Thursday, December 27, 2012

St. Francis Preaches to the Birds

A dear friend of mine recently gave me a generous and thoughtful gift; a beautiful golden embossed picture of St. Francis of Assisi preaching to the birds.  After hanging it in a place of honor in my home, I spent some time learning about the story behind the picture so as to enhance my prayer whenever I would look upon it.  I came across the words that St. Francis spoke to the feathered creatures and found them to be not only very touching but also a great source of inspiration to prayers of thanksgiving.  He said:

"My little sisters, the birds, much bounden are ye unto God, your Creator, and always in every place ought ye to praise Him, for that He hath given you liberty to fly about everywhere, and hath also given you double and triple rainment; moreover He preserved your seed in the ark of Noah, that your race might not perish out of the world; still more are ye beholden to Him for the element of the air which He hath appointed for you; beyond all this, ye sow not, neither do you reap; and God feedeth you, and giveth you the streams and fountains for your drink; the mountains and valleys for your refuge and the high trees whereon to make your nests; and because ye know not how to spin or sow, God clotheth you, you and your children; wherefore your Creator loveth you much, seeing that He hath bestowed on you so many benefits; and therefore, my little sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praises unto God."

Now as another year comes to a close I find a fair share of difficulties and worries, not only in my own personal life but also in the common life of our country and world, that are sure to cross the threshold of tomorrow and remain for quite a while, and my heart and soul feel weighted with sorrow and frustration.  It's hard to fly with the freedom of the winged birds when the heaviness of heartache holds me back.

So I gaze upon that lovely image of holy St. Francis and I imagine him speaking to me like he spoke to the birds, reminding me to always thank God my creator for my many blessings-for my family, my home, my job, my health, my friends, my faith.  And realizing that I am greatly blessed, I understand that God will always see to it that all of my spiritual and material needs are met, that I will have just enough but not too much, that He will always be with me in all times, places and situations and that His love is strong enough to billow me up as I strive to take flight toward His will for me regardless of how weary I may become, and for that I give thanks and praise to God.

(listen to  St. Francis Preaches to the Birds by Franz Liszt)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Am I Not Here Who Am Your Mother?

"Listen, put it into your heart, that the thing that disturbs you, the thing that afflicts you, is nothing.  Do not let your countenance, your heart be disturbed.  Do not fear this sickness nor anything that is sharp or hurtful.  Am I not here, I, who am your Mother?  Are you not under my shadow and protection?  Am I not the source of your joy?  Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms?  Do you need anything more?  Let nothing else worry you, disturb you."  ~Our Lady of Guadalupe's words to St. Juan Diego

Last summer during a time of personal distress, I knelt in a confessional to remove my sins and a wise priest who listened with his heart gave me a beautiful penance.  He told me to spend some time  looking upon the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and to recall the words she spoke to St. Juan Diego, "Am I not here who am your Mother?  Are you not under my shadow and my protection?"  I'm sure it was the most beautiful penance I have ever received!  And ever since that day when that penance was bestowed upon me in the confessional, I have pondered those words in my heart again and again.  I find them coming back to me whenever I am feeling the pain of trials that seem insurmountable.

And I think about the fact that at the tender age of two weeks old, my own sweet mother brought me to Fr. Claude Leclair at Sacred Heart Church for baptism on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  I understand now that I had been under the shadow of my Mother's protection ever since my baptismal day, but I had not realized it.

The same can be said for all of us; we are all under the shadow and protection of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patroness of the Americas.  She is waiting ever-expectantly, wanting to give birth to our peace of mind, to our trust in her love for us, and to our understanding of her constant care for our souls.  She is waiting to deliver us into the arms of her beloved Son for all eternity.  Do we realize it and turn to her?

Pope John Paul II's Prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe

O Immaculate Virgin, Mother of the true God and Mother of the Church, who from this place reveal your clemency and your pity to all those who ask for your protection, hear the prayer that we address to you with filial trust, and present it to your Son Jesus, our sole Redeemer.

Mother of Mercy, Teacher of hidden and silent sacrifice, to you, who come to meet us sinners, we dedicate on this day all our being and all our love. We also dedicate to you our life, our work, our joys, our infirmities and our sorrows. Grant peace, justice and prosperity to our peoples; for we entrust to your care all that we have and all that we are, our Lady and Mother. We wish to be entirely yours and to walk with you along the way of complete faithfulness to Jesus Christ in His Church; hold us always with your loving hand.

Virgin of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas, we pray to you for all the Bishops, that they may lead the faithful along paths of intense Christian life, of love and humble service of God and souls. Contemplate this immense harvest, and intercede with the Lord that He may instill a hunger for holiness in the whole people of God, and grant abundant vocations of priests and religious, strong in the faith and zealous dispensers of God’s mysteries.

Grant to our homes the grace of loving and respecting life in its beginnings, with the same love with which you conceived in your womb the life of the Son of God. Blessed Virgin Mary, protect our families, so that they may always be united, and bless the upbringing of our children.

Our hope, look upon us with compassion, teach us to go continually to Jesus and, if we fall, help us to rise again, to return to Him, by means of the confession of our faults and sins in the Sacrament of Penance, which gives peace to the soul.

We beg you to grant us a great love for all the holy Sacraments, which are, as it were, the signs that your Son left us on earth.

Thus, Most Holy Mother, with the peace of God in our conscience, with our hearts free from evil and hatred, we will be able to bring to all true joy and true peace, which come to us from your son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns for ever and ever.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012


"Tender and beautiful fronds of my beloved plane tree, let Fate smile upon you.  May thunder, lightning, and storms never bother your dear peace, nor may you by blowing winds be profaned.  A shade there never was, of any plant, dearer and more lovely, or more sweet."  ~from Handel's Largo

Advent can sure be crazy sometimes, can't it?  We're supposed to be quietly waiting for the coming of the Lord; it should be a solemn time of peace and stillness, but in fact, it is often the exact opposite.  We often find ourselves with too much to do, too much to eat and too much to spend.  Nothing quite spells stress like Christmas preparations!

