Mass with Kids: Week Two

In this series of posts I will be chronicling my efforts to get back into a weekly mass schedule with my two young children.  For the impetus and an introduction, see this post.

In Week Two, I again did not fly solo:  my wife was there to help and my mother-in-law was in town.  I may be pulling a Charles Lindbergh in Week Three, so stay tuned to see if I successfully make it across the Atlantic.

Highlight: The Hobbit (see this post for an explanation on naming conventions) spending an inordinate amount of time behaving herself: she even used the kneeler for more than just a balance beam.  By and large The Hobbit kept out of trouble (second breakfast helped), even though she spent some time burning off energy outside.

Lowlight:  The Hobbit using the kneeler after Communion to dance like the guy in the “Turned Down for What” video.  If you don’t like offensive dancing, please don’t click the link.  Also, don’t attend mass with us for the next few weeks, because I can’t control my child.  I wanted to ignore it like a tantrum, but she was going nuts.  And look, we don’t encourage that behavior at home, and I don’t know where she got it (can I just throw daycare under the bus?), but the more we told her to stop during mass the funnier she thought it was.  We were in the back, and I don’t think anyone else saw us, so the kindly old-folks at the early mass still think we’re a nice couple with a cute little girl.

Thoughts: It’s nice to be on a schedule.  Each week we have gone to the 7:30 am mass and then to the zoo.  (The zoo is great because (a) The Hobbit loves animals, (b) I love animals, and (c) The Astronaut gets to sleep somewhere else; I’m sure the new sounds and smells are fun for a baby.)  As a result, I began thinking about expanding my schedule.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become very plan-driven, and this project is an outgrowth of that compulsion.  So starting this week I’ve incorporated something more for my spiritual development beyond my mere corporeal presence before the Eucharist:  I have a daily prayer book filled with short reflections, and I plan on spending fifteen minutes or so each day contemplating the prayer and working my way through a related chapter in my Catholic Study Bible.  In addition to discussing mass attendance, I’ll be sure to include the bits of inspiration I pick up along the way.

(Originally I was going to just flip to random chapters and see what stuck, but I came across this quote and decided that was a bad idea for someone trying to climb back on the wagon:  “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control . . . .”  1 Corinth. 9:26-27.  Thanks, Paul!)


They Said It: Leo the Great


From this morning’s office of readings:

And so our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments. Our faith is nobler and stronger because sight has been replaced by a doctrine whose authority is accepted by believing hearts, enlightened from on high. This faith was increased by the Lord’s ascension and strengthened by the gift of the Spirit; it would remain unshaken by fetters and imprisonment, exile and hunger, fire and ravening beasts, and the most refined tortures ever devised by brutal persecutors.

The Missing Ticket: An Ascension Homily


By Matthew Janeczko, OFM Cap.

Today, I had the privilege of preaching at my new “home” – Sacred Heart, Yonkers.  I assisted at the 8:30 am mass that played host to both the grammar school and high school as well as the parish community.  I preached from the well, so this is the best recreation of what I said as I can manage.

This past Tuesday, I went to the Mets game with my dad and two younger brothers.  The easiest way to get to the place where the Mets play (if it’s not Shea Stadium, then it’s only the place where the Mets play) from Jersey is to take the 163 bus to the Port Authority and switch the 7 train (hoping, of course, for the Express).

Everything went without a hitch getting to the Mets/Pirates game.

The problem, as always, was getting back.  After a certain hour, the Port Authority changes all the gates for the buses back to Jersey.  After a four-hour game and a forty-minute ride to the Port Authority on a packed 7 Train, finding the proper bus terminal (not to mention waiting for it) is no easy task.

This is, one could say, the missing piece of the entire commute.

The disciples in Matthew’s Gospel today experience the same thing: there’s just something missing.  And they think it’s Jesus!

For years, the disciples had followed Jesus, listened to his teachings, watched him cure the sick, and drive out demons.  They had seen him crucified and met him upon his resurrection from the dead.  And yet, as Jesus is taken up into heaven, they “worshipped, but doubted!”

The same goes for us: we live between knowledge and doubt.  We think we know what our lives have in store for us and then are thrown a curveball.  We think we’ve studied enough for the test and realize that the material is much more difficult than we had imagined.  The list goes on and on.

