Tag Archives: health

Making Sense of Suffering

By guest writer Sarah Coffey.

Why do we suffer?

I’ve wrestled with this question and with God for a long, long time. It’s still a struggle sometimes, more often than I’d like to admit.

If God is so good, and if God loves me like He says He does, then WHY do I have to fight a chronic illness? Why do I have to watch my family members suffer? Why did my grandfather have to die a slow death from cancer? Why did my grandmother have to suffer so much with loneliness and illness? Why did her death have to be slow and painful, too?

I’ve never understood suffering. The first time I came face to face with people telling me that suffering is redemptive is when my husband (who was at that time my boyfriend) lost his mother unexpectedly. I read things about suffering. Catholic things. Things written by literal saints.  They told me that suffering — the pain of losing someone, the pain of seeing someone else hurt, and your own hurt be it physical or emotional — can bring you closer to God. It’s redemptive and salvific.

But suffering didn’t do that for me — it didn’t bring me closer to God. Instead, it made me quite frustrated, and even mad at Him.

This was not just a battle I faced every so often, when a big life event like someone becoming sick, hurt, or dying occurred. No, this was something I faced every month for the past several years as I battled the effects of endometriosis and severe PMS (medically diagnosed as PMDD, which goes WAY beyond typical premenstrual mood swings) plaguing me every four weeks and many, many days in between.

Relentless pain, emotional turmoil, and at times, the feeling of being incredibly depressed for days that interrupted almost every facet of my life and relationships. It made me constantly say WHY, God, WHY do I have to deal with this, when you could so easily will it away? Is this fun to you? Am I just not faithful enough, tough enough, strong enough to deal with this, because this sucks so much?

My dislike — no, loathing — of suffering went on until a few months ago when after it looked like just about every feasible medical option for treating the ridiculous effects of this awful illness had been tried and found wanting. That’s when, by God’s grace, I finally relented in my anger and took this struggle to the foot of the Cross. I prayed that if this was a struggle I had to deal with, that God would give me the grace to carry it better. That He would help me understand this Cross and have peace with why I had to carry it. Just as with St. Paul wrote, that God won’t take away the thorn in our side, but He’ll give us the grace to deal with it: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

My answer, my help in understanding this suffering and all others came in the form of a talk by none other than Fulton Sheen.

I watched a clip of him giving a talk, in his lofty, articulate, awesome voice about a time he had a toothache as a child. To paraphrase, he was a young boy and he HATED going to the dentist. But he developed a severe toothache — an abscess, even. He hid it from his father as long as he possibly could to put off going to the dentist, which he HATED and wanted to avoid at all costs. But his father eventually found out. And took him to the dentist.

Now, mind you, this was the dentist’s office in like the early 1900s. So you can imagine the kind of suffering that went on in there when you came in with an abscessed tooth. Fulton Sheen talked about how, as the dentist began to work on fixing his tooth, Sheen became so upset at his father, wondering why he wasn’t helping him, protecting him, sheltering him from this immense suffering of the dentist treating his tooth.

At the time, as a child, it didn’t make sense to him. But his father knew that ultimately, even if he protected his son from this momentary suffering of going to the dentist, which he really hated and didn’t want to do, it would be very bad, would result in even more suffering, and at that point in time could eventually have caused serious illness or death if left untreated.

Fulton Sheen’s father allowed him temporary suffering for his ultimate good.

And it sort of clicked after I listened to this story. God doesn’t enjoy watching us suffer no more than Fulton Sheen’s father enjoyed watching his little boy writhe in pain in the dentist’s chair. For Fulton Sheen, his father allowed suffering because it was for the good of his ultimate health. For us, God allows suffering because it’s for the good of our souls.

When I heard suffering presented in this way, I was able to finally pray, Lord I don’t like this suffering. In fact, I HATE IT. But if this is for the betterment of my soul, I trust in you, I trust that you, the loving Father that you are, know what is best for me, and that you’ll give me the grace to bear it.

It became so much easier to carry that cross.

Peter Kreeft wrote, in Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas, that “Nothing more powerfully helps us to bear pain than the realization that God wills it.” And I can say that in my own life I have experienced that this is true.

