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The Souls of the Faithful Departed

Yesterday was All Souls Day, and I took the opportunity to pray for those in my family who have died, mainly those who I have known personally. The people I have been the closest to that have died were my dad’s parents.

My Grandpa H. died when I was in 5th grade. I remember crying a lot and missing him a lot. According to my grandma I was his favorite of 13 grandchildren; I’m not sure what I did to deserve that but I’ll take it. I never knew him to be a church-going man and at times I have wondered if he had any faith. I know that he was raised Catholic and that his children were raised Catholic, but I never saw him at Church (well except his funeral). After his funeral we had a party at my aunt’s house. I remember thinking I saw Grandpa sitting on the porch and then him not being there. It seemed like he was with us.

My Grandma H. died when I was a Freshman in college. She had been fighting cancer on and off for three years or so. I was nervous about going to school 10 hours from home, because I knew she would not live much longer. She was in the same parish as my parents, and I got to see her weekly. I think she must have been lonely after Grandpa died, but she always took the opportunity to be present in our lives. In conversations I have had with my mom, I learned that she was a very supportive mother-in-law, helping with the kids all the time. I have fond memories of going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house; they babysat us a lot. The thing I really appreciated about my grandma when I was in high school was that I got to share my faith community with her.

My second to last day in town at the end of Christmas break Freshman year, I spent the morning with Grandma. She had to get some blood drawn, so I went with her and sang to her to distract her from the needles. We then went to lunch together. She was worried about me studying Theology, because it was not a very career driven field. I assured her that I would be okay, and that I was just trying to do God’s will. She seemed happy for me. A few months later she had a surgery that she knew she might no recover from. When I went home for Spring break I went to see her in the hospital. My dad’s family sat with her in shifts making sure she had a family member with her 24/7. The hour I spent with her, she was asleep and not doing well. I did not really even talk to her; she looked so old and sick, I guess I was a little afraid. When a nurse came in, Grandma woke up. The nurse asked who I was and Grandma replied with a smile; she knew that I was there. However, she did not get better. She died the morning of the day Pope John Paul II died. I flew home for the funeral.

A few months after her death, one night around the anniversary of Grandpa’s death, I suddenly got the urge to pray for both of them. So, I did. That night I had a dream that they were together again and happy. I brought me great peace.

Since then I have had several dreams about Grandma. Always other members of my dad’s family are there, too. She never says anything, but just looks on as we all visit. I had a dream when I was pregnant and she was in the apartment and was happy. Another time I was traveling to St. Louis and there were other family members there, she seemed sad. Last night I had another dream with her in it. I don’t think it was a coincidence that it happened the night of All Souls Day. She was sad. In the dream she was still alive, but we all knew she was going to die soon. My one aunt suggested that we all go to church together, thinking that that might make Grandma happy, but Grandma still seemed sad. Today I realized that these dreams are maybe her wanting me to pray for her, but also for her family, many who have left the Church and many who do not believe in God at all. It must be hard to be a mother who wants children to believe the truth, and the children to not have faith. So, if you are reading this, please say a prayer for my Grandma and Grandpa, and also for those in my family who have left the Church.

May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

The Examined Life

Between Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain, St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life, Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla: A Woman’s Life by Giuliana Pelluchi, and Space Vulture by Gary K. Wolf and Archbishop John J. Myers, I have had time to reflect on sainthood and the call every person has to it.

Merton reflected that every person is different, yet we are all called to be like God, and when we become holy we become like God; each individual person reflects God in a different way. We can all become super holy, be like God, but also be entirely different from each other! Which makes a lot of sense when you look at the variety of saints we have out there. Though they all have in common, a strong love of God and others and a life of prayer with loyalty to the Church and her teaching.

