Sunday, September 26, 2010

CCE, Week 3

CCE is not for sissies.

My kids range from refusing to talk (two of the girls) to refusing to be quiet (two of the boys). Almost all of my kids are going to be doing first reconciliation and first communion this year. Given their confusion with our lessons (and these kids have all been in CCE before), I'm not sure how on earth they're going to pass their first communion interviews. One kid gives joke answers to every single question. I think he's afraid of being wrong. I don't feel like there's any way I can do enough in an hour a week to teach them the basics of the faith. When we're only focusing on these fill in the blank answers while I'm trying to maintain order, I have even less of an idea how I'm supposed to teach them about the joy of receiving the Eucharist.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How I came back to the Catholic Church

I guess when I think back to when I had the first thoughts of coming back to the Catholic Church they all started here. But I suppose the seeds were planted much, much earlier. I was born to two non-practicing Catholics. I was baptized in Mexico City, at an old chapel, probably to appease my paternal grandmother. I never really attended church regularly, but there were times when I did. In 5th grade, I was attending a Lutheran school in Bakersfield, CA. I wanted to go to church there, so my father took me most Sundays. We moved and that ended. Fast forward to high school at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago. For some strange reason, I started attending daily Mass, even though I had never had first Communion or CCE (or as it used to be known, CCD). We moved again, and I went to a diocesan school in Erie, and it was there in my senior year I became Episcopalian. Mostly because I was really afraid of going to confession.

I attended church for my last one and a half years in high school, and for my freshman year in college. Since I was basically un-churched through most of my life, and there were few other Episcopalian students I knew in college, I drifted away and became an atheist. My turn towards atheism was the product of hanging around with charismatic Episcopalians. I never "felt" anything, so I thought there must be nothing.

Life went on. I got my degree in physics, and met my wife-to-be (as you now know) at in interview in New Mexico. We were the sort of couple that for the first couple years of our marriage were pretty much your standard secular humanist types. Our sacrament was the Sunday New York Times (world and politics for me, fashion and crosswords/puzzles for Brynne).

We decided to attend graduate school, so we ended up in Boulder, Colorado. This certainly excited my liberal secular sensibilities. I was thrilled to live in a town of (mostly) like minded individuals. For some reason, we decided to start attending a church. I don't remember why or when really, but it just happened organically. I felt that there had to be something that created existence, a first mover if you will. I would later discover that this idea was something written about nearly 800 years ago by Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Anyway, I persuaded Brynne that via media was the way to go. It was liturgically traditional, which was something that attracted both of us, but theologically liberal. It was there that we first met the ever thoughtful Reverend James Cavanagh, who ran the student ministry. The church was perfect for us: a nice house to study during the day (with a full kitchen!), and the real deal was the $20/semester parking right next to Brynne's department. We made friends, had a church wedding, and everything was settling into a nice pattern. We were busy with graduate school and active at the church. The first cracks started to appear when Brynne got a book at the Boulder Library. The book was by Elaine Pagels, a scholar of gnostic studies. Brynne wasn't really impressed by the book, but it spurred me on to read the New Testament (NRSV). In reading the Gospels in particular, I started to, particularly with regards to divorce, I started to question the Anglican tradition. It was at this time the whole Gene Robinson debacle broke. This issue proved to be divisive in our little college parish. I made it into the Pauline letters, and started to question my own thoughts on his ordination. Initially, I thought "what was the big issue about?", but again it started chipping away at my Anglicanism. How could a church both promote and condemn same sex relationships? There seemed to be a lack of consistency.

Dipping our feet in the Tiber

Anyway, we went on a vacation to my in-laws house in Illinois. We were having a good time and enjoying some well deserved time away from research and classes. One afternoon we were sitting on their couch and watching TV. We happened across a channel with two priests talking about philosophy. It was kind of interesting, and no one was around, so I kept watching. Brynne came by and initially was surprised, but also got sucked in. We learned that the channel was EWTN, and the show was called Web of Faith. The vacation ended without consequence, and we began our long drive back to Colorado.