My advent stress levels have been at an all-time high so far this year and I have spent too much time fretting instead of patiently praying for peace.  After an incredibly busy morning at work, I left for my lunch break walk a bit  later than usual and was startled by the snap of cold that met me when I stepped outside!  I wrapped my scarf a little more tightly around my neck and increased the pace of my footsteps.  When I reached Gesu Church, just three blocks from my office, I saw that they had a sign outside advertising a mid-day organ concert and the doors to the magnificent upper church were open, so I snuck inside to warm up and check it out.  I was the only one there! It turns out that I had stumbled upon a private concert just for me!

 I was just finishing my rosary when the organ swelled with sound and I heard the strains of Largo, an old favorite from my childhood.  I could just picture my sister Cindy with her chestnut brown curls sitting at the piano, fingers poised in perfect position, practicing Largo over and over again while my mom oversaw the practice session from her nearby Husqvarna Sewing Machine where she worked on our family mending.  I was awash in the comfort of pleasant, long-forgotten memories.

It's funny how God always seems to find a way to bring peace to our hearts when we are most in need, and He does it in such unexpected ways!  I never would have imagined that listening to Largo in a grand and empty church on a blustery December day would have brought peace to my frazzled heart, but it did!  And at that moment, I understood that God is in complete control of my life, just as He has always been, and I can let go of the worry and let God handle things in His own way and in His own time.  God is always good and I am very grateful!

Maybe you'd enjoy finding a few moments of calm by listening to the peaceful sounds of Largo yourself?  If so, you will find a lovely version here.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Three Advents

At Roses for Our Lady's December 9th Holy Hour for Vocations, Bishop Hying spoke about St. Bernard's "Three Advents."   I had never heard of three Advents before and I found the idea of it to be fascinating and rich in food for thought.

According to St. Bernard, the three Advents include the coming of the Christ Child into the world though the  Virgin birth which is the first Advent.  The third Advent is the final coming of Christ at the end of time.  In the first Advent He comes to save us and in the third Advent He will call us home.  These are the Advents of promise and fulfillment.  

But the second Advent is the Advent of the here and now, the Advent of the present moment.  Christ dwells within our souls in this Advent of struggle and His presence within us brings us comfort and reassurance.   Since a definition of the word "advent" is "coming" I find it very appealing to meditate on Christ coming to me now when I need Him the most, like a hero coming to the rescue of a fair maiden in distress.  Wherever you are right now, whatever state of sinfulness or sanctity, sorrow or joy, distraction or rest in which you currently find yourself, Christ is coming to you to bring you His peace. 

He's coming to you in the smile of a baby, in the embrace of a child, in the wisdom of an elderly friend.  He's coming to you in the kindness of a stranger, in the peace of a gentle song, in the whisper of a prayer.   He's coming to you now, bringing you His love and His peace.  Can you feel Him?  Can you feel the Advent of Christ within your heart and soul right now?

"He shall be peace."  ~Micah 5:2

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What is Faith?

During this Year of Faith, Bishop Donald Hying has been offering a wonderful weekly video reflection called C4: Ignite Your Catholic Faith, aimed at sharing Christ and the Catechism of the Catholic Church with those who are seeking the faith or who are simply longing to strengthen their faith.  I encourage you to bookmark this link and visit it each Friday to view his reflections.  You may also enjoy this written reflection from Bishop Hying originally published in the November 22nd edition of the Milwaukee Catholic Herald:
One of the many consoling aspects of our faith is the conviction that God takes the initiative in searching us out and saving us, that even before we began to think about and desire God, he was already looking for us!
We see this in the parable of the Good Shepherd who seeks out the one lost sheep with great compassion, and in the father of the prodigal son who must have been anxiously scanning the horizon every day for a sighting of his lost son. As Jesus says at the end of his encounter with Zacchaeus, “The Son of Man came to seek out and save what was lost.”
Faith, then, is our human response to an experience of the Lord that stretches our understanding of life, our awareness of God and our knowledge of Jesus’ love. Often, when I ask people how they have experienced God, they struggle to respond, perhaps thinking an authentic encounter with the divine has to be spectacular or at least extraordinary.
Psychologists speak of “liminal” experiences, transcendent moments that lead us into deeper insight and draw us toward that infinite horizon of our own existence. Some examples would be the birth of a child, falling in love, a long illness, the death of someone deeply loved, watching a sunset, forgiving a long held grudge or a conversation with a homeless stranger.Yet, most often God speaks to us through the mundane and seemingly ordinary people, events and experiences, calling out to us gently but firmly, breathing his love and grace over us, even when we are not aware.
Because we can recount such experiences in our own lives, can we not assert that every person has encountered God, the one who draws us beyond the narrow limits of our self-definition into the vast playing field of his love and grace?
The Scriptures are filled with dozens of people, just like ourselves, who were just “minding their own business,” but suddenly had an encounter with the Lord and then responded in a faith which led to action.
Abram heard the voice of the Lord, calling him to leave home and become the father of a great nation at a remarkably old age; Moses encountered the burning bush and heard the Lord’s call to become the fearless liberator of the enslaved Israelites, even though he stuttered; Mary had a vision of Gabriel who invited her to become the Mother of God as a virgin and Peter heard the radical call of Jesus to leave everything and become a “fisher of men.” St. Paul reminds us that faith comes through hearing, or we could say, as an obedient response to a personal and direct contact with God himself.
Christian faith is a personal and loving relationship with Jesus Christ as the center of our existence, which expresses itself in all the dimensions of our human personality.
Faith is spiritual, as in prayer and the sacraments, we open our souls to a loving communion with the Lord, living from the absolute core of our being. Faith is intellectual, as we learn ever more profoundly the teachings of Christ and his church, able to articulate the reason, truth, beauty and goodness of Catholicism.
Faith has an emotional dimension, as we feel in our hearts the extraordinary love of God and express our devotion in deep prayer and charitable deeds. Faith moves the will to desire what God wants for us, which is eternal life in him. As Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish theologian said, “Holiness is willing the one thing,” namely the will of God.
When Christ is truly the magnetizing center of life, every aspect of our human being finds a new integration and a harmony in relationship to the Lord. Our time, money, sexuality, virtues, talents, relationships, work, leisure, thoughts and desires all express and deepen the wondrous flowering of the Kingdom of God within us.
“By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God, the author of revelation, ‘the obedience of faith’” Catechism of the Catholic Church #143.
What parts of my life and aspects of my personality are not yet fully integrated into my stance of faith? Where are the discrepancies between what I say I believe and how I actually live my life?
As we move ever deeper into the discipline of discipleship, we ask the Lord to stretch our faith, to hear how he is calling us and to respond in dynamic action as our Scriptural heroes did so generously and completely. God is passionately seeking us out; are we looking just as excitedly for him?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


