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Abortion Authors Conversion Current Events Discipleship Faith Formation Guest Posts Offering your suffering Prayer Pro-Life Issues Respect Life Spiritual Growth

Carrying the Cross Into Battle

A cradle Catholic, I chose to write about abortion for a high school English assignment. Bold and confident, I stood at the front of the class, facing my peers, and passionately implored them to understand the horrible realities of abortion. Abortion clearly was not a beneficial choice for unborn babies or their mothers. How could anyone see it differently?

Unfortunately, youthful passions often lack deep convictions.

A child born just as the fateful decision of Roe v. Wade was penned into history, my mother courageously chose life, and would soon find herself raising me as a single parent. While Catholic grammar school instilled in me a general sense of right and wrong, some core truths were still missing in my moral education. My experiences would present a very distorted picture of reality, too. The annual March for Life didn’t even exist to my knowledge at this time.

Blessed to be surrounded by my mother’s parents and five siblings, I always felt like a cherished member of a big family, but juxtaposed with this life was the one I witnessed with my father. In his defense, he loved me and stuck around the periphery of my life, but I was deeply affected by the seeming glamour of a life lived for self. I watched the pursuit of love time and time again with different partners. I understood myself as part of that pursuit, wanted when convenient. Not surprisingly, when the hormones of my teen years revved up, self destruction lay ahead.

The truth I had espoused in high school English class was easily abandoned to the “thoughtful” opinions of the opposition. I knew good people, honest friends, friend’s parents even, who testified to the necessity for choice. A good friend’s mother even shared her own story of abortion when she, as a single mother to two already, became pregnant by a boyfriend.

And how could I condemn friends, who felt pressured into aborting their firstborn children to satisfy parents, to hide their sin or just to save themselves from their worst fears? Standing against abortion became equated to condemnation and how could a good, mature Catholic condemn the ones whom she proclaimed to love?

“Choice,” was presented to me as the mature stance to take. Busy exercising self-destructive choices in my own life, I felt its  message was empowering. And certainly it fit with the pursuit of self-satisfying love.

But as God has done time and time again through my life, He offered me glimpses of reality. Not the personal reality of my ego, but the REALity of His creation. Two young friends chose life for their son despite substantial obstacles. Their baby, Brian, came into the world bearing so many crosses: with only a portion of his brain developed in utero, he routinely suffered seizures. He was the picture of innocence and beauty wrapped up in suffering, a new reality for me. Brian came home to the embrace of a family who loved him dearly and spent his 11 months on earth swaddled in their arms. I shed bitter tears at his funeral, because I still didn’t understand the deep meaning of the Cross. Compare this experience to the “thoughtful” pro-choice messages and it’s no wonder I temporarily established myself in the latter camp.

Nearly 650,000 people attended the 40th Annual March for Life in January 2013.

For the past few years, my husband and I have attended the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. with our large brood. Now pregnant and with the knowledge that my husband’s work schedule prevented his attendance, apprehension set in at the thought of braving this year’s march. Our children, in contrast, were fully engaged for battle and had their sights set on Constitution Avenue.

President Obama’s 2nd term inauguration was scheduled for the same locale less than a week before the March. I prayed that God would make evident through His creation the stark truth of that week and asked for a stormy inaugural Monday (complete with thunder and torrents of rain) to contrast with a a sunny, mild Friday for the marchers. (Obviously, personal comfort was steering my prayers, too.)

Before the rising of the sun, I boarded the bus, flanked by my children and a few extra teens. The day’s forecast was dismal. Not one of my preferences manifested, except perhaps that I was able to plant my pregnant bladder near the bus rest room. Entertaining a four-year-old on a bus for four hours requires much patience (which was in short supply). And bus seats are only comfortable for about two hours at best.

Because we were traveling with a group, we had to keep up with a less than family-friendly pace throughout the March. While the sun shone on inaugural Monday, snow fell amid freezing temperatures on Life Friday.  Even our hand warmers failed to stave off the biting sting at our fingertips. Navigating a stroller along with three young ones and four teens through a sea of shoulder to shoulder strangers is a nerve-wracking feat. (I apologize to marchers who suffered clipped heels and rolled-over toes during my defensive stroller driving.)

