Categories
Colleen Faith Formation Ink Slingers Mass Motherhood Vocations

An Average Day in the Pew

I trudge down the steps, diaper bag slung over my shoulder and the baby in my arms. Four little feet clomp behind me. “1, 2, 3, 4!” I hear. “2, 3, 4!” says the other one. Giggling ensues. More clomping. “Shhh.” I whisper. “Please walk softly.” We head into the bathroom.

We emerge 10 minutes later, the baby wearing only a shirt and a fresh diaper, his chunky bare legs wrapped up in his blanket. I used the spare set of clothing in my diaper bag the other day and forgot to replace it (this happens far, far too often). Four little feet thump out after me. “I can get a drink, mommy?” I sigh a little. “Sure.” I shift the baby to my right arm and precariously balance the toddler on my left knee so he can reach the drinking fountain. He slurps the water with his little red lips, and then turns and grins at me. “We go back upstairs now!”

We plod back up the stairs. “Now what are we supposed to do when we get back in church?” I ask. “BE QUIET!” my three year old says, not so quietly. “We have to-” then his voice drops low- “whisper in church.” The two year old stops to sniff the fake Easter liles on the way in. We slip back into our pew.

An Average Day in the Pew
King David reminds me an awful lot of Brad Pitt.

I hand their books back to them. It’s “Great Men of the Old Testament” for the two year old. He likes to sit next to me and have me turn the pages for him while he looks at the pictures, and I can never get over how the Great Men are posing like celebrities. We turn to the page with Noah (who bears a striking resemblance to Victor French.) “Mommy, an ARK!” I raise my eyebrows; that was not a whisper. “The ark. Look, there’s a rainbow!

We soon head up for Communion (after inhaling the aroma the fake lilies again). This is the part that always worries me the most. Please, guardian angels of these dear children, I pray. Let them go up to Communion without knocking over the Paschal candle, or the poor soul who has the misfortune of being in front of us in line. Attendance is sparse today, so the line is short. I kneel down to receive, baby in my arms and with a TIGHT grip on the 2 year old’s hand. “Mommy! There’s Uncle Pat!” the 3 year old says far too excitedly, pointing towards the altar servers. My eyebrows shoot up so fast and high, they are now flush with my hairline. I would put my finger on my lips, but, both my hands are occupied. But he knows this look and gets the hint. “Mommy, there’s Uncle Pat! We have to whiiiisper in church.” he whispers. Yes, Uncle Pat is serving today. Poor Uncle Pat is trying so hard to keep a straight face.

I receive Holy Communion with the 2 year old’s hand still firmly in my grasp. We turn back towards the pews, and 3 year old bounces along, grinning and waving at fellow parishioners as we walk past. “Fold your hands,” I mutter under my breath. “My hands are too tired today,” he says in a very un-quiet voice. Once we are back in the pew, he leans over and whispers, “Mommy, is church all done?” “Almost!” I give him an encouraging smile. He replies very matter-of-fact, “Church is not really very fun.” (!!!) Oh. my. I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to laugh or cry. He smiles sweetly and turns back to his book.

Just then, a little elderly lady behind us taps me on the shoulder. “I can see your halo,” she whispers. “You’re doing good, mama. Keep it up.”

Thank you. Thank you so much, sweet lady. By this point, my self-doubting is firmly entrenched, and I have started to wonder if we should have even come. You have no idea how much your kind words mean to me! No. idea.

