Saturday, December 31, 2011

Oblate Joy!

On October 27, the day that I was to become enrolled as an Oblate Candidate of the Handmaids of the Precious Blood I ran over to Gesu Church on my lunch break for a quick confession and I met Friar Paul Schneider in the confession line. It was a chance meeting with someone that I had recognized from activities at St. Francis de Sales Seminary but had not known personally. I introduced myself and then he told me that he had two more years before he would be ordained to the priesthood and he asked me to pray for him. I took his words as a confirmation that God was pleased with my plans to work toward becoming an Oblate of the Precious Blood. But by the grace of God, that meeting wasn't the end of the story...

During the week before Christmas, I received a newsletter from the Handmaids of the Precious Blood and within it I found a picture of none other than Friar Paul Schneider! The caption read: "In August, Oblate of the Precious Blood and long time friend of our community, Friar Paul Schneider made his Solemn Vows as a Conventual Franciscan at Marytown. We all rejoiced in spirit over this important milestone in his life as he makes his way toward priestly ordination in 2013. Please pray for him." Chills, that's what I had; chills and goosebumps to find his picture there and to learn that he is also an Oblate of the Precious Blood! Surely this was a providential sign from God!

There are only 420 Oblates of the Precious Blood throughout the world, so to find that there is an Oblate living in the very same city in which I live is quite extraordinary! Friar Paul and I have now been in contact and have plans to meet at the end of January, and when we meet I will have something very special to share with him before I send it on to the Handmaids of the Precious Blood at Cor Jesu Monastery in New Mexico, because...

When I first began to discern whether or not to apply for candidacy for the Oblates, I had discovered several books written by Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, the founder of the Handmaids of the Precious Blood, at the Salzmann Library at St. Francis de Sales Seminary. I found his books of poetry, Paths from Bethlehem and Streets in Nazareth and his book of spiritually uplifting words written in letter style, Letters of Father Page, to be beautiful, and I have shared some of his words and poems from these books in previous posts. I decided that I should purchase these books so that I could return to them again and again as a spiritual resource and so I ordered some used copies online and on Christmas Eve they were delivered to my house.

I found that Paths from Bethlehem was autographed with the words: "Asking our Lady to bless you" and Streets in Nazareth was also an autographed copy with the words: "With Mary's blessing." But even more impressive was what I found tucked just under the cover of Paths from Bethlehem. Upon opening the book I found several historical papers, including the Christmas bookmark that graces this post. One of the documents was a biographical sketch of Fr. Fitzgerald that read as follows:

"The author was born on October 29th, 1894, in South Framingham, Massachusetts. He was educated at Weymouth High School, Boston College and St. John's Ecclesiastical Seminary and was ordained a priest of the Boston archdiocese in 1921. After twelve years service as curate of Our Lady of the Presentation parish, he entered the Novitiate of the Congregation of the Holy Cross and was professed in 1934. He is now Rector of Our Lady of Holy Cross Seminary in North Easton, Massachusetts, and devotes his spare time to retreat work. His Letters, written under the pseudonyms "Father Page" and "A. Page," have appeared in Columbia and The Far East. Father Fitzgerald's previous works include Juxta Crucem, Paths from Bethlehem and God's Rainbow."

Also within the book I found a newspaper clipping of a poem written by Fr. Fitzgerald and the following typed poem of which the source is not named with a handwritten note on the bottom. The poem follows:

"I saw the Face of God these last days three
Mirrored in a soul so pure
The vision came clearly back to me.
His eyes, the dwelling-place of the Holy Ghost
Blazoned with an aureole alight with Love from His Host
Yet now and then, his brow furrowed with grief
Remembering the Thorn-Crowned Head,
the nail-pierced Hands and Feet.
In another moment his face was wreathed in a smile
Beatific, golden radiance all absent from trace of guile
It was brushed thereon by the lips of His mother
Joyous because her earthly son so loved His Brother.
This little page ever listing for heavenly commands
Walks daily with these Loved Ones, hand in hands.
And the cherished grace I hope from my retreat
Is to find my hand in theirs some day
When I clasp their little page's close in friendship pure and sweet.

And it was signed:

"As to the first, I cannot say, but to the last, I'll be always-Humbly at Our Mother's feet and in His Heart-A. Page C.S.C ."

What a treasure to find these antique papers from Fr. Fitzgerald, the Handmaids of the Precious Blood founder, all for the pittance of $3.00 plus shipping! It's too good for me to keep to myself, so after I show them to Friar Paul Schneider, I will send them to the Handmaids so that they may enjoy them as well. And all of this good fortune only intensifies the joy I feel whenever I contemplate the wonder of the priesthood and the great gift that all priests bring to the Catholic Church.

We've all had experiences in our lives, haven't we, where a priest has been there for us in a special way and through his kindness, we were given a glimpse, a foretaste, of the goodness of God and His love for us? Whether an illness brought a priest to anoint us, our sinfulness brought us to the confessional for the gift of absolution or our desire to receive the very Body and Blood of our Lord carried us to the communion line where the hands of a priest presented our Eucharistic Lord to us for our consumption; our priests have been God's instruments of grace in our lives. When our world turns upside down and we long to bare our soul to someone who can guide us in the ways that please the Lord, it is to the priest that we turn for assistance and direction. When ordinary and Sacramental joys bring cause for celebration in our lives, it is the priest that we invite to celebrate with us. Where would we be without a beloved priest in our midst to be Christ for us though every moment of our lives?

