Tag Archives: family

Go Where God Leads

In 1980, when I was eight years old, I stood in a beautiful Catholic Church watching tears pool in my mother’s eyes and slowly run down her cheeks. She did not wipe them away. It was one of the first times I remember seeing her cry. The church she grew up in, in which she married my father, was closing to make way for a new interstate highway.

A few years later, as a journalism intern, I wrote my first major published story on the closing of another church in that same neighborhood – this time it was the lovely Italian church down the street. It was during a first wave of Catholic Church closings and diocesan reorganization in Pittsburgh. It was 1992.

No matter the reason, watching bishops and priests decide to shutter churches and disperse parishes can be particularly painful for Catholics. Often parishioners of closing churches studied in the church school. Families celebrated cherished milestones – Baptisms, First Holy Communions, Confirmations, weddings and funerals – beneath the church’s rafters. There are memories of Midnight Christmas Masses, Easter Vigils and myriad community events and gatherings. Parishes are real, living communities, often centered around a few buildings, a courtyard and lawn.

Like so many dioceses around the United States, Pittsburgh is again slogging through a reorganization of resources and assets. This time not only to address a dwindling and relocating number of practicing Catholics, but to brace for a loss of Catholic priests to lead its flock. The plan calls for closing churches and schools, combining other churches and schools, re-imagining the distribution of priests, growing the role of deacons and selling off superfluous real estate. As anyone would imagine, the effort is being met with anger, bewilderment and resistance on all fronts.

No one wants their parish to close – emotions are high, especially where Pittsburgh’s landmark churches are concerned. There are fears about what might happen to those sacred buildings – in recent memory, one cathedral sold into private hands became a micro brew and restaurant, the brew works itself taking the place of the altar. Another was purchased by the SSPX for its Masses. Others for swanky, unique apartments and lofts. The one my mother cried over in 1980 is now a venue for weddings and corporate parties, the rectory a serene city inn (the highway planned changed, and the building was never demolished).

This time, though, there’s much more at stake than beautiful landmark churches in urban  neighborhoods. The Diocese needs to consolidate. Its retiring the old parish K-8 school model in favor of regional elementary/middle schools and kindergarten/preschools. Some parish school buildings will host the early elementary schools, others 1-8. No one seems to be happy at all with the decisions made to date – kids from one school don’t want to go to the others building, parents are complaining about additional driving distance, and alumni are more than upset that long-held sports rivalries will end.

We’ve only really worked through one section of the Diocese so far. Everyone seems to be worried about something. And everyone seems to have forgotten about the real reason parishes and Churches exist at all – to worship God.

We are human beings living in a human world. Things within the Catholic Church in the United States are changing, and sadly not for the better. Only about half of those who call themselves Catholics attend Mass regularly. Fewer give regularly in the weekly collection basket. Commitments to the priesthood are low, and it seems younger priests often reconsider their oaths after being ordained. Priests are needed in administrative capacity as well as for pastors – our parish priest is retired, but was appointed administrator when our pastor took a leave of absence.  When he developed a back problem this week, he had to call more than eight priests just to find a substitute for one Sunday Mass. Fewer and fewer families are sending their kids to parish schools.  American Catholicism is shrinking.

In many ways, the necessity of reorganization in all dioceses is a problem we Catholics made ourselves. We want the Church to be there for us, but we don’t want to be there for it. We bellyache about fundraisers, complain when asked to volunteer, we don’t support the religious staff, and carry on about how the Church needs to get with the times. I’m amazed sometimes that there still is a Catholic Church in the United States.

But it comes down to this – being Catholic is NOT about what building you worship in. It’s not about not liking the priest assigned to your parish, or not being able to carry on a basketball rivalry with the school across town. It’s about GOD. it’s about respecting the teachings of Catholicism and being active in spreading God’s love within our human world.

