Catholic Inklings

Musings and sharings on my devotion to an ancient religion.

Category archive: Personal Blogs

My Black Belt Journey

I hate my feet. In fact, I’ve always been entirely uncomfortable in my skin. As long as I can remember, I’ve known that I’m nothing if I’m not three things: small, ugly and weird. I’m not really that small, actually; I’m exactly average height for a woman of my age, but people have always experienced me as little. But, there’s no denying the ugly and weird—and I wouldn’t want to. I’ve come to accept and even appreciate those two parts of me. I’ve got a face that only a blind mother could love, and I’ve never fit in to any group that I’ve belonged to. As challenging as those two aspects of my life have been, they helped make me who I am and, a good deal of my self-acceptance has to do with my journey to earning my black belt.

I’ve always wanted to study martial arts for a few reasons. I’ve always wished I could defend myself if I needed to, or to be able to defend others if they were in danger. For a few years I lived vicariously through my children as they studied paying close attention to everything they were learning. So when the opportunity arose for me to study—you think I’m gonna say that I jumped at it—but, no! I hesitated! I would have to go barefoot. My hideous feet would be on display. And I’m such a klutz—I walk into walls, trip over flat surfaces, can’t follow directions, and have naturally terrible balance. Add getting nervous when people look at me and karate should have been a recipe for disaster. I decided that it would be so very stupid to not put aside my self-consciousness and try this thing that I’ve wanted my whole life, so I took my socks off, grabbed my son’s old gi, and got on the mat.

I’m 100% sure that if I had tried this anywhere but at Master Sue’s I wouldn’t have lasted very long. But, between Master Sue, Master Jose, Rob and the very encouraging teen instructors and classmates, I began to feel like I could get it. Master Sue and her instructors encouraged, joked, supported, and took so much patient time with me, putting me at an ease I’ve never felt anywhere. I stopped caring about my feet, any baby weight I was carrying (yes, I know they were teenagers—don’t judge me. I like cheese), the fact that I fell over more than I stood up straight; and I just really loved being at class, challenging myself, being amazed what I could retain, being happily shocked at how a palm heel can go through one-inch boards like butter, and doing all this with my oldest son. I began to get confidence; something as alien to me as octopuses (they are definitely aliens, and no one can tell me differently). Confidence seeped into other areas of my life, and I have been growing in many ways. One of the most significant places of growth for me—and this will seem silly to lots of people; but has been a stumbling block for me my whole life—was that I got less camera shy. When my picture was taken because I got another belt or stripe, I was happy to oblige, because I worked hard and earned it. I stick up for myself when bullied, had the courage to get a book published, and have made a point to step out of my comfort zone in a variety of ways. I even wear flipflops in public!

Throughout my time at the dojo I’ve noticed similarities between martial arts and my own work in initiation ministry in the Catholic Church. We learn a bit, practice a bit, become stronger and have rituals to mark important moments in our journey. This closeness has been significant for me, because it made me appreciate each more fully. To move up in a belt, you have to learn specific moves, but you also have to show personal growth. This has been a spiritual journey for me because I’ve had to learn a great deal of humility, self-control, letting go, acceptance, mentoring, and discipline. These have not been natural to me; but working with Master Sue and the study of Bool Gwa Mool Do Kwan has expanded me (I have more to learn, of course). Master Sue has been my Yoda (although she’s much, much cuter), constantly reminding me that I must, “do or do not; there is no try.” No negative self-talk. No excuses. No giving up. Even when I got hurt a few weeks before this test, I was not allowed to give up (I would have). And the beautiful part of this is; if I had had to wait to test, I would have been okay with it. As with the RCIA (initiation ministry), it takes as long as it takes—and it’s the very process of learning with Master Sue that I gained the patience to say that and it be perfectly true.

