Category Archives: faith

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.
backyard birds

Run Chicken Run: Choosing the Narrow Gate

Holed up in the nursery, the baby had just drifted off to sleep in my arms. It was that blissful moment when eyes finally took rest behind their lids and slumber won out over my fussy little one.

The tides of peace and calm rolled in my mama brain. Yes, that four-walled, pale blue sanctuary (aka the nursery) was fulfilling its purpose- quarantining us (baby and me) from the bustling household long enough to give rest a chance to settle in.

No sooner had those lids dropped and the tide rolled in, when my 5 year old Paul Revere rushed in booming, “The chickens are out, the chickens are out!”

Potentially as devastating as a British invasion, loose fowl required a call to arms or my husband’s fledgling garden faced certain doom. Continue reading

Miracles Abound, God Is Still Moving Mountains

Spying her from across the room at least half a dozen times in recent months, for some reason the connection was short-circuited each time. Either she was heading toward some other business or I was, or one of us was engrossed in conversation with some other confidant.
She’d been on my mind and in my prayers, this beautiful mother of six who is currently engaged in a fierce battle against breast cancer. I merely wanted to check in on her, but the timing made it difficult.

As Providence would have it, we finally attended the same retreat. The first sighting of her lifted my spirits higher, hoping we’d end up sharing the same table so I might get a bit of time to hear her sweet, gentle voice and soak in her wise reflections during the round table discussion. But once again the union was circumvented when she sat at the table on the opposite side of the room.
Oh well, I thought. My prayers are enough for her (and for me).
The retreat, on the seven last words of Jesus, began and my attention was diverted from the failed opportunity. Listening to the speaker, I recognized this day was far more than a social event, it was a chance for a personal encounter with Christ. Having never given much thought to Jesus’ last statements or the trouble it caused Him to make them, I was undeniably intrigued.
My focus was drawn to the speaker’s guided direction and to her explanations. As she recounted several anecdotal stories from her own life, the theme of miracles kept emerging for me. Miracles fascinate me as they seem to abound everywhere, but rarely do we take an inventory of them. Since the retreat subject wasn’t really about the miraculous, it seemed rather curious that I couldn’t keep my mind from wandering back to the idea.
The day ended with a self-serve, delicious lunch allowing women to circulate within the adjacent rooms, but I was tethered to my chair by a sleeping baby (trying to feed myself one-armed without dropping soup in my lap). That’s when she found me alone and the long-awaited connection fused. My dear friend sat beside me. We played a little catch-up and then she shared an intimate experience.
She and her children had attended a Eucharistic retreat for youth a few months prior. My husband was the food coordinator and our sons had participated, so she assumed I’d been there, too (just that the forces keeping us apart were at play that weekend as well). Apparently, during that event there was a period in which all of the attendees were seated in a large circle and Christ Jesus, in the Blessed Sacrament, was processed carefully and reverently around the room. She’d been seated beside my husband, positioned in a corner seat.
Just as the monstrance was rounding the corner, she said, it stopped directly in front of her and paused. She noted that the monstrance had been on the move prior to this specific moment when it stopped before her (the tiny hairs on my neck stood on end). That flush of excitement and awe overcame me as I envisioned Jesus walking straight up to my lovely friend, radiating His glory directly upon her fair countenance. Had He physical arms, I imagine they’d have been outstretched with His pierced hands cupping her tender cheeks while their eyes locked in communion. Chills tingled down my spine.
But then my friend did it (what we all do too often), she shrugged her shoulders and attempted to write this miracle off as mere coincidence or her own misinterpretation. Perhaps, the monstrance just seemed to pause by her because she was sitting in that corner spot. Maybe, it hadn’t really hung around any longer for her than anyone else, she reasoned. Now that theme, which had been entertaining my attention all morning long, seemed all the more relevant and reinforced.
Of course, not, I told her with all confidence. Of course, Jesus Christ had paused for her. Of course, He, knowing her heroic battle and obedient heart, wanted her to feel His very real Presence, to encounter Him in a tangible way. Yes, He was Present for everyone at that Eucharist retreat, but the miracle was for her just as the woman with the hemorrhage received a personal healing in the midst of the crowd. His power was not randomly seeping out to all those followers who were pressing in on Him No, it rushed out to one woman who dared to touch the tassel on His cloak and believe that would be enough.
My friend looked me in the eye and smiled, explaining that she hadn’t told anyone else about this encounter. She’d been pondering it all in her heart. It would seem, she said, that we were supposed to talk on this day precisely. All those missed opportunities to unite prior to this conversation were part of a bigger plan. God needed to prepare me before hearing her story so that I would recognize the miracle; and she needed to hold onto her private encounter until she could release her doubts and accept the full merit of the gift she’d been given.
Another talented friend, Suzanne Temple, is an avid photographer and a picture she snapped seems the ideal depiction of miracles in our world today. Through her camera lens, Suzanne reveals the hidden wonders which our naked eyes overlook. How many times I’d seen a dandelion puff ball, but never before had I witnessed the delicate interplay of its parts. Her photograph unveiled another layer of nature that I’d taken for granted.
photo can be purchased at istockphoto.com
Miracles are like that seed bearing helicopter. We generally miss them when we are focusing through the wide angle. And then we are habitually accustomed to dismissing them as insignificant and random, as though that which is difficult to see is simply not worth looking for. However, like that seed bearer, a miracle is a wonder capable to sprouting good things if it reaches fertile ground. True, miracles can effect our circumstances without recognition, but how much more awesome our world becomes when we look for God’s handiwork and find it all around us.

