Thursday, February 23, 2017

St. Joseph, My Hero


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O St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the Throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires. O St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your Heavenly power I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers. O St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press him in my name and kiss His fine Head for me, and ask Him to return the Kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls, pray for us. Amen.


This prayer is sometimes printed with the following information:  This prayer was found in the fifteenth year of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In 1505 it was sent from the Pope to Emperor Charles when he was going into battle. Whoever shall read this prayer or hear it or keep it about themselves, shall never die a sudden death, or be drowned, nor shall poison take effect of them; neither shall they fall into the hands of the enemy; or shall be burned in any fire, or shall be overpowered in battle. Say for nine mornings for anything you may desire. It has never been known to fail.


Image result for greenfield apartment building fire
photo credit: JS Online

In the middle of February I had been blessed to take a Monday off from work and planned on spending it with my daughter who was off from school that day.  I'm usually up and dressed by 5 am but since I had the day off I was enjoying a leisurely morning and was still lounging in my pajamas at 6:30 am when the phone rang.  My son, Joe, was on the other end and I listened, not quite believing what I was hearing, when he said, "Mom, my apartment is on fire and we're trapped on the balcony!"  I took a second or two to absorb the obvious panic is his voice as he shared this horrific news and then asked him if he had called 911, which he had. I told him I was on my way.  Mary and I quickly dressed and drove to Joe's apartment as fast as we safely could, praying all the way.

We had to park three blocks away because the street was closed by the police.  We ran most of those three blocks until I couldn't run anymore.  There were multiple fire trucks on the scene when we arrived.  We went to the back of the building where we expected to find Joe still on the balcony but all we found was a solitary police man.  My panic was evident and he reassured me that everyone had gotten out of the building safely and that they were all re-located to the apartment building next door.

the ladder in back is leaning on Joe's balcony

Tears of relief were flowing from everyone's eyes as we found Joe and his girlfriend, Cici, and embraced them.  We looked around and saw so many people looking completely dazed and many dogs and even a bird among the residents who had been displaced from their homes.  Joe had said that he woke up when he smelled smoke and then woke Cici.  They saw flames coming into their apartment door and the room was so smokey that they couldn't find the cats.  Had they not had the balcony to escape to I don't think they would have survived.  We were greatly relieved when the firefighters brought both of Cici's cats, one by one, safely back to her.  The cats were shaking badly and needed a little oxygen and anti-nausea medication at the vets, but both are fine.

What a blessing it was to be on the receiving end of other's generosity and kindness!  Joe and Cici were showered with support that will be of great assistance to them as they work to rebuild a home and replace all of their belongings.  But the greatest blessing of all was that they survived the fire physically unscathed.

I completely credit St. Joseph with saving their lives.  As we were driving home later that day  Mary said she was thinking about St. Joseph and how the angel woke him up so that he could take Mary and Jesus and escape from Herod to Egypt. She said she had a feeling that it was St. Joseph who woke Joey up so that he and Cici could escape the fire.  I didn't realize the powerful providence behind Mary's gut feeling that day.

The following week as I was waiting to pick Mary up from work, I pulled one of my prayer books out of my purse and found the Ancient Prayer to St. Joseph. I don't know why I even looked at that prayer, what brought me to that page out of all the pages in the book at that time.  Maybe it was St. Joseph who tapped me on the shoulder and said, "I want to show you something."  When Joe was still living at home he had this prayer taped to the wall by his bed and he prayed it every morning. But even if Joe might have forgotten about St. Joseph when he grew up and moved away, St. Joseph did not forget about him.  When I read all the way down to the last sentence below the prayer and saw "nor be burned in any fire"  I was stunned!  Mary was right! St. Joseph obviously has a love for this young man named after him, this young man who had a youthful devotion to his patron saint.  

