Because of The Stations of the Cross

One of the dreams my wife and I have is to go on a tour of the Holy Land. We want to make a pilgrimage there and see the sights and holy places where the greatest story ever told took place. That is a trip we are really looking forward to.

There are many sites outside of the Holy Land to make a pilgrimage to as well. Lourdes, Fatima, and Guadalupe come to mind. So many places, so little time, and dare I say it, so little cash. But there is a way to go to the Holy Land this week right in your local parish. [Read more...]

Because Breast is Best (in honor of International Women’s Day)

Guest post by Allison
Quick: Who said this about breastfeeding? “Mothers need time, information and support. So much is expected of women in many societies that time to devote to breast-feeding and early care is not always available.” The answer: Pope John Paul II.

Most of us don’t expect a priest, much less a pope, to be weighing in on breastfeeding. But the late Pontiff made a compelling case in a 1995 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society of Britain:

In normal circumstances these (advantages of breastfeeding for mother and child) include two major benefits to the child: protection against disease and proper nourishment. Moreover, in addition to these immunological and nutritional effects, this natural way of feeding can create a bond of love and security between mother and child, and enable the child to assert its presence as a person through interaction with the mother.

After I married, I decided to breastfeed any children I would bear. My mom, born in the 1930s, was part of a generation of American women discouraged by physicians from breastfeeding. To give a sense of the prevailing attitude of those times, one friend’s mom asked her obstetrician about breastfeeding. He told her, “Breastfeeding is for peasants.”

My mom became pregnant six times in seven years, and told me she loved breastfeeding her oldest child for a couple of months and regretted she had not had support to continue with my oldest brother and her subsequent babies.

Pope John Paul II rightly traced the decline of breastfeeding to “a combination of social factors, such as urbanization and the increasing demands placed on women, to healthcare policies and practices, and to marketing strategies for alternate forms of nourishment.”

Before I had babies, I read up on breastfeeding in The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. One of its authors is Edwina Froehlich, co-founder of La Leche League International, the breastfeeding advocacy group that provides education and support to mothers. It didn’t surprise me to learn Froehlich was a devout Catholic, as were all the women in that first La Leche Group. Even the organization’s name has Catholic roots. The group had been intrigued by the first Marian shrine in North America, dedicated in 1598 by Spanish settlers in St. Augustine, Florida. It is called Nuestra Senora de la Leche y Buen Parto (Our Lady of Happy Delivery and Plentiful Milk) (left).

Breastfeeding did not come easily to me. In September 1996, during the early hours of our first son’s life, I eagerly awaited for him to “latch on” and begin nursing. After a few false starts, I thought we both had figured it out. Imagine my terror as I held Gabriel in my arms to feed him and he turned purple and stiff and stopped breathing. I called for the nurse, assuming our baby had just died.

As it turned out, Gabriel was having a seizure, the first of several in his early months. The purple color was vasoconstriction, not a sign of death. (Of course, the breastfeeding had nothing to do with the seizures.) Gabriel spent his first eight days in the neonatal intensive care unit of Saint Peter’s Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey, while neonatologists tried to sort out what was wrong with him. Did he have a cerebellum? Did he have anatomical brain damage? Brain bruising? Mental retardation?

With our son attached to feeding tubes and breathing monitors, I could not breastfeed; I could not hold him; I could not take him home. In fact, neither we nor the physicians knew if he would come home at all.

Thank God the nurses at this Catholic hospital immediately encouraged me to pump my own breast milk. They sent my tiny bags of expressed milk via a pneumatic tube from my hospital room to the neonatal unit, where they were put into his feeding tubes, along with infant formula.

When I returned home from maternity ward, I pumped breast milk every four hours, including through the night, so that I would be ready to nurse our baby when he was ready. This enabled me to nurture Gabriel even while he was in neonatal intensive care.

Throughout this ordeal, it was reassuring to know that my Church “got it”—understood my efforts meant I could nurture our infant. I was able to nurse Gabriel when he did come home—medicated and with a diagnosis of Benign Transient Neonatal Seizure Disorder. (In other words, these benign seizures had no known cause.)

This experience made it clear to me that God designed women’s bodies so we could bear children. What a blessing my body fed my unborn child and through breastfeeding, the son I had just delivered into the world.

As Pope John Paul II put it in his Apostolic Letter on the Dignity and Vocation of Women: “Motherhood implies from the beginning [from creation] a special openness to the new person. . . . In this openness . . . the woman discovers herself through a sincere gift of self.”

