O Christmas tree…

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Yesterday, we made a trip to the Albert Family Tree Farm in Amanda, Ohio…a family favorite, ever since we had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Raymond Albert (may God rest his precious soul!)

I am in no way opposed to a lovely artificial tree…last year, were it not for the hasty purchase of such a tree, we wouldn’t have had a Christmas tree at all…

No…the reason I prefer a real tree has more to do with the “how” than the “why…”

IMG_2697It’s all about the memories.

IMG_2707 IMG_2709The cold, the snow, the discussion on the merits of this tree vs. that tree.  The laughter.  The hot cocoa afterwards…

IMG_2714 IMG_2722 IMG_2728 IMG_2731 IMG_2736 IMG_2739 IMG_2742 IMG_2744 IMG_2750 IMG_2751 IMG_2752 IMG_2756 IMG_2761This year’s tree isn’t particularly perfect.  To quote my Meredith:  “all the trees out here are beautiful.  They’re all natural beauties.  Does it really have to be “perfect?”

IMG_2769No.  It doesn’t.  At least, not subject to our ideas of perfection!

IMG_2780 IMG_2791 IMG_2795In the end, relieved of the burden of finding the “perfect tree,” we decided on a tree at the end of the first row we’d looked at…

IMG_2802 IMG_2806 IMG_2810IMG_2813Today we’ll decorate that tree and it will no doubt be quite lovely.  But loveliest of all are the memories; we had the most fun we’ve ever had looking for a tree…without a doubt. And the hair-raising, tire spinning, nearly slamming into a grove of trees, nearly permanently stuck, ride back to the barn…earns this trip the title of MOST HILARIOUS!!

Blessings,

Unwrapping the Holy Season

There’s little doubt that the last two Christmas Seasons have been extremely difficult for our family…Meredith’s devastating accident on Christmas Day in 2011 and Roger’s heart attack and open heart surgery in 2012, rocked our world and shifted our perspective in so many ways.  This Christmas is no different…unemployment and a dear family member’s cancer diagnosis and impending surgery have, once again, brought us to the Crib, on our knees.  We are living Advent…the Season of Wait…and I can’t help but think back to a time when I understood so very little about this season.  Trapped in the glitter and noise, I almost missed it entirely.  I wrote this piece a few years ago, and it seems that I need the reminder, once again, that I might unwrap the true beauty of this Holy Season:

Once upon a time there was a young woman seeking, always seeking the meaning of life.

For a long time, she thought she would find it in the bottom of a shopping bag. Or in a fancy restaurant. Or a beautifully decorated home.

She had married a wonderful man and had three beautiful daughters…still, she felt empty, and constantly sought to fill that void with something outside herself. It never worked.

The coming Christmas Season only seemed to heighten this feeling, and so she worked feverishly, from the beginning of November, to fill the family home with the smells, sights and sounds of Christmas.

The artificial tree was assembled on November 1st and by the 5th was completely decorated. Each room was filled with images of Santa Claus and angels, jingle bells and reindeer…the entire home had become a reflection of the secularist view of the “holiday” season. There was a Nativity…in the corner of the living room on a small table and for the most part it was neglected. The Advent Wreath was placed on the dining room table, its candles only rarely lit, and by the time she realized that Advent had passed, she would notice that two of the candles had never even been lit. She just didn’t understand the necessity. There was so much to do to get ready for Christmas! Cookies to bake, shopping and wrapping. No time to pray, just time to work. Work, work, work. She sadly noticed that the Christmas tree and all the decorations had already gathered a layer of dust…things were beginning to look a bit worn, a bit shabby. It took all her energy to hold everything together for 60 days of festivity. The excitement had long ago vanished for her, but the show had to go on…

Christmas Day and the frenzy began. Midnight Mass had been skipped because the wrapping and baking wasn’t quite finished. She awoke the following morning, up hours before her girls to set up the video camera and placed herself, like the consummate actress she had become, in the appropriate location to experience her children’s joy. There was a flurry of excitement as mountains of gifts were unwrapped, pictures snapped, videos recorded…Mom and Dad both privately calculated with growing dismay just how much this “joy” would cost in the coming year.

By the New Year, the tree was down. The decorations were packed away and many of the toys and baubles had already lost their newness. The house, once again returned to the ordinary, seemed to reflect her heart. It was neat. It was tidy. Everything was where it should be…and yet something…something was horribly wrong.

SOMEONE, not SOMETHING, was missing…

She felt like a princess, kept prisoner in a very beautiful castle. Although she was surrounded by everything she loved and had everything she wanted, she one day realized that the castle was really a dungeon of her own making.

One day, the Prince of Peace came and kissed the poor, sleeping princess and awoke her from her slumber. He showed her a Manger. A Star. A Woman. He told her about a Promise and showed her the ultimate gift…the Wounds of Love’s making.

Her heart aflame, she disposed of her worldly approach to the Season of Wait. Her husband and children began to notice a subtle change. The prized Santa collection no longer dominated the mantel piece…the Nativity, empty and waiting for its special Guests, took center stage. The artificial tree was discarded in favor of a live tree, which would not be set up until just a very few days before the beginning…the BEGINNING of the Christmas Season, which is the Day, itself. The Advent Wreath was placed on the center of the coffee table, and after prayers, candle lighting and singing, it would be placed in a prominent window for the world passing by to see the Light…

She learned the O Antiphons and passed them onto her children. She and her husband filled shoes on the Feast of St. Nicholas. She baked Lussekatter and made a candle wreath for her little daughters on the Feast of St. Lucia. She, in an embrace of her family’s poverty, welcomed more and more children as precious gifts from God, and recognized the faces around the tree as more beautiful than any gift beneath it. The family eschewed a credit purchased Christmas, for a smaller, happier and paid for celebration. The family attended Mass on every possible day throughout the years, but most especially during the Season of Advent. And on Christmas Eve, in the hush and quiet of that Holy Night, the entire family journeyed to the Church, to hear the Sacred Liturgy and the Good News and…

“…good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
– Luke 2:10-12

The void had been filled. The emptiness replaced with fullness, with the peace that surpasses all understanding. She understands now, in a way that she could never understand before.

The Season is a gift to be unwrapped, slowly and patiently, savoring the Ultimate Gift that will be found…

…in the stillness and hush…

…of a humble manger, in the arms of a Mother, under the embrace of a Father…

…in the Gift of a Son…

Blessings,

Bearing light…

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December 13, 2012…the first time, in many years, there were no warm rolls, no white-robed girls with candle wreaths singing their way up the darkened stairs, candles clasped in hands eager to serve…

IMG_2659 IMG_2661Instead, the children waited, prayerfully, fearfully and expectantly for news of Daddy…news that his heart was fixed and that he was on the road to recovery.  It was a sad time…filled with uncertainty.  Yet the pillar of faith held us, and after a rough year, we still stand, joyfully awaiting the Light…

IMG_2666This year our girls, with a whole new kind of appreciation for this lovely feast day, once again donned the traditional garb and sang their way through the dark, bearing light and love as they served the family…

IMG_2667IMG_2676I love being Catholic.  I love the gift of this holy Faith that nourishes us and fills us with the Light of Christ, with His holy Word and the traditions that reinforce the power of the Communion of the Saints.

IMG_2681My little ones have literally grown-up with these traditions and the Feast of St. Lucia is particularly dear to us.  From the time they were old enough to hold a candle aloft, they’ve awakened at dawn on St. Lucia’s Day, and dressed as the virgin-martyr, they’ve sang and served…

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2013

IMG_2663May the Light and Love of Christ illuminate your life…may you know the peace that comes from embracing that Light!

Blessings,

Nativity Advent-ure…2013

Well, dear friends…where do I begin?  It’s been many months since I’ve visited this little space and many more life events that have crowded out the little bits of free time that exist amidst the work, suffering and joy (yes, joy!).

We have been through it all…a child dealing with health issues, a frightening fire that destroyed our garage…a spouse restructured out of what had always seemed a secure career…another child reeling in the midst of all the uncertainty…a family member facing a serious health crisis and now…Advent.

Advent.  The season of wait.  Last year, our “wait” centered on Roger’s recovery from a heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery.  Yet in the midst of a dark time, Love’s pure light transformed sorrow to joy…fear to hope.  Surrounded by friends and family…bolstered by our holy faith, we found much to celebrate.

This year is no different.  Unemployment is a new kind of heartache, yet our good God often uses these “severe mercies” to bring about new and better things in the lives of those who love and serve Him.  We are in the middle of a brand new adventure, a little scary, to be sure, but with God all things are possible.  Without Him…nothing is possible.

Abigail reminded me this morning that we forgot to begin our “Nativity Advent-ure” this year.  We usually begin on the first day of Advent, but somehow I just completely forgot it.  And we need it!  We need to grow in virtue during the Season of Wait, particularly during such trying times.

