Chronic Illness Teaches Us How to Suffer During COVID-19

“I think you have Lyme disease,” my practitioner stated sympathetically. I glanced into her serious face and was in denial.

No. It could not be. But as I went over each possible symptom on the evaluation form, the number I experienced began to add up. What I first thought was an ankle sprain was instead a symptom of a horrible chronic illness. My ability to live normally and independently had disappeared as the bacteria wreaked havoc within my body. I could barely have my feet at an elevation below my heart without intense pain and thus could do nothing for myself but what can be done lying in bed. And now the diagnosis meant that I was in it for the long haul. The only way out of the illness caused by a bite from a tiny little deer tick was to follow the careful directions of treatment until the symptoms were gone.

My initial feelings when first diagnosed with Lyme disease and those I had at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic where quite similar. First, Lyme was something other people got; it would never happen to me. COVID was all the way in Asia; there was no way it would spread to us. Then I did contract Lyme disease, and I had to live on with the reality of a long recovery, if any. COVID did make it to the United States, and most states responded with restrictions meant to curb this new, unpredictable and sometimes deadly illness.

Lyme disease and all chronic illnesses with their open-ended diagnosis are similar to the COVID-19 situation we are facing as a world. We hope to get to the end of this irregular experience and return to some sense of normalcy, but we do not know when or how it will eventually happen. But they can also be similar in how we bear with the suffering resulting from the situation.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

The Holy Lives and Passions of Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin

(This essay is shortened from a talk.)

They passed each other on a bridge one spring day — a distinguished, reserved, hardworking watchmaker who had tried and failed to become a monk and a lovely, intelligent, productive lacemaker who had been turned away by the Vincentian sisters. When St. Zélie first laid eyes on St. Louis she heard an interior voice, one that she had learned to trust, say, This is he whom I have prepared for you.

Their life together began on July 12, 1858 — a date remembered by the Church as the feast day of the first husband and wife canonized as a couple. While their married life was holy and admirable, God gave them the opportunity to enter into the suffering of the Cross at the end of each of their lives.

In their 19 happy years of marriage, Sts. Louis and Zélie ran a successful lacemaking business in Alençon, Louis having given up his trade to help his wife in hers. They had nine children, all of whom they baptized within days of their birth. When they lost four of their children, to childhood illnesses and the negligence of wet-nurses, since Zèlie was not able to breastfeed her children, they placed their hope in seeing them again in Heaven.

Louis and Zélie were very careful to raise their surviving children with virtuous habits, correcting their faults sternly, but also rewarding their good deeds with affectionate love. Zélie would pray about and examine the faults and strengths of each child and foster them into holiness and encouraged them to make little sacrifices every day to help them become less selfish.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

Blessed Franz Jägerstätter and the Simple Life of Sanctity

I was sitting at the lunch table over my daily salad while my husband prepped his grilled cheese at the stove. The children chatted with each other across the table from me.

“I’ve been thinking about Bl. Franz Jägerstätter again,” I said to him between bites. Bl. Franz had been a regular topic of conversation since we had finally seen the movie A Hidden Life, which tells the story of his martyrdom. After watching the movie, I spent several weeks reading a biography of the blessed, In Solitary Witness: The Life and Death of Franz Jägerstätter by Gordon C. Zahn, and my husband and I had had many conversations about his actions.

I continued, “When his diocese acknowledged his sanctity 20 years after his martyrdom they said that his sacrifice was a beyond the ordinary call of a Christian. But it seems to me that the ordinary call of a Christian is, in fact, to extraordinary sanctity.”

Bl. Franz was an Austrian who was martyred by the Nazis in 1943 for refusing to take the military oath in support of Hitler. He was a peasant farmer in St. Radegund, a small town in the mountains. Despite his humble state in life he received an extraordinary grace to see the unjustness of the Nationalist Socialist Party and stand firm in his conviction even in the face of death. He gave up his beautiful, happy family life with his wife and children for the sake of following his conscience.

