Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Christ Child

"This is the place to be if you are feeling bad about yourself."
~Old Man Marley in the movie Home Alone 

church scene from the movie Home Alone (source)

I frequently remain in church after daily Mass to make a mini holy hour before dashing off to work.  I'm often kept company in prayer by several others including a few homeless people who occupy the back row of the church.  Some days tears softly fall from my eyes as I pray, letting out all of my fears and worries to the Lord, and some other days I notice that I'm not the only one sniffling and dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. There are an awful lot of people who feel bad about themselves who bring their sorrow to the Lord.   It seems natural to release our sorrows in the form of tears while kneeling before the tabernacle, doesn't it?  They become a gift to God and to us as well, bringing about much needed relief from stress and sorrow.  So there we are, a motley crew remaining after Mass to give God the gift of our pent-up sorrow in tearful prayer.

On Monday before Christmas, the church had quickly emptied out after Mass, except for me and the homeless couple who recently started showing up in the back pew.  Several church employees were busily setting up the Christmas trees and manger around the altar, making the church look even more lovely than it already does, for the upcoming holy day.

I glanced up from my prayer book as a homeless woman walked past me on her way to reverently light a candle. After her moment of prayer she stopped beside my pew, and then came and sat beside me, like several other homeless people have done when they were in need of a little cash.  "I'm Sue," she said as she stuck her hand out to shake mine.  She told me that she never knew Old St. Mary Church existed until she became homeless.  We talked about what a treasure this beautiful old church is and about our Christmas plans.  She was taking a bus across town to visit her brother but was short of cash for the fare and wanted to know if I had a few dollars to spare.  I wanted to tell her about how I never have any money because one or the other of my five kids always seems to have a hand in my pocket and that I couldn't help her right now.  In my mind I justified my stinginess with the thought that all mothers of teenagers surely must be broke.

But it occurred to me that God was whispering to me as I sat in that pew, telling me that Sue's prayerful request, and the tears she surely must shed like so many others in the silent church, were like those of a child, perhaps even those of the Christ Child in the manger that was being arranged in front of the church. So I gave her the last few dollars and the coffee gift card  that were in my wallet. Maybe, like my own children, the homeless who frequent daily Mass will be keeping a hand in my pocket, forever in need of a dollar or two to get them through the day.  And I will give it all away knowing that I will receive the benefit of watching the Christ Child grow within the homeless people who carry Him so tenderly, so lovingly, through their waking hours of wandering and prayer, giving me a generous example of simplicity and trust in God.  A few dollars-what a small price to pay for so great a lesson!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

St. Joseph-The First Priest

There is a scene in the movie The Nativity Story, with Keisha Castle-Hughes and Oscar Isaac, where, immediately following the birth of Christ, a joyous St. Joseph holds the infant within his hands, raising him high in the air. 

In watching this, it occurred to me that St. Joseph was the first priest.  I was struck by the similarities between St. Joseph in the manger and the priest at the altar, both holding the living Christ within their hands, faces joyfully exultant at the wonder of His beauty and the awesome privilege of holding our very Savior in the air.  Without speaking a word, St. Joseph seems to say "Behold!  Here is the Lamb!" These are the very words that the priest voices out loud at each and every Mass.  St. Joseph was the first man to have the honor of holding Jesus close, to love and nurture Jesus within his own heart as the Catholic priest is called to do. St. Joseph shared Jesus with the shepherds and kings in the manger as the Catholic priest shares Him with the poor and the rich at Mass.  How blessed we are by the holy, obedient, faith-filled, loving example of St. Joseph!

St. Joseph, the first priest, pray for us!

Prayer to St. Joseph over 1900 years old -from Pieta prayer book

O St. Joseph whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires.  O St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your Heavenly power I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the loving of Fathers.  O St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms.  I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart.  Press Him in my name and kiss His fine head for me, and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw My dying breath.  St. Joseph, patron of departing souls, pray for us.  Amen.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

She Has Loved Much

"While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head."  ~Mark 14:3

My living room shrine includes a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes from the shrine in France, an antique heirloom crucifix from my mother, a relic of St. Margaret Mary, a picture and relic of St. Maria Goretti, several jars of sea glass, and now, my treasured painting of St. Mary Magdalene.

My beautiful and extremely talented friend, Christi Jentz, has blessed me a fabulous and original painting of my favorite saint, Saint Mary Magdalene, entering the gates of heaven while tightly holding onto her jar of precious ointment.  I had her framed and she now graces my living room wall. Every time I see her, I just stop, caught off guard by her beauty, and I offer a prayer of thanksgiving for Christi's prayerful and artistic talent, and for the example of love set by my favorite saint.  I hope and pray that not only will I emulate St. Mary Magdalene's great love upon this earth, but that one day, I, too, will know the joy of walking through that magnificent gate into the eternal wonder of heaven. ( Visit Christi's website, Lumen Christi Art, for more of her fabulous artwork. I highly recommend a thorough and lengthy visit here-there is much to learn and Christi freely shares her artistic and spiritual knowledge.  You will be enriched!)

