To Solve the Vocations Crisis: Serviam (Part 1)

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Every Catholic knows there is a vocations crisis. We see how few laborers there are in the vineyard and we thirst for the guidance and fatherhood of those missing shepherds. We also know too well the the crisis of corruption which causes an even more painful and powerful destruction in the heart of the Church. Whether the crisis of the priesthood is the absence of the collar or the desecration of the collar, the solution is the same…but we have lost sight of it.

We have become lazy in our speech, in our efforts, and in our prayers. Our fervor is reserved for parish drama and keeping our church buildings from closing, but we seem to have lost our passion for the heart of vocation. We have forgotten what it means. Forgotten why we should care. And the upcoming generations have been formed by our failure. They have seen that our passion and love for the things of faith never surpass the fire we manage to breathe for youth sports…or politics…or technology.

As a consequence, we have also lost sight of the solution to the crisis.

We think it's about...

  • Numbers

  • Worldly appeal of the Gospel message

  • Praying harder

  • Better pizza at youth group

  • Married priests.

And we're wrong. Completely and devastatingly wrong.

One of the consequences of our collective forgetfulness is that the discerning man or woman is left to wander. They have not forgotten what vocation really means...they simply have never been taught. They have also not been taught the fundamental importance of healthy human formation. In other words, we get good priests by raising good men, but we are neglecting the foundation of what it means to be a good man.

“The vocation of humanity is to show forth the image of God and to be transformed into the image of the Father’s only Son.” — Catechism of the Catholic church, 1877

VOCATION

The truth is that there is only ONE primary vocation for all of humanity. And that is the call to HOLINESS. There isn't a soul alive that is not called first and foremost to this most noble vocation. 

It is the secondary (or particular) vocation which is considered to be in crisis. This is the one we fret over and focus on. People generally mean the priesthood when they say "Pray for vocations," but there are other particular vocations: Holy Orders (priesthood), Consecrated Religious Life, and Holy Marriage. If these are all in crisis (they all are), it is only because there is a crisis of holiness. 

The young man raises his arms to heaven and cries:
Lord! What is it you want me to do with my life?? 

And God answers:
Love and Serve. Take up your cross and follow me.

The young man thinks that the magic pill for holiness will come through his secondary vocation but he has it backwards. And so does his community. Pray for vocations! we shout. But we are forgetting - or maybe we were just never taught - that vocation of any kind doesn't start with some Catholic pixie dust that falls down from heaven when we pray "for vocations." It does not come from better youth groups or having a bigger parish community center…

Vocation begins in the heart of Christ. 

The closer a person draws to the Sacred Heart, the closer he or she draws to the very purpose of their life: Holiness. And then to the particular work for which they have been made. We should be praying unceasingly for these things and we must have prayer in order to draw close to Christ. And it is in that prayer that the courage to do the work begins. 

"You should be a priest, young man!" 

Perhaps...but first, he should recklessly pursue sanctity. Then when someone asks him what he is going to do with his life - where he thinks God is calling him - he will answer: SERVIAM! {I will serve.} When the mind, body, and soul of a man are formed to listen and follow the will of God in all things, he will hear his specific call and he will answer. 

“The Priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.” — St. John Vianney

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FORMATION

When my son entered seminary as part of his discernment, people would frequently say "Oh! You are going to be a priest!" he would answer:

“No...I am going to study and grow so that I may know if God is truly calling me to be a priest.” 

He knew that he had a long way to go in that discernment process. Whether a man is ultimately called to be ordained or to enter the married or religious life, his healthy formation as a man will be paramount. If it is truly successful, regardless of what his particular vocation may be, he will be prepared to raise the cry of the Christian soldier. And his valiant actions will match his speech because he will have been prepared in mind, body, and soul for the long battle ahead. Regardless of our secondary vocation, whether we are male or female, young or old...  we are all to cry out with one voice:

SERVIAM!

I will serve. 

That courage does not come from just the act of saying the words of a prayer, but in calling the very presence of God into our lives, uniting our will and our actions to His divine will, and allowing everything — EVERYTHING — to be transformed by grace and the love of Christ.

MOVING FORWARD

It is easy to write about the ideal. It is significantly harder to walk the Way of the Cross in the footsteps of Christ. It is not a journey which should be undertaken without a proper understanding of what is required mind, body, and soul to become a healthy priest in the service of Christ and His Church.

The obstacles are many and there are practical matters to be considered when sending a son off into an institutional system which is unfortunately tainted with corruption in many dioceses and orders. The enemies of God pursue righteous men relentlessly and seminarians (and their parents) must know what they are facing ahead of time. They must be prepared to be warriors from the very beginning.

Part Two in this series is for parents of boys and young men who think that God might be calling their sons to discern at seminary. It is also intended to be a resource for the men themselves. But by directing it to parents, I hope it is understood that this preparation should start well before a son has left home. And preferably during the early years of childhood…

What Catholic Parents Need to Know Before a Son Enters Seminary (part 2)
(Look for this link to go live soon)

The Lie of the Apostolate {How I Left My Children Poor}

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They said that I should have an apostolate if I wanted my kids to grow in faith. That I should build up the kingdom. Use my skills. Be a leader. Be salt and light to the world. They said that it wasn't enough to love my kids...that God made me for more. 

They were wrong. 

My family is my apostolate. My home is my headquarters. My husband is my fundraiser. If God calls me to do some further outreach, it will only be that which does not leave my family unloved, uncared for, or with only the leftovers of who I am. 

My apostolic works have often been excuses... distractions...ways of feeling like a productive Christian while avoiding the harder work. A way of breaking up the boredom of sacrificial work done without devotion. 

I would have been a better woman, wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and homeschooler over the last 20 years if I hadn't bought into the idea that I needed to become some kind of minister to the world. Some moms have the gift of being high energy. I am not one of them. And I have expended myself in so many different directions, convinced that my outreaches and apostolic works were the moral equivalent of what I was doing at home. I was wrong. 

I once printed out the words of Pope St. John Paul II when speaking about the poor of the world. I wanted to recall them during my daily work. He said:

"You must never be content to leave them just the crumbs of the feast. You must take of your substance, and not just of your abundance, in order to help them. And you must treat them like guests at your family table."

I fancied myself a real winner because I thought I understood his message. Give to those less fortunate and give until it hurts and costs more than a mild inconvenience. I knew what it meant to be on the receiving end of Christ-like sacrificial love and I knew the power of the mercy of Jesus and I wanted to be that for others.  My problem was that I didn't see the hypocrisy of leaving the crumbs for my own children while I fed strangers.

I didn't see them as guests.
I didn't see them as the poor.
I didn't see them…
Not through the lens of Christ anyway, but only through the vision of a self-oriented mom. 

Oh, how the narcissism of our age seeps into the cracks of our ships! 

It was preceding Mother Teresa's canonization when I heard her words with a new intensity. And I realized that I never fully understood her in spite of the boldness and simplicity of her message. I was too busy patting myself on the back for being apostolic. 

I had distorted her words into placards with which to console myself that I was doing just fine. Point to Jesus. Love all the people. I did. But...it was the easy way out. Kind of like buying pretty trinkets at the Dollar Tree to feel good about saving money instead of showing up for work to pay the bills. An apparent good which distracts from the hard work to which we are really called.

It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.

— Mother Teresa of Calcutta

We are all called to spread the Gospel, but it is a lie to say that spreading the Gospel to my children is not enough. The Church has enough apostolates. What she needs is a revival of sacrificial hardcore love in the domestic church. Not just a put-'em-in-a-good-school-so-the-experts-can-do-it kind of revival, but real transformation. It has always been that way because real love is not about big numbers...it is about one soul at a time. 

As parents, we ARE the experts designated by God and by virtue of our vocation and our sacramental graces. And it IS our apostolic work to raise our children to know the love of Jesus Christ. If we have been faithful in that mentorship of love, perhaps someday we will see our children go out and give Gospel witness to all the world - and to the souls with whom they have been entrusted.

They will carry the fire.
They will witness through their lives.
Others will ask your family the cause of your hope and the reason for your joy. 
And that is how true apostolic work begins. 

