Geekazoid Alert!

A fabulous treasure trove of stuff here:

http://www.explorechurchhistory.com/

I mean, "Vatican Board Game"?  Makes my little geeky heart beat wildly!  Papal Names and Papal Myths?  Yes, please!

What is "good" and who gets to decide?

Mark Shea, in his delightfully amusing way, has been writing some terrific pieces lately:  http://markshea.blogspot.com/.  He's been using his own girth to poke holes in the gay marriage/rights debate.  Check it out.

Today, this line of his really struck me (and yes, he's being sarcastic):  The sole criterion of the good is what two or more consenting individuals want to do.  That's really where we are at in our society, isn't it?

This isn't a throw-away idea.  It is vitally important.  What is "good" and who gets to decide?  Do we each get to decide what is "good" for each of us?  Could there be a different "good" for me than there is for you?  What if my "good" infringes on yours?  Whose takes precedent?  What if you think my "good" is fundamentally evil?  Can there even be a "fundamental" evil?

This comes down to whether or not there is an objective standard of truth.  That is, can we, as a society, declare "THIS is true, no matter what"?  We don't seem to be able to do this.  Most people would say,  "Human life is good", but the "no matter what" part is where people want to hedge their bets:  "...unless I'm in pain", "...unless the baby is 'unwanted' ", or "...except if he's profoundly handicapped." 

We might agree that murder is wrong, but then we have the scandal of the death penalty.  Child abuse is punishable by law, but we might be likely to give a lighter sentence if we know the abuser was once abused.  Is there one single issue that we, as a society, are willing to declare either "good" or "evil"? 

Once upon a time, humans were given the opportunity to trust God and allow Him to decide what "good" and "evil" were.  They (whom we call Adam and Eve) decided not to trust God and to rely on themselves for this knowledge.  It did not go well.  And I fear it will not go well for us, either.

A rose by an other name

http://lifestyle.msn.com/relationships/article.aspx?cp-documentid=25322874&GT1=32023

I ran across this story on the web today;  it's a blog from a newly married couple recording her struggle about changing her last name upon marrying.

I have to admit, it was a bit of a struggle for me as well.  It wasn't that I didn't like Dear Husband's name.  In fact, I thought it would be nice to have a simple last name after years of hearing my surname mangled by people.  It wasn't a feminist thing, either.

What was a struggle for me was that my name held such strong identity for me.  In the late '70s, when the book and mini-series "Roots" was popular, my dad got hooked on geneology.  For years, it was a passion of his.  It grew to the point where he was hauling us off to huge family geneological society meetings all over the map.  Not exactly a great vacation from a teen point of view, but even my sister and I had to admit that it was pretty cool that one of our ancestors helped settle the city of Montreal, that our family had a Mass at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and the city named a park after us.  As teens, we weren't all that excited about a workshop on the family history in the Dakotas, but shopping in Toronto was a decent trade-off.

In a way, I felt like I was abandoning all that should I give up my name when I got married.  I finally decided to keep my name.  I didn't hyphenate;  that would be too long and clunky.  I don't use it professionally.  About the only time I use my "maiden" name now is when I write.  It is my own little salute to my dad:  a private 'thank you' for sharing such an interesting heritage with me, even when I didn't really care too much.  Thanks, Dad, for giving me a name to live up to.

Our Lady of Malibu

(By the way, there really IS a church in California named Our Lady of Malibu....)

Love this photo and story over at CatholicVoteAction.org:

http://www.catholicvoteaction.org/americanpapist/index.php?p=8335

For those of you who teach

http://www.textweek.com/movies/movies.htm

I have found this to be a very helpful website when trying to find movies to use when teaching Scripture, sacraments, prayer, etc.  For example, my former high school students found "The Legend of Bagger Vance" really helpful in illuminating the idea of the Holy Spirit.

Maybe you'll find it helpful, too!

Sacred Place of the Day

St. Aninius Church, Damascus

Maybe Baby

Our local newspaper had a headline this morning:  "Economy Sends Baby Bouncing".  Apparently, the poor economy has translated into fewer people having babies over the past year.

I can understand this.  Most of us, prudently, don't want to have a new family member when we just lost our job, got downsized or lost our home to foreclosure.

On the other hand, how many times have you heard someone say,  "We are going to wait until we can afford a baby to have one."  My standard answer is,  "Then you'll never have a baby."

Why?  Because babies cost EVERYTHING.  It isn't necessarily a monetary thing.  On the whole, babies aren't THAT expensive.  The biggest cost - for us, at least - was diapers and food.  If you're able to breast-feed, than the food cost isn't an issue.

