Friday, November 07, 2008

Divine Mercy: What does it look like?

This meditation is being submitted to the November edition of "Mary Moments." If you'd like to contribute, contact Sarah at

In the famous Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, the words that the saint hears Jesus speak are recorded in boldface type; those of His mother are in italics. As might be expected, the words of the Blessed Mother are few and far between – all true Marian devotion draws the heart toward Jesus.

What she does say, however, speaks volumes. In paragraph 625, St. Faustina writes: “In the evening, when I was praying, the Mother of God told me, Your lives must be like Mine; quiet and hidden, in unceasing union with God, pleading for humanity and preparing the world for the second coming of God.”

In paragraph 635, the Blessed Mother continues: “Oh, how pleasing to God is the soul that follows faithfully the inspirations of His grace! I gave the Savior to the world; as for you, you have to speak to the world about His great mercy and prepared the world for the Second Coming of Him who will come, not as a merciful Savior, but as a just Judge. Oh, how terrible is that day! Determined is the day of justice, the day of divine wrath. The angels tremble before it. Speak to souls about this great mercy while it is still the time for [granting] mercy. If you keep silent now, you will be answering for a great number of souls on that terrible day. Fear nothing. Be faithful to the end. I sympathize with you.”

In these passages, we glimpse the nature of God’s abundant mercy: Not weak or indecisive, neither pandering nor aloof. Supreme Being by whose power brought heaven and earth into existence, and by whose design all creation will be restored.

What is most remarkable about this plan, however, is that the Creator of the Universe has deigned to involve us in it. And yet, the most powerful among us are not the flashy, the ornate, the wealthy, or the articulate … at least, not by the world’s standards. It is a conspiracy of kindness, a momentary rush of grace that comes to us when we are at our weakest and most desperate. For only when we have come to the end of ourselves, and surrendered to those divine ministrations, can the celestial surgery begin.

“Let it be done to me according to your word…” This is the song of the handmaid, the tribute of the warrior, and the offering of the priest. And as we take up the song, in imitation of our Mother, we find in surrender the courage to persevere to the end.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Mysteries of Light: Reflection for the "Mary Moments" Rosary Carnival

In this apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, John Paul the Great introduced the "Mysteries of Light" adding a fourth set of mysteries to the traditional three attributed to St. Dominic in the 12th century.

These mysteries reinforce the Holy Father’s instruction that the Rosary is a profoundly Christo-centric prayer, and that to honor the Mother is to reveal the Son. For these mysteries reveal in a profound way the humanity of Christ, which He received from the Blessed Mother. These mysteries are particularly meaningful to my family, for they coincide with special moments in their own spiritual development.

1. The Baptism in the Jordan. Jesus was not an infant when He received baptism at John’s hands. He fully understood what He was doing, and why. And because we had to wait three years to finalize our adoption, our children were both well aware of what they were doing on their baptism day. “Today we have a new name – and a new family!” my son shouted. “Yes, you do,” the priest agreed. “Your name is Christian, and yours is the family of God.”

2. The Wedding at Cana. This is one of my children’s favorite bedtime stories. Sarah lives for brides and weddings, and they both love the dramatic “master of the party,” who runs about moaning, “Oh, no! No more wine! Whatever shall we do?” To which Mother Mary replies, “Do whatever He tells you.” That’s a lesson for all of us … isn’t it?

3. The Proclamation. Teaching children about the “here” and “not yet” of the Kingdom of God starts from the very beginning of their spiritual formation. Once they understand that the things that are most “real” are the things they cannot see or touch, and that the best part of life is the part that is yet to come, it affects the way they make choices – how they form relationships, invest their lives, and spend their money. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you…”

4. The Transfiguration. The three men dazzled: Moses, giver of the Law; Elijah, father of the prophets; and Jesus. “Let us stay here, and build three tents,” suggested Peter, awestruck. But the transformation was not yet complete – the Son of God had to become the Lamb of God. Good Friday led to Easter Sunday. And we, all His followers, are transfigured as well, infused with His divine life.

5. The Institution of the Eucharist. When I think of this Passover meal the Lord shared with His disciples, I always picture Mary in the kitchen – chopping the herbs, pouring the oil, baking the bread. Once again, she provided the “stuff” by which the Son of God would touch mankind for all eternity.

"Many of the problems facing contemporary families, especially in economically developed societies, result from their increasing difficulty in communicating. Families seldom manage to come together, and the rare occasions when they do are often taken up with watching television. To return to the recitation of the family Rosary means filling daily life with very different images, images of the mystery of salvation: the image of the Redeemer, the image of his most Blessed Mother. The family that recites the Rosary together reproduces something of the atmosphere of the household of Nazareth: its members place Jesus at the centre, they share his joys and sorrows, they place their needs and their plans in his hands, they draw from him the hope and the strength to go on."

