Guerrilla Marketing & Christian Compliance

There is no love without sacrifice. But in a political system, sacrifice without love becomes a distorted perversion of the sacred, used by the few to control the many. We may not promote the common good to the detriment of human dignity.

“The path to happiness was self-sacrifice and suppression of the individual for the good of the collective.”— Barbara Demick in her book, Nothing to Envy, speaking to the propaganda of North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-il

A few years ago I read a book called Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick, a journalist who chronicled in minute detail the day-to-day lives of six North Korean citizens who eventually escaped communism and defected to find freedom in South Korea. It wasn’t so much the challenging lives these characters led that caught my eye — although they did — but rather the never-ending state-led propaganda (i.e. Marketing) that accosted North Korean citizens on a daily basis.

North Koreans have no access to outside media. They enjoy only state-run media, state-run entertainment and state-run news. Subjects in this book commented about how controlled was the narrative on any given subject, and through any given medium. North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-il, believed that movies, for example, were critical for instilling loyalty to his regime. He believed that “revolutionary art and literature are extremely effective means for inspiring people to work for the tasks of the revolution.” Under his direction, film was used to that end. Demick explains that movie themes always ran along the following lines: “The path to happiness was self-sacrifice and suppression of the individual for the good of the collective.” In communist North Korea, pretty much every message from every outlet served to promote this message. Whatever the medium, the regime sought always to increase love for Kim and allegiance to whatever the state determined was in the interest of “the common good.” 

Enter the United States, 2020-2021. 

What we’ve been watching in the United States over the past year can be likened to tactics used in North Korea. Those in the marketing business call it Guerrilla Marketing. Yes, the term is derived from Guerrilla Warfare. When you think Guerrilla Marketing, think ambush, attack, sabotage, only think in terms of ad campaigns. Often guerrilla marketing campaigns use a variety of techniques to attract attention and action, “attacking” the would-be consumer from all angles, and employing most often an attempt to connect emotionally with clients, a tactic which exponentially increases the likelihood of buy-in or acceptance. When marketing shuts down debate and is completely one-sided, at times even misleading, it is called propaganda. When you combine guerrilla marketing with propaganda, you have a dangerous, if effective, combination. 

Mask Matters

If you paid any attention to the promotion of masks, you noticed guerrilla marketing style tactics used again and again. Mask mania was everywhere (and it continues). It seemed all of Hollywood joined the bandwagon to encourage the wearing of masks, from Wonder Woman to Harry Potter, from Kathryn Bigelow to Morgan Freeman and Paul Rudd. Matthew McConaughey even made a PSA about how to make your own mask in a pinch. In addition to PSAs, there were signs everywhere. Posters in stores, ads on social media, billboards — even digital billboards — shouting boldly above our nation’s highways.  With the cooperation of virtually every available outlet as well as industry and government, this was guerrilla marketing at its finest. 

Please note that not one of these ads provided “science” to help educate the public. They may have used the words, “Listen to the Science,” but not one of them provided any data for us to examine. There was nothing for us to consider, to evaluate. No reason to engage our “reason.” Instead, each and every one of these ads sought an emotional response. Each pointed to a “responsibility” toward our fellow man. Some were inspirational, some were guilt-ridden, and some even employed bullying techniques intended to isolate those who may have been tempted to opt out.

One of the most blatant bullying offenders was CNNs, This is a Mask PSA. While showing dozens of masks in all shapes, sizes and colors, the ad had only one line:

“ A mask can say a lot about the person who wears it; but even more about the person who doesn’t.” 

– CNN’s PSA: This is a Mask

The last mask featured in the ad, just before the narrator ends this sentence, says “Greater Good.” 

 Not surprisingly, the pressure worked. According to a National Geographic survey, by October 2020, 92% of people surveyed said they wore a mask when leaving home. Never mind that cases went up shortly after that survey. Never mind that states that did not mandate masks appear to have lower transmission rates than those who went all-out on mandates. Never mind that until last year, every study ever done regarding masks and respiratory spread found no evidence that masks actually stopped transmission. Never mind a recent study in China that followed 300 people who were Covid-positive but asymptomatic and found that of the more than 1100 people they contact-traced through these cases, not one of them ended up testing positive though that contact. The bottom line is that the science is not final regarding masks. In fact, if actual studies (as opposed to anecdotal stories) lean in any direction at all, it is against their effectiveness.

But no matter. The marketing was never about facts. It was all about emotion. It was about self-sacrifice. It was about social responsibility.

Vaccine Valor

In case you haven’t noticed, the same type of campaign is now in full swing for the Covid-19 vaccine. Again. No science. No facts. Just emotion. And this time, they’ve added incentives.

State and local governments are pushing, military is promoting,  news outlets are advocating. Health care workers have produced entertaining PSAs, celebrities like Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton have written songs they hope will sway us. Other celebrities have been posing for pictures as they receive their vaccines – and then posting them all over social media. All four living ex-presidents participated in a PSA promoting the vaccine. There is also a giant collaborative campaign between corporations, media companies and faith communities to “educate” people about the vaccine. (Note their campaign is called “It’s up to You,” clearly implying that the future hangs in the balance unless we get the vaccine.) Priests and preachers from coast to coast are “preaching the gospel of the Covid-19 vaccine.” Even Pope Francis has suggested that people have a “moral obligation” to take it.  In an interview, he stated, “It’s a moral choice because it is about your life but also the lives of others.” 

And if all the ads and the social pressure don’t work, there are other campaigns to reward us with perks, if only we’ll be “good” citizens. And on the flip-side, they’re willing to punish us if we won’t (think China’s appalling, ‘social credit score”).

Again – science? There’s no need for science when you have the government, every media outlet and the entertainment industry all promoting your product. Unlike those of other vaccines, this promotion has dispensed with the idea of a rational, thought-provoking discussion between me and my doctor about pros and cons of the vaccine and risk vs. reward for my family. This is more akin to Nike’s Just Do It campaign.

