Angels…protectors, messengers, but not former humans

Last week, my friends suffered a devastating loss when their three-year-old daughter died of injuries she sustained in an accident a month ago. There has been an outpouring of grief at the life lost so young from family, friends, co-workers and even strangers. This outpouring of grief has led to numerous requests for prayers and many misguided statements about their young daughter becoming an angel or guardian angel.

My friends are Catholic (they have also taken great pains to express her funeral will be a Catholic celebration of life). I believe they take these assertions as most of us do: as sweet, meaning well, but ultimately misguided. And in their moment of grief, obviously they aren’t going to try to correct this mistaken theology that has crept into our subconscious via the secular world.

What are angels? Courtesy of this is the definition of an Angel:

..pure spirit(s) created by God. The Old Testament theology included the belief in angels: the name applied to certain spiritual beings or intelligences of heavenly residence, employed by God as the ministers of His will.

The word “angel” means “messenger.” While the Bible has human “messengers” those messengers who can perform supernatural tasks and are heavenly “bodies” are referred to as angels.

But, but, what happens to people when they die? If they go to heaven they are now spiritual beings? Doesn’t that mean they are transformed into angels? In Bill Dodds’s excellent article for entitle Angels–Fiction and Fact, he addresses this idea:

Fiction: When humans, especially young children, die and go to heaven, they become angels.

Fact: That’s a popular idea and oftentimes a comforting image for grieving families, but . . . no.

Angels and humans are separate and different beings. Angels are 100 percent spirits; humans are both spirit (soul) and body. A human being’s soul is immortal; his or her body dies. When the soul leaves the body at death, it is not transformed somehow into an angel.

Rather, a soul that has gone to heaven enjoys God’s presence with the angels and joins with the angels—and other human souls—in praising God. This is the image the Church presents. In the liturgy for a Catholic funeral, we pray “may the angels lead you into Paradise….”

But Kristen, I hear the voices, that’s just Catholic theology you’re presenting. Allow me to introduce to you Pastor Jeff Manning. In response to the death of young Lydia Byrd from a brain tumor and the numerous friends and family who responded that she was an angel, Lydia’s mother asked Pastor Jeff (an ordained Free Will Baptist minister with a congregation in Greenville, NC) to address the idea of Lydia being an angel. He credits the common misconception of our becoming angels after death on two things 1. the movie It’s a Wonderful Life and it’s angel character Clarence Odbody and 2. Misunderstanding of a few Bible verses, iucluding, but not limited to, Matthew 20:30 which states that when people die they are like angels . Not that they become angels.

Recent experience has also indicated another theory of mine as to why the myth of humans becoming angels is perpetuated in popular Christian culture: the communion of saints. The communion of saints, in Catholic tradition, are people who have died and gone to heaven where they worship our Lord and pray for those on earth through intercessory prayer, which believers on Earth can request through prayer for specific intentions (this is not praying to the saint, however). And while, for Catholics at least, there is no way to know for certain a person we love who has died has gone to heaven short of formal canonization, Catholics do acknowledge that those in heaven are saints(and that there may be some we cannot acknowledge while we are here on Earth).

Part of the way the communion of saints contributes to this is a Catholic issue. There are Catholics who use the terms “angels” and “saints” interchangeably which is not correct. Angels were always angels. Some angels are also saints (Michael, Gabriel and Raphael). But humans who once inhabited human bodies can never be angels, only saints.

The other confusion is the idea of the Communion of Saints being appealing to some non-Catholic Christians and thus the idea being co-opted and renamed as angels, particularly “guardian angels” so as to distance the idea further from Catholicism. Sometimes this is done with great intention. The point remains that humans, saints or not, cannot become angels.

In reading the comments of Pastor Jeff Manning’s blog post, it is clear to see that many Christians are not comfortable with people saying their deceased loved ones are angels, even when the best of intentions are evident. For those experiencing a loss, of course you would respond however you deem necessary with each case. For those of us on the outside, perhaps we should stick with simply,”I am sorry for your loss, may God comfort you during this time,” or similar.


Conversations we SHOULDN’T be having on Facebook

Two things have happened in the last 24 hours to prompt this post. I’ll get to them in my examples.