The struggle of marching in bitterly cold weather offered many opportunities to suffer in union with Christ, with our post-abortive brothers and sisters, and with the more than 50 million children who have lost their lives to abortion.

Plans to stop and warm up with hot chocolate along the route were canceled, so by day’s end I was trying to comfort a teary, shivering six-year-old while straining to hold a crying four-year old, not to mention the whining eight-year-old. More frustrating, I couldn’t answer the question as to when the day would end and the bus would open its welcoming doors.

The ride home was equivalent to torture. Overtired kids fighting sleep, bus seats as comfortable as concrete slabs, temperatures in the rear of the bus now equal to a sauna, and pregnancy hormones overriding all sense of inner peace…with our journey then ending in a church parking lot hidden under an inch of solid ice, I promised myself I would never, ever do that again.

The next day, however, left me refreshed and inspired me to take a second look at our experience. I had thought a day of ease would represent the same meaning as a day of suffering. But an empty, decorative cross is not the same as a crucifix. As the crucifix represents agape, that sacrificial love that Christ gave to us through His suffering and death, so too our day of redemptive suffering bore out a deeper understanding of the reality of the battle we are engaged in. Abortion is a horror, an abominable act of violence waged against the most innocent among us. There is nothing sanitary nor incorruptible about it.

Afterward, it seemed obvious that the March for Life shouldn’t be an easy offering, especially this year. Forty years and 55 million lives shouldn’t be marked by a sunny day filled with smiles, cookies, and hot chocolate. I wept when first confronted by the images of aborted babies, so it was appropriate that I should have been surrounded by weeping as I marched in their defense. Like Christ’s suffering, ours gave witness to our convictions and called us to focus less on self and more on the battle for others. It especially allowed me to teach my children, through actions and not just words, that love is sacrificial and that we don’t just give when convenient.

There was greater power to be born out and witnessed by the day’s suffering this year. There was redemptive suffering, which only Christ fully understands. There was the witness to our fellow brothers and sisters that shows our deep-seated commitment to the pro-life cause, unlike my shallow-rooted high school testimony. With this kind of spiritual power, the March has understandably been ignored year after year by the mainstream media.

More than anything else, our president needs our prayers for his conversion of heart.

Providentially, this year’s March for Life fell on the feast of St. Paul. The truth is, President Obama is every bit the sinful man that Saul once was, but he has the potential to become as great as St. Paul. He needs our prayers for his conversion of heart, not prayers for rainy days.

There is a battle to be fought for the unborn, a battle for life and for Christ. The armor is heavy and uncomfortable, the journey is long and treacherous. Our efforts will be ignored, mocked, and distorted. None of that matters, because Christ is already the victor. But in the meantime, we must “soldier up.”

Will I attend future Marches for Life? I pray that they will be celebrations of victory instead, but until then, yes, I will.

Will I have all my kids in tow? Yes, because I want their pro-life hearts to be rooted in reality.

Will I see you there? I hope so! And if I happen to run over your toes with a stroller, just think of it as your offering of self.

Tara Brelinsky lives with her husband, Greg, in North Carolina. When not marching for life, she’s busy raising and homeschooling their family of seven (so far!) beautiful children. The Brelinskys, who have been married for 20 years, are natural family planning instructors through the Couple to Couple League. 

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Authors Guest Posts

It’s the End of the (Real) World as We Know It

by author Susie Lloyd

used with permission by Sophia Institute Press

Years ago my friend Maria came back to the Church. It was the end of the world as she knew it.

In her youth, Maria was a heavy-metal fan; born, like a lot of people in the Sixties, with a deaf wish. But even though rock is now part of the mainstream, and even though liturgical music had it goin’ on in the Seventies, and even though Bob Dylan did a papal concert, there is still no Church-sanctioned version of Ozzy. So she kissed him goodbye.

