Category Archives: faith

hand up

The Unforgiveable Sin

“Would you ever stop loving me?” the little girl asked.

“Oh course not,” said her mother.

“But what if I did something naughty? Something really naughty? Would you stop loving me then?” the girl persisted.

“I would never stop loving you, honey. No matter what, I will always love you,” said Mother.

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Bloomfield New Jersey

Are You a DeFacto Catholic Like Me?

Growing up as what you’d call a cradle Catholic, I lived in an area of the country where Catholic churches demarcated the boundaries within every town. In my hometown, there were three. Sacred Heart on the south-side, St. Thomas on the north-side and St. Valentine’s smack-dab in between. Each boasted a grammar school and your parish (as well as your allegiance) was dictated by your address.

Coming of age in that setting, I considered my faith a de facto component of who I was. Just like my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother before me, in the line of my great-uncle the priest and eldest aunt the Sister, I was a Catholic.

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body christ

Why I Kneel For Jesus

Receiving on the hand had long been part of my routine, before it finally came to my attention that there was another, more preferable way. I suppose I just hadn’t given it all that much thought, sadly. In grade school we’d been taught the proper hand positioning, but my generation missed out on the altar rails and their purpose.

Yes, intellectually, I knew that the Body and Blood of Jesus is truly made manifest in the Eucharist, but I’d adopted a “casual” reverence. Hands crossed I quietly waited my turn in the communion line, until reaching the Extraordinary Minister at which point I accepted the Blessed Sacrament in my palm.

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12 Strategies for the 12 Days of Christmas

This Advent season has been full: full of planning, full of preparing, full of hoping. However, I’ve made a concerted effort to keep “Christmas” at bay. It’s not that I’m a grinch, no, quite the contrary. Our annual Christmas letter was sent out, we’ve been faithfully praying the Christmas novena, and I’ve been wishing all those helpful store cashiers a “Merry Christmas,” but the focus in our house has been on the anticipation. My plan is to celebrate Christmas and to celebrate it to the fullest (all 12 days of it) when it actually arrives on December 25th.

Here are our 12 strategies for making the most of the 12 Days of Christmas:

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bag of presents

Even Naughty Kids Get Gifts on Christmas

After a busy morning of wrangling my children followed by an afternoon manning a craft table at a children’s Christmas Craft Fair, I decided to appease the requests of my younger crew members (aka sons and daughter under 12yo) who’d been begging to visit Santa at the mall.

I had a few errands to run beforehand (think clothes shopping with 4 less-than-interested companions), so I figured that the promise of a stop-over to see St. Nick would be ample incentive to keep the whining at bay. Continue reading

Sick of Healthcare Premiums? Samaritan Ministries Has a Better Plan for You

I am not a paid advertiser for Samaritan Ministries and the opinions/experience I put forth here are my own. If you choose to become a SM member and you offer my name as a referral, my family will receive a credit that reduces one month’s share on our account.

About three years ago I was working hard to save my unborn baby. Part of that work required me to have a couple of ultrasounds performed during the first trimester. Since we had standard medical insurance at that time, I simply agreed to use the doctors’ referred sonographers.

The first exam was a great experience. The technician spent thirty minutes or more exploring my womb and the surrounding organs. She explained, as well as showed us, everything. The cost for that ultrasound rang in at just about $350. Continue reading

Triage In The Confessional: How M.A.S.H. Helped Me to Relate to the Divine Physician

As a kid growing up in the seventies, I watched more than a few episodes of M.A.S.H. Still young and inexperienced, my understanding of the war it portrayed was minimal. But with only a dozen or so channels to choose from, I regularly settled in front of our little screen and watched the hit show (catching just a fraction of the jokes and thankfully even less of the innuendo).
I remember well the regular scenes announcing the incoming choppers. The sweet voice of Radar and the whirr of helicopter blades still resonate in my consciousness.The characters would exit their leisure scenes and make the frenzied dash to the OR. Next came the line-up of hospital gurneys, broken bodies and tension-breaking dialogue as the characters feigned the chore of putting men back together.

