12/30/2010

Too good to give up.

Nothing sparks a firestorm of comments like taking a hard line on an issue. Over at the National Catholic Register, columnist Danielle Bean did just that by outlining "Why I'm Giving Up Communion On the Tongue." Nearly 400 comments later, and Bean's column is the most-read page on the site this week.  

Bean's stance comes from a series of blunders by her parish's ill-trained Extrodinary Ministers of Holy Communion, who have, among other things, dropped the host on the floor while attempting to place it on her tongue. 

Fed up with the mishaps which caused Communion-line distractions, Bean declares:
I could be stubborn and insist upon receiving on the tongue because I have a right to, even when the challenges it causes become a distraction to myself and others. But that doesn’t seem like something Christ would want me to do. 
Jesus is Jesus, in my hand or on my tongue. [emphasis Bean's]
And that is why I am 90% convinced that from now on, when I receive the Eucharist from an EMHC, I should put my own preferences aside and receive in the way that is least likely to cause confusion and distraction—in the hand.
Blame could be passed around ad infinitum here--here are some general accusations: Blame the EMHCs, they don't know what they're doing. Blame the darn congregants that present themselves to receive on the tongue, but have their mouth partly open, or have their tongue down to their chin or who are 6'8". Blame the pastors, who haven't trained the EMHCs. Or, place additional blame on the pastors for having EMHCs in the first place. And round, and round.  

I received Our Lord by hand until fairly recently. Fear of looking stupid, I suppose, or of having the host drop to the floor (much like what Bean experienced) held me back from receiving on the tongue for years. But now that it's a regular practice for me, I know that it's too good to give up--it's a special moment of reverence between me and the Lord. Someday, I hope to kneel when receiving as well, like Pope Benedict requests of recipients when he distributes Communion at papal Masses. 

Here's a little background: The United States is one of four countries that have been granted an exception from the universal practice of receiving Communion on the tongue. Pope Paul VI discussed the correct posture for the Eucharist in his 1969 Instruction on the Manner of Distributing Holy Communion, Memoriale Domini. After a survey of the world's bishops showed a majority preference for retaining the discipline of receiving on the tongue, Pope Paul expressed his support for their conclusion. 

He did, though, give a loophole. For places where receiving by hand was already the norm (or where there was a "particular circumstance"), the practice could be allowed. The United States became one big "particular circumstance," apparently, since receiving by hand here wasn't the norm in 1969. But I digress.

Papa Benny's Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations, Monsignor Guido Marini, thinks the pope has more in mind than just shock value by requesting such a traditional posture for Communion: 
"It could also be noted that the (Pope's) preference for such form of distribution which, without taking anything away from the other one, better highlights the truth of the real presence in the Eucharist, helps the devotion of the faithful, and introduces more easily to the sense of mystery. Aspects which, in our times, pastorally speaking, it is urgent to highlight and recover."
The pope is, of course, right: Receiving on the tongue makes clear that we receive no less that the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus in the Eucharist. But I have many dear family members and friends that receive the Eucharist in the hand with equal reverence as I do, receiving on the tongue. 

If and when the Vatican announces that the U.S. faithful may no longer receive Communion by hand, I'd expect all Catholics to fall in line. Until then, reverence and the utmost respect for the Lord present in the Eucharist should be the uniform characteristics for those in the Communion line.  

Have I had awkward moments with untrained EMHCs, trying to place the host on my tongue at the right time, in the right way and in the right position? Sure. But it doesn't happen at every Mass, and it certainly isn't enough to change the way I receive our Lord. I'd hope Bean could learn to live with whatever distractions she thinks she's causing by receiving on the tongue. I'll conclude my thoughts with the same beautiful line she does:
O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like yours!

And just for fun... a little photo tutorial.

12/10/2010

"This is what Christians do for each other."

I have to share this beautiful post from my friend, Anne. A gifted writer to begin with, Anne has turned her sadness and grief over her mother's recent passing into a rich collection of reflections on her blog:
When my friend stood up to read the prayers of the faithful, she prayed for all those who had suffered the loss of a parent.  I lowered my eyes, fighting back tears.  Her eyes were red, glistening around the edges with fresh tears, and her voice was very soft, nearly breaking.  I knew what she was feeling.  And I knew she knew how I felt.  We were sisters, in a way, in that moment.  We prayed together, heart to heart.
And then the priest said something that took my breath away and set my heart beating quickly.  As I stood there, watching my friend and her mother bow their heads, I heard: "Thank you all for coming and standing with us to remember the life of J. with his family. This is what Christians do for each other." 
I am blessed to have both of my parents with me still, being new grandparents to Baby J and his little cousin, my sister's baby. I know not everyone, especially Anne, has that luxury. But even with my nuclear family intact, the passing of close relatives and parish friends has been a constant in my life since I was small. 

Not until going to college, though, did I realize how little experience many of my peers had with death. Not that I wished the experience on any of them--no one wishes for their friends to have just a little more sadness in their lives. 

But when I begin to count off the funerals I've attended, it adds up quickly. There's our beloved Grandpa Les. There's our substitute grandmas, great aunts Lolo and Rita. There's my paternal grandfather and grandmother. Then there are the many men and women from our parish: Rich, a FBI investigator, devout Catholic and family man who left behind six beautiful children and a loving wife. Penny, a long-time parish volunteer whom everyone knew and loved. Liz, the sweet and generous wife of our parish deacon. Bob, the retired Lieutenant Colonel who sang in the choir and deeply loved his wife, Moonbeam. John, a big teddy bear of a man who treated our autistic sister with such kindness. Mary Jo, my grade school classmate, taken so early by meningitis; and Bridgett, another grandmother figure in my life who took me to classical music concerts. These are a few; there are others.

Their funerals allowed their loved ones to pay tribute to their lives and pray: "May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace." I know some parishes have ministry groups whose sole purpose is to attend funerals, especially for the lesser-known (or much older) members of a parish. My Mom has come home from such Masses and said many times over, in all seriousness, "You know, there's just nothing like a good Catholic funeral." And she's right. Respect for the soul, respect for the body, respect for the Creator that made both--it's all there. 

Death, in our culture, however, is often treated with not just disrespect, but downright horror. Look at the television shows and movies, built around a fascination with a grim afterlife: The Walking Dead on AMC and The Ghost Whisperer on CBS are two recent examples. No wonder there's such skepticism today about the possibility of heaven and hell--the deceased are obviously too busy trying to either launch zombie attacks or avenge their own deaths to be worried about such things as final damnation (or salvation, for that matter). 
  
