About Kristen

A 30-something wife and mama of 3 (so far) living out my faith (Catholic) in the southeastern US.

Sacrament Factories?

So, I haven’t said anything about the recent story about the little girl in Indiana who wanted to make her First Holy Communion in a suit instead of a dress because…well, I have nothing new or productive to add to that discussion and frankly, neither do most of the people mentioning it or commenting on it. I have my opinion, same as anyone, but it is pretty well covered in what’s already out there. 

So I was pleasantly surprised to read this article by Brianna Heldt on The Federalist’s website. Unlike most of the other coverage, Brianna does have something to contribute to the discussion and namely it’s this passage that caught my eye: 

Speaking as a Catholic (who, incidentally, has had the joy of witnessing two daughters and two sons receive their first Holy Communion), I am admittedly most troubled by the perception and treatment of my church as little more than a sacrament factory. You should be, too. The notion that a priest is somehow required to offer the very body and blood of Jesus on demand–and, if not, potentially face a lawsuit–is both ludicrous and terrifying. That people would demand the Catholic Church capitulate to their every whim, and give them what they want on their terms, is absurd.

That term, “sacrament factory?” Let’s just say it hits a nerve. 

As many know I am a catechist. I teach third Grade Faith Formation and I can tell you right now that I have a class half the size of the one that made their First Holy Communion this past April and May at my parish.  

We have this issue in the Church currently called , “Milestone Catholicism.” It is this thing that happens when a parent never takes their kiddo to Mass and suddenly around second grade, show up to sign up for sacrament prep. It gets real fun in my diocese where all sacrament prep is a minimum of two years for Reconciliation, First Holy Communion, and Confirmation. No exceptions. But we need that pic of the white dress and veil and it makes the grandparents happy and, well, it’s just what you do. 

These parents are outraged that not only will things not happen on their timeline but that they will have to meet various requirements like submitting a baptism certificate, bringing their child to weekly classes, and (the horror) attend Sunday Mass each week. And the child is required to sign in each week because there really is no other easier way to track Mass attendance. These parents feel that their faith and parenting is being attacked. They want the sacrament on demand with no “extras” as they see it. 

And you know who agrees with them? A lot of faithful Catholic parents. The parents who took those vows at Baptism seriously as well as the Catechism when it said parents are the primary educators of their children find themselves, ironically, siding with the “milestone Catholic” parents. The basis of their argument is that the sacrament is a gift freely given and should have “no strings” (i.e.: required sacrament prep meetings or classes for parents and/or the kids, meetings of the child and parents with the priest, or the priest even asking the child questions to ensure readiness). Take the mom I encountered in a Facebook group who recently moved and came to her new parish and requested her six-year-old son make his First Holy Communion. Although he was younger than the kids at her parish school and in Faith Formation who were in the sacrament prep classes, the priest was willing to meet with her to discuss the possibility because the child was homeschooled and the family attended daily Mass and their previous pastor sent him a letter in regards to the family’s history as being practicing Catholics. At the meeting, when the priest requested to ask the little guy some questions to ascertain his readiness to receive the sacrament, his mother refused to allow it. She said on Facebook that of course he knew the answers but that it was ridiculous to require, “an examination” in order to receive the sacrament. When pressed to see what the questions were she wS forced to admit she had no idea because she didn’t allow them to take place at all or even ask the priest what they were. 

See, here’s the thing, parents are the primary educators of their children. And the Church is tasked with ensuring that those candidates for any sacrament are truly ready and eligible to receive said sacrament. So some kind of assessment of knowledge and understanding HAS to happen. If it doesn’t than the Church risks being a sacrament factory. But parents, regardless of motivation, are fighting this tooth and nail. And I’ve seen priests I know personally slandered for insisting they determine if a child is ready to receive a sacrament that they will be administering to that child. In some cases the child appeared out of thin air into the sacrament prep classes and in others the child was from a well-known family but in both cases the priest was maligned for doing due diligence. 

So, what are we left with? Is the sacrament factory model the equitable way to allow kids to receive their sacraments. Is Eucharist on demand and Confirmation when requested the way of the future? Or do we simply Chrismate everyone and then ensure all infants are Chrismated going forward? 

We have to be very careful in our complaints to not make our parishes one visit places. That’s not what they’re designed to be. Most of us (myself included) probably should spend more time in prayer and less arguing every requirement because none of us have the answer ready when we issue our complaint. 

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Falling

The calendar says it’s fall but in my neck of the woods, that calendar lies. We’ve had a few brisk days but other than that it’s all 80+ degree temps and 10000% humidity. 

