An Open Letter to the University of Notre Dame

Dear Father Jenkins, Provost Burish, and all members of the Decennial Core Curriculum Review Committee,

I write to you today in some degree of shock, having heard from reliable sources that the core theology requirement at Notre Dame is under threat. It seems, in fact, that the decision to abolish the theology requirement is all but made, leaving the majority of Notre Dame students without any semblance of theological formation, despite the dubious assertion that courses in “Catholic Studies” will fill the same need. One begins to think that the purpose of the University is not to make saints (which is, of course, the only reason for Catholic education) or scholars (which is the purpose of all education) but to make…what? Even now I can’t be so cynical as to assert that the University is concerned only with making money. Making the top 10 in the US News and World Report, perhaps. Making “leaders” with no roots in anything but their own impressive resumes. Making a “difference,” although to what end seems unclear. And so I write to you with great concern.

I write to you as an evangelist, as one who knows that it is Christ and Christ alone who can make sense of the human experience. I know the desperate need Notre Dame students have for Christ and I know how many of them don’t truly know him. You have only two semesters to introduce them to the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and this strikes you as excessive? Can it possibly be true that the leaders of Our Lady’s University are declaring that her sons and daughters have no need of her Son? “Let us study, let us serve, let us win on the field, on the court, on the ice, but let us not preach the Gospel. Not when there are secular schools to compete with and tests scores to boost. After all, what does it matter?” It matters more than anything else any person can ever learn. And you want to make it optional. You want to satisfy the requirement with a class on the Canterbury Tales or on the American Catholic experience while thousands of students leave the nation’s “greatest” Catholic university not knowing Jesus. For shame.

I write to you as a theology teacher, one whose high school apologetics class was widely considered one of the most academically rigorous offered in the school. Tell me what exactly your students have to lose by studying Aquinas and Augustine. Tell me what could be better for their intellectual formation than wrestling with the most difficult questions ever asked. How are they better prepared for law school or the business world because they avoided metaphysics in favor of some Flannery O’Connor or Hopkins?

I write to you as a Catholic. Notre Dame is the unquestioned leader in Catholic higher education (though it’s harder and harder to see why). Please consider the ramifications of dropping the theology requirement not only on your students but on all students at Catholic colleges. If Notre Dame eliminates the core theology requirement, schools that look to Notre Dame as the standard of American Catholicism will follow suit. Perhaps your “Catholic studies” courses will form hearts and minds in the Catholic tradition–though I think it unlikely. There is no guarantee that such will be the case for courses taught at the schools that will follow your lead. If you can’t remain Catholic for the sake of your students, do it for all of American Catholicism.

I write to you as an educated person. Education is not vocational training. It is not pre-professional studies. Education is the formation of the person. It’s the reason I had to take science classes and history classes and language classes–because I was in college to be educated, not to be trained. How exactly can we educate students when we remove the discipline that was at the heart of the university system at its inception, the queen of the sciences? How can we claim that our students are well-educated when their knowledge is an inch wide and a mile deep? Will you next remove the English requirement or the social studies? After all, they use English in their other classes. And really, people pick up on basic history from movies and such. And then would you call them educated? You would not. Tell me, then, why you can remove a study of the questions most often asked throughout the history of humanity and feel that you have done your job.

I write to you as a human being. I know what it is to wrestle with existence and purpose and evil. I know the questions that haunt the human heart. We can explore them using reason and the wisdom of those who have gone before. We can ignore them, pouring booze and pleasure and any other palliative we can find into the gaping hole in our hearts. Or we can answer them with Pinterest and ESPN and Nicholas Sparks novels. Can you really live with yourselves knowing that you have left a generation to find itself via Buzzfeed and Beyonce lyrics while Athanasius and Anselm, Buber and von Balthasar gather dust in the stacks? Perhaps Notre Dame students are above such drivel. And perhaps not.

I write to you as an alumna of the University. For years, I’ve endured raised eyebrows and snide remarks when I mentioned my alma mater. And I defended you. When President Obama was given an honorary degree, I defended you. When you caved before the Department of Health and Human Services, I defended you. “Notre Dame is the only school trying to be a top 20 university and authentically Catholic,” I repeated. I will not defend you now. If the University of Notre Dame thinks she can be a Catholic University without forming students in Catholic theology, she is lying to herself and to all who trust in her. She is betraying the Church that made her great.

I must apologize if my remarks are merely a response to rumors and the hysteria that has followed them. I trust that you are men and women of integrity, men and women who understand what it is to be a Catholic university, to be a university at all. I beg you to honor those who have gone before by giving their children an education worthy of the name.