We hear the truth over and over again. Go home and love your families. And yet we are always seeking elsewhere... as if our path to holiness can ever be found elsewhere than in loving God and the souls He places in our paths. Those little hearts need us as badly as our neighbor does. And they have been given specifically to us. They are our poor and it is for them that our hearts should burn with compassion.

It's not an either/or when it comes to loving family and neighbor. It's a both/and. And yet... and yet... one must take priority in the order of love. 

The truth is that we only need fund-raising, event-holding apostolates because our shepherds have wavered, Christians have sold their inheritance, and our families have abdicated their roles as the domestic church (Ecclesia Domestica). It's a truth that stings and I take responsibility for my part. I repent... 

If I bless another soul, let it never again be at the expense of the ones with whom I have been entrusted.

I am not saying that we should never engage in any apostolic work apart from our home and families. Many families are doing this work together in a beautiful and life-giving way. But there are plenty of people who have led neighboring souls into the Church while their own families were starved for love. God will always work where people are seeking Him. But those families can tell you about the lie they bought at the price of their children's hearts. It is a painful lesson to learn. Let it not be said of us that our families were left starving while we worked for the Church...or that our families flourished in spite of us.

Our great works become just dusty monuments to our own pride if we have sacrificed our children in order to build them.

If I were asked for advice about whether a mother or father should start an apostolic work in addition to their labors at home, I would say: Yes, do it if it is God's will. Let it be an extension - an expansion - of the life-giving love present in your family. But don't ever do it in such a way that Mother Teresa has to call you out on the lie. Mea culpa.

Everybody today seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater developments and greater riches and so on, so that children have very little time for their parents. Parents have very little time for each other, and in the home begins the disruption of peace of the world.

— Mother Teresa of Calcutta

When Busy is Beautiful: Transforming Frenetic into Fruitful

It has been several years since I first published this and we walked away from a lifestyle centered around youth sports. I have no regrets…


We used to be busy. I mean B.U.S.Y... with practices and lessons and coaching and training and tournaments. There were times (embarrassed as I am to admit this) that we actually spent 20 to 40 hours in one week investing in the sport of 1 to 3 children. Our kids were successful and success can be like a vacuum. It sucks you in, demanding more and more... until it sucks the very soul out of you.

We have reached the one year anniversary of our departure from B.U.S.Y. We have spent quite a bit of time floundering about trying to reestablish our identity as a faith-centered family and it has been a time of tremendous growth and learning. Not the least for me.

Busy can be a state of affairs (as in, "we have a lot to do") or it can be an identity.

I AM busy. This activity in which I am involved is WHO I am. I identify myself with it. I am not me without it. I am a swimmer. I am a volleyball player. I am an athlete. I am the mother of an athlete.

But when it comes down to it... I am a follower of Christ. And how does the busyness in my life reflect that without question?

When we walked away cold turkey from club sports, we told the Lord...

We are opening up our lives to You... please fill us up with Your Divine Will. Choose our adventure!

It was a scary but exhilarating time and I first wrote about it this way:

”We have pulled our highly talented and successful athletic children out of all team sports... and we are recommitting our time, talent, and treasure to the Lord.

That statement encompasses so many months of prayer and discernment, tears, confusion, rejoicing, discovering, dreaming, worrying... I just don't know how to cover it all adequately. It was something like delivering a baby. Painful, but rather worth it. I will just tell you one thing...

When God wants to do great work in the family, the family has to make room. We made room and now we are in an uncomfortable, yet exciting, period of rediscovery. It is time to uncover God's greater plans, not because athletics aren't a good thing when properly used, but because they were preventing us from being open to something better.

We are definitely fumbling around a bit. Wandering. Growing. Spending much more time at home while we wait for God's plan to unfold a bit. We have been dabbling a little in music and expanding our  involvement in pro-life work. There is a lot to say but again, it's almost too much to speak to yet. Here’s to new beginnings! Thanks be to God!”

Now, one year later, He has answered that prayer in this take-us-whereever-You-want-us-to-go adventure. It is not walking in blind faith because our eyes are open and fixed on Him, but the details certainly continue to surprise.

I have an intense fondness for the sporting lifestyle and could be easily tempted back into it. I like the energy and the challenge and the rises and falls. I like coaching. I like the smell of the gym and the pool. I like braiding hair and feeding kids and cheering and comforting. I even like the thrill of getting up at 3am to make sure that food and bags are prepared for the 8am meet with a 7:30 arrive time and a 2-hour drive preceding... and certainly the haul of medals and ribbons for the way home.

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I will always love the beauty of well performed athletic action. We didn't step away because sport is intrinsically bad but because we don't compete halfway... and modern youth sport culture demands life blood as the price of success. For example, if Cookie were playing in her well-deserved position on a team aiming for a national championship this year, our family would be spending Easter in Baltimore. And every year thereafter. Thank God for clear signs. This particular one served simply to highlight all the other misdirected decisions we were making.

Not even for a college scholarship. We will not sell our family for a bag of gold.

As we conclude this pivotal year, we have been unexpectedly given a period of pure B.U.S.Y. and the competitor in me is jazzed and ready to go. But not for sport... for the dignity of all people, for the greater glory of God, for Love. This is a new busy. At the moment, it is rather intense and requires the kids to explore a new set of skills and experiences. But that adrenaline rush is still there. For all the right reasons this time.

To be completely honest, I have become quite comfortable with our slower pace. Even a little spoiled by it. We have commitments but they are carefully chosen and two nights a week are "busy" with Holy Mass. Although I used to taxi all over creation for sport, I whine a little now when I have to be disengaged from the house, especially when there's a fire in the wood stove! But I'm ready for an expansion. We've done a lot of healing. And even with this growing pregnant belly, I know that I can plan and tote car seats and pack food with the best. But this time, I pray that my heart will be focused on the work of the Lord.

I pray that our hearts will continue to be centered around the sacraments and our domestic church. That God will be glorified by all of our busy days. That He will provide the grace and strength that we need to reach out when He calls us to do so... and to retreat to our hearth when it is best for our souls.

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I once wrote the following to my kids:

“I pray you always remember the final goal. Don't forget that there will always be someone faster than you. Always someone stronger. Always someone who can jump higher. There will be times when you lose because someone cheats; when you lose because someone on your team gives up; when you lose because you just didn't give your best; or because of injury.

There will be times when people hate you for your success and times when they will attempt to hurt you because of it... you have felt that sting. You know. There will be times when you give everything you have and it will not be enough. And times when people give you too much credit, too much attention and praise... and you will be tempted to forget to Whom proper gratitude is due.

Remember the lessons of the pool: "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?" ~ Mark 8:36

Do not forget the final goal. Pursue goodness. Pursue truth. Pursue beauty. There are millions of other people pursuing success in your sport. If fighting for success costs you permanent things, then let those people have success. And let it go. It is fleeting... and you will never regret the prize you have gained in its place.”

Since I wrote that, they have grown so much. I know that they miss it but they also understand that giving up their primary identity as athletes was a critical step in discovering the adventure that God has chosen for them. A year after we walked away, my oldest commented to me:

Imagine if we had kept going! We would have been completely swept away by now. There would be no end to it. More money. More time. More drama. Further and further from where we should really be. For what? 

And that comment came from my most intense competitor. Praise the Lord! He shown us how to make busy beautiful.

Originally published in 2012

How to Heal Broken Motherhood and Change the World

Six women walk together along the road, silent in their thoughts. Each one is lonely, suffering, and yet comforted by the presence of the others. They are sisters - although they come from different homes - and they hold hands as they walk. Occasionally, a tear slips down a lowered cheek and a grip tightens in encouragement. Beautiful sisters. When one stumbles, the others keep her strong and straight. They support her until her heart can bear its own weight.

Unique. Loving. Suffering. Lonely in their own ways but united in the gift of their femininity and the call of motherhood; physical and spiritual. They are pouring themselves out to nurture the world and to  bring humanity closer to the heart of Christ, like Blessed Mother, one heroic step at a time...

The first woman is infertile. The harshness of that word grates at her soul and her arms ache to hold a life that springs forth from her womb. It is a longing that cannot be satisfied even as she lives life fully, using her unburdened arms to serve the needs of the world; an ache that persists even during happy times. The world is impatient and insensitive. The cross is hidden within her heart and she bravely smiles and loves. I am a woman seeking my motherhood. Sweet Jesus, where are my children?

