Archive | October, 2014

Aging Gracefully

28 Oct

holding hand of elderly personAs I turn 55 this month, I’m looking forward to all the senior discounts, especially now that my kids have outgrown the children’s menu. It also gives me an opportunity to reflect on aging.

When my family moved to Ohio in 1993, we invited my mother Eileen (“Mom”) to come live with us. While still capable of living on her own, Mom was beginning to feel the effects of age and heart problems, and it was increasingly burdensome for her to maintain her condominium. Plus, we considered “Grandma” part of our family, and valued her time with us. So we warmly welcomed her–and her cats!–into our home.

In December 1998, Mom was hospitalized with pneumonia. Complications ensued after Christmas. She developed a serious infection and became septic. She went into respiratory arrest and was placed on a ventilator and ultimately a feeding tube was inserted. She spent the entire month of January in intensive care, and the doctors were not at all optimistic about her recovery. So many machines, so little change in Mom’s condition. I had to consent to a dizzying array of procedures and tests on her behalf. But mostly, we were praying and waiting.

In February, Mom’s condition had improved enough for her to be moved out of intensive care. Even then, her doctors gave us little hope of her ever being able to come home, and had recommended various institutions where we could put her. After all, she needed so much personal care, and she’d likely be tube-fed for the rest of her life. We pleaded, cajoled, and argued with the doctors to let her come home. On Holy Saturday, a couple hours before the Easter Vigil, our request was granted.

At home, Mom’s condition steadily improved. We gradually were able to return the various hospital apparatus the state and local agencies provided us. We even weaned her from her feeding tube. But more than all the milestones and improvements Mom made, what stuck with me most was the doctor’s comment at one of her post-hospitalization visits. He admitted that he underestimated the ability of our family to care for Mom, and, in fact, that we were able to do more for her than he could.

We moved to Olathe in 2007, and Mom was still with us. In 2008, her conditioned worsened, and we were so grateful to have the Villa St. Francis nearby to care for her during her final months. She passed away in February 2009.

I really don’t see our family’s approach to caring for Mom as being particularly heroic. Having multiple generations under one roof can be very stressful at times, and we didn’t always show one another the love and respect Our Lord expects of us. Yet with God’s grace we made the effort, firmly believing that this is how Our Lord wants us to grow in holiness.

I come from a very large family, from which I learned the value of extended family. And while my Mom, a convert to the Catholic Church, never talked too much about her faith, she did manifest it to me when I was a child as she daily cared for my handicapped grandmother. Given this background, it always seemed “natural” to have Mom live with us.

However, I’m fully aware that in welcoming Mom into our household — despite her infirmity — we were making a distinctively countercultural choice. Our society often tells us that the older generation is just as inconvenient and annoying as children. Openness to the elderly can be just as politically incorrect as openness to new life.

We saw in the 20th century how Planned Parenthood and the little-known, radical views of its founder, Margaret Sanger, incrementally thrusted its contraceptive anti-natalist, racist, and eugenic agenda on the world. The result has been that conduct once considered unspeakably evil–the killing of unborn or even partially born children–is not only accepted, but enshrined as an inalienable right. Some of us, however, may not be aware that a similar effort is well under way to legitimize the killing of our elderly and ill citizens.

In 1938, President of the Euthanasia Society of America (ESA) Dr. Foster Kennedy announced his organization’s support of legislation to legalize the killing of “defective” or “incurable” human beings–with or without their consent. Back then, such legislation was utterly intolerable to the vast majority of our citizens, so the ESA and other pro-euthanasia organizations eventually took a more strategic, incremental approach, employing deceptive language such as “death with dignity” and building upon the utilitarianism (“quality of life”) and radical autonomy (“right to choose”) mantras championed by secular society and sadly, the U.S. Supreme Court.

Many now see euthanasia as a topic of political discussion, not an abomination.

With advancing age the elderly develop an acute awareness of their own mortality, often accompanied by pain and loneliness. Yet, through faith and the supernatural virtue of hope, Christians understand the twilight of life as a passage from the fragile and uncertain joy of this world to the fullness of joy which the Lord holds in store for His faithful servants: “Enter into the joy of your master” (Mt. 25:21).

