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Sacramentals, Mercy, Advent, Oh My!

Not long ago, I attended an event where an icebreaker game was played. The icebreaker was to count up how many Sacramentals we had on each of us, and whomever at the table had the most won a prize. I happened to be at the table with our chaplain, who gave us a run for our Sacramentals, until he was told he had his own gift set aside for him.

Before he had stepped out of winning the Sacramentals game, our chaplain posed to us, “Do you think each individual is a Sacramental? Because, I count all of you as a Sacramental,” as he tried to tally us up as some of the Sacramentals he brought to the table.

His question, while posed in jest, has stuck with me several months later.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states in 1677,

Sacramentals are sacred signs instituted by the Church. They prepare men to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life.

Every baby baptized into the Catholic Church has been anointed and sealed with the Holy Spirit. At Confirmation, that child takes on a conscious decision to reaffirm the baptismal vows their parents typically, initially undertook on behalf of the child. And, the individual then becomes re-anointed and re-sealed with the Holy Spirit.

In essence, our chaplain was correct – we do become Sacramentals. We become a living, breathing, walking “sacred sign instituted by the Church,” to spread the Good News and the Joy of the Gospel.

Knowing we are sacred signs, what are we doing with that knowledge? Are we hiding our light under the bushel so as to not attract attention? If so, how do we get back on course?

I once confided to another Army chaplain that I wasn’t cut out for evangelizing. The “E word” scared me, and I was afraid I was too immature in my Faith to be able to defend it against questions. He chuckled at me, and asked me if I was a mother. I looked at him strangely, and answered in the affirmative because my oldest at the time was a year and a half old. He then shared that evangelization as a mother or father looks a little different than evangelization of others – by virtue of teaching our children their prayers, we are evangelizing. By ensuring our children go to church, we are evangelizing. By living and encouraging the Works of Mercy, as identified by the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), we are evangelizing.

Being a sacred sign comes with responsibility. Part of that responsibility is to our neighbor – to the soul we see next to us… looking past the physical presence before us, to recognize the soul behind the eyes. The Works of Mercy are such a beautiful, powerful reminder of the stepping stones to living as the hands and feet of Christ.

The saints are prime examples of having the faith and trust in God to recognize God’s children in those suffering, destitute, and in need. St. Francis of Assisi embraced a leper shortly after his conversion, while amazed at how his former self would have been repulsed to see someone else do the same. St. Damien of Moloka’i, and St. Marianne Cope would go on to not just embrace lepers, but to live amongst them, and tenderly care for them. The list of saints who lived the Works of Mercy can go on for days!

Through Christ, we get the promise of entering Heaven. Yet, in order to truly pass through Him, we are challenged to meet Him on the road, to recognize Him in others, and to extend His reach through us, to another person.

And, the Church, in her infinite love and wisdom, has shown us how to do this through the Works of Mercy. While we may no longer be in the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, we are still called to extend mercy to those in our lives – whether they are family, friends, or complete strangers.

So, as we enter Advent this year, I encourage all of us to spend some time focusing on how we are a living Sacramental. Commit to a Work of Mercy each day during Advent, knowing you’ll repeat some several times. Don’t be afraid to take the Good News and Joy of the Season to those to whom you may initially be afraid to reach out.

Recognize Christ in your neighbor, and better yet, be Christ to others.

It is our duty and our sacred responsibility.

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The Beautiful Mess of the Family: An Interview with Bill Donaghy

Family life… what does that mean? If we are to look at society we know that the term is changing at an alarming rate. The family is being redefined and reconstructed before our very eyes. The biblical foundations for the family are slowly being stripped away and in its place is a very worldly, very confused view of what the family is and should be.

Last month I wrote about this brokenness and about how Theology of the Body can help us reclaim the sanctity of the family. I shared with you the upcoming Theology of the Body Congress that will be taking place in Ontario, California on September 23-25, 2016. I promised you amazing interviews with two of the keynote speakers of the Congress. Today I present to you the first of those interviews.

Bill DonaghyBill Donaghy is an” instructor, international speaker, and curriculum specialist for the Theology of the Body Institute Certification Program.” As a husband and a father of four young children he understands how crucial it is to begin to teach our children about the Theology of the Body at a young age. His talk, The Beautiful Mess of the Family, will look to “reflect on both the ideal and the real of family life.” Apart from jokes about poop and the craziness of life (we both have threenagers!), I was fortunate enough to be able to share some time with Mr. Donaghy talking about how families can incorporate TOB into their daily lives and why it is so important to do so.

