Friday, May 31, 2013

Abuelo's Catechism

"Relax and enjoy being a Catholic!" my father-in-law José Antonio joyfully proclaimed after I converted from Episcopalianism to Catholicism. I am so blessed that my in-laws have shared the ebullient Catholic culture of sunny southern Spain with me and my kids. When we are around Abuelo and Abuela (the Spanish words for Grandfather and Grandmother), Catholicism permeates the atmosphere. But on Sundays, Catholic culture turns to outright catechesis in Abuelo's catechism class.

Every Sunday, our kids go to catechism class at their Abuelo and Abuela's house. They gather around the kitchen table with their cousins and listen to whatever topic Abuelo picked for the day. One topic was the glorious bodies we'll receive after Judgment Day. Another was the Apostles' Creed.

Abuelo sits at the head of the table with an old-style, brass mortar and pestle in front of him. He bangs it like a gong whenever the kids get too rambunctious or out of line. Every few weeks he gives them a written test, and then grades it and announces the results to the whole class. Believe me, it makes them study.

Back in Spain, when Abuelo was growing up, he always studied hard, and he loved tests. On one make-up test, he was asked how much material the test should cover -- how much had he studied? "Todo el texto," he replied. All of it, the whole book. It became a nickname of sorts. So, when he teaches catechism, Abuelo expects memorization and an ability to demonstrate understanding, no matter how young the student.

One Sunday recently, our family went to a neighboring parish for Mass. The kids had acted unruly and had totally failed to listen to the Gospel, so my husband made them read it from his smartphone after Mass (yes, there's an app for that). The priest walked by to see what the kids were doing.

Before long, the conversation turned into an impromptu quiz. "You know there is only one God, right, but do you know how many persons?" asked the priest. "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!" the kids answered. As the kids kept giving right answers, the questions persisted. "I bet you don't know the Apostles' Creed!" My 8-year-old daughter Maria nailed it. "In what book of the Bible did God give Moses the Ten Commandments?" came the priest's next question. "Exodus," answered my sixth-grader Lelia. The conversation ended after about an hour, when my husband decided that the kids deserved a big lunch with ice cream at the nearby Portuguese restaurant. We were so proud of our sweeties, and their Abuelo who had taught them so well.

The following Sunday, the priest mentioned our family in his homily. "Do you know where these kids are learning their faith?" he asked rhetorically. "Their Abuelo! So all you abuelos out there should start teaching their grandkids!" I second the priest's recommendation. The kids have learned some things from us, from Mass, and from the parish school, but they've learned so much more from their Abuelo. He is strict, but loving. He challenges them with tough concepts and precise theological terminology. His expectations are high, and the kids meet them.

Unfortunately, many Catholic kids today are not learning their faith from parish catechism classes, where the bar is just set too low, as Barbara Nicolosi recently asserted. According to Barb, "the sad reality of parish-based catechesis in most places is that it's boring, lightweight, irrelevant drivel for the kids, and frustration and embarrassment for the catechists." Ouch! As a solution, she recommended bringing the most knowledgeable and best catechized parishioners in as tutors. This may not work well on a parish level, in my opinion. If these parishioners exist, why aren't they already involved in the religious education program? But this may be a perfect solution in a family setting, as Abuelo's catechism class has proven to us.

Parents are the primary educators of their children, without a doubt, as Pope John Paul II has said. But, speaking from experience, I have to admit that it's difficult for parents to catechize on the fly. Unless parents home-school their kids or severely limit the number of extracurricular activities (not to mention electronic devices), we can barely fit in time for a three-sentence conversation. And that's assuming that we know our faith. But maybe many of us have older relatives who would love to catechize our school-age kids while we parents are feeding the babies or putting the toddlers down for a nap (or napping ourselves). Why not ask these relatives to share their faith with the children? It may be just the chance they've been waiting for.

Has anyone else struggled to find the time and resources to teach the faith to your kids? What solutions have you found? Please share your experiences in the comments!

