Politics and Charity, Marian Apparitions, and the Ups and Downs of Older Motherhood
Happy Friday, Friends. It’s been a crazy week around here with sickness, a million appointments, meetings, and interviews, plus some weird eye issues for me. So, thank you for your patience as I’ve labored to get this out.
As always, these weekly notes are free, but I would love to be able to send everything I write to all of my subscribers, including last week’s long form essay on how the theology of the body has been misunderstood and misrepresented, doing deep damage in the process. Sign up today to become a full subscriber, and you’ll have immediate access to that, plus the almost two dozen long form essays (both written and audio versions) and the two Advent retreats I’ve written since launching this newsletter in August 2021.
Now, for this week’s offerings…
Deus Caritas Est Study
Read: Sections 26-29
“Catholic social doctrine … has no intention of giving the Church power over the State. Even less is it an attempt to impose on those who do not share the faith ways of thinking and modes of conduct proper to faith. Its aim is simply to help purify reason and to contribute, here and now, to the acknowledgment and attainment of what is just,” Pope Benedict XVI (28).
Why, in an encyclical devoted to the God of love, does Benedict expound on politics? That’s the question, right? Can’t the Church just mind her own business and stick to faith?
But here, the Church is minding her own business. Because her business is the business of God. And His business is us. He loves us. Not like a slightly demented grandfather, who smiles kindly upon everything we do. But like the all-knowing, all-loving Father He is.
God cares about us. He cares infinitely—without limit. He cares about the poor, oppressed, and vulnerable. And He cares about the rich, strong, and powerful. He wants to see us all flourish. So, He also wants to see justice flourish. He wants to see us treat each other like the images of God we are.
The Church helps the world see that Fatherly care not by seeking to rule the nations, but by helping people who rule nations. She works to help them see truth more clearly, recognize the good more readily, and reason more reasonably. Law making is not her job. But helping leaders and citizens understand justice and encouraging them to work towards justice is.
Politics, however, is never enough. If it were, God would have left us a government, not a Church. Which is why the Church doesn’t just call us to vote well, but also to live generously. Our neighbors are our responsibility more than they are the state’s. We are our brothers’ keepers. The Church models this through corporate acts of charity—caring for the sick, poor, displaced, young, and old. She calls us to support that work and take on charitable works of our own.
That call is an urgent one. Because it’s not just about the state of the world. Try as we might, the poor we will always have with us. It’s also about the state of our souls. Everything we do in these bodies of ours—the justice we seek (or don’t seek), the service we give (or don’t give), the good we do (or don’t do)—shapes our souls, preparing them for their eternal home, whether that home be heaven or hell. The God who is love, wants that home to be heaven. And the Church, by proclaiming justice and practicing charity, strives to give God what He wants.
To what extent have you let your faith inform your politics? Are there areas where you disagree with the Church? Are there areas where you’re not familiar with the Catholic Social Teaching? Is there more you could do to learn about what the Church teaches and why?
How have you been the recipient of charity? How has your life been blessed or enriched by the generosity of others? How has that experience been challenging for you? How has it shaped your faith?
In what ways have you practiced personal charity? How intentional are you with your giving? How has that experience shaped you and your faith? Could you be more generous? What would you need to sacrifice to practice greater generosity?
Read: Sections 30-31
(Note: these next two sections are long ones. The remaining nine sections, however, are relatively short, so we will be reading all those the following week, during Holy Week, which will allow us to conclude the Deus Caritas Est study before Easter.)
Is paying my children’s Catholic school tuition considered part of my tithe?
In early February, I answered a question about what the Church teaches on tithing. You can read that here. In sum, while all Catholics have a moral obligation to give to the poor and support their parish, the Church doesn’t specify how much we need to give. There is no set amount or percentage. Instead, she calls us to give generously and sacrificially. It’s about an attitude, not a number. Giving 10 percent is biblical and a good amount for most of us to give (or start working towards), but for some people, giving generously and sacrificially will mean giving more than 10 percent. For other people, at least in certain seasons, it will mean less.
This is important to understand because while paying for your children’s tuition does not count as part of your tithe, it can affect what giving generously looks like for your family right now.
Let me explain.
