Examining my conscience

Hi there! It’s been very quiet around here. I’ve had lots of ideas floating around, but some of them haven’t fitted into the remit of this blog (i.e. not related to being in a mixed marriage). I’ve been contemplating whether to slightly readjust the premise of the blog to make room for a wider variety of topics – whilst still keeping the original theme the main thread – but I haven’t quite figured out how to do so. I’m praying on it! Meanwhile, I wanted to share something that I’ve found incredibly helpful, and I hope it will be for you, too.

Seeing as how I can’t get to Confession at the moment, I decided to do a proper Examination of Conscience and make a “spiritual Confession”, as it were, on Divine Mercy Sunday.¬† Although I always try to do an examination of conscience before going to Confession, I admit that I often don’t give as much time to it as I ought. So, this time I wanted to really set aside some time for it.

I remembered that on the Laudate app (free! highly recommended!) is an Examination of Conscience, and when I opened the app I realised that, even better, there’s one designed specifically for those whose vocation is marriage. The Examination is broken into various categories, one of which is something like “duties towards your spouse.” Now, without going into details… This was *definitely* the area where most of my sins occurred. The app is designed so that you check boxes, and at the end it provides you with a list of *your* sins.

It was quite a shocking realisation. I mean, I tend to think I’m a reasonably good wife ūüėõ But seeing these sins written out, unemotionally, disentangled from my particular marital issues… It made me realise that I leave a lot to be desired. A LOT. And it is also a very helpful starting point to try to do better going forward.

Pretty much anybody who has ever had a marital conflict has likely thought, at some point, that it’s mainly the other person’s fault. Why can’t they just do things the way I’m suggesting?! Is it really so hard?? But for Catholics married to non-Catholics, we may go a step further and attribute their ‘failings’ to their lack of Catholic faith. “If¬†only¬†they were also Catholic,” we think, “then they would be a better spouse.”

Oy. Way to fail to see the log in our own eyes! As Catholic wives or husbands, it is absolutely our job to start by doing the very best we can¬†ourselves.¬†And you know what the list made me realise? That my husband is doing *at least* as good a job of being a “good Catholic spouse” as I am, without even thinking about it.

I’m planning to make this Examination a weekly practise, and I invite you to do the same. Let’s strive to be the best Catholic spouses that we¬†can be, before we think of ruminating on our spouse’s shortcomings.

When NFP… isn’t (NFP Awareness Week)

It’s NFP Awareness Week. For years – since before I became Catholic – I’ve been reading blog and Instagram posts by Catholic women (it’s always women) about the struggles, blessings, disappointments, and gratitude that come with practising NFP within a marriage. Some of these women experience hyperfertility and have struggled to space babies as they’d like. Others have used it to try to conceive, without success. And there are the couples for whom it seems to work perfectly, to space when necessary and conceive when desired.

But what about those of us whose spouses aren’t Catholic? What does NFP mean for us?

Of course, I can only speak for myself. However, I rather suspect that there are many of us who are afraid to share our stories, worried that we will be judged or rebuked. And perhaps we will, but I am a firm believer that when we vulnerably share the parts of our story that we prefer to keep in the shadows, we are better able to connect with pretty much everyone.

So I’m just going to come out and say it: we don’t use NFP in our marriage. I wish we did. I pray that we will one day. Right now, though, we don’t.*

You see, for a while we did – in a way, at least (I’ll clarify what I mean by that in a minute). I explained to my husband why it was important to me, and he agreed that he was willing to try it and see if it “worked.” However, it would seem that I am on the very fertile end of the spectrum, and I fell pregnant twice during the few months that we tried it (one pregnancy ended in miscarriage, and the other was the baby I’m pregnant with now). This didn’t exactly fill my husband with confidence in the method, and the subject ended up putting a lot of pressure on our relationship.

I consulted a priest (a very orthodox, FSSP priest, fwiw) who provided me with wise and gentle counsel. He told me that I must pray sincerely for a change in heart for my husband, and that I should ask the Holy Spirit to guide me as to when to raise the topic with him again. I must not be the active user of artificial contraception, i.e. take the pill, get an IUD, etc. But if I’m doing these things, with a sincere desire to practise NFP, then my main duty is to nurture my marriage. I’m not “off the hook”, per se, but he advised me that if I keep doing the things mentioned, then I am not obliged to bring this to Confession every time (although, I usually do).

