To Whom Are You Listening?

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I stood at my kitchen sink, dousing dirty dishes from dinner.  Steam rouse in bursts from the hot water as I recalled the ugly moments from my day.  I had been harsh with my children, impatient and reactive. 

Why was it so easy for me to snap at small people, to be so easily burdened by their many needs?

I gazed at my picture of Mother Mary, the one I keep at eye level at my sink, and I contemplated her peacefulness and generosity with others. I silently requested she form me into herself.

Then, something strange happened. 

While I worked, my mind wandered from my prayer. Suddenly, I had this thought,

You are wasting your time.  This work is pointless, abandon it now and do something important.

I shuddered and quickly recited the St. Michael prayer, begging him to dispel the darkness.

The sinister thought alarmed me because it echoed a sentiment with which I had been struggling—the search to find meaning in the monotony of motherhood.  When I became a parent,  I wasn't prepared for the tedious nature of the job—around the clock feedings, diaper changes, the insurmountable Vesuvius of laundry, and the cesspool of need from my precious, yet tiresome peanut gallery. The care and feeding of little people was important but I couldn't feel the gravity.  The work felt redundant, time consuming and even boring.

Wasn’t there something more exciting and worthwhile waiting for me?

What about my hopes, dreams and desires? 

Had my passions vanished in childbirth?  

Although I intellectually recognized the importance of parenting my children, after a hard moment it was easy to feel as if I was wasting my “talents.”

That evening at the sink, darkness preyed upon my weakness.

The next week, I went to visit my longtime spiritual director.  I told him about what happened and I said, “I felt like a spiritual attack.”

“It was a spiritual attack, Colleen,” Father said.  “Whom does Satan hate more than a mother? Mother Mary was the only person Satan couldn’t get to because she was the only human outside of original sin.  Satan tempted Jesus in the desert, but Satan couldn’t get his claws into Mother Mary.  He despises your vocation and wants you to abandon it.  You are engaged in a holy work. Yes, you sin but in embracing motherhood you are embracing the will of God.”

Father’s words encouraged me to pay more attention to the lies Satan whispers about my vocation.  French Jesuit and spiritual director, Father Jean-Pierre De Caussade, writes:

“…distinguishing the true inspirations from God from those which come from the devil, namely, that the former are always gentle, and peaceful, and lead us to confidence and humility while the latter are agitating and suspicious or even to presumption and the following of our own will.”

The voice of God and the voice of the demonic are altogether different and their inspirations lead to vastly different outcomes.

Satan's voice says:  "You'll never change.  What's the point?  Why bother trying?”
The voice of God says:   "I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)

Satan's voice:  "Your work, your service?  It's pointless.  No one cares."
The voice of God:  "I use the small, the weak and the sinful.  Do you love me?  'Feed my sheep.'" (John 21: 17)

Satan's voice:  "You're not working hard enough, trying hard enough.  Harder, faster, better, stronger--that's the key to success."
The voice of God:  "...and make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just asI commanded you." (1 Thessalonians 4:11)

Satan's voice:  "No one ever listens to you."
The voice of God:  "I hear what you have to say.  You mean something.  You are important." (Isaiah 43:1)

Psalm 44 verse 15-16 describes the taunts of the evil one:

All day long my dishonor is before me
And my humiliation has overwhelmed me,

Because of the voice of him who reproaches and reviles,

Because of the presence of the enemy and the avenger.

Compare that to psalm 29 verse 4-5 which describes the voice of the God:

The voice of the LORD is powerful,
The voice of the LORD is majestic.

The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
Yes, the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.

The devil’s words are evil, turbulent, and embittered, filling the mind with discouraging thoughts that rob us of our peace. But Jesus’s words? They are gentle, calm, kind, and loving.

To whom are we listening?

When You Don't Like Man's Best Friend

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When I was about five years old, my dad, a pilot in the Marine Corps, bought our family an American bull dog for our family pet, the mascot used by the same branch of military in which he served. We named her Molly, an appropriate name for this small, stout animal whose mouth was as leaky as our water faucet.

Both my dad, my brother and me loved Molly.

My mother, on the other hand, never developed the same tender feelings. 

She complained about Molly’s propensity to drool over everything, a problem exacerbated by the fact she was solely responsible for cleaning the slobber, she muttered when she’d trip over Molly’s lazy body positioned in a haphazard spots all over the house, and of course, she’d leave the room as soon as she caught wind of the foul, gaseous bombs Molly was famous for dropping. 

(Come to think of it, we all took issue with this particular character trait.)

Though my mother was a kind and devoted parental guide, she could not summon the same love for our family pet. 

She tolerated Molly, but she did not love her.

A short time after my dad brought the dog home, he was stationed on an overseas assignment.  My parents planned to transport the dog across the world with us, except on the morning we were to leave the country, the dog was bitten by a rattlesnake and died.

My brother and I were devastated. 

We sat in the backseat of a packed car, weeping.  It was bad enough we were leaving the home we loved, and now we’d be doing it without our family pet.  It was almost too much for us to bear. 

A few minutes after she delivered us the news, I looked to my mom for comfort and was shocked to see she was crying. I was confused at my mother’s public display of emotion as her disdain for Molly was a well-known family fact.  I thought my mother hated Molly and yet, here she was--tears dripping down her cheeks—visibly saddened by the loss.   

As an adult,  I admit I don’t like dogs for all the same reasons my mom never liked them:  they stink, they’re messy, and caring for my six children is plenty enough work for me.  I don’t have the skill set or the extra emotional or mental capacity for something furry.

