What the Saints Did in the Face of Racism

This weekend a bunch of men (and some women) in polo shirts and khaki pants grabbed their tiki torches and showed their true colors to a world of white people who responded in stunned disbelief while people of color raised an eyebrow at how very shocked we all were. They flew swastikas and screamed hatred without even having the decency to hide behind hoods and masks and while there weren’t many there were far too many. And they were heavily armed, many of them, but unmolested by police, though it doesn’t take much research to see that other protestors aren’t accorded the same rights. And didn’t they go to middle school and read Anne Frank’s diary and don’t they know this wasn’t their land and can’t they see that nothing about what they’re doing is okay???

So we wring our hands and #Charlottesville because what do you say when people who look like you have gone absolutely crazy? Obviously you condemn it. Obviously. But these things keep happening and everybody knows racism is bad and I’m just so tired of it all.

We don’t get to be tired.

Or rather, if you’re tired, you get to push through. You get to nap and get up and keep going. You get to keep fighting this because if you’re reading this you’re likely white and so you have an obligation. We can talk some other time about the use of the word privilege, but right now I just need you to know that your privilege is a currency that you can spend on yourself or on others. If you have the ability to ignore this situation and you do, that is privilege spent on yourself. If you have the ability to ignore this situation and you choose instead to speak, to fight, to donate, to pray until your knees are bruised, that is privilege spent on the marginalized.

That’s what the Saints did.

We’re a 2,000-year-old Church with some Saints who were very much products of their time (not to mention the racist sinners who have often been the face of the Church), but we’ve also got Saints who poured their life’s blood out for the truth that racism is evil. We’ve got Saints who were prophets against slavery and Nazism, Saints who literally gave their lives to protest the filth being spewed by white supremacists in Charlottesville this weekend. So if you’re staring at your phone unsure what to do or say or retweet, maybe their witness will help.

St. Katharine Drexel gave up an enormous fortune and a brilliant future as a socialite to begin a religious order devoted to working with African-American and Native American children. She literally gave up everything–most especially the respect of her peers–in order to fight individual and institutional racism, taking a fourth vow “to be the mother and servant of the Indian and Negro races.” And she suffered for it, notably through the opposition of the Klan. Once members of the KKK threatened a white pastor at one of the churches where Drexel’s Sisters worked; the Sisters prayed, a tornado hit the Klan headquarters, and the cowards in white hoods kept their distance from the warriors clad in black.

  • Make a donation to a Cristo Rey school, a system of Jesuit high schools that work with largely minority populations to educate them and prepare them for the work force.
  • If you’re a teacher, consider working at a school that serves underprivileged minority students. If you’re a student, reach out to inner city summer programs and see if you can volunteer. (Try the Missionaries of Charity.)
  • Pray for the conversion of white supremacists (or, barring that, for the necessary acts of God).

St. Josephine Bakhita was kidnapped from her Sudanese village when she was about 7 years old and sold into slavery; she was so traumatized by the events that she forgot her own name and was called “Bakhita,” which means “lucky one,” by the slavers. She was beaten bloody and ritually scarred for years until she was sold to a “kind” Italian family of slave owners. Serving as their little daughter’s lady’s maid, she accompanied the little girl to a convent school, where she heard the Gospel for the first time and determined to be baptized. When the family returned and told her to go with them to Sudan, Bakhita refused. After nearly 15 years of doing everything she was told, she threw a metaphorical fist in the air and resisted, unwilling to leave the Sisters before being baptized. Eventually, the case went to court where a judge ruled that Bakhita (who had the support of the future Pope St. Pius X) had been free from the moment she arrived in Italy, establishing a precedent that not only was the slave trade illegal in Italy but also the possession of slaves. She went on to become a Canossian sister and at the end of her life declared that if she met her captors again she would kiss their feet because without their evil acts she would never have come to know Christ.

  • Contribute to a group that provides legal aid to the underprivileged.
  • Choose to forgive people whose racism has impacted you or those you love.