Not more fun — as the struggle was and still is definitely there. And I. don’t. like. it. But seeing it as something God allows for my ultimate good — something that can help me grow in faith for the sake of my eternal salvation — helped make me less bitter and more at peace.

I was challenged again by this as I watched my grandmother suffer in her last few weeks of life. And in watching my family members suffer, too, as they experienced her suffering at her side. Those questions crept back: Why, God, why do you allow her to suffer so much? Why can’t you just take the pain away?

But I am not God. So I don’t know why these things happen. But He does know why. And His ways are higher than mine. And just as Christ’s suffering led to the resurrection and the promise of eternal life, God allows our suffering to bear the fruit of our redemption — even though we probably can’t see it now or even until after our own death.

Our sufferings here on Earth make sense if we trust that there is something after this earthly life. If there’s nothing after that, then suffering means nothing. It is just endless pain and sadness and sorrow and heartbreak. But if there is something beyond this, as Jesus promised and as the Church teaches, then our suffering has so much meaning. Because God wills it for sake of our eternal salvation.

Peter Kreeft also wrote, “… God in His wisdom wills that we suffer because He sees that we need it for our own deepest, truest, most lasting good, or the good of someone else.” For our own deepest, truest, and most lasting good. May this truth help us to take suffering to the cross, and say Lord, use this to mold my heart even more into Yours so that I may spend eternity with You.


Originally published at Sarah Coffey.

Sarah Coffey is a convert to Catholicism who enjoys delving into Church history and the Theology of the Body. She is blessed with a wonderful family, husband, and a cat named Stella (as in “Ave Maris Stella”, of course).

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger


New year, new you!—a motto that makes me want to vomit. What’s so great about a new me if I couldn’t even love the old me? And thinking that I’d have to create a new me every year just makes my anxiety flare. Lose that weight, make that money, achieve that goal, by all means! But all of these things should be done because we love ourselves (and God and those around us), not because we loathe looking in the mirror or think we are failures for not having a ton of disposable income. When we can set goals or resolutions that draw us out of our weaknesses and into lives lived more fully, for ourselves and others, then we have set good, solid resolutions. So, instead of a traditional resolution, this year I have decided on a theme: be stronger. I want to be stronger physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. (NOTE: Change is essential and necessary and we will all become new creations, but not in the way that New Years resolutions tend to lead us to believe. The great Simcha Fisher wrote a really poignant article on this metamorphosis we shall all go through.)

To be stronger physically—This doesn’t only mean losing weight, but, I think more importantly, it means building my stamina again, helping my lungs grow strong to deal with my asthma, toning my arms, legs, and abs, and eating foods that I enjoy and that will also nourish my body. I’m achieving this by learning more about proper nutrition for myself and taking at least one class a day at my local YMCA (I’m taking a mix of classes to keep things interesting, including Zumba, Insanity, Body Combat, and an abs class). This will make me strong enough to keep up with my kids, hopefully not be in pain most of the time, and to start treating my body like the temple it is. The body is an important aspect of our beings and taking care of it helps to give us the discipline necessary in other aspects of our lives. Here is more about the importance of the body.

To be stronger mentally—For me, this will consist mostly of reading more books, and on more varied topics. I am determined to finally finish the Lord of the Rings trilogy this year and also, hopefully, The Silmarillion! There are also some various books on American history on my list. I’ve also subscribed to Lumosity to have a few simple games a day to stretch and train my brain in other ways. This is important because the mind, the intellect, is a gift to guide us in the right direction to God, to rule over our passions, and to order those passions correctly. A strong intellect will not only order the passions but also help to keep the will in check, especially in situations where the will might become weakened.

To be stronger emotionally—I keep it no secret that I struggle with depression and anxiety (which also cross over into the mental category), but getting help for these conditions is not the only way I want to grow stronger emotionally. Learning to rule my emotions instead of allowing them to rule me—especially anger/frustration and especially with my children—is actually at the top of my list. Those little moments throughout the day when I think ill of someone else, when I practice disgust instead of understanding, when I cannot or will not remain calm and at peace. These smaller, everyday moments are the most telling sign of someone’s emotional state, and I want mine to be in much better shape. I’m tired of feeling out of control and all over the place. This will be an exercise of the will, learning to not let myself be ruled by emotions and to stand firm in truth and righteousness even when my emotions are raging.

