Sunday, September 9, 2018

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

This seems to be the question on the minds of many faithful Catholics who feel they are at a cross-roads right now with the shameful state of the church.  I can only speak for myself, but when I finally started reading up on what all the talk was about, I started to make several observations about my faith.

1. I feel torn between wanting to stay and quite frankly go on with life as planned before I realized what had been going on for decades, and wanting to disassociate myself with a church that no longer sounds like it's living up to its promises.

2. I have realized that I have idolized my denominational affiliation over my relationship with Christ.  My current parish family has been amazing in slowly but surely helping me work on what's important - namely my relationship with Jesus, but this has not been my Catholic experience prior to this parish.

3. I am going back to the Scriptures, weighing the interpretations of different denominations, and really questioning some of the unique aspects of Catholicism.  Jesus's Real Presence in the Eucharist is chief among these.  It seems that faithful Catholics who are not considering leaving the church simply refer to Jesus' Real Presence and say with resignation, "where else could we go?"  But as I've found out, this is a misleading question, because several other denominations believe in some version of a literal interpretation of John 6's Discourse of the Bread of Life.

4. Which brings me to my next thought - is it Jesus's Real Presence in the Eucharist that I want to continue to have access to in my church community?  Do I really believe that I cannot follow Christ, cannot have a relationship with Him, cannot do His will, unless I receiving Him in Holy Communion?  (The answer is a resounding no, underlined actually by a statistic I learned from today's homily.  Apparently only 6% of Catholics believe that sharing the gospel is a priority.  Um, what are we doing in church then people?  Are we not listening at all at the end of Mass when we are sent out to do just that?)  Are we looking at weighing the reality of our Eucharistic Lord against having a vivid and real relationship with our Savior?  Is it an either-or situation?  Certainly, there is room for both, but in my experience, having Jesus physically yet mysteriously present in the Eucharist has set up boundaries around Him.  It has limited where I turn to find Him.  It has encouraged a private devotion with zero interest in sharing Him with others. 

5. Is my desire to remain Catholic a holdover from simply what is familiar?  And if so, is that in itself so bad?  Well, I don't think so, with one big caveat: If I stay, I nonetheless have to do something.  What, I don't know yet, but something.  If I stay and do nothing, then yes, I am condoning the scandal and the cover-up.  And I am not OK with that.

6. And if access to our Eucharistic Lord is a hindrance to a living relationship with Christ, am I then obligated to distance myself from this one manifestation of Jesus in order to better find Him elsewhere? Because regardless, ultimately I am to share Christ.  Which brings me to a good resting point.  This week I start the Sharing Christ series, the third and final installment of an intentional discipleship series I've been participating in.  Perhaps there I can get some clarity.

Practical reasons why I need to commit - and soon - to stay or go, in no particular order:
1. Choice of homeschooling history curriculum spine.  Do I want the Catholic-friendly Story of Civilization, or the Protestant (and hence at times anti-Catholic) Story of the World?

2. Do we prepare our children for their first Reconciliation and Communion in a few years as planned?

3. Do we change how we talk about God to our children? 

4. Do we change how we pray? What we pray?

5. Do we embark on a dual denominational period during which we start exposing our kids to a church community that isn't centered on the Eucharist?

I think the best thing for me to do right now is to pretend there is no other church to which we can belong (as often is the case in various places in the world), and therefore maintain our ties there for at the very least the fellowship aspect of our faith.  And then we would need to step up our private devotion, Scripture study, and the like.  I think it's a good method no matter what, because ultimately, our personal relationship with Jesus is up to us as individuals, not the church we belong to.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Scandal and Fallout

So I have been living under a rock.  I mean, I "knew" about the previous sex abuse scandal in the Catholic church, but I never took any time to learn any details about it.  As recently as last month, I assured fellow Catholics that no one threatens to leave the country when scandal breaks out at the White House or among the police, because we know the country is built on something greater than the individuals that disappoint us. I didn't think it was any different with church membership.  But you know what, that's a little like comparing apples and oranges.  It's nowhere near as feasible for most people to migrate to a foreign country as it is for them to choose a different church to go to.

