Celebrating the Feast of St. Hildegard of Bingen: September 17

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There are many ideas for celebrating the life of St. Hildegard of Bingen in this post. Her feast is on September 17th but I encourage not to worry about “missing” the date if you’d like to celebrate…simply choose a day in the month when something works for your family. Feasts are for living, not for box-checking! Let’s enjoy. Saint Hildegard, ora pro nobis!

But first, it is important to clear up some misinformation about this dynamic woman of God to avoid being misled by enemies of the Church…

For the majority of my Catholic life, I intentionally avoided St. Hildegard. I had come to associate her with the many New Age practitioners, wiccans, and dissident Catholic nuns who like to claim her as their own. I had lived in that sphere and I didn’t want to go back.

She doesn’t belong to them, of course, and she never ascribed to their heretical and spiritually deviant ways. But because her writings are not as accessible as other saints and her ways a bit uncommon, they have been more easily co-opted and distorted by people with an agenda.

I once brought a St. Hildegard peg doll to a peg doll exchange. One astute woman there asked me why I had chosen Hildegard…and I knew why she was asking. Because generally, it’s not the faithful Catholic women who bring Hildegard to the party.

I assured her that I wasn’t in line with the dissidents and their fiction…

Those distortions are bunk and should be thrown away like the garbage they are. Most of the information readily available in books and online is unreliable. Many translations are done by those with an agenda. Not every quote on the internet is hers. Not every quote that is hers is properly translated. Not every work is interpreted with her faithful Catholic vision. Her letters should be read with caution since some have been proven to be false. In fact, I give you warning ahead of time if you go looking, you will find a lot of false information and should be extremely discerning of what you choose.

So why did I bring Hildegard to the party?

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Hildegard was a deep ocean, full of life and fire, music, wildcraft, salves, painting, visions, poetry, theology, and prayer. She was an Abbess, an artist, a preacher, mystic, healer, composer, polymath, and Doctor of the Church. She loved the earth and saw that “God has arranged all things in the world in consideration of everything else.” She challenged the corruption in the Church around her and raised her voice against it while demanding fidelity from her shepherds. She was not tame…

But she was obedient. To the Church and to Christ. If you see information which varies from that…you will know it isn’t true. She did cause her convent to be placed under interdict but it was ultimately lifted when she was found to have been falsely treated by the bishop. The feminists love to use this as a weapon against patriarchy and proof of her defiance, but the opposite is true…

She obeyed the interdict but also fought to have it removed. She loved the Church and the priesthood even when she was treated unjustly. She served truth.

She was NOT an ecofeminist, a proponent of “global humanism,” a witch, an earth-worshipper, a gnostic or a goddess.

She was, in fact a contemplative cloistered nun living under the Rule of St. Benedict which she loved. Within the Catholic faith, there is room for a creative fire like Hildegard. And the silence and prayer which formed her for many decades, became the school in which her soul burned with passion and flourished with productivity.

To listen to the voices of dissent in the Church who want to remake her into their own, you’d think she was as defiant against orthodoxy as they. If you present them with the facts so prevalent in her writings, they will dismiss those facts by saying that she was a product of her times and didn’t fully realize her own enslavement.

How disrespectful. How dull. How wrong.

She once preached to an Archbishop saying: “The tower is assigned to you. Protect the tower and cause the whole city not to be ruined and destroyed. So watch out, keep the discipline with an iron scepter and educate yourself. Grease the wounds of those who have entrusted themselves to you.”

She was hardly the dissenting radical she has been portrayed to be. But she was radical in her own way. Aren’t all mystics? All saints?

She was made for her time and for ours. She raised her voice passionately against the clerical abuses of power and money and perversion. She did not give bad leaders permission to follow their own path into sexual or spiritual confusion…she spoke vehemently, exhorting religious men and women alike to return to purity, grace, and zeal for the Lord.

Quite the opposite of of a progressive modernist, she fought vehemently for a return to truth and fidelity to the faith.

And frankly, she does come across as a bit unusual.

She embraced the natural world, recognizing God’s Presence in every cell of creation. She expressed that passionately, in a way that modernity often finds uncomfortable. But if only the hearts within the Body of Christ would burn with such passion! We would see that God has neglected nothing in His care for us. And perhaps we would sing like Hildegard.