When Our Candles Are Extinguished, Keeping The Faith

Passing through the narthex doors, the balance on my kids’ excitement meter tipped far right as they spied the ushers with those thin, white, paper-circle sheathed candles in hand. Of course, my meter headed in the opposite direction as I considered the possibilities ahead (think of two little balls of constant energy armed with flaming torches one inch away from flowing brunette locks and loose shirt tails). Ah, yes, a procession was in our immediate future on this Holy Thursday evening.

After ascending from the basement quiet room, with my smallest choir wannabe, on my way to receive the precious Body and Blood, I was pleasantly surprised (okay maybe just plain surprised) to find not a single candle was dangling limply from a crack down its center. Somehow in my absence Daddy had managed to keep the half a dozen sister-pokers safe or at least some inexplicable stroke of luck had been at play.
Once the last communicant returned to his seat, the altar boys began the domino of illumination. One by one, person to person, the Body of Christ passed the light from forward to back so that in moments the whole church interior was aglow in soft, flickering candlelight. And my proud offspring were smiling from ear to ear.
Seeing as the southern weather is bipolar this spring, we were woefully under-dressed for the outdoor procession. Daddy, therefore, volunteered to remain church-bound with the baby leaving me the honor of chaperoning the torch bearers single-handedly (one hand per flame wielding boy).
Cautiously we each made our way down the stone front steps as we followed the Blessed Sacrament. The initial downward movements left a few of us extinguished, so began the acts of charity as those still holding onto their warm glowing flames reached over to reignite our wicks. How beautiful it is when our normal pattern of pew-staking separateness is broken and we become the one that we are meant to be; sharing our space and our resources.
However, on this night the wind would seem the winner. By the time our feet made contact with the adjacent sidewalk, all but a handful of candles had succumbed leaving us all the more vulnerable in the cold night air. The kids, being “childlike” of course, continued their hopeful pursuit in search of re-ignition long after I’d resolved to walk in the chilly darkness.
Having wrapped my sweater around my five year old, my thin blouse was little consolation against the cold wind. Considering the open-toed sandals and skirted bare legs accompanying us in the procession, I imagine I wasn’t alone in my misery.
A few of my children had scouted ahead in search of light, but my position toward the rear left me mostly unable to see the canopy that led us. However, upon reaching the final corner I caught sight of the King’s memorial. The red altar servers’ torches at the head of the line had also lost the battle. Their glass cup protectors had failed to stave off the blustery air.
But the four tall, corner candles encircling the ciborium which housed the precious Body and Blood maintained their constancy. While we followers stumbled along in darkness, Christ’s Light remained leading the way. And isn’t that a visual portrayal of the Truth?
Earlier in the day, I’d chanced an encounter with a near occasion of sin. That is, I’d boldly and pridefully typed my two cents worth in challenge to a friend’s post on facebook (good thing confession is before Easter). The topic was local politics, specifically candidates running for office. As is the case with such discussions (okay, arguments) the lines were drawn and commentators claimed their sides.
I was heralding a long-shot runner, a devout Catholic who lives out his faith and sets his standards accordingly, but the opposition was quick to assess my choice as non-viable. Like stones in the hand of young David, they informed me there was no feasible way my contender could ever take down Goliath.
