Tuesday, November 29, 2011
I've been asked to speak about the Blessed Mother at my parish this coming March. It's part of a monthly program called Church Chat where "experts" speak about an aspect of the Catholic faith in a question and answer format. When I was first approached to speak about Mary I was so thrilled that there was to be a session about her that I quickly said yes. Of course, unlike the Blessed Mother, my yes's are never really final and peaceful, they always seem to be followed by a great deal of anxiety, and this yes was no exception. I soon found myself panicking over what I should say and the possibility that someone might ask a question that I'm unable to answer, after all, I'm certainly no theologian, I'm just a mom! Besides, I'm most comfortable hiding behind a keyboard, not standing out in the open and speaking to others.
I tried to back out and suggested that they ask someone who really knows what he's talking about and has the ability to inspire, like Bishop Hying. But, everyone knows that the Bishop is terribly busy these days, so my suggestion was downplayed with that excuse and the affirming words that "everyone has great faith in you and is confident that you will do a good job." So, I'm going to speak about Mary this March and you can be sure that I have been praying to her day and night pleading for her assistance and will go on praying to her until that talk is behind me and the people who attend will have gained some new and wonderful insight into the Blessed Mother and why Catholics are so devoted to her.
I'm sure it also helps to read and study all that I can get my hands on about our wonderful Lady, so with that in mind, I recently took my beloved copy of Caryll Houselander's The Reed of God off the bookshelf and have decided to make it an Advent tradition to re-read this enchanting little book each year. Her words, her wisdom, are achingly beautiful and resoundingly true, and the way she sees inside of the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the working of the Holy Spirit within her is so inspiring.
Maybe I can just read The Reed of God at the Church Chat session and let Caryll Houselander do all the work! I certainly could use a little of the secret trust that she speaks of in this segment from the chapter Fiat...
"Our Lady was at the most fourteen when the angel came to her; perhaps she was younger. The whole world trembled on the word of a child, on a child's consent. To what was she asked to consent? First of all, to the descent of the Holy Spirit, to surrender her littleness to the Infinite Love, and as a result to become the Mother of Christ. It was so tremendous, yet so passive. She was not asked to do anything herself, but to let something be done to her. She was not asked to renounce anything, but to receive an incredible gift. She was not asked to lead a special kind of life, to retire to the temple and live as a nun, to cultivate suitable virtues or claim special privileges. She was simply to remain in the world, to go forward with her marriage to Joseph, to live the life of an artisan's wife, just what she planned to do when she had no idea that anything out of the ordinary would ever happen to her.
It almost seemed as if God's becoming man and being born of a woman were ordinary. The whole thing was to happen secretly. There was to be no announcement. The psalmists had hymned Christ's coming on harps of gold. The prophets foretold it with burning tongues. But now the loudest telling of His presence on earth was to be the heartbeat within the heartbeat of a child. It was to be a secret and God was so jealous of His secret that He even guarded it at the cost of His bride's seeming dishonor. He allowed Joseph to misjudge her, at least for a time.
This proved that God knew our Lady's trust in Him was absolutely without limit. Everything that He did to her in the future emphasized the same thing. His trust in her trust of Him."
Monday, November 28, 2011
When I worked in the Dominican Republic in our sister parish, I befriended a family that seemed poorer than most. They lived in an isolated place filled with wind, sky and dust, but without electricity, water or even a latrine and had only one of everything: one child, a one-room house, one chair, one daily meal, one table, one bed, one pot, and one chicken. We often said that we would have an enormous feast together when that chicken was good and fat! They got word to me one day that their daughter was sick, so I went to their home, anointed and prayed with the girl and then sat outside under a sea of stars and talked into the night with my friends. When it was time to leave, the father untied their chicken and handed it to me in gratitude for coming. We proceeded to argue for 20 minutes in Spanish about this until I realized my friend would be insulted if I refused the gift. So here I was, in the end, bumping down this rough road in an old truck with a living, clucking chicken next to me on the front seat, laughing my head off at the enormity of God’s grace.
Whenever I think of Thanksgiving or the Eucharist, I recall this profound experience in my life. Like the widow in the Gospel, this family which had so little gave away a most prized possession as a loving gesture of gratitude. Like God the Father who gives away his Son, the Good Shepherd who goes after the one stray or the challenge Jesus offers to the rich young man, we are called to a heroic generosity which is not afraid to give its all in a love that is astonishingly particular. Perhaps, we can only hand over as a gift to others what we first recognize as a gift poured into our lives by God who is both gracious and generous. Gratitude grounds and forms all actions of charity.
When I think of my friends in the Dominican Republic, I often wondered why they never complained about the poverty of their lives, the lack of money, food and opportunities, the harsh lot of work in the fields that was theirs. One could reasonably argue that they should have been angry at the injustice of life, envious of the rich, trying to overthrow the system, resentful of the hand dealt them. And yet they were not. They were surprisingly happy, faith-filled, generous and free of self-pity. They carried themselves with a dignity and confidence that belied their circumstances. Then I realized that the “chicken incident” was the key that answered my questions. My Dominican friends’ great secret of joy flowed from their deep gratitude to God for everything.
As we pause this week to thank the Lord for all good gifts and as the Church pauses every day to offer praise and thanks to the Father in the Eucharist, we know how much we have been given. Life itself, parents, family and friends, food and shelter, education and books, love and joy, Jesus, the Church and the sacraments, the promise of salvation and the experience of forgiveness, the beauty of nature and poetry and so many other experiences and opportunities remind us that our existence is mysterious and magical. The Lord has given us so much, even beyond our ability to comprehend the enormity of the gift. All we can do in return is offer our thanks and praise to God and then generously share everything that has been lavished on us.
Gratitude frees us from jealousy, anger, self-pity and resentment. A grateful heart stops asking for more and instead wonders why so much already. A spirit filled with thanksgiving clings to nothing because it knows all came from God and all is returning to Him. Gratitude takes me out of the center and puts God there, as we worship the Lord of all gifts in thanks and praise. Resentment seeks a higher place but will never be satisfied; gratitude gladly takes a lower seat because it is already full. Grateful people smile more, forgive readily, volunteer cheerfully, put more in the collection and hand over their only chicken to an astonished friend because they have fallen in love with the Lord of the feast and know that all was His in the first place. Thanksgiving invites us to look about our lives in wonder and awe at how much God must love us because we have all of this from His gracious hands!
