The Magic Maker

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Tis the seasons for moms to make magic! It has long been my favorite time of year to be a mom as I revel in the privilege of being the magic maker; the one who directs their eyes towards the heavens and into the depth of mysterious realities inherent in the faith we share together. I witness their wonder, their hopeful vulnerability to believe in things they cannot see. I notice even the most irreverent of small toddlers compelled to pause at the sight of lights that dance and sparkle. They are eager to await all the goodness that is to come from the birth of Jesus trusting fully in that tremendous Santa Claus, not just for what he will bring, but for how he goes to such great lengths for the whole world to throw a birthday celebration for his special baby King. As I pursue the richness of myth and mystery, of Santa and sleighs and reindeer and elves, I continually wonder if I am doing it right; If I am properly walking that fine line that teeters its steps towards truth and honesty without bursting the beauty of childhood belief. As my children grow older, and a bit more intellectually mature, I want to make sure our celebration of Christmas matures too, but without losing its magical momentum. 

The thing is, I am a 32 year old woman who is cynical about many things, but I still fully believe in Santa Claus. How important a figure he is to rely on! To hope in the generosity of someone who cares so much for you, that he would do nearly anything to keep you safe, happy, and focused on the freedom inherent in putting God first! The story of St. Nicholas is one that continues to shape me. He was a young man, who inherited wealth upon the death of his parents. He saw his neighbors being sold into slavery because of their poverty. In his despair and grief, he realized still that he could do something about it, and so he did. He dropped gold through the chimney, into their stockings, and he disappeared into the night. He became a Bishop (a Good one!) and actually travelled in a sleigh. Through his sainthood, we get the real Santa Claus. Sure, modern cultures have dismantled the true depth and point of his life. His narrative has been abused and his face warped into the commercial tagline of a consumerism that is vicious and debilitating. But not all is lost! Magic making is still very much possible- even if your kids begin to catch on to how much “helping” we parents actually do. 

I say all this mostly because of what my mother has taught me. You see, she has loved St. Nicholas so completely through out her life, that without a doubt in my mind, I know that he is working through her. To put it simply, there is no other way to explain the mysterious effectiveness of the stunts that she pulls. She also skillfully manages to take advantage of the fact that no matter what she does, you can’t get mad at Santa Claus. It is not in the type of gifts that she gives, in their expense or in their luxury (although truth be told those are usually pretty awesome). It is the intangible way she channels generosity to take flight. It is that very special manner in which her December tactics will frustrate me to the point of boiling. It is only later that I find she was creating something magnificent all along. It is me realizing that the hidden magic in the day she showed up unannounced with presents in one hand, suckers in another, and a very large moving truck parked behind her that began ever so quickly to unload dozens of uniformed boxes wrapped in red before I could say, “Can I change out of my pajamas first?” That was the day she was gifting me her prize antique Duncan Royale Santa Claus collection (valued now in the $$$$$), which proved to me once and for all that the story of St. Nicholas ought to be shouted from the rooftops. Upon opening each one of the world’s depictions of Santa, was a chance to encounter my childhood staring back at me. I remembered hot June nights standing outside of the Cape May Christmas store, wanting desperately for her to hurry up so I could have ice cream. She continued to barter relentlessly with the store manager, reminding me to be patient because “she was working for Saint Nicholas.” She worked for years to buy those Santa Clauses, to find them, to negotiate their prices, to display them proudly, and it was a process that particularly annoyed me. But then, for no good reason at all, upon no good merit whatsoever, despite many good reasons why she ought to keep them or give them to someone much more deserving, she up and gave them to me. I didn’t even know that I wanted them. That I would be so mesmerized by their history, their legends of renegade generosity across different lands and cultures. Even in all of the difference, they were all in search of the same goodness of God.  That’s the thing about Santa Claus, he gives us the gifts that anticipate our needs, that give purpose to our mission, that help us focus on all the good that God put in us, no matter how badly we behaved. And sometimes, he makes us wait a little longer to unwrap the true essence and power inherent in the gift. But, no matter how dazzling the material of the present is, it is the intangible that sticks with us, that gut memory that continues to say “you are loved beyond measure, worthy of greatness, designed to be good.” 

On the very same day when those poor movers walked with such deliberate speed and intentional direction as if they had been warned not to make eye contact or respond to my pleas, and when, I still in my PJs, chased them to our basement storage room trying to figure out what lay beneath all that red wrapping paper, I came back upstairs to catch the last glimpse of Mammy’s white car driving quickly up my driveway and out of sight until her next unexpected visit. Just as I began to sigh in relief at no more surprises for the day, I turned to notice the giant red velvet sleigh sitting smack dab in the middle of my entryway. In it were five little kids now chasing their sucker with a candy cane, singing Jingle Bells on its plush seat. They dashed and danced towards that magical place where children are loved purely and pursued with great fervor, that to me could only be heaven, but I’ll settle for the North Pole. In that moment, and through that completely absurd antique, she was making a magic maker out of me, and my kids were pretty darn thankful. While I’ll never be quite as good, thanks to her, I’m learning; and I own a very large replica of Santa’s preferred method of transportation to prove it.  

This year, as I noticed my newly turned 9 year old not as jazzed up by the traditions that usually made him squeal, I took my concern to Santa himself. I wondered if maybe my adult belief is more of a fluke than anything else and prepared myself to accept that Christmas might not be the same for him anymore. Good ol’ Saint Nick acknowledged my desire not to have a scrooge on my hands, and helped me put a little extra magic in my minivan. Together as a family, we loaded it up with treat bags and cold coins, and all before bedtime, we spread some St. Nick treats for a few in need and a few that we just plain love. It was the shift that my family needed, a chance to let them make a little magic of their own for others whom they love. Although the night before the feast of St. Nicholas might be better known as “the night mom taught us how to throw candy at front doors and we learned how to ding dong ditch,” I’d like to hope that they might remember the magic they felt when doing something so perfectly preposterous, but completely and totally generous for no particular reason at all. And if I judge the effectiveness of our Toyota Sienna sleigh ride by the sound of infectious laughter from my oldest kids sourced from the depth of their bellies, I think it was pretty successful.  

We don’t really deserve to find treats in our shoes or presents under the tree, but we get them anyway, simply because we are loved. If we can bypass the materialism, and forgo the stress of checking off our lists and reflecting on the true needs of those we love, the gifts of Christmas can point us towards the heart of our faith, the nonsensical reality that God makes something, someone, out of nothing for no particular reason other than: He loves. 

This year, in particular, our Church needs the joy and the hope of a happy Christmas, a reminder that purity still exists, a dependence on the great Saints who, like St. Nicholas, stand for truth no matter the cost. And we, as adults, have a special opportunity to focus our families on that sweet baby boy who gives us everything. As we encounter the weeks when we will somehow pull off Christmas out of what feels like nothing, let us remember that there is plenty of heavenly help wanting to give us assistance. And I think maybe it is in depending on the supernatural that all the magic is really made to happen, both in our hearts and under our trees too. 

To all you magic makers! Enjoy the season.  

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I very purposefully chose to get married in the church with longest aisle in the Diocese. I thought I would want to savor it, let the feeling of parading in my wedding gown simmer for a while, soak in the faces of all the people who I love, take in the music, appreciate the flowers, notice all those details about which my mom and I had spent so much time fighting. Yet, when the day came, and the bridal trumpet sounded, this fool rushed right in. I nearly tripped my father to the ground as I hurriedly skipped toward my groom, the only words I recall saying were “come on, Dad!” All those pretty details, the teeny tiny things I thought I would remember about my wedding forever, became blurry afterthoughts in the periphery of my focus on the incredible person dumb enough to marry me. And I was gleefully happy.