On the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Mother, I offer a re-post from last year when this sacred Feast Day fell on the WIC Clinic's annual turkey day:

Each year on the Monday before Thanksgiving, the WIC Clinic where I work participates in our local community's "Family to Family Thanksgiving" which distributes 3000 turkey dinners to the needy in our community annually. Since I am the only staff member at work who drives a van, my small role is to drive to the warehouse to pick up the 50 dinners that we are alloted and bring them back to our clinic where we share them with our neediest families.

Every year on turkey day (as it is affectionately known) I leave the house in the morning to find that my husband has already lovingly turned the car seats down to make extra room for all of the turkeys that I will be transporting. As I arrive at the warehouse where the dinners are distributed, I pull into a line of cars, turn my hazard lights on and wait for my turn. When I finally reach the loading dock, I am greeted by about 50 volunteers who open the doors of my van and fill it to the brim with the holiday food. How I wish my weekly grocery shopping experience for my family could be like this! Just pull up to the grocery store and a bunch of people come out and load all of your groceries for you!

Today as I waited in line to present my humble and lowly van to the volunteers who would fill it with food for those who are physically hungry, I had ample time to pray the rosary, and I thought about the beauty of today's Feast Day, the Presentation of the Blessed Mother.

Like me waiting in line, Mary waited, too; in fact she lifted the virtue of patience to an exalted state as she waited to be presented at the Temple by St. Joachim and St. Anne, after which she waited to learn what God's will for her life would be. And His will was for her body to be filled with the Bread of Life who would feed those who were hungry not for physical satiation but rather for spiritual fulfillment. Upon His birth, she waited yet again for his quiet and uneventful years of growth to pass by and for His mission to begin.

And she knew.

She knew that His mission would end in tortuous death, yet she waited for it with peace. As the crucifixion occured, she continued to patiently wait as she stood at the foot of the cross, silently suffering with Her Son. Then, after His lifeless body was placed in the tomb, she waited for His resurrection and ascension into glory.

Today, the time that I spent waiting in my van to pick up the Thanksgiving dinners became a perfect pause of thankful prayer united with the Queen of patience, and I hope that the Blessed Mother will continue to calmly stay by my side and by the side of all of her children, as we wait for our own presentations in the heavenly Kingdom of God. I returned to work, van weighed down with food to nourish the physically hungry and myself feeling a bit more satiated spiritually by my quiet time of waiting prayer with the Blessed Mother on her special day.

To learn more about Aurora Health Care's Family to Family Thanksgiving visit this link.

Monday, November 19, 2012

People of the Book by Bishop Hying

Here's an excellent reflection on the Bible, in light of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that was written by Bishop Donald Hying and was originally published in the November 15th issue of the Milwaukee Catholic Herald:

We are a people of the Book! Believing that God speaks to us most profoundly through his Word, we hold the Sacred Scriptures, both the Jewish texts of the Old Testament and the Christian writings of the New Testament, to be the source of God’s revelation to us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely. #102” In the pages of the Bible, we come to know who God is, the depths of his love and mercy, his plan of salvation and the meaning and purpose of our own lives.

The Bible is more like a library than a book, its texts written over the course of different centuries, formulated by various authors and communities, reflecting a fascinating array of insights, beliefs and events.  In its pages, we discover theology, poetry, history, prophecy, proverbs, letters, apocalyptic visions and Gospel proclamation.  Although it is the Word of God, the Bible did not simply drop from heaven as a ready-made guidebook for life.  Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the preaching of prophets, the testimony of apostles, the varied human experience of God acting in general history and personal events, a multitude of authors wrote down compilations of often-times complex oral traditions.  Paul was preaching the Gospel of Christ, for example, before the Gospels were ever written.  Imagine how difficult and exciting that was!

In its interpretation of the Scriptures, the Catholic Church avoids two extremes—biblical literalism and reductionism.  Some folks take every word of the Bible as both historically and scientifically literal, expecting the texts to answer questions that were perhaps not even in the minds of the authors.  The creation texts of Genesis speak profound theological truths—God made all that exists and it is good, man and woman are created in the image and likeness of God, there was no sin or evil in the beginning, but there was human freedom.  But the complex questions that science raises about the details of the origin of the universe and the earth cannot be answered in precise detail from the Scriptures. They were not meant to.

