Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Feast of the Nativity


"A devout author says that if Jesus Christ had permitted us to ask him to give us the greatest proof of his love, who would have ventured to ask of him that he should become a child like us, that he should clothe himself with all our miseries, and make himself, of all men, the most poor, the most despised, and the most ill-treated?


Monday, December 17, 2012


"Prepare a path in our hearts for the coming of your Word, and let his glory be revealed among us.
Bring low the mountains of our pride, and fill up the valleys of our weakness.
Break down the wall of hatred that divides the nations, and make level for mankind the paths to peace."

                                                                          (-from the first Tuesday of Advent, in Christian Prayer)



Monday, December 10, 2012

St Alphonsus Liguori

A few years ago, I accidentally stumbled across this saint.  At that time, I had never heard of him and never read any of his books.  In a church library I came across his The Birth and Infancy of Jesus Christ and it looked interesting.  As I recall, I ended up holding onto it much longer than I probably should have because I couldn't bear to return it, it was so good.   
My parish at that time had until recently been staffed by Redemptorist priests (rather than diocesan ones) and that the statue at the lefthand side of the altar was of St. Alphonsus.  He lived until his early nineties and was made a Doctor of the Church in 1871; he was a prolific writer, producing more than a hundred works, though he didn't even beging to write until 1744, when he was almost fifty years old. 
At the moment, I am reading two of books, The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ and a collection of some of his work, in the form of Advent meditations, by Fr. M. Nutt.  In the introduction to The Practice, Robert Fenili explains what is unique to St. Alphonsus' writings and what has made him into one of the most widely-read Catholic authors: his ability to write simply and practically about the deepest mysteries of the faith and about prayer in a way accessible to the uneducated of his day (and in the 200 years since!).  From the Introduction:
His life was dedicated to bringing a deeper faith to people whose contact with the official Church was minimal and whose lives were beset with superstition, ignorance, and poverty. (...)

As we read his works, beyond the frequent citations from the Bible, we are constantly finding references to the early Doctores Ecclesiae, to the great spiritual writers of the past, and to authors who were popular in the time of Alphonsus.  He loved to take a particularly astute or poetic sentiment from these people (usually quoting the Latin original, as was his custom) and weave it by a paraphrase into the fabric of his writing.  In this way, he passed on to his largely illiterate audience the wisdom of the Church.  His writings are almost an anthology of the refined experience of centuries of Christian saints and mystics.
(pp. x, xiii and xiv)
Here's a question: I can't think of a contemporary writer who does this as well as St. Alphonsus--can you?  The closest I have come to finding a modern writer who conveys complex truths in a compelling but relevant style is C.S. Lewis.  But Liguori, as far as he can reference the ancient fathers and the saints, too, goes one step further.  And he is so readable!  It is just remarkable how well he did this (samples to follow, don't worry!).
And if that isn't enough, he loved all the arts, and produced not only poetry but also music.  This piece has become an Italian classic and Verdi is said to have claimed that Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle.

At the moment, I am pretty obsessed with the life and work of this saint and I intend to quote him ad nauseum in the next weeks.  Now that I've provided you with a brief introduction, at least you'll know who I am talking about. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

First Impressions

I wrote this over a month ago, having come back from a long weekend in California.  What I began as a single post became so long and wandering that I had no choice but to chop it up into parts.  However, I hope this will become a longer series but I know better than to make firm announcements about the future of this blog by now so pretend I never said that.

“Mostly at the Laundromat,” I said. 

She asked how often I interacted with Navajo people, and where.  So I explained.  See, it’s like this: there are folks with no running water and no well rights*.  So they drive all the way into town and fill up their water tanks and then haul it back to the homestead.  And while they’re here, they wash their clothes, too.  They haul the loads out of the backs of pickups in black garbage bags and maybe it’s been a month since the last visit so there’s plenty to do. 

Our rental didn’t have a washer or dryer so that’s how I know this.  (Hi I just met you and now I’m talking about laundry?) But then she surprised me.

“It’s so beautiful,” she breathed, “this side-by-side movement—and no one is looking straight at the face of another, but it is still like a dialogue.  They are working alongside and facing away, but their bodies mirror each other’s movements—a very necessary, simple household chore—side by side.  Like a dance.”

She is wearing a red velvet dress or tunic of some kind over red Ali Baba pants and red babouches to “match” (they are different reds) and we are near Malibu, in the hills, in the new million-dollar cabin she just moved into. 

Forgive me if the dance-image struck me as somewhat romantic.

Because in the image in my mind, in my memory, there was Rez dust everywhere and muddy boots and bulk-buy powder detergent bags and peddlers of “sterling silver” jewelry and “breakfast burritos” and it is pretty smelly and noisy.  

I know what she means, though: healing violent histories through creative, therapeutic movement.  Sure.  Cool.  Why not. 

Except that until recently, I had never thought about those who don’t show up at the Laundromat.  Who, instead of washing their clothes, wear them out until they either get too frayed or the lice just get to be too much and then they burn or bury the darn things. 

There are folks who exit off the Interstate at our exit and take a look around our little city out here in the Southwestern desert.  They are the ones with the wide open eyes and mouths, looking around and meandering slowly down the sidewalks in their Keens or Tevas, or sometimes their black leather, if they are part of the Harley bike crowd.  I wish I could still see the place for the first time all over again, like they do. 

There’s one now--outside of the coffee shop where I am sitting and typing.  She has stopped her car and hopped out to pause briefly on the sidewalk, shading her eyes with one hand and holding up her camera with the other, trying to find the best angle to shoot the murals that were painted up high above the storefronts. 

This corner of the state is not exactly a destination for tourists; mostly, folks stop for a meal or to fill up their gas tank—only a couple of minutes or a few hours at most, and then they move on.  We don’t have museums or restaurants or classic Southwestern charm in the style of a place like Santa Fe.  Nor are we as remote and inaccessible and mysterious as the Grand Canyon.  We have only a tiny, municipal airport which lands tiny, and usually private, airplanes.  The highway is the main way to get here if you are a visitor.  Or the train.  We have an Eastbound one that stops in the morning, and a Westbound one in the evening.  The rest of the day it is freight carriers, about a hundred of them, whistling their way through loudly so the disoriented and inebriated will be discouraged from stumbling out onto the tracks as the cars rattle by.   

