Saturday, December 15, 2012

Judge Not, Lest Karma Whack You Upside the Head

This post is all about judging, and we ALL do it. Just step into the supermarket and see if you don't make snarky comments (hopefully in your head) about the woman wearing pajama bottoms without underwear, the big guy throwing a bag of cookies in his cart, or the woman paying for Fritos with food stamps. Yes, I do it too.

The hubby was eating lunch in the work truck the other day. There was a large woman who looked like a hooker pacing the street corner outside of McDonalds. When a small, Hispanic woman passed by, she lunged at her and punched her in the nose. Then she slammed her against a brick wall and punched her again. While the assailant took off in a car with some guy, the one person who acted was a Hispanic man dressed in gang-banger fashion. He's probably the one I would cross the street to avoid, yet not only did he step in and stop the attack, he took off his shirt to wrap around the victim's bleeding head, called 911, and waited with her for the ambulance.

Then there's the cop in New York who, seeing a homeless man without shoes or socks, crossed the street to buy the items from a store and give them to the man.  The copy we'd probably dismiss an an unfeeling cad who walks around handing out tickets was the guy who stepped in to offer humanitarian aid.

Author Kristen Lamb has a great blog post on the additional guilt she felt after someone who doesn't even know her criticized her as being unfeeling--an unjustified comment that this bugger felt necessary to pass on. Judgement is ugly.

So how do we avoid judging people?  Well, some judgement is necessary. If a seedy-looking guy came up and wanted to sell you white powder, you should use your judgement to run as fast as possible in the opposite direction. But the snarky, unnecessary judgement comes about because it's part of our fallen nature. If we acknowledge it as soon as we recognize it, say a little prayer, and push it away, we can start a new habit that is healthy for us and attractive to others.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Animal Lovers Sickened by Slaughter of Puppy

I'm happy to report that no puppy was sacrificed in the writing of this blog, but I'd like you to hold on to that sick feeling you got when you thought it was true.

That's the feeling devout Catholics and other devout Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc. feel when they think about the slaughter of an unborn child.

The leader of the free world enthusiastically embraces such slaughter.
He went to teenage girls and tried to corrupt their young minds into imagining such slaughter was their right.
He presents this slaughter as the solution to the inconvenient results of casual sex.
He smiled when he said he would slaughter his own grandchild to keep his daughter from being inconvenienced by her sexual activity.
And he intends to force those who oppose such slaughter to either take part in the orgy or suffer the consequences.

Too long, Christians have thought of persecution as something that happened long ago to other people. Just a historical reference. When Caesar ordered Christians to either bear the mark of worship to him as God or suffer the loss of their livelihood, we thought that was pretty darn ugly. Those who held out couldn't trade. They couldn't buy food. They couldn't survive. Barack Obama is doing exactly the same thing, except he doesn't stop at worship. He wants blood sacrifice.

To say Barack simply has a different opinion about the slaughter of children is to say that Hitler just had a different opinion about the human dignity of Jews. And Catholics. And the handicapped. And gays. And gypsies.

That's right. When you determine a person's value to society by external factors, you can take it anywhere you like, as long as you can convince others you're right.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Jesus is as Close as a Smile

As I was returning from my morning walk, the handicapped bus was in the driveway to pick up a passenger from our complex. The driver is there every weekday morning, and her job can't be easy.

She has to get out, help load an occupied wheelchair onto the lift, and maneuver her charge into a safe spot. There are around eight children in her care, so she has to repeat that routine eight times.

What I notice most about this woman is not her gender. It's not her race. It's not her height, her weight, or her uniform. It's her smile.

She radiates pure joy.

Faced with a difficult job and a lot of responsibility, this woman chooses to respond with one of the brightest, broadest smiles I've ever seen. While she cares for some of God's more fragile children, she doesn't fret, grumble, or even worse, dismiss the job as an inconvenient way to make a living.

She smiles.

How many times have I faced tiny inconveniences with a frown and a whine? How many times have I, when faced with a challenge, responded gracelessly?

This woman, whether or not it's her intention, is spreading Jesus' message of Love to everyone she meets.

And it's as simple as a smile.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Waste Not, Want Not. Even Sorrel.