I also engaged in a little bit of "blame the victim" mentality, or rather, blame the victims' parents.  I thought - where were the parents of the kids being abused?  Why did they trust clergy to be alone with their children?  I've never been an altar server, nor have I ever attended vacation bible school.  I didn't meet many priests personally until recently.  So this is foreign territory for me.  But my daughter has now experienced her first vacation bible school.  I remember writing in my first letter to her that I support whatever path she may follow in life, consecrated religious life included.  I thought about the possibility of my son being a priest someday since before I had confirmation that I was pregnant with him. Today, I have to say that I would be very cautious about the idea, and I don't know that I'll actively encourage my kids to discern this possibility anymore.

And in a much more pressing, immediate scenario... Confession.  We may need to seek out the old screened confessional booths again to maintain some level of security and safety.  I love and trust our current pastor, but the sad truth is that these clerical criminals have tainted the reputation of all the clergy.  Their victims and their victims' parents also trusted them.  So my feelings of trust are no consolation anymore.

It is a sad day when I feel I have to take it upon myself to put into effect safety mechanisms to protect my family from the leaders of my church.  It shouldn't be like that.  The church is not supposed to be just another secular organization.  Yet, I don't see how I can see it as anything other than anymore.

Jesus said to Peter in Matthew 16:18 "upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." So I'm left with a few thoughts on this.  One - I believe that Jesus meant to establish a church based on the leadership of Peter.  Two - I believe Satan has been attacking Christ's church and this is a renewed effort. Three - I don't believe Jesus started an organization, so I don't think it is necessary to think of His Church in terms of a hierarchy.  I believe it is more appropriate to think of the fellowship of all believers as Christ's church.  I don't feel bound by loyalty to the Pope anymore.  The Pope has failed me.  He has failed his calling to lead his flock.  But his failure does not negate the value of the church. I just have to reassess how I define "church". 

But there's a much bigger obstacle to my "leaving" Catholicism.  Ironically, it's an obstacle many converts to Catholicism struggle with before finally embracing the faith: the Eucharist.  But there is no denying Christ's words in the 6th chapter of the gospel of John, verses 35-66.  I'm finding myself on a mission of interpretation. Because let's be honest.  If I were to not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, then I would see no reason to remain a Catholic.  

The current scandal is merely forcing the issue because I'm having a hard time believing in anything - having faith in anything - coming from the same hierarchy that has shown itself to be completely unconcerned with its mission and calling.  If they don't take their position seriously, how can we, the laity? 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

When I Considered Religious Life

My senior year of high school, I thought about becoming a nun.  I had just read a little book by now Saint Theresa of Kolkata (then and still today known to the world as Mother Theresa).  I was young and naive with romanticism about travel, experiencing other cultures, and spending my days in silent contemplation.  I had not real idea of what it meant to be a religious sister, much less a missionary abroad.  I was certainly confusing that and the life of a contemplative hermit-style nun.  Either way, it didn't take long for me to move on to other aspirations after I got discouraged from the idea by my family.

Their reasoning wasn't exactly based on the fact that I had no idea what I was talking about.  Rather, it was based on the fact that they didn't want me to live a life of poverty.  My grandmother, I remember, mentioned, that if I were a boy and expressed an interest in the priesthood, that'd be different.  There were clearly stereotypes about what the various religious lifestyles entail.

In the end, I wasn't being called to the religious life, but I can't really say that I actually discerned this.  Rather, in retrospect, after having actually learned more about what it takes to live out such a vocation, I see that God knew me better than I knew myself.

In a nutshell, if I'm being honest, what I wanted was to live free of charge on an eternal spiritual retreat.  I have since learned that a) you can't enter a religious order with debt, b) they put you to work, and it may not be what you want to be doing, c) the hours of prayer and contemplation come at the price of sleep and free time; they are not in lieu of the full time work that is expected, and finally, d) that entering a religious order is a calling, not a decision. 

