Saturday, August 27, 2011

Only the Lonely

I believe that loneliness is something essential to human nature; it can only be covered over, it can never actually go away. Loneliness is part of being human, because there is nothing in existence that can completely fulfill the needs of the human heart.

Sometimes it seems as if we do everything possible to avoid the painful confrontation with our basic human loneliness, and allow ourselves to be trapped by false gods promising immediate satisfaction and quick relief. But perhaps the painful awareness of loneliness is an invitation to transcend our limitations and look beyond the boundaries of our existence. The awareness of loneliness might be a gift we must protect and guard, because our loneliness reveals to us an inner emptiness that can be destructive when misunderstood, but filled with promise for him who can tolerate its sweet pain.

~Jean Vanier, Becoming Human

We have a "no cell phones" policy at the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Clinic where I work. We don't strictly enforce it, but the signs are posted in the hopes that when a client is called for her turn with the intake clerk, health screener or nutritionist, she'll be ready to give the WIC employee her full attention so the visit will move along quickly in respect to those whose appointments come after.

On a recent day as I was walking past the waiting room, I overheard a client carrying on a phone conversation that was peppered with vulgarities. The other clients in the waiting room were clearly disturbed by the foul language, especially since there are so many small children nearby. I stopped and reminded the client of the "no cell phones" policy and asked her to end her call.

Later that same day another client came into my office with her cell phone tucked between her ear and her shoulder while she juggled the baby in the her arms and the toddler by her side. She was telling her boyfriend that she needed to hang up because it was time for her appointment and then she began to beg him to call her back later. Her voice was a polite pleading strain that was rife with loneliness. I didn't have the heart to ask her to end her call and I waited while she completed her conversation. Listening to her speaking on the phone reminded me of my own loneliness.

I vividly remember those achingly lonely days at home when my children were babies and toddlers and I longed for some adult conversation. My favorite time of the day was 3:00 PM when Paul would walk in the door after a long day at work. Then, at last, I felt as if I had come to life, as if my day's purpose had finally been revealed to me in the person of my husband. Yet even with my husband by my side, my heart continued to feel lonely, my desires unfulfilled, my longing unquenchable. Little by little that longing turned to depression, a self-pity for something that I lacked although I had no idea what it could possibly be.

And now, even though I'm at work all day at a job I love, and my children are in school and my family arrives home before I do and are waiting there to greet me with smiles and warm embraces when I finally walk in the door, my days are still filled with longing and loneliness. No matter how busy and preoccupied I am with the tasks of life and the people with whom God has blessed me, it never seems to be enough, something is always missing.

Even with the wonderful blessings of a loving family, a meaningful job and a deep and rich faith, I can't help but carry a heaviness in my heart. I often stress and fret over what might be wrong and wonder about how I can ever find a lasting happiness in my life. My husband and children closely watch my face for signs of depression-any gloomy overcast appearance or the beginning of tears welling within my eyes and they are quick to worry and ask me what's wrong. Friends, too, ask me if I'm happy and I never quite know how to answer that question, I'm not quite sure what happiness feels like or if I've ever known it at all. There have been moments of joyfulness in life, most certainly, but underneath the joy there forever lurks a desperate want that can never seem to be satisfied.

But in reality, nothing is wrong and I am as happy as God has meant me to be. We are all lonely in this life and we deal with our loneliness through varied emotions-either with sorrow, giddiness or anger, or we hide it behind busy activities. God has placed a deep desire within each of our souls that can never be satisfied in this world. We are all working toward that glorious day of eternal union with Him and until that moment arrives, we can't help but hold an empty place in our hearts that only He can fill.

So I think back to the woman who had been swearing on the cell phone in the waiting room. Her behavior didn't draw out my pity; only my disdain. But perhaps I was wrong. Maybe what she really deserved was my compassion and patience, for her heart appeared to have been hardened by anger. Somewhere deep within her soul, there surely resides a loneliness, a longing for God, an emptiness that will not be filled by anyone or anything on earth, and she had buried it under a facade of bitterness and harsh words in the same way that I often mask my loneliness under the tears of depression, instead of peacefully accepting the natural longings of my human heart for my Creator. Perhaps when she finally escapes from the anger that controls her life, she will come to understand that she is simply lonely for God and she will understand that her loneliness will remain with her through every moment of each day in a restless desire for the only One who can satisfy.

"You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You."
~St. Augustine

Be Real For Me, God

Be real for me, God.
Let me see you
let me touch you
let me know you.

Be real for me, God.
Move out of my imaginings
and dreams and enter into
my every tangible moment.

Be real for me, God.
Be my only desire
be my only joy
be my only life.

Be real for me, God.
Step out of the painting
on my wall and stand
with me face to face.

Be real for me, God.
Let me forsake all
others and live for
You alone.

Be real for me, God.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bring It On, Father

"Every morning, we strive to say our fiat to the Lord. Bring your will on, Father, bring it on to me. Make me your courageous and generous servant!"
~Bishop Donald Hying

I'm looking back upon a time that had been spiritually challenging for me. I had worked myself into a worry-filled anxious knot, doing too much and struggling for control of my life instead of leaving it the hands of the Lord, trusting that He always knows what is best for me and will bring me through each and every trial that comes my way. Like a passenger in an airplane who panics at the loss of control, I kept reaching for the steering wheel of life, trying to point it in the direction I thought I should go instead of relaxing into faith, allowing the Pilot to do His job. The result of my lack of trust was many turbulent and tear-filled days of travel instead of a relaxing joy ride of life. I lay awake at night, panic searing through my veins, and walked through my days in a state of dread and near exhaustion.

I felt as if there was something I needed to do, something I actually could do, to plan upcoming events smoothly, to ease the pain in the lives of my friends who are suffering, to take charge of the actions of others, to control my children's behavior, to work out financial worries. I wanted every one to see that my way was the right way, that I had all the answers, that I was in control. I wanted to be God. But there is only one God and it will never be me.

