Category Archives: faith

charles no home sleeping

A Homeless Man Named Charles

Long, stringy, unkept hair framed his down-turned face as he sat sleeping on the Walmart bench. His ragged, dirty clothes hung loosely so that his size was masked. A hand of fresh bananas laying beside him, someone had taken pity and left the small meal for his discovery when he awoke.

Sometimes he’d find refuge and a bit of charity in a local fast food joint or more often he could be found wandering the streets around town. A seemingly gentle soul, our family began to see him here and there on a fairly regular basis in our old hometown. Continue reading

Bouquet of Dandelions, When Weeds Become Gifts

From planting hardy grass seed and fertilizing to watering then mowing and edging, diligent home owners invest hard-earned money and valuable time into manicuring their plots of earth. Neighborhood dwellers compete to keep up appearances when it comes to their square of land. Who doesn’t want the coveted “Yard of the Month” sign anchored in their front yard for all to see and envy?
What grief befalls the vigilant landscaper when little yellow blooms emerge to take up residence in that lush green outdoor carpet threatening to thwart all chance for block superiority. Then the dandelion continues it insidious scheme of proliferation by morphing into white balls of seed transportation. In man versus nature, the battle persists endlessly.
Too many times to count, one of my little ones has met me with a beaming face and an outstretched fist bearing the gift of one of those vexing blooms. And I recall my own youthful joy when, cheeks puffed, I blew my hopes and dreams aloft with those tiny, white, seed helicopters. Those dandelion bouquets, arranged in my best plastic drinking cups, scarcely seem a nuisance and who could resist the temptation to send a wish into the wind with one of those cotton ball heads.
So often we invest our time and energy into creating our own vision of beauty and perfection. Our homes and our lifestyle can mirror our image of reality, but sometimes it is really a vision based on worldly relativism rather than on Christ’s example.
We hire realtors to help us in our hunt for the ideal house. Location, location, location is the mantra that guides our decisions as we search out the white-picket fenced lot in the right neighborhood. Keeping up with the Joneses incites us to measure our plans in square feet. If only we can afford the extra bonus room and bath, then we’ll be content and able to entertain our friendly rivals.

A job with an impressive title and an equally significant pay scale is the goal. Then, there’s the car needed to accompany that status so we can park in the company lot unashamed. And things, lots of things purchased with the monies earned from that career, that will surely make us satisfied.
Make-up, diets and designer clothes, hair color, pilates and the latest shoe fashions insure we look stunning and eternally youthful. Pop culture’s starlet of the moment donned a fashionable baby bump while teetering on stilettos and two months postpartum she’s back in her size 2 skinny jeans. Following her advice, we’re guaranteed to look and feel like the belle of the ball.
Okay, maybe not quite the bumper sticker you’d pick
One son and one daughter are the reward of careful family planning. Of course, we’ll want them to be adorable, bright and self-sufficient so that they earn us a “My kid made honors at LaDeeDa Academy” bumper sticker. Reading parenting magazines and trusting the dictates of all the experts promises our offspring will excel at math and violin and soccer and science and…
But then authentic life happens and crosses spring up in the midst of our well constructed reality. A foreclosure, a job loss, an illness or a child with special needs interrupts our lifestyle like those weeds in the front yard. Try as we might, all our human efforts to fix the problems may fail to reach the roots allowing one trial to beget another and then another. If we focus on our limited personal capacity frustration, sorrow and disappointment may spread seeds of doubt and hopelessness within us.
My own life has more often looked like my yard, green with weeds and dotted with nature’s choice of posies. However, I suppose at times I’ve deluded myself into believing I maintain some modicum of control over my lawn and my life. That began to change a few years ago as we shouldered burden after burden, cross upon cross, when I required surgery, miscarried repeatedly, my husband lost his job, medical bills piled up, unexplained fertility issues developed and depression descended often.
My prayerful pleading seemed unheard leaving me to battle germs of misgiving. While I never questioned God’s existence or attributes, I did second-guess His concern for me and my worthiness to petition His aid. Maybe I lacked the right format or perhaps my novenas weren’t sincere enough, I reasoned. If only I could craft the correct formula of penance and petition, then God would end my trials.
Instead He drew me closer to the cross. And isn’t that the Way of Christ? Counter to all of our notions of success, He came into the world small and helpless, grew-up in obscurity and chose a life of material poverty. His ultimate goal was death on a cross, so that we could truly attain eternal happiness.
Like dandelions to a child, so became my afflictions in His shadow. In learning to accept my struggles (to be grateful even) I was able to fashion them into a spiritual bouquet more lovely than any I could have arranged on my own. And maybe He’ll allow my prayers and talents to help scatter His seeds of faith here and there.

The Dream. A Blessing is Bestowed.