I will be thanking St. Joseph for saving Joe's and Cici's lives for all of my days. He truly is powerful with God and a perfect patron for Joe!  I'd been neglecting St. Joseph and that prayer but I won't anymore!  He is officially my hero!


the stairs leading to their apartment after the fire

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Mother and Child in Sea Glass

Working on this sea glass mosaic under the guidance of St. Mark and Our Lady brought me peaceful memories of warm and quiet days walking the beach to collect the bits of glass.  I'm pleased with how this turned out and am ready to begin another mosaic.  What a wonderful way to pray!



Friday, February 3, 2017

Year of St. Mark the Evangelist



Image result for getty images st. mark composing his gospel
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Each January for the past few years I have enjoyed participating in Jennifer Fulwiler's Saint Name Generator where, after saying a short prayer I click a button and a saint comes forward to accompany me for the coming year. This year St. Mark the Evangelist is my prayerful companion.  I find it especially providential that the Gospel readings at daily Mass just happen to be from Mark so I have been paying extra close attention to them.  I've also spent the past month reading and reflecting upon the Gospel of Mark, the shortest of the four Gospels to be written, in my daily prayer time.  What a great way this has been to immerse myself in learning about my friendly saint and the Lord as well!

In researching St. Mark I found so many different stories and they all seemed to contradict each other. In the end I'm not sure what is really the truth of his life but will share what I found to be the most fascinating aspects about the saint.

St. Mark had traveled with Paul and Barnabas and was possibly a source of contention dividing the two in their evangelic travels.  In the end, all made peace and Mark was known to be a great help in spreading the good news of Christ.

St. Mark was a close friend and possibly a relative of St. Peter during the early years of Christianity, and it was from Peter that St. Mark learned about the life of Jesus.  St. Mark payed close attention to Peter's preaching and recorded everything that he learned from our first Pope, and that's where I feel that I just may have something in common with my 2017 patron.  Most of the blog posts that I share here are taken from my notes written while listening to moving homilies or talks given by great priests.  In addition, St. Mark is a patron of imprisoned people, so there's a connection with the title of this blog, too.

In St. Mark's Gospel he mentions a man with a water jug at whose house the disciples were to prepare the passover.  That house may have belonged to Mark's mother, Mary.  His Gospel also mentions a man who ran away naked from the Garden of Gethsemane. There is speculation that St. Mark may have been the man with the water jug and the man fleeing from the Garden.  He is also mentioned as having been present at the wedding at Cana where water was changed to wine.

St. Mark is identified with a lion because he begins his Gospel with St. John the Baptist described as a "voice crying out in the wilderness." St. Mark was martyred in 68 AD when he was dragged through the city of Alexandria for two days until he died.  His relics can be found in Alexandria and at St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice.  St. Mark's Feast Day is April 25th.

St. Mark is the patron saint of stained glass window makers, although I haven't been able to make a connection as to why that might be so other than the fact that he painted pictures with his words.  But with that patronage I've decided that this will be the year that I will work on making more sea glass mosaics under his guidance.  From the time I started collecting sea glass ten years ago I had always thought that I'd like to make a mosaic of the Virgin Mary but never thought I would be up to the task and had no idea about how to begin on my own.  So it must have been St. Mark's influence that caused me to discover a lovely mosaic of Mary and Jesus made by a woman from Helsinki that was shared in a sea glass group on facebook, and upon seeing it I knew that I, too, could piece together the same image.

My friend Christi of Lumen Christi Art who designed and helped me to make a Sea Glass Tree of Life mosaic two years ago had sent her Milwaukee Journal Sentinel entry for Christmas Artwork, the icon of "Mother of God of Tenderness," as a Christmas card this past year. Of the icon she wrote:  "Christ draws our attention to His mother and there is an additional detail of love where we see that Jesus' arm is around His mother's neck.  The little face tenderly pressed against His mother's face is Christ Immanuel, the Glory of God and Creator of all."  