as Father Mulcahy from
Probably because I am a cradle Catholic, I had an affinity for Father Mulcahy. His character seemed so gentle, sweet, honest and wholesome in contrast to the ever flirtatous nurses and lonely husbands. I had a frame of reference with which to identify with him. Of course, one couldn’t watch the series without forming an attachment to the character of Hawkeye. That compassionate, comedic soldier/surgeon, with his heart pinned to his sleeve, made war seem endurable.
MASH Goodbye.jpg
Alan Alda from Goodbye, Farewell and Amen
It was 1983 and I was twelve years old, the night they played the final Farewell episode. Alone in my bedroom, sprawled out on the brown, carpeted floor I turned the circular dial a few clicks to the right and tuned in to say goodbye. That episode was like none prior and it left me with the sour taste of the reality behind the props and make-believe sets. For the first time, I began to digest the horror of war and the very real toll it takes on the human psyche. To this day, I can’t shake some of the scenes I saw that night.
Last year at around this same time in Advent, we were sitting in church. Mass having just been celebrated, Monsignor Williams was announcing the upcoming events on the calendar when he invited us all to a penance service. Ever eloquent, his description began to shape an image which harkened back to my M.A.S.H. memories. Monsignor explained that the church was the great hospital, open to all the broken and wounded ( The penance service would host a small army of skilled healers (5-6 priests) who would set up triage stations (confessionals) throughout the building.
Images flooded in as he spoke. I thought about how sin breaks us like bones snapping under heavy artillery; how our anger and unfaithfulness rip holes in our relationships leaving behind bits of imbedded shrapnel.Visions of those young television characters stacked on stretchers crossed my mind as I considered our weakness when it comes to temptations. How many purposes of amendment do we make only to fall like rag dolls when the inevitable ambush of seduction comes. Like the sweaty, dirt smudged, bloodied figures I’d watched on M.A.S.H., we live our day to day lives stained by our transgressions.
However, while those skilled actors only pretended to put their patients back together, Monsignor was offering us real life first-aid. His triage stations could wash away the muck and mend the fractures. The skill level of the individual surgeons/priests wasn’t the determining factor in this hospital. The Divine Physician, through the hands of the confessional ministers, had the supernatural ability to bind up and resuscitate even the most desperate patients.
Not long after I watched the Farewell episode, my time in forced triage lines ended. At the time, I hadn’t made these connections and my only experiences with confession stemmed from the obligatory sessions the nuns orchestrated once a month. I remember standing shoulder to shoulder among my grade school peers, but I don’t have any recollection of any adults seeking help. Based on my experience, graduation from Catholic grammar school appeared synonymous with freedom from the confessional.
I shudder now to think about my years needlessly spent dragging myself around like a member of the walking dead, a wounded person enslaved by my own pride and ignorance. Thankfully, the grace of God finally managed to seep into the cracks of my hardened heart such that I felt that stirring desire to return like the prodigal son. I can’t even imagine what could have been the result of my eternal soul if I’d chosen to remain in my state of mortal sin.
As for my own children, I am trying hard to offer them a more complete understanding of our needs to be rebuilt constantly. We try to make a monthly habit (all of us) of heading to the confessional; however, it goes a bit further when they see not only their peers, but people of all ages and stages freely lined up for healing. No one is immune from the contagion of sin (even more so we adults). The bi-annual penance services in our diocese afford us that extra opportunity to witness the church in action in this broader capacity. Even without my M.A.S.H. references to draw from, it is a vision to behold long lines of familiar faces silently awaiting their turn to spill out their sorrows and sins and receive the outpouring of Christ’s absolution.
Indeed, the Father Mulcahy character was often depicted as tending to the spiritual needs of the dying which was certainly necessary. Monsignor and his fellow priests also have the duty to lead contrite hearts home from their deathbed, but it’s too bad Hawkeye’s character wasn’t regularly seen sitting in head-bowed posture beside a purple-stoled Father Mulcahy. The script for that scene wouldn’t have needed a single word of dialogue. Just imagine what a powerful and enduring statement such an image could have impressed on a whole generation.

