Some say that it is now ‘open season’ on Catholics in America. That anyone who is faithful to the Church’s teachings – indeed even her hospitals, colleges and schools – will now be persecuted by our federal government, and that many of our great institutions will have to close.
Remember that the Church has survived ferocious persecution in the past. Recently, I visited a ‘priest’s hole’ in a still-functioning roadside tavern in England. The owners thought of it as a quaint artifact, with no clue about the terror and torture that Catholics faced in the England of “Good Queen Bess.” Such is the power of cultural amnesia.
On a practical level, you will have similar challenges in raising your family that I had/have. It is time to FOCUS. Your job is to protect your family:
NEVER take the easy way. You will regret it later. This goes for food, education, socializing, TV – everything.
REMEMBER that kids are like sponges. They absorb all influences around them, so you MUST BE VIGILANT about what these are.
REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE IN CHARGE. This goes especially for teachers, social workers and shrinks – they will NOT have to live with the consequences of their decisions as far as your kids are concerned – YOU WILL.
FIND A GOOD PRIEST. The Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP) is a good place to start, or any Latin Mass community. You need other faithful families around you so your daughters will have friends. This is CRITICAL so they do not feel ISOLATED growing up.
YOUR NUMBER ONE EDUCATIONAL PRIORITY is to make sure your daughters can read with ease and for pleasure. Reading is still the best way for them to reach out beyond their immediate environment to worthwhile thoughts and places, to reach the Truth. DO NOT rely on the schools to teach them this, or you may be disappointed. The best way to do this is to read to them when they are young. (HINT: When they are 6, 7 or 8, try reading exciting adventure stories like Nancy Drew, but very slowly. Soon they will become impatient and grab the book out of your hand. Presto!)
BE CLEAR-EYED ABOUT CONSUMERISM. You do not need the latest styles, or the approval of your Facebook friends. I wore old clothes for years, and dressed my kids in consignment clothes until they were 12. I refused to buy videogames or pay for cable TV and insisted that my kids work menial jobs when they were/are teenagers. But my kids saw Europe, and got serious scholarships.
SHOW YOUR KIDS THAT THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE TRULY ARE FREE. I took mine to Church where they were exposed to great music and liturgy, every Sunday no matter what. All homemade food, served with style. When I had no money, I could still put a sheet on the table with a candle. I could still read them to sleep. I could still pray with them.
LEAD, do not FOLLOW. Do not worry about lecturing too much. Do not try to be ‘friends’ with your kids.
“You will have challenges in raising your family: No guaranteed income. Bad influences on TV and the internet. Bad-to-mediocre schools. Bad-to-mediocre clergy. Weird neighbors. Friends and family who go off the rails. A culture that derides your basic beliefs.”
Finally, PRAY for the grace you need to be a good wife and mother.
My grandmother Concetta came to America as a young woman with nothing but the good family and strong faith of her village in Italy. She married, had 6 kids and buried her second son at age 2, while she was pregnant with my father. When my dad was born 3 months afterwards, she named him “Vittorio Angelo” – “Victorious Angel.”
Grandma Concetta had a hard life. My grandfather drank. She had to send two sons off to WWII, and she died from the stress when she was the same age I am now – an old woman, worn out. But she taught the Faith to her sons and daughters, which endures now to her great-great grandsons, recently baptized. I never met my grandmother, but her Faith and goodness profoundly influenced my life nonetheless. In fact, I would say that it was the SINGLE GUIDING LIGHT of my entire life.
THIS is what we pass on. THIS is our legacy. The Faith is, in the end, all that matters. And truly, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.
There is a growing epidemic rushing through our country unlike anything we have ever seen in history. Even though it has invaded our homes, our marriages, and even reached our children, leaving havoc in its wake, the media will not mention it. Today, pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry and it does not seem to be slowing down. Through the internet and our iPhones, pornography is overwhelming huge numbers of, particularly as I see it, Catholic men, and it is hard to underestimate the terrible effect it is having on husbands and their families today.
Porn addiction is like any other addictive drug. It is a form of slavery, leaving one feeling empty and guilty, yet searching for more. In his heart man knows that with pornography he has lost his God-given dignity, his freedom, and become a slave to his passions. Thankfully, many regularly come to the Sacraments to receive healing and strength. Trusting in Divine Mercy is always the answer.
Pornography is destructive for various reasons but perhaps most importantly because it strikes at the heart of our interior life and numbs our spiritual senses to the invisible realities that necessarily guide our life. “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Purity is the necessary condition to seeing the invisible world. One has only to think of the purity of innocent children and their amazing capacity to see God’s presence all around them.
