The Fifth Joyful Mystery

The Fifth Joyful Mystery
Finding the Child Jesus in the Temple

41Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. 42When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. 43After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
49″Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
51Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

Our Father…
Hail Mary…
Hail Mary…
Hail Mary…
Hail Mary…
Hail Mary…
Hail Mary…
Hail Mary…
Hail Mary…
Hail Mary…
Hail Mary…
Glory Be…
O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell, and lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy. Amen.

Thank you for praying a decade of the rosary with me.

This mystery has special meaning for me. It made so much more sense to me after I found the Rosetta Stone.

I spent so long rejecting the Catholic Church as wrong…it was the last place I would have thought to find the meaning of life. But when Fritz was born, I needed to figure out the meaning of life ASAP. I wanted the best of everything for my child, and felt he deserved a solid moral foundation and true purpose to life. I didn’t know how long it might take me to find that purpose myself, but decided that trying to impose newly discovered rules or rites on a teenager was not going to work. I’m not stupid; I know that parents can be the primary influences on a developing child’s life – but I couldn’t wait 10 or 15 years to exert that influence.

I read something a few years ago – post-conversion – which described a theory by Paschal…Paschal’s Challenge, I think it was called? The theory (not a mathematical theory) said that if someone wanted to have faith, all he had to do was ACT as though he did have faith and within a year, he would see an increase in that faith. Had I known of this challenge, I might never have acted as I did for fear that I might become truly Catholic. But not knowing this theory, this is what I did:

I needed structure “for Fritz”, I thought. I decided that I would adopt the Catholic faith in it’s entirety and raise my child accordingly. In the meantime, I would get my hands on everything Catholic that I could find (boy, there’s a lot of information) and learn as much as possible about this faith (despite being raised Catholic I was REALLY IGNORANT of the faith) in order to accept or reject every tenet one by one. I also started to pray that God (if there was One) would enlighten me. I also prayed that I could have a simple faith like Bill had. It would have certainly made my life easier.

So, I assumed the Catholic Church was RIGHT, until I could prove it WRONG. I prayed for faith. And I acted as though I had it. I was doing Paschal’s Challenge without realizing it.

I started looking for Jesus in the Temple.

shut up michelle

When I was a kid, saying “shut up” was a punishable offense by my mom. It wasn’t as bad as cursing (which we hadn’t learned yet), but was up there with “stupid”, “jerk” and other namecalls.

I don’t really remember when it started…likely I was badgering my mom about something. I’m really persistant and argumentative and often relentless. I guess she had had enough and came out with “shut up Michelle”. It likely worked like a charm. I mean, if you tell someone for 10 years or so that a phrase is unacceptable and rude and then use it yourself…well, it’s a bit shocking.

From that point on, it was OK to say “shut up Michelle”. Not that my family went around saying it frequently (although they would go through phases when it seemed that they did). For them, it became a joke. Now it was not ok to say “shut up, Barb” and definitely not ok to say “shut up Mom”, but “shut up Michelle” was funny – to them.

Not to me.

Eventually, it no longer shut me up. I guess I got used to it, the way my sister Beth was used to being called Beth even though she preferred Elisabeth. Like a boxer who takes one on the chin, I just shook it off, retucked, and punched harder.

Well, “shut up Michelle” became just another thread in the fabric of my family life. At some point when I was engaged or early in my marriage, I was probably bugging Bill about something. Pestering him in my usual way. My mom was a witness and decided he needed some assistance so she told him to tell me to shut up. She told him that’s what they all did when I got like that. I just gritted my teeth and shook my head.

Now, if my husband were to say “shut up Michelle” would it hurt my feelings? Yes. Did he know this? No. He thought it was some family joke. He had permission from people who loved me to say something hurtful to me. Would he be guilty of hurting me if he said it? Yes, but….

