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Responding to Crisis

Until recently, I had always thought of myself as a “joyful Catholic”.  Unfortunately, recent events have left me feeling angry, betrayed, heartbroken, and yes, maybe a touch bitter.  I have read with growing revulsion and depression all the latest news coming out about former Cardinal McCarrick, Pennsylvania and most recently the widespread coverup by church hierarchy which now appears to include Pope Francis.  I am devastated.

Our family has somewhat of a personal connection to McCarrick.  He was our archbishop for several years.  He also presided over or attended many of the profession of vows and ordinations of a religious order we have been closely connected to.  In fact, I have many photos that I took in which he posed with the religious sisters after they had made their First Professions.  My stomach churns at the thought. So yes, my initial response to these latest scandals is righteous anger and I firmly feel that is not a wrong emotion to feel at having been so betrayed by Church leadership. I don’t want to remain an angry, bitter Catholic. I must take steps to move on.

I’ve read all sorts of responses to the present plight.  Many are calling for inquests, resignations, withholding of funds, protests of the USCCB at their yearly meeting, etc. One voice I’ve noticed has been largely silent, and that is the voice of the Domestic Church.  As mothers, fathers, and families what can we do to ensure these atrocities against our children and against our Church do not continue?

First of all, we need to move past the emotions of anger and fear.  I’ll honestly say, I still feel pretty insecure about my little guys ever entering seminary.  I know I need to get past that fearfulness.  God willing and with His grace, I know I will.

Right now the Church needs our prayers more than ever.  This crisis has all the hallmarks of a satanic attack on Mother Church. As a family, pray for her.  Pray for her protection. Pray for her healing, Pray for her purity. Pray for justice. As part of this you might choose a penance or sacrifice to make as reparation on behalf of the Church.  

Pray for the victims. I can not even imagine what they have gone through and what pain they must be in. Pray most especially for their healing.

Pray for those who have betrayed the Church and her teachings.  This is a tough one, but we are called to pray for our enemies.  Pray that those who’ve broken faith by ignoring, shuffling, hiding, and lying will finally do what is right and holy and bring light, truth, and healing to the Church.

Pray for your own bishop and priests, that they may remain courageous and faithful to the Church and their vows of celibacy. I still believe most of our priests and bishops are good holy men.  They need our prayers and encouragement more than ever.

Pray for wisdom and fortitude, because we are going to need it when speaking to our children and answering the questions of our non-Catholic family and friends.

How do we discuss such a delicate issue with our children?  As a parent, I have only addressed the scandals with my older children who have either already heard the news or who were likely to hear it.  We need to be honest and let them know we are angry, hurt, and disgusted.  We also need to reassure them that we do not put our faith in men but in Christ.  Popes, cardinals, bishops are not the Church and she will survive this trial as she has survived countless others.  Finally, we should remind our children why we are Catholic in the first place.  The Church is the one true Church, founded by Christ and the gates of hell will not prevail against her.

Just as we need to address the shocking events with our older children, many of us may also need to answer the questions of those outside our faith.  Once again, acknowledge the sinfulness and your own personal ire and disappointment.  Remain firm in defending the Church as a whole and your commitment to remaining Catholic.  Express hope that the Church will address the root causes of the depravity and will make some serious changes that will protect children, teens, and seminarians from now on.

In the future, how do we parents protect our children? 

First of all, we need to be wise and prudent parents.  We should never leave our children in the company of a lone adult who is not immediate family.  I know this sounds extreme, but the one thing I was most taken aback by was that McCarrick and others were so completely trusted by the families of their victims that they thought nothing of allowing their children to be in the abuser’s company alone. This was a tragic and avoidable mistake.

Secondly, listen to your child.  If they come to you with questions or concerns about an adult or other authority figure, hear them out.  Ask questions and take what they tell you seriously.  Many of the victims reached out and were not listened to, which is absolutely heart-breaking.

It’s so important to teach your children appropriate boundaries with adults and authority figures.  Sadly, we need to have these conversations at younger ages than ever before and I, for one, hate that we have to impinge on their innocence in this way but it has become a necessity.  Elizabeth Foss wrote an excellent article addressing this need in light of the recent disgrace.  I highly recommend reading her article and following her sage advice.

Finally, we can turn to the sacraments and pray for the protection of our children’s innocence. As a family, make a practice of frequent confession and try to attend Mass at least one extra day a week. Pray continually for the protection of your children’s innocence, especially imploring the intercession of their guardian angels.  We have been given a very precious and important gift in being parents and it is our responsibility to protect and defend them to the best of our abilities.

