Friday, September 11, 2020

Sorrow, Prophecy, & The Desire To Be Affirmed

Every person has seven basic desires: to be affirmed, safe, chosen, touched, included, blessed, heard and understood.*

These desires begin in childhood, and their fulfillment contributes to our healthy development as adults. We might ask ourselves, how were these desires met when I was a child? Did I feel affirmed? Safe? Chosen? Included? Blessed? Heard and understood? Did I experience positive physical touch?

As parents, we can ask, how am I meeting these needs in my children? 

An 800-year-old Scripture meditation on Mary's Seven Sorrows can deepen our understanding of these seven basic desires. In the words of St. Alphonsus Di Liguori: "As a general rule, the sufferings of children are also the sufferings of their mothers who are present at and witness their torments."

When we meditate on Mary's sorrow at different points in Jesus' life, it opens our hearts to a new perspective on Christ's revolutionary mission. Consider Mary's First Sorrow, The Prophecy of Simeon, in light of the basic human desire to be affirmed.

In Luke 2, Mary and Joseph bring baby Jesus to the temple for consecration. Mary knew she held a special baby; but what did that mean practically, for the future and for that moment? Were they making the right choices so far? Were they missing anything? What if they messed up? 

How affirming it must have been to hear Simeon's prophecy, reassuring Mary and Joseph, yes, this is God's chosen one, "a light for revelation" (Luke 2:32). Yes, God is working in good ways in your life! 

His prophecy was both comforting and disconcerting, as Simeon warned Mary: "You yourself a sword will pierce" (Luke 2:35). His words brought a foretaste of the sorrow Mary would experience at Jesus' Crucifixion.

I wonder if Simeon felt nervous as he stopped to talk with Mary and Joseph. Have you ever felt your heart stirred to share an encouraging word with someone? Have you hesitated for fear it wouldn't be well-received? What if it doesn't resonate with them? What if they think I'm crazy? Couldn't the Holy Spirit say this better through someone else?

We are affirmed when someone acknowledges the good in us and the good in our work. Simeon affirmed Mary's role as the mother of the Messiah. Mary affirmed Simeon's prophecy and received the truth that she would experience deep sorrow as Jesus' mother. 

As we reflect on Mary's First Sorrow alongside the basic human desire to be affirmed, consider: How is this desire for positive affirmation met in my life? How can I meet this need in my child? 

Next week, we'll contemplate Mary's Second Sorrow, The Flight to Egypt, and the basic human desire to be safe.

Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin,

fresco by Niccolò Circignani and Antonio Tempesta, c. 1580

Alekjds / CC BY-SA ( / Wikimedia Commons

*For more information on the seven human desires, check out: Seven Desires: Looking Past What Separates Us to Learn What Connects Us by Mark & Debra Laaser.

Also published September 2020 at Sacred Heart Blog and CatholicMom.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

When Catholics Disagree on Politics: A Reflection on the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection on the readings for Mass this Sunday, September 6, 2020, via our parish blog.

Wally and I don't always see eye-to-eye on politics. Thankfully, that's not a prerequisite for good, Catholic marriage! 

Despite disagreements on policies, programs, or candidates, we still find common ground in our faith. We're both discouraged by political polarization within the Catholic Church. We're both frustrated when political parties claim sole representation of our religion. We're both disheartened when Catholic leaders in formal relationships with the Churchour bishops, priests, nuns, sisters, and brotherspledge allegiance to secular American politicians (across the political spectrum). 

As we talked through this Sunday's readings, our conversation kept returning to religion, politics, and the temptation to cloister away from people who disagree with us. 

The Old Testament reading warns us to "dissuade the wicked from his way." (Ezekiel 33:7-9)

How many times do we justify political condemnation of "the other side" as concern for another's soul [when, let's be honest, we just want to win an argument on social media]?

Then the Psalmist admonishes, "Harden not your hearts." (Psalm 95)

How often do we assume "the other side" has hardened hearts — but surely not ourselves? 

