Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Saints of Summer

Where do the summer days go?  It seems as though we blink and they're gone.  The busyness of summer has kept me away from the computer, but it hasn't kept God's saints and holy ones away from my heart.  Here's a few beautiful ways that I found God's grace this summer.

I was blessed to take every Wednesday off from work so that I could spend some quality girl time with my daughter, Mary, before she made the leap into high school.  We spent many a lovely day together riding a tandem bike (it's harder than we'd imagined), searching for sea glass, and rummaging through antique shops.

A bicycle built for two with a lovely Lake Michigan view.

We had a blast trying on vintage hats!

Sweet Mother Mary, I love you!

At one antique shop we found this beautiful statue of my Mother, Our Lady of Guadalupe. She had a bunch of purses and junk piled up in her arms so I had to clear that away for her. Then I noticed that the picture propped in front of her was of a man flashing a work of art with the caption "Expose yourself to art." So I had to turn that around to face the wall. My Mother doesn't want to look at that! They were selling the statue for the ridiculously low price of $125. I should have paid it and brought her home with me so she wouldn't have to be treated with so much disrespect. After all, who else tells me "Am I not here, your Mother? Are you not under the shadow of my protection?"  I was so grateful that a friend of mine was able to go and rescue her and is now finding many blessings in her home with Our Mother's presence there.

Marquette Hall mirrored in the stained glass windows of The Church of the Gesu

The Holy Spirit will overshadow you.

I'm blessed to walk the Marquette College Campus every day on my lunch break. The bells at Marquette Hall ring out the Salve Regina and my heart sings along. I marvel at the sight of the Marquette Hall tower reflected in the Gesu windows and each time I see it I tell myself to bring my camera so I can capture the image forever. But when I leave my office I always forget to bring it...until one spectacularly sunny and beautiful day when I was able to capture the image above.  The bonus: I took a picture of the outside of the stained glass window of Our Lady and didn't notice the gull (that looks like a dove of the Holy Spirit) flying in the reflection until I got back to my office and looked over my pictures. A perfect overshadowing!

Schoenstatt Shrine
One day as I was driving home from work, I saw the most beautiful sight and wish I could have pulled over to take a picture. (I found the picture above on pinterest and it looked very much like the scene I witnessed.) There, walking across the busy Wisconsin Avenue bridge, were 12 Schoenstatt sisters carrying the Rosary Campaign flag. Although I couldn't hear it, I imagine they were praying the rosary as they walked. Maybe they were on their way to their beautiful little shrine just further west on Wisconsin Ave! Sanctifying the city! Just what we need!

I'd been looking for a statue of the Infant of Prague ever since last Christmas when my pastor, Fr. Tim Kitzke, told me that everyone should have a statue of the Infant in their homes saying that He is a help with financial situations.  On one of our Wednesday outings my daughter and I paid a visit to a little antique mall and cheese shop (well, we do live in Wisconsin!) and there we hit the jackpot.  We found four statues of the Infant so I bought them all!

Not too long ago I met a woman who told me that she received a blessing from Pope John Paul II, and then later was able to shake his hand after praying a novena to the Infant of Prague.  When I told her that I will be going to see Pope Francis in Philadelphia this month, she recommended that I pray a novena to the Infant for whatever I might want from that experience, and when I found those four statues all in the same place, I took it as a sign that my prayer might be favorably received.

Now naturally I hope to receive spiritual blessings for myself and my family, but I would also want to meet Pope Francis personally.  So I have been praying a beautiful novena to the Infant of Prague with the intention that my traveling companions and I will be blessed to meet the Pope and  have a selfie taken with him.  Then my sister Cindy and I will be able to replace our paper pope picture with a real one!  I know that sounds awfully selfish to pray for a selfie, but Pope Francis is always reminding everyone to be joyful, and thinking about a selfie with the pope sure does make me joyful!  

Here's the prayer I'm saying.  It's so lovely!  Care to join me in prayer?

