Books

7 Reads Every Catholic Mom Needs on Her Bookshelf

I love learning about the rich traditions, history, and teachings of the Church. But let’s be real: it’s difficult to find formal educational opportunities when your schedule is mandated by two rambunctious toddlers and a full-time job. (And even when I have the hours available in a day, my inner introvert rarely has the energy for more than an occasional retreat.)

Still, I don’t want that learning to go undone “until I have more free time.” So, a few years ago, I decided to devote part of the time I spend on my favorite self-care activity—reading—to my faith.

Committing to more spiritual reading has been incredibly fruitful for me. Along the way, each of these titles has had a profound effect on me as a Catholic woman and mother.

#1: Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich

The constant sleeplessness of the newborn phase or the piercing, repeat tantrums of a toddler—worse, the pain of seeing your child in pain—can sometimes dim the light of hope in your day-to-day.

When you haven’t had time to invest in devotions or prayer, that burden can sometimes make Christ and his sacrifice for you feel like a distant dream.

These are the moments I turn to Revelations of Divine Love. Julian of Norwich’s God-given insights into the profound love Christ has for each one of us are uplifting and life-changing. Julian’s humble, joyful words make me feel closer to Christ and more attuned to the many ways he is present and loving me each and every day.

#2: The First Society: The Sacrament of Matrimony and the Restoration of the Social Order by Scott Hahn

Marriage is the foundation of the family—a little community so important we call it the “domestic church.” But the significance of marriage doesn’t end there.

In this book, Scott Hahn uses his well-learned yet down-to-earth style to illustrate the many ways in which marriage has been an underpinning of civilization as we know it. I particularly enjoyed the way he describes how the sacrament’s graces enable us to live well not just within our families, but among our neighbors.

In the busy routines of life, it can be dreadfully easy for a husband and wife to forget to invest in one another. This book reminded me just how important that investment is.

#3: A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor

On stressful days filled with noise, I sometimes long for the quiet of single life. Plagued by guilt in those moments, I don’t doubt my vocation—but I do doubt whether I’m fulfilling it as well as I’d hoped.

Flannery O’Connor is an icon in literature, and for good reason. Her writing broke norms and pushed readers to contemplate important subjects that were rather controversial in her time.

She was also a devout Catholic and deeply spiritual woman. Reading her prayer journal gave me insight into how she lived her faith in the context of her vocation—and how even the most admirable, successful women are plagued by moments of self-doubt and “what if” thinking.

#4: One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both by Jennifer Fulwiler

A well-known personality in Catholic media, Jennifer Fulwiler is funny, insightful, and relatable.

Adding to her very honest online presence, Jennifer shares, in One Beautiful Dream, the story of how she grew into her writing and speaking career not in spite of her vocation as a wife and mother, but in cooperation with it. Like all of us, she faced disappointments, but by engaging with her passions and serving (and being served by) her family, she found harmony for the many “categories” of her life.

Jennifer’s story taught me that the seemingly incompatible interests of person (myself) and place (my role in the family I’ve built) don’t have to conflict at all. When we stop pitting them against each other, we learn to see how complementary they can be.

#5: Unless You Become Like This Child by Hans Urs von Balthasar

I’ve spoken on this one before (specifically here and here), but I can’t emphasize enough how lovely this little book is for any Christian—especially mothers.

Covering scripture, theology, and tradition, Hans Urs von Balthasar writes about what Christ meant when he urged us to “become like children” (Matthew 18:3). His insights are powerful reflections on the beauty of childhood, the gifts and wholesomeness of divine grace, and the nature of faith.

The lessons I’ve learned from this book have given me an even greater appreciation for the devotion and innocence of my children, and inspire me to emulate them in my conversations with the Father.

#6: Who Am I to Judge?: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love by Edward Sri

Also appearing in a previous post, this book by Edward Sri is a primer for Catholics who find themselves needing to defend their beliefs, their lifestyle choices, and their stance on the issues of the day.

So, basically all of us.