On the other extreme, some reduce the whole Bible to a literary narrative, divorced from history and authenticity.  They would raise doubts concerning the reality of Jesus’ miracles, the source of his quoted discourses in the Gospels and even whether he actually rose from the grave in his physical body.  The Catholic Church holds to the Sacred Scriptures as the source of her nourishment and strength, acknowledging the complexity of the texts’ origins but affirming them as the normative revelation of how God has entered into human history and experience, revealing his love, salvation and mercy, first to the Jewish people through the Covenant and then to everyone through the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.

St. Jerome famously said that ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ, so how can we come to a deeper intimacy with the incarnate Word through the written and proclaimed Word?  Throughout the history of the Church, many believers have practiced lectio divina—literally meaning “divine reading.”  Here is way we can embrace this spiritual practice.  Find a comfortable, quiet place where you can easily read and pray.  Spend a few minutes in prayer, quieting down your racing thoughts and stressed body.  Some deep breathing helps.  Select a Scripture passage; it could be the Gospel reading for Mass today or perhaps you could pray over the Mark’s Gospel in a sequential way.  Read the text slowly and prayerfully several times.  Ask the Lord to speak to you through his Word.  Is there a phrase, an image, a particular word, an idea that jumps out at you?  Pray over that gift of God’s revelation, think about it, let your mind and heart expand in meditating on how this nugget of God’s Word to you is acting in the events of your life and in the people around you.  Finally, are there any resolutions to action, change, or conversion that arise within as a result of this meditation?  Nuns and monks in monasteries, as well as thousands of people “in the world” practice this lectio divina every day and have found how life-changing a regular, deep and prayerful encounter with God’s Word can be.

One of the fruits of Vatican II is a renewed and deepened appreciation for the Sacred Scriptures, as the Word is proclaimed in the celebration of every sacrament, opened up in the gathering of countless prayer groups, Bible studies and spiritual gatherings and used as the centerpiece of personal prayer.  This Year of Faith presents a golden opportunity to deepen our knowledge and love of the Bible.  Imagine if everyone had the Scriptures as close at hand as the cellphone, that we would turn to the Sacred Word as often as we text.  Just think of the Bible as God’s inspired and enduring text in which he says everything that he has ever wanted to say, because he speaks his Word, his Son, his Jesus to us.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Vocations Testimony-A Parent's Perspective

St. Monica's Parish in Whitefish Bay hosted a special Vocations Mass and talks on Sunday, November 18th.  Fr. Luke Strand, the energetic director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, said Mass, and then spoke briefly after Mass about his own vocation story and his work with the young people in the Archdiocese as vocations director.  His talk was followed by three beautiful Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary who shared their own personal call stories.  Finally, yours truly was asked to speak about a parent's perspective regarding my son, John, who is a college freshman at St. Joseph's College Seminary at Loyola University in Chicago which will be followed by four years at St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee.  The text of my talk is below.

John, on the right, with Domenick, one of  his brother seminarians

When I tell people that my son is a seminarian, I am often met with mixed reactions.  The majority of people congratulate me and I can genuinely feel that they think it’s wonderful for a young man to give his life to God.  But sometimes, I get questions that are tinged with disdain, such as “You’re son wants to be a priest and you’re ok with that?”  By their reaction I get the feeling that they disapprove of my encouraging John to the priesthood.

Have you ever heard the saying “No priest, no Jesus?”  Who else can bring about the transformation of a simple piece of bread into the very Body of our Lord Jesus but the priest at the altar?  And who am I to prevent this from happening by trying to hold back the hand of God when he chooses a young man to service in the Church?  If my son is called to the priesthood, then I am also called to support and encourage him.

But, I don’t intend to make it seem as though giving your child to the church is a terribly difficult situation, because really, all of our children are destined to grow up and move away, aren’t they?  Letting go can be difficult for everyone, regardless of the vocational call that our children receive. 

I’ll never forget when my fourth son, Jack, was born.  A woman from church came to the hospital to give me communion and she commented, “You poor dear!  Four sons!  They are all going to grow up and leave you when they get married!”  Shocked at the negativity of a stranger during a moment of great joy in my life, I shot back, “Well, maybe they’ll all grow up to be priests and leave me anyway!”  And I think it was at that moment that I became more aware of the need to be open to God’s will, not only in my life, but also in the lives of my children.  They belong to God, after all, and He has graciously seen fit to share them with me for a little while, to entrust their upbringing to the greatly unskilled hands of my husband and I.  And so I never prayed for my children to be healthy, successful, smart, or happy.  My constant prayer for all of my children has been “Please God, make them holy.  Help them to know You and Your will for them and let them follow it.”  I’m not saying that I don’t want all of these other things for my children, but just that God’s will always has to be first, and then everything else will follow according to His plan.

And so I look back at my son John’s life up to this point with a careful eye to the will of God and I wonder about so many things...
When John was two years old I picked up a book on a sale rack at Kmart of all places, about the life of St. Paul. Despite the fact that it was written in a fairly dry fashion, this book became one of John’s favorites and he asked me to read it to him over and over again which I did, even though I would have rather read something entertaining like Dr. Suess’ Cat in the Hat.  Could it be that God was planting the seeds of his vocation even then?  Had I insisted on reading Dr. Suess instead of the life of St. Paul, would that have thwarted God’s plan in some small way?  