Now what happened next requires a little bit of explanation. I usually am the driver of the family - before we had kids, after the kids: I almost always drive. Brynne is good at many things, but navigation is not one of them. Everything was going fine on I-80, until we hit Des Moines, IA. I was asleep and Brynne unknowingly got onto I-35 southbound for Missouri. Several hours later I woke up and said this didn't look like western Iowa. We stopped at the nearest gas station, found out where we were, bought some ice-cream and planned our next move. We would drive through Kansas.

We were cruising through Kansas when we kept seeing signs for the "Cathedral on the Plains". I've always enjoyed going to cathedrals, and we decided to stop since it was only a mile off the highway, and seeing as how we were already severely detoured, we figured "hey, why not!". We walked into the Cathedral, and looked around. It was gorgeous inside, and we were the only people there on that late summer evening. As we were walking out I saw a schedule for monthly programming on EWTN. Since I liked the little bit of one show, I would see what else was on there. If nothing else, it would be kitschy and fun for a while.

Life went back to normal, and we started going back to church, where the whole Gene Robinson ordination was still pretty hot talk. I started reading some histories of the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church. I read about the Lambeth conference in the early 20th century that changed the stance on contraception. It started to make me question my faith even more. I started reading theology, which was something I had not done since high school. I started having serious doubts about Anglicanism in general, but the idea of being a Catholic seemed opposite to everything I had believed for most of my adult life - I was a pro-choice, pro-contraception libertarian. If this was going to happen, then I was going to have some serious choices to make. So one night in bed said I was thinking of leaving the Episcopal Church. I think Brynne thought I was nuts, but wrote it off.

That changed with Father James gave us a little book on the night before we were headed out to a Ben Folds concert at Red Rocks. The little book was an introduction to patristics, or studies of the early Church Fathers, also known as the Didache, I remember Brynne reading the first line of it to me while we were getting a quick dinner at a McDonalds drive through window.

There are two ways, one of life and one of death; but a great difference between the two ways.

I think this little book made up my mind, but Brynne's hard decisions were just on the horizon.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Sometimes it strikes me that my parents must wonder why on earth I'm Catholic, since I didn't grow up that way. We went to the Congregational church and once my brother was through confirmation in junior high we sort of stopped going. They accept the Catholicism, they really do. My mom has fallen in love with patron saints and will say the "Holy Tony" prayer when she has lost something. My dad is very quiet about the whole thing. My conversion also started our family much sooner than it would have otherwise and now I cannot imagine my life without my oldest. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Back to the beginning.

I never would have become Catholic if I hadn't met my husband. I was 21 and off on a site interview trip from Iowa State with a bunch of other engineering students. I wasn't sure I wanted to work for Intel, much less in New Mexico, but it seemed very grown up and exciting to have plane tickets and a rental car and a hotel room all so they could decide if they wanted to hire me. The first night there was a dinner for the dozens of college kids they'd brought out and as we all milled around the lobby waiting for the banquet room to open I literally had a "Some Enchanted Evening" moment. I saw Christian across a crowded room and couldn't stop looking at him. I barely spoke to him that night as he ended up with his friends at another table, but I was definitely struck by him and his blue eyes. He was looking for someone to go running with, but I completely chickened out on that since I have never been a fast runner. A friend of mine from Iowa State said she'd run with him the next day. Oh, well, there goes that, I thought. Besides, I had a rule about how much taller than me my boyfriends needed to be and we were the same height. Just as well, I thought, I"ll probably never see this guy again. The next morning, thought, as we all filed in for breakfast I saw those eyes and walked up to him and said, at warp speed, "Hi, I'm nervous and when I'm nervous I need to talk, so can I eat with you?" He said sure and we started talking. We went through our separate interviews that day, he went running with my friend and I managed to get into his car as we all carpooled to Macaroni Grill to talk with Intel employees. I didn't sit next to him in the car, or at dinner, but we did realize that we both loved They Might Be Giants. After dinner a group was going out to the bar but I've never been a fan of bars, so somehow Christian and I ended up going out CD shopping together instead. I bought Severe Tire Damage since I didn't have it already and he grabbed an Ella Fitzgerald CD a few minutes before closing since he was having trouble deciding. We had nothing to do in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, so we just drove around, listening to our new CD's. On his there was "Love is Here to Stay," and for some reason I blurted out that I'd always planned to have that be the first dance at my wedding someday. Smooth, right? Talking to a guy you met yesterday about your wedding? That embarrassment was soon trumped by a police siren. We got pulled over because he'd inadvertently driven onto a reservation road that closes after dark. The tribal police (really) soon figured out that we had no clue where we were and let us go home. We sat in the hotel parking lot with our seats reclined, listening to music until 2 a.m. He and my friend had found a local road race to do the next morning and since I was in decent shape, I said I'd love to do it, too. Yeah...