Everywhere we look, they are playing on our emotions. And now, we have — as we did with the masks —  a PR campaign telling us that our getting the vaccine is a sacrifice that we should be willing to make for the common good. Don’t ask how a medication that is injected into MY body is going to help you. Don’t ask why my getting the vaccine should matter if you have it and are protected.

Just don’t ask questions. It’s not about facts. It’s about emotion. It’s about our being willing to sacrifice for “the common good.” 

The Cross Without Christ – Recipe for Disaster

All this pressure to self-sacrifice? It sounds great. Really it does. Especially if you don’t listen too closely. If you don’t analyze. But in fact, these campaigns are very deceptive. 

This obligation to our fellow man is very similar to what they promote in North Korea (and China, and Cuba and Venezuela, etc.). But sadly, when Christianity becomes all about humanitarianism, it ceases to be about the salvation of souls. There is grave danger in that idea. It is a danger that seeks to separate God from the equation by dispensing with the spiritual in favor of the material. This is what Archbishop Fulton Sheen called A Cross Without Christ. 

A pursuit of the “common good” is something the Catholic Church has always promoted. But these words have become twisted in the public square. They have been used as a tool for manipulation, so much so that the words have become a lie that serves to distract Christians from what is most important. This lie feeds on our compassionate nature, our ordained call to serve, to love our neighbor, and to ensure that justice is accomplished for those most in need. But in fact, to the extent that this pressure to comply is forcefully applied, it can undermine our compassion, inhibit our service, remove the natural relationship we have with our neighbor and destroy the very outcome of justice it professes to serve. 

Christ gave us two great Commandments. The First is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind…and a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). Our love for neighbor stems directly from our love for God. It should speak always to the dignity of every human person. Love of neighbor should recognize that each soul is made in the image and likeness of God, equipped with both reason and free will. These are two characteristics that separate us from animals. And yet we are being asked to set both aside, to pay homage to the Gospel of Covid-19. 

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,

God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. “God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel,’ so that he might, of his own accord, seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to Him. (GS 17; Sir 15:14).” (CCC 1730)

In Life of Christ, Archbishop Sheen addresses the danger inherent in any approach that neglects those important truths:

Communism has chosen the Cross in the sense that it has brought back to an egotistic world a sense of discipline, self-abnegation, surrender, hard work, study, and dedication to supra-individual goals. But the Cross without Christ is a sacrifice without love. Hence, Communism has produced a society that is authoritarian, cruel, oppressive of human freedom, filled with concentration camps, firing squads, and brain-washings. — Life of Christ, p. xxv.

Cleaving to God is the path whereby we can obtain the grace that allows us to love enough to sacrifice our own wants, our own needs, our own desires for the good of another. 

There is no love without sacrifice. But in a political system, sacrifice without love becomes a distorted perversion of the sacred, used by the few to control the many. As Christians, we may not promote the common good to the detriment of human dignity.

This flagrant and no-holds-barred use of guerrilla marketing and manipulation to pressure us to act is an affront to our dignity as human persons. The social pressure to conform is akin to campaigns history has shown to cause the most dangerous form of division and isolation. This kind of pressure should be intolerable to all. If vaccines and masks are for the betterment of society, open the gates to allow a fruitful and meaningful discussion. One that celebrates actual science, bans propaganda and respects the need for each and every one of us to resort to both our God-given ability to reason and to our own free will in order to make appropriate decisions regarding our health and the health of our families. 

(Thanks for reading my post! If you liked it, please check out my new book, The Lost Art of Sacrifice, published by Sophia Institute Press!)

The Family and The Mystical Body of Christ

Some days I feel like the entire day is spent encouraging, lecturing, threatening, and punishing kids into applying the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you…When you think about it, families can be composed of individuals who would never choose to live in the same hemisphere, much less in the same home!

I struggle as a Mom. Some days I feel like the entire day is spent encouraging, lecturing, threatening, and punishing kids into applying the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Knowing my goal is not tyrannical subjugation, but rather a “disposition of reciprocal openness and autonomy together,” I’ve tried every analogy under the sun. The one I use most frequently is that as a family, we are all part of the same team (our younger kids have been around team sports a lot more than they’ve studied anatomy). As a team, we celebrate each other’s victories, because, well, they are victories for all of us. And we mourn each other’s losses because, well, they are our losses too. And most importantly, we build up, we do not tear down. When we build one another up, we are building up the entire team. When we tear down, we are harming the entire team (i.e. the family).

At times, this is easier said than done, given the wide variety of personalities in our home. But apparently, our home is not alone in this struggle. G.K. Chesterton once said,

“The best way that a man could test his readiness to encounter the common variety of mankind would be to climb down a chimney into any house at random, and get on as well as possible with the people inside. And that is essentially what each of us did on the day that he was born.

This is, indeed, the sublime and special romance of the family. It is romantic because it is a toss-up.” – Brave New Family, p. 43

Of course that’s true. For when you think about it, families can be composed of individuals who would never choose to live in the same hemisphere, much less in the same home! In The Birth Order Book, Kevin Leman says that if a family is a tree, the children are the branches – and of course, branches grow in all different directions. In fact, Leman says,

“One of the best predictions in life is that whatever the firstborn in a family is, the second born in the family will go in a different (and oftentimes opposite) direction.”

What better soil for the organic development of a healthy and robust Body of Christ? For growing in consideration, patience and selfless love?

Of course, if our family is any indication, sometimes I don’t have much hope for the rest of world. In those moments I’m mediating until my tongue is in knots, or separating a couple of rowdy kids because I fear the damage resulting from being together will out-do the damage caused by being apart. In those moments, I question God’s grand plan for the sanctity of the world. In those moments I would give anything just to walk away from the awesome responsibility of raising saints.

But there are others. There are moments — thankfully, many moments —  that give me hope. Those moments can only be described as sacred portrayals of God’s Holy Will for all of mankind. When one notices a slight, and goes out of her way to offer comfort and support. When another takes his siblings out for dessert in a restaurant, just because. When one repents harmful behavior and seeks forgiveness; but even more, reconciliation, and there is mercy and acceptance and…love. When they help each other with schoolwork, do a chore without being asked. Write a note. Draw a picture. Say a prayer for a family member. These are moments that offer hope for the future. There are moments of heaven in family life – when all the struggles, sacrifices and suffering have their reward.

