Category Archives: Family

Divorce

James 5:7-12, Psalm 103, Mark 10:1-12

The Gospel on 24 May teaches a Hard Truth about Divorce. I’m going to spell it out because I won’t distort the Church’s teaching: Divorce, understood as the dissolution of a marriage, is NOT possible between two baptized persons.

Guess who said this? Jesus Christ Himself (c.f. Mt 19:6, Mk 10:8-9), echoed by Paul (c.f. 1 Cor 7:10-11). The Church has always been clear that “a ratified and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death” (CCC 2382).

The Catholic Church has tons to say about divorce, but I will not write them all down here. However I will reflect on two points.

1) Useful Litmus Test: If your Church leaders teach that divorce is permissible, wake up and see the Truth! No True Church of Christ will twist the words of Jesus to suit secular norms.

2) What if there is abuse involved in the marriage? The Code of Canon Law states:

“A spouse who occasions grave danger of soul or body to the other or to the children, or otherwise makes the common life unduly difficult, provides the other spouse with a reason to leave, either by a decree of the local ordinary [e.g., bishop] or, if there is danger in delay, even on his or her own authority.” (CIC 1153)

This inherently means that the Church values life above all. Cases of abuse are complex and usually endangers the life of the abused party. In such situations, the Church considers civil divorce to be the EQUIVALENT of a LEGAL SEPARATION and tolerates it for JUST CAUSE (such as to ensure personal safety and/or the safety of children).

Under the eyes of the Church however, the ‘civilly divorced’ person is still considered validly MARRIED and may NOT remarry in the Church unless an annulment is granted.

The issue of divorce is a very clear example on why the Church needs all three aspects to function prudently: Liturgy, Law and Revelation. Taking out any one of these will result in the fall of the Church because each has a necessary role to play. Much more to say on this, but I’ll end my reflection here.

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Originally posted on Instagram.

Contra-ception: Against Life

By guest writer Nellie Edwards.

As most know by now, Ireland just declared open season on unborn lads and lassies, not to mention their mothers, who will suffer the aftermath of great emotional upheaval!

So tragic that there weren’t enough faith-full Catholics to defeat the foes of Life!

Relative to this, a few thoughts on Humanae Vitae (On Human Life), now in its 50th year. Everything that Pope Paul VI warned would happen to society has indeed happened, because of its acceptance of contraception! (contra literally means “against”, ception=conception/life, so literally it means AGAINST LIFE.)

This, the Church teaches, is a grave sin against God, whose most fundamental attribute is Life-giver.

Paul VI warned that by tying the hands of God’s divine prerogative to create life, serious consequences such as promiscuity, infidelity, divorce, abortion, homosexuality, pornography, and other perversions of God’s plan would soon ensue and we see that clearly today. Anything goes!

The Catholic Church alone has, from the beginning, held out to the world, the “hard saying” that we must practice sacrificial love, not selfish pleasure / using others for sexual gratification. God spoke though Paul VI no less than any of the prophets. Too bad so few listened. Too bad the Protestant churches, as well as too many Catholics did not see that contra-ception was the forbidden fruit.

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Nellie Edwards is a Catholic artist. Her most famous piece is of Our Lady of Guadalupe, kneeling in adoration for her unborn Son.

Image via MEV Pro-Life.

Chastity and Abortion: Interview with Jason Evert

By guest writer Kathy Clubb.

World-renowned speaker, Jason Evert, was in Melbourne last week for a series of talks on the true nature of love. Jason has spoken to more than one million people about the virtue of chastity and has been a keynote speaker at five World Youth Days. He has written several books, including “Theology of the Body for Teens” and “How to Find Your Soulmate Without Losing Your Soul,” and has studied counseling and theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. It was my great pleasure to meet him and ask him a few questions about how a return to chastity can put the brakes on the abortion culture.

Chastity and Abortion: Interview with Jason Evert

Kathy: Jason, can we win the battle against abortion without preaching the chastity message?

Jason: No. In order to be fully pro-life, we have to first teach them to be pro-love. I discovered that when doing sidewalk counselling in front of an abortion clinic for three years and I had an inescapable feeling of being late. “Now, why am I meeting this woman forty-five minutes before her abortion? You know –  why couldn’t I have met her when she was 15? Because maybe if she’d learned about chastity then, she never would have dated this guy to begin with, and wouldn’t be in this difficult situation at the age of 25.

And so I realized that I was kind of throwing sandbags on the banks of a flooded river, instead of swimming upstream to where the dam was actually broken. I figured if we could seal off the dam, then there wouldn’t be any need for stopping the flood damage downstream.

Kathy: Is that why you started this whole ministry? Because of that feeling of being late at the abortion facility? Pro-life got you into this?

Jason: Hmmm, yeah, that was a major reason. The other part was leading high school youth retreats, and the kids would open up about how much they were suffering in this area of life in particular. And I was reading Pope John Paul II’s “Love and Responsibility” and began to see that this was the antidote to both issues: to the chastity issue and the fruit of it, which is the abortion culture. Because you don’t have anyone going to the abortion clinic who hasn’t struggled with chastity.

Kathy: It’s been said that the journey to the abortion facility starts years before the appointment on that fateful day.

Jason: And when a woman is coming in to get an abortion, it might not be her first. It could be her fourth. And if she’s not being evangelized at that moment, perhaps through a crisis pregnancy center: “You know, it doesn’t have to be this way – there are many different choices you can make in life, so you don’t end up in this difficult situation a fourth or fifth time.”

Because it’s so important for a pro-life ministry to be pro-life –  not only before the abortion, and also after the abortion in supporting her – but also years beforehand. We have to see this as a preventative measure.

And some people are doing wonderful work sidewalk counseling. I was working with a nun once, and she saved 19 babies in one day. So you can’t underestimate the importance of the work they’re doing. It’s not one vs the other; they are two wings of the same plane.