In the New Testament reading, St. Paul teaches, "Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:8-10)

How tempting is it to claim the higher ground of love and assume any other viewpoint is motivated by vice? 

And then, in the Gospel, Jesus addresses how to correct someone we believe to be in error: "...take one or two others along with you, so that 'every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church…" (Matthew 18:15-20)

How simple is it to find two or three Catholic friends who agree with us and are ready to condemn anyone who doesn't? How quickly can we flip through our Bibles, Catechisms, encyclicals in attempts to prove another Catholic wrong in politics? 

I know I'm guilty of all of these thoughts and actions. A helpful antidote is loving, praying and living with a Catholic who sees the world differently. We don't have to agree about everything for our prayer, as Catholics, to be effective. Jesus doesn't offer us political or secular power in exchange for our prayers anyway. He offers us something far greater:

"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:15-20)

When we gather together in prayer, even with all our differences, Jesus offers us himself.

And isn't that why we're Catholic in the first place?

Monday, August 17, 2020

St. Gianna Molla on Self-Care, Fun, & Motherhood

Saint Gianna Molla is venerated as a 20th-Century doctor, wife, and mother whose life of heroic virtue culminated in a choice to die so her unborn child could live. But how could Gianna make a choice that would leave her other kids motherless? Did she marry a perfect husband? Have perfect children? Just want others to suffer?


A fuller understanding of Gianna's life provides a deeper appreciation for both her humanity and her sainthood:


  1. St. Gianna's kids were normal kids.


After giving birth to her third child, St. Gianna wrote in a letter to her sister that the oldest son (age 3) promised of his younger sisters: 


"[I] won't whack the new kid, but the old kid, yes."1


  1. St. Gianna ensured fun and self-care were an integral part of her life as a doctor, wife, and mother.


Gianna's husband, Pietro, wrote: 


"...she was―in her affection, in her energy, in attentiveness to the children and to me, in simplicity of manner, in care for herself, in knowing how to balance duty and joy for life, religious practice and time for concerts, theater, skiing: to sum up, in her typically feminine ability to know how to fulfill herself completely and harmoniously."2

  1. St. Gianna had to tell her husband that he needed to help with the kids. 


When their children were young, Pietro would often get away for time alone on retreat. Gianna wrote to him, advocating for their family, reminding her husband that she and their children needed his presence at home.3


  1. St. Gianna had to tell her husband not to work so much. 


Pietro wrote: 


"...I worked too much: every day until late, including Saturdays, and many times Sunday, too. She said to me right away: 'That's not right; it's good to work, but you also have to rest and have fun.' ...She taught me to live better."4


  1. Pietro and St. Gianna often requested and happily accepted help with childcare.


Whenever Gianna could get a break from her work as a pediatrician at a daycare and school, she joined Pietro on business trips and vacations while the kids stayed with relatives. Gianna's older children also visited extended family for several weeks at a time when she gave birth.


After Gianna passed away, her children were cared for by their dad, a live-in nanny, their paternal grandmother, aunts, and boarding school. Pietro wrote: 


"Gianna's relatives and mine were most generous and available. The newborn was immediately the object of particularly affectionate care."5


  1. St. Gianna Molla didn't accept death passively.


When a benign uterine tumor was discovered during her sixth pregnancy (following two miscarriages), Gianna's doctors did everything possible to save both her life and the life of her unborn child. 


She could have chosen to do nothing invasive, allowing both the tumor and the child to grow. She could have chosen a hysterectomy, in good conscience, which would have removed the tumor while also causing the death of her unborn child as an unfortunate secondary effect. Gianna proactively chose to have the tumor surgically removed while two months pregnant and to continue her pregnancy, hoping the best for both herself and her child.


She recognized the pregnancy would be risky, writing: 


"This time it will be a difficult delivery, and they may have to save one or the other—I want them to save my baby." 


Seven months after the tumor was surgically removed, Gianna gave birth to a healthy baby girl. It seemed the efforts to save both mother and child were successful. Sadly, a week later, St. Gianna died from septic peritonitis, an infection from the C-section delivery.6


  1. St. Gianna is beatified, not only as a martyr for her youngest child, but for the Christian witness of her entire life.