So, what can we learn from all these Saints. When I think about Saints, I often look at the seemingly glamorous things they did, by glamorous I mean attractive because they were super holy and beyond what the average person does, i.e. stigmata, martyrdom, extreme poverty. Then I think, wow my life is pretty boring and slow-paced compared to that, there is no way I could become a Saint. Plus, I fail at living up to my calling everyday; I sometimes think the only way I could be super holy is to experience extreme persecution or start having super mystical experiences. Seriously, that is the stuff you here about in the lives of the Saints that inspires you. When you read the little bio in the breviary or missal, you generally ignore the “she lived a really holy life” and skip straight to the she had her breasts cut off and they grew back and then she was martyred. But if you think about it it really was the holy life before these great acts of holiness that made them a Saint. St. Gianna already lived a saintly life before she gave up her life for her child. Thomas Merton had potential to become a Saint in his striving to become holy day by day and eliminating his tendencies to sin. Space Vulture could have become good if he turned from his mortal sins.

St. Francis de Sales lays out the framework for holiness in his book. He explains that to be holy one has to live an examined life–every detail surrounding sin must be explored and weeded out. It is a tedious process, and it is difficult, but with grace we all can become saints. It is the daily choice all saints make to pray, to love God and others, to grow in virtue, to embrace one’s state in life.

I feel very fortunate that my desire to be a wife and mother has been fulfilled so early in life, and now I am realizing that it is a day by day choice to love and serve. By doing this and by seeking God’s grace in all I do and allowing him to work through me; that is how I will become a saint. Pray for me.

A Book in which Everything that can go Wrong does go Wrong

A few weeks ago I finished Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. It is a book where once you get about 2/3 through, you don’t really want to finish it, because there seems to be no way it could turn out right in the end.

It centers around a girl name Tess, who through chance encounters with certain people, bad luck, a lack of common sense, and people being jerks has just about everything go wrong for her (and her family). I guess the problems start with her obedience to her parents and end with her no longer being obedient to her conscience. Anyway, it was a depressing book, and what I got from it is that sometimes people never get what they really deserve and then they die.

So, a depressing post for a depressing book. Also, there is no sense of redemptive suffering at all in the book. I suppose if Tess had not lost her faith through the unkindness of those she trusted, she may have at least had hope. Jean Valjean did no get a chance to save this Fantine, and the Jean Valjean who should have, could have, saved her failed to take the opportunity. So, maybe we can remember that sometimes it is too late to help someone, and help them when we have the chance.

There’s Something Different About Philosophers

We went out last night with M.’s adviser and his wife. While we were discussing a logic class and certain professor M. explained that this professor definitely made him speak and think clearly. I chimed in that because of that class, I have been corrected every time I say something imprecise. M.’s adviser’s wife said to me, “Welcome to the club!”

The Call to be Outcasts

I’ve been getting a lot of time to read lately, since I help the baby sleep by staying next to her. So, since mid-July I have been reading the unabridged Les Miserables. I’ve always loved the musical, and wanted to read the book in total which turned out to be about 1/2 social-political commentary and 1/2 plot. So if you want a republican, social justice view of 19th century France, this is your book! There also is a good amount of history, which I supplemented with wikipedia (lol). Anyway, I don’t know any French, but apparently “les miserables” translates into something like “the outcasts,” and if you look at each of the main characters, they are all some sort of outcast from society. You have Jean Valjean the exconvict, Fantine the former mistress of a wealthy student who was left with an illicit child, Cosette the orphan child being raised by the exconvict who is ignorant of the whole, the Thenardier family who spend their whole lives stealing from people, Javert who is a police officer standing outside society to keep order, Marius the orphan and republican student and so on.

The person I want to look at here is Jean Valjean. He spent 19 years in jail for things he realized he was stupid to do, but is filled with rage and hate. When he is on parole he discovers society’s terror of him because he is an exconvict and while the bishop shows him love and mercy, he always retains this horror of himself. So while he successfully disguises his former identity as a prosperous mayor and factory owner, he lives in fear of his former self. He knows it exists within him, and no matter how many good deeds he does and no matter how virtuous he becomes he is always aware of who he is, Jean Valjean the exconvict. It does not matter that all he did was break a window and steal a loaf of bread when he was starving, he is an exconvict. As soon as people know who he is they are afraid of him and think he is awful. Yet, when they do not know who he is they recognize his saintly deeds and virtue and admire him.