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Reverent Heart

Watching Shadowlands with my husband one evening, I was struck by a line in the marriage vows of C.S. Lewis and American poet Joy Davidman: “With my body, I thee worship.” It was the declaration of a man and woman, before God, binding themselves together for life.

If this movie had been pure fiction, in one sense the marriage between this “confirmed old bachelor” and the divorced, critically ill expatriate would seem a bit… convenient. She had young children (only Douglas is mentioned in the movie), and her body was riddled with cancer. For Joy, returning to the States was not an option. But life is often stranger than fiction, and anyone familiar with the writings of Lewis, including both Surprised by Joy and A Grief Observed, can see that this was no “marriage of convenience,” but a true joining of hearts. In the latter work, Lewis observed:

One thing marriage has done for me. I can never again believe that religion is manufactured out of our unconscious, starved desires and is a substitute for sex. For those few years [Joy] and I feasted on love, every mode of it – solemn and merry, romantic and realistic, sometimes as dramatic as a thunderstorm, sometimes as comfortable and unemphatic as putting on your soft slippers. No cranny of heart or body remained unsatisfied. If God were a substitute for love, we ought to have lost all interest in Him… We both knew we wanted something besides one another – quite a different kind of something, a quite different kind of want. You might as well say that when lovers have one another they will never want to read, or eat – or breathe.

Tending to our Soulish Needs

Though he helped to pave the way for some of the rest of us (myself included), C.S. Lewis never made the final leap “home to Rome”. And yet, this quote – an eloquent tribute to the spiritual intimacy God wants with us – speaks to the heart of the sacramental life, which is also reflected in the second reading from this past week (Philippians 2:1-5):

“…complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others. Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus…”

This passage goes on to describe all the things Christ did on our behalf – physical manifestations of a divine love so complete, so overwhelming that it conquered death itself. Not a 50-50 kind of love, not a “keeping up with the Joneses” enterprise. This ultimate self-sacrifice was born of perfect love and calls for a response equally momentous proportions. A response of true humility and reverence, and of total self-giving, body and soul.

When we approach Our Lord at Mass, especially in the Eucharist, we feast on love with all the gratitude of one who does indeed (in the words of St. Paul) “regard others as more important,” and yet who (in the words of Lewis) wants “something besides one another.” Only when both these conditions are met can our souls be satisfied.

It can be difficult to strike a balance. When we judge harshly the actions and motives of those around us, we fail to tend to our own souls with humility. By the same token, if our choices about where and even whether to worship are determined solely by the “feelings” our surroundings engender, we cannot hear the still, small voice of God. We may kneel deeply, or bow profoundly. But reverent we are not.

As in a good marriage, reverent worship is an exterior expression of an interior commitment, a desire to know and be known – in other words, intimacy. When we approach Our Lord in the Eucharist in this way, “with the same love, united in heart … humbly regarding others as more important,” even the hungriest soul may be satisfied.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

"Behold Your Mother" by Mark Shea -- Third Time's the Charm

This excerpt isn't from this book (on the left, above). Though I confess I'm rather partial to it, having written it myself -- from the perspective of a convert and adoptive mother.

It's not from this one (on the right, below), either. Although it, too, is a lovely book -- written from one of "Mary's sons," a good and holy priest.

No, the following excerpt is from Mark Shea's lovely book (actually, I understand that it is to be a triology) by the same title, to be published by Catholic Answers in a few months. I'm looking forward to seeing it in print ... in the meantime, here is a little snippet to pique your interest (cover image was not available ... sorry)!

There are about a jillion forms of prayer in the Catholic tradition. In the massive fields of prayer that stretch out like a grand prairie of wildflowers, there's simply no end to the ways in which Catholics approach God through Jesus Christ. Here, more than anywhere else, we experience the Church's curiously decentralized approach to faith. This can surprise us, because many people have the notion that a hierarchical Church insists on a top-down Command Economy where bishops issue the prayers and the faithful salute smartly and recite them. But in reality, the Church has always acted with the basic assumption that devotions will spring up among the faithful like orchards and gardens spring up in April.

To be sure, the devotional life needs tending and pruning here and there so people don't starting praying in loopy ways. But the basic trust of the Church is that the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, will provide the sunlight, rain, and inspiration that brings prayer from the hearts of the faithful.

Consequently, the prayer life of the Church is a riot of color and variety. Aside from liturgical prayers such as the Mass and the Divine Office (a series of prayers prayed throughout the day, particularly in monastic or religious orders, also known as the Liturgy of the Hours), there are gazillions of other private devotions, both popular and obscure. There are litanies, icons, prose, poems, and beloved music. Private prayer is done in all sorts of postures: laying, sitting, standing, kneeling, walking, even dancing (as St. Teresa of Avila used to do, employing castanets in her impromptu outbursts of meditative prayer). There is prayer to the Blessed Trinity, prayer to each Person of the Trinity, prayer to saints, prayer using Scripture, prayer to the Eucharist, prayer alone, prayer in groups, prayer employing all the senses, prayer using physical objects, prayer that avoids distraction by physical objects, prayer that chatters, prayer that's silent, prayer done while working, prayer for valor in battle, prayer for courage to die rather than shed blood, prayer sung, prayer spoken, prayer enacted, prayers of love, rage, confusion, hope, fear, contentment, boredom, and even small talk.