Nightmares, bizarre dreams, bodily aches and bladder activity interrupted much of my pregnancy slumber. Rarely did a nighttime pass undisturbed, but I suppose that is all par for the course in getting ready for evenings with a newborn in residence. Thankfully, the lack of restfulness meant that the plots and details of my nightmares drifted quickly out of my memory shortly after my eyelids lifted. Maybe that’s why I am so intrigued by one dream in particular because it didn’t fit the pattern. Although in hindsight the timing of my sleepy encounter also inspires my curiosity.

Now let me first say, I’m not superstitious and I steer clear of those dream interpretation books. Dreams, on their own, are little more than fleeting stories conjured up by the quiet mind while the body is at rest (at least that’s my thoroughly unscientific thought on the matter).
Well, in my dreamy state, I was seated in a room full of friends and fellow seekers. At the head of the room was the Blessed Sacrament encased within a simple, gold monstrance. The seating arrangement was such that my friends and their families were facing Jesus, but I, flanked only by strangers, was positioned on the right of the room so that I could only see the side edge of the monstrance. Knowing that my line of sight wasn’t a requirement to offering Him my adoration, I was still somewhat disappointed that I couldn’t stare longingly at His manifest Presence. And something seemed to be weighing heavily on my mind, although I don’t know what that something was.
While caught up in prayer and some sort of internal struggle, a priest walked over and stopped next to my chair so that he was pressed up against me. My attention diverted, I looked up at him. For a moment I thought it was John Paul II as his face was initially hazy, but then I realized (in my dreamland state) he was a diocesan priest. All dressed in snow white and gold vestments, he was a vision of peacefulness and reverence like I’ve never fully encountered in life.
I whispered, “Father, will you please give me your blessing?” And he smiled the warmest smile and asked, “Do you need a blessing, child?” I told him I really did and with that he silently laid his hands on my head and the blessing ran over me so that its power was unmistakable.
That was on a Thursday. The following day my labor would take hold and prepare my body for the 3 a.m. Saturday arrival of my eighth child (two weeks before his expected date).
So what, I suppose, you might be thinking. You had a nice dream, good for you. Truly it was just a lovely state of my mind for a bit of the evening, but it reminded me of the real power and grace that we can receive through blessings.
Like many other sacramentals, perhaps blessings have been largely forgotten. Most of us are familiar with the cinematic depiction of young couples seeking the premarital blessing of the girl’s father, but beyond that how often do we witness this action of our faith?
What exactly is a blessing you might be wondering. Here’s a good explanation given by Fr. William P. Saunders:
Blessings come under the category of sacramentals. A sacramental is a special prayer, action or object which, through the prayers of the Church, prepares a person to receive grace and to better cooperate with it. Unlike a sacrament, a sacramental does not itself confer the grace of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, like a sacrament, a sacramental helps the faithful to sanctify each moment of life and to live in the paschal mystery of our Lord. By celebrating a blessing, the faithful can also sanctify various situations and events in their lives. Blessings are signs to the faithful of the spiritual benefits achieved through the Church’s intercession. Throughout sacred Scripture, we find how God issued various blessings. In all, in bestowing His own blessing, God declares His goodness. We in turn bless God by praising Him, thanking Him for all of His benefits and offering to Him our service, adoration and worship. When we invoke God’s blessing, we implore His divine benevolence, trusting that He will respond to our needs.
Back in the day, when my now husband was still in pursuit of my hand, he asked my father for his permission to marry me. At the time it was more a gesture of good will on his part, but nonetheless what he was really looking for (even if perhaps without realizing it) was a blessing, a tangible sign of approval and a reflection of God’s favor on our union.
Our parish priest reignited this tradition for our family, so that we often ask his blessing during trying times, before long trips and in times of celebration. With the institution of the Blessing of the Unborn, he offered me so much comfort and pastoral care from the very first days of this latest pregnancy. And whenever we encounter a visiting priest, Father encourages us to get an extra blessing from them as well. What a treasured reminder of Christ’s goodness at work in our midst.

Perhaps, my dreamy blessing is worth my pondering because it helped me recall that I am never out of the Creator’s reach. Eyes opened or closed, His aid is never more than a prayer away. Certainly, that thought helped me through the throes of labor pains which I endured the next evening (and that in and of itself was a welcomed benefit). But, too and maybe more importantly, the dream led me to bless God throughout the days to follow. To praise Him for the peace and renewal I felt when I woke up (which it turns out I’d really need), to offer Him my physical suffering as I worked through the labor, to thank Him for the strength of my body which allowed me to deliver my son into the world, and to recognize His very real countenance in the face of my newborn son. 


Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help

praying for nine days to the Blessed Mother for help

Our parish, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, is celebrating tonight. If the weather holds out there will be Mass, a procession and a parish family potluck. In preparation for the feast, the icon was traveling from home to home and parishioners were invited to visit and pray a novena. I completely forgot about this until, during confession last week, Father asked me if we’d started the nine day petition to our Mother. Well, I had to admit my forgetfulness, but no worries he said just start it tonight. So, I dug out last year’s copies of the novena and as a family we’ve spent the evenings circled around the family room coffee table trading in our routine, nightly prayers for the recitation of the novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

walking in procession for Our LadyUnlike some novenas when I’ve prayed for a specific intention, this time I focused only on the words we were reciting, and what a beautiful and perfectly-timed blessing it turned out to be. This novena reminds us to have total confidence in our Mother’s ability to aid us and her powerful alliance with her children. So many troubling issues have struck at my heart this week and yet this novena reminded me that I am not alone in this journey towards heaven. Indeed, if I had only to rely on my own strength, wisdom and faithfulness, I’d be sunk.

altar servers in the procession for our lady's feast day

Perhaps, you are in need of your Mother’s guidance or protection. Perhaps, you, too, worry that in the eleventh hour you’ll fail to keep your focus or the sufferings will be more than you are able to bear. Perhaps, you simply need to be reminded that your Mother loves you and she wants to wrap her protective mantle around your shoulders. Whatever your reasons Our Lady of Perpetual Help is waiting to hear your prayers and comfort your afflicted heart.

I’d didn’t grow up praying novenas, but I highly recommend making them part of your prayer life now and again, and teaching your children this kind of focused prayer.

Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help

1. Behold, O Mother of Perpetual Help, at thy feet a wretched
sinner, who has recourse to thee and trusts in thee. O Mother of
mercy, have pity on me; I hear all men call thee the refuge and
hope of sinners: be therefore my refuge and my hope. Help me for
the love of Jesus Christ: hold out thy hand to a fallen wretch,
who commends himself to thee and dedicates himself to be thy
servant forever. I praise and thank God, who of His great mercy
hath given me this confidence in thee, a sure pledge of my eternal
salvation. Alas, it is only too true that in the past I have
fallen miserably, because I did not come to thee. I know that with
thy help I shall conquer; I know that thou wilt help me, if I
commend myself to thee; but I am fearful lest in the occasions of
sin I shall forget to call upon thee and so I shall be lost. This
grace, then, do I ask of thee; for this I implore thee, as much as
I can and know how to do; namely, that in the assaults of hell I
may ever run to thy protection and may say to thee: Mary, help me;
Mother of Perpetual Help, permit me not to lose my God.

Hail Mary, three times.

2. O Mother of Perpetual Help, grant me ever to be able to call
upon thy powerful name, since thy name is the help of the living
and the salvation of the dying. Ah, Mary most pure, Mary most
sweet, grant that thy name from this day forth may be to me the
very breath of life. Dear Lady, delay not to come to my assistance
whenever I call upon thee; for in all the temptations that assail
me, in all the necessities that befall me, I will never leave off
calling upon thee, ever repeating: Mary, Mary. What comfort, what
sweetness, what confidence, what tenderness fills my soul at the
sound of thy name, at the very thought of thee! I give thanks to
our Lord, who for my sake hath given thee a name so sweet, so
lovable, so mighty. But I am not content merely to speak thy name;
I would utter it for very love of thee; it is my desire that love
should ever remind me to name thee, Mother of Perpetual Help.

Hail Mary, three times.

3. O Mother of Perpetual Help, thou art the dispenser of every
grace that God grants us in our misery; it is for this cause that
He hath made thee so powerful, so rich, so kind, that thou
mightest assist us in our miseries. Thou art the advocate of the
most wretched and abandoned sinners, if they but come unto thee;
come once more to my assistance, for I commend myself to thee. In
thy hands I place my eternal salvation; to thee I entrust my soul.
Enroll me among thy most faithful servants; take me under thy
protection and it is enough for me: yes, for if thou protect me, I
shall fear nothing; not my sins, for thou wilt obtain for me their
pardon and remission; not the evil spirits, for thou art mightier
than all the powers of hell; not even Jesus, my Judge, for He is
appeased by a single prayer from thee. I fear only that through my
own negligence I may forget to recommend myself to thee and so I
shall be lost. My dear Lady, obtain for me the forgiveness of my
sins, love for Jesus, final perseverance and the grace to have
recourse to thee at all times, O Mother of Perpetual Help.

Hail Mary, three times.


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Detecting Those First Flickers of Life

