Friday, December 31, 2010

He Gave Power

"To those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God." from John 1:1-18

As a child, when I'd become upset with my parents over some perceived injustice meted out to me, I'd often yell out "Well, I didn't ask to be born!" In their wisdom (and probably because they might had heard this same retort many times by my eight older brothers and sisters) they usually met my smart alecky words with silence.

Thinking now on those words meant to hurt my parents, I see that whether or not it was my choice or my parents choice that my life began, none of that matters, because I am of God. He gave me the power to be His child.

In my youth I couldn't see that I was living at St. Bernard's First Degree of Love-love of self for self's sake. I foolishly thought that I was the center of the universe-that whether or not I lived and what choices I was given in life were all of my doing and/or based upon my particular lot in life, such as who my family members happened to be.

How often I erroneously continue to live in that selfish state, thinking that I can control my life, that I can choose my moods and emotions, believing that I am in charge of what happens to me. I behave childishly; not childlike.

I am powerless....without Him.

He gave the power. I am His child.

Oh, glorious childhood where I am free to let go of all control, where I can place all of my cares into His wondrous and holy hands! Why should I worry, He will care for me. He has always cared for me. He has given me all that I could ever need or want and even more than that.

With the knowledge of this God-given power, I can easily move forward to the second degree of love-love of God for self's sake. How can I not love Him when I see how greatly he has blessed me, how many gifts He has bestowed upon me so generously? I didn't need to ask to be born-He gave me that power without any effort on my part-all I need to ask for is the grace to deeply accept this life of mine with love and gratitude, for Him.

Sometimes, as I've learned last year, acceptance is hard to come by, sometimes I want to give in to despair and callously toss aside the gifts I have been given and look for an escape from this gloriously beautiful life.

Forgive me, Lord-how often I fail to know what it is that I am doing.
Help me to put my whole life, this powerful gift from You, back into Your hands where you will care for me as Your little child. Amen.

St. Bernard's Four Degrees of Love

1. Love of self for self's sake
2. Love of God for self's sake
3. Love of God for God's sake
4. Love of self for God's sake

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Four Degrees of Love

Ending the year, feeling like a failure-knowing it wasn't completely without merit-just not as perfect as I would have liked it to be...I'm ready for a fresh start, longing to leave the past behind, ready to begin going DEEPER-- DEEPER into His arms, His heart, His love...

I look at St. Bernard's Four Degrees of Love once again and decide I want to begin going deeper right here, want to look at those degrees more closely, want to challenge myself to move through those degrees with more intensity--

1. Love of self for self's sake.
2. Love of God for self's sake.
3. Love of God for God's sake.
4. Love of self for God's sake.

I begin with why God should be loved:

St. Bernard says: "the reason for loving God is God Himself; and the measure of love due to Him is immeasurable love."

And I think of his great love, choosing to become one of us-frail, weak, human-dependent upon the care of others. He knows. He knows what we suffer. He knows our joys. He is not a distant creator, but a God become one of us in the form of a helpless baby. And even more significant, he didn't take on human form just to understand us, but to die for us. He was born to die. For us. Because He loves us.

St. Bernard goes on to quote the famous line seen along country roadways on the sides of barns and held up in football stadiums everywhere. "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)

EVERLASTING LIFE. That life that includes EVERLASTING LOVE. This is the fourth degree of love that I am after, that we are all after.

O God, on this threshold of a new year, a year in which I want to go DEEPER into knowledge and love of myself so that I may grow DEEPER in knowledge and love of You, I ask You to guide me, slowly, patiently, gently into the DEEP where I will openly receive every good gift which You desire to bestow upon my weak and fragile heart, even the gifts which don't feel so good at first, those that might cause me pain in the growth. Open my heart to love of self for Your sake, not for mine. And along the way, when I stumble and fall, as I am sure to do, remind me that I am not a failure as long as I remember to take all of my efforts and place them into Your loving hands as an offering of my self, the very self that You have always loved. Amen.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


"I even believe that the deeper one is drawn into God, the more one must 'go out of oneself'; that is, one must go to the world in order to carry the divine life into it." St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Last year I chose the word ACCEPT as my word for the year, the word upon which I would aim to base my spiritual life in 2010. My desire was to ACCEPT everything the Lord would send to me, to ACCEPT my crosses, my joys, and especially, myself. Looking back on the year now passed, I see that I did not meet my goal of acceptance-my crosses and joys, yes, were easy enough to ACCEPT-some with a bit of complaining or lack of understanding, but soon enough, they became a part of me-what choice did I have? But, self-acceptance was another story. Self-acceptance was hard. How could I ACCEPT my anxiety, my worry, my tension, my fears, my depression sometimes bordering on despair? I couldn't believe that this life, this me, was what God wanted and I railed against myself, often, even unto the very end of the year. I failed to ACCEPT myself, to understand myself, to love myself. Maybe the reason why I struggled and failed with my self-acceptance was because I didn't ACCEPT the virtue of acceptance with humility, but instead, I proudly strove to ACCEPT myself. I let that ugly pride get in the way of what should have been a beautiful form of self-love.

So for 2011, I know that I cannot let go of my need for self-acceptance but instead, I need to go DEEPER into myself, to look beneath the surface-the wrinkles, the grays, the excess weight-to find the intense love that God has for the soul that exists beneath the surface; the soul that is truly flawed-yet loved beyond measure by the One who created it. For how can I truly love God and love others if I continue to maintain this ugly hatred of myself? How can I serve the Lord whom I continuously profess to love with my words, if I fail to love Him within myself, with my very heart and soul? How can I look for the Christ in others when I am blind to His existence right here inside of who I am?

My spiritual director and I had a conversation recently in which he told me about St. Bernard of Clairvaux' Four Degrees of Love. In this treatise, St. Bernard explains why God should be loved and the stages that one goes through in attaining love of God. The four degrees are:

1. Love of Self for Self's Sake
2. Love of God for Self's Sake
3. Love of God for God's Sake
4. Love of Self for God's Sake

I sadly confessed that a year ago, I was struggling with degree number one-the natural level of self love, not nearly ready to enter a spiritual level of loving self or God. Upon reading more about the four degrees of love, I know that I will continue to struggle by fits and spurts in my efforts to reach Love of Self for God's Sake, the stage which even St. Bernard had stated he wasn't anywhere near at the time he wrote his treatise. But I so desperately want to get there! As the old maxim goes, I can't do anything by myself, but with God I can do everything. So I've prayed and asked God to give me a tool that I can turn to and use to help me learn to love myself, others and God. That tool would have to take me beyond self-acceptance to a true self-love. And I believe that God answered my prayer:

DEEPER will be my tool for 2011, the tool that will help me to humbly accept myself: I will look DEEPER beneath the surface to see within my heart and soul, to love myself DEEPER, to love God DEEPER and to love others DEEPER.

