Celebrating the Domestic Church: The Transformative Power of Families

On Wednesday, Pope Francis alluded to his upcoming message for the Eighth World Meeting of Families by calling this a “critical moment in the history of our civilization.” It is indeed a critical moment in our history, one that needs to be addressed in our families. As the USCCB explains, by definition, “’the family, is so to speak, the domestic church’ (Lumen Gentium #11). This means that it is in the context of the family that we first learn who God is and to prayerfully seek His will for us.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “The Christian home is the place where children receive the first proclamation of the faith. For this reason the family home is rightly called ‘the domestic church,’ a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and of Christian charity” (CCC 1666). This is the perfect time to think about the domestic church and the critical role it can play for the entire Church. Read More

Marathons and Prayer: Moving Forward from Terror

“Terror in the Heartland” read the headline in our morning newspaper 20 years ago. It was sprawled over a full-color photo of a firefighter holding a little girl. That image and headline are burned into my memory. Even though I lived far from Oklahoma City, the terror resonated with my teenage self. People went to work and never came home. Children went to daycare and never came home. And it all happened in our country. Now, as a resident of the Heartland, I cringe when I think of the bomber driving down the road less than a mile from our house in that truck full of explosives. People close to me can recall their buildings shaking miles away from the Murrah Federal Building.

The memories here are not just personal accounts. Locally, we have spent the last few weeks remembering the 168 people who died in that senseless act of violence, as well as those injured and those whose lives were irrevocably changed on that day. Over a thousand motorcycles rode past the National Memorial Museum in remembrance. The First Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma City performed a concert of 168 voices on April 19. That day, local television stations broadcasted the yearly memorial service at 9:03. The names of all 168 victims were read and 168 banners now hang along 26.1 miles of Oklahoma City, as the city prepares for the marathon. Next Sunday thousands of people will run and walk those 26.1 miles of Oklahoma City lined with banners in a “Run to Remember”.

And remember we do, as a country. April 19, 1995 was a horrific day in the lives of many. So too was April 15, 2013. Two years ago, the Boston Marathon Bombing shook me to the core. Just a few weeks before I was to attempt my first marathon, Run to Remember, another bombing terrified me. That year we started the run with the traditional 168 seconds of silence, with three additional seconds for those lost in another senseless act of violence.

Nevertheless, as horrific as many of these memories are, there are others of hope, resilience, and faith. There are the stories of people rushing downtown to help and of being turned away because there was too much help. There are stories of rebuilding and coming together. While sharpshooters lined the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon route in 2013, all runners who were unable to finish the Boston Marathon were given free registration to the Oklahoma City Run to Remember. These two cities bonded and supported each other in their times of need.

Yet it is not enough to remember. We must continue to move forward and forgive. This week, proceedings in the Boston Marathon bombing case continue with sentencing hearings. As Catholics, we can continue to pray for a spirit of forgiveness in our hearts and in those who have been hurt by the actions of others, especially these two violent acts. We can also continue to pray for those who were hurt, killed, or lost someone to these tragedies.

It was, in fact, prayer that brought me through the Memorial Marathon. It was prayer that opened my heart to the city and my new home. Although I was not near the Murrah building twenty years ago, living in the heartland has taught me that hope, faith, and love can help communities and people heal. In the weeks before taking to the streets for my first OKC Memorial Marathon, so soon after the Boston Marathon Bombing, I was struck by the banners lining the streets of OKC. My training had been an exercise in prayerfully offering up difficulties.  So, I decided that the banners would be a good reminder to pray. Several hours after beginning and 168 Hail Marys (plus three) later, I took my last steps over the finish line. It was a small personal victory to conquer the road, but the result of those prayers mixing with those of all peaceful people around the world is a great victory for good. While we remember these tragedies and a jury decides the fate of one man, we need to remember to pray. Let us offer up the sufferings of the families of the deceased, the sufferings of the wounded, and the internal sufferings that led the bombers to enact such violence against other human beings. May healing reach all hearts as we remember what happened in the Heartland.

