Sunday, January 22, 2012

Some of the Most Beautiful People Are Missing...

At Mass today, I realized something. I was sitting in a side chapel with my fidgety girls, when a family across the chapel caught my attention. I have seen them before, but something really profound and beautiful struck me today when I saw them. A mother, a father, a boy of maybe 7 years old. The boy was the most noteworthy among them. He cannot speak, he cannot walk, and peeking out from just about the waist of his pants was a sight familiar to any mother -- the trim of a disposable diaper. But the most striking feature of the boy is that, every time I have seen him, he is smiling. The boy sat on his father's lap during Mass today, with his dad gently rocking him most of the time, and when it came time for communion the father carried the boy in his arms to receive the Body of Christ.

Tears came from my eyes. There was no thought behind the tears -- they came forth as a natural response to the mix of beauty and pain and suffering and love that I was beholding. And come to think of it, the response may have been more than natural. This boy and his family clearly pointed to the supernatural, to something beyond this valley of tears (which they most certainly have tasted rather bitterly) to a grace that both sustains them and directs them to something greater and more permanent than this transitory existence. That boy was cleansed from the stain of original sin at the time of his baptism, and he will (presumably) remain free from sin throughout his earthly life. When he received the very essence of the Godhead in Eucharistic communion, I could only imagine how tenderly and with what joy God communed with that innocent boy's soul.

I was transported back in time to the year when, while traveling with NET Ministries, I was at a Mass at a church in Louisiana. I saw a little girl and her mother enter the pew near me, but did not pay much attention until the little girl, completely out of the blue, scooted over to me to give me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. I looked over at the little girl, who had a big smile on her face, and I could not help but be won over by her guileless affection. She had Downs Syndrome, and her mother apologized profusely for the girl's unexpected display of affection, but to me there was no need for an apology; on the contrary, I wanted to thank that mother for bringing that beautiful girl to life and to Mass -- like the man born blind of the Gospels, this girl was born in the way she was "so that the works of God might be made visible through" her.

And as my mind returned to the chapel today, and to the boy and his family,  I realized something really shocking. I'd thought of it before, but today it became so real. Why do I not see more children like this boy, and why do I not see more families like this family? Perhaps not all families with profoundly disabled children go out as much as these people do, to be sure, but still, deep in my heart, I knew the real reason. Many of those children were aborted. And my tears continued, not as a sadness for this family and the difficulties that they have had to endure, but for all those families who never got to know their beautiful disabled child, and for all of us who have missed out on knowing them, too. I realized that, while many people talk about the famous people who could have been lost to abortion (Steve Jobs, for example), very few talk about the disabled who also could have been lost or the countless whose lives were lost prior to their birth.

Anyone who knows me (or even who regularly reads Coffee Talk) knows that I am not sharing this experience as some sort of rhetorical platform against abortion -- that's simply not my style. I share this as a true and profound moment of sadness, as a way to thank the families who have chosen to bring profoundly sick or disabled children to life and to care for them (National Catholic Partnership on Disability offers resources), and as a way to reach out to all the people who have suffered the tragic loss of abortion. Rachel's Vineyard offers retreats which facilitate an experience of post-abortion healing to those in need (post-abortive mothers, fathers, family members -- no matter how long ago the abortion was).

The mercy of God knows no bounds, for those who seek it with a sincere and contrite heart.

Peace and all good,

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Is This "Birthday Wish" a Little Bit Weird to Anyone Else?

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

Alright, some of you might remember my mentioning Fr. Frank Pavone in a few other posts, and I like what I know of him and admire his work on behalf of the unborn and other people who cannot defend themselves.

Still, when I saw this post today inviting people to 'visit' Fr. Frank's birthday wish, I found it strange. So I need to run it by all y'all to see if it is in fact strange, or if maybe I'm over-reacting. But first, check it out:

Frank Pavone's Birthday Wish  

Alright, did you click on it? Did it strike you as weird, too? I'm trying to identify what made it seem strange to me, and here are a few of my best guesses:

  1. Why is there a need to raise $500 for "Pray to End Abortion"? Last time I heard, praying to end abortion was completely free. The economy must be worse than I thought if God's charging now.

  2. If prayer is the most powerful weapon against the culture of death, why are you raising money?

  3. Okay, I understand that there are many costs associated with the work of the Priests for Life. Fine. Clearly, that must be what Fr. Pavone wants people to donate to for his birthday. But I think he should be a little more clear on what the donation is going towards...

