The Sacrifice

art by Peter Callesan

Back to Acton University

I had such an amazing experience at Acton University last summer, and I'm signed up for this summer's AU already!  Brilliant and diverse people, meaningful dialogue, books, learning and expanding my brain for four days in beautiful, downtown Grand Rapids!!

Sacred Place of the Day

Church of St. Finian, Kilquiggian, Co. Wicklow, Ireland

I don't usually comment on Sacred Places, as I like to let te photos and architecture speak for themselves, but I found the article at St. Conleth's Catholic Heritage Society to be informative and fascinating.  Enjoy the history and the photos!

Do we want to fundamentally re-define marriage?

Here is an article that addresses that issue.  I've also included an excerpt that addresses Obama's recent decision to no longer defend marriage.

The Human Rights Campaign is "America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality." They are well-funded and committed to a cultural and social revolution. They poured massive amounts of money and human resources into electing this President. Along with him they are committed to "remaking America."

They advocate what I call the "Homosexual Equivalency Movement". This is not about discrimination against anybody. Homosexual equivalency activists insist that all Americans recognize a legal equivalency between true marriages and cohabitating practicing homosexuals or face legal punitive consequences. They are social and cultural revolutionaries. The Human Rights Campaign uses the Courts and the legislature to force this kind of new America on all of us. Now, they have the unbridled support of the Executive Branch of the Government.

The effort to equate how one engages in non-marital sexual acts with a member of the same sex to being a member of a particular race or gender (thereby making practicing homosexuals a "protected class" for civil rights purposes) is legally and socially dangerous. One is a status; the other involves a behavior and a lifestyle. To confine marriage to heterosexual couples is not discriminatory. Homosexual couples cannot bring into existence what marriage intends by its very definition.

"Providence", the movie

This movie is not supposed to be released until September here in the US, but I'm already looking forward to it.  Not only does it star Martin Sheen, it was produced and directed by Emilio Estevez, and I think the chemistry there is gonna make sparks shoot off the screen.  Plus, the topic!!

Misguided, and not making sense to Mommy either

We're in a bit of a money crunch in Michigan.  That is to say, we haven't any.  Our roads are falling apart, our public schools are in debt (and performing poorly) and we are not friendly to businesses, especially to small businesses.

So what does our Board of Education want to do?  Begin Universal Headstart for all 3 and 4 year olds.

As the article above points out, the big flaw here is that IT DOESN'T WORK.  We're gonna throw a whole bunch of money at a problem that already has a better-more-cost-effective solution (make it easier for families to make sure Mom or Dad can be at home to raise the kids), money we don't have. 

Don't our kids deserve better?

Sacred Place of the Day

Hallgrimskirkja Lutheran Church, Reykjavik, Iceland

Total rip-off Tuesday

...wherein I "rip-off" another blog post.  Today's choice is Anthony Layne at The Impractical Catholic:

Ask Tony: A dinner-party dilemma


It's Lent. A non-Catholic friend of yours has invited you and your beloved to dinner at his house on Friday night. When you get there, you find that the entrée is steak. Your friend grills an excellent steak. But it's a Friday in Lent. What do you do?


Eat the steak. Enjoy the steak. Thank your host for a lovely meal. Don't bring up "meatless Fridays" unless you can segue to it naturally and charitably from some topic being discussed; better to wait for another day.

Nowadays, with the greater social concern over food allergies and dietary restrictions, it's becoming more common for hosts to discuss preliminary menus with their guests unless they know each other so well that such things are already known. So this situation is becoming less common.

The practice of meatless Fridays is no longer enforced under penalty of sin. However, it's still a very, very good spiritual practice, a minor mortification offered in union with our Lord's suffering on the Cross (cf. Col 1:24). (For a Nebraskan, giving up steak at any time is almost a heroic sacrifice.) It's also one of those culturally distinctive practices that promote Catholic identity.

Having said that, though, even if it were still being enforced under penalty of sin, I would recommend this course. The overriding principle here is charity.

Your host was under no obligation to invite you to dinner; once you committed to the dinner, you committed to the menu. If you'd had reason to suspect that your friend would use the dinner as an opportunity to test your faith, the appropriate response would have been either to suggest Saturday or beg off on the grounds that you would not want to put him out of his Friday steak. As it is, the charitable assumption is that he either didn't know or forgot that you were keeping the practice.

As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions. One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has welcomed him. ...

