We have two November birthdays in our house, plus Thanksgiving, which this year we are traveling for (hopefully, ahead of the forecasted blizzard for Tuesday night). Advent will be upon us by the time we get home!
Our family always reads from the Bible about the story of salvation history during Advent and puts an ornament for each reading on our Jesse Tree. And we love to light the candles on our Advent wreath. My goal for Advent is to enter in the busy season prayerfully and cheerfully. So, for myself I always pray with the Blessed is She Advent devotional.
I would like to invite you to join me this year in praying with the Blessed is She Advent+Christmas devotional. It goes through the story of the family of Christ, from Genesis to Jesus’ birth, to the birth of the Church. Each of us on the Blessed is She team wrote a reflection sharing our story and inviting you to enter into Advent and Christmas with your story, of your family, of your life as a daughter of God. You’ll find my story on Day 7 of Advent!! Today (Monday, Nov. 25) is the last day to order to get it before Advent starts! But since it goes through Christmastide, don’t worry if you order it a few days late!
All parents have the primary responsibility to educate their children. This is a duty that parents cannot in good conscience shirk off or place on others. They are obliged to find a good school for their children or educate them at home. For Catholics the duty of education especially includes teaching their children the precepts of the Catholic faith and showing them how to live as faithful Christians. But religious education from a textbook, as it has been traditionally done, has a danger of becoming either completely shallow and soppy, or at the other extreme of becoming entirely cerebral. A true religious education is that of the whole person — the heart, mind, soul, strength, and even the body — but primarily the heart.
Yet, how does one go about educating their children in the faith?
The easy answer is to send them to a Catholic school where they will have religion or catechism class, sign them up for CCD if they go to a non-Catholic school, or teach them their catechism at home from a curriculum. These days there are a wide variety of books for educating our children in faith.
Still, studies show that young Catholics are leaving the Church as teenagers. A diocese I worked for had a problem of families coming to Mass only on the Sundays when their religious education program required it for their children to receive the sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation. And the one hour per week that catechists spent with the children was spent reading a religious text that neither delved into actually explaining the faith nor taught them how to talk to God in prayer. Everything was superficial. My husband, who teaches philosophy at a university in the Catholic tradition, has had students who were raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools, but who never learned that one could use reason to come to the knowledge of God’s existence. Sadly, this poor state of catechesis is one that the Church has been striving to remedy for decades.
As a parent who is raising children in the Catholic faith and as one raised in a family where all four children are devout, practicing Catholics as adults, I hold that learning one’s catechism from a book or going through an unsystematic, light religious textbook is not enough. My experience in home schooling shows me that children need more.
There has been a lot of discussion in the online world of “Catholic Twitter,” podcasts, and in the blogosphere about men and women — their complementarity, whether or not they are equal, and how they are different. Podcaster Timothy Gordon stated on The Matt Fradd Show that the Church has taught against married women working, and he said that the New Testament and natural law point to the idea that “men and women are utterly unequal,” though equal in dignity. He did not, however, go on to explain how they are “utterly unequal,” except to state that men are “bigger, stronger” and have a “different forebrain.” He holds that natural law proves, and Christian tradition supports, that a husband is the boss of his wife. Yet, the only argument he gave for this is that in all of human history this has been the case, and only since the feminist movements has the trend of men having authority over women and of men being seen as higher than women been questioned.
The problem with these statements about the inequality of men and women is that they overlook that, since they are human beings, members of the same species, men and women have all of the same powers. Thus, one cannot say that they are “utterly unequal.”
Women and men are first of all rational animals, human beings, made in the image of God. All humans have an intellectual power to reason, learn, understand and know God. Both men and women have wills where they can freely choose good or evil. They have passions and appetites that influence these choices and must be ruled over by reason. These abilities to do things are called their powers. Men and women have the power to love God, love others, see, speak, eat, walk, have conversations, make plans, teach others, use and create tools, and so many other things. They are the same in all of these things.
As I have shown in Part I, as human beings created with reason and seeking to live in accord with natural law, married couples will find virtue ethics very helpful in embracing the twofold ends of marriage: union and procreation.
Before we get into the details, we need to remember that each virtue looks different in each human being, and thus each couple has different serious reasons in considering having more children. St. Francis of Assisi lived heroic virtue in a much different way than St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Therefore, something that makes it difficult for one couple to feel ready to actively seek the conception of another child or even to just not avoid conception may not be an obstacle for another couple. We are called to individual holiness, and the way this is lived out is based on who we are. But even so, it is worthwhile to examine how couples might apply each of the cardinal and theological virtues to their acceptance of children.
When Pope Paul VI emphasized in Humanae Vitae the need for prudence — both when actively accepting another child and when determining that it is not the right time for another — he gave some basic categories to evaluate: physical, economic, psychological and social conditions.
