Tag Archives: Christine Valentine-Owsik

Envy can leer from strange corners

“He got a raise that’s better than mine.” “I deserve more benefits.” “They have an unfair advantage which makes our jobs harder.” “You’re lucky you landed that position [interview] [award] [opportunity] [spouse][family] [golf score].” Sound familiar? Resentments involving status, liberality, ability, esteem – even character – are as old as time.

Christine Valentine-Owsik

An odd sting in extending hospitality or altruism – whether on a broad scale or one-on-one – is often the bitter chill from others who compare themselves to the benefactor or recipient. Even accomplished peers with similar breadth of experience in business, education, and hardknocks can bristle at a junior colleague’s integrity or distinction.

Take a peek. A subordinate invites several supervisors to his home for a Christmas party. He earns considerably less than they do, but he and his wife enthusiastically spend weeks planning the menu, cocktails and music. His children dress nicely, help serve, and hang coats. His wife cooks everything, splurges on fresh flowers, and presents each guest a handmade ornament. He even obliges their requests to play some sing-a-long carols on the piano. Several guests comment on what fun it all is, the delicious food, and attractive holiday decor. A few others take note and utter not a word. They don’t sing, either. What’s up with that?

“Are you envious because I am generous?”

In the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20: 1-16), the Lord – personified as the vineyard owner – receives complaint from the day’s first-workers about late-hires receiving the same wage as they did. The owner doesn’t apologize for his generosity or affluence – but instead asks them if they’re envious because of it! He throws more fuel on the fire, declaring, “Am I not free to do as I please with my own money?” Wow, right? It’s always confounding that he didn’t instead dock them without any pay for their impertinence and ingratitude. The firstworkers weren’t just envious of others receiving what they did, but of the owner’s incredible beneficence. His virtue exposed their lack of it.

It is evident that some get more – and different – gifts than others. No two journeys or ‘benefit packages’ are alike, temporally or spiritually. In contrast to the renewed push for wealth redistribution now (we called it “communism” back in the day), God’s plan involves lots of inequality – in physical traits, health, prosperity, athleticism, intelligence, and affability – as well as in weaknesses and problems. We take the hand we’re dealt … and we deal with it.

Distress at another’s excellence – especially in virtue – is the worst sort of envy, said the late Fr. John Hardon, S.J. “It is the envy of sanctity,” he said, “and Christ – along with many prefigures in salvation history – suffered it repeatedly.” The fallen angels envied their Maker, Satan envied the First Couple’s happiness, Cain envied Abel’s pureheartedness, Saul envied David’s prowess, Herod envied Christ’s moral superiority, even Pilate envied Christ for His burgeoning leadership influence.

Emulating and honoring the Great Benefactor remains the ultimate incentive, however, for sharing every good gift, no matter the earthly cost or sacrifice in human regard.

CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s Editor.

Columbus – apostle to the Americas

It is dizzying to endure the popular disdain for Christopher Columbus. The discoverer of the New World was a devout Catholic, as many historians and the Holy See have attested. Columbus’ decisions and behaviors were greatly influenced by his desire to honor God. But that isn’t what we hear.

Christine Valentine-Owsik

Time to shine some light on forgotten reality.

In the 1870s, a number of Fathers of the First Vatican Council proposed Columbus’ canonization – not only because he introduced Christianity to the New World, but because of his character and virtue. Imagine that. Many simply will not – and ride the pop-train of malignment, touting Columbus as a hater with inexcusable sin.

The life of a culture is intertwined with its history, not in denying it. Columbus’ discovery is indeed extraordinary, but opening up two American continents to Christianity has been called the greatest evangelistic feat since the days of St. Paul. Perhaps that’s the real ‘problem.’

He was a man of deep piety – attending daily Mass at a convent chapel in Italy, where he met his first wife, Donna Phillipa. She died within two years of marriage, after giving birth to their first son, Diego. This caused Columbus tremendous grief; though he was only 30, all his hair turned gray. Ten years later he married again, to Donna Beatrix Enriquez of Spanish aristocracy. Their only child, Fernando, was born the following year in 1488.

Here’s where some historians bungle the threading. A Spanish librarian found a copy of Columbus’ last will wherein he designated a pension for Beatrix, “mother of his second son, Fernando” … which Columbus then says is “for the relief of my conscience.” The librarian presumed Beatrix was his concubine. This sloppy attribution catalyzed other animosities – upon which hostile writers and biographers have feasted since.

Columbus was a third-order Franciscan tertiary, taking Franciscan friars with him on his voyages. He went to confession regularly, had love for the Real Presence and had devotion to Mary. His shipmen maintained daily prayer, and his son Fernando noted specially: “He was so strict in matters of religion…that he might have been taken for a member of a religious order.”

