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The Art of Keeping it Classy Online


The world really showed what it wants to be when news outlets recently made the decision to run a partial story. What happened next could have happened to you, your child, your spouse, or another loved one.

How we behave in real life and how we behave online ought to be similar. Let me say that again.

How we behave in real life and how we behave online ought to be similar.

The disconnect between who we are in real life and who we become online (as a society) has become so polarizing in and of itself. I frequently head out into my local community to do mundane stuff, like pick up groceries, go shopping, go to church, meet with friends, order food, etc. I have yet to run into someone in my everyday who behaves like some a lot of the folks I see commenting online. The temptation to stick your oar in is great. When Catholic Sistas began, many of the writers – myself included – had many years of online experience under our belts going in. We had seen quite a bit and witnessed the underbelly of many online forums. Sometimes under the guise of “debate” the discussions quickly devolved into ad hominem attacks. While there are plenty of opportunities to witness for the Catholic Faith, we had to also recognize that the comboxes (slang for comments on blogs/websites) could quickly spiral into occasions of sin, if not outright breeding grounds for dissent. We collectively determined that we would not babysit the comboxes, but instead would put in place a standard for leaving comments, rooted in Christian charity. So, how can we carry ourselves online in these polarizing times in a way that upholds what we believe as Catholics? Here are some quick tips of mine that I’ve developed over the years, going back to 1994 when I was the teenager online.


  1. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, then don’t say it to them online. Going back to 2007, I witnessed a once well-respected online community devolve into what could only be described as a public sewer. Under the guise of being called a Debate Team, its original purpose was to engage in constructive conversation involving some hotly debated topics. It started out fine, but eventually became a cesspool that original members began to back out of. The writing was on the wall and people’s true colors came out. But, why had it become such a toxic environment? Was it due to lax rules? Lax leadership? Members constantly pushing the boundaries, stretching the rules in ways that led to the implosion of the group? Or was it simply an indicator that if left unchecked, people would turn to a mob mentality?
  2. Avoid posting on unhappy or angry impulse. Take a step back, wait and pray. Posts/comments should come from joyful experience, sincere curiosity, thoughtful reasoning, tender concern, and lessons learned. In listening to and receiving the thoughts of others, PAUSE before posting/commenting in haste or out of emotion.
  3. You are responsible for your words. Allow them to reflect a spirit of charity, understanding and good will. 
  4. Give special care when writing about your spouse and the Sacrament of Marriage. By matrimony, therefore, the souls of the contracting parties are joined and knit together more directly and more intimately than are their bodies…and from this union of souls by God’s decree, a sacred and inviolable bond arises. Casti Connubii #7. When an issue treads into the sacred realm of marriage, be deferential to different marital styles, always assuming the best of our spouses. Prudential decisions are best left between spouses. 
  5. Respect the differences of personalities and family styles. Intend charity when reading, do not assume offense is intended.
  6. Avoid lying, in all senses of the word. The Church warns us against the danger of lying: through rash judgement (who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor), detraction (who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them), and calumny (who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them).

WAIT! I’ve done all these things before. Now what?

It’s not ok, but…it’s something most of us grapple with. We’ve all slipped and made mistakes. Seek out forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and then with those whom you’ve harmed by giving them your apologies and making restitution where possible. You can also read up on the damaging effects of excuses on how to craft an authentic apology.

Lastly, I leave you with this story that makes a rather profound statement of the effects of gossip and its pernicious nature. It is the story of a most unusual penance St. Philip Neri assigned to a woman for her sin of spreading gossip.

The 16th century saint instructed her to take a feather pillow to the top of the church bell-tower, rip it open, and scatter the feathers to the four winds. This probably was not the kind of penance this woman, or any of us, would have been used to. But the penance didn’t end there. Philip Neri gave her a second, and more, difficult task. He told her to come down from the bell-tower and collect all the feathers that had been dispersed throughout the town. The poor woman, of course, couldn’t do it – and that was the point Philip Neri was trying to make in order to underscore the destructive nature of gossip. When we detract from others in our speech, our malicious words are scattered abroad, and cannot be gathered back. They continue to spread dishonour and division in people’s minds days, months, and even years after we have spoken them, as they pass from one tale-bearer to the next.

