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 Catholicmom.com

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Wise Words of Faith x2 from Bishop Donald Hying


I have a habit of hanging onto every word of wisdom that issues forth from the mouth and the pen of Bishop Donald Hying and I have frequently shared his columns and my notes from his talks here.  But I've been slacking and hadn't shared his excellent column from the Milwaukee Catholic Herald that was published two weeks ago.  Wouldn't you know that just as I was getting ready to post it, he came out with another fabulous column.  What to do?  I thought I'd cheat and just print my favorite parts from each column but after re-reading them both, I just can't pick out any one part that is better than the other, so, here they are in their entirety-two fabulous columns from the bishop who is an expert at moving hearts toward ever deeper love of God and the desire for complete unity with Him.



From the October 11th, 2012  Milwaukee Catholic Herald:
To be human is to be restless and not fully satisfied most of the time. Ask a high school senior, an engaged couple or a seminarian in his last year of formation if they are ready to move on to the next stage of life! We seek all sorts of things to fill up the emptiness inside us – new friendships, a spouse, a job promotion, a bigger house, a smaller nose, more money, athletic victory, popularity, and yet when we achieve what we have been pursuing, it is never enough. Our hearts still long for more.
Our Catholic faith tells us that this restless dissatisfaction is a good thing! How can that be? The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for” (27).
In other words, God has placed a homing device in our hearts that will ceaselessly keep us seeking more until we rest in God. St. Augustine knew this truth well; living in the waning years of the Roman Empire, he embraced various philosophies, lived with a woman, fathered a child, feverishly looking for the ultimate meaning of life until he listened to the preaching of St. Ambrose in the Milan cathedral and his heart opened to the truth of Jesus Christ.
Knowing my restlessness to be a good and holy thing helps me to channel my desires to God as my ultimate end. When we are tempted to fill our interior emptiness with anything less than God, we can more consciously remind ourselves of what is actually going on here, that we are really seeking the divine.
If only God can truly satisfy all my longings, then money, alcohol, career prestige, a new car, pornography on the Internet, going shopping or any of the other distractions that tempt us are ultimately illusions that leave us disillusioned and emptier than before. When I am drawn to sin, to put something or someone in place of God, I try to immediately pray, to refocus the desires of my heart on the only One who can truly satisfy.
Helping others name their interior longings is a great form of evangelization. When a friend shares her grief over a broken relationship, we can gently turn her toward the Lord as the one who heals and consoles.
When a coworker talks about his mid-life crisis, we could suggest that maybe he is looking for God without even knowing it. When a relative is battling an addiction, we can talk about the need to surrender to a higher power.
As G. K. Chesterton said, even the alcoholic and the prostitute are looking for God; they just don’t know that that’s who they are really seeking. It is our job to help them to know.
As we enter into this exciting Year of Faith, the church invites us to explore the documents of Vatican II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for in these pages we will find raised the ultimate questions that each person must answer. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why are we here? Does God exist and how can I know that? Can I be forgiven? Why is there so much suffering and evil? Does death have any meaning? Is there life after death or is there just nothing? What is heaven really like?
Because humanity, down through every age, has always sought answers to these questions, we can say that the human person is fundamentally a religious being. Only religious faith can attempt to resolve such fundamental and perplexing mysteries that gnaw at our minds and souls.
“In many ways, throughout history down to the present day, men have given expression to their quest for God in their religious beliefs and behavior; in their prayers, sacrifices, rituals, meditations and so forth. These forms of religious expression … are … universal … “ (CCC, 28).
For us, as Christians, the Lord Jesus is the door, as he says in John 10, which leads to life, salvation, forgiveness and peace. In his perfect union of divinity and humanity, Jesus is the complete expression of God to us and the fully integrated person who stands before us, inviting us to become fully alive by giving ourselves completely to him and the reign of God.
This Year of Faith may be just the time to examine what is dead, sinful, incomplete or frustrated in us and to turn it all over to the healing power of the Lord.
Are we still looking for love in all the wrong places?

From the October 25th, 2012 Milwaukee Catholic Herald:

Does God have a plan for my life? Is there an order and purpose to my days or is my existence just a random collision of people, events and decisions?
Our minds and hearts long for meaning; we want our lives with the work, joy and suffering that we experience to ultimately matter to someone. As Christians, we believe that God comes to meet us through a divine plan of Revelation, inviting us into a sacred relationship through Christ.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “God, who ‘dwells in unapproachable light,’ wants to communicate his own divine life to the men he freely created, in order to adopt them as his sons in his only-begotten Son. By revealing himself God wishes to make them capable of responding to him, and of loving him far beyond their own natural capacity” #52.
While our individual vocations of marriage, parenthood, priesthood, serving as a nurse, a cook or a lawyer are a mysterious convergence of God’s intention and our free will, ultimately, we all have the same purpose – to become adopted children of God, to enter even now into the sacred life of the Trinity, to love the Lord with all our hearts and to serve the unfolding of the kingdom of heaven.
In his infinite love for us, Jesus invites us into the very relationship he enjoys with the Father. Who Jesus is by nature, we become ourselves through the initiation of baptism and the subsequent sacraments.
St. Paul speaks of this spiritual adoption, this divine filiation in Romans 8, Galatians 4 and Ephesians 1.  The catechism mentions it 23 times; it is also prevalent in the Roman Missal, especially in the prayers for baptism and confirmation. Through the whole Christ event – the Incarnation, public ministry, Passion, death and resurrection, the Ascension and Pentecost, God opens the door of his heart, inviting us to enter into the very life of the Trinity, even as God comes to dwell within us through the wonder of sanctifying grace.
St. Irenaeus beautifully images this union of the divine and human as God and humanity becoming accustomed to each other: “The Word of God dwelt in man and became the Son of man in order to accustom man to perceive God and to accustom God to dwell in man, according to the Father’s pleasure” #53.
I love the idea that my life is a romantic adventure, a marriage of my soul to God, that my days and years are a gradual unfolding of the Lord and me growing ever more comfortable with each other, that the meaning of my life is mysteriously eternal and knowingly transparent in the immediacy of the present moment. 
When we come to realize that we only exist for the praise of God’s glory, that even now we are enjoying this new life and identity in the very heart of the Trinity’s eternal love, life becomes full for us.
Our prayer goes deeper and longer, our participation in the Eucharist grows in understanding and feeling, our confessions become more honest and self-aware, the trivial does not bother us as much, suffering leads us into the self-emptying of the cross and our human relationships are marked by a sacrificial love that leads us beyond the petty concerns and fears that are constantly nagging us for attention.
Henry David Thoreau famously said: “I went to the woods to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
How sad it would be to come to the end of our lives only to discover that, in fact, we had never really lived, that we were preoccupied with the wrong things, that we never really discovered who we are or why we were here.
The practice of our faith gives us the meaning and purpose for which we long, our spiritual adoption in Christ bestows an identity upon us richer than our wildest dreams, our particular vocation needs all the love that we can give in order to flourish, every day presents a fresh opportunity for God and us to become more accustomed to each other.
When we find ourselves astonished by the overwhelming graciousness of God, all we can do is pass on to others what we ourselves have received. That beautiful handing over of self is truly the work and project of a lifetime.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tripod of Faith

My parish has been enjoying the presence of a fabulous priest who has been helping out while our pastor and associate pastor are on vacation/sabbatical.  Fr. Joe Lubrano, SDS, a Salvatorian father, has a wonderfully gentle way about him, and when he offers Mass for the school children he often uses props to introduce the children to difficult ideas while speaking in a way that they can easily understand without talking down to them.  I'm sure that I'm not the only one attending Mass who appreciates and is inspired by the words of wisdom and love which Fr. Joe imparts!

Fr. Joe's homily for today's feast of St. Anthony Mary Claret was especially delightful.

Fr. Joe began with a little background on the meaning of the word "tradition" using a family's preparation for Christmas as an example.  Then he took a tripod and explained that everything in the Church is based on three legs.  He stressed that all three legs are essential and if one leg of the tripod is missing it cannot stand.  All three legs of the Church are necessary.  Those legs are:

Tradition, Scripture and Teaching

St. Anthony Mary Claret
St. Anthony Mary Claret, a bishop in Cuba, worked to reform the Church and bring people back to the stability of the tripod because things weren't going so well in his country.   Just as an archer pulls back on his bow and aims his arrow at the center of the target, St. Anthony Mary Claret helped the people in Cuba to aim for the center of the target, which is Jesus.  He wanted the people to know how to love and follow Jesus and he used all three legs, Tradition, Scripture and Teaching, to help everyone to reach Christ, who is always the center of everything.

Fr. Joe reminded us that it is our parents, teachers and other helpful friends who can, just like St. Anthony Mary Claret, help us to reach the center by teaching us about our faith.  And for our part, we need to make sure that the target we are aiming for is always Jesus.

In this Year of Faith, a simple, yet important message like the one that Fr. Joe shared with the school children, can go a long way toward helping everyone to understand the basic tenets of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Today I celebrate the blessing of a good priest like Fr. Joe, and Tradition, Scripture and Teaching!  How wonderful it is to be Catholic!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Time for Life at Christ King



The Respect Life Committee at Christ King Parish in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin recently sponsored a fabulous two-part lecture by their associate pastor, Fr. John Burns, and Bishop Donald Hying called "Time for Life"  
Fr. Burns' segment was titled:  Living Faith/Generous Love and in his talk he shared insights on how to speak to others about the value of human life.  
Fr. Burns said that the foundations of the pro-life movement are faith, hope and love; these are the pillars of our proclamation of the Gospel of life.  God loves us and wants us to be happy, we live in hope when we set our sights on that happiness that God desires for us and we arrive there by faith.  Real love counteracts the human tendency to focus on ourselves.  
The greatest human fear is to be alone, there is a fear of loneliness which is why death is so fearsome.  The Good News (Gospel) that we proclaim is that in Jesus Christ death is overcome.  The core of our proclamation has to be the loving insistence that each and every person is loved by God.  Look in their eyes and let them know that God loves them personally.  So many people don't know that they are loved.  Proclaim by witness and our own conviction that heaven is real, that we will overcome this valley of tears.  Remind people that we will truly be fulfilled in heaven.
He spoke about the importance of being a living witness to the Gospel in joyfully living out our lives.  When we successfully do this, we will attract others to the faith.  He used Cardinal Dolan and his joyful personality as an example of this attractive living.  
He said that sacrificial love, the love of parents for their children, applies to everyone.  Love is not about being happy; it's about living at the center of my being.  And who is at the center of my being?  Jesus.  Jesus Christ showed us how to love and let us know that we are all loved.  He shared a frequent example used by Fr. Robert Barron in which he compares the beauty of a rose window to the spiritual life.  Jesus is always at the center of the window and all of creation is rightly ordered around Jesus.
To be pro-life is to be true to the Gospel, the Good News. The laity are called to a secular vocation.  We bring God into the world in places where priests and bishops cannot go.  We are to be a leaven in the workplace, in the home, among our friends and family, and thereby cause a lifting of the human heart.  That's pro-life; to long desperately to help each and every person to live their life as best as they possibly can, ordered to Jesus in heaven.

