Unhand the Cheerios…

cereals in basket

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Both kids were scheduled to work this morning, so we went as a family to the five o’clock Mass at St. Pius. It was the first time we’d gone there together — gorgeous church, lovely organ music, and the homily was short, sweet, and … a little crunchy.

The priest observed that every parish in America sweeps up at least a pound of Cheerios each weekend — a kind of divine detritus (my words) left behind by parents of small children who just want to be able to pray for five minutes. Then one day as he was watching his two-year-old nephew grow frustrated over trying to play with a truck with two fistfuls of Cheerios, he said, it made him realize that Cheerios are the perfect metaphor for human desire. “God holds out the truck, and we won’t let go of the Cheerios long enough to take it. But that’s what God is asking … he wants you to let go of the Cheerios,” he explained.

I looked at my mother, sitting so intently next to me. It has been only about three weeks since our priest gave her the anointing of the sick while she was in the hospital with pneumonia — for her, it was a sacramental windfall that included first confession, first Eucharist, confirmation, and last rights. Thank God, she recovered … and has been eager to go forward to receive Jesus each week. Her eyes just light up with so much joy, you never would have guessed what a miracle it is that she was standing there at all.

I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say that I was brought up believing Catholics aren’t “really” Christians. So to see God work it out so that my mother goes forward to receive Jesus each week is a little … strange. I’d had two aunts (one on either side of the family) who had married Catholic boys, and it didn’t end well.  (Interestingly enough, one of them — my namesake — wound up tending to my grandmother in her later years. I so admire her.)

All I know is that, for the past two years, mom has been going to church with us each week … and remaining in the pew as the rest of us went up. She would say all the prayers, and sing along to all the hymns, and listen intently as our Nigerian priest would break open the Gospel. At night I would tuck mom in and read to her from some of the books I’m currently working on, and one day she pulled out one called Catholic and Christian by Dr. Alan Schreck … and we started reading THAT.

Next thing I know, she’s telling Fr. John that she wants to be a Catholic. I’m not sure exactly why. Maybe it’s because her Catholic daughter rescued her from memory care prison. Maybe it’s because I refused to give up praying with her for her marriage. Maybe it’s because … well, maybe it’s because we were both ready to let go of the Cheerios, and hold out our hands for whatever God wanted to give us.

And so we did. And you know what? It was even better than we thought.

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Labor Pains in the Church

This morning the top story on my Facebook newsfeed was a post about the sudden resignation of one of my former profs at Sacred Heart Major Seminary — one of the few female professors, who had taught there for decades. God alone knows the full story, and the point of sharing even this much is to acknowledge my own grief and dismay over just how broken the Body of Christ has become. Color me naïve, but never in a million years would I have suspected just how widespread this sickness had grown.

go bravelyThen, mercifully, a bit of light came in the form of another post, this one by Ave author Emily Wilson. Like me, she has grown weary of the brokenness that has surfaced in the Church. In her post, “Labor, Delivery, and Our Sick and Sorry Church” she compares what is going on in the Church today with the painful realities of childbirth, particularly C-section:

There are evil men in my Church who have abused their power at the expense of thousands of innocent people whose lives are forever altered by such abuse, and  … spineless cowards … who have covered for these monsters and done absolutely nothing to protect the vulnerable except turn a blind eye and pretend to be exhibiting “leadership.” Any person with a brain would wonder why anyone would stay when the continued cover-ups of abuse and corruption go so deep and wide it is unfathomable.

But on that Sunday in the hospital, as I sat on my bed with my baby in a clear box on wheels next to me, and this woman held up the Eucharist, I received “His body, given up” for me. Those words I had spoken to my baby so many times the day before this Eucharist…they are the reason I stay.  

To be Catholic is to understand that pain and suffering is not without purpose when it becomes a purifying force, joined to the sufferings of Christ. In his March 2002 homily that was later picked up by the Los Angeles Times,  my friend Monsignor Clem Connelly observed, “What’s happening is good for the church,” he told parishioners. “Bad for its image, maybe, but good for the church. In some miraculous way . . . through the growing of the Holy Spirit in the church, we will find our way to a new day in which there is more honesty, courage, faith and accountability.”