It's no badge of honor to have attended many funerals, and some would even call it unfortunate. But it is a life experience that greatly shapes a person. My mom often tells stories about growing up in small-town Nebraska; she lived next door to one of the two town mortuaries. The family running it lived in the upstairs portion of a beautifully restored Victorian and ran the business downstairs. As her own mother died suddenly when Mom was only 11, she learned, so very early, that death cannot stop us in our tracks. We grieve, we pray, and we never forget. But we keep going.

While still in my dating days, I had a litany of "first date questions" that I'd draw from if a young man happened to take me out to dinner. One of my favorites was, "Have you ever been to a funeral?" (We can all see now why I spent most Saturday nights with my girlfriends, eating brownies and watching Bridget Jones' Diary.) It always surprised me when my date would cock an eyebrow, quizzically furrow his brow and say, "Well, uh, no, not really--oh maybe one, but yeah, not more than that." I somehow knew that if this was the answer, he and I might have a hard time relating. 

And so it was rather telling when my husband Sean and I went on our first date, after three years of friendship. Sean worked weekends at the Catholic funeral home in town as an "ambassador," somberly donning a suit and tie to assist with viewings, rosaries and, of course, funerals. In my nervous first-date mode, I began asking him over our smoked-salmon appetizer, "So, have you ever been to a funer..." I trailed off in laughter as I realized my mistake. Sean's response was right on beat: "As a matter of fact, I have... usually one, sometimes two a week." And then he smiled. 

There's no dispute that death is painful--for ourselves and others. But as Catholics, we "look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come." Attending funerals affirms that line of the creed in our hearts and minds.

We force ourselves to gather up our courage, pray for strength, and give thanks for every day God gives us. We thank him that we were well loved. We thank him for the gifts of living saints in our lives.

And we pray that at our own funeral, the priest will say, "Thank you all for coming and standing with us to remember the life of ___ with her family. This is what Christians do for each other."

Movie Trailer Friday: Scare the hell out of 'em.

Welcome to the Screening Room for the Domestic Apologist! I thought I'd start something of a Friday tradition here, and it was either fish-fare recipes, or movie reviews. Considering the content below, you might wish I had gone with the former!

I ran across the trailer for The Rite on apple.com/trailers today. Though I'm not inclined to see it when it comes out (more on that below), I do want to highlight any film that opens its trailer with an aerial view of St. Peter's:

video

I won't be privy to an early screening of The Rite, and even if I was, I'm doubtful I could sit through it. Drama, when mixed with either horror or realistic violence, just isn't my cup of tea--unless it's being utilized for a grave artistic purpose.

Instead, I rely on excellent Catholic movie critics, such as Steven Greydanus, who do get to preview these sort films. Steven, a regular contributor and blogger for the National Catholic Register, is a keen observer of Catholicism on the big screen. He, along with many other Catholics, found much to enjoy in another exorcism movie, The Exorcism of Emily Rose. I'll be waiting to read his take on The Rite. Until then, we'll be watching Planet Earth on Netflicks, here at the Harrell household.

If you're looking to do a little preview reading on The Rite, here's a piece on the real-life priest from Northern California (holla!) who inspired the film.  
New York Post: Scare the hell out of 'em

And, the book, based on the priest, that inspired the film, that swallowed the fly, that...
Catholic Exchange: The Rite - Making of a Modern Exorcist

12/06/2010

How do you solve a problem like "Chradvent"?

You can count on it: On the first of November, the dark chocolate marshmallow Santas (my personal favorite) are right next to the Halloween markdown candy at the local grocery store. 

Before Thanksgiving arrives, department stores have hauled their plastic greenery, red bows and "Lowest prices of the season!" signs out of storage.  

By the day after Thanksgiving, some radio stations are solely playing Christmas music. You'll hear every awful rendition of "Santa Baby" by Gaudete Sunday, for sure.

You can also count on this: As long as we've had businesses competing for your holiday dollars long before Christmas arrives, we've had the same (but valuable) message from sage homilists, essayists and Christian cultural commentators. And that message is: Don't let Christmas steal your Advent.

It's actually the title of a great essay by Deacon Greg Kandra this year, and, of course, his points ring true: 

Jesus is coming.
But until he comes, we wait, and watch, and wonder, and pray.
We shouldn't rush it. Advent is the time for taking stock, and making plans, a season of great expectations...
That brings me to a question all of us should ask during these coming weeks:
Are we listening?
Are we paying attention?
Are we looking to what will be -- or are we already there?
If we jump right into the holiday season, we forget to wait, and watch, and wonder, and pray. We neglect the "joyful hope" that is so much a part of this beautiful season. When Christmas arrives, it will seem almost anti-climactic: one more day in a long litany of jingling bells and canned carols.

Earlier in the piece, which served as a homily for the first Sunday of Advent, Deacon Greg ponders if we haven't smashed the two seasons of Advent and Christmas into one, calling it "Chradvent." 

I agree with him. Yes, we shouldn't rush Christmas, and we should fully appreciate Advent. 

But shouldn't there a way to fully coexist (I cringe at using the word, believe me) with the commercialism of "retail Christmas" and the beauty of Advent? 

While I'd love to turn down the premature Christmas cheer in our malls and on the airwaves until Christmas really does arrive, that would defeat the purpose of why those businesses push Christmas in the first place. For retailers, especially in this economic slump, getting us in the "Christmas spirit" means getting us to swipe our credit cards. And, it might just keep them in business--and keep more employees on the payroll.

Our time will be better spent not by railing against retailers, but instead, appreciating how the hyper-commercialized holiday blitz around us can make both Advent and Christmas more cherished.

Take Deacon Greg's first question about Advent: "Are we listening?" We listen to the words from Isaiah at Mass, we listen to the "O, Antiphons" around the dinner table, we listen to the voice of God in our hearts. But listening to Christmas carols in the radio, even if it's only December 1, allows us to hear something else: Christian lyrics on secular stations. When's the last time you heard "Long lay the world, in sin and error pining"on your local "modern hits" station? For a few blessed weeks, Katy's Perry's overtly-sexual "Teenage Dream" is replaced by "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see/ Hail the incarnate Deity." Even if it's early, I'll take it.  

Second question: "Are we paying attention?" Is it possible that the hasty arrival of Christmas decor in our marketplace makes us focus more steadily on the season of Advent? I'd say so. Nowhere do we see more of a stark contrast with the holly-jolly and the life-size nutcrackers than in our parish churches. While red and green adorn the cathedrals of consumption, deep purple vestments and candles (along with a splash of pink wax) greet us each Sunday at Mass. The Church, along with the Cross, have always been signs of contradiction with the world at large, and that continues through Advent. 