In celebration of her life and with a fervent prayer for the renewal of the Church, I put together a list of ways we can celebrate with our families. Let us rejoice with St. Hildegard, Doctor of the Church and handmaid of Christ.

Let’s celebrate!



IDEAS FOR CELEBRATING THE FEAST DAY

First, look up the beautiful compositions of St. Hildegard and flood your home with her music. Learn more about her life HERE. Then consider one or more of the following…


HILDEGARD’S COOKIES

“Take some nutmeg and an equal weight of cinnamon and a bit of cloves, and pulverize them. Then make small cakes with this and fine whole wheat flour and water. Eat them often. It will calm all bitterness of the heart and mind, open your hear and impaired senses, and make your mind cheerful.” (Physica, Hildegard von Bingen)

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Obviously this loose recipe quoted above leaves the modern reader with a bit of room for interpretation! Many of the adapted recipes on the internet add sugar and butter to balance the bitterness (and appeal to tastes formed by Oreos). When I made them, I did not…but I added honey to stay closer to the original purpose of bodily health. I also replaced the wheat (or spelt) with almond flour, which Hildegard wrote would give strength. (Both wheat and spelt have gluten which won’t fly with a healing celiac.)

The cracker/cookie was still somewhat bland but I like that it does indeed promote good health through the beneficial chemistry of the spices and nourishing ingredients. And definitely doesn’t trigger a cascade of sweet cravings! Interestingly, it comes remarkably close to the first “sweets” I was able to eat when first beginning my healing journey.

You can try your hand at adapting your own recipe from Hildegard’s instructions or go for a more dessert-like cookie like this one HERE. I also found this recipe HERE to be much closer to Hildegard’s original (plus brown sugar) but you have to convert the grams (I know, Americans, this is tough…but at least we have online converters now!).


HILDEGARD PRINTABLE

Print this St. Hildegard quote and draw, color, paint, or paper piece images of God’s creation:
ST. HILDEGARD QUOTE PRINTABLES

And please tag me on Instagram if you would like to post your finished piece! I would love to see them all. Here are some that my family made…

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NATURE HIKE

Go for a hike and collect and identify plants, rocks, scat, anything (I don’t mean that you should collect the scat unless you really want to…we won’t be doing that. lol) There are so many fun (and free) nature journals for the kids to take along. And great books (like these Fun With Nature guides) which are really helpful for helping to identifying and record findings.

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GATHER AND DECORATE WITH HERBS

Gather a bunch of fresh herbs to decorate the table then use them in your meal. Hildegard studied the earth and it’s plants and elements, giving glory to God for his abundant treasures and their beneficial properties.

Display dried blessed herbs from the Feast of the Assumption if you had them blessed. Or find local sources to dry, display, and use. (See our Assumption herbs below)


MAKE ELDERBERRY SYRUP

Hildegard used the gifts of God’s creation to make healing food and remedies. Make a batch of elderberry syrup to prepare for the sniffle season. September is the perfect time! Freeze using a silicon form for individual servings or just use an ice cube tray. Then store in freezer bags.

I adapt this basic recipe (which is delicious, by the way!), adding additional essential oils, herbs, or astralagus root depending on what I have on hand or the level of immune oomph I’m looking for.

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PRAY

  • Pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet for the priests, bishops, cardinals, and religious men and women who have lost their faith or are causing scandal. St. Hildegard received permission to leave her cloister later in life so that she could travel and preach repentance to the corrupt clerics of her time…and also to exhort others to fervent fidelity to Christ and His Church.

  • Pray a Rosary in imitation of Hildegard’s deep love for Blessed Mother.

  • Spend time in silent contemplation after reading Scripture. Do this outside if you can!


STUDY

  • Read the Apostolic Letter proclaiming St. Hildegard a Doctor of the Church (JPII 10/7/12)

  • Look up the Rule of St. Benedict to see how St. Hildegard lived. Inexpensive book and kindle options HERE. I did not find a reliable translation at our public library but I did find free PDF’s online.

