Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Seven Most Beautiful Churches in Milwaukee

Last week I posted a book review of architect Duncan Stroik's The Church Building as a Sacred Place.  I was greatly impressed by some of the magnificent churches from around the world that were pictured within the book.  Then I stumbled across a blog post by John White at Catholicvote.org on  The 12 Most Beautiful Churches in America  and I was reminded of a dear friend of mine who used to send me pictures of grand churches she ran across in her travels and I would always be so impressed and a little jealous, wondering why it seemed that every city in the world has beautiful churches but my own.  So I wrote to her complaining of the lack of beauty in my own city and she gently reminded me that Milwaukee is filled with glorious Catholic houses of worship.  Of course she's right and to prove it, here is my compilation of The Seven Most Beautiful Churches in Milwaukee:

St. Anthony's on Mitchell Street which is not only a beautiful church but it also wins my vote for the most beautiful Mass.  Every Sunday at 10 AM you will find the pews filled with large families, eight altar servers assisting the priest, a glorious choir, outstanding homilies, incense wafting through the air, everyone receiving communion on the tongue while kneeling at the altar rail, and a closing which includes the sung Salve Regina followed by the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel.  It is perfection!  Check out the panoramic view here for a really great view of the church.

St. Anthony Church from the parish website
St. Anthony exterior photo credit:  Flickr

St. Joseph's Chapel inside the Motherhouse of the School Sisters of St. Francis  This is perhaps the best kept secret in Milwaukee!  The chapel is tucked inside a large brick convent/office building/nursing home.  Take some time to visit the many reliquaries stationed around the chapel.  An even better secret is the fabulously gorgeous adoration chapel in the back of the altar.  If you arrive for adoration at noon, you can observe the revolving door of the tabernacle open to reveal the monstrance for adoration.  Fabulous!  It is my all-time favorite place to adore the Lord.

St. Joseph Chapel photo credit:  Badger Catholic

Old St. Mary in downtown Milwaukee.  This lovely old church is only a few blocks away from the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.  Fairly large crowds attend the daily 7 AM and 12 noon Masses.  It's one of my favorite places for daily Mass and for praying the Stations of the Cross.

Photo Credit:  Flickr
Old St. Mary Photo Credit:  Wikipedia

The Basilica of St. Josephat  I will never get over the awe I feel when I think about the poor Polish immigrants who sacrificed and saved to build this most holy church.  Praying here always makes me feel small, as if I truly am surrounded by the grandeur of God and all of His heavenly angels and saints.  Maybe that's because of the fabulous dome! The Basilica is managed by the Conventual Franciscans and on Tuesday mornings after the 7 AM Mass they always pray a novena to St. Anthony and everyone is invited to come up and personally venerate his relic.

 
Interior of the Basilica of St. Josephat-image:  Tripadvisor
Photo Credit:  Wikipedia


The Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians at Holy Hill  It's a bit of a drive from my house out to Holy Hill, but it is always worth the drive.  Not only is the church magnificent, but the Carmelites who manage the shrine always give amazing homilies.  The outdoor stations of the cross are a treat to pray on days when the weather is warm.

Photo Credit:  Holy Hill website
Photo credit:  Holy Hill Properties

St. Stanislaus Oratory  (Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest) Sadly, I haven't been to Mass here in over 20 years.  I believe it is the only church in the Milwaukee area where Mass is offered in the Extraordinary form every Sunday.  It's so close to my home that I really don't have an excuse for not attending Mass there more frequently.


Photo credit: Jay Filter Photography
Photo Credit:  Milwaukee Polonia Project
The Church of the Gesu On the Marquette University campus, Gesu is run by the Jesuits.  Daily Mass and confession is offered several times each day in the (not so beautiful)  lower church. Lately the church chimes have been ringing out the Salve Regina every noon which I find to be such a spiritual boost to the busy downtown neighborhood during the midday bustle.

Gesu interior photo credit:  Pixels to Prove It
Gesu Church photo credit:  Wikipedia

Which ones did I miss?  What are your favorite churches in Milwaukee and elsewhere?  The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is offering a free Steeplechase Pilgrimage on February 9th which includes a tour of some of the above churches.  Visit this link for more information.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Prayer of the Faithful-UPDATED

UPDATE:  Visit BadgerCatholic for more detailed information on this disturbing case.  And please, continue to pray!