Yours in Notre Dame,

Meg Hunter-Kilmer, B.A. ’04, M.T.S. ’06

Notre Dame Hesburgh

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Living Lent in Community

If you’ve been around Christian circles for very long, you’ve probably heard some variation of the line, “There’s no such thing as a solitary Christian.” And while St. Simeon the Stylite and other holy hermits might disagree, the maxim stands for most of us. We need others to encourage us, to challenge us, and to correct us, loving us all the while. Those of you who are raising families and living in intentional communities know this–it’s the people around you who help you grow in holiness.

This Lent, why don’t you use that community to help you live Lent more fully? Instead of walking through Lent alone, talk with your family or your community about what you’ll be doing. Ask them if there’s a particular habit of yours that they think you might have an addiction to, a particular way of serving that might push you in just the right ways. Often you’ll find your kids know you better than you know yourself, as they point out your addiction to Netflix or your obsession with your phone. And only your wife would suggest that you offer to do all the midnight sheet changes for your mostly-potty-trained 3-year-old.

It might seem counter-intuitive to discuss your penitential practices–just showing off, some might say–but it also means if you fail there’s someone to call you out on it. And it might just challenge you to do something truly meaningful.

Case in point: the family of St. Basil. The Holy Family of St. Basil: (left to right, first row) St. Peter of Sebaste, St. Basil the Great, St. Basil, St. Gregory, (second row) St. Theosevia, St. Naukratios, St. Emmelia, (top) St. Macrina. (via)

Case in point: the family of St. Basil: (left to right, first row) St. Peter of Sebaste, St. Basil the Great, St. Basil, St. Gregory, (second row) St. Theosevia, St. Naukratios, St. Emmelia, (top) St. Macrina. (via) Be like this family!

Then there’s the fact that your community exists to make saints out of the lot of you. What better way to do that than to work together to grow in holiness? What if you picked something to do together–a family fast or a weekly community prayer time? Maybe Lent could be more than a diet, instead becoming a season where you all grow closer to one another and to the Lord?

So here’s my suggestion: print out this worksheet and go over it together. Give them out to your Sunday School class, your youth group, your high school students, your RCIA candidates, your catechists–anybody you know with a family. Or give it to the other teachers in your department, the people in your Bible study, the volunteers serving alongside you–anything that constitutes a community. Then brainstorm together. Talk through the list, add your own ideas, tweak the ones you find. Discuss what might be best for each individual and for the group as a whole. Take some time to pray–ten minutes or a few days–then come back with a commitment. Write out who’s doing what. Maybe even pray together over it and then sign it. And post it somewhere obvious with the understanding that you’re consenting not only to correct others (gently) when you see them fall short but also to be corrected.

Obviously, people can do more than what they write on this worksheet. And nobody has to do anything. Maybe some people won’t feel comfortable signing on to the group penance. Take what you can get. But I think that when you decide to work toward holiness together you’ll find that your experience of Lent will be much more powerful.

You may also be interested in my Lenten Boot Camp, which will help you work from 20 minutes of prayer a day to an hour of prayer a day over the course of Lent, and this fantastic family Lenten practices calendar, which has a different thing for your family to do each day of Lent.

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Catholic Fun Facts

Alternate clickbait title: 16 Crazy Things about the Catholic Church That Will Leave You Stunned!

  1. All Catholics are expected to perform some act of penance every Friday and the US Bishops recommend abstaining from meat. Turns out that didn’t go out with Vatican II.
  2. These guys say it tastes good....

    These guys say it tastes good….

    Beaver doesn’t count as meat. Not because we don’t know they’re mammals. Theories differ as to why, but the consensus seems to be that beaver tail is plenty penitential enough. So eat up!

  3. You don’t have to fast (or abstain) on Solemnities. Even in Lent, if the Solemnity of St. Joseph falls on a Friday, grab a plate of bacon and chow down. Feast days don’t have the same weight, though, so stick with the fish sticks on the Feast of the Chair of Peter. Makes you want to pay a little more attention to the liturgical year, doesn’t it?
  4. You can only get indulgences for yourself or for people who are dead. No fair racking them up for anyone else, not even your favorite neighborhood hobo.
  5. You genuflect on your right knee in church, not your left. The left knee is for people, the right knee for God. So ladies, if your good Catholic boyfriend goes down on his right knee when he proposes, accuse him of idolatry and storm off. Or something like that.
  6. 4Hipster St Catherine of the 35 Doctors of the Church are women. If you’re not impressed, think about this: zero of the United States’ 43 presidents have been women. And once you consider that the most recent Doctor of the Church was a 19th-century nun—you know, back when most colleges wouldn’t even admit women—it becomes harder to play that “the Catholic Church hates women” card.
  7. All the liturgical vestments have a meaning. That’s why the chasuble, which symbolizes love, goes over the stole, which symbolizes authority. “Over all these, put on love.”1
  8. All the Church requires of you is .65% of your life. Do the math: if you go to Mass every time you have to, that comes out to about 57 hours a year in the US. So all you give God is .65%? You can do better than that.
  9. The palms from Palm Sunday are burned to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday. I’m sure there’s some great symbolism in there but all I’m seeing is a connection between the two days you get free stuff for going to church. Cha-ching!
  10. Nshroudo modern scientist has been able to explain how the image on the Shroud of Turin was made. Say what you like about the dubious carbon dating. How are you going to tell me that’s a 14th-century forgery when you can’t replicate it with all your 21st-century technology?
  11. Luther didn’t reject the Deuterocanon until an opponent of his proved that purgatory is Biblical using a Deuterocanonical book. After that, he started throwing books out left, right, and center. He tried to toss Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation, too, but his followers weren’t having it.
  12. The Big Bang Theory was devised by a Catholic priest. Everybody laughed at him—“You silly Catholics, thinking the universe has a beginning!” Turns out he was a physicist as well as a Christian. Looks like Pope Francis was (as usual) saying nothing revolutionary when he agreed that the Church has no problem with evolution.
  13. Catholic religious also invented the scientific method, genetics, and the university system. Because we hate science. And progress.
  14. Pope St. Silverius, from Butler's Pictorial Lives of the Saints