Using Christi's icon and my new friend from Helsinki's art as examples I have begun the work under the patronage of St. Mark.  Our Lady's face was certainly the most difficult part so far and I'm nervous about bringing Jesus' face to life after the difficulty I had with His mother's face.  I'm sure that if I would try to replicate this mosaic I would make lots of changes the second time around to improve it, but for a first effort on my own I'd say it's going pretty well and I am learning a lot.  I only have so much glass available to me so using limited supplies poses a challenge, as well.  My mosaic definitely has more of a folk art feel than classic art but I am enjoying the work and the deep prayer that accompanies the task.  The image below is my humble beginning.  I'll be sure to share the finished project in a future post.




Prayer (source)
“O glorious St Mark, through the grace of God our Father, you became a great Evangelist, preaching the Good News of Christ. Obtain for me I pray you, lively faith, firm hope and burning love; patience in adversity, humility in prosperity, recollection in prayer, purity of heart, a right intention in all my works, diligence in fulfilling the duties of my state of life, constancy in my resolutions, resignation to the will of God and perseverance in the grace of God even unto death. Through the same Christ Our Lord, Amen.”

Here's a nice reflection on St. Mark by my friend, Fr. James Kubicki, SJ from the Apostleship of Prayer.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Ex Votos


Ex votos at the Basilica of San Domenico in Sienna.
When Paul and I went to Italy last summer I was so impressed by the silver Sacred Hearts that I saw displayed in so many of the churches that we visited.  I had never seen displays like this in the United States and wondered what they were and wanted to know the meaning behind them.  Our guide in Sienna told me that they were votives, offerings of thanksgiving to God.  I was immediately fascinated and wanted to learn yet more about these offerings.  

Ex votos found at the Cathedrale de Santa Maria, also known as the Duomo or Divine Beauty in Siena

Ex Votos at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Sassia,
also known as the Church of the Divine Mercy, in Rome


While in Rome we found ex votos at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Sassia,
also known as the Church of the Divine Mercy, which were
just dripping with colorful rosaries.


So many rosaries!


Arriving back home, I researched these votives a bit more and found that they are actually called ex votos.  Ex votos are common in Europe and in South America.  In Europe a framed silver heart is often left behind in a church in thanksgiving for a favor received or an answered prayer. Perhaps a loved one has been healed of an illness.  Maybe the longed for beau finally appeared and marriage plans were on the way or a child was accepted to seminary to begin a life of service to God. Sometimes the ex voto is a silver body part such as a leg or a hand to signify the part of the body that was healed.

In South America the ex votos take on a different form.  Rather than using a silver Sacred Heart in thanksgiving, a picture is painted of the actual incident which required prayer and then, in a corner of the painting, the saint to whom the thanksgiving was offered was portrayed.

The only example of ex votos that I have ever seen at home were a display of crutches at Holy Hill Basilica of Mary, Help of Christians in Hubertus, Wisconsin, which, although miraculously dramatic, aren't as beautiful as the hearts.   I've been told that Americans are more practical and we usually give monetary offerings in thanksgiving for answered prayers.

I had become so enamored (obsessed, really) by the ex votos that I wanted to find some of my own.  I searched everywhere on the internet and only found some antique ex votos for sale but the price was in the hundreds of dollars which was beyond my reach.  I did find some reproductions of vintage ex votos on Etsy and purchased two that I found to be particularly charming, but none of those ex votos came with the oval frame that encased so many of the ex votos that I saw in Italy.  I still have not been able to find the simple oval frames anywhere that I have looked.

The beginnings of my ex voto collection.  The two largest hearts were purchased on Etsy.  The heart on the right was made with an embossed stamp.  The ex votos in the middle are antique religious medals.
This display includes two ex votos that I printed from images online and the
ex voto in the middle was made from a heart that I purchased in the gift shop where I work.
The little jar of sea glass and piece of pottery were found at the Adriatic Sea in Italy during a short stop there.

Here's a bulletin board covered in velvet displaying a few more ex voto pictures, some wooden scrolled hearts, and a few framed holy cards.  The Virgin with Child card was purchased in the Holy Land and given to Paul by a co-worker.
 Not Italian, but beautiful nonetheless.


