The Reliability of Interruptions: Lessons from a Fictional Monastery

The subzero temperatures had restricted our homeschooling family to inside activities for over a week. Even our daily walk had been was reduced to pacing the finished basement or using a treadmill. This time of being restricted to our routine indoors, combined with a rereading of In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden, reminded me again of how our family life seems to run parallel to the life within a Benedictine monastery. I base this idea on the Rule of St. Benedict, conversations with a friend who is a monk, and Godden’s novel. (Godden’s content seems reliable as it matches the Rule for in her research she spent time living in Stanbrook Abbey in England and consulted with the nuns during her writing.)

The thing that stood out to me most in my comparison, however, was not the well laid out routine of a monastery and my home. It was instead the importance of peacefully embracing interruptions and the practice of using every slot of time, no matter how short, effectively in serving God. Flexibility in departure from routine is a place that I have long needed to grow, and it is the reliability of having interruptions that makes way for the need to use well every window of time.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

We Pay Debts of Justice by Performing Works of Mercy

“I am thirsty,” he says to me as I tuck him into bed. “These pants have a hole,” she informs me as she gets dressed. “I need a hug,” another child cries out as she deals with the consequences of her poor behavior.

Addressing these basic necessities of my children has been a part of my life for nearly 12 years, and I realized a few years into parenting how in my service to my family I am fulfilling the call to live out the works of mercy. However, the fact of my own children’s needs being daily met, reminds me that there are many people who do not have these most basic needs met — of food, drink, clothing, health care, and human sympathy and comfort.

In the encyclical Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII wrote about private ownership as the natural right of man. He further discussed how we should use our own possessions, quoting from St. Thomas Aquinas, “Man should not consider his material possessions as his own, but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when others are in need” (RV 22). He said it was our duty, “not of justice (save in extreme cases), but of Christian charity, to give what we have to others,” not of what we reasonably need to support ourselves, but of what we are able.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

Make Lent About Loving God This Year

Lent is early this year–in just six weeks–and it is still Christmas now. But perhaps it feels as if it never ended from last year. Our lives are still turned upside-down. Our world is in turmoil. Perhaps you are dealing with life changes you were not expecting. 
On February 17, come join me in journeying through Lent with the Blessed is She Lent devotional, Set A Fire, narrated by Olivia Spears with reflections by Jenna Guizar, Tricia Tembreull, Elise Howe, Sarah Ortiz, Mary Catherine Craige, and Ginny Kubitz Moyer. This fire is not a physical one, but a spiritual one, where we will invite the Holy Spirit to enter into our Lenten observance and open up ourselves to His grace. We will be transformed. And maybe, maybe when Easter comes, even if the world is still crazy, our hearts will be resting more fully in His love.


There are a lot of awesome products this year to go with the grown up Lent book, such as the children’s Lent journal, for boys and girls. It follows along with the same scriptures and themes on each day; we will do it during our quiet family prayer time together while they pray at their level and I will at mine. My children delighted in the Advent journal for them, and my son can’t wait to cut out the paper dolls.

And the bundle this year has this sandalwood rose candle and this beautiful Holy Spirit necklace. 

And if you don’t yet have your Risen Easter Devotional, you can buy a bundle with both the Lent and Easter together!

Affiliate links are all here:

Set A Fire: BIS Lent 2021 Devotional

Kid’s BIS Lent 2021

BIS Lent Adult and Kid’s Bundle

BIS Lent Bundle: Devotional, Necklace, Candle

Lent/Easter Bundle

A Shoot From the Stump of Our Lives

I have never noticed the slanting light of winter afternoons as vividly as I have this Advent on our daily family walk — a walk that has become our custom in 2020 just to get out of the house. The sun eases her way over the horizon these days — coming up late, going down early. She shows herself for only eight hours or so and then leaves us in the darkness speckled with the twinkling Christmas lights of our neighborhood. Advent feels more advent-like than normal as we wait, wait for the world to breathe again, wait for things to be normal again, wait most of all for Christ to come on Christmas morning. Perhaps his coming into our hearts again this year will change everything as it did on that first Christmas.

