I’m issuing myself a personal challenge, but I’m not exactly sure how to set it up.

For all the talk I do about true communication vs MyFace, the meaning of the word “friend,” and the urgency to preserve communication outside of Facebook, I don’t always practice what I preach.

Don’t be alarmed — I haven’t joined Facebook.

But I don’t keep up true communication like I wish I did.

So here’s the challenge:

  • I am going to write more letters to friends that I could just email.
  • I’m going to call more friends on the phone that I could just neglect.
  • I’m going to email people that I’ve lost touch with over the past few years.

We all know that it’s one thing to say those things, and it’s another to actually live it out; the key is to give myself attainable goals, preferably weekly, so that the nice ideas become reality in my life.

This week, I have written two real letters, sent two emails [to long-lost friends- obviously, I’ve sent a lot more than two emails!], and made one phone call [again, I’ve obviously made more phone calls, but one that fits the “hey, friend; let’s talk for an hour” category.  Oh, and I was going to call another, but she beat me to it! :)]

So do I set myself the goal of one of each, every week?  I might run out of long-lost friends!!  : )

Any thoughts?


After the March for Life, the students and I spent the weekend as tourists in the Washington, D.C. area.  The nice thing about our nation’s capital is the plethora of free activities — the monuments and memorials, the Smithsonians, and National Archives — and we tried to see as much as we could.

Our first stop was the Natural History Museum, partly because there was an interest in seeing the Hope Diamond.  It’s a fun and beautiful museum, although it unfortunately feels the need to push an agenda on its visitors.  But we all just ignored it and enjoyed seeing the animals, vegetables, and minerals.  Until I was pushed too far.

We were in the Hall of Mammals, which the museum feels the need to present as if you’re looking at photo albums from your great-great-grandmother.  There’s already an exhibit celebrating the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s Origin of Species– I don’t see the need for them to tell me while I’m walking through the Hall of Mammals that I’m looking at my family history.  Thanks.

But the museum is beautiful and the animals impressive, so we were enjoying ourselves.  Until I saw the following seemingly-innocuous plaque:

I’m sorry… what?!

I pointed it out to the students and used it as an opportunity to show them (and everyone within earshot of my big mouth, extra loud with indignation) what is wrong with that statement – a statement that most people — teachers, children, adults– pass by and take in without the least thought.

Yes, my physical traits place me in the classification “animal,” and I don’t deny that I’m a mammal.  But it’s that second statement that worries me so.   “Your cultural traits  — such as language and art — help make you a human being.”

Those help make me a human being?  Or are those outwards manifestations of something else that sets me apart?

If we follow this to its core, what about the woman in vegetative state, lying in bed, unable to communicate or appreciate Monet or Vivaldi?  Is she human?

What about the newborn baby, depending on the outside world for its very survival, its blue eyes shining up at its mother with utter trust?  Is she human?

Yes, our ability to produce great works of art and our faculties that enable us to communicate orally or in a written way do set us apart from the other mammals.  But we have these abilities because of our intellect– something that other mammals will never have, regardless of how smart Lassie and Flipper seem.

And, to go farther (at which point we’ll lose the Smithsonian crowd)- we have a spiritual soul, given to us by God.  The immortal soul of man sets him apart from the mammals, allowing him to paint like Raphael, sculpt like Michaelangelo, speak like Cicero, write like Shakespeare.

Last night, on a special on television, I saw a 1 lb 6 oz baby lying in her incubator, perfectly and beautifully formed, facing the world, albeit a little earlier than she expected to — and I thought back to this statement.  This little girl had no art, no language– nothing but her immortal soul, her little body, and a loving family.

I started to cry, out of the sheer joy and thankfulness that we live in a world where she will survive, despite her early departure from the womb.  But in the pit of my stomach, there was a knot– thinking of the cruel world we live in, where society is willing to define man by his work, his abilities, his potential.

The March for Life was a beautiful witness.  But is our work in vain?  Are the philosophical underpinnings of our society so rotten to the core?  If they are, and if society continues to brainwash us with such ridiculous statements, the unborn will never be seen as people.  Because we will have shown with false philosophy that they aren’t.

The real battle is in the culture, in the hearts of the people.  Will you fall for the rhetoric?  Or will you see the lies when they are sold to you?

It’s been bothering me for some time — as I read more and more about femininity and the genius of woman, I grapple with my patroness.

