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Many Catholics (including this one) are struggling in their “daily grind” to attain the happy, holy union with God that He intends for everyone, but without the benefit of a regular spiritual director. While no book can replace the saint-recommended assistance of a person gifted by God and trained to help souls, Connie Rossini’s first full-length book, Trusting God with St. Therese, thankfully comes very close to directing us on this very worthwhile — and challenging — journey. Rossini notes that her book is written at an intermediate level, and I would agree that Catholics who are not regularly attending Holy Mass and Confession, and trying to live their Faith each day, will probably find this book unhelpful — until they are, at which point it is “full speed ahead.” (Spiritual growth — like advanced college coursework — assumes that prerequisites have been met.) I can see re-reading this book several times over the course of one’s life.

Rossini is obviously well-read, particularly in the Carmelite Doctors of the Church (the list of abbreviations for her source material gets the book off to an impressive start), and her book not only captures the reader’s imagination, but methodically teaches and provokes reflection, chapter-by-chapter. The general format is chronological chapters that begin with a biological sketch of St. Therese, then continue with a story from Rossini’s own life, then draw-out spiritual lessons (often with the help of secular thought, such as psychology), and then end with several soul-searching questions and practical applications. I find the book exciting and challenging; it is taking me a while to get the most out of each chapter, but it is well worth it. (I am filling many, many pages in my spiritual journal with ink from my fountain pens, which may be unduly delaying me, but I consider the review e-copy of book the author sent me to be God’s precise answer to my prayers to Our Lady of Mount Carmel in a novena preceding her feast last month. Since then, I have bought a hard copy of her book from Amazon Prime for around $15 with tax, a Kindle copy for only 99 cents more [so I can have my Kindle Fire read it to me while I work, and highlight like mad without violating my strict policy of keeping my personal library of paper books in pristine form for my children and future generations], and another Kindle version for a friend for only $3.99. This is possibly the best $20 I have spent in months.)

Though I am exploring Carmelite spirituality, I have not yet read St. Therese’s Story of a Soul (an awful admission, I know), so much of the biographical information Rossini provides about the saint is new and fascinating to me, as it is not part of general Catholic knowledge, which tends to treat The Little Flower like a wilting daisy (which she certainly was not!) in the same way it treats St. Francis of Assisi like a hippie hardened into a garden gnome (which he wasn’t, either). There are two extremes biography can tend to: hagiography and dirt-dullness, but Rossini avoids both regarding St. Therese and herself; in fact, her description of the fatal problems Therese’s mother had providing adequate nutrition to her nursing babies, and the author’s telling of her own family’s devastation by two car accidents, moved this reader nearly to tears. Similarly, though the reflection questions require us to probe the sensitive areas of our own lives, it’s the kind of probing that a doctor does to expose and heal something that will otherwise sap our energy, or even infect us, year after year. There is much practical help here, too. Rossini performs a valuable service by restoring for us the original purpose of the  “Therese beads” that are found in the homes of most Catholic homeschooling families. When our little ones make them as a craft, we are told to instruct them — as Therese and her sisters, and many people since, were — to pull a bead each time they do some good deed, to essentially “keep score” of the good things they do. It doesn’t take long, of course, before our natural vanity takes over and we are preening ourselves on how well we’re doing (and perhaps even competing with a sibling), all the while fooling ourselves into thinking that we’ve earned God’s love, and even Heaven, by hitting a personal best score. Talk about impeding spiritual growth in the family! As Rossini explains, the original purpose of the beads was to remind us of our sins when we make our daily examen, as recommended by St. Ignatius (“Oh, yeah, I pulled that bead when I said that unkind thing, and that one when I told that lie…”). This is, of course, a far more spiritually-healthy use of the beads (and, since there are ten of them, we can even use them to pray the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet, too).

This book is only one of several helpful resources Rossini provides. Her first book was a short e-book called 5 Lessons from the Carmelite Saints that Will Change Your Life. It is available for free on her blog, Contemplative Homeschool  (contemplativehomeschool.com), which also offers frequent posts about practical Carmelite spirituality and helping our children grow in holiness. She also organizes the Catholic Spirituality Blogs Network (catholicspiritualityblogs.blogspot.com) to aggregate blogs that help with spiritual growth. Most recently, she has begun blogging at the popular site SpiritualDirection.Com (spiritualdirection.com/blog/), as well (many useful ideas can be gleaned from the combox there, which is not true of very many blogs).

