Catholic Family Vignettes

A collage of literary snapshots from the life of a large traditional Catholic family


January 2013


Wow…I’m truly humbled.  For the past several months, with all the harried-worried-scattered and battered days we’ve had, I had pretty much ignored this space.  So I was quite surprised that anyone, even a dear friend, would consider my little blog worthy of any kind of award, least of all one tied to one of my all-time favorite saints, the Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen.


Now…I’m certainly not a recipient just yet…there’s still this whole voting thing, and I humbly submit to you a list of candidates who are far more worthy than I in the category of of Smartest Blog.  Check out the list at A Knotted Life, where the amazing Bonnie has assembled quite a selection of nominees and categories!  And vote…sure, I’d truly appreciate a vote, but I promise you there are lot of amazing bloggers in the running, and a few blogs I was unfamiliar with and am happy to have happened upon.  Thanks to my dear friend, Ana Maria, for her sweet endorsement!

Shattered Innocence

An article I wrote in 2008 for Catholic Exchange. Happily, all the negative comments associated with its original publication have been removed, since it was allocated a new link…

I was nine years old when the beauty and innocence of my childhood faded…

I had been outside, riding my bike, when I ran in to get a drink of water. My mother, who had been reading the local newspaper, was quietly weeping.

I asked her why she was crying. I looked over her shoulder to see what she had been reading and saw a picture of the sweetest little boy. He had the face and smile of a cherub, a head full of dark curls, and very large, brown eyes. I asked who he was. I don’t remember his name, but I’ll never forget his beautiful face. As I gazed into those eyes, my mother told me his parents had beaten him to death.

He was four years old.

Perhaps my mom shouldn’t have told me; raw with emotion and lost in her own pain, she had blurted the words without thinking. I wept for another child for the first time in my life. This little boy would never ride a bike or run in the park. It was incomprehensible to my young mind. Almost immediately, my lighthearted nature and joy evaporated. A true depression, a sadness that I couldn’t articulate for many months, enveloped me. I lost interest in day to day pleasures. I quit playing outside. Fear and anxiety dwelt closely in my heart. My world was no longer safe.

It took several months before I could pull myself out of that depression. Nine years old and no one really knew just how disturbed, how profoundly changed I was by the death of a child I had never known. I kept my secret for many years and only recently shared it with my mother as we were discussing the importance of maintaining purity and innocence in the life of a child…


A state of blessed “unknowingness” that is markedly different from ignorance. So many of our children are increasingly subjected to sights, sounds, and situations which may mar or altogether destroy their innocence. Most Catholic parents are vigilant keepers at the gates of the family castle, seeking to provide a refuge against the irreligiosity of the world and its seductive whispers. We set up filters on computers, block-out television channels or eliminate commercial programming completely, screen videos and literature, and make every effort to know as much as possible about our childrens’ friends. Additionally, some of us have chosen “the road less traveled”: educating our children at home to shelter them from the storm of secularism and accepting the monumental responsibility that is inherent in being the primary role model of the seven cardinal virtues.

And yet…we can still be bombarded from the most unlikely sources.

As a vehemently pro-life Catholic, I’m well aware of the challenges that exist in spreading the truth about the horrors of abortion and the industry of death. I’m proud of the men and women who have put their very freedom on the line to protect our littlest brothers and sisters. These gentle souls, by their prayers and sacrifices, and their peaceful protests continue to send a message that is counter to the hatred that is so rampant amongst the pro-death camp. Prayer is, and always will be, the most effective way to counter evil in this world.

Alas, there are those within our movement who have begun to despair, and in that despair have sought to win souls and save lives through “shock and awe.” Graphic depictions of aborted and mutilated children are paraded on banners, emblazoned on trucks and carried on placards. These are real babies, little boys and girls horribly mangled and nearly unrecognizable. How heinous and frightening the reality of abortion! Is it any wonder that not a few young women have changed their minds after viewing these images? Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests For Life shares the following observation:
“There is no single thing that I have seen more powerful to change people on abortion than simply showing them the pictures… When people see what abortion does to a baby, they are stung to the heart and their consciences are awakened.” Should not our reaction always be one of fright, disgust and extreme heart-wrenching sorrow? When working against the hardened hearts of adults who have hidden themselves from the reality of the violence of abortion, it would seem that these tactics are particularly effective.

But what if you were six years old…what would you think? Could your parents explain it away in a nice, tidy manner that would make it okay to display this dead child’s body? Can a death so horrible, delivered by the hands of those who should love, protect and nurture this life be explained that easily to one so young? Would you be surprised if this young child consequently had nightmares after seeing these images; contemplating and hearing the horrible reality? Would it be surprising if eventually, after years of viewing these images, the child ceased to weep or feel revulsion, having become desensitized after having seen them so often?