Sunday, November 27, 2011
I've been a lector for the past four years and with a prayer to the Holy Spirit before I approach the ambo to proclaim His word, I usually do just fine. But every once in a while the power of a passage fills my heart and soul and gets stuck in my throat. My nerves are overcome and my voice quakes as if it were the first time I'd ever attempted to read His holy words. Today was such a day. I wanted to stop right at that powerful passage and cry out with Isaiah...
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!
A teenage boy leaves home with a pocket full of money
and wanders the streets all weekend
going from house to house looking for shelter
and a hot shower and a warm meal.
Where is the love of his mother?
Invited to participate in Mass, he asks,
"What is Mass?"
Rend the heavens!
A parish struggles under budgetary constraints
brought on by empty pews and empty hearts
and considers letting a priest go,
considers making do with less prayerful leadership,
less lifting up of God in worship,
in favor of more buildings.
Rend the heavens!
Young boys want to start a basketball team
and the priest rightly asks
"Why should I let you use my gym
when I never see you at Mass and
you aren't enrolled in Confirmation classes?"
We want the Church to serve us but
we fail to serve the Church.
Rend the heavens!
Babies are born to unwed teenage mothers
who barely know how to care for themselves
much less a new young life,
and mother and child cry together
for want of basic necessities and for love.
Rend the heavens!
These are dark days, O Lord.
Our hearts yearn for you
although we hardly allow
ourselves to know it
and we disguise our need behind
a false set of wants and a false sense of self.
Rend the heavens, O Lord, and come down!
Fill our hearts with a deep love for You.
End our misery, our poverty, our want,
and our spiritual starvation.
Show us that with You at our side
nothing else matters,
You are all we need.
O that you would rend the heavens and come down!
O that you would rend the heavens and come down!
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Every year it’s the same story when Advent comes around…Advent, which means, “come”. The ideals that our family holds up, the things we most want to come into our lives are peace, harmony and joy. We always start with the best intentions. We create a homemade Advent wreath, cutting fresh sprigs of cedar from our trees in the backyard and fill a glass pie dish with the greens and four candles, violet and pink. We lovingly place the wreath at the center of our kitchen table. Each evening as part of our dinner prayer, the children take turns lighting a candle and reading a prayer about building the stable in our hearts for Jesus. Doesn’t that sound beautiful? No greedy dreams of Christmas wishes for toys and gadgets. No secular Christmas music blaring from our radio. No loading up on Christmas treats and Christmas decorations before the season actually arrives. Just peace, harmony and joy around our Advent kitchen table.
Now for the reality check. It’s true we make a beautiful Advent wreath each year and lovingly place it at the center of our kitchen table. It’s true the children take turns lighting the candles and saying the prayer. But I’m sorry to admit that it is not as beautiful as it sounds. Each night, after the children are called to the dinner table, the arguing ensues before anyone even sits down. “Mom, can I light the candle tonight?” comes out of nearly every child’s mouth, followed by “You did it last night, it’s my turn!” And “No, it’s my turn!” As whose turn it will actually be to light the candle is decided, the arguments begin over who will do the reading of the prayer. The older boys have long since decided that the fight is not worth the effort, as the smaller ones almost always win out with their louder cries and complaints.
I often wonder if anyone is actually paying attention to the prayer, as it often turns out that the child who is lighting the candle struggles with the lighter and everyone tries to help. Then, the prayer reader usually struggles with some difficult words which seems to take a great deal of meaning out of the prayer, as the sibling next to the reader helps with pronunciation. By the time the candle is finally lit and the prayer is said, my family often has to rush through supper as our busy evening of homework, dishes, basketball practice, laundry and volunteer work looms overhead. The lighting of the candle and the reciting of the prayer seem like one more thing we have to get through, rather than something to slow us down and change our focus from busy activity to quiet contemplation.
But, I believe that somewhere down the line, my children will remember this tradition, even with the fighting included, and have fond memories and traditions to pass on to their own children. I believe that in their hearts they will remember the meaning behind the tradition. They will remember that our main intention was to invite the light of Christ into our home and our hearts, day after day, no matter what challenges stood in the way. They will remember that our family dinnertime was important enough to take place before all of the busy evening activities, and that our family prayer time was important enough to take place before our family dinner. Christ comes first in our lives, then family, then busy activities. They will remember that they had to learn to work out their differences. They will remember the satisfaction of learning to be patient with the lighting of the candle and the reading of the prayer. They will remember how good it felt to forgo their turn at candle lighting to let one of the younger ones enjoy that privilege.As we journey together through the dark days of Advent, the light of God must be entering our hearts without our awareness, because little by little, the arguing gives way to loving assistance and patient understanding, until the arguing is all but forgotten and only the joy of our Advent waiting in family love remains. Not only do I wait patiently for Christmas, but I also wait for the day when our children will have all left home and Paul and I will be left alone to fight over who gets to light the Advent candle and say the prayer. So I whisper my own little prayer to Jesus, “Take your time, let us enjoy this present moment of dark Advent waiting, and let us enjoy this present time with children in our home to love and enjoy. Teach us not to hurry through Advent and not to hurry through life. Teach us to find you, right here, right now, God with us, Emmanuel. Christmas will “come”, the day that the children leave home will “come”, but for right now, let us remain in the gift of the present moment, even if we do have to put up with a few fights now and then.”
(a re-post from the archives)
Friday, November 25, 2011
~Archbishop Timothy Dolan, from Life Lessons from my Life with my Brother, Archbishop Timothy Dolan by Bob Dolan
My birthday is coming up this week and for a gift I only wanted one thing-a reliquary to properly contain my St. Margaret Mary relic. There is only one place in Milwaukee that carries reliquaries, and that is Stemper's Religious Goods. So, my husband told me to go and purchase one for myself for my gift. As I arrived at the counter to pay for the reliquary, I spied Life Lessons from my Life with my Brother, Archbishop Timothy Dolan by Bob Dolan, on the counter. I had heard good things about the book so I thought, why not pick it up, too, as an extra birthday present to myself. Fr. John Hemsing, the new rector of St. Francis de Sales Seminary was behind me in line and commented that he was also beginning to read the book so I was grateful to know that I was in good company in my reading preference. Even better, the manager at Stemper's mentioned that he had some autographed copies in stock and found one for me. Buying the book was a good decision.