That's a huge challenge for this girl who has learned the art of self-hatred so well. I'm going to need some help. So I turned to my friend, Karinann, at Daughter of the King. Karinann is a saint-chooser, and long before Jennifer Fulwiler's "Saint-O-Matic" Saint Generator became popular on the internet, Karinann was quietly choosing saints to companion those who would ask for her help. Last year she chose St. Luke for me, and I was so grateful for his gifted assistance with the use of words and medicine, and now for 2011, she has found that St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), would be my companion to accompany me on my journey to the DEEP.
What a great blessing and a joy this is to share the new year with such a beautiful woman who truly understood the meaning of going DEEPER! A quote for which she is well-known is:

"The limitless loving devotion to God, and the gift God makes of Himself to you, are the highest elevation of which the heart is capable; it is the highest degree of prayer. The souls that have reached this point are truly the heart of the Church."

And, at her canonization,Pope John Paul II said of her,

"Your life is not an endless series of open doors! Listen to your heart! Do not stay on the surface but go to the heart of things! And when the time is right, have the courage to decide! The Lord is waiting for you to put your freedom in his good hands.”

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a Jewish convert to Catholicism who died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, spent a great deal of her life searching for what was real and true. She was a brilliant scholar who studied with an open mind, and it was that openness to all possibilities that led her to read the words of St. Teresa of Avila. Upon opening the autobiography of the great Doctor of the Church, she could not put it down, but stayed awake all night reading and going DEEPER into the saint's words. Speaking of the influence that book had on her, she said,

"When I had finished the book, I said to myself: This is the truth." Later, looking back on her life, she wrote: "My longing for truth was a single prayer."

After being baptized into the Catholic Church in 1922, she entered the Order of the Discalced Carmelites in 1934, taking the name of Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

I look forward to journeying with this holy woman through the coming year, and pray that I will be able to model my faith after hers, always aiming to go DEEPER within myself to find the necessary love that must surely exist there, so that I may spread that love to the world around me and draw others to the ultimate joy which is only found in His love.

"When night comes, and retrospect shows that everything was patchwork and much that one had planned left undone, when so many things rouse shame and regret, then take all as is, lay it in God's hands, and offer it up to Him. In this way we will be able to rest in Him, actually to rest and to begin the new day like a new life." Prayer of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Walking Prayer

After reading "The Diary of a Country Priest" by Georges Bernanos, I feel as if I am transported to the novel setting of long ago France as I hang on to the final words of the story:

"Does it matter? Grace is...everywhere."

Those words reverberate in my heart as I leave my office for my daily luncheon walk around the Marquette College Campus. Suddenly, it feels like I'm traveling the roads that M. le Cure so loved in the novel. With the St. Joan of Arc Chapel in the background, the setting is nearly believable...

The pounding of my footsteps on the salt-covered pavement was the only noticeable sound aside from the roaring freeway traffic in the distance, which I could imagine was a far-off breeze in that long ago time.

All of the college students who usually fill the campus during the noon hour with their animated discussions as they hurry to class had gone home for Christmas break.

The frigid wind kept trying to blow my scarf from my neck, but I grasped it tightly to keep out the cold with one hand, while my other hand moved the beads in my pocket. With each step of my feet I breathe out a prayer...

Hail Mary...
step, step, step,
full of grace
the Lord is with thee...
step, step, step,

Can God hear my prayer more clearly through the noise of my feet, I wonder? Does the rhythmic sound catch His attention in this strangely silent environment? Or, is the muffled whisper of my words behind my woolen scarf--now damp from the heat of my breath--all that He requires to hear my heart? Does it matter whether the air is warm or cold, whether the walkways are bustling with activity or quietly abandoned?

I can feel Him in the air, in my breath, in my heart-His grace is here, always.

I continued on, quickly now, towards the warmth of my office, away from the desolate silence of this frigid space, hoping to hold His loving grace within me throughout the remainder of my busy day. And I kept on praying as I left my imaginary France behind for the reality of my urban life, but it didn't really matter where I was, for...Grace is everywhere.

Blessed art thou among women...
step, step, step
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,

Monday, December 27, 2010

To Be A Child Again

God came as a child, a sweet-scented, helpless little one on that long ago night. In my striving to be like Him, I too, come as a child, a helpless little one, dependent on others to carry me along, to show me the way, to lift me up to His heart. And I am grateful that others are always willing to do just that, to lift me, hold me close, take me by the hand and lead me to His heart where one day, I will forever remain...

For now, I list my gratitude for those who meet the challenge of caring for the child in me...

On Christmas Eve, sitting with my son Justin at Midnight Mass, I was straining to see my John who was cantoring the Intecessory Prayers. Justin noticed that I struggled to see John, and he whispered, "Mom, would you like me to lift you up on to my shoulders so that you can see?" as he fondly remembered the many times that my husband lifted the little ones to his shoulders so that they could more clearly see the world above their heads.

On the Feast of the Holy Family, my husband and our five children and I were able to attend Mass together and "fill a pew" which is a rare occurence since one of us is almost always involved in the liturgy as an acolyte, choir member, cantor or lector. My daughter reached over and squeezed my hand, her favorite way to share her love.

On Sunday afternoon, we shared a fun and laughter filled family game of "Apples to Apples." We all felt like children as we munched on cookies and vied for the best answers.

It's hard to let go of my teens, to let them out into the world of friends and parties and the unknown. Then, a call from another mother who understands my concerns and offers me reassurance of her presence at a New Year's Eve Party to which my son was invited, brings me peace.

All I could manage this year was to put up a small Christmas tree with my mother's antique ornaments. I never got around to putting up a real tree with all of my children's home-made ornaments, and nobody complained.

When fear and disquiet grips my heart, I have a friend I can count on to listen to all of my worries through an email journal. I have found this to be a wonderful way to "get it all out," like a written temper tantrum, and he listens and never interrupts and I know that no matter how ugly my words may be, he will never judge, but will always pray.

The friends I have found in this blogging community never fail to encourage me with kind emails and comments that remind me that my childlike words, my simple ways are often more than enough to inspire, and I am warmed by your words of love and friendship.

For what are you most grateful? Why not join in a gratitude list with Ann Voskamp's Holy Experience?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Santa's Prayer on Christmas Eve

Today I received a Christmas Card from my friend Janet, and inside the card, she had tucked this wonderful prayer. I had never seen this before, but was deeply moved and knew that this should be shared.

Santa's Prayer on Christmas Eve

The sleigh was all packed, the reindeer were fed,

But Santa still knelt by the side of the bed.

"Dear Father," he prayed "Be with me tonight,

There's much work to do and my schedule is tight.

I must jump in my sleigh and streak through the sky,

Knowing full well that a reindeer can't fly.

I will visit each household before the first light,
I'll cover the world and all in one night.

With sleighbells a-ringing, I'll land on each roof,

Amid the soft clatter of each little hoof.

To get in the house is the difficult part,

So I'll slide down the chimney of each child's heart.

My sack will hold toys to grant all their wishes.

The supply will be endless like the loaves and the fishes.

I will fill all the stockings and not leave a track.

I'll eat every cookie that is left for my snack.

I can do all these things Lord, only through You.

I just need your blessing, then it's easy to do.

All this is to honor the birth of the One,

That was sent to redeem us, Your most Holy Son.

So to all of my friends, least Your glory I rob,

Please, Lord, remind them who gave me this job."

~Warren D. Jennings

Last night our family was treated to the best school Christmas program we have ever seen. The program was called "The Best Christmas Present Ever!" My daughter Mary had a little solo-isn't she cute?