St. Mary Magdalene captures my attention far more than any other saint.  What was it like, I wonder, to have walked the earth in her sandals, to have the singular grace of physically touching the Lord, of crying at his feet, of looking into His eyes and finding love and forgiveness there?   How unbearably crushing was it for her to stand with His Mother at the foot of the cross and watch in anguish as he gasped his last tortured breath? And after His resurrection, how she must have been beyond ecstasy and unable to keep from sharing the miraculous story of her encounter with the Lord outside the tomb with the rest of the world.  Every person she met must surely have been the recipient of her great joy and left her presence deeply moved by her words, "He is risen!  I have seen Him!"  Don't you think she must have shared her story over and over again with everyone who would listen?  After all, who could possibly be quiet and still after a glorious encounter such as witnessing the resurrection of Jesus from the dead?

And yet, many must have thought her quite mad.  Did they scoff at her, thinking she was simply unable to accept the death of her dearest friend, and was now telling tales of an extraordinary fantasy?  Was she considered an outcast by her community for her insistence upon the resurrection of the Lord?  After all, this was the woman who once was afflicted with seven demons, who was known to live a sinful life.  Why should anyone listen to her?

There is a little known book, St. Mary Magdalene: Her Life and Times as Seen in the Gospels, History and Tradition, by Edith Filliette, which gives a deeper insight into this lovely saint's life experience.  Perhaps most moving to me is the passage that explains how the Lord touched her outside the tomb and how that gentle caress remained with her physically even beyond the death of her body.  Regardless of whether or not anyone believed her words of witness to the resurrection, she knew within her heart, soul and body, that His love was worth living and dying for, that Jesus Christ alone was the Word of Life and the God of Love, our Savior and Redeemer, our eternal joy.

 "When St. Mary Magdalene's body was exhumed, "a  small piece of skin was found attached to the brow. It was smooth, clear and lighter than the remainder of the body, and was the size of two fingertips. As it resembled live skin, it was subsequently named "Do Not Touch Me"-the words spoken by Christ to Mary Magdalene at the Resurrection; it was believed to have been the touch of the risen Lord on the brow of Mary Magdalene."

"This small particle of skin remained unchanged for another 500 years, and no suitable explanation was ever found for the phenomenon. Five centuries after its discovery, it finally detached itself from the brow, and was placed in a separate reliquary." ~from St. Mary Magdalene-Her Life and Times by Edith Filliette

St. Mary Magdalene by Christi Jentz

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Advent Joy

Gaudete Sunday Advent Wreath, Basilica of St. Josephat, Milwaukee
Happy Gaudete Sunday!  What follows is Bishop Hying's Herald of Hope column from the December 12th, 2013  Milwaukee Catholic Herald.  I found it be extremely encouraging and thought that perhaps you, dear reader, might be uplifted by it as well. Wishing you joy during this third week of Advent!

Bishop Hying photo credit:  RScrip Studios

This coming Sunday, we will light the rose-hued candle on the Advent wreath as we celebrate Gaudete Sunday, Latin for “Let us rejoice!”