Some have criticized Gianna, suggesting she lacked virtue as a mother because she worked outside the home as a pediatrician and wrongly speculating that Gianna's sainthood is based solely on her willingness to die for her child.


In an interview, Gianna's husband clarified that her beatification came about because her "whole life was an uninterrupted act of Christian witness": 


"When Gianna died, only her sacrifice was known. ...initially, they thought about the extraordinary act of a martyr. When her life was examined later, Gianna's writings were read and studied. They realized that Gianna's whole life was an uninterrupted act of Christian witness, of grace. Thus, this more profound understanding has led to the final picture of a woman, of a mother beatified precisely for the way in which she knew how to live every phase of her life."7


  1. St. Gianna's husband didn't know the extent of her faith until after she died. 


In reflecting on the process of beatification for his wife and the discovery of her journals, Pietro wrote: 


"...she never spoke to me about the degree of her involvement in Catholic volunteer work. Therefore, thanks to the process [of beatification], I have been able to review Gianna's life. I have been able to know her writings, which are very important to understand her human and religious personality."8 


  1. St. Gianna's daughter, Gianna Emanuela, who was saved by her mother's decision not to have a hysterectomy while pregnant, has dedicated her life to helping society understand the importance of supporting families. 


In her advocacy work, Gianna Emanuela recognizes that her family survived after her mother's death because they were supported by an expansive network of friends and family with hands-on help. Gianna Emanuela lists several aunts and uncles from both sides of the family, grandparents, friends, and a nanny who lived with them for 14 years. In gratitude for her mom's sacrifice, Gianna Emanuela works full-time advocating community support for families and mothers.9


St. Gianna Molla, pray for us!

© JosĂ© Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro via Wikimedia Commons

*Also published August 2020 at

1 Pietro Molla, et al. Saint Gianna Molla: Wife, Mother, Doctor. Ignatius Press, 2004, 26.

2 Ibid, 52.

3 "Family Life," The Society of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, last modified November 18, 2016,

4 Molla, Saint Gianna Molla, 35.

5 Ibid, 59.

6 "St. Gianna Beretta Molla: A Modern Mother's Heroism," The Catholic Company, last modified April 27, 2017,

7 Molla, Saint Gianna Molla, 75.

8 Ibid, 65.

9 Patricia Kasten, "Italian Doctor Visits Clinic Named After Her Saintly Mother," The Compass, November 15, 2018,

Sunday, August 2, 2020

What Do You Need (A Reflection for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection on the readings for Mass this Sunday, August 2, 2020, via our parish blog.

I usually think of myself as Jesus when I read the Gospel: the one who's always right, who intuitively knows everyone's motivations, whose righteous anger is always justified.

In this week's Gospel reading, Jesus is trying to get some time alone: 

"...he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns." (Matthew 14:13) 

Poor Jesus. The clamoring crowds won't leave him alone! Poor Jesus. Poor me. Poor Jesus. Poor me. 

It wasn't until Wally and I read through all of the Scriptures for this Sunday that I realized, oh, Charlene, you've got it wrong. You are not Jesus. You are not the Eternally Patient One who is thrilled to see people chasing you into your solitude. (Just ask my kids.)

I'm the crowd that seems to ever pester Jesus, audaciously showing up whenever I please with an armful of questions, hurts, and concerns: Jesus, why is this happening? Jesus, what should I do? Jesus, where is the justice? Jesus, my friend needs healing. Jesus, I'm hungry. 

While it sounds annoying, we can see repeatedly in this Sunday's Scriptures that God loves it when we show up unannounced, honest, and empty-handed: 

"The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth." (Psalm 145:18)

"Come to the water! … Come, receive grain and eat… Come, without paying and without cost… Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life." (Isaiah 55:1-3)

Jesus doesn't want to be left alone. He welcomes our clamoring, reaching, calling out at all hours:

"What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? ...neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature..." (Romans 8:35-39)

And what does Jesus do for the crowd that chases after him into his solitude? 

