Knowing Your Mission: Catholic Entrepreneurship

Erica Tighe | October 22, 2019

Before Be A Heart was my business, it was my blog. I started it to write about my experience of being a heart – nothing but a heart in the slums of Brazil. It was about compassion and learning how to love others more deeply and selflessly. After living there for a year and a half, I moved to NewYork and continued blogging about that transition and how I tried to continue living that same idea in the fast paced city.

Eventually Be A Heart was the platform for which I launched my business as a calligraphy and designer. Imagine now as I walk up to a high profile event to design something on site and someone says to me, are you Be A Heart? It still makes me chuckle. What kind of name is that, anyway? But for it, I am so grateful because it really keeps me in check. This idea of being a heart not only dictates how I interact with my clients, but also draws a very specific type of clientele. Most of the people who come to me have a similar heart in life and are promoting beautiful things with their own work. In turn, I get to design things that I believe in myself.

I have yet had to deal with an inquiry project for something that goes against my personal beliefs. I guess I wouldn’t be able to design something for an organization who was anti-refugee or promoting guns or the other issues that contrasts my own convictions. However I also recognize that not all my clients have the exact same beliefs as me on a personal level. I do always try to put the human first. We all have had different experiences to bring us to where we are and I am in no place to judge them. Usually in terms of a professional relationship, I can find plenty that we do have in common rather than seeing our differences. 

I usually approach my work as an act of service. I am thereto serve them and not discriminate based on who they are or what they believe.This then is an act of love and that is always what I am trying to bring to the world.  

Something I have been working on the past few months is learning to trust my own intuition though when I need to turn down a project. I recently had a client call very frantically needing something last minute and out of my normal scope of work. I had a weird feeling of it, but because I always want to be helpful, I agreed to do it. They kept negotiating my price down and asking me to come in extra times to meet and long story short it turned into a nightmare and they won’t return our calls or send payment for the work. 

So for me, I should have seen some red flags in the way they treated us from the beginning in a way where I felt a bit exploited and used and while I try to treat my clients with love and tend to put in the extra mile for them, I also expect to receive kindness and respect in return. 

And in the end, I don’t want my handiwork on a business that may not treat its own clientele or employees with dignity and kindness. I think one of the best ways to avoid this is to be really clear in the mission of your own work and knowing what your non-negotiable issues are. This generally will help in the very beginning to attract those who also want to be affiliated and do business with you. 

Teaching Truth with Grace is Worth the Struggle

Sr. Prudence Allen, R.S.M. | October 20, 2019

Question: How do I teach Catholic Principles in a school when faculty, parents, and students disagree with Church teaching?

For a new teacher, one of the most challenging situations is how to teach Catholic principles in a Catholic School when faculty, students, and parents disagree about these principles! Basically, there are three different communities of discourse, each with their own expectations and hopes. To further complicate the situation, within each of these communities of discourse there are also many individual differences of opinion about what principles are true.

Even though the Catechism of the Catholic Church offers a wonderful foundational structure for centering a discussion around a dispute about what really is the Church’s position on a particular theme, Catholic Theology is not like the sciences of mathematics or physics, where a basic text book can definitively settle all disputes.

It is important for a teacher not to get caught in the kind of arguing that pits students against their parents or one teacher against another teacher in a school. Yet the Catholic teacher has an obligation to do her best to be faithful to the trust that has been placed in her to speak according to her well-formed conscience. What can help someone facing this dilemma? I would like to suggest three different kinds of things.

Firstly, in 2007 the Congregation for Catholic Education in Rome has published an important document titled,  Educating Together in Catholic SchoolsWhile this document is addressed to persons within lay and consecrated vocations, it also well serves priests and parents. In par. 13 of this document we read:

The Catholic school, characterized mainly as an educating community, is a school for the person and of persons. In fact, it aims at forming the person in the integral unity of his being, using the tools of teaching and learning where criteria of judgement, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life are formed. Above all, they are involved in the dynamics of interpersonal relations that form and vivify the school community. (Sept. 8, 2007)

The primary goal of the teacher should be more than imparting the facts of a particular academic subject. It should include above all fostering communion among the persons in the school especially in the classroom. How can fostering communion be done in the contemporary world? For example, teachers and administrators could study this document together and discuss it during one of their pedagogical or formation days. Parents could be encouraged to consider parts of it where relevant to their children. Schools run by religious communities could decide to study the document together.

Secondly, for those who are interested in broader principles of education, which may not be limited just to Catholic theological positions, I have written an article that considers how a philosophy of the transcendentals: unity, beauty, truth, and goodness can guide a teacher at four levels of education. These transcendentals are characteristics of God who is One, True, Beautiful, and Good. Everything in the world participates in these transcendentals to some degree. This philosophical approach has the advantage of being open to persons of all religions. It also gives examples of how a teacher can inadvertently act against one or another of the transcendentals, and thereby interfere with fostering communion. (See: Sr Prudence Allen, R.S.M., How Catholic Philosophy can engage Secular Culture in Education, tudes maritainiennes Maritain Studies, Vol. XX (2004): 106-147) (Email us for a copy of it!)