The same “church is no fun” 3 year old blesses himself with holy water on the way out, and whispers, “Bye, I love you Jesus!” My faith is restored, but still a bit shaken. At least we avoided the temper tantrum today. Can’t say the same about last time.

~~~

According to her sisterAn Average Day in the Pew, Zelie Martin was “distressed that her children showed no signs of piety.” (I take this to this mean that they frequently complained that church was not fun.) All five of her children who lived to adulthood entered religious orders. Her youngest is known to us as St. Therese of Lisieux, and a case for sainthood is being made for her other four daughters. Zelie herself, along with her husband Louis, have since been declared Blessed. That is enough to give us just a little hope for our children who are sometimes stubborn and difficult – even the saints struggled!

Toddlers mature, new babies grow into toddlers – into that awkward “I’m a toddler and I have my own opinions about what I want to do and going to Mass is not one of them” stage. They do and say things that we KNOW they haven’t learned from us! We just want them to be GOOD, why won’t they be good!?… Sometimes we wonder, “Why even bother?” But we have to persevere; to learn to laugh and not take them or ourselves too seriously. It’s so tempting to get frustrated and angry at these little people, to skip mealtime or evening prayers because “they don’t really understand,” or to keep them home until they are old enough to learn proper Mass behavior. But Jesus said “Let the little children come to me.” He wants us to teach them to pray. Even if we feel like we aren’t “getting anything out of it”, we are setting the example for our children: God is important. And I’ll give you a sympathetic smile when your toddler throws a fit during Communion if you promise to do the same for me. We’re both doing the best we can. And hopefully the sweet elderly lady will smile at both of us. She remembers these struggles, too.

An Average Day in the Pew
In addition to feeding them spiritually, we also have to feed their bodies. Both are quite daunting tasks.

We are called to raise these little souls for heaven. God gave us these little people not only for our enjoyment, but also for our sanctification. Some days we feel like we are just trudging along and everything is falling apart. Let’s keep trudging. Sometimes we will fall, and fail, lose our temper, and want to run away. But we need to keep feeding them spiritually, even if they don’t always like it, and even though it is difficult for us! If we plant the seeds of faith in our children, we can have joyful hope that the roots will take a firm hold, and that those little seeds will sprout and blossom into a beautiful love of Christ. And that is our whole goal: to know, love, and serve Him in this life so that we may be happy with Him in the next.

~~~

This is the wonderfully hilarious Fr. Winkler book with the movie star Old Testament heroes. I’m not getting perked or compensated for my recommendation, but I really should be because I tell people about it all the time and because everyone I’ve shown it to has belly-laughed at the pictures along with me. The stories are good, too. But the pictures are priceless.

Categories
Catechism Colleen Doctrine Faith Formation Fatherhood Ink Slingers Marriage Motherhood NFP and contraceptives Respect Life Vocations

Why You Don’t Have to Use NFP

{disclaimer: I realize that NFP is not always used to avoid pregnancy, but can also be used for medical awareness and to help achieve pregnancy. For purposes of this article I am referring to NFP used as “periodic continence”, that is, to avoid pregnancy.}

There is a faction of Catholics who, in their desire to promote Natural Family Planning as the antidote to contraception, have overstated its importance in Christian marriage. They are rightfully reacting against contraception, which is always intrinsically evil. (CCC 2370) But in their desire to steer people away from contraception, they sometimes become overzealous in their promotion of NFP: they insist that Catholics have a duty to learn it and use it.

The insistence that “good Catholics use NFP” has caused confusion for many, and has made many faithful Catholics feel as though they are somehow failing on their path towards sanctity by NOT practicing NFP, and by simply having children as they come without regard to temperatures and charts. There is often a disdain towards parents of many young children spaced closely together, and others suspect that they must not know about NFP, or even worse, that they “cannot control their impulses.” A friend of mine confided in me that once she became convicted to no longer use NFP and to throw away her charts, she went to confession for it because she thought she was being irresponsible. Thankfully, her priest reassured her that NFP is not required, and commended her trust in handing her fertility completely to God.

The simple truth is, as Catholic married couples, we do NOT have an obligation to use Natural Family Planning, whether it be to space births or to limit the number of children we have. If we were to have an obligation, then 19 centuries of Catholics did not fulfill this obligation, since the science of fertility was not well-understood until the advances of medicine in the 20th century. As Catholics living in the 21st century, we certainly are fortunate to have access to this information, since many families do have a legitimate need to avoid pregnancy at one time or another during their marriage. But the Church has not suddenly changed Her teachings to require something of us that has never been required before.

