Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Charity Begins At Home

My little sister needs prayers this week as she searches for her first "real" job after grad school ends in June. Emily spent three years in the peace corps in rural Ghana. She lived without running water, without electricity and had to climb on her thatch hut roof to get cell-phone reception strong enough to call home. From her reports, finding a new job sounds far more intimidating than life in Africa.

Emily wants to find a "do good" job in the social justice field. She could hardly share half my genes if she was thinking about a career in Hedgefund Managment. All the same, it's getting harder and harder to talk to her about our shared interest in saving the world. Her talk consists of NGOs, eccumencialism, non-profits, and "productive plannning."

My whole life has sort of shrunk and expanded in one burst. My whole "plan" right now is:

Step One: Discern God's will

Step Two: Do it

I think my sister would probably agree with that approach, since she's right now in the midst of "what job does God want me to have?"

For me, however, God's will isn't some abstract thing "out there" for me to discover. God's will is sort of in my face all the time. I know what I'm supposed to be doing. The challenge is to do it, consistently, which means ALL THE TIME, without complaining! In otherwords, God is in the details.

For me, the details, is where charity starts to hurt. It's one thing to "volunteer" to read to an economically deprived child once a week, or send protest letters demanding that Congress not cut the food stamps funding, or carry a recycled mug into Starbucks. That's benevolence, or "giving out of your excess."

It's Charity-- "giving of what you need" to turn your life upside, give up "free-time", give up letter writing and Starbucks trips in order to have a bunch of new souls in a short time. . .then give your only bike pump to the neighborhood kids who don't have a Dad at home and then watch your husband walk to work for a week after his bike gets a flat tire. . . and then feed pancakes on your day of rest to another neighborhood kid who is having a hard time. I've written before that I served as a child advocate for four years in Appalachia. It wasn't until I was fumming after my husband spent yet another Sunday patching up the bikes for kids with missing Dads that I realized, my "child advocacy" work before my marriage was never that hard. Child Advocacy was a job that let me off to recover on the weekends. Now there are no more lazy, pajama-wearing, paper reading, coffee drinking, art film gazing weekends.

Then there's charity at home with our own kids. Hanging out with your own little ones is sometimes easy, breezy, lemon squeezy. And sometimes it's truly hard.

Last night, I actually "quit." I didn't know who I was handing my notice too. God, I guess. I knew at 4:30 AM that I was finished. Maria needed a night feeding at 3:30 AM and nothing could lull her back to sleep. I was so, so tired. Then, I started to the math caculations. I've been nursing Maria for eleven months and pregnant for nine months. That means my last full night's sleep was back in September 2006. 2006!!!

I got so upset that I handed "party girl" to her father, climbed out of bed and walked out the front door of the house. I stood on the "welcome" mat and tried to take some deep breaths.

Thankfully, our "Welcome Pope Benedict" montage was still on my front door. So I gazed into our Pope's eyes and muttered this prayer: "You said that Christ is our Hope, Papa and I believe you, but not sleeping and not having money for groceries and worring about our rent spike next month, makes being a Mother very, very hard!" Our Pope waved happily at me. I thought about his mother and how she must have had sleepless nights like this with her happy baby Joseph. She dealt with them gracefully on top of dealing with the incredible stress of the Natzis and two World Wars. I said a prayer to her for help, and that was enough to get me to head back into bed.

My husband let us skip Daily Mass this morning, so I caught up a little on sleep. Headed out the door to partake in Ben & Jerry's free ice-cream day, I saw the Pope Benedict pictures again. "Charity begins at home, in the little domestic church," Pope Benedict recently told us. It's a hard, hard deal to love the Lord BEYOND your strength somedays. But it feels good to never worry about being "unemployed" or directionless in how to do deeds of charity ever again.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Magic Fast

Netflix mailed us “The Chronicles of Narnia” this weekend. Something about watching it with my wide-eyed pre-school set has got me thinking about imposing a stricter fast from all things magic.

As I kid, I grew up surrounded by images of witches. There was the good witch Glenda in the Wizard of Oz. The funny housewife in “Bewitched.” The evil stepmother in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Growing up witches seemed like a harmless Halloween costume or a relic from medieval folk tales.

Then something happened over the past 15 years. Witches became Wiccans.--A true false religion that started gobbling up my peers.

In college, I remember sitting down with my Protestant Chaplin for a discussion about how to reach out to students of different faith. There were discussion about inter-faith dialogue with Jews, Muslims and Hindis. Then he said “What about the pagans? I heard there was a new ritual about dancing around the oak tree on the winter solstices. They had a big crowd. Those poor kids have no faculty advisor on campus, perhaps we can help them.”

“NOT THE PAGANS,” I responded. I didn’t really have a full explanation at that point. My baby-boomer Chaplin thought I was being unnecessarily narrow-minded. I couldn’t articulate my feelings well on that day. It just seem so clear to me on a gut level that believing magic was real was not a faith.

Then came graduate school in Madison, Wisconsin. There I was shocked to rub shoulders with actual Wiccans. I thought witches and warlocks had disappeared soon after the Salem Witch Trials. But here were twenty-something peers, fed up with the oppression of the patriarchy of Christianity. The girls bought cauldrons and practiced spells for more money and better roommates. The boys, who hoped the date the pretty girls, bought hexagon pendants and magic wands.