Edward Sri is an inspired mind of our time, and his insights on why the most prevalent nomenclature in today’s typical debate—for example: “That’s not the choice I’d make, but why would I limit someone else’s choices?”—are eye-opening. If you’ve ever felt backed into a corner by someone who insisted your moral framework just can’t be universal, this is the book for you.

#7: The Assembler of Parts by Raoul Wientzen

Full disclosure: this book is a doozy and should come with trigger warnings on loss and childhood illness.

That said, The Assembler of Parts made me cry incredibly cleansing tears. Though some of its philosophical nuances must be taken with a grain of salt (it is, after all, the only novel on this list), the story is profound and moving in ways that are important for humans in general, and mothers in particular.

The overarching themes I pulled from this novel echo the cardinal virtues that are so critical for every vocation: faith, hope, and love. Add in a good dose of trust in the divine will of God and steadfastness in the face of adversity (two qualities I have an especially tough time emulating), and it’s difficult to tug at my heart strings any harder.

 

Have you read any of these titles? If so, what did you think? And please let me know what must-reads that I’ve missed, either in the comments or on Facebook!

3 Ways to Be a More Childlike Parent

Following my post on why parents should strive to be more childlike in their faith and in their families, let’s take it a step further: just how are we supposed to do it? In what ways should we really be more like our children?

“Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:14

(I’m still digging into Unless You Become Like This Child by Hans Urs von Balthasar with this post. Please pick up a copy to explore if you want to go deeper.)

Emulating the Mind of a Child

Of course, I know on an intellectual level that there are many qualities to be admired in children. Their innocence, for one; their delight; their unquestioning devotion. And yet, it seems to me that so many of these qualities are either unattainable (I am a sinner beyond the age of reason; innocence is not my strong suit) or paired with not-so-desirable features (it’s easy to be delighted when the world revolves around you, but how can I savor the small things when there is so much else to worry about?).

Without doubt, there is something inexplicably beautiful about childhood. Children are a wonder to behold and their intellectual landscape is both fascinating and inspiring. But, having grown into adulthood and “[given] up childish ways” (1 Cor 13:11), how could I have any hope of reclaiming that youthful wonder for my own sake?

Reading von Balthasar’s little book opened my eyes to the many ways in which our souls are made for that childlike nature. As it turns out, becoming like a child when it comes to faith is an even holier pursuit than I imagined.

Among much fruitful insight into what “Christian childlikeness” means, von Balthasar points out a few lovely examples of the youthful qualities all followers of Christ should pursue and embrace:

1. Practice easy, virtuous giving and receiving.

On page 22 of the book, von Balthasar says:

For the child it is natural to receive good gifts, and so docility, obedience, trust, and sweet surrender are not for him virtues to be expressly achieved, but the most unreflectedly natural things in the world. This is so to such an extent that the child adopts the mother’s giving attitude unquestioningly as the right one, and he gives spontaneously when he has something to give. He shows his little treasures without hiding any of them; he wants to share because he has experienced sharing as a form of goodness.

All parents can spot this sweetness in their children. When your toddler finds something delightful or fascinating—a stone, a stick, a bug—isn’t her first instinct to share it with you? To show it to you? To give it to you (even if she expects you’ll immediately give it back)?

This is a beautiful statement on why Christians are called to be like children: we are surrounded by such profound Love that we should be in such a place, intellectually, that we can’t help but emulate it. We should always remember that “sharing is a form of goodness,” and that we can bring that goodness to the world so easily.

Of course, this also means being thankful for what we receive. Gratitude—in prayer, for others, to oneself—can be improved with maturity. We should give without pause like small children do, and give thanks without ceasing like the saints do.

2. Have unfailing trust in our Parent.

Throughout this work, von Balthasar uses examples from the Holy Family to talk about what it means to “become like this child.” In many cases, he highlights the familial relationship between Jesus and the Father as one we can, in some very important ways, recognize and emulate in our own families—and in ways we should emulate in our relationship with God.

