Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A New Year Prayer

This prayer was in my parish bulletin this week. I wish you all a very Happy and Blessed 2009!

Dear Lord,

We pray that this New Year will bring us closer to You.
May we take the time to get to know You.
Help us to truly appreciate the gifts You have graciously given us
and use them to serve You and spread Your word.

May we also see and love you in all the people we meet,
so that in turn, they can see You in us.

We know that all human relations take time if they are to grow and deepen. This is also true of our relations with You, the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which must grow over the course of our lives. In this New Year, let us realize that every action of ours no matter how great or small enables us to be in touch with you.

Let us accept You in our lives, in the way it pleases You,

as Truth, to be spoken,
as Life, to be lived,
as Light, to be lighted,
as Love, to be followed,
as Joy, to be given,
as Peace, to be spread about,
as Sacrifice, to be offered among our relatives, friends, neighbors and all people.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Trusting in God in the New Year

I always enjoy starting a new calendar. As the old year winds down, I go through the process of going over the old calendar and transferring any dates and appointments I need to remember such as birthdays, anniversaries, when to get the car inspected, etc. The new calendar with its fresh unblemished pages always represents hope to me. While the old calendar has something written on almost every day, the new calendar is relatively empty and full of potential. What will fill those days? That is the mystery yet to be discovered. I admit, I don't necessarily approach the new year with the same unbridled enthusiasm as I had as I child, or that my children now possess. I know that the new year will bring sadness as well as joy, but I do hope that there will be more of one than the other.

I try not to make New Year's resolutions. It's not that I think that they are bad. Obviously, we should all work to improve ourselves. Honestly, it is just that I know that I won't keep them. Against my better judgment, last January I had made one goal (just one!) for the past year. I couldn't make it happen despite my best efforts which only leaves me feeling disappointed. Apparently, it just wasn't meant to be. Yet, there were many, many good things that happened during the year, things that I couldn't have predicted looking at the blank calendar in the beginning of January. Every year unfolds in ways I can't imagine. With each year, I'm getting a little better at letting go of any plans I might have and letting God lead my days.

I was flipping through a women's magazine today that was full of ways to make the most of our lives in the new year. There was advice on dieting and health and making better use of our time. These are all good things. Yet, it seems that the most important advice was missing: the importance of trusting in God in the new year. Without God, all our best laid plans, whether they come to fruition or not, are not worth much. It is God who gives meaning to our days. It is only through prayer that we can come to know the will of God for our lives. It is only through spending quality time with God and offering our days to him that we can walk in his paths.

In Mother Teresa's Secret Fire: The Encounter That Changed Her Life and It Can Transform Your Own, Fr. Joseph Langford writes how “prayer was the flame that rekindled the secret fire she carried within. . . She knew that everything stands or falls depending on the depth of one's prayer.” It is only through prayer that our lives can be transformed and we become instruments of God's will. Hand in hand with prayer goes faith. “Faith is a compass that infallibly points to true north, illuminating the presence, and the personality of God – even in the darkest night.” Mother Teresa held firm to her faith even in the midst of incredible poverty and hardship. She truly believed that God loved her and all of his creatures and that He wants only the best for us. God can bring good out of the worst calamity. God is always there with us. In this new year, we can follow Mother Teresa's advice. We can pray and have faith in God in both the good and the bad moments that may come our way. We, too, can know that God loves us and has our best interests at heart. We can choose to walk in his will for the coming year. Then, when this year's calendar has been all filled up, we will know that we spent the gift of time the way we were meant to.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Book Review: Where Do I Go

Where Do I Go?: A Yada Yada House of Hope Novel

by Neta Jackson
Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2008

To the outside world, Gabby Fairbanks would seem to have it all – a wealthy, successful husband, a pernthouse apartment, and two sons she loves, but appearances are not everything. She has just been uprooted to Chicago for her husband's new business venture, is having marital difficulties, and her children are hundreds of miles away at boarding school. She is lonely and lost. When she trips over Lucy, a homeless woman, at the beach, she is introduced to Manna House, a local homeless shelter for woman. She soon begins to spend more and more time there, to her husband's chagrin. The staff and residents there offer her acceptance and an outlet for her God-given talents. She also begins rediscovering a relationship with God. She is attempting to trust in God and do what God wants, but it isn't helping things go any smoother. Her marriage is even more on the rocks, her mother needs care, and her relationship with her sons is rocky at best. Gabby is a likable character and readers will truly care about what happens to her. It is a very enjoyable read. The only caveat in reading this book is that there is no definite resolution. As part of a series, readers will need to wait another year to find out what happens to Gabby. I'm looking forward to the next installment.

St. John the Caregiver

Tomorrow (Dec. 27) is the feast day of St. John the Apostle, which makes it a good time to talk about the wonderful work done by the group, Friends of St. John the Caregiver. Founded by well-known Catholic writers Bill and Monica Dodds, the organization exists to help provide support to those who find themselves in a caregiving role. Their stated purpose is as follows:

Promoting Care for the Caregiver!

The Friends of St. John the Caregiver is an international Catholic organization addressing the growing needs of family caregivers by providing:

--Spirituality, information and resources to individual caregivers

--Training and educational material to dioceses and parishes

--A membership association offering spiritual support for:
-those who need care
-those who give care
-those who assist others giving care
www.FSJC.org/members' roles

St. John was given the role of caregiver at the foot of the cross when Jesus asked him to take care of his mother.

Prayer to St. John, Patron of Caregivers

Beloved St. John, from the cross, Jesus entrusted to you the care of His Blessed Mother. Help me and all those taking care of a loved one who is sick, elderly, disabled, or frail. Pray for us, that as we go about our many caregiving duties, we may never lose sight of that truth which Christ revealed to His disciples: 'Whatever you did for one of these, you did for Me.' Amen.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Reason for the Season

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus
that the whole world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment,
when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth
to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem,
because he was of the house and family of David,
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there,
the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields
and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel,
praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Lk 2:1-14

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Baby Changes Everything

In the quiet of night, a young mother holds her baby to her, admiring his fingers and toes, exploring the features of his face. Her son is new to this world, a gift from God. She is like every other new mother, filled with wonder and exhaustion and, perhaps, fear. She is very young. Is she up to this awesome task that God has seen fit to entrust to her? After all, this is no ordinary child. His birth was foretold by the prophets. An angel came to tell her he was coming! She replays the vision in her memory. It was just an ordinary day when the angel came with his divine message. Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son . . . He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. (Luke 1:30-32) Fear not? A child? It had been a lot to take in, but she believed, she trusted, she said “yes.” From that moment, nothing would ever be ordinary again.

She had gone to her cousin Elizabeth to help her with her own miraculous birth. She had returned home to begin her life with her husband, Joseph. Then, heavy with child, she had to travel to Bethlehem. Now, she had just given birth among the animals, far from her family and friends. This really wasn't what she had in mind. Yet, she is thankful. The innkeeper was kind to let them stay here. They are safe, they are warm, and all went well with the birth. She smiles at her child. He is perfect, so perfect. If only her mother could be here to see him. He is the One her people have waiting for: The Savior, the Messiah, the Promised One. These are such big names for such a tiny baby, her baby who sleeps so peacefully in her arms. My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. (Luke 1:46-47).

Who are these strangers who have come to visit? Joseph is talking to them, inviting them in. He whispers to her, “The angels told them.” She nods. This baby is special. The secret that few had known is secret no more. She resists the urge to hold him tighter, keep him to herself. He is not just her baby. He belongs to the world. She lays him in the manger so that they can take a closer look. They tell her about the angels, too. The light was so bright!There were so many! The whole of heaven was rejoicing!Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests. (Luke 2:14) The shepherds stay for a little while, and then they return to their fields. She can hear them praising God as they leave. Joseph looks kindly at her, then lays down to get some rest. She should rest, too. It has been quite a day! But, her mind will not quiet down. There is so much to think about.