A Dirty Little Secret (Music for Mondays)

I have a confession to make, a secret to make a Catholic blush. It’s not about what I watch or say or do, it’s about what I listen to. Sometimes! Just sometimes! When I’m out walking and I have Pandora Radio on my iPhone and have my ear buds plugged in, I listen to a wide variety of music. I have a station called Stile Antico Radio (mostly 16th-century polyphony, very Catholic). I have another called Folky Stuff (self-explanatory) and another named for my favorite guitarist, Knopfler Radio. So I listen according to mood. My dark secret?

I also have a station called David Crowder Radio. For those unfamiliar with the man (pictured here), he’s an evangelical Jesus Rocker. OK, there it is, my secret’s out: I really dig loud, soaring Christian Rock. Now, don’t all jump ship at once.

It’s Monday, so open your hearts and let me give you a taste, but beware: It’s habit-forming and pretty soon you’ll be using valuable confession time telling the priest about the sinful joys of Hillsong United, Darlene Zschech, and Third Day.

Let’s kick off this MFM segment with a quiet start from Casting Crowns and “Praise You in This Storm.”

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Let’s kick it up a notch with David Crowder live, singing “Oh Praise Him!”

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Before the big finish, let’s hear from Third Day, with “God of Wonders.”

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Time to put your hands in the air, brothers and sisters! It’s time for music from Australia’s biggest megachurch, Hillsong United. The song is “Hosanna!” C’mon, Catholics, you can say “Hosanna!”

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For just one night before I die, I want to be crazy enough to go crazy in one of these arenas when Darlene Zschech, Hillsong’s diva, sings “How Great is Our God!” Hold me down, brothers and sisters!

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Now you can take me home, Lord, now you can take me home!

An Anglican Asks: Do Catholics Go Overboard with Mary?

Last week I asked EPG, an Anglican reader of this blog, to pose some questions for Catholics, to provide a forum for discussion. I gather that these questions represent reasons why he, and others, are not (yet) Catholic. His first question concerns what may be the biggest stumbling block: the role of Mary in Catholic worship. Listen carefully, answer respectfully. I will put in my two cents after citing his question verbatim:

I have some concerns about the extent of Marian devotion. I can understand devotion to Mary in the context of the communion of saints. Asking Mary (or any of the saints) to intercede would be analogous to asking a good friend, an older brother, or one’s mother for prayers on one’s behalf. I am perfectly comfortable with the respect and even veneration for Mary arising from her actions, from her first assent at the Annunciation, and from that time on. I have no issue with the titles “Theotokos,” or “Mother of God.”

But there does seem to be a point at which the partisans of Mary go overboard, and attempt to direct our attention to her, in place of Christ. For example, I find myself deeply uncomfortable with the thought of considering Mary as co-Redemptrix. See, for example, this blog.  The author is a former Episcopal priest, who has apparently been accepted into the Catholic priesthood. Is he an exception, or in the Catholic mainstream?

And there is a radio program (played on our local Catholic station, and syndicated widely) that seems to go overboard in its emphasis on Mary.

So how do all of you respond to Mary in your lives as Catholics? Are there areas in which you see excesses in Marian devotion. (I could throw out that fine old epithet “Mariolatry.”) Or, coming from an Anglican Protestant background, am I missing something? If so, what?

EPG, I can’t give you formal Catholic apologetics on this one. But I’ll pass this post on to Ferde, because I know he can.

What I can give you is my experience. Among Catholics I know, I do not see an extreme emphasis on Mary, and I never hear talk of her as co-Redemptrix. (Oh, there was some rumbling about it in our men’s group one day, but we rumble about everything.) But just as I was drawn to the Catholic Church by the example of the saints, who were never reverenced or even referenced in the Episcopal parish of my youth, I have friends, including Mitch, who say they were brought to the Catholic Church by the Blessed Mother.

When I first started coming to daily Mass, I didn’t have much feeling for Jesus. Who was he exactly? I thought only of God—like a good Unitarian, I suppose! But now, through readings, Father Barnes’s homilies, daily reception of the Eucharist, Eucharistic Adoration, and, notably, I think, my participation in Communion and Liberation, I recognize Jesus as my Lord and Savior, and I seek a deeper relationship with him.

Mary? Except during Lent, Saturday morning Masses at our church are usually dedicated to the Blessed Virgin (as the church itself is dedicated to Mary in one of her many roles, “Star of the Sea”). Two candles are lit on Mary’s altar at the front left of the nave; Father Barnes says a couple of extra prayers; and as a recessional he leads us in “Salve Regina” or another Marian hymn. That’s it. (“Our” Mary illustrates this post.)