Yet the first effect of impurity is blindness of understanding: one can no longer see spiritual realities and the thought of eternity disappears. As St. Alphonsus Ligouri writes, “When a raven finds a dead body, its first act is to pluck out the eyes; and the first injury that incontinence inflicts on the soul is to take away the light of the things of God.”
Man’s fallen nature is so weak that he must recognize the need for God’s grace to live purity. St. Alphonsus writes, “Man cannot of himself acquire the virtue of chastity: God alone can give it.” Prudence therefore dictates that we must avoid the near occasion of sin and beg the Lord in prayer to receive the grace of chastity. Some of the saints have recommended three Hail in the morning and at night in honor of Our Lady’s purity as a proven practice to obtain this grace.
Some suffer from unchastity precisely because they are too self-reliant and proud and the Lord therefore does not immediately bestow the gift. St. Alphonsus states that humility is as necessary as self-control in the fight for chastity: “It happens, not infrequently, that God chastises the proud by permitting them to fall into some sin against purity.”
The great promise given to us by the Lord is that for those who humbly acknowledge their weakness, prudently avoid near occasions of sin, and ask the Lord for help, the grace is always there to overcome the temptation. “God is faithful, and he will not let you to be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you will be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
In this technological age we live in, I also see a grave mistake being made by far too many parents and I wish I could warn them before it is too late. Parents who allow their children, particularly their teenage boys, to have unsupervised access to the internet are inviting impurity and destruction into their families. I wish more parents understood that boys are learning from the internet that girls are to be the plaything of men, mere objects of pleasure.
Absolutely no teenager should have a computer with internet access in his or her bedroom. A house computer should be in a public space, have internet filters installed, used only when the parents are supervising, and regularly checked for the history of the web searches. Once again, parents are making a grave error when they give their children unhindered access to the internet, in particular with their sons. It is not that they do not trust their boys, but that parents need to have a clear understanding of the effect of Original Sin, traditionally called concupiscence; parents who are not attentive to this weakness in their sons will learn to regret it later.
Two good websites today to help men with addiction to pornography are www.integrityrestored.com and www.pornharms.com. There are also two very good pamphlets available: Breaking Free by Stephen Wood and The Pornography Pandemic by Patrick Trueman.
I hope this will help create awareness of this epidemic and help for those who have hope of restoring their dignity after having lost their way through impurity. May Our Lady inspire and protect our families from this onslaught in our culture today.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Father Greg Markey is the Pastor of St. Mary Roman Catholic Church in Norwalk, Connecticut. The parish, located in a suburb of New York City, is a vibrant, growing one, with a strong tradition of celebrating the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.
And then you will fight your way through the crowds of reverent gown-gogglers. From sweet-faced English teen girls to dignified great-grandmas, we ladies are bewitched by “Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950,” the current runaway hit at London’s Victoria & Albert museum. From demure white creations for English debutantes at Queen Charlotte’s Ball to racier red pieces designed for the red carpet, more than 60 dresses from across the past six decades are featured in all their sexy, glamorous glory.
“Ah, Audrey Hepburn,” sighs one octogenarian in classic Givenchy, to her ginger-haired grand-daughter in a school uniform. “She looked lovely in that dress. Do you remember?”
“Yes, mum,” the teenager responds absently. She doesn’t, actually remember the actress still dubbed “The Most Beautiful British Woman of all Time,” but the sheer drop-dead gorgeousness of the dresses they are inspecting together has taken the wind of adolescent cynicism out of her sails.
Nearby, earnest design students sketch furiously, drawing pads resting on one skinny hip. Their studiously hipsterish garb notwithstanding, these students of fashion know they are in the presence of Great Genius.
Everyone is entranced by the black-and-white fashion films from the early 1960s projected on the museum’s great white wall. We watch as a matronly young Queen Elizabeth and her jet-setting sister Princess Margaret admire a parade of fashion models pirouetting gracefully in the Earl of Somebody’s stately home.
“If you want your daughter or grand-daughter to be civilized, I say, you’ve got to give them a good reason to respect the fine arts,” a Tory dowager stage whispers to her friend, who nods sagely. The place is teeming with young ladies, all delighted with the new Fashion Galleries, and the atmosphere of preparing for a ball in a grand country house.
That Fabulous Fifties Look
RAVISHING: There’s simply no other word for it. Debutantes on their way to be presented to the Queen (above).
The ingénue Audrey Hepburn in a black-and-white fantasy (above).
LADIES OF THE NIGHT: Balanchine’s immortal designs (above)
and a velvet-and-silk taffeta cocktail version, in midnight black (above).