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A Life of Adoration – my guest post for Deacon Ian’s blog

Pieter van Aelst, 16th century
A friend of mine, who just happens to be a deacon on his way to becoming a Catholic priest, began a blog to help his readers grow closer to Christ through prayer. His writings include a thorough explanation of a particular type of prayer called Lectio Divina (which I’d highly recommend learning more about). He asked some friends to share their personal prayer testimonies from the focus of how do you pray, what is your relationship with the Trinity and have you ever had an intense 
prayer experience
Here’s my story:

My mother asked me a question which has reverberated in my head for years now. I was in the 7th grade and had just received the Sacrament of Confirmation, when she asked me if I’d felt the Holy Spirit. She recalled her own confirmation day and having detected a noticeable change within herself; she literally perceived the movings of the Spirit. As for me, I felt nothing and quite frankly that troubled me a little. In fact, I was embarrassed because why, I wondered, had I not been graced in that same way? This question has come up again and again throughout my faith journey.
More recently, a dear friend shared how God spoke to her in adoration. With complete confidence, she recounted His instructions to her. Her testimony pricked that sensitive part of me and inspired my envy. Perhaps, she was closer to God, I thought. Perhaps, my mother and she were favored daughters who were getting this prayer thing right whereas my petitions sounded like banging cymbals. Maybe my head was too noisy to hear any still, small voice because admittedly I struggled with distractions (really, sometimes I’m no more attentive than my preschooler).
The rosary had long been my favorite form of prayer. I liked the repetition and the clearly outlined pattern. When my mind drifted, there was always a place to return to. The Blessed Mother had always been near and dear to my heart. As the daughter of a single mother, I found it easy to tell her all of my hopes and fears, to hand her my petitions. Indeed the rosary is a powerful and perfect form of prayer which I still love, but what I didn’t recognize was that I was actually using it to avoid something.
During a particularly desperate time in my life when the weight of my crosses seemed crushing, I began running to adoration. Honestly, every chance I could I jumped in the car and drove thirty minutes in any one of three different directions to reach an adoration chapel. In a two year span, I’d suffered repeated miscarriages (in addition to the loss of my firstborn years earlier), my marriage was in trouble again, my husband lost his job and the phantom menace called depression smothered me in its grip. My faith seemed to be on the line and I wasn’t sure I even wanted to draw another breath. This was my dark night of the soul in which I felt less than the nothing I’d felt before. Surrounded by my sweet brood of children and my patient husband, I felt only an aching loneliness.
With no money to pay a counselor, adoration was my only therapy. On the trips when my eyes stung from tears and the lump in my throat throbbed so painfully that I couldn’t utter a word, I simply prostrated myself before the Blessed Sacrament and gave Jesus my emptiness. “I feel empty, Lord,” I would whisper in my mind. “This is all I have to give. Please, accept my emptiness and fill it with Yourself.” Each time I waited for something, something tangible and jolting to occur, but it never did. However, by the end of every hour there was a distinct sense of peace in my soul (temporary reprieves from my anguish).
One particular afternoon, I sat across the desk from my priest, my tears falling with abandon, pouring my sorrows out. He listened and then, quite unexpectedly, inquired about the bond with my earthly father. Confused, I shared that it had often been contentious between us. Gently, my priest submitted that this brokenness may have created a stumbling block in my path to God, the Father. Suddenly, a narrow stream of light penetrated my darkness and God began to heal me; to rebuild the relationship I’d unknowingly walled off. Like clay that becomes soft in the hands of the potter, so was my heart now ready to be remolded.
Providentially at this same time, I was led to a spiritual director. Our time together would be brief due to a relocation on his part, but that didn’t matter. At our first meeting, he created for me a new image, a visual picture of God as a loving Father. He placed me on my Heavenly Father’s lap and used words like beloved daughter and little princess to describe God’s feelings for me. Until that moment, I had never felt so deeply loved by a male figure before. Based on my life experiences, I had carried around the distorted idea that men loved conditionally and I’d stamped God with that label as well.
Velázquez, Crowning of the Virgin, 1645
The something I’d avoided by praying the rosary was actually a Someone. Understandably, the Trinity is truly One, but in my prayer life I had unconsciously separated the Three Persons because I didn’t feel worthy to speak directly to my Father. With a beautiful new image burned into my memory, I finally felt free to let down my guard and run without constraint straight into the arms of God.
Looking back on this time, I can clearly trace the outline of God’s hand in my life. He made me anew and drew me closer to His Sacred Heart than I’d ever imagined possible. He shared His cross with me and I learned to embrace the bitter-sweetness of suffering. I’d like to say, I discovered the secret to praying well, but I’m still just a work in progress.
My formal prayer times are scattered, but I find my thoughts are often centered on God throughout the day. Whether I’m explaining a Bible story to my kids, ruminating on a verse that’s popped into my thoughts, or attempting to craft a blog post about His work in my life, I find it easiest to simply chat with Him here and there as though He is a member of my family.
Adoration is my staple now and my family has committed to a weekly holy hour together. I relish that time even if, admittedly, it is rarely devoid of distractions with eight kids in tow. But I simply offer it all up to God because I know He wants us all there so that He can shower each one of us with His radiant, unconditional love and unfailing mercy.
By sure to stop by Deacon Ian VanHeusen’s blog and read some of the other testimonies as well as the Deacon’s though-provoking insights.