What did I mean when I say we used it “in a way”? As all well-formed Catholics know, NFP is about much more than the absence of artificial contraception. It’s about openness to life,¬† three-way communion between you, your spouse, and God, and an ongoing state of discernment. So although we went through a phase where we did not use artificial contraception, these other elements were impossible. They require¬†both¬†spouses to be committed to their faith, and to have trust in God. And my husband doesn’t.

You see, it’s easy enough to explain to a non-Catholic (or non-practising Catholic) why hormonal birth control is bad. There’s science to back it up, and secular culture is increasingly critical of it. However, it is much harder to explain the problem with barrier methods. To someone who doesn’t believe in NFP, there is nothing wrong with a couple simply deciding month-by-month whether or not they want to get pregnant, and deciding whether or not to contracept accordingly; there is no problem with postponing pregnancy simply because you don’t feel like having another baby yet (or ever).

Openness to life requires an understanding of your vocation to marriage that is meaningless without a true belief that God is calling each of us to sainthood. Discernment means you must be praying daily as individuals and, ideally, as a couple, to see what God is asking of you. And don’t get me wrong – I am blessed to have a pretty good communicator for a husband, and we talk openly and regularly about what we think our family life should like today, next week, next month, in a year, in a decade. You don’t need me to tell you, though, that these conversations cannot take the same shape that they would if we both had active prayer lives.

I could go on about this for another 1000 words, but I’ll stop here. I want you to know that if NFP isn’t a part of your marriage but you wish it were, then you are not alone. And if NFP¬†is¬†a part of your marriage and you think any Catholics who don’t use it are doomed to Hell… well, pray for us, before you condemn us. It’s likely breaking our hearts.

 

*Right now I’m pregnant, so it’s somewhat irrelevant. If I weren’t though, and once the baby is born, then NFP isn’t our reality unless a miracle happens.

St. Gina, Patron of Nominally Catholic Spouses

Sometimes – quite frequently – I ask myself the following two questions:

  1. What would I have to do, in my particular circumstances, to become a saint?
  2. Which living Catholics do I think should become saints?

The answers to both questions tend to lead me to the same answer, but unfortunately it’s one that I seem to forget even more often than I think about it. I think the answers are something like this:

  1. Seize every opportunity in my life that defines my life as my life to turn towards God.
  2. The people who seize every opportunity in their lives that define their lives as their lives to turn towards God.

Essentially, if I ever want to become a saint, I need to stay in my own lane and focus on getting holy right here. I think that many of us among the “non-(practising)-Catholic-spouse” crowd feel like we have somehow already excluded ourselves from the possibility of sainthood. The saints will be the ones who waited and waited until God provided them with the Perfect Catholic Spouse to raise the Perfect Catholic Family, we tell ourselves.

And for some people, that¬†is¬†their path to sainthood. I am not undermining the goodness and holiness of spurning the ‘wrong’ men in the patient and unknowing wait for the ‘right’ one. Nor do I wish to undermine those Catholic families we all see on Instagram who celebrate several feast days per week, wear coordinating outfits for all the major Holy Days, and seem to have their entire existence infused with Catholicism. Those people do a genuine, holy service for many people by exemplifying how beautiful a devoutly Catholic family life can be.

But, God is not asking me to be one of those people. He genuinely isn’t. Nor does He think “well, you’ve made some wrong choices so I’ll just do my best with an already messed up attempt to be holy.” My capacity for holiness is no less than that of Mrs. Daily Mass with 12 Kids (that’s not meant to be aimed at anyone in particular!). My capacity for holiness lies in my willingness to trust God with the life He has given me, to turn towards Him¬†especially¬†in the moments where I can’t see Him, and to pray for the holiness of¬†everyone around me, regardless of where I think they relate to me on the scale of sanctity.

As a young Catholic woman, wife, and mother – early in her journey of each of those three things – what can I be doing to become holier than I am now?

  • Above all, praying for greater trust in God
  • Praying that I will be a good wife and mother
  • Praying that my husband and kids will see God’s light shine through me
  • Love and serve my husband and kids, even when I don’t feel like it
  • Prioritise prayer and Sacraments, avoiding excuses about why I don’t have time
  • Pray that I’ll be attentive to opportunities to grow in holiness
  • Love everyone I encounter to the best of my ability

That’s just an “off the top of my head” list, which could very easily be several tens of pages long. Many of the things I should be doing are the things that we should all be doing, and others are of particular importance in my life and situation. The point is, I mustn’t throw my hands in the air in despair and say “well I don’t have any chance anyway, so what’s the point?” I should be living my life as though my chances of making it to Heaven are just as good as anyone else’s – which they are.