I'm betting that Martha didn't waste anything. Whether preparing dinner for Lazerus or for a room filled with guests, she probably knew how to add just the right spice or use the perfect cooking method to make old figs taste yummy.

Using everything we're given is good stewardship, and that includes the surprise veggie I received in my Abundant Harvest Organics delivery this weekend.

Sorrel. Isn't that something horses eat?  The enclosed newsletter advised to use it sooner than later. Having thrown away an embarrassing amount of rotted fruits and vegetables in my time, I decided to get off my butt and figure out a way to cook these pretty leaves before they went bad.

The warnings almost scared me off, especially the comparison of heated sorrel to cowpies. (The color changes during the cooking process, and not in a good way.)  Hubby has his limits, so I decided soup might make the most appetizing presentation.

I played with an online recipe and here is what I came up with. Though the soup looks dark green, it has a surprisingly light, lemony flavor.

3 cups of chicken broth
1 large bunch of sorrel, tough stems removed (And wash carefully! There were chunks of dirt hidden in the leaves!)
1 Potato, diced
1 handful of rice
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 cup of milk

First, I brought the chicken broth, sorrel and potato to a boil and let it simmer until the potato was cooked.
Next, using an immersion blender, I ground everything up.
I added a handful of rice and simmered until cooked. You must stir occasionally.
I added milk, salt and pepper and heated through.

I served it with crushed tortilla chips sprinkled over the top, and it was yum!

Now I have to figure out what to do with the surplus of nectarines! Any ideas?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Yes, Virginia. God DOES Speak Through Mystery Authors!

I was having a low period. I call them "funks". It's when everything presses in and the world begins to look dark and gloomy. You've probably been there. It's the land of extremes, filled with NEVER, ALWAYS, EVERY and NONE.

My eyeballs were firmly fixed on my problems without a glance to spare for God. Not a good place to be.

Fortunately, I was still able to muster up the interest to read, and I picked up my copy of Marilyn Meredith's BEARS WITH US to delve into the lives of happier people embroiled in murder. Deputy Tempe Crabtree solves the crimes; her husband, Hutch, a minister, provides the moral support.

I wasn't even suspicious when Hutch spoke about preparing his sermon. I need to pray first to find out what message the Lord would like me to bring to the congregation. Why would I imagine that this fictional pastor's congregation would include me, the reader?

And then when Hutch got excited and said I know exactly what I'll be preaching about tomorrow. It's amazing how the Lord guides me to what he wants me to bring to the congregation I still didn't see it coming. But then I got to THE PAGE.

The line jumped out at me. Hutch's sermon was titled Letting God Handle Your Problems.

Remember when your brother-sister-best friend would rap on your forehead to get your attention? God rapped on mine with gentle, loving knuckles.

"Hello-o-o-o. Did you get My point? Do you want Me to repeat it?"

I must have, because I read the line again, and the gloomy mist lifted.

When we try to handle our own problems, to retain control, that's when we take a trip to downer-land. It's that human habit of trying to claim credit, of trying to lay out a strategy that doesn't include God.

He's so much bigger than us. He's omnipotent. He can do anything. It's pretty arrogant not to let Him guide us, like when your four-year-old insists on making breakfast and concocts an inedible mess. And we're just as proud of our results as that child, though they lead us farther from Him. It's not until we get food poisoning from the under-cooked eggs that we finally turn to Him and say, "Help!"

So, yes, Virginia, God does speak through mystery authors. He speaks through everything, if only we would listen.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Do Catholics Really Believe THAT???

I was reading an excerpt of an upcoming novel from an author I’ve enjoyed in the past. The author will remain unnamed. In the excerpt, a secondary character, who I assume is on the wild side, dipped her fingers in holy water and stated that few people knew she was a strict Catholic. She’s described as a woman who dabbles in Voo-doo and has flings.

Possibly, this was meant as a joke. It is certainly a concern how many Catholics like to set their own definitions and codes of conduct.

I was surprised by the main character’s comments. She wondered if the “church elders” would approve of her friend’s lifestyle and added that anyone who “got their undies in a bunch” over her friend’s behavior could just throw on a holy medal, grab some ashes, and, well, get over it.