One of our summer visitors expressed a feeling of relief when she finally reached the outskirts of town.  She was a return-er, so it wasn’t her first time through, and she was excited to be back.  Having driven through a good portion of the state in order to get here, she felt that it seemed as if she hadn’t “really arrived” until she came into our city.  This, she said, is the real deal.  Unlike any other part of this immense and varied country of ours.  You can’t get this just anywhere, she said.

She is unlike our other visitors and I wonder if we will ever have another who says or feels the same thing.  Most of them are happy enough to stay for a few days, and then they are more than happy to leave again.  And that’s fine, too.  Not everyone takes to this wild west place.


Also this summer, my (very generous) in-laws offered to buy us a washer and dryer as a housewarming gift.  Maybe I would have declined if it hadn’t been for the twenty-one guests and three different road trips in two months.  I was exhausted from trying to keep everyone’s t-shirts and linens (not to mention the camping gear) fresh and laundered.  By the end of the summer, I welcomed the prospect of having even just a single household chore made easier. 

But that has meant no more weekly trips to the Laundromat for me, at least for now.  Now I go to the basement and push some buttons.  It is easier, but it is also a little bittersweet; the Laundromat was one of the only places I could get up close with Rez residents.  It is not like we talk or anything (many do not speak English, anyway), but at least we were together in the same space, for once.

It took repeated trips to do my laundry to realize some of the key ways that a townie’s life is different from rural life in the desert.  Access to water means that city-dwelling Navajos will spend their time and resources in ways different from the way of life they might have had on from Reservation.  For those who don’t have water near their homes, there is no choice put to haul it in.  I see the tanks in the backs of pickups and I see them haul their two-weeks’ (or month’s?) worth of dirty laundry in garbage bags that they unload from out of the trunks of their cars.** 

Some of these folks—many—have dirt caked over their boots and up their shins as they sit back and wait for their loads to finish tumbling around behind the round glass windows of the machines.  It seems hardly worth the effort to scrape the mud off, and maybe they are down to their last pair of trousers, anyway, so it is not really an option to give them a good washing.

These folks often stare right back at me and the way I look is just as strange and foreign to them.  Also, the jeans I thought were so old and grubby suddenly seem very, very blue.  (Oops, there’s my cell phone ringing.)

It has been 16 months since we moved here and, yes, the initial impressions have faded considerably.  That makes me a little sad.  Already, it is impossible for me to recapture that feeling of surprise at the new and the strange.  It is not stale or old, but not quite as fresh, either. 

Even so, Difference is right up there in my face, all the time and every day, if I am willing to see it.  And not just me, but any outsider who comes through or decides to stop here for a longer season.  You have to choose to ignore, or dismiss it, if you don’t want to notice anymore.


I first learned about the lice and the family that never washed their clothes but instead threw them away from reading a book—a memoir actually.  

No doubt it would have taken me much longer to realize that on my own—that there are people who don’t even have a truck, or the money for gas, or any other means, to get into town.  So they hitchhike in, or never come at all.  Maybe neighbors or relations remember them and offer to pick up sacks of flour or gallons of cooking oil or whatever basics they might need.***

I am not proud of it, but until this summer when I read George P. Lee’s account about growing up desperately poor in a remote part of the Navajo Nation, I never even thought of the folks I do not ever see at my Laundromat—or any other, either.  In George’s family, the kids took “snow baths” in the winter and looked forward to the summer monsoon rains.  Not only did the rains mean replenished water stores and cleaner bodies, they also meant meat. 

The sight and smell of storm clouds had a truly Pavlovian effect on George and his cousins, and he remembered how they would start to lick their lips at the thought of all the prairie dogs they would soon be roasting.  The rains would flood the animals’ burrows and they had no choice but to pop their heads out for air.  All the kids had to do was wait for the poor creatures, with clubs and bags at the ready.

Ruth Mitchell, in the telling of her childhood, remembers doing something similar in order to catch prairie dogs: she and one of her siblings would team up, one of them wielding a club and the other flooding the holes with water.  Had I not read Lee’s book first, it probably would not have occurred to me that Ruth’s family must have been somewhat better off, or at least had access to more water than George’s family did.  Even still, her family still did not own any buckets.**** 

Going to the Laundromat didn’t exactly provide me with those kinds of stories, but there is a lot more to learn from being there and I wonder just how much I am missing out, for the sake of a simple convenience.

So that’s another complaint about the side-by-side, doing-our-daily-chores-together image.  It is not simply romantic, but also incomplete; it is missing an essential story plot.

In fact, there is plenty more about Native American history and experience that has all but disappeared.  In the next part in this series, I plan to explore this topic a little more.

* Evidently, water rights in Navajo land are very complicated legal issues.  Just because you have a well on or near your homesite does not mean you are allowed to use it.  Something to do with the communal and clan ownership of homesteads and the fact that many wells were dug on the federal government's dollar.
** Those infamous "rez cars" that are held together with duct tape and chewing gum and are perpetually stuck in reverse.  See it on youtube here, or here.
*** There are no doubt Native Americans who consciously choose a lifestyle that keeps them secluded from the dominant culture and its nosiest members (the ones like me who are too curious and ask too many questions).
**** In her autobiography, Ruth Mitchell describes the process she used as a child whereby they would butcher and skin goats in such a way that their bellies would still be intact and useable as water bags. 

Monday, November 26, 2012


I hesitated when logging in to post.  What's my password, again? 

Yes, it has been that long.

All my kids were up, out of bed and fully clothed, by 4:49 this morning*. The thing is, my clock said it was 7:06am. Once I realized my mistake, I quickly shooed them back into bed and shut off all the lights and hoped they would be able to get back to sleep. It had certainly been quite an effort to wake them all up and pull them out from under the covers, but sometimes Thursdays were like that so I didn't think much of it.

