Saturday, August 28, 2021

When We Lose the Liturgy We Love

When the news broke last month regarding Pope Francis’ latest motu propio,“Traditiones Custodes,” regarding the imposition of restrictions upon making the Latin Mass (TLM) available, like many Catholics, I was disappointed in the lack of charity shown to those with an affection for TLM.  Pope Francis stated that he made his decision “to promote the concord and unity of the Church,” and, while his methods seem to promote the opposite, like it or not, he has a point. There is little doubt that having two different forms of the Mass available has increased division within the Church.  In the past 14 years since Pope Benedict XVI issued his apostolic letter (Summorum Pontificum) acknowledging the right of all priests to say Mass in the Extraordinary Form (EF), which is in Latin, many Catholics have left their local congregations behind and moved to an EF parish, often many miles away.  More seriously, I personally know Catholics who refuse to attend Mass at all unless it is offered in the EF form (and vice versa). To me, this seems like choosing to commit mortal sin rather than participating in a form of the Mass that one does not prefer.  The popes, neither Francis nor Benedict XVI, I suspect, hoped for that end result.  And now that the proverbial horse has escaped the barn, it seems to me that Pope Francis is trying to shut the barn door. 

I suppose Pope Francis’ edict could be more sinister than that, and if it is, time will tell.  But for now, having two very different forms of the Mass available in dioceses has created less and not more unity among the faithful. This is not to say that there is no fruit coming from TLM, because I know there is.  I have witnessed first-hand the return of fallen away Catholics after they experienced the Mass in the Extraordinary Form (EF).  I have seen my own son respond to the reverence and rituals of TLM in a way that he never responds to the Mass when he attends the Ordinary Form (OF).  It has made me wish on several occasions that we had the opportunity to attend TLM on a regular, weekly basis, and if one was available within our community, we certainly would.  But that is not an opportunity that my family has, and I admit that I am very saddened by this latest decision of the pope’s because it makes it less likely that my family will have that opportunity in the future.

And so, while the hierarchy of the Church debates, the rest of us must look forward.  I fear that the division already at play will now become even more acute in the Church.  Will entire Catholic communities of traditionalists spring up around a central church that offers TLM?  Will more families pull up roots and move to the diocese or parish that suits them best?  Of course, this is already happening, and as the Church becomes more and more polarized (as our country has), I predict it will continue.  I can’t say I blame them, as it is very, very tempting, especially for those of us with children, but I wonder, where do we draw the line?  A diocese is only as faithful and true as its bishop, and bishops change.  Do we keep uprooting and moving around to follow the bishops we like, or trust?  Will we eventually end in schism, as so many predict? If we can’t follow our pope, who do we follow?

I ask these questions because I have been through a similar situation before, albeit to a much lesser degree.  For ten years, my parents and I drove two hours every Sunday to attend Mass.  Not TLM.  We drove two hours every Sunday to attend Mass in the Ordinary Form, even though there was an Ordinary Form of the Mass being offered at the Catholic church located five minutes from our house, a church we had attended for ten years prior to that.  What made us leave one parish for the other wasn’t bad homilies or unfriendly parishioners.  What made us leave was a lack of reverence and acknowledgement by the priest and the laity in the church of the Divine Presence in the Eucharist.  Even though Jesus was present on the altar, nobody acted like He was there, even the priest.  In those ten years, my family’s faith faltered until we broke ties and found another church many miles away that put the Blessed Sacrament first and foremost in the Mass.  I remember falling in love with the Mass in that newfound church, where they used incense, real gold chalices, genuflected, spoke a few prayers in Latin, and used hymns that dated back to the 1870s and not the 1970s.  I suspect I felt a lot like many Catholics feel when they attend their first Mass in the Extraordinary Form.  Everything about it fed my senses, and I wanted to learn more about this religion that I’d always had but never fully experienced.  The Holy Spirit set me on fire, and I soon found myself signing up for religious pilgrimages, joining RCIA courses, and counting down the days until I could purchase my first catechism when it was finally published in English in 1994.  In short, I was experiencing a spiritual renewal in my Catholic faith.

But there were consequences.  The Catholic parish in my hometown, the one where they’d watched me get confirmed, where they’d hosted a graduation party just for me when I graduated high school, where we had friends who would call on us and check on us if we didn’t turn up for Mass, that parish felt rejected by our decision to leave them and become part of another parish miles away. In a short time, many of our former parishioners no longer associated with us, nor we them. They were “one kind” of Catholic now, and we were now another.   We were becoming “traditionalists” and they were the “liberals”, and none of us wanted to be like the other.

