Category Archives: St. Gerard

Plugged In On A Thanksgiving Pilgrimage

The kids and I just returned from a pilgrimage and visit with long distance loved ones. We started out slow with a stop halfway between so we could attend Holy Mass at the Basilica. The first four hours trapped in a van with six of my dear offspring was relatively easy. Zombified by the new movie screens, stuffed with pretzels and beef jerky with juice boxes in hand, they managed to keep the number of “He’s kicking my seat”, “She’s won’t let me watch my movie”-s to a minimum.
Navigating through the busy streets of Washington, DC under a dripping sky was manageable because in addition to my faithful (mostly) GPS my husband took the lead in our other, little car. He was only accompanying us to this halfway point. A quick turn into the parking lot and a harried dash into the lower level of the church, we made it to our first destination before Mass commenced or bladders gave out under pressure.
My second son spied the confession schedule and relayed that we had just enough time to cleanse our souls before racing into the elevator. I’d like to say I had time to unwind, relax and thoroughly examine my conscience, but as is more often the case I perused the exam sheet with one eye while keeping the other on my youngest sons (who were trying hard to contain their unending streams of energy). 
Green light time, I took my turn in the confessional; however, the attempt to kneel behind the curtain quickly went bust when the infant in my arms took to squirming. Afraid my confessor might fear an exorcism was taking place, I opted for the face to face chair so that he could at least understand the reason for the grunts and constant shifting.
Sins relinquished, we (baby and me) made our way to the communal kneeler in the center of the chapel for penance. Awkwardly, balancing myself and my tiny partner on that narrow strip of wood challenged my muscles and my mind. Add to that, the five year old who decided to nuzzle up along side of us and one might wonder if I would have been better off saving my prayers of penance for later.
Cleansed, the crew of us followed the stroller quickly through the marble hallways to the elevator. Crammed into the metal box for a minute or two, we prepared ourselves to participate in the Eucharistic celebration that awaited above. A welcomed renewal, Holy Mass recharged my battery (even if the pews were somehow narrower than usual leaving me a twelve inch span of space in which to remain attentively still while nursing the baby under my wrap as the five year old continued to snuggle against my right side.)

Arriving at our one night accommodations, we were happy to traipse our belongings from the van to the hotel suite. Thank goodness for those luggage trolleys that are just big enough to contain 7 backpacks, 6 sleeping bags, 2 or 3 miscellaneous bags, one suitcase and a pack-and-play. After a meal of fast food, our family (minus our traveling eldest son) sang happy birthday to our newly twelve year old daughter as she cut the cake that daddy had smuggled in his car.

Only about a dozen admonitions of “You can’t jump on the beds”, “Stop throwing pillows” and “Shhh don’t talk so loudly” were required (which I chalk up as relative success in the arena of harnessing little kid energy for so long). By the time ten o’clock rolled around, my eyes decided it was time to close up shop and I didn’t have the desire to fight them. So much for romantic moments with my better half during this getaway, we’d have to wait until some other distant day when we might not be sharing our sleeping quarters with nocturnal offspring (maybe in another eighteen years or so).
Morning arrives all too soon when nights are spent satisfying a nursling, but we had a journey before us which we were eager to continue. Breakfast and gas fueled us for the next four hour leg as we kissed daddy goodbye and pointed our compass northward.
Another few rounds of “His feet are on my head” and “She’s picking all the movies” until our van rolled up in front of grandma’s. Doors opened, our excitement spilled out along with our bodies and belongings. Grandma’s house is actually a four family apartment building that also houses great-grandma, a great-aunt, an aunt and a cousin so our arrival meant an instant family reunion.
Our next few days included more birthday celebrating, introductions to Pio Gerard and lots of time engaged in good conversations. Ninety year old, great-grandma (affectionately known as GG) lured my 7 and 5 year olds into disarming (their Nerf guns) and playing a few rounds of Go-Fish. A triumph because the two of them managed to be still, focused and polite (as opposed to wrestling, bouncing and bickering) allowing GG to actually enjoy some one on one time with them.