I am almost two months into my new, full time job. I love it and it’s made life better in untold ways. 

With the change of employment, God has worked on my heart and other,  littler changes are starting to happen and larger changes are looming on the horizon. I’m letting God take me where He will and I am learning it is all good places, even if a few look scary from the outside. 

I am busier than ever but still feel calm and quiet. My faith these days looks a bit different in someways from where I sit but it is deeper in ways not visible to most. I’m good with that. It’s not about me and everyone else, it’s about me and God after all. 

This year I lost my grandfather, my husband lost both his parents, my kids lost a pet. It’s been painful and rough. But God held us close and we’ve come through better and stronger in our weakness. 

It doesn’t seem possible that I’m 38 and just finally realizing the simple peace that comes in just sitting in His love. But I am. To quote “Aaron Burr,” I talk less, smile more. I listen and realize how little of that I did in my life to this point. 

God’s love and grace are making me see things in a clearer light. Simple light. And I’m going to do my best to keep walking in this light. 

Today is the feast of St John Paul II and I am encouraged by his words: 

Failing to Attend to Detail is Failing to Care

At the end of the school year there was a meeting of other directors in my program. One of the directors shared with me a major headache in her program. Apparently one of her assistants was handling the end of the year event for the program and had failed to properly order a small component of their celebration that, while small, was in fact, essential. Unfortunately, compacting the problem was the fact that this component could not be purchased locally. It was too late in the year to change their plans and so the entire celebration was scrapped and the kids would just be watching videos instead. The kids were disappointed and their parents were angry.
This director told me there had long been an issue with this attention to details and as a result lots of frustration, confusion, and disappointment. Each time the director said the assistant was apologetic but there was no changes in behavior.
It got me thinking about how the closing when we sold our house two years ago was poorly handled by the attorney's office and a lack of attention to detail by them resulted in days worth of frustration and problems for us. We were not a big money maker for them and their lack of attention to detail showed we were a low priority.
When we fail to pay attention to detail, especially habitually, we demonstrate a lack of caring toward others and our task at hand. It can cause multiple unforeseen problems not only for ourselves but others as well. We would do well to remember that God pays great attention to detail as Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:30, even the hairs on our head are numbered. And we are called to love one another as God loves us so…
For many, attention to detail is not an easy thing. We all have things we need to work on and if it is something you struggle with, perhaps think of attention to detail as a way of loving others. Changing your mindset will help in changing your behavior and mindset. Just another small thing we can do to become more Christ-like and help us to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Stuff

Two weeks ago my mother-in-law passed away. She died Monday and her funeral was Thursday. My mother drove to be there. It was the first ever non-Catholic funeral I had ever been to. My mother-in-law was Presbyterian and her minister made myself and the kids feel very welcome. Even Shelby, who made it the entire service. It was shorter than Mass and she wasn’t exactly quiet during it. She takes Psalm 98:4 and Psalm 100:1-2 very seriously, after all.

Sunday morning we attended 7:30 AM Mass, which is our parish’s earliest Mass. Afterwards the boys and I stopped at Dunkin Donuts and then came home. Sometime that afternoon I realized my phone was missing but didn’t think anymore about it til Monday morning when it wasn’t in the house or in Jeff’s car. I made it 6 days without a phone y’all. And I was totally not freaking out to where I had to have a phone but Jeff was and so yesterday I bought my first ever smart phone (because technically the last one I had I found out was a multi-media phone not a smart phone and the Blackberry I had before that–which I lurved–is also not a smart phone?). My brother Matt will be disappointed to hear I went Apple all the way. Iphone 5s. Straight Talk.

So you know what happened, right? This morning when we got to Mass, William says, “Mom, guess what I just found?” It was stuck in the driver’s seat itself (I usually drive Jeff’s car to Mass). Apparently because I am short and Jeff is not when I moved the seat forward, it jostled the phone free.

I’m pretty sure the Holy Spirit had a big hand in all this. Especially because I mainly used my phone to communicate with my co-workers, it forced all of us to be more intentional. Maybe. I have no doubt the Holy Spirit was all up in my grill though. That’s just how our relationship is. I’m all unsuspecting and He’s all grabbing my face by the sides and being nose to nose.

Yesterday was First Communion rehearsal. William will be making his First Holy Communion May 20th y’all. He did so well. He didn’t process in too quickly (some kids thought it was a race), remembered his praying hands, genuflected (a surprising number of kiddos did not), and despite being adamant about receiving in his hands, did on his tongue at rehearsal. It’s just rehearsal, so we’re going to practice at home with Cheez-Its (I know, I know).