The program was created by Celeste Clydesdale and arranged by David T. Clydesdale. The gist of the story was that a group of children were trying to plan a birthday party for the baby Jesus and had asked a non-believing newscaster to help promote the party, and by the time the party was over, the newscaster was now a believer as well.

At the end of the program, several narrators recited the Christmas Story ala Linus from A Charlie Brown Christmas. Listening to them speak, I began to choke up. As they recited the familiar gospel story, the children who were portraying the Holy Family and their guests arrived on stage. The angel had a smile on her face that could have lit up the whole room without her halo! But by far, the show stealer was a little boy in the second grade who then sang "Happy Birthday, Jesus" in a sweet and sincere voice. Before he stepped away from the microphone, he whispered, "I love you, Jesus."

That was it, the tears began to flow. Had I payed a fortune to attend a professional Christmas Program, I don't think I would have seen a better show, or one that moved me as deeply. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity to celebrate Christmas in this way, and I pray that all of you, dear friends, will also find that your heart is moved by simple joys in this Holy Season. A Blessed Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dreaming Big

Last night our family dinner conversation revolved around travel. Now, none of us in the Bender family have really ever traveled anywhere, as I've mentioned before on this blog. Our usual family vacations consist of camping at a nearby State Park. I would say that we are pretty content to sit back and listen to others share their travel stories knowing that our turn will come someday when we'll be able to see a bit of the world far beyond the outside of our backdoor. So it was fun fantasizing with each other about where we would go if we ever had the chance for a real vacation, sort of like dreaming about how you might spend the money if you were to ever win the lottery.

Now most of our dream destinations were pretty typical: Hawaii, Florida, and other warm and sunny places. My top three were:

Prince Edward Island, Canada-I've always been a huge fan of "Anne of Green Gables" and would love to see the real-life setting of those fanciful, fictional tales with the heroine who spells her name like me

Maine-all of my life I've thought that this would be a wonderful place to spend some time in. I think it took my husband by surprise that this would be one of my choices; I guess I had never mentioned it to him before. When he asked why I would want to travel to Maine, I said it's because I've always wanted to see the ocean crashing into the rocky shore and I'd love to tour all of those lighthouses. My dear Paul is a bit of a smart-aleck as well as a thrifty man and he reminded me that if I would simply travel the 80 miles back to my hometown of Manitowoc, WI, I could see plenty of Lake Michigan waves crashing on rocks, and, there's a nice lighthouse there as well.

Rome-of course! In fact, my kids eyebrows all shot up in surprise because I didn't mention additional sacred destinations such as the Holy Land, Guadalupe, Fatima and Lourdes. Of course, I would love to go there as well, but even dreaming about Rome makes me feel extravagant. How many far off destinations could I ever afford? And with the newest approved Marian Apparition, Our Lady of Good Help, a mere 100 miles from my home, there really is no need for me to travel to far off locations to witness the wonder of a miraculous visit from Mary.

But then, I thought, I would like to add one more location, and that would be England. I would love to go to England on the day that John Howard, the founder of A Vocation to be a Priest, is finally ordained to the priesthood. John has been such a faithful internet friend to both my son John and I, and he is so dedicated to the cause of increasing vocations, that I will just have to be in attendance at his most special day which will begin his Ordained life of service to God so that I might receive his blessing.

I was feeling pretty high and mighty with my lofty travel dreams, until I noticed that Jack, my son who struggles to get his thoughts out into words because of his speech disorder, was patiently waiting for a turn to join the animated discussion so that he could share his travel dream. When everyone piped down long enough for Jack to speak, he said that there is only one place that he would like to go and that is to Heaven. No airfare needed, no justification necessary and the the ticket is prayer!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Angels and Blessings

I've been through an insanely hectic and frustrating week at work, followed by an even more hectic and frustrating weekend at home. I know I'm not the only one who feels the burden of extra stress this time of year and who struggles to let Advent be a time of watching and waiting instead of a time of running, shopping, cooking, cleaning, etc...I've been looking for some relief, some peace to make this last week of Advent feel a little more silent and prayerful, and I found this: take a deep breath, and let yourself be drawn into the beauty of All Angels...

And speaking of I was watching the previous video, I received an email from my nine-year-old daughter, Mary, who is on the upstairs computer. It makes me laugh to realize that we are in the same household and yet we communicate via email instead of physically walking over to one another to share information, but when the words she sends me are loving and poetic, the method of communication doesn't seem to matter at all and the physical act of holding each other in our arms is soon to follow:

"Hi, my beauty, I love you very much! You make my heart glow and your love makes my heart sing. It's like you are building a church in my soul. Your caring and kindness overflow the nation of my heart. Your love is growing in my heart and I love you so very much."

Although her communication methods might not be traditional, her love reaches right into my aching heart and wraps it in love with the tender touch that only an innocent child can give. Along with her loving words, she asked me to watch this video...

Now that I've been refreshed by the love of my daughter and some quiet reflection with these two videos, I have decided that instead of letting life get me down, I will choose to be thankful for my many blessings. So I am joining Ann Voskamp at Holy Experience in a list of gratitude...

~for that sweet and affectionate little daughter of mine who brings the love of Christ to me and to all of those around her with her every action

~for my job, even when it has me gasping for breath as I race to serve the never-ending clients who wait for nutrition information and healthy foods for their families at Christmastime, and, even though it recently has me frustrated by a diminishing of what had once been a good relationship with my boss

~for a beautiful and loving family, even one that argues and fights their way through tumultuous teen years---and, in the midst of rage and tears, for the blessing of the Missionary Servants of the Holy Family who pray for my family and all families and who providentially reminded my family to begin a Novena in anticipation of the feast of the Holy Family on a night when the battles raged at their most fierce, then...

~for a son at the door after a fearful absence, and a father who embraced the prodigal with no words other than "Don't you know how much I love you?" followed by a penitent family gathered in prayer, asking for the blessings of the Holy Family upon them

~for a compassionate confessor and the glorious gift of absolution

~for the flicker and glow of Advent candles and the hush of a dark night with flakes of frosty snow descending from the heavens to dress our world in cold, white beauty

~for the renewing grace of Taize prayer in a silent, candle-lit church, as I sit between two dear, loving friends and ponder an icon of Mary and Jesus while the words of the psalms move through my soul

~for an annual Christmas card from my deeply-loved Archbishop Dolan; even though he has been gone from Milwaukee for several years and his life is beyond busy, he never fails to keep our family on his Christmas card list and we receive a gorgeous and prayerful card each year that always has the power to thrill me

~for Christmas cookies, fudge and wine :) No matter how determined I am to fast and abstain during Advent in preparation for Christmas, these treats always seem to comfort me at the end of a frazzled day

Won't you join in creating your own gratitude list?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Another Bumper Sticker Prayer

After I was enchanted and inspired by the "God Bless the Whole World" bumper sticker that I saw last week, I noticed another prayer on a bumper sticker as I was stuck in traffic a few days later. Now, I wasn't immediately enchanted by the prayer on the back of that car, in fact, my first reaction was to scoff when I noticed those familiar green and gold colors that are a part of the Wisconsin landscape during football season. Wisconsin is so over-the-top in Green Bay Packer mania and I am so NOT a football fan that I could have easily missed the beauty of the words "God Bless Green Bay." After all, I'm used to ridiculous requests for prayers regarding that football team. My husband and I used to roll our eyes at one another every Sunday as we entered church and would be greeted by the usher who always told us to "pray for the Packers!" But, considering that traffic was moving very slowly that morning, I had lots of time to ponder that prayer and I realized that God has definitely answered that intention in a huge and beautiful way.

