What This Catholic Wants In a President (And How the Candidates Measure Up) – Part One

Welcome to my very first series!

These Walls - What This Catholic Wants in a President

I’m excited to be undertaking this little project – something of a departure from most of my recent posts, which have waxed sentimental on home and love and my three beautiful little boys.

These Walls - What This Catholic Wants in a President Part One - 1

Sniff, sniff. Maybe it’s the pregnancy hormones.

Anyway, this series is not a departure from my most recent post, nor will it be surprising to anyone who’s clicked over to this tab.

This week you’ll be getting three posts from me on the topic:

  • Tonight I give you Part One, in which I describe where I come from, politically, and explain why my Catholic faith has had a major influence on my political outlook.
  • Tomorrow you’ll get Part Two, in which I’ll discuss some of the qualities I want in a president, the kind of experience I want him or her to have had, and a few broad issues (government size, taxes, bipartisan cooperation) that tend to have an impact on the more specific, exciting ones.
  • Friday you’ll get Part Three, in which I’ll get into those more specific, exciting political issues – ones like abortion, immigration, the environment, etc.

Beginning next week, and going on for however long I have the stomach for it, I’ll be periodically posting my thoughts on how the individual candidates stack up to my little (okay, long) list of qualifications. I doubt I’ll get to all of them (sooo… maaany… caaandidates…), but I hope to get to most, including all of the frontrunners.

Thanks for joining me today! I hope you’ll come back to check out the rest of the series.

~~~

As a refresher to long-time readers and an introduction to newer ones, let me start by sketching out why this stay-at-home mom makes a habit of writing about politics. And Catholicism. And the meeting of the two.

First and foremost, I grew up in a political family who happened to be Catholic. (Not the other way around.)

My Granddad, who has been involved in Republican politics for most of his life, served as a local elected official through most of my childhood. My aunts and uncles served as treasurers and campaign managers on Granddad’s and others’ campaigns, and we all pitched in on election days. My childhood memories are full of political fundraisers, campaign signs, parades, and the Republican booth at the county fair. It remains rare for us to have a family gathering in which politics isn’t discussed.

In college, I majored in political science. After graduation, I worked for the federal government. Later, I worked as a lobbyist.

And through it all, ever so gradually, my Faith grew more important to me.

In high school, I defended the Church – and especially her position on abortion – from precocious friends who delighted in the debate. In college, I was exposed to devout Catholics (some of them seminarians) who were far more grounded in the Faith than I was. I was challenged by professors (representing a range of religions and political persuasions) who expected logical, well-formed arguments. I interned for an organization that represented the Church’s positions on political matters. I wrote my thesis on why and how the faithful American Catholic fits neatly into neither political party.

As a young professional, though I worked a very staid, governmentish government job, I dabbled in buzzing, what-do-you-do, who-do-you-know Washington. And I was sorely tempted by it. Ultimately, though, I found my place advocating on behalf of the Church, for the poor and the immigrant and those whose religious freedom was under threat. I remained there for over five years, until full-time motherhood beckoned.

~~~

I may be a lifelong Republican, born into a solidly, actively Republican family, but I wouldn’t say I’m your typical Republican. (As if any member of the party of Lincoln and Reagan and Tea Partyers and Pro-Lifers and farmers and Wall Street’ers can really be called ‘typical’.)

Because first and foremost, I’m a Catholic. And that designation will always mean more to me than that of ‘Republican.’

For one, my Faith forms and encapsulates my convictions on God and goodness and justice and salvation and eternity. (And really, what can be more important than those things?)

For another, political parties change their stripes all the time. What was liberal becomes conservative, what was conservative becomes populist, what was popular becomes unpopular. Polls change, trends change, issue positions slip and slide all over the place. But the Church – and the Truths she defends – they remain steady.

So if I attach myself to a thing so of-this-world as a political party at the expense of the Truths and rights and wrongs of particular issues and particular candidates – well then, I think I’ve erred, not just logically, but morally.

So I no longer go down the list and think that anyone with an (R) after their name is good enough. I no longer look for my crop of political priorities in the platform of the Republican Party.

Instead, I start with the fundamental Truth that underlies the Church’s position on most of the issues that people consider ‘political’: All human life is sacred.

All human life is sacred – no matter its age or condition or station.