Thirdly, a teacher can broaden the context of the discussion among the different communities of discourse to include reflections on the history of women and education. What may be helpful for this purpose is to read and discuss sections of Allen, The Concept of Woman: Volume II, The Early Humanist Reformation (1250-1500*). The Index of this volume lists several pages according to the following topics: Education of children, of boys, and of girls; Education of women: in classical schools, in monasteries (or convent schools), in household, by father, by father-in-law, by mother; in humanist schools, by lay communities, by tutors, and theory of.[1]

After great struggles in the western world, education became an important gift to girls and women of all classes. Therefore, it is worth the struggle today, when education is so available to everyone, to work with conflicts towards genuine dialogue, real communion among the persons involved, and real communities compatible with Catholic principles in the schools.

[1] Remember that Volume II was chopped into two parts, so that the first part has the table of contents and the first half of the text, and the second part has the index and bibliography with the second half of the text.

New Feminism | All Movements Start Small

Mallory Smyth | October 20, 2019

I had decided out of total obedience to the Lord that I would no longer fight the faith in which I had been brought up. For three years, I had been attending my local non-denominational church. If I was going to mass at all, it was only out of familial guilt. I had fallen in love with everything protestant. The music was great, the preaching was meaningful, but most of all, I was involved in the women’s small groups and these groups were changing my life. I was as shocked as anyone else when the Lord asked me to recommit to the Catholic church, but I did. I left the ministries that I loved, came back to the mass and started looking for ways to get involved.

There wasn’t however, very much offered to a 24 year old like me who wanted to be involved in my local parish. There was only the youth group, so I started volunteering there, but I wanted more.

My life had been completely transformed sitting in those non-denominational circles with other women as we studied the book of Esther, and then Daniel, and then the nature of God. It was in those groups that I could get my questions answered. I learned from the other women how to actually apply the teachings of Jesus Christ to my life as a young adult. I sat with women who were in their 70’s and absorbed their wisdom as they destroyed many of my generational stereotypes. Every time I finished a small group study, I couldn’t believe how much I could know about my faith and how much there was for me to learn.

I was leaving mass one day missing the community I had left and, I wish there was a Catholic women’s small group flashed through my head. Immediately I heard, “Then start one.” My excuses started flowing. I’m not from here. I don’t know anyone. I don’t have time. How would I even do that? It didn’t matter, I knew they were excuses and I knew God was asking for a yes, not a million reasons why He was wrong to ask me.

Within a month, I scouted out four other women my age whom I didn’t know. I creepily asked one girl for her phone number after mass and mentioned starting a small group. To my surprise, she told me she had been looking for something more and would love to join. Another girl, I met on a plane and then happened to sit next to her in mass. I invited her, she said yes and brought a friend.

The small group was not a raging success. My invitations were awkward and we only met about five times. Since then, however, I have led about ten catholic women’s small groups. Each time I am more convinced that the Lord just needed my yes so that He could do His job. He didn’t need my expertise. He is the expert. He didn’t need my brilliance. I am not brilliant. He needed my obedience, my willingness to be on mission.

If you have ever thought to yourself that you wish there was a small group in your area or that there was something more for Catholic women at your parish, the Lord may very well be asking you to be the person to start. There are a millions reasons to say no but how would the Lord use you if you said yes? What if you made the time, opened your heart, stepped out of your comfort zone and just do it? How would He change you? How would He change others?

We have received the most amazing inheritance in Catholicism. St. Paul tells us that the riches of our faith are literally unsearchable but too many of us never take the time to begin the search. It is no secret that most Catholic’s know barely a faction of what we should know if Jesus is real and the Church is true. This is in our control to change.

We all know the words of Jesus when He said, “The harvest is plenty but the laborers are few.” The world we live in is thirsting for the Truth. The more that we as Catholics seek that truth in a transformative way, the better we equipped we are to fully participate in the worship of the living God and the better we can be to engage our brothers and sisters who are starving for meaning.

Are you curious to see where the Lord could take your yes to leading a small group? Now is a great time to start and we at Endow want to make it as simple as possible!

Motherhood | Am I Wasting my Talents

Kathleen Littleton | October 20, 2019

Question: I am married with three kids and want a large family. I gave up my career to be a mother and I wouldn’t trade what I have for the world. However, I feel this yearning to use my gifts still and keep being told, keep your foot in the door professionally. Can anyone talk to this balance? If I know there is a real chance for many more babies in the future, how do I go about discerning this for my family? Am I wasting my gifts? Will I damage my family if I work in the professional world or will it be a good example? How do I know what is right?

God’s plan for marriage and the family is what is right and true. Seek first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well (Matthew 6:33). As a Catholic wife and mother, your first responsibility is to your husband and children, and to be open to the life that God plans to entrust to you alone in the few and swiftly passing years you have been given the incredible gift of cooperating with Him in the creation of an eternal soul. God bless your inspiration and desire to have a large family! To be a mother and wife is your God-given grace filled and glorious vocation. What a blessing fertility to have the love between husband and wife bear fruit in the life of a child brought into the world and into eternity.

All real love entails joy and suffering, risk and sacrifice. God sees and will bless mothers for the time, care, energy, hopes and dreams mothers give their children while they seem to put all their own on hold. As He did with his own beloved son, God in His mysterious way takes your sacrifices and mystically transforms what is offered so selflessly for others into something new, something that transcends the cross. You will find that what the world views now as a waste of your professional talents while you raise your young children you will look back upon as your most precious gift ever given and time most rewardingly spent. The late, saintly Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty described a mother as “The most important person on earth. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any Cathedral a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body.”

