Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why liberals make lousy homilists...

Liberals make lousy homilists...

Now before any of you suggest that I not use the words "liberal" or "conservative" to discuss the members of the Body of Christ, I must just say this: I prefer not to use the word heterodox in this context because I'm going to give these individuals (as a whole) the benefit of the doubt. Liberal is an imperfect term but most of you know what I mean when I use it; often interchangeable with heterodoxy but sometimes just smelling a bit like it. At any rate, the term seems most appropriate for this discussion. Moving on...

By "lousy" I mean that a homilist doesn't actually lead anyone to deeper conversion, offer any serious consolation or hope to the afflicted, or inspire confidence in the existence of a personal and powerful God. I'm painting with a broad brush but many do preach the same way and it often goes something like this:

The only way that you can really know that God exists is from the wonderful, deep down experience of love. That's all you need... because God IS love and that feeling is God. We know He is with us because of that experience. Don't worry about trying to prove He exists because you can't; you just know He's there when people love you and you love other people. Now, go be nice to each other in the parking lot and experience God. 

The practical problem with this kind of preaching is that there are plenty of people warming the pews who do not have that feeling. And they may not have had that feeling in a really, really long time. But they know pain rather well. And blinding grief. Or the dead zone of indifference, depression and Prozac. Even if we feed them, build them a house, eat donuts with them and hug them, they may still remain lost in that pain. Most of us who have reached adulthood (and many of us as children) have know that kind of grief.

Father smiles warmly at us and announces that God is love. Period. And we know this because we have that experience of it deep within us. And that is all we can know and all we need to know. That is all, brothers and sisters. We need nothing more. And our silent screaming broken hearts and deadened people look at him, hear him, and understand that God is irrelevant. He is not to be found in our pain. Because we cannot find "love" there.

The liberal error is not always deliberate; sometime it is a matter of poor formation, ignorance or the use of imprecise language and improper emphasis. Regardless of whether it is intentional, the effect is still bad because it narrows our view of God by covering up the Cross with smiley face stickers. It is hard for the people to look at Calvary so we will not look at Calvary. It is unpleasant for the people to hear about sin so we will not talk about sin. This type of preaching is ineffective for the same reason that a nun who refuses to live in community or wear the habit will almost never attract new vocations; because there is no real appeal to be found in a passionless life. By passionless, I mean without energy and vibrancy and authenticity... but I also mean without the Passion. Without the suffering Christ.

The homilist who gives the love of our suffering Lord to a broken people is one who offers hope. Jesus did not "feel" warm fuzzies as He embraced His Cross. He felt broken and burdened, grief and incredible pain. He knows that part of us and reaches down to us in our despair and consoles us. The only one who really can. A priest who can introduce us to the Crucified Christ can also show us the way to the Risen Christ. We are not required to "feel" the love. That can be an impossible task at times. We need to rest our weary, miserable heads on His wounded heart and allow Him to raise us up.

Not everyone wants conversion and that is why people will happily embrace a liberal homily and talk about how "nice" it was. Of course it was nice... it left everyone comfortably where they were before it was preached. Many times, if we are wounded, it is painful to be touched. And if we are deadened, we prefer that to the pain.

But I prefer to know that I'm alive. And I prefer to know that there is Someone who has suffered like me, with me, for me... and offers me hope. Whether or not another person consciously wants that or not is not the issue. The fact that a Catholic priest would be content to leave the lot of us in our shallow, deadened states is problematic. By preaching in such a way that he moves no one, inspires no one and challenges no one, he makes himself irrelevant as a preacher and worse, causes God to appear irrelevant to our lives. As phony as the Easter Bunny.

The practice of such wrong-headed, vanilla preaching is so common to some clergy that I struggle with the temptation to pass judgement on their intentions. I find it difficult to believe that so many men would be ignorant of the meaning of their chosen words. I also find it difficult to believe that so many are actually satisfied with such a marshmallow version of God. I wonder... Is this what you are giving your life for? 

Incidentally, the most jaded priests I've met are all liberals. And the angriest religious sisters I've met are all liberals. Fluff does not satisfy. It is also dull as mud. What a disappointment it would be to come into the presence of Divine Love at the end of my life and find there only the banality of a liberal homily. Oh, how... nice.


There are two different versions of love that come from the pulpit. I sit and listen as one of the weak and wounded of the Body of Christ. One crushes my hopes and feeds my despair as I consider the emptiness of religion. The other, by taking me to the heart of faith, reaches in and fans the flame that lies buried and dim but still burns.

"I desire but this one grace, and long to be consumed like a burning candle in His holy Presence every moment of the life that remains to me. For that I would be willing, I think, to suffer all the pains imaginable till judgment day, if only I should not have to leave His sacred presence. My only motive would be to be consumed in honoring Him and to acknowledge that burning love He shows us in this wonderful Sacrament. Here His love holds Him captive till the end of time. It is of this one can truly say, 'Love triumphs, love enjoys, Love finds in God its joys." - St. Margaret Mary

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Benedictus XVI on Twitter!


The Holy Father launches new Vatican internet portal... and announces it with a tweet!

Spiritual answers to psychological problems...


I've been cleaning out the book room for the past month. In theory, that should mean that the room is actually getting clean. In reality, it means that I'm just reading a lot more than usual. The upside is that I am finding some really great books that have been hidden for years. The one I'm currently rereading is called Stumbling Blocks or Stepping Stones: Spiritual Answers to Psychological Questions by Fr. Benedict Groeschel.

Great book. I highly recommend it. It isn't long (about 150 pages) and is relatively easy to read and understand. Father Groeschel is engaging and clear and gives concrete suggestions whenever he raises a question or difficulty. The chapters are organized as follows:

1. Sin, Temptation and Integrity
2. Unbelief, Doubt and Faith
3. Dread, Fear and Trust
4. Envy, Animosity and Forgiveness
5. Selfishness, Self-Love and Charity
6. Self-hate, Hesitancy and Love of God
7. Pride, Vanity and Love of God
8. Sadness, Sorrow and Joy
Appendix: Prayers for the Journey of Life

Father Groeschel is as gentle and down-to-earth as he is straightforward and professional; a refreshing and important voice for those of us who want to love and follow Jesus but who are painfully aware of our "baggage" and limitations.