This colossal variety doesn't diminish one iota when the subject is Marian prayer. Mary is prayed to and addressed under a zillion titles. She is Mother Mary, Blessed Mother, Holy Mary, the Virgin. She is Mother of the Church, Seat of Wisdom, Daughter of Zion. She is Bride of the Holy Spirit, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Mother of Mercy and Our Lady of Sorrows (just to name a very few of her titles).

Some people, uncomfortable with this massive creativity in finding new ways to praise Mary, have the notion they can get away from intense Marian piety in the Eastern Churches. That's because Eastern liturgy is experienced by few in the West
while Western Catholic private devotions are so visible in secular life what with all the posters, medals, statues, holy cards, and icons all over homes and offices. So most Americans perceive Western Catholics to have the heavy-duty devotion to Mary and imagine the Eastern Churches haven't "gone overboard" about her as Westerners supposedly have.

In reality, Eastern Christianity is, if anything, even more intensely Marian than the West. It's just that, in the Eastern Churches, most Marian devotion is found in the liturgy (where you must participate) rather than in private devotions (where you may participate). Indeed, to bind Marian devotion to the liturgy, as the East has, is to place her, in the profoundest way, at the heart of the Faith.

Therefore, if someone chooses to, say, worship in a Byzantine Catholic church in order to get away from things such as the Litany of Loreto or May Crownings, they will soon realize they've arrived at the expression of Christianity that perfected the Akathist Hymn, a long hymn of praise to the Blessed Virgin—offered while standing—which includes, among many other titles of praise, such acclamations for the Virgin as:

Container of the Uncontainable God!
Door of Solemn Mystery!
Report Doubtful to Unbelievers!
Undoubted Boast of the Faithful!
All-Holy Chariot of Him Who Sitteth upon the Cherubim!
All-Glorious Temple of Him Who is above the Seraphim!
Thou Who hast United Opposites!
Thou Who hast Joined Virginity and Motherhood!
Thou Through Whom Transgression Hath Been Absolved!
Thou Through Whom Paradise Is Opened!
Key to the Kingdom of Christ!
Hope of Eternal Good Things!
O Bride Unwedded!

In short, there's no end to the variety of praise for Mary in the Catholic Faith—eastern or western.

Cataloguing and discussing every facet of this colossal diversity could trail on for thousands of pages. We don't want to do this. Therefore, the best way to approach Marian prayer is to go where the vast majority of Catholics turn, to the 800 Pound Gorilla and All-Time Champion form of Marian devotion: the Rosary. For in its mysteries there are lots of opportunities to take side jaunts into some of the other forms of devotion out there as well. ...

Care to read more? Well, why not order the book?

"Mary and Me": A New Favorite!

This post is part of the "Mary Moments" Carnival held at Behold Your Mother

Author Ginny Kubitz Moyir writes:

"...there are times when life presents us with a clear crossroads. The paths are well-marked, displayed before our eyes; it's simply a matter of discerning which one to follow. But what happens when the future is not a crossroads, but a maze? What do we do when we can't even see what our options are? How do we proceed when we know our current lifestyle isn't working for us, but we have no idea where to go from there?" (p.15).

This particular paragraph resonated with me, especially right now. Whether the question on the table is "Why should Mary mean more to me than any other figure in Scripture apart from Christ himself?" or "Something's not right ... What do you want from me, God?" the answer is so often right in front of us, if we are only open and willing to read the signs.

Mary and Me is the story -- many stories, actually -- of individuals who felt the gentle tug of that particular apronstring, and let themselves be drawn in to her loving embrace. In one story, an HBO exec whose brother had recently died from AIDS felt herself being inexplicably drawn to churches. She recalls:

Beth knew she still needed to make a drastic change to regain her emotional health. A few months later she quit her job, sublet her apartment, packed her bags, and got into her car. She didn't know where she was going, and had no timeline or agenda for her road trip. Only one thing was clear: She was at a turning point, and needed to find a new life for herself.

For the next five months, she drove all the way from California to Nova Scotia and back. Though she had no conscious itinerary or purpose, she soon discovered one: visiting churches. Without knowing why, she found herself stopping her car in front of Catholic churches in different states. "I'd see a Catholic church as I was driving through Town X, and I'd pull over, and stop, and I'd walk in...." She had no idea why she was doing it, but felt "compelled from the outside in." It was only when she'd arrive in the vestibule of the church that it hit her: She was there because she was looking for Mary.