St. John Paul II wrote that honoring older people involves welcoming them, helping them, and affirming their gifts. He stressed that “the most natural place to spend one’s old age continues to be the environment in which one feels most ‘at home,’ among family members, acquaintances, and friends.”

The Holy Father by no means denigrated but rather praised “homes for the elderly,” especially those run by religious communities and volunteer groups that are committed to the care of the aged. What is most important, especially as America increasingly becomes a graying country, is to counter the culture of death by promoting a widespread attitude of acceptance and appreciation of the elderly, particularly within the family, so that people may grow old with dignity.

Leon Suprenant is the pastoral associate for administration in the Office of the Permanent Diaconate. For more information on the diaconate, visit www.archkck.org/deacons. This article, in abridged form, appeared in the October 24, 2014 edition of The Leaven.

Taking Mary’s Hand

23 Oct

33 Days“Hold hands in the parking lot.”

If you spend any time with my family, you will inevitably hear my wife or me say these words to our daughter Maggie as we are coming out of the grocery store, restaurant, or even church. As her parents, we are well aware of the potential hazards that lie in wait as we make our way back to our van. Maggie’s temptation is to dart full speed ahead into the vast expansion of cars.

Could Maggie make it all the way to the van by herself in the midst of the busy parking lot? Perhaps, but we would rather not take the chance. Knowing our daughter, even if she did not get hit by a car, she would probably get lost. We don’t like either of those options. The safest, quickest, and surest path back home is for Maggie to take mom’s hand and allow mom to guide her back home.

That’s exactly what Marian consecration is all about. As children of God, we take the outstretched hand of Mary and let her guide us safely to our eternal home in heaven. In other words, we entrust the entirety of our life to Mary, the Mother of God. Our Blessed Mother promises to keep us safe from spiritual harm and prevent us from getting distracted and losing our way. Who wants to wonder around for hours trying to find the way?

Consecrating oneself and one’s family may sound like a difficult thing that requires a great level of already-attained holiness, but actually the opposite is true. It is a simple journey for the simple-hearted who simply want to be holy, not for those who already are holy. If it seems fancy and out of reach for you and the craziness of your busy life, then maybe it is exactly what the doctor ordered, or at least the physician of our souls. In the craziness of contemporary life, giving oneself to Mary is the way to go.

We love efficiency in America. We love a good deal. We love a guaranteed return on our investment.

Yes, Americans love efficiency. We place a high value on maximizing our effort. We have built some of the greatest factories that have mastered the way to bring about the standardization of quality products in the shortest amount of time.

With Marian consecration, Mary is the factory that turns all of her devoted children into “quality products.” What is the “quality product” that Mary produces? Mary turns her devoted children into “little Christs.” Mary accomplishes this much quicker than we can on our own because, simply put, she knows the end result much better than we do. The mother knows the Son, and knows how to help us be more like Him.

Yes, Americans love a good deal. With Mary, what is the great deal we receive, and what does it cost us to get it? We receive the promise of the sure guidance of the Queen of Heaven! In exchange, Mary simply asks us to place our trust in her. My little act of trust and commitment to the Mother of God gains me her prayers and maternal love. It would be crazy not to accept that deal!

Yes, Americans love a guaranteed return on their investment. With Mary, we have the guarantee from the Spouse of the Holy Spirit that she will honor the gift we make of ourselves and transform us into who God created us to be–and frankly, who we desire to be. Her track record is pretty good. To name a few, she multiplied the investment of four important saints in the recent history of the Church: St. Louis Marie de Montfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, and St. John Paul II.

I choose these four saints because they are the focus of Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book, 33 Days to Morning Glory. In his book, Fr. Gaitley takes the writings and insights of these saints and translates them into a common language for all of us to understand and implement into our daily lives.