  • As I mentioned, there are many translations and books about St. Hildegard of Bingen which are unreliable and tainted by agenda. But I was pleased to discover the recent publication of Hildegard’s Book of Divine Works (Liber divinorum operum). It is considered her magnum opus and is a meditation on a mystical experience of the Gospel of St. John. I wouldn’t call it light reading, but it does provide insight into a soul on fire for God and has inspired me to expand my eye for His goodness. I am no mystic and do not pretend to understand the sometimes unusual expression of her vision. Pretending to understand her fully would be false…but I can weakly imitate her fearlessness in prayer and the surrender of her vision to Christ.

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PLAY

Let your little ones delight in this little St. Hildegard doll from Shining Light Dolls. Paint a peg doll. Have a woodland adventure. And follow me on Instagram this week and enter to win one of my hand painted peg dolls! Above all…delight in life and give thanks with your family for the goodness of creation, designed by God for His beloved children. He considered us in everything.

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What Catholic Parents Need to Know Before a Son Enters Seminary

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This is Part 2 of a series on solving the vocations crisis and preparing our sons to answer the call. It was written with parents in mind but maybe helpful for all Catholics. Read Part 1 here: Solving the Vocations Crisis Crisis: Serviam


When my son was 5-years old, he rushed into our room in the middle of the night and announced that God wanted him to be a priest.

How do you know?
Because he told me!

And we moved on with life, doing what we had always done, living a life centered around the liturgy, learning, playing, and living life fully together…knowing that the true test of vocation doesn’t generally come like a flash in the night but through a steady relationship with Christ.

His interest in the faith continued to grow alongside his athletic and academic interests. He loved to serve at the altar and studied about the liturgy during his free time (and also when he was supposed to be doing his Math). We homeschooled, which allowed more flexibility in allowing Thomistic and liturgical passions to grow; and his interest in life, the fairer sex, and the priesthood grew together in a natural progression to manhood.

Eventually, he decided to give the Church the “first fruits” of his discernment and take a step towards the priesthood. He attended several discernment events, one of which was a weekend at a college seminary. He enjoyed the weekend but decided he was not a good fit for the community.

The seminarians hosting him didn’t display much interest in the faith or liturgy outside of the fact that they were, in fact, in seminary. They wanted to play video games and talk about secular music and movies. And the one thing that was a driving passion in his life, the Catholic faith, seemed a taboo topic among young men who should have been most excited to engage. Some were openly irritated that he wanted to hear their thoughts about God.

He came home with the understanding that many young men (at that seminary anyway) were entering those doors as a blank page, with a sincere but vague idea that the priesthood was somehow just about bachelors helping people. They may make wonderful priests someday, but this is not an ideal scenario for a young man going into seminary — any seminary.

When a man enters the seminary doors, he walks onto a battlefield. He is giving his assent to be fitted with the future crown of martyrdom. Like the Apostles before Him. Like Christ.

Before entering, he should already be a man, with a healthy spiritual, mental, and physical formation. He must be open to learning while, at the same time, prepared for the possibility of having to navigate wrong teaching and complicated peer and formator relationships.

While God can work through any situation to bring about transformation and holiness, the reality is that American seminaries are not generally a green house for orthodoxy, where young shoots can grow under the loving hand of a St. Charles Borromeo and a community of holy, intelligent, and manly saints. Perhaps a great saint could run such an enclosed institution successfully without allowing a platform for abusers. However, St. Charles is gone and the seminary crisis in the United States is a horror story of institutionalized dysfunction that continues to be protected and perpetuated by corrupt and weak prelates ensconced in powerful positions.

In Dr. Alice von Hildebrand’s autobiography, she tells the story of one of her public college students, an angry and depressed young man who was raised in a devout Catholic family but lost his faith in seminary. He was accepted into the Maryknolls who “torpedoed his faith with their ‘new theology’ and modern Biblical scholarship.” He fell into despair and into a wild life. He eventually returned by the grace of God via von Hildebrand’s classes. But the story of his fall is not uncommon. And it doesn’t always end on a happy note.

Nestled solidly among the many good priests, a legion of bad ones have been placed in positions of power and have manipulated the system to perpetuate their corrupt ends. They are not in love with Christ. Some are liars and thieves. Some are abusers and violent criminals. Some are satanists. Some are mentally ill. Some are political and ideological activists who deliberately feast off the Church while working to destroy it. Some are simply badly formed and weak. And they have been in charge of forming, destroying, and confusing generation after generation... and putting up obstacles for the army of good men the Lord has raised up.