This search for transcendent reality, for ultimate truth -- for home -- is common to many of those looking toward the Catholic Church. We don't know exactly what it is we are looking for until we look it full in the face, then find ourselves wondering why it took us so long to catch on.

Thanks, Ginny, for taking the time to sing it out so compellingly.

"The Beauty of Mary": A Primer for the Faithful ... and the Skeptical

When I first started on my little book about Mary, now titled Behold Your Mother, I did not have what you'd call an intimate relationship with her. Not even a daily Rosary. Sad, but true.

Once I started the book, however, I took a look around and realized just how many "stubborn children" (usually, but not always, non-Catholic Christians) Mary contends with on a regular basis! She loves them anyway ... but what a regular trial we must be for her at times! Like sulky teenagers, we do everything we can to separate ourselves ("She's not MY mother!") -- and yet, the fact of her motherhood has never depended on our willingness to accept it. She loves because it is in a mother's nature to love her children. No matter how ornery.

These past few weeks I've had the pleasure of reading a number of "Mary books," and I wanted to share a few excerpts with you in hopes that these snippets will inspire you to (like St. Augustine) "Take and read." When we are trying to overcome years of ignorance or apathy, truth is the only thing that will seep around and soften those rough edges.

First ... since the Feast of the Assumption is fast approaching, I wanted to offer a snippet from a book entitled The Beauty of Mary, by Rosemary Vaccari Mysel and friends, published by Pauline Books and Media.

First, a little history: "According to theologian Danilo Sartor, OSM, the feast of the Assumption of the BVM was first celebrated in sixth-century Jerusalem. The Emperor Maurice (d.602) ordered the celebration of the Assumption for the entire empire. In the Byzantine Empire, it was called the 'Dormition.' ... By the late 7th century ... four Marian feasts were celebrated in Rome: the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, the Annunciation, the Purification, and the Assumption" (p128).

Caryll Houselander offers this meditation on the feast:

...Even in natural things, it is newness that gives us delight: daybreak, morning in spring. These seem to us promises from heaven, promises of our own renewal.

"I will give you the morning star."

To be born again: that is exactly what Christ has promised to us; not only once, but just as often as our inner life grows old and jaded and dies.

But newness, flowering spring, shadowless morning, are not born of what is decaying, corrupt, and fetid. They are born only of virginity, virginity which is newness, virginity complete as fire and water.

The only virginity like that is the virginity of Our Lady; it is through this virginity that the earth is made new, that the Holy Spirit is wed to humanity.
Because of the beautiful mix of historical and devotional, this book is an excellent starter resource for those who are just beginning to explore their relationship to the Blessed Mother.

For more information on the Blessed Mother, go to my blog Behold Your Mother.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Mother Teresa's Rules to Live By

I found this the other day at one of Sister Spitfire's blogs, courtesy of A Catholic Mom in Hawaii.

Mother Teresa gave these rules to her Sisters to help them develop the virtue of humility:

1. Speak as little as possible about yourself.
2. Keep busy with your own affairs and not those of others.
3. Avoid curiosity.
4. Do not interfere in the affairs of others.
5. Accept small irritations with good humor.
6. Do not dwell on the faults of others.
7. Accept censures even if unmerited.
8. Give in to the will of others.
9. Accept insults and injuries.
10. Accept contempt, being forgotten and disregarded.
11. Accept injuries and insults.
12. Be courteous and delicate even when provoked by someone.
13. Do not seek to be admired and loved.
14. Do not protect yourself behind your own dignity.
15. Give in, in discussions, even when you are right.
16. Always choose the more difficult task.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Great Quote of the Week

"We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it."

- Madeleine L'Engle

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Sky Gazers

When they had gathered together they asked him, "Lord,
are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
throughout Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.”

When he had said this, as they were looking on,
he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.
While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going,
suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.
They said, “Men of Galilee,
why are you standing there looking at the sky?
This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven
will return in the same way
as you have seen him going into heaven.”

From today's reading: Acts 1:1-11

Catholicism is full of mystery. As much as it makes us squirm to think about it, there are some things we are not meant to understand in this lifetime. There are many reasons for this, one of the biggest ones being that the human mind is finite in its capacity, and is encumbered by all sorts of baggage: ignorance, prejudice, presumption, and pride chief among them.

Trying to grasp the Infinite with the human mind is like trying to contain the ocean in a sieve. I read that somewhere ... St. Augustine said it, I think.

And yet, there are some things we are called to do, to say, and to be. "...why are you standing there, looking at the sky?" Yes, there is mystery. There is also revealed truth. We have our marching orders.

One of my Bible school teachers used to say to us, "Obedience precedes revelation. If you want God to show you more of Himself, you must follow the light you've been given so far."