St. Peter Claver gave his whole life to serve slaves, calling himself “the slave of the Negroes forever.” Born in Spain, he became a Jesuit priest and spent 40 years in Colombia, where he would meet slave ships as they arrived from Africa and plunge into the hold with food, medicine, and the Sacrament of Baptism. He said, “We must speak to them with our hands before we try to speak to them with our lips,” and in so doing earned himself the right to preach of the gentle, loving Savior common to all men. He preached to Europeans as well, but avoided the hospitality of the slave owners whenever he could, preferring to sleep in the slaves’ quarters instead. He visited hospitals and prisons, making friends for God and securing the enmity of many who profited by the ignorance of their slaves. It’s said that he baptized nearly 300,000 people in his 40 years as a priest.

  • Consider the importance of corporal works of mercy as well as spiritual works. Feed hungry people.
  • Research the ways in which black people today are still suffering from cycles of poverty and incarceration that began with slavery. We are not saying this is your fault. But learning how people have suffered and continue to suffer can make us more compassionate.
  • Educate yourself on how human trafficking happens in this country and around the world. Do something about it.

Blessed Emilian Kovch is one of dozens of Saints killed for their opposition to Nazism. Some were killed simply for being Catholic, but many lost their lives specifically for fighting the racism of the Nazi regime. Fr. Kovch was a husband, a father of 6, and an Eastern Rite Catholic priest. He preached against anti-Semitism, stared down a mob of Nazis, and baptized Jews by the thousands in defiance of Nazi orders forbidding it. He was arrested and sent to a concentration camp, from which he wrote his family asking that they not seek his release as the prisoners had need of a priest. After celebrating Sacraments for a year in the camp, he died far from his family but surrounded by his children.

  • Consider marching in just protests (for example, counter-protests against guys with swastikas) and taking a much smaller risk than Bl. Emilian’s.
  • If you’re a priest or deacon, preach against racismSomehow Christians have missed the message that you can’t be a follower of Jesus and a racist–fix that.
  • Use your privilege as currency, speaking up when you don’t have to about issues of race and injustice.

Venerable Henriette Delille could have passed. Her mother called herself white when asked by the census, as did her siblings. But Henriette wanted to show other free women of color that their lives didn’t have to be dictated by the racist system, that they could be black and truly free. While Henriette’s mother wanted her to live as the concubine of a rich white man, as she herself had done and as Henriette’s sister had as well, Henriette chose Christ. She began a religious order of women of color to serve the elderly. Though many Church and state officials opposed a religious order of African-American women, her small group of educated black women eventually became the Sisters of the Holy Family.

  • Talk about issues of race, both with people who are comfortable with the topic and with those who aren’t.
  • Attend Mass at an African-American or Filipino parish or go to the Spanish or Vietnamese or Portuguese Mass at your parish and get to know people who are different from you.

Servant of God Augustus Tolton was the first African-American Catholic priest to acknowledge his African heritage publicly. (The Healy brothers were mixed race and chose to live as white men.) Born a slave in 1854, Tolton and his family escaped to Illinois where he first began to discern a call to the priesthood, despite the racism he endured at the hands of white Catholics. But while his pastor supported his vocation, he was rejected by every American seminary because of his race. For years, Tolton persevered, waiting in hope that he would one day be permitted to serve at the altar. Finally, he was accepted at a seminary in Rome and prepared to serve in the African missions as the American bishops were quite sure that the American Church wasn’t ready for black priests. But Rome saw differently, and Fr. Augustus was sent first to Quincy, IL and then to Chicago where, despite constant struggles with prejudiced clergy and laity, he served his people tirelessly, dying of exhaustion at only 43.

  • Work to be welcoming of international priests serving in your parishes, getting to know them as individuals and encouraging other parishioners not to write them off because they’re “hard to understand.”
  • Learn about the history of racism in the American Catholic Church–and the issues we still deal with today.

Servant of God Bartolomé de las Casas worked for 50 years to end the enslavement of Native American peoples, advocating to the Spanish crown that they be permitted to rule themselves. Though he had been a slave owner himself, he was struck by the Christmas Eve sermon of Antonio de Montesinos, in which the good friar condemned the leading citizens of Santo Domingo:

You are in mortal sin, and live and die therein by reason of the cruelty and tyranny that you practice on these innocent people. Tell me, by what right or justice do you hold these Indians in such cruel and horrible slavery? By what right do you wage such detestable wars on these people who lived mildly and peacefully in their own lands, where you have consumed infinite numbers of them with unheard of murders and desolations? Why do you so greatly oppress and fatigue them, not giving them enough to eat or caring for them when they fall ill from excessive labors, so that they die or rather are slain by you, so that you may extract and acquire gold every day? And what care do you take that they receive religious instruction and come to know their God and creator, or that they be baptized, hear mass, or observe holidays and Sundays? Are they not men? Do they not have rational souls? Are you not bound to love them as you love yourselves? How can you lie in such profound and lethargic slumber? Be sure that in your present state you can no more be saved than the Moors or Turks who do not have and do not want the faith of Jesus Christ.