Even more importantly, in those moments, our family is a family. It is in those moments what God intended it to be. We are one body, united in the Holy Spirit, pouring ourselves out for one another in love.

If we can become one body within the confines of our own homes, beginning in the confines of our own hearts, than there is hope that we can be one unified body in our communities, in our states, in our country, and throughout the world. And that hope is necessary. Because when I watch the news, read the paper or browse through social media, I see a diseased body, contorted and vulgar in disparagement and hatred, inflicting violence against herself. There is no discourse. There are only cancerous walls full of anger and hatred and inexplicable disdain.

I cannot change the world. I cannot heal the Body of Christ. But I can pour my heart and soul into our own little domestic church, calling upon the Holy Spirit to strengthen the cells of this microcosm of Christ’s Body within our home. By God’s grace, perhaps one day our children might be sent out into the greater Body of Christ, full of strength, probiotic in nature, resilient and immune to the cancers of hate and selfishness.  I can keep grasping at those little moments of hope I am privileged to witness every now and then, as my husband and I do our best to infuse our home with the love of Christ, knowing that the infusion is our path to sanctity. Over time, we are bound to witness an increase in the  reciprocal openness and autonomy together, that simultaneous intimacy and dignity which comes from the Holy Ghost. 

In the end, whatever struggles we endure and whatever sacrifice is necessary, we must persevere. For the family is the only hope for the world, particularly as it applies to the mystical body.  As Saint John Paul II said in a 1986 homily,

The family is the “first and vital cell of society”. In its own way it is a living image and historical representation of the mystery of the Church. The future of the world and of the Church, therefore, passes through the family.


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Art: The Happy Family by Jean Honoré Fragonard, c. 1775


The Sorrows of Motherhood

In this, the month devoted to the Seven Sorrows of Mary, it seemed fitting to examine the sorrows inherent in motherhood. Let’s begin with a quote by Saint Pope John XXIII in his Journal of a Soul. It is a little long, but hang on – I think you’ll find his message to be profound: 

During this retreat, the Lord has been pleased to show me yet again all the importance for me, and for the success of my priestly ministry, of the spirit of sacrifice, which I desire shall from now on evermore inspire my conduct ‘as a servant and prisoner of Jesus Christ.’ And also I want all  the undertakings in which I shall take part during this present year to be done in this spirit, in so far as I have a share in them; all are to be done for the Lord and in the Lord: plenty of enthusiasm but no anxiety about their greater success. I will do them as if everything depended on me but as if I myself counted for nothing, without the slightest attachment to them, ready to destroy or abandon them at a sign from those to whom I owe a obedience.

O blessed Jesus, what I am proposing to do is hard and I feel weak, because I am full of self love, but the will is there and comes from my heart. Help me! Help me!

The keen sense of my own nothingness must ripen and perfect in me the spirit of kindness, great kindness, making me patient and forbearing with others in the way I judge and treat them. Although I am only just 30 years old, I begin to feel some wear and tear on the nerves. This will not do. When I feel irritable I must think of my own worthlessness and of my duty to understand and sympathize with everyone, without passing harsh judgments. This will help me to keep calm.

The work I am doing now requires great delicacy and prudence as it frequently means dealing with women. I intend therefore that my behavior shall always be kind, modest and dignified so as to divert attention from my own person and give a richer spiritual quality to my work. Past experience is an encouragement for the future. Here again, if I think poorly of myself and distrust my own powers and raise my thoughts constantly to Jesus, returning to his embrace as soon as I have ended my task, it will be a great protection. It would be dangerous if in this work I were to presume on my own powers for a single moment. – Journal of a Soul, page 179 – 180.

If we changed PRIEST to MOTHER and 30 years to _____ years old, John XXIII could have been reading about the vocation of motherhood. Allow me to walk you through the passage.

The Lord has been pleased to show me yet again all the importance for me and for the success of my [motherly] ministry, of the spirit of sacrifice, which I desire shall from now on evermore inspire my conduct ‘as a servant and prisoner of Jesus Christ.’ The joys of motherhood are often discussed. But the difficulties, not so much. Perhaps you’ve never thought about it, but motherhood is actually a cross. Despite all its joys, there is a very painful aspect to our vocation. Whether concerned about a child’s character, sufferings, future decisions, safety or any number of other issues, our hearts can become overwhelmed with a love so powerful that it would be better expressed as excruciating sorrow. At times, the responsibility of a mother to lead her children to heaven is too daunting to comprehend.

Until recently, I never paid much attention to the Seven sorrows of Mary, but I’ve been reading about them lately. Mary was such a powerful example of Paul’s instruction in Roman’s 12:1, “… Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Each day we must we willing to crawl back up on that altar, regardless of the cost. It can be a challenge, but we must continue to persevere in faith.

And also… all the undertakings… are to be done for the Lord and in the Lord:  Plenty of enthusiasm but no anxiety about their greater success. I will do them as if everything depended on me but as if I myself counted for nothing…  This is the greatest challenge of all. We all know of parents who have done their best to raise their children to become saints, praying and sacrificing daily for them; but their children still left the faith, lived in sin, and tormented their parents with their decisions. This is devastating to witness and causes considerable anxiety for countless mothers who, in general, would claim to be devout in their Faith. Is it possible that we’ve learned to trust God with everything but the salvation of our children? More than anything, we must let go of our own pride and know that whatever happens, Ours is a God who answers prayer, and that He will lead our children Home.

O blessed Jesus, what I am proposing to do is hard and I feel weak, because I am full of self-love, but the will is there and comes from the heart. Help me! Help me! We can only carry on from day-to-day by the sheer grace of God, because when we presume to act on our own, it is disastrous, as noted by Pope John XXIII. 