Are you acting on the truth you see right in front of you? Or are you stalling out of fear or stubbornness or an unwillingness to be misjudged by others?

Better that than to be mocked by the angels. You have light enough for the next step. Don't just stand there ... march!

(Image of Dome of the Ascension from

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Dangerous Prayer

Today I received a letter from a writer friend who had just finished my book Behold Your Mother and found herself being drawn toward the Church. I understand completely her struggle: It is an unsettling, even embarrassing to realize that the one you once regarded as the "Whore of Babylon" is actually your spiritual mother.

Even so, the Church continues to draw her children out of their self-made rafts of subjective religious experience and selective Scripture study, and into the Barque of Peter. Christians are "crossing the Tiber" into the fullness of the faith all the time, from every possible tradition: Baptists, Pentecostals, Vineyard, Methodists, Presbyterians (I was baptized Presbyterian, but because of my music background I've been involved in all of them at one time or another).

Perhaps you find yourself standing on the edge of your raft, gazing serreptitiously (yet longingly) at those who have already taken the leap of faith, and entered into the fullness of the faith through the one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church founded by Christ. Yet you are afraid of being tricked, afraid of being deceived ... just afraid.

In the words of the late, great Pope John Paul II: "Be not afraid! Open the gates to Christ!" His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, echoes, "Christ is our hope!" It is Christ, who alone atones for the sins of the world, and who offers Himself -- Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity -- in the Holy Eucharist.

Take your Bible and spend a holy hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Open to the sixth chapter of John, and read each verse very slowly. Let it sink into your heart. Ask God to speak to you through these verses, to reveal to you what HE wants you to understand. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths."

Once you get your heart around the Eucharist, what a gift Our Lord gives to us in that Holy Sacrament, you will not be content until you receive Him. However, please remember that St. Paul urges us not to take the sacrament "unworthily." To be ready to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, you must enter the Church. There's no way around this. It will take time ... but by God's grace, your hunger will be satisfied in His perfect time.

Finally, a gentle warning. Jesus warned that unless we become like little children, we cannot see the Kingdom of God. It took God many years and quite a number of strippings and humblings before I was willing to say,

"I don't have the answers, Lord. Only questions. You are God, and I am not ... You are pure mystery, and my mind is blinded by prejudice, ignorance, and error. Help me. Guide me each step of the way, and take these blinders from my eyes and help me to truly see."

This is a dangerous prayer, but a necessary one. It's not enough to read the Bible ... one must interpret it correctly as well. We do this not in isolation, but in union with Christians going all the way back to the first apostles. We must not "proof text" isolated Scriptures to harden our hearts and minds, but invite the Holy Spirit to open us to ALL the truth God wants us to understand. Almost inevitably, He does this through the treasury of wisdom that is available to us through the teaching authority of the Church (the Magisterium) and the saints.

I suggest you start with Teresa of Avila's The Interior Castle and move on to her Way of Perfection. St. Teresa was a sixteenth-century Carmelite mystic who taught that the Lord (she called him "His Majesty") dwells in the center of our hearts, but that we must strip ourselves of everything -- even good things -- in order to reach that inner chamber.

If you find yourself embarking on this journey alone, and need someone to pray for you ... I'm here. Drop me a note at hsaxton(at)christianword(dot)com. God bless you!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Behold Your Mother: The Video

This YouTube video was just sent to me by my online publicist, and I thought you might like to see it.

Excuse me now while I go find a tissue to wipe my eyes... God bless you!

Monday, April 07, 2008

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month ... (and Defend-Your-Church Month Too, It Seems)

Today on my way to other things I stumbled on this post by "The Anchoress," in which she explains with eloquence and fire exactly why, in the wake of the scandals, most devout Catholics did not leave the Church (though they may well have changed parishes if it turned out that theirs was once of those affected by the predatory scorge).

On Friday, Catholic Exchange will be running an article I wrote about the USCCB declaration of April as Child Abuse Prevention Month. As you might anticipate, seeing as I adopted two children out of the foster care system, this is a topic I take very seriously ... and found myself defending in two separate quarters, one more expected than the other.

While I was not the least bit surprised that various disillusioned Catholics would find the bishops' pronouncement the height of hypocrisy, I was more than a bit put off by a second camp -- those Catholics who remain in the pews, and seem more put out by the "liturgical guides" that might raise the spectre of abuse within the liturgy (presumably during the prayers of the faithful) than that the scorge of abuse continues at all (though its form is somewhat different now).

I'm not sure which is more off-putting.

I was grateful that The Anchoress took it upon herself to address (as I found myself doing more than once this week) why Catholics simply don't leave the Church when it disappoints them. I liked this quote especially, in connection with the Obama-Wright fiasco:

So Obama may be asked “why did you not leave your pastor,” and a Catholic may be asked “why did you not leave your PARISH” - if the parish was one involved with the shameful priests or pastors. It is quite a different thing to ask, “why did you not leave your church.” If the writer does not understand that distinction then his whole point is unmade. Believing, as Catholics do, that the source and summit of our faith is the Holy Eucharist, which we believe to be the Real, Physical Body and Blood of Christ, “walking away” is not an option. You don’t “leave;” you fix the problem.
Amen, sister.