Recognizing the Personhood of Unborn Children in Our Daily Actions

For the Church in the United States, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision marks a day of prayer for the unborn, and Catholics join others in marching for life in the streets. But as we engage in this prayer and protest, it is essential to go back to the basics of what being pro-life is all about. It is about more than political action, talking points, and marches. It is a mindset and way of life. This way of life needs to be lived in our parishes and homes on a daily basis.

We know that life is sacred from conception, and our parishes embrace the unborn the same way they embrace all of our children, with blessings and prayers. This blessing of the unborn is a relatively new practice and took me by (pleasant) surprise when I was expecting our third child. One Sunday we approached the altar and our priest extended a blessing on what seemed to be both of our children. This seemed out of place, as he usually blesses each child individually. While it was odd, I assumed it was a time-saver, or mommy-saver, since little brother would sometimes bolt after the blessing. It wasn’t until I attended a weekday Mass alone that I understood. As I prepared to receive the Eucharist, our priest made the Sign of the Cross in front of me and offered a blessing, just as he did for our boys. In that moment I understood the blessing from the Sunday before. Our priest didn’t just bless our children standing before him, but their unborn sibling as well. With the Sign of the Cross he blessed them all.

In addition to the outward sign of prayer for our unborn baby, we were able to see our older children embrace the new life of our baby. From the time we told them about their new brother or sister, our boys were thrilled. We knew that we would not find out the sex of the baby, so we gave them the chance to give “Baby” a name for the duration of the pregnancy. They named their sibling “Cranberry,” and he or she was henceforth referred to as such. Following the lead of our parish priest who offered a blessing to Cranberry at Communion, our boys took turns putting Holy Water on my belly. Cranberry’s name joined our prayer list, and our youngest increased his counting abilities from 4 to 5. He would always say, “There are five of us at dinner tonight, but only four chairs because Cranberry doesn’t need a separate chair.”

And then he encountered some resistance. People, even local parishioners, would ask him, “Are you going to be a big brother?” To which he would answer, “I am a big brother.” From the day he learned of “his” baby Cranberry, Cranberry was as alive as any other person in his small world. Sometimes his response would be badly received. He was in no way trying to be rude; he was just stating what was clearly obvious to him: Mommy had his Cranberry in her tummy. Cranberry was his brother or sister. What is difficult for adults to grasp, he understood from the depths of his being. Without question, his baby was a baby. He was already a big brother.

Truly, as Catholics, his response is one we should expect. When asking the youngest of any family about an upcoming birth, we should frame it as, “How is the big brother or sister doing?” These youngest children are already elder siblings from day one. In reframing our question, we can celebrate the personhood of any unborn child.

As a pro-life people, Catholics speak out at this tragic anniversary. Some march, some write letters, most pray, but we should never forget to use our daily words, thoughts, and actions to celebrate the unborn. We can reframe our questions and speech to include an unborn child into the families of those around us. We can bless our unborn in the same way as our older children. The mindset of the world can only change if we own the preciousness of unborn life and live in such a way that we never question the importance of our own baby Cranberries. We should celebrate the big brothers and big sisters who wait with anticipation to finally hold their own baby brother or sister. In short, may we bless them all, in word and deed.

The Baby Jesus: Meeting Us Where We Are

Theologians have many explanations for why God sent His Son as a child. For our family, with young children, the practical reasons are clear. When our oldest child was a toddler, I quickly realized how essential the Baby Jesus was to him, as a child himself.

Children know about babies. They love to see themselves in a mirror. Remember the infant who coos and laughs at the baby in the reflection? Wrapping ones’ head around divinity and God is not easy as an adult, and such abstract concepts can be even more difficult to grasp for a child, But, a baby—yes, a baby—a child can easily understand that. Our oldest was particularly drawn to the image of the Infant Jesus. He’d look for him in every church. It just so happens that the church I grew up in didn’t have a readily visible Baby Jesus image. I thought we’d share a full-blown meltdown during Mass until we found a picture of the Madonna and Child in a side-chapel. To be a participating member of the church, our toddler needed to see himself and identify with something. The Baby was understandable at his young age.

