On This Feast of the Presentation

I remember two years ago today like it was yesterday… a very painful yesterday.  I was in the middle of a very long, very difficult labor, begging my husband to take me home because I did not want to do it anymore.  I had decided that the child I had been waiting eagerly to meet could just stay inside forever.  We could work out the details later.  Then, after 31 hours, he was here, in my arms.  I don’t remember a lot of the details, but I remember saying “so YOU’RE the one who’s been kicking me for so long!”  And in that moment, my whole life changed.  I changed.  Everything changed.  I felt so much joy, a love I could never have imagined, and a small, far away, but very distinct ache.  An ache that knew, even if I didn’t, that this precious baby I would happily give my life for wasn’t mine.  Yes, he was my son, but he wasn’t MINE.

The ache came to the forefront one week later at his baptism.  I heard it clearly as the priest drew the sign of the cross in oil on his forehead, it was the voice of the Lord telling me that my child – all of our children – were His.  We didn’t have children because they were cute (though they are) or because we wanted to avoid the dreaded nursing home or because we had reached our lifetime quota for sleep and no longer need any… ever again.  We had children to pass on our faith, to allow God to make our love fruitful.  In short, we had children because God gave them to us.  But they were never ours.  They are His.  It’s a difficult vocation, motherhood.  Your heart, much like that of the Grinch, grows exponentially to make room for the love you have for your children.  And rightly so, as there aren’t enough descriptive words in the English language to appropriately illustrate a mother’s love for her child.  But all the while your heart is growing, so too is your realization that God is going to ask great things of them.  Sometimes difficult things.  Sometimes wonderful things.  And your job is not to stand in the way, like the mama bear instinct might want to do, but to allow God to love your child, trusting that He knows him and loves him even more than you do.

For this reason, it was all the more appropriate that the majority of my labor took place on the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord.  The day when Mary knew, when the Lord revealed to her, the incredible cross her tiny baby would carry, and the swords that would pierce her heart at the sight of it.  I remember meditating on that image during my contractions, and then again at his baptism, knowing that God gave us Mary to be an example of perfect motherhood.  Hers is the lap that is forever available to us, the arms that love to hold us, but the heart that will never keep us from doing the will of the Father – no matter how painful a mission He might ask us to undertake.  This is the love we are called to – one that does not love for itself, but for Him and for Him alone.  We are called to show a love that has no equal, one without limitations, one that teaches them about the love of their Father in Heaven, and one that lets them go when He calls.

On this feast day, I pray to Mary for the strength to love as she does.  I pray for all mothers to know such an incredible love for their children as she has for all of hers, and I pray for sleep… just because I really miss it sometimes.  Thank you, Mary, for the example you show us.  Thank you for the wisdom, the guidance, the selflessness, and the faith you display constantly.  And please, please, help us get a little sleep.

Hope for the Restless Heart

Christmas morning Mass.  I can’t even begin to describe how much I love it!  The lit up evergreens behind the altar, the brilliant red poinsettias surrounding the sanctuary, the gorgeous and uplifting music that FINALLY replaces weeks of singing various verses of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” over and over and over…  Seriously, are there no other seasonally appropriate songs for Advent??  I just love the joy and excitement contained in every moment of Christmas Mass.

This year, it was an especially challenging holiday season, as our family was missing a couple of key members.  As I walked into the Church, knowing that our arms should have been much fuller that day, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of sadness, which seemed especially odd on such a beautiful and joyous day.  My attentions were quickly diverted to my almost two-year-old, who has decided recently that the pews in Church are, in fact, his very own jungle gym.  I can’t say that I caught much of what the priest was saying… I can’t say I ever really do these days… but there was a moment, when “Destructo” actually sat quietly – I can only imagine the fantastic tricks his guardian angel was performing to capture his attention  for those few seconds – and I heard one clear message from what could have been (and probably was) the most beautiful homily ever given.  The priest was discussing the disconnect that Christians can often feel  when their faith doesn’t make their suffering disappear, when we are offered the opportunity to CHOOSE hope, rather than feeling drenched in the joy of Christ, as we might have preferred.  When trials and true crosses come our way, I think that sometimes we can have this unrealistic expectation of our faith – that it will absolve us of any pain or grief.  In reality, our faith is beautiful because it offers us the person of Christ to suffer WITH us as well as a reason and a way to suffer well.  The priest explained in his homily that the reason for our suffering here on earth was because of our fallen nature, and that, while God allows us to suffer, He does not desire it.  He then quoted St. Augustine’s famous catch phrase, “my heart is restless until it rests in You,” which has been one of my favorite prayers during the darker times of my life.  Then came the kicker – the one line that knocked the wind right out of me and gave me a new perspective on an old prayer.  The priest continued, “But we are not alone, and today is the greatest testament to that.  The incarnation is a sign to us that God’s heart, too, is restless until our hearts rest in His.”

Woah.  That idea hit me like a ton of bricks.  It’s just not something I’ve ever really imagined – God’s heart restlessly trying every single option, leaving no stone unturned, no possibility untried – not even the Incarnation and death of His own Son – to draw our hearts to His.  As if the prophets and the signs and wonders of the Old Testament weren’t enough, He even sacrificed His beloved Son for the sake of our sorrowful souls.   How much more hopeful the wandering soul, when he knows a tireless search party combs the wilderness for him – and, not just any search party, but one with an Omniscient Being at the helm.  For that one quiet moment, I didn’t miss the little faces that were missing from our pew because they were there with us.  We felt their presence, and not only theirs but Christ Himself, drawing us, even in our suffering, to the heart of His Father.  He was there, reminding us that God’s own heart was restless for us, aching as we ached, longing for us to enjoy the peace of Heaven, just as we longed for it.