Earning my black belt has been physically, emotionally, and spiritually challenging, and is the greatest personal accomplishment of my life. I’ve never had to work harder at anything or overcome more to accomplish a goal. It means the world to me that I’ve been blessed to take this journey with my son, Benjamin, of whom I couldn’t be prouder, and to have been taught be a woman as strong, resilient and beautiful (inside and out) as my Master Sue.

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My new book, Comic Con Christianity, is available for delivery on August 7.

From the earliest days of human culture, superheroes have inspired us to look deeper and raise questions about how we live in community. Every generation had its heroes from Beowulf to Siegfried to King Arthur, and our more recent heroes given by Tolkien, Lewis, Stan Lee, and Gene Roddenberry. Comic Con Christianity is a gateway to faith for young, unchurched nerds who do not currently have the vocabulary of faith which, incidentally, is the same vocabulary as most superhero, sci-fi, and fantasy media. For the seeker—young adults and nerds of all ages—this book is an introduction to Catholic Christian thought using media that already speaks to them. For the faithful, considering these stories from a Christian perspective offers a challenge to the way we live our faith.

Comic Con Christianity, a natural expression of  Catholic faith, invites the reader to look at Catholic Christian spirituality within the context of some of the most compelling stories of our culture. The stories in this book, which resonate with many, is a bridge between this ever-growing demographic and our Catholic faith.

It can be ordered directly from Paulist Press by using this link.

In Defense of Faramir

When I saw The Two Towers movie in the theater fifteen years ago, I was beyond aggravated at how the writers portrayed the character of Faramir. I came out of the theater grumbling, huffing and speechless. Do you know what it takes to make a Sicilian girl speechless? (and I don’t mean “keep her hands still”; although that works, too…) It takes a lot.  I mean, there are some changes that need to be made for the sake of time, or flow, or whatever, but if you’re going to change someone’s life’s work, it should have legitimate purpose and add to what you’re doing. I could see no benefit to this defamation.

I re-watched the movie recently and wondered if I would react the same as I did all those years ago. I mean, after all, it was a long time ago and back then I was a new mom with wacky hormones, sleep deprived figuring out who I was in my new situation—there were a million reasons for me to over-react to something inconsequential. No. It was every bit as bad as the first time. Not the whole movie, mind you—they did change more than I’d like, but it was still a great movie; very well done. And, I persist that the changes they made to him were consequential.

In the book, Faramir was kind, gentle, and un-tempted by the Ring. Unlike his brother, he didn’t want any part in trying to take it and use it against his enemy. He understood that it was beyond his grasp and had the humility to know his limitations in the face of something more powerful. He acted bravely within the realm in which he could be effective, but wasn’t interested in engaging what didn’t belong to him.  He was what a lot of people would call “holy”. He and his men were in constant conflict trying to stave off the evil that was building all around them. Things looked rather hopeless. That would wear on anyone; but he required a high standard of behavior for his men—even to the point that they were not to harm any animal without purpose.

In the movie, however, he encouraged cruelty toward Gollum, tortured and abused him, and took the Ring by force to Rohan. Sure…we know that in the end he made the right decision, but first he was a total jerk. We’re shown in flashback that made us understand that he did it to please his unpleasable father, to avenge his beloved dead brother and to save attempt to Middle-earth. But, that’s not what Faramir was about. He was not selfish enough to risk the fate of the world to make someone love him.

The rationale of the writers to assassinate one of Tolkien’s best creations was to make Faramir “more relatable”. The writers felt that to accomplish it, they would need to make him more like us. The writers felt that we could not relate to someone who makes good decisions even in hard times and expects the people in his service to do the same. They felt that we can’t relate to someone who is kind in the face of terror. That we can’t relate to someone who is not tempted by horrendous evil. Apparently, we are too small to connect with someone who sees the right way to do things, and even if it brings risk of personal failure, holds to it.

This brings up a social reality that I think demands consideration. It’s a cultural truth that in order for us to feel like we can relate to someone, we need to bring them down to our level. We need to find fault, find scandal, find ugliness so that we can see ourselves in them. That’s unfortunate. People even did that to Mother Teresa; there were campaigns to try and discredit and disgrace the one person on earth that almost every human being could agree was truly good.