Shelby’s turning into a teenager on me. She’ll be 11 in July. She’s been slamming doors when she’s mad or trying to make a point but she also has done it in peoples’ faces. Subtle this princess is not. The last 2 days of school last week she ended up in time-out for the first time ever for throwing things. And not following directions but mostly it was the throwing. They have been teaching her to nod for yes and shake her head for no. The shaking her head she’s not quite gotten but the nodding she’s mastered (well, her version of nodding because Shelby does almost everything a little different). When I asked her if she was throwing things in class, she nodded. When I asked if she went to time-out, she nodded again. She’s definitely not stupid, that’s for sure. She knew what she was doing and she knew it was wrong.

Joseph has told me he loves being in AIG. He’s doing pull-out with a group and he enjoys the challenges of the activities they are doing. He’s also slamming doors and the office chair in his room. Because he could never be outdone by his sister… Apparently one slamming of the chair was on his bed which William witnessed. William said the chair bounced and “stuck the landing” which William found very impressive. (His description had Jeff and I rolling…that kid…)

Distraction. The devil has put a lot of it in my way. Maybe that’s what the Holy Spirit was telling me. Monday a student at Jeff’s school was killed crossing the street to get on the school bus. He wasn’t one of Jeff’s students, but some of Jeff’s kids were on the bus and witnessed the accident where a driver going the opposite direction failed to stop and struck the child (passing a stopped school bus is against the law either going around it or passing it from the other direction unless it is a 4 lane highway with a median). His funeral Mass was Friday at Church 2 of 3 and it’s hit out tight-knit community hard.  Many students and staff were absent or left early Friday. Jeff stayed to cover another teacher’s class (the funeral was during his planning period). The boys have said their teachers have gone over bus safety a few times in the last week. In the midst of all the tragedy, I’ve found myself in awe of a community where we support each other and there is always a shoulder to cry on, a hug to be given or received, and genuine care and concern when someone asks, “How are you doing?” Between the death of my mother-in-law and this student, I’ve witnessed God in some really amazing people caring for one another. In the prayers freely offered without asking as well as those given without question when asked, I have felt His immense love.

With every death there are questions. With my mother-in-law, my husband wondered why God allowed her to suffer in her last days rather than take her more quickly. With the death of this child, why God would take someone so young, so full of life, so good in an instant. This week I got my iPhone and have been hard-core listening to podcasts including Jennifer Fulwiler’s interview of Leticia Adams, whose son Anthony tragically took his own life on March 9. It is a hard listen, but trust me, very worth it. The questions for God and the anger and all the feelings…it brought me to today.

This Gospel…you know which one…John 11:1-45…

Martha and Mary had questions too. And they dared to ask them to Jesus. To His face. When I heard the Gospel this morning, I thought of Leticia going up to the Tabernacle and confronting Jesus. I realized that it’s really okay to tell Him that we know “there’s a plan” and all that but to acknowledge that sometimes…things just suck. Yeah, maybe it’s our human condition, but Jesus can take our pain and anger and frustration. He may not raise our Lazaruses from the dead, but He can take it and He does not hate us for it or resent it. And He wants us to give Him all of it because only He can heal it. Eventually.

I lost my phone but like Lazarus it was returned to me with something greater. My faith is bursting because I am aware of the distractions. And I know that my God is bigger than all the BS stuff that I put up with: the pain, aggravation and frustration. And when I collapse and say I can’t do this anymore, He’s cool with that. He won’t give me the answers necessarily, but He will hold me and let me cry til there are no more tears to be cried. And for the first time in my life, I can say that in all my brokenness,  it is well with my soul.

 

When the Gospel is hard…

His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

John 9:2

Can I tell you how this verse tears my heart into tiny ribbons every time I read and hear it? I have long ago rejected this kind of thinking even before having my own special needs child, but a lot of the world, and a lot of Christians…have not.

The idea that children born with various physical, mental, developmental and cognitive disabilities were a punishment for sins of the parent pervaded well into the late 20th century. Why didn’t we see more of these children in public in decades past? Well, the majority of them were sent to institutions where society could ignore them and the parents could silently bear the “burden.” And it happened in Catholic families as much as in the general society. How remarkably pro-life of us to treat the least among us with such dignity! (For the un-initiated, that last sentence is sarcasm.)

