From the Acton Institute blog

By yours truly:  http://blog.acton.org/archives/22984-review-the-dressmaker-of-khair-khana.html

Bad places to be a Christian....

United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released their report on countries with the worst records on religious freedom:  Egypt, China and Pakistan are at the top of the list. 

You can read the whole report here (but it's 387 pages long, so you probably won't, but the first few pages are interesting and informative):  http://www.uscirf.gov/images/book%20with%20cover%20for%20web.pdf

Sacred Place of the Day

Westminster Abbey, London, Great North Door

The Resurrection, Rembrandt

http://www.artbible.info/art/large/103.html

I'm your mother, not your friend

There's a commercial on TV right now about Mother's Day, encouraging you to go out and get Mom a card because of all she's done for you, and because of "her lifelong friendship".  I say, "Phooey".

I constantly tell my kids, "I'm not your friend, I'm your mother".  They are going to have a lot of friends in their life, but I get the role of mother.  That's because your friends are not going to tell you, "That is stupid" when you mention that you are thinking of dropping out of school to become a traveling tattoo artist in a Third World country.  Your mom reminds you that you have to do your homework, whereas a friend will just keep the video games rolling.  Mom drags you to church, confession and family dinners, when you'd far rather roll over and go back to sleep.

Mom is also the one who dries the tears of middle school, pays for driver's training, remembers your last tetanus shot and knows how to steam out the wrinkles in your prom dress.  Friends don't do any of that stuff.

I'm happy to laugh with you, shop with you, remember funny stories with you.  I love nothing more than when you climb next to me in bed and share your day with me.  I rejoice in those moments when you pour your heart out to me when I least expect it.  But I'm not your friend.

There are only five people in the whole world that get to call me "Mom" (although I expect to offer that title to their chosen spouses some day).  I'm not giving that title up for some stupid card or sentiment.  Don't get me a "friendship" card.

I'm your mom.

Strong Bodies Fight

http://www.strongbodiesfight.org/Strong_Bodies_Fight/Welcome.html
It's not every day you get to screen a premiere movie at work, but I did today.  The movie, "Strong Bodies Fight" tells the story of the Bengal Bouts, a long-standing Notre Dame tradition of intramural boxing that raises money for Bangladesh.  Even though the bouts have been going on for years, none of the boxers had ever visited Bangladesh to see what good they have done there.

"Strong Bodies Fight" follows five boxers from the university as they visit the Holy Cross Missions that have benefited from their boxing.  It's a beautifully photographed movie (oh, the colors of Bangladesh!), but it also connects the viewer to the people in the film:  the boxers and the citizens of Bangladesh.  One of my favorite college professors used to say,  "We are all more alike than we are different" and this film proves it.  One scene that illustrates this very thing is when the Notre Dame men put boxing gloves on two little boys in a school in Bangladesh (where boxing is not widely-known), and the two boys immediately start whacking each other!  It's charming, but illustrative:  we are all very much connected on our little planet.

Visit the website;  the photos are awesome, and you can view a trailer.  I can't wait to see it on the 'big screen'!

Sacred Place of the Day

Church of the Spilt Blood, also known as the Church of the Resurrection, St. Petersburg, Russia

Total rip-off Tuesday

Wherein I "rip-off" another writer on the web.  Today's choice is Anthony Esolen, who dares you to defend the "Sexual Revolution":  http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/04/3071
“…[m]ay we firmly orient our existence according to the will of God…and walk resolutely towards Christ.”
- Pope Benedict




Dear Husband has a reputation for taking ‘shortcuts’ during family outings. He likes the road less travelled, and that makes a lot of difference in our trips and in our lives.


When anyone travels, they have a destination in mind - a goal. We might be going to grandmother’s house or to the grocery store. We might simply be going to work or to church. We might actually be travelling half way around the world. Often we find that we wish to take the quickest or most economical way, and with the advent of GPS systems we find ourselves more focused on the destination than on the journey. By taking the road less travelled, it changes the focus to the journey.