I have chosen to present my interview to you in a question and answer format. I feel that Mr. Donaghy’s words are so important in their original form that I don’t want to paraphrase or summarize. I hope you are inspired by our conversation and that your heart will be opened to the gift that the Theology of the Body can bring to your entire family.

Q. Let’s reflect on the ideal and the real of family life. What kind of difference do you see in what society projects as the ideal family and what we know as the real family?

A. The ideal family, in the culture’s mind, is where I get what I want, when I want it, and then you get what you want when you want it… peace only comes with individualism. But the family, as we understand it, is this beautiful mess where it’s not just me doing what I want to do, but I’m at your service. I’m giving myself and receiving myself through you- mother/father, mother/son daughter, brother and sister… there is an interchange between persons which becomes this school of love, school of patience, school of wonder- all these different facets of living a human life with real face time- authentic face time. And then the beautiful mess that comes from it… the beautiful mess where we give ourselves and find ourselves.

Q. Do you think that one of the things that is lacking in society’s view of the ideal family compared as what family really constitutes is sacrifice and not being willing to sacrifice?

A. In the culture we constantly want to divorce love from suffering or love from sacrifice; when love is suffering, love is sacrifice literally. There is no way around it that if you are really going to love you are going to have that kind of death to self. It might be tiny, it might be huge; but we can’t separate it. When we do, we limit it, we don’t get real love.

Wendell Berry, the philosopher, said the definition of modern marriage is two careerists in the same bed who have their own stuff going on. Is that really authentic self-discovery or giftedness? It’s not really that.

Q. So how do you think that TOB is related to family life? Most people view TOB, if they haven’t dove into it, as it’s simply telling you to “be chaste”.

A. Theology of the Body is first and foremost a sense of the unique and unrepeated human life that is in front of me; that there is a theology to this body- to mommy, to daddy, to myself, to siblings that might be in the family. So the first foundation is wonder-gift; and also in our sexually confused age- identity- masculine and feminine.

The first move of TOB is identity of myself. And then my vocation- what do I do with myself? I am called to love. And so the vocation part then becomes as the child grows respect for others, a sense of gratitude for the gift of others, a call to reverence others and never to use them but to love them. The first thing is the sense of wonder and self-discovery and then how you treat others comes naturally from it. If you understand that the image of God is before you, you aren’t going to want to misuse them or mistreat them.

Q. How do you feel that TOB can change our marriages and then move on to change our family life? How do we incorporate it into our lives? What baby steps do we take to incorporate it into our lives?

A. At the heart of Theology of the Body is the fact that we are made for communion. John Paul reflects on the fact that man and woman are made for communion and that life flows from it. This goes against the grain of everything we are taught by present culture. A fallen world says look out number one first, what’s in it for me? So when we realize that’s not who we are, not just a me generation but we- that I have to enter into communion, then that becomes a whole different paradigm, a whole different way of waking up in the morning. Just saying thank you God for the gift of life; now let me drink in the gifts around me and give myself to them in love and service.

Communion is not just you monologuing with everyone around you but dialoguing and breaking into the sphere of this person in my family which helps me break into the sphere of the people I work with, the people on the street, the people in the stores I frequent. TOB can become this platform, this way of entering into the human community. The whole entire human community is made for community. The labels start falling off; I’m not boxing people up anymore, I’m not putting them in little compartments. The teachings teach me that Atheists, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, whatever you are, whatever the identity the Christian is projecting as well is just another human heart that I am called to know and love and hopefully I will be with in a communion of saints one day… and the teaching broadens.

Is it sex education? Yes, it’s sexual and an education in human sexuality, but education for human life…it’s the living out of our identity as men and women.

Q. How do you feel that today’s troubles correspond to the breakdown of the family? How can we see the effects of incorporating TOB in our families in the greater community?

A. We are losing our identity in this very individualist culture. At the heart of discovering our identity- of who we really are- is this call to the commitment of one for another, and when we fail to do that we fail to know ourselves and we fail to know others. We have all this energy to helping so and so to discover themselves and we are allowing teenagers to have this alphabet soup of letters now- LGBTQIA- and it goes on and on and if we simply just say go find yourself out of the context of the blueprint of the family, they are going to be screwed up for life. They will never come to the sense of self without the sense of the other.

Families who know TOB will be able to offer the culture, in a really refreshed kind of way, a rediscovery of man and woman. Dr. Peter Kreeft says, “In an age when revolution becomes tradition, our traditions become revolutionary.” When we actually say there is meaning to femininity and masculinity, if you really probe in and gaze upon it, which is now labeled as this restrictive binary code, if you actually look at it…there is this amazing dance going on that makes life happen. It can’t happen any other way.