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You hear it everywhere. Yesterday alone, I probably heard “Oh my God” uttered half a dozen times – from ladies in the grocery store, characters on a kids’ TV show, and even from a little boy on my son’s soccer team.  Some ask, how have we gotten to the point where “OMG” is so commonplace a phrase? Others wonder, “What’s the big deal?” Well, IMHO, OMG is a big deal.  

Now please understand, I am not without blame here.  Nearly every time I go to reconciliation, I must confess to breaking the second commandment.  Yet as the Lord draws me closer to himself, my love and respect for his name grows.

The second commandment states, “You shall not invoke the name of the LORD, your God, in vain. For the LORD will not leave unpunished anyone who invokes his name in vain.”  (Exodus 20:7*)

While some claim this commandment refers only to invoking God’s name when taking oaths, it also speaks to a simple lack of reverence for the Lord’s name.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses this aspect of the second commandment in Paragraph 2143: “’The Lord’s name is holy.’ For this reason man must not abuse it. He must keep it in mind in silent, loving adoration. He will not introduce it into his own speech except to bless, praise, and glorify it.”**

“Well, I didn’t mean anything by it.  It’s just an expression; it just slipped out.”  I would ask you to acknowledge the Catechism doesn’t say, “Man must not abuse it…unless he doesn’t really mean to.”  The Catechism explains further, “Respect for his name is an expression of the respect owed to the mystery of God himself and to the whole sacred reality it evokes” (2144).  When we casually use God’s name in an outburst of anger or surprise, does this show respect for the God of the universe – the Savior who shed his blood for you and me?

Jesus said, “From the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks…I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:34-36***).  Friends, I don’t know about you, but I am ashamed of the careless words I have spoken. Yet, our Lord is merciful, and quick to forgive! We can go to him in the sacrament of reconciliation, be cleansed of our sins, and begin anew.  

What can we do when we hear the Lord’s name abused?

We don’t have to sit idle, but can use the opportunity to counteract it with prayer.  Try silently (or aloud, if you’re feeling bold) praying, “Blessed be the name of Jesus,” and turn it into an act of worship!  Or use your creativity, like my friend Shaana. When one of her teenagers – or their friends – says “OMG,” she counters, “I can see you’re praying, so let’s bow our heads.”  LOL!

Friends, join me in reconsidering – and redeeming – OMG.  



**Catechism of the Catholic Church – Part Three, Life in Christ:

***Matthew 12:34-36, NABRE:

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His Creation is My Chapel

It’s mid-week and I’m struggling to get to morning Mass. Not because I don’t want to be immersed in the sacrament, but because of the connection I feel outside. The sounds, smells, and sights of being outdoors are intoxicating to me. I feel God’s presence surround me in this chapel of His creation.

June seemed to have slipped through my fingers. One day morphed into the next, with activities and chores in the garden. In the center of it all, my daughter and son-in-law purchased their first home and once again, God asked me to hit pause on my plans. Sometimes we simply have to do ministry in the space that surrounds us. So I put aside my writing projects and dove in to care for the things God placed in my path. After all, isn’t that what I pray every morning? “Lord, who will you send me today? Where will I serve?”

I wish I could say I did it all without guilt, but I didn’t. I critiqued my plans and felt the pressure of getting behind, of letting people down. The work at my daughter’s house took more of a toll on my body than I thought and in my spare time, I chose to simply rest and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. I chose to re-energize with my feet firmly planted on the ground.

I imagine God would approve of this time. Didn’t He feel the need to rest on the seventh day and command us to honor the Sabbath? Few people remember the old days when businesses shut down and honored the Sabbath. What good can possibly be gained from one more day of busyness? This notion caused me to pause and really meditate on the fourth commandment and how I do not honor it and keep it holy, as I should.

We first hear of the Sabbath in God’s commandments given to Moses for the people of Israel in Exodus 20:8-11:

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord; you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

So many words within this short text to unpack. Let’s start with holy. Here, God is telling us to set this day aside from all the other ordinary days and keep it special. He gives us six days to accomplish the work we need to perform for our needs on earth, but on that seventh day, our work must cease. This commandment is rooted in scripture, too–in Genesis 2:2-3, God Himself rested after all He created. He paused on that day to look at all He had done, for you and me, and marvel at how good it was.

God is calling us to celebrate all He has given us and learn to rest in His love, not our labor. He calls us to let go of our need to work and control our outcome and rely on Him instead. For this was His plan all along. The book of Exodus is the revealing of His faithfulness to the Israelites. In Genesis, we watch as God’s people begin to lose their way through sin as they rely on their own strength and veer away from God’s ways. Don’t we often do that–get tired of waiting for God’s blessings and think that we can do things better or quicker ourselves? Four hundred years of slavery and bondage was the consequence for their lack of trust in God’s plan.

