Friday, September 2, 2016

I received a letter from Mother Teresa which changed my life

In 1990, I was a single, twenty seven year old woman working with Latin American immigrants on Long Island. I was also learning Spanish, and  I thought of going to a Spanish school in Antigua GAfter a day spent with some of the happiest and poorest women I have ever met, I came away understanding Mother’s saying, “Only in Heaven will we see how much we owe to the poor for helping us to love God better because of them.” uatemala. A thought came to mind, “Mother Teresa has a house in Guatemala City. Maybe I could volunteer there after the course”.

I had seen the film “Mother Teresa” by the Petrie Sisters and it impressed me deeply. I loved the scene where Mother visits Guatemala to open a home despite the bureaucracy of the government. I worked for a social worker for Catholic Charities, fighting just such a bureaucracy in New York. A system which left the mentally ill out in the streets in the name of deinstitutionalization. I loved how Mother ignored the officials’ attempts to obfuscate her mission to help the people they themselves had failed to help out of dire poverty. She opened the home in spite of them and spread the joy of Christ through her sisters.  She was my social justice heroine!

The letter came in an ordinary envelope, typed by an old manual typewriter. But the postmark gave it away, it was from Mother Teresa! She did not want me to go to Guatemala, she told me that there are many people who speak Spanish in the Bronx. Classic Mother Teresa, “love begins at home.” She gave me the phone number and promised to look for me when she came to New York. So I called the sisters, and made a date to visit, early on a Saturday morning. No one says “no” to Mother Teresa.
Leaving my car parked in the early morning in the Fort Apache area of the South Bronx, I was approached by two police officers on foot, who asked me, “Hey lady, where are you going? Don’t you know it’s dangerous here?” Despite my best efforts, I obviously didn’t blend into the neighborhood. I answered merely, “Mother Teresa.” They nodded. Now my presence made sense.

After a crowed Mass in the simple chapel where participants knelt on the carpeted floor, I was greeted, given breakfast and a tour. A tiny two floor house with a large bedroom filled by dozens of simple cots, and a single mirrorless bathroom, and a large kitchen comprised the living quarters of the Missionaries of Charity.

I recognized some of the sisters from the movie, and the effervescent joy they displayed in the film was even more evident in person. They giggled like girls on a sleepover!  Living in these simple, cramped quarters did not dampen their enthusiasm for service of others and love for Jesus in the poorest of the poor. They prayed the Rosary while cleaning windows in the soup kitchen next door. I helped by chopping donated vegetables for the biggest soup pot I had ever seen, all the while learning their names in Spanish, I was to run errands with two of the sisters. We were to pick up poor little old ladies to attend the wedding Mass of a doctor who volunteered for the sisters, and invited two coach busloads of the poor he had served to his wedding. Just like the wedding feast in the Gospel.

“When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. “But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:12-14 NASB

My little silver Honda could have been a royal coach, considering the enthusiastic waves directed at it as I drove the sisters through the most dangerous projects in the Bronx. They prayed with me before leaving me to go into the buildings to fetch the ladies, and told me to keep moving while I waited for them. The wedding guests speculated whether in their first time inside a Catholic church, they would see the Holy Ghost! On the way back to the convent, the sisters returned a wallet that had been stolen to its owner. The thief, after taking the cash, had thrown it over their garden wall knowing that the sisters would return the wallet to its owner. Even thieves knew these women loved God!

When we helped the ladies board the charter busses a diminutive Indian sister held up six lanes of traffic with the wave of a hand. Only the Missionaries of Charity who are known for their great love of the poor could command such respect in the toughest neighborhood!

We spent some time in prayer before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament before I left, and I understood that He was in their hearts as they served the poor and that the poor sensed Him in them. After a day spent with some of the happiest and poorest women I have ever met, I came away understanding Mother’s saying, “Only in Heaven will we see how much we owe to the poor for helping us to love God better because of them.”

I never took the sisters up on their invitation to join them in the convent. Within two years, I had met and married my husband Francisco, and for the ensuing decades, I continued to teach the poor and raise three children,  but I carried Mother’s words in my heart every day since  I read them in her letter,
“The fruit of silence is prayer,
 The fruit of prayer is faith,
The fruit of faith is love,
The fruit of love is service,

 The fruit of service is peace.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Valiant 10%

Monsignor Charles Pope is my favorite priest blogger. His blogs are full of Christ's wisdom about the most pressing subjects in modern life and his latest "Accepting Disability in a World Obsessed with Perfection" is no exception.


