Fighting for your Daughter’s Soul

Kathleen Littleton | October 20, 2019

Question: I have 4 young daughters and look around me at the challenges young girls are facing today about their dignity and sexuality at such a young age. Do you have any resources or tips on how to keep talking to them so they really understand their worth when they are hearing the opposite message from their peers around them? I love my faith, am in an Endow group, and want my girls to be involved, but they are too cool right now for faith formation. I don’t know how to break through! How do we compete with the surrounding culture they are seeped in?

We don’t compete. Rather, we testify with our very lives and witness to God’s truth. We are called to be in the world but not of it. Actually to rise above it while in the mix like yeast in the leaven being a witness to a better way, God’s true plan for marriage and family life. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth. As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. So that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them. (John 17:16-18, 21-22).

What a statement you make to the world as you go about your ordinary life raising your four beautiful young daughters! What a joy, a gift and a blessing their young beings are for all who have eyes to see and ears to hear! What a witness to the anti-life culture that tells you that children are a burden. What a statement to your hope and faith in God who creates and sustains as you step out in trust and openness to life! The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God (Saint Irenaeus). God’s glory shines forth from you! Be proud as He is of you!

As you walk through your daily life, I know you feel eyes upon you, perhaps judging you but also perhaps admiring you. Either way, it doesn’t matter as you know in your heart that you are following God’s truth and so be completely at peace in doing His will. Stay close to Him as you need the graces of the Eucharist often. Seek Him in the confessional and unburden you heart to Him in the adoration chapel. Bring your children with you! For although they may be too young to understand the Mass or the Eucharistic Presence, who of us does this side of Heaven? But the graces are there to be poured out upon all of us, His children. Let the little children alone, and do not stop them coming to me; for it is too such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs (Matthew 19:14-15). Bring prayer also into your home. Enthrone it to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Pray together as a family. Incorporate daily Mass if possible, the morning offering, the angelus, grace before and after meals, a nightly balance and a decade of the rosary.

And pray with your spouse. Your children need to see your witness of charity, forgiveness, prayer and unity as parents most of all. They need to know you and your husband are on the same page as to what is best for them. So be sure you are! Let your spouse be who he is called to be through the marriage sacrament; the spiritual head of the family, and the wife is the heart. Trusting that they too are given graces for their state in lives as husbands, we need to let our God-loving spouses lead. Happy is he who dwells with a sensible wife and he who plows not like a donkey yoked with an ox (Sirach 25:8). It is so difficult for a husband to lead if the wife is constantly opposed to him and undermining what he is trying to do. And what if he is not yet there? We have to see the good in our husbands, and be like a mirror that gives him a beautiful image of himself. When a man feels he’s looked upon in that way (respected and esteemed), he feels that all his work and sacrifices are worth it, he wants to give his life for his spouse, his loved ones. If we can stop complaining, stop criticizing, stop demanding but instead be grateful and loving to our husbands, miracles happen. As has been said, the way to change your husband is to change yourself.

And what about the peers putting pressure on your children to conform to the ways of the world? Surround yourself and your family with like-minded families and friends. Find communities that will enforce what you believe, not fight against you. They are out there! And if not, create one and invite others to join you. Even if you have to go to the lengths of choosing a new school environment, a new more Christian extracurricular activity, or decide against social events, dress or technology when everyone else is doing it, although in the moment there might be tears, trust that these battles will be victorious in the end for your child’s virtue and well-being.

Teach your children that they are here to serve and not just to be served, another counter-cultural witness (cf. Matthew 20:28). There is more to life than getting what you want, rather it is in giving that we receive (cf. Prayer of St. Francis). There are many opportunities for generosity within the home and amidst family life. Help the children discover ways they can be of service to others according to their age and possibilities. We as their parents, need to set the example of apostleship for our children in adherence to our baptismal call. Let our children see us fully engaged, but in a balanced way in giving ourselves to others, even outside our homes. Our own family may be most important to us, but this does not relieve us of the responsibility of spreading the Kingdom of Christ to others in any of a myriad of ways, perhaps by getting involved in our parish, with evangelization and faith formation, or perhaps some external work of service to others. Self-giving is an act of love. Total self-giving is holiness. Hence, with parents leading the way by example and family prayer, their children indeed, all within the family circle will find it easier to make progress in natural virtues, in salvation and in holiness. Husband and wife, raised to the dignity and the responsibility of parenthood, will be zealous in fulfilling their task Gaudium et Spes, n. 48.

This is the time for prudence and strength, courage and discernment. Keep your children close. As a parent, God has entrusted you with these young lives, as their primary formator. This glorious right and privilege cannot be delegated to anyone; not a caregiver, a grandparent, a babysitter or a teacher. God has given you this grave responsibility, but also the graces to fulfill this vocation. Be not afraid! It is He who will fortify you, fill you with the grace of state as a wife and mother to navigate the confusion of the culture. Do not surrender to what the world tells you. Trust His Truth.

What is Feminism? Is it Compatible with Catholic Teaching?

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

Question: What is feminism? Are their particular schools of feminism and if so, which kinds of feminism are compatible with Catholic teaching?

Even though the word feminism did not come into use until after the 19th century, it is possible to offer a general description of its meaning and to trace its development. Feminism seems to be a kind of organized set of thoughts and actions that seek to remove obstacles for women to flourish as human beings.

Historically, the first obstacle that feminists addressed in the fourteenth century was women’s lack of access to higher education.

The next obstacle addressed by feminists in the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries was the lack of women’s participation in citizenship by voting and holding political office.

Next, the obstacle addressed by feminists in the nineteenth century was violence against women.