At first I was confused. Wasn’t it Protestants who have church elders? And who keeps a handy pile of ashes around the house? I do know people who wouldn’t dream of leaving home without their holy medal, just as I know people who won’t leave the house without their favorite signed team jersey. And if anyone tried to remove my late Grandma Ann’s ring from the chain around my neck, I’d bite them. It’s comforting. It makes me feel closer to Grandma. It reminds me of her great qualities, qualities I hope to emulate. Kind of like a medal.

This author delivered her touché moment with confidence, so I naturally wondered if perhaps my entire life--from my First Holy Communion to my current status as a devout (I hope) Catholic--had been a lie! I had to discover the truth, no matter how painful.

The top item on my list was the omnipotence of medals. My understanding has always been that Sacramentals, such as medals, have no abilities in themselves. They can be occasions of God’s miracles, such as Elisha’s bones in 2 Kings 13:20-21. But maybe there was more to it.

The best Catholic I knew (based on length-of-membership) was Grandma D. I immediately set out to get some answers, and I knew I’d have to be clever about it. After all, this is the same woman who never told me that Muggles really could be witches, a childhood fantasy that was denied me until I learned the facts from J.K. Rowling. I decided to boldly confront Gram with my new-found knowledge and rock her into spilling the beans.

Me: (oh so casually) Grandma, which holy medal would you wear to ward off bad behavior in, say, your children and grandchildren?

Grandma: What’s a holy medal got to do with it? I’d smack them upside the head.

Me: (pulling out the big guns) But this particular medal has been blessed. By a priest. Surely that would ward off sinners or make them change their evil ways. (Certain that priests have superpowers, I knew I had her.)

Grandma: (snatching back the oatmeal cookie she just gave me) Get your head out of your rear end. Holy medals aren’t magic, you dunce. All power comes from God.  Are you still hung up on the whole Harry Potter thing? And speaking of sinners, get you’re confused butt to Confession.

Abashed, I took a more delicate approach to the subject of ashes. The distribution of ashes occurs on Ash Wednesday. They are made from burned, blessed palms from Palm Sunday. Catholics are anointed with them to mark the beginning of Lent as a reminder that we are mortal and as a call to repentance. The author suggested I “grab some”, which means I should have easy access all year round. I’ve never had ashes lying about. Was I deprived?

Me: Mom, where do you keep your secret stash of ashes?

Mom: Ashes? In the fireplace, I guess.

Me: (winking) You know. The ashes. The ones you grab whenever you run into sinners. The ones you...grab. (I really wasn’t sure what we were supposed to do with the ashes once we grabbed them. The author hadn’t been clear.)

Mom: (looking concerned) Is there something you want to tell me? Well, don’t. Save it for the priest and go to Confession.

I drove to my Church, disappointed yet refusing to give up on my quest. At the very least, those church elders the author referred to should be able to answer my questions. In the courtyard, I spied a group of men and women in their sixties and seventies who are always volunteering. You can find them decorating, baking, and generally being nice.  I always thought we only had one church elder--the Pope. And I wouldn’t call him an elder to his face. But what if the author was right? Was this group of apparently helpless, aged individuals in reality members of a powerful secret gang like the Masons or the Red Hat Society? I boldly stepped forward and called them out.

Me: You! Church Elders! I want to talk to you!

Elder Woman: Did she just call me old?

Elder Man: I told you that shade of purple made your skin look pale.

Elder Woman #2: Don’t you listen to him, Eunice. Lilac looks lovely on you.

Elder Woman #3: How rude. I think someone (looking at me) needs to learn a lesson in manners.

I got a footprint on my butt and, yes, it was implied that I should head over to Confession. So I went. I figured the priest could help me where other Catholics had failed me.

Me: Father, I’m so confused. I keep looking for a holy medal that will convert sinners, and I would really like to be able to grab some ashes, you know, as a back up.

Father: (pause) Sooooo, do you have any sins to confess? 

Me: (on a roll)  But maybe I’ve missed something. Do you think if I worship that lovely statue of St. Bernadette she might smite down people who have flings?

Father: I assume by “flings” you mean using others as objects for your own sexual gratification.

Me. Flings sounds more fun.

Father: (pulling out his handy autographed copy of Dealing with Heretics) How long have you been worshipping statues?

