St. Gabriel – Not to be confused with the archangel.

St. Gabriel – Not to be confused with the archangel.

Today (February 27) is the feast of St. Gabriel Possenti, also know as St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows. I actually have a fun personal story about this particular saint.

stgabriel

St. Gabriel Possenti was a Passionist, living in Abruzzo (the Italian region where my family is from) during the 19th century. He’s the patron of students, young people, and the Abruzzo region.

My great-grandmother had a special devotion to him, as she grew up right next door to the church that housed his incorrupt body. I always heard growing up that my she and her family used to take care of this body, and that our family was blessed because of this.

In my crazy, imaginative Catholic child brain (the same one that thought magical things would happen if you’d only apply a little holy water), I heard this story about “St. Gabriel’s body” and was perplexed. “How does an archangel have a body?”

Different Gabriel, kid.

But still, this question bothered me for years until the advent of Google and just goes to show how truly ridiculous my mind is.

A few years back, I started doing a little more research on this saint, and stumbled upon a link to a website about St. Gemma Galgani, who lived after Gabriel’s death, but had visions of him throughout her life. I was immediately taken with Gemma. Her diary is beautiful and has been a true help to me in the last few years. I really believe God sent Gemma to me right when I needed her, and used Gabriel to introduce us.

This is what is really amazing about the communion of saints. As Catholics we believe that when we pass from this world, we are not dead, but alive in Christ. We are all part of His body. And just as we ask our friends on earth to pray for us, we have friends in heaven that will also give us their love and their prayers. We have a family that loves us, and nothing can separate us from each other, not even death.

The story of St. Gabriel and his friendship with St. Gemma is a real testament to this. And in particular for me, it’s a reminder that saints aren’t always ancient people from distant, far-off lands.

They’re family.

 

What to do when Mass hurts

What to do when Mass hurts

Raise your hand if you’ve ever cried at Mass.

I don’t know for certain, but I get the sense this is a very common thing.

To be honest, I’m not sure why Mass is often so tear-inducing.

Sometimes it’s a manifestation of Jesus healing something deep within us, and your body manifests this in tears. Sometimes when you feel his presence that’s all you can do. A nun once told me that this is called the gift of tears, but I might not be remembering that correctly.

Other times, though, those tears aren’t about the beauty and the glory of God- not in the obvious sense, anyways.

Sometimes, they’re about pain.

Whenever one is dealing with grief (whether it’s infertility, a painful diagnosis, a death, etc.), it’s common knowledge that one of the absolute most painful places to be is at Mass, particularly on a Sunday.

Why is this?

God is Truth. And when you’re right there in the presence of absolute Truth, you can’t hide your wounds. You can’t cover them up and lie about them to yourself, and certainly not to Him. He brings all things into the light.

And when those wounds (loss, jealousy, confusion, a lack of faith, whatever it is) are exposed like this – it hurts. And it doesn’t take much to send you over the edge into full-blown sobbing.

The priest says something that makes zero sense to you in your situation. You hear a little one scream in the back. You notice a family with living children. Or you see an engaged couple when you’ve been praying for a spouse for years – and your heart just cannot bear it.

“God bless them,” you think. You wish them nothing but the best. But seeing them makes even more obvious the massive, throbbing wound in your own heart.

And you can literally feel the knife in your chest.

What, then, are you to do – besides pray like heck that no one notices your uncontrollable tears?

Trust me – it’s not fun (especially when you’re the cantor and you’re desperately trying to clean your face up before standing in front of EVERYONE and announcing the next hymn).

We could go on and on about why you should or shouldn’t feel what you’re feeling, but that’s besides the point.

That pain is real. So let’s you and me get real for a minute.

The next time you feel that happening – whether you’re hit with a surprise infant baptism after the homily, or an unbearably adorable family of seven, or a little old lady who reminds you of your grandmother you lost long ago, here’s what you do:

Look at him.

As the tears are streaming down your face, look at him. Stare intently at the Eucharist, and as that knife is twisting it’s way into your heart, let yourself feel it. Try to accept that actual, in-the-moment pain and offer it in union with Our Lord’s suffering on the cross, and in reparations to his Sacred Heart.

I know it can sound overly pious, but in a practical setting this is the way you get through this. Acknowledge the real, physical pain of your grief, and try to think about how wounded his heart is, and keep each other company that way. Even to the point of picturing yourself on the cross with him.