In the twentieth century two further obstacles for women identified by feminists included discrimination against women in work and exploitation of women in various situations.

The answer to the important question of which kinds of feminism are compatible with Catholic Teachings flows from a careful consideration of whether or not a particular feminism adheres to basic ethical and political principles.

For example, the principle of the common good involves working for the good of each person within a group and of each group as a whole (See Catechism of the Catholic Church #1905-1927).

So you need to ask yourself when addressing a particular feminist theory, does this feminism seek the good not only of all women, but also of all men, children, and developing human beings? To the extent that it does, then it is compatible with Catholic teaching. To the extent that it does not, then it is not compatible with Catholic teaching.

Historically, most feminisms developed from a previous kind of humanism which articulated a particular vision for the flourishing of men. To get a fuller understanding of the values embedded in a particular feminism it is helpful to know the humanism that provided its backbone.

For example, Simone de Beauvoir’s feminism is undergirded by Sartre’s existential and Marxist humanism; American secular feminism is embedded in the principles of secular humanism and pragmatism; post-modern feminist theories flow from deconstructionist philosophies which undermine the unity of the human person. All these three examples oppose fundamental values of the common good. They  dismiss an important segment of the common good by promoting an ideology that rejects or even kills a portion of society so that another portion can have some so-called development. It may seem daunting to feel that one has to read all the theories to understand a particular feminism. Instead, all you really have to do is to ask the question, does this theory promote the flourishing of all persons, or does it entitle a particular group over the well-being of another group? The answer to this question will lead you to understand how compatible it is with Catholic teachings.

There are really only two kinds of feminism that fulfill this test fully in all respects. They are both Catholic in inspiration.

The first was the Renaissance Feminism promoted by Christine de Pizan (1363-1431), a wonderful Catholic widow and mother of three. During a time of Renaissance Humanism or rebirth of higher-education of men, as the daughter to the physician of the King of France, Christine had access to books and libraries and became aware of the satires and slander written by male authors against women and against marriage. She engaged in public debate with these men to address multiple errors in her opponent’s arguments. Drawing upon a Thomistic philosophy and Catholic theology of the human person as an integrated soul/body composite unity created by God, she provided contrary examples of women’s intelligence and good character. Author of 41 books, Christine de Pizan’s Renaissance feminism is compatible with Catholic teachings. If you would like to read more about her, you could explore The Concept of Woman (Volume II-Part 2:537-547; 605-615; 654-658; and Volume III:18-24).

The second was the New Feminism of Saint John Paul II (1920-1978) based on the contribution of several philosophers in the developing traditions of personalism and phenomenology. Drawing on the previous work of Dietrich von Hildebrand, Jacques and Rasa Maritain, Emmanuel Mounier, Gabriel Marcel, and Saint Edith Stein, Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II introduced a New Feminism to the world in 1995 in Evangelium Vitae #99. He stated that while it is possible for Catholics to work together with other feminists to overcome discrimination, violence, and exploitation of women, new feminism supports the culture of life in all its phases. It seeks a woman’s complete dedication to give herself in union with God for the common good of all women and men in the sphere of her activity from conception to a natural death (III:475-480). How a particular woman decides to foster this dedication to the common good will reveal her feminine genius. If you would like to read more about these philosophers see The Concept of Woman (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2016, Volume III: 478-486).

For further research specifically about feminism, see Sr. Prudence Allen, RSM, Philosophy of Relation in John Paul II’s New Feminism, (67-104) and Can Feminism be a Humanism, (251-284) in Michele Schumacher, ed., Women in Christ: Toward a New Feminism (Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K.: Eerdmans, 2004).

Catholic All Year

Kendra Tierney | October 20, 2019

Question: What are the basic for living liturgically with young kids? I had a very loving attentive mother growing up, but she wasn’t as well formed in her faith when I was young. So I have no idea how to do it beautifully and in a way they will absorb it? Can anyone thoughtfully speak to this? I feel like I am coming from a blank slate but have a desire to do it for them.

I have a whole blog post on this topic here: http://www.catholicallyear.com/2013/10/baby-steps-to-living-liturgical-year-as.html, plus dozens of posts on how we celebrate individual feast days and liturgical seasons! I’m also currently in the messy middle of writing a book on living the liturgical year in the home for Ignatius Press, that will hopefully be done before baby number nine is born in July!

But in the interest of brevity, I’ll try to sum up the basics here. I didn’t grow up doing any of this either…

1. For me the main shift was a mental one. Just being aware that there is a liturgical year was an important step. So, I hung up the liturgical year calendar they give away free at church. Then, I tried to align major household tasks that repeat every year with a particular liturgical season. So, I didn’t do spring cleaning anymore, I did a Lent cleaning instead. We also do a big Advent Purge, where we clean out clothes and toys in anticipation of the baby Jesus’s arrival. We pick all the apples off of our apple tree and can/freeze them on St. Bartholomew’s Day. Etc.

2. I made an effort to be mindful of the feast days in a particular week when I was meal planning. I’m going to make dinner anyway, but if I plan ahead a bit that dinner can can have meaning. We eat pretty internationally anyway. I have recipes that I use regularly that are Spanish, Mexican, French, Thai, Italian, Japanese, Polish, etc. Then it’s just a question of knowing when the feast of the Mexican Martyrs is and making Mexican food that day and not Italian.

I also stopped serving desserts on non-feast days. It’s not like we NEED to be having desserts every night. Every Sunday is a feast day, so we have a dessert every Sunday, plus on days that we celebrate a feast. Treats really make things memorable for my kids.