When Pope Paul VI wrote the encyclical letter Humanae Vitae in which he stated that artificial contraception violated natural law, he explained that couples who have “serious” and “well-grounded reasons” to avoid the conception of a new human life could morally limit the marital act the infertile times of the wife’s natural cycles (HV §16).
As an engaged college student and in my early married life I encountered many debates over what constituted a “serious reason.” Some would argue that unless a family is living with a dirt floor and no food, there is never a moral reason to avoid the conception of a child. Others argued that one should not chart the woman’s cycle at all, that true openness to life and respect for natural law is when couples engage in the marital act whenever they feel a desire to express marital love and have babies as they come. Both of these ways seem less than human. The first fails to take into account that children require much more from parents than food and shelter. The second fails to acknowledge the reason God gave us over our natural impulses and that to be fully human we must use prudence to choose the best act in every circumstance.
When thinking about what we are called to be as reasoning human persons, it seems that the best approach to discerning when to be open to or limit having another child is through using virtue ethics. Every marital act is a human act, one that a couple should enter into guided by reason, choosing to make a gift of self to the other, and with full knowledge and openness to the natural end of a new human life. This means couples should be guided by prudence and love whenever they choose to enter into the marital act. Understanding virtue and seeking to exercise it can be crucial to a couple’s decision to enter into this act. It is more in accord with natural law and our human nature to use prudence both when determining when to have children and when to avoid conception then to not reason about it at all.
First, I will sum up the views of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis de Sales and St. Alphonsus Liguori from the previous essay, though I recommend to get the full picture to head over and read it. When considering whether an act is moral one must evaluate the act itself, the circumstances in which it is performed, and the person’s intention in performing the act. Dressing to fit with one’s state in life, the activity one is participating in, the fashions of one’s society, and with a pure intention are all essential aspects of being modest. Simplicity and cleanliness in dress are also important parts of virtuous dress since they are part of humility, temperance and respect for others.
I ended my essay explaining that our society’s fashions made certain forms of dress morally acceptable, which have not always been understood to be so. Modest dress changes according to fashion. For example, St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote about a particular fashion of his time where women “uncovered their breasts.” Since it was an already established fashion, he said that if a woman dressed that way without any impure intention, without forming lust within herself or intending to lead others to lust after her, then it was morally permissible. He also explained that while it was permissible for her to dress revealingly with pure intentions, the person who invented the trend of uncovering breasts was culpable for instituting a fashion that could lead people into sin—though this too changes with the creators intentions.
Similarly, in our society, there are many fashions that might be more revealing than what was once considered morally acceptable. For example, because it has become normative, one cannot look at a woman in a bikini and presume that she is acting immodestly. She may have no lustful intentions whatsoever. She is simply going for a swim or working on her tan wearing what is fashionable.
That being said, there is a difference between what is permissible, and therefore not sinful, and what is best for a person truly desiring to grow in virtue. Dietrich von Hildebrand, a 20th-century Catholic philosopher, talks about the morally conscious person in his essay “Responsibility” in the book The Art of Living. The morally conscious person is aware of his or her responsibility to the world around him or her. This person sees the beauty and value of those he or she encounters and of all of creation. When a person is awakened to this responsibility of responding to all with seriousness and gravity, not in a scrupulous manner, but in confidence certain of one’s call, while always recognizing that there is a higher being.
Summer is here with its longer, hotter days, and right on cue is the annual discussion of modest dress. In Mass or at the pool, we are all called to dress modestly, in a way appropriate to the circumstances and our state in life.
I have heard about modesty from the time I was able to dress myself. I heard many “chastity” talks throughout my teenage years which emphasized covering my body for the sake of protecting myself and young men who would see me, which always left me feeling alarmed and put out by my unintentional, lust-inducing abilities. Only when I learned about modesty as a virtue did I find a reasonable, satisfactory answer as to what it really means to dress modestly.
To understand modesty in dress as a virtue, as opposed to other forms of modesty, I turned to three Doctors of the Church — St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis de Sales and St. Alphonsus Liguori. They helped me see that the moral act of dressing oneself should not be guided by fear of being objectified but by well-formed reason. The way to evaluate the moral act of dressing oneself, as in all moral theology, is to look at the act itself, the person’s intention and the circumstances surrounding the act.
Today we slept in—the kids slept until past 8AM and the professor and I read and journaled in the tent so as to not wake the children. We had a leisurely morning at the campsite. The kids climbed up the hill behind the campsite and played on a huge rock. Once again nature was a superior playground! I followed them up the hill to see what I could see and I saw a lovely view of Long’s Peak.