It wasn't until I heard the words whispered through the internet -"Anne, you need to chill"- that I realized how annoying I had become. The fire of worry had gripped my heart and caused me to frantically try to control every detail of life, including those that were out of my grasp. I didn't know how to extinguish it, how to change and surrender to God's will for me. And so I prayed. And I waited. And I cried. And I prayed some more and the peace of humility gradually worked its way back into my soul. Little by little my prayers for peace allowed God to break the anxious spell to which I had succumbed and like a breath of Spirit-filled fresh air wafting though a breezy summer day, I let go of my need for control and leaned into a trusting faith in His love for me.

Like taking a mini-retreat, my weary soul is always refreshed with an early morning walk along the rocky shores of Lake Michigan, searching for those glistening sea glass treasures that I love. Just as I search through the rocks and the rubble on the lake shore with the goal of finding those now softened shards of glass, the Lord, too, searches through the rocks and rubble of my heart hoping to find the now softened organ of life that desires only to serve Him with complete trust and fidelity, to answer His call to serve Him by seeking out and obeying His will for me in all things, until once again I can say "Bring it on, Father, bring your will on to me. I am yours."

Monday, August 22, 2011


I'm certain that it's the little things in life that bring the most joy. I was looking ahead to this Sunday's readings and was so excited to see that the first reading is Jeremiah 20:7-9... and...I'm scheduled to lector at the 7:30 Mass!!! I know I've been posting a lot of videos lately which isn't really my style-I prefer to write- but I'm sure you would agree that this calls for a bit of celebration! So please enjoy Sara Groves take on this scripture passage at this link. Video courtesy of Julie Davis at Happy Catholic.


My family and I returned to Rock the Lakes at Veterans Park on Sunday afternoon for the close-out of the Franklin Graham Festival/Revival. God blessed the event with gorgeous weather and it was truly an enjoyable and uplifting occasion.

As we were walking from our car to the park where the event was held, the air was thick with dragonflies, in fact, they were a constant presence throughout the evening. It made me feel as if we were surrounded by angels flying through the air.

All throughout the weekend event, people were encouraged to send in text messages that ran across the screen. Many of the messages mentioned certain churches and pastors who might have been in the audience or to whom the audience members were connected. We were keenly feeling the fact that Catholics were in the minority at the revival, so my sons sent in plenty of messages like "Here's a shout-out from the Catholic Church!" and "St. Matthias Parish is in the house!" There's no doubt about it, we are a bit faith-proud!

When Franklin Graham finally took the stage, his talk was powerful. He mentioned specific sins like lying, stealing and murder. He said, "You might not believe it, but some of you here tonight have committed murder. Have you had an abortion? It's murder." Then he went on to share a story of a woman who held the sin of abortion in her heart for 20 years and once she came to Jesus and confessed that sin, her whole life changed, God broke her chains and healed her. He went on, "So you come. There is no sin that God can't forgive." And like the night before, the people moved forward to the counselors to confess the fact that they were sinners and wanted to give their lives over to Christ. They wanted to be saved.

For the evangelicals it seems to be just that easy. They don't have to mention their specific sins, they just have to admit that they are sinners and they believe that Jesus died for their sins and they will be guaranteed eternal life in heaven. It's a done deal.

Well, not quite, because we all know evangelical Christians are some of the most good and holy people around. Once they are saved and their lives are committed to Christ, they live that commitment. They pray and worship mightily, they serve others in need, they live upright and just lives as best they can. There's no doubt that upon their confession of sinfulness and profession of faith they walk the straight and narrow walk and bring Christ to the world and do all they can to bring others to Christ.

The headliner for last night's program was the one and only Michael W. Smith, probably one of the most successful Christian artists around, in fact, he was the reason why we came. People pay hundreds of dollars to see him in concert so when the opportunity arose to hear him play for free, well we couldn't pass it up. We were not disappointed. He was outstanding and easily moved our hearts with his music. Our hearts were so moved in fact, that towards the end of his performance, the emcee took the stage and started to pray and it was easy for us to join in.

He asked us to close our eyes, and if we had never known Christ but were ready to accept him into our hearts, we should raise our hand. And he said that if we had known Christ, but like the pharisees, our hearts had grown cold, our love for Christ had dimmed, we should raise our hands. At those words, my hand went in the air. I've been struggling in recent weeks with the feeling that I don't love Christ as I should but I never imagined that I would admit that publicly at a Christian revival.

So, everybody prayed together for those who didn't know Christ or whose love for Him had grown cold and then Michael W. Smith played one last song. As the song ended I was approached by a counselor who saw my hand in the air and she asked me if I was a Christian. As I was wearing a shirt that said "Living Christ Now" from St. Francis de Sales Seminary I thought it might have been obvious that I was, but I answered her question in the affirmative and she walked away from me. Another counselor questioned me as well and I told him that I raised my hand because my heart had grown cold. He also walked away. They weren't too interested in saving a fallen away brother or sister, only in finding those who had never seen the light in the first place. I suppose that just as there is only one baptism into Christianity, there is also only one saving into evangelical Christianity. Then I saw that counselors were questioning my daughter and two of my sons as well. We had all raised our hands! Because my eyes had been closed during the prayer (and probably much, much longer than that-I'm thinking for most of my life) I hadn't known that my children were suffering from cold hearts as well!

I don't know what John might have told the counselor who questioned him to gain the favor of his continued attention, but they quickly entered a quiet conversation. They shared scripture and a prayer and the counselor gave John a CD version of the bible and asked for some contact information so that he could follow-up on his save. Then he reached to hug John and said, "Welcome to the family!"

I'm grateful for this wonderful opportunity that my family and I had to spend some time with our fellow Christians in praise and worship, but even more grateful for what I learned at the end of the event. I learned that I'm not alone in my weakness and my desire to deepen my love for the Lord-my children struggle and want to grow closer to God as well. What a joy and a blessing it is to know that deep within our hearts, we all have a desire to enkindle those fires of love for Christ and to acknowledge the fact that we have been saved from our sins through our baptism but we still have a long way to go on our journey to heaven. But we don't have to make that journey alone. We are all in this together. My eyes have been opened. Praise the Lord!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

You Come

There's no doubt that my life is steeped in Catholicism, that my faith is embedded in my heart and I could never imagine practicing any other form of Christianity. Each day of my life I become more deeply involved with others in my community of Catholics and am drawn into a life of faith which shapes and defines me.

