Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Candlemass

If you are a novice to Candlemass, this is a lovely Catholic feast day to add to your week. There is something about this celebration that helps mark the transition of the "little Jesus" of Christmas to the "grown up Jesus" on the cross for Lent.

Here is a fantastic Candlemass Tea idea from the accomplished Mrs. Alice Gunther. Tonight, I picked up prezels for Simon, Marlomars for Anna, and candy hearts with some toothpicks for "the sorrowful news that pieced our Blessed Mother's Heart."

Alice's blog at "Cottage Blessings" has been a source of inspiration over the past year. I can't recommend enough how "living the Liturgical year" has help my family grow in our Catholic faith. Here is a piece of fan mail that I sent to Alice this past Advent.

"I had never heard of Candlemass before your post. I was a little nervous asking our parish priest to bless our
candles, but he did it with such joy that I figured I must be on to something great. We had a sweet little
tea with the maramells for Anna and pierced candy hearts for the sorrow of Mary. My husband was so happy
to be a part of this scene after a hetic day of work. He really urged me to do more celebrations like this.

This year has been such a delight-learning how to live the liturgical year in our own domestic church. I've
been inspire to get over my natural shyness and the shyness that comes from being a convert, and so in
unfamilar territory, and made friendships with Catholic mothers in my area. This week I'm hosting my
first St. Nicholas craft party, also inspired by your blog!

The most exciting thing is that this is the first December (I'm 32) that I've felt completely ready for the Advent season. "What is so different this year?" I've asked my husband. I finally realized, we are already "living the church calendar".

After all the happy Sundays of ordinary time, I'm ready for a little change. The things we are doing for Advent aren't foriegn things added into my family life. Acts of charity, Adoration, frequent confession, family prayer, special feast days, these are things we are already doing. This year Advent is a mere rededication of my domestic church, not inventing things from whole-cloth or uncovering duties covered by neglect and dust.

I really have your simple Candlemass idea to thank for our "clean hearts." I'm so grateful that you take time out of your busy, busy days to blog."

Okay, now that I've shared Candlemass with you, it's your turn to share your comments below. What are you doing to prepare for Lent?

Home School Experiment- Day Three

Pretty good day. Figured out how to get my daughter to practice handwriting lessons- I'm having her write letters to send to her cousin in London. My social butterfly is pretty excited to know that soon she can send all the mail she wants all by herself.

For Stina- Book Meme



I'm in my dining room, this is the on the nearest bookshelf: DADA, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., page 123

"George Grosz & John Heartfield, Der wildgewordene Spiesseer Heartfield, (the Middle-Class Philistine Heartfield Gone Wild) {Electro-Mechanical Tatlin Scuplture]), 1968 (reconstructed of 1920 original), tailor's dummy, revolver, doorbell, knife, fork, letter "C" and number "27" signs, plaster dentures, embroidered insignia for teh Black Eagle Order on horse blanket. Osram light bulb, Iron Cross, stand and other objects, overall, including base: 220 x 45 x 45, Berlin 1968."

It's a little wierd, but this statue is making a statement about the terrible casualties of WWI which left many veterns with amputations.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

On the Bookshelf-Jean De Brunhoff

If you haven't yet experienced De Brunhoff, "Babar and his Children" is a great place to start. I found this review to be on the money. "First published in 1938, this delightful tale chornicles the thrills and trials of new parenthood. from Babar's restlessness as he awaits the impending birth and the surprise of triplets to the shock of a runaway baby carriage and the treat of a hungry crocodile, parenting is an exhausting exercise-but well worth the effort."

My favorite quote comes at the end of a hard day. Queen Celeste is just "beginning to wonder where the children can be" when it turns out that son Alexander has stolen a boat and is currently being chased by a hungry crocodile. Babar, thinking quickly, grabs a boat anchor and "hurls it into the monster's jaws." After calming down from these exciting events, Babar muses:

"Truly it is not easy to bring up a family," signs Babar. "But how nice the babies are! I wouldn't know how to get along without them any more." (Well said!)

Home School Experiment- Day Two

Despite lesson prep, this morning was a bit of a fiasco. Turns out Alex is the troublesome one in homeschooling, not baby Maria. He wants to be included, but doesn't stay on task as long as Hannah. When I give him a more entertaining & age appropriate task (like cutting out Spiderman tattoos) that distracts Hannah from her work.

I took all three kids to the "big" library in the afternoon. Hannah got her first library card, what a treat!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Home School Experiment- Day One

Hannah is due to start Kindergarten this September. (My lovely state has lowered the compulsory school attendance act to age five.) Since I can’t find a kindergarten program that I like, I’ve decided to start my own. I’m pretty nervous about the whole managing the three kids ages 4, 3, and 7 months. Between the round the clock teething nursing sessions, the 2 AM nightmares, the wet sheets, and the ever present “MOM I NEED YOU NOW” moments, there have been plenty of mornings that Mia Bean & I don’t get out of our pajamas until lunch.

I’ve spent the last two weeks freaked out that kindergarten was a no-win situation. It was impossible to imagine sending my athletic eldest daughter to a full day kindergarten (either Catholic or public) where she would be forced to sit at a desk for seven hours a day filling out worksheets. Whatever happened to “playing in the water table”, “doing show-and-tell” or even “taking naps”? What happened to “kindergarten”? You know, kids in an imaginary garden messing around with seeds grown in eggshells and reading books on carpet squares? (At least in my D.C. suburbia, those activities have been swept away by hourly phonics drills required for high stakes testing.)

As for the “answer”- home-schooling seemed even more terrifying than parent-teacher conferences where my kid may well receive multiple demerits for tapping her toes too loudly during math drills. I’ve got a knack for teaching. Trying to keep the house from being over-run with laundry, maintaining consistent discipline without loosing my temper, surviving sleepless nights with baby number three- those mothering matters are another story all together. I worried that adding “primary school teacher” to the mix would topple over the fragile peace on the home-front that I’ve constructed over the past two years.

After lots of fruitless worry, my husband came out with the obvious answer. “If you are so worried about making it work in September, when everyone, including the state of Maryland is looking over your shoulder, why not start practicing now?”