She checks on the baby again, makes sure that he is warm and dry. She remembers the shepherds looking at him. They had such reverence in their eyes. They knew that they were beholding a miracle. Yes, a miracle, a miracle entrusted to her care. She thought of the future, of all the things that he would need to learn. Yes, there was so much to think about. That young girl who had been living a quiet life before the angel came no longer existed. She was a mother now, the mother of the Savior. All ages will call me blessed. (Luke 1:48) Why did God choose her, out of all the girls in all the world during all the ages? Why her, a simple, poor girl? Why did the savior come as a baby? He could have just appeared in glory. Why come in such impoverished conditions? It didn't make much sense to her, but she knew that God must have his reasons. She would continue to trust, to hope, to believe. She would continue to say “Yes” wherever the road would lead. This baby would not only change her life. He would change the world. She is tired. She closes her eyes and dreams of the future. Yes, this baby would change everything.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Book Review: Mother Teresa's Secret Fire

Mother Teresa's Secret Fire:
The Encounter that Changed Her Life, and How it Can Transform Your Own

by Joseph Langford
Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2008

What was the secret fire that fueled Mother Teresa? That is the question that Father Joseph Langford who co-founded the Missionaries of Charity Fathers with Mother Teresa, attempts to answer in Mother Teresa's Secret Fire: The Encounter That Changed Her Life and It Can Transform Your Own.
The first section, “Fire in the Night,” tells of Mother Teresa's Inspiration Day – September 10, 1946 in which she received her call within a call - “a divine mandate to leave the convent and go out to serve the poor in the slums.” More importantly, “she had been graced with an overwhelming experience with God,” an experience which she largely kept secret for many years.

The second section, “Illumination” explores the light that emanated from Mother Teresa. People “could feel the presence of God in Mother Teresa; they intuited her holiness, and were drawn to it.” Being “light would become the focus of Mother Teresa's entire vocation.” She experienced great darkness in her own spiritual life, but that darkness enabled her to share in the pain of the people that she ministered to. She was sent to shown them God's love, to bring them light. She wanted to show all of us how to do the same in whatever place we find ourselves in this world.

The final section, “Transformation,” illustrates how the “consuming fire” within the young Sister Teresa turned her into Mother Teresa “and how it can transform us as well.” The initial moment of inspiration was just the beginning. What fueled Mother Teresa throughout her life was her ongoing prayer with God. “Prayer was the flame that rekindled the secret fire she carried within.” Prayer is available to each and every one of us. “The gift of God's love is the fruit of a free and personal decision; one that cannot be coerced and manipulated, but only requested, yearned for, and waited on in prayer.” God will always respond.

Mother Teresa's central message, the secret that she received on the train that September day in 1946, was the thirst of Jesus. Jesus wants each of us. God always loves us. He yearns for our love in return. We are all born with the desire for God. “Only God can satisfy us.” In “Mother Teresa's Secret Fire,” Father Langford does a remarkable job of promoting Mother Teresa's message and sharing it with the world.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

God Doesn't Make Mistakes

The little girl featured on the cover of this CD is named Anna and she and her family are part of the homeschool group we belong to. Her father wrote this song for her and for all the parents of children with Down Syndrome.

Lying in the dark, staring at the ultrasound.
The doctor shakes his head, says "I'm sorry but this baby has Down syndrome
And I know it's hard to decide,
But she's so fragile that she'll probably die,
And it might be a blessing if she did"
Little did he know we're all the more blessed 'cause she lived.

And no, she's never gonna look like the other kids
And she may not learn to talk like the other ones did
And I guess she's always gonna walk just a little behind
But I don't mind.

'Cause she lives her whole life without one trace of guile
And she lights up the world with that crooked little smile
And she loves you with a love so pure it just makes your heart break.
And I'd like to tell that doctor,
God Doesn't Make Mistakes

Sittin' in the park, watchin' all the children play.
My daughter walks up, they get quiet and a little afraid.
But pretty soon the smiles come over their face
And they slow their game down just a pace
And I watch as a spirit of kindness abounds
And thank God for that girl who showed me what life's really about.

And she helped me to discover
God Doesn't Make Mistakes

They said something went wrong
But I think something went right
And I'll fight for my baby with all of my might.
'Cause I love her with a love so pure it just makes my heart break
And I want to tell the world,
God Doesn't Make Mistakes

The song can be listened to and purchased at http://www.newfamilymusic.com/

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Stop the Bailout for Planned Parenthood

Abortion groups have submitted their 50 page proposal to the Obama-Biden transition team. At the top of the list? More taxpayer dollars for abortion organizations like Planned Parenthood. How much more? Over 1.5 billion dollars more!

The Abortion Bailout Package:

* $1 BILLION dollars in taxpayer funding for International Abortion Groups
* $700 million in taxpayer funding for “Title X” Health Clinics (aka your local Planned Parenthood affiliate)
* $65 million for the UNFPA, an international aid organization connected to coercive abortion as part of China’s coercive one-child policy
* Repeal the Hyde Amendment – Vastly expanding federal taxpayer funding for abortions
* Include Abortion coverage in any taxpayer-subsidized national health care program
* Expand taxpayer-funded abortions on military bases
* Expand taxpayer-funded abortions through the Peace Corps program
* Expand taxpayer-funded abortions for federal prisoners

Send a letter to your Senators today demanding that they keep your tax dollars out of the pockets of abortion providers.

Sign the Petition Here

Monday, December 15, 2008

Jesus: The Light of the World

Guest Post by Janet Cassidy

Yesterday we celebrated the beginning of the third week of Advent, which announces joy to the world. It is a welcome sign with all that is going on around us today. As Christians, we are called to stand in hope because of Christ, who brings light to the world, salvation for all.

The Good News that Christ brings should never become cliché. The language we use to talk about Jesus, such as “light to the world” should not make our eyes glaze over because of their familiarity. When we speak of Jesus as our light, it is helpful to think about the effects of light, for instance.

Light—like the sun on your window—has the ability to highlight the spots that were overlooked during your last cleaning. That same light can also lead you when the road is dark and you are not sure where you are going. We can think of our “cleaning” as an examination of conscience and we can think of that dark road as a particular trial we are facing or personal vice we are trying to work through. Jesus, our Light, brings hope for us as we strive for holiness.

May God fully bless you during this week of rejoicing, bringing you to experience the true joy that comes with knowing Jesus, the Light of the World.

God bless,


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

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Novel Update

For those of you who might be interested, I am still working on my novel, although I have to say, it is much harder this month. Now that the deadline has passed (and I missed it), it is harder to get myself motivated. Also, the more I write, the more I'm disappointed in the story. I refuse to go back and read anything of what I have written. I'm forcing my inner critic to stay "off" for this project. Still, I'm a pretty self-motivated person and I am bound and determined to get to 50,000 words even if it kills me (some days, I feel like it just might). Then, I will worry about reading it and deciding whether it deserves a second draft. I'm currently at 32,284 words.

It's a Wonderful, Imperfect, Life

“Mom, what is this movie about?” a child asked his mother as “It's a Wonderful Life” was just beginning.
“It's about a man who is in trouble through no fault of his own and he wishes that he had never been born. He thinks other people's lives would be better that way. But an angel comes and shows him how much worse the world would be if he had never been there.”
“Sometimes I wish I had never been born,” the child continued.
“Well, I would miss you very much,” the mother answered.
“But you wouldn't have known me.”
“I would know something was missing.”
“But when I have been bad, and done something I can't fix, or hurt someone, I feel bad and think it would be better if I wasn't around.”
“We all do wrong things like that sometimes, but if we tell God we are sorry and try to make up for the things we have done, that is all we can do. We have to keep moving forward.”
“I do tell God I'm sorry, but sometimes I still think it would be better if I wasn't around,” the child insisted.
“At times like that, you need to remember that God made you with a special purpose in mind. He loves you and He had a reason for putting you here. The world needs you. Ok?”
“Ok. Thanks, Mom.”
“I love you,” the mother replied.
“I love you, too.”

At one time or another in our lives, perhaps even when we were still rather young, we might have thought the world would be better off without us. Maybe one of you reading this was thinking that very thought today. Like the child, we need to be reminded of God's forgiveness and love. We all have regrets, things that we have done in our past that we really wish we could take back. There are times in our lives when we feel like a burden to others. A child might feel responsible for his parents fighting. A chronically sick adult may feel like she serves no real purpose in the world, that she has outlived her usefulness.