Me: (oblivious) And Voo-doo doesn’t sound so bad. Maybe saints do get cranky and wreak havoc. Maybe they’re awarded their own superpowers in heaven, separate from God. He probably needs help dealing out punishments and retribution. I know I would.

I got another footprint on my butt. Turns out there is no heretic-burning manual, but Father did hand me a brochure about RCIA. You’ll have to look that one up on your own.

A few things I know for certain. God gave us free will. That means we can practice Voo-doo and Fling about to our hearts content, but it won’t be God’s will, and the repercussions of not doing God’s will are a bummer. If God won’t force someone to behave, how can we? (Even if we do have holy medals and ashes at our disposal.)

God has a history of working through people--think apostles--and objects, such as the case of the woman with the hemorrhage. She merely touched Jesus’s tassel and was cured because of her faith. (Mt 9:20-22) Did the tassel cure her? No, and neither will a medal, but God could just as well work through blessed medals and ashes if He chose to. After all, He is God. But the power and the glory are strictly His.

I don’t know the reasoning behind the author’s comments. Maybe she’s an ex-Catholic who was frustrated and felt the need to lash out. If I was erroneously forced to hunt for piles of ashes to grab, I’d be cranky too.  Maybe she’s jumping on the Catholic-bashing bandwagon as a ploy to please her readers. Bashing any Christian denomination seems to earn one points these days. (The question should be--points from whom?)
I did wonder why the author felt the need to comment on religion at all. It seemed so unnecessary. It leapt from the page as one of those “author intrusion” moments, where the story pauses to let the author get something off her chest. This woman writes cozies. Not really a place for theological commentary.

The most obvious and perhaps saddest option is she probably didn't give it much thought at all. It’s too easy these days to make derogatory comments and slap labels on people. Lazy is in; logic and reasoning are out. Bishop Fulton Sheen once said, “There are not more than 100 people who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church.”

I’d like to recommend a book to the author and anyone else who might be interested. “What Catholics Really Believe” by Karl Keating puts to rest some of the myths floating out there.

Bottom line is, I’d never dream of saying that Jews who don’t agree with my character’s morality should just grab some kosher beef, perform a bris, and get over it unless I was saying something about the character making the comment. It wouldn’t be respectful. It wouldn’t be loving. It wouldn’t be Christian.

And I’d have to go to Confession.


Friday, April 27, 2012

Review of "Catholic Family Fun"

Catholic Family Fun by Sarah A. Reinhard
2012, Pauline Books and Media, $11.95

Wondering what to do with the family this weekend? Wishing you could talk about your faith without putting the kids to sleep? Sarah Reinhard has done the legwork for you and combined the solution to both dilemmas in Catholic Family Fun!

In her book, Reinhard offers parents a variety of ways to work faith into family life in an easy-to-follow format. Each entry estimates the total prep time, duration, and cost involved, so parents can discern which project will fit both schedule and budget.

She first breaks down the “how to”, which can include suggested materials as well as the steps involved. Each project is followed by a “Faith Angle”, which can turn a simple treasure hunt into a treasure trove of family faith. When possible, she includes suggestions to personalize the activity for your family.

The book is divided into sections such as Craft Projects and Story Starters, which makes it easy to find exactly what you’re looking for. Activities include rainy day projects that can be done at home as well as outdoors activities to get you out into the fresh air. Reinhard even includes suggestions of places to visit, always with a potential “Faith Angle” to enrich the experience. There is even a handy chart in the back of the book that allows for a quick scan to find something that meets your current needs.

Not every activity is spirituality in disguise. There are also straight-on faith activities, such as starting a Mary Garden and Saint celebrations as well as suggestions for how to pray together as a family. Finally, nothing drives home Jesus’ message better than serving those in need, and Reinhard suggests several opportunities that exist in almost every community.

One of the author’s points is that it’s not only easy to work faith into your family activities, it’s fun. This book provides perfect opportunities to grow closer as a family while incorporating the most important lessons your children will ever need in life. The book is currently available in paperback, and you can conveniently order from Pauline Books through Amazon . 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sarah Reinhard writes about marriage, motherhood, the Catholic faith, books, and life on a farm at her blog:  She is also a frequent contributor to other blogs, podcasts, and websites such as: Catholic Momwww.catholicmom.comFaith and Family LiveCatholic Foodie, and Catholic Writers Guild. Sarah lives in central Ohio with her husband and their three children.

