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The Irrational Id

Toddlers are incredibly irrational beings. I don't understand how a child can prefer to pull of their socks and chew on them when there are teethers, pacifiers, and even blankets with chew-friendly tags on them are within reach. What is it about dirty socks that is so appealing to the Id!?! I love my child, but oh-my-goodness-motherhood-can-be-so-!@#%-frustrating (the last part is said through gritted teeth and in a low, frustrated growl as you shake a wooden spoon in the air). The worst part is, I can't even blame my kid for things like this. My inner scientist tells me that it's all a part of natural, healthy human development...germs and all. This kid probably has one of the best microbiomes out there, which is a great thing according to the hygiene hypotheses. The more bacteria diversity, the better. Still, it is pretty gross when my kid decides to splash in the dog water. Oy. Vey.

Whenever I catch my kid doing something dangerous or gross, I find myself transforming into the archetypal European mother, with eyes and hands raised to the sky in supplication, begging God for the patience necessary to not throw my child to the wolves or go after said child with wooden spoon waving in the air. It's primal-mama-mode moments like this when I wonder if I will ever experience spiritual growth ever again. It seems like I lose a bit more patience and holiness every time my kid throws a tantrum after failing to understand why I will not let her play with electrical cords. Toddlers are irrational and you simply cannot reason with them.

Deep down, I know God loves me and that my child is a great gift. As hard as it is to accept sometimes, I also know that this child is a crucial part in my spiritual development, a part that is helping me to do away with quite a few of those deadly sins...
  • pride (unkempt hair + pajama pants = good enough for me to leave the house)
  • gluttony (You get whatever treats your kid doesn't finish and you will be happy.)
  • wrath (It is very hard to stay angry at the kid no matter how many interruptions or hair pulls.)
  • sloth (Good luck allowing yourself another 15 minutes of sleep in the morning.)
  • lust (BWAHAHAHAHA! Forget EVERYTHING in that department)
  • greed (Nice things just so they can get gnawed on? Forget it.)
I guess envy is still a problem when it comes to wishing I too could have spare time, a social life, an interruption-free afternoon, a guilt-free trip to the bathroom, and a child that listens when I say no.

All kidding aside, motherhood is a vocation that is just as beautiful as a vocation for religious life or even a vocation as a consecrated virgin. All of these vocations are aimed to help you attain sainthood and God gave us so many options because we are all different and have different needs as well as abilities. Maybe I'm a mother because it was the vocation that would best enable me to learn to trust in God.

And trusting God is a very important component when it comes to salvation.

To my fellow mothers out there, the next time you find yourself losing your sanity butting heads with the irrational Id, the screaming toddler, or a lake of dog water on the kitchen floor, join me in throwing it all up to God and trusting in Him that it will all be alright one day.

Trust God that your child will make it to the age of 18 without getting thrown to the wolves. Trust God that you will one day get to spend that 1 hour in adoration some time in the future when the kid is old enough to be in school and you get a day off. Trust that God gave you a child for a reason. Trust that God entrusted you with a child because you could give them the love and lessons necessary to attain sainthood (the *ultimate goal* in parenthood). Trust that God will forgive you when you lose your patience. Trust that God will heal you when you feel frustrated, angered, fearful, or just plain tired of everything. Trust that God will give you whatever graces you ask for on HIS time (not yours, *HIS*). Trust that God will heal you whenever motherhood begins to become painful. Trust that God will be with you throughout this journey. Just trust in God.

Pax Vobiscum

An Ode to Dot

When it comes to portraying Catholicism, Catholics, Catholic Clergy, etc. there are A LOT of tropes that bother me. It almost makes me want to run for cover whenever a character in a show, book, movie, etc. chances upon a church or any man of the cloth.

Leering priests? Ugh.
Rigid, ruler-smacking nuns? Ugh.
Bishop more invested in finances than souls? Ugh.
Token Catholic friend who is afraid of sex, the human anatomy, etc? Ugh.