What happens when we focus on the journey? We learn about ourselves and our fellow travelers. As Catholic Christians we are travelers from our baptism, striving for the same destination. However, we take different paths. We can choose to travel the road less travelled and focus on the journey or we can simply input the destination into our GPS and let the device drive our actions. Which is better? I believe that to focus on the journey is better because then we take an active role in finding our way to our ultimate destination. And our destination is not a place, but the person of Jesus Christ.

Happy, blessed Easter!

Blessed Easter!  I'm going to take a day or two off from blogging to catch up on things like paperwork and sleep.  Enjoy Eastertide!

Night

It's a long day, and a long night.  Even with the sun out, it's dark.  An empty day, spent longing for the next day, but not really sure what the next day will bring.

That must be how the Apostles felt. 

Of course, we have the luxury (and it is a luxury) of knowing that tomorrow we will be celebrating with great joy.  The Apostles didn't know.  They hadn't put everything together:  those sayings of Jesus about tearing down the temple and re-building it in three days, the Supper that brought changes to ancient traditions, the horrible day yesterday when everything changed, and nothing seemed good. 

It is a long night.

There are saints who've experienced this type of night - we call it the "dark night of the soul" - when God doesn't just seem distant, He seems....gone.  It is a spiritual bereavement most of us cannot bear - the idea that our prayers rise only to an empty space, our faith is not simply meaningless, but stupid.  It is a night when God is gone, and nothing makes any sense.

Most of us will never experience this type of sorrow and emptiness.  Most of us will never know the true darkness that must have descended on the closest followers of Jesus this day.  We may catch glimpses of it in our lives, when we are overwhelmed and saddened, but we still feel the consolation of Christ's presence.

art by Michael O'Brien
Today is a good day.  It is a dark day, but a day when we should ponder and pray about that Tomb, and the darkness.  We can do what the Apostles must have done....waited and prayed and hoped.  Even thought things didn't make sense, there must have been some glimmer of light that kept them together and praying, even in the night.  We should do the same.

The law of Love

What made Christ do what He did for us today?  What forced Him to carry that cross, stand and be scourged, spit upon, shouted at?  What made him lay still as the spikes were forced into his hands and feet?

Nothing...but Love.

There was no law that forced Christ into what He did.  Nothing on earth or in Heaven compelled it.  He said Himself that if He only asked, a legion of angels would be sent by His Father to help Him.

It was only His Love for you that kept him pinned on that Cross.  It was only His Love for you that forced him done a hot, dusty road, arms aching, blood pouring out of countless wounds to a hill outside of Jerusalem.  It was only His Love for you that made Him endure pain, thirst, fear.  He was stripped and tortured...because He loves you.

Today, this Good Friday, remember that most of all, love is not some fuzzy emotion of greeting cards and teenage angst.  Love is not a feeling of wanting to please another.  Love is not a desire to be wanted and waited upon.

Love is doing what is best - always - for the other.  And the best is helping that person become holy, as God wishes them to be holy, to be with Him always.

Remember that today, Good Friday, is not about following the law of fasting and abstinence (although those are solid practices), about laws of the Church.  Today is about Love.

Allowing myself to receive

art by John August Swanson
Tonight we celebrate the Mass of the Lord's Supper, and that includes the washing of the feet.  Twelve individuals come forward, representing not only the Twelve Apostles, but the entire Church community, and allow themselves to have their feet washed by Christ's humble servants, the priests.

It is my job (at the church where I work) to get 12 people to have this done.  It's hard.  Really.  People don't want to do it.  "My feet are ugly", "I have a tattoo that I don't want Father to see", "I don't like getting up in front of people".....(I am not making this stuff up).  I was getting a little upset about this, until I remember that Peter threw sort of a hissy-fit about it too:  "Lord, you will NEVER wash my feet."  I guess Peter was thinking that Jesus was just too good to do that sort of job, a job usually relegated to a lowly servant.

However, I think this is also an issue of pride.  Peter was not allowing himself to be open to the gift of service:  "I don't need that from you.  I won't allow it."  We might think this ourselves.  Have you ever had someone offer to help you, and you refused?  "Oh, no, it's no big deal."  "I can get this myself."  "No, don't go out of your way for me."  "I can handle it." That, my friends, is pride.