That means the unborn baby at risk of abortion, the pregnant woman with no financial or emotional support, the child growing up in poverty, the black man unjustly targeted by police, the police officers who risk their lives for the safety of their communities, the undocumented immigrant, the refugee abroad, the serviceman completing his third tour, the murderer on death row, the cancer patient living out her remaining days in hospice care – all of their lives are sacred.

And I’m obliged to favor policies that respect the importance of those lives.

So that’s what I try to do. And that’s what I want ‘my’ presidential candidate to do – because yes, I want a president who reflects my values.

Why, you might ask, do I still identify as a Republican when I no longer agree to always toe the Republican line? I suppose it’s because I still want a place in our imperfect, limited political system. (And specifically, I want to be able to vote in primaries.) The fact remains that we have just two major political parties in this country and most anyone who wants to make a difference has to choose one or the other. Between the two, the answer for me is still clearly: R.

~~~

To close, allow me to clarify two points:

  • First, though I prioritize the Church’s teachings in my own political decision-making, and though I used to lobby for the Church, I do not claim to speak for it. For the Church’s official positions on national-level policy questions, please see the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Some of the issues I discuss in this series will have a clear connection to those the USCCB advocates on. Others will not.
  • Second, though I may hold a degree in political science, I am no political scientist. I’m a stay-at-home mom who pays a greater-than-average attention to the news. Feel free to call me out on anything you think I’ve gotten wrong.

Thanks again for joining me. I hope to have you back here tomorrow!

These Walls - What This Catholic Wants in a President Part One - 2

If I Believe (or Why I Remain Catholic)

Last week Elizabeth Scalia, who is Managing Editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos, issued a call for Catholic writers to answer the question, “Why do you remain Catholic?”

This “spontaneous symposium,” as Ms. Scalia described it, is a reaction to the recent Pew Research Center report on America’s Changing Religious Landscape. The report found that “The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing.”

Of particular interest to the Catholic Church, Pew reported that the share of Americans who identified as Catholic dropped from 23.9% in 2007 to 20.8% in 2014. (The number of Americans not identifying as members of any faith jumped from 16.1% to 22.8%.)

Even more concerning to the Church, perhaps, than that three-point drop, Pew reported that “[W]ithin Christianity the greatest net losses, by far, have been experienced by Catholics. Nearly one-third of American adults (31.7%) say they were raised Catholic. Among that group, fully 41% no longer identify with Catholicism. This means that 12.9% of American adults are former Catholics, while just 2% of U.S. adults have converted to Catholicism from another religious tradition. No other religious group in the survey has such a lopsided ratio of losses to gains.”

Enter Ms. Scalia’s invitation: “Why do you remain Catholic?”

She’s listed a number of folks’ responses in this post and more in this one. Check them out, or search the hashtag #WhyRemainCatholic to see how other Catholics are responding.

I think it’s a terrific question.

But it’s not the one that occurred to me as I followed coverage of the Pew report’s release last month. For me, another question arose, prompted by the image of a jam-packed school gymnasium on Easter Sunday.

The Churches That Were Never Built

The parish we were attending at the time had an old, lovely, small church. On any given “regular” Sunday, the pews were full and so was the tiny vestibule. But on Easter Sunday, not only did the parish need to add Masses in the church to accommodate the crowds of Catholics who seemed to keep coming, coming, coming out of goodness-knows-where, it also had to add Masses in the parish school’s gymnasium.

The day was always carefully choreographed: two Masses were celebrated simultaneously, cars occupied every square inch of the parking lot, and volunteers would usher one group of Mass-goers off the property just in time for another to be ushered on. It was an impressive operation. And I was always grateful for the uptick in numbers that made it necessary.

But one Easter I looked around at the crowds and wondered how many more churches we would need to build if these Catholics were to attend Mass regularly. I thought of those still at home, too – those who couldn’t even muster the will to celebrate the most important day of the Church’s calendar. What if all those fallen-away Catholics were to fully “come home”?

I was used to looking around at a full church on Sunday mornings. I was used to thinking of the Church as vibrant and diverse and full of young, squealing babies. I was not used to thinking of the churches that had never been built.

These Walls - If I Believe (or Why I Remain Catholic) - 1

Rippling Away From the Center

That image has stuck with me over the years, especially as I’ve thought about loved ones who have drifted – or who seem to be in the process of drifting – away from the Church.