It is a busy time for you now. You struggle just to get through the daily chores and duties of physically caring for your children, but the blessings are there abundantly as you have experienced. You feel at times the strain of getting through these days until you have more time to pursue your profession, to give of yourself intellectually to the wider world. You wonder if it is true that you are wasting your time in these tasks when you could be so much more valued out in the professional world, or if it will be so much harder to re-enter that world as time goes by. Yes, God has given you talents and charisms that are meant to be shared for His glory and to bring souls to Him. Yes, this too is your calling as a baptized Catholic, but in God’s time and with delicate balance. Trust in Him, that He knows what is best and will work everything out. We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

Put God first, and the rest will fall into place though God’s grace. Build up a strong and deep sacramental and prayer life including daily Mass if possible for your whole family, frequent confession, spiritual reading, spiritual direction, family prayer. By staying close to God in this way you will always be able to discern His will for you. You will be at peace in all that you do. You will be able to give of yourself one hundred percent to the duty or pleasure at hand. You will find yourself doing this joyfully, knowing it is God’s will for you in this moment without distraction or a restless heart. God’s will is where He has placed you, in this time and place. God alone knows what will make his children happy eternally happy that is as well as happy here on earth.  He will not give us what is not good for us. We should pray and desire what God wants, asking that His will be done as in the Our Father, the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray. This is the prayer of faith, uniting our will to God’s will (CCC, 2570). The best way to pray, as St. Alphonsus de Liguori instructs is to pray in uniformity with God’s will; that is if this is expedient for my salvation, I will it.

In doing so, you will find that God will not only take what you offer Him, but will give you opportunities to exercise gifts and talents that you never knew you had in ways you never dreamed of doing. He will help you grow into the extraordinary person He plans for you to become, to shine the light of His love for all to see for His greater glory. No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a bushel, but on a stand, that those who enter may see the light (Matthew 5:15). So God intends to do with you! Recall the saintly example of St. Therese of Lisieux who had a heart so full of love for God she wanted to show him how much by travelling the world as a missionary, but God had other plans for her, to literally become love while in a cloister cell (Story of a Soul). Surely He has plans just as rewarding for you, the child of His heart! Don’t limit what He intends to do with your life, but surrender completely to His will and watch your life unfold beautifully, blessedly, and surprisingly most of all to yourself, if you will only let it!

Surrogacy | The Gift of Life at any Cost

Jenny Uebbing | October 20, 2019

The gift of life at any cost

I met a girlfriend for drinks last month and we got to talking about infertility during a lull in the conversation. Knowing what I do for a living, she raised her glass ever so slightly and asked me, can you explain what the Church teaches about surrogacy? Because friends of ours are struggling and it’s so sad and if I weren’t already pregnant myself I’d volunteer to carry a baby for them, they’ve been trying so long.

I took a big sip myself and smiled at her; that’s beautiful. Of course you want to help your friends.

And then I did my best to explain why that kind of help cannot be and will never be okay.

Infertility is a brutally heavy cross, and it’s easy enough to explain the rules when you’re not sitting in the bathroom, gutted over another negative pregnancy test, another cycle of no. But also easy and becoming all the more so as science and technology speed along to lose sight of the fact that the entire industry which has sprung up around the problem of childlessness deals not in products, but in people.

It’s a beautiful gesture to be so generous as to be willing to share one’s own body with another family in order to bring their dream of parenthood to fruition but it is a misguided generosity rooted in flawed philosophy. And the flaw is more than semantics, it’s a particularly dangerous manifestation of materialistic relativism applied to the most basic of human economies: the family.

Family members are not merely interchangeable parts in an intimate cast of characters. A child created in a petri dish from one man’s sperm, his wife’s ovum, and implanted into another woman’s uterus is not being afforded the same beginning as a child conceived in the sacred intimacy of his parent’s marital embrace. But how archaic! I’m sure someone is sputtering over a mouthful of coffee right now. How many children are conceived in the backs of cars, in alleyways, in one night stands and in teenaged wombs every day?

Many, indeed. And when a child is conceived in this sort of relational poverty, it is a deprivation to that child. A child who is no less worthy, no less equal in dignity, but who has been denied something that is by nature and design his or her birthright: a mother and a father, committed to one another and to the fruit of their love: that baby.

Do babies come into this world every day without parents who love each other, who are committed to each other, who even know one other? Of course they do. And that is a poverty to that child, who has the inalienable right to both a mother and a father, but who is all too often denied that right in our broken, sinful world.

The gift of adoption is a beautiful vehicle for restoration, and is the most perfect image of God’s relationship to us. It is a restoration of the natural order, the orphan being reunited with a father and a mother, the child who has need of love and the parents who have an abundance of love to give, being joined together in a covenant of love.

Many would make the case that surrogacy is even more natural than another family raising a child with no biological ties to them, that it’s the next best thing to doing parenthood the old fashioned way. But where adoption restores a lack and fills a void, surrogacy and all other manifestations of IVF very often results in intentionally created orphans. Children called into being in a laboratory, the product of their parents’ desires, yes, but at what cost?