Yes, Noah’s ark was the creation of a doomsayer and David’s confidence was based on childish naïvete. Then there were those foolish disciples who believed some political agitator was the Son of God. Not to mention, all those stupid saints (like Francis) who traded riches for suffering.
How easily the winds of the world blow against our meager attempts to scatter Light. We’re left fumbling through the blackness- fearful and confused. Peter did this once the accusers dragged Jesus toward Calvary. Just hours before he’d pledged his complete devotion and endurance, but then all too quickly he recanted once the Source of his courage was withdrawn.
Though I may have given up on relighting my candle, I continued to follow the procession knowing where it was leading. Such it is in life, just because our human endeavors to evangelize may appear lost or insignificant against the spotlight of sin, we can be assured the Source of all Light, of all Truth will never cease to burn. Like Noah’s obedience, David’s courage, the disciples’ faith and the saints’ abandonment, so long as our path is illuminated by Jesus Christ we cannot go wrong.
We need only follow close, even if required to do so blindly. Whether we have benefit of other members of the Body to encourage and protect us or if we must walk alone vulnerable to the buffeting forces of opposition, we will not be misled. Christ reigns today as He did 2000 years ago and His Light will continue to shine through all eternity leading all who follow Him home.

Making Ready for Easter: 4 Posts from the Archives

With Holy Week in full swing my mind has been drifting toward Friday, but at the same time I am juggling the plans for our “new school year” which will begin next week . By juggling I mean: writing out five planners, cleaning the school cabinet AGAIN, distributing new books, and trying to formulate a new daily plan that includes more time and attention to writing for my blog all while cradling the baby and mediating sibling disputes. However, with all that being said I remember the focus of this week is not supposed to be on me. 

I decided to reread the posts I wrote last year at this time to help me recollect and prepare to make the journey from Holy Thursday to Good Friday and onward to the celebration of Easter. Won’t you join me…

Holy Thursday:

Envision reclining at table with Jesus, listening to the sound of His calm,mysterious words as He offers His Body and Blood for the first time. So many struggle with this abstruse teaching that they give up and flee the room. He speaks of a coming time when He’ll no longer be present, how confusing and worrisome. Perhaps, the Apostles desire a further explanation, but instead they must wait to fully comprehend the meaning of all that they are witnessing. Read HERE
Another:

Did you ever have a problem that you didn’t even realize you had? Like stinky feet or bad breath, no, not that kind of problem. Those kinds of maladies usual illicit someone’s notation. But, sometimes we can suffer from a dilemma without ever realizing its existence and impact on our lives. From childhood traumas to youthful heart breaks to adult disappointments, we can bear the invisible scars throughout a lifetime. Like an old sports injury, they can impede our present actions, cripple our faith. Read HERE

Good Friday:

So in hushed stillness, we sat in the first pew waiting for The Stations of the Cross to begin on this Good Friday. My eyes searched the bare altar, scanned the purple clothes hiding my favorite statues, all in an attempt to find consolation in familiarity. The lights still out and the sanctuary lamp missing from its stand added to the strange sense of loneliness. Read HERE