Joy is always the theme of the Third Sunday of Advent because we have now passed the halfway mark and are closer to Christmas than we are to the beginning of Advent.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul bids the Christian community to rejoice because the Lord is so near to them and loves them so much.
The astonishing aspect of this exhortation is that Paul writes these words from prison. His life is filled with suffering, anguish, rejection and uncertainty. Yet, in the midst of it all, he is filled with a remarkable joy, because his heart is united profoundly with Jesus Christ.
Just scratch the surface of life and you will discover an abundance of sadness and anger all around. There are so many problems, challenges, difficulties and suffering everywhere.
Many people seem to have lost hope in the future, the government, the church and perhaps themselves. Others struggle with depression, anxiety and the effects of dark winter days. Life can feel awfully heavy at times.
Yet, in the midst of the gloom, the Lord calls us to a radical and profound joy, that sense of God’s gentle nearness and peaceful love that grasped St. Paul in his prison cell.
Sometimes, we may confuse joy with pleasure. Eating Cap’n Crunch breakfast cereal, going on a fabulous vacation, buying a new car or redecorating the house can give us great pleasure, but the feelings generated by such experiences do not last. Our hungry hearts will soon seek another pleasurable moment to fill the void within. Pleasure is not joy.
So, maybe we are really looking for happiness. Being in the right career, finding the groove in our marriage or a deep friendship, watching our children flourish into beautiful young adults can make us remarkably happy, which is much more substantive than mere pleasure.
Yet, such happiness can vanish in an instant – the betrayal of a loved one, the sudden loss of employment, disappointment in love, a distressing medical report can bring our emotional world crashing down around us. Happiness is not the same as joy.
Joy is that deep sense of consolation, purpose, fulfillment and hope that comes to us when we experience the remarkable love of God. We may find ourselves in the darkest of nights, life may look crazy and impossible, everything we looked to for security may have vanished, but we know that the Lord loves, sustains and saves us.
As the saying goes, I do not know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future. Perhaps only one who has been held in the fiery crucible of torment and suffering can know joy, because when our face is pressed against the wall and there is no way out, we either choose to believe or despair, to hope or to give up. Authentic joy is not a fake smile pasted over the darkness, but the fruit of much spiritual wrestling with God.
When I think of the greatest Christian heroes – Mother Teresa, Pope John XXIII, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, I picture them with a beatific smile. They had all walked in the dark valley, as we all do, but all had come to know and feel the “Dawn from on High” – Jesus Christ – loving, leading, forgiving and guiding them.
Interned at Auschwitz, St. Maximilian Kolbe voluntarily traded places with another man condemned to death by starvation. Whenever the Nazi guard looked into the cell in which the priest was locked with nine other men, without any food or water, Fr. Kolbe was smiling, singing, praying and encouraging the others. He drove the Nazis nuts with his irrepressible joy. They did not know what to make of him.
I want that kind of joy!
A joy not predicated on external circumstances. A spiritual joy grounded in the love of Christ. A generous joy that finds more fulfillment in what is given away than in what is kept. A joy that can shine in the darkest of nights because it has already tasted the bliss of God’s love. A joy that evangelizes in this world that is often sad, angry and despairing. 

May the greatest gift you discover this Christmas be a deeper joy in the love that the Lord has for you.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Christ Within

Do you ever feel a rush of adreneline, one that comes upon you for no apparent reason, waking you up in the middle of the night, perhaps, and you can't quite put your finger upon what it's all about?  But a certainty overcomes you that God is about to do something big in your life.  And that big thing might be very ordinary like taking better care of your family or your health, or spending more time in silent prayer, but somehow, you just know that He is working, calling out to you, needing you to carry Him into the world in a deeper and more meaningful way, and every cell in your body responds with "Yes!  Here I am!  Use me!"  You might have been feeling insignificant and useless in life, but now, you are certain that God has a purpose for you, something really special, only you just don't know or  understand what it is.

St. Teresa of Avila
Could it be that He is asking you to become more aware of His presence within you, and to bring Him to others in a deeper way? In this world, we are all called to carry Christ within ourselves, to bring Him to each other and to share His love with everyone we meet throughout the ordinary events of our lives.    The saints and mystics have described this eloquently.

Listen to St. Teresa of Avila:

“Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours, yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ's compassion to the world, yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good; yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.” 

And my favorite, Caryll Houselander:

Caryll Houselander

"For the moment, the precious and only now, you alone are the bearer of the Blessed Sacrament into your own little world.  You are the monstrance, the priest giving Communion, the Real Presence, to your husband, your children and your friends; and the reason why, or one reason why, Christ has given himself to you, is because he wishes to be with them, as things are, only through you.  This is an astonishing thought, as every thought about the Blessed Sacrament is, if you bring an ounce of courage and realism to it." 

Perhaps Christ is asking you to bring Him to the food pantry and to offer a gentle touch and a kind word to those who are worried about how they will manage to make a pleasant Christmas for their families with very little money.  Perhaps he wants you to offer a smile to the store clerk who is overworked during the pre-Christmas rush of shopping.  Maybe you are to offer His shoulder to cry upon for a soul who is hurting and in need of a little compassion. What if He wants you to prepare dinner with an extra touch of love for your family today?  Give Christ to everyone with whom you come in contact through your loving words and peaceful actions, your generosity and warmth, your gentle touches and joyful smiles. Strive to keep out anything that threatens to creep into your spirit that isn't purely the love of Christ. 

How will you carry Christ into the world today?  How will you let Him use you for His glory? How will you let others experience Christ through you in each and every moment of your life?  Be the monstrance that contains the Lord and radiates His love out to everyone.  Be the chalice, pouring the life-blood of Christ out into the world.  Emulate the Blessed Mother, birthing Christ into the world.  Feel His loving presence within your very soul and then lavish it upon others without reserve.  And then, allow others to bring the Christ that dwells within their souls right back to you.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


"He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, gave thanks, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied.  They picked up the fragments left over–seven baskets full."  
 ~from Matthew 15: 29-37

Do you ever feel like a fragment; like the left over piece, not completely whole, not quite good enough, standing on the sidelines while the world passes you by, of no use to anyone?  I think at many points in our lives we can say that this sad description fits us quite well.  No one is immune to feeling left out at one time or another.  Consider the last player picked for a team, the employee passed over for a promotion, the youngest child who must stay home while the older siblings enjoy a special night out.  We long to be considered the first choice and the cream of the crop, to be included, but sometimes we must wait in patience for our turn to shine.