Spanish version: El Catecismo del Abuelo

The version of this article was listed in Tito Edwards' The Best in Catholic Blogging at the National Catholic Register website.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Summer Reading Fun from

All the cool moms (and dads) at are hosting the “Lawn Chair Catechism" online virtual summer book club, beginning on May 29 (which was yesterday, sorry about that!). We’re using Forming Intentional Disciples, by Sherry Weddell.

We've put together a discussion guide that includes a summary of each chapter plus discussion questions, and a two-page discussion question-only download. We’d love to have you participate! You do not have to read the book to participate, but...

Our Sunday Visitor is offering the book for the incredibly low price of $10 through June 8, with free shipping! After June 8 and through the conclusion of our study, they’ll still be offering free shipping. And if you're like me, you love a deal (yes!).

You can find all the information on the Lawn Chair Catechism page at So drop by for a visit, make some new friends, and deepen your faith.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Pre-Cana Contacts Wanted!

God doesn't always like my life to be easy. He'll get me to where he wants me to go, but he's gonna make me work for it. For example. The other day I sent out a general message on my social networks.
Pre-Cana Contacts Wanted!
I am in discussions with a publisher who asked for a show of interest in pre-Cana materials (or a full program) intended for well-catechized weekly Mass-goers. If your parish or Diocese has a need for something like this, please leave a comment here with your contact info. Thanks!
I thought people would come stampeding in. This is a need that I can see so clearly. Surely everyone else can, too, right?

I received one response from a very nice gentleman who said he couldn't give me the names of any specific contacts, but he wished me well with my work. At my urging, he contacted his parish informally and received the answer: "Not interested." A few other people chimed in, but no one named a specific parish; nobody gave me a phone number. As I am wont to do, I fell into a (mini) pit of despair. Make that -- fit of despair.

Then God came galloping to the rescue, as he frequently does, in the guise of a priest. The priest was giving a talk on Jesus' parable of the sower. You know, the one where he compares the hearts of his listeners to four types of soil -- hard ground, rocky ground, soil covered by brambles, or fertile ground. The Word of God can only take root and flourish in the fertile soil, of course. Now here's where God comes galloping in (can you hear the hoofbeats?). Then, the priest tells a story of pioneers in the Nebraskan Territories. At first, the pioneers found the soil to be utterly unworkable. After a few years, many pioneers gave up and left. But under the hard exterior was 100 feet of the richest topsoil on the planet. With that soil, said the priest, you could grow enough to feed the world.

And what I heard God say, was that well-catechized weekly Mass-goers with a firm foundation in the Church's teachings on marriage and the practical savvy to live them well can turn into strong families capable of revolutionizing our entire culture. I just gotta keep digging to find them.

Photo Credit: bjmccray via Compfight cc

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Virginity, Grief, and Healing

In my last post on Virginity, Rape, and Loss, I discussed the case of kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart, who lost her virginity through rape. The forcible taking of her virginity and of her body clearly harmed her. But what about people who choose to give up their virginity through engaging in premarital sex? Is anyone harmed then? Does anyone suffer a loss?

Let's return again to the idea of virginity as a sign of what God wants for us. In the last post, I talked about virginity as a sign that the person belongs only to himself (or herself) and God. A person who possesses himself is free to give himself. And, much more than a bodily act, sexual or conjugal union is meant to be a complete gift of self. John Paul II in his Letter to Families explained:
Every man and every woman fully realizes himself or herself through the sincere gift of self. For spouses, the moment of conjugal union constitutes a very particular expression of this. It is then that a man and woman, in the ‘truth’ of their masculinity and femininity, become a mutual gift to each other. All married life is a gift; but this becomes most evident when the spouses, in giving themselves to each other in love, bring about that encounter which makes them ‘one flesh’ (Gen 2:24).
This gift of self is a gift of body and soul, since we can't separate the two. Because human beings have more than a physical value, sex has more than a physical value. And because sex has more than a physical value, virginity has more than a physical value. As stated in John Paul II's Love and Responsibility, physical virginity or intactness "possesses a deeper meaning, not only physiological."
When [a man] gives himself to another person, when a woman gives herself to a man in conjugal intercourse, then this giving should have the full value of spousal love. A woman then ceases to be "virginal" in the bodily sense. And because the self-giving is reciprocal, then a man also ceases to be virginal.
The mutual loss of virginity when a man and a woman enter into sexual union for the first time is meant to occur within the context of reciprocal spousal love. More simply, when you lose your virginity to someone or when someone loses their virginity to you, this is a love that's meant to last forever, in sickness and in health, til death do you part.