When I stop to consider Catholics as I know them, I envision a drop of water falling into a pool: The drop sinks down and splashes back up to create a thick circular ripple, which, over time, spreads out into thinner, gentler, wider ones. At the farthest reaches, they are barely noticeable.

I know few of those whom I would consider to be inhabitants of the first ripple: those who are really, purposefully devout, who never miss Sunday Mass or Holy Days of Obligation, who make it to lots of daily Masses too, who are whole-heartedly committed to following the Church’s teachings and who work hard to create homes and families that nurture the Faith. (I seek out such people online. I admire them and strive to be more like them.)

I’m much more intimately familiar with (and probably feel more at home with) those of the next ripple: those who are regular Mass-goers, committed members of their parish communities, but not as exact about meeting every obligation or following every teaching.

I love so very many in the next, wider, ripple: those who feel attached to the Church and would undoubtedly identify themselves as being part of it, but – whether due to disagreement with the Church or the simple slide of placing priorities elsewhere – find themselves attending Mass more infrequently as time goes on.

I also love many in the outermost ripples, which fade into the still water surrounding them: Many, sadly, were only raised Catholic in a nominal sense, often by parents who would drop them off for CCD in the years they were to receive a sacrament, but otherwise offer no instruction in the Faith. Others were once more devout, but have since become disenchanted with the Faith (or with the Church), due to any number of (sometimes frustratingly insignificant, sometimes heartbreakingly valid) reasons. Most seem to no longer feel any connection to the Church. They might consider themselves Catholic because they feel like they should be categorized as something, but others wouldn’t even claim the label.

A Different Question

When I saw the results of the Pew survey, I was concerned about the Church’s reported losses. But more than that, I was saddened because I knew that many who identified themselves as Catholic – who would not have shown up as losses on the Pew survey – were likely to be barely hanging on. So many of them are in the outer ripples, so few of them in the inner. If Catholics dropped by three points in the period from 2007 to 2014, how many more would we drop in the next seven years?

Honestly, I don’t feel like the Church has much to fear from a rising, alternate system of religious belief that will poach our members if we’re not careful to modernize in x,y,z ways. I think we should fear losing people because they no longer believe.

The pew numbers might bear this out: “Today, 59% of those raised Catholic still identify with Catholicism as adults, while 41% do not. One-in-five people who were raised Catholic now say they have no religious affiliation, while 10% identify with evangelical denominations, 5% with mainline denominations and smaller numbers with other faiths.”

So of those once-Catholics who no longer identify with the Church, half no longer identify with any religion at all. Given the huge jump experienced by the “no religious affiliation” category (or the “nones”) in 2014, I see every reason to expect that this half-share will increase.

“Among adults who currently have no religious affiliation, there are more former Catholics (28%) and about as many former mainline Protestants (21%) as there are people who were raised with no religious affiliation (21%).”

Of course, the Pew report makes clear that the “nones” aren’t necessarily unbelievers. But the share of nones who are atheist is rising (indeed, the percentage of Americans identifying as atheist nearly doubled in the 2007-2014 period), and I can’t help but wonder whether there’s a long, slow slide from believing in a Faith, to believing in no particular Faith, to maybe believing in something, to not believing at all.

So for me, the question generated by the Pew report isn’t, “Why do I remain Catholic?” It is “If I believe, then what?”

Whether a result of stubbornness or habit or some worthier motivation, there is no question of me leaving my Church. The struggle isn’t between staying and leaving – it’s between conviction, caring – and the apathy that could lead me down a long, slow slide to unbelief.

If I Believe

I think for most Americans, belief in God is a given. It’s how we understand the world: we’re framed by God and country and society. Our givens float around in the background somewhere, vague and harmless.

That’s probably the basis of my own belief, at least – Of course I believe! That’s what people do, right? We say ‘One nation, under God.’ We celebrate Christ’s birth on Christmas and His resurrection on Easter. We pray when people are hurting and we find comfort in the idea that those whom we have loved and lost are enjoying their eternal rest in heaven. It’s just what we do.

If we’re Catholic, our givens might also include Mass every Sunday (or every Sunday that’s convenient), an acknowledgement that the Eucharist is special, a fondness for Mary, and a tendency to rely on a certain few saints (especially St. Anthony when we’ve lost something or St. Joseph when we’re trying to sell a home).

But do we delve further?