Long time readers should be aware that we’ve established that twitter is not a good place to debate/discuss anything. 140 characters is too few for that type of interaction, thoughts become too segmented etc etc

But what about facebook are there limits? Well, yes. Although facebook and Google+ are much better venues for debate and discussion, some things are best left off there. Because the internet is forever even if you delete it. Not to mention the nosy and prying eyes of some. So what topics are better left for verbal interaction?

  1. Anything where legal confidentiality can be compromised. This is inspired by the last 24 hours. A person who is helping me for Shelby’s upcoming IEP meeting wanted to confirm she would be present at the meeting. Because of technical snafus, she needed to tell me via facebook not email as we had been communicating and she was discreet in her post but I could tell she was worried about legal ramifications as she is bound by confidentiality. My friends can only see what I post to my wall not other friends. This setting was born of necessity after someone took a public lashing by a person they didn’t know on my wall one day after they made a post I hadn’t yet seen. And even if they had seen her post, there are few people who know who she is or why she was saying “I’ll be there.” Even those who know her, might not have guessed. But as a rule of thumb: lawyers, teachers, doctors, therapists etc who are friends should not be posting confirmation times of appointments or meetings, nor anything personal relating to your child’s performance in a classroom or test results. Most of these people are pros but it never hurts to be reminded, especially when they are friends. We also should not be asking a doctor friend for diagnosis or a favor via facebook, again even if we are friends. That is a professional matter which should be handled during office hours or in an ER.
  2. Family matters. We are fighting with our sister? Fine, do it in person. Feuding with a cousin, keep it off the internet. Dissing… okay you get the point. The internet and family are both forever, even if you disown them. Plus it makes you look like a hot mess.
  3. Publicly correcting another adult, particularly your adult child. What I just saw crossed a line. A good friends very young daughter passed away over the weekend. I am friends with both mom and dad. Mom was involved in the accident that ultimately took the little girl’s life. It’s been up to dad to keep a network of friends, family and super-extended family updated and facebook is simply the easiest way. Nothing wrong with that. After his daughter’s death, several posts went up first on mom’s and later a family profile. These posts indicated that the fund set up for the family for expenses would be converted to a foundation in the little girl’s memory related to the specific kind of trauma she underwent. It was a sweet gesture friends came up with. The circles my friends move in are big on tribute and keeping memories alive, so the suggestion was hardly surprising. In the last 24 hours, the dad’s father (the grandfather of the little girl) has posted numerous times often YELLING to put the foundation on hold and use the money donated to pay current bills associated with the incident. Which is what people expect. Now there is nothing wrong with what his father is saying, but his choosing to post in the comments  where people get alerted to this was not the appropriate venue at all. A phone call would have been more appropriate. His father’s arguments have also alerted people like me, who were close to the family, to things we never should have been privy too. For his part, my friend has acknowledged that his father was right but that it was also a kind gesture made by friends. Parents have a tendency to do this kind of thing, but public correction is often not the best way of communicating this. Especially while he’s enduring the biggest loss in his life.
  4. Giving unsolicited advice. So you’ve had this groundbreaking eureka moment about a friend’s marriage issues or their child’s education woes etc. Call them. Don’t be that friend who just blabs to everyone in a post. If someone asks for help with breastfeeding or something like that…be a pal and do them a solid, otherwise, obnoxious looks good on no one.
  5. Disclosure of a major life event (birth, death, marriage etc) if the parties involved have not had a chance to spread the news first. Facebook connects so many of us in wonderful ways and it can be a great way for information to be shared quickly. However, when we hear of a major life event, we should be careful to keep congratulations and condolences private until the parties involved release them. For example, two close friends from a previous employer passed away in the last couple of years and in both cases family members found out when they logged on facebook and saw posts from friends. In one case the woman was also pregnant and her unborn son did not make it either. I was horrified (I was told both times by private text messages) to see comments from siblings that they had not been notified yet because these posts appeared less than an hour after the deaths. Similarly, a dear friend had a miscarriage last week. She had one well meaning friend post condolences (ambiguous ones at that) which immediately elicited a firestorm of questions. So again, let’s just use some tact. Private message, text, that’s the way to go until you’ve seen info from those closest.

This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive but just a reminder of some of the things we should be keeping close instead of sharing. I’m sure deep down we all know these things but in this time of all kinds of internet access…a few of us need reminders.