The second woman is fertile and has born children. She is confused by the paradox of joy and suffering in her motherhood. She loves her babies and yet stumbles under the weight of the beloved little ones. The world does not see the pain of her failures and weariness. It sneers at her messy life and mocks the mystery of spousal love. The cross is hidden within her heart and she bravely smiles and loves. I am ill-equipped, Lord. How can I go on?

The third woman is a spiritual mother, a consecrated religious. She has given her motherhood and spousal love to God and has countless spiritual children. He is her beloved and she gladly offers her life for him, but the heart sometimes yearns for the loving touches of flesh. The world does not understand such sacrifice and strikes at the wound. The cross is hidden within her heart and she bravely smiles and loves. You are enough, Lord... why do I still yearn?

The fourth woman has embraced the children of others. Adopted them to be her own. She knows both the longing for love and the heaviness of sacred treasure in her arms; a heart mama who gives her body to sacrificial love. The world sees a romance while she builds a kingdom with her blood, sweat, and tears. The cross is hidden within her heart and she bravely smiles and loves. My own. Not my own. Father, how can I replace what they have lost?

The fifth woman has lost her children. Her womb was full but now is empty and she breathes through the aching like a woman perpetually in labor... and the world expects her to silence her cries of agony. She serves others heroically and gladly even while the loneliness pierces her heart. The cross is hidden within her heart and she bravely smiles and loves. Why are my arms empty, Lord?

The sixth woman has lost her child to abortion. She regrets giving over her motherhood to the hands of liars and grieves deeper than eyes can see. She has children at home but is missing one. The pain is staggering and silent but it is not her desire to forget her own... and so she embraces it, loves passionately, and stumbles on. The world rejects her grief. The cross is hidden within her heart and she bravely smiles and loves. Dear Lord, when will my soul be at rest?

If the women walk alone, they risk sinking into their pain and losing sight of joy and eternal things and the dignity of their nature. God beckons and loves and blesses... but the heart has a tendency to turn in on itself. The eyes are easily blinded by pain. A woman so easily crumples to the ground and despairs. But if she is walking side by side with her sisters? Her path is different but parallel… and she will not be left behind.

We are sisters. We belong together. If I cannot see your cross, I trust that it is still there... or that it is coming to you someday. Our Lord does not withhold the cross from any of His beloved because he wishes us to share in His Easter. Do not despair, my friends. You are not alone. And your Easter is coming.

Do not be deceived by the hollow call to be Superwoman - it is a worldly lie designed to tear you down - but be refreshed in your title of Beloved.

You are called to love with everything you have. Get up and walk. Again and again. That is all He asks. It is the path to your healing and the beginning of freedom. He is Grace. He is Mercy. He will not let us fall farther than His grasp. He treasures the gift of our womanhood and made us to thrive. We are beautiful and gifted, not because we have struggled for it, because He has willed it. Just open the door, let Him in, and trust that His dream for your life is perfect.

Your motherhood is not about what you have missed, lost, or broken... it is about the pouring out of your love; pouring out what is beautiful and nourishing to a parched and lonely world. Pour it out, ladies…

Pour it out!

 That is the gift of our femininity. And that is how we can be healed of our own brokenness and ultimately, change the world.


Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

Fitness Meets Faith in a Catholic Alternative to Yoga {SoulCore Review}

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There is so much in life that draws us away from our primary purpose. When I find a resource in any category that draws me straight to mine, I cling to it. As a Catholic, that primary purpose is always Jesus Christ... and if a thing doesn't draw me closer to Him, it probably doesn't belong in my life. 

This is where the meeting of the secular and the sacred often causes confusion... because it isn't always clear cut. Excellent homeschooling materials (for example) don't always have to explicitly mention the name of Our Lord in order to help a person develop in His service. But boy, when you stumble upon a really excellent and thoroughly Catholic resource... it's a lot like winning the lottery.

I have always been committed to fitness in my life (body, mind, soul) and yet the last few years have demanded that I focus intensely on what it is that I need to do to be well. Healing from chronic illness and immune dysfunction can be a long road and I’ve chosen to share much of the journey publicly.

I want to introduce you to a challenging and beautiful Catholic fitness series called SoulCore. It's not yoga but it uses some of the same principles of movement that people find so effective... "a combination of core-strengthening exercises and isometric exercises, stretching and overall strengthening of the entire body." The biggest difference is...

Jesus Christ. 

Overt, joyful, focused, prayerful, physical and mental movement toward the Savior of the World.  The SoulCore project is consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. That's really the core of who we are. Beautiful. 

The exercises are set to a full rosary so it's a really fruitful way to spend time when you have little to spare. It is a full workout and a full slow rosary. But there are additional benefits to that method: 

1. The prayers are the counting method. You move and pray. As a Catholic, I know the Hail Mary so well that it's like breathing. In this workout, I find myself easily entering into that prayer... sometimes less focused if I'm struggling with an exercise (but I know the prayer well enough to keep it on my lips) and sometimes more focused as my body and soul are both oriented toward work and heaven. Ora et labora indeed.

2. This is not just work and prayer but work as prayer. Our bodies are designed to serve the Lord. And the real gift with taking care of them with right purpose is that the care becomes a service to Him as well. It is not just a way to strengthen us for vocation but is actually a part of our vocation. SoulCore draws the mind to this reality directly.

As I said before, the exercises can be challenging even for those who are accustomed to working out. But they are also easy to adapt; lighter weights (or no weights), fewer reps, knee push ups. When I’m pregnant, my belly forces me to make some of those modifications, but the workout is still wholly accessible to me. 

So is this just “Catholic Yoga” with all the elements of yoga just wearing a Catholic label? I don’t think so. There are many similar movements to yoga but frankly, there are only so many ways that the body moves! The way the creators combine the movements, organize them, and combine them with the Rosary creates a unique workout that is wholly Christ-centered and sufficiently disrupts yoga connections and sequencing. I also recognize elements of many common fitness movements (like pilates) which have no connection to yoga.

Multiple formats for the workouts are currently available. There are DVD’s for sale as well as digital downloads. And then there’s a wonderful Online Studio which gives subscribers access to a library of workouts at the touch of a button. These include prenatal workouts, chair workouts, and many workouts related to the Mysteries of the Rosary. The website is full of inspirational material, accessories, local class info, and the inspiring story of the mission of the founders.

For those interested in learning more about why I no longer practice yoga, here is a brief overview of my experience and my Catholic Perspective:

The Hard Truth About Raising Catholic Teens

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Everyone tells you not to blink... because your kids grow up that fast. What people fail to point out (because they are probably just being polite) is that while our kids are applying for college (about 5 minutes after you changed their last diaper), you are getting OLD. I ought to know. I've leveled up this year to being a mom of two adult children and with two high schoolers hot on their heels - and I'm noticing for first time that I'm moving into grandma territory with alarming speed.

The point of this post is not to highlight the ways in which I am feeling the strain of having slipped past 40; it is more about the changes that I have seen in my 21 years of motherhood. How culture has changed. How I just never expected it to, especially within the Church, and why it's important for young (and middle and old) parents to know.

When I was a young mother, there were a lot of little families like ours, praying rosaries and boycotting Disney and talking about modesty while our kids played. We chatted about homeschooling and which curriculum we were using, and had All Saints' Day and St. Valentine's Day parties at which we actually prayed together.

As the years have flown by, our lives have changed (mostly because our children have grown) and we have had to decide how to respond to the pressures of the culture. I'm not going to lie. It gets messy in both families and communities. It isn't really enough to go to daily Mass and pray the rosary and bake feast day cakes. I'm not saying that Jesus isn't enough. Just that, as parents, we are not enough.

Let me explain…

We can pass on the faith to a point, but we can never force a soul to receive it. A child has to develop that relationship with Jesus and begin to personally embrace and love His Word. Otherwise, all those hours of family adoration are just one-sided and our tallest kids might be approaching the Eucharistic table unworthily, with hardened hearts, and a growing antagonism toward the things of God.  

We don’t know what is going on in their hearts.