After that it was goodbye modern TV and movies, goodbye to certain fashions from Trends R Us, goodbye to checkout-lane magazines and commerce on Sundays.

She came to me in a moment of despair and asked when it was going to stop. When, when was life going to seem normal again?

I broke the news: never.

I’m a cradle Catholic who considers being in a coma the only valid excuse for missing Sunday Mass, and I’m still not done saying goodbye to the world.

First it was goodbye to electronics, shoes, clothes, and toys made in Communist China.

At the same time, there was the Disney boycott. Remember that? It wasn’t that their latest princesses were feminists who could “take care of” themselves and routinely rescued men in distress with an agility that was almost cartoonish. It wasn’t that Cinderella’s and Snow White’s torso had been digitally enhanced for the purpose of advertising. It all fell apart when their subsidiary companies started making movies that brought Catholics out to protest with signs and rosaries.

That was the year the kids got underwear for Christmas.

Then I saw a special on PBS about underwear manufacturers who, in league with the World Bank, are driving third-world nations into insurmountable debt.

An underwear boycott is clearly called for here, but just how long can it go on?

Then there’s the problem of eating. Here you are, reading every label to find out what dyes and preservatives are added that might make your offspring sterile in twenty years when you are safely too dead from cancer to file a lawsuit. Naturally you start shopping at health-food stores. On your way in, you see a giant poster of a swami. Great. The store is New Age. Your conscience says there is another health-food store across town. Ten miles. Not far to go to do the right thing. Of course it is likely that it will also be New Age. You decide to ignore the swami. Where else can you go to get products that look and taste just like the poisonous originals? They cost twice as much, but that’s okay. You should really eat less anyway. Thus far, you’ve got it all worked out. You’re proud of yourself.

Then you tell a friend all about it, and she informs you that one hundred percent of the profits from these products go to organizations whose sole mission is to uproot all traces of Christianity from the planet.

In a frenzy, you run out and buy seeds. Then you shop around in six stores for the best price on a chest freezer.

On your way home, you are exhausted. You pull into a Burger Bits franchise. Your conscience reminds you that you’re supposed to be boycotting this one, due to the fact that last year it was an official sponsor of the NAMBLA Olympics. It prods you to go across the highway to the competitor. Just a half-mile down the road, then loop around in the U-turn, a half-mile up again, and ten minutes later you arrive at the competition across the road.

Uh, wait a mainute. Maybe this is the place you’re boycotting, and it’s the place you just left that’s in the clear. You pull slowly up to the window, trying to ignore the smells seeping into your car. You toy with the idea of asking the cashier if the name Donald Wildmon sets off any buzzers. Right.

You ask yourself, WWJD? That’s a tough one. He’d probably opt to go hungry. You ask yourself what would Mom do? No good. She’d be at home, cooking. She never did anything half so frivolous as you just did. You suddenly feel very alone.

The struggle to maintain a standard of Catholic culture is suspended. The smells are too much. You’ve decided to eat there no matter what. An evil voice inside your head says, “Might as well go all the way. Go on, pull over. Eat it in the car, and while you’re at it, blast the radio. The kids will never know….” You pull the burger from the bag and shove it down without allowing yourself to think. You refuse to care whether the franchise serves a cola that funds a charity that donates to an organization that contributes to population control in countries where the World Bank directs unfair labor practices. Perhaps just last week, they switched to a lesser-of-two-evils cola whose only crime is unseemly commercials, but you’ll never know. You don’t have cable, so you don’t get channels that carry unseemly commercials. You can’t even tell one cola from another anyway. Besides that, you didn’t even get a cola – due to an article you read linking caffeine with premature aging. You are drinking water. Pure, free, chlorinated tap water with added fluoride…which has been linked to Alzheimer’s…in a wax paper cup that makes it taste like blood!

Suddenly none of this matters anymore. You realize you have just eaten a cheeseburger without even unwrapping it.

