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

The Longest-Shortest Morning Offering and How to Be at Peace with Distractions in Prayer

I have a morning prayer routine that, on my better days, is lovely and slow and focused. But before I even open my eyes in the morning, I have developed the habit of saying a simple morning offering… because one just never knows how the morning will go. Before I roll over, before my feet hit the floor, before I stand bleary-eyed before my toothbrush... I make sure my day is covered.

There are those days, however, when even that little prayer gets the better of me. I believe I tried to say that Morning Offering seven times yesterday. I just couldn't finish it without wandering into a million separate muddled thoughts. My eyes were too heavy to open but I knew I wanted to get through that one little prayer and kept beginning again and again and again. Finally, I managed to finish but completely bungled all the words. What did I just say? *sigh* So, I gave up.

Instead of giving Him a bouquet of carefully arranged roses, I gave Him a few dried petals…

Lord, I’ve been praying that same prayer for over a decade but I can't say it today. I'll just tell you in a less lovely way and move on. I briefly offered my whole day to him, consecrated myself to the Divine Mercy and the Immaculate Heart of Mary (in an off-the-cuff kind of way) and offered my day for all the intentions and people I wanted to but couldn't particularly recall (YOU know, Lord.). I think the whole thing took 30 seconds.

It was a fine day although I stumbled in a fog through most of it. I got some things cleaned but not most things. I managed to get most of the children through the day without any bruises or scrapes… but not all of them. I consciously thought of God… but not much or often. Dinner was a success… but I didn't get the dishes done. The green juice (for St. Patrick's Day) was a hit… but no one really liked the pudding.

“Love you, St. Patrick”… I mumbled through my mental fog and clutter. But I forgot the Angelus.

I wanted to walk five miles but only walked four and irritated my knee doing it. I tried to read but couldn't focus. I hoped to get to bed early but was still up at 1:00 am. Doing what? I don't know... wandering around in a sleepy, distracted haze.

As I laid down on the same pillow on which I had struggled with that Morning Offering so many hours earlier, I tried to do my delayed examination of conscience. I immediately thought about the dishes and had to begin again. I thought about the dentist and began again. I thought about how I'd rather be a mom than anything I ever dreamed of being as a kid... and had to begin again...and again... and again...

What is it with me today, Lord? I'm as scattered as a snowstorm. But I love you. I love you...and I’ll keep trying…

And I slept.

Some days are low-powered like that. Foggy. Slow. Mildly productive. And it's all right. Good sleep is important and tomorrow is another day. Moms need sleep. I need sleep. A lot more than I had been getting.  In those slogging days, I'll run on adrenaline, grace, and the longest-shortest Morning Offerings ever prayed. And while I stumble on, He'll read my heart and know all the thoughts my mind won't form and all the words my tongue doesn't say.

I trust that He knows. He is Mercy. He made me. And He knows I need some sleep.

The next morning, I prayed a quick and easy Morning Offering and found the rosary that I hadn’t prayed the night before in the middle of my blankets. I returned it to my dresser, knelt down next to my bed, and began my day with focused prayer. I only thought about breakfast once… and about my to-do list a couple times. And maybe the dust bunny by the door for a brief moment.

Fortunately, It’s not a failure to be distracted. It’s only a failure to stop trying. God is not a bean counter but a lover… and prayer is not a box to be checked but a relationship to be nurtured. If today was not your best day, He will be waiting for you in the morning.

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. 

How to Rock Confirmation Celebrations (in 7 Quick Takes}

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As we head into another Confirmation season, I dug into my archives to remember some of my favorite ways to celebrate. Kiddo number 4 will be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit in a few weeks and so we will be busy about things like spiritual preparation and counting plastic forks. The spiritual and material inevitably collide and thankfully, we usually managed to celebrate sacramentally and materially without much stress. (Just a little. Not more than usual. Perhaps a little less. Mostly.)

Diving into the memories and my 7 top favorite ways to rock a Confirmation celebration in my big Catholic family…

1. DOUBLE THE GRACES

We once managed to get the timing just right and get two kids Confirmed at one time. It was so fun, so lovely, so fruitful, and so... so efficient that we'd love to have the rest of the kids sealed with the Spirit in pairs. It won’t happen this time around but since my current Confirmandi has asked her older sister to be her sponsor, it still feels like a sweet pairing. And they clearly were a very fun pair.

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We don’t break the bank for sacramental apparel since it is the overall appearance of respect and celebration that we are going for and not brand names. We picked up the jacket for the 13-year old (above) at Goodwill for $6. My daughter’s lovely dress (you can’t see the white lace overlay in my blurry photo) was 40% off at Lands End. Finding modest, contemporary, high quality lovely dresses for teen girls is not easy. This was a true win on all counts.

Probably the biggest expense of the event was finding a last minute pair of shoes for my daughter which would fit the gigantic bandage from a toe injured the day before. What would a celebration be without a little bloody excitement thrown in?

My son has since traded in his bargain jacket for lace… obviously also the work of the Holy Spirit…

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2. FOLLOW THE RULES

Hey, when the DRE says that they really prefer that you not take pictures, what she probably means to say is "It's okay to take grainy pics of the back of people's heads standing in the aisle with your phone as long as you don't disturb the Bishop." So... we're good.

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3. BE FLEXIBLE

Cakes implode. It happens. Especially when it's a gluten-free recipe that you haven't tried before. (Gluten is a phenomenal binding agent, by the way.) When it happens, beg Facebook to fix it for you and all of your friends will come to your aid within minutes. My deepest gratitude to CharlotteEllenKatieJanaMary, Meredith, Lena, and Kendra for the cake rescue help. (Good cake clearly takes a village.)

My daughter and I took the inspiration and ended up with cakes in cups that looked Pinterest-y (more or less) and tasted pretty darn good. Buttercream, yellow cake, whipping cream/cream cheese topping, a little edible gold spray (not visible in my low quality pic but pretty in person), gold and pearl sprinkles... done. And remarkably easy to serve. 

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The kids really wanted to reproduce these cookie successes from our previous celebration but I had to choose between cookie making and cleaning the house. This photo is regular cookies but we now make them with a gluten free 1-to-1 flour and they turn out perfect. Not health food but that’s not the vibe most party-goers are going for anyway. Recipe and more pics and tips can be found here: The Essential Sugar Cookie Recipe

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Also, yes… my icing is runny. I’ve gotten better at that over time but I think it suits the fire effect… kinda wild in a Holy Spirit way. Overflowing hearts with grace and passion!

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4. ORDER GOOD WEATHER

When you forget to feed your toddler and you need to make a hasty exit in order to correct that increasingly noisy problem… you will be so glad that you planned for a sunny day. And since I live in Northeast Ohio where the odds are (at best) 50/50, we were fortunate to get the sunshine. Toddler was pacified. Mama got to see the actual Confirmations.

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5. HAVE CHOCOLATE. REALLY GOOD CHOCOLATE.

From the word go, I was fully committed to the idea of some kind of decadent chocolate dessert. I found a wonderful recipe and made several batches of Raspberry and Chocolate Cheesecake Trifles. Wow. Recommended. Instead of fresh raspberries, I drizzled some raspberry syrup on the top and it was perfect. I modified the recipe to make it gluten free by replacing the chocolate cookie bottom with crumbled gluten free brownie. I replaced the Dove chocolates with chocolate chips to save money and it was still amazing.

I can no longer find the recipe on the Dove website or their Pinterest page and so I’m just going to drop my notes here in case anyone wants to try. The number of servings is not listed… sorry!

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RASPBERRY & CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKE TRIFLES

  • 4 oz. DOVE PROMISES SILKY SMOOTH DARK CHOCOLATE, 16 pieces (or equivalent)

  • 8 oz. CREAM CHEESE, room temperature

  • 3 Tablespoons SUGAR

  • 1 cup WHIPPING CREAM

  • 8 CHOCOLATE SANDWICH COOKIES, coarsely chopped (or crumbled brownie)

  • 1 cup FRESH RASPBERRIES (or just drizzle raspberry syrup or jam)

  • Additional chocolates for garnish

Instructions

  1. Place chocolate in microwave safe bowl, heat at 30 second intervals until almost melted. Stir until smooth. Allow to cool slightly.

  2. Beat together cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add cooled chocolate and mix well.

  3. Whip cream until stiff peaks form. Add half of whipped cream to chocolate mixture.

  4. Assemble - place about a tablespoon of chopped cookies in the bottom of each 8 oz. jar, layer on 2 tablespoons of chocolate cheesecake mixture, 4 raspberries, a tablespoon of whipped cream. Repeat layers ending with whipped cream.

  5. Garnish with an additional unwrapped DOVE Promise. Cover and refrigerate until serving. These can be made up to 1 day ahead.


We also made up little favors with Dove dark chocolate and Swedish Fish. Get it? Dove? And the fish as a symbol of our profession of faith. 

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6. BE PREPARED

We are a homeschooling Catholic family with a lot of faith-based resources on hand for sacramental preparation. There's everything from the Baltimore Catechism to Lighthouse audios lining our shelves so there's plenty to choose from. In spite of that, we added an additional Confirmation resource this year called Decision Point, a program designed by Matthew Kelly. I'd like to write a full review in the future but I'll just say this for now:

It isn't the Summa Theologica. It isn't a complete presentation of the entire deposit of faith. It isn't sufficient on it's own without a richer context. But... it's a pretty rock solid program that inspired my entire family to love more and dig deeper into our faith. Kelly presents the Truth with so much real joy that it's difficult not to respond from the heart.

The material is not difficult but neither is it fluff. I've seen the program trashed by some who call it vanilla garbage. I don't agree. I think it's simple, but not simplistic. And I think that, especially in a broader parish context, it is the right combination of meat and refreshment to draw in some hardened hearts. I wouldn't rely on it alone but I'm very glad we added it to our homeschool program. 

A final positive note: Last I checked, the entire program - with DVD’s, student book, and manual - was only $16 shipped.

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 7. ALWAYS DIY

More low quality pictures of lovely things. I made this banner for Professor's Confirmation and was so excited that I didn't have to make anything like it again this time around. It was an easy project the first time and a finished project the second time. A great relief. Here’s how I made the banner…

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I used a Joanne fabric gift card that I'd been hoarding to purchase fabric for a Pentacost/Confirmation banner. I found a sturdy pretty (clearance) red fabric in the home decor section and used a lightweight printed cotton for the letters. I printed letters for "Veni Sancte Spiritus" off the computer in the desired size and font and traced them onto the fabric after I had ironed on a layer of Heat 'n' Bond. The ribbon (which is not very visible in the photos) is white satin with gold swirls. A little cutting, a little ironing, a little sewing later... I had a rather nice reusable banner.

