My thoughts and reflections on my Catholic Faith, Fulton Sheen, the problem of suffering, and books

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ask Us How We're Doing (or, Please Reach out to Children of Divorce)

I am a child of divorce.

I have been a child of divorce for 19 years.

I have been a Catholic for 18 years.

In those 18 years--and particularly in the past 3 years, when I have been listening and hoping and waiting for this topic to come up--I have never once heard a sermon on the children of divorce--how divorce wounds them, how to reach out to them, how to help them.

I'm not referring to the problem of people who have divorced and remarried. While that is a major problem, it is not an issue that affects me.

(Disclaimer here: I am getting help now, so please don't flood me with comments about how I should see a psychologist.)

The issue that affects me is that my parents divorced when I was 7 years old; my mother and I joined the Faith when I was 8; and in the following years, no one ever reached out to me and said: "Emily, how are you doing?"

I didn't see my dad for seven years--from my 12th birthday to Thanksgiving my Freshman year of college.

During those seven years, no one--none of the priests I knew, no relatives, no family friends--said: "Emily, I know you just moved 2,000 miles away from your dad. How are you doing with that? Do you need to talk?"

No one said anything--because our society views divorce as "normal."

I didn't say anything--because it was all I knew, it was all I remembered. I didn't give anyone the opportunity to reach out, I didn't tell anyone I was hurting, because I didn't even realize that I was; I thought the life I was living was normal.

And that was bad. Numbness, denying our problems.

Not that I'm arguing we need to force children to face things they, perhaps, aren't ready to face. In high school, I was not in a place to face the wounds the divorce caused me; my mentally ill mother thought she had done the right thing by divorcing my father; and I had no support system. But maybe life would have been easier if someone had reached out to me.

Then I went away to college. And there, I saw normal, healthy relationships. I also met a very dear friend whose parents were at that time going through a divorce; and slowly, watching her struggle, listening to her talk, I began to realize that my parents' divorce had wounded me. I fought the realization tooth and nail, until Christmas of my Senior Year, when, as a 22-year-old, I spent half of Christmas Day with my father and half with my mother.

Then it hit me: "Wait a minute, that wasn't normal, it wasn't good, I didn't grow up in a healthy home." By that time, I had a support system. I had friends (when I didn't shut them out) and professors (one in particular, who listened to me vent and let me direct a lot of anger at him) who were always there for me, no matter what; and eventually that one professor pointed me in the direction of a mental health professional.

And now, thanks be to God, I'm healing. Slowly. Painfully. But I'm healing.

But the Church--and please correct me if I'm wrong--is not doing everything She could to reach out to those of us who are children of divorce.

In the past 3 years, I have never heard a sermon about how to reach out to children of divorce. One of the General Intentions at Mass this past Sunday was "for all separated spouses"; but no one ever thinks to pray for the children of separated spouses. No one gives a sermon about how to help children of divorce. No one reaches out to them.

There are workshops for people grieving the loss of a loved one; there are programs (e.g. Retrouvaille) for couples whose marriages are struggling; but where are the programs and the groups for children--both young children and "adult" children--whose parents are divorcing or have divorced?

The only Catholic book I've been able to find, geared towards teens and young adults whose parents have divorced, is this workbook by Lynn Cassella: Making Your Way After Your Parents' Divorce, but that seemed to be it.

Correction: There does appear to be a Catholic program out there--Faith Journeys, founded by Lynn Cassella and, according to its website, "recognized by His Holiness Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus; Cardinal Donald Wuerl; Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien; and other Catholic leaders"--but I've never heard of it in any of the parishes in the NOVA area. If you know of anything in your diocese or Archdiocese, please let me know.

I've found some references here and there in letters and addresses by various Popes of the twentieth century, but no one document geared toward the children of divorce. Last year, I eagerly read the Working Document for the Synod of the Family, and was pleased to see several references to childen of divorce (see my post here).

