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Does Anything Strike You About This List?

The idea of conventions really appeals to me. You not only get to hear great speakers on the topic that interests you, you also get to meet others with the same interest. Even though I do not attend many conferences, I love to read about them. And what could be better than conferences that focus on natural family planning?

So I was easily engaged with the Couple to Couple League’s 2010 speakers list. Check it out. Then you can read what I thought as I read about who is speaking:

Cardinal Ennio Antonelli of the President of the Pontifical Council for the Family
I would love to hear him!

Bishop Ronald W. Gainer
I should probably know something about him…

Mike Manhart, Ph.D. CCL Executive Director
Makes sense since he runs the organization.

Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D. (Fr. Tad) Director of Education, The National Catholic Bioethics Center
I love Father Tad. I still can’t believe that the Vatican seems to be taking his side on the embryo adoption issue. Hm…

Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, S.V., Ph.D.

And then there was Joseph Corbo, M.D., James McKenna, Ph.D., Dale Alquist, Ray Guarendi, Ph.D., and Michael Schwartz.
I don’t know any of these guys, though McKenna sounds really interesting.

Then I scrolled through the list again.

I had to be missing people.

I had to be missing women.

No, I had already seen the one woman… a sister. I have no objection to celibate women promoting life, they are crucial! But why is she the only woman listed? Does the Couple to Couple League believe that if NFP-using women want to hear from women who actually live with NFP they should just talk to themselves? Are women and men really so similar that men can speak to these issues just as well as women? Did the conference organizers try to get women to speak but find that they were all so drowning with their own children that they had nothing left to give to others?

I left Couple to Couple League’s website with the sinking feeling that they are crippled in their ability to promote the fullness of what the Church has to offer for women in real life. Am I missing a good reason for avoiding married women as speakers, or does the Couple to Couple League have a tremendous opportunity to grow in this area?

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I Submit the Obvious

Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

So (also) husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.

“For this reason a man shall leave (his) father and (his) mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.

In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband.

Ephesians 5:21-33

Have you ever heard conservative Catholics talk about this passage? They tend to compare marriage to a government or business and suggest that God instructs husbands to “lead” because nothing gets done without someone having final authority. I used to become upset by the way this passage was misused to elevate men over women, now I simply wonder at the way it is first drenched in a utilitarian sauce before being offered up as the supposed meat of Christian married life.

I am not a biblical scholar, but some things are so obvious that I wonder how they are missed by so many. I suspect that the general misapplication of Ephesians chapter five is not merely the result of the way we are trained to read this passage: it is just more fun to make this into something threateningly, absolutely, concrete.

But what happens if we step back and read this the same way that we read the rest of scripture?

The answer for me is that the “practical model” of marriage is replaced with something more mystical. It is not simply the way the passage starts out, and the clear fact that authority is not subordination. It is the fact that the author is writing about Christ and the Church. How then can it be correct to start with the assumption that this passage is about married couples, and only secondarily consider the relationship of Christ to the Church as a  model for human marriage?

Furthermore, a traditional Christian reading of the passage is bound by the idea that marriage is a sacrament/sacred mystery. A mystery would not be a mystery if it were simply another name for efficiency.

With this in mind, I smile when I hear friends say that “someone has to be in charge for marriage to work efficiently.” I may not know much about marriage, but I do know that it is a sacrament–a means of salvation. I worship an omnipotent God whose version of efficiency is coming to earth as a human, living a sinless life, suffering and dying on a cross, and allowing humans the freedom to reject it all. And you suggest that I should believe that that God was suddenly most concerned about efficiency when inspiring the author of Ephesians to write about marriage?

It could just be that I do not have enough experience with marriage, but I suspect that if I wanted an efficient means of salvation I should have sought out martyrdom rather than marriage. Marriage is a lifelong giving of self; a painfully inefficient, indissoluble community of love, worked out in sweat and tears and blood. But I chose marriage knowing that it would be difficult, and so far I am far from tempted by the lure of efficiency through hierarchy. I would much rather work together with my husband for our mutual salvation than to work for him for the efficienct running of our home.

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Haiti and Helplessness

I found out about the earthquake in Haiti the morning after it happened. I saw something online about praying or giving to Haiti the night before, but that is not unusual for me, so I did not think about it. Then my mother called wanting to know whether I had information on a friend who was there. I checked Facebook and informed my mother that the friend was apparently fine as people were posting “I am so glad that you’re okay!”s. I did not ask my mother about any of the other people we know in Haiti, because if she had had information she would have given it to me.