A fragment, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, is an "incomplete part."  And of course, we are all incomplete parts of the Body of Christ, waiting for the day when we will be united to Christ's love for all eternity and will become fully whole.   In the above scripture passage, there were so many fragments left behind, that someone bothered to collect them and save them for use at another time, they weren't simply discarded as useless.  They were to be cherished as something to look forward to enjoying at another time, when hunger would strike once again.  And beyond this, we are told that there were so many fragments left that they filled seven baskets, seven being a perfect number.

So if you're feeling a bit cast-off or picked over don't dismay!  God is saving the best for last!  He wills that no part of His body, for we are all the body of Christ,  be lost. When your turn finally comes to shine for the Kingdom, you will be the perfect fit at the perfect time.  Hold fast to your faith and trust in the Lord.  In His time, you will be the favored portion.

My dearest Lord,

I rejoice in your faithfulness!  You never fail to amaze me.  Just when I'm feeling down and out, less than worthy, unneeded and unwanted, You reveal your desire and Your plan for me.  You let me know that I am loved, wanted and needed beyond my imaginings.  You draw me close to Your heart and whisper words of encouragement to my weary soul.  Thank you so much for your steadfast and faithful love!   Thank you for showering myriads of blessings upon me and upon all those who are feeling fragmented in this life.  What a joy it is to belong to You!


Friday, November 29, 2013

Three Reasons I Love Advent

When Micaela, at California to Korea, introduced an Advent twist to her Three Reasons I Love Catholicism blog link-up, asking for Three Reasons I Love Advent, I thought about this post from last Advent, inspired by a homily given by Bishop Donald Hying, the auxiliary bishop in Milwaukee, regarding St. Bernard's Three Advents, and knew that it was definitely worth repeating here in addition to my Three Reasons...


Bishop Hying preaching at Roses for Our Lady's 2012 Advent holy hour
 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 and the final coming of Christ at the end of time which is the third Advent.  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?



An idyllic Advent is hushed, peaceful, quiet, and still as we wait for the coming of the Lord.  Unfortunately, the Advents of my experience, beautiful as they often are, do not resemble an ideal life.  The reality, which I'm sure is not mine alone, is a rushed, busy, noisy, frantic season where I struggle to keep up with the demands of family, work and volunteer responsibilities while I take on the additional demands of preparing to create a memorable Christmas season.  But oh, those sweet moments of Advent prayer that come along each day and through which my soul is revived as I wait for the glory and joy of the Incarnation!  Here are three of those prayers, three reasons that I love Advent....
our homemade Advent wreath-greens from our backyard cedar tree are placed in a pie plate
and the votive candles are added to the center

1.  Advent Wreath  

Each year, I cut the fragrant greens from our backyard cedar trees, fill a dish with them, and then tuck the seasonal candles of purple and pink within the greens.  The evening candle-lighting ceremony at our family dinner table is a precious tradition that draws our busy family together for a brief moment of peaceful prayer for which I am deeply grateful.

2.  St. Andrew's Novena 

Are you familiar with the St. Andrew Novena?  This powerful prayer begins on November 30th and continues until Christmas Eve.  The following prayer is prayed 15 times in succession for your intentions.  This year I will be praying for healing for my friend, Ed Slattery, who has been suffering from head and neck cancer for the past three years with no relief in sight.  Would you join me in praying this novena, for Ed, and for all of your own intentions?
St. Andrew's Christmas Novena

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

How did Cardinal Dolan get into our Creche?
It's not really the Cardinal, it's just his Christmas card from last year
strategically placed among my shepherds and kings!
3.  Spiritual Christmas Crib  

Each morning, as I begin my Advent day, I like to help prepare the Christmas crib for the Christ Child.  I do this by using a "Spiritual Christmas Crib" Prayer that allows me to focus my day on some quality that would be appealing to the Lord and will allow me to become a bit more pleasing to Him each day.  The format and prayers are below so that you, too, may prepare your Christmas Crib for the Infant.
To help make your Advent peaceful and blessed, not hectic and stressed, join Micaela to share your own three favorite reasons to love Advent and to learn about what others do to prepare their hearts for the Lord.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Devotions in Preparation for the Coming of the Christchild, and at the Crib, from Christmas to
Purification" by Rev. Frederic Nelson

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Mark of Our Mother

The Bender family has a new addition to our household!  Last fall, Justin came home with a tabby cat, Roo. We all fell in love with our sweet little pet, including my husband, who mysteriously overcame his "cat allergy" once Roo moved in.

