Focolare and Christian Community and Spirituality Books

One of the vibrant lay movements in the Church is Focolare. Founded by Chiara Lubich, who passed away in 2008, it promotes dialogue and Christian unity and community. It also advocates a modern, communitarian approach to Christian living.

New City Press is the publishing house of the Focolare movement in North America. It publishes accessible, attractive, authoritative books and media that explore theological foundations for faith and spirituality, ecumenical and interreligious initiatives, and connections between religion and human identity, relationships, and culture. I find it refreshing because it is not ideology-driven, and it is centrist and unity-building. It has an intellectual component as well as a pastoral one.

I recently reviewed select NCP titles on the Relevant Radio program “Morning Air with Sean Herriott.” You can listen to the archived interview on relevantradio.com.

New City Press published my book, Becoming Community in 2007, and I have experienced their publishing production cycle first hand. They have a rigorous editorial approach, resulting in quality, well written books. They are a streamlined operation that functions remarkably well. I found all of the titles below to be very worthwhile, particularly if you are interested in the Focolare charism.

For those wishing more detail about NCP and Focolare, please assess these links:

http://www.newcitypress.com/about/

http://www.focolare.org/en/

If you wish to order any of the books I reviewed, please use these links. Although they are also available through Amazon, please order through New City Press. Amazon takes a sizable cut of the purchase price, reducing significantly the amount due to author and publisher. See my  previous blog postings regarding the unscrupulous activities of Scamazon.

http://www.newcitypress.com/b-essential-writings-b.html

http://www.newcitypress.com/recent-releases/from-glory-to-glory.html

http://www.newcitypress.com/new-releases/ecclesial-movements-and-communities.html

http://www.newcitypress.com/new-releases/believe-in-love.html

http://www.newcitypress.com/new-releases/day-by-day-with-saint-francis.html

http://www.newcitypress.com/augustine-catechism-the.html

Martini Mix

Martini Mix

Karl A. Schultz

A special concoction has been prepared for those seeking a slightly more advanced and in depth selection of spiritual reading titles. I’ll preface it with a basis for its conception.

Mediocrity has become a plague in American culture and church. People allow themselves to become swept up in mass society mentality and conformism, anesthetized by an unhealthy celebrity culture and an economy where the haves increasingly cast aside the have-nots. Talent, production, potential, and merit have been trumped by image, convenience, comfort, and connections. Consequently, a levelling effect occurs in which life is brought down to the lowest common denominator.

Even within the Church mediocrity and worse is rationalized and even excused. If necessary, biblical and traditional values are eclipsed out of a misguided attempt at accommodation. For example, haven’t most of the biblical passages regarding gender been neutered and robbed of their vitality and potency. Don’t we allow feminist-sympathetic scholars and teachers to relegate them to historical curiosities reflective of a repulsively patriarchal culture? As if our culture is superior!!!

Now that we can’t turn to Scripture in matters of gender identification and formation, where do we turn? Popular culture? Catholic popularizers and ideologues, who often unconsciously bring in remnants of their former traditions and lifestyles?
Intellectual life has been mostly cast aside, or relegated to academics. The quest for principle and progress has been eclipsed by practicality and comfort.

In the realm of spirituality, this consists of the rise of popularizers, in many cases an ideologically-based network of individuals with similar backgrounds, pedigrees, or perspectives who exclusively develop a largely closed network of self-proclaimed authorities on Catholic and biblical spirituality. As in the culture, popularity and image tends to obscure substance and reality.

One of the consequences in the American church has been the marginalization of two supreme resources, the works of Cardinal Martini and the publications of the Catholic Biblical Federation. Put simply, their resources on biblical spiritualty and lectio divina are unsurpassed in breadth and depth. Through collaboration with the Catholic Biblical Federation (headquartered in Germany), I have acquired permission to share over twenty of their finest articles on lectio divina from their quarterly journal Dei Verbum. This international assortment includes several by Cardinal Martini, and papers by Cardinal Kasper and other noted scholars and leaders. This is a wonderful resource for serious-minded individuals, DREs, bible study leaders, and parishes.

The articles are accessible but not dumbed down, a refreshing change from what has become the norm at the grass roots level within the Church. The Martini mix includes the complete set, which ways more than a pound!

The Martini mix includes two copies of my book “Journaling with Moses and Job”, which is based on Martini’s classic out of print book “Through Moses to Jesus.” It includes numerous extensive excerpts from it. Also included are several other Martini titles.

Why Martini?

He is the most prominent promoter of lectio divina in the post-Vatican II church. He has over 40 titles published on the subject, and they have been translated into various languages.

Outside of the pope, he has the most impressive resume in the Church:

1) A doctorate in theology from the Gregorian and in Biblical studies from the Pontifical Biblical Institute, where taught for ten years.
2) Former rector of the Gregorian and Pontifical Biblical Institute.
3) Former member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, the pope’s advisory board on biblical matters.
4) A world class text critic (expert in the biblical languages and manuscripts) and former member of the American Bible Society’s committee for the establishment of the Greek New Testament.
5) Emeritus Cardinal of Milan, the world’s largest Catholic diocese.
6) Former president of the European conference of bishops.
7) A contender at the 2005 papal conclave, despite advanced age and having Parkinson’s disease.

What is most amazing about Martini is not his accomplishments, but his message and modality. He is able to integrate and communicate in an accessible manner his intellectual acumen and pastoral experience and understanding of the human sciences. It is rare for a renowned scholar to communicate accessibly, insightfully, and pastorally. Most simply can’t come down to earth, or if they do, they overcompensate and teeter towards “dumbed-down’s ville.”

Of his many literary, formational, and evangelical merits, four stand out for me:

1) He humanizes the Bible and its character, circumstances, and challenges, thereby enabling me to personalize it and recognize its timeless and personal applications.

2) He demythologizes the Bible, that is, he makes it a living, breathing document founded in timeless and existential values. He helps you read between the lines and recognize the continuity between ancient and modern times, and the unchanging qualities of the human nature and condition. Within biblical studies the term demythologize has been associated with the great twentieth century German exegete Rudolf Bultmann, but that is not the sense in which I use the word.

3) By reading his books, through a process of what I call spiritual osmosis, I gradually assimilate his methods, which are often spelled out, and at other times implicit in his writings. Thus I learn how to interpret and apply the Bible personally, confidently, and competently, but without pride, rationalism, or intellectualism.

4) He integrates biblical studies and spirituality with Ignatian spirituality, the human sciences, and pastoral sensitivity in a way that bears directly on grass roots needs, without ever compromising orthodoxy or intellectual integrity.

Frankly, I don’t think there are any resources in the Church, including mine, that hold a candle to the combination of Martini, the Catholic Biblical Federation, and Pope Benedict.

The resources of the former two are disseminated extensively in many third world countries, and much of the western world, with the curious exception of North America. I have spoken directly with the executive director of the Catholic Biblical Federation about this, and they are trying to assume a higher profile in the United States. I have spoken and written frequently in the media about this.

Incidentally, the CBF (website c-b-f.org) was established in 1969 by Pope Paul VI to further biblical study, spirituality, and ministry at the pastoral level. Though supported by scholars, it is not oriented towards academia or highly technical issues. It is in over 80 countries and over 130 bishops’ conferences are members. It is the official pastoral biblical ministry association in the universal Church.

Pope Benedict gave his seminal exhortation on lectio divina in a 2005 address to the Catholic Biblical Federation. He is increasingly promoting it, and his lucid addresses and writings are amenable to it. His message is a wonderful compliment to Cardinal Martini’s.

Reflecting their different backgrounds, they approach and communicate the Word differently, but with similar values and objectives.

So, if you want an unbeatable literary mix for combatting the mediocrity of modern life and mainstream politically correct spirituality, you can hardly do better than Martini, the CBF, and the pope. The Martini Mix is designed to bring these superior resources to you in an affordable and manageable package. Call Karl at (412) 766-7545 or email karlaschultz@jun.com for details.  Also see karlaschultz.com for a more indepth discussion of available resources.

The Unaccountability of the Media

Recently, a columnist from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote a column entitled “Get Those Men Out of Our Wombs.” The link is http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/12050/1210927-149.stm. This is another example of the media exhibiting unaccountability, divisive anger, ignorance (unfamiliarity with the complexity and details of the issue), and unprofessionalism. The columnist does not do her research, presents only one side of an issue, and basically “rants” rather than writes. Why this is permissible by newspaper management is beyond comprehension. Read her article and judge for yourself.  I submitted this as an op-ed to the paper but it was rejected. Also, a condensed version did not run as a letter to the editor. Such anti-religious censoring is commonplace in the media. This is one reason why their vendetta against the Catholic Church is so hypocritical. They don’t monitor themselves, yet presume the right to monitor others.

Is Rejection of Contraception Akin to Misogyny?
Karl A. Schultz

(412) 766-7545 / karlaschultz@juno.com

 I strongly disagree with Sally Kalson’s article “Get Those Men Out of Our Wombs.”  As a journalist, she should realize that there are two sides to every story, and to offer an objective and competent perspective, one must consider and address rival points of view.

Here are just a few of the pertinent facts which Ms. Kalson left out.  Many contraceptives do physical harm to women. A few have been shown to cause infertility and cancer, and a significant number have been removed from the market.  Contraception has serious side effects which are often ignored by strident advocates.

There is a movement, particularly among women, towards a non-contraceptive model of responsible parenthood known as Natural Family Planning. It is not the rhythm method, which has been obsolete medically for over thirty years.  It does no harm to the woman’s body, but it also fosters communication — as well as tension and difficulties —- between couples. It requires periodic abstinence. Our increasing ecological awareness has moved into the bedroom, in a healthy and holistic manner.

Ms. Kalson made the statement that contraception is “largely noncontroversial.” This ignores the perspectives of most practicing Catholics, and individuals of other faiths who recall that until 1930, when the Anglican Lambeth conference allowed for contraception in special circumstances, birth control was deemed sinful by all the major Christian denominations.

Essentially Ms. Kalson wishes to bar not only men, but God, from women’s wombs.  Women then become only accountable to themselves, and their consciences. What happens when we apply that standard to men? We know what happens when dictators become a law unto themselves.

Implicit in Ms. Kalson’s argument is a rejection of the first biblical commandment, “Be fertile and multiply”, and Eve’s joyful cry on the birth of Abel: “I have acquired a man with the help of the Lord.” Interestingly, Eve makes no mention of Adam’s role, but recognizes her divine partner.  If Ms. Kalson is going to assail the Catholic Church, which upholds these commandments, she needs to acknowledge that she is rejecting their inspired source — which Jews, Protestants, and Orthodox share as well.

Eve means “life-giver.” Women give life in so many ways. Stating that a country is discriminatory towards women when it refuses to fund contraceptive agents that prevent life is objectionable from a spiritual and moral perspective, but also a constitutional one. The Supreme Court decision that barred prayer from public schools specifically stated that their intent was in no way to affirm a religion of secularism. A local authority on the subject, Professor Bruce Ledewitz of Duquesne Law School, has published several books decrying the ensuing religion of secularism that has influenced subsequent legislation and judicial decisions.