As the tears began to fall, I had to snap out of my prayerful gaze as my little boy had begun throwing his toys into the pew behind us.  He’s still working on silent meditation.  In the meantime, I’ve learned to cram my prayers into intense one minute moments of silence that come along very infrequently, but just when I need them.  God is good like that – You can’t always get what you want, but you always get just what you need.  What prophets, those Rolling Stones.

I suppose that moment of prayer, that experience of unity with Christ, was the perfect Christmas gift from God at the end of a really tough year (and by tough I mean one of those years that just repeatedly kicks you in the shins, and just when you think it’s over, it punches you in the kidney).  It was the perfect and oh-so-necessary reminder that God isn’t some watchmaker, who wound us up and watches us go from afar, but an all-loving Father, who is intimately involved in our lives, suffering with us, holding us in the most difficult moments, and loving us through it.  Here’s hoping for a better year, but we’re quite confident that, should this year rival the last in its crosses, God will be there in each moment with exactly the grace we need to find Him in all of it.

The Meaning of Motherhood

Reprinted with permission from Human Life International’s Truth and Charity Forum.  

Today, I lost it. I totally and completely lost it. I was trying to clean our house to get ready for my husband’s birthday, and, well, let’s just say that I was a little behind. What can I say? Morning sickness with a toddler is no joke, and it seems to have me at its mercy. Today, I decided enough was enough, and the house needed to be cleaned. If not for my son, then for the sake of my nausea, that is certainly worse for the grossness that surrounds me. I tried picking up toys, vacuuming, doing laundry – truly, a valiant effort was made, but every time I made a little headway, I would turn around and my 21-month-old had made a significantly larger impact in the opposite direction. I finally lost it when the precious little light of my life dumped the entire plate of birthday cupcakes on the floor. I picked him up, put him in his room, and closed the door – just for a minute – not as punishment but for his own protection. I just needed a minute to regroup. I slid my back down the wall until my knees hit the floor and cried. I wasn’t even completely sure why I was crying – most likely a deadly combination of frustration and pregnancy hormones – but I muttered something along the lines of “I can’t even get the house clean!”

It was then that it hit me – what a gift this truly horrible day was. Apparently, that’s how God gets through to me: with little “gifts” that seem more like curses, but He knows what He’s doing, and it does get my attention. I opened the door and picked up my very unhappy little boy, cuddled him tightly in my arms, and told him how much I loved him. Then, I sat and reflected for quite some time, as the boy went immediately back to his path of destruction, on the importance of the lesson I was being taught against my will. Motherhood teaches me this lesson almost daily: we are made for love, not utility.

This, I believe, is at the heart of the feminine genius that Pope John Paul II speaks about in his encyclical Mulieris Dignitatem. Women are a sign to the world and a sign to themselves that we are made for love.  According to the late pontiff, “the dignity of woman witnesses to the love which she receives in order to love in return” (no. 30). We are created with a unique dignity, a unique ability to welcome new life and to foster the gifts of others. This dignity is revealed most profoundly in the experience of motherhood, which is why all women are called to be mothers – some biological, some spiritual. According to Pope John Paul II, “… in conceiving and giving birth to a child, the woman ‘discovers herself through a sincere gift of self (no. 18).’” This gift of motherhood is where the heart of the woman is born. We as mothers are reminded constantly that we are not valuable because we are productive, but that we are valuable because we are loved.

It is, therefore, worrisome to me that as our society distorts the notion of motherhood, so too does it blur the concept of femininity and the very purpose of our lives. The world’s perspective on these ideas is a far cry from, if not directly opposed to, the view that Blessed John Paul II had in mind as he described the beauty and wonder that is womanhood. A woman’s life is changed forever when she becomes a mother – her life is, for all intents and purposes, turned upside down. Her priorities change, her schedule changes, her body changes, all for the sake of loving and raising her children. Society seems to view things a bit differently. A woman today goes to great lengths to prove to her employer that she has not changed and that work is still her priority. She works very hard to rearrange the baby’s life (either the schedule the baby follows, or the schedule she follows when deciding when to have a baby) around her work. Even if she stays home, there is a temptation to give her attention to other things, more useful things, than playing with her baby. Pope Francis encouraged families recently to “waste time playing with their children” because he, like his predecessor, recognizes the unique challenge of families today to put aside their ingrained desire to be efficient, productive, or useful in the hopes of choosing to love.

Morning sickness does not make me more useful – quite the opposite, in fact – but it offers me a unique opportunity to selflessly love this tiny new person. Folding laundry that is only too quickly unfolded and strewn about the living room the moment my back is turned is immensely frustrating and would render me quite a failure if my ultimate goal was only to have clean clothes. Thankfully, our purpose is far greater than that. The labor of love that is raising a child is not quantifiably productive. At the end of the day, a mother has very little to show for her time, but at the end of her life, she can rejoice in the unique immortal souls she helped to form. We need a renewed sense of the meaning of motherhood to remind us of our meaning as human beings. We are for love, we are for sacrifice, we are for selflessness. If the laundry doesn’t get washed today, there is no national emergency, but if we forget to take the time to delight in our children, there will be an incredible impact on our own, as well as our children’s, sense of self and understanding of the true meaning of life.