This last one actually applies to married life as well, but sadly no one seems to discern if they are called to married life.  They just sort of assume that they are, unless something nudges them to the contrary.  And that's a shame.  Alex and I recently became mentors to engaged couples wishing to be married in the Catholic church.  Our first couple has been together for a decade, has lived together for most of that time, and have three kids together.  It's probably a bit late in their circumstances to be discerning if married life is what they're being called to.

So with that in mind, I want to raise my kids to keep their options truly open.  I don't want them to assume anything.  We don't know yet to which vocation God will call them.  We want them to stay open to all the possibilities, and this is reflected in our family standards regarding dating.  I know first hand how easy it is to "fall in love" as a teenager and then be unable to imagine a life without the significant other. By then it's too late to start considering if God is even calling you to married life or not.  I can't imagine having to break up with a steady boyfriend because "it's time to discern" a vocation.  Instead, we will discuss the different vocations (religious life, single life, married life) as they're growing up, and allow group dating but no serious steady relationships before age 18.

I got off easy.  I used to "blame" my family for discouraging me from pursuing a religious vocation, but now I realize that, had I actually discerned it seriously, I probably would have come to the same conclusion.  But you see, then the realization would've been my own, and I would've owned it.  I would have been able to know without a doubt that this is what God wants for my life.  Instead, I sort of cowered with my metaphorical tail between my legs, playing the victim to my family's lack of support.

Last year at a retreat I met a woman who spoke of the mixed blessing it was to have a daughter join a religious order.  Until that moment, I hadn't actually considered it from the parents' perspective.  But it didn't change my determination to be sure I give equal opportunity to all the vocations for my kids.  After all, married life - even single life - doesn't guarantee that my kids will live close by after they're grown.  My daughter, at 4.75 years old, may swear up and down that she always wants to live with me, and I always tell her she's welcome to it, but I can't hold her to it.  I may envision a happy multi-generational household like the one I grew up in in Poland, but it is not up to me.

I have grown a lot since considering religious life over twenty years ago.  Chief among the maturation process is the understanding of discernment.

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Goal of Faith

"Although you have not seen Him you love him; even though you do not see Him now yet you believe in Him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8-9

"The goal of faith: the salvation of your souls." What would happen to my soul if I didn't have faith?  Well, what kind of life would I lead?  Where would I find the hope, peace, joy, and strength to overcome my tendencies to sabotage doing good?  Whom would I worship, follow, glorify?  I cannot deny my Maker.  And I no longer question WHO God is, and what He's done for me.

If God is just the god of eastern religions or neopagan religions or modern quasi-religions, then He is only one among many, or an abstract concept like gravity.  There is no hope in that.  I'm still on my own to find my way to a life of purpose and meaning. 

If God is like the God of the Qu'ran, He's more like a political leader than a loving Father.  We already saw this in the Old Testament, and Jesus clarified where this view is incomplete.  I've often wondered why Muhammad seems to have reinvented the wheel of Judaism. 

I mean no disrespect, but from an outsider, there are very few differences between the lifestyle and moral expectations of Jews and Muslims.  There are dietary restrictions.  There are dress considerations.  There is mandatory male circumcision.  There are clearly defined gender roles. There is a focus on marriage and family life for every individual.  There are expectations to fast, pray, tithe.  To an outsider, it seems like the advent of Islam was a cultural reaction to Judaism. 

I am the first to admit that I know next to nothing about the history of the region where Islam was born, but I do know that Judaism (and Christianity, for that matter) was known to the early Muslims.  If they took issue with polytheism, they could've become Jewish.  If they took issue with the incarnation and divinity of Jesus, they could've become Jewish.  But instead, they created what seems to me to be a parallel religion.  I don't deny that Muhammad probably felt nudged by God to do something, to improve the quality of life for the people of the time and region.  But I do not believe God wanted more of the same. 

(If you're wondering why I felt the need to get into a mini comparison between Judaism and Islam here, it's because I discerned conversion to both of these faiths at some point along my journey.  So I am not judging either from a disinterested philosophical point of view, but rather explaining my thought process as to why I did not ultimately end up Muslim nor Jewish.)