The book of Exodus introduces the Israelites’ departure from Egypt toward freedom from slavery. God wanted to create a nation set apart from the surrounding empires, to be an example of depending on and trusting in God. The other nations practiced self-reliance and God hoped to show His strength and power through His people. This is what relying on Him looks like and the result is goodness and prosperity. Do we live out God’s plan to show the world it can trust and depend on Him? Do we stand out in our communities as people of God? Do others know this from how we carry ourselves?

I sometimes imagine what it was like for generation upon generation of Israelites to have been entrenched in a life of slavery, of constant work. God wanted to take His people away from that life and teach them a new way of resting and relying on Him. Perhaps this is where we are in our lives today–working day in and day out to get ahead, to create a life of wealth and prosperity. Or perhaps you do rest, but your rest consists of secular things with no focus on God. I’ve been there, but like the Israelites, I’m now trying to be more intentional about seeing God’s miraculous works around me. I’m moving toward trusting and relying upon His power and grace more than my own. This has come to me in the times I have carved out time for prayer and reading scripture.

“Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.” When God blesses and consecrates something, it means He will make it rich and holy. He commands us to take a break and immerse ourselves in this gift from Him; to see all He can do for us. The prophet Isaiah reminds that keeping the Sabbath is not meant to take away our fun, but remind us of His provision and love for us:

If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs, then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (58:13-14)

So I missed daily Mass this morning. I chose His creation for my chapel. I found Him in the silence and began a litany of praise for the gifts He lavishly pours over me each day. No, today is not the Sabbath, but it is still a lesson in learning to rise up in the midst of the demands to do more and retreat again to dependency and stillness with the only One who can offer true rest for my soul.

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The Ten Invitations


Thou Shalt NOT…

As a youth minister, I can tell you that nothing is quite as tough as teaching the Ten Commandments.  A lot of the youth have it about half-memorized, and because of that they think they know it all.  It’s a bunch of rules on stones, an old guy came down the mountain telling us what we couldn’t do, they made a really long really old really over-dramatic movie about it, blah blah blah.  These teens have stopped caring about it ages ago.



It’s tough to overcome such a mountain of preconceived notions.  I find that I have to start basically from ground zero, totally rebuilding and reframing how we approach it.  I have one particular re-framing that I’m a big fan of. I can’t remember where I heard it, but someone said that the Ten Commandments were not so much a list of “Thou Shalt Nots” as much as guidelines that free you to live a life of real joy and real peace.  Kind of like a fence along the edge of a cliff–it enables you to run and play without tumbling off the edge.


The Ten Invitations

With that in mind, I decided to go through the Ten Commandments and rewrite them.    In place of commands from God, I’ve written them as invitations from God our Father.  In them I hope to convey God’s calling to us to be his children, and to rest in His Love for us.


Thou shall…

  1. Rest in my love, my father’s love for you, my child.  I overflow with love, pride, admiration, adoration of everything you are. Don’t settle for lies.  Don’t settle for anything that will love you less.
  2. In your time of darkness, in your time of need, cry out my name.  Be like Peter, who, when the storm raged around him, cried out my name.  I am here to save you, to comfort you, to guide you, if you but call my name.
  3. Rest, truly rest.  Oh my child, you work so hard.  You labor, and distract yourself, and overwhelm yourself with tasks.  Lay your burden down. One day a week, just be with me. Just be yourself.  Just rest.
  4. Take joy in your family.  Call your mom, make her smile.  Share a cigar on the back porch with your father.  Listen to them, their wisdom, their lessons learned.  And if your parents have hurt you, have abandoned you, have ripped apart the beautiful fabric of the family, I give you the divine power of forgiveness.  Don’t let them break your spirit anymore.
  5. Fight for those beautiful moments of life.  Clutch your dear friend around her shoulder when she’s struggling with mental anguish.  Clutch that ultrasound picture in your hands, and let the tears of awe overcome your fears.  Clutch her wrinkled, fragile, trembling fingers, and give her comfort that her she won’t spend her last days alone.
  6. Hold your spouse so close to you when he or she comes home today.  Buy him something superfluous just because.  Send her a text about a way that she’s changed your life.  Forgive him for that thing he said. Talk to her about that one resentment you held for years.  Work daily towards resolution, communion, his smile, her laugh.
  7. Trust in me.  “Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?”  Work hard, plan, but above all, trust. You have all that I have given you, all you need.
  8. Be set free.  You lie to protect yourself and others, you lie to seem more interesting, you lie for gain.  But you enslave yourself. Your forge chains around you. Break the chains of all the things you aren’t.  Set your true self free.
  9. Pursue my perfect plan for you.  I have a plan for you, a Vocation, that will lead you to my own heart.  It will be the completion of your joy. Take joy that others have found their path to my heart, and wait for your own path.
  10. Be happy, be content, give thanks, joy in your blessings.  Why waste your time being sad?  Do good work for those things that you want, but every day take the time to truly enjoy everything you have.
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The Danger of Being “Fine”