I don't know what it says about my current lifestyle that I also didn't think much of my own overly sleepy state. I felt more or less as I usually do when I woke up (at about 4:20, though I believed it was 6:40). The night before, I had gone to bed after a long and busy day, anticipating that I would wake up feeling less than rested, so if I was dragging a bit it wasn't really a surprise.

Poor kids. They were headed for an 8-hour school day but my agenda held a coffee shop visit for some blogging time and an afternoon swim with a friend.

The great thing about having all three kids at school all day and no day job is that you get to go through an early mid-life identity crisis, yay! The only good thing about this is that once I come out on the other end of this thing...I will be on the other end of it.
I suppose it is also good that the husband and I are not simultaneously enduring this because I can only imagine how rough that would be.
Recently,Steve wrote a post inspired by the one word of a Compline prayer (found at the very end of the post).  The line has been running through my mind ever since.

O Lord our God, unwearied is your love for us. 

Which is good to know because some of us around here get pretty wearied sometimes.


Several of my friends and one cousin have recently announced pregnancies.  One local friend attempted to draw me in to a conversation about labor and delivery, about which I know very little.  She was interested in my so-called "expertise."  Problem is, I have never been the kind to research and prep and come out on the other end with strong feelings about natural vs. medicated childbirth or the benefits of Bradley vs. Lamaze.  So many variables, so many different body types and personalities and risks and etc.  I try not to weigh in during these conversations when they happen around me, if at all possible.

It wasn’t possible for me this time.  Physical fitness as security against having to undergo a caesarean section, are you joking?!  It’s not like you can exercise your birth canal into being broad enough for your baby’s extra-wide head or something (among the many reasons why surgery is sometimes necessary for a healthy mom and baby).  Also, most women are not physically fit in the sense of our 21st century U.S. standards yet somehow most babies are born vaginally. 

So yeah, I guess there are some strong feelings in there after all. 

Speaking of fitness.  I injured myself back in September and can't seem to run any distance at all.  That has been rough; I like my outdoor alone time.  I have tried to replace trail running with trail riding, but I am just not so good at mountain biking.  In town, we have hills everywhere and road biking on a (heavy, hybrid) mountain bike is no picnic, either.  But after a little while of doing almost no exercise, I felt that for my winter-wellbeing, I need to get serious again.

My first resolution was to find a way to exercise in some way, each day.  Walk, bike, head to the recumbent in our basement--whatever.  Netflix documentaries help for the basement workout.  I can talk myself into doing them more often if I know I will be learning something interesting. 


Some recommendations from my netflix-workouts:  We Shall Remain.  A six-part PBS series on US History from the perspective of Native Americans.  They highlight some of the big "moments" of clash or conflict: the arrival of the Mayflower passengers and the subsequent arrangements/treaties; Tecumseh's resistance movement (and his extreme awesomeness); the Trail of Tears; the controversial Geronimo; the standoff at Wounded Knee in 1973.  I learned a lot
Also under PBS' "American Experience" categor: The Great Famine, about the role of US humanitarian efforts during the 1921 Soviet famine; one on the role of whaling in the birth of the US economy called Into The Deep which was just fascinating; Daughter from Danang which held an unexpected twist more than midway through.  And some more that I really don't recommend (because they were not well-made, or whatever).

I also watched some on surfing and marathoning, just to switch it up, and those were not profound but a fun diversion while I sit there pedaling. 

Okay, confession time.  I have not acually watched all of those documentaries while working out.  Some of them I had on in the background while cutting, pinning and stitching the fabric that finally became my new couch covers.  This project was one I completed about a month ago, and it was exceedingly tedious and I am not even proud of the final result, but what the heck.  I finally made piped, removable covers for the new foam cushions that are now on the woodframe couch I bought for pennies a mere four years ago!  Yay me.


Pennies: my son's outfit to my daughter's First Holy Communion was a brand-spanking-new vest, shirt, slacks and a pin-on tie.  For a grand total $0.25. 

It was a great find and the only downside is that I am not likely to encounter a bargain like this ever again, in my whole entire lifetime. 

My eldest made her First Communion last week (for whatever reason, in our parish they do these in the Fall and not the Spring).  It was a beautiful Mass and she said she felt ready and only a little nervous.  About 50 people came over for a pot-luck afterwards and she said she loved all the attention.

We had been preparing for this event for so long and had so many talks but until I was there in the pew, I had not realized that she was entering into full communion with the Catholic Church exactly one decade after me. 

But I didn't get to wear one of those lovely white gowns. 

*this actually happened a few weeks ago, but I did not got around to publishing this post until now.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

County poverty

I came across this map showing the poorest states and counties in the US.  I clicked around on the dark red counties around the nation and there were few (only in Appalachia, the Dakotas and a couple of deep south states) that rival my current home state.  I guess I am not terribly surprised, considering that apparently 1/3 of the children in my county do not have running water at home. 

And what is the poorest state in the US right now?  That was news to me: Mississippi. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

"If you feel loved, you can do anything"

For once, I am grateful for a link I followed on Facebook (although the article's title is a little misleading).  It is such a short article, but there is a lot in it.

Friday, April 13, 2012

quick takes


It's been awhile since I've done Friday Takes, and today seemed like a good day until I read Jen's.  A scorpion--on her couch--stung her son--ON HIS FACE. 

I can't compete with that level of madness.


And then I remembered: it's a "quick takes," not a competition so here I am. 

Speaking of feeling competitive, within my running crowd friends I remain the slowest and worst in every way.  Sometimes that doesn't bother me, and sometimes it does.  I wish it never did and that I didn't care.  I still run anyway.


Over the last couple of months, I have attempted a few book & film review posts for this blog and so far they've gone nowhere.  So here is a short list, in case I never get around to it:

-good documentaries that I recommend: Reel Injun on portrayals and perceptions of Native Americans within the film industry.  This was good and very worthwhile, if not excellent.
Sons of Perdition on Utah's "lost boys" who either run away or are exiled from Warren Jeffs' Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints community.  It has a hopeful tone and message, despite the sadness of the topic.  It is really excellent on a lot of levels and I'd love to sit down and write more about it one of these days. 