Princess Diana’s Lovely ‘Elvis Gown’
We are bewitched, entranced and delighted by Beauty. Indeed there is something mysterious, uncontrollable and other-worldly about it. That is why Beauty has long been considered an attribute of the Divine.
But it is the sheer beauty of the dresses that makes them sigh with desire. So, what is it that draws us to the Beautiful? Men love beautiful women. Women love beautiful things. We are bewitched, entranced and delighted by beauty –indeed there is something mysterious, uncontrollable and other-worldly about it. And no matter how ugly the world we live in becomes, somehow no power on Earth can quite stamp out our response to Beauty.
Of course, Beauty has long been seen as an attribute of the Divine. For a Christian view of this phenomenon, see Saint Augustine, a 5th century libertine-turned-Doctor-of-the-Church who famously penned the lines, “Late Have I loved Thee, oh Beauty so ancient and so new!”
The Popes of the Counter-Reformation understood our profound attraction to beauty, and turned Rome’s 450-odd churches into a symphony of the Baroque, extolling the beauty of the Faith. Today, millions of tourists crowd the Eternal City, gawking at these world-famous masterpieces by Michelangelo, Bramante and Da Vinci. Untaught, most sense the profound emotion of Man reaching towards the Eternal.
But not all Christians have been so sanguine about Beauty. America’s stern Puritan ancestors were in fact part of long line of Christian iconoclasts who saw the Devil’s work in man-made Beauty.
America’s Puritans were originally English, of course. Most hailed from the flat grazing fields of East Anglia, where they fomented a battle with the Crown that they eventually lost quite badly – but not before Cromwell’s soldiers had rampaged through England, smashing the medieval beauties of stained glass and sculpture that the Anglican Church had inherited from the Catholic culture it had unseated.
In contrast, the Catholic cultures of southern Europe have always viewed earthly beauty as a reflection – albeit a poor one – of the Divine Beauty. Similarly, the urge in us to create beauty is a reflection of our Creator’s infinitely greater passion for it. Both are an intrinsic part of men and women, being as we are “made in the image” of our Creator.
Our urge to create beauty is a reflection of our Creator’s infinitely greater passion for it.
Hence the issue of feminine modesty – and why Christendom as a culture has always sought to protect a woman’s beauty from being abused. This is NOT because Catholics are a bunch of prudes who hate sex.
The late Pope John Paul II drew on that great body of thought – part of the treasure house of the Church – when he wrote extensively on the “nuptial meaning of the body.” Essentially he says that we are made for nuptial love, by our Creator, who loves us. The very fact that we are “fearsomely” made is another sign of God’s love for us. Our beauty – our comeliness, if you will – is a deliberate act of God because he wants us to discover love through self-giving in marriage.
Therefore, our beauty –and the sexual desire it engenders — is not to be taken lightly, or for granted. Both Mark and Matthew recount the story of what Jesus said regarding divorce: “And the Pharisees coming to him asked him: Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting Him. 3 But He answering, saith to them: What did Moses command you? 4 Who said: Moses permitted to write a bill of divorce, and to put her away. 5 To whom Jesus answering, said: Because of the hardness of your heart He wrote you that precept. 6 But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. 7 For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother; and shall cleave to his wife. 8 And they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh.9 What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”
Serious business, right?
Hence the issue of feminine modesty – and why Christendom as a culture has always sought to protect a woman’s beauty from being abused. This is NOT because Catholics are a bunch of prudes that hate sex. It’s because the Church has always respected the great power of sexuality, and has ever been both the cradle and the school of true Beauty.
It is only in Christianity that we find the belief that each human person is a unique, unrepeatable, and eternal, body and soul.
For Christians, being in the body takes on profound and counter-cultural significance. To be in the body is to share an experience that our Lord understood first-hand. The body of Jesus is our perfect guide to the Body of Christ.
A subject this complex requires far more space than is possible in the context of an article. My goal here is to establish some basic considerations for further development regarding the health of body and soul, and the relationship between physical and spiritual fitness.
“Glorify the Lord in your bodies,” St. Paul wrote in Corinthians. The way we treat the body, then, is a visible witness of discipleship. Of course, a healthy body alone does not encompass the fullness of St. Paul’s teaching. Many great saints have been afflicted with less than ideal health, and acceptance of illness can often be part of our spiritual journey.
How do health and fitness relate to our lives as Christians?