3. We also worked on our library. We’re going to eat dinner every night, so I try to make it more meaningful, same goes for story time. I love fun, new story books but on a saint’s feast day, it’s just as easy to spend story time learning about that saint. There are some really beautiful and fun and informative picture books about the saints and I’ve enjoyed collecting them over the years. If we don’t have a book about the saint, I just pull some information up on him on the iPad and use it for dinner discussion.

4. We do things for the liturgical year that fit into our existing daily routine.

There are lots of great crafts and coloring pages available that would be a lovely compliment to any celebration of a saint’s day. But since crafts are not usually a part of our everyday routine, I don’t often incorporate those into our celebrations. Sometimes I do, and I did more when I had all younger kids and we weren’t so busy with school and sports. But I’ve found that just tweaking our everyday routine to be more French on the feast of St. Bernadette has been easier to sustain long term.

5. We started very, very small.

The first saints days we started celebrating were our children’s name days. (We also celebrate baptism days and birthdays.) Then we added another saint here and there to which we had a particular devotion. Then I decided we should make a point of acknowledging every solemnity. And now, we end up celebrating a feast multiple times per month, and occasionally multiple times in a week! We often invite other families to share our celebrations, but sometimes it’s just us. I do NOT, however, attempt to celebrate every single feast. There are just too many saints on the calendar to hope to celebrate them all, so we still pick the ones that have the most meaning for us. Just more now than we used to.

6. We also observe the fasts and the seasons of preparation of the church, even our little kids. Since it’s something we do as a whole family, they can’t help but participate.

During Advent and Lent we eat more simply. I try to use those seasons to clean out all that food in the back of the freezer and the pantry. I don’t buy meat or processed foods, just dairy and fruits and vegetables and ingredients. We eat a lot of soups. We don’t snack.

We don’t watch TV or listen to the radio (this is easier to manage now that we don’t have only little kids). I don’t shop for things other than food and absolute necessities.

As much as we are able without being rude, we decline to celebrate Christmas and Easter before their time. So we mostly wait on Christmas treats and Christmas decorations (we have separate decorations for Advent, and Lent as well) and Christmas shows until Christmas has actually arrived.

That way, those seasons of preparation FEEL really different than the seasons of celebration that come after them. We really have that feeling of anticipation.

But boy do we enjoy those feast days that fall during Lent and Advent!

We also make a point of sharing our fasts with others, so the kids really do enjoy those as well.

Screen Time – Is It Damaging My Kids?

Jenny Uebbing | October 20, 2019

Question: I want Catholic advice on screen time. Not for myself, but for my kids. Not just TV, but having parents that constantly look at their phones and computers throughout the day. Am I going to be damaging my child as a working mom? How do I balance this necessity of checking emails and phone calls with quality time with my little ones?

The work life struggle is real. One of the greatest struggles of my own motherhood has been the tricky and as-yet-not-achieved balance between keeping the kids alive and thriving and keeping the bills paid.

I have always worked from home. I went into labor with our firstborn during a particularly memorable office lunch and cleaned off my desk on the way to the hospital. When maternity leave ended, I stepped away from the 9-5 for a remote work opportunity, and I haven’t looked back since. For the first year, it was a dream. The smartphone was still in its infancy, so I had decent boundaries by default. When the baby was awake, I was on mom duty. When he slept, I put on my professional hat. I’d pull out my laptop during nap times and in the evenings and tap away, making 30 hours a week appear from stolen mornings, afternoons, and weekends.

As he grew in mobility and awareness, the balancing act became a little trickier. No longer content to coo from his infant carrier under the table at Starbucks, I had to make some tweaks to the routine. And then his younger brother came along and I learned the definition of hustle.


By the time I was pregnant with number three, it was becoming evident that cramming little bits of work into nap time pockets was no longer cutting it. I was pulling late nights and I was definitely pulling out my phone far, far too often, basically spending my days feeling like I was failing moderately in both spheres.

Because there were no clear boundaries for either my professional or parenting life, I was consistently overwhelmed. If I had a great mommy day, I sweated over the mounting inbox. When I would disappear into a brilliant 2 hours of writing flow, it often came at the cost of little eyeballs while Netflix picked up the slack. (Nothing wrong with a little screen time now and then, but I allowed it to become our norm).

Finally, I had to concede the point that while technically I could keep them alive and work simultaneously, with three of them and one of me (and another on the way) I was outnumbered. I hired a high school girl to come twice a week for 5 hours at a time to work as a mother’s helper. She ran kid duty while I wrote as fast and furious as the words would come, and I relegated social media and email to the post-bedtime margins or the early mornings.

Except, as you might be able to guess, that’s not exactly how it went.

Yes, I was massively productive during those ten hours of hired help, but I continued to steal pockets of time throughout the day, every day, checking in for a quick peek here or there, answering an email at the park, replying to a comment while sitting in the library during story time, and on and on it went.

Now there’s nothing precisely wrong with any of those things, taken in isolation, but when you combine all the little moments of inattentiveness and just one minute, honey and not right now, go plays it adds up to a lot. A lot of choosing my paid work over my real work, these little people.

And a lot of modeling of crazy bad behavior that I didn’t want to see manifesting in my kindergartener ten years down the road at 16. Constantly checking the phone, putting up a hand to shush someone, stepping into the backyard or the bathroom for a quick call, checking emails at stoplights, and on and on it went.

The answer for me has been kind of radical and is still relatively new, but I share it with you here because it’s working for me in a powerful way. In short, I’ve given up my smartphone. I deleted all the apps, turned off the wifi, untethered my email, and am now carrying around a heavy calling/texting device that takes pretty pictures.

I don’t propose this as a catch-all solution for everyone, nor to to rail against the evils of smartphones while lamenting the death of the human attention span. But I do want to extend the invitation to consider if there is something in your own life that you can remove/tweak/rearrange in order to increase your real presence in the lives of the people you love.