I like to think that if I make it there, I’ll be interceding for people struggling with being the sole carriers of faith in their families. I would like to continue the work started on this blog once I have actual access to Jesus! What about you – what will you be patron saint of?

 

The wait is the cross

I recently finished reading My Sisters, the Saints¬†by Colleen Carroll Campbell (which I mostly enjoyed, with a few reservations). It’s a spiritual memoir that centres around her deepening relationship with the saints as she faces struggles with infertility and her father’s descent into Alzheimer’s. It’s a quick, easy read that I recommend for people on all stages of their spiritual journey!

Anyway, at one point in the book, Campbell recounts a conversation with her mother that goes something like this:

Campbell: I could handle the cross of infertility if I just knew for sure that we would never conceive, or else that we would, eventually.

Her mother: The waiting and not knowing *is* the cross.

It struck me that this could be applicable to many of us, who hope for our spouse’s conversion or reversion to Catholicism. I can’t speak for any of you, but I know that sometimes I get weary of praying when I think “is this ever actually going to happen? Will I spend my whole life praying and bear no fruit?” But of course, holding that uncertainty in prayer is exactly what God is asking of us. He isn’t going to say “If you pray for the next 12 years, 4 months, and 6 days, then your dear husband will come home to the Church”!

Faith asks us to pray in the face of uncertainty, and to believe in the goodness of God even when He doesn’t give us what we want. The more I think about it, the more “the cross *is* the wait” unifies the spiritual struggles of every Christian. Whether you are praying for a relative to be miraculously healed, or for a positive response to that job application, or to find a spouse, or for a child’s suffering to end… The cross lies largely in the not-knowing. And even when we have “answers” (you didn’t get the job, your parent dies a difficult death, your child struggles with a hard diagnosis), then the cross becomes the uncertainty of knowing how we will manage life with this new burden. Will we ever be OK again? Will our earthly lives be forever underpinned by sorrow? We don’t know. We can’t know.

I don’t want to be glib. So many people face suffering that I cannot begin to imagine. I have been blessed by a life which has so far been fairly free of major sorrow. I would not deign to tell someone who has faced excruciating heartbreak that “this is just your cross!”

However, it brought me some comfort to consider that in many ways, my cross – the cross of an unbelieving husband – is united with the crosses of all other Christians in its essence, and dare I say it, even with the cross of Christ.

A weary soul

I mostly try to use this space to stay positive and be encouraging – I want to help you (and myself!) to embrace the truth that our personal faith lives need not suffer because our spouses don’t share our faith. But I also want to be real; and really, I don’t always feel upbeat. Sometimes I feel defeated, hopeless, and weary. Sometimes I feel like I’m fighting an uphill battle to keep my faith alive and vibrant when no one in my home is encouraging me in that endeavour.

I’ve spoken many times about the power of the rosary, and what an important, beautiful devotion it is. I truly believe that. But… I can’t remember the last time I prayed a rosary. Life got hectic, and I let it fall by the wayside for a day, then a few days, then a week or two, and now it’s probably been a couple of months. I keep meaning to get back to it, but I feel very spiritually depleted at the moment. It’s a struggle just to say a few words to the Lord here and there throughout the day. It’s a long time since I’ve sat down with Scripture outside of Mass.

I want to try to do better – and I know there will be seasons of a richer faith life in the future. It can seem hard, even futile, though, when your spouse doesn’t see the value of prayer. It would be so much easier if he would say, “why don’t we pray together for a few minutes before bed?”, or even, “how can I pray for you?”

I’m saying this in the interests of transparency. I want to encourage you, but I also want you to know that a lot of the time, I feel like I’m failing. I think about what it would take for me, in my particular circumstances, to become a saint – and I feel crushed under the weight of my distance from sainthood.

So if your soul is weary, know you are not alone. And know that this too shall pass. In the meantime, let’s ask for Elisabeth Leseur, St. Monica and Our Lady to pray for us. If we feel up to it, let’s pray for each other, too.

A Lenten practice: fasting for faith

I just thought I would check in to share one of my Lenten practices this year. Some time ago, during Ordinary Time, I got into the habit of fasting from drinks other than water on Tuesdays as a small ‘fast’ for my husband’s faith. It reminded me to pray for him more during those days, and re-centred me on one of my primary duties as a Catholic wife: to get my husband to heaven.

