Monday, February 27, 2012

Swoon






















Take a long look at the face of your Mother.

Here is a woman who gave her all, everything that was deep within her, in support of her beloved Son. Scripture tells us that she stood at the foot of the cross during Christ's crucifixion. Yes, she stood, never wavering from her place beside her Son as the co-redemptrix of the world.

But when His three hours of suffering were through...

...come with me to Suscipio to read the rest of my reflection on Rogier van der Weyden's Descent from the Cross...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Marked



















I receive the ashes that label me as His child, His own.

The dust flakes down into my eyes, flirting with my lashes and
blurring my vision of worldly things, reminding me that the
spiritual realm can often contain that which is dirty, dusty and dark.

I let the ash that marks me settle deep within my soul,
allowing it to mingle with the sorrow and joy that God's love
has carefully placed within my life.

There, in the depths of my soul,
the sorrow and joy churn the dark ashes,
creating something pure;
preparing them for their presentation to the Lord in Heaven.

I am marked as His own and will carry that mark
from my forehead to my soul
beyond this season of Lent and into forever.

(a re-post from the archives)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Seven Quick Takes of Grace












It's a dual meme today-I'm joining with Jennifer Fulwiler's Conversion Diary's Seven Quick Takes(which is hosted at Betty Beguiles today) and Suscipio's Moments of Grace with this post about the grace-filled moments of the past week...

1. I've been feeling unusually quiet lately with no impulsive desires to write my heart out every five seconds. I pray that peaceful quietness remains throughout Lent-it's a richness I would like to cultivate.

2. Thursdays used to be my most dreaded day of the work week-despite being incredibly busy they would drag along as if seven hours were really seven days. But now, the geniuses who manage the food service department at the hospital in which my WIC Clinic is located (and truthfully, in my opinion, all food service employees are geniuses, of course that's a biased opinion because of my degree in dietetics and my vocation as wife to a chef, as well as being the mother of two sons who currently work as dietary aides at a nearby nursing home to save for their college careers-I guess food service work is in our blood) have begun to offer free flavored water every day of the week and Thursdays flavor-lime mint-it tastes like a mojito (my favorite drink) without the alcohol, is my favorite! So I've become the designated water-girl every Thursday carefully balancing a tray of cups of ice water from the cafeteria to my office for all of my 11 co-workers and myself. It's like a little party at work every Thursday! If a little innocent enjoyment in the middle of a hectic day isn't a grace from God then I really don't know what is!

3. Besides the refreshing water, my fabulous place of employment has also recently begun to play chimes three times in succession that can be heard throughout the hospital every time a baby is born. I love it! What a beautiful way to celebrate new life! It reminds me of "It's a Wonderful Life"-you know, "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings!" It also reminds me to pause for prayer and so I pray the Hail Mary in gratitude for the precious little life that has just entered the world because the chimes remind me of the Angelus regardless of the time of day when they might ring.

4. In my last post, A Deeper Embrace, I mentioned that after my private time of prayer which felt like an embrace with the Lord last Friday, I had left church without lighting a candle but I vowed to complete that embrace with the Lord by sealing it with fire. This morning I was blessed to repeat the prayer of deep embrace which so moved me last week. Once again I found myself alone in the darkened church, kneeling directly in front of the tabernacle as close as I could possibly be to my Eucharistic Lord. Following my silent prayer, I immersed my hands in the holy water and brought it to my face as in a kiss and then this time, I deposited enough money to light five votive candles, each an offering of the fire of the love which burns within my heart. I held my hands over the candles and, now warmed, I raised them, too, to my face as in a kiss. I believe that if I continue to make this embrace of prayer sealed with water and fire into a weekly ritual it will become the greatest act of love that I have ever known and it will keep me forever close to His Sacred Heart. How blessed we are to be members of a Church that makes use of physical forms of prayer and sacramentals allowing us to love the Lord with all that we are!