This post is part of CatholicMom.com‘s Lawn Chair Catechism summer reading project, an online discussion of Sherry Weddell’s book Forming Intentional Disciples. Who wants to join the linkup? The discussion questions from the study guide for this week are below (in bold), with my answers.

In your own faith: How would you describe your lived relationship with God to this point in your life?
What does the word “discipleship” mean to you? Do you perceive a need in the Church today to help lay
Catholics become more fervent followers of Jesus Christ?
Even as a child, I was blessed to feel drawn to the spiritual (I loved going to Mass!), yet I’ve always felt frustrated, like the dog at the racetrack, chasing the “rabbit” but never allowed to catch it! There have been times I’ve gotten a taste — and tried to share it — but I have the twin “anti-charisms” of lack of persistence/flightiness and noncontagious excitement.
I don’t have much of an idea of “discipleship” (I’ve mostly heard it in Protestant contexts.), but I do think that most of us who call ourselves Catholic need a spark for our own spiritual lives, and to share with others.
In your parish: How would you describe your parish’s current efforts at discipleship? A hotbed of discipleship? A weekly gathering of spiritual sleep-walkers? Or perhaps something in between?
To the extent I understand the term “discipleship,” I would say weak: We have a few groups (though not large and varied enough for a parish of our size) and some real go-getters who drive them, but most of us come and go from Mass, with a few waves here and there, and an occasional activity beyond (parish festival, Vacation Bible School, sacrament prep, etc.). I think most of the families are sincere Catholics, but we are busy elsewhere and no one in the parish expresses much of a practical need/interest for us to do more.

Connie Rossini, of the fascinating Contemplative Homeschool Carmelite-themed blog, was kind enough send me an early review copy of her e-book Five Lessons from the Carmelite Saints That Will Change Your Life.

Five Lessons is a very small book (a 21-page PDF), easily savored in one quiet sitting, that can help anyone — Carmelite or not! — reorient herself to what matters most in her life,  an excellent way to start the summer break!

In each lesson, she shares a few short meditation-starters, quotes the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the great Carmelite reformers, Ss. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, and then gives a brief reflection about the quotes. Finally, she gives practical suggestions. Each lesson builds in strength on the previous lessons.

I found her fourth lesson most useful: “Little things matter (a lot). Think God doesn’t care about your addiction to caffeine? Think again. If you want to be holy, you must be willing to give up everything for love of God. …”

Most helpfully, she links to more in-depth reflections on her blog, such as her posts about prayer, and gives a bibliography; this little e-book will whet your appetite for a banquet of spiritual reading. She also gives links to places online where those who are interested can discuss their reflections on the book.

Finally, Connie has a second excellent new blog for those interested in exploring the variety of spiritual approaches the Faith offers, at Catholic Spirituality Blogs Network.

I once heard an astute (if snarky) remark to the effect that “conservatives believe the heart of the Constitution resides in the Second Amendment, while liberals believe that the heart of the Constitution resides in Roe v. Wade“; I am reminded of this by the laughably out-of-all-proportion remarks like:

“The best intentions of those recent popes who have presumed to dispose of these precious gifts [papal tiara and other honorific articles] do nothing to mitigate the nature of their offense. While one may wish to see a Church that is arguably more accessible to the common man, no one, not even a pope, has the right to render the Church impoverished.”

and

“The anguish that this breathtaking episode [of the Pope blessing journalists without invoking the Trinity or making the Sign of the Cross] engenders in the faithful Catholic defies description, and yet, I have discovered that many among us have grown so numb to such unthinkable acts of disregard for Our Blessed Lord that the mere retelling of this event is often treated as little more than an invitation to shoot the messenger.”

I can take fancy papal vestments or simple episcopal vestments, I can take the Sign of the Cross or a simple “God bless you,” but what I cannot take is Catholics caterwauling like Chicken Little over a holy shepherd whose tastes and prudential judgment simply differ from their own (“Horrors!” to quote the disgusting and unapologetic anti-papal Rorate Caeli site, which I will not link to), but whose theology and charity seem rock-solid and worthy of emulation.