Third question: "Are we looking to what will be-- or are we already there?" In our own home, I hope our children can see this question answered with our family nativity set--a decoration which has been all but litigated out of public (and political) sight. Is the set "already there" in our home, displayed before Christmas? Yes. But I take the Baby Jesus figurine out of the creche and hide it in the fine china. I hope to make it a family tradition to place Jesus next to Mary on Christmas Eve, and then let the Wise Men make their grand entrance on Epiphany. By doing this, I hope our kids see both what's already there, and what will be.

Jumping into this holiday season without being firmly rooted in our faith would be a tragic mistake, for adults and children alike. But the secular world isn't about to change any time soon: The Christmas trees will forever be up in Women's Apparel before Thanksgiving. It's how we observe Advent during the jingle, jangle and fa-la-la-la-las that matters. 

11/24/2010

Walk the (holy) walk



I ran across this blog post recently--another mother/blogger had linked to it and called it "lovely parenting advice." Curious about the content (because who doesn't need just a bit more parenting advice, especially if it's lovely?), I clicked and read through it. 

The author had been inspired by an interview with actor Jason Schwartzman, who recounted his childhood memories of his mother:
"... I witnessed how movies and music can be nutritional, I guess, to a person. I would come home from school; she would always be downstairs with an old movie on. Every room in our house had a different book open, face down. There would be music on in one room, even though she wouldn't be in it, and she would kind of just go from room to room and pick up and read and go and listen and go downstairs and watch ... And so I witnessed how important these things can be to you."
This serves as a lightbulb moment for the author, who goes on to idolize this vision:
Schwartzman doesn't mention a mother that signed him up for a back-to-back roster of classes, helming an endless carpool circuit from one enriching creative activity to another. Rather what seemed to have (at least partially) formed him as a creative being is what he "witnessed" his mother doing (or rather living) -- her love of cinema and books and music…her passions. 
This is hugely important don’t you think? This "walking the walk", this showing your kids that you value art or literature or theater or creative pursuits, not because you get them to participate, but because you do them yourself.
There are parts of this mother's reflection that I understand--for instance, I agree that playing chauffeur to your kids' lessons, practices and play dates should come second to forming them as good people, primarily at home. 

But where was religion in this mix? Before I want to model reading, cooking, musical interests, refined literary tastes and a diverse musical palate for Baby J, I want to show him, first, that we are a Catholic family. 

I'm a lucky girl. My parents didn't leave me to flounder in religious relativism; instead they made sure that their girls knew their faith. And knowing our faith didn't begin and end with going to Sunday Mass. They lived (and still live) their faith within our family--and they've expressed it in hundreds of different ways through the years.

For instance, each January, we blessed our front stoop (and then the entire house) with the Epiphany blessing. Taking chalk to the bricks surrounding our front door and a branch from our Christmas tree, we walked from room to room, sprinkling holy water around our abode. It's always been a family joke that when people come to knock on our front door, we open it to find them quizzically staring at the strange formula on the lintel. Invariably, they ask, "Uhhhm ... what's the C + M + B about?"

When our bishop (the soft-spoken but wonderfully-backboned Bishop Weigand) allowed girls to serve as altar servers in our diocese, my parents encouraged me to sign up. I took on the responsibility with the sort of enthusiasm that comes from knowing I'd be taking part of a hugely important thing: the Mass. While I didn't have the philosophical appreciation then that I do now for receiving the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord in the Eucharist, I still knew that being so close to the altar was a great honor. Serving at the Stations of the Cross, too, and at funerals for family friends and parish members further reinforced the lesson: You didn't have to be a full-fledged adult to be a valuable member of a parish.

Second lesson of altar server life: If Mom, from her pew, catches you with a snide look, an ill-timed laugh or a look of boredom when serving at church... you're toast. And rightly so.

On Church holidays also celebrated by our commercial, secular world, it was a given in our house that Mass came first; the party came second. Mass preceded the finding of chocolate-laden Easter baskets; Christmas Mass came before the opening of presents (stockings being the valued exception); Thanksgiving Mass came before the feast. And dressing for the occasion was a given--I even remember my Mom and sister having a conversation over whether pants with pockets were too casual for church. Fashion faux pas or no, it impressed upon my young head the gravity with which my family selected their Mass attire.

Perhaps most personally, my sisters and I were raised with rosary beads. At the age of 42, my Dad learned he had bladder cancer. During his first year fighting it, our family gathered together nearly every night to pray the rosary. Mom amassed a box full of rosaries to chose from; we each had our favorites. Mine was a St. Therese of Lisieux one, complete with red wooden beads smelling sweetly of roses. With five people in our nuclear family, we each said a decade, keeping quiet vigil in our living room.

Our prayers for Dad's complete recovery (and a diagnosis of being cancer-free) would continue for the next 10 years. He would often go nine months without a tumor (three-fourths of the way to a free-and-clear status) only to return home from a scope of his bladder which showed "a spot." The cycle would begin again. Our beads would get an extra workout.

My Dad no longer has a bladder, but he's been cancer-free for over 10 years, praise God. From this experience, my reliance on the rosary, particularly in times of trial, hasn't wavered. I'm nowhere near my goal of praying it daily, but it's my first instinct to reach for my beads when we hit bumps in the road.

For all of these memories and lessons (and so many more), I have my wonderful parents to thank. They practiced what they preached--they "walked the walk." It's my goal to do the same for my children. Sure, we'll show them the better parts of culture--the old musicals, the classic artists, the treasured family recipes.

But when they walk from room to room in our home, I hope they find EWTN playing on the television, a biography of St. Catherine of Siena face-down on the coffee table, and a box of rosaries in the living room.

And, of course, a blessing in chalk over our front door. 

    10/21/2010

    Tea parties and nap time


    Each morning, it's my goal to do two things before Baby J wakes up: first, grab a bowl of gluten-free Honey Chex. And second, read the Morning Jolt by Jim Geraghty on National Review Online. It gives me a condensed, link-filled, 4-point summary of the day's news. And it usually makes me laugh, too. 

    Yesterday's Jolt featured commentary on the liberal snickering about Sarah Palin, who recently said to the crowd at a Tea Party rally: "Don't party like it's 1773 yet." Geraghty has written before about what he calls our "narrative-reinforcement" main-stream media, saying that:

    ...once the narrative is set, it is very hard to alter... It's been remarked in the Corner, among other places, that every prominent Republican is either classified as either dumb or evil. Dumb: George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Gerald Ford (or at least bumbling). Evil: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Newt Gingrich.
    Sarah Palin, as we all know, must be stupid in the eyes of the media. She has five kids and a strange accent. And once a public official labeled "dumb" says something, it must be dumb. If she says gravity pulls objects towards the earth, the lazy who are convinced they are clever will claim she denies the existence of human flight.
    So when Palin says to a crowd, "Don't party like it's 1773 yet," of course she must have meant 1776 and is such a phenomenally gaffe-prone dunce that she botched a date almost every grade-schooler knows.