"...his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick." (Matthew 14:14)

Jesus' disciples suggest he send them away:

" is already late; dismiss the crowds…" (Matthew 14:15)

But no, Jesus invites the crowd to stay with him into the night. He tells them to sit down in the grass and get comfortable. Then He miraculously multiplies what little they have—2 loaves and 5 fish—and feeds more than 5,000 people like it's Thanksgiving dinner.

Whether we're thirsty, fearful, poor, hopeless, hungry, or dissatisfied—all needs that are mentioned in this Sunday's readings—may the Responsorial Psalm bring us hope:

"The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs." (Psalm 145:16)

What do you need from Jesus? Chase him into solitude; He welcomes you.

"Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life." (Isaiah 55:3)

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Listen, Imagine, Pray: A Review of Beheld Media's Time With Jesus

My kids know about God… but do they know God? Why do they sometimes dread family prayer time? (Why do I sometimes dread family prayer time?) 

When Beheld Media introduced an innovative prayer resource for kids to CatholicMom, it resonated with a need in my own family. I hoped it would be as good as it sounded:

Time With Jesus (TWJ) is a collection of 13 Bible readings and corresponding meditations, in which scenes from the Bible are brought to life with natural sound effects and music. By listening to Scripture and then using their imagination, children are led to an encounter with Jesus.

My kids, ages 4-10, love the prayer experience of TWJ. Each night for the past two weeks, after tucking them in bed and turning out the light, I've played one of the tracks from my phone. Each night, they've begged to hear another. 

"I helped Jesus pull the boat onto the sand!" declared my 4-year-old after an immersive story of Jesus calming a storm.

After the same guided reflection, my 8-year-old shared, "You know how I get worried a lot? I think Jesus was telling me that He can handle all the stuff that worries me."

Each TWJ contemplation is 5-7 minutes long. The word choice and story format are perfect for kids of any age. The music is calming. The sound effects are an integral part of the story, not distracting or overbearing. 

Catholics will recognize TWJ as a modern-day, kid-friendly experience of lectio divina, an ancient prayer tradition of Scripture meditation that "engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire." (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2708) 

"I helped Jesus find a lost sheep!" one of my 5-year-olds shared after listening to a parable.

"And we are the sheep!" his twin interjected. "We are Jesus' sheep! He wants to comfort us."

Time With Jesus isn't preachy. In fact, there's no preaching at all. And yet, through each guided, open-ended conversation with Jesus, the Holy Spirit stirred differently in each of my kids—and in me. While listening to TWJ, God impressed on my heart a friendship I needed to reconcile. This is an approach to prayer that's engaging and effective for every age, even adults. 

Several of the Bible stories in TWJ are also mysteries of the rosary: The Visitation, Jesus' Birth, Baptism, Transfiguration, and Resurrection, and The Coming of the Holy Spirit. After listening to the Scripture of Mary's visit to Elizabeth, children are invited to talk with Mary about how excited she is to be Jesus' mother and how much she wants everyone to know her Son. 

Cate Kensey, creator of Time With Jesus, explains: 

"​TWJ is the fruit of my own faith journey. My own relationship with God was transformed when, in 2003, I was introduced to a community of missionary women whose vocation is to show people how they can meet Jesus personally and be changed by His love, through prayerful contemplation on the Word of God. I have continued to pray in this way and it is what sustains my daily walk with Jesus." 

While there's a notable Aussie accent—Beheld Media is an Australian company—my kids didn't even notice. (TWJ could be a simple introduction for American kids about the universality of faith: Christians around the world read the same Scripture in different languages with different accents).

"I like imagining the details of the Bible stories," my 10-year-old shared after listening to his favorite track, The Coming of the Holy Spirit. "It makes it easier for me to talk to God."

"Jesus was talking to me!" my 4-year-old declared in a run-on sentence of excitement after listening to The Resurrection. "I was pretending like I was running to get to Jesus, and when I turned, somebody was right in front of me, and I know it was Jesus, and He said, 'I am alive.' And I said, 'How did you get off the cross?!' And He said, 'I am alive.'" 