However, over time, I let this slide. I kept thinking that I should get back to it, but I never did. Lent seemed like the right time to pick it up again. So I am doing exactly the same thing, but also making a point to pray for other people’s husbands by name. I am also praying the Litany of Trust on Tuesdays. This litany is a great way to remind ourselves that God is ultimately in control, and wills our good and the good of our husbands. We can’t ‘persuade’ God to place a love of Jesus in our husbands’ hearts faster that He wants! God’s timing is not our own, and He works all things together for His glory.

A decade for my marriage

I know,¬†I know,¬†I won’t shut up about the Rosary. And I am usually the first person to roll my eyes about people who go on and on about a particular devotion. It’s not like I think every single person must. pray. the. Rosary. every. single. day., but I think it can have so many benefits that I would really like to encourage everyone to just¬†try¬†incorporating it into their regular prayer life.

Probably the biggest thing keeping people from committing to praying the Rosary regularly is that it seems like a big time commitment, and not one that necessarily sounds like a lot of fun.¬†I still find that to be true.¬†Pretty much every day, when I think about when I’m going to find time to pray the Rosary I think “gaaaah, it’s going to take 15-20 mins of my time and it’s gonna be boring!”

To get around this, I promised myself that I would pray¬†a decade for my marriage¬†every day. If I stop after one decade, then I’ve still prayed powerfully for my primary vocation. I try to mix up my exact prayer so that it doesn’t become robotic: instead of simply saying, “I offer this decade for my marriage”, I might say “I pray that my husband and I will be attentive to each other’s needs, and be able to clearly express our own needs”, or “I offer this decade in thanksgiving for a trustworthy and hardworking husband.”

More often than not, once I’ve prayed that first decade, I want to keep going, and I manage a whole Rosary. But if I get into bed and I’m tired and want to go straight to sleep, and¬†then realise that I’ve forgotten to pray the Rosary today, a decade for my marriage usually still seems doable.

Not every time, and there are of course days when I don’t pray a single Hail Mary. I’m always working towards getting better and better about praying a full Rosary every day. But until I get there, I’ve found this to be a good way to pray at least a part of this beautiful prayer the majority of days.

The Rosary: tips on building a habit

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve found the daily (or as close as possible) recitation of the Rosary has been enormously beneficial for me. I have seen quite tangible, positive changes to my marriage that coincide entirely with when I started to take regular recitation of the Rosary seriously. I love how it now weaves into the rhythm of my life; whilst I rarely manage to say a full Rosary in one sitting, I can usually say a decade here and there throughout my day until it’s complete.

As this devotion has been so fruitful for me (and countless others), I wanted to share a few tips about how to forge this habit if it’s something you struggle with.

  • Podcasts/YouTube

When I committed to a daily Rosary, the thing that helped me the most was praying along with an audio Rosary. I used the Rosary Army Scriptural Rosary, which I found great and loved the Scripture verses before each Hail Mary to help me focus on the Mysteries. There are loads of others available, though, depending on your preferences. 

  • ¬†Commit to a novena¬†

I decided to pray a 54 day Rosary novena for my marriage. It was daunting and overwhelming – I could not imagine praying a Rosary every day for 54 days! But my intention was important to me, and so I did it. It was a great way to make it a habit, and although I haven’t kept it up every single day since, I still manage it most days. If 54 days seems to much, pick a different novena, such as the novena to Our Lady Undoer of Knots (9 days) and include the Rosary in your prayers to her.

  • Find where it fits into your day

I used to think that I had to pray a Rosary sitting down, quietly, with no distractions. And maybe that is optimal. But it doesn’t fit well into my life as a SAHM, and so I most often pray it whilst taking the baby somewhere in the pushchair. I count Hail Marys on my fingers, curled around the bar of the pushchair, and let my little one get used to seeing and hearing me say those prayers. Perhaps for you it’s in the car, or while you nurse. Wherever it is, it doesn’t *have* to involve sitting down in conditions conducive to contemplative prayer and praying it all in one sitting.¬†

  • You don’t have to pray it all at once!

This has probably made the biggest different for me. Sometimes I pray two decades on the way to the supermarket, two on the way back, and one right before bed. Sometimes I pray three in Mass, and two on the walk home. And yes, sometimes I forget (or am too tired) to finish the whole Rosary before the day is over. But that’s OK. God knows your intention and appreciates the efforts you made, and Mary will be interceding for you even in the absence of that final decade (or three)!

I hope this helps, and that little by little, you might feel able to make the Rosary part of your regular prayer routine. I promise you will be so glad that you did.

Lessons from Elisabeth

The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur was one of those books I read where more of the text was highlighted than wasn’t once I reached the end. Whilst this is testament to the beautiful wisdom, encouragement and spiritual insight contained within the pages, it makes it a little tricky to flick back through the pages to find the particularly useful or interesting passages.¬†So many¬†of them are useful and interesting!

