What I Wish We Understood When It’s Not Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is hard for a lot of people. For birth mothers, for mothers who’ve lost children, for children who’ve lost mothers, for those who long to be mothers, for people who love any of the above. And you know what? The world seems to have figured this out.

Maybe I just have particularly kind and sensitive friends, but my news feed yesterday was filled with words of encouragement for those who struggle with Mother’s Day, with affirmations of spiritual motherhood, with acknowledgments of women who aren’t mothers in the traditional sense. It was beautiful. Women seeing other people’s pain through their joy and other people’s joy through their pain. And while Mother’s Day can be tough for an unmarried woman in her 30s, my heart was full with all the kindness I saw.

But today isn’t Mother’s Day. Or tomorrow. Or the next 362 days. For the next year, we go back to our own lives, where sometimes it’s hard to see any cross that isn’t similar to our own. So we complain about our overly-attentive mothers to people with absent and abusive mothers. Or we gush about the beauty of breastfeeding without noticing the tears in the eyes of a woman struggling to conceive.

I’m not saying don’t be real, don’t share your joy or your suffering. I’m saying remember that your way of being a woman is not the only way, your cross is not the only cross.

Let me come to you from a place of being single and childless. I am very blessed in that I understand kids and I’ve been a foster mother and I live in people’s homes surrounded by their children all the time, so in many circles I get a pass. I’m allowed to participate in the mom conversations that most childless women are excluded from. I manage, as a friend recently said, to “walk in every world,” so people talk to me about mastitis and let me discipline their kids and listen to my marriage advice. To the many, many married women who love me and let me share in your lives, thank you. I can’t imagine the mess I’d be if you didn’t look so thoroughly past the label and let me walk this with you.


I’ve been told they’d never ask me to speak at a mom’s conference because I’m not a mom. Never mind that I’m a Christian and a woman and a spiritual mother and deeply involved in the lives of countless mothers and free of charge, I don’t count.

I’ve been told all people are selfish until they have children.

I’ve been told you can’t know love until you’ve had a child of your own.

I’ve given talks to women’s groups–more times than I can count–where there was not a single unmarried woman in the audience. Not one.

I’ve been told I can’t come to a particular women’s group–even once–because I’m not married. I’ve been told I can come to another just this once, “even though you’re not a mom.”

I’ve gotten blog comments (on a party about neither marriage nor children) saying, “I’m so sick of this author. She’s not married and doesn’t have any kids, so who is she to be telling anyone how to live?” Lady, if you don’t want to get advice from unmarried and childless people, you should probably pick a new Church because 95% of the priests and 95% of the Saints in the Catholic church have been childless and unmarried.

When people have found out I’m single, they’ve rushed to reassure me that they were single once, too, when they were 22, and they were so unhappy until God finally gave them their perfect husband, so don’t worry–he’s out there!!!!!

I’ve listened to platitude after platitude telling me it’ll be okay and God’s got a plan and you’re praying that I’ll get my happily ever after and I’m sorry did I tell you that I’m wasting away desperately longing for a man to fill my empty life? Did you think you needed to tell the missionary that God’s got a plan?

I’ve been told, by people who are evidently sure that they’re letting me in on a secret, that I shouldn’t pin my hopes on marriage because “marriage is hard, too”–which is good to know, because I definitely don’t know anyone who’s married, so I thought it was a 50-year romantic comedy.

None of it’s terrible. I know people who’ve heard much worse. I’m sure I’ve heard much worse, honestly. But the sum total of it all is that when you are an unmarried Catholic woman in your thirties, you feel very much as though you don’t count.

When you’re a single mother, you feel the same. When you’re a married woman in college, when you’re infertile, when you have so many kids you can’t volunteer at preschool, when your husband isn’t Catholic, when you’re an early empty-nester, when your kid has special needs, when you’re a working mom, when your kids are in public school, when you’re widowed young, when you’re raising grandkids. I expect that every one of us feels, at one time or another, that we don’t count because we don’t match the model of Catholic womanhood that our friend group (or the internet) presents us with.1

We often don’t say anything because it sounds like bitterness, to find pain in another’s joy. So we build walls of resentment between ourselves and the very well-meaning women who love us. We feel guilty for our selfishness and berate ourselves for not being happy for them.

I’ve spent more than a decade looking with great gladness on the beautiful lives of my beautiful friends thinking in the words of L.M. Montgomery (about an unmarried Anne Shirley visiting Diana and her sweet baby): “it is sometimes a little lonely to be surrounded everywhere by a happiness that is not your own.” I rejoice in the good things in your life. I grieve over your deep suffering. I want to share in what I understand and in what I don’t. I don’t want to compete over who’s more tired or who’s bearing more fruit. I envy you, but I try not to. I sometimes gloat internally, but I try even harder not to do that.

All I’m saying is this: it’s hard. Being a mom is hard. Being childless is hard. Being in an abusive relationship is hard. Being trapped in a small town is hard. Being completely unrooted is hard. Having a job is hard. Being unemployed is hard. It’s just hard. All of it.

One day a year, many of us have learned to consider what might be hard for other people, how different lives involve different crosses and how we can respect that. I’m just wondering if we can be more mindful of the way people are different from us.