It amazes me that any of us, struggling even to cultivate our little square foot of the vineyard, has the audacity to crack-open a papal history text, sit behind the computer, and easy-peasy tell the Pope how he should oversee the vast vineyard — and that all it takes is a puff of incense here and a verse of Latin there to right the wrongs! There’s a place for all these deeply-meaningful “little t” traditions, but it is demonstrably silly and highly inappropriate to spew forth everywhere about how awful Pope Francis is because he — with one week of experience! — doesn’t wear this and doesn’t chant that like his predecessors did; our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict did all these things and so much more, yet there is more work to be done. Let’s watch what Pope Francis’ husbandry will do for God’s Vineyard and not presume to virtually plop the papal tiara on our own heads or, as one blogger recently put-it, : “don’t you dare ‘give Pope Francis a chance’!”

Sometimes, I am amazed that God’s Mercy doesn’t send our world up in smoke for the evils and injustices perpetrated — with our leaders’ approval and funding, no less! — by Planned Parenthood alone.

Bill Diss is an American hero every bit as much as our men who fought the Nazi dehumanizers and murderers when they were in vogue — and it sounds like he’s an exemplary high school teacher, too, bringing high-level college-prep skills to underprivileged kids to whom others just want to dole-out condoms and Pills as if they were dogs in heat. But, we can’t have them gettin’ good learnin’ and breakin’ free, now can we?! Disgusting.

One of my favorite — and most convincing! — Catholic bloggers, Mark Shea, utterly decimates the tired line about how the Church should sell its unspeakable wealth to feed the poor. As a friend of my husband’s used to say “If the Vatican sells all its art to buy everyone in the world lunch, what happens when it’s time for dinner and everyone is hungry again?!”

Shea explains what our critics are really saying and why it’s so stupid (with some help from Vatican expert John Allen):

” … ‘Why are art treasures, specifically dedicated to God by the artist so that any Roman beggar can see them for free to uplift his heart, not made the private property of one rich man and hidden in his villa?’ … One often hears of the proverbial wealth of the Vatican. An interesting comparison was made of the operating budget and the ‘patrimony’ of the Vatican by John L. Allen, Jr.:

Operating Budget: (Vatican) $300 million; Harvard ($3.7 billion)

Endowment/Patrimony: (Vatican) $1 billion; Harvard ($30.7 billion)

… We are now the corrupt rich Byzantines whose ruling class hordes its wealth to buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes. The spectacle of watching some manicured Talking Hairdo ‘confronting’ the Vatican about its wealth while investing in Goldman Sachs and being paid a gazillion dollars to pontificate on he knows not what is one of the more sick-making pieces of hypocrisy on display in our media culture. We Americans pay 1/300 of the Vatican’s annual operating budget to cover two nights of Joe Biden partying in Paris and London. Joe, meanwhile, gives a whopping $369 to charity.”

I’m praying that 2013 won’t be for marriage and family what 1973 was for babies and parents: the start of legally-protected destruction on a mass scale. I am not optimistic, but there is always hope, even in America.

Under our present laws, you are free to have sex with any consenting adult you wish. You are free to give him or her access to your heart or your house, your children or your legal rights. What you are _not_ free to do under our Constitution is force Catholics, or anyone else who does not share your moral values, under penalty of law to call what you have chosen “good” or “marriage,” or — even less — to force them under legal penalties to “marry” you or accommodate your choices in their business decisions (from wedding cakes to hotel rentals to insurance benefits). This is how freedom works in most parts of America, for the time being.

Of course, under our Constitution, I am free to say that thousands of years of societal misery have shown that sex and childbearing outside of a marriage ordered to protect spouses and their children is unhealthy and even dangerous to your body, mind, heart, and soul, and even more so to those of your children. I am free to conclude therefore that choosing to have sex and children outside of marriage is a colossally bad idea, one that I disapprove of and will not allow to be modeled to my children. You are free to disagree, even if it offends me. I am free to pray for all of those caught in unhealthy and dangerous lifestyles, that they will find their way to health and happiness, with whatever help I can offer. You are free to do what you will, even if it makes you miserable. That is how freedom works here and how it should work.

May it remain so.

This post was originally my post on Facebook during the arguments before the Supreme Court. Below are some excerpts of my responses to others’ negative — and, dare I say, stereotypical and Web-ubiquitous — comments in reaction to my post, including one from a childhood friend who is in a gay relationship with children:

Not surprisingly, I am also wholeheartedly against throwing marriages away; I believe that marriage is indissoluble and that abuse is one of the few reasons for legitimate separation (not divorce) between properly-married spouses. As for your second comment, race is wildly different from sexual choice. There is nothing biologically or morally different about people of different races, and so there is no impediment to marriage, but there are obvious differences between men and women that make true same-sex marriage impossible. (Of course, the race issue is a very emotional red herring in this debate. Unsurprisingly, I personally know no traditional marriage advocates who would have any problem with interracial marriage, and I know of many who are in fact in such marriages themselves.)