Meanwhile, countless friends have told me about the “amazing” experiences with accurate palm-readers in New Orleans and “insightful” daily horoscopes. There’s the “magic” of the secrete tooted on Oprah. And my was I shocked to see cartoon after cartoon of happy kid witches on the Saturday morning cartoons after my oldest kid hit age three. Even worse, Catholic kids in our local newspaper were quoted as saying that seeing the Pope "felt like magic!"

The one thing I have gleaned from my reading of the Old Testament is that God is not down with sorcery. Believing that you can reduce control of the universe to your own personal "whim", is the opposite of embracing the humility to true all powerful God, Creator of Heaven and Earth. Even the murder of your brother does not profane the mystery of faith as much as one small "money quick" spell.

Once I started flipping over the happy “animal year” chart at our local Chinese Restaurant, which by the way happens to have the BEST garlic dishes and is a favorite of the Bush family, I started finding “magic” everywhere.

When my kid showed up for Valentines Days at her C.C.D. class, there was a giant cupid over her door. “Why is there a naked Guardian angel on my door?” she innocently asked. That prompted a huge discussion that St. Valentine was real, and was martyred by the Romans who believe such “fake” gods as cupid were real instead of Christ. Jon and I started scratching our heads. Why had we never noticed how awful it was to promote fake Roman deities on the feast day of the Holy Saint martyred for his beliefs in the sanctity of marriage before?

Then came St. Patrick’s Day. Now giant leprechaun’s and pots of gold appeared outside the Catholic School Classroom. “We can like those men in funny hats, right Mom?” Hannah said. That prompted a chat that St. Patrick was real and that he came to help those Irish believe in the Trinity (yeah shamrocks) over the foolish fairies.

My husband and I are in a difficult role as converts. Half the in-laws don’t believe in “the Jesus bread” as Hannah delicately puts it. The other half think that going to Sunday Mass is a bunch of hooey since you can just as happily talk to God among the Trees. We get a lot of questions about “what is your Halloween costume this year?” among the grandparents and nil about “How are you coming on learning your rosary?” I admit this unique situation has created a type of bunker mentality between my husband and I in terms of Holiday traditions.

Still, I’ve gone on an all out war against “magic” in my house. Gone are the “lucky charms.” Saying “I’m blessed” has replaced saying “I’m lucky.”

Now, I’m considering extended the blanket “no wiccan cartoons” ban to no “witch movies’ in general. Even with such Christian classics as “the Chronicles of Narnia.”

Here’s my reasoning. I think that close to Christianity, yet still a myth is even more dangerous that “total myth” such as Harry Potter. The Christian parallels in this story are striking, but still “wrong.” Aslan is supposed to be a Christ figure, yet here is talking about his “resurrection” in terms of “the deep magic”. For all his fame among Catholic circles, C.S. Lewis is not a Roman Catholic. He was an Anglican. One in our faith in baptism, but not one in the sense of the Eucharist, and I'd argue not a full understanding of Jesus in his divinity or as his founding of one church on the rock of Saint Peter. Why do I want to confuse my five year old's hand on this issue and let her think that "witches" are nothing more than harmless fairy tales?

Has anyone else come up with clear rules on this difficult, modern issue?

Just a Reminder to Myself

that 3 year old boys are well worth the effort it takes to turn them into sweet Catholic men!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Feast of Saint Mark

Today is the feast of Saint Mark, martyr for the faith and author of the first Gospel. In his homily today, Father Brennan explained that Saint Mark was a close companion of Saint Peter. He would have been immersed in the story of Christ directly from Saint Peter's lips. Inspired by these truths and wanting to share them with others who were not as priviledged to hear "the Good News" from Saint Peter directly, Saint Mark wrote the first Gospel. Saint Mark basically "invented" a new genre of writing, the Gospels. This would have been a radical act in the world of oral tradition and story-telling. Imagine all that work to write out a Gospel by hand before the age of the printing-press. All of Saint Mark's intensive liteary work was motivated by love!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Sign of the Times

Last night, as I filled up the tank on my way to choir practice I glanced over at a huge sign over Exxon saying "Buy Milk here for $2.99 a gallon!" The price of the cheapest gas, (at our area's cheapest gas station) was $3.54 a gallon. That whole moment felt all wrong to me, but I'm sure I'll be living through many more of them as a mother of a "large" family during these crazy economic times.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A New Art Find

"As Seen From the Cross"
James Tissot, French

From the book: "The life of our Saviour Jesus Christ: Three hundred and sixty-five compositions from the four Gospels with notes and explanatory drawings."

In the late 1890s, this artist had a sort of conversion experience while doing ironic sketchs of the London party scene. In Tissot's own words "I coulnd't get the image of Christ out of my mind." So Tissot moves to Palestine and spends years in serious study of the Holy Land. The end result is the art book listed above. Oh, I hope I can somehow get my hands on this rare book through our inter-library loan program.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Order, Obedience, Sincerity

When I wrote this post, I thought I had the “order, obedience, sincerity thing almost down. My two naughty chair --no matter what, even if I’m nursing a starving baby or about to burn dinner—offences were “disobeying a direct order” and “lying.” I just have to figure out a creative way to add “picking up the toys” to our daily task list, I thought as I listened to the incredibly inspiring speech on sanctity by a mother of twelve.

Yeah, turns out that having three kids far under the age of reason is boot camp for my soul! The virtues I’m learning by the school of hard knocks are order, obedience and sincerity.


I had no idea that this simple virtue would define “good day” from “awful day.” Forget checking our D.C. the pollen count, if the laundry in my house is spilled all over the hallway--that spells a “bad” day for us. Everything else goes down hill from breakfast over unwashed dinner dishes.