I have spent years pondering the secret to really passing on the faith; to presenting it in such a way that it is more inviting than all the attractions of the world. Personal prayer is essential... but it must be accompanied by heroic actions that allow Christ to work strongly within a family and keep the lures of the world at bay. My motherhood demands sanctity. My vocation is made for it. And as we know, the saints had to battle the world, many of them only achieving popularity in the hearts of the Catholic faithful well after their deaths. It is not my job to mold my children into saints. It is my job to give them every opportunity, motivation and protection to allow them to say yes to Jesus. Then He is the one who will make them saints.

I'm in the midst of my vocation which means that I am a rough work in progress. Before I continue my rambling, I want to make three points. I bother to make them at all because if we are going to raise up a new generation of faithful Catholics, we have to start turning our American Catholic cultural ship around...

1) PAY ATTENTION TO A SHIFTING CULTURE

First, I see that the trend in Catholic families has shifted in the last 20 years. Instead of encouraging each other to keep the culture of death at bay, exhorting one another to practice heroic virtue, and helping to keep each other accountable, many are falling into the mindset that we can have our cake and eat it, too. That we are so secure in our personal journeys that the music, media, movies, books, clothes, and lifestyle we consume will not harm our ability to keep Jesus at the center of our lives. 

My perspective as a mother of teens is that it is hardly possible to keep the secular culture from consuming the hearts of our children if we do not stand up and deny it entrance to our activities and homes. That post is bigger than I'm able to write but I'm living it and I want to give you that warning. Jesus promised us we would be persecuted for righteousness sake. If you are not feeling that pressure as a Catholic parent, I guarantee you that you are doing it wrong.


2) IDENTIFY OBSTACLES TO GOODNESS

My second point is actually a short list of the primary means through which a culture of death reaches our children. Before you denounce me as a Puritan wannabe, examine your family culture for holes. Go through your kids' phones and rooms and your own and ask: Do these influences honor and glorify Christ?

PEERS - In my estimation, this is the single biggest contributing factor to the loss of faith in our young. If your kids are not homeschooled, your immediate obstacles are greater than mine in this regard. But homeschoolers are not shut off from the world and negative peer influence can have a profoundly damaging effect. Don't underestimate it. It sometimes happens that bad kids will change for the better because of your good kids. But human nature being what it is, that is not the typical the result.

MUSIC - Music is a powerful force on our minds, bodies and souls. If our kids listen to music, they are being mentored and formed by it. Pretty much every kid listens to music... so how are their choices forming them? Most pop culture music teaches them to accept (even passively) a culture of death.

INTERNET - Oh, heaven help us. I don't have the answer to the problems this marvelous beast creates. Let me just say that there is no such thing as "moderate" internet access. The door is either open or it isn't. I am not impressed by security features and whatnot. Eventually, the door opens, often even before we realize it has. And then you'd better be a praying mama who isn't afraid to lose household popularity.

MOVIES/TV - The kids are learning. Absorbing everything. Do we teach them God's commands and then undermine it with garbage on the screen? They learn quickly that we don't really mean what we say. We are hypocrites if we don't live out our love for Christ by setting proper boundaries for ourselves and our kids. They see everything.

BOOKS - Fifteen years ago, moms I knew were banging on the doors of the local Catholic school wanting to know why trash was in the school library. That rarely happens anymore. We have lost our collective identity, our sensitivity, and our nerve. 

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3) DISRUPT THE ENTRENCHED PATTERN OF BAD CATECHESIS

Younger families, please pay attention, because you don't know yet what a difference the next decade will make in the life of the Church and you should be prepared for the sake of your kids...

My generation, the JPII generation... has failed to properly catechize younger Catholics.

We thought we had it all together and that our kids would catch the same fire we had. We thought we had fixed the errors of our parents' poorly catechized upbringing and that we would do it differently with our own kids. And then they would fall in love with the Church just like we did. Some of us still believe that is what is going on - and perhaps it is in small pockets around the country. But the broader truth is not as pretty.

We are now seeing a new generation of failed catechesis. Worse than the one before. Because let's be honest, the ones who poorly formed us (before we caught Holy Fire) are still teaching... and they taught the teachers... who teach our kids. And us? We are still working through our own limitations, especially if we had later conversions or were poorly catechized ourselves. We too heavily rely on a support system that has not fully recovered from a near death blow. The ship is full of holes but we just cheerfully keep repainting the hull.

Many of the young people I am seeing grow up in the Church (who fill our youth groups and Catholic colleges) can be marked by a defining characteristic: Their faith is only skin deep.

They love being Catholic in all the fun and cool ways. They appear devout and attend youth group and go to Steubenville conferences every year. They go to all 42 chastity talks put on by their church and school. But they aren't really living the moral teachings of the Church. And if they are, they drop it as soon as it is no longer convenient. They are becoming the next cafeteria Catholics, with a minimal understanding of what it means to pursue virtue and almost no understanding of a real spiritual life. And they have a lot of people completely snowed, including their youth group leaders, their priests and their parents. This does not exclude homeschoolers. In fact, homeschooled kids with wandering hearts are often exceptionally good at playing the role of dutiful child.

I'm generalizing. Obviously. But, by virtue of being a mother of teens, I have unwittingly entered the drama of youth and I'm going to be very blunt here about what I see. It is difficult beyond what I imagined to find holy friendships for my teens; friendships where there is a mutual effort towards sanctity and faithfulness. I thank God for the blessing of friends in my children's lives but it does not look at all like I thought it would. I thought it would be somehow... bigger. I thought there would be more families who hadn't given up the fight. I thought my kids would be perfect. I thought I could make it happen.

So I'm getting older. And part of my oldness is that I don't care nearly so much about what other moms are doing anymore because I'm just busy fighting like heck for the souls of my children and climbing my own mountains. I was that mom who thought MY teens would be different. And they are. I have good kids who I love and like (well, usually). But it’s not what I thought it would be.

When young moms publicly share their struggles with having multiple small children and their deep desire to just get a shower and a few hours sleep... and about reading Green Eggs and Ham for the hundredth time while all the kids are crying at once and the baby pees in her lap and the toddler accidentally swallows the miraculous medal he ripped off her chain... well, I secretly kind of wish I had those days back with my older kids. If I did, I would do some things differently…

I would slow down. I still have little ones around me but it's different now and I can't really ever go back to that treasured time. Time is flying and we are getting older. It is a breathtaking, exhilarating, beautiful adventure. And wow... I just wish I had been a little better prepared.

To all you young families who are relying on your Jesse Trees and daily rosaries to get your kids to heaven, I have hard news for you. There will come a day when your best weapon will be your knees hitting the cold floor. Like a reality game show where you create your masterpiece going a mile a minute and then the buzzer sounds and... hands up!... done. Whatever you left undone remains undone. And you start learning a few more things about prayer and long suffering. Because your kids have free will. And the culture is a devouring lion. Do what you can now to instill not only a solid liturgical rhythm in your home, but also a strong culture of Christian mission. Of radical discipleship. 

Does it honor Jesus? No? GET RID OF IT. Tell your kids why. And build them an alternative that outshines the allure of sin.

I'm not writing just to rant for others. I'm writing for selfish reasons. Because I need a Catholic community that is courageous in virtue and radical in discipleship to catch my kids when they step out of the nest. I am an imperfect mother and long for support. I am not content with what exists right now. We were made for something greater. 

Catholics and the Medical Medium: Channeling, Celery Juice, and the Wrong Way to Heal

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Should Catholics read and follow the advice of the popular internet wellness guru, the Medical Medium? Or let me ask it another way…

Should Catholics read and follow the advice of someone who channels spirits to gain knowledge about healing?

No. The obvious answer to both is a resounding no. Both Scripture and Church teaching condemn the practice and make it clear that involvement with such practices poses an immediate danger to the soul. There is no gray area here… it’s a huge no.

I assumed that this would be self-evident for most Catholics but, as more time passes (and more people keep recommending that I drink celery juice), I am seeing the influence of Anthony William (aka Medical Medium) spread throughout the Catholic world. This is especially true in the world of Catholic natural wellness where celery juice and Epstein Barr virus (EBV) are the new buzzwords for healing, thanks to a spiritual being who speaks through Anthony William.

Let me be clear… I think it’s fine if you drink celery juice (although there can be downsides to drinking too much) and I do believe that EBV is responsible for some health problems (though not all). But it is not okay to believe these things based on the authority of a guy who channels spirits.