We suffer when we feel like others must suffer because of us, whether it is because of something we actually did or merely as a consequence of life circumstances. Our lives are far from perfect; but, no matter how bad we may perceive our lives to be, God is always there with open arms, ready to shower us with His love. There is no sin we have committed that God will not forgive, provided we are truly sorry. There is no burden that God is not willing to help us carry.

God loves each and every one of us. The words of Psalm 139 tell us of the loving care that God put into creating each one of us. “Truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb. . .My soul also you knew full well; nor was my frame unknown to you when I was made in secret.” God indeed made each of us for a reason. The world needs each one of us. Each life touches so many other lives. We each have a role to play. Yes, we make mistakes, but without each of us, the world would be a little bit less than it should be. Even in the midst of our heartache and sorrow, life is an amazing gift. “I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made; wonderful are your works.” May we give thanks today for our wonderful, imperfect, lives. May we treasure the gift we have been given.

Note: If you are suffering from depression, please contact your doctor. If you feel that you may be a danger to yourself or anyone else, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE or go to your nearest hospital.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

As I am the mother of two boys, I don't tend to give a lot of thought to what it means to be raising girls (Except to be thankful that I am not. I am a firm believer that God knew what He was doing when he sent David and Isaac my way, because seriously, I wouldn't have a clue.). In any event, Sarah Reinhard has written a beautiful article for CatholicMom on The World of Little Girls and Possibilities. It offers a good reminder for all of us who were once little girls as well as for those who are currently bringing them up.

Quilt for David

Here is this year's quilting project, ready as promised, for Christmas. Some of you may recall that last year, I made a quilt for my husband and I. This year was David's turn. Yes, the colors are rather unique, but the fabrics were picked out of the scrap bag by a (then) six-year old boy. I'm already making plans for Isaac's quilt which I will begin working on in January with a hoped for completion date of Christmas 2009.

I Will Give You Rest

This is today's entry from Living Faith. I thought it was particularly appropriate given the time of year.

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

What a wonderful invitation! Jesus offers rest from our grueling burdens and arduous efforts. What surprises me is how easily I forget this generous invitation when I am overwhelmed with work or with troubles that inevitably arise. Instead of leaning on the heart of Christ, I give in to anxiety and worry. I work even harder and spend later hours in the office. I squirm and struggle, trying to get things to develop my way. Instead of turning to prayer and giving more attention to my divine resource, I lessen the time, believing it will help me to 'get more done.' What a crazy response to Christ's wonderful invitation.

Eventually I wake up and remember, "Oh, yes, I can find rest. I can receive an easing of what consumes me." This will happen if I deliberately slow down, become still, and turn my heart toward the One who urges, "Come to me."
- Sr. Joyce Rupp, O.S.M.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Thanks to the Sonrise Morning Show

My thanks go out to the Sonrise Morning Show in Cincinnati, Ohio for having me on as a guest this morning to discuss the history and symbolism of the Advent wreath. It was a great pleasure.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Time to Get Ready

As presented in scripture, John the Baptist is quite the imposing character. He was not exactly the most “normal” of people, living in the desert as he did, dressed in camel skin and subsisting on locusts and wild honey, shouting at people to repent. Honestly, when one encounters someone equally non-conformist today, one is most likely to cautiously cross the street in order to avoid him. Yet, there must have been something about him and his message that made people stand up and pay attention. Not only did people not run from him, they followed him, eager to listen and eager to be baptized as a sign of their new life. Some even thought that he was the promised Messiah. He quickly set them straight, however, telling his followers that “after me is coming someone who is more powerful than me, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mk 1:7-8) You can almost see the frustrated John shaking his head at the people, thinking, “You fools, don't you see? Don't you understand? He's coming - the one you have been waiting for all your lives. Time is growing short. You have to get ready. You need to change your lives. Now!”

John still speaks to us today, and perhaps we are an even more stubborn audience than the one he faced 2000 years ago. After all, we have heard this message of John the Baptist year after year. We know that Jesus came and we celebrate it every year with all of our favorite Christmas traditions. We pray, we light the Advent wreath, we sing “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Silent Night.” This is all well and good; but, do we change? Or do we breathe a sigh of relief when December 26th comes, thinking “Thank God that is over for another year!” and go back to our pre-advent ways?

It can be difficult to focus on the spiritual aspects of advent. Lent seems so much more conducive to prayer and fasting and sacrifice. The month of December requires much from most of us. There are celebrations to attend, children's pageants to get ready for, presents to buy, decorations to put up, and cards to send. The “things to do” list seems to take on epic proportions. The question of “are you ready?” prompts a mental overview of the tasks that still need to be done before Christmas arrives, rather than a reflection on our inner preparation.

Yes, John is shaking his head at us as well. “Don't you get it? He's coming. Time is growing short. You need to get ready. Now!” John doesn't care about the state of our Christmas decorations. I imagine Jesus doesn't care much, either. They don't care about our famous Christmas fudge or how many presents are under the tree. They do care, however, about the state of our souls. Most of us don't live in constant anticipation of the end of time, the way the first generation Christians did, but for each of us individually, the end is near. We never know when death may come to us. We may live one more day or eighty more years, but in either case, life is short. The time given to us is short. Each year, in this season of advent, John the Baptist comes back to remind us, his voice shouting out to us to get ready, to repent, to change our ways. Today.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Book Review: Heaven has Blue Carpet

What happens when you transplant a suburban housewife and put her into a working sheepfarm? It sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn't it? But in Heaven Has Blue Carpet: A Sheep Story by a Suburban Housewife
Sharon Niedzinski, a devoted Christian, shares the real-life lessons she learned from throwing herself into a new life tending sheep. She not only learned the practical aspects of sheeprearing from reading everything she could get her hands on that referred to sheep and from kind-hearted neighboring farmers, but she also obtained brand new insights into the Bible and our relationship with Christ from her time on the farm. It is these lessons that she is most eager to share and which make this book very worthwhile reading.

In Biblical times, sheepherding was a very common occupation. Therefore, the Biblical references to Jesus as a good shepherd and the many stories and psalms that featured sheep resonated with the listeners. In the modern era when most of us do not spend our lives tending sheep, the deeper meaning of many of these images have been lost. Niedzinski shares her real-life experience to make these Biblical passages come alive. For example, she had orphan sheep that had been rejected by their mothers which she gave special care to. These sheep got to know her and develop a special realtionship with her. On the other hand, the other sheep who didn't need her so much were rather indifferent to her presence, but she still cared for them and provided for them. “These sheep didn't have a close relationship with me like my orphans did, but if they continued to listen to my voice and follow after me, they could enter into their destiny. 'My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand' (John 10:27-28)”

Perhaps the best parts of the book are the little snippets of information highlighted under “Shearing Shed,” “Good Grain” and “Chew on This” in which Niedzinski provides a very succinct lesson worth remembering. One of the best is this offering found under “Good Grain”: “On your feet now – applaud God! Bring a gift of laughter, sing yourselves into his presence. Know this: God is God, and God, God. He made us; we didn't make him. We're his people, his well-tended sheep. Enter with the password: 'Thank you!' Make yourselves at home, talking praise. Thank him. Worship him. For God is sheer beauty, all-generous in love, loyal always and ever. (Psalm 100)

“Heaven has a Blue Carpet” both educates and entertains. Neidzinski has graciously shared her hard-learned lessons with the rest of us that we may profit from them.

Some other great quotes from this book:

"Man will also give up and die without hope. Hope is a gift of life given to mankind by God. With hope, man can anticipate, aspire, and believe in what he does not see. The Lord delights in those who can put their hope in him and his unfailing love."

"Are you hungry for God? Are you willing to let him do whatever it takes to get you to that place of broken, holy hunger? Are you willing to give the Shepherd total control over your life? If you do, don't be surprised if he starts messing with it. He might put you in a new pasture, in a different sheep pen, or even lock you up in a smelly stall for a while; whatever it takes. Don't hold on to any part of your life so tight that the Shepherd can't move it around or eliminate it! He alone knows your future. You have to believe that the plans he has for you are always for your good . . . even if they stink for a time."