The three of us went to the road race the next day. My friend from school won the women's race. Christian ran at my pace the entire time even though he could have run much, much faster. I decided that meant he liked me and so I asked him if he wanted to do something together that day. I wanted to look at some kayak rivers in Taos and it would be a fun road trip. Unfortunately Christian said he had promised to visit some friends of his parents since he'd told his mom he'd be in Albuquerque and she'd set it up. This had me thinking that maybe this guy really, really thought I was psycho after the whole wedding song moment. He did ask me if we could eat dinner later the next night, so that seemed better.

After the race I was back in my room when I heard a knock on my door. It was Christian, telling me that there was a severe snowstorm near Taos and I probably shouldn't drive my little rental car up there. He had to go to meet his parents' friends, but we were still on for dinner. How sweet, that he didn't want me to do something dangerous. I spent the day driving around Albuquerque trying to find the mall so I could buy something to wear to dinner. I only had my wrinkled clothes I'd already worn and jeans and a fleece with me since I'd planned to do river scouting. I bought khakis and a buttondown shirt at Gap so I'd look cute but not like I was trying too hard. We met up and then used the free tickets Intel had given us to ride the freezing cold Sandia Tramway and then went to dinner. At one point I asked him if I could at least pretend this was a real date, since I'd been on a long string of really awful first dates recently. (The guy who took me to see the super violent movie "Reindeer Games" and the guy who was obsessed with Celine Dion and his Chevy Nova were the true highlights there.) I explained that I was having such a good time with him that if I called this a date it would change my luck. He did not like calling this a date one bit, so I decided that at least I'd had a fun weekend with a nice guy who was simply realistic about the fact that we went to different colleges. We ate dinner, drove back to the hotel and just could not stop talking. It was getting really late and we'd barely slept the night before, so we went to his room and laid there on the hotel bed (fully clothed, mind you!) talking and talking. Neither of us wanted to say good night. We talked until morning and went out to breakfast together. His flight left several hours before mine did and I offered to go to the airport at the same time so we could keep talking, but he told me that he'd feel better about me driving if I slept for a few hours. Again, with the sweet concern for me. Then he gave me his lucky Lego man that he'd brought with him to the interview and kissed me on the cheek. I've never been more excited to be kissed on the cheek than I was at that moment. Later he told me that he'd called his dad on the way to the airport and told him he'd met the girl he was going to marry. Much, much later I found out that he was teased mercilessly by the rest of the guys from Mines who assumed we'd hooked up. Nice, guys. Real mature.

Over the next few weeks, we emailed each other, talking about how much we wanted jobs at Intel, then admitting it was really about how much we wanted to see each other. We would stay up talking on the phone until we were both almost asleep, always ending our conversation with "I miss you." I finally decided to drive out to Colorado to visit. The first night I was there he said that he hadn't wanted to say it over the phone, but now that I was here he could say, "I love you." And then he kissed me. We spent the whole weekend going to all of his favorite places in Golden and Denver. Three weeks later he came out to Ames during finals week. I didn't study for anything. We could not seem to spend enough time together. We walked around campus and I told him all about the Iowa State traditions. That night we walked around Lake Laverne three times without talking and when we stopped, he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I was not expecting that, seeing as how we'd met six weeks earlier and I thought guys were supposed to resist commitment. Honestly the first thing I said was, "This isn't a practice proposal, is it, where you don't really mean it yet?" Once he reassured me, I said yes. We decided to keep it completely secret.