You leave with a feeling of self-satisfaction you haven’t had in a long time. The paper that is now inside you was recycled. You have just done your part in saving the planet!

::Susie Lloyd’s award winning book, Please Don’t Drink the Holy Water is only her first. Check out her sequel, Bless Me Father, For I Have Kids. Her next book is due out in October 2013, with Ave Maria Press.::

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Authors Devin Rose Doctrine Faith Formation Guest Posts Perspective from the Head

“Dogma is the Killer of True Spirituality”

Sometimes a patent falsehood is repeated so often that it needs to be openly rebutted, in spite of its inanity. The title of this post is one such falsehood and is adapted from a blog discussion I had about nature and religion.

The full quote from my interlocutor ran like this:

I think that too often people confuse dogma/doctrine with spirituality….dogma can never compete with true spirituality and indeed is most often the killer of it.

I called the guy out on this bald-faced assertion by quoting Chesterton: “There are two kinds of people in this world: those who believe in dogma and know it, and those who believe dogma and don’t know it.”

This man has a dogma, and the dogma is that other dogmas, ones he rejects, kill “true spirituality.” So his statement is self-defeating, like the saying that “there are no true generalizations” (except of course, the generalization that there are no true generalizations!).

I'm feeling more "spiritual" already! (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1384060)

But let’s step back and understand the intention behind his claim. The idea is that “true spirituality” is one that comes from inside a person, perhaps even something they uniquely have imagined or come to believe, rather than a belief that some religious institution–perhaps the Catholic Church–teaches is true.

Religion is bad; spirituality is good. I heard the same thing the other night on a radio station that plays Delilah’s love songs. Delilah, in all her pop culture wisdom, said something to the effect of: “spirituality unites; religion divides.”

But in fact why should it be more plausible that something I imagined in my own mind is true while something taught by the Catholic Church is false? Have I been given special powers to discern the truth of existence, over and against all others? Why should I believe that I am gifted in such a way so as to trust my own imaginations over a religious institutions claims?

An old teacher of mine, a man I greatly respect, once told me that he believed that when we die, our spirits will all go up into the ether and kind of meld and combine in a big cosmic soup. Rather too bluntly, I asked him: “What makes you think that this idea of yours is more plausible than what Christianity claims will happen when we die?” He was clearly taken aback by my candor and fumbled around for how to respond. I felt bad that I came across rudely, but the point I made still stands.

Dogma is not the killer of true spirituality. It is the protector of it. God has revealed truth to us and made it possible for all men–not just a few gifted ones–to know this truth. He has done this by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, and subsequently through the Church that Christ founded, which subsists in the Catholic Church. Historical evidence and philosophical arguments all support these beliefs, though they cannot demonstrate it through reason alone.

The Catholic Church elevates a doctrine to the level of dogma when it is needed. She draws a line in the sand that says: “Such-and-such is true, or at least, a particular falsehood is not true.” By doing so the faithful are safeguarded from falling into error. Note that there is still tremendous freedom of belief within the bounds of dogma: our Christian faith is mysterious and isn’t defined down to every jot and tittle. But we know that, whatever we believe, we should stay within these bounds set by Christ through His Church.

So while dogma has a negative connotation to most people, one of irrational, fundamentalistic adherence to a crazy religious belief, real dogma is anything but that. Real dogma is supported by reason, even though it goes beyond it.

Hopefully this little mental exploration will be of help to you the next time that you run into someone who denigrates dogma and elevates their own personal spirituality.

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Authors Domestic Church Faith Formation Guest Posts Motherhood Vocations

Chivalry Is Dead: It Collided With My Stroller

I never understood why the women of my mom’s generation had the urge to roar.

There’s something to the old ways, where men and women lived by a set code. Heck, if men would go back to paying for luxuries, opening doors, and fighting for our honor, I could certainly modulate my voice, exude charm, and do a few dishes. It might even be worth wearing a corset.

My mom never roared. She was proud of the fact that she didn’t have to support her husband financially. She didn’t want her own paycheck. She wanted to spend his. Her name was on at least four store credit cards, and his was on the bills. He didn’t seem to mind a bit.