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Please Pray

Please pray for the parents and family of a one-year old girl who died very suddenly due to a seizure. She was their only child and they had struggled with infertility for many years before conceiving her. They are donating her organs to others in the hopes of bringing some good out of this very sad time. I can't even begin to imagine the heartbreak. I'm sure that God has his reasons for calling that little girl back home but sometimes God's ways don't make much sense to us mere mortals.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Book Review: Reflections of God's Holy Land

Reflections of God's Holy Land: A Personal Journey through Israel
by Eva Marie Everson and Miriam Feinberg Vamosh
Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2008

The vast majority of us will never have the opportunity to take a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to walk where the patriarchs, prophets, Jesus, and the apostles traveled. Thanks to this amazing work by Eva Marie Everson and Miriam Feinberg Vamosh, however, we are all able to appreciate the beauty and history of this pivotal geographic area. In Reflections of God's Holy Land: A Personal Journey Through Israel, Everson, a Christian, and Vamosh, a Jew, combine their knowledge and appreciation of the Holy Land to create an incredibly beautiful, informative book.

The first thing one notices about this book is its sheer breathtaking beauty. Designed as a coffee table book, it is full of photos that counteract any preconceived notions of what the Holy Land looks like. Simply looking at the photos, one feels that one has stepped into a different world steeped in history and blessed by God.

The information is first-rate as well. Each location is introduced by a Biblical passage that references that locale. The “Did You Know” section provides historical background about the place and information about life in Biblical times. These sections are full of fascinating facts. The “Reflections” are perhaps the most touching part of the narratives, exploring the effect a place has on the heart and on one's faith. For example, in Nazareth, Everson writes of looking over a railing at “Mary's Spring,” a place which is thought to be the location of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel told Mary she was to conceive Jesus. “I would dip my hand into it, if only I could reach it. The water is clear and appears refreshing. Above it are more remembrances of Mary . . . of her life . . .of her gift. Living Water. Without him, Mary would have been just a girl. Just a virgin bride married to a Jewish carpenter. Just a mother like any other. Just like me. Without him, there was no 'her.' Like her, without him, there is no 'me.'” Another example comes from a visit to the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes. “'We only have five loaves,' the disciples told Jesus. 'We only have two fish.' Isn't this the way of it? We think of what we 'only have' rather than what it might become in Jesus' hands. Not enough, we think, and so we hold back . . .With this, we think, we must feed ourselves only because we are hungry. . . I stretch my hand toward the lump of rugged stone beneath the altar. If only I could place what little I have to offer upon it, Jesus would feed others. Jesus would feed me.”

“Reflections of God's Holy Land: A Personal Journey through Israel” is a book to be savored and studied. It provides an armchair pilgrimage to the holiest of lands.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The History and Symbolism of the Advent Wreath

The lights of the candles on the Advent Wreath break through the darkness, reminding us of the Light of Christ that we anticipate during this holy season. Where did this tradition come from, of lighting four candles in an evergreen wreath to mark the weeks preceding Christmas? Like many of our Church traditions, the use of candles in the midst of late fall and winter was originally a pagan tradition. According to Rev. William Saunders who wrote an article in the “Arlington Catholic Herald” on this topic, states that “pre-Germanic peoples used wreaths with lit candles during the dark and cold December days as a sign of hope in the future warm and extended sunlight days of spring.” In a similar vein, Scandinavians “lighted candles were placed around a wheel, and prayers were offered to the god of light to turn the 'wheel of the earth' back toward the sun to lengthen the days and restore warmth.”

In the middle ages, the Germanic peoples began incorporating a lighted wreath into the Christian season of Advent. It didn't gain widespread popularity until the 1800s and it wasn't until the 1900s that German immigrants brought the tradition to America.

The Advent Wreath is very symbolic. The evergreens used for the wreath itself are a reminder of continuous life. The shaping of them into a circle reinforces that meaning. The circle is also a sign of everlasting life as well as the eternity of God.

The four candles used, three purple and one pink, mark the Sundays of Advent before Christmas. The purple candles are reminders that this should be a time of prayer and sacrifice to prepare us for the second coming of Christ. On the third Sunday, the pink candle is lit to announce Gaudete Sunday, a Sunday of rejoicing for Christ is coming near. With the lighting of that candle, the light has won out over the darkness (three candles lit vs. the one that remains unlit).

Various meanings have been assigned to the four candles. One interpretation has each candle representing 4000 years, the Biblical time between Adam and Eve and the coming of Christ. In another interpretation, the first candle represents the patriarchs, the second the prophets, the third reminds us of John the Baptist, and the fourth of Mary, the mother of Jesus. They have also been described as the prophets' candle, the Bethlehem Candle, the shepherds' candle, and the angels' candle.

A fifth white candle in the center representing Christ can also be used. It is lit on Christmas Eve as a remembrance of Christ coming into the world. Sometimes, all the other candles of the wreath are removed and replaced with white candles on Christmas.

The Advent Wreath serves as a powerful visual reminder of the holiness of the season. The light of the candles invite us to quiet ourselves during this busy time and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. Whether at home or at Church, it provides an invitation to wait and pray in hopeful anticipation for the coming of Christ. We are called to welcome the light of Christ into our lives.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Christmas Visitor

Are you looking for a sweet work of fiction to help put you in the Christmas spirit? "A Christmas Visitor" by Katherine Spencer and Thomas Kinkade may be just what you are looking for. Escape to the small New England town of Cape Light where everyone's lives are interconnected and multiple lives are about to experience some Christmas magic.

There are actually three Christmas visitors in this tale. The first is a man found in a field who has apparently suffered from an accident and is experiencing amnesia. The second visitor is a statue of an angel which mysteriously appears in the basement of a small church. The last is an unexpected pregnancy. These three visitors will radically change the lives of those they touch.

"A Christmas Visitor" is a very appealing story that will leave you smiling and your heart full of the wonder of Christmas this holiday season.

Friday, November 28, 2008

NaNoWriMo Update

National Novel Writing Month is coming to a close. I had set a personal goal for me to hit 25,000 words by the end of November. I was at 22,200 coming into today, and then I realized that due to my life, today was going to be the last day I was going to be able to write this month. I am pleased to report that I just wrote my 25,037th word! I'm pretty excited. I plan to keep going. Perhaps I'll hit the full 50,000 words of a first draft by New Year's. I'll keep you posted!

Christmas Novena

It's time once again for the Christmas Novena - said from November 30th - December 24th. I've seen different versions of how to say this novena - some say to say it 15 times a day while others have it as just once a day. However you do it, humbly request God for the blessings that you want most this Christmas.

The Christmas Novena

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment
At which the Son of God was born
Of a most pure Virgin
At a stable in Bethlehem
In the piercing cold.
At that hour vouchsafe, I beseech thee,
To hear my prayers and grant my desires.
(Mention your request here.)
Through Jesus Christ and his most Blessed Mother. Amen.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. We all have so much to be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Getting Ready for the Jesse Tree

Yes, Thanksgiving is a mere two days away with all the preparation that entails, but it is also time to get ready for Advent which starts this coming Sunday. A Jesse Tree is a great way to mark the season.

The Diocese of Erie has downloadable Jesse Tree ornaments on their site:


Another set of ornaments can be found here:


Monday, November 24, 2008

"Dear Mother" letters

I recently heard about the Mother Letter Project-the project devoted to collecting letters from mothers, to mothers.

Simply stated, I am collecting a series of “open letters” from mothers, to mothers. I am asking you to share your stories—no matter how raw or difficult. Share you concerns or worries—no matter how foolish they may seem. Share your wisdom—no matter how you came by it. Share your mother story. The only request? Start the letter “Dear Mother” and sign it. I will compile all of the letters in a Christmas book for both my wife AND YOU. If you share a letter before Christmas you will receive a copy of the Mother Letters. Submit your letter by emailing your letter to motherletter@gmail.com.

