Sunday, January 31, 2010

Catholic Charities passes out free needles to drug addicts

ALBANY-- After 20 years of alleviating suffering for people touched by AIDS, Catholic Charities will take one of its boldest steps yet on Monday: passing out free syringes to IV drug users in two urban neighborhoods to prevent the spread of the disease.
Anticipating criticism, the social services agency of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany spent five years planning and vetting the needle exchange program, which received approval from its trustees and board chairman, Bishop Howard J. Hubbard.
"I understand there will be questions, but this is common sense," said Sister Maureen Joyce, CEO of Catholic Charities. "I strongly believe in this. It will save lives." Full story here.

What next? Free booze to alcoholics? Free hookers to porn addicts?

Common sense this is not. Lunacy this is. I sure hope Catholic Charities squashes this one real soon. I suspect they'll be losing some donations over this one.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Going Gray Gracefully

Or, "It's Great to be Gray!" Well, at least it used to be, back when the alternative was death.

Earlier this week I was in the orthodontist's office with Edmund (and when I say "earlier" I mean "earlier." It was 7:30 in the morning.) As I was sitting in the waiting room, trying to pretend the instant chai in the orthodontist's office was as good as a Starbuck's Chai Latte, and wondering if I should pick up and read the skanky magazines that shrieked, "Brad texts away while Angelina has torrid affair with cell phone salesman," and "Octomom shows off sexy new bod," or just get out the knitting I brought with me, I couldn't help but overhear the three women talking behind the receptionist's desk.

"Women should never go gray. My mom is 79 and she only has a touch of gray. Whenever I see any gray hairs, I'll pull them out. If I get more, I'll definitely cover it up."

"Did you see that woman? She was too young to be gray! She had two young children. And she wasn't even wearing any make-up!"

"My husband would never stand for that. He told me so."

"Men look distinguished when they're gray. Women just look haggard."

I tried to sink into my chair without spilling my overly sweet and chemically enhanced faux chai, thinking how stupid of me to not put on any make-up this morning before our early morning trip to the tooth-straightening guy. But the longer I sat there listening to their catty remarks about other women, the more I thought this was unfair.

It's unfair that men should be allowed to go gray, nay, encouraged to go gray, for that added look of distinguishment, a la George Clooney, while women are told their looks must be perpetually youthful and glowing, otherwise they are fodder for office gossip and snide remarks.

Even some Catholic ladies are getting into the spirit of "looking good," some positing that it is the duty of the wife to look lovely for her husband after he's been slaving away at work all day. There are Purity Fashion Shows, which are supposed to promote modesty, but I think they sometimes can promote the importance of outward beauty so much that some girls may feel intimidated. Not everyone can look like a runway model, but that is the sort of look most girls crave and society reinforces.

I believe true beauty radiates from the inside. Just think of someone you know and love who might not meet all the world's requirements to be considered "beautiful." But you see that person and you see beauty, right? To be truly beautiful, we need to be at peace with who we are; be "comfortable in our own skin," as some might say. Then we need to love and accept others. I think that is the big key here. Mother Teresa wasn't ever going to make the top 100 list of the Most Beautiful People in the World, yet she was beautiful. She was beautiful from the inside out. Beauty radiated from her being and people responded to that. People flocked to her because they saw her beauty--which sprang from her Love. Because she loved, she was beautiful.

I don't know if Mother Teresa had gray hair or not. But does anyone really care? I would rather have a dose of her beauty than a lifetime supply of hair coloring at the best salon in town.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Daily Conversion

The conversion on the way to Damascus, by Caravaggio.

"Conversion means a willingness to see the truth of things and conform one's conduct to it." ~A. Sertillanges.

Today is the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle.

The feast day and the above quote, which I read in today's Magnificat, got me thinking about my own conversion story and my daily conversion. It's not enough to say "I am a Christian," but as a follower of Christ, I am compelled to daily turn my thoughts and actions toward God.

Boy, do I mess up. Sometimes I feel as if I'm standing outside myself listening to (me) the angry mom telling kids to hurry up and get your shoes and coats on because we're late again and why is your room so messy and don't you kids know how hard I work to feed and clothe you and this is the thanks I get?

It can get pretty ugly. I like the above definition of conversion as the seeking of Truth and conforming one's conduct to that Truth. And the truth is that people are way more important than things or being late or having a messy house. And how often I forget that little truth.

But it gets better.

