More from Francis de Sales

Background photo by Laura Elfrink

When I went through my files looking for words of comfort the other day, I wasn’t sure whether to share this or not. There’s a lot to be anxious about right now, and I doubt any of us feels real inner peace. Yesterday we took a break from the Lenten sweets fast. I said, “You know, sometimes life hands you Lent, and when it does, you don’t need need to make it for yourself.”

Of course, we have no chocolate in the house to speak of, so we can’t just make cookies. But we pulled out the cake pops that have been in the freezer for a year or more, and they decimated the candy jar. All the Valentine’s candy is gone. (Before Easter!)

But that’s not really the point. The point I’m aiming for today is that a quote like this *can* do more harm than good, making us feel that if we aren’t able to live up to it, we are deep failures. I spoke to a counselor yesterday for the first time in my life. Once I cleared the anxiety that dogged me for years in young adulthood, I vowed that never again would I be too ashamed to seek help. And yet every time anxiety has reared its head in the past two decades, I’ve managed to work through it on my own in a few days or a couple weeks.

When it hit last week, I knew I’d outrun my ability to cope on my own. And with a stay-at-home order in place, I am well aware that I have to have my own emotional health if I hope to support that of my children.

So I stopped reading articles on the pandemic, and asked to be removed from an impassioned family email thread; I’m not watching the news; and most importantly, I called a counseling service available through my husband’s work.

One of the things he told me is that our emotions respond to the narrative we give them. Right now I’m focused on the deprivation–concerts, freedom, unfettered grocery store runs. But the reality is that what I still have far outweighs what has been taken from me. That’s why this quote speaks to me this morning. The whole world SEEMS upset, but it isn’t as upset as it feels. However imperfectly, however often I fail, I will work to refocus on what I have, rather than what I’ve (temporarily) lost.

St. Francis de Sales

I’m going to switch focus for a while to words of comfort and hope… for my own sake as well as, I would imagine, everyone else’s Only one comment to go with this quote, which felt like balm on my own soul this morning: when I went online to doublecheck the spelling of St. Francis de Sales’ name, this was in the Wikipedia preview biography about him: that he was “noted for his deep faith and his gentle approach to the religious divisions in his land resulting from the Protestant Reformation.”

We have religious divisions of our own. St. Francis de Sales might be a great model for us all.

Anxiety, judgment, and discernment in the social distancing era

(Disclaimer: this post is written so that others might not feel alone. It is not shared as a cry for advice. Advice does not help people experiencing anxiety. Just don’t. Empathize, share your own journey, but do.not.advise. Please.)

Photo by Elina Krima on Pexels.com

I haven’t posted here in a week. I just couldn’t. What can I say?

In the past week, death by coronavirus came to my community. My kids came home from school for a four-week online learning plan that I have already told them to expect to last until the end of the year. That way if we do get to go back to school, we’ll all be pleasantly surprised.

My family is wrestling with the loss of events we had our hearts set on. The loss of freedom. The panicky sense of lack of external structure, which you can handle for a week or two, but the idea of it stretching from now until late August is enough to invoke panic attacks. (Every blessed day exactly the same, nothing, not even going to church to break the monotony.) The gut-hollowing recognition that no matter what I do, I can never provide as much structure as my daughter with Down syndrome needs in order to learn successfully.

There’s the discernment of what things outside the home need to be done, and the reality of judgment when others think we’re discerning too loosely. The terror of a person whose anxiety molds itself on scrupulousness, thus making me think I’m not doing enough to “flatten the curve” unless I lock the doors and keep us totally isolated. The discernment of trying to weigh mental health against the reality that if the kids go outside, they’re going to encounter other kids.

The recognition that way too much of my anxiety has to do with other people’s opinions.

To say nothing of the fear of what happens if the virus does land in my household.

Only a few weeks ago I was looking at my life with great contentment. And, truthfully, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Things were going too well.

I didn’t expect what we’re dealing with now.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I also didn’t expect the anxiety to hit. Because hit it did, roaring back into my life the middle of last week along with the arrival of my kids at home for Coronavirus Break. And unlike other flare-ups in recent years, this one has no expiration date.

I’ve spent a lot of hours lying awake lately with heart pounding, praying and praying and praying.

The one moment of hope coming out of all this is that, in the middle of one of my white-night prayer sessions, begging for clarity and discernment and peace, I remembered my spiritual director asking me, “Has there ever been a time when you were certain that what you were hearing was God?”

Well, of course there was.

“What did that feel like?” she asked.

Well, I answered, it felt like quiet, cool breezes by a creek. It felt like calm.

It did not feel like a maelstrom of lava pits and pounding hearts.

