Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Part Two: My mental breakdown and spiritual breakthrough

Continued from Part One, here.

(Note: This part of the story, like Part One, is pretty darn bleak. I won't be telling much of the graces and joy until Part Four, so be forewarned. I know this is hitting close to home for a lot of you who have experienced or continue to experience anxiety/panic attacks, so please don't feel you have to read it all. Also, I have received so many kind words and prayers, for which I am most grateful! I want to assure everyone that I am "back to my old self" -- even better than prior to the episode -- and so thankful for the fruits of this suffering, which will become clear in a later post!)

For the next nine days, until my appointment with the pulmonologist, I was spending each moment in full panic. For me, the feeling was a rush of adrenaline from terror (imagine losing your toddler on a crowded beach) that did not relent. The adrenaline coursed through my body day after day, and never stopped. My pulse rate was constantly elevated, my breathing was rapid and shallow, and my limbs, especially my upper arms for some reason, were often numb. I could not sleep, I could not eat, I could barely think. I was essentially non-functioning.

I spent most of my days laying in my bed, in stark terror. The fear that consumed me was not simply the fear of something malicious and malignant in my body (as horrifying as that possibility was), but more the fear of leaving my young children without their mother. I could barely look at their faces. Our oldest three were grown, and I knew that, although they would be heartbroken if I died, they were adults now and could find a way to cope. I knew that my husband Dean would also be able to draw upon friends and his faith if I were to go. But the five boys at home... I could not handle the thought of what the loss of their mother would mean for their lives. Two of my boys were teens, and although teenagers often seem cool and aloof, they still need their moms, maybe even more than ever. Two more of the boys were in elementary school, they had just lost their beloved and tight-knit school community, and we were embarking on a homeschooling year together. They were only 7 and 9 at the time, very much in need of a loving mother, for years to come.

And, oh, my youngest. He was only four years old, a complete mama's boy -- asking me to marry him every day since he could talk, showering me with more love and kisses than I'd ever had before, very tactile, needing lots of hugs and touch. This little one had been devastated when his sister Priscilla had married and moved away about a month earlier. He could barely comprehend the loss of his "second mommy" (who resembles me physically), and had been in mourning for her since she seemingly disappeared from his life. He questioned her absence constantly. When I thought that he would lose me, too, and not have either of his big sisters in town to be his mother-figures if I should die, I could not take it.

I had lost the ability to control my own feelings and my life, or even my thoughts, which always went to "catastrophe". I was helpless and living in terror. I couldn't even physically be around my children, due to my abject grief at the thought of their suffering should I die. I couldn't interact with them, except on a cursory, robotic, forced level. Occasionally, of course, the boys would wander in and out of my room and try to talk to me, and my youngest son would hop on the bed with me wanting to play or snuggle, but I'd soon send them away. In my mind I was dying, and I could not bear to see their sweet, innocent faces.

Believe me, the irony is not lost on me that while I felt terror that my children would be motherless in the future, they were, practically speaking, without a functioning mother right now.

In the mornings, after little sleep, I would force myself out of bed and make one egg to eat. Normally, I have a raging appetite, and I have eaten a full two-egg/ham/toast breakfast every day for 30+ years, just for starters. During these days of panic, I had no appetite at all, and eating that one egg a day was accomplished through sheer force of my will. I had to eat to stay alive; I knew that much. I would greet my kids methodically if they were in the kitchen, mechanically fry that egg and try to chew and swallow it with a mouth that was now perpetually dry, then retreat back to bed to continue my silent panic.

While laying in bed, I would try to practice deep breathing techniques, because I had to find some small relief from the symptoms. I could do that for a little while, but relief was minimal. I dreaded the night more than the days, if that was possible, and I went to bed literally clinging to my rosary in one hand (I couldn't pray it, but I could grasp it tightly) and a small statue of Our Lady in the other. I never slept without these items in my hands. Each time I dozed off from sheer exhaustion, I soon woke again in a panic, clung to my holy objects more tightly, and started practicing my deep breaths as the adrenaline ramped up. Mornings were terrible, as I kept hoping I'd wake up and feel better, or at least rested, but I never did. I'd wake up as fearful as before, full of adrenaline, and feeling my arms go numb from the panic that came with a return to consciousness.

This was my daily life for what seemed like forever. My poor husband Dean was utterly bewildered and, let's face it, a bit skeptical and even disgusted by what he was seeing (I caught an eye-roll once or twice). He could not understand, I am sure, why I couldn't just suck it up and snap out of it. Oh, how I wish that had been possible! He tried hard to be sympathetic, and he was wonderful in walking me through some muscle-relaxing and visualization exercises that I found in a book on anxiety. He would read the words out loud while I tried to visualize and relax this or that set of muscles, systematically, from my head down to my toes. This technique gave me a ten-minute break from the panic each day and was invaluable, although within minutes of completion, I was right back in full-blown crisis.