Then there are Columbus’ own writings. His Book of Prophecies, scarcely mentioned by biographers, was begun in 1502 after his third voyage to America. He cites Scripture at length, following God’s will, and extending Catholicism afar. In 1491, one year before discovery of America, Spain was finally liberated from 700 years of Muslim domination – and Columbus’ voyage-journal reveals his aim to surpass Islam with spread of Christianity.

As early as 1493, he wrote to the Royal Treasurer of Spain, calling discovery of the New World a great victory – but not in the typical sense. Rather, Columbus says: “Since our Redeemer gave this victory to our most illustrious King and Queen … it is fitting for all Christendom to rejoice … and give solemn thanks to the Holy Trinity … for the great exultation it will have and the turning of so many peoples to our holy Faith.”

Hail Christopher Columbus, sir. 

CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s Editor.

Early wonder years in Catholic school

Forty-nine years ago this month, I put on an itchy wool-plaid jumper, beanie, blazer, maroon knee socks and regulation oxford shoes to venture out to the bus stop — alone — for my first day at Sacred Heart School in southern New Jersey. Back then, our pastor could waive the kindergarten requirement if parents made the case that we were ready for first grade. Mom lobbed a convincing pitch.

Christine Valentine-Owsik

An exasperated nun rushed down the school’s iron steps waving, her full black habit billowing in the rainy wind…the bell had rung and everyone was inside. “Are you Christine Valentine?” she barked, mispronouncing my last name to rhyme with my first. I flinched as she pointed me to her classroom. I didn’t know how to address nuns or what was expected. I sensed I’d be learning PDQ.

A stack of new books was on every old desk, and Sister Julia hustled me to my seat. She began reviewing numbers out loud, asking each row to count upward in unison. I had no idea. Suddenly we were on to identifying colors, with her pointer slapping large color-circles above the blackboard. Again, no idea. Everyone knew I was out of sync — they were giggling and side-glancing.

But I caught on. By November, I knew the alphabet, colors, numbers, telling time, basic prayers, printing, and simple reading — and began cursive writing, which seemed like personalized art. What Sister Julia didn’t realize about me was, I wanted to learn and had looked forward to school. I tried hard to win her over. We knew our parents wouldn’t respond to school complaints — we had to sink or swim.

I remember Sister teaching us our first Bible story about Adam and Eve. She hung a giant Bible reader above the board, and with her pointer, had us read the large words aloud. I was transfixed — these two people listened to a snake and ruined life for everyone over an apple? I was enthralled with the artwork — flowers, brooks, animals, fruit groves and angels — and secret gardens. It began an enduring curiosity in me about the nature of God and of people, how things came to be — and what’s in store ultimately.

There were years with congenial teachers, and with tough ones. We were taught to obey, adapt and keep going. Our individual hang-ups were not paramount — the teacher was. Her priorities became ours, but we were always accountable. We respected authority, even if we didn’t relish or agree with it. It prepared us for responsibilities of all sorts.

We learned more than we realized. Life is demanding, people aren’t always affable, and their expectations not always comfortable. Every day has its duties, bright spots and disappointments, and we were held to a disciplined regimen. But in that old stone Catholic school with no air conditioning, cafeteria or gym, we had order, safety, and something more. We went to weekly Mass, received sacraments regularly, had parish priests guest-teaching our class, jump-roped with the nuns, and learned our place … for now and later.

I look back on those fledgling Catholic school days with great gratitude. We got so much — solid girding of faith, durable work ethic, lessons in perseverance, obedience, and humility. Pearls for a lifetime.

 

CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s Editor.

A saint’s place in Auschwitz

Last fall during a European road trip, my husband Joe and I visited Poland as we meandered through several countries, from Italy into Eastern Europe.

Christine Valentine-Owsik

A frightening border-stop from Austria into the Czech Republic was an odd foreboding. From nowhere, a police-guard screamed, “PULL OVER!” demanding our papers and destination. Rifle in hand, he leered in at us, then languished checking with his ‘authorities.’ He’s got all our I.D., I thought. “GO ON!” he finally shrieked, shoving our papers back. We sped off like refugees.

Settling in at the Czestochowa Shrine in southern Poland, a priest- friend there suggested we consider a day trip to nearby Auschwitz. “You really shouldn’t miss it,” he said.

We hesitated at visiting the stunning WWII death camp we’d only glimpsed in documentaries. But we felt drawn to go. Joe’s grandparents were from Poland. We would get a close-up of the war-plight of those not lucky enough to have left – like our families had – before the horrific holocaust.

As we drove down the Polish highway on that overcast October day, little green signs for ‘Oświęcim’ (town where Auschwitz camp is located) repeated a creepy graphic. We felt a mounting reticence.