For instance, from page 31: “In the Son, the Spirit keeps alive the unshakable trust that the Father’s every ordinance … will always be an ordinance of love, which the Son, now that he is a man, must reciprocate with human obedience.”

This is a message we hear from Christ throughout the New Testament. One of my favorite examples is Matthew 6:25-26, where Jesus says: “‘Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?’”

For children raised in a happy home, as God designed it to be, there is simply no reason for them to doubt they will be kept safe, comfortable, and healthy under their parents’ care. They don’t fret over tomorrow or the next meal or the weather. They simply go about their day and, even in difficult or hungry or scary moments, they never hesitate to cling to their parents and wait for them to make things better—and they never, at this childlike stage, lose faith that things will be better.

How beautiful life would be if we could retain for ourselves that unshakable trust in our heavenly Father—that simple confidence that, no matter what, He will care for us and everything will be okay. If only we were as eager to please and as easy to comfort as the children we once were.

3. Adopt a playful, unworried sense of time.

One further example. In the fifth chapter of the book, von Balthasar says:

The child has time to take time as it comes, one day at a time, calmly, without advance planning or greedy hoarding of time. He knows nothing of appointment books in which every moment has already been sold in advance. … Play is possible only within time so conceived. … And only with time of this quality can the Christian find God in all things, just as Christ found the Father in all things. Pressured man on the run is always postponing his encounter with God to a ‘free moment’ or a ‘time of prayer’ that must constantly be rescheduled. … God defines himself as ‘I am who I am,’ which also means: ‘My being is such that I shall always be present in every moment of being.’

I’m not sure what’s harder to achieve in my life today: that absolute trust in God’s will, or this utterly unstructured treatment of time.

Certainly it’s impossible to completely de-compartmentalize our time as adults. Anyone who works full time, goes to school, has household responsibilities, pursues personal hobbies, or otherwise goes about an independent life understands that. To some extent, we can’t regain that childlike abandon. Our schedules are a necessity of modern, grown-up living.

But how do you spend your moments? Do you find yourself becoming pulled constantly in different directions by distractions, or waiting for the next appointment on your schedule such that you don’t accomplish what you meant to right now, or dreading the end of your “free” time, or putzing around with your phone when you should be focused on the memories unfolding in front of you?

I know I do.

And do you always open yourself up to prayer throughout the day, no matter what persona you have to put on in a given moment, so that your conversations with God can be free-flowing and constant rather than confined to a Sunday morning and a bedtime routine?

Too often, I don’t.

A child is only ever himself in any given moment of any given day. He moves from experience to experience—sometimes easily, sometimes not—always with his full self invested in it. I want that authenticity and the rewards that come with it, too.

Go Home and Love Your Family

It’s not easy to follow Christ’s commands, and the call to become more childlike in a world that strips even our children of their youth far too soon is no exception.

But I think the important thing to remember is that it’s not about recapturing lost innocence or ignorance. It’s not about closing our eyes to the larger world and spending all our time at play. It’s about devotion, openness to growth, learning, and leaning. I think it’s pretty easy to see that, with the possible exception of their worst days, my children are much better than me at all of those things.

I want to grow with them just as they demand to grow with me.

Why Parents Should Be More Like Their Children

Some time ago, I discovered a little book that spoke very deeply to me.

Unless You Become Like This Child by Hans Urs von Balthasar is a theological reflection on what it means to be childlike in faith, and how embracing that state of mind draws us closer to Christ and helps us to be better disciples, neighbors, and people.

I have read it twice now, and referred back to it more often than that, and I know I will continue to do so for years to come.

Why?

“Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3-4

Those are Christ’s words to his disciples. But what do they mean?

In a couple of posts, I’d like to examine that with you. Let’s begin with the basics: why is becoming like a child a worthwhile pursuit for a Christian parent? (Check out my second post on this book here.)

Like My Children?

My three-year-old has recently developed a charming habit. She demands that both my husband and I go through a specific litany of bedtime well-wishes before she permits us to close her bedroom door and go about our hour or two of freedom before we’re too tired to stay awake ourselves.