I am sure that it is common knowledge that the diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin is the new home to a Marian Apparition that has been declared "worthy of belief" by Green Bay Bishop David Ricken, and so, regardless of the color of the bumper sticker, I will now be uttering a prayer of thanksgiving when I see those beautiful words on bumper stickers or anywhere else. I will be thanking God for blessing Green Bay and the whole world with a sign of hope and inspiration for all of those who who teach the faith as well as for those who are in need of something to believe in, by sending Our Lady of Good Help to Adele Brise with a loving and hopeful message. Miracles do happen. Saints are alive and well in our lifetime. And God is very present in our world, always calling us to a deeper faith and a deeper love with never-ending blessings, both big and small, not just for Green Bay, but indeed, for the whole world!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

God Bless Us, Everyone

I recently saw a bumper sticker which read, "God Bless the Whole World." I felt my face light up with a smile as I realized that I was reading the perfect prayer. After all, I sometimes feel as if I could spend hours listing all of my intentions before I even begin to pray: God bless the sick, the homeless, the lonely, the dying, my family, my friends, my enemies, my neighbors, my co-workers, the Church, my brothers and sisters in Christ, my brothers and sisters of all faith backgrounds, those with no faith, those who've asked me to pray for them, myself...Asking God to bless the whole world just covers them all and then some, doesn't it? And more than that, what we're really asking for with this simple prayer is for everyone to recognize that Christ is alive in each and every one of us, and if only we could see Him, could realize His presence in each person we meet, then God truly would be blessing the whole world.

I'm on a Caryll Houselander kick this Advent and the following passage speaks so poetically of the Christ Child in all of us...

"In some He is newly born.
In some He is a child.
In some He is homeless.
In some, He is ignored, unrecognized, mocked, betrayed.
In some He is hungry; in some He is naked; in some He is helpless.
Here are examples, but they are not exhaustive: indeed, they are only hints at the countless manifestations of Christ in man...

In many people Christ lives the life of the Host. Our life is a sacramental life. This Host life is like the Advent life, like the life of the Child in the womb, the Child in the swaddling bands, the Christ in the tomb. It is a life of dependence upon creatures, of silence and secrecy, of hidden light. It is the life of a prisoner.

The Host life may be lived in prisons: in prisons of war, in internment camps, in almshouses, hospitals, workhouses; by blind people, mental patients; in people who have to be wheeled about, washed, dressed and undressed by others; who are literally obliged to offer themselves to God in the hands of other people, like the Host in the priest's hands at the Mass."

~Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God

Just yesterday, I held the Host in my hands, not only at Mass, but at work as well: I was visiting with a mother and her one-month-old son in my office, signing them up for WIC (Women, Infants and Children) benefits so that the mother could have some formula for her baby and healthy food for herself. She had struggled unsuccessfully to breastfeed her baby and so resorted to feeding formula, but now, she was out of formula, and, showing me the empty baby bottle, said she didn't know what she would do without the help that WIC provides.

I took the baby bottle, washed it in the nearby sink and made a new bottle of formula for her so that she could feed her hungry baby while we talked. She went on to share her worries with me about her finances, and the fact that she had applied for cash assistance and food stamps from the State but has been waiting for six weeks and still has not had a response about whether or not she would qualify for the benefits. Being fairly new to this country (just like the Holy Family in Egypt) and not completely proficient in English, she was trying to figure out what her next step should be to provide for herself and her son. Now, she was out of money and out of food and was grateful for the assistance that WIC would provide.

As I looked through my resources to help her find the nearest agency that could help her with her concerns, I could see that she was anxious to finish her appointment with me, because instead of taking her son out of his car seat and holding him while she fed him, she simply left him strapped in his seat and held the bottle in his mouth. She confessed that she was in a hurry because she had a doctor appointment across town and didn't want to be late. But, baby was not enjoying being fed like this; he wanted the warmth of his mother's arms and the nearness of her heart while he ate.

So, she patiently unbuckled him from his seat, undressed him from his winter bunting, and began to feed him with love. Only he wasn't interested in eating just now, and he began to fidget and squirm. I offered to hold him while she looked over the list of resources that I offered her.

With my hand firmly on his bottom, and his little face nuzzling my shoulder, I gently patted the small of his back, and out came his undigested milk, all over my shoulder. Mom fussed and apologized, but I just had to smile. It had been a long time since I wore spit up on my shoulder! I remember reading a Mother's Day poem about a special place in heaven for mothers whose shoulders carry a faint fragrance of sour milk, and I felt honored as I realized that there had been another baby just like this one; a baby who was poor and cold and hungry; a baby whose overfull stomach most likely emptied its contents on His mother's shoulder many times...

"We know by faith that Christ is in our own family; it is He whom we foster in our children. When you tell your child a story, when you play a game with your little son, you tell a story, you play a game with the Christ Child...A woman too weary for articulate prayer will find that for her the best of all prayer is the unspoken act of faith in Christ in her children. When she knows that she is setting the table and baking the cake for the Christ Child, her soul will be at rest...

An old man whose love for his fellow creatures endeared him to them all confessed that whomever he met-before greeting him out loud-he greeted Christ within him in secret. Such a practice as that, begun darkly in faith, would soon teach us to believe, too, just as genuflecting before the tabernacle teaches babies to believe that God is 'in there.'"

~Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God

God is in that baby with the undigested milk, in the mother rushing about to appointments, and even in the nutritionist trying her best to serve and care for young, struggling mothers and their children. And, so I ask God to bless Himself in us, to help us carry His love to one another, to Himself who suffers so much from the burden of our sin. In this season of Advent as we prepare to give birth to God who gestates within each one of us, as we silently wait for Him to be born anew so that we can show Him to the world through our kind actions and our gentle love, I repeat the words of Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol and I ask Him to please, "God bless us, everyone-God bless the whole world."

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Digital Story of the Nativity

Frank at Why I Am Catholic just posted this after he found it on Fr. James Martin's Facebook page. He predicts that it will go viral. I agree!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Little Orphan Annie/Hands That Will Dip In Any Water

"I will never forget you, I will not leave you orphaned, I will never forget my own."
~from Isaiah 49

When my dad passed away four and a half years ago, I felt a bit orphaned. Although I was forty years old at the time, and had been without my mother since 1999, it wasn't until this time without my dad that I felt truly alone for the first time in my life. It was a strange feeling, and even now, it seems almost silly to write it out. Here I was, a grown woman with a husband and five children, perfectly capable of caring for myself and others, including helping to care for my parents in their last years. How can an adult be an orphan? Isn't that title reserved for little children who lose their parents? Yet, orphaned was a perfect word to describe how I felt in my loneliness for my parents, in my sorrow for my past mistakes and resentments toward them and in my lack of appreciation for all that they had done for me in my life. Why is it that we often fail to really see the love that we have been given until it is gone?