Oftentimes, the phrase “responsible parenthood” is touted as a mandate for NFP use. After all, don’t “responsible parents” plan their families by deciding exactly how many children they should have, and when they should have them? Here is what Humanae Vitae says about responsible parenthood:

“With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.”

So “responsible parenthood” does not mean limiting our family size; quite the contrary! It means that barring serious reasons, we are actually practicing responsible parenthood by being generously open to having more children!

Make no mistake – with the overwhelming statistic that 80+% of Catholics use some form of contraception, we DO need to encourage NFP. Contraception is intrinsically evil, not to mention the abortifacient nature of the Pill and IUDs, and NFP is a way for couples to legitimately prevent pregnancy without frustrating the marital act and is in line with the teachings of the Church. We need to inform people about the ills of contraception, and if they have a reason to avoid pregnancy, encourage NFP instead.

But NFP is not a “Church-approved method of birth control.” So many times it is presented as such. Instead of offering NFP as the main alternative to contraception, let’s offer CHILDREN as the alternative. The opposite of being “against conception” is being FOR conception. The Church teaches that having children is the ideal, and NFP is merely a tool we can use in our marriage if necessary, rather than the other way around. NFP should be promoted as a tool for times of serious need, and not as a requirement or a divine directive.

As Catholics, we are not all called to be “providentialists” and to have as many children as we are physically capable of bearing. If we determine with our spouse through prayer and spiritual direction that we have a serious reason to avoid having children for a period of time, then we are certainly permitted to use NFP. However, many Catholic couples may come to the conclusion that for the majority of or all of their childbearing years, they do not have serious reasons to avoid having children. For those of us who fall into this category, we should REJOICE that God is calling us to bring many little souls into this world for his glory! Often, those of us who are in this position are nervous and unsure – can we truly handle the demands of a large family? How will many children impact us financially? And far too frequently, what will others think of us? We struggle with human respect, which is “the putting of the opinion of others in the place of our conscience.” (Frank Duff, Servant of God)

Let us not let others’ opinions disturb our peace of soul; let us care only about what God requests of us, and let us rely on His grace. Let us BE COUNTERCULTURAL. What is more countercultural than being Catholic, anyway? We believe that contraception is wrong. We believe that sex should be reserved only for marriage. We believe that a priest can speak words while holding a piece of bread, and that bread becomes a Man, Jesus Christ, and that Man is God. That’s about as countercultural as it gets! Let us not be afraid to bear children simply because we fear what the world may think of us. Let us not deprive God of the souls He wishes to place under our care. While battling with temporal issues, let us always keep the eternal in mind. As Blessed Zelie said, “I wish to have many children so I could raise them for Heaven.”

Let us beseech our priests to preach this; to talk about how having children is one of the ends of marriage, how children are blessings to a marriage, and how GOOD it is to have them! Let us truly promote the culture of life, not simply by standing against abortion, but by standing FOR LIFE. Let us realize that as women, our fertility is a GIFT, a gift that we only have for a relatively short time in our life, a gift that some do not have and dearly desire! Let us share with all whom we meet the positives of having children, and how much we cherish our vocation of motherhood. Let us openly encourage others in their journeys of parenthood (religious sisters and single women – I cannot express how much your support and love of babies and new life means to us! Thank you!). Let us work to shift the mindset of the entire culture – that children are not commodities, nor are they burdens. They are blessings. ALL of them.

God has given us the amazing privilege to participate with Him in the creation of new life. We women are the vessels He has chosen to bring this new life into the world. God knows what He’s doing, and He will send us the right number of children. No child will be created without His Divine Help; no child is “unwanted” or “unplanned” by God. The number does not matter, whether God sees fit to send us two children or twelve. What matters is that we are open to His plan for us.