Easter:
Easter lilies, tulips, aromatic incense and the warm glow of candles filled the sanctuary. The altar was dressed in the full splendor of tapestries. As well, Our Lady of Fatima stood in a place of honor veiled in glorious white. My favorite saintly statues returned to greet me and the pews were filled with brothers and sisters donning their best attire. Servers surrounded the altar and Father stood clothed in a royal white and gold chasuble. Like heaven had leaned down and kissed the earth, this morning’s Easter Mass proclaimed the Resurrection. 
Read HERE


If you are inspired by any of these posts, would you please share my blog with friends and acquaintances who might also enjoy these posts. Just please be sure to link them back to my blog so that increases my traffic and encourages me to keep writing. -Tara

Building Calvary In The Heart, Letting Go of Attachments

Get your copy of 33 Days to Morning Glory

33Days to Morning Glory is a book that had been recommended to me in the past, but it took a while before I invested the time and energy into tracking it down. Last year as a family we consecrated ourselves to Jesus through Mary following the method of St. Louis de Montfort. This book is a sort of preparation for that consecration. Since the consecration isn’t necessarily supposed to be a “one and done” kind of endeavor, reading this preparatory book now still makes sense as a way to recall and recommit to the promises made.

This morning’s reading focused on an inspiration St. Louis had to build a monument to the Lord’s Passion. His vision to create a huge visual testimony led the peasants of Pontchâteau, France to dedicate 15 months of their lives to erecting the massive structure on the hillside. Imagine the love they must have poured into the planning and construction, volunteering countless hours of their free time to memorialize the greatest act of love ever displayed, the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Being peasants, it is doubtful that extra money, supplies and time were luxuries in ample supply, but that didn’t stop them from the mission.
Considering how elated I feel when I manage to complete some small (far less meaningful) task, like painting my kitchen cabinets after seven years of wanting to, the people of Pontchâteau must have been brimming with well-deserved pride and satisfaction once they stepped back to admire the result of their labors.
Then on the day before the bishop was due to arrive for the dedication, word came down that St. Louis’ enemies had succeeded in convincing government officials that the memorial was actually a fortress in disguise. They connived so as to turn Jesus’ road to Calvary into a Trojan horse. Afraid of usurped authority, the officials opted to destroy it.
Standing before thousands of faithful on the day of dedication, with the knowledge that all was slated for demolition, St. Louis said, “We had hoped to build a Calvary here. Let us build it in our hearts. Blessed be God.”
Wow. Rather than incite the peasants to rail against the injustice, rather than call them to their knees in petition for protection, rather than grumble and complain against his detractors, St. Louis let go. He recognized God’s Will and accepted it, although it was probably far beyond his own understanding. Surely, if God had inspired the building of such a potential source of grace and devotion, He had a great purpose for doing so. Why then should He allow its destruction after only a day? St. Louis didn’t stir up that question, he simply detached himself from the physical work and taught the faithful to do the same.
Now sensitive me gets so annoyed when my children carelessly undo my hard work (like the dirty dishes and crumbs that appear five minutes after I’ve scrubbed the kitchen clean), I can hardly imagine the anger and hurt the peasants might have felt once they witnessed the deconstruction of their sacrificial toils.
But more than just detach, St. Louis blessed God. He blessed God. He blessed Him for all of it, for the inspiration, for the motivation, for the laboring and the final completion; and he blessed Him for the persecution and destruction. He blessed God.
Reading those words launched me back in time. Every summer when the birthday bonanzas begin here in Brelinskyville I am compelled to take an accounting of sorts. In June, we will celebrate the 18thbirthday of our eldest son, the one who grew in my heart and not under it. July would have marked the 19thbirthday of our firstborn son.
That July in 1995 when our firstborn passed through me into the world, I felt the joy of new motherhood. I wrote in a letter to family and friends that his birth felt like climbing a mountain. After nine months of sacrifice and waiting, plus seven hours of laboring, I pushed a perfect being beyond the safe harbor of my womb. The feeling of elation was truly overwhelming like that of a climber who has reached the utmost heights and is rewarded by an expansive view of creation. However, my vision, like that of St. Louis’, was limited. God’s Will was for my firstborn to lose his earthly life too soon after.
I would like to say that I blessed God, as St. Louis did, but at the time I couldn’t even begin to find that kind of strength and faith. But today, with nearly 19 years of clarity, I recognize that letting go of my firstborn son opened the doorway to the adoption of my second son and the conception of my third son (both in 1996).
Additionally, after my husband and I had converted our hearts and more fully dedicated our marriage and our fertility to Jesus through Mary, God’s Will would again challenge ours. Two years with four consecutive miscarriages, routine bouts of depression and the resurfacing of an addiction (in 2010-2011) stripped me bare. Perhaps similar to some of the faithful of St. Louis’ time, I felt as though God has inspired me to build up something (new lives) only to have it torn down again and again. However, if I hadn’t consented to the suffering, I wouldn’t have the reward of mothering my now 8 month old son.
St. Louis let go and in doing so he allowed God to build an everlasting memorial to love and faith which has continued through centuries, affecting the spirituality of so many popes and faithful alike. Had the physical structure remained, St. Louis’ lesson of detachment and obedience may have born less fruit both in himself and in the Church he served.
With Holy Week on the horizon, it seems the ideal time to scrutinize my personal attachments (to stuff, to comfort, to my will). What was easy to separate myself from for 40 days, may not be so readily left aside if I focus on the narrow picture. However, if I build a Calvary in my heart, I have the hope of creating something eternal (or perhaps more likely I will be allowing God to create something eternal in me).