5. I'm finding that staying for ten minutes of silent prayer offered in thanksgiving for the Eucharist after each Mass I attend, even when the church is filled with the chatter of those who linger after Mass to visit with their friends making real silence a rarity, is becoming more and more special to me as time continues on. I know it won't be long before I won't be able to believe that there was ever a time when I didn't want to give those ten minutes to God.

6. My son John is currently in the process of applying to college seminary. It almost seems too good to be true to be the mother of a son who is so in love with God that he would want to devote his entire life to His service through the vocation of the priesthood and of course, there is the fear that this might not be God's will for him and he might not be accepted. The application process has been long and the wait since he first applied last November has been difficult. But both John and I have been coming to learn that God was in John's desire to apply to seminary, God is in the waiting for the decision, and God will be in either the acceptance or the rejection, so no matter the outcome, John's desire to know and to love God's will is a treasured gift with which God will do so much good! I do ask for your prayers for John in a special way on March 21st which is the day that the seminary board will meet to decide whether or not they will accept him.

7. This is the last new post that I will be writing until Easter. This year I will be fasting from Imprisoned in my Bones for the Lenten season in an effort to draw closer to Christ, to experience a Lent that will hopefully be filled with many moments of grace. I've scheduled some re-posts to publish intermittently throughout Lent, most of them poetry that I am especially fond of. If you're looking for something new here, I suggest you visit on February 25th when I will link to a post that I wrote for Suscipio. So unless something magnificent happens over the course of the upcoming 40 days, I bid you adieu, dear reader, and wish you a great and spiritually uplifting Lent!

Please do visit Betty Beguiles for more Quick Takes and Suscipio for more Moments of Grace.

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Deeper Embrace





















In the beginning of this year I had decided that I would focus on the word "embrace" as my spiritual goal and I wrote about it here. I wanted to learn to not only accept God's will in my life, but to embrace it, to embrace God. I'm coming to learn that maybe an embrace was what God wanted from me as well...

Since last October when I began formation as an Oblate Candidate of the Precious Blood working to deepen my prayers and love for the priesthood, I've been receiving a monthly lesson from Mother Marietta of the Handmaids of the Precious Blood. Each lesson draws me a bit more deeply into the knowledge and love of Christ. With the two previous lessons, Dies Domini and the Eucharist, I learned that a spiritual goal of the Oblates is to try to spend ten minutes in silent gratitude for the gift of the Eucharist each time I am blessed to receive the Body of Our Lord. I struggled with those ten minutes quite a bit and wrote about it in the posts Ten Minutes and Ten Minutes More.

Still, determined to do my best at this spiritual discipline and wanting so badly to give Jesus my all, and to offer all that I am for the sake of His priests, I have persevered in doing my best to remain after Mass for ten minutes of gratitude and to visit our Lord in Eucharistic Adoration as often as possible. Gradually I have been coming to feel the Lord shaping and forming me from a hard block of solid resistance to a soft and loving state as if I were supple clay in His hands. With each interval of ten minutes that I give to Him I can feel that He is really reaching out and embracing me while I do my best to embrace Him in return.

When I received the latest lesson from Mother Marietta, a lesson on Eucharistic Adoration, I was bowled over to read the following section:

"Pope Benedict XVI gives us a very beautiful insight into Eucharistic adoration by bringing to our attention that “[t]he Latin word for adoration is ad-oratio—mouth to mouth contact, a kiss, an embrace.” Have you ever thought of adoration as an embrace with God? If you marvel at these words and ponder them in your heart you will discover various aspects of this mystery. Let’s consider some of these by using a method Father Gerald was fond of. The letters that make up the word “embrace” can help us to remember and reflect upon the grace of being united with God when we adore Him. Our hope is that you will develop this even further during your own Holy Hours.

We will first give an overview and then consider each aspect more closely.

E: Enter into the very dynamic of Jesus’ total self-giving
M: Model yourself after Mary in adoration of Jesus
B: Bring others with you
R: Receive Jesus spiritually into your heart in preparation for your next Holy Communion
A: Allow Jesus to love you
C: Contemplate Him
E: Entreat the Lord to “stay with us”

The love that God has for each one of us personally is utterly astounding. How do we respond to Him? Prayers are good, sacrifices are pleasing to Him, and yet what He wants above all, is not our gifts, but ourselves. God desires for us to become one with Him in an embrace of love.