Do we function entirely In This World, heavy emphasis on country and society and work and busy schedules and family obligations and sports and music and, and, and? Are we content to let God float there in the background, ready to be pulled out when we face a crisis?

Or do we stop to think about it? About Him?

Do we stop to ask ourselves whether we really, truly, actually believe? If we do ask, and if we indeed find that we really, truly, actually believe – then what? How does our belief impact our lives?

Those are the questions that stop me cold. They scare me a little. If I strip away those givens, those expectations of general, vague, publicly-accepted belief, what do I have left?

I can’t tell you how I came by it (I can only assume it was a gift from God), but I have found a firm conviction lying underneath that surface. I’m grateful for it, because if I were only to rely on the feeling of faith to assure me that my belief is real, I would undoubtedly sometimes think I had none at all. Sometimes the feeling comes, strong and warm, and other times it fades to nothing.

But I do find that conviction.

I believe that God exists. I believe that He made the heavens and the earth and little ol’ me to boot. I believe that He sent his only, much-beloved Son to earth to save us from our sins. I believe that Christ suffered horribly so that we – you and me and that person who cut us off in traffic – might one day enjoy eternal life. I believe that Christ instituted His Church here on earth and that he intended it to always remain One. I believe that humans have free will, which means that we’re just as free to do evil as we are to do good. I believe that our highest calling in life is to choose the good and the right, over and over again until we have united our will to God’s, which is goodness itself.

So if I believe, then what?

If I believe that God created the heavens and the earth and me and my family too, then the least I can do to thank Him is to show up for Mass every Sunday. And say Grace Before Meals. And strive to develop a decent prayer life.

If I believe that God sent his only Son to save us from our sins and that Christ died a horrible death so we might live, then I need to take responsibility for my sins too. I have to work on my faults. I have to ask for forgiveness. I have to forgive those who hurt me.

If I believe that Christ instituted His Church here on earth, then I have to follow its teachings. Even when they’re inconvenient or unpopular – even when they make me strange to those around me. I have to do my part to build up the Church – even when it seems unpopular and strange, too.

If I believe that humans have free will and that we are called to choose the good and the right, then I must strive to do just that. Again and again, over and over, ad infinitum. And I have to – in whatever small ways I can – encourage others to do the same.

When All is Stripped Away

At the end of our final day, however far away that is, what will we find when we strip away those things Of This World?

Will we still cling to country and society and work and busy schedules and family obligations and sports and music and, and, and?

Will we grasp at the God we’ve been content to let float in the background?

Or will we not need to grasp, because we’ll know that He’s been right there beside us the whole time? Will we have lived our lives in such a way that the living has enabled us to return to him as to a dear, old friend?

That’s what I want. For myself, for my family, for all those Catholics who inhabit the wider, gentler ripples – and for you too.

So there is no question of me ever leaving my Church. There’s just me deciding, over and over again, to live my life as if I believe. Because when I strip away the givens and the expectations and the trappings – I do.

These Walls - If I Believe (or Why I Remain Catholic) - 2

Life, Even At The End

Yesterday morning as I cleaned up the breakfast dishes and prepared dinner to go into the crock pot, I listened to NPR, just as I do most mornings. The Diane Rehm Show, with which I frequently disagree but which I nonetheless enjoy, was devoting its 11:00 hour to a discussion on assisted suicide.

Now, I earnestly believe that life is precious and worthy of protection from conception to natural death. And I believe that it is so regardless of an individual’s age or health or wealth or mental capacity. So I knew I would find the conversation disturbing. But I figured it would be good to take in anyway: I think there is an inherent good in hearing an argument fleshed out, whether or not I agree with it.

But about half-way through the program, the conversation got to be too much for me. It was indeed disturbing to hear a cancer patient ponder when her life would no longer be worth living, to hear the story of a 90-year-old-man who so wanted to die that he first tried overdosing on pain medication, then slitting his wrists, and then he shot himself.

Horrible, horrible.

Yes, yes, it’s good to hear an argument fleshed out. But it’s not good to go through the day with a lurking feeling of gloom, when I have little boys to feed and care for and love. So I turned off the radio. I chose peace over enlightenment.