From the Introduction:
"In the following essays I will discuss human weakness, and how it may be changed into stepping stones on the road to God. The means of transforming these obstacles into stepping stones on the the journey of life are not limited to our own ideas or attitudes, although these are important. Grace, combined with insight and choice, is the means of change. Unlike popular books of psychology, we will suggest attitudinal changes like forgiveness of self and of others, which may ultimately go beyond the power of the mind and will. This is where prayer and grace must become elements of change."

From the chapter on Selfishness, Self-Love and Charity:
"If you want to love, you must be willing to be vulnerable. The Gospel makes it clear that if you extend your hand often enough in a gesture of love, someone will drive a nail through it. If you love others, you may be deceived, betrayed and abandoned. If you love Christ, you must walk the difficult road of Calvary. But you will begin to see yourself borne by powers that are beyond you. It may not be very noticeable at first. It may be nor more than patience with criticism, or extra generosity after you have done enough. You may feel firmly drawn to God even when you can't pray. You will begin to change. And this is the effect of charity, which will overflow into a love for others that goes beyond affection or pity."

Tiffany at Family at the Foot of the Cross also has some recommended reading for the day and commentary that has inspired me. What are you reading today?

Monday, June 27, 2011

God in the Streets

This video has been around for years and I never tire of watching it. I have never posted it here so I thought  the feast of Corpus Christi would be the perfect time.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Warming up for Nationals...

Four hours of drive time to see two hours of Professor practicing with his team... well worth it. It's the only glimpse I'll have of them so I took my cameras. Thankfully, no one threw up on the drive although it seemed likely for a stretch. (Thanks so much for driving, Dad, crying Cub and all.) Another bonus was getting to see the Ohio State National Championship team scrimmage an 18-year old National-bound Columbus team. Wow. We had to change our seats a couple times to keep the little ones from getting injured by the hard hit balls.


National Warm-ups from Ex Corde Ecclessiae on Vimeo.

Coach (aka Chief) looks on as the Professor sets up one of his hitters.
Ohio State players get some air during their scrimmage.

Friday, June 24, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday


1.

 The Chief, being a guy, has an affinity for action flicks. I, being a gal, only tolerate them if there's actually a good story mixed in between the fireballs and rolling vehicles. Every once in a while, I try to make him happy by tolerating one of these movies. If we've stayed up beyond a reasonable hour, he falls instantly asleep once hitting the pillow and I, sensitive as I am, lay awake for hours unwillingly reliving the blood curdling action. He did hit the jackpot last week, however, when he borrowed Bolt from the library. Yes, it's an action movie... about a cute little dog and his owner. Just my speed. A nice movie for the kids, too.


2.
The house addition is still not complete. I tell you this in case you wonder why we haven't invited you over for the last two years. Just so you know it's not anything you did. It has been challenging for me as the domestic engineer. I struggle periodically with anger over the dishonesty of our contractor (especially when our siding started to fall off). But really... I'm just spoiled. God is good.

3. 
My husband likes to pamper me. Last week, he picked up a little something for me while he was out of town. Dark blue sparkly nail polish. Presumably for my toenails? At any rate, it was very sweet of him and I plan on wearing it this week. I'm more of a pastel type person myself but for the Chief? I'll wear blue.

4.
Jellybean never hesitates to offer spontaneous prayer when prompted. Being just 3-years old, her prayers often sound something like this:

"Dear Jesus, I love you so much because I'm so big." Or...
"Dear Jesus, please help me to be good so I'm not naughty like my brother all the time when he takes my toys." (followed by a long dramatic sigh)

5. 
Allison over at A Broken Fortress is due to deliver her baby girl any day (or moment). She needs nothing for the wee lass because she has made everything she needs. Diapers, outfits, hats, bags... you name it, she's made it. I am so impressed and inspired. Check out her blog archives to see all of her homemade goodies. And check out her online shops to purchase her handiwork for someone you love. But what on earth do you give a little one whose mama is so abundantly talented? Lots of prayers coming your way, Allison! You're a great mom!

6. 
Speaking of Catholic shopping.... Looking for a sweet way to give a Catholic token of appreciation or affection? Or just a lovely way to share your joy? Lena of Joyfilled Family recently opened an Etsy shop
with her oldest daughter. Pay her a visit at JoyFilledCreations.


7. 
Now that I have my brain back (I seem to lose some faculties during pregnancy) I've been catching up on all the reading I wasn't able to do. It has been something of a reading frenzy, I admit. I currently have three books in progress, stationed in different part of the house. Homeschooling is my currently one of my primary focuses so I've been digging into a little John Holt (of whom I have heard much but never read), rereading John Taylor Gatto, and discovering new works, like Suzie Andres' book A Little Way of Homeschooling. (FYI... I am not technically an unschooler, just wish I could be.) My latest library borrowings are all over the board. I would like to post reviews of all of it soon but I'm afraid you would all keel over with boredom... perhaps I'll just do a couple at a time.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Where God and I have walked...

Our Lady of Good Counsel
The church of my first sacraments and where I first remember loving the Lord.
I revisited the parish church of my childhood last night for Mass and the anniversary celebration of friends. It was an evening of tremendous grace and blessing as my eyes were opened to the presence of God in the life of a little girl. I don't remember the circumstances, but I recalled touching the beautiful blue and brown tiles of the church floor. Perhaps when I was kneeling. I had knelt there before Our Lady and gone in there for my first Confession. I had admired and examined the exquisite and larger than life stained glass windows. The crown above the altar. The paintings that occupied my imagination although no one unlocked their secrets for me at that time and I was too timid to ask... ora pro nobis... ora et labora. 

The woodwork my small hand had touched many years ago. The path my feet took to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist for the first time.