It’s the oldest trick in Satan’s book.  Before he destroys, he divides, and we are all pawns in his evil game. Perhaps Pope Francis is as well.  Some Catholics certainly think so, even going so far as to refer to him as the “Anti-Christ” and refusing to accept him as our Holy Father.  I agree, our Holy Father certainly has led us into confusion, but so many leaders are guilty of the same, yet, their position still requires our respect, even if they do sometimes misuse their authority. Often times, they are just not very good at leadership, and we should pray that the Holy Spirit gives them the gifts necessary to be authoritative and benevolent leaders of those under their authority.

But for our part, we must guard our souls from anything that appears holy but leads us towards disunity.  For now, there is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” Church.  Let’s not forget that. Whether we find ourselves in the pews of a liberal-leaning parish, or an extremely orthodox Latin Mass parish, or somewhere in between, keep in mind that, for the most part, holiness comes from within us, and by receiving the sacraments, and not from the form of Mass that we attend.

When my parents and I left our little hometown church thirty years ago, I believe we were prompted by the Holy Spirit to do so. I say this because, in hindsight, I can see how the Holy Spirit was leading me to the places where I needed to be in order to truly learn about and appreciate the Catholic faith and all its beauty and teachings.  If you are a Catholic who found yourself drawn to TLM during the past decade, I suspect that the Holy Spirit led you there, as well.  Perhaps you were like I was, lukewarm in the faith, poorly catechized, uninspired by the humdrum new age music and tired of homilies without substance.  Perhaps you left all that and found your true faith in an EF parish, making it worth all the sacrifice it took to be there.  And perhaps now, you feel like you are going to lose all of that, and that the rug has been pulled out from under you, and that you (or your children) might lose your faith altogether without it.

I suppose that’s a lot how the disciples felt when the day came that Jesus left their side, and it was their turn to take the Good News to the far corners of the world, as he commanded.  At that moment, perhaps they felt weak in their faith because He was not as obviously present as he’d been before. How much easier it must have been to be Jesus’ disciples when He walked beside them, and onlookers could see Him in their midst!  Now, not only did it take a true act of faith to believe Jesus was still with them, but the disciples also had to face the lions, and be the seeds of the faith in lands where they were not welcome nor understood. They had to convince people who had never seen this man called Jesus that He was real, He was there, and that He was God. What an overwhelming task this must have been, and I suspect they were not comfortable about this approach Jesus was taking to spread the faith on earth.  I wonder if the disciples wanted to rebel instead of just accept that they were now going to have to live and worship among those who didn’t believe nor see what they had seen.  A future of persecution and martyrdom awaited them when they chose to take their witness into the temples filled with non-believers.  In my mind, it’s not unlike those who have been comforted by the real presence of Jesus in the EF of the Mass now being called to take their experience and wisdom and share it with those who have not had this same, deep encounter with Our Lord, as challenging as that will be.

For my own story, God didn’t allow me to stay in my comfortable little Catholic bubble where I was able to practice my faith surrounded by other Catholics who believed and practiced like me.  Twenty-five years after my parents pulled their family out of the parish I’d grown up in, I found myself back in it, this time with my own family.  Things had changed there some; there was at last, a tabernacle with a sanctuary lamp lit beside it, and they finally had a crucifix behind the altar, praise God! But the homilies were still fluffy and light, the parishioners friendly yet irreverent, there were still no kneelers, no statues of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, no mention of saints, no traditional Catholic hymns, and (true story), no confessional. It only marginally felt like a Catholic church.

There was a part of me that wanted to turn and run.   How would I be able to maintain my faith in such an environment, let alone catechize my children? But instead of running, we have stayed.  We stay and we pray, and we try to be missionaries in our own parish.  It has not been easy.  We have been ridiculed.  We have been marginalized.  We have been tested and are still being tested.  But through persistent prayer, slowly, ever so slowly, the Holy Spirit has been working, and today, our church has kneelers, statues (albeit very small ones), and we regularly sing traditional hymns.  Through the working of the Holy Spirit, we have been sent a very reverent priest.  We have First Friday adoration (yes, my family is the only one that attends, but that’s okay!), and we have monthly confessions in a make-shift confessional.  Sometimes, we even use Latin prayers.  The seeds are growing, ever so slowly.  And I realize now, in hindsight, that had my parents and I not left that parish thirty years ago, we wouldn’t have been prepared to return.   We needed that time away to grow strong and learn our faith before we could become missionaries in our hometown.  Much like Jesus spent three years forming His disciples before sending them out into the world, the Lord gave my family time and led us to the right places and people who prepared us for where we are now.  Today, although going to Mass is far from the experience I long for it to be, through the sacraments, answered prayers, and a handful of inspiring holy people, Jesus continues to give my family the grace we need in order to stay in the mission field.