I was once standing outside of a clinic, and I befriended one of the security guards out front. And one day he confided in me, and he said, “You know, every day I show up at work, and I just hear voices in my head, telling me to kill. And I don’t know where that’s coming from.” And I said, “Let’s try to connect the dots here.” And he said he struggled with alcoholism, and his marriage was falling apart, and I said, “Let’s pray together “, and he said, “Please.” And so we prayed together right outside the abortion clinic.

And I came back a week later and he had quit. Because I had told him, ‘You’re basically working in the vestibule of hell, here. So it’s probably better to find another place to work – get those voices out of your head.’

But then, they kind of had it out for me at the clinic. One day I was out there praying, and I saw them pointing at me. And my friends told me they were saying that that’s the guy that was with Joe before he quit.  A week later we were out there and a police car pulled up. And they came to me, and they pointed down at me, and the police came to me and they said: “Okay, charges are being pressed against you because apparently, you stalked one of the directors of the clinic, and you tried to offer her a coffee and she turned you down. And you asked her on a date and then you chased her into the abortion clinic and you tried to steal her purse.”

And I said, “Oh really? I missed that. When did this happen again?” And they took me to court, and the judge said guilty. And we went to a retrial before another judge and that judge dismissed the case. And I said I don’t even like coffee. (laughs) They were out to get me – you know what it’s like. Ethics are not their strong suit.

Kathy: Why are the pro-life organizations, in general, failing to talk about chastity?

Jason: Largely because they’re so focused on the immediate triage of trying to save the wounded on the battlefield. They’re just trying to save the life of amputees on the battle-field who’ve only got five minutes to live. They’re doing such an important, last-minute effort to save what they can, that it’s hard sometimes to lift up their eyes to see the horizon. Sometimes they may stop and ask, what could we have done to prevent this carnage sooner?

But there’s no competition in the body of Christ. This is something that we need to do together. Pro-chastity speakers need to have a very pro-life heart to their message. And the pro-life movement needs to realize the importance of saving babies five years before they’re conceived.

Kathy: Can you see a place in every organization for this message?

Jason: Oh, it’s essential. In my chastity talks, I’m holding up an ultrasound of my unborn son and it’s giving the message to the kids when they’re 14 or 15: ‘Hey, this is what ultrasounds are showing.’ You know, they have images of children who appear to be laughing in their mothers’ wombs! And I explain this to the kids. And you know, I’m not beating them over the head with some anti-abortion message. This is just pro-life, this is something that we’re for, not something we’re against. It’s very organically woven into the presentation and it doesn’t feel like I’m trying to indoctrinate them on some pro-life position. It’s just a picture of my kid in my wife’s womb. And how do you argue against that?

Kathy: From what you know, are couples who were chaste before marriage more likely to be open to life during married?

Jason:  I think there’s no doubt about it. Because the Catholic Church’s teaching isn’t so much, okay, good Catholics use NFP, bad Catholics use contraception. Good Catholics realize that children are the supreme gift of marriage. So if we have a serious reason not to have kids, we can fall back on NFP, but the default position is not NFP. The default position is an openness to life. Because children are the supreme gift.

If you were going to get married and you went to the reception, and you saw all these presents laid out, and one said, ‘The Supreme Gift’, you wouldn’t be like, I’ll open that in five years time when we know each other better. You’d think, no, we want to receive that gift as soon as we can. So the disposition to do the will of God with your body is something that naturally flows into wanting the will of God for your family. The Church will never tell you how many kids to have, but God will.

It’s a very dangerous thing to put that part of your life completely under His Lordship, because, you know – what if He’s asking more than we want to give because that’s typically exactly what He does? He stretches us far beyond what we expected, but when we look back when it’s all said and done, it’s like, ‘My goodness, if that had been left in my hands, how differently things would have unfolded.’ If I took control over my own fertility in such a way that was able to completely eliminate [the prospect of children]… it’s almost like we would get addicted to the ease. It’s like, oh wow – this is so easy having them all at school and not worrying about having another little one waking me up at night. This sin brings its own punishment.

Kathy: I was at a retreat one day, and it was Thanksgiving after Communion, and for the first time in my life I thought, ‘Oh, I think I might be done with having my family now.” And I got a very firm feeling from God – that we must never say never – and I had twelve children already! And He still seemed to be showing me that we must never say never. Then I had another child after that.

Jason: Slacker! (laughter) Didn’t Catherine of Siena have 20 or something?

Kathy: 26 or something, I think?

Jason: Good thing her mum wasn’t selfish and only had 25!

Kathy: Do you find this is the same for non-Catholics as well, though? Do you find that it goes together for everyone, or is it more of a Catholic thing because we have a comprehensive teaching?

Jason: No, I think they go hand in hand because it’s the proper use of our human sexuality. And if we know how to use sexuality properly prior to marriage, then it follows very naturally and seamlessly into marriage. And likewise, the abstinence required during natural family planning means that that’s ok – it’s an expression of love.

It’s not about withholding love, it’s about expressing love in different ways. And for someone who doesn’t know chastity prior to marriage, then chastity within marriage is a tough go. A lot of times, marriage will do what it’s supposed to do: it will bring your faults up to the surface. And I know a lot of couples who were not chastity prior to marriage, and then they try to practice NFP chastity in marriage, and it brought up a lot of stuff that it had covered up prior to marriage. Because I think chastity in marriage is more demanding than chastity prior to marriage.

Thanks, Jason for dedicating your time and energy to creating a culture of life and true love.

For more information, visit Jason Evert’s website, Chastity Project, for great articles and resources on the virtue of chastity, talking to children about human sexuality, transgenderism, the porn epidemic and much more. You can follow Jason and his wife, Christalina here on Facebook.

Originally posted at The Freedoms Project.