I did not expect the visit to be a moment of conversion. I should stop being surprised at these gifts from our Lord. He was there then with me and He is with me now. I felt as though He was holding my hand and taking me on a tour of my heart and where we have been together.

The church was hot and the acoustics were awful and the sound of the fans drowned out the Panis Angelicus... and I remembered the feeling of my young legs sticking to the varnished pews and the dampness of my uniform blouse. The years have slipped by and I have fancied too often that I am different from that little girl. I am only different because I have lost something along the way.

As I sat there seeing with my little girl eyes, I physically experienced my former innocence. I remembered it and what it felt like and who I was at that time. The years that followed felt different. I lost innocence and wonder, the eyes of faith and the desire to seek. Last night, I recognized when it left. I felt it leave. And my heart broke for the loss and then rejoiced as He showed me how He had walked with me through it all.

Coming back to those beginnings renewed in me a sense of purpose. Another step in conversion; like the very first steps when everything is so clear and there is no confusion. It is a gift of intellectual clarity but so much more... experience, emotion, faith, grace. He calls and says: Find Me again with the eyes I gave you.

The church I spent those years in was massive and no less so now that I have grown. As comfortable as my current parish church is, I wish my children could experience such physically majestic beauty on a more regular basis. It does something to a soul.

The church on the left next to a public transit bus garage.
My street was almost opposite the church.
The neighborhood surrounding the church was my playground for a number of years but decidedly less lovely than the church. It was a little rough then and more so now. I saw things I wish I hadn't and was afraid sometimes because I wasn't rough like that. But that little red light shining within the giant stone walls of the church was something else entirely. As a tiny little person, I walked alone from my house just to be there even though I couldn't have told you why.

I left for a while and now I know what it is like to live in a rough world without that sanctuary. And I don't want to live that way again.

Jesus, thank you for showing me the evidence of your love... it transforms me and inspires me to seek You and love You. Please help me remember and retain the innocence of childhood... and please, please help me share it with my children. I know You won't let me go. You never have. Please lead me deeper into Your Sacred Heart. Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Pray, Play, Think, Link and Sew... Priesthood Edition



PRAY...



A Prayer for Priests
by John Cardinal O'Connor

Lord Jesus, we your people pray to You for our priests. You have given them to us for OUR needs. We pray for them in THEIR needs.

We know that You have made them priests in the likeness of your priesthood.
You have consecrated them, set them aside, annointed them, filled them with the Holy Spirit, appointed them to teach, to preach, to minister, to console, to forgive, and to feed us with Your Body and Blood.

Yet we know, too, that they are one with us and share our human weaknesses. We know too that they are tempted to sin and discouragement as are we, needing to be ministered to, as do we, to be consoled and forgiven, as do we. Indeed, we thank You for choosing them from among us, so that they understand us as we understand them, suffer with us and rejoice with us, worry with us and trust with us, share our beings, our lives, our faith.

We ask that You give them this day the gift You gave Your chosen ones on the way to Emmaus: Your presence in their hearts, Your holiness in their souls, Your joy in their spirits. And let them see You face to face in the breaking of the Eucharistic bread.

We pray to You, O Lord, through Mary the mother of all priests, for Your priests and for ours. Amen.

PLAY
Annual soccer match between seminarians in NY. "Give it up for Jesus!!"



THINK
Adoration, Reparation, Spiritual Motherhood for Priests is a 2007 publication put out by the Congregation for the Clergy. Worth reading and pondering. PDF version HERE.

"independent of age or social status, every- one can become a mother for priests. This type of motherhood is not only for family mothers, but is just as valid for an unmarried girl, for a widow, or for someone who is ill."


LINK
23 Reasons a Priest Should Wear his Collar


SEW
Pattern for child-sized vestments from Our Father's House $10
See photo of our finished vestments at the top of this post (made 8 years ago and still going strong)


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

When priests don't meet our criteria...

I was very moved by this quote on the Corapi situation from a priest named Fr. Frank. A grateful nod to Sancte Pater for the quote. (The author link doesn't seem to be working but I'll include it anyway.)


"I guess it bothers me reading the constant comparisons of Fr. Corapi’s to saints like Padre Pio and St.Gerard Majella. There is no one-size-fits-all template for holiness. Jerome was arrogant, bombastic, ...self-referential, and obnoxious. The objects of his venom were men like Augustine. Yet he recognized this weakness of character, and became a saint. I have no idea of what the truth is regarding Fr. Corapi, but I hate seeing any man dismissed simply because he does not as yet appear to show the signs of heroic sanctity. Why do we even remember Sts. Pio and Gerard? Because men like them are so bloody scarce in the Body of Christ! As scripture says, “the Lord is glorious in his saints.” Still, the day to day work of the Church is sadly not, for the most part, done by Pios and Gerards, but by men who deeply love Jesus, but also have big mouths and egos, kick themselves in the butt when they get home to the rectory at night over the dumb things they’ve said and done that day, and then pray for mercy and amendment of life. Please don’t compare Corapi, or me, or any other priest to the saints. That’s not why they’re there, and can only lead to being pharisaical about priests who don’t meet your criteria. Rather, let each one compare our own soul to the great saints so we can learn to say from the heart, “God, be merciful to ME — a sinner.”  ~Fr. Frank

Sunday, June 19, 2011

How would you homeschool if no one was watching?

My latest column is up over at CatholicMom. I confess that it was hastily written but also that the words have been on my mind and heart for weeks. I procrastinated. I was afraid to begin writing because my thoughts seemed far too large for the keyboard. I had no idea what would happen when they came spilling out onto the page.

The first time I submitted it, I messed up the formatting and it published like a giant chunk of verbiage. To any of you who tried to read it and came away with a headache instead, I apologize. My thanks to Lisa Hendey for kindly fixing it for me in the midst of her weekend travels. Now that the formatting is fixed, I've noticed a multitude of other little typos and such....