VENI SANCTE SPIRITUS!!!

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*BONUS TAKE*

I couldn't post this without telling you briefly about the greatest blessing of the party preparation. It came at the price of humiliation and a wounded heart (not mine) but if that's what it takes to bring me to my knees, so be it...

I did pretty well overall about staying even tempered while trying to get a pretty messy home ready for a lot of company. It's always a funny contradiction; a stressful household preparing for a sacramental celebration! I wasn't too uptight but I was rather tired. And in spite of my general success, I lost my cool with one of my littles.

I repented immediately, scooped the child up, and ran to the nearest cuddling couch. I told her that it wasn't her. I told her that she meant more to me than any party. I told her that I would rather have our guests come to a messy, stinky home than to burden her heart with my sharp words again. She cried and I cried and we sat there for a long time, leaving all the urgent things undone. 

My whole day changed in that moment. I didn't forget my priorities again (at least not that day). She's more important to me than any party. She's just as treasured as our most honored guest. It's not worth it. The pride-based stress isn't worth the bruised hearts of my children. And I went into the rest of the preparation with a sad, humbled, and rejoicing heart. He allowed me to see my priorities and set them straight and I would not dismiss the gift. Thanks be to God.

Linking up with Kelly for 7 Quick Takes Friday

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.

Go Activist or Go Home: Why I Came Back to Catholic Blogging

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I wrote this in the Summer of 2014 after taking an extended blogging break to just live and to discern. I revisit these words from time to time and I find that I still mean every word of it. For those of you who are new here... welcome! This is why I blog. This is why I have occasionally quit. And this is why I keep coming back. Since I wrote this, I have ushered two of my teens into adulthood and two more young ones into their teens. And it’s all still true.

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Go Activist or Go Home: Why I Came Back to Catholic Blogging

I'm supposed to be on long sabbatical… but I changed my mind. I came back to support a friend, to share life-changing books, and for fellowship. I stayed because I have teenagers. Teenagers really change everything...

I used to have a family with several adorable little people. I was a Catholic mom; open to life and living in our little domestic church where nothing could touch us.

And then they grew up.

It happened so quickly that we almost got blown off course. One day, my son was taking swimming lessons at the local Y, and the next, he was swimming every day of the week and breaking records. Another day, we decided to have the kids play CYO volleyball (just for fun) and shortly after that we were making hotel reservations for national tournaments. One day, I  was reading Dr. Seuss all. day. long. and the next, I was crying in a natatorium (that's fancy for "big pool room") because swim moms are mean.

And remember the kid next door whose parents gave him booze at parties when he was three? Yeah, well, now he's driving and he thinks your daughter is hot. Good morning, mama... Drink your coffee black. The battle used to be in the streets but now it is on your driveway, your front porch, and in your home.

I woke up one figurative morning and had a loud thought that I was just tired of being a Catholic always fighting the world on the world's terms. So we left enemy territory for a while and returned home to strengthen our small army. We quit a bunch of stuff and patched up our wounds. We returned to our cloister to regroup and we emerged as something slightly different than we were before.

We came face-to-face with silence again. With ourselves. With God. I wouldn't say it was the most comfortable time but it was fruitful. We learned a lot about who we really were as individuals and as a family...

My son was a fast swimmer. Then he was more. My daughter was starting setter. Then she was more. My little ones were gym/pool rats. Then they were more. 

And me? I'm a mommy. A wifey. A dreamer. A talker with a keyboard. And more.

And...

I'm an activist.

A Catholic activist. I'm a traditionalist-charismatic-vernacular-liking-Latin-loving-praise-and-worship-singing-Holy-Spirit-petitioning kind of Catholic activist.  I don't wear a mantilla but my teenage daughter has... because she wanted to. I don't kneel to receive Jesus when there's no altar rail, but my kids often do. They just got it into their heads that God is awesome and showed me a thing or two about love. I do wear bathing suits to swim and a miraculous medal everywhere except the pool (until the babies break the chain... they always do.) I don't eat fish during Lent (or mostly ever) but I like to make a mean grain-free chocolate chip cookie for feast days. 

I have a soft spot for priests and bishops but I hate when they peddle pablum, compromise on the Church's moral teachings, and abuse or overlook abuse. I worship God, not men. I follow truth, not silver tongues. I tell my discerning sons that if they grow up to become that kind of priest that I will haunt them after I die. And my rather literal teenage son frowns at me and tells me that's impossible.

Which is impossible? I ask. Both. I laugh out loud but he does not... because he just doesn't think it's funny.

My kids are growing up and our cloister is... well... it's different now. Those first magical years are really gone for good; we averted some heavy storms and now, we stand at the door together and face the giant world. 

My kid once started a pro-life youth organization because he was tired of just speaking love of life instead of doing. 

They are killing babies, Mom. 
Yes they are. 

We need to speak up and stop it. 
Yes, we do. 

We need to pray and work for justice for these little ones. 
Let's go then. I'll follow you.

I’ve written many times about scandal in the Church and how good people are looking the other way while evil happens. I know why this happens... It happens because pro-life is HARD. Harder than repeating a few slogans. Harder than holding a sign. Harder than going to a nice pro-life dinner or giving a pro-life keynote or writing a pro-life blog post.

The pro-life message IS the Gospel message. And it says...

"Don't you even think about hurting any of My precious little ones. Ever. And don't you let it happen either."

The real scandal of every horror and corruption in the Church is not that people pretending to love the Church are doing evil things. The real scandal is that believing Catholics are doing NOTHING to stop it. I would have come back to this blog just to say that. If we are comfortable pro-life Gospel-livers, then we are doing it wrong.

So I'm here writing because I have teenagers to raise into men and women of God. And I want them to know that love means activism. Even a cloistered nun is an activist. She gives everything for the cause of Love and perpetually petitions the highest Authority for justice and mercy. 

Because I want my children to know how to speak their love with confidence, I must speak when I lack confidence. They know my limitations but they also know my passion. I have obligations and limitations that keep me from being out there... however, I can come here to be a witness.

It is my testimony to God's blessing in my life and it is what I owe Him. I have a platform and I'm using it so long as it is consistent with God's will for my life.

I have made a spectacle of myself in some ways over issues that many people don't even care about. But I'm a Catholic activist. I am fighting and advocating for Love. For those babies who are never born because of our bishops' corrupt foreign aid program. For the younger moms who are about to get painfully blindsided by the culture of death as their babies become teens. For victims of any kind of abuse. For my own babies. For the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For the dignity of all human persons. For a restoration of Catholic culture.

For many years, I thought it was enough to have a large family. Isn't that pro-life enough? But while we are busy with our littles, the enemies of life are active. They are activists. They are changing laws and cultural tides and overcoming the weak. And they are waiting for the day when your children are older and take their first steps outside your cloister. Don't just teach your kids how to live, show them how to do it. 

So here I am. A bumbling activist. With a good looking husband, a busy homeschool, a passion for natural healing, and a fascination with beautiful things. My little pleasures are reading, theology, writing, speaking, creative projects, and blogging… with a side helping of microblogging on Instagram and a tendency to poke around on Pinterest. Welcome to my digital domicile... and to my life of blossoming joy.

How to Forgive Anyone

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When you look at me, who do you see? Do you see the woman God made me to be or the broken sinner bent on thwarting His beautiful plan?

When you look at me, what do you feel? Do you feel gratitude for how He has worked in my life? Or do you feel the pain that I have caused you with my words and actions?

Does it have to be one or the other? Can we see both... looking through the scars and woundedness to a place of innocence and joy?

You see me as I am now. As I present myself to you. As I hurt you or comfort you, show my face or hide my heart. But do you see me as I was meant to be? And will you call me forth to come into my own?

If you struggle with forgiveness, I can offer you a way to find it... an opportunity to uncover that place in your heart that can't fight mercy. It's a little exercise. I can't promise it will work. I can promise you that God will work... even if you can't feel it yet...

We don’t necessarily feel forgiveness - we choose it - and yet our emotional memory is often firmly linked to our choice. If it wasn’t… perhaps we could forgive anyone.

Sometimes the body needs to make the first step to lead the soul in that same way we genuflect toward the tabernacle even when our heart and head are not in it. Our actions, done as an act of faith, help return us to a place of belief. So…

Find a photograph of the one you wish to forgive. Not just any photograph but a very early one... or maybe two or three if you can manage. One of infancy, another of toddlerhood, perhaps another at about 3 or 4 years of age. Baptismal photos are good or of being held in the mother's arms. If you do not have an actual picture, imagine a small child. If you do not think in images, find a picture of an unknown infant and imagine that the child in the photo is the one you are trying to see.

Now close your eyes and pray. Beg the Lord to help you SEE. Beg Him to help you have COMPASSION. And MERCY. Ask the Holy Spirit to flood your mind and soul and vision... that you  may only see now through God's eyes. And that you may be able to forgive.

Open your eyes and examine the pictures before you. Imagine holding that infant. Look into the eyes of the child and see the innocence and the beautiful plan that God intended. Think like a mother. Think of all of the hopes and dreams that you would have for such a little person. See the little one smiling up to you and reaching. See baby fall... and the tears... and running to dry them and kiss them away.

God's baby. God's little one. At this moment, that little heart is in your hands. Now, even if you don't feel it, Say out loud:

“You are His beautiful child and I forgive you for His sake.” 

I have done this a few times. All times but one it was an accidental (providential) moment. Once, I was sent a childhood photograph by a person who had hurt me. Perhaps she knew me well enough to know the effect it would have. It was her First Holy Communion portrait and her eyes were shining with a beautiful innocent joy. I could SEE her for the first time and all bitterness left my heart. Forgiveness does not always mean reconciliation but it is still necessary. The brokenness and division might remain but I cannot see the radiant face of God's little girl and withhold my forgiveness. The image from that photograph has not left me.

I found a picture of my own childhood one day and really looked for the first time. And I wept at what I saw because I saw what I thought was lost. Then I knew that God still sees and loves and forgives His little girl. He always has the face of my innocence before Him.