It's rare day that passes without part of it being spent with my face buried in a book, but despite that fact, there aren't many books that I am able I finish in one sitting. Bob Dolan's Life Lessons from my Life with my Brother, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, was one of those books that I completed in one day, and I didn't exactly whip through it, either. Instead, I found myself frequently stopping to ponder what I had read and to put it in perspective with my own life. In a word, the book was excellent!
It's no secret to Imprisoned in my Bones readers that I am a huge Archbishop Dolan fan. I've practically written about him in every other post for the past two and half years! In fact, I'd be hard-pressed to find one person who isn't an Archbishop Dolan fan, after all, to know him, or even to know of him, is to love him.
Everyone who is familiar with Archbishop Dolan has got great stories to tell about him. My own favorite was the phone call that was placed to our house on the eve of my daughter Mary's First Communion. Although that was four years ago, I am kicking myself to this day that I didn't ask who was calling when I answered the phone and heard a man ask to speak with Mary. Had I known who it was, I would have lingered in conversation with him for a while before handing the phone over to my daughter. I suppose it's lucky for the Archbishop that I didn't know it was him and he was spared my endless prattling. Instead, I simply handed the phone to Mary and when the call was finished asked her who it was. Her matter-of-fact tone stunned me. "It was Archbishop Dolan calling to congratulate me on my First Communion," as if he had called our house every day!
And I have no idea how in the world my family's name was placed on Archbishop Dolan's Christmas card list, but each year when his wonderful card comes in the mail, I frame it and leave it out for the remainder of the year so that I can enjoy it again and again. Archbishop Dolan is a spiritual hero to be sure, one whose touch through the smallest action can have the power to change your life for the better.
So just imagine what it must be like to have known Archbishop Dolan for your entire life, to have grown up with him and lived with him and to share genes with him! Bob Dolan has said that he is the only one who could write this book from his viewpoint, and of course that's exactly right. Nobody knows Archbishop Dolan like his brother does. The book alternates between important life events for the Archbishop and how those events have impacted his brother, Bob, and faith lessons that Archbishop Dolan has shared with his brother over the years.
I found the book to be easy to read and deeply touching as it was quite evident throughout that Bob Dolan has a deep love and respect for his brother. The personal stories were written with so much love that I couldn't help but feel warmed inside as I read them. It was clear that Bob Dolan finds it challenging to share his brother with the world despite the fact that his brother's place in the Church has brought Bob to share in his joy in some of the most fascinating places and at the most dramatic events such as his installation Mass as Archbishop of New York.
Tender, too, were the sections where Bob interviews his brother about many of the questions and concerns that average Catholics have about their faith. The author writes in such a way as to make the reader feel that even his or her biggest faith questions are normal, but with the wise words from the stories that Archbishop Dolan tells, we are all lifted up to a desire to live our faith better, to become living saints. Bob speaks about how part of his brother's appeal comes from his self-deprecating humor, but it is clear that the author has some self-deprecating humor of his own, especially concerning Jameson and beer!
I absolutely loved Life Lessons! The value of the words and ideals, the example of the loving relationship between the Dolan brothers, and the glory of living the Catholic faith that is contained within this book are lessons that will remain with me for a long time.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
It was one month ago when I became enrolled as a Candidate for the Oblates of the Precious Blood. Since then I have received my first lesson, The Primacy of the Spiritual, a lovely and inspiring five page document about the importance of placing God first in my life and the value of suffering.
Grant to me, an ever-deepening reverence of Your Priesthood. And when death ends my life here on earth, may You, the Eternal High Priest, reveal to me in the Beatific Vision the consolation everlasting of having prayed and sacrificed for Your priests on earth. Amen."
Do you feel called to pray for a specific priest on a daily basis? You, too, can become a "Lay Associate of the Priesthood." All that is required is a desire to spiritually adopt a priest through prayer and commit to praying for him daily.
There are currently 40,000 priests in the United States in need of prayer. The Handmaids of the Precious Blood, a cloistered community in New Mexico, keep a list of the priests names and they would welcome those who are willing to spiritually adopt a priest and pray for him daily. All they ask is that you commit to praying the above prayer for your priest by his first name each day. If gratitude for the gift of the priesthood in your life compels you to prayer, please consider sending the Handmaids of the Precious Blood an email letting them know about your desire to spiritually adopt a priest and they will send you the daily prayer along with the name of priest who needs and would welcome your prayer.
By patient endurance you will save your life.
Some people don’t seem to be satisfied until they have something to worry about; even imaginary troubles. Jesus tells us about some calamities today. The beautiful temple of Jerusalem —it’ll be torn down; not one stone on another. There will be false messiahs. There will be wars, natural disasters and the betrayals of friends and relatives. And sure enough, that's exactly what happened. And every one of these things has happened over and over again ever since.
Can you think of one generation that hasn’t seen wars, hurricanes, floods, persecutions and the collapse of some sacred institution? In just the past few years we watched the awesome Twin Towers in New York get smashed to dust. We watched the unfolding of the priest sex abuse disaster and the Catholic bishops attempt to cover it up. Even in your own personal life, you’ve had events that felt like an earthquake.
Are you ready for some good news? Jesus answers: "By patient endurance you will save your life." Jesus warns you to avoid the easy answers. He knew that many false messiahs would come, using his name. And they have. These people claim to have an easy, quick solution to all of your problems. What’s his advice? Don't follow them. Yes, it’s a big temptation to think of faith in God as an easy way out. “Are you in financial difficulty? Try Jesus. He’ll make you rich. Is your health failing? Try Jesus. He’ll make you well."
Is that what he promised? Does he give easy escapes from the very real problems of life? Oh no! It’s just the opposite. “They will persecute you because of my name. All will hate you because of me.” That doesn't sound like an easy escape to me. Jesus has no easy answers. But he does have a promise. "Not a hair of your head will be harmed." "I will be with you always."