Again, I really did not think that this needed to be fleshed out for most Catholics but, after witnessing a lot of confusion first hand, I’m going to address it briefly. It is up to the reader to become fully educated in the Catholic faith and to fall down all the appropriate rabbit holes.

But I’m putting this post together so that it can be shared with those who haven’t made the connection yet between William’s spiritual practices and his advice. Some people truly don’t know who he is and what he does. Others truly don’t know their faith.

So here are the things you need to know:

MEDICAL MEDIUM CHANNELS A SPIRIT TO GAIN KNOWLEDGE

I’m not making this up or guessing or inferring. I’m going on the exact words of Anthony William, whose name was made popular by Hollywood celebrities who fawn over him and his spirit friend/guide. In the words of singer-songwriter Debbie Gibson:

“Anthony William is the real deal, and the gravity of the information he shares through Spirit is priceless and empowering and much needed in this day and age!”

In case you’re wondering who “Spirit” is… Spirit is the being that Anthony William channels for knowledge and who has been with him since the age of four. “Spirit” is shorthand for “Spirit of the Most High.” Anthony William describes this being’s relationship to his work on his Facebook page this way:


”Anthony William Medical Medium is given information about his clients from a source that has identified itself since his early childhood as the ones from the Most High, connecting him with powerful spiritual wisdom. Spirit of the Most High holds a wisdom and clarity that is closest to the Holy Source. Anthony describes this as “an ancient brother- and sisterhood of the most devoted saints, prophets, and other admired ones of the Holy Source.”

“This is in direct contrast to the more common spirits that reside underneath the Holy source, which Spirit calls the Sea of Confusion. Spirit has compassion, sympathy, and empathy that will surpass any human being and any other spirit underneath them. This form of compassion is the strength behind their direction and will never lead to misguidance or destruction. Spirit understands pain and suffering and becomes a complete source of healing energy in the face of suffering. They understand when one loses faith, hope, or love for one’s self due to illness or disease.”

“The Spirit works day and night with Anthony to help provide his clients with as much information and guidance to aid in their healing process. Anthony William holds a love and devotion for his clients, which opens their ability to receive the information from the Holy Source and to heal. Healing becomes a reality for all, facilitated by this wisdom.

That description should be enough to alarm any Catholic who knows the faith and believes it. For the most part, I think that Catholics are not researching this guy at all before they dive in… not reading his bio, FB intro, website, or books. This info is everywhere. He clearly states that the healing of his clients comes directly through channeling.


HOW IT ALL BEGAN

Here are excerpts from his book “Medical Medium”:

“My story begins when I’m four years old. 
As I’m waking up one Sunday morning, I hear an elderly man speaking. 
His voice is just outside my right ear. It’s very clear. 
He says, “I am the Spirit of the Most High. There is no spirit above me but God.” 

So far, this info from the spirit guy isn’t meshing with Catholicism at all but is consistent with what we might hear from the demonic. He goes on to talk more about this strange visitor…

“In the evening I settle into my chair at the dinner table. With me are my parents, my grandparents, and some other family members. As we’re eating, I suddenly see a strange man standing behind my grandmother. He has gray hair and a gray beard, and is wearing a brown robe. I assume he’s a family friend who’s come to join our meal. Instead of sitting down with us, though, he keeps standing behind my grandmother . . . and looking only at me.”

And then comes the first time that William is given direct knowledge from the spirit…

“He takes my hand and puts it on my grandmother’s chest while she’s eating. 
Grandma backs away with a start. “What are you doing?” she asks. 
The gray man looks at me. “Say ‘lung cancer.’” 
I’m at a loss. I don’t even know what lung cancer means. 
I try to say it, but it comes out as a mumble. 
“Do it again,” he tells me. “Lung.” 
“Lung,” I say. 
“Cancer.” 
“Cancer,” I say. 
My entire family is staring at me now. 
I’m still focused on the gray man. 
”Now say, ‘Grandma has lung cancer.’” 
“Grandma has lung cancer,” I say….”

I have met many Catholics (specifically women) who have read this book and really don’t find this section alarming. My suspicion is that they just kind of skimmed and didn’t engage with what they were reading, otherwise they would be a little more wary. I also believe that when dealing with manifestations of the demonic, our spiritual vision is easily obscured. Evil confuses all senses.

Could this be an angel of God? Possibly. But the entire context suggests not. It has all the hallmarks of the demonic and not only isn’t any Catholic context present, but basic Christian context is lacking as well.

Can a four-year old be vulnerable to spiritual attack? Yes. It’s difficult to reconcile the innocence of childhood with such a thing but adults have the darnedest habit of making spiritually unsafe circumstances for children. I don’t know what his upbringing was like but clearly he was exposed to something at home or elsewhere at a very young age.


THE COMMITMENT (SELLING HIS SOUL)

As alarming as the introduction to this spirit is, William’s adult devotion and commitment to it is much more so. He tells the story in his book about how he consciously promised obedience to this being in exchange for saving his life. This happened when Williams was attempting to rescue his dog from a river and found himself in danger of drowning.

“Spirit says, “You’ve done it now. You cannot turn back, and you cannot go forward. This is it.” 

“Really? You rob me of a normal, peaceful life, I dedicate my whole being to your work of healing, and this is all I get from you? You say, ‘This is it,’ and leave us to die?”

All the angst and anger I’ve suppressed since I was four years old comes pouring out. I let Spirit have it about my years of pent-up frustration over this continual torture I’ve always had to accept as a “gift”: being set apart from everyone else, knowing too much about everyone at way too early an age, and being told what I had to do with my life instead of given even the slightest choice. 

I tell Spirit, “I put up with a lot — sacrificing my childhood, experiencing everybody’s pain and suffering, taking responsibility for healing thousands of strangers, and draining myself physically and mentally every day. And now you’re telling me I can’t even protect my own family?”

As the danger to his life increases, William is given an offer by the spirit…

“Spirit says, “I will get you to your dog. In return, you must commit to me. We go through this life the way we’re supposed to. You accept that it is by the holy power of God you are destined to do this work for the rest of your life.” 

“Okay!” I shout. “Deal. Let me find August, and I’ll work for you with no complaints ever again.”

You must commit to me. This is not the language of the angels. This is the language of the demonic. But William has been connected to this spirit his entire life and now he consciously gives his life over to it. It not only gives him the power to save his dog and his own life, but becomes the impetus for his work as the Medical Medium.

“Even before this point, people in need have been coming to me in droves.

With this pledge, I wholly dedicate myself to helping them, without qualification and for the rest of my life.

I don’t have to pretend the abilities I’ve been granted are a problem-free blessing. Yet I stop complaining and finally accept who I am. That’s when I truly assume my role as the Medical Medium…”


One interesting side note is that William complains against the spirit and is angry about the oppressiveness of this spiritual presence in his life. It is interesting because psychics, mediums, clairvoyants, etc. often eventually confess a lack of peace, often to a degree which robs sleep and mental health. William’s words echo those of many who have found themselves in a kind of bondage to their spiritual “friends”… the same companions who are ultimately revealed as powerful oppressors.


THE CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

I assume that if you are reading this article, you are a mature, intelligent, faithful Catholic and that you know that you are free to discern and pick out the good amongst much junk in the world of natural wellness. In the case of the Medical Medium however, there are specific reasons why you should always seek out other resources. You don’t need this man (and his spirit being) to tell you to eat vegetables and seek the root cause of your illness. He offers nothing that isn’t available elsewhere.

Even if he did have something unique to offer, I would still say… stay away. The spiritual danger is not a good exchange for a healthy body.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear:

2116 All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.

The work of the Medical Medium falls clearly under that admonition, especially since the spirit claims to be above every spirit except for God alone. Sounds like the spirit of lucifer himself.

2117:  All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others – even if this were for the sake of restoring their health – are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. 

Scripture is also clear:

"Let there not be found among you anyone who immolates his son or daughter in the fire, nor a fortune-teller or soothsayer, charmer, diviner or caster of spells, nor one who consults ghosts and spirits or seeks oracles from the dead. Anyone who does such things is an abomination to the Lord." (Deut 18:10-12)

We know that, not only does the enemy prowl around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour, but he also disguises himself as an angel of light. (1 Pt 5:8, 2 Cor 11:14) No one would follow this guy if he wasn’t offering some kind of good. “Be alert and of sober mind.”