Has anyone seen wrote Cold Mountain? You know the scene where the lovely Ada screams to the hardy Rudy “Why? You can ask Why about just about all of my education. I know how to embroider, but I can’t knit. I can name plants in Latin, but I don’t know how to find three herbs we can eat! I can name all the major rivers in Europe, but I can’t name a stream in this county! If it had a purpose, if it had a use, then I couldn’t learn it because it wasn’t fit for making me a lady!” I have that same dialogue in my head every day. I never had use to learn anything practical in life because I was to busy mastering obscure Latin terms in order to be a working woman!

My notion growing us was that housework was for fools. As a smart girl you weren’t supposed to waste your time preparing dinner. My mom, who it must be said is a cracker jack of a teacher, served us fish sticks or chicken nuggets every night. Every single night something came out of the freezer, got defrosted in the oven (and later the microwave) and ended up on our plate. Bathrooms, linen closets, hallway closets, we never cleaned them. Once a year, my family would spend a day of “work camp” where we would gather all the trash and broken things into a huge pile of trash-bags and cart them away.

Not surprising, there are some inherent problems with this method of maintaining “order.”

So I’ve been starting from scratch. Since my marriage, I’ve painfully, painfully built up some methods and learning some home-making skills under the gun. Now with three “real” children (as opposed to two and a baby who happily went everywhere in my arms), my house-hold routine has fallen apart. No one naps at the same time. No one will sit quietly watching TV together without needing a constant referee.

And so I’m stuck, except the need for serious order is growing! One of the saddest things about the whole “roof is leaking” incident is that I thought, “oh no, I just finished spring cleaning their room.” My next thought was “thank heavens, how could we have picked up their entire room in under 10 minutes if I hadn’t already pitched out half of their old toys?” While we hope that the roof will stay dry, three kids mean that we will soon be battling other emergencies like the stomach flu.

So order is crucial, because the more kids you have the more you increase the risk that “disorder” will soon engulf your home.

Please pray for me, to master the “order” habit. Let me know if you have any thoughts on how to increase the virtue of “order” in your life.

Cures from Pope Withdrawal

I’m sure I’m not the only girl who wished that our Holy Father turned around on the airplane steps and decided to spend a few more days with his American flock.

Here are some site for those who are also suffering from Pope Withdrawal.

A nice summary of the NYC Mass, which also happens to have call toward “obedience.”

Two thoughtful reviews of the pope’s visit from the NY Times. A call for use to take our faith more seriously and a call to hold up a mirror to our own lives.

A sweet follow-up to the pope’s sweet kiss.

What are your favorite links?

Monday, April 21, 2008


"If you love me, you will keep my commandments." John 14:15

From Daily Homily of Father John:

"Obedience is proof of love. And love motivates obedience. Jesus tells us that if we love him, we will keep all of his commandments. Anyone who tells you that they love Jesus, but don't follow his commandments, is a liar. That's a pretty strong word, "liar." Yet that is what Jesus tells us plainly."

As further proof that the Eucharist is "real", the girl who practically wrote her history thesis on civil disobedience and made a living off of being argumentative, is now facinated by the virtue of obedience. I can't get this obedience quest out of my head.

Today, while listening to this homily, I thought of how furious it makes me when my kids willfully disobey me. Sometimes, it's frustrating because they put themselves in clear danger, such as running out into the street without holding an adult's hand. Othertimes, I thought disobedience was simply annoying, such as when the 5 year old needs three promptings, instead of just one, to set the table. I never thought of equating disobedience with a lack of love. Yet, isn't that a small part of my frustration? If you loved me, you'd do what I tell you. The first time. With a cheerful heart.

Applying the same standard to myself, I can see where my deep love for my husband should motivate me to obey him. If I find it so difficult to "obey" a flesh and blood guy who makes "reasonable" requests, how can I claim to easily obey a more abstract Father in Heaven who asks "unreasonable" things, like keep my temper each day after five years of nights with little to no patches of uninterupted sleep? If I don't yet have a great understanding of Jesus, isn't due to my own failure to follow his commandments? Jesus has promised to reveal himself perfectly to those that perfectly follow his Father's commandments. Since I'm way off on the "meek shall inherit the earth" request, how can I "demand" to have a better understanding of the mystery of the Eucharist?

Just some thoughts on my mind after Daily Mass and a wonderful visit with our Holy Father. There are many mysteries left in Catholicism for me. Todays tasks are more clear. Get started down the obedience path. Give thanks for my husband and children who are my "cliff notes" on the faith. Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life. Once I start to follow him in earnest, all the surrounding vagueness about the Resurrection will clear up for me.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Stained Glass Window Reflection

From The Pope's Homily at St. Partick's Cathedral

I would like to draw your attention to a few aspects of this beautiful structure which I think can serve as a starting point for a reflection on our particular vocations within the unity of the Mystical Body.

The first has to do with the stained glass windows, which flood the interior with mystic light. From the outside, those windows are dark, heavy, even dreary. But once one enters the church, they suddenly come alive; reflecting the light passing through them, they reveal all their splendor. Many writers – here in America we can think of Nathaniel Hawthorne – have used the image of stained glass to illustrate the mystery of the Church herself. It is only from the inside, from the experience of faith and ecclesial life, that we see the Church as she truly is: flooded with grace, resplendent in beauty, adorned by the manifold gifts of the Spirit. It follows that we, who live the life of grace within the Church’s communion, are called to draw all people into this mystery of light.