When all’s going wrong, you can count on that promise, on that loving presence, on that unfailing nearness. “Come to me all you who find life a heavy burden and I will refresh you.”
The future is in the hands of God. And that’s the best place for it to be. The future is not in your control. You’ll only make yourself sick by trying to go there. The only time that God gives you is right now.
So, don’t look for him on a pink cloud or with a jeweled crown. Look for him in our gathering together right here, right now. Look for him in the words of the Bible, in the Host you cradle in your hand and on your tongue. Look for him at home, on the faces of your dear ones. But look for him especially where he told you to look: in the faces of people who are hungry and thirsty. Look for him in the people who feel alone. Look for him in people who are defenseless, those who feel sick and even for people who are locked up in prison. And the next time you glance at a mirror look for him inside of you. He’s in there. Honor him.
At those times when it’s hard to live in the present moment. Listen to the voice of Jesus: “My name is God-with-you. I will wipe away all the tears from your eyes. There will be no more death, mourning or sadness. The world of the past has gone.” Yes, it’s time to stop worrying because:
By patient endurance you will save your life.
Whether the Lord is coming this Thanksgiving or a thousand years from now, that’s none of your business. Your task is to live as if he were arriving this very day. Some day he will come in power and glory to wipe away every tear. But today he’s coming quietly, softly, invisibly.
By patient endurance you will save your life.
Monday, November 21, 2011
(Fr. Jim is currently in Rome and will be sharing parts of his Roman adventure on his blog "Offer it Up." Please pay him a visit to follow along with his experiences!)
excerpts from Mass for the People by Caryll Houselander:
"The priest was on the side of life, he had no other work, no other raison d'etre but to give life, and the life he gave could not be killed. He was not outside of the world's love because he was a priest and alone, he was the heart of the world's love, its core, because the Life of the World is born every day in His hands at Mass.
Father O'Grady made the Sign of the Cross. "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen," and bowed down under the burden of the sins of the whole world. His own sins were a heavy enough load, and now he bowed under the weight of all sin. But when he straightened himself up from the Confiteor, the burden of the whole world's sin, and his own with it, had fallen from his back, and his shoulders were strong. For it was Christ who rose up and went up to the altar-Christ who had seen evil naked, face to face, Christ who had been brought down to the ground, under the world's sin to sweat blood into the dust, and Christ who had overcome the world.
He lifted the unconsecrated Host, light as a petal on its thin golden paten, and with it lifted the simple bread of humanity, threshed and sifted by poverty and suffering. He offered the broken fragments of their love, made into one loaf.
He lifted the wine and water mixed in the Chalice, and with it offered the blood and the tears of his people to God.
And God accepted the offering, the fragments of love were gathered up into the wholeness of Love and nothing was wasted.
Slowly, exactly, Father O'Grady repeated the words of Consecration, his hands moved in Christ's hands, his voice spoke in Christ's voice, his words were Christ's words, his heart beat in Christ's heart.
Fr. O'Grady lifted up the consecrated Host in his short, chapped hands, the server rang a little bell, the sailor, the handful of old women and the very old man bowed down whispering "My Lord and my God" and the breath of their adoration was warm on their cold fingers.
Father O'Grady was lifting up God.
A cry arose from all over the world, "Come down from the Cross if you are the Son of God!" "Save yourself and us too if you are the Christ."
But Christ remained on the Cross. His fingers closed on the nails. The Crown of Thorns was in flower, the five ribs like the five fingers of the world's pain gripped His heart, and His heart broke open and the river of the world's life flowed out of it. A crimson flood sweeping His heart and brain and flowing into the tips of His fingers, swept through His Mystical Body. Through the eternal heart of Rome, through the lonely mind of her august Shepherd, out into the least and lowliest of men, and the last little infant howling at the touch of the waters of Baptism, the blood of the world's life flowed into the finger tips, which stretched out on the Cross, measuring the reach and stretch and extremity and ultimate possibility of love.
The world strained at the nails, wrenched and dragged, the Cross was shaken in the earth, bent like a tree in the storm, dragged earthward by the weight of man's body, but it was rooted in rock, and the Cross was built to the shape of man, not man to the shape of the Cross. The world's suffering was built and fitted to the size of each man, and the Cross stood.
"Come down, come down, come down!"
But Christ would not come down from the Cross.
The little server rang his silver bell.
The people bowed down low.
Fr. O'Grady was lifting up God in his large, chapped hands.
Christ remained on the Cross.
The blood and sweat and tears of the world were on His face. he smiled, the smile of infinite peace, the ineffable bliss of consummated love."
Each year on the Monday before Thanksgiving, the WIC Clinic where I work participates in our local community's "Family to Family Thanksgiving" which distributes 3000 turkey dinners to the needy in our community annually. Since I am the only staff member at work who drives a van, my small role is to drive to the warehouse to pick up the 30 dinners that we are alloted and bring them back to our clinic where we share them with our neediest families.
Every year on turkey day (as it is affectionately known) I leave the house in the morning to find that my husband has already lovingly turned the car seats down to make extra room for all of the turkeys that I will be transporting. As I arrive at the warehouse where the dinners are distributed, I pull into a line of cars, turn my hazard lights on and wait for my turn. When I finally reach the loading dock, I am greeted by about 50 volunteers who open the doors of my van and fill it to the brim with the holiday food. How I wish my weekly grocery shopping experience for my family could be like this! Just pull up to the grocery store and a bunch of people come out and load all of your groceries for you!
Today as I waited in line to present my humble and lowly van to the volunteers who would fill it with food for those who are physically hungry, I had ample time to pray the rosary, and I thought about the beauty of today's Feast Day, the Presentation of the Blessed Mother.
Like me waiting in line, Mary waited, too; in fact she lifted the virtue of patience to an exalted state as she waited to be presented at the Temple by St. Joachim and St. Anne, after which she waited to learn what God's will for her life would be. And His will was for her body to be filled with the Bread of Life who would feed those who were hungry not for physical satiation but rather for spiritual fulfillment. Upon His birth, she waited yet again for his quiet and uneventful years of growth to pass by and for His mission to begin.
And she knew.