  4. ...especially in light of the fact that Bishop Zurik recalled Fr. Frank to his diocese in Texas specifically because of his "deep concerns regarding his stewardship of the finances of the Priests for Life organization." Whether the Bishop's concerns were valid or unsubstantiated, this certainly does seem a time when Fr. Pavone might be particularly motivated to remain financially transparent, you know what I'm sayin'? 

  5. And the last weird thing is that from the time that I first clicked on the birthday wish until now, the amount raised at the top reads $400, and the progress bar shows that 80% of his $500 'birthday goal' has been met. Has it really stayed at that same level all day, or is it just a way of getting people to think that since Fr. Frank has almost met his goal perhaps they should donate? 


    Alright, enough of my musings. What do you guys think? (Not that it really matters, but I'd like some feedback.) Is this strange to you, too? Or is it just a great idea lacking the best presentation? I don't know, but I'm gonna go pray for the unborn while it's still free in California. I'm sure that as soon the state gets wind of Fr. Frank's idea, they'll be taxing us for prayer, too!

    As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers!

    Peace and all good,


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Happy Blog-a-versary, SOPA, and the Oregon Trail!

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

Today marks the one year anniversary of my little Coffee Talk blog! It's also, coincidentally, the day of the widespread internet blackouts to protest the SOPA and PIPA bills. These bills were intended to stop internet piracy (arrr, matey!), but posed a real threat to the free internet as we know it, including such things as search engines, social networks, and [gasp!] blogs like little ol' Coffee Talk with Leslie! While this blog does not have an extremely widespread popularity (I suppose that reading about a Catholic perspective on news and reading answers to questions relating to Catholicism is an acquired taste), this past year of blogging has certainly made me appreciate the freedoms we do have and the widespread access to information (and even to personal opinion) that we have through web-based technologies. Honestly, for as small a scope as Coffee Talk has, a number of things still kinda blow my mind about the whole experience:
  1. the fact that anyone reads this. at all.
  2. the fact that the blog is nearing 18,000 page views!
  3. the fact that regular readers of the blog come from dozens of countries around the world.
  4. the fact that a few people have shared with me that they have been led to deeper understanding or practice of Catholicism through the blog.
  5. the fact that my Protestant friends have asked questions, and have better understood the ties that bind us as Christians (happy week of prayer for Christian unity, y'all!).
  6. the fact that a number of friends from non-Christian religions have dialogued with me on various topics thanks to the blog, and I am a better person for it.
  7. the fact that even some atheist and agnostic friends have read (and enjoyed) the blog!
  8. the fact that i can publish a blog, with virtually (ha -- punny!) no skill in web publishing.
  9. the fact that i can say whatever i want on here, without fear or censorship, and that people can comment and ask questions freely, as well.
  10. the fact that, when i was a kid, the idea of publishing a 'weblog' from my own home that people all over the world could read and interact with would have been completely and wildly unimaginable. because all i had then was the Oregon Trail game.
Man, I'm getting old. Please tell me that someone else out there remembers the original Oregon Trail game? I tried to look it up online to give you a sample, but it's not there -- the oldest examples I could find were in color. But the original Oregon Trail game was usually played on a boxy monitor which only displayed one color -- yellow or bright green -- on a black background with one ugly font and bad graphics on a slow and very large computer (from which, if you were lucky, you could also print things in black on your extremely noisy dot matrix printer with that long weird paper).
(Oh, and another thing -- I just accidentally navigated away from this blog page without saving to look for the paper pic without any problem, but let me tell you how many lengthy documents I lost back in those early days of computers, even when I did hit save! It wasn't pretty.)

Anyway, the point of all this nostalgic rambling is that we've come a very long way with computers, and the access we have to web-based media is truly amazing. And as today's bills stand to remind us, these are freedoms that we should not take for granted.

Thanks, everyone, for making this blog possible, and in honor of the blog-a-versary (and of the death of the SOPA bill in its current form thanks to all the protests), feel free to comment about why you enjoy computers or the internet or Catholicism or freedom of speech...or WHATEVER ELSE YOU WANT! (But keep it respectful, or I might have to censor you, not Big Brother.) ;)

As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,

Monday, January 16, 2012

I Have a Dream...But What Was It???

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

I think everyone knows the opening words of Dr. Martin Luther King's 1963 speech, but I wonder if some people think that the dream he had was just to have a day off school and work (perhaps a day to be spent at the pool hall?).