This Monday was day one of the experiment. I started the school day at 10:00 AM. Hannah enjoyed working on her new Kumon tracing workbook. I realize that I need to create a seperate lesson plan for Alex (age 3). After just twenty minutes, we took a break. We had lunch with Daddy. My major failure of the day was completely losing my temper while attempting to get three little ones into appropriate snow gear “for recess.” At one point, after apologizing four times to everyone, promising that I wouldn’t raise my voice anymore, and then promptly screaming when yet another kid did the opposite of my instructions- I just knelt on the floor in my bedroom and cried for Jesus to help me.

Somehow we all got outside in one piece. The day got radically better when Hannah found a pine tree with miniature pinecones. I conducted an impromptu science lesson. We got enough samples to make an identification using the Audubon Society Tree Guide. That prompted a detailed conversation of “conifers” versus “deciduous” trees. I had special reading time with each child. Alex and I mastered a silly song about dreaming of eating a marshmallow and waking to find that you’ve eaten your pillow before he went down for a nap. Hannah and I had another private handwriting session. She’s a lefty. I was so inspired to learn more about her special writing challenges that I called my sister to get more handwriting advice for left-handed people. By three, Alex was up from his nap. I let them watch Spiderman while I got dinner on the table.

Summary: For the most part, teaching is the “fun” part of parenting. I really enjoy getting one-on-one time with each kid. At one point, Alex and Hannah were happily playing in their room. I just sat down and played a silly game with Maria. (Usually, I’m trying to get housework done.) I like tailoring our program so minutely. We’re extremely “slow” in phonics and handwriting; extremely advance in science and social studies. Bad parts: the recess meltdown was pretty ugly. It’s hard to be needed in three places at once. I have no idea how to eventually fold in some housework into our routine.

I did have one really cool event. At the end of reading “Henny Penny”, I had to explain that the meaning behind "no one ever say Henny Penny again" meant that the fox ate Henny. This understandably upset Hannah and Alex. “Why did the fox eat her?” they asked with trembling lips. I thought for a moment. I started talking about the food chain. Then I got inspired to teach “the truth.” I talked about how when Jesus comes back creation will be healed and “the lion will lay down with the lamb.” That answer was infinitely more satisfying to all of us. I think that I’ll have a few more of these moments over time where I can pull our Catholic faith into traditionally secular academic subjects. That’s something that still feels wonderful and exciting as a recent convert to the true faith.

Et Tu Jen? -How I Became Pro-Life

Et Tu Jen?- who is also a convert to Catholicism and the pro-life message- has an awesome post on this subject today. Here's a brief quote:

"The message I'd heard loud and clear was that the purpose of sex was for pleasure and bonding, that its potential for creating life was purely tangential, almost to the point of being forgotten about altogether. This mindset laid the foundation of my views on abortion. Because I saw sex as being closed to the possibility to life by default, I thought of pregnancies that weren't planned as akin to being struck by lightning while walking down the street -- something totally unpredictable, undeserved, that happened to people living normal lives.

Being pro-choice for me (and I'd imagine with many others) was actually motivated out of love and caring: I just didn't want women to have to suffer, to have to devalue themselves by dealing with unwanted pregnancies. Because it was an inherent part of my worldview that everyone except people with "hang-ups" eventually has sex and sex is, under normal circumstances, only about the relationship between the two people involved, I got lured into one of the oldest, biggest, most tempting lies in human history: to dehumanize the enemy. Babies had become the enemy because of their tendencies to pop up and ruin everything; and just as societies are tempted to dehumanize the fellow human beings who are on the other side of the lines in wartime, so had I, and we as a society, dehumanized the enemy of sex."

Go check it out the full text in person and leave her a "that a girl" comment. Even better, write your own essay on the subject. (I'd be really interested to read some cradle Catholics trace how their families raised them to "always be Pro-Life")

The MovieGoer- Nowhere in Africa


If you have any patience for subtitles whatsoever, please add “Nowhere in Africa” to your Netflick’s queue. Visually, this German film is stunning. The image a little girl dancing on a weathered front porch with her father to a beat up radio, while the camera slowly pulls back to reveal the extent of their isolation in an African desert is one of many haunting images. These special effects are nothing compared to the intensity of inter-family drama and reconciliation.

Within moments the film sets up the central tension between a Father, a Mother and a Daughter. As a German Jewish lawyer in 1938, the father has fled to the remote British Protectorate of Kenya. Once he finds work at a remote sheep-farm, he writes to his wife “follow immediately on the next ship available. Trust no one, not even our closest friends. I dread what this news will do to your mother.” The wife is reluctant to leave their close-knit family and all the familar comforts of a rich life. As she says her goodbyes, her loving father-in-law states, “This is all so unnecessary. Why did my son leave? This unpleasantness will all blow over in a year or two.”

The tension between obedience to her husband, whose flight to rural Kenya seems extreme in the eyes of their family and practically negligent in regards to the safety of their four year old daughter, and the longing for the comfort of home sets the tone for dramatic tension over the family’s nine year exile. The father & child quickly adapt to their new life. They learn Swahili and befriend many Kukuri tribe members. The mother constantly longs for home: for former comforts and familiar faces.

One of the most amazing scenes occurs when the little girl tries out her new grasp of Swahili to point out a brush fire. The mother (understandably) freaks out that a wildfire is suddenly burning a few yards from their farmhouse. She says “I’m going back to Germany, with or without you. We can never live here. Besides, how is our daughter going to learn how to read if she can’t go to school?”

At that point, the Father starts screaming that no one realizes danger they faced in Germany. The Father admits to hearing about Kristallnacht that morning from a Swiss radio station. “We were lucky to get out of their with our lives!” he screams. “Don’t you see that it doesn’t matter if or when our daughter learns to read? She’s alive!” In a stunning movement of camera work, the audience follows the two parents gaze at their daughter, happily skipping beside the brush fire, unaware that she maybe the only remaining descendant of a large Jewish family.”

I don’t want to ruin the rest of the surprising plot twists. I will say that this film, based on a true memoir, is a beautiful anatomy of marriage. Not surprising, the husband and wife deal with their loss of their homeland and family in radically different ways. The husband describes the distance he feels with his wife. "I feel like we are two packages next to each other on a train. We've come a long way together, but we are all wrapped up. In the end, we don't really know what lies inside the other." The interior movement that each character has mades by the end of nine years, makes their geographic journey seem tame by comparison. (I am excited to pick this film apart with someone, so please leave a comment after you check it out) Happy viewing!

(Rated R- there are two extensive nude scenes between the husband & wife).