That recognition was so profound. And I am clinging to that reminder in the midst of these days full of anxiety I could never have anticipated.

Ruled by economics

Background image by HealthWyze from Pixabay

Ever since “it’s the economy, stupid,” this has been how every issue is approached, both personal and societal. Who am I kidding? If the Vatican II bishops were talking about this, clearly it’s been this way since before the 1990s. But it’s impossible to escape the message these days. No matter what crisis is happening (coronavirus is one, but there have been plenty of other instances), the go-to response is always “how is it going to impact the economy?” As if that were the only–or even the most–important factor.

As a Catholic striving to put my faith above all else–far, far above money, which is supposed to be how we survive and do good in the world, not the defining factor of existence–I find this fixation problematic. We say we want to be a Christian nation, but that only holds as long as the topic is some moral issue that costs me nothing, because it doesn’t impact me personally. As soon as it’s a Gospel directive that affects *my* pocketbook, it’s a whole different story.

God vs. mammon, indeed.

How Does a Christian Respond to the Coronavirus?

I’ve never succumbed to communal panic about crises. The closest I came was my senior year of high school, when some dude who’d “never been wrong” in predicting an earthquake predicted the biggest one ever on the New Madrid Fault, and it happened to line up with the day I was out of town auditioning for all-state band. I think my response was to pack a blanket in the car.

So it felt very… wrong… somehow, yesterday, to go to the grocery store a day early and spend more than twice what I normally spend on a week’s worth of groceries to freeze–vegetables, snack packs with nuts & cheese, milk & pizza makings. It felt like abandoning a long-held principle.

But if things do follow recent patterns, we could find ourselves quarantined in our home for two weeks, and if that happens, well, I have six people to feed. Extra groceries seems like a reasonable precaution.

Here’s what I’m realizing this week: in the coronavirus era, more than ever, living the faith intentionally requires humility and self-checking one’s biases.

I, for instance, have been very resistant to the limitations on worship that have come down. But I remind myself that devotion to purity of worship is a golden calf just as deadly as idols of political philosophy or money. There are immuno-compromised people to consider, and their dignity is more important than the externals of worship.

We all have some hangup to get over. Some people are so certain that “on the tongue” is the only proper way to receive the Eucharist, they are unwilling to bend in the interest of public health. Others insist we shouldn’t ban the Cup or stop the sign of peace because obviously God will protect us.

For all of us, the coronavirus outbreak is a wakeup call. For years, we’ve been warned that something like this was inevitable, but we all shrugged it off.

And now that it’s here, we’re reaping the fruit of our collective failure to listen and compromise. While Americans up and down the political food chain have been busy screaming at each other about a handful of hot button issues, a bunch of critical things have been ignored. We’re not prepared for a health crisis like the one China and Italy have been facing. This morning, a family member sent the text of an article from the Economist (a British magazine which is rated “least biased” by Media Bias/Fact Check, a rare distinction), which stated that “In 2010 the CDC budget was $12.7 billion in current dollars; today it is $8 billion.”

Meanwhile, the talk in some quarters is more tax cuts. Tax cuts *might* stimulate some minor economic movement (although with everything closed/canceled, what are we going to spend it on?), but the nation is already deeply in debt. You can’t keep cutting government’s funding and expect it to be able to carry out its proper function–i.e. the protection of the population.

Our basic vocation as Christians is to care for each other. Sometimes that’s on an individual basis, person to person. But if we want to be a “Christian” nation, then we should view that as a collective, societal vocation. To accomplish that is going to require taxes. Taxes are not evil; the pandemic illustrates that some functions simply *cannot* be carried out on an individual basis. They *require*, by definition, centralized intervention. We can’t hold any philosophy, whether it’s Communion under both species, Communion on the tongue, or low taxes, so tightly that we give up the thing that’s most important–the Christian call to care for each other.

“New humanism”

This seems like such a simple quote. I was going to let it stand without commentary, but I realized that this is really the essence of the convictions of all Christians who are passionate about social justice. To be a Christian is to care, in a self-emptying, physical, sacrificial way, for others. And to recognize that the things we do now have ripples down through history, on generations not yet born.

This quote expresses why we have a responsibility to act on environmental issues, on racial issues, on issues of poverty and inequality–the whole range of questions that are the most uncomfortable to address, because they challenge cherished ideals of self-reliance and rugged individualism.

Authors of the culture

I absolutely love this quote. WE are the creators of our culture. Holding ourselves apart from it, putting ourselves in a bubble to protect ourselves from the evils of the world, is actually an abdication of our job. We’re supposed to leaven the world by being part of it. By influencing it. Not by hiding from it.

That also doesn’t mean we take a combative stand to everything in the culture. By being part of it, we can shape it. If all we do is criticize it and not participate, we give over our chance to make it better.