Waking to Mercy, Praying For All Of Us

Eight months ago after welcoming my youngest into the wide world, I rediscovered the wee hours of the morning. That is to say, after my longest gap between newborns (almost five years) in which I’d grown used to sleeping and waking according to my own wants and needs, I had to relearn that sacrificial habit of fumbling in the darkness to meet a nursling’s persistent and repeated demands.

This youngest child, the one of my “old age,” was undeniably the gift of much prayer and petition. His arrival in the early morning hour of mercy seemed significant all along. So, it was no surprise to me that he continued to show preferential treatment for the 3 am feeding.
A few weeks into this revived, infant routine, I was struggling to joyfully offer up my sleep deprived status. But a wise friend turned my trial into blessing when she pointed out that I could utilize the before-the-crack-of-dawn feeding session to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. A light went off in my blackness and I began to relish those moments when my eyes opened to spy 3 on the clock from across the room. Rather than an imposition, my mercy-hour prayers became my mission.
Depending on my perceived state of consciousness (or un-), I began to recite the prayers either focusing on one complete decade or attempting to pray through the whole chaplet before sleep won me back. Seeing as my hands were generally busy lifting, holding and shifting four extra appendages by clock-light, my fingers sufficed in place of beads.
As time went on a new thought made its way to the forefront of my mind; I felt the need to pray in reparation for specific sins or specific groups of people. This idea of focusing my petitions in reparation was particularly uncomfortable at first. For example, I prayed for child abusers even though I find this sin especially reprehensible. But when I began begging mercy for specific sinners it caused me to see with greater clarity the weight of my own transgressions. While they may not be as grievous as the sin of a murderer, certainly it is not my place to judge myself less culpable or more worthy as Jesus’ mercy is offered to us all like.
Since my only companion in that hour of mercy isn’t able to recite the prayers in unison, I changed the verse from “have mercy on usand on the whole world” to “have mercy on me and on the whole world.” Such a minor change, but it really impacted my perceived level of responsibility. Of course, I am guilty for my part in wounding His Sacred Heart and owning up to that with my words seemed necessary. When my distractions are fewer claiming my sins is a bit more painful, but it also makes the gift of mercy all the sweeter.
Sometimes the news reports can dupe Christians into forming an us versus them mindset. The murderers, dictators, abusers, sexual predators, thieves and wanton addicts may seem lost in their depravity. They frighten and repulse us. Perhaps, we clamor for the death penalty or we sentence them to hell. Indeed, hell does exist and some will opt to condemn themselves to it, but this Divine Mercy has the power to transform even the most seemingly lost among us. Resting in that Truth at 3am helped me better understand we are all the prodigal son.
Jesus died for each one of us and He invites us to call down that merciful blessing on our brothers and our sisters. Those who may not know Him. Those who may believe themselves beyond His loving reach. What an extraordinary task Christ extends to us, to partake in His loving relationship of this fallen people (me included). So, the next time you scan 3 on a clock face consider it an opportunity to join in the petitions for an outpouring of mercy to rain down on you and me and our kinsmen alike.