This is not new. This is the diabolical thread woven through Salvation History.

GAMING THE CATHOLIC SYSTEM

One of the most striking examples of how this happens is the Legionaries of Christ, whose perverse and narcissistic founder (Marciel Maciel) created the appearance of almost perfect institutional and personal piety while abusing so many and protecting other abusers.

He gamed the system and masterfully designed his own structure within the broader institution. He was so effective a manipulator that he fooled millions of Catholics and even a saintly pope, and became one of the wealthiest, most powerful, and most damaging men of the modern Church. The ripple effect will touch generations of souls.

We see similar methods of manipulation (to varying degrees) employed within some major religious orders (both men and women) and diocesan seminaries. The evidence rolls out daily as we clean up the bloody mess created by people who don’t love Christ or His Church…or those who are ill-equipped to lead through the confusion. In certain religious and priestly communities, there has been a deliberate network of deviancy that perpetuates and feeds disordered desires. These men and women know how to appear pious enough (like Maciel did with alarming perfection) and how to repeatedly fool the faithful who are so quick to love and to trust.

It is not that Christ has left His Church…but that evil has done what it always sets out to do. It is a liar, a thief, and a destroyer.

As a mom with several sons and a public Catholic platform, I am often asked where I would send my sons to seminary if they feel called. My current answer is: I’m not sure. It’s complicated. Am I willing to give my sons in service to the Church? Absolutely. But I will not quickly hand an inexperienced young man over to a seminary that is marked by tepidity, confusion, sexual immorality, leftist ideology, or externally pious but narcissistic clericalism.

WHAT SHOULD A CATHOLIC PARENT DO?

It is difficult to be constantly immersed bad news and it isn’t always the best use of our time. But we are living in a time of great sorrow and witnessing the collapse of an institutional house eaten through by the termites of the enemy.

We live in a time when one of the most powerful cardinals in the world — close to popes, an influencer of domestic and international policy on sex abuse, education, liturgy, politics, etc. — was discovered to be a vile and faithless pedophile fraud. McCarrick was surrounded by men who knew him and his lifestyle and who are still in positions of power in the Church.

These are not times for the tepid priest. It is a time for martyrs.

In the last few decades, the faithful have been able to live in the relative peace of ignorance, largely oblivious to the evil behind closed doors. If you think I’m extreme or negative, then you have either been protected from it or haven’t recognized it yet. But if you desire to help your sons be open to God’s call to the priestly vocation…

It’s time to wake up.

It is not within our power to fight the monster on our own. We must turn first build a foundation of personal holiness and raise our children to respond to the call of holiness (which I discussed in Part I). Then, we must prepare for battle.


DEFINING THE BATTLE

I know a man who, after decades, finally approached his diocese about the horrific things that happened to him while at seminary. To name those in authority who knew what was happening, covered it up, and are still in respected positions today. For decades, men who knew that seminarians were being abused continued to be given responsibility over the formation of the priests of a diocese. Unconscionable.

His is only one story of many. The physical, mental, and spiritual damage to young men leaving or graduating from seminary is Catholicism’s special trail of tears.

The crisis isn’t over. It is actually escalating. The enraging truth is that the enemy has been identified and very little is being done. Not in local dioceses or religious orders. Not in Rome. For every one abuser or heretic removed from office, a dozen more remain in place, going unpunished or permitted to defy the disciplinary actions assigned to them.

In order for our sons to answer the call, they must become warriors before they ever approach a seminary door. Or they may become casualties against an enemy that does not love, does not believe, does not care about your son, and continues to shout with the enemies of Christ: Non Serviam! I will not serve.

TAKING ACTION AS THE PRIMARY EDUCATORS OF OUR CHILDREN

I obviously don’t have all the answers and this article is not definitive; rather, it is what I would tell parents who approach me with questions about seminary for their son. If you’re open to entering into this discussion, consider printing this out, praying over the ideas brought forth, talking about them, doing battle with them. You are certainly not bound to accept my perspective but what I am begging you to do for the sake of your sons and the Church, is to at least be willing to wrestle with it.

Our rosaries and the hours on our knees on behalf of our children may be enough in the end but then again, they may not. Prayer moves mountains but bad formation is not undone simply by a mother’s fervent desire. If we throw our kids into a den of hungry wolves and then pray a rosary for their safety…well…we shouldn’t be surprised to see their bodies torn to shreds.