Through her failure to weigh and report the various spiritual and moral arguments against contraception, and in her ongoing propensity to make disparaging and misleading (referring to Catholic activists narrowly as “an all-male preserve” , as if the bishops are the sole public participants, and previously evoking a published response from Bishop Zubik regarding her gross misstatement about pedophilia among clergy), Ms. Kalson has violated principles of responsible journalism. Love needs to be the foundation of any discussion on contraception. I suggest Ms. Kalson begin there in any future editorials on the subject.

Karl A. Schultz, the director of Genesis Personal Development Center in Brighton Heights, lectures internationally on the subject of contraception and gender collaboration subjects.  He has published twelve books, including one on Pope Paul VI, the source of Catholicism’s most recent authoritative pronouncement on contraception.  He welcomes feedback at karlaschultz.com.  

The Storm Before the Calm

The Storm Before the Calm

by Michele (stuff747@gmail.com)

Love is patient.  When Mark and I began connecting as a couple, I knew I wanted to “confess” my past to him.  I wanted to have a clean slate with him.  I did not want any surprises to be revealed later that would unsettle our growing relationship.  I also figured “If I’m going to push you away because of something from my past, I want to do it right now.  I want to get it over with before I fall even more in love with you!”  That doesn’t sound like a very patient statement, does it?  Being a woman and being me, I am quite verbal, so I had no trouble spilling the beans.  I poured out my heart to him and he just sat there looking at me, even taking me in his arms saying “I understand.  It’s no big deal.  The past is past.”  Who could ask for a more lovely and loving response?  Mark is such a good listener so it is easy to talk to him.  He is also an attentive listener, which makes it hard for me to stop talking sometimes.  Oh well, just another cross to bear (apparently for both of us!)  Mark is quite an articulate speaker and conversationalist, but Mark as Mark was less forthcoming.  He was ready to listen and not judge my sins, but he was not as sure that I would feel the same way about his sins, so I began to learn patience.  I was a good girlfriend, and later became a good fiance, and will be a good wife by being patient with Mark.

One reason I had such an easy time revealing myself to Mark is because I had spent the two years prior to our getting together as a hermitress.  I spent one year removing myself from the world and turning to God, the second year I devoted myself to returning to Catholicism.  I left the Catholic Church for thirty years, so I had some catching up to do.  One of the ways I caught up was to review the 10 Commandments according to my worldly life and then make a good confession to a priest so that I could receive the sacraments.  So all of my sins were in the forefront of my memory, even though they were forgiven by God through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I still thought of them from time to time, in an effort to step out of man’s world and into God’s world.  I even quit my job (retired early?) to make the withdrawal from the world as complete and thorough as possible.  Mark, on the other hand, was working and was living in the world as a single man, although he never stopped going to mass at any point.  As God would have it, Mark’s worldly ways became evident as our relationship grew, but my patience helped him to feel comfortable confronting the ways of the world.  My example, helped him to see a different way of being.  When I was not patient, Mark always forgave me and we continued moving forward in our relationship.

Love is kind.  Love is not rude, it does not rejoice over wrong-doing, but rejoices in the truth.  I made sign and hung it in my classroom for most of my teaching career.  It said “If it is not nice and it is not true, don’t say it!”  Needless to say, this put a damper on a lot of teenage conversations.  And it provoked a lot of thought as to creative ways to work around it, but it stood as a firm rule in my classroom.  I also enforced this rule with my daughters.  We live with the understanding that anyone can say anything using any words (not the Lord’s name in vain, of course!) to anybody, but in a kind way.  No screaming, no belittling, no name-calling, no sarcasm, no “Oh, I’m just joking!” kind of stuff.  Just language to convey feelings.  I would like to say that we always spoke that way to each other, we did.  But the number of times we spoke a little too loud, could be counted on two hands.  My daughters and I did pretty well in this respect, and so by the time Mark showed up, I was in the habit of making requests in a calm manner with as little unnecessary emotion as possible.  “Mark, this upsets me and this is why.”  As time went on, and because of the grace of God and my prayers to always be patient and kind, I learned not to take things personally.  I learned not to be hurt by anything Mark says or does because he does not mean it personally against me.  It is not his intention to hurt me, but sometimes it seems that way as he steps out of man’s world and into God’s world. Mark is out in the world every day, he endures unkindness on a regular basis.  I choose to be kind to Mark in every situation.  No yelling, no sarcasm, no belittling, no criticism or complaints.  My behavior is between me and God, no matter what Mark says or does, no matter what I think Mark is saying or doing, it doesn’t matter.  It is not about me.  But my behavior is about me, it is about me and God.  I have to answer to God. And there is no need for me to point out Mark’s sins or flaws or human-ness to him.  His behavior is between him and God.  Period.

Michele is not jealous.  If I see myself as God sees me, if I trust that God has a great future for me, if I focus on me being me….. then I have no reason to be jealous.  The main “issue” that Mark and I have had is that in my opinion, we do not spend enough time together.  But looking back to Michele is patient, I remember that Mark and I manage time differently and we have different responsibilities.  Because of this fact in our lives, I know that the way to help Mark is to be patient with him and trust God that our time together is as it should be right now.  Obviously, when we are married, this problem will begin to take care of itself.  We will be living under the same roof and I will be close by to help him by sharing in his responsibilities, hopefully making his burden lighter.  I have no need to be jealous of our lack of time, God will take care of it.

Love does not seek her own self-interests.  As I was on my own during my single years, I spent a great deal of time developing my own interests and sharing in the interests of my children.  I also spent time seeking God and all things Catholic.  Mark spent his time cultivating his own interests.  Now we are in a position to share our interests with each other.  Mark has taken an interest in photography and I have taken an interest in football.  Mark will accompany me to museums and even plan hiking trips (one of my loves) knowing that it is an expression of his love for me to share in my interests.  I listen to his favorite radio shows with him or help him run errands for his parents.  Just being together makes everything fun.  We enjoy each other’s company, and even when something sounds like it won’t be fun such as taking his folks to their doctor’s appointments, we take a deep breath and make something good out of it.  Mark is so kind and wonderful and sensitive.  He wants to please me as much as I want to please him.

Love is not quick tempered.  But I am usually quick to respond or move to a resolution in various situations.  Mark is not quick tempered, and he is usually slower to respond and more thoughtful in his resolutions (thank goodness).  God is so smart.  He paired us up so I could learn to slow down and smell the roses by becoming more like Mark.  Mark is learning, from me, the qualities that he needs to learn as well.  Our individual traits complement each other and as we move from our opposite tendencies toward each other, we are moving toward a more balanced and centered way of being.  More in the peaceful, yet productive middle.  A blend of doing and being.

Love is long-suffering.  Mark specifically, and men in general, are sooooo sensitive. They grow up hearing constructive words as criticism, most likely because they have been criticized mercilessly by other women in their lives.  God is so smart.  He teaches that if there is a situation that needs to change, all I have to do is pray.  I pray to change myself and to change the situation.  Then I have to practice patience in long-suffering.  When I see how Mark grows and thrives on love and patience and kindness, it makes my long-suffering not so long, because love heals all wounds.  Fr. Donald Calloway wrote in his book “No Turning Back:  A Witness to Mercy” that the Blessed Virgin Mary told him “You don’t have to change to love me.  Loving me will change you”  I posted this in my kitchen and refer to it constantly.  When my Mother Mary speaks, I listen!  Mark does not have to change for me, but he has to change for God.  It is not up to me to change Mark.  It is up to Mark to change Mark.  It is up to me to change me.  This last statement is soooooo important because what Mary said to Fr. Calloway is also true between Mark and me.  Loving me will change Mark and loving Mark changes me.  God is so smart.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails.  Early in our relationship Mark told me “There’s nothing that we can’t get through!”  The more we keep love in the forefront of our relationship, the easier our lives together become.  Does that mean we have less disappointments, or worries, or problems or flat tires?  No!  It means that we trust God and truly believe “there’s nothing that we can’t get through” because we are not alone.  We have God and we have each other.  Love never fails because God is love and God never fails.  The cross is the only path to holiness, to real love.  Christ carried His cross and He tells me that He will help me carry mine!  So why be afraid?  Why think anything that happens in my relationship with Mark, or in my life is unbearable?  I know all things are bearable because Christ is before me, beside me, behind me, within me.  Christ is everywhere.  Christ died to show His love for me because real love involves dying and carrying my cross.  I want real love.  I’ve experienced the world’s love, I’ve experienced what I thought was love.  Now I know what true love is, it is love of TRUTH, which is love of GOD and all things Godly.  My cross is anything that separates me from God, God calls this sin.  Sure I’ve never killed someone who cut me off in traffic, I don’t even use the Lord’s name in vain, but my greatest daily sin is that I forget God and who He is and what He says to me and about me.  When I do not sin I keep my awareness of God’s presence the focus of each minute of each day.  I know He can do all things, and He turns all things into good, so I never need to worry.  I know He loves me and showers me with graces, so I never need to feel unloved, rejected, or a lack of anything – not time or things or money.  He fills me with love, I feel “in love” any time I want to feel that way, because I turn to God for that feeling, knowing His love is other worldly, to say the least!  God provides all that I need as He provides for the lilies in the field.  And now God provides all that I want, as well!  I pray to continually fall more deeply in love with God, I pray to long for His presence, I pray to really understand and enjoy mass and remain attentive and filled with awe. I pray to see God as He really is, not the way my limited mind portrays him.  I pray to know and and then do His Will.  I pray that as for me and my household, we love and serve the Lord.

So we need to be imitators of God (especially in forgiveness and loving) as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us.  When I am close to God I am more able to receive God’s graces.  Why is it that when Mark and I first got together everything was great?  We were attentive to each other as we poured out our hearts to each other, sharing our past hurts and our future hopes and dreams.  We were stripping away our boundaries and revealing our real and best selves to each other, so that we could grow more closely together in love.  We could hardly stand to be away from each other.  We made dinner for each other, carefully paying attention to the other’s favorite food preferences.  Mark explained how he always enjoyed watching his parents make meals together as he was growing up.  He said it was one of his best memories of how they showed their love for each other.  We started making meals together.  Mark walked with me through all of the flower gardens at my home and enjoyed looking at all of my photos, attentively listening to my travel stories.  I watched every single sports event that he wanted to see, snuggled up beside him, while he told me the personal stories of each of his favorite players and the histories of the teams.   We thought about each other constantly and gave each other little surprises.  Mark would bring peppermint patties, wild flowers that he stopped to pick on his way home from work, or fresh produce grown by local farmers, to me.  We talked on the phone periodically throughout the day and for hours on end at night. Sometimes we sat under the stars, just sitting quietly.  Or in the hot afternoons we would rest quietly in his hammock under the shade of his ancient Maple trees.  We even began reading his favorite book “Trinity” together, each of us taking a turn to read aloud to the other.  The list goes on and on.  We were all smiles.   Love and affection seemed to pour out of us.  People commented on how happy we looked together and how happy they were for us, and strangers seemed to be drawn to us.  Our love was contagious.  Everything was laughter and wildflowers.  I say “was” because before I knew it everything changed from other worldly greatness to ugliness.  I believe our culture (the culture of death) calls this the honeymoon period and when it is over it is time to move on.  At least that is what the self help books say, or else it is time to start setting up boundaries and standing up for yourself so you can make him/her into the man/woman you want him to be.