A moment later, during a quick perusal of my Facebook feed, I came across the following video*. (I can’t embed it, so do be sure to click on the link and watch the first three-and-a-half minutes or so. I promise it’s worth it.) The video provides a brief glimpse into the work of the Little Sisters of the Poor. Or maybe I should say the joy of the Little Sisters of the Poor, because that’s really more like it. The video follows the Sisters, whose mission it is to care for the elderly poor, as they throw a small birthday celebration for an older priest. It includes a joy-filled Sister offering wine and happily telling how they were gifted with extra cases of beer. It shows another talking about why they do what they do:

“We celebrate the gift of life, the joy of living. When we care for the elderly poor, we try to make them happy in whatever way we can and sometimes that’s through parties, it’s through good care, good food. It’s love, attention.”

I was struck with the stark difference between the two pieces of media I had just consumed. In one, there was an over-arching sense of death and hopelessness. In the other, there was life and joy.

Yes, of course, the Little Sisters of the Poor video captured a birthday celebration; it didn’t show the Sisters caring for a desperately ill, horribly uncomfortable person. It didn’t show them holding vigil at a deathbed. But the Sisters do those things too. They do them day in and day out; they see more of age, of illness, of poverty, of death than most of us ever will. Yet they are filled with joy.

I have a friend who is a Sister in another order, who worked for a time in a nursing home. She often posted on Facebook about waiting with residents who were nearing death. Sister would sit at their bedside, talking to them and praying for them. She made sure they didn’t have to die alone.

That type of ministry touches me deeply. I think about my life, about all the people I have interacted with and known and loved and I wonder, who will be with me at my last moment? Will anyone be there at all? Lots of people state the vague, “I want to go in my sleep,” but I don’t know that that matters much. I just hope I have someone with me to hold my hand and pray for my soul.

As a Catholic, I recognize that suffering is part of life. I don’t mean that it’s not significant or difficult. I certainly don’t mean that God wills it. And I don’t mean that it’s wrong for a person to want their suffering to end. I only mean that we do ourselves a disservice when we think suffering makes life “not worth living.”

Our society pounds into us, again and again, this idea that life is for the healthy and the happy. And I’m not just talking about bright, shiny magazine spreads. I’m talking about the things we do in our homes and say to each other: We put our animals “to sleep” when they decline in health or ability; we recite a litany of “I don’t care if it’s a boy or a girl, so long as it’s healthy;” we jokingly ask others to put us out of our “misery;” we tut-tut others’ pain when they mourn a miscarriage or the loss of someone very old or very ill. (Seriously, would you ever say “Well, I suppose it was just his time” to the parent mourning the unexpected death of an 8-year-old boy or the widow reeling from the loss of her 32-year-old husband?)

Given all of this – this idea that a life’s value is measured by its vigor – it can be easy to act like very old or very ill people’s lives have ended before they’re actually dead. It can be easy, even, to want them to be actually dead. I won’t claim to be immune from such thoughts.

But I don’t think the Little Sisters of the Poor fall into that trap. Where others see nothing but pain and suffering, the Sisters see lives with as much dignity as those of the healthy and vigorous. They remember that our value does not depend on what we can do or how we feel.

Our lives are always worth living. When I near the end of my own, I hope I’m surrounded by people who remember that.

LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR MISSION, VISION and VALUES 2012

The Little Sisters of the Poor are an international congregation of Roman Catholic women religious founded in 1839 by Saint Jeanne Jugan. Together with a diverse network of collaborators, we serve the elderly poor in over 30 countries around the world.

Continuing the work of Saint Jeanne Jugan, our MISSION is to offer the neediest elderly of every race and religion a home where they will be welcomed as Christ, cared for as family and accompanied with dignity until God calls them to himself.

Our VISION is to contribute to the Culture of Life by nurturing communities where each person is valued, the solidarity of the human family and the wisdom of age are celebrated, and the compassionate love of Christ is shared with all.

Our VALUES

REVERENCE for the sacredness of human life and for the uniqueness of 
each person, especially those who are poorest and/or weakest. This is 
reflected in care that is holistic and person-centered.

FAMILY SPIRIT: a spirit of joyful hospitality embracing all with open arms, 
hearts and minds; fostering participation in the life of the home and rejecting 
all forms of discrimination.

HUMBLE SERVICE: the desire to raise others up and to put their needs before 
our own; an appreciation of simple, everyday tasks and experiences and humble 
means in accomplishing our work.

COMPASSION: empathy for sharing the weaknesses and sufferings of others; 
eagerness to relieve pain in all its forms and to make the elderly happy.

STEWARDSHIP: the recognition that life and all other goods are gifts from God
 and should therefore be used responsibly for the good of all; trust in God’s Providence 
and the generosity of others to provide for our needs; just compensation for our
