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

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Giving Up Control: My Reflection for uCatholic on March 9

This reflection appeared originally on uCatholic.com; I was honored to be asked to participate in the Lenten reflection series. This short piece draws on the readings of March 9 and the life of St. Maximilian Kolbe to explain how God is with us even in the “bare heights” or difficult times of life.

Turn Over The Controls And Become More Free

In the reading from Isaiah we hear of the incredible promises the Lord makes to the people of Israel, that “on every bare height shall their pastures be,” and His reassurance of His love, though they feel “forsaken.”

Like the people of Israel, so many times we feel forsaken in life, faced with situations beyond our control. I think of St. Maximilian Kolbe who traded himself for the freedom of a fellow Auschwitz prisoner who had a family. Left to starve with other prisoners, Kolbe did not despair, but ministered to them until the end. Though his worldly situation was objectively terrible, he praised God, sowed hope and inspired others to faith and joy. He did this by giving himself over to the will of God for him in that specific circumstance of his life, just as Jesus did during His ministry and ultimately, His crucifixion.

The Gospel tells us about Jesus, and the Son’s relationship to the Father, and how the Father has appointed the Son to carry out His work. Yet, Christ says “I cannot do anything on my own… because I do not seek my own will, but the will of the one who sent me.”

When we can’t control things, it is easy to feel alone or like a failure. But even Jesus did not perform acts from His own will; He turned His will over to God, His Father. That is what we are called to do. Paradoxically, in releasing this control, we do not find that we are eviscerated or dispersed, but that we are free and able to become our true and best selves.

When we can let go of frustration at our inabilities, we can accept God’s loving providence, like St. Maximilian Kolbe did. Even on that bare height of a Nazi work camp, he found a pasture of fellowship and love.

Turn Over The Controls And Become More Free

Question: Was there ever a time when you admitted that you weren’t in charge of something difficult? What happened as a result?

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?

Two Reasons Cleaning is Not Below You

Are you a feminist? A modern woman (or man) who knows who you are, who takes yourself seriously, who works hard and expects a lot.

Do you think cleaning is below you? Does folding clothes, dusting, scrubbing a scummy dryer, vacuuming, wiping windows or otherwise performing manual labor in your home bother you?

It does for me sometimes.

But I am also a Christian and a believer in social justice and the truth of the Gospel that Jesus came for everyone, including the poorest of the poor.

And there is something very fishy about finding or believing oneself to be above any sort of manual labor (provided it isn’t inherently unethical…such as mafia hit man).

The truth of Christ is the truth about all men, and it was enshrined in the Declaration of Independence as this: we are “created equal.” This equality does not include all abilities, but includes our value and worth. In the Christian tradition, we say all people are created in the Image of God.

1) To believe that I shouldn’t have to clean my house or do my laundry is to believe that I am better than such activities, but I am not. It is often a subtle expression of a deeper classism, or the idea that I am not the type of person who has to do demeaning work like cleaning toilets. That’s for other (aka lower) people.

But while classism is real, even in America where we pretend it isn’t, classism is never true. That is, it does not describe the true reality. The reality is no group of people are better or worse than others, especially because of such things as race, income, or geographic location or education level. The reality is that we are all interconnected individuals who have gifts and hardships, who are trying to seek the good, regardless of how warped any person’s perception may have become. (The warped search for the good is what sin is).

Many people put air in their own tires; some people do it for a living. This type of technical maintenance is not irrelevant or inconsequential. On the contrary, it is the stuff of life itself; it provides the raw matter which philosophers philosophize about. And it takes care of us, of our family and friends.

To sweep a floor or cook a meal can be a great act of love, of care-taking, of gratitude for the kitchen and home that we have.

To believe ourselves above such work is to take our gifts for granted.

[Caveat: If we pay someone to help clean that house, that may not be bad provided we respect the gift they are providing us, that we pay fairly because we understand that their work is valuable and helps support him or her and their family, and if we acknowledge that we are not above such work even we do not do it ourselves.]

2) Mother Teresa said, “If you want world peace, go home and love your family.”

Johann Goethe said, “Let each man sweep in front of his own front door and the whole world will be clean.”

What these mean is that if we take care of our part, of our tiny slice of the world, of those around who are in need, the whole world would change. So often, we view actions as meaningless because they do not impact the entire global state of affairs. But the opposite is really true. If we do a tiny thing, but do it earnestly and truly, those are the actions that change the world. If we all did our part, all would be healed.

