Category Archives: Faith

Plan B: Chapter 2

I’m beginning a new chapter of life. One that developed as a sort of plot-twist to the plan I had written out for myself. And it is filled with goblins and shadows. 900 different reasons to be afraid, to doubt and to run away. Starting in early May, I will begin full-time studies in a grad program working towards my Master’s degree and licensure in professional counseling. There has been well over a year of discernment on what exactly I ought to do with my life since it hasn’t gone how I anticipated. So I had to adjust. Per court orders, I had to get a job, wean my baby and find somewhere else to live. I have worked hard at the bottom of the ladder as a restaurant host for a year. It was humble work but I have been thankful for that paycheck… and getting paid to greet people and invoke in them a genuine smile is something kind of on the spectrum of wonderful. I learned a lot about the real world outside my stay-at-home, homeschooling mommy bubble and developed a genuine love for my coworkers. I am grateful it provided the stop-gap for me to make ends meet for my children.

During this time, I have been blessed in astonishing ways by countless people. Childcare that I couldn’t have otherwise afforded. Helping hands in repairing one home and setting up another while living with friends in the meantime. Anonymous monetary gifts that appeared at just the right time.  A three hour road-trip to bring my children to me for my father’s funeral. Homemade soup and a bottle of wine left on my front porch, a safe place to call home with generously reduced rent… the list of blessings goes on despite the continual onslaught of challenges during this time of transition. I have never known such kindness. And it hurts in the most painful, beautiful way. Turns out that people can be rather extraordinary…

And now, I am quitting my job and taking a massive leap of faith in God (and in the federal, student loan program), to devote myself full-time to these classes. The demands of solo-mothering seven incredible children and working part-time are already very challenging for me. Adding in a full academic load would make for an unsustainable lifestyle.

So I’m all in.

Regarding the counseling profession: many people go into counseling because they have a tremendous amount of compassion and empathy for others. That wasn’t my story at the outset. I have always found the human mind and heart intriguing… where people come from, why they think the way they do and how their experiences have shaped them. I used to pore over psychology textbooks in my early teens just to feed my curiosity. It’s been a fascinating study for my intellect. But a shift happened when my passion for understanding morphed from a purely scientific interest into a truly more genuine love for others. I have benefitted so much from my own counselor and the healthy thinking that has been offered to me through the past couple years of upheaval, that it has awakened in me a desire for helping others be restored to wholeness also.  Not that I have all the answers now (I don’t) or that I’m the perfect specimen of emotional-cognitive balance (Who is?).  But Peter Kreeft once said something to the effect of “I’m just one bum pointing out to another where there’s free food.”  And I like that thought. I don’t know exactly in what capacity I’ll practice this profession, but somehow, I want to point out bridges to wellness and authenticity for those struggling in their own minds or in their relationships too. There’s a part of me that is able to see and connect and love others through their own trials in a way I wasn’t able to before. I guess counseling for me is a career choice that began in my mind and perhaps only after taking a scenic route through the backwoods of trauma… did it find its way to my heart.

To be honest, what I choose to do to provide for my family is almost beside the point. Because above all else, I simply want to be as available and present as possible to my children. They deserve the best of me, not just me scraping by for the next 20 years trying to hold it together. I can do more for them. And through God’s grace, I will.

There have been many lessons for me over the past couple years… new understandings of what humility, love, mothering and friendship actually mean (and don’t mean) in practice. I know I still have so much to learn. Everything must be held with an open hand… all I can do is the next right thing—which is always providing what is best for my children. If I get the honor of helping others along the way, all the better. And so, this is the door that has opened in front of me that will provide a means to care for them the best way I can. 900 goblins being on the prowl and all…

So, yes; there are fears. Absolutely. But I can’t be a slave to those fears. There is an extremely questionable amount of “certainty” in front of me. Everything may not be okay for some time. However, I know that I’ve survived “not okay” before.  And I don’t expect my Jesus will abandon me now. I’m a great excuse for Him to show off His goodness to an unworthy woman who happens to be in very difficult circumstances. So to be courageous, for me—in this case— is an act of the will. I.e., there are so very many things that could go wrong, it is laughable in fact! But I’m choosing to not let that stop me. I am casting my net out into the deep and committing my will to my God, Whose ways are mysterious and Who can bring good out of even terrible situations. Because He is Love.