If you’re not familiar with our little tradition, here is an excerpt from a post from years past…and this year’s “pick:”

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For many, many years now our family has engaged in a lovely tradition. I don’t think it’s an original concept, and I’m not really sure just where we picked it up. We call it our Holy Advent-ure…

BTW…a couple years ago, a holy priest revealed to another Catholic blogger friend that this tradition has very old roots in the monasteries of Europe. We were delighted to discover this…it certainly adds depth to the tradition! For those of you who’ve been readers for many years, you know how this works…for those of you with questions, here’s what we do:

Every year, for the past several years, our family has endeavored to emulate the virtues displayed by the various “characters” of the Nativity of our Lord. Slips of paper containing the names and virtues of each are folded and placed in a hat.

This year’s selections were hardly a surprise.  We have all acknowledged and affirmed that the slips chosen reflect the areas we are each being called to embrace.  No one was at all surprised that Roger, my poor suffering guy, chose the slip bearing the image of the Blessed Mother…he always seems to receive his sufferings on Marian feast days…this year is no different.

Here are the slips as they were drawn:

The Christmas Star: Joseph.  Time for this big guy to step up to the plate and SHINE!

Virtues: Provide a steady light to guide the weary pilgrims. A source of guidance and illumination.

The Angel: Zachary.  Remember what happened to the proud angels, my son…joyful service is the key!

Virtues: Proclaims the “tidings of great joy”. A source of inspiration. Obedient to the will of God.

Blessed Virgin: Dad (we all acknowledge that the one who chooses the “Mary slip” has a tough job ahead! God bless my good man…”

Virtues: Meek, humble, modest and pure. Full and complete obedience to God. Holiness.

St. Joseph: Maximilian (my good young man has been working so hard lately…humility and obedience are next!)

Virtues: Humility, leadership and humble trust in God. Chastity and patience

The Shepherd: Abigail (Be kind to that “lamb,” my girl…)

Virtues: Leadership. Listens to God. Kindness to the “lambs.” Goodness.

The Lamb: Rylee (Let yourself be led, little girl!  Trust those older than you!)

Virtues: Docility, innocence, obedience and trust.

The Ox: Mom (Yes.  I must stay the course…)

Virtues: Hardwork and diligence. Patience and sacrifice.

The Donkey: Michael (Your first time, my son…time to grow in patience and docility!)

Virtues: Humility and docility. Patiently bears all burdens.

We’re on our way, journeying towards Bethlehem…we hope to meet you there!

A Catholic parent…

…and I need this reminder today, and every day. I’ve been finding it difficult to write and when that happens, I repost. There’ve been a lot of hard days lately, and those hard days never lead me to be gentle with myself. Instead, I cower, finger pointed squarely at my own chest, recriminating myself lest I forget all my shortcomings and failings. But it is not I who convicts me of these foibles, but the one who seeks to discourage and damage the soul who wishes nothing more than to live for God, in His light and peace. So, I must take my own advice…reminding myself of the essentials of this Catholic parenting journey…praying for grace and strength in the midst of daily challenges, arming myself with the consolation that it is not I, but God, who saves, strengthens and prepares the ones He loves for the work ahead:

The Holy Family...the model of perfection

The Holy Family…the model of perfection

Catholic parenting…how on earth does one do it, let alone define it?

In a perfect world one might say it’s “the loving and successful completion of child-rearing and instruction, put forth by two parents, to perfect a child in the areas of faith and morals as defined by the Catechism and Sacred Traditions of the Catholic Church.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t a perfect world, and at last check, there are no perfect parents or children residing upon it. Flawed humanity, with all its sins and vices, is raising the next generation, and that includes the next Catholic generation. Yet, in this country and others, amidst great challenges and persecutions, many Catholic parents are striving to impart a sense of the sacred, awake to the great beauty, majesty and richness of our Holy Faith and its spiritual and cultural significance.

Tertullian once said “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” thus giving rise to the notion that the Faith flourishes under seemingly impossible conditions. Today’s parents might be tempted to challenge that assertion, firm in the conviction that this crazy world and the people who live in it, put every possible obstacle in the way of the solemn charge to raise a holy people for the Kingdom of Heaven. It would seem that knowledge and desire, quite simply, aren’t enough.

Fear not! This task is not as formidable as it seems, for at the heart of it, is this promise from Sacred Scripture:

“Train up a child in the way he should go, And even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Proverbs 22:6

“…And even when he is old he will not depart from it.” The key word here is, of course, “old.” And old can seem so very far away at the beginning of this Catholic parenting journey. The “way” is often obscured by the noise and distractions of this mad world, which pushes and shoves its way into home and heart. How does one do this? Is it even possible?

Perhaps you’re looking at that sweet baby, nestled in your arms, wondering how you will ever show him the “way he should go,” particularly when the “way” seems so treacherous and fraught with every danger. Would it comfort you to Pablo Picasso Spanish, worked in France, 1881–1973 Mother anknow that parents have been doing this since time out of mind? That our own dear Savior, as an infant, had to flee the murderous wrath of a king and that His Mother and Father faced poverty, persecution and uncertainty with courage and resolve?

Perhaps you’re surrounded by the needs of many little ones, overwhelmed with exhaustion as the work of parenting seems to stretch onward to infinity. Would it benefit you to remember that the most beautiful images of our Blessed Mother show Him in her arms, pressed closed to her breast, a reminder that this busy time is yet a time of sweet joys, too?

Perhaps you’re reflecting upon the rebellious teenager asleep upstairs; the one who stayed up far too late playing video games and who is alternately sullen and good-humored, depending upon his mood and yours. Would it comfort you to imagine that our dear Lady understands? That her precious Son was often misunderstood and even in the eyes of His parents at least once engaged in behavior they found perplexing, as He was “about His Father’s business?”

Perhaps you’re worried about your adult child, the one that quit attending Mass some time ago…the one whose life seems a scandal and a trial in the eyes of the world. You wonder how you managed to give so very little of your faith to this wayward one and lament that you’ve failed in your duties as a Catholic parent. Would it help to reflect upon the twelve Apostles, who ate, slept and worked in the presence of the Messiah and yet, following the Crucifixion, engaged in behavior that was anything but faithful? Frightened by the sights, sounds and emotions of their salvation being accomplished, they fled in fear…

Perhaps you feel you never really imparted the “way” at all; that your own faith has been such an ongoing work that you believe you’ve missed your only opportunity to give this gift only recently opened or perhaps simply re-examined. Would it avail you to remember that God rewards the laborer, not so much for the time worked as for the intention behind the effort?

It can seem such daunting work, this Catholic parenting “thing,” and I’ve walked every single one of the paths described above. I am mother of nine children with more than 30 years in the field; I’ve paced the floor with the wee ones, overawed by the beauty of new life and the sweet burden of nurturing it. I’ve been through the exhaustion of those early days when children come much faster than the income to feed and provide for them all. I’ve lamented the distant teenager, walking the delicate balance between strength and compassion, failing at times to provide either. I’ve wept in sorrow for the adult child whom, though home educated, catechized and confirmed, still struggles with issues of faith. And I’ve begged God’s forgiveness for the first decade of my parenting years…years of pseudo-faith; years when being a “good person” seemed enough to identify myself as a Christian mother.

There have been so many starts and stops along the way, as I embrace my role as a Catholic parent. I’ve learned the best judges of hypocrisy are one’s children – they know, as no others, whether mom truly lives and believes what she teaches. I’ve had to humbly submit to the scrutiny of a growing band of Inquisitors, living with the daily realization that it is whom and not what is in the home that truly makes it a domestic Church.

As a Catholic parent, I’ve learned I simply must impart more than just a “view from the pew” version of my faith. When I live my faith out loud, in my everyday choices, and embrace a view of life that is not only faithful, but faith-filled, I demonstrate so much more than my words will ever convey. Faith becomes real and virtue is magnified, because the hard choices are the ones in opposition to those that often seem the least demanding.

The hardest choice that I’ve ever made as a parent is to embrace the imperfections of my children and myself; to live with the realization that from all eternity God has chosen me to mother these particular children. I have to continually acknowledge my weakness so that He can be strong. I made a solemn vow, long ago, admitting my imperfection and inadequacies, but I promised that if He would just continue to point out the flaws within my children and me, I would faithfully work on those areas. I asked Him to remove my parental blind spot and to expose the spiritual, moral and physical dangers that I might overlook. I vowed that I would never shrink from my duties to address those areas, despite my fear, sorrow or embarrassment. He has always answered that prayer, and though I’ve not always been as faithful as I’d like to be, I’ve truly tried to hold up my end of the deal, persevering in the midst of sin and suffering, sure that each challenge and crisis has already been envisioned by He, who knows my strengths and weaknesses. He continues to prove Himself as faithful, as the perfect parent ever watchful over His child, always mindful of the end and the means.