For a society that prides itself on how “progressive” and “accepting” it is, we sure do abort unborn infants for suspected inferior traits at an alarming rate. Let’s not forget how we rush to defend the parents who murder their children with disabilities in cold-blood by decrying what a hard life the parent had. And while we’re at it, why don’t we also talk about how welcoming churches are in general to those with developmental and cognitive disabilities. By the way, I’ve heard people use today’s Gospel reading to defend all of the above actions because Jesus cured the man’s blindness which means surely He rejects the imperfect as well.

If you think that way…if you think my child is a punishment for my sin and that Jesus loves her less, it might be time to turn in your Christian card.

Just look at the next verse:

Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”

John 9:3

In the case of the blind man, restoring his sight was a very specific action to show Jesus as the light of the world. It does not mean Jesus rejected the man and his disability. As our pastor pointed out today, this man had an encounter with Jesus. We can all know as much about Jesus as the Bible, the Catechism, our parents, attending Mass, receiving the sacraments and events like Eucharistic adoration can teach us, but have we really and truly encountered Christ? And his first suggestion to meet Christ in your life? Head to our local Miracle Field and watch the differently-abled athletes compete. Watch their parents faces. Watch those who volunteer with them. He pointed out that from all the commandments the greatest was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind and all your strength but the second, was to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:29-31). And at the final judgment when the people on the right ask Him when they saw Him hungry, thirsty, a stranger, etc, He reminds them that whenever they did something for the least among them, they did it unto Him (Matthew 25:37-40).

In the face of all that, it is undeniable that God creates each life for its own unique purpose and it is completely irrelevant if we fail to see what that purpose is. It is most definitely arrogant and even evil if we suppose there is no good purpose and no right to life and dignity of those with disabilities if we cannot see for ourselves what that purpose is. It is most-likely not the only reason God created my child, but let me tell you, she has allowed myself, my husband, my children, her grandparents, her Godparents, and all she meets to encounter God in an amazing and profound way. I can tell you my boys have learned more in their short lives about patience, compassion and self-sacrifice than I did in the 26 years I lived before God blessed us with Shelby.

And it’s not just the disabled who can help us encounter God. There are also the elderly, the homeless, the sick, the marginalized…

And why does it matter that our children have these kinds of encounters with God on this level?

A while ago there were a few articles floating around the interwebs that claimed to give Catholic parents a guaranteed way to keep their kids Catholic. They spent a lot of time talking about going to Mass, reading the Bible, having the Catechism at the ready, setting a good example in the above and parents being the primary educators of their children. But in none of them was included the actual living out of the Corporal Works of Mercy and seeking out these encounters with Christ. Which may be why so many parents read those articles and wept because they did all those things and one or more children fell away from the Church. This morning our pastor held himself up as an example of one who left and it wasn’t until he encountered Christ in real way, not just learned about Him, that he realized just how important it is that our kids learn where and how they can meet Christ.

And this is the real reason this Gospel is hard. It makes us really reflect on what we’re doing to encounter Christ in our own lives and how we’re making it a priority with our kids. It forces us to reckon with the fact that we may not only not be living Christ-like but may not be seeking Him out for substantial encounters. And it might be a sobering reminder of what we really need to do this Lent…find Jesus and truly encounter Him.

When God wants more…

Lemme start by bringing you up to speed on Lent two weeks in.

The lack of poultry, beef and pork has resulted in B-12 deficiency. For me. Jeff seems to be okay. And I eat a lot of fish too. But despite increasing other food items higher in the nutrient in my diet, yeah, I’m deficient. I was tired. Which I expected. I had headaches. Also expected. Then I started with vertigo. Not expected. So today I headed to the pharmacy to get a B-12 supplement. And I already feel better so there’s that.

Also, it snowed here Sunday. It also all melted same day but it snowed. I headed to Mass in rain and then about half way there, I realized it wasn’t raining anymore. It was snow. And by the time I got to church, snow was sticking to the ground. Had it been colder and therefore more stuck, it would have been about 3-4 inches. William and I stopped on the way home and got donuts for everyone and I got a latte.

snowman

In case you missed it or you live in a state or part of a state that doesn’t observe it, Sunday also marked the start of DST.

My prayer life, while improving this Lent, still has a lot of room to grow. And last week I got behind on EVERY-BLESSED-THING. It was so not funny. And I kept plugging along but something wasn’t right. I wasn’t giving up, but I wasn’t gaining ground either. I was stuck as to what was going on. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. Finally, this morning I figured it out.