-crazy depressing documentaries that I don't recommend, but are still well-made: The Wild and Wonderful Whites about the lawless White family of West Virginia.  That movie, and the family it is about, are both insane. 
A Film Unfinished is a documentary about a Nazi propaganda film that was made in the Warsaw ghetto in the early 40's.  They staged scenes, choosing from among the better-off and better-off among the Jewish population in the ghetto, in order to depict a life of comfort and ease.  They actually were trying to convince people that the Warsaw Jews were living in a utopia.  However, the propagandists also filmed the streets and captured the real story, and so the documentary makers (almost 70 years later) juxtaposed that footage with interviews of survivors and transcripts of depositions with one of the actual cameramen. 

-currently reading: A Mormon Mother, by Annie Clark Tanner.  This is an autobiography written in 1941 by a woman who became one of the plural wives of a prominent Mormon and university professor in the late 1800's.  She originally wrote it for the sake of her children and grandchildren but it is so well-written and so fascinating that it was eventually published and distributed more broadly.  I am totally hooked.
Geek Love.  A friend recommended this one for its strangeness and it is definitely strange but I like it. 

There's more, but that's enough for now.


We are buying a house!  This is a first for us, but we found the right place in the right location for the right price so we're going for it.  It's not fancy (not much in this town is), but it has a lot of character AND...a guestroom!  Hint, hint.


Pardon me, but I'm going to talk about the weather.  Springtime here has two extremes: sunny and pleasant, and bitter cold and windy.  It gets really, really windy and since we're in the desert and all, that means dust and dust and more dust.  I will try to get some photos, but I'm not making any promises.  I don't usually think of the camera when I'm out there, I just try to survive and not swallow too much dirt and leaves.


Tomorrow, Jeremy is participating in a local mountain bike event.  It's an all-day race and he is on a two-man team which means they will alternate all day long, in 1.5 hour shifts, for twelve hours.  The forecast is not good.  Last year they had snow the day of the race and tomorrow is supposed to be cold, windy, rainy and snowy with a high of 39. 

Jeremy expects he'll be ready for bed at 8:00pm.


Last but not least, a quote from my five-year old son that wasn't fit for the family blog. 

He was calling to me from the bathroom: "MO-MMEEE!  I tried to get it in the potty but I accidentally peed in my eye!"

Sunday, April 8, 2012


Last night I attended the Easter Vigil at my parish.  This is the first year that my parish church also happens to be the cathedral for the diocese and so the bishop was the celebrant.  It is a very beautiful building, and especially so at night and with candles, though after the rest of the Holy Week liturgies, it's a test of stamina to make it through the three hours (especially so late at night!). 

I don't know for sure because I haven't been keeping close track, but maybe I've attended a dozen or so Vigils, but not always Catholic ones.  And about half of those were before I made my First Communion because once I went, I couldn't wait to go back the next year.  The very first Easter Vigil I attended was at an Orthodox church in Morocco, in '96 or so, where I was a guest of a Romanian friend.  Afterwards we had a feast that lasted until dawn and by the end, in my delirium, I became convinced that I could understand Romanian! 

One of the earliest portions of the service is the Exultet, usually sung by the deacon.  Apparently this prayer dates back to the fifth or sixth century.  "[H]ere the language of the liturgy rises into heights to which it is hard to find a parallel in Christian literature. We are drawn out of cold dogmatic statement into the warmth of the deepest mysticism."  That is my favorite part of the evening, and I don't even understand it all.  This helped, though.  It is the transcript of the Pope's homily from last night and worth a read.

Happy Easter, everyone!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Dealing with Alleged Private Revelations: Some Tips (Part III)

(Part I here, and Part II here)

In his book A Still Small Voice, Fr. Groeschel doesn’t dwell long on what to do about fraudulent revelations--those in which the visions or messages are complete fabrications by a con-man/woman who is seeking either attention or money. I suppose that's because he feels that it the plan of action is fairly straightforward in those cases: get far away from such people.  That's pretty simple.

Or is it?

Once a revelation has been exposed as false, it is certainly sound advice to counsel flight. Conniving, manipulating, deceitful power/money hungry people are pretty unpleasant to be around anyway, so most folks don't need much convincing.

But what about beforehand? How to tell the difference between a false or a fraudulent revelation? Fr. Groeschel doesn't directly take that question on within his book. He writes instead about the difference between an authentic revelation, and a false one. He is mainly interested in discussing revelations that fall into one of these three categories: approved, alleged and false.*

At the end of the day, though, many of the warning signs for a false revelation are present in fraudulent ones, too. For the purposes of this series, I will summarize the points Fr. Groeschel makes in Chapters 8 and 9 (respectively entitled “Dealing sensibly with an alleged private revelation” and “Practical guide for spiritual directors”) as I believe they will be helpful in weeding out both the false and the fraudulent from the Real Deal. As a general rule of thumb, if something seems odd and out of place, it probably is. Furthermore, whether the message is intentionally concocted by a swindler or the product of a complex and psychologically disturbed mind is really irrelevant--if it's not true, it's just not true. That's all that matters when it comes to where you should be (and let me repeat where that should be: very, very far away!).

#1: Remain calm; be cautious and thorough and discerning. Neither the Blessed Mother, nor God the Father, the Son or the Holy Ghost will fault you for this!  Avoid dangerous emotional-intellectual extremes. In case you are wondering what those are, they include both passionate enthusiasm and aggressive/cynical rejection, as the author explained much earlier in his introductory chapter. He appealed to the example of the bishop of Mostar, whose denial of the authenticity of the happenings at Medjugorje is known throughout the world.