But the God of Jesus - the God: Jesus - He brings hope.  Only He brings hope.  The Gospel says that we are loved by our Maker.  We are not alone on our journey.  We are good enough just as we are.  All He asks of us is to repent and believe.  Ignore the naysayers.  Put our mistakes behind us.  Turn to Him.  Follow Him.  

It sounds too good to be true for many.  An approachable God sounds downright blasphemous to some.  The idea that we are not the center of the universe is too difficult for a lot of people to admit.  So they stay in denial, where it feels familiar, comfortable, even "safe".  But it's a perilous false sense of safety.  Denying the truth doesn't make it go away.  The first step of every recovery program is to step out of denial.  Take that risk to meet the unknown.  Make yourself vulnerable to God's will.  Trust God.  

It's the only way to life.  It's the only way to truth.  It's the only way.  That's' why Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father but through me"  (John 14:6).  They may come close, but not quite into God's loving embrace.  They may think they've arrived when all they have is a distant wave from God.  He is beckoning you to come closer.  Only Jesus can take you there.

And this is the goal of our faith in Jesus: that we may be saved by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8).  Saved from a life of servitude.  Saved from a life of hopelessness.  Saved from our own mistakes.  For without the Spirit of God, we are slaves to this world, Satan, and the flesh.  Without the mercy of God, we are here on Earth until our time is up, and then it will have been all for naught. Without Christ living in us, we cannot overcome our frail tendencies of selfishness, self-centeredness, self-consciousness, self-importance.  We cannot remove ourselves from the center of our lives without placing Christ in the center instead.  

And that's what it takes - removing ourselves from the center of our lives, and living for others.  Imagine what the world would be like if everyone lived in service to their fellow sisters and brothers here on Earth.  Imagine the peace and cooperation that would bring!  Imagine the joy and celebration of our diversity!  Imagine ... paradise on Earth!  Because that is God's original design, for us to live in harmony with each other and with Him, forever.  No death, no sickness, no pain, no war, no confusion, no ugliness, no chaos, no fear, no disappointment, no anger, no power struggles, no lies.  But it takes a critical mass of people to make lasting change.  Until we get there, while we are in the minority, we must put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:11) and resign ourselves to be led by the Spirit of God. 

And to anyone who would quote statistics here, alluding to the fact that there is already a critical mass of Christ-followers in the world, and it is still in shambles, I say look again.  The statistics will tell you religious affiliation and church attendance.  They will not show you the heart of the believer.  Because sadly (and I was one of them for a long time), many accept the label of Christ without welcoming Him into their lives.

We must not look to the left nor to the right lest we lose focus or begin to doubt (see Proverbs 4:27).  I have already experienced life without hope, and I am not tempted to rejoin the empty promises of Satan.  I still struggle.  Daily.  I still doubt.  But I know what I stand for now; I know Whom I serve. I have been gifted the grace of faith.  And I so wish you would join me on the journey!  There's so much truth, goodness, and beauty here!

Monday, May 14, 2018

The M Word

Is modest a new dirty word?  It's one thing to note that a majority of people in our society seem to not care about being modest, but I've noticed lately that it's antithesis is being paraded around as some sort of women's right.  And as a woman, I'm both confused and discouraged by it.  I have no choice but to cling to my faith for the only sound, timeless, guidelines to a life of integrity, because secular society offers nothing of value.

Take this article, for instance. A college student in a performing and media arts class was given feedback from her professor regarding her outfit. The professor apparently noted that the student's shorts were "too short" (granted, a subjective opinion), and that "she was making a 'statement' with the clothes she was wearing" (is this not a given?) 

Aside from common sense telling us that people perceive us the way we present ourselves, I also learned this in the context of a feminist class in college.  That for women in particular, no matter what we do regarding our looks, it will be perceived as a statement.  Our clothes, hairstyle, and makeup or lack thereof.  There is no way for a woman to leave her home and not be judged based on what she's wearing.  This isn't fair, of course, but it is a fact of life.  This professor was pointing out to the student that there was nonverbal communication taking place via her clothing, so that she could take that into consideration when making her final presentation.  The professor wasn't being sexist; she was being honest. 