Thursday, January 24, 2008

March For Life, IV

While the kids and I were scouting for sights of Dad during EWTN's live coverage of the March, I heard a fascinating talk by Dr. Mary-Joan Marron-Corwin, Head of Neonatal Medicine at Manhattan's St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan. You can still catch her entire interview by checking out the "March of Life" reruns on EWTN (also available on their website). She was the second speaker interviewed by EWTN, about fifteen minutes into the start of their program. If you miss her speech, here are some brief highlights:

1) The pressure for pre-natal testing has had devastating result. As Dr. Corwin says, "look around at our parishes and at our malls. There are many less young people with Down Syndrome. Where did they go? They have been aborted."

2)"Miscarriage is a real risk in pregnancy." We need to treat the result as "sacred remains of conception."

3) Dr. Marron-Corwin describes her first-hand experiences with the pro-life issue. As an OB doctor, she contracted a devastating virus while recessitating a baby. She was seven weeks pregnant herself at the time. The virus (I think it was called CVR) had terrible risks for the developing fetus-blindness, brain damage, etc. All her medical co-workers urged her to consider an abortion.

Dr. Marron-Corwin states, “I wish I could sit her and say that I was completely pious and was appalled at their suggestions. At these times, you are pulled out of yourself. And so, I as a devoted Catholic was considering having an abortion myself.”

Dr. Marron-Crowin said she walked around in a fog for about two weeks. As she was pulling down some Christmas wrapping paper from a high closet shelf, a book by Mother Theresa fell out and hit her on the head. There was a quote inside that said “what a great poverty it is for a child to die in order that I might live the way I wish.” Well, that sealed her mind against an abortion.

She said she went on to cry every day for the next nine months. Even with a supportive husband and supportive friends, she said she found the unknown during her pregnancy extremely scary. The happy end is that her second son, Timothy, was born perfectly healthy. He is now a cross-country runner, a good Catholic middle school student and is considering a vocation to the priesthood.

I was so impressed by Marron-Corwin’s deep sympathy and her medical knowledge in this field. It’s rare to find a doctor who urges one to “go to the daily Eucharist” as a source for strength in dealing with the cross of an adverse pregnancy diagnosis.

Happy Birthday Baby Jane

Stop by Maria's blog, Ordinary Time to wish her new baby girl a very Happy Birthday!

March for Life, III

I stayed home Tuesday with one sick kid and one teething baby. Happily, the star photographer for Abigail's Alcove made the march.

My husband Jon at his first political rally.

Our church brought signs stating the necessity of attending adoration and saying the Divine Mercy Chaplet for the conversion of hearts on this issue.


The theme for this years march was unity on life all principles, no exceptions!
Praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3:00 PM in front of the Supreme Court
Church members walking home from the Capital Building

Monday, January 21, 2008

March for Life, II

Well, it's 9:30 PM the night before the March. I've got once kid down with a sore throat, a teething baby, an exhausted husband and a severe winter weather advisory. I'm still setting the alarm early in an attempt to make the parish bus deadline.

Just in case, my husband convinces me that dragging three young children out into sub-zero temperatures is not a good idea (it's a sign of a good eight year marriage that he didn't press his point tonight with a wife that has been waiting all month for this event) I still want to do my part. Here is my all-time favorite Pro-Life picture.

Father Jaffe officiates the funeral of Francisco Benjamin, July 2006

I don't know if you can see without enlarging this photo, but the incense burner is actually wider than my son's five-inch wooden coffin. (Our son died, from a miscarriage at 12 weeks and 6 days in utereo.) When this photo was taken, I sat numb and grief-stricken, gripping my crying husband's hand in the front pew. It hurt me that my son's coffin seemed so small. I noticed that the coffin was even smaller than the incense holder used to bless it. Then I noticed the reverent, holy way that Father swung the incense holder over the coffin in the shape of a cross. He performed the motions exactly the same as in a "regular" funeral. Watching Father Jaffe reverently bless my son with incense was the moment that I started experiencing true peace.

Size doesn't matter. Someday, my coffin will be at least six feet long, while my little son's body only needed six inches. The different lenghts are irrelevant. My son and I share equal dignity of the soul. The church recognizes this fact and treats all life (no matter how brief, no matter how long) with dignity and reverence. This is the picture which reminds me that my church and my God recognizes the unborn as "real children." Someday, I hope we will all join my "big" boy in heaven.

March for Life

On Tuesday, January 22, my family will be boarding a bus at our parish hall at 6:15 AM to attend the annual March for Life in downtown D. C. If you can’t join us in person, why not join us in a prayer for an end to the Roe v. Wade decision at noon?

This is the first time my family will march. (Last year, I was too pregnant to risk falling on the ice. Eight years ago, I was firmly pro-choice.) The recent cold snap may keep the baby and I inside a downtown McDonald’s for most of the day. Regardless, we’ll be able to attend the 7:30 AM rally inside the Verizon Center as a family. I think it’s important to bring a baby to these pro-life events, even if it only uplifts the spirits of a few of the marchers.

I’m thinking of sign slogan ideas to create for Tuesday’s march. The sign I will put on Maria’s stroller might read “During the 2007 March, I was one of the unborn. Thank you for marching for me!” Any other slogan suggestions?

Homeschooling Part II

I apologize for the light posting this past week. My mind is eaten up with anxiety over this home-schooling decision. (I’ve even broken out with acne from all the stress for the first time in eight years.)

I’ve always been a relatively cautious one--worried about coloring outside the lines. Choosing to home-school, especially with my background of four generations of public school teachers, feels like coloring outside of the established lines.

On Saturday I went to confession to clean up some of the sins I committed during the decision-making process. In the middle of my confession, my beloved priest said a) home-schooling is good for families that can do it, b) education of children is the decision of the parents BUT c) I need to be realistic about how much time I’ll be able to devote to home-schooling with a 1 1/2 year and a 3 year old in the house. “How fair will home-schooling this be to your 5 year old?” he asked. “Why don’t you just come to our January open house and check out our good parish school? Well, that’s all I’m going to say about that” and he turned the discussion to my next problem.

I came out of that confessional with such anguish. I truly believe that the advice given by priests in the confessional is directly inspired by Jesus. (I could have saved myself and my husband much anguish in our 2006 job search by taking my confessors advice “Don’t be so focused on New York City, be open to living in other cities” a bit more seriously—instead of immediately dismissing it as “that poor priest doesn’t understand artists!”) So most of Saturday night was miserable as I kept turning around my priest's words. Am I being unrealistic about the time commitment involved in teaching my kindergartener myself while trying to mother two other young children? Am I truly following God’s will?