And when he was in the fifth grade and first began to talk about an interest in the priesthood, Paul and I listened and offered encouragement, happy that he had a deep interest in his faith. And we smiled on the sidelines as he became increasingly involved in the Church as an altar server, choir member, lector, member of the Respect Life Committee, Youth Committee and Vocations Committee, and as he spent more and more time at the seminary participating in every program that they offered for youth.  We could see that he had a fire burning brightly in his soul and he eagerly participated in every opportunity that came his way.  But what if we would have discouraged his involvement in so many church activities?  Would he have tried to stifle the voice of God that was speaking to him so clearly?  

When it was time for him to enter middle school and he insisted on being enrolled at our parish school rather than continue in the public schools, we were astonished at his bold request, but we allowed him to attend the Catholic School where he felt closest to God.  Had we insisted that he remain in public schools, would that have dampened his zeal for the Lord? 

I may never have the answers to those questions, but I do know that John was feeling the subtle tug of God for most of his life and he was making his love for his Catholic faith known to us and like any parent who loves their child, we tried to support his desires which stemmed from our own values, and to encourage them. 

After years of watching John grow ever more deeply into his faith and ever more involved in the church, the day to release him to God’s providence finally arrived.  We drove him to Chicago to begin his seminary career.   I am extremely proud of my son, despite any fears that I may have about how this long and difficult road will play out for him.  I don’t know if he or any of our seminarians will make it all the way through the eight arduous years of seminary life culminating in ordination to the priesthood, but I do know that they all have a much better chance of success with the support of our prayers behind them.  As a mother, all I can do is let go and trust that God has John exactly where He wants him and to thank God for allowing John to respond so beautifully to His call, and to continue to pray for him with all I’ve got.

And you can do the same thing for your children, as well as for the children of your friends and family members, that is, you can encourage them to listen to the voice of God speak to them and to respond in love.  How can you do this?

Pray for them!  Pray for the young people you know; encourage them whenever they show any interest in the Catholic faith.  And pray with them!  Lead them to holiness by your own example. Teach them to pray those prayers that have been passed down through the centuries as well as in their own words. Invite them to spend some time in silence before our Eucharistic Lord to hear God speak to their hearts. Take them to Mass, not just weekly, but can I be so bold as to suggest daily?  Try it for just one day a week.  See if you can’t make it work into your schedule and then watch how God works not only in the hearts of your children but in your heart as well.

In regards to encouraging and praying for an increase in vocations for all young people, I want to share a passage from one of my favorite authors, Caryll Houselander, from her book The Passion of the Infant Christ: 

"A young priest was celebrating his first Mass. In the front of the church his mother and his young brothers knelt. It was easy to know them by their likeness to him-a family of dark, golden-skinned boys, and the mother like them.

When the Mass was ended, and the new priest came back into the sanctuary for the blessing and the kissing of the consecrated hands, the family hesitated shyly, almost paralyzed by wonder and love; and before they could go first (as they should have done) to the altar rails, the crowd had pushed past them, strangers had taken their place. The faithful were flocking around their new shepherd, and his mother and his brothers had become part of the crowd, waiting their turn until the end.

For one moment the young priest looked over the bowed heads into his mother's eyes, and his face shone.

"My mother and my brethren are they who hear the word of God and do it."

Because the priesthood had made him the Christ of the people, he belonged to them; he was their kith and kin, their son and brother, their Christ, their priest at the altar.”

I like this passage because it clearly shows that every new priest who reaches his ordination day is a son to us all, a member of our own families.  Shouldn’t we all take an active part then, in helping to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life, in giving all of our sons a helping hand to the priesthood?  We’re all responsible for the growth of our Church.  So, here’s a few ways that you can help:

The MonthlyPrayer Request for Priests is a website where you will find all of the priests of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee listed in alphabetical order and I ask that you pray for each priest on his specific day.  You will also find the priests names listed in the Milwaukee Catholic Herald.  Some parishes also list the priests in their bulletin and if your parish doesn’t list them, perhaps you could ask them to begin!

Rosesfor Our Lady is a lay apostolate that has been active in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for over 30 years.  Our main purpose is to promote Marian and Eucharistic devotion.  We hold a monthly holy hour for vocations on the second Sunday of every month at St. Francis de Sales Seminary at 2 PM and everyone is welcome and encouraged to join us and to pray with us for an increase in holy vocations to the priesthood and religious life.  Our next holy hour will be on Sunday, December 9th and we will be led in prayer by Bishop Don Hying, our spiritual advisor. 

Finally, if you’d like to add some practical work to your prayer, please sign up to volunteer to help the vocations office with mailings, phone calls and preparing food for special vocation office events.  If you sign up to help with the practical work, I will be contacting you from time to time to help with events as needed.  (Dear reader:  Send me an email if you're in the Milwaukee area and want to help with this!  I'll be happy to include you!)

I thank you for coming here today to this special Vocations Mass and for your interest in helping to promote and increase vocations to the priesthood and religious life in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and I particularly thank the vocations committee at St. Monica's for inviting me to share my story, my heart, with you.  May God richly reward you always and may He bring about the increase in vocations for which we pray!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Vocations Homily by Deacon Paul Schneider, OFM Conv.

"He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury.  Many rich people put in large sums.  A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents.  Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them,  "Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.  For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood."
~Mark 12:41-44

My husband Paul and I with Deacon Paul Schneider
It is such an honor for me to be part of a wonderful organization, Roses for Our Lady, that holds monthly holy hours for vocations.  Each month a group of about 30 individuals gathers at the chapel at St. Francis de Sales Seminary in front of our Eucharistic Lord to pray for holy vocations to the priesthood and religious life.  We are blessed to have many priests,deacons and a bishop who volunteer their time to come and assist us at our holy hours, offering beautiful reflections to inspire us in our prayer.