She knew that His mission would end in tortuous death, yet she waited for it with peace. As the crucifixion occured, she continued to patiently wait as she stood at the foot of the cross, silently suffering with Her Son. Then, after His lifeless body was placed in the tomb, she waited for His resurrection and ascension into glory.
Today, the time that I spent waiting in my van to pick up the Thanksgiving dinners became a perfect pause of thankful prayer united with the Queen of patience, and I hope that the Blessed Mother will continue to calmly stay by my side and by the side of all of her children, as we wait for our own presentations in the heavenly Kingdom of God. I returned to work, van weighed down with food to nourish the physically hungry and myself feeling a bit more satiated spiritually by my quiet time of waiting prayer with the Blessed Mother on her special day.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
But no, the bishops cannot be like me, because the fire for the faith that burns within their hearts surely keeps them in rapt attention to the details of their work, and how blessed we ordinary Catholics are that these holy men devote their time and energies to assuring that our faith is upheld with dignity and love in this world which is sadly secular and often times blatantly anti-Catholic.
I loved these quotes from Archbishop Dolan's opening presidential statement:
"That truth — that He, Christ, and she, His Church, are one — moistens our eyes and puts a lump in our throat as we whisper with De Lubac, “For what would I ever know of Him, without her?”
"The Church is a communio, a supernatural family. Most of us, praise God, are born into it, as we are into our human families. So the Church is in our spiritual DNA. The Church is our home, our family."
And this one, in regards to how our faith in ingrained in us like a birthmark, made me laugh. Archbishop Dolan is always good for a laugh, isn't he? Although when I shared it with my family they just rolled their eyes and groaned-it must have lost something in my translation:
"To use a Catholic word, "Bingo!"
To read his wonderful presidential address in its entirety click here.
But by far, in my opinion, the highlight of the Bishop's Conference was the riveting press conference about Project Rachel. The statements offered were deeply moving and as I listened to the speakers I was picturing so many of the clients I see at work, the ones who tell me that they've had one or more abortions and those who are still pregnant and considering aborting their babies, most recently the tearful young mother of four children whose boyfriend left her when she told him that she was pregnant again and as he left he told her that she should have the baby "sucked out of her." I thought that perhaps listening to this portion of the conference was more helpful to me in my work than all of the nutrition conferences that I have ever attended in the past, for by listening to these speakers I learned about the importance of compassion for the suffering of the many poor young women I see who deal with the after-effects of abortion on a daily basis.
I was especially touched by the words of Fr. James Stack who said he is just an ordinary parish priest, just a normal guy who suffered his own trauma in the past and was compelled to do something more with his life in regards to offering healing love and compassion to those who suffer the effects of trauma and stress from post-abortion fallout.
He spoke eloquently about the lines of people who wait outside his office in need of healing from their post-abortive suffering. He shared his belief that their pain is a spiritual battle waged by the devil inside of their heads. The devil tells these post-abortive men and women that there is no hope for them, that they are forsaken, cursed, outcast, damaged goods, broken beyond repair and unforgivable for their actions. They are unable to forgive themselves and cannot establish healthy relationships. Fr. Stack shows them that Jesus is the only one who has the ability to connect them with their unborn baby. He encourages them to name and to know their child. He walks them back through the experience of abortion and offers them inner healing and takes the pain out of the memory and gives them the hope of the future. He mentioned that the hardest thing is getting these men and women to understand and accept the fact that they are deeply loved by God, that they are forgiven and that one day they will be re-united with their child.
And what moved me was the emotion in his voice. I could feel his love for the people he helped through the words he spoke, and my heart quaked tears.
Fr. Stack's talk was followed by Dr. Vince Rue who shared the fact that post-abortive women and men are drowning in despair and self-loathing, suffering from anxiety disorders, depression and suicidal ideation. His words about the mental health suffering from the trauma of abortion were a strong follow-up to the words of Fr. Stack. I strongly encourage you to listen to the entire powerful Tuesday morning Project Rachel media briefing here. Fr. Stack's portion begins at 20 minutes.
How grateful I am for all of those involved with Project Rachel and for all of these holy men, our Catholic bishops, who fearlessly lead us in our faith and safeguard our rights as Catholics in an American society fraught with disregard and disdain for the things that matter-love of God, love for the Church and respect and dignity for the human race. God bless the Catholic Church and God bless those holy men who are united in a spiritual marriage to her, our bishops and our priests, our spiritual fathers.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
I love it when I get a great tip from a friend who knows what moves me! My dear friend Christi Jentz, herself a fabulous artist, sent this picture on to me, knowing of my great love and devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Look closely at this amazing work of (He)art! The Sacred Heart of Jesus, complete with the Crown of Thorns, was completely carved out of a pumpkin by young Hanna Gleason who graciously allowed me to post her creative artwork, dubbed, "Mama's Heart of Hearts" here. The Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Blessed Mother's hands is illuminated by the glow of an ordinary candle, but oh, how that glow has the power to warm many hearts!
Monday, November 14, 2011
My friend, Erin Berghouse, has co-authored a lovely little children's book along with her daughter, Rachel. The book, titled "Pleased to Meet You" is dedicated to "Our Blessed Mother, Cause of our Joy." The story follows adorable Mary Grace as she joins her pregnant mother on a trip to the doctor's office for an ultrasound and learns that what makes mommy's tummy so big is her baby sister growing inside! Be sure to look for hidden Catholic images within the pages such as a crucifix, a statue of the blessed mother and a picture of Pope Benedict!
This book would make a great gift for a family who is expecting a new baby as a means of introducing the concept of life within the womb to a young child.
To order "Pleased to Meet You" as well as Erin's beautiful Catholic CD's please visit this link: Lily4Life.com I especially recommend the single "Just for a Moment," a touching Catholic lullaby, as a nice companion to "Pleased to Meet You."
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Every genuine inspiration contains some tremor of that “breath” with which the Creator Spirit suffused the work of creation from the very beginning. Overseeing the mysterious laws governing the universe, the divine breath of the Creator Spirit reaches out to human genius and stirs its creative power. He touches it with a kind of inner illumination which brings together the sense of the good and the beautiful, and he awakens energies of mind and heart which enable it to conceive an idea and give it form in a work of art. It is right then to speak, even if only analogically, of “moments of grace”, because the human being is able to experience in some way the Absolute who is utterly beyond."