The student chose not to find gratitude for this reminder.  In fact, she took it as an affront and ended up - I kid you not - stripping to her underwear instead.  In the end, after reading the article, I have no idea what her thesis topic was, but I did inadvertently imagine her standing at the front of the class with nothing but a bra and panties.  Not sure this in any way helped her deliver her message.  Instead, her message seems to be quite different, and quite popular among more recent generations.

The message seems to go something like this: "I can wear whatever I want, with no regard to the fact that it makes a difference in how I am portraying myself, and no one has a right to mention anything about it.  I deserve respect regardless if I am dressed completely inappropriately for the circumstances.  I have rights, you know?"

What's missing in the message is this: "I also have a responsibility to present myself in a way that shows that I respect myself, and that I have done my due diligence not to portray a persona that doesn't command respect from others.  I cannot control how others view me, but at least my conscience tells me that I have done my part to dress appropriately."

Here's another example of students, this time in high school, taking offense at their elders (school administrators) making a judgment call technically outside the official school dress code about visible bra straps not being appropriate.  The dress code also doesn't specify the need to wear pants, but I'm confident any bottom-less student would be promptly sent home as well.  Rather than making a note of it and choosing more appropriate tops in the future, the student complains the she "keep[s] getting pulled out of [her] education" for repeatedly wearing tops that reveal her bra straps. What about the education of her fellow students, who may be distracted by seeing her underclothing or excess skin? Essentially, the message here is that it's not her problem.

What we seem to be dealing with now, and I don't know if it's a generational thing or what, but basically, "let's not take people's rights away by mentioning responsibilities which are supposed to go along with those rights. That's so last century.  Rights and responsibilities are completely unrelated to each other.  They do not overlap."

I will say that this issue most definitely ought to apply to both sexes, and the examples here seem to focus only on females.  While bra straps may not be relevant to men, pants are.  And there is definitely a problem with the whole pants-around-the-knees-with-entire-behind-out phenomenon. I'm sorry, but I don't care where it originated, the point is twofold: 1) if you can't actually walk properly without holding up your pants, you may want to reconsider how you're wearing them; and 2) it's called underwear for a reason - it goes under the clothes you show to the world.

But let's be honest.  Other than the falling-off-pants, men just aren't socially expected to expose their skin.  Quite the opposite tends to be the case.  Men's swim shorts are more like skirts in a lot of cases. Tight pants are discouraged. But when I start seeing armpit hair, I have to say something.  Where are my rights to go out in public and not have to worry about seeing too much of anyone?  Where are my rights to free speech when someone does something I find offensive?  Where are my rights to expecting people to take responsibility for themselves, instead of walking around with the assumption that entitlement is a civil right?

Modesty - there's that forbidden M word - is merely this: not exaggerating how one view's oneself in terms of skills or looks; it's being in the world without looking to draw unnecessary attention to one's person.  It's the opposite of arrogance.

But in a society that sees nothing wrong with arrogance and, as a society, runs from vulnerability at all costs, I guess I can't really expect modesty to be valued on any level. And just like that I'm reminded of why following Christ is countercultural.  It's things like this that remind me that virtues are not accepted universally, and that people value radically different things.  I leave you with this thought from Scripture: "if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit" (Matthew 15:14).

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

My New Identity

I don't have to identify as Polish.  I can be Polish-American, or I can just be an American born in Poland.  Polishness is a part of my past, but it is no longer a priority for me.  I appreciate the culture and the fact that the language has an emotional affect on me, but it is now secondary at best to who I really am.  I'm an American Catholic, a woman made in the image of God.  I am a wife and mother by vocation.  I am a child of God; a daughter of the King of kings.  I am called to be another Christ.

Being Polish is something that has been an integral part of my identity all of my life, but why?  Because this is the identity that was given to me. This is what I was told that I was, without any consideration of my life's circumstances making it virtually impossible to actually maintain this identity long-term.  My mother left Poland at the age of 31.  Her identity as a Pole was already cemented.  It is unrealistic to expect that I would internalize the same identity as her, just because I am her daughter and I was also born in Poland.  I was raised in both countries, and I came of age here, in the United States, outside of a Polish community.  I was not allowed to question my identity because it never crossed anyone's mind that there was anything to question.  It wasn't done out of spite or maliciousness.  My relatives just didn't know any better.  Their experience was that of an adult immigrant (my parents) or a non-immigrant (my grandmother and maternal aunt).  Whereas my experience was that of a child-immigrant.  I had no role models with this experience, so it has taken me 30 years to figure out that the identity that was handed to me simply doesn't fit.  I have no reason to feel guilty about it.  It is what it is.