A final action item for the Domestic Church relates to our diocesan bishops.  I believe we have a duty to write our bishops, expressing our dismay and concerns regarding the recent news about the immorality of McCarrick, the abuses in Pennsylvania, and the rumors that many in the USCCB and Church hierarchy knew, remained silent, and did nothing.  Ask your bishop how he intends to respond and if he will make it a priority to address the crisis in November at the annual conference.  In closing let him know you are praying for him and all the Church.

For whatever reason, God is allowing this tribulation to come to a head.  We must remain firm and cling to our Faith in this time of trial.  Holy Mother Church will survive.  We have Christ’s word for it.  Pray. Do Penance. Take Courage. Remain in Hope.

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Swimsuits and Son Bathing

Well, it’s here again. That wonderful season where bathing beauties fill the covers of our favorite magazines announcing the latest and greatest styles for summer swimwear and apparel. Are you excited? Yeah, me neither!! I know there’s a greater announcement that God wants me to hear – that created in His image and likeness, my swimsuit needs only to embrace the Son bathing He can give.

As I stand in the grocery line, I’m surrounded by magazine covers boasting perfectly sculpted models with dramatic tans, leisurely basking in the sun of a picture-perfect island. For most of us, this is a far cry from our reality. I don’t know about you, but after five pregnancies, my body is far from perfectly sculpted and after the time I’ve spent in my backyard garden or at a sporting event -my skin has more of a “red as a tomato” glow to it. My island – well, let’s just say at this age, my private little island has more to do with my hot flashes than anything else. There are days (heck, seasons) that I’m guilty of allowing the media’s reality of beauty to permeate my own.

Just around this time last year, we were getting ready for my daughter’s wedding. It was the first of my daughters to get married. I had been pretty successful in my exercise regime prior to their engagement announcement and was well on my way to reaching my goals for the big day. Life had other plans, however. We had a series of events happen in our life that despite my best effort, got the better of me. Sadness drained my energy and mood swings wreaked havoc on me physically. Needless to say, this beautiful day came and went without me reaching my goal. 

I graciously accepted the heartfelt compliments on how wonderful everyone looked, but deep down I wasn’t happy with what I considered to be a failure. I didn’t let it dampen the day, how could I? With every graceful glide my daughter took, my heart was filled with joy for her, her husband and their new life. But, the lasting memories in the photos is what I need to come to grips with. I know in my heart that I’m much more than this outside form that shapes me, but those thoughts have a way of creeping into even the happiest of moments, don’t they?

I’ve learned that in any moment of doubt there is only one place to go for truth and that is scripture. I turn to the Psalms where I read:

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully madePsalm 139.14

When we can’t compliment who we are and where we’re at, especially when it comes to our bodies, we do God a great disservice. We are telling Him that His creation – me – isn’t so great. I have to constantly remind myself that this body housed new life. This body physically worked alongside a wonderful husband to tend to our home and land. This body made time for each of my children throughout their young lives and put everything else on the back burner. This is where I am right now at this time of my life. These are the moments and things that God placed before me and called me to minister to.  

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.…. 1 Cor 6:19-20

The analogy of a temple points to the temple in Jerusalem that Paul knew. This temple was a rebuilt version of the temple Solomon had built back in the Old Testament. The body that receives the gift of the Holy Spirit is special to God and is to reflect His nature. If we don’t care for this temple and receive it as a gift, are we reflecting who Jesus is through us?

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place… Psalm 139:15

Although there are things I have no control over, like my height and frame, there are those moments I whisper, “boy I wish I could wear that cute outfit?” Some of us just have to work harder than others and I have to learn to accept that this is the form He chose for me. It is the very form that He chose to dwell within and I have a responsibility to do my part to care for it – despite how much effort it might take.

Do you remember the glow that people said you had when they saw you in love for the first time? There’s a noticeable difference externally when we feel loved internally. This is the feeling that we need to work on instilling in our heart and there’s only one way to get it. We must allow ourselves to be loved by God. This is the difference between happiness and joy. I’m learning how to feel that joy and receive that love. 

I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people…2 Corinth 6

For many, food can have enormous power over us in difficult moments. I’m not sure I ever noticed this happening in my life, it was just an unconscious reaction to things I couldn’t control. But now, I’m working hard to pause and ask God to comfort those areas of my life where food once did. He knows my wounds and sorrows, worries and disappointments better than anyone.

