Wednesday, November 4, 2015

An Angel at Prayer

photo by Sr. Simon Grosicka taken at Calvary Cemetery, Milwaukee

The church was nearly empty so private places for prayer were abundant, but my new friend, John, just slipped right beside me in my pew, lowered the kneeler and bowed his head.  He began to pray out loud into the silent church, and, now distracted, I could no longer continue my own prayer but became lost in John's very perfect prayer.  He prayed:

"Lord, I thank you.  I thank you for sleep and I thank you for waking me.  I thank you for this time to talk with you.  I thank you for this church.  I thank you.  I thank you."

"Lord, I pray for my health.  I pray for this country.  I pray for humanity.  Lord, I pray for the Church. I pray for Pope Benedict.  I pray for Pope Francis."

"Lord, I thank you for listening to my prayer.  I wait for you to speak to me.  I come to you in prayer, Lord, on bended knee, as we should all bend at least one knee while speaking to you."

"And now Lord, I pray the words that you taught us:  Our Father, who art in heaven.  Hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory now and forever.  Now and forever.  Amen."

When it was time for me to leave for work, I touched John on the arm to say good-bye.  He took my hand and kissed it and told me that I was beautiful before wishing me a good day.

I think God sent John to me for a very special reason and that there is a lot to learn from a man with such holy and simple faith.

Lord, I thank you.  I thank you for John.

For more about John see Angels Among Us.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Thin Places

"In the Celtic tradition such places that give us an opening into the magnificence and wonder of that Presence are called “Thin Places.” There is a Celtic saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller. A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God." ~Sylvia Maddox

Milwaukee's Lake Michigan shoreline last June with most of the beach under water.

I had never heard the term "thin places" until All Saint's Day when Fr. Tom referred to it in his homily.  He said that thin places are part of ancient Celtic Spirituality and they describe the point where heaven and earth are closer together.  He explained that oftentimes these are places in nature, what we might call by the more familiar term "holy ground" but that they could also be places in time such as All Saint's Day when, through the saints and their witness and their prayers for us, heaven and earth come very close.  I am fascinated by the whole idea of thin places and have been spending quite a bit of time thinking and praying about them. 

After Fr. Tom's homily I immediately thought that the Mass and Eucharistic Adoration would truly be thin, where we could feel the presence of God most deeply and literally as we receive Him in Holy Communion.  As I knelt to offer my prayer of thanksgiving following Mass I pondered the reality of a God that wants to be so deeply united with my soul that He makes His way through space and time to physically take up presence within my body each time I receive Holy Communion.  And not just me, but everyone! There is nothing more remarkable!

Later on All Saint's Day, when the temperature reached a balmy sixty-five degrees for the November climate in Milwaukee, my husband and I enjoyed a peaceful walk along our favorite Lake Michigan beach to search for sea glass.  Over the course of the last year, we have noticed our beach shrinking and shrinking as the water levels increased.  There was very little beach left at all the last time we visited the lake in September as the water was as high as the rocks and grass far to the west of the lake.  But on this particular visit, most of our beach was back and we marveled at how much more space we had to search for our treasures.  Only God Himself could cause such drastic changes to the shoreline and it made me feel very small to realize what little power we humans have, for only God can truly control the earth and the sky despite our feeble human attempts.  I thought of the scripture passage from Job 38:8-11:  "And who shut within doors the sea, when it burst forth from the womb; when I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling bands?  When I set limits for it and fastened the bar of its door, and said:  thus far shall you come but no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stilled!"   And the passage from Genesis 1:9-10:  "Then God said, 'Let the water under the sky be gathered into a single basin, so that the dry land may appear.'  And so it happened: the water under the sky was gathered into its basin, and the dry land appeared.  God called the dry land 'the earth,' and the basin of water he called 'the sea.'  God saw how good it was."   

My daughter, Mary, had to wade through the water to reach this rock last summer,
but now it is completely surrounded by dry land.

I always thought of my visits to the lake to search for sea glass as sacred time in a holy place.  Each time I search for sea glass I am drawn ever more deeply into prayer as I ponder the beauty of nature, as I consider how Jesus Himself spent a great deal of time on the seashore, and as I find soft little shards of glass that feel like jeweled gifts from God.  When I search for sea glass I am certain that I am always transported to a thin place, only I had never thought to call it by that name before.