The youngest five and I made a thanksgiving stop at the local shrine of St. Gerard (all the more exciting considering we managed to get locked in a courtyard requiring rescue by a couple of funeral directors!) Then, I convinced my brood to belt themselves back in for yet another long ride to St. Padre Pio’s shrine the day after his feast day. Our arrival was divinely timed as we managed to participate in some of the prayer hour in the chapel and receive a blessing with Padre’s glove and holy oil.

Clear, crisp, fall weather invited us and some old friends, who’d met us there, to lunch together outside. Wide open fields offered the perfect balance to so many hours cooped up in the apartment and the van. The kids ran and shouted, discovered cattails and pitched black walnut pods before we paused to light two candles for the petitions we’d carried on this pilgrimage. We finished off this thanksgiving stop with a trip to the ice cream shop where we met up with my college roommate, whom I hadn’t seen in many years.
One last day of family time and fun followed before we had to reload all of our bags and bedding. All in all, we and the apartment building made it through our invasion fairly unscathed (only one lamp met its unfortunate end). GG’s peace wasn’t too disturbed (luckily her hearing aids didn’t detect the loud noises banging around above her ceiling.) And the majority of tears shed were the result of having to say goodbye so soon.
Cousins kissed and a decent night of sleep had, I slid behind the steering wheel once more and set our GPS for Brelinskyville. Two cups of coffee, nine bottles of water, two pit stops, numerous “He’s touching me” “She’s not sharing”-s, 20 minutes of crying (the baby, not me) and 8 ½ hours later, the tires came to a screeching halt (okay maybe the screeching wasn’t actually from the tires) in our driveway.
My intention for this trip was well thought out. I planned to make a sincere pilgrimage of thanksgiving, to revisit the shrines we’d discovered last April when I was praying intently for baby’s safe arrival. Having been months since our last meeting, I wanted to reconnect with our loved ones, to allow my children to create new memories of these wonderful people they belong to. Little did I realize that my thanksgivings would increase ten-fold along the way inspiring me to ever greater gratitude for a life so richly blessed.
During that confession at the Basilica, Father used a simple prop to instruct me. Pointing to the lamp on the table beside him, he reminded me that it needed electrical energy in order to light up the room. Before he’d flipped the switch enabling power to surge down the cord, the small space had been in complete darkness. God, he said, was the energy source I needed and by plugging into Him, I am able to transmit His patience, His love, His mercy, His charity… (all those things I struggle with)
Traveling with my kids, I discovered my family functions as my cord. Without them, I’m prone to more self-interest. Having to tend to the immediate needs of baby requires patience and immediate attentiveness. Monitoring those speed demons I call sons demands discipline (on my part and theirs) and diligence. Connecting with my teens leads me let go and honor their individuality. With eyes upon me at all times my actions and words set an example whether or not I want them to. Fulfilling my marriage covenant compels me to be considerate and tender.
What a very different journey this would have been if I’d been unplugged and steering the roadway alone. How truly thankful I am that’s not the case. 


Announcing Pio Gerard’s arrival

Eighteen years ago this month, July 25th 1995, our firstborn son entered the world only to return home on August 21st. His brief life taught us the value of precious time and inspired our openness to life, but as the years passed and the babies kept coming, we began to take for granted that life was a given.

When I miscarried our first sweet little one in between our two youngest, I chalked it up to the inevitable reality of numbers. Which is not to say, I didn’t miss that sweet little soul who passed unseen through me.

 But then life turned upside down in July of 2010 when we lost a son in the second trimester. Then another sweet soul passed unseen on All Souls’ Day and another son entered eternal rest in my womb, again in the second trimester, the follow June of 2011. Finally, those five lovely souls were joined by another at Thanksgiving time.

I share all that only so that I can better express my sincere gratitude for this newest blessing of life in our family.

 After so many losses, it would have been easy to give into the temptation to despair. It would have been reasonable to have recourse to the infertile times only, so as not to risk further heartache. But God’s Will called us to surrender and to trust all the more.