The demonic can sometimes heal the body. The demonic can appear as your greatest desire. It is in these times that we must know our faith, believe in the Word of God, and throw ourselves on His truth and mercy.


THE DANGER

Most Catholics do stop following William after they learn about the source of his work. They simple didn’t know and then corrected their direction once they learned. And I know that many will read this article and wash their hands of him forever. But there are a good number of people who continue to follow him after knowing everything. I have found that they tend to have one or more of the following obstacles:

  1. They don’t have a healthy fear of the demonic. They still think about demons as cartoon characters instead of a spiritual realities and have never experienced any exposed manifestation of evil and felt the accompanying terror. They do not believe they are vulnerable and they are lulled into a false sense of security.

  2. They are poorly catechized and don’t have a proper understanding of the spiritual battle that is real and ongoing in the life inside and outside the soul. They think they are on solid footing and are not prepared to recognize the enemy even when it appears plainly before them.

  3. They are deeply involved in and impacted by risky spiritual practices like spiritual yoga or energy work such as reiki. This results in defensiveness, confusion, and perhaps also a spiritual blindness.

  4. They have experienced healing and positive fruits from the practice or source in question and either cannot reconcile that positive experience with the idea of danger… or they simply don’t want to give it up.

The truth is that the demonic does not look at you and me and say “Oh hey… you look like a good Christian… so I’m going to just move on to someone a little less in love with Jesus.” The prowling enemy targets those who love the Lord and desires our spiritual and physical destruction. He wants us to be fooled into leaving Christ… and then he wants us to die isolated from Him, in terror and pain. He hates us more than we can imagine hating anyone.


THE SOLUTION

The answer to this problem is to leave Anthony William behind and pursue a healing lifestyle based on God’s design for our bodies, minds, and souls. We must be willing to sacrifice even our health to follow God’s will… but I don’t think you have to in this case. Eat lots of veggies and juice a bunch if you want! Definitely see a functional medicine doctor and find your underlying causes like lyme, SIBO, chemical poisoning, etc… and yes, even EBV.

But don’t do it because a spirit told you through a pop star medium.

My own background includes involvement in non-Christian spiritual healing. That story has only been told in bits and pieces because I’m not ready to tell the whole thing yet. But I will say that most Catholics I have met do not have a healthy fear of those spiritual dangers which can separate us from the love of God. We don’t even need to fully consent — sometimes we just choose to walk through the wrong doors.

You are fooling yourself if you think you can play in that realm and not get burned.

The spirit of the demonic tried to destroy me and almost succeeded. It was a terrifying, oppressive time in my life and I almost succumbed to the complete despair and torment. There is a range of demonic influence that can impact a person’s life. There are people with mild oppression who can walk courageously through with strong faith and commitment to prayer and virtue. And then there are heavier things. Much heavier. All are crosses which threaten our security in Christ because they confuse, obscure, and can lead incrementally down a hellish path.

From my place of experience, I will share that I will not even go to the Medical Medium website to poke around. I do not want any part of my life influenced by the demonic. I do not want to read its words, see its images, or listen to its mouthpieces. It is a defensive move but also strategically offensive…

I belong to Jesus Christ alone and will not make myself vulnerable to His enemies. I already know I am not strong enough. He is Lord and I submit my whole life to him. My mind, my soul, my body. Since he is my strength, I have to give my senses and intellect solely to Him so that He can lead me in battle.

I will not go to the mat with God over celery juice.

It’s not that simple, I know. And yet… it is. It is a million little and big choices in life that form us into who we wish to be and strengthen us into saints capable of white or red martyrdom. It is the little and big choices in life that lead us slowly, almost imperceptibly, to a place where we can no longer recognize the signs of Jesus Christ… or the red flags of the enemy.

If you still cling to Medical Medium after reading all of this evidence, just know that you are clinging also to his spirit buddy. You can no longer say that you don’t know.

Laudato Si' {And Why You Don't Have to Love It}

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I've finally decided to tackle the divisive topic of Laudato si', the encyclical that many of us want to love but can't. I am not writing to foment division but rather to explain my concerns within the context of a great love for the Holy Father and the Catholic Church. After first reading the document, I was not planning on writing in spite of concerns that I had. At that point, most of the internet world hadn't read it yet and I felt that my points would not be understood in context. (In other words, I was sensitive to the possibility that you all might think I was nutty as a squirrel.) Now that others are finishing the document, community thoughts are steadily splashing onto my screen. I'm seeing a lot of anger and a lot more confusion. It's not necessary that people hear my thoughts, but I would like to join the conversation. My aim is not to be right, but to seek Truth. Onward...

I'm going to work hard at simplicity and thereby hope to avoid misunderstandings. Giving only a basic framework for my thoughts means that many other thoughts will go unwritten. With that, here is a brief overview of my position:

There are points of beauty and Truth in Laudato si' to which I can happily give my assent as a faithful daughter of the Church. There are also elements with which I cannot agree, nor am I required to since they do not fall under the category of "faith and morals" and the teaching authority of the Holy Father. I give him my attention and deference in all things but, at the end of the day, I am obliged to follow my properly formed Catholic conscience.

THE GOOD

The Catholic internet has done a marvelous job of highlighting all that is beautiful and worthy of attention in this document. I don't see a need to restate the core of that, particularly since it is immediately accessible in the document itself. We are obligated to give our assent to the truth concerning spiritual connection between all of creation and God. And what believing Catholic wouldn't? This is not new teaching, but only a reiteration of what the Church (including popes of recent memory) has always taught. In fact, you might say that the need for an environmental encyclical was already met by Pope Benedict XVI (sometimes referred to as "the green pope") in 2009 when he published Caritas in Veritate and in multiple other writings and speeches. Many readers of Laudate si' have the mistaken notion that Pope Francis has done something earth shatteringly new (no pun intended). This is not necessarily the case if we're only looking at the elements that are binding on the faithful. For example...

“The Church has a responsibility towards creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere. In doing so, she must defend not only the earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to everyone. She must above all defend mankind from self-destruction. There is a need for what might be called a human ecology, correctly understood. The deterioration of nature is in fact closely connected to the culture that shapes human coexistence: when ‘human ecology’ is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits (#51). 

— Pope Benedict XVI {Caritas in Veritate}

So we know these are not new themes. But there is something new in Pope Francis' encyclical which is causing concern...

THE PROBLEM

The real stumbling block of Laudato si' for me (and for many others) is not the beautiful and good truths contained within but the elements which depart from the deposit of faith and step into dubious scientific and political theories. This is where things can get confusing for faithful Catholics who are not accustomed to finding non-binding and controversial secular elements in a papal encyclical. Our identity is wrapped up in Holy Mother Church and it is a wretched feeling to think we might somehow be at odds with her. Can we disagree with certain assertions contained in an encyclical and still be good Catholics? Yes, we can, but it is certainly an uncomfortable position to be in and we must be extraordinarily careful.

There is an idea making the rounds (perhaps to help people come to terms with that internal conflict) that being made uncomfortable by a work is a proof positive indication that it is of the Holy Spirit. While the Truth is almost certain to make us uncomfortable, it is also true that an intelligent and faithful Catholic can correctly feel "uncomfortable" by ideas which are at odds with Truth and beauty. I'll discuss a couple of these problematic ideas later in the article. 

THE PROPER RESPONSE

Whether or not you agree with all of the Holy Father's views in Laudate si', the fact is that good Catholics are finding themselves with a problem of conscience. The simple (but not simplistic) solution to this problem was summed up well by my friend Michael Hichborn, who has researched this document (and it's context) thoroughly. He wrote:

“The pope said in the encyclical that Catholics are not bound by the highly contentious science regarding global warming. Unfortunately, he built most of the encyclical around this non-binding principle, which means that all that follows from it is likewise not binding. What he said regarding faith and morals and the spiritual connections between man, nature and God are those matters to which we must give assent. But once he put in a caveat not binding us to a first principle, all those matters flowing from the non-binding principle are likewise non-binding.”

So we are free to disagree on those matters. But what's the big deal? Why would anyone want to disagree with anything in a papal encyclical? 