baby in the womb in first few weeks of pregnancy
Those first flutters of movement in my womb are always so exciting and welcome, confirmation that a new life is growing. How many nights I’ve spent lying still in the darkness of the night, hand to my bulging tummy, awaiting and praying for those barely detectable twitches. Sometimes I’ve held my breath so as not to confuse my own bodily motions with that gentle stirring from my unborn child.
All those baby books outline the milestones to expect and when to expect them, but they can lead to unnecessary anxiety if we hold too fast to their promises. Like so many other blueprints for life, we need to keep in mind that as individuals we may not fit precisely into the documented specs.
Our Architect employs unlimited parameters, He draws from a knowledge and creativity far beyond our human capacity. I forget that too often and find myself frustrated when I’m not reaching the sixteen week mile marker for baby detection. You’d think after carrying more than a dozen souls, I’d learn to fully embrace that lesson, but unfortunately my stubbornness persists.
Those barely perceivable motions feel somewhat akin to a butterfly’s landing, soft and fleeting. Usually, I second-guess them, wondering if it was really baby or just some ill-timed, gas bubble. Most often my husband has to wait a while longer before he can share in my enthusiasm because those first flickers are too gentle for him to sense.
As those kicks and turns become more noticeable, they disturb me at times. Not that baby’s activity is no longer welcome, but it takes me by surprise and my brain needs a moment to process what is happening inside. It’s similar to a sudden discomfort, like when a random pain or abnormal twinge seizes our attention and our thoughts attempt to process the source. That is not to say, the tiny one’s stretches and internal pokes cause actually discomfort, but in the earliest phases I’m not yet familiar with the infrequent stirring so my brain instinctively sends out an alert. Sometimes my post-womb children can have this effect on me. One of them may unexpectedly grab on for a cuddle when I’m in the middle of washing the dishes or folding the laundry and my first reaction is to jump or brush their hand away. It takes my scattered brain a moment to understand their intentions.
Now that our expected one has grown for these last eight plus months, his/her kicks, pushes and twists garner my attention easily. A foot pokes out here and the long back presses there. Astonishing how he/she even reacts to Daddy’s pep talks or a sibling’s searching hands.
Just the other night I awoke abruptly from a sound slumber. The full weight and girth of this big baby belly is already preparing me for the night-time feedings to come as I rarely sleep for more than an hour at a clip in between bathroom pit stops, but this time felt different. From the depths of my quiet stillness, I suddenly opened my eyes to discover my tummy fully engaged in wild activity, like a full swing party was going on inside of me.
Lying there on my back, watching my taunt, stretched skin rise and fall like a rough tide, I thought about the Holy Spirit. The invocation, “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and kindle in them the fire of Your love,” sparked in my mind. How often I’ve invited Him into my life in recent years, offered Him my entire self. Now in this moment of motherly solitude, I glimpsed a correlation.
It was my complete openness and surrender that allowed the Creator to conceive life within me, but that life took on more than one form. Yes, there is the tangible, visible creature who will be delivered into my waiting arms within the next seven (or so) weeks, but there is also the mysterious Third Person Whose residence will continue to dwell inside of me.
Like those first baby flutters, I suppose my awareness to the movings of the Holy Spirit were equally elusive. My prayers, at times, seemed to go unanswered and I wondered if perhaps my offering of self was too deficient. Attempting to follow the advice of other faithful advocates, I may have caused my own frustration by forgetting that the Divine Plan is custom tailored, not a one size fits all design. If I try to mirror the steps of my favorite saints, I’m probably dooming myself to failure. Not because their example is unfit, but because my foot simply requires a different size.
Thinking back over the last few years, I doubt my husband could perceive the early changes either. My periodic depression and ready tears probably masked the smoldering flame of that Spirit. And than there was that ever present self-doubt battling to capture my attention and discourage my progress. Similar to that tiny life beginning to gain the strength to make him/herself known, the kindling had only started to catch hold.
Not unlike those internal movements that momentarily disturbed my peace, the Third Person stirred up unexpected changes. Things I once took for granted, He now calls me to reconsider. Recently, I’ve started a weekly thanksgiving list and it sure has helped me to reexamine my petitions list. It’s not so easy to beg for more “stuff” when I seriously reflect on all the blessings I’ve already received. Too many times to count, I’ve asked but forgotten to thank. Rather humbling to be reminded of my own selfishness when I am so ready to remind my children of theirs.
While the intentions of the Holy Spirit are certainly unquestioningly good, His admonitions and challenges can sear the heart. Thinking of St.Teresa of Avila, I can hardly imagine her transverberation or spiritual wounding of the heart. She describes the experience as “pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans; and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish to lose it, nor will one’s soul be content with anything less than God.” I cannot claim such blessed torment and in truth it stirs up a bit of fear because I’m not sure that I could ever be so docile to or worthy of the Spirit’s full flaming charity.
But I suppose that’s why the Holy Spirit arrives as a small flame in need of fanning. Certainly as a mother, I can see the need for time to grow accustomed to and prepared for the joyful pain and sacrifice of birth. The thought of having to go through labor without first walking through the steps of pregnancy seems terrifying. It makes me think of trying to run a marathon without having taken the time to train.
Lying there on my bed watching all of that internal activity, I considered how the Third Person’s presence has become more apparent. Not that I’m His perfect steward by any measure, but I am more aware than ever before of His movements in my life. Hopefully, in due time I will succeed in helping to set this world aflame by delivering His Presence for all to see.