Then let us no more pass judgment on one another, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for any one who thinks it unclean. If your brother is being injured by what you eat, then you are no longer walking in love. ... Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for any one to make others fall by what he eats; it is not right to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother stumble. —Romans 14:1-3, 13-15, 19-21

The Chair of St. Peter

I have an enormous fondness for St. Peter.  He's so relatable.  He fumbles and falters, speaks too soon and says stupid stuff, denies and doubts....and yet....

Jesus still picks Peter as leader - "You are Peter, and upon this rock, I shall build my Church."

This gives hope to all of us who falter and doubt - Jesus can still use us, still loves us, still trusts us. 

O Glorious St. Peter, because of your vibrant and generous faith, sincere humility and flaming love our Lord honored you with singular privileges and especially leadership of the whole Church. Obtain for us the grace of a living faith, a sincere loyalty to the Church, acceptance of all her teachings, and obedience to all her precepts. Let us thus enjoy an undisturbed peace on earth and everlasting happiness in heaven.  Amen.

Fools and frank talk

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the sight of God.  - 1 Cor. 3:19

I spent a terrific afternoon with some young adults yesterday at the Arise Conference at Aquinas College.  It was a great opportunity to spend time with  passionate, faithful folks and I shared my thoughts on Theology of the Body.

In our readings today, it is clear that God wants us to pay attention to our bodies:  they are temples of the Holy Spirit!  Can't get any better than that, can we?  Unfortunately, as I shared yesterday, we live in this "split-personality" culture where bodies are everywhere, but none are revered.   Bodies aren't holy  - they are useful objects that we use, abuse and treat like refuge.

One of the questions I posed to the young adults yesterday was,  "Are there legitimate limits of what we can do to our bodies, and if so, what are they?"  If God creates, may we distort?  The eco-sheriffs tell us no:  we must preserve nature.  But what about our bodies?  Aren't they the peak of creation?  If that tree deserves protection, don't I?

It's sad to live in a world where young women die in hotel rooms because they want a "butt lift" so badly they are willing to put up with cut-rate risks.  It's sad to live in a world where websites promote anorexia and bulimia.  It's sad to live in a world where young men dream big league dreams and see steroids as the way to reach that.

What's the solution?  We can't change everything today, but recognizing that God's plan is better than the ways of a world of fools is a good first step.  'Cause who wants to be a fool?

Freakin' out Friday

It's been a long week, and it ain't over yet.  I've got two big "work" projects, a bout of insomnia, red tape that I can't get untangled, and a stressful situation that just won't quit.  Officially, I am freakin' out.

I try to pray at regular times, but it is often the first thing to go when I'm stressed (and yeah, I know that just adds to the stress).  Sometimes my prayers are just, "Jesus, help me" or "Give me strength, O Lord".  And that's okay - not terrific, but okay.

Today, I'm gonna take a deep breath, pray the Liturgy of the Hours to start my day and get to work.  The Lord always does His part, and I need to do mine. 

Even if I'm just barely hanging on.

Total rip-off Tuesday

My new tradition on Tuesdays is to "rip-off" another writer on the Web.  Today's is "Split Second Grace" from Rachel Balducci:

Sometimes it makes me sad to think I’m my husband’s ticket to heaven.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of leading Paul closer to Christ. But the image I prefer includes my overwhelmingly saintly nature—a nice, soothing picture of me inspiring Paul to love Jesus more due to all my personal virtue.

The reality, I’m afraid, is more like I’m helping Paul become a saint because I too-often help him grow in the Christian virtues of charity and patience.

The other night Paul had the perfect opportunity to be mean to me. We were back from a late basketball game (which he coached) and after we tucked into bed most of our sleepy children, my husband headed to the kitchen to get dinner while I dealt with one last child needing one more thing.

I sat on the couch quizzing the boy and watched from afar as Paul busied himself with warming up last night’s dinner. I was hungry and tired and the more I watched him move about the kitchen, the less patient I became.

“You know,” I finally called from the front room, “I would have warmed up your dinner, if it was me in the kitchen.”

The minute I said those words, I was embarrassed. My bratty behavior hung like a damp rag on a clothesline that extended from the couch to the microwave. My woeful phrase was uttered with all the detached flair of the World’s Greatest Martyr and it was pathetic.

I readied myself for the coming, much-deserved storm.

“I’m sorry,” was my husband’s sincere reply. “Would you like me to get you some?”

I was a bit caught off guard.

“Um, yeah,” I mustered. “That would be great, thanks.”

A few minutes later, Paul brought me a plate of steaming hot food and I feasted on humble pie as I finished quizzing my son.

Once that final child had been tucked in, I took a deep breath and wandered over to my husband.

“I’m really sorry I said that,” I told him.