“I’m fine.”

“Just great!”

“Doing well, thanks.”

No matter how we’re actually feeling or doing, it’s generally considered a matter of American etiquette to put on a cheery face and respond nicely to anybody and everybody we meet who asks the quintessential question of politeness: “How are you?” Even in the face of grief, loss, injury or suffering, you’ll hear folks attempting to respond to the question with as much positivity as they can muster.  It’s almost reflexive.

Have the flu or broke your arm? “Oh, I’m doing OK, really!” 

Just had a 24-hour labor ending in a C-section or finished a round of chemo? “Oh, I’m just a little tired. I’m sure I’ll be on my feet in no time!”

Someone you love passed away? Going through a divorce? “Oh, I’m ‘getting there’ one day at a time!”

While societal customs insist we put on our bravest, happiest attitude for everything from the casual encounter on the street to the concerned inquiry from a friend, are we really doing ourselves any favors by defaulting to “fine?”

 In this Washington Post article from last July, pediatrician Dr. Smita Malhotra talks about shifting her outlook on defaulting to a happy face after she realized she was lying to her young daughter about her feelings.  She comments that, as a physician, she can clearly see the damage that forced positivity has on mental health:

“By constantly telling children to “turn that frown upside down,” our society sends them the message that being sad is almost unnatural. That it is something that needs to be fixed immediately … In my work as a physician I have seen increasing numbers of children and young adults being put on antidepressants. In many cases, these drugs are needed … But sometimes, they are used as a way to avoid dealing with sadness.”

Dr. Malhotra goes on to explain how mindfulness and honesty about one’s own emotions is a healthier choice that leads to greater resilience, more empathy for others and a realization that we do not have to be defined by our feelings.  Her column comes from a secular and medical viewpoint, but her words also have great value for those of us who live the Christian life. What she’s talking about is actually directly related to one of the Ten Commandments. Number Eight, specifically.

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

Before you go feeling panicked you’ve got one more reason to head to the confessional, let’s put the brakes on for a moment.

It’s not a mortal sin to let “I’m just fine,” slip out of your mouth when someone asks you how you’re feeling.  And it’s not immoral to want to protect others from your own suffering, or keep your personal problems private, or put on a happy face, or make the best out of any bad situation.  The Catechism summarizes the Eighth Commandment as “forbid[ding] misrepresenting the truth in our relations with others.”  It defines a lie as “speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.”  It also makes clear that intention and circumstances often define the gravity of a fib, and that we’re never bound to reveal information to someone who has “no right to know it.”

But it’s also not being needy, or too negative, or a “complainer” to be politely open and honest with anyone, even a stranger, who asks what’s going on in your life.  In fact, this approach has a lot of spiritual benefits to recommend it.

Displaying our mental, physical and spiritual wounds to those who inquire about them grows us in humility and truthfulness.  It makes us vulnerable like Christ was vulnerable, but it also allows others the chance to be Christ by ministering to our needs.  It opens up channels of trust by allowing others in our lives to see our true selves, and it helps us all dispel the widespread and anti-Christian societal illusion that the only people worth associating with are the ones who “have it all together.”

So the next time you’re having a bad day and someone asks you how you are, pause a moment and considering answering more honestly.

“I’m struggling a little today.”

“Oh, my heart hurts over the things going on in the world.”

“I’m working on feeling positive this morning, but I’m not there yet.”

“Not so well. Actually, could you help me with this?”

You might feel needy and awkward, but you might also find God’s comfort and love hiding in an unexpected place. 

And that is just fine.


DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}


MTHFR {genetic mutation associated with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia}