Restored order of sacraments works best with whole family faith formation

My youngest child, who is nine, was recently confirmed, and then she received her First Holy Communion at the same Mass. She is the first kid in our family who has participated both in the “restored order of sacraments,” and in whole-family faith formation.

Most of my children received their sacraments in the same order as I did: First baptism as babies, then first confession and first Communion at age eight or nine, and then confirmation at about age 15. And my kids have been through possibly every style and program of catechesis available. The best combination I have seen is restored order of sacraments in conjunction with whole-family catechesis.

I understand why there is often resistance to the restored order of sacraments. One of the reasons parishes began to push confirmation back, uncoupled from First Communion and baptism, and made it into a sort of coming-of-age sacrament for teens, is because families would show up when there was a big ceremony, and then disappear again, and never set foot inside a church again until it was time to get married with a pretty backdrop.

And so confirmation turned into a second chance to give some catechesis to kids before they turned 18. It was an opportunity to teach them something beyond a young child’s level of catechesis.

What predictably happened was that some kids would show up for their First Communion, and then disappear for eight years and expect to be confirmed, even though they had been AWOL the whole time. Some parishes began piling on requirements before a person could be confirmed: They had to attend a certain number of classes or years of classes, write letters to the bishop, write essays or design projects, log community service hours, go on overnight retreats, and so on.

The intention was to get the kids actually involved and educated, rather than just going through the motions; it created the impression that confirmation is something that one can earn, like a bonus for working overtime.

All sacraments are free gifts of the Holy Spirit, and not only should we not require people to earn them, there is no way we can earn them. Still, it didn’t seem right to confirm young adults who could barely tell you how many persons of the Trinity there are. A dilemma!

The restored order of sacraments… doesn’t solve this dilemma. But it provides an opportunity for parents to solve it, for their kids and sometimes for themselves…Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

What’s for supper? Vol. 373: Little lamb, who ate thee?

Happy Friday! This week at our house was A DOOZY. Possibly multiple doozies. Luckily, most of it was scheduled dooze, except for both cars having issues (my sliding door stopped closing, and one of Damien’s tires blew out spectacularly, and also his alternator lost its will to alternate) and also Damien has been working on Dora’s car, so, you remember how Damien once added “and cheese” to every item on my shopping list? It was like that, except every day had “and everybody needs a ride” added to it. 

BUT IT IS SPRING. And that counts for so much! We had a big snowstorm last week, but it slowly warmed up over the weekend, and it’s been raining for a few days, so the snow is now mostly gone. 

I tried THREE new recipes this week and a new decorating technique, and Corrie had TWO sacraments, and NO ducks died, although some of them tried to kill each other. I think there is a dead mouse somewhere in the WALLS. And we are having SPAGHETTI for supper. We are all pretty TIRED. But it is spring, for real! 

SATURDAY
Pizza? 

Saturday I did a monstrous shopping because I skipped shopping last week. I feel like there was something else big going on, but I don’t remember what. We had just regular pizza. 

SUNDAY
Banh mi, german chocolate cake 

Sunday we celebrated Lena’s birthday! They had pork belly on sale at Aldi, so I poked around for recipes and decided to try the Crispy Pork Belly Banh Mi from Recipe Tin Eats, because Nagi has never failed to delight, and also because, despite our best efforts, we still had chopped liver in the house.

Before I forget, here is my chopped liver recipe. Chicken livers are cheap and this is an easy recipe. Why not make up a bunch, separate it into servings, and keep some in the freezer in case of banh mi? I think you should. 

So, pork belly is the cut of meat that’s made into bacon. If fat upsets you, you will not like this recipe! But if you are someone who has fond and lavish imaginings of what could possibly be meant by “crispy pork belly,” then I urge you to give this a shot. It was magnificent. And easy! But it did take some planning. 

You have to let the meat dry out in the fridge overnight, or at least several hours. Then you rub the flesh side with oil, kosher salt, white pepper, and Chinese five spice, and make a sort of foil packet to enclose the sides and bottom, so none of the juice will escape while it’s cooking. Then you cook it in a low oven for two hours.

You’re supposed to check it halfway through and tighten up the foil, because it shrinks as it cooks, but I forgot. The pork will have changed shape at this stage, so you level it off by putting balls of tinfoil under the lower side. 

Then you turn the oven way up to 465 and let it brown up for about half an hour, rotating it halfway through and using foil to protect any spots that are browning too fast. You salt it at some point, but I forget when. 

Sooo, here is how it came out:

ooooh. 

Probably could have let it get a little browner, but I really have no regrets.

This particular dish is meant to be cut into chunks, rather than shredded, so I cut it up

and served it on toasted baguettes with mayo, cilantro, pickled carrots, cucumbers, jalapeños, chopped liver (paté) and the wonderful, velvety sauce suggested in the recipe (hoisin sauce, coconut milk, and a little soy sauce), and also some crunchy fried onions from a can. 

Amazing. Pretty different from the banh mi I usually make, which has fish sauce and is a different texture. 

Jump to Recipe

This was sweeter and less bitey but also richer and more complex. An excellent, excellent sandwich, and the sauce was so good. I did make the pickled carrots using her recipe, and I think I prefer mine, which are less sweet,

Jump to Recipe

but it was a negligible difference. 

The pork belly chunks were sublime. The fat layer on top was salty and crackly, and the flesh inside was so juicy and succulent, and it had layers of fat inside that were meltingly tender. No chewiness in any part, and each individual piece of meat was, I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but almost like a layered sandwich in itself. So it was like a sandwich full of little baby sandwiches. Not, uhhhhh, an everyday food, for a variety of reasons. But I enjoyed it so much. 

And I made a cake! I decided to use the Tastes Better From Scratch recipe for German Chocolate Cake. I actually made the two frostings on Saturday, to save time, but then left them sitting on the stove all night by mistake. One has egg in it, and I wasn’t crazy about the texture anyway, so I decided to remake it. Because I was being smart. 

I then proceeded to be very dumb and decided that, when I got to the part of the cake recipe where you add a cup of boiling water to the batter, I would use a metal measuring cup without a handle.

Do you know, boiling water is hot? I didn’t realize this. So I basically tipped a little water in and then shrieked and flung the measuring cup into the moving mixer, with predictable results

So I wiped down every single surface of every single thing that was in the kitchen and then I remade the coconut pecan frosting. I made a double recipe of the cake, and it came out, like so many of us these days, a little too fragile. Also the chocolate frosting was so thick, you couldn’t really spread it, but you could squish it, so that is what I did. So the resulting cake looks a little like someone held it at shoulder level and then dropped it

but everyone assured me it was delicious! You have to agree, this is definitely a lot of cake. I have finally started on Emgality, so who knows, maybe some day I will have chocolate again, and find out for myself. 

MONDAY
Eclipse! 

Monday, if you recall, was the eclipse! We were in the 95% range, and we’ve seen a partial eclipse before; so I decided to excuse the kids from school and hop in the car to see totality. Our goal was St. Johnbury, VT, which is normally about two hours away. It took about 3.5 hours, so I deployed the car DVD player, which is reserved for the longest trips, and we watched Ice Age, which holds up, at least if you’re only listening to it. 

We were thrilled to see clear skies, and it was one of the warmest days of the year so far, so we felt very lucky. Staked out a spot, ate our sandwiches, checked out the craft tables and information booths, and then the moon started to steal across the sun, and then . . . 

I don’t know if you guys realize this, but the sun is what is making us alive, and when it gets covered up, things change DRAMATICALLY and IMMEDIATELY. We went from sweating in the sun to shivering, and the light was . . . not twilight, like when the sun is going down. It also wasn’t “there’s a storm brewin'” light. It was light I have never seen before in my life, and there above me were immense heavenly bodies silently moving themselves in a completely new way. Everybody stood up. People shouted and cried out. I wept. It was quiet and cold. I don’t know what to say.

I did take a few pictures

but of course they aren’t anything like what it was like. Neither, I may say, are the dramatic, high resolution pictures that people have been sharing. If you haven’t seen a total eclipse, it is simply not like anything else

We did bring a colander and use it as a pinhole projector to make the little crescent shapes before totality.

Strange, strange stuff. The whole thing was just so strange. And it was just the sun, and the moon! The sun and the moon, that we already know about and have lived with all these years. If this is how strange the physical world can get, it makes you wonder what other surprises may be in store. Phew. Phew. Quite a day. 

Lots of people turned right around and zipped off to their cars the very second totality was over, but we hung out and kind of caught our breaths, and then headed over to the Fairbanks Museum, which is a strange little natural history museum full of taxidermy and cultural oddities from all over the world. I enjoyed every bit of it, including the document hand written by Robert Louis Stevenson deeding his birthday over to a little local girl who had the misfortune of having been born on Christmas. Sweet man. 

 

Oh, I forgot to mention that just before totality, we saw strange ruby-red gems of light on the bottom edge of the sun. These turned out to be something called Bailey’s Beads, and it is the sunlight leaking out between the crags of the moon just before the moon moves totally over the sun. 

So after the museum, we plunged back into traffic and spent another 3.5 hours getting home. We watched Help on the way back, and Corrie lost a tooth, and we sampled Wendy’s Orange Dreamsicle Frosties (exactly what you’d expect), and then we came home and collapsed. 

TUESDAY
Chicken burgers, chips

Tuesday I was like, wow, I’m not even that tired. I got the kids to school, took one kid to a rather fraught doctor appointment, cleaned out the car for the first time in months because Corrie lost her tooth and then lost it again, and was pretty distraught about it; and then I decided that it was time to do something about the duck house, which was in a truly shocking state. And then I thought I would sit down for a minute, and of course I fell asleep. SO asleep. So ASLEEP. It was such a deep nap, I feel like I’m still waking up several days later. Man. 

So yes, chicken burgers and chips for supper. It was finally warm enough to eat outside, so that is what I did!

WEDNESDAY
Hot dogs, fries

Wednesday was the rehearsal for Corrie’s First Communion and confirmation right around supper time, so I got Elijah to manage supper and we got it done! Wednesday was supposed to be nachos for supper, but I had so many other things to do, we didn’t even have time for that, so hot dogs. 

After dinner, I made a cake for the next day – just a box mix, which are really quite good these days. I made some kind of white cake that uses just egg whites.

THURSDAY
Qeema and rice with minty sour cream and coriander chutney; white cake 

Thursday I just . . . didn’t want to make nachos. I don’t know why. So I went back to Recipe Tin Eats begging for a ground beef recipe, and dear Nagi said I could make qeema. 

I’m telling you, that lady does not miss. I minced up a bunch of garlic and ginger, cooked that a bit, added finely diced onion, cooked it some more, and then added the ground beef along with kosher salt, cayenne pepper, garam masala, cumin, coriander, and turmeric, and browned up the meat. Then you just add some water and simmer it until most of the water evaporates.

And that’s it! I set up some rice in the Instant Pot for Damien to start while I got the kids, and I wanted to make some yogurt sauce, but since I had been planning nachos, I had bought sour cream, and we didnt’t have yogurt. So I defrosted a couple of the mint cubes I had put away last fall

and stirred that in with the sour cream (I froze them with a little olive oil. I also found a bottle of coriander chutney in the cabinet and chopped up some cilantro, and IT WAS ALL DELICIOUS.

Definitely making this meal again. I told the kids it was like Korean Beef Bowl

Jump to Recipe

except Indian, which is sort of true, but also kind of a silly thing to say. It was not spicy, but was absolutely bristling with garlic and ginger, which I love. Just a wonderful, warm, homey taste, and the sauce from the meat soaked right into the rice and made the whole thing savory and good, and so nice with the cool chutney and minty sour cream. Great meal, and really quick (or a great make-ahead meal). 

I also realized that I’m very tired of not really knowing how much meat I actually have (the ground beef was in a ziplock bag from last week, after I divided a giant package and used the first part on areyes. So I got a cheap kitchen scale, and I’m looking forward to seeing if this improves my baking, too, if I can measure dry ingredients by weight rather than volume. Probably not! I think I’m just a mediocre baker, and I’m mostly okay with that. But who knows, maybe this will change everything. Anyway, I’ll know how much meat I have. 

We ate really early and then headed off for Corrie’s confirmation and First Holy Communion! 

Bunch of pictures here. 

It was lovely. Just lovely. Clara was her sponsor, and she chose the name Casilda, who is a saint she learned about from Meg Hunter-Kilmer’s excellent book Saints Around the World. It didn’t ring a bell at the time, but Saint Casilda of Toledo is the subject of this famous painting by Francisco de Zurbaran

which was the reference for a painting by Roméo Mivekannin which we saw in person a few months ago at the Currier Museum in Manchester.

 We do get around. 

For the cake, I often make a stained glass cake for sacrament parties. You cover the cake in royal icing to make a stable surface, let it dry, pipe lines in black, and the carefully fill them in with various jellies whipped up with a little water. This isn’t the greatest example, but it gives the general idea:

I wanted to try something different, so I frosted the cake and then melted some white candy melts and just kind of dabbed them onto parchment paper

When they were dry, I peeled them off and arranged them into a flower. 

I thought it was pretty, if a little rough; but it didn’t really say “Catholic” to me. First I attempted to make crosses out of candy melt. They looked pretty terrible when I cut them out with a knife; and when I tried to use a cookie cutter, they kept breaking when I tried to release them. So I found some gum paste and

behold, it’s THE LITTLE LAMBY OF GOD. 

This is the cutest religious cake I have ever made. Corrie loved it, and I’m happy to have a new way to decorate cakes. I see many possibilities. 

I’ve been on a poem-printing kick lately. I follow several poets and poetry lovers on social media, and the printer has been amazingly obliging lately (= it prints things???), so any time something strikes my fancy, I print it out and stick it to the wall. Here’s The Lamb by William Blake, if you’d like to do the same. When we were at the Fairbanks and I pointed out the Robert Louis Stevenson document to the kids, I reminded them that he was the one who wrote At the Sea-Side (“When I was down beside the sea/A wooden spade they gave to me…”) which is the poem that’s been hanging in the bathroom for several years, and my favorite poem of all time; and one of my kids said, “Oh, I have it memorized. I stare at it every time I take a dump!” So I guess you could say [looks smugly at fingernails] I really know my stuff, parent-wise. 

And now, my friends, all ten of my children have been baptized and confirmed and they’ve all been to confession and received Communion. And they’ve memorized at least one poem. I’m not saying my work is done, but it sure feels like a milestone. 

FRIDAY
Spaghetti? 

I believe we’re having spaghetti. I gotta clean up the kitchen from yesterday (it was Benny’s turn, but we got home so late), and the ducklings are meep-meep-meeping and the dog is whining and I’m still in my pajamas and there are things overdue and there simply isn’t time for it all, but I am so glad for my life. What a life! 

And look at my flowers, which did NOT DIE.

The greens are daffodils and possibly red tulips, I don’t remember. Some of my winter sowing jugs are finally poking out of the dirt. And the buds on my peach tree look fine! We had a freeze and I was rushing around in the dark, draping sheets over things and weeping, as one does, but it looks like everything survived. 

Happy Friday! I’ll pray for yez all at adoration this afternoon. 

 

5 from 1 vote
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Korean Beef Bowl

A very quick and satisfying meal with lots of flavor and only a few ingredients. Serve over rice, with sesame seeds and chopped scallions on the top if you like. You can use garlic powder and powdered ginger, but fresh is better. The proportions are flexible, and you can easily add more of any sauce ingredient at the end of cooking to adjust to your taste.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup brown sugar (or less if you're not crazy about sweetness)
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp red pepper flakes
  • 3-4 inches fresh ginger, minced
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3-4 lb2 ground beef
  • scallions, chopped, for garnish
  • sesame seeds for garnish

Instructions

  1. In a large skillet, cook ground beef, breaking it into bits, until the meat is nearly browned. Drain most of the fat and add the fresh ginger and garlic. Continue cooking until the meat is all cooked.

  2. Add the soy sauce, brown sugar, and red pepper flakes the ground beef and stir to combine. Cook a little longer until everything is hot and saucy.

  3. Serve over rice and garnish with scallions and sesame seeds. 

5 from 1 vote
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Pork banh mi

Ingredients

  • 5-6 lbs Pork loin
  • 1/2 cup fish sauce
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 minced onion
  • 1/2 head garlic, minced or crushed
  • 2 tsp pepper

Veggies and dressing

  • carrots
  • cucumbers
  • vinegar
  • sugar
  • cilantro
  • mayonnaise
  • Sriracha sauce

Instructions

  1. Slice the raw pork as thinly as you can. 

  2. Mix together the fish sauce ingredients and add the meat slices. Seal in a ziplock bag to marinate, as it is horrendously stinky. Marinate several hours or overnight. 

  3. Grill the meat over coals or on a pan under a hot broiler. 

  4. Toast a sliced baguette or other crusty bread. 

5 from 1 vote
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quick-pickled carrots and/or cucumbers for banh mi, bibimbap, ramen, tacos, etc.

An easy way to add tons of bright flavor and crunch to a meal. We pickle carrots and cucumbers most often, but you can also use radishes, red onions, daikon, or any firm vegetable. 

Ingredients

  • 6-7 medium carrots, peeled
  • 1 lb mini cucumbers (or 1 lg cucumber)

For the brine (make double if pickling both carrots and cukes)

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar (other vinegars will also work; you'll just get a slightly different flavor)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Mix brine ingredients together until salt and sugar are dissolved. 

  2. Slice or julienne the vegetables. The thinner they are, the more flavor they pick up, but the more quickly they will go soft, so decide how soon you are going to eat them and cut accordingly!

    Add them to the brine so they are submerged.

  3. Cover and let sit for a few hours or overnight or longer. Refrigerate if you're going to leave them overnight or longer.

What’s it like to be a non-Catholic married to a Catholic?

When Laura Frese was three days postpartum, she had to take her newborn back into the hospital to be treated for jaundice. They had been home for only 12 hours, and it was right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, before vaccinations, and she had to leave her other two children behind with no family to help. At the hospital, she just couldn’t get herself out of the car.

“I’ve seen my wife cry all of three times,” said her husband, Bradford. This was one of those times. Laura was simply overwhelmed.

So Bradford held her hand and started saying Hail Marys. This comforted her and helped her compose and center herself, and she found the strength to drag herself back through that hospital door.

Not an extraordinary story, perhaps, except that Bradford Frese is an atheist. He does not believe in God or intercessory prayer. But he does love his wife.

“I tried to find some way to comfort her in that moment that was specific to her, and not just what I thought. Not telling her what I needed her to hear, but to understand what might bring her strength in that moment,” said Mr. Frese.

He has noticed that prayer is good for his kids, too. It calms them down, helps them regulate their breathing, and aids in teaching them to hold themselves to high moral standards. He believes it has empirical benefits, if not precisely the ones religious people believe in.

The Freses, who live in Washington, D.C., are part of a growing trend in the United States. In the 1950s, only 5 percent of marriages in the United States were between Christians and religiously unaffiliated people, and fewer than 20 percent were between people in different religious groups, according to a 2015 Pew study. But things have changed. At the time of the study, the share of spouses in different religious groups had climbed to 39 percent, and 18 percent of marriages were between a Christian and a “none.”

Such marriages may be more common than they once were, but they are by no means easy. It might feel, in the first, heady days of a couple’s relationship, like love can smooth over any differences, including those between a believer and a non-believer. In reality, there must be open communication, clarity, flexibility and probably compromise on both sides. How to raise children is a frequent point of contention, and so are matters of sexual ethics. As Catholics, it can be illuminating to understand better how these matters land “on the other side”—how it feels to be the non-Catholic married to a Catholic.

No Longer “Doomed”

Religious leaders used to warn that such marriages were “doomed, absolutely doomed,” said Dale McGowan, author of In Faith and In Doubt and several other books on raising kids without religion. “The fact is, that’s less often borne out than it once was.”

As these marriages have become more common, the warnings surrounding them have become less dire—and with good cause. The risks of marrying outside one’s faith are much more intense when such partnerships cause a rift with your familiar social, political and religious communities. But today, the average American moves 11 times, and the insulated, isolated, homogeneous communities of the past are now rare and fragile. We simply encounter more different people than we used to.

“The culture itself has adapted to the idea of being exposed to different influences,” Mr. McGowan said. And that goes both for the believer and for the non-believer in the mixed-belief couple.