Families who know TOB can talk to anybody and they can use the language that is more existential that comes into the ache of every heart… who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? It equips teenagers to step into high school classrooms or college campuses and not be afraid or in some Catholic bubble but to say “I know who I am. My mom and dad taught me who I am and I want to share with you the wonder of who I am and who you are.” Can you imagine what a gift that is to the world? But kids have to marinate in this beauty that is Catholic anthropology. If they marinate in it for a solid 18 years with an open heart they will have something to say to the American culture and they will say it in a merciful way.

Q. How do parents incorporate this into everyday life? As parents with little children life can be insane and we get distracted…

A. I think, speaking from experience right now, the first move is my relationship with my wife Rebecca. If I can have a kind of recognition of her uniqueness and her giftedness and I go right to her when come home from work or come into the house- Daddy goes to Mommy and kisses Mommy and says how was your day and listens to her- that is already setting this blueprint of how people talk to each other.

If I can get down on my knees when I meet the kids and talk to them and listen to all their super excited stories of the day; if I can receive that, I am starting teach them in the body this kenosis, you empty yourself and get down to their level and enter into their stuff. Also throughout the day when you have this rollercoaster ride of emotions a parent has to establish that emotional equilibrium. Sometimes it is being the sponge that absorbs all this stuff but it’s showing the kids “here’s how you keep your cool, stuff happens, it’s alright, we don’t freak out we don’t lose it.” On the rollercoaster ride of emotions we have to be on the steady train… which can be hard depending on what has been flushed down the toilet… Mostly it’s language of the body. It’s a lot of the body language of us taking things and giving things in love.

Q. If you could have people take away one thing from TOB in regards to family life, what would that be?

A. Mercy. Literally… mercy. We have to have mercy. I have to have mercy on myself, mercy on the kids. Not be afraid to apologize when Daddy loses his temper or Mommy gets impatient. That mercy is a great lesson for everyone to learn. Pope Francis said the three most important words in the family are please, thank you and I’m sorry. That’s really good stuff. There is simplicity there which is all encased in mercy.


If you would like to have more information regarding the upcoming Theology of the Body Congress, please visit their website where you can learn more, register to attend, and find amazing links.

If you are interested in attending a 5 day course held at retreat centers near Philadelphia, PA where personal and leadership formation involves both your heart and your head being immersed in TOB while in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, visit the Theology of the Body Institute. Here you will find ways to become a part of the “life-giving experience of the New Evangelization.”

Stay tuned for my interview with Jason Evert coming up Monday!


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Extending Mercy to {Likely} the Most Difficult Person of All

Extending Mercy to {Likely} the Most Difficult Person of All


That word seems to pop up a lot these days, especially in Catholic circles where the faithful understand that we are in full swing of the Jubilee of Mercy. Though it is the highlight of the Church at present, mercy is something that we as humanity have continued to struggle to extend toward others since the beginning of time. 

Today, as we celebrate one of the most beautiful stories of conversion and the direct and living witness of Christ’s mercy toward Mary Magdalen, it also highlights a fundamental act of mercy that many of us tend to forget.


Let me set the stage. 

Last month, I had the pleasure of speaking at a homeschool conference in my hometown of Houston, Texas. My computer decided the week before would be a good time to just. stop. working. It didn’t die – we buy Apple laptops for their longevity, but I had inherited this laptop from my husband, who originally bought it with the idea that it would be used for far less demands than I had clearly subjected the poor lil guy to. I had just finished all my calendar files and the memory just quit. 

Why is this important? 

It’s not, but it’s a detail. It changed how I prepared for my talks for the conference. I am blessed to have not just a supportive husband, but a spiritual director as well as a business mentor who help yank a knot in my tail when I need it. 

I was panicking. 

How would I prepare for these talks? My MO was shattered. My business mentor, in particular, would hear none of it. He gave me some resources, said he’d pray for me, and then promptly told me to get to work – that the Holy Spirit would work with whatever I gave Him.

You know the famous movie quote of Tom Hanks’?


There’s no crying {or pouting or whining or…you get the point} in discipleship. So, I got to work. I had to get creative and go outside of my comfort zone. In the end, the talks were, I believe, quite effective – all to the Holy Spirit’s credit, of course. I had scraps of paper, some typed, some scribbled in, but the dread leading up to the talks remained no matter how much I called on the Holy Spirit to inspire me and quell my anxiety. 

It wasn’t until the second talk on the second day that something profound that I had mentioned my talk came back up at the end during Q&A.

The mercy we show others should be the mercy we show ourselves and the mercy we show ourselves ought to be the mercy we show others. 