  • If your girlfriend has a pack of kids ask if you can bring ice cream after bedtime or get a sitter so the two of you can grab coffee.
  • If you’ve got a close friend struggling with infertility, ask her if she wants to come along for ultrasounds or would rather have you talk as little as possible about pregnancy stuff around her.
  • If your friend is divorced, consider that your moms’ group shouldn’t read a book about marriage.
  • If your friend is single, either find someone great2 to set her up with or shut your mouth about how “fun” it must be to be single or about how she should really try Catholic Match.
  • Ask advice of a friend who “shouldn’t” have any–parenting advice of the childless, dating advice of the long-married, career advice of the stay-at-home mom. She may not have much input, but actually she may. You don’t need to have experienced something firsthand to have wisdom on the matter and often being well on the outside of a situation can give you some perspective.
  • Cultivate friendships with women in different phases of life. It’s unnatural that nearly all of our friends are living just as we’re living–it was never that way in the village. The more varied your relationships (widows, young moms, moms of teens, consecrated women, young professionals) the harder it is to be insensitive to struggles that are not your own.
  • When your friend shares her deep pain with you, DO NOT respond with, “Yeah, well, at least you don’t [have the cross I have that you would love to have/have the cross I have that’s so much worse than yours and so your pain doesn’t count].” Do not use your cross as a bludgeon against those who carry a different one.
  • Don’t try to fix it.
  • Don’t feel you have to give advice or say anything other than, “Oh, friend. I’m so sorry. That’s really hard.”
  • Listen and love.

I don’t want to feed into a culture that delights in getting offended.3 But when we surround ourselves with people who are just like us, it becomes very easy to alienate and to begin to mold the Gospel in our own image. You don’t need to censor everything you ever do for the sake of some woman who might be hurt by your joy. Just consider that in your happiness, there may be someone lonely. Do what you can to build bridges, not walls.


(Before you comment, will you please just ask yourself if it’s a platitude? Nobody needs to hear, “God’s got a plan” or “You’re still young.” Thanks.)

  1. Forget the fact that female Saints run the gamut from scholar to harlot and working mom to homeschooler to single mom. We ignore the Saints and see only the alienation the Devil wants us to see. []
  2. Not just the only guy who’s left. []
  3. I’m generally rather hard to offend unless you’re actually attacking me personally. But I write on the einternet, so that’s a lot. []
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16 Scientist Saints

There are few things that can more quickly cause me to pull out my soapbox and climb up for a rant than the implication that science and faith are at odds. “I don’t believe in God, I believe in science,” they say, to which I respond, “You’re welcome.” For science, that is. It was invented by a Franciscan friar, after all. And you’re welcome for genetics (Augustinian monk). And the Big Bang Theory (Jesuit priest). And I rant and I rave about how sciencey the Church is. Because there is simply no such conflict.

Ven. Takashi Nagai speaks simply on the alleged conflict between science and faith: “If you read what the great scientists actually said, it is not so. Social and literary critics, that is, men who have held pens but never test tubes, are the ones who make that claim.” So in the interest of dispelling that silly rumor (and introducing you to some new Saint friends), I thought it would be good to collect some of our more scientifically-brilliant Saints. Not just Sunday-Mass Catholics who were scientists, Saints. Not just Saints who could do chemistry or build a bridge, pioneers who changed their fields forever. Turns out, there are rather a lot, but let’s start with these.

Saint Anatolius of Laodicea (d. 283) was the bishop of Laodicea and a leading scholar in all the natural sciences (including arithmetic, geometry, physics, rhetoric, dialectic, and astronomy) as well as being an Aristotelian philosopher.

I really can’t get over the idea of calculus with Roman numerals.

Saint Abbo of Fleury (945-1004) was an abbot, a mathematician, a liturgist, a historian, and an astronomer who worked on the theory of numbers before the introduction of Arabic numerals. He was stabbed to death for working to reform a monastery of not-so-holy monks.

Blessed Herman the Cripple (1013-1054) was born severely handicapped (cleft palate, cerebral palsy, and spina bifida or possible spinal muscular atrophy) and raised in a monastery. He wrote on geometry, arithmetic, history, astronomy, theology, and music theory. When he eventually went blind, he turned his attention to composing, most notably the Salve Regina.

St Albert the Great (d. 1280) is called the last man to know all there was to know. (He taught St. Thomas Aquinas, whose work was so impressive that nobody could know all of Thomas and all of the rest of the world’s scholarship.) In addition to being a holy bishop, he wrote on philosophy, theology, botany, geography, astronomy, zoology, music, and physiology, mostly with remarkable accuracy, especially given the time.

From a secular site. Because everybody in these fields knows this guy was a beast.

Blessed Nicolas Steno (Niels Stenson) (1638-1686) was a convert to Catholicism, a bishop, a pioneer in anatomy and geology, and the father of paleontology because he discovered what fossils were. His laws of stratigraphy are still in use. And he managed all this before dying at the age of 48.

Blessed Francesco FaĂ  di Bruno (1825-1888) was a nobleman, an army officer, and a cartographer before earning a doctorate in math and devising a theorem on derivatives of composite functions that is named after him. He published around 40 articles in respected mathematical journals over the course of his career. Oh, and he was also a social reformer who worked with St. John Bosco and then a priest and the founder of religious order. Plus he worked to help women escape from human trafficking.

Saint Giuseppe Moscati (1880-1927) was a dedicated single layman, a doctor who served the poor for free and risked his life to rescue elderly patients during a volcanic eruption. He was a pioneer in the field of biochemistry whose published research led (among many things) to the discovery of insulin as a treatment for diabetes. He was among the first to use CPR and his innovative patient-centered method influenced the field as a whole and encouraged a more holistic approach to medicine.

Nagai with his two children as he lay dying.

Venerable Takashi Nagai (1908-1951) was a married Japanese doctor and convert from Shintoism and atheistic nihilism. The father of 2 worked at the leading edge of radiology research, eventually contracting leukemia from his exposure to radiation. His condition was dramatically worsened by the atomic bomb that incinerated his wife when dropped on Nagasaki. The poetry he wrote over the next several years, about suffering and forgiveness, transformed the way the Japanese responded to the catastrophic end of World War II.