Love Letters To Sister Margaret, The Virtue of Contrition

She wasn’t the equivalent (exactly) of Mommy Dearest, but writing Sister Margaret a love letter felt about as genuine as that scene from the movie. Penned from the point of view of the actress’ daughter, the movie portrayed an abusive mother who required her children to quip, “We love you, Mommy Dearest” whenever she requested it.
Someone (whose name would only be shared in whispered circles) had used a bottle of squeezable margarine to etch “I hate Sister Margaret” on the school yard black top. And apparently the squeezable oil emulsion stains black top so the hateful message couldn’t be stripped away by our diligent janitor before Sister made her morning crossing from the convent to the school house door.
While she may have presented herself as a hard-nosed enforcer with little patience, on that day we all saw her human-side. Her ruler-wielding nun persona was softened by the tears that escaped the corners of her penetrating glance.
Her sisterly Sisters, wanting to comfort her injured heart, had each one of us children write, draw and scribble love letters. Of course, as I said the sincerity may have been missing for more than a few of us, but nonetheless we obliged and completed the assigned task.
A valuable lesson, I’ve carried that memory with me into adulthood and allowed it to influence my parenting. Yes, I could understand the author’s angst toward Sister Margaret, but his (oops, is it okay to identify the proper gender three decades after the crime?) public outcry warranted correction. And I think that in requiring all of us to write a love letter, we learned communally to say sorry and to reflect on our actions and their potential to affect others.
How easily we spout our opinions and admonish our enemies, and children are especially impetuous in this regard. While I’d like to pretend my own children are sweet-little darlings at every moment, incapable of uttering a harsh word, honesty calls me to accountability. In this regard, I carry with me the wise advice of a peer-mama who once told me that having so many boys (four) taught her to never doubt their ability to do the things they were being accused of.
So while my motherly gut response at times wants to beg, “No, never, not my cherubs, you must have your story wrong,” I’ve learned to listen to serious accusations (there have been a few) and investigate before banging the gavel on the side of dismissal. And more times than not, I must insist that the perpetrator issues an apology, whether in person, via the telephone or in writing. Admittedly, not every apology is fully heartfelt or freely given, but the very action of taking personal responsibility goes a long way in teaching the child that our words and actions have consequences.
When we hide our ugliness in secrecy or cover it with denial and excuses, it more easily becomes habitual. By contrast, saying I am sorry shines a light on our choices and hopefully sparks an amendment of life.
After being graduated from Catholic grammar school, I don’t recall entering a confessional again until I was a married adult with four children. I suppose I’d shelved the lesson of the love letter for a while and the more time that passed the more difficult it felt to face my sins. I justified, ignored and excused because that seemed less painful than the necessitated sorry. But mothering led me to reconsider my perspective and the example being displayed.
My transgressions stained my conscience like that black-top insult, but God’s mercy was only an apology away. And what a beautiful reason to love the confessional because it calls us to true accountability. Saying, “I am sorry” to Christ represented by a flesh and blood individual bears a visual and auditory truth. That is to say, by speaking our contrition to a living person (in persona Christi) we are forced to recognize the hurt we’ve inflicted on the Living God. In response, we hear His loving reply of absolution.
Too often as of late, people are publicly shirking their responsibility. Like a shell game, they shuffle blame from one office or department to another. We see it in politics, we see it in jury rooms, on television, and in classrooms. Saying I am sorry seems to be a lost virtue. In truth, just like we find the shell dealers’ integrity to be suspect, so we also lose faith in the ones who make a habit of avoiding those three powerful words.
Reclamation of the virtue of contrition is a necessity if we are ever to rise from this mire of evil that seems to be fast engulfing our culture. Even if our first baby steps lack the full depth of sincerity, there is merit to be gained in learning to apologize. Like the love letter caused us students to realize Sister Margaret had real feelings, so our first sorry reminds us that we have the power to injure. Conversely, in saying, “I am sorry” we not only accept our part, but we learn that we have the ability to heal those wounds.

Women, Behold Our Mother – Mary Is The Answer To Modern Feminism

My grade school education was provided by a mix of 70’s style Sisters (in their knee-length blue skirts and simple habits) and lay women (some clearly representing new age feminism). Like many schools of the time, we learned the faith blended in with current culture. Madonna flooded our ears and flashed across the MTV screen inspiring the abandonment of modesty and submission.

Single mothers were becoming more prevalent and Church teachings less relevant. By extension, contraception promised independence; whereas, chastity was viewed as repressive. And Roe vs. Wade provided the back-up security measure while Humanae Vitae got buried in controversy.

Modernity and freedom seemed tied to rebelliousness and pride. Reverence faded from fashion. Coupled with Vatican II confusion, the role of women inside and outside of the Church became skewed.

Subordination Becomes A Dirty Word

Not surprisingly, many female lectors and parishioners began to stumble over the Ephesian instruction,  
Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. 
Of course, had they listened beyond the word “subordinate” (in some versions it reads submit or subject) to the verses describing a husband’s sacrificial role, they might have embraced the beauty contained in their part as women.