I remember several years ago when I had it out with a priest on the phone for something that he did during Mass that really upset me, and I said, “I don’t come to Mass to be crucified.” But in the years after I had said that, I realized, well yes, I do. I mean Jesus sure does. And we’ve been given this amazing opportunity to join him there. Even if it doesn’t feel amazing in the moment.

And sometimes, when you’re looking at him in that way, through the pain of your own crucifixion, you’ll feel him looking back at you as he says, “This day, you will be with me in paradise.”

Anima-Christi

 

How Not to Hate Winter

I’ve always dreaded Januaries.

Maybe it’s because the post-Christmas solitude often feels empty and uncomfortable.

And it’s cold outside.

Instead of counting the days until Spring, I’ve decided this year to find ways to enjoy the long, dreary winter and live in the moment. I’m baking. I’m watching old movies. I’m visiting people. These are all things that you can do any time of year, of course, but somehow they seem like they belong to the winter.

And of course, celebrating post-Christmas winter traditions helps too. For example, we did out first ever Epiphany house blessing where we chalked the door.

20+C+M+B+17 stands for the names of the three magi, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, and it also stands for Christ Bless this House in Latin.

The changes in the liturgical calendar really help to keep us centered. Ever since I started going to daily Mass, being aware of the different feast days and their associated traditions has really made my life feel more full. (Actually, if you’re interested in a really cool blog on liturgical living, check out Carrots for Michaelmas. I’m a big fan).

But of course, as with most things, there’s a deeper level of this “living in the moment” thing. I’ve been trying (for the last year) to step away from all my plans and dreams, and just exist. I’ve been trying to stop thinking about what I should be or what I would like to be and just be, well, me.

Specifically, I’m trying to just be God’s daughter.

Many years ago as I was talking to a priest at my high school, I told him, “You have no idea how much fun it is to be someone’s daughter.”

I was speaking in reference to my human parents, but I meant it in respect to God as well.

Being able to love someone as their daughter is a unique gift. I really believe this, and I think that is also why it hurts so much for people when their human parents are unable to allow their sons and daughters to love them.

And even if our earthly parents aren’t perfect, we have this opportunity to be in a love-filled relationship with our heavenly father.

What does this look like?

Jumping into his arms to hug him at the end of the day. Crawling into his lap when we’re sleepy or scared. Pouring out our hearts to him and listening as he does the same with us. Stopping by his house to say “hi” in the middle of a busy day.

It’s pretty simple, really. He’s Dad. I’m Connie Ann. And this is where I am right now – trying not to worry about the future, or whether or not there is anything else that I’m supposed to do or to be. If he wants me to do something for him he’ll let me know. For now, I’m just going to sit right here and be his little girl.

3 Phrases About Catholic Family Life that Need to Change

Let me say right now that I fully support and accept everything the Church teaches as true. If there is error in the following, please let me know.

Full disclosure, I’m not a theologian, and the following article is solely my opinion.

Now that that’s out of the way…

In my life as a Catholic woman (28, almost 29 years), I have noticed that in our beautiful, rich, life-affirming culture as Catholics in this country, certain phrases or sentiments have taken root in our lexicon that:

A) Over-simplify the truth to the point of becoming false, and

B) End up hurting people unnecessarily as a result.

Notice that in all of these statements, the problem in the second half of the sentence. We get the “what” right, but our “why” needs a little refresher.

 

Phrase #1: Women are sacred because they “bear life”.

Everyone assumes all women have wombs, and they extrapolate on that. (Example, Alice von Hildebrand in her final chapter of The Privilege of Being a Woman). “All women” have the capacity to bear children, therefore we’re sacred.

The problem: Women are indeed sacred—but not all of us have the capacity to bear children. In fact, not all of us even have wombs (I don’t). Not all of us are called to be physical mothers, and hinging our value on that doesn’t work. At best, it’s only hitting the surface, and ignoring the tremendous depth of what it truly means to be created female. At worst, it’s hurting tons of women who aren’t perfect and making them question their identity and sense of belonging as a daughter of the Lord.

Solution: Let’s avoid the kitsch and get right to the honest truth: Women have a beautiful calling from God to love and nurture and support and encourage and help everyone around them. God calls women to all sorts of beautiful vocations that reflect this: some to be mothers, some to care for the elderly, some to teach, some to guide, but all of us are called to LOVE.

 

Phrase #2: Marriage is like the Trinity because when husband and a wife love each other SO MUCH their love becomes a new person, a baby.

We’ve all heard it before, either in CCD, Catholic school, or even an occasional homily. It’s sappy, it’s cliche, and it’s not entirely true, either.