I know there is much unseen and perhaps misunderstood in all this. That’s okay. It’s not right to bare all the mysteries of the soul. And I don’t have time to agonize over that in the way I used to anyway. I am simply thankful for coffee, rain, juncos chirping in my yard and being Christ’s littlest idiot. May He do with me what He will.

Thank you all for your love and support.

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An Open Letter To Overthinkers

I know it’s a not a matter of being hard headed. Actually, you probably have an incredibly sharp intellect that wants to believe everything you read in the Gospels so you dedicate yourself to the path of understanding. Brilliant. A hunger for truth puts you in the good company with the likes of Augustine and Aquinas. So why can’t you just get on board with the idea of how simple faith is?  If you could only believe the wonderful promises of Jesus Christ… this would not be a difficult task. I’m sure you’d willingly walk through fire laden down with the cross. Because Jesus said we would not be overcome. Jesus said this was the way to truly follow Him. Jesus said there is merit in this. And Jesus said He was going ahead of us to prepare a place in His Father’s house.

So rise up and go.

Oh, you can’t?  It’s not that easy, you say? I know, because I’ve said the same things. The good intention is there but so is the doubting and the analyzing. “What if it’s all a lie?”  “How can I make sense of a benevolent God in face of all the suffering in this world?” “What if Christianity is a masterful delusion and becoming worm food is the end of my story?”

“Just have faith!  Keep praying! One foot in front of the other!”  These are usually the answers from devout Christians. (As if we don’t want to have faith or move forward in the hope that they seem to have.) But what they don’t understand is that you’re stuck wondering if these characters are part of the fairy tale chasing a fantasy castle or credible, rational, tried beings who simply haven’t thought this issue out as thoroughly as you.

Pascal and Peter have already offered some guidance for those of us plagued with second-guessing. Pascal in reasoning that it doesn’t matter if it’s a worm-destined fairy tale or not… we’ve got nothing to lose by buying in.  And Peter by reasoning “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”  Peter was no philosopher. So he hadn’t weighed out the nihilism of Nietzsche or the atheism of Dawkins. But this fisherman did have some business savvy. He knew hope when He saw it. He knew which path offered life and which one didn’t. So he picked his investment accordingly, and unto death, by the way.

Well there’s a third route to faith for non-simpletons, that isn’t as famous. It’s a second-hand, rabbit trail through the woods of your intellect.  And it is good.

If you can’t buy into faith because it’s a smart gamble, and you can’t buy into faith because it is the most attractive narrative explaining human existence (relativism being patently irrational and worm food being patently depressing), perhaps the proper marketing technique is celebrity endorsement.  And I’m not just talking about “Oh look how awesome Mother Teresa was! I want to be in her club.”  There are hundreds of extraordinary examples of saints.  But before going on, I want to preemptively address the devil’s advocate in you that wants to retort “So what? Gandhi was awesome and he wasn’t Christian. Buddhism produces nice people. And my atheistic neighbor is one of the most generous people I know!”

And I say “Good for them!” There will always be exceptions because Truth trickles its way into every human heart, regardless of the straw house resistance we might unwittingly put up around it.  But even you, YOU—the one who prizes science and logic— can’t overlook the data while maintaining intellectual honesty. This isn’t as cursory as “There’s been more admirable Christians than people of other faiths…” because numbers aren’t enough to justify the fairy tale.  However, what you begin to learn… what you begin to experience upon studying the saints of history and by rooting yourself into a life of prayer (even if it’s praying to a God out of a Petrine default, rather than having a zealous belief in Him), is that something changes.  You change. Prayer is always heard. Always answered. But a god of any sort can’t be confined to our finite understanding.  Letting go of the demands we want to make of Him in light of the intricate, stringy mess we are facing, and trusting the Weaver’s Hand to do His work on the other side of the loom will do massive work to you and for you and in you.  It will slough off pride. It will expand the heart. It will inspire true compassion and a beautifully genuine faith.  And you will access that part of your spirit that can’t be counted, classified and filed into your mental hard drive.

And it will be good. You will be good. The kind of good that reverberates through the ages because Love that lives in these changed sorts of people never dies. These are people from every age and from every nation. Universal people. Easter people!  Magdalen. Francis. Kolbe. Bahkita. Miguel Pro. And countless others who’ve lived hidden lives in the shadows of the cross. These are the lives well lived. These are the ones who spilled their blood with a love that lived on far longer than their bodies. These are my people. The ultimate non-conformists who mastered their intellects by subjecting their wills.  When I am skittish about Pascal’s wager… when I lack the devotion and certainty of Peter’s commitment… I think of what kind of person I want to be. How do I want my story to play out? To end?