Sarah gave advice on blogging at the recent Catholic Writers Guild Online Conference, and she rocked! If you are Catholic and looking for a great writer's group to join, I highly recommend checking out the Guild site.  The site it being updated, but there is a wealth of information in the blogs and through email.  Commercial over. And now, on to Sarah!

Sarah, your books are all geared toward family faith. Well, many Catholic parents take their kids to Mass and send them to Sunday School. Isn't that enough? And isn't it the job of the priest and  teachers to instruct our children in all things Catholic?

Parents are the first catechists of their children. When we have our children baptized--many of them as infants--we take this responsibility on in the most sacred way.

But it's HARD. It's also downplayed. In my work through our parish office (I've logged eight years so far), I see--and fight--the uphill battle as we try to give parents the confidence and tools to effectively catechize their children.

It seems like a lot of people are used to handing over the reins, but I'm a bossy sort.

Since we are a parish FAMILY, it's all of our jobs to instruct. That's why I'm a catechist in our parish religious education program.

But in my own family, the people who live in my house and especially my children, I'm going to be the one who answers to God someday. Me.

That's a tall order.

So it makes it hard to say "enough," at least for me.

I think of my job as a catechist and a parent as being very akin to that of a farmer. I plant seeds. God does the watering and he provides the sun (or Son, more accurately).

No matter how big the field seems, how impossible the task, I have to keep planting. I must not give up. I have to be feeding myself and keeping my own field tended, so that I know what to do when I see sprouts.

Being Catholic is such serious business, what with the incense and chanting and stern nuns with rulers. Or is it??? Can you give us some examples of how your book, Catholic Family Fun, incorporate fun into faith? 

Few things are as FUN as being Catholic in my life. Who else hosts parties with wine?

OK, that makes me sound like a lush.

I find that when I spend time with the most important people in my life--those people God has entrusted to me through the sacraments of marriage and the wonder of new life--I have fun. We make memories. We stick our fingers together because I'm no good with a glue gun. We try new things and we laugh.

One of my favorite family activities (and it's also included in Catholic Family Fun) is horseback riding. Now, I didn't need to write this book to have that be a favorite activity. But here's how it incorporates faith, without even stuffing it down anyone's throat: we are out in nature. Who made nature? And who made those horses? And wow, look! There are baby horses being born at the horse farm we go to! The room to discuss God's creation are boundless.

Did I mention that we're smiling while we talk? That we're in the middle of something we love, and that the conversation is natural?

For me, making faith fun is more about integrating it into everything. The word "catholic" means "universal," and it's so true that you can find elements of our faith, of God, in nearly everything we do.

If you're having fun, you'll feel closer to God. That's true for your kids, too. And if you're together as a family? Even better.

At what age do you think children are ready to take part in family prayer and Lenten practices?

I say 36. (That's because I'm 35.)

From what I observe in other people's families, you can start at about 3 or 4, depending on your child and...this is the kicker...YOU.

I fail at this sort of thing. FAIL in a BIG way.

And so I get up and try again. And again. And...again.

If Mary, Mother of Jesus, had a Facebook page, you would litter her site with LIKES. What role does Mary play in your life? And why?

I have no idea WHY, but Mary seems to be at the heart of much of what I do in my writing and other work. My children were all born on Marian feast days, and I was married on a Marian feast (though I didn't know it at the time).

Mary is the thread that ties me to Jesus. She's the hand that guides me back to him when I wander away into what *I* think is best. She's the reality check, the fact that makes Jesus HUMAN to me, instead of inaccessible and impossible to relate with.

You are the Catholic Blogger Extraordinaire! From "Mary in the Kitchen" on Catholic Foodie to "New Evangelizers", you're out there writing about meaningful topics that can help deepen our relationship with God. How do you balance so many obligations with being wife and mother of three? 

*blush* Thank you for your kind words.

Balance is an ongoing struggle. I use lists like a crazy woman, I juggle carefully, and I try to always be offline in the evenings after supper (I fail, mind you). I begin each day with prayer (the amount varies by day, but I try to at least start with a rosary).