A tithe is an offering to God that is freely given. Tuition is not that. It’s not a gift; it’s a payment for a service. You’re paying someone to educate your child. And it’s not freely given either; it’s mandatory. If you don’t pay it, your child will need to leave their school. Moreover, if all you’re doing is paying tuition and not giving anything extra to the school, you’re not even fully paying for the service you’re receiving. It costs much more to educate children in most Catholic schools than student tuition covers. The difference is made up by the actual tithes of others—through gifts given freely to a parish, school, or diocese—and by teachers who care so much about Catholic education that they choose to work for wages drastically lower than they would make in the public school system (generally wages that make their families eligible for public assistance unless there is a second income). When you send your child to a Catholic school, you are supporting Catholic education. But much of the time, you’re also a recipient of others’ generosity.
That being said, the cost of Catholic schools can factor into what giving generously and sacrificially looks like for your family right now. Catholic schools can be a real good—for communities, the Church, and families—and there is value in supporting them. If you’re already making serious financial sacrifices to send your children to a Catholic school, this may just be a season where tithing 10 percent of your income is not possible. Maybe tithing only five percent is generous and sacrificial for you in this season. Or three percent. Either way, that’s okay. Jesus had only praise for the widow who gave from her poverty. Even though her offering seemed meager, it was given with great generosity. That’s what matters most. Not the number. But rather a willingness to give sacrificially, imaging the generosity of God, and a willingness to trust God with every aspect of our lives, including our finances.
What are your thoughts on The Apostolate of Holy Motherhood?
For those who aren’t sure what this means, The Apostolate of Holy Motherhood is a book that contains purported private revelations primarily from the Blessed Mother to an unnamed woman. All we know about the woman is that she was a wife and mother in Steubenville, Ohio, in the 1980s. Before I answer the question, it’s important to understand the Church’s teachings on private revelation, which is a complicated thing.
Although the Church believes that Jesus, Mary, and the saints can continue to speak to believers today, as they have spoken to saints and mystics since the first days of the Church (like Jesus appearing to Paul as he traveled to Damascus), her belief in such appearances is circumspect, and she draws clear lines between public and private revelation.
Public revelation, also known as the deposit of faith, is what is contained in Scripture and Tradition. In itself, it is inerrant, meaning without error (although errors in translation can occur). It is given directly by God to man for all humanity and as such is binding on all believers. We reject what God has revealed to our own peril. Importantly, public revelation ended definitively with the death of the last Apostle and the completion of the New Testament. While the Church can always grow in its understanding of what God has revealed, there can be no new public revelation until Jesus comes again at the end of time.
Private revelation, on the other hand, is not binding. Even if the Church declares that an apparition or message is worthy of our belief, no Christian is bound as a matter of faith to believe the apparition took place or abide by any instructions contained within the message. Likewise, private revelation can contain no new teachings. They are not given to add to the deposit of faith in any way. Rather, they are a reiteration of a truth already contained in public revelation, given to help an individual, group of individuals, or the Church in a particular age. They are not for all people in all times. Finally, even approved apparitions are not considered inerrant. Unlike the authors of Sacred Scripture, there is no charism of inerrancy for those receiving a private revelation, so the visionary can misunderstand or inaccurately convey the message they receive.
It is very rare for the Church to approve any private revelation. That only happens after the apparitions have stopped and Church officials have conducted an extensive investigation that examines the messages allegedly given, the life and faith of the person who has received the vision, and the fruit born of it. Even the Church’s approval is not a definitive declaration that the apparition was real. Rather, it’s a declaration that the message of the alleged apparition contains nothing contrary to public revelation, is most likely of divine origin, and is worthy of prudent belief by the faithful. Not required. Worthy.
Of all the various claims made about private revelations, only a relative handful have been given the official stamp of approval by the Vatican. These include the apparitions of Jesus to Saint Mary Margaret Alacoque and Saint Faustina Kowalska. They also include the apparitions of Mary at Mount Carmel, Guadalupe, Lourdes, Fatima, Knock, Walsingham, and Kibeho. Other Marian apparitions have been approved by the local bishop, and the Vatican has not contradicted that approval (i.e. Our Lady of Akita in Japan, Our Lady of Good Hope in Wisconsin) while others have been initially approved by the bishop, but then rejected by the Vatican (such as the alleged visions of the “Lady of All Nations” to Ida Peerdeman in the Netherlands).