As my best friend is about to give birth to her first child, I chose to write my letter to her and others who are also about to embark on the amazing journey of motherhood. This is what I submitted:

Dear Mother about to give birth,

Welcome to the world of motherhood! It is the hardest, most wonderful adventure you will ever go on. You have said that it scares you when someone says that “Your life is over,” or reminds you of all the ways life is going to change. It isn't so much that your life is over, as it is that life as you know it is over. The you that you have come to know and love up to now will be replaced by someone that you may not even recognize for a while. You may find yourself looking in a mirror and wondering where it is that that woman went to. You may wonder how things that mattered so much no longer seem to matter much at all. You may wonder what you used to do with all your time when you thought you were so busy, because your whole life now revolves around another person and the very act of taking a shower now seems like a great accomplishment. You may wonder if life will ever be “normal” again.

Yes, life will be “normal” again, but it will be a new “normal,” a “normal” like you have never known before – where love for this small helpless person will define all that you are and all that you do. You will become a new, better version of you. You will go from being a woman to being a mother. It won't happen overnight, but one day you will wake up and you will feel like a mother. The transition will be complete. Give yourself time to adjust to your new role. Be kind to yourself. Get sleep whenever and however you can. Try to do something you enjoy each day – even if it is for just 5 minutes. Pray – if there was ever a time in your life when you needed divine assistance, this is it. God gave you your child. Only He has the blueprints. Ask for help when you need it. Accept help when it is offered. Most of all, enjoy your new baby. Right now, it may seem impossible, but that tiny baby will grow up so quickly! Cherish every moment!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Freedom of Want - Making the Dream a Reality at Thanksgiving

For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink. (Mt 25:35)

The items come trickling in a few a time. Parishioners turn in the food items as they go into Church. This goes on all year long at my parish to support our parish food pantry, begun twenty years ago to help support the poor in our urban neighborhood. People who need it can come for food, no questions asked. While no one food item would be enough to make much of a dent in the hunger of our community, the collective efforts of many do make a tremendous difference. Perhaps this is most true at Thanksgiving when a concerted effort is made to fill at least 100 boxes to the brim with food for a Thanksgiving feast for those who need it most.

The Monday evening before Thanksgiving is dedicated to sorting the food and preparing the baskets. A huge group of parish volunteers come to help. From pre-schoolers to the those in their 90s, there is a task for everyone. Various pews are set aside for each type of food. There are rows for canned vegetables, stuffing, cranberry sauce, cake mixes, baked beans, pasta, potatoes, and every other item you could want for a Thanksgiving meal, with some left over. There is even a collection of baby food for those with infants. One group of volunteers is in charge of emptying the bags of food and putting them in the appropriate pews. Others stay in the pews to organize the food and check expiration dates to make sure all the food is good. The younger children are put to work counting out potatoes and putting them into bags. Once all the food is sorted, parishioners line up with boxes and make the rounds of the church, getting one or two of each item placed in the boxes. These boxes will be picked up on Tuesday along with a turkey to help provide a happy Thanksgiving for 100 families.

Being part of this evening always brings tears to my eyes. There is such a sense of community spirit as our parish gathers together to help feed the poor. No one person could ever make this happen. It takes the work of many. Every person who contributes, from those who bring in a single can of food, to those who donate money for the turkeys, to those who provide the plastic bags and boxes, to those who physically help sort the food and load the boxes, makes this effort possible. Those boxes are filled with more than just food – they are filled with love and concern for our neighbors. In the face of all the poverty in the world, it may seem like just a drop in the bucket – not enough to make a difference at all, but for those families whose lives we touch it does make a very real difference. Not only will they not go hungry on Thanksgiving, but they also know that a whole bunch of people care. They are not forgotten.

Similar efforts go on at parishes and civic groups across our nation. We stand together to live out the gospel message to feed our neighbors, and in so doing, feed the body of Christ. At least temporarily, we can provide freedom from want.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Knights of Columbus Bookclub

The Catholic Company is working with the Knights of Columbus to promote that organization's monthly Supreme Knight's book club to more Catholics around the nation. The Knights of Columbus Book Club is a nationwide reading and study of a Catholic book that is bolstered by a monthly online chat with the Supreme Knight, Carl Anderson, and often the author of that month's book club selection, or an
expert on the topic of the book. Each month readers can ask questions
during the live online chat that takes place the last week of each month.

The Catholic Company is selling a subscription to the Knights of Columbus
book club. There is no initiation fee or annual cost for the subscription;
subscribers simply pay for each book and receive a 20% discount on each
selection. Each month The Knight of Columbus Book Club subscribers
automatically receive the current book selection in plenty of time to read
it before the online discussion. To learn more about the Book Club
Membership, please visit:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Remembering the Hungry this Holiday Season

Almost everyone is being hit hard during these rough economic times, but as we get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving next week, the Associated Press has reported that 36.2 million adults and children (that's 12.2% of Americans) in the US didn't have enough to eat in 2007. That's in 2007, before the bottom completely fell out of the economy. I'm sure the number is much higher now. Please be generous in giving to your local food bank all year long, but especially at the holidays. Our neighbors are in desperate need.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Book Review: Real Women, Real Saints

Real Women, Real Saints: Friends for Your Spiritual Journey
by Gina Loehr
Cincinnati, OH: Servant Books, 2008

Gina Loehr has compiled a wonderful collection of women saints' biographies in “Real Women, Real Saints: Friends for Your Spiritual Journey.” Loehr, who has a master's degree theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville, writes that “sanctity will never fit into a formula. . . In these pages God's image is reflected in a hundred different forms. . . Every story in this book tells of a relationship between the Savior of the universe and a woman who loved him enough to live in harmony with his will.”

Loehr divides the saints into seven major categories: Women of Faith, Women of Hope, Women of Charity, Women of Prudence, Women of Justice, Women of Fortitude, and Women of Temperance. In reality, however, the majority of these holy women exhibited many of these virtues. Loehr is to be commended for the wide variety of saints she has profiled. While the well-known saints no hagiographical work could be complete without have been included, such as Joan of Arc, Mary Magdalene, Teresa of Avila, Anne, Catherine of Siena, Clare, Rose of Lima, and Therese of Lisieux, Loehr has also included many lesser-known saints. Reading about these saints is fascinating and will encourage the making of new friends up in heaven. As Loehr states, “the Church recognizes the value of having specific role models and helpers to assist us during the course of our daily lives.” These saints will provide much inspiration and will hopefully encourage readers to find out more about their favorite holy women. Among these pages, there are role models for every women from every walk of life.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Real Women, Real Saints.

Book Review: The Great Emergence

The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why
by Phyllis Tickle
Grand Rapid, MI: Baker Books, 2008

Phyllis Tickle's books are always intelligent and thought-provoking. Great Emergence, The: How Christianity Is Changing and Why (emersion: Emergent Village resources for communities of faith)
is no exception. Following in the footsteps of the Papacy of Gregory the Great (@ 590), the Great Schism (1054) and the Great Reformation (1517), the Great Emergence refers to the massive changes going on in the Christian faith and society at large in our present day. As Tickle puts it, every 500 years the Church has a massive rummage sale during which the old ways are cast off and a new way of being Christian comes to the forefront. As Tickle emphasizes, however, “no standing form of organized Christian faith has ever been destroyed by one of our semi-millenial eruptions. Instead, each simply has lost hegemony or pride of place to the new and not-yet-organized form that was birthing.”

Tickle offers a historical overview of the three previous upheavals, with a special focus on the Reformation as it is the transformation that immediately precedes our current era. There are parallels between the two, especially in that increased forms of communication made both possible. The invention of movable type made possible the widespread dissemination of ideas via the printed word. In many ways, this brought the Reformation into being. Everyone could now have a Bible. By the same token, modern communication advances such as the radio, television, and perhaps most importantly, the internet, have encouraged communication among different branches of Christianity and exposure to other faith traditions.

Tickle explores the many pivotal people, things, and ideas that have contributed to the Great Emergence. Among these were Darwin, Faraday, Freud, and Jung, new forms of communication, the increased use of the automobile, a rediscovery of the historical Jesus, communism, World War II, changing roles of women, the drug age and the birth control pill. Tickle doesn't pass judgment on any of these developments. She simply reports on the many changes they brought to society in general and Christianity in particular.