So the words really did come out with a splash. All over the place. I do hope that they landed in a way that communicates well enough because I am very interested in hearing your thoughts. When my questions and emotions seem too scattered for their boundaries it can be a tremendous grace to hear from those who walk with me. So I ask you...

How would you teach if no one was watching?

Thanks for loving us, Chief...

1998
Thirteen years ago, we celebrated your first Father's Day, Chief.
Remember Professor then? How he used to tickle you (or try) and how we would wait on the front porch for you to come home from work each night?

2011
What has changed since then? Oh... quite a lot. And not so much.
He still looks forward to the time you come home each night.
You're still the greatest Dad I could ever ask for my kids.
Thanks for loving us. 
We have grown so much under your care.

Did you ever think you'd see this kind of picture? I sure didn't! 
Number one and number six... 
Your openness to life has blessed us all more than words can say.

I love it when you sing to us and to God. 
You have taught us how to lift our voices in gratitude and now she wants to sing, too...
just like you.

He wants to be just like you, Chief.
He had tears in his eyes the other day as he told me what you mean to him.
I told him that's what love does.

Thanks for playing with dolls. She won't forget.

Remember this day? One little push and she was off!
But she needed you there to show her what to do and tell her that she could.
Thanks so much for being there.

You've led us to the Heart of Jesus and taught us to sing out loud to praise Him.
Thanks for keeping our priorities straight.

Thanks for holding us up. Our hearts are full today as we celebrate the gift of
your fatherhood.

Thanks be to God!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Thoughts on Corapi...Updated

UPDATE II (6/20): Read my thoughts if you will, but there are much wiser, more knowledgable and more faithful people out there in the world. Please read this article on this business from the bishop emeritus of Corpus Christi for some hope and clarity. Thanks to reader Sally for the heads up.

Also: Corapi responds to reactions and questions... HERE.


UPDATE (6/18): I'm adding a bit to the beginning of this post. A few hours have passed and I'm less emotional and tired and confused. And I have to adjust accordingly...

I want to acknowledge that I know nothing about the situation other than what Father Corapi communicated during the three month span. For this reason, I recognize that I am not qualified to make any sweeping judgements or statements. I don't know what went on behind closed doors. I don't know what options he would have had if he had remained an active priest; such as, where would he live, how would he earn a living, how could he work in the Church in any capacity, what was agreed upon or understood in his private conversations with his superiors, the full extent of the injustice against innocence. I know none of this. Very few people on earth do. So, I think I owe him the benefit of the doubt where at all possible.

The removing of the faculties and ministry of a priest who has been falsely accused is tragic. It is effectively canceling out that good priest's ability to serve God's people in any way other than contemplative prayer. If Corapi is innocent, and he says he is, then the primary functions of his priesthood were snuffed out unjustly. I don't know what I would do in his shoes. He makes it sound as if he was quite certain that no other decision or justice would be forthcoming. I don't know what his options were. Many Catholics seem convinced that a hermit's life is the correct way. But how can we say for sure without being in those shoes in those conversations? How is it that we can be so certain about the details of this man's life and heart when we can hardly make it half a day without bungling our own. I know what I think about appearances and how I feel about them. Other than that... what have I a right to say?

Following is the post I wrote early this morning. I still feel the things I wrote but am open to the possibility of being wrong. In that respect, its more like a journal entry than a statement of fact and I do not wish for it to be read with the idea that I have any greater idea or authority than anyone else.

Corapi is a grown man with more years, wisdom, experience, knowledge of the faith and skill than I. I perhaps owe him a bit more courtesy than I afforded him below. I will remain hopeful that the Lord has greater plans for him still... to which I may or may not be privy. God's will be done.

One thing is certain: the man has been tried, condemned and dragged through the mud by a number of prominent Catholic bloggers over the last three months. It has been a disgusting spectacle and destructive in many ways. They, who knew no more than you or I about any of it. They insist they saw it coming... however, their intuitive brilliance does not excuse their horrid lack of charity. Regardless of his actions, they owe him an apology. I stopped reading them two months ago since their words just turned my stomach. I visited for the first time since then and found nothing changed.

On a better bloggy note, Fr. Z. has written the best article I have read on the subject so far HERE.

I wrote the following within the hour of hearing Corapi's announcement; take it for what it is (thoughts from a wounded heart) and not an iota more...
______________________________________________________________

Bummer. And I mean that in the most grown up way. I just don't know how else to express my disappointment at this point. Oh, I can talk around it for hours; the details and why this is understandable and that strange and whatnot. But for me, it really comes down to vocation.

I get it, Corapi... I really do. My heart breaks for you. Whether you are innocent or not, I get it. But still... I'm hung up on that word. Vocation.

The man is mistaken if he thinks that even heavy discord justifies divorce from his vocation. I can understand the temptation humanly speaking, but I cannot agree with it.

If he was only a preacher, I could understand it. Just as if I were only a babysitter it would be no big deal to abandon my home. But he is a priest and I am a wife and mother. We do not divorce ourselves from vocation. We cannot undo who we are. His act is just paper; and as such, is an act of rebellion against his own heart. As if he could somehow separate it from his body. Scandalous. At best. If my husband leaves me or develops a mental illness, I am still his wife, miserable and isolated or not. I wouldn't march off to divorce court to give crude emphasis to the division. Vocation.

I would not want to be in the man's shoes. Thank you, Lord, for keeping me out of the spotlight and please keep my children un-famous. Know what I mean?

I am so unhappy with the way that justice is denied to so many good priests. So much of what Corapi objects to are valid concerns. But he's a priest before he's a preacher... and a priest with a heavy cross indeed. And the black dog image is creepy. Ask me if I've been to sleep yet. Never mind, I'm too embarrassed to admit that the mental picture kept me up to greet the birds.

I don't want to jump on the bandwagon with the down-with-Corapi vultures. I think people are going far, far overboard with their lack of charity, gossip and speculation on the state of his soul. I am grateful for the good work he has done. But I'm am really, really disappointed in this public act of separation. I cannot follow him there.