As Christians, we know and believe that when we suffer, God cries and suffers right along with us.  Our pains are His pains as well.  Day after day we lift up our hearts in prayers of supplication, begging Him to work through our suffering and bring joy to our hearts, strength to our spirits and growth to our souls.  We believe that He listens to our prayers and in His great love does all He can to help us cope with our pain and bring about resolutions for our struggles.

Every now and then, a story of someone in need of much prayer really touches my heart and I not only want to join in prayer for those who suffer, but I want to ask others to pray as well.  Many loving prayers just have to be more effective than a single prayer of desperation.  We are all the body of Christ, after all, and when one part suffers, we all suffer.  Why should our "Prayers of the Faithful" be limited to those that are shared at Mass?  Why can't we offer our petitions for one another all day long in the hopes that God will bring our much desired answer to light?

In the spirit of praying for the needs of others, I ask you to please join me in prayer for a Milwaukee area family that is struggling through a very difficult situation involving a child who may be in danger.

Sarah is the seven-year-old daughter of Stephanie who recently lost custody of her daughter to Sarah's father who has moved her to another state.  Sarah's life may be in great danger as past visits with her father have left her suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.  It is unknown what type of life Sarah endures while staying with her father as the family is currently not allowed to have any contact with Sarah, but the outlook appears to be grim and Stephanie and her family are deeply worried.

I ask you to please hold Sarah and Stephanie in your prayers in a special way.  Pray for Sarah's safety and for Stephanie's strength to cope with the great torment of this situation until it is favorably resolved.  And please pray for all families who struggle with violence and custody issues.

"And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."  ~Philippians 4:7


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Achieving Graciousness

"Trials are medicines which our gracious and wise physician prescribes because we need them; and he proportions the frequency and weight of them to what the case requires."  ~John Newton

After coping with several unusually stressful situations beginning last summer and culminating near the end of the year, I found that I could no longer hold my head reasonably high and carry on  with a smile on my face but was, instead, caving to despair.  Unlike Job, when tested, I resorted to tears and anger instead of faithfully trusting in the Lord's providence and love for me.  I could not make myself say "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."  I was feeling pretty ugly.  I was acting even uglier.  I could not seem to summon up hope, trust or faith.  Prayer was practically non-existent.  The Holy Spirit must have been working overtime in my soul, praying for me along with my beautiful family and friends who are always so generous in prayer.


"The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love."  ~Psalm 145:8



And then, through the example of several people who were graciously suffering through their own trials,  God showed me that it was not so much hope, trust or faith that I lacked, but rather it was graciousness that was in short supply in my disposition.

"To bear defeat with dignity, to accept criticism with poise, to receive honors with humility-these are marks of maturity and graciousness."  ~William Arthur Ward

The first example that God showed me was the beautiful witness of Ed and Lisa Slattery, the parents of four sons who have been coping with Ed's cancer diagnosis with bravery and joy.  This past Friday, some of their friends and family members hosted a fish fry benefit for the Slattery's that was attended by what seemed to be more than 1000 people who love and admire the family and wanted to help them.  Events like that cannot be successful for people who are stingy in the virtue of graciousness.  It was easy to see that Ed and Lisa abound in graciousness and it is returned to them in abundance.  You can read about Ed and Lisa's story of graciousness through suffering here in my previous post and here at the Milwaukee Catholic Herald.

"Gracious words are like honey, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones."  ~Proverbs 16:24

The next example of graciousness came through the words of a child.  My daughter Mary plays sixth grade basketball.  After years of watching my four sons play, I am often struck by how vicious girls seem to play compared to boys.  In their efforts to steal the ball away from their opponent, girls do an excessive amount of grabbing, clawing, scratching and elbowing.  It's often as painful to watch as it must be to play.  In one of her most recent games, a girl on the opposing team was knocked down to the ground and sat there in pain, crying loudly as she held her shoulder.  It was thought that she might have dislocated the limb and she sat on the bench with an ice pack for the remainder of the game.  At the end of the hard-fought competition, my daughter's team lost the game.  And the girl who was injured walked over to my daughter and simply said, "Your team plays very well."  What a lovely example of gracious behavior!