After talking with my mother I went back to my job-hunting and Haiti-ignoring. But soon it was impossible to ignore. It seemed that everyone was overcome with horror and trying to do something to help. I could not help but wonder why. I do not have a television and my brain cannot process the difference between the “normal” level of suffering and unnecessary death in Haiti and that which is happening now. I tried to figure out why I was blocking the information. Why was I not caring?

The answer was obvious: I cannot handle it. I have a special Haiti-shaped blinders to keep information away from from me (I also have African filters, a South Asian firewall, etc.). There is nothing that I can do, and so I try to avoid thinking about it.

I finally broke down this morning and rambled on and on to Josh about how there are always children dying in Haiti because they do not have access to basic medical care and how my friend could give her life to take care of them, but I cannot even get a job to give money, let alone get through school to help personally. There is nothing that I can do. It is immensely frustrating because I know that I could help… except that I cannot. In the past I could use things like this as motivation to work harder, but there is nothing to do that I am not already doing.

My only comfort is that others are immersed in images of the tragedy and are giving. And a year from now I will still care about the daily reality of Haitians and maybe, just maybe, I will be closer to being able to do something.

But I cannot really convince myself that it is okay, and so I try to distract myself from the reality of my inability to help. I do not wait and hope, I put my head in the sand and hope.

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Our Lady of La Leche Shrine

In October Josh and I visited the shrine of Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine, Florida. The grounds are beautiful and astoundingly peaceful for what is treated by many as a tourist destination.


Inside the chapel we prayed silently. I prayed for myself a little, but mostly I prayed for others whom I wished could visit for themselves.


Lovely Lady of La Leche, most loving mother of the Child Jesus, and my mother, listen to my humble prayer. Your motherly heart knows my every wish, my every need. To you only, His spotless Virgin Mother, has your Divine Son given to understand the sentiments which fill my soul. Yours was the sacred privilege of being the Mother of the Savior.

Intercede with him now, my loving Mother, that, in accordance with His will, I may become the mother of other children of our heavenly Father. This I ask, O Lady of La Leche, in the Name of your Divine Son, My Lord and Redeemer. Amen.


O Lord Jesus Christ, through the intercession of Your tender Mother, Our Lady of La Leche, who bore You close to her heart during those long months before Your birth, I place my baby and myself entirely in Your Hands. Free me, I beseech You, from useless and consuming worry. Accept the sacrifice of my aches and pains, which I unite to Your sufferings on the Cross. Above all, most merciful and loving Jesus, protect this child You have given to me from all harm, bestowing the health and vigor every baby needs. Implant in my heart and on my lips the words and prayers of Your Mother and mine, our Lovely Lady of La Leche. All this I ask that my child and I may live to praise forever Your Holy Name.


The many sculptures on the grounds did an excellent job of capturing the beauty of Mary worshiping Jesus as her God, nursing him as her baby, and watching him suffer as her savior.

It would be difficult to leave the place with a carefree view of motherhood.


But even in a place perfect to contain the sorrow of every woman longing to be a mother, there was the joyful reminder of the child born to Our Lady of La Leche: the child who grew up to draw children to himself.  He remains the one who draws each of us to himself and offers his mother as the perfect mother for all women, whether longing for motherhood, suffering through motherhood, or entirely oblivious to the wonder that is motherhood.



It is truly fitting, Mary, that we should honor you.

For God chose to honor you by making you His mother.

The prophets of old spoke of you with their fairest praises, the glory of Israel and of all womankind.

The angel bowed in reverence as he addressed you who was chosen to be God’s Mother.

And all generations have called you blessed.

So joyfully, Mary, we praise you;

We praise you in your purity, far more radiant than that of the brightest seraphim and cherubim.

We praise you in your maternity, in which you were privileged to nourish your God and creator at your breast.

We praise you in your virginity, which you kept so preciously together with your holy maternity.

We praise you in the honor which through you has been given to holy motherhood throughout the ages.

We praise you in the courage your pure and holy example has given to Christian mothers in a sinful world.

We praise you, too, in your motherhood, which by God’s decree has made you our mother and us your children.

Yes, always and at all times and in all places will we praise and honor and bless you, as it is proper to do, holy Mother of God, ever-blessed virgin, mother of fair love!