The Truth sometimes means we have to radically change our lives. Like St. Paul had to do when he got knocked of his horse by the blinding light (which indeed, left him temporarily blinded) and he heard a voice commanding him to change his life. Up until this point we can assume that Saul of Tarsus (which was his name before the Big Life Change) thought he was doing the Lord's work. He was going town to town arresting those rowdy Christians who were making life so difficult for ordinary Jews. Saul not only had to change his name and his occupation, but according to the story in Acts 9:1-22, he was was shown by God "...what he will have to suffer for [God's] name."

Human beings are unique among living creatures in that we rationalize and reason and we alone have the capacity and the need to seek the Truth. Some Christian's refer to that need for Truth as the "God-shaped vacuum inside each one of us." We try to fill it with things to satisfy that need, often ignorantly assuming we can satisfy that need, which was designed to be satisfied by God alone. We ache and long for acceptance, for wealth, for status, for friendship or for love, but God alone can satisfy that longing.

Last Friday night, my husband and I went to a kick-off meeting for a marriage group at our parish. I'm always a bit squeamish about those sorts of things to begin with, since I really like to stay inside my comfort zone and I'm naturally an introvert. We had to sit at a large table with three other couples whom we didn't know and talk to them about marriage...a rather intimate topic for strangers to discuss, I thought.

But over the course of the evening's discussions, I began to realize that successful marriages depend upon daily conversations and daily conversions of the spouses to one another and to God. Anyone who says "my marriage is great," but doesn't keep working at it will soon find him or herself in a rocky relationship.

The same must hold true with our relationship to God. If God is truly our Creator and our Love, then we must daily renew that relationship with Him and convert all of our being toward Him, who is the source of all Love.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Via Media

Via Media, or "the middle way," refers to the idea of avoiding the extreme; it is also defined as "a mean between two extremes."

Do most Americans have moderate views? Are most Americans content to be left alone to live their lives without too much government interference? I think so.

I suspect most of us would define ourselves as "moderate." I consider myself an extremely moderate person, yet I know many folks would disagree and call me a "pro-life, pro-chastity, home-birthing, breastfeeding, organic gardening Catholic homeschooling mother of ten." But I don't see these things as extreme. In fact, I see them as an extremely moderate way of living.

Here's why:

Pro-life: Justice Blackmun, writing for the majority in the 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roe vs. Wade, said: "We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer."

If it is true (which I don't believe it is), that science can not determine when life begins (or agree with philosophy and theology...not that the Supreme Court really cares what philosophers and theologians have to say), then preference should be given to the possibility of life being present. For if we are truly moderate, we would say, "preserve life if it is present, and do not destroy it if there is any doubt."

Pro-chastity: Premarital and extra-marital sex have spawned a catastrophic increase in STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), a surge in unwed motherhood and increasing divorce rates. The chief criticism of chastity education is, "It doesn't work." Perhaps it is not that chastity itself "doesn't work," but that it is difficult. It is also difficult to run a marathon, yet look at the number of people who do that every year; or to lose one hundred pounds, but look at the hit show The Biggest Loser and see how we applaud folks who do that. To rephrase a G.K. Chesterton quote: "Chastity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried."

Homebirth: Less invasive, more natural, fewer post-natal problems. Obviously it's not for high-risk pregnancies, but for most low-risk births, it is a cost-saving and very pleasant alternative to hospital births.

Breastfeeding: Natural, good for baby, good for mom, what's not to like? Okay, stupid comments from uninformed people; otherwise, a very "moderate" way to feed the baby.

Organic gardening: We compost most of our kitchen waste, which makes a great additive to our clay soil. For the past few years I've been trying to get away from hybrid species and plant solely heirloom varieties. It's not only fun and educational, but it helps preserve rare species which are disappearing at an alarming rate due to large-scale production farming.

Catholic: The word "catholic" means "universal" and the early Christian Church adopted this term to show the universality of the Church that was planting seeds throughout the world. We don't have suicide bombers and we try to practice the teachings of our founder, who said some pretty extreme things like "Love your neighbor as yourself." He also died for the sins of others. Okay, maybe that does make me a little on the extreme side, but I haven't perfected any of those things yet, so I can still be called "moderate."

Homeschooling: The passing down of information from one generation to the next has been the way of education since the dawn of time. We're just a little more organized these days.

Mom of ten: Maybe by today's standards that's extreme, but the real reason I have so many kids is because I need them to keep me on the straight and narrow. There's no telling what trouble I might be getting myself into if I wasn't running after them. One thing I have noticed with having ten kids is that love doesn't diminish when your family grows. Love only grows. The thing we notice when someone is gone is how quiet and empty the house feels.

Let's hear it for radical moderation! Believe to the extreme. Hope to the extreme. Love to the extreme.

Love is the ultimate via media.

But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Cor 13:13

Thursday, January 21, 2010

2010 March for Life!

I'm so excited about the March for Life in DC this year and I'm not even attending it.

