A Short Manifesto on Life Issues

In June, I will be attending the Vita Institute at the University of Notre Dame, “an intensive intellectual formation program for leaders in the national and international pro-life movement.”  I had to apply for this opportunity, and I thought my readers might be interested in how I answered the questions on my application.

I believe in the sanctity of all human life from conception until natural death. I believe that procured abortion is always wrong and that unborn lives should be protected by law. I also believe that our responsibility to unborn children and their mothers extends beyond making abortion illegal. I adhere to the Church’s teaching on contraceptives and believe that their use has led to a contraceptive mentality that is linked to the acceptance of abortion. I believe that the rise of various forms of fertility assistance, in separating conception from the marital embrace, is also related to abortion. I believe that if we pro-life Catholics want to be taken seriously by the wider culture, we need to center our efforts to end abortion firmly within Catholic Social Teaching and a consistent life ethic. I further believe that we need to demonstrate our care for all lives in both charitable and systemic ways.

I take to heart Saint John Paul the Great’s words from his Gospel of Life:  “Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practise them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator” (Evangelium Vitae 3).

My convictions often place me in uncomfortable situations and leave me without a political home. My critics struggle to fit me into our society’s convenient and restrictive liberal/conservative paradigm. But my convictions come straight from the teachings of the Church and that gives me strength to continue to proclaim them even when it is hard. And I believe the Church’s consistent ethic of life gives us a strong foundation from which to argue for all lives, whether they are the innocent unborn, the condemned murderer, the frozen embryo, or the terminally ill.

I was introduced to the topic of abortion accidentally as a young child when I stumbled across some pamphlets with pictures of aborted babies in a drawer in our home. I have been passionately pro-life ever since, with my activism taking different forms. I began by writing many letters to newspapers and government officials. I became a charter member and later chair of the Knoxville Diocese Respect Life Committee. I participated in Life Chains and Marches for Life for many years. I wrote a column on life issues for the East Tennessee Catholic, and later took the name of that column for my blog, where I have been writing on life issues since 2010. I have been active in the parish to which I have belonged since I was baptized as an infant, serving on the Pastoral Council as member and chair as well as on many other committees over the years. I have also served in various capacities as a volunteer at my children’s elementary school including serving as 8th grade Room Mother which involved fundraising for and planning graduation events. My husband has served as KOC Grand Knight, District Deputy, and 4th Degree Color Corps Commander, and I supported him in these endeavors as well.

Writing on my blog and elsewhere is my greatest passion and personal interest and I want to make more time for it going forward. I love to read and try to read at least six books a month, some for entertainment, but many to further educate myself. I enjoy hiking and usually walk at least three miles each day. I am a gardener and am in the process of replacing all the grass in my front yard with flowering plants.

As my nest empties, I find myself looking forward to the next stage of my life and wanting to work toward my professional goals. I want to spend more time on my writing and blogging, focusing on the intersection of faith and politics, particularly the Church’s Social Teachings. I want to create conversations among people of good will, educating Catholics and others and working to change hearts and minds on life issues.

In order to do this I want to be thoroughly grounded in these teachings, because it is very important to me to always be absolutely orthodox in anything I write. I want to learn from the kind of faculty the Vita Institute provides. My son is a Notre Dame graduate, so I am familiar with the ethos of the school and know I can expect excellence from any program it sponsors.  I have been very intentional over the last year about educating myself on issues of importance. I read books and articles every day from reputable sources, including both secular and spiritual books. Attending the Vita Institute is a natural next step in my self-education.

I believe I should be selected because I am a natural student and someone with her own reputation for excellence. My readers have told me they come to my page when they are looking for accurate information about Church teachings on the issues of the day, and I am very proud of that and take the responsibility seriously. The education I would receive via the Vita Institute would be shared with my audience, which includes both faithful Catholics and those of other or no faith traditions. And I look forward to the opportunity to learn from and collaborate with other like-minded attendees.