I don't love Poland any less if I merely say I was born there.  I am no less proud of having this other culture in my background.  However, I must be careful here.  Being proud of my Polish heritage does not negate being proud of my adopted nationality - American.  My loyalty lies with my current nation now.  My "home country" is now the United States.  In Polish, the term is slightly different and carries a different nuance: "ojczyzna", roughly translated "land of my father".  This is still very true.  I can still say, in Polish, that Poland is my ojczyzna.  But not my homeland.  My home is here now.  My heart is here now.  I am grateful for my past, but it no longer defines me.  My past no longer has a hold on me.  It no longer demands loyalty nor guilt.  It simply is my past.  

My future, on the other hand, is where I am now, where my children will grow up.  My future is the United States, and I must put aside the petty judgments and comparisons that I grew up with that were attempts on the part of my relatives to heighten my Polish pride.  There is nothing better about being Polish, or European, or American, or any other nationality or ethnicity, for that matter.  There are pros and cons to every culture under the sun.  I am well aware of the dark side of American history.  Colonization of indigenous lands and importation of human slave labor being two particularly evil aspects of the US.  But those, too, are in the past.  It may make my Polish relatives feel better to focus on our differences, but they don't impress me anymore.  Ultimately, we are all children of God, and ultimately we all return to the Father.  The sooner we realize this and start living it out, the sooner we can establish God's kingdom here on Earth. 

So next time someone asks where I'm from, I won't answer the question with a question, as has been my habit: "Originally?"  I'll simply say I'm from Virginia, which is where I spent the majority of my time until recently. 

I won't brag anymore about our multilingual children, either.  Because both of us now speak mostly English to our daughter, and only supplement with our native languages.  I actually wonder if, instead of "native" I should use a different term here as well.  "First" languages seems to fit much better.  There's no denying that my first language was Polish, and my husband's first language was Spanish.  But we are no longer "100% fluent" in them, and that's the connotation I have with the term "native".

We're not any better than other Americans for being a multilingual family, which we still are, even if our kids end up only receptive multilinguals (meaning they understand but don't express themselves in other languages).  We're not any "less than" either, less than those who are more fluent, more dedicated, more plugged into their communities of origin.  Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.  I'll take our current linguistic situation as it is and rejoice that it no longer defines me.

Now there's one more aspect of my drilled-in Polish identity that is on my mind.  My surname.  I made a big deal out of legally changing my name to my mother's much more Polish-sounding (not to mention therefore feminist!) name.  Both my siblings followed suite.  My husband and I compromised by hyphenating each other's names, and our children have both our names.  I've now had this name for 15 years.  And yet it didn't make me any more Polish than when I had my dad's surname.  It didn't empower me as a woman, either.  Because my worth comes from being made in the image of God!  Not from what my name is.  Finally, I regret having caused my father sorrow by abandoning his name.  Even though tradition would've had me abandon it anyway and change it to my husband's, the fact is that I replaced his with my mom's, and that I set an example for my siblings, and now he has a grandson that rightfully should've had his last name but doesn't.

This last one I may or may not be able to get resolved.  But I feel freedom in being able to decide for myself what is most important, and while my past is something I value and am proud of, it does not define me.  It's hard to admit this as it sort of feels like striking out on my own, but I'm turning 40 years old this year - it's high time to strike out on my own, isn't it!?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Embracing my Inner Homemaker

Who am I?  My codependent upbringing handed me an identity that I never questioned.  Until now.  I'm an American Catholic wife and mother. But what does that mean to me on a daily basis?  This is what I will attempt to uncover.