~from Blessed John Paul II's Letter to Artists
My friend Christi is an extremely talented artist who uses her gift to prayerfully paint icons, and more than that, she shares her vast knowledge of prayerful art with me, increasing my appreciation for the gifts of beauty which are inspired by the very breath of God, the Holy Spirit. Last summer she brought one of her works in progress (the above icon) to my house and invited me to add gold to the halo of one of the three women standing outside of the tomb at the Resurrection of our Lord. I chose the woman that I thought would be Mary Magdalene and carefully applied the gold by first holding a prayer in my heart and then breathing upon the image. They say that every stroke and motion of icon painting is a prayer. So on that not so distant day I breathed a prayer to one of my favorite saints who always holds a favored place in my heart because she loved much and I long to emulate that quality in my own life. I want to cast my soul at the feet of our Lord and breathe continuous prayers of love to His Most Sacred Heart. I want to carry an alabaster jar of fragrant oil into the world and spread His love to others. I want to love much.
I posted the following poem just last July but it's so touching and worthy of repeating. It was written by Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, sP, the founder of the Handmaids of the Precious Blood and now my own spiritual father as I have become an Oblate of the Precious Blood candidate.
To Saint Mary Magdalene
until you found
and plunged your soul
into a spring so sweet
fell as chaste pearls
For more about icons, you may enjoy this link: Just what do Catholics believe about icons?
A few months ago I came across a great story about Archbishop Dolan's talk to the pilgrims at World Youth Day. I've been saving it, always wanting to reflect and write about it, but after several months of meditating upon his rich words, I just can't come up with anything further to say. He says it all so perfectly. Maybe his words about faith and evangelization bring about thoughts that you would like to share?
During a question-and-answer session, one Australian pilgrim touched on what will likely be a challenge for many young people once they leave World Youth Day: how to interact with those who do not agree with the basic principles of the Catholic faith and who are, in fact, living a life averse to the church’s teachings.
The archbishop’s answer was simply this: with love.
“We can scream, we can yell, we can castigate, we can alienate, we can nag, and most of the time if we do that we lose,” he said. “Or we can be gracious, patient, loving, understanding, persistent, welcoming. And most of the time when we do that, we’re also going to lose. But less than the first one.”
“When we admit our faith is weak, when we admit our faith is shaky, when we admit that our faith isn’t what it should be, actually we’re exercising it, and we’re making it more and more firm,” he said. “Something tells me that’s why we’re (at World Youth Day),” he said. “Our faith is weak, our faith is shaky. We want to be with a million other young people from around the world who love their faith and are trying to make it strong.”
Source: Catholic Herald UK, August 18, 2011
Sunday, November 6, 2011
On the first Wednesday of the month when I volunteer at the Apostleship of Prayer (AoP) I always take a few minutes to browse the library shelves. The AoP recently acquired the books of Fr. Richard Tomasek, SJ who has just passed away this past August, and I've found some real gems among his donations including Mystic Treasures of the Holy Mass by Fr. Charles Coppens, SJ which was written in 1905.
One of the very first posts that I wrote on this blog 2-1/2 years ago was about a pilgrimage that my sisters and I made to Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in La Crosse, WI. It was at this Shrine where I experienced the Latin Mass for the first and only (so far!) time. I had written in that post that I was mystified by the translation that said that the priest offered a "secret" prayer. I wondered what that secret prayer could be and in Mystic Treasures of the Holy Mass, I found the answer to that long ago question.
"The entire series of prayers and ceremonies that make up the Canon are the most solemn that the human mind can conceive. But the words are not heard by the people; for this part of the Holy Mass is called "the Secret," from the "Sanctus" to the "Pater Noster," The silence entered upon by the priest soon spreads over the entire congregation...So during the secret portion of Holy Mass the incense of prayer from the hearts of the priest and people ascends to the throne of God in Heaven."
Sigh...isn't that a beautiful explanation? I also found this suggestion for prayer during the Consecration of the Mass to be especially touching and effective:
"At the most solemn portion of Holy Mass she suggests propriety of individual communing with Christ by the silence of her ministers at the altar. The time is most appropriate for laying our wants and desires before the throne of God's mercy. A practice familiar to many devout persons, one said to have been dear to St. Aloysius, consists in imaging ourselves at that solemn moment to see the crucified Lord, as He was on Calvary, and recommend our principal requests through the bleeding wounds of our Redeemer. By the wounds of his sacred head we may pray for all of our superiors, spiritual and temporal, the Pope, the Bishop, our pastors, rulers, parents, etc. By the wound of the right hand of Christ we beg blessings for our relatives and friends. By that of the left hand for all sinners, and in particular for our enemies, who hate, persecute and calumniate us. In the wound of the right foot of Christ we ask perseverance for all the just; in the wound of the left foot we recommend the souls in Purgatory, those chiefly for whom we have special reasons to intercede. Finally, in the wound of His Sacred Heart we seek a safe refuge for ourselves, enumerating our own personal wants of body and soul, for time and eternity."
I often wonder if my faith would be the same without Greg Kandra's The Deacon's Bench blog. I learn so much and am often inspired by his posts so I give him a great deal of credit for forming my faith. He recently shared a link to These Hands Bring Me Jesus. I encourage you to spend some time visiting this website reading the stories and viewing the impressive pictures and slideshow by Stephen Golder. You will be moved with gratitude and love for the bishops and priests in your life, the men whose hands bring you Jesus.
My family and I just returned from a weekend trip to Chicago. The main purpose of our trip was to visit St. Joseph's Seminary College on the campus of Loyola University where my oldest son would like to begin his seminary formation, God willing. We spent a day touring the campus with the Fr. Mike Scherschel, the Vocations Director and two college seminarians from Milwaukee, Michael Steger and David Zampino. We were all greatly impressed by what we saw and John felt that the one thing that impressed him the most was the community life that the seminarians lead. In seminary formation, the men are formed through the four pillars of faith: intellectual, human, spiritual and pastoral, all of which are ingrained in communal living at the seminary. He felt that discerning the priesthood and being formed in community would be a great benefit as opposed to discerning on your own at any other college that isn't part of a seminary. Please continue to pray for John as he continues the process of discernment.