So I rise up. I pack up my doubts, intellectual hesitations and fears in my rucksack to carry with me through the woods. They are part of my cross as I stumble towards the light. Because who wants a god that can be fully comprehended anyway? Folly or not, the love that the saints had transformed their characters. If they were wrong, I want to be wrong with them— but going down that mental vortex is ultimately a fruitless exercise. Because genuine love doesn’t die and can’t be convincingly imitated. By its very nature, love transcends our mental calculations and understanding. These people were radiant and fully alive. So the idea of believing and living and dying like these saints is enough. And meeting up with them for the greatest after-party we could ever possibly imagine is far too enticing for me to pass up. That’s where I want to be.

How about you?

Very respectfully from my own overthinking, underloving heart-under-construction:

Ellie

 

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Saints Through the Year in Picture Books

While I have a “motherload” list of Catholic picture books, I wanted to update and talk specifically about saint books.

When you find a beautiful picture book about a saint… you have a treasure indeed. And this book will do more to form the heart and mind of your child than dry readings from a text or even a decent saint anthology.  The Church Triumphant is our victory crown—our brothers and sisters in Christ who’ve run the race and attained the prize. Nothing in life matters except getting to Heaven.  So emphasizing the stories of those who’ve gone before us in a lovely and accessible way is of extraordinary importance to a child’s education. Many books exist that are great for read aloud times and don’t need picture illustrations. (I am a big fan of the Once Upon a Time Saints series for example, especially to share more obscure saints with kids) But picture books specifically, offer a unique way for young children to metabolize and begin admiring their faith.

How to Incorporate Saint Stories into Your Day

There is no sense in purchasing saint books if all they do is sit on your shelf making you feel guilty for never using them.  I have three favorite methods of incorporating saint picture books into our lives, for three types of people:  The Ambitious Ones. The Focused Ones. And then The Rest of Us. Many of the picture books on my list focus only on a particular legend or anecdote of a saint’s life or even just illustrate a prayer they composed. I like to follow up these books with a very brief biography from a solid anthology of saints.

-For The Ambitious: The answer is obvious. Read the saint stories on their feast days. In my glory years, I had created a liturgical year booklist complete with all the titles I owned and their corresponding feast days. I would pull out the books each month and have them sitting in our monthly picture book basket along with our other seasonal titles and simply read that saint’s story on his or her feast day.  It worked very well. I still practice this method when I can, although my summer saints suffer from neglect with more outdoor/less scholastic-reading time in general. So I just do a modified version of this and try to read about the saint in the month the feast is celebrated. A goal of mine was to have at least one or two saint picture books in the book basket for each month of the year. This is why I’m listing them in monthly order on my site.

-For the Focused: Save all your saint picture books for November—the month of All Saints. And dedicate that month to getting to know our heavenly family better through the reading of their lives. Consider using All Saints Day as an excuse to gift picture books on saints to your family or godchildren.

-For the Rest of Us: Practice the ancient art of “strewing”… and simply leave saint picture books lying about where children can discover them at their own leisure. On coffee tables, in the bathroom, on nightstands, etc. Making sure the saints are part of our everyday lives is important in demystifying them and living the faith in a holistic way.

Disclaimers, Exclusions, Alternatives

As with all my picture book categories, I don’t list every single book on the market simply because life is too short for the mediocre. You’ll find other St. Francis of Assisi books than the ones I have listed, for example. But I only bother including picture books if they are worth the time and can hold their own on at least some level of beauty.  Children are naturally attracted to the beautiful and the true.  So I avoid the Saturday Morning Cartoon illustrations even if they are saintly themed! This last point is personal preference. You may find a deep enjoyment of titles like this or that. Further, perhaps there is a great place for graphic comics like this for your older children.  That’s fine! Just not the focus of this post. The picture book industry has boomed in recent years with its offerings of faith-themed books. Sadly, most of these are repeats of older stories… that had better illustrations anyway. (How many new St. Patrick books do we need anyway?!  Why can’t someone produce an excellent picture book on St. Kateri or St. Francis Xavier)

I have (with hesitation) decided not to include some beautiful books that have been published regarding saints of the Orthodox Church. If the saint is recognized in the Catholic Church as well, those are included.