Everything I was thinking and feeling was totally irrational, utterly unreasonable, and even I knew that somewhere in my mind at the time.

One thing I did not lose was my faith, and my ability to cry out to God. Twenty years of trusting in God and immersing myself in His Truth had its effect, and I was never angry with God, never doubtful of His presence or love. In my personal agony, I kept thinking of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, and thinking how my suffering was only a tiny fraction of His. I couldn't comprehend the level of mental and emotional agony He must experienced, and how much He must love us to endure that for our salvation. How did He do it? I am sure I offered up my suffering, but I cannot recall for what intention -- I probably told Jesus to use it for whatever He willed.

I prayed for the the strength to endure this cross. I knew enough to understand that no cross is given to us without His permission and that it is only for our sanctification. I understood that I was in a crucible, and that no matter what, a loving God was in control. This deep, imbedded knowledge kept me from despair, although I was not sure how it was going to keep me from insanity.

Day after day, night after night, I prayed in the most simple and basic ways: "Help me, Jesus" or "I love you, Jesus". It was all I could say, over and over. I asked the Blessed Mother to be near to me, and I know that she was. I never felt completely alone or unloved or abandoned by God, but I knew that God and the saints were only accompanying me, sitting with me, not intervening.

At a certain point, my fears took a horrible but spiritually necessary turn.

In the beginning, my fears were of impending death and the thought of my children suffering through the years without their mother. But as the first week turned into the second and the panic did not abate, I began to fear that I would never be back in control of my mind. The greatest terror of all, I learned, was not death and its consequences for my children, but rather the knowledge that I now feared myself. I understood then that even if I were not dying, even if I didn't not have cancer, I had still "proved myself" unable to cope with suffering and death, which would inevitably come. I believed that when the next crisis came, I would not be able to deal with it, and this type of panic would repeat itself.

I could not believe how weak I was now that I was finally being tested.

That thought alone -- being unable to cope with future crucibles, even if I got out of this one -- fueled the panic, in a vicious circle, and any hope I had of getting out of this was fading fast.

It is precisely because one can never get away from oneself that to be afraid of oneself, to be afraid of one's own mind, is the worst terror of all. I had no idea this sort of fear could even happen!

At least three times as the days wore on, I lay in bed, eyes wide open in the dark, adrenaline pumping, heart pounding, palms sweating as I held my holy items, and I looked over at Dean as he slept and came *this close* to waking him up to tell him that he had to get me to a mental hospital, now. I felt I was about one millimeter from careening over the edge. I never did wake him up to say it, and instead I just prayed my desperate short prayers, and tried to breathe. Mercifully, God kept me from going over that edge, just barely.

This part is really a fog, but that first week in August was the week that my elder daughter Cecily and her brand new baby girl were living with us, as her husband had gone ahead to Omaha to set up their new apartment. Because she herself was heartbroken at having to move away, especially during the postpartum weeks, I am sure I spent some time trying to put on a smile, and I must have held and diapered my granddaughter (with a level of detachment, since I was saying hello and good-bye, and I couldn't take one more trauma). I just don't remember much about that.

I do remember having to go to lunch at a restaurant with my parents, my sister and nephew, and my daughter and the baby, as a "farewell" to them for some of the extended family. Just sitting there was excruciating. Again, I am not a crier, but I was on the verge of tears the whole lunch, and I was not able to think or interact (though I tried hard to fake it). My sister tells me now that I looked like hell (she used a different word, ha!), and I left the lunch early, alone. I had to get out of there. The grief and pain were overwhelming me. This was on a Monday, and my daughter and her baby left on Thursday morning. All I remember about that Thursday was Cecily coming to kiss me good-bye as I lay in bed. She was crying, and she gifted me with a prayerbook, which she left on my nightstand. I couldn't get up. Dean took them to the airport and they were gone.

Dear reader, I know that this looks bleak, sounds terrible, and it is -- it was. But as I sit here over a year later, I have joy, and I am full of gratitude for what God did with this. He can be trusted. Next comes Part Three, which will fill in the blanks of what I did during this dark time to find help for myself. I knew that I had to find a way out or else go insane, and I was determined to pursue every avenue to do so: Medical/hormonal, emotional/psychological, and of course, spiritual.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

My mental breakdown and my spiritual breakthrough, Part One

Part I: The Beginning 

A little over a year ago, I had what I consider a mental breakdown. I have no idea if that is clinically true, but from my perspective, that's what occurred. I will spare you many, many details, but I am so excited to tell you my story. That may sound strange until or unless you understand that the worst experience of my life so far is the one that I thank God for, nearly every day. I can say without any hesitation that my total breakdown was the very best thing that ever happened to me spiritually.

