Friday, December 30, 2011

Let the Children Come to Me

This year, we started after-dinner singing in front of the Advent wreath and Nativity scene.  I've found Jane going over to the buffet table where they're resting to look at them throughout the day.  

Here she is, looking at the Advent wreath and Nativity scene during one of our singing sessions.

She loves pointing out the different figures in the Nativity scene, blowing out the Advent wreath candles from afar--even when they're not lit, and singing her own rendition of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."  It sounds a lot like "O Come, O Come, O coooooooooooooooooooome."  

Yesterday, I was folding laundry in the living room.  Jane ran off with the laundry basket, and I heard her banging it in front of the buffet table.  This could only mean one thing.  She was on a mission to see Baby Jesus.  I grabbed the camera to catch this:

Sure enough, I found her, standing on top of the overturned laundry basket, peering into the stable.  Before she saw me, I watched her wave into the stable and say, "Hi, Jesus!"  She picked up the Baby Jesus out of the manger, brought him to her chest in a hug, said, "Awwwwwwww, I love you, Jesus" and then gave him a big kiss with a "Muwah!"  

Oh, man.  Talk about an "I could just eat you up" moment!  I couldn't help but let out a "Awwwww" of my own.  

When Janie realized she'd been spotted, she said, "Mama!  Look!  Jesus!  Mawwy!  Jo-sip!  Cow!  Flying!"  She had to show me all of the players in the Nativity scene. 

To convince her to leave the Nativity scene in peace (and not in pieces!), I told her that Jesus was tired and that he needed to go night-night.  She stuck him back in the manger.  "Night-night, Jesus!  Shhhhh, Mama!  Jesus sleeping!"

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Catholicism Series by Fr. Robert Barron

Finding out about the Catholic Faith has never been made easier or more fun thanks to the Catholicism Series by Fr. Robert Barron!  

Fr. Robert Barron created a groundbreaking program for adults to explore what Catholics believe and why.  The program "uses the art, architecture, literature, music and all the treasures of the Catholic tradition to illuminate the timeless teachings of the Church."

According to the Catholicism Series site, the program includes: 
  • Ten compelling episodes from the series on DVD. Filmed in 50 locations throughout 15 countries, the CATHOLICISM DVDs reveal these truths in a visually-breath taking and compelling way, with original, high-definition cinematography.
  • A companion study lesson written by Carl Olson for each DVD, complete with extensive commentary, questions for understanding and also questions for application to each participant’s own life.
  • CATHOLICISM: Journey to the Heart of the Faith, a companion book based on a more detailed rendering of the scripts from the DVD series
  • Leader’s Program Kit, including facilitator’s guide and study guide answer key
  • Promotional materials to announce the upcoming program in your location
  • Spanish and English subtitles included in each DVD set
  • Can be experienced in 12 or 22 sessions
Fortunately, several parishes are offering the series for their parishoners so that they need only pay for the study materials.  My parish, for example, is offering the 12-week series for parishoners, and they're providing childcare.  Philip and I are looking forward to having a weekly date night where we can find out more about our faith at the same time!  

If your parish isn't offering the Catholicism series, maybe another parish will.  Call your archdiocesan office, check their website, ask at your local Catholic bookstore.  There are so many phenomenal formation opportunities--we need only seek them out.  

If the series isn't available near you, try checking the PBS and EWTN programming schedule.  Both stations are airing portions of the program.  You can also purchase the book or other material a la cart. 
Don't just take my word for it.  Watch and read the endorsements of the program by other prominent Catholics such as Archbishop Timothy Dolan (Archbishop of New York City), George Weigel (Biographer of Blessed John Paul II), Tom Peterson (Founder and Creator of the Catholics Come Home®), and many more.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

First Christmas Without Them

As beautiful and joyous as Christmastime can be, it can be equally painful for those still suffering from the loss of a loved one--especially if this is their first Christmas without them. 

James Ferdinand Irwin's family singing carols at early family reunion Christmas celebration marking safe return of sons fr. WWII (L-R) Mr. Irwin, Scotty, Carolyn, Betty Roush, Jim, Myra Lee Love, Jack, Jeanne Haney, Mrs. Irwin, Jeff Haney, Levern Love, Beth Love.© Time Inc. Myron Davis (Photo found on:
The EWTN online Advent devotional I've been reading throughout Advent suggests sending a letter to someone you know who has lost a loved one this last year.  Today's blog post "A Different Kind of Christmas List" by Jennifer Fulwiler suggests doing the same. 