One year later, our preschooler saw the Baby and rushed to kiss it. Even the doll that arrived with the Christmas pageant’s Mary was smothered in kisses of love. He carried his Jesus figure cradled in his hands as lovingly as if it were a real child. Baby Jesus is treated with more care than his other babies. This is his first connection to theology, faith, and the Church.

Our second child, as a toddler, saw a picture of the Baby Jesus hanging on the wall and kissed it at every opportunity. Even when he was under two years old, he understood that a baby needs love. 

My boys continue to show me why the coming of Jesus as a small infant is so important. Theologians have valid explanations of the Holy Babe, all important in their own way. In our family, we are blessed to see the need for the Baby Jesus in a very concrete way. Our children and children all around the world are celebrating the birth of Jesus by sending hugs and the kisses to the Baby Jesus.

Someday our children will be able to grasp the enormity of God. For now, God has met them right where they are, as a tiny baby, a little child. As adults, we’ve prepared for the birth of Christ Jesus in our hearts. Let’s welcome him with open arms, as we would any newborn baby. Happy Birthday, Jesus!

Pope’s Message to the Americas for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Check out Pope Francis’ Message to the Americas for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe:

Tomorrow is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patroness of the Americas. I would like to greet all my brothers and sisters on that continent, and I do so thinking of the Virgin of Tepeyac.

When Our Lady appeared to Saint Juan Diego, her face was that of a woman of mixed blood, a mestiza, and her garments bore many symbols of the native culture. Like Jesus, Mary is close to all her sons and daughters; as a concerned mother, she accompanies them on their way through life. She shares all the joys and hopes, the sorrows and troubles of God’s People, which is made up of men and women of every race and nation.

When the image of the Virgin appeared on the tilma of Juan Diego, it was the prophecy of an embrace: Mary’s embrace of all the peoples of the vast expanses of America – the peoples who already lived there, and those who were yet to come. Mary’s embrace showed what America – North and South – is called to be: a land where different peoples come together; a land prepared to accept human life at every stage, from the mother’s womb to old age; a land which welcomes immigrants, and the poor and the marginalized, in every age. A land of generosity.

That is the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and it is also my message, the message of the Church. I ask all the people of the Americas to open wide their arms, like the Virgin, with love and tenderness.

I pray for all of you, dear brothers and sisters, and I ask you to pray for me! May the joy of the Gospel always abide in your hearts. May the Lord bless you, and may Our Lady be ever at your side.

And a video of Pope Francis in Spanish from Rome Reports:

Crush the Idols of Our Time

“Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness like the crime of idolatry. “(1 Sam 15:23)

On October 1st, the American people saw the effects of stubbornness come to fruition. Many people will not be going to work for an indefinite period. Under these circumstances, it is time to ask ourselves if we have turned our political parties into idols.

As Catholics, we hold strong beliefs on different issues, and it is right to hold fast to our beliefs. Within a two-party system, it is easy to take one or two key issues and find the party that speaks to those points in a way that is in line with Church teaching. But there is a fine line between supporting a party and idolizing it. There is nothing wrong with donating money, putting up bumper stickers, placing signs in our yards, and campaigning for a party we support. That falls easily into the realm of “rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” However, we cross over into idolatry when we decide that the party of our choosing is the only party with anything to offer, thereby assuming that the other party is evil and can do no right. That is, when we only look at the points of agreement with our party on a few narrow issues and disregard the rest, we’ve lost sight of the importance of choosing a party for faith-related reasons, and created an idol.  The mere presence of liberal and conservative media is a testament to Americans’ idolization of their chosen party. Some of the news media personalities even have their own followings. People align their views to those of the writer, radio host, or television reporter before they stop and align them with the teachings of the Church. These views are strongly tied to one party or the other. Political parties are, it seems, the new idols of our day.