All Saint's Day Sea Glass Treasures

After our sea glass time of prayer, I went to the local abortion mill for the closing prayer service of Forty Days for Life.  St. Herman's of Alaska, A local Orthodox Church has been holding a Sunday afternoon Moljeben Prayer Service each Sunday of both the spring and fall Forty Days campaigns and I was eager to join them for this final service of the season.  The air was already heavy with incense when I arrived and a small group of people were gathered in prayer.  As the prayers were beautifully chanted and the bells of the incense thurifer jingled their own prayer of praise for God, I was deeply struck with the thought that this too, this place of death and destruction, was also a thin place.  What made it thin were the souls of innocent babies who met their Maker as they were violently torn from their mother's wombs.  I was certain that God must be particularly close in this place of sorrow and torment and that He must grieve deeply over the tragedy of his unwanted creations, His little human babies.

Moljeben Prayer Service photo source of Milwaukee Forty Days for Life
I'm sure that I will continue to ponder and look for the thin places in my life just as I have always done in my forever search for God's presence in my life, and I will praise and thank Him each time I feel that, in His goodness and His mercy, He draws ever more closely to my heart in love, goodness, beauty, joy, sorrow and suffering, for God is in all places, all times and all emotions.  He is All-Love and I am deeply grateful for His abiding presence in my life.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Angels Among Us

At my downtown urban parish it's not unusual to see homeless men and women come and go or spend time sleeping in the back pew.  One man in particular is always very moving to watch as he makes his way to the front of church during Sunday Mass to leave a donation of stuffed animals for the local food pantry.  Occasionally, the homeless patrons of the church ask those in the pews for money before or after Mass, but most of the time they just sit quietly in the presence of the Lord.

This past Sunday morning, during the sign of peace, on old, African American man that I had never seen before moved past the three young adults that were sitting in front of my family.  He stopped in front of the young woman who was sitting farthest inside of the pew and hugged her tightly and then asked her what her name was.  I could sense her cringing in discomfort as she moved her purse to her other side.  Following Mass, he stopped another woman, beamed at her and held her arms tightly as he spoke with her.  There's something about moving into another person's personal space that makes us nervous, doesn't it?

Later that morning, Paul and I were in the parish center waiting to assemble sandwiches for a local meal program with the other parents of the Religious Education program.  Here came that man again, this time with a red geranium in his hand that had obviously been picked from the garden outside of church.  He had a huge smile on his face as he took a seat along the wall, but was soon escorted out by a parish staff member.

He came back again for the daily Mass for All Soul's Day.  He walked into church during the homily and sat in the pew directly across from me.  I noticed that he was holding a spray of pink and white flowers in his hand.  He held those flowers up high in front of him during the remainder of Mass and had a huge smile on his face that wouldn't quit.  The way he held those flowers I couldn't help but think that he resembled the Archangel Gabriel in the Annunciation painting above the high altar, although instead of a white gown, he was dressed in khaki pants and a flannel shirt.

After Mass, as I knelt to pray, he came and sat next to me and offered me a sprig of his flower, telling me that I was very beautiful.  He spoke about pregnant women and new mothers, which I found very moving considering the work I do with that population, and the fact that I am expecting my first grandchild in a few months, but I couldn't quite understand what exactly he was saying other than he seemed to know about some money that was available for the babies.  He asked my name and told me that the name Anne is very beautiful. He shared his own name, John, with me.

Then John left the pew and moved toward a side altar at the front of the church where a man was lighting a votive candle.  When the other man left, John proceeded to light every remaining votive candle until a woman came and asked him to leave some candles unlit for others to light, so he quietly moved back to a pew and sat for a while.

Finally, he stood up and walked to the altar where he made a profound and reverent bow.  I became nervous as I saw him walk up the altar steps and stop at the altar. He placed a piece of paper on the altar, and the morning's altar server, who was still inside the sacristy, came out and told him that he couldn't leave anything on the altar, explaining that it was a sacred space.  He then walked to the back of the church, made a loud splash at the holy water font and left the church.

I'm certain that John most likely suffers from some mental illness and is one of the ranks of the many homeless people who live downtown, but this morning, watching his smile, noting the sweetness with which he held that bouquet of flowers, again, most likely plucked from the parish garden, and seeing his reverence at the altar, I couldn't help but think that this man was truly a heaven-sent angel.  And his message through his compliments and his gift of flowers?  God's deep and abiding love for me. And his message through his innocent actions of lighting all the candles and attempting to leave a message at the altar?  God's deep and abiding love for him.  John's smile was contagious and I can't seem to stop smiling myself as I ponder the little taste of heaven that I experienced on All Soul's Day through the gentleness of the innocent and child-like actions of a stranger.