To be stronger spiritually—This is the most important one, the one that will ground and make possible all the others. So first things first, get my prayer life in order. Some of the changes I’m making are simple, like kneeling beside my bed for prayers in the evening. Others are old habits being resurrected, like praying Liturgy of the Hours. Next, I’m making Confession a much bigger priority than it used to be for me and going to receive the sacrament at least once a month. Getting a spiritual director is also in order. Here are a bunch of other Catholic, spiritual resolutions to get your noodle going with ideas. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). If I trust in Him, if I turn over all my weak areas (the physical ones, too!), and make myself a complete offering to Him, He will give me His own strength and not just help me achieve strength but to be strength for others- I will be a vehicle of love and Truth to all that I encounter in every aspect of my life because He will radiate through me. This is the real purpose of becoming strong spiritually- knowing and loving God and then being His light to others.

Maybe your theme for this year is different; maybe it’s something like “die to self more” and that makes the actions of these same categories look different than how they look for me. That’s good! Becoming stronger in these ways will not only make me a better person, it will also give me the tools I need to achieve some long-sought goals and will also make me depend more on God, the ultimate source of strength. What is your theme for the year? What is God calling you to focus on? How will you set about to achieve that?

The Sugar Sacrifice: Who Will Win?

A while back, the associate pastor at our church announced that he would be taking three months off to go to Mexico.

Now, before you sigh with envy and work to painstakingly squelch your urge to covet, Father isn’t off to bask in the luxury of carefree relaxation in Cabo. On the contrary, he is probably working harder than he ever has, seminary studies included. You see, our beloved priest is currently facing his own personal struggle with food head on by participating in a health management boot camp of sorts.

The bulletin announcement about his impending absence, written by Father himself, explained that, during a recent medical check-up, the doctor was coming up with all sorts of excuses for some pretty significant health concerns. In his attempts to be kind and “sensitive” to Father’s feelings, the M.D. failed to address the proverbial elephant in the room, which was that his patient’s dangerous weight was the likely cause for – or, at the very least, exacerbating – his various ailments.

After reading the message, I was so proud of our priest: proud of him for confronting his demons; proud of him for being courageous enough to share his struggles with us; proud of him for knowing that these struggles, once overcome, would help him to better attend to his vocation.

I also felt a teensy bit convicted by his forthrightness, to be honest. Okay. I felt a huge, wheelbarrow-sized conviction that smacked me in the middle of my forehead. You see, God has been talking to me about my own health for some time now. While pregnant with and nursing my children over the past several years, I had slowly but surely given myself permission to not monitor my food intake. “Oh, I’m eating for two,” I’d say, rationalizing the extra helping of dessert or bread or whatever. I wasn’t really thinking of the baby’s – or my own – real needs. I was thinking of my stomach – of how good it felt in the moment to eat three or more scoops of ice cream or some other less-than-healthful food substance on a regular basis.

Only, it wasn’t really feeling good anymore.  Small allowances and minor indulgences quickly became regular habits, and these habits became cravings – especially for sweets. I’d overeat, then hate myself for doing it, then eat to make myself feel better, only to start the cycle all over again. Being a “food zombie” wasn’t bringing me any lasting happiness, and it definitely wasn’t glorifying God. I truly had become a sugar junkie – an addict – someone who would impatiently wait for my next cookie, scoop of ice cream, or candy bar to get a sugar “fix.”

Not too long ago, I had a medical scare and two procedures that forced me to miss about a month of my “regular” life. Mercifully, I was able to recognize these incidences as a gift from God – a clear sign to change my unhealthy ways. I needed a better diet and more exercise. And so, I tried for a while to “do better” (perhaps a month or two), but inevitably, I slipped back to my old bad habits and probably caused my guardian angel to give himself an open-palmed slap to the forehead while rolling his eyes to China. I felt like, no matter what I tried, I just could not make any lasting adjustments of my own free will. As St. Paul lamented to the Romans, I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do – I was doing what I hate!