Lucky for us, before we got together I had immersed myself in God and His ways.  I had spent a great deal of time and energy extracting the world from my mind, body and soul, and turning myself over to God.  Yet, I was surprised when things became ugly between us.  Initially, Mark could do no wrong, even when he did wrong.  But slowly and gradually  this “honeymoon period” evolved into the realization for both of us that things were as ugly as they were in our past relationships, in our former marriages!  Actually, things were much uglier than our former marriages because we did not have the love and connection in those relationships that Mark and I have together.  More importantly, we did not have the Catholic understanding of marriage in those relationships, hence the granting of an annulment for each of our marriages.  We were quite confused, how is it that we are having these same issues and having them at such an intense level, especially since we both agreed to put God first in our relationship?  Lucky for us, every time an issue reared its ugly head, I would turn to God for comfort.  I would turn to God for guidance.  I started praying novenas, lighting candles, increasing my prayer time back to what it was before Mark and I got together.  I started saying more rosaries and spending more time in adoration.  None of this seemed to help.  As time passed I felt more and more removed from Mark, I felt frustration, disconsolation, isolation, and humiliation. I prayed “God, am I wrong?  Am I supposed to be alone or with Mark?  It is unpleasant being with Mark and I felt so much peace being alone.  Are we supposed to be together or not?”  After a few months, well, almost a year  I heard God’s answer to my question.  I am a slow learner or else not a very good listener or maybe a little of both.  Or maybe it was that I didn’t quite understand what I learned during my two years of being immersed in God’s world and way.  Actually, what I believe it really was, is that I had that two years of knowledge and good practice under my belt, but now it was time to put all of it into practice.

Eventually I realized that every complaint I had about Mark, was the complaint God had about me.  (Except God didn’t complain to me, He just sat back and let me figure it out!)  “We aren’t spending enough time together.”  I had cut back my time with God to spend it with Mark.  “I go out of my way to look nice for you and you don’t even notice!”  I forgot who I was in God’s eyes, I wasn’t seeing myself as beautiful and wonderful as God intends me to see myself, instead I wanted Mark to say that to me.  “You don’t tell me that you love me anymore.”  God was saying that to me.  I was spending all my time being head over heels in love with Mark, that I forgot that I was head over heels in love with God!  Eventually, I got it.  God allowed me to put Mark in his place, He allowed me to make our relationship so miserable that I could no longer turn to Mark for love and comfort and peace.  I needed to turn back to God.  I needed to turn back to God.  I would like to say that once I realized this I immediately understood what God was trying to tell me… that I only need God.  But I can say today as I am writing this, that I get it.  I need God.  I am poor of spirit.  Without God I can do nothing.  Yet all things are possible through Christ, who loves me.  I really took to heart what God was telling me, and that is  that He is first, no other idols before Him.  I am to love the Creator more than His creations.  This whole episode is what I like to call the storm before the calm.  This realization was a turning point in my life, and in my relationship with Mark.  I realized that Mark and I told each other and God that we wanted to have Him in our relationship and that we wanted him to be first, but we were not doing it.  We were hearers, but not doers of His Word.  Faith without works is dead.  Our relationship was dying because even though we believe in God, have faith in Him, understood the concept of putting God first in our future Catholic marriage by putting Him first now…. we were not doing it.

As soon as I realized this, I changed.  I began praying my favorite prayer “Change me, Lord”.  I started looking at my relationship with God and I saw that I had needed to apply  His Word to my life.  I needed to become closer  to God, make Him my best friend, my true love, the love of my life.  I knew I needed to treat Mark the way God treats me.  St. Louis de Montfort reminded me that I had consecrated myself to Mary, yet I had stopped turning to her each day.  So I took all of the knowledge and practices that I had and I knew I had to begin applying it to my life.  I knew it, but I didn’t know how to do it.  No kidding.  That’s the point.  I think at that point I finally got it.  I needed to confess that I was not putting God first in my life, not to mention in my relationship with Mark, and ask for the grace to know how to do it.  So I received the Sacrament of Reconciliation where I received the grace to change and then I headed to Adoration to sit and really thank God for His love and mercy, and then I began really listening to His Word.  I was able to hear His Word at mass in the scripture and in my alone time with Him.  I was given the grace to see that I had more complaints about Mark, but God was using Mark as my mirror to bring me closer to Him.  I discovered, by the grace of God, that the closer I became to God by imitating Him, the closer I came to Mark.  This is the secret to all great relationships, treat others the way God treats me.  Ok, I guess it’s not really a secret.  I know I’ve read it and heard it at least a gazillion times, but by seeking God’s grace I now have the eyes to see and the ears to hear it.  Thank God!

The storm before the calm is good.  It is the good news.  It is the time when I die to myself the way God wants me to die to myself.  The storm is a result of my hard heart softening, or stepping out of man’s world and into God’s world.  Oddly enough, I had already learned that when someone “annoyed” me, I knew it was because I was seeing something in that person that I did not like about myself, it was something that I needed to change in myself.  I knew this.  I had been practicing this for a long time.  I knew that God used others as my mirror, He used others to help me see my true self so that I could let go of that part of me and become my real “true self”.  So I can become the Michele that God created me to be.  My true self, my self seen through the eyes of what is true, God’s Truth.  I learned that lesson well in my hermitress days, in my BM (Before Mark) days.  Now I once again live this lesson in my BM (Blessed Mary) days, because Mary is the way to Christ, just as St. Louis de Montfort or any Marion Priest.  God brought Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book “Consoling the Heart of Jesus” to me to help me make this connection.  This book is such an inspiration and makes it easy to put God in His place.  I learned to see the Consoler, rather than seek consolation.  St Fransis’s prayer took on a whole new meaning to me “to console rather than be consoled”.  I learned that to be full of grace like Mary, I had to be present with God so He could fill me with His grace.  I had to revolve my life around God the way I was formerly revolving it around Mark.  Now there is a balance.  By putting God first in my life, He gives me plenty of time to put Mark second.  But God, being God, and being so smart, knowing everything, He makes it seem to Mark as if Mark is first.  If you ask Mark, he will tell you that he feels like he is first in my life, and he is.  Except now he is first in my life AFTER God.

This is more than a play on words, God makes life so easy and so perfect when I put Him first.  I have to know God’s promises to know what to expect from Him.  I have to know His commands, so I know how to treat others.  I have to know how God sees me so I know how to see myself.  So I know to cast my cares to the Lord and be joyful at all times, praising Him in good times and bad because I now know in my heart that the storm before the calm is a good thing.  I just think it is bad because my vision is so limited.  God’s is all-knowing, He knows that the calm that follows the storm is so much better than the calm before the storm.  I thought Mark and I were in love, and we were, during the honeymoon period.  I wanted to stay in that place, but God has an even better place planned for me, for us.  That honeymoon period showed Mark and I what life can really be like after we heal all of our wounds, after we go through the storm.  The key is going through the storm with God.  God has an even greater and deeper love for us and He wants us to know it and experience it on earth, at least that’s what I’ve read in the Holy Bible!  God wants to pour his love and mercy on me, but I am the one stopping Him.  He has graces showering on me every day, all day long, and I’m finally learning to keep my umbrella folded up and letting those graces pour all over me.  It is as if Mark and I were in the garden of Eden, then I listened to the snake and got wound up in fear and self-loathing, forgetting what I had learned in my God-immersion time, but now I remember, so I can return to the garden, except the garden has changed.  The garden is even better than I remembered.  The honeymoon is on its way back and I hold the key to getting there, I know the secret.  So regardless of Mark’s behavior or actions, I know better and it is up to me to lead us back to the garden, back to God.  Mark sees how I now treat him and it opens his heart to healing his stuff.  Is it fair that I have to put up with Mark’s “stuff”, treating him as Mary treats Jesus even though he is not always acting like Joseph?  No it is not fair by the world’s standards.  But by God’s standards, it is the point of living.   It is why Mark and I were brought together, to learn to die to each other, just because I figured out how to act like Mary before Mark figured out how to act like Joseph, means that I must really be Mary and be all-loving.  That is how God treated me.  He never complained to me when I was not spending time with Him, he just patiently and silently waited for me to figure it out.  He continued being God, showering me with love and mercy, as I must do with Mark.  A Catholic marriage is one in which each spouse dies to self and leads their partner to salvation.  God gave me the grace to know this first.  God gave me the grace to know that Mark will know this soon, we will be back in the garden soon.  I trust God.  I know Him and His promises.  He is my best bud, the love of my life, He keeps His Word to me.  When I am hungry He feeds me, except He gives a feast to me, not just a morsel.  His generosity is not to be outdone, so I can be generous with my love, time, and energy with Mark during the storm because I know the eventual calm will be extraordinary!  When God is first in my life this is a fact, not just a pollyanna attitude.  I am able to give thanks for the storms because I know that experiencing God’s peace in the storm prepares me to receive God’s peace at an even deeper level in the calm that follows.  I can give thanks for the storms because I know God will carry me through them, I can cast my cares to the Lord.  I can give thanks for the storms because when I give my suffering to God, He uses it to benefit others.  So God allowed the honeymoon to end because He knew I needed the storm to bring me closer to Him.  I NEVER, as recently as even a year ago, would have imaged thinking the words “God is the love of my life!” let alone having those words come out of my mouth.  Yet hear they are in my mind, in my mouth and now written on paper.  God is so smart, so good.  He knows everything.  He’s been waiting for me to know it, too.  So in every part of my relationship with Mark, I keep God’s Word, Will and Ways in the forefront of my being.  In the forefront of all I think, do and say.

Every (Devout Catholic) Woman’s Fantasy

Every (Devout Catholic) Woman’s Fantasy

by Michele (stuff747@gmail.com)

The Holy Bible clearly tells us that chastity is the way to proceed in life, in all states of life.  As a woman engaged to be married I would like to reinforce this from the experiences in my life.  Mark and I know and wholly understand the limits granted by the  Holy Catholic Church and therefore we are free.  It is the charism of a wife to help her husband get to heaven, and to even by-pass purgatory if possible.  Why would I allow Mark to sin with me or because of me?  “Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom.  The alternative is clear; either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.  Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint.  Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end.” CCC 2339.  I am not yet married and am not yet entitled the gift of marital love which is given by the grace of God when Mark and I are married.    Yet until then, we are free to express our unmarried love to each other.  Marital love is God’s wedding present to us.  Because it is a gift from God, there is no reason to worry about our wedding night when we will finally be together.  No need to read magazine articles or self-help books about how to please a woman/man.  Just do what God says about everything… relax and cast our cares to Him.  He invented love making, surely having a relaxed and open mind will make it easy for us to hear Him direct us.

Before Mark and I started dating I grew to believe that my calling was to be a Blessed Single.  (That’s the Catholic term for what our culture calls an old maid, hag, crone, or loser.)  I devoted myself to Christ and I, on my own, took a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience.  I told Mark all of this when we connected and he was happy to oblige.  As friends and now as a couple to be married, we continue to take these vows seriously.  This is where knowing what God commands, what the CCC expressly defines as sin, allows us to be free.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2337) tells us “Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.  Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman…. The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift….