The first little wave of "trouble", if you will, came in April of 2014 when some tests from my routine physical came back with red flags. More lab work, several scans and images, and an invasive procedure finally ruled out anything serious. But "cancer" and "malignancy" were words used on occasion, and it was during this week that I had what I call a mini-breakdown. My beloved cousin Michelle was battling non-smokers lung cancer at the time, and that gave rise to inordinate fears for myself, I believe.

One thing that came up during those April scans was an incidental discovery of some small nodules on my lungs, which was not the initial area of concern. My doctor told me that they were almost certainly nothing to worry about, but that based on their size and non-calcified state, protocol dictated a follow-up scan in three months. I was a little uneasy, considering Michelle's own surprise diagnosis, but I put it out of my mind and went about preparing for the June birth of my first grandchild and the June wedding of my second daughter.

Here is where a perfect storm of incidents started to gather and rise:

~~ My younger daughter left straight from her wedding reception to her new home across the country. She had lived in our home until that day and it was devastating to say good-bye.

~~ My elder daughter and her husband had announced just weeks earlier that they would be moving half-way across the country themselves, and that this would occur six weeks after my first and much-anticipated grandchild was born. So, more crushing good-byes were to come within weeks of saying good-bye to my younger daughter. Both my daughters, my best friends, would be gone -- just like that.

~~ My father was in precarious health with a recent congestive heart failure diagnosis, a subsequent pacemaker and defibrillator implanted, and a recurrence of cancer. He was in decline, and we didn't know if he was going to live much longer.

~~ My cousin and dear friend Michelle, just 44 and a single mom, was battling deadly, metastatic non-smokers lung cancer, as I mentioned above. She had been the picture of health, vibrancy, and beauty just months earlier, and now she stood to leave us and her three teenaged girls.

~~ My children's most beloved little Catholic elementary school, tiny and loving and a haven of goodness, lost its lease and was closing its doors on short notice. We had been at Kolbe School for over ten years, and it was not only a school to us, it was our community. From faculty to parents to students, we were all family. This was a devastating blow, a real loss for so many. It was our own little diaspora.

~~ And finally, add to this the full-blown hormonal effects of peri-menopause. I had absolutely no idea that hormones could wreak such havoc on a person, especially with all the above stressors in place. I had no idea that a common symptom of peri-menopause was anxiety/panic attacks! How come no one tells us these things??

So many worries, changes, losses, and grief, all at once. But still I was steady and strong. I was coping.

But then it came: The trigger, the spark that lit this tinderbox into an inferno. On July 29, 2014, I received a phone call with the results of my CT scan of the lungs, the routine three-month follow-up after April's scan. Some new nodules found, one oddly shaped, one of the old ones had grown, no need to worry, but have another scan in three months, per protocol.

The stirrings of panic began. New nodules on the lungs? No need to worry? I asked a couple of questions, pretended to be okay with the answers, and hung up the phone. My mind was a whirlwind and I was unable to concentrate on anything around me. I walked around the house in a daze. I called back and asked the doctor's assistant why I didn't need to be seen earlier, and why this was not more urgent? I feared waiting three months, but simultaneously feared knowing what the nodules were. I just wanted it all to go away. I love my doctor's assistant, and in her kind voice, she sincerely assured me that if the doctor had had any real concerns he would have referred me to a pulmonologist immediately. She could sense my anxiety, though, so she gently suggested that I call the doctor personally at 5:00 the next morning, when he always answered his own calls. I thanked her politely and told her I would.

That evening, Dean and I hosted an engaged couple in our home, to go over their marriage prep (FOCCUS) materials. I was on autopilot. I don't know how I got through it, but for the grace of God. I was full-on acting, because inside the terror was creeping forth, more and more. I went to bed full of fear, from head to toe.

After a fitful sleep, I woke early to call my doctor, and he answered immediately. He heard my fears and gently insisted that I should not be alarmed, that I needed to trust him (and he is a thorough and trustworthy doctor, one who truly cares about his patients). He spent a lot of time with me on the phone, trying to reassure me in different ways. But by the end of the conversation, with my flat affect and short, unconvinced responses, I'm sure he realized that I was not reassured; he probably also remembered my mini-breakdown that past April, when I had had a very uncharacteristic sobbing fit in his office. Those who know me know that I am not a crier.

Because of my clear state of anxiety, my doctor ultimately said that he would get me in to see an excellent pulmonologist, even though it was unnecessary, so that my mind could be set at ease. I knew at that point that nothing the pulmonologist could say would make a difference to me, that the visit could not pull me out of my panic, but I had no other course of action. I can't remember how or when, but before long I had an appointment set up for the following Friday, nine days away. I didn't know then that the pulmonologist didn't even see patients on Fridays, and that he made an exception for me, on the request of my primary doctor. Looking back now, in a lucid state, I am grateful to both of them.