We parked, forgot about lunch, and walked the gravelly mud path toward the curved-iron “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work makes you free”) entrance archway. I hated that sign. Clusters of visitors lumbered among the maroon-brick buildings spiked with ominous chimneys. No one spoke and no birds were heard in the lush treelines – only crunching footsteps in an icy drizzle. Was it like this as they’d shuffled toward their fate?

Going into the starvation block where Polish priest and martyr St. Maximilian Kolbe was put to death in August 1941, we descended narrow concrete steps toward his cell containing a tall candle beside an etched bronze memorial, with one red rose on the floor. We were frozen in time.

When SS guards had randomly chosen 10 prisoners to die as ‘payment’ for three escapees, one chosen cried out, ‘My wife! My children! What will they do?’ Forty-seven-year-old Maximilian stepped forward saying, ‘I am a Catholic priest. Let me take his place. I am old. He has a wife and children.’ The Nazi commandant laughed, then acquiesced and returned Franciszek Gajowniczek to his place. Gajowniczek later recalled: ‘I could only thank him with my eyes.’

Fr. Kolbe was thrown down these concrete steps, to starve in this dark airless cell for two weeks. The entire time, he encouraged his nine cellmates with Christ’s teachings, and they were heard in loud prayer, rosary and singing, which neighboring prisoners also joined. Bruno Borgowiec, a janitor eyewitness of Kolbe’s last days recalls: ‘…Their fervent prayers resounded in all the corridors of the bunker. I had the impression I was in a church.’

Kolbe survived the longest, after which one of the SS guards remarked: “This priest is really a great man. We have never seen anyone like him.”

CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s Editor.

Family memories focused in truth

Mid-summer offers an opportune time to reacquaint with our families – for updates, to discuss problems and beliefs outside the stresses of the school year and holiday seasons. In my own experience, it’s during this slower-paced time that our most important decisions and difficulties can be resolved. It’s an idyllic time to re-focus on God and His will – in leisure, nature, prayer, Adoration, unhurried contemplation. The splendor and symphony of nature woo us toward Him.

Christine Valentine-Owsik

Many of today’s politically correct “norms” aren’t normal at all, but departures from established truth and proven fact. Our kids – from pre-school through grad school – are barraged with “instruction” which flies in the face of Church tradition, historical and scientific wisdom. Recent events have shown that even in certain Catholic schools, the I’m-okay-you’re-okay, situation-ethics approach is favored over objective truth. Regardless of where kids are educated and what tuition costs, it’s still our job as parents and grandparents to clarify truth. This is Christ’s aim for all mankind — … “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2: 4). Summer is a good time to take stock of it all. What do they see as their purpose, what are their perceptions and stresses, and how does it all fit with ultimate Truth? Same goes for what’s happening in our own lives.

Watching the evening news, we see broadcasters doing interviews with random folks asking them if they know the historical reason for Independence Day, who the first American president was, or to identify key current events. Dumbstruck, they dither and laugh at their own cluelessness, spouting arrogant and ridiculous responses. “What are they being taught in the schools?” we ask.

Goodies like this.

Traditional religious and historical teachings are for throw-backs, trend-tolerance is real compassion and being “nice,” and keeping one’s opinions quiet on morality is the rule. They toss in a dose of contempt for authority, for the value of earnings and private property, and lessons of antiquity. Can’t we all just get along? Few kids take an interest in real research, reading or rigor anymore, not to mention awareness of God. But such are the things of true standout, now and later.

Mediocrity of thought – from educational manipulating – has become pervasive and dulled kids’ virtues of fortitude, prudence and temperance … to name a few. Then there’s justice, except not in the classical sense – today everyone wins equally, no one’s accountable for poor preparation, bad intention or infraction, and nobody has more ability or God-given talent than anyone else. Of course, kids — and for that matter, adults — find out fast in the cold real world, it ain’t necessarily so.

The most valuable family memories we can create are those rooted in Truth now, to help them cope later when we’re not around to provide, counsel, or give example. They’re my most cherished memories from my parents’ legacy – on the primacy of God, importance of work and sacrifice, honor of family, clergy and authority, evaluating choices, maintaining integrity, discerning when to fight or walk away, and keeping our eye on The Prize. They are comforting memories with eternal corollary.

 

CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s Editor.

Of blushing brides … and guests

Ah June…a spectacular month with gorgeous blooms, lightning bugs, balmy weather, graduations, Father’s Day cookouts, and of course weddings. The Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of Corpus Christi (Body of Christ) on June 15. How might these things be connected? God ordered them in His perfect plan – the earth’s creation, humanity in His image, Christ as head of the Church, parents to care for children, through the institution of marriage. True marriage is ordained by God, who said so Himself (Gen 2:24), not by governments, civil laws, or group-think.

