Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Good Things Come in Nines

I always enjoy reading US Catholic. I don't always agree with everything that they print, but it does always get me thinking. One good article in the May 2008 issue was "Good Things Come in Nines" by Ginny Kubitz Moyer. She writes of being asked to do a novena for a relative of a friend. The woman handed her what she described was a sheet containing a "sad, Byzantine Mary and a short prayer. 'I'd be happy to,' I told her, but inside I was thinking, 'Novenas? I don't do novenas.'" She did keep her word, however, and said that prayer for nine days in a row. The experience made her a believer.

She writes, "Since then, I've prayed several novenas, and I've come to value their steady structure and unique rhythm. I always start off strong, full of zeal. Around day four, I get bored, but I keep on plugging. By day nine I've broken through the monotony and recovered the beauty of prayer." In conclusion, she states that "nine isn't a magic number that unlocks God's heart. It's the number that opens mine."

In my life, I've said countless novenas. Right now, I am doing a rosary novena, which is actually 54 days (6 sets of nine - 3 sets in petition, 3 sets in thanksgiving) for a difficult decision I'm struggling with. I can attest to the power of novenas and to the power of prayer in general. If you have never said a novena, I strongly encourage you to try it. Like Moyer, you may well be transformed by the experience. The Prayer section on my website lists several prayers that can be used for novenas.

Catholic New Media Conference

My friend Lisa Hendey from Catholic Mom asked me to help spread the word about the Catholic New Media Conference which will be taking place in Atlanta, Georgia on June 22nd. Lisa will be there and it sounds like it will be a wonderful event.

To find out more, please visit: http://celebration.sqpn.com

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit

Guest post by Janet Cassidy:

Oh the beauty of Spring! Isn’t it wonderful to see the green grass, the buds on the trees and feel the warm breeze blowing on your face?

Speaking of a breeze, this is a good time to be thinking about the Holy Spirit. In two weeks the Church throughout the world will be celebrating Pentecost (May 11th, Mother’s Day). The experience of Pentecost comes from the Acts of the Apostles . . .

After Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead (but, before he ascended into heaven), he walked among his disciples. Knowing he would be leaving them soon, he promised to send them an Advocate—the Holy Spirit. In the beginning of Acts we read about the Coming of the Spirit. This is important to each of us because at our Baptism, and anew at our Confirmation, we, too, receive the Holy Spirit.

The seven Gifts we receive in the Holy Spirit are: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, right judgment, courage, reverence and wonder and awe. When we use these Gifts of the Spirit, they produce fruits. There are nine of these: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Take some time this week to reflect on the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit and try to use them. Each of us has the power of God working through us to bring the love of Christ to our world through the aid of these Gifts.

God bless,
Janet

Please visit my website at www.janetcassidy.com for more news and commentary, including my blog!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Words of Inspiration

I was reading an article in the May/June 2008 issue of Victoria Magazine http://www.victoriamag.com) about writer Jan Karon. For those of you who may not be familiar with her, she wrote the "Mitford" series of novels. I discovered them when David was just a baby and I really enjoyed the stories about Fr. Tim, an Episcopal priest. She offered these words of inspiration which she had written in magic marker on the wall of her writing room:

There are three stages in the work of God: Impossible. Difficult. Done.
- James Hudson Taylor

Whatever you would do, begin it. Boldness has courage, genius and magic in it.
- Goethe

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
- Philippians 4:13

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Living Out Our Faith with Courage

For it is better to suffer for doing good,
if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.

For Christ also suffered for sins once,
the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous,
that he might lead you to God.

This text, from the second reading for today (1 Pt 3:15-18) is a reminder of the courage that we need to be Christians. I am not exactly known for my courage. I am a quiet person, not prone to making waves. I have never taken part in an actual protest against anything. If I do have something of import to say, I am much more likely to say it via writing than in person. If something concerns me, I tend to take it up in prayer rather than immediate action. Lately, however, I have been praying for courage because as a parent you need a great deal of it to stand up to the world and make the right decisions for your children.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes fortitude as one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: “Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause.” (CCC 1808)

My children and I recently finished reading the life of St. Thomas More of London by Elizabeth M. Ince. He was a person who exhibited great fortitude. He served as Chancellor of England under Henry VIII. While he and Henry VIII had been friends for a long time, More knew that Henry was not a man to let anyone stand in his way when he wanted to do something. In 1529, When Henry VIII wanted Parliament to declare him the Head of the Church of England, More attempted to resign in protest but his resignation was not accepted. By 1532, the Bishops of England had completely given in to Henry VIII’s bullying and turned over the power of the Church to him. This time, More would not take “No” for an answer to his resignation. He offered his poor health as an excuse and Henry VIII had realized that More was no longer any use to him, but rather simply stood in his way, so he allowed him to go.

In May 1533, the Archbishop of Canterbury consented to Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and Henry and Anne Boleyn were married. Thomas More insulted the King by refusing to attend the coronation ball for Queen Anne, and Henry VIII was out for revenge. He accused More of treason, although as a gifted lawyer, More was able to successfully argue his way out of it before the House of Lords. Soon, Henry VIII had Parliament pass an “Act of Succession” that made any children that Henry VIII and Anne produced the rightful heirs to the English throne. The Act also declared that Henry VIII’s first marriage had not been valid and that Henry was now the head of the Church of England. All over the age of twenty-one were supposed to swear allegiance to the oath. More refused. He was taken into custody and put into prison for over a year. He was beheaded on July 6, 1535, retaining his spirit and sense of humor to the very last moment. He was happy to die for what he believed. He was canonized a saint in 1935.