It is extremely rare for a successful IVF procedure to involve only one embryo. Typically there are multiple children conceived in the lab, and then selectively implanted one or two at a time in the prepared uterus. Some embryos are discarded based upon perceived quality. Others are left behind to languish indefinitely in the freezer, their fates determined by their parent’s financial ability and the successful gestation of their elder siblings.

These orphans of technology are human beings like you and me, indefinitely suspended in the very earliest stages of development. Created orphans, functionally speaking. While adoption attempts to repair and restore what was lost or ruptured, IVF disassembles by design, even if not by intention.

Not all IVF involves surrogacy, of course, but all surrogacy involves IVF. Unless, of course, a la The Handmaid’s Tale, a couple is willing to go so far as to loan the healthy party out for a transactional sexual encounter with the donor of either sperm or egg. This is perhaps the clearest evidence that something is off with surrogacy, as most people wince at the Old Testament accounts of childbearing by proxy, hiring out the production of a desired heir to a slave or servant with a healthy reproductive system.

While a modern-day surrogate or carrier mightn’t be technically indentured to the couple desiring the baby, her body is still being commoditized by the infertile couple, both she and the baby reduced to means to an end.

However willingly any woman enters into a surrogate relationship, there is something deeply unjust with carrying a baby for the express purpose of giving him away.

The child who grows under her heart, even if their biological ties are limited to the umbilical cord that sustains him and the blood that pumps from his surrogate mother’s heart, carrying his nutrients and oxygen, is eternally and profoundly a part of the woman who will give birth to him.

Will the adoption be open? Will the child be told he has two mothers, or will his origins be obscured or minimized? Will he be made to feel that he shouldn’t feel connected to the woman who gave birth to him, that he should understand that his parents wanted him so badly that they’d go to any lengths to create him.

And if that child does grow up feeling conflicted or uneasy about her origins, will she be allowed to grieve the circumstances surrounding her conception?

Society has paid little attention to these smallest victims of the infertility industry, largely ignoring or denying their experience as anything potentially negative or confusing. We’ve spent so much time (and so much money) in pursuit of can we that little if any thought has been given to should we.

Should we create children at any cost, because a man and a woman or two men or any other configuration of paying adults want them to exist?

And when we do create these children, are we prepared to meet them in their pain, entering into the ambiguity they may feel when thinking of their parents, answering their questions honestly and with candor: you’re here because I wanted you at all costs. And no, I didn’t count the cost to you.

Facing the Future | The Ethics of Genetically Modified Persons

Marilyn E. Coors, Ph.D. | October 20, 2019

Question: What is Crispr gene editing and what is the Church’s stance on this? Are we looking at a future where we could change who we are at the genetic level ie our gender, our intelligence, any developmental disabilities or genetic predispositions we may have? What does this mean for developing children in the womb? Does a parent have the authority to change the genetic makeup of their child before the child reaches adulthood? If we are made body and soul in the image and likeness of God, and therefore the human person has dignity? Can we alter the image so much that we lose the likeness? How does the Church determine where to draw the line?

CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is a revolutionary new genome engineering technique that can target and cut a specific DNA sequence. The process then utilizes the cut to edit DNA, insert new DNA, or knock out a gene completely. Essentially, this technique has the ability to rewrite the human genome at will because it is relatively simple, efficient, and cost effective. For these reasons, it will have incredibly powerful applications for healthcare, the environment, and agriculture. CRISPR is already used to modify insects, animals, plants, microorganisms, produce human therapies, and, most controversially, alter human embryos. It is readily apparent that there are promises and perils involved with genome editing.

The promise of CRISPR includes many potential therapeutic applications such as cancer, Down Syndrome, Parkinson’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease, macular degeneration, AIDS, and so many more. CRISPR allows researchers to specifically and easily correct a mutation in DNA to remedy a serious medical defect. Therapeutic applications to treat or cure an individual person’s disease are permissible and desirable according to Church teaching. Dignitas Personaea 2008 instruction from Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states “Procedures used on somatic cells for strictly therapeutic purposes are in principle morally licit it is necessary to establish beforehand that the person being treated will not be exposed to risks to his health or physical integrity which are excessive.” (n. 26)

There are ethical challenges created by therapeutic applications of CRISPR. Safety is an extremely important consideration. In order to safely realize the benefits CRISPR promises, scientists need to precisely control the sites on the genome at which changes occur. Although the state of the technology is improving rapidly, there are concerns with site specificity and a potential for unwanted genetic modifications called off target effects. If genetic changes take place at unintended yet similar DNA sequences, CRISPR could cause harmful side effects.

CRISPR is also used to modify early embryos, eggs, or sperm (the germline). The ability to rewrite the human germline raises significant moral concerns for Catholics. Modification of the germline usually entails in vitro fertilization (IVF), which Church teaching holds to be illicit. IVF is illicit because the procedure replaces the marital act, and conception occurs in a laboratory by technicians rather than in the loving embrace of husband and wife. In addition, IVF often entails the destruction of embryos.

There are additional moral concerns swirling around modifying the human germline that are held by Catholics and many, many others as well. The risks of modifying the germline are unpredictable and could entail unforeseen or uncontrollable side effects, known as off target mutations. It is important to note that germline gene changes are carried in all cells, cannot be reversed, and will be transmitted to future generations whether harmful or beneficial.