And so... Let us E-M-B-R-A-C-E Him!"


Could I have received a clearer sign from God that He is pleased with me and my efforts? I felt flooded with His grace upon reading this passage.

Last night my husband and I had the rare opportunity to go out to dinner alone. My friend, Fr. Matthew, had given me a gift certificate to Caterina's Italian Restaurant for my birthday last December, and Paul and I finally had the chance to use it. As we entered the restaurant I felt the hand of God to be very evident in Fr. Matthew's choice of restaurant because there, hanging on the wall behind the host station, I spotted an Apostolic Blessing, a picture of Pope John Paul II. I asked the host about how it came to be there and he told me that many years ago his mother had been ill and to comfort her, her good friend, Bishop Callahan, obtained this blessing for her. There's just something about eating in a restaurant that has an apostolic blessing hanging on the wall that is very comforting. In fact, I told Paul that I almost felt that we were on a little imaginary trip to Rome, and since the Bishops of Milwaukee are currently in Rome on their ad limina visit, I felt especially close to them on their pilgrimage. Our dinner became a prayer united to the prayers of our friends in Rome.

Paul had struggled through an especially difficult day at work so I suggested that after dinner we attend Eucharistic Adoration together at St. John the Evangelist Parish which offers adoration 24/7. In the same way that I had been reluctant to spend ten minutes in prayer after every Mass, Paul was reluctant to go to adoration and would have preferred to go straight home after dinner to relax, but I pressed the matter and he finally agreed. It felt like the most romantic experience I had ever known, to kneel side by side with my husband in a dark and silent church in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord, each of us pouring out our troubles and our love to the only One who would love us through it all. Our time in adoration truly was an embrace, but, an even deeper embrace was in the works...

This morning after daily Mass, the usual crowd cleared out more quickly than usual and I found for the first time that I was really, truly and blessedly alone with the Lord. No one remained; not the janitor, not the lady who waters the flowers, not the school parent dropping in for a quick two minute visit with the Lord. It was just Jesus and I in church. I felt a pull to come closer to the tabernacle and hesitated, worried that someone might come in and think me strange for my behavior. But the words, "don't be afraid" echoed in my mind and so I left my pew and knelt on the top step in front of the tabernacle and there I remained for much longer than ten minutes.

This truly was an embrace with the Lord for never before had I felt as if I were the only one in the world who mattered to Him, as if I were His most beloved friend and daughter, as if all the other people in the world who vie for his attention no longer existed. Right here in front of this tabernacle, I was St. John, the favored disciple, resting my head upon the Lord. I didn't want to leave!

But, the knowledge of a basketful of laundry waiting to be folded before I had to go to work intruded on my intimate moment with Jesus and I finally turned to go. Passing the baptismal font, I thought that I might just like to swim in it, that's how much I longed to remain united to Christ, but instead, I cupped the holy water in my hands and brought it to my face as in a kiss. I wanted to seal the moment with fire but found my wallet empty without any change for a votive candle, so I left vowing to repeat this ritual with my savior as soon as I could possibly do so.

And I stepped out into the unexpected snow falling in pure, fat flakes, marveling at the glorious grace of a deep and wonderful embrace with the Lord.

(Joining with Moments of Grace at Suscipio)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

More Libraries AND More Churches

I wrote the following in response to an editorial that appeared in the Sunday, February 5th edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The story that I am referencing can be found in full at this link.


More Libraries AND More Churches


On Sunday morning I found myself with a few minutes to spare before my family and I headed out to Mass at St. Matthias Parish in Milwaukee, so I opened the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and was saddened, hurt and offended to read the article by Community Columnist Rose Locander titled More Libraries, Fewer Churches.