Over 10 years since I so happily ran down that long aisle at the idiotic age of 22, I think I might even be more grateful now than I was then to have had the chance to dive head first into the adventure of a young marriage without over thinking all the reasons why I shouldn’t, or stressing about all the things that could go wrong, or all the worries I might feel 3 years in, 5 years in, 35 years in. I discerned, I decided, and then I dove. The day to day was to be determined.

As a Catholic woman, wife and mother in this time of crisis, corruption, scandal, abuse, nonsensical idiocy, complete criminality, silent wayward leadership, and every other bad thing a person can think up, it seems, sometimes feels, and possibly is, silly to stay in this Church that I still call home. The breaking news is always bad. It has broken my heart and threatened to beat me down so many times in the past few months, that I’ve wondered, seriously- and out loud, what any of us are doing by staying. Yet, I’m still diving right in. In the midst, and in spite, I cannot quit, and I’m still in love. Why? Because it is not about the peripherals.

The Church does not belong to the Bishops. While these higher ups may have pledged more responsibility to serving her, while more souls are entrusted to their care, the Church is not any more the Pope’s than it is mine. THE CHURCH IS NOT EVEN AN INSTITUTION. The Church is a body, and what has been done to Him will be done to us. And it is on Him that I will try and keep my focus. And it is for the victims that we will all keep fighting.

The day to day news is going to continue to crush and crumble us. It is going to frustrate, to distract, to enrage, and to confuse. But I pray that none of that might steal our focus on Jesus as he waits for us at the altar and in the tabernacle.

What a time to be a Catholic, to be stripped of so many things in which I once trusted, with no choice but to dive right into the power of the Eucharist. I crave the fullness of the Church and all of its peripheral details, because like every smart bride knows, details matter. But I hope I gain the focus to race towards Jesus in the Eucharist like I did towards my husband on my wedding day, where nothing, not even a father who can’t quite keep up his stride, will keep me from Him.

Courage in Corruption (continued)

As news from the curia continues to scourge us with its scandal and scathe we are all undoubtedly tired. The rabbit hole sucks as it deflates. It is filled with muck and sludge, and its thickness sticks. Unable to completely compartmentalize, I can feel its heaviness everywhere. Without the emergence of true leadership, a sense of confusion and isolation is perhaps its most burdensome load.

We are being bombarded by news that potentially (probably) implicates Pope Francis to knowingly covering up for sexual predators! The narcissism among the hierarchy is so blind to interior insight that even with so much mounting evidence of personal implication they still seem completely incapable of apologizing on behalf of themselves! We continue to realize that in an effort to sustain a culture of abuse, they groomed us all! Just when we think we might be able to allow the shock to dissipate towards light, its pull towards darkness feels stronger.

As inconceivable and overwhelming as so many of the details appear to be, I do not ever want to give evil too much credit or very much space in my mind. I do not want to allow its darkness to dim God’s effort to put light in my life. The more unremarkable we allow evil to be, the less power it’s orchestrator possesses. It is remarkable only in its power to destroy that which is not focused on God’s goodness. Even in using its most clever devices evil cannot destroy what is truly good. What’s more, is that in its attempts to devour and demolish, the vileness so often reveals what is most precious and in need of protection. Why abuse children if not for the power their purity possesses? Why use sex to attack and abuse if not for its true sacredness and orientation towards life? Why have women been so excluded from the decision-making body of the Church if not for their capacity to create true change? What reason is there for McCarrick to sacrilege the Eucharist (as the nuncios letter claims linked here) if it is only a piece of bread?

We are witnessing, for the first time in ages, an internal implosion of the Church hierarchy. In the pursuit of power, prestige, and position these men have sought themselves while backstabbing others, and its all being consumed by its own cannibalism.