It's so easy in the hustle, bustle, and excitement of the season to forget about those who are feeling alone and in pain.  In her blog post, Fulwiler shares the words of two people who recently lost a loved one.  They said that they felt alone in their pain during Christmas and that those who gave them a phone call, sent an e-mail, or wrote a card lifted them up.

Fulwiler took the idea of writing the letter further.  She says this is what she's going to do:
I’m going to write a list of the contact information of people I know who may be aching for lost loved ones, and bring it with me to my Christmas celebrations. And in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Christmas day, I’ll carve out time to send an email or make a quick phone call to let them know I’m thinking of them, and that they’re in my prayers.
I love that she's keeping the physical list of people with her as she runs errands, goes to Christmas parties, attends Mass, etc.  It's a tangible reminder to keep those people and their deceased loved ones in prayer. 

I'm stealing this idea.  Since I'm at home more than I'm out and about, I'm posting these people's names on my bathroom medicine cabinet and kitchen counter.  That way, after the letters are written, I am still reminded to continue to lift them up in prayer.
The corporal and spiritual works of mercy are on my brain since my 8th grade religious education students are learning them.  In addition to comforting your loved one, this simple action lives out two spiritual works of mercy: comforting the afflicted and praying for the living and the dead. 

Do you know someone who could use a phone call, e-mail, or letter?  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

You Need Catholic Answers Live In Your Life!

Philip gave me an iPod Nano for our first Christmas together.  He had it engraved, "I love you, Catherine."  That extravagant gift quite literally changed my life.  I know I have a tendency to exaggerate, but this time I'm not kidding.  I enjoyed listening to music, but I quickly discovered the world of podcasting, and I became addicted to a podcast called Catholic Answers Live.  This radio show put me on fire for my Catholic Faith in a way I had never experienced before. 

I'd describe the show myself, but the show's website does a much better job of describing it:
Catholic Answers Live, hosted by Patrick Coffin, is a daily, two-hour radio program dedicated to Catholic apologetics and evangelization. According to listener surveys, it is a runaway favorite on Catholic stations across America. 
As a call-in program, Catholic Answers Live connects listeners to prominent leaders in the Church today—including scholars, nuns, priests, bishops, and cardinals—and touches on every aspect of our lives as Christians. You'll hear discussions on just about everything relating to the Church: doctrinal controversies, family concerns,  social issues, evangelization, ethics…you name it! 
Catholic Answers Live airs every Monday through Friday from 6-8 PM Eastern (3-4 PM Pacific) on over 160 AM and FM stations in the United States, Sirius Satellite Radio channel 130, and through the Internet at If you can't listen live, you can subscribe to our podcast or download individual shows from our MP3 archive.
Call in with your question at 1-888-31-TRUTH!
I will be forever indebted to the show for tackling the most difficult issues and common objections to the Catholic faith.  The show's host, Patrick Coffin, is not only funny, but he does a great job of making sure the callers stay on topic, clarifications are made, and as many callers as possible get on each hour to speak with the guest.  Typically, the show has a different guest and topic for each hour.  

Regular features on the show include:
  • Q&A Open Forums.  Tuesdays and Thursdays are typically "Q&A Open Forums" where anyone can call in with any question so long as it's faith-related.  Q&A guests are usually apologists like Tim Staples, Jimmy Akin, Jim Blackburn, Karl Keating, or Patrick Madrid. 
  • Q&A Open Forums for Non-Catholics.  On these days, anyone other than practicing Catholics can call in with a question.
  • The Chaplain is In.  Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P. answers chaplain-related questions.
  • From the Heart with Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God (formerly known as Rosalind Moss).  Mother Miriam answers questions with a mother's care and her obvious heart knowledge of God.
  • Pro-Life Open Forum with Dr. George Delgado.  Callers ask questions about anything related to pro-life issues.    
  • Bioethics for the Rest of Us with Fr. Tad Pacholczyk from the National Catholic Bioethics Center.  Callers ask questions about anything related to bioethical issues.  
  • Scriptural Apologetics with John Martignoni.  John Martignoni uses Sacred Scripture to reveal truths about the Catholic Faith and debate these truths with non-Catholics. 
  • Reel Life: Movies Reviewed with Steven D. Greydanus.  Callers ask questions about movies and Greydanus gives his review of the movie in light of the Catholic Faith.  
  • The New Age Deception with Sharon Lee Giganti.  Sharon Lee discusses anything related to the New-Age movement, and callers ask her related questions.  
If you are interested in listening to the show, you have a few options:
  1. Listen via podcast by downloading it on iTunes or on the website under "podcasts."
  2. Find a local radio station that broadcasts the show.  The show broadcasts live 3-5 p.m. Pacific.  Click here for a list of stations carrying the show.  
  3. Tune in to Sirius Satellite Radio's EWTN station  on channel 130. 
  4. If you are using a satellite dish, tune your dish to satellite G-1, transponder 11. An analog feed is at 5.4 audio and a digital feed is at 951 audio.
As a cradle Catholic, it was easy for me to take my faith for granted.  It wasn't until I discovered Catholic Answers Live in college that I started to view the Church as a vibrant, exciting, fulfilling place where I could find peace and meaning as a young woman.  