St. Thomas More lived out the words of the Letter of Peter. He felt it was better to die for doing good, for taking a stand for what was right, even if it was unpopular and precious few were willing to stand with him. He is a good role model for all of us who need a little more courage in our lives!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Book Review: The Great Tradition


The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What it Means to Be an Educated Human Being is a heavy tome, both in its size and the material it covers, but it is an important contribution to the field of education. Richard Gamble has assembled excerpts of works on education from the past 2500 years. Beginning with Plato, and including such notables as Aristotle, Origen, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Milton, John Henry Newman, and T.S. Eliot, the writers offer their insights into what they feel is the true purpose of education, and how best to go about that aim. What is perhaps the most interesting feature of this collection is that many of these writers were struggling with the same educational issues we struggle with today. It is somehow comforting to learn that people 2000 years ago were equally concerned about the state of education and the proper way to raise children. "The Great Tradition" would be a great addition to a college class on educational theory. It also makes for valuable reading for anyone interested in the very important question of "what makes an educated human being?"

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Caritas: How You Can Help

Over the course of the past three weeks, we have discussed the profound needs of the children in Africa, how Caritas works in conjunction with the Little Sisters of St. Francis to provide help, and the results of this aid. Caritas is a wonderful organization, but it cannot function without your help.

There are four ways that you can help Caritas and, in so doing, provide love and hope to a child in need.

1) Pray
One cannot overestimate the needs of these children. The reaction of one California volunteer was “What we have here is a state of emergency. We need to call in rescue workers.” Even if one is not able to provide financial support, we are all able to pray. Pray for the children and for the religious sisters who minister to them. Pray for more people to give generously of their time, talent, and treasure to help change the lives of these children.

2) Sponsor a Child
When a child becomes registered in the Caritas program, they are very excited. They want to know when they will be able to start school and receive the other benefits of food, clothing, and medical help. They pray for someone to sponsor them so that they can begin their brand new life. On the Caritas website (www.caritas.us), you can view the photos and the profiles of these children waiting for someone to love them. For just $30/month – a mere $1 per day, you can provide these children with the gift of hope and a brighter future. To learn more about sponsorship, visit http://www.caritas.us/sponsor. If you would like to make a one time donation, visit https://www.caritas.us/donations.

3) Become a Liaison
A Liaison for Caritas helps orphaned and other disadvantaged children find sponsors. Liaisons help spread the word about Caritas in their churches and communities and walk interested people through the sponsorship process. Liaisons become part of a nation-wide network of individuals who want to make a difference in the world. They live in the knowledge that they are making a lasting effect on the lives of children. If you are interested in becoming a liaison, please email liaisons@caritas.us or call 1-888-227-4827.

4) Become a Corporate Sponsor
Perhaps you are a business owner or have influence with someone who is. Caritas relies on both individual and corporate sponsors to help children in need.

There are times when the problems of world hunger and child poverty seem truly insurmountable. Yet it is possible to make a difference, to help change the world one child at a time. Caritas is doing it every day. To find out more about Caritas, please visit www.caritas.us or call toll-free 1-888-227-4827.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

10 Reasons to Turn Off Your TV

This week is "Turn Off Your Television Week." While my husband boycotts allowing that to happen, I do think it is true that there are definitely better things to do with your life than plunk yourself in front of a television. I like a few shows as much as the next person and enjoy my weekly movie night with my husband (via DVD or Video). My children are also allowed to watch TV in moderation, so I'm really not anti-TV. I'm anti-too-much-TV.

In any case, this is a good article on why we should shut the TV off more often:

http://longevity.about.com/od/lifelongrelationships/tp/Turn_Off_TV.htm

Monday, April 21, 2008

More for Moms of Boys

I finished reading It's a Boy!: Understanding Your Son's Development from Birth to Age 18today. My original intent was to just read the section on boys age 5 -7 and 8 - 10 with the idea that these were the chapters most relevant to my life at the moment. I was brave, though, and continued on to those tumultuous pre-teen and teen years. I can't say that I read anything that alleviated my fear. I so dread that stage of development, primarily because I remember what a nightmare I was in my teens. As my mother used to tell me when I would object to her strictness, "It's not that I don't remember what it was like to be a teenager. It is that I do." Yes, now I understand!

One section I found particularly interesting was a discussion of what makes an adult. My mom objected strongly when the legal age was reduced to 18, arguing that 18 year olds are not adults. I'm inclined to agree with that as well. 18 year olds are adults in training. It isn't like you wake up one day and are suddenly an adult. The process takes a while. I can honestly say that I felt like a grown-up when I was about 24 or 25. It's not that I wasn't able to make good decisions before then or didn't have adult responsibilities - I got married and owned a home at 22. It was just that by my mid-20s, I felt comfortable in my own skin and more confident in my abilities. I wasn't just pretending to live in the grown-up world, I was actually a part of it. By that age, I also had realized that adulthood wasn't a stagnant state. Adults continue to change and grow - I'm at a different stage of adulthood in my 30s than I was 10 years ago. I'll be different in 10 more years.

And now, I am responsible for bringing two young boys to adulthood. At times, it seems like such a daunting task, and I know I need to take one day at a time and ask God to help me.