Here’s a thought…instead of bringing people down to our level, why not stretch ourselves to try and identify with something higher? Something more beautiful, pure and good? That’s what Christianity is all about; it’s what is required of us—that we look to beauty and truth and aspire to them. We look to the perfection of Jesus and aspire to be like him.

This is why Faramir as Tolkien wrote him is both important and relatable. We’re made in the image and likeness of God. Our intended destiny is to be like Faramir—humble enough to accept our limitations, to know our gifts and use them for the benefit and comfort of others even in the face of ugliness, and to be disciplined enough to not be tempted by what would do us and others harm. And, all of us could, and some of us do get to that point without a lot of drama and diversions. The Lord of the Rings movies gave us dozens of characters to whom we could relate that were flawed, broken, weak and ultimately good. Why not give humanity a little credit and let us keep a character who inspires us to be better right from the start?

Tinker Bell and the Devil

I have always loved fairy stories. I’m not talking about fairy tales like the Grimm brothers’ stories this time (although I do love them, too), but the old stories about the different kinds of fairies—like Brownies, Sprites, Will ‘o the Wisp, Jenny ‘o the Bog, etc.  They are some crazy stories.  One of my favorites is about what happens to people when they are put under a fairy spell—you could be walking through a forest, minding your own business and boom! You’ve stepped right in the middle of a fairy ring, and now you’re going to be stuck dancing until your boy gives out and you die. Or, you might be walking through a forest, minding your own business, and find yourself in the middle of a fairy celebration, and now the fairies will sit you down and make you think you’re enjoying a great feast, only to discover that you’re eating acorns, worms, tree bark, leaves and other awful stuff.  The poor soul is eating forest garbage while thinking that they are having the meal of their life!

Two lessons can be learned from this: one is that forests are way more dangerous than people generally suppose, and the other is that fairies are nasty tricksters. Sure, they’re cute–Tinkerbell is the epitome of cuteness…but that’s part of fairy trickery! They give the appearance of sweet, innocent, helpless little things, but boy are they sneaky! In the old stories, the magic that the fairies use to make things appear other than as what they are is called, “glamour.”  Glamour is a word we’re all familiar with—but we usually use it in relation to fashion.  In fashion terms, glamour is all the fancy, sparkly clothes, hair and gobs of makeup that gunk them up to look fabulous.  But, once the hair is washed, the makeup is off and the sweatpants are on, the people underneath are themselves again—flawed, blemished and sometimes pretty average-looking.

One of the promises that adults make at their Baptisms, parents and godparents make at their children’s Baptisms, and we all renew at Easter has traditionally (until the last translation came out) read thus; “Do you reject the glamour of evil and refuse to be mastered by sin?,” to which we all respond, “I do.”  The glamour of evil.  That’s so perfect.  Whether its fairies, fashion, or evil, glamour speaks of that which is misleading and misrepresenting.  Temptation and the Devil present things not quite as they are.  They take a truth and twist it; they take a good bit of creation, and offer it to us broken, corrupt and misused. But, if we refuse to be mastered by sin, we will look at things and see them exactly as they are. You won’t mistake twigs and acorns for a feast, and you won’t mistake something that doesn’t belong to you, or isn’t good for you as something that will fill you.

Throughout Lent, the Elect (adults who were Catechumens and are preparing to make their Baptismal Promises for the first time at the Easter Vigil) stare sin in the face, scrutinize it, see if for what it is and ask God to remove it from them.  This coming Sunday is the final of three Scrutinies, when they ask God to take a look at their hearts with them and ask God to remove whatever doesn’t belong there–whatever was disguising itself as useful, but was really preventing them from living fully; maybe some resentment, or judgmental tendencies, or addiction, or envy…We can use the remainder of Lent as a training period for us too—we can use it to get really good at spotting sin, stripping the layers of glamour off until we see it for what it is, and letting God root it out of us. That way, when it’s time for us to renew our Baptismal Promises, we can do it with sincerity, conviction and gusto; knowing that we’re nobody’s fool, but children of the light who make clear, life-giving decisions with purpose and intention.  The rest of this Lent, train like a Catechumen.