    Many a liberal blogger, reporter and pundit took to their Twitter accounts to report and mock the line, failing to recall that something relevant did indeed happen in 1773: the Boston Tea Party. There's plenty more great conservative commentary on this on the web, especially by Michelle Malkin and Neo-Neocon, but I bring this up with reference to (what else) my own life.

    Husband came home from work yesterday and said that a co-worker of his (a former co-worker of mine, as well) asked about me and how I was doing, "staying home and all."

    I asked, "What'd you tell him?"

    "I said you were really enjoying it."

    "And he said?"

    "He said he didn't believe me."

    Sigh. 

    I know this is only a small conversation, probably said without much thought and with no real significance, but it saddens me to hear about people who believe the media narrative that mothers can't be happy at home.

    Now, I said "happy" at home. I didn't say it's a carefree, energetic, walk-in-the-clouds existence. It's a job, and it's my job. And jobs are hard. But the best jobs--all of them--include meaningful work, personal rewards and a sense of accomplishment. 

    Gloria Feldt, former head of Planned Parenthood, recently had this to say about women choosing to stay home with their children:
    They make it harder for the rest of us to remedy the inequities that remain. We have to make young women aware of how their choices affect other women. It should be acceptable criticism to point out that, although everyone has the right to make their own life decisions, choosing to “opt out” reinforces stereotypes about women’s priorities that we’ve been working for decades to shatter, so just cut it out. And, the “individual choice” women have to become stay-at-home moms becomes precarious when they try to return to the workplace and find their earning power and options reduced. If we could see child-rearing as a necessary task and not an identity, and if we could collectively recognize that facilitating it benefits us all, we would go much further in guaranteeing women’s choices than we do when we are expected to uncritically celebrate every individual’s decision.
    Ah. Pardon me, Gloria, while I make it "harder" for you and your world of truly misogynistic, misplaced priorities by playing peek-a-boo with my infant. 

    If having your baby fed, content, changed and sleeping in his own crib at 3:19 on a Wednesday afternoon doesn't make a mother feel happy, I'm not sure what would. Granted, I have other projects built into my day (especially during nap time) that let me focus on writing, designing, and video production. And luckily, some of those projects bring in a very small amount of much-needed income. But still, if I only had the baby, that would be good, too. I would be happy. To Gloria Feldt, the liberal media at large and especially that one co-worker, I say: Believe me.      

    10/04/2010

    Ignorance is death

    Changing Baby J’s diaper a few weeks ago, I was half listening, half watching Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life interviewing Christopher Cardinal Schรถnborn on the EWTN cable channel. The two men, both crusaders for the unborn (and all other human life), discussed legal and spiritual ways to fight the evil of abortion.

    The interview didn’t truly catch my attention, though, until photos of the saddest sight possible flashed on the screen: small babies, burnt, dismembered, desecrated. Babies with their eyes open. Babies murdered through abortion.

    Seeing those images never fails to immediately bring me to tears. Writing about it, days later, I’m still emotional.

    However, whereas I’ve regretted seeing other forms of gratuitous violence, sex or other graphic content on television and in movies (The Dark Knight, for instance, was a great flick, but oy!), I’ve never regretted being face to face with the reality of abortion.

    Why? Because: Ignorance is death.

    Perhaps nothing divides the pro-life crowd more than the issue of seeing abortion. We’ve all seen the groups that stand outside college campuses or along busy roadsides displaying large poster images of aborted children. They make us wince. They should.

    Catholic author and mother Danielle Bean writes that while she is completely pro-life, 
    “I am not sure anyone should have the right to display graphic and disturbing photos in public places. I am raising my children to be 100% pro-life as well, but I don’t want someone else deciding for me when they are ready to see horrifying images of dead babies.”
    Bean goes on to say that these tactics “do very little to promote the cause of life” and that the more powerful image is the one of the baby in utero. I greatly respect Ms. Bean and love reading her work, but I do disagree on this point.

    I’ve heard other passionately and actively pro-life women argue against the images as well. “How will a post-abortive woman ever believe she’s worthy of forgiveness when she’s forced to look at photos of what she’s done?” is a reasonable question (and one that I think is sufficiently answered by the wonderful team at Rachel’s Vineyard).

    One of the hallmarks of Fr. Frank’s ministry with Priests for Life is that “America won’t reject abortion until it sees abortion.” On their website, viewers can find photo gallery after photo gallery of every aspect of abortion: the abortion procedures, in detail; the abortionists, in their own words; the remains of the innocent. Fr. Frank writes:
    “We present here some of the grim reality of abortion. Only seeing such images can bring us to the kind of indignation needed to sustain the sacrifices that will be necessary to finally bring an end to this injustice.”
    Perhaps most poignantly, he states: “Abortion is a reality which is so horrific that words alone can never convey its meaning.”

    In an age when abortion is euphemized to the extreme (“products of conception,” anyone?), his own words ring true.

    One horrifically honest campaign created by Priests for Life is called “Is This What You Mean?” Truncated descriptions of abortion procedures, described by abortionists themselves, are outlined. I can barely read more than five without having to leave the webpage. It’s that awful. And that real.

    While I sympathize with Ms. Bean and the many other hard-working, dedicated pro-life individuals that object to the use of these disturbing photos (whether on street corners, in front of abortion mills or on the Internet), I’m firmly in Fr. Frank’s camp.

    That’s not to say that showing the humanity of the living unborn baby (as opposed to babies killed by abortion) isn’t thoroughly effective and, at times, the better strategy for reaching hearts. A key moment in the movie Juno comes as the pregnant heroine approaches an abortion clinic and meets a peaceful protester, who happens to be her classmate. The pro-life girl says, “Your baby probably has a beating heart, you know. It can feel pain. And it has fingernails.”

    At the mention of fingernails, Juno makes an about-face and says, “Really, fingernails?”

    Showing and explaining fetal development is not only useful, but it has saved many, many children.

    But in an age when shock sells, sometimes it takes more than the mention of fingernails to get someone’s attention to the reality of abortion. Sometimes it takes the truth—the burnt, bloody and broken truth. Because ignorance is death.

    9/15/2010

    Guilty as charged

    I walked through a shopping mall this week—something I don’t do much of now, with Baby J in tow.

    Walking into a major department store, my eyes fell on a large display for the newest eau de toilette: “Guilty,” by Gucci.