At the same time, Hannah’s academic achievement is honestly one thing I’m not worried about if we home-school. We are already working on “education” and “socialization” and “religion” sixteen hours a day around here. Even if she only gets my undivided attention for instructing proper letter formation for twenty minutes a day, won’t she still come out ahead? Or as my blessed, calm friend Maria states: “How does competing for attention with two siblings from one mother so much worse than competing for attention with twenty-nine classmates for the attention of one teacher?”

Whatever your position on home instruction, please pray for my husband and me to have wise discernment on our children’s education this week. Thank you.

Monday, January 14, 2008

A Solid Foundation-Homeschooling Part I

When I first saw Hannah, I didn't have my glasses on. My newborn daughter was a blurry face wrapped up like a burrito in a pink and blue striped hospital blanket held aloft by her pediatrician. I was still being stitched up after an emergency c-section and my glasses were in my husband’s shirt pocket. I squinted my eyes to see Hannah better. I could make out that her eyes were blue: vivid blue eyes in an inscrutable expression. “This is my daughter, I have a daughter” I kept repeating to myself. It was days before those words felt real to me.

Despite all the horror stories of pregnancy heartburn and long labor, I found the emotional journey of becoming a mother much more arduous than any physical aspect of conception, pregnancy or birth. There are these tiny milestones that all add up to the sudden realization that another life is dependant upon you: the first nursing session, the first night of rooming in, fixing the car seat straps, carrying the baby up a flight of stars, figuring out how to slip a sleeping baby peacefully onto the bed, the first time you change her diaper alone in a public restroom. There were so many, many first moments.

At first it seems overwhelming. Then you start to do a task slowly, and clumsily. Then you start to make up some of your own short cuts. Before you know it, you feel like a pro- at least for a few moments before suddenly the game changes and your back at square one again (only this time dragging even more kids behind you.)

I’m at a new stage in my mothering. After one and a half years of worrying, after four months of solid praying—my husband and I have made a plan to home-school our daughter for kindergarten. I’m more than a little intimidated.

My state happens to have strict home-schooling guidelines complete with a twice-yearly portfolio review. After a few nights of not being able to sleep because I was excited about planning the curriculum (one whole week devoted to “ducks”- what they eat, where they live and my favorite Boston story “Make Way for Ducklings) I started freaking out about meeting all these impossible school standards. “How am I going get our plan approved?” I asked my husband at 3:30 AM. My beloved spouse gently reminded me that I did in fact practice Education law for four years. Moreover, as the daughter of an Education professor I grew up breathing Educational Theory in the womb, if not precisely studying it in college.

Next January, I hope my nervousness over home schooling seems as odd as remembering my panic of diapering a newborn in public for the first time. Change always starts with a deep breath and a few wobbling first steps.

Ethical Vaccines Part II

Today's vaccine visit, with the ethical vaccine schedule in hand, went smoothly. Maybe a little too smoothly. In the middle of the shot process our nurse, Cindy, started explaining that she understood because "her kids got their vaccines one at a time but she's been around enough to see the difference vaccines have made." "What?" I ask, completely confused. Is she old enough to have seen the polio epidemic? It wasn't until after I got Maria dressed that I realize she probably thought my "religious objection" had to do with the Autism/Vaccine scare. Oh well, practice makes perfect in this area.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Overheard at my house, but probably not yours

"Dad, Nanny McPhee has too much magic in it! You need to put back in Baby Godzilla right now."
(Alex, age 3)

"Mom, Santa Claus isn't real. If you pray to him, then you don't get the right toys on Christmas Day. St. Nicholas is real. He's in heaven. If you pray to him then you DO get the right toys!" (Hannah, my theologian in training, age 4)

Josh's Booklist

1. One book that changed your life:
She’s Come Undone

2. One book you’ve read more than once:
Pride and Prejudice

3. One book you’d want on a desert island
All seven volumes of Proust

4. One book that made you laugh:
The Prime of Ms. Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

5. One book that made you cry:
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

6. One book you wish had been written:
My Life & Times by Saint Peter

7. One book you wish had not been written:
Babel's Tower by A.S. Byatt

8. One book you are currently reading
Sister Wendy On Prayer, by Sister Wendy Beckett (the art nun)

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
Six O’clock Hour of the Saints (inspired the movie writer of “Millions”)

Edward Hopper


Can there be a more glorious way to spend a birthday than by staring at seventy oil paintings by an iconic American painter?* My favorite Hopper painting in the exhibit is “Room in Brookland
.” Hopper somehow makes the 1920s seem less chic, more forlorn. The woman is looking at the horizontal cityscape out the window. Her stylish flapper bob somehow becomes less chic. Her hair looks shorn and her neck looks cold and exposed. The fussy table of pink roses in a bare room shows a longing for the fussiness of the Victorian period.

In “Chop Suey, the face paint on the girls' faces is repugnant. The lines of mascara and lipstick are driven into layers and layers of thick oil paint. The girl’s chic beaver coat seems to hang indistinguishable on the wall.

The interplay between light and the city architecture is fantastic. As I walked around the city later, I couldn’t help but notice how wonderful all the Romanesque columns looked against the blue sky. I couldn’t relate to the negative views that the city is filled with emptiness and strangers. Without my children and husband, I felt that the city was so friendly on Monday- lots of tourists with little babies and happy expressions everywhere.

The funniest line I overheard in the Edward Hopper gift shop was “I’m looking for the magnet with the sailing boat on it. I don’t really like his other more-Hopperesq paintings.” That line made me laugh out loud as I paid for my post-cards. The Hopper exhibit is open at the National Gallery until January 21. Afterwards, it heads to Chicago.
Check out “Nighthawks” in person if you have the chance.

*(Even more glorious is to come home and realize that your husband, who didn’t know how to separate egg whites, has miraculously make a three-tired coconut cake from scratch! He even used a double boiler for homemade icing. (The coconut birthday cake is a new tradition we revived in honor of my great-grandmother Mabel who used to make them yearly for my 92-year-old grandfather. )

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Ethical Vaccines

Here is why I think I make a terrible advocate for ethical vaccines. I’m the girl who doesn’t have her act together as a mother. Maria is kid number three, and I have still not figured out how to comply with the recommended vaccination schedule. Hannah had to get her shots at the local health clinic, so there were all types of confusion and delay. Alex was on-time for the first year of life, but then we moved- his paperwork got lost, he got behind, etc. Maria was up to date, until I had to frantically cancel her fourth month appointment at the last minute. Since we have the “good pediatrician” in our HMO, it was impossible to reschedule until two weeks before her scheduled six-month visit. So I just figured, why bother? Took her into her six month appointment- but this novel move on my part throw off her HiB vaccine schedule, her double first flu shot—oh my!