Novena Prayer to the Miraculous Infant of Prague

Dearest Jesus, Little Infant of Prague, how tenderly You love us! Your greatest joy is to dwell among us and to bestow Your blessing upon us. Though I am not worthy that You should help me, I feel drawn to You by love because You are kind and merciful. (say three times)

So many who turned to You with confidence have received graces and had their petitions granted. Behold me as I come before You to lay open my heart to You with its prayers and hopes. I present to You especially this request, which I enclose in Your loving Heart:

(Mention your request)

Rule over me, dear Infant Jesus, and do with me and mine according to Your Holy Will, for I know that in Your Divine Wisdom and Love You will arrange everything for the best. Do not withdraw Your hand from me, but protect and bless me forever. 

I pray You, all-powerful and gracious Infant Jesus, for the sake of Your Sacred Infancy, in the Name of Your Blessed Mother Mary who cared for You with such tenderness, and by the greatest reverence with which Saint Joseph carried You in his arms, help me in my needs. Make me truly happy with You, dearest Infant, in time and in eternity, and I shall thank You forever with all my heart.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Like the Dewfall

"Stop and consider!  Life is but a day; a fragile dew drop on its perilous way."  ~John Keats

Glancing up from the kitchen table early in the morning, I spotted a sight I'd not seen in all of the twenty-three years that my family has lived in our house.  The entire grapevine arbor, abundant with newly-formed clusters of grapes, was covered with dewdrops clinging to the points of each leaf. Quickly grabbing the cell phone, I was able to catch a few photographs despite my shaking hands and the angry robin that was squawking and flitting about protecting an unseen nest.  Not ten minutes after my impromptu photo shoot, the rains poured down destroying that delicate scene.  

I can't stop marveling over this fascinating sign of God's provision and love! His Hand beautifully nourishes in all stages of life, sustaining the grape buds during the early morning hours with drops of precious dew until the rains fall, lavishing the vine with necessary moisture for growth.  How blessed I was to be a humble witness to this sign of natural love from my Father.  What blessings He bestows upon His creation!

(Science fact:  I believe that the water droplets on the grape leaves were not really dew but actually a process called guttation, where the plant "leaks" excessive water through it's leaves.  Want to learn more?  Here you go!)

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Oblates of the Precious Blood Pay a Visit to the Handmaids and St. Maximilian Kolbe's Shrine

A little community of Oblates of the Precious Blood has been springing up in Milwaukee-we now number five!  So a visit to the Handmaids of the Precious Blood was certainly in order!  Plans were made and a date set and off we went!  My husband, Paul, had lovingly taken our car in for a tune-up, gave it a good cleaning and sweetly placed flowers in the pocket of the door for me as his way of wishing me love and safety on our drive to the Lake Villa, Illinois Priory.  A loving husband is a blessing from God! Although the sprig of Bridal Wreath carries no fragrance, a scent of love and goodness was definitely in the air!

When we arrived at the priory we were warmly welcomed by Sister Maristella and all of the Handmaids of the Precious Blood.  The first thing that Fr. Paul Schneider, one of our traveling companions, did upon our arrival, was to say Mass for all of us.  During his homily he spoke about Martha and Mary and Mary's better choice to sit at the feet of Christ .  He told us, "When we have a little bit of Jesus, we want more.  We want more.  We want more."  And he reminded us to "always hold close to the Mother of Christ, to put our hands in hers, and she will never fail to lead us to Jesus."

A Handmaid of the Precious Blood at prayer
Fr. Paul Schneider, OFM Conv. with the Handmaids of the Precious Blood

It was clear that the Handmaids were thrilled to see their dear friend Fr. Paul who is one of the original Oblates of the Precious Blood, having made his Solemn Resolution of Love nearly 30 years ago.  The Handmaids are cloistered nuns and yet we were able to visit with them without having to stay behind an enclosed grille, and, although they are committed to perpetual Eucharistic Adoration, a friend from the local community who comes to adore Christ each day at noon while the sisters take lunch, watched over Jesus in the chapel so that we could have a few precious minutes to visit with all of the small community of Handmaids in Lake Villa.  Each time I visit the Handmaids I marvel at the sweet joy that emanates from their souls.  They are, without a doubt, the warmest and most welcoming women, truly touched by the Heart of Christ and spreading that warm welcome to others so easily.