Las Casas, already a priest at the time, said hearing Montesinos was a pivotal point in his life and it sparked him on a course that made him the first great advocate of the rights of native peoples in the New World.

  • Interact with your elected officials in meaningful ways and help them see that there is no ethical or prudential justification for pandering to racists.
  • Have the courage to speak up when people make mildly–or appallingly–racist comments.

There are others, of course, other missionaries who valued the differences of those they served (St. Francis Xavier, much?), other priests who publicly decried racism (like St. Paul), other Sisters who served minorities (St. Theodore Guerin), other Saints of color who endured racism (Kibe). But here you have a start, a witness to the fact that Christians have to take a stand against racism in word and in deed. For many of us, the most we’ll suffer is discomfort. Not concentration camps or lynchings or death threats on social media. That is a privilege. Exercise your privilege by refusing to be silent.

 

(Here are 50 more suggestions of how to imitate the Saints in seeking to heal our divided nation. Please feel free to recommend more Saints in the comments.)

Posted in Truth | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

5 Things I Love More after 5 Years on the Road (And 5 Things I’m Over)

A month ago, I celebrated my 5th hoboversary. It’s become my habit to write each year around my anniversary with some reflections (Here’s year one, year two, year three, and year four) but this year I just didn’t have much to say–I know, it’s unusual. I thought about sharing lessons I’ve learned, but I’ve done that. I was tempted to list the things I don’t take for granted anymore (putting things in a drawer or having extras of something that you keep just in case) but it just sounded like a list of complaints.1 Maybe share a few stories? But I share them all on Facebook as they happen.  How about this: five things I love more than I did five years ago (and five I don’t).

LOVE:

The Saints. For all I talk about Saints, you’d think I’d been obsessed from childhood, but I wasn’t that into Saints until a few years ago. Then I read Modern Saints by Ann Ball (volumes 1 and 2) and began to realize that the Saints are more than cool, they’re amazing. And I read The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas and saw for the first time the incredible power of storytelling in the service of evangelization. So I started to get to know the Saints as they really were, not the dull, whitewashed stories we’re usually handed, and now I just can’t get over them. You’ve been following my Saint stories over on Aleteia, right?

Downtime. I’m really extroverted. I can stay up for 30 hours if there are people to chat with. When I drive I have to listen to narrative-driven audiobooks because that’s close enough to social interaction to keep me awake; if there are no characters, I have to pull over to take a nap. So when I started hoboing (by which I mean a life of constant small talk every moment of every day forever) I thought it was awesome. I chatted all day every day (driving and prayer time aside) for 18 months before it was too much. Then I took a day to myself and was ready for more friends. But that kind of thing begins to wear on you and these days, I’m thrilled when people tell me they’re going out for the afternoon or–miracle of miracles–putting me in a hotel. For Easter this year, a stranger offered me her house while her family was out of town and I’m pretty sure I cried. I’m still an extrovert, I’m just also a human being and human beings need some time alone.

Books. I wouldn’t have thought I could love books more, but since I started using a Kindle for the sake of travel and general hoboness, I’ve become even more aware of how wonderful it is to hold a book in your hands, to mark in the margins, to flip to a random point and find a spot you once loved. I’m grateful that I can take hundreds of books with me when I’m abroad for two months, but it sure makes me miss real books.

InstagramSeriously, it’s the best social medium. No drama, just beauty and laughter and support. Plus, you don’t have to follow people back, so unlike Facebook (where my news feed is absolutely out of control) I only follow 22 people and it’s so manageable. And when I scroll through someone’s page, I don’t see controversial links or ugly formatting, just a glimpse of the beauty and struggle of their lives. Heart-eye emoji.