On December 8, 2014, Archbishop Naumann is inviting and encouraging all Catholics of the Archdiocese to consecrate themselves and their families to Mary. The Archbishop is recommending this wonderful book by Fr. Gaitley as a means of preparation for the consecration day. If you get the book, which is only $2, you will see that the 33 days of preparation will change the trajectory of your life and family. If you have 10-15 minutes a day, you can do this! My wife, Libby, and I just used this book to renew our consecration to Mary this past August, and we found it refreshingly practical in its application to family life. It was like taking a breath of fresh air every day from the craziness of our schedules. It deepened our already good marriage, and it rooted us more deeply in our Catholic faith.

Think of it as a 33-day retreat that allows Mary to prepare you for a great awakening in your spiritual life and the life and a release of joy into your family.

Guest columnist Brad DuPont is a consultant for the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

“Gay” Catholics Let’s Talk

14 Oct

To judge by the media reports one would think the Pope and his cardinals are building a float for the next gay pride parade.  Reporting on  recent Vatican statements has caused many Catholics to wonder if Church teachGayPope.jpging on homosexuality is changing. And so as a coordinator for our local Courage chapter, I thought it would be good to review the controversy, and bring some clarity to Catholics who may self identify as “gay”.

Yesterday (October 13, 2014)  the Vatican released a mid-way synod discussion report (relatio post disceptationem) on a discussion that bishops and clergy have been having regarding the pastoral challenges of helping families in our current culture.    This 58 paragraph synopsis that talks about the  institution of the family in crisis, has 3 paragraphs that deal with the pastoral challenges of “Welcoming Homosexual Persons”.

The media has reported on these brief statements as if they represented  a change in Church teaching on the morality of homosexual unions, describing it as a “seismic shift”  and a sign of  Pope Francis’s purported willingness to embrace the gay and lesbian sexual lifestyle into the life of the Church.

Don’t believe the hype.  It is so crucial to look at the documents themselves to avoid the media spin.  So  read the  mid-way synod discussion report and decide for yourself. Please keep in mind that this document expresses opinions of leaders in the Church and is not infallible Church teaching itself. So Catholics of good will can respectfully disagree.

As someone who helps to lead the Courage apostolate here in the Archdiocese, I personally think a few of the statements on homosexuality are very unfortunate in their ambiguity.  Andy Comiskey does a good job of exploring the problems of buying into the false anthropology of gay identity  in his blog post: The Bad, the Good, the Urgent: An initial take on the Synod of Family Report.

When it comes to sex it is easy for us to fool ourselves. As humans our longing for pleasure and cheap intimacy can dissuade us from the truth.  So let’s be very clear: the Church can’t and won’t ever teach that deliberate sexual arousal between two men or two women, no matter their level of love or commitment for one another, is morally good.  The Church won’t teach that homosexual acts  are morally good  for the same reason  it won’t teach other sexual sins are morally good.  The Church won’t teach that sexual arousal that a person has exclusively with himself, or between a man and a woman who are not married or who deliberately make their sex act infertile, are morally good acts.  What often  gets lost in these discussions of homosexuality  or any other sexual diversion is the fact that sin can never make us happy, and to pretend otherwise is ultimately unjust and uncharitable.

However,  while it is important to love people enough to teach the truth the Church must always practice mercy.  And mercy is messy.  Mercy meets people where they are at and tries to bring them to a better place.  Let’s face it, family life all across the world is in a mess.  If you read the whole document you will see that the bishops are talking in the pastoral context of broken families and individual who are sexually and relationally broken.

For Christians in the Kansas City area who are struggling in the brokenness of unwanted same-sex attraction (SSA) we have a support group.

I help lead the local chapter of the Courage Apostolate.  Courage Kansas City is a collaborative effort of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. We have groups that meet on both sides of the state line on a regular basis.

We offer spiritual support to Christian men and women with same-sex attractions who desire to live chaste lives in accordance with the teachings of Scripture and Catholic moral teaching.

Call us at 913-428-9893 if you would like to know more about joining Courage KC.

You can also call that number if you are interested in Encourage, the support group for friends and family of people with SSA.