I find Catholics are often  portrayed in a very one-dimensional manner that prevents them from ever saying or doing much to betray the misconception that we think everything is a sin and that our very survival is dependent upon the wearing of knee socks and a plaid skirt. I sometimes want to scream at the television and say "COME ON, WE ARE A LOT MORE THAN THAT!"

And then came Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. Let me just throw out a caveat emptor by saying that this show is far from PG material. There's murder, intrigue, sex, and a number of other factors that may turn viewers off. However, if you get past that you are also met with a beautifully written show with great dialogue, jaw-dropping 1920s fashion (if you miss Downtown Abbey's costumes and haven't checked out this show....PLEASE DO), very decent sleuthing, a colorful collection of characters, and one of the greatest fictional Catholics there ever was. Her name is Dot, and she is the very capable (and delightfully sweet) assistant to private detective Miss Phryne Fisher.

Dot is a multi-dimensional character that is not only a practicing Catholic, but a genuinely well-written character. She has dreams, wants to keep her job after marriage, is an active member of the community, and she helps solve crimes. She may dress more conservatively than the glamorous bombshell that is Miss Fisher, but she is far from the dowdy, plaid skirted Catholic girl we've grown accustomed to. She also matures wonderfully in this show without having to compromise her morals in order to keep up with her crime-solving employer and friend. She may start off as a docile young girl that can be stepped on, but she blossoms into a sidekick with a backbone (without losing her sweet, compassionate persona). Did I mention that she's Catholic and plays an active role in her parish?

I absolutely loved Dot from the start, but her falling in love with a Protestant made me love her even more. I don't want to spoil the entire plot, but she does manage to stand by her man without compromising her faith, a feat many shows today never attempt. It would have been so much easier to simply have her give up on her faith for love. I've seen this yawn-inducing love before faith trope too many times and applaud this show's ability to navigate through such a taboo (for the 1920s) subject. It says a lot about this show that they were able to seamlessly introduce this plot line in a murder mystery show whose main protagonist isn't even religious.

For the binge-watchers among us, all three seasons are on Netflix. If you are worried that it may take you a while to catch up, there are 3 seasons to this show (and possibly 3 movies and a spin-off series to come), so that's 30-odd episodes at about 50 minutes an episode. With a bit of effort, it is definitely possible to get caught up during Thanksgiving weekend. This being a Catholic blog I feel I must warn you that while there are great Catholic themes and characters, this show also has some VERY mature/non-family-friendly/NSFW themes (including murder, violence, nudity, sex, drugs, murder, etc).

Pax Vobiscum

Words of Hope in Dark Times

This election has both created and reopened wounds. So much ugliness from all sides before the election, and so much ugliness from both sides after the election. I think a lot of this problem comes from a hopelessness that the world tells us will heal if only you completely trust in PERSON A or PERSON B. This situation brings to mind 2 pre-election encounters, one that took place a month or so ago and one that took place quite a few years ago.

The first encounter those years ago was with a cloistered nun. I had reached a low point in my life (one of many you may encounter if you ever choose to go down the dark, dreary PhD road) and had seen so much ugliness and hatred around me that I was beginning to question the survival of beauty, holiness, and so many other things in a world so hell-bent on destroying goodness, truth, and love. The nun assured me that, although the world claimed victory over these things, God still ensured that there were enough people out there that remained custodians of truth and holiness even with reports of declining vocations. She reminded me that the world will continually try to paint a dark picture in order to drive us to despair and she ensured me that this picture was powerless against God's goodness. He simply loves us too much to give us over to the darkness of this world and we should simply trust him as we put on our armor each day to fight the good fight. The world cannot force us to despair if we continue to reflect God's goodness into the darkness.

The second encounter a month or so ago took place before a charismatic healing mass that had far more people in attendance than it did bathrooms on premises. The line was MASSIVE and I NEEDED TO GO. I took my chances on a forgotten bathroom in the basement, down Cirith Ungol, past the mines of Moria, and nestled behind (and under) a massive steam pipe. The line was three people long so we struck up a conversation as we waited. One of the women in line, an elderly woman, brought up the election and conveyed a sense of hopelessness that sounded all-too-familiar. Remembering my own gloom some years ago, I confided in her a great truth that had been spoken to us by St. John Paul the Great in Redemptoris Missio.