Servant of God Jerome Lejeune (1926-1994) was a married French pediatrician, geneticist, and father of 5 who discovered that Down Syndrome was caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21. His later work identified several other diseases caused by chromosomal abnormalities, all of which together earned him the William Allen Award, the world’s highest honor for genetics. In addition to his scientific research, Lejeune was a vocal pro-life advocate, concerned especially with defending children whose lives could be threatened by their prenatal genetic diagnoses.


I’d like to include here also a number of canonized (or soon-to-be-canonized) physicians, though they weren’t research scientists or pioneers in mathematical or scientific fields. By separating them from the others, I don’t mean to imply that medicine isn’t a serious science, only that people tend to be less surprised when someone in the “caring professions” is a Christian, even if that person is a scientist as well. We also have quite a lot of doctor Saints, so I thought I’d limit it to a handful.

St. Joseph Canh (d. 1838) was a Vietnamese doctor, and third order Dominican, who was beheaded by the Japanese for refusing to deny Christ.

St. Anthony Nam-Quynh (d. 1838) was a Vietnamese doctor and catechist who was strangled to death for his faith.

St.Mark Ji Tianxiang (d. 1900) was an opium addict. Not had been an opium addict—was an opium addict at the time of his death. He was a Chinese Christian doctor who treated the poor for free but became hooked on opiates after a stomach ailment. For 30 years he was barred from receiving the Sacraments and prayed that he would die a martyr. Finally, his prayer was answered when he was captured during the Boxer Rebellion. He went to his death singing the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Blessed Ladislao Batthyány-Strattmann (1870-1931) was a prince, a father of 13, and a surgeon specializing in ophthalmology who operated on the poor for the fee of one Our Father.

St. Richard Pampuri

St. Richard Pampuri (1897-1930) was an Italian doctor and a religious brother in the order of the Hospitallers of St John of God. He served as a medic in World War I before becoming a doctor and entering religious life.

Servant of God Vico Necchi (1876-1930) was a husband, father, third-order Franciscan, doctor, professor of biology, daily communicant, and founder of the University of the Sacred Heart. He was a leader in the Catholic Action movement and worked diligently to improve the lot of mentally handicapped children.

St. Gianna Molla (1922-1962) is, of course, famous for having refused to abort her child at the expense of her own life, but it wasn’t that sacrifice that made her a Saint, it was the life leading up to it that made it possible. Gianna was a pediatrician, a wife, and the (working) mother of 4.

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Lenten Vlog: In Case You Missed It

It occurred to me today that some of you, having given up Facebook for Lent, may have missed the announcement of my Lenten project (mostly because I decided to do it on Ash Wednesday). So for those who haven’t been following along on Facebook but get email notifications, here’s what I’ve been up to.

Every day, I’ve been recording some reflections on the day’s readings. Sometimes this is a lead-in to a particular topic, sometimes it’s line-by-line exegesis, sometimes I hit all the readings, sometimes it’s just one, sometimes it’s exhortation, sometimes apologetics. Always there are ridiculous faces and remarkable screen shots:

So if you want some more Scripture in your life this Lent or just 15 minutes a day of me babbling, click on over to my Youtube channel and join me!

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15 Images of St Joseph to Tug at Your Heartstrings

It’s taken me years, but I’m really learning to love St. Joseph. Part of it has probably been praying this novena, but a bigger part is art. I’m sorry, but I just can’t get that excited about an old guy with a lily.

But with all the traveling I’ve done, I’ve seen a lot of images of St. Joseph that have shown me that this is a tender, fierce, joyful, protector of a man, the man who taught curly-haired, gap-toothed Jesus how to hold a hammer and speak to ladies and go back to sleep after a nightmare. That’s a Saint worth loving. So here are some of my favorite images of Joseph, strong, sweet, and silly as he was.

Watching over Mary during the Visitation. It never occurred to me that he might have traveled with her, but of course he would have wanted to protect her!

Loving on his bride.

Not just teaching little Jesus but learning from him, too.

Standing behind Mary and Jesus with his staff, ready to take on any brigand, ruffian, or trained soldier who might threaten his beloveds.

Mary’s looking at Jesus and Jesus is looking at the Father but Joseph is looking at the audience as if to say, “You GUYS! Do you believe they let me hang out with them??”

Look at the way they love each other! Jesus is looking at Joseph like, “Dad you did a really good job making that horse! One time I made all the horses and it was really cool. But I really like your horse!”

In the cold of the stable or the uncertainty of the flight into Egypt, Joseph was their rock, the one who (in the image of the Father) made everything okay. Whether cold or frightened or just exhausted, Jesus and Mary knew Joseph would hold them. Mary was without sin but Joseph was the one ordained by God to be the leader of their Holy Family and he gave every moment of his life to serve them.

Oh, his humble smile holding the sweet little foot of toddler Jesus who asked his Papa for a shoulder ride!

I’m a sucker for non-Western images of Mary, but you hardly ever see any of Joseph. Here’s a lovely Korean one to remedy that.

Baby Jesus shoulder ride!

I adore this one. At first you think Jesus is just little and fell asleep playing but then you see the way he’s holding his hand and wonder. I think he was hammering a nail, the echoes of the crucifixion overcame him, and he was broken with grief at what he would have to suffer. Before Gethsemane, I imagine he prayed that prayer–thy will be done–a thousand times. And Joseph is there speaking to the Father on behalf of the Son, asking that he would have the strength and courage to suffer for love of men. Sigh.