I have a study group that’s reading John Paul II’s Letter to Women, and we’re discovering that being feminine doesn’t necessarily mean wearing skirts and pearls and spending the day cooking and cleaning.  But there is a large part of femininity that does mean embracing feminine roles and allowing men to embrace masculine ones.  An embrace of femininity means we accept that we’re not men and that’s okay.  In fact, it’s better than okay.  It’s right.

As my study group spoke about the dangers of translating “equality” to mean “identical,” I kept returning in my mind to Joan of Arc.  How could someone who led an army into battle wearing men’s clothing (highly scandalous at the time), be feminine?   I love St. Joan of Arc, don’t get me wrong.  But do I see her as feminine?

Sure, she was told by God to do what she did, including the wearing of men’s clothing.  So I’m not disagreeing with her actions by any means.  But it was hard to reconcile her with femininity.

Until I came across this in a book I’m reading, and everything clicked: “…the desires of a man’s heart and the desires of a woman’s heart [are] at least meant to fit beautifully together … A woman in the presence of a good man, a real man, loves being a woman.  His strength allows her feminine heart to flourish.  His pursuit draws out her beauty.  And a man in the presence of a real woman loves being a man.  Her beauty arouses him to play the man, it draws out his strength.  She inspires him to be a hero.  Would that we all were so fortunate.” (Captivating, emphasis mine)

Something in that paragraph made it all click for me.  Joan of Arc, like St. Catherine of Siena before her, was called by God to raise up a weak man.  In Joan of Arc’s case, the Dauphin failed.  But she, as a feminine woman, called him to the heights.  Her mission was to raise men to fight for truth and beauty.  Not in a seductive way, but in a holy, virtuous feminine way.  And while the Dauphin was a weak loser, you only have to read about the way her armies responded to her to know that she inspired men to be heroes.

So, ladies, now you know.  Raise your men up.  Help them to be men.

And if you’re ever shot in the chest with an arrow, pull it out yourself and leap back into the fray.  It’s the feminine thing to do.


There are two different kinds of blogs.   Okay, so there are millions.  But I’m going to divide the plethora of different kinds into two:

1) Personal

2) Anonymous

Now, we’re not so much speaking of two categories, distinctly divided, as much as two shades, if you will.  With a blog that is “anonymous,” you might know the person’s name, occupation, and even where they live.  But the blog isn’t really about their life.  They’re imparting some knowledge, sharing their opinion, etc.  The blog isn’t about them, but about something distinct from them.  Of course, since we’re human, there’s usually going to be something personal somewhere.   So the author of a cupcake recipe blog might also share that they went to their nephew’s birthday party over the weekend, or that their kitchen is being re-done, or that their husband hates almonds.  I would classify a blog like this as anonymous, even if it’s not strictly anonymous and has tints of personal, too.

In the same way, a personal blog may have tints of an anonymous blog, in that the entries might provide news stories, recipes or how-to projects, etc.

I consider my blog anonymous, even though I occasionally talk about things in my life (like the fact that the people who live above me like to stomp up the stairs every night around this time and make the picture above my fireplace shake a little).

I was reflecting on all this today as I was thinking about the direction of my blog.  I really, really miss my Rome blog.  It’s not only that I miss being in Rome, which I do.  It’s that I miss sharing the history, art, culture, and quirks of Rome with people.   I miss walking down the street and snapping a picture just for the blog.  I miss planning the next day’s adventure around something I want to feature on the blog.  I miss writing about the things I love.

I like this blog, and I like the opportunity it gives me to hone my writing style and to talk about the issues out there.  But let’s face it.  It’s not as entertaining.  I’m usually just venting about something.

There are reasons I wouldn’t make this a personal blog.  I don’t necessarily want people to know me through my blog posts, nor do I want that to be the main way people know what’s going on in my life.  Also, it’s often not as challenging to put into words the actions of your day as it is the opinions or thoughts in your mind.   But most pragmatically, I would have nothing to blog about every day! haha.  (I never had that problem in Rome!)

Anyway, I look back at my Rome blog with fondness, and realize that it was a blend of personal and anonymous that I miss.

Anyway, those are just some thoughts.  There’s actually a little YouTube clip from a panel at a recent blog conference discussing this exact issue.

This post was intended for November 2nd, but I’ve learned that I can’t force a post– and it just wasn’t coming to me on the 2nd.  Everything was there but the words.  Since the entire month of November is dedicated to remembering those who died, though, I don’t think it’s inappropriate to write today.

This subject has been on my mind for quite some time, actually, and the only reason I haven’t written about it before now is that it’s definitely bigger than what I’m prepared to tackle in a little blog post.  Whole books have been written on the subject, and since I haven’t read any of them, it’s daunting to try to come here and say anything coherent.