Mercy, Justice and Grace in “Suits”

Suits is a popular TV show about slick lawyers who are rude, nasty and deceitful while bending, skirting, or straight-up breaking the law and playing interminable office politics, and it may be the last place one would expect lessons in mercy, justice and grace, but as St. Augustine says, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.

[Warning: spoilers ahead]

Mike Ross is a bike messenger and drug dealer who was expelled from high school for giving his best friend Trevor the answers to a math test, which his friend sold to a girl who happened to be the dean’s daughter, leading to the dean’s dismissal. While evading the police, Mike stumbles in upon a job interview for law graduates, and is hired by Harvey Spector despite his lack of a law degree, after demonstrating his exceptional eidetic memory and knowledge of the law – Mike had also been making a living sitting the LSATS for other people. This incredible opportunity enables Mike to fulfill his dream of becoming a lawyer, which was derailed by the incident with Trevor as he had had to give up his acceptance to Harvard law.

To the associates and partners of the firm Pearson Hardman, their jobs are not just jobs, but become their entire purpose for living, their telos and identity. Jessica Pearson tells Harvey that when he joins the firm, he’s joining a family. The lawyers are married to their work, and this theme is played out over and over in hilarious and heartbreaking ways, as the language and norms of courtship are applied to their work relationships. Mike desists from destroying a dodgy opposing lawyer’s career, because that man pleads with him that being a lawyer is who he is, and all he has left after losing his family following the financially calamitous loss of a massive suit.

In more somber tones, Suits also shows how damaging it is to familial bonds when one becomes completely given over to one’s chosen career. Jessica’s husband divorces her, and Harvey’s mother repeatedly cheats on his father, who is often away as a traveling musician.

The show also explores how one’s childhood and family experiences can continue to play out throughout one’s life, especially when one is deeply wounded. Harvey seems to have everything go his way, and appears to be invincible and suave, fixing everything that goes wrong. But he is unable to sustain a romantic relationship, and although he and his secretary Donna have fancied each other for twelve years, he does not allow himself to truly love her and give himself to her. His inability to be vulnerable and trust others is traced back to his mother’s infidelity. We see how the sins of a parent can mar the child for life, damaging his future relationships.

As for Mike, he lost his parents in a car crash when he was twelve, and he is unable to forgive the lawyer who convinced his grandmother to accept a settlement. His anger bubbling from this ingrained sense of injustice is a key motivation in his practice of the law; he jumps at chances to defend the underdog. Yet, his anger and ambition also blinds him, and he handles 88 cases despite his lack of qualifications. That is something like an invalidly-ordained priest celebrating the sacraments – everything he touches is invalid. Despite good intentions, when the means are flawed, the consequences can be dire.

In Season 5, this lie blows up in Mike’s face when he is turned in for conspiracy to commit fraud, just after resigning following a soul-searching talk with his old school chaplain, Father Walker. We are on tenterhooks while he navigates the court case – will another incredible stroke of luck save him?

Mike ends up in prison after a self-sacrificial act to save his superiors’ skins, but though things look dire, his presence enables him to work for the freedom of his unjustly-jailed cellmate. It is terrifying to watch Mike deal with the resident murderous big bully, but Harvey continues to have his back, pulling all sorts of strings to get Mike out of jail.

Meanwhile, as Jessica faces the loss of her firm and all she has worked for, her romantic interest Jeff Malone reflects that sometimes God allows unpleasant things to happen, for a greater good. Indeed, this decimation of her firm allows Jessica to reevaluate her priorities in life, opening her mind to the possibility that there may be more to life than work.

Suits provides a nail-biting examination of moral issues and the motivations which drive people to cheat, lie and blackmail while trying to secure that nebulous thing called justice. It is a riveting show which deals honestly with questions of truth and the factors surrounding human relationships, bound by die-hard loyalty but also fractured by pain and fear. When viewed through the prism of divine providence working through the messy lives of humans, it demonstrates how good can eventually be drawn from the consequences of bad choices, although each character pays a price for their misdeeds.

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Why is the world celebrating the #RoyalBaby, but watching #AlfieEvans die?

By guest writer Sarah Coffey.

All day today and for the past few days, I’ve been following the status of little Alfie Evans. He’s a little British boy–just about two years old–who is very sick. In doing what socialized healthcare systems are so good at doing, the NHS has determined that further treatment “isn’t in Alfie’s best interests” and that he should be taken off life support–against his parents wishes.

His parents want to take him to Italy for further, experimental treatment. His father met with Pope Francis personally; the Pope invited them to Bambino Gesu Hospital, and even made it possible for the family to become Italian citizens. But as of writing, Alfie is barred from leaving Alder Hey Hospital in the UK. He’s been taken off a ventilator. His father has asked for oxygen but has been denied this request, and Alfie’s struggling.

Let’s go over that again: the government has determined that he shouldn’t receive further treatment; Alfie’s parents want to take him elsewhere for treatment, but the state and hospital refuse to let him leave.

His parents have appealed the British healthcare system and the European Courts of Human Rights time and time again to try to be able to get Alfie out of Alder Hey and time and again their appeals have been rejected, with doctors and judges claiming that further treatment isn’t “worth it” because he’s too far gone, and the “humane” thing would be to let him die.

I can honestly say I haven’t been enraged by something this much in a very, very long time.

God is the Author of Life

The only thing that makes the whole situation worse is seeing people on Twitter and in the news defend the absolutely indefensible position of the judges and doctors. I’ve seen numerous people claim that the decisions are just because Alfie is “incompatible with life.”

God is the author of life. It is not for me, for you, for any doctor or judge to decide that someone is incompatible with life. How arrogant of these so-called “judges” and how cowardly of these so-called “medical professionals” to think they know what is best for this child before his own parents. God’s hand decides when we close our eyes to this world–not a judge, not a doctor who injects a lethal substance, or denies a father’s request for oxygen for his son.