His blog is in response to the Holy Fathers comments while meeting with a group of disabled individuals, that "Love, not some idea of perfection, leads to Happiness".

“In an age when care for one’s body has become an obsession and a big business, anything imperfect has to be hidden away, since it threatens the happiness and serenity of the privileged few and endangers the dominant model,” the pope said. “In some cases, we are even told that it is better to eliminate them as soon as possible, because they become an unacceptable economic burden in time of crisis.”

People with such attitudes, he said, “fail to understand the real meaning of life, which also has to do with accepting suffering and limitations.”

And for Jesus, he said, the sick and the weak, those cast aside by society — like the woman in the Gospel story — are precisely the ones he loves most.
The only path to happiness is love, Pope Francis said. “How many disabled and suffering persons open their hearts to life again as soon as they realize they are loved! How much love can well up in a heart simply with a smile!”



 

Monsignor reflects;  Is there such a thing as a life not worth living? Many in our culture seem to believe that there is. There has arisen the tragically ironic idea that death is a form of therapy, that an appropriate treatment for disabled unborn children is to kill them. Of course death is neither a treatment nor a therapy; it cannot be considered an acceptable solution for the one who loses his or her life. Yet this is often the advice that parents in this situation are given.
All of this “advice” and pressure goes a long way toward explaining why more than 90% of unborn children with a poor prenatal diagnosis are aborted. We in the Church cannot remain silent in the face of this; we must reach out compassionately to families experiencing such a crisis. Many of them are devastated by the news that their baby may have serious disabilities. Often they descend into shock and are overwhelmed by fear, conflicting feelings, and even anger towards God or others. Sometimes the greatest gifts we can give them are time, information, and the framework of faith.

Here is my response; I just finished reading the book "Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck" by Adam Cohen.

In the wake of Darwin's theory of evolution, a wave of social Darwinism in the early 1900's gave birth the the ideology of eugenics, the idea that some humans were genetically superior to others and we ought to suppress the birth or end the lives of the inferior. Eugenics pervaded society and inspired Margaret Sanger to champion birth control for the 'inferior races' and disabled whom she called "human weeds.
The Supreme Court codified this idea in the infamous 1927 "Buck V Bell" decision where Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes approving of the sterilization of those the State deemed 'feebleminded' said in the 8-1 majority decision; "Three generations of imbeciles are enough!"
This ideology led directly to the Nazi holocaust, which began with the slaughter of the disabled in the T4 Program, in fact at Nuremberg the "Buck V Bell" decision was cited by those seeking to excuse their participation in the Concentration Camps.

We congratulate ourselves on having progressed since then; yet we have merely shifted the 'responsibility' of killing those deemed inferior to their mothers. I interviewed many mothers of special needs children for my book "A Special Mother is Born" and some claimed the pressure to abort from their doctors was so great, they even tried to make them feel guilty of imposing a disabled sibling on their children. All of these moms said they can't imagine life without the love of their child.

Thank God they are the valiant 10%, braver than those who colluded with the Nazis, and the Supreme Court and many in Congress!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Women Deserve the Truth about Down syndrome and Pre-natal Testing