The theme of Bishop Hying's talk was the Dignity of the Human Person.
Bishop Hying said that when God looks at a human person, he looks into a mirror and sees Himself.  Through Jesus, the sinful human person has been redeemed, their dignity has been restored to what God intended which is a greater dignity than that with which they were originally created.  In the kenosis, the self-emptying of Jesus, we see the dignity of the human person.
He recited his favorite scripture passage, the kenotic hymn from Philippians 2: 5-11:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped at, but rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
He explained how the foot washing on Holy Thursday, the Institution of the Eucharist and the crucifixion are all really the same event.  Through them we learn that we receive greatness when we give ourselves away as a sacrificial gift.
He said that power, disconnected from love, is demonic.  Had Jesus accepted the temptations of the devil in the desert, he would have been using his divine power for himself.  But he didn't do that; instead, he used his powers for the good of humanity.  His power is completely wrapped in love, and through Christ's love we become adopted children of God.  
The Christ event becomes a door in which we are invited to stand in the middle of divinity.  The point of going to church is the divinization of the human person.  We were made to be like God.  That doesn't mean that we are God but that we are drawn to a deeper awareness of Him and His desire for unity with us.  If I don't believe in God then I have to be my own god.  How exhausting is that!  If I am god then I always have to be right, to have all the answers, to know everything, to do everything and to be everything to everyone.
God is more humble than we are.  We discover the humility of God in the mystery of Christ.  The Lord of the universe humbles Himself to become sacramental bread and wine, to put himself into our hands and at that point we can do whatever we want with Him.  Humility is a balance between our greatness and our weakness.  We are made in the image of God but we are nothing without Him.  Humility is knowing who we are and accepting that dignity with which we have been created.  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Day of Marian Consecration

Shrine of Mary, Queen of Hearts
Each year for the past four years, right around this time, my sisters and I have had the honor of renewing our consecration to Jesus through Mary.  It is not a consecration that we take lightly, nor should we, for becoming a slave of Mary is a serious lifelong commitment.  This year in addition to using the preparation by St. Louis de Montfort from True Devotion to Mary, I also followed along with Fr. Michael Gaitley's preparation in Thirty Three Days to Morning Glory.  It was delightfully easy and inspirational!


Fr. Matthew Widder
We are very blessed in Milwaukee to have a Shrine of Mary, Queen of Hearts at Mother of Good Counsel Parish and each October a morning of reflection and consecration is held there organized by Mary Anne Ristow whose mother Anna had built the shrine there over 50 years ago in thanksgiving for answered prayer.  Bishop Donald Hying had led the morning of reflection and consecration for many years, and this year he has passed the torch on to Fr. Matthew Widder.  Following morning Mass Fr. Matthew gave a wonderfully uplifting talk about the Blessed Mother before leading us in the rosary and consecration in front of the exposed Eucharist and then concluding the morning with benediction.

Some highlights from Fr. Matthew's talk:

In explaining the benefit of going through Mary to Jesus, Fr. Matthew said:

"Our prayers pass through Mary and she adds a sense of sweetness to them as they make their way to the Lord.  It's like hugging someone who is wearing a lot of perfume and the scent lingers on you.  Mary adds that sweet scent to our prayers.

In reflecting on the Gospel passage where St. John took Mary into his home (John 19:27), Fr. Matthew shared a story about when he was growing up on a dairy farm.  He talked about how his mother always insisted that he take off his smelly work clothes before entering the house when his farm chores were finished.  He said that there is something that we need to leave behind as well, when we consecrate ourselves to Jesus through Mary, and that is false devotion.   

Those false devotions are:

*A critical devotion where we feel that we are too good for Mary and don't need her.  We can go straight to Jesus ourselves.

*A scrupulous devotion where we fear that Jesus would be jealous of our love for the Blessed Mother.

*An exterior devotion where we say our prayers just to get through them but don't put any depth into our prayers.  It is better to pray one decade of the rosary well than to rush through an entire rosary.

*A presumptuous devotion where we believe that we are saved because we've attended First Saturday Masses or wear a scapular, but don't allow Mary to lead us deeper into the life of the Church through regular Mass attendance and the sacrament of reconciliation.

*An inconsistent devotion where we are hot and cold, on again/off again.  We should think of the quiet years of Jesus and the patience of the Blessed Mother during those years to find encouragement to remain faithful to our prayers and devotion.

*An interested devotion where we go to the Blessed Mother to obtain some particular favor as if she were a vending machine where we put in a prayer hoping to get a desirable favor in return.  We should have a disinterested devotion.  We should go to her because we love her not because of what she will do for us.