Thankfully, I saw Father’s commitment to changing his life as an opportunity for transformation in my own. I reasoned that, if our priest could make some heroically virtuous adjustments regarding his health, then so could I. To my husband’s overwhelming delight (he’s been on my case for years), I decided to (gasp!) give up sugar as a sign of solidarity with and support for our priest. I needed my sacrifice to mean something, and I adopted Father’s struggle as my own personal cause for solidarity.

“Great timing,” an acquaintance sneered, when I mentioned my plans. “Do you understand you’ll be going through several holidays and other festive occasions? This will mean no cake, pie, ice cream, or other sugary desserts!” She looked at me like I was crazy. She laughed as she added, “Let me remember you the way you were,” implying that there was no way I’d be happy (or any fun to be around) without chocolate. Grrr. If there’s one thing God knows about my stubborn self, it’s that I’m about 500% more likely to do something if someone tells me I can’t. I steeled my resolve, dug in my heels, and ripped off the proverbial sugar Band-Aid that very day.

So, practically, speaking, what does my sacrifice look like? “No sugar” means just that: no dessert, no sugary snacks, no soda, no sugary coffee drinks (ACK!), no added sugar in anything, etc. Every time I think of sugar, desire sugar, am around or in close proximity of sugar, I pray for Father’s success in his endeavor to win back his health. I also pray that with each small “no,” I tell myself, God will help me detach from a relationship with food that, truly, had become disordered. I pray that my sacrifice will lead to virtue – namely, prudence and self-control – for both Father and me.

And, how’s it going so far? Well, it’s been 36 days – over a month’s time – since I began this journey. I wish I could attest that saying “no” to sugar has become easier. It honestly hasn’t – yet. I wish I could also say that I have lost 20 pounds – I have not. I wish I could tell you when Father will get back so I can have sugar again (truth). I CAN say, however, that I think I have more energy now to chase my kids around, which is a huge blessing. And I think my complexion might have improved. I’ll take it. But, more importantly, I genuinely know that, with God’s help and by His grace, I am empowered to use my small sacrifices to help another. And I truly have faith that I CAN overcome anything through Christ who strengthens me – even sugar. Pass the carrots.

A version of this article originally appeared on RealCatholicMom.com about six years ago. The author believes it is time to exercise this sort of sacrificial solidarity yet again. 

Beyond My Comfort (Food) Zone

Ash Wednesday (Carl Spitzweg)

It is very appropriate, I think, that I received my diagnosis of wheat and milk allergies during Lent, three years ago. After all, I was already in a mode of Lenten sacrifice, and it felt good and natural to cut out these foods from my life and stick to a very basic diet. Also, I had been very sick and was relieved to find a way to start feeling better. The only difference was that instead of giving up gluten and dairy for Lent, I was giving them up forever. Easter came and went, and I still couldn’t eat any Cadbury eggs or dinner rolls. I tried not to think too much about what I would miss in the long term—that I’d never again enjoy gelato or my favorite pizza—and instead focused on one day at a time. There were still foods I could delight in, like avocados and peanut butter and Chipotle burrito bowls. It was a big lifestyle shift, but it got a little bit easier the more I got the hang of it.

Initially, when I started to see that I could go without some of my favorite foods, I realized that there are so many things in this world that we become so attached to, so many “needs” that aren’t really needs at all. This, of course, is why people give things up for Lent: to detach from the things of this world that are tying us down and holding our attention away from God, to offer a small sacrifice in light of God’s ultimate sacrifice. Before my diagnosis, I would never have dreamed I could live without bread. But of course I can. Any of us could, if we really wanted or needed to; it’s surprising how much we can live without. And honestly, I should consider myself lucky: lucky to have plenty of gluten-free, dairy-free food options, lucky to have found the root of my sickness and to start feeling better.