From its foundation in the Resurrection of Jesus, Christianity alone among religions has expressed the deep connection, and ultimately, the permanent unity of body and soul. New Age philosophies, which are modern variations on eastern spiritual traditions, attempt to link body, mind, and spirit, but it is only in Christianity that we find the belief that each human person is a unique, unrepeatable, and eternal body and soul.
Despite this eschatological belief in the union of body and soul, finding specifically Christian-based programs for health and fitness can be a challenge. Many Christians have gone outside the Church for easily and widely available eastern-based body awareness techniques, such as yoga and martial arts. At first glance, yoga practice, especially given its ubiquity in America today, seems relatively harmless. Many people practicing yoga state that they are doing it just for exercise benefits; the more one studies yoga, however, the more questionable that possibility becomes.
As a yoga teacher for nine years, before coming home to the Catholic faith, I understand yoga’s appeal. But these paths of self-discovery, and self-improvement through the perfecting of postures, can distract us from our larger purpose. Fr. Robert Barron made this point recently when he said, “The Christian spiritual journey is never primarily a journey of self-discovery…it’s a journey toward mission.” When we are converted to Christ, we now have got “the privilege of participating in God’s own life, God’s own purpose, which is to bring grace, joy, and life into the world.”
Jesus makes clear that there are times to feast and times to fast. We take pleasure readily in the feast, but without a period of fasting, what is there to make the feast day special?
In the modern era, it is rare to find the practice of religion suggested as part of a fitness plan. Holistic medicine offers tips on cultivating mindfulness, but mentions nothing directly about worship.
And this is expressly not how our Lord conducted His earthly life. Jesus, who by any measure has to be one of the most fit persons in history, continuously prayed, and referred all His actions and efforts to the Father in Heaven. For Jesus, and for us, prayer is the most essential element of fitness.
What about exercise? The Bible speaks of good stewardship; we honor our Creator by taking good care of his creation. And we can look to our Savior. He walked everywhere. Walking is great exercise, free, and available to almost everyone. Pilgrimage, a long and noble tradition in the Church, has the added benefit of directly combining prayer with physical effort.
We know that physical exercise is valuable for bodily fitness; “fitness” relates to our mental and spiritual natures, as well. When we are physically fit, we have the strength and vitality to fight off pathogens more efficiently. Mental fitness might be described as clear-headed thinking, being able to turn down the volume on personal neuroses and cultivate empathy. To be spiritually fit is to come through the dark night of the soul with one’s belief intact or restored.
In terms of diet, the foods mentioned directly in Scripture would be a good starting place. Even in biblical days, however, one would have to exercise the virtue of temperance. Saying no to excess food or wine at the table, for example. Myriad habits can creep up on us so gradually they can feel entirely normal, and deviations to more moderate consumption, by contrast, odd.
Jesus makes clear that there are times to feast and times to fast. We take pleasure readily in the feast, but without a period of fasting, what is there to make the feast day special?
The Church long ago established every Friday as a fast day, and every Sunday as a feast day, corresponding to the day of Christ’s death and the day of His Resurrection. Even keeping this simple arrangement will help us focus more on what is and is not important about the food and drink choices we make. And as Catholics, we know that the Bread of Heaven itself, shared during Holy Communion is our ultimate nourishment.
This, from Corinthians, is an important reminder: “we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.” We are not to become too satisfied or pre-occupied in our own flesh. When we are filled with worldly comforts or concerns, it is easy to overlook the Author of all our joys.
One of the great tools available to us as followers of Christ is to do what He did; that is, to fast. Fasting is powerful. It places our decisions and commitments above our impulses and habits. It humbles us, to realize how much of our time is spent chasing after transitory gratifications. It frees us from the grip of mindless repetitive behaviors. It corrects acedia, challenges our comfort zones. It awakens in us the deepest hunger, and takes us to a place of profound prayer.
The great season of Lent is the Church’s time of fasting — which isn’t simply “giving something up.” Fasting is a complete re-framing of our consumptions. What we choose to eat or not, drink or not, or take in via other sensory perceptions, all have a role in fasting.
Fasting is a complete re-framing of our consumptions. What we choose to eat or not, drink or not, or take in via other sensory perceptions, all have a role in fasting.
St. Paul also states in Ephesians the important role each of us has in building up the Body of Christ, which is to suggest that as we are healed, we are to become healers. Being fit means we will have the energy available to give to others, to serve the purpose of building God’s Church, to have the stamina for the work of witness. As human beings, we are the crown of creation. And it gives glory to God for the crown to stay well polished — to shine the way He intends for us to shine.