Marriage and the Eucharist

Happy Holy Thursday!!!  Ok, perhaps that’s an inappropriate way to approach what we are called to remember today, but it’s hard not to celebrate when you really think about it.  Yes, today we commemorate the betrayal of Jesus and the Agony in the Garden, which are very somber events indeed, but we also celebrate the Last Supper, which marks the institution of both the Priesthood and the Eucharist.  And that, my friends, is worth at least a little heel click, isn’t it?  Ok, maybe not a heel click, but it’s a day that’s certainly worth a moment of reflection.  Holy Thursday is actually my favorite day of the Triduum.  Before you accuse me of forgetting the main event of the season, I feel like I should throw a disclaimer out there: the Triduum does not include Easter Sunday.  Of course, in our house, we don’t do Easter candy until Easter Monday anyway.  For me, candy is a game changer, and on whatever day I got to eat it, that would most certainly become my favorite day of the entire year.  We don’t buy the candy until Monday because we are so holy that we only engage in the spiritually focused elements of the Easter holiday on Easter Sunday itself.  No, I’m totally kidding, it’s because we’re cheap and the candy doesn’t go on sale until Monday.  No, seriously, we haven’t figured out what we’re going to do once our kids are aware of the holidays, but we will find a way to do this… and it might involve a little “fib” about the Easter Bunny hiding their baskets.  I don’t know, we’ll have to iron out the details later, but we will avoid paying full price for the majority of our Easter candy for as long as we possibly can.

So back to Holy Thursday.  It pretty much sums up the whole of our Catholic faith, all in one day.  Not even a whole day, one MEAL.  That’s pretty efficient.  Pope Francis devoted his first Chrism Mass homily to the priesthood, which is such an awesome and incredible part of our faith.  At the Last Supper, Jesus invited His disciples to willingly suffer and die with Him, and they said YES!  It is the same invitation He gives to all priests – to suffer, to sacrifice, and to die to themselves (or possibly actually give up their lives, depending on the time and location of their earthly existence) so that they can know the depth of His love for them and show that same love to His Church, their bride.  I could go on for days about the priesthood, but I’ll defer to our wonderful Pope for his infinitely more profound message than anything I would be capable of awkwardly babbling.

Today also marks the institution of the Eucharist.  What an incredible reality of our faith, the Eucharist.  It’s so … well… just so ridiculous.  It is a ridiculous thing to believe that bread and wine are transubstantiated into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ.  It truly is absurd.  But then, again, isn’t all of our faith kind of absurd?  Isn’t it a bit unbelievable that an all-powerful God would really care about our miniscule little lives, much less that He would care enough about them to send us His only Son to suffer and die so that we could be with Him for all eternity?  Yeah, I think that might just be one of the crazier things I’ve ever heard.  Yet, if you take the time to really give it some thought, it’s actually crazier not to believe it.  The truth is that an all-good, all-powerful, and all-loving God like ours is not limited in any way, even by our smallness, so it actually does make sense that He would have the capacity to care about our small existences.  I truly believe that He not only cares, but He actually waits with bated breath for us to tell Him about the minute details of our hopes, struggles, and thoughts, which is quite impressive, considering He already knows them better than we do.  The Eucharist, then, is the source, the very root of our faith; our crazy, absurd, ridiculous faith.  It is also the summit, the reward, that moment in our spiritual journey towards which we constantly strive: perfect union with Christ.  Well, perhaps not perfect on our end, but always perfect on His end.  Our love will be perfected in Heaven… that should be a pretty humbling experience…

Meditating on the Eucharist always gets me thinking about marriage.  Yet another absurd idea: loving one person forever and ever, giving your whole life to them and only to them, giving up all things that threaten the health of your relationship.  Yep, that’s pretty insane.  Yet, again, if you really think about it, to meet the person for whom God has destined your whole heart and NOT give up anything that stands between you is, in fact, more ridiculous.  Constantly striving for a perfect union of love, a perfect marriage, marked by the making of a total gift of yourself for the other person and therefore for God: that’s a pretty steep challenge.  And yet, it’s exactly the challenge for which we are made, the only accomplishment that will truly fill our hearts.

I think the two concepts (marriage and the Eucharist) are so related in my mind because both are ideas that could very easily be disregarded as utterly foolish.  If we look at them from a materialistic perspective, in the Eucharist, we’re adoring a piece of bread.  And not even a very tasty one!  In marriage, we’re risking everything for a relationship that, close to HALF of the time, doesn’t even work out!  The depth of both ideas could be so easily denied.  If the Eucharist were more than bread, shouldn’t something obviously fantastic happen at the consecration?  At the very least, wouldn’t our hearts always swell with joy at the experience of receiving the Eucharist?  One celebration of the Mass should dispel all doubt, if Christ is truly present.  In the same way, if marriage were more than just a contract scribbled on a piece a paper; an agreement just as easily broken as it was made, wouldn’t it be easier?  If we were meant to be married forever, it wouldn’t be so difficult, and love wouldn’t be such a struggle.  We’d never even think about divorce if human love could be, and was in fact made to be, an image of Divine love.  If we only look at these realities with doubtful hearts searching for proof, we will only see the ridiculous and impossibility of it all because a search for truth that is rooted in disbelief and doubt will always be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  And yet, these experiences are both in themselves pinnacles of love: one human and the other Divine.  Both are shrouded in mystery; veiled by the impossibility of their own magnitude, which can only be lifted by the eyes of faith.  When we look with faith, we understand that our imperfect human experiences of these sacred truths are caused by our doubt and our sin.  To experience them in their perfection would require a total abandonment of ourselves to the Will of God, and that is the continual challenge of our lives.  It also requires Grace, lots and lots of Grace.  How easy to doubt; how hard to believe, but we have to dive in, and I mean ALL IN, not keeping one foot out, just in case we’re wrong.  That would be like trying to swim with one foot out of the pool, and you can ask any swim instructor: you can’t really learn to swim until you put your face in the water.  Only when we truly immerse ourselves in the apparent absurdity that is faith will we understand real Truth and know true love, both the divine love that God is pouring out for us, and the human love that is meant to reflect His perfect love.  When we abandon ourselves totally to God, we find the richness of truth that we seek, and it becomes absurd to deny it.