In 2012, the USCCB put out a statement on religious liberty which included the following statement: “Catechesis on religious liberty is not the work of priests alone. The Catholic Church in America is blessed with an immense number of writers, producers, artists, publishers, filmmakers, and bloggers employing all the means of communications—both old and new media—to expound and teach the faith. They too have a critical role in this great struggle for religious liberty. We call upon them to use their skills and talents in defense of our first freedom.” I was thrilled to see the importance of the work of Catholic bloggers lifted up by our bishops, and I want to live up to that trust by doing everything I can to make sure I represent Church teachings on life issues faithfully.

And there you have it! I look forward to sharing what I learn at the Vita Institute with you all.

What I Read in March

Well, this will be a short post!  I completed only four books in March, and if Emily hadn’t made a trip to the library the last week of the month, it would have been two.  We visited Boulder this month, which meant four days in the car, but that does not really seem like enough of an explanation, does it?

First up is Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, which I read for the Fountains of Carrots book club.

Have you ever read a book in high school or college, did not think much of it, and then read it later and were blown away? That was my experience with this book. I barely remembered it from my 20th Century Catholic Fiction class, which I took in my very last semester at Georgetown in 1989. Now I found parts of it to be some of the best pages I have ever read. Some books you really have to have some experience under your belt to understand, in my opinion. I copied some quotations into a notebook I keep and when I re-read them I get chills.  Seriously, this book’s exploration of the effect of having been raised Catholic is not to be missed if you are interested in such things.

Next we have A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler, this month’s read for my in-person book club at my next door neighbor’s house.

We all HATED this book. Not that it was not interesting. Not that some parts of it are well-written. Not that we did not care about at least some of the characters. But the ending. It was just wrong. Unless you want to be wrecked and in tears, don’t read it. It is not worth it.

Emily brought me The Confession of Brother Haluin by Ellis Peters, and I read it in two days.

Y’all already know how much I love the Brother Cadfael series. This one kept me guessing almost to the end.

Then I moved on to Scandal in Spring by Lisa Kleypas, which I devoured in one afternoon.

This was the last of the Wallflowers series, the story of four girls who make a pact to help each other find husbands. If you’ve never liked romance novels, you won’t like these. If you used to like them, but kind of grew out of them (as I have), you probably will enjoy them for an afternoon or two of diversion.

This month is going to be better. I should finish three Georgetown book club choices for one thing, and a couple of other books I was reading last month as well. Will I make the six book goal? That remains to be seen!

Don’t forget to click below for other great reads at An Open Book!

 

Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network – April Reflection

I was honored to be given the opportunity to write a prayer and reflection for the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, an “Apostleship of Prayer [that] addresses the challenges facing humanity and assists the mission of the Church [by praying and working] to meet the challenges of the world identified by the Pope in his monthly intentions . . .

Please click below to read my reflection on health care workers, for whom our Holy Father has asked us to pray this month.

For health care workers – April Reflection

 

What I Read in February

So, I just barely made my six book goal this month, and that’s only because the first book I read was a picture book!

But John Ronald’s Dragons by Carolyn McAlister is truly a superior picture book. It’s a great introduction to Tolkien for pre-readers but there’s also a lot to enjoy for Tolkien lovers of all ages, especially the visual depiction of the eras of Tolkien’s life.

There were only two Georgetown selections for the first quarter of this year, and I quickly finished this one:

While I enjoyed Mine! by Michael Heller and James Salzman, I find I have already forgotten most of it!

Next I made the mistake of letting my sister talk me into reading this one:

I say it was a mistake not because Mother, May I? by Joshilyn Jackson  was not good–it was! Rather, it was a mistake because I could not put it down and ignored all my priorities that day. It’s a thriller involving a kidnapping, identity, love and its complications, and even topical issues. I have not forgotten this one and I doubt I will.

I’ve had this one on my list of spiritual books for awhile:

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Laurence is a very simple little book that was written a long time ago, but it has a modern feeling to it. The premise is that of learning to walk with God in every moment rather than just calling on Him occasionally. I want to read this again and again so I can internalize its message.

This was another one from my sister:

It took me a minute to get into Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin, since it starts in medias res and lets the reader catch up gradually, but once I did I was hooked. This is an all-too-plausible story about where our many virtual connections and lack of concern for privacy might lead us–and it’s not good!

I have had this one on my non-fiction list for some time, and was happy to get it for Christmas:

As someone who first got the message that my body was not good enough when a doctor put me on a diet at the age of four, the message of radical self-love described in The Body Is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor resonated deeply with me.  I wish everyone who hates their body and all people who continue to shame them could read this.