 collaborators; a spirit of gratitude and sharing.

 

* I came across the video because the Little Sisters of the Poor were recently named to NOW’s “Dirty 100” (oh, the irony) list of organizations that have filed suit against HHS regarding the contraception mandate. See my last post for a few of my thoughts on that subject.

Full Disclosure

As I plan to write about some political and religious issues on this blog, I thought it would be useful to provide a little background on the evolution of my outlook in these areas. (I have all these country songs running through my head as I write this: “Where I Come From,” “God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you,” etc.)

I thought this little ‘disclosure of my biases,’ as I think of it, would be useful for a few reasons: (1) Political and religious subjects can be pretty touchy. (No surprise there.) (2) Our opinions on them usually have a strong basis in our own life experiences. (3) I aim to be as fair, open, and even-handed on this blog as I can be. And (4) I personally prefer news and commentary sources that either (a) represent both sides of an issue equally well or (b) openly disclose their opinions and make no pretense of impartiality. So I kind of thought I’d cover all my bases.

But before I go any further, let me say that this post makes me nervous and I had a hard time writing it. (Which is part of the reason I wrote so few posts this past week. I was trying to take this one in a different direction and it stumped me.) The words below represent my past and my thought processes and my faith, family, and friends, and it’s all very personal. It’s also probably a big ol’ case of TMI. But I felt like I needed to get all this out there before I proceed with a bunch of other posts I have lined up in my head.

So…

I was raised Catholic in that I regularly attended mass with my mother and I was provided with a religious education through our parish. But my father is not Catholic and there was little mention of faith in our (very happy) home. These days when I read blogs that mention a devotion to this saint, or a fondness for that novena, or a special attachment to such-and-such prayer, or a thousand little ways to live out the liturgical seasons, I feel kind of lost. Like I don’t fully fit into a community that should be my own. Yes, I’m Catholic. Yes, I love Christ, I am devoted to His Church, and faithful to its teachings. But no, I’m not familiar with all the trappings of my Faith.

While there wasn’t much discussion of religion in my family, there was a lot about politics. My grandfather was a local elected official, so I was exposed to campaigns and political chatter from a young age. Various family members worked on Granddad’s campaigns and we all helped on Election Day (which was just about my favorite day of the year when I was a child). My family was (and remains) very Republican in a very Democratic state, so I was instilled with a strong attachment to conservative ideals, but no illusion that these ideals were universal. (Rather, I understood that they were uncommon and needed to be defended.)

In my (public) high school I had a great group of smart, articulate, and religiously/politically diverse friends. And we liked a good debate. As the sole practicing Catholic and one of the only conservatives, I became the defender of all things Catholic and some things conservative. Just as my family’s experience as members of a minority party had prodded my attachment to conservatism, so my lunch-table debate experience bonded me to my Faith. Not that I understood it very well: eight years of Sunday school and one year of confirmation class do not a well-informed Catholic make. But my own little role as Defender of the Faith prompted me to research, ask questions, contemplate, and pray.

This all set the stage nicely for my next step: a political science major at a Catholic college. More lunch table discussions, this time with classmates and seminarians who had been raised in devoutly Catholic families, gave me glimpses of the depth and beauty awaiting me in the Church. Philosophy and theology classes helped me to better understand it. And my political science courses, not to mention informal discussions with friends and professors, gave me an appreciation for the broader context in which we live out our religious ideals. I had always been interested in the convergence of differing ideas; in college I became particularly interested in the convergence of politics and religion.

I wrote my senior thesis on “The American Catholic and the Two Political Parties,” which explored the poor fit between the Church’s teachings on matters of public policy and the ideological break-out of today’s American political parties. I also completed an internship with a Catholic organization that advocated on behalf of the Church’s public policy interests. Several years later, after a stint with the federal government, I returned to the organization to work as a lobbyist for the Church.

There, I was tasked with representing the Church’s positions on social justice matters, which included a wide range of issues related to poverty, housing, health care, and immigration. (Along with a few others.) Most of the positions were what Americans would call “liberal.” Which was a real challenge for me. Coming from a conservative background, I was comfortable with the Church’s teachings on abortion and marriage. I was comfortable promoting school choice. But the Church’s social justice teachings made me uncomfortable. I didn’t necessarily think they were wrong; it’s just that they challenged the political ideals under which I was raised and so they caused discomfort.