After weeks of this, I still haven’t nailed down the precise order in which we need to blow a kiss, say “I love you,” “sleep good,” and “goodnight,” and wait for her to do the same before we can close the door without hearing her screech in protest.

And my 20-month-old son likes to play a fun game of his own. It’s called “Can you guess what this noncommittal gesture means before I scream my head off over your total ignorance of my needs?” and I’ve literally never won.

Naturally, I’m not generally inclined to believe children are unequivocally the admirable, obedient souls I picture the greatest saints to be.

So does Jesus literally want me to be childlike? Is he absolutely certain that that’s my way not just to heaven, but to “greatness” in heaven?

The Holy Love of Parent and Child

Though children may lack the reason (and reasonableness) we strive for as adults, they are, indeed, chock full of wonderful qualities we should be striving for, too. To begin with, perhaps the most touching lesson from von Balthasar’s work here is how the nature of human, motherly, parental love emulates the profound love that exists between God and his children.

In many ways, it’s the way children think that we should admire—maybe not so much the way they behave. We should be mindful of how they understand us, their parents, as we examine how we understand God.

Consider this example: On page 12, von Balthasar notes that “at first the child cannot yet distinguish between parental and divine love.”

How staggering is that? Our children can’t distinguish between the love we have for them and the love God Himself has for them. They can only know that they are deeply loved and cared for.

There is a reason the family is called the domestic Church. We emulate the Holy Family, the love in the Trinity, and the greater communities in which we grow and help others grow.

Your child looks up at you and sees the adoring face of God. This makes sense in many ways—you, after all, participated in his creation and have the charge of teaching him about the Faith and the God who loves him. Still, it’s a doozy to consider, isn’t it?

Similarly, I bet you look down upon your sleeping babe and see the face of God in him, too. No creation is more awe-inspiring than the human soul, and you have the profound gift of bringing one of those souls into the world and raising him up to be good.

This is an immense responsibility. We are everything to our children, and at times, that can be a heavy burden to bear. This vocation is no joke.

The Ultimate Support System for Parents Everywhere

Though this weight is heavy, it isn’t ours alone to carry. After all, at the same time as we are parents and leaders, we are children ourselves—children of the Most High, whom nothing can escape or overwhelm.

“To be a child means to owe one’s existence to another, and even in our adult life we never quite reach the point where we no longer have to give thanks for being the person we are,” von Balthasar says on page 49. How true that is.

We are only strong enough to nurture and keep safe our children’s love and trust for us because our God is, at this very minute, nurturing and keeping safe the love and trust we have for Him—whether we’re thanking Him for it or not.

In the final chapter, on page 69, von Balthasar meditates on Mary’s Fiat: “Mary thus learns that the Most High has ever borne a Son in his bosom, and that this Son has now chosen her bosom as a dwelling-place. If she were to reflect on her own possibilities aided by an ordinary ‘adult’ understanding, the result of her meditation would simply be: ‘impossible.’ … However, being a perfect child of God, she does not reflect upon herself but places herself at the disposal of God’s every action.”

Imagine what God can do in our lives if only we adore Him as a girl adores her Papa. What are some areas of life in which you struggle to give God your unconditional “yes,” and how can you work toward healing that struggle—toward becoming more childlike in your devotion to our Father?

No Greater Privilege

Finally, I want to close this first post with a quote (found on page 70) that sums up this book’s special relevance for moms. By emulating Mary in this journey, we can be true children of God and wonderful mothers. This is how we can ensure our humble vocations are truly integral in God’s plan for the world:

“She [Mary] will have to do both things at once: introduce her Child into the business of being human (and this does not merely mean teaching him how to walk and speak, but also introducing him to the religion of his fathers) and learn steadily more from her Child how one behaves as a child of God.”

May we all let our children teach us as much as they learn from us. For parents, there is no greater privilege than to walk this journey with our sweet babies, to guide them on their path—and be humble enough to let them guide us on ours.