The last section of this book, “Where is it Going?” is the most speculative. Tickle divides Christianity into four main areas: Liturgicals, Social Justice Christians, Renewalists, and Conservatives. No one quadrant is the sole domain of any one denomination. Rather, there are Christians of many denominations in all four. In the middle is the convergence, the new way of being Christian, that is developing.

“The Great Emergence” is an excellent sociological and historical study of a Christianity in flux. It provides a springboard for much discussion.

Prayer to St. Jude for the Depressed

This prayer came in the mail today in a book of prayers to St. Jude. It is the first time I have seen a prayer for those who are depressed. It is directed to St. Jude, but could just as easily be addressed to God or Jesus or your favorite saint.

St. Jude, friend to those in need,
I am weary from grief, without joy, without hope,
struggling through the dark night of the soul.
I turn to you, my most trusted friend.
Take away this emptiness and the pain of my broken heart.
In your compassion, wipe away the tears and carry me to a place of peace.
Too long have I been blind to the goodness of God's world.
Heal me. I yearn to feel, to bathe in light and joy.
Envelop me in brightness, and do not hold back.
And I promise, if you should see me fit to receive these gifts,
I will share them always. Amen.

Catholic Writers to Hold Conference

Writers, editors, agents, and other publishing professionals from around the world are gearing up for the second annual Catholic Writers’ Conference Online, which will be held February 2-9, 2009. Sponsored by the Catholic Writer’s Guild and the Extraordinary Moms Network, the online conference is free of charge and open to writers of all levels who register by January 15.

Last year’s conference drew over 300 participants and had more than 30 editors and writing professionals from all over the country presenting. Editors on this year’s faculty include Brian Saint-Paul (InsideCatholic.com), Ami McConnell (Thomas Nelson Publishers), Susan Brinkman (Canticle Magazine), diocesan newspaper editor Kyle Eller, and Sister Maria Grace (Pauline Books & Media). Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Lea Schizas, Mark Shea, Melanie Rigney, Michelle Buckman, and Tom Grace will also be presenting in their areas of expertise.

Eric Sammons, who participated in last years’ conference, shared this success story:

Before the conference began, I had been working on a proposal for a manuscript I had recently completed. As a first-time author, I had a bit of trepidation about entering the whole process of submitting to publishers. When I saw that the Catholic Writer's Conference was having a pitch session with Pauline Books & Media, I decided to register for it, even though I wasn't quite ready yet. This gave me the incentive to get my proposal in a final form.

During the pitch session, Pauline asked me to send my full proposal. They ended up passing on the project, but their desire to see my proposal gave me the impetus and confidence to continue to submit my proposal to publishers. After a few rejections, Our Sunday Visitor just this week offered me a contract!

I appreciate the opportunity that the Catholic Writer's Conference gave me last year, and I wish it continued success in the future. I'll be sure to attend this year.

Early registration is recommended. Although the conference is offered free of charge, donations are accepted; proceeds will go toward future conferences. To register or for more information, go to http://www.catholicwritersconference.com.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Parable of the Talents

Sometimes it is hard to balance trying to make the best use of our talents with trying to be humble. Marcellino D'Ambrosio, Ph.D. offers a good article on The Parable of the Talents today at Catholic Exchange. It is well worth checking out.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Saints for Married Women

While reading some lives of the saints to my children recently, my older son remarked, “Most of the saints are nuns and priests.” It's true. Read through a list of saints, and the vast majority of them have had religious vocations. Another group was married at some point, but their spouses died and then the widow or widower entered or founded a religious organization. It is for their work after their marriage ended that they are recognized by the Church for their holiness. There are also those who lived out their holiness as single persons, dedicating themselves to lives of prayer and service.

Why is it that relatively few married women have been raised up as saints by the Church? Perhaps it is simply that work done within a family is hidden work, much less likely to be recognized by the world at large. There have no doubt been many holy married women throughout the centuries, but they have lived quiet lives, and in death, go equally unnoticed except by the One who knows all and sees all. We celebrate these unknown women on “All Saints' Day.”

The Saints are role models for how we are to live. They are human beings, complete with human faults, who have managed to live extraordinary lives of holiness. The path that leads to holiness is paved with love, prayer, and service. That is the same for all, but the way those elements are lived out vary considerably depending on whether one has a vocation to religious life, the single life, or to marriage. So, then, who are some role models that married women can look to as having lived saintly lives while tending to their husbands and children?

Mary, the mother of Jesus, provides the perfect role model of what it means to accept the Lord's will for one's life and to live out a holy life as a wife and mother. She is Queen of all the Saints and our Mother in heaven. She is always ready to help us on our spiritual journey.

Saint Elizabeth of Portugal (1271 – 1336) married Denis, King of Portugal, when she was twelve years old. She maintained a regular routine of prayer and mass while raising her son and daughter. She also engaged in many charitable activities, providing food, clothing and shelter for the poor, visiting the sick, founding a hospital, and one for orphans. She also helped poor women to be married by providing them with dowries. Her husband was unfaithful, but Elizabeth continued to care for, and pray for, him. She even cared for his illegitimate children. He was ultimately converted on his deathbed. She also worked to preserve peace. When her son declared war on his father, she rode right out into the middle of battlefield to keep them from fighting.

Saint Gorgonia (d. 374) was the sister of two other saints, Saint Caesarius and Saint Gregory Nazianzen. She married Vitalian and raised three children. She wanted to raise her children and grandchildren to live lives of service to God. She showed them how to do this through her own example of prayer, fasting, modesty, and charity to others. She exemplified the virtue of hospitality, welcoming all who came to her home and sharing all that she had. She was known for her wisdom and many sought her out to seek her counsel.

Saint Monica (331 – 387) is one of the best known mothers of all time. She was married to a pagan named Patricius and became the mother of three children. She had the added burden of living with her mother-in-law who did not like her and spoke against her. St. Monica always treated her with kindness and eventually won her over. Her youngest son, Augustine, caused her much trouble. He was brilliant, but fell into a life of sin and dissolution. She prayed for him constantly and was eventually rewarded by his ultimate conversion. Augustine would become a saint in his own right and a great Doctor of the Church.

Blessed Maria Corsini (1884 – 1965) was married to Blessed Luigi Beltarme Quattrocchi. They had four children, three of whom would ultimately enter religious life. Maria's fourth pregnancy was difficult. Doctors offered her only a 5% chance of survival, but she refused to abort and the child was delivered without complications. They had a devout family life centered around daily mass and the rosary. They were also active in many social ministries, served the poor, and housed refugees in their home during World War II.

These are just a few of the married women who have been formally declared “holy” by the Catholic Church. These women can be role models for those of us who strive for holiness within the confines of our own domestic churches.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

St. Therese was Homeschooled, Too!

Last night, the kids and I watched the movie of Therese about St. Therese. This was a movie I had wanted to see for a long time. As someone very familiar with her story, the movie was a little disappointing. It just wasn't possible to go into the depth of her spirituality in the time frame allotted. Also, the fact that the same actress played her from age 8 to 25 was a bit disconcerting. Never-the-less, the message was there, and my boys really enjoyed it. I need to expose them to these type of things when they are young, before they reach an age where they are not interested in such things. I have to do my best to balance the Pokemon and Star Wars that they love so much. There is a place for both in their minds.

During one portion of the movie, Therese was complaining about going to school and it showed what a hard time she had at school. Her father agreed to pull her out of school and let her older sister Pauline be her teacher. At that point, I told the boys, "Look, St. Therese was homeschooled, too!" They suggested that she should be the patron saint of homeschoolers. I did a quick search, and there doesn't seem to be one, although St. Thomas Aquinas is the patron saint of students. I think St. Therese would be a good one.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

“Anti-Adoption Advocates”: How Should We Respond?

An important article from Heidi Hess-Saxton, an adoptive mother:

Now that the election is over, one of the most chilling prospects of the future administration is the president-elect’s determination to sign the “Freedom of Choice Act” (FOCA). The implications of this — both financial and moral — are staggering, for it means our tax dollars may be used to snuff out the lives of millions of children. To be truly pro-life, then, is to seek ways to ensure that the need for abortion is eliminated, as far as we are able to do this.