Because that real presence is at the heart of our vocations as mothers. This does not mean a girl can’t work, can’t ever have a night out or a weekend away. But I want to propose that when work is over we need to let it be truly over. And unless you’re an OB or a Realtor, (and even then, for mental health’s sake!) it is reasonable to expect that certain hours hopefully entire days render you unavailable to anyone outside of your inner circle. Not because you aren’t mentally and physically capable of being available anywhere there’s WiFi, but because we shouldn’t have to live like that.

So I propose boundaries. Whether that means leaving the phone tethered to the charger between 10 am and 4 pm, switching to a dumb phone and relegating work time to specific hours at the computer (and actually adhering to those hours), or taking a day off midweek where you are utterly available to your children, it is essential that we the first women in history to face down the unique challenge of perpetual communication figure out how to do this. And then teach our kids how.

We are all parenting in uncharted territory with these devices of ours, and our kids are watching us to figure out what it means to be connected, and what it means to be a parent. We have to figure this out for their sake’s, and for our own, so that we can maintain a healthy sense of self while doling out a healthy amount of self-giving. Our vocations as mothers depend on us figuring this out. And demanding more from ourselves and from our jobs. If we accept this hyper-connectivity as the status quo, the status quo it will become. For many jobs, it already has.

On a final note, I want to say something radical and common sensical; perhaps not every job is suited for a mother whose children are still at home.

Our society struggles to admit gender differences, but children still very much need and want the love and presence of their mothers. And it is our job to advocate for that as their right, whether by demanding better flex options from our employers, putting up boundaries for ourselves if we’re self-employed, and perhaps even stepping out of the workforce entirely while they’re young. God really could call me or you to make that sacrifice, even at the expense of the mortgage or the car.

Because this motherhood gig? It’s the most serious and essential work on earth.

Who Is Woman?

Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand | October 19, 2019

Question: As a bookstore student of philosophy, I am curious about the ontological nature of womanhood. To put it plainly, who is woman?

The word evangelium means good news , the amazing news that God in his infinite mercy sent us a savior: his beloved son.  But reading the gospel of Saint John is likely to baffle us; for we find in it the terrible words of Christ himself: I do not pray for the world they are in sharp contradiction of the joyful message of the new testament. They need to be complemented by other words of our savior: that he does not intend to take his children out of this world, but to preserve them from harm. We do indeed find ourselves in a dangerous place but are not left orphans.  Our savior having shed his blood for us, will not abandon us. He left us the Church, a loving mother who will guide our steps provided that we receive her message on our knees.

This leads me to my topic: the role assigned to women in the story of redemption. This is made clear from Genesis:  in the ascending scale of creation, she is created last, and her body is from the start given a special dignity: it is taken, not from the slime of the earth, but from the body of a person, made to God’s image and likeness. She is declared the mother of the living, clearly establishing a link between her and life; she joyfully proclaims her closeness to God in bringing new persons into the world. Adam’s name is not mentioned even though he too had a role to play. She is the one that the serpent addresses, not as the great, but inevitably fallible St. Augustine, declares because she was the weaker and therefore more easily defeated, but because the evil one knew the immense power that she had over him not physical power because made less muscular than her husband, but because of the immense influence she had over him. If she induces him to sin, and he follows suit without a single word of protest, both are terribly punished: they are cut off from their creator. But, her punishment is much severe than his.  She shares it, but moreover, is cursed by giving birth (her glory in pains (surprisingly the bible uses the words increased, intimating that giving birth and pain were already linked from the beginning). Moreover, she is subjected to her husband, giving him authority over her.

Aristotle, one of the glorious names of the pagan world, declares her to be inferior to the male sex because, he is active and she is passive. Genius does not prevent one from making mistakes and creating confusion, the master of those he san as Dante declares Aristotle to be fails to distinguish between passivity and receptivity. Obvious as it is the passivity indicates metaphysical inferiority, receptivity is a quality of such value and importance that one marvels at the fact that many great minds have not been eloquent on the subject. What is baffling is that very talented minds, often poisoned by their pride, can, when absent minded, make very deep and pertinent remarks.

A case in point is Nietzsche whose poisonous philosophy has done a lot of harm and still does remarks that before the French revolution,  woman, while having less authority had more influence. This remark is so valuable that it deserves our full attention. Authority commands actions. Those having it can order action. Influence while more subtle is not only deeper, but far from profound: it changes persons. How many of us looking back upon their lives, will acknowledge that their grandmother, or grandparents, or parents, or teachers have had an enormous influence upon their development not by preaching but by the message of their being. Mary, the holy mother of our savior, speaks only six times in the gospels; I think that St. Peter speaks 27 times, but her messages of such important that his pale by comparison: let us just meditate on “I am the handmaid of the Lord” the joyous acknowledgement that to serve god is to reign, and “be it done to me” the word done deserves to retain our full attention;  she tells us that women, being creatures, have the magnificent calling of being receptive. In our secular world, in which greatness is measured by accomplishments, performances, creativity it is high time that the greatness and nobility of receptivity is once again properly valued. Let me quote the words mentioned in Corinthians; what have you that you have not received? Man, this creature is so weak, so helpless that he can only be properly enriched and fecundated except on his knees. One can learn technology standing. One can only read and understand the gospel kneeling, and at times, prostrated. This is the privilege of womanhood: it is easier for the weak sex to acknowledge that we need help, and to ask for it. Statistics tell me that there are many more women than men in churches (even though I start doubting that it is still true today) because it is easier for them pray; come to my help, O Lord, without you I perish.