In an age when we value informed consent and patient centered care, it’s a travesty that often the worst informed patient is the mother of a unborn baby with special needs. Everyone she meets in her medical office seems to be telling her what she should do. In what is often a lonely and frightening time, she needs the truth about her options for testing and about the future of her baby and seldom hears it.
A frequently heard comment from such mothers is, “I felt pressured to test by my doctor.” Some women even report having prenatal blood tests done without their consent. If a test shows an increased risk for a pre-natal diagnosis, they often feel coerced by their doctors to abort. Some expectant mothers have even changed obstetricians late in pregnancy to preserve their peace of mind and good medical practice. Defenders of this practice credit defensive medicine for this, since obstetricians fear so-called “wrongful birth” lawsuits where an obstetrician is sued for failure to give the mother a prenatal diagnosis and the chance to abort her baby. An Oregon couple won a $3million suit for wrongful birth in 2012.
Regardless of lawsuits, women deserve the dignity of informed consent. They need to know the risks of prenatal tests and what can be done if their child is found to have a disability.  At this time, the answer is often nothing more than, ‘help prepare you emotionally.’ Too many doctors consider the birth of a child with a disability like Down syndrome a failure of their patients, due to outmoded stereotypes of life with Down syndrome.  Mothers hear such unmedical predictions as, “Your child will never tie his shoes, read, marry, go to college or be happy.” There is a wide range of ability among those with Down syndrome, however none of these predictions can be definitively tied to a prenatal diagnosis, and people with Down syndrome are breaking these barriers every day thanks to advances in inclusion and education. 
Then there is the question of happiness. Some women  are given the mother guilt trip in reverse; “you can’t do this to your other children.” There is the fear of raising a child with Down syndrome alone in the dire warning, “your marriage will break up.” Neither of these predictions are substantiated by research. Dr Brian Skotko’s 2011 study in the Journal of American Medical Genetics showed that 99% of parents who have a child with Down syndrome report being happy with them and those with Down syndrome are no less happy. http://www.brianskotko.com/images/stories/Files/ajmg%20parent%20final%20paper.pdf
A study shows that marriages with a child with Down syndrome actually have slightly increased longevity.
A 2008 study at Vanderbuilt University analyzed data from the Tennessee Department of Health's birth, hospital discharge and divorce database records from 1990 to 2002. Down syndrome actually gave families what they termed, the “Down syndrome advantage.”
Rates of divorce:
  • Down syndrome – 7.6 percent
  • No disability – 10.8 percent
  • Other disabilities – 11.2 percent
 http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/991053/divorce-does-the-down-syndrome-advantage-exist
Mothers are seldom told of the 1% risk of miscarriage from CVS and amnio-centesis. They are not given a realistic picture of what raising a child with Down syndrome is really like, and sometimes it’s hard to believe that this is not intentional. An abysmal ignorance exists in society about day to day life with people with Down syndrome, due to a high abortion rate of such babies  diagnosed with Down syndrome before birth  (between 75-92%)
This is where an array of parents of children with Down syndrome, have, from their computers, made an enormous difference in educating the public by sharing their day to day lives, publishing research and protesting negative stereotypes. These parents are making a difference in how both Down syndrome and  prenatal testing are viewed. Even the Journal of the American Medical Association is suggesting that women be given better counseling about prenatal testing. A study which showed that the number of expectant moms who chose to undergo invasive testing was halved when they had a short explanation of what testing was and what it could show them about their baby at their stage of pregnancy.

The conclusion was that the research,  “adds support to the contention that women may not be receiving adequate counseling about their options. This underscores the need for clinicians to be clear that prenatal testing is not appropriate for everyone, and to present foregoing testing as a reasonable choice.”
Well done, moms, keep it up, they are listening!

Friday, March 18, 2016

How having a child with special needs helps me work to overcome the deadly sins


1.   Humility against pride- I try to have a normal outing to the grocery store, chatting about nothing with the teenage clerk, when suddenly a bottle of Five Hour Energy goes flying past her head. She flinches and I have to reprimand Christina and apologize, catching another potential missile before it launches. Let’s not talk about the time she toppled the entire paper towel pyramid by ramming my shopping cart into it! Yes, I have a reputation in my town as a lousy parent.
But I do know that our lives are in God’s hands and I remember to call upon Him more often. There was a time when I dared not bring Christina out in public, she would flop on the floor and I wasn’t capable of lifting a 100 pound kid.
2.    Kindness against envy- I have no room to judge other parents as for their unruly children. I tend to sympathize with others whose lives are out of control when I would once judge them.  There is a saying about special needs moms, you say I have my hands full, but you should see my heart!!
3.   Abstinence against gluttony- Last September, I was obese with declining health,  when I realized I might not be around much longer to care for my 14 year old daughter. It scared me into joining an online Catholic lifestyle group called Wendy’s Wellness Warriors. I lost 40 pounds, and threw out my insulin. Last month, my doctor shook my hand when my great lipid blood results came in, saying, “Keep doing what you are doing!”
4.    Patience against anger- tonight two drinks were flung at me during the Lenten fish fry at our parish. One was red juice. Christina looked at me for a reaction. I held my peace and silently cleaned up the mess. This is NOT the mom I was 14 years ago!! Watching her halting progress and seeing her overcome huge obstacles, I learned not to sweat the small stuff. Besides, behavior which elicits a reaction, however negative, is often repeated.
5.   Liberality against greed- so many people have been so good to us, we have learned to accept generosity with gratitude and to give when its needed. No prideful one-upsmanship for us, we are too busy keeping a lid on things!
6.   Diligence against sloth- Keeping a home, home educating a young lady with Down syndrome, attending multiple therapies across the state, being a member of two board of directors, and working as an advocate for those with Down syndrome has taught me not to waste time.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Cooperating with an Act of God: The Historic #TurnpikeMass