In Mr. Frese’s case, growing up in a religiously diverse private high school in Albuquerque, N.M., helped him to respect people with differing beliefs from a young age. Mormons, Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, atheists and agnostics all mixed together and spoke freely about their beliefs and disagreements, in and out of class. He absorbed the idea that diversity is desirable. He could also see that children who took their religion seriously tended to be kind, and that made a good impression on him.

“It was a big deal in their personal lives, and it motivated them, but it wasn’t a divisive factor,” he said. Still, religious practice didn’t draw him personally. “I’m cut off from this way of thinking. It’s not something I’ve ever been motivated to do or to think about,” he said.

Mr. Frese was obliged to think about religion several years into his marriage when his wife, a nominal Catholic when they met, started diving deeper into her faith. They had been married in a vineyard, and for the first few years, she went to Mass only sporadically. But her parish priest encouraged them to get married in the church. Ms. Frese liked the idea, so Mr. Frese agreed, and shortly after the birth of their second child, they had a ceremony in the church with family and friends. She began to be more involved in her faith and in parish life.

The birth of a child is one of three major life events, after the engagement and the marriage itself, that Mr. McGowan calls a “landmark” that “really brings out the issues” in a marriage between a believer and a nonbeliever.

Mr. McGowan said it is vital for a couple to talk about expectations ahead of time, so that no one ends up feeling duped. And he says when shifts in belief do occur, both parties should strive to be as flexible and open to other points of view as possible.

Mr. Frese and his wife did have open discussions about family size before they were married and decided it made sense to have two children, and that a girl and a boy would be ideal. If they had two children of the same sex, perhaps they would try for a third or even adopt (Laura is an adoptee herself).

They had a boy and a girl.

“I was like, ‘Great, I’m gonna have a vasectomy,’” Mr. Frese said.

He was shocked when his wife asked him to wait, because she might want a third child ….
Read the rest of my feature story in America Magazine

On lace, and loss

So there I was, scrolling through Amazon to find a dress suitable for my daughter to receive the body and blood of Christ in.

Because of The Thing We Are All Tired of Talking About, her First Communion was delayed a year, and I suddenly realised the lovely, very suitable dress all her older sisters had worn won’t fit her. With little time to spare, we started online shopping.

“Let’s see if we can find something a little bit old fashioned, you know what I mean?” I suggested gently.

I have seen some of the monstrosities out there: First communion dresses that look like slinky club wear; first communion dresses that look like not even wedding dresses, but wedding cakes, bristling with ruffles and petticoats and little sprays and fountains of fabric.

I wanted my child to wear something pretty and special, but also tasteful and maybe even demure. Something that would signal to her that it was a significant occasion, but not something that would make her the center of attention, because that honor ought to belong to Jesus.

Forty minutes later, I said, “LOOK, THIS ONE HAS A DETACHABLE CAPE WITH RHINESTONES AND BUTTERFLIES ON IT AND IT’S IN YOUR SIZE, OKAY?!”

We didn’t buy that one. We did buy one with butterflies and sequins on it, though. It’s not demure or tasteful, but she loves it to death, and as long as the Chinese factory doesn’t screw up the order, it should arrive on time. And that’s that.

This is what happens, more and more. I still have standards, but I give them up so easily. I let go of the things that once seemed to matter so much, and it barely makes a ripple in my conscience.

It’s not just the strain of trying to shop with one particular kid; it’s the cumulative strain, the decades-long piling-up of aggravation and compromise and defeat and loss that wears you down, until suddenly you realize that the things you were super hung up on are only as important as so many rhinestone butterflies fluttering on the cape on a nine-year-old’s shoulders, and the only thing you should truly be pursuing is the sweet, sweet relief of being done with a task so you can get back to the things that really matter, such as going to bed.

Is this wisdom, or is it giving up? I truly do not know. If you wanted to illustrate my mid-40’s, you’d just have to draw a fist letting go, over and over and over again.

So many things being let go, if not forcibly removed from my grasp: Trivial things, and heavy things, silly things, precious things. Things that felt vital and irreplaceable for decades, only to reveal themselves as disposable, and not worth replacing.

I hope I’m not the first one to break this to you, but life is very fleeting and full of loss, and if you deal with its fleetness by grabbing on and trying to hold it back, you’ll just end up hurting yourself. Better to relax into the speed.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image by liyinglace via Flickr (Creative Commons)