Category Archives: Catholicism

Being a Christian and a Creature of Habit Sets Me Free

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Do you feel chained or released by your habits?

I’m a Christian. The theology of freedom and slavery is never far from my mind. As a Catholic in particular, I face criticism for believing and living as I do. I intentionally surround myself with friends who are living the same way, but you can’t control every presence in your life. There are people who meet me now and have no idea where I came from, and there are people who’ve known me all along and can’t quite grasp the change. Why would I voluntarily choose a life full of restrictions and rules? Why would I actually follow those rules? How do they see chains where I see liberation?

In their defense, I can understand how it seems so strange that I find my habits freeing. When I think back to my past life (or read about it in my old blog posts), I remember the way I used to think and act. Even thinking back to just a few years ago gives me examples of changed habits and new-found freedom.

Before I made a habit of modest dress, I wore some clothes I’m not proud of. I remember feeling like I had no other choice, because that was what was in the stores, and everyone else dressed the same way—or worse. I got attention for my immodesty. I liked the attention, but I wished I didn’t have to get the looks with it. So I started listening to that little voice and decided I wanted to dress differently. Modesty set me free to be who I wanted to be.

Before I made a habit of modest style, I was covered-up but boring. I still dressed basically the same way I did in high school, except that I dressed up for church on Sundays and didn’t wear jeans to work. Modest, stylish role models like Audrey at Putting Me Together and Chandra at More Modern Modesty set me free to dress as fashionably and tastefully. That’s what I wanted.

Before I made a habit of chaste love, I did some things I’m not proud of. Fear not: I’ve repented, confessed, received absolution, and moved on. My heart has healed, and I have been made new. Intentionally building chaste relationships with all the people in my life requires much more effort than anything I had tried before. I have to learn how to genuinely love them, to do what is best for them. I feel more loved now, and I think I show more love now. Isn’t being a Christian all about love, anyway? Learning to love purely and authentically set me free to love like Christ.

My faith lends itself to habits. One of my favorite things about Catholic worship is that we do basically the same thing every time. I don’t have to think about the details, so I can immerse myself in the experience and fully open myself to God and my community. Similarly, I don’t have to pit culture versus conscience every time I walk into a store. If I don’t like any of the clothes I see, I don’t buy them. I don’t have to decide whether each person I meet is worthy of love. They all are. Every single one.

I am a creature of habit, I am a Christian, and I have been set free.

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My Thoughts for Pope Francis, Part Six: Children with No Good Examples

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Intro | Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six

It’s been several weeks since I last posted an installment to this series, but I am not a quitter! I’ve had much more success blogging on weekdays lately, curiously enough, and I fell into a rhythm of posting for this series on Saturdays, so it got pushed aside. No more!

I’ve hosted some great discussions in the comments section for the last few installments. If you’re reading, please share your thoughts! Feel free to disagree. I will delete your comments if they’re mean or otherwise violate the comment policy, but we can disagree without fighting.

The Education of Children in Irregular Marriages

a.k.a. What to Do When Mom & Dad Don’t Go to Church

What is the estimated proportion of children and adolescents in these cases, as regards children who are born and raised in regularly constituted families?

I don’t have enough experience or statistical knowledge to estimate a proportion, but I can tell you for sure that it’s rising. It’s much more common for children to grow up in family situations other than a mother and father who were married to each other before they conceived their first child. The witness of celebrities and the media to this situation does not help.

In a way, it’s hopeful that couples still see marriage as a significant, life-changing step, so much so that they don’t want to take it unless they’re 100% sure. But time and time again, we see that children have their best chance at a bright future if they grow up in a “regular” situation. People overcome adversity every day, but it’s still adversity. It’s not good. It’s not supposed to be that way. “Common” and “normal” do not necessarily equal “good.”

Those comments doesn’t even cover the children living with divorced-and-remarried parents. I don’t think we’ll fully understand the fallout of that irregular family structure until the church can’t fit four sets of grandparents per child for the Christmas pageant.

