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)