Bring on Holy Week!

Ah Holy Week… the week that always begins with the same painful realization that I have 40 days of penance to make up in a week.  I really started out strong this Lent.  Then… I sort of forgot it was Lent.  Ok, I didn’t really forget, I more “discovered” my previously untapped creativity for finding excuses about why it was ok to indulge in my Lenten sacrifice “just this once.”  It’s Sunday, the baby’s sick, it’s family TV-watching time (nevermind that I’m the only member of our family who really enjoys TV… perhaps a little too much, hence the choice as my Lenten fast), or my personal favorite: I only gave up TV at night, and it’s clearly still evening.  I’m not sure how I reasoned that my TV fast only mattered at night when I should be sleeping or that 8pm was still evening, but I bought it once or twice.  Oh what wonderful intentions I had; those same ones that pave that slippery road to hell.  And here we are at Holy Week, with me searching for other penances that might help me make up for all of those hiatuses from my Lenten observance.

I don’t know that that’s the best way to spend my Holy week.  I think the most important thing that we do this week is to really try to live it, not just during the liturgical observances, but each day, as it happened in the life of Christ.  At least, we’ll do our best.  We have plans to attend the Holy Thursday evening Mass, then come home for dinner.  Perhaps we’ll try to stay at church just a little while in “silent” adoration.  I put silent in quotes because with a one-year-old, not much is silent.  He seems to take our silent prayer time as his cue to make up in volume where we are so clearly dropping the ball.  That, or he assumes we’re not paying attention, and darts to the altar to attempt to dismantle the floral arrangements.  Nice try, kiddo, nice try…  Then, we will return home for a nice but simple family dinner.  Hopefully one large enough to tide us over until noon on Friday because, as I have previously mentioned, I’m not good at fasting.

Good Friday is a tough one because, well, all the fasting.  I mentioned to Matt that I was already dreading it, and I saw his posture drop as he sighed deeply and responded, “me too.”  Ah Good Friday, that day where I very quickly transition from “the woman he married” into some hulk-ish, ill-tempered dragon lady.  I think I’ll spend the day praying for the self-control to fast with love and kindness.  We’ll see how that goes.  I think Matt is already looking for reasons to stay late at work that night.  On Good Friday, we also always try to do the Stations of the Cross and watch The Passion of the Christ.  Last year we both passed out before Jesus even got to Pilot.  If you can sleep through a movie like that, you’re either new parents or you’re on very high doses of narcotics.  We were the former.

I can’t lie that I never know exactly what to do on Saturday.  It was a tradition in my family that we did not listen to music or watch television all day to create a sort of silent observance.  I think we’ll keep that tradition going, and just try to spend some time together as a family, since we get so little of that these days.  Then on the big day, we’ll head to Mass (and do our very best to be on time!).  I love Mass on Easter Sunday.  I love the bells that ring so loudly to announce the Resurrection of our Lord and the extra large crowd at Mass.  Normally that would not be something I’d celebrate, as I’m a big fan of my own “space,” but somehow, it’s ok when it means that people who don’t normally celebrate the presence of God in their lives by attending Mass show up, perhaps with the conviction to do better about that this year.  I love that Easter gives us an excuse to dress up a little bit more for Mass – maybe that’s just the superficial side of me that loves a good sundress – but I find it helps me to remember that this day actually IS different from any other day because it’s the day when we celebrate the true power of our God.  He conquered death and freed us from even the greatest tyranny: that which we inflict on ourselves when we enslave ourselves to sin.  On Easter Sunday, we realize that we truly have nothing to fear and every cause for joy because our Savior has risen from the dead, so bring on the Peeps!

PS If you are hoping to cut out secular distractions this Holy Week but would like something spiritually enriching to put on as “background noise” while you do mindless work like dishes or laundry, check out the homilies on CatholicPreaching.com.  Fr. Landry is a very holy priest with a wonderful gift for preaching!

A Shout Out to My Popes

Oh Pope Francis, you have stolen my heart.  All I can say is, well played, Holy Spirit, well played indeed.  I love how God knows so well what we need and sends it to us without hesitation.  I have now been alive for three popes, and I have adored and admired each one in different ways.  John Paul II was my spiritual father.  I never met the man, but I have always felt very close to him.  I fell in love with his theology of marriage, love, and sexuality, and had the man taken the time to write a phone book, I would have found incredible depth in the writing of those names.  His charism was inspiring and his enthusiasm for life infectious.  Seeing him made me feel young and alive, and for a man in his eighties, who is plagued with Parkinson’s, that’s pretty impressive.