Sensing the Presence of Jesus

Halfway into my second round-trip drive of the day, I was sitting in the van with a sleeping baby waiting on my son’s confirmation retreat dismissal. Listening to some dull music on the radio while scanning statuses on Facebook, my thoughts weren’t concentrated on anything particularly weighty when suddenly my ears perked up like our puppy’s do if he senses something important invading his environment.

That familiar chanting of benediction sounded into the air as external speakers transmitted Father’s prayers to the world beyond the sanctuary walls. Though I couldn’t exactly make out the Latin from the seat of my van, my heart knew the words. Captivated, I recognized that my Lord was exposed inside. Without seeing, I sensed His true Presence. How beautiful it must be to live next door to that chapel, I thought. To hear that signal often, the melodic litany of praises, seemed to me an envious prize.
At the same time, a small cardinal appeared on the ground beside my vehicle catching my sight. It darted about before ascending bare limb by bare limb up the neighboring tree. That bird seemed an apt representation of my state as the words of benediction lifted my mind closer and closer to heaven along with my feathered companion.
The remainder of my waiting couldn’t extend long enough. I would have liked to continue resting at the foot of that unseen altar entertaining the meaning of that bird, but my son appeared signaling departure time. Back in the chauffeur business, I recalculated the GPS and my mind toward home.
Turning onto the main road, the spicy perfume of incense filled my nose reminding me of the chrism oil used to anoint the baptized and confirmed. Sniffing in an attempt to determine the source, I realized the sweet scent had attached to my son’s striped sweat shirt. The aroma lasted throughout the 50 minute trip home leading me right back to my daydream of His Presence.
Without a direct word spoken to me, my senses identified the Lord. It didn’t require an overt action or conversation to raise my awareness. So, too, it can be with us when we testify to our beliefs. When those around us hear our choice of words, watch our actions or study our demeanor they will form an opinion. If we speak with charity, move with tender purpose and love unconditionally they will sense the presence of Jesus.
While last week’s visible sign of ashes has been washed away, lent is the perfect time to ask ourselves if strangers can still see the marks of faith on our brow. Rather than attempt to be like the Pharisees who made a show of their penances and prayers, let our every day words be like litanies and our common place actions like prostrations that lead the observer toward home.

Short Term Memory Loss: Remembering to Pray, Hope and NOT Worry

Stop talking. Pay attention. Do your schoolwork. Pick up your socks. Clean your room. Brush your teeth. Brush your hair. Wipe up your crumbs. Don’t chase the dog. Feed the cat. Don’t pick you nose. Phrases I repeat ad nauseum to my beloved offspring. Sometimes it feels like I’m trying to catch water with a sieve. I’m convinced they all suffer from short term memory loss (although they somehow remember some naughtiness perpetrated by a sibling three years ago, as well as the play-by-play of the movie they watched last week).