What makes babies cost so much in our society is that many of us are convinced that babies need or are entitled to the "best":  new clothes every week from the Gap, a convertible stroller/car seat/bouncy chair/entertainment center, a down payment into a toney nursery school, and so on.  Of course, the baby could care less about all this stuff:  it's all about the parents at this point.

Dear Husband and I have five kids, all adopted.  Because they were classified as 'special needs' adoption by the state, we receive (until the kids are 18), a modest monthly stipend.  This is meant to off-set the added expenses of the 'special needs'.  It doesn't.

We had a neighbor who once told another neighbor,  "You know, the only reason they adopted 'all those kids' (five!) was for the money."  When I told Dear Husband about this remark, I said,  "We must be doing something wrong, because we haven't turned a profit on these kids yet." 

I admit, the kids cost a lot.  The giant sucking sound you likely hear is my three teenage sons emptying the refrigerator.  We just went shopping for school supplies and some clothes.  Ouch.  On the other hand, we shop clearance racks, Goodwill and consignment shops.  It is -clearly- possible to raise a pack of kids in this economy without ending up in the poor house.

Are there trade-offs?  Of course!  We don't vacation much, and when we do, it is on the cheap.  We go out to the movies, as a family, once a year or so.  We have to say 'no' to a lot of 'wants', but their needs are taken care of.  What that means, though, is that what many people would consider a 'need' is relegated to 'want' for our family, and for many families like us.

This is not a bad thing, and I'm not complaining.  In fact, I wouldn't have it any other way.  I read somewhere, a long time ago, that the first rule of Irish families is "There is always room for one more."  Bad economy be damned:  say yes to life!  L'chaim!

Fresh, Clean and Pure Friday: Pray

A fellow blogger at "La Bella Vita" has extended an invitation to participate in "Fresh, Clean and Pure Friday".  Great idea!

http://bellavita-bellasblog.blogspot.com/2010/08/fresh-clean-and-pure-friday-blog-hop-1.html
So here is my idea for "Fresh, Clean and Pure Friday";  pray for the person who most annoyed you this week.  You know, that guy in the cubicle next to you that takes your stuff without asking.  That lady that sits behind you at daily Mass and says all the prayers a half a beat behind every one else.  Your kid who said something thoughtless and hurtful.  The lady at the grocery store who snarled when she took your money and then put your bread at the bottom of the bag.  THAT person.

Pray that God will bless them abundantly.  Pray that their life is good, and that they recognize that. 
Pray.                                                                                                                                                                 

Laugh!


We often picture God as a serious old man, burdened with the incredible task of managing this vast, complex universe and providing adequately for all of His creatures, especially for the fickle, fallible, unpredictable human beings. But God is not old. Neither is He young. It is the passing of time that makes one young and then old. God exists outside of time. God exists in eternity, in an eternal now. And God is not serious, at least in the sense of being burdened with a task that is too big for Him. Is it more difficult to manage the universe than to create it out of nothing? And most of all God is not sad. God is perfectly and eternally happy, and enjoys a divine sense of humor. The sense of humor we have, if we have one, is but an imperfect participation in God‘s sense of humor.


A sense of humor, of course, is a sense of the humorous. So what is humorous? The humorous is that which is unexpected, incongruous and preposterous. At the circus, for example, it is the incongruity of the clown with the baggy pants, bulbous nose, long shoes, and painted face that is humorous. At the movies we laugh at the “Three Stooges” because they are always doing the unexpected, the incongruous and the preposterous.

A sense of humor then is simply a sense of truth, a sense of reality that enables us to discern the untrue, the unreal, the incongruous and the preposterous. God has a perfect sense of humor then because God is All-Truth and God is the “really real,” the source of all reality. - Fr. Rodney Kissinger, SJ



The City That Would Not Die

http://www.npr.org/blogs/pictureshow/2010/08/25/129424166/coming-back

There is much talk, 5 years after Katrina, about what still needs to be done in New Orleans and other places affected by the storm.  This NPR  Picture Show is a lovely reminder of the spirit and joy that remained untouched.

Hard Sayings

If you are only noddingly familiar with Christian Scripture,  you may think it is all sweetness and light.  However, both the Old and New Testaments are full of hard sayings, including the Gospel.  Today, I heard this at Mass:

Jesus said,“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.  You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.
Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.

It is quite easy to sit in the pew, hear this and smugly think,  "You tell 'em, Jesus!  Don't let those hypocrites get away with a thing!  I know a few people that should hear that message."  It is quite another thing to hear that Gospel message and think,  "I am filled with hypocrisy and evil-doing.  I may appear quite beautiful to others, but I am filled with 'dead man's bones'."