Even if a woman (or man) purposefully gives their body to someone who does not reciprocate the gift through the life-long bond of marriage, at the very least there has been an unequal exchange. As Christopher West frequently states in his talks on the Theology of the Body, there is a reason why most of us feel uncomfortable around people with whom we've had premarital sexual experiences. These experiences should never have happened.

These experiences, even if they were voluntary at the time, can cause real grief. Some women struggle to forgive themselves for having chosen to have premarital sex; other women struggle to forgive their husbands for not having saved themselves for marriage.  I have read several blogs of engaged or recently married women, like this one here, and I can tell you that virginity still matters. Virginity has value.

Recognizing that virginity is valuable and good allows us to acknowledge its loss as a real loss. Only then can the real road to healing and forgiveness begin. As Catholic psychiatrist Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons has written, the first step of forgiveness is when people rationally determine that they have been unfairly treated. Before you can forgive, you have to admit that you have been hurt, you have been wronged. Only then can people willfully abandon the resentment to which they have a right. Only then can they let go of the grief and anger and begin to heal. "Forgiveness is a specialist in quelling that kind of anger that debilitates the injured or wounded individual," wrote Dr. Fitzgibbons and his colleague in their book Helping Clients Forgive.

In his talks on the Theology of the Body, Chris West offers an apology to the women in the audience: "On behalf of all the men who hurt you, I'm sorry." By standing in the shoes of the perpetrators, West offers what many people never receive -- an apology. And apologies aid us in the work of forgiveness.

But if two people willingly enter into premarital sex, don't they both hurt each other, even if they don't intend to at the time? Yes. But just because we hurt someone else (however unwillingly or unknowingly), that fact doesn't erase the hurt that has been done to us. We need to forgive the other person. And perhaps just as much, we need to allow ourselves to receive forgiveness as well.

This is where the Sacrament of Penance comes in. We are so blessed to have a Church that offers forgiveness of sins from Jesus himself through the words of a priest. There are few more consoling words to someone who approaches with true sorrow than "I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." And let us not forget the words of the Lord's Prayer in which we plead, "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us."

To anyone who is grieving over these issues, on behalf of those who hurt you, I am sorry. May God's grace bring you healing and peace.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Virginity, Rape, and Loss

Elizabeth Smart, a kidnapping victim who was abducted at age 14 and then raped and held for nine months, stated recently that her religious upbringing had caused her to lose hope after being sexually violated. Based on a schoolteacher's talk about abstinence, Elizabeth concluded that after being forced to have sex, she no longer had any worth as a human being. "Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value," she said.

This led to an intense flurry of Internet posts and commentary on the value of abstinence-only sex education.  Critics such as Calah Alexander focused on the fear-mongering aspects of abstinence-only programs, which sometimes compared a girl who had lost her virginity to a dirty glass of water or a chewed-up piece of gum. But perhaps a more helpful line of inquiry would have centered on the value of virginity itself and its relationship to the value of a human person.

Suggesting that virginity, or the loss of virginity, is an arbitrary line (as one post did) does not contribute meaningfully to the conversation. Instinctively, most women would sense it's more than that, even if such an attitude is not particularly hip or progressive. So what is virginity according to Catholic thought? In his book Love and Responsibility ("L&R"), Pope John Paul II defined physical virginity of either a man or a woman as a state of being "untouched by another, sexually intact." Then he made the obvious point that sexual intactness "finds its expression even in the physiological constitution of a woman." Virginity is a physical reality, and the loss of it causes a permanent change to a woman's body.

John Paul II's Theology of the Body teaches us that the body is a sign, a sacramental sign. The body means something. The way that God made our bodies means something. Clearly, virginity means something. But what?

John Paul II in L&R stated that physical virginity (or bodily intactness) "is an exterior expression of the fact that the person belongs only to himself and to the Creator." When you belong to yourself, you are free to give yourself. Persons who retain their physical virginity have the freedom to give all of themselves -- their persons, their lives, and their intact bodies -- to someone else, either to a spouse through a vow of marriage or to God through a vow of chastity. If someone forcibly takes that freedom from a woman, like they took it from Elizabeth Smart, she has lost something.