OK, so this is the book that was responsible for my almost not reading six:

I wanted to like Franchise by Marcia Chatelain. It’s obviously a meticulously researched book and its story and implications are important. But it is so dense that I could not get through it. I rarely fail to finish something I start reading but I made an exception for this one. It was a Georgetown choice and someone in the club commented that it read more like a sociology dissertation than a book for popular consumption. It’s a good book but not for me.

Finally, I am going to share another one I have not finished:

The reason I have not finished Imagine You Walked with Jesus by Jerry Windley-Daoust is not because I don’t want to read it, but because I want to savor it. And the reason I am telling you about it now instead of when I do finish is because I was supposed to review it and it just is not fair of me to wait to tell people about it for that long! Plus I think it would be an awesome read for Lent if any of you are still looking for something special to do. It’s an introduction to Ignatian Contemplative Prayer, or Imaginative Prayer, where you put yourself into the story and use all your senses to experience the scenes right along with Jesus and his disciples. This is a super-accessible book for anyone who has no experience with this form of prayer, even kids. It can be used for solitary prayer or in a group. Not only does the book provide instruction in this way of praying, it also offers background information to enrich your imagination and many suggested readings to pray with. I recommend it very highly and I am not just saying that because I received a free advance copy.

That’s it for February! Find more great reads below via An Open Book linkup.

Heavenly Treasures

Basil the Great once said: “When someone steals another’s clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.”

We are not rich by any means, but like most Americans we have more than we need. How many coats do you have? I am embarrassed to say how many pairs of shoes I have. Does your bread get moldy because you do not finish it in time? Are we any better than the rich young man [in the Gospel]?

Read the rest of my latest reflection for Inspire Daily at the link below.

Heavenly Treasures

What I Read in January

What with Christmas Break and snow days and Covid cancellations and William’s semester starting midway through the month, I had another fruitful reading month!

The Grey King by Susan Cooper

I continued reading this series that I began re-reading in December. This one won the Newbery Award! I learned how to sort of pronounce Welsh from reading it, which is a plus.

The Girl Who Remembered Snow by Charles Mathes

A quirky mystery with a poignant heart. I had read it years ago but did not remember it at all, so that was fun!

Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper

Last in the series, which always leaves me melancholy and wishing for more. This one finally brings all the main characters together for an adventure.

Autopsy by Patricia Cornwell

I was a little worried going in, because Cornwell’s books have declined in quality in recent years. I had a couple of problems with this one, chiefly with the way-too-rapid conclusion and neat tying up of loose ends, but over all it was the best one in awhile and hard to put down.

Certain Women by Madeleine L’Engle

I’m a L’Engle fan from way back, and I am always delighted to find something of hers that I have not read. The conceit of this novel–intertwining the story of King David and his wives with a more modern David and his–was pleasing to me since I just finished listening to the Bible in a Year podcast so I could really understand it.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

I read this again because I convinced my book club to read it. They loved it, and so do I. It’s an absolutely delightful book and if you have not read it you should. I cannot explain it without spoiling it so you need to take my word for it.

Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie

I have almost every Agatha Christie book painstakingly collected from used book stores and salvaged in a sooty condition from our fire. For some reason I got a hankering to read one (they are a comfort read for me) and this one is one of my favorites.

The Messiah Comes to Middle Earth by Philip Ryken

I mostly enjoyed this examination of the threefold office of Jesus (Priest, Prophet, and King) as exemplified by various characters in The Lord of the Rings. However, it does rely on a Protestant understanding of some of the theology which feels strange to me since Tolkien was not only a devout Catholic but is on record writing that his book is profoundly Catholic.

The Hermit of Eyton Forest by Ellis Peters

I always squeal with delight when Emily brings one of these home from the library for me. I am sad to report that I am more than halfway finished reading these. I have loved them all.

Saints around the World by Meg Hunter-Kilmer

Every Catholic child should have this book. I wish I’d had it to teach my kids about the saints when they were young. But it is also pretty cool to read as an adult, because it is full of saints I have never heard of, from all over the world, chosen for diversity, and indexed to help readers find ones they can relate to.