This is certainly countercultural.  So Mark and I do not have to revolve our lives around sex?  Every thought, word and deed does not have to be sexual?  Sex can be reserved for marriage and be the beautiful gift that God intended it to be?  Removing sex from the dating picture, removing sex from the engagement picture, allows Mark and I to focus on what God wants and expects from us.  We are free to be ourselves, (our God-selves) whether alone or with each other.  Wow!  This is every woman’s fantasy, whether she’s a devout Catholic or not!  I want to be seen and known and loved for who I am, not what I can do for someone, even if he is my (future) husband.  Coincidentally, this is also the Will of God.  God created me and knew me before I was born. He knew me in my mother’s womb.  He knew I would be writing this today.  He knew all of this before he created the heavens and the earth.  God created me to be me.  To be the best Michele I can be.  How do I know who the best Michele is, so I can glorify Him?  He gave His Mother to me as a guide, an example to follow.  Now that I know that, it is a relief!  The pressure if off!  All I have to do is read about and study everything I can get my hands on about Mary.  And all I have to do is read and study every thing about her son as well.  I like to remember the scripture “Do not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

In addition to my wifely talents that I will explore in the future when I am married, God also gave other specific talents and gifts to me, as he gives to each person.  Yes, He gave me the talents I use to be a good worker at my job everyday, so I can earn money to support myself and my children as a single mom.  But it is also my job to find out what my other talents are and to use them.  To return them to Him, as Jesus described in the parable of the talents.  I am to use my talents and multiply them and return them to my heavenly Father for His glory.  How do I do this?  The way I do everything these days, I pray about it, and then I listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  I look into the longings of my heart.  I always wanted to paint, so one day I bought a bunch of canvases and paint.  Before I began to paint I attended local art shows with friends who are artists.  I read library books and saw movies about about great painters and their painting.  I learned about their techniques and what inspired them to create such beautiful works of art.  Works of art that revealed their soul and elicited deep feelings from me when I viewed their paintings.  I also went to art museums, locally and abroad, and so incorporated a second love and longing, travel.  I read and studied a few technical books about painting as well, and then I just began to paint.  Oddly enough, or not, while my daughter was attending a private art school, I sent some of my paintings with her so she could paint over them for her classes.  She did this to save some money on art supplies, but also because I no longer wanted some of the gazillion paintings I had created.  The oddly enough part is that my paintings received favorable critiques from her professors, so much so, that she gifted some of my paintings to them!

I did the same thing with photography.  I bought a 35mm camera even though digital cameras were beginning to flood the market, and after a time of study, started taking lots of photos.  Fortunately, I am very visual, so when I began traveling with my daughters I would unconsciously memorize photos that I had seen in travel books and then take similar photos when I arrived at my destination.  I have a double gazillion photographs of my daughters and our travels, as well as photographs of some seemingly mundane things.  Photography is fun, learning about photography is fun.  Traveling to fun places to take photos is fun.  Somewhere along the way I began to listen to God’s Word, to hear it with my heart and to be a doer, not just a hearer of the Word.  I delighted myself in the Lord and He gave me the desires of my heart.  My study of photography and painting has helped me to see the world through the eyes of an artist.  But I believe we are all artists if we allow ourselves to be.  These hobbies opened my eyes to really see the beauty in the world.  Not just the surface beauty, but shadows, different shades and colors.  Now when I see a particular scene or sunset, or flower, or architecturally interesting building, I do more than glance at it and say “Oh, how nice!”  Now I really study it and this increases my enjoyment of it!  This extra awareness allows me to pause and really appreciate God and His goodness.  I now remember to recognize the Creator and not just enjoy His creations.

I did the same thing with the home I bought, I made it a haven for myself (and my children) before Mark ever came along.  I created a beautiful, peaceful haven surrounded with beautiful flower gardens.  I spent time refining my cooking and baking skills by teaching my children how to cook and bake.  Fortunately they have long ago surpassed my abilities, and their husbands will be justly rewarded.  Before Mark came along I spent time at home cleaning and cooking, doing laundry and sewing and doing all of the things a mother does for her children and a wife does for her husband.  I spent time doing all the things I love to do to make my home run smoothly and I did them joyfully because ultimately everything I do, I do for God.  For God’s glory.  I did not date during this time.  After my second divorce I only dated two men in ten years.  I even backed off from automatically saying yes to my friends when they invited me to do something.  I began to pay attention to the invitations and spend time thinking about whether I wanted to spend my time, energy and money on a particular activity.  Usually, I spent time at home caring for my home, exploring my hobbies, and hanging out with my two daughters when they were available.  I chose to stay home and really enjoy the life I had at that time, trusting that I had a great future ahead of me because God has a great plan for my life, a plan not for evil, but for good.

And so I continue to delight myself in the Lord, and He gives me the desires of my heart.  Now my desires are becoming His desires.  In a perfect world I would have discovered all of this when I was two, not fifty-two!  I would have grown up and been surrounded by perfect love and spent my childhood learning to be like Jesus through His Mother Mary.  As a teenager, I would have had the strength to live in the culture of death, but not be part of it.  I would have learned to be myself.  I would never have even bothered to look at a fashion magazine, an impure movie, or read a trashy romance novel because I would have known and understood and personified Mary’s outer and inner beauty, knowing that the world has nothing to offer.  I would have known that the world has nothing to offer compared to what God has to offer, what God gives to me, what God has planned for me.  In a perfect world I would have never dated boys, but would have only developed a healthy friendship with guys and girls.  In a perfect world, worldly sex would not have been forced on me, or even mentioned, because there is no need for a child, teen or even young adult to think or even know about sex.  Upon completing college, in a perfect world, I would have begun using my talents to serve the Lord knowing that before I was even born, BEFORE THE WORLD WAS CREATED, GOD HAD CHOSEN MY SPOUSE FOR ME.  So I had no need to date, or try to find the right guy for me,  the illusive “Mr. Right”.  I would have known that God wanted me to spend my time glorifying Him, during each time of my life, during each station of my life, so that when I had prepared myself completely to me myself, to be the best me that God created, God would then present His most wonderful gift to me – my husband.  Well, by the grace of God I know this now and I hope I can share this knowledge with everyone I meet.  I want the truth to be known – God’s truth.  I hope others can learn from my experiences in the world that God’s way is the only way.  God is the way, the truth and He gave me my life.  God is the creator of all that is good and true and wonderful and pure.  God created me, so I must be good and true and wonderful and pure as well.  Please create in me a clean heart, O Lord.

God is the giver of all that is good and true and wonderful and pure. God gave Mark to me to be my husband, so why would I want to hurt God in return?  Why would I want to push God away by sinning against Him?  Why would I want to have sex outside of marriage?  That is why I read and re-read the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  I want to know what I can and can not do.  Limits provide freedom.  Freedom from the slavery of sin.  God wants Mark and I to enjoy our engagement and we are.  Sex is out of the question.  Sex, fornication, the marital act, whatever it may be called.  Sex is out.  Celibacy is in.  So where does that leave us as an engaged couple?

In a perfect world I would never have flirted with anyone, knowing that one day God would bring my husband to me and I would flirt with him. I never would have spent time thinking of any man in particular, because I would have known that God was bringing Mark.  I would not have wasted time, money or energy trying to look better or more desirable to a man, I would have known that I look perfectly beautiful being me, being Mary.  I would have known that my husband would find me perfectly attractive, and that my husband would be perfectly attractive to me.  So where does this leave us as an engaged couple?  When we are married, it will be fine for me to dress up in sexy clothes , but what about now?  After all, we are going to be married.  The key here is what is happening in the present versus what is happening in the future.  In the present we are engaged, this is the time God has set aside for us to really set our sinful ways aside.  Remember CCC 2339?  “Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom.  The alternative is clear; either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.”  Well, we want to find peace together and be happy, so we are using our period of engagement as an apprenticeship in self-mastery.  Now is the time to flirt, hug, kiss (although I have read about couples who shared their FIRST kiss on their wedding day!  How romantic!)  So if our engagement is an apprenticeship in self-mastery, our limits are set.  The more self- mastery, the more physical contact we can share out of love.  What was once meant as lust inducing in the world becomes an exercise in self-mastery.  The lesson becomes easier and easier, more and more fruitful and sin is conquered.  As Mark and I grow in our love for each other and our love for Christ.  We do NOT want to sin, or cause each other to sin.  By knowing we are not going to sin, power is taken away from the sexual act and we are free to enjoy each other.  This is where celibacy becomes foreplay.  Touching, kissing, hugging, snuggling together and holding hands remain innocent because neither of us has a hidden agenda –  to use or hurt the other, to sin or to cause the other to sin.  Our agenda is above board, open to everyone.  Our agenda is to remain pure and celibate, abstain from sex because we are not entitled to have sex until we are married, as per God’s desire and command.  Therefore we are free to purely, and innocently express our love for each other, knowing how far we be together physically.   “Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint.” CCC 2339  Because pleasing God is our intention, we are free to be together in ways that honor our Lord and our dignity.  We want nothing other than to honor God and receive His graces, His riches for each other.  Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end.” CCC 2339.  Mark and I have promised each other to help each other not to sin.  We do not want to sin because we love God.  We love the Creator over and above His creations.  And when we needed extra help, I prayed to St. Etheldreda.  Create in me a clean heart right now, O Lord!

It is my fantasy to be loved by my husband who loves all of me, all of who I am, not just one particular part, or not one part more than another.  Actually it is no longer my fantasy, it is my reality and I believe it is so because I delight myself in the Lord (spend a lot of time hanging out with Him) and He gives me the desires of my heart, which are His desires for me, for us.  It is also every wife’s dream to have her husband understand the value of foreplay.  (I am sure it will be my reality one day!) The engagement period can be used as a time to explore your future spouse’s body in a pure way.  Nibbling fingers or necks, massages, snuggling together on the couch, even somewhat passionate kisses can be part of the engagement period.  How far we go depends on “diligence and skill”.   It is not purely a physical action that causes sexual arousal, it is also what is happening in my mind.  It is my dream as a wife to be with my husband who is present with me during sex and I present with him.  I don’t want impure images in either of our heads, of course, nor do I want either of us to be thinking about some issue with work or our children or life in general.  Instead I do want each of us to be fully present in mind, body and spirit.  This means we are seeing each other, feeling the wonderful sensations and doing so in the spirit of love.  This is not to say that every sexual encounter will last for three hours, some may only last three minutes, I am certain there will be a balance.  But for now we have the engagement, celibacy or foreplay experimentation period to enjoy.  What we enjoy as a celibate couple will only add to our future marital experience and this includes being mindful.  Being present to where we are, what we are doing and who is with us.  This may sound silly, but I promise you, it is not.

