3 Principles for Pro-Faith Education (From T&C)

A recent piece of mine from the Truth and Charity Forum, “3 Principles for a Pro-Faith Education in the Modern Age,” in which I reflected on the most basic of basics of what I think kids need to learn in order to grow into thoughtful, curious, decent adults.

Where do they learn about reality? Their heritage? God’s love? In Nature, Art and each other, of course.

To see the elaborations; visit here

“As the social environment becomes more polarized, a need develops for education grounded firmly in the truths about life, its goodness and the human person. Catholic schools go a long way to meeting this need, but the foundations of learning are still worth considering as parents, the first educators of children and also for the sake of continual growth and reform in existing schools.”

Nature:

“The first step is going outside in the natural world, observing plant and animal life as well as geological phenomena, and learning about how it works. This comes innately to small children and adults, I think, and inspires wonder.

natureLater this serves as a foundation for hard sciences and math and also as an introduction to the wonder of God and creation.”

Art:

“Over time, the introduction of culture through poems, songs, prayers and art provides the foundation for all the humanities: literature, philosophy, history, languages etc. I even think that the love of one culture inspires not hatred for others, but curiosity because one has glimpsed the transformative and shaping power of language, beauty and thought.”

Love:

“Love of neighbor is much simpler; it is concern for others as equally worthy of love as we are. And it requires appropriate love of self because if we have no concept of our own lovableness before God despite our woundedness, we will be unable to see the lovableness of others despite their woundedness.”

http://www.truthandcharityforum.org/3-principles-for-pro-faith-education-in-the-modern-age/

What did you think of this? What would/did you share with your children? Where did they/do you want them to go to school?

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Local Report: Lay Women Take Up the Cause of Mom Ministry

It’s Friday morning and there is coffee brewing in an unused classroom at St. Philip’s Parish in Falls Church, VA. Christina Landauer sets out donuts and stirring sticks while her two year old son plays with a Lightening McQueen riding car. Her infant is asleep in his stroller, and the two older children are in school. She is setting up for the moms group, which she founded.

I attend this group, and I’ll admit, it can be terrifyingly isolating to embark on the path of stay-at-home mother, particularly for those among us who did not grow up with sizeable experiences with young children. The endless, sleepless nights and the stresses of finicky napers and picky eaters can be enough to set anyone on edge. In these times, a welcoming home of women who are traveling the same road or who have traveled it is a comfort unlike any other, akin to the ugly duckling reuniting with her family of swans.

As Mass ends, other mothers slowly trickle in, some holding the hands of preschool aged little ones, some wearing infants or carrying them in a car seat. Some moms have both with them. There is an option for babysitting in the next room so that the women gathered can relax. A few kids go over to play, a few stay with their mothers.

As the group settles in, everyone introduces themselves: newcomers and old friends alike. They begin in prayer and Landauer shares a reflection on growing in holiness as a mother. There is an option for Confession and the chance to share, bond and grow as mothers.

I for one have been tremendously impressed by the kindness and warmth of the women in the St. Philip’s moms group. This is not a high school clique, but a community of folks who care, who are earnestly striving to follow Christ and are who are grateful both to help and to be helped along the way. Continue reading

Bookstore visit: Top Picks from Barnes and Noble

Barnes and Noble gets knocked sometimes for being too corporate. And that’s true enough; they are a big corporation.

But often B&N is the only book store in town, if there even is one, and they have a great kids section, cool gifts and host author events and book parties. (I have no affiliation with Barnes and Noble at all; this is all my unsolicited personal opinion). And I love to visit with my kids in the winter.

So, here are some picks from our last visit. Since I bring children, and I don’t want to buy the whole store, we take pictures of the titles that interest us.

This time I was really impressed with the local history section, which I had never paid attention to before. There’s a tree house book in there to help guide me to my dream home, some books of poems and legends that I want to teach to the kids, some classics that I enjoy, some gift picks and a toy pick from my son.

What would you browse for?