Most of us would like to say that the keen sense of my own nothingness [has ripened] and [perfected] in me the spirit of kindness, great kindness, making me patient and forbearing with others in the way I judge and treat them, but if you’re anything like me, more often than not it only causes you to question everything you do as a mother. Like many parents, my husband and I have some children who, although they are certainly not perfect, tend to be kind, gentle, patient, compassionate, diligent and full of faith. And we have others who, while good at heart, insist on rocking the boat and questioning virtually everything we say. Because of the friction that parent/child relationships inevitably bring from time to time, I’ve taken to frequently questioning myself. Have I not been kind enough? Strict enough? Loving enough? Available enough? Am I too matter of fact? Or too wishy-washy? Am I to harsh? Or to meek? Sadly, while we often turn to The Lord in desperation, in reality, we tend to lean too hard on our own understanding. Why else would we be so unsure of ourselves? Trust more than anything will result in a foundation of peace that enables patience and kindness to bloom.

The work I am doing now requires great delicacy and prudence as it frequently means dealing with [children]. I intend therefore that my behavior shall always be kind, modest and dignified so as to divert attention from my own person and give a richer spiritual quality to my work. Recently I read the biography of Saint Monica, who suffered for many years as she begged God to lead her son back to Him. I found Monica’s story one that offers much in the way of hope and perspective. Unfortunately, most of us are not living saints. When dealing with our children, too often kindness and dignity go out the window when everyone needs mom and the chores all need to be done. There is a solution. We must take time out to strengthen our relationship with God. We must, must, MUST pursue holiness for ourselves. That intimate relationship with Our Lord will establish a profoundly spiritual dimension to our vocation and will enable us to approach our children with the delicacy and prudence necessary for long term success.

Here again, if I think poorly of myself and distrust my own powers and raise my thoughts constantly to Jesus, returning to his embrace as soon as I have ended my task, it will be a great protection. When my oldest was five years old, I remember sobbing through a rosary, begging Mary to lead my children to her son in spite of me. Being aware of our lack of power is usually not the problem; hopefully that knowledge helps us to spend more time on our knees. All failings aside, we must remember that it is by God’s grace alone that our children will grow to know love and serve Him, and it must be our daily prayer that, like Saint Joseph, one day in the not-so-distant future each and every one of them will die in the arms of Jesus and Mary.

Obedience – Loving Oblation or Outmoded Virtue from a Bygone Era?

To a mother, obedience has to be the most lovely concept in the world.  

You can have all the beautifully made breakfasts-in-bed, the meticulously prepared artwork that that says, “I love Mom,” in every conceivable medium from crayons to macaroni; you can have all the dedicated essays, all the sincere apologies offered after the fact; you can even have all the hugs and kisses (OK, maybe that’s taking it a little too far).

But on any given day, show me six children (nix that – just show me three teenagers) who, when asked to do something – anything – will each stand up and do it the first time out of love and respect for their mother, without being asked twice, and without a question, excuse or argument as to why x, y or z cannot or should not be done – or even why it has not yet been done – by said child.  

Throw in a Yes Ma’am (or two, or three), and my joy will flow to the ends of the earth. 

But I wonder, do you think God feels that way sometimes? About US?  

Does He look down on me as I kneel in my room beneath the prayer table/dresser, complete with the beautiful Immaculate and Sacred Heart pictures, candle and rosary case and think, “Yeah, yeah, yeah – I see all your efforts and I really appreciate them; I do –  the altars dedicated in My name, the sacrifices offered for love of me, all the prayers and the this and the that – but you know, if you would just OBEY me once, without question, argument or excuse, then maybe we would get somewhere!!!”  

Or, when I do obey does he shake his head and think, “Just once could you obey because you LOVE Me and not because you’re afraid of what I might do to you if you don’t?!”

No doubt that thought goes through His head a lot when He looks down on me from heaven. Most likely while I’m busy patting myself on the back for doing good!

St. Peter of Alcantara once said, Obedience is the most grateful oblation to God, wherein man offers himself for a sacrifice.

I have to be honest.  When I first read this quote, I took issue with the notion that obedience is a sacrifice. I thought maybe St. Peter had something wrong. Because personally, I’ve always been pretty good at the obedience part.  But I’m terrible at sacrifice.  Naturally, I wondered how it could be that in obedience I sacrifice, while I struggle everywhere else. Something didn’t add up. 

And then it occurred to me.  

Sacrifice is born of love.  But often I obey out of fear.  

While there was a time that I questioned the existence of God, for much of my childhood I remember believing that, even when no one was around, someone was watching.  But that wariness about the presence of some other person, whom I assumed was God, was not couched in love.  It was shrouded in fear.  Fear that I would be punished for my behavior.  Fear of being smited by God.  

Sadly, not much has changed since I was five years old.  While I’d love to say that I “behave” myself out of love, that I want to please God and make him proud of my best little efforts down here on earth; the truth is that I fear his disdain more than I seek his pleasure.  

And that mindset is not limited to my spiritual life.  Truth be told I break down in a torrent of tears if I’m ever stopped for speeding, because I fear being judged a bad citizen. A lawbreaker.  In the presence of a police officer (or any other authority figure), I was taught to stand straight, say “yes sir/ma’am” and do whatever I’m told.

Fear isn’t the best reason for obedience. But it works.  According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, imperfect contrition is still contrition (CCC 1453).  Doesn’t it follow that imperfect obedience is still obedience? 

Whatever the motivation, it seems that often in our world today, obedience takes a back seat to autonomy.  Disregard for authority is not only growing among certain circles, but is encouraged by elements of the press, the establishment and the macrocosm of social media outlets; young people today are being particularly influenced by this mindset.

Just turn on the TV and you are bound to see another cop harassed or even killed for doing his job.  Or you’ll hear about the spiking crime rate in the inner cities.  These days a healthy fear of authority (also termed “respect for authority”) is virtually discouraged and authority figures are presumed to be in the wrong in a confrontation unless they can prove otherwise.

We live in a culture where love does not provide much motivation for obedience, because the greatest example of love we witness in the modern world is a love of SELF.  This serves as yet another consequence of secular society – driving God out of the public square left a vacuum that has been filled with SELF-reverence.  I am the captain of my ship; the lord of my castle; the master of my destiny. 

What room does that mindset leave for authority?  