As for me, I was just remarking to my husband that I’ve made good progress in a particular area of my faith life. To be sure he assigned me proper credit, I pointed out that although we’ve been in our slow season for his business I haven’t once fallen apart when bills sat unpaid. Maybe it was too prideful, but I thought I deserved a little pat on the back for having finally learned my lesson in trusting without constraints. My husband obliged me with a smile and an agreeable nod (since his leadership fueled my progress he probably deserves some credit here, too.)
Only because I’m typically more frugal (definitely not because of my mathematical skills), the task of bookkeeping and budgeting has long been my assigned domain in the household. Raising the near equivalent of a baseball team on a Little League coach’s salary often times meant squeezing our pennies until copper drips out. In years past, a stack of bills could lead me to tears.
Don’t worry, we’ll get it all covered,” my husband always reminded me. He was right, of course, the means always managed to appear allowing us to knock out one stack of bills just before a new pile took its place. However, back then, his direction never fully imprinted in my memory before the next bout of financial woe erupted.
When my husband’s long requested prayer to own his own business was answered in 2012, it was clearly the workings of the Holy Spirit that imbued my mind and heart with a sense of peace and trust. Completely unprepared for exactly what we could expect from the leap into business ownership, I reasoned that if God had finally answered this prayer surely He would meet our needs.
Our first year was a learning curve as we’d discover that for a portion of each year sales would drop-off and our income with it. Not coincidentally, at this same time Padre Pio entered my life and his instruction to “Pray, Hope, Don’t Worry” seemed intended precisely for me.
So whenever I felt tempted by anxiety, Padre’s words rang out and I would hold a little internal conversation that went something like this, “Pray about it, Tara (yeah, I insert my own name to be sure I’m listening). Place all of your hope in God. Worrying won’t accomplish anything. Worry can’t generate income. Worry can’t pay a bill. Worry only misleads you into fear. Don’t worry, Tara.” I committed this to memory (or so I thought).
In fact, just this month we were so short on income that we’d only managed to cover the mortgage halfway in, but rather than sweat the “big stuff” I prayed and reminded God what a fabulous job He does caring for the birds. Because He promised we are all the more important to him. Then, miraculously, within the next three days we were able to pay every single outstanding bill.
How many times God has proven His Word to be true, I cannot begin to count. Each time it amazes me, like it’s the first time, and inspires abundant praises of thanksgiving.
Alas, there I was less than a week after God had bestowed the financial blessing we needed, basking in my pride for having matured in this spiritual journey and singing praises of gratitude, when I happened to call our accountant. Without fair warning, she let me know the reward for our increased business over the summer was a nice, big tax bill owed to the IRS.
Huh?” But that wasn’t part of the plan because our new school year is about to begin and we have tuition and books to buy. No, not now because the patio roof is about to cave in and the family room carpet has come undone. Really, the couch has lost its springs and we were only going to buy a used one anyway. And there’s the big party in June to celebrate our first graduated son.
In an instant, I fell apart inside.
That evening was mostly one of silence as my mind raced around trying to formulate a scheme. Perhaps, I could juggle this or do without that for another year. So continued the night in my brain until I fell asleep. Waking the next morning it felt like a Mack truck had run over my side of the bed. My shoulders were stiff and sore like I’d carried a boulder up a ten mile hill. But still I tried to conjure up a few new ideas for balancing our budget with this new addition.
Then I remembered the fish. The fish that delivered the temple tax for Jesus and His Apostle. Jesus instructed, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” And in a most unlikely way He provided their money for the tax.
He has provided for us. He had just done so again in a very real and very unexpected way, but my memory failed to recall that truth. My progress retracted quicker than a fisherman’s pole when he senses a bite. The physical soreness was the price for attempting to shoulder the impossible weight of the world alone. I suppose pride really does go before the fall as I’d fallen right back into my old pattern of anxiety and delusional self control.
Pray. Hope. Don’t worry. Depend on Me. Trust Me. Follow My commands. Stop being anxious. The Holy Spirit must repeat those phrases ad nauseum to me. You would think after forty-two years my memory should be a steel trap, not a sieve. I suppose I’ll have to admit my kids come by their short term memory loss honestly. Fortunately, in all likelihood, there will be ample opportunities to practice this virtue and hopefully some day (before senility sets in) my memory will extend beyond the current moment.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus in the Morning