The conversation freely flowed with talk of the Handmaid's daily schedule, their garden, the upcoming Corpus Christi Procession that they will be hosting, their favorite recreational activities and games, as well as talk about the move coming up for the Handmaids at the Motherhouse in Tennessee.  The life of a Handmaid of the Precious Blood is busy and full, that's certain!  The moments of the day that surround the hours of prayer are never wasted!

The Handmaids had the honor of hosting an exhibit on the Shroud of Turin in one of their buildings and we were fortunate to be visiting them while the display was still on hand.  One of the most moving parts of the display was a crucifix that was created based upon the image on the Shroud.  Because it was so large, it didn't fit in the building with the rest of the Shroud exhibit and was displayed in the Handmaid's chapel.  It was impossible not to be moved by the depth of Our Lord's suffering while gazing upon the crucifix.

Crucifix based upon the image on the Shroud of Turin.

What love He has for us!
To learn more about the Handmaids and Oblates of the Precious Blood, visit this link.  And please remember the Handmaids of the Precious Blood in your prayers, and pray for an increase in vocations to their order, especially this June as prayer for vocations is Pope Francis' evangelization intention for the month.

Following our visit to the Handmaids, we traveled to Marytown, The National Shrine of St. Maximilian Kolbe where Fr. Paul gave us a beautiful history lesson on St. Maximilian, who was martyred in Auschwitz during World War II, offering to take the place of a prisoner who was spared for his family.    Fr. Paul explained that St. Maximilian was the last of ten prisoners in his starvation cell who was still living, and his joyful, hope-filled attitude despite his starvation made the Nazis furious, so they hastened his death with an injection of carbolic acid.  Because of that injection with a deadly drug, St. Maximilian is known as the patron saint of those who are chemically addicted.

A replica of the cell that St. Maximilian Kolbe and nine other prisoners were held in while being starved to death.

Following the fatal injection, St. Maximilian was cremated so there were no bones available from which to create relics.  So how is it that Marytown has a relic of St. Maximilian?  Fr. Paul shared a fascinating story about a barber, a fellow Conventual Franciscan, who was certain that the holy Fr. Maximilian was destined for sainthood, and so, when he finished cutting Fr. Maximilian's hair following his time as a missionary in Japan, he swept it into a bag to save it.  When Fr. Maximilian learned that the barber was saving his hair, he told him to throw it out, but the barber disobeyed, and because of his disobedience, we have relics of St. Maximilian Kolbe's hair.

St. Maximilian Kolbe relic and barbed wire from Auschwitz

Strands of St. Maximilian Kolbe's hair.

To learn more about St. Maximilian Kolbe, visit the Marytown link here.  Hover over the name "Kolbe" to find additional links.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

St. John the Evangelist Parish and the Shrine of the Passion of Christ in St. John, Indiana

Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane-Shrine of Christ's Passion

On the Eve of Pentecost, my family and I were blessed to go on a pilgrimage to  the Shrine of Christ's Passion in St. John, Indiana led by Bishop Donald Hying of Gary, Indiana and Fr. Anthony Jelinek of Marytown in Libertyville, Illinois.  The pilgrimage was sponsored by Michael Wick of The Institute on Religious Life.  We were all deeply moved by the experience, so much so that I thought about just titling this blog post "Wow!"

Although a trip out of town is always a fun occasion, a pilgrimage is not just any ordinary trip, but rather, it is meant to be difficult and to change us in some way, helping us to draw closer to the Lord, and so we were well-prepared to deal with any challenges that we might encounter, although, admittedly, we encountered very few.

Our first stop was at St. John the Evangelist Church in St. John, Indiana.  The presider at Mass was our dear friend, Bishop Hying.  It was so good to pray with him, and in his moving homily about the power of Pentecost he shared one of my favorite quotes of his: "One thing is certain. When we give our lives over to the Holy Spirit, nothing will ever be safe or dull again. We will find ourselves blown out to the deep water and then Christ will bid us to get out of the boat." 

Following Mass, one of the parishioners gave us a tour of the church and shared the history of the parish with us.