Additionally, while a fear of worldly consequences may provide a slight deterrent (and the jury is out on that one), there is no longer a widespread fear of eternal punishment.  

Those with little or no faith refuse to recognize the authority of God.  As a country, we are paying the price. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough resources in the world to control people who fail to use self-control.  If the system is the only thing standing between me and what I want, I might just go for it, hoping I won’t be caught.  

Within this framework, our Constitutional Republic cannot possibly sustain itself.  

In the 1830s, a Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville traveled extensively through the United States, meticulously recording his observations about the success of this great American Experiment.  

He concluded that our democracy worked well specifically because individuals were governed by their religious values, and that these values were an inimitable contributor to our nation’s success:

I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors…; in her fertile fields and boundless forests; in her rich mines and vast world commerce; in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and in her matchless Constitution.

Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power.

America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.

Both love of country and fear of authority are on the decline in our country; unless we stem the tide, matters will only get worse as time goes on.  

Obedience for love of God or love of country are good.  Certainly a sacrifice of self. While obedience out of fear is also productive, unless we are governed by a fear of God, there is not a police force large enough or powerful enough to control us.  Not to mention the fact that a police state cannot be imposed upon a free republic.  Rule of law in a free society cannot be enforced with tyranny.  It must be freely adhered to by a people that recognizes that this world is not our true home.  

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Artwork: Photograph of unidentified girl in dress holding an American flag and ball; between 1860 and 1870

When Duty Calls…

This past year may provide many a topic for discussion, as it’s been frought with lessons for me on the meaning of sacrifice, and on the fruit that it can procure within a marriage, within a family.

Almost three years ago I felt called to begin this blog in effort to highlight the profound beauty and sanctifying power inherent in the virtue of sacrifice. I was able to enjoy writing as a means of serving the Body of Christ because my husband was both employed and at times available to help around the house and we were able to make ends meet as a (mostly) one-income family.

In June 2017, my husband’s company dissolved and he was faced with finding a new means of supporting us. After much prayer and discernment, we decided to embark on a path of self-employment, with my husband — who has a Masters in Business and 20 years of corporate experience —  doing a complete 180 and opening a handyman business, where he’s been able to serve others through the many gifts and the strong work ethic he developed while growing up on his family’s dairy farm.

Not long after the establishment of his business, it became very apparent that a small business is by necessity a family business. In addition to the hands-on “service” part, there was scheduling and bookkeeping; there were errands to run and budgets to manage. While my husband worked long hours, my time and energy were in demand as well. In addition to homeschooling our kids and managing the household, I found myself learning new software programs, finding my way around home improvement stores for necessary supplies, organizing receipts and paperwork, befriending new accountants, dealing with regulations, licenses and more. Much more.

Needless to say, writing has taken a backseat to the needs of our family. Due to the general feeling of being stretched beyond our limits at home, I made the difficult decision to leave at the end of 2017, after having moderated their spiritual reading book club for over six years, and also after having published my first book in early 2017 – on spiritual reading – as a result of my wonderful experience there. In April of 2018, I wrote my last post for until now. I realize I never mentioned a peep about any of this to you. Frankly, I kept thinking that any moment, I would be able to return to blogging, so I didn’t feel the need to make an announcement. Before long, one month became two months, and then two became three, and so on. The rest is history.

To all my readers, I apologize for my absence. I have no doubt you understand that my vocation as a wife and mother comes before my desire to “promote” the virtue of sacrifice. But I have missed you. To be honest, this past year may provide many a topic for discussion, as it’s been frought with lessons for me on the meaning of sacrifice, and on the fruit that it can procure within a marriage, within a family. 

No doubt I have been chomping at the bit to return to writing more than you’ve been aching to read what I have to say (There is SO much going on in the world that I hope we can discuss!!!); but regardless, I am happy to be back. For now. I certainly cannot promise that I’ll be consistent, but when I can, I promise to do my best to provide content that is meaningful and hopefully helpful as together we continue on this journey of sacrifice and faithful love, toward our true home, which was won for us by the same.

Sacrifice in the News: Real Love Faces Obstacles – Here’s How One Couple Faces Them

Doctors Told Him to Check His Wife into a Nursing Home; Instead, He Wheeled Her Around the World.


Doctors Told Him to Check His Wife into a Nursing Home; Instead, He Wheeled Her Around the World*


Donna and Andy Fierlit








Has Your Child Left the Church? You are not Alone, but Elisabeth Leseur Can Help

In a recent homily, our parish priest discussed the staggering fact that 80 percent of baptized young people are leaving the Faith before they are 25 years old.

In a recent homily, our parish priest discussed the staggering fact that 80 percent of baptized young people are leaving the Faith before they are 25 years old. He was sharing the findings of a newly published study conducted by St. Mary’s Press, in conjunction with Georgetown University. The report —  Going, Going, Gone! The Dynamics of Disaffiliation in Young Catholics — discusses the self-reported reasons Millennials give for leaving the Church. Our pastor mentioned three:
  1. They do not believe in God
  2. The Church is full of Hypocrites.
  3. What the Church has to say about morality (particularly sexual morality) is diametrically opposed to what the culture is teaching Millennials.
Elisabeth intuitively recognized and understood each of these reasons, and sought to eradicate them through the only productive means possible —  personal transformation. May each of us be inspired to adopt her resolutions, that His light may be encountered by every soul we meet:
Elisabeth_LeseurIt is not in arguing or in lecturing that I can make them know what God is to the human soul. But in struggling with myself, in becoming, with His help, more Christian and more valiant, I will bear witness to Him whose humble disciple I am. By the serenity and strength that I mean to acquire, I will prove that the Christian life is great and beautiful and full of joy. By cultivating all the best faculties of my mind, I will proclaim God is the highest Intelligence and that those who serve Him can draw without end from that blessed source of intellectual and moral light. The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur, p. 10


Elisabeth Leseur, Pray for us!


Important Note: The brief reflection above was written for a wonderful website promoting the cause for Elisabeth Leseur’s canonization – an effort I pray will be fruitful, as there is so much we can learn from this holy woman. Please check out for more information and join EL Circle of Friends!