This weekend I had the great joy of participating in an evening with 13 other women who are all mothers of seminarians or high school and college students who are discerning a call to the priesthood through St. Francis de Sales Seminary. It was a beautiful occasion which was hosted by my friend Christi who prepared a lovely dinner for us. We had the opportunity to share our common love for the Church and for our sons and to brainstorm ideas about how we can keep the momentum going, to keep the fires burning brightly in the hearts of our children and to pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life for our Archdiocese.

I was equally blessed to spend a quiet afternoon with an elderly gentleman who had been instrumental in forming Roses for Our Lady thirty one years ago. Tony was grateful for the opportunity to share his memories of the early days of the organization and I was greatly impressed to learn about all of the work and great love that went in to building this lay apostolate that has withstood the test of time and has now become a major part of my life.

From the genteel ladies dinner and the quiet, reflective afternoon I then entered into an experience that was quite large scale and inspiring, but clearly out of my normal comfort zone of Catholicism. My children had been quite eager to attend a free event at Milwaukee's lakefront called Rock the Lakes. The program was organized by the Billy Graham Evangelical Association. I've watched Billy Graham's television crusades in the past, but to actually have the opportunity to experience it first hand under the guidance of his son, Franklin, was really something special.

We estimated that there were about 5000 people in attendance at the event along Milwaukee's beautiful shores of Lake Michigan and the crowd was definitely young. I couldn't help but compare this evangelical Christian event to Catholicism's World Youth Day, only on a much smaller and local scale. God is clearly calling the youth of our society and it's interesting to see it done in a massive way complete with bright lights, loud music and large crowds.

What enticed my children to want to attend the event were the Christian bands that were highlighted throughout the day. We listened to the bands The Afters, Lecrae, The Almost and the headliner, Skillet. I had never heard of any of these bands before but in my children's lives they are quite popular and by the end of the night, after listening to Skillet rock out complete with black outfits, dark make-up, loud screaming music and a light show that included fireworks on stage, I could see why my children were drawn to this event. It was a fun time and the music was great! But the purpose of the event held a deeper meaning than just having a good time, and the lyrics of the songs and the words of the artists were all meant to inspire a life of holiness and a love of God through the suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross.

In between each of the musical acts, Franklin Graham came on stage and his message was always the same...

"If God is speaking to your heart right now, I want you to come. You come. You come right up here and talk with one of our counselors. You may say, God knows I'm a sinner, I don't have to tell Him that; but God wants to hear you say it. You won't really be speaking with the counselor, you'll be speaking with God. It's called confession. You tell God that you are a sinner and that you are sorry for your sins. It's called repentance. God will forgive you. You come."

And the people came. Grace was overflowing as hundreds lined up to shake the cloud of sin that weighed heavy on their souls and to receive the knowledge that God loves them and forgives them. It really was a beautiful and moving thing to see. (The picture here is from this year's World Youth Day in Madrid.)

As we began the long walk back to our car at the end of the night, my children were discussing how much they enjoyed the event. Mary said, "I don't understand why they were confessing their sins to a counselor. It should have been a priest." My heart burned for joy at the wisdom of her words. She quickly caught on to the similarity of what was happening at Rock the Lakes to what happens in the quiet of the confessional within Catholic churches throughout the world each and every day. Yet there is a huge difference between the confession of sins that occurs at a public evangelical Christian event and the Sacrament of Reconciliation that is part of the life of Catholics. Without making satisfaction for our sins through penance our forgiveness can't be complete and so I feel more blessed than ever to be Catholic, to have the opportunity to confess my sins frequently and to hear the priest who acts "in persona Christi" utter those magnificent words of absolution:

"God the father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His son, has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of our sins. Through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

We are all being called, whether Catholic or not, to a deeper union with God, to turn our backs on sin, to repent and live a life of freedom in the shadow of the now empty cross which stands in the light of the Resurrected Christ. We are called to lives of prayer and service within the Church and within our communities, and it was only two simple yet powerful words spoken by Franklin Graham that brought hundreds of people to want to commit their lives to that call. You come.

You come.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Seven Quick Takes of Gratitude

I've been awfully ornery and irritable lately-a sign that I'm focusing too much on life's struggles and failing to appreciate the joys with which God has blessed me. I'm overdue for a little gratitude and so I'll share a list of seven things from this past week for which I am grateful. Seven items of gratitude are very little compared to the magnitude of the goodness of God, but from here I can only hope to move forward and continue to praise God for each and every blessing that He sends my way.

1. I signed my three oldest sons up for another year of high school this week. As we approached each station at the "forms and fees" day, the staff and volunteers never failed to comment on the fact that there are three Benders at the same school, each one a year apart, and they made sure to make us all feel uncomfortable for our family size. Those who have large families will know the scorn with which a mother of many children is held and will recognize the rude comments such as "Don't you know what causes that?" and "Haven't you ever heard of birth control?" as if having children were a disease. But one kind man who had been Joe's science teacher last year was equally amazed at the three oldest Bender boys, but, instead of looking at me judgmentally and asking me what on earth I was thinking when I gave birth to three boys three years in a row like the other staff members did, he said, "Well done Mom! What fine sons you have, especially if they are all as nice as this young man!" and he pointed to Joe. I proudly assured him that yes, they are all fine young men and thanked him for noticing. And of course, I thanked Joe for behaving in such a fashion so as to make the Bender name something of which to be proud!

I thank God for large families and for well-behaved children (at least in public-anyone who lives within ten blocks of my family will testify that my kids can misbehave with the best of them while in the comfort of their home!)