This is just the normal, vaccination schedule. The Vatican’s 2005 requirement that I make a “moral conscience objection” to unethical vaccines is hard for me. I’m the girl who gets all fuzzy headed in the doctor’s office anyway, and that is before I had to restrain jumpy three year old in a room full of enticing, mental objects. On December 10, I swallow my pride and started the MMR discussion with my kind Arabic doctor. “I’m a Catholic and I have a religious objection to the rubella vaccine”, I bravely begin.

My kind, female doctor squints her eyes at me. “Are you sure? Because we treat a lot of Catholic here and this is the first time that I’ve ever heard of it.”

And so it goes, with me vainly trying to recall the specifics of the cell-line debate and straining to read the ethical vaccine notes in my terrible handwriting on the back of a gum wrapper. (I’m sure the slaughtering of the product names & transversing of letter names is really helping my position.)

“I’ve just never, ever heard of this. Let’s look on the computer and see.” My doctor briskly googles “MERCK” and up comes “from human lung tissue” on the computer screen. “See, no problem!” she announces.

“I’m pretty sure there is a problem. I can’t remember all the specifics, but I’m pretty sure I read something- it was official.” I fear the sudden dread that only a convert can feel- “If no other Catholics are doing it, am I wrong? Is the document from the Vatican that I’ve poured over from days revoked, or something? What am I missing?”

Maria did end up getting her Polio shot that day (I’d check the ethics on that earlier at her 2-month visit. The doctor told me to research the Vatican issue and get back to her. “We’ve got plenty of time to cross the rubella bridge” she assures me.

Ten days later, I show up with a different kid. “Did you figure out the rubella problem” my doctor cheerful greets me. I look at her with wide, deer in the headlight eyes. “It’s Christmas preparation season, I’m in full survival mode,” I think. “I’m still working on that” is my answer.

Now it is January 4, flu shot day. I have a vague notion that I should pull the safe vaccination schedule out of Maria’s file. “Ah, I’ve got enough to do,” and get back to the process of getting clean pants, mittens, and hats on everyone, in addition to locating the missing car-keys and walking the distraught elderly dog.

So now we are in office, waiting for the nurse appointment for two flu shots. (Alex has already has his on his 3 year old visit in December. Maria had the first of her two flu shots.) I’m so excited to finally figure out that I can simply request “preservative free” shots for my four year old. This makes me feel like a good mother for half a second. Then I read, “the best time to get a flu shot is between October and November” in the thrilling vaccination literature. “What type of mother waits until January to get her girls inoculated?” I think dejectedly.

As the nurse walks in, Alex suddenly started wailing “I WANT MY SISTER!” The baby starts to whimper in her stroller. “He’s touching me! He’s touching me! Mom, I DON’T WANT TO GET SHOT TODAY!” Hannah can’t figure which is worse. I’m thinking “it’s a good thing we live in the suburbs because your statement could have different implications in downtown D.C.” Then I sit down on an empty chair, grab a wiggling Alex in my lap and start to marvel at how strong the boy has gotten lately.

Over all this commotion, the nurse, whom we later realize is named Florence, “Your daughter is behind on her shots…”

“Oh, I know,” I cut her off. “Hannah’s being home-schooled. She doesn’t need the rest of her shots until age 5. Her doctor gave us the okay.”

Florence looks at me like I’ve grown two –heads. “I’m talking about the baby!”

“Oh,” I’ve realized that I’ve just spilled the beans that daughter number two is also off her recommended vaccination schedule.

Florence starts listing all the multiple shots that Maria (age 7 months) needs. I’m totally confused. I think she just needs her HiB shot. Eventually, this shot includes other vaccines. There’s something called a Prevnar? Things are being said. Alex is screaming now “I want my SISTER,” he’s wrestling hard in my arms. After each mention of the work “shot” Hannah starts whimpering louder. My brain feels like it’s wrapped in cotton gauze. I remember checking the validity of Maria’s polio vaccine. I can not remember hearing any of the other vaccine names during her earlier visits.

I throw out a truce. “We’re just here for the flu shots. Can’t we handle the rest of the vaccines during our scheduled appointment on January 14?”

“Well, it’s your choice.” Florence juts out her chin farther and implies in her tone of voice that a) it is technically my choice, but b) only an imbecile would willing chose to come back to the doctors office with this unruly mass of humanity, and c) my decision to take such course of action clearly warrants a call to Children’s Services.

I return to my cotton gauze memory in vain. Maria starts to cry. “I know this sounds crazy to want to come back,” I say humbly. “We have a religious objection to some of the vaccines. I know the polio is okay, but I can’t remember about the others. I left my information sheet at home. I want to reschedule the shots for next week, when I’ll be sure to have my list.”

“What objections can you possibly have to the vaccines?” Florence says accusingly.

I look at my kids. Everyone is distracted with his or her own interior dramas. “Some of the vaccines are made from products of aborted fetuses” I say.

“Oh no” Florence answers.

“Yeah, the Vatican says so” I sigh. “Here we go again- no one in the medical profession ever believes me,” runs my interior monologue. Florence’s answer causes me to jerk out of my self-pity mode.

“I didn’t know, it’s not a sin if I didn’t know, right?” Florence says in horror. “Well, we’ve got a Catholic nurse on our hands!” I think.

And so out it comes for the next ten minutes, that Florence is completely against abortions. She caused trouble as a nursing student at Catholic University when she refused to watch an abortion being performed as part of her hospital training. I learn about her anguish being forced into an early D& C after to miscarriages (“I just want to wait another week to make sure there is no heart beat,” she said). Florence wrote down her name on a scrap of paper and begged me to mail her a copy of Vatican statement.

Needless to say, Florence’s outlook completely changed. “Let’s just do those flu shots today! We won’t bother those sweet girls with the icky other vaccines until your completely sure.” She gave the shots to both girls like a pro. No one cried. She started to fill me in on her few objections to the Catholic Church “I think divorce should be okay in cases of spousal abuse. I think women should be priests.” Before I could answer, Alex took advantage of my distraction in reattaching Maria’s stroller buckles to race out of the office and towards the enticing toys of the waiting room. ‘I’ve got to go. We’ll pray for you.” I said in parting. I took one look at the giggling, happy Maria. Not trace of pain from the shot. “I do this every day,” her smile said. “Santicifying the world by my very presence!”