How many prayers I’ve offered and intercessions I’ve implored, I cannot begin to count. Friends and family wrapped us in their petitions. Padre Pio’s oil was a regular anointing vehicle for crossing my belly and St. Gerard’s cloth spent nights pressed against my expanding skin. And where would I be without my Blessed Mother’s love and support. Truly it felt like this life was guarded by the communion of saints.

Expected to arrive for the Feast of the Transfiguration, our blessing chose instead to make his way into the wide world two and a half weeks early.

Precious Pio Gerard Brelinsky was delivered at home on Saturday, July 20th, 2013 at 3:09am. How fitting that he should come during the hour of mercy. For so great was God’s love and mercy that He answered our prayers in the form of a perfect child, a son.

Every life is sacred and every child
has a purpose in this world which cannot be fulfilled by any other. Honored am I to be entrusted with the privilege of preparing these eight living souls for the Kingdom of their Father. What more noble vocation could I have been called to?

My heart beats with genuine appreciation and thanksgiving for every opportunity for sanctification that God has allowed me, whether it be in joy or in suffering. Praise be to Him from Whom all blessings flow!

Putting Faith Into Action By Making Pilgrimage To Holy Places

pilgrimage to st. gerard national shrine
St. Gerard Maiella
No sooner had I shared the news of our expected little one with my priest, that he encouraged me to make a pilgrimage to St. Gerard’s Shrine. The patron of mothers, St. Gerard had become a favorite confidant and intercessor of mine. Did Father know that this beloved saint was honored just one town over from my childhood home or had Divine Providence intervened?

Several months would pass before the opportunity presented to entertain his recommendation, but recently a return to my hometown placed me in the neighborhood. Hard to imagine how I’d spent 18 years so close and yet so far from this holy place, but now the National Shrine of St. Gerard beckoned me to come. Sightseeing in beautiful churches is a worthy effort, but this was a pilgrimage, a deliberate journey to a holy place to worship God, to offer thanksgiving, to beseech divine aid, to seek Him.

St. Lucy's Catholic Church, Newark NJ
National Shrine of St. Gerard
When we were planning our week’s itinerary, my mother suggested traveling to visit the Shrine of Padre Pio. Considering that the initial trek home meant 9 hours trapped in a van full of my energetic offspring while steering across five states, the notion of sacrificing four more hours in commute sounded unpleasant. Never fully answering her question, I decided to mull it over. My feet were surely pointed toward St. Gerard, but somehow I couldn’t completely discount this second pilgrimage.

Padre finds me

Arriving at St. Lucy’s Catholic Church, home to St. Gerard’s shrine, the van door swung open and children piled out when what to my wandering eyes should appear, but Padre Pio. Laughing at the notion that once again this powerful saint had crossed my path, something stirred in my heart.

Together the children and I, accompanied by extended family, soaked in the beauty, the serenity, the distinct sense of holiness in the courtyard located within a busy, tired old city. Low income housing projects surround St. Lucy’s and vacant, trash-filled lots are only a stones throw away, but the ugliness of poverty and worldliness disappeared when our feet tread that sacred ground. Perhaps, therein lies some of the blessing received when one makes a pilgrimage. We seek and find God in the midst of a moment in our lives. We purposefully set aside time to let our everyday routine fade into the shadows and look directly into the eyes of God through His Creation, His inspired places.

Stepping through the heavy wooden doors leading to the sanctuary, a rush of peace surged through my mind and body. Although a pilgrim in this particular location, the sights and smells spoke of home, the Lord’s home. No matter how far and wide one might traverse in search of God, He is easily found and He has the power to transform the ordinary into the sacred.