“As the third millennium of the redemption draws near, God is preparing a great springtime for Christianity, and we can already see its first signs.”- St. John Paul II in Redemptoris Missio
(Photo credit, CNS/Paul Haring 4/25/2014)
This message of hope had sounded naive and absurd years ago to someone who had grown accustomed to the world's 24/7 forecasts of doom. However, after my conversation with that nun, I had begun to look at the world through the eyes of a very intelligent nun who had unquestioningly put all her trust in God.

Forget Pew surveys. Forget elections. Forget politicians. Forget the war drums sounding from every nation as we continue our "piecemeal World War III." Forget the immediate apocalypse promised in every "third secret of Fatima" pamphlet. Most importantly, forget the forecasts shoved down our throats by political parties (and associated networks) more invested in the deification of *Candidate X* than they are in practicing the faith/lack of faith they claim to have when it comes to pandering for the religious/nonreligious voters.

Remember instead that God's love is eternal and it is more than sufficient. Do not let your mind be clouded by our worldly, self-serving leaders and their mouthpieces. Do not let the world keep you in constant anxiety, continually filling your mind with unpleasant images of hatred and devastation. No election can prevent you from being selfless, compassionate, loving, and merciful. Essentially, no election has the power to prevent you from being an instrument of God's love, His truth, His peace.

When you find yourself troubled by the state of this country, remember that there are people in North Korea that risk their lives every day to bring God's message of hope to those oppressed by a regime. Not even the threat of death prevents them from sharing God's word with people that starve for it. There are Catholics in China's underground churches that risk imprisonment because they continue to believe that Christ so loved his Church that he instituted the Eucharist, allowing his body, blood, soul, and divinity to be present in even the most make-shift, hidden tabernacles today. Do not focus on the dire situation of these people. Focus instead of the love that transcends human fear in those who continue to fight for love and truth in the face of death.

You may not believe it yet, but we are in a springtime and God placed us in this particular time and in your particular situation in life because we have a part to play in the history of salvation.

If you find yourself feeling otherwise, remember the words of St. Teresa of Avila....

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing;
God only is changeless.
Patience gains all things.
Who has God wants nothing.
God alone suffices.

Pax Vobiscum

Unity in a Time of Discord

I cannot wait for tomorrow to be over. The media has done a good job of beating a dead horse to a bloody pulp and then running it over ad infinitum for good measure. 

Media: Le cheval est mort, vive le cheval! 
Me: No, Media! You leave that horse alone. *grabs hand wipes* Icky! Yucky! Don't touch! Here, let me wipe your hands.
Media: Vive le cheval! Ratings! Ratings! Ratings!
Me: Oy. Vey.

That horse is little more than a stain on the road at this point and I cannot wait for the road to be repaved (and it better be paved over soon considering the 23 cent per gallon tax hike in this state).

What I really want to focus on now is what we will do after the election. 

Do we continue a nation divided, hell-bent on talking down others who don't support every single point?
Do we continue defriending people on Facebook if they don't share our world view? 
Do we keep having shouting matches?

I propose we do none of these things. We should, instead, just pick up the pieces and rebuild. Let's use those pieces to build bridges. We build with civilized discourse instead of shouting matches. Let us practice patience and humility in our discourse. If you tend to lose your cool and if your discussions tend to turn into shouting matches, take a step back and consider how you can exchange ideas without the rancor. When it comes to heated topics, approach discussions with delicacy, mercy, and respect. You don't have to agree with your neighbor on an issue, but you can respect them enough to listen to what they have to say, especially if you don't agree with them.  Allowing them to make their point is not likely to convert you on the issue, but it will (hopefully) make it easier for them to actually listen to your point.

