Following is my February column that appears in this issue of the print edition of The Catholic Post.
Back in the day, I worked in public relations in the pro-life movement in Washington, DC. I wrote too many press releases to count (when we used the latest technology of faxing them to reporters), ate expense-account lunches with columnists, and did countless interviews.
When people would tell me that prayer was their primary way of serving the pro-life cause, part of me thought, “Amen.” But can I make a confession here? Part of me didn’t really think so. The 20something media hotshot me felt all my busy “inside the Beltway” activities were more effective.
Today, I laugh at my poor younger self. Yes, press releases and legislation are important, but prayer and friendship are even more powerful in establishing a culture of life.
Prayer, friendship and conversion are at the heart of a new must-read: Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line.
UnPlanned is the story of Abby Johnson, an abortion clinic director who leaves her job after the first time assisting an ultrasound-guided abortion, and seeing with her own eyes a baby struggling away from the abortion instrument. This is more than just pro-life apologetics; Johnson writes a well-paced and sensitive memoir of her spiritual journey.
In UnPlanned, Johnson shares the impulses that brought her into the abortion industry, and the many decent people motivated by compassion who worked alongside her inside the clinic. But she shows how that compassion is misdirected and used by some (including leadership at Planned Parenthood) to make money by pushing abortion regardless of what’s best for women and their children.
Two issues Johnson raises make UnPlanned especially worth reading and discussing:
*How do we as Christians speak the truth about life while still remaining open to those with opposing views? Johnson was asked to leave a Protestant church when her abortion work became known, understandable but a move that drove Johnson away from people who might have reached her. It’s actually the confession from the Book of Common Prayer at the self-described “pro-choice” Episcopal parish Johnson attended that becomes a factor moving her towards repentance. God does the work of conversion; how can we be channels of this grace?
*How do we attract young people to the culture of life? Johnson writes how she was drafted as a college student to volunteer for Planned Parenthood by an appeal to her sense of idealism and desire to help women. Young people are in a kind of “sensitive period” in their late teens to mid 20s when values and life course are being set. How do we direct their natural idealism and energy to the culture of life, instead of the opposite?
Johnson’s conversion happened in a moment, but UnPlanned makes clear it was the sustained effort of many people praying, fasting and acts of friendship for and to her that made that moment possible.
This fine book speaks volumes about the power of love and prayer to overcome darkness and despair. Johnson writes that she was “loved from one side to the other.” Reading Unplanned will make readers want to be that kind of love and prayer in their own communities. I can say now, with no division, “Amen” to that.
This month’s “Meet a Reader” is a wonderful woman I met several years back at the Peoria Diocese Summer Institute. At a dinner for speakers & spouses (both our husbands were speakers that year), we talked the entire time about–I know you will be shocked to hear this—books! This actually is quite surprising as we have kids of similar ages, and kids tends to be a default subject. I knew she would be great to feature here, and I am so glad to be able to introduce another thoughtful “reader” to Catholic Post readers. Thanks, Shannon.
How You Know Me:
You probably do not know me. More people know my husband, Marc, the Director of Religious Education (DRE) at Holy Cross Parish in Champaign and the Regional DRE for Champaign/Danville. I love Holy Cross! Holy Cross is one of the loveliest churches I have every enjoyed, and it is our home parish. If you are ever in Champaign, please come worship with us. Consider yourself invited. I also appreciate that our parish is a motley crew of folks from all walks of life. Marc and I have two boys: John Berchmans “JB”, 9 and David, 7. I am a homeschool mom, and I love homeschooling also allows us to read, read, read!
Why I Love Reading:
I grew up surrounded by huge bookshelves filled to the brim and even cataloged. My sister read to me all the time when I was very young. My parents discussed their latest reads at the dinner table. We read it all, from junky books to works that uplifted the mind. We were curious about other people and places, other points of view, new ways of looking at the world. Finally, my parents were not afraid of the world. They both possessed an innate love of and trust in the world and people, always teaching me that most people are good and kind and want to help. This trust allows me to go deeply into the world of the book I am reading. There is something about losing oneself in a good book that can neither be adequately expressed nor replicated with other media.
