Living authentically

It seems to be a new catch phrase, “live authentically.” Yet, as a Catholic, sometimes that is harder than it appears. For me, this time of year is especially difficult. It has nothing to do with Christmas. Next week we mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade which legalized abortion. It is not news to anyone who knows me well that I am a practicing Catholic and I do not hide my faith. I have encouraged Confirmation students to wear their faith like a coat. Not like a Sunday coat or Wednesday night coat (because you have to go to religion class), but every day. This is hard advice to dispense when I, myself, find myself not necessarily wearing my coat when talk around office, on the street, in the store, or wherever there are conversations and debates that split society and, in cases, split Catholics themselves.

I often go back to another question. “If you were on trial for being a Catholic, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” I got started thinking about this after a homily on Sunday where a visiting priest told us to remember that someday, in heaven, we will see someone and we will remember that we could have done more. I think this applies to individuals, as well as our faith. There is always more we can do to defend our faith, our beliefs – even those hard ones – where we are challenged. In my case, it is not doubt in what I believe, but lack of confidence in the face of belittlement, shaming, and implications about a lack of intelligence, as though Catholicism, especially certain teachings, are ignorant or misogynistic. Though I do not understand how believing, fundamentally, that life begins at conception qualifies for those labels.

We all have a faith unique to us and our process of discernment is a continuous process. Our ‘action plan’ for our faith evolves, as opportunities come up and changes force us in a different path. But is that path always moving in the direction of God? We can’t jump on and off the Catholic bandwagon depending on the issue. We can’t be on God’s team only when it is winning. This isn’t football and the Minnesota Vikings. (Speaking of which, imagine if we showed that same level of enthusiasm supporting our Catholic “team.” Wow!)

Our faith defines us. Are we authentic or are we putting on a show? Are we the same person in church as we are in school? You don’t need to be an evangelist at every opportunity, or a saint, to be a faithful Catholic. You can be you. That is enough for God. At the same time, are we speaking up to defend what we believe?

Matthew 5:14-15 says “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”

Regretfully I admit to covering my faith with a bowl to avoid those difficult conversations. Yet, even if you do not have faith bold enough to stand on the top of a hill with your light, it can be shared. I have done so more quietly, in my own way. I know that is not enough. It is not truly authentic. We have dark corners to light. We have truth to share.

Rather than hiding it, I think we need to remember that our faith may have an impact on another. It is a deeply personal thing, but if you own it and really wear it, it will touch the people around you and it will make a difference in your families, to your friends, to complete strangers. God gave us a voice, to sing (though my case not very well) and to speak. To declare our belief that January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court got it wrong…very wrong.

This new year I am going to try harder to wear my coat, not just Sundays. I am going to try to be found guilty of being a Catholic at every opportunity. I am going to focus on that prayer we say often, but perhaps do not consider closely enough. Where we consider and ask for help “in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do.”

To my friends who are bold, who are walking proud in the March for Life, thank you for using your light. You have my admiration. I want to be as guilty as you of being Catholic.

Sheila Hellermann is a member of St. Rose of Lima Church in St. Rosa. She works at St. John’s University as a program and department coordinator for several academic departments. Read more about Sheila on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.

The Strength of a Woman

I came across a blog by Abby Johnson a while back that really struck a chord with me. It was titled “7 Things I Learned at the Women’s Convention About Feminists and Abortion.” There were a lot of crazy things she encountered at the convention as a pro-life feminist (in the truest and best sense of the word), but the truth that has been resonating in my heart since reading the blog was this: that the abortion industry, now more than ever, is playing on women’s fears and insecurities in order to convince them that they’re not strong enough, not ready enough, to be a mother. Abby wrote:

To them [the abortion industry], being able to kill women in the womb is totally pro-woman. Being able to exploit women’s fears of not being strong enough to be a parent is empowering. But pro-choice feminists know nothing of women’s empowerment.

“Oh, you are pregnant and in school? Well, there’s no way you are strong enough to finish your educational goals and be a mother. We will capitalize on your fear, make you feel weak, and give you an abortion.” Or maybe, “Oh, your boyfriend just left you and you are pregnant? Well, there’s no way you are strong enough to be a single mother. Let’s just get this abortion taken care of so we can keep convincing you just how weak you are.”

Pro-life feminists refuse to choose. We can be mothers and have careers. We can finish our education with children in tow. Is it a challenge? Yep. But women are made for challenges. We are strong enough to handle the challenges presented to us. It’s what we were made to do.”

Women are made for challenges. Can I get an amen?! This article has really made me start to think about what it means to be strong as a woman. What, at the very core, is the strength of a woman?

I think the feminist movement (in its worst form) has distorted what it means to be a woman so horribly that “strength” is often be equated with physical power or intimidation or ‘lording it over’ men, or even just trying to be like men and proving that we can do everything they can do. But if God made us male and female, He obviously had a reason!

Women weren’t made to live for ourselves—we’ve been given such an ability and desire to nurture in a maternal way, even if we’re not physical mothers. The feminine heart wants to love intensely, even when it’s hard and scary and there’s the risk of that heart being broken by loving broken human beings. But we were made for this challenge, for the challenge of loving with everything we are.