As women roared into a generation of new ideas and ideology, tossing their bras in the bonfire of feminism, they traded part of their true identity for a false freedom. Where once they were cherished as whole persons, now they could be separated into parts. Their partners could take what they wanted to and leave the rest behind (think, fertility).

Untying The Aprons Strings

Surely there was good to come from untying the knotted apron strings and stepping outside of the kitchen doors, but there is an internal wisdom unique to womanhood that got cast aside with the frying pan. Where once mother was the heart of the home, the proud and needed homemaker, now children returned home to empty houses and TV-sitters. Fathers cast-off their responsibilities with greater ease now that mother could be expected to shoulder the full weight of parenthood and provisions.

In line with our first fore-mother Eve, the modern woman was intrigued by the hissing, serpent promises of power, knowledge and self-reliance if only she would swallow the forbidden contraceptives. Of course, in this case she wasn’t encouraged to enjoy any fruit, but to toss aside her very own fruitfulness.

Ah yes, if she could unbridle herself from her fertility, than she’d be free to soar beyond her grandmother’s wildest dreams. She could be more like man, unshackled of the blessings of her womb. Happiness was only a career step higher, a one night stand away.

Mary Gets It Right

While Humanae Vitae prophesied the weeds that would grow from such unfruitful seeds, too many remain ignorant or obstinate to the truths foretold. So much more than is the gift we have in our Blessed Mother that she has the power to correct these errors.

In my own life, it was she who aided my conviction, her example that called me back from the misguided path I was stumbling down. I’ve written before about my conversion experience and about the vow I made to Jesus through her hands. It was a vow to surrender my fertility to Jesus with total abandon and trust if only she would promise to align my heart with His. But that is simply part of my personal experience and Mary has so much more to offer to all of her daughters.

She’s been referred to as the new Eve, because Our Lady said yes where Eve said no. Mary received the gift God offered without question or constraint, whereas Eve grabbed for more than her allotted portion. Mary trusted, while Eve doubted. The young, unwed, Jewish girl accepted the challenge with humility and surrender, as opposed to Eve’s willingness to breach the bond of communion. 

Mary was an Ephesians woman, she silently withstood Joseph’s initial plans to quietly relinquish her. She placed herself, heavy with child, upon a lowly donkey and let her husband lead her across rough terrain. And when her husband couldn’t secure a room at the inn, she dutifully accepted what he had to give to her, a stable and a manger instead of the private room and a cradle. Then again, she would pick up and take her newborn to unfamiliar territory when Joseph said they must flee.

Remnants Remain

Pregnant myself right now, it seems difficult to imagine her position and to see myself in it. Standing by a doubting husband without arguing my case, thrusting my big, uncomfortable self into less than ideal situations without whining, placing my newborn and myself at the mercy of my husband’s dreams without second guessing, certainly my remnants of modern feminism would strike up a cord of rebellion.

But God knew well the challenges that would come, yes He even knew the modern woman with her thirst for self-importance and separate identity. He gave Mother Mary to women of every age and generation, her wisdom and motherly witness are as relevant now as they have ever been.

For her part, Mary relied on God for all things, trusted in His Word and placed herself totally at His disposal. Like a chalice, she was the open vessel into which God poured His own lifeblood. She was receptive to God’s Will, not grasping or wanting, but receiving. Her identity was reflective. Her fulfillment found in mirroring her Creator and in shining the light of her Son.

The Body Speaks The Truth

Woman’s body speaks this truth. We are made to receive, literally. Our womb, like the chalice, accepts and distributes the blood of new life. Our natural inclination is maternal in that we most often seek to nurture and instruct others rather than gain for our own satisfactions alone.

Contraception lured us into believing we could betray our role as receptors with no consequence. We could pop a pill and obstruct the seed from taking root within us. However, true love, agape, is written on our hearts and in our female bodies, we cannot suppress our true nature or substitute our real identity.

Divorce, abortion, depression, pornography, addiction, sexual abuse and the poverty of single mothers are symptoms of the barren seed of modern feminism. In seeking self-importance rather than reflective- identity, we separated ourselves from the source of all joy and goodness. God’s grace cannot flow into a sealed chalice.

Jesus, Himself, gave us his mother from the cross. In the midst of His Passion, He sought to leave her to humanity. Because He knew how much we desperately needed her humble example, her simple, complete faith in order that we might receive the gift of salvation He was pouring out for us.

Mother Mary is the answer to modern feminism, as she is the correction to the error of Eve. Like a mother, she loves her children and wants only our happiness, true happiness that can only be found in union with God and His Will. 
Women, we must behold our Mother, the one to whom we were promised by Christ. And she will teach us to embrace our femininity, to relish the gift of our role as subordinates.

The Triumph Of 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.