What are the 'dead man's bones' I have to deal with?  The same, dull, boring, run-of-the-mill sins most of us deal with.  (We humans aren't too exciting as a whole:  we are quite doltish and simple.)  We are selfish, thoughtless, self-centered, impatient and rude.  Okay, maybe you aren't, but I sure am.  I can put on my makeup, my fabulous shoes, a new sweater and a glittery bracelet - all the 'whitewash - but the dead man's bones are still there. 

In the book of Ezekiel, poor Ezekiel has a vision of a valley full of dry bones, and God commands him to prophesy.  His prophetic words are to declare:  "Hear the words of the Lord."  It is only then that the bones come to life.

I hope that one day Jesus will NOT have to say "woe to you" when we meet face-to-face.  I hope I can offer Him bones that are filled with life, not death.  I hope....

Sacred Place of the Day

Buddhist Temple at Luang, Laos

'Cause I Love Newfs

If you're not familiar with the Newfoundland (or "Newf"), they are a working breed, trained for water rescue.  The fishermen on the coasts of Newfoundland often used them for this, as the breed can withstand the cold northern waters.

They are large (males tend to run about 160-180 lbs.) but gentle, sweet and lovable.  They are loyal, and while they are generally well-mannered, they are also fiercely protective of their families.  They shed and drool, so if that bugs you, don't get one.

Famous Newfs:  the original "nanny" from Peter Pan (Disney made her into a St. Bernard), and Seaman, the dog that helped lead the Lewis and Clark Expedition.


A GEM of a woman

As I've mentioned before, I am always amazed at how little I know.  I've been reading The Loser Letters by Mary Eberstadt, and like any good book, it's made me scurry for a dictionary or look up a person or two for reference purposes. 

One person I learned about from Mrs. Eberstadt's book is Elizabeth (G.E.M.) Anscombe, a British philosopher of great merit in the 20th century.  She was a wife and mother to seven, and quite a little spitfire:  she blasted Oxford University in 1956 for giving an honorary degree to Harry Truman.  She considered him a mass murderer for his decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

One of her most profound works came in 1972, "Contraception and Chastity".  It's not light fare, but it is prophetic.  You can read it here:  http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles/AnscombeChastity.shtml 
Here's just a sample:
There is no such thing as a casual, non-significant sexual act; everyone knows this. Contrast sex with eating - you're strolling along a lane, you see a mushroom on a bank as you pass by, you know about mushrooms, you pick it and you eat it quite casually - sex is never like that. That's why virtue in connection with eating is basically a matter only of the pattern of one's eating habits. But virtue in sex - chastity - is not only a matter of such a pattern, that is of its role in a pair of lives. A single sexual action can be bad even without regard to its context, its further intentions and its motives.

Those who try to make room for sex as mere casual enjoyment pay the penalty: they become shallow.

If you, like me, are unfamiliar with Mrs. Anscombe's work, please take a few minutes to learn a bit about this foremother in our Faith.  It will be worth your time!

I had a few classes like this.....

Pray for Pakistan

Pakistan is ravaged by floods.  This is a poor nation to begin with, and a natural disaster strains everything from infrastructure, food distribution, and health care.

Catholic Relief Services already serves the people of Pakistan, and has a fund set up for flood relief:  http://crs.org/pakistan/.  Please help if you can.

Geekazoid Alert!

http://www.dieter-philippi.de/en

Greek Orthodox miter











Papal Finery

















All this and more at the website of Dieter Philippi, who claims to have the largest collection of clerical, ecclesiastical and religious head coverings in the world.  Some of the website is in German, but the photos are AWESOME!!  Enjoy!

Sacred Place of the Day

St. Joseph's Oratory, Montreal

For no reason other than it's funny

Home is where the heart is

Today's saint is a guy by the name of St. John Eudes.  If I ever knew anything about him, I'd forgotten it.  I read a little bit about him today:  he was a French priest, best known for spreading popular devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Here's a little tidbit that caught my attention:  During severe plagues in 1627 and 1631, he volunteered to care for the stricken in his own diocese. Lest he infect his fellow religious, he lived in a huge cask in the middle of a field during the plague.

Yeah, you read that right:  HE LIVED IN A CASK.  A big barrel. 

(Yes, I'll admit:  I wondered if there was any liquid enjoyment in the barrel.  But now back to our regularly-scheduled reflection....)