But that doesn’t stop me from trying.

I had a conversation a few years ago with my mom about mausoleums.  I never had to face a mausoleum until my grandfather died.  It wasn’t the first funeral of a grandparent I experienced, but it was the first time I stood inside a building to watch a burial.  And it was strange-  I won’t lie.  In fact, I had to leave and walk outside.

There was something odd about mourning in a sterile, staged environment.  The armchairs in the hallway, the Catholic muzak piped throughout the rooms, the coldness of the air-conditioning in the Indiana summer day.

Everything was thought through to be perfect– comforting and pleasant to grieving families.  So it wasn’t.  It was as if the world was telling me, “It’s okay.  We’re here for you,” … in that fake smiley sort of way that reeks of superficiality.

It wasn’t okay.  My grandfather had died.  I didn’t need any fake sentiment, and I certainly didn’t need to hear Be Not Afraid ala dentist’s waiting-room.

To clarify, this is to say nothing against that particular cemetery/mausoleum.  I don’t doubt that sincere, well-intentioned people work there and I’m sure they would never want to convey a mere superficial attitude toward grieving families.   It was the mausoleum environment itself against which my insides rebelled at that moment.

I stood facing the reality of death, and the raw feelings inside of me did not want to be soothed by an attempt to mask the reality.  They sought the tumultuous, unrestrained surroundings of creation.

I wanted to stand in the elements of nature – the grass under my feet, the wind against my tear-streaked face- and watch my grandfather’s casket go into the earth.

Death is real.  It faces us all.  And I think the more we try to whitewash the reality, the harder it is to accept.  Remember, man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Our society, this culture that John Paul II named ‘the culture of death,’ fears death.  It believes in killing a baby in order to save a woman’s life.  Why?  Fear of death.   This world condones euthanasia — not because it really believes in “good death,” but because it can’t stand to face something it cannot control.  Through assisted suicide, man can control what he fears most.

The Christian does not fear death, because the Christian knows it has been conquered in the cross of Christ.  Christ’s death on the Cross meant that death was no longer an affliction, but a victory.  Only the culture that understands death and embraces it for what it is– a return to the Creator and an embrace of what man was made for (eternal Trinitarian communion)– can fully live.

Even with this understanding, however, facing the reality of death is a heart-wrenching act.   Even your faith and hope cannot erase the natural pain you feel at someone’s death.  In his Confessions, St. Augustine writes about his feelings at the death of his mother Monica.  His full understanding of heaven and the nature of death did not change the grief his heart felt.

“We felt it was not fitting that her funeral should be solemnized with moaning and weeping and lamentation, for so it is normal to weep when death is seen as sheer misery or complete extinction.  But she had not died miserably, nor did she wholly die.  Of the one thing we were sure by reason of her character, of the other by the reality of our faith.  What then was it that grieved my heart so deeply?”

Augustine finally accepts that grief is a natural emotion in response to death. “Because I had now lost the great comfort of her, my soul was wounded and my very life torn asunder, for it had been one life made of hers and mine together.”   He eventually let himself weep.  “Now I let flow the tears which I had held back so that they ran as freely as they wished.  My heart rested upon them, and it reclined upon them because it was Your ears that were there, not those of some human critic who would put a proud interpretation on my weeping.”

The Christian grieves and rejoices at the same time.  These two contrary emotions were reconciled to each other on Good Friday, as our Blessed Mother stood and watched her Son conquer.

The one who fears death cannot rejoice in it.  And the one who does not embrace death cannot grieve.

We must face the reality of death to fully understand it, and we must understand it in order to more fully live.

Cemeteries lie overgrown and unvisited, for our world would rather not be reminded of their own mortality.   If we’re going to be reminded of it, at least let the surroundings be comfortable–staged and sterile– so it’s a little less disconcerting.  We don’t want to think about our bodies being dropped into the cold earth.

Remember, man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Go forth, Christian soul, from this world
in the name of God the almighty Father,
who created you,
in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God,
who suffered for you,
in the name of the Holy Spirit,
who was poured out upon you.
Go forth, faithful Christian!

May you live in peace this day,
may your home be with God in Zion,
with Mary, the virgin Mother of God,
with Joseph, and all the angels and saints. . . .

May you return to [your Creator]
who formed you from the dust of the earth.
May holy Mary, the angels, and all the saints
come to meet you as you go forth from this life. . . .
May you see your Redeemer face to face.
-Prayer of Commendation

Sometimes I have posts brewing in my head for awhile.  It’s usually a good thing that they sit up there and simmer so that when they finally come out of my fingers, they’re a big more refined.