But she has not lost everything. She still retains her value as a human person and as a woman. In a sense, she has even retained her purity. John Paul II in the Theology of the Body stated that Christ radically opposed a tendency to view moral or sexual purity in an exclusively external and material way. In the context of sexual abuse, the former pope's words take on particular poignancy:
Nothing makes a man unclean "from the outside"; no "material" dirtiness makes a man impure in the moral sense.  ... Moral purity has its wellspring exclusively in man's interior: it comes from the heart.
Rape or abuse cannot make a person unclean or impure; it cannot destroy their intrinsic value.

Similarly, whether a person is still physically virgin does not determine whether their life has value, according to Catholic thought. Pope John Paul in L&R stressed that "we should not think that the essence of virginity lies merely in bodily intactness." Virginity reflects an interior disposition of wanting to belong to God. Through the desire of the heart, "what was the state of nature [bodily intactness] becomes an object of the will, an object of a conscious choice and decision." Victims like Elizabeth Smart did not consciously choose what happened to them. The idea that unwanted sexual abuse can turn a person into a valueless object, like a chewed-up piece of gum or dirty glass of water, is not a Catholic idea at all.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2356) condemns rape in the strongest terms. It blames the perpetrator and not the victim:
Rape deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right. It causes grave damage that can mark the victim for life. It is always an intrinsically evil act.
It is the rapist, not the victim, who commits the evil. But the victim must live with the wounds inflicted by that evil.

This problem extends far beyond Elizabeth Smart. Catholic therapist Dr. Phil Mango has encountered staggering numbers of devout Catholic adults who experienced sexual abuse in their youth. Many times the victims will refuse to talk about their past experiences, even with their spouse. They suppress unacknowledged feelings of rage against their perpetrators, and their marriages suffer as a result of these unhealed wounds. But healing is possible.

In the next post on this topic, I'll talk about healing through forgiveness, and how those who lost their virginity voluntarily (and their spouses) need healing as well.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Preaching, Teaching, and Washing Dishes

"Wash more dishes," my spiritual director inevitably advises me. This kicks off a prolonged spate of whining on my part. My children are brilliant whiners, and they have taught me well. "But ... I'm not good at it!" I insist plaintively, sometimes silently, sometimes out loud. "And I don't like it. And I didn't do enough of it as a kid. Or as a young adult. I'm not meant to wash dishes. I'm better than that! And who cares about dishes anyway?" Oh, wait, the Holy Father recently told us no whining? But...

I have always idealized the day that all this housewifery will end and I can "go back to work." In my fantasies, someone else will clean the house and help the children do homework, while I wear fancy suits (yes, I know no one does this any more -- humor me) and stand in the spotlight. After all, didn't Our Blessed Mother take on a completely new role after the Ascension of Our Lord into heaven? She guided, supported, and advised the new church in Jesus' absence. The New Testament didn't exist yet, so who was there to tell the stories of Jesus' early life? Mary. She could teach the disciples about the message from the Angel Gabriel, who told her that the child to be born to would be called the Son of the Most High, and his kingdom would last forever. Mary could tell of how she lost the child Jesus in Jerusalem and found him again in the temple after three days, the holy temple that Jesus called "my Father's house." All the things she had been pondering in her heart, she could tell to the apostles and the disciples as they waited in the upper room for the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. In a way, she was preaching the Good News to them, teaching them about her son.

"But who do you think was doing the dishes? Who was cooking and cleaning for the apostles in the upper room?" a priest asked recently. Dishes?! Again!?! Is the work of a woman really never done? But it isn't too much of a stretch to think that Mary was taking care of the apostles the same way she always took care of her son Jesus as he grew up in her home. At the wedding of Cana, Mary noticed when the wine ran out, even when it wasn't her party. She asked Jesus to take care of what was essentially a domestic task, and he did. Mary paid attention to these things.