Vocation, Corapi... Father, Mister, whatever you are. It's God's gig, not yours.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Frugal Friday: Making the most of online shopping...

I am not great with coupons because I rarely shop in stores. My husband usually does that for the family (it just works out better that way) and is quite good at it. But I do what I can in my domain....

I do a large percentage of my shopping online since taking six children to the store with me is... challenging. To say the least. I do prefer to touch and see in person before I buy but internet purchasing has other benefits such as lengthy descriptions, reviews, and comparison shopping.

I have recently been taking advantage of a few other online perks. I love to receive rebate deposits from sources like Ebates.com.  MrRebates.com is another good resource for cash percentage back. I don't go looking for things to buy (that would defeat the purpose, no?) but when I have a need, I have often found cash back options or coupons from these sites. I am a member of both and check to see which has a better deal going when I'm ready to make a purchase. Combining these rebates with clearance sales or cash back credit cards on purchases adds up.

Another way to earn cash online is through Swagbucks. Points are earned using various features and traded in for prizes. For example, 450 points will buy a $5 gift card to Amazon.com. A lot of time could be waisted on this site trying to nickel and dime points with games and surveys but I simply utilize the search feature and earn slowly but surely.

I've mentioned MoneySavingMom before but she's worth mentioning again. For every 40 deals I pass up on her blog, there's always the one that makes it worth my time.

As I said, spending too much time with these kinds of sites can be wasteful, but after learning the ropes I am able to utilize them without throwing away my day. My combined earnings from the past several months will allow me to purchase my husband a birthday present this Summer without using his paycheck. It isn't usually that way but will be such a pleasure this time!

Finally, I recommend signing up for emails from retail stores you like to shop with... or even stores you wish you could shop with. You never know! I have set up a free email account just for these "junk" emails and browse them every few days to catch special sales. This was particularly helpful at Christmas time when I was able to find a few items for next to nothing with free shipping. Make the purchase through a rebate site and you'll find an even sweeter deal.

The Middle East Problem in a Nutshell

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Walk for Their Lives: Lacing up for the Babies


Cecilia at Hair Bows 4 Life is sponsoring an event called "Walk for Their Lives" and I am happily hoppin' on board. Starting Sunday, June 12th and finishing 12 weeks later on August 28th, the walk is intended to keep us moving while working to support the defense of Human Life.

Cecilia invites us to:

1. Spread the word that you are taking up the Challenge!
2. Gather sponsors, either by the mile or a flat rate.
3. Email her at walkfortheirlives@gmail.com with your location (she wants to see how much of the map can be filled), type of sponsorship and what pro-life organization will receive the donation.
4. Record your miles. She has great ideas for doing this on her blog.
5. Every Sunday, comment on her blog with your miles for great door prizes.
6. Prizes for top walkers.

I'm a little late getting the word out but my feet have already started the journey with 12 miles under my belt. Instead of asking for per mile sponsorships, I'm encouraging people to give a one-time donation. All my walking proceeds will be donated to the Zechariah House in Cleveland. This house is an extension of Maggies's Place which is a community that provides houses of hospitality for expectant women. Walking the pro-life talk to the max. Beautiful.

I will be accepting donations on the sidebar of my blog. Anything that you can offer for these mothers and babies is greatly appreciated. The needs of the Zechariah House are published on their website and all donations will go towards filling these needs. If you would like to indicate which items you wish your donations to go toward, I will happily purchase them in your name.


In addition, I am planning on participating in the Maggie's Place 9K race that will be held at the Cleveland Zoo this Summer.  In addition to the 9K (which represents the 9 months of pregnancy) there will be a 5K walk/stroller push and a free Kids' Dash. Anyone live in Arizona? Then you have your own Maggie's Place to love and 9K run at Tempe Town Lake. If you don't live in either place, you are invited to participate as a Shadow Runner.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Resident Royalty...

The Chief picked up a couple paper Burger King crowns for the little girls when he stopped for lunch yesterday. The gift set off a storm of royal pretending and out came the gowns, gloves and jewels, play silks and chiffons.

Crash decided that the entourage was incomplete without Little Cub so he made a little paper (and masking tape) crown just for occasion.

As you can see from the photos, Prince Little Cub is growing way too quickly... already hammin' it up for the camera, growing a bunch of teeth, and generally making me feel like time is flying by far too fast...




This guy makes everyone in this house so happy. I shouldn't be so surprised because the same thing happens with every baby. We all fall hopelessly in love and the house regularly resounds with shouts of: "You've got to see this... he's adorable!" A baby is particularly nice for teenage types who frequently need a huge helping of unconditional love. I've noticed that on difficult days, the older children will steal the baby for longer periods of time. Babies do not nag. They do not criticize. They do not notice bad hair days or social gaffes or messy rooms.

I understand completely. A baby's love gives me comfort and confidence. Being a mother of many can be a frightening thing at times. I don't care for all this responsibility! But God knows what we need and when we need it and what will make us happy. How easy it is to trust when I engage with the goodness of a child.

"Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies."
~ Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Monday, June 13, 2011

My Engagement: In the Shadow of the Risen Christ


It'll be 15 years next month for the Chief and me. It seems like I've always known him. And that my hand has always been in his.

I must be getting old because my memories are fading like the wallpaper... but I do remember some things pretty well. When Hallie over at Betty Beguiles invited readers to share their engagement stories, I happily discovered that I remembered mine...

I travelled to the Franciscan University of Steubenville to meet up with the Chief before the Easter Vigil Mass at Christ the King Chapel. Driving the car was a good family friend and, unbeknownst to me, the Chief's jeweler. As we rode and talked about life, love and faith, she secretly carried the ring which would be presented to me a few hours later.