There are several turning points where Valjean struggles with choosing the morally right thing, after his meeting with the bishop his conscience always overcomes and the choice always leads to him exposing his true self and being condemned by those who respect him. So naturally he is terrified of his exconvict self as well. No one seems to believe that an exconvict can be any good, that is until at the end one person knows his criminal history, but also all the good he has done. This person recognizes that he is a saint.

Jean Valjean represents the life of a saint. He has a conversion, turns from his old life, never does a wrong thing again and is constantly running from his former sins. He seeks the life of virtue and union with God, but is always aware of his sinful nature. He constantly condemns himself when he is already so good. He continues to find his weaknesses and overcomes them until he has completely abandoned himself to the point of physical death. I think this is how we are called to overcome our sins, to become more and more selfless so that we completely lose ourselves in God. We need to be horrified at our ability to sin and our past sins. Fortunately, God is much more forgiving than society, and we must run to him.

If we truly live the call to sainthood, we will be cast out of society like Jean Valjean was, though not in the same way. He was legally an outcast, but the way he lived also set him apart. He lived on the bare minimum and his only luxury was his love for Cosette, and when he lost her, he died. We also need something to flourish on, and Valjean says that this is love–without love the human soul dies, the human dies. So we must live the lives of saints with those whom we love and not fear the call to be outcasts. Tough stuff…

The Tragedy of Prof. St. Peter

I recently finished reading The Professor’s House by Willa Cather. I was on a Willa Cather kick after reading My Antonia while on vacation, and M. gave me two volumes of her writings for my birthday. I have read several other novels of hers about fairly normal people living the not so interesting life they happened to be in; this book was a bit different. It struck me as more tragic than the other stories I had read by her. Life did not always turn out as the people expected, yet they made the most of it, but Prof. St. Peter had a good successful life and then found it to be empty and became apathetic about it, choosing to not draw pleasure from life anymore. It’s like he committed suicide without actually killing himself, but just letting himself live as if he were dead.

In the novel he almost let’s himself die on accident and is saved by the Catholic lady who sews for his daughters and wife. He is intrigued by the way this woman lived. Augusta seemed to have more dreams for herself, but never made it beyond being a seamstress. She was a practical woman, devoted to those she served. On the last page of the book the professor goes through his depressing transformation:
“All the afternoon he had sat there at table where now Augusta was reading, thinking over his life, trying to see where he had made his mistake. Perhaps the mistake was merely an attitude of mind. He had never learned to live without delight. And he would have to learn to, just as in Prohibition country, he supposed he would have to learn to live without sherry. Theoretically he knew that life is possible, may be even pleasant, without joy, without passionate griefs. But it had never occurred to him that he might have to live like that.”

This is where he makes his tragic mistake, he looks to Augusta as an example of living life in this way without delights. For him this is what the Catholic life is like. Cather seems fascinated with Catholicism, but always emphasizes the sacrifices Catholics choose to make seeing them as a rejection of a pleasurable life. This seems to be the wrong view of Catholicism–she misses the beauty of sacramentality entirely. Her writing is very sacramental, but it seems she missed the point of it all–union with God. When one has union with God, it seems that life cannot be without pleasure (esp of the spiritual kind). Prof. St. Peter rejects the possibility of this union by choosing to be apathetic-lukewarm. And this my friends, is a tragedy.

On Some Surprises of Motherhood

One of the things that surprised me the most after the birth of my daughter G., was the amount of time it took for me to recover from giving birth to her and the physical change from being to pregnant to being not pregnant. I will not go into to many details here, but the changes consist of pushing a large head through a small opening with a muscle one does not generally use after spending hours contracting this muscle to get the baby low enough and after the child is born their is a complete change in hormones in the mother’s body. So, anyway, I guess I expected to give birth and be as strong and healthy as I was before delivery. After all I had been taking 30-45 minute walks 4 times a week up through the day I went into labor, and had been jogging until my 6th month of pregnancy. I was healthy and fit, so why couldn’t I pop the baby out and go on with life as usual?