And that is my challenge to anyone who has seen their faith grow and flourish by being part of TLM community but now is at risk of losing the liturgy they love. Perhaps you will have the opportunity to stay where you are and TLM will not be taken away from you, and if so, what a blessing that must be!  But if you do not; if circumstances beyond your control take you away from the traditional liturgy that you love, perhaps Jesus is asking more of you.  Perhaps it is His way of telling you that you are ready now to go out on your own just as His disciples did.  Perhaps it is time to become a missionary in your own hometown.  Take what you have found in traditionalism and bring it to the rest of us as best you can without being uncharitable. Trust that if you are the seed, God will water the soil, and his church will grow both in number and in love for the Eucharist.  And when you find yourself the only one wearing a veil, or saying the rosary, or at adoration, or kneeling during the consecration, know that you are not really alone, that the angels and saints surround you, and that your example is sorely needed, whether anyone else appreciates it or not.  Our world, our church, is divided enough. Be strong, be faithful, and pray.  Pray that someday, in God’s good providence, we will all be united by only one form of the Mass, and that it will be “true, good and beautiful," as it should be.




Saturday, July 24, 2021

And Now 11

It's birthday week for our eldest, son, John.   I've written about John a few times in the past.  He's the reason I started this blog.  A few years after he was born, I realized that I wanted to start a blog so that I could share my infertility, my parenting, and my faith stories with others.  I wanted others to know that miracles really do happen every day, and John is proof of that. I wanted to tell the story of what happened before he was born, while I carried him inside me, and what has happened ever since I held him for the first time.  He's the one who changed everything for me and made me want to write it all down. It is his life that is intertwined in so many of my stories.  

I don't write as many stories now as I used to.  I guess in part that is because I feel like I've already told my most important story; the story that needed to be shared about John and how long it took for him to come into our world, and how the first time I held him, I finally, maybe for the first time in my life, knew that God truly loved me, not in some allegorical sense of the word, but real, true love that comes at a price that for so long, I did not want to pay.   

He's eleven now, freshly minted and even closer to the day that I will be letting him go.  I won't be ready, of course.  But if you know my story, you know that I was preparing to let him go from the moment I knew he existed.  He has never felt completely mine, I suppose because he really isn't. He's always been God's child, and his name reflects that.  

Today, John and I are celebrating the beginning of another year for him with some of his favorite things.  A hike, just the two of us, through the forest, looking for chanterelle mushrooms.  He can outpace me now, and I notice that he is all arms and legs, as his body prepares for the growth spurt that will soon have him looking at me eye-to-eye.  While we walk, he talks non-stop about things that I have little understanding holes, rocket boosters, circuits.  He stops only for a moment, to kneel down and touch the plant called Sensitive Plant, watching its fronds fold as his fingers brush across them.  And for a moment, I see the little boy who walked beside me years ago, and learned from me as I showed him this natural phenomenon for the first time. Today, I take pleasure in knowing that he is still delighted by such simple little moments. 

It was when he was almost 5 that I wrote this blog post, on a whim, asking him various questions about himself.  How could that have been 6 years ago?   But for posterity's sake, I am repeating it here again.  Six years later, he's now a child more than half grown, still reminding me that miracles happen every day.