Ms. Locander identifies herself a retired public high school teacher from Waukesha and she bemoans the fact that this world seems to be filled with illiterate “sheep” who feed their souls with words of faith at the many local churches in our area rather than feeding their brains with the words of wisdom to be found at the library.

While I agree with her that the library is a great treasure in any community and would love to see greater use of all public and private libraries, I don’t understand why she feels so strongly that libraries should replace churches as a source of wisdom. Her letter seems to be filled with a fear of religion from which history has shown us can all too often be the seedbed of hatred resulting in discrimination.

Ms. Locander feels that “giving someone the impression that the sky is going to rescue them from challenges” and that “filling children’s heads with tales of arks, floods and magical amounts of loaves and fishes” is a mistake. She seems to feel that people of faith are mindless and that our “huge monuments to magical Deity” are without value. She feels that “another church, another minister, priest, rabbi or other religious leader is not needed.” Ms. Locander is of the opinion that any “homeless person on the street” can teach more about the afterlife than our religious leaders, many of whom just may have been educated at a public high school by a teacher such as herself. And here I must add that I am grateful that Ms. Locander is now retired so that she may no longer fill our children’s heads with her atheistic beliefs.

I would suggest that Ms. Locander spend her years of retirement by attempting to open her mind and heart to the wisdom that is found within the many churches in our area. By attending a church of her choice, Ms. Locander will find the wisdom that can only come from a deep love and openness to the mystery, not magic, with which our Creator has blessed this world. At her local church she would find the kindness and compassion of the the many faith-filled “sheep” she criticizes as being mindless, but who also happen to be the great leaders in many areas of our local community.

I would also challenge Ms. Locander to pay another visit to any local library and actually open and read the book of which she is apparently so afraid that she cannot even call it by its rightful name in print. I’m speaking of the “The Bible”, the book that Ms. Locander warns against reading to children because it “is a recipe for the creation of mindless followers.”

Finally, I would encourage Ms. Locander to pay a visit to one of the finest libraries in our area, The Salzmann Library at St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee, where she will find the shelves filled with books that challenge and expand the minds and hearts of all believers. Here she will learn of the great history of Christianity, of the fearless saints and leaders who have bravely stood up for their beliefs against pagans who did their best to do away with all faith in the name of progress. Here she will find the love and intelligence of God in the written word and will come away with a greater understanding of the need for all of those in today’s society to embrace both libraries and churches with the hope of bringing peace and progress to our world and salvation for our souls.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Ref

"They were utterly amazed at what he taught, because his message was spoken with authority." ~Luke 4:32






















My family spends a great deal of time watching middle school and high school basketball this time of year as several of the Bender children play for the school and our church and the ones who aren't playing enjoying cheering on the sidelines during their sibling's games.

With all of the games that we watch, it's no surprise that we have become fond of several referees who have an especially good eye during the game, making expert calls and keeping joyful attitudes despite the stress of keeping players, coaches and fans happy.

My very favorite ref is a big, burly, older man who is all stomach and smiles. He not only refs the games, but he practically coaches them as well, giving the players tips on skills that will improve their games and reminding them to bend their knees when they are at the free-throw line. When he blows his whistle and makes a call he puts his whole body into it, slapping his arm to show exactly where the foul occurred and and motioning with his arms as well as with his feet to show traveling and double-dribble calls. He clearly puts his entire self into his work. I love a ref that entertains like this particular man does; he makes watching multiple and repetitive basketball games quite enjoyable.

So at one of my daughter's recent games where he was the ref, I couldn't help but recall last Sunday's gospel reading where it was noted that Jesus spoke with authority. This ref, too, spoke with authority and everyone present at the game payed close attention to his words and willingly abided by his calls without complaint. When I mentioned this to my husband and sons who were watching the game with me their collective groans were almost louder than the sounds of the game, for they have heard my reflective gospel musings far too often at events where most people would be hard put to find the presence of God. One of my sons was quick to call a foul on me by complaining, "Mom! This is a basketball game, it is not Church!"