So, essentially, that initial phone call with scan results on July 29 marked the start of a 13-day, full-blown, unrelenting panic attack. I don't mean 13 days of high anxiety. I mean a 13-day panic attack. It started in one instant and it never let up until almost two weeks later, with more recovery that came after that. If you have ever had even an hour-long panic attack, you can begin to appreciate what I experienced. It was seemingly never-ending; it went on and on, day after day after day, night after night after night, with no relief.

In my next post, I will bring you into those two weeks with me.

To be continued...

Read Part Two, here.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Exhortation to Catholic Men! (Women, direct your husbands and sons here!)

“And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and 
stand in the breach before me for the land…”   -- Ezekiel 22:30

Hooray!!! At long last, the Exhortation is here!

If you recall, way back in February I was part of the Diocese of Phoenix Synod on Masculine Identity and Mission called by my wonderful and holy Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted. This synod was a gathering of scholars, priests, religious, and laypeople, and it served as the foundation and inspiration for the incredible document written by Bishop Olmsted and just released on the Feast of the Archangels, at the hour of mercy:

Bishop Olmsted is an incredible spiritual father to all of us here in the Diocese of Phoenix, and he felt a special need to call forth his spiritual sons, the men of his diocese, to their God-given mission. As a woman, I cannot tell you how grateful I am! We have such a crisis of manhood in our nation today, and men, for so many reasons, have forgotten who they are.

Every woman I know wants her husband, her son, her brother to be the man that Christ intends him to be. Our wonderful bishop has sent out a clarion call to those sons of the Church to step up and take their place in the spiritual and cultural battle raging around us!

Bishop of Phoenix, Thomas J. Olmsted

First, watch this amazing trailer (and trust me, the priests and other men in this trailer walk the walk, they don't just talk the talk):

I begin this letter with a clarion call and clear charge to you, my sons and brothers in Christ: Men, do not hesitate to engage in the battle that is raging around you, the battle that is wounding our children and families, the battle that is distorting the dignity of both women and men. This battle is often hidden, but the battle is real. It is primarily spiritual, but it is progressively killing the remaining Christian ethos in our society and culture, and even in our own homes.
One of the key reasons that the Church is faltering under the attacks of Satan is that many Catholic men have not been willing to “step into the breach” – to fill this gap that lies open and vulnerable to further attack. 

Read it all! Spanish speakers, go here! Print it out and put it in the coffee table in your home. Email it to all the men in your life. Post it on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. Men, challenge other men to read it and discuss (there will be ways to implement this document in parishes and small groups, so stay tuned). 

There are three main questions presented in the Exhortation:

1. What does it mean to be a Catholic man?

2. How does a Catholic man love?

3. Why is fatherhood, fully understood, so crucial for every man?

And these three questions are understood within three basic contexts:

Context #1: A New Apostolic Moment – The “New Evangelization”

Context #2: A Field Hospital and a Battle College

Context #3: Man and Woman are Complementary, not Competitors

I am in love with this document. I tried to parse out a few passages that are my favorites, but there are too many, and I gave up. Just read the whole thing

Men! We women support you and love you! Be the men that God is calling you to be! Step into the battle, be a hero, be a protector, a provider, a spiritual warrior, a saint! Sacrifice yourselves totally for the ones you love, in service of Our Lord! We love you! We want you to be what God made you to be!

Men of God, step into the breach!


And, for those who would claim that the Church bypasses women, read Pope St. John Paul II here and here. I trust you will be more than satisfied. And if not, please go pray, and read again. :)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My personal favorites from Pope Francis' visit to America!

Just a quick rundown of the things that struck me the most during the Holy Father's recent visit to America, in no particular order...

The sheer joy (and tears) he brought with simple acts of love and kindness:

Underneath this video on Facebook, the comments were extraordinary, including these:

From a Muslim commenter -- "Pope Francis makes me believe in humanity."

From a secular commenter -- "I am not a religious person but i have so much respect and admiration for this pope. He is doing so much good in this world. You can tell he truly cares about people and has an amazing heart. If there is a god, this is exactly the kind of person who should represent him."

And who could not be moved by this woman's reaction to seeing the pope? Fourteen years ago, she was a first-hand witness to the devastation of 9/11, and she has been searching for hope ever since:

The Vicar of Christ's job description is to restore hope to a weary world.

How heartening was Pope Francis' unscheduled stop to visit and support the Little Sisters of the Poor, who are embroiled in a lawsuit against the Obama administration, fighting for religious liberty and conscience rights!

Pope Visits US Nuns Involved in 
Obamacare Contraception Lawsuit

Those who would say that gay marriage laws trump rights of conscience might want to know what the pope had to say about that when questioned by reporters on a flight:

...conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right." 
Francis added: "Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right. Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying, 'this right has merit, this one does not.'" 
Asked if this principle applied to government officials carrying out their duties, he replied: "It is a human right and if a government official is a human person, he has that right. It is a human right."
Is anyone listening? Obama?