Sometimes  - in fact, much of the time - we need to allow people to help us.  They need it and we need it.  Okay, we might not REALLY need someone to help us clean up the kitchen after a dinner party, but we need the companionship and the conversation.  The other person may need to be needed, and feel that acceptance that comes with working side-by-side with another.  When we humbly allow ourselves to be served, we can actually serve in return - which is exactly the point Christ was making when He tied that towel around His waist and knelt down in front of his companions.

Today, allow yourself to serve and to be served.  And remember, this type of service is not just about the people around you, it is about you and your relationship to Christ. 

Alone

Today's Gospel tells us that Judas is clearly identified as Christ's betrayer, while the others are distressed at the idea of betrayal.  Jesus' response?  The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him....

Can you imagine how alone Judas felt?  He knew what lay ahead, at least in part:  that Christ would be arrested.  Here was his friend, indeed his whole group of friends:  men that he had traveled with, laughed with, cried with, the Man he had learned from....and Judas was willing to throw it all away, choosing to be alone.

And then there is Christ:  the ultimate Alone-ness.  No one person could do what was being asked of Him.  He literally carries the weight of the whole world on His shoulders and there is no one around Him in whom He can confide, or share the load.  It is His responsibility alone.

Find some time today to ask yourself:  Am I choosing to be alone, or to be alone with Christ?  Am I Judas, or will I remain?  What alone-ness do I choose?

Total rip-off Tuesday

Wherein I "rip-off" another writer on the web.  Today's selection tackles the last acceptable American prejudice:  that against Catholicism.

http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/attacking_the_last_acceptable_prejudice/

Compelled!

John 13: 21-33, 36-38

The Gospel today finds a couple of people compelled, moved, forced to act.  First, Judas is compelled (for reasons we may never understand) to betray Christ, his Lord and Friend.  Peter is compelled to tell Christ that he will never betray Him (and we know how that ends).  Most importantly, and central to this Holy Week, is that Christ is compelled to carry out His mission - the mission of His Father:  Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.


What are you compelled to do?  What is driving you in your life?  Is it money?  Is it fear?  Is it love? 

Maybe there is some "unfinished business" you can take care of today.  It might be a small task, like getting that desk cleaned off or a closet restored to tidiness.  Maybe there's a relationship that needs some mending, and you've been putting it off.  Perhaps you need to change directions in a project, or in your life.  Whatever it is, take your cue from Christ and compel yourself forward:  forward in love and mission.

A day of extravagence

In the Gospel today, Mary treats Jesus' with extravagent care:  pouring out expensive, perfumed oil and carefully cleaning and wiping His feet with her hair - the very feet that, mere days from now, will be pierced with a nail and pinned to the Cross.

Those around Jesus are taken aback - especially Judas, who thinks this act is a waste of money. 

The lesson here is that sometimes, we have to act extravagently.  We have to take that last dollar and buy someone a flower.  We scrape together the last bit of flour and sugar and bake a batch of cookies for someone down the street.  We take time from our "to-do" list on a busy day to sit and listen to the lonely soul.  We put aside our own crankiness and exhaustion  to read one more story to the little person in our lives.  None of this is a "waste", and this is Mary's lesson to us.

How can  you act extravagently today?  How can you perfume, anoint, and wipe the feet of Christ?

Palm Sunday

"...Jesus isn’t that kind of Messiah.


The irony may have been lost on the people at the time, the way it is lost on most of us today, but Jesus’ “triumphal entry” was not that of a General or a warrior. No, such men ride stallions. Jesus rode in on a donkey. This symbolized that Jesus came on a mission of peace. The donkey revealed Jesus to be a humble peasant on a peace mission, not a military warrior.


This donkey, this symbol of peace is important on several levels. The donkey is the animal that is often used to mock and ridicule others. The word “ass” is not a flattering one, we use it to ridicule people. As GK Chesterton wrote of the donkey, he is the “devil’s walking parody of four footed things.”


But, in the way that Jesus had of constantly turning everything upside down, Jesus rides in on a donkey for his triumphal entry and not only establishes this irony, but lifts up the lowly, in this case, the lowly donkey in the process. This donkey becomes the sacred throne for, not only a King, but the very Son of God. Note that it was a donkey that had carried Jesus and Mary at the beginning of his life just before he was born as they rode into Bethlehem. And now a donkey carries him into Jerusalem just before his death."