Fr. Matthew reminded us that Mary's life was not all honor and glory.  It was suffering and sorrow.  We are called to imitate all of her life and to leave behind all false devotions to cling to her in love alone.

Then Fr. Matthew showed us how the Mass can be prayed through the eyes of Mary:

*The Mass begins with singing just as Mary sang her Magnificat.

*When we confess our sins we remember that Mary was pure.

*We listen to the Word of God.  Mary was always listening and reflecting on the Word of God.

*When we offer our petitions we remember that Mary passes our petitions on to God.

*During the consecration of the Eucharist we remember that Mary brought Jesus into the world the first time and she brings Him to us again and again.  She is known as Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament.   

*Before we receive Holy Communion we are called to have the faith of Mary when we pray, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the Word and my soul shall be healed."  What is the word?  The word is faith.  Mary said "Behold the handmaid of the Lord."  She spoke a word of faith.

*And when we leave Mass, we are sent to carry the Word to the world.  Everyone wants to hold a baby.  Mary passes the baby Jesus to us and then we are to share our faith, to pass the baby Jesus to everyone we meet. 

It is a great honor and blessing to be consecrated to Jesus through Mary.  In the words of St. Louis de Montfort consecration to Jesus through Mary is the easiest and surest path to heaven. To learn more about consecration please read either of the books listed above by St. Louis de Montfort or Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Right to be Merry

Are you familiar with Nancy Shuman's blog, The Cloistered Heart?  This lovely little spot on the internet is a wonderful place to learn how to carry a cloistered spirit within your heart while living an active life in the world.  Her blog is complete with a parlor where comments are welcomed, a library with suggested reading, and quotes and prayers from patron saints.

I recently finished reading one of the books that I found listed in Nancy's Cloistered Library, A Right to be Merry by Mother Mary Frances, P.C.C.  It was a delight from cover to cover!  My eleven-year-old daughter Mary and I recently spent a pleasant evening reading a chapter out loud to one another and she commented that she thought the book was very interesting and enjoyable.  I thought I detected a hint of a future religious in her remarks.

Mother Mary Frances, P.C.C. joyfully writing this book in 1956, shared the daily events that make up the cloistered life of a Poor Clare nun, and her writing style quickly engages and fascinates the reader.

Enjoy a sample and then pick up your own copy of the book:

"The evangelical joy of having so little to complicate our lives lends us all a marked ingenuity for converting sundry articles into highly unorthodox uses.  Poor Clares can find a use for anything they are given, we always stoutly maintained; but we thought we had met our Waterloo when a devoted benefactor included a box of Blue Jay corn and bunion pads in her donation.  Barefoot nuns are spared such trials as require corn and bunion pads for their surcease, but ingenious Sister Catherine seized upon the package avidly.  The refectory chairs have tiny metal knobs on the bottoms of their legs, and those knobs make little black comments on the bare wood floor, to Sister Catherine's acute distress.  After all, a refectorian likes her floor as free of hieroglyphics as the next one.  So Sister captured the bunion pads and slapped them energetically onto the feet of the chairs.  We could not afford to buy padded glides for the chairs, but they now glide beautifully on Blue Jay bunion pads.

There is a humor about life in general that comes from simple Gospel living.  And once we really immerse ourselves in the Gospel, we catch overtones of our Lord's own humor hitherto unsuspected."

Temper, Temper

This afternoon my son and Joe and I made a trip to our local Aldi Store for the family groceries. We were enjoying some lively banter about "back in the day" when Paul and I were still dating, a distraction technique used by Joe to keep me from noticing that he was slipping a forbidden box of Pop-Tarts into the cart.

We turned the corner and noticed a middle-aged man and an elderly woman, who I assumed were mother and son, arguing in the produce section. All of the sudden the man pushed the woman toward the banana display. The woman batted her arms at him, and the man loudly yelled, "Don't ever hit me in public again!" Then he got right into her face and began screaming profanities at her. It was quite disturbing.  I wondered if, in his stress, he was treating her in the same manner that he had been raised by her when he was still a young boy.

I thought about a tactic that we use at the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) Clinic where I work whenever an overwrought mother is at the end of her rope and treats her children in a manner that verges on abuse. My co-workers and I are usually able to diffuse the situation by offering some words of compassion to the mother about how difficult it is to be a parent and then we distract the child with a story or a toy or a few complimentary words.  With my heart breaking over what was an apparent case of elder-abuse in the grocery store, I impulsively began to head toward the man and woman who were publicly struggling, hoping to intervene.

Joe reached over, touched me on the arm and asked me to please avoid getting involved. So I found the store manager who assured me that he was keeping an eye on the situation and would call the police if things got further out of hand. As we passed the woman in the aisle I reached over to her, patted her on the shoulder and said, "God bless you," thinking that she could benefit from hearing a blessing after the cursing she just endured. By the time they reached the check-out, it seemed that the man and woman were getting along much better.

