St. Patrick may have declined on the green candy, but St. Joseph came through with Krispy Kreme. He came Monday afternoon, in the guise of our crazy-happy-Catholic friends who stopped by to pick up a child from a homework-date, and held out a dozen hot-doughnuts-now. Can I help it if the Church in her wisdom made Monday a solemnity?
No I cannot. If you’re going to observe the fasts, be in on the feasts, too, or you aren’t so much a Christian as a Stoic.
So I was obliged in Christian duty to welcome the doughnuts with delighted gratitude, and you’ll be glad to know I did my Christian duty wholeheartedly.
Would St. Joseph Bring Home Krispy Kreme?
There are of course wrong-headed people in this world who have been deceived into believing Some Other Doughnut is a better doughnut, but that is not the question I mean to address. All we can do for those people is pray; reason has nothing to do with it.
We can, however, reason out the question of: Was St. Joseph the kind of father who’d bring home the doughtnuts?
[Insert for the word “doughnut” the 1st-century counterpart: Some kind of scrumptious but utterly uneccesary low-budget treat that young Jesus would have jumped up and down when He saw it coming, and the Blessed Mother wouldn’t have minded if she did, thank you Joseph, what’s the occasion?]
I argue that he was.
Mary, being preserved from sin, would have been careful with the money. When she shopped, she would have had in mind the hours and strain of the work Joseph did to support the family. She would have looked for ways to make the feasts festive, yes, and she may well have had some small savings from her own work that she used for the odd splurge for the family. But I don’t imagine the Holy Family was overloaded with junk food.
And that, in turn, would give St. Joseph his opening for bringing home the doughnuts.
He who put in the long hours, and worried about savings, and was well aware he’d need money for lumber to patch the roof next autumn — he was a normal man. Mostly he’d want to make his wife and child happy by providing the daily necessities; but sometimes he’d want to show up at the house at the end of a long day and pull out the donuts.
Photo by Neil T [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons. FYI if you like less-sweet doughnuts, when the “Hot Doughnuts Now” light is on you can request a dozen “Original Glazed” un-glazedand they’ll pull them off the line for you at the point shown in the above photo. Take them home and top them with whatever you like.
“Um. No thanks. I’ll clip this green hand-sanitizer holder to my belt loop. That’ll work.”
More St. Patrick’s Day:
Same child, having solved the green problem and moving on: “St. Patrick was supposed to come last night and leave us candy.”
Skeptical mother: “Oh was he, now?”
“Or green toys or something. Or a leprechaun comes.”
Mother, still skeptical: “Oh I see.”
“It’s okay. He can come tonight instead.”
Then, Saturday morning . . .
“Mom. St. Patrick forgot to come last night.”
Mother: “St. Patrick doesn’t come to our house.”
“Or a leprechaun. All my friends get candy from the leprechaun on St. Patrick’s day.”
“All your friends, eh? What are the names of those friends?”
Hems and haws for a moment, then clarifies that it’s actually her sister’s friends. “All of A’s friends at St. Urban’s get candy.”
“Oh do they? What are the names of those friends?”
“Um. Well there’s Benedicta.”
Mother is not surprised. Benedicta’s mother is like that. “Anyone else?”
“Isn’t she Benedicta’s sister?”
“Well, yes. But they both got candy. The leprechaun comes to their house.”
“The leprechaun doesn’t come to our house. Good try.”
Good problems, Catholic School edition: When your child is sobbing and begging to be allowed to go to school, and swears she really isn’t that sick.
Weird problems, Saint Books edition:
Bored child: “Mom, do we have any of those little saint books but that aren’t about someone who becomes a monk or a nun and all they do is pray?”
Mother chooses not to argue, though there may have been a slight eye roll. “Um. Let’s go look.” Thumbing through the shelf that contains middle-grades saint books, Mother pounces on St. Isaac Jogues, who was neither a monk nor a nun. “How about this one?”
Child frowns and shakes head. “No. I want one of these saint books.”
Ah. Well. In that case . . . “How about this one?”
PSA because the question came up today: If you want a good readable saint book, you won’t go wrong with Pauline Media’s “Encounter the Saints” series. They are written for about 5th – 6th grade, but I thoroughly enjoy them and find them edifying for myself. It takes about an hour for an adult left alone to read one book in silence. There’s usually a glossary at the back for any Catholic vocabulary words that you might not know.
