Novena to the Immaculate Conception

Today begins the Novena to the Immaculate Conception:

“Wherefore, in humility and fasting, we unceasingly offered our private prayers as well as the public prayers of the Church to God the Father through his Son, that He would deign to direct and strengthen our mind by the power of the Holy Spirit. In like manner did we implore the help of the entire heavenly host as we ardently invoked the Paraclete. Accordingly, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the honor of the Holy and undivided Trinity, for the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and for the furtherance of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own:

‘We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.’

Hence, if anyone shall dare — which God forbid! — to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should dare to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he think in his heart …

We have, therefore, a very certain hope and complete confidence that the most Blessed Virgin will ensure by her most powerful patronage that all difficulties be removed and all errors dissipated, so that our Holy Mother the Catholic Church may flourish daily more and more throughout all the nations and countries, and may reign “from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth,” and may enjoy genuine peace, tranquility and liberty. We are firm in our confidence that she will obtain pardon for the sinner, health for the sick, strength of heart for the weak, consolation for the afflicted, help for those in danger; that she will remove spiritual blindness from all who are in error, so that they may return to the path of truth and justice, and that there may be one flock and one shepherd.”

Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus


Marriage and babies

The lovely Anne Josephine Culbreath was born on Martinmas, weighing 9.5 lbs. Mother and baby are doing well, thanks be to God. The prayers and support of family and friends were simply indispensable. It is humbling to receive so much more than one gives.

What an amazing thing a woman is. My woman in particular. Although I’ve been present for the births of four of our five children, I’m never really prepared for the drama. Some thoughts about childbirth:

1. Few things are as capable of focusing the mind on the realities of love, life, joy, suffering, and death.

2. A woman is never more vulnerable – and never closer to death – than the hour when she brings forth life.

3. The Blessed Virgin Mary is never more present.

4. There is something immensely satisfying in watching a skilled, competent, experienced physician handle a crisis.

5. Home birth is out of the question for us.

6. Nursing is a high and noble profession.

7. It is sad when a hospital is not Catholic.

8. A hospital (or nursing home) chaplainship should be the most highly coveted position in the Catholic priesthood.


This is our fifth child. Although there were a few raised eyebrows, for the most part everyone was respectful. One nurse did ask, incredibly, “So are you guys about done now?” – but I think she was just reaching for some trivial conversation in a busy and difficult moment.


One of the nurses came in with some papers and asked for the baby’s race. She looked at me, and then she looked at my wife. I said, “Well, my wife is Vietnamese with a little French in there somewhere. I’m mostly Danish and Scottish, with some English and Swede. My father also tells me that I’m a direct descendant of Pocahontas.” She paused for a moment with a confused look on her face, and then left the room. Yes, I had a little fun with that one. Heh.


Married people are not monks or nuns. Therefore, babies provide what little asceticism is imposed on us. Here’s a neat essay that says it better than I do. I’m not sure how we would have handled this if I had worked a real job that required punching a time-clock. In the last weeks of her pregnancy she was experiencing frequent contractions and I did not want her driving. So I drove her to her doctor’s appointments, took the kids to music lessons, went shopping, etc. She won’t be driving again for a couple of weeks. The weeks before the birth were good for me in other ways. By necessity, I spent a little more time with the kids. My usual two or three drinks in the evening often turned into one, or none. My working hours were somewhat more productive because they had to be. Now that the baby is home, everything revolves around her needs. We’ve got a queen-sized air mattress on the living room floor and very little walking space. The first night, LeXuan might have slept two hours at the most. I think I slept three and a half hours, mostly when I got back from a 4:30am emergency run to an all-night supermarket for infant formula. To think I had almost forgotten …


The experience of childbirth exposes all kinds of modern deceptions. Feminism, of course, is the first domino to fall. The differences between the sexes are impossible to avoid, the reality of fatherhood is ever-present, and the vulnerability of women is central to the experience. Individualism is the next domino: the radical dependency of mother and child can be jolting. All those relationships you thought you didn’t need are now essential. Egalitarianism is also dashed by reliance on a smoothly functioning hierarchy, and by dependence upon the language, customs, obligations, values, skills and intelligence of one’s neighbors.


Yesterday was my wife’s birthday. I explained my dilemma to the local florist this way. “Now, my wife just had a baby on November 11. Her birthday, however, is today. What’s the protocol in a situation like this? Can I get just one bouquet of flowers to cover both events? Or do I need to buy one for the childbirth and one for the birthday?” I didn’t really get an answer. She sold me one arrangement and told me to come back if I had any problems …


As a humorous aside, on the way back from the hospital one day I decided to take the kids to dinner at one of Glenn County’s fine dining establishments. It was a Mexican restaurant with a good reputation in Hamilton City. The food was decent, but there were a few flies buzzing around that were making us miserable. Our waitress was a cheerful, plump, grandmotherly Mexican matriarch. When I explained the problem to her, she gave me a sympathetic look and told me to wait as she disappeared into the kitchen. She returned a few moments later and handed me a flyswatter. That’s right, a flyswatter, one that had seen quite a bit of recent use. So I thanked her, got up from my chair, and proceeded to make war on the flies while my kids ate their dinner. I think I must’ve killed six or seven of the little pests, which was quite a feat considering that I was laughing the whole time. Not exactly how I wanted to spend my dinner hour! They should be thankful I wasn’t Erik Keilholtz or some other restaurant reviewer in cognito. I couldn’t bring myself to reduce the tip. As far as this waitress was concerned, we were just friends eating in her home dining room.