Oh, the love in those eyes. Many of you get to see this in the way your husbands love your babies. If this picture makes you think of your husband, go give him a nice long kiss. You got a good one.

There’s a pain in his eyes despite the smile on Jesus’ face. Who knows what he was worrying about or regretting. See how he drops to Jesus’ level and hangs on so tight? Would that we ran to Jesus like that.

Even as the traditional old man, Joseph is on his feet, staff in hand, willing to fight.

Goodness, he looks like a giddy 20-year-old on his wedding day. The look on his face, like, “Have you seen this woman? Have you seen this baby? This is MY family! How did that even happen?”

St. Joseph is patron of the universal Church, terror of demons, and patron of a happy death. But above all, I think, he’s the patron of husbands and fathers. So here’s to St. Joseph and to the men who (in his image) love and serve and protect and tickle and delight and adore. Thank you for being men after the heart of St. Joseph. Good St. Joseph, pray for us!


Edit: many thanks to Mary Ellen Fosso for this incredible image of St. Joseph from the cathedral in Wichita:

Look at the arms on that carpenter! God sure didn’t find a weak, passive man to take care of his son and his mother.

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16 from 2016

What with being on pilgrimage and all, I sort of missed the New Year. Then I remembered that a recap of the year in pictures has sort of become a tradition (2013, 2014, 2015). So without further ado, some highlights of my year.

This year, I spent a lot of time snuggling babies.

This is my godson Elijah. Also I had an insane amount of hair–it didn’t seem like that much at the time!

After 4 years (and 130,000 miles) of a very temperamental car/home, I got a brand new one!

Meet Stella!

I visited a lot of Saints. At least 100, I’d guess–that I knew of.

Pictured: St. Bernadette. Not her statue, her actual dead body. Looks like she’s napping, huh? Only Catholics see the body of a long-dead person (looking entirely healthy) and ask if it’s a statue or a real body.

I fell in love with the Sacred Heart.

The image from Paray-le-Monial, where he first appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.

I visited Lourdes, Fatima, and Champion, WI (the only approved Marian apparition in the States).

I got dolled up for a few weddings.

See my fancy hat for the wedding I went to in England? Full disclosure: it was a repurposed centerpiece. But I think I looked adorable (and I was entirely sober).

I visited Spain and Portugal for the first time.

A Roman aqueduct in beautiful Segovia, Spain.

And finally made it to my 50th state.

I hiked a glacier! I also saw moose, orcas, belugas, Iditarod dogs, and the Northern Lights (3 times). And went deep sea fishing. I’m pretty sure I won Alaska.

I had lots of fun with lots of kids.

I dragged this suitcase to 8 countries (though only one cemetery, I’m pretty sure).


What? Anything to visit Chesterton.

I made some amazing new friends.

First time at a prison!

And spent beautiful time with some old ones (real and fictional).

Reread the first 5 Anne books this year and started reading the first to my niece. I love her even more now than I did the last time I read them!

I took some amazing young people to France, Spain, and Portugal,

others to Italy,

and some on a pilgrimage a little closer to home.

The highlight of the year, though? Every minute spent with Him.


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Love Never Says ‘How Typical’

This Christmas, a lot of us are struggling. You may be grieving or lonely or overwhelmed. You may have too many people to buy for or not enough, your hands full or far too empty. But there’s one thing that unites us all: the aggravation and drama of spending time with family.

Okay, maybe there are some who honestly never have any trouble at all with their friends and relatives and relatives’ friends. But most of us who have anyone to spend Christmas with are going to find our last nerve fraying sooner rather than later. Whether it’s your uncle’s morose muttering about whatever he’s currently lamenting, your spouse’s inability to pass plates clockwise, or your Grandmother’s incessant comments about what a good woman priest you’d make,1 there’s probably some button of yours that’s going to be pushed again and again and again this weekend.

Don’t add it to the list.

The reason these things infuriate us is that we view them as part of a pattern, as the defining characteristic of this person, as yet another instance of selfishness or sullenness or unreasonable anger. And they may be, but it doesn’t help us to love well when every transgression gets added to a heap of previous transgressions. “This is just like that time in 1986 when he didn’t let me borrow his trike. How typical.”

But love never says “how typical.”

Think about it. People crazy in love, even those who aren’t blind to their partners’ faults, don’t define the beloved by her flaws. That’s where the breakdown of love begins. “It’s so like her,” we mutter when she’s late again, and begin to view her tardiness as a deliberate offense. Should she be late? Probably not. But when we choose to see people as a catalog of faults we cease to be lovers.

I read this years ago in an anthology of C.S. Lewis’ favorite authors. The way to love difficult people is to refuse to see their annoying or hurtful or offensive behaviors as typical of them. Now, obviously if a relationship is abusive we need to leave or somehow distance ourselves. And in some relationships we’re able and even obligated to help the other to see his hurtful behavior and try to change. But often the flaw is too ingrained, the relationship too tenuous, or the issue more a matter of your sensitivity than anything else. Your cousin’s eye rolling, for example, or your grandfather’s sudden fits of temper. When we’re not being called to speak out in fraternal correction, it’s easy just to build a list of grievances with no Festivus celebration at which to air them. But that’s not love and it’s not Christian.

So instead, do this: when your sister-in-law doesn’t say thank you–again–and you find yourself internally seething–“How typical!”–stop. Choose to think instead, “Huh,” as though this were entirely unlike her. Instead of remembering every single other time ever and cementing your image of your sister-in-law as ingrate, imagine this was the first time she’d ever acted this way. Would it bother you then? Certainly not as much.