Adoption gives those in crisis pregnancies an abortion alternative that saves the life of the child and relieves them of the unwanted responsibility of parenthood. Adoption also provides an opportunity for couples to have a child they might otherwise never have, and for the child to have a “forever family” that will love him or her for life.

child.jpgWith foster-adoption, children who have already been born — often to parents with such serious issues that the children may have been better off had the “adoption option” been chosen from the beginning — are given a second chance. Sadly, many of these children — especially those who are part of sibling group, have special needs, or are “older” (four or more) — must wait months and even years for a loving, permanent home. There are simply not enough suitable families willing to open their hearts this way.

The situation would be dire enough … Now grass roots, anti-adoption advocacy groups such as “Bastard Nation” and “Adoption: Legalized Ties” are seeking to discourage adoption, choosing rather to advocate for disgruntled adult adoptees and “natural parents,” including those whose children were taken from them because of abuse and neglect.

Anti-Adoption Advocates: Biased “Truth”

The dynamic of adoption is often described as a “triad,” with 3 sides representing the birth (or first) parents, adoptive parents, and adopted child. By and large, anti-adoption groups have vilified both adoptive parents and the agencies that mediate the placements.

Recently, however, the attack has expanded to birth parents as well: Under the “Unsealed Initiative,” adult adoptees and others are lobbying government agencies in New York and other states (successfully, in Toronto) to release sealed birth records in order to gain access to the identities of birth parents who may not desire contact, and who were promised anonymity upon relinquishment. In the minds of the adult adoptees, the “best interest of the child” trumps all — when in fact the “child” is no longer a child, but an adult whose “right to know” is no more important than the other party’s right to privacy.

This growing trend is even more alarming, given the unabashed pro-abortion stance of the Obama administration. Women in crisis pregnancies who are considering adoption may have second thoughts when faced with the very real possibility that their “past” may come knocking on their door twenty or thirty years hence, disrupting their lives with demands and recriminations. Unless the records are truly sealed with a “suite lock” — one that can be opened only by mutual consent — the real danger is that these “unwanted” children will simply be aborted.

Catholic Anti-Adoption Advocates

Recently I was appalled to discover that these “anti-adoption advocates” are making inroads even in Catholic publications. Last September the National Catholic Register ran this article (accessed through my EMN blog) by self-professed “anti-adoption advocate” Melinda Selmys, who writes about encountering teenage adoptees who were acting out — though the adoptive parents were “kind and loving people.”

Rather than consider the real possibility that the teens had been damaged by circumstances that led up to the adoption, or that adoption may indeed have been their best chance at a bright future, or that these kids were just like others teens who have difficulties making the transition into adulthood, Selmys concludes that the adoption itself was the true source of the problem. She writes:

The child … is not a tabula rasa on which anyone - parents, teachers, social workers, engineers of brave new worlds - can inscribe their glowing hopes for the future. … The child is created in the image and likeness of God, but it is also in the image and likeness of its parents. The people who hope to see evil eradicated from the world through increasing government intervention in the lives of children are going to be sorely disappointed. Children do not inherit their faults and failings merely by watching and imitating mom and dad. They inherit them on a much deeper level.

Healing the Wounded Heart

Now, much of what Ms. Selmys says sounds reasonable. Foster and adoptive parents are well aware that our children have challenges and issues originating with their “first families” — behavioral, mental, emotional, and medical among them. Sometimes it’s genetic. Other times challenges come from the child’s pre-adoptive environment, not a blank slate … a heart wounded by bad choices and negative impulses of broken people.

It is also true that no adoptive environment is “perfect” — just as no parent is perfect. Ideally, children thrive best when they are raised by their natural parents, joined for life in the sacrament of matrimony. Sadly, as a society we have fallen woefully short of this ideal, and the only question that remains is how to mitigate the damage inflicted on innocent young lives.

There are situations in which adoption is truly the best (though not perfect) choice: Children born to young teens (especially those who have neither the inner resources nor long-term support system necessary to parent); children of parents with unresolved substance abuse or domestic violence issues; and children of abusive and neglectful parents. In each of these cases, little wounded hearts heal best when they are no longer in close proximity to the source of the pain. Sadly, this can mean removing children from birth parents voluntarily or (when parents demonstrate neither the willingness nor the inclination to fix their own messes and put the children’s needs first) involuntarily.

Adoption gives children wounded by the choices of their first parents a second chance to heal. Granted, it does not completely shield the child from the consequences of her first parents’ choices. There is no way to shield the child entirely — that is the nature of sin. On the other hand, pressuring unwed teenage mothers (and other at-risk mothers) to keep their babies even when they are demonstrably not capable of parenting produces more difficulties than it resolves — down the line, when adoption is no longer a viable option.

Adoption, the “Pro-Life” Option

The sad reality is that the older the child, the smaller the pool of potential adoptive parents. In the U.S. today, more than 500,000 children are in need of temporary or permanent homes … the vast majority are part of larger sibling groups, special needs, or “older” (age four or more).

Because the pain of adoption is real, the adoption choice represents true self-sacrifice on all sides of the adoption triad: Birth parents put the best interests of the child ahead of their own needs, adoptive parents agree to invest themselves entirely in a young life they did not bring into the world. The child may also suffer in ways they cannot fully understand until they are much older — and may have difficulties accepting even then. And yet, when the choice is literally life and death, this kind of self-sacrifice is the pathway to hope … if we allow it.

Will these mothers come to regret their choice? Undoubtedly there will be times when they will wonder if they could have chosen differently. They may yearn to re-establish contact with that child — and should be able to leave the door open for this, should the child (ideally, with the blessings of the adoptive parent) seek her out. But as with many significant choices in life, once the choice is made we cannot see clearly “the road not taken”; because of the unknown variables that stem from that choice, it is illusory at best. We can only learn from our choices, and move on.

On the other hand, through adoption (even open adoption, in which the birth parents maintain a level of contact after the placement), a child is helped to make the most of their own natural giftings and eradicate the worst of their natural weaknesses. The birth parent is then able to tend to his or her needs without inflicting even greater damage on the innocent. And the adoptive parents are presented with an opportunity to invest their lives in a way that produces rich spiritual fruit in the life of parent and child alike.

In Search of the “Phantom Parent”

Books such as The Adoption Mystique, by anti-adoption advocate Joanne Wolf Small, MSW, remind us that some children never completely recover from the losses of adoption — no matter how much love and attention they are given. The sense of abandonment can run deep, and visions of “real” mom and dad can tantalize even the most outwardly accommodating child — especially those in the throes of adolescence and into young adulthood, when the natural desire to separate from Mom and Dad is most powerful, and the quest for identity strongest.

While the release of some information — such as medical histories — has objective value, and could be released without depriving the first parents of their right to privacy, it is imperative that the concerns of all three sides of the adoption triad be given equal weight. Birth parents have the right to remain anonymous (unless they choose to relinquish that right); adoptive parents have the right to raise their child without undue interference; the adopted child has the right to a safe and nurturing environment. The adult adopted child has the rights of any adult — but not access to the confidential records of other private citizens.

In the section entitled “Anti-Adoption Media Bias,” Ms. Small offers a revealing quote from “The San Francisco Examiner” (1999, February 22):

Anguish is everywhere in the adoption equation …. The birth mother … adoptive parents …. Adopted children haunted by phantom birth parents who, they may feel “abandoned” them - beings … they cannot know. Phantom limbs on the family tree (par 10).

At age eleven, my younger sister experienced phantom pains when her leg was amputated. The nerves at the amputation site, which connected the missing leg to the brain, did not immediately die. And yet, Chris did not let the amputation define her or limit her in any way, and in time these pains diminished. She became first a cheerleader, then a wife and mother. If she had chosen to concentrate on the pain — instead of healing — she would be a very different person today.