This post, for example, is completely different than the post I was about to write last night, partly because my nightly reading included a passage from 2 Tim 2, which reminded me, “Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.”

The subject of the controversy and quarrel I was going to write about is not stupid or senseless, nor are the possible effects of the quarrel.  Indeed, both the subject and the possible effects are quite grave.   But I think Paul has some good advice, both in 2 Tim and in today’s first reading, Ephesians 4.  The more people who stick their noses in controversies, the greater the fight that breaks out, and the greater the disruption of unity, which is so damaging to the Church.

I was going to detail the controversy here, but changed my mind after I realized that the biggest problem is the prolonging of the quarrel by the interference of outside parties.  To simplify, there is a fight amongst prolifers that has become public and messy.  What began on a blog with a priest warning prolifers against becoming hateful and self-righteous, soon turned into false accusations and hateful remarks being thrown around by various people, many of whom know little about the real, original situation.  It seems  everyone wants to get the last word in the argument, even prolife leaders who had nothing to do with the initial discussion.

As a result, the devil is succeeding in further dividing both the prolife movement and the Catholic Church.  It is a shameful display of disunity, perpetuated by passions and egos and misunderstandings, all contrary to the Gospel message.  As Paul reminds us in today’s first reading, “I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph 4).

This did not need to be a public fight.  It did not need to splinter the Church or divide the prolife movement.  But it has, and it will continue to, unless we all rise above it.

Much of it comes down to this: there are radicals in the prolife movement who do nothing to help the cause by their self-righteous, bull-headed behavior, and they eclipse what the prolife movement is really about: imago Dei.

Abortion is a horrible crime against humanity and needs to be fought.  But it is part of a much bigger problem.  Our culture no longer recognizes the imago Dei in each person– the fact that each person– regardless of age, health, color, education, or political stance– is created in the image and likeness of God and has an inherent human dignity.

When members of the prolife movement engage in verbal denigration, backbiting, or public displays that lack respect for anyone involved… well, their message begins to ring hollow.  Do we have the obligation to speak up when the truth is attacked?  Yes!  Do we have the right to speak with passion for what we believe in and hold dear?  Yes!

Do we have the obligation to always speak with gentleness and compassion?  Yes.

St. Paul continues in his reminder to Timothy, “Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.  And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to every one, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth,  and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”

I was thankful I read that passage before posting.

Let us stop attacking each other and work together to bring about the civilization of love in this country.  Not a false love that lacks truth and settles for false unity under the banner of relativism, but also not a false truth that lacks the virtue of charity.

God has an interesting way of putting things in perspective sometimes.  I decided to spend some extra time in prayer tonight– for myself.  I’ve been struggling with a few things this past week, and a dear friend reminded me to return again and again to the sacraments.  “I know you don’t need me to tell you that, Joan,” he admitted.  “But remember, Jesus spent whole nights in prayer before big decisions.”

So tonight I had plans to head over to Night Prayer at the nearby convent.  I knew I wouldn’t be spending the night in the back pew of the chapel, as romantic as that may sound, but I did want to spend some extra time with Him.

Before I could leave and spend my time with Our Lord, focused on my own needs, demanding answers, begging for help… I spoke with another dear friend, who needed prayers much more than I did.

As I drove to the convent, my mind was wrapped up in her situation and grief.  I sat in that back pew of the chapel, consumed with sorrow for her and her family.  And then I remembered why I was there.  I was there to plead my case.  But it suddenly seemed so small.  Like the man who implores God for mercy because his basement is flooding, only to look over and see his neighbor sitting on his roof, his whole house lost.

I did spend some time dwelling on my own intentions, but at the end of the prayer time, I could no longer concentrate on anything but my friend.  I have to admit, at first I was disapointed — I was hoping tonight would bring answers and relief and a turning point.  I had been planning to sit in silence and listen to Him and come out with answers.  Instead, my mind couldn’t focus, I couldn’t sit there in peaceful silence, and I felt I was leaving with no answers.  My prayer time had not been my own.

And perhaps that’s a better answer than anything.  As I left, I could do nothing more than put my problems in front of Him.  There had been no dramatic moment or relieving denouement as I had hoped for, but I’m guessing my prayer time was much more fruitful than if I had sat there begging for myself.   I’m not saying I’m no longer in need of answers, nor that my problems are frivolous.  But in the end, He helped me stop pleading and start surrendering.  And that’s the first step to any answer.