Jesus said, “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

And he is God! So what we do to those around us is how we respond to God, which is about as big a deal as you could possibly get.

So then, to clean your own house, to do things that seem below you is to express in a small way a gratitude and a type of solidarity with all people who work. There is of course much more to living the Gospel than cleaning one’s house, but it is a small piece, and every piece counts.

So let me rehash this phrase yet again, “If you want social justice, go home and clean your house.”

 

My essay in America Magazine: A Gospel for the Middle Class?

My first printed article in a pretty big publication was this essay about poverty, having money and being Christian. It sprang from my own ponderings over Christ’s words in the Gospels about giving up material possessions and the conflict I felt with my own middle class life. The full article is available online here.

I’m still not sure I am doing it right, but we are trying. Here’s an excerpt:

“The Gospel is indeed a message of liberation from earthly suffering aimed at all people, especially those who suffer the most. This naturally comes as welcome news for men and women living with the hardships of poverty. In contrast, for those in the middle class this present life may be so good that they see little need to hope for something beyond what this world has to offer. A “good life” can easily become centered on accumulating more goods, which can distract from eternal realities.

“Still, Jesus’ message is for everyone, and everyone includes homeowners and wage earners. As St. John Paul II put it in his encyclical “Centesimus Annus”: “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 toward ‘having’ rather than ‘being’” (No. 36). To put it another way, having a full refrigerator and dresser is not itself problematic. What ails the Christian life is instead an avaricious desire that places ultimate value in possessions, status and acquiring. Ultimate value stems from God alone.

“Christ teaches us about the proper ordering of values later in the Sermon on the Mount. Directly following the exhortation “Do not worry,” Jesus says: “For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt 6:32-34). The key here is in that last sentence. God must come first in our lives, but he knows we need worldly goods, so he provides them as well. Regarding this passage, St. Augustine says in his “Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount” (2.16.53):

When he said that the one is to be sought first, Jesus clearly intimates that the other is to be sought later—not that it is to be sought at a later time but that it is to be sought as a thing of secondary importance.

“Jesus is not saying that we ought not to work to supply our human needs of food, clothing and shelter. That would be irresponsible if we have the means to provide for ourselves and others. What it means is that our efforts to meet our physical needs must be subordinated to our highest good, which, Christ tells us, is to seek God’s kingdom. When that is our primary motivation and ordering principle, everything else will fall into its rightful place.”

-Full article printed in America Magazine, Nov. 9, 2015

Available online here.

Hypocritical Christians Messing with Your Faith? 3 Reasons to Stay Calm

[This post appeared originally on the Truth and Charity Forum as part of my Faith Objections series]

“Fortunately, the Westboro Baptist Church, famous for the “God hates fags” signs, really are outliers. But generally yes, this criticism of the Church is resoundingly true; there are hypocrites among us. Even in smaller settings, I myself and my friends have run into petty bureaucracy and slights in the offices of our own local churches.

So, how can I continue to believe when the lived examples of believers so often fall short? When I myself fall short as well?

….

What are we to do then with this beleaguered institution full of fallible people, especially the Catholic Church which claims infallibility?

Three reasons that undergird my continued Faith are these 1) Jesus came to heal sinners. 2) The Church has both divine and human elements, and we human elements err frequently, but are still guided by the divine. 3) At a basic level, at least we are hypocrites; we fall short, but we have an ideal to aspire to.

Jesus Came For Sinners

When the Pharisees take offense at Christ eating meals with tax-collectors, prostitutes and other sinners, He answers them: “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). God sent His Son, Jesus, into the world precisely because we humans had screwed up; Christ is the remedy for the Fall of the human race in Adam and Eve. He came because we do sin, or perform misdeeds or hurtful actions, to use a more modern-friendly term, quite a bit. The entire role of Christ in the Incarnation is to draw us back to God because we can’t do it ourselves, though we do cooperate with our free will.

Hypocritical conduct is scandalous, and it turns people away from the Church, which is a true tragedy. Somehow though, Christ himself knew that sinners would be part of the Church. He taught, that there was a farmer, God, who sowed grain (the Church) in a field, Continue reading

“Woman, what does your concern have to do with me?” The Reason Christ Is Not Being Rude to His Mother at the Wedding at Cana

I don’t often do biblical commentary posts, but this exchange from the Wedding at Cana had troubled me ever since I read it years and years ago. But this thought came to me recently about explaining it, and my husband said I should write it down, which is saying something. I offer an explanation and then a re-telling that might resonate more with modern listeners.