Spiritual Reading for Children

A list of great spiritual reading books that will inspire Catholic children from preschool through high school.

This post is an answer to a reader who must have seen my post on Lenten reading. She specifically requested a list for kids under 12. For those of you with older kids, I’ve included teens as well! I wrote a version of this for National Catholic Register a couple of years ago – I tried not to overlap here too much; regardless, anything from either list is highly recommended! Keep in mind, this is an organic list – please comment with your own great recommendations!


Pre-school, Elementary and Middle School

Because there is such a wide range of reading levels in this age group, it’s virtually impossible to judge exactly where any particular book would fall. I would consider just about any of these books to be a great read aloud for younger kids. I’ve estimated age appropriateness, but please check out the links so you can see for yourself how each book would work for your family.

gloriaGloria Children’s Books (12 Volumes) – Ages 3-8; These tiny treasures are beautifully illustrated and simply written for the youngest of souls. And yet, with titles like The Our Father, Ten Commandments, The Story of Mary, The Rosary, The Hail Mary, The Guardian Angels, The Holy Family, Favorite Prayers, The Apostles Creed, The Mass, The Boy Jesus and The Sacred Heart of Jesus, these books provide wonderful catechetical instruction.

treasure boxTreasure Box Books – Ages 3-9; Available individually or as a set of 10 or 20, these are perfect books for younger children! Reprinted from the 1950’s, each book includes wonderful poetry, games, and stories about saints, guardian angels and more. They inspire a great love for God, and are full of doctrine that is taught for the hearts and minds of little children. On top of all that, the illustrations are lovely.

Angel FoodAngel Food for Boys & Girls (4 Volumes) – Ages 3-9; Wonderful little stories, each of which shares an important moral. Just a little skim through Volume II will find The Boy who Weighed an Elephant  (purity), The Orphan’s Plea (love of God), The Boy who Dusted the Devil’s Tail (never trust the devil), and many more.

weight of massThe Weight of the Mass: A Tale of Faith
 by Josephine Nobisso – Ages 3-103; A beautiful picture book about the value of a Mass and a life lesson for an unbelieving baker. This is a precious story that you will read with your children over and over again.



king of golden cityKing of the Golden City by Mother Mary Loyola – Ages 7-107; Great book to read with First Communicants! Mother Mary Loyola does a dynamite job of demonstrating that our Faith is about not “rules,” but rather, love. That said, she does inspire readers to live a life of orthodox faith in response to Christ’s love for us and our desire to be united to Him. (There is a study guide available for this book.)


book of saintsLoyola Kids Book of Saints by Amy Wellborn – Read aloud ages 3-10; self-reader grades 3-5; I love reading this to my kids! The stories are lively but brief, and Wellborn demonstrates that the issues we face today are the same issues faced by saints of 1,000+ years ago. These stories offer inspirational alternatives to worldly responses when addressing the human condition.


ChristophersChristopher’s Talks to Catholic Children by David L. Greenstock- Read aloud with ages 7-11; otherwise information for ages 7-107; Sadly, this book is out of print. But it is so good that I highly recommend searching high and low for a copy. It will be well worth your effort. As a convert, I’ve learned many things from children’s books – this one in particular. Greenstock inspires a great love for Christ and His Church, along with a desire to know, love and serve Him as a member of the Body of Christ. He takes challenging doctrines and simplifies them for young ears without removing a scintilla of their depth or beauty. I’ve read this book aloud to my kids at various ages.

bronze bowThe Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare – Grades 4-8; Newberry Medal historical novel that takes place during the time of Christ. It is about a young man’s conversion from blind hatred and vengeance to understanding and love. A story that will move hearts and minds.



ravenhurstOutlaws of Ravenhurst by Sister M. Imelda Wallace – Grades 5-8; A great novel with many lessons on the Catholic faith. This quote from an Amazon review speaks volumes: “My late husband was taught by Sister Mary Imelda in Auburn, Nebraska back in the late 20’s. As a reward for their good behavior she would read her next installment as she completed it. He never forgot the story and always felt that this was what gave him his love and devotion to the Eucharist. This is a must for…Catholic youth.” (There is a study guide available for this book.)

activity bookCreative Catechism Series from Holy Family Press – Read aloud and work along with younger children, or independent for Ages 8-12; These are not regular reading books, but rather, informative activity books. We have given them for Easter gifts and as supplements for First Communion gifts. They are also great for a family road trip or a rainy day. Available titles: Miracles of the Holy Eucharist, Mary Our Mother, Our Lady of Fatima, Children’s Prayers, The 7 Sacraments, Sacramentals, Guardian Angels, The Great Battle for Heaven, The World of the Holy Angels, Creation, The Ark and the Rainbow


High School

morning glory33 Days to Morning Glory by Father Michael Gaitley – An engaging and doable preparation for Marian consecration. Gaitley profiles four great saints to illustrate the role of Mary in our lives.  This is a great book for teens who have little time, but want profound inspiration in bite-sized chapters.


before i goBefore I Go: Letters to Our Children about What Really Matters by Peter Kreeft – All the letters I would love to write to my teens, but written from the heart of a loving father. These letters are short, easy to read, and yet packed with catechetical wisdom that only the intellect of Kreeft can offer.


bibleThe Gospels – One chapter a day is a sure way to renew your relationship with Our Lord through Lent.




home for goodHome for Good by Mother Mary Loyola – Unlike most of the recommendations in this section (which were written for a broad population), this book was written specifically for teens about how to navigate the temptations of the world – poignant for that age when the world beckons from every direction. The wisdom here speaks to teens today with as much relevance as it did to those for whom it was written over 100 years ago.

imitation of christImitation of Christ by Thomas A. Kempis – the classic spiritual guide upon which countless saints meditated daily. Each page speaks directly to the heart of the matter; timeless wisdom for all.



lambs supperThe Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth by Scott Hahn – Revives a great love for the Eucharist, using Sacred Scripture to demonstrate the value of the Mass, and its supreme role as heaven on earth. Hahn’s enthusiasm is contagious – this is an inspiring read that will help teens to approach Mass with renewed eyes and an open heart.