Michael Thompson, Ph.D., author of "It's a Boy," offers this advice:

Whenever you are frustrated, whenever you despair of your son, picture him playing with his children: the daughter he adores, the son who so resembles him. The mental picture of him with his children will pull you through the toughest times and guide you to the best decisions. And please, know that he will feel your love in his bones every day of his life. All boys and men carry their mothers with them in their foundations of their soul.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Book Review: Catholic Reluctantly


Meet Allie Weaver, the intended victim of a random act of violence at her public school. To make sure that she is safe, her mother is sending her to a new Catholic school, “John Paul II High.” To say that this school is small is an understatement. There are seven students enrolled and the school is always on the verge of being condemned. Not to mention that each day starts with saying the Rosary and ends with the Divine Mercy Chaplet. This is a far cry from the world Allie was used to and still wants to belong to.

George Peterson used to attend St. Agnes, a much larger and well-known Catholic school, before transferring to JPII. He is intrigued by the new girl, but wrestling is his first priority. He jumps at the chance to wrestle for the local public school, and brings fellow classmate Brian along as well. It just so happens that Allie’s boyfriend Tyler is on the same team. This sets up a clash of cultures and a battle for the girl.

Catholic, Reluctantly is the first in what is hoped to be a long-running series of books focused on John Paul II high. Editor Regina Doman (Waking Rose, Angel in the Waters) is working with a group of talented young writers to bring young Catholics books about people like them. Christian M. Frank has done a great job with this one! The story is engaging and interesting and leaves you wanting more. I, for one, am looking forward to the next installment.

Letting our Children see us Pray

I try to get up early on school days to say my morning prayers and read my Bible before the kids get up. There is a practical reason for that – there simply isn’t time to fit in my prayers in the 45 minutes between the time I get the kids up and the time that we leave the house. There is also a spiritual reason – it is much easier to be focused on God without my kids interrupting every few minutes.

Moms need to have some prayer time to themselves – it is vital to their spiritual life. There also needs to be times when kids get to see their moms pray. Praying with our children is extremely important. In doing that, we teach our children how to pray and to turn to God every day with their needs, their contrition, and their thanksgiving. Attending mass together is integral to our family spiritual life. In allowing our children to see us spend some quiet time in prayer, however, they see that we practice what we preach.

On weekends, I do say my prayers with the kids around. No, it’s not easy. It usually takes about double the time and I’m usually interrupted several times in the process. But my boys get to see me saying my Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet as well as other prayers. Sometimes, they ask me what prayer I am up to or who I am praying for, and I tell them. This shows them that my prayers go beyond the needs of our immediate family and go out to help others that we know, or even relative strangers who have asked for prayers. When I read my Bible, my younger son often asks to follow along with me. Those moments are so special to me! The difficulty in getting my prayers done is well worth the lessons it provides in the process.

When I read about the prayer lives of saints, especially those who lived in convents or monasteries, I’m often a little envious of their prayer lives. They have so much time for contemplation and communion with God. Even when they are working, they can lift their hearts and minds to God. When I am working around the house, I am often also having a conversation on something of great import to my children (these days, that is likely to involve “Star Wars!”) Yes, I do squeeze in moments to pray throughout the day, but somehow it just doesn’t seem quite the same as the prayer of a vowed religious. The simple truth of the matter is that I’m not a vowed religious. My vocation is that of wife and mother, and in my service to my husband and children, I live out my own kind of prayer.

Still, the formal prayer is important, too, and letting our children see us moms in prayer shows much more loudly than our words that prayer is important to us and to our relationship with God.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Have you lost hope?

Guest post by Janet Cassidy

Have You Lost Hope?

I’ve been blank lately. Utterly, desperately blank . That is why this newsletter is late and why my website has not been updated. I hope you’ll forgive me. I have been sidetracked. I have reached a point in my life where I am increasingly looking outward and growing less willing to spend as much time on the computer. I am embracing a balance between my writing and life outside my home office.

Balance, I think, is very important. We have lots of things to balance, don’t we? How, for instance, do we keep Christ at the center of our lives, while living our lives? How do we balance family and work responsibilities without ignoring our relationship with God?

The problem is we try to separate ourselves. Parenthood, for instance, is not separate from discipleship. The very meaning of our life comes from our role as a disciple. It must penetrate every aspect of our life. It doesn’t matter if you have responsibilities as a student, an employee or someone who is living out retirement. All that you do must stem from your connection to Christ.

Of great concern today is this disconnect we are experiencing from God. Our loss of hope is a major factor in the ills of our society. When we no longer feel connected to God (and others), we become apathetic because we lose our sense of purpose. A life without goals or meaning reflects a life of lost discipleship. I heard a priest say recently that when he counsels people who feel they have everything but are not happy, he begins with this question: What have you done for someone else? That is the heart of our discipleship and the meaning of our lives.

My good friend, who always has clarity, provides a solution: Ask God to help you. Ask Him for whatever you need and trust in His response.

May God bless you today and bring you comfort and peace through the hope of Christ.

Janet
Please visit my website at http://www.janetcassidy.com for more news and commentary, including my blog (which I promise to update soon! :)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Maggie Come Lately



Fellow Catholic writer Michelle Buckman wrote to spread word of her "Pathway Series" - issue-focused Christian fiction for teens. Her work has been getting some rave reviews from such notables as American Idol 2007 winner Jordin Sparks and Walton's creator Earl Hammer. I've posted their reviews of "Maggie Come Lately" after Michelle's information.

I have a Christian teen series called The Pathway Collection.

Book one, Maggie Come Lately (The Pathway Collection #1), is wrapped around abstinence and the warning
signs of molestation, and what to do if someone at church or school tries to
molest you. I wrote it after attending the Virtus seminar required for all
church volunteers & employees.