"Now when Jesus had come into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother lying sick with a fever. So He touched her hand, and the fever left her. And she arose and served them."  ~Matthew 8:14-17

Finally, last weekend when my family and I attended Mass, I was deeply affected to see a friend who was sitting in front of me sobbing uncontrollably.  Several people, including the pastor, came to offer her words of comfort and prayer before Mass.  Two of her four children were participating in the liturgy, her thirteen-year-old daughter in the choir and her sixteen-year-old son assisting the little ones at the Children's Liturgy of the Word.  My friend was surrounded by family members who were holding her and crying with her.  It wasn't until the Prayer of the Faithful that I understood what was wrong.  At the prayer for those who have recently died, her husband's name was included.  After Mass, as many parishioners gathered around her to embrace her and offer condolences, she shared the fact that her husband had died the day before and they were all in a state of shock as his death was quite sudden and unexpected.  I couldn't help but be overcome by the graciousness of a family in grief, coming to Mass and worshiping with their parish, continuing in their acts of liturgical service, allowing those who love them to accompany them in their grief.  I thought of Peter's mother-in-law, who, once she was touched by Christ, continued in service to others despite her recent illness.  Joining with communal worship despite deep sorrow is gracious indeed.

"Realize that when you get older, you either get senile or become gracious.  There's no in-between.  You become senile when you think the world short-changed you, or everybody wakes up to screw you.  You become gracious when you realize that you have something the world needs, and people are happy to see you when you come into the room."  ~Carlos Santana

I am grateful for these examples of graciousness in difficulty and I pray that God will continue to convert my heart to graciousness so that like the Slattery family, the girl on the basketball team and the family in grief, I may always choose to be gracious to others, freely sharing my gifts and thereby reflecting my Christian faith and love for others despite any pain that may come my way.  After being witness to these examples of graciousness, I found that I could once again lean upon God in prayer, I could summon up the hope, trust and faith that I thought I lacked, and I learned that I, too, can be an example of graciousness for others.  The world is a beautiful place, full of blessings and the wonders of God. When we choose to focus on the good within life instead of the negative we can all become examples of His goodness and His graciousness to those around us. 

"The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace." -Numbers 6:24-26




Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Church Building as a Sacred Place-A Review



One of the sweet little perks that comes from writing a blog is the large variety of reading material that comes my way for review.  I am a voracious reader who usually finds no greater pleasure than curling up on the couch with a book for entertainment or spiritual growth.  Now, for the first time, a book came into my hands that made me want to cast aside my couch potato ways and get out and explore the world so that I could take in some of what the book contained in real life.

As I gave an initial skimming over Duncan G. Stroik's The Church Building as a Sacred Place:  Beauty, Transcendence and the Eternal from Hillenbrand Books/Liturgy Training Publications when it first arrived, I was excited to learn that I actually had the privilege of praying in one of the author's architectural jewels on several occasions:  the magnificent Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  I then realized that this was no ordinary book that I was holding in my hands, but it was the work of a master who not only sees the importance of beauty in worship, but actively works to bring the grandeur of houses of worship back to our modern world.

While reading through the thoughtful and thought-provoking essays, I was struck by the following passages, among others,  that brought me to gratefully ponder with a deeper respect, not only sacred architecture, but also the liturgy and the gift of the Eucharist:

"We seek to restore the practice of sacred architecture because it is part of our Catholic patrimony, in the same way that images of the Annunciation, Last Supper and Crucifixion are.  They are a catechism in paint, mosaic and stone."

"Our response to the cross is to return His love in our thoughts and deeds, by feeding the hungry, and also by building churches."

"The altar which represents Christ who is the perfect altar of sacrifice, and the tabernacle, which house's Christ's Real Presence, are rightly placed in the sanctuary and seen as interrelated spiritually, the design of the church building begins with the altar, then moves to the tabernacle, and then flows from them.  This can be thought of as analogous to the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son."