    Pope St. Silverius, from Butler’s Pictorial Lives of the Saints

    At least 3 popes have been heretics.2 Not one of them proclaimed heresy from the see of Peter. How’s that for infallibility?

  15. Sunday’s first reading is always picked to match the Gospel. The second reading (in Ordinary Time, anyway) takes us through different epistles, giving highlights from each, and isn’t necessarily connected to the other readings. Still pay attention to it, though.
  16. If you read 8 paragraphs of the Catechism every day, you’ll finish the whole thing before the year is out. Consider that a challenge.
  1. Colossians 3:14 []
  2. Liberius, St. Silverius, and Honorius I []
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A Comprehensive List of Crimes that Merit Death

From what I’ve seen in the news–and the comboxes–in recent months, there seems to be some confusion. Obviously you’re never supposed to kill an innocent, but when can you kill someone who committed a crime? Turns out, there’s a definitive list of sins that are so bad they warrant a death sentence. Ready?

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In case the graphic didn’t come through, let me list them out for you:

 

 

That’s right. Nothing.

Not drawing a blasphemous cartoon or fighting racism. Not being a terrorist. Not torturing terrorists. Not even torturing innocent people who “look like terrorists.” Not selling loose cigarettes or playing with a toy gun. Not being unwanted or unborn or incurable or “illegal.” Not being a burden or a lesbian or a Muslim or a bully or a jerk. Not poverty. Not rape. Not murder. Nothing.1

I kind of thought this went without saying, but apparently I was wrong: you don’t get to decide who deserves to live and who doesn’t. Everybody deserves to live. So can we quit for a minute with the conservative/liberal/patriotic/radical nonsense that tell us the lie that some lives are worth more than others? Pro-life means all life. Liberal means freedom for everybody. Nobody is “subhuman” or “worthless” or “unnatural.” However inconvenient or appalling he might be, every person was made worthy of love by a God who died to save him. Nothing he does can ever negate that.

There is a lot of evil in this world. Fight it with love.

  1. Because you’ve always got to nuance everything on the internet, I’ll point out that I’m not talking about just war or legitimate defense. Even then, nobody deserves death. Killing is a last resort in an attempt to prevent atrocities. []
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14 from 2014

2014 was a busy year. I weathered the polar vortex in Hawaii

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It actually made for some super crazy winds.

and then immediately after in Kansas, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

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I saw two friends ordained

first blessing

and 5 couples married.

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I visited 11 foreign countries (that sign in the background says France)

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along with some of the most beautiful places in this one.

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I spent a lot of time with my sweet nieces and nephews

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but far more time driving.

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I walked where my heroes walked,

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The lamp post at Oxford that’s said to have inspired the Chronicles.

where they were born,

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and where they died.

I marveled at the beauty of God’s creation

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and at what men have made to glorify God.

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I am blessed beyond imagining.

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I Wore a Hoodie Today

I wore a hoodie today.

I was pretty excited about it. It had been in my trunk, so it was actually my first hoodie day of the season. “I love hoodies!” I thought. “I love them so much it almost makes hoodie weather worth it!”

This is what I think about hoodies. Because wearing a hoodie has never made me a target.

I got pulled over for speeding a few months ago. When the officer approached the car, I was annoyed at myself for not hitting the brakes when the speed limit changed. I wasn’t scared. Because police officers won’t hurt me. They won’t harass me or assault me or strangle me while I beg for breath.

I don’t get followed in upscale stores. I don’t have cops called when I walk with my hands in my pockets.

I read the #iftheygunnedmedown hashtag on Twitter and think wryly that they’d probably use something sweet and wholesome like this:

2014-06-07 14.45.44And then I remember. They won’t gun me down.