    Many a blogger has written on the rather pornographic nature of Abercrombie and Fitch marketing pieces, and with good reason. The photos selling “Guilty” weren’t much better. A man and a woman, both in the buff, wrapped in an intimate embrace, stare down the camera with searing glares, mouths slightly parted, as if they’re ready to say to onlookers, “What? We’re guilty. And we like it.”

    Reading the description of “Guilty” on macys.com proves that my interpretation of Gucci’s ad campaign isn’t off base (emphasis mine):
    Gucci Guilty is about the feeling that you can attain whatever you want. It is about pushing your personal boundaries and experiencing the thrill of the forbidden. Without compromise, Gucci Guilty is a statement about who you are.
     A few years ago I started to document the many slogans, product names and taglines I found in our modern marketplace which either glorified sin or assigned typically religious words to overtly secular products. One of my favorites is L’Oreal’s “Infallible” lipstick. I’m still waiting for a dogmatic rouge.

    Only in a backwards world can sin not only be attractive, but sold as a commodity. We glorify the capital sins—“Greed” is a board game, “Lust” is a perfume sold by the ever-virtuous creators of Sex in the City, and “Temptation Island” was a reality show Fox mercifully cancelled after three un-blissful seasons.

    It’s been said for years that sex sells. But does virtue? Somehow, I don’t think Gucci will be creating the “Blessed Are the Merciful” eau de toilette anytime soon, no matter how bold or infused with hints of citrus it may be. But that would be a perfume I might actually be tempted to buy.

    8/25/2010

    Surviving an organ transplant: Two months in

    We’re at the two month mark of this new dance called parenthood. Most times, we’re square dancing (complicated footwork with a new little partner, sometimes strapped to me in a sling, in a space no larger than 15 feet square—ahh, apartment life), but sometimes, we waltz (smooth, flowing movements that put people—or babies—to sleep for hours at a time).

    For what I’ve learned so far, I’ve compiled a short list of the high points. To me, parenthood, at this stage, means…

    Batteries should be bought in bulk. The swinging chair (four double-Ds), the vibrating chair (six Ds), the music-playing animal-dangling-and-turning mobile (four double-As) as well as the remote for the oscillating fan (it’s still summer, folks) mean that we go through Duracells almost as fast as we go through diapers.

    Stains. Lots and lots of stains. When they create “Spray ‘N Wash: Neon Yellow Baby Poop Formula,” I’ll buy a case.  

    A drop in the household literacy rate. Ah-gah? Ah ga-ga-goo! Ah gagagagagaga goo-goo-do-be-do. Ohhhh? Ohh-ho-ho? Goo-goo-gah. ‘Nuff said.

    Confidence in doctors. Is spitting up three times a day considered normal? How long between feedings? Why does he breathe so quickly? What’s the right color for his stools? How do we help that flat spot on his head? Baby acne: Will it last until high school and make him unpopular? These are the questions I bring with confidence to our pediatrician’s office.

    Slight disbelief in doctors. When they tell you that the baby will be a bit “cranky” after getting three injected vaccines, it actually means they’ll be fine for an hour, then will scream bloody murder for the remainder of the afternoon. Children’s Tylenol has nothing on an infant getting three vaccines. It’s like throwing .4ml of water on a hot Webber kettle at the Labor Day barbeque.

    Prayer. When that same child is screaming, and has been for the past hour, sometimes the only thing to do is hold the pacifier, bounce, sway, swaddle and sing, all the while thinking, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” His blessed name is the simplest and best prayer at those moments for me.

    Getting to know a new Guardian Angel. Baby J’s godmother, my sister, gave him a guardian angel holy card for his baptism. I taped it inside his little bassinet, so we both see it often. As I was shooshing him to sleep one night, a spontaneous request came to mind: I asked my guardian angel to watch over my baby for the night. Doing so certainly wasn’t me trying to feel selfless or pious—Heaven knows I have leaps and bounds to go before I’ve earned those titles. But it was a instinctual request that I know all mothers feel: The request that the baby be protected, cared for and guarded at all costs, especially if the cost falls at the mother’s feet.

    A few weeks after Baby J’s birth, my own mom sent me a chain email about the joys, trials, and immense humor of motherhood. It had the standard-but-true lines about motherhood that become abundantly clear once that little infant arrives: how, before becoming a mom, I had unstained clothes and brushed my teeth every day; how I always ate hot meals and had never been chewed on; how I slept through the night, every night; how I had complete control of my life.

    It went on to detail some deeper truths: Before being a mom, I never held a sleeping baby, just because I didn’t want to put it down; how before motherhood, I never had my heart break into a million pieces when I couldn’t stop his hurt.

    But the salient line from that email was this: Before being a mom, I didn’t know the feeling of having my heart outside my body.

    Two months in, and that’s it: The Lord took my heart and gave it to a little blue-eyed boy. My heart wears little boy clothes, smiles and coos at me as he wakes up in the morning, and breaks into a million pieces when he cries a tear.

     “Praise the Lord, you children: praise the name of the Lord… who makes a barren woman to dwell in a house, the joyful mother of children.” (Psalm 113)

    Alleluia.


    7/21/2010

    It was worth it.

    My white t-shirt has a not-too-small wet spot on it near the shoulder (and it has a familiar odor). 

    My hair is unwashed and pulled back in a bun—and has been that way for the last two days.

    My living room is a mess of blankets, burp rags, binkies and a boppy.

    And in the middle of the living room, an electric swing with a small, padded cradle seat rocks back and forth, back and forth. Two bright blue eyes peek out at me from that seat. My little companion.

    Baby J came into the world just four weeks ago. This week, I took him with me on his first official shopping trip—Momma needs some new post-partum-but-not-her-old-size clothes, after all. The clerk at the store saw him and gave me compliments on his size, his eyes, his sweet face. Then she asked how labor went. “Good,” I said. “Hard but good. I’d certainly do it all over again.”

    “Really!” she said, eyebrows raised. Then she turned, effectively ending the conversation.

    “Yes, really,” I thought to myself. They say the pain of labor is somewhat erased by the joy of your little bundle. I can’t compare the difficulty of my labor to anyone else’s, nor can I compare it to any other labor experience of mine, since he’s my first. But I can say this: The memory of my baby’s birth is a rich memory of vivid sensations that I recall each night as I’m falling asleep (at whatever hour that may be), and it comforts me.

    We arrived at the hospital late on a Friday night, stating that my water broke at home. Dilated to only two centimeters, they admitted me nonetheless, and put me on monitors through the night. Sean and I “planned” a mostly drug-free birth—I didn’t show up and demand an epidural, but I wasn’t ruling it out either.