Friday, October 30, 2015

A RUGged Post

I'm still sifting through memories and moments of the big Philly trip to see Pope Francis last September, and I'm still marveling over the monumentalness of it all; the fact that I took a fifteen hour bus ride anywhere, the fact that the city of Philadelphia was so unexpectedly fascinating, and the fact that I was on the same street as Pope Francis all astound me.

Considering how much I love and admire Pope Francis I should really just be marveling about the fact that I'm on the same planet that he is on, shouldn't I?  He has so much to teach us about love and kindness and mercy and God and yet we seem to spend so much time arguing about what he says and what he means.  We just don't understand him, do we?  Sort of like those Pharisees who argued with and questioned Jesus every time he spoke.  Truthfully, I have to admit that sometimes when I read the words of Jesus, I don't understand Him, either.  I mean, why did He say that He came to bring division? What's that about?  Doesn't scripture say that "He shall be peace"?  It's just too confusing for me to wrap my head around the whole concept.

But whether or not I always understand Pope Francis doesn't matter because I love him, anyway. And whether or not I always understand Jesus doesn't matter, either, because I for sure love Him, anyway!  I love Him with all that I am.

But back to Pope Francis in Philly-I'm sure it's no secret that I'm a nerd for all things Catholic, so I was thrilled to learn that a piece of carpeting upon which Pope Francis walked while saying Mass in Philadelphia could be had for the cost of a donation to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.  What a unique memento!  I dashed off an email to Flemington Department Store in New Jersey lickety-split, sent in a donation to St. Jude's, and within a few days was proudly admiring my future second-class relic of a future saint.  Now I just need to have it blessed!

The authenticity letter.

I won't sweep my admiration for Pope Francis under the rug!

Philly Photos

Quaint alleys were everywhere!

I loved the majestic and historic buildings.

We saw a lot of bark-less trees.  I've never seen anything like them anywhere!

Wish I could have stopped to smell the roses!  What a lovely outdoor display!

The City Hall is so beautiful!

I did not try the Pope's favorite coffee.  Was it Argentinian, perhaps?

Street musicians!  Fun!

Floral-painted garbage trucks!  Might as well disguise the smell with something sweet to look at!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

St. Maria Goretti

This relic of St. Maria Goretti was a gift to me from a Sister of St. Benedict Center.
I have since given it to one of my sisters but was so blessed to have her in my home for a short time.

The relics of St. Maria Goretti, the eleven year old Italian girl who lost her life to save her purity and the purity of her attacker, and then forgave her murderer before she died, have been on a tour in the United States while the church where they are normally kept is being restored.  The tour has been called "The Pilgrimage of Mercy."  The remarkable story of the conversion of Alessandro Serenelli, St. Maria Goretti's murderer, was highlighted during the tour as well.

I was anxiously anticipating this visit from St. Maria Goretti as the reports coming from her visit in Chicago were amazing. She was escorted by Homeland Security and many of Chicago's finest police officers.  Her story was covered by several secular news outlets and we were told that people would leave her presence with tears in their eyes and a sense of deep love and respect for the saint even if they didn't know anything about her before coming to venerate her relics.

My family was blessed to visit the relics of the youngest saint while she was at St. Mary's Visitation Parish in Elm Grove, Wisconsin.  I had never before witnessed such a long line to enter a church!  It was a beautiful sight!

The line waiting to venerate the relics of St. Maria Goretti at St. Mary's Visitation Parish
in Elm Grove, Wisconsin while we were visiting.  We were told that the lines were long and constant
during the entire time that St. Maria's relics were there.

Each visitor was allowed 15 seconds to venerate St. Maria's relics in the glass case before moving on for silent, private prayer for as long as desired within the church.  While it appears that Maria's body is incorrupt, this is not so.  Maria's skeleton is encased within a wax body.

We were fortunate to find a place in the front row of the church to pray
following our 15-second veneration of the relics.
This photo was taken from that vantage point.

It was deeply moving for my family to pray before the relics of this mighty young girl, perhaps mostly so for my daughter who is very near to the same age as Maria was at the time of her death. Even more moving was the report of a Wisconsin woman who was healed from the degeneration of a ball joint in her arm upon touching the case that contained St. Maria Goretti's relics.

In this upcoming Year of Mercy beginning on December 8th, I pray that I will learn to forgive like the beautiful and remarkable St. Maria Goretti.

If you don't already know her fascinating story, you will want to read about St. Maria Goretti and the Pilgrimage of Mercy and will learn a great deal when you visit this link.