From Pope Pius XII’s “Dear Newlyweds”:

“It will depend on you whether those innocent souls, whom the embrace of Infinite Love desires to call from nothing, shall come to the threshold of life, in order to make of them one day His chosen companions in the eternal happiness of Heaven. But alas! If they remain merely magnificent images in the mind of God when they could have been rays of sun that illuminate every man who comes into this world (John 1:9), they will remain forever nothing but lights extinguished by the cowardice and selfishness of man!”

Categories
Colleen Current Events Faith Formation Ink Slingers Marriage Motherhood Vocations

30 Things Every Mother Should Have and Should Know

The other day, a friend posted this article entitled “Turning 30: 30 Things Every Woman Should Have And Should Know” (and this may be the first and last time Catholic Sistas links up the Huffington Post.) My friends and I spent a little while guffawing at how utterly out-of-touch it seemed. Upon further examination, I realized that the list really ISN’T THAT BAD, and does have some valid points and some humor, albeit secular (although I honestly don’t know why you would want a old boyfriend who “reminds you of how far you’ve come” – seems like if he were that bad, better to have never had him in the first place?)

I think the biggest reason we were so turned off by the article is because most of us simply could not relate, at all. While it doesn’t say so explicitly, the article appears to be geared towards women who are single, or at least childless. Most of us married and had  children in our 20s, some of us our very early 20s. Considering the average marrying age for women in the U.S. is 27, and the average age of women having their first child is 24.9, it would seem that WE fit the stereotype of “the average woman” more than the single, childless 30 year old. WE want a list that fits US!

So, without further ado, I bring you The Catholic Moms Edition: “30 Things Every Mother Should Have And Should Know.”

**********

As a mother, you should have:

1. A husband who is better than any old boyfriend you ever had. Which is why you married him, and not the boyfriend. He must like children and want to have many of his own, with you.

2. A cute diaper bag. Or, an ugly one that came from the hospital and had free formula samples in it. Your old high school backpack works, too.

3. Diapers and wipes inside the diaper bag. Because if you’re missing these, you will inevitably be at a childless relative’s house on Thanksgiving (when all the stores are closed) and you will be fashioning a makeshift diaper out of a Target bag and paper towels.

4. A fully-funded retirement fund. Or children who will be willing to let you live with them when you are old. Or some combination of the two.

5. A bank account. Preferably one with some money in it. And a debit card that has a daily limit that is much higher than $250, for when you buy toilet paper at Sam’s Club.

6. A nice outfit to wear. Must be appropriate to wear both at a baptism and on a date with the hubby. Must be machine washable, in the case of snot or spit-up. Preferably not white. Flattering and slimming a plus. It can be maternity clothing, I won’t tell anyone.

7. A vehicle that fits all your children safely. Working door handles, windows that roll down, and air conditioning: optional. Pro-life bumper stickers: required.

8. A set of screwdrivers and a power drill – I concur with Satran on this one. Screwdrivers for all the toy batteries you’ll be replacing, and a power drill for building cribs and bunk beds.

9. A pretty new pair of pajamas every time you give birth. And Tucks.

10. Lollipops for grocery trips. Or a grocery store that gives out free cheese and cookies. Or both.

11. Patron saints. Lots of them. For yourself, your spouse, your children, and every situation you find yourself in. St. Gerard for difficult pregnancies and safe deliveries. St. Apollonia for teething. St. Dymphna for sleepless nights. St. Monica for wayward teenagers. St. Brigid of Ireland for babies in general, and also for when your dairy cow escapes. (It happens!) Ask these saints to intercede for you, and ask your children’s guardian angels to guide them. Their intercession is powerful!

12. A female friend. This can be your mother, sister, or someone unrelated to you. Someone who will rejoice with you when you are expecting a baby, whether this child is your first or your tenth. Someone who will cry with you when you lose a child. Someone who respects your role as a wife and a mother and always encourages you to do what is good, whether it involves disciplining your children or being faithful in your marriage.

