"You will be a better mom because you are a theologian, and a better theologian because you are a mom."

Is it true? In this blog, I explore the interplay and intersection of motherhood and theologianhood.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Revisiting the Universal Call to Holiness with "Twelve Guideposts Godwards"

In the research for my dissertation I did over the summer, I spent a lot of time with Homiletic and Pastoral Review, which was (and is) a popular publication directed primarily toward clergy. Granted, it's easy to get distracted by the 1950s and 1960s ads, like the one for a special program for "late vocations" to the priesthood, i.e. "ages 17-25", the numerous Toomey ads for "year-rounder cassocks," and, later the Rambusch ads for "updating" churches (accompanied by "before" and "after" pictures). But most of my reading has been focused on the change in the sacrament of confession and practices of the virtue of penance.

In all this research, I found a little gem of practical advice. Fr. Joseph M. Champlin wrote this article entitled "Father Confessor and Future Sister," HPR Vol. LXIII, No. 2 in November of 1962. As you can probably ascertain from the title, it was written in order to give advice to a confessor who might be hearing the confessions of a young girl who is interested in religious life. But the reason that I find it interesting is that I think there is a common misunderstanding about Vatican II's "universal call to holiness" (Lumen Gentium, Chapter V), especially when paired with "full, active, conscious participation" in the liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium, No. 14) and what is commonly called the "priesthood of all believers" (cf. Apostolicum Actuositatem, No. 3).

The universal call to holiness obviously implies that everyone - lay and ordained - are called to be holy. But unfortunately it is frequently represented to mean that whatever the laity do is automatically considered holy.  The universal call to holiness ought to inspire the laity to seek holiness through spiritual practices and the sanctification of work and daily life, not to ignore growth in the spiritual life as though a "universal call" means laity are de facto holy while priests do all the spiritual work of prayer etc.

I said that the universal call can be particularly problematic when paired with a misunderstanding of full, active, conscious participation in the liturgy and the priesthood of all believers. Ironically, this is a sort of post-Vatican II clericalism that still exalts priests as automatically holier than the laity, and attributes this holiness to their role in celebrating the Mass.

Sometimes, therefore, the laity mistakenly think that the way they become holy is - like the priest - to "do something" at the liturgy. Such examples of "doing something" include being a lector, a Eucharistic minister, a choir member, a gift-bearer, or an usher. Becoming a permanent deacon has also been upheld as a great way to be involved with the liturgy. But just to clarify, once you're a deacon, you're ordained, not lay. And if we take this as our paradigmatic example of "full, active, conscious" participation in the liturgy, women will unfortunately be excluded.

I don't think there is anything bad about laity fulfilling these functions of lector, Eucharistic minister, and so on. I've definitely spent a fair number of my Masses serving in these ministries. But the primary way the laity participate - fully, actively, consciously - at the Mass is by PRAYING! I remember it wasn't until very late in my childhood that I realized when the priest said, "Let us call to mind our sins," that I was supposed to be, well, calling to mind my sins. So also, it took a liturgy class for me to discover that when the priest says, "Let us pray," and then pauses, he's expecting the congregation to be praying silently for a few moments in preparation for his own spoken prayer. I'd often absent-mindedly spent those little pauses thinking about what I was going to eat after Mass.

Anyway, here's the problem I'm trying to address. Occasionally it happens that we might meet a Catholic who has recently come alive in her faith - perhaps she's a re-vert to Catholicism or a convert. Or perhaps he might have never fallen away from Catholicism, but just now feels a desire to intensify his practice of the faith out of a newfound thirst for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ (as Evangelicals would say).

One way of responding to such a person is to say: "That's great! Wanna be a Eucharistic minister?" Or, a particularly savvy pastor might have in mind a particular area where he needs assistance and take advantage of the person's enthusiasm and skills such, "Excellent! We need a 3rd grade catechist on Tuesdays!" Again, let me affirm that being a Eucharistic minister or a catechist can be a great way of serving the Church. And each of these activities (not to mention joining service organizations like St. Vincent De Paul Society, Rosary Society, Knights of Columbus) can truly help people to advance in holiness by providing avenues for good works and the company of others seeking holiness.

On the other hand, the universal call to holiness cannot be summed up as simply greater participation in ministries at Mass or Church organizations. Nor is the "priesthood of all believers" meant to imply that we all have to be involved in some aspect in the liturgy beyond the prayerful and liturgical actions associated with praying the Mass. In fact, that decree on the Apostolate of the Laity specifically says that the laity are consecrated for the royal priesthood "not only that they may offer spiritual sacrifices in everything they do but also that they may witness to Christ throughout the world.The sacraments, however, especially the most holy Eucharist, communicate and nourish that charity which is the soul of the entire apostolate."(3)

Rather, the sanctification of daily life must be a constant aspiration and struggle, not lived out in a few hours each week, but in every moment of the day. For that little flame of desire for holiness to become a fire, it must be fanned by a regularity of practice and constant discipline. But while this can be challenging for those of us with active family lives, this spiritual discipline is a more practical and useful beginning than are some of the the Church ministries or organizations that require us to be away from our families, whether during Mass (my husband's and my service as Eucharistic ministers and lectors basically ended when we got outnumbered by kids in the pew with us) or during the week (a great way to destroy a family is to have husband or wife gone every night participating in Church activities).