Book two, My Beautiful Disaster (The Pathway Collection #2), is about Maggie's best friend who ignores
all of Maggie's advice and ends up pregnant. It's a very pro-life book as it
carries the girl through all the societal pressures from boyfriend, peers,
and parents with differing points of view on what she should do. In the end,
it's a bible-toting bag lady who inadvertently answer's Dixie's prayers.

The response from teens and adults has been fantastic. Many have written to
say how much these books affected them and made them think through these
issues from different perspectives, putting themselves in other people's
shoes. One mother told me My Beautiful Disaster should be placed in every
high school and Pregnancy Center in the States. (Oh, wouldn't that be
something.) Another woman called the publisher and ordered enough copies of
Maggie Come Lately to hand out to an entire abused girls' home.
Several teens have emailed me to say they are using these books in their
youth groups. A *public* school actually ordered copies as required reading!

If a church or school is interested in purchasing copies for a classroom,
there is a discount. There is also a deep discount for non-profit
organizations.
Feel free to contact me for more info: Michelle@MichelleBuckman.com




Reviews


"Despite everything that's going on, I had time to read another amazing book by Michelle Buckman. With Maggie Come Lately, I was completely drawn in by her characters and real life issues that she tackled in the story. In her second book, My Beautiful Disaster, she drew me in even more with her compelling story about Maggie's best friend-turned-sister, Dixie. In Dixie's story, she goes through love, loss, fear, and redemption. I can honestly say that I felt her emotions when I read her words. I felt my chest puff up with pride as if I knew her myself. I felt connected.

I could not put the book down for three days straight.

You want a good read? You're looking at it."

- Jordin Sparks, American Idol 2007


Review by Earl Hamner
Creator of The Waltons and Falcon Crest, author of Spencers Mountain and The Homecoming


That wise and wonderful Southern writer, Lee Smith, once observed, “I was at a point in my life where all my friends, women I had grown up with, were suddenly floundering, because we were following someone else’s idea of who we ought to be and what we ought to do.”
I remembered Lee Smith’s remark soon after I began reading Michelle Buckman’s excellent new novel, “Maggie Come Lately.” How well it dramatizes the predicament of young Maggie McCarthy. We are present at that moment when she was four years old and her entire life shifted. We meet her later in present time - a perfect daughter, a perfect substitute mother to her siblings, a perfect student, and a perfect friend. There is only one problem. Influenced by to the pressure of society, submitting to the circumstance of her position in the family, responding to every demand made upon her to conform to what is expected of her, Maggie has neglected to become her true self.
That voyage of self-discovery begins on her sixteenth birthday when she first assumes the role of surrogate mother to her orphaned siblings, of willing housekeeper to her widower father, of compliant friend to her schoolmates. Under Mrs. Buckman’s skilled hand we live through Maggie’s longing for someone to love her and her eventual discovery of that love. We share her dismay when her father courts a totally inappropriate second wife, and we experience along with Maggie’s her deep concern when a younger brother begins to retreat from life.
A shocking event early on, the murder of one of her classmates, shadows the action and the fabric of the book.
The suspense is intense for a work primarily intended for youthful readers, but the author knows what she is doing and the reader is compelled to keep reading until the surprising climax.
While this book is directed toward a younger readership it can also prompt each of us to reflect on who we are and how we got that way. As Lee Smith asks, “Are we someone else’s idea of who we ought to be,” or are we our true selves?



Thursday, April 17, 2008

For Parents and Teachers of Boys


I have been reading "It's a Boy: Understanding Your Son's Development From Birth to Age 18" by Michael Thompson, Ph.D. This is one of the best parenting books I've seen as far as being dedicated to understanding what is going on in a boy's brain. As a mother of two boys, I admit that sometimes I am completely befuddled by their behavior. I have (obviously) never been a little boy and because of that, I can't necessarily relate to what they are going through. Dr. Thompson describes what is going on in their heads and also helps parents to realize that their son's behavior is normal and what it should be.

Dr. Thompson also does a great job of describing why so many boys have so much trouble in school and offers some solutions as to what can be done to fix it. I wish I could photocopy whole chapters of this book to distribute to my sons' teachers. Teachers, most of whom are women, especially if they have never had any sons of their own, often just don't get little boy behavior. This book would help so much in their understanding.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book for parents or teachers of boys.


Behold Your Mother Promotional Video

Here is a promotional video about my friend Heidi's new book, Behold Your Mother:



Coping with Change

I'll admit it, change makes me break out in a sweat. Good or bad, it throws me for a loop. Even though I know I will come out of the other side just fine, and this new "change" will eventually become my new "normal," the transition is never easy. There is a new website and book dedicated to helping people cope with change. First 30 Days is dedicated to helping people navigate the first 30 days of any change - the crucial period when you are adjusting to something new. There are parts of the site that seem somewhat "new-agey," but if you can get beyond that, there does seem to be some concrete advice on coping with many of life's changes. The most helpful section is Life Changes which lists many of life's most common changes - a new job, a new baby, a new relationship, etc. and offers ways to adjust.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Caritas Part 3 : Love at Work

Evelyn’s face tells the story of the difference love can make. Where her eyes once were dim and her expression sad, she now smiles broadly and her eyes are full of hope.

In this four-part series on Caritas for Children, we are examining how Caritas works to dramatically change the lives of children. In The Need for Love, we looked at the extremely harsh conditions that many children in Uganda, Africa face on a daily basis. In Living out the Call to Love, we profiled the ways Caritas for Children partners with the Little Sisters of St. Francis to provide care for these children offering them hope and love where there was none. This week, we will look at the difference this care makes in the life of a child.