Maybe experimental treatment won’t help Alfie. Perhaps. I think his parents realize that. But it’s cruel, arrogant, flat out wrong and, dare I say it, diabolical, to deny them that chance. It’s their right as parents to do absolutely everything in their power to give their son a chance at life.

Everyone bends over backwards when someone wants to “die with dignity,” to kill themselves (selfishly, I might add) because of some terminal illness. This is because here in the West we’ve made comfort and ease of life an idol, and we cannot even begin to fathom the redemptive power of suffering, not only for ourselves but for others.

But when parents want to exercise their rights as parents, their son is literally being held hostage as they watch him die. This, indeed, is symptomatic and unsurprising of this culture of death in which we live.

Why is the world celebrating #RoyalBaby but watching #AlfieEvans die?

Today, Kate Middleton had her third baby; the hashtag #RoyalBaby has been trending on Twitter as millions of people send congratulatory messages to the Royal Family. The comments on social media have been euphoric, admiring Kate for her beauty and class as she leaves the hospital perfectly made up in a dress and heels and make up, and swooning over the new baby boy.

Meanwhile, in the same country, Alfie Evans mom has been begging and fighting for her son’s life all day–yet another day in a months long battle just to give her son a chance and save him from his own country’s government.

Is it because the Royal Baby has been born into wealth? Into prestige? Is “perfect” in the world’s eyes? Is it because his life doesn’t entail suffering and struggle and what the world considers “imperfection”?

Why do we celebrate one life, and shrug our shoulders as one is slated to be ended?

I hope the doctors and judges realize that they will have to answer for their actions–whether or not they’re “just following orders” or not. I hope they consider what they would do if it were their child. I hope they put themselves in the shoes of parents waiting with bated breath to see if today is the day their son is forcibly removed from life support. I hope their conscience jolts them to the reality of the situation and the horror of what they’re participating in, so that they can make a sincere and true conversion.

I don’t know how it will play out with Alfie. But I’m so sad for his parents, and enraged for them too. The UK and the European Court of “Human Rights” can never claim to care about human rights EVER AGAIN. Neither can anyone defending this indefensible situation.

I’m convinced that this culture that claims so ardently to care for “human rights” really only cares if you are, in the eyes of the world, perfect and powerful and wealthy and beautiful on the outside. If you’re imperfect, if your life involves self-sacrifice and suffering and struggle, the UK and European Courts and a shocking number of others say you might as well die.

The solution is found in respecting the dignity of EVERY human person, respecting life from conception to natural death. How many more Charlie Gards and Alfie Evans must there be before the world will realize this truth?

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Originally published at Sarah Coffey.

A Lesson for a Chaotic Soul

Recently I learned a hard lesson. It was a concept that I knew was coming, as people close to me had informed me of the changes I needed to make. But because I am basically an infant in the spiritual realm, it took me awhile to really get it. It was worth it though because it could basically change my whole life… hopefully, when I learn to unite with God’s will!

Now I normally don’t like to share my spiritual or life lessons that I encounter because I am very young (23 years old), and I am basically still in the process of learning to walk down the paths that I feel God has set for me. So I always feel that I have little credibility in the words that I write. Even so, I feel that what I have realized is very important for every person, no matter who you are.

In recent years, my life has been pretty hectic. I knowingly chose for things to be this way, but I never anticipated the amount of adjusting that I would have to do. Within the past 20 months, I quit school, got engaged, got married, was blessed with my first child. I’ve adjusted to being far away from any family or friends, and I’ve adjusted to my spouse’s crazy medical school life. I’ve adjusted to being a mother and I’ve taken on all of the changes required for the title. I’ve also adjusted to being in a new and intimate relationship with my husband.

That being said, I may have adjusted but I have not responded to my situations in the holiest way. The way I’ve reacted to my environments and relationships have caused me more anxiety and despondency than I thought possible. It caused me to resent my spouse, have a negative outlook on my life, and worse, it drove a wedge between God and myself. I found myself being overly fearful of the future and I didn’t even want to be open to God’s will. Then I started to be ashamed of myself in front of God, knowing that I was avoiding His gaze. What if God asks me to do something difficult? My spiritual director tells me that her priest says that we can’t reach Jesus unless we climb the cross. Well, the cross freaks me out!

When my husband and I would have a conflict, I would panic, shut down, and tell myself that I couldn’t handle his shortcomings. I would use up so much energy trying to change his perspective and then end up angry when I didn’t succeed. In reality, God was teaching us both a lesson in being patient and more aware of each other on our journey through marriage.

When we needed to consider big life decisions, I immediately assumed the worst and panicked. I scrambled to figure out how I could travel down the path of least resistance, even though we really didn’t know what was going to happen yet. In reality, God was probably giving me the opportunity to trust Him.

See a pattern? I was relying on myself and my will because I felt in control. I was also relying on my husband to be perfect and I expected him to respond exactly how I needed him to when in reality, he was learning as much as I was. And who was I not relying on? God the Almighty Father, who basically has the perfect plan for my life.

Here is my main point: If we do not involve God internally, our external reactions will reflect the chaos of our souls.

So how are we supposed to gain internal peace? That may look slightly different for each of us. For me, it entails the need to heal past wounds so that I am okay with myself as God created me. It also will require that I recognize in His infinite and perfect love for me. I have to be able to trust in His ultimate plan, no matter how hard the lessons of the cross will be.

When this happens for each of us, we will be able to carry the crosses and shortcomings of those we love without losing internal peace. No matter what happens, our souls will remain in an undisturbed state while God helps us to grow interiorly and draw into a deeper union with Him.

Movie Review: “King’s Faith”

The Christian movie King’s Faith (2013), available on Netflix, is a beautiful and moving story of faith and redemption. Best of all, it manages to convey the reality of faith without being corny or trite, examining complex human issues like death, crime, divorce and abortion with tenderness, displaying the full reality of the pain and trauma of loss while demonstrating the healing that comes with trust in each other and in God.