Paul suggested that I find an image of an ex voto and print it and frame it.  I thought that was excellent advice so I did print a few pictures of some beautiful, antique ex votos.  And then I thought, why not make my own?  So I played around with stamps, holy cards and religious medals and found that they stood in quite well for authentic ex votos.  And then, after much searching, I found a roll of heavy-duty craft aluminum and used it to make my own silver hearts which I glued onto red cardstock and this project has kept me busy for quite some time.

Then I came upon a silver, oval embroidery hoop at a thrift store that was run by the School Sisters of St. Francis.  Sister Geraldine told me that I could have the hoop free of charge.  It was such a simple thing but I was thrilled by it!  I framed a piece of red velvet in the hoop and then searched through a jar of my mother's antique buttons looking for every silver button available.  I used those buttons to sew an ex voto heart onto the velvet and am so delighted by my unique ex voto that reminds me of my beloved mother.  Each pull of the needle and thread was a prayer for her soul and a sweet reminder of her love.

Now that three of our sons are out of the house we have a little more space so Paul and I have decided to decorate our spare room with mementoes from our pilgrimage.  We're calling the room our Italy Room.  My ex votos have filled the walls and shelves quite nicely and serve as a wonderful offering of thanksgiving for the miracle of being able to take that fantastic, life-changing trip.


A homemade ex voto using heavy-duty foil and cardstock.  The "GR" stands for "Grace Received."

The "M" stands for our Mother Mary, of course!

 A mini ex voto tree to complement a sea glass tree.

The button ex voto underneath framed photos of the ex votos I found in Italy.
I just had to add a few clusters of rosaries!

One-of-a-kind antique button ex voto.

Friday, December 16, 2016

A Year of Daily Offerings by Fr. James Kubicki, SJ

A Year of Daily Offerings 

Would you like to grow in your faith but feel that you can't make time for one more activity in your busy day?  Do you want to gain a greater understanding of the church but feel that most of what's available to read is too hard to understand?  Do you want to deepen your prayer life but don't know where to begin?  Well here's the answer to all of those questions!

Fr. James Kubicki, SJ, National Director of the Apostleship of Prayer and author of the bestseller A Heart on Fire, has compiled his daily Relevant Radio Prayer Reflection recordings into a book format called A Year of Daily Offerings. Now those who aren't able to tune in to the radio to hear Fr. Jim share a few words for the day may read them over and pray with them at their leisure.  What a great way to start the New Year and each day!

My preordered copy arrived last month and I have now been praying with and enjoying Fr. Jim's reflections every day.  Fr. Jim's easy-to-understand explanations about the saint or feast of the day bring a deeper understanding of the Catholic faith to my often frazzled mind.  Fr. Jim follows the explanation with a prayer for the day, just a few words to draw me closer to God. The prayer is followed by a "Word for the Day", a thought that I keep in the back of my mind throughout my busy day to help me stay connected to the offering of the day.  He closes the reflection with an "Evening Review", a question to ponder in my daily examen.  A Year of Daily Offerings has been a delight to begin my mornings with before rushing off to work.  I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to grow in my faith with Fr. Jim's words of wisdom and prayer to start each day!  I'm sure that this book will soon be well-worn as it will be  faithfully used each day for many years to come!

From Ave Maria Press: "A Year of Daily Offerings is a prayerful 366-day experience immersed in the lives of the saints, the rhythm of the Church calendar, and the stories of ordinary people who lived the Eucharist in their daily lives. It will help you reorder not just your devotional life, but the entire way of looking at your day.

This thoughtful, yearlong book of morning meditations from Rev. James Kubicki, S.J.—national director of the Apostleship of Prayer and bestselling author of A Heart on Fire—provides a rich array of reflections based on Ignatian spirituality that invite you to begin each day with a sincere offering of your life to God.

Combining a contemporary tone with a strong Biblical understanding, Fr. Kubicki shows you how to live your Eucharistic offering each day. He provides a fresh perspective on the promise of connecting with God through the practice of morning prayer by using prayers of the saints, a word to carry throughout the day, and an evening reflection to reflect on the day you offered to God."