That was more than fifteen years ago. So much has happened since that time, and yet his words continue to hold true. The pain and suffering of the faithful — innocent laity and clergy alike — are like the labor pains of the mother whose body has betrayed her, and must be splayed open in order to give that child life. “This is my body, given up for you.”

Give us strength, dear Jesus, not to waiver. And give us sustaining faith that we might never turn away from the scalpel of the Great Physician.

On the Feast of Holy Innocents

peek babySee, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them as their God;

they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;

he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

morning and crying and pain will be no more,

for the first things have passed away.

Revelation 21:3-4

Close on the heels of Christmas joy comes a solemn feast, in which we recall the children slaughtered by Herod’s soldiers in his insatiable quest for power. Nowhere are the names of these innocents recorded for posterity. All we know is that the Church remembers them each year as martyrs, souls who suffered unjustly, and in that suffering made participants in the reign of God. In their brush with Immortality, the Word made flesh, they themselves were made immortal.

From life to death to life eternal, this is the pathway each of us has been called to walk. In the past year, thousands of souls have made that journey toward eternity, to experience a new kind of “Emmanuel, God is with us.” Perhaps you lost someone dear to you this year, too, and have experienced the truth of the words of Mother Teresa:

Death can be something beautiful. It is like going home. He who dies in God goes home even though we naturally miss that person who has gone. But it is something beautiful. That person has gone home to God.

Is there someone you need to release into the arms of God right now? Someone whose absence weighs upon your heart with longing and regret? Or do you know someone who is fighting this all-too-common human battle, and struggling to endure? If so, close your eyes and feel the prayers of your sisters in faith, who are praying for you right now. You are not forgotten. If not . . . please join in the prayer, for those in need of strength.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta, mother of the heartsick and suffering, pray for us.

heidi-2013 About the Author

Heidi Hess Saxton is a Catholic wife and adoptive mother of two teenagers, and author of Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta and Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Servant). This year she spent Christmas with her elderly parents and sisters, who gathered in Georgia to spend one more Christmas baking cookies with their mom, who is ready to go meet Jesus. She would appreciate your prayers.

Losing a Job without Losing Your Mind

hot waterIf you’re a follower of my other blog, “Ask a Catholic Editor,” you know that two days ago I lost my job as editorial director at Servant Books, an imprint of Franciscan Media.

Yes, it sucks as much as it sounds like it does. Let’s get that out of the way first, so no one accuses me of not living in reality. No one likes to be blindsided like that, and it is a real hardship suddenly to have my family’s much-depended-upon income cut in half. (Thank God my husband’s job is still going strong.) BUT . . .

When people have reached out to me, they are surprised to find that for the most part, I’m really okay. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’ve had three different jobs in the last six years, or simply because I’ve always considered my job as a calling. Maybe both. In any case, I really do believe that God is going to show me the next step when it’s time to . . . step. Meanwhile, one of my FB friends, Martha Fernandez-Sardina, sent me an email I wanted to share with anyone who might be going something similarly dreadful, because it was for me a much-needed encouragement and source of perspective. Her note read:

“RECOMMENDATION…”

  1. Thank God!
    • For the time spent
    • For friendships made
    • For the goals achieved
    • For the lessons learned
    • For what he has in store.
  2. Take a break.
    • Physically
    • Emotionally
    • Mentally
    • Professionally.
    • Heal.
  3. Assess.
    • Strengths and weaknesses
    • Wants
    • Needs
    • Opportunities
    • Challenges
  4. Laugh. Love. Live!
    • Replenish “happy chemicals” endorphins
    • Spend time with friends
    • Laugh hourly
    • #GetLove
    • #GiveLove.
  5. Don’t forget.
    • This too shall pass.
    • #RememberYouAreLoved

Still need a bit more encouragement? Check out my friend Sharon Wilson’s blog post series on surviving “the layoff.