I am unclear on why I only own about a dozen of these. Need to rectify that.
That is the rationale behind our resolution to eliminate extraneous sugar from the family diet. We theorize, but aren’t certain, that at least one of our children would benefit from a diet with relatively less sugar and relatively more fat, protein, and complex carbohydrates; we suspect that making that transition will improve the mental health of everyone, directly and indirectly; thus it’s a switch that, we think, will make it easier for all of us to become more like the people God created us to be.
That’s the hypothesis. We’re testing it during Lent because honestly it’s hard to make yourself give up something good, easy, and pleasant when you aren’t even sure it matters.
With that in mind, SuperHusband went to Costco.
“Please don’t bring home more of those yogurt things,” I asked him before he left. Yogurt in itself is not a problem food, but the individual servings of flavored yogurts the kids devour like starved goatherds come with a piles of extra sugar.
“But [certain child with low appetite] loves them, and they’re mostly healthy,” SuperHusband observed.
“Well, just look at the nutrition information and do the best you can,” I said.
So he and our reluctant eater went off to Costco and came home with . . . cheesecake.
Um, darling? Lent?
Outside of the penitential seasons, we always get some kind of good treat for Sundays. But during Advent and Lent I tend to scale back — not a hard and fast rule, mind you, but let’s just say that a giant tray of cheesecake is more Easter-Christmas-Birthday than Sackcloth-and-Ashes.
SuperHusband explained: “I looked at all the nutritional information, and this one had the best fat-to-sugar ratio of just about anything. A bazillion times better than those yogurts.”
I believe him. We’d acquired this particular cheesecake a few weeks ago for a birthday party, and it was noticably better than typical, and it was not overly-sweet at all. Very much in the real-food category of convenience items.
Okay, then. My goal isn’t to satisfy some preconceived image of what is and is not “penitential” enough to satisfy the St. Joneses. My goal is to meet the unusual but pressing nutritional needs of one of our children. Cheesecake to fulfill our Lenten resolution it is.
Something we are doing this Lent is cutting out extraneous sugar from the family diet. (Why? Not to lose weight. I’m the only chubby member of the family, and I don’t eat all that much junk food. But we’ve noticed that some of the castle residents tend to be more emotionally volatile when they are living from snack to snack, and thought that peace in the home was worth attempting.)
There’s not a hard-and-fast rule to that resolution, but there are some obvious changes. Don’t stop for donuts as a way of rewarding the kids for meritorious behavior, for example. One of the chief challenges is that the children are all enthusiastic chefs, and several of them specialize in variations on pastry chef.
Therefore I had to confiscate the sugar.
If I didn’t, they’d go on quietly creating delectable baked goods whenever the parents weren’t looking. They might not even do it out of defiance — it’s just a habit. So I took the sugar canisters from the open shelves in the kitchen and stowed them in a laundry basket in the parents’ bedroom (double Lent: that room is already cluttered enough without adding “pantry” to its list of responsibilities).
Next I had to take the chocolate chips. Mid-morning Ash Wednesday I find a child happily creating chocolate candies. “They aren’t for today!” she chided me solemnly. How dare I question her penitence, sheesh? So I added the canister of open chocolate chips to the laundry basket, and later found the resupply of chocolate chips* in the laundry room cabinets and put those in the basket too, because otherwise children would take the initiative to fix the Lenten inventory problem in the kitchen.
So now in my bedroom I’ve got a basket full of sugar and chocolate chips — really good chocolate chips, not those sorry ones that are mostly corn syrup. Really, really, good chocolate chips. In my bedroom. Staring at me as I walk in after dropping a child off for an internship, on a Friday morning when I’m pretty hungry and trying to be virtuous but have not had breakfast, and did I mention they are really, really, good chocolate chips?
So thank goodness not-my-truck needed an oil change and so I had to switch vehicles with the spouse so I could take care of that this afternoon, and therefore I had to empty my junk out of the truck before he went to work, and that meant, as I was being reined in by the siren song of especially, wondrously, notoriously good chocolate chips, that I had a raincoat slung over my arm. I was going to hang up the raincoat in the closet, since it’s a sunny day and I thought I wouldn’t be needing it.