This is no easy task in a world which can tend to look at the Church, like those stained glass windows, “from the outside”: a world which deeply senses a need for spirituality, yet finds it difficult to “enter into” the mystery of the Church. Even for those of us within, the light of faith can be dimmed by routine, and the splendor of the Church obscured by the sins and weaknesses of her members. It can be dimmed too, by the obstacles encountered in a society which sometimes seems to have forgotten God and to resent even the most elementary demands of Christian morality. You, who have devoted your lives to bearing witness to the love of Christ and the building up of his Body, know from your daily contact with the world around us how tempting it is at times to give way to frustration, disappointment and even pessimism about the future. In a word, it is not always easy to see the light of the Spirit all about us, the splendor of the Risen Lord illuminating our lives and instilling renewed hope in his victory over the world (cf. Jn 16:33).

Yet the word of God reminds us that, in faith, we see the heavens opened, and the grace of the Holy Spirit lighting up the Church and bringing sure hope to our world. “O Lord, my God,” the Psalmist sings, “when you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth” (Ps 104:30). These words evoke the first creation, when the Spirit of God hovered over the deep (cf. Gen 1:2). And they look forward to the new creation, at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and established the Church as the first fruits of a redeemed humanity (cf. Jn 20:22-23). These words summon us to ever deeper faith in God’s infinite power to transform every human situation, to create life from death, and to light up even the darkest night. And they make us think of another magnificent phrase of Saint Irenaeus: “where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and all grace” (Adv. Haer. III, 24, 1).

Friday, April 18, 2008

Coming In under the Flag of the Holy See

My tears at the sight of our Holy Father yesterday came from the recognition that I’ve spent most of my thirty-three years without his guidance & protection. As a baptized Christian, I’ve always been loved and prayed over since my birth by each successor to the Chair of Saint Peter. The “block” on following the Pope was entirely my own.

I come from a line of rebels that stretch back 450 years. An Irish Protestant ancestor signed a petition demanding that King Henry VIII break with the Catholic Church back in 1520. King Henry, spurred on by lust & a desire for an illicit divorce, fell into the “pride” trap that he could create a more pure religion without the Pope. He started “The Church of England,” which had the same Mass minus that pesky oversight of the Vicar of Christ.

I got baptized and raised in a reform movement of the Anglican Church, called the Methodist Church. My church experience as a young girl was loving & sweet, if a bit “vague.” We had communion. We had “ministers” who wore the same collar as a priest. We said the Apostle’s Creed which recognized “one catholic church.” But we definitely weren’t Catholic! That was sort of the guiding principle of our form of Protestantism, “we weren’t under Rome.”

How we grew up to hate the Pope. I didn’t think of the Church as the “whore of Babaylon” but I had a definite distaste for all thing Roman Catholic. All those unnecessary ornaments on the church walls—things that detracted from my “pure” contemplation of Jesus. That weird insistence on confession before a priest, I could go straight to Jesus for forgiveness anytime I wanted to! And the horror, oh the horror, of letting some guy in Rome dictate what I should and should not believe. Who was he? Why should I listen to him?

When I started RICA in response to this hard to define, yet insistent notion after my marriage that I should “figure out this religion that my future kids will be raised in,” I sat tensely in my chair during my first class. All of the people around the table introduced themselves one by one. Each spoke of a strong, strong urge to become a Catholic. “Well, that is not me!” I thought. “I’m quite happy being a Methodist!” and I mentally rattled off three major breaks with the Catholic Church, “worship of Mary, denial of birth control and following those “made up” doctrines of the Pope, such as Mary’s lasting virginity and her immaculate conception.” (Here’s where I pause to encourage readers of my blog to laugh out loud, since I’m now a devoted Pro-lifer, consecrated to Our Lady, love to worship at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and just started crying after seeing our Holy Father!)

One by one, the loving Sister who ran my RICA class showed me that the “Church of Rome” I had divorced myself so completely, barred little resemblance to the actual Catholic Church. I found that everything I had learned about Jesus was embraced in my new church. Yet at the same time, there were so many more spiritual wonders to embrace and contemplate. The rosary drew me closer to Jesus. The Eucharist carried me along the river of grace without my puny efforts to paddle myself. The sacrament of Marriage made my own commitment to my husband more certain, more secure since it no longer held the possibility to “divorce” when times got too tough.

A few months before Easter Vigil, I found myself ready to convert—except for the Pope question. Why should I have to listen to him? I hadn’t answered my inbred skepticism by drenching myself into the teachings of Church on the seat of Saint Peter. Peter wasn’t really a “saint” to me yet. I’d read the bible before, that didn’t answer any Pope’s legitimacy questions. To my Protestant eyes, Peter was just one of the gang of twelve. The whole apostles were just “tag-alongs” to Jesus during his ministry. We were all called now to be “disciples” of Christ. Why didn’t we get an equal say in how the church was governed. After all, isn’t democracy a good thing?

During my time in RCIA, my husband and I were living nine hours apart. Jon was in his final months of a masters program in Rochester, New York. Like a fool, I had decided that I couldn’t abandon my important “saving a small corner of Appalachia” job to follow my husband to on a temporary grad school quest. As a result of my foolish stubbornness, I gave myself room to work out my new feelings towards Catholicism entirely on my own. I also made it incredibly stressful on my husband who faced all the overwhelming tasks of his final thesis with a roommate, instead of a wife.