The relationship of body and soul takes on special significance in the context of Christian community. By comparison, eastern spiritual traditions describe the journey of the individual self toward enlightenment. The postures and meditation practices are all geared to help the practitioner reach this state. The goals are renunciation and non-attachment. There is no need for a savior because there is no one to save. And there is no particular need for community, either. Practitioners may find “community” in ashrams or yoga classes, but each person there is understood to be on a separate journey.
For the Christian, community is understood differently, beginning with the creation of Adam and Eve, symbolizing among other things, the unity of the human race. The human journey continues through Abraham and his family, and through the new community founded at Sinai, Israel, and finally, more than a millennium later, through Jesus of Nazareth, who fulfilled Israel’s vocation to be the light to the nations, to gather all people into God’s House.
The disciples of Jesus will bear this message through the Church until the end of history. Community, therefore, is intrinsic to the experience of Christian life. Christ gives explicit instruction on the importance of love of neighbor, especially taking care of the least among us; there are the graces present when three or more are gathered in His name, and most profoundly, we have been given the commandment to celebrate together what Jesus accomplished in the Paschal Mystery: “Do this in memory of me.”
As a yoga teacher for nine years, before coming home to the Catholic faith, I understand yoga’s appeal.
The New Age enthusiasts have touched on something, though. The relationship of body to spirit is much more than incidental. Christians can honor the body through a program of health, fitness, and prayer, to increase physical and spiritual health, promote a deeper relationship with the Lord, and prepare our bodies and our souls for the life of the world to come. Our model is Christ himself. We should aim to make our earthly lives more like His: to pray, to fast, and to heal.
Our model is Christ himself. We should aim to make our earthly lives more like His: to pray, to fast, and to heal.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Losana Boyd is a writer and artist from New York, currently living in Florence, Italy, where she studies classical, realist painting. This article is excerpted from the prologue of her forthcoming book, “Our Bodies, Our Souls.”
Colleen Carroll Campbell – the author, journalist, television host and former presidential speechwriter – speaks candidly about her work , and her observations on Catholic life in this exclusive REGINA interview.
It seems that your discovery of the saints was critical to helping you find your way forward. Is this true? How so?
Yes, getting to know these six women saints was a crucial part of my spiritual journey, which is why I interwove their stories with my own in My Sisters the Saints. Although I did not initially expect to connect in such a profound way with these women – some of whom had lived centuries, even millennia, before me – I found that their lives and writings spoke to me in surprisingly relevant ways. They echoed my own deepest longings, helped me navigate my toughest trials and led me to rethink nearly everything I thought I knew about what it means to be a liberated woman. So there was really no way to separate their stories from my own, because their stories had so powerfully shaped my own.
The six saints whose stories I interweave with my own in My Sisters the Saints are Teresa of Avila, Thérèse of Lisieux, Faustina of Poland, Edith Stein of Germany, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Mary of Nazareth.
A quick summary: Teresa of Avila and her tale of a struggle to overcome worldliness and status-seeking spoke to me during my frenetic college years and jump-started my spiritual quest. Thérèse of Lisieux helped me grapple with my father’s journey through Alzheimer’s disease, a trial she knew from her own father’s descent into dementia. Faustina of Poland guided me as I struggled to choose between continuing my work as a presidential speechwriter in the White House and marrying a man who was smack in the middle of medical school 800 miles away. Edith Stein offered me insight and consolation in the midst of my battle with infertility. Mother Teresa did the same at a time in my life when I was feeling some of the same abandonment by God that she had described so eloquently in her recently revealed private writings. And Mary, the Mother of God, was with me all along, but in a special way in my quest for motherhood.
‘Faustina of Poland guided me as I struggled to choose between continuing my work as a presidential speechwriter in the White House and marrying a man who was smack in the middle of medical school 800 miles away.’
What do you think are the greatest challenges facing women of your generation today? What dangers are they facing? Many observers point to the impact of feminism and materialism on America women and therefore on the family. How would you characterize that impact on your generation?
I certainly wouldn’t presume to speak for an entire generation, and I think the answers to these questions largely depend on how and by whom one was raised. But I do think it’s true that young Americans today – regardless of what sort of families they come from – are growing up in a culture that does its best to distract them from asking life’s most important questions or finding satisfying answers to those questions. Even young Catholics raised by committed Catholic parents, as I was, face a barrage of messages from the wider culture that undermine the messages the Church is sending.
For young women, the cultural messages are particularly pernicious: Life is all about how you look and who’s looking at you; the only success that matters is the kind that can be quantified and flaunted; heeding your inner longings for committed love or the chance to give of yourself generously in family life is a path to oppression.
