Guest column: I didn’t sign up for this. Or did I?

Laura Kelly Fanucci is a guest columnist for Catholic News Service. (CNS/courtesy Laura Kelly Fanucci)

Laura Kelly Fanucci is a guest columnist for Catholic News Service. (CNS/courtesy Laura Kelly Fanucci)

By Laura Kelly Fanucci
Catholic News Service

Stripping soaked sheets off a child’s bed for the third night in a row. Scrubbing vomit out of a car seat. Listening to a bedroom door slam with an angry “I hate you!”

“This is not what I signed up for.”

In the years since I became a mother, the tempting, selfish thought has sneaked into my mind a thousand times, dark and brooding.

But every time a quiet voice responds gently: “Are you sure?”

Before we had children, the prospect of parenthood played in my mind like a movie montage: the joy of holding our baby, watching a toddler take first steps, spinning around with a laughing child, playing soccer together at the park, tearing up at graduation.

I daydreamed about the highlight reel. I did not imagine any ugly moments on the cutting room floor.

I smile now at my naivete. What parent wouldn’t? We grow into this calling as it polishes our rough edges smooth over time. Our tolerance for noise, mess and chaos increases as our younger impatience fades.

But after late nights or weeks of sickness or one more exasperating argument, I still hear the temptation creeping into my mind: “This is not what I signed up for.” The sin of pride, taunting me to believe myself better than the work before me.

Back when I was a bright-eyed college graduate, I signed up for a year of service in France with the Sisters of the Assumption. What better way to put my newly minted French degree to good use?

I found myself working in a L’Arche home for adults with severe physical and developmental disabilities. Every morning I stripped soaked sheets, washed them and remade the beds. Every day I helped residents go to the bathroom, get dressed and eat lunch.

I remember ironing the same stack of clothes for the 12th time that week and muttering to myself: “This is not what I signed up for.”

No one cared if I could analyze a French novel brilliantly. No one gave a glowing grade to my work. No one knew if I’d gone to a great university or had some all-star resume.

What I had signed up to do was to serve. With love. Which meant setting aside my own ego and expectations and humbling myself to the place God had called me, where the people I came to serve were the ones who taught me everything.

Turns out that year at L’Arche was the best preparation for parenthood.

Today none of my children care that I have a graduate degree. None of them have ever asked to see my resume. What matters to them is that I show up each day and love them. This is exactly what I signed up for when I became their mom.

Whenever I’m tempted to think otherwise, I hear the quiet, gentle voice I have come to recognize as God’s. That peaceful voice reminds me that the work of love is my vocation.

Sometimes it means washing stomach-churning laundry. Or comforting a crying newborn for hours. Or working through the daily conflicts of a house full of humans.

It’s not always what I pictured, glamorous or enviable. But callings don’t come with promises of bliss and self-fulfillment.

God asks us to give our lives to each other in sacrifice and love. Whether we are parents or priests, single or married, professionals or caregivers, we all grow into the hard work that comes with vocation. This is where God calls us.

This is exactly what we signed up for.

– – –

Fanucci is a mother, writer and director of a project on vocation at the Collegeville Institute in Collegeville, MN. She is the author of several books, including “Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting,” and blogs at www.motheringspirit.com.

Posted in CNS | 1 Comment

REWIND: Pope Francis on God as our Father

Here’s what you missed from Pope Francis’ weekly general audience this morning:

Pope Francis arrives for his general audience June 7 in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. (CNS/Reuters)

Pope Francis arrives for his general audience June 7 in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (CNS/Reuters)

Here’s a link to our story today:

 

Posted in CNS, Vatican | 1 Comment

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, June 4, 2017

“Then he breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'” — John 20:22

June 4, Pentecost Sunday

      Cycle A. Readings:

     1) Acts 2:1-11

      Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-31, 34

      2) 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13

      Gospel: John 20:19-23

By Dan Luby
Catholic News Service

Tornado season is part of the landscape of spring. It brings with it images of the wind’s awesome power and autonomy. Alongside tragic stories of devastation there are incredible tales of straw driven through telephone poles and of beds, complete with sleepers, lifted out of houses and deposited unharmed, hundreds of feet away.

The power of the wind is undeniable. The mystery of it, however, is that the wind itself cannot be seen. We can recognize its presence only by its effect on other things — roofless houses, snapping flags, mountainous snow drifts, sculpted dunes on an ocean beach.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “the term ‘Spirit’ translates the Hebrew word ‘ruah,’ which, in its primary sense, means breath, air, wind” (No. 691). As with the wind we recognize the power and presence of the Holy Spirit only by the shape it gives our lives.