13. A nun friend and a priest friend. Someone who will make religious vocations relatable to your children. Children have their parents as a good example of striving for a holy marriage; they need good examples of holy priests and nuns.

14. A graceful answer for “You’ve got your hands full!”, “Don’t you know what causes this?”, “Don’t you have a TV!?”, and eleventy-billion other comments about your family. (A snappy comeback works, too, as long as it’s said with charity and not bitterness.)

15. A box of Magic Erasers.

 

As a mother, you should know:

1. How to change a diaper in the car. How to change a diaper on your lap, in an airplane, and on a Koala Kare changing table without your child’s skin or clothing actually touching the table.

2. How to gracefully bow out of Mass to change a diaper that has exploded all over your yellow skirt and has now soaked all the way through your slip because it happened during the Consecration and you didn’t want to distract people by getting up right then.

3. That crayons, markers, tissues, pens, Play-doh, scissors, glue, juice boxes, toothpaste, ketchup, scissors, sinks, bubbles, toilets, band-aids, scissors, paper towels, and small plastic beads should always be used under direct adult supervision. And scissors.

4. The number to poison control. If you don’t know it by heart, at least get the fridge magnet.

5. That brushing lots of little teeth every night seems torturous, but 2 hours in a pediatric dentist’s chair with a 3 year old is more torturous.

6. How to get dinner ready in 15 minutes while holding a baby, reading a book to the toddlers, looking something up on the internet, and answering your kindergartener’s fifty-two questions about why owls come out at night and why St. Anthony’s tongue is incorrupt.

7. How to nurse a head wound, how to do CPR, and what to do if your child loses a finger or a toe (hint: stay calm and put it on ice.)

8. That God shows us more mercy about our parenting than we show to ourselves, and that whether or not we gave our child a pacifier has no bearing on our eternal salvation.

9. That motherhood is about little acts of love. We get grace for every action done out of love for God. For every nose wiped, every meal made, every shirt washed, every baby nursed, every tantrum subdued, we “store up treasures in heaven.” (Matthew 6:20)

10. That motherhood is about serving. We serve our children, we serve our husbands, we serve God. It’s often tempting to be repulsed by the amount of serving we must do! It gets exhausting. But we must echo Mary’s “Fiat” rather than Satan’s “Non serviam.” Because we know where he ended up.

11. That motherhood is full of sorrows. While we have Our Blessed Mother as a model for the perfect mother, we also have her as a model for perfect resignation to suffering. Ask Our Lady of Sorrows to comfort you as you carry your crosses in solidarity with her Son.

12. That you made vows to your husband. Nurture your marriage. Your marriage is what will get you to heaven. And your children will someday move away, but you are with your husband “til death do us part.” He has chosen YOU to be his spouse; be the best one you can be.

13. That ALL babies are a blessing, even if they come at what appears to be an exceedingly inopportune time. God’s plan is perfect. A baby came to a poor family who lived in an old jail; her parents named her Bernadette; the Blessed Mother appeared to her 18 times. A baby named Joseph came to a destitute family who lived in a house with a dirt floor; he was one of ten children; he grew up to be the Pope, and is known to us as Saint Pius X. A mother gave birth for the 23rd time to a baby named Catherine, who spent much of her life working for the poor, influenced Popes, and became a Doctor of the Church. Never underestimate God’s power to redeem difficult or seemingly impossible situations.

14. That time is fleeting. Someday we will kiss their boo-boos for the last time. We will pick up the toys, bake a Thomas the Tank Engine birthday cake, read a story four times in a row, kiss them goodnight, all FOR THE LAST TIME. One day they will walk out our door, and the next time they come back, they will have their own home, their own family, and they will no longer be dependent on us. The endless nights of rocking and soothing, the days peppered with whining and tears – they will come to an end. Their littleness is so brief. Embrace it.

15. Why they say life begins when you become a mother.