The incident reminded me of the days when my children and I used to take my dad grocery shopping at the Aldi Store in the years before he died. Those were challenging days to be sure, but looking back now I am grateful for every single memory. Here's a story I posted a few years ago about the most stressful of all of our grocery store trips:

 Memories of Dad

I was so blessed to come from a large family (eight brothers and sisters) and parents who loved me and cared for me. Really, my childhood was quite good and normal except for one thing. My Dad was a diabetic and his diabetes was poorly controlled. I have so many memories of fear filled moments because of Dad’s diabetes. I remember huddling on the couch with my sisters as the paramedics tended to my dad in the next room, and peeking out the window to see all the neighborhood kids standing outside gawking at the ambulance outside our house. There were lots of visits to Dad in the hospital and because he was in a diabetic coma he didn’t even know I was there.

I remember coming home from school for lunch while in the third grade and finding Dad passed out on the floor in diabetic shock. I felt panic inside because I was alone and didn’t know what to do. I remembered that Mom usually gave him orange juice to help raise his blood sugar. I couldn’t find any orange juice in the house, so I cut an orange in half and was trying to squeeze the juice into his mouth when my sister Cathy came home from college. She was so calm, like she had been through this hundreds of times before. She said “Annie, it’s too late for that, he’s beyond shock.” She called the ambulance and my mom at work. There was nothing left for me to do, but go back to school for the afternoon. I remember how strange and lonely it felt to try to continue to have a normal day at school when my life felt anything but normal. School was the last place in the world that I wanted to be that day. My mind and heart were miles away.

I learned to avoid Dad whenever there was any sign of his blood sugar dropping. I would leave the house and escape to a friend's house, or go for a walk in the cemetery across the street, or retreat to my bedroom, just to avoid the trauma of watching him resist any care that Mom would try to give him. Under the influence of low blood sugar, Dad would become a different person. As Mom would frantically try to feed him candy or orange juice, he would push her away and yell at her, saying that he didn’t need anything and she should leave him alone, yet at the same time, he would be taking the food she was persistently, lovingly offering to him. We all believed that Mom was a saint for all she had to cope with and we were sure that it was Mom who was keeping Dad alive.

That shadow of his imminent death hung over my head all the years I was growing up. I was always told that he only had a few years to live, that his out-of-control diabetes was killing him. My mind was frequently filled with sad imaginings of hospital scenes and funerals. Although the hospital scenes were frequent, the funeral, thankfully, was years away.

Those fear filled and painful memories followed me into adulthood when I helped to care for Dad in his old age. It didn’t matter that I lived with his diabetes my whole life, I still felt like I was incompetent and incapable of really taking care of him. After Mom died, my children and I would take him on his weekly grocery shopping trip, and that worry was always on my mind “what will I do if he passes out?” I’ll never forget the day when that fear became very real.

My four sons were very small, in fact, Jack was still a baby. Dad was taking a longer time than usual to finish his shopping. The boys and I sat on the counter at Aldi eating apples and reading books, while we waited for him to finish his chore that gave him some much needed independence. The clerk in the store had come to know us very well. We were the family that always lingered long after our shopping was done to wait for Dad. On this particular day, I began to suspect that something wasn’t right because the wait seemed longer than usual. I could see Dad walking up and down the same aisle, looking lost. I went to see if I could help him find something, and I knew by the look in his eyes that we had to leave right away. He had been popping glucose pills in his mouth, but they weren’t helping. I got him to the checkout and as luck would have it, the woman behind me was a doctor. She ran to the back of the store for orange juice. Another woman came running with candy bars.

All I could think about was the need to pack up the groceries and get out of there! If I had to call an ambulance, I wanted it to be from his house and not the grocery store where we wouldn’t be afforded any privacy. The boys had grown restless and didn’t understand what was going on. My panic level reached an all time high as three-year-old Joe, cranky and overtired, threw his little body down on the ground in the parking lot and pitched a temper tantrum right there. I didn’t have the time or the patience to wait for him to pick himself up and join us.  So, while I was carrying Jack in the baby carrier and holding Dad with my other arm, I used the only thing I had left, my mouth, to yell “Get up! We have to go now! This is not a time to fall apart!” I should have been yelling those same words to myself because that is exactly how I felt, like I was falling apart! I hurried Dad and Jack to the van, and scrambled back to scoop up Joe who still lay there overwhelmed and crying. Anger rushed through me as I took him by the arm and dragged him along to the van. There was a woman who witnessed this scene in the parking lot, but had missed the one inside the store. She came running to me with a bible tract, thinking that I needed biblical advice on how to lovingly care for my children. That was the last straw and I did fall apart. Tears fell from my eyes as I drove back to dad’s house and I offered a silent prayer asking for peace.

By the time we got back to Dad’s house, he was fine, the glucose finally kicked in, the overtired children were sleeping and my tears had dried up. But now, I was completely exhausted. I was very thankful that the boys and I could return to our home, instead of accompanying Dad to the hospital, and we could spend the afternoon resting in God’s love.