Shower taken, clothes on, hair coiffed, make-up applied and breakfast gobbled, I was sounding the five minute alarm in an attempt to move my crew toward the waiting van when that familiar “Bzerrrt” rang out. Like one of Pavlov’s dogs, I stopped and reached for my cell phone.
She’s not doing well,” the text began. An old, dear friend recently contacted me after his mother suffered debilitating strokes. It had been years since our last meeting, but time melted away when I heard his voice. The night before, I’d sent him a check-in message to inquire about her progress, but this text deflated my hopefulness.
No time to sit and respond, the children and I climbed aboard and sped (no more than 6 miles over the limit cuz there’s no way I’m getting another ticket in my big pro-life stickered, family van) to the First Friday Children’s Holy Hour. Thankfully we arrived with some minutes to spare, so I joined the mama circle of chatter.
We were talking about Latin lessons and study habits when the pretty, young daughter of a friend stepped through the door. Her mother had been admitted to the hospital with pregnancy complications just the day before, so I took her grinning appearance as a harbinger of good news. But then the mama who had carpooled her to the holy hour joined the conversation clutch and somberly informed us that the mother we’d been fervently praying for had delivered her too-soon-to-be-born baby during the night. The sweet, little harbinger still did not know the sorrowful news.
While attempting to digest that reality, someone happened to mention the loss of yet another precious expected one in miscarriage. Completely unprepared, I felt like someone had just punched me in the gut. Their losses twinged that tender nerve that carries me back to my own memories of intense anguish and confusion. Not to mention, I couldn’t help, but feel the weight of disappointment in yet another seemingly unanswered prayer.
Thankfully, a gentle interruption soon came reminding us that the holy hour was beginning. Deflated by all the sad reports, I quietly followed the children into the sanctuary and found my place in the pew.
Then the bell was rung, announcing the procession to the altar. Once we’d risen, Monsignor started that familiar hymn which he often leads daily communicants in. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus in the morning, Jesus in the noon-time, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus when the sun goes down.”
A simple song, easy to sing along with (even without musical accompaniment), it had become a favorite of mine, but until that minute I suppose I’d been most attracted by its easy repetitive rhythm and uncomplicated lyrics. Hearing the song again, on that particular morning, it spoke something new to my heart.
A sudden rush of euphoria lifted my spirit up as Monsignor led the verse again. Staring at the monstrance which would hold my beloved Jesus, I understood. Like the clarity you get when someone corrects your mixed-up version of the song you’ve been crooning (like when you finally realized Jimi Hendrix wanted to “kiss the sky” and not “this guy”), Jesus revealed a deeper truth.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus in the morning.” The rising of the sun, the start of every day, morning holds promises of newness and vigor. Those tiny babies, whose earthly time had been so brief, resided in the morning of life.
Jesus in the noon-time.” Midday, the time when production peaks and energy can run thin. My friend who was caring for his dying mother, the mamas who missed the opportunity to cradle newborns in their arms, all of us who imagine our days will be numbered into years, we’re marching in the noon-time.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus when the sun goes down.” Sunset, when the light fades and the invitation to rest looms near. The woman lying on a hospital bed drawing her last breaths, she was watching the setting sun.
My pleaded petitions had not been answered according to my hoped-for designs. Thinking of Martha and Mary, who while newly in their grief had insisted their brother would not have died if Jesus had only come sooner, I could relate to their disappointment. But on this day Jesus was reminding me, through the words of a hymn, that nothing had escaped His vigilant watch. Not then and not now.
So where is our Lord when the storms rage and illness overcomes the body? He is there in every moment. He is constant. He is steadfast. He is unchanging. Not one cry or whispered plea escapes His hearing. He established our days from the rising to the setting.
As the lyrics proceeded, I filled with greater awe and wonder that the God of the whole universe might care to offer me this sweet consolation. How many times I buzz through my days, following in the well-worn grooves of my routine. Sure I remember to talk with God now and again, but some hours I can be careless and self-absorbed. Jesus, however, is there in every solitary second. We are never alone in the journey.
Indeed, inspired by this simple hymn, I will do better to follow the song’s instructions- to praise Him, to love Him and to serve Him in the morning and in the noon-time and when the sun goes down.