Sunday, September 26, 2010

Camping Complaints

(photo-the bluffs at Devil's Lake State Park, Wisconsin)

The beauty belies the chill in the air, as frigid bodies curl close for warmth, and tents set up in the dark on top of tree roots make for sleepless nights.

The joys of camping-marshmallows roasting on the fire, hiking in the bluffs, fresh, clean air
in our lungs, family time spent close together without electronic interruptions-are overshadowed
by the cold of early autumn.

A friend once asked me if I wouldn't like to live outdoors in the beauty of nature. As my family and I hiked in the wooded bluffs around the lake I pondered that question and I almost thought I would answer yes to that lovely thought as a pristine day spent in nature with the glory of God filling my heart easily pushes away any negative thinking.

But sleepless nights in a flimsy tent during 40 degree weather take all reminders of the glories of nature away and I am quick to complain about how cold and tired I am and I wonder out loud why my family considers camping to be a vacation.

Later, I regret my whining words and I wish that I had offered all that suffering up for a higher cause. I thought of a book I recently read, "Merry in God" about the life of Fr. William Doyle, SJ, an Irish priest who served as a military chaplain during World War I. His letters and journals spoke of nights trying to catch a few minutes of sleep in a wet, muddy trench with giant rats all around and the sounds of bombs whistling through the air. During his years of service, he rarely complained about the weather, his sleeping conditions, or his lack of food, but instead focused on his need to minister to his fellow soldiers and bring God to their weary hearts. He offered Mass in the most difficult circumstances. He listened to endless confessions and offered general absolution before many major battles. But during all of the stress and difficulty of the horrors of war, he was forever smiling and loving to everyone, offering all of his hardship to God for the good of his comrades and the sake of their souls. And it was that spiritual service joyfully offered in time of war that finally took his life during a horrific battle.

Shame fills my heart when I realize how far away I am from that ideal attitude that makes saints out of men. These words of prayer from that very holy man are worth remembering when I am tempted to complain of little sufferings and inconveniences:

"O Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! Who would not love You, who would not give their heart's blood for You, if only once they realized the depth and the breadth and the realness of Your burning love? Why not then make every human heart a burning furnace of love for You, so that sin would become an impossibility, sacrifice a pleasure and a joy, virtue the longing of every soul, so that we should live for love, dream of love, breathe Your love, and at last die of a broken heart of love, pierced through and through with the shaft of love, the sweetest gift of God to man."

"I must eagerly welcome every little pain, suffering, small sickness, trouble, cross of any kind, as coming straight to me from the Sacred Heart. Am I not your loving victim, my Jesus?"

  • Prayer for Priests by Fr Doyle

    O my God, pour out in abundance Thy spirit of sacrifice upon Thy priests. It is both their glory and their duty to become victims, to be burnt up for souls, to live without ordinary joys, to be often the objects of distrust, injustice, and persecution.

    The words they say every day at the altar, "This is my Body, this is my Blood," grant them to apply to themselves: "I am no longer myself, I am Jesus, Jesus crucified. I am, like the bread and wine, a substance no longer itself, but by consecration another."

    O my God, I burn with desire for the sanctification of Thy priests. I wish all the priestly hands which touch Thee were hands whose touch is gentle and pleasing to Thee, that all the mouths uttering such sublime words at the altar should never descend to speaking trivialities.

    Let priests in all their person stay at the level of their lofty functions, let every man find them simple and great, like the Holy Eucharist, accessible to all yet above the rest of men. O my God, grant them to carry with them from the Mass of today, a thirst for the Mass of tomorrow, and grant them, ladened with gifts, to share these abundantly with their fellow men. Amen.

  • Fr. William Doyle, SJ

    To learn more about Fr. William Doyle, visit Remembering Fr. William Doyle, SJ

    Monday, September 20, 2010

    The Center of the Flower

    The bee plants itself in the center of the flower, draining the sweet nectar until he becomes satiated. I, too, am planted in the center of a flower, the flower of God's enduring love, and it is so very sweet here. I hope to never leave...

    Mary whispers under her breath as she prepares her lunch, I can barely make out the words, so I lean in close and hear "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee." I smile at the sound of her prayer so sweet as honey dripping from the spoon.