Now, it’s my understanding that Father Barnes is a doctrinaire Catholic priest, in the best sense of the term. He is true to the teaching of the Church and faithfully communicates it to us. (Let me tell you: If he weren’t that way, Ferde would be all over him!) So, by association, I suspect that this level of reverence—one day a week, say, along with the Marian Feast Days like the Assumption—is pretty much the norm.

One more point: While I have tried warming to Mary, as explained here and here, I haven’t fully succeeded. I don’t feel any less a Catholic for that. My devotion, if I have one, is to St. Joseph, who was also a favorite of one of our great female saints, Teresa of Jesus (of Avila). I recently bought one of Ann Burt’s lovely retablos of St. Joseph. I have it hanging in the “prayer corner” of my private office at home with a candle under it. I light the candle every morning and say a prayer to St. Joseph. And I am trying to learn more about him, especially now during Lent.

I do not think my devotion to St. Joseph gets between me and Christ. Joseph and Mary were Jesus’s earthly parents, who sheltered Him and educated Him, and to whom He was obedient. I trust that whatever may be my level of devotion to either of these unique parents, they will only bring me closer to Christ.

But I’ve taken too much space here! Readers, respond please! Not only with doctrine, which I need help with, but especially with your personal experience. Do you think the Church goes overboard with Mary? What about the blog and radio program cited by EPG? Are they typical?

To Support Catholic Artisans and Orders

Guest Post by Allison 
One of our great joys as parents is to celebrate our sons’ milestones. Gabriel’s Confirmation is on the Feast of Pentecost in several weeks and we’ve been pondering how best to mark the occasion.

My husband and I  have been dismayed in recent years to see children of our acquaintance posting their confirmation cash haul as facebook status updates. We  pray the 10 Confirmandi in our parish this year will find deeper meaning in the day.

We are hosting a simple breakfast at our home for friends and family before the Mass. In years past, for invitations and a gift, I would have headed over to the Pauline Books & Media Center, run by the Daughters of Saint Paul to look for invitations and gifts, but the store closed last year.

I felt a real loss when the Sisters shut their doors in Edison, in part because I love supporting religious communities with my shopping dollars. Thanks to the internet, I have been able to fill that void.

Googling, I stumbled on a magnificent site called Monastery Greetings, a mail-order catalog of gifts from abbeys, convents, monasteries and hermitages.

According to the site, Will Keller founded the mail-order company in Cleveland Heights, Ohio in 1997 after discovering that, while these community businesses have high-quality products, they do not have the time or resources for marketing.  Keller majored in both art history and philosophy and religion at Colgate University and worked in the Boston area for a time, managing several divinity school bookstores.

On Keller’s site I found some lovely note cards produced by The Cistercian monks of St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado.  These and other religious communities are not interested in turning a profit; rather they need enough money to live and pay for health insurance and maintain their buildings.

For his Confirmation gift, we are giving Gabriel a retablo hand painted by Ann Burt of Raleigh, North Carolina.  Retablos are Latin American devotionals.  I discovered Ann here on YIM Catholic as she is a regular commenter.  Ann, the married mother of two, has run a business of commissioned murals and specialty architectural finishes for wall décor for 20 years.

“As far as beginning this business, it started a while ago after visiting my sister in New Mexico.” Ann told me, “ I absolutely fell in love with the spiritual climate of the Southwest. The faith is everywhere you turn and so rich.  Anyway, I began collecting Retablos while really having a desire to create my own, but just not the confidence to actually do it. Realizing too that we are all given certain gifts by God for a reason, I began to think that perhaps this was more than painting but a ministry in itself honoring our friends in heaven and encouraging devotions.”

Gabriel has chosen Isidore as his Confirmation name in honor of San Isidro of Seville, who was Archbishop of Seville for more than three decades. He is considered “the last scholar of the ancient world.” Gabriel chose  this name after our friend Andy, understanding that our son has great respect for people who are intellectually curious, told him about the saint.

The archbishop was the first Christian to compile a summa of universal knowledge, thus creating the very first encyclopedia in medieval civilization. His Etymologia has 448 chapters in 20 volumes. In Raleigh, Ann custom-made a beautiful retablo (see photograph above) of the saint for us.

Other sites of Catholic artisans with which I am familiar include Sarah Harkins of Fredericksburg, Virgina, 28, and a mother of two.  Sarah has been designing and selling her unique clay rosaries and chaplets since she was 15 years old in an effort to inspire others to prayer and deeper contemplation.

It’s impossible to know whether gifts such as retablos or rosaries will have a lasting effect on a child’s faith journey. My parish priest assures me they will.