There's a legend about tabby cats regarding the letter "M" that can be seen on their foreheads. As the story goes, when Jesus was born, He was so cold in the manger that the Blessed Mother struggled to keep Him warm.  All of the farm animals moved closer to the creche, hoping that their breath would bring warmth to the Child, but still, the Babe continued to shiver and cry. Then a tabby cat jumped right into the manger next to our Lord and his body heat and rhythmic purring soon lulled the Infant Christ to sleep.  The Blessed Mother was so grateful, that as she patted the cat's head in gratitude, she left the mark of the letter "M" upon his forehead.  To this day, all tabby cats carry the mark of the Blessed Mother upon their heads.

Like the tabby cat, we too, bring warmth to the Christ Child with each act of kindness that we do for love of Him.  When we attend Mass with reverence, spend time in Eucharistic Adoration of our Lord, generously give to those who have not, spread joy with a friendly smile, share our faith with children, visit those who are ill, mourn and pray for those who have died or give Christian love in any other possible way, we are pleasing the Blessed Mother who so deeply longs for Her Son to be known and loved in this world.  And so, in gratitude, she leaves her mark upon us as well, sheltering us under the shadow of her protection and within the gaze of her loving eyes.  We are forever her children and we are blessed by the mark of her love.

You can be sure that during my Advent preparations this year I'll be searching for a tabby cat to grace my nativity set so that for the first time, my Christmas creche will truly be complete!  

(P.S. Dear Reader, did you find this post to be a shameless sharing of cat pictures?  If so, please forgive the indulgence!  I do love that adorable cat!)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Guest Post by Dawn Meyer: Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ,King of the Universe


Dear Friends/Family:

Today is the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe!  Just wanted to share some items of interest with you, to help make this Solemnity even more meaningful for you...

Regarding the Gospel for today (Luke 23: 35-43):

The episode of the "good thief" appears only in Luke's Gospel. This man (Dismas) shows signs of repentance, recognizes Jesus' innocence, and makes an act of faith in Him.  Jesus, for his part, promises him Paradise.  

St. Ambrose comments: "The Lord always grants more than one asks:  the thief only asked Jesus to remember him, but the Lord says to him, 'Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.'"  (taken from the Navarre Bible commentary)

AMAZING!  How generous and merciful Jesus was to Dismas!  Dismas' faith in Jesus as King and his sorrow for his sins, were the necessary elements in his meriting eternal life. The example of Dismas reveals to us, the power that a simple act of faith has for us pilgrims here on earth!  

Something as easy as making the sign of the Cross when we pass by a Catholic Church, to acknowledge Jesus' Real Presence in the tabernacle, would be one way to make an act of faith like Dismas did.  Or, offer this prayer to Jesus every day:  "Jesus, please take all of my love, the love that you have given me first, and let my love for you remain with you in all of the tabernacles around the world where you are abandoned and not adored.  Let my love for you console your Most Sacred Heart in all the tabernacles of the world!  Amen."  

The good priests of Miles Christi have this to share with us, regarding Our Lord Jesus Christ the King:

"Jesus Christ is truly the Lord of the world.  Therefore, it is a duty of every Christian to fight for the true reign of Christ, first in his own soul, becoming increasingly rooted in Him by means of the Sacraments (especially Confession and the Eucharist), prayer, and the concrete imitation of the Lord in every moment of our life.  

Then, second, to conquer all men for the Lord, so that His blood may not be shed for them in vain.  Pope Pius XI reminded the faithful that, 'it behooves them ever to fight courageously under the banner of Christ their King and to devote themselves with apostolic zeal to win over to their Lord those hearts that are bitter and estranged from Him and to valiantly defend His rights.' (Quas Primas, 24)

A blessed Sunday to each of you!


St. Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Most Holy Theotokos

"Wisdom! Most holy Theotokos, save us. More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim. In virginity thou gavest birth to God the Word. True Theotokos, we magnify thee."  ~from Moljeben in Supplication for the Victims of Abortion

Orthodox Clergy at Moljeben Service (photo credit:  40 Days for Life/Dan Miller)

photo credit:  Mary Anne Urlakis

Fr. Gregory Madlom and Subdeacon Henry Shirley, the clergy from St. Herman of Alaska Orthodox Church in West Bend, Wisconsin, hold a weekly Orthodox Moljeben Prayer Service for Victims of Abortion with an ecumenical congregation outside of Affiliated Medical Services, a Milwaukee abortuary, during every 40 Days for Life Campaign.  The prayer service is beautiful!  It's 30 minutes of chanted prayer with so much incense that the demons must surely be smoked out of that place of torture and death.   I have been honored to take part in several of the prayer services during each campaign.  Our gatherings are always peaceful events; peaceful, that is, until the last prayer service of the most recent campaign, a prayer service that was anything but typical.