Benedict XVI was different.  He did not share the youthful vivaciousness of his predecessor, but he brought a very different passion to the Chair of St. Peter.  His incredibly profound love for the Catholic faith was palpable in everything he did.  It seemed to pour out of him in the most inconspicuous and German way.  He seemed to take very seriously his vocation to both safeguard and transmit the richness of our Catholic faith – from the deep roots of our moral beliefs to the mysterious and at times curious traditions and celebrations that we hold dear.  He had a tough job, and he did it well.  As the Prefect for the Doctrine of Faith, he had to be the one to protect the teachings of the faith, often perceived as the “bad guy.”  Despite his incredibly beautiful writings – so clear and to the point, so easy to read – those who had perceived him as such would not change their minds.  Even when his first encyclical came out “Deus Caritas Est,” translated as “God is Love,” his critics could only talk about how strict and cold he was.  To me, though, he was a hero.  He truly put his vocation to defend the Catholic faith well above his own pride or desire to be loved or accepted.  For that reason, I always felt very defensive of him.  Perhaps it was because others I knew didn’t seem to like him as much, or maybe it was because I felt that their lack of appreciation for him wasn’t justified, particularly because it was painfully evident that they had never bothered to read a word he had written, but I had very little patience for those who criticized him.  I know, though, without a doubt that when he approaches the gates of Heaven, he will be greeted with a resounding “well done, good and faithful servant!”

And now we have Francis, whose motto is “having mercy, He called him.”  So humble and simple, his love for the poor is incredibly evident.  By his life, by his humble actions just in this first week of his papacy, he has upped the ante for the Catholic faithful.  I don’t even think he’s trying to call us to greater holiness by his example, I think he’s just living his life.  But I suppose that’s the unintentional effect a holy life has on those around it.  Holiness is infectious because it is closeness to Christ, and it therefore radiates joy.  Every time I see another video or picture of him serving the poor, or stopping his procession to kiss a very infirmed man in St. Peter’s, my heart swells with pride and joy.  This is our pope!  This is the Vicar of Christ here on earth!  This is the man God has chosen to lead us forward in faith, and in one week, he has gone from “Cardinal who?? Is he from Argentina or Italy??” to the most beloved person on my Facebook news feed.  Second, of course, is Justin Timberlake, but I think that’s a whole different kind of love…

But you know my favorite part of this whole adjusting to a new pope process?  It’s witnessing the very core, unchanging, unchangeable truth of the Catholic faith.  All three of these popes are SO different!  They dress differently, they speak differently, they pray differently, they have very different relationships with our Lord, and yet, they love the very same faith.  They may show it differently or celebrate it in vastly different ways from one another, but that’s the awesome part: they show us that there are so very many ways to love and serve the Lord while still preserving the one true faith we profess.  Their differences are in the details of our faith, but they each love Jesus and His Church with all of their hearts.  In their differences, they show us what we do, in fact, profess to believe as Catholics.  Their varying styles do not highlight where the other goes wrong, but instead point us to the very core of our beliefs.  What is unchanging through the papacies of these three men (as well as the previous 262 men before them) IS the Catholic Church, the Bride of Christ, and that kind of consistency is one for the record books.

Where Are We Going… And Why Are We in a Handbasket???

I think I’m going to be sick, no like seriously.  I’ve studied bioethics and read, watched, and debated issues regarding respect for human life for the majority of my life, and, very often, I heard people discuss the notion of human life not being a commodity.  In fact, it’s a statement I myself have made on many occasions, but, what I didn’t realize at the time, is that I actually didn’t know what that meant.  Yes, I know what each word means, and I even sorta know what they mean when strung together, but I didn’t really understand what it would be like or look like if that were to happen.  Well ladies and gents, we’re here (well, I suppose if I’m addressing my real audience, I should just say “Mom” and person who accidentally wandered on this site while looking for Match.com… just to be clear, “Created for HIS Love” is referring to God, not Mr. Right).  Today we see what it looks like for human life to be a commodity, and let me tell you, it’s not pretty.  Grotesque is actually a bit of an understatement.  All over my Facebook newsfeed is an article about a woman who was hired to be a surrogate mother, and, when it was discovered that the child would have major birth defects (serious heart issues combined with cleft lip and palate), she was offered $10,000 to have an abortion by the genetic parents.  She adamantly refused, earning her both the praise and utter disdain of those wonderful people who make time in their very busy schedules to write horribly unkind, judgmental, derogatory statements in the comments section under online news articles.  It’s a good thing they did, as I was holding my breath with great anticipation of what they might be thinking and how this new, precious human life might be making them feel.  If you have the stomach for it, check out the highlight reel, composed by Matthew Archbold at the National Catholic Register.

There are just so many issues to discuss with this situation, it’s difficult to know where to begin.  First, there’s the fact that this couple hired a woman to carry their baby.  At first glance, it seems simple enough: the couple has money but no way to carry a baby, the woman needs money and CAN carry a baby.  Ah, a match made in Heaven!  Except, there are some pretty serious problems: in paying this woman for her service, does the couple then own her entire body?  Do they get to decide what she eats, where she lives, and, should the situation arise, whether or not she must abort their genetic heir if there are major health problems detected?  They thought they did have that right – it was even included in their contract with her; however, by law, they could not force her to have an abortion.  Second, who has legal rights to this child?  The surrogate mother moved to Michigan so that she would have legal rights, but in the state where they initially lived, the genetic parents had the legal rights… well, the genetic father.  The big reveal near the end of the article (spoiler alert!) is that the wife of the genetic father was, in fact, not the genetic mother – they hired an anonymous egg donor.  Whaaaa???