It's a no-lose situation, according to Fr. Groeschel because the worst that can happen is that, should the messages be proved authentic, the bishop will have to apologize. But if they are determined to be false, he will have saved the Church a whole lot of embarrassment. And then Fr. Groeschel gives this warning: but be careful that you do not become so certain of your own position that you lose your objectivity. "If time proves the revelation authentic, false, or ultimately doubtful, the person who has followed a reasonable middle road will have served the Kingdom of God well." (p.106)

#2: Learn as much as possible before coming to conclusions. It is simply not enough that a person is devout or a member of a religious congretation. What else do we know about the alleged visionary/ies? Their background, and their lifestyle and attitude now?** Are they emotionally stable? Are they involved in the occult? Are they self-important, openly defiant or proud, or are they open to instruction? Do they seek out publicity, are they engaged in promoting their own message, or instead are they satisfied to leave that in the hands of others?  From Chapter 9:
The desire for further revelations or spiritual favors is a very bad sign… Such self-centered desires are a sign not only of spiritual immaturity, but also growing egotism. Certainly this is not what special grace is all about. Another sign suggesting false revelation is of the recipient’s insistence that the decisions of others must be made on the basis of what is allegedly revealed to the visionary. (p114)
Moving forward with that line of questioning, then, what else do you know about the revelation/visionary?  When it comes to finances: do they profit from the revelations? As to the revelation: is it sound theologically? Is it re-hash or does it smack of mimicry? Has there been subjective distortion? Does it contain slander or a message of damnation for its critics? Have there been any erroneous prophecies (those are usually a bad sign)? Have there been any miracles related to the revelation?

Let's take an extra moment to discuss the matter of miracles: Fr. Groeschel realizes there is a temptation to make definitive statements about revelations based on anecdotal or personal experiences of the miraculous. "Well, it must be true because how else can you explain all these conversions?!?" Not so, he says. There may indeed be real experiences and/or interior transformations taking place at particular pilgrimage sites (or related in some way to the revelation), but this is simply not relevant:
"The fact is that we cannot judge the reported revelation by its fruit." (p.100) The conversions might be very real, but the revelation just might not be, that's all there is to it.

#3: If the visionary has a spiritual director, how has the director behaved or proceeded in regards to the alleged revelation? This isn't explicitly on Fr. Groeschel's list, but he does have an entire chapter devoted to counseling those who find themselves in the position of spiritual guide to someone who is claiming to have received/be receiving supernatural messages. 

Poulain and GroeschelGroeschel advises a director to seek out counsel from others and, if the visionary intends to spread the message more broadly to the public, to notify the proper ecclesiastical authorities. A spiritual director should be discerning and to watch out for signs that he/she might be personally manipulated.  Most of all, however, he/she ought always to keep in mind that his/her primary role is as spiritual guide, and not as "consultant and supporter of the supposed recipient." (p.116)
It is worth noting briefly that several informed spiritual authors on the subject also warn the spiritual director against being emotionally drawn in by the supposed recipient of the revelation...Those [involved], even if they have never met the assumed visionary (who by this time may be dead) share a sort of secret knowledge of which the rest of the world is oblivious. This awareness of secret knowledge (called arcana) generates a sense of comradeship and special importance. (...) The belief that all involved have a special divine call or destiny will inevitably lead them to be deluded into thinking that all they do or express is virtuous, that they are all under a charmed star.  (p.118)
#4:  Be patient; resist hastiness.  Once, again although this point doesn't show up on any of Father's official lists within the book, I believe it is not unfaithful to his overall message to include it here.  The following story I found to be especially persuasive: 

Even more caution is necessary when some work is suggested by the revelation, such as building a shrine or starting a new devotion. Those who believe that they have received such a revelation must be tested for patience over a period of time. God does not rush. […] Poulain offers as an example the case of Saint Juliana of Mont-Cornillon, near Liege in Beglium (1192-1258). She had a revelation instructing her to work for the establishment of a feast in honor of the Blessed Sacrament, but she did not present this instruction to theologians for almost twenty years. […] Only long after her death did her revelations get any real hearing, because a priest whom she knew in Liegebecame Pope Urban IV. The Feast of Corpus Christi was finally celebrated in the universal Church over one hundred years after Saint Juliana had her revelation. (p.112)

How about that, eh?  I never knew that the Feast of Corpus Christi originated as a private revelation.  But maybe you, fair readers, did.  The point is, almost 800 years later, it just doesn't matter as much as it is important for us, lay Catholics of the 21st century, to celebrate and reverence the Sacrament of the Body and Blood that is Christ's life for us.  The Church, through Pope Urban IV, ultimately determined that a feast day in honor of the most holy Eucharist should be instituted because the Eucharist is worthy of honor.  That is the still and small voice of God, taught by and witnessed to, by his Church.  That is a voice we can trust.

What is compelling about Fr. Groeschel’s guide is that he does indeed have faith.  He does not discount all divine revelation nor the possibility of receiving more communications from God.  He himself believes in God, and furthermore that God is in the habit of speaking to and visiting his people.  It's just that usually, that's done quietly and humbly. 

Religious experience is real and we are right to seek it.  Most often, though, it may look different from what we expect.  Do you want to commune with God?  Do you want to see his face?  Then read the Gospels and get to know Jesus because this is what He said about Himself: you will know Me in a special way in the outcast and in the poor.  You will see me in the faces of those you encounter; "Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to Me."  Jesus, during His earthly ministry, spent more time hiding from the crowds and praying that working miracles.  He wanted us to know this about God: He is glorious, and quiet, and humble.  He is so quiet that some who saw him would fail to recognize him.  Those who want to know God, to become like God, to be filled with the very Spirit of God must themselves begin and end their seeking with humility.


Father Groeschel opens and concludes his book with lessons from St. Therese of Lisieux, who is known not for her religious ecstasies or visions but her "Little Way."  She ascended to holiness by her love of God, as manifested by the way she "sacrificed," embracing the smallest and most unpleasant chores in the convent.  So it will be for us, whether we experience visions or not, that it is in the "monotony of sacrifice, fidelity, and generosity" that we will find the "safest and most productive of all religious experience, and it is there waiting for us all." (p15)
(For further reading, I recommend this document by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith)

*in which "false” refers to those revelations in which the seer is completely sincere, but is herself/himself somehow deceived--never underestimate the powers of the human conscious or unconscious mind, says Fr. Groeschel!