For many people, the last few years have been difficult.  For Michigan, they've been horrible.  For our family (since Dear Husband works in the automotive industry), the past few years have been a terrible struggle financially.  We almost lost our house.  Many people - good people with jobs - have lost their homes.  But none of us is living in a barrel.  And St. John Eudes volunteered for the barrel.

Why?  Why would someone voluntarily live in such harsh, smelly, lonely and pitiable circumstances?   There is really one answer:  love.  Only love would make this choice.

Let's be clear, though.  "Love" isn't that warm-fuzzy-happy-buzzy feeling we tend to associate with that word.  No, "love" is the ability to always put the other first.  It's knowing that you are willing to put your own wants and desires (and even your own needs) aside for the other.  It is the ability to say to someone,  "I love you.  Therefore, I can't let you do that"  (the mom of a teenager comes to mind).  It is the ability given to a sleepy, stumbling, haven't-slept-through-the-night-in-months dad to drag himself out of bed to tend to a restless toddler disturbed by a dream.  It is only love that allows someone to say,  "I'll put my schedule aside for you.  You need me now." 

Even more importantly, St. John Eudes didn't just love his fellow human beings, even the sick ones.  He loved Christ.  With that love, one can do anything.  Even choose to live in a barrel.  By choosing Christ's love as his example, St. John Eudes was able to not only choose the barrel as his home, but be happpy there.

The next time you are faced with a TV-version of "love" - that "love" that says sex with anything on the Jersey Shore is okay, that "love" that tells you to fall in love with a new car or a designer purse, that "love" that tells you a meal from a certain restaurant is just the thing you must have - think of that barrel and St. John Eudes.  See how you measure up.

Awesomely Catholic

From my friend Mike over at "Sober Inebriation" blog:

http://soberinebriation.blogspot.com/2010/08/awesome-alert-how-to-celebrate.html

Food, glorious food

What do you eat in a day?  How does it compare to our neighbors?  Check out this NPR story about food around the world.  Fascinating stuff!

http://www.npr.org/blogs/pictureshow/2010/08/10/129107806/whatieat

Was Victor Hugo's "Hunchback" Real?

Victor Hugo was a hugely popular novelist in his time, and while his style may seem a bit fussy to us, he wrote some of the most "Catholic" stories ever, including "Les Miserables" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame".

This story reports that his "Hunchback" character - the tragic figure of the good heart and mis-shapen body - may be a real person:

http://www.aolnews.com/world/article/hunchback-who-may-have-inspired-victor-hugos-quasimodo-discovered-in-british-archive/19595067?test=latestnews

Sacred Place of the Day

Angkor Wat, Cambodia


I usually don't include photos with people in them for the Sacred Places, but this little monk was so engaging.  In many Asian countries, boys grow up in the monasteries, but leave when they are older.  Parents see it as beneficial spiritually, and it eases poverty for them as well.

Stuff

TLC and A&E have both been airing shows about hoarding, the complex psychological issue that makes people prisoners of their belongings.  People who suffer from this are often literally living on mounds and mounds of clothes, paper, knick-knacks, food and furniture, to the point where their houses become uninhabitable and their lives unlivable.

Our Gospel readings the past few weeks speak to this theme:  don't get too attached to your stuff.  Today's Gospel has the rich young man going away from Christ, sad.  Why is he sad?  Because Christ told him he must sell all his possessions and follow Him.  The young man does not or cannot.

I don't think Christ is telling us that we all have to give away or sell everything in order to be good Christians.  I do think He was telling this young man that very thing for a reason:  that particular young man was too attached to his stuff.  His stuff meant more to him than eternal life.  Christ saw this, He knew it, and He was saying to this young man,  "You have to be more attached to God than to your stuff.  Get rid of the stuff.  It's holding you back from your true life in Christ."

I try very hard not to get attached to stuff.  I am the first to admit that I love a good pair of shoes, a new scarf or a soft, warm sweater.  However, I also know that if you asked me for anything I own, I'd probably give it to you.  The danger of allowing overt attachments to things is a constant and evil one.  I want to always be able to say that I could do what Christ asked the young man:  get rid of all my stuff.  I also think that Jesus' remarks would be different to different people:  "You, give up your music.  You're too attached to it.  Then follow Me" or "You are too attached to your job.  Give that up, and follow Me"  or "Say 'so long, self' and then follow Me."

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.  I don't want my treasure to be stuff.  And thankfully, neither does God.

Digging Out: Helping Your Loved One Manage Clutter, Hoarding, and Compulsive Acquiring

I'm Mad! And I'm not gonna take it anymore...maybe....