The Church Building as a Sacred Place:  Beauty, Transcendence and the Eternal not only opened my eyes to the importance of designing and building magnificent churches to give glory to God, but the photographs contained within made me yearn to fall upon my knees within those glorious spaces and connect more intimately with God. I think it's time for me to make a pilgrimage or two to some sacred and beautiful churches!
Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Duncan Stroik

From the publisher:


How can we recover a sense of the sacred in liturgy and architecture? Why was it lost in the twentieth century? What signs of hope exist for the future? In his new book,The Church Building as a Sacred Place: Beauty, Transcendence, and the Eternal, Duncan G. Stroik, Professor of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame, answers these questions with wisdom gained from two decades of teaching, writing, and practicing architecture in service to the Church.
Writing to architects, artists, pastors, and all who see the urgent need for renewal, Stroik begins this compilation of essays by reemphasizing the nature and purpose of the church building. He then considers how the Classical Tradition can inform contemporary churches, analyzes the impact Modernist philosophy has had on architecture, and concludes by looking forward to renaissance and renewal. Along the way he gives principles of design, myths of contemporary sacred architecture, advice for priests, and explanations of the theology of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Photographs and drawings of exemplary historic and contemporary churches fill the pages of this instructive and inspiring work.
This retrospective and forward-looking collection of 23 essays by Duncan Stroik shows the development and consistency of his architectural vision over the last eighteen years. The essays cover church modernism and modernity, renaissance and renewal, principles of church design, and a critique of modern iconoclasm.

Packed with informative essays and over 170 photographs, this collection will help priests, bishops, liturgical consultants, lay commissions and  parishioners understand the Church’s architectural tradition.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Duncan G. Stroik is a practicing architect, author, and Professor of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame. His built work includes the Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel in Santa Paula, California and the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Prof. Stroik is also the editor of Sacred Architecture Journal.

You can purchase The Church Building as a Sacred Place here.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Here is God

"In life we do many things, say many things, but the voice of suffering offered out of love - which is perhaps unheard by and unknown to others - is the loudest cry that can penetrate Heaven" 
~Chiara Lubich



In my previous post I asked the question "Where are you God?"  I've since learned that when we ask a question of God we had better be prepared to hear an answer, for God did answer my question, not just in the quiet of my silent home at night, but also in a very profound way, through the witness of a faithful couple who are undergoing the effects of cancer and the changes that this diagnosis has brought to their lives.

My family is made up of early risers and we usually attend the 7:30 AM Mass on Sundays at our parish, but  my son John was asked to cantor at the 9 AM Mass this past weekend, so we all slept in a bit to attend the later Mass together.  The church was full of familiar faces that we hadn't see in many years since we started routinely attending the earlier Mass.

After Mass many of the worshipers headed down to the church hall for "Hospitality Sunday"  which is an opportunity to socialize with others while enjoying coffee and donuts.  On this particular Sunday, the Home and School Association was also sponsoring a hot ham and roll/bake sale to raise funds.

My family and I sat with some old friends that we hadn't seen in a while and we were enjoying catching up with each other.  Soon we were joined by our pastor, Fr. Dave, who had purchased some of the ham and rolls and was generously and lovingly serving it to my family.  It felt so good to be in the presence of family and friends, just relaxing and enjoying each other's company.  Then as the hall started to clear out a bit I saw them in the corner of my eye: Ed and Lisa Slattery, that is.

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." ~Philipians 4:13

My family and I have known Ed and Lisa for the past ten years.  Ed has been the basketball coach for my sons, John and Jack, and they both learned so much under Ed's guidance.  We have spent many enjoyable hours sitting in the gym watching Ed pace back and forth and calling out "Bender! Bounce pass!" or "Bender!  Shoot!" or "Bender!  Dribble!"  Ed has devoted countless hours to teaching not only his own four sons, but many other boys as well, the skills necessary to play a good game of basketball, and there are many families, including my own, that are deeply grateful to him for selflessly sharing his passion for the sport with their sons.

But now Ed is in need of much prayer as he was diagnosed with cancer of the throat.  After initial treatments,  he was recently diagnosed for a second time.  It's a heartbreak not only for Ed and Lisa and their fine four sons, but also for everyone who knows Ed.

Paul and I had a blessed opportunity to sit and speak with them before heading out for the day.  Ed sat with a half-eaten donut that was too dry for him to manage to swallow since his face is now half-paralyzed.  His voice, barely audible, was a small echo of the robust shouts we remember hearing on the basketball court.