How do parents in these situations approach the Church? What do they ask? Do they request the sacraments only or do they also want catechesis and the general teaching of religion?

Honestly, I think there are some parents who stay away from the Church because they don’t want to face the obstacles standing between their choices and their full participation in the sacraments. They can’t receive the Eucharist, and they don’t want to go to confession (or they’re not penitent), so they don’t go to Mass, either. But I absolutely think they want more for their children than they want for themselves. All parents want their children to have a better life than they did. The problem is that they don’t want to do anything churchy to get churchy things for their kids.

These parents insist on getting their kids involved, preferably at the bare minimum. The parents don’t want to take their kids to Mass because they’d have stay for it, too (and not receive the Eucharist, perhaps starting a conversation they’d prefer to avoid), but they’ll drop them off at CCD. They’ll grumble about going to a baptism prep class, but they’ll go because it’s the only way to get the cute baptism photos and get Grandma off their backs. They don’t want to be taught, and if they’re forced into it, it doesn’t stick. Church is completely about rules and requirements to get stuff. If they’re in an irregular marriage, they’ve already broken the rules. The fewer requirements they get stuck meeting before they can get the stuff for their kids, the better.

How do the particular Churches attempt to meet the needs of the parents of these children to provide them with a Christian education?

Sacramental preparation for kids is often the only opportunity to catechize parents. In recent years, parishes are taking great advantage of that opportunity. I’ve taught baptism prep for godparents-to-be (and prepared myself to be a godparent in the process). That can be a huge moment of conversion from a lackluster faith.

On the other hand, I substituted once for my own parents (whose marriage was always regular) at the mandatory parent Bible study held simultaneously with the my sister’s Confirmation prep class. I loved it, but I don’t think I’d ever heard my parents mention it before. Getting that two-fer of adult catechesis plus children’s sacrament prep benefits the parish, but it’s not converting the parents. I can imagine that conversion of heart is even less likely for parents who are in irregular marriages and thus excluded from the sacraments. They already don’t go to Mass. They’re definitely not doing anything else.

What is the sacramental practice in these cases: preparation, administration of the sacrament, and the accompaniment?

As a church worker, I was trained to strongly encourage parents in irregular situations to regularize them before having a child baptized. If they’ve been civilly married for several years with no other impediments to matrimony, their convalidation can be relatively straightforward. It’s not required, though, and that’s what is best for the child. You shouldn’t have to suffer sacramentally because your parents made poor choices with their sacraments.

For First Communion and Confirmation, though, I don’t think the parents’ marriage or faith involvement status comes much into question. At baptism, the parents promise to raise their children to know Christ Jesus and his Church. Even if they are simply forcing reluctant, non-churchgoing kids to prepare for their other sacraments of initiation, they’re doing more than nothing. It’s a tiny bit of Christian education.

That tiny bit might even be the spark that ignites a life of faith for that child. It was for me. I didn’t embrace the gifts of the Spirit until college, but I received them through the sacraments. I never would have received those sacraments if not for my parents’ insistence, and their marriage has always been “regular.”

Thus, most parents’ marital status doesn’t preclude their children from receiving the sacraments. That’s the way it should be. The tricky part comes when teachers try to educate children in the faith. It is so difficult to teach children the truth when they don’t have any examples to follow. Why should they pray before meals when the family doesn’t? What’s the point of going to Confession when older, Confirmed siblings don’t? How can they believe marriage is between one man and one woman for life when a stepmom is the only mom they’ve ever known, when Mom and her second husband are so happy, or when they have two dads? Pope Francis himself recounted speaking to a young girl who was in tears, thinking her mother’s girlfriend didn’t like her. Where do you even begin with that?

Walking with—accompanying—these parents and children takes a lot of patience and a lot of prayer. Teachers and ministers have the responsibility to preach the truth in love. Parents in irregular situations have turned away from the truth, but there’s always hope that they could return. More than one parent has made things right (or even entered the Church completely) based on the example of a child. The witness of childlike faith from an actual child can do that. On the other hand, too many kids fight their way through to sacraments or get pushed through them without believing a single word. As in my case, grace can spring forth anyway. For many others, the sacrament will be administered upon an empty shell.