During the summer of 2006, Evelyn was discovered during a missionary trip to Uganda. Her father had died and her mother was struggling to care for five sick children between the ages of 4 and 10. Her home was suffocating in the heat and wet and muddy in the rain. Her body was thin and sick. Hoping to help, Caritas posted Evelyn’s picture on its website. Within a few weeks, a caring couple from Wisconsin chose her for sponsorship.

Due to this couple’s generosity, Evelyn is able to attend the Stella Maris boarding school. This school is run by the Little Sisters of St. Francis who provide a concrete example of God's love in action. These religious sisters are native to the Ugandan community and understand the particular challenges that these girls face. At Stella Maris, Evelyn is cared for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All of her needs are met: physical, educational, and spiritual. She receives food, water, clothing, medical care, transportation, books and much more. Without the help of her sponsors and Caritas, Evelyn might have quickly become just another sad statistic. Now she has the opportunity to learn about God and obtain an education. She has embraced that opportunity and is already an “A” student. She has a chance to break the cycle of poverty that has plagued her family.

Thanks to the generosity of strangers half way around the world, Evelyn’s future now looks bright. She is not alone. Many others like her have also experienced the difference a Caritas sponsor can make. As Christopher Hoar, founder of Caritas, states, “We have had the pleasure of seeing a small number of children with big smiling faces, healthy bodies, wearing clean clothes, and receiving education to help them to develop into self-reliant young adults that clearly proved to us that people of love can make a difference.”

Unfortunately, there are still so many more waiting for that same chance. There are children dying today from a lack of health care and basic necessities. They are also dying from a lack of love. Sponsoring a child through Caritas lets that child know he or she is loved and cared for. Through monetary support and messages of encouragement, a child who once had no hope now knows that there is love in the world. That love has the power to change a child’s life.


In next week’s article, we will profile the different ways that you can help Caritas. To find out more about Caritas, please visit www.caritas.us or call toll-free 1-888-227-4827.

Monday, April 14, 2008

School Kid vs. Home Kid

The cartoon “Baby Blues” (http://www.babyblues.com) has been running a series of strips on the “school kid” vs. the “home kid.” For example, the child who keeps her desk all orderly at school is the same kid who tosses her clothes on the floor at home. The child who eagerly raises his hand to answer questions asked by his teacher, will stare at you dumbfounded when you ask him where he left his sneakers. You attend a parent-teacher conference only to wonder, “Who is this mystery child and where does my child actually spend those 6 hours each day because we are most definitely not talking about the same person?” Most parents would agree that we would prefer our children behave outside of the house. If they have to misbehave, let them do it at home. And so it is with my younger son and his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde persona. Yes, he has those teachers fooled! But, at least I know from their reports that he does know how to behave himself. Even if I don't always see the fruits of my labor, I know that the message is getting through. I hope that he will always behave himself at school.

It isn't so easy when the reports from school come home bad. My older son is very consistent. He has his moments of great goodness and great difficulty both at home and at school. Chances are, his report card will never read “A joy to have in class!” Somehow, with students like him, teachers always seem to focus on the bad days. They don't tell you when your child has had a great day at school, leaving you to wonder if those days ever actually exist. No, instead you hear about the moments of frustration and of not getting along with others. You hear about the hard time that they have learning and the need for more effort. And as much as you know that the teacher has your child's best interests at heart and wants them to succeed, what you hear as a parent is some version of the following: “You are obviously a bad parent. You have failed in your duties because your child is incapable of x,y, and z.” It is enough to make a parent want to crawl under the bed covers and never come out, or at the very least, run and hide from your child's teacher.

Sometimes, I think that teachers, especially those who have no children of their own, seriously overestimate how much control we have over our children's behavior when they are not under our immediate supervision. Yes, of course, we are responsible for teaching them right from wrong and to be kind to others. We are responsible for making sure that their homework gets done and helping them study. Ultimately, though, our children are given to us by God with their own set of issues to work through. Some children get frustrated more easily than others. Some children just aren't ready to master a certain skill at the same age as everyone else – they need a little more time. Sometimes, no matter how many times you tell a child to be kind, model correct behavior, and discipline bad behavior, they are still going to have moments when their self-control is lacking and they do the wrong thing (don't we all have those moments?). These aren't excuses. They are just statements of facts. Our children, much like us, are works in progress. As much as we like to take the credit when they do something wonderful, and beat ourselves up when they do something horrible, a lot of their behavior really has very little to do with us and everything to do with them.

Sometimes, we simply need to take a deep breath and step back from the situation, to remember that our children are ultimately in God's care. He made them. He loves them. And, He has a plan for them. We can only do our best as parents. Sometimes that means trying lots of different parenting techniques until we find the one that works at that particular time for that particular child. Sometimes it means waiting out a particularly challenging developmental stage. Sometimes it means leaning completely on God because we simply haven't a clue. One of the most famous prayers is “The Serenity Prayer” by Reinhold Niebuhr. It can be particularly applicable to motherhood, especially on the hard days:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Catholic Saints Prayer Book Now Available

I just read on Donna Marie Cooper O'Boyle's blog that her new book" Catholic Saints Prayer Book is now available. I haven't had the pleasure of reading this, yet, but Heidi Hess Saxton posted this glowing review on Amazon:

The Church's hagiography has inspired whole libraries of books, the best of which paint a distinctive portrait of one or more of our beloved spiritual mothers and fathers. We love to hear and tell these stories over and over, for these stories provide our only real connection in this life with our spiritual forebears, our only opportunity to know them as we would like.