It’s so easy to allow oneself to become weighed down with the awesome task of guarding the body and soul of one’s children. There is so much anxiety, when I contemplate the transitory and passing, I often miss the glorious moments and memories in the here and now. As I contemplate my 30 year journey as a Catholic parent, I don’t find myself wishing I had washed more dishes or folded more laundry; I lament the times I didn’t stop in the midst of the mundane to observe and participate in the wonder and beauty of life unfolding around me. I regret that brief period when I so narrowly defined my role that I nearly became a spectator, lost in the myriad activities and ideas that seem to reinforce what the world perceives to be “good enough” parenting.

“Good enough” parenting never really is. Catholic parenting, on the other hand, always strives to be. We may fall short a thousand times, but with the grace of Faith and the gift of the Sacraments, the remedy to all our failings is as close as one’s parish Church and as simple as the prayers uttered in faith and trust.

Blessings,

The perfect tool…

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Thanks to my son, Zachary, who (as I watched him repair a couple of torch lighters without suitable tools, parts or instructions) reminded me so very much of his grandfather, Deland. Through his infinite creativity and wisdom he so often shows me that everything and every situation, works for good…I wrote this post four years ago and needed this reminder:

My father-in-law was a remarkable man. Brilliant, as most self-made men are. Strong and upright, no shady deals or skeletons in his closet. Faithful to his wife and a loving father to his children.

And practical.

He grew up during the Great Depression, and the lessons learned during those lean times, permeated his daily life until the very end. He saved everything. Seemingly broken tools, toys, appliances, etc. were always salvaged, never discarded. He would either repair whatever needed fixing, or he would construct something altogether new and most certainly, useful. He wasn’t the kind of guy who was looking for the latest gadget, the shortcut or the easy way out of honest work. He was smart, and having learned the value of a dollar the hard way, he made sure that nothing was ever wasted.

We own a few of his “inventions.” Tools, mostly. To the untrained eye, most of these tools would seem to be junk. But a closer look past the scars of previous neglect, would reveal a tool that had once been one thing, and had now become something else, entirely. A useful something. No slick packaging, or catchy name brand emblazoned on the side…just a homemade tool, crafted for a specific job known only to my father-in-law. Many times my husband would have to ask “hey Dad…what’s this?” The explanation would be offered quickly and matter of factly, the usefulness of this new tool was never in dispute…it had a place, a purpose and a use all its own; and there were never any duplicates.

It was the perfect tool, crafted to suit the needs of the master and fit perfectly to the task at hand.

And so are we, being fashioned into perfect tools, by the hands of our Maker…useful tools; each of us fitted for a specific job, with a purpose defined by the One who created us in His image and likeness. Unique, sometimes work-worn and scarred, but sought eagerly by He who would use us for His greater glory and our sanctification.

Our throw-away society sees no beauty or usefulness, in that which is “imperfect.” We live in a disposable world, one which discards imperfect people and imperfect things with such ease and very little conscience. We’re far more likely to replace a broken item, than we are to fix it. A young woman once shared her repugnance for belongings that had been damaged. She said that when a cherished item had been broken and repaired, she still knew it was no longer perfect, sadly relating, that she no longer placed the same value upon that item as before. The gift of vision can, at times, be a handicap. The eyes see what they want, limiting our perception and obscuring the truth that can often only be read by the heart…

Reality: We are a marred, scarred, damaged and inconvenient people. There are many who are seemingly broken beyond repair. God sees our imperfections, our brokeness through the eyes of Love. The more damaged we are, the more He reaches out to us, seeking to “fix” us, to make perfect that which is not. He discards no one, He sees infinite value in all of His creation…He has looked upon what He has made and finds it GOOD.

He is a Master Craftsman, with a toolbox full of misfit “tools”, whose purpose are known only to Him, and who are just perfect for the job He has in mind…

Blessings,

Farming for life…the organic/non GMO solution

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This essay is a rather heavy research piece I wrote several months ago, but dragging it back out is necessary, in my opinion, in light of the growing concern as regards genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the long term impact on public health and safety, as well as the potential devastation of the environment and food supply.  Given the many protests against against Monsanto, it is quite timely.   Forgive the “scholarly” tone (changed the MLA a bit to make the references a little easier to locate)…college professors, you know?

Farming for Life: Industrialized Agriculture and the Organic/Non GMO Solution
Food.

It is the most basic of human needs and is big business throughout the world. Nonetheless, our list of suppliers is shrinking. In 1900, nearly 41% of the world’s population worked in agriculture; today, that number is less than 1%, and agribusiness is the new face of farming. Gone are the days of the local farmer and his big, red barn with grass-fed beef, heirloom seeds and free-range chickens. Instead, there’s been a significant shift in just how food makes it from the corporate farm to the supermarket, and finally, the family table; often with devastating effects upon local economies, the ecosystem and human and animal health.[4]

jeffersons-veg-garden2
Increasing reliance upon herbicides and pesticides, to produce enormous crops of visually appealing produce, is wreaking havoc upon our health, while GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are threatening to eradicate a whole host of unique, heirloom crops. Large corporations, utilizing GMO patents, now have legal means to protect profit margins and control the food supply. Organic farmers struggle to maintain crop purity, yet are often accused of violating corporate copyrights when cross-pollination inevitably occurs. The corporate farm and its effect upon the economy and health of people throughout the world can no longer be ignored; the best solution to this problem is a return to smaller, sustainable agriculture at the local level and the reformation of existing food production practices.

What lies at the heart of this controversy, is the increased prevalence of GMOs in every day products, the refusal of corporations to notify consumers as to their presence, increased measurable residue of herbicides and pesticides in fresh fruits and vegetables, and the impact that these unnatural elements are having upon the health of human beings and animals, as well as upon the environment. Proponents of these methods offer that crops are larger and more attractive, thanks to herbicides and pesticides, and that genetically modifying the plant itself, helps it to keep its pleasant appearance, while improving its ability to withstand the effects of these chemicals.

companys-who-oppose-gmos

It is currently estimated, that nearly 80% of all the packaged food consumed by the average family contains GMOs. Despite public consensus that the consumer has the right to refuse such products, most are quite simply unaware that these elements are present in the food supply. Monsanto, an industrial giant with a vested interest in GMO products and the creator of Round Up, has fought efforts at every level to restrict the use of GMOs.

However, as early as 1960, before the advent of Monsanto’s Round Up and GMOs, Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, began decrying the widespread use of another popular chemical, DDT. DDT was the chemical of choice used to eradicate the mosquito population in jungles and rainforests, thus sparing the human population the horrific disease, malaria. But the eradication of pest, led to high levels of DDT in the ground and water supply. Citing the potential long term effects upon human life and the environment as we relied upon chemicals to “save us” from disease, she warned that we could, one day, face the reality of a Silent Spring, one in which the earth would no longer flower, nor would the birds sing. In an essay, “The Obligation to Endure,” originally published in Silent Spring, she wonders how anyone can “believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the earth without making it unfit for all life?” [3]

John Tierney, a proponent of chemical intervention, disagrees with her assertion, or at least, begs temperance before we discard all pesticides and herbicides. In his essay “Fateful Voice of a Generation Still Drowns Out Real Science,” Tierney refers to these claims by Carson as a “hodgepodge of science and junk science.” Tierney plays devil’s advocate for the judicious use of insecticides and even praises the use of DDT in malaria-laden countries, despite its obvious drawbacks and inherent dangers. Tierney would have us believe that all we need to do is trust science. Science, it seems, has all the answers. [8]

Yet, the current “answer” from science is an odd one, to say the least. Rather than acknowledging the devastating effects of this barrage of chemicals, scientists have instead looked to the genetic structure of the plant, engineering and altering it so that it is resistant to the effects of these chemicals. Thus, the pests, fungi and weeds are eradicated, and the plant retains its healthful appearance. [2]

But is it truly healthful? Research is increasingly confirming that there are startling and negative effects upon human health, as the result of this radical form of genetic engineering. The effects upon the environment are the most obvious. From repeated use of Round Up on these GMO plants, scientists have now identified a group of Super Weeds, or “Round Up Resistant” plants. These weeds, after having been exposed to repeated spraying, have now developed a resistance to the chemical, and once again the battle for crop supremacy over weeds, is waged anew. [6]

The World Health Organization has expressed its own concerns, and while not condemning the use of GMOs, has stated what it feels are the two most pertinent questions that pertain to its role in relation to GM foods:
“1) on the grounds that public health could benefit enormously from the potential of biotechnology, for example, from an increase in the nutrient content of foods, decreased allergenicity and more efficient food production; and (2) based on the need to examine the potential negative effects on human health of the consumption of food produced through genetic modification, also at the global level. It is clear that modern technologies must be thoroughly evaluated if they are to constitute a true improvement in the way food is produced. Such evaluations must be holistic and all-inclusive, and cannot stop at the previously separated, non-coherent systems of evaluation focusing solely on human health or environmental effects in isolation.”[1]

Over eight hundred scientists from 84 countries have signed The World Scientist open letter to all governments calling for a ban on the patenting of life-forms and emphasizing the very grave hazards of GMOs, genetically-modified seeds and GM foods, citing “The hazards of GMOs to biodiversity and human and animal health are now acknowledged by sources within the UK and US Governments. Particularly serious consequences are associated with the potential for horizontal gene transfer. These include the spread of antibiotic resistance marker genes that would render infectious diseases untreatable, the generation of new viruses and bacteria that cause diseases and harmful mutations which may lead to cancer.”[7]

While many scientist acknowledge that GMOs pose a genuine danger to health and the ecology, there is a time and place for the use of pesticides and herbicides, but it isn’t in the midst of food produced for consumption by human beings and animals. With increased links to cancer, nervous system disorders, infertility, immunological disorders from the use of these chemicals it is clear that realistic and healthful alternatives must be engaged.