In the Pentecost liturgy, Paul identifies one of the principal examples of how the Spirit invisibly moves us: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.”

It’s not that mere utterance of the words requires divine inspiration; rather, to say “Jesus is Lord” and mean it both requires and proves that the Holy Spirit is moving within us.

Whenever we see the Lordship of Jesus given shape in human community, we are seeing the effects of the Spirit. The loving attention of friends for a dying person; the courage of an employee refusing to cheat customers; the self-sacrifice of sleepless parents with a sick child; the inspiration of a heartfelt homily — all signal the Spirit’s moving our hearts and hands and minds.

May Pentecost open us more fully to the movement of God’s Spirit. May our lives give evidence of Christ’s love in a hurting world.

QUESTIONS:

What is one good thing you’ve done for others that you were surprised you could do? What evidence of the invisible movement of the Spirit do you see daily that you tend to take for granted?

Posted in Word to Life

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, May 28, 2017

“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” — Matthew 28:18-19a

May 28, The Ascension of the Lord

      Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Acts 1:1-11

      Psalm 47:2-3, 6-9

      2) Ephesians 1:17-23

      Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20

 

By Sharon K. Perkins
Catholic News Service

I’ve had the privilege of being present when two of my nephews were commissioned as Marine officers. They had been through months of rigorous academic, physical and leadership training, and it was a proud moment for their parents when the new officers, resplendent in their “dress blues,” received their second-lieutenant pins.

The most moving part of the commissioning ceremony was the officers’ oath, ending with the solemn words, “I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion. … I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter, so help me God.”

My nephews’ commissioning marked the beginning of a commitment of service to their country and their fellow Marines. Although the details of their future deployments were as then unknown, they had been well prepared, authorized and empowered for the work that would be asked of them.

Today’s readings are about a different kind of commissioning — often referred to as “the great commission.” The 11 disciples, prepared and taught by Jesus during his ministry, passion, death and resurrection, assembled in Galilee as they had been instructed.

The writings of Matthew and Luke affirm both the given assignment — to be witnesses to Jesus’ Lordship to the entire world (evangelization) — and the power to accomplish it, through the awaited gift of the Holy Spirit. While each disciple probably had “mental reservations” and the occasional temptation to evade his commission, Jesus’ promise to be always with his body, the church, gave them the authority and the courage to fulfill their calling.

Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium,” says: “All the baptized, whatever their position in the church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. … Indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.”

We, the baptized, are authorized by the Father, clothed in Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit — and our solemn oath is the promise made in baptism. It’s time for deployment.

QUESTIONS:

When is the last time you shared your experience of “God’s saving love” with someone? How can you rely more on the Holy Spirit’s power to equip you as Jesus’ witness?

Posted in Word to Life

Protecting children: Don’t let dedication deplete reserves of compassion

Drew Dillingham of the USCCB office of child protection is pictured in Rome Jan. 31. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Drew Dillingham
Catholic News Service

(Fourteenth in a series)

ROME — To have compassion means to suffer with another. It is a trait we as Christians seek to live out every day. Many of us labor, personally and professionally, to carry out Jesus’ call to provide compassionate support to others. In our society, for example, mothers, fathers, priests, nuns, doctors, psychologists, nurses, social workers, teachers and many others dedicate their lives to helping others. In this way, many of us are fulfilling our vocations to love God and to love one another as ourselves.

Too often, however, we forget that in order to love one another, we must also love and take care of ourselves. Sometimes we spend so much time helping others carry their crosses that we forget we also are carrying our own. Spending time to help others, with no consideration of our own spiritual, physical and mental needs can lead to “compassion fatigue.” This is what my classmates and I learned at the Pontifical Gregorian University on Wednesday as we wrap up our studies on safeguarding minors. While we looked at this issue in terms of child protection and victim assistance, compassion fatigue can affect anyone whose role includes helping others on a consistent basis.

Dominican Sister Catherine Marie talks with a patient at a facility in Hawthorne, N.Y., in 2011. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

According to Charles Figley, an expert in psychology and mental health:

“Compassion fatigue has been described as the ‘cost of caring’ for others in emotional and physical pain. It is characterized by deep physical and emotional exhaustion and a pronounced change in the helper’s ability to feel empathy for their patients, their loved ones and their co-workers. It is marked by increased cynicism at work, a loss of enjoyment … and eventually can transform into depression, secondary traumatic stress and stress-related illnesses. The most insidious aspect of compassion fatigue is that it attacks the very core of what brought us into this work (to help): our empathy and compassion for others.”