Even if we tend towards cynicism, even if history shows that the church has always been riddled in it, the confirmation of these types and levels of corruption in this particular time in history, at this particular time of our lives, in these types of ways, is incomprehensible. We can so easily be swept up and away by the outrage into a directionless frenzy of catharsis and chaos. The creativity that the laity and faithful priests so desperately need is so easily squandered by sheer exhaustion. We have jobs to do and babies to raise! Who in their right mind has time for this junk?! What reasons do we have to stay at all? I doubt much else satisfies evil than the kill of good simply by making it tired enough to feel so lonely that it gives up and walks away.

We must utilize our racing thoughts and emotions to embrace the freedom of a life chasing Jesus in new and radical ways. Catharsis without change is outrage wasted.

Though implosions have happened before, and may even happen again, we cannot reduce the magnanimity of God’s message to each and every one of us. In our own way, and for unique reasons, WE WERE EACH MADE FOR THIS VERY MOMENT.

So how do we capitalize on what currently feels so crazy?

To me there are non negotiable points that I think we have an opportunity to actualize as a lay movement if we properly leverage ourselves and engage with the gifts that we have been given. First: WE NEED AN OUTSIDE INVESIGATION OF THE WHOLE CHURCH. State by state is great, but this goes all the way up and all the way around the world. Second, not only do we need to purge out the bad people and practices, but we need to bring them to justice. Defunding them, and defrocking them is the only way to begin to defend the ones they have hurt and will hurt if we do anything different.

I think the first step in getting there is to lay ourselves down in prayer like we never have before. Part of me hesitates to even suggest this as our first line of strategy because how often does it feel like the phrase “thoughts and prayers!” is used as a way of buying time, and excusing slowness and inaction? I think too, much of our earnest has been so manipulated by our leaders that now, more than ever, we want to do more, when maybe, God is asking us all first to be more. We must remember that when we give ourselves over to God in the type of prayer when we completely and totally lay all of our fears and most absurd and radical questions that He does not disappoint. He seeks to accompany our loneliness with an energy and focus that can only be described as heaven-sent. Prayer is what activates the life in all of us. So let us go to Him in haste with the big questions and let us expect Him to give answers. How do I raise my kids in this mess?! Who am I to trust? When will this all be figured out? And while we may not get answers for what to do next week, we can have confidence that he is inspiring us with what to do today.

Nor can we underestimate the power of community to transform catharsis into change. We must discern our individual conscience with those that are like-minded, but diverse in talent.  Maybe its organizing a town hall in your own parish, writing a letter to or requesting a meeting with the bishop. A new financial plan that withholds open-ended donations, or a new fervor to pray with our own families. Exchange ideas, report what works, respect differences among plans, understanding that God really asked each of us to be exactly who we are. In the words of one of my favorite fellow small Italian women, If we are who we are meant to be, we will set the world ablaze -St Catherine of Sienna. (and maybe we let the Vatican and its bank burn too 😉 )

Pray with urgency. Prepare to be pruned. Work together with focus.  Discover concrete ways to reform ourselves, our communities, our local parish, our dioceses, and ultiamtely the whole Church. In it all, we must be patient with our own psychological make up. This is a traumatic event in our faith lives, and the way each of us is designed to process that will look very different. This is hard, this hurts, but we rest assured that God is the one in charge, and our love for Him cannot be unrequited.

Courage in Corruption

I was about 8 years old when I first heard the whispered rumors slithering about, the full sound of their strike and strangle muted to a silence. “But he’s such a funny priest!” I protested. “Trust the Church,” my mom would repeat again and again. “He is leaving for a reason.”

That priest left my home parish as the trail of his scandal grew cold. The leadership of my current Bishop of Pittsburgh and the presiding Cardinal of the Arch Diocese of Washington D.C helped in moving him away only to have his destruction continued elsewhere.