And this is where I thought Fr. Joseph Champlin's advice for a young girl considering religious life (which is canonically a lay state, by the way) could be useful for revisiting the universal call to holiness. His suggestions are all traditional Catholic practices, but unfortunately in this day and age, there are far too many of us that are ignorant of them. Whether for our own personal spiritual development, or for the next time we have a chance to advise someone who has recently come alive in the faith, here are Champlin's

“Twelve Guideposts Godwards”

1.       Confession – have a regular confessor and go frequently (e.g. monthly, weekly)
2.       Mass- attend with missal every day if possible
3.       Communion – receive every day
4.       Visits to the Blessed Sacrament – visit Jesus daily to honor Him and to receive strength in daily trials
5.       Examination of conscience – one minute each night about how well you have served God
6.       Aspirations – pick out a few indulgenced aspirations and say them often during the day
7.       Rosary – say it every day when you can 
8.       Spiritual reading – a few minutes each day, especially before bed, read some spiritual book      recommended by the confessor
9.       Obedience – be obedient to parents, teachers, confessor, daily crosses
10.   Cross – don’t complain and accept daily unpleasantries
11.   Moodiness – learn to control emotions, avoiding extremes and maintain calmness
12.   Cheerfulness – maintain an exterior smile even when troubled in heart


There are a few other basic Catholic practices that Champlin fails to mention, probably because he assumes the young lady would already be doing these, as were most Catholics of the time period. So I would add to his list, making a morning offering in order to dedicate all the work of the day to God and saying the Angelus at noon. Regular use of holy water, especially before bed, and time for mental or contemplative prayer are also beneficial.

Of course, it may be challenging to add in all these practices all at once. But if introduced gradually, I think most of us can find the time for them (especially if we cut out distractions in various forms of media, e.g. Rosary instead of listening to the radio in the car, and limiting Internet and television time). And these practices should help us to sanctify our family life, increasing our patience and willingness to make sacrifices cheerfully for the good of spouse and kids.

Champlin had high hopes that the reward for such good direction of a "future sister" would be the benefit of many prayers from the convent. But I have to say that even if such a lady discerned not to become a nun, the development of these practices in her life would still be of benefit for the Church. For, in responding to the universal call to holiness, nourished by the Eucharist and full, active, conscious participation in praying the liturgy, such a person would no doubt serve well as royal priest witnessing to Christ throughout the world, making spiritual sacrifices in everything that she does. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Maia Co-sleeping

Even now that she has her own bedroom, Maia hardly ever sleeps alone.

 Here she is with "Teddy," her dad's childhood bear (who is missing an eye...)
And here she is with her twins, Benjamin and Bernice. They recently got a "crib" (a white plastic crate) and so they haven't been sleeping with her lately.

Pregnancy and Mortification


(Here I am, making it look easy.)
The end of my first pregnancy happened to coincide with Lent, as Maia's due date was Easter Monday. I remember when Jeff asked me, with Lent approaching, if I had thought of what I might do as my Lenten penance. "Gosh," I said, "I thought maybe I'd weigh 40 pounds extra, have a constantly sore tailbone, non-stop acid reflux, sweat profusely in public, wear all unflattering clothes, have swollen hands and feet, get winded even on short walks, and generally just be uncomfortable." Novice husband that he was, Jeff smiled and said, "No, really, are you giving something up?"

And while I can rattle off a list of the discomforts of pregnancy pretty easily, I also admit that I have had pretty "easy" pregnancies compared to many women I know. Nonetheless, when a fellow parishioner approached me after Mass one day and asked how I was feeling (people love to ask pregnant women how they are feeling), and I said, fine, she proceeded to observe that I must have easy pregnancies if I've been willing to have four of them. To be honest, I think the underlying thought behind this comment was related to a daughter-in-law (or perhaps a couple of them) who is done having kids because the pregnancies were so tough. Or maybe I was just feeling defensive, because I responded that by eight months pregnant, there's nothing really easy about being pregnant, whether dealing with the oppressive summer heat (and no central AC mind you) or chasing an active toddler or whatever. I guess I just wanted it to be clear that I'm not having another child simply because it's "easy" for me to be pregnant nine months, give birth and then raise another child. Pregnancy, birth, motherhood--these things take sacrifices, let's be honest.