Today my dear friend and fellow Oblate of the Precious Blood, Deacon Paul Schneider, OFM Conv. joined us in prayer.  Deacon Paul had entered the seminary many years ago, left for a while and has now returned and will be ordained to the priesthood this May so I ask you to please keep him in your prayers in a special way during these final months of his preparation.  As the mother of a seminarian, the words he shared with us regarding today's gospel reading were so touching that they moved me to tears.  I wanted to share them here with you, as well, dear reader, so that you might also find your heart lifted by his reflection:


In today's Gospel we find Jesus seated in the temple watching people give their donation for the upkeep of the synagogue. Usually thirteen trumpet-shaped containers were set up to collect donations.  People in the time of Jesus did not use paper money as we do today but rather they used coins.  Some of these coins were small and very light while the more valuable ones were heavier and larger.  You can imagine the noise that was being made when people dropped their donations into the collection box:  some people were very humble when they put in their donations trying not to make too much noise and not draw attention to themselves; some put their donations in grudgingly, kind of throwing it in; while others made a big deal of it and created quite a noise as they put their coins into the container.  They wanted to make sure everyone heard how much they were giving and wanted everyone to notice who was making all the noise.  For these people it is more about the honor they received from others, it is all about me and what I am getting out of the deal, than it was about giving out of generosity to the synagogue.

But then a poor widow came forward and put in two small coins.  A widow during the time of Jesus was considered very vulnerable and helpless, especially if she didn't have any children.  Many times she had to depend upon the generosity of friends and family just to have the basics of food because a woman during this time was not able to inherit any of her husband's wealth or property.  So the money that this widow gave did not come from her surplus wealth.  More than likely, the money she gave was money she needed to buy food or other necessities of life.  Each coin that she gave represented a day's wage for an unskilled worker, probably the only work that she was able to find for that week.  It is interesting that Jesus did not evaluate the amount of her contribution compared to those who were rich.  Rather he spoke of the source of her offering.  The wealth donated from their surplus; they gave what they did not need.  While the woman donated what little she had; she gave from what she needed.  By giving from her need she implied an absolute trust in God.

As I was thinking about this reading, my own mother came to mind.  She is a widow and while she is not poor, if she watches her pennies she is able to live a relatively comfortable life.  I was thinking about all of the sacrifices that she had to make throughout her life when I realized that probably one of the biggest sacrifices she had to make involved my own vocation.  Usually when we talk about vocations, we focus upon the aspect that a vocation is a call from God.  Sometimes that call involves having to give up things that at one time we considered important in our lives.  Especially if you are an older vocation, it might mean having to give up a job you really like, selling your house that you worked so hard to buy, or moving to a different part of the country away from your family and friends.  But we do it because we believe that it is God who is calling us to the religious life or to the priesthood.  We are willing to give up what at one time seemed so important to us and we trust that God will provide everything that we need for our vocation.

We forget that every vocation not only affects the person called, but it also affects our family and friends.  By my saying yes to God, my mom also had to say yes to my call.  I don't think I spend enough time thanking her for her yes and for what she had to give to God in order for me to be where I am today.  While most of our families consider it a great honor to have a son or a daughter who has answered the call of a vocation, it does involve a great sacrifice for them.  By my mom saying yes, she had to offer to God the distance of her son moving 800 miles away from her.  I am not able to just jump in the car to go for a quick visit.  Even though we talk on the phone, it is not the same as a personal visit.  She had to offer up the notion that I would have children and carry on the family name.

To me, she and all mothers, and fathers for that matter, of men and women who are following a call to religious life or to the priesthood are like the widow in today's reading.  They have contributed all they have to the Church.  They have absolute trust in God that he will supply what they need.  That is the reason why the mother of a priest is held in such high esteem, because of the sacrifice she made when she gave her son to the Church.  In my own mother's case, even though our lives aren't the same as it used to be, she has gained 41 new sons.  Every time my mom visits me, she is treated like a queen.  Each friar in my province considers her as their own mother, even if they are meeting her for the first time.

We entrust our mothers to the care of the Heavenly Mother.  Who else would know better the joy of having a son as a priest and at the same time knowing the heartache that goes along with it?

I believe it is a fantastic thing you are doing by gathering each month to pray for vocations.  I am sure that is a big part of the reason why vocations to the priesthood in the Archdiocese are increasing each year.  But I also ask you to keep the mothers and fathers of perspective vocations in your prayers.  You don't know how many people I talk to who pray for vocations on a daily basis, but when asked if their own son might have a vocation to the priesthood they quickly answer no.  They want their son to get married and have a family or want their son to have a good job so that he could help support his parents in their old age.  They pray for vocations, just as long as it is not their own son.  I remember when I was a freshman in college just after graduating from high school when I told my dad that I was thinking of entering the seminary to become a priest.  He didn't know what to make of it and didn't speak to me for six weeks.  But he later became one of my biggest supporters and was the one who was the most disappointed when I left the seminary a couple of years later.

Prayers for vocations are so important.  I attribute my vocation to people like you praying for vocations.  Continue to pray for vocations and pray that families may have the strength and trust to be able to give their son to the Church, that they, too, might say yes.  It makes our yes a little easier.

Deacon Paul and his mom with Bishop Hying

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Pro-life Rosary with the Seminarians

On Friday, November 9th, a group of over 100 individuals in Milwaukee, including many young adults and families, joined in deep and beautiful prayer for an end to abortion.  This pro-life event was the idea of St. Francis de Sales seminarian Andrew Linn who planned and organized the evening with the help of his brother seminarians.
Andrew Linn leading us in prayer
Fr. Luke and Fr. Glenn
The event began downtown at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, where everyone gathered and then processed to the Women's Care Center on Farwell Avenue while praying the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary.
Fr. Luke Strand, Fr. Kevin McManaman, Fr. Glenn Powers and Fr. Quinn Mann from Green Bay, along with seminarian John Baumgardner, each took turns leading the rosary.  The seminarians wrote beautiful Gospel meditations for each of the sorrowful mysteries which very fittingly intensified our prayer as we reflected upon the sufferings of our Lord.  When we arrived at the Women's Care Center we were greeted by staff member Sharon Hudy who prayed with us and invited us inside for a tour of the beautiful and welcoming facility and for some refreshments. 