How can we prepare our sons to answer the call BEFORE they get to seminary? The following ideas and suggestions are a good place to start the conversation in your family and community. I explain each of them following the list below:

  • Seminary is not a good place for the weak man

  • Vocation formation should happen long before seminary

  • Reconsider college seminary

  • Teach your son to read well

  • A strong prayer life is essential

  • Serve at the altar and love the liturgy

  • Teach your son to recognize grooming

  • Stay close to your son

  • Teach your son his civil rights

  • Help him understand his canonical rights

  • Enter the battle.

  • RISE UP


SEMINARY IS NOT A GOOD PLACE FOR THE WEAK MAN

The strength of a man’s character is not necessarily evident in his outward demeanor. A man may be quiet and studious with great humility but still have the lion-heart of a St. Thomas Aquinas. That is not weakness but gentle strength. The weakness I am talking about is the kind which predisposes a man to be dominated, bullied, or too easily led by others. A warrior can be magnanimous, open-minded, and deferential, but he must not be easily overcome by the strength of another.

If you know this about your son, then please know that the seminary system is full of predators and narcissists who will seek to dominate him. He will become a target by bad men even in a relatively good institution. With this weakness, he odds of leaving most seminaries without significant wounds is unlikely.

If your son has known addictions (from drugs to porn to video games), these should be addressed prior to entrance. Seminary is not a treatment center! Addictions will not disappear simply because they walk through the doors of a seminary.

We all have weakness in our characters and having a submissive personality does not mean that a man cannot be a great saint or that he cannot grow to be a person of strength. This point is a practical one. Do not send a 120 pound athlete into an NFL football game…even if he has a big heart. He will be crushed.

This weakness may simply be the natural immaturity of youth. Even a mature 18-year old will not be equipped as well for battle as someone who has a few more years of experience. The solution may be simply waiting longer before applying to seminary, to gain some healthy life experience and develop stronger interpersonal and physical skills. (See “Reconsidering College Seminary” below).


VOCATION FORMATION SHOULD HAPPEN LONG BEFORE SEMINARY

Your sons should know what vocation means before they hit high school. The practice of holy discernment should be common well before seminary becomes an option. Enter into the liturgical rhythm of the Church year and model examples of faith in the workplace, at home, and among community.

Freely express the fire of your own love for Christ and make opportunities for ongoing formation as individuals and family. Make sure that there is silence built into each day. Teach him to pray. Teach him to serve. Teach him to read (more about that below). Provide him with exceptional role models in multiple vocations. And when you think he is mature enough, have discussions about clerical sexual abuse and homosexuality to help him wade through the increasingly porn-distorted culture.


RECONSIDER COLLEGE SEMINARY

I used to think that college seminary was a good idea. I’ve changed my mind in light of the current challenges in our seminary culture. It seems to me now that a young man should be a little older before he has to face the specific challenges of a seminary system. Greater life experiences may help him to navigate potentially complicated relationships and situations. Greater maturity may help him to understand if he is being manipulated by authority or through his education.

Catholic moms are sometimes afraid that if we allow our sons to go out into the world, that the young men will lose their vocations. We know that a hundred pretty girls lie in wait for a good Catholic man to come along and that seminary hardly stands a chance! Or we might be worried that the spirit of the world will overtake his desire for holiness.

Do not be afraid. If God wants your son to be a priest, He will pursue him. And if your son is inclined to be swept along by the attractions of the secular world, he will also face those challenges in the priesthood.

It is not a greenhouse. It is a battlefield.

Greater maturity will not harm him and may protect him. Even some secular professionals are now encouraging parents to give their students a gap year or more to mature before facing the dangers of college. The same case can easily be made for seminary for similar reasons.

To reiterate, these are my current thoughts - just opinions - open to change as new information and individual discernment enter the equation. I am not pronouncing judgment on your sons who are in college seminary nor on you. My own son went to college seminary with my blessing. But I would do things differently now.