About 30 people had gathered in front of the abortion mill to pray on Sunday, November 3rd at 3 PM.  Fr. Gregory was delayed in traffic, and everyone was waiting patiently for the prayer service to begin.  A car approached the abortion mill, and the driver, not bothering to pull over to the curb and out of traffic, rolled down his window and very kindly said hello and then said something about how nice it was to see so many people gathered for prayer.  That, unfortunately, was the only nicety he offered.  Then the back window rolled down, and a man with a megaphone began shouting insults at our group.  He criticized our God, our religion, our belief in the right to life, our politics, our clothing and our hairstyles.  He was a typical bully.  All the while that he was shouting through the megaphone, the man in the front seat continued his rant as well.  They continued for at least 20 minutes.  We tried to ignore them, and many of the men in our group stood with their backs to the aggressors to form a wall.

Shortly after they began the harrassment, a beautiful young lady, being quite disturbed by this hateful display, approached the car to try to reason with the antagonists.  The man in the front immediately laid into her with profanities, and one of the men from our group had enough.  He knocked the megaphone down to the ground.  The man in the front seat of the car was clearly delighted by this bit of aggression.  He said, "Ooh, this is a violent group!!!  You attacked me!  I'm going to call the police and put a stop to this!"  And he did call the police all the while continuing his harassment. I was told that this wasn't the first time that these two men have come to cause trouble at the abortion mill, that they are well known by many members of our group. But there was someone far more powerful who was also very present at the abortion mill that day, someone who would see to it that no harm would come to those who were standing up and praying for the innocent lives of infants who meet their demise at that house of horror.

I had been honored to hold the icon of Our Lady of Walsingham, the work of subdeacon Henry Shirley, and when Redemptorist priest, Fr. Jim White, came and stood beside me, I asked him to lead us in praying the rosary.  Soon there were 30 voices united in prayer and the sounds of antagonism were drowned out, and the embittered men, finding that they were ignored, left.  At that moment, while holding the icon of Our Lady and praying her rosary,  I felt firmly and completely protected by the presence of the Blessed Mother, and was pleased with the speedy departure of those tormentors which was brought about through our Lady's intercession.  Before we could complete the rosary, Fr. Gregory had arrived and our Moljeben began.

The police did arrive during our prayer service, and as it turned out, the men with the megaphone were in violation of several laws including blocking traffic and the use of amplification without a permit.  Our Lady had shown us that with her protection, the protection of the one who has crushed the serpent's head, there is nothing to fear and we will continue to confidently and boldly step out in service of our Lord in any way He happens to call us.

Our Lady of Walsingham by Henry Shirley

"Most holy Theotokos, save us!  O Mother of God, our queen and our hope, the refuge of the abandoned and the intercessor for those who have gone astray; the joy of all who sorrow and the protectress of the needy; thou seest our poverty, our affliction and misery.  Help us who are weak; feed us who are hungry; intercede for us with thy Son and our God, and may He deal with us as He pleaseth.  For we have no other hope, no other intercessor,  no other consolation except thee, O Virgin Theotokos.  Protect us beneath thy veil, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.  Amen."   ~from the Moljeben in Supplication for the Victims of Abortion

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

As Sparks Through Stubble

"They shall shine and dart about as sparks through stubble."  ~Wisdom 3:7
photo credit:  RScrip Studios

I've been in the position of President of Roses for Our Lady for the past three years and  I'm quite ashamed to admit that leading the organization is often not the joy-filled position that it should be, but rather, one where my perfectionism, fear and anxiety consume me and keep me from enjoying the blessings that come from serving our Lord and our Lady in this role.  I don't feel as though I gain any real spiritual benefit from our special events because I spend too much time being stressed about it. My consolation is that those who attend are feeling the joy and peace that come from devoting time in prayer to honor our Blessed Mother and to worship our Eucharistic Lord.  It's not until after a special occasion is over, and I look at the photographs, that I am able to see the beauty in it and feel some measure of joy in the role I play in serving our Lord and His Mother in this way.

On October 6th, Roses for Our Lady celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary with a Mass and outdoor Eucharistic Rosary Procession by candlelight at the lovely St. Margaret Mary Parish on Milwaukee's northwest side.  The nearby streets happened to be in a mess of construction and the weather was cold, windy and gloomy with the threat of rain hovering in the skies.  Our outdoor procession truly was an occasion of "sparks through stubble" as the flickering candles in the hands of the faithful, against the backdrop of orange and white construction barrels, brought the beauty of the Lord to a less than attractive outdoor setting.