[Caution: some spoilers ahead]

King’s Faith centers on 18-year-old Brendan King (Crawford Wilson), who has been on the wrong side of the law multiple times and is placed in his eighteenth foster home after being detained for three years. His foster father Mike Stubbs (James McDaniel) is a math teacher at his new high school, and mentors the after-school Bible study group as well as the faith-based community service youth group, The Seekers.

Brendan was given a Bible while in juvenile detention, and came to accept the saving truth of Christianity. With his newfound faith in God, Brendan applies himself to his studies, determined to leave his old life behind.

However, trouble comes calling when Brendan saves a fellow schoolmate, Natalie Jenkins (Kayla Compton), from a car crash and appears on the news. His old gang tracks him down and demands that he hand over a stash of drugs and cash that he and his now-dead best friend had hidden before the federal drug raid that ended his friend’s life and landed Brendan in detention.

The Stubbs are recovering from the death of their only son, a police officer who was killed during a routine traffic stop. Vanessa Stubbs (Lynn Whitfield) is unable to move on, and spends most days cultivating flowers for her son’s memorial on the side of the highway.

Mike, meanwhile, has been able to surrender his pain to God and welcomes Brendan as a foster child, knowing that God may bring good out of this gift of a stable, loving home for a troubled youth. He is a trusting man who looks for the good in others, even those rejected by the rest of society.

As we follow Brendan through his new life and watch him and other characters grapple with the past, we witness the power of faith to transform even the most terrible circumstances, binding old wounds and uniting the estranged in love and truth.

Cuisine or Chaos

Some memories stick with you forever, for good or ill.  The mind is such so that even if you can laugh about sad moments a long time after they occur, often you still feel a sense of dread and sorrow whenever the event is called to mind.  That being said, I will never forget my first attempt at baking a cake.  It was one of my first baking experiences, and came close to being my last.

One day in April 2008, we were celebrating Mom’s and Dad’s birthdays.  We decided to throw them a double party, as it was already the end of April and we hadn’t celebrated Mom’s yet.  The boys undertook the task of wrapping presents (in construction paper and newspaper as we were out of gift wrap) and, as I was the eldest girl at home, I undertook the grave responsibility of baking the birthday cake.

A cake.  That’s all it was.  A little flour and butter with thick sugar and candles on top.  How hard could that be?  True, I had never made a cake before, and previously my solo baking had only amounted to cookies out of cake mix, but I had seen Mom make cakes at least a dozen times, and the results were always terrific.  Yes, I knew that my cooking skills were 30-odd years behind hers, so I allowed that the decorations on the cake may not look so professional.  But I make no exaggeration when I say that the responsibility was grave.  For when we knew that the birthday person wasn’t going to have any fun presents for us to play with after the party, the big thing to be look forward to was the cake and scraping the bowl of frosting between party games.  I was fully aware of the seriousness of the issue, but young and innocent as I was, I was completely oblivious to the consequences of my actions.

Accordingly, after we came home from Mass that day, Mom and Dad went to take a nap while we kids bustled around to make everything perfect.  I set off to the kitchen, with no clear idea of what I was going to do except I was going to make a cake, and it was going to be awesome!  Fortunately, I didn’t have the courage to attempt a cake from scratch, so I took out the cake mixes.  I decided to make two cakes: vanilla for Dad and chocolate for Mom.  So they’d be ready at the same time, the only thing to do was make them at the same time.

First step: empty the mixes into their respective bowls.  All’s well so far.  Cake mix dust got on the floor, my clothes, and probably the ceiling, but all’s well so far.  Second: 3 eggs per cake.  Well, let’s just say after all these years I still know how to scrape an egg off the floor and separate it from 2 other eggs before plopping it in its proper resting place.  Third: add water.  Instead of taking the time to measure twice, doesn’t it make so much more sense to measure once and sight-measure how much to add to each cake?  No matter the correct answer, that is the route I took.  Needless to say, the whole kit and caboodle wound up in the chocolate cake.  Meanwhile, I kept running back and forth from the kitchen and my parent’s bedroom to wake Mom up for advice.  Poor Mom was groggy from sleep, and she didn’t realize the chaos that was happening in the kitchen.

Finally, the batters had their ingredients as separated as I could get them, and were all beat up waiting to go into the oven.  Excited as I was, I hurriedly poured them into their pans and placed them into the waiting oven, only to remember I hadn’t greased the pans.  There is a breaking point for everyone, and this had broken mine.  The tears fell quickly as I took the pans out, emptied them, washed and greased them, and poured the batter back in.  I just wanted to be done with these cakes, but still make them perfect.

Pretty soon, the house was filled with the sweet aroma of chocolate and vanilla.  Having regained a bit of my self-confidence and excitement, I set about making the frosting (having woken Mom up to get the recipe), and started checking the cakes every four minutes to make sure I didn’t burn them.  I was in such a state of relieved excitement that I didn’t care so much when I dropped the opened butter on the floor and had to rinse it off.  The timer finally beeped.  After several trips with toothpicks to Mom’s room for consultation, I took the cakes out of the oven onto cooling racks.

There they sat, those glorious masterpieces.  To look at them, no one could ever have imagined the sweat and tears which went into them.  No one could have guessed that the ingredients had been swept off the floor before being mixed in.  No one could have guessed that the batter had been switched around so many times.  Because the cakes looked perfect.  Succulent is the word.  I was proud.  My head was high and my chest swelled.  All this labor wasn’t in vain after all, and soon they would be decorated and my parents would marvel.  But this wasn’t the end to my trials.

Being too excited and impatient, I didn’t wait for the cakes to cool properly and turned them out prematurely.  Alas! and Alas! they came out of the pans onto the cooling racks as a mountain of crumbs.  It was disastrous.  I was completely crushed.  I was at the point where I would’ve thrown everything out and begun again, except I knew that it wouldn’t turn out any better the second time around.  It was a sad day.