mapA Map of Life: A Simple Study of the Catholic Faith by Frank Sheed – From beginning to end, this is a thorough yet concise guide that will lead us on the proper path toward our true Home. Profound and life-changing.



mere christianity

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis – In this great work, Lewis offers a rational argument in favor of Christianity. Compelling – particularly for teens who are hearing from every direction that faith and reason are incompatible.



screwtapeThe Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis – A must read for everyone who risks allowing the world to distract them from life’s purpose (meaning EVERYONE). Lewis’ humor is engaging and his angle – letters from a senior devil to his protege on how to trip up humans, that they might forego heaven for an eternity in hell – make this the most original plea for holiness ever written.


mark hartA Second Look: Encountering the True Jesus by Mark Hart – The first line in the introduction is, “The road from your head to your heart is the longest journey you’ll ever take.” Need I say more? Hart brings a unique and amusing perspective to profound biblical texts. He speaks in a way that invites teens to relax and engage.


story of a soulThe Story of a Soul by Saint Therese of Lisieux – A “little way” to holiness. I have met countless young ladies who were forever changed by this humble work of profound faith.



trustful surrender

Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence by Father Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure and Saint Claude de la Colombiere – A tiny book of monumental proportions. This will help every teen to know that, no matter the challenge or however great the struggle, we can trust that God will use it to guide us toward our greatest purpose, which is perfect union with Him.


the wayThe Way by Saint JoseMaria Escriva – Brief bits of wisdom that don’t beat around the bush – Escriva offers the frankness that teens are looking for, divided into categories for easy reference or organized meditation.




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Five Ways to Model Your Family after the Holy Family

The Holy Family is the ideal to which all other families should subscribe, if they hope to find joy and fulfillment in this life.

“The triangle of truisms, of father, mother and child, cannot be destroyed; it can only destroy those civilizations which disregard it.” — G.K. Chesterton, The Superstition of Divorce

The family is the cornerstone of all the institutions in the world, and yet has suffered from an unbelievable assault over the past few decades; an assault that has produced The_Holy_Family_-_Francesco_Vanniunfathomable damage, including everything from divorce to elective single parenthood, to lower marriage rates and a new definition so freewheeling and loose that the core identity of the family seems to have been irreparably weakened.

Whether due to circumstance or choice, it is true that families come in all shapes and sizes. However, the Holy Family serves as a model of the family that God intended, and the family that until just a few decades ago, was considered standard form in every social circle. The Holy Family is not the Universal family, for there is no such thing. Rather, the Holy Family stands as the pinnacle of all families throughout the history of the world. The Holy Family is the ideal to which all other families should subscribe, if they hope to find joy and fulfillment in this life.

Families matter. And your family can be an incredible light to the rest of the world. Not by being perfect. By being a family. I speak from personal experience. When I was growing up, God used family after family to inspire me to seek His truth. Again, these weren’t perfect families. But they were families. And I’m willing to bet that not one of them has any idea of the impact their faithfulness had on my life. But it did. Families are beacon to the world of the Light of Christ. And the contribution of the family is critical to society. As Saint John Paul II said in Familiaris Consortio, “The future of the world and of the church passes through the family” (75).

So what better way to affect the future for good than to have a great family?! And where better to seek inspiration than in the Holiest of Families?!

Here are five ways to model your family after the Holy Family:

  1. Be grateful. Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my soul rejoices in God my savior…” (Luke 1:46-47). Think about those words every day. We are His handmaids in this family with which He has so blessed us. Rather than think, If only this child would cooperate, or if only my husband would be more patient – thank God for those beautiful, amazing personalities that He has deigned you worthy to serve.
  2. Be joyful. Think of the Joyful mysteries – those mysteries associated with the Holy Family. Mary was overwhelmed with joy when the Holy Spirit overshadowed her and she conceived by the Holy Spirit. St. John the Baptist was overjoyed when he beheld Christ in the womb of Mary, His mother. Heaven and earth rejoiced at the birth of Christ. Simeon was overcome with joy when he held the baby Jesus. And Mary and Joseph were overwhelmed with joy upon finding Jesus in the temple.

    Paul said to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (4:4). So rejoice! Your family will love you for it!

  3. Be Absolutely Devoted. From the moment the angel appeared to Joseph and secured his understanding of the situation at hand, Joseph was absolutely devoted to his wife and foster child. He led them to Bethlehem, showing particular care and consideration as he guided his expectant wife to shelter. Shortly thereafter, upon receiving further direction in a dream, he immediately woke his wife and child and led them to safety in Egypt. When the family returned to Nazareth, Joseph devoted his life to quiet, but diligent work in order to serve his family.
  4. Spend Time Together. Jesus, Mary and Joseph were together. Presumably until Joseph died, the three were very much a single unit. In fact, St. Joseph is the Patron of happy deaths; particularly because tradition teaches us that he died in the arms of Mary and Jesus.
  5. Sacrifice. Ultimately, each member of the Holy Family sacrificed his own life for those he loved. Joseph raised a child that wasn’t even his own, while remaining a celibate man for his entire married life. Mary was told from the moment she presented her son at the temple that she would suffer as a result of her motherhood. She didn’t balk. Rather, she loved with a devotion that none of us can fathom. Her seven sorrows were a result of her love, and yet no doubt her love was strengthened in her sorrow. And Christ? Well, in addition to sacrificing his very life for each and every one of us, the God of the Universe lowered himself to the level of a child, and “was obedient” to his parents all the days of his life. If that’s not sacrifice, then I don’t know what is.

The family, as a community of persons, is thus the first human “society.”  — Saint John Paul II, Letter to Families.

Family is sacred. And God is so good that He allowed each of us the privilege of entering the world by way of a family.  Even more, many of us are married and blessed with children of our own. Family is a gift that we must cherish beyond all things. There is no argument that trumps that bond. There is no disagreement, no selfish action, no betrayal, nor any sin that should break that union. Pain and suffering may make it more challenging, but regardless, always cherish that beautiful family you’ve been given the opportunity to love.