Here we go:

image

To inspire my lifestyle. Continue reading

My essay, 2 places: The Desert Spirituality of Motherhood

This essay was first published on my usual home, The Truth and Charity Forum of HLI. Then the editors at Ethika Politika liked it and requested a few revisions and to republish. Here are links to both.

The Desert Spirituality of Motherhood on the Truth and Charity Forum:

“When St. Anthony of the Desert went out to the Egyptian wilderness to be alone with God, he probably didn’t think that he was setting an example for mothers. But I believe that he did. St. Anthony gave up the comforts of society in order to face himself and let God purify him. Perhaps this is not so different from the path of mothers and families and, by extension, all people striving to live in accord with truth and God.”

The Desert Spirituality of Motherhood on Ethika Politika

“And for what good? To be at the service of life, the greatest earthly good, and also at the service of the Lord, who created life. To bind oneself to a family, to a spouse and to children is really like a religious vow: It gives up a great many goods in order to grow in the good of commitment and formation. To do it well, it will take everything we have, and then some. It will lead us into the desert of our souls and present the furnace of solitude. It is here that we will stare darkness in the face and fall back onto Christ.”

-Finding our true vocation is a lifelong process I think. What has your journey been like?

The Metaphysical Good of Children

girl-199x300From the Truth and Charity Forum: The Metaphysical Good of Children

“Too often we think children have value based on how the parents feel about them. Melissa Harris-Perry, host on MSNBC said in 2013, “When does life begin? I submit the answer depends an awful lot on the feeling of the parents. A powerful feeling – but not science.” That answer is trouble because it ignores actual reality in favor of feelings, granting to some humans’ feelings the status of ontological truth while simultaneously and incoherently denying value to other humans and their feelings. Feelings do matter, but they do not determine reality.

“Harris-Perry added that “An unwanted pregnancy can be biologically the same as a wanted one. But the experience can be entirely different.” This statement is true in itself. However, the reality of the child’s life and goodness is determined by the biology, not the experience of the parents. Granted, we ought to be very sensitive to the feelings of such women and seek to provide as much non-judgmental support as possible. However, the requirement of support stems precisely from the reality and goodness of the child who is already in existence and growing to maturity.

“I take this view from the classical metaphysics. Metaphysically speaking, everything that exists is good in the sense that it is willed and loved by God and expresses a perfection of being. Martin Vaske, S.J. explains in his Introduction to Metaphysics, “Unity, truth, and goodness are called transcendental properties because they are true of every being as being” (179). That means that everything that exists is good in so far as it exists, and this goodness, this desirability or lovableness is intrinsic to the being itself and not dependent on the perceptions of humans. He continues, “Beings have metaphysical, or ontological, truth independently of human knowledge; so also beings have metaphysical goodness independently of our willing them” (192).”

***

“It is, of course, true that there are real difficulties of raising children, such as sleep deprivation and potential financial strain. But these are simply part of the reality of life. If we can accept that, instead of viewing this as a massive injustice, we can start to enjoy the goodness that is before our eyes instead of looking around it to view only our inconvenience. Our happiness is served when we embrace reality and work with it, instead of trying to fight against it.”

Full article here.

http://www.truthandcharityforum.org/children-are-good-regardless-of-our-feelings/

Published in Soul Gardening Journal: My Home is My Monastery

[Editorial Note: Now that this essay has come out in the Summer 2015 edition of Soul Gardening Journal, I am republishing it here]

“Removed from temporal concerns.” That is how life goes for monks and nuns of religious houses. I’ve always been attracted to that, perhaps romanticizing their lives at times. As a mom, I sometimes lament that this quiet calling is not mine. Even before I became a Catholic, I admired monks and nuns in their picturesque cloisters praying and working gently with a devotion to last a life time. There is something compelling in their ascetic life of reading, gardening, praying, working and other past times that deeply resonates with human nature and makes it appear (and actually be) so fulfilling.

Now, of course, like all ideals, I’m sure the reality is much more fraught and difficult than the pastoral picture in my head of monasticism. Still, when I visited Ireland and the stone, beehive shaped huts of the monks on the Skellig Isles, their radical commitment to holiness and simplicity struck me and continues to inspire me.