To me, "American" means the sky's the limit.  Yes, there are cultural traditions, but I do not feel compelled to be bound by them.  Since the United States is not a monolithic society, there are at least four types (if you will) of cultures that are part and parcel of the history of US culture.  First of all, that of the various Native American tribes, which sadly remains mostly in the names of various places, both natural and man-made, and very little else.  Second, that of the African American slaves, which have had a significant impact on modern-day American culture, starting with music and food, and more recently (relatively speaking), media and sports.  Third, that of the original European settlers, which brought with it the language and religious traditions, as well as various socio-political norms that our country is based on.  Fourth, that of the vast diversity of more recent immigrants from literally around the world.  I cannot possibly fit into a single paragraph the myriad of ways that cultures vastly different from each other have mixed and mingled to form the modern day norms of the United States.  Essentially, though, what resulted is a wide range of "normal", with a strong emphasis on the choices of the individual to pick and choose what resonates with them and run with it. 

"Catholic" literally means "universal", which is actually a lovely segway from national to religious identity.  It's a way of being a Christ-follower, which is what being Catholic means to me; that I aspire to center my life on Christ.  I believe the Catholic Church has the closest interpretation of Jesus's message available to us, and I love many things about it: the authority with which it teaches on matters of faith and morals; the traditions of beautiful art and music; the social outreach it is known for (hospitals and schools in particular).  I also love the way the Church allows me to approach my Lord in a way I was never able to do in any other worship environment (and over the years I've tried plenty).  First and foremost, I am reminded on at least a weekly basis that God loves me so much, that He has come down first in the Incarnation and person of Jesus, and now in the Holy Eucharist.  I can not only "taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8) when I receive Him in Holy Communion, but I can also "keep watch with [Him]" (Matthew 26:40) in Adoration.

I am a wife.  I am not just "a wife", but "the wife of Oscar".  Being a wife is something that by definition ties a person to another, hence we are "one flesh" (Genesis 2:24, 1 Corinthians 6:16).  We are of one mind.  We make plans together, we share our joys and sorrows together, we raise our children together, we offer each other unconditional friendship and companionship.  My #1 go-to person is my husband, and vice-versa.  There is no one I feel closer to than him.  Without a doubt, he is one of the best gifts God has bestowed on me.  So for me to be a wife means to be a life partner to Oscar, with all that this entails.

I am also a mother.  This role, too, is by necessity tied to the specific children God has allowed us to raise for His glory.  And that precisely is my job as a mother - to raise little saints.  To be a saint means to be happy with God forever - who wouldn't want that for one's children, or oneself for that matter?  It's quite the undertaking, motherhood.  I believe it is my job - our job - to educate our children, to protect them, to prepare them for life, to share the gospel with them, to help them reach their potential in any way I can.  I do not buy into the modern-day secular belief that pretty much all of these tasks can be delegated to others. In my mind, doing so leaves the parent with the role of "supervisor", supervising the job that others are doing in regard to their children.  Some situations necessitate such an arrangement, and I certainly don't judge those who opt for it.  But it is not what I am called to.  To me, being a mother *entails* staying home with them and homeschooling them.  I wouldn't feel like a mother without these factors in place. 

But how do I incorporate these four roles into my daily identity?  I believe that God has arranged the circumstances of my life so that I may best attain my potential through homemaking, at least in this current phase of my life.  Previously, He had tasked me with teaching English to immigrants and international visa students (I'm not aware of any of my students having had refugee or asylee status).  And I can never be certain where He will lead me in the future.  But right now - and that's all we can ever truly know and embrace - I am a homemaker.  I am tasked with making a home for my family.  I am painfully aware of the lack of homes being made, well, homes, in many American households.  Rather, the home is taken for granted as merely a place to hang one's hat.  With adages such as "home is where your heart is", it is easy to think that "home" simply means "comfort".  And while I agree that one's home should most definitely be the place members of the household feel most comfortable, it is so much more than that.  It is a place of togetherness, of ongoing learning, of building the smallest segment of society.  It is where proper adult roles are learned, and where daily tasks are taught to the next generation.  It is where a family becomes more than simply a group of people bound together by blood or by law, but rather a place where a family develops its own family culture and becomes a unit unto itself.  None of this happens by happenstance.  Someone must be charged with orchestrating the smooth running of the household, ensuring that these various goals are being actively pursued.