On the way back to the Cathedral we were guided by a police escort as we prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet and then over 100 voices joined in song including The Salve Regina, Immaculate Mary, and Holy God we Praise Thy Name.  When we returned to the Cathedral atrium we enjoyed coffee and cookies and everyone had a chance to visit with one another, coming to know our fabulous seminarians a little bit better.  Andrew Linn gave out free copies of St. Louis de Montfort's powerful book The Secret of the Rosary, to anyone who wanted one.  It was an amazing evening and it makes me so proud to be a Catholic in Milwaukee and to be able to take part in such wonderful prayer events such as this!  How blessed we are to enjoy a peaceful and prayerful public event like this where we can share our faith in the open, praying for the end of the tragedy of abortion and increase awareness and support for antidotes to the culture of death such as the Women's Care Center!
Everyone who attended the event had a wonderful time and were very grateful to have the opportunity to attend.  Dan Miller, who coordinates 40 Days for Life  in Milwaukee had this to say:  "Thank you, Andrew, and all the seminarians for answering God's call to the priesthood.  This was awesome on many levels - but for me - it was a great moment to meet the future priests of this Archdiocese. It's hard for the lay faithful to connect with you guys - because you are so busy - so thanks for sharing an evening with us. Know that we are praying for all of you - every day."
Participant Amy Rindfleish commented,  "Walking back under the trees lit up by streetlight while beautiful voices rang out Salve Regina felt like a piece of heaven!"  And high school student Kenny Urlakis added:  "Thanks y'all for being martyrs in the truest sense of the word. "Witnesses." Witnesses to the Sanctity of Life!"  Other voices echoed the praise calling the evening "beautiful, amazing and a great experience."  
Andrew Linn plans to repeat the Pro-life Rosary with the Seminarians this coming Lent and he offers these words of gratitude:
"To all those who prayed for us and were with us in spirit, thank you! To all of you who were in attendance, thank you! To the Holy Spirit who lights a fire in our hearts and gives us the Grace to do the will of God, all glory and honor and praise!

Tonight was amazing! We will sanctify Milwaukee through our prayers and our actions each day. We will continue to pray for an end to abortion and the respect for life which each human being deserves."
Baby Charlie and John, his proud dad
Please do continue to pray, not only for an end to abortion, but also for our seminarians and for all of those in discernment to the priesthood and religious life as they boldly step out to lead us in living our faith in love for one another following the example of our Lord Jesus Christ!
(Photos courtesy of Mary Anne Urlakis)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Shining Lights

"My beloved... Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world."  ~Philippians 2:15

Photo Credit:  Ankara Üniversitesi Doğa
I once heard a story about a woman who underwent the horrific experience of being raped.  Later, reflecting upon it, she thought about how God was within her during the entire time and she realized that the criminal was not only raping her, he was also raping God.  And looking more deeply into it, she thought about how God is within everyone, even the man who raped her, so he essentially caused God to take part in the evil action against her.  Thinking about this, realizing that God is within every single person, good and bad alike, it makes me want more than ever to be as good and holy as I can possibly be at all times because I cannot bear the thought of offending God by my thoughts and actions-not the God who lives within me or the  God who lives within others.  Through my body and soul and all of my experiences I want to offer the very best of me, to give him glory and honor in all things and contrition and repentance when I fail to live up to all of that to which He is worthy.

Thinking of this in light of the presidential elections in the United States, while I am very disheartened by the results, especially since the candidate who is the most anti-life and anti-religious freedom got the Catholic vote, I can't help but be joyful, too, remembering that God is always in control and He calls each and every one of us to bring His light of love, peace and joy to those around us.  It's really a very simple philosophy, if not always easy to live out.  We are called to be faithful in all things and if we can manage to do that, we will always remain close to His heart. 

I have been encouraged by the recent words of Archbishop Chaput:  "We are Catholics before we are Americans," but I am sorry that many Catholics don't seem to feel that way and want to make the Catholic Church into something it isn't and can never be, that is, a Church that allows death to have the last word.  For we know that in the end our Resurrected Lord will cause us all to rejoice with a hearty Risus Paschalis, an Easter laugh.  God always wins, even if there are dark days when it seems as if that is impossible.

We have to trust that no matter how evil and wicked others may seem to be through their words and actions and in their beliefs, He still shines within our souls.  It is our greatest responsibility to continue to serve Him with joy and love and to do all we can to bring others to know and love Him in such a way as to save their souls.  It's a huge and often lonely task, seemingly insurmountable.  I think about the movie For Greater Glory which portrayed the persecution of the Church in 21st century Mexico, and other horrible events in history such as the reign of Nazi terror and the ensuing holocaust of our Jewish brothers and sisters, and the rise of communism which represses faith in God.  Despite the evident hold of evil upon the hearts of many as seen in these heinous events of world history, God's faithful are plentiful and will remain firm in their beliefs.  