**I have written about this in previous posts and I cannot emphasize it enough: if the answer to the question "What do we know about the visionary?" is "not much" because they seek to remain in mysterious anonymity, then we are right to remain guarded (see point #4 in this post). Alternatively, if there have been negative reports from former associates, take them seriously.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Dealing with Alleged Private Revelations: Some Tips (Part II)

(read Part I here)

Let’s dive right in, then, to Augustin Poulain’s (via Fr. Benedict Groeschel) operating instructions regarding alleged revelations.

Rule #1: Keep Perspective.

This is a good starting place when dealing with any form of private revelation: remember that as Catholics, our faith—our Church—never compels us to accept or embrace private revelations, ever.  Why?  Because:

a)      Revelation-with-a-capital-R is understood to be complete; the divine was fully visible in the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.  Sacred Scripture is also complete and although specific historical persons were chosen to write parts of it, we do not believe that the Holy Spirit works in that same way anymore.

b)      Private revelations do not add or change anything substantial to the deposit of faith and certainly not to doctrine.  They are for our encouragement (Lourdes) or perhaps they are meant to serve as a warning (Fatima). 

c)      Even in the case of approved revelations, the Church is merely saying, “This is probably authentic, most likely.  It is in harmony with all of the publicly revealed tradition of faith.” But it is never an absolute.

That third one was the most striking to me.  I’m not sure I ever heard it explained quite that way before, where a degree of uncertainty (even a very small one) is never ruled out.  In that sense, approved private revelations are never meant to instruct (in the same way that Sacred Scripture does) nor to replace aspects of public revelation. 

But don’t take it from me—why not listen to a pope!  Here is an excerpt from Fr. Groeschel’s book, quoting Benedict XIV, on the subject of the partially approved revelations of Saints Hildegaard, Bridget, and of Catherine of Sienna:
"What is to be said of those private revelations which the Apostolic See has approved of, those of the Blessed Hildegaard (which were approved in part by Eugene III), of St. Bridget [by Boniface IX], and of St. Catherine of Siena [by Gregory XI], and of St. Catherine of Siena [by Gregory XI]?  We have already said that those revelations, although approved of, ought not to, and cannot, receive from us any assent of Catholic, but only of human faith, according to the rules of prudence, according to which the aforesaid revelations are probable, and piously to be believed.”  (p.28)
Fr. Groeschel goes on to emphasize that distinction between faith as theological virtue and “human faith” that causes us to believe in what is real but unseen (love, or the merits of a democratic system, to borrow his examples).  He says: “When I am asked if I believe in a particular private revelation (even my favorite, Lourdes), I always reply that I believe in the Catholic Christian Faith and I think that Lourdes is a special gift of God to us all.” (pp. 28,29)

Rule #2: “No private revelation comes directly from God and therefore none can be assumed to be inerrantly true.

According to Fr. Groeschel, the simple reason we cannot consider any “message” to be directly from God, outside of Sacred Scripture, is that it has come through an intermediary whose own background, intellect, psychology—any number of forces—might have in some way negatively influenced the purity of the message.  For example, in the case of Lourdes, it is not that “Our Lady said” but that “St. Bernadette said our Lady said.”

Rule #3: "A private revelation by definition is personal and therefore must be carefully applied by those for whom it was meant and only within the limits of ordinary human prudence and never in an unreasonable way or against the teaching of the Church.  It must never be considered an infallible guide in any situation." 

Father Groeschel anticipates the objection: “But what about the papal encyclicals on the Sacred Heart?  A reading of any of these profound documents…will demonstrate that the popes as well as theologians do not derive their teaching from private revelations but from Sacred Scripture.  The several encyclicals over the centuries avoid all but the most circumspect mention of the revelations to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in the seventeenth century.” (p.30)  It is not that Margaret Mary or her revelations were insignificant but that the love of God, as symbolized by the Sacred Heart, is infinitely more so.

Rule #4: “A person who is the recipient of an authentic revelation, even a canonized saint, may indeed make errors in understanding that revelation or in reporting experiences which are not authentic revelations.”

Several times within the book, he mentions the case of the unfulfilled prophecies reported by St. Catherine of Laboure.  Not all of what she predicted would occur did in fact take place.  When questioned, St. Catherine is reported to have said that she (herself) must have misunderstood.  In other words, she was certain of the source of the revelations, but not so certain that she had understood or reported them accurately.  This can and does happen, even to saints, and it is all the more reason we are not wrong to expect that a visionary would have a healthy degree of self-doubt and humility.  The absence of these qualities should be suspicious.  If it has not occurred to a visionary that they might be deceived in some way, they are being overly-confident.


All of this leads us right back to the very first operating rule—the one that states that private revelations should never be all-important in the spiritual life of a Catholic.  The Sacraments are essential, and so is Scripture reading.  Miracles and visions are not.  Nor are the claims of any living or deceased person, regardless how holy or sincere.  We’ve known that many holy people and even canonized saints who have made mistakes and a lot of them have even disagreed with each other and reported contradictory visions.  Sanctity then, refers, not to an error free life but rather a holy and virtuous life of persevering faith, and we already have everything we need to do that.


But what about the unapproved revelations?  The ones that are still under discernment and might fall anywhere from “probable” or “likely” to “suspect” and “fraudulent”?   Stay tuned for Part III. 

(Click here for Part III)

Dealing with Alleged Private Revelations: Some Tips (Part 1)

A couple of weeks ago, Korrectiv had a post up on the subject of the authenticity of private revelations such as those claimed by a woman in Ireland,* prompted by something Bad Catholic wrote.**  Although the post sparked lengthy conversation in the combox, the subject did not go beyond the specifics of this particular movement (except when it expanded into the question of trustworthiness among celebrity priests).  

Usually that’s how these things go, and whether it is Medjugorje or other as-yet-unapproved visions or messages from on high (allegedly), the folks who write in with comments do not (typically) have much to offer in the way of systematic analysis.  Usually, they appeal more to gut feelings or anecdotal evidence of one kind or another, and sooner or later someone will pop in to say one, or all, of the following:
“It seems like it this could be true; who are we to say it isn’t?”
“But there is nothing in here that contradicts Scripture or Tradition.”
“There has been so much good that has come from this” and sometimes the addendum: “so how could it be wrong?”
“The alleged visionary/locutionist should be considered ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ ”
Or, on the other hand: “I don’t go in for private revelations at all.  There are too many quacks out there.”