On the other hand, if you are more likely to avoid discussion altogether, try joining a discussion if you find yourself among friends or family. Don't bother with the Facebook arguments just yet (those get crazy pretty quickly, especially in election seasons). You don't have to convert the world. Ultimately, God is the one who allows hearts to be converted...not you. However, He can work through us, allowing us to take part in planting the seeds that may lead to unity, conversion, and many other fruits that will strengthen our bonds of family, community, friendship, etc. Be an instrument of peace. Don't be an instrument of conflict and disunity. We already have enough of those.

Pax Vobiscum

PS. Make sure to vote tomorrow.

Man and Woman He Created Them Sans the Pink and Blue Balloons

St. John Paul the Great's "Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body" was an eye-opener for me when it came to navigating through my relationship with my husband when we were in the beginnings of our relationship. It certainly helped define my role in a relationship and outside of a relationship as a woman. We live in a world where everyone (family, society, companies, special interest groups, etc) has an opinion about what it means to be a woman and how to be a woman. Speaking as a mother of a toddler (holy cow, where has the time gone?), I have witnessed first-hand how soon we are bombarded by these voices that seek to define us.

I was one of those wonderfully heinous mothers who decided to not find out whether I was having a boy or a girl. I didn't care either way, but could feel the tension early on in the pregnancy as soon as news got out. 
"What do you mean you're not finding out?"
"What do you mean you don't care?"
"You would make shopping for this baby a lot easier if you just told me!"
"You're having a boy, you're just not telling us. I know it's a boy."
"Definitely girl. I can tell by the (insert arbitrary reason here)."

I think everyone else was more stressed out than we were about the decision to not find out the baby's sex. My reasons were simple. I did not want to be bombarded with blue or pink items before the baby was born. I already knew so much about the baby after so many ultrasounds so I welcomed a surprise. Speaking of surprises, the epidural didn't work, the labor took forever, and I ended up having to get an emergency C-Section...and since the epidural didn't work and I could feel them cutting into me, I was put under. The last thing I remember is telling one of the people in scrubs that I was Catholic and wanted the baby baptized if anything happened. I can honestly say that the sex of the baby was the last thing on my mind during that terrifying experience.

I woke up to someone handing me a baby and saying "Here's your daughter." Very anti-climactic, but still a very interesting experience because much of the sex-related fanfare was absent from the birth. No huge pink balloons, no pink cupcakes, nothing. Just me, still fuzzy from all the drugs that had been pumping through my body, holding my daughter in a sterile, hospital environment. I am sure this was anything but a Kodak moment what with all of the grime clinging to my body at the time, the grime associated with hours of labor, a surgery, and a birth. The first thought that crossed my mind as I held her for the first time was "how in the world could someone ever allow me to hold someone so small and fragile?" Then the second thought hit...this was MY daughter. Of course I could hold her. My husband and I were the ones who did the allowing, so of course I could hold someone so small and fragile. It was a strange experience, but one that turned into a very religious experience.

Here I was, a child of God and now a mother. I had brought a small child into the world after endometriosis, PCOS, amenorrhea, and other issues that, statistically speaking, virtually guaranteed infertility. I had been charged with raising a defenseless, tiny human whose life depended on my ability to feed her, care for her, love her, and worry about her nonstop until the day I died. Forget pink and blue, boy and girl. All of the color-coded BS society pushes upon us from the moment a baby's sex is determined is completely superficial and unimportant. It does not hold a candle to the momentous occasion in which you realize the beauty and the power of being able to take part in God's creation, whether it is through the birth of a biological child, adopted child, etc. The moment that child is born, a new lifetime begins to unroll. There is so much potential in that lifetime and so many stories that have yet to be told. The transcendent moment in which a child is born to continue a lineage that stretches back to the dawn of mankind, a lineage that connects us all by our genes as well as our inheritance as stewards of this world. This is what matters more to me.