I discovered that there is a reason one does not see a new mom and her baby very often after birth. Part of it is the pediatrician recommends keeping the baby away from people who may be sick for the first 6 weeks. Another reason includes that I was not allowed to drive for 2 weeks after delivery, or even take a walk. Really, all I wanted was have my energy back, and I did not have much energy at all. That was what was most frustrating, was that I wanted to be doing things and going places and was not allowed to and did not have the energy to do so. One might think that I would have been happy to sleep all day with the baby, but I was not.

So, finally about 6-8 weeks after delivery, I started feeling normal again. I understand now why it would be difficult for someone who did not think abortion was wrong to choose to have a baby that they were not expecting. It is a huge life change–even if one gave the baby up for adoption there still is the recovery from the labor. (Also, a postpartum body is never the same as it was before.) I am not saying that I support any decision to take a human life, I just think I have a bit more sympathy for someone who is ignorant of the truth of these matters. Further, it shows me how important it is to have children within the context of a loving marriage of a husband and wife. I depended on M. for many things after the birth of our daughter, even the simplest physical needs like getting something to drink. It does take a family to raise a child; parenthood is not easy. (Though it seems that some dads think it is a lot easier than they were expecting.)

Despite all of the difficulty surrounding bringing a child into the world, I cannot imagine my life differently. Children are such a blessing and a joy! It is amazing to see my daughter learn new things, to see her learn how to roll over, somehow maneuver herself a couple feet across the floor through her squirming, to bond with her as I feed her, to cuddle with her in bed, and to see her smile at me or even the stranger across the room. The funny thing is, now only 16 weeks postpartum, whenever I see a pregnant woman, I really want to be pregnant again–I guess motherhood is just as or even more fulfilling as I thought it would be.

On Living the Catholic Life in the World

Sorry it has been so long. Big changes have happened in my life. The baby was born and it has been a very long transition.

M., G., and I spent the last few weeks traveling around the Midwest to see family, and long car trips make for good conversation as long as the baby is not crying. While we discussed, I started to see more clearly the life I am called to live in the world. Last year I posted about living simply because of our own limited resources, but I am starting to see that the life we have chosen is truly Catholic and even if we had all the money in the world we would still choose to live the way we do—though we might spend more money on food so we could eat finer meals.

The question is, what does it mean to be Catholic in the world today and how does one best live in the world but not conform to the world. “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) It is hard to find the balance between the extremes of entire worldliness and a puritanical lifestyle. For example, I could look at how some people indulge in drinking to extreme drunkenness and lose a sense of the goodness of alcohol. There seems to be goodness in the creature of alcohol that not many people have a sense of in modern America (or even Europe). They drink what M. and I have referred to as “beer substitutes,” which are more like water than beer. And they call it drinking… They also abuse alcohol in other ways by simply drinking too much. I have found that drinking good drinks is enjoyable. It is nice to have at the end of the day, or in the evening with dinner. God made it good, and it can lead us to God. Thus, it would be wrong to entirely reject it. I know some of you are laughing at me now remembering my former views on drinking, and I thank you for helping me come to a better understanding.

Another example of what I am trying to express is the modern understanding of reading. A while ago C. sent me an article about kid’s books about bodily functions to simply get kids to read. It showed me that there is a huge focus on getting kids to read. It does not matter what they read as long as they read. Is there virtue to simply reading no matter what it is? I spent much of my childhood reading books like the Baby-sitter’s club, but I wonder if I would have spent my time just as well playing video games and watching cartoons on television. It does matter what you read. Reading should be for the sake of forming one’s character, leading one to grow in virtue. The great books that are remembered teach people about life and what it means to live well. However, it is not easy to choose to read something that will form character. It is much easier to read a blockbuster novel than something like Les Miserables, but I am certain that Jean Valjean can teach me much more about virtue than whoever is in the other book.