The summer before I went to college is very clear in my mind.  The college had decided that all incoming freshmen had to complete a "common reading" before we got to campus, and would then spend some of our first week discussing it with profs and fellow students.  I had to complete that.

I wasn't working, so I had the summer to do what I wanted:  hang out with my friend, Dawn, shopping and seeing movies, spending time at our cottage, going canoing and generally enjoying the freedom that you have for such a short time in your life.

As college loomed closer and closer, though, I got scared.  The book I was supposed to read was hard, and I could only imagine that this was all me, and not the book.  I started to think that college was going to be way too tough for me.  Sure, I had done really well in high school, but I went to Podunk High, in the backwater of the outskirts of rural Michigan.  All those other kids headed to college went to places like Bright and Shiny College Preparatory Academy, and I would be the dunce.

For me, this fear came out as anger, and the closest and best target was my mom.  After all, Mom loves me, and no matter how much crap I give her, she's not going anywhere.  So I spent a lot of time that summer being a brat to my mom.

And is so often the case, both God and karma have a sense of humor.  (Yes, I am well aware that karma is not a Catholic belief...but I think there is a strong argument for "what goes around comes around".)  Eldest Son leaves for university in just a few short weeks, and he is rather...insufferable.  He knows everything, he's very put-out when asked to do anything because his life takes priority over everything, and he doesn't need any of us....unless he wants something, of course.  I'm trying not to take it personally, because I remember very clearly the wholly exasperated look on my mom's face as I was screaming irrationally about not being able to use the car for an afternooon.

Mom didn't leave, and neither will I.  I will have a glass of wine tonight though, and call my mom tomorrow to apologize (again) for that summer.  Eldest Son will be fine, and he, too, will realize that he's not the center of the universe ("Please, God, help Eldest Son realize that he is not the center of the universe.")

I finished the book.  I can't say that I understood all of it, but when I got to college, I found out I was the only one on my wing of the dorm that had finished it.  Everyone else said it was too hard.

Edith Stein, to wrap up the week

Things were in God's plan which I had not planned at all. I am coming to the living faith and conviction that - from God's point of view - there is no chance and that the whole of my life, down to every detail, has been mapped out in God's divine providence and makes complete and perfect sense in God's all-seeing eyes.

Sacred Place of the Day

Badshahi Mosque, Lahore, Pakistan

Mysticism, in the words of Edith Stein

I always thought "mysticism" was sort of like the Navy Seals:  only for a very elite, very few.  Here's what Edith Stein says about it, though:

...the mystic is simply a person who has an experiential knowledge of the teaching of the Church;  that God dwells in the soul.  Anyone who feels inspired by this dogma to search for God will end up taking the same route the mystic is led along:  he will retreat from the sources of the senses, the images of the memory and the natural functioning of the intellect and will withdraw into the barren solitude of the inner self....

More from Edith Stein

In honor of her feast this week, I'm giving you some snippets from Edith Stein's work:

For the Christian, there is no such thing as a "stranger".  There is only the neighbor - the person who happens to be next to us, the person most in need of our help.  Whether he is related to us or not, whether we "like" him or not, doesn't make any difference.  Christ's love knows no boundaries, stops at no limits, doesn't turn away from ugliness and filth.  It was for sinner He came, not for the righteous.

Sacred Place of the Day

Hiroshima Peace Memorial

Edith Stein

One thing about prophets:  their message rings true no matter when you hear it.

Here is a snippet from Edith Stein.  She wrote this between the two World Wars:

If a woman's vocation is the protection of life and the preservation of the family, she cannot remain indifferent as to whether or not governments and nations assume forms which are favorable to the growth of the family, and the well-being of the  young.

Back to School

I realize that "back to school" means a lot of things to a lot of people.  For homeschoolers, it means opening the mailbox with anticipation:  boxes of new texts for the new year.  For teachers, it means getting into a hot classroom in August, to prepare for kids in September.  For moms, it is a check list of supplies.  For kids,  it is typically a mix of dread and joy.

"Back to school" for me, growing up, meant a trip to Detroit for shopping.  We would typically stay with my grandma for a few days, and Mom would take me and my two sisters out, one day at a time.  We'd ride the bus - an exotic trip for us country mice.  At night, my sister Martha and I would lay awake in my grandma's front room, listening to the sounds of the city:  car horns and sirens, when we were used to crickets and owls. 

But the best, the VERY BEST, part of the trip:  Sander's.  For those of you not from Michigan, Sander's is an ice cream/candy wonderland, going back generations.  Like Vernor's Ginger Ale (the REAL stuff), it elicits sighs of joy and contentment from those of us who grew up with it.