My Favorite Book:
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. While Scarlett is the main character, it is Melanie who fascinates me. Melanie is a beautiful Christ figure. As a reader, I wince at Scarlett’s flaws: her insensitivity, selfishness and heartless conniving. Melanie sees Scarlett’s perfections: her fortitude, intelligence, good horse sense and strength. The kicker is Melanie is right. Scarlett — exactly who she is, with all of her flaws, because of who she is, with all of her flaws — saved herself, Tara, Melanie and the baby, Mammy & Prissy… her whole “tribe” if you will, against seemingly insurmountable odds. Melanie is no doe-eyed ignorant optimist. She accepts and embraces Scarlett and the world as they are. This acceptance brings out the best in all, including even Rhett Butler and Belle Watling.
What I’m Reading Now:
Rediscover Catholicism by Matthew Kelly. Fr. Willard, our pastor at Holy Cross, gave a copy to every family at Christmas Mass. Thank you, Fr. Willard! There is a lot of “food for thought” in this one. And since this is my very own copy, I can underline to my heart’s content.
*The Grace to Raceby Sister Madonna Buder, is one of the most inspiring books I’ve read in recent years. The lengthy subtitle tells the story: The Wisdom & Inspiration of the 80-Year-Old World Champion Triathlete Known as the Iron Nun.
I was a wee bit put off by that “concept,” too–until I started reading and couldn’t put it down.
Sister Madonna’s book is part fine spiritual autobiography, part triathlete war stories, and throughout, true inspiration to the rest of us to really “reach” for more in our spiritual and physical lives.
Born to a life of privilege in St. Louis, Sister Madonna Buder considers a vocation from her early years, but still dates and immerses herself in an active, happy family life. Her decision time approaches as she reflects during a summer trip to Europe:
“Once safely on the train coursing along the scenic Rhine, I began to collect my thoughts. My Irishman! Monsignor Doheny! My European adventures! The past, the present, the future! What was God really asking of me? Then, from the depths of my soul, came an interior voice, ‘Can any one man satisfy you when I alone dwell in the deepest recesses of your heart?’ The message was seeping in just as surely as the waters flowed along the banks of the Rhine. My true longing was becoming clear.”
Based on her active lifestyle through her early life, it doesn’t surprise to see Sister Madonna to take up running at age 48, begin running marathons and then racing triathlons (including the punishing full-length Ironman triathlons) through her 80s. What is surprising is how well she shows how running has enhanced and aided her vocation and her prayer life:
“All I knew at the time was that I was running on faith, and I prayed while I ran. Afterwards, I realized it was a different kind of prayer posture. Besides using my heart and head, when I ran my whole body was involved in the petitioning.”
For those looking for a little personal motivation, Sister Madonna gives tips and ideas for getting or staying active, but her story itself in inspiration enough.
*Is personal or home organization among your top goals for the new year? Smart Martha’s Catholic Guide for Busy Moms by Tami Kiser is a super-encouraging, practical book that helps moms streamline home management and family organization.
Kiser presents her approach not just for the sake of a sparkling house or well-groomed family, but chiefly so that family members can be more “present” to one another and others, just as Mary was “present” when Jesus visited the home of Mary & Martha in Bethany.
A busy mom of nine, Kiser culls tips from her “Smart Martha” seminars to give a boost to moms who feel drowning in school schedules and home management. What I love best about Smart Martha is the reminders that your way may be different, but just as good, rather than a “one size fits all” approach too common in home organizing books.
One feature I found especially helpful was her take on the 7 Habits time management skill of “sharpening the saw,” originally all about balance and taking breaks to increase efficiency. Kiser adds to that definition that moms should take the time to rethink routines, schedules, or even rooms, in order to be more efficient and have more time for one another in the family and in the world.
*With all the depressing financial news, it’s no surprise to see that Merriam-Webster decreed“austerity” as Word of the Year (WOTY).