My Mother's Hands

"For years I have been haunted by a single line in an unpublished poem which seems to me to be very close to a definition of sanctity:
'Hands that will dip in any water." (an unpublished poem by Joan Bartlett)
I have seen the hands of a foster-mother chapped and bleeding from continually being dipped in hard water in frosty weather and have thought to myself that the stigmata are not, after all, reserved for a few rare mystics." ~Caryll Houselander
, The Passion of the Infant Christ

The above passage from Caryll Houselander gave me chills the first time I read it, and it continues to chill me each time I read it again. If this is the definition of sanctity, then I am certain that my own mother is in the Kingdom of Heaven with a halo upon her head. You see, for years after my father's diabetes and back injury left him unable to work, my mom supported our large family by working in a factory, a job she despised, yet took on due to necessity. Each day, she had to work with chemicals, dipping her bare hands in the solution which detrimentally affected her health for the rest of her days. The result of working with this chemical caused nerve damage that left my mother's hands with a constant painful burning sensation, and her hands were so swollen and without feeling that she could barely hold on to anything without dropping it. It was rare that she would be seen without an ice pack between her hands to bring a little comfort from the burning sensation. Despite visits to many specialists, it wasn't until the last few years of her life that the brain tumor that had resulted from the chemical nerve damage was found; it was the brain tumor that eventually took her life.

She dipped her hands in any water to support and love her family; to live her calling from God. It was those same hands that held and comforted me as an infant, that spanked me when I misbehaved, that soothed my fevered brow during many illnesses, that fingered countless rosaries during hours of prayer, that lovingly refinished antique furniture bringing it to a smooth and glossy sheen that I can never replicate no matter how hard I try, and that cooked and cleaned for my benefit and for the benefit of my eight brothers and sisters. She was without a doubt, a saint, and if anyone had ever questioned that fact, they had only to look at her swollen and pain-filled hands-her own form of stigmata- and they would know that these were the hands of a truly holy mother.

Today, I look for the stigmata of motherly love in many other hands, and I find it in the friendly wave of an elderly parishioner at the sign of peace, in the firm handshake of our pastor after Mass, in the gentle squeeze of my daughter when she's feeling loving, in the calloused hand of my husband as he works to fix up our old house, and in the nervous trembling of a first-time mother in my WIC Clinic as she hands me her newborn baby to hold. These hands are all signs of the continuation of my mother's love for me. These are hands that will know pain in one form or another, yet through the pain, they will bring love to the world around them.

The "hands that will dip in any water" are the hands of His love that will always surround me and will never leave me orphaned.

...To be continued...Little Orphan Annie/My Father's Eyes...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Read You to Sleep

Snow silently falls during dark of night leaving behind a shimmering, glistening blanket in the morning sun.

Out you go to cover yourself with that white wonder; rolling in it, sliding in it, building a friend of snow with Santa hat and stick arms, until you are completely worn out by the enchantment of cold and white.

After a hot dinner and a warm and fragrant bath, you curl up beside me, your head on my shoulder. I hold you close, your damp hair chilling me. I draw the blanket a bit tighter around us, and I read to you about your day...

"Snow falls, and once again the wonder of childhood is upon us. At first a few separate flakes float down slowly, one by one, then more, faster and faster, filling our eyes with dazzling, dancing whiteness. The movement is more mysterious because it is silent: dancing, wild dancing, with no sound, like voiceless singing! If it made even the tiny tap of hail it would seem to fall into our world, but the silence is absolute; it is we who are walking in another world, a world in which we are ghosts. The falling flakes touch our faces with unimaginable lightness and melt on the faint warmth of our blood, at once elusive and intimate." ~Caryll Houselander-The Passion of the Infant Christ

I feel a new heaviness in your head and hear a quiet rhythm to your breath. Glancing up from the book, I see your drooping eyelids succumbing to the peaceful words and the quiet love in my voice. You simply cannot stay awake for one...more...word.....

Sleep well, my dear, and dream of snow dancing all around you. Tomorrow we will read again of the glory of God's love for you in the joys of nature, in the beauty of life, and in the sweetness of friendships. Your whole life will be a never-ending story of the heavenly delights that await you as I read you to sleep.

Seven Quick Takes-Seven Quick Quotes

Another version of seven great quotes for my seven quick takes contribution:

1. "Nothing awakens our deepest feelings of terror like the experience of separation from love." Gary W. Moon~Falling for God

2. "An act of love that fails is just as much a part of the divine life as an act of love that succeeds; for love is measured by its own fullness, not by its reception." Harold Loukes

3. "Every vocation to the priesthood comes from the heart of God, but it goes through the heart of a mother." Pope Pius X

4. "But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls." Kahlil Gibran

5. "God takes our prayer or faithful gesture, whatever it is, and embraces it the way a parent takes a piece of artwork from a preschooler, fusses over its beauty and gives it a place of prominence on the refrigerator. And then God, like a good parent, does what is in the best interest of the child." Mark Neilsen

6. "No matter how far away you are from God, just turn around and God will come after you, because God is your Daddy and all Daddy's love their children. He will help you." Toby Mac

7. "There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness." Josh Billings

Visit Jennifer Fulwiler's Conversion Diary for more Seven Quick Takes

Thursday, December 9, 2010

"Teach Them What They Should Know"

I admit that I am a bit proud to learn that the newest approved Marian Shrine, the only one in the United States, happens to be in my own home state of Wisconsin. My parents were great travelers, visiting all of the worldwide shrines with the exception of Medjugorie-although I'm sure they would have gone there had the opportunity ever arisen, and although I can't be quite sure, I do remember talk about Robinsonville/Champion as I was growing up, especially since we lived in the Diocese of Green Bay, so I'm sure that they most likely have visited that site as well. Now, I am no world traveler, that's for sure. I've never stepped foot on an airplane and can count all of my out-of-state visits on one hand, but considering the close proximity to which I live to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, I am certain that a road trip is in the near future for me!

I am sure that you are not reading anything new here about the historic declaration by Bishop David Ricken that yesterday, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, he called the shrine in Champion, Wisconsin "worthy of belief" after all, it's been all over the internet at such well known sites as The Deacon's Bench, The National Catholic Register and one of my favorite homestate blogs, The Badger Catholic.

The message that the Queen of Heaven gave to Adele Brise was one about catechism and it fills me with joy and hope: “... Teach them what they should know for salvation … Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments …”

In a recent post, I complained about the struggles that my sons who attend Confirmation classes endure because of the misbehavior of other children who are in their classes. Yesterday morning, after Mass, our Youth Minister approached me and apologized because the latest session for the students who are juniors in high school and are preparing to be confirmed this year, was a total disaster. She said that as far as she can see, my son is the only boy in the entire junior class who has a sincere interest in receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation. It seems that one of the regular catechists was not able to be at the class, so our youth minister took her place for the evening. The boys in that particular group had our sweet youth minister in tears. They were verbally criticizing her and attacking her so that she didn't even have a chance to respond to their cruel comments. (Of course I had heard this whole story from my son, already.) She told me that she plans to call on our pastor to speak to these boys who have no interest whatsoever in learning about their faith. I embraced her and told her I would be praying for her and for all of the students, and offered her my assistance and willingness to come to the sessions and help to restore order.