Certainly, Mary could preach, teach, and wash dishes. If anybody could do it all, she could. But there are other women to show us the way as well. St. Gianna Berretta Molla worked as a doctor and a mother while developing an intense interior holiness. Popular Catholic blogger Jennifer Fulwiler took care of five young children while writing posts for the National Catholic Register while being eight or nine months pregnant in the hospital with pulmonary embolisms. My favorite recent post of hers? Because why even have a blog if you can't write chatty posts while stuck in the hospital? As well-known as Jennifer is, she still says she devotes only 10% of her day to writing and the rest to her home and kids.

So no matter what else we do in life, most moms are going to wind up having to wash at least a few dishes. And the sooner we (okay, I) accept that reality, the sooner the whining will stop. Like, maybe, tomorrow. Or next week...

Photo Credit: miss pupik via Compfight cc

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Way We Met

When we taught pre-Cana classes together, my husband and I never got much of a response to questions like "So what made you fall in love?" But almost everyone had a great story about the way they met. My friend Trista, who's getting married super-soon, just wrote a blogpost about how she met her fiance Brian online. So, I figured Manny and I could share our story, as wedding season kicks off. Please tell us about your story in the comments!

Manny and I actually met twice. The first time, we ran into each other by chance. I was crossing the street in one direction, trying to get to work on time. He was crossing the street in the other direction, together with my friend Ayman from college. I waved to Ayman, exchanged a few pleasantries, and zoomed off to the office. The way Manny tells it, he then turned to Ayman and said something like "Who was that?" Ayman told Manny that I was not Manny's type. And that was that. At least for the next two years.

Fast forward to Ayman's big party in Brooklyn to introduce his American friends to his Spanish girlfriend. The girlfriend's name was Eva. Ayman and Eva met in Spain during the Fería de Abril, held every year just after Easter. Ayman caught Eva's attention when he strode up to the stage in the front of one of the immense festival tents and began playing flamenco guitar. Ayman didn't speak Spanish and Eva didn't speak English, so they communicated in French. In the summer that Ayman threw the big party in Brooklyn, Eva had traveled to stay with her relatives in New York to see if there was any future for her and Ayman. (Now they are happily married with two great kids!) Eva's very nice American cousin, also attending the party, was named -- Manny.

Manny approached me at the party and asserted that we had met before. Unfortunately, I had no recollection of that event. "We did meet two years ago," he insisted, "while we were crossing the street." Neon <<STALKER!>> bulbs started flashing in front of my eyes. "Maybe not," he temporized. Ah, and then he quoted Tolstoy. Something about how the course of a man's life could be irrevocably changed because on a certain day he met a certain woman wearing a dress that curved in just a certain way. All was forgiven.

After the party, a few of us went out to a bar to play pool. Manny was a fearsome pool shark. A doctor, who spoke Spanish, and read Tolstoy, and played a mean game of pool. I couldn't resist. As it got later in the evening, he still hadn't asked for my phone number. Oh, well, I thought, dejected. I began to walk out the door. Hearing him call out my name, I turned to look behind me. Casually lounging back on his chair, Manny crooked his finger at me as cigarette smoke swirled around the noisy bar. Roll cameras, please. Then he asked for my email address. {{Sigh.}} I walked out of the bar smiling, and he's kept making me happy ever since.

Crossing Street Photo Credit: Avard Woolaver via Compfight cc

Friday, May 10, 2013

Kids, Birds, and Bees (A Review of Growing Up in God's Image)

"What have I taught you about, God, love, marriage and, uh, sex?" I recently asked my twelve-year-old daughter. "Well, in school, they told us about how boys grow whiskers about the time they start to date. And they showed us gross drawings of bodies," she grimaced. "Anything about God or love?" I asked. "No," said my sweet parochial school student. "Did I teach you -- anything?" I asked. Awkward grins on both faces. Again came my daughter's answer, "No." And I realized that I had somehow managed to leave out something really important.

Part of why my husband and I hadn't gotten around to the birds and the bees talk was because we were afraid of doing it wrong. We would occasionally search for a book to help us explain the beauty of God's plan for our bodies to our children in an age-appropriate way. We never really found one until now. Growing Up in God's Image, by Carolyn J. Smith, is that book.