    Although she is nine years old, she still likes to hold my hand as we walk side by side. I am warmed by her presence and her small hand in mine as if I were enfolded in soft, fragrant petals. That warmth remains as I let go of her hand and watch her skip off and spin a cartwheel.

    Later, after Mass, she turns to me and asks me to pray for her during the day. I assure her that I will, but inside I am thinking, "Daughter, you are a prayer, a living, breathing, growing prayer in all you say and do, and when I am close to you, I feel that I am in the center of God's flower of deep love."

    Dear God, keep me in the center of your rich and fragrant flower. Let me drink the sweet nectar of your care and know that here, in the company of my daughter, I will never want for anything. Amen.

    Thursday, September 16, 2010

    Close to Heaven

    This past week, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee played host to the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors (NCDVD). It was a great honor to have the opportunity to spend several hours volunteering at this event, working at the registration table. Did I say "working"? That can't be the right word, for truly, I can't remember ever having so much fun at a volunteer effort!

    Every single priest who came to the desk to register had a beautiful smile and a few friendly words to offer, even the priest whose luggage was lost by the airline. It was clear to me that these Vocation Directors enjoyed their priesthood immensely and I imagine with pleasant dispositions like the ones I noticed, the priest shortage won't last much longer! Who wouldn't be drawn to the priesthood after meeting with a kind and friendly Vocation Director!

    Whenever my family and I go on vacation, and people ask us where we are from, we are greeted with an uncomfortable silence when we tell them the name of our suburb. My son, Joe, calls our hometown a conversation killer. On Saturday, I was honored to meet a lovely woman who was helping to host the Conference. When I asked her where she was from and she answered "Indiana," I immediately thought of Joe's clever remark as I struggled to think of a way to carry the conversation beyond her home state. Gratefully, I remembered that one of my very favorite bloggers is a brilliant writer from Indiana, and grasping at what I thought was a straw, I mentioned her name. Well, wouldn't you know it, but my new acquaintance happened to be a personal friend of the blogger I mentioned, and she immediately called Betty Duffy on her cell phone. I had a bit of celebrity fever as I heard Betty on the other line mentioning that she had heard of my humble blog! What a small world it really is!

    When I returned to the conference for a few more hours on Wednesday, I was in good company with my dear friend Anne (yep-two Anne's working side by side-how confusing is that?) and Susi, my sweet friend from the Vocations Office at our local Seminary. It was a joyful morning and the work was light, so Anne and I were able to venture among the various tables set up for display where I was surprised to find one of my all-time favorite priests and fellow blogger, Fr. Jim Kubicki manning the Apostleship of Prayer table! We even had time to sit in on a session about how to talk to parents whose children are considering the priesthood. As both Anne and I have sons who are discerning, this was a topic of great interest to us!

    But perhaps best of all, we ended our day at Mass, one of the most beautiful and meaningful Masses that I have ever participated in! Truly it brought to mind Scott Hahn's "The Lamb's Supper" that clearly portrays the Mass as a reflection of heaven. I had never felt so close to heaven as I did at that Mass. As the room full of approximately 200 priests were finishing praying the rosary before Mass, they all stood and chanted "Regina Coeli". I have goosebumps just remembering the sight of so many men in white vestments looking like angels and the sound of their deep voices chanting this ageless prayer to our Beautiful Mother on the Occasion of "Our Lady of Sorrows." I pray that Mary's spirits were lifted up at this glorious sight and her sorrow was replaced with joy.

    The homilist was Bishop Robert Morneau the auxiliary Bishop from Green Bay. His beautiful homily on the Angelus was peppered with poetry, in fact, at moments I wondered whether I at Mass or a poetry reading! One of the beautiful poems he recited was the Sancta Maria by Edgar Allen Poe. I was surprised to learn that the great E.A. Poe wrote such beautiful words; I had thought that he only specialized in the macabre.

    Sancta Maria by Edgar Allen Poe

    Sancta Maria! turn thine eyes -
    Upon the sinner's sacrifice,
    Of fervent prayer and humble love,
    From thy holy throne above.