Manly Men

Our culture is in somewhat of a crisis these days regarding our concept of what makes a man. And, I’m not talking about who can use which bathroom, or what an individual “identifies” as, but about what makes a man truly manly.

There was a campaign on Facebook a few years ago called “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls.” There are memes of celebrities (a lot of them men) making statements about treating women with dignity.  There is a real, felt push-back against  the way women are objectified—in the media, our president, in the horrors of human trafficking and prostitution, and in everyday lives like our own. Now, I will own that some of the progress the world has made in seeing women as human beings with intelligence, ability, dignity, grace and value are continually undermined by women offering themselves as objects for ogling and devaluing.  But, still…it’s 2017 and the world apparently needs celebrities to us that we shouldn’t purchase other human beings.

Today is the Feast of St. Joseph. After reading today’s Gospel, I’m having a serious case of respect for this guy and his response to God’s call to protect the dignity of his bride and the safety of her son—not his son—hers.    When he found out that the girl he was set to marry was already pregnant, and he knew it wasn’t his kid, he had every right to expose her to shame and even to the possibility of stoning.  He could have ruined or even taken her life and the life of her child.  But, he didn’t.  He trusted that what he was told to him in a dream was true—that this was God’s doing and that he had been chosen to protect and care for these two.  And he said “Yes.”

Who does that?  People go on “reality” TV shows and publicly humiliate and destroy those that they claim to love and yet have no confidence in their ability to be faithful to them.  It’s a freak show out there.  And, while there was no TV in Jesus’ time, Joseph could have done the equivalent.  But, he didn’t.

The model Joseph gives to men of gentleness, faithfulness, trust and responsibility is as much needed now as it was back then.  He loved and honored Mary and Jesus.  He worked hard to support her and Jesus as best he could (which did not bring them gobs of money or any real material comfort, but he didn’t just sit on his butt and do nothing because the pay scale was beneath him).  And the sacrifices that he made for his family echoed out in our Salvation, as well as continuing to be an example for us today.  Joseph should be held up by men and women alike: men for a model of how to live respect and uphold the dignity of others (specifically women and children) and women for how they should expect to be treated (not forgetting, of course, that we have our own model in Mary of devotion, gentleness, personal dignity and great love). You can have all the muscles, good looks and stuff in the world–and those things are not bad–but to be honorable, respectful, kind and dignified; that’s truly manly.

I’m just saying…if we looked to Joseph (as an average, run of the mill dude) for how to treat one another, maybe we wouldn’t need celebrities to tell us not to buy girls.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

When I was a kid, starting on approximately the day after Christmas, my Dad would begin a daily countdown to Lent.  He would get a bit excited. I always thought he did it to torture us.  Why did we need to be thinking about it so long?  Why the heck would he be so happy about it—Lent was miserable!  Plus, you know we weren’t picking what we were going to give up until Ash Wednesday morning and then would try to change it later that day when it got too hard.

When I was in high school, our Diocese used to provide what was one of the most formative Church experiences throughout my whole, entire life—Service to the Suffering.  Hundreds of high school kids would converge on the campus of St. Gabriel Parish throughout the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday).  We would gather for prayer in the morning and then be sent out to do charitable work—we’d go to Marlboro Institution to care for the buildings and grounds (every kid who went there has AMAZING stories), inner city Trenton to clean up back allies, a CYO camp to clean up, nursing homes to visit, and all kinds of other good work.  After the work, we’d return to the gym and observe the Triduum liturgies as a community of young people.  Liturgically correct?  No.  But, man if it didn’t mean something.  It made an indelible mark on the hundreds of kids (some of them non-Catholics and some exchange students that we brought with us) who were present.  We encountered Christ broken for our hurting world, and then encountered Christ made whole in the celebration of the Liturgy.  It was powerful.