It’s easy to do this on specific issues as well. The present government shutdown is the result of holding up a vote over a few key issues, most notably, in order to eliminate the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” When issues are so important that the government is shut down, those issues have then become idols. Evidently, it’s now acceptable to take people out of work and hurt the reputation of our country out of stubbornness and an unwillingness to accept a legally passed piece of legislation. This stubbornness is not confined to one party or one issue. On both sides of the aisle, the devotion of lawmakers to these idols is remarkable.

Now is the time to crush the idols of our time. Now is the time to turn back to the heart of our beliefs. Now is the time to isolate issues and reflect upon them in light of Church teachings. Now is the time to communicate our beliefs to our lawmakers and party leaders focusing on the issues one at a time in accordance with our faith. Now is the time to break free from the chains of excessive partisanship and minister directly to God’s people. Now is the time to use the words of Ronald Reagan when we address the barrier between our two parties: “Tear down this wall.” Yes, now is the time to destroy our idols and work for the good of God’s people, each and every one.

Where do we start? We can revisit issues in accordance with Catholic teaching, most specifically through the use of the USCCB’s “Forming Catholic Consciences” document.  We need to contemplate our reasons for choosing our alignments. Most importantly, we need to answer this question: to whom is my allegiance? Is it God, a political party, a media voice? We need to turn ourselves to the light and let the idols crumble.

Redefining What It Means to be a Role Model

Every few months a celebrity makes a mistake that ends up making headlines, and many parents cry foul: “What? That was my child’s role model!” There are two things very wrong with this reaction.  First, it treats celebrities as superhuman figures who should be above making mistakes. Second, why should a celebrity automatically be treated as a role model?

To begin with, we must remember that celebrities are people. They may excel at a sport or an art, be deemed beautiful or handsome, and grace the covers of our magazines, but they are human. They make mistakes and sin, just as we all do. The difference is that their transgressions are more public than our own. With the paparazzi constantly following them and cell phones everywhere, ready to launch the next viral video, a celebrity is not free to only reveal their sins in the privacy of the confessional. The sins of celebrities are between them, God, social media, tabloids, and the public. This is not fair to them as people. We, as Catholics, must remember that sin, while abhorrent to the Lord, is part of all of our lives. We need to be forgiving and pray that sin will have a diminished role in each of our lives and those who face the added scrutiny of a life lived in the public eye. We all need mercy.

We don’t seem to think it’s enough that celebrities win gold medals, sing beautifully, dance in ways that others can’t, or move us through their fine acting; we also ask them to  have spotless, sinless personal lives. We paint them as role models. In this lies a grave fault. It is perfectly fine to want to emulate the voice, athletic prowess, business savvy, acting skills, musical ability, or even the general professional success of another person. These are career goals—reflecting the desire to reach amazing levels of skill in something that may interest us.

However, painting these celebrities as role models is very different from striving to attain greatness of skill.  The traits we look for in a role model should go beyond the skills we admire and aspire to obtain.  A role model should show us how to live life—to live it well and fully. True role models are people who show us how to be good people. If you ask an adult about a role model, answers usually include parents, family members, teachers, neighbors, or clergy. Our role models aren’t famous, but they are often good, kind, devout people.

As Catholics we have a plethora of role models to whom we can look. While we can certainly strive for greatness in skill, we can also strive for greatness of spirit and love. We need only to look to our saints to find such role models. If a child wants to be a singer, we can direct her to St. Cecelia, patron saint of music, or to Saints Felicity and Perpetua who went to their martyrdom singing praises to God. These saints not only used their voices and talents for good, but they used their hearts for love and holiness.

If a child wants to be an athlete, direct him to St. Sebastian, patron saint of athletes. If a child wants to be a magician, direct her to St. John Bosco who brought children to the Lord through his magic tricks. We have no shortage of role models in our church. All of them had special qualities, perhaps even star qualities in different areas. What they have that our celebrities often don’t are eyes focused on Jesus. They aspire to heaven and holiness while using their gifts.

The next time a celebrity falls from grace, pray for their healing and grace.  At the same time, we need to turn our search for role models back to the Church and her many holy saints.