You don't leave when otherwise level-headed church family members get peevish when confronted with the fact that such abuses continue (most often from an altogether different quarter, including some much closer to home).

You don't leave (or turn tail and run) when otherwise reasonable cyber-buddies start their convoluted laundry lists of "Why no one in their right mind should still be calling themselves Catholic."

You don't leave even though for the first thirty years of your life, you switched churches for far less serious reasons -- sometimes simply for a change of scenery.
You don't leave when the extent of the abuse is publicized.

The reason is simple: Nowhere else in the world can you receive Jesus -- all of Him -- the way we receive Him in the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church.

Thanks, Anchoress, for the reminder.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

I can only Imagine - Catholic Version

Thanks to Sarah Reinhard at "Just Another Day" (

Monday, February 25, 2008

Are you feeling lost?

I've just been alerted to the existence of an apostolate called "Catholics Come Home" that is reaching out to those who have been away from the Church for some time through a series of multi-media presentations.

I particularly liked this one ... check it out!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Temporarily Closed for (Re)Construction

For the next several months (I think) I will not be posting to this blog so that I can spend time with my new "Mary" blog, which I started in honor of the Blessed Mother, in thanksgiving for my new book, "Behold Your Mother."

I invite you to come and join us here. I'd especially like it if you would get in touch with me at hsaxton(at)christianword(dot)com if you have ...

* a favorite true "Mary story"
* a question about Mary
* a favorite Mary image you'd like to share
* a favorite Marian resource, prayer, or novena (especially one associated with a particular feast day).

I look forward to seeing you there!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Missteps and Mercy

These past few days a series of events have led me think about the human tendency to make mistakes that require us to extend grace and mercy to others, just as God extends that grace and mercy to us when we deliberately choose sin. The primary difference is intentionality:

The thoughtless action (or omission)

The unintended offense

The hastily spoken (and poorly chosen) word

While these things do wound and grieve other people, we tend to gloss them over with, "But that's not what I MEANT! That's not what I INTENDED!"

Nevertheless, these "slips" do contain destructive seeds, capable of wounding and alienating those we hold dear.

This week I've found myself on both sides of the banana peel. I sent an impulsive "Valentine" to a few friends, which a chance comment from my sister made me realize that it might have struck some as suggestive. I saw it as a playful romp down memory lane ... then, after the fact, realized that it might have struck some as simply ... TMI. Oops.

Yesterday was especially hard. Two people, in the span of an hour, had me in tears because what I had needed from them and what I received were so completely and unexpectedly different. (I probably could have handled one, but not both.) In the first instance, I felt additional salt rubbed into the wound when this person turned the tables and informed me that it was I, not her, who needed to apologize. (I did, but later I felt so manipulated that I just got angry.)

"Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive
those who trespass against us."

The thing about trespasses is ... well, you don't always realize when you've invaded someone else's space, do you? And yet the offense is no less real for this lack of intention. What a great opportunity, then, for us to show mercy and do what we can to mend that breach.

  • Sometimes, that means letting something go, for the sake of the relationship.
  • Sometimes, it means giving the other person the benefit of the doubt.
  • Sometimes, it means adjusting the nature of the relationship itself.
Lord Jesus, thank you that when you came to earth to show us the way to heaven, you never held anything back. You gave everything you had, even life itself, to remind us of the Father's mercy. Help us to imitate our Heavenly Father in a more intentional way, this day and every day. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Mary ... My Mother, Too?

Years ago, as I contemplated becoming a Catholic, I had one point of difficulty that did not resolve itself immediately. It was this: Why should I pray to Mary, when I could go directly to Jesus anytime I wanted?

In time, I did come to understand the reasons Mary is so revered by the Church. I read the historical background and theological perspectives. I meditated on the writings of my brothers and sisters in faith. I pondered the Scriptures to bring the shadowy sketches of Jesus' mother into sharper focus.

But in the end, it wasn't until I became an adoptive mother that I came to appreciate the dynamics of this particular parent/child relationship ... and I write about it in my upcoming book entitled Behold Your Mother: Mary Stories and Reflections from a Catholic Convert (Bezalel Press). To order a copy with the special pre-pub rate, click here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Catholic Carnival is ... Up and Running!

Come join us at Kate Wicker's blog to read in the Lenten season at her wonderful rendition of Catholic Carnival! (My favorite post is Julie's post about Guardian Angels at "Adoro Te Devote.")

Friday, January 18, 2008

Movies and Books to Shape the Womanly Soul

All of the resources mentioned in this post are available for your convenience in the "Highly Recommended Favorites" widget to the right. Enjoy!