None of this is easy – focusing on God and trying to truly be a good Catholic is not easy. Neither is guiding a diocese of churches, schools, hospitals, monasteries, cemeteries, community centers, shelters, etc., with many human issues – economics, logistics, funding, facilities management, public relations, municipal relations, regulations, and so on.

But these are all human problems and concerns. We too often confuse the human part of the Church with God himself. I can’t understand the stories I’ve been hearing of families taking their children out of Catholic school and enrolling them in public because the reorganization of their parish didn’t turn out quite as they expected.  Of others church hopping because their beloved pastor was moved somewhere his help was needed more. Or even others who refuse to go to Mass at a different church building because of some old grade school rivalry where we didn’t talk to the people from such and such parish.

Catholicism is about GOD. It’s about this Holy Week we just began, and the sacrifice Jesus Christ made to save us from ourselves. How can we tell Jesus, who suffered the ultimate fate, that we aren’t willing to move to a new church building, welcome a new priest, or send our children to a better equipped school facility? Church reorganization is inevitable. With fewer Catholics, and fewer religious, we must re-evaluate our sustainability and act accordingly.

It’s not about our feelings of loss, our inability to understand “why did they do it that way?,” or our annoyance at the overall process and its demands on our personal comfort. It’s about running a Godly institution in an unGodly world. If we don’t understand that, or refuse to understand that, perhaps we should reflect on why we are Catholic. Is it for God or is it for our own comfort?

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The Melody of Life

My maternal grandfather, who died when I was about two years old, loved music. My mom always talks about how he would play records in the living room when he came home. These weren’t just any records, they were the old glass ones, even before the vinyl we often reminisce about. He also loved movies – he used to set up a screen and play old cartoon reels for the neighborhood kids, who’d sit on the stoop in front of his row house on Pittsburgh’s North Side. 

I’ve been thinking about his this week. I never really got to know him, except through stories, but I think he’ll be smiling with my beautiful grandmother this weekend up in heaven. Saturday afternoon is the Pittsburgh Diocesesan Honors Band concert. Three of his great grandchildren will be playing in the band.

Anyone who knows me, knows my oldest daughter plays the trombone. She has a great talent for it we discovered somewhat accidentally. She plays in her school band, but through the tutelage of a great teacher, she is also active in the Pittsburgh Youth Philharmonic Orchestra. It’s a pretty amazing organization, and she’s played in some impressive youth concerts.

But this Honors Band concert may be among the most special. She’ll have two cousins, daughters of my mom’s nieces, playing flute and clarinet alongside her. I like to think they each inherited my grandfather’s love of music, and through it, are stewards of our family ties, pulling those of us who have scattered apart somewhat through the daily necessities of life, back into the same space again to enjoy something wonderful.

Since I became a parent 12 years ago, I have discovered, over and over again, through the magic embodied in the development of my children, the unspoken, and often unnoticed importance of family. In our world today, family, parenting and the natural sacrifices it entails are often looked down upon, and sometimes ridiculed. I saw a story today in which some “great thinker” decided being a stay-at-home mom should be outlawed. In reality, maybe we should think of requiring it! Remember those days when we agonized over other people raising our kids? But I digress.

Watching a child grow is like watching a thread weave it’s way into beautiful embroidery. I love looking at my children and seeing traits of the people I love emerging in their personalities. Of course there are my habits and those of my husband – somehow they always seem to portray the very worst of mine (which miraculously has helped me to grow in God’s love). But I also see my brother, my mom, my dad, Bryan’s father, oldest sister, and brothers in my girls all the time. I never knew Bryan’s mother, but from what I’ve been told, she’s there as well, turning them into lovely young ladies. It’s a familial collage that makes them who they are, without them evening knowing it.

For me it’s a beautiful song reminding me to be thankful to all the inspiring people in my life whose love I often forget about when I’m in the depths of despair. I’m honored to have the personalities and experiences of each and every family member of mine, near or far, as part of my own. I can’t wait to hear those three girls playing my tune on Saturday.