Relativism and the Erosion of Truth

We are creatures of need.

At our most basic level, we must eat, drink, seek shelter, stay warm. A little higher up on this hierarchy of needs, we must feel safe from violence and secure in our pursuits. Above that there’s the need for social belonging. Next is respect: we crave the recognition of others and, more importantly, positive self-esteem. Finally, there’s self-actualization: the point at which we realize our full potential.*

Most of us would recognize these needs as simple truths, and it’s obvious that the higher you climb on this pyramid, the more difficult it is to meet each need. Achieving each is dependent on securing the previous, and so life becomes an arduous endeavor for fulfillment.

In our lifetimes, we develop tactics for meeting those needs as best we can. Sometimes we do things right: we prioritize properly to set and achieve positive goals. Other times, we choose shortcuts: bad habits that provide quick satisfaction in lieu of putting in the work to reach big-picture fulfillment.

Relativism—the view that there is no objective right or wrong, and that each of us can decide the truth for ourselves—is our culture’s shortcut. It’s how we bridge the gap between what we should do and what we want to do, without facing the challenges inherent to the disconnect that sometimes exists there. In fact, it’s how we convince ourselves that there is, in fact, no disconnect. Because how can you claim that anyone should do anything when there’s no Absolute Truth at all?

*Abraham Maslow, the American psychologist who developed this framework, later went on to say that “self-transcendence”—in which we pursue some higher, altruistic, spiritual goal, outside of ourselves—is the actual penultimate dimension of need. Ironically, Maslow was an atheist. But doesn’t this theory establish the importance of faith? What better way to explain, in secular terms, why the pursuit of God’s will is the natural end to which our everyday behaviors must be the means?

Cognitive Dissonance

To dig into this further, we need to understand that our minds are averse to what we call cognitive dissonance. In a way, this means that we want our beliefs and behaviors always to be in harmony.

For example, say you believe that “people with anxiety are weak.” But then your sister—who has overcome some immense obstacles, including raising a child with extensive medical needs—confesses to you that she’s been seeing a therapist and has a prescription for Xanax after a recent, debilitating bout of panic attacks. Deep down, your reactive behavior is to judge her: Wow, and here I thought she seemed so together.

On some level, though, there’s a disconnect here that would bother you: How can I judge my sister as weak when I know her to be strong? How can someone so strong struggle with a condition that afflicts only the weak? Your mind would want to correct it, likely via one of three tactics:

  • #1: Fundamentally changing one or more of your relevant beliefs (e.g., accepting that anxiety affects even very strong people, or that your sister is actually a weak person);
  • #2: Gathering new information that reduces the dissonance by outweighing, or objectively disproving, your original belief (e.g., discovering scientific research showing that, in fact, even very successful and otherwise happy caregivers are commonly afflicted with anxiety disorders); or
  • #3: Reducing the importance of your original belief (e.g., realizing that you shouldn’t care at all about how weak a person with anxiety may seem—it’s not your business anyway).

Arguably the most difficult of these methods is the first one. To change your belief that anxiety is for the weak, you’d have to abandon your own paradigms and cease the automatic way in which you judge a man who is too nervous to drive a car (Can’t he just suck it up and run his own errands?). To change your belief that your sister is strong, you’d have to somehow ignore the years of first-hand interactions with her that have made her resilience obvious.

It’s not easy to completely overturn our fundamental beliefs or habitual behaviors. It’s one thing to convince yourself that perhaps you didn’t know enough about a subject (tactic #2) or placed too much importance on it (tactic #3); it’s quite another to admit that you’ve been outright wrong all along.

Of course, in this example, the mental exercise of correcting dissonance can have a positive outcome: it can help us overcome negative stereotypes and become more understanding of the people around us. But this instinct for mental harmony can also become a crutch that helps us subvert our core belief systems.

Dissonance Between Friends

Now, let’s look at a conversation which commonly ends in some pervasive, relativistic platitude like “that wouldn’t be right for me, but it’s not my place to tell you what to do.”