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Artwork: La Santa Famille by Francesco Vanni, 1871

The Case of the Missing Elf on the Shelf

So who’s idea was it to create a new tradition for NOW – this crazy season of great expectations –  when we are expected to accomplish a regular day’s work and then deck the halls, dodge the traffic, bake up a storm and – OH! I almost forgot – actually help our families prepare spiritually for the coming of Christ! 

I have a confession to make. Please don’t judge me. And please don’t tell my kids.

Here goes.

I sent our elf dumpster diving 800px-Elf_on_the_Shelf_poses_01last Christmas.

I know. That’s a terrible thing for a mother to do.

But don’t worry – he never suspected a thing. I assure you, the little guy was all game, smiling with those joyful but mischievous little eyes  – all ready to play along in the spirit of his Christmas mission. Without asking any questions, he dove right in with scraps of ribbons and wrappings as I disposed of all evidence of material overreach. No doubt he was expecting a great search party and a celebration some time soon – only they never came.

Like I said – don’t judge.

In my defense, that little red intruder was seriously infringing on our Advent season. I’m sure he meant no harm. But day after day, year after year, he just seemed to suck the air out of Advent and the Christ out of Christmas.

I know I’ll have tons of haters out there. But do you REALLY enjoy your Christmas being absconded by a tiny little elf that requires so much time and energy?! From the moment the kids were introduced to that cheeky little stalker a few years ago  – a well-intentioned and fun-spirited albeit “needy” gift from my mother – I have felt my resentment growing.

Say what you want about Santa. He may have been commercialized, but he does have his roots in sainthood. At least we could – and do – talk with our children about how St. Nicholas was given a special mission by God to spread Christ’s message of love and giving. About how in a special way he helps us to celebrate Christ’s birth.  But the elf? Maybe I just don’t “get” him. But for me he was like an everyday reminder of secularism – IN OUR HOME. I just couldn’t seem to escape him. Call me impulsive and underhanded. But I like to think of it more along the lines of self-preservation.

In addition to having nothing to do with Christ, and in no way enhancing our celebration of Advent or preparing our hearts for Christmas, our elf was pretty darned uncreative with his hiding places. If I were Santa, I would have fired him a long time ago. He often went for days at a time hanging out on a shelf in the middle of the living room like he’d completely forgotten his purpose. He was pretty lazy, all things considered.

And yes, I’ll admit it. My disdain was personal. Rather than spread the joy, our little elf served as a constant reminder of my lack of hospitality. I would pretty much characterize him as nothing more than a noose around my neck for the entire month of December.

Truth be told, I’ve actually been known to completely log out of Pinterest and FB over the holidays just to avoid being reminded of what a dud we welcomed into our home. In other people’s homes little elves were throwing parties, bathing in marshmallows or hosting potato sack races. In our home, we were hosting a couch potato.

I totally get that in order for the Elf on the Shelf to make himself at home, wandering around and getting into all sorts of mischief or just hanging out like one of the guys, there must be some modicum of hospitality from ME. But therein lies the entire problem. Every year at this time it’s like our home gets invaded by an unwelcome guest who is all smiles and modest, and all, “No, really I’m fine, just let me hang out here on the mantle and fulfill my mission” but who, honestly, puts me out on a daily (OK, nightly) basis, IF I remember him at all. And to make matters worse – almost EVERY morning – I’m all, “Darn! I forgot all about that little stinker again last night.” And then the kids spend most of December being disappointed, because they hear about everyone else’s elf adventures while their elf smiles dumbly from the same perch for most of the season. We can’t seem to escape being one-upped. Our next door neighbors are so hospitable they host two of the little buggers!

So that’s my story. Despite that little part about my letting the kids think their elf just ran away, things have been pretty peaceful around here this year. And truth be told, I really didn’t see another way out.

If cornered, I would plead NOT GUILTY. Frankly, I did not ask for this house guest, And there is no way my mother could have imagined that she was setting me up for absolute failure. But seriously? Throwing this little beast of burden on unsuspecting parents during the busiest time of year?

If you haven’t done it, please don’t.

I mean, eleven months out of the year, it’s all we parents can do to get our kids to bed, do some laundry, clean the kitchen, finish a little work, balance the checkbook, plan our meals and get everything ready for all the activities on the coming day’s calendar. Meet any parent on the street, and you will see a sleep-deprived individual. So who’s idea was it to create a new tradition for NOW – this crazy season of great expectations –  when we are expected to accomplish a regular day’s work and then deck the halls, dodge the traffic, bake up a storm and – OH! I almost forgot – actually help our families prepare spiritually for the coming of Christ! 

Call my methods extreme and underhanded. Yes, I’ll admit it. My conscience isn’t quite where I’d like it to be. I did spend a few days quietly watching the kids frantically search through all the Christmas boxes for our elf and listening to their pitiful confessions that perhaps their elf disappeared because they touched him last year and he lost his “magic.”

But after all the initial excitement, I am very pleased to say that out-of-sight-out-of-mind has been rather effective and we have actually enjoyed a very peaceful Advent season with no elf on our shelf.

We’ve been lighting the Advent candles and pulling out our Jesse tree ornaments. We are reading Christmas stories. And to top it off, there is no discussion about where the elf is or why he hasn’t moved or whether Santa doesn’t like our family because our elf doesn’t play like all the other elves. Even better, there is no guilt-ridden Mommy every single morning. I’d even venture to say it’s been fairly joyful here.

Except for the little part about my actually being a malicious source of sadness for my kids. In that regard, I’ve been doing a little thinking. Is it possible that I can have my cake and eat it too? In the interest of “honesty”, I think I’ve come up with a solution to clear my conscience and bring resolution for the little ones. I read an article the other day about a mother who also must have had enough (You are not alone!). Only SHE had the foresight to ask Santa to write a letter to her children, rather than throwing her elf out on the street, or allowing  him to disappear without a trace. Perhaps Santa will find our elf for me and allow him to be a Christmas toy instead of a spy. We’ll see…maybe with Santa’s help, we can all win and there will be happy closure for my kids in the Case of the Missing Elf on the Shelf.



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