We ought to do this for each other. We should continually see each other through the Father's eyes and recall each other to our purpose... to the image in which we were made. We should practice seeing what may be hidden and calling out to the little soul in hiding.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta habitually saw our Lord in every person. I am not so good as that. The mother in me sometimes needs to start with a baby picture.

Originally posted in 2011

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How to be Happy When You Don't Feel Christmas

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My husband’s relationship with donuts has taught me so much about happiness at Christmas. Hang with me for a minute…

You see, he is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to weight loss. He’s never been overweight and is always within 15 pounds of his ideal, depending on desire and need. Since it is volleyball season for him and being a few pounds lighter helps his vertical and eases the stress on his (aging) joints, he decided to lose a few pounds. And he did.

He cut out some unnecessary calories, put in a couple extra workouts, and lost a few pounds. Just like that. I marvel at the ease with which he does that. There’s no emotion. He doesn’t hand-wring over the donut on the counter that he can’t have or the craving for a late night snack. He just acknowledges the pang and moves on.

Hello donut. Looking good. Have a nice day.

Totally detached. He doesn’t emotionalize the thing but just does it, while the rest of us are in the death grip of the drama of guilt, failure, regret, and all the wild highs and lows of… donuts.

Christmas emotion is like my special donut in that way. I crave it, reach for it, can’t have it, and fret over it endlessly and fruitlessly. I have convinced myself that I have a right to it and have incorrectly identified emotional satisfaction with joy.

I want my happy Christmas. I want it big. I want it now.

Over some difficult terrain of my young mothering years, I came to associate Christmas with certain negative emotions as I battled through difficult pregnancies and chronic health conditions. As things got tougher, Advent and Christmas became a source of physical and emotional pain…

“Dear Jesus… I do not know how I am going to survive this. I hurt everywhere from my toes to my soul. I can barely think. I can barely move. My children are waiting expectantly for joy to come… and I’m kind of in charge of facilitating that. I am a failure. And I have been left out.”

“Fake it ‘til you make it” is the ultimate practical survival tool in these moments. It works. But it costs something, too. The struggle of forcing my way through so many Christmases of pain pushed me into numbness necessary for survival. Each time I opened the door to my emotions, I was overwhelmed with pain and grief and so… I reflexively shut the door.

I will never forget the first year that numbness took over the holy days. I was used to pain but that nothingness was even more alarming to me. For the first time, I felt nothing at the beautiful Midnight Mass. Nothing in the morning. Not depression.... just a protective covering and fog over everything.

A new wave grief swept over that emptiness… Like a lost childhood. Like waking up from a lovely dream and finding darkness. Like learning that most earthly Christmas delights are the ones that you are too tired to prepare. This is Christmas? This is Christmas.

And so began a very late education in what Christmas is really about even though every middle class Christian knows that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” We think we know... because we can afford to purchase our endorphin rush with all the smells and bells and giving. We think we know… because we bought the bumper sticker. We think we know… because we helped set up the decorations at church and had Father over for dinner. But when the consolation of our own glittery preparations is gone, we fall hard and learn fast that we don’t really possess the peace of Christmas at all…

Because our attachment to the emotion of our celebration is stronger than our attachment to Christ. We have prepared the meal but have neglected the relationship.

This is especially true for Christians. We expect more from Christmas because we feel entitled to the emotions… it belongs to us. We want to uncover the glory and swim in it, celebrate it, share it. We grieve deeply when we cannot feel those things or when we feel the “wrong” emotions like sadness or loneliness.

I am not suggesting that emotions are bad, only that they easily become a god when we seek them instead of true encounter with Christ. Dr. Alice von Hildebrand writes about emotional sensitivities this way:

“Hypersensitivity becomes an illegitimate source of suffering when it is self-centered;… a sensitive heart is given to us to feel for others, and to love them more deeply and more tenderly. But since original sin, it tends to degenerate into a maudlin self-centeredness that is not only disastrous but also causes great pain for the sensitive person.”

My own pain pushed me into a self-centered shell. But as I moved past the alarm of the absence of feeling Christmas (except a vague sad ache), the intellectual fog began to clear, the grace of the sacraments acted, and I reawakened to the simple, undecorated truths of Christmas. I was not blinded by my emotions because I had few to grapple with. I was forced to look my disappointment in the eye and admit:

You’ve got it wrong. You’ve always had it wrong. You’ve been crying over the donut.

Then an incredible thing happened…

As I moved through the motions of Christmas, unfettered by the ups and downs of my complicated emotional chemistry, I found the steady hand of Jesus Christ walking me through the middle of the highs and lows. I looked to the right and saw the heights of Christmas cheer; the parties, the wrapping paper, the lights. I looked to the left and saw the deep valley of fatigue, disappointment, failure, and pain.

My own feet were on a narrow path right in the middle guided by the hand of Christ. I was given the grace to view the highs and lows with a third party objectivity… like my husband looks at a donut. The hand of Jesus felt like the weight of a million stars. Steady. Deeper than emotion. Beyond pain. Beyond consolation.

I acknowledge that am an emotionally sensitive person and I have allowed that gift to become a stumbling block to Christ. The grace to see that truth plainly was a healing gift that hasn’t made me perfect but has allowed me to grow a little.

As Christmas approaches, I am reminded once again that I must not worship Christmas and emotional consolation… but Christ alone.

Having an emotionally healthy Christmas is about engaging in a real relationship with Christ and allowing feelings to exist without allowing them to control our understanding of the truth. If you feel the emotional joy, welcome it but do not cling to it. If you feel a depression, don’t panic but walk with it calmly until it passes. Do not cling to it. Sometimes we don’t realize how strongly we cling to our sorrows and encourage our own melancholy.

The emotional Christmas donut simply has no legitimate authority over our relationship with Jesus Christ. The goal is not to restore emotion or eradicate it, but to put it in its proper place, subservient to authentic relational love.

If you struggle with emotions at this time of year, I encourage you to take half an hour and watch (or rewatch) the original Dr. Seuss version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It is the one of the simplest modern depictions of an emotionally healthy Christmas.

At the climax of the story, morning comes and the viewer knows that the residents of Whoville are awake. We know, without seeing, that they have found their trees and presents gone, their feasts missing, their decorations torn away. They don’t know who did it and they don’t know why.

The lights go on, a couple seconds pass, and then... the singing begins... 

They gather with smiles in a circle in the center of town and immediately begin to worship. At least that’s what I see them doing. The bright star appears before them and rises with their song and rejoicing. They didn’t have to be worked up into joy… they simply never lost it to begin with. (Watch the clip HERE)

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They knew that someone took their “donut” and perhaps they felt the sting of disappointment; but they didn’t allowed it to disrupt their relationship with the Heart of Christmas, who we know to be Jesus Christ.

Then - without any explanation given to him or drawn out drama - the grinch was immediately transformed. It was an almost ridiculously fast conversion. Cartoonish in its speed but also representative of the power, not of Christmas, but of the very Presence of God. That conversion is exactly what we spend all Advent (and our lives) seeking and which can certainly be accomplished in a moment when in the Presence of Divine Love.

I love this movie because it shows me how reflexively we are called to give all. In a moment. To choose love now and forever.

My own Christmas experiences have matured a little over the years. One result of my forced period of detachment has been a steady reconnection with a gentler emotional happiness. Since I am not as easily rocked by the raging emotional sea, I am more free to embrace the milder, deeper path. I don’t generally feel Christmas euphoria but neither do I usually experience a true depression. I’ve settled in with gratitude for every consolation and a more measured response to disappointment.

I don’t write this because I am spiritually advanced (I assure you that I am not and my loved ones can confirm!) but as someone who has been through (and am still going through) the school of Christmas hard knocks. In other words, I’m getting older and inevitably experiencing more... and I just want you to know...

Don’t fret over the donut. God has bigger plans for your happiness. In fact, He is the plan. He is your happiness. Rejoice!

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DIY Saint Lucia Crown and Costume (Beginner and Intermediate Tutorials)

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Since St. Lucy is the patroness of one of our little girls, we’ve had the opportunity to DIY a couple versions of Lucia and her crown over the last few years. The first version was for our girl when she was about 2 years old and could be considered a beginner tutorial using mostly felt.

The second was when she was 5 and requires a little more patience with artificial flowers, leaves, felt, and stretch lace. However, both crowns are relatively easy and can be used for younger or older girls.

Both are perfect for All Saints’ Day costumes, saint reports for school or church, and of course, for the Feast of St. Lucy on December 13th. (Find some lovely ideas for celebrating St. Lucia’s Day at Shower of Roses)


One note about my tutorials…
I'm the kind of crafter who fiddles with something just until it looks right and then sticks it together with whatever works.  Consequently, my tutorials are perhaps more vague than some prefer. So... up front... I don't have any more details than what I’ve written. This is it! And I still think that you can do it. Yours will probably look different than mine and that's completely fine. That’s actually how it should be. Carry on! 


SAINT LUCY CROWN AND GOWN (#1 Beginner Felt)

I initially made this crown while stuck on the couch with pregnancy nausea. Ah, memories! Working for two minutes, pausing to let the waves pass, cutting, stitching, nausea, using some Christmas felt that I already owned... but it worked out nicely.

I didn't use a pattern at the time, just cut and hoped for the best. When a friend asked me to share a tutorial, I said "sure!" That was 3 years ago now… I’m a little slow… but better late than never!

WHAT YOU NEED FOR THE CROWN:

  • One strip of green felt, 3/4"-2" wide and as long as the circumference of the child's head. (you can find felt-by-the-yard at your local fabric store)

  • One 2" piece of soft elastic. I used folded over stretch lace similar to THIS. FOE (fold over elastic) is also a great soft option.

  • 15-25 green felt holly leaves. Mine has 17 but I might have made it fuller if I had more time and less nausea. I divided the leaves between two shades of green to give more dimension and also used 4 different sizes of leaves. A template is below for those who need it. Drag and drop into a document and adjust the size to your liking. (Aren’t you just bowled over by my tech brilliance?) I cut mine freehand because I had no patience for tracing and cutting along lines.

  • Red felt for Berries. Cut however many you want from red felt. I used 5 but could certainly have used more. 

  • White felt for candles. I used five because my girl had a toddler sized head but you can use as many as you like. I used 2" x 3" squares of white felt. Most felt tutorials I have seen have flat felt candles and I wanted mine to be a bit rounder. So I designed these to roll up. You can make these taller or fatter if your child is older or if you just want bigger candles!