Lisa, a beautiful woman of great strength and deep love, spoke about the countless hours that they spend in doctor's offices these days.  She talked about how they scramble to get his medical care appointments arranged around both of their work schedules, the work that is more necessary than ever to pay for their medical bills. But they didn't only speak about Ed's health.  Both Ed's and Lisa's eyes just shone with pride as they spoke about their boys, particularly their two oldest who both attend UW-Madison.  Lisa, in particular, spoke of what a blessing it is to see that their Catholic faith still plays an important role in the  lives of her adult sons as the campus offers an abundance of opportunities available to them.

But her eyes quickly filled with tears as Ed showed us the gift that Lisa gave him for their most recent anniversary.  It was a ring that said "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."  He mentioned that wearing it to work has allowed him to witness to the faith with his co-workers.  But Ed didn't dwell on his health for long before the conversation quickly turned to his passion, teaching boys to play basketball, and both Ed's and Lisa's faces lit up with joy.

As we sat and visited with Ed and Lisa, I was overcome with, not sadness, but joy.  It was so easy to see that this couple has accepted the cross which has been laid upon their shoulders and they see each day as an opportunity to care for each other and their children with love and grace.  So here was God, not just passing by but sitting directly across from me.  Here was God in this beautiful and strong and faith-filled couple.   Here He was, showing me what it means to trust, to hope and to love.  Here was God living in Ed and Lisa Slattery and here were Ed and Lisa witnessing to God's loving presence through their every word and action.  It was a moment of unmeasurable blessing.

There will be a benefit fish fry and silent auction to financially aid the Slattery family this Friday, January 25th at St. Florian's Parish in West Milwaukee from 5-10 PM.  Details are below.  If you are in the Milwaukee area, please consider attending to help this wonderful family.  And please, no matter where you are, will you offer a prayer for Ed's healing and for all of the family's needs during this difficult time?

**********************************************************************

Hundreds of young athletes from Milwaukee, West Allis, Whitnall, and Greenfield have benefited from the thousands of hours Coach Slattery has dedicated to them over the last 15 years.  Unfortunately Ed, Coach Slattery, has been diagnosed with cancer for a second time.  As he fights through this challenge Ed and his family can use our help.

If you know Ed, you know him as a committed coach, great co-worker, dedicated husband and proud father of four.

A benefit dinner and silent auction with DJ is planned to financially aid the Slattery family.

ED SLATTERY BENEFIT FISH-FRY 
AND SILENT AUCTION
Come to:
St. Florian Parish
1233 South 45th Street Milwaukee, WI 53214
 (1 block North of Greenfield Ave. on 45th St.)
Friday January 25th, 2013
Benefit:  5:00 PM until 10:00 PM (FISH FRY 4 - 7)
Voted Best Fish Fry by the readership of the Catholic Herald

Donation: Adults $20.00 and Children $10.00 (12 & under)
Tickets available at the door 
All proceeds will benefit the Slattery family during Ed’s treatment and recovery.
SORRY, DONATIONS ARE NOT TAX DEDUCTABLE.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Where Are You, God?

"And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out."~Mark 45:48-49

I can go through most of my busy days feeling confident in the presence of God.  I focus on the task at hand realizing that my work is a gift from God and I am returning that gift by using my time and my skills wisely.  I  intermittently pause to thank God for the smile of a baby, the embrace of my daughter, a glorious sunrise, a listening friend, or a hearty meal.  I am sure that He is with me in my sorrows and struggles, using these to draw me into a deeper dependence upon His grace regardless of how hard I might fight Him for a life of ease.  And so for the most part, life is good, isn't it?

But at night the torment begins.  I often fight my way through sleepless nights as anxiety about work to be done, problems left unsolved and my own sinfulness play havoc in my heart.  I lay awake and ask God, "Where are you?  Why can't I feel your comforting touch, your loving presence?  Why do I feel so alone, so unloved, so miserable?"  And the silence of a household peacefully asleep echoes depressingly in my heart.