I have read most, but not every single title here. I included books that appeared—from reviews and research— to be worthwhile. Lastly, while you can be sure that despite my passion and diligence in research to create a very thorough and quality list… I may have overlooked some books that rank as treasures in your mind. In all things, to God be the glory.

The Books

Onward now to the list.  I intend to keep this post updated with the best of what’s out there and encourage you to chase down the out-of-print titles listed here as well… they are worth it.

January

Mary

Mary

Mary

St. Anthony the Great

St. Felix

St. John Bosco

February

St. Brigid

St. Pascual

St. Scholastica

St. Modomnoc

St. Valentine

St. Valentine

March

St. Patrick

St. Patrick

St. Patrick

St. Cuthbert

April

St. Bernadette

St. George

St. George

May

St. Brendan

Our Lady of Fatima

St. Joan of Arc

St. Joan of Arc

St. Joan of Arc

June

St. Kevin

St. Boniface

St. Columba

St. Columba

St. Josemaría Escrivá

July

St. Junipero Serra

St. Benedict

St. Benedict

St. Christopher

St. Christopher

August

St. Clare

St. Tekla

September 

St. Teresa of Calcutta

St. Joseph of Cupertino

St. Ciaran

St. Hildegard

St. Sergius

St. Wenceslas

St. Wenceslas

St. Jerome

October

St. Barnaby

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi

St. John XXIII

St. John Paul II

November

St. Martin de Porres

St. Martin de Porres

St. Martin de Porres

St. Frances Cabrini

St. Elizabeth of Hungary

St. Catherine of Alexandria

December

St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

St. Lucy

“In every young person, a point of goodness is accessible and it is the primary duty of the educator to discover that sensitive cord of the heart so as to draw out the best in the young person.”

–St. John Bosco 



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a goodbye blessing

My son, riches I have not to offer you.
But still, I can baptize this departure.
May my whispered prayers continue to ring in your ears,
long after the din of the world has faded away.
May my embrace be a warm foretaste of the One who has called you
and claimed you long before I was ever made your mother.
May I inhale the scent of your innocence with sorrow.
May I exhale only love.
I will annoint you with these tears, my son.
Let their salt nourish you.
And if indeed, it is possible to die of a broken heart,
like it so often feels to be, I will go to meet death with willingness
and kiss him with tender lips,
if it means you will have life.

I love you.

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FRBO: A Heart

If you take down the No Vacancy sign posted on your heart… all the amenities will attract Him in— He Who is known to frequent such places. And what decor!

-Blackout curtains to prevent light from coming in.
-Linens crafted with the blend of Treachery and True.
-War and Peace weighing heavy on the sagging bookshelf.
-Cockroaches in the corners, cobwebs collecting dust and the faint, musty scent of hidden mold.

But the water always runs hot! And the price is only one, human crucifixion, even during the high season! It’s His favorite type of suite to occupy.

Lodging fit for a King.

He’ll rest His Head here.
Crack the window.
Replace all synthetic fabrics with pure ones.
Abridge Tolstoy.
Scatter the varmints and wash the walls with His blood.

It’ll be like a brand new place…

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Life in Plan B

No one ever chooses to stand outside of Time. It’s only in moments of tremendous grief or personal upheaval that time itself serves an abrupt eviction. And standing there in a cosmic void of uncertainty, you can only examine the wreckage of expectations with a primal instinct. And lacking any cues to survival, the best that can be done is to begin searching through the rubble for any fragments of ‘normal’ that can be found. And so begins the long, hard work of rebuilding an identity.

* * *

I am a single mother of seven children now. I am not a widow. I am not a divorcee. And I am sacramentally bound to my husband until death do us part. But the process of legal separation has been a brutal reality check on a life that I thought I had all figured out. An identity I thought I had all figured out. I have been with this man for half of my life and on our 15th wedding anniversary this past December, barely a word was spoken between us.  When we started dating, he was my world. I looked to him to show me and tell me who I was, for better or worse. When the ring was on my finger, I delighted in being “his” wife and the Mrs. in front of his name. When the children were born, I thought we were complete and that hand-in-hand we’d let the fire of our love ignite and evangelize the world through the raising of good, wholesome children. I knew there’d be trials… but never, ever dreamed that I’d have to come up with a Plan B.