I’m simply not satisfied with the answer that seems to imply that “the end Virgen_de_guadalupe1justifies the means” when it comes to exposing young children to images of such extreme and graphic violence. Our young and innocent ones should never be asked to bear this adult burden of knowledge. Somehow, I can’t imagine our Lady carrying one of these banners…I imagine Her banner would hold the body of another Innocent Victim. One that doesn’t scandalize the innocence of childhood, but convicts the heart of the sinner with a message of everlasting peace, love and redemption.

As a nine year old, I gazed upon a lovely photo of a child who had been murdered. Not his beaten and bruised body. A beautiful photo of a living child. And I’m haunted by the image and the knowledge of the death of that very small boy.

I believe these images are necessary and can be a powerful tool when placed in the right hands, and used properly. But their efficacy is certainly far below that of prayerful and peaceful protest. As we are trying to to change the hearts of adults, these images should never be used in the presence of young children. No adult, no matter how well-intentioned in this very important fight has the right to scandalize the innocence of another parent’s children. We mustn’t make the fatal mistake of discounting the sensitivity of our little ones just because we understand, because the stakes are so high and because we’ve begun to believe that only by extreme action will we accomplish our goals.

Have we really entered a place where we believe that the bloody image of an aborted child has more power to convert than the image of our Lord crucified? What of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe? Did not our Lady appear in radiant splendor, beauty Her banner, to counter the horrors of human sacrifice?

Evil is rampant in our world. We would never take our children into the “dens of iniquity” to show them that evil exists. It is scandalous to expose young children to a graphic depiction of any despicable, sinful or perverse act… we must preserve and protect their innocence with the same vigilance that we have for the babies being lost to abortion.

Last week, the children and I participated in a peaceful protest outside an abortion clinic, taking our turn as prayerful witnesses for the sanctity of life. No sign holding, no passing out literature. Just prayer. Remembering this: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words” – St. Francis of Assisi.

I am a Catholic parent…

The Holy Family...the model of perfection
The Holy Family…the model of perfection

Catholic parenting…how on earth does one do it, let alone define it?

In a perfect world one might say it’s “the loving and successful completion of child-rearing and instruction, put forth by two parents, to perfect one’s child in the areas of faith and morals as defined by the Catechism and Sacred Traditions of the Catholic Church.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t a perfect world, and at last check, there are no perfect parents or children residing upon it. Flawed humanity, with all its sins and vices, is raising the next generation, and that includes the next Catholic generation. Yet, in this country and others, amidst great challenges and persecutions, many Catholic parents are striving to impart a sense of the sacred, awake to the great beauty, majesty and richness of our Holy Faith and its spiritual and cultural significance.

Tertullian once said “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” thus giving rise to the notion that the Faith flourishes under seemingly impossible conditions. Today’s parents might be tempted to challenge that assertion, firm in the conviction that this crazy world and the people who live in it, put every possible obstacle in the way of the solemn charge to raise a holy people for the Kingdom of Heaven. It would seem that knowledge and desire, quite simply, aren’t enough.

Fear not! This task is not as formidable as it seems, for at the heart of it, is this promise from Sacred Scripture:

“Train up a child in the way he should go, And even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Proverbs 22:6

“…And even when he is old he will not depart from it.” The key word here is, of course, “old.” And old can seem so very far away at the beginning of this Catholic parenting journey. The “way” is often obscured by the noise and distractions of this mad world, which pushes and shoves its way into home and heart. How does one do this? Is it even possible?

Perhaps you’re looking at that sweet baby, nestled in your arms, wondering how you will ever show him the “way he should go,” particularly when the “way” seems so treacherous and fraught with every danger. Would it comfort you to know that parents have been doing this since time out of mind? That our own dear Savior, as an infant, had to flee the murderous wrath of a king and that His Mother and Father faced poverty, persecution and uncertainty with courage and resolve?

Perhaps you’re surrounded by the needs of many little ones, overwhelmed with exhaustion as the work of parenting seems to stretch onward to infinity. Would it benefit you to remember that the most beautiful images of our Blessed Mother show Him in her arms, pressed closed to her breast, a reminder that this busy time is yet a time of sweet joys, too?

Perhaps you’re reflecting upon the rebellious teenager asleep upstairs; the one who stayed up far too late playing video games and who is alternately sullen and good-humored, depending upon his mood and yours. Would it comfort you to imagine that our dear Lady understands? That her precious Son was often misunderstood and even in the eyes of His parents at least once engaged in behavior they found perplexing, as He was “about His Father’s business?”

Perhaps you’re worried about your adult child, the one that quit attending Mass some time ago…the one whose life seems a scandal and a trial in the eyes of the world. You wonder how you managed to give so very little of your faith to this wayward one and lament that you’ve failed in your duties as a Catholic parent. Would it help to reflect upon the twelve Apostles, who ate, slept and worked in the presence of the Messiah and yet, following the Crucifixion, engaged in behavior that was anything but faithful? Frightened by the sights, sounds and emotions of their salvation being accomplished, they fled in fear…

Perhaps you feel you never really imparted the “way” at all; that your own faith has been such an ongoing work that you believe you’ve missed your only opportunity to give this gift only recently opened or perhaps simply re-examined. Would it avail you to remember that God rewards the laborer, not so much for the time worked as for the intention behind the effort?