I explained my thoughts to my husband further, telling him how Bl. Franz believed that he had received a special grace to see the unjustness of the Nazi party, a grace that others avoided. In some of his last writings, which can be found in a volume edited by Erna Putz, Bl. Franz explained this grace:

“If God had not bestowed on me the grace and power to die for my faith — if this is demanded of me — then I would be doing the same as the majority of the people are doing. God can give someone as much grace as God wants. If other men and women had received as much grace as I have obtained, they would have perhaps done much more good than I have done.” (Franz Jägerstätter: Letters and Writings from Prison, “Text no. 88,” p. 224)

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

Who is My Neighbor?

A lawyer went up to Jesus one day. He wanted to test him. So he asked what one must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus directed this lawyer to the law, “What do you read there?”

The lawyer, a good student of the law, recited, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” With this, Jesus affirmed him saying, “Do this, and you will live.”

But the lawyer pushed further, asking the question that we all have in our hearts: “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus looked at him with love. He looked him right in the eye and he told the story of the Good Samaritan.

This past week as I questioned the Lord in prayer about how to respond to the unrest in our nation, in my own Twin Cities. I too am a student of the law, the moral law. Jesus told me the same story. But instead of Jews and Samaritans, the characters were more familiar.

Even after slavery ended in the United States, after a gruesome war, black people were still treated as half-citizens, or worse. Yet many who saw them passed them by. Others did even worse. They lynched them and left them dead. They used unjust laws and practices to keep them in segregated neighborhoods, bound up in poverty and systematic prejudice.

More than 50 years ago, African Americans fought for more liberties despite continued resistance, aggression and even more violence. Some strides were made for equality, but not enough. Some laws changed, but not enough hearts and minds did.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

Our Children Need Us to Help them Grow in Virtue

If you have read The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, you will remember Eustace Clarence Scrubb, the ill-tempered cousin of the four children of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, who makes his first appearance in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. He was the one who deserved the name his parents had given him. C.S. Lewis uses him as an example of how children turn out if their parents do not use discipline and essentially spoil their child.

Yet, Eustace takes a turn for the best when he is accidentally transformed into a dragon on an island in Narnia. Before he can become human again he learns the lesson that it is better to be a giving, thankful, loving person than a self-absorbed, whiney, unkind person. He learns from the example of his shipmates, especially his cousin Lucy, and from trying it out himself. We meet him again in the book The Silver Chair where his classmates are annoyed that he does not join in their bullying antics — antics that the school downright promotes.

Lewis makes it clear in the book that the school children’s vicious behavior is the result of no one taking the trouble to form them in good behavior.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

6 Ideas for Improving Distance Learning and Homeschooling

“Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2223)

With the closing of in-person schools due to the coronavirus outbreak, families with children enrolled in traditional schools have suddenly found themselves responsible for the daily schooling of their children. Several of my friends in this situation have reached out to me with questions about how I run my homeschooling day. It is difficult when what we have discerned as the right thing for our family is turned upside down and we are faced with challenges we never planned on facing.

So, for parents who feel like they are drowning in distance learning home school style, I want to offer some help. You can do this!

Just think of Ma (Caroline) Ingalls in her isolated homes in the territories of Minnesota and Dakota over long, long winters helping her children learn while running her whole household without electricity or indoor plumbing. You can do this!

Read some ideas to make your days at home more peaceful and manageable at the National Catholic Register…

Getting Ready for Advent

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!

The Blessed is She Marketplace is having some great sales this week!

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So, click on over if you have been waiting for a sale to get the planner, our virtue book for kids, or any other product!

Have a blessed Thanksgiving week!

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Catechisms Cannot Teach Your Children to Love God

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.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register.

Women and Men are Equal in Nature and in Grace

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.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register.

More on Virtue Ethics and Responsible Parenthood

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.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…