Now, as an engaged couple, we are mindful of expressing love through our physical interactions, with no desire for it to blossom into a sexual act.  Being mindful is the key to foreplay, being aware of what is in my mind and Mark being aware of what is in his mind.  With this in mind, sometimes we have sleepovers.  We can sleep in the same bed, snuggled together, with no “threat” of sin looming over us.  Do we do this every night?  No?  We slept in the back of his old pickup truck under the stars last fall, watching a meteor shower as we fell asleep.  Was I worried that he would try something?  NO!  Was he worried that he could not control himself? NO!  Our love has moved from the distortion that the world calls love to pure Godly love.  We love each other, we respect each other, we love God and we do not want to hurt Him or ourselves.  So, we can platonically love each other, all the while really looking forward to the marital act, but at the right time.  For every time there is a season, or something like that.  A time to sow, a time to reap.  We are sowing seeds for a great marriage, seeds of true love, seeds of God’s love and we will reap the benefits when we are married.  We also spent a few days in a hotel room at the beach last summer.  Mark’s elderly mother and aunt love the beach, they have many happy memories of all of the time they spent at the beach throughout their lives.  They decided that they would love to get back to the beach, since neither had been there for a few years.  Because they are in their 80’s the time to go is now.  They invited Mark to take them, (they are in their 80’s, remember?), and they invited me to go, too, so that Mark and I could have some time together as well.  They booked two rooms, one for them and one for Mark.  Mark and I know that we can sleep in the same bed without having the temptation to sin, but most people, including Mark’s mother, don’t believe that.  The solution?  We invited my three year old great niece to join us and sleep in our room with us.  She was our “chaperone”, so that we could be a good example to everyone involved.  When the power of sex or the power of sin is removed, is replaced by love, it is easy to NOT sin.  We also have had sleepovers during stressful times.  What is more loving that to sleep in the arms of your beloved when you are scared or upset?  I experienced a time when painful memories were returning and it greatly affected my sleep because they seem to return just as I was falling asleep or just after I woke up.  It was comforting to be snuggled in Mark’s safe, loving arms during that time.  It helped both of us feel at peace.  It made both of us happy.  “The alternative is clear; either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.” CCC 2339

It is my vocation to prepare for my vocation as Mark’s wife.  My preparation is a balance of my devotion to Christ and serving Mark by being a good example to him and leading him toward his salvation.  Imagine what the world would be like if Eve spent more time becoming close to our Lord and less time hanging out with snakes.  Adam clearly listened to Eve, she could have led him toward God rather than away from God.  Her choice did not benefit their marriage.  As a  (future) wife, I can learn from this, Adam listened to Eve.  A husband does listen to his wife, and Mark does listen to me.  If I had not been perusing the CCC, I would never have read paragraph 2365 on conjugal fidelity and then shared it with Mark.  I want to hear Mark say to me, “Michele, I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you to my life itself……  Michele, the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us…. I place your love above all things, and nothing would be more bitter or painful to me than to be of a different mind than you.”   I want to hear Mark say this to me knowing that I am already more than willing to say this to him right now!

Scamazon.com’s Unethical and Predatory Business Practices

Being pro-life includes respect for the Church’s social teaching in all its dimensions. Pope John Paul II’s encyclial Laborem Exercens, “On Human Work”, is rarely cited by activists, but it should be. Nor are his frequent references throughout his pontificate to “savage capitalism.” As usual, he was spot on.
Recently I received the following email from the Author’s Guild. Few people realize what Amazon.com is doing in order to corner the market.
One of their many questionable practices is allowing insufficient shipping credits to dealers, particularly on large items, and especially electronics. Often the amount Amazon reimburses to sellers is less than half of the cost, not including handling and packaging costs. This is an unethical practice that flouts common sense.
Shippers should not be forced into losing money on shipping. If Amazon wants to, that is their business. They have no right to impose such on others, except as part of their market dominance.
Amazon has done incredible damage to the book business, and in particular to authors.  When sellers call Amazon for assistance, they typically reach a Latin American country. The individuals are polite, but extremely unhelpful. When confronted about their shipping injustices, they say “build it into the price.” The problem is that you can’t know what the shipping will be, and there is too much competition to do so. What do these agents care about their customers. They are half a world away, and from a different country. There is very little sense of justice and the common good.
Their response is simply a dishonest, guileful way to hide their desire for excessive profits at the expense of their sellers.
I am going to write my Congressman, requesting anti-trust proceedings againt Amazon, and other companies, such as Ebay, which have followed in their footsteps (Ebay has adopted Amazon’s shipping credit practices, and likewise has their customer service calls routed to Latin America.)  Blockbuster has theirs go to the Phillipines.
Why is there not a law penalizing companies for this? Charity begins at home. U.S. companies can hire U.S. citizens for such services. It would improve customer service on several levels, beginning with more coherent conversations.
Sadly, none of the current Presidential candidates seems willing to get tough on corporate exploitation and white collar crime. The Catholic Church is decimated by law suits based on the misconducts of its priests, yet schools and other government institutions are immune from such, even though abuses there are every bit as repugnant. It just doesn’t get reported as much.
Corporations such as Amazon and Ebay that flout their market dominance need to be held accountable, and the executives, who typically make obscene salaries, need to be held accountable. Like Ford with the Pinto in the 1970s, corporate executives make unethical, immoral decisions, such as deliberately understating shipping credits, based on market calculations. Who is going to call them on it? Where else can one effectively do business online?
Read the following and consider a brief phone call or letter or email to your representative.Amazon, Ebay, and many other large corporations are working against the common good, for the benefit of a few. Ececutives should be held financially and legally accountable. Sadly, do any of the current politicians have the integrity to take on the corporate offenders? i won’t treat any of them as true pro-life candidates until they do. Catholics affirm life and justice and the priority of the weak from the womb to the tomb. Each of us can do our part to participate politically by requesting that our representatives enforce existing laws against corporate abuses and white collar crime, while instituting others according to emerging developments.
Amazon is for all intents and purposes a monopoly, and has sought this position. Like Walmart, they employ predatory tactics on competitors, along with questionable employee practices. We don’t have much of a choice online today, and it is time we got some, and Amazon and to a lesser extent Ebay got theirs for their abusive and unethical practices.
The following is a long and detailed essay, but worth reading. Thank you.  Email me at karlaschultz@juno.com if you have any questions.
Amazon, Innovation, and the Rewards of the Free Market
Our article from two weeks ago, Publishing’s Ecosystem on the Brink: The Backstory, and similar articles spur frequent comments online that Amazon is simply reaping the rewards of its innovation, that its growing dominance of book publishing is merely a demonstration that the free market is functioning as it should. This isn’t really what’s been happening.
Useful innovation should of course be rewarded, but we’ve long had laws in place (limits on the duration and scope of patent protections, antitrust laws, stricter regulation of industries considered natural monopolies) that aim to prevent innovators and others from capturing a market or an industry. There’s good reason for this: those who capture a market tend to be a bit rough on other participants in the market. They also tend to stop innovating.
Amazon’s first Kindle, released in November 2007, was certainly innovative, but its key breakthrough wasn’t any particular piece of technology. Sony had already commercialized e-ink display screens for handheld e-books in September 2006. (E Ink, a Cambridge company co-founded by MIT Media Lab professor Joseph Jacobson developed the displays used by both companies.) Amazon’s leap was to marry e-ink displays to another existing technology, wireless connectivity, to bring e-book shopping and downloading right to the handheld device.
Amazon’s innovation, in other words, was to untether the Sony device and put a virtual store inside it. This is no small achievement, and Jeff Bezos’s particular genius seems to be his ability to grasp the transformative potential of this sort of thing long before others do, just as he saw the potential of databases and the Internet to facilitate shopping for books and the potential for one-click shopping to ramp up online sales before most others had caught on.
Amazon’s reward for developing the wireless e-reader should have been that it would become a significant vendor of e-books and earn a profit commensurate with the value it added to the publishing ecosystem. Whether it would then continue to be a significant e-book vendor should have depended on whether it continued to innovate and provide good service to its customers. Amazon’s reward should not have included being able to combine its wireless e-reader, deep pockets, and an existing dominant position in a related, but separate, market — the online market for physical books — to prevent other vendors from entering the e-book market. Amazon’s reward as an innovator, in other words, shouldn’t be getting to wall itself off from competition.
By all appearances, this is precisely what Amazon was trying to pull off two years ago, when it removed the buy buttons from nearly every Macmillan book. Amazon removed the buy buttons for both e-books and, stunningly, print books, even though its disagreement with Macmillan was confined to the sales terms for e-books. Amazon had about 90% of the market for e-books at the time, but that market was then quite small: Macmillan could handle Amazon’s e-book blackout indefinitely. Amazon’s 75% of the online print book market, on the other hand, provided real leverage on Macmillan, and Amazon chose to use that leverage. By using its print book dominance to dictate terms in the nascent e-book market, Amazon crossed a clear, anticompetitive line.
One anticompetitive tactic in service of another
But it was even worse than that. Amazon had deployed its buy-button removal weapon before, but never so publicly, never on such a massive scale, and never (to our knowledge) as a means of shielding its ability to use a separate anticompetitive tactic: its practice of routinely selling e-books at a loss. Such practices, commonly known as predatory pricing, are a means of using superior capital resources not to innovate nor to provide better service, but to weaken or eliminate competition.
In Amazon’s hands, predatory pricing can be a particularly potent weapon. Surely no retailer in American history has had anything approaching Amazon’s database of deep, detailed, real-time market knowledge. This database eliminates the guesswork from marketing, as Amazon can run countless pricing experiments and immediately analyze the results. With this information, predatory prices can become smart bombs that are precisely targeted to maximize the sales of the latest Kindle to the most desirable categories of consumers, for example, or to maximize the losses of an incipient competitor.
… in service of a third
Predatory pricing could, in turn, help Amazon buttress its other critical barrier to entry into the e-book marketplace: its use of a proprietary e-book format, rather than the industry-standard epub format. Kindle owners would naturally be reluctant to switch to incompatible devices after they had sunk money into a personal e-library of Kindle editions. Viewed this way, Amazon’s costs incurred in selling e-books at a loss amounted to an investment in erecting walls around its young, booming e-book marketplace. The more Amazon succeeded in locking customers in to Kindle’s device and format, the less rewarding the market for any potential competitor. Amazon’s investment could pay off handsomely as the e-book market took off.
Amazon’s blackout of Macmillan’s titles came at a critical moment. Barnes & Noble, Amazon’s most significant bookselling rival, had just begun shipping its Nook e-reader the month before the blackout. The Nook was the first direct threat to Amazon’s e-book dominance, the first wireless e-ink challenger to the Kindle. Though sales of the Nook were reportedly brisk, Barnes & Noble could never hope to win a war of financial attrition with Amazon. If Amazon could compel publishers to fall in line with its predatory pricing of e-books, it could eliminate a thinly capitalized but potent (because of its physical, brick-and-mortar presence) competitor from the e-book market. It could smother Barnes & Noble’s Nook before it could pose a genuine challenge.
Amazon backed down — though not before decrying Macmillan’s “monopoly” over its books — and restored the print and e-book buy buttons. Macmillan and its thousands of authors regained access to the marketplace where 75% of online book buying transpires. The buy-button removal tactic had, for once, backfired on Amazon; the publicity over the blackout had taken a decidedly negative turn before the company changed course. Barnes & Noble would get a toehold in the e-book market, and, as we described in our last post, would turn out to be a surprisingly nimble and innovative competitor in the e-book market.
That rare setback for Amazon may yet prove to have been but a speed bump: through creative use of its capital and ever-growing market power, by compelling publishers to participate in its free book-of-the-month club for Kindle owners, by requiring public libraries to redirect their patrons to Amazon’s commercial website to borrow books for their Kindles, by starting an imprint to compete for authors now published by the largest commercial houses, and, no doubt, by countless uses of its powerful database of consumer behavior, Amazon continues to tighten its grip on the book industry. Its ambitions haven’t scaled back, and Barnes & Noble, still in the game (in no small part because of its success with the Nook), remains its most significant impediment.
We aren’t Barnes & Noble’s champions, or at least we aren’t their champions by choice. We’d favor a far more diverse and robust retail landscape for books, and we encourage all readers to patronize their local bookstores as they would their farmers’ markets or any other businesses that enrich the quality of life in their towns and neighborhoods. But here’s where we are: Barnes & Noble is book publishing’s sole remaining substantial firewall. Without it, browsing in a bookstore would become a thing of the past for much of the country, and we would largely lose the most important means for new literary voices to be discovered.
A truly competitive, open market has no indispensable player that can call the shots. The book publishing industry has such a player, and Amazon is poised and by all appearances eager to use its muscle to rip up the remaining physical infrastructure of book retailing and the vital book-browsing ecosystem it supports.
If Amazon succeeds, the free market will have had little to do with it.
——————————– Feel free to forward, post, or tweet.  Here is a short URL for linking: http://tinyurl.com/86zkbsy

Heinz History Center

Pittsburgh has one of the finest regional historical museums in the country, The Heinz History Center. Though less than twenty years old, it has established quite a legacy.