    At morn - at noon - at twilight dim -
    Maria! thou hast heard my hymn!
    In joy and woe - in good and ill -
    Mother of God, be with me still!

    When the Hours flew brightly by,
    And not a cloud obscured the sky,
    My soul, lest it should truant be,
    Thy grace did guide to thine and thee;

    Now, when storms of Fate o'ercast
    Darkly my Present and my Past,
    Let my Future radiant shine
    With sweet hopes of thee and thine!

    The wonderful day was complete with a Thai luncheon with the girls (Susi and Anne) and long conversation, which left me racing to get to school in time to pick up the kids. Before my husband had left for work that morning, he offered to pick up our children from school for me (Wednesday is usually my turn because I am off of work on that day.) He said, "I will be happy to do it for you so that you don't have to hurry back, just in case you are enjoying yourself so much that you just can't break away." I felt that his offer was one of the most romantic things he had ever said to me. He truly understands my deep love for the Church and everything related to it and knew before I even left the house that I would have a wonderful day at the Conference.

    But, I declined his offer, as I enjoy greeting my children at the end of the day and miss being able to do that on a regular basis because I work late. And I admit that even though the day at the Vocation Conference was great, there is nothing in the world like the feeling of seeing those sweet smiling faces of my two youngest children as they walk out of the school building and into my arms at the end of the day.

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010

    Mother of Sorrows

    Holding the Babe as the prophecy was told...
    body kneeling
    mind reeling
    heart feeling
    Mother of Sorrows, you pondered it all

    Looking up to the One she loves as He hangs, dying...
    heart breaking
    earth quaking
    soul shaking
    Mother of Sorrows, you bore it all

    Oh Mother of Sorrows
    the sword that was foretold
    pierced your Son in the side
    blood and water could not hold

    Oh Mother of Sorrows
    it was your soul as well
    that spilled blood and water
    as your heart broke and fell

    Teach me to ponder
    Teach me to bear
    the worries and pains
    that life has to share

    Show me your strength
    Show me your grace
    when life gives me trouble
    more than I can face

    Oh Mother of Sorrows
    I love you and grieve
    along with your sufferings
    that show no reprieve

    Oh Mother of Sorrows
    lift me up from my pain
    help me work through life's struggles
    erasing their stain

    (artwork by Roger van der Weyden-
    Descent From the Cross)

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Support a New Blogger MEME

    Mary at the Beautiful Gate and Victor at Time for Reflections have come up with a plan to bring some attention to newer blogs. What a kind and welcoming idea! Now, I have recently listed a few of my favorite new blogs, but since Victor tagged me to join this MEME, and Karinann at Daughter of the King almost tagged me until she realized that Victor beat her to it, I will gladly oblige.

    If you have a desire to read something uplifting to your soul I highly recommend the following blogs:

    Credo Catholic (yes, I know that Colleen at Thoughts on Grace already linked to her, but I really love her blog, so, the more the merrier, right?

    Do Not Be Anxious-deep thoughts

    Catholic Poet-her work is amazing! Be sure to check out the link to her website with her beautiful reflections on the Litany of the Sacred Heart!

    It's hard to stop here, I could go on and on! For a few more links, visit my last post on favorite new blogs.

    Now the rules require me to pass this MEME on to two other bloggers who are required to name some of their favorite new blogs:

    I nominate Esther at A Catholic Mom in Hawaii who is always on top of the up and comings in the church and Tiffany at Family at the Foot of the Cross who has a terrifically creative mind and should be able to recommend some interesting new blogs.

    "Why God Matters" Book Tour

    There's something about the relationship between a father and his daughter that is much more special than any other relationship between any two people. If a woman grows up without feeling loved by and cared for by her father, no one else in the world can make that up to her, she will always have an empty hole in her heart that only her father can fill. (Of course this applies even more to our Heavenly Father than to our earthly father!)

    So when I was offered the opportunity by Tribute Books to read and review "Why God Matters" by the father and daughter duo of Deacon Steven Lumbert and Karina Lumbert Fabian as part of a book tour, I was more than happy to oblige. Deacon Steven and Karina obviously enjoy a very close and loving relationship that includes the Lord at the heart of it, a closeness that was missing in my own life with my father, but which surprisingly feels closer than ever since he passed away four years ago. It was intruging for me to have a look at what that closeness might have been like while he was still living.