By February, we had both realized that this “living as devoted husband and wife, just in different states for nine months” was an incredibly stupid idea. Jon hated sleeping alone. I hated not being able to make him a cup of tea & rub his feet after a ten-hour shift doing thesis work. To compensate for our misery, I drove to Rochester with our three dogs every two weeks. Jon vowed to spend the entire visit outside of his computer lab. We’d rent a hotel room and play house. Each Saturday we’d take a drive into the country and then watch double features at our favorite “artsy” movie theater. On Sunday afternoon, I’d get back into my car and start the next 13 day count-down until we could be a family again.

During one of these February movie theater trips, I suggest that we watch “Witness to Hope.” I walked into that movie thinking it would just be one of the many documentaries we had consumed that winter. I walked out of that movie theater shaking and crying. I remember that I was so shaken afterwards that Jon couldn’t take us to Spot Coffee, our usual post-movie hang out. I had no idea that Jon Paul II suffered so acutely under the Natzi Regime. The story about how his fellow forced quary laborers would cover for “Karol” so that he could have time to read theology moved me. I made Jon buy me a copy of “Witness to Hope.”

When we finally reach “The Pope” a few weeks later in my RICA class, I made a silent decision of conversion in my heart. “I don’t know about the Papacy in general. I’m not sure about those “from the chair” statements. But I do know this Pope and I’ll gladly follow such a holy, devout man.”

I joined the church at Easter Vigil 2002. I joined the year of the priest scandals (which didn’t phase me but did give great hope to my RICA leader and new parish home.) John Paul II is “my pope.” He was an artist, like me. He was a world-traveler and a man of great faith and great charisma. He is the Pope under which I gladly decided to live in obedience under his gentle direction.

Pope Benedict is also “my Pope”. He is the gentle, humble presence that made me devote myself not to the “man” who is the Pope, but to the Papacy itself. I love Pope Benedict for his intelligence, his clear, concise writings, his focus & love of his priestly duties. Yet Pope Benedict himself helped me to trust that the Holy Spirit guides the selection of each Pope as one who is truly "God's Choice" for each moment in church history. I’ve come to adore that fact that we still have a “Chair of Saint Peter” 2,000 years after Christ. I love that we are protected from the current splintering of the Anglican church. I love that in this confusing, chaotic post-modern shred of Christianity, I can easily tune my ear to hear the call of our “one Shepard” on earth. I’m a lost sheep of Christ, who finally found my true Shepard. I’m so grateful to two Popes, best-friends in real life, who helped me happily commit myself to the banner of the Holy See.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Pope & Me

The Papal Mass had extraordinary moments and ordinary moments. I'm blessed to have both.

Extraordinary moments:

Holding my five-year old daughter in the air as she frantically waved a huge Vatican flag towards our Holy Father in his Popemobile. The Popemobile slowed and the Holy Father leaned out of the widow to bless our section of the crowd before the start of the Papal Mass. Seeing our Holy Father, unobstructed, shook my soul. The full force of my conversion to Catholicism hit me at once. I realized what grace it was to come home to the church, to greet the Holy Father in a reverent manner, and how it was because of me & my struggle in the faith, that my little daughter can laugh so happily under the flag of the Holy See.

It was extraordinary to ride the Metro at 6 AM this morning. First, as Anne Maria pointed out, we used a special Metro card with the key of Saint Peter. Second, we ran into my spiritual director, Father Jaffee, at the start of our trip. He gave us a happy blessing to start out our day. Third, it was just amazing to watch all these little groups of Catholics (we were the only one's headed into the city so early) grow and grow until we ran into a subway train filled to maxium capacity with priests, religious, and cheerful laity. We had to let 3 subway trains pass before we found space for our family of 4! While we were waiting, Hannah & I kept singing "This Train is Bound For Glory". We then reversed the process coming home from Mass. First there was the crush of fellow Catholics on the Metro and slowly it dispersed to fewer and fewer among the regular business folk and tourists.

Watching the dignified priests and bishops act like "little boys" during their walk to the alter. A group of bishops had to host up an elderly bishop, who had a cane, out of the dug-out entrance & it went right to my heart. First, because the bishop was walking a long way with difficulty out of such love for us and the Pope. Second, something about how they accomplished this task made them look like happy little boys, instead of serious, dull bishops. I caught their joy at being in such intimate contact with the Pope and the holiday feeling of such an occassion. After the Mass ended, the young priests on the edge of the baseball field, ran, without any dignity in their long white robes, they just ran as fast as possible to get a better view of the Pope before he exited the Stadium. I'm probably not describing it well, but the enthusiam and tenderness of the clergy for the Pope was so evident. As the mother of a squirrely young boy who spends many, many moments in the naughty chair-it gave me such hope to imagine my son tripping over his white alb in a race to say a last goodbye to our Holy Father.

Praying the Our Father with 500 members of my church and being surrounded by 45,500 other Catholics.

I put real pink roses in Hannah's hair and she made so many adults smile. The hot, hot sun made the kids sleep all through the homily. I got to truly drink in our Pope's words. Sitting with Jon, while we both held sleeping children, when our Holy Father sincerely thanked parents for their role in passing on the faith, was an extraordinary moment.