Me Second!

Some of you might remember an old commercial for the US Army. “We do more before 9 a.m. than some people do all day.”

I know a woman like this. I met her back in the eigth grade at an all-star cheerleading event the Diocese of Pittsburgh used to do for Catholic schools. Later, we went to high school together. But we never really loafed together, as my mom would say. 

Today, this woman and I are Facebook friends. And she is high on my list of mommy idols. 

My friend has eight children. Yes, eight. Ranging from twenty-something to elementary school age. From what I understand, from people other than her, they are some pretty amazing kids. Involved in helping others through their Church, serving at Mass and so on.

My friend is not divorced, an addict or irresponsible. These kids have a stable, if financially tight, home. She is a true Mama Bear – every ounce of energy, every waking moment, every cent in her pocket goes to raising those eight. Don’t try leaving one of them out, bullying one of them or mocking their situation. You’ll regret it. 

In the sense we often hear in scripture, or our priests discuss at Mass, she has died to self as Jesus did, and lives her life for others.

That’s what inspires me. If anything has challenged me as a parent, it’s the need to step away from my own desires and live my life for my family. I know that’s an old fashioned if not out dated idea to some. But I’m pretty sure it’s how you raise quality people. 

This belief, founded in my faith in God, is much at odds with the person I once was. Even now that I’m striving for this ideal, my personal selfishness often raises its ugly head in my parenting. I was a career woman once – ambitious, driven and some say talented in my field. I left my career because it didn’t want my girls along for the ride. I miss it sometimes, and more than once I’ve had to catch myself in moments of frustration from asking my girls if they actually realize what I sacrificed for them.

Not exactly an attitude of dying to self and allowing God to guide me so I can guide them.

Added to the general loneliness that comes with being a stay-at-home mom and kid taxi driver, I’m miles away from being the parent my friend is. Maybe she can’t give them all the stuff I can give, but she has truly given them herself. I push myself to that ideal, but there are times when I pull myself back from my family, and I want them to acknowledge what I do so that I can feel some type of achievement that I felt when my opinion was sought out and my work defined me.

And then I think of my friend – a true angel on Earth for her children. Not with wings and a halo, but as a protector and provider of love. Up at the crack of dawn getting her kids to various schools (all Catholic by the way), toiling at fundraisers, driving her youngest to weekly appointments for Lupus treatments and finding new ways to sustain their family. 

That’s when I realize I need a smack in the head for not being more present with my own family. For ignoring them sometimes when I don’t want to deal with their crises or would rather watch the X-Files than Supergirl. Or whenever I choose myself over them. My friend, who could use some downtime, likely does little of that. She doesn’t have time. Yet what she does is so much more important and rewarding than my career ever was.

She makes me want to get up early to watch cartoons, cook breakfast and play video games. To be there for every moment until I can’t be anymore. Like God has been wanting me to.

The Force is Strong with this One

My oldest daughter is just not into the whole Star Wars thing. She’s asked me more than once what the fuss is all about. 

I respect her skepticism and her curiosity. Yet as someone who watched George Lucas’s world blossom as a child, fell in love with Han Solo as a tween and wore Princess Leia costumes for Halloween before they were readily available in stores, this is devastating somewhere in my inner psyche. Thank God for the younger child who asked for a Lightsaber for Christmas, even if she still calls it a Light Saver. 

Star Wars, I told my daughter, is about more than toys, robots and coffee creamer with Darth Vader’s picture on it (yes this exists). The phenomenon is actually based in something quite important to our world – the epic struggle for good and evil. That is why it’s so all encompassing and so beloved by my generation, the first to grow up espousing the virtues of the Force. 

 

Me, channeling my inner Princess Leia , with the Jawas at Disney World’s Star Wars Launch Bay.