I don't mean to pick on the brilliant minds over at Korrectiv because if anything they veered from the standard fare one usually finds in such online discussion boards.  One contributor was thinking ahead to the devastation many would suffer should "Anne" turn out to be a charlatan.  Another had clearly distinguished between the "fruit" of the movement and the question of the authenticity of its source.  And yet, there was still no reference to a previously-charted roadmap on what to do when confronted with a claim of private revelation.

You could almost come away from such a conversation without a clear way to think about how to determine, systematically, fact from fiction.  As if we are destined to drift in helpless and perpetual uncertainty.

In her extensive lifetime, Holy Mother Church has seen saints, levitators and mystics aplenty, and all manner of frauds and con artists, too.  As you might expect from any person who had lived for a couple of millenia, she has had plenty of time to articulate logical, coherent, and faith-filled responses to them all.  She has learned a few things in her days and those of us who belong to her, although we may have to endure some variety of growing pains along the way, are spared others.  Now, clearly the Church has not always gotten it right, nor is it even always possible to discern what's what, or who is who, immediately.  Wolves are sometimes mistaken for sheep and that's why there is no point, for example, in establishing a new Church policy that would resolve "not to ordain pedophiles as priests."  Instead, there are new and firm policies that do not allow priests ever to be alone and unsupervised with a child.  And if they do, this is reason enough for removal.  These rules are safety precautions and prudent priests and lay persons will do well to abide by them.

The authenticity of a private revelation and the sincerity of the recipient is no less of a safety issue.  We must be prepared to protect our minds and hearts from willful (or unintentional) distortions in matters of faith because those are, well...dangerous. 

So what can we learn, from over two millennia of church life history, about how to tell the Real Deal mystic expriences from the all the fake out there?  And is that something we should even be striving for, or could it be an excuse to engage in judgmentalism?  Because, for as often as it is brought up in conversations about private revelations, this is yet another remark that probably belonged on that earlier list: “It is not our place to judge saint from sinner and therefore we have no business judging an alleged revelation.”

As if the safer course of action, when it comes to messages that might be divine in origin, is to believe first and question later.  As if it is a graver error to ignore or deny a message from God, instead of patiently and soberly reflecting and reserving judgment until we (the Church) have more information and clarity.

Is this really the appropriate default position when it comes to spiritual communications?  Because it certainly isn't when it comes to protecting our children from predators and it would be foolish to argue that it should be.

In 1993, Father Benedict Groeschel wrote a book on this very subject.  He claimed to have had so many people approach him about this or that miracle and such-and-such apparition that he compiled his book, A Still Small Voice to serve as “a practical guide on reported revelations,” the book’s subtitle.  I really wish I had read this book in 1993, or even 2000; maybe it would have saved me some pain and trouble.***  The book has nothing substantially new, but it re-articulates in an accessible way to today’s modern reader what some of the wisest minds have said and written on the subject, relying primarily on Father Augustin Poulain's difficult-to-find volume, The Graces of Interior Prayer.  Groeschel’s project was to synthesize Poulain’s work and that of other classical writers within a new book that would offer operating rules that are both sensible and easy enough to put into practice. ****

Maybe you noticed that I said “easy enough.”  That’s because for 1) the person who is on the receiving end of a revelation that may or may not be divine in origin, it is not so easy to sort out what’s what.  Nor is it an easy road for 2) the person who is serving as their spiritual guide (a priest or spiritual director).  For the rest of us, however, who might be interested in current or ongoing alleged revelations, things are much simpler.  In fact, it is possible—it is just fine—to live a full and rich life of faith without ever relying on private revelations.

(click here for Part II)

* Kevin Symonds has since written an expose on the troubling financial happenings over at DFOT.
** BadCatholic's author seems to have removed that link.  I don't know why but it's making me very curious.
*** understatement!
**** for further reading and instruction on alleged apparitions, go here.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

the personal is universal. (more lenten reflections.)

Henri Nouwen, from "Bread for the Journey" (found at NBCC)

We like to make a distinction between our private and public lives and say, "Whatever I do in my private life is nobody else's business." But anyone trying to live a spiritual life will soon discover that the most personal is the most universal, the most hidden is the most public, and the most solitary is the most communal. What we live in the most intimate places of our beings is not just for us but for all people. That is why our inner lives are lives for others. That is why our solitude is a gift to our community, and that is why our most secret thoughts affect our common life.

Jesus says, "No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on a lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house" (Matthew 5 14-15). The most inner light is a light for the world. Let's not have "double lives"; let us allow what we live in private to be known in public.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Stations of the Cross

On Fridays during Lent, it is traditional to pray the Stations of the Cross.   Every Catholic (and Anglican, I believe) church has some kind of representation of each of the fourteen stations on its walls.  At the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, Arizona, they are no images or titles--just Roman numerals in nails. 

Not too long ago, I discovered these reflections, by Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Ben. XVI) which I highy recommend taking along if you intend to pray the Stations privately.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

wimps and fasts; wimpy lenten fasts

"That's one thing I am ashamed of, as a Catholic convert," he said, "that the official definition of a daily 'fast' is one full meal and two small meals.  I mean, come on.  When I was a younger man, I wouldn't eat a thing all day on Friday, every Friday."

I rolled my eyes only later, once I got home and had an audience.  In the moment, however, I think I just stared and mumbled something about the lowest common denominator. 

Hey man, some of us are pretty happy that the standard hasn't been set impossibly high, okay? 

Yeah, sure, I admire the Orthodox (and whoever else) for being hardcore and not just abstaining from meat but fasting every Friday.  And they've got Lent named as the "Great Fast" because Advent is one, too (and maybe some other liturgical season I don't know about).  It's just that it is so hard and I am so very bad at it.  Also: what's the point, again? 

I had to go back and look it up: "Lent reminds us of our weakness. Of course, even when we set simple goals for ourselves during Lent, we still have trouble keeping them. When we fast, we realize we’re all just one meal away from hunger. In both cases, Lent shows us our weakness." 