Within minutes of this sorrowful climax, people started appearing from their rooms for the party.  Mom and Dad came into the kitchen.  Mom almost laughed and Dad ate some of the crumbs.  They comforted me, telling me it still tasted good.  So as soon as they left I dumped the crumbs onto a huge plate and poured the frosting all over them.  When dessert time came, we stuck a couple candles into this glob and ate it.  I believe the boys came up with a name for my mess, but I was in such trauma and shock that to this day I can’t remember what it was.  As I remember, the cakes were well-received because they still tasted fine and since there weren’t any distinct pieces, the boys had an excuse to eat both cakes that night.  Despite the happy turnout, it was several years before I regained the courage to bake another cake.

Leisure: Rest & Virtue vs Distraction & Dissipation

“Regret is a waste of time.” Dream said.
“No, I think regret is when people realise they’ve wasted all the time they’ve had.” Chris argued.
— Mary Borsellino, The Boy Who Gave Away His Birthday

The Christian life is a harmonization of the contemplative and the active life. We see from Genesis that God rested after creating the universe, and sanctified this day of rest. The Douay-Rheims Bible explains:

“He rested”: That is, he ceased to make or create any new kinds of things. Though, as our Lord tells us, John 5:17,”He still worketh”, viz., by conserving and governing all things, and creating souls.

In ancient Rome and Greece, leisure was a luxury afforded to the free man.

In Athens, leisure was one of the marks of the Athenian gentleman: the time to do things right, unhurried time, time to discuss in.
— “Otium“, Wikipedia

We see that from classical pagan antiquity and Judeo-Christian tradition, times of rest were to be taken seriously. Times of otium or σχολή (skholē, from which we derive the word “school”) were valuable in rejuvenating oneself and considering how best to re-engage with society, in negōtium (non-leisure: business and politics.). Philosophers like Cicero spent their otium writing profound books which are still valued today. They used their retirement to consider what constituted “the good life” (εὐδαιμονία – eudaimonia) which would cultivate a healthy civic life that would ensure the flourishing of individuals and the country.

Virtual Vices

In contrast, today we usually fritter away our times of rest. We are absorbed in television screens, computer screens, smartphone screens or movie screens. Instead of spending our precious time interacting with our loved ones, enjoying nature or a good book, we often give in to the siren call of pixelated pleasures. Before we know it, the day has turned into dusk, and we are no better for it. Indeed, we may be all the worse:

… the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.
— Jean M. Twenge, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?“, The Atlantic

Twenge notes that instead of drinking, driving, or dating, teenagers are trapped in their bedrooms, slaves to their smartphones. Their social lives are now conducted online, assisted by the addictive allure of “likes” and “followers”. This has precipitously increased the rates of depression and suicide.

Meanwhile, the widespread availability of pornography online is wreaking havoc across the globe, contributing to domestic abuse in India and the demographic winter in Japan.

Bodily Blessedness

As Catholics, we believe in the Incarnation of Christ, and the resurrection of the body. Unlike Gnostics, we treasure the physical world, which God created good and which He died to redeem.

… the Church does not come with a mere message. The Church is meant to be a Sacrament, an embodied manifestation of a transcendent reality that, by virtue of its transcendence, escapes full articulation.
— Dr. Matthew Tan, “On Liking the Gospel: the Church and New Media“, The Divine Wedgie

Sabbath Sacrileges

Maria von Trapp, whose life was memorialized in The Sound of Music (1965), wrote a magnificent reflection: “The Land Without a Sunday“.

She contrasts the traditional restful, holy Sundays celebrated in Austria before World War II with communist Russia’s destruction of the 7-day week:

“Instead of a Sunday,” Baron K. told us, “the Russians have a day off. This happens at certain intervals which vary in different parts of the country. First they had a five-day week, with the sixth day off, then they had a nine-day work period, with the tenth day off; then again it was an eight-day week. What a difference between a day off and a Sunday! The people work in shifts. While one group enjoys its day off, the others continue to work in the factories or on the farms or in the stores, which are always open. As a result the over-all impression throughout the country was that of incessant work, work, work.”

Maria von Trapp goes on to voice her astonishment at the desecration of Sundays in the USA. She discovered the sad cause:

The climax of our discoveries about the American Sunday was reached when a lady exclaimed to us with real feeling, “Oh, how I hate Sunday! What a bore!” I can still hear the shocked silence that followed this remark. The children looked hurt and outraged, almost as if they expected fire to rain from heaven. Even the offender noticed something, and that made her explain why she hated Sunday as vigorously as she did. It explained a great deal of the mystery of the American Sunday.

“Why,” she burst out, “I was brought up the Puritan way. Every Saturday night our mother used to collect all our toys and lock them up. On Sunday morning we children had to sit through a long sermon which we didn’t understand; we were not allowed to jump or run or play.” When she met the unbelieving eyes of our children, she repeated, “Yes, honestly–no play at all.” Finally one of ours asked, “But what were you allowed to do?”

“We could sit on the front porch with the grownups or read the Bible. That was the only book allowed on Sunday.” And she added: “Oh, how I hated Sunday when I was young. I vowed to myself that when I grew up I would do the dirtiest work on Sunday, and if I should have children, they would be allowed to do exactly as they pleased. They wouldn’t even have to go to church.”

Redemptive Rest

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God.
— 1 Corinthians 10:31

Instead of “the Benedict Option” or “the Francis Option“, one of my friends is a wholehearted proponent of “the Tudor Option” (referring to the early Tudor period). In medieval days before King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, redistributing national wealth at the expense of the peasantry, peasants celebrated over 200 holy days each year.