 I know, you’ve heard it before. I’m not the first to say it, and certainly not the one to say it best. Joseph Campbell did that when he wrote “The Hero With a Thousand Faces.” Luke Skywalker, our hero, embodies the goodness and innocence essential to save the galaxy from evil, illustrated through, guess what, government. There are so many parallels to the modern struggle that even Disney couldn’t have projected a better time to release this movie. But that’s not the point.

We need rich stories like Star Wars to remind us what the focus of human development should be. To wrestle the story of humanity from the red tape of living and teach us how to behave honorably. Sara gave me a pretty blank face when I told her something similar. I was talking above 10-year-old again.

So I went somewhere that would make other Star Wars geeks gasp – the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Sara’s been reading those books and knows the story. She knows good wins, evil loses again as it has over and over in the greatest stories of all time. Think about it: Harry as Luke, Ron and Hermoine as Han and Leia, Dumbledore as Obi-Wan/Yoda, Voldemort as the Emporor. You get it. Same story.

One of the more beautiful facets of the Star Wars Saga is its basis in the goodness of family. Our heroes are tied together by family, albeit probably the most disfunctional one ever imagined. But in the end, it is the tie that binds – Darth Vader’s dying words “Tell your sister you were right.” 

Luke is right about so many things – but ultimately about the fact that he could not have come from someone completely evil. That he and his sister were honorable people created and born from love that was indeed a good thing. We cheered Darth Vader when he threw Palpatine into the abyss to save his SON. Family saves the universe. 

I probably over philosophized this one, but Sara got it. She’s been running around telling me what other stories she’s found the classic good vs. evil theme running through. She’s also finding that good ALWAYS wins. I hope it’s giving her solace as we face unthinkable evil in our real lives.

I’m looking forward to seeing The Force Awakens, and feeding my Star Wars geekiness. It’s already resurrecting old jokes and fun memories I share only with my older brother. And I am excited about sharing it with my girls – particularly in the form of Princess Leia, who after my mother was my first role model for the woman I wanted, and still want, to be.

I worry in these last days before the release that the theme of good and the strength of family ties will be diminished in the movie by the darkness that hangs over our world today. But I know in my heart that is what makes Star Wars the juggernaut that it is. It’s hollow without it.

May the Force Be with You.

It Takes a Family

After I had my children, I often wondered how friends who had moved “away from home” (away from their parents and families) were able to cope.

My mother and father, in many ways, make my family possible. In today’s crazy world of child rearing, it’s inexplicably hard for mom and dad to do it alone. Without grandmas, grandpas, uncles, aunts, cousins and the like nearby, I don’t know how other parents do it.

Today, as I sit in a hotel room in Omaha, supporting my husband’s employment with an out-of-town company, my mother is walking a few days in my shoes. Since Wednesday, she’s been shuttling my girls to and from school, to and from gymnastics and cheerleading, feeding and enduring my ridiculous dogs, likely doing my laundry and cleaning my house. This trip, she dealt with the dishwasher repair man and a birthday party I forgot about. And she still has a makeup trombone lesson to get to before I land back home. Her gps is getting a workout, and no doubt everything she brought to my house is covered in white fur.

As a parent, I often wondered how the mothers of my generation – those 70s and 80s moms – ever dealt with being mommy. They seemed to be so much more graceful, competent and together. Then, I remember disposable income then was much less (meaning fewer belongings), fathers did less helping, kids expected less and women perhaps were not pulled in so many directions. But they were still better at it.

I’ve always worked to keep my family in driving distance of my extended family. We’ve never lived more than an hour away, and our most recent move, to within a half hour of my parents, was designed with grandma and grandpa in mind. 

I’ve been blessed to have never had to leave my children with anyone other than the most trusted people in my life. I’m glad I’ve never had to decide if new friends in new towns or some type of service was safe enough for my kids. They stay only with people I trust most. I’ve often wondered how hard it must be for parents to leave their kids with strangers – that stat, one in four girls will be sexually abused by 18, echoes in my mind. I can’t imagine the stress.