Oh yeah, that. 

And there's more:  "This can be painful, but recognizing how helpless we are makes us seek God’s help with renewed urgency and sincerity...When we’re confronted with our own weakness during Lent, the temptation is to get angry and frustrated. “What a bad person I am!” But that’s the wrong lesson. God is calling us to be patient and to see ourselves as he does, with unconditional love."

Right lesson: Be patient with yourself.  Love the wimps.  Love your wimpy, hungry self. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

it might just be blogging perfection

This morning, I almost forgot to pick up my son from preschool because I stumbled across a new blog.  I hope no one needs dinner or snacks or any of my attention for the rest of the day because I cannot tear myself away (it was an effort to take a break to write this).  It's completely fake and totally made up but that don't mean it ain't true.  It's Mormon, but let's face it, the joke would still work for Evangelicals, too*.

I dare you not to laugh: the Bible is adorable and so are cats, pooped, and so greatful for forgiveness, and frosting.

*totally kidding!  The Orthodox are just as guilty as anyone.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

7 quick takes

The kids are back in school as of this past Monday.  They were home for two weeks.  Here is one reason I was glad to see them go back: Thursday, December 29, 2011.   It wasn't a terrible day, but it did crystallize for me one of the reasons I am not homeschooling my daughter L. right now.

The sequence of events: the kids rushed out of bed and attacked the crafts with vim and vigor sometime around 6:30 or 7am.  Before I even left my bedroom they had created as many little origami monster things as they could and already moved on to dragon pictures.  Then L. re-read one of her favorite novels.  Then we ate breakfast. 
I remember doing a chore or two while simultaneously trying to convince everyone to get dressed and make their beds and that took about an hour because they never do unless I drop everything and devote my full attention to the tasks, which I eventually gave in and did.
We went to the grocery store, and they were SO happy (and hyper) that they pushed and shoved each other up and down the ailes while I kept telling them to stop pushing and shoving each other.  So then they pinched and pulled because I didn't tell them not to do THAT.  But they were having so much fun with it all and were really and truly so very happy that I decided to stop being such a witch and Let It Go. 

Checkout took 40 minutes.  No joke. 

We were so very late getting home that our playdate friends were on the doorstep.  For the next several hours there were five kids playing fairly nicely but not at all independently so I suggested we all cooperate on a baking project.  A carrot cake from scratch with real carrots and real pineapple and real orange juice as sweetener and everyone helped and there were dropped raw eggs on the floor and carrot shavings EVERYWHERE and sticky orange juice puddles by the time we were through. 
The guests went home eventually and I finally dropped onto a part of the floor that was not covered in goo and slime. 

L. thought for a minute, walked out of the room and came back a few minutes later with a fresh idea.  Holding a bag of colorful scraps of material from my supply: "Can you sew me a stuffed parrot now?"


And here is my routine on a school morning (more or less):

6am: wake up. 
6:45: wake kids up.  Dress, pack lunches, feed breakfast and all that and we walk to school to get there by 7:55.  Say goodbye (smile broadly).  
8am: Mass (one single block away from the kids' school). 
8:40 Go for a jog. 
9:30: Eat breakfast/shower. 
10ish: go to laundromat or grocery store or do chores...alone.  And I don't even push or pinch anyone!
10:45am: pick up my son from preschool.

It's pretty much cake from there, and completely awesome.  I love it.


And yet, that two hour and forty five minute slot sans kids that I now have in my days is a bit daunting.  How best to use the time?

At the homeless shelter yesterday, I was making beds and thinking of all the linens I still had left to do when I got home.  Rather than get all worked up about it, I used the time to think back on tips (verbal or non-verbal) the MC Sisters have given me when it comes to having too much on your to do list.  We have that in common, the Sister and I: lots and lots of housework and cooking to do and not enough hands to go around.  Here is some of what they do:

Stop and pray: just walk away from what you are doing it and get quiet. The work will still be there once you come back.
Say a "fly" novena: apparently, Mother Teresa used to recommend these for those moments when you are faced with an impossible situation or task.  Basically it's a Memorare, 9 times.
Just do what you can, and when time's up, move on with your day.  Just walk away and do the next thing on your list. It is amazing and I can't explain it, but the work somehow actually gets done, more or less, at the end of the day or week. 


Speaking of the many ways I learn about my own vocation from the Sisters: we were talking about how few volunteers there are in this town who are willing to cross over to the other side of the tracks (yes, literally).  They said that they receive many phonecalls from people who promise to come on a certain day and at a certain hour to help out, but few actually ever turn up.  Most of the folks I know from church or wherever would rather spend their time at the nursing home run by the Little Sisters of the Poor.  "That's allright with us," said the MC Superior, cheerful as can be, "we are happy to be as poor as our men." 


On a completely unrelated note, we checked out this DVD series for the kids from the library last week and it is fantastic.  I think I enjoyed it more than they did, especially the episode on the Ice Age in what is now the US Southwest called "Canyonlands."  You can watch it here.


A few friends and I have been reflecting on the significance of place in our short lives.  To change it up a little bit, I'm going to write it out in list form, and look at some numbers.

Places I've lived; duration and population (at the time I lived there):

Philadelphia, PA: 5 years, 1.7 million
Casablanca, Morocco: 12 years, somewhere around 2 million (?)--I can't seem to find numbers for this
Chicago, IL: 5 years, 2.8 million
San Diego, CA: 2 years, 1.4 million
Denver, CO: 2 years, 600,000 people
New York City: 5 months, 8.1 million
Kolkata, India: 4 months, somewhere between 4.4 and 13.2 million people.

Where I live now: just about 6 months, population of 20,001 at the last census count.

(*In the above list, I have omitted the college years during which I lived in a city of 55,000.  I was on campus for all four years and ate almost all of my meals in the cafeteria and did my laundry in the dorms.  It's just a different kind of lifestyle than actually living in the real town, in my opinion.)


Thrift store find of the week: shoes very similar to these for $2.99.  Score!  May they last through all three kids.

that's my 7.  Here are hers.