In addition, CRISPR germline gene modification can potentially be used to engineer human behavior or traits or produce designer embryos. This type of modification crosses the line from restoring health to enhancing human characteristics or even creating a new type of human being that doesn’t exist in nature. Dignitas Personae addresses this very important distinction directly: “such interventions would promote a eugenic mentality and would introduce an indirect social stigma with regard to people who lack certain qualities, while privileging qualities that happen to be appreciated by a certain culture or society…Finally it must also be noted that in the attempt to create a new type of human being one can recognize an ideological element in which man tries to take the place of his Creator (n. 27).

Let’s address some practical moral questions alluded to in Dignitas Personae.  Is it moral to alter an unborn child’s genome to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease? Dignitas Personae tells us it is usually moral and desirable to alter the cells of a particular person to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, if it is safe. In contrast, the alteration of an unborn person to avoid Alzheimer’s usually requires IVF techniques, which are illicit as discussed above. Also, the potential harm of unintended genomic changes escalate in a developing embryo. For these reasons, altering the unborn is immoral according to Church teaching even though there is likely net benefit if the disease is eliminated.

What about the morality of enhancing intelligence or improving athleticism in the unborn beyond what is currently considered outstanding? Some individuals pursue the best higher education or engage in intense strength training for themselves and/or for their children. In both instances, those resulting enhancements are reversible and have the consent of the person involved. Improving intelligence or strength in the unborn is dramatically more problematic, because it likely involves IVF and entails other serious problems. The appeal of given enhancements will fluctuate over time with the current cultures and fads, yet, germline changes are hard wired in an individual and will be passed down to his/her descendants. Obviously, there is no consent from the altered individual(s), and the potential harms of mistakes are unknown and could outweigh the benefits.

Moreover, the issues of accessibility and cost are additional moral concerns related to CRISPR. Therapies that result from CRISPR will likely be expensive, particularly patient-specific treatments like customized genome editing. It will be especially difficult for patients of average means or those who are uninsured to realize the benefits. If the promises of CRISPR materialize, so will the demand, and it will be necessary to justly address access issues.

Turn Off Your Autopilot Mom

Jenny Uebbing | October 20, 2019

Question: I love my faith and that doesn’t change, but as a busy mom of two toddlers I don’t have the same time I used to to spontaneously go to adoration prayer journal, or research news simply to invest. I am in a rut and on auto pilot with a lot of brain fog. I don’t want to be here and I know its normal, but do you have any advice on practical ways to reconnect with our Lord on a heart level. I just want to feel connected, even to a saint, something. I know the truth, but I feel numb. I’d love a strong, loving boost out of this complacency, I want to do something different, be reminded of the adventure he has us on, but I’m so tired.

I sense tiredness in your letter, which is easy to understand! On top of this, you always wanted to plan and do everything rationally. And here is the kingdom of irrationality, where normal activity and energy aren’t enough.

The kingdom of irrationality pretty much nails parenthood, especially those hazy early years. These words, spoken in tender friendship to the mother with 1-year-old twins, give me so much consolation. Not only because they’re true, but because they come from the lips of my beloved St. John Paul II, writing to a dear friend struggling with her first year of mothering twins. He goes on to say you need to wait things out, some time to do nothing, and simply, patience especially since there are two.

I think his advice on the need for some time to do nothing is most essential to us as mothers, and most often overlooked. I know I cram all the available minutes with another load of laundry, another quick round of emails, a flurry of lunch packing and dishwasher loading and reading just one more thing online and then suddenly it’s 11 pm and I’m already behind the 8 ball for a day that hasn’t even dawned.

Physical and emotional self-care is so critical to a healthy prayer life. Even the most disciplined religious orders have regular times for exercise, rest, and recreation woven into their day. I remember reading about Mother Teresa’s sister’s tea time in their daily ministry schedule and being amazed. If the Missionaries of Charity can step away from the Home for the Dying to relax with a cup of tea in the afternoon, I can lock myself in my office for 15 minutes of quiet reflection or a nap or a cup of coffee with a good book.

Our prayer lives are generally a direct reflection of the effort we put forth. When I’m exhausted to the bone and frantic over all the details of work and home life, I can maybe squeeze in half a rosary while I’m falling asleep at night. Sometimes, like in those early weeks of nursing a newborn or a toddler in the throes of sleep regression, that is truly all I have to offer. Other times most times, if I’m being honest with myself I’ve made other things a priority all day, pressing and important though they may be, and my intimacy with the Lord suffers, simply because I’m not resting with Him.

On a practical level, some of the most fruitful seasons of closeness with Him in my motherhood have been times when I’ve scheduled ruthlessly and unromantically quality time with Him. This past Lent, for example, I set an alarm and spent 20 minutes with Blessed is She’s Lenten journal and some spiritual reading before the rest of the house was awake. It was an enormous sacrifice, and it really was hard every morning to not hit that snooze button, but the Lord repaid that time tithe a hundredfold throughout the day with grace in abundance. Other times I’ve tied some of my have to’s with spiritual disciplines, keeping the radio off in the car until after I’ve prayed a Rosary or spent some time in mental prayer, for example. Praying a Divine Mercy Chaplet on the treadmill. Offering up petitions for specific children as I wash their dishes and fold their clothes, not only in a general I hate this so I’m offering it up sort of attitude, but a real effort to unite that particular action to the child to whom it belonged.