Yet, the piece that we think is missing – whether it be in life or in our faith — is right in from of our eyes.

Each time we come to this altar, each time we approach to hear the words, “The Body of Christ” and respond “Amen,” we learn once again that when Jesus said, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age,” he meant it!

That is why we come here as a community each Sunday – each time we have mass together as a school – to remember that Jesus is with us.

The readings this week challenge us to find the missing piece in our lives: worries about what to do this summer, how a new grade will be, what we scored on our SATs, and, when we come up to community to ask Jesus to teach us how to fill up the rest of our puzzle.

If we do this, we’ll find in time that getting to the right bus terminal isn’t too difficult.

Neither is finding Jesus.

An Ambassador in Chains: The Danger of the Impostor Syndrome


Because so much of my life is centered around writing (I’m an English teacher, graduate student, blogger, etc.), it’s hard to ignore the different responses I have to my different writing milieus.

Writing with my students is easy; let’s face it – they just don’t know any better and there is something liberating about being in front of twenty people who generally believe you are the authority on whatever you’re talking about. We often conduct workshops in class in which we critique each other’s writing and offer suggestions for improvement. My writing is always featured heavily within the students’ as well and the sessions are usually enjoyable and often accompanied by food (which, to be honest, is probably the real source of their joy).

Writing as a graduate student is a little trickier. There’s a different voice, tone, purpose, strategy – the entire endgame is different. Confidence becomes an issue in graduate studies in a different way than it does in my life as a teacher. Am I even remotely close to a “right” idea? Have I researched enough? Have I read enough? Am I going to pass unnoticed through the boundary line of intellectual approval without being found out? It’s this fear of “being found out” that has plagued me through most of my academic career. Come to find out, many others feel the same way and it’s such a big deal that there’s even a Wikipedia page devoted to the “Impostor Syndrome” and the Chronicle of Higher Education featured a piece on the subject just last year. The implications of the Impostor Syndrome are, for me, not very far-reaching, at least in my academic experience, but I bring the issue to light to talk about another way in which the Impostor Syndrome does take hold in a far more dangerous way.

Continue reading An Ambassador in Chains: The Danger of the Impostor Syndrome

Nuns on the Radio

Not Quite the Nuns Sara Is  Writing About
Not Quite the Nuns Sara Is Writing About

It feels superfluous to do any writing about religious life this week, given that the topic was covered in depth in yesterday’s broadcast of “American Women, American Nuns” on NPR.

The hour-long show discussed discernment and religious life with three young women who have committed to becoming sisters and are now in various stages of formation. Vocation stories, myths about religious life, the declining number of women religious, and the question of women in the church all got airtime.

The guest panel is fairly diverse, representing three different orders (including one where habits are worn) and a variety of backgrounds. The reading list below the story is also worth a look.

Noteworthy to me was that I knew one of the guests as well as one of the callers to the show, and the two guests in novitiate (the third is about to begin) knew each other.

In the same way, when I mention religious life in conversation and someone recommends a good young sister to talk with, I’ve often already met the woman or heard her name. I was reminded again today that religious life is a very small pond.

But the conversation in that pond is worthwhile, so consider dialing up the podcast for your next workout, commute, or contrived excuse for procrastination.

Mass with Kids: Week One

In this series of posts I will be chronicling my efforts to get back into a weekly mass schedule with my two young children.  For the impetus and an introduction, see this post.

This week felt like cheating, what with my wife still on maternity leave and my sister in town for a visit.  But I’ll take an easy win.  We got out the door on time (because we were all up at dawn) and stayed for the full mass.  I didn’t hear the First Reading (see Low Moment below), but I was present.

Continue reading Mass with Kids: Week One

There’s Something About Marriage

Amy and Martice, My Most Favorite Recent Models for Marriage
Amy and Martice, My Most Favorite Recent Models for Marriage

I was paging semi-frantically through sheet music, scanning for the unity candle song, jostling my guitar, cursing my inability to be organized while playing at the wedding of my good friends—and was suddenly stopped short by the Gospel being proclaimed.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” began those famous words from the Sermon on the Mount. Blessed the mourning and the meek, the seekers of righteousness and clean of heart. Strange reading choice for a wedding, I thought. Where’s the lovey-dovey stuff?

