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

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 (, 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

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.

Can We Stop Complaining?

Susan Hines-Brigger wrote a great article "Can We Stop Complaining?" for the November 2008 issue of St. Anthony's Messenger. Complaining is considered just a part of life in our society. Perhaps we are just born with an innate desire to complain. I know I complained quite a bit as a child, and my children certainly have no problem expressing their displeasure with things. Complaining can be useful when it serves to rectify the problem. Complaining just to complain, however, does nothing but put a negative spin on life. Hines-Brigger writes of Rev. Will Bowen, minister of Christ Church Unity in Kansas, who encouraged his parishioners to give up complaining for 21 days (long enough to make it a habit). The website features bracelets and educational programs designed to help people realize the value of not complaining. There is even a push to have the day before Thanksgiving declared "National Complaint-Free Day." That makes sense because complaining is the opposite of being thankful. If we are complaining, we are saying that we do not appreciate what we have.

So, I invite all of you to take up the challenge. Try to take notice of when you complain and try to stop yourself before the words come out of your mouth. Yes, you may find that you need to talk less, but before you know it, you will find that there are many other positive things to say.

A Precious Gift - You!

A Guest Post by Janet Cassidy:

When I was in the parking lot after grocery shopping the other day, I saw a mom talking on her cell phone. Her young son was sort of hanging around the car, occasionally getting yelled at for something he was doing. It occurred to me how easy it is for us to ignore our children because we are preoccupied in conversations with people who are not even present to us.

It's easy to be preoccupied with computers, as well. Have you ever had one of your children try to talk to you while you were playing a game or instant messaging on the computer? Was it so important that you could not stop for just a minute and give them your full attention? Sometimes I think the things that keep us the busiest are actually things we use as diversions.

How often have you missed a great opportunity to interact with your child because it seemed more important to be grumbling or gossiping with someone else? How many precious moments have slipped by you? Just imagine what it feels like to be a kid around you while you are doing this!

Kids love their precious moments with Mom and Dad. Please don't take them for granted. Give your kids the gift of you.

God bless,


Please visit my website at for more news and commentary, including my blog!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Protecting Children while Defending Families

The situation could happen anywhere. A five-year old child is horribly abused by the people who are supposed to care most for her. Sadly, it happens far too often. A recent case of such abuse prompted a letter to the editor at “The Republican” newspaper of Springfield, Massachusetts to inquire whether the child was in school. The writer felt that if the child was in a pre-school or Kindergarten program, perhaps this tragedy could have been averted. Perhaps someone would have noticed that all was not right with this child and been able to help her. The writer went on to argue for universal access to pre-school for all because it becomes a safe-haven for so many children. Access to pre-school is certainly not a bad thing. It should be available for all those who want and need it. What happens, however, when the argument becomes that only the government and social service institutions are equipped to adequately protect our children? Does this mean that all children should be in day care as well? Should a government representative have contact with every child from the time of birth to make sure he or she is well cared for?

Society as a whole obviously has a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable among us. Children should never be mistreated. Many parents, for a variety of reasons, have difficulty providing their children with a nurturing environment. Social service agencies can certainly help protect children and help to educate children when parents aren't up for the task. The Church can help as well.

In the wake of the sexual abuse crisis in the Church, the Bishops put forth the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The Bishops wanted to make sure that abuse was never tolerated again in the Church. To achieve this end, certain norms were set in place. Every employee and volunteer who works with children in Churches, Catholic Schools, or Catholic sponsored activities must have a background check. They also must receive training on how to recognize and report child abuse. In addition, children in Catholic Schools and Religious Education programs are to be taught what constitutes abuse and what to do about it when it happens to them. According to the 2007 nationwide audit, nearly 94% of Dioceses are in compliance with these requirements.

For a little over a year, I have been the Child Advocate for my parish. This means that I am responsible for making sure every employee and volunteer completes their background check and watches a video on recognizing child abuse. I am also responsible for making sure that the education programs take place in the school and religious education program. Most of the adults who need to complete the background checks and watch the video are understanding. They know the reality of the world we live in and the reasons why we need to be as sure as we can that the people who work with our children are not predators. The process itself serves as a deterrent to anyone who might have plans to do harm to our children. The video is very informative and explains exactly what abuse is, and is not, how to recognize it, and how to report it.

The education programs, however, are not met with the same enthusiasm or tolerance. In general, no one wants to touch them with a ten-foot pole. We did complete the training last year in our Catholic school. The classroom teachers, however, did not want to take on the task. They had done it before and found it awkward and uncomfortable and not appropriate. A volunteer who had worked as a guidance counselor for many years in the public schools was thankfully willing to do the presentations for the older grades. The physical education teacher presented to the younger children. The religious education teachers were even more reluctant. Talking to children about sex is always difficult. Talking to children about sexual abuse is even worse. As a parent, I have talked to my children about their private parts since they were toddlers, and taught them that no one, except a doctor, is allowed to touch them. As Child Advocate, I did what I could to make sure that the program was taught at an age-appropriate level. Several parents, however, came to me with concerns when they heard of the presentations that were to be given. Some pulled their children from the classes, which is their right. The Church has emphasized that parents have the primary responsibility for educatng their children in sexual matters. In 1995, The Pontifical Council for the Family wrote “ ... the educational service of parents must aim firmly at a training in the area of sex which is truly and fully personal: for sexuality is an enrichment of the whole person - body, emotions and soul - and it manifests its inmost meaning in leading the person to the gift of self in love. Sex education, which is a basic right and duty of parents, must always be carried out under their attentive guidance, whether at home or in educational centres chosen and controlled by them.”