When I lack faith and find myself disappointed, my prayer can stand firmly on the promise that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. “Lord, help me believe in what I cannot see and trust in what I can only succeed in with You.” My life has been filled with reminders of His love – in the family I was born into, in the man He let me share life with, in the children I have been privileged to raise for Him, and in the friends that bring light and love into the places in between. Change on the outside must begin on the inside.

“As he thinks in his heart, so is he” Proverbs 23:7

So the next time the sun is shining and I want to refrain from bathing in the sun, I can confidently choose to bathe instead in the goodness of the Son that dwells within me.  

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Foes, Fans, and Friends – Discerning Opinions and Dominions

Foes Fans and Friends: Discerning Opinions and Dominions

 

Our calendars should reflect what we love and where our priorities lie. If our emotional energy is increasingly sapped, it’s time to re-evaluate where and with whom are we spending our time and talents? We need to remember that when we listen to the opinions of others, we can forget who has dominion over us.

It’s an exhilarating experience when we get the opportunity to use our gifts. To be part of a team or to lead that team is quite an honor; watching our ideas build into something bigger. The excitement we experience can be a motivator or deterrent towards the next project, and many times we base that excitement on the responses we receive. To give glory to God for our gifts will keep our motives in check when we step out to use those gifts.

The people we surround ourselves with play a huge part in helping us discern who we are in God. So when those comments come rolling in (positive or negative), we can feel confident in keeping them in perspective. But how do we know who our foes, fans, and friends are?

FOES

I think it’s easy to pick out the foes in our life. They’re the people offering suggestions on making everything you do better or taking credit for your ideas as a way to get ahead themselves; the in-law critiquing your parenting skills, or the person in ministry who complains about your leadership ideas. The individual who is kind, then cold (usually acknowledging you only when they want to be in the center of your drama). They’re the people we will find easy to walk away from but that’s not necessarily the path God wants us to take.

God places “thorny” people in our lives to refine us. They’re there for a time and purpose to help us grow. God may be directing us towards them for a purpose or showing us why we must walk away.

So how do we deal with those “thorny” people in our lives? First, I think we have to bring it to God. He can take it. Tell Him just how angry that person makes you and how awful their words or actions make you feel. Point out where you’re struggling with the situation and ask God to reveal to you any part that you may play in their response.

The story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt is a perfect example of leadership that hurts. Here Moses was, pulled into a situation that he didn’t ask for, but for love of God, was obedient and embraced the leadership position. The Israelites complained, were jealous, and in frustration did things their own way, ignoring Moses’ calling. Yet Moses interceded for them just the same.

Responding to nastiness with love and respect isn’t easy. However, it is what we are called to do as Christians. What we learn from the experience of obedience will always be a place of growth and may sometimes be a message to walk away. We can walk away and still be kind and respectful to those thorny people in our lives.

FANS

Fans are not always as easy to pick out. These people may be the result of a lifetime of patterns in how and who we choose to be involved. Perhaps it’s where the “cool kids” hang out, or who is most popular. Maybe it’s a place we find our ego stroked.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy (Prov 27:6)

Proverbs 27:6 point this out stating that those who speak God’s truth in love, pointing out our weakness and sin, care far more for us. They’re willing to risk wounding us to keep us close to God. Those who flatter us or show us outward attention, “kisses,” usually do so with selfish hearts, gleaning what is only good for them.

Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character (1 Cor 15:33)

It’s important for us to be mindful of those we form relationships with and their worldly morals. The amount of time spent in these relationships can lead us to engage in their behaviors (anger, gossip, jealousy, prejudice, bad language) and before you know it we are no longer of Christ but of the world. Discerning our relationships with our fans will help us to know whom to let go of.

FRIENDS

“Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.” Eph 5:18-19

We are a communal people, meant to share our lives with others. But how can we be sure we are forming relationships that will point us to Christ? Here are a few qualities to look for straight from scripture.

Godly friends encourage us

Therefore encourage one another, and build one another up. (1Thes: 5:11)

Let’s be honest, we can all become a little lazy in this area. Encouragement is giving someone a bigger vision of why their obedience matters in God’s kingdom.

Let us consider how to stimulate one another toward love and good deeds (Heb 10:24)

Godly friends support us

If the one falls, the other will help the fallen one. But woe to the solitary person! If that one should fall, there is no other to help. Ecc 4:10

Those who bear our burdens and support us in our moments of weakness are good listeners, offer practical assistance to lighten the load, and never leave our side.