    By 6 a.m. the following morning, my body hadn’t begun labor on its own. With the ticking clock of a broken bag of waters, the nurse reported that my OB had ordered a Pitocin drip for me. In a matter of minutes, our birth plan, so hyped by the pregnancy magazines and books, was null.

    On went the blood pressure cuff. Around my waist I donned a thick elastic band to keep my contraction monitor and baby’s heartbeat monitor in place. With an IV in my arm (one of the more painful aspects of my day-long labor), my transformation was complete: I’d be more or less tied to my hospital bed for the remainder of my labor. Oh well.

    The hours passed, punctuated by somewhat painful contractions and the occasional pelvic check. I ate and drank only clear fluids, for the most part—scared to death of messing up some aspect of potential surgery, I dared not eat more than a square of corn cereal every few hours. My husband and sister provided near-constant companionship throughout the long day. World Cup soccer kept us somewhat distracted. Hubby and I played a few rounds of 21 with a deck of cards.

    By late afternoon, the Pitocin drip had been ramped up so much, my contractions were steady, hard and emotionally difficult. A pelvic check showed I still had a long, long road to go until I’d reach that magical 10cm. I bit the bullet and asked for the epidural. After that, I added a few more cords and monitors to my body: the epidural line in my back, and a uterine monitor to gauge the strength of my contractions.

    The sun set, my husband and sister got dinner, and I continued to wait for transition: the physical transition of labor that comes after complete dilation, and the true transition of my life from a pregnant woman to a new mother. Nightfall was strangely comforting to me—I knew that delivery, either vaginally or by cesarean section, was imminent.

    A new young nurse, one with the commanding spirit of a labor drill sergeant, took charge of me around 7 p.m. Her "get 'er done" attitude bolstered my spirits: The first time she came in to check me, she proclaimed, “We’re getting this baby out vaginally, and we’re doing it soon.” More hours passed in our hospital room, which luckily had a city view of downtown. In the twilight hours, the city lights seemed to twinkle and wink at me. Maybe that was just the epidural working, ha.

    Still in pain, rather uncomfortable and now nauseated, I continued laboring until about 11:30 p.m. We turned on Saturday Night Live but muted it, solely to have something to distract our eyes through the waiting and my distress.

    And then, voila. A pelvic check showed me dilated to 9.5cm. My cervix had all but disappeared. I heard the nurses say those words which seem like a God-send for a laboring woman: “It’s time to call the doctor.” Later, I would learn that during that exact hour, my parents were praying yet another rosary for the baby's safe delivery, and for a healthy mother and baby. They had begun praying the night before when we arrived at the hospital, but they made this final entreaty to Our Lady late Saturday night. It's no stretch for us to believe that Our Blessed Mother asked her Son to intercede on our behalf. 

    I began pushing a little after midnight. Oh, the pushing. For much of it, I convinced myself that I’d still have to have surgery, that the baby's head would be too big for me to push out. Be prepared for the worst and you’ll never be too disappointed, I say. Granted, the sweet and continual support from the nurses, my hubby and sister all went contrary to that mindset.

    I pushed, I sweated, I got a heartburn lump in my throat that nearly made me gag. I breathed into an oxygen mask for three breaths in between the pushing, then grabbed my thighs and pushed again. I grimaced and strained. I asked over and over if I was making any progress. Some 45 minutes after this began, my OB walked in and the nurses all exclaimed, “Oh good! You can begin your real pushing now!”  Real pushing? Are you kidding me?

    But somehow, they were right—the doctor arriving put a new urgency in my muscles, in my clenched jaw and furrowed brow. I had complete trust in that medical team, so when two questions came up the table to me, I said yes to both: an episiotomy, and a vacuum to help get the baby’s head out.  More comfortable with the first than the second, though, I began pushing harder so as to avoid the possibility of my baby’s head being brought out with a Shop Vac.

    Push. Breath. Push again. Yell out. Push push push. I let out a few frustrated, grunting cries.

    Then: In a darkened room highlighted by bright lights over my bed, after a 26-hour hospital stay and over an hour of pushing, after every aspect of how I planned the birth had gone out the window and I had to relent to God’s plan instead of my own, I heard an outburst of words from the nurses, my sister, my husband. The room burst into activity. Before I even saw the reason for the commotion, I heard Sean say, “It’s a…. boy!”

    I exhaled. I released my aching legs, and looked down to see a wet, blue, squirming baby, still attached to me by his thick cord.

    A nurse helped quickly pull down the upper portion of my gown, placed a towel over my chest, and in a moment I will never forget, placed my baby mere inches from my eyes.

    I touched him.

    His skin, so fresh from the womb, was buttery soft, and damp. His limbs, all too familiar to me from watching them move around my belly for the last umpteen months, rested for a moment on my bare chest. His face was the face of all newborns, and his cry was just a baby’s cry to me at that point. But his wet skin covering those small, healthy, pink little limbs, those little limbs of my very own child—those are the memories of my firstborn that will stay with me forever.

    So many times in my life, my family and I have quite honestly said, "Praise God!" in response to a solution, a change, or an answered prayer. Never have I said it so heartily as I do now, looking at my baby boy. This little life, created within me and grown for nine months in the safety of my womb, has arrived. Now begins the hard work of the every-second care of a newborn and the long-term parenting of a child.

    Yes, I would do it all again. Really. 

    6/17/2010

    The final countdown

    By the numbers, we should have a baby in our arms in just a few more days. But by my anxiety level (coupled with my yearning to stop visiting my restroom for a potty break every 30 minutes), the baby should be here now. Or yesterday! I feel terribly trite, as probably the vast majority of nine-month-pregnant women have said exactly the same thing before me, ad infinitum. 

    This is perhaps the last blog post I'll finish before the little one makes his or her grand entrance, so I thought I'd record the things I'll miss about being pregnant. Granted, dear husband and I certainly hope to repeat this process again soon. But I'm sure each time will be slightly different than the last.

    In no particular order:

    Rapid eye movement from coworkers. Interactions at work, especially in the four-to-seven month, starting-to-show phase, would go something like this: "Hi Mary!" [eye contact]  Pause. [furtive glance down at belly region and general weight-gain area] "Wow, uh..."  [eye contact resumes] "The kid's really coming along now, ehh?"  This pattern subsided in the final month or two as people would just try and get out of my way when they'd see me coming. Clear a path!


    Never having to wonder, "Is my fly down?" It never is. Know why? Preggie pants have no flies. Glorious. Now, I have had to wonder, "Is there toilet paper stuck to my shoe?" That question would oft go unanswered, mainly because I can't see my feet.