Ordinary Moments,

One of the biggest surprises for me was the "ordinariness" of the Papal Mass. For that fact, I'm so grateful. The Pope prayed my English liturgy. We sang many of the same songs I sing in my choir. My kids got restless during the same prayers. The Eucharist tasted the same. I can't tell you what an amazing pleasure it was to know that the Holy Father's Mass, with the exception of having Hymns led by Opera Stars, is much the same as I experience each day in my church. The Easter Candle is the same. The prayers of the faithful are the same. The Eucharist is the exact same. (In fact, I had a little envy watching people on the scoreboard take their communion directly from the Pope. "How cool would that have been?" I thought. Then my next thought was "The Eucharist would taste the same!")

That last sentance is a miracle to me. The Eucharist always tastes the same. For a girl who grew up on Protestent services which tended to vary a lot from Sunday to Sunday, the fact that the Holy Father presided over a similar Mass to the one I attended in my little parish church on Wednesday morning is breath-taking. Sitting in that huge crowd, I "got it." Each of us, in our humble way, in our tiny domestic churches, in our small parishes, are part of the world wide Roman Catholic church. Each Sunday, as I sit in my little church with it's wooden roof and rotten acoustics, I'm directly participating in the same Mass as happens under Michelango's Sistene Chapel. The Eucharist is the same, which means that each time that I receive, I can walk away with all the graces and uplifted spirit which accompanies as Papal Mass. This is what it means to "receive" the sacarment of the Eucharist. I'm so blessed to have been called to sup at Our Lord's Table.

I wish you all a blessed and holy day!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Papal Mass

Tomorrow morning at 10 AM, I'll be among the crowd of 45,000 faithful at the Papal Mass. I'll be praying for each of you and your intentions. Thank you to everyone who has read this blog and helped me on my walk towards God's grace!


I had my little sketch of what this week was supposed to be, intensive prayer, reading and teaching about the Servant of the Servant of God. I meant to reread Spe Salvi with a highlighter and make notes on the margins. I meant to get through Jesus of Nazareth & share my insights with my husband. I meant to drink orange soda pop with the kids, decorate our front door with "Welcome Pope Benedict Signs", and read "Joseph and Chico".

Then on Monday night, around 8 PM my homelife feel apart. A neighbor two floors above us called her son, instead of our apartment's maintenance man, for help when a pipe burst in her house at 7 PM. By 7:45 PM, Jon noticed that the sprinkler over our washing machine was leaking. He put a bucket under it and continued to put our kids to bed. When he called for me to check with the maintenance guys, it was 7:55 PM. We sat in a mixture of fear and facination as leak after leak exploded in the front half of our apartment and six inches of water poured into our entry way, our laundry room and our kids room. Jon and I frantically moved all of the kid's furniture, toys and photos further and further back into our apartment as the soaked carpet stain grew and grew. The maintenance guys shut off the water at 8:35 PM. It was only 40 minutes, not 40 days, but we still felt like Noah.

Unfortunately, I did not have the faith of Noah. Instead of praying for strength and sensibly thanking the Lord that no one was injured and not even a child's horse poster was ruined, I started to whine: "I just finished spring cleaning, now look at this choas! Every surface of our living room is crowded with dangerous items and I can't even get to the kitchen to make a snack. How am I supposed to handle breakfast tomorrow? How am I supposed to get through tomorrow with 3 cranky kids and no place for them to nap? Why did this have to happen during this MOST important week of our Holy Father's visit!"

Tuesday, I woke up and felt like I had been run over by a train. I fought with Jon (who thankfully is a calm optimist during all such crisis), I fought with our kids, I fought with the baby who didn't sleep, and I fought with our apartment manager. My low point was flinging myself before Jesus during Adoration, saying "you have to help me!" and hearing the back door of the chapel bang open. The three year old had escaped during my 30 second prayer, flung open two sets of chapel doors and had his hand on the last door needed to exit the building. I flung my kid on his rear end, shoved him up against the wall and barked "NO! NO! NO!" three times in his face. As I'm yelling so loud that spit is flying into my son's eyeballs, I think "Jesus is watching right now. I'm bullying my kid because he won't let me do a few minutes of uninterrupted Adoration." I had about a half-second of clarity on this situation but then I went right back to "I REALLY need to pray right now, and you never listen to me, and I so need you to learn obedience RIGHT NOW."

Yikes! The cringes I'm going to have when Jesus reruns my life for me at the end of time.

Thankfully, I did get something out of my non-restful time at Adoration. I made it to the Bascilica of the Immaculate Conception. There we were surrounded by clouds of human kindness. A parking lot attendant pushed up my stroller "Chitty Bang Bang", loaded with 3 heavy kids, up the steep hill to the main entrance. We met lots of smiling priests and nuns. We bought rosarys for the Pope to bless and a shiny new copy of Joseph & Chico. We ate red jello and chocolate pudding. Everyone was so happy and shiny. We joined in the good will and wished everyone a blessed time during their visit with the Pope.

We were hot and tired when we drove home, but happy. The kids couldn't wait to read their new book, Maria couldn't wait to nurse and I couldn't wait to take a nap. We walked home and discovered that the repair guys had not replaced the carpet. It was ripped up, nails exposed in almost every room. Huge (read dangerous for small hands) fans were blowing in each room. The entire house smelled like mildew remover.

I watched the Pope's plane land in the middle of my non-fruitful discussion with our apartment manager.