Unfortunately, my 11 year old daughter, Mary, does not share my sentiments and for the last several years, she has claimed her greatest dream in life is to own her very own dog.  Though she desires to be a veterinarian when she grows up, that child should most definitely pursue a law career because her ability to argue her case for a family pet is Ivy League material.  Recently, after our millionth discussion about why a pet will never be in the cards, Mary looked at me and said,

“Don’t worry, Mom, I’m gonna wear you down.  You’ll change your mind.”

Later that night, when her dad was tucking her into bed, she looked at him and said, “One time I saw a mouse run across our floor.  I thought it was gross but I also thought, if that were my pet, I’d name her Cherry. Please let me have a dog, Dad.  I want a dog so much. I promise I’ll take care of it.  I promise.”

Famous last words. 

Still, a few weeks ago, Jon and I began to vacillate on our staunch pledge.  Even though we both agree John and I have enough responsibilities, Mary’s desire for a pet was so intense, we felt it almost cruel to not even consider her request.

And so this past weekend, after many years of swearing off the idea, we bought a dog, a chocolate lab in honor of Mary’s eleventh birthday.  She named him Shiloh, the same name as her favorite dog character in one of the animal tales her dad has read to her several times.

Let me be clear:  I still have all kinds of reservations about a dog. 

I’m not a people person, not a pet person. 

I’m worried about training the dog to go potty outside and to listen to us. 

I’m worried about managing a puppy while we try to do school work. 

And I’ve already noticed the new dog is teething and gnawing on anything he can put in his mouth.   (Plus, he’s already baptized my brand new rug.  “Thank you, Shiloh!”)

But parenthood is funny thing and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my journey thus far, it’s that my children constantly issue invitations to my own personal growth, they summon me to open my closed, selfish heart a little more.  I sometimes want to keep the door closed--siphoned off where it’s safe and easier--but I keep realizing with every yes I give (even if I want to take it back sometimes), there are so many things for me to learn.

Even in the few short days we’ve had, Shiloh, I’ve learned Mary has an abundance of love to give and that she lavishes that dog with her time and attention.  I could stand to follow her example and be as generous with the people in my own house as Mary is with her dog.

I’ve also finally figured out why my mom cried all those years ago when Molly died, and it wasn’t not she was sad about the dog’s departure.  She was crying because she was sad we were sad.  She cried because she knew we were heartbroken about the dog and so she was heartbroken too.

I’m probably not going to ever be a dog person but I daresay I will love Shiloh, I already love Shiloh because Mary loves him. 

Our kids are such great teachers.


The Cry Room Debate

Writing on Facebook, Kendra Tierney, from the popular blog Catholic All Year, ignited a firestorm by suggesting that instead of cry rooms for small children, parishes should establish Silent Worship Rooms for people who feel they’ll be distracted by “cooing babies or breastfeeding mothers, or the vocalizing of disabled adults, or the off-key singing of hard of hearing old ladies.”

The issue of cry rooms is guaranteed to bring energetic reactions from Catholics of many stripes, and Tierney’s post was no exception.

Read my suggested solution on Aleteia.

C.S. Lewis’s Advice To The Modern Reader

I recently discovered the preface written by C.S. Lewis for Saint Athanasius’ book On The Incarnation. In it, Lewis extols the virtue of reading old books and I found the wisdom particularly pertinent to today’s readers, who are like me and consume a great deal of online information. Though he wrote in a time when mobile reading wasn’t possible, his words apply to those who desire to read good books but get distracted by the ease of reading on the World Wide Web.

C.S. Lewis’s Advice To The Modern Reader by Colleen Murphy Duggan

Lesson One: Read Primary Sources

As a teacher, Lewis notices that students are hesitant to dust Plato’s Symposium off the shelf and read it for themselves. “He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said,” writes Lewis. This is a mistake because Plato himself is much easier to read than his modern commentator. But because students are intimidated to approach the master himself, they content themselves with summaries that are confusing and don’t get to the heart of the original author’s intent.

In a modern day age driven by sound bites, the encouragement to go directly to the primary source is particularly appropriate. If I had read every single transcript of the plane interviews given by Pope Francis, for example, rather than relying on the “quotes” inserted in inaccurate articles plastered online, I would have avoided at least a little of the confusion I’ve experienced during his pontificate. The same is true for famous quotes shared in online memes. Did Saint Francis really say, “Preach the gospel and if necessary, use words?” I don’t’ know but if I followed Lewis’s advice and consulted primary sources, I would have a better chance of knowing who really said what.

On the matter of consulting primary works, Lewis concludes: “It has always therefore been one of my main endeavors as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.”

Lewis’s Second Lesson: Read old books in between the modern ones you consume.

Lewis isn’t suggesting refraining from contemporary literature completely. He’s saying we should expose ourselves to the great ideas found in old books in order to correct any errors assumed by our current generation. Every age, Lewis argues, has its blind spots or inaccurate assumptions and if we only read contemporary literature, our ability to recognize fallacies and refute them, is weakened.

“The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books,” says Lewis.

Balancing our consumption of modern day information with a consumption of great ideas (and even incorrect ideas) from previous generations aids in keeping our faulty thinking in check.

Therefore, his reading rule of thumb is as such: “…after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.”

Now if you don’t mind, I have to put down my smart phone and tackle the entire Western cannon. I’ve got some reading to do…

What advice would you give to the modern reader?