We then set out to find a place to hike—but as Rocky Mountain National Park is a very crowded park it took a while to find a place to hike. First, we tried the Beaver Meadow for about half an hour and then drove up to the Lawn Lake Flood waterfall. It was a short but steep, rocky trail, but the waterfall was lovely. The girls and I put our feet in the water which was quite cold. T found it to be too cold.
I especially liked the aspens quaking beside the stream with their airy cages. We then drove around a bit to find other places to hike but parking was all full. Afterwards we went back to the campsite and had tuna and apples for lunch. The professor took the kids to Fern Meadow where they played in the stream for a while and then looked at a herd of elk including a mother elk and her fawn.
I stayed at the campsite to catch up on my journal and have some quiet alone time. It was quite refreshing. When they returned, we dressed and went to Mass at Our Lady of the Mountains for the anticipatory Mass where we sang all of the classic songs I sang as a child when my father was the music director. For supper I made “pizzadillas” in a frying pan (tortillas sandwiching pizza sauce, mozzarella, and pepperoni) and we had ice cream for dessert. Then we had the last campfire of the trip.
Day 22—Sunday, June 10, 2018
We woke early to break camp making it out in less than two hours from wake up to departure, which was a record for us. The tourist town of Estes Park was traffic-free for once as we made our way over US-36 and followed the North St. Vrain Creek through a mountain canyon. We came out quite suddenly onto the endless flat plains of Eastern Colorado. They went on the rest of the day.
The land got greener and greener as we went further east approaching the lush Mid-West spring. All was flat and all was green.
We listened to Return of the King as we went along and made lunch at a rest stop. About 6PM we arrived at our Omaha Embassy Suites where we checked in, hauled out things upstairs, and then went down for cocktails and appetizers. Still hungry, we ordered Dominos Pizza and ate it while taking turns showering off the last dirt of our trip. We went to bed tired but clean.
Day 23—Monday, June 11, 2018
The Embassy Suites has by far the best hotel breakfast a person could ask for. The kids ate from the hot breakfast buffet but the professor and I both had omelets made to order. They were delicious and filling. We then headed back out for one last day on the road. The plains gave way to the soft, rolling cornfields of Iowa, which we asked whether they were Heaven. They were just Iowa.
We came after a couple of hours to Des Moines where we picked up lunch from a deli and brought it to my sister and her new baby. He was a sweet newborn with red hair whom the professor put right to sleep. We had a nice visit and then got back in the car for our last leg of the trip. The fields of Minnesota had rows of little green plants where they had only plowed rows of dirt three weeks before. The warm, green summer had fully arrived while we were away and we were happy to be back home.
Ending odometer: 175453 Total Trip Mileage: 6258.1
We ate a nice hot breakfast in the hotel before our eight-hour drive to Rocky Mountain National Park. It was nice to be on I-70 again and see all of the buttes, canyons, and the San Rafael Reef. We came back into Colorado and drove through the canyon road I-70 runs along until we turned off towards Granby, Colorado. We then took the Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. Our van made it over the pass without incident—unlike my family 20 years ago.
At the top we parked to climb a stair to the top of the tundra. It was a very breezy spot and had giant rocks for climbing which the kids took advantage of. We had a spectacular view from the top. T hopped down each step—one-by-one—all the way back to the car. We then savored the mountain top views with their snow-streaked peaks, and I remembered my fondness for Long’s Peak from all those years ago.
We went into Estes Park for dinner at a place called “You Need Pie!” where we all loved the shaved Brussel sprouts with bacon and onions. The kids loved the mac and cheese, and the professor and I were not super into our pot pie and Rueben. We had dessert first in the form of 2 huge chocolate shakes.
We rolled into the campsite a little before 8 PM and began our final tent pitching of the trip. We then got ready for bed and laid down about 10 PM with the promise of sleeping in.
Today is the last day I will talk about our camping prep and supplies. There are just a few odds and ends.
First, we made a point to travel with three one-gallon jugs of water which we refilled everywhere we slept, either campsite, hotel, or friend’s house. This was helpful for when the kids needed a water-bottle refill and gave us peace of mind when we were driving through the desert for hundreds of miles. Did I mention we each had our own water bottle in the car plus a couple of extra for hiking?
Second, we had a great hiking backpack which used to carry shared Nalgene water bottles for hikes, bug spray, sunscreen, and a first aid kit including a snake bite kit. We did not bring bear spray, but that is also a good safety option to have.
Third, permethrin. If you have been following my blog or social media accounts you might know that I got Lyme disease last summer. I did not get it on our camping trip. I got it in Minnesota off to the side of the path in a wooded, grassy park near the Mississippi River—just across the river from St. Paul. The day I got it all my family was wearing permethrin sprayed hiking shoes. My hiking boots fell apart in Rocky Mountain National Park—which is why I was not wearing them. I got bit by a tick, they did not. Permethrin is an insecticide that you spray on your clothes and shoes while you are not wearing them. Let it dry entirely. It will last for 40 days and through 6 or so wash cycles.