While it may be acceptable at the 5th grade level and up to have frank discussions about sexual abuse, discussing abuse such as incest with young children is a thorny topic. Many parents want to be the ones to educate their children on these matters when they feel it is appropriate, not when the school or Church says that it is. There is also the very real issue that parents who are abusing their children may be among those who choose to have their children not attend these sessions. Lastly, there is the question of whether it should be the child's responsibilty to protect him or herself from abuse. While a child should always be taught to say “No” to any behavior that he finds inappropriate and to tell a trusted adult when something is going on that shouldn't be, the final responsibility for preventing child abue should reside with the adults who care for them. Perhaps more energy could be put into educating adults and helping to prevent child abuse from that angle.

So, then, how do we respect the role of society (the government) and the Church in protecting children while at the same time respecting the rights of parents to be the ones to raise and educate their children? Do we punish all and sacrifice the innocence of our children because of the sins of some? There are far more good parents than bad, but child abuse is a reality for far too many children. Obviously, this is not acceptable and things need to be done to stamp out child abuse in our society. Honestly, I don't have the answer of how to fix this problem, but I do feel that the conversation about how we, as a Church, continue to tackle the problem needs to be ongoing. We may be moving in the right direction, but there is still much work to be done.

There are angels everywhere

I don't know the author of this piece, but it is quite a story. It was forwarded to me by my friend Marcia:

I woke up one morning with six hungry babies and just 75 cents in my pocket.

Their father was gone.

The boys ranged from three months to seven years; their sister was two.

Their Dad had never been much more than a presence they feared.

Whenever they heard his tires crunch on the gravel driveway they would scramble to hide under their beds.

He did manage to leave $15 a week to buy groceries.

Now that he had decided to leave, there would be no more beatings, but no food either.

If there was a welfare system in effect in southern Indiana at that time, I certainly knew nothing about it.

I scrubbed the kids until they looked brand new and then put on my best homemade dress, loaded them into the rusty old 51 Chevy and drove off to find a job.

The seven of us went to every factory, store and restaurant in our small town.

No luck.

The kids stayed crammed into the car and tried to be quiet while I tried to convince who ever would listen that I was willing to learn or do anything. I had to have a job.

Still no luck. The last place we went to, just a few miles out of town, was an old Root Beer Barrel drive-in that had been converted to a truck stop.

It was called the Big Wheel.

An old lady named Granny owned the place and she peeked out of the window from time to time at all those kids.

She needed someone on the graveyard shift, 11 at night until seven in the morning.

She paid 65 cents an hour, and I could start that night.

I raced home and called the teenager down the street that baby-sat for people.

I bargained with her to come and sleep on my sofa for a dollar a night. She could arrive with her pajamas on and the kids would already be asleep.

This seemed like a good arrangement to her, so we made a deal.

That night when the little ones and I knelt to say our prayers, we all thanked God for finding Mommy a job. And so I started at the Big Wheel.

When I got home in the mornings I woke the baby-sitter up and sent her home with one dollar of my tip money -- fully half of what I averaged every night.

As the weeks went by, heating bills added a strain to my meager wage.

The tires on the old Chevy had the consistency of penny balloons and began to leak. I had to fill them with air on the way to work and again every morning before I could go home.

One bleak fall morning, I dragged myself to the car to go home and found four tires in the back seat. New tires!

There was no note, no nothing, just those beautiful brand new tires.

Had angels taken up residence in Indiana ? I wondered.

I made a deal with the local service station.

In exchange for his mounting the new tires, I would clean up his office.

I remember it took me a lot longer to scrub his floor than it did for him to do the tires.

I was now working six nights instead of five and it still wasn't enough.

Christmas was coming and I knew there would be no money for toys for the kids .

I found a can of red paint and started repairing and painting some old toys. Then I hid them in the basement so there would be something for Santa to deliver on Christmas morning.

Clothes were a worry too. I was sewing patches on top of patches on the boys pants and soon they would be too far gone to repair.

On Christmas Eve, the usual customers were drinking coffee in the Big Wheel. There were the truckers, Les, Frank, and Jim, and a state trooper named Joe.

A few musicians were hanging around after a gig at the Legion and were dropping nickels in the pinball machine.

The regulars all just sat around and talked through the wee hours of the morning and then left to get home before the sun came up.

When it was time for me to go home at seven o'clock on Christmas morning, to my amazement, my old battered Chevy was filled full to the top with boxes of all shapes and sizes.

I quickly opened the driver's side door, crawled inside and kneeled in the front facing the back seat.

Reaching back, I pulled off the lid of the top box.

Inside was a whole case of little blue jeans, sizes 2-10!

I looked inside another box: It was full of shirts to go with the jeans.

Then I peeked inside some of the other boxes. There was candy and nuts and bananas and bags of groceries. There was an enormous ham for baking, and canned vegetables and potatoes. There was pudding and Jell-O and cookies, pie filling and flour. There was a whole bag of laundry supplies and cleaning items.

And there were five toy trucks and one beautiful little doll.

As I drove back through empty streets as the sun slowly rose on the most amazing Christmas Day of my life, I was sobbing with gratitude.

And I will never forget the joy on the faces of my little ones that precious morning.

Yes, there were angels in Indiana that long-ago December. And they all hung out at the Big Wheel truck stop....

THE POWER OF PRAYER. I believe that God only gives three answers to prayer:

1. 'Yes!'
2. 'Not yet.'
3. 'I have something better in mind..'

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...