The one thing I didn’t anticipate was the full extent of my emotional attachments to favorite foods. Not only did I love bagels and Oreo milkshakes, I identified as a lover of bagels and Oreo milkshakes. I realized the extent to which food becomes a part of our identity, how we define ourselves: our regional, cultural, and individual tastes represented in our favorite meals. What Philly-born Jersey girl doesn’t eat bagels, soft pretzels, cheesesteaks, and pizza? What Irish girl refuses a buttered scone? What person who has ever lived in the Eternal City doesn’t long for a cone of Giolitti or a plate of good Roman carbonara? Me, apparently. I was willing to do whatever it took to change my diet and cleanse my body of allergens, but I wasn’t yet fully comfortable being the person I must become: the kind of person who brings salads for lunch, who shops at Whole Foods, who double-checks every ingredient label and asks twenty questions of the waiter at a restaurant. I was more of a SpaghettiOs girl than a salads and vegetables girl, and my cooking skills were laughable. I never had a problem with that before, but now I had to change. I had to speak up at restaurants and tell waiters very clearly about my allergies; I had to send entrees back to the kitchen after realizing that they contained cheese. As someone who is very shy and mild-mannered, this put me totally out of my element, and I had to learn to be less embarrassed about speaking up.

What I began to learn is that my “sense of self” really didn’t matter in the way I thought it did. Lent is a dying of the self to make room for new life in God, and giving up my favorite foods was very much a Lenten process for me. We have tendencies to latch onto certain characteristics of ourselves—likes and dislikes, the traits that we think make us “unique” or “special” and seem inextricably part of who we are, but aren’t really what’s important. The truth is, these arbitrary preferences are part of how we experience the world, but they don’t ultimately matter in how God sees us. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying and appreciating the good things around us, but we need to remember that in the end, they are only things, and there are much greater spiritual riches to be tasted. Sometimes God asks us to put aside certain things—things that are good in and of themselves—so that we don’t become fixated on them, so that He can help us to stretch and grow beyond our own self-imposed definitions and limitations, beyond our comfort zone.

In losing my favorite foods, I lost the ability to re-taste the memories embedded within them. And this is the hardest part for me: to know that I will never again taste regular yellow cake with chocolate icing and be transported to all my childhood birthday parties once again, that I will not again consume the Sant’Eustachio chocolate-covered espresso beans that sustained me during my European travels, that even if I were to go back to my college dining hall, I wouldn’t be able to get the same old yogurt-and-granola mix that I used to eat every night as I laughed with my friends at dinner. Because I am so drawn to memories, this is especially difficult.

One of my favorite prayers begins, “Lord Jesus Christ, take all my freedom, my memory, my understanding, and my will.” When I first started to say this prayer, I used to wonder why memory was included in the list—it seemed a little out of place. Freedom, understanding, and will—sure, these were great things to submit to God, but why memory? What does it even mean to offer one’s memory, and why would it be important? I reasoned that my memory was part of myself and I wanted to offer my whole self to God, but I didn’t fully understand why it was included in the list.

Now I’m beginning to understand a little better. When I offer Jesus my memory, I am handing over the lens through which I perceive the events of my life and asking Him to replace it with His own view. I am giving Him something to which I am very closely attached, something I cling to out of the desire to know my own story. I am recognizing the fallibility of my own memory and the perfection of His; I am recognizing that He, as the One who transcends time, is the ultimate Memory-Keeper, the ultimate Storyteller. So instead of living in the past and instead of resenting the need to undergo these sacrifices, I can trust in Him to tell my story, and He will shed light on the path ahead of me.

1. Ash Wednesday by Carl Spitzweg / Public Domain
2. Photo by pfctdayelise / CC-BY-SA-2.5

Emotions: A Human Thing, Not a Woman Thing

man upset

Last month, a fellow blogger asked me what I — as a woman — think it means to be a man. So in a comment on his blog, I wrote the following:

I could write a whole post (and perhaps I will after I finish my book!). But here’s what comes to mind at first: A man uses words to communicate. He does what he says he’s going to do. He understands emotion to be a human thing, not a woman thing, and expresses his own. If he was raised not to express emotion, he makes an effort as an adult to unlearn what he learned (even if with the help of a licensed therapist). He has integrity, which means he doesn’t do stuff (or makes a concerted effort to avoid doing stuff) in private that doesn’t align with his public image. He practices chastity and knows love is a choice as opposed to a feeling.

Another of the blogger’s readers left a comment regarding mine:

Actually, in this, you’re buying into the mindset that tries to turn men into hairy women. No one *teaches* men to “not express emotion” — it is a natural result of being in control of yourself, which is the masculine ideal. Furthermore, no one, needs, nor even wants, “men” who wear their emotions on their sleeves, least of all women [sic]When it comes to emotions, the world was better off when women worked to emulate what comes naturally to men, by keeping a lid on theirs. Instead, most “women” thesa days mentally junior-high school girls [sic] … as are far too many so-called men.