ABORTION, GLOBAL POLITICS, SHADY SCIENCE

I knew going into the encyclical that the Pope would touch on abortion and that he would say good things. What I hadn't heard from anyone was that he would also repeatedly and positively refer to international environmental efforts and organizations which are anti-life, anti-family, anti-Christian, and pro-abortion to the core. My pro-life sensibilities went into shock as I tried to reconcile a papal encyclical with what I saw as outright scandal. I cannot adequately address here the depth of moral decay within the organizations that the Pope mentioned with such enthusiasm. I will instead leave you with a couple names and brief comments. Please, research these on your own... 

1992 Earth Summit in Rio - Hosted by the UN (United Nations), the "Planned Parenthood" of the international community. Whatever it's laudable origins or periodic good works, it is now taking the lead in the promotion of population control, anti-family, anti-freedom efforts around the globe. Consider that the UN has formally cooperated with China's forced one-child policy and you will have some idea of how distressing this connection is. 

The Earth Charter - There's family planning language right in the document. It doesn't say "kill all the babies" but "family planning" to these secular entities does not mean NFP... it means contraception, abortion, sex education, and often even encouragement of deviant lifestyle. 

 Those are just two examples. Let's keep going...

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GLOBAL AUTHORITY

The encyclical is overflowing with language promoting global authority equipped with the power to enforce laws and penalize countries. In an ideal Christ-centered world, this could be a productive pursuit. However, a governing world body based on Christian principles is a practical impossibility at this historical juncture and we are left instead with the Holy Father's rather alarming suggestions for positive long term global guidance. In a papal encyclical of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, we are giving a glowing account of...

The Basel Convention (U.N.)
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio (U.N.)
The Earth Charter
The Stockholm Declaration (U.N.)
The Vienna Convention (U.N.)
The Montreal Protocol (U.N.)
The Conference of the United Nations on Sustainable Development, "Rio+20" (2012)

All of these agreements have fatal flaws and, without a doubt, would be used by corrupt political entities to inflict great harm upon innocent people. Why is that important to know? As faithful Catholics, we need to know that we are not bound to the Pope's opinions on these matters, even if he writes it in an encyclical. And we are NOT morally obligated to work with corrupt global organizations in order to be good stewards of the natural world.

Pope Francis takes a strong stand for cooperation with global authority regarding environmental concerns. In fact, in a recent speech to international NGO's, he said that the environmental protection issue is "perhaps the most important facing us today." More HERE. I strongly (but respectfully) disagree that these specific efforts bring us closer to a sustainable, life-giving, God-honoring worldview and solution. On the contrary, direct evidence shows that they would purposefully lead us in the opposite direction. Working with the U.N. to build a Christian worldview is like working with Planned Parenthood to stop abortion. They will ultimately only use and abuse your good will in the service of evil.

SHADY SCIENCE & SCANDAL

Of all the sections of this post, this is the one I am most loathe to tap out. It is larger than a blog post and it is disturbing because it highlights the reality of crisis at all levels in the Church. We know corruption and human error plague us. Pope Benedict strongly referred to it. Pope Francis has also referred to it. But how are we to respond to that reality? That is the question that has been occupying me since I read the encyclical and was the reason I finally decided to hit "publish" on this post. What are we supposed to do when ecclesial authority uses the holy office to promote fallible (and erroneous) opinion?

As you read the following details, please continue to keep in mind that we are not obligated to give assent to the elements of the encyclical that are non-binding and violate our properly-formed consciences. We do not have to cooperate with evil people or their organizations. We don't have to conform ourselves to the Holy Father's political leanings or those of his advisors or collaborators. We are followers of Jesus Christ and His Holy Catholic Church and not the shenanigans of men. The following details are individual pieces that apply to the larger context but are important enough to include here because they all have bearing either on the creation or implementation of the goals of Laudato si'.

COLLABORATORS

Although the encyclical is a product of Pope Francis' study and opinions, the document itself was the result of a much larger collaborative effort. There were many who were invited to prepare the way for, help write, and also to promote the encyclical. Within that context, there have appeared some alarming names...

Cardinal Peter Turkson and a team of advisors wrote the first draft of the encyclical.  The Cardinal has been a high ranking Vatican official for a long time (predating Francis) and his views favoring a U.N. collaboration and a one world banking and environmental system are well known.

The team of experts consulted also included Hans Joachim Schnellhuber, the founder and head of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, chair of the German Advisory Council on Global Change, and staunch advocate of a one world government. His presence has caused some alarm among good people. Learn more about him HEREHEREHERE

In September of 2015, Pope Francis hosted a Vatican summit on climate change in Rome. All things being, well, Catholic, this should not have been a problem. But there were some disconcerting elements. Among those elements were hosts, presenters, and attendees whose life work lies in direct contradiction to the Catholic faith. For example...

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was invited to lead the summit. In other words, the leader of the one of the most aggressive population-control, anti-family, anti-Christian organizations in the world was invited to lead a Vatican summit on pressing moral issues. The U.N. announced it's support of Laudato si' in 2014, well before most Catholics were aware that it would be written. This knowledge has caused significant concern among pro-life and pro-family activists.

Then there's Jeffrey Sachs who moderated and co-hosted the event. He is an outspoken proponent of legalized abortion to control population. (more here

Naomi Klein is another scandalous addition. She is an anti-capitalist/environmental activist who wrote: "For these right-wingers, opposition to climate change has become as central to their belief system as low taxes, gun ownership and opposition to abortion." There's abortion again. 

I'm providing a snapshot here, not a complete story. My awareness of many of these things comes, not because I am some kind of Vatican watchdog, but because I am a pro-life Catholic who has a Gospel mandate to build a culture of life.  Within my vocation, I have been able to keep up a little with the 'who's who' among the enemies of life; hoping to recognize them when they try to posture as sheep in my community and country. I am not foolish enough to believe that they are actually in the Church as united family; they have simply walked through the open door and are preparing to dismantle it like the Trojan horse guests that they are. To recognize their mission and to own a blog and stay quiet feels irresponsible.  The Holy Father wishes to publicly collaborate with such people on projects of such magnitude, and I believe I am obliged to publicly question these decisions.

FORMAL AND MATERIAL COOPERATION

At the risk of stepping into a theological rabbit hole, I must touch on the important distinction between formal and material cooperation with evil; because support of the global Sustainable Development Goals mentioned in Laudato si' and encouraged by the Vatican, appears to at least be flirting with material cooperation, if not fully engaged. (If you are not familiar with the theological distinction in cooperation with evil, you can brush up HERE.)

This can easily turn into a complex discussion but I'll break it down (for my own benefit as well as yours)...

The Vatican fully supports the global environmental objectives of the U.N. which DO include population control initiatives (i.e. contraception and abortion). Don't believe me? Read more HERE

Work that moral equation out for yourselves but remember: These are papal opinions and assertions that are non-binding on the faithful. But in order to justify material cooperation with those who promote intrinsically evil acts, there needs to be a proportionally grave reason. The reason we are given in Laudato si' is the highly controversial idea of man-made climate change. Personally, I think that anthropogenic climate change is junk science. Regardless of whether I am right or wrong about this, nobody is bound to believe or support such speculative scientific theories.

As Catholics, we are already taught to be good stewards, to be honest and generous and self-giving; we are taught to look upon God's creation with reverence and act accordingly; we know that it is wrong to destroy healthy environments and to abuse technology to the detriment of community, family, and personal dignity. We know all this. 

I encourage you to click on the links throughout this post and to do your own research, but I have to warn you... You will find a lot of what looks like scandal. To do in depth research into the weakness and wickedness of mankind we must also go armed heavily with prayer, Scripture, spiritual reading, and foundational teachings of the Church. If we know who we are in the Body of Christ and know the promises at our Lord makes to His Church, we will not be depressed by revelations of difficulty, but strengthened by Hope and grace.  

I love Pope Francis and I always will. I am his spiritual daughter and I take joy in his holy office as Father and shepherd. But in the tradition of he Church, I am also his spiritual mother and am charged with the care of his soul. I accept his authority and at the same time, exhort him to separate himself from association with those who seek to destroy the Church. Walking with and smelling like the sheep does not also mean allowing the wolves to invade the fold.

How the Love of Another Man Pushed Me Into My Husband's Arms

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Photo courtesy of the beautiful Jeannette Ayoob-Urban

The man stood alone among over 50 women, speaking to them about their own womanhood...