Being Known. It’s the desire of every human heart to love and be loved, to know and be known. When you spend your life with a constant stream of strangers (many of whom think they know you very well from your internet presence), you become very aware of how powerful it is to be known as you are, not just as you present yourself. One of the biggest ways this has been hitting me recently is in my constant battle to be called by my name. My name is Meg. It’s not Megan. It’s actually short for Margaret. It’s not Megan. At all. In any way. But several times a week, people call me Megan. Introduce me (on stage) as Megan. Advertise that Megan Kilmer is coming to speak. Hand me a name tag that says Megan. And I’m a ragey person with feelings that are far bigger than is healthy, so I correct gently while internally berating the entire world. It’s been happening even more recently, so I took it to prayer: “Lord, is this something I need to get over?” But names matter. And no, I shouldn’t be angry, but I don’t have to be okay with people calling me by the wrong name. Your name is your identity, it’s your self. When people confidently (and repeatedly) use the wrong name, they’re acting as though they know you while refusing to see you. I’m not accusing anybody of anything; I get that some people have memory issues or whatever. But when people know me–know my name, that I love lilacs, that I’m obsessed with Bl. Peter Kibe, that I loved country music in the 90s–I feel the gaze of the Father. I used to take that for granted.

DON’T:

Bananas. They’re disgusting. And I know, because I keep trying them. During the Triduum, I ate three and almost puked in my car. Please don’t feed me bananas.

Conflict. The trouble with being a public person, and especially a public person with an online presence, is that apparently you cease to be a person and are instead a target. People tend not to be terrible in person, though often enough they are.2 I know I should offer it up and rejoice to share in Christ’s sufferings and imitate the Lamb without blemish who opened not his mouth, but I just want to shred them. I’m too afraid of conflict, though, so instead I rehearse pithy responses in my head while saying nothing in actuality. Which is better than flying off the handle? But not much.

Talking about myself. Seriously. I used to joke that I didn’t need someone to introduce me–“I’ll talk about myself,” I’d say. “I’m my favorite topic.” But after 5 years of answering, “How did you decide to do this,” I’m over it. It’s all I can do to remind myself that repeating the answer to this question for the 3000th time is an act of charity. (But if you’re planning on having me to dinner, feel free to read the FAQ.)

Itinerancy. I do love seeing all of you, and if the time ever comes that I stop hoboing, I know I’ll miss having the freedom to spend time with everyone I love. But there’s a reason people live in a place, and for all it’s great to go all the places and do all the things, there’s a lot I would trade to be able to own clothes that don’t pack well and buy more chocolate than I can eat in one sitting.3

Twitter. I still don’t get it. There’s no room to say anything of substance and you can’t have real conversations because things get lost if you don’t tag stuff right. I’ll stick with Facebook, thanks.

I’m speaking all week at a big diocesan youth camp and thinking that one thing that hasn’t changed in 5 years is how much I love large groups and crowds of people to love. If you’ve got a conference or know someone who runs a conference (youth, women, men, everybody–I’m equal opportunity) and you’d like me to come, drop me a note. As of right now, everything in my life is a giant question mark once mid-August hits. We can add discernment and uncertainty to that list of things I don’t love more….

  1. And after the few nasty responses I got to the vulnerability in my Mother’s Day post, I didn’t want to risk dealing with the fallout. []
  2. I’m looking at you, man who stood up, restated my explanation that confession in the early Church happened in public, then said, “INCORRECT!” while pointing your finger at me. I was less gentle in correcting him than I usually am. []
  3. Everything melts. Everything. []
Posted in Random | Tagged | 3 Comments

Calling All Women Discerning Religious Life (Men, Too)

A few months ago, a friend from high school reached out to me wanting to hear about my discernment process from when I entered religious life. I was happy to discuss but surprised that she was asking, as she’s not a Christian. Discernment–particularly vocational discernment–is something that we usually talk about only with other Catholics. But I’m generally happy to discuss anything about Jesus, so I was game. It turns out that Eve is working on a piece for The Huffington Post investigating the way young Millennials discern. She’s a brilliant writer and a beautiful soul and I think her contribution to this conversation (especially when it’s published on a site like The Huffington Post) will be a gift to the Church. Here’s what Eve has to say:

I’m a Jewish-American writer based in Johannesburg, South Africa, who’s profoundly interested in the spiritual experience throughout history and how it occurs in an age many people think of as thoroughly secular, science-minded, data-driven, and beyond the reach of the mystical or necessitating the presence of faith. For a long essay I’m writing for The Huffington Post, I’m looking to talk with American women under the age of 25 in the process of discernment to enter the religious life. I’m interested in how you experienced your call, the tangible ways that changed how you interacted with the world (for instance, did you come to use Facebook differently? The push to have a good “career” differently? Did it change how you related to the uncertainty of the contemporary economy and the loneliness often present in contemporary friendships?). I’m deeply interested in the kinds of experiences of the modern world, and of God, that led a young woman to pursue a vocation. If you’d be willing to chat with me by phone, FaceTime, or Skype about your journey, please get in touch with me on Facebook. I’d ideally love to speak with women from a range of backgrounds, including families that were not religious or professed a different religion, and different parts of the country or economic backgrounds. We can speak casually first and then discuss if you’d like to be quoted by name in the story. While my interest is primarily in young women, I’d also REALLY love to talk to some young men discerning about the priesthood, too.

Here’s a brief example of my work. Among others, this piece, from an experiential point of view, argues hard against the modern conception that we are the best, or real, architects of our own lives.

If you’re interested in speaking to Eve, leave a comment here (anonymous or not) or send me a message and I’ll put you two in touch. Please DON’T tag a friend or share it to her Facebook wall–her discernment might not be something she’s ready to be public about. Send it in a private message and she can contact me herself. I know that Eve is particularly interested in speaking with a diverse group of young people discerning with traditional communities, especially people from non-religious families, people of color, immigrants, and the very poor and very wealthy. She’s come to the right Church, hasn’t she? You’ve never met a body more diverse than the Catholic Church, and I’d love to help her write a piece that shows how the love of Christ breaks down all the divisions we erect between ourselves to call hearts to deep holiness and deep joy. Plus she’s offered to let me look it over before publication to make sure the theology’s on point, so you don’t have to worry about the Church being misrepresented. What a great opportunity to witness to the Love of Christ that invites us to be completely his! Who’s in?

Posted in Beauty | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Duplicity

How cute were we?

I wrote this song a decade ago (with my brilliant sister‘s help on instrumentation and harmonies) but it came back into my head with a vengeance last week and I haven’t been able to get it out. All I could think is that one of you needed it, so here’s my very honest depiction of what my fancy words in prayer are often masking.

Feels like these days every time that I pray I seem to lie to you.
I say I want and I need and I love you completely, but it’s not true.
Cause when I raise my hands and close my eyes,
My lips can speak what my heart denies:

I want you!
        Or at least what you give me.
I need you!
        But just if it’s easy.

I’ll follow you!
        If you take me where I want to go.

I love you!
       Just don’t tell me no.

Looking for feelings or just understanding, it’s me I seek.
And if I want and I need and I love me completely, it’s not complete.
And if I raise my hands and close my eyes,
My lips can speak what my heart denies:

I want you!
        Or at least what you give me.
I need you!
        But just if it’s easy.

I’ll follow you!
        If you take me where I want to go.

I love you!
       Just don’t tell me no.

Cause if it’s all about me then I can’t even see your face.
And if I’m trying to prove you how can I be moved by your grace?
This is not what you planned when you held out your hand
And said, “Give your life up to be free.”
And I’m not the one with the work to be done.
All I can do is surrender to you and let your will be done to me.

Till I say, kneeling before you, I’m here to adore you. You’re all I need.
And to want you and need you and be yours completely, I’ve gotta let you lead.
I’ve gotta raise my hands and close my eyes,
Let my lips speak what my heart cries:

Shake me! Tear me from all my weakness.
And break me till I’m torn into pieces.
Then take my heart, make me what I’m meant to be.
I love you–this can’t be about me.

It’s a very rough recording, but there’s something about that line in the bridge, that image of Jesus gently reaching out his hand and saying, “Give your life up to be free,” that’s been speaking to me lately, or at least trying to. I go through phases in prayer, often just trying to sound good or to excite emotions or to *discern discern discern*1 and usually all he’s asking is for me to let him be God. Pray for me, will you?

  1. Goodness but I’m sick of discerning; when you have no constants in your life, though, there’s really no way around it []
Posted in Beauty | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

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.

But.

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 Faà 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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