(That’s not quite as much fun as the Oxford English Dictionary’s WOTY: refudiate; but that’s for another column.)
Financial goals can be both a worthy goal and a significant challenge. An intriguing new book, Why Enough is Never Enough: Overcoming Worries about Money-A Catholic Perspective by Gregory S. Jeffrey, proposes that much of our worry and insecurity about money lies in two areas: a lack of trust in God, and a lack of generosity.
Each chapter ends with reflection questions that Jeffrey suggests people write out and talk over with a “money partner:” a spouse or trusted friend. Overall, the reflection questions and indeed the whole book, are designed to foster in readers hearts that are “radically generous” and trusting in God for all good.
My main concern about Why Enough is Never Enough is the fear some readers might take away that the only cause of money troubles or money worries is spiritual; that somehow prayer, the sacraments and trust in God is all that is required to be a good financial steward. In its defense, that really isn’t the book’s only message, but based on the title and some of the content, readers could be misled.
I wish the book had given more strategies that people can do to economize, or save more, or make wise financial decisions. These might not fall into the category of a “spiritual” or “Catholic” approach, but can still help people meet their financial goals and be more at peace with money.
*Once you’ve been inspired by Sister Madonna Buder’s triathlons, consider The Rosary Workout by Peggy Bowes. Bowes outlines a sensible, easy approach to interval training (for people of any physical or spiritual level) using the prayers of the Rosary.
Today’s first reading is from Job 1, about all the misfortunes that happened to Job. Servant after servant came to tell Job of losing everything, and their “line” is, “I alone have escaped to tell you.” And Job responds with,
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
I am reminded of several random thoughts here that I hope will be somewhat cohesive.
*the lector for daily Mass, coincidentally, happened to be the October featured “Meet a Reader” that will appear in this weekend’s edition of The Catholic Post. You’ll just have to check back later this week to see who it is, but suffice to say she is an excellent lector. I always think when she is the lector, “Word on Fire,” because she reads in a very deep way (for lack of a better word, not “drahmatic” but moving and heartfelt–it’s hard to let your mind wander during her reading). You know you are hearing the Word of the Lord. I had arrived a bit late for Mass (not that that ever happens to me! hmm), so the reading has just started, but I was instantly drawn into the narrative.
*Job, scripture tells us, “committed no sin nor offered any insult to God.” I think that is more difficult than anything when bad things happen. Who can say they never complain to God? I know I am extremely prone to this, for small things and big things.
*A suggestion for your Ipod: (and it happens to be on my running playlist), Blessed Be Your Name is a great song by the CCM band Tree 63, a meditation of sorts on this passage from Job.
*I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You: My Life and Pastimes
is the title of the excellent memoir by Ralph McInerny, who died last year. He was a personal hero of mine and I wrote about him several times in my blogging life, so I’ve mined one of those old posts to share:
I met him once many years ago, when my husband and I were first married. McInerny gave a speech at Bradley University, and one of the hosting professors invited us to the after-speech gathering at his house. I brought along a super chocolate cake. It was good, with a chocolate-sour cream ganache frosting–now where is that recipe?
McInerny praised it by saying it was the “most chocolatey chocolate cake” he had ever tasted. My husband, the philosopher in the family (by trade, degree, and temperament), said this was the highest compliment given by a philosopher. McInerny agreed, and we all had a good laugh.
Several years ago my husband presented a paper at a conference at Notre Dame. I tagged along with the two children we had at the time. McInerny was one of the organizers, and even though I saw him walking around the conference, I was always too shy to re-introduce myself and tell him how much I admired him. Usually I am pretty bold about introducing myself to people. Now I wish I had.
How he discusses writing in I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You is brilliant. He takes the craft of writing seriously but not too seriously. He speaks of it being a discipline and work, and the luck/serendipity involved in his success.
He has referred to Anthony Trollope, one of my favorite authors, at least three times in the few chapters I have read. He and/or his family regularly spent several years, and weeks of others, in Europe. He is a faithful Catholic family man with a large family. What’s not to love?