This all began with one of the most simple, beautiful, generous, natural desires that we, as humans, experience: the desire to have a child.  But how far can we go to achieve this end?  Better question: how far SHOULD we go?  Where exactly do we cross the line between natural desire and degrading the sacredness of human life?  I’m not really sure, to be honest, but I think it’s sometime around when we separate the creation of new life from the physical expression of love between a husband and wife.  When we take God out of the driver’s seat, we dupe ourselves into thinking that we’ve taken hold of the wheel, when, in reality, it’s just not possible for us to do.  The trouble with our thinking this is that we truly believe that we are in control of the situation, and, therefore, we expect whatever particular vision of life we have in our mind.  Oh what a silly – and truly horrifying – idea!  When are we ever in control??  The older I get, the more I realize that as much as I think that’s what I want, it really really isn’t.  Because the truth of the matter is that none of us – not one – has any true clue of what we actually need.  Had I been in charge of my life, I might have chosen to have a baby girl last February, and missed out on this most perfect, crazy, wonderful little boy!  Or maybe I would have married a previous boyfriend and completely missed out on the man that God very clearly chose for me long, long ago, sometime around when the earth’s crust was still cooling, as he knew no one else could put up with me or love me as well as this holy, wonderful, glutton-for-punishment husband of mine does.  I can look back to some of the most painful, difficult moments in my life and see, only in retrospect, the important things God was teaching me through them.  Only now can I see that those crosses were necessary to bring me to Christ because, in embracing my cross (eventually… after a great deal of whining and muttering about the lack of fairness of life), I embraced the Grace that God wanted to give me all along.  The very truth of it is that if any of us knew just how difficult some of the most challenging parts of life would be, we wouldn’t go near them with a ten foot pole.  But in doing so, we would miss out on some of the most beautiful and important opportunities of our lives!

This is the sickness of our culture that is revealed by the legal and moral quagmire we read about today: we’ve forgotten how to suffer, we’ve forgotten why we suffer, we have a totally misguided notion of true compassion, we’ve kicked God out of our lives (particularly our sex lives), and we’ve put a price tag on human life.

I was completely speechless when I read some of the comments in the article by Archbold, wherein people accused the surrogate mother of subjecting the baby to unnecessary pain and suffering when she could have just aborted the baby.  Ummm… are they aware of what happens to the baby during an abortion procedure??  Oh, that’s right, they very intelligently reason that, since the baby is not self-aware yet, it’s somehow more humane; somehow more morally upright to end the child’s life rather than to subject him or her to a life of suffering.  Oh how misguided their compassion.  Interestingly, this was also the perspective of the genetic parents.  They didn’t want the child to suffer.  I wonder how they feel now that the baby is 8 months old and has a smile that lights up a room?  I wonder if they understand now how joyful a life full of suffering can really be?  I understand where they were coming from, really, I do, but ending someone’s life to help them avoid suffering is NOT true compassion.  True compassion is to suffer with someone; to help them carry their cross, not rip it out of their hands and toss it aside as we play God for the both of us!  What a beautiful witness of selfless love this child’s parents will shower her throughout her life, what an awesome example this precious baby girl can be to everyone around her of someone who embraces their suffering with hope and joy.  What a tragedy it would have been to rob her of the opportunity to know and to show the rest of the world that her life – all of our lives – is so much more than the sum of her pain.

It is scenarios like this one that reveal the true importance of our humble admittance that God, and only God, is in control.  Removing God from the creation of new life – attempting to take His place at this most precious moment – leads to a tragic undermining of the true value and sacredness of the entire process.  You rent an apartment or a car, not a uterus or a person because some things are just too sacred, too valuable to put a price tag on, and to do so, degrades their intrinsic value.  For similar reasons, it is illegal to sell children, vital organs, and the sexual use of our bodies.  What all of these things have in common is that they are too precious to sell, but we as a society accept the idea of their limited value when we endorse these behaviors as acceptable options.  When a checkbook makes an appearance, exploitation is invited into the transaction, and human life is reduced to something that can be bought or sold, something we own or control.  This attitude towards human life as a commodity leads down a very dangerous path: if it’s not what I paid for, I don’t want it.  Or, worse yet, some of the oh-so-wise comment-makers chimed in that their tax dollars were being wasted on surgeries to take care of this hopeless baby.  Their cost-benefit analysis, they thought, was just beaming with brilliance, as they tallied up the astronomical cost of medical care and compared it to this, in their opinion, absolutely worthless little life.

This “worthless” immortal soul, molded so carefully and meticulously by God, loved into existence by the Almighty in spite of the circumstances that surrounded her conception.  I hope she grows up to cure cancer, wipe out disease, discover a new planet, or establish world peace, just to show these people how little they know!   But the truth is that she doesn’t have to do any of those things – her greatness is already known in Heaven, and no accomplishment here on earth could increase her already infinite value in the eyes of God.

Silly, Dinosaur, That’s Jesus’ Bed!