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Women in Catholic Leadership

SrBenedictaAnnie asked “why aren’t women more active in the church leadership?” which is a great question. It actually thrilled my little soul because of the way she phrased it. Instead of writing about why women aren’t priests, I get to address the much less discussed topic of why the leadership of the Catholic Church is not only male, but overwhelmingly male.

First, I should note that it is likely that Catholic women are more active in leadership than most people think. Women run Catholic schools and pastoral councils. Women are diocesan judges and advocates. The number of women working behind the scenes in the Vatican has also risen dramatically since John Paul II became pope. Also, when Catholics think of leadership, we do not just think of those who have temporal power. Even more important than priests, or even the pope, are the Saints who are the spiritual leaders of the Church. For Catholics, Mother Teresa was as much of a leader as John Paul II.

That said, there is no doubt that women have a minor role compared to men in Catholic leadership. Why? Because of sin. The Church is full of sinners, and it is oh-so-very difficult for any group to see the need to share its power with another group. Women had a great role in leadership in the early Church, but as the Church government was formed and influenced by the outside, the patriarchal form partially won out over the example set by Christ. Perhaps part of this was necessary to accommodate culture. Perhaps it was entirely the result of weakness. But in any case, the Catholic Church was clearly influenced by the culture in which it took shape.

To quote Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein):

In the early Church, women played an active part in the various congregational charities, and their intense apostolate as confessors and martyrs had a profound effect. Virginal purity was celebrated in liturgy, and for women there was also a consecrated ecclesiastical office–the diaconate with its special ordination–but the Church did not go so far as to admit them to the priesthood as well. And in later historical developments, women were displaced from these posts; also, it seems that under the influence of the Hebraic and Roman judicial concepts, there was a gradual decline in their canonical status.

Catholic authority is further complicated by the role of ordination. Because women are not priests, it is all too easy to refuse them a place in the group of decision-makers. Bishops have the greatest authority in the Church, and since women are not bishops, they are simply excluded from the highest positions of leadership. Thankfully women are now more frequently brought in as consultants. As far as I am aware, progress is slow but steady.

I remain hopeful because, like Pope Paul VI, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross’ words seem only more true after several decades have passed:

a Catholic feminist movement was thought to be impossible when the interdenominational movement when into action. The concept which assumes that everything in the Church is irrevocably set for all times appears to me to be a false one. It would be naive to disregard that the Church has a history; the Church is a human institution and like all things human, was destined to change and to evolve; likewise, its development takes place often in the form of struggles. Most of the definitions of dogma are conclusive results of preceding intellectual conflicts lasting for decades or even centuries. The same is true of ecclesiastical law, liturgical forms–especially all objective forms reflecting our spiritual life.

The Catholic Church has made astounding improvements since the 1930s, and who knows what positions of leadership women will fill in another 70 years? I have great hope that the necessity of change will foster increased perfection under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

I suspect that this post will both fail to satisfy non-Catholics such as Annie, as well as shock many Catholics who would respond that the Church is the way She is because God wants it that way. I do not expect too much of a response with the busyness of the holidays, but for those Catholics who do read this and disagree, please feel free to chime in with your version of why women are not more active in Church leadership.

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Failing NFP & Learning a Bit of Charity

I was full of dread as I approached the door to enter our final natural family planning class. When it was time to review my chart I nervously joked to the instructor that I had found a way to “fail” natural family planning before I was even married. It wasn’t that I was pregnant; I had started hormonal birth control and had an early temperature spike to prove it.

Thankfully the instructor was perfectly gracious. She was not especially surprised since my first month’s chart was disturbed by a laparoscopy which had confirmed endomentriosis but done nothing to ease my pain. She asked whether  the doctor had a plan other than keeping me on hormones for life. The doctor did not have a plan, but my primary goal was to get through the semester. I did not have the option of seeking out a specialist for another surgery, and I could not continue to function through the pain.

The hormones worked so well that I wondered why I had spent years insistent on avoiding them. It was so very wonderful to be able to function normally and I was thrilled to be able to concentrate on an intense semester. Then summer came. As I waited in a long line for the Sacrament of Reconciliation I thought about how easily I am distracted from God. It seemed that I turned away from every opportunity to join myself to the Savior’s suffering. And so I returned to the pain of my normal menstrual cycle.

Two months after I got married I again had a very strong need to be able to function physically. I tried the same hormones that I had been on before, but without success. It did not reduce my pain and I observed the signs of my fertility with the wry thought that it was a good thing I was not using the hormones to avoid conception! I got a prescription for a different mix of hormones, but by the time I had waited for my body to adjust I simply did not want to go through it all again. So I gave up on artificial hormones.