Oh, what a learning and growing experience it was for me. I read and I talked to people and I prayed.  I began to gain something of an understanding of people who faced challenges that I never had – people who struggled to feed their children and keep a roof over their heads, people who came to this country seeking a better life, people whose poor health or poor treatment by others or whose own poor decisions had stymied their chances of making it on their own – and even people who struggled to be able to function in society at all. I was changed and I was humbled.

I was grateful for the opportunity to give voice to these people’s concerns – and also for what I felt was an opportunity to bring people closer to Christ through this work of His Church. I feel like a cheesy ball of mush writing this, but I had so many moving experiences doing this work: I huddled in a group of elderly immigrant women and tried to convey to them (through our language barrier) that their Church was there for them. I spoke to crowds at parishes and pleaded with them to connect their own preferred cause for the “least of these” with another that was more challenging for them. I testified before lawmakers and told them, time and again, that all human life has value, regardless of its age or station.

Perhaps I have digressed. What I’m trying to explain is that, yes, I come from a particular place on the political spectrum. I get the conservative thing. But I have also been emerged in an unfamiliar (liberal) political territory, and I got to know it too. I feel richer for the experience.

When I was a lobbyist, I found that I could lobby more effectively when I put myself in the shoes of my opponents – imagining and even empathizing with their motivations. I think the same holds true when you’re discussing a difficult subject. All too often these days, people seem to regard consideration of and empathy with “the other side” as a sign of weakness, even foolishness. But it is such an asset. Sure, it helps you to build a solid case for your own cause. But more importantly, it helps you to explore your own opinions and motivations and be sure that you’re on the right course.

When you get together a group of people who all bring this kind of consideration to their conversation – well, that kind of discussion moves everyone forward in understanding. That is what I feel my background has prepared me for and that is what I hope to encourage with this blog.

These Walls

Hello! I’m Julie Walsh, a stay-at-home mom to two toddler boys. I’m a former lobbyist, an all-day NPR listener, and an avid Catholic-mommy-blog reader. I love, love, love to get into a good conversation. About pretty much anything, but especially about my family, my faith, society, politics, current events… and how they all interact. I have this fantasy of sitting in a cozy coffee shop or a snug little bar and discussing the world’s problems with interesting people.

But I have these two adorable little responsibilities, you know? So the closest I get to my fantasy these days is the occasional play-date with a mommy friend, where we maybe fit in a five-minute visit to A Topic of Great Importance, in between our review of developmental milestones, childhood illnesses, and pregnancy experiences (interspersed with admonitions to share and play nicely and not-to-hit-your-brother). If we’re really lucky, we’re drinking a cup of coffee while we chat, sometimes daring to set it down on this lovely table:

Boys and train table

I’m approaching the three-year mark on my role as homemaker/stay-at-home mom, and in that time I’ve (1) spent entirely too much time on Facebook, (2) spoken lots of my political opinions aloud to the radio, and (3) developed wonderful one-sided friendships with a slew of excellent mommy bloggers who don’t even know who I am. I guess that’s the 21st-Century way of socializing a mother of young children, isn’t it? But still, I keep thinking to myself, I want to join that conversation! I want to say something more than what I can fit into a few lines on Facebook! So after almost three years of wanting to blog and thinking I don’t have time to blog and daydreaming topics for blogs and drafting/trashing blog themes, here I am, finally giving it a shot.

As indicated in the subtitle, I intend to blog about some of the goings-on within my own home. But I expect to focus more on the events and ideas and questions that sometimes seem so very far away from the daily tasks of a stay-at-home-mom. (Or this one, at least.) And aside from the physical walls referenced in the blog’s title, I can’t help but think of the figurative walls we so frequently put up between ourselves and others because of our opinions on any number of issues. I plan to explore these in the blog as well.

Overall, I’m stuck on that mental image of a cozy venue for deep conversation on those Topics of Great Importance (and also topics of regular importance). I hope this space becomes something like that. And I hope those who participate in the conversation will do so with respect and kindness, a sincere interest in growing in understanding… and maybe a tasty beverage in-hand.

Boys asleep wine on table