But you know what needs a raincoat on it? A basket full of chocolate chips. And then I don’t have to look at temptation, glowing in the rays of springtime — Lenten — sunshine every time I go to my room.
*The reason I have an inventory of chocolate chips is because we prefer, when possible, to acquire them from Equal Exchange or some similarly reputable source. Since we live in the South, we can only mail-order chocolate during the cold months. It’s practically pioneer living, you know.
1.1 This morning, an unwary child says: “I haven’t decided what to give up for Lent.”
Evil Dictator: “Not to worry. I’ve got you covered.”
Between cutting out extraneous sugar and sending us all to bed on time, child, it’s gonna be a long Lent. But a calm one, so we hope.
1.2 A different, diligent little Catholic bear, was determined to set a fixed penance. “What if I give up Netflix and Amazon?”
“What’s your goal?” Evil Dictator inquires.
Discussion ensues. Child finally resolves, after taking advice, to write on her card to turn in at school: “I will give up all TV and movies, with the exception of shows my parents or teacher tell me to watch.”
1.3 Good problems: And your Catholic school student wants you to come to the school Mass in the morning, which is always very good . . . and your spouse and your boy are going to be singing Allegri’s Misere Mei Deus at the evening service. Here’s an abridged version:
Another version, unabridged, and with girls in it:
So yes, I went to both. Ashes and Holy Communion at Mass #1, and then sat back and enjoyed the music and prayed along at Mass #2.
1.5 My school child wasn’t so keen to double-dip, and asked if maybe I could require her to watch a little Netflix while I was at the second Mass. Well, darling, funny you should mention that. Evil Dictator’s got quite the talent for finding all the kids’ French-language videos on YouTube, and that’s something you need to be watching over the next few months.
I pulled up tabs of French-language entertainment and . . . she read books instead. Her English is gonna be excellent before Lent is out.
1.6 So I show up at church for Mass #2 and Father Gonzo takes a look at me and says: “Did I do that?!”
He [Jesus] said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
One of the reasons I think that people get upset about the question of divorce, remarriage, and Holy Communion is that they don’t understand what’s happening. I’d like to look today at the question of what an annulment is, and I want to do so by way of an analogy. Like all analogies, it is imperfect. Still, I think it sheds light on the overall situation.
An Otherwise Decent Guy Gets Into a Mess
Imagine you’re a young man in your twenties. Like many young people, you were a tad promiscuous during college, something you shouldn’t have done, but, well, you did. One Saturday morning you answer the door and one of your college girlfriends is standing there, with a darling little boy at her side. He’s the spitting image of his mother.
Your ex-girlfriend explains that the boy is probably yours. She apologizes for not informing you sooner, and appeals to your better self and asks you to do the right thing. The boy needs his father to be in his life.
A Decent Guy Becomes a Stand-up Guy
After you recover from the shock if it all, you do exactly what she was hoping: You agree that of course you will do your best to be a good father to any child of yours.
This isn’t going to be easy. There are good reasons you and the boy’s mother stopped dating each other. There will be lots of complications to work through. You are now going to have to devote a massive amount of time and income and emotional reserve to the rearing of this boy. You’ll have to reorganize your career and personal plans to make sure you can give this boy the attention from you that he deserves. It’s not easy to be a parent, and it’s even harder when you aren’t married to your child’s mother.
But you are a decent human being, and the least you can do in this world is be a good father to your own child. It’s not something you have to think about. Of course you’ll do it, you tell her.
Except There’s This Other Guy
There’s one hitch though: Neither of you are 100% sure you’re the father.
The dates all work out, but honestly? She was a tad promiscuous herself. There’s at least one other college friend who might be the father instead.
Your ex-girlfriend thinks it’s more likely that you are the father, which is why she came to you first. She asks you to take a paternity test, which will clear up all doubt. You agree that’s a good idea.
Why Does Paternity Matter?
Let’s review two important facts:
It’s quite likely you are the father.
You have every intention of being the best father you can to this little boy, if he is in fact your son.
But still, it’s important in this complicated situation to ascertain paternity if possible. Why? Two reasons:
It’s important because the boy has a right to be reared by his own father, if possible. There are many situations in which, unfortunately, a child cannot be raised by his own biological parents. But if it is possible, he and his parents will both rightly want that to happen.