Growing Up in God's Image seeks to provide its readers with a new approach to the facts of life talk, both in what to say and how to say it, as the book's subtitle explains. This "new" approach, which fortunately is no longer so new, relies heavily on Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body. The book's three main sections explore the meaning of spousal love -- that is, the love between man and wife -- through explaining (1) the Trinitarian love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, (2) the love of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, and (3) love as a sacramental sign of total self-giving. Scattered throughout are unexpected Scriptural insights, some of which actually gave me chills.

The beginning of Growing Up in God's Image contains themes that can be discussed with kindergarteners, including what the story of Adam and Eve teaches us about God's plan for marriage and families, and how parents cooperate with God in creating new life.  Later parts of the book include detailed descriptions of the changes that come with puberty as well as matter-of-fact explanations of intercourse and pregnancy. The author, an experienced mother of ten, recommends presenting biological information in the context of growth of the entire person, including physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual growth. She prompts parents to remind their children to pray for their vocation, for wisdom to see if God is calling them to married life, or perhaps to the priesthood or religious life.

The end of the book is more of a study guide, posing questions without providing answers other than cites to paragraphs of the Catechism. I could see this guide being especially useful in the high school years, after confirmation, particularly if your child is not attending a Catholic high school and is therefore no longer receiving religious instruction. Home schoolers and youth groups might also benefit from it.

My favorite features of the book are the practical instructions to parents. The author includes a lot of  how-to advice, such as at what age to raise certain issues, which parent should present the information, and which parts of the book can be read by a parent and child together. It contains scripts you can repeat verbatim in case you as the mature parent actually freeze or choke when confronted with the reality and the enormity of the task in front of you. There are even diagrams in case of confusion.

Although packed with information, Growing Up in God's Image is shorter than you might expect, at only 74 pages long. The passages about dating could easily be expanded to address today's hook-up culture more directly. Also, in advocating a steady progression from group dates or parties to double dates to steady dating and courtship, the book seems to underestimate the dangers of peer pressure to engage in inappropriate behavior, starting at Spin the Bottle and escalating from there. Nonetheless, the book succeeds in its main purpose of helping parents explain sexuality to their children in a context of discovering God's plans for their lives, and I'm so glad we found it. Now, you'll have to excuse me, because I need to go talk to my daughter about the birds and the bees.

To purchase this book from Amazon, click here.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Letting Your Child Go With God: A First Communion Story

I cried at my eldest daughter's First Communion, but promised myself that I wouldn't cry for my middle daughter's. No such luck. Standing behind my sweet Maria as she received communion from the priest, I broke down and barely managed to receive the host myself. As for the wine, forget it.

Much to my delight, my daughter Maria chose to receive Holy Communion in the mouth rather than in the hand. During the First Communion training session, the Director of Religious Education told the children they could receive the host either in their hands or in their mouths. Then the Catholic schoolteacher told the children they had to receive in the hand only. Our poor Maria was confused as to which instruction to follow.

My husband and I receive in the mouth, an action which has deep meaning for us. Christopher West talks about how human beings should receive God's love trustingly, rather than grasping for it; he says that receiving Holy Communion in the mouth reflects the proper receptivity toward Our Lord. My husband and I also have a prayer card of Mother Teresa, in which she says that out of all the things she has seen in this world, what makes her saddest is when people receive communion in the hand rather than in the mouth. We told Maria that no one, not even her teacher, could take away the right to receive Jesus in a more reverent manner.

But I was scared. A kid not used to receiving in the mouth and a Eucharistic Minister not used to distributing the host that way could very well be a recipe for disaster. Maria and I practiced over and over. "Body of Christ," I said, and she opened her mouth with her tongue curling up almost all the way to her nose. "No, no," I giggled. "Put your tongue out, not up! Try again." Again she walked solemnly up to me, and this time stuck her tongue out at a steep downward angle. I had visions of the host rolling all the way to floor. "Out, not down," I said, starting to think we should give up on the whole thing. "Like a shelf!"