Deep down inside, he knew that I wouldn’t like it. Who would want to be told to shut up? It’s purely and simply NOT a loving thing to say. But everyone said it was ok, and I didn’t say it wasn’t (I only gritted my teeth). So, he is partly responsible, because a careful analysis of the action would show that is wasn’t nice, but the greater error was with those who truly should have known better from the beginning, but instead, turned the hurtful words into a joke and forgot it was hurtful and then convinced my husband that it was ok too.

Fortunately, he only told me a small handful of times to shut up. And it was never done in a hurtful way…it was almost as though he wanted to soften hurtful words with his more gentle manner. The last time he said them, I finally told him that I really didn’t like it. He was so very sorry…wouldn’t you be? I told him “Be quiet”, “Hush up”, even “Silence!” would be so much better than “shut up Michelle”.

And so imagine that for a long time you have been doing hurtful things to someone who loves you most of all. Imagine if you were Bill and you repeatedly said “shut up Michelle” for so long that you had no consciousness of doing it…but of course every time I heard it, it hurt and hurt deeply. And then one day you realize just how badly it hurt me. And now you have this horrible entrenched habit that hurts the one you love best.

We each have right and wrong etched in our hearts. The world says that certain hurtful behavior is OK, so we ignore our conscience and do it anyway. Eventually, we no longer hear that nagging voice that tells us to stop. We think it’s nobody’s business how we act, or that so-and-so deserved the verbal beating we gave them, or that the company with deep pockets can afford it so it’s ok to copy their software. And all the while, we’re hurting the one who loves us most – God. Eventually, we will have to swallow our pride and admit our mistake and beg for forgiveness….or harden our hearts and forever leave behind Love.

maternal instincts

So, for 17 years I tried to find the meaning of life.

It was a bad 17 years. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. I was a self-described pessimist. Cynical. Critical. Sarcastic.

The good times were when I was sure that there WAS a meaning of life, but was frustrated by my inability to grasp it. At least I had a bit of hope.

The bad times were when I was convinced that life was a sham with no meaning, no purpose. There was no God. There was no life after death. Life was just one big joke.

I remember thinking, “I don’t know what the meaning of life is, but I know it’s not THAT!” – meaning, not the Catholic Church. I was raised Catholic, but felt it was all about checking the blocks: 1) Go to church on Sunday…CHECK. 2) Go to confession once a year…hmmm…sometimes? 3) Don’t eat meat on Friday…CHECK. 4) Get married in the church…CHECK. 5) Try to follow the Golden Rule…CHECK. 6) Raise kids Catholic to check the same blocks…wellll….

And here’s where my cynicism and angst met a most formidable foe: my maternal instinct.

Holding a new life in my arms, I made a solemn pledge to myself to do whatever was in his best interests no matter the sacrifice. I would protect him from harm. I would give him every advantage and opportunity I could afford. I would develop his talents. I would challenge his mind.

If money were tight, I would wear old shoes and ripped winter coats.
If food were scarce, I would eat scraps so he would have a nutritious meal.

And so, my decision to breastfeed.
And so, my great anxiety at putting him in daycare because I couldn’t afford to stop working.
And so, my decision to scrimp and save to get out of debt so I could afford to stop working.
And so, my decision to homeschool.

But what about religion?

Of course I would raise him Catholic. I always thought I would raise my children in the faith I and my husband were raised, more from a perspective of discipline than true faith. But if I want what is BEST for my child, doesn’t my child deserve the best “religion” whatever that may be.

And an even scarier thought that developed through a long argument with myself: Let’s suppose that there is one true God. Let’s suppose that God established rules for us to follow with consequences for failure and rewards for success. Let’s suppose that there is life after death and following God allows you to spend eternity in “heaven” and rejecting God means you spend eternity in “hell.” If all this is true…where am I going?

Well, does God have a yardstick? Does God have scales of Justice? If there are rules, am I following them?

If I had only myself to worry about, then I might hope for a death-bed conversion. Live my life the way I want to, and then change when death became near (at least hope to be able to). But now I had a child to worry about. I’m not stupid. I know that the choices I make will affect my children their whole lives.

Bigots beget bigots.
Criminals beget criminals.
Cynics beget cynics.