The Year of Mercy is over, but this is still a Church of mercy seeking to build a culture of mercy. When it comes to family, we need that mercy all the more. This Christmas we celebrate the mercy of God who refuses to define us by our sin. Let’s extend that same mercy by throwing out our decades-old heap of baggage and seeing people instead as the sum of their good qualities, “the sum of the Father’s love for us,” as JPII said. When you find yourself tempted to mutter, “How typical,” remind yourself: love never says “how typical.” Love chooses to see what is beautiful and look past the flaws. This Christmas, let’s choose love.

  1. Just me? []
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To Christmas and Easter Catholics

Some of you reading this may not be regulars around the altar on Sundays. And when you get there this Christmas, you may feel underdressed or confused by responses that don’t feel familiar. You may feel crowded and out of place. There may even be people at Mass who deliberately make you feel unwelcome. I’m so sorry if coming home makes you feel even more alone. Since I can’t be at every parish this Sunday, I’m going to tell you what I’d say to you if I met you outside the church or had a chance to speak from a pulpit knowing that you hadn’t been to Mass in a while.

12401021_1027549963932712_1339430546719916337_nWelcome, friends! I am thrilled that you’re here. Really–whatever you’re wearing, whatever ink and piercings you’ve got, however long it’s been, whatever brought you here and whoever you’re with, I’m delighted!

You see, you’re the reason we’re here. Truly. The very reason Christmas exists, the reason this church exists, is that the God who made you was desperate to save you. He wanted more than anything to know you and be known by you. Not y’all, but you–just you. And so he came.

But he knew that some of you would feel ashamed of your weakness. So he became weak. He knew that some would feel judged. So he was born under shadow of scandal. He knew that some would feel unwelcome. So he was turned away from the inn. You are not an afterthought. You’re the reason for the season. Oh, Jesus is the reason for the season. We all know that. But you are the reason the Christ child was born 2000 years ago–to seek and save the lost.

So of course I’m excited to see you! Because as glad as I am that you’re here, nothing could match the joy that the Father takes in seeing you here tonight. Heaven is rejoicing right now because you’ve come home.

I know some of you have been away for a long time. It doesn’t matter. This is still your home. Maybe life just got busy and you drifted away; I get that. Maybe there’s some teaching of the Church that you don’t feel you can accept; believe me, I’ve been there. Maybe you’ve suffered too much to believe in a loving God; you are not alone. Whatever’s kept you away, the Lord is inviting you tonight: let this Christmas be the beginning of a new life. Come home.

But I know there are others among us tonight who’ve been hurt, terribly hurt by the Church or her representatives. And I want to speak to you right now:

I am so sorry.

Whatever was done to you, whatever was said, however you were attacked or ignored, I am so sorry. On behalf of Christ’s Church, I beg your forgiveness. You did not deserve to be hurt and the Lord wept with you. But please don’t let the sins of fallen people keep you from the endless love of the Father. This is always your home. Come home.

Now you may not be aware, but we do this every week. True story–every Sunday, same time, same place. We won’t look as nice and the music might not be as good, but the same God comes down in the Eucharist, handing himself over for you again just as he did that first Christmas, and we’d love it if you’d join us.

When we come to that part of Mass tonight, to communion, I want to invite everyone here to ask yourself if you’re ready to give yourself completely to him. Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve been to Mass, maybe you’ve got some serious sin on your heart, maybe you haven’t been to confession in a long time–regulars and visitors, if you’re not prepared to receive him, we’re going to ask you to stay in your pew and pray with your whole heart that the Lord would come into your life and transform you. It’s called a spiritual communion and it’s incredibly powerful.1 But whether you’re coming up or staying where you are, there is no judgment. We’re all just rejoicing that you’ve come home.

You may not remember the words to some of the prayers, or you may not have been here since we got our new translation. There’s no judgment–we’re all just glad you’re here. So sing along to the familiar hymns and let the sights and smells remind you that you belong here. Christmas is a celebration of a God who came down to save those who had wandered from him. It’s your feast day. Joy to the world and welcome home.

  1. In some churches, it’s customary to receive a blessing if you’re not receiving communion. In those churches, I’d say, “We’re going to ask you to come forward to receive a blessing instead.” []
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Advent Boot Camp 2016

I put out an Advent Boot Camp three years ago and the response was great, so it’s become an annual thing. 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;Luke 1:26-38; 10 minutes silence
  • Day 4: 5 minute warmup; Catechism 522-526; one decade of the rosary; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 5: 5 minute warmup; Chaplet of Divine Mercy; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 6: 15 minutes of prayer: your choice
  • Day 7:5 minute warmup; the Office of Readings ((Click “Office of Readings” on the left side of the page)); 5 minutes silence

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; Isaiah 61-62; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 19: 5 minute warmup; full rosary (joyful mysteries); 5 minutes silence
  • Day 20: 5 minute warmup; memorize Isaiah 9:5 (“A child is born to us…”); 10 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. If you’re a beginner when it comes to non-liturgical prayer, though, 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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50 Ways You Can Help Heal Our Divided Country

Since the election, what I’ve been trying to say was love each other, love each other, and love each other. From the reactions I got, it seems some people weren’t able to hear anything but attack. Over and again I was told how divisive I am.1 It seems that for some of us, unity is the currently the supreme value.

So I’ve been praying about what it means to be unifying. I think many people–on both sides–believe it means to shut up about what you don’t like and accept the status quo, but in a Church that has always fought for justice I just can’t see how that could be right. When people are afraid and enraged and feel attacked for voting their consciences, the appropriate response can’t just be to yell at everyone to shut up.

Seen in a high school government classroom the week after the election. Ain't that the truth?