As I chased after Alex, hugging a seven month old, lugging a worn stroller and dragging a four year old in a new Gap dress, I felt a burden being lifted. God had a plan for this day. Everything was useful for a larger purpose. If I was supremely organized about the vaccination schedule, brave and efficient, then we never would have run into Florence. My tentative declaration of faith was enough to open the door to a Catholic who faces this moral issue every day.

I have no idea if I’m the first to hear about this vaccine controversy or the last. In the interest of sharing your mom’s the grief of writing formal letters, please feel free to copy the letter posted below. For a great in depth analysis of this issue, please refer to Et Tu Jen’s excellent post. For the official Vatican statement go here.

I’ve come to the conclusion to request the ethical alternative Polio vaccine, avoid the Chicken Pox vaccine, and accept the unethical Rubella vaccine if no ethical alternative arrive by May 2008. I am just a simple Catholic convert, so please consult your own spiritual advisor on this matter. (and then leave a comment because I’d appreciate knowing what others are doing about this issue.) Please pray for Florence and for all Catholic nurses, doctors and research scientists who are on the front lines of this moral issue every day.

Form Letter:

Dear Dr. (insert name):

As a Roman Catholic, and the mother of three of your pediatric patients, I have a religious objection to my children receiving some of the recommended childhood immunization vaccines currently distributed by Kaiser-Permanente.

In the 2005 document, “Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared from Cells Derived from Aborted Human Foetuses (sic),” the Vatican has affirmed that the Rubella vaccine distributed by Merck in the United States, the Chicken Pox vaccine distributed by Varivax, and the Polio virus vaccine distributed by Poliovax, are made from human cell lines obtained by aborted fetuses. (See Attachment A, pages 2, 3. See also Attachment B, Nat’l Immunization Info, pg. 1). The Vatican has urged all Catholic parents to use alternative vaccines and make a conscientious objection to those with have moral problems. (See Attachment A, pages 6-7).

As a result, I respectfully request that my children do not receive the chicken pox vaccine. I request that my children receive an ethical version of the Polio Vaccine, (Pediacel, Pediarix + HiB, or IPOL + any DTap) instead of the unethical versions (Pentacel, Infanrix, or Quadracel.)

I have grave reservations about inoculating my daughter (insert child’s name) with the MMR vaccine. There appears to be no ethical Rubella Vaccine currently available in the United States. (See Attachment C, Ethical Vaccination Schedule.) As you are well aware, failure to immunize my daughter against rubella during her one year pediatric visit in May 2008, will expose all the pregnant women she comes into contact with in the future to be exposed to German measles. The severity of congenital rubella places us pro-life parents in a serious moral quandary. The Vatican has discussed this issue in depth, and has allowed a limited exception in the case of the Rubella vaccine. (See Attachment A.) During our one year visit, I will wish to confirm that no alternative exists to the Meruvax, MMR-Priorix, MR Vax, Eolarix, or Biavax II, Rubella vaccines before I consent to have my daughter, Maria inoculated.

Thank you for you concern in this matter. Thank you, also, for you attentive care to my children’s welfare.

Sincerely,

(your name)

New Years Eve Redefined

I spent my twenty-fifth birthday dressed in long underwear, new earrings and a damp felt hat. I’d dragged a bottle of champagne to the banks of the Thames River. My friend, Gloria and I, didn’t bring glasses, so we took swigs straight from the bottle, surrounded by a crowd of two million.

It was December 31, 1999. Deciding to celebrate the junction of the millennium & my first quarter century with a hop across the pond seemed glamorous and exciting as I discussed it with my housemate at 2 AM in snowy Madison, Wisconsin. The dream in actuality was not so glamorous.

The weather, as winter weather always is in London, was that awful spitting rain that somehow chills to the bone far worse than an actual blizzard. I wore three layers in anticipation. Still, every piece of me ached with cold. The crowd, which seemed gloriously thrilling as I rode the Underground into the city, now turned into an overwhelming force. People pressed up against me with inches to spare. There were drunk, rude guys trying to “cop a feel” and no room to move to avoid them. I realized that if I slipped on the wet pavement, there would be no way Gloria could ever get me back on my feet. I’d be trampled by the massive crowd, which kept surging forward in unpredictable waves.

Gloria and I popped the champagne cork to celebrate my birth-time at 10:31 PM. She took a picture of me waving underneath Big Ben. After a few happy swigs, we realized mournfully that we had an hour and a half to kill before midnight. What were we going to do?

Looking around, I realized that we were close to Westminster Abbey. “Want to hang out in a church?” I asked her. “Yes” was her enthusiastic answer.

We filed into the famous church at about 10:45 PM, happy to unwrap ourselves from our wet coats and soaked mittens. I said a quick prayer of thanks and then lost myself in my own daydreams. (Church sanctuaries were a homey, familiar place for both Gloria and I. Back in Madison we were housemates at an inter-faith Episcopal College Dorm called “St. Francis House.”)

Within a few minutes an organ started playing, and then a few parishioners filed in. “They are having a special service tonight?” I asked. Gloria, who was a Catholic from Columbia, knew all about New Years Eve vigil. I, as an American Methodist, had no idea what was going on. Gloria helped me find my place in the prayer book. We were happy to find an honest reason to stay out of the rain.

The memory of that night made an impression on me. Inside the ancient stone church, there was warmth, music, calm, a comfortable space to move around and to be myself. Outside, was the large, chaotic crowd. I felt as though the church was a safe ship amid a stormy sea. I said my prayers for world in the new millennium. “Why was Mary involved in ushering in world peace?” I wondered.