Located the beginning of Pittsburgh’s Strip District, walking distance from the Convention Center, it has easy access and abundant parking.

The History Center has something for everyone. Sports, history, culture, religion, politics, and art. Their special exhibitions are outstanding, and usually included in the admission price.

One of the nice aspects of the museum is the friendly staff. Though not intrusive, they are there to help you with any questions. The size of the building is such that it is rarely crowded, and one experiences freedom in walking around and viewing the various exhibits.

Once a year, the History Center hosts the finest young and middle aged adult party in the city, known as History Uncorked. In a word, Wow!

Great food and drinks, and people dress to the hilt, but without the stuffy formalism you find at some affairs. In fact, I would highly recommend the History Center to groups seeking to rent space for a large social event. Every event I have been to at the History Center has been first class.

One thing I have noticed at the History Center events is that attendees are uncommonly friendly. There is a festive but calm ambiance, making for a relaxing social visit.

I have been to the History Center numerous times going back over ten years, and each time I find something new.  I enjoy revisiting permament exhibits, and just walking around the building, which has a homey, non-museum-like feel.

They have a very nice gift shop at the entrance, and the entrance fee is very reasonable at $10. As a familiar excursion, or for a nice morning and afternoon visit with a friend or loved one, it is very difficult to beat.

The director of the History Center, Andrew Masich, is a Western Pennsylvanian historian and an ardent promoter of Pittsburgh culture and talent. He is also very approachable and down-to-earth, and in touch with the needs and interests of his clientele.

The History Center is open from 10-5 Monday through Sunday.

Honey, I’m Home!!!

HONEY, I”M HOME!!!

by Michele (email address: stuff747@gmail.com)

(unedited as always, pure Michele)

If I hear those words when I am married I know I’m in trouble.  Not with my husband, but with myself.  I know I’m not doing my job!  When my husband returns home after a long, hard day at work, I need to be waiting at the door ready to greet him.  Why?  It’s his house, too, he knows his way in.  Well, that is true, but consider this.  When I invite guests to my home, I greet them at the door.  When my children visit, I greet them at the door.  In fact, when my children were younger and I worked outside of the home, I made every effort to greet them EVERYDAY at the door.  No latchkey kids, for me.  No latchkey (future) husband for me.  How lonely, I know, it is to step out of a harsh day, or even a pleasant day and into an empty house.  Brrrr.  It’s cold, even in the middle of summertime.

 

So when he arrives home, I’ll be there at the door, with a big smile, ready to ease him into the best part of his day.  His Day.  His time.  As Joseph, he’ll be able to tell me what he needs from me.  A big hug?  Dinner?  Quiet time?  Time alone?  A good listener?  I’ll learn his routine and be ready to adapt as needed, according to what happened in his day.  That’s what Mary does.  She knows that Joseph spends his day working to provide for his family and now his work day is over.  Mary knows that Joseph strives to be an integrated man, therefore leaving his work day behind, and having already spent time with Christ in prayer and praise, he will now take time to relax and have some fun!  These three areas of a man’s life are not exclusive:  Christ, wife-time, family- time, work and so on, they overlap.  Sometimes work cuts into family time, praying as a couple blends well together, and so on.

 

What if one day my husband comes home and brushes past me and shuts me out by hiding behind the newspaper or spending the whole night in front of the TV?  What if he comes home and starts talking in an extra lively manner about a woman who was particularly “nice” to him that day?  What if I cut my hair or wore a new outfit just for him and he doesn’t even notice, but makes a comment about another woman’s appearance?  What if he compliments Tom Brady’s wife for defending Tom when reporters harass her because New England lost the Super Bowl against the Giants, yet says nothing about the way you always defend him NOT TO MENTION that you’ve spent months watching football with him and actually know who won the Super Bowl? What if he comes home, but doesn’t even come inside, instead he stays in the garage because he has important things to do out there?  What if he takes phone calls from clients during dinner or makes long phone calls to friends when it is supposed to be wife/me-time?  Or….or….or???????  Did I miss anything in the Litany of Ways Men Hurt Women?  If so, think of your favorite way right now and add it to the list.

 

In other words, what if my husband comes home acting like Marik, (who is actually Mark becoming Joseph) instead of the real Joseph?  Well, as Mary,  I realize that Marik has given me quite a cross to bear.  Or not.  Maybe Marik, because he is feeling so much M, M, M, M Michele love for him, realizes that it is safe for his demons to emerge.  Somewhere deep inside he recognizes that I am his Mary because that is what I promised to strive for when I pledged my marriage vows during our wedding ceremony.  Over time Marik has learned to trust me to be the best Mary I can be as we grow together and he knows that means I meant what I said and said what I meant.  It’s safe.  His past (and even present) hurts can begin to emerge to be healed.

 

If I take his behaviors personally, I will have my buttons pushed, but if I do not deal with those button pushings silently with Jesus as Mary does, neither of us will heal.  Instead we will argue and this topic will be a continuous argument for eternity, or at least until I surrender.  Until I surrender and see Mark as he truly is, which is Mark becoming Joseph.  Until I surrender, because God has given women a special grace to surrender.  Mary is the Queen of Surrendering, and my plan is to be Mary.   I recall 1st Corinthinians, Michele is patient, Michele is kind, Michele is long suffering.  I, as MMMMMichele, must keep my hurts/complaints to myself as much as possible and only speak lovingly, saying something like “I noticed that Marik came home today instead of Joseph, what do you need from me?”  That sounds nice, but it is NOT what Mary would say.  I, as Mary, would say nothing and I would do my best to continue treating Marik as if he were Joseph, because he is Joseph, he just slipped for a moment.  When this happens I vent my frustrations in my private journal (private meaning I never show it to Mark, because I let loose and say whatever pops into my head and then if I read it later, I wonder, “Who wrote that?”  because what I write is NOT what Mary would write or even think.  We are both on a journey and it is so much easier helping each other up the mountain, walking hand in hand, rather than pushing each other off of a cliff when we don’t like what we see or hear.  Then we have to start all over trying to make it to the top of the mountain!  Isn’t there a psalm that asks who is worthy of climbing the mountain?

 

So after writing in my journal, I then take those frustrations and hurts to prayer.  Another option is to tell Marik “I”m leaving.”  I mean I say “I’m leaving to go to the Adoration Chapel, would you like to join me?”  “No? Ok, I’ll be back soon.”  At this point the Michele-Mary me hands over my hurts and complaints to Christ and I ask Him to strengthen me until my Joseph returns.   If I feel hurt or annoyed or angry or anything other than love and compassion for Mark, I know I need to change as well.  I pray “Change me, Lord.”   Next I remember to trust God to change and heal Mark because ONLY God has the power to change people, and He will, when He decides it is time to change each of us.

 

God brought us together to heal each other, because God is love, and love heals all wounds. God is so smart.  He knows that Mark’s Marik behavior pushes all of my buttons and that leads to my healing, and it does because Mark is always loving and accepting of me and my behavior.  God knows that my behavior pushes all of Mark’s buttons and leads to his healing, and it does when I am loving and accepting of Mark and his behavior.  Mark is Mark, he is not his behavior.  Mark is perfect, his behavior is not.  When I say Mark is perfect I mean he is made as the perfect image of God, but as a result of original sin, his behavior is sometimes less than perfect.  The same is true about me.  The same is true of everyone.  We are not our behavior, our behavior is not who we are, it is what we do.  When I am Mary, I see others through her eyes.  When I am Michele, sometimes I forget and begin to judge others or feel hurt by their behavior.  These are my sins and they are between me and God.  Mark’s sins are between Mark and God.  It is not up to me to point them out to Mark unless I am going to tread carefully and show how his sins are affecting me or our relationship.  Allow me to explain.  If Mark is committing a sin, it is a sin for me to try to stop his sin, but it is correct for me to lovingly support a better choice for him.

 

Again, it is important to tread lightly here and really be sure I have prayed about the situation and ask God to show me what to do, how to proceed.  This requires me to have a really close relationship with God.  Here is a simple example.  Let’s say when Mark is stressed, he has been know to eat a whole box (3) of Double Chocolate Magnum Ice Cream Bars in one day.  WHOA!!!! Wait a minute!  Mark stress-eats Magnums?  Did you forget that Mary always has her man’s back?  Do you think I am going to reveal Mark’s coping mechanisms to anyone?  That wouldn’t be very Mary-like would it?  That is Mark’s story to tell. Actually that is what I do….used to do……., sometimes do…… don’t do so much any more…… when I am stressed aka not able to quite process my emotions peacefully.  Thankfully, the more I become like Mary, the less I need to rely on those Magnums for comfort, and I know for a fact that when we are married, the marital act will most certainly replace them and burn off the extra couple pounds that I added on my journey to emulate and personify Mary. Actually, as time passes and Mark and I become closer as an engaged couple, I am learning to turn to Mark for comfort, rather than Magnums.

 

So, back to the treading lightly example…..Mark stress-eats Magnums.  I could gently say to Mark, “You know honey, those Magnums sure look good on you, but if you need to work through something, you know I have your back.  I love you, you are my man, no matter what.  Have you considered that those ice cream bars are filled with fat and sugar and your cholesterol level could sky-rocket, which will affect your health.  I will be really annoyed if you die before we are married.”  Period.  If I have to say anything, again, I make sure I was led through prayer to say it and then I say it once and only once.  Mark, and I believe all men are super attentive, they do not need to be told anything more than one time ever.  Again,I  question whether anything needs to be said at all, because as Mary, I try to talk about things with others only after I am sure that God wants me to say something.  This means that before making a guided, loving, convicting statement (not a devastating, nagging, whining, complaining judgement), I spend hours praying about ice cream bars.  But I know for a fact that God likes it when I spend hours with him, no matter what.  The bottom line is that Mark’s sins are between him and God, just as my sins are between me and God.  In the world, self-help books and talk shows do not confirm this, the Holy Bible does, therefore the Catholic Church does.  I remember God’s word: “love your neighbor as yourself”, and “love others as Jesus loves you.” I ponder things in my heart as Mary does.