TWJ offers a creative way for kids to know God, to encounter Jesus personally, as they engage meaningfully and joyfully in prayer.

You can listen to The Transfiguration as a free sample track and purchase Time With Jesus as a CD or mp3 download at Beheld Media's website (

*Also published July 2020 at

Monday, July 20, 2020

She Laughs at the Future

I ran a Catholic homeschool co-op with 4 kids under 6 while pregnant with #5. 
"What an impossible job!" another mom said. 
I laughed smartly.

I emailed in my letter of resignation at midnight while changing buckets during a family stomach bug.
"What a time to quit!" my boss said.
I laughed tiredly. 

I made pizza with tomatoes and basil from our garden while teaching my children to make homemade crust.
"What a good dinner!" the kids said. 
I laughed proudly.

I served 5 bags of extra butter microwave popcorn to my children while letting them watch TV.
"What a good dinner!" the kids said.
I laughed gratefully.

I brought 5 kids to Parent Night while pulling 2 preschoolers in a wagon with a toddler on my back.
"What a fun family!" the principal said. 
I laughed appreciatively.

I brought 5 kids to an Author Celebration while their heads were unknowingly but visibly crawling with lice.
"It happens! Don't worry about it!" the school nurse said. 
I laughed self-consciously.

My child told his whole class about Jesus while reading his story at Show & Tell.
"What a good writer!" the teacher said.
I laughed agreeably. 

My child told his whole class about how loudly I yell at home while reading his story at Show & Tell.
"What vivid description!" the teacher said.
I laughed awkwardly.

My kid brought his Bible to read while waiting for a chair at the orthodontist. 
"What a big book!" the assistant said. 
I laughed reverently.

My kid brought Captain Underpants and The Attack of the Talking Toilets to read while waiting in line for Confession. 
"What an… interesting book!" the secretary said. 
I laughed sheepishly.

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and laughs at the days to come. 
- Proverbs 31:25

*Also published July 2020 at

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Can You Hold Me? (A Reflection for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection on the readings for Mass this Sunday, July 5, 2020, via our parish blog.

"Can you hold me?"

Our 4-year-old gets overwhelmed easily. Especially these past few months, he doesn't understand why our busy household  work, school, parish life, extracurricular activities  stopped with little warning back in March. Almost hourly each day, he finds us, reaches up, and asks, "Can you hold me?" 
"I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones."1
As parents, we carry similar anxiety, wanting to control circumstances beyond our expertise and understanding, frustrated when things don't go the way we think they should, feeling pressured to count ourselves among "the wise and the learned" instead of the "little ones." 

Father, Lord of heaven and earth, can you hold me? 

A few years ago, we were cutting down a large dead tree in our yard. One wrong estimation, and we'd have a 30-foot tree across the road, in our kitchen window, or worse, on top of one of us. The sound of a chainsaw called our neighbors to their driveways to watch.

After several cuts, we began talking anxiously under the precarious tree. Had we cut far enough through the trunk? Why wasn't the tree falling? The YouTube video showed you cut this way and then that way and then it comes down. 

We finally swallowed our pride and called over our neighbor for help. Within minutes, he pulled the ropes and directed the tree in a perfect crash onto our yard. 

A job that was causing great anxiety became instantly simpler with the presence of a caring, competent friend. 
"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest."2
Am I receiving the comfort and rest of God's presence? Or am I trying to carry heavy burdens alone? Father, Lord of heaven and earth, can you hold me? 
"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves."3 
"Take my yoke upon you," Jesus offers in this Sunday's Gospel (emphasis added).

Am I carrying Jesus' yoke  with his help  or am I carrying burdens alone? Things become so complicated when we push forward alone. Father, Lord of heaven and earth, can you hold me? 
"...For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."4 
Lord, please transform the worry of my daily work and the overwhelming concerns around me with the peace of your presence. Father, Lord of heaven and earth, can you hold me? 

2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.