Understanding this, we are now in a position to gauge the dangers of feminism: to willfully ignore the greatness and nobility of receptivity, to be animated by pride and the craving for power and for earthly fame assume and claim that it is only by doing that one contributes to the wheel of progress as Simone de Beauvoir would say. But, the appealing word progress is ambiguous: it can mean moving forward without telling us whether this motion will bring us toward something better. One speaks of the progress of an illness, meaning clearly that the patient is closer to death. When progress means improvement it should be qualified as such; progress in knowledge, and most of all progress in virtue, that is bringing us a bit closer to God. This is the type of progress which is most desirable but ignored in our decadent world poisoned by materialism.

Yet, we put hope in progress in our amazing technological advances. In the 19th century our landing on the moon would have been viewed as a Jules Verne fantasy. But, today the younger generation is likely to believe that given time, everything can be achieved by man’s genius. But, we forget that we now have the possibility to destroy the world that we have and could not have created. We are told that our planet will be destroyed by fire, but are not told who will set the fire it is quite conceivable that it might be man himself.

In view of this, let us accept that man’s marvelous creations, starting with the Parthenon which for some 25 centuries has been the object of our admiration, will be reduced to dust.  But, (and this should be written in golden letters) every single child that a woman has brought into the world, having an immortal soul, will enter eternity having freely chosen to serve God or to echo the horrible words of Lucifer: non serviam. May god in his goodness, when our body is breathing its last, put on our dying lips the blessed words of Mary, be it done to me putting all our hope, not in our virtues and so called accomplishments, but in receptivity of His merciful love. May these few words open our eyes to the beauty of receptivity the words of Mary in Nazareth which gave us our savior.

Women in the Holy Week Story

Katherine Meeks | October 19, 2019

Question: Being that Holy Week is upon us, I was wondering if you can expand on the role of women in the Holy Week story.

The Holy Week narrative has some of the richest moments to unpack on womanhood, our varied individual vocations and the role of women in the Church that we can each take to reflect upon in our own stages in life.

While it can be assumed that women are present throughout the Holy Week sequence: following Jesus as King into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to cooking the Last Supper meal and serving it in the upper room. There are three specific women Mary the mother of God, Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene who stayed with our Lord through these moments and beyond, remaining by his side through his passion and at the foot of the cross after all others left him. In exchange for this love, they are rewarded with being the first to see him in his glorified form and the first messengers of the fullness of the gospels that all is made known and revealed in Christ through the cross and the resurrection.

In reflecting on these three women named Mary, we begin to clearly see that God himself first appeared biblically to women in three unique and very relatable vocations to us: motherhood, married and single life. And, in these vocations we find women are united as one through our Lord on the cross and as the first carriers of the fullness of the Word to the world.

Motherhood

While Mary the Mother of God holds a particularly special role in that she embodies all feminine vocations: from mother and wife to consecrated virgin. At the foot of the cross, she is Mary the Mother of Jesus. Her identity is fully 100% the mother of Our Lord.

And as a mother in this moment, she knows that she has to bare the pain of her son’s suffering to let him pursue his vocation from the Father, which is the cross. She knows also that she has a choice: she could act selfishly calling out for Jesus to get off the cross and save himself as the others are doing or she can bare this pain silently giving him strength with her prayers and with her eyes. In her heart, she knows how much her son loves her and that at hearing his mother’s words crying out to end this he may honor her wish and come down. At the very least, she knows such an action would only increase his suffering. She chooses to pray and love him with her presence and her quiet personal cross of letting him go. Her soul, which proclaimed the greatness of the Lord in the Magnificat, proclaims it even louder as it is pierced in the silent suffering she is choosing for love of her child and love of God.

While Jesus has the greatest of gifts planned to honor his Mother for all eternity, he makes her the Mother of the Church in this moment in giving her John. Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your Mother. Mary knows she is being given another son to love, to prepare and to eventually let go of.  She knows that she is being entrusted with the Church the last remaining of the twelve Apostles he had chosen.

As many of you reading this know very personally as mothers, a mother’s vocation is not only knowing she needs to let each of her children pursue their path given to them by the Father, no matter what may befall them. It is supporting them in prayer and in the process, hoping that the Father will return them in greater ways than could ever be expected. This is a mother’s cross letting her children go, praying and having faith that they will return even beyond the veil of death. And for this great gift to the Church and to the Father of all, Mary is rewarded, being made one of the first women to see our Lord resurrected and glorified. She is made the Queen of the Apostles, the Angels and of all Heaven and Earth the Mother of the Church.

Marriage

Another woman at the foot of the cross is Mary the wife of Clopas. I never thought very much of Clopas or his wife Mary until a couple years ago, but she plays a significant role. The Bible makes a point to make it known that she is a wife, though at the cross as far as we know, her husband isn’t present despite the great danger and risk she is personally taking in accompanying Our Lady and Our Lord among the Roman guard and the accusers of Christ to the foot of the cross. We do not know if Clopas abandoned Our Lord as the Apostles did, we don’t know if he was simply out doing something else, but we know that he most likely was not with his wife as she pursued our Lord to the very end.

And we can reasonably assume this, being that the two disciples walking to Emmaus days after the Crucifixion are Clopas and another, who is most likely his wife, in a heated conversation about the events that have just occurred in Jerusalem. It is highly unlikely that Clopas would be leaving Jerusalem at such a tense time for the followers of Christ without his wife. She came to my attention after listening Dr. Tim Gray discuss this moment during a talk he gave at the Catholic prayer breakfast in Orange County a couple years ago. He highlighted that he believes it to be a married couple on the road to Emmaus as the original meaning of the word for the conversation they are having about the events in Jerusalem in the Bible, is best translated as a type of fighting reserved for couples. And, if they are arguing, there has to be a reason for it suffering, hurt, abandonment, stress, fear, anxiety, worry, and uncertainty all the things that underlie arguments among couples.

