Happy Friday, friends! I hope the sun is shining wherever you are today and that two full nights of sleep are ahead of you. I am in a fantastic mood because my minivan is clean (more below) and because we are starting our study of Pope Benedict’s second encyclical, Spe Salvi. This is not only my favorite of Pope Benedict’s encyclicals, but my favorite encyclical of all time, from all popes, ever. It is so beautiful, so accessible, and so important for this age. If you know anyone who could use a powerful meditation on hope and a reminder of the hope that is ours in Christ, please invite them to join us.
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Spe Salvi, Week 1
Reading: Sections 1-6
“The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life,” Pope Benedict XVI, 2.
We are a people without hope.
We are a people so fearful of each other that old men shoot young men who ring their doorbells.
We are a people so ashamed and insecure that young people would rather give away their bodies in the dark than have a conversation in the light.
We are a people so obsessed with the goods of this life that we put profit before persons without thought.
We are a people so full of rage that we tear across highways and through towns, wildly reckless with our lives and the lives of others.
We are a people so lost that we deny the reality of our own bodies.
We are a people so blind to our dignity that we enslave ourselves to addiction: to drugs, to alcohol, to shopping, to abusing ourselves while staring at violent and depraved pictures of our fellow image bearers.
We are a people so despairing of the present that we can’t smile at strangers on the street.
We are a people so despairing of the future that we consider the killing of innocent children in the womb a choice, not a nightmare.
This, as a people, is who we are. We have no hope. We see nothing beyond this grief-stricken world. No guiding goodness. No loving truth. No fixed meaning. And we are dying. Or already dead.
But this is why Jesus came. He didn’t just come to give hope to the people of Ancient Rome. He came to give hope to the people of Pittsburgh, Chicago, and San Francisco in 2023. He saw this moment. He saw it all. So, He bared His back and let the whip fall. He carried His cross. He hung there. He died there. Then, He rose. And He promised all who abided in Him would rise, too.
In living and dying and rising, Jesus gave us a reason to not be afraid or ashamed, to not be obsessed, full of rage, lost, blind, and despairing. He gave us a reason to hope: Himself, the One who saves us from sin and death.
For those of us who believe, that changes everything. At least, it’s supposed to change everything. Sometimes we forget what we’ve been given. Sometimes we forget His promise. Over the next six weeks, though, as we read Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Spe Salvi (“Saved in Hope”), both here and on Substack, we’ll remember together. I hope you join us.
Questions for Reflection
Was there a time in your life where you lived far from Christ? What was that season like? How were you different? How did you treat yourself and others?
What attracted you to Christ (or back to Christ)? What did you think the Gospel offered you?
Right now, in this season, do you feel like you are living in hope? If so, how are you living differently? If not, why do you think you are struggling to live in hope? How is that struggle affecting how you treat yourself and others?
Next Week: Sections 7-12
Why do Catholics pray to saints and not Jesus alone?
Well, why do you talk to your siblings and not just to your parents? Or better yet, why do you ask your friends for prayers instead of only making your requests to Jesus? Because that’s what we do when we talk to the saints. We ask friends for help. Catholics don’t pray to saints like we pray to Jesus. He is God. We adore Him; we praise Him; we thank Him; and we petition Him on behalf of ourselves and others. We pray to Him in a singular way.
When we pray to the saints, however, we talk to them like we talk to our friends. We share our hearts, and we ask them to pray for us. As Catholics, we believe death doesn’t end the love and communion between God’s faithful ones; it intensifies it. And if we believe our faithful friends on earth can be powerful intercessors, how much more powerful must our friends in Heaven be? They stand before the throne of God. They see Him face to face. All that limits us in this life, doesn’t limit them. Yes, they stand on the other side of the veil. We’re here, in time. They’re there, beyond time. But they’re more alive than we are. As T.S. Eliot wrote so gorgeously in “Little Gidding”: “The communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.” The saints can speak to God in ways we can’t.