Since Mike Brown and Tamir Rice and Eric Garner and a dozen other dead black1 men whose names I haven’t bothered to learn because it’s not news, my Facebook feed has been split. Some people are sharing posts left, right, and center about racism and violence and solidarity and protest.2 A few are sharing articles with titles so ignorant I know clicking them is just going to enrage me. And most of us are still talking about turkey and sales and weather and everyday life like thousands of our brothers and sisters aren’t angry and desperate and running for their lives.

I’m in that third group. People are being killed and I can’t even manage to be a slacktivist. Because I don’t know what to say. I’ve wrestled with this in adoration every day for the past week and a half. I don’t know how to say I’m so sorry and I wish I could suffer this for you. I’m so sorry for the ways I’ve done this to you and I didn’t even know it. I’m so sorry I’m afraid to pick a side without feeling like I know everything I need to know to defend it.

I’m on the side of lives. Black, brown, white, old, gay, disabled–all lives. But right now I am particularly and vocally on the side of black lives. Because that’s where the attack is. I know white people are killed by cops,3 too–but young black men are 21 times more likely to be. THAT IS NOT OKAY! And your misdirect about looting or your blatantly racist claim that black people are criminals doesn’t fix it.

NOT the same thing!

NOT the same thing!

I don’t know what fixes it. I like to rant about injustice and suffering and then tie everything up with a sweet Jesus bow because he makes everything all right. And he does. But today, I just need to say this, to my largely white audience: this should upset you. Your black brothers and sisters are being judged and jailed and killed while their white counterparts get a slap on the wrist.4

I Can't BreatheDon’t deny it. Don’t defend it. Just listen. Read the articles that make you uncomfortable. Stop reading The Conservative Tribune. Move past the specifics of the one homicide you know about and look at the underlying problem. Because whatever you think happened with Michael Brown, you can’t deny that something’s wrong with our country. And burying yourself in Duggar pregnancy announcements and Dancing with the Stars won’t make it go away. Pray. Pray for the victims, the families, the killers, the innocent officers, the bigots, the oppressed, the lawmakers, the nation. Pray for yourself–for mercy and for justice and for eyes to see.

I hate that I can’t do anything about this. But at least that feeling of desperate futility gives me something I can share with people of color in this country. I guess I’ll be grateful for that. And wrap myself in my hoodie while I pray and love and listen and try to be better.

Written by Senator Cory Booker--22 years ago. Progress?

Written by Senator Cory Booker–22 years ago. Progress?

 

  1. I’m leaving both black and white uncapitalized. This is basically why. []
  2. Thank you! []
  3. And I know that most cops are good. And I understand they’re just trying to stay alive. But there’s a lot of cops killing unarmed black people without so much as a slap on the wrist. The problem isn’t cops–the problem’s the culture they (and we) come out of. []
  4. Really. Check out #crimingwhilewhite. []
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Advent Boot Camp 2014

I put out an Advent Boot Camp last year and the response was great, so I thought I’d do it again. Just a little tweaking since Christmas isn’t always the same day of the week. Read the intro here or just dive right in and prepare for the Spirit to pump you up.1

This “Advent Boot Camp” is a guideline, not a foolproof plan. Feel free to substitute anything. What’s essential is that you’re spending time in silent prayer–not just prayer but silent prayer–and that you’re easing into it.

Each day’s prayer starts with a 5 minute warmup. It’s hard just to snap from all the noise of the world into prayer, so take some time to slow down, talk to the Lord about what’s weighing on you, and get quiet. Then see what God has to say to you through his Word, his Saints, and the prayers of his Church. Finally, spend some good time in silence, either processing what you’ve read, talking to God, or trying to be still in his presence. If your prayer life has consisted solely of grace before meals and Mass on Sunday, this might be tough. But it will get easier. And what better time to seek silence than in the mad bustle leading up to Christmas?

Advent boot campWeek 1: Begin each day with 5 minutes of prayer, make one chapel visit

  • Day 1: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 40; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 2: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 9:1-6; one decade of the rosary, 5 minutes silence
  • Day 3: 5 minute warmup; the Office of Readings2; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 4: 5 minute warmup; Catechism 522-526; one decade of the rosary; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 5: 5 minute warmup; Luke 1:26-38; 10 minutes silence
  • Day 6: 5 minute warmup; Chaplet of Divine Mercy; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 7: 15 minutes of prayer: your choice

Week 2: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, attend one extra Mass

Week 3: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, attend two extra Masses

  • Day 15: 5 minute warmup; John 1:1-18; reading from St. Gregory Nazianzen; 10 minutes silence
  • Day 16: 25 minutes of prayer: your choice
  • Day 17: 5 minute warmup; “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 18: 5 minute warmup; the Office of Readings; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 19: 5 minute warmup; full rosary (joyful mysteries); 5 minutes silence
  • Day 20: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 61-62; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 21: 5 minute warmup; make a good examination of conscience, asking God to cast light into all the areas of sin in your life and to make you truly repentant and grateful for his love and mercy; go to confession; 15 minutes silence