And yet, in this conversation, a man appears and journeys with them in their conversation and in their marriage listening to them and assisting them in making sense of everything through breaking open the Word. And all things become clear to them in the breaking of the bread, the Word made Flesh. Our Lord appeared to them in his resurrected form, but became known in word and in sacrament showing himself fully glorified and elevated in the Eucharist. He gave a great number of gifts to Mary for her love and fidelity to him to the very end the gift of his resurrected presence and private instruction to her and her husband and most importantly his healing presence to her and her husband in their marriage through the unity of the most Holy Eucharist.

Single Life

Finally, we have Mary Magdalene, a single follower of Christ who was free to follow him and his Mother without concern for safety or family as she was entirely his. She remained vigilant alongside Our Lady at the foot of the cross and at the Tomb as he was laid to rest and on Sunday morning as the first to visit the tomb to pay her respects.

When she discovers the tomb empty, she is heartbroken and wont let go, looking for our Lord everywhere because she is entirely at His service. She even says to the Apostles and to Our Lord when he appears to her in a hidden form, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” When he reveals himself to her, she cries out “Teacher” and he begins to instruct her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

Mary then becomes the first messenger of the resurrection to the Apostles of the Church while being given the gift of community. Her mission is no longer to hold on to the body of Our Lord but to enter into the mystical unity of the Church. To live out her call to total surrender to Our Lord in the community of the Church, sharing her intuition with the Apostles and preparing them for their mission.

In the Easter narrative, each woman is given the gift of experiencing our resurrected Lord in gratitude for their unwavering loyalty they then become the first messengers of the Good news. This is the feminine genius the courage that is born in the heart to stay by the side of those who are suffering and the intuitive revelation of our Lord’s plans for his Church and for our families.

May God bless you in this final week of Lent as we reflect upon our womanhood and the love in which the Lord has shown each of us within our individual vocations and stage of life.

Understanding Church Teaching on Immigration

Linda Dakin-Grimm | October 19, 2019

Question: With everything going on right now in our country’s current political climate I am having a hard time making sense of the church’s teaching on immigration. As a Catholic in the Southwest, I have a large community of Hispanic parishioners, and am always searching for clarity on their fears and where the faith steps in in helping them work through this process. Can you help explain so I can be more confidently proactive?

The Catholic Church, particularly in the United States, is an immigrant church, with a long history of embracing newcomers to the country, and providing assistance and pastoral care to immigrants, migrants, refugees and people on the move.  There is a rich and deep body of Church teaching on this issue, including Papal encyclicals, Bishops statements, pastoral letters and scholarly work.  Not surprisingly, all of this has consistently reinforced that it is every Catholic’s moral obligation to treat the stranger “the immigrant” as we would treat Christ himself.  

Is this a political issue that a Catholic can view from the perspective of his or her political party?  Is the answer to our current U.S. immigration issues to be found on the political right or the left?The answer to both of these questions is a resounding no. Catholic teaching on welcoming the immigrant comes directly from Jesus. It is deeply rooted in the Scriptures. Church leaders who are otherwise perceived to be traditional, those perceived to be progressive and those in-between are united on this issue.  Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, California wrote in his 2013 book, Immigration and the Next America, that as believers, Catholics “need to look at these issues, not from the self-interested perspectives of politics, but from God’s point of view and with an eye toward what he requires of us. Archbishop Gomez called immigration the human rights test of our generation.

The Bible is full of migrants, starting with Adam and Eve’s departure from the Garden, and including Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, all the Israelite people, Ruth and ultimately, Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt with the baby Jesus.  The Bible expressly and repeatedly states the moral imperative to welcome the migrant.  Take a few minutes to review the following passages:  Exodus 22:21 (You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.); Leviticus 19:33-34 (The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.);  Deuteronomy 10:18-19 (For the Lord your God loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.  You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.); Matthew 25:31-46 (Then he will say to those on the left hand, depart from me you cursed for I was a stranger and you didn’t take me in) and finally, Jesus’s statement of the two greatest commandments: [a]nd you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.  No other commandment is greater than these. (Mark 12: 30-31; see also Matthew 22:39; Luke 10:27).  It is from deep reflection on these Biblical directives that our Church leadership has consistently, repeatedly and with one clear voice, called upon Catholics to treat immigrants as we would Christ himself. And it is for this reason that the Church seeks to awaken our peoples to the mysterious presence of the crucified and risen Lord in the person of the migrant and to renew in them the values of the Kingdom of God that he proclaimed. (USCCB and Conferencia del Episcopado Mexicana, Strangers No Longer, Together on the Journey of Hope, January 22, 2003, para. 3).

The Church’s support for migrants also rests on its fundamental respect for the dignity of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God. Catholic principles thus lead us to seek justice and the common good, to defend the innocent and lift up the weak, and to promote the freedom and dignity of the human person. Catholics believe that God is the Creator of the world and everything in it, and that all human rights come from God. They include the right to life, and the right to do the things necessary to lead a life of God-given dignity. The right to immigrate comes is rooted in these beliefs if a family is unable to secure life’s necessities in the home country due to political instability, economic distress, religious persecution or other reasons, they must be free to seek those things in another country. It is part of the nature of humans, that in the face of difficulties (natural disasters, diseases, wars, oppression) people move. It is one of our God-given abilities to move as a means to adapt to difficulty. Catholic social teaching has thus long defended the right to migrate, while also stating plainly that the root causes of migration (poverty, injustice, religious intolerance, wars) must be addressed so that people can remain safe in their homelands.  

