Friday, November 21, 2014

Long Live Catholic Guilt (Or Why Good Ole Catholic Parenting Rocks)

My daughter rolled her eyes at me.

“That’s disrespectful,” I said.  “If you make that a habit, when you get to purgatory, your penance might be that your eyes won’t be able to stop rolling all over the place.” 

Like this.
I’ve heard some people call that type of parenting technique heavy-handed religious blackmail as the foundation of “Catholic guilt”. To that I say, if I don’t teach my children that we will be accountable for bad behavior and rewarded for love, then who will? The internet? MTV?


Later that same afternoon, darling daughter asked me,  “How can I earn a plenary indulgence today, Mom?”

I blinked twice when she asked that.  Either we raised a future brilliant defense attorney or my minute lecture just backfired into creating a criminal mind who can work the system. I second guessed myself. Did I do the right thing in painting a visual aid of purgatory? What would the secular parenting experts have said? Would the fear of death make her want to leave the Church as she gets older?  Should I have kept a compartmentalized religion box for Sunday or classroom use while the rest of our lives, our parenting especially, is stripped of Catholicism?

No. Of course not. She was clearly remorseful and wanted to hurry back into a state of grace.  We both went to Confession and visited the cemetery (it was Plenary Indulgence week), and floated on the absolution graces of peace and pardon on the way home.  And that’s how I knew that I would never unCatholicize the way I parent. If I keep my faith isolated from my everyday decisions and conversations, that is precisely a gateway for my cradle Catholic children to exit the Church for secular pastures.  When we parents role model for our children that Catechism stays in the confines of books (or only on Sunday Mass) but doesn’t translate to thought processes or a course of action, that is a treacherous dichotomy they can sense and adopt.

I have often reflected on the way I’ve been parented, and how my grandparents did it to my parents.  We have doctors, nurses, teachers, farmers and businessmen in our family, none of them theologians or followers of Dr. Spock, Dr. Phil, the American Pediatrics Academy or whoever is the current pop culture favorite. But throughout hundreds of generations, the Catholic faith has been a beacon in our family’s lives and (with few exceptions), has kept our families united in Church.  In the old days, parents prayed for guidance and heaven supplied graces.

 I admit I’ve not always loved the practices of Catholicism. I’ve rolled my eyes about praying the rosary again and again and accused my parents of being killjoys when other families took Holy Week off for the beach while we got stuck with Good Friday service. I grumbled and dragged my heels for early morning Mass, hoping to make us late, because the cute teenagers went to the 10:30.  I would rather have plucked out every single hair of my eyebrows than walk for hours on processions or pray the stations of the Cross. And if there was one more funeral for a dead relative that I was obliged to attend, I secretly vowed to paint a purple mustache --where my eyebrows used to be (or something to that effect).

But not once did I ever plot to leave the Church. It would have been as unthinkable as giving up brushing teeth.

Why?  Because faith was consistently a major part of my parents and grandparents’ lives and the root of all their goodness.  You couldn’t imagine them without faith. They talked it and they walked it.  Catholicism was on our walls, bedsides, birthdays, mealtime, discussions, vacations, charities, finances, even around our necks and extendedly, in our schools.  My parents (elders and teachers) didn’t make it a point to drill in a fear of God; their love, grounded on their faith, primarily reflected God’s love.  But holding me accountable for disrespect to authority and sin ingrained a healthy dose of ‘Catholic guilt.’ There was a right and wrong, black and white, and consequences for crossing the line.  When I was older, I understood gray… purgatory, mercy, atonement, repentance, reparation but only because a family’s love planted a fertile background for me to accept it.

For all my childhood, I was engulfed by Catholicism, even when I disagreed, disobeyed or under appreciated it.  When maturity came and the Holy Spirit saw that I was ready for graces my parents (and ancestors) begged for, I embraced the Catholic Church and all its teachings wholeheartedly.  

That is my hope for my children, at the very least.  That is why I encourage them to dress them up as saints, and take them to visit a heaven, hell and purgatory house for All Saints Day, every year. That is why we visit the graveyards of their three siblings they have yet to meet in the afterlife.  That is why they march to non-Sunday Liturgies and para-liturgies with us, even when they protest.  And why I teach them about the gift of contrition and make available a regular Sacrament of Reconciliation.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: "Three things are necessary for penance: contrition which is sorrow for sin, together with a purpose for amendment; confession of sins without any omission; and satisfaction by means of good works."

