after being roasted in a fire. The night drive home from Mass feels like a New Years Eve of sorts. We each resolve to keep in better contact with our best friends in heaven during the upcoming year.

The celebration of All Saints Day on November 1st feels grand and universal. The celebration of All Souls Day on November 2nd feels intimate and personal. On All Souls Day, my family remembers the friends and family members who have died before us. We speak out loud the names of two sons we lost in late miscarriages. We share funny memories about my Father-in-law, who died far too early from cancer.  We honor our Grandmothers, Jean and Ida, who made sure that my husband and I were baptized in their Christian Faith.

I make sure to take my kids to the optional church visit on All Souls Day. We complete the Indulgence Requirements and Light a Candle to help a Soul in Purgatory. It's not always an easy experience to take young kids to church. Sometimes, I feel relieved when I find my parish totally empty at 2 PM. Yet I also feel sad. I grew up watching the All Souls Day Candle prayers said only in the movies. Those prayers for souls in purgatory seemed exotic and strange and somehow wonderfully moving. Now when I attend an almost empty All Souls Day service as an adult, I feel a wistful longing that more Catholics would come to church to pray on this special day.

Last year, I attended an All Souls Day Mass at my church only few days after the funeral of my son Leo, who died before his birth. I worried that it would be too hard to go to Mass with the raw memory of his tiny coffin. Attendance at that church service gave my family extra grace. My kids were shocked to see a candle lit in their brother's name, along with everyone else in the parish who had died during the proceeding year. The candles were arranged in order of the parishioners' date of death. Leo's candle was the same height as a nun who died at age 92, only a few days before him. I felt surprised that a long-serving nun and an unborn baby were commemorated in the exact same manner on my parish window sill. Yet it felt like a great sign of our Catholic belief in the universal dignity of the human soul.

Finding a way for my family to calmly celebrate All Saints Day and All Souls Day took a great deal of trial and error. I wish I could have read Cardinal Wuerl and Mike Aquilina's book, The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics, earlier in my spiritual life. The authors explain that "Calendars form us. Calendars help to define us as the people we are."

This book is an antidote to the frantic flurry of opinions surrounding holiday traditions. Authors Cardinal Wuerl and Mike Aquilina explain that the Church Calendar is primarily a teaching tool.  "[Christians] learn the mysteries of Christianity by celebrating the mysteries of Christianity."

Feast Days are an invitation to walk more intimately with Jesus. Feast Days teach us the deep mysteries of our Catholic faith. Feast Days allow us to "rest in God." Feast Days encourage us to act in a more loving manner towards our friends, our family members, and even total strangers. This detailed reference book is a blessing to help Catholic families create prayerful, cheerful and calm Feast Day traditions within in their homes and their parishes. Thank you Cardinal Wuerl and Mike Aquilina for sharing your fine thoughts and extensive research with your larger Catholic family!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Perfect Mother/Daughter Love Song For Me

I get the biggest smile every time this song comes on the radio. I know this song is about a husband's love for his wife, but for me the song lyrics bring up another connotation. This is the perfect love song about Mary, the Mother of God for me. This is how I feel about being swept up in my feelings about her. "I don't dance" and yet here I am, totally willing to be swept up my foolish, exuberant love for her.

There are so many things that I do for Mary, that I would have thought was impossible for me to even attempt before I met her at age 28. Before becoming a convert to the Catholic Faith, I could have passed a lie detector test on dozens of major life issues. I won't have more than two kids. I won't home school.  I'm not type of girl who could stay home full time without her career. I can't write. I'm too scared to sign up for multiple c-section surgeries.

I certainly won't work daily on growing in the virtues of humility, obedience, poverty and chastity. Instead, me, my Scottish Temper, and my inborn French blooded flair for the dramatic, made me tend to flounce away from boyfriends at the earliest signs of conflict. When I got engaged to a Catholic man at age 25, I'd barley held down a relationship longer than 3 months. It felt like an act of Faith to assume that this was the guy I could love for future decades.

It's a grand thing to fall in love. Love gives us courage! I'm so grateful to start a beautiful friendship with the Mom of Jesus. It's been 12 years. I'm a different woman because I've had her nourishment and her care. All the good things in my life, my marriage, my children, my Carmelite spirituality, my comfort at moving my own individual way through the world, comes from the security of having Mary's gentle encouragement in my life.

Lee Brice - I Don't Dance (Official Music Video)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Ordinary Miracles

Tomorrow, the daughter who almost died on me twice as a newborn will turn a happy, healthy 4! We're far enough away from the drama of the NICU that I don't think about my daughter Teresa as an amazing miracle of grace everyday anymore. She's simply my kid. She is amazing to me when she remembers every song lyric to the entire musical of Frozen while wearing her shimmering Elsa costume dress. She's kind of annoying to me when she fastidiously demands to eat her Cheerios only from the already dirty red cereal bowl and violently eschews all of the other, more easily available, color choices.

Birthdays are good because they are a marker to remember where we came from and to reflect on where we are going in life.

My daughter Teresa had a rough start. It was desperately hard to be her Mama for her first month of life, even though I was well broken in since she was my 4th child. When I reread the blog posts about her life in the NICU today, I can only remember the incredible amount of love that surrounded us all at Children's National Hospital.

I'm so grateful for my Tess.

(For more background on my daughter's NICU journey, you can click on the NICU tab label to the right. To read an important reflection from a Doctor on how parents of sick babies are often unfairly bullied into a "medically necessary abortion" after an adverse prenatal diagnosis, please click on this link. It doesn't matter whether you are pro-choice, or pro-life, every parent who faces the sudden diagnosis of a sick child deserves respect, love, mercy and lots of prayer support.)