It's always Jesus who answers our prayers, though. A saint can petition Him on our behalf. But they don’t give us the graces for which we ask. Jesus alone does that. All grace comes from Him. He is always the source. Yet, somehow, mysteriously, He invites us, His followers, living and dead, to be part of that work, to participate in His continual act of pouring graces out on the world. He allows our prayers to help secure for others the graces of healing, repentance, conversion, discernment, and so much more. His grace makes our prayers for grace powerful. That doesn’t take anything away from Him; it glorifies Him even more. It’s a testament to His greatness and generosity.
It's also a testimony to God’s love. God loves each of us, and He wants to see us loving each other. He wants us caring for one another, admiring one another, imitating one another, and interceding for one another. I’m not jealous when I see Toby helping Becket or Ellie applauding when Becket walks into the room. I’m overjoyed. To see the love my children have for one another—how they rely upon each other and want to help each other—is one of God’s greatest gifts to me. If foolish, fallen me can feel that joy in my children’s friendship, how much more does God feel it in His children's friendship? Conversely, how much does it sorrow Him when His children ignore one another, when they don’t rely on each other or trust each other with their hearts and prayers?
Either way, the Church doesn’t require that we ask the saints to pray for us. She celebrates their faith throughout the liturgical year. She holds them up as examples of fidelity and sanctity. She draws upon their great wisdom in applying the Scriptures to the adventure of the Christian life. But that’s it. We can, if we want, choose to ignore them all. That’s not a sin we have to confess. It’s just a choice—not a good one, but a choice.
They never ignore us, though. Whether you’re asking for their prayers or not, you can trust the saints are still praying for you.
Can you recommend any resources for couples struggling with infertility?
Absolutely. Springs in the Desert is a wonderful Catholic apostolate, which provides support and resources for couples experiencing infertility. They have a blog, a podcast, templates for reaching out to your parish or diocese, tips for caring for people struggling with infertility, and so much more. I highly recommend their work. There also is a new book out from Emmaus Road Publishing called When Expecting Doesn’t Happen: Turning Infertility into a Journey of Hope by Dr. Marie Meaney. I haven’t read it yet, but have heard nothing but good things about it from people I trust. Lastly, if you’re looking for medical help in line with Catholic teaching, you can reach out to the Paul VI Institute in Omaha, Nebraska, or just search for a doctor trained in NaPro Technology through mycatholicdoctor.com.
What are your thoughts on drag. Is it just silly or is it something more?
(Just as a heads up, this answer contains explicit content. Don’t read it aloud to your five-year-old.)
The answer is: It depends on what kind of drag you’re talking about.
When Bob Hope or Milton Burle dressed up in drag, it was silly. Men dressing up like women for laughs is a tradition as old as theatre itself.
When contestants on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” don drag, however, it’s different. The intention is different. The performers are different. The performance they give is different. And none of it is silly.
Unlike Tom Hanks in “Bosom Buddies” or Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire, the primary intent of today’s drag performers is not to merely get a few laughs. Humor can be part of a drag performance, but it’s not the point. The point is to shock, titillate, and transgress gender norms. Drag performers aren’t comedians. Most are gay men who consider drag a form of self-expression. Some say drag gives them the opportunity to explore an alternate part of their personality. Others talk about it allowing them to try on femininity. Plenty probably are motivated by reasons even they can’t fully articulate. But regardless of the performers’ reasons, the performances themselves are overtly sexual, deeply sexist, and sometimes racist.
Appearing under names that are highly sexualized or racialized like “Flojob,” “Felicity Suxwell,” “Frieda Slaves,” “Anna Bortion,” or “Avery Goodlay,” performers take on a persona that objectifies women (and sometimes minorities). That persona is typically defined by aggressively sexual clothing (not just skin tight dresses with plunging necklines, but also outfits reminiscent of the S&M subculture), enormous breasts, lewd behavior, constant sexual references, and jokes which mock women’s intelligence. Even the language of the drag culture is sexist. The men commonly refer to each other as “Bitches,” RuPaul is famous for praising performers’ “charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent,” (because the words spell C.U.N.T), and a drag performer who looks especially feminine is referred to as a “fish.” That is a reference to women’s genitalia, which some gay men say smells like a fish at certain times of the month.