2. Our friend, Fr. Christopher Klusman, joined our family for dinner this week and then we all watched one of his favorite comedy movies. We couldn't help but notice the constant smile on his face during the entire show and it was easily contagious. We are all so proud of our dear Fr. Christopher here in Milwaukee-he is making great strides in the early days of his priesthood as he brings about hope and joy in Catholicism with his exuberant personality and deep faith. Check out this great story about him that was featured on the Deacon's Bench this week!

I thank God for new priests who joyfully spread the love of Christ.

3. How sweet it feels when my daughter holds my hand as we walk together. It's hard watching my children grow up and slowly lose their dependence upon me-but my daughter continues to need my love and affection and I will gladly offer it to her as long as she accepts it.

I thank God for the gift of motherhood and for being needed.

4. My family was blessed to enjoy a day away from work as we joined with our local Catholic Herald newspaper for a day of Brewers, Brats and Bishops. We relaxed at a tailgate party with about 300 people which was followed by a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game. The guests of honor were Archbishop Listecki and Bishop Hying. The tailgate and game happened to occur on Bishop Hying's 48th birthday. A favorite moment at the tailgate was when a fellow tailgater gave tea light candles to 48 people (including my family) and asked us to be the choir that would sing happy birthday to the Bishop while he was given a cake. After the song, Bishop Hying had to come to each 'choir member' and blow out his candles! It was a clever idea and fun to partake in! And yeah, the Brew Crew lost. Who said life is perfect?

I thank God for the time to relax with family and friends, and for the gift of a good and holy bishop.

5. We were blessed to be in the shade at the Brewer Game and I was most grateful for the frequent gentle breezes that came our way. The wind is a sweet reminder of the Holy Spirit and I could feel His love blowing my bad attitude from the past week right out of the ball park.

I thank God for the gifts of nature that remind me of His love.

6. It's a cliche, I know, but it's really true-confession is good for the soul. What a blessing it is to release our sins in the privacy of the confessional and receive sound advice, a practical penance and the wondrous gift of absolution.

I thank God for the healing of the soul that can only come from His gift of forgiveness.

7. Some of the greatest gifts I know are the bounties of nature. Our garden is overflowing with the late summer treats of zucchini, tomatoes and green beans. My favorite treat is toast with mayo and a slice of fresh tomato-I could eat it for every meal...and practically do! God is good!

I thank God for the home-grown goodness of healthy food.

Although I am greatly blessed in life, I know that I will continue to fall into my old habits of ingratitude again and again. I will lose my patience and my temper over little insignificant things. I will get on the nerves of my family and friends. I will make a fool of myself and will have to deal with the consequences of my actions. I will forget about the goodness of God. But I know that God will love me-even if I fail to love Him-He will love me beyond my wildest imaginings, beyond anything I could ever deserve; and He will show that love to me through my family, my friends, nature and the Church. Yes, life is hard and I struggle through it with many mistakes and faults, but I have so much for which to thank God who loves me and embraces me and accepts me as I am. And so do you. Let's continue on this journey of life with praise for God beyond the count of seven.

Joining with Jennifer Fulwiler at Conversion Diary.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Tale of Wildflowers

“Wildflowers don’t move to find the sun’s rays.”
Abbot Christian, Of Gods and Men

Last winter when the movie Of Gods and Men first came to the theater, I longed to see it but never had the opportunity; one thing or another always took precedence to a night at the movies. Then, when it was released on DVD this summer, I couldn’t find a copy of it at any of my neighborhood video stores. It was my treasured Salzmann Library at St. Francis de Sales Seminary to the rescue! While browsing for books I glanced at the “new items” bookshelf and found the long sought after DVD in the corner as if it were a hidden gift from God waiting for me to notice it there. Watching it proved to be well worth the wait!

Continue reading my review here, please.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Angels Are With You

When I arrived home from my pilgrimage to Our Lady of Good Help Shrine last Sunday, I was greeted by my husband and sons with loving embraces, but I was also greeted with several urgent messages. It seemed that I had missed a few important phone calls and emails while I was gone and they all pertained to the same news: a man named George had passed away, and although I knew the name, I had never met George in person. But now, through the mysterious workings of God, I have been brought to friendship with George through his death.

George was a founding member and current trustee of Roses for Our Lady , the lay apostolate for which I had become president last January. In the few months that I have been associated with Roses, I had never met George, because he had been very ill with heart disease and was confined to his home. All of the messages that were waiting for me when I came home from my pilgrimage were asking me to spread the word, to let others know that George had passed into eternal life. The message I received from his wife, Carol, was especially touching:

"...on Wednesday George had a massive heart attack. At first there was some hope but by morning we knew how serious it was. Fr. John Burns blessed him and gave him all of the rites of the Church. Friday, with his mother, all of our children, and myself praying the rosary and his favorite prayers, he very peacefully drifted off. We are sad but the beautiful gentleness with which Jesus called him to Himself was a blessing to all of us."

So I gladly honored Carol's request to spread the word and was pleased that there was a good representation of Roses for Our Lady members at his funeral where we were blessed to lead the rosary before Mass. During the three hours that I my son John and I (my children rarely allow me to leave the house unchaperoned) were at the funeral, I quickly came to realize that George was a beautiful and holy family man.

During his funeral homily, the priest mentioned that George would greet his children each morning by telling them who the saint of the day was. I just had to smile, realizing that I share this very same habit (and here I give a nod to the saint of the day, one of my favorites, St. Jane de Chantal.) After the Mass one of his daughters shared some touching stories about George's life. She mentioned that he would always remind his children that the angels were with them, and as she finished her remarks she looked to heaven and told the angels and saints that they were very lucky to have George there with them now and then she told everyone gathered in the church that the angels were with us. Down came the tears...from my eyes, anyway. And then the beautiful sounds of the organ and violin playing the Ave Maria gave everyone a chance to recollect their composure and focus on the Blessed Mother to whom George was deeply devoted.

I may never have met George in this life, but I know that I would have liked him very much and would have considered him to have been a dear friend. I believe that in the Communion of Saints I've now got one more saint praying for me as I pray for him and we are united in the friendship of our angels who are always with us.