So, what does it mean to live as a Catholic in the world. I am seeking to live a truly sacramental life. This means I must give up certain things the world sees as normal, but not live to such an extreme that others cannot relate to me. I want to live in such a way that leads others to God and makes them wonder what they are missing. One thing I am thankful that I live without is a television. For a year now I have lived without a television in my home, and I do not miss it at all. Whenever I am around television, I am disgusted at the content of the shows and the consumerism present in the commercials. There are certain things I might miss, like speeches and news, but these things I can find on the Internet as well. M. and I will kill your television for you if you would like. While I was pregnant we got in the habit of watching a movie almost every week, and after G. was born we started looking at our movie watching habits, realizing that our reasons for watching them were more and more out of laziness and less and less out of a desire to see a certain good movie. My philosophy of movie watching is similar to that of book-reading. If it is no good and does not lead me closer to God, then it is not worth watching. So we decided to limit our movie watching, and hope that by limiting it to a certain number a month, we can be virtuous in our choice of movie and find the ones worth watching.

Another thing to be careful about is the use of the Internet. It is so easy to get sucked into it and waste time on things that are stupid (such as reading my blog…lol…but seriously I hope this blog does some good for somebody even if it is just me). I know this is a place I need to grow, so I am seeking to become virtuous in my use of the Internet, such as blogging on important things…and using facebook well (is that possible?).

Living a Catholic life in the world calls for finding the good and truth in society, accepting it and allowing it to bring one closer to God, and being careful not to get caught up in the evil in the world. It is an extreme way to live, but it seems to be the right way to live. I know I have not touched on every aspect of life, but this is just the beginning…

Almost There

We are less than two months from the due date. Yesterday I was realizing certain things I will miss about it just being M. and me in our apartment together, but I was also missing things we don’t do anymore since we have been married. It is interesting how transitions change things—I do not mean to be redundant there.

More changed when we got married than us living together and moving. We had and still do have a “newly-wed” dynamic which is different from the crush stage, first dating stage, dating too long to count months anymore stage, and the engaged stage. They all have things about them that I have missed since I have moved on, but also things I am glad I will not experience again. I remember savoring the last few months before the wedding, eager to be married, but happy for the right time to move on. Now I am realizing the need to savor this time full of so much hope and expectation.

We are both really excited for the baby to finally come and to experience this new person beyond the waves it causes on my belly. There is also a special-ness of being a newly married couple in our cozy apartment without anyone there. Pregnancy has not really disrupted that. I think it has helped us learn how to be married in serving each other and realizing we have limits to what we can do for each other.

In just two short months, or even sooner-we can’t really predict-the baby will be here and we will discover new joy in our life together. We will find new ways to serve, new ways to sacrifice, and new ways to grow. We will also learn about what is most important, and what can wait or what we do not need. I am excited but nervous.

On Expectation-Thoughts from Advent

Last month M. and I were discussing why pregnancy is often described as “expecting.” This I probably a more appropriate topic for Advent, but here it is now. I started pondering the idea and realized that there are many expectations I have as a pregnant woman about what the future holds, but I do not think that is the whole answer.

So, during Advent I began thinking about the Blessed Mother and her expectancy of Jesus. Really she did not know what to expect—the angel came to her and she gave her “fiat.” Then she heard about Elizabeth and went to hang out with her for awhile. I wonder what she and Elizabeth talked about together, after the leaping in the womb but also as women. Whenever I talk to another pregnant woman, or even new mothers, we always talk about being pregnant and compare stories of aches, pains, and the stuff we have gotten so far for the baby. Maybe they talked about how to take care of babies, but maybe they also realized that there was something greater than they could ever expect in both of their children. John the Baptist was sanctified in the womb when he recognized his Savior and Elizabeth knew God had chosen him for something great! Mary knew that her son was also God. They must have had great awe when thinking about their children. Dom Gueranger wrote in The Liturgical Year about how Mary must have contemplated her child in the womb and meditated upon who he was. It seems that “expecting” is more than having expectations, but involves wonder at the miracle within oneself.

Now I know that my child is not God and has not been sanctified already, though I have tried to find a way to validly baptize it before birth, but I do relate to the Blessed Mother in her expectation and I pray that my motherhood will at least have some of the grace her motherhood has.