From http://all-creation.franciscan-anglican.com/donkey.htm

A blessing for a cold and rainy day....

Sacred Place of the Day

A window from the Last Supper Room, in Jerusalem.  No, it's not really "that" room;  it was built in the 12th century to commemorate the room where the Last Supper was celebrated.

Oops - I just killed my best friend!

My kids' friends know me as the "Religion Lady", or at least as an adult who can answer their many and varied questions about God, world religions, ethics, and the other burning topics of an adolescent mind.  (I don't mean that sarcastically - these young people really do think about all these things, and have a hard time trying to find places that give them solid answers.)

Recently, one of Curly-Haired Daughter's friends wanted to take up the topic of abortion with me.  He thinks abortion is necessary, if not good, and thinks that people who believe abortion is bad are really, really wrong.  He wanted to get my take on it.  It was a pretty long and involved conversation, and I give him great credit for sticking with it.  He did hit a wall though, and I hope it is a point that stays with him.

One of the situations he posed to me was that a woman who takes drugs or drinks alcohol and becomes pregnant should abort the baby.  The baby, after all, will suffer from this, and likely have a ruined life.  The mother is clearly unfit to raise the child once the child has been born, and the best possible solution to this type of pregnancy is to abort the fetus.

I wanted to be really clear, so I asked him,  "So, a baby born to a mom who took cocaine while she was pregnant, for instance, would be better off dead, is that what you're saying?"  And he said, "Yes."

"Congratulations.  You just killed your best friend," (referring to my daughter), was my reply.

It is no secret in our small town that my kids are all adopted, and many people know that they were all born cocaine-exposed.  It is also no secret that they've suffered from it:  speech delays, learning disabilities, mental illness issues, etc.  (By the way, none of these are things that kids NOT born cocaine-exposed couldn't also suffer from.)  And if Dear Husband and I had our choice, we would not want our kids to have been born-cocaine exposed.  I am also sure that if you asked my kids, they would say it is better not to have babies born exposed to cocaine.

None of us, however, would say,  "The kids would be better off dead."

The point is, none of us can predict what a human life will become.  Even children born into the most dire of circumstances have and can become remarkable, happy people.  And children born "with all the advantages" can be miserable folks.  The answer to this puzzle of human possibilities is to figure out how great people turn out great, despite horrid circumstances. 

The answer is not to kill the people before the possibility of life gives them choices, chances and opportunities for love, education, faith, and friendship.

The type of friendship my daughter enjoys with this young man.

The Last Supper

I don't mean for this to be irreverent;  I think it's quite unique and creative!  And Youngest Son still loves to create with Legos, so I thought I'd put this up.

Revving up for Holy Week

There are hundreds of thousands of people all over the world getting ready to join the Catholic Church this Easter.  In my diocese alone, there are almost 600 people who are preparing for the sacraments.  Please remember them in your prayers.  It is an exciting time, nerve-wracking for many and for some, it leads to a break from family and friends who harbor prejudice against the Church.  Your prayers will surely support the people who have made the choice to become members of the Universal Church.

Total rip-off Tuesday x2

I couldn't pass on this one from Simcha Fisher.  The last listed "work" was worth the whole darn article!

Ha!

Total rip-off Tuesday

Wherein I "rip-off" another writer on the web.  Today's choice is a compelling piece from Calah at "Barefoot and Pregnant";  trust me - it's worth your time.

http://barefootandpregnantblog.blogspot.com/2011/04/what-woman-in-crisis-really-needs.html

Limping through Lent

I have never run a marathon, and God willing, never will.  I don't run.  Ever.  Really, if I were being chased by a hungry bear, I'd probably just turn around and submit.  I don't run.

And yet, there is Lent.  That is a marathon, isn't it?  And here I am, on mile 19,  feet numb, lungs burning, with the thought of just simply quitting in the forefront of my mind.  The water bottle has long since been discarded, the idea of victory no longer consoling, and I can't quite see the finish line.

So what keeps me going?