Organic farming principles are a possible solution. Corporate agriculture must begin to explore the possibility of applying organic principles of farming to these large scale operations. Organic farming is merely the process of producing food naturally, by avoiding the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, as well as avoiding the use of genetically modified organisms to influence the growth of crops. The goal of every food grower should involve utilizing a method that “dramatically reduces external inputs by controlling pests and diseases naturally, with both traditional and modern methods, increasing both agricultural yields and disease resistance.” [5]

The change, unfortunately, will not likely be initiated from the “top,” but will have to be initiated at the bottom, by the consumer. Consumers must begin to insist upon the following:

*Accurate labeling of food products that contain GMOs
*Accurate dissemination of information from the USDA regarding the health effects of GMOs.
*Accurate representation and measurement of chemical herbicide and pesticide residues in fresh fruits and vegetables

At the personal level, organic produce is at the tip of one’s fingers, or better yet, gardening gloves. Consider participating in a community garden program. Grow small terrace vegetables and herbs. Participate in a CSA and reap the benefits of someone else’s hard work, with a regular delivery of fresh fruits and vegetables. As often as possible, avoid pre-packaged foods; learn to appreciate the beauty and freshness of naturally grown foods. Not everyone can be an activist, but everyone can make a difference through small changes at the local level.

Without change, corporate farming will continue to have a devastating effect upon this earth and the people who live on it. Resisting the power and influence of industrialized agriculture and embracing the principles of growing food organically will reap an abundant harvest in terms of health and the environment, which will be apparent for generations to come.

Works Cited

[1]“20 Questions On Genetically Modified Foods.” Food Safety. World Health Organization, 2012. Web. 14 Feb. 2012.
[2]“Breeding Aims Disease Resistance.” GMO-Compass.com. 11 Dec. 2006. Web. 15 Feb. 2012.
[3]Carson, Rachel. “The Obligation to Endure.” The Blair Reader. 7th ed. Kirszner, Laurie G., and Stephen R. Mandell. Prentice Hall, 2011. 474-80. Print.
[4]Dimitri, Carolyn, Anne Effland, and Neilson Conklin. “The 20th Century Transformation of U.S. Agriculture and Farm Policy.” USDA Economic Research Service. United States Department of Agriculture, 3 June 2005. Web. 15 Feb. 2012.
[5]“Environmental Benefits of Organic Agriculture Positive Benefits for Society and for Nature.” Growing Organic Information and Resources for Developing Sustainable Organic Sectors. IFOAM, 2009. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.
[6]Neuman, William, and Andrew Pollack. “Farmers Cope With Roundup-Resistant Weeds.” Business Day Energy and Environment. The New York Times, 3 May 2010. Web. 15 Feb. 2012.
[7] “Open Letter from World Scientists to All Governments Concerning Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).” I-sis.org. Institute of Science in Society. Web. 10 Mar. 2012.
[8]Tierney, John. “Fateful Voice of a Generation Still Drowns Out Real Science.” The Blair Reader. 7th ed. Kirszner, Laurie G., and Stephen R. Mandell. Prentice Hall, 2011. 480- 83. Print.

A brief side trip…

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…to Wixom Habitat, just outside of Detroit, Michigan.

When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze;
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee; How great Thou art!
How great Thou art! Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee;
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!

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I’m always astounded by the dedicated efforts of city planners to incorporate green spaces…little respites in the midst of the big city, reminders that the world isn’t all concrete and skyscrapers…

IMG_0460 IMG_0461 IMG_0462 IMG_0475 IMG_0476 IMG_0483We needed a little break from the hotel, from the nervous preparation and anticipation of the impending Confirmation ceremony, and so sought refuge among the leaves and ferns, muddy paths and walkways.

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God’s creation never disappoints…

When homeschooling seems impossible…

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Friends…I’d like to share an open letter (a re-post from 2008) to all homeschooling moms.  I sense a growing despair amongst some of us “moms of many.”  This is for all of us…most especially those of you who think you simply can’t do this anymore. It is so easy, as the year winds down, to judge oneself a failure, to give in to self-doubt and discouragement. And while there are many reasons why a family might choose not to continue home educating, there are also many who will consider abandoning homeschooling for all the wrong reasons. I would like to share my story in hopes that no one ever undergoes the same suffering that our family experienced, or at least, offer the advice that I never sought. Please don’t carry this cross alone…

Dear “mom”

I’m a homeschooling mother of 9 and had been home educating for many years when the stress of two back to back pregnancies and bed rest, coupled with near paralysis and postpartum depression, caused me to doubt my ability to effectively parent and educate my children. I began to feel that my physical incapacity and obvious emotional weakness was damaging my children. I told wistfulmyself that I was crazy to continue this way. That they would get along better if they weren’t in each other’s faces day and night. That it would be a relief to not have to keep records or worry about being accountable for my “failure.” In other words…I felt more like a lousy parent than a lousy home educator and feared that my children would judge me harshly one day for the many ways that I was failing at my vocation. I didn’t want the guilt of it all, anymore. So I cried. I begged and pleaded with my husband. I told him I simply couldn’t do it anymore. Never once during this time did any of my friends have a clue just how much I was suffering. I didn’t seek the wisdom and counsel of mothers who had been down this path before. I was far too ashamed. I seemed to really have it all together, on the surface. Goodness, people sought my advice! They looked to me for solutions for their problems…how could I ever let them know how much I was suffering?

So my husband, out of his great love and concern for my physical and emotional well-being, allowed me to return the five children that were homeschooling at that time, back to public school. We lived in a very small town, with an excellent school less than three miles from my house. I packed lunches, loaded backpacks, signed up for PTA and Band Boosters and became a Homeroom Mother. My children joined the dance team, band, academic team, theater, basketball, tennis, track, drum corp and Raptor club. I (along with the younger children) spent my time in the car, chauffering each child to the next event, waiting for the bus and keeping appointments. I had told myself that we would continue faith formation after school…but there was never any time. If the children weren’t in some type of practice, then homework, dinner, bath and bedtime were all we ever had time for.

But those were the little things…the worst of it? The relationship the children had with one another completely disappeared. They became jealous and argumentative. They wanted to hang out with their school friends, not the pesky little brother or sister. And they were sick. Horribly, miserably sick. During our homeschooling days, none of the children had been on an antibiotic for more than 5 years. After entering public education, we were in the emergency room, doctor’s office or urgent care center a minimum of once a week. Three months after entering public school, every single one of them came down with community acquired pneumonia. Then strep. And so on. It was horrific. I watched our family relationships disintegrate, as we were all so very exhausted and sick so much of the time. This went on for eighteen months. During this time, I never once considered that perhaps we would be better off homeschooling. After all, what could I offer them compared to all the great things they were participating in at public school? My heart was broken as I realized that I had thrown away a beautiful thing…that I had sacrificed a temporary stress for permanent suffering. And I would NEVER ask them if they wanted to come back. It would be too painful to be rejected in such a way.

Then one day, as I was lamenting to a friend just how much my children had changed, how my family was not the same, and was also encouraging her in pursuing her goal of homeschooling, she asked me why I didn’t just ask them if they wanted to come home. “Right,” I said. “Like they would. Here, I’ll show you…Hey son…how would you like to come back home for school?” Without hesitation he says: “I could come home? Really? And not go back? Sure!” I sobbed aloud. I said “You don’t mean it! You have basketball and academic team…you would really come back?” He said: “Mom…I’m exhausted. I never have time to play anymore. I’m sick a lot. I want to come home.” A quick survey revealed that all of the children were ready to return home. That no matter the allurement, they wanted to come back to the place where faith, family and love reigned.

One month later, they were back. It has taken a few years to undo the damage. We had to rebuild relationships and trust, but we are all committed to this crazy idea we call home education. It is hard. Some days are harder than others. But we’ve remembered why we’re doing this. We want a strong family of faith. We are raising saints and not scholars. We want our children to love one another and look to the example of those who love them best. When they were away…there was just never enough time, no matter how good our intentions were.

Dearest mother…if there is anyway you can think a little longer on this, I urge you to. Just to be sure that you won’t suffer the way my family did. I offer you no judgment whatsoever, I’ve been where you are. I know how painful it is. I just wish that someone, anyone had offered me counsel…but I just didn’t ask for it. I hope that by sharing my story, you will find within yourself the strength to persevere in the face of seeming impossibility. You can do it. God will give you all the graces you ask Him for.