St. John the Evangelist Parish Church in the diocese of Gary was originally built in 1837.  The original church, the first church in Northern Indiana, was made of logs and is still standing and is used today at a perpetual Eucharistic Adoration Chapel.  The chapel was only a few minutes away from the newer church so we took a few minutes on our way home at the end of the day to stop and pray in that beautiful chapel and were deeply moved to be with the Lord in such an historical treasure.

When the parish outgrew the log cabin, they had built a larger church, and then years later an even larger church right next door.  Now they have once again outgrown that third church but continue to use it for the daily and school Masses.  In 2008, they built this newest church which seats 10,000 people, the number of people who attended this past year's Good Friday service.  Our tour guide boasted that although the original debt for the cost of the building was well into the millions, most of the debt is already paid off.  The architect who designed the church is a parishioner of St. John the Evangelist Parish.  How special it must feel to worship in the building that you designed!

St. John the Evangelist Church as seen from the grounds of the Shrine of Christ's Passion.

A large statue of Our Lady, properly crowned for May.
The grounds of the Shrine of the Passion of Christ can be seen in the background.

A window in the front of the church displays scenes from the book of Revelation.

photo credit:  John Paul Bender

The two-sided tabernacle which opens from the back  is flanked by two angels on loan from a private collection in Rome.  The hand-carved gold leaf angels are over 300 years old.

The angels that surround the tabernacle on both sides represent the Liturgy of the Hours.
They were designed by the same architect that designed the church.
Photo Credit:  John Paul Bender

The Stations of the Cross are made of ceramic by Suzanne Young from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

She captured the expression on Our Lady's face so perfectly here...

...and here, as well.  You can feel her love and her sorrow.

The stained-glass Holy Spirit window mimics the one found at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

Although she's not yet been declared a saint, the church has a
stained glass window of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

St. Pope John Paul has a window, as well.

The Blessed Mother with the infant Jesus were carved by the same artist who made the
statue of the Blessed Mother for St. John the Evangelist Cathedral in downtown Milwaukee.

Upon arriving at the Shrine of Christ's Passion, which is literally in the backyard of St. John the Evangelist Church, we were greeted by a giant, metallic statue of Our Lady of the Millenium, and, just before leaving, our pilgrimage group gathered around the statue to pray the rosary.

Our Lady of the New Millennium
The volunteers at the Shrine who guided us on our prayerful tour of the life-sized Stations of the Cross, were informative, friendly and helpful.  They also are already very fond of their new bishop which made all of us who were visiting from Milwaukee very proud.

As we walked the path from station to station, the path that was measured out to be the exact same distance that Christ had walked on his Way to Calvary, they spoke about nuances of the artwork and shared stories of how past pilgrims have been touched by the Stations of the Cross at the Shrine. Then they played an audio-recorded prayer for each station while hauntingly beautiful music played in the background.

Touch me not!  Our Resurrected Lord meets St. Mary Magdalene.

Fr. Jelinek lies prostrate at the crucifix and leads us in prayer.
The highlight of the Shrine visit were the reflections offered at each station by Fr. Jelinek.  In his rich Hungarian voice, he added relevance to each station regarding how we live our lives today.  He cautioned us against gossip, spoke about the importance of turning to the Blessed Mother whenever we are in need, reminded us of the importance of a good and frequent confession, mentioned that if we don't forgive ourselves it will be impossible for us to forgive others, at the eighth station pointed out that only women were present and mentioned that even today most church-goers are women, and then spoke about how important it is for men to have a deep and personal relationship with the Lord.  At each and every stop, Father stressed the need for prayer.  Fr. Jelinec spoke with conviction in a "fire and brimstone" manner, warning us to be on our guard at all times so that when our personal judgment arrives, we won't be one of the many who hear "I never knew you."

Fr. Jelinek shares the story of how Our Lady was a help to him while he was persecuted in Communist Hungary.

I'm planning a return pilgrimage to the Shrine of Christ's Passion with my sisters and nieces in late June.  I can hardly wait!  For another perspective on our pilgrimage, visit my son, John's blog here.