So, I decided to compile the key takeaways from this spiritual powerhouse. I also hope this will be a useful resource for those who don’t have time to read it themselves.

  1. Prayer is the most humble and effective act of charity

This is perhaps the most spiritually transformative lesson I learned from Elisabeth. She talks constantly about the importance of both charity and humility in the Christian life, and tells us that prayer is the most humble and useful act of charity that a Christian can do. How so? Well firstly, it is a private act, maybe even completely silent, so it will not attract the praise and affirmation of onlookers. But even more importantly, we may not get the gratification of seeing the answer to our prayers. Whilst we know with certainty that God hears and answers all our acts of petition or prayer, we do not always see how. Perhaps He has breathed peace into the heart of a suffering loved one; maybe He has spoken words of comfort through one friend to another; or it could be that a small sacrifice offered for His glory has brought a suffering soul in purgatory a little closer to Heaven.

Don’t be mistaken. Elisabeth is also clear that more tangible acts of charity are essential when circumstances allow. However, her words remind us that wherever we are, whatever our circumstances, we can offer the most important act of charity simple by offering our prayers to the Lord.

2. Love unbelievers wholly, entirely, without restraint

Many people, myself included, are initially drawn to Elisabeth’s writings because of her marriage to Felix, an atheist until after Elisabeth’s death when he not only converted but became a priest! Elisabeth writes a lot about her deep desire for Felix to know God and to share her faith. She speaks frankly about the loneliness and isolation she feels at not being able to share the deep, unshakeable love and joy she has in the Lord. She longs for Felix to know his Creator, to experience faith in a deep, personal way as well as to understand it intellectually.

But what is especially striking is that she has no sense of superiority, or frustration with her husband – in spite of the fact that Felix could, reportedly, be very cruel to her about her faith, going so far as to try to prevent her from participation in the sacramental life. Having a husband who doesn’t share my beliefs myself, I know all too well the inclination to feel exasperated by his lack of interest in learning about Christianity, and can so quickly become rigid and cold and defensive when matters of faith (or lack thereof) and family life arise.

Elisabeth shows us that we should pray unceasingly for our unbelieving loved ones, but that we should be soft, gentle and loving towards them. We must never view them as deficient because of their unbelief. We must be willing to learn from them, rather than believing that they must learn from us. And this should be done in a spirit of true love and devotion to them Рnot simply in the hope that we can charm them into coming to faith.

3. We should educate ourselves about faith 

This point was intriguing to me, as I consider myself too much ‘head’ and not enough ‘heart’ when it comes to faith. I can read and read, but I struggle to sit down in silence and talk with God. Of course, Elisabeth is not telling us that ‘heart’ doesn’t matter; she has a beautiful interior spirituality which we learn about in her diary. But she’s making the case that¬†especially¬†for those of us who find ourselves surrounded by non-believers, it is a duty to ensure that we are well grounded in theology, doctrine, writings of Church doctors, and of course Scripture, so that we can feel secure and confident when expressing our beliefs in a way that is communicable to those who cannot understand the ‘heart’ aspect of faith.

These are my main takeaways from Elisabeth’s diary, but there is so much depth and richness in the book that I encourage everyone to read it! In the meantime, I am keeping all those who pray for the conversion of a loved one in my own prayers, and asking for Elisabeth’s intercession.

Servant of God, Elisabeth Leseur, pray for us!

 

The power of a (spiritual) mother

You know that old adage that adrenaline can allow a mother to lift a car if a her baby is trapped underneath? (Apparently that’s true, btw). I’ve been thinking more and more about the fact that we Catholics who are praying earnestly for the conversion of our spouses, partners, children, etc., are “lifting the car” for our unbelieving loved ones.

Sometimes, it is exhausting to pray every. single. day. for the same thing, without seeing much progress. “Is there really any point?”, you ask yourself and God. It can feel like a physical strain, and physically tiring, to feel like your prayers have to cover your whole household.

The same image kept coming back to me, though. One of me using all I have – my physical, emotional and spiritual strength – to lift up my loved ones to God. If you had to lift a car from above your trapped child every day, would you do it? Of course you would, even though it would leave you feeling sapped.

I’m not saying that I do my best every day. I could pray more, make more sacrifices, go to more Masses, and so on. But when I feel like giving up, this is the image I come back to. Our spiritual motherhood is indispensable to the coming of God’s kingdom.