In 15 years of living in the same Denver neighborhood, I can count on one hand the number of neighbors my husband and I have actually gotten to know. And by “gotten to know,” I mean exchanged cursory hellos, and shared a few passing conversations about the weather or concern over suspicious cars. Growing up a midwestern gal where I considered many of my neighbors good family friends, it was quite an adjustment to experience family life in such… isolation. Shortly after planting roots, we realized we had chosen a neighborhood populated by a lot of seniors and childless, middle-aged couples, and oh yeah.. a whole lot of dogs! We took walks, waved, often with no response, and watched the parade of dog owners and their cute pooches passing our home, all the while seeking a glimmer of connection. I used to joke to my husband that I was on some neighborhood watch list—that crazy lady with the little kids in tow who over-enthusiastically waves and smiles… and creeps everyone out. Watch out for her! Eventually, though, we became resigned to the silo culture. We just drove to find our community. Gratefully, our parish and Catholic school filled a void. But, I still felt jealous of friends who lived in those suburban “cul de sac” neighborhoods where everyone’s kids played together and the moms delivered meals if someone was sick or had a baby…
Recently, everything changed. No block parties, or steaming casserole dishes, but a profound shift, a real thawing of the ice. Our family is suddenly on the neighborhood map—not literally, but in a way that indelibly connects us to those we live near. In some ways, this new connection has been even more personal & fortifying than the ice cream social event I longed for years ago. The key to unlocking that change is rather surprising and hidden. In fact, it has been lodged in the dirt all along.
Sorry, I couldn’t resist the title. No need to avert your eyes, I’m talking about the other V-word, VIRTUE. While it’s not nearly as provocative as the first word that readily comes to mind, maybe it should be. When I was growing up way back in the… rhymes with shmeventies and shmeighties, I heard absolutely nothing about virtue or virtuous living. It was as if the word had fallen out of favor among prevailing Catholic thought, and yet our own doctor of the church, St. Thomas Aquinas, has owned the discussion since the time of the Greek philosophers. Maybe it was too closely associated with those scary images of nuns whacking kids with rulers. Who knows? But I was blissfully unaware.
When my own kids started being introduced to virtuous living in their Catholic schooling and from the “Book of Virtues” by William Bennett, some ten years ago, one of them asked me directly what virtue meant. I couldn’t answer clearly. All I could muster was, “er… uh… I’m pretty sure honesty is a virtue.” I remember looking up the v-word and thinking, “How do I not know this?”Since then, I can’t get enough of the topic!
I’ve noticed you haven’t written in a while. I hope all is well for you and your family. The events of the last several months have been tough on all of us. You don’t know me, but you’ve been in my thoughts and prayers. Thanks for sharing your perspective on family life and faith and I hope you continue to write. Maybe you’ve just switched formats and I’m not aware. Either way, God bless you and your family.
As this thoughtful reader’s email aptly points out, I haven’t written in a while. Many of you are thinking, yeah, and so?… Well, at least Donna misses me! First off, thank you for your sweet letter. To answer your welcome question, our skeletal staff of five here at “Late For Church,” (AKA the family) are faring remarkably well despite the roller coaster of events playing out across our country and world. Other than a nasty flu-like virus (COVID? possibly, but not definite) which hit my son, daughter, and me at the beginning of March, we are all fine. I can readily speak to their physical health, however not so knowledgeably on their emotional, mental health. How is it that I cannot nail down my kids’ and husband’s moods when we’ve been spending inordinate amounts of time together, living on top of each other for months? I can barely grasp my own thoughts and feelings, let alone the rest of my family.
Years ago I used to enjoy the mind-numbing babble of a popular national morning show while I got ready for work. One segment that caught my attention was, “Eat this! Not that!”The ultra-skinny host whose own diet clearly consisted of an occasional rice cake topped with kale would run through a display of mouth-watering dishes, often well-known fast food items. With the help of an “expert” guest, the bobble-headed anchor would compare the fat and calorie information of each. By comparison of the nutritional facts, they would conclude, “Eat this grilled chicken sandwich which has 50-billion fewer calories than that one loaded with mayo and fried in gobs of fire-retardant lard. (Gasp.) And for heaven’s sake, don’t ever eat that!” But the greatest shock entertainment value came when they compared seemingly healthy salad entrees against obvious fat-laden dishes like pizza, or hamburgers and fries. The plates piled high with greens and veggies often contained—wait for it—double or even triple the calorie content of the junk food items! The moral of the story: unsuspecting customers were often hoodwinked into heart disease by the lurking fat in “healthy” salads. Poor shmucks! “They should eat this delicious all-beef patty! But not that deadly harvest salad piled with carcinogenic croutons and dreaded trans fats! It contains enough calories to nourish a small town for two years. Just look at all that BACON and RANCH!” Yum…
Recently, I came up with a twist on the morning show game which has shed some light on the problem of recurring sin in my life.Let’s call this little game of spiritual discovery, “Hate THIS! Not THAT!”
What’s your take on fasting? If you’re a well-adjusted God-fearing, healthy individual, it’s always a good thing, right? Recently, God the Father surprised me by His answer.
Why am I even thinking about fasting now?! According to the liturgical calendar, we are squarely in a season of feasting. Woohoo! Lemme at the goodies! Yesterday we marked the joyful feast of the Epiphany. Our family joined another family at a doughnut shop after Mass. And what says feasting better than greasy fried cakes covered with icing and sprinkles? Nothing in my book. While I did manage to refrain from partaking in the sugary treats this time, the truth is, ever since Christmas Eve I have taken to the feasting principle like a portly duck to buoyant waters. Who doesn’t enjoy all the great foods that accompany our jubilant holy days during the Christmas season? I single-handedly made enough pizzelles to supply the Italian World Cup soccer team for a good year. Santo Cielo!