Ambiguous Meme from Catholic Memes? This is not okay…

Catholic Memes, that interwebs institution, posted this on October 23rd:


That’s the blessed Mother and Madonna…these are an obvious reference to this campaign:

multi transgender

“This is not okay” is a photo-campaign designed to decry Halloween costumes that depict various ethnic, national, sexuality and even some religious groups (there are Islam and Sikh ones for example) as racist and unfunny.

The fact that this meme is so obviously a reflection of the fact that Catholics are going down as the last group one can attack publicly through pregnant nun and slutty Catholic school girl uniform costumes, they just picked the wrong spokesperson, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought. But as we all know, it’s never the full story.

This meme has been mistaken as a wholesale criticism of Madonna which is not going to work. Sure she’s hardly the public example of who we want portraying Catholics, but so is the Vice President.

The meme author used the BVM and Madonna in an attempt to contrast the name. This is flawed because Madonna was given her name by her parents. She was named after her mother and born just after the feast day of the Assumption into a devout Catholic family of Italian and French-Canadian descent. So, because she is named after the Blessed Mother and is a public figure, we can make this comparison? My name derives from Christ, yeah let me tell you how I live up to that name on the daily. And our vice president is named for the foster father of our Lord and Savior and yeah…about that…

It is also flawed because of the entire idea of the campaign the creator chose to adopt for this meme is to stop people looking from dressing like stereotypes out of respect for a culture or religion or lifestyle, not to attack one person with one name in the world. If the creator wanted to do something deriding Madonna, she missed the mark.

And let’s not forget this is 2015 not 1985…not a lot of little girls dressing up like Madonna for Halloween and even if they were, not playing up the “Catholic” aspect at all.

There is also the idea that this meme is simply to make fun of people who create the “this is not okay” campaign as people who take Halloween too seriously and can’t take a joke. If that’s the case, almost no one on the original post got it which means it definitely failed on that level.

On the flip side, if the creator had wanted to make an impactful statement, how about a nun in habit holding a picture of a girl in the “pregnant nun” costume? Or a group of actual little girls in Catholic school with a pic of a “slutty Catholic schoolgirl” pic? Or an actual priest holding up a pic of Jon Cryer in Two and a Half Men in his pants-less priest costume? I will admit to being a pansy who is offended by the cultural view that it is okay to wear those costumes that impugn many good people I love and care about.

There was a lot of potential lost in this meme.The ambiguity has made it an epic fail. If we truly want to be critical of how we are treated in the secular world, we need precision. If we just want to make fun of Madonna, we can do that anywhere.

They are always listening…even when we think they are not: A love-letter to my homeschool mama friends

Dear Homeschool Mama friends,

This letter is to thank you. You were the ones who taught me just how critical it was to be the primary educator of my children, even if I did send them to public school. You taught me these lessons before I even had children of my own. And once I did have those children, you continued to inspire me forward in this endeavor. Your encouragement helped me through some very rough patches for which I am grateful.

If I can have one complaint though, it is that you spoiled me. You gave me the unrealistic expectation that most parents know and understand this whole, “parents are the primary educators” thing and take it seriously. As seriously as you do, as I do.

And so my adventure into teaching Faith Formation has been an awakening. An awakening to the reality that a lot of parents do the bare minimum. Or nothing at all. That when you throw a bunch of Catholic kids together in a room, you will get a variety of levels of formation from expert to less than zero. Some of it is ignorance on the parental level willful or otherwise. Some are like my mom was and I was, products of our own crazy not-exactly-great formation. And for many (like my mom and myself) our parents were truly doing the best they could with what they had. And I’d like to think that by bringing their kids to my class (and their other children to the other classes) they are already doing better than what they had.

And especially for the ones who know and get this whole “primary educator” thing, I feel for them. I think a lot of the time, they feel like I do. Like we’re tilling in rocky or less than perfect soil. That we bring our kids to mass and faith formation and we do say the prayers at home and talk to and teach our children about the faith and what we believe, heck we even celebrate baptism days (in related news I actually found all three kids’ baptism candles) and patron saint feast days, but we are rowing upstream and the current is strong. Not just from public school but EVERYTHING. My kids tend to come off as very unplugged from anything not Nintendo nor Minecraft related even with technology contracts and limits. Sometimes I feel like I’m just throwing things at the wall hoping the stick.