UPDATE! Check this out:

(And he told her to "stay strong!")

And in the "Funniest and Weirdest Thing I've Seen in a Long Time" category:

Take note that this Congressman and the other Democrat he called over are Catholics who proudly support the evil of abortion. Perhaps their "thirst" for something holy, as misguided as it was, is a sign that they might one day turn back to Christ and Truth? Someone should tell them that the Sacrament of Confession, rather than thievery, would be a better way to cleanse their souls.

My nephew in New York waited outside for four hours to get into Madison Square Garden for the pope's mass, and he texted me after:
Mass was amazing! I've never seen so many people packed in the streets -- even for New York -- or someone so wildly popular. It was an incredible experience. You would never guess that New York was secular and liberal based on the reception haha 
Oh yes, the dying, irrelevant, out-of-touch Catholic Church, led by an old, celibate white man had secular New York City electrified and cheering! Go figure. ;)

And oh wasn't it beautiful, during the Festival of Families in Philadelphia, when several international Catholic families greeted the Pope and told their stories! The Jordanian family who has endured real persecution for Christ; the Nigerian wife and mother who poured out her painful and incredible story of faithfulness; St. Gianna Molla's own daughter reading a love letter from her mother to her father, Pietro, written just days before they married, then the saint's daughter embracing the Holy Father!

Too many other incredible moments to mention, but all so affirming of families, of our Faith, and of the universality of the Church. We are blessed, and everyone is invited to join us!

Now, as for commentary, this is my favorite. So many Catholics and non-Catholics have their reasons for loving Pope Francis, but also their reasons for criticizing him for what he did or did not do. Dr. Gerard Nadal, a pro-life and pro-marriage warrior of many years, said it best:

[Some traditionalist Catholics] paint a picture of a pope who has ignored the red meat issues of American Catholicism’s troubles in favor of a left-wing socio-political agenda. How do you solve a problem like Francis? How do you catch a cloud and pin it down? (Cue the Sound of Music) 
But as this papacy has unfolded, something about traditionalists’ complaints over Francis calls attention back on the traditionalists and their hero popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. In thirty-five years of these two giant popes, we have witnessed all of the heavy-lifting both philosophically and theologically on the sexual revolution and the decline of the status of human persons in the twentieth century. We’ll be unpacking their writing for decades to come. As western civilization has crumbled, we clamor for more writing, more words, more defense of the sacred. And we get to the point where this author needs to ask, “What more needs to be said?” How many more words? How many more documents? How many more encyclicals? How many more speeches, homilies, press conferences?
Read the whole thing, here:

And if some of you are still bothered by what you perceive to be Francis' "silence" on the issue of abortion, why did Planned Parenthood get so upset with him? They heard him loud and clear. Don't we hear him, too?

And as for marriage, what about this?

And this?

Needless to say, our understanding, shaped by the interplay of ecclesial faith and the conjugal experience of sacramental grace, must not lead us to disregard the unprecedented changes taking place in contemporary society, with their social, cultural – and now, unfortunately juridical – effects on family bonds. These changes affect all of us, believers and non-believers alike. Christians are not “immune” to the changes of their times. This concrete world, with all its many problems and possibilities, is where we must live, believe and proclaim. 
Until recently, we lived in a social context where the similarities between the civil institution of marriage and the Christian sacrament were considerable and shared. The two were interrelated and mutually supportive. This is no longer the case.

And, if there was any doubt about the Pope's very reason for visiting America, he cleared that up when he said to the US Bishops:

“I appreciate the unfailing commitment of the Church in America to the cause of life and that of the family, which is the primary reason for my present visit.”

Can anyone be unsure of what he meant?

Finally, our Papa is fully aware of the crisis of young people who are forgoing marriage and family. In perhaps my favorite passage from his trip, Pope Francis asks pastors, in his address to bishops from around the world, to invite young people to choose marriage and family over the "culture of discouragement":

Many young people, in the context of this culture of discouragement, have yielded to a form of unconscious acquiescence. They are paralyzed when they encounter the beautiful, noble and truly necessary challenges which faith sets before them. Many put off marriage while waiting for ideal conditions, when everything can be perfect. Meanwhile, life goes on, without really being lived to the full. For knowledge of life’s true pleasures only comes as the fruit of a long-term, generous investment of our intelligence, enthusiasm and passion. 
...[W]e are living in a culture that convinces and pushes young people toward not founding a family. Some because of a lack of material resources and others because they have so many resources that they are very comfortable as they are. And this is the temptation: to not found a family. 
[We must extend] a sincere invitation to young people to be brave and to opt for marriage and the family.... We have to make young people excited about taking this risk, because this is a risk for fecundity and life.... 
...A pastor must show that the “Gospel of the family” is truly “good news” in a world where self-concern seems to reign supreme! We are not speaking about some romantic dream: the perseverance which is called for in having a family and raising it transforms the world and human history.