Recently, when my son Joe was ill and spent five days in the hospital, he was visited by Fr. Peter and Fr. Dave who both anointed him, Fr. Matthew and Fr. Jim who visited and prayed with him and Bishop Hying who also prayed and visited with him. I was deeply moved and marveled over how wonderful it is to receive the gift of the presence of holy and humble priests who give of their time so generously to bring prayer and the Sacraments to all of those in need, including my son. What a blessing it is to have priests who love and care for you and your family and what a blessing it is to love and care for those priests in return! And how best to love and care for them? With prayer!

I feel tremendously blessed to be called to pray for all priests, for those who have touched my life through their offering of the Sacraments and through their many kindnesses to me, for those whom I don't know personally but may meet in the future through God's providence, for those men who are discerning a call to the priesthood and studying in the seminary and for those who have spent their entire lives being Christ for others and are now called to rest in the Lord for all eternity. But most of all, I am blessed to pray for the one special priest who has been assigned to me through the Handmaids of the Precious Blood. Through my prayers I am able to lift the hands of the men who lift Christ up for the world.

Prayer is a gift, the most beautiful and precious gift that we can give to others and it is this gift that I offer in joy for God's chosen men, His holy priests, through the loving sacrifice of every moment of my days. I will forever be grateful for the Handmaids of the Precious Blood and for the guidance of the soul of Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, sP for the opportunity to humbly join them at our Mother's feet and in His Heart in prayer for priests as an Oblate Candidate and please God, soon as an Oblate of the Precious Blood.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament by Fr. Matthew Widder

Earlier in December I wrote a post about Fr. Matthew Widder and his moving and heartfelt homily about the Blessed Mother and our Eucharistic Lord given during a holy hour for life on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I recalled that Fr. Matthew has a deep devotion to Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament and, not knowing anything about our Lady under this title, I asked him to tell me more about her. Through Fr. Matthew I learned that this devotion was founded by St. Peter Julian Eymard after a vision he received of the Blessed Mother in 1851 in France and the feast day is celebrated on May 13th, which later also became the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima. He kindly shared an Advent article about Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament that he had written for his parish bulletin with me, and now, with his permission, I share it with you. What follows is a guest post by Fr. Matthew Widder about Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament:

One of my favorite titles for Mary is Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament. The devotion to Mary under the title of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament is new to me. I came across the image when I was looking for a Holy Card to commemorate my ordination to the Priesthood. In selecting a holy card I was looking for an image that would summarize my spirituality. When I saw the image of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament I was hooked immediately. I would like to share a couple of the reasons why this image of Mary touches me so deeply.

First I love how Mary is looking directly at Jesus, and in doing so is illustrating that devotion to Mary always points us to Jesus. When we pray a Marian prayer Mary is not the end of the prayer. Pope John Paul II used to say, “to Jesus through Mary.” This saying illustrates that Mary always directs us and our prayers to her Son. It is fair to say that we do not pray to Mary but that we pray with Mary. In looking at Jesus, Mary is modeling the manner of discipleship for all Christians. No matter what we get ourselves into throughout life we always look to Jesus.

Secondly, I love the fact that in this picture Mary is not holding the baby Jesus close to her, instead she is holding baby Jesus out as if she is handing him off to be held by one of us. The lesson for us here is that as we live our faith, as Jesus is born into our lives, we eventually have to, “pass the baby.” Our spirituality is never completely individual but is always communal and always leading us to share our faith with others through service.

Lastly, the baby Jesus is holding the Eucharist out to us. In this season of Advent we not only recall Jesus’ birth, and the time when he will come again, but we also prepare for his coming to us through the sacraments, especially through the Eucharist. The closest we will ever get to Jesus on this earth is when we receive the Eucharist. How lucky we are to have a God who wishes to be so close to us!

Whenever I look at the depiction of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, I always feel inspired and recharged. The image always focuses me on what is important in my ministry and in my life: Jesus (through Mary), Service, and Eucharist. I’ve just shared a bit of my own spirituality. Let me ask a question for you to think about. How would you sum up your own spirituality, or means of getting closer to Christ? Is there a particular place, devotion, picture, person, etc, that always seems to recharge your spiritual batteries? In this season of preparing for Christ’s coming how does he make himself known to you?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Woman, Behold Your Son

"Woman, behold your son." ~John 19:26

That was the scriptural prayer that I held in my heart on the feast of St. John the Evangelist as I stood for 90 minutes at the bedside of my son, Joe, while he was in recovery from surgery. Joe, whose illness I wrote about briefly in my recent posts, Kneeling in the Manger and Lullaby Revisited, was suffering horrific pain from a large, infected lymph node in his neck that required surgery to drain the infection.

Joe asked to put off the surgery so that he could spend Christmas at home with his family, but on Monday morning, the day after Christmas, Joe came to me as soon as he awoke in the morning and said, "I'm ready. Let's go to the hospital." By Tuesday afternoon at 3 PM, providentially at the Hour of Divine Mercy, Joe was in surgery to have the infected lymph node that was behind his neck muscle drained of the infection that was the source of his suffering. Every surgery has possible complications associated with it and Joe's surgery was no exception, as the lymph node was so swollen and large at about 6 cm. in length, that it was pressing on an artery that led to his brain and it was possible that the artery was also infected.