I was recently struck by the Gospel passage from Mark 6:45-52 about the disciples struggling through a storm while out on the water.  There they were, doing what Jesus had told them to do, that is, get into the boat and head toward Bethsaida, and they end up caught in a big storm.  They feared for their very lives and rightly so for they were in grave danger.  And suddenly they see Jesus, who, we are told, meant to pass by them.  When I first considered that, it really bothered me.  Why would Jesus mean to pass them by?  Why wouldn't he go to them and help them immediately?  When I am feeling the storms of life and agonize over it during many slumberless nights, is Jesus simply passing by without stopping to help and is that why I suffer so much distress, I wondered?  But then I read this awesome explanation by Geoff Thomas at St. Alfred's Baptist Church in the UK and this passage made so much sense to me:

"We are told, "He was about to pass by them" (v.48). You might think that that meant Jesus was going to continue with his stroll across the lake passing by the boat, but that phrase in the Old Testament is charged with meaning. It is found where God makes himself known in an awesome appearance to his people. The men who led his work were fearful and uncertain about the future, and then God comes and he passes by them. There was an occasion at Mount Horeb the Lord "passed by" the prophet Elijah in the wind and the earthquake and the fire, and then in a still small voice spoke to him (I Kings 19:11). It lifted Elijah out of his suicidal frame. Again, before that, at Mount Sinai the same Lord in his glory passed by Moses at a time of perplexity in his life (Ex. 33:22), in order to reassure and reveal God's name. We are told, "He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, 'The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin'" (Ex. 6&7). This same God is here passing by his troubled servants on the lake. That is why the Lord Jesus came walking on the water.

Our Creator, so majestic and awesome, there revealed himself to John and James and Peter and Andrew and the rest. Jehovah Jesus went passing by the towns of Galilee, and it was sight to the blind. "Jehovah Jesus is passing by!" and it was cleansing for the leper. "Jehovah Jesus is passing by!" and the deaf could hear. "Jehovah Jesus is passing by!" and the dead were raised. And to the men in the boat Jehovah Jesus came passing by and it was courage for fear, and peace for terror. His walking on the water was a revelation of that glory of God which he shared with the Father and with the Spirit. Mark is showing us that Jesus Christ who planted his footsteps in the sea is the incarnate Lord."  (source:read it all-it's fantastic!)

And as I lay awake fretting and worrying and wondering where God was in my anxiety, I realized that although I couldn't see Him or feel Him, He was most definitely passing by and I was not alone.  And I settled down and listened to my husband breathing deeply as he slept beside me and I realized, here was God, nestled within the heart of my husband, quietly showing me that peace was possible, that I had only to reach over and embrace Paul as he slept and I would be feeling the heart of God within him.  I had only to quiet my mind and allow the rhythms of my breath to fall in line with Paul's and I would soon discover the peace of a quiet sleep and my anxiety would be calmed.

Yes, Jesus had passed by me in my storm and, hearing my cries of distress, reached out to me in my need and I could almost hear him say, "Take courage!  It is I.  Don't be afraid."  (Mark 45:50) as He got into my boat with me and calmed my troubled soul.

"Be still and know that I am God."  Psalm 46:10


Monday, January 14, 2013

Flight of the Earls-A Book Review

I received Flight of the Earls by Michael K. Reynolds from the Maximus Group in exchange for a review on this blog.  Sometimes I really struggle to keep up with my stack of reading and I am tempted to turn down book review offers, but I am so grateful that I didn't turn down this one because  Flight of the Earls was one of the most entertaining fictional books that I have read in a long time!

I couldn't wait to learn the outcome of the events captured within the pages of this book.  The author offered a Christian witness throughout the story without being at all preachy or overbearing about it.  It was simply known that Clare, the heroine, struggled with faith, and that her future romantic interest was someone who could help her find the answers she was seeking.  I also admired how real the Catholic priest in the story was portrayed.  In fact, every character seemed very real and believable.  As I read through the book I was able to picture the scenes so vividly and thought that this series might very well adapt to a successful motion picture one day.

I was captivated not only by the characters but also by the story line until the very last page and am eagerly looking forward to the next book in the series, In Golden Splendor, which will be released in July and promises to take on the story of Clare's brother, Seamus, whose American life adventure took a drastic departure from that of his sister in the midst of the story.

My favorite quote came at the very end of Flight of the Earls.  Clare's sister Cait began to cry about her family members who had been lost to the famine and to comfort her sister Clare said, "It's not ours to bear, Cait.  It's been a hard lesson for me.  We just need to be grateful.  That's all." Of all of the lessons that could be taken from Flight of the Earls, that's the one that will endure for me: suffering and loss is not ours to bear.  We just need to be grateful.