Even though there were many challenges living with a diabetic father, I am grateful for the love he gave me and the growth that the challenges of living with a health impaired parent produced in me. We were all amazed that he continued to live for eight years after Mom died. God blessed him with 83 years on this earth filled with hard work, prayer and quiet witness to the presence and strength of God. Now, I am confident that God is holding him close in heaven and thanking him for his loving service as spouse to a warm and loving wife, father to nine children, master gardener and antique dealer and most of all, for loving service as a child of God.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Spiritual Spa Day

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."  Romans 8:28

I woke up feeling pretty low like I was sunk down into a pit of mud made of self-pity and senseless sorrow.  And then I went to the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians at Holy Hill for a morning of reflection sponsored by the Milwaukee Archdiocesan Council of CatholicWomen. After a hearty breakfast and some quiet conversation with my friend Anne, the retreat began with a fabulous talk by Fr. Tim Kitzke who smiled and laughed as he joyfully shared his inspirational stories.  Then I cleansed my soul in confession, and we attended Mass in the Basilica.

photo by Cornel Rosario from the Holy Hill website
St. Simon Stock receives the scapular
photo by Cornel Rosario from the Holy Hill website
Oh the Mass!  Mass at the Basilica is always a treat!  It is so beautiful that it feels like you're in heaven and Fr. Don Brick, OCD gave a wonderful homily on the very topic of heaven.  He spoke about having a conversation in heaven with St. Ignatius of Antioch where the saint shared the story of his life here on earth. Then Fr. Brick invited everyone to live our own lives here and now in such a way so that one day we will join St. Ignatius in telling our life stories in heaven.

Following Mass I enjoyed a leisurely stroll in the fine autumn weather along the Stations of the Cross path.  It was just me and Jesus under the canopy of blazing leaves that burned brightly before gently falling to the ground at my feet.  When it was finally time to hop back into my van for the drive home, I felt as if God had taken that mud that I had been sinking into earlier in the day and used it as a rejuvenating mud-pack for my soul.  He took a day that was unappealing and made it into something wonderful.  I was refreshed and light as the leaves that fell around me on the Stations of the Cross walk.  What a blessing!


Fr. Tim Kitzke
Are your spirits sinking in the mud like mine had been?  You might not be able to get away to Holy Hill but you can enjoy some highlights from Fr. Tim's excellent talk and be refreshed! I only wish I could share a sound track of his laughter for you!

Fr. Tim Kitzke's Spiritual Spa Day


Fr. Tim said, "We will hear whatever we need to hear today, not because of the speaker or our frame of mind, but because of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.  Then he shared a story about a homily he gave at a nursing home.  He explained that nursing home homilies have to be short, usually only about two minutes long.  So he kept this particular homily brief and when he was done, he overheard a woman say, "Well that was a complete waste of time!"   We all laughed even though her comment had probably been very hurtful to Fr. Tim at the time.  But, Fr. Tim used that negative comment and made it into something meaningful for all of the women at the retreat.  He explained that our morning together was going to be a complete waste of time; time wasted with God.  He said, "Let God do the work.  This is a spiritual spa day so step back and waste some time.  Put aside your "to-do" list and stop being Martha for a while.  Become Mary sitting at the feet of Christ."

He explained that "We are ultimately called to pick up our cross and follow Jesus.  We need to say "yes" to Jesus about everything.  We are consumed with fears, doubts, worries, and cares and even though we don't know Jesus' plan, we should just say yes.  And what are we to say yes to?  We are to say yes to learning a new language-not Polish or Italian, but rather the language of  love in Christ."

Fr. Tim brought flash cards to help us learn our new language.  The flash cards had one word written on the front and when Fr. Tim flipped the card we saw the translation, a new word which will allow Christ to become ever more present to us in our lives today.  For example:

Information becomes Formation-  Formation means we allow Grace to change our hearts so it changes the ordinary way we look at each day.  He quoted the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning:  "Earth is crammed with heaven and every bush is flaming with God."  He's everywhere and in everything, even the most mundane tasks.  Like St. Therese of Lisieux we need to make every action of our days into a prayer.  Make our homes havens of peace and prayer because the domestic Church is the primary place where faith hits the road.  Do you ever thank God for your home?  Do you ever thank Him for your kitchen sink?  Do you thank Him for your chores?  Thank God for your home and for your work.  Form your daily life in His love.

Personality becomes Personhood-Every person is a unique incarnation of the spark of God, a magnificent unfolding of our personhood.  We're pretty hard on ourselves and carry a lot of baggage around.  Fr. Tim said that when he listens to confessions he hears a common theme:  people feel rotten about themselves.  Going to confession is not a sign of how bad you are, it's a sign of how good you are.  You are mentioning your sins in confession because you want to be done with it.  Some people complain about penances that aren't hard enough.  His response to that is, "You've been punishing yourself for years now.  Let it go."  Then he shared a joke:

There was a guy who had been away from the Church for a long time so he decided he had better go to confession.  He slips into a dark church and as he enters the confessional he sees a bottle of Jameson, some beer and some snacks.  So he's waiting for the priest and thinks that things have really improved in the church since his last time there.  When the priest arrives he says, "Father, this is wonderful!  I was just about to pour myself a drink."  And the priest says, "You're on my side."  :)

Self-Project becomes Self-Donation-We're not here to "get" we're here to "give."  It is in giving that we receive, says St. Francis.  We are not here to make ourselves better like buying some self-help manual that we never read or buying a new piece of exercise equipment that we sell at a rummage sale after we have only used it three times.  We are glorious, called to be royal.  At baptism the priest says, "As Christ was anointed priest, prophet and King, so are you."  Say, "I accept my status as a beloved disciple."  Then grace can work.  Every person is royalty.

