Saturday, August 29, 2009


I tried to get published. Okay, so it was just a letter to the editor at The Atlantic Monthly, but I just got the edition with responses to the article I commented on and no go. I am not being at all bias when I say that my letter was SO much better than the few they did print. :)

But I have a blog, so I can post it here. I am sure I have more readership than the magazine anyway... in some alternate universe. You may read the original article at

The 72 year study traced in “What Makes Us Happy” (J.W. Shenk 06/06) in fact, Positive Psychology itself, sounds anything other than novel to a person schooled in Catholic Theology: among other things a 2000 year study of the human condition. The terminology is sometimes different, but the truth is the same. Mature adaptations, big factors in human happiness the article reports, include such terms as “altruism” which we would call Charity, “Humor and anticipation” are known to us as Hope, “Suppression (a conscious decision to postpone attention to an impulse or conflict to be addressed in good time” is Prudence, and “Sublimation (finding outlets for feelings, like putting aggression into sport or lust into courtship” can be found under the study of the seven deadly sins. The connection between alcohol abuse, smoking and unhappiness can be found in the teachings on the virtue of Temperance.

The incredible insights revealed to those involved in the study have been central in church teaching since her conception:

*“That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people,” is not only fundamental to Catholicism, it is more recently at the heart of every writing of the Late, Great John Paul II.

*“Humans too, when confronted with irritants, engage in unconscious, but often creative behavior,” is nothing more (and far less) than Church h teaching on the Redemptive power of suffering.

*“It is very hard, Valliant said, for most of us to tolerate being loved.” This is the heart of Christian Theology. It was the original mission of the Apostles, the continued goal of the Church and the purpose of all human life. To recognize that we are loved by a Creator God. A God who so loved the world that He sent His only Son.

In 72 years, those involved with the Grant Study have simply proved a mere portion of what the Catholic Church has been teaching for over 2000 years. A happy life is a life of Virtue: Faith, Hope, Charity, Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance. Human nature is flawed, but because of a loving God, has the potential to be perfected. It is through suffering with a deep understanding of its Redemptive Purpose, that we can not only endure suffering, but become the better for it, not just in this life but for eternity.

Humility is defined by Shenk as “an earnest acceptance of life’s pains and promises” and is his own final thought on “the key to the good life.” The Church has always held these keys: The purpose of human suffering and the proclamation of the promise of eternal life from the author of life itself.

In days gone by, the Church would have given credence to this microscopic study of human nature. Sadly, today, it is the inverse. Perhaps this blip on the screen in comparison to the body of knowledge that can be found in the teachings of the Catholic Church will allow science to give credence to its master.

Of course, not all Catholics are happy. But not all Catholics have lived out the teachings of the church to the same degree. Even a limited study of the Saints (documented models in living the virtues and understanding the Church’s stated purpose of human life) will show them to have many different personalities, strengths, and come from vastly differing circumstances. The one thing that is common to all, from the simple hermit, to the brilliant theologian, to the brave martyr is joy. What modernity would call happiness.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


When my mother was married at thirty-two years of age, my paternal grandmother was fifty-two and my maternal grandma was seventy-two. Grandma Foley, Mom's mom, was always sweet. She was Irish, told stories, and spoke in a soft voice. She was precious. Grandma Barvick was Polish, energetic, organized my underwear drawer and spoke with a tone of authority. She was a good woman. They were as different as two people could be.

Grandma Foley and I always had a very special relationship. My Paternal Grandfather and I did as well. My sister once noticed that he never called me Sheila. I refuted that of course he did and she replied, "No. When he speaks of you, it is always... always, My Sheila."

And so it was. I was my Grandma Foley's girl and my Grandpa's Sheila. Grandma Barvick and I were never as close. I owe her a lot and I love her. But I would never call her sweet and I know she would never call me hers.

They are dead now, Grandma Foley and Grandpa. Grandma Barvick is still around at almost 95 years of age. I try to get the kids out to see her every month, but like confession, that is the plan, but it seems to be more like every six to eight weeks instead.

My younger brother is in town and we went out to see GG (Great Grandma) a few days ago. It has been six weeks since we have been there of course. I have made a habit of always asking her who I am. All but once she has said "Sheila." After I got glasses, she thought I was her neice, Renee.

She knew me this time. We took pictures and talked in the library at her nursing home. I got the kids involved in a game of Scrabble and pulled her wheel chair up to the table so she could watch. At one point, she was trying to say something and my sister in law was not sure what it was. I leaned down to hear her now soft voice ask if the kids were cold. I told her no and returned to help the players find words among their tiles for the game. I thoughtlessly reached down and grabbed her hand to hold while I was helping keep the game going.

The way she held my hand. The way she seemed to appreciate having hers held. It can only be described as sweet. Holding my hand, while I made up words like "dirtyell" or gave advice like, "just make 'an'"'was the sweetest encounter we had ever had. Not the most improtant, not the most profound, but the sweetest.

It is all different now. How do I describe her? What will I tell my children about their GG when she is gone?

She made me clean my room.
She let us watch TV.
She was bossy and opinionated and energetic and extremely efficient.
She was a hard worker and a good woman.


When she grabbed my hand when I was young, I knew I was in trouble...
When I grabbed her hand when she was old, I knew she was sweet and I knew I was hers.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Word Love

I love the Gospel of John. I love the poetry. It begins: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was made flesh. The idea of Jesus as God’s words is so beautiful it makes me want to weep. I love words. Words are so distinctly human. Angels do not need words, animals can not use them.

Conversation is at the heart of relationship for humans. Communication, be it in personal relationships, the workplace or child rearing, is the buzz word for successful human interaction. We need to know how to communicate our feelings, wants, desires, and expectations to those around us. We do this primarily through words.

Jesus as the Word of God is the personification of God’s desire to communicate with His creation. And John goes on to try and sum up the Word. It seems impossible to believe that something as complex as the Divine could be boiled down to terms a human could understand. John boils it down to just one word: love. God is Love. Why do we not study the Gospel of John in writing 101?

The Word of God is Love. It is so simple, no adjectives or adverbs, just one word. But then, the word gets in the way. I have heard that the English language is unique in its incredible specificity. I heard a great writer once say that for every idea, there is really only one right English word. For example, we have a specific word for distinctions in water temperature: freezing, cold, temperate, warm, hot, boiling, scalding. But what of the word love?

We love our dog, chocolate, our spouse and children. We love God, books, curtains and shoes. This simply will not do. We need more words. Or do we? God is Love. It was the one right word for the Idea. But how do we grasp it as a mere human? I think, like water temperatures it is all degrees of the same thing. Love is our ability to put someone or something above ourselves. For things like chocolate and shoes this is temporary. For those humans in our life, the goal is to make it a more of a permanent state of being.

And isn’t this really what God was trying to communicate to us through His son? To be truly human, we must learn to put others first. Christ was the personification of self-denial. He was perfectly human in His ability to always put others first.

Why do you want so many children? I am asked. There are so many, many reasons I could give. But if I had to choose just one, I would say love, no adjectives or adverbs or clarifiers attached. With the addition of each child into my life, my heart expands. The capacity I have to love increases. I can feel it in a physical way. My heart aches with the effort to expand to be filled by all the love a child brings into my world with him.

Nature gives me what I need to put my offspring first. It is an instinct for which I can not really take much credit. But unlike the female lions, rabbits or robins, I can give it a word: Love.

To be a mother, is to Love. Period. End of Conversation.