There is so much more from his trip to America that I missed! I want to find a way (and time) to go back and watch all the footage, every event and homily, and yet I'm pretty sure I won't be able to. At least I have these highlights, and I'd love to hear yours!

PS: The US Bishops have pretty much every event and homily and speech right here on their site.

Friday, September 25, 2015

An invitation for non-Catholics who love Pope Francis

Craig Ruttle/AP

As we all see joyful images like this on the news and social media, I am so heartened to see the outpouring of affection for our Holy Father from so many non-Catholics around the nation!

The Lord works to draw all people to Himself, and whatever stirring of hope or happiness there is in the non-Catholic heart at seeing our wonderful Papa is there for a reason. I would like to offer this invitation to those who are drawn to Pope Francis: Find out what animates this holy man of God.

Go to your library or bookstore and pick up a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Open it and read the faith that drives not only Pope Francis, but which was the fire within of all the saints throughout the past two millennia. You can also go online and read the Catechism here.

I think you will find that there is a cohesiveness, a continuity, an integrity there that is compelling, and if nothing else, you will have educated yourself on a major world religion.

The Catechism is broken into four main parts:

The Profession of Faith (what we believe)

The Celebration of the Christian Mystery (how we celebrate what we believe)

Life in Christ (how we live what we believe, i.e., morality)

Christian Prayer (how we pray)

If you can't read it all, read the first section, and find out what we Catholics believe and why. Each chapter ends with a handy "in brief" summary of the points covered, and the Catechism contains copious footnotes with references to Scripture, the Church Fathers, the documents of the Church, and the writings of the saints.

Catholics who would like to understand their own faith better will also benefit from a reading of the Catechism, which Pope St. John Paul II called "a sure norm for teaching the faith".

Now, back to watching the coverage!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What Obama forgot to mention in his welcome to Pope Francis!

Forgive me, I promised not to be negative, but then I woke up to this.

A welcoming speech by the President (well, by his speechwriter) that made me choke a little.

I thought I'd take a few excerpts of the speech and add some words that Obama surely inadvertently omitted (in red, with links to evidence provided)...

Photo: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

...all Americans, from every background and of every faith, value the role that the Catholic Church plays in strengthening America. From my time working in impoverished neighborhoods with the Catholic Church in Chicago to my travels as president, I’ve seen firsthand how, every day, Catholic communities, priests, nuns and laity feed the hungry, heal the sick, shelter the homeless, educate our children and fortify the faith that sustains so many.

[Aaaand....I am suing the Little Sisters of the Poor, all the way up to the Supreme Court, demanding that they either violate their religious vows or face crushing fines and ruin.]

What is true in America is true around the world. From the busy streets of Buenos Aires to remote villages in Kenya, Catholic organizations serve the poor, minister to prisoners, build schools and homes, and operate orphanages and hospitals. And just as the Church has stood with those struggling to break the chains of poverty, it has given voice and hope to those seeking to break the chains of violence and oppression.

[Except for the thousands of victims of sex trafficking that the Catholic Church was most effective in helping over many years. My administration pulled all federal funding for those programs because the Church would not violate her sacred tenets by providing contraception and abortion advocacy and services.]

You call on all of us, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to put the “least of these” at the center of our concern. You remind us that in the eyes of God our measure as individuals, and as societies, is not determined by wealth or power or station or celebrity, but by how well we hew to Scripture’s call to lift up the poor and the marginalized, to stand up for justice and against inequality, and to ensure that every human being is able to live in dignity – because we are all made in the image of God.

[Well, "all" except for millions upon millions upon millions of human beings against whom I advocate with vigor. I am hugely thrilled to consistently and unashamedly promote and ensure the killing of unborn human beings, and even the newly-born if they survive an attempt on their life, in the name of what I hold most sacred -- abortion.]

You remind us that “the Lord’s most powerful message” is mercy. That means welcoming the stranger with empathy and a truly open heart – from the refugee who flees war-torn lands to the immigrant who leaves home in search of a better life. It means showing compassion and love for the marginalized and the outcast, those who have suffered and those who seek redemption.

[Oh, except for the increasingly desperate and specifically Christian refugees who are the victims of an ongoing genocide in the Middle East. Those folks I will not welcome.]

You remind us that people are only truly free when they can practice their faith freely. Here in the United States, we cherish religious liberty. Yet around the world at this very moment, children of God, including Christians, are targeted and even killed because of their faith. Believers are prevented from gathering at their places of worship. The faithful are imprisoned. Churches are destroyed. So we stand with you in defense of religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, knowing that people everywhere must be able to live out their faith free from fear and intimidation.

[Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Whee-boy, that is funny!! Whoops, sorry, back to my speech, and watching carefully for bolts of lightning....]


Well, you get the picture. I'm trying to be less of a cynic, but when I wake up to this load of bunk, it's hard!

And I didn't even go into how Obama's administration decried Catholics in Poland as dangerous bigots for opposing gay "marriage"! But let's just pretend that Obama is a friend of the Church.

God bless the Holy Father! May his very presence bless our troubled land!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Handy guide for the media during Pope Francis' visit:

(In other words, don't believe what you read in the secular, mainstream media. We all know that by now, right?)

Friday, September 18, 2015

Ninth and tenth undercover Planned Parenthood videos, and thoughts on sex as idol

As you watch the ninth and tenths videos (no graphic images, just the banality of evil amid laughter), I wonder if you feel as I do: These women have lost touch with their own humanity. 

Let's begin with the tenth video, where PP execs talk openly about "generating a fair amount of income" from baby parts trafficking and another speaks of not wanting to be "bullied by the ridiculous laws" on the books, that PP "should not curtail our business for ridiculousness". This is the same Planned Parenthood that gets -- and feels righteously entitled to! -- half a billion taxpayer dollars a year. And, note the executive caught in a lie (start around 9:40) regarding PP's routine altering of abortion procedures to obtain better, more intact body parts (which is illegal).

If you are a Planned Parenthood or abortion supporter, watch what you are supporting, and shame on you if you do not watch it all:

And back to video #9, which should shock the conscience, assuming the conscience is still alive:

From fetal organs procurement manager, Perrin Larton, at 4:50 on the video:

"...the whole point is not to have a live birth" (Oh, really? How good of you to have a goal of a dead baby before delivery!), but sometimes, especially if the mother has had many previous children, the baby "just falls out" (alive! whoops! But hey, they actually get an "intact specimen" that way. Score!)

And when she talks about the babies' body parts, I wonder at the irony. For example, at 6:12, we hear that "...a lot of times the [baby's] abdomen presents first and they [the abortionists] just go in and start pulling" and rip apart the baby's liver. That really "pisses off" this laughing lady, who is looking to procure good smooth baby livers, darnit!

I find myself thinking, "But, she has her abdomen, her liver, her head and her limbs. She has them all intact. She got to stay alive and keep her body parts. She's strong and has a voice, so she has her life and her limbs. The unborn are weak and voiceless, so they get to have their body parts pulled and ripped and sold for scrap.

The irony, the irony of all these embodied women, going through the decades with all their parts, all intact from head to toe, growing up and growing old, living valuable lives, being worthy and important and untouchable. Protected by law.

Laughing and chatting about the other ones -- the ones they kill and package and sell.

But that abdomen, that liver, that body belonged to someone. And you had no right to touch it. You had no right to harm the integrity of that human being. Human, just like you.

The ABR procurement manager, by appearances, seems like such a nice lady. Someone's mom or grandma. I can picture her at a PTA meeting, a band concert, a church function. She could be a kindergarten teacher. And yet, she is in the business of trafficking human baby parts. Surreal.

And yet, sin blinds us as well as binds us.

I was thinking about our idols in this nation and the western world in general. 

What was it, exactly, that trumped the fundamental right to life itself

Sexual license.

What was it, exactly, that first weakened marriage and then ultimately led to its un-defining? 

Sexual license.

What is it that is threatening religious liberty more and more each day? 

Sexual license. 

How sad that the idolization of sexual pleasure has trumped the most fundamental of human rights (life and religious liberty), and dismantled society's fundamental building block (marriage). Sexual pleasure has become the most important good on the face of the planet for those who have or know nothing more, nothing higher. Sex is the idol. We kill for it (abortion, sex trafficking) and we die for it (AIDS, disease).

We take sexual pleasure out of its proper and sublime context and we put it above every other good, including human life itself, which is the very fruit of human sexuality and the communion of persons. 

And then we find ourselves having lost our own humanity. If you still don't believe me, then you have not watched the videos, or you have become terrifyingly blinded by sin. 

It is never too late to turn around.

If you still support Planned Parenthood, turn around. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Is Fr. Keating's "Centering Prayer" Catholic?

As my passion for prayer has increased and I have learned more about Christian prayer (see recent post), I have become more and more concerned about the popularity of "centering prayer" among Catholics and even in Catholic parishes. Fr. Thomas Keating is a leading Catholic proponent of centering prayer, and yet what he says and promotes is not in line with the very clear teachings of our Church (through the Catechism and the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith) and her saints (especially prayer master and Doctor of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila).

If you are Catholic, stay away from centering prayer. You will not advance to supernatural, infused contemplation using the techniques, methods, and philosophies promulgated by Fr. Keating and his followers.