Whose idea was it that we should change this?

It was that class of women who decided to work for eight hours, come home, cook, do housework, and in between drive the kids all over the place, all without a man. And then had the gall to say they were liberated!

Mom felt that she was doing enough. Aside from taking care of a male-dominated household of ten, she taught catechism, counseled unwed mothers, and organized prayer vigils. She never complained about my dad’s enormous garden and the acres of farmland that, besides cultivation, provided hours of canning and freezing work for her. She did not complain because she was doing exactly what she wanted to do.

In the early twentieth century, Laura Ingalls Wilder was asked to add her name to the feminist movement. She declined on the grounds of not being able to relate to it. As a farm wife, she knew the priceless value of her economic contribution.

It was the bonbon eaters who wanted out. They were bored and unfulfilled. But I personally blame the men. Once they caught on that they were being let off the hook, there was no stopping it.

Hank: Lois is sick of watching soaps and eating bonbons all day. She wants a job.

Mel: What are you going to do about it?

Hank: I don’t know. It’d mean more money, and I’d quit cab driving nights. Course, she’d probably expect me to hang out with the kids more and help with the dishes once in a while.

Mel: Tough choice.

Hank and Mel made up the slogan, “You go, girl!” Hank and Mel are revered by feminists everywhere as sensitive folk-singer types.

Now we have come full circle. Larger household incomes have driven prices up, our material wants have become needs, so now an ordinary paycheck no longer covers the cost of living. Women now get heart disease at the same rate as men, and in a few more years we might yet break even on the mortality rates.

And still, the majority of women will tell you we are better off than our grandmothers were. We can now work on highways and mail rooms, and at other jobs that were traditionally hogged by men in the past. We can file for divorce just as easily as men and lose custody of our children at the rate men traditionally used to.

To think that in third-world countries with traditional sexual roles, women are missing out on this! The divorce rate is abominably low and the birth rate dangerously high; virginity is prized, and marriage is thought of as a positive good. We must export liberation to these backward places right away!

Even if you manage to stay stubbornly unliberated here, you can’t fail to reap the benefits of progress.

For instance, in my sheltered world, my husband carries the baby in one hand and opens doors for me with the other. Out there, in the Real World, doors sometimes drop in my face. Real World logic goes: It’s degrading to have someone open a door for a woman as if she can’t open it herself. Never mind if she can’t because she’s pushing a stroller and holding on to a bunch of other kids at the same time. That’s the Catholic Church’s and her husband’s fault for making her have so many children.

Let it be a lesson to all who resist progress!

Still, there is much work to be done. According to some feminists on a talk show I recently saw, the percentage of girls who went to become plumbers is still in the negatives. Girls still obstinately gravitate towards hairdressing. Everyone knows hairdressers are shamefully underpaid compared with the selfish men who earn three times as much just for unclogging toilets. Remember girls, you’re worth it.

Poor mom. She was just too oppressed to know what she was missing.

::Susie Lloyd was born into a large Catholic family that spanned the baby boom through the hippie and preppie decades. She was educated in parochial and public schools and in a parent-run catechetical center. She is a graduate of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. She is the surprised recipient of three Catholic Press Association awards, one for her first book, Please Don’t Drink the Holy Water and two for her columns in Faith and Family Magazine. She is also a long time columnist for The Latin Mass Magazine and contributes to Inside Catholic, The National Catholic Register and Faith and Family Live! She is an enthusiastic member of Sunrise Toastmasters and enjoys connecting with her readers through public speaking. She is also the author of Bless Me Father, For I Have Kids. She and her husband Greg have been married for over twenty years, homeschool, and have seven lively children. She finds time to write in the dark hours before dawn or from the middle bench of her full-size van.You can also find more lively writing by Susie at her personal blog, Susie Lloyd: Unedited, and her next book due out next year with Ave Maria Press::

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This chapter taken from Please Don’t Drink the Holy Water and used with permission by Sophia Institute Press.