The problem: Here’s the thing: it’s true that marriage mirrors the Trinity, but this particular phraseology is ridiculous. The Father and the Son didn’t create the Spirit- the Spirit was there from all eternity. This statement sends the message that marriages to which God doesn’t grant children are somehow not complete, not successful, or worse, not even real. Furthermore, many beautiful, sacramental, fruitful marriages do not result in children (CCC 1654).

Solution: Let’s re-write this: “Marriage mirrors the trinity in that the love of a husband and wife radiates new life.” Marriage is life giving, but this doesn’t always mean physically. It means that the love in the marriage generates a spirit of love that spreads outward, affecting the world around them. And that is a beautiful thing.

Phrase #3: That’s a “Good Catholic Family” because they have enough children to fill up the pew.

This seemingly innocent phrase is commonly uttered regarding families with 6 kids under 10 with one on the way. Or, you know, a minimum of 5.

The Problem: NOBODY LIKES THIS. If you ARE a big family, you don’t want to be put on display, and you know that your life is far from perfect. You’re probably embarrassed when strangers say it.

If you’re NOT a big family, this kind of talk makes you feel like you are living contrary to God’s will. Almost every infertile or sub-fertile Catholic that I’ve met in my life has admitted to feeling supremely judged by their fellow parishioners. People assume that they are using contraception, or that they’re afraid to say “yes” to God, when really their “yes” just looks a little different. (Yes, I’ll accept this cross. Yes, I’ll accept another humiliating family gathering, Yes, I’ll accept another excruciating loss.)

This kind of talk, which is embedded into our culture as Catholics, is not only false, but also extremely hurtful all around.

Solution: Do we want to encourage the faithful living of vocations? Absolutely. Does holding up someone’s blessings as evidence of their faithfulness achieve this? NO. In fact, it borders on Osteen-esque Prosperity Gospel. Come on, people, we know how wrong this is. Think of the man born blind.  Let’s talk more about the reality of life, the reality of crosses, the reality of holiness, and stop assuming things about other people, period. We know that blessings come because of God’s insane generosity, not because of our glittery awesomeness. Holiness comes from the cross.

Being a Good Catholic Woman

Being a Good Catholic Woman

What a week in the world of Catholic women’s blogging.

On the one hand, we have this awesome article from Haley Stewart at Carrots for Michaelmas, Things You Don’t Have to Do to Be a Holy Catholic Woman.

Brilliant piece, and remarkably, one that an infertile female like myself doesn’t feel excluded by. I’m very happy that someone took the “wear skirts and homeschool your 10 kids or else you’re going to hell” people to task.

And then there was this garbage– and article that takes a narrow view of womanhood, and says that working outside the home means you’re “indulging in disordered emotional appetites.”

I expected better from Catholic Answers.

 

Being a stay at home mom is a beautiful vocation, and there are many good articles about that. This was not one of them.

Denying that women can find fulfillment in work, denying that many women are called to other or additional vocations beyond motherhood is not Catholic, not true, and not very nice.

Defending your vocation by putting down others is NOT acceptable.

Here’s a direct quote from this article:
“Even if I disliked most of the duties involved in homemaking, I would still do it. Once again, it’s about accepting God’s will and fulfilling the role he appointed—even if one is not titillated by every aspect of that role. Ironically, my working friends will often use this same rationale in defense of their boring jobs, though they will try to stop me from using it.”

Excuse me? “Boring jobs”- God called me to a wonderful vocation of being a wife–and a writer. And a singer. And a composer. And other things yet to be discovered.

 

Almost every female saint contradicts what this author says.

St. Zelie had kids AND her own business- and one of her kids is St. Therese!! St. Elizabeth Ann Seton had children, and she founded a school.St. Theresa of Avila was a brilliant scholar. St. Catherine of Siena was a powerhouse of thought. St. Mother Theresa, enough said. Sts. Agnes, Cecilia, Gemma, Therese, Mary Magdalene– none of these women were stay at home moms, and yet all of them faithfully followed a vocation given to them by God.

 

Really, I have three words for this author:

Joan of Arc.

Rant over.

 

 

 

Whoever gives up children for my sake…

Today’s Gospel has a very special place in my heart.

Peter began to say to Jesus,
“We have given up everything and followed you.”
Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you,
there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters
or mother or father or children or lands
for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel
who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age:
houses and brothers and sisters
and mothers and children and lands,
with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.
But many that are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Mark 10: 28-31

I’ve been touched by this passage before, and I was super excited that it surprised me at Mass today. It’s like Jesus was speaking right to us. Knowing that we will never have our “own” kids without a surrogate, and therefore giving up “our” kids for the sake of the Gospel. I know they say there’s no getting pregnant in heaven, but it reminds me that God is going to do something great, and somehow I won’t be sad about it anymore.