Yet here I am. 35 years old and navigating how to make sense of Plan B as best as I can. I have to provide for my family for the first time so I work in a restaurant to supplement the child support in order to make ends meet. I am not a stay-at-home wife anymore. The lives of my children have been thrown into extraordinary trauma, so they’ve all been enrolled in school. I am not the home educator anymore. Years of tending babies throughout the night now leave me restless and awake at all hours, haunted by the silence.  And my breasts ache to nurse the baby who is denied his mother’s embrace. I am not an attachment parent anymore. I do not go out on dates. I do not enjoy Valentine’s Day. I do not feel the complete happiness and satisfaction I once knew hanging out with our married friends, but I have no place among the young singles either.

* * *

What is most bewildering is the forgetting that happens outside of time. Faces you know and love may come to visit. And they will offer some comfort: a breaking of the bread or companions in the search for artifacts of consolation. “A sorrow shared is a half joy.” But the faces know what the native can’t seem to remember: life goes on. Elsewhere. Inside the proper laws of time and space and a reasonable continuum of normal.  A place where babies are born, brides are kissed and dogs are played with at the park. So a choice has to be made. Build a bridge to this Elsewhere. Or stay longer and continue to water seeds of bitterness that can never bear fruit. Keep trying to warm the dead body with a torn up blanket or take the blanket to a friend and have her help you stitch it back together.

* * *

Plan B is a no-man’s land in the world of devout Catholicism. While broken families are the norm in the larger culture, being separated with children makes you a demographic ghost in my particular community. People aren’t quite sure how to make sense of what happened to our family and without cutting through what fragile threads of privacy I imagine to remain, I am forced to live with question marks tattooed on my face and speculation following me around like a personal rain cloud. It’s not my job to correct misunderstandings about how the public perceives my situation. It is only my job to be who I am and be that well.

My identity now is the same as it’s always been; I’m  just seeing it for the first time. My self-worth and character are not in the context of another person and should never have been. I am the daughter of a good, royal Father who wants nothing but the best for His children. So He gives us the Cross. Married, single, religious, or ghost… it doesn’t matter, He gives us the Cross that becomes our identity. If we can drain our ego enough to fill up on the Blood and Water that gives us life, we won’t just “accept” our cross, but we will long for it and kiss the beloved wood that will carry us to Heaven.

I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t know how much more I will have to lean on the extraordinary charity of all my friends—my myriad of Simons— to help me carry this Cross. I don’t know how much longer I’ll vacillate wildly between laughter and tears, hope and grief. I don’t know if my husband will ever be open to reconciliation. I don’t know how God plans to shield and save my children through this. I don’t know the end to my story. But I am trying to be patient and faithful in living it. For some people, it’s not even so much that He’s exactly authoring our story… but that He’s ripping pages away from the book we thought we had all written out already, The Divine Editor if you will. When all is said and done, we do know that He promised to work all things for the good of those who love Him.  His ways are mysterious— to be sure. But I know that I love Him the most that a broken, little fool can and thankfully… that is enough.

* * *

Time won’t wait. And time won’t promise to never toss you out again. He is cruel. But there is a way to beat him. At least, I hear it’s so.  Bury down deep, into the beating, bleeding heart of the One who beat time at his own game. And time will roll over you, high above searching for his victim, thrashing and gnashing about, like a storm inciting the ocean to a boil.  But beneath the waves,  inside The Heart, you can’t get tossed.  Time will call your number but the Heart has already called you by name.
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Pride: A Self-Inventory

Have you ever been tired of your tummy pudge and after consulting Dr. Google, found out that the idea of “spot toning” is really not a viable one?  Depressing isn’t it? When you realize that you can’t just do 50 sit-ups a day and poof! the spare tire will disappear.  The reality is that, any physical trainer worth their salt will recommend a much more holistic approach and be sure to  include cardio and strength training along with healthy eating in order to combat excess weight.  There are no magic short-cuts for long-term changes.

So it is with the spiritual life. Some people recognize how much they struggle with gossip, so they start to shut their mouths and ears just a little bit more and hope to beat it.  Others have a short temper… so they practice deep breathing techniques and maybe invest in a punching bag.  And these things will help.  Every isolated struggle we face can be addressed and combatted head on and small changes (with varying degrees of success) can be expected.