  • Flames. Red, orange, and yellow felt flames for each candle. You don't have to use those colors. I wanted to give a bit more of a dimensional feel to mine so I varied the sizes and colors. 

  • Thread or hot glue (or both). IMPORTANT: You can glue this instead of sewing it. Glue is a wonderful tool for getting things to stay put and works great on felt. However, the last step that I used was a running stitch straight through the length of the headband to reinforce strength and secure everything. You will NOT be able to do that step if you have hot glued everything. That is because you will break your needle and jam your machine! So just choose your path ahead of time.

WHAT YOU NEED FOR THE DRESS:

  • A white dress or tunic of any kind. This one was a castoff from an angel costume over a white turtleneck. I bought it off a local family for $5.

  • A red sash. If you want. It’s not strictly necessary. The white of the dress represents purity and the red sash the blood of martyrdom. You can use a strip of satin like I did or any fabric at all. A red scarf or ribbon might also work.

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HOW TO MAKE THE FELT CROWN


1. HEADBAND

I started with a simple strip of green felt for the headband. The width can be as wide as you like but mine was about 3/4" since I didn't want any of it showing past the leaves (I’m particular like that) and because her head was small. Measure your child's head around where you want the crown to sit. Use that measurement as the length.

Cut a two-inch strip of soft elastic (FOE, folded over stretch lace, or whatever you have on hand). 

You will be attaching the ends of the felt together with the elastic so this has less to do with measurements than it does how it feels on your child’s head. Pin the elastic when it is at a comfortable place on her head (being careful not to pin her head, of course) so that it stretches enough to be comfortable, but it snug enough to stay put. Stitch in place.


2. LEAVES

I made my leaves to look like holly leaves the ones below. It doesn’t have to be holly but it fits nicely with Advent and is easy to reproduce. I made various sizes and a couple different shades of green.

There really isn’t a way to do this wrong. All of God’s leaves look different in nature and yours will, too. If you want to add extra dimension and fullness to your leaves, you can add the following step:

Fold the leaf in half and machine or hand stitch very close to the folded edge through the middle section of the leaf (indicates by the middle lines in my sketch below). When you unfold it, it will look like the middle vein of a real leaf. If you look closely at my photos, you can see the result.

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Hand stitch or hot glue the leaves into place around the headband. I stitched mine.


3. FLAMES

I completely forgot to draw you some little flame templates BUT… I think you can figure it out. You will need one red, one orange, and one yellow flame “petal” for each candle. The shape is roughly a tear drop but with a point at both ends.

If you make each color successively smaller, the individual colors will be more visible. Cut these out and make them ready to attach to the candle pieces (below). You can draw your template first but I just cut them all differently. Have you ever seen two flames alike? Neither have I!

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4. CANDLES

I used five because my girl had a toddler sized head but you can use as many as you like. I cut 2" x 3" squares of white felt. Most felt tutorials I have seen have flat candles and I wanted mine to be a bit rounder and slightly more realistic. So I designed these to roll up into a tube shape. You can make these taller or fatter if your child is older or if you just want bigger candles!

There is no secret sauce to stitching so that these stay in place. Just use white thread and do what you have to do to keep it all together. If you are a gifted sweet, you will know what to do. If not, just put the needle through until it stays.

You can also use hot glue but that will make it difficult or impossible to stitch onto the headband later. In that case, you will have to use hot glue to affix the candles to the headband.

Before you roll the candle up, stitch (or glue) your red, orange, and yellow flames in the middle of each rectangle… right about where the top of the 3 is on the diagram. After you roll up the candle, your flames will be flickering right out of the top.

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After the candles are constructed, arrange them around the wreath and stitch them to the inside. The base with flatten somewhat with stitches and then with the next step.


5. SECURE THE CROWN

If you haven’t used hot glue for anything on the headband so far, you can run a straight stitch right through the middle of the crown to make sure that candles, leaves, and band are all secure. The crown will be somewhat floppy when held (the price to pay for a soft and comfy crown) but should perk right up on the head. Almost done… just one more step…

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5. BERRIES

The finishing touch. These are pretty straight forward. Just cut out some circles and glue or stitch them wherever you think they look pretty!

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And that’s it! If you end up making this crown, I would love to see the fruits of your efforts. Feel free to send along a photo so that I can ooh and aah over your work (and adorable children).


SAINT LUCY CROWN AND GOWN (#2)

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On her 5th All Saints’ Day, she wanted to be St. Lucia again and her old crown was a bit too small. Also (and to be completely honest), I was excited to try my hand at a more mature version using artificial leaves. The challenge this time was that I knew she would never tolerate anything that felt like leaves. It had to be as soft as the felt version or it would end up in my purse.

The crown was a success on all counts. Not only was it simple to pull together (and just as I had pictured it), but it was super soft to wear. In fact, she didn’t take it off even once during the festivities.

Also, this dress was a winner. So modest, soft, and feminine. All the details are below. I give you fair warning… my crown tutorial is loosey goosed. But generally crafty people should be just fine.

WHAT YOU NEED FOR THE CROWN:

  • Artificial flowers and leaves. I keep my eye out for particularly pretty and unique flowers at the Dollar Tree and then I take them apart. We use them for so many projects that the dollar is always well spent.

    I used 4 or 5 different kinds of leaves that I had in my stash plus gold and red metallic leaves that I cut from a bunch of Christmas themed artificial flowers. Use as many as you like. St. Lucia’s crown is traditionally made of evergreen but I never have been one for letting the perfect get in the way of the good so… we use what we have.

  • Stretch Lace. You can also use elastic but I knew this headband had to be the gentlest, softest base possible for my little sensory sensitive kiddo. This 2.25” lace isn’t exactly what I used but it is similar.

    When it isn’t on the head, this crown is super floppy… but it perks right up when it’s worn. The key is to make sure everything is secured with hand stitches in a balanced fashion.

  • White felt for the candles. You will also need small rectangles of felt to secure the candles to the headband. 

  • Needle and thread

  • Hot glue. Most of this crown will be hand-stitched but there will be places where a glue gun will be helpful and appropriate.

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WHAT YOU NEED FOR THE DRESS:

  • An Amazon account. I purchased this dress for about $15 after researching the multitude of Chinese companies which sell it. I finally came across this low price (I found it as high as $70 on ebay!) and made the purchase. We will be repurposing it for Easter by dying it a pastel color. It is thin but so classically beautiful and comfy.

    Prices are constantly fluctuating on Amazon so the best price I have found recently is HERE for $20 with free shipping. You can bargain hunt by searching “girls flutter sleeve chiffon dress”.

  • A red sash. We chose to keep it simple this year but it would be very easy to tie a strip of chiffon or satin around the waist.

  • A note about footwear. My girl wears cowgirl boots with everything. I’m okay with that.

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HOW TO MAKE ST. LUCY’S CROWN


  1. Measure the stretch lace or elastic to fit your girl’s head comfortably yet securely. The stretch lace works best if you double it. You can use two layers of 2” stretch lace or fold over a length of 4”. Stitch cut ends together to form the band.

  2. Choose the leaves and petals you’d like to use for the crown foliage and stitch a first layer onto the elastic. This is a little delicate since stretch lace generally has holes in it and doesn’t tolerate a very tight stitch. This is why this is an intermediate project… because you will need to find that fine line between securely attaching and leaving the stretch intact. You will add a second layer at the end with a glue gun or stitches.

  3. Make your candles using the instructions in the previous tutorial except increase the height of the candles for an older child. These are 4” tall x 3” wide rectangles.

    I only made four candles because that’s all the white felt I had left. It gave the correct general impression so I was content. 

    Instead of felt flames, I used one gold and one metallic red petal layered together. I also used a glue gun to make the candles instead of stitching because the candles will eventually be glued to the headband anyway.

  4. Use a hot glue gun to attach the candles to the OUTSIDE of the stretch elastic... where the leaves are. Find places in the foliage where it will be mostly hidden. The hot glue will seep through the inside of the stretch lace (the part that will touch her head). I did not want that scratching her head and I also wanted the candles more secure… so I cut small rectangles of matching felt and placed them on the inside of the headband. When the glue seeped through from the front when gluing on the candle, I pressed on the felt to the inside. (See images below)

  5. Hot glue a second layer of leaves and petals over the first, arranging them to hide the candle base and stretch lace entirely. I made sure that I only glued the second layer to leaves or candles so that no glue would touch the stretch lace. I added a few gold leaves in this layer because… Tolkien made me do it.

  6. Add berries if you like. I had planned to add glittery red berries from a Dollar Tree fine but it looked so pretty without that I just left it alone.

  7. Remember that this crown will be all kinds of floppy until it is on the head. The floppiness was a challenge as I worked with it and I was nervous that it wouldn’t hold up. But… it’s perfect. 

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If you’d like to show off the results of your own crafting, I’d love to see your pictures! Feel free to email them to me so that I can give thanks to God with you for His work through your hands.

Breaking and Healing the Hearts of Our Children

It is an insomnia season. A season when all the elements converge and conspire against the coveted commodity called sleep... deep sleep. And in spite of my fondness for Instagram, I  lay tonight's struggle partially at the feet of that glorious time sucker. (As a friend wisely said, I wouldn't have the extra worries if I didn't go seeking them out on social media!) I met a mom there recently whose struggle looked a lot like mine and when she shared a little piece of her grief, my own heart broke. So here I am... awake. 

The grieving woman on Instagram wanted to know if we moms can entertain a reasonable hope of repairing the damage we do to our households over the years. Tell me we can! she begged. Tell me we can go back and reverse what we have done!  

I whispered a tiny and sad no inside my head and in the following seconds, my racing mind was flooded with a torrent of memories; all personal failures I have owned in the last 21 years of motherhood. Some of them stick to me like fly paper and the guilt is so heavy that if I dwell too long, I go down, down, down into the ugly deep. But I didn't dwell this time, I simply let the projector reel of time run out as I held my breath, as if riding out a labor pain. I answered on Instagram then... and I answer now as I lie awake, preoccupied with the gravity of this question...

No. You can't go back. You can't repair all the damage. The hope lies in the possibility of renewal, repentance, and healing - but the scars will probably stay. Some will stay for a little while and some for a lifetime, heedless of our grief and the gripping, aching guilt of regret.