Waiting and walking through the Church’s Triduum celebrations led me to a deeper appreciation of the joy experienced on Easter. Truly, it is after tasting the bitter cup of trials and sorrow that we learn to savor the sweetness of victory. How often I have taken for granted so many little gifts, little consolations, little comforts, but after reclining at the Lord’s Supper and kneeling beside Him on Holy Thursday, I am renewed in recognizing the value of every reception of the Eucharist, the benefit of serving rather than being served and the honor in saying, “Not my will, but Yours be done.”

My sin of vanity can lead me to discredit the blessing of life’s marks on the body, but witnessing the torture and disfigurement of Jesus on Good Friday taught me to see the dignity of our fragile humanness. His pierced hands, feet and side, His torn flesh and punctured scalp marked the human side of His nature which He chose to take on. His total self-sacrifice transformed ugliness into beauty. So, too the gray hairs, wrinkles, stretch marks, scars and handicaps can memorialize our self-giving, our willing surrender to bear witness to the capacity of suffering.

The silence of Holy Saturday invited me to be still and reflective, to ponder His descent into hell. How eager and grateful must have been the righteous ones, who’d been waiting for this prophesied Savior to take them up with Him into glory. Still today, our brothers and sisters in purgatory await their rising and Holy Saturday reminds us that they ask for our intercessory prayers. We can be participants in their sanctification. Too many times we grow impatient waiting on God’s timing. We forget that His promises are reliable, but that we may be required to await their fulfillment. Holy Saturday depicts this required time of silence, of pausing. It inspires us to trust with abandon, not to force or attempt to cajole circumstances to fit our flawed ideals.

So, after the long season of Lent, after the difficult pilgrimage through Holy Week, Easter is the triumphant crown of Salvation glory. Fitting it is then that the brick and mortar church and the members of the Body of Christ should be an image of this splendor. The crown we did not earn. We did not merit such glory, but Jesus Christ, our King, invites to be sharers in His eternal victory. 

 For He is Risen, so let us glorify Him today, tomorrow and every day so that one day we may experience the everlasting Easter. 
Happy Easter from Brelinskyville

The Resurrecting Power of Mercy.

Like the devil himself was trying my patience and tempting me into despair, this morning horrific news reports bombarded me from every angle. Typically surrounded by a protective news bubble (by choice), I stumbled upon reports of dismemberment of parents and children, a radio broadcaster detailed the sick artwork of a child-hater, a blog hit my screen filled with angry rants, an article filled me in on the scandals created by a drug-dealing priest, and porn-promising spam snuck its way into my in-box. Add to this, the current hot-topic debates that equate the sacred Sacrament of Marriage to milk and unborn humans to benign tissue and it would seem the world’s gone hopelessly mad.

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.

Then as the clock met noon, the bells chimed loudly crying out the hour, the lights clicked on and Father, the Deacon and the servers began their Cross walk. On hearing those first words, tears puddled in the corners of my eyes, but I drew them back. Genuflecting to the declaration “Because by Your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world,” I was transported in my thoughts. Watching our innocent Lord stand accused, seeing Him accept the crushing weight of the wooden cross, I couldn’t help but choke on my words as I begged His forgiveness and requested His aid to keep me from offending Him again. Choking because I know I’ll fail repeatedly.

The Welcome Distraction Of A Kiss

Periodically, when kneeling shrank my height, our 4 year old leaned over and left a sweet kiss on my cheek. These tender momentary distractions helped keep the tears at bay.

We accompanied Jesus down the long, arduous roads toward the end on a hill where He’d give up His life. The Stations of the Cross are a journey, both communal and personal. Traveling them throughout Lent leads to extraordinary grace, but especially on Good Friday.

Our steps complete, Father and his assistants disappeared and the church emptied of all signs of life. The next two hours for me were spent filling hungry bellies with a meager meal and seeing to the task of providing a safe place for my youngest to expend their ample energy before the hour of mercy called us back to worship.

Just before the third hour, I ushered my brood back into the serene sanctuary, back into the silence, the loneliness. Then, the procession stirred the stillness and as the priests reached the naked altar they prostrated themselves. Impressed by the awesome display of three large men, robed in rich red garments, lying face down on the altar riser, my son inquired, “Why are they doing that?” “They are telling God that they adore Him,” I explained, “and they are offering their whole selves to Him.”

Listening to the readings reminded me that Jesus was the fulfillment of an Old Testament promise. His Passion foreshadowed in detail to generations. Again those wet drops welled up as I considered how much God so loved the world. After the gospel recounted the Passion, Father spoke to us of the mercy of God. He reminded us that in His lifetime, Jesus Christ spent time in the company of unbelievers, of critics, of sinners, and betrayers, He turned no one away. He healed, fed and taught all who came, even those who would reject or betray Him. God is unchanging, He continues to offer Himself for all of us today, all of us. 