Upon the recommendation of my friend Christi, we headed over to Navy Pier to see the Stained Glass Art Museum. My favorite was the scene of St. Margaret Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. If this were the only piece of art displayed in the museum, it would have been enough for me. I can't look at a picture of His Sacred Heart without lingering in prayer and was so delighted to find this image at the museum. It's a blessing that no matter where I go, I always find reminders of God's great love though the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I was also greatly inspired by all of the mosaics in the museum and am now eager to begin trying my hand at creating a mosaic Madonna from all my found pieces of sea glass.
We attended Sunday morning Mass at the Loyola University church, the Madonna Della Strada Chapel. The beautiful chapel overlooks majestic Lake Michigan. It was here at the chapel where we met a couple that we recognized from daily Mass at St. Matthias Parish who were there visiting their granddaughter who attends Loyola University. How funny to travel 90 miles only to meet people whom you could have met any other day of the week at your home church!
No trip to the Windy City would be complete without a visit to Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs, and of course, if we had to spend time visiting an iconic sports destination then equal time had to be given to visiting an iconic religious destination so we paid a quick visit to St. Ignatius Parish, the former parish of Milwaukee's Archbishop Listecki. I tripped up the stairs and into the end of a Spanish Mass and was left breathless at the beauty of the church and it's many frescoes. On our next visit to Chicago we will be heading there for more than just a quick visit, we will stay for Mass. (This photo is a sketch version of Paul, John and Joe outside of Wrigley Field.)
It's hard to believe that we are looking at sending the first of our children off to college and adulthood. The word to best describe my emotions would be overwhelmed, but I am grateful to know that no matter how John's adult years pan out, God will always be first in his life. It is a blessing that I will never take for granted.
(St. Ignatius Church, Chicago)
Saturday, November 5, 2011
Last summer I was involved in organizing a dinner and evening of reflective friendship for the mothers of the seminarians and those in discernment at St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee. My friend Christi kindly hosted the dinner and everyone in attendance had a lovely time. I wrote the following rosary meditations and we prayed them together as part of our evening gathering.
My family and I are presently planning a visit to St. Joseph's Seminary College in Chicago which is associated with St. Francis de Sales Seminary, so that my oldest son may prayerfully decide whether or not this is the place where God is calling him to begin his post-high school education. Please hold John in your prayers as he looks into this next step on the road to the possible vocation to the priesthood.
And might I suggest that you pay a visit to a brand new blog written by one of the lovely ladies who was part of our mother's group? You can read the prayerful thoughts of Mary Anne Urlakis on Salve Sancta Matre Dei here.
The First Joyful Mystery-The Annunciation
Like Mary, we have all experienced the joy of the annunciation. At that moment when our sons made the announcement, “I’m thinking about the priesthood,” we found our lives turned upside down in a glorious way. Think of how Mary must have felt at the words of the Angel Gabriel; she was immediately consumed by a quiet joy, no time for questions yet, just an acceptance of those words and a deep gratitude to God. We, too, experience those emotions at the knowledge that God would choose to work in the lives of our family members in this way, calling our son to a life of service as a priest. Even if it would never come to fruition, just the very thought that this great calling could be considered in the lives of such unworthy souls is a wonder indeed.
The Second Joyful Mystery-The Visitation
We are women of faith recognizing that God has deeply blessed us and is working in our lives in a most wondrous way. Undeserving sinners that we are, He has chosen to use us as instruments of grace and has called our sons, the fruit of our wombs, our children whom we have joyfully loved and nurtured through the years, to consider giving themselves completely to His use as priests. After silently pondering that miraculous thought, how can we not come together to share the wonder of it all? How can we not proclaim with the Blessed Virgin, “He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden…For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and Holy is His name.”
The Third Joyful Mystery-The Nativity
Giving birth to a vocation is not without its labor pains. How often have we been questioned by friends or family members, who, upon hearing about the future our sons intend to live, ask us questions such as: “Are you ok with that? Haven’t you tried to talk him out of it? Why would you want that for him?” And somehow, we must find the courage to bear with those questions and with our own questions, and worries as well, and persevere in supporting our sons in what we believe to be a most holy and beautiful life of servant for the Church which they are seeking to fulfill. We pray that God will bring forth a holy and healthy priest who will faithfully serve the Lord for many years to come.
The Fourth Joyful Mystery-The Presentation
We hope to follow in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary in having already presented out sons to the Church for the Sacraments of Initiation, to one day present them once again for the Sacrament of Holy Orders, a Sacrament of Service. And while we, as mothers, may have experienced nothing but complete joy at our son’s baptisms, reception of Holy Eucharist and Confirmation into the church, we know that with the Sacrament of Holy Orders, there will be a sword which pierces our hearts and in fact, we may be feeling the first stabs of that sword already. The Sacrament of Holy Orders is no ordinary presentation, after all, but one that comes with worry, fear and loss-all common yet difficult stresses of motherhood. We know that for a priest the work will be hard, the hours will be long, the gratitude nearly non-existent, the life often lonely-yet it is the greatest work to which any man can attain and in the end, if he lives his vocation well, our sons will enjoy the most glorious heavenly rewards!
The Fifth Joyful Mystery-The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple
Here is the mystery to which we hope to someday attain; to know the great joy that the Mother of Christ felt when, after days of worried searching, she finds her son teaching the elders in the temple. We know that if we can only persevere in supporting our sons with prayer through their years of high school, college and seminary discernment, we too will know the great joy of finding our sons in the temple of the Lord, teaching the children of God how to follow and serve the Lord and will thereby draw many souls to heaven. There can be no greater joy in a mother’s heart than to know that her son is living a life of an alter Christus, serving both God and others in humble holiness.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
You will never know the depth of your own soul, unless you are willing to climb down deep into it and sit there for a while. It is there, sitting in the muck and sludge of our own sinfulness, our own humanity, our own brokenness, that we come to know the saving power of Jesus Christ." ~Deacon Ryan Preuss
I recently met with a woman at work who was pregnant with her fourth child. She told me that her three sons were all incredibly easy to deliver; she just showed up at the hospital and before she knew it she was holding a beautiful baby boy in her arms without having experienced any real pain. I marveled at that and considered her to be very fortunate as labor pains are hardly something that a woman relishes about having a baby. But she disagreed with my point of view. She said that with this baby she was hoping for a long labor and wanted to feel all of the pain. She wanted to experience and savor every moment of the pregnancy, labor, delivery and parenting of her child.