The Church recognizes and respects the right of sovereign states to control their borders and to promote safety, but it has long said that this right cannot be exaggerated to the point that access to this land is, for inadequate or unjustified reasons, denied to needy and decent people from other nations. (Pope Pius XII, Exsul Familia (On the Spiritual Care to Migrants), Sept 30, 1952).  The Church recognizes that all the goods of the earth belong to all people. Therefore, when persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere in order to survive. The Church states that sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right. Put simply, the Church rejects border control that is exerted for the purpose of protecting domestic jobs or standards of living.  The Church also has said that more powerful economic nations like the United States which have the ability to protect and feed their residents, have a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows. (USCCB and Conferencia del Episcopado Mexicana, Strangers No Longer, Together on the Journey of Hope, January 22, 2003, para. 36).

For more information on the Catholic position on immigration, please consult the Immigration page of the USCCB web site, at: usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/immigration/ and Archbishop Gomez’s book, Immigration and the Next America, Renewing the Soul of our Nation (Huntington Indiana: OSV Press, 2013).

Is NFP Practical for Catholic Women?

Kathleen Domingo | October 19, 2019

Question: How do you gently but assertively guide women who are in casual conversation over the teachings of the Church when they ask things such as: In our study it talks about how the Church encourages NFP, but then provides a statistic which says that only 6% of Catholics use this method. How can we be sure that the Church is teaching things that are actually practical for the faithful? Wouldn’t more people be using NFP if it worked or fit into our modern lifestyle?

Since the pill became popular in the 1920’s, the Catholic Church has often been the only voice opposing its usage, even in marriage. The teaching, based on the complementarity of male and female sexuality and the ends of marriage, received profound explanation in Pope St John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. However, even with the Church’s rich teaching, the reasons behind the opposition to contraception are largely unknown or misunderstood. 

The truth is, contraception is convenient. Most women (even Catholic women) use it, it is relatively effective, and there is no coherent reason given in the culture to oppose it. In fact, quite the opposite is true phrases such as safe sex, and responsible parenthood teach that using contraception is the safest and even most ethical choice. 

So, to bring up a holistic, life-affirming alternative, even to Catholic women, can be daunting. But, right now, for the first time in a long time, there seems to be a moment where women are listening.

This year’s Women’s March had the unexpected outcome of creating chaos in a community that for decades has been dominated by the single voice of reproductive rights. Organizers of the March miscalculated when they disinvited a pro-life feminist organization, unleashing a maelstrom of commentary from women nationwide, in periodicals and blogs , all attesting that a great many women do not fit this single-minded perspective. Most of the commentary has been decrying abortion, but a small but growing number of women are bravely speaking out against artificial contraception, claiming that the practice not only does not guarantee women’s equality but can actually be harmful to women.

Let’s capitalize on this moment to help women, even women who have been using contraception for years, understand that there is a better way that works in harmony with their bodies and benefits their marriages. 

It is important to remember that the Church teaches things because they are true. Things are not true just because the Church teaches them. It may be that mainstream women are slow to understand the negatives of contraception and the benefits of Natural Family Planning (NFP) and fertility awareness, but we welcome all women who are willing to explore these options and how they work not only with one’s body but with the deepest longings of one’s heart for love and connection. 

NFP and fertility awareness have made great strides in recent years. The science is more accurate and the method more streamlined both for couples wishing to conceive and those who want to space pregnancies. I have used more traditional methods of NFP for years, but I recently began using Natural Cycles, an app created by a physicist couple based on an algorithm and regulated by self-recorded data. It is 99.9% effective for either achieving or avoiding pregnancy if used as directed. Best of all, these tools that relate to modern women also help us avoid the nasty side-effects of contraception both physical and psychological.

There is a reason that NFP-using couples have such a low divorce rate. It is because the method itself promotes a different way of interacting. NFP (and any fertility-awareness program) can certainly be used as a natural birth control method. But, when it is not, when it is used in the life-giving spirit that it is intended, it creates a spirit of openness and generosity you can find nowhere else. I don’t know that any woman has ever said that her IUD fosters generosity in her marriage. But, countless NFP practitioners have said that!

Why? Because NFP is different. Fertility awareness works in accord with the natural function of the woman’s body, providing her knowledge about her fertility and her overall health. Used by a couple for family planning, NFP demands that a husband and wife have conversations about whether having a child right now is right for them or not. And, countless anecdotal evidence confirms that, if you can have open and honest conversations about fertility, then communication is increased and improved on every other topic!

Natural Family Planning and fertility awareness continue to be one of the best-kept secrets to helping women and families thrive. Like anything, it takes practice and a commitment to the process, but the results far outweigh any sacrifice. 

Let’s take this moment, when many women are more open to hearing alternatives to the feminist status quo, to share the beauty of NFP with our sisters, daughters and friends. Invite them to try something different that will free them from contraception’s side-effects and open them to a lifetime of life-giving love.

Why Not IVF?

Marilyn E. Coors, Ph.D. | October 19, 2019

Question: What’s the Catholic Church’s teaching on stem cells and fertility? I have a friend struggling to get pregnant and desperately wants to do IVF.

Infertility brings its own particular heartache. The heartache of infertility is as old as scripture itself and is exemplified in the biblical story of Hannah and Elkhanah. Hannah loved her husband, the priest Elkhanah, and she was disconsolate when she was unable to have children. She prayed and wept at the Temple until the Temple priests accused her of drunkenness. In time, Hannah’s prayers were heard and she bore a son, Samuel. Regrettably, this is not the outcome for everyone, even though God hears their prayers. The Church understands the heartache of a married couple who plans their life together, a plan that includes children as the fruit of their love for each other.