We’ve never had to board a plane or travel farther than across town for holiday celebrations. I watch my mother and father’s brothers and sisters struggle with geographical distance from their grandchildren, and I pray their hearts heal. I send gifts and drag kids to family events so that each of my aunts and uncles and even my brother’s in-laws hear the sounds of kids laughing regularly, and see the miracles of their growth. It’s a gift I find I’m always able to give, that’s always happily received.

Extended family is more than people to babysit and car pool when you can’t, however. They comprise a community that provides love beyond the nuclear family and provides kids with a safety mat that spells out what might happen if mom and dad are somehow restricted by health, distance, or even death. Extended family is extra padding, backup support, a help desk. It’s permanent. It teaches all how to deal with relationships we can’t jettison from our lives and what it’s like to have people we can count on when the world lets us down.

Families can be close even if they aren’t geographically near. And they can be distant even if they live across the street. But children so often have the super human power to heal family wounds and rejoin broken bonds. Let them work their magic where possible.

Family first, as my 10-year-old reminds me. Family first.

Checking My “Privilege”

Everyone loves a good Internet quiz. I stumbled on one on Mashable I had to do this week.

It was about determining your “privilege” quotient. There were 100 check off boxes. You got one point for every box you checked off. The higher your score, the more “privileged” you are. 

I got a 52, which the quiz creators seem to think is somewhat high. Despite the fact that I’m not a man, was bullied as a child, and have been discriminated against for my gender and religion. After all, I am white, have never lived below the poverty line, have traveled abroad and remain the same gender I was when I was born.

The whole fight against “privilege” strikes me somewhat odd. Or maybe I should say backwards. I certainly understand that human beings have a way to go when it comes to equality, and I applaud strides to get us there. But why exactly does that mean we attack the achievement of those who have gained comfort?

Many of the questions on the quiz seemed not to be judging me so much as they were accusing my parents of beng successful people. I don’t mean one percent successful. There are many people between those in poverty and those swimming in money. I mean employed, educated, comfortable, hard-working middle class people. 

My parents sent my brother and I to Catholic grade school and high school. They sent us both to college – they made too much to get any real financial aid but not enough that paying tuition wasn’t a real sacrifice. Our family visited my father’s family in Germany, and he helped me buy a car when I was in grad school. He and my mother now enjoy spoiling my daughters, their only grandchildren. 

My father, who came to the U.S. after World War II, learned English, became a citizen, got a college education, and became a successful engineer, considers these things major achievements. Caring for his family, and preparing a new generation to contribute to the world, was a goal he set and achieved. He is a hero to me.

But apparently in today’s conventional wisdom, providing “privilege” to my brother, me and my children, is wrong. When my father came to this great country, it was all about using freedom to create opportunity. Some were more successful than others, but everyone had a chance to better themselves. Even German immigrants after the horror of Nazi Germany. Today, the best opportunity Americans seem to find is in discovering who is to blame for their misery and using the system to take whatever someone else has earned away from them.

I did not grow up rich. Nor am I now. My husband and I pinch pennies to provide our children with all we can. My parents were not “connected” people. They kept there noses to the grindstone, and have hard work and commitment to thank for what they have and what they have given to us.

Having lived a comfortable life does not make me insensitive to the needs of others. I know many people with varied human needs. I do my best to provide support, aid and friendship that lifts those who are down. I do that because it’s the right thing to do. The very international travel and education that’s supposed to make me “privileged” has actually brought me greater understanding of others, just like it was supposed to.

Not being black, Hispanic, poor, gay, trans or whatever does not mean a person has not been discriminated against. (The quiz, interestingly, did not have questions related to age, disability, etc) I’ve faced discrimination for being Catholic, diabetic, female, depressed, married and having children. My husband has faced hardship for being a farmer, hunter, union member, energy company worker, and white man with facial hair. EVERYONE faces discrimination at some time in their lives. 