The children forget our mistakes when they are 12 months old but it doesn't take long before the memories stick. They are formed under our love.... and our sin. My first two children have entered adulthood and I know that when they walk out the front door, they take all the hidden heart wounds with them. Perhaps they’ll over spend the rest of his life healing from and forgiving me the consequences of my sins...

My laziness.
My impatience.
My lack of charity.
My selfishness.
My willful ignorance.
All of those things which fall into those categories in big and small ways.

Countless hours of my motherhood have been spent lying awake, grieving over my words and actions and raising my fist against the injustice of the human condition… 

Why must it be that we are destined to leave these marks on the souls of our children when it is our deepest desire to raise them to be whole and healthy and happy? 

There simply is no answer apart from The Fall and The Cross. Jesus is the Savior. And I am not He. In our journey toward sanctity, we eventually realize that either He will be the answer to the heartache of our homes... or no one will. 

For years, I spent much of my motherly frustration on those outside of my home who hurt my children, dwelling on the difficulty of free will. Why, Lord, do You allow people to choose evil? To choose sin? To hurt my children? And then... the day came when raised my hands and yelled: 

WHY? Why, Lord, have You allowed ME to wound?  

I love my large family and take tremendous delight in watching it grow and thrive; however, the process of sanctification in this vocation can be intense. And perhaps that's putting it mildly. The walls that used to get washed... don't.

The attention I used to have for one... I must somehow divide by seven.

The virtues I thought would blossom in my life... have proven to be remarkably weak under pressure.

My plans for holiness and household peace and perfect... skuttled by the reality of human will.

We love and we wound. They adore us and then feel our weakness pierce their hearts. We make them the center of our vocation, and then they remind us that they are not meant to be bent and molded and pressed... but to be mentored and to fly. In my imagination, I saw that I would become better and more competent over time. I never would have believed that I would feel that the opposite was happening.

Motherhood will not be planned. Children will not be controlled. And against every prayer and supplication, God will always allow more struggle than the person can handle. Would we ever turn to Him if He didn't?

For years, I thought it was just me. I thought that I was the lone failure among my friends and my community. I knew others were struggling, but in my self-centered anxiety, I thought that I must be at the bottom of the barrel of incompetent mothers.

Over the years, this belief (coupled with a heavy dose of postpartum hormonal imbalances) brought a period of depression which led into a lingering sorrow and a companion anger that comes with a feeling of cosmic injustice…

If large families are a blessing, then WHY am I suffering under the burden of my inadequacy? If this is the right equation, then I must be the wrong answer. Why would God allow my beautiful children to be placed in the care of such a weak, wounded, and ridiculous mother? 

I couldn't find an answer because I did not understand that His perfection only comes in our weakness. In the cloud of my monumental pride, the grace of God was obscured. All that was visible to me was my failure.

This harsh and deep sorrow softened over time and was eventually companioned by a deep and strengthening faith. I acknowledged my constant failure and recognized that I would always fail. I read adult versions of the lives of the saints and recognized their humanity; their allergies, their tempers, their errors, their conflicts. I began to know them a little better and to forgive in myself what I had previously seen as unforgivable.

At the beginning of my motherhood, I grew in confidence as I led my little army. That great confidence faded as I saw my failures mirrored to me in the lives of my growing kids. My pride lay stretched out and broken on the living room rug every single day. There didn't seem to be a way out of that. Mary, Mother of Sorrows became an ally for the first time. And the Cross of motherhood, once a lovely but distant mystery, became nestled deeply in my heart. My greatest consolation was the abiding love of God. He made Himself very present to me, even as my broken heart bled out into every area of my life.

Why did He allow this kind of stripping of soul? Perhaps because once I knew that I was absolutely nothing without Him, I might finally learn how to pray and truly seek Him.  

The grace of God began to rain down upon me and carried me through what I have privately referred to as my adult childhood. I had to learn how to walk again and to relearn what it meant to be alive as a child of God. Formerly, I thought that faith would make me a shiny flawless saint, like the drawings in my children's picture books. The hard lesson was that the pursuit of perfection did not mean that I could be perfect in myself, but only by allowing Christ to fill my soul entirely. The Refiner's Fire was consuming me. Terrifically painful (and ongoing)... but still a place of Life and unparalleled joy. 

How was I to grow in sanctity and perfection? How was I to learn to stand up straight and tall in the midst of my failures? It really boils down to the annihilation of my pride and the pursuit of only one vision: God's.

I am now in a stage I can only refer to as the fighting stage. I see that I am overwhelmed by losses to my own sinful nature, my kids' free will, and the many obligations of life that I do not feel equipped to meet. And yet... I know that I am fighting for souls. I used to want to build the perfect Catholic dominion... and now I am fighting for each step against many enemies and odds, to simply love all my people into heaven.

I do not count the wins as a general would, I tend the soldiers and the wounded, regardless of whether the battle being waged is won or lost. The larger battle will never be mine to fight. My battle is love and love alone.

We were made for greatness. We were made for everything good He ordains for us, be that with a short obscure life or a lengthy stay in the midst of a large community. My fiat is not my yes to success... it is my yes to faithful obedience and an act of faith with the promise of joy. My failures are like stepping stones to grace. Each time I fall, He lifts me up higher than I could have gone without Him. And if I get to heaven at all, it will be because I have simply let Him carry me the whole way. 

This vocation... It doesn't look at all like I thought it would. The sorrow is still there. The crosses seem to multiply at times. The stakes are higher. It used to be about simply keeping the children alive and clean each day and now it's about their immortal souls. It is hard in a startling way and perhaps that is why God gives us the easy stuff first. Pregnancy, labor, and bloody breastfeeding ain’t got nothin' on teenage/young adult growing and stretching pains and the realization that I've screwed up more small and big things than I can count. My pride has been sorely touched by this new stage in motherhood. 

Eventually, all of the days of humiliation and dying give way to days of rising. You will fall hard. And your children will fall hard. It is on those days that you will know without question where your true priorities lie. You will drop everything and run to tend to their skinned knees and hearts (and sometimes even harder, clean up after the wounds they have inflicted on others) and you will question everything that you do and why you do it. 

Our tendency is to run, fast and hard, away from that pain and discomfort and our culture does this with a will. As Christians, we feel the struggle coming on and are tempted to turn and start running with everyone else. It makes sense…

Leave it, medicate it, drink it away, distract, cover, deny, pretend, and shout it down. But we... those moms who know the heart and hurt is all for Christ... we stop mid stream and do an intentional turning. We see our crosses waiting behind us and we turn and take them up with love. 

I'm not going to leave.
I'm never going to leave.
I give myself in love for you.
I will work until I'm old and gray (and beyond) for you.
My talents are yours.
My treasure is yours. 
My time is yours.
My cheerful, joyful, sunny days are yours.

But my anger, resentfulness, selfishness, and crankiness? Those are mine. And I leave them at the foot of the Cross for Jesus to sweep away. Because His name is Mercy.

To the beautiful Instagram lady who came face to face with her priorities, I just want to let you know that it is a day for rejoicing. God has chosen to gift you with holy vision. And now? He will give you the grace to press on. Thanks be to God.

Halloween {A Failed Catechesis on Holy Death}

This article was first published in 2014.


I wasn't going to write about Halloween this year. Honestly, I'm still recovering from last year when I learned the hard way that the classical standards of debate are all but dead on the internet. When I said I haven't recovered, I mean it. I still feel the loss. I still hear the silence from disrupted relationships. So I promised myself that I wasn't going to write about Halloween again. It was enough. But... I changed my mind. Fickle, I know.

I'm not trying to start any drama. I'm not writing for anyone, to anyone, or about anyone in particular. I'm  writing here to flesh out ideas and offer them as food for thought to anyone else who is interested in the topic.

Please remember... this article not about you. You are welcome to consider my viewpoints and take them or leave them. You take care of your own people and I'll take care of mine, okay? If you want to talk, I welcome a public rebuttal of points made. You are welcome to call my ideas stupid... but only if you offer an intelligent rebuttal of my actual words. But if you go off and tell everyone what an ignorant jerk I am without addressing actual content, I'll probably take offense. And you'll also probably ruin my relationships with other people. I know this. I speak from painful experience. But I think we can do better than that that. Let's give it a go...

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Halloween {A Failed Catechesis on Holy Death}
 

There are several reasons why I do not celebrate Halloween -- the most superficial being that we dress up for All Saints' Day and ain't nobody got time to make two costumes each for 7 kids. Aside from that, I think that secular Halloween practices often run contrary to a life of virtue and hope -- and that even a benign costume and candy celebration on October 31st tends to undermine the greatness of the feasts of All Saints' and All Souls'. But I'm not going to focus on those today...
 

Today I'm going to write about death. And why Halloween teaches the wrong thing about the most important thing.
 

I've had death on the brain lately. I spent the last half year immersed in the subject of dying (specifically miscarriage, stillbirth and infant loss) as part of my bereavement doula certification process. I don't love the thought of death but I found my studies fascinating. It brought mortality very close to my daily life and, ultimately, was a spiritual shot in the arm. I thought more than usual about the fragility of life and the state of my soul. I also learned more about what grief does to the survivors and how it can grip and squeeze the heart into a state of unimaginable pain. Ultimately, I became convicted that understanding of and care during the time of death is a fundamental element to building a Culture of Life.
 

How does this relate to Halloween? 
 

It didn't at first... until I began my training course in psychological first aid. I was in the middle of a module about caring for survivors of trauma, specifically children who have learned (suddenly) about the death of a loved one. The recommended approach was determined by the age of the child. The youngest ones would presumably have little experience with death and a vague or non-existent understanding of what death means. But it was the description of the next group that stuck with me. These kids were a little older and mature enough to know what it means to die but still too young to have much experience. The material described the primary obstacle to communicating with this age group: That their understanding of death was generally limited to the known skeletons and monsters of Halloween. As a result, the primary response to death was one of ignorance and fear.
 

Most people fear death to some degree. That's not the issue. What struck me as noteworthy in this case was that this secular disaster relief organization recognized the cultural practices of Halloween as an inhibitor to a child's healthy understanding of death. The reality in a faith context is that our American version of Halloween is terrible catechesis. In fact, I would call it anti-catechesis for providing the wrong answer to life's most important questions. 
 

Such an attitude is typically modern American. We rush through grief. We sweep it under the rug. And we run from age and pain and death with a frantic passion. Halloween practices encourage this dysfunction by contributing to confusion and ignorance of something that, when rightly ordered and supported, is actually our greatest moment of grace on earth. 
 