Well, that was depressing. No wonder there’s such a big push to get marriage and family in better shape! What do you think? How do couples you know balance their irregular situation with the faith formation of their children? Can you think of anything the Church can do to benefit parents and children, so that everyone wins? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Help Me Find Out If I’m Sheenazing!

That title might make it sound like I want you to watch a movie or read a book and tell me how it is, but that’s not what I’m getting at.

When I got to work on Monday morning, I found one astonishing email in my inbox. (Well, only one was astonishing. I had more than one email in there, of course.) It was from Bonnie Engstrom of A Knotted Life, telling me that I’ve been nominated for a Sheenazing Award!

Thus, my astonishment stemmed from two points. First, I guess I’m so good about guarding my email address that I made it impossible to find, yet my work email was easier to figure out. That’s a little scary. Second, I was nominated for a Sheenazing Award!

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This is the kind of award that I always thought went to Conversion Diary (which is not nominated because Jen won too recently), or to Catholic All Year and Team Whitaker (which I guess must have won three years ago). It’s named after Venerable Fulton Sheen, who (apart from allegedy curing Bonnie Engstrom’s son from stillbirth) was known for using contemporary media to attract people to Catholicism. You can watch his TV show on EWTN or catch clips on YouTube. He was pretty incredible. Those blogs I listed are likewise incredible.

As it turns out, there is a category for Best Underappreciated Blog, and that’s where I was nominated! I’ve been really proud of my blogging over the last year or so, but the idea that three separate people who are not me nominated me is particularly touching. I don’t know who you are, but thank you for reading and for thinking my blog is good enough that it ought to be more appreciated. The nomination alone has made my blogging year. It’s already in my sidebar, see?

After I picked myself up off the floor from the astonishment (and, you know, left work for the day), I saw that my buddies Elizabeth (of Super Swell Times), Kim (of Bear Wrongs Patiently), and Jen (of Jumping in Puddles) were also nominated. Wow! We may not be the big time, but I know how to pick my blog friends. I also spotted Laura of This Felicitous Life, who is not quite one of my besties yet. She is a reader, though, and we are Goodreads friends, so it’s only a matter of time.

I would be ungrateful if I didn’t ask you go to vote. The ballot and rules are here at A Knotted Life, and voting ends Friday, January 23. If nothing else, check out the list of nominees. They are golden!

The Catholic blogosphere is such a great place to be, and it’s a blessing that I can be part of it. Grace and blessings to all the nominees! (Luck is for pagans.)

Feminized, Feminine, or Human? (A Response to Cardinal Burke on the “Catholic Man-Crisis”)

It’s another hot season for high-ranking church officials making comments to the media. You may have heard about Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke’s recent assignment to patron of the Order of Malta. I will refrain from commenting on that because I don’t really know the story. I do know how to read an interview, though, so when a friend invited me to read the interview the cardinal gave to the New Emangelization blog, I approached it with an open yet discerning mind.

Having read the full interview, I think many readers’ instant reactions of shock and anger clouded them to the good that is there.

"Men who abuse women are not true men, but false men who have violated their own manly character by being abusive to women." —Cardinal Burke

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

Choosing to Love, Now and Every Day (Review: “Chastity Is for Lovers”)

Chastity is about making the choice, over and over, every day, to love. —Arleen Spenceley

Whether or not you’re a virgin, chastity is for you. I read a lot about chastity. You might have noticed that if you’ve read any of my writing here at Austin CNM. I recently re-discovered the blog of Arleen Spenceley, a chastity advocate and professional journalist, when I got word of her new book for Ave Maria Press, Chastity Is for Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin. In it, Spenceley presents a long-form explanation of her journey into speaking openly about virginity, chastity, and the truth of love and sex that can only be found in the Gospel.

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

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