I am profoundly thankful for my experience. Without it, it is quite possible that I would be one of those Catholics who say things like “the pill is never a good option for Catholic women!” It does not matter how clear the Church is that artificial hormones are permissible for therapeutic purposes. Some continue to insist that no health issue can possibly make resorting to the evil of hormonal contraception legitimate.

I would never have directly questioned the fact that artificial hormones were allowed, after all Humanae Vitae could not be more clear:

the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.

But I was all too ready to agree with those who asserted that doctors were just lazy and there was no reason for any woman to be on artificial hormones. I still think that the pill is over-prescribed, and I am still glad that I made the choice to have a laparoscopy rather than starting hormones without knowing the source of the problem. Information is good, even without pain relief. But the fact that many doctors are too willing to prescribe hormones without considering the underlying health issues does not negate the fact that there are very good reasons for therapeutic use of artificial hormones.

Even minor surgery has risks and it is somewhat naïve to imagine that it is always affordable and effective. I wish that no women had to deal with the physical pain of reproductive disorders, but I am thankful that there are many options for treatment and pain-suppression. If you know a woman who is able to treat pain with something as simple as a birth control pill, please consider suspending judgement long enough to ponder thanking God that she does not require anything stronger.

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Merry Christmas!

Today I am filled with the joy of Christmas, and most thankful that Christmas will last for 11 more days.   I will have enough time to rest in Church and really enjoy the season of celebration.  Today held very little of what I associate with Christmas, but that is alright.

I do not need to participate in the astoundingly beautiful Midnight Mass with my siblings while my parents sleep. I do not need to hear my niece & nephews recite the Christmas story. I do not need the smell of spices, the glow of fire, or even traditional Christmas hymns. Because I am human I do need these things in some sense, but I do not need them today. There is yet time for Christmas beauty, and there is quite enough beauty in even the starkest of liturgy celebrated by a man who says that he would not go to Church if he were not a priest.

There are still 11 more days to sneak away from the clamor of daily life and find an open Church or monastery in which to ponder the great Joy which I have been given. The pictures below are from a day filled with some of my best Christmas memories, and they are from December 30, 2007.

Dark Christmas



Merry Christmas! I hope that your Christmas season is off to a wonderful start, and that you are able to enjoy the blessing of the entire season!

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Catholic Scandal

There is a Catholic saying that “the Church lives on forgiveness.” The most important thing that I could possibly express about the topic of scandal in the Catholic Church is sorrow. I am sorry.

No, I am not a bishop, so my expression of sorrow cannot officially represent the Church, but as a member of the sinning body it is only right for me to convey sorrow at the profound failure of my Church.

When someone brings up the topic of Catholic scandal I assume that they mean the sex-abuse scandal. I could attempt to address the sociological history of Catholicism which enabled bishops to simply move criminal priests from one parish to another and cover up the evil reality of abuse while parishioners did nothing. But I am not a sociologist and I do not think that the history of how this could happen is really at the heart of the issue. I could explain what the Church has done to remedy the situation. But efforts to stop failure of epic proportion do not make up for the fact that it happened.

Even if I had a perfect answer for the question of the sex-abuse scandal, there would still remain the general question of scandal in the Church. What about the crusades, Spanish Inquisition, encouraging secular governments to enslave non-Christians etc.? What about the majority of American Catholics who ignore the Church’s instructions to give to the poor, care for the environment, uphold sexual morality, and oppose unjust war? The painful truth is that the Catholic Church fails dramatically to live up to its call to represent Christ on earth.

In order to be Catholic, one must either live in denial of the reality of the Church’s failings, or else accept the difficult idea that God has chosen to work through horribly defective humans. One Catholic theologian suggested that God could have chosen to create a sort of angel-administration to run the Church, but that if God had done so we would have loved the Church in its perfection rather than the source of the Church, God. I am not sure that explanation is any more satisfying than the typical explanations for how a good omnipotent God could allow evil, but it the best attempt I have encountered.

What aspects of Catholic scandal are of most concern to you?

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Can't Justify the Cheese

I really, really, really like cheese. I like fresh mozzarella on homegrown tomatoes with fresh basil. I like cheddar-jack piled liberally on top of steaming mashed potatoes. I like feta tossed in a salad with just enough arugula and fresh thyme. I do not understand the point of pasta without sufficient parmesan (not the dried stuff!).