The Catholic Saints Prayer Book reminds us of another important reason to ruminate on the lives of the saints. This reason is perhaps best summed up in the words of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the spiritual mother of the author of this charming little book: "The Church of God needs saints today. This imposes a great responsibility on us. We must become holy not because we want to feel holy, but because Christ must be able to live His life fully in us" (p.10).

Each of the thirty-two saints contained in this book remind us that the pathway to holiness is not easily traversed. It is a way of suffering. Of grief. Of struggle against our basest impulses. In the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola, "There is no better wood to kindle the fire of holy love than the wood of the cross."

Above all, it is a way of prayer. And for this, The Catholic Saints Prayer Book provides a simple yet eloquent resource for those who want to grow closer to our heavenly family. Each chapter includes a list of patronages, brief biography, and closing prayer to lead you gently yet deeply into that "blessed communion, fellowship divine." Delicate illustrations are scattered throughout, making this a wonderful gift for birthdays, Mother's Day ... or simply for your own prayer corner.


Friday, April 11, 2008

Mother's Day Writing Contest

From Heidi Hess Saxton:

Is there a woman in your life -- other than your biological mother -- who has been a true "spiritual mother" to you, someone who has helped you grow as a Catholic believer and within your vocation?

During the month of April, "Behold Your Mother" is sponsoring a writer's contest; winners will be posted on the blog during the first two weeks of May and will receive a free book. For details, click here: Behold Your Mother.


The Teachings of Pope Benedict XVI

It is hard to believe that Benedict XVI has been Pope for nearly three years. I can remember watching on television with David (who was four years old at the time) when it was announced that Joseph Ratzinger was our new pope. I'm almost ashamed to admit now that I was a little disappointed. I really hadn't heard much good about him except that he was strict, strict, strict, and was going to throw away all the progress of the past forty years. In the intervening years, I, and I think most Catholics, have been pleasantly surprised. His teachings are truly masterful and his encyclicals on love and hope are beautiful. "Columbia" magazine, the publication of the Knights of Columbus has compiled a collection of Pope Benedict's teachings for its April 2008 issue in honor of the Pope's visit to America scheduled for next week. Here are just a few:

Only in respecting the inviolable dignity of the human person and promoting the corresponding individual liberties can a civil society be construed which contributes to the prosperity of all its citizens. - Address, June 16, 2005

Making the Sign of the Cross . . .means saying a visible and public "yes" to the One who died and rose for us, to God who in the humility and weakness of his love is the Almighty, stronger than all the power and intelligence of the world. - Angelus, Sept. 11, 2005

Love of God and love of neighbor are thus inseparable, they form a single commandment. But both live from the love of God who has loved us first. - Deus Caritas Est, February 1, 2006

Those who have discovered Christ must bring others to him too, given that a great joy should not be kept for oneself but passed on. - April 10, 2006

This is what we ask for when we pray: 'Thy kingdom come.' ...We pray that justice and love may become the decisive forces affecting our world. - Homily, Munich Sept. 10, 2006

Life is the first good received from God and is fundamental to all others; to guarantee the right to life for all and in an equal manner for all is the duty upon which the future of humanity depends. - Discourse to the Pontifical Academy of Live, Feb. 24, 2007

Like human life itself, freedom draws its meaning from love. Indeed, who is the freest? Someone who selfishly keeps all possibilities open for fear of losing them, or someone who expends himself "firmly resolved" to serve and thereby finds himself full of life because of the love he has given and received? - Angelus, July 1, 2007

Sometimes, people thing that holiness is a privileged condition reserved for a few elect. Actually, becoming holy is every Christian's task, indeed, we could say, every person's! - Angelus, Nov. 1, 2007

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Hi God!

Isaac came home from pre-school the other day, singing:

"I've got joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart!
(Where?)
Down in my heart.
(Where?)
Down in my heart.
I've got the joy of Jesus down in my heart, down in my heart to stay"

Those of you of a certain age will remember this song from your own Catholic childhoods. In the 70s and early 80s, the songs of Rev. Carey Landry were the mainstay of Catholic children's music. Songs like "If I were a Butterfly," "Peace is Flowing Like a River," "Hi, God!" and so many others are such a wonderful memory. I had given up hope that they were used anymore until Isaac came home with this one.

When we went to my parents' house yesterday, I pulled out the old record and played it for him. The songs still make me smile.

Caritas Part Two: Living Out the Call to Love

In Uganda, Africa, it is far too common for children to grow up impoverished, malnourished, and lacking the basic necessities of life. Many have been orphaned or abandoned. Many are literally starving for love. In last week’s article, “Caritas: The Need for Love”, we examined the plight of these children and the sad future that awaits them. This week we will discuss what Caritas for Children is doing to bring light and love into these children’s lives.

Caritas is unique among child sponsorship organizations in that it works directly with Catholic religious orders that minister to needy children. This allows for the greatest benefit from donated dollars. There is no need to train new people to go in and work. These religious orders are part of the community. They come from the same background and understand the needs of the people. They are eager to serve. In Uganda, Caritas partners with the Little Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi.

The Stella Maris Caritas program began in 2004. Founded in the mid 1960s, Stella Maris, located in Nkokonjeru, is one of the top three boarding schools in all of Uganda. The majority of the students that attend are from well-to-do families who come to learn and then leave the small village. The idea behind the Stella Maris Caritas program is to take impoverished girls from the village of .Nkokonjeru and provide them access to this education so that they would then be able to create better lives for themselves and their families. This program caters to orphaned or partially orphaned children who need a place to live and learn 24/7. In Africa, there are no orphanages or foster programs. Children who have been orphaned or abandoned are taken in by extended families. Sometimes these families are trying to support 12 – 15 children in the most meager circumstances. Given cultural prejudices, girls are even more likely to suffer from poverty and lack of education. At Stella Maris, the Little Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi provide for all the needs of these young girls: education, transportation, medical services, clothing and much more.