But no, my friends, the dream was much more than that! If you haven't listened to this speech recently (or ever!), listen to it now. I just did, and found it to be 15 minutes very well spent. I hope you do, too!

The line that struck me most this hearing was "We refuse to believe that the banks of justice are bankrupt."  Feel free to share your favorite line in the comment box!

Peace and all good,

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Questions I Never Answered #2: What's Up With Mormons?

Hello, again, Coffee Talkers! Here's the question from over a month ago -- I'm gonna catch up, oh yes, I am!

Dear Leslie,

I am writing to ask a question you might answer on Coffee Talk or you might decline all together. Obviously, the choice is yours. Let me come forward from the start and admit that yes my question is politically motivated.

What can you tell me about Mormons? Are they a cult?

I did research a little on the web at
Of course this information was from the Mormon perspective.

If you choose not to answer, I won't be offended.

Curious Catholic

Dear Curious,

Thanks for sharing your question! First, let me say this -- I like all of the Mormons who I know personally. And I'm a fan of some of the things of 'Mormon culture' -- big families, supportive churches, Mo-Tab (a.k.a., the Mormon Tabernacle Choir), and a commitment to stylish but modest clothing (check out these cute dresses, ladies!) just to name a few.

However, I am far from an expert in Mormonism. I know a lot about Catholicism, and a little teeny bit about Mormonism. But I do have a couple good Mormon friends who've helped me to understand a few important differences between Mormonism and Catholicism (and other mainline Protestant Christian denominations), so I can share a few of those things with you here. I looked briefly at the website you mentioned and I think that the main challenge that I find with both the website and with some of the Mormon missionaries I've spoken with in the past is that they are presenting their faith in entirely Mormon terms (natural enough). However, they use many of the same terms as Catholics and mainline Protestant Christians, but the words mean something entirely different. I'll try to break down a few key points as best I can, and translate everything into Catholic terms, since that's the perspective you (and I) are coming from. Again, keep in mind that I'll be speaking here primarily from a theological perspective now, and not from a more superficial perspective of "Do we think Mormons are nice or respectable or moral people?"

The most important thing for us, as Catholics, that leads us to not accept the Mormon religion as even a mainline Protestant denomination is that the Mormon religion was entirely founded on private revelation.  In other words, Mormons believe in a special revelation and knowledge given to Joseph Smith that told him to start a new religion and that led him to have published another book in addition to the Bible. The Angel Moroni gave him the Book of Mormon which he assured him contained the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That's a big problem right there -- we believe that the original deposit of faith ended with the death of the last Apostle, and that any 'private' revelations given to people after that are only authentic to the extent that they do not change or add anything entirely new to that original deposit of faith. (Example -- the Divine Mercy devotion given to St. Faustina in 20th century Poland reminds people of God's mercy, a message significant for people in modern times, but does not add anything new to the original deposit of faith). So to the extent that the Book of Mormon adds to, deletes from, and entirely changes the original deposit of faith (which it does, even in ways that majorly affect their understanding of the Most Holy Trinity), we cannot accept their theology or even the basis of their religion. This does not mean that we cannot find certain points of moral and ethical agreement with Mormons, of course, but it's the main thing about Mormonism that I suspect most people don't understand.

The next MAJOR tenet of Mormon theology that we Catholics and other mainline Christians would disagree upon is our understanding of God as Trinity, and thus our understanding of baptism and of Jesus. This is a really complicated point, so I'm only going to give a brief and overly simplified explanation of the differences, but hopefully this will give some insight into the ways our belief systems differ.

Catholic Christians understand God as a single God with 3 'persons' -- God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all ONE GOD. This is very important. It is from this understanding of God as Trinity that we derive our beliefs on Christology (or who Jesus is). Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. He is only one person, but at the same time Jesus is fully God and fully man. Jesus can only save us because he is God. When we profess in the Creed that Jesus was 'begotten, not made,' we are professing our belief that Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, was not a created being but that he existed in the single Godhead from all eternity. Even though he became incarnate at a certain point in human history, he was not created.