I realized just how complete the healing had been when, a few years ago, an over-zealous “street healer” offered to pray for her leg to grow back and she refused. “When I get to heaven, I’m going to get my leg back — and you better believe I’m looking forward to that. But right now, for whatever reason, this is God’s plan for me, and I’m going to accept it. I’m not going to feel sorry for myself — I’m going to live.”

Wise words that can be applied to many situations — including adoption. The “phantom pain” of adoption must be acknowledged — and yet, reunification may not always be possible or even desirable. The adopted child must recognize the reality of the adoption triad; each part of the triangle of birth parent/adoptive parent/adopted child has both rights and responsibilities, some of which cannot be assumed by the child until he or she becomes an adult.

It is in adulthood that many children — adopted and biological alike — discover something essential to their future happiness: Some things in life are chosen for us by the adults in our lives, based on the information at hand, which have both positive and negative repercussions. If we continue to blame our parents for those choices, we remain in a state of “arrested adolescence” and keep ourselves from realizing our God-given potential. This is true of adult children of adoption — and of many other children, too.

We cannot change history; we can only acknowledge and learn from it, grieve our losses, forgive those who have hurt us … and move forward. The loss adopted children experience is real — just as my sister’s loss was real. She had to work through those feelings; the loss was necessary if she was to survive. This is the story of adoption: a story of painful choices made in the present, in order to secure a better — and a living — future.

Heidi Hess Saxton is the author of Raising Up Mommy and founder of the Extraordinary Moms Network, an online resource for mothers of adopted, fostered, and special needs children. She and her husband foster-adopted their two children in 2002.

Monday, November 10, 2008

NaNoWriMo Update

I am currently at 8381 words for my writing project. Obviously, I am no where near where I would need to be to write 50,000 words this month, but I'm doing what I can. I promised myself that I would do this without sacrificing anything else in my life. So far, so good. I have written in some rather unusual places, jotting down a few lines here and there on whatever paper I can find. The story is coming along. Honestly, I've never written a piece of fiction this long in my life, so it is definitely a new experience for me. I've been enjoying it!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Book Review: "Vocation in Black and White"

I have always had a soft-spot in my heart for the Dominican Nuns. My mother is a third-order Dominican. As a result, as a little girl I spent a great deal of time at the local Mother of God Monastery. It always seemed so peaceful there. Located on the top of a hill on a busy street, it never-the-less seemed so far away from the regular world. It was, and is, a place set apart. I never saw any of the nuns up close. I could only hear their singing on the other side of the grille that separated their side of the Church from the public chapel. Outside, I would try to peek through the fence to try to catch a glimpse of their hidden world. How I longed to see and be part of that world! Yet, for me, it was not meant to be.

Many women, however, have been called to the Dominican Nuns' contemplative way of life. In honor of 800 years of Dominican ministry, twenty-three nuns share their stories of how God invited them to this way of life in Vocation in Black and White: Dominican Contemplative Nuns tell how God called them

The stories are amazing. It is so interesting to read of the various ways God speaks to a soul. There is no set blueprint, no formula by which someone can be certain that they have a call to contemplative life. Sometimes it was an interior voice that spoke in a woman's heart. Other times, it was the simple unfolding of circumstances that led a woman to the Dominicans' door. There is no set background a woman must have had.

The women in “Vocation in Black and White” come from hugely divergent circumstances. Some were cradle Catholics. Others were converts to the faith. Some knew from a young age that they were meant to live out their lives as a religious sister. Others took a much more circuitious route to discover where they belonged. Some had seriously considered marriage. Others knew that God was their only true love. Many had to try out life in several different types of religious communities before they found where they belonged. Several spoke of the influence of St. Therese. They wanted to be like her and so attempted to enter a Carmelite convent, only to be turned down. They discovered the Dominicans by default, but couldn't be happier with their choice. Almost all had to fight for their vocation, standing up against parents and even other religious who would try to prevent them from pursuing this way of life.

Vocation stories can be a great help in assisting others to discern their own vocations. Sister Joseph Marie of the Child Jesus lived successfully out in the world for several years climbing the corporate ladder, yet she felt empty. She attended daily mass and did much spiritual reading. She writes, “I often found myself in tears upon hearing any Gospel passages related to the calling, especially the story of the rich young man who refused to follow Jesus because he had much to give up.” She called the national vocation office and obtained a list of monasteries in California. She felt very attracted to the Dominicans. Over the course of several visits, she realized it was the right place for her. She invites those still attempting to discern their vocation in life to “come and spend some time in solitude . . . better to hear God's voice speaking to your heart and to discover His will. Only then can you, 'Taste and see the goodness of the Lord' (Ps 34:8)” Sister Maria Christine who has been a Dominican for over twenty-five years writes of the discernment process: “I too began by standing in those same shoes, bewildered and confused by the endless number of options available. . . While God calls each of us in a special way, he never sends a clearly written letter. Instead, he gives us free will anc copious options. If we hear the 'call of a vocation' we must take the initiative and begin the tedious and delicate process to discern the when, where, and how to respond appropriately.

“Vocation in Black and White” invites readers into the lives of these Dominican Nuns. It is wonderful reading for anyone attempting to discern their vocation in life; especially for young (or not so young) women considering religious life.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Mass is Never Ended

The last words of the Mass send us forth to the world to live out the Gospel message. The Mass Is Never Ended: Rediscovering Our Mission to Transform the World
by Gregory Augustine Pierce focuses on what it means to live out that mission. Pierce provides an overview of the mass and relates it to our own particular vocations. In a review of this book written for St. Anthony's Messenger Deacon William Urbine writes that "Pierce breaks down the wall in our spirituality - the wall between the Sunday celebration (the sacred) and our weekday activities (the secular). . . [this volume] is short, readable and very challenging. I can connect what happens when I go to Mass on Sunday and what I do the next six days of the week." That sounds like a good goal for all of us.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

It is possible to change hearts

It didn't come as a shock that Obama won the presidency, even though I cast my vote for McCain. I understand that people voted for the person that they thought could best help us out of this mess that our country is currently in. I want to believe that Americans voted for Obama in spite of his radical position on abortion and not because of it. We need to pray that God will give him the wisdom to lead our country, and maybe in the process, he will come to understand his error on this one position.

If pro-lifers can take any hope out of this election, however, it is with the fact that it is possible to change hearts. 40 years ago, it would have been unthinkable for a black man to be president. In this election, race wasn't even a big issue. We as a country have come a long way during that time and that is a good thing.

Over the past several years, the pro-life movement has done a great deal to help change people's hearts and we will continue to do so, because regardless of the law, if women truly know and believe that they are carrying a child and if they have an abortion, they are killing a living being, abortion is going to end. I firmly believe that.

In my own state, we just voted to end dog racing because it was cruel to the dogs. We are a people that care about animals. We care about living things. We just need to keep getting the message across that unborn babies are living creatures. It's a child, not a choice. It is possible to change hearts. Yesterday's election proved that.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Waiting in Line to Vote

Our schedule was just jam-packed today, so my husband and I took the boys and went to go vote at 7 a.m. I couldn't believe it - we actually had to wait in line. How awesome is that! There were a good 50 - 60 people ahead of us! It was wonderful to see so many people out there exercising their right to vote. I told my boys that they need to remember this day and how important and historical this election is. The first election I can remember was in 1980 when I was nearly 6, so I am hoping that my boys are old enough to remember this one so that they can tell their grandchildren about it someday.

Monday, November 03, 2008

NaNoWriMo continued

After further thought, I decided I would attempt National Novel Writing Month after all. I know that there is no way I will write 50,000 words this month. I'm not willing to sacrifice my other obligations in order to accomplish this. I still need to take care of the kids and get my work done, but I'm going to see how much I can get done in the month. A good idea for a story came to me on Friday. I am by no means writing the great American novel. It may not even end up being very good, but the point of the writing month is just to do it to see if you can, to see what comes out when you make the effort. At some level, I've always wanted to right a novel. I figure this is my chance. So, from time to time this month I will post my current word count.

For the record, I am currently at 3167.

Making the Most of <i>Menopause Moments</i>

  When I unexpectedly got in a review copy of Menopause Moments: A Journal for Nourishing Your Mind, Body and Spirit in Midlife , I must adm...