Earlier this month, the National Catholic Register shared an interview with Cardinal Christoph Schonbern of Vienna, in which the Cardinal, himself a child of divorce, said:
It is so obvious that the first victims of divorce are always the children, because the parents are their parents. They have not only a father, but also a mother. They have a mother, but also a father. If they separate, something is always broken in the life of the child.
. . . But before speaking about the suffering of the parents, we must speak about the suffering of the children.
In response to the question of how he recovered from his parents' divorce, His Eminence continues:
I have a large family network, and that is a great benefit in a family crisis. My parents were not left alone by their families, and we, the children, were not left alone by our aunts, uncles and cousins. The effect of divorce on an isolated, small family of father, mother and child is more dramatic. (Emphasis added.)
Now, how long will it take before the effects of the Synod filter down to the parish level, before the Church starts reaching out to children of divorce? Probably a long time.

So in the meantime, what can we do about this problem?

First and most importantly: pray for the people you know whose lives have been affected by divorce. Even if they're adults and their parents' divorce was decades ago, some of them--and maybe most of them--are still hurting. They need prayers. A specific intention: pray for them to recognize what it means that God is their Father. Because it is very, very hard to understand the love of God as your Father, when your biological father simply wasn't there.

Secondly: reach out. I am eternally grateful to the one professor who listened to me vent, who could tell I was hurting even when I refused to admit I was, and who knew he couldn't help me in the way I needed help, and encouraged me to seek professional help.

Thirdly, do not assume that the kids are "fine," just because they're not using drugs or being openly rebellious. If you're a divorced parent, talk to your children. Talk to them when they're young, let them know they can trust you; so when they're teenagers who trust no one, they are still willing to trust you and talk to you.

Fourth and finally, make inquiries. Ask your parish priest: "Father, are there any programs here at the parish or in the diocese for children of divorce?" I never get involved in liturgical matters, but I am very strongly tempted to write to either my pastor or whoever's in charge of liturgical matters and ask: "Why did we pray for separated spouses at Mass last Sunday, but not for the children of separated spouses?" (I'll try to phrase it slightly more diplomatically than that.)

Friday, August 7, 2015

Random Facts and Favorites

This post was inspired by a comment on the survey, under "What Would You Like to Know about Your Author?"

  1. My favorite color is blue.
  2. I was born 3 months premature, weighing 1 lb. 8.5 oz. (see: My Pro-Life Story)
  3. Carrots are my favorite vegetable. I ate so many carrots and sweet potatoes as a baby/toddler that the doctor thought I had jaundice, because I turned orange from all that beta carotene!
  4. I'm a "rocking-horse Catholic." Baptized a Methodist at a year old, raised Baptist, converted to Catholicism when my mother joined the Church when I was almost 8.
  5. Dogs are my favorite animals, although I'm sadly allergic to them.
  6. I'm 4 feet 10.5 inches tall.
  7. I was homeschooled K-12, with the exception of the fall of my 3rd grade year.
  8. I went to college 2500 miles away from home. I had never visited the campus before. I never looked back after that.
  9. My favorite movie is Hitchcock's "I Confess."
  10. My favorite novel used to be The Cardinal, by Henry Morton Robinson. Now it's These High, Green Hills, part of the Mitford Series by Jan Karon.
  11. My favorite hymn is "Panis Angelicus."
  12. My favorite genre of music (although not at Mass!) is Christian/Gospel.
  13. My least favorite church song is "Amazing Grace," which was sung at my grandpa's funeral when I was 10. I've hated the song ever since.
  14. I hate phone calls, unless you're a very good friend. If I have to make a phone call to a business, or for job application purposes...forget it!
  15. My favorite canonized saint (also one of my Confirmation patrons) is St. Therese.
  16. My other Confirmation patrons are St. Maria Goretti and Our Blessed Mother. (I couldn't pick just one, so my Confirmation name is "Maria Therese.")
  17. My favorite Venerable/Blessed is Ven.  Fulton J. Sheen.
  18. I know the alphabet in American Sign Language.
  19. I read the dictionary (not cover-to-cover, just randomly) when I was in high school. That's where I learned ASL (it was an unabridged dictionary, and had a picture of the letters). That's also where I discovered Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop. For some reason, I was looking up "consciousness," and as an example of how to use the word, was this sentence by Cather: ""Empowered by long training, the young priest blotted himself out of his own consciousness and meditated upon the anguish of his Lord." I looked the quote up on Google, checked the book out from the library, and later wrote a book report on that book--all because of my mother's unabridged dictionary.
  20. Don't call me "Em" unless you know that you know me well enough.
  21. I hate platitudes. If I tell you I'm having a rough time, don't tell me "It'll be okay," or "Don't worry about it." The best thing to tell me--and I've only discovered myself this year, as a very dear friend has told me this several times, and it's stopped in my tracks and helped so much--is to remind me: "God loves you, Em." Again, though, you have to know that you know me well enough to say that to me, or else I might get mad.
  22. My temperament is Phlegmatic-Melancholic.
  23. There are only a very few things about which I am very passionate, but cross me on those few things--tell me Fulton Sheen is outdated, or make a short joke, or tell me a platitude when I've just poured out my soul to you--and you will experience the Wrath of Emily, and it won't be pleasant.
  24. I love Brussells Sprouts.
  25. I hate lima beans.
  26. I am terrified of failure.