Please…ask.

An Extraordinary Confirmation…

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This past Sunday on the Feast of Pentecost, three of our children were confirmed in the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Faith.  We journeyed, as a family and amongst many friends from our parish as well as our parish priest, to St. Josaphat’s Church in Detroit, Michigan.  A traditional Confirmation in the Extraordinary Form, as it had been celebrated throughout many centuries, was offered by his Excellency, Bishop Francis Ronald Reiss.

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His Excellency, Bishop Francis Ronald Reiss

Abigail, Michael, Maximilian, my dear Goddaughter Charis and their many friends, could barely contain their excitement, as they took this next step in completing the work which their Baptisms had begun.  They were born for this…born to know, love and serve God in this world that they may be happy with Him in the next.  And they had prepared for this, the many years of catechesis and sacramental celebrations culminating in the determination to live the Faith as true soldiers for Christ.  Our three young ones marched forward with their sponsors, their older brother Joseph assisting the Bishop, along with our pastor, Fr. Kevin Lutz, each  solemn yet joyful…the pronouncement of their Confirmation names given in Latin:

Sancte Raphael Archangele…

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Michael Gabriel with his sponsor, Michael Connaughten

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“Be sealed with the Holy Spirit..”

Sancte Maximiliane…

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“Be sealed with the Holy Spirit…”

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Maximilian Harrison

Sancta Ioanna de Arc…

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Abigail Elise and her sponsor, Sandra Smith…

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Sancta Ioanna de Arc, ora pro nobis…

Sancta Philomena…

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My lovely Goddaughter, Charis…

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“Be sealed with the Holy Spirit…”

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Sancta Philomena, ora pro nobis…

And so it is done…and now the long task of working out their salvation “in fear in trembling.”  May the Holy Spirit kindle their hearts with the fire of His love…may every good fruit and gift come to them as they live out their Faith!

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Teaching to the test…a home educator’s thoughts

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Last year, I wrote an essay on the problematic nature of “teaching to the test” and the devastating effect this has had on the American education system. As the implementation of the “common core” looms before us, promising educational mediocrity and the end of innovation and creativity, I thought might post my thoughts on this important subject, whose only substantive means of evaluation will be more and more assessment tests. Yet, it doesn’t end there…the government wants to “data mine” all students, and home educators, particularly those who participate in online charter school programs, will not be immune to this invasion. As a home educator, I simply must affirm that education consists of so much more than a leveled field where all effort is expended towards the unexceptional. So…here are my thoughts, such as they are. Ignore the scholarly citations and lack of revision. I received an A on the rough as submitted and in the midst of a busy home educating week, opted to go with it, rather than fine-tune. I wrote this with many of my public school teaching friends in mind as they are pawns in this game, too…

Teaching to the Test: How Assessment Tests Are Failing American Students and Educators

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“Teaching to the test” is an educational mode, born of annual assessment testing requirements, that is of no value whatsoever to students or educators. Through these performance based tests, educators are stripped of their dignity and creativity when forced to adhere to a limited academic scope that fails to demonstrate any real mastery of the subjects at hand. Students receive only cursory information deemed applicable to these assessment tests, consequently resulting in the “dumbing down” of the American educational system and concurrent poor morale among educators.

For decades, the American educational system had been acknowledged as a world leader and innovator in the academic sphere. The traditional mode of educating students through the implementation of core subject proficiency and teacher autonomy produced generations of students well-equipped to compete in college and the work force. Alas, this is no longer the case. In 2010, the United States slipped into mediocrity, falling below the mid-point in an evaluation of 34 countries. As reported by the Associated Press: “Out of 34 countries, the U.S. ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math,” placing this country “far behind the highest scoring countries, including South Korea, Finland and Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai in China and Canada” (USA Today). As troubling as these figures are, it is even more telling that among these 34 countries, only 8 have lower graduation rates than the United States. China, at the top of the list and exceeding in all three subjects, has a lower GDP (gross domestic product) than the majority of the countries in the PISA study, which shows that “Low national income does not necessarily signify poor educational performance” (PISA/OECD – 36).

This is in direct opposition to what most American taxpayers have been told: money and assessment testing equals better students. Unfortunately, the facts argue against this as none of the top performing countries spend even half of what the United States spends per student, nor do they exclusively rely upon assessment tests as the means of evaluating students and rewarding or punishing educators and schools. Only Luxembourg spends more, operating similarly to the United States, with equally abysmal student performance and one of the lowest graduation rates in the world (PISA/OECD – 30).

The impact upon students and educators, as the U.S. continues to plummet academically, is not to be underestimated. There are real people and real consequences for this devastating outcome. At the heart of this failure lies a problem, the annual assessment test, which has long been touted as the solution to what ails the American education system. There are nearly as many assessment tests as there are students. Educators utilize CTBS, ITBS, CAT, ACT, and PSAT, just to name a few, each promising to measure competency in a variety of subjects. It seems to make sense on the surface. The purpose of a test is to measure the understanding of a particular subject. Unfortunately, these tests are used not only for the evaluation of student proficiency and understanding, but are now the criteria which determine whether a teacher is successful in the classroom. Dana Goldstein, a Spencer fellow in education journalism at Columbia University, addresses this issue in “Is the U.S. Doing Teacher Reform All Wrong?” The evaluation of student and teacher proficiency is no longer simply in the hands of administrators, for as the article reveals, there are now “new state laws written in response to the Obama administration’s Race to the Top grant program, some of which base up to 51 percent of a teacher’s evaluation on student test-score data” (Goldstein).

A teacher’s job security and determination of success is now tied primarily to the student’s performance on these annual assessment tests. Is it any wonder that many schools and educators, under increased pressure from the Department of Education, are now devoting most of their efforts towards insuring that students are simply proficient or at least receive passing marks on these tests? This phenomenon has had a marked impact upon the way teachers teach, how they view their role as educator, and how they determine success in their career. The temptation to focus on these assessment tests, as a means of job security, is great.

Dawn Shirk, an English teacher in Reidsville, North Carolina, knows the real challenges that face most teachers. Excited over the prospect of a new and realistic form of teacher evaluation in her state, she nonetheless expresses her frustration that assessment tests still form the bulk of success determination:

“I have worked in schools, for example, that taught nothing but reading and math in third grade, because those were the tested areas for that year. No science was included until fifth grade, because that is when students are tested in this subject. The students might pass those tests, but what kind of education are they getting? And what will become of the low-performing schools? No good teachers will want to go there. How does this serve the students?” (Shirk)

Shirk, as an educator, raises quite a few important considerations. “Teaching to the test” is something that she has personally witnessed, and she knows that students and teachers alike ultimately lose in this mode of education.

“Evaluating Teacher Evaluation” by Jesse Rothstein, Associate Professor of Public Policy and Economics at UC-Berkley, also reveals the necessary understanding that administrators and teachers alike must have when evaluating the “luck of the draw” aspect of education. Students come to teachers with many variables: intellect, culture, proclivities and disabilities, excitement or apathy, and so forth. These variables have a tremendous impact upon teacher performance and the ultimate determination of success and failure. Assessment tests are used to determine whether the teacher has “added value” from the prior year’s performance. But, as the article outlines, many teachers reveal “they couldn’t identify a relationship between their instructional practices and their value-added ratings, which appear unpredictable” (Rothstein).

With such arbitrary results, one should ask the obvious questions: How did we get here? When did annual assessments become the gold standard by which a student and teacher’s effectiveness are measured? According to Peter Henry, “The Case against Standardized Testing,” this is a relatively recent development:

“In little more than a decade, the frequency and number of standardized tests has doubled and redoubled in response to public concern about the quality of high school graduates, and thus, the effectiveness of public school” (Henry). The fallout from heavy reliance and now insistence upon these tests has resulted in an “entire gestalt of the “accountability” movement (which) holds that teachers are not to be trusted or believed when it comes to student learning” (Henry).

It seems that the American educational system has lost sight of its original intent which is to produce generation after generation of thinkers, doers and innovators. Instead, students are expected to spit out the right answer to the right question, and educators are simply there to assure that they know how to do both. This is not education as it has been undertaken throughout history. Nor is it education, as it is understood in several of the countries which rank significantly above the United States in academics.

Consider Finland. Forty years ago, Finland implemented a comprehensive education reform program which has now placed the country significantly ahead of most nations, including the United States, Germany and Japan. These reforms are significantly different than those that have been suggested and implemented in the United States. Not by the privatization of education, nor through annual assessment tests, but “by strengthening the education profession and investing in teacher preparation and support” (Aho, Pitkänen, Sahlberg). Educators in Finland do not utilize annual assessment tests, but “make their own assessment tests, not quoting numeric grades, but using descriptive feedback, no longer comparing students with one another” which allows teachers and students to focus on “learning in a fear-free environment, in which creativity and risk-taking are encouraged” and gives them “more real freedom in time planning when they do not need have to focus on annual tests or exams” (Aho, Pitkänen, Sahlberg).