There are times in your life when you can truly "feel" the prayers of others, and this was one of them. Promises of prayer came soaring in from friends and family and although we were all stressed and worried, my family had never before felt more loved and more protected by God than at any other time we can recall. The morning of the surgery we were visited by two priests who both performed the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick for Joe, and another priest who came to pray with us after the surgery was over. A quick visit from some dear friends brought cheer just a few hours before the surgery and then, after the surgery began, more friends arrived to keep watch with us and to distract us from our worries with lively conversation during the long 90 minute wait until the surgery was successfully completed and Joe was sent to recovery.

By 4:30 PM, I was allowed to go to Joe's bedside where I remained, standing, for the next 90 minutes until he was recovered enough to return to his room. During those 90minutes, he was continuously given morphine for his pain until he could tolerate it and popsicles to soothe his dry and aching throat. By his third popsicle, Joe was all smiles.

As I stood by his side, I thought about the fact that the surgery occurred on the Feast of St. John the Evangelist and I pictured St. John and the Blessed Mother at the foot of the cross and Jesus telling his mother, "Woman, behold your son." In my heart I knew that He was speaking those words to me now. And I beheld my beautiful, brave and wonderful son suffering the most misery he had ever known, yet I felt peace. On the day of the crucifixion, there was no peace for the Blessed Mother as she listened to the jeers of the taunting crowd and solders while witnessing her Son's suffering in the surroundings of hate. But here, at my son's bedside, as Joe suffered with his own cross, we were only surrounded by love and goodness and it felt as if all of our friends and family who supported and prayed for us were truly living the gospel message, the famous words frequently spoken by St. John the Evangelist, "Love one another."

Joe remains in the hospital until the type of infection can be determined so that the appropriate antibiotic can be prescribed, and although he remains in much pain, he knows that he is loved and that is the best medicine by far! And I thank you, dear reader, for your loving prayers as well!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Wonder of the Incarnation by Bishop Hying

Because Christ entered into human history, the apostles proclaimed the Gospel to the ends of the earth, martyrs gave up their lives rather than their faith and a new philosophical understanding of the person emerged.

Because of Christmas, soaring cathedrals rose over Europe, universities and hospitals opened their doors and missionaries sailed across oceans in wooden ships.

Because of what we celebrate today, four churchwomen were murdered in El Salvador for their stance with the poor, a pope sold his fisherman’s ring to aid a slum in Brazil and a wrinkled woman in a sari lovingly pulled dying people out of gutters.

The church has never gotten over the wonder of the Incarnation, the startling truth that, in the person of Jesus Christ, this one specific human being living at one historical point in time in a precise geographical place expressed in the fullest possible way the union of God and human nature.

God had entered his own creation to redeem it and restore it from the inside. In his mystical theology, St. Bonaventure expresses this burning, passionate love of God who desires nothing less than complete identification with every human being.

Christmas changes everything! If God is one with us through the power of Christ’s Spirit, alive and active through the church, life is radically different for us. God is not out there somewhere, unreachable and unknowable.

In the tender vulnerability of Christ’s humanity, God has completely united his life with ours. This enfleshed Divine Word has become the language of our own human experience; Jesus explains us to ourselves.

How telling it is that Mary and Joseph could not find a room for the birth of Jesus. In a world of sin, violence, sorrow and selfishness, there was no room for this tiny, warm God who had come only to love and heal.

Is there any more room for God today? Is there space for justice and peace? Is there room for prayer and virtue? Does God truly hold center place in our lives and our global society? If we sometimes feel that God has been pushed into the corner, then it is to the corner that we must go.

There is a tendency within us to want to clean up the Christ story, to make it respectable, orderly and dignified. In so many ways, it was none of that. God was born of an itinerant mother in an animal shelter with smelly manure and dirty shepherds. God died on a bloody cross, scourged and rejected, cut off as one accursed.

We cannot romanticize the Christian narrative without decreasing its potent reality. God comes to us in all of the messiness and lunacy of the real world to save us as we are, not to redeem some idealized version of ourselves.

The Incarnation of Christ powerfully proclaims the humility and vulnerability of God. Setting aside the majesty, glory and safety of heaven, the eternal Word empties himself completely, assumes the radical limitations of our humanity and runs the terrible risk of being misunderstood, rejected and killed by his own creatures!

Divine Love gives itself away in a total act of self-donation. In the Christ event, we grasp the very essence of God, who pours himself out completely for us.

As disciples of this passionate, incarnate Christ, our lives, too, will be marked by humility and vulnerability. How else can we love others with this self-emptying divine life unless we leave our comfort zones and surrender our insulating pride? How else can we give birth to the Word unless we go to the dark corners of this world?

Yes, the manure will smell, the shepherds will be uncouth, the stable will be cold, the scourging will tear our flesh, and the cross will kill us. Often, the way of Jesus makes no rational sense at all, and we do our best to live the pieces of it that we can. But Christmas challenges us to go all the way. Have a blessed one!