Even with my dad’s excitement about it, my experience of Service to the Suffering, nine years of Catholic elementary school, and six more years of Catholic higher education, it wasn’t until I was working with the RCIA (the adults who are in formation to become Catholic) that I really “got it.”  I got why Dad was always looking forward to Lent (it wasn’t as sinister as I thought as a kid).

Lent is a forty day period originally designed to prepare those who would be baptized to train their ears to Christ’s voice, to echo it forward, and to allow Christ to root out of them whatever wasn’t worthy of a New Creation in Baptism. Forty is the allotted time for testing and preparation in the Bible–Noah’s Ark, Moses’s time before God called him, the people of Israel in the desert, Jesus in the desert… God really likes the desert apparently–probably because there are no distractions out there.

All Catholics renew our baptismal vows at Easter Mass, so Lent is preparation for us, too.  We’re called into the “desert” to confront temptation, acknowledge the things that tempt us for what they truly are, and discern what it is that we really want. It’s a chance to walk through our hearts with Christ; to see what distracts us from actual happiness and let it be crucified on the Cross and drowned in the waters of Baptism so that we can rise with Christ, renewed. At the end of the forty days, we are ready for something big–to live differently and boldly after allowing God to refine us.


My boss and I begin singing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” as Ash Wednesday approaches. The prayers, Scripture readings at Mass, and liturgies throughout Lent and the Triduum teach us more about who we are as a church than any other time of the year. They expose the heart of why Jesus came to earth, why we need God, and what our lives can be when we partner with God. If we allow it, Lent can be life-changing.

Fast, pray and give.  Make a point to see suffering around you and do something about it.  Make a point to spend a lot of quiet time with Christ—and listen.  Give up something that you will miss and unite your discomfort with the people in our world who never have what you gave up for only forty days. Participate in the offerings of your parish; try Stations of the Cross, go to Bible Study, volunteer to help the poor, go to Confession, go to your diocese’s Chrism Mass and to your Triduum celebration. And pray for and welcome the Catechumens and Candidates who will become united with us in the Sacraments at the Vigil. Then, go ahead and try to tell me that it’s not the most wonderful time of the year. 😉

10 Things I Want My Kids To Take To School

As I stood with my oldest son waiting for the bus to take him to his freshman orientation at half past ridiculous o’clock this morning, I was very much feeling like one of those creepy Old Spice moms. It was his first time taking a bus to school—he went to Catholic elementary, and we lived out of district, so I drove him every day—AND I worked right across the parking lot from where he and his brother were. We chatted a little as we waited for the bus, and he made a point (as he does) of making sure that I see how he towers over me now. I tried to hold it together when I saw the bus coming, but the sound I made startled the poor boy. I said a quick good-bye (kissing him before the bus arrived to make sure I didn’t embarrass him) and then bolted for the house to cry in my coffee like a jerk. He got on the bus like nothing, greeted the driver (politely!) and went about his day.

I was sucked right back to his first day of pre-k. We stood outside the school with the other kids and their parents, but back then, he would let me hold his tiny, pudgy hand—I couldn’t imagine the meat hooks he’d have now. When it was time to go in, that little, independent man said, “I don’t want to go in there.” I said, “You have to.” And, blurting out a little, “Okay!” he cheerfully ran inside—no kiss, no good-bye—just ran off to meet his destiny.

It’s bittersweet watching my boys grow up—I’m proud of who they are and what they are becoming, fearful of any pain or disappointment they may experience, suspicious (yet hopeful) of whatever girls might look at them, wondering if my husband and I gave them what they need to be good, holy people and anticipating how they will live out God’s calling for them.