Drag, at its core, is reductive. It reduces femininity to appearance and mannerisms, and it reduces women to vapid, catty, sexual objects. It also perpetuates an understanding of sex and sexuality that is defined by individual pleasure, stripped of the sacred, and ultimately dehumanizing. In all that, drag is demeaning. It demeans women. It demeans those who watch it. And most of all, it demeans the performers themselves, who are children of God, made by Him and loved by Him. As human beings, they deserve our respect. But they’re not treating themselves or others with respect. And that’s not silly at all.
Any tips for managing a household, working from home, caring for the kids, and spending time with the husband all at the same time?
Get really holy so you can start bilocating. Or maybe even trilocating. It worked for Padre Pio, and it could work for you, too!
Obviously, joking. But man, bilocating would be nice. I am about five years into trying to juggle babies and homemaking and writing, and the only thing that qualifies me to answer this question is that we’re all still alive over here and the house hasn’t burned down yet! I am a long, long way away from figuring this out. It is hard. So don’t feel like you are failing just because you’re struggling. Struggling is normal. You’re doing a lot. It is a lot. And all any of us can do is figure out what is important, give that our best, then lower the bar on everything else.
In terms of practical ways to do that, when it comes to the house, one thing that has helped me is Leila Lawler’s idea of “the mostly tidy” house. I would love to have a perfectly ordered, perfectly clean home. But with two two-year-olds and a four-year-old, that’s not even remotely realistic. All three of them are in their Tasmanian devil season, and they can mess up a room faster than I can clean up after them. So, I do what I can in the rooms where we spend the most time (basically the first floor of our house) and keep reminding myself that soon enough I won’t have two-year-olds with a compulsion for dumping whole bins of toys every 20 minutes. This is a season, and it’s passing more quickly than I could have imagined.
It's also important to ask for help. I know people say this all the time, but it’s true. It’s true for moms who don’t have outside employment, and it’s true for moms who do. You really can’t do it all. If you can afford to hire someone to come in once or twice a month to help with the deep cleaning, do it. Do not feel guilty for not cleaning your own bathrooms. Hiring help will free you up for work or time with your family, and it will create a job for someone who needs the money. The same goes for grocery shopping. Let Instacart or Shipt do that for you. Absolutely hire a babysitter. Or do a kid swap with a friend. Even if you can get all or most of your work done while babies are sleeping (which I was able to do for quite a while), it can be a sanity saver to hire a mother’s helper for a few hours a week so you can go for a walk or go to daily Mass or do some organizing projects you can’t otherwise get to.
It's also helped me to do a few things each day that make me feel sane. I get up earlier than everyone else not just so I can write, but also so I can have some time by myself sitting with Jesus. Getting dressed in real clothes and doing my hair and makeup every day makes a huge difference to my mental health. Taking a walk most mornings, even if that walk is only 15-20 minutes, changes my mood significantly. Listening to podcasts while I walk, get ready, and cook dinner helps my mind feel more alive. And when all else fails, and the day is total chaos, I still do my five-minute skincare routine, which makes me feel like I am doing at least one thing to take care of myself. None of these things may be what help you, but find what does and stick to it. In the midst of constantly changing schedules and needs, having some constants will help life feel a little less out of control.
In the end, though, I think much of not losing your mind as you navigate this season boils down to trust. You need to trust that God is in this life with you. You need to trust that He will make up for all you lack. You need to trust that if you do what He calls you to do and prioritize what He calls you to prioritize, He will take care of the rest. You also need to trust that if something is truly not working, He will help you find a better way. You need to seek His plan, not your own, and trust that His is better. Mostly, you need to trust that He is God and you are not.
As a self-employed perfectionist who loves to be in control, this is super hard for me. I know there is always more I could do with the kids, more I could do to help people understand the Faith, more I could do to generate income, and more I could do around the house. But I am human. I have limits. I cannot do it all. Neither can you. That’s a good thing.