He shared the fact that he struggles with listening to people complain so he takes a tip from Bishop Sklba.  Bishop Sklba says "You have to play the Prince.  Be bigger than it all."  We are supposed to love our enemies and we are even supposed to love people who complain.  Instead of fighting back, pray for those who hurt you.  Help them.  He said, "When people irritate me and complain to me, I try to be nice to them.  So if I'm really nice to you, watch out!"

I could have listened to Fr. Tim speak all day, but unfortunately time ran out so he shared a few more flashcards without elaborating.  Maybe we can embellish them on our own...

Discipline becomes Discipleship
Achievement becomes See Everything as Gift
Success becomes Fidelity (stay faithful, be joyful)

Then he closed with Mother Theresa's poem, Anyway:



ANYWAY
People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Be good anyway.
Honesty and frankness will make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.
People need help but will attack you if you help them.
Help them anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.



It's so good to step back from the treadmill of life every now and then, to let go of our worries and let God treat us to some rest and relaxation, to remind us of how very loved we are.  I'm so grateful that I had this opportunity to allow God to treat me and I pray that we may all enjoy a Spiritual Spa Day that lifts us from the dregs of distress and raises us to the heights of God's goodness as often as we possibly can.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

For Christ in His Priest

My family and I had enjoyed a wonderful weekend with my son, John, who had come home from seminary college for a long and busy weekend filled with special events in the Church.  On Tuesday, the time had arrived to say good-bye, and my son Justin and I planned to drive him back to Chicago so he could resume his studies.  As a new Oblate of the Precious Blood, I thought it would be nice if we could pay a visit to the Priory of the Handmaids of the Precious Blood in Lake Villa, Illinois.  When I learned that the priory was only an hour-long drive from my home and wasn't too far outside of Chicago, I called to make arrangements for a visit on our way back to the seminary.

The drive to the seminary was beautiful as the route took us away from the busy city and super-fast freeways and toll-ways, through the scenic countryside, where the abundant trees were a mosaic of red, yellow and orange.  When we arrived at the Priory we found it to be a large piece of property with several buildings that had formerly been a farm, nestled beside several fields of corn.  The first building we saw had a sign on it that read "Chapel".  I parked the car near the back of the building and we went inside to offer prayers of thanksgiving for my recent Solemn Resolution of Love.

The Chapel
Upon entering the chapel foyer, I stopped to light a candle of gratitude.  To the right we saw a sliding glass door that led to the chapel.  Kneeling at the altar before the monstrance we saw one of the Handmaids who was deep in prayer.  I let out a little gasp of joy because the sight of this woman in prayer was exactly like the one that I had looked at many times on the internet when I would visit the Handmaids of the Precious Blood website.  I couldn't believe that I was actually in the presence of a real-live Handmaid of the Precious Blood after having only communicated through correspondence for the past year.
My sons and I knelt in the back row and I felt extremely honored to pray the prayer of the Lay Associate of the Priesthood and the Prayers for Priests and Those Destined for Priesthood that the Handmaids of the Precious Blood pray every day in the very same chapel.  Then I prayed for every priest and seminarian as well as those discerning a call to the priesthood whom I have carefully listed in my own prayer book.  I followed these prayers with a rosary and several other Marian prayers and then fell into silence in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord.  I was filled with joy!

When my sons and I left the chapel, we were greeted by a sister who welcomed us into the guest house and invited us to sit down and enjoy some coffee and bagels.  Sister kindly shared her own history with the Handmaids as well as the history of the priory.  We talked about Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, sP, the founder of the order, and Fr. John Hardon, SJ, a long-time spiritual director for the order who initiated the Oblates back in the 1980's.   The Handmaids and I share a common friendship with Friar Paul Schneider, OFM Conv. who is also an Oblate of the Precious Blood.  Sister told me that she and the other Handmaids who live in the Priory in Illinois were granted permission to attend Friar Paul's ordination to the priesthood at the Basilica of St. Josephat in Milwaukee this coming May.  It will be a day of great joy!  She also talked with John about the friendship that the Handmaids share with Fr. Pawel, one of the staff members at St. Joseph College Seminary, who had asked the Handmaids to pray for the seminary on the occasion of the dedication of their new chapel and the consecration of the altar.  It was beginning to feel like a very small world and Sister already felt like an old friend.

She took us outside to show us the vegetable garden and all of the buildings on the grounds.  We stopped in the place where they sell honey as a means of earning income and Sister gave each of us a jar of the sweet treat as a congratulatory gift for becoming an Oblate.  They also earn money by selling hosts that are made elsewhere and are distributed through the Priory.

Before we left, Sister told us that we had to meet another Handmaid who used to work with the Oblate candidates by corresponding with them while they were in formation.  This sister was delightfully joyful and sweet.  I reached to shake her hand and she reached to hug me instead.  Then she exclaimed that it was a great joy for her to meet an Oblate in person.  She said that writing to Oblates was a somewhat "hidden" ministry because you rarely get to meet the people that you are writing to, so having the opportunity to stand face to face with an Oblate was a real treat.  I felt the same way about meeting her.  It was a beautiful moment that I will never forget!

I can't wait until another opportunity presents itself for me to pay another visit to the Handmaids of the Precious Blood Priory and to physically spend time on my knees with the women with whom and for whom I have been praying this past year and who, in return, have been praying for me and my family.