I have also found that when my prayer time is dry and my relationship with God leaves me feeling numb, there is something there that is keeping us from a healthy intimacy. God will use the circumstances and seasons of our ordinary lives to root out past hurts and old wounds, drawing the poison to the surface so that we’ll invite Him into the pain and accept His healing touch. Unbound by Neal Lozano and Be Healed by Bob Schuchts are two fantastic books that have really been like sticks of dynamite for my spiritual life. Sometimes it’s not only the sleep deprivation and circumstances preventing intimacy with Jesus, but a past hurt or an agreement with the enemy that are keeping us apart.

Finally, it’s always a beautiful exercise to ask God for a particular saint to pray with and then see who pops up. Maybe there’s a saint already stalking you, someone whose feast day is your wedding anniversary, whose words keep popping out at you in books, or who share your personality or your interests. Pray for a saintly best friend to accompany you in the spiritual life, and be amazed at who pops up.

Our world is full of noise and endless distraction. That still, small voice of the lover of our souls is difficult to hear over the clamor of social media and the rumble of the washing machine. It’s up to us to open up a little white space in our days and in our hearts so that we don’t miss out on His invitation.

Ships in the Dark | A Reflection on Edith Stein and Dietrich Von Hildebrand

Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand | October 20, 2019

Ships in the dark.

In hindsight, one both marvels and regrets that two people who had so much in common never developed a great friendship. I am thinking of St. Edith Stein and Dietrich von Hildebrand. They were born on the same day: Columbus day, but he was her senior by two years. He was born in Florence, and spent much of his youth in this beautiful city; not surprisingly he was strongly marked by his Italian background. Italian was his first language. She was born in a Jewish family in Breslau, and was marked by her background: Jewish and north German. Both received their doctorate from the University of Goettingen, but once again he preceded her by several years: he received his Ph.D. in 1912; she in 1917. He converted to Roman Catholicism in 1914, and from this moment on was an ardent Roman Catholic, deeply convinced that the Church was the Holy Bride of Christ. Edith needed time, and made several regrettable detours before she found her way to the Holy Arch. Once she was home she took giant steps toward sainthood and died a martyr in Auschwitz in 1944. She is now Saint Edith Stein. He came from a very liberal background: both father and mother would have labeled themselves Protestants, but religion played no role whatsoever in their lives. Their god was beauty; ugliness a sin. But God’s grace greeted young Dietrich. Already as a child when reading a biblical story for children, he mysteriously sensed that it was not an attractive novel; the notes sang the music of another world. As a teenager, he strongly challenged his father’s relativism. The latter interpreted this opposition as a lack of maturity. He was clearly too young to understand that truth is relative, dependent upon culture, and the spirit of the time.

His meeting with Max Scheler (a fallen away Catholic) who nevertheless in some mysterious way believed that the Church had the truth, was decisive. From this moment on he was in via and even though his early marriage and the birth of his son, delayed his entering the Church, Easter Saturday 1914 was for him a glorious day. Until his death in 1977, he never recalled without emotion the day that he pronounced the words Anathema Sit his rejection of the vague Protestantism that he was acquainted with and joined the choir of those who joyfully recognize her to be a saint. From the moment of her baptism, like an arrow directed by the Divine Archer, Edith Stein strove for holiness. I need not be eloquent: fortunately many beautiful books have been written on the subject.

Dietrich von Hildebrand’s path was different. As mentioned his path to the Church had no obstacles to overcome, but a very rich cultural life, a very early marriage, and becoming a father at the age of 22 absorbed much of his time and energy. But as mentioned when he joyfully pronounced the Anathema Sit to all errors and heresies for the rest of his life, he was and remained an ardent son of the Church, never missing Mass unless grave obstacles prevented him from attending. His ardent love for the Holy Church found its expression in several books, the most important of which is Transformation in Christ, which has become a Catholic classic. This ardent love never abated. On his death bed, he confided his literary bequest to me, he added; If, however, you find a single word which is not in harmony with the teaching of the Holy Church; burn it. I rejoice at the thought that he and Edith Stein now have met in heaven.

Edith Stein coming from a Jewish background (her mother always attended the Synagogue) had to make several detours before finding her way home. A brilliant student, she was the best in whatever she did. But alas, not only did she lose her faith. This loss was accompanied by her embracing the dangerous philosophy of Spinoza whose unbaptized talents inevitably led him to grave errors which have a powerful attraction for his followers. These Intellectual smart alecks have plagued the history of philosophy, and alas, do not practice intellectual birth control, never lack a large progeny, and are awed by their own talents. To this very day, Spinoza attracts intellectuals blind to the fact that humility is a condition sine qua non to perceive sensitive truths, i.e. those which are dealing with the crucial questions that every man raises when he faces death (to quote the French philosopher, Jacques  Chevalier). Edith Stein fell into this trap and carried the latter’s Ethics in her pocket, as an intellectual treasure. Great talents, not baptized by humility, are the most likely victims of this brilliant intellectual trap. Spinoza’s philosophy is dangerously misleading, because it sounds so elevating. By contrast, since his youth, Dietrich von Hildebrand instinctively was allergic to any form of relativism. It was a grace as he was to realize years later when he entered the Catholic church.