Okay, now let’s go back to the Apostolate of Holy Motherhood. The alleged messages to the Steubenville visionary were published in a book in the 1990s. The book has a nihil obstat and imprimatur from the local bishop certifying that there is nothing directly contrary to Catholic doctrine in the book. That doesn’t mean, however, that he approved the revelations or recommended them to the faithful as being of divine origin. He neither approved nor condemned them and has since died. Subsequent Steubenville bishops have likewise given no ruling on the apparitions. It’s possible no one ever will. This is not unusual. Many apparitions are never approved or disapproved, and if no cult develops around them, they just fade away.
In graduate school, I studied under the editor of the book, and he gave it to both my roommate and me to read. My roommate walked away from the book transformed by it. It spoke to her in a powerful way. I didn’t have the same reaction. She was just months away from marriage, though, and I was…15 years away. So, I really wasn’t the intended audience at the time. I recently reread much of it to see if the change in my vocation changed my opinion about the book, and, while the advice was a little more applicable, I still didn’t find it particularly moving, convicting, or inspiring. Much of it felt pedantic and obvious. Some of it seemed off and questionable. But I’m still glad my former roommate found it inspiring. It’s okay that we didn’t have the same reaction. We’re not required to feel any one way about it. It’s based on an unapproved private revelation. And even if it were approved, it’s still not inerrant or meant for everyone. No private revelation is.
In general, I think, as the Church does, that we should exercise caution about any unapproved private revelations. We should not give our heart to them. And even if an apparition has been approved, it’s important to remember that our faith is not in apparitions or the messages they contain. Our faith is in Jesus Christ and all that He has divinely revealed. If the message of a particular apparition draws you closer to Christ and deepens your faith in Him, that’s good. That’s what it is supposed to do. And if this book in particular does that, while also helping you experience greater peace and purpose in motherhood, that’s good, too. I would just advise reading it and all other alleged private revelation prudently, in the context of the deposit of the faith, and not confusing it with the Gospel or the Catechism.
If you’re interested in learning more about Marian apparitions, The World of Marian Apparitions by the Polish theologian Wincenty Laszewski is probably the most comprehensive book to date.
Any Easter Basket Suggestions?
My new children’s book with Scott Hahn, Mary, Mother of All, is part of a big Easter sale the St. Paul Center is doing right now. You get 35 percent off your entire order of $25 or more with the code BASKET. If you’ve been waiting to snag a copy (or three), for Easter baskets, this is the time to do it! You also can get 35 percent off the five other books I’ve published with them. The sale runs through March 31.
As for other ideas, our family doesn’t do traditional Easter baskets. Partly because we don’t do the Easter bunny here, but mostly because we are always traveling for Easter and hauling lots of little baskets and little things hasn’t been realistic. Instead, we do one large basket and fill it primarily with things the kids need for Spring. Last year’s basket included Carhart overalls for the boys, cute bath robes for all the kids (similar to these), a little gardening set for all three of them to use outside, and a book for each child (plus some chocolate). This year, the basket will hold their new Easter outfits (which will be their Mass clothes throughout the spring and summer) and a pair of spring pajamas for each of them, along with books for everyone, the requisite chocolate, and maybe one other surprise (like a new Tonie character). Because this is all we have ever done, my kids don’t know the difference and are as delighted as can be with the lone basket and what it contains. And I love it because it keeps things simple (and I need simple right now).
Is it harder being an older mom with young children?
This is a difficult question to answer because I don’t have anything with which to compare it. This is my only experience of being a mom. I don’t know what it’s like to have children in my twenties or even thirties. I was 43 when Toby was born and 45 when Becket and Ellie were born (that was quite a year!).
I can say there are unique challenges to becoming a mom in your forties. My energy is not what it was twenty years ago. I sometimes feel a little awkward around other moms with only littles, because I’m so much older than them. I have plenty of friends my age with little ones (bonus of being Catholic), but they also have older children as well, and that keeps them so busy that it can be hard to find time where our schedules mesh well and we can see each other or even talk to each other.
The hardest thing, though, is probably not having my mom to lean on. Her Alzheimers has grown so much worse these past couple of years, and I can’t go to her like many of my friends can go to their moms. She can’t babysit or watch my kids. She can’t come and help me around the house. She can’t offer advice. Plus, it just breaks my heart to know how much both she and my children are missing out on together. I have to fight hard against envy when I see other people’s moms so involved in their their children’s lives.