He went back to Mines for graduation and I had some summer work in a research group at MIT lined up. I went home for a few weeks in between and Christian called me to say he'd bought me a plane ticket to come out to visit him at his parents' house in Pennsylvania for Memorial Day weekend. I was beyond thrilled. We'd talked about getting married after I graduated that coming December., maybe going out to Big Sur with our families. Being around each other again made that seem so far away. One night we looked up the regulations on marriage licenses in Pennsylvania. The next day we went and applied for one. There was a waiting period from the time you got the license to when you could get married, which was the day *after* I was scheduled to fly home. We changed my ticket. We scheduled our appointment with the Justice of the Peace. On the way back to his parents' house we told the grocery store clerk what we were about to do because we were so excited. We weren't going to tell anyone else.

The morning we were going to get married I decided to make cinnamon rolls. I was so jumpy and excited that I didn't let the scalded milk cool enough and killed the yeast. Christian ate one of the resulting non-risen cinnamon rolls to make me feel better. I dumped the rest in the trash. We made some excuse about going out somewhere and when we got in the car, he played "Love is Here to Stay" from the CD he'd bought the weekend we met. He ran back into the house because he'd forgotten the cash to pay the Justice of the Peace. We were both so excited and amazed that we were doing something so impulsive. Our wedding time got moved up 15 minutes because someone hadn't shown up for something related to a parking ticket. We got married, two months to the day after we met. We didn't even have rings. We went to the beach and walked around in the sand, just trying to take it all in, that we were husband and wife. Then reality set in and we realized we should probably tell our parents. Shock doesn't begin to describe it. My parents had never even seen him in person. It took quite a while for everyone to get used to us being married, us included. People thought I must be pregnant (I wasn't), people thought we wouldn't make it a year, that we were making a terrible mistake. We knew we wanted to be together. If you'd told us then where we'd be in ten years we would never have believed it. It didn't seem like it, but our whirlwind courtship and elopement was the beginning of my path to the Catholic Church.

Next installment -- actual conversion story, I promise!


Desperate times call for desperate measures, which in my case means that I started teaching second grade CCE yesterday. This wouldn't be so odd except that my kids don't go to CCE since we send them to Catholic school. They were running short on volunteers and after a plea to the church moms' group I originally signed up to help prepare crafts for the younger grades. Then our incredibly charming DRE told me about the twelve kids who were signed up for one of the sessions but had no teacher. I have never taught CCE before, but since I have already done Virtus training I am apparently fully qualified. The next cathechist training modules aren't scheduled until later this month so I went in with nothing but the teacher's manual and a quick prayer that I don't mess anything up too badly.

Turns out I had nothing to worry about. My high school assistant had volunteered previously and knew where everything was in the classroom and how the sessions were typically run. The eleven kids who came today were sweet and earnest. Even the boys who didn't want to sit still were answering questions and paying attention. Only one boy tried to get the better of me, claiming that I didn't even know his name, so how could I let the DRE or his parents know if he misbehaved. I proceeded to point to each kid, calling them by their name, completely without my class list. He was suitably impressed and was pretty good for the rest of the class. Everyone else seemed pleased I knew their name already. I got through the lesson and everyone happily went home with their work in their folder. I enjoyed teaching and Christian enjoyed the time he got to spend with the kids. The only thing I am changing next week is to mix up where the kids are sitting so it's not one table of boys and one table of girls. Maybe that will give us a slightly calmer classroom.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Daily Mass

I wish I could attend daily Mass. I see other mothers doing it and feel I should be able to do the same. So we're giving it the old college try for a week.

Sick kids and husband on a holiday = no way we're going.