Say Timothy and Vince are good friends. They’ve known each other since high school, and are now in their late forties with good careers and healthy families. Both attended church together as teens, and they were married in that same church just a couple of years apart. Timothy comes from divorced parents who fought viciously during their separation; his relationship with his father, who virtually disappeared from his life after the legal battle, has never been the same. Vince comes from a traditional family and his parents, who have both died, were together for 40 years.

Vince invites Timothy out to catch up; it’s been a while since they watched a game together. During a commercial break, Vince surprises Timothy with a confession.

Vince: “So Jane and I have decided to see other people.”

Timothy: “Oh, wow, man. I’m sorry to hear that. Have you decided who’s going to keep the house?”

Vince: “No, no, it’s not like that. We’re going to stay together because she’s not working and can’t afford to move anywhere on her own, plus keep the kids. We’ve just sort of lost interest in each other, and this seems like the simplest solution.”

Timothy: “Huh—I see. How did all of this come about? How did you guys even start that conversation?”

Vince: “Well, it’s an old story, I guess. There’s this new attorney at work and she made me feel like a hound again, you know? I haven’t felt like that in ages. It wasn’t long before things between us were getting heavy, and Jane found some text messages on my phone. I came clean right away; told her I’ve just been feeling like things between us weren’t really working anymore. I asked her, ‘Why waste time feeling unhappy when we could try something new? Life is short.’ It’s not like we’d even touched each other in months. There was just nothing there. She was real quiet but didn’t put up a fight. She didn’t want to figure out how to go back to work, and I didn’t want to miss out on the kids, so I told her we should just stick around but do our own things.”

Timothy: “Jeez. And she was okay with all of that?”

Vince: “Yeah. I mean, she hasn’t said no yet. So far neither of us has voiced any complaints. The kids don’t have to find out. And this way Jane doesn’t have to worry about me anymore. We can just take charge of our own lives and keep living together like we always have. We’ve basically been like roommates for a while anyway. Why not make it official?”

Timothy: “Wow. Well, I could never do that, but I hope it works out for you, man.”

What thought process might Timothy be trying to cycle through here? Let’s break it down.

Timothy has always seen Vince as someone who was committed to his family; his kids go to private schools and have big college funds, he was never an excessive workaholic, and his wife always seemed happy that she could stay home and spend time with the kids instead of having to work full time like Maggie, Timothy’s wife, does, to help make ends meet. Vince went on and on at his bachelor party about how much he loved his bride, and he didn’t do anything sketchy there and hasn’t since (until now). Plus, according to Vince, Jane was fine with it. She was going along with the arrangement “without any complaints.” And maybe it was better for the kids that their parents would still appear together, and not fight in court for the next several years.

Still, things aren’t really in harmony here. Timothy believes that parents who leave marriages tend to miss out on the closest possible relationships with their children (like his own dad did). He also believes that marriage is precious, and that it shouldn’t be entered into—or set aside—lightly (especially after seeing his mom suffer through her divorce from his dad). Finally, he believes that Vince is a good provider for his children, and that he genuinely appreciates his family. But he’s not seeing these beliefs line up, given Vince’s choices.

Timothy can try to respond to this dissonance in a few ways:

  • He can acknowledge that Vince’s behavior doesn’t match up with Timothy’s belief in him as a good family man, thus making a new judgment that Vince’s moral framework no longer matches his own (the consequences of which could involve losing Vince as a friend, or confronting Vince about his actions);
  • He can tell himself that his understanding of marriage and why it’s important for a family’s foundation is too narrow, and can be broadened to include the co-parenting and co-habitating arrangement that Vince is describing (after all, it seems to be working for Vince so far, and Vince has more exposure to healthy marriage than Timothy does, given their parents’ situations); or
  • He can reduce the importance of his opinions altogether (because aren’t they just that—opinions?), and choose to believe Vince when he says he isn’t harming anyone and should be able to make his own decisions.

Which of those options sounds like it involves the least mental and social gymnastics?

Who Am I to Judge?