Do I want my child to be a cynic like me?

Misery loves company. But I’ve never wished for anyone else to suffer as I did while I searched for meaning to life. Do I want my children to suffer like that?

Of course not.

By the way, I don’t think the child of a bigot is pre-destined to become a bigot…everyone has the opportunity to break free from the influences of their upbringing. But we all have a hard time dealing with those shackles. What shackles do I intend to put on my child?

Joy. Peace. Charity. Faith. Hope.

So, I really decided that my quest for the meaning of life had to become the most important thing in my life. What good is the best education for my child, if my lack of faith condemned him to a life without a higher meaning and possibly condemned him to eternal hell?

Now if all those assumptions I laid out were wrong – for example, if there was no life after death – then so what? Yeah, I suppose life might be “more fun” if there were no eternal consequences, and I suppose I and my progeny might live our lives striving for something that was all a lie. Horrors. But really? If faith in God led Mother Teresa to sacrifice so greatly to help the poor, was this really a waste? Can one not objectively state that her life, regardless of her eternal reward, was a wonderful life? She had no fancy clothes, no TV, no silk sheets for her bed…but she had joy and love.

Shortly before he dies, Moses asks the Israelites: which do you choose: life or death? I choose life!

OK, but that was when I was 27. I didn’t “find the rosetta stone” until I was 29. What took so long?

Duty calls. More another time.

me and St. Augustine

I read yesterday that St. Monica prayed, cried and begged God for 17 years for her son’s conversion before he finally did convert. It took me 17 years too. Must be a special number.

I searched for the meaning of life from age 12 until age 29, when I woke up. It was a wonderful thing.

Of course, finding the Rosetta Stone didn’t mean that I suddenly knew everything. I still continue my journey of faith. After all, I have 2000 years of CHRISTIAN writing to get through…plus at least 2000 years of JEWISH writing and tradition to digest. My life will not be long enough.

When do you have time to blog?

Early in the morning, late at night, or while my children roam unsupervised throughout the neighborhood. Actually, I just plop them in front of the TV so I can get in some computer time.

Seriously, my computer is centrally located so I can keep my nose in what is going on around me at all times. I read and write in stops and starts, and although I try hard to make it look like my blog entries are one cohesive and coherent thought, frequently they are composed over the course of an entire day.

Why do you blog?

Life is an ongoing process and people change and grow by the day. I want to remember me, my kids and my fantastic home life. This is my main reason for blogging.

I don’t live near my family, and we are a military family on the move. Lots of family and friends use my blog to stay involved in my family’s life.

For these reasons, I try to have an upbeat, amusing blog. Except for occasional rants about general topics, I try to keep things light. I don’t mind remembering the struggles of motherhood, but I don’t want to remember petty annoyances, and I certainly am not interested in recording the transgressions of those around me. If I can truly laugh about something, then it’s okay. But if I’m laughing at someone or if I’m still really mad at someone, I’d rather not write it down. My blog is not intended to be a way to air my grievances or to garner support for my side of the story.

I also blog as a way to provide me a community of friends who can support me, especially as I move around the country or world. Unlike my physical neighborhood, I can choose the people who live in my virtual world. It’s nice to surround myself with like-minded, Catholic women, many of whom homeschool, many of whom are struggling with the same issues I do every day.

Are you a saint?

No. Saints are dead people who have made it to heaven. I’m still very much alive, although I may sleep, when I can, like the dead.

You must have a lot of patience.

Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don’t. I yell at my kids a lot. They don’t hear me, so I don’t feel too badly about it. I hug and kiss my kids a lot too, so it all evens out.

There are many times that my kids are driving me crazy. Over the years, I’ve learned that this happens when our agendas are at odds with one another. Sometimes, the kids are being overly demanding and need to be brought to a new level of independence or need to learn that other people’s issues, concerns or wishes must be considered as well. Sometimes it is I who is being overly demanding or overly selfish, and I need to reestablish my priorities.

And you homeschool too?