As I walked near the front of the procession to set the pace and to show the lead server the route that had been set, my nerves were at an all-time high with the worry of a break in the clouds releasing rain upon our group as the foremost of my worries.  The route had been planned so that our procession would turn around in the parking lot of a nearby nursing home, allowing the residents to come to the windows and pray with us as we passed.  My sister had been taking some pictures and I noticed her turning into a nearby driveway and suddenly, panic set in, and in the dark, I lost my way and thought that we were passing the turn-around and going too far.  I veered into the driveway, bringing the servers and the men carrying our Lady's vara with me in a sharp turn to the left.  Later, when I looked at the pictures that my sister had taken, I saw that she caught me on the camera at the very moment when I panicked.  Have you ever seen a picture of a spooked horse, eyelids pulled back to reveal eyes wide with terror?  That's how I looked in that particular picture.  Not a pretty sight.  As it turned out, we turned too soon; we had not yet arrived at the nursing home, but had turned around in the parking lot of an apartment building.  In hindsight, that turned out to be a blessing, because had we continued to the nursing home, our procession most certainly would have been caught in the downpour that fell just after we returned to the church, and in fact, the entire evening turned out to be fabulously beautiful through the loving efforts of so many wonderful volunteers and fabulous clergy.

When I consider the fear that grips me over my desire to bring honor to the Blessed Mother through my responsibilities with Roses for Our Lady  I reflect upon how God had bestowed great responsibilities upon the Blessed Mother herself.  When the angel came to her on that dark, late night, with news of the Child that was to grow within her, wouldn't it have been considered normal for her to feel more than a bit of fear?  But she bravely accepted the words of wonder that were spoken to her. She took on the task, not only of an ordinary mother, but of the Mother of God.  She leaned heavily upon her knowledge of God's great love for her, and trusted in the mystery of salvation in which she had been raised to believe.  And she carried out her responsibilities, not just for three years, but for 33 long years, patiently enduring great difficulties and sorrows leading up to her Son's crucifixion and death.  Never once did she falter or complain or allow fear to bring her to her knees begging God to remove the cross that was laid upon her own back.  She carried it strongly and resolutely, determined to serve God with all of the love, joy and gratitude that dwelt within her heart.  The beautiful example of the Blessed Mother is one I need to remind myself of over and over again.  May we all learn to trust in God and to face our fears through the grace-filled knowledge of our loving Mother's strong witness; for she truly was a spark of love that darted about through the stubble of sorrow, never faltering or fading away but forever shining bright.

Here are a just a few of the pictures taken by the very talented Bob Scrip from  RScrip Studios for Roses for Our Lady's celebration of Our Lady of the Rosary...

For many more images of this beautiful evening, visit Roses for Our Lady's website.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Betrothed

In Pope Francis' interview, A Big Heart Open to God, he shared the title of his favorite book, The Betrothed, by Alessandro Manzoni.  Regarding this book, the Pope shared:

“I have read The Betrothed, by Alessandro Manzoni, three times, and I have it now on my table because I want to read it again. Manzoni gave me so much. When I was a child, my grandmother taught me by heart the beginning of The Betrothed: ‘That branch of Lake Como that turns off to the south between two unbroken chains of mountains....’"  

That beginning line was enough to entice me, and so with the Pope's recommendation, I immediately requested the book from my favorite library, The Salzmann Library, at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee.  Much to my joy, they were able to fill my order immediately.

The Betrothed, a work of historical fiction set in the early 1600's in and near Milan, Italy, is quite long at 537 pages, and it took me several weeks to complete, but they were weeks well spent in slowly relishing every word of Manzoni.  The tale of Renzo and Lucia, filled with love, betrayal, intrigue, suffering, conversion, and forgiveness was magnificent, and although so much of the story involved a tale of sorrow with a thorough description of the sufferings inflicted by the plague, the author was sure to include clever little sayings that brought a smile to my face, such as this comment regarding the failings of Bortolo, a minor character in the story:  "Perhaps you, reader, would prefer a more ideal Bortolo?  If so, then all  I can say is, make one up for yourself.  This one was like that."

Cardinal Federico Borromeo
By far, the highlight of the story came in the middle of the book, when the reader was introduced to Cardinal Federigo Borromeo, the cousin and successor of St. Charles Borromeo.   I couldn't help but see a great resemblance between the characteristics of Cardinal Borromeo and those of our own dear Pope Francis.  See if you don't notice the similarities yourself.  Here's Manzoni's description of Cardinal Borromeo:

 "Federigo considered alms-giving proper as a very first duty; and here, as in everything else, his actions were in accordance with his principles. His life was spent in continual lavishing of money on the poor...

This man's inexhaustible charity showed not only in his giving but in his whole bearing.  Easy of access to all, he felt it a special duty to have a pleasant smile and an affectionate courtesy towards those who are called the lower classes, particularly as they find so little of it in the world...

He was very rarely irritated, and was admired for the sweetness of his manner, and for his imperturbable  calm; this might be attributed to an unusually happy temperament, but was in fact the result of constant discipline over a disposition naturally lively and impulsive.  If there were times when he showed himself severe, even harsh, it was towards those of his subordinate clergy whom he found guilty of avarice or negligence or any other conduct opposed to the spirit of their noble ministry...