Mom would take each of us shopping; a day out alone with Mom.  We'd try on jumpers and dresses, shoes and shirts.  Then, we'd head off to Sander's for this: 
Sander's Hot Fudge Cream Puff.

This is pure magic:  a light, crispy cream puff, sweet and perfectly balanced vanilla ice cream, drizzled (but not drowned!) in hot fudge.  Oh, whatever drudgery of the morning lingered - Mom checking your crotch for fit, itchy wool, upset stomach from bus fumes - the bliss of this took care of it.

It took me a few years to realize that Mom was getting this treat three days in a row, but now that I'm a mom, I realize it was sweet payment for the back to school business.

If you're doing the whole back to school thing, take a few minutes for a sweet treat with your child.  The memories are bliss.  And so is the hot fudge.

More proof that God has a sense of humor

Hammerhead shark - isn't it goofy-looking???





August 9: St. Edith Stein, pray for us

This blog is entrusted to the patronage of St. Edith Stein, and today is her feast day.  She is also known by her religious name, Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

Edith was born in Germany in 1891 to a pious Jewish family.  She was the youngest of eleven children, and her father died when she was young.  Her mother, a devout and intelligent woman, took over the family business and raised the children.

Edith was a very bright girl, but given to fits and bouts of depression.  She was...sort of "bratty" and spoiled as a child.  By her own admission, she became an atheist at a young age, and remained so for years.

She studied philosophy, eventually earning her Ph.D. under Edward Husserl in the school of phenomonology.  About this same time, she read the biography of St. Teresa of Avila, and became a convert to Catholicism.  She eventually entered the religious life at Carmel.  She died at Auschwitz.

This is a bare-bones outline of her life.  There are several great biographies of Edith Stein, and they are worth the read.

I love Edith.  She was a top-notch academic, wholly feminine and greatly promoted the role of the feminine in culture and in the church.  Her thinking greatly influenced John Paul the Great - and that's saying something!  She was a humble woman, a teacher of great influence and charity, a daughter concerned for her mother's heart and soul, and a martyr.  Most of all, she loved God, and desired nothing but His will.

She said this of her beloved Germany in the 1930s as she watched with horror the rise of the Nazis:  The nation... doesn't simply need what we have. It needs what we are.   It seems to me that this is true today of us and our beloved nation.

St. Edith Stein, Pray for us.

Blog Share: Catholic Dads

Check out this blog;  it's by and for Catholic Dads, with a lot of practical and spiritual insights:

http://www.catholicdadsonline.org/

I Can See Clearly Now

I gotta admit:  I've been a little down this past week.  Dear Husband has been gone a lot this summer, working out of the country.  I'm REALLY thankful he has a job, but being a single parent to five teens is hard.  One parent often acts as a buffer for the other, and I haven't had that for awhile.  The kids and I are all sort of sick of each other at this point.

I had to leave a job I really, really loved, and had to help a dear friend move two states away.  School is starting up, and I'm feeling melancholy - September is the "new year" for me, and I'm sad that I'm not going back to school this year.

Not only do we have a huge gloppy oil mess in the Gulf, but we have one right here in West Michigan now.

Our culture seems to be hell-bent on re-arranging the most basic social mores, and I don't see much to make me feel good about this. 

When I knelt down at Mass this weekend, it was with a heavy heart and frantic mind.  I just wanted.....I don't know what I wanted.  But God did.

During Communion, I was watching all the people go by.  There was an elderly woman who could barely walk.  She clutched each pew as she wobbled by. 

And then, there was just this stream of people whom I realized could choose to be just about anywhere, but they were here, in church, with Christ.  It was a warm, clear summer night in Michigan, thirty miles from the Big Lake, and twenty minutes from the second largest city in the state, with boundless amusements.  Yet, here were old people, teens, toddlers and everyone else, with Christ.

It was just a moment, but a moment that I needed:  realizing that every day, people around me made a choice for goodness and God.  It was just glimpse of the sun and the Son, but a moment that will sustain me this week.  As Psalm 121 exults:  I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

This vale of tears...

There is a lot to be depressed about lately.  There are many of us still suffering from the rotten economy, the earth seems to be oozing oil, wars drag on, and ice cream is still fattening.

Surely, a God who created giraffes, platypus and kittens wants us to laugh, despite the trials and tribulations of our lives.  On this note, I present to you the Museum of Bad Art.  Yes, indeed, you can enjoy the virtual tour, featuring such treasures as this portrait, entitled "Dog".  (Hey, it's bad art, you weren't expecting clever titles, were you?)