My child, to this day, wears animal prints, unisex Finnish onesies, and a number of other articles of clothing that lead people to mistake her for a boy. I don't even bother to correct them when this happens. The joy she brings to the eyes of my father, who started a family late and never expected to live to see his grandchildren...that is what matters. The joy she brings her father whenever he comes home from a long day of work...that is what matters. The joy she brought me on the day she gave me a first hug, or the day she spoke her first word...that is what matters. Not the pink balloons. 

Pax Vobiscum

Some Decent (and free) Theology Sources for People on the Go

No time to read Summa Theologica? Having a tough time refreshing your spiritual life with new material? Bored, Catholic, and in front of a computer? Tired of this election season and looking for a way to help yourself escape for a while? Starving for some good thought-provoking material that also revitalizes the soul? Well, it is a good thing you found this post because I have got some ideas for you! Audiobooks, podcasts, articles, etc about all things good and Catholic? You name it, I've found a free (and legal) way of getting them!

I'll start with my favorite New Evangelization heavy-hitter...

I cannot say enough great things about Bishop Barron. I have an intellectual crush on him and when I was fortunate enough to meet him last year, I could not contain myself. I fangirled to the point of embarrassment as I heaped on the praise for his work, which was incredibly useful in terms of lunchroom apologetics and enabling me to make sense of the tough theological questions I've encountered over the years. Bishop Barron explains everything eloquently from a Catholic as well as secular perspective manner. He gives you the history, the science, the biography, word origins, etc. whenever he explains scripture and can pack a lot of information into a 15-minute Word on Fire podcast. His homilies are definitely worth more investigation if you haven't yet become a Barronite Catholic. There's also videos, lectures, podcasts, and a lot of other good stuff. 
One of my favorite theologians of all time.

The New York Public Library (or your own public library)

I love the library and consider libraries to be one of the pillars of a good society. An informed and educated population is a good population and one that is less likely to be taken advantage of and less likely to be swayed by yellow journalism parading as fact (*cough* aka most of mainstream media during election years *cough*). I am a huge proponent of audiobooks and have downloaded many over the years and they have been instrumental in refreshing my brain when it was drowning in monotonous tasks and endless scientific journal articles over the years. Libraries also have digital books that you can easily transfer to an e-reader or phone. In my experience, the selection of Catholic books tends to be limited. However, I have managed to read/listen to the books of the Bible as well as works by Pope Francis, Scott Hahn, C.S. Lewis, G.K.Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, and quite a few others over the years. And one great thing about libraries is that they save you a small fortune if you, like me, love audiobooks. Holy moly, audiobooks can be expensive!

Librivox is a great resource for free public domain audiobooks. This site is a labor of love, where volunteers record and upload public domain books that you can then download and listen to at your leisure.What kinds of books can you find here? Well, one that comes to mind is George MacDonald's Phantastes. I don't think George MacDonald can ever get enough credit for influencing greats such as C.S.Lewis or Tolkien...and his writing is wonderful. You can also find G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown series among many, many others. Seriously, if you ever get bored, just start searching for classics. The two caveats I have with this particular source is that available works are limited to older material with expired copyrights (alas, very little to no works by Tolkien or C.S. Lewis) and that some audiobook narrators aren't that great (all respect to them for their pro bono work, but some voices/breathing patterns/etc. just make it difficult for me to listen to some files). There are some duplicate recordings up if you don't like the way a particular audiobook rendition sounds, but I wouldn't bank on it for every work you may want to read.


If you haven't already started following me on Facebook, here's your chance to like. Shameless plug aside, Facebook has been a great source for me in my efforts to stay up to date on all things good and Catholic. I follow a number of Catholic writers, blogs, missions, orders, religious figures, etc. on Facebook and it is refreshing to see their posts among the countless tirades for or against *enter candidate/party/cause here*. I also get to stay up to date on events going on elsewhere in the world. More importantly, if you follow the right people and groups, you can sometimes get your Catholic news before the networks get to it. That being said, you can actually read transcripts of Pope Francis's in-flight interviews before the networks put a spin on them. I can't really list all my favorites, but can give you a few good wild cards to follow such as Catholic Engineers, The American Chesterton Society, and The Catholic Gentleman

I know you've probably found some of these sources yourself before, but consider taking a look at anything I've mentioned that you haven't yet explored in depth. With a bit of time and effort, you can find something for your brain (and soul) to nibble on as you wait in traffic, enjoy some quiet time, walk you dog, jog at the gym...and keep yourself from drowning in what has to be one of the worst election seasons I've ever experience. Oy Vey. November 8th cannot come and go soon enough. 