Week 4: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, make two chapel visits

I’ve compiled the non-Biblical readings here if you want to print them in advance: Advent Boot Camp readings

This is going to max you out at 30-35 minutes of prayer at one time. If you feel like you can do more than that, go for it. But if you’re a beginner when it comes to non-liturgical prayer, this might be a good way to get started. Whether you’re interested in this approach or not, do spend some time praying about how you’re going to try to grow closer to the Lord this Advent. But don’t stress about it–it’s supposed to be a time of preparation and peace, not frantic anxiety, despite what the mall might do to you this time of year. You might consider starting to read the Bible through in a year using this schedule. Or read Caryll Houselander’s The Reed of God. Just be sure you do something more than bake and shop to prepare for Christmas this year. The Christ Child is coming, after all. Offer him your heart.

  1. Ten points if you read that in your Hans and Franz voice. []
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The Best Catholic Kids’ Present Ever

I am so excited.

I am a godmother to 5, all under 8. That means that at this point, my job mainly consists of praying and buying presents. I buy them a lot of books–my friend’s little girl once told her, “Godmothers are good at picking books,” since that’s about all I manage to do–but I don’t think books are enough. Don’t get me wrong, I adore books! But if you’re raising saints, you need to baptize their imagination, which means encouraging holy play as well as holy reading. I try for Saint dress-up clothes, but those are expensive. The Catholic toys tend to be equally expensive or rather disappointing. So we’re stuck with books.

Until now!

My friend Lindsey (who does my awesome headshots) is a brilliant artist and a Catholic mom of 5. She had the same trouble I had with finding Catholic toys, but she actually has the ability to do something about it. And she has! Introducing Blessing Blocks from AlmondRod Toys. (Follow them on Facebook!)

Blessing Block NativityI’ve shown you the Nativity before and I still think it’s the loveliest children’s nativity I’ve seen. It’s not just not breakable, it’s also beautiful. But children’s Nativities aren’t too hard to come by and maybe you already have one (or six). So as much as I adore the Nativity, it’s not my new favorite thing. My new favorite thing? Saint blocks!

Blessing Block SaintsThese little wooden blocks come with images of any of 60 different Saints. The images are beautifully painted with appropriate iconography. On the back, there’s the Saint’s name, feast day, and other info, including patronage, a short description, and a prayer or a quotation.

Blessing Block Saints A-BThe other day, I brought my nieces and nephews some Saint blocks. Saints John Paul, Cecilia, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Clare, and Peter for John Paul, Cecilia, Elizabeth, Mary Claire, and Peter. They were thrilled. Seriously, they shrieked and squealed and played with them all day. They built towers of Saints and put them on block towers. Cecilia (age 3 1/2) brought hers to Mass and snuggled it the entire time. John Paul (5) wore cargo pants just so he had a good pocket to keep his in. Elizabeth and Mary Claire (2) kept begging to hold everybody else’s blocks. Only Peter (11 days) was fairly uninterested.

Peter's tender age didn't keep his siblings from showing him the blocks. Nor did it keep him from tasting them.

Peter’s tender age didn’t keep his siblings from showing him the blocks. Nor did it keep him from tasting them.

I’ve seen what happens when kids pick up these blocks: they’re hooked. The Saints become their best friends. They shriek with glee when they run across one of “their” Saints in a book or in the liturgy. They want to know their stories and to imitate them. I’m not telling you about these blocks because I want to help my friend make money. I’m telling you because I really think this kind of thing helps to form young saints. It makes virtue something tangible and gives them a real experience of the vast family they’re a part of. It wraps the Church inside joyful memories so that when they’ve run away, they’ll still think of her fondly and maybe make it back. When they’re playing, they’re asking the Saints’ intercession even without knowing it. AlmondRod Toys’ motto is “Sprouting Saints through Play” and I think that’s exactly what these blocks do.

On Thanksgiving, Cecilia (still clinging to her block) wrote St. Cecilia on her thankful turkey. "The Saint AND the block!" To be fair, she also wrote hermit crabs, which she's never seen, and crab, which she's never eaten.

On Thanksgiving, Cecilia (still clinging to her block) wrote St. Cecilia on her thankful turkey. “The Saint AND the block!” To be fair, she also wrote hermit crabs, which she’s never seen, and crab, which she’s never eaten….