All that being said, there are real advantages to being an older mom. I’m a better woman than I was 20 years ago. I’m still me, so abundant imperfections remain, but God has done a lot of refining in me these past few decades, which allows me to bring more wisdom, more patience, more detachment, more common sense, and more love to my motherhood. I’ve also watched friends raise kids to adulthood and have more perspective on just about every aspect of parenting than I would have had I gotten married and pregnant right after college. I have worries a plenty, but I’m a more secure, confident mother than I would have been otherwise. Plus, if I’d gotten pregnant 20 years ago, I wouldn’t be Toby, Becket, and Ellie’s mom, and I wouldn’t trade this privilege for all the energy in the world.
I think young motherhood is great. If you find the right man and can become a mother in your twenties, you totally should. But that wasn’t God’s plan for my life. His plan was babies in my 40s, and I’m really grateful for that because it has a been a beautiful plan.
Five Things I’m Loving This Week
I may have semi-neglected my children for an entire morning so I could binge listen to “Sold a Story,” a six-part podcast from Emily Hanford about what went wrong with reading instruction in America. It sounds boring. It. Is. NOT. If you are a parent with a child who is learning to read or struggling to read or not enjoying reading, if you have a child you are teaching to read, if you are a teacher, a book lover, a book hater, or if you are just a person who is trying to figure out why so many young people not only have lost interest in reading, but actually struggle to read, do yourself a favor and listen to this. (Along similar lines, this essay, “Why Kids Aren’t Falling In Love With Reading,” from the Atlantic was also fascinating.)
If you haven’t read The Coddling of the American Mind by Jonathan Haidt you should. But in the meantime, read this recent essay by him, published in The Free Press: “Why the Mental Health of Liberal Girls Sank First and Fastest.”
My new barefoot ballet flats from Xero Shoes just keep getting better. I bought them for Mass and other dressier occasions, but since I keep striking out on everyday comfy shoes (Birkinstock Lows and Kiziks have failed me so far), I have been wearing these whenever we go out, and am so pleased with them. My feet might as well be 80 (bunion city), and these have given me no pain at all in the toe box. No code. No affiliate link. Just a recommendation.
I really like Half-Baked Harvest’s recipe for Crispy Roasted Cauliflower with Burrata (served over rice to make a meatless Friday meal of it), but what I love most of all is the herb salad recipe included as a topping. I now double or triple the herb salad every time we make the Cauliflower, and then put it on top of everything. This week it’s gone on eggs, sourdough with leftover burrata, and pasta. I’ve made it with different types of mixed herbs (basil, mint, parsley, cilantro, dill) and different mixed nuts (cashews, walnuts, pecans, almonds), and it’s always amazing. You should make it, too.
Beautycounter is offering free shipping on all orders of $50 or more through Sunday, March 26. It’s a great chance to grab a little something and save a little something. It’s an even better chance to add a Rewards Membership to your order for just $10 (normally $29). Not only will you get the free welcome gift of the Overnight Resurfacing Peel and Charcoal Facial Mask (a $49 value) with that $50 purchase, but you’ll also get 10 percent in product credit on every order (including your first) for a year, along with free shipping on all orders of $100+, deeper discounts during sales, and member only promotions. There are no other costs and no monthly minimums. (P.S. If you’re already a member but your membership is expiring anytime in the next month, you can renew through the end of the month for just $10, too. Twelve extra months will be added to your existing membership, and you’ll get a free gift just for renewing before your membership expires. No purchase necessary.)
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 (Full Subscribers Only)
Love as Proof for God's Existence; The Problem with Exodus 90; and Trusting God's Love After Trauma (Free for everyone)
The Deep Work of Homemaking: The Difference Between Housework and Heart Work (Full Subscribers Only)
Sold a Story was super fascinating! Thanks for the recommendation. I don't have children, or work in education, but I'm endlessly curious about how to teach something in the way that the student will comprehend. It also made me very thankful for the great teachers and librarians in my life as a child, the phonics skills they taught, and reading as an everyday part of my growing up. I hate to think of an alternate reality where I was taught differently and didn't grow up loving to read.
Thank you for writing about your mom - I'm 28 with two little kids (3 and 1) and my mom passed away suddenly in 2021 before my second baby was born. I struggle with being envious of others as well, but I never really had accurate words for why until I read how you phrased it. Yes the help and the advice would be so welcome, but it's the relationship they will never have that brings me to tears. I know this wasn't the point of your answer, but if you have any wisdom on raising kids without your mom to lean on I'd be happy to hear it! :D