When a couple faces infertility, sorting through the morality of the various infertility treatments can be bewildering. The Church provides a rule of thumb for assessing those treatments: If an intervention replaces the marital act, it is considered immoral because it is beneath the dignity of the married couple and the child. If it assists the marital act in achieving its natural purpose and end, pregnancy, it usually is moral. For example, it is moral to use fertility drugs to stimulate ovulation. The drugs act to stimulate egg production, and thus there is a greater chance for fertilization to occur. This treatment assists the marital act, even though there are risks from the drugs. In other situations, surgery is required for the male or the female to remove a blockage; this intervention also assists the marital act.

Let us turn to IFV, specifically, since this treatment is the focus of your question.  In order to base our moral analysis of IVF on the facts, I will begin with a brief description of the process. In IVF, a number of eggs are aspirated from the wife’s ovaries after she has taken drugs that causes her to hyper-ovulate. Semen is collected from the husband. The eggs and sperm are joined in a glass dish where fertilization occurs, and the embryos develop for several days. An agreed upon number of embryos are then placed in the womb of the mother between one and six days after fertilization. The remaining embryos are usually frozen and stored.

IVF is immoral according to Church teaching for several reasons. First, conception takes place outside of the mother’s body through the actions of technicians. The procedure replaces the marital act, and the new life is engendered in a laboratory rather than in the loving embrace of husband and wife. The parents produce eggs and sperm, and technicians trigger fertilization. The marital act is not a manufacturing process. The Church teaches that a child is a gift that arises out of acts of love between the husband and wife; a child is not a right to be manufactured. If a child were a right, he/she would be the property of the parents, rather than a person with inherent dignity.

Second, usually a number of embryos are produced, and only those which appear to be the most promising are implanted in the womb. The remainder of the embryos are frozen in liquid nitrogen, discarded, or used in research if the parents agree. There are hundreds of thousands of frozen embryos in the US today. While a beautiful healthy baby may result from IVF, the handling of these left over embryos is immoral because it is an offense against human life. Moral theologians, bioethicists, and clerics are discussing this problem at the highest level of the Church, but a moral solution for the huge number of these nascent lives is elusive.

Third, the cost of IVF is tens of thousands of dollars and the success rate is roughly 20%. Thus, the financial and emotional toll of this procedure on the couple is enormous! For this reason and to increase the odds of success, doctors sometimes transfer more embryos to the mother’s womb than the number of children the couple wants in order to increase the likelihood of a successful pregnancy. Sometimes the couples goes home empty handed and broken-hearted, even after several rounds of IVF. Other times, the procedure may result in more fetuses than babies the couple will accept. In those cases doctors may perform a fetal reduction or the elimination of fetus/fetuses that aren’t doing as well or those that are the most accessible. This destruction of human life is immoral and devastating for a couple whose real desire was to have a child. Furthermore, this sounds more like the well-orchestrated manufacture of a product than creating a human life.

It is important to note that every child is made in the image and likeness of God, regardless of how he or she is engendered. Even if the procedure is immoral, God loves the child that results from any infertility treatment, and the Church teaches that we must love, cherish, and treat those children with dignity and respect.

Discerning the Facts in the Age of Fake News

Helen Alvare | October 19, 2019

Question: So often in conversations and arguments I don’t have the real facts and I have a hard time discerning what’s true in the media and what sources are accurate. Can you give me some places where I can turn to form my conscience as a Catholic woman trying to understand political issues?

Ah, a great question in this time of hyper-awareness of fake news! Several responses:

First. Often you really won’t be able to become an expert in a particular topic in short order. You’re going to want to figure out what you really want to know the areas in which you really want to serve the truth and the people affected by it!  But there are simply too many controverted topics for you to become expert in each and every one. It’s ok. You need to save some time for daily life. And people will admire a person who doesn’t have an adamant opinion about every little thing, and admits that’s not my expertise. It might also be the case that the person you’re conversing with is likewise not an expert and you might gently probe: Is this your expertise? along with: Could you please tell me where your facts come from so that I can take a look?

So figure out what you care deeply about deeply enough to work for! And know that your dialogue partners are regularly not experts, and be ready to probe their sources if you wish.

Second. Here’s the bad news: once you commit to know something, you are going to have to invest a bit of time reading, and a bit of time reflecting. And add to this the energy you’ll need in order to remain copacetic (peaceful) whilst in dispute with another person!

Third. The very best sources of information are the primary sources involved in any dispute. If people are freaking out over a Trump executive order, go read it. These are at whitehouse.gov, from the press secretary’s office. Like so. If they’re freaking out over a study with results they don’t want to hear, read the study. The National Institutes of Health has enormous quantities of free studies online. For example, here’s the big one linking contraception and depression. Sometimes, though not always, the online source Politifact will have the accurate political analysis you need, though it leans a little left. If you want to be sure to read articles on both sides of any political issue, go read realclearpolitics.com. You’ll get each sides sets of prior commitments and arguments.

But really to be better than almost every commentator on the planet read the original material!

Fourth. The most accurate and current materials about women, about sex and about the family are found on two websites: first, the Institute for Family Studies. Their articles are crazy good perfectly sourced. Second, Women Speak for Themselves, my own website and Facebook page, only uses original sourced material and keeps up with daily news and controversies.

Fifth. Try to shed light and not heat when you enter a debate. If you can agree with some of the points of your opponent, do so. If they have made factual mistakes, point them out charitably. And have your own facts and argument neatly and simply phrased on 2 to 3 points, max.