And here’s the best part–you can afford them! They’re not the $25 peg dolls I find on Etsy–they’re 5 for $30.1 Even if that seems steep for blocks, consider that it’s far and away the best on the market for a Saint toy.2 If they don’t have the Saint you’re looking for, you can order one custom made or just wait a few weeks as Lindsey continues to add to the roster. She’s even thinking about putting the images on other things–8×10 prints, t-shirts, postcards–or just selling the electronic copies for you to use as you please. And if there’s any justice in this world, some publisher will recruit her to illustrate children’s Bibles and books about the Saints. We all know how many less-than-lovely Christian books out there, and it’s my life’s dream that Lindsey will have the opportunity to produce some really beautiful, meaningful ones to counterbalance them.3

So head on over to her shop and place an order quick–she makes all these blocks by hand and I’d bet money that she’ll sell out well before Christmas. Then get excited to watch your little ones fall in love with Christ through his Saints.

BONUS: For a limited time, you can get a free Saint block with any order! Just say a Hail Mary for the conversion of sinners and put the code KYRIE ELEISON into the notes section of the order form along with the name of the Saint you’re requesting from her list of options. Sweet deal–and you know you want to support the kind of woman who gives stuff away to people who pray for souls!

  1. Up from $25 since she’s getting so many orders she’s having to contract out the sanding. Still a deal! []
  2. Really, if you find anything else in this category, please send it my way! []
  3. But seriously, if you connect her with a publisher, I’ll be your best friend. I really, really want to buy her books but I can’t do that until someone prints them. []
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Hobo Abroad–Turkey, England, Belgium

Thanks to your prayers and support and encouragement, I just spent 6 weeks in Europe! If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you know all about this. But I thought you might like me to fill in some details so you can see some of the marvelous things God’s been doing in my life.

2014-10-08 02.01.19

In patriotic Taksim Square

I flew into Turkey (which was rather more dramatic than I was expecting), where I ate baklava and Turkish delight and went to Mass in Turkish. The extent of my sightseeing was out the bus window, but I made my flight the next morning without any unnecessary drama, so I’ll call it a win.

My first real stop in Europe was Huddersfield, England. I was met at the Manchester airport by a godly priest whose insights over the next few days were very challenging and encouraging. I spent my visit speaking in schools and a church and got a crash course in the difficulties of the English Church, where they seem to be struggling between relativism from without and apathy from within. There are almost no laypeople working for the Church, where weekly giving in the wealthiest parish in the diocese averages less than $2 per person. This obviously puts a lot of pressure on a dwindling number of priests and results in aging congregations when there’s no youth program. But I met a solid group of young adults who have great hope for the Catholic Church in the UK and further experiences in England bore out that opinion. God is working, my friends, and while I get the feeling that the Church in the States is a few decades ahead of the English Church in terms of renewal and passion and orthodoxy, God willing they’re headed the right direction.

With the lamppost that allegedly inspired The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; the church where Newman gave his last sermon as an Anglican; a sign in the pub where Lewis and Tolkien used to meet with their fellow Inklings; the ceiling of the theology college, where Campion used to debate his colleagues.

With the lamppost that allegedly inspired The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; the church where Newman gave his last sermon as an Anglican; a sign in the pub where Lewis and Tolkien used to meet with their fellow Inklings; the ceiling of the theology college where Campion used to debate his colleagues.

After a visit to York to see St. Margaret Clitherow‘s hand, I was off to Oxford for a rough afternoon. I spent the evening with a group of Oxford students, talking about life and prayer and discernment and my new favorite book I haven’t read. The next day, Brother Oliver, OP, gave me a “short” three-hour tour of campus, where I made a pilgrimage to the holy sites of St. Edmund Campion, Bl. John Henry Newman, Tolkien, and Lewis. I’m pretty sure I kept shrieking over the excitement of hanging out where all my favorite people hung out. Br. Oliver was very patient. There followed afternoon tea with a group of young ladies and a bus to Paddington Station, where I kept my eyes peeled for a bear from Darkest Peru.

While in London, I was speaking at a school in Ilford, East London, working with a young woman who has such a heart for Jesus and such zeal for souls. The British school system is structured in such a way that Catholic schools often have a high percentage of Muslim students. On my second day in the school, I found myself speaking to the sixth form, the oldest students in secondary school who have been liberated from their uniforms. I ended up preaching the Gospel to a group that was 1/3 hijabis. What a grace, to stand before women who’ve been told that God does not and cannot love them and to tell them,1 “You are loved beyond imagining by a God who died to know you!” Some of them looked angry, but many more had tears in their eyes. Pray for them, that they would come to know the love of Christ and have the courage to follow him.

Westminster Cathedral (not Abbey), Buckingham Palace, Tyburn.

Westminster Cathedral (not Abbey), Buckingham Palace, Tyburn.

I had one day of sightseeing in London, after a lovely evening with a dear friend from college. I saw all of London in a rushed few hours so that I could spend two hours at Tyburn. Tyburn was where many of the English martyrs were killed during the Reformation, hanged, drawn, and quartered–including Edmund Campion, one of my dearest friends. I was blessed to be given a private tour of the relics from a story-telling Aussie nun, a real once-in-a-lifetime experience for someone who loves the English martyrs as I do. Then Mass at Westminster Cathedral to top off a lovely day.