This morning, when I was playing with my one-year-old in his room, I noticed that St. Joseph was hiding under his crib and Mary was reading his book about colors.  Poor baby Jesus has been MIA for a few days now, and I refuse to put away the Crèche until I can put them all away together, as one happy Holy Family (even if it means that our Christmas decorations are not yet put away and we’re nearing the  middle of February).  With Jesus, Mary, and Joseph all having “wandered off,” I was plagued by the very burning question: “who is in the manger??”  I walked into the living room to find my answer: a dinosaur (a Hesperosaurus to be precise; being the mother of a little boy is a very educational experience).  One of the little one’s very favorite toys to carry around the house has taken up residence in the stable.  Perhaps it was his offering when taking each member of the Holy Family to meet his toys.  Whatever his reasons, and I’m sure they were good ones; it made me think about the humility of God and the awesomeness of the good and loving God we believe in.

I love that our God gets what it is to be human because He became human out of love for us.  He knows what it is to be that little boy who yells out “Dada” to the priest during the Consecration at Mass (he’s still figuring out the limitations of the few words he knows).  He knows how our minds and our hearts wander to Him… and then away from Him again… and He still wants in on the relationship.  He doesn’t mind the images of His loved ones being dragged around the house by a little boy who loves Him so much but just doesn’t yet know how to show it appropriately.  In fact, I think it just might delight Him.

Sometimes, when our little man is being particularly vocal at Mass, I wonder what it must look like from the priest’s perspective.  Then, especially during the Consecration – that moment where Heaven and earth are joined, Jesus comes down to be united with us in such an intimate way – I wonder what it must look like from Jesus’ perspective.  Here He is, in the fullness of His glory, ready to pour out His body, blood, soul, and divinity for us to receive – the greatest of gifts, and what does He find?  Well, in our pew, He would generally find a little boy throwing toys at the reverent people kneeling behind us or excitedly reaching for the altar, as if he is the only one in Church who really knows what is happening before us, as we should all be so ecstatic at the reality taking place.  I always giggle a little bit inside because I think that Jesus gets a kick out of it as well.  After all, He did say “Let the children come to me.”

My amusement lasts only for a second before I realize that Jesus can see me tooHe knows all too well how distracted I am, how my mind is wandering, how His incredible pearls have been cast before this unworthy swine.  This most important moment in front of me, and what am I thinking about?  The song I heard on the radio that morning?  My list of tasks not yet accomplished for the day?  Or, most difficult to admit: how reverent I might be appearing to others who might be watching.  I think that this most crucial moment for my salvation reveals the true dynamic of our relationship: in my unworthiness is found His mercy and His humility.  My sinfulness, my imperfections are not news to God – He made me, He knows me better than even I do, but He LOVES me, and this shows not my greatness but His.  He still wants to reside in my heart, to be united with me in this awesome way through the Eucharist, and to use me as a tool through which He communicates His love to the world –in all my brokenness, my sinfulness, and my faults.

Only a generous God could give His perfect love to one so riddled with imperfections as I.  Only a humble God could entrust the mission of His Church to the human beings around us.  And only a perfectly loving God could invite the broken to strive to love perfectly, as He does, without getting impatient or frustrated at our feeble attempts.  But this is our God – the God of perfect, generous, humble love – the God who doesn’t even mind sharing His Son’s stable with a tiny plastic dinosaur.

Please Sir, Can I Have Some Food??

I’m not good at fasting.  “What’s to be good at,” You might ask?  It’s a seemingly simple thing: just don’t eat very much (one larger meal and two small meals, which, together, do not add up to the larger meal), and you’re all set.  The problem comes in that, well, I’m one unhappy camper when I’m hungry.  My husband, who, by my estimation, has completed multiple rounds of purgatory and is pretty much set for the beatific vision after only two years of marriage to me, learned very early on in our relationship that it was a good idea – neigh, a necessity on which the continuation of our relationship depended – to carry food with us at all times.  It didn’t have to be much – a pack of peanut butter crackers would do in a pinch – but it was necessary.  I remember as a kid (read: until my later college years) translating the one large, two smaller meal rule as: eat as much as you possibly can during the big meal so that the two smaller meals, though they may be fairly large in size, will still not add up to its enormity.  Talk about missing the spirit of the law!  Even now, I still dread Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but probably not as much as those who are forced to be around me do.

Today, as I pushed off breakfast to as late as I possibly could, hoping that my stomach just hadn’t realized it was morning yet, and I could therefore buy myself a little less hungry time later in the day, I got to thinking about what all this being famished nonsense is really for.  It struck me that the part of fasting that I’m really bad at is not having the discipline to do it, but having the discipline to do it for the right reasons and to use it as a spiritual tool.  This hunger is meant to serve a purpose, it is meant to draw me ever closer to Christ by reminding me of the hunger I SHOULD feel for Him, when I drift away from my spiritual disciplines.

For the past several years, I have given chastity talks to teenagers, wherein I remind them that the time they spend between their first awareness of their sexual desires and marriage is a very crucial time that has in immense impact on the formation of their character and on their future relationships.  It is a time of sacrifice and waiting, but it is not just a time to sit around and twiddle our thumbs.  That waiting and sacrifice is an opportunity to learn how to control our sexual desires because that self-control is a necessary tool for a happy future vocation (be that marriage, the priesthood, religious life, etc.) as well as for a successful prayer life.  It is also an opportunity to realize how very much we desire the spouse that God has waiting for us.  Fasting serves the same purpose – it helps us reign in our dependence on food, which is a good and basic human desire, so that we can gain the self-control to rely more on God than we do on any earthly good.  It also helps us to remember how much we really hunger for the Creator of all good things, the Author of love.