 

I promise I’ll write better posts soon, but I felt it was important to get this out there into the world today for someone.

Love,

Connie ❤

What Disney’s The Little Mermaid Taught Me About God

What Disney’s The Little Mermaid Taught Me About God

Everyone who knows me in real life knows I’ve had a life-long obsession with Disney’s The Little Mermaid. My dad still tells the story of how when I was a toddler, I would say, “Daddy, tell me about Ariel,” and he had no idea who she was. (Crazy, right? That’s because this was circa 1989-1990 and movie was still new.)

I’ve always identified with her. I had that feeling of being different, wanting something more, wanting to experience the world. I loved to sing (still do), and I even had reddish hair (I was strawberry blonde as a little kid, though my hair turned golden blonde when I got older). As a kid, I spent all summer swimming underwater in my grandparents’ pool, pretending to be her. I still know all the words to “Part of Your World”, which basically was my theme song as I was going off to college.

I basically am Ariel. But putting that aside…

Something about the story in the Disney version had stood out to me recently, and it relates to infertility, but it really applies to any cross that one could carry.

It’s about trusting in God’s goodness.

Ariel had a dream. She wanted to be human. In fact, you could say that she was called to be a human. She loved everything about humanity, and was in love with one human in particular. She knew this was where she belonged. But she had one big obstacle- no legs.

She wanted legs so badly that she was tempted to make a deal with the sea witch. The sea witch gave her those legs- but only temporarily (three days) and at a tremendous cost- her voice, as well and her freedom. Next thing you know, she finds herself changed into a human, but in danger of drowning, trying to swim to the surface. She has legs, but no voice, no clothes, and no way to win the prince’s heart before her time is up and the sea witch takes her captive.

How much is that like sin? We want something so badly, sometimes we fall into sin to get it. Generations ago, they called this “making a deal with the devil”- because that’s what it is. He’ll give us what we want, sort of, temporarily, at the cost of our freedom in this life and our soul in the next. It’s a rotten deal. You can’t really get what you want: peace, happiness, love, and fulfillment.

Ariel fails. She loses that deal with the devil. She’s turned back into a mermaid and taken captive by the sea witch. All seems lost.

Until her father, the king, steps in.

The deal was made. He can’t break it. So out of love for his daughter, he steps in an takes her place. (Sound familiar?)

The battle happens. The sea witch is defeated. The captives are set free.

And there we see Ariel, the little mermaid, still without legs, still longing to be human and be where she belongs. Her father sees this, and his heart is moved.

He uses his power to make her human. And she gets to keep her voice. And instead of leaving her underwater and without clothes, her transformation leaves her on the beach, clothed in a gorgeous sparkly dress, and in the arms of the prince she loves.

Of course, they live happily ever after.

Ariel messed up. But her dad loved her anyway. And he made her dream come true.

Sometimes we have dreams, or even vocations, that seem impossible. Unbelievable, even. But here’s the thing- just like Ariel, we have a Father who loves us. We need to believe that. He really is full of goodness, and he can and will take care of us in his love.

All we need to do is trust.

Romans 8:28 ❤

 

 

 

 

Dear infertile Catholic, it’s ok to be different

Dear infertile Catholic, it’s ok to be different

The world promises you comfort, but you weren’t made for comfort. You were made for greatness.

-Pope Benedict XVI

Last week, a marketer on Twitter assumed I had daughters. Granted, it was a doll company, so it wasn’t the world’s most unreasonable assumption. Still, though, it felt rather uncomfortable.

I politely tweeted back that I won’t be blessed with daughters as I have permanent infertility, but I have always loved dolls.

Crickets.

The next day, they tweeted back “I have a sister who is adopted. And you can be a mother to people through…” Fill in the blank with the same spiritual motherhood things you hear all the time as an infertile.

Now, I don’t bear these people any ill will, but I’m bringing it up here to say why is it that when people hear “infertility”, the first thing that pops into their head is that I’m interested in adoption?

Sure, plenty of people with infertility decide to adopt… but the two do not go hand in hand. Still, there is a lot of pressure on infertile couples to “just adopt” (as if it’s that simple). Why?

Maybe it’s because people are Pollyannas, always looking for an up side. Or maybe it’s because our society likes to have quick fixes, and sweep any pain or suffering out of sight as quickly as possible.