(Previously published in the December 22nd, 2005 and December 22nd, 2011 Milwaukee Catholic Herald and reprinted here with the permission of Bishop Hying)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Kneeling in the Manger

These final days before Christmas bring exhaustion as the work of preparing to make merry brings wear and tear to my body and my soul. In spite of my weariness, I lie awake with worry heavy on my heart for my son who'd been sick with a sore throat earlier this month who has developed unusual complications. He had been fatigued and burning with fever, throat bright red and raw, yet he quickly healed as the virus seemed to move out of his body. Except it didn't. We didn't realize that the infection simply took up residence in a lymph node which generously shared its infective germs with the muscle in Joe's neck. Now with neck swollen to the size of a tennis ball, the pain rages from ear to sternum and my son can't move his head at all for the suffering he bears. Antibiotics should surely bring effective healing but the threat of an emergency room visit on Christmas Eve looms over our heads if that healing doesn't happen quickly.

In the middle of the night, I silently step into my son's room and kneel at the side of his bed, listening to his breath coming heavy and deep, and I offer a wordless prayer, just a movement of the heart in God's direction, a prayer that is for both of my sons who sleep in that room, as morning will bring a final psychological examination as part of the application process for seminary for my oldest son and I know that he carries stress and worry in his heart over that process-over the fear of the unknown-both regarding what the test will be like and whether or not he will be accepted to the seminary. My heart is heavy with a mother's love.

And I think of Mary and Joseph kneeling in the manger, cold and hungry, tired and scared, in prayer and adoration for their Son, the King. Fear and worry surely must have gripped their hearts as well-fear of the unknown abiding side by side with a deep love for their child. Were they, like me, unable to find words of prayer? Were they simply opening their hearts to God's presence in trustful surrender to whatever His plan would bring for their lives? I know the answer to my question is yes; they did surrender wholly to God's plan and so I will, too.

I will let my worry and my sorrow go and I will cling to peaceful trust in God as an offering for all of those who have larger worries this Christmas-for those who have suffered the loss of a loved one at this time of year when they want more than ever to be in the presence of those they love, for all of the clients who come to the WIC Clinic in droves trying to find some financial assistance to provide healthy foods for their families as their pocketbooks are strained by the burden of buying gifts, for those families who spend Christmas in the hospital kneeling at the bedside of their children who are ill with serious diseases such as cancer, for parents whose children have rebelled against their authority, against the law and against God and have brought the wounds of deep and cutting pain to the hearts of those who love them, and for all of those who feel a searing loneliness within-for all of these people, too, are kneeling in the manger.

My sorrow and worry is small and placed in the hands of God it is quickly overshadowed by His great love. Kneeling in the manger of my sons' room as they sleep I know that my blessings far outweigh my struggles and with Mary and Joseph to accompany me on my life's journey I will surely be able to bear whatever sorrows come my way by following their example of trustful surrender to the Holy Will of God.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mary Kept All These Things

"And Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart." ~Luke 2:19

As she was nurturing His body for the growth of infancy and for the love of childhood did she realize that she was preparing Him to die?

When she felt that first interior kick in belly swollen with His life, did she think about the nail that would fasten His feet tightly to the wood to redeem our sinful souls?

As she wrapped Him tight in the swaddling, held Him close in the dark damp cave so cold and nursed Him to fill his empty stomach, did she understand about His empty heart hungry for the love of the world?

When He suckled til satisfied and dozed in her arms while one last drop of milk slipped from the corner of His mouth onto the cold stone floor, did she see it as a foreshadowing of the one last drop of precious blood that would drip from His open side?

As His little chubby hand finally released her finger and He gave way to the deepness of sleep, could she feel the grip He would have upon the nail that would one day hollow his hand?

When she stroked His fragrant brow with a mother's tender love, did she picture the thorns meant to pierce that very spot in a vain attempt to mar His perfection?

As she finally set Him down to rest in the manger made of wood, did she know that the wood from which His resting place was made was the same wood from which His beaten and bruised body would hang until lifeless?

When she watched Him as He slept so soundly did she think about the last time His body would be taken from her arms and laid in another dark damp cave so cold?

And do we know?

Do we know that as we prepare our hearts and our homes for Christmas, as we shop and cook and clean, as we wrap and write and decorate, striving to make our hearts and homes a fit place for Christmas joy, that the same child who will be born within us will also die within us? Each time we carry our crosses of suffering, torment and shame, our crosses of sorrow, lament and pain, He dies a little more within us and we inch our way a little further into our own new life because of His death.

Be born in us, O Lord! Be born so that we may die to sin, to hate, to poverty, and to evil. Be born so that we may die to pride, to anger, to jealousy, to vengeance. Be born so that we may die to excess, to waste, to greed and to vanity. Be born so that we may live in Your love and die for Your love alone! Come, Lord, be born, live and die within us, your weak, fragile, tender, human hosts so that we may truly live for all eternity in the light of Your sweet and precious Love! Amen.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Secret Trust

I've been asked to speak about the Blessed Mother at my parish this coming March. It's part of a monthly program called Church Chat where "experts" speak about an aspect of the Catholic faith in a question and answer format. When I was first approached to speak about Mary I was so thrilled that there was to be a session about her that I quickly said yes. Of course, unlike the Blessed Mother, my yes's are never really final and peaceful, they always seem to be followed by a great deal of anxiety, and this yes was no exception. I soon found myself panicking over what I should say and the possibility that someone might ask a question that I'm unable to answer, after all, I'm certainly no theologian, I'm just a mom! Besides, I'm most comfortable hiding behind a keyboard, not standing out in the open and speaking to others.