Sometimes I wonder about the possibility of truly attaining holiness in my relatively comfortable, middle-class, American life. Somewhere inside, I harbor the fallacy that the religious life is better or holier than the life of a layman. I’ve even written about wanting my house to be like a monastery: a place of peace where people grow in love of the Lord and His goodness. I envied the reprieve that religious men and women have from worldly concerns.

Well, here’s a revelation that struck me today: my home is not like a monastery. It IS my monastery.

And just like the messy reality in the lives of actual monks, my life is pretty messy.

But my home IS the place where I pray and work (ora et labora, the central tenets of the Benedictine Rule). It is the place where I serve my family and where I aim to raise up children of God.

And while I envied the “reprieve” from worldly concerns, it turns out that I have that too—in an unexpected way.

You see, one day I was complaining to my darling husband about my annoyance when my little sister said to me “you’re such a mom,” because the implication was that moms are “messy, pudgy and uncool,” a trifecta I invented myself (how flattering, right?).

Of course, many moms are beautiful, fit, put-together and chic, but I am not. In my uncharitable self-analysis, I reasoned that I am messy because I have toddlers and babies sloshing food and pulling my hair out of ponytails all day; I am pudgy because I’ve carried two humans in my abdomen (on separate occasions) and have not quite recovered yet; I am uncool because I have little free time to spend consuming pop-culture.

Grilling my kind-hearted husband, I asked him “How do you see moms? Messy, pudgy and uncool?” He thoughtfully responded with a phrase that held more meaning than I first understood: “No,” he said, “In moms, I see women who are removed from temporal concerns.”

Wow. “Removed from temporal concerns.” He did not mean that I don’t have to worry about food preparation, dirty diapers or crumb-covered floors. Those are very temporal. (At least I hope they won’t be in heaven). What he meant was that moms are removed from that deadly worldly striving of constantly trying to get ahead, get noticed, and “make it” in secular terms of success.

Instead, moms embrace sacrifice. We give of ourselves for the sake of those in our charge. And in my case, I spend so much time chasing my little boy, cuddling my infant girl and cleaning up in between it all, that when I get free time, it is a precious tiny moment that I typically do not use to say, browse Youtube or catch up on the latest movie releases, TV shows or hit songs. So more and more, I am starting to miss pop culture references that my younger siblings or single friends make.

But this is what my husband meant when he said I was removed from temporal concerns. Those negative attributes I associated with my “mom-ness” (messy, pudgy and uncool) come about precisely because I am living a life without substantial concern for outward appearance. Consider the adjective “messy.” Now, this isn’t meant to excuse laziness or to say that looking nice is bad or inappropriate. Rather, the point is to make an analogy between the sometimes unkempt clothing of a mother and the religious habit. Both are humble forms of dress that send the message that the wearers primary concern is elsewhere and that his or her clothing is a tool for work, not an instrument to impress others. (Again, mothers have many occasions to get dressed up—even for the return of the husband from work. This is just meant to say that in reality, I do not dress as stylishly as I did before I had children and that there is a valid reason behind it).

And “pudgy” because even a mother’s body is put into the demanding service of others. The last adjective is “uncool.” Like monks and nuns, a mother’s time is spent so fully in service that trendy entertainment and “cool stuff” tends to get squeezed out of the schedule. While sometimes I wish to see the latest superhero movie in theaters, generally, I’m OK not knowing the top 40 billboard list.

And this, I think, is the biggest reason that my home is my monastery. As I care for my babies, husband, friends and the home itself, all the noise from the outside world slowly filters out. Like the monks, I remain in my abbey. I perform works of service and small works of love. I am reprieved from worldly concerns: we are in the world but not of it (for this season, at least, of having young children).

I can’t say I know as much about religious life as I ought to, but I’m starting to think that my family’s little suburban homestead is not so different from the serene convent.