Regrettably, the two philosophers that shared a deep admiration for their common professor Adolf Reinach, missed one another. They met at the burial of their revered teacher, Adolf was killed in Belgium in the First World War. Both had had a profound love and admiration for him. His love for truth and his talents promised that he would make brilliant contributions to philosophy. The few writings that he left were remarkable. They were both present at his burial on December 1917. Dietrich knew nothing of her; but having come to Goettingen in 1913, she had heard by word of mouth about the Koryphees (of which DvH was one of the members ), who left the university of Munich to study under Edmond Husserl whose book Logische Untersuchungen had challenged the prevalent relativistic philosophy that was dominating German universities. It was, as Dietrich von Hildebrand writes in his Memoirs, a ray of light. Upon arriving in the German university (regretfully leaving his dear Munich) and oppressed by the narrowness of a German university in a small town, he was consoled by the remarkable teaching of Adolf Reinach to whom, he tells us, in perfect harmony with Edith Stein, he owes his philosophical formation. Whereas Husserl, so admired by his book referred to above, was a disappointment: he was not a good teacher: his material was not well organized. Moreover, whatever course he taught mostly revolved around the thoughts that were preoccupying him at the time. It is worth remarking that in Edith Stein’s memoirs and DvH’s unpublished one, their evaluation of both Reinach and Husserl could make us believe that DvH’s written later, were plagiarized from hers; I can testify to the fact that he never read hers. But it inevitably convinces the reader that they are valid testimonies of an obvious fact.

To both Dietrich von Hildebrand and Edith Stein, Reinach’s death was a source of deep sorrow; not only because of the debt they had toward him, but also because they both viewed him as a noble personality and as a revered friend. Their meeting at Adolf Reinach’s burial could have been the foundation of a great friendship. But alas, this bud did not bloom. Those who knew DvH, knew that even though his vision of a situation was powerful, his vision was limited, in the sense that his whole concentration was focused on one person, and blinded him to others. Adolf Reinach had a younger brother, Heinrich, and the latter had confided to him that he was heartbroken: deeply in love with a young woman, she had given him the cold shoulder. Dvh, often called Doctor amoris, and always hoping that, as in fairy tales, a love would end well (and they would be happy forever after), focused all his attention on the young lady who was Heinrich’s loved one. She was accompanied by her friend, Edith Stein. Dietrich had never heard her name, and knew nothing of her. He greeted her politely, but turned all his attention to Heinrich’s loved one planning to do everything in his power to convince her that Heinrich’s affections were a precious gift. He invited her to come to Munich (she lived in Berlin), to give Heinrich a chance of seeing her frequently. (footnote: He succeeded so well that they got engaged and married, wisely moving to Brazil when Hitler started persecuting the Jews. It all ended happily). But the price Dietrich had to pay was, alas, to overlook Edith Stein, missing a unique chance to develop a great friendship with this remarkable woman. She was not yet converted at the time. God’s call came a few years later: she was staying at the home of her friend Hedwig Conrad Martius and her husband. Her hosts had to leave for a weekend, and Edith left alone, happened to find a book, the Memoirs of St. Teresa of Avila. It triggered her curiosity, so started reading it, and from the first moment, was so captivated that she read it through the whole night. When she put the book down, she had made up her mind to enter the Church. After receiving the proper instruction, she was baptized, and not surprisingly as we know her to be, from this moment on, she became a slave of grace. It was to lead her to the Carmel, and this calling, as we well know, broke her mother’s heart. Isaac was asked to sacrifice Abraham. It cost her tears of blood, and she accepted this crucifixion.

This brings me back to their second and last meeting. They were given another chance, years later in the summer of 1930, in Salzburg where both were invited as speakers at the summer school. By then, both of them were fairly well known, and were greeted by so many friends, that once again they missed this second and last chance to develop a friendship. Now they have met in the joy of eternity.

The Pro-life, Pro-woman Mindset

Timmerie Millington | October 20, 2019

In light of this years Women’s march I’m reflecting and often encounter how to be a strong pro life voice amongst my pro-woman friends? We are all pro-women but their stance seems to be all encompassing of reproductive rights and  sense of anger that I don’t share. I feel like as a catholic woman I am very pro woman in a much more true version of the meaning, but how do I merge the two? How do I balance both worlds? How do I be pro-life amongst them not against my friends and colleagues?

This is a great question. Don’t we often want to say to other women, But I’m pro-woman too! I often tell women that I am a feminist and their shock bridges the conversation to differences in positions. What we mean by this is that our pro-life and natural sex mindset (aka no contraception) is what’s best for women. We want other women to know that all women deserve better than abortion. Furthermore, the so-called freedom the reproductive rights mantra offers is not women’s liberation but instead leads to a path of heartbreak and regret.

We begin by having courage to speak up with the goal of a dialogue. You already know you’re right. You’re not fighting whether or not you are. It’s time to rewire our mindset entering into the missionary field: You are entrusted with friends, colleagues, and maybe even family members you care enough about that you want them to share this truth and even the gift of a lifestyle that you know leads to happiness.