    - The third-trimester tight belly phenomenon. One never feels like one has a gut while pregnant--there's no flab to be flung on the front half of the body! Granted, the tush is another story. The stomach region, however, stays in one of two states: taught (the normal state) and really taught (post-meal).

    The manic urges to clean. Anything. After a four-month gap in mopping my kitchen floor, I did it three times. In one week. I can hear the Swiffer mop whimpering from the closet.

    - Ultimate fashion freedom. Who says my shirt has to be clean? I'm pregnant! Who says my hair can't go days, nay, weeks, without getting a blast of hair spray? I'm pregnant and too hot to get out a curling iron! Who says I can't wear the same pants five days in a row? I'm bearing a child here! (Besides, they're the only ones with a waistband big enough to encircle an entire planet, i.e., my current circumference.)

    Chocolate-smeared shirts and cleaning wipes aside, there is, of course, the most obvious thing to miss about not being pregnant anymore. It hits me throughout the day that I'm carrying a unique human soul, just under my skin and muscle. Psalm 139 tells us:

    "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb... When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."

    Right now, the Lord knows every detail about every day I have left on His earth. And, right now, he knows each precious detail about the child inside of me. For the past nine months, baby and I have lived together, sharing our days in the most intimate way possible. That intimacy, then, is what I will miss most: the intimacy of having this child so close to my heart, so enfolded in my embrace. I'm waiting with joyful anticipation for the day of our formal introduction.

    Having said that, I'm off to do the dishes. My Mom says to keep the place tidy and the sink empty. It's sage advice, since you never know when the "Ok, it's time to go!" moment will arrive. We'll see if I can keep the Swiffer in the closet.

    5/10/2010

    Freely accepted

    Clear the way! My precious little in-utero child, already ahead (ouch, bad pun) of the game for having his or her head down in the "vertex" position, has taken to using my bladder as a pillow for said noggin, leaving me scrambling (or really walking in a form best described as the eight-month gimpy waddle) for the restroom, yet again. Soon after, I exhale loudly at my work desk, breathing through what feels like a corn cob trying to escape through my belly button. Hello, sweet baby knees.

    But like the vast majority of pregnant mothers, I'd assume, I treasure these trivial pains. They make visible (or physical) the once invisible reality of the miracle the Lord worked through my marriage: the creation of new life.

    Spring brought both new life and an end to life for my family this year. While our family's first grandchild was born in February, the last remaining elderly family member on my Mom's side of the family passed away in April. Never before had we, as a family, experienced an end and a beginning so close together.

    Little Lulu's birth came with a tidal wave of rejoicing. The result of a few years' worth of steady rosaries, novenas and some serious entreaties to St. Joseph and the Holy Family produced a little girl as beautiful and charming as the day is long. The fact that she's been outside the womb and kicking now for about three months has done little to damper our amazement when looking at this little person: You're here! You're perfect! You are answered prayer!

    And with similar fervor in prayer, (Great) Aunt Rita passed away in the midst of a steady flow of petitions to St. Joseph, only this time for a happy death. The second youngest of nine from a devotedly Catholic and thoroughly Polish family in Omaha, Nebraska, Aunt Rita lived to the ripe old age of 92... and then kept living, past 93, 94 and 95, on through 96, passing away at 97. She not only outlived all of her siblings, but she lived longer than any of them. She never wanted to get old. In some ways, she never did, as seen in the great fear she had of death, right up until an angelic someone (St. Joe? One of her siblings?) came to take her toward it, and she resisted.

    Her two wonderful caregivers would tell my Mom (arguably her third caregiver and undoubtedly the person most responsible for her care, well-being and safety for the duration of her senescence) that in the final week of her life, when her body had finally given up on her and her vision and appetite had completely failed, they would hear her crying out at night: "No! I'm not going, I don't want to die! No!" Even at death's door, Aunt Rita was remiss about joining the party on the "other side." For a woman who espoused her own great love for the saints, Our Lady, the Sacred Heart and the Church itself for her whole life, she found joining the Communion of Saints a frightening prospect.

    But, when she did pass, Mom found the sweetest expression of calm and rest on her face. When Aunt Rita accepted death, she probably found things not as bad as she expected (or feared).

    All this brings me to (what else!) a thought that struck me during Mass last week. Kneeling (or half-kneeling, as this tummy-area protrusion limits many positions these days) during the consecration, five words hit me hard:

    "... a death he freely accepted..."

    Pause. A thousand times I have heard or read Philippians 2:5-11, a thousand times have I imagined the Passion of Christ, and probably a few hundred times have I received the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus on my tongue.

    But this time, I'm struck by the fact that Christ accepted death. He accepted it freely.

    He wasn't freely accepting his day going poorly, his fellow drivers on the road being inconsiderate, or his stomach being just a titch hungry before lunch. No, he freely accepted the cruelest, most painful death possible, either then or now.

    Oh dearest Lord Jesus: You set the bar pretty high for me, again.

    As Christians, we are called to freely accept the will of the Lord in our lives, especially when it comes to our death. The holy martyrs would be quick to remind us of that. And as married people, we take the vow to "accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church"--another promise of acceptance and resignation to the Holy Will.

    With either the blessing of bearing children or the call to return home to our Father, freely accepting the Lord's will is easily the clearest and yet most challenging aspect of Christian life. To put it mildly, it's difficult work, birthing a baby. It's harder work still, I imagine, surrendering to natural death. Both my sister and Aunt Rita, though, came to freely accept the challenge before them. And each has experienced the greatest joy yet for their souls.

    Freely accepting whatever comes our way in the delivery room will soon be the challenge for my husband and me. Freely accepting everything else the Lord puts on my plate until that time will surely occupy me until then.

    So, as we pray for the mercy of God to grant peace to Aunt Rita and the faithful departed, may we, the living, also ask for grace and mercy to freely accept His will in our lives as the chapters continue to unfold. Amen!

    4/13/2010

    A "pretty" book.

    I adored each honors English teacher I had at my public high school. Three stand out:

    - Mr. Zankowski*, the suspenders-and-spectacles-wearing eccentric, who founded a "hall of fame" in my name for my innocent grammar flubs. His teasing always felt more like well-intentioned paternal affection.

    - Mrs. Roager, with a penchant for English poetry and flowery speech, oft punctuated with the many SAT words she drilled into her sophomore students.

    - Mr. Jeppar, the only teacher from high school I'd invited to my wedding, and a man who did more than his fair share in building the self-confidence of a slightly (totally) dorky, vocab-obsessed 18 year old.

    Freshman through senior year, I was lucky enough to benefit from these stalwarts of the written word. A student (and person) who has always sought approval and well-earned pats on the back from my teachers and superiors, I spent my semesters in the hot pursuit of their approval. Time spent absorbing their wisdom, wit and love of language was, for me, time spent in literary heaven.