The first few times I heard "creative" job descriptions for stay-at-home moms (such as "domestic engineer" or "household CEO"), I chuckled.  But it wasn't because I thought it was funny; it was because I felt shamed for not getting a paycheck for what I do.  I in no way believed that these creative phrases were meant to value the role of at-home parents.  Rather, I felt it was meant as a way to juxtapose terminology one associates with the "working world" with the domestic sphere, as if to prove the utter silliness of there being any true worth in the work done by homemakers.  And even though I never doubted that raising one's children full-time was, well, a full-time job, I did reserve some of the same aversion to stay-at-home wives without children at home.  Actually, if I'm being honest, I even held a dislike towards stay-at-home moms of older kids who attended school.  What do they do all day? - I would ask. 

And this is the crux of the situation.  I had no concept of what went into "making a home".  I mean, I knew there was childcare for those with kids, and some general cooking and cleaning that goes into keeping house.  But I viewed it from the perspective of a child.  I was given chores as a child.  So I didn't see these same tasks, when done by an adult in charge, as anything more.  Not only that, but I didn't consider the various chores that simply weren't being done altogether, or at least not nearly as frequently as they ought to be in order to keep a truly welcoming and cozy home for the family. 

Now I see so many opportunities in this new role as homemaker.  I already mentioned that my husband and I opted to educate our children at home, so "childcare" remains permanently something that we do on a daily basis. And instead of having to manage the feedback of teachers and coaches from afar, trying to inc

There's cooking, too, but as someone who has struggled with a lack of talent for cooking, I can tell you there's a world of difference between, say, ordering food or buying microwaveable meals, and cooking from scratch or even making one's own [hummus, guacamole, jam, bread...] and harvesting ingredients from one's own garden!  While both extremes feed the family, there is certainly more time, work, effort, and planning that goes into the latter, and generally more money going into the former.  In addition, I'm discovering that meal-planning not only helps to keep a steady variety of food, but it allows for the application of nutritional knowledge to maximize health and vitality, not just satiety. 

And as far as cleaning goes... I now have a vision of what I want my family's surroundings to look like.  Organized, not cluttered.  Bright and airy.  Clean.  So the chores that go into cleaning the house serve a higher purpose now.  I aim for a certain end result.  I haven't yet attained it, but at least I have a vision I'm aiming for.  And there are so many chores that I don't remember doing, which doesn't mean they weren't being done... plus there are maintenance issues that also escaped my notice as a child.  When I first became a mom, I timed myself one week to see just how long it took me to do all the chores I was doing at the time.  My efforts amounted to roughly 8 hours - for the week.  So based on what I was doing in maintaining a two bedroom apartment, I seemed to have confirmed that being a "housewife" with no kids to keep you occupied was not a full-time endeavor.  But now I see that I was simply doing the bare minimum.  To truly embrace the role of homemaker, there is always something that can be improved upon, that will keep one busy all week long. 

I admit it - in a sense, I am trying to harness my own version of a June Cleaver.  I want the feel of something of eras gone by in my home.  Of course, I know better than to apply a blanket statement to the effect of "good old days", because I know for everything I wish was still the same as "back then" (and when exactly, that varies), there are things I'm grateful we have moved past.  But the American in me gives me the freedom to pick and choose what resonates with me from various eras, and those are the things I'm hoping to embrace in my home.

I am learning to make our house a home.  I am learning to be a homemaker.  For the sake of my children and husband, but also for my own sake of feeling like my own home is a microcosm of society, I am embracing the role of homemaker.  Not some lofty-sounding domestic engineer or CEO of my family - these roles imply professionalism that seems too distant and cold for my taste.  But simply - home-maker, maker-of-a-home.  What can be more important than making a home for my family, so that they have a literal home base to which they can return from their adventures into the world, a home base where they learn how to treat other people, a home base that serves as a domestic church.  This last one is a new concept for me as well, but I'll save that for another time.