The messages that were on his remembrance card and order of worship were:

George wished his epitaph to read: "I want to be remembered as the man who taught my children how to pray,"

and "George sincerely loved Jesus and Mary with all of his heart and had a special devotion to the angels and saints. He prayed daily for the souls in purgatory. Please honor him by praying for him."

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May George's soul and all of the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Who, Me, A Patron Saint?

My sweet friend Mary at The Beautiful Gate has cast lots for a MEME and my name came up in her list of five bloggers to tag.

The rules of this MEME are as follows:

"Assuming you are a saint, and your cause has been executed, your miracles confirmed, your date on the calendar established, all that is required is to select that of which Holy Mother Church will name you Patron (ess) of.

For this meme, you must name your patronage
and then tag 5 other people who would like to play along.

Linking your answer to your nominator's post would make it easier to get your answers."

This all sounds a bit tricky because first of all, you have to be holy enough to make it to heaven and then you have to have done something meaningful enough in your life to inspire others to turn to you in prayer. Mary herself has thought that she would be made the patron saint of those suffering from depression and anxiety and knowing that she has already offered much prayer for me regarding those issues, I'm sure she would make a great patron saint for those who suffer from those afflictions.

I thought about all of the things that are near and dear to my heart like praying for priests and vocations, caring for my family, searching for sea glass, leading Marian Devotion in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee with Roses for Our Lady, making jelly, gathering with my sisters in prayer, writing this blog-there's so much to choose from and so many groups which already have a fabulous patron saint upon which I could never improve (thinking of St. John Vianney here as the patron of priests.) So here's my best shot...

Although the poor have a fabulous patron in St. Vincent de Paul, and a great champion in St. Lawrence whose feast is today, my life's work focuses on a particular section of the poor, that is, young mothers who live in poverty. For the past fifteen years I have spent my working days as a nutritionist for the WIC Program (Women, Infants and Children) where I counsel young mothers about nutritional care for themselves and their young children. I see women who suffer terribly from the effects of poverty and who struggle due to abusive relationships, a promiscuous society, lack of faith, mental and physical illness, drug abuse and so much more. They often wonder where the next meal will come from, they worry about what kinds of friends their children will associate with, they have so much to learn about basic health issues and parenting concerns.

For example, just yesterday I met a young mother of two children who had no place of her own to call home. She was living with friends but would have to move out shortly. I gave her a list of homeless shelters to contact but wished I could have taken her by the hand and led her to a home of her own. As she left my office with the list of shelters in her hand she said how she hated the very thought of staying at a homeless shelter and I assured her of my prayers. My words at the time felt so empty and useless but as I follow through with prayer for her I know that God will see to it that all of her needs are met and He will lovingly carry her through her struggles.

I also met with a pregnant mother who, at the age of 24, already has two lively toddlers and has suffered through a miscarriage and two abortions. Offering my words of sympathy for her losses feels so hollow, but I trust that God will comfort her and lead her to value the life growing within her and to bring that baby to a safe and healthy start in life.

I visit with mothers who are homeless, hungry, tired, overworked and stressed. I see mothers who work and are sorrowful about leaving their children in daycare and mothers who can't find work and aren't able to provide for their children and that causes sorrow as well. These mothers have a lot to worry about! But what carries them through each stressful day is always the great love that they have for their children and the desire to give them the very best life possible.

I can relate to so many of the women that I see each day. So many of their worries are my worries, too. I also fret about finances, the health, education and social lives of my children, and the burdens of caring for my family in a society that makes family life a low priority. I carry all of my stress to the Lord in prayer each day and I bring my clients to Him in my prayer as well. We are all in this difficult life of motherhood together!

So, I pray that the Lord finds me worthy enough of sainthood one day and if I am ever to enjoy the glories of heaven, I would spend that time praying in intercession for young mothers whose lives are weighed down by the burden of financial poverty and all of the problems that surround that particular lot in life. May the Lord grant me the grace of one day becoming the Patron Saint of young mothers who live in poverty.

The rules of this MEME require that after acknowledging the MEME source, (Mary) and having written about which group of people would turn to me for prayer upon my death, I must pass this MEME on to five other bloggers and they are:

Karen at Write 2 the Point
Colleen at Inadequate Disciple
Tiffany at Family at the Foot of the Cross
Esther at A Catholic Mom in Hawaii
Patricia at I Want to See God (you'll want to slow down here and read Patricia's blog post "An Unpetalled Rose" it's gorgeous!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Come Down From Your Tree

“Things were in God's plan which I had not planned at all. I am coming to the living faith and conviction that - from God's point of view - there is no chance and that the whole of my life, down to every detail, has been mapped out in God's divine providence and makes complete and perfect sense in God's all-seeing eyes.”
~St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Grief and Worry

When God reached down from heaven and chose my friend and spiritual director, Fr. Don Hying, to be the next auxiliary Bishop for Milwaukee, my heart grieved. Although I was ecstatic with joy for him and for the Church, I was despairing for myself and what I was sure would be a terrible loss in my life. I envisioned a bleak future without monthly spiritual direction visits to share my faith with him,frequent emails to hash out the details of life, occasional dinners at my home to share the joys of family living, and the steady presence of his spiritual leadership for Roses for Our Lady, the lay apostolate which he asked me to lead less than a year ago. I felt lost.

The day after his ordination, when my family and I were greeting him after his Mass of Thanksgiving, my daughter Mary asked him when he would come for dinner again and he joked, "How about tomorrow?" And then asked me to send him a list of dates from which he could choose a time to come visit my family and I. Ever the impatient one, when I didn't quickly hear back from him I was sure that my negative prophecy was already coming true.

Then I found out that he would not be available to lead Roses for Our Lady at our upcoming Mass in honor of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Mass that he had been instrumental in helping to plan, because he would be in Rome learning the ropes of episcopacy. I was crushed and let him know my disappointment and worry with a whining complaint. But he didn't let that faze him at all. He apologized for the scheduling conflict and offered to find another priest to celebrate the Mass. I treated him with disrespect and he returned my moodiness with love. And then he really floored me...