But still, how could I not make the comparison to Christ? For in this ref's words and actions it was so easy to notice a holy presence. He clearly spread the gospel messages of kindness, joy and diligence through his words and actions. And couldn't we all take a tip of the ball from a ref who speaks with such authority? Shouldn't we all strive for the goal of making every word and action in our lives bring a little more of the authority of the word of Christ to life for those who are in our presence? And if we work hard and are successful at accomplishing this feat in the world, then when the day arrives when we meet the ultimate scorekeeper in heaven we can proudly say with St. Paul, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."
~2 Timothy 4:7

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Life Expectancy

"The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson














My 16-year-old son Justin and I recently had a meeting with his high school guidance counselor to help plan out his future career goals. She greeted us with this thought: "Your generation is expected to have a maximum life span of 123 years and you won't retire until you are 75 so you better plan your future wisely." No, I didn't mistype that, she really did say 123 years. Scary stuff! I was thinking that the average life expectancy of 80 years of exile on earth before going home to our God is a bit much, especially if those later years are marked by poor health and dependence upon others, but 123 years is just pushing the buttons a bit, isn't it?

Her scare tactic didn't impress Justin, though. His mind is made up that he wants to work with his hands and right now the thought of working as an auto technician until he is 75 is appealing to him quite a bit. (Fabulous, I say! Wouldn't it be wonderful to have an auto mechanic in the family?)

But her statement made me ponder a little more seriously about this thing called life. In my world where I spend my work days surrounded by pregnant women swollen with the cusp of new life, newborn babies blinking at the bright lights of their emerging world, pudgy six-month old babes all smiles and laughter, and tired toddlers carrying on with tempestuous meltdowns over the fear of being measured and weighed, life is vibrant and full of energy. Every experience is a first and the excitement of newness is just around every corner.

But looking ahead at 123 years of firsts, seconds and more, and the staleness of "been there, done that" becomes the name of the game. How can humanity expect to keep the freshness of new life experiences going after 123 years or so? My thought is that the only way to keep a human being actively engaged in the workings of this world with a joyful spirit is through the companionship of other lives, through the blessing of a loving friend.

The Lord had graciously blessed me with an abundance of beautiful friends, those in whom I can confide and those who feel that I am a safe person with whom to share their soul stories as well. But among my many friends there is one with whom I share the longest history and she is now, and has always been, very special to me.

Judy and I met 25 years ago in a technical college sociology class. We must have misunderstood the name and purpose of the class because we did more socializing there than learning about sociology and we became fast and forever friends. Judy was studying police science and I was there working toward a degree in dietetics. We are about as different as two women could be-Judy, strikingly beautiful inside and out, is married to another wonderful police officer and the two of them are childless; I'm married to a another foodie (Paul is a chef) and our marriage is blessed with an abundance of children (or as Vicki, another one of Judy's friends would teasingly ask "How's Anne and her 18 kids?) Judy takes multiple vacations to Las Vegas but if I could go anywhere in this world my heart would call me to Rome. Judy and I both grew up in large and faith-filled families but she is Lutheran, and of course, you know, I'm Catholic. Judy is funny, smart, loving, outgoing and energetic, a real joy to be around and a great blessing in my life.

When Judy and I first met we were wild young girls who spent a great deal of time out partying at the bars, drinking and dancing until all hours. To this day I cannot hear You Dropped a Bomb On Me, Baby by the Gap Band without smiling at the remembrance of those fun nights out dancing with Judy. We've certainly both mellowed with time and now only get together about once or twice a year for dinner and a single drink.

It's Judy who has kept our friendship alive over the years as I am terrible about keeping in contact-rarely calling or writing. It's always Judy who remembers every birthday, anniversary and special occasion. It's Judy who extends compassion in hard times, not only to me but to her large network of close friends, many of whom she has remained close to since she was in high school. It's Judy who has a deep understanding about the importance of enduring friendship in this often lonely world.