I highly recommend Flight of the Earls which is now available for purchase here.  I also recommend that you visit the author's blog which is highly inspirational and uplifting.

From the Maximus Website:

About the book: It’s 1846. When her family’s small farm in Ireland is struck by famine, Clare Hanley and her younger brother, Seamus, set out across the ocean to the Promised Land of America.
Five years prior, Clare’s older sister Margaret and her Uncle Tomas emigrated in similar fashion and were not to be heard from again. But Clare must face her fears as she lands in the coming-of-age city of New York. There she discovers love, adventure, tragedy and a terrible secret that threatens to destroy her family and all she believes.
Flight of the Earls is the first book in a historical novel trilogy, Heirs of Ireland, based on Irish immigration in the 1840s.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Grace and Beauty

"The greatest grace God can give such a man is to send him to a trial he cannot bear with his own powers and then sustain him with His grace so he may endure to the end and be saved."
~Walter Ciszek: He Leadeth Me

I was having one of those days where the tears just wouldn't stop.  As I was fighting my sorrow, my friend Danette called out of the blue.  I freely sobbed as I shared my sadness with her and she offered me the love and compassion that comes so naturally between friends.

The next day when I arrived home from work I found a beautiful bouquet of roses that had been left on my front porch.  There was no note or card attached.  I assumed the roses had come from Danette so I called her to thank her.  My call was picked up by an answering machine and I left a quick message thanking her for her thoughtfulness, for the roses, and most of all for her friendship.  Then I was back out the door for my daughter's basketball game.

When I arrived home again there was a message on my answering machine.  A man's voice that I didn't recognize said, "You left a message on my recorder young lady but you must have the wrong number as I did not give you any roses.  Have a good one!"  Oops!  I hope I didn't get some stranger in trouble with his wife!  I can just imagine some woman asking her husband why he's buying roses for other women!  But I did like that he called me "young lady"!

My only regret was that I hadn't been praying a novena to St. Therese so that I could boast of this beautiful response to prayer.  But still, I will boast about the beautiful gift of a wonderful friend whose generosity and kindness brought warmth to my soul.  Sweet Danette acted as an intercessor on my behalf by spontaneously bringing beauty to my doorstep as an offering of joy to my family.  Was her gift an answer to prayer?  Most definitely!  Through the kindness of my friend I clearly saw the grace of God in my life.

So today I give praise and thanks to God for His grace realized through the gift of a friend, and I thank Him for roses and for answers to prayer.  I pray that God will bring an understanding and loving friend into the lives of each of His children, for aren't we are all in need of a little bit of love and beauty in our lives?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Etty Hillesum

I've been re-reading one of my favorite books, An Interrupted Life:  The Diary of Etty Hillesum.  Etty Hillesum was a Dutch Jew who died in Auschwitz.  This book is her story in prayers and conversation with God written during the few years preceding her death. It's a tale that overflows with inspiration chronicling her journey to a deep and vibrant faith.  Despite the persecution that Etty not only witnessed, but also endured, she remained full of love and hope, never giving in to despair and bitterness over her fate.  What  a remarkable woman!  Here are some quotes that move my heart.  Hope they move yours, too...

"I love people so very terribly, because in every human being I love something of You."

"The jasmine behind my house has been completely ruined by the rains and storms of the last few days, its white blossoms are floating about in muddy black pools on the low garage roof. But somewhere inside me the jasmine continues to blossom undisturbed, just as profusely and delicately as it ever did. And it spreads its scent around the House in which You dwell, oh God. You can see, I look after You, I bring You not only my tears and forebodings on this stormy, grey Sunday morning, I even bring You scented jasmine."

"You are sure to go through some lean times with me now and then, when my faith weakens a little, but believe me, I shall always labor for you and remain faithful to You and I shall never drive You from my presence."

"And what those who say 'You live too intensely' do not know is that one can withdraw into a prayer as into a convent cell and leave again with renewed strength and with peace regained."