We all know the story of the Wedding at Cana; it is where Jesus does his first miracle; he famously turns water into wine. But there is a difficulty, on a surface reading, it really seems as though Our Lord is blowing off his mother. “Woman, what does your concern have to do with me?” he asks.

John 2:1-5 reads: On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Jesus response to Mary in this translation sounds like a rhetorical question to our American ears, as though he does not actually mean it. It can seem like Christ is assuming the answer in the question and saying instead: “Your concern has nothing to do with me; it isn’t time for me to reconcile the world yet.”

Such a reading is troubling. Our Lord seems snippish and disrespectful. However, from what we know of the Faith and the rest of the Gospels, there is no good reason to believe that Our Lord is being insincere or rude.

How, then, can we read it in a way that makes sense with the whole of the Faith, a way that is true to the person of Christ Jesus, which is how the Faithful are meant to read Scripture? We can read it instead with the understanding that he truly means each of the words he speaks. On such a reading, he is sincerely asking Mary to explain how her concern affects him; he sees that she is worried, and is sitting there, giving her the space to make a request of him. In short, he is presenting the opportunity for her to intercede because he loves her and sees that she is upset.

Such a reading would mesh well with what we know about Christ’s divine and human knowledge. Continue reading

Two Reasons Christ’s Two Wills Matter, According to Benedict XVI

Jesus of Nazareth, from Ignatius Press

I have been slowly slogging through the Jesus of Nazareth series by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, but published during his pontificate as Pope Benedict XVI. I say “slow,” not because it is bad, but because it is so dense and thoughtful that each sentence must be read, contemplated and integrated with one’s existing understanding of the subject in order to make any headway at all.

That being said, it is most rewarding to do so because Ratzinger goes through the entire Gospel narrative of Christ’s life, piece by piece, and explains connections with the Old Testament, related doctrines and explicates a great deal of theology along the way. If the Catechism is an introduction to the Church’s core teachings, moral philosophy and sacraments, the Jesus of Nazareth series is an introduction to the same but from the starting point of the Gospels, and therefore serves to connect it all in an intrinsically Christ-centered way. His work is truly a gift to the Church and any seekers.

Reading through the Holy Week volume, I encountered this passage regarding Christ’s Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, where He aligns His will with the Father’s in order to face the cross and His death. Ratzingers takes up the doctrine of the hypostatic union (that Jesus Christ is one Person (divine) with two natures (divine and human)) and shows its essential relevance for the Christian faith. In Jesus:

…there is only one “personal will”, which draws the “natural will” into itself. And this is possible without annihilating the specifically human element, because the human will, as created by God, is ordered to the divine will. In becoming attuned to the divine will, its experiences its fulfillment, not its annihilation. Maximus [the Confessor] says in this regard that the human will, by virtue of creation, tends towards synergy (working together) with the divine will, but that through sin, opposition takes the place of synergy: man, whose will attains fulfillment through becoming attuned to God’s will, now has the sense that his freedom is compromised by God’s will. He regards consenting to God’s will, not as his opportunity to become fully himself, but as a threat to his freedom against which he rebels.

The drama of the Mount of Olives lies in the fact that Jesus draws man’s natural will away from opposition and back toward synergy, and in doing so, he restores man’s greatness. In Jesus’s natural human will, the sum total of human nature’s resistance to God is, as it were, present within Jesus himself. The obstinacy of us all, the whole of our opposition to God is present, and in his struggle, Jesus elevates our recalcitrant nature to become its real self.

1) Here, plainly, is the importance of Jesus and the doctrine about his two natures. Only by being fully human, can he share in our fallenness and so help us. Only by being divine, can he offer it all to God the Father in a satisfactory way that atones for Original Sin. Thus the doctrine of the hypostatic union becomes meaningful and not a mere abstract formulation.

2) And more concretely, for the Christian life, our human wills work the same way as Christ’s. We think that by follow God, we lose freedom, but the opposite is true. By following God, we are most truly ourselves and truly free. It’s like a person walking down a road; he may think the signs and road indicators inhibit his freedom, but really he is thwarted if he ignores them and wanders into the desert. By following the signs and indicators, he arrives at his destination more quickly and safely with more time to do what he came for there.

Does theology sometimes seem overly abstract? Have you read any of this? If not, does it sound appealing? It’s hard to approach sharing the whole of the Christian Faith; does this help?