Last year I watched it live streaming online and I may do that again this year. Two of my college kids will be attending: Giorgio from Franciscan University and Lizzy from DeSales. I'm excited for them and for all the other college students who will be attending this year.

If you can't attend the March in DC but would like to visually show your support, you now can! Go to Virtual March for Life, pick your own avatar and sign up to attend.

As my 14 year-old, Joan, observed last night, lots of people ignore the fact of abortion and what it does to women and their babies. It's not polite to talk about it. It's not something I enjoy talking about, particularly at the dinner table. Frankly, it makes me very uncomfortable. The March for Life is a chance to actually do something positive and to show your commitment to life. The attitude of attendees is very upbeat and joyful. The press may call them "protestors" and try to show the angry ones with the ugly signs, but the vast majority of them radiate a sense of hope and peace.

May we be a sign of hope and peace to all those who are hurting due to abortion.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Birth Conrol Pills are Bad for Women and Bad for the Environment

News flash! The birth control pill is bad for you. Not only bad for women, it turns out that it's pretty darn bad for the environment as well.

Surprised? If you are, then perhaps it's due to the implicitness of the American Medical Association and the mass media.

It turns out that the pill is lucrative business for lots of docs and pharmaceutical companies. And loads of environmentalists see people as the primary problem and the pill as the panacea to the people problem, so they don't want to malign the pill, in case those fertile people stop using it and start spreading their hordes across the pristine wilderness. The truth of the matter is we're destroying our pristine wilderness every time we pop one of those hormone pills! You see, our water treatment facilities don't clean out the hormones that get into the water supply from 15 million American women on the pill. It is pretty darned gross when you think about it, but the birth control pills my neighbors are taking is leaching into the water I'm drinking, as well as the water my boys are drinking. There have even been studies done on the effects of estrogen in the water supply and our food chain and how that may be causing increases in ADHD in boys and early onset of puberty in girls. I wrote about here.

It's time to educate ourselves on the detrimental aspects of the pill, both for our bodies and our environments. We can't rely on our doctors to tell us about it. In fact, despite my disdain for the pill, I've had docs try to push it on me for everything from regulating my cycle when I was a teenager to clearing my acne when I was a busy mom of three! The first time it was pushed on me I actually read the insert (I think a nurse gave it to me) with all the dire warnings about blood clots and stroke and every imaginable horror including death and I decided some irregular periods weren't so bad after all. My second experience was shortly after the birth of my third child and I purposefully chose a Catholic ob/gyn who advertised in our parish bulletin, hoping to avoid the discussion of birth control pills. She claimed to have a "holistic" view of my health and told me that she was concerned about my very minor bout of acne and wanted to clear it up for my by putting me on some hormonal pills. She never even mentioned the contraceptive aspect, although I think she recommended I stop nursing my 4 month old so that I could take care of my acne.

Maybe some folks are actually starting to wake up to the damages we've been doing to ourselves. Even a Planned Parenthood director in Alberta, Canada has taken notice.

The lone voice in this craziness has always been the Catholic Church. The Church has long been stigmatized as "behind the times" and her celibate priesthood unable to understand the demands of family life. I find it stunningly beautiful that the most remarkable document ever written about birth control was written by a celibate pope named Paul VI. In 1968, in the height of the furor over the pill, he penned the much-maligned and despised, yet simple and straight-forward letter to his flock known as Humanae Vitae. In it, Pope Paul VI implores doctors and nurses to defend life and continue to research in the field of human reproduction.
Likewise we hold in the highest esteem those doctors and members of the nursing profession who, in the exercise of their calling, endeavor to fulfill the demands of their Christian vocation before any merely human interest. Let them therefore continue constant in their resolution always to support those lines of action which accord with faith and with right reason. And let them strive to win agreement and support for these policies among their professional colleagues. Moreover, they should regard it as an essential part of their skill to make themselves fully proficient in this difficult field of medical knowledge. For then, when married couples ask for their advice, they may be in a position to give them right counsel and to point them in the proper direction. Married couples have a right to expect this much from them.

Now more than ever we need faithful Christian men and women in the field of medicine. We need educated men and women who see human beings as the pinnacle of God's creation and who strive to help all human beings become living tabernacles of their Creator.

For more information about the harmful effects of the pill and the efficacy and beauty of Natural Family Planning, here are some links to read:

How the Pill and Other Contraceptives Work
Oral Contraceptives and Cancer Risk
The Pill: How Does it Work and is it Safe?
Natural Family Planning FAQs

Tuesday, January 19, 2010



We let the hair grow a bit more than usual this winter. It was cold and mom was busy getting ready for 5 December birthdays, 4 college kids coming home for Christmas and a partridge in a pear tree.