These are my thoughts on that:

  • To my readers who are men: IGNORE HIM. You are not a hairy woman if you express emotion. You are a person who functions. A “masculine ideal” that doesn’t let you be who you are or feel what you feel is a crock of you know dang well what. Reject it.


  • No one needs men who wear emotions on their sleeves? Reminder: Jesus wept.


  • Words like the ones written by that reader are the reason an 11-year-old boy I once met is more likely to put his fist through a wall than to cry when he’s upset. By telling boys “crying is for wimps,” you don’t encourage strength. You set them up to be alarmed by feelings when feelings arise (and they will). You discourage the development of their abilities to manage emotion, because you can’t learn to manage what you aren’t allowed to experience.


  • Emotion is human. The moment you call expression of it weak, it becomes strong: evidence of a willingness to go against the grain — a grain manufactured by people like the guy who wrote the comment. (A willingness, which, for the record, is totally attractive.)


  • Women don’t want men who express emotion? First, men can’t tell women what women want. Stop it. Second, if I wind up with a guy who cries when he proposes or commits on an altar to intertwining his entire life with mine, or when our kids are born or our pets and loved ones die, or the Fresh Prince rerun we’re watching happens to be particularly heart wrenching, GOOD. I’ll cry with him.


  • The writer posits that men aren’t supposed to express emotion because not expressing emotion is “a natural result of being in control of yourself, which is the masculine ideal.” It is good, regardless of gender, to be in control of yourself. And it is normal to have emotions. But it is flawed to imply it is a loss of self-control to express them.


  • Perhaps the people who have lost control of self are not the ones who express emotion, but the ones who don’t. Who is in control when what you will or won’t do is based on what other people think of you?


This post originally appeared on arleenspenceley.com.

Valuing All of the Facets of Life

Earlier today, I watched “Hello Herman,” a movie that explores the subject of school shootings in an interesting format. The film taught me nothing that I did not already know, but its methods of display shook me to my core. While it is not distinctly religious (the main character takes a swipe at religion early on, but then is later seen in a Christian chapel; make of that what you will), I would recommend it. It inspired me to reflect more on the value of life and it inspired this column.

A couple of months ago, a tragedy involving a few teenagers occurred in my relatively small city. The primary victim was left in a comatose state. I lent the customary prayers for his soul, then thought little of him afterward. It was not until the event came up in a conversation with a friend that I realized that most had already resigned themselves to the victim’s death. It had only been a few days, but many thought that “pulling the plug” was the best solution (and it was the option eventually chosen). It later struck me that I, by caring so little, was at least somewhat morally complicit in this fellow being’s euthanization.

We are all complicit in the “culture of death” that has rocked the world. How many of us can honestly say that we have done our best to ensure the protection of all of the vulnerable, whether they be in a womb, in a wheelchair, or in a coma? I, for one, certainly cannot. And, judging by the poll numbers on life issues, most other Americans cannot, either.

Why are we in this predicament? We have far-left media that purport to report the news and cover issues of import, but refuse to cover things like the Gosnell trial. We have politicians that claim to be religious, but ignore Exodus 20:13, Psalm 127:3, Proverbs 6:16-17, and other verses. And, worst of all, we suffer a complacent public. Americans, the legendary crusaders for justice, have been willing to set aside the fundamental right to live. Plenty would rather watch The Amazing Race than sweat standing outside of an abortion facility.

Politicians promise lower taxes, higher welfare benefits, cheaper gas, and a cleaner environment, while staying silent on the millions of children slaughtered every year. But let us not be so quick to place the blame solely on D.C., or the titans of state capitols. They work for us. We must write to our representatives, hound them (if need be) at town hall meetings, and make absolutely clear to them, in no uncertain terms, that a single vote against life will result in their loss of our support.

But what causes should we unequivocally support? All that relate to the sanctity of life. Of course, this will sometimes require the crossing of deceptively comfortable political boundaries. One might march alongside Democrats in opposition to the death penalty, but later vote for a Republican with a better overall record in a presidential election.