He was almost speechless with joy on the other end of the phone when I mentioned Greg and I are giving Gabriel a retablo as a Confirmation gift. He said in his years of pastoring he has seen some hugely  inappropriate Confirmation gifts, including a copy of Donald Trump’s Art of the Deal.

Our pastor said a gift such as a retablo has profound meaning and that our son will continue to reflect on the saint and the Confirmation every time he sees his St. Isidore retablo.

I pray our priest is as  insightful about this as he is about so many other things.

Now dear reader, let me ask you: from which Catholic artisans do you purchase gifts and sacramentals?

Thanks to 100,000 Visitors, and A Question for You

How does a blog go from a black hole in cyberspace to 100,000 visitors in six and a half months? I’m scratching my head here. “Why I Am Catholic” started as one essay written August 17, 2009, in response to a friend who asked why I had converted. Three hundred eighty-two posts later (382), with the help of loyal copilot Frank Weathers and with ground support from guest poster Allison Salerno, this bird is flying.

OK, we haven’t hit the stratosphere yet, but we’re airborne and cruising. What fuels YIMC?

I have two answers: the Holy Spirit and you. I can honestly say that my best posts (and I bet Frank and Allison would agree) have come from one of two places: (1) a voice whispering in my ear and (2) your comments. In the time since Frank climbed aboard on Thanksgiving weekend, we have begun building a small but loyal on-line community. I’d name some of you but don’t want to leave anyone out. Your comments have helped us navigate.

So, thank you all! And now, back to work! Meaning this: Frank and I have been cruising at high altitude during Lent, to make more time for prayer and reflection. But we’re going to be working our way down to fighting altitude as Easter approaches, and I fully expect YIM Catholic to reach 250,000 visitors by the end of its first year.

What are the issues you want us to address? What are you, valued readers, interested in? Please don’t say, MORE BOOKS, unless you really mean it, because right now no one’s commenting on Mere ChristianityOK, not even me—and don’t tell me you’re all in church 24/7 or that you’ve given up reading for Lent!)

We’ve taken up some interesting stuff so far: confession, the liturgy, our varying relationships with the clergy. Many of the issues discussed concern those on either side of the Tiber, that is, recent converts or those considering conversion. We even started a prayer list so we can pray for one another. What are your interests? Any good poll ideas?

Let us hear from you. Help us fly this plane. And thank you for your attention.

For Your Lenten Friday Night at the Movies III

Ladies and gentlemen, this is your co-pilot speaking.  The weather is great from what we can see here in the cockpit, and we are cruising at 24,000 feet now.  Your pilot Webster has asked me to kindly inform you that we have reached the half-way point of our Lenten journey. For dinner tonight, we will be serving penne pasta with smoked salmon and fresh peas along with freshly baked rolls. Just an hour and a half to wait, so hang in there!

Our inflight entertainment this evening is Joan of Arc starring Ingrid Bergman. And I have a confession to make, I have never seen this classic in its entirety. I just never got around to it. It won two Oscars in 1948 for best cinematography and best costumes. We hope you enjoy the show and thanks again for flying YIM Catholic Airlines.

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Because He Didn’t Promise Us A Rose Garden

Come Easter Vigil, I will have been a Catholic for two full years. It seems like it has been longer than that,  and shorter at the same time. Perhaps because I feel so at home, it feels like I have been a Catholic forever. But then the saying goes, Time flies when you’re having fun, and it feels like I just got on this ride.

Notice, I said that I feel at home, but I don’t always feel comfortable. How could I? Bearing crosses and confronting your true self and your sins is tough work. It takes humility, which hasn’t been a popular virtue in the world since the very beginning and doesn’t come naturally to me. Add to this being constantly tripped up by temptations and how is this comfortable? [Read more...]

Because Time Passes

Guest post by Allison 
For the past few weeks, as the snow fell relentlessly in our corner of New Jersey, I’ve been hosting a private pity party, wondering what I am supposed to do with all the hours on my hands. My life has felt suspended in time. It’s not that I’m without purpose. I teach one class a week at a community college, and I am prepping to take a professional exam to launch a full-time career teaching English. I am involved in coordinating our parish youth group and am singing in the choir.  But my husband works very full days and is coaching rec basketball; our sons keep busy with school, sports, and music. Their own busyness has given me plenty of time to brood.

Yesterday afternoon, I had a conversation with our eldest son that shook me out of my sulking. Our eighth grader returned home from school and told me with a smile:  (1) he has been recruited for the freshman football team and (2) he’d like to take a certain girl to the eighth-grade dance and (3) he’d like to save up for an electric bass guitar.