One of the biggest obstacles to identifying and treating compassion fatigue is our struggle to recognize that the experiences, emotions and feelings of those we help can affect us negatively. As someone who enjoys reading stoic philosophy, I often find myself falling into that trap. For example, in Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, you can find ideas like, “Reject the sense of the injury, and the injury itself disappears,” or “When something happens that makes you feel bitter, treat it not as misfortune, but say ‘to bear this worthily is good fortune.'”

promiseThese types of stoic ideas can be helpful in some ways, but they also lead to the idea that we ourselves can always rise above our emotions and feelings. Our experiences in life show this not to be true. As Rachel Naomi Remen says, “The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet.”

pledgeTrue happiness requires more than just our own use of reason. It requires the recognition and management of our emotions, the help of others and the grace of God. One way to recognize if you are experiencing the effects of compassion fatigue is by using the Professional Quality of Life Scale. This scale is used by those in professions that help others to measure whether they need to take some time to provide for their own self-care. Those who have been providing care to others in their personal lives may also find this scale helpful.

Self-care can take the form of anything that relieves your stress and simply makes you happy. For example, hobbies, physical exercise, athletics, watching movies and comedies, being with those you love, taking a vacation and spending time with God through prayer. Mass or Eucharistic Adoration can be used to prevent and treat compassion fatigue. If self-care is not enough, it is also helpful to seek the assistance of other professionals.

Eucharist adoration at St. Margaret of Scotland Church in Shelden, N.Y., in 2009. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Compassion fatigue can affect all of us. In order to continue our vocations to provide compassionate care to others, it is important to be as kind to yourself as you are to others. So this week, I hope you take some time to take care your neighbor AND yourself.

– – –

Drew Dillingham is the Coordinator for Resources and Special Projects with the Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.  He is attending Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University’s interdisciplinary program for a diploma in safeguarding minors. He is an avid reader of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and shares his April 26th birthday. Dillingham also dabbles in the works of Bishop Robert Barron, thanks to the ongoing encouragement of his wife, Kim. 

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Posted in Protecting Children blog

REWIND: Busy morning at the Vatican

While much of America was still sleeping, Pope Francis welcomed Donald Trump to the Vatican, then led his usual Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square. Here’s some of what you missed.

Here’s the announcement of the official American delegation:

And here comes the president:

But early in the meeting, a little misunderstanding:

Later, this clarification:

And the meeting goes on routinely from there.

And Pope Francis is off to his weekly general audience:

Meanwhile, the president met the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin:

And the first lady visited sick kids in the hospital:

And there was also time for a little sightseeing:

The Vatican newspaper weighs in:

For more, read our main story on the meeting:

… and our story on the pope’s general audience:

Posted in CNS, politics, Vatican | 2 Comments

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, May 21, 2017

“If you love me and obey the commands I give you, I will ask the Father and he will give you another Paraclete — to be with you always: the Spirit of truth.” — John 14:15-17a

 

May 21, Sixth Sunday of Easter

      Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Acts 8:5-8, 14-17

      Psalm 66:1-3a, 4-7a

      2) 1 Peter 3:15-18

      Gospel: John 14:15-21

 

By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

I love the progression of this week’s Old Testament and New Testament readings, and how they speak to the “communication” of the Holy Spirit among believers.

The first reading tells about the apostles laying hands on new believers who then received the Holy Spirit. The Gospel talks about the Father sending an Advocate, “the Spirit of truth,” to those who love him, to live in them and reveal God to them (one might add, again and again).

During a confirmation preparation program I helped lead, parents joined us for one of the sessions, and at its conclusion we invited them to join the sponsors in laying hands on their children and other candidates in silent prayer.

We hoped the young people would feel the warm reality of God’s presence in the human touch of those who love them and who wanted the Spirit to come deeply into their lives. Subsequent comments from some of the candidates suggested that that was, indeed, what happened for them.

But comments from parents indicated that they, too, were touched powerfully by the Spirit as they laid hands on their young people. These were people who had held and hugged their kids throughout their 16 or 17 years of life, yet several remarked that they were thankful to have the opportunity, in the words of one, “to do this for my child.” Many were moved to tears.

I laid hands on their children, too, and I can vouch for the fact that I truly sensed the Spirit of Jesus passing between us. As Catholics, we are fortunate to have tangible symbolic acts, such as laying on hands, to bring alive our spoken or silent words in prayer.

And we don’t come out of the experience wondering, “What just happened?” The Gospel explains it, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. … And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”

QUESTIONS:

How has God been revealed to you in the laying on of hands — either as the one laying on hands or the recipient? What other tangible prayer experiences have you had, and how has God been revealed in those?

Posted in Word to Life | 1 Comment