Imagine a weekend retreat with all those women women attending with only that one man, a priest, to dilute the beautiful conflagration of estrogen. I was there and it was awesome. The positive feminine energy was a wonderful balm for my soul. So many "little mothers" to nurture and support!  And oh yes, the healing tears flowed.

Yet as much as I acknowledge the unique role that women play for each other in life (indispensable, really), I also returned home with a renewed appreciation for the role of men in how we come to see ourselves as women... and how we learn to draw closer to Christ through their steady witness.

It doesn't seem like it should have worked out well at all; a lone man speaking about womanhood and motherhood to a bunch of women (mostly mothers) who have 100% more life experience as females than he! But Father's words were more powerful for me than those of any woman I have ever heard speak. They challenged and pierced and illuminated the treasure of my femininity in a new way. And there's a growing part of me (not the former strident feminist part) that marvels and wonders what it is about a man that has the unique power to do just that. 

This experience of masculine speaking to feminine about the feminine was marvelous and unlike some male Catholic speakers who try to understand the "feminine genius" through their masculine lens and misapplication of JPII's marvelous Theology of the Body

I have taken the whole experience apart in my mind a dozen times since I've been home. Without analyzing too much, here are a few points I've been pondering... 

  • The complementarity of man and woman goes well beyond the sexual and does not even need a sexual context or metaphor to be true and powerful. We have been given to each other in service by God and we have been made for each other. The sexual context is singular to the married vocation. I am only married to one man... and yet that complementarity with all other men still exists in a completely beautiful and non-sexual context. I am a bride. I am also physical and spiritual daughter, sister, and mother to many.

  • The priest is consecrated and celibate but still fully male. His masculine gifts put him in a position to lead woman but also to be upheld by her. It is why we kneel for a blessing before him and why he clings to Mary and is upheld by the Spiritual Motherhood which is so honored by the Church.

  • The authentic words of affirmation and confidence given by a man have a powerful impact on a woman... perhaps even more so than another woman can give. As Pope Saint John Paul II said so perfectly:

    "God has assigned as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman." 

Father's priestly counsel pierced my feminine heart all weekend. I was impacted not only by his words through his priestly office, but also by who he was as a person.  And my appreciation grew, not as a fangirl but as a spiritual daughter/sister being led to greatness in Christ. When he looked at us women and told us that we were beautiful in who we are and within the context of our vocation, I believed him; but instead of being drawn to his side, my desire for home steadily ignited. 

Fr. Nathan Cromley {Photo courtesy of Jayme Orn Photography}

That is what every man should do for every woman... Point her to vocation, to her greatness, to her spouse, to her Lord. That is what every woman should do for every man... Show him his capacity for greatness in Christ at home and in the world.

The nearer Father led us to Christ, the stronger that desire grew until it was a flame that became a blazing fire. I was enjoying the retreat and yet I longed to see my husband. To serve him. To be held by him. And a repeated daydream (that also became a dream during sleep) took hold of me there...

I imagined that my husband and I were holding hands and walking up the center aisle of the chapel toward our Eucharistic Lord exposed in the monstrance. And when we arrived in front of Jesus, we knelt together and received His blessing.

It was a physical longing and gripped me so tightly that it surprised me. 

Each time I heard my spiritual Father speak, that desire for my both my husband and my God increased. One man leading me closer to another man, my spouse... through Christ.

Many words have been written about the need in our Church for manly priests; men who not only understand their priestly identity but who understand it in the context of their masculine nature. It is not just an exercise in pastoral speculation... But a true need.

I not only reject the idea of women priests from a theological standpoint but also from a natural one. We need these men, these soul lovers who have taken up the cross of service for our salvation. We need not just what they do but who they are. Their masculinity is a gift that we cannot set aside as some random assignment of biological pieces. 

A woman needs men who will look into her eyes with their strong, confident, gentle love... and communicate to her the matter of her dignity. It is often said that culture will be restored by the heart, the woman. But...

Woman needs man to lead and to teach her through his words and love about her own dignity.
Man needs woman to support him as he carries his cross in the world.
He finds his own dignity and home in the heart of the feminine.
She finds her fortress and fire in the masculine.

It is my fervent prayer that the men of the Church will learn the significance of that role and take it up. Oh, how they could change the world! They are inclined to take it by might and sheer effort but do not know their own potential as soul-lovers.

I left the retreat a little early and went home late Saturday night, missing the two remaining hours on Sunday morning. I wanted to stay and continue to drink deeply from the retreat experience but I also wanted to be able to go to Mass with my family, to be able to sleep a little more deeply (even a quiet retreat stretched my physical limits during this pregnancy), and to hold my littlest girl who was missing her mommy. But mostly...

I wanted to see my husband. 

He texted me a response to my invitation saying: "Whatever you want to do is fine. Stay as long as you like. If you want me to come early, I will." I replied:

"Come and get me!"

... and I felt like a school girl while I waited. I also felt a little like a young bride waiting to see my groom before our our nuptial Mass. My eyes filled with tears when he walked through the door. He got bonus points for the roses that he brought me (husbands, take note!) but I would have rejoiced regardless.

After we arrived home, we imprudently but joyfully stayed up with the children until 1:00 am just being together before family prayers. My toddler fell asleep curled up on my lap and I fell asleep on the couch so quickly that I didn't even kiss my spouse goodnight.

It's not a story of glamorous romance. We are messy, we are weak, and we are broken... And we fall asleep when we don't mean to.

But the more attentive I am to my Lord, the more my heart is drawn to my home. And sometimes, it takes another man to remind me that to be fully who I am in Christ means to draw closer, not to the activity of my vocation, but to the souls with whom I have been entrusted.

The last time I went on retreat (over 11 years ago), I came home ready to change my husband... to form him more perfectly to my (stunted) vision of holy. That was partially (or largely) my immaturity and partially the questionable direction from the priest who essentially told me that my apostolic work was more important than the heart of my husband. And... it was kind of a disaster. I disrespected the treasure that my faithful, prayerful, hard-working, generous, amazing man that my husband always has been. I don't know if he was nervous about my return home this time (he was nothing but encouraging) but he would certainly have been justified! This time however, Father said something (among many things of value) that helped me correct that former error:

Jesus doesn't need new ministries, He needs lovers.

Instead of coming home with an agenda, I came home with a gentle fire. Instead of coming home to make changes to my family members, I came home to love them. Instead of coming home with a list and a massive plan, I came home with the courage to just begin again in steady charity. I also came home with a dozen red roses and a renewed appreciation for the irreplaceable role of the masculine presence in the feminine life. 

To any men reading...

Please lead the women in your life to Christ. Love them, give them courage by your own example, forgive them, make sure they have what they need to be well, and help them see their own beauty and dignity. 

To the women...

Let them. And then serve them with faithfulness, confidence, mercy, and joy. For those who suffer in that holy work, I share a few more of Father's words:

“When your heart is pierced, when your tears flow... Blessed be God! There aren’t enough tears in the world.”

To my husband...

I have no words for the gift that you have always been and continue to be in my life. You married a bratty teenager and you've loved and nurtured her into the woman that I am. Full of weakness and holes and sinfulness, yes... but also so happy. You have poured yourself out to give me life, hope, joy, and Jesus. You have tempered my wayward estrogen with the gentle strength. You have served even when there was no obvious return on the investment. Twenty years ago, you were the one who answered my questions about Christ and then set about to show me... and you are still leading. What all that means to me is inexpressible and touches an intimate part of my soul that knows no adequate expression. But I thank you. And I renew my commitment to our Christ-centered eternal love. 

Thanks be to God!

“Allow yourselves to hunger... Fall in love with Jesus.” {Fr. Nathan Cromly}

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We are fast approaching our 20th wedding anniversary. May Blessed Mother continue to lead us united to her Son.

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Retreat jewelry craft led by artist Andrea Singarella. Roses from my husband. Name tag from the Arise retreat.

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Photo of the attendees of the Arise Retreat. Over 50 amazing women... and one Fr. Nathan. {Photo courtesy of Jayme Orn Photography} My deepest gratitude to Brooke Taylor for running with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to make this event happen and to every woman there who said yes to that same Spirit by attending. 

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Photo of our walking Rosary courtesy of Jayme Orn Photography