Such distortions often leave women ill-prepared to seek or find lasting happiness. Women in my generation enjoy more opportunities to participate in public life than ever before, and that’s something for which we should be grateful. But too often, our interior lives are not nurtured as they should be, and even women of faith find ourselves caught in the same traps of status-seeking, people-pleasing and me-first pleasure-chasing as everyone else.
The women saints and their stories offer a powerful antidote to this. The saints achieved their fulfillment by giving their lives away. They found themselves by seeking more than self. The way I see it, the women saints – not today’s pop culture heroines or secular feminist activists – are the real radicals. They are the role models we ought to be imitating.
‘Even women of faith find themselves caught in the same traps of status-seeking, people-pleasing and me-first pleasure-chasing as everyone else.’
Your generation has also seen a rather startling rise in vocations to religious orders that are loyal to the Magisterium and traditional in their approach. Can you comment on what you think is driving this trend in the face of such overwhelming counter-trends?
For my first book, The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy (Loyola 2002), I spent a year traveling across America interviewing hundreds of young adults. The reasons for their conversions – or, in many cases, their “reversions” to the Catholic faith of their childhood – are manifold and detailed in that book. But if I had to sum those up in a sentence, I might simply quote St. Paul: “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” (Romans 5:20)
The chaos and confusion of the past four decades – both in our increasingly secularized culture and even in corners of the Church that were overly influenced by that culture– led many young adults to search for something more satisfying and substantial than the theological vapidity or secular materialism of their youth. Their natural human yearning for God, combined with their natural youthful idealism, led them on a genuine search for truth. And that search led them to embrace a robust, demanding and orthodox Christian faith that is, in its orthodoxy, decidedly countercultural.
It seems that most people no longer have any personal relationship to the saints, as they weren’t taught about them in the post Vatican II vacuum. Do you see any signs that others like you have discovered the saints?
Yes, I see many signs of a revival of interest in the saints even among non-Catholics, and I think it makes a lot of sense. Christianity is an incarnational religion. We believe that God became man in a specific town, on a specific day, in the womb of a specific woman. So the personal and specific matters in Christianity, and the personal stories of Christ’s followers matter, too. Each life testifies to some unique aspect of God’s love; each human person bears God’s image in a unique way. Getting to know the saints allows us to get to know Jesus in a new way, to see his qualities magnified through a new lens or situated in a new historical context. When we’re striving for holiness and intimacy with God, it helps to look to the saints – to see men and women who ran the race and finished well.
“The culture tells us that life is all about how you look and who’s looking at you; the only success that matters is the kind that can be quantified and flaunted – and heeding your inner longings for committed love or the chance to give of yourself generously in family life is a path to oppression.”
Colleen Carroll Campbell writes on religion, politics, culture and women’s issues for such national outlets as The New York Times, Washington Post, National Review Online and First Things, comments about them on such networks as FOX News, CNN, PBS and NPR, and discusses them as host of “Faith & Culture,” a weekly television and radio show that airs internationally on EWTN, the world’s largest religious network. A former speechwriter to President George W. Bush and the author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy, Campbell speaks to audiences across America. Her newest book, My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir, was published by the Image imprint of Random House in October 2012. Her website is www.colleen-campbell.com.
It was October 6, 1995 and Father Cassian Folsom was riding the train between Rome and Naples when he felt the call of the Holy Spirit. In his seat, he found himself envisioning a new religious order, one that would focus on the integration of prayer, study and manual labor. Three years later, Father Cassian founded a new Benedictine order, the Monks of Norcia.
Today, situated in the Sybilline Mountains, within the walled city of Norcia, the Monks’ monastery is directly above the 5th-century ruins of the birthplace of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica. Fr. Cassian began his order in 1998 in a small apartment. Today, the Monks have their own monastery, a visible presence in the local community, an online presence to the world and even their own brewery. While the order is still a small one—sixteen monks in all—the authenticity of Father Cassian’s original call has been validated by the growth of the last fourteen years.
Norcia is a tourist city, thanks to its culinary delights and the uniqueness of its walls, which allow only seven points to enter the city. The Basilica is at the heart of the town, and visitors who might have come just to sample the boar and cheese instead end up being exposed to the bread that is eternal. “Visitors basically stumble across the monks,” said Bryan Gonzalez, the order’s Director of Development in the U.S.
“Tourists wander into the Basilica. They’re blown away by the beauty of the Mass. It gives the monks a chance to change culture from the inside-out.”
The food in Norcia might bring tourists, but few things could go better with boar and cheese than good beer, and that is something the Monks have been able to provide. “Brewing beer has long been a part of the monastic tradition,” said Father Mary Benedict Nivakoff, who lives at the monastery. “For years on Sunday nights we would sample the vast variety of Trappist beers and wonder if it was possible to do this ourselves.”