Courtesy of Roamin' Catholics.
As the mother of a young lady of 13 who has Down syndrome, I am accustomed to seeing how God's ways are far above our ways. Many times we have stood in awe at what Our Lord accomplishes in our life with our daughter Christina in the privacy of our Domestic Church. That is why I share our little miracles with you, dear reader, to inspire you.
 But sometimes God allows an act of faith to go public. 
That is the case of the now famous Turnpike Mass widely reported, first on social media, then picked up by major news outlets like CNN. Hundreds if not thousands of March for Life participants, most of them youth, were stuck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the rural and rugged Allegheny Mountains region. They did not move for nearly 24 hours and for some, food was growing scarce and help seemed far away. What did these on-fire Catholic Millenials do? They built an altar out of snow and ice and asked their chaplain, Fr Patrick Behm,  to celebrate Holy Mass. 
Fr Behm tried to deflect attention from himself and told the website Church Pop.
 “I was the principal celebrant of the liturgy,” he said, “but credit for the idea, and credit for building the altar, and credit for going around to the various buses inviting people to join them belongs completely to the pilgrims from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, particularly Mr. Bill Dill, their youth minister.”
It was those students from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis who built the snow altar: “Those Minnesotans apparently know how to build stuff out of snow!”
The now famous Mass was a powerful spiritual experience for Fr. Behm and everyone else involved.
“It left me with many impressions, but among them was the fact that Jesus enters into the storm. Jesus comes to us, in the storms of our life, and enters in to be with us. He desires to be with His people, and if we respond to this invitation to let Him in, then the message is profound hope and joy.”

The story of the Mass went viral on Facebook then Twitter, and soon local news outlets were reporting not only about the stranded students but that they were coming from the March for Life and that they were praying with exuberance. So,  a secular media which had largely ignored the enormous annual March for Life which took place despite DC being in a state of emergency and blizzard conditions starting before the end of the March, began to cover the #TurnpikeMass, and tangentially,  the #MarchforLife. God's mysterious ways indeed!  It is told that a bus driver stranded with the young people who has participated in an abortion received forgiveness and healing.

Way to cooperate with the Lord of the Universerse, through what is often termed, "an act of God", a blizzard. The Holy Spirit truly acted in the hearts of his youthful worshipers, and made a big impact on the world! Thousands were witness to a moving act of faith in the snowbound mountains of Pennsylvania. Thousands call this a historic event. When we allow God to work in the midst of a crisis,  history is made and hearts are changed for eternity. This sentiment is echoed in a letter from FUS President Fr. Sean Sheridan TOR.
Most of all, however, I am grateful to our Lord Jesus Christ for the good that came out of our situation—the increased media attention brought to the March for Life, the bus driver with another group of marchers who was healed of a past abortion, the witness of the outdoor Masses celebrated by two parishes—and for the good that we will only see in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead, or only when we enter into our heavenly reward.

Watch this moving video from Holy Spirit Church as the crowd sings Matt Maher's "Lord, How I Need You!"
The lyrics are;

Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You're the One that guides my heart

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

On a personal note
My daughter Bella was one of the 400 students of Franciscan University of Steubenville who were traveling back from the March for Life. These buses  were stuck a few miles down the Turnpike were not as fortunate as the pilgrims from Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin,  and North Dakota,  as their chaplains did not have hosts for Mass. But that did not stop them from praying!! They built and altar anyway and prayed the Rosary Divine Mercy Chaplet, and the Liturgy of the Hours. Attitudes on the bus, according to my 18 year old daughter Bella, were mostly positive. The students shared the snacks they brought and kept each other from despairing.
Parents on the FUS Facebook group shared messages of encouragement,  and Mariely M de G a parent who lives in Steubenville, arranged for subway sandwiches to be delivered to the group. The National Guard brought in pizza, and military meals, and dug them out. The students were very grateful for the assistance they provided and to return home at 7:00 AM Sunday morning after nearly 40 hours on the road (normally a 6 hour trip). They had a special Travelers' Mass offered for them in Christ the King Chapel. Here is a local news story about their safe return from the ordeal.