Seen in a high school government classroom the week after the election. Ain’t that the truth?

Unity doesn’t mean that we all believe the exact same thing. It means that we listen and respect and try to understand each other. It means that we use appropriate channels to voice our concerns, including peaceful protest. It means that we acknowledge people’s fear even if we then try to show them that it’s unfounded. It means we work to defend each other, even if we don’t have a dog in this particular fight.

But opportunities to do all this seem to be evading us. So for those of you who, with me, are trying to understand and love people on both sides, I thought a list of concrete things to do might be helpful. They may not all be up your alley, but they’re worth considering.

Respect—specific actions you can take to respect people who differ from you.

  1. Assume that people mean well. Don’t read between the lines to discover an attack where one wasn’t intended.
  2. Stop with the hateful rhetoric. Call out prejudice, but don’t refer to people as fascists and crybabies unless they are heavily influenced by Mussolini or literal infants in tears.
  3. When using words like racist, do the best you can to label actions, not people. For one, it’s a dangerous thing to define someone by one element of his character. For another, it’s not fruitful to slam the door in his face. Take issue with language or behavior and you might still be able to have a conversation.
  4. Don’t hold people to a higher standard than the one you set for yourself. If you expect others to understand that not all Trump supporters are bigots, you need to acknowledge that not all protestors are rioting, and vice versa.
  5. kinderRemember that every person you criticize—friend, family member, stranger on the internet, even politician—is a real person, beloved by God, with wounds and suffering that have formed her. Be kind.
  6. Make a list of all the things you respect about the party you don’t belong to. (If you’re an independent, make two lists.) Once you get going (including intentions and conviction), you might find there’s more there than you expected.
  7. Encourage people you see who are trying to understand how the other side thinks. Believe me, when you start to affirm something that’s different from what the majority of your friends believe, you’re going to suffer for it. A little encouragement goes a long way.
  8. Put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. Ask yourself: if I were gay or rural poor or pro-life or undocumented or a victim of sexual assault or underemployed, how would I feel? Is it possible to believe as this person believes without being a racist/baby-murderer/snowflake/xenophobe? Then give him the benefit of the doubt. Assume he’s not terrible and act on that assumption.
  9. Remember that the point of all this isn’t winning but love.
    Information—the sources you listen to and the way you share them.
  10. Read books that weren’t written for you, and follow news sources that don’t skew your way. Share their work, even if with a caveat. I don’t agree with everything in any of these articles, but I think they’re all worth a read.
    1. I found this article particularly helpful in understanding the Trump voters who weren’t motivated by pro-life convictions.2
    2. This one (despite its profanity) similarly gives an explanation of the desperation of many people living in rural poverty.
    3. These quotations from individual Trump voters shed light on how multifaceted that group is.
    4. This man–no Trump supporter–writes in a very thorough way about how he believes the accusations of racism are beyond excessive. This one is really fascinating.
    5. On the flip side, this post outlines some of the serious concerns the left has following this election.
    6. Elizabeth Warren’s letter might also raise eyebrows among Trump supporters who expected him to drain the swamp as he promised.
    7. It helps to read what those in the middle are saying as well.
    8. This post on how to be an anti-racist ally might make you very uncomfortable. It’s still worth your time.
  11. Be very deliberate about your comments on social media. (Seriously, click over there. Half of what I’m trying to say here I already said better there.)
  12. Don’t share stories you haven’t fact-checked. May I recommend www.snopes.com to start?
  13. If you listen to the radio, alternate between SiriusXM Patriot and Progress. If television, add some Fox to your diet of MSNBC. Subscribe to the Washington Post and the Washington Times–real print subscriptions that support responsible journalism in an age of clickbait. Try not to hate your opposition but actually to listen.
  14. thinkIf you love Trump, make a post on social media in which you acknowledge some of the concerns you have about him. If you don’t, share a list of positive things you could see coming out of his presidency.
  15. Continue to speak out against injustice, but make sure you also decry injustice coming from your side. You might think that everybody knows that when you defend immigrants you clearly oppose riots, but people these days are struggling to ascribe any positive attributes to the opposition. Make it easier by saying the obvious aloud.
  16. Go find some of those friends you unfollowed during election season–the ones who are good and intelligent if a bit overly-vocal about politics–and read what they’ve shared. Then reach out to them to start a conversation.
  17. Research—if you’re genuinely afraid of the consequences a Trump presidency will have on your life, find the particular laws and executive orders you’re concerned about and learn what it would take to reverse them. In many instances, the process would be impossible or at least so complicated as to push it after mid-term elections.
  18. When your heartfelt attempts to be just and compassionate are met with rage or disdain, consider taking a break from fighting the good fight to read some happy news and remember that there really are millions of marvelous people in this world.
  19. Get off social media for a week and just live your life.
    Conversation—the way you view and interact with people you know.
  20. Go to coffee with a friend from the other side of the political spectrum. It might be best for you to set a time limit on political talk, giving yourself half an hour or so to work through the very real differences between you before switching to less incendiary topics.
  21. If you know somebody who’s afraid following this election, reach out and ask if there’s anything you can do to help.
  22. When an online interaction is getting heated or you’re talking past each other, invite your interlocutor to meet in person to continue the conversation. It’s harder to hate each other in person.
  23. Be aware that you use words that set off red flags for other people or just seem meaningless (privilege, subsidiarity). Try to use language that we all share.
  24. Sirach 20:1Remember that not every battle is yours to fight. There are times when you have to stand your ground and other times when you can change the subject or keep scrolling.
  25. Don’t defend the indefensible. Just because you approve of a particular politician doesn’t mean you have to take his side on every issue. We are fighting for truth and goodness here, not for a political candidate or ideology. Admit it when your side is wrong.
  26. Reach out to people you know who voted differently from you and ask them, “Please help me understand.” Listen. Repeat it back to them. Do not argue. Don’t even share your perspective unless they ask. Just try to understand.
  27. When conversations get too heated, pull back and ask people to help you find common ground. We may not agree that a certain appointee is a racist, but we can agree that racism is wrong. We can agree that people ought to feel safe. We can agree that people ought to listen to each other. There’s far more that unites us than that divides us.
    Action—choices you can make to benefit the broader community.
  28. Take a look at the appointments being made by our president-elect. If any of them concern you, call your representatives to voice that concern. If any of them reassure you, do the same.
  29. Consider wearing a safety pin, even if you’re not a liberal. This is a signal that you are a safe person to ask for help and that you’re willing to step in if you see injustice. If people view it as a political statement, explain that you are opposed to cruelty regardless of its cause.
  30. Don’t wear a safety pin if you’re not willing to put yourself at risk.3
  31. Pray daily for our current president, our president-elect, and every person whose political persuasions rub you the wrong way.
  32. Encourage your elected officials to pursue genuine dialogue. This article suggests that Catholics who have worked in ecumenism could lead the conversation.
  33. Pick an institution you struggle to understand and respect (a crisis pregnancy center, a mosque, the National Organization for Women, a Baptist church, the VFW, Greenpeace, the NAACP, the NRA) and stop by for a visit. Ask if they have a representative you can ask some questions of. Don’t try to change their minds, just to understand. And maybe bring cookies.
  34. Take your kids to visit a nursing home. It may not do anything politically, but works of mercy always serve the common good.
  35. Look for beautiful things to refresh you. Read a lovely or painful or entertaining book. Man cannot live on rage and controversy alone.
  36. Support local businesses and get to know the people who run them.
  37. When you’re upset on behalf of a particular group, instead of being angry, do something specific to serve that group. If you’re concerned about immigrants, donate to an organization that serves them or volunteer to teach ESL at your church or community center. If you’re worried about affordable housing for the poor, get involved in Habitat for Humanity or sign up to tutor people working toward their GED.
  38. Tell people you love why you love them. Especially the ones who make that hard.
  39. Make eye contact with strangers and smile at them. This is a particularly easy time to do that, as all this week you can tell people happy Thanksgiving and I can’t think that anybody will be offended.
  40. Stop by your neighbors’ houses with cookies/an invitation to dinner/an offer to rake their leaves.
  41. Tell immigrants and refugees who you know personally that you’re glad they’re here.
  42. When someone is afraid or angry or otherwise upset, offer to pray with her right there.
  43. Go home for the holidays and love your family. Even the difficult ones.
  44. Spend time in silence every day.
  45. Write a prayer of thanksgiving for the existence of those on the other side of the spectrum from you. Be specific about their good intentions and all that you’ve learned from them (or from trying to speak to them).
  46. Before posting online, reading an article that challenges your view, or speaking to a person you disagree with, offer this prayer:

    Holy Spirit, speak in me and through me. May my stony heart be broken open to love and may I speak the truth the world longs to hear.

  47. Teach your children to love people who are different from them–by talking about it and by demonstrating it. If you don’t have friends who are a different race, try attending a different church (or the same church at a different time) for a few weeks to integrate your Sunday morning. If you don’t have friends who are a different religion, you might consider calling a local place of worship and explaining that you’re trying to help your children learn to love different people and you’re wondering if they might have a family that would like to meet for a playdate.
  48. Though I don't recommend doing it with graffiti.

    Though I don’t recommend doing it with graffiti.

    Find an entirely nonpartisan charity, one that feeds kids or builds handicapped-accessible playgrounds or helps single parents go back to school or shelters abused women or something, and make a donation.

  49. If you see someone who’s being treated cruelly for any reason, step in. This comic shows a peaceful way to defuse a situation.
  50. Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.

My friends, unity is a beautiful thing, but it is not the most beautiful thing. Truth and justice are far more important, even at the expense of unity. But we can serve truth and justice with kindness and compassion, seeking to listen and understand, respecting people even if we can’t accept their beliefs. Unity is not achieved by people shutting their mouths for fear or shame but by people honestly seeking to love and understand each other. Instead of letting the devil convince us that the other is the enemy, let’s stage a revolution of kindness and make this terrible election season the spark that lit the world on fire with love.


(One way to start being unifying would be to make only constructive comments on this post rather than insulting me in all caps. Just a thought.)

  1. Even when I posted an article in which a Clinton supporter said (with all evidence of sincerity) that she believes Trump supporters to be “good-hearted, well-intentioned, loving, tolerant, inclusive, and American.” []
  2. I already understood those. The right to life is the most important right we have and I had no problem respecting those who voted on that issue in this particular election. []
  3. Note: I don’t agree with everything that author says, just thought it was a good read. []
Posted in Truth | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Not Babies Throwing Tantrums: Respecting People’s Fear

The trouble with being a Catholic is that we don’t generally do extremes. We tend to try to walk right down the center, holding seeming opposites in tension in what’s called the “both-and” of Catholicism. This is particularly complicated in our polarized American culture and many of us have been struggling this week to figure out how to rejoice over some hope of pro-life legislation being passed while mourning the pain and fear of so many marginalized groups in this country.