The real life nightmare is detailed in the recent Pennsylvania grand jury document. It took three decades since I first heard of that priests dismissal to learn the whole truth. The reason for his relocation is that he was running a ring of child pornography and rape in the same sacristy where I warmed up for church choir. He continued for years to groom victims, wreak havoc, and wreck lives. He did it all while wearing a smile and telling a joke. My mother’s hopeful trust in the prudence and resolute action of Church leaders of whom she, and so many, still so desperately want to see as good, in the Church to which she gave her life, in the Church in which she raised her children, was trampled and tossed out.

The details of this abuse are no longer remarkable in their occurrence. They are another torrid tale of too many to count, proving to me once and for all that my hope of isolated incidents is as naive as it is dangerous. How could evil and destruction exist within the same institution that helped me foster my faith, find my vocation, shape who I am, what I believe, and why I believe it? But yet, throughout my 32 years, the steady stream of Church scandal persists. Decades upon decades of the same old story of abuse and cover up, deceit and deception, money that should have fed the poor being wasted on the settlements of sexual impropriety, criminal intent. Incident upon incident managed by the very same people who are currently in power, with no way of getting them out unless they resign. IT IS TIME FOR THEM TO RESIGN. 

I love my Church. I trust the core tenants of my faith, and I will cherish them always. I do not, however, trust the current hierarchy nor its systems because their behaviors and beliefs have shown themselves as inherently heretic, and criminal in creed. Corrupt cardinal, it seems, is not a rarity, but merely a term of redundancy. If we have any hope for the future of our children’s faith we must face this corruption head on and with the full force of an armory of courage, and an arsenal of prayerful peace.

As awful as this all is and is going to continue to be, I do at my core see this as an opportunity.  We need a renewal. We need resignations. We need reorganization. And the only way any of those things are going to happen is if we, as the laity of the Church work from the ground up. We must work with our faithful priests (of which there are many!!) It is certainly easy to get wrapped up in the muck, to get stuck in the sensationalism, overwhelmed physically, mentally, and spiritually by the magnitude of calamity because the higher we go the worse it seems. So this, fellow lay Catholics, is our chance to take back the Church from those who are trying to steal it and destroy it. I don’t want my kids to have a remnant. I want them to experience Catholicism in its fullness. And I want them to know that I am willing to fight for that.

To me, what is the most central to this crisis is the topic of Celibacy. When is the last time you heard a priest speak about his celibacy? Most likely, it wasn’t that recently. 

The concept of lay obedience is based on an exchange of goods. Priestly Celibacy is given to the laity in exchange for our obedience. Our obedience is of great value! If leadership is to be worthy of our obedience, they ought to be doing something difficult and they ought to be doing that difficult thing well! And they ought to be able to talk about it.

Celibacy is not meant to stifle sexuality, but to activate a burning desire for eternity! It is meant to fuel the mission of each priest in the same way that sexual desire fuels a marriage! Sexual desire in its fulfillment of gratification and in the fulfillment of its sacrifice are meant to bear a similar fruit: unity, and passionate pursuance: A husband towards his wife, a priest towards his Church.

Alas, long ago, the church leaders, as well as the laity, lost a lot of the richness of the understanding of human sexuality. Our sexuality is not stagnant, and it cannot be stuffed down. It is the exception rather than the rule that a priest will address celibacy as something that is active. It needs to be communicated and discussed openly. 

Until our Church fathers demonstrate an understanding of what active celibacy is, they are undeserving of our obedience. We have a responsibility to remind them of that, and to redesign our current leadership according to this fundamental exchange. 

We have a homosexuality problem. We have pornography problem. We have a mismanagement problem. We have narcissism problem. We have a lust for money problem. We have a lack of women in roles of leadership problem. Many of these things are very well discussed in depth on Catholicpsych.com and I strongly encourage reading through his site.

It is time for a hierarchical overhaul. Time is Up. Eternity is waiting. Lets get to it.

I hope this tiny corner of the internet can be a place to share ideas and discuss hard things with charity. Please join me.