One more thought: remember that God loves you. Not generically, but specifically. He cares about you and about every detail of your day. He wants to use it all to draw you closer to Him. This isn’t just a season to get through. It’s a vitally important part of your journey with Him. He cares more about your heart, then He cares about what you’re accomplishing. He cares more about you than what you’re accomplishing. So, keep giving Him your heart in the midst of the chaos. Offer every struggle, every fear, every frustration, every desire to Him. And that will transform you. It will transform everything.
Five Things I’m Loving
Over the past six months, my family has gone back and forth to my parents’ house in Illinois five times. That’s a grand total of ten ten-hour car trips…with two toddlers and a pre-schooler. I will let you imagine the havoc that has wreaked on our minivan (I won’t show you, because some things are just not for the Internet!) After watching some of my friend Katie McGrady’s stories on Instagram about car organization, however, I decided I just couldn’t drive in squalor any longer. I ordered a car trash can and, at her recommendation, an organizer to go between Toby and Becket’s seats in the back and another floor organizer to go behind my seat and the front console. They have arrived, the van has been deeply cleaned, and now that these new organization tools are in place I have high hopes that I will no longer want to die of shame when someone gets in my van. That’s how low my bar is. Here’s hoping it’s low enough.
If you haven’t read it yet, “Motherloading, Inside the Surrogacy Boom,” from The Free Press, is worth your time. It’s neither pro nor anti surrogacy, but it does a wonderful job surveying the growth of the industry and the commodification of children currently taking place within it.
On a lighter note, I just discovered that the famous Brat Packer Andrew McCarthy (remember Pretty in Pink?) is now a travel writer and has a book out about walking the Camino de Santiago. Who knew? Either way, this New York Times Opinion piece that he wrote about the joys of walking is excellent. And true.
Beautycounter is currently in the midst of its only sitewide sale until Fall. Current clients save 15 percent on all individual items (sets are excluded). First time clients save 20 percent with the code CLEANFORALL20. And Rewards Members save 25 percent on purchases of $250 or more and get free shipping on orders of $75 or more. Skincare isn’t going to save your soul, but having safe skincare that has transformed my “maturing” skin has helped save a bit of my sanity the past few years. During a season when my body has felt like it’s falling apart, my skin has only gotten better. And that has been a consolation. Anyhow, if I can help you find clean skincare or makeup that makes a teeny difference in your sanity too, feel free to email me at email@example.com. You also can shop through my affiliate link at anytime.
If you are looking for two amazing recipes to include in a Mother’s Day Brunch, try two that I served at my birthday party last week: Bloody Mary Poached Shrimp and Tuna Tartare. Both were a huge hit. Just make sure you use the full sodium soy sauce for the tuna (not the low sodium stuff they recommend) or else you’ll need to add salt to get the umami balance right.
In Case You’ve Missed Them
No, You Can’t Skip to the Good Part: Chastity Talks, Sex Talks, and Where Teaching the Theology of the Body Went Wrong (Temporarily free for everyone )
Keeping Faith in a God of Love, Why We Call God Father, and God's Permissive Will (Free for everyone)
The Deep Work of Homemaking: The Difference Between Housework and Heart Work (Full Subscribers Only)
I think I'm going to like this encyclical! I am struggling in hope. My 9 year old has level 2 autism and I'm in the middle of IEP writing and ABA sessions. We're starting to have more difficult conversations about his future and what we need to do. I feel very worn and fear what the future holds. I need hope. God has been faithful, but I can't keep that thought on my heart.
Thanks for your answer to the last question in the Q+A! I needed to hear it - I'm pregnant, work part time for my parish, and have two toddlers, and I made the questionable decision to read "Ask Your Husband" after it was recommended to me by one of my sisters - I couldn't finish it as I was feeling so overwhelmed and demoralized at reading what the author insisted was necessary and morally obligatory for every Catholic wife. It was good to read a more measured and reasonable Catholic response, especially with the end post-script about God's love for us. It encapsulated a lot of the thoughts I had swirling around my head after reading that book. I am looking forward to the new encyclical!