I tried to back out and suggested that they ask someone who really knows what he's talking about and has the ability to inspire, like Bishop Hying. But, everyone knows that the Bishop is terribly busy these days, so my suggestion was downplayed with that excuse and the affirming words that "everyone has great faith in you and is confident that you will do a good job." So, I'm going to speak about Mary this March and you can be sure that I have been praying to her day and night pleading for her assistance and will go on praying to her until that talk is behind me and the people who attend will have gained some new and wonderful insight into the Blessed Mother and why Catholics are so devoted to her.

I'm sure it also helps to read and study all that I can get my hands on about our wonderful Lady, so with that in mind, I recently took my beloved copy of Caryll Houselander's The Reed of God off the bookshelf and have decided to make it an Advent tradition to re-read this enchanting little book each year. Her words, her wisdom, are achingly beautiful and resoundingly true, and the way she sees inside of the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the working of the Holy Spirit within her is so inspiring.

Maybe I can just read The Reed of God at the Church Chat session and let Caryll Houselander do all the work! I certainly could use a little of the secret trust that she speaks of in this segment from the chapter Fiat...

"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. To what was she asked to consent? First of all, to the descent of the Holy Spirit, to surrender her littleness to the Infinite Love, and as a result to become the Mother of Christ. It was so tremendous, yet so passive. She was not asked to do anything herself, but to let something be done to her. She was not asked to renounce anything, but to receive an incredible gift. She was not asked to lead a special kind of life, to retire to the temple and live as a nun, to cultivate suitable virtues or claim special privileges. She was simply to remain in the world, to go forward with her marriage to Joseph, to live the life of an artisan's wife, just what she planned to do when she had no idea that anything out of the ordinary would ever happen to her.

It almost seemed as if God's becoming man and being born of a woman were ordinary. The whole thing was to happen secretly. There was to be no announcement. The psalmists had hymned Christ's coming on harps of gold. The prophets foretold it with burning tongues. But now 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. He allowed Joseph to misjudge her, at least for a time.

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."

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Rend the Heavens

"Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!"
Isaiah 64:1

I've been a lector for the past four years and with a prayer to the Holy Spirit before I approach the ambo to proclaim His word, I usually do just fine. But every once in a while the power of a passage fills my heart and soul and gets stuck in my throat. My nerves are overcome and my voice quakes as if it were the first time I'd ever attempted to read His holy words. Today was such a day. I wanted to stop right at that powerful passage and cry out with Isaiah...

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!

A teenage boy leaves home with a pocket full of money
and wanders the streets all weekend
going from house to house looking for shelter
and a hot shower and a warm meal.
Where is the love of his mother?
Invited to participate in Mass, he asks,
"What is Mass?"

Rend the heavens!

A parish struggles under budgetary constraints
brought on by empty pews and empty hearts
and considers letting a priest go,
considers making do with less prayerful leadership,
less lifting up of God in worship,
in favor of more buildings.

Rend the heavens!

Young boys want to start a basketball team
and the priest rightly asks
"Why should I let you use my gym
when I never see you at Mass and
you aren't enrolled in Confirmation classes?"
We want the Church to serve us but
we fail to serve the Church.

Rend the heavens!

Babies are born to unwed teenage mothers
who barely know how to care for themselves
much less a new young life,
and mother and child cry together
for want of basic necessities and for love.

Rend the heavens!

These are dark days, O Lord.
Our hearts yearn for you
although we hardly allow
ourselves to know it
and we disguise our need behind
a false set of wants and a false sense of self.

Rend the heavens, O Lord, and come down!
Fill our hearts with a deep love for You.
End our misery, our poverty, our want,
and our spiritual starvation.
Show us that with You at our side
nothing else matters,
You are all we need.

O that you would rend the heavens and come down!
O that you would rend the heavens and come down!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Advent: The Season for...Fighting?

Every year it’s the same story when Advent comes around…Advent, which means, “come”. The ideals that our family holds up, the things we most want to come into our lives are peace, harmony and joy. We always start with the best intentions. We create a homemade Advent wreath, cutting fresh sprigs of cedar from our trees in the backyard and fill a glass pie dish with the greens and four candles, violet and pink. We lovingly place the wreath at the center of our kitchen table. Each evening as part of our dinner prayer, the children take turns lighting a candle and reading a prayer about building the stable in our hearts for Jesus. Doesn’t that sound beautiful? No greedy dreams of Christmas wishes for toys and gadgets. No secular Christmas music blaring from our radio. No loading up on Christmas treats and Christmas decorations before the season actually arrives. Just peace, harmony and joy around our Advent kitchen table.

Now for the reality check. It’s true we make a beautiful Advent wreath each year and lovingly place it at the center of our kitchen table. It’s true the children take turns lighting the candles and saying the prayer. But I’m sorry to admit that it is not as beautiful as it sounds. Each night, after the children are called to the dinner table, the arguing ensues before anyone even sits down. “Mom, can I light the candle tonight?” comes out of nearly every child’s mouth, followed by “You did it last night, it’s my turn!” And “No, it’s my turn!” As whose turn it will actually be to light the candle is decided, the arguments begin over who will do the reading of the prayer. The older boys have long since decided that the fight is not worth the effort, as the smaller ones almost always win out with their louder cries and complaints.