You can order A Year of Daily Offerings, as well as A Heart on Fire, from Ave Maria Press.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Beguine Spirituality


"Anyone who has waded through Love's turbulent waters, now feeling hunger and now satiety is untouched by the seasons of withering or blooming.  For in the deepest and most dangerous waters, on the highest peaks, Love is always the same."  ~Hadewijch of Brabant

"I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax."~ Psalm 22:14

A drawing of a Beguine from Des dodes dantz, printed in Lübeck in 1489. (source)
At the most recent meeting of the de Chantal Society at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee we were treated to a topic on which I had never had any previous knowledge but found fascinating, Beguine Spirituality.  The speaker was Fr. Dennis Saran from Christ King Parish in Wauwatosa. After a period of silent adoration Fr. Dennis began by telling the women gathered that we are very much like an ancient community of women called The Beguines.  He told us that we occupy our time with caring for our families and friends, with serving the sick and the poor and we live very ordinary lives devoted to God.  The Beguines, he said, were ordinary lay women, as well.  They lived very normal lives and occupied their time with caring for the sick and the poor and yet they were deeply connected to God despite not being part of a religious community.

"The Beguine movement was a lay woman's movement that arose in the early 13th century.  The Beguines did not follow any established rule, but lived lives of apostolic poverty and chastity, doing works of charity among the poor and sick.

This style of life led to a spirituality that was both in and out of this world, using rich and captivating imagery.  They tried to capture the longing and love for the Other through their use of everyday experiences."

In the history of the Church there have been three types of spirituality.  The first is Monastic, the kind that Church fathers said could only exist in the desert with proper time for prayer and contemplation. You could only get to God if your prayer was constant.  The requirements promised union with God but only after years of constant devotion.  The common person couldn't approach this difficult lifelong commitment.

The second type of spirituality is Scholastic Theology.  This is the use of reason and philosophy to find your way to God.  St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica is an example of this.  We use reasons and proofs to experience God.  Until the 1950's this was the primary theological source for anyone who wasn't monastic.  The Baltimore Catechism was a product of this, as well as the theology of Fulton Sheen.  Scholastic Theology was popular in a masculine dominated Church as it was a problem-solving approach.  A personal relationship with God was not considered.

Vernacular or Common Spirituality is the third type of spirituality which accents personal relationship with God through our daily lives and sees nature as a sign of God's love for us.  The fact that we can learn compassion and good acts is feminine in its foundation and is championed by most female mystics.  It flourished in homes among spouses and in churches.  Here we seek union with God through private piety.

Vernacular Spirituality offered the possibility of achieving spiritual union with God to anyone in any walk of life.  This spirituality was supported by local clergy who saw a need for spirituality for the common people.  This male-dominated society where women were to be obedient was now Christ dominated.  A popular example of this was championed by St. Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century who added another dimension to our view and image of God.  Here God was seen not as a King or a Judge but now a Lover and a Bridegroom.  Sin was felt to be a betrayal.  We are the Lover and Jesus is the Bride.  You prepare yourself for the kiss of Christ.  This nuptial mysticism was foreign to the clergy of that time.

At the same time this idea of God as a Lover and a Bridegroom was expressed in the Beguine Movement.  Some people have thought of the Beguines as heretical.  It was the first European women's lay religious movement incorporating a life of prayer to draw closer to Christ.  Women could be married, widowed or single.  No vows were taken with the exception of an informal vow to remain celibate but this had no obligation attached to it.

The Beguines originated in Germany and France.  The women lived lives of charity and poverty and included both private prayer and corporate worship.  Several women had a personal, mystical union with Christ.  They did not write about God in an abstract sense; it was personal and much of the writing was romantic.  Many of these mystics are totally unknown to us.