And then, following the exchange of vows, came the intercessions—a full dozen, their length commanding my attention. Some were traditional wedding petitions: for the new bride and groom, their family and friends, and their dearly departed. But there were also prayers for those suffering from mental illness, for the poor and sick and lonely, for those who have been trafficked and abused.

Continue reading There’s Something About Marriage

Patristic Voices: Legendary Truth – St. Macrina


By Thomas Palanza, Jr.

What’s the good of a legend?  For people who need to know all the facts in order to be sure of the truth, it can be hard to accept legends as reasonable sources of truth.  Theology students might be especially tempted to set aside “legend truth” with their constant exposure to concepts like “hermeneutics,” “historical criticism,” “typology,” to name a few, which encourage disassembling a text in order to find the fact of the text in order to know the truth of the text.  These tools are by no means bad; they are useful tools that especially help to illuminate the larger picture that surrounds a text.  But they do not give you the truth of a text, even more so when it comes to legendary texts.  That is the point of a legend – you do not need to be an academic in order to learn the real truth that a legend seeks to tell you.  You do not need to know, for example, what the word “hermeneutics” means in order to know the truth of the Gospel.

There is nothing wrong with us wanting to be sure of the truth.  How many of us have watched a movie “based off of historical events” and wondered how true to the actuality it really was?  This is certainly a good quality; if we stopped wanting to know the truth then, according to Aristotle at least, we would stop being human.  But there is also a danger in limiting how we can come to know truth.  Legends are particularly suspect since they blur the line between the historical and the fantastic; in a way, they are the worst kind of lie.  Yet, they are, in another way, the most honest kind of truth.  Legends are simply people telling you the truth they know in a way that will make it easy for you to know it too.  For instance, one of my grandfathers died before my siblings and I were born and we grew up hearing these legendary stories about him.  Most of those stories came from my grandmother, who was notorious for telling the same story again and again and yet changing elements of it each time.  This explains why my siblings and I all have a slightly different picture of my grandfather.  That doesn’t really bother us, though, because we all share the same image of a good man.  My grandmother might have changed certain parts of her stories, but in all of her stories my grandfather’s actions were always motivated by love. Thus, my siblings and I have come to know and attempt to imitate a grandfather we never met but the truth of whom we firmly believe in.  We know he was a man motivated by love and, for all of the inconsistencies of her stories, my grandmother was very successful passing on that crucial truth to us.

Legends, far from presenting fiction, actually help us focus on what kind of truth is important.  What is the truth that matters and does the story pass it on?  This kind of truth is what we find in stories like Gregory of Nyssa’s The Life of Saint Macrina, a biography he wrote of his oldest sister.  Gregory was one of the three Cappadocian Fathers (all of whom lived in the 300s) together with his older brother, Basil, and Basil’s friend, Gregory of Nazianzus.  Macrina’s biography is not long and it is worth reading all of it, but I would like to focus on her death.  I want to read it wondering: what is the truth that this story tries to tell us; does it matter how much of it is fabricated or elaborated by Gregory; is the truth it is telling us relevant to contemporary life and death; would the story be better if it was historically accurate rather than legendary?

In her final hours, indeed as the last audible words she ever says, Gregory records Macrina as saying the following prayer:

You have released us, O Lord, from the fear of death.

You have made the end of life here on earth

a beginning of true life for us.

You let our bodies rest in sleep in due season

and you awaken them again

at the sound of the last trumpet.

You entrust to the earth our bodies of earth

and you restore again what you have given,

transforming with incorruptibility and grace

what is mortal and deformed in us.

You redeemed us from the curse and from sin,

having become both on our behalf.

You have crushed the heads of the serpent

who had seized man in his jaws

because of the abyss of our disobedience.

You have opened up for us a path

to the resurrection,

having broken down the gates of hell

and reduced to impotence

the one who had power over death.

You have given to those who fear you

a visible token, the sign of the holy cross,

for the destruction of the Adversary

and for the protection of our life.

God Eternal,

upon whom I have cast myself from my mother’s womb,

whom my soul has loved with all its strength,

to whom I have consecrated flesh and soul

from my infancy up to this moment,

put down beside me a shining angel

to lead me by the hand to the place of refreshment

where is the water of repose near the lap of the holy fathers.