Isaiah wrote about the coming of Christ in these words we hear every Advent, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots” (Isaiah 11:1). The prophet’s words were talking about the line of the family of Jesse, the father of David. They were words for the chosen, faithful people of God, but they lost their way again and again and again. When Jesus came as a little baby — God made man — he was this shoot coming out from this stump of the broken line of kings, a stump of the chosen people unable to stay close to God, a stump of all fallen humanity unable to know God on their own.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

Love of God is the Reason for Education

I plopped down in my desk chair. Our first day of homeschool for the year was over and instead of my normal hurry to get to my afternoon work, I was filled with a sense of accomplishment in having taught my children well, and gratitude that I have the means to be their educator. All of the careful planning I had done over the summer — the choosing of curriculums and books, the detailed planning of the school year — was beginning to bear fruit.

We have the rest of the school year ahead of us, and it is my job to teach kindergarten, second grade, fourth grade and sixth grade to four very unique children. I began to reflect on the experiences of my friends had shared with me when they were thrown into distance learning last March and the struggle of discernment they went through about this school year. I considered the careful planning done by schools and youth programs to make education possible and doable this year.

And what I saw was this: while it was all extremely hard and often tedious, this work of educating children is a worthy task and one in which we should feel humbled to take part. For this task of education is never for the sake of knowledge itself but is for the sake of knowing and loving God. If we do it well, the children we educate will have grown in knowledge, virtue and holiness. If we do it well, what our children learn will fill them with a love of God and wonder of his creation.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

Bl. Franz Jäggerstätter and a Third Party Vote

The issue of protecting the life of unborn children in the womb has been the central issue for American Catholics for almost half a century. Furthermore, many Catholics think they have an obligation to vote for the pro-life candidate who has the greatest chance of winning. But at what point does a candidate who promotes pro-life legislation go too far in many the other areas of Catholic social teaching? Do Catholics have an obligation to vote for someone who leads the government into other grave violations of human dignity, just because he or she is opposed to abortion?

With many other Catholics, I have concluded that voting for the anti-abortion candidate who is most likely to win does not fit with our duty as Catholics to uphold all the truths taught by the Catholic Church when that candidate’s other views conflict with other important life issues. In this position, I see myself following the example of Bl. Franz Jägerstätter who was pressured by fellow Catholics including priests and bishops to support the Nazi Socialist Party in Austria in the 1930s and 40s. They told him that he had to do it for the Fatherland—but he felt that he could not participate in the evils promoted and actually committed by the Nazi Socialist Party.

I am not saying that our political parties are as evil as the Nazis, yet. But they support many elements in American society that degrade the dignity of the human person. Since a government has a moral duty to protect and respect the dignity of all humans in its realm and not violate the dignity of noncitizens, all of these things must be taken into consideration by Catholics

The USCCB presents these important considerations in their rereleased document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. In this document, the bishops apply the tradition of Catholic social teaching to issues we are facing in the United States today. While they emphasize ending the evil of abortion as the preeminent “priority because it directly attacks life itself,” they also bring attention to “other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty,” and to issues like the inhuman treatment and lack of due process for families coming to our borders in crisis, gun violence, health care reform, and attacks on the essential nature of the human person as male and female.

When the only anti-abortion/pro-life candidate who is likely to win stands for and promotes a large number of issues that violate human dignity, Catholics face a difficult decision. After we have formed our conscience in the fullness of truth, reasoned about the weight of the importance of various issues, and have found that the two major-party candidates and platforms do not promote enough of the fullness of truth about human dignity, we have to make some decision.

I contend that it is morally permissible, or even recommended, for Catholics either to vote for a third-party candidate* who is both pro-life regarding abortion and has stances consistent with many other aspects of moral truth or to turn in a blank ballot. When there is not a candidate worth voting for, then it is best to not vote for any. This is so even if a major-party candidate supports Catholic social teaching on some issues, like abortion, and stands a good chance of winning the election.

St. Thomas Aquinas explains in the Summa Theologiae that it is wrong to not follow one’s conscience, but also that one has an obligation to form one’s conscience (I-II, Q. 19, Art. 5-6). He explains that we are responsible if we do not fully form our consciences in accord with the fullness of truth. The Church gives us examples of this sort of political act in some of her saints. The drive to not compromise the fullness of moral truth for the sake of worldly success is the same drive that led Bl. Franz Jäggerstätter and similarly St. Thomas More and to stand against the unjust governments of their respective times and ultimately give up their lives. For them it was the love of truth and desire to do what was right that led them to make their stand.

St. Thomas More was an influential government leader who refused to support King Henry VIII in separating the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church. Bl. Franz Jägerstätter in his position against his government was a simple Austrian peasant as he courageously refused to take the oath to support Adolf Hitler and serve under the National Socialists in the military.