Stepping Through Our Doors to Minister to Those on the Outside

With a ten month old at hip, I’d taken up my usual place at the rear of the sanctuary so as to distance my noise-maker from the attentive audience. It was Pentecost Sunday, the Church’s birthday, and Monsignor was traversing the aisles between pews. A pine branch in place of the aspergillum, he was dotting his parishioners with holy water blessings.
He seemed to take an extra long time, weaving through the maze of pews, all the while dipping and flicking that broken, wet branch. Just when I thought he’d direct his path towards me, he turned again done another row. Of course, paying attention to the details and taking extra care in sacred matters wasn’t surprising, this was Monsignor Williams after all. And while not exactly as dismissive of time as St. Pio of Pietrecina (who was known to celebrate three hour long Masses), he wasn’t in the habit of curtailing the Lord’s Holy Sacrifice in order to satisfy forty-five minute man-made quotas either.

At long last, Monsignor and his faithful altar servant strode back in my direction. Positioned several feet behind the last row, I prayed the sprinkled blessings would reach little Pio and me. Then, to my amazement, Father not only hit my target, but he brushed passed and pushed open the heavy, wooden doors behind me which led to the community room. While most priests might have contained their ministry to inside of the sanctuary space, he recognized there were sheep beyond the confines and, like the Good Shepherd, he sought them out.