But it won’t work for the long haul. There will be backsliding. You’ll wonder why your list of sins sounds like a tired old record player, even though you feel true contrition and have true amendment to change. To be forged by fire into who we are called to be, I.e. saints, there’s only one painful path:  taking a shotgun and firing a heavy round of buckshot into your ego.  As pride is the father of all sins, humility is the mother of all virtues.

I have loved praying the Litany of Humility ever since I first heard about it… but it’s alway been a struggle to pray it with sincere enthusiasm.  Over the years, and after logging a little more time in at the Range of Life Humiliations, the prayer has become a comforting salve to me, healing and protecting me from the inevitable defects that set me back. But I keep returning to it, so prone I am to the inflammation of pride. And it does its job on some level—reawakens in me the desire to be grounded in my identity as nothing other than a fool for God. Indeed I only grit my teeth a tiny bit now, toward the end of the prayer… I’m still a work in progress.

Anyway, one of the things that has taken me many years to learn is just how interwoven pride is in so many of my character defects.  I’ve never had to uproot it so thoroughly from my heart as I have lately and turns out that pride is a nasty weed that has a quite the complicated root system.  (As an aside, if a gardener could do his weeding with a shotgun, I’m sure he would, but the rest of us will have to labor through my awkward, mixed metaphors here with patience.) Something like ‘being a control freak’… is a form of pride.  Obsessing over your imperfect looks… a form of pride. Wanting to divulge others’ secrets… a form of pride.  I was stunned when I learned that even the horrible feeling of “self hate” is a mutated form of pride (Fr. Jacque Philippe said so, okay!  And that means it’s Gospel.  The two cent version of this concept is that if we loathe ourselves, it’s because we have created a false idea of who we are supposed to be and rely on our powers—rather than God— to be that way… despairing when we fall short. More or less anyway.)

I thought it might be useful to make a corollary list for sinners like me to go through.  I got all excited thinking how useful it would be to my readers and how great of an idea it was before I found out that St. Josemaria Escriva (and probably hundreds of others) have already been there, done that, and I’m only a couple hundred years late to the ball game.  So. I will only distil some of what far smarter people have already conceptualized for us (and before I forget, the chapter called “The Great Sin” in Mere Christianity is an absolute must read for all Christians. Read that chapter every other month or so, in fact.)  Please don’t use this list as a prompting to scupulosity. Most of these aren’t sins per se, but warts on our character that just need to be filed off to really maximize the efforts we are making to truly grow in virtue.  As with all the vices, the way to beat pride isn’t to just try and eliminate it… but to replace it by practicing the opposite virtue.

Self-inventory for the Litany of Humility

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.


From the desire of being esteemed,

Deliver me, Jesus.

  • Do I enjoy being considered pious, virtuous or holy and try to demonstrate what that “looks like” outwardly?

From the desire of being loved…

  • Do I try to make myself seem interesting or unique to win the esteem of others?

From the desire of being extolled …

  • Do I bat away compliments in an effort to hear them emphasized or repeated?
  • Do I forget that all the gifts, talents or blessings I have are simply on loan to me, and not my own?

From the desire of being honored …

  • Do I make a point to name drop so others will be impressed by my associations?
  • Do I get annoyed when I feel like someone is patronizing me?

From the desire of being praised …

  • Do I purposefully put myself down in an underhanded attempt to get people to contradict and praise me?

From the desire of being preferred to others…

  • Do I get jealous of the attention others get from people I admire?

From the desire of being consulted …

  • Do I like to be considered an expert in any area (cooking, web design, babywearing, fantasy football, etc.)?
  • Do I regularly offer my opinions when they are not asked?

From the desire of being approved …

  • Do I make a point to demonstrate how witty, knowledgeable, or special I am by inserting my anecdotes into conversations?
  • Do I try and serve only the best food or wear only the most fashionable clothing or drive only the nicest cars?

From the fear of being humiliated …

  • Do I hide or make excuses for my flaws or bad decisions?
  • Do I refuse to accept help or charity even when needed?

From the fear of being despised…

  • Do I avoid controversial situations or debates because I don’t want people to think badly of me?

From the fear of suffering rebukes …

  • Do I have the need to get the last word in an argument… even if I’m right?
  • Do I refuse to back down on a position even if I’m wrong?
  • Do I resist apologizing to others, especially under the reasoning of ‘they don’t deserve it.’?