I’ve made no secret of my deep concerns about the rhetoric and character of our president-elect; at the same time, being a believing Catholic means that many of the issues that matter most to me align with his current party. So this week has been a tough one, trying to challenge the victors and console their opponents while also reminding both sides not to vilify one another. I’ve already written to liberals encouraging them to consider that most who voted for Trump did so not because of the racist and misogynistic and otherwise hateful things he’s said but in spite of them.1

Now, my conservative friends, I need to talk to you. Or rather, to the handful of you who are complaining so loudly about “crybabies” throwing ”temper tantrums.” To those who are raging that people just need to accept the results of the election and “get over it.” To those who laugh at trigger warnings and safe spaces, and feel the need to ridicule people’s pain and fear.

This is not mercy.

This is not love.

This will not heal.

And those of you who are so loudly asserting your tolerance are refusing to hear the suffering of people of color, abuse victims, Muslims, the disabled, women, GLBTQ folks, and every other community denigrated in recent months by our president-elect and his supporters. But perhaps you will listen to me, a white, pro-life Christian who’s never voted for a Democratic presidential candidate.

Your brothers and sisters are terrified.

It doesn’t actually matter if you think their fears are legitimate. When a kind and merciful person encounters someone paralyzed by fear, the proper response is never to ridicule him for being illogical or reactionary.

If your sister came to your house hyperventilating because her ex was trying to kill her, you wouldn’t tell her to shut up and quit whining, even if her ex was an amazing man. You would hold her and love her and tell her you’d protect her and then try to figure out why she was so afraid. Only then would you talk her down and point out why her fears are—perhaps—unfounded.

Now let’s say your sister had a past history of abuse. You’d be even more empathetic, wouldn’t you? You’d listen and love and ask her how you could help her to feel safe.

And if she’d been abused and her abuser had just been acquitted and her restraining order canceled, you’d do something tangible to protect her.

At least I hope you would.

Because when people are afraid, good people don’t ridicule them.

This is where we are right now. Millions of people who have been abused and see the face of their abuser on the most powerful man in the world are begging desperately for help. Mockery is an inhuman response.

When people are afraid, it’s because there’s something wrong. Maybe there’s a real danger and maybe they’ve been told there’s one and maybe they’re having a mental breakdown. But none of those things is solved by telling them to suck it up.

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-1-09-17-amYou don’t have to believe that there is a real danger to your friends and neighbors and strangers in order to listen with compassion. You don’t have to accept the assertions that this presidency will pose a danger to their livelihoods and very lives. Even if you don’t believe them, you can still listen and love and ask how to help.

But it might be easier knowing that these people are not crybabies. Perhaps they will be fine, but they have legitimate reason to fear.

Hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to this country as children and here legally now under DACA are afraid of being deported. You may disagree that they should be here. They are still afraid.

Seriously ill people who had been unable to obtain affordable health insurance because of pre-existing conditions are afraid that they won’t be able to pay for life-saving treatments. You may have had a negative experience with the Affordable Care Act. They are still afraid.

Gay and lesbian couples who are legally married and have children together are afraid that their families will be split up, that they will no longer be able to share legal guardianship of their children or receive their partner’s health benefits or appear in public together without risk of harassment or assault. You may not believe that their union is truly a marriage. They are still afraid.

Survivors of sexual assault are afraid that a country that elects as president man who brags about assaulting women will refuse to believe them when they share their stories of assault. You may believe that Mr. Trump was all talk on that tape. They are still afraid.

Muslims are afraid that they will be forced to register as Muslims and then will be systematically discriminated against as a result of this registry. You may not see the link between this and Nazi Germany. They are still afraid.

Transgender individuals who obtain hormones through insurance (hormones that keep them from committing suicide) are afraid that insurance will no longer cover these medications. You may disagree that they need them. They are still afraid.

Black Americans are afraid that in a country that elected a man endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, they are not safe in their communities or even their homes. You may know a thousand people who voted for Trump and would never use the N-word. They are still afraid.

Marginalized people of all sorts have heard report after report of hate speech and hate crimes and are afraid that they will also be targeted. You may believe many of these events to be fabricated; you may have similar concerns over accounts of attacks on Trump supporters. They are still afraid.

Tell that to the March for Life. We lost that battle 40 years ago and we're still out marching. Maybe we should just get over it. #sarcasm

A good example of rhetoric that is not helpful.

People are protesting in the streets. I suppose some might just be pitching a fit because they don’t like losing. Others feel a deep fear for themselves or those they love. Many believe—and God help us, I pray that they’re wrong—that President Elect Trump is as dangerous a man as Adolf Hitler was. If you learned of Germans in 1933 who took to the streets to protest Hitler’s appointment as chancellor, you would applaud them. You don’t have to agree with the protestors to respect the fact that many of them believe they are acting to prevent grievous human rights abuses.2

You may argue that true mercy wouldn’t allow people to rest in an unfounded fear, and I agree. But consider this: the fact that you haven’t experienced violence and discrimination and other threats simply because of who you are might make you the wrong person to determine what fears are unfounded. And even if you are the right person, you must do it gently and compassionately. Listen. Empathize. Seriously consider the suffering of the other. Only then can you very gently begin to explain certain areas in which a person is safer than she may feel.

But please don’t sit behind your computer complaining about entitled millennials throwing tantrums. Other people’s pain and fear deserve your respect, even if you don’t understand them. And when you listen with respect, you may find that you come to understand.


Edit: This post is about people who are afraid, not people who are enraged or violent. That’s why I spoke only about fear and specifically expressed my rejection of violence.

We’ve been having some trouble in the comments section since I started talking about controversial topics. Maybe before you post something, take a look at this post on how to be kind online.

  1. Somehow, the only negative responses I got on that post were from those I was trying to defend. Can’t win for losing, I suppose. []
  2. Should people be looting and getting violent and burning things? Obviously not. That doesn’t make everyone a violent entitled child. []
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