Quite handsome, isn't he? He even looks more mature.
These "before and after" shots are what most people see. You, my dear readers, get the inside story:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Is Christmas over already?

This is the gingerbread house I made for Lizzy's 18th birthday. She spent her birthday 1700 miles away from home at college studying for finals. I've made her a gingerbread house every year for her birthday since she was born. She tells me it made it to Pennsylvania intact.

Thus began our epic December, with five family birthdays, Advent and Christmas to celebrate, as well as getting our eldest graduated from college and the three college students returning home for the holidays.

Maria graduated from the University of Northern Colorado (the other UNC) on December 12th, Summa Cum Laude (is that right, Maria?) with a degree in Physics. Even though she took a ninth semester to finish up her degree, she still managed to graduate at age 21 in 2009.

Yay, Maria! We are so proud of you!

She is now waiting to hear back from five different grad schools where she has applied to study Medical Physics. Her first choice? MIT.

(Note to homeschool skeptics: Maria would be the first to tell you that she didn't get all her smarts from her mom, but through perseverance, hard work and motivation. She also got some from her dad. Okay, she got a lot of smarts from her dad. When she was born he told everyone, "Let's hope she gets her looks from her mom and her brains from her dad." I didn't think it was a compliment then, nor do I now, but I'm glad she didn't get her looks from her dad. Oh, did I say that? Anyway, I'm not sure at what point, we homeschooled parents are permitted to declare victory, but I think #1 has done a pretty awesome job of her life so far and we are very proud of her.)

We finally had everyone home together as of December 19th, at 7 pm, when Lizzy's flight arrived (sans her luggage) and we could all hug and kiss one another again. The last time we'd all been together was the Sunday before Memorial Day weekend. Such times come fewer and farther between as your kids grow up and move away. Hug them close while they're little!

This is our attempt at a family photo. It's extremely difficult to get 12 people and 2 dogs to sit still and keep their eyes opened. I really wanted to try another day, but we were never able to pull it together. Oh, well. Thus it becomes our family photo for Christmas 2009.

Now they sit still.
On the 21st of December we loaded everyone up into 2 cars (okay, one monster van and one station wagon), with 2 dogs, food for 13 people (Maria's beau came with us), food for 2 dogs, winter clothes, including ski pants, ski parkas, ski gloves, goggles/sunglasses, long underwear, warm socks and boots, 2 cots, 2 sleeping bags, extra blankets, towels, cookware, sleds, Christmas presents and Christmas decorations, laptop computers, games, craft supplies, Christmas cookie baking supplies, wine, beer and eggnog and departed for the beautiful Colorado Rocky Mountains. Our destination was Snow Mountain Ranch, the YMCA of the Rockies retreat center near Winter Park.

Let me tell you, it was so worth it. Despite the agony of hauling all that junk up to the mountains (after all, we had yet another birthday plus Christmas to celebrate), it was worth it. We practically had the place to ourselves, as most people, evidently, like to come the week after Christmas.

Our first day there, the kids got to go sledding with Santa. Yes, Santa. It was beautifully sunny and the sledding hill was awesome. (Even mom tried it a few times. What a rush!)

Other days were spent ice skating and cross-country skiing. I would have taken more pictures of the outdoor activities, but my camera actually froze at one point. Yes, it was quite cold. But we had a roaring fire in our cabin to look forward to each night, with a nice glass of wine. It was bliss.

Even the kids got into the spirit. At first, when we told them that we were going to spend Christmas in a cabin, they were upset. "It wouldn't seem like Christmas," they complained. I objected to hauling decorations and gifts up to the mountains. We had enough to haul with the dogs and the winter gear. But my kids persisted and I'm glad they did. The decorations made the cabin (and our attitudes) very festive. The kids did all the decorating. It was great!

On Christmas Eve, Santa came to our cabin bearing gifts. It was quite a sight! He had a big bag full of gifts for everyone. Later that evening, we went to the YMCA's candlelight service, as we found out there was no midnight Mass at the Catholic church. (It seems there is only one priest, but he has to say Mass at four locations over Christmas). We sang carols and listened to a sermon and stayed in our seats for the communion service. It looked like we must've been sitting in the Catholic section of the chapel because there was a whole row of folks who stayed in their seats. My husband went up to them afterwards and asked of they were Catholic. They were. So we told them about the Christmas day mass that would be held the next morning in Granby.

Christmas morning, we got up fairly early and went to Mass at Our Lady of the Snow Catholic Church in Granby.

We had such a marvelous time, everyone is in agreement: we should make this a family tradition.