On the day of Maria's first Holy Communion, Manny and I walked up the altar steps behind our daughter as she stood in front of the priest to receive. I realized that there was no way I could possibly dive in front of her fast enough to catch the host if it fell. This was up to Maria and the priest. She opened her mouth, the priest carefully placed the host inside, and I started to bawl. She walked up to receive the wine, and let it touch her lips. No funny face, no spitting, no gulping. My little girl, all grown up.

Maria's relationship with God was moving out of my purview. It was becoming more her responsibility. The Holy Spirit had nestled within her soul at the moment of her baptism, and the Bread of Life had entered her body at the moment of her First Communion. God's path for her -- not my path for her -- was ready and waiting. My mind turned to Maria's future confirmation, and then to her wedding or her profession of vows to religious life. God had prepared a path for her, I had led her to it, but it will be up to Maria to walk down that path on her own two feet. Is she ready? Am I ready?

At the end of the day, after the party guests had gone home, and Maria's pretty veil and tiara had been stored away for her younger sisters on their special days, Maria turned to me and smiled. "I can't wait until next Saturday," she said. "Why?" I asked. "Daddy promised to take me to Mass," she answered, beaming. "It will be my Second Holy Communion!"

Oh, yes, I thought. She's ready.

En español: Como Crecen los Hijos

Friday, May 3, 2013

Michele's Story: Why I Fast for Marriage

In today's post, read about the powerful story of Michele's healing from grief and her passionate commitment  to the New Evangelization. Learn why Michele has joined the U.S. bishops' campaign of prayer and fasting for life, marriage, and religious liberty. This post is part of a year-long series about fasting. Read other posts here: Fasting and MarriageDay 1Day 2Day 3, and Vivian's Story.

1. Please tell us about yourself.

My name is Michele Coldiron. My husband, Ronn, and I were married in June 1977, more than 30 years ago! We have four children, three girls and a boy, as well as one 3-year-old grandchild. Our youngest daughter is a freshman at the Ohio State University. Our eldest child, a son, died at the age of 19 while a student at UC-Santa Barbara in 1998. Although I did not notice my emotional state in my struggle to present a loving face to the rest of the family, the following seven years were grinding me down slowly but surely, because of my strong feelings of guilt for our son's death. I consider his death a casualty of what Blessed John Paul called the "culture of death."

On October 7, 2004, I encountered Jesus Christ, who pulled me from my desert of pain and anguish, healed me physically and set me to work to help in the New Evangelization. Thanks be to God. I cried for the first time in years at 3 am, October 8. (Listen to Michele’s radio interview about her healing from grief through finding a new life in Christ here )

Eight years ago, I helped found the California Catholic Women's Forum, and became its executive director.  In one of its initiatives, CCWF presented a five-year series of discussion forums on Blessed John Paul II's Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity of Women). We also began filming a series of classes on what it means to be human being, based on the Theology of the Body and other works. The first class in the series is The Meaning of Love. We plan on filming The Meaning of Manhood in 2013.

CCWF also promotes the music of the Church. In 2010, we recorded Tota Pulchra , a CD of Marian songs. The following year, our singing group toured the three cathedrals of San Francisco Bay. We sang in San Jose in 2012 (click here  for a youtube video of the performance), and are planning concerts in Sacramento this fall and more.

We are currently expanding our outreach under a new name, Creative Catholic Works.  Our new web site is already under construction.

2. Why have you responded to the bishops’ Call to Prayer?

As someone who grew up in the 1960's and 70's, I witnessed attacks on authority at all levels of human interaction. Though the intent was often good, the outcome has too often been a slippery slope toward a radical individualism and hedonistic way of life, which will result neither in a healthy civil society, nor in leading individual souls to their true home in Heaven.

I feel that every Catholic who loves Christ and loves the Roman Catholic Church should heed the bishops' call to prayer! As I went through a period of time in my own "desert of pain and anguish", so has the Church been through a time of serious change and attack. But the times are not as dire as they may seem, if one's eyes are turned toward the source of hope, Jesus Christ.