… economist Juliet Shor found that during periods of particularly high wages, such as 14th-century England, peasants might put in no more than 150 days a year. …

When workers fought for the eight-hour workday, they weren’t trying to get something radical and new, but rather to restore what their ancestors had enjoyed before industrial capitalists and the electric lightbulb came on the scene. Go back 200, 300 or 400 years and you find that most people did not work very long hours at all. In addition to relaxing during long holidays, the medieval peasant took his sweet time eating meals, and the day often included time for an afternoon snooze. “The tempo of life was slow, even leisurely; the pace of work relaxed,” notes Shor. “Our ancestors may not have been rich, but they had an abundance of leisure.”
— Lynn Stuart Parramore, “Why a medieval peasant got more vacation time than you“, Reuters

This was curtailed in the Elizabethan era following Henry VIII:

In the Middle Ages, all of these feast days were excuses for a day off, Popish ceremonies, and general idleness. The thrifty Protestants, of course, disapproved, and limited the observance of many of the feast days. They remained on the calendar, but people were enjoined not to stop working.
— Walter Nelson, “Elizabethan Calendar“, Mass Historia

As Catholics, we recognize that all time is given to us as a sacred gift from God, with the responsibilities of growing in holiness and serving our neighbor. Let us neither waste our leisure time, nor allow it to be taken up by work. We must rather keep our days of rest holy, spending them in fruitful ways which will cultivate our souls and bring true joy.

My life is but an instant, a passing hour. My life is but a day that escapes and flies away. O, my God, you know that to love You on earth I only have today!
— St. Thérèse of Lisieux

Image: PD-US

Article originally published at Aleteia.

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Fatherhood and Redemption in “Pirates of the Caribbean 5”

[Caution: spoilers ahead]

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a moving paean to fatherhood. The entire movie centers around Henry Turner’s quest to release his father Will from a curse damning him to eternal servitude on The Flying Dutchman. The movie opens with 12-year-old Henry locating the sunken ship which holds his father captive. Henry says, “I’ve read about a treasure. A treasure that holds all the power of the sea. The Trident of Poseidon can break your curse. … I want you to come home.” Will tells his son to leave: “Henry. I’m sorry. My curse will never be broken. This is my fate.”

Nine years later, Henry is working aboard a British naval ship, which chases a pirate craft into the Devil’s Triangle. There they encounter Captain Salazar and his crew, who are also accursed and trapped as the living dead. After his father’s death at the hands of pirates, Salazar dedicated his life to cleansing the seas of pirates, hunting down and killing them all until tricked into the Triangle by Jack Sparrow.

Later, Henry meets a young astronomer and horologist, Carina, who has also spent her life seeking her long-lost father. Her father left her the means to find Poseidon’s Trident, and she believes that finding it will lead her to him.

What strikes me about this movie is the three above-mentioned characters’ obsession with freeing, avenging or finding their fathers. With today’s modern Western societies where people believe that two females can parent a child as well as the child’s biological parents, it is refreshing to see a movie which affirms the importance of the father in a person’s life. The father is an integral part of the child’s identity. We find our identity in relationship with others, not as singular individuals. And no-one on earth can fully replace our biological parents. This is demonstrated by people who were adopted or donor-conceived spending years searching for their biological parents, even when they love the people who raised them as their own. We have this need for belonging with people who share our ancestry, especially the people who gave part of their bodies to give life to us.

In the end, Carina and her piratical father meet, and they each verbally affirm that the other means everything to them. Everything. Although they have never really known each other, they love each other to the point of complete self-sacrifice. Carina has sacrificed her entire life for the one purpose of finding him, and he sacrifices his life to save her from the unforgiving Salazar.

The family is the image of the Holy Trinity, a communion of love, and our parents are the image of God to us; all fathers share in the divine fatherhood of God. God is our true everything, and it is worth it to sacrifice all for Him, just as He did for us (John 3:16). Henry is a Christlike figure, a second Adam who “to the fight/and to the rescue came”. Instead of wielding the Trident, which would have given him control over all the seas, Henry destroys it, as Christ freely laid down his life out of love for us, although as God He could very well have controlled us instead. Henry descends into the ocean depths and frees all the accursed, including his father, and reunites his parents, just as Christ descended into Hell and freed Adam and all mankind from the shackles of sin and death, bringing us to new life and reuniting us with the heavenly family of God.

A Vicarious Grief Observed

On the recent Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, my priest-uncle-spiritual-director, Father Jim, suddenly lost his brother Allan. Father Jim was abroad teaching a short course in Canon Law when Uncle Allan had a massive myocardiac infarction.

I have never met Uncle Allan, since he lived far from Metro Manila. But Father Jim said he had a lot of friends and touched a lot of people’s lives. I believe this to be true assuming that Uncle Allan were every bit like his brother. He and Father Jim were born successively. They grew up sharing rooms in their parents’ house and, later on, in their grandparents’ place when they went to college. Uncle Allan eventually became a medical doctor, got married, and had five children, all of whom are now either doctors or medical students. When Father Jim became a celibate member of Opus Dei and eventually a priest, Uncle Allan filled in his elder brother’s role of taking care of their parents.

I could thus imagine how close Father Jim and Allan were, and how painful it was for Father Jim to lose his brother. Actually, it was painful for me to see Father Jim – who has always consoled and cheered me up in my own low moments and who usually has more than enough zest for life to go around – feeling his brother’s absence.

On the one hand, I was impressed by Father Jim’s example of Christian hope. He derived consolation from the news that his brother died right after receiving the Last Sacraments, and from that wonderful truth called the “communion of saints”, by which we can pray for and to our deceased loved ones even after they are gone. He posted on Facebook, “St. Josemaria, who we both call Our Father since we both belong to Opus Dei, taught us his children that we never say goodbye, but “Till we meet again”. Till we meet again, my dear brother!”

On the other hand, Father Jim also admitted that while he had intellectually come to terms with his brother’s death, he felt the void that it created.

Indeed, given that each person is unique and irreplaceable, death can only create a void for those left behind. That void is felt not only by the deceased’s immediate friends and relatives, but also by those who, like me, witness a loved one cope with someone else’s death.