"And when the turmoil becomes too great and I am completely at my wits end, then I still have my folded hands and my bended knee...it is my most precious inheritance...the girl who learned to pray. That is my most intimate gesture, more intimate than even being with a man. After all, one can't pour the whole of one's love out over a single man, can one?" (*my favorite!)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Trust

"In God we trust."  ~motto of the United States

It's the moment of new beginnings, the cusp of a new year, a time when everything is fresh and anything is possible.  I look back on the year just past and find that it was filled with struggle and challenges-what most people would see as opportunities for growth and learning. Unfortunately, my attitude was often one of complaint, grumble and cry.  Most often I felt like St. Teresa of Avila shaking my fist at God and crying, "If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them!"  It was far too easy for me to look on the bleak and dreary side of life instead of praising God for all of the varied blessings he bestowed upon me-blessings as simple as having a house to live in and food to eat and as glorious as waking to a beautiful sunrise and being surrounded by family and friends who love me so well despite how poorly I treat them in exchange for their unconditional love.

Each year since I began writing Imprisoned in my Bones, I have chosen a "word" for the year-something that would help me to focus on God and would help me to grow spiritually.  In the past I have chosen "surrender," "accept,"  "deeper," and "embrace."  It's hard to look back and notice whether or not I have actually lived those words throughout the years past, but I hope that in some small way, focusing on  those words has helped me to become just a bit more faithful to God and a bit more holy.  I've a long way to go as my failures to surrender to God's will and to not only accept it but to deeply embrace it have been glaringly obvious to me.  Instead it seems as if I have fought God and His will for me every step of the way. 

So when we fall the only thing we can do is get back up and try again, right?  My plan for 2013 appears to be just another step in the direction of coming to know and follow God's will.  The challenge is making God's will into my will as well.  I want to learn to rely on God's loving plan for me even when it's difficult to believe that He has my best interests at heart.  I want to be able to patiently watch to see how God's plan for my life will unfold.  And if His plan for this year includes suffering and hardships then I want to deeply embrace it, not with complaint, but with quiet surrender.  I want 2013 to be the year that I learn to completely TRUST in God and His will for my life. 

What follows is a reflection that I wrote for the Roses for Our Lady Christmas Newsletter:

"Our Lady was at the most fourteen when the angel came to her; perhaps she was younger. The whole world trembled on the word of a child, on a child's consent…The loudest telling of His presence on earth was to be the heartbeat within the heartbeat of a child. It was to be a secret and God was so jealous of His secret that He even guarded it at the cost of His bride's seeming dishonor…This proved that God knew our Lady's trust in Him was absolutely without limit. Everything that He did to her in the future emphasized the same thing. His trust in her trust of Him." ~Caryll Houselander

The trust of a child. Our Lady embraced it, lived it, and exemplified it. Think of how she silently accepted the scandal of an unwed pregnancy, traveling across a desert on the back of a donkey while heavy with child never quite knowing where her destination would be, giving birth to the Son of God in a dirty stable with no one to help her, being visited by strangers at a moment when most people prefer the familiarity of family and friends, and then shortly after giving birth, having to get up and move to yet another strange land for the safety of her babe. She didn’t ask questions. She didn’t complain when she grew weary, when uncertainty was the motif of the day, when hunger gnawed at her stomach, when shelter and comfort were scarce, when danger and fear were abundant. She just said “Yes, God. Whatever you say; I am yours completely and live to serve You alone.”

Can we follow suit? Can we implicitly trust in God’s plans for our lives without ever fully knowing where He might be leading us or how He intends to use us? In the year ahead, can we accept trials and hardships with joy in our hearts, knowing that God’s plans are always perfect even though we often fail to understand how He might be working in our lives? Let’s make 2013 the year where we learn to trust like our Mother, to give our lives completely over to God and to turn to Him in prayer uniting our hearts with Blessed Mary more and more each day.

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( I want to say a special thank you to Nancy Shuman at "The Cloistered Heart,"and "The Breadbox Letters," Patricia at "I Want to See God" and Mary at "The Beautiful Gate" for nominating Imprisoned in my Bones for the "Blog of the Year Award."  You ladies are all so sweet!  And I also offer a long overdue thank you to Karen at "Write to the Point" for awarding this blog with the "Liebster Award" back in October.  Thanks for being such faithful blogging friends!  It is beautiful blogs such as yours and those linked on my blog sidebar that inspire me to continue to write and to strive to trust in God more deeply.)