 

Allow me to tell you the real ice cream bar eating story.  As of last summer, Mark and I had been dating for about a year, but were not yet engaged.  As part of my Mary-in-the-making journey, I decided it was a good idea to have more fun in my life because I  was spending a lot of time alone in prayer again.  That in itself is great, but God did not call me to be a Carmelite nun, no matter how much I love and admire St. Theresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux.  I realized my life was out of balance and felt God was calling me to balance enjoying alone time with him in prayer, with enjoying time with him having pure fun.  As soon as I acknowledged to God that I am open to greater balance in my life, I was invited to spend an entire week at the beach with some girlfriends.  I am the only devout Catholic among this particular group of girlfriends, yet they were happy to work our beach time around my mass time.  In fact, one of my girlfriends, a former Catholic, attended mass 6 out of the 7 days with me!  I enjoyed reading a book about Edith Stein rather than a romance novel while lying in the sun.  When a handsome man walked by and my (married) girlfriends wholesomely enjoyed the beautiful creature made by God I chose to continue reading rather than take an innocent peak at the man.  I chose to honor Mark, our Lord, and our future marriage.  No one noticed that when the wine flowed at dinner I chose to have one glass rather than overindulging.  I laughed just as hard as everyone else, but I didn’t need the wine, I’m keeping myself full of the Holy Spirit.  Am I a better person than my girlfriends?  Do I love God more than my girlfriends?  Was I showing off that I am holier than thou?  No.  I am just a devout Catholic woman.   Whether at mass, at home, or out in the world I”m at home with Christ.  Home is where the heart is and no matter where I am or what I am doing, Christ is in my heart, Mary is in my heart, Mark is in my heart.  “Honey, I’m home!”

 

Having Mark in my heart and wanting to look good for my man, I carefully and safely cultivated a beautiful tan.  As an oversight, I did not realize that my hair had grown quite long because I had it tied up for most of the summer.  I also had become thinner than usual because being “in-love” with God, the church and of course Mark, I was quite happy and feeling loved.  When in this balanced state, I find that my whole life is in balance, so my weight is healthy and balanced, as is every part of my life.  I mentioned earlier that I was familiar with stress-eating in the past, but I prefer to call it what it is, the sin of gluttony.  My eating had been out of balance most of my life because of the “stresses” in my childhood and throughout most of my life, up until now.  I was never overweight by more than a few pounds, in fact, I was usually at an ideal weight or sometimes underweight.  So, returning from the beach, my family and friends remarked that I looked the way I looked in high school (which is where I first met Mark!).  I went directing to Mark’s house, excitedly shouting “Honey, I’m home!” I missed him while I was away and I was looking forward to seeing him.  I was feeling really healthy and happy and I hoped Mark thought so, too.  Rather than complementing me as I had hoped he would (after all, it was a lot of work lying in the sun every day for a week) I felt unnoticed and unappreciated when he welcomed me, but didn’t comment on my appearance.  “Gee, if you don’t notice that I look good now, I guess I’ll never look good enough for you!  I’ll never look as beautiful as women on tv, the woman down the street, blah, blah, blah, blah”  I thought.  My buttons are now pushed.   “I make a conscious effort to look good for my man all the time, and this is what I get?”  I’m sure if I would have recognized at that moment that my buttons were pushed I could have asked Joseph what was up with Marik.  I’m sure Joseph would have said something like “I think you blew Mark right out of the water with your glistening tan and flowing long hair, not to mention the cute, yet modest summer dress you were wearing.”  He was probably thinking “Who is this beautiful woman and what is she doing in my house?  I don’t deserve her, after all, I”m Marik.”

 

To me, Mark is the most handsome man in the world and he “does it” for me (keep in mind, we are celibate).  He is love and beauty and Christ and Joseph personified.  I love the whole Mark, and God is so good.  Mark is handsome and lean and physically appealing to me.  In fact, this is not just my opinion.  Some of my girlfriends have made less than Mary complements to me about Mark.  He is truly a beautiful man inside and out (like Joseph!) and he’s handsome, too.  “Rugged and sexy” to quote one of my girlfriends.  I am saddened to hear my married girlfriends to make comments to me about Mark, because I believe it dishonors their husbands.  As Mary, I truly do not see other men, I do not recognize them as individual men, I truly notice them only as a creation of God and nothing stirs within me when I notice another man.  Mark is Joseph in this respect.  But what a struggle, what a dragon to slay!!!  Partly, I believe, because men have been conditioned by our culture to be on the look out and images of beautiful(?) women are thrust upon men (and women) every day, all day long  Satan hopes these images will incite lust in men and diminish women’s self image.  I wonder if I would be as strong as Mark if the culture reversed itself.  What if images of seductively attired men  or their sexualized body parts flashed in my face all day, every day?  As Mark becomes Joseph and I become Mary, God gives us the grace to only have eyes for each other.  In fact, it is my understanding that, it has been scientifically shown, that a woman becomes addicted to a man via a chemical in his semen.  God is so smart.  By practicing celibacy prior to marriage, and only sharing the marital act with her husband, a wife only desires her husband.  Having many sexual partners confuses men and women by forming unnatural attachments with people
who are not their spouse.  In His plan, a wife only desires her husband and a husband only desires his wife.  It is also my understanding that men and women become most aroused by the smell of their spouse.  That means there is no need for wearing perfume or using scented lotions, soaps or hair care products for either men or women.  Our culture tells us we need to buy certain products to attract a man or woman. God made us to be attracted to and fulfilled by what is real, what He created, not what man (under the influence of the evil one) has created.

 

Back to the story….So following along with Satan’s plan because I had not yet become Mary in this area, I decided that Mark didn’t care what I looked like, so why bother.  I then began my cycle of unhealthy overeating and gained about 15 pounds over the next few months.  As it turns out Mark really doesn’t care what I look like.  He continues loving because I am me, I am not my body.  My body is only the part of me that carries around my mind and heart and soul.  My “unpleasant” button being pushed experience led to a beautiful healing within me.  (No pun intended!)  I was not seeing and accepting myself as beautiful, but I was blaming Mark for him not seeing me as beautiful.  Mark NEVER took me aside to tell me that I was becoming a bigger bundle of joy to love.  He NEVER pointed out my minor sin of gluttony which I lazily referred to as stress eating. More importantly he NEVER pointed out my major sin of not loving myself the way God loves Jesus, not seeing myself as Mary, which is the way God sees me because that is the way He created me.

 

OK. I’m beautiful as Mary is beautiful, inside and out, the only beauty that really matters.   Godly beauty.  And no matter what Mark says or doesn’t say to me I know he sees me through God’s eyes as well, so why bother taking care of my body?  The ultimate reason is because my body is God’s temple.  As Mary, I now know this in my heart.  Our culture teaches us to worship beautiful bodies, male or female.  Our culture teaches “real” men to openly admire and praise beautiful women or their individual body parts.  Our culture teaches women that we are only body parts, all of which must be outwardly beautiful, yet what is considered beautiful constantly changes.  Do I need to have short or long hair, black or blonde hair to be considered beautiful to a man?  Do I need to be tall and lean, have big breasts or a big bottom?  What is the latest trend.  Again, why bother, I’ll never succeed in being beautiful and if I’m not beautiful I won’t be loved.  Before I started my journey to become Mary, I bought into the culture and it’s trends only minimally, yet deep inside I was obviously not accepting or loving myself as a beautiful image of God.  Mark’s button pushing has healed this in me.   His lack of being Joseph in one area, yet being Joseph over the top in another area  helps me to become more Mary-like.

 

Mark tells me that I do the same for him.  I help him to be Joseph.  This morning, Valentine’s Day, Mark called me to wish me a Happy Valentine’s Day, and during our conversation he made the comment that he doesn’t know what he would do without me.  I said I don’t know what I would do without him.  (Look at the healing example I just explained.  We need each other to heal our sinful ways.)  Mark went on to say that I would be fine without him.  I told him, “Yes. It is true I would be fine without you, but I am great with you.”  It is true that I was completely happy being single because I made peace believing that God’s will for me was to be single.  I now see that God’s will for me is to be Mark’s wife  and my time alone was the time I needed to prepare to be Mark’s wife.  I needed that time to begin my journey toward becoming Mary.  When I had finished pushing my own buttons and heal them, I was ready for Mark.  I need Mark to heal me and I need Mark to allow me to be the best me that God made me to be, his chaste, receptive, nurturing, loving, trusting, servant aka future wife.  He doesn’t see how his love heals me and makes me a better me, the real me, the Martha Mary Mary Michele me, but he said he does see how I bring out the best in him.  We ended our conversation with me saying, “You know Mark, behind every great man is a great woman, that’s what I want for us.  And when we are married and at home alone together, you can be a great man behind me!”  (yeah, yeah, yeah!) Knowing this I am sure Mark is looking forward to the day when I will greet him at the door of our home.  He’ll wrap me in his arms and say “Honey, I am home!”

 

When Mark is home, it is Mark’s time.  I have all day long to day to spend time with God, do God’s will in terms of serving on a church committee, taking care of the children, the house, spending alone time with God by having my own quiet time and so on.  All of these activities glorify God.  But all activities glorify God (or not, of course), but in my world I actively chose to be glorify God in all that I think, do and say.  As time passes and I grow more in love with God by getting to know him better, my love will continue to deepen.  So God’s time is God’s time, but in reality all time is God’s time.  So Mark’s time is God’s time.  When Mark is present I must glorify God by serving Mark, that is my job as Mark’s (future) wife.  I mentioned earlier that I realized I was telling Mark that I could not have dinner with him because I wanted to attend mass.  That is not what God wants me to do because I serve God by serving Mark, whether making dinner or making love (when we are married).  Although Mark and I have realized that all of our actions toward each other are  “making love”.  In other words, they are expressions of love.  Packing a lunch for Mark is making love, Mark putting air in the tires of my car is making love.  Mark opening my car door for me is making love.  Giving a massage or back rub to each other, kissing each others neck (this is a habit we’ve developed while one or the other of us is cooking or washing dishes) is making love. We make love through our words as well.  We constantly speak lovingly, saying please and thank you and I appreciate you to each other.  That is making love.  Our thoughts are a vehicle for making love as well.  Mark calls me when he is up early driving to work and sees how beautiful the snow fall looks over the landscape and he calls me while I am snuggled in bed at my home to tell me about it.  Or he’ll be out and see a peppermint patty or some Berger Cookies or a dark chocolate bar or some other treat and he’ll buy it for me because he spends most of his day away from home.  I call Mark to invite him to dinner when I stumble upon a great recipe that I believe he would enjoy.  (This is a challenge for me because I’ve been a vegetarian for most of my life, and Mark is definitely a meat-eater.  I tease Mark by saying, “See how much I love you?  I touched meat for you today!?) I also make large meals for him, so he can take the leftovers home and on the evenings when I don’t see him, even though he is a fabulous cook, he doesn’t have to take time out of his evening to cook, instead he can relax and just warm up a nice meal made by me out of love for him.  When I know Mark has a particularly long or hard day at work I not only offer to make a meal for him, I offer to take his mother to the doctor for him, or make a phone call or run an errand for him because I spend most of my day at home.  So when we are not together we are still making love with each other by thinking of things the other would enjoy or appreciate.  Christ died for me, He held nothing back, not one drop of blood, not one breath.  He totally and completely died for me.  He calls me to die for Him.  The vocation of marriage calls me to die for Christ by dying to myself for Mark and Mark dying to his self for me.  This is heavenly.