Well, that was a depressing note on which to end this list. So here's a bonus fact:

   27. I can steer my bicycle with one hand.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Responses to Responses to the Survey

It's been almost one week since I posted my survey; I've gotten seven responses; and I've decided it's time to answer the responses. So here goes.

What subjects would you like to see more of on this blog?
-I've reviewed one book on this blog; I'll try to write some posts about volunteering at the local parish library, and the book repair I just recently got back to.

-As always, I will continue to expound upon quotes from Fulton Sheen.

-I will try to post a slightly more personal view of my thoughts on divorce.

-"Personal insights"? Into what? I hope not "current events"; I don't read the paper (I get enough of that from my employer over breakfast), watch TV, or listen to the radio for news.

Why do you visit Theological-Librarian?
-If you come here to read about theology, what topics would you like to see covered? (Please answer in the comments; I'm not doing another survey, as fun as this one was.)

What is your least favorite aspect of Theological-Librarian?
Now, I know I walked right into this one...I put "You always talk about Fulton Sheen" as an option. So I suppose it's my own fault. Or maybe the respondent would have put that anyway. However, I'm still going to reply, and hopefully it won't be too much of a rant.

I know that a good 90% of my posts mention Sheen, quote Sheen, or are 100% about Sheen. I would probably gain more readers/not bore them to death, if I branched out, touched upon other writers whom I enjoy (e.g. Pope Benedict or C.S. Lewis), but Sheen is my passion. I've been reading him since I was 14. I devoted an entire semester of my college career to him. If I ever go to grad school for theology, I would probably write my dissertation on Sheen.

While I was writing my thesis, someone told me that Sheen was over-rated, expressed surprise that I was writing a theology thesis on someone whose theology was not equal to Pope Benedict's, and told me that Sheen was outdated and only spoke to the Cold War era (i.e., only spoke against Communism and never said anything else), and basically put down my entire Thesis. The following semester, someone else, while discussing The Look of Catholics: Portrayals in Popular Culture from the Great Depression to the Cold War, by Anthony Burke Smith, said that Sheen's television program watered down Catholicism. In the years since I graduated, I have encountered people who have asserted--and both of these are small points, but they prove a sad ignorance of someone who was very influential to the Church in America--that Sheen is the same as Cardinal Bernardin, or that he was born in El Paso, Texas (it was actually El Paso, Illiois, and I've seen at least one published book that also states that Sheen's birthplace was Texas).

All of those encounters have put me on the warpath to prove that Sheen is still relevant, that the Church in America still needs his example, and that he did in fact teach theology; he didn't just popularize the Faith.

If I can relate it to Sheen--there's a 90% chance I can relate an anecdote of his--I probably will.

* * *
-I will try to post more frequently, I promise!!

What do you want to know about your author?
-My favorite color is blue; dogs are my favorite animal, although I'm allergic to them. Carrots are my favorite vegetable.
-I've never given pretzels much thought.
-As for what makes me so Fulton crazy: I love his writing style. I love how he sees the Cross in every aspect of the life of Our Blessed Lord.