I often wonder if anyone is actually paying attention to the prayer, as it often turns out that the child who is lighting the candle struggles with the lighter and everyone tries to help. Then, the prayer reader usually struggles with some difficult words which seems to take a great deal of meaning out of the prayer, as the sibling next to the reader helps with pronunciation. By the time the candle is finally lit and the prayer is said, my family often has to rush through supper as our busy evening of homework, dishes, basketball practice, laundry and volunteer work looms overhead. The lighting of the candle and the reciting of the prayer seem like one more thing we have to get through, rather than something to slow us down and change our focus from busy activity to quiet contemplation.

But, I believe that somewhere down the line, my children will remember this tradition, even with the fighting included, and have fond memories and traditions to pass on to their own children. I believe that in their hearts they will remember the meaning behind the tradition. They will remember that our main intention was to invite the light of Christ into our home and our hearts, day after day, no matter what challenges stood in the way. They will remember that our family dinnertime was important enough to take place before all of the busy evening activities, and that our family prayer time was important enough to take place before our family dinner. Christ comes first in our lives, then family, then busy activities. They will remember that they had to learn to work out their differences. They will remember the satisfaction of learning to be patient with the lighting of the candle and the reading of the prayer. They will remember how good it felt to forgo their turn at candle lighting to let one of the younger ones enjoy that privilege.

As we journey together through the dark days of Advent, the light of God must be entering our hearts without our awareness, because little by little, the arguing gives way to loving assistance and patient understanding, until the arguing is all but forgotten and only the joy of our Advent waiting in family love remains. Not only do I wait patiently for Christmas, but I also wait for the day when our children will have all left home and Paul and I will be left alone to fight over who gets to light the Advent candle and say the prayer. So I whisper my own little prayer to Jesus, “Take your time, let us enjoy this present moment of dark Advent waiting, and let us enjoy this present time with children in our home to love and enjoy. Teach us not to hurry through Advent and not to hurry through life. Teach us to find you, right here, right now, God with us, Emmanuel. Christmas will “come”, the day that the children leave home will “come”, but for right now, let us remain in the gift of the present moment, even if we do have to put up with a few fights now and then.”

(a re-post from the archives)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Lay Associate of the Priesthood

"My beloved Jesus, by the Precious Blood which you did shed on the day of the Circumcision, deign to watch over the infancy and early education of the children whom You have destined to minister at the altar, that they may be preserved spotless till consecrated to You by the Holy Unction. Bless the families that honor Your Precious Blood and spread this devotion by choosing from their midst a large number of vocations to the priesthood and by maintaining their fervor till the close of their lives.

Our Lady of the Precious Blood, watch over the living chalices of the Blood of Jesus. Amen."

~part of Prayers for Priests and Those Destined for the Priesthood which is recited daily by the Handmaids of the Precious Blood as a closing prayer after Vespers. The beautiful prayer continues in a litany format comprising the various life events of a man discerning the priesthood and throughout his priestly life up until his time of death.

It was one month ago when I became enrolled as a Candidate for the Oblates of the Precious Blood. Since then I have received my first lesson, The Primacy of the Spiritual, a lovely and inspiring five page document about the importance of placing God first in my life and the value of suffering.

As part of the candidacy process, I have been enrolled as a "Lay Associate of the Priesthood." What a joy it was for me to receive the name of a priest for whom I will pray the following prayer daily for the rest of my life:

"Lord Jesus, live in all priests and help them truly appreciate their unique oneness with You so that they shall never crave for more or less than just Yourself and Your Love forever.

Grant Father (n.) the grace to seek for no other joy than Your Love and the privilege of bringing it to others.

Grant to me, an ever-deepening reverence of Your Priesthood. And when death ends my life here on earth, may You, the Eternal High Priest, reveal to me in the Beatific Vision the consolation everlasting of having prayed and sacrificed for Your priests on earth. Amen."

Do you feel called to pray for a specific priest on a daily basis? You, too, can become a "Lay Associate of the Priesthood." All that is required is a desire to spiritually adopt a priest through prayer and commit to praying for him daily.

There are currently 40,000 priests in the United States in need of prayer. The Handmaids of the Precious Blood, a cloistered community in New Mexico, keep a list of the priests names and they would welcome those who are willing to spiritually adopt a priest and pray for him daily. All they ask is that you commit to praying the above prayer for your priest by his first name each day. If gratitude for the gift of the priesthood in your life compels you to prayer, please consider sending the Handmaids of the Precious Blood an email letting them know about your desire to spiritually adopt a priest and they will send you the daily prayer along with the name of priest who needs and would welcome your prayer.

To learn more about the Handmaids of the Precious Blood and to discern whether or not you might be called to join in association with their mission to pray for priests, visit this link:

By Patient Endurance You Will Save Your Life

At St. Matthias parish we are blessed with the presence of Fr. Dan Murphy who occasionally celebrates daily Mass with us. So often I hear people say that these are "the end times" and so I found his homily today to be especially beautiful and comforting. I asked him if I could share his words here so that others might also be comforted by his tender and true words and he agreed. His homily follows:

By patient endurance you will save your life.
-Luke 21:19

Some people don’t seem to be satisfied until they have something to worry about; even imaginary troubles. Jesus tells us about some calamities today. The beautiful temple of Jerusalem —it’ll be torn down; not one stone on another. There will be false messiahs. There will be wars, natural disasters and the betrayals of friends and relatives. And sure enough, that's exactly what happened. And every one of these things has happened over and over again ever since.