Likewise it’s important because the responsibilities of a man towards his own child are significantly different than his responsibilities towards children in general.
You’re a stand-up guy. If the boy isn’t yours, you’ll still wish him and his mother well, and you’ll do all the things that any decent man does to help the children of his community. But it would not be fair to you to expect you to rear a child to whom you have no particular connection, and it also would not be fair to the boy and his real father.
The two of them deserve the opportunity to be father and son, if that is possible. It would be an injustice for you to step in and presume the rights that properly belong to some other man.
What’s a Marriage Tribunal?
A marriage tribunal is something like a paternity test. A paternity test attempts to answer the question: Am I the father of this child? A marriage tribunal attempts to answer the question: Am I married to this person we’ve assumed until now was my spouse?
As with paternity tests, we don’t examine the validity of marriages except in difficult circumstances — situations where there is reasonable doubt. If you are separated or divorced, the question might reasonably come up. Whatever circumstances led to the separation might hint that no valid marriage was ever contracted in the first place.
Like a paternity test, the purpose of a marriage tribunal isn’t to give you the answer you want, its purpose is to give you the truth: Do I have a solemn and irrevocable bond with this other person, or do I not?
Photo: The Beirtan house for divorcing people, via Wikimedia. The photographer’s description explains: “This small building stands next to the church of Biertan (Birthälm). There was the habit to close there for two weeks the couples that wanted to divorce. Inside there was only a bed and the necessary to eat. It actually worked because in 400 years only one couple eventually decided to break up.” By Alessio Damato [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0].
Working backward through the title, we begin with some thoughts on the feast of the Chair St. Peter, as written several years ago in anticipation of today’s feast. Jesus has just given the eat-my-flesh ultimatum, and as others are leaving, our Lord asks Peter if he’s going, too. Peter’s response is one of my two favorite St. Peter quotes:
“To whom should we go, Lord? You alone have the words of everlasting life.”
. . . He doesn’t say, “Goodness, no, Lord! We know what you really have planned, and it all makes perfect sense.” He doesn’t even say, “Well, your forearm looks like it might be palatable enough, if I could call dibs.” Peter doesn’t have an argument. He cannot make the case that what Jesus is telling him he must do is perfectly reasonable. What Jesus is telling him to do is perfectly unreasonable. . .
Peter’s answer? Well. I don’t know how this can possibly work. I don’t understand it and it doesn’t make sense. But I know you, and I know what you have done so far. I know you can forgive sins. I know you can open the very gates of Heaven. Where exactly else am I going to go? You’re all I’ve got.
Um, I don’t really have any place better to be, Lord, so I guess I’ll stay.
This is an excerpt from the free Lord You Know I Love Youretreat. (You can find out my other favorite quote by clicking through and scrolling to p. 7.) The retreat is suited for use on your own or in a group, and comes with a pile of suggestions for how to adapt it for different situations. Two ways to use it this time of year:
Use it over the next week to reflect on what you’d like to undertake for Lent.
Use it during Lent to reflect on where you need to grow in your faith over the next year.
And finally, at Mass this morning, Father brought up in passing the topic of authority in the home. He was using the example of a father’s authority over his household as a way to explain to the children the idea of the pope’s authority.
People get upset about this idea. I think they are not paying close attention.
Here is something you must understand about marriage: No man becomes the head of his household until his would-be wife appoints him to that position. Likewise, every man who heads the family home has on hand for advice, admonishment, and loyal opposition the woman he chose for that work. This is not despotism. Marriage is the purest democracy we’ve got.
This time a year ago, my littlest homeschooler asked if she could go to St. Urban’s, the elementary school that serves several parishes in the region. We knew some of the families at the school and liked what we saw. She had made friends with girls her age at parish events. It was not an agonizing decision, because we had already been considering the move for about a year. We did a little more research and decided this was the time.
Our experience so far has been nothing but positive. Since this is Catholic Schools Week, let me share a few of the reasons we love our school.
Everyone is kind and friendly.
When I was researching the school, I spoke to a friend who had volunteered there and at a number of other elementary schools in the region. She said to me: “I can honestly say that St. Urban’s is what a Christian school should be.”