Mormons see this all very differently. I'll be honest -- I have a hard time explaining it because it doesn't quite make sense to me. But I do understand this: this is definitely a case where Mormon terminology sounds very similar to Catholic-Christian belief, but has a totally different meaning. A Mormon friend of mine gave this explanation:
"We believe in God the Eternal Father, in his Son, Jesus Christ and in the Holy Ghost." -Joseph Smith. (First Article of Faith.) So, we believe God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost to be one in purpose, but we do not believe them to be physically the same being/personage [emphasis mine]. We believe them to be separate and distinct, but one in purpose or unified in their work, which we believe is bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. We believe Jesus Christ is the first born son of our Father in Heaven. That Christ was born of Mary, that He atoned for us and suffered death for us on the cross. That He is the one and only redeemer of all mankind. We believe the God the Father is our spiritual father, that He sent His son to die for us, and that He knows and cares deeply for each of us. We believe that Jesus and the Father both have physical bodies as tangible as man's, but that the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit. (

So, with that understanding, when Joseph Smith recounted "The First Vision" ( he explained that the Father and the Soon stood before him and ministered to him and instructed him. (Verse 17) "...I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!"

That's how it's generally portrayed in artwork in the church, and that's our belief.
[Special thanks to my friend who explained this so clearly!]

Woah! Different theology ALERT! Did y'all catch that?  Even though Mormons give a very similar formulation of Trinitarian belief in words, once that belief is explained, it turns out to be radically different from the traditional Christian understanding of the Trinity. That is why many people do not accept Mormons as Christians and why the Catholic Church (who accepts Trinitarian baptisms from any Christian denomination) does not accept Mormon baptisms as valid -- not because we are a bunch of narrow-minded meanies, but because Mormons do not believe in a God who is one in being, but a Trinity of persons.

The other thing that I think it's important for Catholics to understand about Mormons is that, while they do have a lot of specific teachings that restrict or direct them in particular ways (most of these seem to come from the Book of Mormon), they leave some of the issues we would consider non-negotiables up to conscience. I was surprised to learn this, but while the Catholic Church always takes a stance against the use of artifical birth control and abortion, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) allow these things on some occasions. However, it seems that perhaps more Mormons follow the Catholic teachings on these subjects than Catholics do (in the US, anyway), so that's something to consider.

To answer your question, "Are they a cult?", I'd say this: the Mormons are following a religion founded by a particular person and based on his alleged vision, but the ones I know are certainly not up to anything freaky like the Branch Davidians, if that's your concern. From my limited perspective, Mormons are generally very good people with bad theology. Still, I value all of my Mormon friends, and am particularly grateful for their witness to family life and care of neighbor.

I hope this has been helpful. As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers!

Peace and all good,

All Those Questions I Never Answered: #1 -- On Marriage and Disparity of Cult

I'm BAAAAACCCKKK! That's right, Coffee Talkers, I just realized that we are only days away from the one year anniversary of little old Coffee Talk, and in honor of the upcoming occasion, I decided to actually POST ON MY BLOG this week! You're welcome.

Alright, there are some questions that I never answered. I'm ashamed! There are two particular questions that come to mind: one question is from over a month ago, and the other one is from last March. Because I am ridiculous. But I think I put both of these questions off until I could really give them due consideration and a response that gave a balanced view from the perspectives of faith and reason. I've realized something: that time is never going to come! So I'mma give them my best shot this week, because something has to be better than nothing. (I don't really believe that, actually, but here goes anyway.) Let's start with the one from last March, shall we?