I had become accustomed to thinking of our eldest as a boy who shunned sports, played upright bass in a chamber orchestra, and was content to observe life from the comfort of his thoughts and books. Now, a better description would be: my son is a self-assured  young man. Here was a remarkable reminder that time passes.

Half a lifetime ago, I mourned the passage of time. Now, thanks to my faith, I treasure every moment. I see God revealing Himself through just about everything, including the unfolding of our son’s life.

For some reason, our son’s announcements dislodged a memory of myself as a depressed and maudlin twenty-something. In the years immediately following college, I moved a lot for my newspaper reporting career. Whenever I would pack up for yet another career move, I would rifle through boxes of old photos and letters, mulling what to keep and what to toss. My mind would fixate on the notion that  time never stands still and that what happens today will be a memory tomorrow, and forgotten in 10 or 100 years. I’d weep over this.

When I was 25, I landed my first job after graduate school as a reporter at a suburban Boston newspaper. I remember a day off walking alone, exploring my Dorchester neighborhood. I walked past a cemetery. I remember thinking: if I were to die today, say, get hit by a car, where would I be buried? Who would care that I had lived? Who would mourn my passing? Who will even know of my existence in 10 or 20 years? Who, in 100 years, will even remember anyone who is alive now? (Did I mention the day was gray? )

I’ve believed in God my whole life. And if you’d asked me during that walk where my death would take me, I would have told you straight to heaven. But God then for me was a distant figure, someone who set the Universe into motion and then sat back, way back, observing our transient lives, disinterested in their vagaries. I would need to wait until I died to encounter God, I thought. 

Since that bleak walk through Dorchester, I met and married my true love and gave birth to two glorious sons. My husband and I have settled into the same town for the past 15 years. Through time, we have grown more orthodox in our beliefs about God, closer to our Catholic faith and, more consistent  in our  practice of it.

Once, I feared time. In and through the gift of time, however, I now find comfort in understanding God exists both in and beyond time.

My faith in God, which answers my questions about the meaning of my own existence, did not settle into me on a certain day and time. I didn’t have an altar call or fall off a horse. But now I am able to see the hand of God in the life of the son who soon will have to look down to look me in the eye.

YIMC Book Club, “Mere Christianity,” Week 7

This week we read Book 4, Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

If you’re looking for the Cliff Notes version of Mere Christianity this week, you’re out of luck. I’m basically turning it all over to you guys. A chapter-by-chapter breakdown? Not in the cards. Besides, I don’t think it’s necessary.

The five chapters we read this week really could have been one chapter, don’t you think? Jack could have called it “Theology,” just not “Theology for Dummies.” Not that everything there was way over our heads; it’s just written for an adult audience. Jack points out things that we read before in Chesterton’s Orthodoxy—and also there in GKC’s essay “Why I Am A Catholic”—albeit a little differently.

Jack’s descriptions and explanations of the differences between making and begetting, his geometric explanation of the Trinity are very well done, in my opinion. What do you think? His explanation of God being outside time, although He came into time as a man—starting as it were a good infection that has stood the test of earth time like no other religion—set my mind’s eye spinning in a good way. And since He became truly human and an example for us, He provides us the way to become children of God, rather than stay obstinate toy soldiers. Or mere sterotypical statues, as all created things really are. Keeping in mind (it’s Lent, after all) that we are dust, we very well may stay dust, or be damned if we don’t decide otherwise and get with the program. Our Lord gives us a picture in today’s Gospel reading.

A great set of chapters, uplifting even. Jack scuttles back quickly to Scriptures and counsels us to do likewise throughout. For to stray too far is to fall off a cliff. I like his disclaimer on God being out of our time stream, and I’ll paraphrase, it’s not Biblical, but it’s Christian. Let’s hear it for the Zoe’s! Thank God for the work of the Apostolic Fathers!

My favorite passage from this week’s reading? Right here—

because the whole difficulty for us is that the natural life has to be, in a sense, “killed,” He (Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ) chose an earthly career which involved the killing of His human desires at every turn-poverty, misunderstanding from His own family, betrayal by one of His intimate friends, being jeered at and manhandled by the Police, and execution by torture. And then, after being thus killed-killed every day in a sense-the human creature in Him, because it was united to the divine Son, came to life again. The Man in Christ rose again: not only the God. That is the whole point. For the first time we saw a real man. One tin soldier-real tin, just like the rest-had come fully and splendidly alive.

Thanks be to God! Now I’m gonna hog the cheese dip and listen to you all get the comment ball rolling. Ferris Bueller was out sick last week, not this week!

Next week we read Book 4: Chapters, 6, 7, and 8.