Can you think of one generation that hasn’t seen wars, hurricanes, floods, persecutions and the collapse of some sacred institution? In just the past few years we watched the awesome Twin Towers in New York get smashed to dust. We watched the unfolding of the priest sex abuse disaster and the Catholic bishops attempt to cover it up. Even in your own personal life, you’ve had events that felt like an earthquake.

Are you ready for some good news? Jesus answers: "By patient endurance you will save your life." Jesus warns you to avoid the easy answers. He knew that many false messiahs would come, using his name. And they have. These people claim to have an easy, quick solution to all of your problems. What’s his advice? Don't follow them. Yes, it’s a big temptation to think of faith in God as an easy way out. “Are you in financial difficulty? Try Jesus. He’ll make you rich. Is your health failing? Try Jesus. He’ll make you well."

Is that what he promised? Does he give easy escapes from the very real problems of life? Oh no! It’s just the opposite. “They will persecute you because of my name. All will hate you because of me.” That doesn't sound like an easy escape to me. Jesus has no easy answers. But he does have a promise. "Not a hair of your head will be harmed." "I will be with you always."

When all’s going wrong, you can count on that promise, on that loving presence, on that unfailing nearness. “Come to me all you who find life a heavy burden and I will refresh you.”

The future is in the hands of God. And that’s the best place for it to be. The future is not in your control. You’ll only make yourself sick by trying to go there. The only time that God gives you is right now.

So, don’t look for him on a pink cloud or with a jeweled crown. Look for him in our gathering together right here, right now. Look for him in the words of the Bible, in the Host you cradle in your hand and on your tongue. Look for him at home, on the faces of your dear ones. But look for him especially where he told you to look: in the faces of people who are hungry and thirsty. Look for him in the people who feel alone. Look for him in people who are defenseless, those who feel sick and even for people who are locked up in prison. And the next time you glance at a mirror look for him inside of you. He’s in there. Honor him.

At those times when it’s hard to live in the present moment. Listen to the voice of Jesus: “My name is God-with-you. I will wipe away all the tears from your eyes. There will be no more death, mourning or sadness. The world of the past has gone.” Yes, it’s time to stop worrying because:

By patient endurance you will save your life.

Whether the Lord is coming this Thanksgiving or a thousand years from now, that’s none of your business. Your task is to live as if he were arriving this very day. Some day he will come in power and glory to wipe away every tear. But today he’s coming quietly, softly, invisibly.

By patient endurance you will save your life.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Mass for the People by Caryll Houselander

It's such a blessing to have a friend who knows you well, who perceives what will move you and who shares things with you understanding that it will touch your heart. I have a friend like that in Fr. Jim Kubicki, SJ, who, while on retreat, came across a story by one of my all-time favorite authors and the subject of many of my past blog posts, Caryll Houselander, and he promptly sent the story on to me for my enjoyment. Not only was it a moving story written by her creative hand, but the subject matter was also near and dear to my heart; it's the story of a priest offering Mass. I tried to find the source of this story online but had no luck, so I will share some of my favorite passages here and I pray that the words will touch your heart as deeply as they touched mine.

(Fr. Jim is currently in Rome and will be sharing parts of his Roman adventure on his blog "Offer it Up." Please pay him a visit to follow along with his experiences!)

excerpts from Mass for the People by Caryll Houselander:

"The priest was on the side of life, he had no other work, no other raison d'etre but to give life, and the life he gave could not be killed. He was not outside of the world's love because he was a priest and alone, he was the heart of the world's love, its core, because the Life of the World is born every day in His hands at Mass.

Father O'Grady made the Sign of the Cross. "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen," and bowed down under the burden of the sins of the whole world. His own sins were a heavy enough load, and now he bowed under the weight of all sin. But when he straightened himself up from the Confiteor, the burden of the whole world's sin, and his own with it, had fallen from his back, and his shoulders were strong. For it was Christ who rose up and went up to the altar-Christ who had seen evil naked, face to face, Christ who had been brought down to the ground, under the world's sin to sweat blood into the dust, and Christ who had overcome the world.

He lifted the unconsecrated Host, light as a petal on its thin golden paten, and with it lifted the simple bread of humanity, threshed and sifted by poverty and suffering. He offered the broken fragments of their love, made into one loaf.

He lifted the wine and water mixed in the Chalice, and with it offered the blood and the tears of his people to God.

And God accepted the offering, the fragments of love were gathered up into the wholeness of Love and nothing was wasted.

Slowly, exactly, Father O'Grady repeated the words of Consecration, his hands moved in Christ's hands, his voice spoke in Christ's voice, his words were Christ's words, his heart beat in Christ's heart.

Fr. O'Grady lifted up the consecrated Host in his short, chapped hands, the server rang a little bell, the sailor, the handful of old women and the very old man bowed down whispering "My Lord and my God" and the breath of their adoration was warm on their cold fingers.

Father O'Grady was lifting up God.

A cry arose from all over the world, "Come down from the Cross if you are the Son of God!" "Save yourself and us too if you are the Christ."