 

Completing my day’s work on my time is what God desires, being available to serve Mark when Mark is available is what God desires.  Hearing the words “Honey, I’m home!” is my reminder of that.  When we are married, I imagine Mark and I will naturally pray together more often because right now we say grace together before meals and we attend Sunday mass together.  Sometimes when it fits into Mark’s work schedule, we attend daily mass together.  Let me add in, making love here as well by holding hands through most of the mass, holding the hymnal together, snuggling together when we listen to the readings and homily, and touching elbows when we kneel.  We also squeeze hands when a special prayer pertains to us and nudge each other when, in preparation for communion, the Priest thanks God “from whom all good things come.”  (I forget how it is worded in the new translation, but it says the same thing.)  Are we being disrespectful to God doing these things?  No!  We are recognizing His awesomeness!!!Being physical during mass does not detract from mass, it adds to it.  It’s as if we are even more attentive to the mass by uniting ourselves through physical touch.  Mark also always allows me to walk in front of him to receive communion and I sit down and wait for him to lower the kneeler when it is time to kneel during mass.  After mass we light a candle, or have one of our children who are with us, light a candle to pray for all of our families.  We explain that it is for Mark and me and all of our families and ex-families back through all of the generations the whole way to Adam and Eve.  We pray for our true conversion and the conversion of all.  “Lord, change us.” “Honey, we’re home!” is what we are saying to our Lord and Savior through our thoughts, words, deeds, prayers, praise and worship.

 

“Honey, I’m home!”  Reminds Mark that I am at home while he is out and he can count on me to be here if he needs me during the day.  He can count on me.  He knows that I am just waiting to be needed, to serve him, to love him.  I am not waiting by putting my life on hold, by watching soaps and eating bon-bons, I am working, but in a different way, I am working to fulfill the personal vocation Christ has set for me.  So actually this does include watching Soap Operas, but not eating bon-bons.  Soap Operas are neither operas nor soapy, but they do make me feel bubbly because I find them hysterically funny as well as a very clever reflection of life.  I also enjoy seeing the latest clothing styles and hair fashions, but I am sure by now that you know that I keep the remote close by because I have no desire to see a man without a shirt, or even a woman skimpily dressed, and I particularly do NOT want a love scene in my head.  I am protecting my eyes so that when Mark and I are married we only have images of each other in our heads.  I am protecting my eyes as Mark does when he is out in the world, or when he is watching sport.  He has often said “All I want is to see some football.  Those commercials are an annoyance.”  That is how I feel, too.  When an undesirable sexy soap scene is about to appear I grab the remote, not piously, but out of annoyance and flip to another channel, hopefully to a different soap.  It truly is nothing more than an annoyance.  Those scenes have no power over me, it is no different than having a boring news report cut into my viewing time.  I just casually grab the remote and flip the channel.  The key here is, in my home “I”m home!”  I have control over what comes into my home, what I view.  The same is true when I am out in the world.  The closer I become to being pure Mary, the less power partially dressed people have over me (to make me feel inadequate, that I can’t compete, etc.) whether I see them on tv or in the street.  But oddly enough, or maybe this is God’s plan, it seems that I don’t even see these scenes or these people out in the world any more.  I’m not sure I would believe this if I heard someone else say it, but it is my experience.  I truly do not see what is there, instead I see an image or Christ, an image of Mary or Joseph.  It is as if I don’t even make an effort to lift the remote, it’s as if it is being done by someone else (hmmm, I wonder who?)  I do not make a conscious effort to NOT see inappropriate dress or behavior on men or women.  Evil can not be in the presence of goodness.  I am saying I am as good and pure as Mary, but I pray to be so, I strive to be so, daily I ask for the grace that this is so.   As I strive and pray to be more Mary-ish, I pray that Mark becomes more like Joseph, and he prays for the same thing.  Lust has no power over Joseph.  Yes, I’ve heard stories of men and women who lust after their wives or husbands, but I know from my experience that sins fall away as I become more like Mary and Mark becomes more like Joseph.  The sins present themselves, I am convicted by them, I confess them, and through reconciliation Christ provides the grace to not repeat them.  God can not stand evil.  I pray continuously to be filled with God, it all makes sense to me. (God is so smart.)  So, not even seeing the sleezy (soapy?) part of soap operas, I am able to enjoy the story lines, the cleverness of the writers, the fascinating psychology behind the soap.  I enjoy seeing the fashions, I love to wear fun clothes (which I buy at the local thrift shops), the hair styles (my daughter cuts my hair) and the love stories (I also started reading Catholic novels, but the greatest love story is found in the Bible!)  Yes, the beautiful love stories, the sad stories that reflect real life and current issues, and everything in between.  Does the sleeziness ruin soaps for me?  No.  I literally don’t even see it.  The good news it soaps have been introducing prayer into their stories!  Wow!  Soaps provide a balance to my prayerful life.  Soaps also keep me informed of the worldly life and reminds me to pray for people experiencing the issues portrayed on soaps.  I do not read the newspaper or watch network news because it is so out of balance.  I learn about the news at mass, when my priest offers prayers for what is happening in the world.  I also learn about worldly happenings on EWTN, they are my official news provider…. for the good news and worldly news.  My hope is that EWTN hires me one day to help create and write and maybe even act in a Catholic Soap Opera!  (If it doesn’t take me away from Mark, maybe we’ll do it together!)

 

This leads to my next “Honey, I’m home!”  It is great to serve on committees and volunteer or be paid for what Christ is calling us to do, but once married, it seems to me that Christ will be pleased if I serve on committees with my husband.  Then, together we will be attending meetings, doing the leg work, and so on.  Our children are grown and need us a minimal amount of time, or large amounts of time every once in awhile.  It makes sense that for us, it will be time to serve together, particularly when Mark retires.  Until then “I’m home” when Mark needs me to be home. Right now I serve on the Altar Committee at my parish because everything that needs to be done can be done during the day.  I wash and iron the linens at home and then drop them off prior to daily mass.  I place flowers by Mary and Joseph when appropriate.  I serve two months out of the year and help to prepare the church for Christmas and Easter, and then clean up.  Simple, but an important job that serves our Lord while not taking away from my time with Mark.  Initially, I was on a committee that met in the evenings, and you guessed it, it interfered with the time Mark had available to spend with me.  I also teach two women’s groups.  One meets the third Wednesday of each month in the morning.  The other meets for 9 weeks at a time, for a few hours in the morning.  I also help to prepare non-traditional students for Reconciliation, First Communion and/or Confirmation.  We meet Sundays prior to mass, for a limited amount of time each fall or spring.  I can serve the Lord, but volunteering for church activities that do not conflict with the time I need to serve Mark as my (future) husband.  To be home when Mark is home, so we can both say “Honey, You are my home!”

 

I recently heard the story of St. Hilarius and St. Quieta.  The story goes something like this.   Hilarius is married to Quieta, they have a model Catholic marriage and they are saints.  Hilarius, the husband, dies and is buried.  Later, Quieta dies and Hilarius’s grave or tomb is opened so that Quieta may be married with him.  The miracle is not that they have a model marriage and they can be saints (that’s my plan for Mark and me), the miracle is that as Quieta’s dead body was being laid in Hilarius’ tomb, he reached his hand upward, around her neck and pulled her head gently to rest upon his chest.  I called Mark with this story as soon as I heard it and shouted with delight “That’ll be us!”.  After further pondering this story in my heart, as Mary does, I realized that as a man, St. Hilarius probably has a deep appreciation for hilarity, for fun, joy, pleasure and I am sure that Quieta provided this for him, enjoyed it with him.  They enjoyed this lifestyle together.   At the same time, Quieta, most likely lived according to her name, quietly pondering things in her heart, being a quiet comfort and support to her husband.  Together, they are saints living a model Catholic marriage, which means they surely must have invited Christ into every part of their individual lives and together into every part of their married lives.  God first, spouse second and a marriage created out of a beautiful balance of quiet and hilarity.

Close Encounters

I recently came across a book issued by WinePressPublishing (Get a load of them!) entitled “Close Encounters of the Heavenly Kind.” It is authored by Hilary Jones Rojo. The name itself stands out to me, sounding like the stage name of a Shakespearean thespian.

It is a short book, 76 pages, but a very interesting read. Hilary is a great story-teller and a fluid writer. Hilary has led an adventurous life, and she is able to communicate that well. When she shares her stories, you get the impression that you are in a dialogue with her.

This almost reads like a novel. and in a very real sense it is. It is a story of her experience of God’s love in everyday events, set against the background of salvation history and Catholic faith.

One of the nice things about the book is its brevity and conciseness. With today’s hectic pace and schedules, it is refreshing to encounter a book that won’t exhaust you or take a month or two to digest.

If you are interested in getting a copy of the book, or hearing Hilary speak, or listen to her radio program, and get these great stories more vividly, you can contact her and access her radio shows at www.hilaryjonesrojo.com. Make it a “To be” rather than a “not to be” with Hilary Jones Rojo.

Book review

on Monday, February 13, I reviewed a number of books by Paulist Press on the Relevant Radio program Morning Air with Sean Herriott. This is available streamed online, at relevantradio.com, by clicking on the audio archives of Morning Air, hour one, on February 13.  The titles reviewed were as follows:

Marital Spirituality: The Search for the Hidden Ground of Love

Patrick J. McDonald and Claudette M. McDonald

 

Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John

Jean Vanier

 

Responses to 101 Questions on the Psalms and Other Writings

Roland Murphy

 

What Are They Saying About Mark?

Daniel J. Harrington, SJ

 

Invitation to the Gospels

Donald Senior, Paul J. Achtemeier, Robert J. Karris, George W. MacRae, and Daniel J. Harrington; foreword by Lawrence Boadt

 

Catholic Prayer Bible, The (NRSV): Lectio Divina Edition

Paulist Press

 

Churches the Apostles Left Behind, The

Raymond E. Brown

 

Commentary on Genesis, A: The Book of Beginnings

Martin Kessler & Karel Deurloo

 

Experiencing God in the Gospel of John

Anthony J. Kelly, CSsR, and Francis J. Moloney, SDB

Check out my interview for a detailed review. A number of these authors are so good (e.g.,  Brown, Vanier, Murphy, Senior) that it took an interview rather than an article to communicate their worth and utility. Go to Paulistpress.com for ordering information.

Feel free to email me at karlaschultz@juno.com if you have any questions.