Christine Valentine-Owsik

Christ worked His first public miracle at a wedding, an unexpected favor to the couple at the prompting – rather, intercession – of His mother. He supplied much-needed fine wine in abundance for the occasion. In essence, He blessed them in their need through His Presence. As the modern-day Body of Christ, we should ponder the deeper meaning. The bride and groom at Cana invited Jesus and His mother to their marriage (John 2:2), something many Catholics don’t do anymore, which sows unnecessary problems for them, their families and invited guests. Not to mention their future children, if they have them.

A recent statistic reveals only 25 percent of self-identified Catholics marry sacramentally in the Church. Not surprisingly, the divorce rate among Catholics – over 50 percent – is indistinguishable from society at-large.

On a typical spring day retrieving the mail, we find shower and wedding invitations for upcoming summer nuptials. Then we read further to see a Catholic opting for the beach, mountain vista, or boat-cruise. No priest, church, or godly tethering … no shoes, either. Come and enjoy, book a waterfront room for the weekend. Suddenly the onus is on us to respond appropriately, knowing hard feelings and accusation are a certainty. Nasty calls and texts rain in, even with just a simple ‘regret’ having been sent back.

“But they don’t practice the Catholic faith,” the families say, “so they’re not bound by Church law.” Oh, but they are. What we mention next can really widen the chasm. Baptized Catholics, even if non-practicing or marrying a non-Catholic, are bound to marry sacramentally for it to be valid by the Church and by God. Otherwise, the “wedding” is, well, not a marriage. And invited Catholics shouldn’t celebrate a non-sacramental union by a baptized Catholic(s) which in fact isn’t real. Our priests tell us this and cite longstanding teaching on it.

During this 100th anniversary of the messages of Our Lady of Fatima, we can recall what 10-year-old Jacinta, one of the three child-visionaries, said of a message given to her: “… Many marriages are not good; they do not please Our Lord and are not of God.”

Fortunately, these unions can be blessed by the Church, even after a non-Catholic ceremony or passage of many years. All it takes is for the couple to invite Christ – He’ll accept the invitation at once. Along with Legatus, my husband Joe and I also celebrate our 30th anniversary, and can attest to the inimitable power of God in our lives. We couldn’t have endured without Him.

CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s Editor.

Great reversals and new beginnings

Reflecting on the amazing reversals from Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion, into the season of the Resurrected Christ, it prompts thoughts on many others. May witnesses spring regrowth from winter dormancy; commemorates the miraculous survival of Pope St. John Paul II of an assassin’s bullet (on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima – May 13, 1981); the Ascension of Our Lord (May 25) in His triumphal reversal of sin and death; and the Feast of the Visitation (May 31), when Mary – instead of reveling in her role as expectant Mother of God – traveled to assist her cousin, Elizabeth, in her pregnancy with St. John the Baptist. Even at every Mass, there’s the Great Reversal of ordinary bread and wine into the Living Christ.

Christine Valentine-Owsik

I’ve often reflected on life’s scenarios as key colorations of the larger tapestry. Some are role reversals, others attitudinal reversals.

In journalism school in the ‘80s, we were taught by a Philadelphia Daily News columnist who was tough to impress. She’d laugh at our assignments, and dissect students’ errors by ripping them aloud. “Now look at this,” she’d say, lighting up a piece on her overhead projector, “what a lousy lead.” There would be a classmate’s name in the corner, for the class to needle. Each time, fewer attended.

“How can you keep readers interested when you write like this!” She’d strike out sentences, paragraphs, and in lucky moments, cross out the page with her squeaky marker. Every class had this public scourging. If not for love of writing, it was fear that drove us to write our very best, hoping to dodge her shootout. Yet I silently admired her know-how, svelte shoulder-padded suits, silk scarves, executive jewelry and makeup – she exuded accomplishment and confidence. I wondered if I’d ever write a column.

Actually, it prepped us for many tough assessments – by ad agency clients, corporate bosses, and of course, editors. What we learned in Catholic school suddenly became relevant professionally: to listen, accept criticism whether just or unjust, and follow orders.

Now I’m a new editor for Legatus magazine – a great responsibility and incredible honor I embrace with gratitude and servitude. A dream come true, really.

I’d wanted to be a biomedical engineer, until I saw the courses. My dad was an engineer, I thought he’d approve. But I was overlooking the tiny reality that math and science were my weakest subjects, and English and religion my best. He sat me down and said, “But what do you like?” Simple answer: to write. That did it. Another dream come true – the end of calculus and chemistry.

We took dad into our home during his final years. Another role reversal – he needed our help, and we and our children needed his humor, wisdom, and closeness. And now that role is reversed again: he advocates and cares for us from beyond.

This past Lent – our toughest ever – I realized acceptance of our Cross (and it changes irritatingly often) is key to our faith. Persevering through life’s dead winters and deserts, through forced sacrifices and harsh reversals, God’s will unveils itself in a spectacular springtime for venturing anew.

CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s Editor.