Both men knew that they faced hopeless cases politically. They both knew that they would forfeit their lives if they did not agree to support an evil leader of a government. Nearly all the other Catholics that both men knew chose to go along with the evil done by the government. Both men knew their choice to stand against it would not stop the leader from making evil choices. But both had to follow their consciences. They both supported a hopeless cause, but they chose to support the truth anyway.

In his personal notebooks, Bl. Franz described German-speaking Catholics as people engulfed in a stream they would have to struggle to escape, that stream being the National Socialist party, which Pope Pius XI had spoken out against. The German Church supported that party’s rule out of fear of losing its liberties. But Bl. Franz asked in his writings, “Have church officials reached the decision that it is now permissible for Catholics to belong to a party that opposes the church?” (Franz Jägerstätter: Letters and Writings from Prison, Notebook II, p. 174) Catholics today run the risk of being engulfed in the stream of either major political party. But it is our moral duty to examine each party and discern if either is worth supporting.

Now, unlike in the cases of St. Thomas More and Bl. Franz, the way that a Catholic chooses to vote in an election in the United States is not a matter of physical life and death for him or her. But it is clear that the major parties do not promote respect for the human dignity of all persons: the unborn, the poor, the worker, the elderly, families, the oppressed, etc. It is also clear that how we vote is a moral act, and that like any moral act, it affects the life of our souls. Like Bl. Franz and St. Thomas More, we have to make political choices that aim at protecting the truths of the Church and the moral truth that all humans have dignity and deserve to be treated as such.

As in the cases of St. Thomas More and Bl. Franz, it is worth aiming at these goals with our votes, regardless of whether our choice stands any reasonable chance of success. It may be that turning in a blank ballot or voting for a third-party candidate aims at these goals better than voting for a major party candidate. Each Catholic must weigh all of the relevant information in their consciences, and the right choice in not always clear. But turning in a blank ballot or voting for a third party send will send a message about the Catholic vote: that we must protect the unborn and all vulnerable people and that our two major parties are not doing enough. Just as in the acts of St. Thomas More and Bl. Franz, this is worth saying, even if it has no immediately apparent effect.

*One third party many faithful Catholics are supporting is the American Solidarity Party, which has based its platform on the successful Christian Democrat parties in Europe and Catholic Social Teaching.

The Seven Sorrows of Miscarriage

The van pulled up to the cemetery that sunny late summer day, parking next to the familiar path to the tombstone for babies lost to miscarriage. The kids piled out of the car, one of them leading their grandparents to the gravesite. The kids asked where our babies were buried, and I showed them the grassy spots on the ground. And then I found the new engraving on the tombstone, one we had not yet seen: “Spencer Babies 2014, 2017.”

Those two had a Christian burial thanks to the mercy of God and the rites of the Church. Our first baby was too small when he passed to collect any remains.

Oct. 15 is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, a day the Senate brought into existence in 2006 as a day to honor the lives of babies who died in miscarriage, stillbirth and other causes.

For me this whole month is a time I remember the brief lives of my three children who died in the first trimester of pregnancy. I was thinking about the particulars last week, and while it has been three years since our last loss, the pain is so vivid when I enter into those memories. And I realized that entering into the memories is like praying with the Seven Sorrows of Mary. There seems to be an accompanying Seven Sorrows of Miscarriage.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register.

What Pope St. John Paul II Said About ‘Structures of Sin’

In the pastoral letter Open Wide Our Hearts, the USCCB reviews the history of the oppression of people based on ethnicity and race in America, and states quite clearly: “The roots of racism have extended deeply into the soil of our society.”

We, as conservative Christians who believe in the dignity of all human persons, should openly acknowledge the problem of racism in our nation and stand against it. We should see the injustice of a person holding his or her race or ethnicity as superior to others’, the sinfulness of individuals and groups acting on these views, and how these views have influenced our laws and the way our society functions.

We as Catholics should be at the front lines of the fight to end racism, instead of ceding the front lines to people who have been influenced more by various ideologies than by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s use the language that the Church already has to talk about sins like racism. We already have teachings on how we have a responsibility to bring about an end to it.

The Church in her tradition and in the Catechism talks about “structures of sin” and “social sin.” The Catechism (1869) states: “Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. ‘Structures of sin’ are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a ‘social sin.’”

Pope St. John Paul II, in his apostolic exhortation, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, defines social sin — or “structures of sin” as he calls it in the encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis — in several ways.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register.

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…