Book Review: The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball

The Dirty Life, by Kristin Kimball, is about farming, but has a lot in common with a conversion story. She is a New York City dweller working as a freelance writer, living the trendy, free life so-coveted today, but finds her values somewhat wanting. Being over 30, she says that she and her friend, James, after abandoning the values of the their middle-class upbringing “teetered between seeing the lives we’d made for ourselves as adventures and seeing them as disasters” (32). When she goes down to Pennsylvania to interview an organic farmer, Mark, they fall in love, have a whirlwind romance before a year-long engagement and wedding during which time they resolve to start a new farm from scratch in upstate New York that will be organic, local, sustainable and provide a whole diet for the community.

That’s the summary. It’s an interesting story to hear Kimball recount her transformation from city-socialite to dirt worker. It’s a story about what matters and her experiences along the way. I connected a lot with this book because in many ways her conversion to life on a farm closely resembles my own conversion to life with children.

I very much enjoyed her account of living “the life,” so to speak, with an apartment in a hip neighborhood, a creative job, and various romantic flings and how despite this, she said “The word home could make me cry. I wanted one. With a man. A house. The smell of cut grass, sheets on the line, a child running through the sprinkler” (22). As she admits, the way things turned out was not quite what she had envisioned, but it was still a drastic change that gradually brought her closer to her own personhood. She says:

“I was in love with the work, too, despite its overabundance. The world had always seemed disturbingly chaotic to me, my choices too bewildering. I was fundamentally happier, I found, with my focus on the ground. For the first time, I could clearly see the connection between my actions and their consequences. I knew why I was doing what I was doing, and I believed in it. I felt the gap between who I thought I was and how I behaved begin to close, growing slowly closer to authentic.” (158)

Her honesty about the dissatisfaction with her picture-perfect career is refreshingly frank. Not many women (or men, for that matter) feel inclined to admit that career isn’t everything and that an unglamorous life such as farming, in her case, or motherhood, in my case, can in fact be very authentic and meaningful.

I enjoyed reading about her transformation during which the old habits fell away and her personal philosophy shifted and shifted and shifted until it was 180 degrees different. She describes how her chic wardrobe was slowly eroded into farm-wear with fewer and fewer items being kept in good condition for off-farm use. The same could be said for my mom life. I used to wear nice, clean clothes. Now I rely on denim, loose fitting skirts and flowy tops or tank tops and most of them have spots.

This especially hit home for me: “My old pleasures were scarce. There were no cafes in town, no bookstores, no interesting little bars to discover…Here the movie theater was almost an hour away….I was the one who finally tired of movies.” (156) For brevity’s sake, I removed a long explanation about the hour long drive to the greasy mall to watch lame, teenager fare at the theater, an experience which quickly grew to feel empty.

My old pleasures fall into this category, though they are still around, just difficult to make time for. Movies—babies don’t like movie theaters and theater patrons don’t love babies. Shopping—babies cry and toddlers want to buy everything in sight. Antiquing—definitely out as antiques tend to be breakable. Knitting—between dishes, marriage and trying to write occasionally, it’s just not a priority when I’m not on baby duty. Bars and partying—well, I never did that. Reading, that still happens

It was odd though, at first I clung to certain old pleasures as though if I could just go to enough social events baby-free, my life would be the same. But it isn’t the same and it never will be, and grasping for the past just makes the present miserable. And as it turns out, the present is just fine. All those old pleasures weren’t really as necessary as I thought they were; and there are new pleasures to replace the old ones: a soft, warm bundle with smooth skin who wants nothing more than to cuddle and be cuddled, a toddler’s impish grin, the new appreciation for life in all its phases that comes from witnessing their mysterious growth that somehow happens though it is never observable.

I also liked a few of the more far-flung anecdotes that make it into the story such as the time they shot and ate wild pigeons for their dinner because there was nothing else. I will say that I thought the end fell short philosophically, but other parts of the book were dotted with such satisfying reflection that I forgave it.

Mark would

“like to imagine a farm where no money traded hands, only goodwill and favors. He had a theory that you had to start out by giving stuff away—probably big stuff, worth, he figured, about a thousand dollars. At first, he said people are discomfited by such a big gift. They try to make it up to you, by giving you something in return. And then you gve them something else, and they give you something else, and pretty soon nobody is keeping score” (17).