Pete's first day of preschool, which conveniently is located at our parish and begins right when Mass lets out. Although he went last year, I think he was wary of going and this made it hard for him. To begin with, the priest's microphone wasn't making it to the cry room, so we just got to hear the reading and psalm. It's hard to tell a kid to be quiet and listen when there's nothing to hear! He would not stop talking loudly, tried to climb on the pews and kicked me. I was starting to worry that I'd set him up for a bad day at school, but his teacher (Kate's godmother, by the way, how blessed are we with that class assignment?) said he did great.

The Nativity of Mary was today, so I had Pete make a birthday card for Mary all on his own. It had lots of stickers: flowers, a cross, WWJD, a bat, a jack o'lantern and a Chimchar. Hopefully Mary likes Halloween and Pokemon. Pete was terrific through Mass (no yelling, no kicking) and talked quietly. This is progress, right? After Mass we gave Mary her birthday card, which an older woman thought was sweet. I have been on the wrong end of some glares from older ladies at Church when I'm there with the kids before so that was quite nice.

Pete climbed over a pew while I was nursing Kate and somehow managed to get a giant scrape on his leg from a kneeler. Hysterical crying from baby, displaced from nursing and into the stroller, and Pete, injured, while I held him and calmed him down. We managed to make it through Mass, just barely.

I'd promised Pete a trip to Chuck E Cheese if he was good, since we'd had a decent week. He demanded to go before Mass, then got into a seriously bad mood when I told him that he couldn't, that it wasn't even open. He was determined to not be quiet and then after the readings I realized I'd left my keys in the door of the car. I've always been slightly absent minded and having to haul all of the things two kids need around with me has only made it worse. I'm pretty sure the car would have still been there when Mass was over, but enough crime happens around here that I wanted to go get the keys immediately. So we parade out of Mass.

After this week, I have decided that we are not called to be attending daily Mass at this point. When it is a struggle to simply be in the space and prayerful participation isn't even an option, I don't see how I'm teaching the kids about the wonders of the Mass. Just because other, younger kids can sit there nicely with their mothers does not mean my kids can.

Pete agrees with me. As we were playing one afternoon, making up songs, I sang:

Pete is great! Pete is cool!
Pete loves to go to his big boy school!

And Pete chimed in:

But Pete doesn't like to go to chuuuuuuurch!

At least he knows how to speak his mind.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Mary is our mother in heaven, so it's only right to celebrate her birthday. I'm trying to celebrate more feast days in our everyday lives using Catherine and Peter Fournier's series of books about the domestic church.

I'd intended to make an angel food cake since I had two cartons of eggs in the fridge. I opened them up and found only eight eggs. Hmmm... I then made a silver white cake with white mountain icing (thanks, old school Betty Crocker cookbook!) instead to keep with the white theme for Marian feasts.

Pete always enjoys helping me bake.

A few candles were artfully placed by the boys.

Singing is praying twice!

I am hoping by getting their attention with cake on a weekday that I show them how important to our lives these feasts of our faith truly are. Happy birthday, Mary!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Small Victories

I am always struggling to be more organized. I actually pray about becoming a better housewife since it would do the entire family so much good. One tiny step in the right direction happened today. My son's school uniforms are all hanging in his closet, ready for the week. The last time that happened was the Monday before Kate was born, almost exactly eleven months ago.

He's always shown up at school on time, with the right shirt for the right day, but I was always running around the night before (or even sometimes that morning) trying to dredge up a uniform from the infamous Mt. Laundry. This pile has been waxing and waning over the summer, but has never quite disappeared. If all goes well tonight I should reclaim that corner of our family room. I am very much a Martha, worrying about everything being right and never getting it all done, then whining to my husband for help, which he enjoys so much. Every time that reading comes up at Mass, we drive home to me ranting about how the apostles needed to eat, didn't they and who exactly was going to feed them if everyone just sat at Jesus' feet? Sigh.

I'd love for the house to be clean so our evenings could be more open, so we can just spend time together and maybe even start some sort of prayer/spiritual reading habit as a couple. We've been married for ten years and Catholic for six of them, so you'd think we'd have that sorted by now. Nope. So I am celebrating my small victory of organized uniforms by clearing a moment of tonight's decluttering time to spend with my husband. Then back to conquer Mt. Laundry!