Pax Vobiscum

The Path to Vocation

Years ago, I had a conversation with the Fool in which we discussed our vocation. She described the path she had been put on and was able to identify the moments in her life that formed her and set her off on the direction of her vocation. At the time I was having this conversation I was in the middle of the PhD years, a dark and dreary 6-year period full of brains, bouts of impostor syndrome, and endless hours working on a project that appeared to have no end in sight. I thought about her words as I wondered how much of my time was actually being invested towards some kind of vocation. I mean, how can slicing hundreds of brains (at 3-5 hours per brain) contribute towards any kind of spiritual growth?

Since depositing my dissertation last month and accepting a job offer, I've had quite a bit of time to think in the last few weeks. I've also had time to read some of the books I've kept putting off, waiting for the day when I would have time to read them. One of these books, a very quick and beautiful read, is Gift and Mystery by Saint John Paul the Great. In this book, he discusses the events that influenced the maturation of his vocation for the priesthood. The stone quarry and the water purification facility are mentioned as two seminaries. He even goes so far as to clarify that these were not pre-seminaries, but true seminaries where his decision to enter the priesthood matured and where he learned the value of work and the dignity of physical laborers who were used to heavy work. He grew to understand their living situations and worth, remembering their needs and value later as a priest, Bishop, and even as Pope.

He talked about the "deep but quiet religiosity" of these workers and "their great wisdom of life." I could not help but recall the faith of my own parents, two blue collar workers that somehow instilled the faith in children in their own humble, quiet way. Their faith was present in every pain they felt as a result of long hours in construction or in the assembly line. Their faith was present as they shared their faith with coworkers who, in turn, shared their own faiths. My mom brought God's love to coworkers who struggled as she did, but faced struggles that she herself was fortunate enough to not experience. Then there's my dad who, as a construction worker, spent long days on his own meditating on matters of the faith as he waited for concrete to harden. This same man, a construction worker, was more than happy to discuss matters of the faith over lunch with friends, family, and any Jehovah's witness who had the good fortune to knock on our door as our family sat down for lunch. My parents were not priests, but their deep but quiet religiosity did enable them to evangelize (sans theology degree) and effectively bring God's love to others.

From what I've read in St. JPII's memoir, people like my parents appear to have influenced this Catholic great. Hard-working (and most likely poor) people showed him a culture of kindness, friendship, and faith that shaped him and ultimately allowed his vocation for priesthood to mature. The ability of Saint John Paul the Great to learn the unique needs of these hardworking people of faith certainly influenced his life as a priest and, in turn, influenced his role as the successor of Peter. I can't even begin to imagine how many programs, words, conversions, and missions were ultimately influenced by the years St. JPII spent as a laborer and the relationships he had with fellow laborers.

Saint Lucy
(latest Saint to be drawn now that I am back in art mode)
During my time as a brain-slicing PhD student/peasant, I didn't get to see much daylight during my time in the lab. Even so, when I really think about it, I did have some very illuminating conversations with coworkers that were atheist, Muslim, agnostic, Jewish, you-name-it over the years. I may never know if these conversations had any long-reaching impact, but I am a firm believer in "the economy of Grace." At face value, I have learned some lessons from coworkers over the years (atheists especially) as to how I can be a better Catholic. I am nowhere near the great evangelist that St. Paul was, but hope that my words, actions, and examples, may have helped others in the formation of their own vocations. If not, I hope that I have at least had a positive influence in their lives and that the Holy Spirit has managed to find some use for me in these last 6 years as I soldiered on through one of the bleakest periods of my life.

Pax Vobiscum