My husband and I had an interesting discussion about it last night, and we both agreed that if it were up to us, we would be calling the parents of those boys and telling them that their sons are not ready to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation and were being dropped from the sessions with the option to re-enroll next year. Although I'm sure that would be met with today's all-too-common response of the families simply leaving the parish in disgust because they can't get their way for 'junior' who is absolutely perfect! Do I sound a little bitter? If so, I'm sure it's leftover remnants from the years when Paul and I taught Christian formation and saw firsthand how many parents want something for nothing-like they want someone else to teach their children about the faith, but they aren't willing to do any catechizing at home, and can't even be bothered to bring their children to Mass on Sunday.

This is the reason why this newest Marian Shrine has me feeling hopeful. Here is a message of the importance of knowing the catechism before receiving the sacraments. Here is someone to whom we can pray for intercession in our struggles to answer the call to teach our children in the ways of the faith. Thank you, Queen of Heaven, Our Lady of Good Help, for your maternal assistance in the work of teaching our children their catechism. Thank you for this new shrine that brings so much hope to weary parents and catechists alike! And thank you Bishop Ricken for holding this Shrine up as a beacon of light in the importance of education in the faith.

Now, when is Adele Brise going to be declared a saint?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Becoming Different

On this wonderful Marian Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, when many are consecrating themselves to Jesus through Mary, I thought it would be fitting to share something I learned from my own re-consecration last October. I was struck by the words of Fr. Don Hying, the day's presenter. He began by reading this passage from True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort:

"But who shall those servants, slaves and children of Mary be? They shall be the ministers of the Lord, who, like a burning fire, shall kindle the fire of divine love everywhere. They shall be 'like sharp arrows in the hand of the powerful' Mary to pierce her enemies. (Ps. 126:4). They shall be the sons of Levi, well purified by the fire of great tribulation, and closely adhering to God (1Cor. 6:17), who shall carry the gold of love in their heart, the incense of prayer in their spirit, and the myrrh of mortification in their body. They shall be everywhere the good odor of Jesus Christ to the poor and to the little, while at the same time, they shall be an odor of death to the great, to the rich and to the proud worldlings.

They shall be clouds thundering and flying through the air at the least breath of the Holy Spirit; who, detaching themselves from everything and troubling themselves about nothing, shall shower forth the rain of the Word of God and of life eternal. They shall thunder against sin; they shall storm against the world; they shall strike the devil and his crew; and they shall pierce through and through, for life or for death, with their two-edged sword of the Word of God (Eph. 6:17), all those to whom they shall be sent on the part of the Most High." ~paragraphs 56-57 True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort~

Then Fr. Don asked, "Are you ready? This passage is speaking about you. This is the job description of every Christian. To live this is going to cause trouble in your life. It will stir up difficulty; even those close to you will think you're off the deep end. In Hebrew, the word Holy is translated as 'different.' How different are you willing to become in following Jesus?"

My son, Joe, who used to feel the pain my past depression quite keenly, would notice that my tears flowed more freely after I underwent a conversion experience (he called it "turning into a Jesus Freak.") He often questioned why I would suffer so much when I had given my whole heart to the Lord. I found difficulty trying to offer him reassurance until I heard Fr. Don's talk last October. I also found help to respond to his question in the following quote from Caryll Houselander, one of my favorite authors:

"It is the favorite accusation of those who, for reasons of their own, are made uneasy by the sight of someone else's honest attempt to practice Faith, that to save one's own soul is a selfish, egocentric preoccupation which makes one introverted, censorious and withdrawn from other people. In reality the opposite is true. As Christ grows in the soul, suffering and the capacity for suffering increase in the life, and with it the desire to suffer grows, not because of any morbidity, such as masochism; but because if Christ increases, love increases; when the love of God increases, the desire to atone for sin increases, because the lover of man wishes to heal the wounds from which mankind is bleeding to death." ~Caryll Houselander, The Passion of the Infant Christ

So, to Joe, and to others who struggle with the meaning of suffering in the life of a Christian, I echo the words of Fr. Don: "Are you ready? How different are you willing to become in following Jesus?" Let's follow the example of our Blessed Mother and allow the capacity and desire for suffering to increase in our lives as a means of healing the wounds of mankind and of God.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

He Leads, They Follow

"Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, Carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care." ~Isaiah 40:11

Today's readings are terribly comforting. I can just picture a pastoral hillside in the early spring morning, dew clinging to the green, mists clearing away in the rays of bright sun, and a beautiful, caring man with tender yet work-worn hands, leading his beloved sheep in the way in which they should go. And with unfailing trust, they follow, knowing that he will never lead them astray.

But, what is even more comforting to me than the imaginary visuals I picture, is the fact that I have seen this image several times in real life, very recently.

He leads~ I received an email from one of my very dearest friends. She and another friend of hers were wondering if I knew of some local hours of adoration. After some recent discussions, they had decided that spending silent time with the Lord was just the boost that their spiritual lives needed. Adoration is something quite new to them and they wanted to give it a try, so I gladly shared some local adoration schedules with her. A few days later, my friend called me to report that her friend couldn't wait and had already gone to be alone with Jesus for an hour, and was hooked! She couldn't wait to go back, and the two of them had a date chosen in the coming days when they would attend together. A blessing! ~They follow

He leads~ Last Sunday as my family and I walked into church for the 7:30 AM Mass, I saw the sweet young teen who has asked me to be her confirmation sponsor. She was all alone, sitting near the back of church. My heart skipped a beat of joy as I embraced her and told her how happy I was to see her there. After Mass, she was working at a table, signing people up for an upcoming blood drive. It's so thrilling to see young people in action, living their faith, without any prompting from the adults in their lives, simply doing what they know in their hearts to be right and true. ~They follow

He leads~ A young woman who had lost her oldest daughter in a tragic car accident a few years ago contacted me recently. Our lives had connected through the power of the Holy Spirit with a simple poem. Since the time of her daughter's funeral, we had become email and facebook buddies, and finally, last summer, I had the honor of meeting her in person and offering her what little comfort could be given to one who continues to suffer so. Hearing her voice on the phone delivering the message she couldn't wait to share with me, was like listening to the voice of an angel. She wanted me to know that she was working on getting her life back together. She was in the process of making plans to have her two little children baptized, and, along with them, she herself wants to be baptized. She will be joining my parish and following through with the plans that God has for her life. ~They follow

Thank You, Jesus, my gentle shepherd, for allowing me to play a small part in the spiritual lives of these women who are longing for you. Perhaps I am the bell quietly ringing to let them know of your presence, maybe I am the fence that holds them together so they can't stray too far from your loving gaze or, perhaps, I am simply the silent witness, praying that You will always hold them close. No matter how You choose to use me, Lord, I thank You. But, most of all, I thank You for desiring and loving all of your little ones, and especially for loving me, the littlest one of all. Amen.