By emphasizing training for teachers and encouraging diverse modes of pedagogical instruction, as well as choosing the “best of the best,” Finland has demonstrated that teacher autonomy and creative freedom is the key to a vibrant and successful academic environment. The proof is revealed in not only Finland’s outstanding performance in mathematics, science and reading, but also in its top ranking in economic competitiveness.

When it comes to “teaching to the test,” student and teacher both lose. Educators simply must be allowed to educate, demonstrating through student grades, outside observation, projects, etc. that students are accomplishing an authentic education. It is working in Finland and it can work here, in the United States. Most educators agree that the ultimate goal of education is to produce a generation of thinkers, students engaged and excited about the subject at hand, able to speak and demonstrate proficiency through means that go beyond “fill in the bubble on this multiple choice test.” If the system fails to give teachers the freedom, encouragement and means to accomplish this end, then it has failed not only students and teachers, but society as well. For as Dorothy L. Sayers so eloquently states in “The Lost Tools of Learning:”

“What use is it to pile task on task and prolong the days of labor, if at the close the chief object is left unattained? It is not the fault of the teachers–they work only too hard already. The combined folly of a civilization that has forgotten its own roots is forcing them to shore up the tottering weight of an educational structure that is built upon sand. They are doing for their pupils the work which the pupils themselves ought to do. For the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain” (Sayers).

Works Cited

Aho, Erkki, Kari Pitkänen, and Pasi Sahlberg. “Policy Development and Reform Principles of Basic and Secondary Education in Finland since 1968.” Worldbank.org. World Bank Group, May 2006. Web. 23 May 2012.

Associated Press. “In Ranking, U.S. Students Trail Global Leaders.” USA Today. Gannett, 7 Dec. 2010. Web. 26 May 2012.

Goldstein, Dana. “Is the U.S. Doing Teacher Reform All Wrong?” WashingtonPost.com. The Washington Post, 31 May 2011. Web. 20 May 2012.

Henry, Peter. “The Case Against Standardized Testing.” MCTE.org. Minnesota English Journal, Fall 2007. Web. 23 May 2012. <http://www.mcte.org/journal/mej07/3Henry.pdf&gt;.

Jesse Rothstein, et al. “Evaluating Teacher Evaluation.” Phi Delta Kappan 93.6 (2012): 8-15. Education Research Complete. Web. 20 May 2012.

Sayers, Dorothy L. “The Lost Tools of Learning.” GBT.org. Escondido Tutorial Services. Web. 23 May 2012.

Shirk, Dawn. “Test Scores Are Only a Snapshot.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 Jan. 2012. Web. 20 May 2012.

Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education: Lessons from PISA for the United States. Paris: OECD, 2011. Print.

The Beauty of the East…revisited

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It was with great awe that we received the news that the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I, would be in attendance for the first time since the Great Schism, at the installation of our newly chosen Holy Father, Francis. I wrote this piece last year for an arts and humanities class, reflecting upon my first-time experience attending the Eastern Rite. It is so important to remember the whole Church, all of our Catholic brothers and sisters who embrace the beauty of liturgical tradition and to acknowledge the connection that we share in the Faith of antiquity.

In the twilight darkened sanctuary we hastily found seats, small rugs in hand, armed with missals and a good deal of curiosity and nervous expectation. Four of my children and I had accepted an invitation from a dear family friend to attend a Byzantine Rite Mass at St. John Chrysostom on Cleveland Avenue. It was the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts and Holy Chrismation, a sacred rite reserved for the Wednesday of Holy Week, the week before Easter. As western Catholics, we had no real experience or preconceptions regarding the eastern traditions of the Holy Catholic Church, and though open to the experience, were a bit trepiditious as to what should expect. The eastern and western rites are markedly different, as we were about to discover.

The sanctuary, itself, was a marvel to behold. The interior was much lighter than expected, with nearly every surface embellished with icons, startlingly simplistic paintings, beautifully austere, large-eyed and staring from every corner, dome and panel. The iconostasis, a screen that separates the worshippers from the priests, deacons and servers, stood imposingly, adorned with iconographic images, a seeming gate between heaven and earth. The heady aroma of incense filled the air and soon did voices, alternating voices of men and women, chanting verses of the Psalms, interspersed with many “Lord have mercies” and “Alleluias.” We knelt upon the small rugs placed on the stone floor, watching as the faithful knelt, and then bowed in prostration, foreheads upon the floor in a gesture of humility and repentance. The priests and servers, bowing and genuflecting, draped in rich brocade and moving amidst the swirls of wafting incense, offered prayers for the faithful, all coordinating in a graceful dance whose ebb and flow transcended time and understanding. Young men in long robes carried ornate fans, fans which wafted the incense throughout the sanctuary. Every single word was sung, voices rising and falling in unison, a beautiful and ethereal harmony that touched the soul.

Each parishioner moved forward, following the liturgy, to receive a personal anointing from the priest. Speaking the recipient’s name aloud, the priest proceeded to anoint with the richly scented oil, the feet, hands, ears, eyes and mouth of each person. Returning to the pews, many individuals were in various postures of adoration and worship…some were kneeling, some bowing, some standing, others seated and a few prostrated upon the stone floor. Holy Communion was distributed with a long handled golden spoon which carried the wine-soaked Host, the precious Body and Blood to the waiting recipient. Every movement was imbued with solemnity and deliberation, with reverence and holiness.

Throughout the service, I found myself nearly lost in all the sensory experiences. The entire service was a feast for the eyes, nose, ears, heart and soul. It was rather like a work of art, with each part of the Mass woven into a seamless, flawless “whole” of such beauty, yet still possessing such simplicity and relevance. The children, too, were over-awed by this trip through time, a time and rite established in ancient Greece and created to immerse the soul into the mystery and beauty of the Eternal. It still retains all the beauty, tradition and timeless grace that connects the worshipper to the historical roots of early eastern Catholic Christianity.

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Unexpected.

The sound of rushing water at 5:00 a.m. coming from a darkened bathroom, sounding very much as though someone was in the shower.

Alas, it was a broken pipe, insufficiently tightened after the installation of a new faucet, and a minimum of four hours of spraying, soaking, drenching water, spilling into the cabinets, spraying into the drawers and ruining nearly everything it touched.

On Easter morning, no less. Yet, it was only water and a few towels and some elbow grease later, the mess was dried up and those things destroyed will be replaced or…not. I really didn’t need three hair straighteners.

So, up and at ‘em, early yesterday and out the door in plenty of time for the boys to serve the Mass. But not for one moment did I think we’d arrive early enough for confession.

You see…prior to the 9:00 a.m. Mass, Father offers Confession, and the lines are always a mile long by 8:30 a.m. I walked into the sanctuary and noticed that the confessional light was on, but the line was empty! And I needed grace, after a grumpy weekend of too many chores and not enough family time…too much shopping for a couple home improvement projects and very little prayer; a poor way to finish up the Lenten season. And, of course, the usual weight of sin…petty and not so petty. I waited for the current penitent to exit the box, joined by four of my six children, who were only too happy to wait their turn for the sacrament, behind mom.

When a heart is emptied of all those petty things, those little unkindnesses and reproaches, there’s all this room for grace. God knows it…knows that we must be regularly emptied that He might fills us with the good things that come to a heart unburdened. Father, full of wisdom and good council, advocates for joy…and suggests that I become “bright,” much as ancient Catholics observed the renewal and “brightness” that comes from the living of the Resurrection of Christ. The Eastern Church calls the week following Easter, Bright Week.  My heart thrilled…actually leapt at the thought of intentional, conscious joy…every decision infused with the gladness of Easter, every moment as bright as I can make it by choosing the better part, one little step at a time.

I felt brighter. Lighter.

Joyful.

And just in time, for darkness hit quickly, with two troubling phone calls, one last night and one today; two crises of enormity impacting the lives of two women I greatly love.  Brightness?  It seems more than necessary right now, lest darkness obscure my ability to see at all.  God always seems to know when we need light the most…sometimes, we must work to generate the very light we need, yet He is the provider of the grace that provides true illumination.

I love Easter…love this feast of hope and renewal…praising God that I may share this joy with the ones I love best:

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I’m so glad it’s Easter…and that Easter is a season. I shall be bright…I shall share joy.  I shall endeavour to trust God in these things that seem so dark, looking to the Light that will make it all clear…in time.

Blessings,

Easter Cleaning…because we should!

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This is a repost…from years past and dusted off, ahem, so to speak, for the coming season.

Why should we engage in Easter Cleaning?  Here are a couple reasons that appeal to me:

Deep cleaning is cathartic…penitential, even.  And nothing says “welcome and rest” like a well-ordered, tidy space, when chaos and disorder have crept into the nooks and crannies after weeks of woeful, worrisome winter.