In this unified effort of the bishops, it is a beautiful thing to see the hierarchy of the Church acting as one, reflecting the true teaching of the magisterium. The current attack on faith in the form of the HHS mandate is a deliberate attack with grave consequences for freedom of speech, and the freedom of association which is so much a part of the American fabric. Prayer is the most effective response. Prayer will do the most, for God desires us to reach out from our hearts in supplication, asking Him to help. (Read more of Michele’s thoughts on these topics here -- fortnight of prayer, definition of marriage, thoughts on the marriage mandate, contraception, overpopulation myth)

3. Why do you believe in the cause of life, marriage, and religious liberty?

Where would we be without life in the first place? Each of us was conceived and born. Each of us was a twinkle in God's eye before we ever became a twinkle in our parents' eyes! We are fallen mortals, and we rupture the fine cloth of history that God is eternally creating with almost every errant thought. But God is so patient, and He has an infinite number of designs He can weave as life moves through time.

In our struggle to reflect God, who is love, in our daily lives, we can rely on the sacraments that God gave us through Jesus, the Word made flesh, and His Advocate, the Holy Spirit. Marriage is the primordial sacrament. The union of a man and woman in matrimony is the closest we can get to replicating the self-giving love that is the Trinity. Man and woman come together and co-create new life in partnership with God. God's love is made visible for us through the sacrament of marriage. It is a beautiful and joyful duty to uphold this sacramental reality.

Moreover, our founding fathers held the Bible as the ultimate source of wisdom and created a government based on principles given to us by God and discernible through reason, as natural law. Thus, religious liberty, together with the whole Bill of Rights, is a reflection of God's life in our country, and not to be taken lightly. America was created as a country that believes in inalienable rights, endowed by Our Creator. Among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These words are not just fine writing by Thomas Jefferson! They mean something, and that something is faith in the laws of nature and of nature's God. The attacks on religious freedom in recent years are growing in number but they can be overcome with prayer and fasting, mercy, and trust in the providence of God.

4. What do you believe that fasting and prayer can accomplish both in your spiritual life and in the world?

Fasting allows us to realize that we are mere mortals. It helps us realize our dependence on the gifts with which we are surrounded —air, water, food, shelter, clothing. All are gift. Prayer is the natural accompaniment to this realization. How grateful we become to Him from whom these gifts flow!

Prayer is primarily a method of thanking our Creator for being alive, and for giving us the opportunity to work in his vineyard. It is an opportunity for us to request the tools we will need in our work. It is an occasion for us to ask forgiveness for those times we have not worked our hardest as tillers in the field of faith. And finally, it is an occasion for us to bow our heads in collective wonderment and adoration of the power of Almighty God, who chose to come to earth as a mere man, in order to lead us, like the Good Shepherd He is, to the Father's mansion.

5. Can you mention any examples of other friends, family, or fellow parishioners who are also answering the bishops’ call?

The biggest proponent of the bishops' call that I know of in my area is Our Lady of Peace Shrine and Parish in Santa Clara, CA. In addition to having a speaker for every night except Sundays for the Fortnight of Prayer (June 21 – July 4, 2012) as requested by the US Conference of bishops, Our Lady of Peace is now hosting a yearlong study of the documents of Vatican II, as part of this Year of Faith. I recently led a discussion at the parish on Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, a most important document of Vatican II.

6. Have you seen any positive results in your own life or elsewhere because of the Call to Prayer?

I have noticed that being called to prayer by someone other than my own inadequate self has tended to make me more consistent in my prayer life. It is difficult to make pacts with yourself on how and when to pray—things always seem to "come up..." However, when the call is from someone else, particularly from our spiritual shepherds, then the desire to participate is more intense and more likely to bear fruit.

7. What is the top reason you think that other people should answer the bishops’ call?

God calls us to pray. God calls us through his shepherds, the bishops. If one reads the Bible, one notices quickly how often disaster has been averted through intense prayer on the part of the people of God. In our society, which can be so comfortable and in which it can be so easy to forget God is there and that He is holding existence in the palm of His hand, it is even more important to join with our Biblical brothers and sisters, part of those who comprise the Communion of Saints, including the martyrs such as St. Thomas More, St. Edith Stein, St. Maximilien Kolbe, and the saints of the Cristeros war in Mexico. I could go on and on.

God wants us to pray. That is why we should answer the Bishops' call, first and foremost.

CCWF members attending a discussion about St. Edith Stein and JPII