Behold The Wood Of The Cross

Then, a crucifix was carried to the altar and its purple veil removed as Father declared, “Behold the wood of the cross on which hung the Salvation of the world.” Affixed to this 3 foot crucifix was a corpse of our Lord, our Salvation, which we were invited to venerate. Reaching my turn at the head of the communal line, I bent forward, delicately gripped the wood and kissed the carved, pierced feet of my Savior. A sublime moment, when such a little act has the power to release such a flood of mercy.

Returning to my seat, I found myself considering all those horrific news reports and the perpetrators that gave them warrant. Jesus died for them, too. Even if they come late to work in the fields, He promises them the same wage, salvation. Evil will never overpower mercy. The morning’s temptations to despair were arrested in this moment by Truth. While the world may be going mad, evil will be conquered just as it was on Calvary.

The reception of Christ’s Body and Blood followed, increasing my strength and then once again the Good Friday celebration was complete. But left on the altar riser was that crucifix and I found myself wishing to curl up at its foot (I restrained myself for fear spectators would decide I’d finally and completely lost my mind). But, I really wanted to drop there and pray, pray for all those unbelievers, scandal-inducers, lost souls, misguided believers and evil-doers. I realized this was my opportunity to fight back against the madness. I had the power to beg God’s mercy for myself and the whole world.

Truly, it is a Good day this Friday. Each year it opens the doorway to history and allows us to go deeper in our journey. It destroys hopelessness, pours out mercy and prepares us for what is to come on the third day. How can we immerse ourselves, our whole selves, in the intense joy of Easter without first discovering the power of the crucifixion which proceeded it? It is in witnessing the total self-sacrifice of Jesus on that instrument of torture that we can begin to understand (although never fully) the breadth and depth of His love for us all and the resurrecting power of His mercy.


Are You Walking With a Spiritual Limp?

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 response. But, sometimes, we can suffer from a dilemma without ever realizing its existence and the impact it has on our lives. From childhood traumas to youthful heart breaks to adult disappointments, we can bear invisible scars throughout a lifetime. Like an old sports injury, those scars can impede our present actions, cripple our faith, or leave us with a spiritual limp.

cruthcesThough I was long aware that my personal relationships were influenced by the scabs on my heart, I’d remained somewhat oblivious to the spiritual limp I’d developed. Until, while sitting in my priest’s office and crying out my trials, Father made a subtle, gentle observation. Asking about my daddy-daughter bond, he explained that we often see and relate to God, our Divine Daddy, in terms of our earthly fathers. We place on God the same judgments we place on our worldly dads. Expect from God the same reactions and temperaments we’ve been conditioned to expect from our papas.

Wow and ouch! My father and I have had an on-off, relationship for as far back as I have memories. In truth, his own daddy-son bond was shattered.

Limping Along

As my priest related the correlation between our Heavenly and earthly dads, I became distinctly aware of the limp in my gait. At the same time that I was attempting to run to my Lord for consolations and assistance in bearing my crosses, my spiritual legs were holding me back.

What I’d perceived as an inability to pray was, in truth, a distorted perception of God’s ability to hear. Judging God, the Father, in terms of Old Testament wrath, I’d overlooked that He is the God of agape, of mercy, of compassion; the Father Who’d heard Moses’ argument in defense of a hard-hearted people and withdrew His hand of correction; the Father Who gave His only begotten Son in reparation for our countless sins; the Father Who loves unconditionally, forever. I’d overlooked His ability to forgive without reserve, without harboring grudges. I hadn’t fully internalized that God’s Fatherhood is unbreakable, our childhood unseverable.

A Visualization

Around the same time that my priest unveiled my handicap, my spiritual director created a visualization that has been etched into my mind ever since. He placed me on the lap of God, my Father. He told me how loved I am; called me God’s little princess.

How awesome is God that He knew my impediment and placed people in my path who could heal that wound.

He wants to heal you, too.

That mental picture has become a refuge, a source of regeneration. Now and again, I climb into my heavenly Dad’s lap, rest my head on His firm breast, slip my hand into His secure grasp and accept His tender kiss on my forehead. We talk very little, although He’d listen all day. He’s restored my brokenness, eagerly embraced me like the father of the prodigal son. He only needed for me to recognize my poverty, so that He could restore my gait and meet me halfway down the path to our reunion.

You Are Invited

Today is the celebration of The Last Supper. So, recline yourself at table with Jesus and the Apostles. Sit beside Jesus so that you can feel His shoulder brush against yours. Listen intently to His words, hear the tone of His voice. Watch His movements, His expressions, as He raises the chalice and transforms simple bread and wine into His Body and Blood. Know that you are truly in Christ’s Presence. If there are obstacles between you and Him, or between you and His Father or His Holy Spirit, let them be stripped away in the confessional. Let them drop to the floor like crumbs to be swept up and discarded.

Today, you are invited to The Supper of The Lamb. Your spot has been reserved, your chair is empty and cannot be filled by any other. Come, join the Lord. Let nothing get in your way. If your want to run to Him is slowed by some old injury, limp to Him. He will heal your spiritual wounds and restore the vigor of your faith.