    Deacon Steven is a convert to Catholicism and Karina, born after her father's conversion, is a cradle Catholic. Their book of very short stories and anecdotes of faith was very easy to read and a quick read as well, which made it very enjoyable to pick up and read through in short spurts rather than one long read. I enjoyed this aspect as I usually only have 10-15 minutes to sit with a book before the pace of my life causes me to get up and running once again.

    After a little background of each of their experiences of faith in general, the book alternates between short stories written by each of them individually. Each short story chapter includes a quote of wisdom from other Catholic writers, a scripture quote, a quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church and a life lesson section where the reader may apply the chapter to their own life.

    I came away from this book with the feeling that living life as a Catholic is as simple as drawing God into the everyday ordinariness of life and turning to Him in both joy and sorrow because after all, that is where He is always found. I enjoyed the simplicity of "Why God Matters" and would highly recommend it, especially as a gift for someone in the RCIA process who is just beginning to learn and understand why God matters in their own lives.

    I thank Deacon Steve and Karina for writing an authentic and spiritually uplifting book, and I thank Nicole at Tribute Books for offering me this opportunity to read and review "Why God Matters."

    Monday, September 13, 2010

    Greater Perfection

    I have been taken by the words of Servant of God Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich from the order of the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station, New Jersey. Born in 1901, Sister Miriam Teresa entered the Sisters of Charity in 1925. Noting her exceptional intelligence and deep faith, her spiritual director asked her to write the Spiritual Conferences for her order while she was still a novice, and it is these same conferences that comprise the book "Greater Perfection." It wasn't until after her death in 1927 that her spiritual director made it known that Sister Miriam Teresa was the author of the conferences. Although "Greater Perfection" was written for the religious, the profound words contained in this work are also applicable for lay people who are seeking to grow in holiness. Here is one of my favorite sections from the book, it is from the chapter "Reception of, and Thanksgiving After, Holy Communion."

    "My sanctification. For this He comes. For this He holds audience with me. Of this we shall speak, He, my Guest, talking, and I, His host, listening. The quiet He desires is undisturbed. He has led me into solitude, the solitude of His heart; and my heart is beating now in unison with His. "Speak, Lord, for thy servant is listening." Now he utters things, unspeakable things, heretofore hidden from me-not words, no, but in the palpable silence of peace, the sweetness of His own dear presence. It is the golden wisdom of understanding that is now mine. The light that streams from the Godhead is penetrating the darkness of my intellect, dispelling the clouds of blindness and uncertainty, illuminating truths previously obscure. Looking at Him I love, and yielding without resistance to the ardor of His embrace, I begin to fathom little by little something of His incomprehensible Majesty. I begin to yearn with vehement longing to lose my nothingness in His immensity, to find my real self in Him, the immutable center toward which my soul naturally gravitates."

    To learn more about Sister Miriam Teresa, visit here.

    Friday, September 10, 2010

    I Heard It Through the Grapevine

    “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

    When Paul and I were house-hunting eighteen years ago, I fell in love with our very old house, mainly because it has a large and well-established grapevine arbor in the backyard. It is so large, that it is actually an outdoor room, and it is so old that most of the wood with which it had been built and that provided the main support for the vine was rotting.

    Several years after we bought our house, a violent windstorm swept through our neighborhood and it caused the grapevine arbor to collapse. We were grateful that our insurance covered the replacement costs and Paul eagerly set to work to build a sturdier arbor to support the extremely heavy vine.

    As he was working on the vine one extremely hot summer day, the entire vine collapsed again, this time, with Paul trapped underneath it! He managed to crawl out from under the vine and decided that before he would continue the project, the vine needed to be drastically cut back to prevent further accidents. I was heartsick when I looked outside and saw that there was hardly any vine left! I was sure that it would die, and I would lose my favorite part of my house. Was this a symbolic sign that I was living my life apart from God and like the branches on my grapevine, I had cut myself off from that close and loving relationship with my heavenly Father?