(age 5/ age 11 answers)

What’s your name? John  / John
When were you born? June / July 2010
Where were you born? Missouri / at a hospital in St. Louis
What’s your favorite food?  Candy! / I like ice-cream a lot.
What’s your favorite color? Blue / Purple
What do you love to do with Mommy? Sleep / Snuggle
What do you love to do with Daddy?  Play drums /  Listen to music together
What do you love to do with Joah?  Hug him and throw him in the air. / Jumping on trampoline
What do you want to be when you are a grown up?  Old. / Own a restaurant and be a scientist
What do you love about your mommy?  Your eyes. / You let me have ice-cream
What do you love about your daddy?  His drums. / He lets me listen to (loud) music on Saturdays
Do you like summer or winter better?  Summer! / Summer
What’s your favorite thing to do outside?  Swimming / Swimming
What’s your favorite thing to do inside?  TV / Read
What’s your favorite prayer?  Angel of God prayer. / Our Father
What scares you most?  Lightning / Thunder & Lightning
What’s your favorite animal?  Zebras / Chickadee
Do you like Christmas or Easter better?  Easter because I get a lot of candy. / Easter because it's longer
What makes you sad?  If Joah is crying and hurt. / Mistreating animals
What makes you happy?  Going places. / Reading
What makes you angry?  Joah biting me. / Getting yelled at.
What is something mommy always says to you?  Go poo poo. / Don't snipe at others.
How old are you?  Four. / Eleven
How old is mommy?  I don’t know.  Twelve? Thirty?  Eighty? / Are you 50?
What are you very good at?  Maybe helping Mommy. / Hiking

Sunday, June 20, 2021

My Family's Connection to St. John the Baptist


Our family has a lot to be thankful for this week.   We’ll be celebrating three birthdays (my parents’ and my husband, Tom’s) and “name day” for our son, John.   In thinking about that, I realized that I never really shared the story behind the connection our family has to St. John the Baptist, so I thought now would be a good time, since the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist is this Thursday, June 24. 

It all started long before I was even remotely interested in liturgical living, and before I really knew any of the stories of the saints.  Tom and I were 3 years into our marriage, and he was preparing to join the Catholic Church.  As his confirmation date approached, he was contemplating whom he should choose as a patron saint.  Not being well versed in Catholicism myself, I suggested perhaps he simply choose St. Thomas since they share the same name, but Tom wasn’t a fan of that idea.  So, I suggested perhaps he choose St. John the Baptist since Tom’s birthday falls on the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.   That appealed to Tom more, and he facetiously commented that he could relate to St. John the Baptist because he frequently “lost his head”, a somewhat snarky reference to our marital relationship.  So, St. John the Baptist became Tom’s patron saint, and as the years passed, Tom and I came to realize that, although chosen slightly in jest, this powerful saint would one day prove that the joke was on us.

Fast forward six years.  I was finally pregnant again after losing our first baby in miscarriage four years earlier.  We’d recently found out that we were expecting a boy, and Tom and I began discerning names for our son.  Another Tom?  Nope. Tom was adamant that we retire that family name.  Leo? Max? Justin? Joseph? Paul? James? None of the names I suggested seemed to work for Tom.  Then, I remembered Tom’s patron saint and asked, “What about John?”   Tom thought it over.  He liked the reference to his patron saint.  I liked the connection it had to Tom’s birthday and conversion to Catholicism.  I also wanted a name that reflected an infertility story from the Bible, and the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth seemed more than fitting. So, we settled on the name.  John it would be.   Little did we know that the name we had chosen would take on even more significance in the coming weeks.

Two months later, I awoke shortly after midnight and realized that my water had broken during the night. My heart sank. I was only 28 weeks along in my pregnancy with John.  After so many years of infertility and the loss of our first baby, I expected the worst. The day before, I had felt so strong and healthy and happy.  My parents had just arrived in town, and we were preparing to celebrate Tom’s birthday the next day.  Only now, instead of waking up to a day of celebration, Tom and I were waking up to our worst nightmare.  We were sure we were losing our John.

We rushed to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning on that June 24th, 2010.  We prayed a rosary on the 40-minute drive, and I tried to keep calm.  The following 24-hours were full of trepidation as we waited to see what my body would do next.  I was admitted to Labor & Delivery and hooked up to monitors and pumped with steroids and we waited. And we prayed.  We particularly prayed to St. John the Baptist because it was his feast day, hoping that he would intercede for us, and ask God for a miracle on our behalf, and to please protect our own little John.  And as we waited and prayed, Tom read to me the passages from the Bible that told the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth and the birth of John.  In those long hours, I felt great comfort come over me when meditating on the life and story of St. John the Baptist.  I felt confident that he was interceding for us.

A day later, we got our miracle. Instead of giving birth prematurely, as had been expected, my amniotic fluid began to build back up to normal levels.  Another week later, I was sent home, still pregnant, and on July 23, John was born.  He was healthy and bright-eyed and ready to take on the world.  His first word was “light”, and I am convinced God made him to bring light into dark corners of the world, much as John the Baptist did.