 Whether my children question the faith, want to leave it, or rebel against it when they mature is no longer my choice.  But for the years they are under my guidance, I choose for the light of Catholicism to burn and mold their conscience accordingly.  The Baptismal candle was handed down faithfully to me and I pray for graces to pass it on without snuffing it out.

Dueteronomy 11:19 instructs: “Therefore, take these words of mine into your heart and soul. Bind them on your arm as a sign, and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Teach them to your children, speaking of them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up, and write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates, so that, as long as the heavens are above the earth, you and your children may live on in the land which the LORD swore to your ancestors he would give them. For if you are careful to observe this entire commandment I am giving you, loving the LORD, your God, following his ways exactly, and holding fast to him, the LORD will dispossess all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than yourselves." 

Long live Catholic guilt, and here’s hoping I won’t have to wear that as a pendant on my forehead in purgatory. 


Friday, November 14, 2014

A Blueprint for Boys

After scraping my jaw off the floor with the news that we’re having our first boy after three girls, I’ve come up with a list of plans for Junior (not his real name).  Hey, nothing wrong with that, right?  All momma’s have a secret folder of prep schools and colleges for their kids and I’ve got my list of options.  Here they are:

OPTION 1: Alliance of the Holy Family Seminary.  Of course this would top our list.  It was Fr. Jose Viola who prayed over my womb asking for a baby, asking for vocations in our family and consecrating my baby to Our Lady.  Not only that, the priests are humble, well versed in the Latin Mass, have a sense of humor and besides, it can’t hurt our family to join an order where exorcists are trained.  We'll have lifelong access to exorcised salt, water and oil as a fringe benefit. 

OPTION 2: Fathers of Mercy.  Everyone knows the Fathers of Mercy are schooled to excel in their preaching charism but oh man, have you heard Fr. Joseph Aytona speak on motherhood and the priesthood?  You haven’t?  Well, here he is on youtube.

            His story amazes me.  Consecrated 8 months in the womb to Our Lady by his own mother (out of dire financial need), he became a priest who credits his priesthood to three mothers: biological mother, Holy Mother Church, and the Blessed Mother.   He is the founder of Spiritual Motherhood Sodality as well as founder of Family Vocation Ministries, an apostolate that promotes vocations through the sanctification of families. Wouldn’t you want your son to walk and breakdance in the footsteps of this guy?

I'm a fan...of his mother!

OPTION 3:  Diocese of ? USA  These US Seminarians obviously are learning more than philosophy and theology,  and since I’m a believer of well-rounded Seminarians and the Riverdance, well, I would either say tap dancing is worthwhile class for Junior or hope these priests still got it going on and take Junior under their wings. You have got to watch this!
                              The fun starts 1:00 minute into the video.

OPTION 4:  Servants of the Word.  They are a worldwide organization of missionaries and evangelists of consecrated men whose primary charism is the Charismatic worship ministry.   Their mission has saved my lukewarm Catholic life.  Their presentation still burns in my memory. “God’s mouth is very large,” our youth group leader pointed out. “So when He said I will spit the lukewarm out of my mouth,  I would hate to be a hocktooey in that lunger.”  Thanks to him, I'm always reflecting on (fearing) lukewarmness. Junior would be in good company if he joined them, safe in the confines of God's mouth.

P.S. The Brotherhood of Hope is an offshoot of this group.  This group in Florida of consecrated single men have a mission of praising God.   Download their fabulous worship and Christmas songs on i-tunes, puts me in a good mood every time. 

OPTION 5: The Benedictines. I've mentioned them several times as putting food on our table.  Husband works for the Benedictine monks and we love going to Confession and Mass with our favorite wise priests.  So if Junior shows a propensity for Gregorian chants, then I'll know he belongs at St. Bernard Abbey.  Arguably, chanting is not quite as lively as tap dancing, but something about an all-male Catholic choir just tugs at my heart.  Here are the monks guesting on Life on the Rock.