That night my family and I were relaxing at home when the sky turned an eerie shade of yellow and the rain began to fall. Everyone was rushing about to close the windows in the house and tempers were flaring among the teens. The boys were shouting, the television was blaring, the fans were running and into the chaos walked my son Jack with the phone in his hand. "Mom," he whispered, "It's Bishop Hying." Slowly, I took the phone from Jack's hand and heard "Hi Anne, it's Fr. Don and I'm wondering if tomorrow might be a good time for me to come for dinner." I thought he was joking. He wasn't.

“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” Luke 19:6

I immediately thought of Zacchaeus in his tree and noted how my life is a lot like his had been, in other words, I sin and God loves me anyway and then leaves me wanting to follow his example, to cast my sins to yesterday and embrace the life of Christ.

There I sat in my tree of pride and fear but he did not rebuke me or judge me. Instead he spoke words to me that were both loving and gentle. He said, "Everything will be OK. I want to come to your house for dinner." I forever resort to sin and he forever returns my wickedness with nothing but love.

The following evening Bishop Hying joined my family and I for a simple dinner of the boy's choosing, pizza (of course,) and Mary's effort to class the meal up with her own Caprese Salad on a Stick (it is State Fair time, after all.) Dinner was followed by Bishop Hying's favorite childhood dessert which was often lovingly prepared by his mother, Ice Cream Sundae Pie, which we have now renamed Bishop's Pie. (Recipe at the end of this post.) Bishop Hying lingered long over a game of Monopoly and included a little teasing about stories I should write for this blog, much to the delight of my husband and children for whom teasing this writer seems to be a favorite pasttime. And all too soon it was time for him to leave. It was a beautiful evening followed by a beautiful dream...

The Dream

"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." ~St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

I was sitting with a friend in a church basement where Bishop Hying was speaking. My friend was complaining to me that she didn't like Holy Hours and didn't see the point of them. My heart was broken at her words and I wanted to share my heartbreak with Bishop Hying in the hopes that he would offer me some words of comfort, but there were always so many people around him that I didn't get a chance to speak with him. I followed him outside where there was a big pro-life rally taking place and he was leading it.

After the rally, I finally had a chance to speak with him and he hugged me to let me know it would be OK. Then I was walking with him to his car. He was pulling a red wagon with brown paper lunch bags in it. He asked me to pull the wagon for him and then he began walking so fast that I couldn't keep up. People started pulling on the wagon from behind and when I turned around there were many homeless people taking the bags out of the wagon. The bags were filled with food and everyone was eating. When I turned around again Bishop Hying was gone and I never found him again.

I awoke to a feeling of great peace. I am certain that this dream was a message of loving assurance from God with this meaning: Whenever I am sorrowful and need someone to talk to, I might have to be patient and wait a while, but Bishop Hying will always be there for me and will always care about me. But, his real purpose in my life is to teach me to do good for others. And now it's time to let him go so that he can fulfull God's purpose for his life, while I am meant to continue to follow his example of loving service to others.

Bishop's Pie


1/4 c. corn syrup
2 tbsp. brown sugar
3 tbsp. butter
1/4 c. peanut butter
2 1/2 c. Rice Krispies


1/4 c. peanut butter
1/4 c. chocolate syrup
3 tbsp. corn syrup

1 qt. vanilla ice cream

Combine first 3 ingredients in saucepan. Cook over low heat until mix begins to boil. Remove from heat, add 1/4 cup peanut butter and Rice Krispies. Press into 9" pie pan for crust. Stir next 3 ingredients together. Spread 1/2 mix over crust. Freeze until firm. Soften ice cream slightly and spoon over crust. Freeze until firm. Allow to stand 10 minutes before serving. Warm remaining peanut butter mix and drizzle on top.

~Written with gratitude to St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross whose feast day is today and who is my companion saint for 2011. St. Teresa Benedicta's example of opening herself to God's will in all things and giving herself entirely to Him is one which Bishop Hying follows expertly and it is this openness to God's will upon which I long to model my own life. May we all be blessed by His deep and abiding love as we come down from our trees of sin to walk on the solid ground of faith.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Catholic Heroes on TV

On Monday morning as I was performing my usual multitasking at the gym-running on the machine of torture while listening to upbeat music on the MP3 player, while reading a spiritual book, while glancing at EWTN on the television that is connected to the elliptical machine-I noticed that Archbishop Dolan was a guest on Fr. Benedict Groeschel's program. Quick as quick could be, I unplugged the music and stuck the headphones into the television outlet.

Archbishop Dolan was speaking about his three beautiful nieces who were all getting married this summer and mentioned that he is the proud uncle to twelve nieces and one nephew, Patrick, who is four years old and is already a priest. "Yeah, I ordained him at his baptism," he quipped. Although the topic of the program was quite serious about the valiant battle that Archbishop Dolan is waging to preserve the sanctity of marriage from those who would redefine it to include same-sex marriages, I know that I must have had a goofy smile on my face during my entire workout and even must have laughed out loud several times. I noticed that my son Joe, my workout partner, was doing all he could to avoid me, the embarrassing mother.

After my workout, I asked Joe if he could guess who was on TV that was causing me to smile so much and his answers were proof to me that he clearly understands that the things and people that I care most about in this life are those that bring me closer to God. His first guess was Roses for Our Lady, followed by Bishop Hying. Both worthy guesses, both would have made me happy beyond words, but I told him to think a bit more globally and so his next guess was the Pope. When I told him it was someone just a little less important than the Pope he hit the nail on the head with Archbishop Dolan. Oh, how I love that guy!

My favorite line of the show came when Fr. Benedict mentioned that he knows this battle will drag on for many years to come and because of his advanced age, he's sure that he will have to continue it from purgatory. He said that he knows that many people don't believe in purgatory anymore, but he still does because he lives in New Jersey. Funnier still was Archbishop Dolan's speedy comeback: "I believe in purgatory, too. I watch your program!!!" And, for the first time ever, I was sorry to end my workout; I would have gladly continued running that morning race just for the joy of listening to one of my spiritual heroes share his efforts to bring the world to holiness.