Like Cardinal Raymond Burke, the prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, said in 2010, Catholics have “a very serious moral obligation in voting to vote for those candidates who would uphold the truth of the moral law, which of course also serves the greatest good of everyone in society.”

We must act now. We have reached the point at which otherwise sane people proudly invoke the name of Satan in order to advance their nefarious causes, and then face little else but outpourings of support from the elites.

A faithful Christian option must always be put forward and sold to the public. This witness is called to support every facet of life, not just taking a stand on traditional issues like abortion, but also taking care to not neglect issues like health care and familial support.

Mere lip service to the value of life accomplishes nothing. Life must be constantly, consistently, and boldly be defended, nourished, and cherished.


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The Allure Of the Crunchy Catholic

Flax oil was the gateway.  When I got engaged two years ago and signed up for Natural Family Planning courses, I received a hefty box containing workbooks, charts, a thermometer, and most interestingly, the book Fertility, Cycles, and Nutrition by Marilyn Shannon.  Figuring the months leading up to my wedding and eventually, babies, were as good a time as any to really learn about my body, I opened up the book and promptly determined that my caffeine consumption, my sugar intake, my failure to take multiple supplements, and the fact that I had never made my own bread or yogurt were all going to doom my best efforts at NFP.  At Shannon’s suggestion, I started taking flax oil to help regulate the last phase of my cycle.

Reading this book was one of those experiences where there’s so much information that you freak out, convinced you’ve been doing everything wrong, go a tad overboard on amending every relevant part of your life, and eventually, after a few months, find yourself on a much more moderate keel, hopefully with new knowledge to spare.  That book, along with the coworkers who became my sisters and brothers during my first job after college, revealed to me a fascinating, heretofore unfamiliar breed: The Crunchy Catholic.

You might know one yourself.  It’s your friend who walks or bikes instead of drives whenever possible, composts, homeschools, cleans everything with vinegar, carries her babies in a sling, puts raw honey in his tea, prefers warm salt water over NyQuill, and would never touch meat with hormones or antibiotics.  The hardcore ones eschew microwaves, drink raw milk, and brew kombucha, a fermented tea made from a live bacteria culture that looks like a mushroom.  I am not making this up.  In my case, a marginal interest in all this eventually turned into a much deeper awareness of what I put in and on my body.  It turned to a life of kale, quinoa, Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap, coconut oil, organic apple cider vinegar with apple strings floating in it, and a rampage during which I tossed most of my beauty products, deciding they were all toxic.

Mumford and Sons, Awake My Soul, LyricsWhile I was drinking fermented things and giving chastity talks, my then-fiancé was living the lean existence of a bachelor and graduate student.  He spent exactly $30 a week on groceries and survived almost solely on frozen burritos.  I’m not making this up, either.  As my crunchiness increased, he’d ask me sometimes why I felt it so necessary to go above and beyond typical conventions of healthy living.

I asked myself a few times if my desire to be countercultural was just pride.  Maybe, at first.  But I had other reasons, too.  “Think our future children’s health!” I’d insist.  “I want us to have a nice long life on earth together before we go to Heaven!”  “Eating kale even when you hate it will sanctify you and get you to Heaven!”  He persisted, and I wondered: what’s the draw of a less processed, slightly weirder lifestyle, and what exactly distinguishes a Catholic hippie from a non-Catholic hippie?

I certainly never want to do anything for no reason.  That’s the great thing about the Church, isn’t it, that there’s always a perfectly natural, logical explanation, with our deepest fulfillment in mind, for every truth and every teaching?  And I definitely wouldn’t call myself a hipster, arbitrarily following a path just for the sake of being original.  So I thought about it — the appeal of the crunch. Aside from the fact that I feel physically better when I eat well and am content knowing I’m living more simply (thrifting, foregoing the gym in favor of runs and bike rides outside) and thinking critically about the medical and nutritional staples that are marketed as essentials (bleach, dairy, certain vaccines, and, of course, hormonal contraceptives), I think there’s also something deeper at work.