Coming from a place of love, rather than being right, opens the door to your ability to listen and find common ground. (God provides a mission not only for the other person, but also for you to grow.) You don’t think you have any common ground, Let’s slow down to speed up. You’re a woman and want what’s best for women. Just because your lifestyle of pro-woman beliefs looks different from theirs doesn’t mean you’re ill-equipped to respond to what may seem a pack of angry vipers at times. 

Listening and asking questions can be your tool to guide the conversation. Ask questions that make your friends break down their mindset. This opens the door for the other person to see for herself a faulty reason, lack of support for the position, or a misguided good intention. Speak to what they say and then compliment and purify their good intentions in the right direction. Then shut up! This allows them to ask you questions or to sit uncomfortably with their thoughts. You don’t have to change a mind right away, but instead offer an open door for further dialogue. You’re planting a seed.  

You can converse about rights, law, fetal development, types of abortion, post-abortion syndrome, miscarriage, premature babies, carcinogens, and whatever neat apologetics tool you have up your sleeve. Start with what you know. Humbly admit when you need to get back to someone with more evidence or a clear answer. Please don’t forget to follow up.

Finally, tell stories and allow women to tell theirs.  

A public debate was held between myself and Professor of Women’s Studies, Cecili Chadwick, at Cal State San Marcos on A Woman’s Right to Choose. After continuously criticizing the Catholic Church during the cross examination, Professor Chadwick mentioned that she had faced an unplanned pregnancy and adores her child from that pregnancy. She couldn’t imagine having aborted her child. Instead of taking the bait and running down the path of defending the Church, I simply asked about her story. From a formal debate win or lose perspective that’s not really how it works. She was deeply moved and emotionally shared her testimony. I can tell you that her testimony of choosing life was the story the hostile pro-abortion audience left with.

Entering Into The Mission

Remember, you will always think of a better thing to say after the discussion has ended, but your kindness will be a part of the long term impact you have.  Mother Teresa once said, I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.

You are chosen to be a part of those conversations, but you are never alone! Ask Our Lady to be in the room. Then implore the Holy Spirit to be in your mind, on your lips, and in your heart. 

Link to San Diego Union Tribune newspaper piece Timmerie wrote countering Planned Parenthood’s on reproductive rights.

The Great Paradox of “Two-ness”

Helen Alvare | October 20, 2019

Question: Helen, I heard you mentioned this definition of two-ness at the GIVEN conference and it undervalues the good of society and our understanding of God if it is ignored. Can you explain this for those of us who weren’t able to attend and why we should know about it?

Hell is other people
Jean Paul Sartre

You matter, I matter. It’s the hardest thing in Theology to believe
G. K. Chesterton

There is a great paradox at work in today’s family relationships especially between women and men. It’s the longing for and the simultaneous rejection of two together.

This would strike any person as problematic respecting the potential for human happiness, stability, and successfully facing day to day challenges. It’s hard to go it alone.

But it immediately strikes the Christian as problematic at more profound levels. Because we believe that God created the human race as a twosome, male and female. And not just as two, unrelated monads, but a twosome capable of a union so close and so important that it could bring forth more human life, capable of eternity by God’s action. And a twosome who, together, image God in a special way if we take Genesis seriously! Which means that if we reject the notion of two, we are missing out on understanding what God is like.

It’s hard enough to get a glimpse of what God is like without giving up on one of the most specific means he gave us.

And because God is love and God is multiple persons in an unending exchange of love (the Trinity), if we give up on the man/woman pair, we give away a crucial means to understand what love is like too!

This twoness key allows us to understand God and love as incredibly rich. Involving wildly diverse and all-good human traits, no matter whether we think of them as classically male or female or both. Outward facing and oriented to love that is forever. Fruitful in the most profound sense. Featuring radical equality cheek-to-cheek with radical diversity. Capable of sacrifice on behalf of the other.

Wow. God is cool. So is love.

But we don’t have to look far to see a shying away from or even rejection of twoness today. In the trends toward much later marriage and still-high divorce rates. In the notion that marriage is a pairing of already complete persons, or some type of hedonic exchange. In the way we treat interdependence and dependence as the exception not the norm (i.e. the prevalent idea that we only need help when we’re infants or really old or sick otherwise it’s Lean In all the way baby!). In the popularity of non-relationship sex, and contraception, and in the continuing obsession with abortion rights as the apogee of women’s rights.

In fact, we know from the burgeoning field of happiness studies, and from other sociological research that people are happiest, and possessed of stronger emotional and physical endurance, when they understand themselves as gifted givers, embedded always in a web of relations both calling forth and appreciating their gifts.

This is brilliantly captured in the writing of French philosopher and Catholic convert Fabrice Hadjaj who reminds us that the interruptions, the chaos, and the sexual and generational divides and encounters characterizing the ordinary life of the family are the norm for human life humanly lived as God intended not the exception or a problem.

This takes some getting used to. Developing the habit of thinking of others needs, desires and interests. Treating interruptions as the norm. For most of us, this constitutes a great reversal of things. It is. Taking its place alongside many of the great paradoxes of the Christian life invented by the God who taught us the lesson that the one who loses her life will find it.