I have never had much expensive cheese, but I am quite fond of the typical American fare (with the exception of American cheese!).

But this is not an ode to cheese. Because as much as I love cheese, I cannot justify buying dairy products.

1. Over-consumption of animal products is bad, bad, bad for the environment.

2. Dairy products are in no way helping my body. When I buy dairy, it is the cheapest, non-organic, hormone-laden sort available. And while I am not a part of the China Study fan club, I have been unable to convince myself that consuming dairy is actually good for bones.

3. Most of the animals used to produce eggs and milk are not treated well. For a vegetarian, I am not much of an animal rights activist. But the catechism is clear that “it is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly.” And “causing animals to suffer needlessly” seems like an apt description of the source of most of the cheapest dairy products.

These concerns would not be as strong if one were thinking about milk from a pet goat. But I do not have a pet goat. I also do not have good options for local organic dairy.

Even if I had a good source for dairy and I had the money, I am not certain that I would feel justified since I am not convinced that consuming diary is a good use of resources. It is not merely an issue of my money to be spent on dairy as opposed to being given to a more worthy cause. I am also very concerned about the world’s resources in general. Dairy is not an efficient way of maintaining Earth with a large well-fed human population. My preference is for adults to drink less milk, and more babies to be born and breastfed.

Ultimately I do not need perfect reasons to stop purchasing dairy products. My faith teaches me that abstinence is good for the soul. It can be difficult to actually fast on days when energy is needed, but giving up dairy only requires self-discipline.

When Advent started I thought that I would give up dairy for the season, and return to eating it at Christmas. But the more that I think about it, the more it feels wrong. After Advent I will still eat dairy in food prepared by others, but it seems that I must, at the very least, stop purchasing it myself.

What are your thoughts on consuming dairy products? Do you have any good resources to recommend for more information?

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Single-Hearted Advent

Lord our God, we praise you for your Son, Jesus Christ: he is Emmanuel, the hope of the peoples, he is the wisdom that teaches and guides us, he is the Savior of every nation.

Lord God, let your blessing come upon us as we light the candles of this wreath. May the wreath and its light be a sign of Christ’s promise to bring us salvation. May he come quickly and not delay.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

–From the rite of blessing of an advent wreath

During the blessing of the advent wreath on the First Sunday of Advent I was struck by how much Advent is the season for singles. It is a season when we all focus on longing for fulfillment; we immerse ourselves in preparing for a joy which is promised rather than present. As such it is a season which heightens the state in which adults who are neither married nor consecrated religious live daily.

The longing of Advent properly bears the characteristic of pain. In hoping for that which we do not yet have, we cannot help but be agonizingly aware that we are incomplete. And yet, in the pain of the longing there is the great joy of the Beauty of that for which we long.  We yearn for a beautiful salvation. It is most fitting for the prayer “come, Lord Jesus” to be the pain-filled cry of persons who are keenly aware of the lack of perfection, the lack of God, in their lives.

In Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict writes that “a distinguishing mark of Christians [is] the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness.” But knowing that one’s life will not end in emptiness requires the realization that what we have now is ultimately empty and incomplete. And in this way the fierce longing of Advent is the time in which all Christians must be aware of the truth which is revealed through the single life: we lack perfect love. While singles are urged to “be content” in their waiting, everyone knows that they have reason for discontent because their very state of life emphasizes longing for something more.

And yet, while the married life represents the great unity of Christ and the Church in the mutual self-donation of the spouses, and the consecrated life is certainly an early entrance into ultimate fulfillment in God, all married people and consecrated religious are still mere humans whose state in life is imperfect. We all need Advent as a time to remember that all is not yet well.  We groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies and all Christians join with the singles in praying for something more than our isolation and longing for communion.

This Advent we must all love and long and cling to the knowledge that fully living the suffering of our incomplete lives is essential on the path to salvation. Again, from Spe Salvi:

It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater. It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.

Contemplating our isolation and incompleteness is painful, but “it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of [God’s] love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God”.

In the past I have criticized C. S. Lewis’ hyper-focus on “longing for something more” as problematic because it  imagines a world in which it is always Advent, and never Christmas. I still passionately believe that Christians must work to bring about heaven on earth rather than merely longing for something which this world can never supply. But  Lewis’ view can at least provide a valuable contribution to our understanding of life, and the single life in particular.

During Advent we pray for the second coming of Christ, and we recognize that until that day, part of our lives will always be winter.

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