TEACH YOUR SON TO READ

Teach him to read difficult material that includes great works of literature, history, philosophy, and the doctors of the Church. He should already have a grasp of Salvation History and the Scriptures. He should be familiar with the Catechism and the writings of the saints and the great encyclicals. His knowledge (and library) should include the documents of Vatican II and preceding councils, and he should have spent some hours familiarizing himself with St. Thomas’ Summa Theologica, the works of Chesterton, the spiritual writings of the saints, and have a solid grasp of the moral teachings of the Church. He should be encouraged as often as possible to refer to original sources and not simply to accept without question the opinions presented in popular textbooks and by modern Catholic authors.

I highly recommend having your teenage sons read Treasure in Clay: The Autobiography of Fulton J. Sheen to begin to see the through eyes of a holy and happy priest.

If he cannot do this, he will not be intellectually prepared to engage in the academic battle being waged in seminaries everywhere. In this cultural climate, he must be able to intellectually engage or he may be easily swept away by a persuasive and kind (or bullying) professor who has authority and respect within a closed diocesan or religious system. He will be an empty bucket into which his professors will be able to pour their ideas…for better or worse.


A STRONG PRAYER LIFE IS ESSENTIAL

A strong prayer life should be established before going to seminary. It is the height of foolishness to expect to be strong without this element. As parents, we cannot control this in our children. They may be outwardly praying the rosary while inwardly thinking about football. We cannot know. It is not your responsibility to control his interior life and you cannot do it anyway. What is within our control is our own example of piety, creating a peaceful home environment conducive to prayer, opportunities for true silence, and frequent access to good spiritual leadership.


ENCOURAGE SERVICE AT THE ALTAR AND LOVE OF THE LITURGY

A surprisingly large number of seminarians and priests have only very shallow knowledge about serving at the altar and liturgy in general. Depending on the seminary, liturgy is not always prioritized and may only make it into one semester of study. That limited study may be led by a professor who is ideologically driven to change the liturgy to reflect a distorted theological or moral perspective.

Encourage your boys to serve whenever possible and also study the liturgy on their own before seminary (I will try to put some helpful resources on this in the near future and link here). Encourage them to become at least somewhat familiar with the Latin as well as the English — it is, after all, part of their heritage and will help them develop an appreciation and understanding of the liturgy as a whole. This will also help them know when the liturgy is being abused, taught incorrectly, or is invalid. As a priest, there will be no higher good than celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Their heart must begin there in the Eucharist and return there.


TEACH YOUR SON TO RECOGNIZE GROOMING

Our boys must know how to recognize the signs of grooming and defend themselves and others. Not all grooming leads to sexual abuse but it can lead to an abuse of power in other ways, especially in a system designed with a hierarchy of authority where those in power have control over your daily life and vocation. Hierarchy isn’t bad…SIN is bad. The grooming behaviors of a non-sexual narcissist can be extremely damaging, especially when combined with spiritual formation.

I wrote an article called A Catholic Girls’ Guide to Unmasking a Predator and I think that the general guidelines can be helpful for a young man in seminary as well. The details will vary but the basic guidelines are the same. I have adapted the list (only slightly) here.

Red flags to watch out for in superiors or peers:

  • He is a bad Catholic (faithful in externals but does not privately live the Gospel).

  • He is a liar.

  • He is secretive.

  • He isolates you physically and emotionally.

  • He is vulgar.

  • He is divisive.

  • He is mean.

  • He pressures you to abandon your morals.

  • He is immersed in foul music and media (or porn).

  • He doesn't want to talk to your parents (or let you talk to your parents)

Some examples of grooming behaviors are emotional or physical isolation; creating a barrier between healthy relationships and the seminarian. All help is cut off and the formator has complete control of the most important aspects of the seminarians life.

Another example is breaking down boundaries and rules by degree. Sharing alcohol under forbidden circumstances and laughing it off. Watching a movie or listening to music together which breaches the boundaries of purity. Making off color jokes or using crude language regularly and generally pushing the boundaries until the seminarian is comfortable with a degree of “naughty.” This not only allows a truly evil formator to push boundaries further but to also have leverage against the seminarian in the future. Blackmail.

This grooming process is one reason why the culture of silence is the norm and why the laity are ignorant. If an evil man can draw a good (but weak) man into an indiscretion, he holds then power over the most important things in the weak man’s life. If a good man can get through the seminary in one piece, he still has to contend with the authority of corrupt power.