Yes, it’s called being a glutton for punishment.

I spent all but two years in good public schools. The two years I went to a parochial school, second and third grade, were good ones too. My husband went to a public kindergarten, but his first through twelfth grades were parochial. We were absolutely committed to sending our children, no matter the cost, to our parish’s school. We even enrolled our oldest in the preschool program for two years as a first step to getting him in to the school since we had heard that preferential treatment was given to those children.


The first issue that came up regarding this decision was the quality of the education and the orthodoxy of the religion program. I knew many mothers of children at that school. The reports weren’t good. The education was on par with the public schools (which was decent), but the spiritual aspect did nothing to increase the benefits of spending all that money. I taught CCD at the parish which used the school so I was in there every week. The final straw, education-wise, came when I saw all the posters celebrating Earth Day. Not a single mention of stewardship. It didn’t bother me one bit that children would learn to take care of the environment. But it really bugged me that parochial school children wouldn’t be taught why we should be doing so.

All of the women I know who had children in that school have ceased sending their children there over the years. Some turned to homeschooling. Some just sent their kids to the public schools, since there was little difference.

The second issue that influenced our decision to homeschool was my husband’s military career. He is in the National Guard and had been doing it part-time (one weekend a month, two weeks a year, plus all those other days and weeks they don’t advertise). For several years he had been trying to get a full-time job, called Active Guard and Reserve (AGR). And then, at the end of 2002, his unit found out that they would be deploying to Kosovo the next year. He would have his full-time military job, but not in the way we had expected!

He left to do training at Fort Stewart, Georgia at the beginning of March 2003. Fritz was in the preschool program at the time, but I knew I wouldn’t be applying for the kindergarten program. My fourth child was due in September. My other three were a bit traumatized by their father’s departure. We needed to hunker down. None of us could have tolerated the stress of getting out the door by a certain hour every day for school. And I had no intention of denying my children time with their dad when he came home on passes before he left for Kosovo or when he came home for good in 2004. That would have meant missed school days, and schools don’t really like that – especially not civilian ones.

Looking ahead to post-deployment, my husband still wanted to be full-time military. This deployment would just be the beginning of a series of disruptions in our children’s schooling. In fact, had Fritz gone to a traditional school, his current year, fifth grade, would be at his fourth school. Worst of all, his first grade year would have been split between two schools. We felt that it was better for our kids to have more consistency than that. Homeschooling affords us a consistent curriculum delivered by the same teacher with the same classmates.

And if we talk about Earth Day, we talk about stewardship too.

Don’t you know what causes that?

You betcha!

Don’t you know there are ways to prevent that?

Yes, I know plenty of ways, and none of them are moral.

Oh. You’re one of those Catholics who really believes all that stuff?

Yes. I despise hypocrisy. Don’t call yourself a Catholic if you aren’t one.

I don’t believe that God wants me to have as many children as is physically possible. I believe that I am expected to be prudent and wise. My husband and I use Natural Family Planning, a sympto-thermal method that requires a woman to pay attention her body and recognize the signs of fertility. Seldom have we failed to recognize these signs. Unfortunately, the way to avoid conception during the fertile days is to abstain from marital relations, and in this, more than once, we have “failed.” But I trust God, and when our “failure” results in a beautiful new life, my tears are only of joy and not regret.

Are you done yet?

Right now, I’m tired. Toddlers are a lot of work. And I haven’t yet forgotten the extreme discomfort of late pregnancy nor the pain of childbirth. Do I want to do this again? NO! Of course not. I felt the same way in those early days with my oldest, and yet I’ve gone on to have five more children.

But every year, I get older. So far, it’s been very easy for me to conceive. One day, I know it will not be. I am not ready or willing to state with certainty that I will never have another child. I trust that if I am meant to bear another child, I will, and if not, I won’t. I trust that if we were meant to adopt, then all the details would fall into place for that.

And if my husband goes and gets me all liquored up at the wrong time of the month, well, there’s not much I can do about that now, is there?