OPTION 6: Marriage.  I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that I say a Hail Mary for every one of my children every day, either for their future spouses or for their religious vocation.  So, Junior will hopefully accept Our Lady’s graces and marry a Catholic girl, who takes her faith seriously.  If he ever asks me why its so important to share his faith with his girlfriend, I will show him my friend Gina’s honest and poignant advice to single people dating an agnostic.   (Go click on the link. Very few Catholics write about this kind of stuff, and Gina so courageously tells the truth). If he chooses to ignore Gina’s advice, I’m probably going to get to know St. Monica really well. 

OPTION 7: The Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word. I’ll be honest: St. Francis spirituality has not fully captured me the way the Jesuits’ Ignatian Spirituality has and brown is not my favorite color.  BUT. If Junior did join this order, he’d make me the happiest mama alive since the friary is so close, I can tape him on EWTN and replay his Masses when I miss him.

            So there’s my blueprint for Junior.  I’ve been told by friends and family: “Buckle up! Having a boy is going to be a wild ride!”  and of course, I believe them and know that to be a fact  just as I know I'm not the perfect mother.   I’ll have to rely in Holy Mother Church and the Blessed Mother to supply my inadequacies and pray that Junior will make the right decisions to follow where God wants Him to go.  Really, that part is not much different than raising girls.  

P.S. I’m sure there are other wonderful orders that are out there, these are just the ones that I have close ties with.  What other orders do you know of that would look great on my list?

Joining 7 Quick Takes today. Thanks for hosting, Kelly.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

The Loaded "Are You Done?" and Other Questions You Were Too Embarassed to Ask Me

Nosy Friend is ecstatic that I’m having a baby boy.  She arrives at my doorstep, flinging her cross-fit toned arms wide open to hug and congratulate me.  I grab the package of mouthwatering French macaroons straight from a Paris bakeshop off her hands, but she snatches it back.

“Hang on. You get this after I get to cross examine you,”  she says. 

I’m slightly nervous.  My old friend from law school is a pro at squeezing witnesses, and she already knows the vast majority of my most embarrassing moments so a round of Q & A would stuff her arsenal with more things to blackmail Anabelle Hazard with.  But the macaroons, oooh, I gotta have them. “O-okay. Shoot.”

“So, now that you’re having a boy, are you done?”

“Define ‘done’.”

Eyeroll.  “Are you done having kids?”

“Didn’t you read my blog post about letting God plan our family size two pregnancies ago?”

She shakes her head.   After I hang up her lamb's wool coat, she perches on the bar stool of my kitchen island.

“What kind of friend doesn’t subscribe to her friends’ blog?” I ask.

“The kind who is in court or with clients wracking billable hours.”

I sigh as I slip in beside her. “Okay, in gist, my husband and I are practicing Catholics who understand, believe and abide by the teachings of the Church.  Every marital act is self-giving and open to the fruit of love…children.  Frankly, I’d feel used if all he wanted was the pleasure of sex without the gift of children and responsibility of parenthood.”

Her dark red lipstick is turned downward. “You’re not getting fixed?”

Vasectomy or tubal ligations are also against Church teachings. Mutilating the co-creative/self-giving nature of sex is like unwrapping a precious present, throwing away the fertility eggs inside, tying up the gift back up and returning it to sender with the tag: 'No thanks, God!'  

I hand her my i-phone. “You must not have read this blog post from a colleague on vasectomy:  Why fix something that isn’t broke?”

“I don’t do blogs."  Nosy Friend pushes my phone away.  “That’s like reading opinionated cliff notes or case digests in comics form.  Its' for people who can’t read big stuff.”

“What?” I shriek.  “I write plenty of big stuff!  I write explosive posts with deep reflections, like the time I rammed into a truck and hopped on a motorcycle.  I wrote about the time I went on vacation and got the stomach bug and my husband wheeled me in a baggage trolley with my arms wrapped around a trash can… well maybe I meant to, but anyway, that’s major stuff because I wound up in the ER! The E.R.! I could have died and you wouldn’t have known it.”

“You rode on a baggage trolley?  Gross.  Why couldn’t your husband get a wheelchair or sweep you off your feet and carry you?”

“There were no wheelchairs in the resort, he has a bad back, and I was carrying extra pregnancy weight.”

Another lipstick-ed pout at the word ‘pregnancy’.  “You’re close to forty. Don’t deny it.  Your dermatologist sister did an awesome job zapping away your sunspots, but I know we both graduated the same year.  Do you really think your body is capable of another pregnancy?”

“I know God wouldn’t call me to be a mother, if He didn’t give me all available graces to answer my vocation.”