Regarding Prop 8, which is much closer to home, I agree that it is complex and unlikely to yield a clear resolution. Abortion law as we know it now (virtually no restrictions at any time) is the result of at least three Supreme Court cases (Roe v. Wade, Doe v. Bolton, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey), so I have good reason to believe that even if this case doesn’t work the destruction to traditional marriage I dread, a decision or two down the line will finish the job.

[Friend], though I clearly wouldn’t make the same choices you’ve made (or vice versa, I’m sure!) and we always had our disagreements, I respect your right to live as you choose, and wish you and your loved ones well. I also support gay people having the same individual legal rights/protections as anyone else — just not special protections that infringe on my rights, such as to fine/imprison me if I peacefully speak against the gay lifestyle, or my friend if he refuses to accommodate it in his business, or my priest if he refuses to perform a wedding or arrange an adoption. We’ve seen in other places that this is where gay rights are headed. I’d like to live and let live; is this possible? If you lived next door to me, I’d chat with you or your partner at the mailbox and bring a plate of marzipan at Christmas. I have closeted and out gay family members — my gay cousin and her partner caught the bouquet at my very Catholic wedding! — and we are all friendly. They don’t force their sexuality on me, nor do I force mine on them; that’s private, just like it is with my straight friends and family. I know many family and friends disapprove of my large/homeschool family lifestyle and would never choose it, and of course I wish that weren’t so, but they have those rights; all I ask is that my family’s religious rights be equally respected and that our choices not be a source of enmity. Have a good evening.

I shudder to think where I’d be if I hadn’t been given the grace by God — with my folks, may God richly bless them, of course! — of being raised Catholic. If Catholicism were not true, believing in it would be far, far worse than treating a fairy tale as real; it would be utter destruction — absolutely nothing would make sense, from suffering to math (but, I repeat myself, for I have never really “gotten” math! ); it would be the most devastating cheat ever devised.

“Catholicism is true, yet most people and even many Catholics don’t believe all the truths of Catholicism. So for me my real answer is Because of grace and that Catholicism is true.”

I’m torn between being shocked, amused, and angry about this. I’m shocked because, as low as I cynically place the bar of my expectations, my government always manages to shimmy under it. I’m amused that anyone would look at me or any of the Catholics I know and be terrified, or even mildly anxious. There is vastly more danger that I will get distracted and inadvertently sit on someone and hurt him than that I will ever willingly harm anyone. I’m angry because the greatest force for good on earth — the Church that Christ founded — has just been placed in the same category as people who strap bombs on their babies and send them into marketplaces full of innocent people. It takes an extreme kind of stupidity and malice to equate such evil with good in that way, and apparently, that extremism has infiltrated our military, the people who have guns and missiles and stuff. That’s disgusting — and dangerous.

This guest post is provided courtesy of my husband Peter, a social studies/math teacher at a charter high school in Central California. He is in his 18th year of teaching in both public and private schools in Texas, Arizona, and California; he is also in his third official year of homeschooling. He is a lifelong Catholic, and a talented mineral collector and family historian/genealogist.

This is a poem that one of my more “creative” seniors told me that he wrote, almost verbatim, as his answer to free-response Question 1 on this year’s A.P. Microeconomics exam. When he posted this on Facebook, I was torn. Do I lament the fact that he’ll probably fail that exam, or do I commend him for the prowess of his poetic work?

“I squander my abilities
Until I see that, still, a three
I could achieve, or even four
If I had tried and studied more
… You might have guess that I’m the best
At Lit, I know I nailed that test
And yet, I did like zero prep
And so, I thought that I could rest
When Econ came around at last
Alas! I’m such a stupid ass!
Now I won’t pass, and I’ll be asked
By parents: “why’d we spend that cash?
You’re far too brash! You’re bound to crash!
You’re crazier than John Forbes Nash
But lack his passion!” God, I’m bad
At judgement, plus I boast and brag
To know one else except myself
And so I manage to compel
Myself to constant laziness
It’s quite a gift, but now I’ve missed
Like fifty por ciento on
This test my peers went mental on
I guess that they were right at last -
I’m such a stupid ass!”

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