So, I give them a little advice:

  • Know who you are, and be true to it. Don’t let other people decide your tastes, interests, values and goals. True cool comes from being authentic—don’t be a phony. Remember Milli Vanilli, and Jose Canseco. They are old people who failed on an epic scale. Google it. Peer pressure is for chumps—it’s just insecure kids trying to get you to be insecure with them. You’re strong—be strong.
  • Don’t gossip. Whether the information is true or not, harming another’s reputation is damaging to them, to the person you are trying to sway the opinion of and yourself. Would you want that news shared about you? Then, don’t share it about others. Would you want someone trying to decide your opinion of another instead of leaving that up to you? Then don’t do it to someone else.
  • Tell the truth. Don’t exaggerate, take responsibility for your mistakes and say only what is true. Consider President Nixon…or Miley Cyrus…train wrecks. Don’t be one.
  • Don’t say everything that occurs to you. Think about how it will affect others. Will it be hurtful, or build up the other person? If you are going to disagree with someone—is it important, or are you just showing off or being disagreeable for no reason? Did they say that Lord of the Rings is not the best book series ever? Defend it! Did they say that spring is the best season? Who cares! Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.
  • Life is not a competition. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, or has, or is wearing. Be content with what you have—I’m not getting you that stuff, anyway.
  • The second guy always gets the foul. If someone does or says something to you that you don’t like, respond—don’t react. Not only will you be the one to get in trouble for lashing out, you give up your freedom in that situation. Instead of choosing how you would like to respond and keeping a cool head, you are giving up your will and becoming what you didn’t like to begin with. Like a supervillain.
  • Guard your heart. Make one or two good friends—friends who will have your back and who’s back your feel comfortable having. Choose friends who will support you in doing good, will tell you when you’re wrong and who you can have fun with. You don’t always have to agree; it’s better if you don’t! Don’t give your heart—in friendship or in love—to someone who doesn’t respect you for who you are.
  • Thank your teachers. Boy, do they put up with a lot. And they show up every day to try and get something useful into your noggin. Be grateful for all the people who are there helping, teaching, cleaning the school, driving the bus—and let them know that you are grateful.
  • Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Or I wreck you. Or your dad, grandparents, or aunts, or uncles wreck you. We are in your corner and are always here to support you. And correct you. Because we love you.
  • Besides having us in your corner, more importantly, you have God. Don’t forget the help, guidance, unconditional love and perfect, free gift that God is to you. God is there for you. Include God in everything you do and you won’t go wrong.

None of this advice is anything they haven’t heard before—and it’s certainly not a complete list—but it’s stuff I pray they’ll remember when they are away from me. Most of me is really looking forward to the great things that will unfold for them as they continue to grow and strike out on their own. But, a tiny part of me will continue to drink slightly salty coffee many mornings as I remember the cuddly little monsters that they were when they were small.

Monster Crush

My first monster crush was on King Kong (and, yes, the word “first” does suggest that there were more). I loved King Kong so much that I was given a stuffed animal of him a short time after I first saw the movie. I don’t know if it was manufactured specifically as a King Kong, but that’s how it was presented to me, and I’ve loved it ever since. It was the first stuffed animal I remember owning and even had it still when my children were born. I passed him on to them, as well as my love for monsters.

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It Is Your Destiny


If you were brought up on superheroes and sci-fi, and if you were brought up Catholic, then you probably have an excellent understanding of destiny. You knew from an early age, or at least suspected, that there is something special about you, and that you have a particular role to fulfill in this life. You were born for something great.

Every hero knows, sometimes from within and sometimes because they were told, that there is something that they, and they alone, must do for the salvation of the planet. Superman, Luke Skywalker, the various Green Lanterns, Spiderman—pick a hero—they have an understanding that the power they have been given saddles them with a responsibility to change the course of history. They didn’t just grab their tights and go for it, though. They struggled, hung out in quiet solitude, engaged in a discernment process with people of better understanding and let their calling grow in them until they were ready to find their opportunity to strike out.

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