The administration actively works to promote kindness and encouragement among the students. Recently on the drive into town my daughter told me she had to write a persuasive paper, and she had chosen the topic ofwhether there ought to be school uniforms. She asked my opinion, and I gave her the long list of reasons mothers love uniforms (thank you, school, for a simple, stain-resistant, affordable set of uniform options). I finished up by adding, “And that way, for example, a mean girl can’t say oh your skirt is so ugly, because she’s wearing the same skirt.”
To which my daughter replied: “Mom. This is St. Urban’s. We don’t have bullies. The worst thing that happened is that Scholastica wanted to play with Benedicta at recess but not Ignatia, and then they all ended up playing together anyway.”
The friendliness is welcoming to me, too. The administration respects my time. The school’s academic reputation isn’t built on sending home young children with mountains of homework every night. We parents aren’t saddled with a bazillion overwhelming volunteer projects and fundraisers. When teachers or staff do ask for parent help, they take into account our varying circumstances.
I know some private schools have a “type” of parent, and if you don’t fit in you’re on the outs. Our school is truly Catholic — truly diverse. Not just in terms of race and national origin (though there is that), but also in terms of the parents’ professions, state in life, personalities, and dare I say it: social class. It’s not a prep school, it’s a parish school.
Our faith as Catholics is 100% supported.
The school Mass is both beautiful and edifying. Prayer is part of the rhythm of the day. There are Bible verses on the walls, a well-delivered religion curriculum, and an enthusiastic attitude towards Catholicism that permeates everything the school does. I don’t know all the teachers very well, but I know that the two teachers who have the most influence on my daughter both exhibit a sincere and profound faith.
Before she went to school, my daughter was homeschooled by me. There are ways the Catholic faith was shared in our homeschool that don’t happen at the parish school, but the reverse is also true. When I came to eat lunch with my daughter, I asked her as we sat down and pulled out lunch bags, “Do we wait for grace?”
“We already said grace in our classroom,” she said. “And also the Angelus.”
The children ate and then talked quietly. The teacher who was serving as lunch monitor complimented the children, as a group, on how her husband had been moved to tears by their beautiful singing that Sunday at Mass. The children swept up and prepared to leave. Before dismissal to recess, everyone stood and faced the massive crucifix in the cafeteria and prayed the second grace, thanksgiving after the meal.
My daughter’s teachers know her.
The school is small. There are about fifteen children in each grade (it varies), so that the total school enrollment hovers comfortably within knowable limits. (See here for the theory of Dunbar’s Number, andhere for TheNew Yorker’s explanation of it. I have found this to be true in practice.) My daughter has been with the school less than six months, and already knows the names of all the students except the very youngest. But more important me: Her teachers have time to know her.
When I went to the parent-teacher conference after the first quarter, the 5th grade teacher sat down with me and talked about my daughter. She talked about my daughter’s strengths and weaknesses; what she needed to work on; and how her transition to school was going. To all of it, my only answer was: Yes, you are correct.
I’ve been teaching and rearing this child for ten years, I know her. All these things you describe? That’s my girl. You’ve paid attention, you’ve gotten to see the real her, you obviously care about her. She’s not lost here. There’s a real relationship going on, rooted in both love and quantity-time spent together getting to know one another.
The curriculum is well-chosen.
Between homeschooling and my years of small-format teaching in religious education, chastity education, parenting classes, French, economics, logic, debate, apologetics, can’t remember what else, and maybe a little tutoring here and there . . . I’ve evaluated curriculum. Oh and I wrote a book that has a thing or two to say about how to structure a class.
If nothing else, I know how to see whether a class is working or not, and what is or isn’t successful.
Everything that happens at our parish school makes sense.
Sometimes the book the teacher is using is right off my shelves, sometimes it’s one I’ve never heard of before. But I am still waiting for the day when I see some assignment or activity and can’t figure out what the point is. Everything I’ve seen so far fits with the goal. I can immediately see why the teacher chose a particular activity, and how it fits into the bigger picture. There is no busy-work. Everything converges on a well-built whole.
Sure, I’d heard it was a decent school, but I wasn’t quite expecting it to be this good. I’ll take it.
The school makes the most of its strengths.