Now that I'm a stay-at-home mom, I listen to Catholic radio while I work on things around the house.  Catholic Answers Live is still my favorite.  I'm able to listen on my iPhone, and I carry it around the house with me as I lug loads of laundry up and down stairs, change diapers, dust, do the dishes, etc.  I learn at least one new thing each time I listen to the show. 

In addition to the fabulous radio show, Catholic Answers offers:
  • A growing collection of books, tracts, booklets, CDs, and DVDs published by the apostolate and designed to bring the public the best in Catholic apologetics and evangelization. These may be ordered through Catholic Answers’ on-line shop, along with hundreds of solid, faith-building resources by other top-notch Catholic publishers.
  • Catholic Answers Magazine, the premier periodical on apologetics and evangelization;
  • A Correspondence Department that provides answers to the pressing questions of thousands of people who contact Catholic Answers each year.
  • Multiple web resources that present a broad range of information about Scripture and the teachings of the Church and that assist visitors in tapping into the various branches of the apostolate.
I regularly visit the online forums and post questions to fellow Catholics.  

Patrick Coffin, the Catholic Answers Live radio show host, is fond of quoting Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.  One of his favorite quotes is, "There are not more than 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church."  I use this quote to sum up the work of the Catholic Answers apostolate.  Even as a cradle Catholic, I had a lot of the common misconceptions about the Church before listening to the show--and I went through 12 years of Catholic education!  I can't tell you how many times I've been listening to the show and said to myself, "Oh!  So that's why..." (fill in the blank with something dealing with Catholicism).  Catholic Answers made me a better Catholic because it showed me what the Church really is and untaught the untruths the world had given me.  I know it's had an impact on countless others, too.  One of my favorite parts about listening to the show is hearing a militant atheist or self-proclaimed "Sola Scriptura" protestant call, ready to tear apart some aspect of Catholicism, but they end up thanking the host for their answers and for being so charitable in their response. 

Maybe you're struggling with some aspect about Catholicism.  Maybe you hate the Church!  Give the show a call, and pose your objections or questions.  Listen for an hour.  I dare you not to walk away with a new perspective or a deeper appreciation for the beauty of Christ's Church.       

Do yourself a favor and check out the Catholic Answers website where you'll find more information about the Catholic Answers Live show, online forums, the magazine, and many other resources.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Thank You, Duggar Family

Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar became household names thanks to their TLC reality show "19 Kids and Counting."  The family made headlines this fall when the family announced they were expecting another child in April 2012.  Public opinion swirled around whether or not Michelle was too old, if they had too many children, what kind of parents they must be, whether they were exploiting their children for monetary gain, etc. 

Michelle went to her routine 19-week ultrasound to find out the baby's gender on December 8th, and a heartbeat could not be found.  Michelle miscarried the baby naturally on December 11th.  The Duggars named the baby Jubilee Shalom.  In a video message Michelle recorded for Jubilee, she says that her name means "joyful celebration of peace."

Unfortunately, this time of loss did not escape public scrutiny.  After the Duggars learned at their ultrasound that their baby had died, they decided to have portraits of Jubilee taken through Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep.  Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep (NILMDTS) was created in 2005.  According to their website, 
"The Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep mission is to introduce remembrance photography to parents suffering the loss of a baby with the free gift of professional portraiture. Thousands of families from many different backgrounds and faiths have received services as a way to capture these precious images of their baby. Many families are unprepared for the loss they will suffer. Sometimes having only moments with their child, these images provide tangible proof that their child was real. For many, this is an important part of their healing process. NILMDTS has a network of 7,000 photographers worldwide."
The photos, leaked somehow to the media, have become the center of a controversy.  Some seem to think that the photos are too graphic, that the family is disgusting for posting images of their dead baby, and that this is all part of some publicity stunt.  (How someone can post such hateful and ignorant comments about a family suffering the loss of their baby is beyond me, but that's another post.)  My impression is that those troubled by the images are troubled with the reality of the images.  Jubilee Duggar's little hands and feet are those of a baby, not a mere blob of tissue. 