The Mass was the first Easter Vigil that I remember attending in my life and I was stunned by its beauty. I was accustomed to the Masses at Fransciscan, where everyone sings and joy is palpable and communal in addition internal and personal; but this was taking celebration to a new level. We waited to enter the church as the Pascal Fire was lighted and it almost seemed appropriate when the table cloth caught fire as the wind whipped the flames. It was quickly contained but that fire reminds me of the Holy Spirit present that night, contained out of love for our littleness but ready to overflow. ("He's wild, you know. Not like a tame lion."~ Mr. Beaver of Narnia.) All of the readings were read... yes, all of them... which I haven't experienced at a Vigil Mass since. I watched and wept as a classmate and several others were received into the Church. I sang with them... on and on and on and well after the Mass had concluded. In Thanksgiving and Joy.

The Chief was acting a bit odd. It was extremely warm in the church but he would not take off his suit jacket; he, who after graduating from his Jesuit high school has done his best to avoid such warm and stiff attire in every possible way. The beads of sweat on his forehead became drops and then rivulets. I jokingly began to fan him with the edge of his jacket but he was not amused. He seemed annoyed but it passed quickly in the celebratory moment. I did not notice the extra weight in the pocket that he guarded anxiously.

After the music finally came to an end, we headed over to the adjacent lady chapel where the Eucharist was residing in the tabernacle. People were taking time to pray and adore and we joined them. I dropped down to my knees and the Chief did likewise. Except, he only went down on one knee... and then turned to ask for my hand.

Of course, I said yes. I reached for his arms and embraced the man who would lead me into my new life; a life full of treasure and wealth beyond my dreams. I don't remember if he kissed me but he may have. The funniest part of the event was that we managed to offend a pious young man who thought we were just sharing a random public display of affection. His concerns were laid to rest when the facts of the matter were made known to him. God bless him for his great love of our Lord!

Following the Easter Vigil, the university hosted a Resurrection Party at the student center. A great banner of the resurrected Christ hung in the hall and refreshments and laughter and music and cheering filled the place. There was hardly room to move but we managed to make our way around somehow. It turns out we were not the only engagement of the night and occasionally an announcement would be made and the cheering and toasting would begin again. We left between 3:00am and 4:00am and the party was still going strong.

It is one of my fondest memories. My own happiness was great... and there was an even greater feeling of satisfaction in being overshadowed by Christ's victory. It was a great beginning and foreshadowing of our vocation to the married life where we have been called to live the details under the wing of God's tender mercy. And one day, I hope that the Chief and I will be walking together again with those part-goers in a heavenly celebration; with the untame lion, the fire that spills over, the loving Mother and the Love that calls us to eternal joy.

I was young and immature and not nearly ready for marriage. But I fell into the hands of grace. Now I'm older and only slightly more mature and hardly ready for this afternoon let alone tomorrow. But it's all grace. Every single beautiful bit. When I hear about engagements I almost always cry and think, "They have no idea what they're getting themselves into... God has great plans for their marriage! Blessed be God!"

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Institute for Excellence in Writing Webinar...


The Institute for Excellence in Writing hosts free webinars on Monday evenings. I haven't attended one yet but just registered for my first on the 20th of June called "Freedom in Your Homeschool: "Reexamine your Educational Paradigm". I am a big fan of the IEW products and Andrew Pudewa's presentations so am looking forward to the experience.

If any of you sign up for the same presentation, I'd love to hear your reactions and thoughts. You are welcome to leave them in the comment field of this post.

Full list of IEW's webinar events HERE.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Memories of Dirt and Beautiful Losses...

Good memories...

Two years ago, we hosted a Dirt Party for the kids... in thanksgiving for the gift of God's beautiful creation and specifically, dirt.

Mud pies ready for judging.

We also said hello and goodbye to tiny Baby Matthew Athanasius. We have no pictures and will have to wait until heaven to see the details of his precious face, but we have images of the siblings and cousins as they dance around the graves of the precious innocents.... a beautiful foreshadowing!

A beautiful day to say our temporary goodbyes.
It seemed unlikely to happen, but my love for the little one who left us so quickly has only grown with time. My desire to see him increases. My joy at knowing he lives and waits blossoms. Thanks be to God!







Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Modest Swimwear Review and a Giveaway...

This is NOT me. :)
I've already covered my thoughts about modest swimwear on this blog so I'm not going to rehash all that here. I'll move right into a very happy review of a newly discovered line of swimwear made by Girls4sport.  Happy, indeed! Good quality, functional, and sweet... let's dive in...

I'm an active swimmer as opposed to a "bobber". I have nothing against all you bobbers out there, and may be one myself some day, but for now I am a mover in the pool. Pretty suits are a dime a dozen. What I want is a pretty suit that stays put. (All you moms who still like to do an occasional cannon ball know what I mean.) I think the bobbers among us will enjoy this line as well but the swimmers and jumpers will really enjoy it.

Girls4sport is a company that designs and sells active wear to provide "a wide range of coverage for women." One of the company designers puts it this way:

"For the most part, we are in the market to offer more coverage versus less. You could say we sort of specialize in modesty."

"Sure, most of us like to look our best... but most female athletes are primarily concerned about actively enjoying or competing in their chosen sport comfortably. Performance is the priority, not the "hey, check me out" factor. Let's face it, a little extra coverage actually keeps things nicely covered during rigorous activity and prevents impromptu peep shows... "

"In a nutshell, showing a little less really is more and it's what we aim to deliver at Girls4Sport. Less revealing garments that provide more for the women wearing them."

As we all know, modesty is a bit relative family to family and woman to woman. The mix-and-match options at Girls4Sport provide a terrific range of choices from board shorts and long sleeved tops to bikinis.

When I originally ordered from Girls4Sport, I purchased from their Grab Bag section. For the price (wow), I was completely unconcerned about matching pieces. We do almost all of our swimming in the private pool of a family member... who's going to care if I don't match? I purchased pieces for Cookie and then, envious of my daughter's excellent swim gear, I went back to shop for myself. 

It was at this point that the folks at Girls4Sport offered to send me a matching suit to review, a coupon code to offer to my readers and two fun giveaway items. Twist. my. arm

The suit they sent is a combination of their sports tank top and boy briefs. And it's PINK. Perfect. I've never worn a boy short suit before because... well, because I just never have. Old habits die hard. Why, oh why, have I waited? The suit is just what I was looking for and will go comfortably from the pool to a volleyball game with the kids. Here's the skinny on the suits...