And for a long time, I thought that was the end of the story.

Time went by, and our family grew, and we held St. John the Baptist in high regard in our home. Every year since that June 24, 2010, our family made a point to celebrate not only Tom’s birthday, but also the feast of this great saint who was now the patron of both Tom and our little John and to whom we owed a great debt of gratitude.  However, I never suspected that St. John the Baptist wasn’t quite finished yet.

This time, it was August 2016, and we found ourselves in Houston, Texas, a thousand miles away from home.  We were again waiting for a baby, and again, things were not going as planned.  Our baby’s birthmother had just delivered a healthy baby boy, whom we planned to adopt, but she was in serious trouble.  Her vitals tanked soon after giving birth, she was unconscious and not responding, and the future of both her and her newborn baby were in limbo.  Without her written consent, we would not be able to adopt her child, and if she died (a real possibility at the time), with no other family around, he would become a ward of the state of Texas.  But more importantly, she was the mother of our future son, and we already considered her a part of our family and wanted her in our life and in our son’s life.  We prayed desperately for a miracle, asking God to save her and bring her back to us.

That long night turned into another long day, and she remained unresponsive.  Her baby was in the nursery, and I was not allowed to see or hold him without her consent. And because we had no proof of a relationship with her, we were not allowed to see her, either.  I was devastated, knowing the little baby we hoped to make our own was lying in the hospital nursery instead of a mother’s arms and his mother had nobody by her side as she fought for her life. Tom and I called our priest, our friends, our family asking for prayers for her and for our adoption situation.  And then I remembered that this wasn't the first time I'd been in a hospital, waiting to see if I was going to lose my baby, and I remembered that  there was one person who had helped us through it.  St. John the Baptist.  So, we turned to him again, and begged him for his intercession.  Please, St. John, do it again. Please, save this baby and his mother.

Hours passed.  Night came again, but I could not sleep. Then I heard a ping on my phone. It was a message sent by our birthmother. I was puzzled.  Someone must be using her phone, I thought.  So I messaged back, and she replied back, and said it was her and would I come see her?   I couldn’t believe it.  She was awake and responding!   Even more, she wanted to see me, and know that I had her baby in safe keeping.  My heart burst with joy and gratitude, and a few days later, she allowed us to adopt her baby boy.

And so, once again, we were given a miracle, but why do I attribute this miracle to the intercession of St. John the Baptist? It was a few days after we brought our sweet little Dominic home from the hospital that I realized that his birthmother had made her miraculous return to consciousness in the evening hours of August 29, the Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist.  I was stunned.  How could I not have seen that coming?  Suddenly, everything made perfect sense.

I have heard it said that the saints are often calling to us, wanting to intercede for us, to help us in our most difficult trials.  I never quite understood that for a very long time.  There was a time when I struggled to remember the names of even a few saints, and I never really took asking for their intercession very seriously.  My journey through infertility changed a lot of that.  It changed because, for a time, I (mistakenly) believed that God wasn’t hearing my prayers. So, in desperation, I turned to the saints and asked them to pray for me.  Maybe God will hear them, I thought.

In hindsight, I think God allowed me to feel disconnected to Him in prayer so that I would turn towards the saints.  Perhaps he wanted me to realize that it wasn’t just me and Him, but rather, me, Him and a whole bunch of best friends in heaven whom I could call upon anytime for help.  The communion of saints, as the Church refers to it. I think God knows we need that kind of community both on earth and in heaven.

Since that time almost 20 years ago, when Tom and I first half-jokingly made St. John the Baptist a part of our family’s story, a lot has changed.  I have changed. My image of saints as distant figures in church history has now been replaced by a very real awareness of them standing beside me, calling out to me in little ways, hoping that I am listening.  Their names, their feast days, their stories, all pop in and out of the moments of my daily life, usually at times when I am wrestling with a particular challenge or anxiety that threatens my spiritual well-being.  But of all the saints who have come to my aid, it is through the intercession of St. John the Baptist that I have experienced the greatest miracles.  Without his help, I often wonder if I would have my two sons.  He is a most powerful saint, in so many ways.  A saint so great that the Catholic Church recognizes him as deserving of two feast days, and I am both honored and humbled that my family, thanks to his intercession, is connected to both.

St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

Note: If you would like to read more about my infertility story, John’s birth story or Dominic’s birth story, you can find them posted here, here, and here.