Godly friends expose our sin that keeps us from God

Brothers, even if a person is caught in some transgression, you who are spiritual should correct that one in a gentle spirit (Gal 6:1)

We all need friends who are willing to point out our weaknesses and sin; see the things we may not be able to see. These are the friends who keep us accountable to God; speaking to us out of pure love and kindness.

Godly friends pray for us and intercede for us before God

Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” Mark 2:3-5

Through prayer, we can bring our friends to the Father, asking Him to do big things in their lives, and boldness to pray for themselves.

Friend, if you’re in a place where you are discerning between opinions and dominions, ask yourself if those whom we allow to influence our lives have the qualities above. I’m learning to siphon out the opinion police from my real friends; seeking the counsel of people who care about me and the work I’m doing and not those who just want to ride the drama train. I surround myself with people who love me deeply, despite my shortcomings. They are those who will point out those shortcomings but aren’t afraid to gently share the hard things I need to hear. Those who bring me joy and draw out the good in me, make me a better person. And those who celebrate my successes and hold my hand in my defeats.

I should also mention that not all of my friends are Catholic, nor are they Christian. I marvel at the diversity of the friends I have; high school friends, forever friends, long-distance friends, even online friends. Each one reveals a different part of me. Many of them I only see once or twice a year. This is the case with one very special group of women. A few of us raised our children together. We saw each other on a regular basis. As the kids grew, we became online friends with no face to face contact at all. Then we met at a Women’s Retreat a few years back. We’ve shared so much more than the lives of our children. We shared our Catholic faith, our motherhood, our womanhood, and most precious, our sisterhood. These are women who help me refocus, keep me accountable, and are there when I can’t get out of my own way! They remind me to place faith over feelings, pointing me to the only opinion that truly matters – God’s!

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Theology of the Body Congress: Hope for a Broken World

 

theology of the body congress

There is no denying that our world is broken. We only have to turn on the television or read the news online or in print to know that our world is hurting. As a result of this brokenness, we see our society seeking to change what it means to be a family. As concerned parents we have to wonder how we can prepare our families to remain faithful to God’s vision and hope for the family.

Between 1979 and 1984 St. Pope John Paul II began giving Wednesday audiences known as “Theology of the Body”. In his talks he spoke of the beauty and dignity of the human body. He reminded the Church that each person was made in the image and likeness of God and that the human body therefore had a specific meaning- it made visible an invisible reality. Instead of being made simply for personal pleasure or gain, the body was capable of answering fundamental questions about life but also was able to give us the means to love others in the way that God loves us. It is through the God-given gift of our human bodies, made both male and female, that we are able to find true happiness and fulfillment.

TOB for every bodyTheology of the Body is not simply for married couples or for those wishing to teach their teens how to stay chaste. These of course are wonderful reasons to study Theology of the Body, but TOB is made for all people. It is for those who are single, those who are married, for the anxious teen, the celibate priest or religious, for those who are in relationships, those who wish to instruct others, and most importantly it is for families. TOB reaches into each and every facet of our lives and helps to educate us all on the beauty and the sacredness of the human body.

This coming September in Southern California The Theology of the Body Institute will host a Congress to bring St. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body to all those who wish to discover the joy and freedom that comes from understanding the sacred gift of the human body.

The Institute’s mission reads, “…the 2016 TOB Congress will propose a powerful vision of sexual complementarity that reaches the core of what it means to be human, made in the image of the God Who truly is a Family – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Through presentations from experts in the field of TOB, participants will encounter God’s plan for fruitful, self-giving love, which lies at the very heart of what the family is meant be, as well as ways of ministering to the human family on the spiritual, emotional, intellectual and sociological level.”

TOB

The three day Congress will be led by over 30 powerhouse Theology of the Body experts and enthusiasts including Greg and Julie Alexander, Christopher West, Jason Evert, Dr. Pia De Solenni, Bill Donaghy, Dr. Angela Franks, Matt Fradd, Fr. Sean Kilcawley, Sr. Regina Marie Gorman, O.C.D., as well as many more amazing men and women dedicated to sharing the joy and freedom that comes from understanding God’s intent for the human body.

Through keynote speakers, break-out sessions, and panel discussions Congress goers will have the opportunity to hear how TOB relates to numerous topics that affect our lives- pornography, teenage sexuality, infertility, same sex attraction, the struggles of married life, the struggles of family life, teens in a digital age, TOB for singles, TOB for feminists, divorce, and many other issues.