From the fear of being calumniated …

  • Do I have to clear my name whenever I perceive it to be sullied?

From the fear of being forgotten …

  • Do I always have a story to share in group conversations?
  • Do I like to be in the know regarding the details of everyone’s personal lives?

From the fear of being ridiculed …

  • Am I embarrassed by doing menial jobs or not having certain possessions or lifestyles?

From the fear of being wronged …

From the fear of being suspected …

  • Do I act defensively or deny wrongdoing rather than sometimes, bearing wrongs patiently?

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

  • Am I envious of the happiness in others’ close friendships and/or romances?

That others may be esteemed more than I …

  • Do I think my ideas are always the right or best ones?
  • Do I resist taking the advice of others?

That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease …

  • Do I want to be considered the “life of the party”, the “brains behind the operation”, the “deep thinker” or “the fantastic host” etc. ?
  • Do I insist on having my own way?

That others may be chosen and I set aside…

  • Do I put myself in position to be recommended or chosen in some way?

That others may be praised and I unnoticed …

  • Do I get hurt or annoyed when I hear others being complimented or praised, even if they don’t deserve it?
  • Do I make sure people see me being generous or doing good works?

That others may be preferred to me in everything…

  • Do I get upset if I’ve not been invited to social events, chosen for a leadership position or selected for promotion?
  • Do I compare myself to others all the time?

That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

  • Do I have ‘spiritual envy’?
  • Do I get discouraged when I sin and dwell on my shortcomings?
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An Open Letter To Vestibule Mothers

*** originally published in Soul Gardening Journal in 2013 ***

Dear Vestibule Mothers,

IMG_4050     Your arms are tired, your blood sugar is getting low and poor baby Oswald just can’t stop squirming/screaming. So there you are in the vestibule at Mass. As usual. You’d invite others to your self-pity party but frankly, everyone is rather relieved you left with your whining child so besides a couple other long-suffering parents, you’re on your own. You sigh with the resignation of a reluctant saint, “Well, at least I’m here, right.”  And you wonder just how far away is the day of a peaceful Mass in your life. You can just imagine how wonderful it will be; you can hear the bells of Consecration; you can even smell the incense if you’re lucky. But for now, you wait in the vestibule, gritting your teeth in disbelief or shame at just how naughty your child is acting.

     Don’t lose heart! Those peaceful days of quiet worship will come before we know it. But in the meantime, the attitude of “at least I showed up” can be so much greater. In truth, the sacrifices given to us that we accept lovingly, are worth a thousand times more than any self-imposed sacrifices. So don’t squander this Cross! The graces of Mass are real and vibrant and present even in the narthex or cry room of the building. We may not “feel” them but thank God our religion isn’t one based on subjective feelings anyway! Jesus promised our lives would be hard; the sweet glory of a peaceful Mass would really be just an extra consolation. The vestibule is like Purgatory fellow sojourners. Devote your time there for those forgotten souls in Purgatory. Every time you walk to the back of the church with an unruly one, think of it as a gift and smile on the inside for the offering you get to present to Jesus on behalf of these poor souls. For they are like you: waiting and suffering just outside the doors of the Heavenly Banquet.  

Yours Truly,

Ellie

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Misericordia

(Originally published in the Summer 2015 issue of Soul Gardening Journal)

In reflecting on my own wretched pitifulness the other day, I was disgusted to think of the squalor I had to offer God. Just broken promises, half-hearted prayers and a controlling greed in trying to manage my own life. People like to remark about how St. Thérèse was so humble and sweet in just wanting to be a tiny, insignificant flower in the garden of Our Lord. In a jaded huff, I wondered if God loved the weeds in His garden too.

     What do I have? Nothing.

besides-gods-mercy-there-is-no-other-source-pope-john-paul-ii  And then my three year old crashed my pity party by tromping in, pants torn, runny nose, face and body covered in various shades of filth from robust play in the muddy section of our yard… tears on his cheeks over some infraction from a rowdy sibling. He looked remarkably like an orphan from a Dickens novel. My heart melted. My thoughts went from my egotistical musings to my child. I scooped him up and held him on my lap, rocking him and smoothing back his hair and letting him wipe the nose on my shirt. It was gross. But it was precisely this grossness that tugged at what mercy I have in my selfish heart. Had he been clean as a whistle, carefully groomed and composed in coming to me, my love would not have overflowed in such a powerful way.