We are called to carry on and bring the light of Christ to those around us, even to those who refuse to accept the light.   We are to hold our heads high in following the narrow path while at the same time humbly serving those around us and doing all we can to see the God that lives within each of us while praying continually in atonement for the sins of our nation and especially for each of our individual sins. 
These are the times in which saints and martyrs will be made.  Let's shine for all we're worth!  For the love of God, are you in?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Letters to Jackie

I recently spent some time helping a friend organize his magnificent library of books, which includes a large historical section, when he came across the book Letters to Jackie, Condolences From a Grieving Nation in the stacks.  Knowing that I love to read personal letters, and having enjoyed it very much himself, he handed it to me and invited me to read it.  I am so grateful for that invitation because this book was fascinating!  And despite the fact that this was not the type of book that I typically read, that is, a spiritual book, I found that I was compelled to frequently stop and prayerfully ponder what I had read  more than I would normally do with most spiritual reading.

According to author Ellen Fitzpatrick, Jackie Kennedy received 800,000 condolence letters in the two months that followed President Kennedy's assassination on November 22nd, 1963, and within two years that amount reached over 1.5 million.  Most of the letters remained unread until 2010 when Ellen Fitzpatrick began to sort through them for this book.  After choosing 250 of the 200,000 pages of letters that are still stored in the National Archives to include in this collection, she then began the work of contacting the letter writers and includes a brief biography of each of the people who took the time to pen a note of sympathy to the former First Lady.  The result is a timely look at the compassionate heart of the American people.

Included in this collection of letters are the stories of the poor, the racially oppressed, veterans of war, widows who could personally empathize with Jackie's loss, those who voted for JFK as well as those who did not, those who loved him because of his Catholic faith and those who disliked him because of it, the elderly, the sick and even children.

Here is a segment of my favorite letter.  It was written by an 8th grade student at a Catholic Grade School in California:

"Dear Mrs. Kennedy,

...On the morning of November 22nd, our school of 750 pupils were at a requiem Mass for all the deceased of parish.  At the beginning of the Mass, we were told that our beloved president was shot.  I tried to tell myself he would be all right but somehow I knew he wouldn't.  I tried to control myself as I had to play the church organ but the tears wouldn't stop.  The slightly damp keys were hard to play but I offered it up that the President might live.

Though we didn't know it then but while 750 children with tear-streaked faces and slightly reddened eyes were receiving Holy Communion, the 35th President of the United States went to his eternal reward in heaven...."

Each letter is deeply touching, the writers sharing their personal experience of what President Kennedy had meant to them as well as how the loss of his life had caused them deep grief.  A common message was that of gratitude for the strong and brave countenance that the First Lady maintained during her entire experience of national and personal grief.

With the presidential elections only a few short days away, it seems like the perfect time to look back upon this tragic and important time in American history and to recall that regardless of the outcome of this election we are all united as Americans, we all share a common love for our country, and we are all created with a deep capacity for love and goodness.

In light of the upcoming election, I urge you to read these brilliantly written columns by Archbishop Listecki and Bishop Hying regarding the importance of voting for a candidate that will uphold the dignity of life and the value of religious freedom which can be found at these links:

Vote for Culture of Life by Archbishop Listecki

What is at Stake in the 2012 Presidential Election by Bishop Hying

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Releasing Souls from Purgatory

I know a lovely elderly woman, a mother of 11 children, who has seen just about everything in her lifetime, both joys and sorrows galore.  Not too long ago she was telling me about her most recent aches and pains that were causing her difficulty.  At a loss for adequate words I reached out to embrace her in a hug and said, "I'm so sorry that you're hurting."  Then, like any good Catholic, I said, "I suppose this is something to offer up."  She shook her head and said, "Listen honey, I've offered up so much in my lifetime that I'm sure I've released at least a hundred souls from purgatory by now!"

I only hope that when I arrive at old age I can say the same thing.  What a blessing it must be to be the cause of one hundred souls finding their way into the arms of God after the sufferings of life on earth and the torment of waiting for glory while in purgatory!

Prayer of St. Gertrude the Great

Eternal Father, I offer Thee the most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home and within my family.  Amen.

(Our Lord told St. Gertrude that the above prayer would release 1000 souls from purgatory each time it is said.)

Prayer of Pope Pius IX

I adore you, O glorious Cross, which was adorned with the Heart and Body of my Savior Jesus Christ, stained and covered with Blood. I adore you, O Holy Cross, out of love for Him, Jesus, who is my Savior and my God.

(Pope Pius IX declared that by reciting this prayer 5 times on Friday, we release 5 souls from Purgatory and we release 33 souls from Purgatory by reciting it on Good Friday. This prayer should be recited before a Crucifix, with a contrite heart and praying a few moments for the Pope.)

My Mom's Favorite Prayer 

Jesus, Mary, Joseph, I love you.  Save souls.

(She never told me how many souls would be saved when I pray it, but she did tell me to pray it every time I hear God's name used in vain.  You can only imagine the frequency with which I have prayed this in my lifetime so far!)

Monday, October 29, 2012

An Ardent Call for Vocations

“When we are in the presence of the Lord in the monstrance it’s perpetuating the moment of consecration at Mass.”  ~Fr. Luke Strand, Vocations Director for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee

Every once in a while a speaker touches my heart in such a way that I become convicted of the need to take action; to do my part to bring about the kingdom of God here on earth.  I recently had the opportunity to listen to Fr. Luke Strand, the Vocations Director for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, give a talk about vocations to the de Chantal Society, a group of women who are fervent in their willingness to support vocations, and who gather several times each year at St. Francis de Sales Seminary for Eucharistic adoration, Benediction, an inspirational talk and socialization.  I was so grateful that I had jotted down a few notes during his talk because his words were very powerful.  What follows are highlights from Fr. Luke’s talk:

Young men who are discerning a call to the priesthood have a conviction of our Lord’s undying presence in their lives.  It is an act of faith to say “yes” to the Lord.  But there is a serious tension that exists in their hearts.  The priesthood is not understood in our world today...continue reading at