This past August, Father Nivakoff and his brother priests got an affirmative answer to that wish. After allowing one of the monks to renew his hobby of home brewing, they were happy with the results and realized they really could do this themselves. On the Feast of the Assumption—August 15—Birra Nursia—was open for business.
In four short months, “Nursia” beer has taken off. The monks supply restaurants both in Norcia, and as far as Venice, Livorno, Perugia, Montefalco and Rome. Within their own gift shop, Father Nivakoff reports that the beer never stays on the shelf more than a week or two.
The bigger challenge Birra Nursia faces is fulfilling the demand, as their American friends and benefactors are ready to import. “The exportation process is difficult,” said Gonzalez. “There are permits and distributors to be dealt with.” More importantly though, “the monks can’t just crank out beer,” Gonzalez added. “They can make 250 liters at a time and need a bigger beer kettle, about three times bigger.”
“A monk witnesses to the goodness of God and the beauty of creation.”
More important than meeting market demand is the positive spiritual impact the brewery work has had on the monastery. “If monks do not have good work, their spiritual lives can suffer,” said Father Nivakoff. Each monk now participates in the brewery in some form. This contribution helps each monk to take responsibility both for the quality of the beer and for the monastery in general.
The early success of Birra Nursia gives Father Nivakoff hope that their work will enable the Monks to achieve self-sufficiency. “As anyone who has started their own business knows, the material fruits of the brewery will take some time to appear, since most of what we earn has gone back into the plant.” However, according to Gonzalez, the generous donations the Monks receive at least enabled them to start their business debt-free.
The sixteen monks literally live above the ruins of the house of the great saints Benedict and Scholastica in Norcia, now a gastronomic tourist destination located in central Italy. The monks own an old Capuchin monastery, unused for sixty years, presently “uninhabitable.” However, the permits and costs associated with renovation are prohibitive.
The Monks grow spiritually, as all Catholics do, through participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. While the celebration of various liturgical rites since Vatican II has led to a battleground in the Church, the Monks have countered by replacing the battleground with beauty—the reverent celebration of, and regard for, all the rites of the Church.
Those who want to share in the Monks’ love for God need not travel to Norcia—they can go online and download the Vespers that are uploaded each morning. “The practice of having Vespers online isn’t new,” Gonzalez told REGINA. “But in other cases, it’s on live and that’s not practical for someone in the United States who wants to pray with the monks.” Gonzalez posts a recording each morning. Father Nivakoff added that he’s heard from both soldiers in Afghanistan and missionaries in Africa, telling him they listen in.
Growth and success means challenges and the biggest one the monks face is that they’re running out of room. They own an old Capuchin monastery, unused for sixty years, presently “uninhabitable.” However, the permits and costs associated with renovation are prohibitive. Nor is an American-based sister house a likely solution, given that the monastery’s location at the birthplace of St. Benedict give it a uniqueness impossible to re-create. “If you built a house in Des Moines (the American home base) it would lack the uniqueness,” said Gonzalez.
While the challenges of finding new space and expanding the brewery are significant and will require generous action from benefactors, the flourishing of God’s grace continues to abound in Norcia. The Monks bring the beauty of the Mass to pilgrims, the splendor of Vespers to their online audience and the simple pleasure of a good beer to people throughout Italy. It’s the true living out of Father Cassian’s original mission of integrating prayer, study and manual labor.
“A monk witnesses to the goodness of God and the beauty of creation,” said Father Nivakoff. “It is his job to convert his life to one of total sacrifice to God in imitation of Christ. In so doing he reminds the world that God is not just worth dying for, He is worth living for; He is worth loving.” Indeed, He is. You can visit the Monks of Norcia’s website atosbnorcia.org
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Dan Flaherty is a freelance writer and editor of TheSportsNotebook.com. When not covering sports, he’s written on a wide range of topics, including online dating, politics and real estate. He is the author of Fulcrum, an Irish Catholic novel set in the Boston of the late 1940s. Dan currently resides in southeastern Wisconsin.
By Lucy Mc Vicker Archduchess Kathleen of Austria is everything a princess should be – poised, graceful, elegant, articulate, God-fearing, humble, and virtuous. She is also an American with a passion to defend the poor, the lonely, the pre-born and their mothers. I know about this passion, because I was blessed with this inspiring friend … Read more
The news is still painfully fresh. We are still digesting the idea that you are resigning from the papacy, a step that has not been taken, we understand, since the 1400s.