It can seem such daunting work, this Catholic parenting “thing,” and I’ve walked every single one of the paths described above. I am mother of nine children with more than 30 years in the field; I’ve paced the floor with the wee ones, overawed by the beauty of new life and the sweet burden of nurturing it. I’ve been through the exhaustion of those early days when children come much faster than the income to feed and provide for them all. I’ve lamented the distant teenager, walking the delicate balance between strength and compassion, failing at times to provide either. I’ve wept in sorrow for the adult child whom, though home educated, catechized and confirmed, still struggles with issues of faith. And I’ve begged God’s forgiveness for the first decade of my parenting years…years of pseudo-faith; years when being a “good person” seemed enough to identify myself as a Christian mother.

There have been so many starts and stops along the way, as I embrace my role as a Catholic parent. I’ve learned the best judges of hypocrisy are one’s children – they know, as no others, whether mom truly lives and believes what she teaches. I’ve had to humbly submit to the scrutiny of a growing band of Inquisitors, living with the daily realization that it is whom and not what is in the home that truly makes it a domestic Church.

As a Catholic parent, I’ve learned I simply must impart more than just a “view from the pew” version of my faith. When I live my faith out loud, in my everyday choices, and embrace a view of life that is not only faithful, but faith-filled, I demonstrate so much more than my words will ever convey. Faith becomes real and virtue is magnified, because the hard choices are the ones in opposition to those that often seem the least demanding.

The hardest choice that I’ve ever made as a parent is to embrace the imperfections of my children and myself; to live with the realization that from all eternity God had chosen me to mother these particular children. I have to continually acknowledge my weakness so that He can be strong. I made a solemn vow, long ago, admitting my imperfection and inadequacies, but I promised that if He would just continue to point out the flaws within my children and me, I would faithfully work on those areas. I asked Him to remove my parental blind spot and to expose the spiritual, moral and physical dangers that I might overlook. I vowed that I would never shrink from my duties to address those areas, despite my fear, sorrow or embarrassment. He has always answered that prayer, and though I’ve not always been as faithful as I’d like to be, I’ve truly tried to hold up my end of the deal, persevering in the midst of sin and suffering, sure that each challenge and crisis has already been envisioned by He, who knows my strengths and weaknesses. He continues to prove Himself as faithful, as the perfect parent ever watchful over His child, always mindful of the end and the means.

It’s so easy to allow oneself to become weighed down with the awesome task of guarding the body and soul of one’s children. There is so much anxiety, when I contemplate the transitory and passing, I often miss the glorious moments and memories in the here and now. As I contemplate my 30 year journey as a Catholic parent, I don’t find myself wishing I had washed more dishes or folded more laundry; I lament the times I didn’t stop in the midst of the mundane to observe and participate in the wonder and beauty of life unfolding around me. I regret that brief period when I so narrowly defined my role that I nearly became a spectator, lost in the myriad activities and ideas that seem to reinforce what the world perceives to be “good enough” parenting.

“Good enough” parenting never really is. Catholic parenting, on the other hand, always strives to be. We may fall short a thousand times, but with the grace of Faith and the gift of the Sacraments, the remedy to all our failings is as close as one’s parish Church and as simple as the prayers uttered in faith and trust.


A merry band of carolers…

Who can outgive God?  Who among us can give gifts better than He, who gave the gift of salvation to us all, through the “fiat” of a humble Virgin, the cries of a wee babe, and the anguished suffering of a Son, well loved and sacrificed that we might live?

This Christmas, in the midst of fear and pain, our Lord gave…and gave…and gave…using the hands and hearts of friends and family, weaving a mantle of love that surrounded us so securely, so gently and lovingly, that we wondered at His generosity.  All things were attended to…the care of our children…the food on our table and in our cabinets and freezer…prayers and Masses…financial assistance and gifts…sweet, precious and personal gifts to each and everyone of us…but none so precious as the hearts of those who gave.

Yet, in the midst of this flood of Christian charity and friendship, the ultimate gift and sign of His blessing and benediction came in the simplest form:



carolers2A merry band of carolers, on a snowy eve at sunset, came to us.  They sang of”Silent Night” and “Adeste Fidelis.”

carolers3Of “little towns” and mangers…of hope.

carolers4Of joy…

carolers5…and love.

carolers6We stood, tearfully, joyfully, bathed in the gift of song, awed and humbled at these tidings of great joy…

momdadcarolersHe will never be outdone in generosity…but it is His simplest and most beautiful gifts that are often overlooked.  It is the beauty of seeming ordinariness, exquisite in its simplicity, as the hands and hearts of His people come together to sing His praises…

You changed my sorrow into dancing,
You took away my clothes of sadness
and clothed me in happiness.
I will sing to You and not be silent.
Lord, my God, I will praise you forever.
Psalm 30:11-12


Blog at

Up ↑