I use the term "secular" Halloween practices but it begs the question: What are Catholic Halloween practices? They aren't defined by the Church. We do know that All Hallow's Eve (the Eve of All Saints'), is the vigil of one of the greatest feasts of the liturgical year. Feast day vigil masses are celebrated at this time. The day after All Saints' is All Souls' Day - the day that Catholics traditionally focus on the dead. So what role does the Eve of All Saints' (Hallow'een) technically have? Truly? Not much.

The celebration of Halloween has become a mammoth secular creature of our own making with the average American spending almost $80 on costumes alone. In an effort to "baptize" our cultural practices, modern Catholics have made the vigil into something of a Catholic cultural festival centered around the topics of death and fear. My non-scientific observations tell me that many have simply found a convincing justification for throwing a good creepy party. Or at least bringing in a good candy haul.
 

"Consult not your fears but your hopes and dreams" ~ Pope St. John XXIII
 

How does our cultural Halloween fail us?  The psychological first aid training drew attention to the problem: We teach our children that death is something creepy to be mocked, to be looked at as a piece of fun darkness. As a consequence, that darkness becomes the primary lens through which our children see death.

Many bereavement professionals will tell you that the American cultural approach to death is unhealthy. As Christians, this is a matter of grave consequence. We fool ourselves into thinking that the deepest parts of our human nature can be trivialized without spiritual consequences. Truly, a good death is the one thing that every soul should long for. This is why the saints entered their death scene with joy and hope. This is why we celebrate their feast days on the memorial of their deaths. For the saints, the day of death is a day of rejoicing, not of darkness.
 

"Death is nothing else but going home to God, the bond of love will be unbroken for all eternity." ~ Mother Teresa of Calcutta
 

Am I suggesting that we can never be "real" about scary things? Absolutely not. Am I suggesting that we can never jump out from behind a door to scare someone? Or put that horrible rubber rat in the pizza box to wait for a victim? No. What I am postulating is that the cultural secular Halloween is not a healthy context in which to explore the subject of death. We do not need to enter into sin to overcome sin. We do not need to don a mask of evil (especially in a superficial plastic costume way) in order to rise with Christ to new life. Jesus has won the victory through the Cross, and consequently, the Cross is beautiful to us. But only because the sacrificial act of Love is beautiful... not because we love or glorify the horror of the crucifixion. 
 

With our renewed understanding of the gift of the body through John Paul II's Theology of the Body, it is a wonder that we still tolerate the gruesome depictions of the flesh on Halloween night. Personhood is lost. Morphed into a mass of bleeding flesh and parade of hideous creatures. If we could put a true face on our sinfulness, perhaps this is what we would see. But the Truth, Christ Himself, is also within us, and demands sacred respect. 
 

St. John Bosco once called the Christian cemetery "an eloquent sign for those who enter in faith and prayer." Not creepy or frightening but "an eloquent sign." How beautiful! Unfortunately, it seems to be the human condition (concupiscence) to make ugly what God has made beautiful and to lose sensitivity to the joy of the eternal. 
 

Shall we mock death? Shall we mock our own moment of grace? The best way to "mock death' is to live so fully alive in Christ that fear is annihilated. To immerse oneself in the Word of God that promises that death brings peace to the pure soul. To enter into the fullness of Sacramental life so that life is a shower of grace. And then to step out, full of the power of the Holy Spirit, to serve the needs of the suffering. 
 

Mother Teresa did not throw a Halloween party to "mock death". She walked the streets of Calcutta and saw it in the eyes of the people and saw Christ Himself there. She picked up the abandoned, dying people of God whose wounds festered and were sometimes infested with maggots. She touched faces of pain and kissed the sores there. Was she too grave and rigid? Or shall we learn the lesson of her life as living catechesis. In light of her example and the model of all the saints, the modern Halloween custom becomes a mockery of true Love, which is the only worthy goal. 
 

We do not need to look far for real fear. Beheadings, wars, ebola, abortion, violence, human trafficking, accident trauma, personal loss. How are we teaching our children to prepare for death? Shall we usher them into a classroom of darkness in order to learn? Or shall we keep them wholly in the light as the inevitable pain and agony come to visit them?

What do I ultimately want for my children? A good death. The moment of death is a sacred event that will hopefully see us washed in unprecedented graces. It is the moment we have lived for, when a soul devoted to Love steps into the arms of mercy forever. Secular Halloween celebrations are often at best, a distraction from that goal and at worst, a distortion.
 

I have read many attempts to explain how the use of evil imagery draws us closer to Christ. The annual articles are starting to roll in and one defense in particular caught my eye yesterday. It already has hundreds of Facebook likes and is filled with big words and language that sounds like authoritative Church.  The author tells the reader why Catholics should absolutely participate in a dark Halloween. The ideas seem (on the surface) lofty and Catholic and spiritual. The Catholic author writes on a Catholic site:
 

"Halloween rejoices in this triumph through playful parody, or exultant mockery, of evil by subjecting the powerless symbols of the devil to satirical derision. Witches, goblins, ghosts, skeletons, and the other grotesque objects of man’s imagination are the caricatures of a dethroned evil. There is no fear in these, or even in the devil himself, by the indomitable strength of Christ. Men are the masters, and no longer the servants, of these elemental creatures."
 

This is wholly unsupportable through Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition. There is no approved tradition whereby we put on the mask of sin in order to prevail over it. The demons and angels are not "elemental" but spiritual and powerful. Nowhere are we exhorted to dance among the symbols of evil. Even if there is merit in the piece (which I contest), the reality is that most Catholics who like the article will use it primarily as a defense of their participation in the vacuous secular celebration... which is neither lofty, nor Catholic, nor profoundly spiritual. 
 

What is it that the Christian longs for more than anything in life? A GOOD DEATH. A holy death. Scripture tells us that "the sting of death is sin" and that "death has been swallowed up in victory." (Romans 8:31-39) Christ has conquered! There is nothing left to fear except the loss of heaven and the pains of hell. And yet we insist on spending our time playing in the dark. Mocking death.

Where is that exhortation in Catholic tradition? I have not yet found it.

I remember the day I delivered my lifeless baby, Matthew. He was two inches long and marvelous. Some might have seen his little body as gross or gruesome since his skin was translucent and bloodied and his eyes still unopened. But I thought he was beautiful. On that day, my soul also began to yearn much stronger for eternity. The mystery of death was slightly penetrated. And although I grieved heavily, I found that I was less afraid of death. Because of his life and loss, I no longer see death in a "Halloween way." And I do not wish to. Horror will come... sorrow will come... fear will come... all unwilled and unwanted. The true test of our culture is how we have prepared ourselves to deal with it. 
 

My own kids will someday wear blood and hold death in their hands. They will see tragedy and trauma. They will probably witness a beheading or live murder recorded on the internet. I will not shield them from the reality of death. My goal is to prepare them to serve the suffering and wounded who seek the merciful compassion of Christ. They will see plenty of horror on that journey. We don't need a night of candy and plastic ghouls to guide our souls to a Catholic understanding of these things. The real lessons come in the down and dirty of living the works of mercy in the context of a sacramental life. 
 

And that can get downright scary. Jesus, Light of the World, have mercy on us.
 


And again Jesus spoke to them, saying: "I am the light of the world; he who follows me with not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)


A Catholic Girls' Guide to Unmasking a Predator

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I have written this article 16 different ways trying to soften the language and avoid giving offense to anyone. The trouble is that my conscience won't allow the softening. With the sex abuse scandals exploding in every industry, sport, religion, and educational institution, it is clear that we don't have time or good reason to spare feelings over safety. Those examples don't even include the endless experiences that we have personally had in our communities and homes.

It's an evil that has become systemic. We have been culturally conditioned - publicly groomed actually - to accept a degree of certain abusive behaviors as normal. 

We feel a false sense of security because we have aggressively rooted out the most egregious offenders, put them on registries, taken away their positions of authority but, we ignore the elephant in our own living room. We have been silent. We have been complicit. And yes, we have been trained and groomed by evil people whom we allow access to our minds and families.

I have put together a short list of qualities in men that are red flags for a discerning Catholic girl or woman. These guidelines will also apply to my Protestant sisters in Christ. If even one of these risk factors exists, that is a solid reason to put on the brakes. If you want to jump right to the list, scroll down. If you want to understand the problem a little better and how you can better serve your daughters (or yourself), hang with me for two minutes. 

COLLECTIVE GROOMING

I rarely watch TV but recently fell into a YouTube vortex of shows that are currently popular. I don't know if it's just because I've been away from regular watching for so long but I was struck hard by one thing I saw...

The distinct and unhidden patterns of grooming and predatory behavior in media are constant. There is no coverup. No shame. No outcry. 

Men and women have always enjoyed the thrill of the chase and old TV shows are sprinkled heavily with the same messages, but I found the aggressiveness and crassness of the newer shows to be alarming and constant; acclimating us through clever scripting to a system that breeds abuse. It's the same culture I met so strongly in high school - having to constantly share close space with guys who were openly and aggressively predatory - and in so many other places. 

My hope for this article is to sharpen our Catholic axes so that we are better prepared to fight this battle and to help those specifically whose souls, minds, and bodies fall under our care.  I am concerned for both males and females but my gifts are more suited to helping other women - that is my unique perspective - and so my focus will be on helping protect our Catholic teen and young adult daughters from false and predatory men.

We don't have to be powerless. The easiest way to become a victim of evil is to give our consent and an open door. So... let's teach each other to retain our power. Some of our sisters and daughters will need our help to climb out of the trap of attraction, manipulation and possibly shame. Let's do this. Let's be strong in mercy, love, and willingness to go a little Joan-of-Arc on the enemy.

THE PRACTICAL STUFF 

I will go over some practical guidelines for being able to spot possible predators. This is a defensive maneuver only. There are many excellent resources out there for identifying healthy qualities in a man and I encourage you to look those up as well. 

Are you currently dating?
Are you involved in a relationship?
Are you a teen girl interested in boys?
Are you a parent entrusted with the care of young men and women?

Let's talk about our predatory culture and practical ways to protect them against the common (criminal and non-criminal) predatory male. 

SURELY YOU DON'T MEAN TO SAY 'PREDATOR?' THAT'S A STRONG WORD.