Teach your son to be a wall of strength against such predatory behaviors…and to think through ahead of time (like a war strategist) what he would do in different circumstances.

  • What will he do if he is threatened with expulsion?

  • What will he do if someone lies about him?

  • What will he do if a formation or spiritual director crosses a physical or emotional boundary?

  • What will he do if he is told not to tell the Bishop?

  • What will he do if his fellow seminarians are engaging in immoral behavior (with men, women, or media)?

These are not questions to think about as they are happening but well ahead of time. If you are starting to feel panicky…pray for the spirit of a warrior and to have the courage to walk through your fear. "O blood and water, which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus as a fountain of mercy for us, I trust in you"


STAY CLOSE TO YOUR SON

When all is said and done, the system which promises to be mother, father, teacher, and spiritual director to your kid may abandon him or deeply wound him. You may not even know. Be there. Be the constant thread in his life that doesn’t waiver and doesn’t harm. Be the constant offering of sacrificial love in prayer and action. Build a home of peace to which he can safely visit or return. Also, be the eyes and ears of wisdom which can help identify the dysfunctional behaviors in those in power over your seminarian.


TEACH YOUR SON HIS CIVIL RIGHTS

In an institutional system where obedience, humility, and authority carry meanings and applications different than the secular understating, it is vital that a man understand precisely what his rights are.

He should understand his American civil rights which are built upon natural law. These are not abrogated simply because he enters seminary, regardless of what a formation director says! The seminary staff should respect the natural rights of each seminarian which include the right to privacy, safe environment and health needs, freedom from whistle blower retaliation, freedom from harassment. If your son finds his rights violated and chooses to object, he may find himself out of the seminary one way or another, but that is a decision he must be able to make clearly.

Even a generally good seminary experience can include strain between one person in power and a seminarian who has no power at all. It can become a no-win situation in which the seminarian knows that there really is no one to turn to since the ones he would be reporting are also the ones responsible with recommending him for another year in seminary.

In a dysfunctional situation, righteous anger has no legitimate expression. The virtues of obedience and humility are used as weapons by a director to gaslight and manipulate a seminarian into submission and dependency. It is an injustice which cannot be corrected, an injury which can only be turned inward, and one element which ends up creating the next generation of narcissistic priests.


HELP YOUR SON LEARN HIS CANONICAL RIGHTS

Knowing canonical rights is equally important in these situations in which the external and internal forums are so closely intertwined. In the case of one seminary (known for its orthodoxy), it was a regular practice of one spiritual director to share seminarian details with the formation director. This is a grave violation of seminarian rights but the directors simply thought they were above that important rule. The end result was that the seminarian ended up leaving because he was not permitted to express himself against the injustice in a way that satisfied all parties.

The seminary handbook should lay out both civil and canonical rights and any points of concern should be clarified. The seminarian should know them and also have thought through what he will do if they are violated.

  • What will he do if his spiritual director reveals protected information to his rector?

  • What will he do if his physician shares private medical information with his rector?

  • What will he do if his rector demands obedience in areas which violate natural and canonical rights or face expulsion?

  • What will he do if he discovers that his formation director regularly lies to him and to others?


ENTER THE BATTLE

We sometimes fall into the trap of thinking of Salvation History as the antiquated version of Marvel comics. Excitement, adventure, horror, romance! All wrapped up neatly in a collection of literature for our convenient perusal, entertainment, and edification.

We have to root that tendency out and come alive again to the reality of the Incarnation. Salvation History isn’t a thing that happened to people living long ago. It is happening now. We are in it. We are in the middle of the battle and it rages around us and even in our homes.

The enemy still prowls and attacks. Still destroys souls and nations and commits unspeakable atrocities. And I think because we have been granted a brief historical period of comfort and wealth, we forget…

Evil doesn’t care what you think. It doesn’t care if you forgive. It doesn’t care if you are compassionate. It doesn’t care if people suffer or die or weep in agony. It isn’t sorry. It doesn’t repent. It doesn’t care if you lose your faith. It doesn’t care if your son loses his faith in seminary or is molested or humiliated or lied about by a superior prelate. It doesn’t care if he is bullied out of seminary.

Evil delights in those things and boasts and dances in broad daylight in its perverse pride. It mocks us openly. We cannot afford to be naive.