TOPS

The Sports Tank Top is much nicer than I imagined it would be. It was advertised as having a shelf bra and that concerned me. The reality is that this top fits extremely well, is surprisingly supportive and does not ride up in the water (also a very surprising quality in a tankini style suit). The material is really comfortable and flexible. No need to constantly adjust everything. Huge thumbs up.


The Halter top is one I purchased in the Grab Bag option. In my experience, halters can be a bit more supportive because the tie is adjustable and can provide ease of nursing with a t-shirt cover up. The Girls4Sport Halter is the most comfortable I have ever worn with wide, soft fabric under the arms. A great purchase and my only regret is that I bought it grab bag and so it doesn't match the bottoms (it's the girly girl in me, what can I say?)


BOTTOMS

With the Sports Tank Top I received the matching pink Boy Brief. There's really nothing "boy" about them. They're actually rather cute and extraordinarily comfy. They stay put and provide coverage while still looking very feminine. The waistband is wide and flat which is flattering and comfortable. I never thought I would like the style but I now think it's pretty wonderful. The whole outfit is sporty and feminine and I would choose it again.



I purchased the Grab Bag bikini bottoms because they are the traditional cut that I am used to and I honestly figured I wouldn't like the boy shorts as much. They are very comfortable and not least because they have a wide (about 2") smooth waistband that eliminates strings and cutting bands.  Worn with a long top, these provide the traditional tankini look.

THE FABRIC

Sturdy, soft material with the added bonus of UV protection. This stuff is made to be used! And if you like pink, they have a section of their shop just full of it. Lovely.

PRICES

Listen ladies, you know what quality swimsuits cost these days. This line is no exception. But I do believe they sell a quality product that fits my needs as a coverage seeking, active swimmer who really likes the color pink. :) They also provide a very full Clearance section and, if you don't care if your pieces match, an incredible Grab Bag option. 

BOTTOM LINE

The quality is excellent and the selection of lengths and coverage options is the best I've seen. Definitely recommended.

Kim at Girls4Sport has graciously provided a great coupon for Blossoming Joy readers... good for a 15% discount on all products on their website. (Thanks so much, Kim!) Enjoy!
MLD-15
GIVEAWAY

In addition to the coupon, she offered to give away a pair of girls' board shorts to two of my readers; one in sea green print and the other in coral pink. These shorts normally sell for $27 each.



Two chances to enter the giveaway...

1. Leave a comment telling me if you are a swimmer or a bobber. :)
2. Share the giveaway info on Facebook, Twitter, or via your blog and let me know in a separate comment.

The giveaway will close on Friday at 11:59pm and I will choose two winners using random.org.

May your Summer be richly blessed!

UPDATE: And the winners are... Lena and Crystle! Congrats, ladies and enjoy the shorts!


Homeschooling: A Response to Reader Comments

I recently wrote a post expressing my frustration with a public attack on homeschooling by Fr. Peter Stravinskas.  There were several great comments from readers; one in particular is worth responding to at length. I started to respond via my own comment in the combox but I think I can give their points and concerns greater attention this way. Many of the points brought up are common questions or concerns that people have. Perhaps I can help a little. I won't go through the points bit by bit; instead, I'll organize according to general topics brought up in the comment. "Newcomer" was concerned that the tone of his or her comment would be misunderstood. I assure you, Friend, that it was not. I firmly believe this kind of communication is valuable and appreciate the opportunity to dialogue. We may disagree but that doesn't mean that understanding, respect or future agreement is impossible. Thanks so much for engaging in dialogue that matters. That interest makes a world of difference.


On to the concerns....


Socialization


This is one of the most frequently mentioned concerns that people have about homeschooling. People genuinely want to know: What about socialization? It can be a difficult question to answer, not because we don't know what is meant by it, but because it's kind of like asking, "What about eating?" People are social by nature. It is the context in which the homeschooler socializes which raises questions. To be blunt, socialization is one of the reasons why people educate at home: because many of us believe (strongly) that a child will receive far better socialization in the greater community and family life on a daily basis than in a classroom with same-age, same-education, same-maturity level peers. I have a homeschooling friend who, when asked "What about socialization?" responds "EXACTLY!"...with a smile on her face.


We all have ideas about what we think a homeschooler looks like. Unfortunately, this preconception is very limiting and causes us to miss out on the vastly larger and more balanced picture. My home educated children are active in their community, church life, and many athletic and extracurricular activities. Most people we meet wouldn't guess they are homeschooled. They enjoy the company of others and are confident in social settings, far more than I ever was even though I was educated in the school system. My older children are developing excellent leadership qualities in their activities and showing initiative and energy in many areas of life. People regularly tell me that my children are the exception. This only demonstrates that these people do not know many homeschoolers!! or that they don't recognize them when they see them. In fact, my kids are probably less involved in social activities than many other homeschooled kids. Meet them once and you'll know their social experience is just fine.


"What about socialization?" Yes, that's the point. That's a fantastic reason to homeschool. I went to school and know many school families. Institutional school is a rough way to socialize a kid.


Assertion: School Teaches Kids How to Cope with Difficult Life Situations


It is often said that a child should be in school so that he or she can learn how to cope with difficult situations. I don't agree. First of all, I don't think that home educating removes difficult situations in life. Secondly, I don't think that placing a child in a difficult environment automatically teaches them to cope with it. Third, I disagree with this tough-love approach for young children. That a child should have to practice being bullied and marginalized and grouped and labeled is something I cannot agree with.


Life is challenging... at home or at school. All children have to learn how to deal with difficult situations. I believe that a family is more equipped to help a child through these times than an overextended teacher or an immature peer group. There is time in life to be among the wolves. I heartily disagree that the tender years is that time.


There is an old saying that "sports teach character". Some wise person recognized the error and made a better statement: Sports reveal character.