Thinking about her response made me realize the value of her words. Our lives were meant to be fully experienced and savored, but without the pain which is a natural part of life, how can we fully appreciate the joys?
Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to spend some time with some good friends who generously host occasional parties in an old barn that has been converted to a gymnasium complete with basketball hoops, trampolines, slides, rope swings and a foam pit. Don and Anne kindly invite the teen boys, including my sons, who participate in the St. Francis de Sales Seminary camps for boys discerning the priesthood, to come and release some pent up energy while re-connecting with their friends that they met at the camps. They will often invite some priests and seminarians to join us and they ask them to offer a little reflection for the boys to ponder. At this most recent gathering we were joined by Deacon Ryan Preuss and seminarian Kurt Krauss who shared their experiences of the World Youth Day Pilgrimage in Madrid, Spain, with us.
It seems that neither of these young men had a joyous and perfect experience on their pilgrimage, in fact, hardship and difficulty seemed to be the defining description. They spent nights sleeping outside on the cold, hard ground in clothes that were soaking wet from the rain, they suffered the effects of sitting closely with crowds of pilgrims from around the world, they went without eating, they lost members of their groups and were barred from entering the tent for the final Mass with the Pope. Deacon Ryan commented that in some cases it almost felt like purgatory as his group was standing outside of a tent where Eucharistic Adoration was taking place and there was a huge sign that said "Welcome" but they weren't allowed inside because the tent was overcrowded. Yet, in all of their remarks they both overwhelming stated that their pilgrimage was a reflection of the Christian life overall. Life isn't meant to be easy, things aren't always supposed to go as planned, there is no guarantee that we will always be happy; and they wouldn't have it any other way. Because in the challenges and difficulties as well as in the joys and successes, we find God at work, changing us, refining us, loving us.
When my struggles with depression were at their worst, my son Joe, who was often most distraught to see his mother suffering and astutely noticed that the timing of my psychological breakdown coincided with a deeper conversion into my Catholic faith, would often complain and ask, "Mom, why is it that ever since you became a Jesus freak, you have been miserable? Why would anyone want to turn to God if doing so makes you so unhappy?" And in my sorrow, I couldn't clearly think of a response other than to reiterate how much I love Jesus and that my depression was not His fault, but just a part of life; but my words felt lame and inadequate and nothing that I could say to him in response to his question would satisfy him. I was at a loss for an explanation and his words cut me to the quick. In fact, there were many times when I joined in Joe's complaint and put his same questions in prayer to God. But here, in the words of Deacon Ryan and Kurt, and in the viewpoint of the expectant mother, the answer became crystal clear; we aren't meant to escape the pain, we are meant to feel the pain and to endure in our faith despite the suffering we may feel.
To feel the pain is to allow God to work in your life, to let Him draw you closer to His love through the entire experience of life, both the painful and the pleasant moments. If we want to follow Christ, we must travel through the trials of the cross, trials which will manifest themselves differently for each of us, before we can reach the glories of the resurrection. If we really want to bear the name Christian, then like St. Therese we must say "I choose all!" and learn to carry on and work through the pain so that one day, we will be able to fully embrace the joys of heaven. There is no "easy out," we must strive to accept the fact that despite the hardness of life, God will never abandon us and our lives have a deep and meaningful purpose that will only make sense to us when we leave this life for our final destiny where we will then clearly see that all of the suffering we endured on earth was meaningful and beautiful, and God used it all for His glory in the mystery of His plan. In the words of Pope John Paul II from Salvifici Doloris, "in whatever form, suffering seems to be, and is, almost inseparable from man's earthly existence." We were born to feel the pain and to remain faithful despite our suffering. Our call as Christians is to unite our suffering with the suffering of Christ and in our pain, however minor or horrific it may be, we will be assisting God as He redeems our souls and those of the whole world.
“How beautiful and consoling is the communion of saints! It is a reality that infuses a different dimension to our whole life. We are never alone! We form part of a spiritual "company" in which profound solidarity reigns: the good of each one is for the benefit of all and, vice versa, the common happiness is radiated in each one. It is a mystery that, in a certain measure, we can already experience in this world, in the family, in friendship, especially in the spiritual community of the Church.” ~Pope Benedict XVI
We are so blessed as Catholics to have so many heavenly friends in the communion of saints to whom we can look up to as examples of faith and upon whom we can call for prayerful intercession to the Father. Who among us doesn’t have a “favorite” saint or two with whom we can identify in our struggles to live our faith each day? Although many saints are given specific days on the church calendar in which we honor them alone, the Church in her wisdom has dedicated one day each year in which we honor all of the saints in the Church Triumphant (those who are in heaven) and the Church Militant (those still living on earth) including those who are known, as well as those who are unknown to us or to the world at large. Together, the saints living and deceased make up the Communion of Saints, to which we confess our belief in the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds.
All Saint’s Day is always celebrated on November 1st and it is a holy day of obligation in which all Catholics are required to attend Mass. The solemnity of All Saints Day can be traced back to Pope Gregory III (731-741) who consecrated a chapel within St. Peter’s Basilica to all of the saints on November 1st, and nearly 100 years later the celebration was shared with the entire Church by Pope Gregory IV (827-844.)
All Saints Day is immediately followed by All Souls Day on November 2nd, where we pray for all of our beloved deceased especially those who are part of the Church Penitential (those who are being purified in purgatory.) Our prayers on this day are meant to help those we love to be released from the pains of purgation for their venial sins and to enter into the glories of heaven. The celebration of All Souls Day can be traced back to seventh century monks who wanted a special day to pray for their deceased community members. By the 13th century it was added to the calendar of the Church. Although All Souls Day is not a Holy Day of Obligation, praying for the dead is a spiritual act of mercy so attendance at Mass on this day and the offering of special prayers for the dead is a beautiful way to love and honor those who have passed through life before us.
Please honor the communion of saints with your prayerful presence at Mass on these days!