Maybe it’s a deeply ingrained assumption that marriage must always include children, at any cost, no matter what, or it’s not real. At least not as real as those marriages with children.

The truth is that God has a plan for each of us. And each one is unique.

When Christ calls you out on the water, what can you do? It’s wet and it’s cold and it’s scary, and everyone else thinks you’re nuts and tries to convince you to stay in the boat. But once your eyes are caught by his penetrating gaze, how can you do anything but move towards him, no matter what it takes?

Giving up our adoption feels like that–like stepping out of the boat when everyone is telling you that you need to stay put. And though part of me wants to cling to that security, I know deep inside that I have to step out onto the water.


 

Have you ever had a moment when you knew God was asking you to make a choice that no one else was going to understand?

 

 

When your path isn’t His path

When your path isn’t His path

Sitting in my living room during the Blizzard of 2016 seems as good a time as any to finally write my first blog post of this year.

2015 was the year of dreams. In just 12 months, by the grace of God, I accomplished all this:

  • I did the Whole 30 twice and lost 27 pounds between January and September.
  • We fulfilled my life-long dream of visiting England. I’ll never forget it as long as I live.
  • I finally became a full-time writer! I love my new job writing marketing content in the heart of Washington, DC.

If you’ve been following here, though, you know there have been some internal struggles. We started an adoption home study, then stopped, all because I froze and didn’t feel right about it. And I stressed over it, a lot. So much that I gained 20 pounds in the last 3 months. Ouch.

After months of serious, consistent, intense soul-searching, we’ve decided to postpone adoption all together. How do I feel about this? Relieved. Sure, I’m a little uncertain about what it means to be a married, childless Catholic. I always assumed that not having a uterus meant that I was therefore meant to adopt. I have learned now that this is not so. And while it is sad to know I will be childless (at least for now), it is also liberating to know that God is in fact leading me on HIS path. Yes, liberating. I feel free. Relieved. Peaceful. My path was not His path, and now I know that. Having handed Jesus the wheel (thanks Carrie Underwood), I am now free. Which leads us to my theme word for 2016:

TRUST.

It’s a little terrifying scary when you know that your life has to change, that you have to give something up that is good, but not for you. It’s almost like breaking up with that long-term boyfriend that’s just not the one. It requires a lot of trust-something that I don’t really have, but I’m working on. I mean, really, why can’t my path be a “normal” one-marriage, kids, family, etc.? I would be so nice to just fit in. But I know that that is not for me, not now. Instead, I’ll be focusing on my health, my new career, my marriage, my house, my relationships, and my faith. I know this is where I’m called to be. And there is peace.

Romans 8:28 ❤

For Nothing is Impossible with God

For Nothing is Impossible with God

Any day you get to sing “Hail Holy Queen” at Mass is like, the best day ever.

I mean, maybe it’s because of Sister Act, but singing “Salve, Salve, Salve Regina” at the top of my lungs in church is just… exhilarating.

But it was more than the music at today’s Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in DC that struck a deep chord with yours truly.

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (meaning Mary’s conception, not Jesus’), and day one of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

The gospel reading was the story of the Annunciation, when the Angel told Mary she would conceive Jesus. And the angels words end,

“And behold, your cousin Elizabeth has conceived in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren. For nothing is impossible with God.”

Nothing is impossible with God. Not even curing “her who was called barren.”

I’ve usually avoided this gospel passage, for obvious reasons, but today, my reaction was totally unexpected. My reaction was…

Tears. But not the sad kind. The excited, hopeful, wow God is awesome kind.

No, I don’t expect a miraculous pregnancy (although, God, if that’s what you’re feeling these days, I’m not objecting). But I know that there is hope.

I’ve recognized that I am a wounded, broken person. There’s the physical- the broken, unconnected pieces of a uterus that never developed. But there’s also… and stick with me here… broken, unconnected pieces of woman-ness that never formed. That part of me that still feels like a confused young kid stuck in a woman’s body, and doesn’t get why the grown ups are happy and excited when new life enters the world. That young teen that’s completely oblivious to maternal feelings. In a way, my physical reality mirrors my physiological and spiritual reality. But that can change. And herein lies the hope.

Today, God, I offer you this broken, unformed uterus and this broken, unformed spirit of womanhood. I know that in your mercy, you will take these pieces and make from them a new creation, so that she who was called barren will become a real and complete daughter and servant of yours and for your glory, for nothing is impossible with God. Amen.