Stay-at-home motherhood: is it really the only Godly route?

Disclaimer: I’m a big believer that faith is never easy, and if it is, it almost certainly means you’re not digging deep enough. If you think you have it all figured out, you’re probably more pharisee than seeker.

When I started Intentional Catholic, I knew I couldn’t just ignore the bits of the documents that are hard for me to swallow. So I admit it: this is one of them.

Certainly the most “traditional” among us believe very strongly that moms should be in the home, always and forever. But that second half of the quote, about not underrating legitimate social progress, seems to indicate that even the bishops had to wrestle with how rigidly to hold that principle.

Because if a woman’s rightful place is in the home as long as she has children, the reality is she will ONLY have a place in the home. The reality of the world is that one cannot have children, raise them in isolation from a professional career, and then blithely step into the workplace at age 45 or 50.

As crazy as my life is—as stretched-thin as I am by the various irons I have in the fire—I recognize how incredibly blessed I am that my gifts & passions lend themselves to working from home. But my situation is the exception, not the norm. God gives women gifts just as he gives men; surely He means for them all to be used? Surely they were all given for a purpose in the divine plan. Yes, mothers have something irreplaceable to give to their children, but does it necessarily follow that that gift can ONLY be expressed by staying home?

Also, the male-dominated professional world really suffers from the lack of the feminine gifts—peacemaking, teamwork, empathy come to mind; I’m sure there are others. Those, too, are gifts given by God for a purpose.

I know families in which the father is the one with the gift for homemaking, and it works beautifully. I also know families who move Heaven and Earth to work opposing schedules so they share the tasks of breadwinning and child care.

I’ve heard it said many times that stay-at-home-mom is a pretty new invention, one enjoyed only by the wealthy. I’m not able to confirm this quickly, but it tracks with knowledge of women working in clothing factories and washing houses in earlier times. If you think of moms at home pre-industrial revolution, they were growing vegetables and preserving, baking bread and sewing clothes for the family.

And if you are tempted to say, “Well, duh, that’s what you do when you stay home,” I’d remind you that at the same time the husbands were working fields and raising livestock, also at home. Home and work were the same thing for EVERYONE in the agricultural era.

And in the industrial age, how many of those wealthy at-home moms employed other women as wet nurse, nanny, and tutor? So they were home, but they still weren’t really raising their own kids. Plus, that picture reveals even more women working outside the home in an era we tend to idealize as the era of SAHMs.

So all in all, I think we have a tendency to oversimplify this whole picture of what a mother’s domestic role is, and what it means to safely preserve it. A mother does have a unique place in her children’s heart and in their upbringing. But it doesn’t follow that if she goes to work outside the house, that role is being discarded.

I have a family member who works full-time and points out that being a working mom does NOT mean work is more important. When kids are off school or sick, they frequently camp out in her office all day. When she can’t work it another way, she sacrifices work time. “I am always a mom first,” she says.

A lot of this reflection is not strictly faith-related, but many times general expressions of faith—i.e. “we are all given unique gifts by God for a specific purpose”—require us to get down in the weeds on practical things to see how that principle can or should be lived out in the real world.

Marriage & Family

There’s a sequence in Gaudium et Spes that addresses marriage and family, and is often quoted for its guidance on discerning family size. Children are the supreme good of marriage; marriage is ordained for children (though not solely so); educating the next generation; discernment of family size.

This is from the middle of that sequence, but it isn’t among the most well-known extracts. (Well anyway, they’re well-known to me from years in the natural family planning community. In any case, see #s 48 and the rest of 50 for that.) But I pick this bit because it’s a smaller, more-easily processed excerpt, and because I think it really crystallizes the big picture: we are cooperators with God when we bring children into the world, and we interpret that love through the way we raise our children. That’s big stuff!

Admitting systemic failure

This doesn’t require much commentary from me–we see it in action right now in the world. The Church has little moral authority in the world, and one of the big reasons (though not the only one) is the sex abuse scandal. We tend to be kind of a passive laity–and I’m pointing fingers at no one, because I feel as powerless and baffled on how to fix things as anyone else–counting on the vertical structure of the Church to fix the problem, while we go on with business as usual. Clearly, it doesn’t work. There *has* been harm inflicted on the spread of the Gospel, and that blame lies with the Church leadership for continuing to bungle and protect itself–but also on us, the laity, for clinging to the way things have always been done, and not stepping up to be more active in our faith and our Church, when clearly the way things have always been done is no longer sufficient for the times and issues we face.

I don’t know what the solution is. But there has rarely been an excerpt that has seemed so clearly written for this moment in time, even though it was written fifty years ago.