Judy certainly has a knack for making and keeping friends. She can start a conversation with a stranger about some ordinary topic like the weather and make an instant friend. Everywhere we have gone together for as long as I've known her she runs into someone she knows, and everyone she knows loves her forever. She once invited the entire group of people who were working out at her fitness club one morning to join her for a game of bowling that night. Forty strangers showed up to bowl with Judy.

Last night Judy and I got together for dinner and a drink (my favorite-a mojito) at a cute little Mexican restaurant. I told her about the meeting with Justin's guidance counselor and her warning about the life expectancy of this generation of teens. "Is she crazy," she asked, "Sixty years is too long for me!" But by the time we parted with an embrace at the end of the night we had both agreed that living to be 123 years old would be a joy as long as we remained in each others lives.

And I looked back into the restaurant as we walked away and saw a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe that I didn't notice when I had arrived. I smiled at the certainty that even the Blessed Mother would agree that a faithful friend is the greatest gift that God has bestowed upon the lives of His children, whether those lives are short-lived lasting only 60 years, or enduring for the long-haul of 123 years on this earth.

Suscipio









I've been contemplating the idea of taking a blog sabbatical as a form of lenten sacrifice this year. I thought that I might post some occasional poems and reflections from the archives and then spend the time that I would have been writing on this blog in more silent prayer for the season in the hopes that when Easter arrives I will have become filled up with Christ and thereby leave a little bit of my own self behind.

But in looking back at past lenten sacrifices, I know that more often than not I have failed in my resolutions at the various forms of fasting through which I had hoped to improve my relationship with the Lord. If I fail in this one, it would be a very public failure because everyone who reads this blog would know that I just couldn't keep my mouth shut and just had to resume writing. So I thought a little "just in case" writing outlet might help me stay silent here and still share those things that might burn within me. Is that fair or am I already planning to cheat God?

What I want to share with you is that "just in case" outlet that I am thinking about. There is a wonderful new blog that is a compilation of writings by Catholic women. The blog administrator is Jenny from one of my favorite blogs, A Minute Captured. The title of this new group blog is Suscipio and Jenny's description of it follows:

"We are single, married, mothers, grandmothers… We strive to make God the Father the habitual guide and help of our lives because we know, with Him we can do all things. We offer a place of comfort and rest for those whom we love. We also need the support and encouragement of our sisters in Christ. Our souls are tender, our hearts thoughtful and some days we just need a place to go and know we are accepted “as is”…Suscipio, Latin for: to raise up, maintain, support, accept, receive.

You are in the right place…stay awhile."


This is good stuff, this womanly writing on Suscipio, and Jenny has kindly invited me to prayerfully consider writing a guest post every now and then. After reading her gentle description of her website, I think I just might take her up on her offer, although my writing greatly pales in comparison to what is found there. I encourage you to visit this beautiful new space for Catholic women and who knows, you just may be surprised to find my words there someday. In the meantime, Lent is less than three weeks away so I better get busy writing-I've got lots to say and such a little time to say it!!!

(Linking up with Holly's A Life-Size Catholic Pay it Forward post)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

And We Have A Winner!











When I had reviewed the talented Anthony DeStefanis' latest book I Just Can't Take It Anymore I had mentioned that the author had very generously sent me not only a personal copy but also an additional copy to share with you, my wonderful readers. My lovely assistant, aka my daughter, Mary, wrote all the names of those who expressed an interest in the book onto slips of paper, placed them into a hat and drew the winning name-Mary Catherine Williams!

For those of you who did not win a free copy, I highly encourage you to purchase one! Just last weekend I was having an "I Just Can't Take It Anymore" moment of my own. Mary and I snuggled together and I read the book to her, but I found that I was so moved and could relate so well to the words about the difficulties of life combined with the adorable pictures of children that I needed to stop frequently to dry my tears and regain my composure. By the time we reached the end of this little treasure, I was feeling peaceful once again at the realization of the powerful message of the book-that learning to trust in God through all things will bring meaning and purpose to the problems that come our way.

Sample pages and ordering information for I Just Can't Take It Anymore! can be found here.