As Christians, we believe that good will triumph. We’re not wrong in this. But we have a wrong understanding of what the battle looks like and have been protected from the worst by the blinding comfort of our American lifestyle and also by certain corrupt institutional systems designed to hide it.

We think the best of people, even the evil-doers. We look at sinful actions as “mistakes” and we are quick to forgive, but we are naive. When faced with the reality that the smoke of satan has not only entered the Church but is also wearing bishops’ mitres and Roman collars…well, that’s just very difficult to process. But it’s certainly nothing new.

Famous Catholic convert, Bella Dodd, worked with the Communists in the 1930’s to infiltrate the Catholic Church. She sought Confession and counsel from Venerable (soon to be Blessed) Fulton Sheen and described to him (and subsequently to the US government) how the she had followed the order of Stalin to “infiltrate Catholic seminaries and religious orders.” She personally placed over a 1000 false men into seminaries and worked with at least 4 cardinals who were active Communists.

Dodd’s close friend, Dr. Alice von Hildebrand writes about the infiltration:

“What I am writing on infiltration is not meant to deny that some bishops, some heads of religious orders, some priests have not fallen into the very grave sin of either closing their eyes to the horrible sins committed by people under their authority – but to make aware of the fact that a key factor hardly ever mentioned or mentioned at all, is that many of the worst culprits were not Catholic priests who had fallen prey to “unbridled lust” but infiltrators who had obtained false baptismal certificates and were plainly agents of communism. I heard from Bella Dodd that these evil men had even infiltrated the Vatican – for the Catholic Church is the arch enemy of Communism: and they know it.”

We are living the drama of Salvation History.

We cannot be afraid of hearing the negative. We must permit ourselves to experience the sorrow so that we can grieve and then gear up for battle. We now know that the Vatican knew about the sordid character of the Legionary founder, Maciel, as long ago as 1943 and did nothing. He was suspended as superior general and expelled from Rome for four years in the 1950’s for suspected pedophilia before being reinstated.

We must know.
We must make it our business.
We must decide to fight.
And if no one in authority will listen or act, then we must do it ourselves.

That there are good, holy priests fighting the good fight is absolutely true and I give thanks to God for these men who lay down their lives for us daily. In the midst of the chaos (although sometimes scattered and isolated) there is army of these good men! They know more than anyone of the danger within their own ranks and our failure to engage in the battle only harms them. It isolates them. It pierces them.

Let us stop our pearl clutching over harsh or negative news. We cannot escape the battle. And that means that we must choose which role we take in the fight.

IT COULD BE YOUR SON

When a lay person, priest, religious, bishop, or cardinal is being mistreated, abused, manipulated, silenced, or harassed by someone in authority over them, they often have nowhere to turn in the Church. Abuses are often ignored unless a civil court demands restitution for a proven crime or the laity yell loud enough. Groomed and abused seminarians are left to struggle with severe depression and loss of faith and identity. Priests are punished for their orthodoxy and  threatened with removal of faculties or even mental institutions. Good bishops are ignored by Rome. It is a painful thing but there is often no higher authority to which we can turn…and no outlet to which an abused or bullied member of the Church can use without increasing the abuse. Except…

Except for those in the Church who have been willing to look evil in the eye and call it out. And build again starting with the family.

As a parent of a young man discerning the priesthood, you must understand that those abused, harassed, alienated, and silenced priests could be your son…especially if your son is a particularly faithful Catholic. Start listening. Start speaking.

It’s time to level up.

Once you have begun to understand the true gravity of what is happening in the Church, you will have no choice but to cling to Jesus Christ, His promises, and His call to holiness. You will go through the grief and the doubt and then turn your heart back to Him with renewed fire and desire to serve and love and raise your sons to His Sacred Heart.

You will be able to stand in confidence and say “Enough! I’ve had enough.” And you will commit yourself to defending Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. It’s a battle with a known outcome. Now we just need to stand up and take our place in it.

Rise up, Church!
If God is calling men to become priests, then let Him call ours… and let us be prepared.

To again quote Dr. Alice von Hildebrand:

“What are faithful Catholics – aware of the gravity of the situation – to do? The answer is the one the Church has given us from the beginning: prayer, sacrifice, and the glorious conviction that the Forces of Evil shall not prevail.”


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