And if this isn’t the best reason to start spring cleaning a bit early, then I don’t know what is…
From the Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs by Francis X. Weiser, S.J. (1958)

EASTER CLEANING — According to an ancient tradition, the three days after Palm Sunday are devoted in many countries to a thorough cleaning of the house, the most vigorous of the whole year. Carpets, couches, armchairs, and mattresses are carried into the open and every speck of dust beaten out of them. Women scrub and wax floors and furniture, change curtains, wash windows; the home is buzzing with activity. No time is wasted on the usual kitchen work; the meals are very casual and light. On Wednesday night everything has to be back in place, glossy and shining, ready for the great feast. In Poland and other Slavic countries people also decorate their homes with green plants and artificial flowers made of colored paper carrying out ancient designs.

This traditional spring cleaning is, of course, to make the home as neat as possible for the greatest holidays of the year, a custom taken over from the ancient Jewish practice of a ritual cleansing and sweeping of the whole house as prescribed in preparation for the Feast of Passover.

Moms, dads, kids…grab the mops and brooms! Time to ready our households for a Very Important Guest…

Need some help getting started? Try this for inspirationand this for information!   And there’s always the 10 minute tidy…it really helps in a pinch!

Ozzie

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What’s all that white stuff?

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Nothing that need trouble this kitty…

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My kitty friend is healthy and happy…a rescue retrieved from certain death when his mother abandoned him last year…a young cat that nearly died from a terrible infection and you prayed…and a beloved pet who entertains us with his antics.

He has such a melancholy expression, doesn’t he?

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What a good God we have to grant us the companionship of His animals!

Blessings,

White not green…

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Ah, Spring…the earth begins to warm, things new and green peek from hard, brown earth…promises and hope in the rise and set of the sun.

And then there’s this:

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White…not green!

The unexpected in March, at least this late in March for this midwestern family! Still lovely, though…fresh and clean…soft and nearly welcoming as snow can be.

I foresee a snow day. A “let’s play ’cause it will soon be gone” day. I see the promise of green to come, beneath all this wondrous white…

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Blessings,

A glimpse of green…

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We’ve been through trying times…times of sickness, surgery and worry…and yet, these times have brought us closer together in faith…given us hope…and shown us the beauty of true Christian charity.

I’ve been absent once again, dear friends. Living day by day, struggling to get to the next place and praising God for all the little graces in between. February is always such a brutal month in the life of this home educating mom. The gray sky, frigid temperatures and harsh winds seem to go on interminably and the shortest of months seems always the longest.

And then, without warning, it’s March. We hope anew. We watch and wonder, awed by the renewal and rejoice with friends, this month of Feasts…

I leave you with many pictures and few words until I can find more. A glimpse of green from the little bit of Ireland we tried to conjure as Spring approaches. Blessings to you…and prayers, too!

The Christmas Cactus that missed the date...

The Christmas Cactus that missed the date…

A pretty shamrock bun

A pretty shamrock bun

A shamrock ponytail for my little colleen...

A shamrock ponytail for my little colleen…

The lovely Maura, in her Irish-green kitchen...

The lovely Maura, in her Irish-green kitchen…

Saints Patrick and Joseph preside over the Feast...

Saints Patrick and Joseph preside over the Feast…

Happy Irish baby...

Happy Irish baby…

Leprechauns beware...this cake's for you!

Leprechauns beware…this cake’s for you!

Key Lime cupcakes!

Key Lime cupcakes!

The beautiful Theresa...baker extraordinaire!

The beautiful Theresa…baker extraordinaire!

Friends of the heart...

Friends of the heart…

Reading in me best Ireesh accent...

Reading in me best Ireesh accent…

Such a lovely lassie...

Such a lovely lassie…

Banger Puffs and Miniature Shepherd's Pie...mmmm...

Banger Puffs and Miniature Shepherd’s Pie…mmmm…

A not-so-traditional Irish Soda Bread...couldn't resist the currants!

A not-so-traditional Irish Soda Bread…couldn’t resist the currants!

Laughter is the best medicine...

Laughter is the best medicine…

What's St. Patrick's Day without Corned Beef, Cabbage and Potatoes?!

What’s St. Patrick’s Day without Corned Beef, Cabbage and Potatoes?!

Hungry guys...

Hungry guys…

Adorable...a rainbow baked in the middle!

Adorable…a rainbow baked in the middle!

Craft time with friends is "fun time!"

Craft time with friends is “fun time!”

Kiss Me, I'm Irish!

Kiss Me, I’m Irish!

Nifty Trinity magnet craft...

Nifty Trinity magnet craft…

Love these girlies...

Love these girlies…

Creative lassies...

Creative lassies…

I hope to see you in this space a bit more often…after months without a camera, I’m happy to be capturing our joys again!

Blessings,

Sheen-tastic!

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Wow…I’m truly humbled.  For the past several months, with all the harried-worried-scattered and battered days we’ve had, I had pretty much ignored this space.  So I was quite surprised that anyone, even a dear friend, would consider my little blog worthy of any kind of award, least of all one tied to one of my all-time favorite saints, the Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen.

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Now…I’m certainly not a recipient just yet…there’s still this whole voting thing, and I humbly submit to you a list of candidates who are far more worthy than I in the category of of Smartest Blog.  Check out the list at A Knotted Life, where the amazing Bonnie has assembled quite a selection of nominees and categories!  And vote…sure, I’d truly appreciate a vote, but I promise you there are lot of amazing bloggers in the running, and a few blogs I was unfamiliar with and am happy to have happened upon.  Thanks to my dear friend, Ana Maria, for her sweet endorsement!

Shattered Innocence

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An article I wrote in 2008 for Catholic Exchange. Happily, all the negative comments associated with its original publication have been removed, since it was allocated a new link…

I was nine years old when the beauty and innocence of my childhood faded…

I had been outside, riding my bike, when I ran in to get a drink of water. My mother, who had been reading the local newspaper, was quietly weeping.

I asked her why she was crying. I looked over her shoulder to see what she had been reading and saw a picture of the sweetest little boy. He had the face and smile of a cherub, a head full of dark curls, and very large, brown eyes. I asked who he was. I don’t remember his name, but I’ll never forget his beautiful face. As I gazed into those eyes, my mother told me his parents had beaten him to death.

He was four years old.

Perhaps my mom shouldn’t have told me; raw with emotion and lost in her own pain, she had blurted the words without thinking. I wept for another child for the first time in my life. This little boy would never ride a bike or run in the park. It was incomprehensible to my young mind. Almost immediately, my lighthearted nature and joy evaporated. A true depression, a sadness that I couldn’t articulate for many months, enveloped me. I lost interest in day to day pleasures. I quit playing outside. Fear and anxiety dwelt closely in my heart. My world was no longer safe.

It took several months before I could pull myself out of that depression. Nine years old and no one really knew just how disturbed, how profoundly changed I was by the death of a child I had never known. I kept my secret for many years and only recently shared it with my mother as we were discussing the importance of maintaining purity and innocence in the life of a child…

Innocence.

A state of blessed “unknowingness” that is markedly different from ignorance. So many of our children are increasingly subjected to sights, sounds, and situations which may mar or altogether destroy their innocence. Most Catholic parents are vigilant keepers at the gates of the family castle, seeking to provide a refuge against the irreligiosity of the world and its seductive whispers. We set up filters on computers, block-out television channels or eliminate commercial programming completely, screen videos and literature, and make every effort to know as much as possible about our childrens’ friends. Additionally, some of us have chosen “the road less traveled”: educating our children at home to shelter them from the storm of secularism and accepting the monumental responsibility that is inherent in being the primary role model of the seven cardinal virtues.

And yet…we can still be bombarded from the most unlikely sources.

As a vehemently pro-life Catholic, I’m well aware of the challenges that exist in spreading the truth about the horrors of abortion and the industry of death. I’m proud of the men and women who have put their very freedom on the line to protect our littlest brothers and sisters. These gentle souls, by their prayers and sacrifices, and their peaceful protests continue to send a message that is counter to the hatred that is so rampant amongst the pro-death camp. Prayer is, and always will be, the most effective way to counter evil in this world.

Alas, there are those within our movement who have begun to despair, and in that despair have sought to win souls and save lives through “shock and awe.” Graphic depictions of aborted and mutilated children are paraded on banners, emblazoned on trucks and carried on placards. These are real babies, little boys and girls horribly mangled and nearly unrecognizable. How heinous and frightening the reality of abortion! Is it any wonder that not a few young women have changed their minds after viewing these images? Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests For Life shares the following observation:
“There is no single thing that I have seen more powerful to change people on abortion than simply showing them the pictures… When people see what abortion does to a baby, they are stung to the heart and their consciences are awakened.” Should not our reaction always be one of fright, disgust and extreme heart-wrenching sorrow? When working against the hardened hearts of adults who have hidden themselves from the reality of the violence of abortion, it would seem that these tactics are particularly effective.