...this same modesty, this dislike of predominating over others, was equally apparent in the commonest occurrences of life.  Assiduous and indefatigable in organizing and disposing when he considered it his duty, he always avoided intruding in other people's affairs, and even did all that he could to avoid doing so when he was asked to; a discretion and restraint unusual, as everyone knows, in men zealous for good like Federigo."

I found The Betrothed to be greatly inspiring, causing me to desire to become more Christ-like and forgiving to those in my own life who have brought pain and sorrow to my days.  I highly recommend a slow and meditative reading of Manzoni's The Bethrothed , so that, like Pope Francis, you too, may claim it to be one of your favorite literary works.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Angel of Death

While resting upon the rock
that juts out into the lake,
chilled to the bone
by the damp, cold November air,
I observed the angel of death
pass over in a lone,
gray cloud, drifting
lower than the rest.

Ripples moved across the lake,
and the crow was silenced.

I waited for the angel
to take my soul
and leave my limp, lifeless body
on the rock.

But, alas, it was not my time.

He continued slowly upon his way
and left me to my silent,
peaceful reverie
of all those souls
whom I have loved,
now passed from this earth
into the eternal arms of God.

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

(a revised re-post from All Soul's Day past)

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Eternal Proof

"I love you," He said.

"Prove it!" we sneered.

And He did.

O Jesus, Heart of my heart,
the wound in your side,
forever throbbing
and without a cure,
inflicted by my shallow,
 doubting mind,
is eternal proof of your love.

How regretful am I
to have required this sign.
Deepen my trust, I pray.
Never let me question You again.

For Your open side reveals
 Your Love
which is stronger
than death
and You are with me,
loving me,
even now,
even now.

For more contributions on the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the First Friday link-up at O Most Sacred Heart blog, visit here.  This month's theme is:   "The Love of the Sacred Heart is stronger than death."  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Chotki

"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’"  ~Luke 18:13

my chotki, a treasured and much used gift from a dear friend
My friend, Christi Jentz, who writes a beautiful blog, Lumen Christi, shares the background of the chotki as she learned from our mutual friend, Mary Anne Urlakis, here in this post.  The chotki, a traditional prayer rope in the Orthodox tradition upon which one prays the "Jesus Prayer," is a favored prayer form of Pope Francis.  Fr. Robert Barron teaches that when praying the Jesus Prayer, one should breath in, as in taking in the Holy Spirit, while praying, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God," and then exhale, as though releasing our sins, while praying, "have mercy on me, a sinner."  When you are through, you may use the tassel to dry your tears. Such prayerful meditation, while counting the knots of the chotki, is sure to bring peace to the soul.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Kneeling Pilgrimage

Old St. Mary Church-photo credit:  panoramio
I'm fascinated by stories of pilgrims who visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe or the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, and, for various reasons, such as a greater sacrifice or in atonement for their sins, perhaps, walk to the Shrine on their knees, often while praying the rosary.  Even though many wear knee pads for this kneeling pilgrimage, the pain must still be quite difficult to endure.  Although I like the idea of such a drastic form of prayer, I'm not sure that I could muster up the resolve to make a pilgrimage of that nature.  But now, I've found my own little form of making a kneeling pilgrimage which is not too difficult too endure, and which brings immediate rewards of satisfaction, and hopefully, many spiritual rewards as well.

As I help to clean Old St. Mary Parish each week, one of the tasks I have taken on is polishing the name plates at the end of each pew.  Back in the 1980's, when the church was renovated, memorial donations were made, and to honor those people on whose behalf donations were made, brass name plates were made and attached to both sides of the pews in church.  Over time, the name plates become tarnished and the names are hard to read.  So, I get down on my knees, and walk from pew to pew with a bottle of brass polish and an old rag, to bring those brass plates back to the gleam and shine they once knew when they were first installed.

photo credit:  panoramio

My pilgrimage is hardly difficult as I kneel on soft carpeting, inside a warm and beautiful church, beneath the soft glow of the antique lights, always under the watchful and loving eyes of Jesus in the tabernacle.  As I make my way down the aisle, I offer a prayer for each of those parishioners who who have gone before me and who are forever memorialized in brass, as well as for their families.  It's both a prayer of gratitude for their example of faith, and of petition of trust for the needs of their soul.  I can't help but reflect deeply upon the fact that the very walls of the church are soaked with so many whispered prayers offered throughout the long history of the church until they are drenched with faith, hope and love.  It is an honor to make that walk of faith upon my knees, in prayer for so many holy people whose perseverance built the very church that I have come to love, and to join my own prayers to those that have gone before me.

photo credit:  panoramio