Renee of New Catholic Generation.com made a video about the entire phenomenon and its impact.

Here are some more great stories about the Turnpike Mass.
Patti Armstrong.com
Archdiocese of Omaha
Omaha.com
JournalStar.com
KTSP Minnesota
The Christian Post
LifeSiteNews
CatholicNewsAgency
TheCatholicSpirit
DeaconGregKandra on his Aleteia Blog
Not to mention Teresa Tomeo and Sheila Liaugminas of Relevant Radio
The New York Times


He couldn’t claim credit for the idea of having Mass: “I was the principal celebrant of the liturgy,” he said, “but credit for the idea, and credit for building the altar, and credit for going around to the various buses inviting people to join them belongs completely to the pilgrims from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, particularly Mr. Bill Dill, their youth minister.”
It was those students from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis who built the snow altar: “Those Minnesotans apparently know how to build stuff out of snow!”
The now famous Mass was a powerful spiritual experience for Fr. Behm and everyone else involved.
“It left me with many impressions, but among them was the fact that Jesus enters into the storm. Jesus comes to us, in the storms of our life, and enters in to be with us. He desires to be with His people, and if we respond to this invitation to let Him in, then the message is profound hope and joy.
- See more at: http://aleteia.org/blogs/deacon-greg-kandra/the-story-behind-the-turnpike-mass-of-snowmageddon-from-the-priest-who-led-it/#sthash.I1ozbkiE.wlkdchCL.dpuf
He couldn’t claim credit for the idea of having Mass: “I was the principal celebrant of the liturgy,” he said, “but credit for the idea, and credit for building the altar, and credit for going around to the various buses inviting people to join them belongs completely to the pilgrims from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, particularly Mr. Bill Dill, their youth minister.”
It was those students from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis who built the snow altar: “Those Minnesotans apparently know how to build stuff out of snow!”
The now famous Mass was a powerful spiritual experience for Fr. Behm and everyone else involved.
“It left me with many impressions, but among them was the fact that Jesus enters into the storm. Jesus comes to us, in the storms of our life, and enters in to be with us. He desires to be with His people, and if we respond to this invitation to let Him in, then the message is profound hope and joy.
- See more at: http://aleteia.org/blogs/deacon-greg-kandra/the-story-behind-the-turnpike-mass-of-snowmageddon-from-the-priest-who-led-it/#sthash.I1ozbkiE.wlkdchCL.dpuf
He couldn’t claim credit for the idea of having Mass: “I was the principal celebrant of the liturgy,” he said, “but credit for the idea, and credit for building the altar, and credit for going around to the various buses inviting people to join them belongs completely to the pilgrims from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, particularly Mr. Bill Dill, their youth minister.”
It was those students from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis who built the snow altar: “Those Minnesotans apparently know how to build stuff out of snow!”
The now famous Mass was a powerful spiritual experience for Fr. Behm and everyone else involved.
“It left me with many impressions, but among them was the fact that Jesus enters into the storm. Jesus comes to us, in the storms of our life, and enters in to be with us. He desires to be with His people, and if we respond to this invitation to let Him in, then the message is profound hope and joy.
- See more at: http://aleteia.org/blogs/deacon-greg-kandra/the-story-behind-the-turnpike-mass-of-snowmageddon-from-the-priest-who-led-it/#sthash.I1ozbkiE.wlkdchCL.dpuf
He couldn’t claim credit for the idea of having Mass: “I was the principal celebrant of the liturgy,” he said, “but credit for the idea, and credit for building the altar, and credit for going around to the various buses inviting people to join them belongs completely to the pilgrims from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, particularly Mr. Bill Dill, their youth minister.”
It was those students from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis who built the snow altar: “Those Minnesotans apparently know how to build stuff out of snow!”
The now famous Mass was a powerful spiritual experience for Fr. Behm and everyone else involved.
“It left me with many impressions, but among them was the fact that Jesus enters into the storm. Jesus comes to us, in the storms of our life, and enters in to be with us. He desires to be with His people, and if we respond to this invitation to let Him in, then the message is profound hope and joy.
- See more at: http://aleteia.org/blogs/deacon-greg-kandra/the-story-behind-the-turnpike-mass-of-snowmageddon-from-the-priest-who-led-it/#sthash.I1ozbkiE.wlkdchCL.dpuf