Yes there is true, heartbreaking discrimination in the world. But it won’t be eased by driving a wedge between those who have found success in life and those who have not. Instead, we should be looking to those who have achieved to learn how to do it ourselves. We should be raising one another up with the gifts God has given each of us.

“Privilege” is something that is earned through hard work. It’s something that illustrates just what we can achieve. Not something that makes us less human, or less compassionate. It’s not yet another reason to throw stones at others.

Living a God-Centered Life Includes Loving Everyone

I like to think of myself as a pretty open minded person. But a lot of people would wonder if I told them I am in agreement with the religious freedom laws that have been implemented, and debated ad nauseum, around the country. 

I grew up Catholic, obviously, and I continue to practice my faith. I am in no way what I would call a good Catholic. I struggle. Hard. But I try to be true to Catholicism to the best of my ability, as does my husband, and we raise our children in the faith.

It was not until adulthood that I truly understood that Catholics were looked down upon by others. I had heard we were, but I really didn’t get it or see it. The crux of my personal faith has always been to love others, do good, and confess when I screwed up. Who could argue with that?

I’ve been shocked this past week to see just how scandalously Catholics and other Christians are talked about by others. I understand feelings on religious freedom are volatile. Everyone thinks they’re right. But somehow it seems no one is being tolerant with anyone.

I do not believe that religious freedom laws are about gay vs. straight. I believe they are designed to allow people to live by their religious convictions without retribution. And yes, I realize this becomes complicated when we start talking radical Islam. But as we have seen more and more in the last decade, an odd desire to make people homogenous has trumped our uniquely American right to religious expression.

Since it’s hanging out there allowing some to defame good people with no cause, I think it’s important to remind both Catholics and non-Catholics what we are supposed to believe when it comes to gays and same-sex marriage.

Catholics are NOT called to hate and discriminate against gays. Period. It’s written as such in the Catholic Catechism. We ARE called to believe in the sanctity of life. The only way God creates human life on Earth is through the union of a man and a woman. When He calls a man and a woman to commit to His plan through their love, we call it marriage.

Yes, life can be created outside of such a relationship, either by sexual relations between an uncommitted man and woman, or in a laboratory, in various ways. Yet for Catholics, the creation of life is meant to be God-centered, something He alone does, naturally, through the complimentary bodies of men and women. Catholic doctrine discourages the creation of life outside of God’s natural law, be it by hetero couples unprepared for parenthood, or by gays who use biochemical methods to achieve family. (Yet Catholics are called to love the children who result from these unions as they love any child.)

Many Catholics don’t feel gays, who cannot create life through their union without supernatural means, meet the definition of “married.” Yet we find ourselves in situations where people we love and care for are involved in same sex marriages and relationships. We DON’T stop loving people who engage in gay marriage. Our Catholicism requires us to leave judgement of their decision in God’s hands. We truly love them, even if our faith does not affirm their union as true “marriage.”

Catholics, like everyone else, are not perfect. I know Catholics who react viciously to gays. I know others who want to see the Church change it’s centuries-old definition of marriage because the world’s acceptance of same-sex marriage demands it. I’m sure neither approach makes God happy. But I know He would extend love to all people, as should we.

As Catholics, we are called to live God-centered lives. Marriage is about God creating life. Even though some couples will never conceive, the potential for God to use spouses to create life must exist in marriage, no matter how remote.

Religious freedom laws aren’t about gay discrimination. They are about being able to hold your belief or non-belief in God at the center of your being, without being forced to violate your conscience. Even if you yourself are a “sinner,” as we all are.

Our gay friends, family, neighbors and fellow Catholics bring a beautiful color to our world, and offer experiences and gifts like no others. Their value to society is priceless. But the beliefs and God-centered living of religious people are as well. One must not suffer at the gain of the other. 

If Catholics follow the catechism and welcome gays openly as God demands, and gays allow for Catholics to celebrate their life-focused marriages, we can all live without prejudice, and continue in our beloved traditions.