And I do my very best to leave things in God's hands. It's HIS problem, these limits and parameters. And my big-V vocations of wife and mother always, ALWAYS come first. (At least, I try to make sure of that.)

I loved your Top 13 Essential Apps for Catholics on Tech Talk at I had some already, like Divine Office, but hadn't heard of them all. Do you have a few favorite books for those who aren't yet technologically savvy? 

That was a fun column to write, and wow! It got some great feedback, too!

Essential books? OK, let's say that the two heavyweights are already on your shelf (the Bible, the Catechism).

First: Chesterton. Before you roll your eyes, I love his fiction and his essays the best, though I do attempt to read his other stuff when my brain is feeling up for it. I love that he wrote in a way that wasn't always scholarly; he had a lot of fun and humor in his writing.

Second: good fiction. Yes, I know, that's a category, not a book, but I'm sticking by it. Without fiction, I wither away. There's great nonfiction out there (and I'm reading it like crazy), but I always try to have a good novel going in my reading pile (or two, if I'm lucky). I am heartened by good storytelling, and I find good storytelling in fiction. Here are a couple of books I've read recently and know I'll be rereading someday:
  • The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis - I consider it a great examination of conscience (and I also consider it a must-read every single year)
  • The Father's Tale, by Michael O'Brien - it's long, and it might not be your thing, but I loved reading it, and I imagine I'll reread it someday, because it was so wonderful the first time around
Third: helpful nonfiction. Again, a category. But there are SO MANY books. Sometimes, what speaks to me (whether a novel or not) doesn't speak to someone else. I find I have to be able to put it down, move along, and go forward. Some recent reads I've really enjoyed:

  • The Work of Mercy: Being the Hands and Heart of Christ, by Mark Shea
  • The Catholic Girl's Survival Guide for the Single Years, by Emily Stimpson (no, I'm not single, but I found this book moving and relevant!)
  • In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton

And now you've moved into podcasting. Is this fairly easy to do for people who would like to jump in and give it a try? (I'm nearly technologically illiterate.) 

I have to correct you: I "podsquat," which means I record segments and other people do the heavy lifting of producing the actual podcast.

Is it easy? Maybe, maybe not. Is it for you? Again, that depends.

Taking on anything new requires a level of discernment, which requires talking--and LISTENING--to God.

What's next for you?

I have a book coming out from Ave Maria Press in October, A Catholic Mother's Companion to Pregnancy: Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism, so that will be fun. I also have this idea for a book that I need to get into proposal form...we'll see. (I keep "not having time" for it. Hmm.)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Free Online Conference That Makes a Difference!

Mark your calendars for next March, because that's when the Catholic Writer's Guild Conference Online takes place!  Put on by the Guild, you don't have to be Catholic to attend, and you won't want to miss the great information!

The format is Chats and Forums. Forums are week-long daily posts that you drop by in your own time to read and do the assigned work. You can post your homework or comments, and the presenter drops by to reply.

Chats meet at specific, scheduled times, and they are on Eastern time, so a Californian like me might have to get up early, but it's well worth it.

Topics covered this year included blogging, using twitter effectively, dealing with those troublesome adverbs. There are general help sessions on self-publishing, editing, epublishing, and the writing business as well as more specific topics, such as mysteries, historical fiction, and writing villains and fight scenes.

There are also topics to help you as you try to tackle the writing life: House-Keeping Boot Camp, Time Management for Writers, and the Proper Care and Feeding of the Writer's Spouse.

On the spiritual side, you can get great tips from chats like The Baptized Imagination; Pray, Study...Work; and Writing Faith for Fiction.

So, what I'm sayin' is there is something for everyone: The new writer and the established writer, the writer who wants specific writing information and the writer who wants to embrace their faith and work it into their daily scribbling.

And it's all online in an easy, convenient format.  And did I mention it's FREE???

I'll bring more information next year as the schedule of presenters gets firmed up.

What topic would you like to see covered at a writers conference? Do you find online conferences convenient? Or would you miss the "event" feel of traveling to a separate venue? I'm really interested...because I'm one of the organizers now!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Catholic Writers Guild Online Conference ROCKS! Free conference full of good stuff.