Keeping in mind this pastor, who (only weeks away from “retirement”) struggles with the physical challenges of an aging body, I was struck by this living testimony of the gospel. Typically, those of us resigned to the far corners of the building (i.e. basements, corridors and cry rooms) have to take up our cross and, like the land-locked crowds facing Jesus’ boat, be satisfied with the grace that come through speakers and TV screens.
Watching Monsignor meet his parishioners where they were, I thought about the importance of stepping outside of our comfort zones, of being Jesus’s hands and feet beyond the beaten paths of our ordinary, comfortable travels.
A few friends of mine have children with special needs and they routinely face the challenges of not only meeting their daily needs, but of dealing with the misunderstandings and harsh criticisms of bystanders. Understandably, I admit my own irritation when I encounter some wild child running amok in the superstore while a parent stares mindlessly at a smart phone or the unconsoled wailing of a toddler (who isn’t being removed) during the Mass readings. And it is true that parents do need to discipline appropriately and occasionally remove disruptions. But with that being said, those parents and children are no less in need and perhaps might be more so in need of Christ’s presence.
One particular Sunday, I heard a bit of a ruckus as Mass was being offered. Shifting my gaze sideways to the other side of the sanctuary rear, I watched a weary mother trying in earnest to juggle two little girls by herself. I could read the frustration on her face as she fed the more rambunctious of the petite darlings Cheerios and pushed a sippy cup her way. As the littlest one twirled, I saw the mama take to the kneeler and close her eyes. I imagine she was praying for peace or perhaps, like I have so many times, laying out her sorrows and begging for her sacrifice to be enough.
At some point in the Mass exodus she disappeared and so I never had the chance to introduce myself. But I overheard a conversation of which her children were the topic. The noise had not gone unheard and fellow parishioners were voicing their displeasure.
Sadly, they weren’t privy to the lone mother’s struggle that morning. They hadn’t seen her solo-parenting arrival nor watched her face contort in vexation as she longed to soak in the Word, but was instead focused on keeping her girls’ winces to a dull roar.
Laying aside the cry room debate and the Mass isn’t a picnic argument, I think the problem is that we so often want to stay inside the parameters of our self-designated space. We can so easily discount those who are on the “outside.”
About eight years ago we belonged to this wonderful, tiny parish of mostly retired couples. As the parents of six with another on the way, we stood out (I mean really because we barely managed to cram into a pew). No doubt our family may have brought some before absent disruptions, but rather than eye our brood with suspicion we were adopted and assimilated. Our children breathed some youthful life in to the church and we learned to be better parents under the tutelage of our more mature peer.
The grandmothers of St. Catherine’s were quick to grasp a small, wandering hand or invite a fidgeting Brelinsky to sit beside them. They remembered well the difficulties of parenting their own and so easily slipped on our “shoes.” And our children sensed the camaraderie, they recognized that mom and dad were not flying solo, but that we were all members of the Body.
Like Monsignor, the members of that parish didn’t restrict Jesus’ reach. They took the time to meet us, know us and minister to us. They could have stayed planted in their “designated” pews and kept close company with established friends, rather than widen their circle and include us. My family would have suffered for it because while God would draw us far from that location (due to a necessary move) less than two years later the graces we received continue to this day.
I wish I had had the chance to encourage that frazzled mother, to offer her a compliment and a warm smile. To show her that Jesus does indeed want the little children around His table. I wish more people took the time to connect with the parents of special needs kids. To recall their inherit dignity and extend compassion and mercy their way.
In this age of pseudo-social kinship, we are failing all too often to make legitimate connections. We need to press open the doors and meet people where they are. Get to know one another, identify with our common ground and minister to one another’s needs, so that some day no one will be left outside.

Did You Hear The Whippoorwill? Protecting Our Senses

Did you hear that bird last night?” The question rolled off the tongues of sleepy, eye rubbing pilgrims as they made their way down the hill toward the breakfast line. Talk of the noisy whippoorwill would not only rattle around the chow line, but it was the hot topic dominating the men’s mid-morning break-out session.
The bridled bird sang away the full-mooned night. Bellowing its repetitive chirps across the old Craig Springs resort, nestled in a Virginia mountain side. Its constant calling broke the country silence and caused more than a couple of travelers to lie wide-eyed in their bunks fantasizing about clever and violent ways to end the bird’s seemingly relentless serenade.