How very hobbit-like!

Stop Trying to Harvest Life’s Peak Moments – Centesimus Annus

From JP II’s Centesimus Annus: His 1991 Encyclical on the 100th Anniversary of Rerum Novarum, widely considered the first Church encyclical on social teachings:

It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards “having” rather than “being”, and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself.75 It is therefore necessary to create life-styles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments. (36) ….

one notes first the poverty or narrowness of man’s outlook, motivated as he is by a desire to possess things rather than to relate them to the truth, and lacking that disinterested, unselfish and aesthetic attitude that is born of wonder in the presence of being and of the beauty which enables one to see in visible things the message of the invisible God who created them. (37)

I love this. I find in Catholic theology and thought a truly unique invitation to contemplate that which is truly good in life versus what things are the distractions.

I think in my own life I have often succumbed to the temptation to confuse having with being–ie if I have a cool outfit, I am cool. There’s no easy way to explain this because we don’t have a vocabulary for it.

But happiness and a good life are not different. Happiness is not a moment, not even a collection of peak moments. True happiness is a life well-lived, a life of dedicated work to people and ideas that matter. That sort of effort is itself the reward.

I hate the analogy of apple-picking, but it demonstrates so clearly. It’s fun to go pick apples in the late summer and early fall; I visit an orchard and spend an hour or less plucking the prettiest products of the branch. I bask in the sun and feel very pleased with myself for connecting with nature. And there’s nothing really wrong with that, but it remains a grab in the dark for a “peak moment,” those oh-so-perfect looking scenes in my head which will make me happy if I simply gather enough of them.

The real satisfaction is not in the serene, beautiful moment–because a moment is just a moment and it passes away immediately. Real satisfaction is in the dedication to the entire process of planting, nurturing, watching grow, weeding, pruning, watering and finally, yes, picking, cooking and preserving. Real satisfaction is in the authenticity of hard, honest work (of a variety of natures).

Consider mothering. The peak moments are my little girl’s first steps, her precious laugh, my toddler boy’s love of his birthday cake. But if I could swoop in and capture all the peak moments without the whole process of life, those moments would be empty. Those moments are meaningful because I have nursed them when they cried, laid beside a restless, sick infant, cleaned up the peanut butter, made a thousand bland lunches and calmed the tantrums. I could even miss the “peakest” of moments (though it’s nice to have them), such as the birthday parties and the first steps, and still find satisfaction and joy in my life as their mother because I would still be a part of that life-long process of dedication.

Consumption, materialistic consumerism, tries to trick us by offering the peak moments as though they can be seized or grasped without the whole-life process of dedication, work and sacrifice. “Want a perfect body? Buy this Vitamix Blender. A healthier you awaits.” As though the moment of enjoying one’s physical appearance in the mirror can be obtained by the $40.00 purchase alone. In reality, the blender likely delivers neither the happiness nor the perfect body. Only effort sustained over months towards the end goal of a healthy diet and body will bring us closer to our ideal–whether or not we have a Vitamix (no offense Vitamix).

And materialistic consumerism is also much nastier than that mere level of lying to us, the buyers. In a disordered emphasis on profit, corners are sometimes cut, people hurt in the process of production for excess. Now, there are certainly legitimate purpose of marketing–to put audiences in touch with something they might actually need. And those creating and selling products certainly do need to earn a living. And capitalistic enterprise can be engaged in well and virtuously.

Oh but how easily it morphs into false promises and misleading visions of happiness. This is why I love the quote above, John Paul II tells us that it is “necessary to create life-styles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth.”

Yes. Yes. This and only this is the hallmark of a good life and consequentially of true satisfaction and peace. Constantly grasping for happiness in new experiences, products and achievements is a race to nowhere. The only thing that matters is to seek the truth, to strive to live in accord with it, to contemplate beauty and goodness, and to love God and others…just like Christ taught.