The answer, I think, lies in the Theology of the Body.  It lies in who we are.  According to John Paul II, the body expresses the soul, so why wouldn’t I want to nourish my body just as well physically as I do spiritually?  Maybe it is just temporary, this life, but I say it’s worth nourishingThere is a deep peace that comes from knowing you’re living as you’re created to live; as in, living in a way that embraces our humanness.  After all, our bodies, our flesh, are so essential to who we are as humans and how we share in Christ’s life—it’s only through His body, and our own, that we can experience the deepest satisfaction of our longings in the Eucharist.

Do I want to be healthy?  Of course.  In a countercultural way?  Well, yes, but not just to make a statement.   In First Corinthians, Saint Paul says my body is a temple, but I don’t want to turn it into a site of idolatry as I worship my own pride in how I raise my future family, or my own self-image as a result of my eating and exercise choices.   I don’t want it to be a Holy of Holies, either, to be feared when I one day sit my child in front of the TV or eat the occasional slice of pizza.  No; I want to be a tabernacle, a dwelling place for what’s pure, what’s good, and what’s holy.

Happy Birthday, Mary!

As it turns out, Mary is one of my favorite writing topics.

I have always been fascinated by her, for obvious reasons. Suspend reality for a minute: if anyone ever “proved” Christianity was not the Truth, then billions of people would have been duped by a 13-year-old pregnant girl. That’s pretty heavy.

Fortunately, not only is that unlikely, but we don’t believe it after centuries and countless hours of faith, prayer, and study. Mary remains in our hearts, the most ever-present mother we could ever hope to know.

Mother Mary, I know I can’t exchange a mere “Happy Birthday” for your prayers, but I need you now as I did when I was a child. We need you now.

Mary's statue from my home

I picture Mary in heaven cleaning up toys, dislodging tiny G.I. Joes from the toughening pad of her foot, slowly acquiring a nursing/psych/spiritual guide degree, with stretch marks to match her under eye circles, like mothers around the world. If I could pick anyone to give me vapor rub for my soul, it would be her.

The world is the toy room, bruises, scrapes, and boo-boos show up on her children’s souls, and her children around the world cry to her at night, stirring her awake.

Her soul magnifies the Lord for centuries so that He can reach more of those who notice her motherly influence on their lives.  She is our mother, our comforter, and God’s message deliverer.

The house in which I grew up loved her everyday. I knew the Hail Mary prayer as well as the Our Father, we had several pictures, rosaries, and one statue of her in the “fancy room.” My parents needed her guidance in their lives, so they were happy to invite her into their homes.

When I was in fourth grade, I woke up one morning with a white-hot pain in my right hip. I rolled off the bed, onto the floor and quickly learned the pain hindered my ability to stand up.

It was as if I remained in a dream wherein no dream-like strength would move my body, tethered to the floor.

Fear overwhelmed me and heaving tears came down my face as I wriggled into the bustle of the hallway where I knew my parents noticed their first born daughter, crawling like she was a toddler again.

With their help, thanks be to the Lord, I could stand and walk with the pain still searing in my hip. Doctors did tests, people prayed, I repeated my own name during the prayers for intercessions at Mass, and I watched my parents whisper with worry.

They thought it was Rheumatoid Arthritis and that I would be in a wheelchair by the age of sixteen.

The morning that we were to get the test results from the doctor, my mom rushed in my room with damp cheeks and an encouraged voice and clasped around my neck her mother’s Mary metal on a silver chain. She said Mary came to her in a dream and told her it would be good news from the doctor and not to be afraid.

For the first time in days, her head was actively floating above water. Mary, whether it was her or just the comfort that my mom knew she could find in her image, provided my mother with peace of mind. She rubbed the vapor jelly on her soul, reminding her that she was not alone.

My own photo of La Pieta

The renewing dream was correct and the doctors concluded that I had contracted streptococcus in my hip joint. I needed some antibiotics and a few weeks for the pain to subside.

I doubt I knew how serious that episode could have been; I was excited to miss school for that appointment.

Mary provided my mother with the magnifying reminder that anxiety is the opposite of grace. The episode awoke the faith in my parents and my sisters and I grew and learned from it.

The comfort and wisdom that Mary used to assure Jesus that it was time for his first miracle guides us today. Because we know she lived life as a mother, she lost like a mother, and Jesus declared her our mother while on the cross, she leads us to a path to Him when we need it.

Thank you for reading! More can be found at ElizabethHillgrove.com!