Of course, I had to rely on the accounts of my cabin neighbors because as for me and mine not a single one of us had been roused by the reportedly irritating chatter of that infamous birdie. That’s not to say, I’d spent a peaceful night sleeping. No, I’d been busy wrestling the baby octopus (aka my 10 month old), who’d been wedged beside me in my rock-hard, twin-sized, summer camp bunk. But in all the times (give or take a dozen) I’d awaken to push a foot out of my rib cage, reposition a hand off of my face or stumble to the bathroom, I never once registered a whip or a will within my earshot.
I attributed the good, nocturnal fortune to our resident flocks back home. As keepers of a couple (or three) dutiful roosters, our home-base air is regularly saturated with clucking, cawing and crowing. So much so, that we’ve all learned to turn a deaf ear to it. In case you aren’t farmer savvy, it is a complete myth that roosters make good alarm clock substitutes (unless of course you fancy a buzzer that blares randomly and repeatedly throughout the day). Our familiarity with pre-dawn ranting facilitated a kind of blissful ignorance in our cabin while our friends were hiding under pillow mufflers in an attempt to escape the auditory intrusion.
As Catholics we are destined to live in the world, but not be of it. Nowadays, though, the constant cries of an anything goes (well anything but morality) culture threaten to dull our senses. If we tune in to every fantasy-relationship, reality drama or latest, blockbuster, romantic comedy, we’d come to believe that love is nothing more than a satisfying French kiss finished off with an orgasm on the first date. Sitcoms would have us convinced that the all-American family has morphed from June and Ward Cleaver to Gloria and Jay Pritchett (Modern Family). And no story tugs at the heart-strings or propels your talent show popularity status quite like a good I-came-out-and-my-parents-didn’t-throw-me-a-party story according to this season’s (meaning every season’s) sing-off show. You can’t scan the daily Yahoo news or social media feeds without encountering some LGBTQIDKTCWXYZ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Questioning, I Don’t Know, Totally Confused…) acronym.
Not more than two decades ago, our majority consciences would have been pricked by the in-your-face anti-Christian messages that today barely register a blip on the sensitivity meter. I’ve been accused (along with all Christians or Republicans for that matter) of pinning away for the the bygone days of the 50’s (funny since I never spent a day in that decade). It seems the times they are a-changing I’m told and we all need to keep up (or at least shut up). Tolerance is the vocabulary word best committed to memory, although its definition is something a bit more fluid. This is the current cultural diatribe that floods our senses minute to minute.
While our evenings benefit from my family’s ability to adapt to the noise of outdoor life, becoming deaf to the errors of our culture won’t lead us to peaceful slumber in the long term. We need to be vigilant for that night time thief that seems an inevitable foe circling the perimeter.
It has been a number of years ago now that we canceled our subscription to satellite TV and we only watch a handful of mainstream, free programming (or movies on DVD). As a generally rule we try hard to filter out most inappropriate media messages because we realize how easily desensitized we can become. Occasionally, when I’m particularly bored I grab the remote and surf our twelve channel wave. It astounds and disturbs me to consider the sheer number of sitcoms and nighttime dramas whose central (if not sole) theme is sex.
Having been enticed by Big Bang fans, I gave the show ten minutes of my time, but it lost me seconds into the main character’s nerdy sex jokes in the restaurant scene. Even Bones tries too hard to make viewers comfortable with the notion that an otherwise genius scientist has no health concerns when it comes to bedding random and numerous lovers.
And when did the seven dirty words ban get lifted? Or perhaps, I’m just not cool enough to get the side splitting humor of New Girls’ playful use of the term d (bleep) bag. I’m guessing routine viewers/listeners either enjoy this line of crass humor like a bird aficionado might have relished the whippoorwill’s incessant chirping or they’re ingesting these messages while in a semi-comatose state. My money’s on the latter scenario.
As parents, we have a responsibility to not only guard our hearts and minds from these twisted messages, but to protect our children. Sure we could pretend our kids are wise enough to brush off the constant bombardment, but then no one should be surprised when they encounter a scene like the one played out in A Christmas Story. Little Ralphie’s mother had no idea where he’d picked up the repertoire of cuss words he’d unleashed on the playground bully. Certainly, the stream of curses echoing from his own basement (where his dad was engaged in repairing the water heater again) couldn’t have been to blame.
Just the same, we need to hone our eyes and ears to sense danger. Danger that masks itself in the form of prime time programming, advertising, top forty lyrics and news media headlines. There’s a battle before us and we must prepare by first shielding ourselves from the constant din of errors whose sole purpose is lull our consciences to sleep. When we regain our sensitivity, we’re less attracted to worldliness and better able to hear the still, small voice of Truth.