But I have another hero whom I am equally eager to watch on television. My dear friend, Fr. Christopher Klusman, will be featured on a 30 minute program called "Hearing God," which will be aired on Sunday, August 14 at 2 pm on WISN-TV 12 (Milwaukee.) It is a documentary by Bob Dolan (Archbishop Dolan's brother)of Dolan Productions, LLC. According to Fr. Christopher, the program features the last part of his seminary studies at St. Francis de Sales Seminary, his Ordination to the Priesthood, his Mass of Thanksgiving, and a few things he did ministry-wise at his 2 new part-time assignments as a new priest. Tune in if you are able! It's sure to be wonderfully heart-warming!

Transfiguration Prayer

Early morning mist rises
upon still waters
leaving behind a crystal clear reflection.

Transfigure me, O Lord,
into a crystal clear reflection of You.
I want to become a lake of Love.

(This is the morning view I saw on the Feast of the Transfiguration. It was taken from my sister's cottage where we stayed during our pilgrimage to Our Lady of Good Help Shrine.)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

It Is Good That We Are Here

"To take time in one's life for a holy journey helps us remember the truth about who we are and where we are going. It helps us think about what is above, to rediscover what it means to be free, rational and spiritual creatures." ~Dr. Anthony Lilles, Beginning to Pray

Last Saturday, on the Feast of the Transfiguration, I made a pilgrimage with my sisters, nieces, and daughter to Our Lady of Good Help Shrine in Champion, WI. I often bemoan the fact that I can count my travels on one hand and have never been on an airplane. I also frequently lament that I have never been and probably never will be able to visit Lourdes, Fatima or Guadalupe. So it's an incredible thrill for me to have had the privilege and honor to visit an approved Marian Apparition that is within driving distance of my home. God has greatly blessed the state of Wisconsin with the visit of the Blessed Mother to Sister Adele Brise in 1859 and has greatly blessed me with the opportunity to visit this holy ground.

I am on a Divine Mercy Prayer Chain list and the night before the girls and I left for our pilgrimage I was surprised to open my Divine Mercy Prayer Chain email and find this prayer request:

"For my sisters and I as we pilgrimage to Our Lady of Good Help Shrine."

Was this a coincidence? How many other groups of sisters were planning a pilgrimage on the same date, I wondered? It turns out that my sister Cindy is part of the same prayer chain and she was the one who sent in the request. Whew! This world would be far too crazy with two groups of sisters visiting the same shrine on the same day, wouldn't it? I'm sure my sisters and I were enough for the shrine to handle on one day!

While I had been reading up about the shrine in preparation for our trip, I noticed that there are quite a few groups of pilgrims who have walked on foot from as far as 150 miles away to visit the shrine. How I would have loved to make a pilgrimage like that! But my sisters decided that it would be enough suffering and sacrifice if I would chauffeur the 100 mile drive in my beat up non air conditioned 2001 Pontiac Montana. My seriously lousy driving skills offered us many opportunities for prayer along the way.

We arrived at the shrine just in time for the 8 AM Mass on the First Saturday of the Month which also happened to be the Feast of the Transfiguration. The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help is nestled deep in farm country and as we walked into the chapel we were greeted by the sound of a crowing rooster from a nearby farm. My thoughts turned to St. Peter and his denial of Christ. But it was the words he spoke at the Transfiguration of Christ that resounded in my heart, "Lord, it is good that we are here," and that became my prayer of gratitude for having safely arrived at our destination.

After hearing so much about busloads of pilgrims coming from all around the world, I was a bit disappointed that although we were exactly on time for Mass, the chapel was not at all packed, in fact, our group of ten women and girls all found seats near the front. The chapel has recently been placed in the care of the Fathers of Mercy, and the young chaplain, Fr. Jewel Aytona, CPM, who was just ordained in June, 2011, said the Mass. I have never in my life seen more reverence at any Mass that I have ever attended. During his homily, he focused on the gospel quote: "This is my beloved Son, listen to Him." In particular he focused on listening to God during the consecration. He said, "When the priest prays the words of consecration, he speaks in the first person...This is MY body, This is MY blood." And later, during the consecration, Fr. Jewel held the body and blood of the Lord in the air for all to adore Him for the longest time I have ever seen Jesus' body and blood elevated anywhere by any priest. It was beautiful!

After Mass we prayed the rosary while we stood in line for confession for over an hour. The length of our time in line was a sign that the crowd of pilgrims was becoming larger as the day progressed. The wait was well worth it and I was sure to offer a prayer of gratitude for the priest who listened to confessions in the stifling hot confessional, for there was a man who truly suffered for his faith! The crypt where Mary appeared to Adele Brise was even warmer than the confessional, but the warmest part of all was the feeling of great love that hung heavy in the air. It was easy to feel the love of the Blessed Mother for all of the pilgrims visiting her on the First Saturday of the month, the day dedicated to her Immaculate Heart.

On the side of the altar, there was a little shrine with the statue of Our Lady of Good Help and it was noted that this was a replacement statue as the original one that was given to Adele Brise had been destroyed by fire. A monstrance contained pieces of the two trees, a maple and a hemlock, between which the Blessed Mother appeared to Adele, and a reliquary held a relic of the veil which belonged to the Blessed Mother. This was my favorite part of the shrine; I could have prayed there for hours!

Although our visit ended far too quickly, the blessings continue as my sisters and I will begin our 33 day preparation to renew our Consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary on the Feast of the Nativity of her birth. I eagerly anticipate another trip to this lovely little piece of heaven on earth that is so close to my home that I could easily become a frequent visitor. I know that there are many more riches of faith to discover as I delve ever more deeply into the wonders of a Marian apparition in my own home state.

Prayer to Our Lady of Good Help

Our Lady of Good Help, Mother of God, Mother of Jesus, and Mother of the Church, it is with confidence in Thy tender mercy that we place our petitions before Thee as intercessor to Thy Divine Son. Resting our hope confidently in Thy Immaculate Heart to obtain for us that which will give glory to Thine only-begotten Son, we thank Thee.