“I can see where that would have been aggravating,” he answered. He then explained that he thought I had eaten at the game with our kids. Earlier, when I told him we were eating leftovers, he missed the part about me wanting to eat with him.

Crisis averted by his overabundance of patient love.

My husband, I should point out, is not a saint. I only say this so you don’t walk away thinking that I’m married to a robot. This is not an example of a love available only to those with supernatural powers. We can all choose this kind of reaction.

Paul likes to tell me a story about himself, about who he was as a boy. His mother (who died before we were married) always told Paul that when he was little, he had a terrible temper.

“Whenever I would fall off my bike,” Paul tells me, “my mom said I had a blood vessel that would pop out of my forehead, that’s how mad I got.”

So we are not dealing with the world’s most passive human.

What inspires me about my husband is his ability to see the big picture—it’s not that being patient and assuming the best has always come natural to him. It’s that he recognizes the things that are worth fighting about (almost nothing) and also that he is a very smart man.

Paul has learned how to diffuse a situation by side-stepping the drama.

My husband had every right to take me down a few notches that evening, when I was so quick to accuse him. I was wrong, but he never pointed that out. Through his kindness and generous spirit, an evening that could have ended with me ticked at him for being self-centered, and him ticked at me for being a jerk—it ended with us sharing a bowl of leftover spaghetti.

Moments of grace are beautiful, and in marriage those moments are an especially welcome gift.

—Faith & Family Live blogger Rachel Balducci also blogs at Testosterhome. This column originally appeared in the Southern Cross.

Sacred Place of the Day

El Pilar Basilica, Zaragoza, Spain

Livin' the Law

Art by E. Thor Carlson

When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.

He began to teach them, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
 Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,  for they will be satisfied.
 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
 Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
 Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,  for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely)     because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  - Gospel of Matthew

When Dear Husband and I were planning our wedding, we chose this Gospel.  The priest  preparing  (and I use that term loosely) us said,  "I don't know why you'd choose this.  It isn't very appropriate for a wedding celebration."  Dear Husband (who wasn't even Catholic at the time) and I stood by our choice, and this was proclaimed at the beginning of our life together.

The priest was sorta right - this is not a very "wedding-y" Gospel.  We did choose it for a reason, though.  This was (and is) the way we wanted to live our lives.  It i sn't an easy choice, but then neither was following Moses out of Egypt when God called.  Neither was Mary saying "Be it done unto me..." when Gabriel brought message of the Savior.  It is the message of hard choices and great love - a message that has resonated strongly throughout our marriage and the raising of five kids with a lot of challenges.  We make hard choices with great love every least we try.  We try to fulfill our Christian vocation with love, and we rejoice, with the hope of a great reward in Heaven.

Happy St. Valentine's Day

Giving me more than I can handle

I know God won't give me anything I can't handle;I just wish he didn't trust me so much.  -Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

There are times in our lives when we feel overwhelmed:  all the kids are crying, the dog threw up, the spouse is gonna be late from work, and you've had a sore throat all day.  Or maybe your overwhelmed looks like:  the files just went all over the floor, the budget is due on your boss's desk in twenty minutes, your cell phone battery is dead, and you just noticed that the zipper on your pants is broken.

Then there is the truly overwhelmed:  the doctor calls and tells you she wants to see you right away.  The doors to the OR swing behind your child on his way to surgery.  The bank is foreclosing. 

These are the times when we want to look up at Heaven and scream,  "Why??"  And in fact, sometimes we do.  At least I know I do.

I navigated through my first couple of decades under the assumption that if I played by the rules, I would be rewarded.  Of course, not playing by the rules meant sure damnation.  That is, if I did all the things that God told me I needed to do to be a Good Catholic Girl, then all the things that a Good Catholic Girl was supposed to get would come to me.  I'd marry the Perfect Guy (ok, that much I got), have a bunch of babies the old-fashioned way, be the ultimate homeschooling mom, bake cookies daily and train dogs for visits to hospitals and nursing homes.

Cue the celestial laughter.

I still try hard to be a Good Catholic Girl, but now I know the truth:  playing by the rules won't give you the perfect life.  There is no perfect life, at least here on this earth.  Instead, there is a leaky bucket, a dog that throws up, a boss that yells and zippers that break.  I got a bunch of babies, but they didn't come the old-fashioned way, but they did come with speed-dial to a slew of mental health professionals.  And some days, maybe even today, it is seemingly more than I can handle.

There are lots of ideas and theories as to why this is.  We call it Original Sin.  We think that God is testing or teaching us through these trials.  We believe some people (not us, of course) deserve punishment for sin and evil, or that some people (not us, of course) did something horribly, horribly wrong and deserve the circumstances that they are in. 