Relativism so quickly takes root in us precisely because that last option is easiest.

It’s incredibly difficult to confront—or, worse, lose—a friend over a personal and tender subject like this. It’s difficult to change our own beliefs across the board, based on the possibly sketchy experiences of another person. But it’s not that hard to think ‘It’s none of my business,’ and simply ignore some potential red flags, because we’d rather trust our friends and maintain the status quo.

Taking that one step further, it almost seems like the better way to operate, doesn’t it? Relativism seems like a perfect way to “live and let live.” We don’t get in other people’s business, and they don’t get in ours—we simply coexist. Why shouldn’t we accept our differences of opinion, and choose to live and work beside our neighbors without deigning to think our choices are more valid than theirs?

In truth, though, taking a relativistic stance is not an act of love. It’s an act of cowardice.

Edward Sri, in his book Who Am I to Judge? Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love, summarizes this truth well: “Relativism … divides us. It trains us to focus on ourselves and ignore the people around us—what they’re going through, how they’re living, and ways they might need our help.”

relativisim quote 1

Thus, relativism becomes a philosophy of self-centeredness. Sri goes on: “In many ways, relativism paralyzes us. So we sit back and do nothing, and let our friends and relatives damage their lives.”

The neglect goes both ways. Don’t we all believe that the people we love help make us better? But how can they if we demand their apathetic, unconditional acceptance of even our worst behaviors?

A New Normal

Sri’s book discusses how relativism dominates our current culture, why it came to be that way, and how we can confront it. The short of it is that we’ve traded the classical moral code for a new one—one that can be summarized as “minding your own business.” Because, Sri notes, despite a common refrain to the contrary, relativism does call us to project an ethical framework onto others:

At first glance, [relativism] seems like a good way to promote tolerance of diverse views. But we must understand very clearly that relativism, in fact, is not value neutral. Relativism itself is a certain way of looking at the world. And this view—that there is no right or wrong—is being imposed on us. In other words, the belief that there is no moral truth is itself a point of view. And those who do not agree with this relativistic perspective are being forced to play by its rules or risk being labeled as judgmental if they uphold traditional moral values. (emphasis original)

Joseph Ratzinger—also known as Pope Benedict XVI—also talked about this trend in Without Roots: “The more relativism becomes the generally accepted way of thinking, the more it tends toward intolerance, thereby becoming a new dogmatism. … It prescribes itself as the only way to think and speak—if, that is, one wishes to stay in fashion. Being faithful to traditional values and to the knowledge that upholds them is labeled intolerance.” Ultimately, he concludes, “I think it is vital that we oppose this imposition … which threatens freedom of thought as well as freedom of religion.”

As Catholics, we live tenets of faith that are often unpopular at best, and ridiculed at worst. We believe in the utmost respect for life at all stages, despite circumstances that may make this position inconvenient or painful. We believe in sexual ethics as the truest expression of love and fulfillment of God’s design for men and women. We believe in the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We believe in doing good for our neighbors. We believe in setting aside materialism. We believe in our obligation to pursue, respect, and submit to the sacraments in many facets of life, remaining loyal to the Mass, to marriage, to confession, to religious life.

All of this means that we believe in a moral framework that cannot be boxed in as a relative truth. It is universal. And it is our responsibility to live and defend it at every opportunity, with kindness and firmness, within our Church and outside of it.

This is, sometimes, an intensely difficult responsibility. Some of us are better at it than others. (I’ve always been the “live by example” type myself, often choosing the easier route of simply living by this moral framework in the hopes that I will influence others subtly—and deftly avoiding direct confrontation at all costs. Not the bravest form of evangelization, I admit.) But no matter how we do it, it rarely makes us popular.

There are few more efficient avenues to the erosion of truth than the relativism that dominates popular thinking in our communities. By trying hard to swim up that stream and resist its pull, we are not pushing away our neighbors—on the contrary, we’re trying to bring them home. And we are not lifting ourselves up as “better” people—just hoping for a better world in which our own children can grow well.