Easter keeps me going.  I am literally limping through Lent at this point, only because I know the glory of Easter.  I know the sights, smells, the music, the light, the food.  I know the little girls in Easter dresses, the plastic eggs, the flowers.  I know family and friends.  I know the joy.  I know the glory. 

I know the Resurrection. 

I know that no matter how dreary these last days of Lent are, how hard the fasting gets, how tired I am, that the Resurrection awaits.

I know the tomb will be empty, and the cry will be, "He has Risen;  Alleluia!"  My emptiness, the emptiness of the tomb, will be filled with Christ, and Him alone.

Despite the fact that I just want to lie down and quit, I'm going to keep running towards Easter, because I know the Resurrection and it will be worth my limping through Lent.

Sacred Place of the Day

Dominus Flevit Church, near the Mt. of Olives, Jerusalem

Favorite quote of the week

"Our flabbers are ghasted". 

I'm gonna be using that....

Is this the best we can do?

Dark-Haired Daughter is in juvenile detention, where she's been for about 9 weeks.  (It's a long story, and if you're really curious, I'll tell you, but it isn't really germane to this piece.)  It was only supposed to be a 2 week stay, as the court ordered her into a treatment program.  (She suffers from mental illness, and a whole host of "alphabet soup" diagnoses, plus she functions at about a 4th grade level intellectually.)

I've spent most of the last three weeks trying to get her moved.  It was a combination of a baby social worker (why, in the name of all that is good, did they assign OUR family a baby social worker????), a legion of red tape, and several government agencies where no one answers their phone nor has a clear grasp of what their agency is allowed/supposed to do.   It looks like it is finally going to happen in the next week or so.

Anyway, if you've got a kid in juvenile detention, you can go and visit twice a week, for an hour each, at designated times.  You sit in plastic lawn chairs, in a big brick room, and wait for your kid to be brought to you.  You can't bring anything with you - no pictures, magazines, etc.  Only parents can visit - no cousins, siblings, grandparents, etc.

On one recent visit, there were only two girls with visitors.  I said to my daughter,  "How many girls are in here  right now?"  and she said she thought about 16 or 17.  I said,  "Wow, and only two of you have visitors today."  She said,  "Mom, only two of us have parents."

My heart broke.

It broke because every kid should have a mom and a dad.  It broke for all those girls who had to sit in their rooms while two of their cohorts got a visit they would never get.  It broke because I knew that 15 of those girls were not orphans - it just meant that a lot of people had given up on a lot of kids and said,  "Nope, Not gonna do this anymore.  The system can have 'em."

It broke because I knew how hard I had to work to get my daughter the help she needs.  Phone calls, internet searches, lawyers, letters from psychologists and psychiatrists, appointments, being belligerent and bullying, wheedling and whining, just plain not giving up.  And there were 15 girls who did not have that advocacy.

Is this the best we can do for our children?  Warehouse kids and hope a spot in a foster home opens  up?  And then hope that the foster home is really a decent place?  (Lots of horror stories out there - ask any one who works in the courts.)  Shuffle kids through the system until they are 18 and then kick 'em out into the world, crossing our fingers that they'll stay out of trouble?  Is this the best we can do?

My experience is that I have to make about 7 phone calls to people in the state government to get one phone answered/returned.  When I do talk to an actual human being, I am likely to be shuffled about, told "That's not really my job, you need to talk to....." and the phone call string begins again.  Instead of getting help, you get frustration and a headache.

I am blessed that I have a job where I can spend two hours on the phone doing this.  I know how to research and dig through piles of government "information" to get names and phone numbers.  What about the parents that don't have this? 

Is this the best we can do?  Are our children so disposable that we just don't care?  Is our society so callous?  Is this REALLY the best we can do?

Sacred Place of the Day

Tomb of Lazarus, circa 1906

Learn something new every day

One thing I learned yesterday is that the young man I've been working with for the past few weeks is not just the really nice guy who checks to see if I want anything from the restaurant downstairs or makes jokes during a conference call but is also a documentary film maker and a terrific photographer. 

Check out Mark Weber's blog:  http://www.strongbodiesfight.org/Mark_Weber/Welcome.html
and his photography. 

Is there a "cure" for poverty?

My Spring Break has been spent working at my second job, and although it's been exhausting and tremendously challenging (damn Excel spreadsheets), I've been working on some really cool stuff.