    I’m sorry to say that my deep attachment to this material object caused me to give my poor husband the cold shoulder for many days as I blamed him for killing the vine. If only he had asked some family members for help with the project instead of insisting on doing everything by himself, this never would have happened, I reasoned. And Paul reasoned right back that if I didn’t insist on living in this old, run-down house, this wouldn’t even be an issue. You’ll notice that at the beginning of this essay, I said that I loved the house, not that we loved the house. In fact, Paul hated our house even before we first bought it, and he continues to beg me to move. He is forever bringing home flyers from homes for sale in our neighborhood, but I continue to dig my stubborn feet in and we have remained in our old, decrepit house that is loaded with life and charm and memories, and a grape-vine that I love, but also, never-ending projects for him to work on when perhaps he’d rather take up golfing.

    The period of time without the abundant life of the grapevine and the lingering resentment that I carried towards my husband was certainly a desert time for me. “Speak to me, O God,” I prayed. “I want my family and I to be close to you, attached to Your vine of life, not to my own unnecessary needs.” And then I read these words and peace came to my heart:

    “I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart. From there I will give her the vineyards she had.” Hosea 2:6

    And God, the author of life and love, saw to it that the life that once flowed through that vine would be restored to its original splendor, and my husband and I would resume our loving relationship in the joy of forgiveness. He gave me a time of emptiness without the vine, to learn the virtue of detachment to material things and rediscover the importance of my marriage. And by the next summer, the vine grew back to its normal size and produced an abundant amount of fruit. That was twelve years ago, and today, my husband has not only restored the arbor into a safe and shady haven for my family, he has also built a deck over the pavement so that it truly is a place of rest and relaxation in the summer heat.

    Over the years, the vine has produced an abundant amount of delicious and fragrant concord grapes and I have become very well known for making grape jelly to share with family and friends. In fact, I have not bought jelly from a store since we moved into our house. This year is no exception as I just completed the annual harvest and have frozen 9 gallons of juice for jelly and filling for pie, more than enough to last the entire year until next September. And as Paul and I sit together in the evening shade of the grapevine, we contemplate the love we have for God and for each other, and discuss our continued love/hate relationship with our home and the next project that Paul will be working on!

    For more stories and prayers about adventures with the grapevine, check out these posts from the archives:Crushed Grapes and By His Wounds.

    Monday, September 6, 2010

    Vacationing with the Cloud Angels

    On this Labor Day weekend, my family and I were invited to stay at my sister and brother-in-law's cottage on a small lake. It was blissful peace! No television, no computer, no radio-just a row-boat, a paddle boat, some fishing poles and some books, a football and a few games and puzzles, lots of garden fresh food and lots of love.

    Saturday night, with our bellies full of burgers, fresh picked corn on the cob, green beans and melon, we gathered close to the fire and gave thanks to God for the blessings of the day.

    In the morning we attended Sunday Mass at a quaint little country church beneath a steeple fitted with a heavenly crown. Stepping into the interior was like stepping back in time, pews filled with prayerful families and nuns in habits. The homily was outstanding! Father spoke of his time of discernment; how he was unsure of what to do with his life and spent much time trying to decide which path God was calling him towards. As he sat in the library with many questions on his mind, he noticed an old man sitting nearby. His clothes were dirty and worn, his hair was messy; he was the type of man that most people would shy away from. He noticed that the man held a rosary in his hand and realized at that moment that the old man was praying for him. Whether or not that was really true, it felt to the priest that the prayer was meant for him and it was at that moment that he decided to enter the seminary and begin to seriously prepare for the priesthood. How profoundly the power of prayer can affect our lives, even if the prayers are not meant for us!

    My sister Cindy and I rose early on Sunday morning before anyone else was awake and the sky was still dark and filled with stars. We sat outside in the brisk morning air, rosaries in hand and watched the mist swirl over the water as our 'Ave's' rose to heaven...