The Gift of Perspective

j0438992As weeks go, it was not exactly the stuff memories are made of — not good ones anyway. In our extended family, one was diagnosed with prostate cancer, another had a gall bladder removed, a third was hospitalized a second time for serious mental health issues. The school called, reporting an incident with one of the kids. On Valentine’s Day, my husband went to have a suspicious growth removed. Plus there was the whole matter of the relentless white stuff that God kept pelting down from heaven like some cosmic snowball fight he was determined to win. Oh, and our ceiling is leaking from our (second floor) bedroom to our (first floor) kitchen. If I’d lit a candle for every intention, I would have set the church ablaze. Yes, one of those weeks.

But as I sat down to lunch with a friend yesterday, she looked at me and said, “I can tell life is good for you right now. You are glowing with happiness.”

The funny thing is … I feel happy. My life is infinitely better than it was this time last year. Sure, we have to move (again) in two months … but it’s to a job I love, to work with people who give me freedom to do my best work, and trust me to do it well. Yes, my child had a problem at school … but both my kids are HOME, and I get to tuck them into bed at night. Yes, our heating bills have been more than $800/month for the past two months … but we have been able to put food on the table, even so.

The sick relatives are a bit tougher. It’s always hard when a family member is hurting at a distance. It’s natural to want to lift their burden, or at least carry part of it for them. More than anything, you want to do more than pray.

But sometimes … sometimes trusting God is the only thing to do. When we open our hands and offer our burden back to God, we become conduits of grace to bring about God’s will in this world. And that is no small thing.

So, go ahead. Light that candle. Pick up that rosary. Breathe deeply, and speak aloud your intention not to let worry and fear prevent you from trusting the Creator of all things good. Ask God for the gift of perspective, that knows our heavenly Father does not leave his children burdened by life to their own devices. Rather, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “He shouts to us in our pain,” making us stronger and more compassionate, better able to recognize and respond to the hurting world around us.

At some moment of our lives, each of us is called to live in the Pascal Mystery. Is God calling you to carry your own cross, in the footsteps of Christ? Or is he asking you to follow at a distance, like the Blessed Mother? Both are needed, but you will only have grace enough for one.

Mommy Love: Guest Post from Sarah Reinhard (The Love Project, Day 11)

Sarah ReinhardToday’s guest post is from one of my favorite “mommy bloggers,” Sarah Reinhard, who is also celebrating her birthday today — happy day, sweetie! And thanks for sharing a snippet from your newest brainchild — a wonderful resource for pregnant moms.

I had a few years of enjoying young children in the form of younger siblings and nieces and nephews before I was married and started having my own. I thought I was ready for the reality of children saying the darndest things.

Nothing, though, could have prepared me for the hilarity—and heartbreak—I have experienced as a mom. From my children’s mouths I’ve heard tender expressions of love but also explosions of anger. They’ve made observations that have lifted my spirits and others that have cut me to the quick.

When Mary and Joseph find Jesus after three days of searching for him (see Lk 2:42–51), they must have had some heat in their words to him. Maybe I’m projecting a bit, but maybe worry is, to some extent, a natural reaction of parents to the experience of losing a child in a crowd or a store.

What I learn from this mystery is how the story continues with him going home and being obedient, even in the face of what seems to be a smart-aleck remark from Jesus—”Didn’t you know where I’d be?” This seems like it would be a prime time to uphold parental authority, but in the silence, I find a lesson in humility.

Jesus was in the Temple all along, though his parents didn’t know it and had to search for him. Their inability to find him didn’t change where he was the entire time.

In the Temple, Jesus was listening and asking questions much like a typical twelve-year-old. Yet he was anything but typical. I find comfort, though, in the idea that he wasn’t born with all the knowledge he needed. In this way, his humanity is expressed in this mystery, as is the quandary of his parents: do they punish him after this or are they so glad to find him that they just let him off the hook?

In this mystery, we can find ourselves at Jesus’s feet, asking for the guidance to be the kind of parent he’s calling us to be. Though it’s early in the journey of parenting this particular child, we don’t have to wait to ask to be able to cooperate with the graces God sends our way in our parenting journey.

This excerpt is from A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy: Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism, by Sarah Reinhard and is used with the author’s permission. Find out more about Sarah and her writing at SnoringScholar.com.