They could not do it, however, without the help of Caritas. The cost of care for each child is $1000 per year. Sr. Immaculate Nabukalu, LSOSF, headmistress of the Stella Maris Primary School states, “We are on the ground, we see what is to be done but we lack the resources and facilitation to be able to do it. . . .Without Caritas we never would have been able to get the sponsors. Nobody would have brought our cause to this side of the world. The world has become so small. The children are in close touch with their “parents” as they call them. . . However, the struggle is only beginning. There are thousands of these children still in the villages. . . . They keep coming to me to tell me their stories.” It is heartbreaking, but without a sponsor, Sr. Immaculate cannot invite these girls to stay.

In the Summer of 2006, the Mother Kevin Caritas program began. Unlike the Stella Maris program, this is a day program and is opened to both boys and girls. It is designed to minister to a larger number of Ugandan children. Education is provided through existing Catholic schools run by the Little Sisters of St. Francis. For just $30 per month, this program is able to provide children with an education, two meals per day, school uniform and other clothing, books and educational supplies, basic medical support and counseling and religious instruction. In Uganda, $1 / day is the price for hope.
In next week’s article, we will profile the children whose lives have been changed by Caritas. To find out more about Caritas, please visit www.caritas.us or call toll-free 1-888-227-4827.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Last Lecture

In the April 6th issue of Parade Magazine, terminally ill professor Randy Pausch provides an excerpt from his last lecture: The Lessons I Am Leaving Behind http://www.parade.com/articles/editions/2008/edition_04-06-2008/1My_Last_Lecture. Pausch writes, “At many colleges, professors are asked to give a “last lecture.” In this talk, they ruminate about what matters most to them. As they speak, audiences mull the same question: What wisdom would you impart to the world if you knew this was your last chance?”

Shortly after being asked to give such a lecture at Carnegie Mellon University where he is a professor in the computer sciences department, he found out that he had terminal pancreatic cancer. This lecture was no longer a hypothetical. Pausch is in his 40s, married to a woman he describes as the “woman of my dreams” and the father of three young children, ages 6, 3, and 1. This lecture would be not only his gift to the university but also his legacy for his children. In his lecture, he told his audience to “dream big, ask for what you want, dare to take a risk, look for the best in everybody, make time for what matters, and let kids be themselves.” It is all very good advice.

Reading about Randy Pausch made me wonder what I would say if I was in the same situation. If I knew I was dying soon, what lessons would I want to leave for my children? Here are a few of the things I would tell them:

1)Spend time with your own children.
If you are ever blessed with children of your own, remember that I was very rarely too busy to do something with you. I hope that you recall the hours we spent reading books on the couch or playing games, or simply spending time together. Enjoy your time with your own children, because childhood flies by all too quickly.

2)Love to learn
There are so many wonderful things to learn in this world. Never stop learning. The library and the internet are wonderful tools to help you find out more about whatever interests you. School is just a starting point. Your real classroom is the world.

3)Be Generous
There are so many who have less than we do. Always be generous with your time and your money.

4)and most importantly, Live Your Faith
God is the foundation of all that we are. Pray morning and night and during the day. Go to mass. Read your Bible. Connect with the one who made you. Follow the commandments – your life will be better for it.

The truth is, of course, that none of us have a guaranteed tomorrow. I read somewhere that death gives our days importance. We have a limited amount of time on this earth and we need to use it wisely. Each day we have the opportunity to pass on important lessons to our children by both what we say and what we do. Life is short. Randy Pausch's last lecture is a good reminder to focus on what matters.

What lessons would you want to leave behind for your own children? Please leave a comment and share your wisdom!

"Moment of Beauty" in the news!

Many thanks to Mary Ann Romans for posting this great article on my Moment of Beauty blog:

Moment of Beauty Part 1
Moment of Beauty Part 2

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Friday, April 04, 2008

Results of Survey on Catholic Marriage

The US Bishops' Committee on Marriage and Family Life has released the results of its survey on Catholic Marriage. You can find the results at http://www.usccb.org/laity/marriage/marriage_report.pdf.

It makes for interesting reading and examines the marriage question from all angles - generational differences, differences among people who attend mass frequently compared to those who don't, those who were married in the Church compared to those who have civil marriages, and those who are currently married with those who are currently separated or divorced. It looks at difficulties people have in marriage, their feelings on Catholic marriage,and their thoughts on cohabitation before marriage among many other topics. One topic that was notably absent was thoughts on birth control. "Openness to life" was a topic but perhaps the bishops simply did not "want to go there" with the birth control question as it such a bone of contention among many Catholics.

Of course, now that this information has been gathered, the question is what will be done with it? How can we help pass on to our children the sacramentality and beauty of a Catholic marriage? How can we help convince them that it does matter? While much was discouraging in the report, there are some hopeful signs that the youngest generation has less tolerance for divorce. Perhaps they have seen first-hand that it is not the cure-all so many think it will be.