After London, I was off to the south of England, to Southampton and Portsmouth where I spoke in 2 parishes and one school. I met a 12-year-old boy who was moved to tears when telling me the story of St. Tarcisius and a new bishop who spent half an hour talking eagerly with me about evangelization. I gave a talk before adoration and Father had to stay an extra 45 minutes to finish hearing confessions. See what I mean about hope?

On a bridge in Ghent; Trappist-made beer; an atypical sunrise; a bridge over the river; my dear friend St. Damien, originally form Belgium; a typical Belgian building.

(clockwise) On a bridge in Ghent; Trappist-made beer; an atypical sunrise; a bridge over the river; my dear friend St. Damien, originally from Belgium; a typical Belgian building.

Then an early morning cab to the airport, a short flight to Brussels, and a train to Mons, and there I was in Belgium! I had plenty of bread, chocolate, waffles, and beer, and the opportunity to minister to people from 8 or 10 different countries at NATO headquarters. We talked about prayer and evangelization and Mary and the Eucharist and the Resurrection and I was so encouraged to see how well the people in this community love Christ. On my day off, we went to Ghent to see the famous much-stolen altarpiece, go to Mass in Dutch, and enjoy the marvelous architecture along the river. The next day, I searched in vain for a Mass (hard to come by in Belgium, where the churches are open but empty all day long), explored a few marvelous churches in Mons, and then caught three trains and a bus to get to Germany. Up next: Germany, France, Austria, and Italy. Get excited!

  1. This is no attack on Islam–just an explanation that “God is love” is a uniquely Christian concept and that most Muslims would be outraged by the claim that God loves them. Allah tolerates you, perhaps even approves of you, but to claim that he loves you is a denigration of his dignity. []
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I Don’t Like the Rosary–6 Reasons I Pray It Anyway

A few months ago I went to confession at a conference where I was speaking and made the mistake of wearing my nametag into the confessional. Now, I’m not terribly concerned that Father would connect my name with my sins–it’s not like there’s anything he could do about it if he did. But my nametag identified me as a speaker at the conference, which evidently gave him the idea that I was serious about holiness because he gave me a rosary for my penance.

You read that right. A whole rosary.

I wanted to be like, “Sorry, did you mean three Hail Marys?” Because you know it’s always three Hail Marys.1 But I figured I’d show off instead.

“Do you mean in addition to the one I’m already praying today?” See, Father? I’m so holy. I shouldn’t have to do a hard penance.

“Yes.” Well, shoot. “Do you pray a rosary every day?”

“Yes, Father.” Now you get it. I’m really awesome.

But instead of congratulating me, he started talking about how I should really pray three rosaries a day. THREE! Ain’t nobody got time for that! As he talked, I sat there stewing. I can’t pray more rosaries. I barely have time for what I’m doing already. I’d have to cut out mental prayer or spiritual reading and I know that’s a terrible idea. Really, I’m too pious for any more rosaries.

Moral of the story: I’m arrogant.

But there’s a confession in there, too: I don’t like praying the rosary.2

If you’re a Catholic of my variety, you’re not really supposed to say this. We love Mass and we love Mary and we absolutely love the rosary. But I don’t.

Sometimes I tell people this and they beg me to try again. Believe me, it’s not for lack of trying. I’ve prayed the rosary daily since I was 16–three times a day in college.3 That’s something like 5000 rosaries. I’ve prayed the rosary with music, with extemporaneous meditations, with Bible passages. I’ve prayed in several languages, alone and with thousands of people. I’ve prayed in fits and starts throughout the day and start to finish in one shot, while walking and driving and kneeling and sitting. I’ve read books about the rosary, taught others to pray the rosary, given talks on the merits of the rosary. I just don’t like praying it.

Here’s the thing: I don’t like sushi, I don’t like The Phantom of the Opera, and (if we’re being quite honest) I’ve never much cared for Hopkins. I know that sushi is wonderful, that Phantom is beautiful, and that Hopkins will take your breath away. I know these things are good. I just don’t like them. Perhaps if I try and try and try again I’ll find that I do. And perhaps not. But my opinion isn’t a judgment against them, just a personal preference. It’s the same with the rosary–I know it’s good, I just don’t enjoy it.

I haven't read the whole thing, but what I read was awesome.

I haven’t read the whole thing, but what I read was awesome.

I know that I’m bad at praying the rosary. I know that if I were really meditating on the mysteries I’d begin to see the value of the prayer. I also know that not all prayers work for all temperaments. One of the many gifts of the Catholic Church is that there are as many ways to be a Catholic as there are to be a person. You don’t have to love adoration or weekly confession or Taize or lectio divina or 40 Days for Life or immigration reform or Latin or Matt Maher. There are so many ways to pray, so many spiritualities, so many acts of piety to choose from. Not everybody’s going to love the rosary. I even read a book recently4 that said people with my temperament will almost always struggle with the rosary. I felt absolutely vindicated.