This isn't kindergarten bad art.  Oh, no:  this is "I sat down to create something marvelous" art, the "I've always wanted to paint" art, the "Now that I'm retired I can finally get serious about my art" art.  It is well worth a few minutes of your time, and just remember:  Life is fatal.  We are not getting out of this alive, so let's just enjoy the time we have.

Here's the link:  http://www.museumofbadart.org/

What summer is all about

Two of my great-nieces

Even if you don't agree, read this.

http://www.aolnews.com/discuss/opinion-proposition-8-decision-redefining-marriage-could-soon-redefine-parenthood/19582656

It's an article - well-written and well-thought-out - on the case for traditional marriage.  I'd love to hear what you think.

The obligatory post about the California Ruling on Gay Marriage

I wasn't going to post anything, but I read my blogger handbook/contract/secret decoder ring, and I have to.  Here's a link to a blog at the National Catholic Register, and my fave line from this post.  As you can see, what troubles me most is the eroding of the power of the people in recent years:

Now, many can agree or disagree with laws prohibiting sodomy or contraception or even abortion but the fact is that it doesn’t matter whether you agree or not. Judges have declared all of these issues including life itself beyond your purview. Your opinion matters not even though you live in a republic.

http://www.ncregister.com/blog/we-the-people-means-9

Sacred Place of the Day

Today is the feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome.

Virtual Tour of St. Peter's

http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_pietro/vr_tour/index-en.html

Students at Villanova University have created a virtual tour of St. Peter's Basilica.  Joy!  I realize it's not the same as being there, but on the other hand, Rome in August isn't the greatest place to be either.  Enjoy!!

At right, Villanova students and professors.

Corporal Works of Mercy

My 85 year old mother has a Facebook.  This is startling for a couple of reasons.  First, Facebook is not really the playground of the Senior Citizen Set.  Even less so for my mom, who is a self-declared "technological idiot".  While my  mom is not an idiot, I can vouch for the fact that she really has an intense dislike for anything with more than one button or knob on it.  She has a DVD player;  she does not know how to use it.  Clearly, Facebook is a huge leap for her.

She likes it because she can keep up on her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  There are a lot of us, and this is a great way to see current photos and know where everyone is.  My mom's chief job at this point in her life is to pray for us, so knowing where we are and what we're doing aids in this vocation.

However, Mom still has a very loose grasp as to how Facebook works.  That is, she doesn't really know how to write on someone's wall or comment on a previous post.  She just writes a 'free-standing' note, and these are sometimes rather cryptic.

I came home from a meeting at work tonight to find this: "Elise, remember the Corporal Works of Mercy".  I'm racking my brain trying to figure out what she's referring to.  Was I unkind or uncharitable in a post?  Did I forget to do something?  Did I mention something about work?  I have no idea.

So, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of my mom, here are the Corporal Works of Mercy.  Remember them:

Feed the hungry
Give drink to the thirsty
Clothe the naked
Shelter the homeless
Visit the sick
Visit those in prison
Bury the dead

Parenting: It's not for idiots

I am not a perfect mom.  (And my kids will back me up on that.)  However, I believe Dear Husband and I have a pretty firm grasp on some of the basics of parenthood.

For instance, one of the basics is that the Kid Comes First.  When you become a parent,  you turn in your Selfish Card.  Oh, I'm not saying Mommy doesn't deserve a night out for book club, or Daddy doesn't get to go golfing on Thursday evenings.  I mean, your life stops being All About Me, and starts being all about the Kid.  The Kid's needs always come first, and those needs are endless and mind-numbing and tedious, at least sometimes.  Tough.  The Kid Comes First.

That means, that if you and your spouse (geez, I hope you were married) can't keep it together, you don't put the Kid between you like some sort of pull toy.  If you split with said spouse, you don't move a boyfriend or girlfriend into your home, and expect the Kid to deal with it.  You don't leave your Kid home alone while you're out, night after night.  You don't take the female teenage Kid to get birth control so "you don't have to worry about her".  You don't ignore the fact that your teenage Kid is dating a man, because you're so caught up in your own dating escapades.

The Kid Comes First also means that you have to be mean.  Yeah, no friendship between Parent and Kid.  Nope, it's all about authority, learning, guidance and laying down the law.  Now, I don't mean you are the dictator and the Kid is simply a member of the proleteriat, but rather that you have to teach the Kid about consequences.  If the Kid forgets his homework, he gets a zero.  You don't run his homework into school.  If the Kid misses curfew, she gets grounded.  And the grouding sticks.  They'll cry and scream, beg and tell you how horrible you are.  But you get the secret satisfaction of knowing this is all part of the Kid Comes First.