Suddenly, it just didn't seem worth it to fight for a hotel room voucher anymore. Our Holy Father was here. Everything else seemed like small potatos. That's when I remembered that the upstairs neighbor, the one with the former leak, was also a former Catholic. I know this because her son, who is also a former Catholic, attempts to convert my husband to Scientology everytime they walk their dogs together. I don't know what the possible spiritual metaphor is for Monday's flood, but if it's going to get her to take a second look at our Holy Father during a time of trial in her own life, I'm all for offering up my suffering.

Today, we made Daily Mass as a family & ate the Eucharist. We drank our orange soda & we sang "Happy Birthday." The kids learned about our Holy Father's love for a little tabby cat named Chico. I'm feeling prepared for my first Papal Mass. My preparation has little to do with clean clothes for tomorrow's church service. Last Sunday, I thought I could make myself, my spouse and my children "ready" to hear our Pope. Jesus showed me the best way to hear his good friend, however, is to humbly acknowledge my own weakness and be "ready" to receive the message that "Christ is our hope!"

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Pope is Almost Here!

Are you ready? Get your heart and your children's hearts ready tonight! Here are some wonderful resources.

Did you know that the Pope's favorite drink is orange soda? Do you know why our Pope chose to place a bear with a backpack on his papal seal? Check out fun facts, papal coloring pages and more at this site. ht: Cottage Blessings

There is still time to read Spe Salvi before Thursday's Mass homily. To find a copy of "Christ is our Hope" along with an excellent study guide,click here.

My parish is participating in a "Hunger to Hope" Food drive. The goal is to fill up the area food banks in honor of the Pope's visit. Even more importantly, we registered for a "Spiritual Bouquet" in honor of the Pope's visit. Catholics pledged to do a certain number of any of the following acts: Attend Daily Mass, Spend time in Adoration, read Scripture for at least 10 mins, pray alone, pray as a family, offer up Holy Communion, help the poor, etc. A letter containing the total number of each act will be forwarded to the Vatican Embassy. You don't have to be in D.C. or NYC to join in these beautiful acts of homage to our Holy Father.

The Pope needs our prayers! Please pray for the conversion of hearts by the hears of his message. We should also pray for his safety and his health during his visit to the United States. (There are intended protests/disruptions of all of his public speeches.) Good times to pray for specific intentions during his trip to D.C.:

Tuesday: The Pope lands on US Soil
Wednesday: The Pope celebrates his 81 birthday & meets with the President of the United States
Thursday: The Pope celebrates his First Public Mass around 10 AM.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

History of the Cherry Trees

For the last few weeks, we Washingtonians have taken delight in the National Cherry Blossom Festival. As a gesture of friendship, Japan donated 3,200 cherry trees to plant along the Potomac River. Each Spring, the trees explode in pink fireworks.

Imagine my surprise to find that all of this natural beauty and international goodwill is due to two American women, Mrs. Eliza Schidmore and First Lady Helen Taft. Mrs. Schidmore came up with the idea of planting cherry trees along the streets of Washington D.C. after a visit to Japan in 1885. It took Mrs. Schidmore 24 years of persistent letter writing before she found a sympathic heart for in her project, in none other than the First Lady of the United States of America! Mrs. Taft had once lived in Japan and was familiar with the beauty of flowering cherry trees.

In 1909, the First Lady and Mrs. Schidmore asked the nation of Japan to donate a few trees to their joint "cherry tree" project. Japan eventually gave over three thousand as a gesture of goodwill. The cherry trees have survied the hostilities of two World Wars (vandals chopped down four cherry trees in WWII, so the trees had to be renamed "Oriental" Trees for the rest of the conflict) and now stand once again, as a lasting tribute to beauty & international-friendship.

Now when I look at the cherry trees, I'll also be contemplating the virtue of patience. Could I develop a smidgen of Mrs. Schidmore's patience and keep sending polite, persistent letters for 24 years until my words reach the ears of the right person? Or am I going to remain the girl who gives up after two notes go unanswered?

Read the whole story here.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Food for Thought II

To prepare for the upcoming Papal Mass, I'm working on getting the concept of transubstantiation into my heart. This week I took my family every day to 6:30 AM Daily Mass. (A special thank you to my five year old, who loves to sleep late, and who requested an actual cup of coffee at our 7:15 breakfast. To my surprise, she drained her cup.) I went Adoration for a half hour last night after having an inspring talk with my sister who is thinking about attending a Catholic Church. My reward for hours of lost sleep came with a real nugget of understanding of the Eucharist during today's homily by Father Brennan:

"Today's Scripture reading shocked its first Jewish audience. Jesus said "unless you eat of my body and drink my blood, you cannot have eternal life." The Jewish religion provided no preparation for such a message. It sounded like cannibalism or even worse.

I often think what a grace it is that Jesus left the wine and the bread in their same outward appearance after he turns it into his body and blood. How many of us could bear to eat at the Table of the Eucharist if we could see and taste the actual blood and body of Christ?"

I never thought of the Eucharist in that way. I always thought of transubstantiation as an abstract "test." A rather hard one at that. Can you have enough "faith" to believe in something that tastes & smells exactly the same as "regular" bread and wine? I never thought of it as a way of Jesus himself being humble and gentle with us skittish humans. Our Lord comes to us in a gentle form so that it is as gentle as possible for us to eat at his table.