Image from TMZ
Regardless of how the media came upon the pictures of Jubilee (which were intended for the memorial service and family use), Jubilee's little 19-week-old hands and feet are giving the world a beautiful pro-life message.  A photo of Michelle holding Jubilee's little feet on the family blog has the caption, "There is no foot too small that it cannot leave an imprint on this world." 
The stories in the secular media exclusively talk about the Duggar family losing their "baby," not a "fetus."  Almost overwhelmingly, the online news story comment boxes are full of support for the Duggar family and the loss of their baby.  Here's an LA Times story, and here's a People Magazine article.  Unlike previous news stories about the family, the comments generally say that regardless of their personal opinions of the number of children the Duggars have or how they raise their children, they are sad for the family's loss.  The vitriolic and hateful posts are refreshingly few and far between.  

Thank you, Duggar family.  

Thank you for being unapologetic in your love for your baby and your celebration of her.

Thank you for giving your baby a name that we now associate with those pictures.

Thank you for showing all of us that Jubilee's life was not too short to be commemorated in a beautiful memorial service.  

Thank you for showing us that taking pictures of the children lost in the womb or shortly after birth is a beautiful, healthy, and special treasure for grieving families.  Thank you for indirectly bringing about awareness of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep and other bereavement resources through the images of Jubilee. 

Thank you, Michelle, for reminding us to always count the babies here and in heaven.  In her audio message to Jubilee, Michelle says that from now one when someone asks her how many children she has, she will respond by saying 21, explaining "19 here, and 2 in heaven."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Give Teenagers More Credit

I started teaching an eighth grade religious education class at my parish this fall.  In my archdiocese, students receive the Sacrament of Confirmation as eighth graders.  Knowing that Confirmation is on the horizon, combined with my students' apathy for their spiritual development, has been the source of a lot of anxiety and doubt.

I started the year with high hopes and high expectations.  I expected that my students would be familiar with the Bible, be able to look up Scripture verses, know basic tenets of the Catholic faith, be able to recite common prayers, regularly attend Mass with their families, and have a basic understanding of what the Mass actually is.  

Throughout the course of the semester, I have had to revisit my class goals and expectations.  Slowly but surely, I developed a course of action appropriate for my students that would prepare them for their Confirmation in March.

I had more than my fair share of classes that I would call "epic fails."  Fortunately, I had several weeks in November where we had guest speakers and Thanksgiving break to afford me the opportunity to take it to prayer.  God humbled me and taught me a lot:  I need to be okay with meeting my students where they are, answer their questions, reassure them that it is okay to have doubts, and to show them that the Catholic Church loves them and wants them to call it Home.  

In preparation for my lesson last night, I decided the topic would be making a New Year's Prayer Resolution.

I started the class by having them take an inventory of the activities they do each day, how much time they spend on each activity, and how they prioritize these activities in their lives.  


Then we discussed the results of their inventory using these questions: 
  1. Which 3 activities, other than school, do I spend the most time on?  How did I say I prioritize these activities (1-14)? 
  2. Do my priorities and how I spend my time line up?  (In other words, am I spending the most time on things that I say are my top priorities?)
  3. If my priorities and how I spend my time are out of sync, what changes do I need to make?  Are there any activities I need to cut or limit in my life?

After that brief discussion, we talked about the different kinds of prayer.

First, we talked about having a "healthy prayer diet."  I briefly introduced the "ACTS" model of using Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, and Supplication to format prayer. 

Second, we talked about the differences between formulaic and spontaneous prayer.  We talked about how beautiful the formulaic prayers are.  We talked about the "Our Father" being given to us directly from Christ, the Scriptural sources of the "Hail Mary," and the beautiful other devotions such as the Rosary.  I emphasized the importance of praying the words rather than merely saying them.  I introduced spontaneous prayer as being a kind of conversation with God where the words are not prepared ahead of time.  I emphasized here that it is important to remember that this should not sound like any other conversation we have with a good friend, and to remember that it is God we are talking to.  It doesn't have to be formal, but it does need to be prayerful.  