    Cloud Angels

    cool morning, breaking of dawn
    visible between the cattails
    breath of our prayers adorned
    with milky wafts,
    air imbued with
    transparent clouds on earth
    had I stepped into heaven?
    for it seemed that the angels were
    in front of me, dancing on the water
    giving praise to God

    the largest angel spread her misty wings
    reaching out to me
    to take my whispered prayer
    and she dissipated from my view
    on her way back to heaven
    carrying the precious cargo
    of my prayer to the heart of the Lord

    and all that was left in view
    was a smooth and shining lake
    with the orb of sunlight
    rising in the distance
    and the assurance in my heart
    that He had heard my prayer

    Friday, September 3, 2010

    Guest Post by Fr. Don Hying

    It was last Easter when my wonderful friend, Fr. Don Hying, the Rector of St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee, agreed to let me post one of his reflections on this blog. I am so grateful that once again he has given me permission to post another of his reflections. He never fails to help me see scripture in a new and meaningful way and this reflection for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary time is no exception. I encourage you to enjoy his words and ponder his questions!

    Back in 1993, I received a call out of the blue from Don Mueller who was in charge of the World Mission Office at the time, wondering if I would be open to serving in our sister parish in the Dominican Republic. I said I would consider it and he suggested I go down for a week to check it out before making a decision. My visit was very enlightening; I encountered wonderful people, saw the great work of Frs. Jim Schuerman and Kevin Murphy and experienced the Church in another culture in all its richness. But the thing that really scared me was my ignorance of Spanish. I felt I could deal with the poverty and the heat, but realized how difficult and crucial the learning of another language would be. And then other questions started rolling around inside my head. How would I deal with homesickness? Did I really want to leave my current assignment? Would the poverty of the people start to get to me? The implications of such a decision were beginning to sink in. I came home firmly determined to tell Don that I would not serve in La Sagrada Familia Parish. So, when he called me two days later to get my feedback, I shocked myself when I blurted out that I wanted to go to the Dominican Republic after all! Where did that response come from?

    In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes the radical demand of renunciation to the crowds following him. No one can be a disciple who does not “hate” his family and his own life, who does not give up all his possessions. Clearly, Jesus is not telling us to hate anyone; he uses such strong language to emphatically make the point that those who choose to follow him must not let any human relationship, material thing, or self-preoccupation get in the way of a total, sacrificial response to Christ and his holy Gospel. In other words, Jesus calls us to step out in faith, to trust that his grace and love will be enough for us, to intentionally close all the other doors of opportunity and walk through the Door himself, as Jesus describes it in the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel.

    What does this stepping out in faith look like? All the saints did it. Joseph takes Mary as his wife. John and James leave their nets, boats and father behind. Peter steps out of the boat into the stormy waves and battering wind. The martyrs refuse to worship the Roman emperor and know they will die for it. Thomas More refuses to acknowledge Henry VIII as head of the church and knows he will die for it. Archbishop Romero denounces the El Salvadoran government for its oppression of the poor. Living only for Christ and his holy Gospel always costs something, and at times that “thing” may be our very life.

    What does this stepping out in faith look like? We have all done it before. A young couple marries, pledging their radical fidelity for better and for worse. A man kneels down in a cathedral and gives his life to the priesthood of Jesus Christ forever. An archdiocese begins a capital campaign shortly before the economy falters and yet continues. An employee blows the whistle on corruption and loses her job because of it. A woman discovers her baby will be born with severe disabilities but carries the child to term and welcomes him with love. An heiress gives away her fortune to help those of Native and African descent. A father goes to work every day, despite great difficulties in the office.

    Christianity often feels like a high-wire act. We must disencumber ourselves of excess weight and baggage or we will never make it across the tent. Imagine a performer walking the high-wire burdened with a heavy backpack. We must gently and flexibly bend in order to maintain a proper balance. We must keep our eyes fixed on Christ who beckons us to step out in faith and believe (we know not how) that he is simultaneously waiting for us at the end of the wire, walking with us as we traverse the terrifying distance and standing down below to catch us when we fall. One who renounces all for Christ loses nothing in the end, but rather, gains a kingdom and hundreds of fathers, mothers, children and friends besides. Step out in faith! God will not disappoint us. My surprising decision to serve in the Dominican Republic ended up being one of the best choices of my life.

    1.What has your practice of the Catholic faith cost you?
    2.God will use us for good as far and deep as we allow him to. How can you go farther and deeper in your surrender to Christ?