Before this past New Years Eve, I always thought the story of Jon and I started with two New Years Resolutions. (On January 1, 2000, the shy Jon decided to “start asking girls out” for the first time. Meanwhile, after reading “She’s Come Undone, my 2000 year resolution was to “drink people’s milkshakes accept the love that is offered.” A mere three weeks later, Jon decided to uncharacteristically send a free drink to the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. I was about to decline, since I’m clearly “not a girl who accepts drinks from strange men in a bar.” Then the “accept people’s milkshakes” line came into my head, and so over the objection of my friend and five of her burly brothers, I went to the bar to get my free shot. The bartender was a girl named Beth, “the guy that sent that to you is down there, in the orange baseball cap. He’s really nice if you want to say thank you.” I started to walk towards the guy in the orange cap. He was so shocked to see me that he promptly fell off his bar stool. That sheepish grin as he climbed back on his barstool went right to my heart, and gave me courage. “At least, he’s not a Casanova!” I thought happily. “My name is Jon & I have two dogs,” so started the conversation, which is still going on eight years later, only now its over the din of teething babies instead of the roar of Wisconsin beer drinkers.)

So, I’d always credited our marriage to two lonely people making a resolution to look harder to find love in a New Year. Celebrating vigil at midnight with my family this year, I’ve come to a different conclusion. I clearly remember that night on Dec 31, 1999. I remember feeling scared, and jostled, and needing a safe refuge from the maddening crowd. I remember finding a quiet church, and spending the night in an earnest prayer for peace—asking the aid of a Blessed Mother I never knew I had.

Our Blessed Mother heard my prayer for world peace. She didn’t direct me to start an inter-faith summer camp or send shoeboxes of school supplies to Africa. Instead, she guided me to my husband, a shy boy who had been living two blocks from me the entire two and half years of my falling, flagging, time in law school. She guided Jon and I into Holy Matrimony and towards a conversion of faith to the Catholic Church. A peaceful family life is the building block of a peaceful society. Now Jon and I are humble bricklayers in tasks that we never knew the world always needed.

In 2007, I capped off my birthday celebration by waking three sleepy children, dressing them in their Christmas best, and packing them into a church pew. Mass began at 11:30 and ended to 12:38. It was the first time that Jon and I had ever skipped the 10, 9, 8 . . . countdown to midnight. We prayed. We sang. We didn’t know the clock had turned until our priest gave us the time at the close of Mass. My birthday was officially over. Then I realized that I’d been born just in time to celebrate Vigil Mass on Our Blessed Mother’s special feast day. It didn’t matter that I didn’t learn how to say a rosary until age 28. I’d been a Mary’s girl, all along!

Happy Feast of the Epiphany!

One King held the Frankincense,

One King held the Myrrh,

One King held the purest gold,

And one King held the hope of the world!

(lyrics from the Anthem “One King” from Point of Grace)

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

On the Bookshelf-Elizabeth Gilbert

For my birthday, my sister mailed me: “Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia.” I would never have picked out this book for myself. Gilbert’s decision not to have a baby breaks up her six year marriage, leaving her in a spiritual crisis which she claims to have healed through four months of eating pasta in Italy, four months of meditation in an Ashram in India and four months, um, making love? with a fifty-two year old divorcee in Indonesia. I watched Gilbert promote her book on Oprah. Her claim that she was seduced by the supremely romantic line “come into my bed, now” made me throw metaphysical shoes at my TV set. Gilbert’s guest appearance and “the Secret” debacle have made me swear off Oprah for life.

The one advantage of wasting yet another hour of my life arguing with Oprah, was that it upgrade the prayer status of my one true childhood friend. (I’ve moved three times in my childhood, losing all my friends at age six and then again at age fourteen. Emily, the amazing violinist, has stayed friends with me since we were both eighteen months old. At age 23, we both found ourselves in Madison, Wisconsin together and had several deep conversations about Christ. Emily’s grandfather was a Protestant minister & her father had died recently from cancer. The summer before she had help build a Buddhist stupa somewhere out West. Now she had serious doubts of whether Christ was the one road to salvation. Our conversations were mild, pleasant. She envied me for being so certain and comfortable in my faith. Two years later, Emily departed for a THREE year study of Buddhist meditation in India. At the time, I thought it was cool. I had left my Methodist roots to join the Catholic Church. My friend was also a serious seeker and engaged in Buddhism. Same search, all paths lead to union with God.) After watch Gilbert, however, I told my husband- “I think Emily might be in serious trouble.” The whole turning your back on Jesus thing isn’t a recipe for a clean, serene earthly experience.

So I actually read “Eat, Pray, Love” on my birthday because I was curious about my friend. What I found out was helpful. I wouldn’t recommend this read for someone with a shaky spiritual foundation, I would recommend book for to cradle Catholics. It’s R rated due to pre-martial sex. But what it does explain is the horrible “lostness” of this generation. There is a hunger, a loneliness, a spiritual void, and nothing, nothing to fill it. “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in Thee.”

This problem is serious for Protestants, because they are fed a slanted version of the true faith. They have baptism, they have Holy Scripture. They don’t have “the church.” So when doubts come, there is no pillar of truth to stand on. So people go on amazing quests, come up with batty answers, work very hard (nothing seemed more difficult than life at the Ashram) all for a shred, A SHRED of the truth we take for granted as Catholics.

I found Gilbert's voice to be typical of those fuzzy spiritual questions launched by my college friends. Gilbert’s spiritual journey actually began long before she started dreaming of buying an airline ticket to Italy. At age 10, she has a full-blown crisis about her own mortality. She describes so clearly how her tenuous ties to a Protestant church did nothing to alleviate her anxiety or give her hope.

“The panic I was feeling at age ten was nothing less than a spontaneous and full-out realization of mortality’s inevitable march and I had no spiritual vocabulary with which to help myself manage it. We were Protestants, and not even devout ones, at that. We said grace only before Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner and went to church sporadically. My dad chose to stay home on Sunday mornings, finding his devotional practice in farming. I sang in the choir because I liked singing; my pretty sister was the angel in the Christmas pageant. My mother used the church as a headquarters from which to organize good works of volunteer service for the community. But even in the church, I don’t remember there being a lot of talking about god. This was New England, after all, and the word God tends to make Yankees nervous. My sense of helplessness was overwhelming. “ (page 152).

It’s hard to understand that someone can be in a Christian church and still not understand to whom their religion is named after. Yet, I can attest, this does happen. Gilbert describes her mixed up feelings and her isolations from practicing, believing, “Orthodox” Catholics who she nicknames “those who speak and think strictly.”

“Culturally, though not theologically, I’m a Christian. I was born a Protestant of the white Anglo-Saxon persuasion. And while I do love that great teacher of peace who was called Jesus, and while I do reserve the right to ask myself in certain trying situations what indeed He would do, I can’t swallow that one fixed rule of Christianity insisting that Christ is the only path to God. Strictly speaking, then I cannot call myself a Christian. Most of the Christians I know accept my feelings on this with grace and open-mindedness. Then again, most of the Christians, I know, don’t’ speak very strictly. Those who do speak (and think) strictly, all I can do here is offer my regrets for any hurt feelings an now excuse myself from their business.” (page 14.)