Turn in the Selfish Card, folks, and get with it.  Your Kid's life is at stake.

Ain't it Friday yet????

Sacred Place of the Day

Cathedral of the Assumption, Louisville, KY

When Castro Came to Coleman

The National Catholic Register is reporting on the state of the Church in Cuba:
http://www.ncregister.com/register_exclusives/the-catholic-church-in-cuba/

In light of this, I am reprinting here a piece I wrote a few years back, on my family's ties to Cuba:

When Castro Came to Coleman

Coleman, Michigan, is a small town that really has no outstanding features. It is not a bad place; it is not a great place. It’s just a town. But it is a town that Fidel Castro visited.

OK, not really. Yet in that weird way of life, Castro had an impact on many people in Coleman, folks who’d never go to Cuba and perhaps never even give the Communist dictator much thought.

This story started when Castro decided he wanted to rule the island nation in the name of communism. In Cuba at that time (1959), there lived a man named Jose Blanco, Sr., and his family. One of Castro’s policies was that a person could own only one piece of property. The rest now belonged to the state. Mr. Blanco lost his business.

Another of communism’s plans was that all education be controlled by the state. Indoctrination of children began, and the Blancos saw the most important aspects of their lives slipping away.

In a glimmer of hope and courage, a young Irish priest, Fr. Bryan O. White, began what became known as Project Pedro Pan (Peter Pan). From 1960 to 1962, this plan flew young Cuban children (over 14,000 in all) to Miami, on the pretext that they were making visits with relatives. Once the children were in the United States, many did go to live with family members in the States, and others found homes through Catholic charities with foster families. For the parents in Cuba had put their children on these flights not knowing when or if they’d be reunited.

Here we shift to Coleman, Michigan. A Catholic couple there, John and Elizabeth, had just adopted a little girl. Their social worker, having cleared them for the adoption, asked if they would consider two foster children from Cuba. Elizabeth said yes and then called John at work for “permission.” His response? “When are they coming?”

Those two children were the oldest of the Blanco family, Jose, age eight, and Lourdes, age six. (An infant daughter, Beatriz, was to remain with her parents in Cuba.) Jose and Lourdes came to Coleman knowing only two phrases in English: “Miami” and “foster home.” John and Elizabeth didn’t speak Spanish, but everyone muddled through.

The wonder of this story is manifold. Two families, separated by culture and space, were connected in a common faith. One mother trusted another with what was most precious to her. Two fathers remained steadfast in doing what was best, not what was easiest. All of this because Castro came to Coleman.

John and Elizabeth are my parents, and Jose and Lourdes my foster brother and sister. With the perspective of forty years, there is no perfect end to this story. Castro is still clinging to power. Jose and Lourdes were reunited with their family after the elder Blancos managed passage out of Cuba after years of trying, but both families will tell you they were indelibly altered by the experience.

Mr. and Mrs. Blanco put their tiny children on a plane, with no idea of when they’d see them again. The parents were sure of the horror of communism, however, and were willing to make this Abrahamic sacrifice to ensure their children’s physical and spiritual well-being. My parents committed themselves to the enormous needs of two refugee children. In Coleman, my aunt, uncle, cousins, friends and neighbors enfolded Jose and Lourdes into their social network. The children learned to play new games, were teased, educated, disciplined and loved. Hearts were widened and lives changed.

It wasn’t all good. After three-and-a-half years with my family, a social worker decided to move Jose and Lourdes to another home, for reasons still not clear to all of us. Lourdes, especially, suffered from this move and blamed my mother, for a time, for not “fighting” for the two of them. My mom will tell you that losing those two children tore out her heart. I’ll give Castro credit for that, too.

It has been an amazing journey for two families: one of great emotion, of acceptance, abandonment, loss, grief and joy. The paths of two families, one in Cuba and one in Coleman, cross and parallel over forty years, bonded by the Catholic faith and by the vision of a terrible dictator. Castro never set foot in Michigan as far as I know, but he did come to Coleman, and two families, transformed by faith and fate, have never been the same.

NPR: The Faces of the Gulf Coast Oil Disaster

http://www.npr.org/blogs/pictureshow/2010/08/02/128927578/gulf-portraits

Always Faithful

We went to Mass last night, and had an older priest. In his homily, he exhorted us to "semper paratus:" Be prepared. The Gospel,...