It is up to us to channel that hunger into a prayer offered to God.  It is up to us to harness the self-control to be in a good mood despite our hunger, and to be even more awake, alive, and happy than we would be with full tummies.  The more grounded we are in prayer and centered we are on God, the more successful our attempts will be.  As Ash Wednesday draws to a close and I look back over my day, I thank God I’ll have another chance to do this whole thing better in 40 days.

If today’s fast is any measure of how much I rely on God, it seems I’m pretty much on spiritual life support.  And maybe that’s the main lesson I was supposed to learn today.

Remembering Those Lost

Today is a day of mourning, a day of silence and sincere prayer.  Today we remember a decision that was made forty years ago – a decision that has lead to the slaughter of over fifty million innocent children in the United States alone.  Could those judges have ever predicted the far reaching effects of their verdict?  Could they know that in one moment, one typed brief, the world would be forever changed?  I am heading to adoration in a few minutes, and I am bringing with me all of those men and women who sought abortion as a false promise, a seemingly easy way out, and who are now filled with so much hurt and regret.  I see the logic behind abortion; I see how people can be duped into thinking that this is a necessary evil to protect the rights of women.  I do understand why the women I know who are in favor of abortion get so defensive at the notion of overturning Roe v. Wade.  I just wish they could understand where their logic betrays them – how their solution for the equal rights of women undermines the value and freedom of all people, especially women.

I spent less time than I should have praying and counseling women in front of abortion clinics, but enough time to see the reality of what goes on—the lying and deception that so often occurs inside the waiting area, the complete lack of information available to these women who are making a decision much larger than they realize.  Most importantly, I witnessed the truth about abortion; it strips women of the freedom they are seeking.  Not one woman spoke to me of her desire to have an abortion, of the joy or peace she felt in having this option available.  Every single woman I spoke with – without exception – spoke to me of her lack of options.  “I don’t have a choice” they would always say.  Followed always by some harrowing line that gave me just a tiny glimpse into the root of their suffering: “they’ll hate me,” “They’ll disown me,” “He’ll leave me,” “He’ll never forgive me.”  They weren’t running to the steps of the abortion clinic to find relief from their pain, they were being dragged there by their loved ones – most frequently, and to my horror, their mothers – not to escape their pain, but to rid themselves of the incredible blessing inside of them so that they could return to their pain, their broken relationship, their abuser.  What always struck me were the lies they would tell themselves, “it’s ok, after this, it will all be over, and I’ll move on.”  What I learned was this: the mere availability of abortion strips women of their right to give their children life.  We speak of the right to choose, the freedom of choice, but the reality is that women, more often than not, are forced – either by actual physical force or by emotional coercion – into ending the growing, fledgling life inside of them.  Women are robbed of their motherhood and men of their fatherhood – the joys of parenthood they’ll never know.  I can’t help but think of all the tiny fingers and toes that have gone uncounted, the belly laughs that have never been heard, the tiny eyes that have never gazed into the eyes of their loving mother.

Nearly fifty-five MILLION people are missing from our nation, and to believe that their lives would have no effect on the outcome of human history, to think that our world is not different for missing them is something more than just naiveté.   To characterize abortion as the solution to the “problem of a baby” reveals a true societal sickness, at the root of which is a real disdain not just for the unborn, but for all of humanity.  Instead of focusing on the ideas and love and joy that is missing from this world with each individual whose life has been lost to abortion, our society chooses to focus on the financial or emotional burden of which we have been relieved.  What does this reveal about our mentality towards human life in general?  How can we deny that abortion is at the very root of this culture of death that surrounds us?  Yet we hear over and over again how abortion is the solution to so many problems.

Abortion is the result of broken relationships, and, at the same time, it causes a severe breakdown in relationships.  Women deserve better – they deserve help, they deserve options, and they deserve the chance to be mothers, to love their babies, and to watch them grow, hear their thoughts and ideas.  Women are seeking help, but they are seeking it in the wrong place.  Thanks to the undying efforts of so many wonderful men and women, there are crisis pregnancy centers and homes for mothers who need assistance.  There are people who would gladly sacrifice their own comfort or convenience to take in any baby who is unwanted by his or her parents.  These are places where we need to refer the women in our lives who are seeking help – help lifting the incredible burdens they are carrying – not the precious baby, but the lack of support from their families, boyfriends, husbands.  They are facing a huge challenge – no woman would consider an abortion if that wasn’t the case – and, fortunately, there is help out there.  Crisis pregnancy centers focus on helping women find a solution to whatever problem is causing them to think that abortion is the only choice they have, be it a way to finish their education or find employment, or just support and encouragement.

We need to work to heal the illness in our society – the illness that sees a baby as a burden, rather than the gift they are intended by their Creator to be.  We need to support those around us in choosing life, or perhaps in finding the joy in the life they’ve already chosen.  It is always a wonderful treat to see others around us finding happiness in our little one, offering us a few minutes during Mass to pray while they show him a whole new perspective in Church from their pew, or just making a silly face so he’ll stop fussing for a minute while we check out in the grocery line.  It reminds us how blessed we are to have him, in case it ever slips our minds.  It’s amazing how much of the culture of death can be converted into a beautiful appreciation of life by just a few small efforts on each of our parts.