Be safe. Be smart. Use the bear boxes when they are provided. Keep interesting smells out of your tent. All will be well.
We woke early to break camp and get the professor and the girls ready for their cave tour of Lehman’s cave. The all enjoyed the ancient caverns with all of its stalactites and shields and cave popcorn and bacon. T and I went through the gift shop, played house in the old guest cottage, hiked a lower montane desert nature trail, and had coffee and ice cream in a café.
We then drove 13 miles up Wheeler Peak to the trail to the Bristlecone Pine Grove. The trail was nearly 2 miles up hill with rocky pathways and snow along the sides. We threw snowballs at each other the whole way up. At the top we met the Bristlecone pines—trees thousands of years old. I loved their grotesque beauty as they twisted around for millennia holding on to the rocky mountainside. Living parts coexisted with dead parts and it was hard to fathom that these trees lived before Christ became incarnate and still live now.
At the grove we met a young couple who had just become engaged and claimed that they wanted 6-7 children. I will pray for them and their future marriage. We said goodbye to the trees and then hiked back down mindful of our steps and careful of the steep drops down the hillside.
Back at the car I made lunch and we began our three-hour drive to a hotel in Richfield, Utah. The road went through a bleak, dreadful desert past the dried Sevier Salt Lake. We were on the loneliest road in America, US-50, where the professor walked on Crossroads back in college.
At length, we came to Richfield where we shopped for groceries, took showers after five days without and did all of our laundry. The kids watched Mulan as we ate chicken salad for dinner.
I asked the professor to guest post today about how he went about planning our road trip. Cue “the professor”:
In order to start planning the itinerary of a camping road trip, I need two things: a main destination (or set of destinations) and a time frame. For this trip, we began with a desire to make a pilgrimage to the Franciscan missions in California—that was the initial main destination of the trip. We’ve found from previous experience that three weeks is about our psychological limit for time spent away from home. So, I began planning this trip with that time frame in mind, though the trip ended up being a little over three weeks.
I then fill in the details of the trip. This involves considering what we want to see between home and the main destination. There are lots of places out west I’ve always wanted to see, so I examined, on Google Maps, various routes that could be taken to reach the main destination and saw which of these places would be reasonable to visit en route to that main destination.
I plan trips using a Google Spreadsheet. I put various itineraries on the spreadsheet, seeing how long the drives are between potential stops, and in this way, I narrow down the list of possible stops until I arrive at the final list of places to which we will go on our road trip. Basically, I try to maximize the number of places we can visit within the give time frame, while abiding by a few criteria. The number of days spent driving more than ten hours should be minimized. At least two nights should be spent at most stops, so as to maximize the amount of time spent at each location.
On a long-term camping trip like this one, we try to spend at least every fourth night in a motel or at a friend’s house. Contacting friends and asking to stay with them and finding cities with motels that had rooms or suites large enough to accommodate our family further determined the route that this trip would take. For example, early itineraries this trip had us travel from Grand Canyon to Los Angeles, spending time in the Mojave Desert and Joshua Tree National Park along the way. But then friends in San Diego invited us to visit them; this allowed us to see more of the Franciscan missions (our main destination) than we had originally planned, which we wanted to do, but it meant cutting those stops, and taking a new route from Grand Canyon to San Diego. Getting lodging with friends in various places allowed us to discover new places to visit that we had not previously planned to see, like Muir Woods near San Francisco.
Once all these stops were determined, I began making camping reservations. For this trip, I did this mostly on the National Park Service’s website, though we also camped in state parks in South Dakota and California, so I used those state park service websites to do this. This was my family’s first major camping trip, so I tried to find campgrounds that had running water as much as possible. Once my family is more used to camping, we will probably camp more in National Forests, which are preferable to Parks because they are cheaper, have fewer people, and often have preserved the natural setting of campgrounds better than in Parks, but also often have more primitive facilities.
Some Parks require that you make reservations far in advance. For example, to reserve a campsite in Yosemite for June, I had to be on the website at a certain time on January 15. Even though I was on the site only a few seconds after that time, most sites were already booked! If you intend to camp at such parks, make sure you read the website and find out the reservation process well in advance. Other Parks, like Great Basin, are so little visited that they do allow reservations; campsites are first come, first served.
After reserving all of our lodging, I completed planning the trip by spending time on each Park’s website, looking at various activities and things to see. We didn’t make the final decisions as to what we would do at each Park until we were there, but this way we had a good idea of what to do well before we arrived. This helped us not waste time figuring things out while at each Park, and it also helped heighten our excitement to go to each place! But it’s certainly necessary to be flexible when on a trip like this and be willing to stop at things you see along the way if they seem to be worthwhile.