Extending Mercy to {Likely} the Most Difficult Person of All

My talk, entitled Ways to Homeschool When Your Life Is off the Rails, covered a very important point that tied in nicely with the year of mercy that I didn’t include in my original post. 

Why do we find ourselves extending more mercy towards others in moments of encouragement and support than we will often give to ourselves in similar situations?

Imagine a friend comes to you, distraught that her homeschooling year did not turn out the way she envisioned it. Life happened and things fell apart. She is obviously very upset {perceived or real, it does not matter}. As a friend, I can take a stab in the dark and probably guess that you would respond in kindness, offer hope, listen, give advice, or help her get past her feelings of defeat. At this point, I’d like you to pull out a sheet of paper. Fold it down the middle, lengthwise. Write your friend’s name on the lefthand side of the paper crease, your name on the right. Write down some ways you would encourage your friend who is sobbing about her shortcomings to you, who has come to you seeking support. Write as many things as you possibly can of things you would say to her or do for her {give her a hug, offer to take her out for coffee, etc.}.

Now comes the sobering part. 

For many of us, let’s look at the section where our name is written down. Think of a time in your life when you envisioned some part of your life or event going a certain way, only to have life or perhaps even your own poor choices derail things. Now, I want you compare and contrast your inner dialogue to the supportive things you would say to your friend. 

If you don’t find much difference between the two, then mercy is on your side, my friend. I am so thrilled that you extend mercy toward yourself in the same way you would a friend in need of support and encouragement. 

For many of us, however, this is not the case. We often are our own worst critic. The negative self talk can skyrocket if we don’t make a concerted effort to tone it down. When we turn to the Blessed Trinity, calling each Person to help us in unique and distinct ways, it becomes a channel of grace that we must pour out…on ourselves. Can you imagine talking to a friend in need the way we might talk to ourselves? Did you cringe a bit, too? Why do we do this? Why do we think this is acceptable? Can you imagine telling your friend the very things that you hear in your own inner dialogue? 

Be kind to yourself as you would be kind to others in need. 



I received this book recommendation from a priest friend with a heart for healing. 

Be Healed 

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How to Make a Blessing Bag

Blessing bag

A little over a week ago I returned from a mission trip with our parish youth group. We traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio to work with the Franciscans for the Poor. We worked at many different worksites throughout the city tending to those experiencing homelessness, poverty, and/or special needs. The trip was amazing and a wonderful reminder of not only how blessed we each are, but of how beautiful every single one of God’s children are, regardless of their circumstances and despite what our society tries to tell us.

homeless 1The world likes to think that all Americans are rich and each lives a life of luxury. The truth is that on any given night 564,708 people are experiencing homelessness. Over a half a million people have no place to call home. If we are the richest and best country in the world, how can so many of our brothers and sisters be without a place to rest their heads, to take a shower, or to eat a meal?

Our Catholic faith tells us that we are to take care of these people. The Corporal Works of Mercy tell us it is our Christian duty to feed the hungry; to give drink to the thirsty; to clothe the naked; to give shelter to the homeless; to visit the sick; to visit the imprisoned; and to bury the dead.

It can be difficult to be able to take time off to visit the imprisoned or work in a soup kitchen. It is probably even harder for people to take an entire week off to travel hundreds of miles away to serve on a mission trip. While it can be challenging to figure out a way to serve, there is a very simple way that almost everyone can help those who are in need.

Blessing bags provide a simple way for us to reach out and touch the lives of those who are suffering. They allow us to connect in a way that tells those who are experiencing homelessness that we not only see them but that we value them and love them. A simple gesture, a blessing bag can provide the hope and the little bit of extra faith that those who are downtrodden need to just make it through one more day. You can easily keep them in your car to pass on to those you see in need of a little bit of help.

To make a blessing bag first collect the items you want to put in the bag. Some of the most important items that many people experiencing homelessness say they need and appreciate the most are toothbrushes, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, and socks. These items are always needed and yet they almost never have access to them. The ability to keep clean is often overlooked and yet those who are experiencing homelessness want to keep clean every bit as much as you and I.

blessing bag 2

In our bags we also put a small snack of a juice box, crackers, and a granola bar. We included a razor, tissues, and a small amount of money.

I know. I know… you are thinking that if you put in money they might by drugs or alcohol, right? Most people who are experiencing homelessness are not addicted to drugs or alcohol. Instead, they will use this money to buy a coffee or a small hot meal. Regardless of what they spend the money on it is a gesture of love and hope to offer it to them.  Please trust that your gift will be used in the manner most fitting to their circumstance.