We get left with the question:  "Why do bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people?"  I dunno.  (Sorry if you thought I'd have some mystical insight.  Better minds and souls than mine have come up empty on this question.)

Here's what I do know.  I know that life is hard - for some people more than others.  That we all deserve kindness.  That none of us truly know what is going on in the house next door or down the street.   That most people do the best they can in the most trying of situations.  That God is with us, and He trusts us.

That God is with us, and He trusts us.

That God is with us, and He trusts us..

Sacred Place of the Day

Convento do Carmo, Lisbon, Portugal

Book: The Rite

I finished this book, and was quite pleased with it.  The movie trailers (of course!) make this look like a lurid horror movie, and the story couldn't be further from that.

Baglio does a fine job of laying out "just the facts, ma'am" of how a modern day exorcist becomes one.  He follows an American priest through this process, from classes in Rome, to an apprencticeship, to finally his service her in the U.S..  Father Gary Thomas is a pretty typical parish priest, who is asked by his bishop to serve also as the diocesan exorcist.  He does so with trepidation and enthusiasm, skepticism and solid faith - just what you want in an exorcist.

My favorite chapter in this book was "Discernment", wherein Baglio investigates the more scientific aspects of the exorcism,  psychiatric diagnoses and the brain.  I figure any book on exorcism that uses "quantum entanglement" and plumbs the depth of neuro psychiatric is worth my time.  In other words, Baglio takes the topic seriously, journalistically and dispassionately.

I found the ending a bit abrupt, and there are some seriously dry parts.  Also, I'm not sure the book has a wide audience, although Baglio works hard to make sure that it is accessible to non-Catholics who would not be familiar with Catholic prayers, sacraments and rites.

A worthy read.

Poor and hidden in Egypt

From the British Catholic Herald, here's a person and a world I bet you didn't know existed.

iPhone confessions: There's NOT an app for that.

It was announced yesterday that iPhone has an app for Catholic confessions.  Of course, many people immediately assumed that this means,  "Hey, I can now go to confession over my phone!"

Uh.  No.

Really, what the app amounts to is a "guide" to confession - how to examine your conscience, make a confession, etc., none of which are a bad thing.

How come we have to "go" to confession?  How come I need to go see a priest, detail my sins, and ask for forgiveness?  Why can't I just tell God I'm sorry?

You can (and should!) tell God you're sorry.  Right now.  Every day.  However, that isn't enough.   In the Gospel of John, Jesus clearly gives his Apostles the ability to remove sins from others.  This is clearly the practice of the early Church, as demonstrated by the Church Fathers. 

Now, you can get into a verse-slinging, historical hair-raising argument if you wish, but I propose that the Sacrament of Confession has a very human basis:  we need it.  We need to sit down, really recollect our sins, think about what we've done and haven't done, and then say that out loud.  We need to hear the priest, acting in persona Christi, say "you're forgiven".  Just like all the other sacraments, confession needs a human face, human hands and a human heart to make it real for us.  We don't baptize via the internet or marry by phone.  We are body AND soul, and the body part can't be left out. 

As Christians, we believe we are Christ's hands and feet here and now.  And there's no app for that.

Sacred Place of the Day

photo by Colin Campbell
Callanish Stones, Isle of Lewis, Scotland

Total rip-off Tuesday

I am going to start a new tradition here:  "total rip-off Tuesday" when I share the writings of someone else on the web.  Here's my offering for today on prayer, from Matthew Archbold:

What are you talking about??

The New York Times is certainly one of our nation's most-esteemed newspapers.  Although I don't read it on a regular basis, I assume that the men and women who write for the paper try their best to be good reporters:  fair and accurate, neutral and factual.

They got this one wrong.

On Friday, Feb. 4, the paper printed an article about the crisis in Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization which if front-and-center of the calls for reforms there and the ousting of President Mubarak.  The article gives a brief background on the Muslim Brotherhood:

The Muslim Brotherhood’s deep hostility to Israel — which reflects majority public opinion in Egypt — would pose difficulties for American policy. Its conservative views on the rights of women and intolerance of religious minorities are offensive by Western standards. But the group is far from monolithic, and is said to be divided between those who would never accept Israel’s right to exist and those who accepted a two-state solution in which Israel and Palestine exist side by side.

The organization was founded by an Egyptian schoolteacher and imam, Hassan al-Banna, as a grass-roots association whose goal was to promote the reform of Muslim society by a greater adherence to Islam, through preaching, outreach and the provision of social services.