Question 1:
Dear Leslie,
My husband is the best spouse I could have ever asked for.  He is a wonderful father to our children, a friend to everyone and a good son.  He serves others in his occupation and does it well.  He has always been a person of strong moral character, kind and loving, objective in his judgments of others, honest, faithful and true to himself and those around him.  He does not gossip, he does not lie.  I know he is a human being like the rest of us and isn't perfect by any means, but I am trying to illustrate a point here:  he is above-average in the way he conducts his life.  I have witnessed him behave in the most Christian-like behavior throughout our 25 year marriage and I am proud to be his wife.  Children adore him and animals flock to him.  Whenever I see a spider in our house and ask him to kill it for me, he refuses, saying "A life is a life" while he utilizes the 'catch and release' method to set the spider free...and yes, this even goes for black widows.  I always laugh and say I married the re-incarnation of St. Francis.  My dilemma?  My  husband is not Catholic.  He's not even Christian.  He does not believe in a God for himself but does respect the belief systems of others so long as they are not used for harm toward anyone.  He has always been supportive of raising our daughters in the Catholic faith but says he has no personal need for this faith himself.  It hurts me so deeply when I am told to believe that someone who is such an amazing person yet does not believe in God will not receive salvation at the time of their death.  How do I process these feelings?  I simply refuse to believe the kind and loving God I firmly believe in will cast my beautiful husband....HIS child...aside at the time of his death.  He behaves more like a Christian than I do on many occasions and yet I've been taught all my life that I will receive salvation and he will not.  My children have concern over this as well and I struggle with how to explain this to them. What are your thoughts on this subject?  
Thanks so much,
Anonymous :)
Dear Anonymous,
First, thank you for your question! I have too many thoughts on this to share fully here, so let me sum up with a few key points:
  1. While baptism is the gateway to all sacraments and the normal path toward salvation, Catholics do believe that salvation is possible for all people. Find out how by reading my post on Salvation and Damnation: What Do Catholics Really Believe.
  2. It is a challenge for all people to understand the connection between the realities of family life and the Gospel for everyone, because we live in a fallen world. Know that you are not isolated in your feelings and experience, and that God (and the Church) remain with you.
  3.  Marriage is not only important as a cultural institution, but also took on new meaning when Jesus elevated it to the level of a sacrament. This is why marriage between two baptized persons is ideal, because that is what makes the marriage sacramental. Still, many Christians marry non-Christians, and the Catholic Church is sensitive to this situation, which they refer to as 'disparity of cult.' The Church has this to say about these marriages in the Catechism: 
Mixed marriages and disparity of cult
  1. 1633 In many countries the situation of a mixed marriage (marriage between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic) often arises. It requires particular attention on the part of couples and their pastors. A case of marriage with disparity of cult (between a Catholic and a non-baptized person) requires even greater circumspection.
    1634 Difference of confession between the spouses does not constitute an insurmountable obstacle for marriage, when they succeed in placing in common what they have received from their respective communities, and learn from each other the way in which each lives in fidelity to Christ. But the difficulties of mixed marriages must not be underestimated. They arise from the fact that the separation of Christians has not yet been overcome. The spouses risk experiencing the tragedy of Christian disunity even in the heart of their own home. Disparity of cult can further aggravate these difficulties. Differences about faith and the very notion of marriage, but also different religious mentalities, can become sources of tension in marriage, especially as regards the education of children. The temptation to religious indifference can then arise.
    1635 According to the law in force in the Latin Church, a mixed marriage needs for liceity the express permission of ecclesiastical authority.137 In case of disparity of cult an express dispensation from this impediment is required for the validity of the marriage.138 This permission or dispensation presupposes that both parties know and do not exclude the essential ends and properties of marriage; and furthermore that the Catholic party confirms the obligations, which have been made known to the non-Catholic party, of preserving his or her own faith and ensuring the baptism and education of the children in the Catholic Church.139
    1636 Through ecumenical dialogue Christian communities in many regions have been able to put into effect a common pastoral practice for mixed marriages. Its task is to help such couples live out their particular situation in the light of faith, overcome the tensions between the couple's obligations to each other and towards their ecclesial communities, and encourage the flowering of what is common to them in faith and respect for what separates them.
    1637 In marriages with disparity of cult the Catholic spouse has a particular task: "For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband."140 It is a great joy for the Christian spouse and for the Church if this "consecration" should lead to the free conversion of the other spouse to the Christian faith.141 Sincere married love, the humble and patient practice of the family virtues, and perseverance in prayer can prepare the non-believing spouse to accept the grace of conversion.
    4. All that said, your husband sounds like a truly wonderful person, and as you've suggested, perhaps more moral than many Christians. I'm sure there are many Catholic women reading this post, wishing perhaps that their own spouse was as St. Francis-like, hard-working, and considerate as your own non-Christian husband! Still, this reminds us that Christ came to the earth and died not so that bad men might be good, but so that dead men might live. And this opportunity is open to all men. Always. Your husband will be judged at the end of his life as we all will -- according to the graces and knowledge he was given, and on how he acted according to his conscience. And it does seem that, in many ways, you two are leading one another (and your children) along paths of grace and salvation, so that can certainly be counted as a blessing sadly not even enjoyed by all couples who are married sacramentally.

    Lastly, the US Catholic Bishop's have developed a great internet resource called "For Your Marriage." I hope that you might find it to have good reading and helpful resources for your marriage and family.

    [Pretend that the images I tried to insert here had been successful, and then click here.]

    As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers!

    Peace and all good,