In the coming weeks here at Catholic Sistas we will be featuring interviews with a few of the keynote speakers from the Congress. We are honored to be able to share with our readers the insights these amazing individuals have gained through study, through prayer, and through their everyday lives. Not only have they dedicated their lives to learning about the sacredness and beauty of the human body and how it relates to love of self, love of others, and most importantly love of God, but they also seek to live their lives embracing these tenets as well.

We hope that you will be inspired by their stories and encouraged by their advice. We hope that they will bring hope to you in a time where hope often seems to be lacking.

 

male and femaleOur human bodies are sacred and wonderful. They are fearfully and wonderfully made. They can lead us into a fuller and deeper relationship with not only one another but ultimately with God. It is through our humanity that we can come to know God. Theology of the Body gives us the insights and the tools we need to grow closer to one another and to our Father.

If you are interested in attending the Theology of the Body Congress in Ontario, CA from September 23-25, 2016, please check out the TOB Congress website here. You can read about their mission, you can view the complete lineup of speakers and their topics, and you can register for the Congress.

If you are interested in learning more about the Theology of the Body but can’t attend the Congress, check out the Theology of the Body Institute website here. “The Theology of the Body Institute spreads the life-giving message of Theology of the Body through graduate level courses, on-site speaker programs and clergy enrichment training. Theology of the Body Institue seeks to penetrate and permeate the culture with a vision of true sexuality that appeals to the deepest yearnings of the human heart for love and union.”

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for interviews with some of these amazing speakers! I promise you will not only learn about the importance of the Theology of the Body in all aspects of your life but you will also be inspired and entertained!

tob pope john paul II

 

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St. Maria Goretti: The Little Saint of Great Mercy

 

St. Maria Goretti

You know when you drive your kids on a five hour road trip to stand in line for two hours for a brief 15 second encounter with international celebrity, only to find out that 13,000 other people had the same idea? Yeah, that just happened. Our road trip to pray at the side of St. Maria Goretti’s relics was an adventure with five young kids and worth every “are we there yet?”

familyIn today’s world, kids are offered a wide array of role models to choose from. As a mother, part of my job is to help guide their eyes and hearts towards those that are worthy of their admiration. Luckily, the Catholic Church has a head start on this category and declared a beautiful group of people to be saints pointing us towards Christ. 

St. Maria Goretti is truly unique as a role model for kids due to her young age of 11 and her mature understanding of the Faith. When Maria was stabbed 14 times for resisting the sexual advances of an older man, some of her dying words were to wish him repentance so he could join her in heaven. For me, as an adult, Maria’s open forgiveness where most of us would feel hatred or anger is nothing short of a miracle.

For the past month, we had visited Maria’s story almost daily to prepare for this trip. I had talked through all of the questions my kids asked about the young saint, her family, her murderer, her relics, canonization and more. I wanted them to be able to get as much out of this experience as they possibly could. The one part of the experience that I could not fully explain to them was the actual road trip to see her. This would have to be an adventure which we would figure out together as the day progressed. Many questions raced through my mind as we neared our destination. Did the kids really understand my teachings on forgiveness? Would they fully appreciate this opportunity to pray at the side of this great but tiny Saint? Were they prepared for their own time of prayer in the church? Why did Perkins have to take so darn long to cook our meal?

stained glassAs we stood in line with thousands of others, I sighed aloud, internally wondering when this stand-still line would ever begin to move. At just that moment, my ten year old son tapped me on the back and leaned in to whisper “This is great! I was worried the line would be short.” I must have given a confused look because he went on to explain “Can you imagine her (St. Maria) being brought here, all the way from Italy and having no lines of people to pray with her? This is the first time I ever prayed for long lines of people.”

It all came back full circle for me that day. There was so much that I could learn from young children, the children that had been declared Saints but also those living under my own roof. St Maria Goretti was a beautiful role model for my kids to learn about before their brief 15 seconds of prayer at her side. My kids were role models to me that day and every day, if I really take a step back to give them the credit they deserve.  
 
St. Maria Goretti, Pray for us!

HAVE YOU VISITED ST. MARIA GORETTI? WHERE DID YOU SEE HER?

 
Andrea Gibbs is a wife and homeschooling mother to five children. Her family leads student and adult mission trips to Guatemala. She previously worked as a curriculum coordinator and teacher in early childhood education, high school youth minister, and speaker to Catholic teens. She has a deep affection for strong coffee, 19th century British literature, dark chocolate, and all things Latin America.
 
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