    Mrs. Roager often floats into my mind when I walk into one of those big-box national chain bookstores, or when I'm perusing the volumes on a friend's bookcase, or even rearranging my own. Because of her, I always look for "pretty books."

    She loved finding said books--books that were not just full of pretty prose, but had an aesthetically pleasing jacket to match. She validated that utterly girlish desire I had which said, "If I'm going to buy a book--and add it to my collection, not just loan from the library--I want it to look good, too, darn it!"

    Do most men care about such things? Probably not. Do most other women? I haven't taken a poll. But I know that she and I shared this pleasure of seeing our favorite texts married to lovely design. We both cooed over a copy of The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson that she gave me at the semester's end: Wisps of flowers and stems offset by small birds adorned the glossy jacket.

    And so on that note, I'll recommend that all gals (and men too, if they're so inclined) go out and buy the prettiest copy they can of Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter.

    Not since high school had I read a book with this much "prettiness" to it, both on the cover and on the pages.

    Undset, winner of the 1928 Nobel Prize for Literature, wrote her book as a trilogy. The three separate books are available that way as well (The Wreath, The Wife, and The Cross), but I'd recommend just buying the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition (pictured above), then lugging it around wherever you go.

    I spent a good number of months buried in this book which tells the life story of a medieval Norwegian girl in a Catholic family and culture. I toted it to park benches on my lunch hour, to doctor appointments, out to the car when I knew I'd have downtime before picking the husband up from work.

    And I savored it: I savored the plot, the deeply Catholic themes and history, and the tragic and triumphant heroine that Undset makes dance upon the pages. And, of course, I savored the "pretty" cover.

    If you're looking for a summer book--the book you take on vacation, take to the beach, take to your nightstand for your five minutes of fiction before bed, you could no better than to pick Kristin Lavransdatter.

    And best of all: When you finish it, you can place it on your bookcase and admire it from afar--a "pretty" book, in both content and cover.

    *Names have been changed.

    4/02/2010

    Published!

    Through something of a coincidence (though I'm old enough to know it's the Hand of God), I've gotten an article published on the Women's Channel of Catholic Exchange. Click here to see the post, and then explore the site--it's a wonderful resource for authentically Catholic commentary.

    Happy Good Friday!

    Mother Angelica's Stations of the Cross

    Listen at work: EWTN's Lenten reflections

    Today's fasting and abstinence penance

    Divine Mercy Sunday - everything you need! (It's not to early to prepare, right?)

    3/29/2010

    An appointment with The Passion

    Going to the dentist. Getting your eyes dilated at the optometrist, then driving home half-blind with those super-flimsy shades sitting squee-jaw on your face. Ladies, that yearly pap smear isn't a barrel of laughs.

    These are a few of my not-so-favorite things.

    We all have our own set of routine health exams, cleanings and check-ups that involve some degree of bodily discomfort. But ultimately, we know that these things lead to a better life: fewer root canals, a lower risk of untreated cancer, more time with our loved ones.

    It's led me to thinking: Do I give my soul the same treatment that I afford my body? I've written before that I'm no fasting guru, nor do I think, with the bearing of children and whatnot, that I'm bound to become one. But prompting me to this question is an event from my Passion (Palm) Sunday weekend: watching The Passion of the Christ.


    Mel Gibson released his epic film in 2004, and since, then, it's been more or less the summit of all films made of Christ.

    Even though I helped organize the event with a parish committee, I was dreading having to attend. Dreading it. Like, I contemplated staging a dire gastric emergency (not uncommon for me), or playing up the usual pregnancy fatigue. But in the end, I attended--and am so glad I did.

    I saw The Passion on the big screen in college during the Triduum, and what I saw of it (through peaks at the big screen as I squeamishly covered my tear-streaked face) left me with a new, staggering appreciation of the brutality of Roman crucifixion. Attending Mass for the next few months afterward meant that I sat in sorrow, replaying the more, well, difficult scenes in my mind. The nailing to the cross. The crowning with thorns. The awful, disturbing scourging.

    And so it was a great blessing to watch it for a second time, knowing what parts were coming--and when--and reacting accordingly to what I know I can take.

    During the scourging, I left the room (though kept myself within earshot of the film) and prayed steady Hail Marys through my tears, asking the Lord to forgive the men that beat him.

    During the carrying of the cross, I quietly closed my eyes when I needed a break from the injustice of it all.

    During the nailing of our Lord and Savior to the cross, I clutched my jacket through my somewhat silent sobs.

    Doing this allowed me to appreciate three new things, regarding the movie:

    1. Throughout all of Jesus' bloodshed, I told myself: I need to get through this. I cannot leave the room again, I cannot leave my seat, because if I do, I won't come back. And if I don't see the end, I let the devil win, because I won't have seen what all of this suffering is for. And, of course, the suffering is for our redemption in the Resurrection.

    2. Seeing the movie twice meant that I paid more attention to the flashbacks and what we might call "character development" of Mary, the apostle John, Pilate, and the various Roman soldiers. How carefully had I watched those peaceful, prayerful, beautiful glimpses into Jesus' life the first time I saw the film? Him playfully teasing his mother (pictured above)? Giving the Sermon on the Mount? Offering His Blood at the Last Supper? I was too busy holding every single muscle in my body taught with tension. This time, I watched. And learned.

    3. Not every Catholic (or Christian, or anyone else) is called to watch this film. Just like it may be hard for a busy mother to work in the Liturgy of the Hours into her day, but it's more feasible for her to pray a nightly Rosary with her family, so too should viewing The Passion be considered a personal piety that resonates with some, but not with all. On a whole, I think many, many Catholics would deeply benefit from seeing the film. But for some, its intensity prevents the heart of the film from sinking in, as it did for me at the first viewing.

    A day after seeing it again, images of Mary's face float through my mind--a face that isn't porcelain, isn't painted in an icon, isn't carved in stone. Though those images of our Blessed Mother are precious and beautiful (and I keep many in our home), pondering Mary as a person that lived and breathed and walked the Way of the Cross with her Son is a different mode of contemplation. Her face, blood-streaked and dirty from gently kissing the feet of her Son on the cross as he hangs dying, is a gift I've received from Gibson's film.

    That's the beauty of enduring some discomfort for the sake of a soul check-up.





    "...I'll be honest with you, there are things that I went through that I can't even talk about. I felt like a great presence came within me at times when we were filming. This prayer that came from me was, 'I don't want people to see me. I just want them to see Jesus. And through that conversions will happen.' That's what I wanted more than anything."