What's your Favorite Fulton Sheen book?
-I'm glad to see that Life of Christ is on here 3 times.

-No, I'm not going to hit/otherwise injure anyone who hasn't read any Sheen, however, my parting injunction to all of you, whether you've never read Sheen, hate him, or love him, is this:

Read Life of Christ. Just do it. The first few chapters are beautiful for Advent and the Christmas season; the chapters on the Public Life can be plowed through during the first few weeks of Ordinary Time; and then Lent gives you seven weeks for a prayerful reading of Sheen's chapters on the last week of Our Blessed Lord.

Read. It.

God Love Y'All!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Survey

Hello, faithful readers!

After weeks of thought and reflection, I have decided to survey y'all.

Here's the link to the survey. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Not Ours to Change

Lately, I have been reflecting a lot on marriage and divorce; so I turned to my beloved Fulton Sheen to see what timeless Truth he spoke about marriage.

In his 1936 book The Moral Universe, Sheen speaks of the permance of marriage, and why the Catholic Church emphasizes this so strongly:

In the eyes of the Church, therefore, marriage is a permanent union patterned upon the abiding love of Christ for His Church, and not a terminable pact of selfish passion which endures only as long as the passion endures. By upholding such an ideal, by asking such a guarantee, and by teaching the sacredness of a vow, the Church makes marriage serious. It practically tells the young couple the same thing the sign over the cashier's desk tells the customer: "Count your change. No mistakes rectified after leaving the window." ... Hence, the Church refuses to permit anyone to loosen the bond which has kept millions normal, and therefore will not allow any man or woman, who gets himself or herself into a hole, to burrow like a mole and undermine the whole mountain of society.  She believes that if people cannot mind their own business, which is the business of loyalty, then she will not free them to mind someone else's business, or someone else's babies. To her, the hilarity associated with divorce is like the hilarity of grave diggers in a city swept by pestilence; she is opposed to divorce not because she is unmodern, but because marriage makes people two in one flesh, and they can no more be severed during the incarnate life of their mutual love than a head can be severed from a body.
The first point Sheen makes here is that marriage is a sacred union. It is not something invented by the whim of a man or a woman; it is an image of Christ and His Church, as Paul says in Eph. 5:31-32: "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the church."

Christ loves His Church--so much that He laid down His Life for Her, as Paul says a few verses earlier (25, 26): "Christ also loved the church, and delivered himself up for it: That he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life." He loves His spotless Bride, and it is impossible for Him to stop loving Her.

"Well, that's all well and good," you may say, "but He was God, so He can love forever. I'm not God. What happens when I stop loving my wife? Because it's going to happen."

Yes, dear reader, you have a point: those feelings won't last.  Sheen himself refers to those who think of marriage as "a terminable pact of selfish passion which endures only as long as the passion endures." The passion will fade. The gooey, warm feelings of "love" will not last.

And it is at that point that you have to remember that marriage is something God created, and, as such, it transcends our fickle and malleable feelings. If marriage were only about the feelings, if the Sacraments were based only on our feelings, then Christ might have given up on His spotless Bride when He felt abandoned on the Cross. He might have taken that feeling of abandonment as the end, and just given up...and then where would we be?

However, He did not give up; He held to the Truth; and so, His Church clings to the Truth which is His Cross, as Sheen writes in The Divine Romance:

The divinely supreme miracle of Christ's whole life and the whole life of the Church is that she does not come down. The miracle of the crucifixion is the fact that Christ still hangs there.  ...  The miracle is to be able to come down, and yet not to come down. It is human to come down, but it is divine to hang there. It would be easy for the Church to come down; to have been Gnostic in the first century; to have been Arian in the fourth, and to be pagan in the twentieth. It is always easy to let the age have its head, but it is difficult to keep one's own. It is always easy to fall; there are a thousand angles at which a thing will fall but only one at which it stands, and that is the angle at which the Church is poised between Heaven and earth. From that angle she o'erlooks the passing fads and fancies of the ages, and sings over them in deep and sonorous tones a requiem in the language of Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, awaiting the day when she shall come down to walk in the glory of her new Easter morn.
The Church's teaching on marriage cannot change; Christ cannot give her her head, as it were, and let her do whatever she wishes. Marriage was God's idea, not man's; therefore it is subject to His rules--the rules enacted by His Church, under His guidance--not man's rules, which change even more quickly than one century changes to another, as Sheen notes in his 1943 Philosophies at War:
The superstition of Relativism tells us there is no distinction between truth and error, right and wrong; everything depends upon one's point of view. All values are relative and depend entirely upon the way people live in any generation. If in the twentieth-century they live monogamously, then monogamy is right; if in the future, they live polygamously, then polygamy is right.
All of these arguments are good and sound; but logic is not going to change our nation. Sheen continues in Philosophies at War:
We as Christians have argued with those who believe in divorce...but our arguments convinced no one. Not because the arguments were not sound. That is the trouble. They are too good! Good reasons are powerless against emotions. Like two women arguing over back fences, we are arguing from different premises. The majority of people who are opposed to the stability and continuity of family life, for the most part do not believe in the moral law of God. They may say they believe in God, but it is not the God of Justice. Few believe in a future life, entailing Divine Judgment, with the possible sanction of eternal punishment. Even professed Christians among them when confronted with the text: "What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder" (Mark 10:9), will retort that God never intended that it should be so. 
They argue from the need of pleasure, the necessity of avoiding sacrifice, and the primacy of the economic. We argue from the Eternal Reason of God rooted in nature, the teachings of His Incarnate Son, Jesus Christ the Redeemer of the world.

What is going to convince our fellow-men that marriage is a permanent union between one man and one woman, that marriage is a bond that lasts until death, that no man or human institution can redefine marriage, is one thing: our example. Not just the example of faithfully married couples, but the example of single people, how we women let men treat us, and how men treat women.

Women: stand up for yourselves. Even if your father walked away, don't let that make you think that all men can walk away from you or can walk all over you. Even if your mother came up with a flimsy excuse to leave your father...stay committed to your husband and to those vows you made before God and His Church.

Men: treat every woman you meet like a princess. You don't know how she's been wounded. And if you do recognize it, if you do see her brokenness, don't take advantage of it. Your example of respect and gentleness is what she needs to admit that she's been wounded and that she needs to heal.

Married couples: as a child of divorce, I am begging you: remain faithful to your marriage vows! "Stay together for the kids!" Your children need you, not singly, not separately, but as a whole, married couple. Even if they see you fight, they will be more impacted by you staying together for their sake, then if you split up so they won't have to see you fight. Give your kids that witness. Love even if the feelings are gone. Lay down your life for your spouse.

Because selfless love...not based on feelings, not proven only by words and never by what will change our country.

God Love Y'All!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Why I Get Up Early on Saturday Mornings

Have you ever had one of those "Holy Spirit nudges?" You know, the ones where you know He's nudging you in the elbow, saying "Go! Do this!"

Two summers ago (2013), our parish announced a new religious education program: SPRED, or SPecial Religious EDucation. It's religious education for children with special needs.

And I felt one that "Holy Spirit nudge": Em, go, do this!

Now, I love children, but at that point I had had very little experience with children with special needs. And I hate trying new things. So I was scared.

But I went ahead, filled out the paperwork (I'd done VIRTUS training the year before, so that was taken care of!), attended the training sessions, and then plunged into it.

SPRED meets for 12 sessions during the school year, from September through April. The format of each session is as follows:

  • Play time, in which the children each pick a sensory activity. This kind of settles them in and gets them ready for the lesson and for prayer.
  • The lesson, in which there is a craft activity...for instance, coloring a cross that is labeled with the parts of the Sign of the Cross, then practicing it. (Even non-verbal children, for instance my friend Lu, whom I talk about below, can make the Sign of the Cross.)
  • Then the children gather around one of the volunteers, talk a bit--especially in the first session after the summer vacation--about what they've been up to, then wash their hands in preparation for going to the Sacred Space.
  • The Sacred Space is in a different room, with a table covered with a cloth. There is a cross, flowers, and electric candles on the table. Our Group Leader reads an (adapted) Bible passage to the kids, then goes around the room to each of the kids and volunteers with the day's message, for example: "N., Jesus says to you today: Live in My love."
  • Then the kids sing a song, complete with hand motions, before we walk back to the first room.
  • We set the table--the kids help--in preparation for the agape meal, a simple but yummy meal of bread with butter and jelly, sometimes fresh fruit, a pastry of some sort.
I missed a lot of sessions in the fall of 2013 because of other obligations; but then in the spring of 2014, I made a new buddy.