Book Review: Good Neighbors / Bad Times

2008 marks seventy years since the tragic events of Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass. On November 9, 1938, the Nazis unleashed a wave of destruction against Germany's Jews. In the space of a few hours, thousands of synagogues and Jewish businesses and homes were damaged or destroyed. Mimi Schwartz, author of Good Neighbors, Bad Times: Echoes of My Father's German Village wasn't born yet. She would be grow up in Queens, New York, on milkshakes and hamburgers, and her father's stories of life in Germany, a life she had very little interest in. Her father grew up in Benheim (the name of the village has been changed to protect privacy), a little village of Christians and Jews in southwest Germany where according to all accounts Jews and Christians lived peacefully side by side. No allied bombs fell on Benheim during WWII so much of it is still preserved. The synagogue which was attacked during Kristallnacht is still there, now as an Evangelical Church. One can still visit the Jewish cemetery with 946 old graves.

Schwartz was in a village in Israel when she saw an old Benheim Torah and was told that “the Christians of Benheim rescued the Torah for us during Kristallnacht.” That story sent her on a quest to discover all that she could about this little village, to determine if, like her father had always told her, Benheim was special in that the people there got along and would do anything to help one another.

In “Good Neighbors / Bad Times” Schwarz interviews many old Benheimers, some in Israel and some in America. She also visits Benheim several times, a village which now has no Jews. The Jews that were there either escaped in time or were killed in the concentration camps. Only two Benheimers who were interred in the concentration camps survived. The other eighty-seven were murdered. On her journey, Schwarz discovers a series of individual stories and individual perspectives which each tell part of the whole story. She discovers both the Jewish and the Gentile perspective on what happened. She struggles with knowing what everyone knows now versus what people knew then. There was a large swastika that had been erected in the town in 1934, but as one Benheimer stated, “It was not important; no one knew what it would mean.” She learned of other kind deeds that occurred in Benheim and of a second Torah that was saved and is now located in Burlington, Vermont. She learned of how good people struggled to live through such difficult times, of people too scared to take a stand and the punishments that came to those who did. She learned of children being indoctrinated with hate in the local school and parents who struggled to fight against it.

“Good Neighbors / Bad Times” is a valuable work of social history. It is so important to preserve the stories of those who lived through these tragic events. In the end, Schwartz decides that Benheim was special, that decency managed to prevail there despite the Nazi hate that infected the land. As Schwartz states, “decency is often such a solitary act; it's evil that draws a noisy crowd.” “Good Neighbors / Bad Times” is recommended for anyone who wants to learn more about Jewish / Christian relationships during the World War II era. It would also make a wonderful text for a college course on the topic.




Thursday, April 03, 2008

St. Gerard Walkathon Follow-Up

Back in February, I wrote about Kathleen LaPlante and the St. Gerard Walkathon to help unwed mothers. Kathleen wrote me today to provide a couple of updates:

The National Catholic Register article you mentioned is now available on-line at the bottom of the Founding History page of the web site, or here's the direct address:
www.stgerardwalkathon.org/files/ncr_article.jpg

The spring newsletter just came out too. It's available from the home page or directly from:

www.stgerardwalkathon.org/files/spring_newsletter_2008_rev_of_email_.mht


Thank you, Kathleen, for sharing this and best wishes for your ministry.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Caritas Part One: The Need for Love

Catholic Exchange has asked me to write a 4 part series of articles on Caritas for Children. Here is part one:

They are children, much like the ones you know and love. Edward is 8 years old. He likes science and playing with other kids. Betty will be turning 12 in April. She likes to write and swim. Judith is nine. She likes math and spelling. Their eyes are full of dreams for the future. The difference is that they live half a world away and their future is anything but certain.

Edward, Betty and Judith are children waiting to be sponsored through Caritas for Children, a Catholic organization dedicated to providing love, hope and financial support to improve the lives of children around the world. Over the course of this four article series, I will introduce you to Caritas: the reason why they are needed, what they do to help, the fruit of their labor, and, perhaps most importantly, how you can help.

The statistics are staggering. Nearly 115 million children are out of school in the world, the majority of whom are girls. In Africa, 15 countries have populations in which over one-half of the people can’t read. Approximately 854 million people across the world are hungry. Every day, nearly 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes. That amounts to one child every 5 seconds. Seeking to alleviate their circumstances, many children go to work in hazardous conditions. An estimated 8.4 million children work under circumstances where they are forced into debt bondage or other forms of slavery, prostitution, pornography, armed conflict and other illicit activities.

Many of these children have experienced the death of one and, in many cases, both parents. Sometimes they have been abandoned. While some are lucky enough to have extended family to live with, they spend their lives in meager circumstances simply trying to survive. Education is put far on the back burner.

Even for those fortunate enough to have both parents, education is all too often still out of reach. In Uganda, where Caritas maintains two programs, there is a government program called the Uniform Public Education (UPE) which provides a fraction of the cost of a student’s education. It does not cover the required school fees that must be paid for a child to attend school. Nor does it cover the cost of books, supplies, and mandatory uniforms. For those who do manage to scrape together the money to send their children to school, hunger is often a very serious problem.

It shouldn’t be this way. It doesn’t need to be this way. As Catholics, we are called to love and minister to our neighbor wherever we find him or her, even if it is half a world away. In Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI instructed that “Love – caritas – will always be necessary, even in the most just society. . . There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbor is indispensable. . . This love does not simply offer material help, but refreshment and care for their souls, something which is often even more necessary than material support.”

Caritas takes this teaching to heart. They work to nurture the whole person, to provide for a child’s physical, educational, spiritual and emotional needs. In next week’s article, we will examine the ways they go about fulfilling that mission.

To find out more about Caritas, please visit www.caritas.us or call toll-free 1-888-227-4827.