But what if you were six years old…what would you think? Could your parents explain it away in a nice, tidy manner that would make it okay to display this dead child’s body? Can a death so horrible, delivered by the hands of those who should love, protect and nurture this life be explained that easily to one so young? Would you be surprised if this young child consequently had nightmares after seeing these images; contemplating and hearing the horrible reality? Would it be surprising if eventually, after years of viewing these images, the child ceased to weep or feel revulsion, having become desensitized after having seen them so often?

I’m simply not satisfied with the answer that seems to imply that “the end Virgen_de_guadalupe1justifies the means” when it comes to exposing young children to images of such extreme and graphic violence. Our young and innocent ones should never be asked to bear this adult burden of knowledge. Somehow, I can’t imagine our Lady carrying one of these banners…I imagine Her banner would hold the body of another Innocent Victim. One that doesn’t scandalize the innocence of childhood, but convicts the heart of the sinner with a message of everlasting peace, love and redemption.

As a nine year old, I gazed upon a lovely photo of a child who had been murdered. Not his beaten and bruised body. A beautiful photo of a living child. And I’m haunted by the image and the knowledge of the death of that very small boy.

I believe these images are necessary and can be a powerful tool when placed in the right hands, and used properly. But their efficacy is certainly far below that of prayerful and peaceful protest. As we are trying to to change the hearts of adults, these images should never be used in the presence of young children. No adult, no matter how well-intentioned in this very important fight has the right to scandalize the innocence of another parent’s children. We mustn’t make the fatal mistake of discounting the sensitivity of our little ones just because we understand, because the stakes are so high and because we’ve begun to believe that only by extreme action will we accomplish our goals.

Have we really entered a place where we believe that the bloody image of an aborted child has more power to convert than the image of our Lord crucified? What of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe? Did not our Lady appear in radiant splendor, beauty Her banner, to counter the horrors of human sacrifice?

Evil is rampant in our world. We would never take our children into the “dens of iniquity” to show them that evil exists. It is scandalous to expose young children to a graphic depiction of any despicable, sinful or perverse act… we must preserve and protect their innocence with the same vigilance that we have for the babies being lost to abortion.

Last week, the children and I participated in a peaceful protest outside an abortion clinic, taking our turn as prayerful witnesses for the sanctity of life. No sign holding, no passing out literature. Just prayer. Remembering this: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words” – St. Francis of Assisi.

I am a Catholic parent…

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The Holy Family...the model of perfection

The Holy Family…the model of perfection

Catholic parenting…how on earth does one do it, let alone define it?

In a perfect world one might say it’s “the loving and successful completion of child-rearing and instruction, put forth by two parents, to perfect one’s child in the areas of faith and morals as defined by the Catechism and Sacred Traditions of the Catholic Church.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t a perfect world, and at last check, there are no perfect parents or children residing upon it. Flawed humanity, with all its sins and vices, is raising the next generation, and that includes the next Catholic generation. Yet, in this country and others, amidst great challenges and persecutions, many Catholic parents are striving to impart a sense of the sacred, awake to the great beauty, majesty and richness of our Holy Faith and its spiritual and cultural significance.

Tertullian once said “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” thus giving rise to the notion that the Faith flourishes under seemingly impossible conditions. Today’s parents might be tempted to challenge that assertion, firm in the conviction that this crazy world and the people who live in it, put every possible obstacle in the way of the solemn charge to raise a holy people for the Kingdom of Heaven. It would seem that knowledge and desire, quite simply, aren’t enough.

Fear not! This task is not as formidable as it seems, for at the heart of it, is this promise from Sacred Scripture:

“Train up a child in the way he should go, And even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Proverbs 22:6

“…And even when he is old he will not depart from it.” The key word here is, of course, “old.” And old can seem so very far away at the beginning of this Catholic parenting journey. The “way” is often obscured by the noise and distractions of this mad world, which pushes and shoves its way into home and heart. How does one do this? Is it even possible?

Perhaps you’re looking at that sweet baby, nestled in your arms, wondering how you will ever show him the “way he should go,” particularly when the “way” seems so treacherous and fraught with every danger. Would it comfort you to know that parents have been doing this since time out of mind? That our own dear Savior, as an infant, had to flee the murderous wrath of a king and that His Mother and Father faced poverty, persecution and uncertainty with courage and resolve?

Perhaps you’re surrounded by the needs of many little ones, overwhelmed with exhaustion as the work of parenting seems to stretch onward to infinity. Would it benefit you to remember that the most beautiful images of our Blessed Mother show Him in her arms, pressed closed to her breast, a reminder that this busy time is yet a time of sweet joys, too?

Perhaps you’re reflecting upon the rebellious teenager asleep upstairs; the one who stayed up far too late playing video games and who is alternately sullen and good-humored, depending upon his mood and yours. Would it comfort you to imagine that our dear Lady understands? That her precious Son was often misunderstood and even in the eyes of His parents at least once engaged in behavior they found perplexing, as He was “about His Father’s business?”

Perhaps you’re worried about your adult child, the one that quit attending Mass some time ago…the one whose life seems a scandal and a trial in the eyes of the world. You wonder how you managed to give so very little of your faith to this wayward one and lament that you’ve failed in your duties as a Catholic parent. Would it help to reflect upon the twelve Apostles, who ate, slept and worked in the presence of the Messiah and yet, following the Crucifixion, engaged in behavior that was anything but faithful? Frightened by the sights, sounds and emotions of their salvation being accomplished, they fled in fear…

Perhaps you feel you never really imparted the “way” at all; that your own faith has been such an ongoing work that you believe you’ve missed your only opportunity to give this gift only recently opened or perhaps simply re-examined. Would it avail you to remember that God rewards the laborer, not so much for the time worked as for the intention behind the effort?

It can seem such daunting work, this Catholic parenting “thing,” and I’ve walked every single one of the paths described above. I am mother of nine children with more than 30 years in the field; I’ve paced the floor with the wee ones, overawed by the beauty of new life and the sweet burden of nurturing it. I’ve been through the exhaustion of those early days when children come much faster than the income to feed and provide for them all. I’ve lamented the distant teenager, walking the delicate balance between strength and compassion, failing at times to provide either. I’ve wept in sorrow for the adult child whom, though home educated, catechized and confirmed, still struggles with issues of faith. And I’ve begged God’s forgiveness for the first decade of my parenting years…years of pseudo-faith; years when being a “good person” seemed enough to identify myself as a Christian mother.

There have been so many starts and stops along the way, as I embrace my role as a Catholic parent. I’ve learned the best judges of hypocrisy are one’s children – they know, as no others, whether mom truly lives and believes what she teaches. I’ve had to humbly submit to the scrutiny of a growing band of Inquisitors, living with the daily realization that it is whom and not what is in the home that truly makes it a domestic Church.

As a Catholic parent, I’ve learned I simply must impart more than just a “view from the pew” version of my faith. When I live my faith out loud, in my everyday choices, and embrace a view of life that is not only faithful, but faith-filled, I demonstrate so much more than my words will ever convey. Faith becomes real and virtue is magnified, because the hard choices are the ones in opposition to those that often seem the least demanding.

The hardest choice that I’ve ever made as a parent is to embrace the imperfections of my children and myself; to live with the realization that from all eternity God had chosen me to mother these particular children. I have to continually acknowledge my weakness so that He can be strong. I made a solemn vow, long ago, admitting my imperfection and inadequacies, but I promised that if He would just continue to point out the flaws within my children and me, I would faithfully work on those areas. I asked Him to remove my parental blind spot and to expose the spiritual, moral and physical dangers that I might overlook. I vowed that I would never shrink from my duties to address those areas, despite my fear, sorrow or embarrassment. He has always answered that prayer, and though I’ve not always been as faithful as I’d like to be, I’ve truly tried to hold up my end of the deal, persevering in the midst of sin and suffering, sure that each challenge and crisis has already been envisioned by He, who knows my strengths and weaknesses. He continues to prove Himself as faithful, as the perfect parent ever watchful over His child, always mindful of the end and the means.

It’s so easy to allow oneself to become weighed down with the awesome task of guarding the body and soul of one’s children. There is so much anxiety, when I contemplate the transitory and passing, I often miss the glorious moments and memories in the here and now. As I contemplate my 30 year journey as a Catholic parent, I don’t find myself wishing I had washed more dishes or folded more laundry; I lament the times I didn’t stop in the midst of the mundane to observe and participate in the wonder and beauty of life unfolding around me. I regret that brief period when I so narrowly defined my role that I nearly became a spectator, lost in the myriad activities and ideas that seem to reinforce what the world perceives to be “good enough” parenting.

“Good enough” parenting never really is. Catholic parenting, on the other hand, always strives to be. We may fall short a thousand times, but with the grace of Faith and the gift of the Sacraments, the remedy to all our failings is as close as one’s parish Church and as simple as the prayers uttered in faith and trust.

Blessings,

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