     Mercy in Latin is misericordia… or literally having a pain in your heart. In so many revelations to saints, especially to St. Faustina, Christ discusses how His divine heart is actually attracted to misery. I was perplexed when I first heard that, but I think we mothers can get it. When are we at our most merciful and nurturing?! When a child is hurt or sad. All the great spiritual masters warn us not to dwell on our failings lest the evil one start to manipulate our minds. We are to shake ourselves off and try again with new resolve, even if we have to do this dozens of times every day. If God comes running when we are in our most pathetic state, I can’t think of anything more consoling. We can be His ugly, broken children, but we are not orphans. Just as my son in his pathetic moment was not just a disheveled, distasteful boy, we are not the sum of our ugliness and sin. Our disorders do not define us. And just how I managed to look past his grime to see his innocent little heart— wanting nothing more than to restore him to peace and make him feel loved,   our Father desires to do the same with us. He is not repulsed by our miserable natures; His greatest desire is to heal us and and show us His love. He is not the angry schoolmarm in the sky tsk’ing our every bad move. God is love and “Love’s middle name is Mercy.”

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Advent on the mind…

The art of waiting.  It’s a tough thing but so incredibly essential for spiritual progress.  This does not bode well for impatient types with choleric blood in them like me… but God is slowly refining my spirit to recognize the beauty in letting things be and not chasing down answers, consolations or resolutions.  It is such a good cleansing fire for my soul!

And… perfectly suited for this upcoming time, where the prize of Christmas means so much more if you let the waiting and hoping fully apex during the season of Advent.

Thankfully there are books to help us. Here are some of my favorite choices…

 Come, Lord Jesus.  Superb. Timely. Excellent for Advent. (Why in the world is it so overpriced right now?!)  This one is worth hunting down or checking your parish library.  Mother Mary Francis is thoughtful and witty and profound; she wrote these little reflections for the cloistered sisters in her order but they are all so applicable to the layperson’s life too!  This abbess also has a few other titles like Anima Christi, A Time of Renewal (I’m picking this one up for Lent next year!), and most famously A Right to Be Merry (which I just realized that I have on my bookshelf… lucky me! I need to look at my books more often apparently!)

advent Waiting Stories for Advent, one of Michael O’Brien’s lesser known titles.  Just good, thoughtful little tales for adults. This is a small book but worth revisiting each year. The first story in the book nearly brings me to tears each time…

 

 

The Passion of the Infant Christ by the one and only Caryll Houselander. This is a hard to find title but it is slightly more common under its newer name (if I have my facts correct) of Wood of the Cradle, Wood of the Cross: The Little Way of the Infant Jesus.  Houselander always has spiritual soul food to offer and this book is chalk full of wisdom to chew on as we wait to experience the divine love of the Prince of Peace.

 

 Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings. I really think humans of North America need to spend more time reading about and reflecting on horrible things that happened in Eastern Europe. Whether it’s the Holocaust, or Siberian prison camps or Communist evils… it is so good to get perspective on our lives related to the grander scheme of human experience.  Start with something like He Leadeth Me. But be sure not to overlook titles by Solzhenitsyn like One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch or The Gulag Archipelago.  Anyway, why not cultivate just a bit of perspective and gratitude by reading Fr. Delp’s thoughts before our big celebrations?!  This is one I’m going to read this year…

 Advent and Christmas with Fulton Sheen.  I mean… it’s The Bishop.  Need I say more?!  Except that it’s barely over 100 pages and very, very simple reflections for even the busiest of people.  So there’s no excuse really!  (But you might get more bang for your buck by opting for the whole year with The Bishop a la Through the Year with Fulton Sheen.)  There’s a whole series of booklets in this vein that pull excellent reflections for Advent from holy people  like: St. Thérèse, Pope St. John Paul II, St. Francis of Assisi (was always a bit of a Christmas saint…) St. Pio and more…

“Advent is the season of the seed …the seed of the world’s life, was hidden in Our Lady. Like the wheat seed in the earth, the seed of the Bread of Life was in her. Like the golden harvest in the darkness of the earth, the Glory of God was shrined in her darkness. Advent is the season of the secret, the secret of the growth of Christ, of Divine Love growing in silence.”  

—Caryll Houselander

 

 

 

 

 

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