But Mr. Banna did speak of jihad, too, as a struggle against colonialism and Zionism. Quotations from the Brotherhood’s founder have been highlighted in recent years by Western critics who portray the movement as a militant threat.

From what I know of Islamic history and the Brotherhood, this all seems accurate.  While the Brotherhood has often focused on charitable activity and political means to change unfair structures, it remains, at its core an organization of hatred, especially towards Jews.  It is also, at the very least, an organization that works to keep women and religious minorities (like Coptic Christians) out of positions of social and political power.

So what, you might ask?  Why do I care?  (That's a long list, by the way.) However, what struck me most about the article was this little gem, at the beginning of this "in-depth" article:

Its size and diversity, and the legal ban that has kept it from genuine political power in Egypt for decades, make it hard to characterize simply. As the Roman Catholic Church includes both those who practice leftist liberation theology and conservative anti-abortion advocates, so the Brotherhood includes both practical reformers and firebrand ideologues. (emphasis added)

What is this talking about??  Yes, the Church is a big Church, and there are a lot of ding-bats on both ends of the spectrum.  However, we are not a Church founded on principles of keeping certain groups out of power, against Jews, women, minorities or of promoting one type of governmental strucuture over another.  (If you think I'm wrong, show me where.  In Church documents.  Go ahead.  I dare you.)  This is an outrage comparison, both practically and journalistically. 

What are you talking about?  Read the article, and see if you think the Church deserves this back-handed comparison.

Sacred Place of the Day

The ruins of St. Non's Chapel, St. Non's Bay, Wales

If only wine were served this way....

Gonna take a few days off for some R&R.

"Resist the seduction.....

...of believing only in what we see, especially in other people." - Fr. Robert Sirico

I just returned from the first lecture of 2011 in the Acton Lecture Series, and had the great pleasure of listening to Fr. Robert Sirico address the issue of poverty and prosperity, and how we Christians are supposed to deal with these.  His remarks were fresh and insightful.

What struck me most was how much his lecture dove-tailed with my work on an up-coming lecture on Theology of the Body (at the Arise Conference at Aquinas College on Feb. 19).  Although Fr. Sirico didn't give this topic as much time as I would have liked, his ideas on the material vs. spiritual were intriguing.  We are not, he pointed out, merely material (body) or spiritual (soul) beings - we are integrated body/soul creations.  However, when we meet a person, we are not encountering their soul first:  we encounter body, and must patiently await the soul to be revealed.

This reinforces my experience as wife, mother, teacher, pastoral associate.  While we make judgements based on first impressions and appearances (sometimes those judegments are faulty, sometimes not), it is only in relationship with others that true, deep knowledge is acquired.  What is important is not my "stuff", but my relationship to that "stuff":  am I owned by my material possessions, or am I a good steward of what I have?  Are my relationships with others superficial, or soul-ful?  Of course, this attitude also speaks to the way that we see all creation:  is created matter just there, or does it suggest (and even proclaim) a deeper reality?  (Is that thick blanket of snow that got dumped on us this week just frozen water falling out of the sky or does it lead me to contemplate our Creator God and His majesty?   I guess that depends on whether I have to shovel or not.....)

Our culture - 21st century America - is superficial and possession-driven.  There is no way to deny that.  That does not mean I must be.  Thanks for the reminder, Fr. Sirico.

Happy New Year: year of the rabbit
A performer with the Peking Opera performs in Beijing.  

Reading "The Rite"

I am about one-third of the way through The Rite, which the currently-advertised movie with Anthony Hopkins was based on.

My impression so far is that it treats the matter of exorcism in a matter-of-fact manner.  I'll let you know what I think when I've completed the book.

Civil Discourse

From Fr. Sirico, at the Acton Institute, and today's Detroit Free Press:

St. John Chrysostom, in a famous homily on fasting, warned us not to be too legalistic in its observance. More important than the foods we are abstaining from are our actions and the “disgraceful and abusive words” which we sometime use to “chew up and consume one another.” In this he echoes the words of Jesus Christ, who taught us that “what goes into a man’s mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean” (Matthew 15:11).

The point here is to remind us that our words have weight and effect. Yes, let’s proclaim the truth, and do it in a civil and even a loving fashion. That’s the civility that both the left and the right deserve.

Read the whole piece here.

Egypt on my mind

A 6th-century ivory carving of Christ, from the Coptic Museum, Cairo, Egypt.

Egypt was a haven for the Holy Family 2000 years ago.  May Christ now bring peace and justice to that land.

My baby, he wrote me a letter

One of the casualties of our post-modern age is the handwritten letter. Can you remember the last time you received one? We hardly even s...