Sort of like the bananas I'm currently mashing for Baby Maria. Or the way my husband showed up in my life. Not with frightening fireworks or the great trumpet blare of "This is your future Spouse." Instead, Jon's unique presence announced itself through a comfortable feeling that came over my heart as we first chatted over a Starbuck's coffee cup.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

In Praise of Life

I've been missing the son I lost in a miscarriage pretty acutely lately. Maria's just taught herself how to crawl. Every time I see her peak out from a corner, or hustle down the hallway to catch up with her brother and sister, I smile. A 16 year old with a new car license could not be more joyful than she is to finally be "on the move". Sometimes, I'll also get a little heart-stab; "We were supposed to have a walker by this time." (Francisco would have been 16 months old this April).

This past weekend, I stopped by Francisco gravesite with my husband. Usually my visits with the kids are pretty upbeat and sweet. The kids will drop off new toys at the gravesite, say tender prayers and then run around counting all the crosses and "Mommy Mary" Statutes. This time, however, I stood quietly beside my husband and felt too sad to squeak out much of a Hail Mary. Our child's precious body is gone from my womb, buried under a flab of earth until the end of time.

I'm in the midst of mourning again, a full three months before the actual "anniversary date" which hits me hard each July. Instead of feeling foolish, I'm letting it out. I decided to buy Francisco the new statute which is pictured above. When I see this statue in my kitchen, it reminds me to pray for myself and for so many women in similar pain, for Minnesota Mom who's carrying a baby after 3 miscarriages, & for a dear friend who is struggling to conceive for the first time.

My prayers must be working because this week I've received tons of graces. I had the unique joy of hearing Father Francisco say Daily Mass this morning. I recieved an email with a link to this wonderful"post". Please stop by and tell Katherine Ann's mother that you'll pray for her. Then write your own "How I Became Pro Life" post & link it to Anne Marie's wonderful blog!

Food for Thought

Daily Homily from Father Francisco

“I explained to the children during their Confirmation retreat a few days ago about the twin sins of pride and laziness. These sins often go together. The proud man is surprised that he makes mistakes. He thinks God should make him good because of his own good works, because of his own merit.

A lazy person is not just someone who sits on the couch all day watching TV. A lazy person is also the person rushing around, the person doing many, many things, the person who is always running, running, running. Our society is always running, running, running. We don’t want to sit and think. We don’t want to ask deep questions. We don’t want to watch suffering and struggle straight in the face. So we rush around doing many things, none of them well, instead of taking time to do one thing well for Jesus.

The remedy for pride, according to St. Bernard, is humility. The man who has humility is not surprised that he makes mistakes. He is nothing in himself. He simply takes his mistakes and gives them to Jesus, asking him for mercy.

The remedy for “laziness” is contemplation, stillness. We need to sit still and focus. Then we need to have endurance, and patience. With stillness, endurance and patience we can wait for the Lord. We can stay present and watch all the struggle and suffering in the world turn into redemption.”

These words went straight to my heart today. Father Francisco doesn’t preside over my church’s English Masses very often. He is too busy running the 11 Spanish Masses our church hosts each weekend.

It might just be that he shares an unusual name with my son, but every time I hear him speak, I feel that Father Francisco sort of levitates with goodness. His native language is obviously Spanish, which Father Francisco then translates mentally into Latin and finally English. When you are in the confessional with him you can hear him struggle with the language. As a result, there are these delays, some foreign language terms and then WHAM the English term will come out and go right into your soul. It’s an incredible experience. I remember shaking once after a “I lost my temper again with the children this week. I promised Jesus I’d do better with controlling my anger for Lent and I failed him again and again" confession. Father Francisco answered me with the most pure voice in slow words “Jesus . . . comes . . . for sinners. We… must . . . have. hope!”

This homily about pride and sloth hit home. I realize that my perfectionism is a real hang-up. In Father Francisco’s words, I’m still “surprised” that I lose my temper with my kids. I’m still surprised that I forget to say my daily St. Louis de Monfort prayers. I’m surprised that I feel uncharitable and unforgiving of my neighbor. I need to let go off the “how could I mess up again when I’m trying to be such a good Catholic, what is wrong with me?” thoughts. Those thoughts are just pride taking the reigns again.

As for laziness, right now the “rushing frantically from one activity to another” is my biggest problem as a stay-at-home mother. My kids are still young, so we don’t even use the car most days. Still, I’m moving from one emergency to the other, one cup of milk request to another, one load of laundry to the next without working on those precious virtues of contemplation, endurance, and patience.

Today, the Eucharist was working. When my son did this awful thing with a bodily fluid that is too gross to mention on the Internet, I started to freak out. I started to think “poor me.” Why did his accident happen just as Hannah and I were making good progress on her writing skills? When am I going to get some time out of my day to get some REAL work done?

Then as I got out the steam cleaner, I started talking to Saint Bernadette in my imagination. If Saint Bernadette were with me, she’d tell me to stop being so upset. She’d tell me that as servants of Mary, all work is equal. Cleaning up after my son’s potty accident is no less important that teaching my daughter how to make a Welcome Pope Benedict sign. I imagined her exclaiming about what a wonderful invention the steam cleaner is, how light my housework is compared to work in her time period. I started mentally thanking my mother-in-law who knew that a deluxe steam-cleaner was the perfect Christmas present for a house with several small children and a dog. A little chat with my favorite Saint turned my mental thoughts right around.

I hope all of you are finding good spiritual food during this Easter Season.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Papal Mass

The Benjamin Family got tickets to see the Papal Mass on April 17th! We won four tickets through our parish lottery today. (I put in our request yesterday, on the feast of my consecration to Mary). We are so excited. Please pray for us. In return, we will happily pray for you. Please leave any prayer requests on the comments below or send a note to my email account.