Last, after packing your bag put a small note in to tell those you will give your blessing bag to that they are cherished and loved; that there is hope. Remind them that they can trust in Jesus and that He has not abandoned them.

blessing bag 3

A blessing bag is a small gesture of love and hope to someone who believes that the world has forgotten about them. It reminds them that despite their current circumstances they are cherished.

To many who are experiencing homelessness one of the greatest trials in their lives is the feeling that no one sees them and no one cares. Each day people pass without offering a glance or they spew hateful things at them. A blessing bag can counter the hate they experience and instead replace it with love. It can help to restore their dignity and their faith.

I have no doubt you have heard it said many times, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Do something small today and it may be the biggest thing you ever do for someone. Our tiny gestures of love have the ability to change hearts, inspire hope, and fan the flames of a dying faith. Be the blessing that someone needs today.

believe 1


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Mercy in Our Stories

The word mercy has been falling into my lap a lot lately. One of the books I read during Lent was Pope Francis’ The Name of God is Mercy, from which I was reminded of our Lord’s great love that leads to precious mercy. Several weekends ago I was privileged to sing through the Divine Mercy Chaplet with friends. This is a prayer of repetition: “For the sake of your sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. Holy God, holy mighty one, holy immortal one, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” It felt like John’s revelatory visions of heaven with angels and saints singing “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.”

I asked my kids what they knew of mercy, reading them our catechism’s definition, “The lovingkindness, compassion, and forbearance shown to one who offends (e.g. the mercy of God to sinners)” and parsing it down for them to “Receiving goodness when you do not deserve it.”

Our 14-year-old, a bona fide Potter-head, immediately answered with a passage from a Harry Potter book. She said, “Evil people think mercy is when they have someone under their control, like when Draco told Dumbledore that he was at his mercy. But Dumbledore said quietly (Yes, she has practically memorized some portions.), ‘No Draco, it is not your mercy that matters now; it is mine’.” Draco deserved death or imprisonment but Dumbledore’s love for the boy’s soul washed him in mercy and gave him another chance to turn his life around, as he did indeed.

“How about Aslan?” piped up my nine-year-old, who is working through the Narnia books, “He had mercy on Edmund and it made him become a good man. He was called Edmund the Just when he grew up.” Edmund knew more of Aslan’s love than the others. Love and mercy go hand in hand.

“Star Wars,” hollered my 11-year-old from the kitchen (he seems to be there often, making sandwiches). “Darth Vader deserved to die but Luke had mercy on him.” And that mercy, borne from love, led to forgiveness and more love.

My 21-year-old popped in before work, looking for leftovers, and jumped into the conversation. “Tolkien’s hobbits are the best examples of mercy,” he said, “Because it didn’t always end up with a perfect love-fest but you knew that Frodo’s mercy was right.”

“Oh yeah,” interjected the 14-year-old again, “Like Redwall’s Veil. They had mercy on him but he was rotten. Well, not at the very end when he saved his mother. The mercy was definitely right.”

Yes, good point, Honey. We are called to be merciful without any thought of conclusion. Jesus said it straight up in Luke 6:36, the final verse in a passage about loving our enemies, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” He also gave us a wincing account of a man who received mercy for an unpaid debt but did not show mercy to someone owing a debt to him. This is called the Parable of the Ungrateful Servant, found in Matthew 18. It ends with the man being thrown into prison and this shocking statement from Jesus: “So also my heavenly Father will do to you if you do not forgive your brother from the heart.”

We then talked about the powerful evil in all our literary and movie examples, from Harry Potter’s death eaters, to Narnia’s White Witch, to Star Wars’ Empire, to Middle Earth’s Sauron, to Mossflower’s ferrets, to the very real Roman Empire at the time of Christ. My 18-year-old, who has never once gotten lost in a novel, shrugged. “You guys keep telling the same story over and over again. It’s history. Physical power rises and falls everywhere and for all times. Love and mercy run through it all, but quietly.” He grinned and grabbed his helmet as he headed out to ride his dirt bike.

Love and mercy run through it all, but quietly. Love and mercy change lives one at a time. It certainly did for Antonio, from Shakespears’s “The Merchant of Venice.” Portia argued before the court hoping to change Antonio’s life. “The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes… it becomes the throned monarch better than his crown … And earthly power doth then show likest God’s when mercy seasons justice.” There is always room for mercy. It is not strained. It falls ever fresh.

As we come to end of this Easter season, may we look for mercy in our stories, may we give mercy to people in our lives, and may our hearts be filled with joy to think of the perfect mercy that comes to us from our loving Jesus. He is risen and our lives are changed by love and mercy!
Mercy in Our StoriesMercy in Our StoriesMercy in Our Stories