We understand that your health and strength are failing you. Certainly we all watched, transfixed, as your predecessor almost literally died in our arms, his suffering and death broadcast far and wide for all the world to see. And while we admired his unswerving courage, some of us couldn’t help but worry about what was transpiring in Holy Mother Church as our pontiff lay dying for so long.
So that is why we understand your courageous decision now. You are telling us that the bark of Saint Peter requires the strength and focus of a vigorous man in these stormy seas. And we know that you are right.
Gone are the days when an aged and ailing pope could retire to the papal apartments and fade away. The media requires an active pope who’s constantly in touch with the world. Your doctors have been honest with you, and you are honest with the world.
Yours is a selfless gesture from a selfless and holy man. And we thank God for your many decades of selfless service, your patience and your bravery. But we will miss you — your intelligence, your gentleness and your great love for the Church. We must pray with renewed fervor, hope, and trust in God’s goodness. Peter’s boat will never sink. God has a plan.
This Lent, we pray for you, Holy Father and for the cardinals who are choosing your successor. May Mary, Seat of Wisdom, guide you and the Church in the difficult days ahead.
You have no clue what it’s all about, or what a real homeschooling family actually looks like, but you’re pretty sure that they’re a strange breed of survivalist apocalypse- types who live off the grid behind their ‘No Trespassing’ signs.
After all, what else could possibly possess a family to say “no, thank you” to a free education provided just down the street, and instead take on the full-time responsibility of teaching their own kids — if it wasn’t for their paranoid anti-social tendencies?
You might be surprised to learn that the most frequently-cited priority of families who take this road less traveled is the happiness of their children. I’m betting that you can relate to that one, so here’s a look at the top three myths about the whole homeschooling phenomenon.
MYTH #1: What about socialization?
If you are asking this question, then you have probably not met many homeschooled kids. Or you have met them but did not realize it, because you were looking in vain for those rumored telltale socially-awkward clues.
As it happens, kids who do not spend the majority of their waking hours in the exclusive company of their peers end up being perfectly comfortable relating to and spending time with people of all ages. (This is similar to what they will encounter in the real working world, after all, so you can rest assured that your kids will be well-prepared to take their place in adult society.)
If in fact you did notice anything unusual, it might be that you were surprised by the child’s polite, unaffected manner. Chances are you were greeted by name while being looked in the eye and offered a hand to shake — all from a smiling face that didn’t seem to hold you in any particular contempt for your adulthood.
Frequently, homeschooled kids’ self-confidence is not as vulnerable to pressure from their peers, and therefore they may well be more individual in expressing their style. This self-expression might manifest itself as anything from geek to fashionista, though chances are it will not mirror what you’d see on the local school grounds.
You may also notice that homeschooled kids are generally happy. Even the teens. This is because being able to use their time more efficiently, having access to home-cooked nutrition three times a day, adjusting their study schedule to accommodate their sleep needs, and the absence of the daily social ostracism, cliques and bullying which are huge sources of stress in the life of ordinary teens actually ‘dials down’ the usual teenage surliness.
MYTH#2: Most people are not capable of homeschooling their children
If you’ve ever wondered if you have what it takes to homeschool, there’s only one question you have to ask yourself: “Got kids?” If you do, then you qualify.
In fact, the education of children in the home, by their parents, in the company of their differently aged siblings, is the most natural environment for learning.
There is no automatic barrier that materializes in the mind of a child at the age of 5 or 6 that renders void the parent’s heretofore competence in directing the child’s discovery of her universe. And there is no ingredient more important in the education of children than love. In this, a parent is more qualified than any credentialed stranger can ever be.
By virtue of your vocation as a parent, you are already endowed with everything you need to successfully homeschool your children.
MYTH#3: Homeschooling means re-creating ‘school’ at home
‘Home education’ is a much better description of this work than ‘homeschooling.’ This is because schools are where you load a room up with same-aged children sitting at desks and attempt to teach them all the same thing at the same time. This requires text books that are designed to facilitate 45 minute instruction segments, punctuated by a bell.
There is no need to replicate this dubious environment at home. With education (as opposed to ‘school’) as your goal, you have access to the world as your text book and the rhythm of family life as your school bell. And your local library, community center, the internet and the dozens of online curriculum providers will provide as much or as little assistance as you could possibly need. This approach accommodates any budget, and allows you to custom-tailor your approach to each child’s needs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dorothy Gill is the mother of four sons, ages 11 to 26 and she has been homeschooling since 1992. She is active in her parish and lives in Vancouver, Washington with her husband and three of her four sons.
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