“But didn’t God also give you contraception and birth control?”

I pause and scrape my chair back a smidge. “God gave me Christ. Christ gave me the Church.  The Church gave me theology to understand that natural family planning, which involves self control, is an even better gift that God gave me.  You really should read my blog post on the number of law suits surrounding birth control side effects.  There is no way I would think it’s a gift from God. Its from hell, more like.”

“So you’re not done?”  She shudders.  I can almost read her mind. She is thinking of her travels all over the world to five star resorts with her rock star husband, tasting exotic cuisine, and coming home to luxury linens, a yipping Japanese Pomeranian, and weekly nail spa appointments, everything posted on Facebook for me to drool on, which I have, by the way … except for the dog.

“That’s a loaded question,”  I say. “If you mean ‘will we use artificial birth control and resort to sterilization’, then no, we’re not. If you mean, ‘would we like to have more children’, yes, we’d like some if God gave us more, but we’re also grateful enough if He doesn’t. But if you mean, ‘are we going to have more children’, then I don’t know.  Next year, God could bless us with twins, we could discern serious reason for spacing or avoiding pregnancy (which the Church allows) or we’d have a fourth miscarriage –“   

“Wait. Wait. You’ve had three miscarriages and you’re willing to get pregnant again? You’re crazy!”  

I shrug. “I’m also afraid of losing another baby and winding up in the ER or the OR again, I’m only human.  But faith overcomes fear.  This life is only temporary. I can look forward to eternity with my children.  Catechism says children are your crowns in heaven and three of them are already there! I have more reason to look forward to heaven, and teach my children on earth to aim for it at all costs…  But not so fast, I’m enjoying their childhood.”

“You mean you actually like children?  Want a whole gaggle of them?” Her smokey shadowed eyes are practically sending SOS smoke signals to the Chikasaw tribes.

“Yes! No one held a gun to my head to quit the firm to stay at home with little people. I love them: girls or boys.”

“Even when they break your kindle, stain your carpet, deprive you of sleep or ruin your figure?” She skims her eyes and stops at the pudge in my middle section, which will never go back to its concave unstretch-marked origins again.


"So none of them were unplanned?" She clucks her tongue. 

"Our third pregnancy which resulted in my first miscarriage was a surprise," I say.  "But she was certainly planned by God."

"So how many surprises do you plan on having?"

"I'm counting on a lot. It comes with the territory." I smile. “Did I ever tell you about the time I went shopping with my middle child and she shoved a size 18W dress at me, insisting it would fit me perfectly.  When I told her it was at least 10 sizes too big, she said “What exactly does 18 W mean?”  I said, “It means 18 women.”  She said, “What?!  How can 18 women fit in there?”

Nosy Friend laughs.  “Children can be funny.  But pesky, too, and a lot of work.”

“I’m not saying it’s easy.  I’m saying ‘No sacrifice, no true love. no cross, no crown.’  If you have no further questions, can I have the macaroons? Want a piece?”

She slumps down on her barstool.  “I need a drink.”

I pour her Sunsweet Prune Juice, a favorite for, er, digestive reasons. “Now, can I ask you why you and Barry never had kids?” 

“We can’t have any,” she says.  “We’ve tried IVF (in vitro fertilization) and both times they’ve failed.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,”  I say.  I am sorry they couldn’t have children and that they used IVF.  Again, the Church teaches against IVF because procreation is a marital sexual gift and since life begins at conception, the status of the embryos are not ours to determine:  whether to be thawed indefinitely or dispensed with.   

"We wanted one. Just one."

“You know, Nosy, we struggled with secondary infertility.  Catholic friends recommended we consult a Napro physician who could help us with our issues in the ways the Church permitted.  But we couldn’t afford that, so we had a holy priest pray over my womb and voila! Miracle baby! Blog post June 2014.

 “Well you didn’t tell me you wrote about that.”  She finishes up the prune juice.  “I may just start reading your blog.”

“You should. You’ll be on it tomorrow.”  I motion to her glass.  “Do you want a refill or are you done?”

“I don’t know.  Are you done?”

I pick up another macaroon.  Mint chocolate. “Why? I’m just getting to the good part.”


(Work of fiction.  Any similarities to real persons are purely coincidental but the questions are not imagined.  They have actually been asked, and those are my honest answers.)