One of the mistakes people make about homeschooling is thinking that it’s supposed to be just like school. That approach doesn’t work. Homeschooling isn’t for that. Homeschooling has a dynamic that’s unlike school, and that’s part of the point. If you try to re-create school at home, you’ll be harried and overwhelmed. The trick to homeschooling is to make the most of the distinctive strengths that only homeschooling can offer.
My parish school does that too.
There are ways to teach and learn that can only happen when you’ve got a dozen or so students the same age. There are cooperative projects with other programs nearby that take advantage of St. Urban’s downtown location. Even the way the classes are organized teacher-by-teacher makes sense developmentally — at least in the upper grades, which is what I’ve seen, the right teacher is assigned to each grade and specialty subject.
My daughter loves it there.
No school can be everything to everybody. My daughter thrives on structure, gentle but firm discipline, clearly stated learning objectives, and frequent feedback via formal assessments. Any time a child changes school systems there’s an adjustment period. She didn’t arrive at school having mastered The Way Things Are Done Here. Her teachers brought her up to speed through a steady combination of clear correction and enthusiastic encouragement.
She’s a normal kid. Left to her own devices, she’d gladly sit around watching sitcoms and eating endless bowls of ice cream. There’s a time and place for leisurely pleasures, but what she gets at St. Urban’s — the reason she’s excited to go to school every day — is the profound happiness that comes from having her genuine needs met so well. Her need for love, her need for guidance, her need for growth: Everyone at the school works together to do their part in meeting those needs.
Addendum: About that award she got.
Some people from the parish who read this blog might be thinking You’re just all rosy in the afterglow of your kid getting an award after Mass this morning. Truth? It’s the other way around. I started writing this post in my head months ago, and sat on it because I kept waiting for the inevitable bad day to show up so I wouldn’t be all honeymoon-googly-eyes. I started writing this post on my PC earlier this week, but it’s been coming along slowly because my primary vocation keeps getting in the way.
And thus before I could finish writing, first semester Awards Day came around. You know what happened? They quick gave out certificates to the honor roll kids, and then moved on to the big event.
What’s the big event? Grade by grade, each teacher gave a short talk about two students in her class who merited particular distinction. One student was lauded for attitude, effort, and improvement academically — not for grades earned, but for the student’s perseverance and diligence regardless of academic difficulties. The other honored student was praised, in descriptive detail, for kindness, integrity, piety, generosity — all the virtues that aren’t about being Number One, and are about being more like Jesus Christ.
Yesterday I wrote about why ever-expanding parishes are a sign of trouble. This does not mean that a big parish is a bad parish; it means that if a diocese is growing in pewsitters but not in religious vocations, it’s growing spiritual fat, not muscle. The good news is that stored energy, in the form of pewsitters, can be converted into a healthy Body of Christ just as soon as the head makes up its mind to start doing the things it takes to regain spiritual vigor.
You should come visit St. William in Round Rock, Texas. We are the largest parish in the diocese with no sign of growing slower. Our post confirmation program retention rate is 4x the national average . . . and our parish faith formation programs (pre-k through high school) are thriving in ways that make our “mega church” work. We are also blessed to be a 100 year old parish in which the founding family still attends (and can often be seen in the trenches of service oriented work). We come from humble beginnings, have a multicultural background, and are rich in heritage – Mexican/Anglo/rich/poor, etc.
You should come talk to our priest, Father Dean Wilhelm, our adult faith formation director Noe Rocha and our high school and middle school youth ministers, Chris Bartlett and Gwen Bartlett (they are brother and sister). They are also co-founders of a mentoring ministry called Next Level Ministry, designed to help youth ministers get the most out of their programs.
Martina is behind the Jesus is Lord program, one of the key elements of St. William’s success, and which you can read about in detail:
FID and BPID are both best suited to intermediate-level lay readers. You don’t have to be a genius or on staff at the parish, and both books are eminently readable, but when my own discipleship group read FID, some of the members found the density of the book a little overwhelming. After you’ve read the book yourself, if you want to communicate and discuss the ideas in Forming Intentional Disciples with a broader audience of parish lay-leaders and future lay-leaders, the free CatholicMom.com study guide for Forming Intentional Disciples provides a snapshot summary of the key ideas and a few discussion questions for each chapter.