How does one console someone else who has just suffered an irreplaceable loss? What do I tell him who has always been the one consoling me, who has always been the one encouraging me to keep the faith?

At these moments, one fumbles for the right words, because it feels as if “condolence” does not adequately express the desire to alleviate a fellow human being’s inner pain. Then, one senses that no eloquent expression of sympathy can stop another person’s pain from recurring, much less bring the dead back to life.

Then, the question comes: why did God let me see and feel someone else’s suffering but leave me helpless to remedy it?

Perhaps, by making me witness another person’s grief at losing a loved one, God was teaching me how much we need one another, how important each and every other human being is. It is God’s way of teaching me to be more attentive to others – something that my introverted and independent self needs to be reminded of every now and then.

Perhaps, God was reminding me that priests, too, are vulnerable human beings, that while we look up to them for our own edification, they too need others to support them in their weaknesses. Indeed, Father Jim recounted how much he was helped by two brother priests who flew all the way to keep him company, by friends who fixed his flight arrangements to his hometown for the wake and the funeral.

Perhaps, by leaving me unable to do more for Father Jim than say a few consoling words, God was reminding me that many times, all that suffering people need from us is “with-ness”, that we accompany them in their sorrow.

In any event, one lesson I learned was to humbly admit and accept my helplessness, do what I can, and trust God to heal the broken-hearted in the best way He can, in His own time.

We know that the desire to alleviate other people’s sufferings pleases God a lot. Isn’t comforting the sorrowful one of the spiritual works of mercy? But sometimes, we feel that our efforts to console the sorrowful are futile.

God allows this to happen to purify our desires. He ensures that our desire to console the sorrowful be more than an exercise in self-affirmation whereby we delight in our ability to make others smile at us. He reminds us that He alone can heal all wounds. He reminds us not to underestimate His empathy for the broken-hearted, He having been heartbroken Himself.

I often wonder if prayers for the suffering actually help them. By placing me in a situation where all I can offer are prayers, God was telling me, “Trust me to heal him. Trust that I will heal the pain of my faithful servant.”

So I prayed, and when I prayed, I felt I, too, was being healed.

The Vocation of Motherhood

One of the most insidious and harmful ideas that mothers labor under is the idea that we can raise flawless children. Rationally we know this isn’t true, but emotionally we throw ourselves into this impossible task. It is honorable and understandable to try to always do best by and for your children. But this can become an idol unto itself, an untenable goal, the impossibility of which serves to demoralize us as we pursue our vocation.

In some ways our mothers had it easier. No blogs, no parenting websites, no constant stream of opinion and advice, citing research and various studies. Everyone has an opinion and no qualms about sharing with maximum certitude the absolute correctness of their ideas. With constant, often contradictory messages, frustration and angst build. Did I birth correctly? Should I have breastfed longer? Co-slept? Worn my baby more? Tandem nurse? Did I fail my children; did I harm them by not doing this? By doing that?

Worry and stress are not tools of the Lord. Self-doubt and angst are not part of His call for us. Nothing changes the reality that we are flawed human beings raising flawed human beings. All of our efforts, all of our study, all of our desire to find the perfect method, the path that gives us children with no heartbreak, none of these can eliminate baggage and hurt from our children’s lives.

I used to be much more certain about how I was raising my children. I never thought I had all the answers, but I certainly knew which ways were better. I unabashedly announced my opinion on a certain parenting style, only to discover that a mother I respected actually practiced this particular parenting method. Despite my strongly-held opinions, her children were happy and delightful and loved her fiercely. Maybe, just maybe, this mother knew better how to raise the children God gave her than I did. Maybe what I felt so strongly about simply wasn’t right for my children. Didn’t fit with my personality.

We can try to do everything right. We can try to be the most educated, the most empowered parents out there. We can everything we can to avoid the mistakes our parents made, but it won’t change the fact that we are making our own. The failure in parenting doesn’t come from mistakes made, but the refusal to learn from them. If we learn, improve and grow from our struggles in parenting, then we are doing right by our children. There is no perfect parent, but there is the parent who is perfecting. And this side of Heaven, that’s as good as we can do.

And just as we cannot avoid mistakes along the way, neither can our children. As they grow and mature into the people God has called them to be, they will have struggles. They won’t always make the right choices, despite our best efforts to teach and guide them. We can give them all the “right” tools, all the answers we know, but they won’t always listen. This isn’t necessarily an indication of a failure in parenting. How do I know? Look at the Original Parent. Look at Our Father.

God actually gave His children the world. He gave them everything they could ever want. And He still had to send them to the world’s worst time out. They still ignored Him, still disobeyed, still brought pain and suffering upon themselves. God is both firm and just. He dispenses justice and consequences for sins. But He merciful and quick to forgive. He wants nothing more than His children to be happy, but truly happy not momentarily indulged. So He does deny, when it is appropriate, He does say no, but He always acts in complete love. What better role model can there be? God certainly doesn’t have a universal; one size fits all, approach to care for His children. Rather, He meets them where they are, challenges them individually and wills the best for them always.

Motherhood is one long learning curve. From the different personalities that burst into your life to the different stages that each child grows through, children keep you on your toes. Yesterday’s game plan doesn’t always meet today’s needs. And yet there is one immutable reality, love. Passionate, motivating love.  The one consistent factor in our lives is love, whether it is God’s love for us or our love for our children.

That’s what our vocation is. That’s what the calling of motherhood is. To be a mirror of God’s love. To show our children how much He loves us, for them to begin to experience and recognize that love in their daily lives. It’s not about forming them into the people we think they should be. It’s about forming them into the persons God created them to be. It’s not about raising people who won’t make mistakes, who won’t make choices that we don’t understand. It’s about making sure that through the fog of error they know they are never alone. Never without that love. And that love will always be calling them home.