It's not that I want a gold medal or a trophy here, or some kind of "every day should be Mother's Day" existence. But I don't think we're doing anyone any good by pretending this stuff is easy. Of course, there are some women who just love being pregnant and seem to have no complaints. I think by the end of the pregnancy, however, most women are ready to be done being pregnant and have the baby in their arms. And many women find pregnancy to be extremely challenging - not just the physical discomfort, but the emotional roller coaster, the psychological aspect of "feeling fat" and so on. It's no wonder that so many women seek inductions towards the end of their pregnancies. Pregnancy IS hard! And it's also not surprising that one way to frame the sacrifice of pregnancy is to say that it's all worth it in the end, when you get the baby handed to you and it's all over... or rather, it's all just beginning. This is true for most of us, but I still think there's more that can be said.

One traditional Catholic teaching has been the penitential value of offering up unchosen suffering, or bearing cheerfully with the ills of life, as Catholics often said. Pregnancy provides all sorts of unchosen discomforts and inconveniences (some quite unpredictable, with variation from pregnancy to pregnancy), and there are various ways that people deal with these - complaining, for example. And believe me, it is hard not to complain when you wake up with basically non-functioning elephantine hands every morning. But another way to deal with these unchosen discomforts is to make some kind of effort to accept them as mortifications - little ways of dying to self, embracing the cross, living for others. I've found that having specific prayer intentions for various discomforts can be helpful in making them meaningful. They become not just cause for complaint, but an opportunity for prayer.

And I have to add that one of the great things about offering up the mortifications of pregnancy is that they are temporary. Unlike chronic ailments, the discomforts of pregnancy generally come to an end (OK, some exceptions) after the child is born. I always say I can't wait to go back to my binge-eating habits after I'm done with this stupid GIRD! (Just joking of course...) Knowing that there is an end in sight can help to get through to the end with more than just resignation to the discomforts. Even if it's hard to remain "cheerful" with the ills of life, one can find ways for pregnancy challenges to become meaningful and prayerful along the way, and not simply dependent upon knowing the reward that lies in store.

No one said it would be easy. But it can be worth it, in more than just one way. 

To the Top!

Just to back up the comment about Eva's climbing skills, here are some photos from the Cleveland Zoo this summer. Maia did a great job getting to the top of the rope structure. Eva got to the point where she was just a little too small to climb up on the ropes. So she shimmied up the pole instead. The older kids there were a little taken aback at the ease with which she made it to the top.

 Above is Maia already at the top, and Eva climbing up the pole.
 Here Eva is still climbing up the pole.
 Here she's at the top, and this photo gives more perspective on how high the rope structure is. Note the older kids looking up at her in shock.
 Here are the girls starting to come down.
And here is Patrick dreaming about next year, when he'll be up at the top, too.

Does she ever NOT smile?

As the second child, big moments in Eva's life are too easily forgotten. Consider that I failed to take a picture of her on her first day of nursery school, for example. So I thought I should mark the month by doing a quick post to let everyone know that Eva has started nursery school. Despite the ordinary nervousness, Eva was all excitement and has had a great first few classes. When I picked her up from school today, her teacher asked me, "Does she ever NOT smile?" That question was a good sign that Eva is enjoying school.

Eva also has started gymnastics. As anyone who has seen her climb, tumble, cartwheel or twirl will attest, she seems like someone who would enjoy gymnastics. We scheduled her class for Fridays so Jeff can take her, and she loved her trial class. All those days of watching Maia at gymnastics... now she has a turn while Maia and Patrick are home with me.

So that's Eva - a happy child, content to spend most of her time playing with her younger brother, but also happy to be at school or at gymnastics.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Poetry in Motion

If the flitting, fluttering, and floating about of butterflies has been much topic for poetry and music, then so also should the flitting, fluttering, and floating about of the children who are trying to catch butterflies. I'm not so great at writing poetry or music, so I can only here mention the joy that I've experienced in watching my three kids end their summer by jumping about in the neighbors' flowers as they captured butterflies for their butterfly cage.

The proficiency in catching butterflies and securing them in the butterfly cage unsurprisingly began with our eldest, but has moved on down the line. Recently while Maia was at school, Eva and Patrick managed to catch seven butterflies between them (five and two respectively). This is great improvement especially for Patrick, who, in his early attempts went for the bees rather than butterflies, since they were slower and easier to catch (not to mention there are about 10 bees for every one butterfly). Two subsequent bee stings fortunately convinced him to seek a higher prize, and since then he has greatly improved in catching butterflies, although he is still working on transporting them to the cage.

The little orange and brown butterflies are no great challenge, but the true goal is always a "vanilla bean" butterfly - the rarer, faster, more astute, cream-colored butterflies that will even fly across the street to avoid capture. On the day that Eva and Patrick had caught their seven, Maia's first task upon coming home was to add to the collection a yellow-tinted "vanilla bean." It only took her a matter of minutes.

 Despite my concern about the large bee population in the neighbors' flowers, I have been grateful for the almost endless entertainment provided by the butterflies. Indeed, who needs a television when you have a butterfly cage and ample butterflies for a catch and release program?