These are the items that I brought to touch to St. Maria Goretti's coffin.
The artwork was purchased at Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
The charms and the small, second-class relic were gifts to my daughter from a
 Handmaid of the Precious Blood.

Monday, October 12, 2015

St. Anne Street Shrine at Old St. Mary in Milwaukee

On a beautiful autumn Sunday afternoon, following the 11:30 am Mass, a group of about 150 people processed behind the Saint Anne Society of Old St. Mary Parish and Fr. Tim Kitzke for the unveiling and dedication of a new Saint Anne Street Shrine that looks out from the parish offices on Milwaukee Street upon all who pass by the downtown neighborhood.

Especially poignant is the fact that a "gentleman's" strip club had been trying to purchase a building across the street from the parish office but their license was denied by a 15-0 vote of the city's aldermen.  I'm sure that the prayerful efforts of Fr. Tim Kitzke and the parishioners of Old St. Mary, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary and St. Anne, had a lot to do with that decision.

Regarding the shrine, Fr. Tim pointed out that the Virgin Mary in St. Anne's arms is looking back toward the parish and St. Anne is looking out to the city, modeling her strength and dignity as a woman for all of Milwaukee.  The Shrine will sanctify the city and be a blessing to all those who walk past the parish.

What follows below is the wonderful and moving introduction and blessing given by Fr. Tim during the dedication of the shrine:


Today is a momentous occasion in the history of our parish as we celebrate this dedication of this street shrine to St. Anne, the mother of Mary our Blessed Mother.

St. Anne was a faithful servant of God in whose womb was conceived the Immaculate Virgin Mary.  Through her example Mary grew in fidelity to the Lord as servant most pure.  When the archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary she was filled with grace to become the Mother of Jesus, and St. Anne his maternal grandmother.

Today we stand in the shadows of our church to dedicate this image of St. Anne for public veneration.  We bless our city with this shrine so that all who pass here may know of our commitment to the mission of Jesus that the doors of our church are always open and welcoming. This public expression of faith is built upon the traditions of our immigrant ancestors who came here from Bavaria, Puerto Rico and Africa.

This shrine celebrates the dedication and the generosity of the St. Anne society in our parish who for over 170 years have been committed to the mission of Old St. Mary.  The initial bricks of our church structure were hand made by the first members of the society in 1844.  They have worked selflessly since to ensure that all who seek the Lord Jesus can do so in our church.

May this image remind us that the saints are ever near and intercede for us ceaselessly and we join them in the marvelous Communion of Saints and sing the praises of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Fr. Tim offered a prayer of blessing for the shrine.

Following the sprinkling rites with holy water, Fr. Tim incensed the shrine.


Lord, we bless you for you alone are holy, and because in your compassion for sinners you sent into the world your Son, Jesus Christ, the author of all holiness.

He sent the Spirit to sustain his newborn Church, a voice that teaches us the secrets of holiness, a breeze that strengthens and refreshes, a fire that sears our hearts with love, the seed of God that yields the harvest of grace.

Today we praise you for the gifts of the Spirit bestowed upon St. Anne in whose honor we dedicate this street shrine.  May we follow in the footsteps of the Lord keeping before us the example of St. Anne, mother and grandmother, and grow to a maturity measured not by nature but by our faithfulness in Christ.

May we proclaim the Gospel daily in word and in deed, shouldering our crosses daily and extend our hand to others in your service.

St. Anne is for us a witness to the life of the Gospel and stands in your presence to intercede for us. Grant that we may benefit from her intercession.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Prayer to St. Anne

Good St. Anne
you were especially favored by God
to be the mother of
the most holy Virgin Mary,
the Mother of our Savior.
Through your intercession
with your most pure daughter
and with her divine Son,
kindly obtain for us the grace
and the favor we seek.
Please secure for us also
forgiveness for our past sins
the strength to perform faithfully
our daily duties
and the help we need
to persevere in the love
of Jesus and Mary.

St. Anne's Women's Society

Est. October 6th, 1844
Most Reverend John Martin Henni, D.D.
Bishop of Milwaukee

Instrumental in the construction
and decoration of the church.

To support the parish Liturgical life
with items necessary for sacred worship.

To support their membership
through prayer, spiritual enrichment and study.

To St. Anne
Mother of the Virgin Mary

St. Anne and the Virgin Mary seem to be standing in the middle
of the downtown neighborhood in this reflection through the shrine's plexiglass.