" is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.” Matthew 18:14

Friday, December 3, 2010

Ruby Slippers

I slip my red shoes upon my feet
but something just feels wrong
like Dorothy in Oz I know
that this is not where I belong

I want to click my heels
and slowly count to three
and let my scarlet shoes lead me
to where I long to be

far beyond this world
to that celestial heavenly dome
and with each step I take there
I'll know that I am Home

when I think about others
as I'm counting to three
I know that I am in
the best of company

I'm not the only one
wearing shoes of shiny red
for there are many others
including the Pope our head

If his shoes are red
while he walks this land
I know that my longing
is not a dream too grand

for he's waiting, too
and biding his time
with a yearning so real
to reach the end of the climb

yet, we're not alone
in our desire for God
for it belongs to many
though not all are ruby shod

Oh, Lord search within us
and see what's deep inside
a love that's so profound
it cannot be disguised

although all shoes might not be crimson
our love for You is real
please call us to your kingdom
where the bells of glory peel

There's no place like Home
There's no place like Home
There's no place like Home...

Seven Quick Takes-Seven Quick Quotes

It' s been a long, long time since I participated in any meme's on this blog. One that I particularly enjoyed doing was my own version of Jennifer Fulwiler's Conversion Diary Seven Quick Takes, not as a recap of my week, but rather, with a collection of some quotes that I particularly enjoy-some of them comforting and others challenging- and would like to share with others. So, here goes!

1. "Try to believe that life is in you like a seed, pushing, striving, struggling up to light. Instead of fighting yourself, let this seed of supernatural life fight it's way out through darkness, just as an ordinary seed fights up through the darkness and heaviness of the hard, frozen earth. First it has to sharpen its own green blade in the night and cut through the ground, or pierce the wood if it is a leaf on the tree, but suddenly it breaks into flower or leaf; and when it does that, it does not see its own beauty-the world outside it sees that; what it sees is the glorious sun that drew it up out of the darkness. Light. So too will it be with you; your soul, your mind will break into flower and you will find it is flowering in the midst of light, the light of Truth and Beauty and Life." Caryll Houselander: The Seed of Supernatural Life

2. "A mother is the most important person on earth. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any Cathedral-a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby's body." Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty (Think of how, even more so, this applies to our Blessed Mother, Mary.)

3. "The greatest grace God can give such a man is to send him to a trial he cannot bear with his own powers and then sustain him with His grace so he may endure to the end and be saved." Walter Ciszek: He Leadeth Me

4."Stop entertaining those vain fears. Remember it is not feeling which constitutes guilt but the consent to such feelings. Only the free will is capable of good or evil. But, when the will sighs under the trial of the tempter and does not will what is presented to it, there is not only no fault, there is virtue." St. Padre Pio (I find this to be incredibly comforting-don't you?)

5. "Contempt and persecution are blessed signs of divine favor, but there is no proof or sign of favor more beautiful than this: to pass unnoticed." Josemaria Escriva: The Way

6. "One sign that we are not in God's will is the experiencing of what we are doing as a burden." Monsignor Charles Pope

7. "It is very hard for love not to become possessive because our hearts look for perfect love and no human being is capable of that. Only God can offer perfect love." Henri Nouwen

Much to ponder here...I hope you found that at least one of these quotes struck a chord within the music of your heart and that you will feel prompted to ponder it as it becomes music to your soul.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

O Come, Let Us Adore Him!

(Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)

Our family pediatrician is an amazing man. He always supports parents in their difficult job by giving good advice to his little patients at every visit, such as:

"Always eat your vegetables."
"Make sure you wear your helmet every time you ride your bike."
"Get an hour of fresh air and exercise every day."
"Obey your parents the first time they tell you to do something."
"Do your homework and your chores right away."
and for the teens-"No dating until you're thirty!"

It's great for our kids to hear those words of healthy living from figures of authority other than parents once in a while, so I have always been very grateful to Dr. Andrew Swietlik for being a wonderful doctor, but now, I am grateful to him for so much more!

Recently, Karen Mahoney, a gifted writer for the Milwaukee Catholic Herald, wrote a story about the 25th anniversary of the perpetual Adoration Chapel at St. Mary's Parish in Elm Grove, WI. The accompanying picture on the front page of the paper featured Dr. Swietlik with three of his nine children. According to the story, Dr. Swietlik and his wife take their nine children to adoration every week, and sometimes, their children will attend on their own, encouraging their friends to go with them and spend some time with the Lord.

This was such a beautiful story that warmed my heart when I read it, but now, after I heard about a wonderful occurrence that came about because of this story, I find that my heart is not only warm, but on fire with a blaze that I hope will spread to many other hearts as well.

My niece, Jenny, has begun Eucharistic Adoration at her parish and it is offered there every Tuesday from 9am to 5pm. Ever since the Adoration program began, she had been asking the school principal to consider having the school children take part on a regular basis. She called me yesterday with the most exciting news. It seems that the principal of her parish school had read the story about Dr. Swietlik and his family and has decided that, yes, the entire student body of St. Mary's in Waukesha will now be attending Eucharistic Adoration as part of their school day at least once a month!

I don't think that when Dr. Swietlik and his wife began taking their family to adoration, they had any idea of what a great example they would be setting not only for their children but, for so many others as well. Isn't it amazing how God can take one person or family and their love in action for Him, and use it to attract so many others to follow suit? What can you do, or are already doing, that might attract others to join you in building their own relationship with God?

To read the Catholic Herald story in its entirety, visit this link.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Red in the Flower Bed Blog Tour

Andrea Nepa has written a book for children about the joys of inter-racial adoption based on her experience of having adopted a daughter from Vietnam. When Nicole at Tribute Books approached me about writing a review of “Red in the Flower Bed” and told me the subject matter of the book, I jumped at the chance. My sister and her husband had adopted two beautiful and amazing bi-racial children over 20 years ago and I have seen first hand both the struggles and the joys she experienced in raising children who look different from their parents.

The story line of “Red in the Flower Bed” was a very simple rhyme and the artwork consisted of a colorful scrapbook theme, which happens to be my favorite kind of art in children's books because it looks like something that children could create themselves.

The story follows a poppy seed as it falls from the center of the flower and floats away in the wind to find a home in a garden bed filled with a large variety of colorful flowers. What I especially loved about this story was that the subject matter was very subtle; if I hadn’t known ahead of time that this story was a portrayal of inter-racial adoption, I would not have picked up on the clues. So often children's books that are written to support a cause or to teach a lesson, up being technical and preachy and the children for whom they are written become disinterested, and the parents reading these type of books often dislike the story. However, “Red in the Flower Bed” was not preachy or technical at all, it was just a simple and charming story that both children and parents are bound to enjoy and could lead to many loving discussions about bi-racial adoption.

My thanks to Nicole for this opportunity to review “Red in the Flower Bed!”

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

St. Andrew's Christmas Novena

I'm usually a pretty big Scrooge this time of year. Maybe it's from hearing Christmas music blaring on the radio for an entire month already. Honestly, if I hear "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" one more time, I just may throw something at the radio! Or, maybe it's all the stress of decorating, baking, shopping and trying to stay within a budget (I never succeed!) But this year, for some unknown reason, I am feeling a bit more joyous. Maybe it's because I'm not pressuring myself to shop, bake cookies or decorate until it gets closer to Christmas. Maybe it's because I'm not forcing myself to send out Christmas cards. Could it possibly be because I have decided to make this Advent more prayerful, more quiet, more penitential?