We'll call her Lu. She was 7 then, and she's a dear! She's non-verbal, but she can look into your eyes with the deepest's like she's reading your soul!! ;-) Somehow--the Holy Spirit?--we bonded, through those soul-searching gazes, and my determination to try to get her to engage in the activities. (Lu would sit and amuse herself for hours staring out the window if you let her, but I like to try to get her to engage.)

The area where she does engage is music; she loves music of any kind, and will jump around and dance very happily.

It's always a joy when Lu walks in the door; I feel my heart leap, and her face breaks out in this huge smile when she sees me. Her mother and I have managed to meet up a few times during the summers; and she always jumps for joy (her mother calls it the "Happy Dance") when she sees me.

It's a joy knowing that, somehow, in some way that I'll probably never know in this life, I'm making a difference in the lives of these children and--please God!--bringing them closer to God.

God Love Y'All!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

#1000 Gifts

It's a quiet Sunday here in Northern Virginia. And it's time for another "Grateful on  a [Sunday]" post. (I'm too forgetful to do these posts on Monday, or "Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real" on Thursday, or What I Wore Sundays. So y'all are stuck with my sporadic blogging.

In My Cup: English Breakfast tea.

Sitting in: Sitting on the rug on my bedroom floor.

Listening ToVirginia's Positive Hits, 89.9.

The Sun is: shining and hot.

Something Beautiful: My tea mug. My best friend and roommate for 2 years, Sister Veronica Mary of the Wounds of Christ, gave this to me Freshman Year. It was my coffee mug until I graduated and "converted" to black tea. :-) It has a huge crack, proof that it survived being banged into the wall (running down the hallway to a bonfire will do that to you).

What's On My Mind:

Today marks ten years since my uncle, Jerome Vincent Philip Pillus, DVM, died. Normally it doesn't bother me much...but when my (mentally ill) mother feels the need to email me to remind me that today is his anniversary, as if I had forgotten, that really bugs me. I know when Uncle Jerome died; he was my uncle, and I remember every single stinkin' year. He was my only Catholic uncle; the only relative other than my mother who came to my Confirmation; and the only one of my uncles who's actually related to me by blood rather than marriage.

Uncle Jerome, possibly in 2003

What I Am Praying For:
+ the repose of the soul of Uncle Jerome
+ the repose of the soul of Fr. William Erstad, a priest from our parish when we were in CA. He had a car accident about the same time Uncle Jerome died, and died early the following morning, June 15, 2005.
+ so many other friends and intentions

This Week Will Bring:
Work Monday-Wednesday. Then on Thursday, I'm heading to IN for my neice's wedding. She's 21. I'm pretty sure there's a rule somewhere that says you shouldn't get married before your aunt does. ;-) O well.

Grateful For:
#36. The guys at Bull Run Bicycles, who fixed a few small things on my bike yesterday. For months, I've had cloth and duct tape wrapped around the clamp that holds the saddle on, to keep the nuts from wearing holes in my jeans. Danny (I think that was his name) took one look at that mess, said my clamp was on wrong, and adjusted it. Now, not only does the saddle not rock under me while I'm biking, but I don't have to worry about tears in my jeans.

#37. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
#38. The doctrine of the Communion of Saints
#39. Air-conditioning and Gatorade.
#40.  My friend Caroline, who introduced me to the book Stardust, by Neil Gaiman, a fairy-tale for adults, written in the style of C.S. Lewis. After fruitlessly trying to get it from the library last year and then a few weeks ago, I finally got it yesterday. It was such a fun read!
#41. My bicycle
#42. The ability to ride a bike.

That's all for now.
God Love Y'All!