Actually, yes. Yes, I do. When I say predatory, I am referring to boys and men whose ultimate aim is not the eternal well-being of the girl, but the satisfaction of their ego and sexual urges. That is not necessarily a criminal action but it absolutely makes them a hunter/user of women and ultimately, dangerous. Whether it is a behavior that is studied and deliberate or simply learned by being a part of a hedonistic culture is irrelevant to the safety of the young woman involved. It’s still predatory. 

There's a difference between a man struggling with virtue and a man who is a predatory and we should acknowledge that. But it is also true that an habitual lack of virtue is the path to all evil actions. So... 

Some of you will get hung up on the term "predatory." I stick by it and won't soften it. I'm tired of the silence. We see where silence gets us. It gives us a broken, bleeding wound delivered by evil permitted to flourish. 

Back to the bad guys who want to date our daughters...

Some of these guys are impatient, boorish, and angry; some of them are poetic, gentle and willing to play the game and wait (some even profess a love of Christ). Regardless of the differences, both have the same end goal which is satisfaction of their own ego and physical desires. Both engage in a form of grooming.

Because this topic always seems to get some "boy mom" defenses up, I have to give the standard disclaimer: 

I am a "boy mom" of 4 boys. I married a man. I have male friends and beloved male family members. I know many good (male) priests. This post is not male-bashing. I don't hate men. I do not think men are the only ones at fault. This is wholly and simply a practical and instructive resource for single women and those who love them.

It's also a resource for teenage girls not yet ready for marriage who are uniquely vulnerable to false and bad men... and possibly a self-check for good men who don't want to be that guy

So for the record, girls: Don't be losers. Don't use or entrap guys. This post can be helpful for teaching you how not to be abusive (simply apply the points to your own behaviors) and also to avoid getting yourself caught up with one. 

DEAR MOMS OF GIRLS...

We've all been around the block a few times. We know things that our girls don't know. But our girls haven't lived in our shoes, haven't learned our lessons, and haven't undergone our conversions. We cannot assume that they are equipped to weather the storms we are accustomed to withstanding. We cannot assume that when they nod their heads in agreement with our maternal rants that they actually have a deep enough grasp of the truth or an unwavering relationship with Jesus Christ. 

We have to be willing to go to the mat for them; to make ourselves a righteous nuisance about technology, defensive protocols, and constant instruction in the art of navigating the human condition. 

I'm not going to sugarcoat this. Some of you think your girl is okay... and she's not. 

God didn't allow me to wade through the sewage in my own life only to stay silent and watch other hearts, minds, and bodies assaulted by wickedness. Here is your warning and I give it with all the sisterly and motherly love in my feminine heart:

Evil hardly ever comes looking like a monster... but usually appearing like the deepest desires of our heart. We have to be prepared. 

Evil slips through the cracks through our weaknesses and our pride. It finds our sorrows and our loneliness. It listens to our doubts and becomes the consolation and affirmation that we deeply desire. 

CATHOLIC GIRLS ARE PARTICULARLY VULNERABLE

Young women from good homes who are pursuing virtue are particularly vulnerable to the snake in the grass because they are more trusting. They are surrounded early in life by people pursuing virtue. Consequently, they more quickly believe the lies from the forked tongue of a compassionate admirer. The answer isn't to expose them to more and earlier wickedness but to better prepare them with the truth before, during, and after they hear the lies.

I love you.
I want you to be happy.
I can make you happy.

Your parents don't understand you.
I'm Catholic.
I go to church at St. fill-in-the-blank.
I will take care of you. 
You're beautiful.

Some of your daughters will fall. If they do, you will strap on your armor of maternal justice and mercy... and you can use this list to help them climb out of the hole of sorrow. To destroy lies and restore the order of truth.

I would be negligent if I didn't add that this list holds true for any person in a position of authority over our children including teachers and priests. If even one of these things is true, a relationship of vulnerability and trust should not be pursued. Safeguards should be in place. No spiritual direction or personal mentorship. No outings. No private phone calls. No car rides. It should go without saying that private meetings (closed off from others) with an adult male even without these markers are generally imprudent. 

Please note that not all of these indicate that a boy or man is bad beyond recovery or that he only has evil intentions. But the presence of even one of these factors increases risk significantly. Even one of these is sufficient to decline a single date, an exclusive relationship, and certainly marriage discernment. You don't even have to have a reason if your gut tells you "no."

Some of us fell hard to predators as young women and didn't have the support that we needed. Here's what I wish I knew... 


A Catholic Girl's Guide to Detecting a Predator

Give your guy 1 point for each of the 13 risk factors.

Scroll down for an explanation of each warning sign. Again, a man struggling with virtue is not necessarily the same as a predatory man. But he can be... and that is why this is a list of risk factors and not definitive statements. 

  1. He is not a Christian.

  2. He is not a Catholic.

  3. He is a bad Catholic.

  4. He is a liar.

  5. He is secretive.

  6. He isolates you.

  7. He is vulgar.

  8. He is divisive.

  9. He is mean.

  10. He pressures you to abandon your morals.

  11. He is fast.

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

  13. He doesn't want to talk to your dad.


1. HE IS NOT A CHRISTIAN

He may be a "nice" guy or a "decent" guy. He may claim to be a moral person and pursue natural virtues but, if he does not submit his heart and actions to Christ, there is no standard for him to follow when he feels like straying. 

This is a non-negotiable for a Catholic girl. 

"He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters." - Matthew 12:30

Aside from his own comfort and passions, a man who does not follow Christ has no guide. He has no reason to be honest when it will cost him. No reason to remain chaste when he feels that he is in love. No reason to forego worldly pleasures. 

Why should he tell you the truth about anything?
Why should he wait for marriage?
Why shouldn't he use you?

Every man can eventually choose to follow Christ. But if he wants to date you and does not currently adhere to a Christ-centered worldview, he will only be able to follow his own ego and his passions. 

You cannot save him. Only Christ can save him. Perhaps he will be ready someday to discern a relationship with you... but not yet. This does not necessarily make a man a predator, but it is a significant risk since he does not yet know how to love as he was made to love. He does not yet know that love is an act of service with an aim of heaven... and not just a way to gratify ego and urges.


2. HE IS NOT A CATHOLIC

What if he's a follower of Christ but not a Catholic? I deeply love my Protestant brothers and sisters and have found them to be some of the greatest examples of Christian love I have ever seen. They've taught me how to better love Christ and express His love to others. They've taught me how to joyfully worship and how to speak like a true believer. They've taught me about what it means to suffer well for Christ and have given noble examples of red and white martyrdom for His sake. They've also been an incredible support for learning how to navigate the cesspool of secular culture. 

But because there is no one governing body or thought in Protestantism, it cannot be said that all non-Catholic Christians have the same beliefs and behaviors. 

This does not necessarily make a man a predator, but can be a relationship risk since he likely rejects some boundaries set in place by Catholic moral teaching. If he accepts sexual deviancy of one kind (i.e. homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, contraception, etc), then he may also be less resistant theologically to things like porn and premarital sex. This is a problem among Catholic men who have clear and permanent boundaries. How much more so if there are movable boundaries?

Let's be straight about this. This post is primarily for Catholic women who want to be safe and want to remain Catholic. If that's what you want, then you will have to fight hard for it and make uncomfortable, unpopular decision... because most of the world is going to think you're nuts. 


3. HE IS A BAD CATHOLIC

This is probably the most dangerous dating category for a young woman who wishes to remain Catholic. Once a predatory man finds out that she is a committed Catholic, he will know exactly what to say to gain her confidence. He knows the externals and how to appear pious. He will go to Mass with her and talk about his Catholic school upbringing. They will have deep conversations about matters of faith and he will listen attentively while she expounds on moral and theological matters. He may even go through RCIA if he was never confirmed.

He's a liar because he doesn't believe and doesn't want to believe. He's already been a Catholic and rejected it and Christ. He's been living in a state of mortal sin. And he thinks he's got a sure bet with his innocent Catholic victim. 

Another example of this is a boy or man who is living as if he is a believing Catholic but is rebellious in his heart. A priest who has stopped praying and who is sexually active but who is still in active ministry to other souls. A Catholic school teenager who goes to Mass to please his parents but who prefers the ways of the world. 

I know the observation is harsh but it is not wrong. This is a very dangerous man. And he lives in our parishes, in our schools, and all over the internet. 

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. - Matthew 7:15-17


4. HE IS A LIAR

If a man has a habit of lying, walk away. If he encourages you to lie in order to be with him, run. If he will lie to your parents or his, he will lie to you. And if he lies to you, you are not safe in his care. 

"Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" - John 14:6


5. HE IS SECRETIVE

There is no place for secrets in a healthy relationship. If you have to sneak to meet him, he's not the one. A good man will not make you jump through hoops so that he can hide in the dark. A good man will walk up to your front door and ask courteously to speak to your dad. 

If your relationship has developed entirely (or almost entirely) on the internet for the purpose of staying hidden and in isolation from your family, it is a bad relationship and you should end it. 

A good man who loves you will want to know your family and introduce you to his. He will want to become a part of your life not hide away in a dark corner with you. 

If he doesn't want to meet your parents and doesn't want you to meet his, he is a liar and a thief. His objective is to keep you away from your safety net and the people who can protect you. Run. Run. Run. 


6. HE ISOLATES YOU

Technology is a wonderful and terrible thing. In the case of relationships, it is often absolutely devastating. One primary tactic of predators is to isolate and alienate someone from their support system. They are narcissists and demand all of your undivided attention. The existence of texting, messaging via many social media platforms, and things like Google Hangouts means that you have unrestricted access to each other at any time of the day or night. In bed, at school, in the bathroom, at work, at church, on family outings... 

That. is. not. healthy.

To be fair, we are a society of technology addicts and many otherwise healthy people spend far too much time on devices. Relationship development is completely different than it was even 15 years ago and I acknowledge that imprudence is not the same as predation. 

However, predatory behavior easily includes isolating via technology. 

There is no accountability, no protection, no loved one observing visitors or phone calls in a healthy way. There is no way to ignore a communication, no way to be unobserved or to take time to yourself... UNLESS it is a healthy relationship where boundaries are observed and appreciated.

If he is constantly checking on you, jealous of your family and friends, demanding of your time, and punishing you emotionally for claiming healthy space... that's a red flag.