I think of the strongest person I know—my mom. She’s physically strong, born and raised a true farm girl, but her deepest strength lies in her love, giving herself totally to others and allowing her heart to be broken out of love. I think of Mary, the ultimate example for all women, allowing her heart to be broken by love, courageously suffering the incomprehensible agony of watching her son die the worst kind of death. The strength of a woman lies in this kind of love—giving ourselves completely and risking the pain and demands of love. I once heard that our capacity to suffer is in direct proportion to our capacity to love, because when we love another person with everything we are, their suffering becomes our own. What a beautiful gift— and a daunting challenge! It reminds me of a quote by C.S. Lewis from The Four Loves that pierces to the heart of what it means to authentically love:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

This is true strength. This is the strength of a woman. It’s not “strength” to abort a child in order to avoid the messiness and demands of love. Selfishness is the antithesis of strength. Let’s stop trying to convince women otherwise. You are strong, you are beautiful, and you are enough. Don’t be afraid to let your heart be broken for others—It’s what you were made to do.

–Nikki

Tricia and Nikki Walz are proud Minnesotans who were born and raised in the heart of St. Cloud with their younger sister Briana. Read more about them on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.

‘Jangling around gently’ and other words of wisdom

On this Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I was looking at The New York Times Book of the Dead, a cherished gift from last Christmas given me by my most cherished niece. It is a collection of 320 obituaries that ran in The New York Times.

As I paged through, I came across the obituary of Satchel Paige (July 7, 1906-June 8, 1982), one of the greats of baseball’s old Negro leagues, and indeed one of baseball’s greats of any league.  In those days, because of the ban on blacks in the major leagues, blacks had their own league.  Many of the best of these players played baseball year-round, in the U.S. in the spring, summer and fall and in the Caribbean and Central America in the winter.

The NY Times obituary tells us that Paige pitched in his lifetime some 2,500 games, had 55 no-hitters and “he once started 29 games in one month in Bismarck, N.D., and he said later that he won 104 of the 105 games he pitched in 1934.”

When Jackie Robinson finally broke the color barrier in 1947, Paige was already in his 40’s.  This didn’t prevent him from pitching most of five seasons in the major leagues.  He pitched for the last time September 25, 1965, at the age of 59, the oldest ever to appear in a major league game. “Joe DiMaggio called him ‘the best I’ve ever faced, and the fastest.’”

The NY Times obituary ends with what they called Satchel’s “master’s maxims” as a reason for his longevity.  When I read them, it occurred to me how wise they still are.  Let me share them with you.

  1. Avoid fried meats, which angry up the blood.
  2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
  3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
  4. Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social rumble ain’t restful.
  5. Avoid running at all times.
  6. Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.

Pretty decent points of wisdom, I’d say.  Dieticians, spiritual directors, psychologists all can find something to their liking in that list.  Maybe, even, it’s a good list, still early in this year of 2018, to adopt as a guide for healthy living, especially that thing about ‘jangling around gently as you move.’

(Find the obituary in The New York Times Book of the Dead, ed. William McDonald, 2016, p. 616-617).

Father Tony currently serves as pastor of Christ Church Newman Center in St. Cloud.

Word of the Year {Part 2}

This is the second in a series.

Right around the same time that baby Joy entered my world via a computer screen, another face also joined hers. This one was slightly familiar, but only by name and photo. Her name was Mallory. Another Facebook post from a friend led to Mallory’s Caring Bridge site and her story which was just unfolding. I had connected with Mallory’s mom several years prior when both of us were just blogging moms whose paths happened to cross. I met Lori twice in recent years and found her to be a faith filled woman whose smile and kind heart left an imprint. Now her family needed prayers as Mal was diagnosed at Christmas time (2016) with rhabdomyosarcoma, a fairly rare malignant pediatric cancer. After a few initial procedures, an MRI and then a CT scan were ordered, and it was confirmed that a cancerous mass was in Mal’s left nasal cavity.

Feeling inadequate, being limited by miles and connection with the family, our family started to pray. It was all that we knew to do in order to help in some way, just as we were praying for baby Joy at that same time as well. With each Caring Bridge update and photo posted, even from across a screen something still came through in great prominence. Mal’s family motto during her hospitalizations and treatments followed a theme, that of St. Padre Pio: “Pray. Hope. And don’t worry.” Their own persistence in prayer and faith began to lead and deepen my own. While I’d always been prayerful, it became evident early on in our following Mal’s journey that God had more in store. Our family became constant prayer warriors for Mal, along with sending words of encouragement and love as often as we could during the months that followed. We connected deeply with this family whom we barely knew, celebrating the triumphs of cancer treatment and hopeful prognoses, along with the heartbreak of new challenges Mal faced.

Photo taken Oct. 30, when Mallory was visited by Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla, daughter of St. Gianna Beretta Molla.