I am not a hugger. But I have a dear friend who is. She will “love-on” the most unsuspecting stranger with abandon. Often when I’ve introduced her to others I lead with, “Be prepared… she’s a hugger.” Then I stand back as she envelops them in a firestorm of affection. If the recipient of the hug is not particularly into it, they often glare at me over her shoulder, followed by a resigned eye-roll from within the folds of her exuberantly tight embrace. I just watch, both cringing and marveling at her expressive boldness.
How to explain the hugger vs. the non-hugger? Well, my emotionally demonstrative friend has a much smaller personal space bubble than I. You’ve heard how different cultures have varying ideas of acceptable physical contact upon introductions. If you have a Mediterranean bubble, you’re more hands-on and more likely to touch, hug or even kiss someone you’ve just met. Picture the Italians’ cheek-to-cheek smooch, which is a standard greeting among new acquaintances. A person of German or British descent, however, might be more likely to give you a good bit of space and disdain any seemingly gratuitous touching with a person who is not a relative or friend. And a joyful, extroverted lady who hails from the heart of Iowa?—well, expect a big old midwestern uninhibited hug. (For the record, I do hug, but the aforementionedrequirements of relative or friendmust be met before I feel—to borrow from the cool kids’ vernacular— “getting all up into someone’s grille.”)
(This was posted last October and got a lot of great feedback, so I’m reposting for those of you who would like a refresher on Zombie Catholicism. I added a particular prayer at the end of the post that has helped me personally keep the zombies at bay)
Halloween is just around the corner. And as usual, I expect to see my fair share of kids trick-r-treating in their zombie get-ups: pasty white masks with dark, vacant circles for eyes, torn shirts and pants, occasionally a little flourish of fake blood splattered here or there. It’s usually the teenagers who go all out with the most gruesome costumes, but occasionally a five-year-old will greet me at the doorstep decked out in full zombie face paint and garb. I respond the same way each time. “Oh… wow…quite a costume,” I stutter with my best perma-smile. “My, look at all that blood… here’s your candy,” I murmur, avoiding eye contact while timidly dropping a couple snickers in the outstretched bag. Then I anxiously scan the perimeter to make sure there aren’t any zombie parents lurking nearby.
Don’t chuckle. Zombies exist. They dwell in our midst.
Pope Francis is quoted as saying, “Every time we give in to selfishness and say “no” to God we spoil His loving plan for us.” Wise words indeed. But when we say “no” to someone in our community does that necessarily mean we are also saying “no” to God? This is a conundrum I think many earnest Christians grapple with, myself included. We try to banish the word “no” from our vocabulary. Or if we do say no, (SHOCKING!) we are racked with guilt. Is this healthy Christian thinking? And exactly how often are we required to say yes? Are there times when it is perfectly OK to say no? What’s at the source of this prejudice against no? Scripture has something to say about the concept of avoiding selfishness. Jesus has set the bar a teensy bit high.
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. —Philippians 2, 5-8
Then, He ratchets it up.
This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you. No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends. —John 15, 12-13
It’s right there in black and white. He expects us to lay down our lives for our friends. With those seemingly incriminating scripture passages in mind, the panic sets in. As the thinking goes, if the Almighty wants us to be willing to martyr ourselves, what would He think of us saying “no” to helping out with some random Church ministry? It’s hard to even equate dying for someone, with contributing to the cleanup crew for a Lenten fish fry. Yet, this is the reality of the daily grind and if you’re human, which my husband regularly confirms I am, you have to say no occasionally, right? Before further investigation into the Land of NO, let’s consider its inverse territory, YES-ville.Continue reading “Just Say “NO””
I often get antsy and impatient thinking about my future or my family’s future. When I have a really sick kid, when I go for a mammogram, when I’ve hit a rough patch with a friend or a family member, I desperately want to know what’s on the horizon. Maybe as the youngest of three children, I was ingrained with a deep suspicion that I was being left out of the plans, and woefully in the dark. I recall being the only one excluded from a shared “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” moment after I realized Santa always used a fireplace and yet, “Hey, wait a second! We don’t even HAVE a fireplace…”
“In those cases, he uses a magic key,” my mom assured. I remember the weird smiles plastered on everyone else’s faces. My instincts screamed there was a lot more to this story, but I just couldn’t grasp it. It drove me nuts! As an adult, I still have a strong desire to know how things are going to play out. And I’m just as frustrated when I don’t. What will things look like in 10 years? Where will I be? I find myself even getting impatient with God. I consider how nice it would be to be able to look into a crystal ball to have every answer laid out in front of me, just to get a quick glimpse of what to expect, what to not stress about, and what treacherous pitfalls to be prepared for. Continue reading “Predicting the Future”
“I don’t need anything.” That was the standard response my dad would supply every year when asked what he wanted for Christmas. If I was insistent, “C’mon, Dad!” He’d usually follow up with, “Just love one another…” No doubt he truly desired that my brothers and I got along, but he just wasn’t getting it. For goodness sake, I was looking for something to spend my money on. I was a successful babysitter with cash burning a hole in my Jordache jeans pocket. I wanted to feel a part of the whirring consumer machine at the mall like everybody else. I planned to prove my love for family with a dazzling gadget or name brand clothing item. As much as I’d like to blame it on being a silly 15-year-old who coveted her subscription to Seventeen Magazine more than her Catholic school education, I still feel that pull to commercialize Christmas today. More than 3 decades later it’s just as strong—that allure to buy the perfect hostess gift that will make everyone at the party oooh and aaah, or find the greatest new anti-aging skincare product for a friend which makes me more influential than Oprah.