7. HE IS VULGAR

If your guy's mouth is dirty and you would be ashamed to have him overheard by your grandmother, father, or parish priest, then you've got a problem. This may just be a problem of his upbringing (in that he never learned it was wrong) but it is no less concerning. A man should be conscious of the dignity of a woman and take care to be polite and refrain from crude talk. If he is constantly dropping the F-bomb and talking using explicit language, he is not yet a trustworthy man. He is a vulgar boy and not worthy of your time. 

If you adopt vulgar or coarse speech as a result of hanging around him, then you are being false in order to gain attention and affirmation. It is not love. It doesn't attract true love. It does not build up, heal, bless, or make beautiful. It is ugly and you should reject it. 


8. HE IS DIVISIVE

One of the hallmark actions of narcissists and predators is to isolate a person from her support system and family.

A good man will want to know the rules of your family and abide by them. He will not put you in situations in which you are vulnerable or separated from your support system. If you find this to be the case, you may very well be dealing with a predatory person. Or at least someone who is self-absorbed and not good relationship material.


9. HE IS MEAN

If he reacts angrily or unkindly to your efforts to maintain connection with what is good and true in your life, regularly puts you down, or easily erupts into angry outbursts... end the relationship. You are headed for a life of sorrow. 


10. HE PRESSURES YOU TO ABANDON YOUR MORALS

He may be supportive at first but many predators will start to chip away at the foundation of your beliefs after they have gained your trust. They might start to do this by asking innocent sounding questions about moral issues and then increase negativity once they find gaps in your knowledge or faith. They will press into your doubt and use your affection to their advantage. 

A predatory person is often excited to learn that you are a religious-minded person because it makes the catch that much more exhilarating. They know if you want to be pure and possibly if you are a virgin. They've just entered the most thrilling video game ever

They are willing to wait a long time for you if they think they can ultimately "win." Studies of criminal sexual predators show that some of them will groom a victim for years. In relationships where a man isn't criminal but simply lacks virtue, he may also be willing to wait a long time for you if he is enjoying the ego-affirming chase. 

If your guy is pressuring you to abandon your morals and isn't Christian or Catholic, see points #1 and #2. If he claims to be a Catholic, see #3. If you are certain that he is a practicing Catholic and he regularly pressures you to abandon your moral compass, especially in matters of sexuality... see #4. Run from them all. They don't love you. 


11. HE IS FAST

You've known him for a few weeks and he already says "I love you." You've just had a first date and he gives you a full body hug (pressing thighs, hips, abdomen, chest, and shoulders together). He is quick to hold your hand, quick to kiss you, quick to talk about the future. Quick to demand the majority of your time. 

This is not proof positive of a bad man, especially since most young men simply suffer from terrible formation or a tendency toward imprudence. But just know...

Healthy discernment is not generally that fast and predators are willing to wait a long time but will also go as quickly as they are allowed to go. Pushing physical boundaries early is often a way of grooming for rapid physical intimacy. It shows them how far they can go without resistance and it shows you one of two things 1) Dude hasn't been taught boundaries and respectful behavior to women, 2) He lacks self-discipline and maturity, or 3) He doesn't care.


12. HE IS IMMERSED IN FOUL MUSIC AND MEDIA (OR VIEWS PORN)

When he gets in the car, he turns on music that would make your grandma blush. He regularly views television, YouTube videos, and movies which depict sexually explicit content. He views pornography. 

Many practicing Catholics also do these things and it can get very confusing. I have seen practicing Catholic men and women defend soft porn in movies and explicit music lyrics. I do not agree with them and have written about it before but I understand that it can be a difficult point of navigation. 

My point here is to say that if someone has become desensitized to material which degrades, disrespects, distorts, and hates the truth and beauty of God-given sexuality... that's a red flag. As for pornography... someone who currently and unapologetically uses porn is not a safe person for a young woman. 

You are made in the image of God (the Imago Dei). You were made to love and be loved. You are not an object. You deserve better. 


13. HE DOESN'T WANT TO TALK TO YOUR DAD

This is an excellent gauge of a man's integrity and strength of character. 

Not everyone likes, admires, or gets along with their dad but, if your dad is still in your life and isn't a criminal, then a man who wants to date you should be ready and willing to come face to face with him and express his interest in you. 

This practice has almost entirely fallen away in our culture but it is worth restoring even if only as a general barometer of character. Ideally, a guy should reach out to your dad first but most have never been presented with such an idea. You may have to bring it up. And then know....

A guy who refuses to talk to your dad is likely a man of secrets, lies, poor character, and a hidden agenda. He doesn't want his cover blown by dad and is averse to the proper order of relationships.

Some predators can even fool dad and Eddie Haskell their way through a meeting. But I maintain that if your guy is happy to meet with your dad (even if he's nervous), discuss expectations, accountability, intentions, etc, and shake his hand... then your odds of happiness are greatly increased. 


Now... add up the points. 

I can't tell you what to do with them because I do not claim this to be a fool proof formula for discernment. I only offer you food for thought. 

If you have one point, you need to figure out if it really is a concern or not (unless it's a non-negotiable like sexual pressure) . If you have multiple, I recommend bringing the information to someone you trust with your very life (not the guy) and prayerfully considering the potential concerns. 

I don't want to end this article... I want to keep talking about it. I want to put my arms around every girl and make sure she gets it. I had to keep it relatively brief here because the internet has robbed our collective ability to read something even as long as this post. I know most will just skim.

But let's get the conversation started. 

A girl should be prepared early on to understand her dignity and to become accustomed to defending boundaries. She will need those tools her entire life. She will need them in the Church, in school, in sports, in family life, and in friendships. 

She will be tempted to become like the culture in order to find love. The predators are waiting. 

Break the silence. Restore the culture. Protect each other. 

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How Can We Help? Please Reply. A Letter to Catholic Families

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The letter was a stunner. I sat at my desk with tears streaming down my face, reading the words from a friend which seemed to open old wounds and heal them at the same time. He was asking for my thoughts (and the the input of other Catholic families) as he and his wife discern their family's role in living out the Gospel message. And now they have granted my request to share this letter with you. 

My friend is a faithful Catholic man married to a beautiful woman of God, and their marriage is a blessing to those who know them. Like other families, they carry crosses, and have been carrying the heavy cross of infertility for 8 years. I have watched them blossom beautifully, watered by grace, even under that difficult weight; and I have been so blessed by their continuous and fervent effort to discern the will of God for their lives. 

In the midst of their own trials, they have observed the unique crosses of Catholic parents and are wondering how those burdens can be lightened. 

They know that their primary call is to holiness... but they continue to pursue the "what" and "how" of the specific call of their marital vocation... and they are asking for input. In asking "How can we use our vocation to help support other families?" they are also asking "How can we help restore Christendom?"

Will you please take a few minutes to read and to answer his questions? Put your thoughts in the comments here or on Facebook, or email them to me and I will send them along. Also, please share this post and get this conversation rolling among the larger community. Perhaps we will all learn something in the process of pondering and sharing. 


Dear Friends, 

I am increasingly convinced that my wife's and my role (and perhaps mission) in this season of life is to serve in some way as support and aid to others attempting to raise their families in an authentically Catholic way. Everyone included here is already doing a wonderful job of raising beautiful families - I'm just wondering if there's some way it could be even better. I've spoken of this to many of you already, and want to pursue the idea to see if and how it might develop. 

Right now, I'm not sure what this means (if it means anything at all) or how it looks; but, the more I think and talk about it, the more beneficial and needed it appears. This may not lead to anything, but not pursuing the idea will certainly lead to nothing. So please take some time to thoughtfully consider together as parents and spouses and respond, which will help both us (in determining if this even a thing for us) and potentially many others.

The question at the heart of my idea is basically this: If you could have help in raising and forming your family, what would that help look like?

I think many parents have become inured to the challenges, struggles, and difficulties of raising a family, and accept them as "normal." And, of course, there will always be those. But how might they be lessened or eased? What would "someone to help" look like?

Would it be someone...

  • ...to help tutor/homeschool/supplement kids' education?
  • ...to help clean?
  • ...to help babysit?
  • ...to have adult conversation with?
  • ...to just come visit and spend some "quantity time"?
  • ...to help arrange real-education related events/trips?
  • (e.g. a trip to a farm to plant vegetables or collect eggs is far more educational than reading a book about gardening. Mom may not be able to take age-appropriate kid because younger kids need attention, but what if a trusted family friend could help chaperone a group of age-appropriate kids from several families? Etc.)
  • ...to help develop a more-enveloping/holistic vision for Catholic culture/community?
  • ...to recommend reading/music/media?
  • ...to help share the good ideas and experience you've already had with others?
  • ...to....? Dare to dream!
  • I've included several friends who represent different stages of family life, demographics, needs, and means. But everyone at least shares a commitment to raising Catholic families in some way. And everyone has something to contribute, no matter where on the family-life spectrum you are. 

I've been developing my own understanding of what Catholic culture (which will only be rebuilt through the family) looks like; most recently based on Anthony Esolen's book Out of the Ashes, and the concepts of Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option. In short: real friendship, real community, built on Truth and a pursuit of virtue and true human formation. But I want to hear from you "in the trenches," who have real day-to-day experiences in this thing.

Finally, I anticipate some resistance to your thinking and replying on this. Some of the things you might think:

  • "I don't want to bother anyone."
  • "This is my family and I chose to have the kids, so I don't want to burden anyone else by asking for help."
  • "I don't want anyone to think I'm a bad mom/dad."
  • "I don't want to admit it's hard."
  • "I don't want anyone to see my messy house."
  • "I don't want anyone to judge me."
  • "I don't need help."
  • "Nothing will change anyway, this is just fantasy."
  • "I don't know what I don't know."

Please, please, please do not allow fear, pride, vanity, negativity, or a sense of "bothering someone" prevent you from thinking, replying, and embracing this idea. I don't know where this will lead (if anywhere), but I do know that not asking the question, and not trying will lead exactly no where. The perfect guarantee of nothing changing. I'm not trying to create a "program" or impose obligations - just trying to figure out if there's a way to help serve the needs of good friends raising good families.

The world and secular culture is encroaching and the Enemy is ever seeking to destroy the family. We must take those threats seriously stand firm and do something to help one another in this spiritual battle for the souls of our families and friends. I hope just asking these questions will help foster some ideas as to how we might work together in love, friendship, and virtue to rebuild and re-claim authentic Culture. I look forward to your thoughts!

Oremus pro invicem,
Your brother in Christ