St. Pio statue in Newark NJ
Padre Pio
No sooner had the aroma of fresh, Easter lilies wafted under my nose, then a medium-sized statue of Padre Pio stationed near the wooden entryway again drew my immediate attention. “Okay,” I relented, “I will come to visit your shrine, too.”
decorative ceiling depicting St. Gerard Majella
ceiling in the St. Gerard chapel

The morning culminated with our entrance into the side chapel devoted to St. Gerard. Gerard’s looming statue directed our gaze and thoughts upward. The dimly lit room, glinting in candlelight, reminded us to rest awhile. Climbing the narrow stairway that allows devotees to finger the cloth cassock shrouding the saint’s likeness, I reflected on the challenge to take the narrow road in life. Considering the handwritten notes tucked behind him, I realized how available the Creator of the whole universe makes Himself to us, His lowly creatures. Whispering my words of thanksgiving and my prayers for continued intercession, I was uplifted by his saintly friendship.

Mission accomplished?

My mission, so many months anticipated, was accomplished, so why I wondered was that second pilgrimage summoning. Honestly, both St. Gerard and Padre Pio have been my most recent companions, the saints I’ve turned to daily for guidance, inspiration and intercession. But seeing as both of these godly friends are aiding me toward the same goal, communion with our Heavenly Father, I couldn’t help but question what a second journey had to offer. Queries aside, it seemed Divine Providence aligned circumstances to set the trip’s agenda.

My children had not heard the same call. They were oblivious to Padre’s persistent appearances, so their audible grumblings were somewhat understandable. Trading unencumbered cousin-time for more stifled van-time certainly didn’t sound like fun, but something greater lie down the path even if they didn’t realize it. So, they less-than enthusiastically, but obediently, stuffed themselves back into our vehicle and endured the long route that delivered them into another state.

Padre Pio shrine in Barto, Pennsylvania, US
shrine of Padre Pio, Barto, PA

Finally, reaching this second shrine, the Shrine to Padre Pio, we were greeted by a very different setting. Unlike St. Lucy’s church, which shone amidst a tight backdrop of city life, Padre’s shrine seeks to mirror the wide expanse of San Giovanni, the Italian home of the saint. While we sensed the beauty and peace of this holy place, there was also a feeling of loneliness, emptiness. The numerous parking spots unoccupied and spacious grounds mostly vacant. Not unlike the trials which plagued Padre Pio in his lifetime, this shrine site has been the source of controversy and contention between the Church’s shepherds and the devotees who built the pilgrim site. Placing my feet on those grounds felt like an act of solidarity. Holy Mass is currently prohibited at this sacred site, but that doesn’t stop the faithful from worshiping God. In fact, I suppose it simply leads pilgrims to pray all the more fervently for the privilege of one day celebrating there.

Divine Mercy novena

The day we arrived was the last day of our family’s novena in preparation for Divine Mercy Sunday. Fittingly, our entrance into the building was timed exactly, through no earthly planning, with the start of a communal recitation of the chaplet. Just as we, the limited members of the Church, have the chance to beg God’s mercy for not only ourselves but for the whole world, that small assembly of pilgrims joined in unison to plead for God’s mercy to be poured out for all. What a sublime deed we were called to participate in just six days into Easter.

Soon after the chaplet finished a relic, a glove that once concealed Padre’s wounded hand, arrived and we were invited to receive a blessing. My beloved friend made himself manifest in a tangible way through that relic further reminding me that God lives and makes Himself available to us if only we avail ourselves.

Our Lady of Grace and Padre Pio painting at Barto shrineMy pilgrimages successfully concluded, I recalled the abundance of blessings showered upon us from inviting weather to restful moments. Faith alone leads our minds to our Triune Lord, to the contemplation of lessons taught by Jesus Christ, to ruminations of the examples set before us, but faith alone is not enough. For faith, without works is dead. So, these pilgrimages provided the occasion to put my feet into motion, my faith into action. The journeys required sacrifice and energy, time and physical participation. I can find God in my local parish. I can find Him kneeling beside me at my bedside, but making a pilgrimage is actively seeking.

My beloved patrons, St. Gerard and Padre Pio dedicated their lives to seeking God and to making Him present in the world. These pilgrimages invited us to share in their missions, to continue the work they’d begun. They led us to new experiences, called us into meditation, displayed the different ways in which God appears in the world. They inspire us to carry these messages, these experiences, outside of the shrines and into a world desperate for love, rest, beauty and mercy. A world seeking.