You’d think I’d give up. But I’m not going to. Largely, it’s because I felt absolutely convicted that God was calling me to pray the rosary and I haven’t yet felt released from that call. But I don’t think mine is an unusual situation. I think a lot of us don’t enjoy the rosary. And I think most of us should be praying it anyway. Every day. Here’s why:

6 reasons rosary

Rosary Sheen1. It’s objectively a good way to pray. The rosary is a scriptural prayer. It’s shot through with the words of Scripture and built around the mysteries of Scripture. It was given to us by Our Lady,5 who keeps returning to encourage us to pray this miracle-working prayer. When you recite a prayer written by a modern author, sing a hymn, or read a book about God, it might not be fantastic. The rosary always is.

2. You need your mother. Ever call your mom when you didn’t have anything to talk about? And maybe she didn’t either. But you talked for a little while anyway, because talking to your mom is important. Whether you enjoy the rosary or not, it keeps you connected to the mother of Jesus and your mother. And when you’re connected to Mary, she keeps drawing you closer and closer to Jesus. Praying the rosary daily keeps you in check.

Rosary de Sales3. You’re in good company. The rosary has been prayed by countless Saints–I’d hazard a guess at nearly every Saint since it was introduced to the world. It’s a great equalizer, prayed by popes and peasants, geniuses and fools. Any given day, there are millions of people throughout the world praying the rosary. If it’s made saints of sinners for nearly a thousand years, who are you to refuse?

4. It consecrates a busy day. I’ve found that I struggle most when I try to sit down and pray a rosary all the way through. It just makes my mind wander more. Instead, I pray a decade as I drive to the store, half a decade while I’m waiting for the microwave. It seemed like cheating at first, until I realized: every time I have a free second, my automatic inclination is to pray. I’m squeezing the rosary in wherever I can which means my default action is prayer. Back in college (when I prayed three rosaries and still had time for naps) I used to pray the rosary to help myself fall asleep in the middle of the day. I did this so often that when I woke in the night, I found that I was praying Hail Marys. Maybe it’s better to set time aside for a full rosary, but when you’re fitting it in as best you can, it transforms your whole life.

Rosary Josemaria5. Sometimes mindless prayer is the best you can do. The rosary shouldn’t be mindless. It should be wrapped up in the mysteries of Christ’s life. But there are times when you can’t meditate. When God seems far, reading the Bible can be nothing but frustrating. Praise music rings hollow. There’s no time for the Liturgy of the Hours and you wouldn’t be able to mean it even if you tried. But the rosary you can do. Even when doubts are creeping in and you feel abandoned, you can cling to Mary’s apron string and murmur those words. Even when you’re so distracted by contractions or mile 24 of your marathon that you can’t think, you can repeat the prayers you’ve said so many times. Maybe you can’t call the images of the mysteries to mind, but you can keep saying the words–day in and day out–until they mean something again. If you’ve committed to a daily rosary, perhaps only stubbornness will keep you praying. But God can work in stubbornness to draw you back to him. Promise God a daily rosary in time of consolation and it will sustain you through desolation until you’re feeling his love again.

Devotion by Luke Fildes

Devotion by Luke Fildes

6. It’s something to cling to in a crisis. When all is well, the rosary is something I do out of duty. When my life comes crashing down around me, though, I run for my Momma. After a dreaded phone call, after a breakup, while racing to a survivor’s side, my hand reaches automatically for my rosary. Even while I’m struggling to see God working in my pain, I’m being drawn back to him by my Mother. When I’m lost, I’m already found because I go home to Mary before I even know what I’m about. Because the rosary is the rhythm of my life, it’s what I fall back on even when I’m not feeling it. Not song lyrics, not video games, not even phone calls to friends. It’s not even a decision because the commitment I’ve made makes it automatic. And that automatic turning to the rosary has gotten me through more than I ever would have imagined when I first picked one up 15 years ago.

 

I don’t know that I’ll ever like the rosary. Maybe one day I’ll be holy enough that I won’t spend the whole time distracted. Or maybe even at my holiest it still won’t fit my personality. No matter. I’ll pray it either way, not because of what it does for me but because of what it does to me, even when I don’t notice it.

Will you join me?

  1. Note to priests: it wouldn’t hurt if you switched it up some. []
  2. Pause for the reader to freak out, except that I already put it in the title, so maybe it’s no surprise. []
  3. Take that, rosary-loving priest! I mean…uh…bless me, Father, for I have sinned…. []
  4. Well, skimmed a book and then lent it to someone who forgot to give it back to me. Story of my life. []
  5. Or at least by Saint Dominic, if you want to call the story of the rosary a legend. []
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