Certain books and movies leave an indelible impression, especially those with characters that make a lasting contribution to the way we understand our place in the world. Some of these people are singularly courageous in love and life, others are fragile and even broken, yet they shine with undeniable gifts bubbling just beneath the surface.

Today I’d like to share with you ten of the book-and-movie heroines that have made a lasting impression on me. Some are historical, others are characters … all have some quality or characteristic or conviction that is sure to inspire.

1. Most recent discovery: Evelyn Ryan in The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. (The image above is from this movie.) The book was based on the true story of the author's mother, Evelyn Ryan (Julianne Moore), an enterprising Catholic wife and mother of ten who used her pen to keep her family afloat during the “contest era” of the 1950s and 1960s. Married to a broken and disillusioned man (Woody Harrelson), Evelyn nevertheless raises her children in a home full of love and warmth, instilling in them the sense of adventure that she willingly set aside for herself.

Evelyn was a woman who was overshadowed by her circumstances. When her husband’s paycheck goes to pay for liquor instead of the family milk bill, Evelyn struggles to care for her children without shaming their alcoholic father – or losing herself. Refusing to resort to blaming or other indignities, she continues to show her husband patience, love, and respect … and wins the love, admiration, and deeply rooted loyalty of her children in the process.

2. Most unforgettable romance: Davy Vanauken in A Severe Mercy. When I managed to reach my mid-thirties without finding lasting love, I persevered largely because I knew such a love could indeed exist because I had read about it here. Though the story is (in the “Love Story” sense) tragic, it was a light for me because Vanauken paints a detailed roadmap not just of the “is” of love … but the “how” as well. In the next book, Under The Mercy, Vauauken paints the story of his journey into the source of all true Love. (The second book is on my “must reads” for converts.)

3. Most unforgettable love story: Amy Carmichael, who was the subject of Elisabeth Elliot's biography A Chance to Die. This Scotch Presbyterian spinster, the soul sister of Blessed Mother Teresa, nearly single-handedly rescued hundreds of Indian children from a fate worse than death as “temple children” and raised them at mission school she founded, Donavhur Fellowship. Like Mother Teresa, Amy did it by taking on herself the culture and ways of her host culture; unlike the dear saint of Calcutta, she did it without coming into the fullness of the faith. (Even so, I took “Amy” as my confirmation name, since her hymns were such a significant influence to my journey into the Church.) In movies, I get a similar rush from Ingrid Bergman in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.

4. Love stronger than death: What Dreams May Come. When Annie Nielsen loses her husband and two children in separate auto accidents, she loses her mind and then takes her own life … and yet her husband Chris braves the very forces of hell to find her, knowing that even heaven would be empty without her. Rarely do you see the afterlife portrayed so vividly, with consideration of how one’s actions in this life have real consequences in the next. Second Glance, by Jodi Picoult, does the same thing in book form. The Great Divorce (C.S. Lewis) for those needing a good resource to give loved ones who don’t believe in Purgatory (or who don’t believe Lewis had Catholic tendencies).

5. Best Dog Story: Jenny Grogan in Marley & Me. I give this book to friends who have lost a pet. It cheered me up when nothing else could after Missy (my border collie) died. There is one scene in particular that is worth the price of the book: When Jenny miscarries, Marley instinctively comforts Jenny in a way even her husband could not.

6. Best Story I Wish I’d Written Myself: The title character in Christy (go for the book; the movie series didn’t do it justice). Young and impressionable, Christy Huddleson breaks out of the comfortable, upper-middle class mold in which she is raised to find herself in a most unexpected place: among the mountain people of Appalachia. Based on the life story of the author’s mother.

7. Saints I’d most like to follow around in heaven: St. Teresa of Avila, second only (maybe) to St. Scholastica (St. Benedict’s twin sister). To find out why, pick up a copy of her biography Teresa of Avila: An Extraordinary Life by Shirley du Boulay.

8. Best Story of Trust: These Strange Ashes, by Elisabeth Elliot, recounts the year of mission service before she and Jim were married. Every time I find myself in a no-win situation, I think of the anecdote in the final pages of this book.

9. Best Friendship: Fried Green Tomatoes. Despite the unhappy images of married life this movie contains, it reinforces the importance of having a good friend to lean on when life gets hard.

10. Family at Its Best: Cheaper by the Dozen. While the book is infinitely superior to either movie version, the earlier (black and white) is preferable to the 2003 Steve Martin/Bonnie Hunt disaster. About the only thing it has in common with the original book is the title. But Mrs. Gilbraithe … now there was a real Catholic woman.

Care to share your list? If you'd like to order any of these, I've put them in my "resources" section at "Mommy Monsters."

Thursday, January 10, 2008

From "Deadly Sin" ... to Alive in Christ!