Gilbert starts on a spiritual journey after praying for the first time in her life while crying in her bathroom floor over trouble in her marriage. What I found fascinating as a former divorce lawyer is that she refuses to give any reasons for the death of her marriage. She simply states “the many reasons I don’t want to be a wife anymore are too personal and too sad to share here.” (page 12.) Yet the overwhelming pain from her failed marriage is what forces her to start praying to God she doesn’t yet understand. In the midst of her divorce, she begins a new sexual relationship with a man named David. He was utterly wrong for her in every way. Yet post-break-up she inexplicitly retains contact with David's “spiritual teacher,” a female Guru from India. When her divorce if finalized, when her relationship with David is over, her self-imposed recipe for recovery is to give herself one year of world travel. She wants to eat pasta in Italy to learn the art of pleasure, attend an ashram in India “to learn the art of spirituality” and end in Bali “to find balance.”

Reading about the start of her journey in Italy got me hooked into her story. Gilbert writes in clear prose. I felt kinship with her urge to travel. I enjoyed how she kept backing up her Hindi conversion with dramatic quotes from Catholic writers or Italian paintings. Around page 45, I told Jon “my head hurts from reading this.” Reading all the swirling thoughts in Gilbert’s lost head made my own head throb. After reading to the start of her journey to an ashram in India, I put down the book. I said my Te Duce for the end of year indulgence. I got ready to take my family to Midnight Mass on the Holy Day of Obligation. I was so grateful for the safety and security of living inside the Catholic Church at a time of such cultural confusion.

After service, I felt better. I picked up the book and was rewarded for my labor of the ashram with Gilbert happiness over her reunion with an 85 year old palm reader in Bali. Her journey ends in “love” with the auspicious beginning quoted below. (This is R rated, and you may want to skip this quote. I’m including it because you simply cannot make this stuff up. If anything convinces you to keep away from palm-readers and avoid trading the Pope for an Indian Guru is this next passage where Elizabeth happily reports she’s finally found “love” with a fifty-two year old Brazilian.)

“Should we have an affair together, Liz. What do you think?”

“I showed him my hesitation. Which was this-that as much as I might enjoy to have my body and heart folded and unfolded for a while in the expert hands of an expat lover, something else inside me has put in a serious request that I donate the entirety of this year of traveling all to myself. That some vital transformation is happening into my life, and this transformation needs time and room in order to finish this process undisturbed. That basically, I’m the cake that just came out of the oven, and it still needs some more time to cool before it can be frosted. I don’t want to cheat myself out of this precious time, I don’t want to lose control of my life again.” (page 243).

(For us Catholics the whole chastity mandate is utterly clear without the cute cake metaphor. Unfortunately, Liz’s opinions are based on the flimsy insights gained by therapy and meditation. Her thoughts do not stand up to the utterly non-convincing arguments of her future lover.)

“Of course, Felipe said that he understood, and that I should do whatever’s best for me…
Don’t worry-I’m not going to chase you back to New York when you leave here in September. And as for all those reasons you told me a few weeks ago that you didn’t want to take a lover, Well, think of it this way. I don’t care if you shave your legs every day, I already love your body, you’ve already told me your entire life story and you don’t have to worry about birth control-I’ve had a vasectomy.”

Felipe, I said “that’s the most appealing and romantic offer any man has ever made to me!” (page 243).

AHHH! The most appealing, romantic offer ever made to her is from a guy who floats his vasectomy? But what else can you expect as a conclusion to this intense, yet misdirected spiritual quest?

Reading this book clarified some important points for me.

Number one, the whole frantic issue of my generation “should I, or should I not have kids” is completely misdirected. The real problem is that my generation has terrible intimacy issues that prevent women & men from coming together in Holy Matrimony. If you want marriage, the Catholic Church, wisely insists, you must be open to having children. If you don’t want to have children with someone, then you aren’t validly married. Call it “a true spiritual partnership”, flout it on Oprah, it doesn’t matter. Reading Gilbert’s book gave me the insight that all my “kids are great arguments” that I share with on the fence female friends is totally misdirected. Instead, I’m working hard on taming my temper issues and making my marriage of shiny, sterling quality.

Number two; I have nothing in common with people who specialize in “spirituality.” We talk about similar things: meditation, truth, virtues, etc. But we are using similar tools to climb totally different mountains. The truth of Gilbert’s quest is laid out in plain English. She ends up having a lot of non-life-giving sex with a fifty-two year old man and calls it “finding love.” And she self-imposes amazing efforts- she scrubs temple steps, she eats all vegetarian food, she memorizes 182 versus of Sanskrit. Yet all this spiritual accomplishment falls apart as soon as she hits a rough patch. In the end, Gilbert tells a major lie to her closest friend in Bali. Her ethical framework falls apart. Her house is built on sand. “Tell the truth” quotes in the opening pages of her story “except when attempting to solve emergency Balinese real estate transactions, such as described in Book 3.”

Reading Gilbert made me tired. And then it made me run out and buy a shiny New Revised Standard Bible and the complete works of our Holy Father. I’m so grateful that have access to the truth each week at Mass and even at my neighborhood Barnes and Noble.

To conclude, I wish to share one more quote. This sums up the intense effort that non-Christians can put into the spiritual quest, which the rest of us freely have handed to us through religion.

While on a bicycle ride in Bali, Gilbert states the following: “I keep remembering one of my Guru’s teachings about happiness. She says that people universally tend to thing that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will maybe descend upon you like fine weather if you’re fortunate enough. But that’s not how happiness works. Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay a float on top of it.” (Page 260).

“A mighty effort,” "happiness is the consequence of personal effort," "participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings." Those words dovetail seemlessly into ideas of Yankee ingenuity, the Protestant reformation, individual spiritual quests. Our words as Catholic are subtly different. "Grace rather than individaul merit." Joy. Hope. Love. Chastity. Obedience to Authority. These words, along with the indescribable, mystical union with Jesus happen during the Mass everyday. Let us not take the gift of our faith lightly. Let us pray fervently for the union of all humanity like chicks gathered for protection under Christ’s hen-like wings from the approaching storm.