If you have any doubts, then you need to read what our very own Connie Rossini has written in her latest book, Is Centering Prayer Catholic?: Fr. Thomas Keating Meets Teresa of Avila and the CDF.

I had the privilege of reading this short, clear, and concise work when it was still just in e-book form (it is now available in paperback), and here is the review I wrote on Amazon:

I came to this book looking for a clear understanding of the Catholic position on centering prayer. I had heard good things about Fr. Thomas Keating from several Catholics of good will, and I had also been warned by other good Catholics to steer clear of his writings and methods. More than anything, I strive to be faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church, and for that reason, this book is a godsend.

With the utmost charity and detached consideration, Connie Rossini has given us a simple, clear, and practical way to compare authentic Catholic prayer and centering prayer. She places the words of St. Teresa of Avila (Doctor of the Church and prayer master) and the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the office which spreads and defends sound doctrine) side-by-side with Fr. Keating's words on centering prayer.

The results are astonishing and, frankly, frightening for anyone practicing or considering centering prayer.

While Fr. Keating and his supporters claim that centering prayer is compatible with Catholic prayer traditions, it becomes clear early on in the book that such a claim is impossible. In fact, true Catholic contemplation stands in stark contrast to the methods and goals of centering prayer, which is simply eastern transcendental meditation under a "Catholic" label.

For example, Fr. Keating "states repeatedly that one should ignore every thought during prayer, and every type of communication and inspiration coming from God himself. He urges his followers to use a 'sacred word' during prayer, but not only can that word be something completely secular if one chooses, Fr. Keating says that 'the less the word means to you, the better.'"

Contrast that to what we read about prayer in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
"Meditation engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. This mobilization of faculties is necessary in order to deepen our convictions of faith, prompt the conversion of our heart, and strengthen our will to follow Christ. Christian prayer tries above all to meditate on the mysteries of Christ..."

And St. Teresa utterly contradicts Fr. Keating's directive of "letting go of every kind of thought during prayer, even the most devout thoughts” when she says:
"Taking it upon oneself to stop and suspend thought is what I mean should not be done; nor should we cease to work with the intellect, because otherwise we would be left like cold simpletons and be doing neither one thing nor the other."

Chapter by chapter, subject by subject, we see clearly how Fr. Keating's centering prayer theologically confuses almost every aspect of Catholic meditation and contemplation. By the end of the book, we have seen that...
"...Centering Prayer proposes an unorthodox relationship between God and the soul. It speaks of the spiritual life as coming to a greater consciousness, rather than conquering sin and learning to live according to God’s will. It misconstrues the place of the intellect and will in prayer. It sees no real distinctions between Catholic theology and Eastern religions. It denies the real change that takes place at death, sees growth in emotional freedom as the primary sign of spiritual growth, tells practitioners to ignore thoughts of God or inspirations from him during prayer, and urges the use of a 'sacred word' that might as well be gibberish. Centering Prayer takes Buddhist and Hindu meditation techniques, adds a few Christian terms, and calls it a new expression of the Catholic contemplative tradition. Its focus, its purpose, and its practice are all out of step with the teachings of Teresa of Avila, the unrivaled master teacher of the contemplative life." [And the teachings of the CDF and the Catechism as well.]
The phrase "accept no substitutes" comes to mind when I think of those tempted to centering prayer. If you desire to move through the stages of holiness and prayer and to achieve true spiritual union with God through infused contemplation, stay on course with Catholic tradition and teaching presented by the masters of Christian prayer and by the Church herself, and stay far, far away from the New Age philosophies and emptiness of centering prayer.

Learn more about prayer, learn how to pray, and you will find union with God while still on this earth. The peace and joy that comes with that union is not an emptiness or a loss of ourselves, but rather a personal and intimate relationship with the Beloved, a relationship for which we were all made, and without which we can never be satisfied.


On a separate note: Dear friends of ours have lost their first baby, Daniel Elijah, at 32 weeks gestation. Sweet Daniel was delivered last night. This has been a shocking and devastating blow for his parents and grandparents, and yet their faith and trust are strong. If you could spare a prayer for Mary Frances and Joshua, as well as Grandma Mary Ann, Grandpa Robert, Grandma Emma (and the extended family), I would be so grateful. I have personally set up a fundraising page to help this faithful young couple with medical and funeral expenses; they are just starting out in life and have a limited income. Daniel Elijah is beautiful and perfect, and looks just like his daddy. If you would like to help, click here:

God bless you!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A reminder from MLK, as he sat in jail...

Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn't too interested in a contrived "separation of church and state", by the way. 

From "Letter From a Birmingham Jail", April 16, 1963. Emphases mine:

One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.


There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators." But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.


Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

Read his whole Letter from a Birmingham Jail, here.