Well, Mamas, I am here to thank you for your examples of perseverance and encouragement in my own. I heard it when I heard my son’s little voice in Liturgical training answer the DFF’s “The Lord be With You” with “And with your spirit.” And again later when he told me his class was learning about the Rosary and he offered, “When Mr Richard and Mrs Kathleen asked what we knew about the Rosary, I told them it was our most powerful weapon against the devil.” I taught him that. ME. When I thought he was ignoring me.

I should have known he and his brother listen as was evidenced by his first grade teacher telling me he was a star last year when he taught the entire lesson on John the Baptist whom we had talked about ONCE! This year she has his little brother and she can’t stop telling me about how much he knows. I smile but I want to ask, “when?! When did I teach him all this?! When was he actually listening to me?”

I have felt much the same way about my students. Do they listen? Do they care? Is this just a social hour for them? Is it all going in one ear and out the other because they go home and who knows if they tell their parents what I’ve taught or if their parents even like what I’ve taught.

Then last week at Liturgical Training, one of my students pointed over to a corner and said, “Mrs Kristen, is that the saint who had all the sisters who were nuns?! St Therese, I think her name is? She has a rose in front of her…” I wandered over to see the statue I had never noticed before (in my defense it only arrived this past winter) to ensure that it was, indeed St Therese. She was able to tell the DFF when she asked who it was. We had talked about St Therese two weeks before and the Little Way and the rose and…I thought she was playing and giggling with the little girl next to her, but she was listening.

I’m not just spewing words and prayers and church history at them, I’m teaching them. Both my children and my students. And they are absorbing it, by osmosis if they have to.

Mamas out there in the interwebs, whether you homeschool or are a semi-heathen like me who sacrifices her childrens’ academic learning to the public school system (because it truly is the lesser of two evils if the alternative is me teaching them–gulp!) or you send them to private or parochial school, take heart and find encouragment. YOU are the primary educator of your child, not any other teacher, and your child is learning valuable lessons from you whether they acknowledge it or not. You are training up children in the way they should go when you take them to mass, when you pray with them, teach them their faith through feast days or however you manage it in your home.

And thank you to my home-school mama friends who have told me this would happen and who prayed along with me that it would. You may have spoiled me by showing me the prize but you never stopped encouraging me in persisting to get it.




No is still the answer to a prayer…

Have you ever wanted something and you prayed on it and it felt like things were going to happen and then, they didn’t? Maybe not for a long time. Maybe not forever?

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about prosperity Gospels and unrequited prayer.

Let’s set the record straight: God is not a genie. He does not grant wishes. He does not give us what we want simply because we believe and are “good people.”

And God doesn’t leave prayers unanswered. “No,” is often God’s answer to a prayer.

This past spring my husband was heavily courted by a school district for a job there. They even paid for us to come visit the area and stay in a hotel and arranged for me to meet with the elementary school principal. He didn’t get the job. It turned out the district people who wanted him bad…never consulted the principal, who wanted a local. Although my heart opened to the place during our visit, the lack of housing period caused a serious concern. (Zero rentals…exactly zero.) For a long time, my husband had really wanted that job, but in the end, God’s answer was no and was correct.

I recently posted on facebook about a job offering I was interested in and applied for. Sort of a dream job, if you will. The odds are against me and I’m praying novenas to Sts Jude and Joseph, but I have to be okay with the fact that God may say “no.” And that’s okay.

Someone posted for me to banish all negativity and to pray the prayer of Jabez. Is there anything wrong with that prayer? No, not in and of itself. What is wrong is praying it with the clear expectation that it guarantees what the pray-er wants. Yes, God granted Jabez’s prayer, but me praying the same thing does not mean I get what I want be it a dream job, a baby, or anything else. God’s wisdom and will are perfect. Mine are not. I would much rather pray the Lord’s prayer as Jesus taught us, “thy will be done,” than hand God a laundry list of my selfish desires that most often do not link up with His plan and follow a rubric that seems designed to guarantee success. Because it doesn’t. If it did, everyone would have the man or woman he or she desired, the house of their dreams and successful careers (to say nothing of bodies, cars and children).

I can still be disappointed and confused when God says no to my prayers even though I asked for the Blessed Mother or any saint’s intercession, but ultimately, I cannot hang my faith on talismans of good luck or I will experience the worst kind of pain. No, instead I have to look at Christ crucified and realize that was God’s will for His only begotten Son who even prayed for this cup to be taken from Him. If that could be used for good, how much more could my disappointment be used for.

God does not say no to punish us. He says it because He loves us and has mercy upon us.