Old St. Mary exterior
Old St. Mary Exterior

Friday, October 2, 2015

The National Shrine of St. John Neumann in Philadelphia

St. John Neumann's incorrupt body (his face is made of wax)

"How much I love You, O my Jesus.  I wish to love You with my whole heart; yet I do not love You enough.  My lack of devotion and my sloth make me anxious.  I have one desire, that of being near You in the Blessed Sacrament.  You are the sweet bridegroom of my soul.  My Jesus, my love, my all, gladly would I endure hunger, thirst, heat and cold to remain always with You in the Blessed Sacrament.  Would that in Your Eucharistic presence I might unceasingly weep over my sins.  Take entire possession of me.  To You I consecrate all the powers of my soul and body, my whole being.  Would that I could infuse into all hearts a burning love for You.  What great glory would be given to You here on earth, if every heart were an altar on which every human will were laid in perfect conformity with Your will to be consumed by the fire of Your love." 
 ~Adapted from the diary of St. John Neumann

St. Peter's Church

Beneath the altar of the lower church of St. Peter's Church in Philadelphia lies the incorrupt body of St. John Neumann at what has now come to be known as the National Shrine of St. John Neumann. St. John Neumann, a Redemptorist priest and bishop of Philadelphia, died of a stroke on the city streets at the age of 48 while running errands.  It had been his wish to be buried in the crypt at St. Peter's Church which was managed by the Redemptorist order.  Following his death, many faithful people came to pray at his tomb and many miracles have been attributed to his intercession.  After being declared "Blessed" in 1963, his remains were exhumed and found to be incorrupt.  They were placed in a glass encasement in the newly built lower church, the building of which was necessitated by the throngs of pilgrims who came to pray at his gravesite.   He was canonized a saint in 1977 by Pope Paul VI. 

While on pilgrimage in Philadelphia to see Pope Francis, we were blessed to visit the National Shrine of St. John Neumann.  We had an opportunity to be blessed with the relics of St. John Neumann, to pray before his incorrupt body and to tour the breathtaking upper church.  Bishop Hying, who told us that visiting the shrine had been on his bucket list, shared a bit of St. John Neumann's life story with us.

St. John Neumann was born in 1811 in what is now the Czech Republic and studied for the priesthood but was denied ordination due to a glut of priests.  He came to America in 1836 and was ordained in New York.  Lonely in his travels, he joined the Redemptorists in 1842 to become part of a community.  He was appointed Bishop of Philadelphia in 1852.  

He is well-known for his tireless efforts in service of the faithful immigrants of America.  He knew six languages, started the first Diocesan Catholic School System, founded several religious orders of sisters,  built new churches at the rate of one each month, and tirelessly traveled throughout Northeast America.   He was often teased about his short stature.  He was so short, in fact, that his feet didn't reach the stirrups of his horse which must have made all of the traveling that he did all the more difficult.

Of all of the places that we visited and all of the sights we witnessed in Philadelphia, I was most deeply moved here at the National Shrine of St. John Neumann.  To kneel before the incorrupt body of a saint who shares my Czech ancestry, to be blessed with his relics, to view his disciplinary measures, to hear his life story-all of this made St. John Neumann come to life for me and I will forever after consider him to be one of my favorite saints.
mosaic of St. John Neumann

the altar in the upper church

Bishop Hying telling the story of St. John Neumann's life-in the background is a statue of
St. John Neumann next to the Marian altar.

ceiling art

The First Station of the Cross:  Jesus is condemned to death

The stained glass windows told the story of his life:

"Our Mother daily heard Mass to which she took one of us."

"What emotions were mine when I set foot on American soil"

"Dearest God give me holiness."
A reliquary holding a few of the saint's personal items.

A close-up of the reliquary box reveal St. John Neumann's vestments, some wood from his coffin and disciplinary items

St. John Neumann "discipline"

"discipline and ellicium of SJN"-Bishop Hying explained that St. John Neumann
 would have worn this around his thigh as an act of penance.

Blessed with the relics of St. John Neumann

Learn more about the National Shrine of St. John Neumann here.

Prayer for the intercession of St. John Neumann

O Saint John Neumann, your ardent desire of bringing all souls to Christ impelled you to leave home and country; teach us to live worthily in the spirit of our Baptism which makes us all children of the one Heavenly Father and brothers of Jesus Christ, the first-born of the family of God.

Obtain for us that complete dedication in the service of the needy, the weak, the afflicted and the abandoned which so characterized your life. Help us to walk perseveringly in the difficult and, at times, painful paths of duty, strengthened by the Body and Blood of our Redeemer and under the watchful protection of Mary our Mother.

May death still find us on the sure road to our Father's house with the light of living Faith in our hearts. Amen.