From this weekend's readings:

If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly. From 1 John 5:14-21

I don't know how I did it, but for the first thirty years of my life (including four years in Bible school), I managed to gloss over this passage in the Bible without ever stopping to think what it might mean. "Deadly" sin? Isn't all sin automatically forgiven the moment we become Christians?

Read it again. "If anyone sees his brother sinning..."

Therefore, we must assume that it is possible to fall out of grace through our own bad choices, even after we belong to God. This is what the early Church Fathers taught as well; they identified seven "deadly" sins: pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth. Fortunately, the Church has always taught that by practicing the corresponding virtue, by God's grace, we can eradicate the habit of sin. These virtues include humility, trust, temperance, courage/modesty, compassion, generosity, and industry/prudence.

The Catechism distinguishes between mortal (deadly) and venial (not deadly) sin; sin that breaks our spiritual connection with God, vs. sin that damages but does not break it off altogether. Mortal ("deadly") sin, according to the Catechism meets three conditions: its object is "grave matter ... committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent" (CCC 1857).

The good news is that it is never too late to start over. There is no sin so great, but that God's love and mercy is not greater still. This is not cheap grace -- it cost God dearly to redeem the human race. Nor is that damage repaired without effort on our part. It requires repentance, restitution ... and, in some cases, a lifetime of deliberately and even painfully choosing the virtuous habit over the sinful one.

In the March/April issue of Canticle, I write about how I discovered this reality to be true in my own life, in an article called: "Tender Mercies: The Story of St. Faustina Kowalska" (to order a copy, call 800-558-5452). This was a difficult article to write -- I had to relive parts of my life that frankly I'd just as soon forget. And yet, I know there are others who (like I did) continue to struggle under the weight of the past. The good news is, you don't have to.

Lent is just around the corner now (is it possible?). And so it is a good time to take stock and resolve any outstanding issues that might still be niggling at your soul. Perhaps it's nothing that you've done, but something that was done to you. Something you can't get past, can't let go of.

Something just too awful to contemplate. I understand. More importantly, so does God.

As we enter the Lenten season, consider whether this might be the year to let the Great Physician plumb the depths of your heart, and take away that little hard spot you've never quite known what to do with. No matter how big and ugly it seems to you, it's nothing He can't handle. Go to Him and receive His healing touch in the sacrament of reconciliation. He's waiting for you!

Here's a song I grew up with, that I always think of when I remember that dark time in my life ... You can listen to it here. Here's the chorus:

He touched me, oh He touched me.
And oh, the joy that floods my soul.
Something happened, and now I know ...
He touched me, and made me whole.

God bless you!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

In Memoriam: Pastor Carl Luthman

I got a phone call today from my mother, and learned that Pastor Carl Luthman passed away on December 22. Pastor Luthman was my childhood pastor, when my family attended Lafayette Federated Church.

Pastor Luthman was a loving and generous man, and served God with all his heart and soul. He was remarkable in that his love extended even to those whose theology was significantly different from his own. He was intent on loving and serving Jesus; nothing else mattered.

I've known many Christians to profess that they "know" they are going straight to heaven when they die. Most of the time, I pray for them anyway when the time comes (just in case they find themselves in need of intercessors). In this case, however, I'd add, "And if you find yourself inside the gates as you expected, Pastor Luthman, then please pray for me!"

Eternal rest grant to him, O Lord,
And may perpetual light shine upon him.
May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed,
Rest in peace.

Thoughts for the New Year

Sarah at "Just Another Day of Catholic Pondering" has posted the new Catholic Carnival. Her blog is a fun-and-informative read anytime ... but she really rocks with the Carnivals! Be sure to check it out!

“Let us look at our own shortcomings and leave other people’s alone, for those who live carefully ordered lives are apt to be shocked at everything, and we might well learn very important lessons from the persons who shock us.” (Teresa of Avila)

"There's a tendency among some Christians to assume they are always right because the Lord is on their side. The problem is, this type of thinking makes the Christian only one step removed from being God Himself. As a consequence, it's pretty easy for such a person to accept even his most base emotions, opinions, or reactions as nearly divine and, therefore, correct." (Eric Scheske, "God on the Sleeve")

This post is going to be uncharacteristically brief. I'm home alone with two little squirrels, and Mother Nature has just dumped over a foot of white stuff outside that they seem DETERMINED to bring back inside. But Carnival is coming, and I wanted to give Sarah something to pick from.

Recently Mark Shea wrote an article on the liberty of the believer that provided a useful glimpse into the freedom -- intellectual and otherwise -- that the Church extends to the faithful. While there are some ideas that are the bedrock of the faith, absolute and non-negotiable truths, Mark's article reminded me how much latitude the Lord gives us to experience and explore the world around us, and to learn from each other.

My resolution this year: More listening. Less judging. Especially of those I love most.