You who have cut through the flame

of the fiery sword and brought to paradise

the man who was crucified with you,

who entreated your pity,

remember me also in your kingdom,

for I too have been crucified with you,

for I have nailed my flesh out of reverence for you

and have feared your judgments.

Let not the dreadful abyss separate me

from your chosen ones.

Let not the Slanderer stand against me on my journey.

Let not my sin be discovered before your eyes

if I have been overcome in any way

because of our nature’s weakness

and have sinned in word or deed or thought.

You who have on earth the power to forgive sins,

forgive me, so that I may draw breath again

and may be found before you

in the stripping off of my body

without stain or blemish in the beauty of my soul,

but may my soul be received

blameless and immaculate into your hands

as an incense offering before your face.

My Slow Descent into Christmas-and-Easter Catholicism


On Easter Sunday, as I hauled my screaming twenty-month-old up the aisle to receive communion, spraying parishioners with Cheerios like a deacon with holy water, one thought kept running through my mind:  “I am a Christmas and Easter Catholic.”

That was always a pejorative term growing up, reserved for the less pious who did not go to mass every week.  Or volunteer stuffing shoe boxes with toiletries for the homeless.  Or sing in the Children’s Choir, serve as an altar server, and read as a lector.  In short, I was good, and the kids whose families showed up sparingly were bad;  I was assured of a place in Heaven for my faith and good works, and there was a tiny corner of Hell reserved for those who played with their hand-held Sega video games during mass (and their enablers).  As with many issues in life, I’ve come to realize it isn’t that black and white.

For many lapsed Catholics, I imagine the withdrawal from mass and the church community occurs in high school and college.  As time goes on, other aspects of the faith disappear until you talk about Catholicism in the past tense.  Through that time, I stayed strong in the faith, likely because I went to Catholic schools.  Even after graduating I had a Catholic roommate and was within walking distance of a great parish, so it made attendance at mass and participation in the community quite easy.  (The exceptions being long-weekend camping trips; even then, we typically found a church on the road somewhere, or made our own peace with God out in the wilderness.)  After marriage, my wife and I went to mass regularly.

Slowly, however, I stopped going to mass.  Looking back, there isn’t one defining moment where it slipped away:  I could point my wife being required to work weekends, my work load during law school, or the time and energy associated with fatherhood.  Regardless of the cause, I stopped being “good” as I defined it in my youth.

It doesn’t mean I believed any less in the tenets of my faith.  I was a theology major, and I still read theological works.  I still tried to live out my life as a good Christian.  I still read Bible stories to my daughter at night.  I just stopped going to mass.

And now, with the birth of my second child and my wife going back to work on the weekends, I want to fix things.  I have no doubt it’s going to be difficult, but I believe it’s important to recapture what I’ve lost now before I get too used to it.  I recognize that I need to start out slowly; someone who hasn’t been running in years doesn’t hop into the race when the Rock and Roll Marathon comes to town.

So I am establishing a few simple goals for myself, dubbed Operation: Mass with Kids.  In order of importance/reality:

(1) Go every week.  (This one is self-explanatory.)

(2) Arrive before the First Reading.  (Look, this may not seem like a tough goal to meet, but do you have two under two?  Do you know what it’s like in the morning to get them out the door by yourself?  It’s awful.  With one kid, I haven’t heard something read aloud from the Old Testament in nearly two years; with two kids, I just want to get into the building without a diaper exploding all over my church clothes.)

(3) Stay until the end. (Again, unless you have kids, you don’t know the temptation to just pick up everything and leave when they start to lose it.  What’s that?  A missionary is making a plea for alms after Communion?  Here, take $20 and wrap this thing up because its nap time, Sister.)

(4) Volunteer in the parish once a month.  (I hope some shoe boxes need filling, because I’m really good at that.)

(5) Blog about the experience every week.

The last goal is (a) an attempt to get my editor off my back about never writing, (b) a way to maintain some levity about the situation, and (c) an accountability mechanism.  I’m also hoping it will be somewhat relevant for “bad” people who are struggling with the same problems.  Even if you’re “good,” you should enjoy my journey as I climb out of this hole.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to figure out how mass times match up with feeding schedules.