"God leads his chosen people along strange paths." 
~Mechtild of Magdeburg

File:Mechthild von Magdeburg.jpg
Mechtild of Magdeburg

One of these mystics whose words have been passed down through the centuries was Mechtild of Magdeburg who wrote the book "The Flowing Light of the Godhead" on courtly love with common sense.  Her book identifies daily tasks that can be used to serve God.  She talks about God walking with us in our daily lives.  It is often through suffering that love is defined and deepened.  Our greatest joy in heaven will be the love of God's will.  Here we will be one with God and will delight in his will.  Everything you do can be transferred into joy.  Suffering elevates you to God. We wear everyday work clothes when we're well but wear brides clothes when we are ill because our illness unites us to God.

Our longing for God is a hunger, thirst, ache, excitement.  We are all made for union with God.  Our nature is to be one with God.  Suffering and love are intimately tied together as seen in childbirth and parenting.    We are ever-longing in soul and ever-suffering in body.  Small sins harm perfection. What often impedes our spiritual life is that we pay no attention to our small sins.  But little daily efforts reveal the joys and love of God.  We aren't asked to become cloistered but to do small things with joy as echoed by St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Teresa of Calcutta.  Even small acts of compassion cleanse our souls.

Each day we should say, "Jesus, my love, what do you want of me today?" and then say it the next day and the day after that.

For more details about Mechtild of Magdeburg with links to some of her beautiful poetry visit this website.

source


Monday, November 14, 2016

Fr. Cliff Ermatinger's Homilies on Purgatory

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It's been a great blessing to have Fr. Cliff Ermatinger presiding at some of the early morning Masses at Old St. Mary.  He is a powerful homilist and so very reverent.  Attending Mass when he is presiding keeps me from distraction and I'm always inspired.  My pen flies when he begins his homily because I don't want to miss a thing he has to share!  He recently gave two very engaging homilies on purgatory.  During this month of prayer for Holy Souls,  Fr. Cliff's words are encouraging for all of us who are striving to be saints and to spend as little time as possible in purgatory.  Here you will find the Gospel reading and my notes on Fr. Cliff's homily.

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Jesus said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west you say immediately that it is going to rain-and so it does; and when you notice that the wind is blowing from the south you say that it is going to be hot-and so it is.  You hypocrites!  You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?  If you are to go with your opponent before a magistrate, make an effort to settle the matter on the way; otherwise your opponent will turn you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the constable, and the constable throw you into prison.  I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”  ~ Luke 12:54-59

This is the foundational text for belief in purgatory.  If we have the smallest speck of disordered attachment in our heart we need purgatory.  Purgatory is God’s mercy so we can see God’s face without shame.  Purgatory is painful in its shame, yet souls are happy there because they know they are going to heaven. 

Our venial sins and attachments keep us from union with God.  We have a choice.  We can have purgatory in this life or in the next.  The trials that come our way are God’s mercy.  It’s our chance to offer it up without complaining and in doing so our hearts are re-ordered to see the face of Christ.

The Lord gives us opportunities to configure ourselves with him; to suffer in a meritorious way.  In purgatory suffering is passive.  There is no possibility of any more merit.  The purpose of our trials in life is for our own configuration with Christ.

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Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem.  Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” 

He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.  After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’  Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.  Depart from me, all you evildoers!’ And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out.

And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the Kingdom of God.  For behold, some are last who will be first,
and some are first who will be last.” ~Luke 13:22-30

Pope Benedict looks at key scriptural words and their use in other parts of scripture.  The mustard seed becoming a large bush is compared to the Kingdom of God, but elsewhere he says if your faith is the size of a mustard seed you can tell the mountains to move and they will.  Then “faith” and “kingdom” become interchangeable terms.

Making an act of faith is the work of grace.  It’s not from ourselves.  It’s our will in cooperation with grace.

Knowing that new life comes when the seed dies we see the truth of the ancient Christian saying that the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christianity.  We see martyrs today in the Middle East and in France and their deaths strengthen the Kingdom and our faith.  They prove to us that there are things worth dying for.  The martyrs don’t pass through purgatory.  Their martyrdom is their sacrifice.


Our sacrifices are powerful. When our faith is tried and encroached upon as is occurring right now in this country, then our faith is strengthened.  In our trials and crosses we’re given a chance to grow, to bear fruit and to be configured to Christ.