I introduced meditation by encouraging them to close their eyes and use their imagination to make them present at the birth of Christ, using a Scripture reading as our guide.  I read through the passage and asked them to imagine being different participants in the story--even the silent ones like the animals.  They absolutely loved being exposed to this new way of experiencing Scripture!  One of my regularly "too cool" male students said to his neighbor, "That was actually cool!"  I love how teenagers don't think we can hear their conversations.  It makes these comments all the more moving.

I briefly discussed contemplation as being a "heart to heart" conversation with God, where we just sit with Him and ask Him to speak to us.  I said how blessed we are as Catholics to be able to go to the "real deal" in the Blessed Sacrament--that we can sit and literally gaze upon Him.

I told my students about my sister and brother-in-law's awesome tradition of sharing a weekly holy hour.  They asked what you actually do at a holy hour.  I told them that everyone does something a little different--some people bring devotional readings, some people journal, some people pray the Rosary, some people sit in complete silence.  The basic idea, I said, is to spend time with Christ. 
 “Could you not keep watch with me for one hour?” Matthew 26:40
Leave all other distractions at the door, open your heart up to Christ, and allow His presence in the Blessed Sacrament to penetrate your soul.  

A student who usually zones out, doodles, and makes smart-alek remarks was completely focused on this part of the class.  After I described a holy hour, his mouth was wide open, and he said, "That sounds like the coolest thing you could ever do!  Awesome!"  The skeptic in me thought he was being sarcastic, and so did the other students, so they started to laugh.  He said, "No, no, seriously.  That is, like, amazing.  Jesus is really there!"  All I could do was tear up and say, "Yeah, isn't it awesome?"

Then we talked about how to practically establish a prayer habit:
Step 1:  Create Your Own Prayer Station Arsenal. 
Place a star next to the items that you would include in your own prayer station.  List any other items that you would like to have in your prayer station.

Helpful Tools Include:
-       Books of lives of the saints
-       Catechism of the Catholic Church
-       Bible (New American Bible or Revised Standard Version)
-       Rosary
-       Holy Cards
-       Daily Missal
-       Other devotional books by Catholic authors (see for ideas)
-       Journal
-       Candle
-       Other items:
Step 2:  Make a Daily “Date With God”
1.     Find a time that you can spend at least 10 minutes of interrupted time in prayer.  My time is:  _____________________________________________________________
2.     Where will you have this “Date With God”? 
3.     I will do this to remind myself to have my “Date With God”:
4.     Find other times throughout the day that you can offer up prayers to God.  Examples include:
a.     When you hear an ambulance
b.     Every time you walk up or down a flight of stairs
c.      When you are waiting for a web page to open or for your computer to start up
d.     Doing chores
e.     Random times throughout the day when I can offer prayer are:

I brought my prayer box that I wrote about in my previous post on creating a prayer routine.  I picked out all of my devotional items, flipped through my journal, told them that I pray for them by name, and described my individual prayer routine as well as how we pray with our children and how Philip and I pray together before bed.  

I concluded the lesson by asking them to journal for five minutes on their New Year's Prayer Resolution.  Usually, I struggle to get them to do much of anything for one minute, let alone five.  I don't know what it was, but they stayed focus for those five minutes, writing and writing.  When the time was up, I asked them if they had any questions about prayer and if the lesson was helpful.  They asked a few questions, and one of my female students said, "Wow, I didn't know you could just talk to God.  That's really cool.  I'm starting a journal."  Several of them echoed, "Yeah."  

I told them I'd like to close the lesson with a prayer before we had a little Christmas party.  The student who was really excited about holy hours said, "Oh, good!  I really like your prayers."  Who were these kids, and what had they done with my old students???  After saying a spontaneous prayer to God asking for the safety and rest of my students over their Christmas vacation, I opened it up for petitions.  They volunteered very deep, personal, and thoughtful prayers, which showed me that they were beginning to trust more in God and one another.  We closed with an "Our Father." 

We spent the last ten minutes of class munching on cookies, drinking pop, and discussing our plans over Christmas break.  They all thanked me (another welcome change), several wished me a Merry Christmas, and one gave me a box of cookies she baked all by herself.  

I was in the depths of despair with this group prior to bringing my concerns to prayer.  Unfortunately, I'm not exaggerating!  Only after humbling myself and figuring out that it's not up to me to make this class a success, God took over.  He will never cease to amaze me with what He can do.  I can actually see many of the students coming on fire for Christ.  Now, I really look forward to the rest of this year with these students, and I know I am going to be sad when the year comes to an end.