“Just” A Mom: Beyond Having it all

New from me on the Truth and Charity Forum:

Just a Mom: Beyond Having it all

“The truth is: no one gets to have it all. Not a single human being has a perfect life devoid of dilemma and tragedy; we are absurd when we suggest that there could be a silver bullet that will deliver all the happiness we could ever desire this side of heaven.”

Unfortunately, our standard of “success” is usually public recognition or the number of zeros in a paycheck. The standard should be though a happy, purposeful life. The rearing of children is in fact fulfilling and important, and it can balanced in the evening hours with the pursuit of a talent.

Mothers are human beings just like other women and just like men who benefit and grow from the pursuit of excellence in a way that contributes to their flourishing, in a way that makes them better humans and therefore better mothers. We mothers of young children only benefit by sharing our experience and our gifts and encouraging one another to pursue excellence.

Click to read it all

One Way to Consecreate The World: A Blessingway for Every Baby

Pema, from Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra, single-handedly rebuilds the earth’s population of Air Benders.

Yesterday I wrote about how it is the specific vocation of the laity to consecrate the temporal order to God.

One way I think we could make a huge pro-life witness would be to supplant the Baby Shower ritual celebration with more Blessingways.

Blessingways are celebrations for pregnant women and unborn babies that focuses on celebrating the pregnancy, pampering the mommy and welcoming the child. Typically every guest will bring some item that reminds them of the mom; this can be a bead, for instance, which would be strung into a bracelet or necklace for the guest of honor. Craftier women than me bring quilt squares which are sewn into a quilt for the baby.

Prayers, intentions, blessings can be said. The USCCB released in 2008 a Rite for the Blessing of a Child in the Womb, which a priest or deacon can perform. But we could easily use the prayers, readings or intentions as part of our own prayers for the mother. It is so encouraging that they made this; here is an excerpt:

God, author of all life,
bless, we pray, this unborn child;
give constant protection
and grant a healthy birth
that is the sign of our rebirth one day
into the eternal rejoicing of heaven.
Lord, who have brought to this woman
the wondrous joy of motherhood,
grant her comfort in all anxiety
and make her determined
to lead her child along the ways of salvation

There are prayers for the father as well and Scripture passages. A Blessingway need not be specifically religious, but in my opinion, a spirituality rooted in the Faith of Christ makes it weightier, deeper and more meaningful.

Mommy can be pampered with henna designs on her belly, pedicures or anything else fun.

Gifts can be brought too, but aren’t the focus.

Most importantly, Blessingways are for every baby, first or tenth, not just the first the way showers tend to be.

Baby showers are fine; they are fun and cute, and they certainly fill a need. A first time mom does indeed need a crib-full of baby gear from carseats and strollers, which can get pricey, to bibs and onesies, which add up as well, and showers help young moms especially stock up without breaking the bank.

Acknowledging the good of baby showers, we should still emphasize Blessingways as a less materialistic counter-part. Having a baby is a material and medical event, but it is much more than that. It is a personal and spiritual even that will change forever the way a mother views the world, and a Blessingway celebrates those aspects better with a more personal group of friends and family with a clearer focus on the value of the baby and the mother.

Especially as Catholics, who tend to have more than the standard “two then through” number of children, conceiving the third can generate a very mixed social reception in non-Catholic circles. Thirds and beyond tend not to be celebrated much and as a mother, it can be a little sad and discouraging.

Blessingways help remind everyone that this new child is just as unique and wonderful a gift as the first one. The party is something to look forward to, just like the baby. In a pro-life community, there should be no pregnancy without a party.

Imagine how a Blessingway could impact a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy. The world tends to shun, shame and criticize these women, but she has made a courageous decision to keep the baby, and that child will be just as life-changing and perspective-altering a planned bundle of joy, or more so.

So in my sphere, that of wife and mother and Catholic, one place I can help consecrate the world to Christ is to through Blessingways, to celebrate every life. It reminds people that life is worthwhile and worthy celebrating!

Each of us are called especially to bring Christ to our unique place in the world. How can you consecrate your little patch of earth?