If sports taught character, we'd see more professional athletes of character. Instead, we see something significantly different. The world of athletic competition is brutal and challenges a person to the utmost on multiple fronts. I would draw a strong parallel with institutional schools. I went to school. I lived it. It almost, quite literally, destroyed me. Throwing a child to the wolves only results in a lot of wounded children. The ones who survive and rise are not necessarily at the top because of their positive character qualities. 


The home is like a greenhouse. It is somewhat shut off from the world but it exists to nurture young life in a healthy environment before that life can be safely transplanted. The word shelter is often viewed negatively, as if it is in the best interests of children to be subjected to brutality. The textbook definition of shelter is "temporary protection from bad weather or danger." Sounds like a fine idea to me. 


A side note: Newcomer, you noted that you do not have children. While I don't believe for one moment that this disqualifies you from having a well-formed opinion, I do think it makes it more challenging for you to see youth culture from the "inside." Unless you teach... then you know more than you want to, I'm sure.


Concern: Organized Curriculum 


This is pretty much a non-issue. The resources available to home educators are practically limitless. The schools don't have an advantage here. In fact, the home educator has the advantage of curriculum choices and also the ability to quickly change a curriculum that is lousy or not suited to the student.


Concern: Critical Thinking


In 99% of my educational experience, I was expected to study to the test and had very little time or opportunity for academic exploration, personal study or development of reasoning skills. My homeschool is very different. We have designed it to intentionally diverge from the institutional methods of teaching critical thinking. So, again.. . I would have to say this is a non-issue for me. And if there are homeschools that operate in an autocratic, linear fashion, then they are certainly no worse than institutional schools. 


Assertion: Homeschooling takes well rounded parents to succeed


Well, this may be true. It depends on one's definition of success, I suppose. For example, a person does not need to be very intelligent, well-socialized, of good character, or psychologically stable to get into college these days. (And to be quite frank, I'd rather raise a good person than a brilliant one.) Are teachers required to take a test on their "well-roundedness" before they teach our children? No. In fact, a frighteningly large number of teachers were lousy students themselves, are mean, unhappy people and emotional basket cases. There are a good deal of lovely teachers out there as well but I can't attest to their "well-roundedness" and neither can parents who generally know little to nothing about those who teach their loved ones.


Assertion: A parent must be educated in order to educate


Well, this is easily debatable because there are millions of homeschooled students to give evidence to the contrary. It seems like it would be the case but the facts turn the obvious on its head. I wrote about this exact idea in a recent post (Homeschooling is Not What You Think). My conclusion is that, no, I don't need a mastery of a subject in order to have students that excel. The evidence is strongly present in many homeschool families I personally know as well. One mother admits that she is terrible at Science and not all that interested in it either. She is the primary teacher in her home. Surprisingly, her oldest is in medical school, another is a Science teacher and a third is a Biology major. Go figure! 


A common saying among homeschooler is that "Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire." My experience, and the experience of millions of other home educators, tells me that there's something to this. We don't need to pour our knowledge into their brains... but teach them how to discover it for themselves. 


Assertion: Some homeschooling families are misguided 


No argument there. Still, the great majority are not. I would argue that more than "some" institutional school families are seriously dysfunctional. But I don't see anyone closing down the schools or removing their tremendously negative influence from the classroom. Some teachers are misguided as well. When you deal with the human element of life, there will be sin. To use this concern as a reason to discourage homeschooling is rather weak unless you're willing to discourage all schooling.


Regarding Taking Father Stravinskas' words personally


The commenter suggested that I try not to get upset with Father since he was just expressing his opinion. I agree it is a good idea to not become too emotionally involved over such a thing, but I do think that my anger was justified. Father was not just expressing a private opinion, but was using his prominent position to create division via a national publication. Do I really think he intended to create division? Yes, I do. It is clear that he believes a separation of the Catholic community from homeschooling is important. He is precise in his communication. He does not simply disagree with homeschooling, he actively opposes it. That is the source of my anger; that he would intentionally hurt and divide Catholic families using objections that are not even generally demonstrable or reasonable. If he has truly been formed by his experience with homeschooling families, than he hasn't met very many of us at all! 


Homeschooling is a freedom that many American families cherish. There are, however, groups and individuals in this country who are striving daily to take this right from us and who will find his words and use them if they can. And yes, that makes me angry. 


You know, I don't agree with every homeschooler I know. As families and home educators, we're as different as fingerprints and some strike me as odd, although I like a great many more than I dislike. I'm sure others disagree with the way my family is being raised. But that's not really the point when people raise these kinds of objections about homeschooling. There are plenty of families in the school systems who are screwing up their kids and the educational powers-that-be don't have what it takes to fix it. This doesn't seem to bother people as long as properly credentialed individuals are running the show. Those magic papers give people a high degree of comfort. What they don't necessarily give to kids is a high degree of real education, solid character formation, and the support and love needed to "succeed" in life.


It is not for me to say what's best for another's child. You, after all, are the primary educator of your kids. God gave you that responsibility and you may delegate it to whomever you wish.  You are more equipped than anyone to know what is best for your little ones. That's the point. 


Jesus was raised and educated in his home by his parents. It was there that he "grew and became strong, filled with wisdom..." (Luke 2:39-40) His days weren't filled with "enrichment activities" and extra curricular events. He didn't attend the best college prep high school, get a sports scholarship or excel at university. He never got a high paying job or purchased a mansion in a lovely cul-de-sac. He was "just" a tradesman and even his successful ministry only lasted three years. All the same, he grew in wisdom and strength and perfectly fulfilled the will of His Father... to our greatest benefit. 


I think when we strive to fill every second of our kids' lives with educational purpose initiated by professionals, we set the bar far too low. God trusts you to raise and teach your children. Because of that, and in spite of any concerns I might have, I am inclined to trust you to raise and teach your children, too.


Thank you again, Newcomer, for inspiring this discussion. I welcome the exchange and future comments!

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