The Art of Advent by Jane Williams

This was part of our family’s Advent devotions but since it goes through Epiphany I could not finish it until now. It includes a painting for each day, a reflection, discussion questions, and a prayer, so it is great for a family activity. We loved looking at the paintings but wished the book was larger so we could have seen the details better. This was written by an Anglican so there are a few minor theological differences from a Catholic understanding.

As ever, I am linking up with An Open Book, which you can visit by clicking below.

 

What Is Love?

Well over 30 years ago, when I was a Sophomore at Georgetown University, a group of us gathered to explore ways we could deepen our commitment to our faith outside of weekly Mass attendance. We called our group “Beyond Dahlgren,” Dahlgren Chapel being the university’s main worship space.

We gathered for prayer and fellowship and at least one retreat over the next few years. Our sponsor/mentor was a young Jesuit named Father Bill Watson, and at some point he started bringing his friend Father Robert Spitzer to our gatherings.

Father Spitzer (who at the time preferred to be called just “Spitzer”) taught me metaphysics, lived in our dorm, and eventually officiated at our marriage and baptized our first child.

He was (and is) brilliant and enthusiastic, and I have never forgotten some of the wisdom he imparted in our wedding homily.

Father Spitzer continues to impart wisdom about love today. I consider it one of those “Holy Spirit moments” that I was invited to watch and write about his recent video on understanding love. Along with explaining how the Christian view of love differs from earlier understandings and how transformative it has been over the centuries, Father makes a plea for all Catholics to counteract our culture’s destructive ideas by challenging common conceptions of love.

“Being nice is not love,” Father reminds us. Rather, love is a self-gift for the good of the Other–the WHOLE person, eternally and without expectation. It’s not giving someone whatever they want, whenever they want it, when it is not good for the whole person in the long term.

While the Christian agape proclaimed by Jesus transformed the world, leading to the founding of Catholic health care, Catholic education, and Catholic public welfare organizations, Father explains that our culture’s redefinition of love has led to depression, anxiety, familial tensions, substance abuse, and suicide.

Father gives an impassioned explanation of the “intrinsic, unreserved value of every human life,” which informs all Catholic social teaching on the sanctity of and care for life from conception to natural death. Watching this video energized me to continue doing what I can to “re-educate our culture” at home, in my social circles, and through my writing.

This post was inspired by a recent talk on Understanding Love by Father Robert Spitzer of Healing the Culture.  Healing the Culture is an international leader in pro-life advocacy, delivering respect life education to millions of people by advancing universal principles of logic, ethics, and justice.  Through their online resources, K-12 curricula, leadership training programs, and media productions, Healing the Culture has helped countless individuals reject abortion and euthanasia and become effective pro-life advocates.

God’s Mysterious Mercy

“With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it. Without parables he did not speak to them, but to his own disciples he explained everything in private” (Mark 4:33-34).

When I read these words from today’s Gospel, I found myself wishing I were one of the disciples, sitting at the feet of Jesus as he explained his parables.  I often wish God would explain his mysterious ways to me!

Read the rest of my latest for Diocesan  at the link below or in your MyParish app under Inspire Daily!

God’s Mysterious Mercy

Heaven’s Gain Ministries: Comfort and Support for Families in Mourning

The Heaven’s Gain website defines its mission, stating: “Burying the dead is a Corporal Act of Mercy. At Heaven’s Gain, we are called as part of our mission to provide burial products that honor the dignity of the deceased baby at any developmental stage.” 

Read the rest of my latest for Celebrate Life Magazine at the link below.

Heaven’s Gain Ministries: Comfort and Support for Families in Mourning

 

Jesus, Sun of Justice

We all long for justice. Children are born with this innate desire—they are obsessed with fairness until their parents tell them enough times that the world is not fair.  Well, it is a fallen world so that is unfortunately true. But I have never said this to my own children. Instead, I say this: “The world is not fair but we have to try to be.” We must not fall prey to the temptation to think that there is no hope for any justice here on earth. While perfect justice may be only attainable in God’s Kingdom, we cannot just stand around, staring at the sky, waiting for Jesus to show up.

Read the rest below:

Jesus, Sun of Justice