Through it all, Mallory’s faith never faltered, she never saddened or lost hope in God. And one day as I stared at the screen captivated by the face I saw there, I realized what it was that I was seeing. JOY. As if for the first time, I recognized it. My word for the year wasn’t for my own happiness in what life was going to bring me in 2017. Joy was something I was going to learn. It was being shown and taught to me by following the example of a simple teen whose focus was on Christ while she traveled down an unexpected path. Throughout her suffering, she still shared joy and a smile. She was showing people like me how beautiful life in Christ really is and accepting that He would use her as an instrument for others. From what I’d read over all those months in comments and journal entries, it sounded like young and old alike found joy through Mal’s life and the faith she lived out daily, even before a cancer diagnosis.

Mallory with Sarah’s daughter, Gianna.

In September, our family met up with Mal’s family in Duluth while we were in town for a few days. It was a surreal encounter for all of my family and being able to touch the person and spend time with the family for whom we’d been praying for months. I think I still feel her embrace and playback her gentle smile. While that was both the first and the last time I’d touch her physical body, it will not soon be forgotten. Not two months later, on November 7, Mallory’s earthly fight was over and her eternal life began.

At Mass on the Sunday after Mal passed away, I remembered how much Mal loved Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. After communion I had this overwhelming sense of the joy that Mal was feeling as she beheld the throne of God and the unexplainable magnitude of heaven. It was the first time in days that I caught a glimpse of some meaning behind Mallory’s passing. Her place in heaven was prepared, she was ready and she no longer needed to go through the earthly pain.

Sometimes with joy also comes sorrow. Had I known when JOY was placed on my heart what it truly would mean, I wouldn’t have imagined it quite the way that it ended up. God’s intricate weaving is like that sometimes, creating beauty within a tapestry of sadness that our human minds cannot grasp.

You can read Mallory’s Caring Bridge journal and share in her story at her site by clicking here.

Sarah Heidelberger is a wife and homeschooling mom of five who keeps her days steady with her planning and organizing skills. Read more about her on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.

Word of the Year {Part 1}

It’s become a practice of mine over the last several years as one year closes and the new is in view, to think and pray about a word to focus on/intentionally seek out for the upcoming new year. They tend to pop up unexpectedly and yet so perfectly. Three years ago, the resounding word that popped up everywhere that December was FIAT (meaning ‘yes’) and I tried to push it away. The main reason? My primary point of reference for fiat was Mary’s ‘yes’ to the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation. The human, tired mom side of me felt that God’s prompting to me with the word fiat couldn’t possibly mean an unexpected ‘yes’ from me to embrace and carry another pregnancy. Don’t get me wrong, my husband and I most definitely were open to having more children. I just don’t know that the realistic side of me was ready to accept it beautifully, but God knew. Looking back, He had already been preparing me and my heart to be open even where I didn’t see it. And guess what? Shortly into that new year of 2015, we found out we were expecting a new little one in September. Oh gosh, how I laughed (and cried)! And you better bet that pregnancy took more ‘yeses’ and being resigned to God’s plan rather than my own “perfect” one. You also should know that fiat turned into a boy that we couldn’t possibly imagine our family without. Fiat definitely was meant to be for 2015.

Fast forward to December of 2016 and I became aware of the word JOY entering around every corner. Brushing it away, assuming it was because it was near Christmas and that word is often used in décor and references everywhere, I continued to seek something different. There was no avoiding it. Even as the first days of 2017 began, joy still found its way. I wondered where I would perhaps find new joy or maybe a different way to be joy-filled each day in my vocation. I most certainly could use a brush up in attitude and true happiness in my life and vocation, so I was up for it.

It didn’t take long for me to learn that joy was to be found in circumstances and two particular people, a toddler and a teen, to stir me to the core.

Within a day or two of solidifying JOY as my word, God put before me the story of a little girl, baby Joy, as I opened my Facebook newsfeed one early morning. I read the horrifying story of a toddler, not much older than my youngest, who was in a coma due to a drowning accident over Christmas (read Joy’s story here). Tears filled my eyes as I read Joy’s story and the urgent request for prayers. Her parents’ faith and humble intentions that she just be given the chance to survive, prodded my own belief in a miracle.

My family and I joined prayer warriors across the globe who heard about baby Joy. My heart connected to Joy’s mother, Kristin, a woman whom I’d never met, but with whose motherly heart I could identify. In the days and weeks that followed, I checked Facebook for any updates as often as I could each day. There was something about being united in prayer, but also witnessing a miracle as it unfolded. Joy had gone from being without a heartbeat for nearly thirty minutes, to coming off of a ventilator and out of a coma, to smiling and laughing. Later in January, Joy left the hospital and I watched the video with tears streaming down my face and cheering her on.

I kept praying for Joy and her family, thinking of them often. I still followed her journey on Facebook and was delighted to read any updates I found (especially this one at National Catholic Register).

I learned a lot about the power of prayer and the impact of a single life in the world. I’ve seen how the smile of a radiant, life-filled toddler who is a walking miracle can draw the family of God together through even the most tragic life events. I also found that what God was teaching me about joy would be a link to deeper, unforeseen relationships to the body of Christ.

This is part one in a series.

Sarah Heidelberger is a wife and homeschooling mom of five who keeps her days steady with her planning and organizing skills. Read more about her on the “Meet Our Bloggers” page.