In addition to fasting from meat, I gave up my personal facebook for Lent. And while that is going pretty well, it’s still a struggle a lot of the time. And today as I continued playing catch up, I read a reflection written by Elizabeth Foss in the Blessed is She Lenten devotional journal, Put on Love. In it, Elizabeth talks about being tied to screens and not being tuned into our family. Yesterday I had an epic day with the snow, Mass, donuts, and a lot of good family time (a lot of it planning for a big trip we were surprisingly gifted Saturday). It wasn’t lost on me that I was more plugged into both God and my family and less to technology. As I read the words and reflected, I realized that facebook wasn’t enough. God was asking for me. He wanted me to give up all personal social media. Boom.

This mainly means snapchat and instagram. Today I deleted both off my devices. This is going to hurt. I was really enjoying the Blessed is She instastories. I was also loving hearing from friends who only use snapchat. But God wanted more.

Greatness, in God’s eyes, means sacrifice and humility. Well, the humility was there this time. I knew I needed God more and when He told me the sacrifice I would have to make…I sighed. I won’t lie, I totally sighed. But I did it.

Lent has been, in the past, a time for me to realize what an awesome fail-er I am. This year, I’m learning lots of interesting things about myself. And God. And our relationship. I’m finally able to do lots of hard things. Things I’ve struggled with and failed at so often in the past. God’s timeline is always so radically different than mine and I’m seeing that again. I’m learning how much humility works to my advantage. And how weak I am and how much I need Him. His guidance has brought me to places I never knew existed. Being open to Him and submitting when God wants more is a wild ride. But I encourage everyone to pray and listen and see what God wants. And to be ready to submit beyond your comfort zone, because this is where trust begins.

Why I’m Celebrating My 14th Wedding Anniversary by Going to Work

…followed by teaching faith formation.

Unless you live under a rock (no judgment, I’m living under the one called Lent right now), you probably know that today, March 8, 2017 is International Women’s Day and in the US is the day chosen to be “A Day Without Women” protest/strike.

And I’m not participating. I’ve been emboldened by Molly at Molly Makes Do who posted a pic of herself in her work uniform on her instagram (@molly.makes.do) with this caption:

Today I do show up for work because I respect my job and it’s [sic] rules for PTO and sick leave. My patients don’t have the privilege of choosing a day off and I don’t get a day off from mothering. Today I wear blue because it’s my uniform and I don’t have the privilege of choosing what I wear. Today I buy things because women in other jobs, with small business, etc. rely on the money I spend. Today I do all these things because a woman before me fought for my right to work, have an education and be a mother, the best way I can show my importance is showing up and remaining visible in my world, not running from it. Support a woman run business today, support women in crisis in charity and volunteering, write more letters to your elected officials. We are important when we show up and get the job done.

to share with you why I am going to work today.

Today I show up to work because the children I work with deserve to have a safe place to be after school where they can learn, play and grow. Today I show up to work because the mothers of those children deserve to have a safe place for their children to be cared for while they work. Today I show up in particular for the single mothers of some of those children who don’t have a choice to not work because their every penny earned pays to feed, clothe, and shelter their children. Today I show up because I work with two amazing women who are also mothers and we are a sisterhood that depends on one another. Nothing works quite the same when one of us is forced to be out because of illness or emergency. Today I show up out of respect to my own mother who made the difficult decision to go back to work to try and build better futures for her four children. Today I go to work to earn money to help women in small businesses provide for their families and donate to women in situations who need it. Today I show up to work because I will not been seen and not valued if I do not show up (yes, it really is that simple). Today I show up to work to show my daughter and my sons that we have to carefully decide what is worth fighting for but also how we take up arms in that fight. Today I show up to work to honor the many women who came before me  who fought for my right to be there.

Finally, and most importantly, today I show I up for work because it’s my 14th wedding anniversary to my amazing husband. When we stood before God and our families we vowed to each other and God that we would be united in marriage for richer or poorer. There’s been a lot of poorer over the last 14 years as we’ve struggled to parent three young children, one of whom has special needs, on a single income that he provided. My unemployment and under-employment meant we’ve done without a lot; more that most people understand. While we are certainly not rich by earthly standards, my job, acquired less than a year ago, has put us in one of the richest (materially) times of our marriage. It has relieved much of the stress on my husband for me to pay a few bills and buy groceries. Today I go into work to honor my husband and our marriage vows. We’ll celebrate when we’re both scheduled to be off in a slightly larger way than in years past. And we’ll celebrate today by supporting each other for richer or poorer.