I'm not sure, because although I had decided that this year I would forgo drinks and treats until Christmas, here I am eating a piece of my boss' store-bought birthday cake, while I salivate over the thought of how delicious my own homemade Walnut Mocha birthday cake, lovingly prepared by my husband on the 45th anniversary of my birth, will taste tomorrow. It's not even two days in to Advent and I have already caved to temptation with the anticipation of even more caving to come shortly. Sigh... But, I am not going to beat myself up about it. I am going to get back up on my donkey and continue the Advent ride, working to make my heart not just an empty space where Christ can be born, but a warm and inviting place where he will eagerly long to reside even more than I look forward to my birthday cake.

Although this glutton may frequently fail in her attempts to fast and abstain from goodies, I have the holy St. Andrew to thank for my success in making the season more prayerful. The reason I thank St. Andrew is because today, on his feast day, I begin the annual St. Andrew's Christmas Novena. It's one of my favorite prayerful traditions that goes back to my childhood days when my family and I would pray it after our evening rosary, from November 30th until Christmas Eve. The lovely words of the prayer make it so easy to conjure up an image in my mind of that cold and fearful night when our Lord was born.

Although it is promised that by repeating the prayer fifteen times each day, the one praying will obtain their request, I can only remember one time in my life that my intention was quickly and positively heard and answered, but what a glorious answer that was! It was back in 1990 when Operation Desert Storm had just been declared on November 29th. That year, I prayed for peace and a quick end to the conflict in which the United States had become involved. How thrilled I was that it was all over by February 27th, 1991, when President Bush called an end to the war! But I am sure that in many small and unknown ways, my St. Andrew's Novenas have been heard and relished by the Lord, whether or not I was aware of any answer.

Thank you, St. Andrew, for helping me to keep a spirit of Advent every year, even if it is only for the short time that it takes me to pray your novena!

St. Andrew's Christmas Novena

Hail, and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold. At that hour vouchsafe, O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires through the merits of our Savior, Jesus Christ and of His Blessed Mother. Amen.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Spiritual Christmas Crib

My family and I build a spiritual Christmas Crib each Advent. We begin our days by individually reading the plan for the day and then do our best to live it. At dinner time, after we light the Advent Wreath, we review the day's plan and share a discussion about how successful we were in our attempts to build part of Jesus' crib.


The following directions show you how to build a
spiritual crib in your heart for Christ.
Use it to put Christ into your Christmas in a real,
living way.

Start on December 1. Read the thought indicated
about Christ's first crib.
Practice it during the day. Do this daily during
December and make your heart a worthy crib for
Christ on Christmas Day.

Frequently during the day offer your heart to the
little Infant Jesus. Ask Him to make it His home. -
Sweet Jesus, take my heart and make it meek and

See that the roof of the stable is in good
condition, so that the Infant Jesus is protected
from rain and snow. This you will do by carefully
avoiding every uncharitable remark. --Jesus,
teach me to love my neighbor as myself.

Carefully stop every crevice in the walls of the
stable, so that the wind and cold may not enter
there. Guard your senses against temptations. Guard
especially your ears against sinful
conversations.--Jesus, help me to keep
temptations out of my heart.

Clean the cobwebs from your spiritual crib.
Diligently remove from your heart every
inordinate desire of being praised. Renew this
intention at least three times today. --My Jesus,
I want to please You in all I do today.

Build a fence about the crib of your heart by
keeping a strict watch over your eyes, especially
at prayer. --Sweet Jesus, I long to see You.

Fix the best and warmest corner of your heart
for the manger of Jesus. You will do so by
abstaining from what you like most in the line of
comfort and amusement. --Mary, use these
sacrifices to prepare my heart for Jesus in
Holy Communion.

Supply the manger of your heart with hay, by
overcoming all feelings of pride, anger or envy.
Jesus, teach me to know and correct my greatest

Provide your manger with soft straw by
performing little acts of mortification; for
instance, bear the cold without complaints; or sit
and stand erect. --Dear Jesus, Who suffered so
much for me, let me suffer for love of You.

Prepare these for the Divine Infant by folding
your hands when you pray, and praying slowly and
thoughtfully. --Jesus let me love you more and

Provide the manger with soft warm
blankets. Avoid harsh and angry words; be kind and
gentle to all. --Jesus, help me to be meek and
humble like You.

Bring fuel to the crib of Jesus. Give up your own
will; obey your superiors cheerfully and
promptly. --Jesus, let me do Your will in all

Bring fresh clean water to the crib. Avoid every
untruthful word and every deceitful act.
--Dearest Mary, obtain for me true contrition for
my sins.

Bring a supply of food to the crib. Deprive
yourself of some food at mealtime or candy as a
treat. --Jesus, be my strength and nourishment.

See that the crib has sufficient light. Be
neat and orderly about your person; keep
everything in its place in your room. --Jesus, be
the life and light of my soul.

Take care to have the crib of your heart warmed
by a cozy fire. Be grateful to God for the love He
has shown us in becoming man; behave with grateful
respect towards your parents and relatives. --
Jesus, how can I return Your love; how can I show
my gratitude to You?

Lead the ox to the crib. Obey cheerfully without
making excuses and without asking "why." --I will
obey for love of You, Jesus.

Bring the donkey to the crib. Offer to the Divine
Infant your bodily strength; use it in the service
of others. --Jesus, accept my service of love;
I offer it for those who do not love You.

Gather some presents for the Divine Infant and
His Blessed Mother. Give alms for the poor and say
an extra decade of the rosary. --Come, Jesus, to
accept my gifts and to take possession of my heart.

Strive to bring some little lambs, meek and
and patient. Do not murmer or complain.
--Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make
my heart like Yours.

Invite the shepherds to pay homage to our newborn
King. Imitate their watchfulness; stress in your
speech and thoughts the idea that Christmas is
important because Jesus will be born again in
Jesus, teach me to love You above all things.

Provide the stable with a key to keep out
thieves. Exclude from your heart every sinful
thought, every rash judgment --Dear Jesus, close
my heart to all that hurts you.

Invite the angels to adore God with you.
Cheerfully obey the inspirations of
your guardian angel and of your conscience. --
Holy Guardian Angel, never let me forget that You
are with me always.

Accompany Saint Joseph from door to door. Learn
from him silently and patiently to bear refusals
and disappointments. Open wide your heart and beg
Him to enter with the Blessed Virgin Mary.
--Saint Joseph, help me to prepare for a worthy
Christmas Communion.

Go meet your Blessed Mother. Lead her to the
manger of your heart and beg her to lay the
Divine Infant in it. Shorten your chats and
telephone conversations and spend more time today
thinking of Jesus and Mary and Joseph.
--Come, dear Jesus, Come; my heart belongs to You.

"Devotions in Preparation for the Coming of the
Christchild, and at the Crib, from Christmas to

by Rev. Frederic Nelson, published by Marian
House, Powers Lake, ND 58773