O Queen of Heaven, as Thou didst ask Sister Adele to teach the children the holy catechism, so also teach us how to make the Heart of Jesus reign and triumph in us and around us, as it has reigned and triumphed in Thee. Reign over us, dearest Queen, that we may be Thine in prosperity and in adversity, in joy and in sorrow, in health and in sickness, in life and in death. Amen.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Celebrating Longevity and Faithfulness

"The Mass is the most important work of the day."
Servant of God, Dorothy Day

Last weekend my family and I were invited to dinner at the house of some friends of ours from church. They had also invited our former associate pastor who had been reassigned to another parish last month. Someone was asking Fr. Dennis what he most missed about St. Matthias Parish and he responded with two things: he missed the weekly all-school Mass where he had the opportunity to teach the Catholic faith to the children and he missed all of the beautiful people who attend daily Mass. As a daily Mass attendee, the second part of his answer touched me deeply.

I have never in my life met so many wonderful, thoughtful and kind people as those who attend the daily 7 AM Mass. From those who commit themselves to help at Mass as altar servers and extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist and lectors to those who fill the pews day by day with their physical presence and fill the church with their prayers, the daily Mass crowd is a group of loving and lovable people. It's a rare day when I don't leave church without a hug or a compliment from one of the sweet grandmotherly types who frequent the Mass or find a little gift (usually some type of food treat for my family) waiting for me in my pew when I arrive.

Today happened to be a very special day and Fr. Dan announced at the beginning of Mass that not only were we celebrating the Feast of St. John Vianney, but we were also celebrating the birthday of one of the daily Mass attendees. Charlotte was rejoicing in 97 years on this earth and everyone at Mass was filled with anticipation for this day. A card had been circulating before and after Mass for the past week so that every one could wish her well on her special day and after Mass Sister Doris played Happy Birthday with a verse of "May the Dear Lord Bless You" added to the end. Everyone sang with joy for the woman who has graced us with her loving and prayerful presence for so many years. Then some members of the parish staff arrived with donuts in the outer hallway for a celebratory treat. Sweet Charlotte is a daily Mass celebrity!

A Prayer for the Daily Mass Crowd

My Jesus, as I sit with my children in the back pew of the church, I look upon all of my fellow churchgoers. Although they are much older than me and my family,they seem to have a youthful spirit about themselves. Their bodies may be feeling the aches and pains of old age, but their eyes betray their bodies. For in their eyes a sparkle exists that spreads into a smile covering their entire faces. Those sparkling eyes speak of knowledge and wisdom and maturity which only comes from endurance through trials and challenges. The men and women at daily Mass represent faithfulness and constancy in all circumstances. No matter what happens in their lives,they keep coming back to God. Their wisdom and love attract me and open a desire in my heart to follow in their paths.

We are one as we kneel and pray. We are one as we silently adore the uplifted Host. We are one as we wave to each another in a gesture of peace. Although I am many years their junior, they accept me and fold me into their circle of friendship. Some share their life stories with me. Others share gifts for my children. Some, whose names I don’t know,simply share this daily time of prayer with me. That is more than enough. Lord, I pray for these men and women because I love them so and I love how much they love you. Amen.

"Put all the good works in the world against one Holy Mass; They will be as a grain of sand beside a mountain"
Saint John Vianney

St. John Vianney, pray for us!

(the prayer is a re-post from the archives in honor of Charlotte and in admiration of the wonderful example she sets in her faithfulness in prayer.)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

In the Thorns

My daughter Mary and I were picking blackberries in our backyard garden. Those berries were big and juicy, delightful to both the eyes and the taste buds; but we suffered as we picked them because we couldn't reach them without being pricked by the thorns. As we left the garden with our bowls and tummies full of berries we also carried with us the marks of scratches on our arms and legs from those thorns; painful marks, but well worth the gift of blackberries.

In these dog days of summer my temper is as steamy as the weather; everything irritates me and I know the reason why: I lack love. I get so preoccupied with the thorns in my path that I fail to see the beauty of the berries growing through the instruments of pain, I fail to see the love of God that rises through the sorrows of life...and I fail to love Him in return. I lack gratitude and joy because I have become wrapped in self instead of in Him.

My husband has been reading the book by Fr. Larry Richard's, Be a Man, and I recently borrowed it from his dresser and read it myself, carefully of course, so that nobody would see the title and think me strange (which would be true, just not that strange.) It is an amazing and life changing book. The one theme that I took to heart upon reading the book is that the most important thing a man (or woman) can do to become holy is to love God by lovingly accepting His will in all things. In this regard I fail miserably.

After years of daily Mass attendance and the reception of Jesus into my very body through the Holy Eucharist, daily rosaries, hours of adoration, family prayer, spiritual direction and spiritual reading, hours given in service, sharing my faith on this blog...still...I fail to love God by accepting His will in all things. What I love is the consolations of God-the peace I feel during prayer, the joy I feel when giving of myself in service, the praise I receive from others. I love and easily accept these many gifts of God.

But when life gets hard, when I'm scratched by the thorns because I can't get my way, when doctor bills and car repair bills pile up, when I'm forgotten by others and I feel lonely, when my children misbehave, when the weather suffocates and I swelter without air conditioning, when my body is racked with aches and pains-do I still love God then? Do I accept these little sufferings as gifts from God and thank Him for it and continue to love Him through it? Sadly, the answer is often no. What I do is grumble and complain like the Israelites in the desert, I rail against God and the Church. I want my will-not God's will. I want the blackberries without the thorns.

Before I know it the time will come to turn the garden over for the winter, the bounty of fruits and vegetables will have been harvested, the blackberries will all have been picked and eaten, but the thorns will remain. In the dark of winter with barren blackberry canes rising through the snow, will I still love God then? Will I thank and praise and serve Him in the barren season without earthly rewards? I know I've far to go in the spiritual life. I pray His love will sustain me.

For more about life in the thorns you may enjoy these posts from the archives:

The Robin's Nest
Crown of Thorns