We all are shaken when we see images of the desperately poor:  people who literally live in and on garbage, no clean water, no access to education.  We also know that, as a nation, we have been generous with aid to foreign countries for decades, and still see tremendous, grinding poverty.  What's the answer?  Is there a cure?

http://www.povertycure.org/

Here are some possible answers to that question.  (By the way, the website is still in the Beta stage, so you might run into a mistake or two.)  At the very least, it is a worthy discussion.

Busy! Busy! Dreadfully busy!

Oh, faithful followers:  I promise to catch up this weekend!  For now:  busy!!!!!

Sacred Place of the Day

Longhua Temple, Shangai, China

The long Lent

Some Lents are longer than others.  I've had a few long Lents, and this one we are in the midst of now is long.  Really long.

I gave  up meat for Lent, which has proved to be not so difficult (except for that one day last week when I was craving a bacon cheeseburger.)  However, as I mentioned before, Lent always finds us even when we think we've got our Lent nicely planned.

I spent most of this Lent wrangling with state officials and social workers, trying to get help for Dark-Haired Daughter, who suffers from mental illness and severe learning disabilities.  One phone call got me transferred five times, and by the time I got to the fifth person (and having told my story five times), I still got nowhere.  After much tenacious work and even more tenacious prayer, I got a positive answer and help for Daughter.

Then, on Sunday, an old back injury flared up.  It happens about once or twice a year, and I have to go the emergency room, get shot full of pain killers and muscle relaxants, and then go home and sleep.  It's completey unpredictable, annoying, painful and disruptive.

That's Lent.  It is always an opportunity for us to suffer, a little bit.  It's that chance to get a glimpse into the humanity of Christ.  Jesus must have been frustrated (as I was, making all those phone calls) when people didn't listen to him, misunderstood him, distorted his words.  He certainly knew physical pain, wondering when it would end, gritting his teeth and praying for relief.  My little sufferings don't compare to His, but I can see a bit of it.  And that is the great blessing of Lent - to draw closer to Jesus, to see my life reflecting His in just a small way, and knowing that He is with me even when I'm feeling alone. 

I'm thinking of Lent now as a reflection of Christ in my life - where He is present to me, where His presence shows itself, and how I can learn from that.  Maybe a long Lent isn't so bad after all.

An instance of beauty

From National Geographic's archive.

A Sunday ramble.....

Both Dolly Parton and Zac Brown Band have a song called "Jolene" - completely different songs, both terrific.  Coincidence?

I am ready for Lent to be over, but not ready for Easter yet.  What's that about?

I carry a genetic predisposition to hate the Yankees, but they still have th best uniforms.

Since the blind guy in today's Gospel clearly could not see that Jesus was using spit to create mud, I wonder what his reaction was when someone told him:  "Buddy, really:  he spit in the dirt and wiped that on your face.  No lie."

It's in the thirties today, and raining/snowing.   All of Michigan cries:  "How long, O Lord?"

"HI, I'm Pope Leo, and I'm an alcoholic"

I just finished a delightful book by Bill Dodds,  Pope Bob.  It tells the story of the first American pope....who also happens to be a falling-down drunk.  Hey, it could happen.

It's a quick read, accessible to non-Catholics, and tells a entertaining and encouraging story of friendships, hope, and what it means to be a priest.  I thoroughly enjoyed it!

The good news is the book is only three bucks.  The bad news is it's only available on Kindle, but if you happen to own one, download the book now!

Geek Week! Finale

Wrapping up Geek Week.  Given the response, I'll probably do it again in the future.  I also decided to go back to the world of fiction for my final geek this week:

Schroeder has that single-mindedness that we geeks love:  even a pretty girl throwing herself at him won't deter his drive to perfection.  He's ascerbic, which we geeks appreciate, and the lack of a great instrument doesn't slow him down. 

With the exception of Snoopy, I think most of the Peanuts cast could be featured as geeks, but Schroeder stands out for me.

Don't be a long-faced Christian.

Via The Onion:

There is a bike in my dining room....

Really. There is a bike in my dining room. DH got obsessed with cycling after we bought our first house. You know: young, married, no ki...