I am so overjoyed to be an Oblate of the Precious Blood!  It is a wonderful gift from God and a great benefit of being Catholic, to have the opportunity to move a little more deeply into prayer for the men who bring Christ to the world.  The spirit of the Handmaids of the Precious Blood is, "For Christ in His Priest".  I am grateful to live that spirit in my daily life through prayer and sacrifice for the men who give their lives to bring Christ to life for all of the faithful.


with the sisters


Monday, October 8, 2012

A Solemn Resolution of Love


"Christ lives in a special way in His Priests in whom He has engraved, through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, a special likeness of Himself. Any time you strengthen a Priest, you strengthen the very Hand of Christ, the Heart of Christ, the Lips of Christ, the Eyes of Christ.  And in strengthening the Priest you strengthen the whole Church and everything in the Church.

Now this is your vocation, this is your contribution-and it is impossible for one human mind to visualize its ramifications, for when you strengthen a Priest then you share in all the good that he does for the rest of his life."

~Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, sP

It was a little over a year ago when I found the website of the Handmaids of the Precious Blood through a fellow blogger, Joe, at Defend Us In Battle.  The Handmaids of the Precious Blood are cloistered nuns who offer all of their prayers and sacrifices for the sanctity of priests.  As someone who had already been committed to praying for priests and had established the Monthly Prayer Request for Priests in Milwaukee, I was immediately convinced that God was calling me to further my prayer by joining in the prayers of the Handmaids, so I applied to become an Oblate of the Precious Blood.  The application process included answering several questions about my faith and family life and obtaining references from three people who knew me through my parish, my family and my work. Upon acceptance for the year of formation, I began my candidacy with an enrollment ceremony within a Mass which was presided over by my friend Fr. Jim Kubicki, SJ and was held in the intimacy of my living room with my immediate family and a close friend in attendance.

Following the enrollment ceremony I began to receive monthly lessons from Mother Marietta, HPB, from which I gained a deeper knowledge for the Catholic faith, the spirituality of Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, sP, the founder of the Handmaids of the Precious Blood, and the importance of prayer for priests.  Each month I would eagerly read through the lessons from Mother Marietta and then re-read them prayerfully to garner a deeper understanding of their meaning in my life.  Then I would answer a few questions which concluded each lesson and send my response to Mother Marietta.  She, in turn, would respond to my reflection and then send the next lesson to me.  It was a time of great spiritual growth.  Finally, this past August, I completed my final lesson and then asked for Mother Marietta's permission to become an Oblate of the Precious Blood.  Mother Marietta approved of my request.
the ceremony

On Saturday, October 6th, in the presence of my husband and our five children, as well as several close friends and family members, Bishop Donald Hying received my Solemn Resolution of Love.  I chose the Day Chapel of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in downtown Milwaukee because it is my favorite place to pray, and I have enjoyed attending an early morning daily Mass there with Bishop Hying for the past six months.  Bishop Hying had been the first person I told of my desire to begin the Monthly Prayer Request for Priests apostolate and to apply to become an Oblate of the Precious Blood and he had been very helpful and supportive to me throughout my religious endeavors, so I was very pleased that he was able to take some time out of his busy schedule to receive my Solemn Resolution of Love. 
Signing the Certificate

The ceremony was very simple, yet deeply beautiful and moving.  Bishop Hying said Mass, and immediately following the homily, I knelt before him and prayed the words that would forever unite me to the Handmaids of the Precious Blood and all of their prayers and sacrifices.  The Bishop presented me with the Oblates insignia and the Handmaids prayer book and then we both signed a Certificate which states that I am now an Oblate of the Precious Blood.

As Bishop Hying handed me the insignia and prayer book of the Oblates of the Precious Blood he said:

"Recall Fr. Gerald's words, "What a privilege it is to be dedicated to the Blood of Jesus!  Try never to get accustomed to the beautiful grace of being dedicated to Jesus Christ, to the Blood of His Heart."

insignia


I am filled with peace and joy to be an Oblate of the Precious Blood and to offer all of my prayers and sacrifices for the sanctification of priests.  I am so grateful that the Lord has called me to this vocation.

You can read some of my previous posts about the Oblates of the Precious Blood here.  For more information about the Handmaids of the Precious Blood and to learn how you can join them in praying for priests, click here.
congratulations



My family and I with Bishop Hying

Between two Pauls!  My husband is on the right and Friar Paul Schneider, OFM, Conv. who is also an Oblate of the Precious Blood, is on my left.  Friar Paul will be ordained to the priesthood this May.  Please hold him in your prayers.

Prayer of the Oblate:  O Sacred Heart of Jesus, I thank You for the desire to make my life a total return of love to the Adorable Trinity.  I wish to be united with You always in Your love.  Thank You for the graces of my time in formation, for its lights, and its insights.  Above all, thank You for Your Presence in the Holy Eucharist and for Your Priests who bring You to me.

Thank You for every Mass, every Holy Communion from the Last Supper until the end of time.  Thank You for Your availability in the Tabernacles of the whole world, for all the Sacraments made fruitful by Your Precious Blood, for Your friendship and companionship to all who seek You, and for Mary, Mother of the Church.

O Mary, my Mother, I ask and I trust that you will take all I do for the love of God and will improve each action with your Motherly touch and make it more acceptable, more beautiful, for the glory of the Blessed Trinity.  Amen.  ~from the Ceremony of Solemn Resolution as an Oblate of the Precious Blood