But Christ remained on the Cross. His fingers closed on the nails. The Crown of Thorns was in flower, the five ribs like the five fingers of the world's pain gripped His heart, and His heart broke open and the river of the world's life flowed out of it. A crimson flood sweeping His heart and brain and flowing into the tips of His fingers, swept through His Mystical Body. Through the eternal heart of Rome, through the lonely mind of her august Shepherd, out into the least and lowliest of men, and the last little infant howling at the touch of the waters of Baptism, the blood of the world's life flowed into the finger tips, which stretched out on the Cross, measuring the reach and stretch and extremity and ultimate possibility of love.

The world strained at the nails, wrenched and dragged, the Cross was shaken in the earth, bent like a tree in the storm, dragged earthward by the weight of man's body, but it was rooted in rock, and the Cross was built to the shape of man, not man to the shape of the Cross. The world's suffering was built and fitted to the size of each man, and the Cross stood.

"Come down, come down, come down!"

But Christ would not come down from the Cross.

The little server rang his silver bell.
The people bowed down low.
Time stopped.
Fr. O'Grady was lifting up God in his large, chapped hands.
Christ remained on the Cross.
The blood and sweat and tears of the world were on His face. he smiled, the smile of infinite peace, the ineffable bliss of consummated love."


Each year on the Monday before Thanksgiving, the WIC Clinic where I work participates in our local community's "Family to Family Thanksgiving" which distributes 3000 turkey dinners to the needy in our community annually. Since I am the only staff member at work who drives a van, my small role is to drive to the warehouse to pick up the 30 dinners that we are alloted and bring them back to our clinic where we share them with our neediest families.

Every year on turkey day (as it is affectionately known) I leave the house in the morning to find that my husband has already lovingly turned the car seats down to make extra room for all of the turkeys that I will be transporting. As I arrive at the warehouse where the dinners are distributed, I pull into a line of cars, turn my hazard lights on and wait for my turn. When I finally reach the loading dock, I am greeted by about 50 volunteers who open the doors of my van and fill it to the brim with the holiday food. How I wish my weekly grocery shopping experience for my family could be like this! Just pull up to the grocery store and a bunch of people come out and load all of your groceries for you!

Today as I waited in line to present my humble and lowly van to the volunteers who would fill it with food for those who are physically hungry, I had ample time to pray the rosary, and I thought about the beauty of today's Feast Day, the Presentation of the Blessed Mother.

Like me waiting in line, Mary waited, too; in fact she lifted the virtue of patience to an exalted state as she waited to be presented at the Temple by St. Joachim and St. Anne, after which she waited to learn what God's will for her life would be. And His will was for her body to be filled with the Bread of Life who would feed those who were hungry not for physical satiation but rather for spiritual fulfillment. Upon His birth, she waited yet again for his quiet and uneventful years of growth to pass by and for His mission to begin.

And she knew.

She knew that His mission would end in tortuous death, yet she waited for it with peace. As the crucifixion occured, she continued to patiently wait as she stood at the foot of the cross, silently suffering with Her Son. Then, after His lifeless body was placed in the tomb, she waited for His resurrection and ascension into glory.

Today, the time that I spent waiting in my van to pick up the Thanksgiving dinners became a perfect pause of thankful prayer united with the Queen of patience, and I hope that the Blessed Mother will continue to calmly stay by my side and by the side of all of her children, as we wait for our own presentations in the heavenly Kingdom of God. I returned to work, van weighed down with food to nourish the physically hungry and myself feeling a bit more satiated spiritually by my quiet time of waiting prayer with the Blessed Mother on her special day.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

An Exercise of Faith

"I do believe, Lord. Help my unbelief." Mark 9:24

A few months ago I came across a great story about Archbishop Dolan's talk to the pilgrims at World Youth Day. I've been saving it, always wanting to reflect and write about it, but after several months of meditating upon his rich words, I just can't come up with anything further to say. He says it all so perfectly. Maybe his words about faith and evangelization bring about thoughts that you would like to share?


During a question-and-answer session, one Australian pilgrim touched on what will likely be a challenge for many young people once they leave World Youth Day: how to interact with those who do not agree with the basic principles of the Catholic faith and who are, in fact, living a life averse to the church’s teachings.

The archbishop’s answer was simply this: with love.

“We can scream, we can yell, we can castigate, we can alienate, we can nag, and most of the time if we do that we lose,” he said. “Or we can be gracious, patient, loving, understanding, persistent, welcoming. And most of the time when we do that, we’re also going to lose. But less than the first one.”

“When we admit our faith is weak, when we admit our faith is shaky, when we admit that our faith isn’t what it should be, actually we’re exercising it, and we’re making it more and more firm,” he said. “Something tells me that’s why we’re (at World Youth Day),” he said. “Our faith is weak, our faith is shaky. We want to be with a million other young people from around the world who love their faith and are trying to make it strong.”

Source: Catholic Herald UK, August 18, 2011

Sunday, November 6, 2011

These Hands Bring Me Jesus

I often wonder if my faith would be the same without Greg Kandra's The Deacon's Bench blog. I learn so much and am often inspired by his posts so I give him a great deal of credit for forming my faith. He recently shared a link to These Hands Bring Me Jesus. I encourage you to spend some time visiting this website reading the stories and viewing the impressive pictures and slideshow by Stephen Golder. You will be moved with gratitude and love for the bishops and priests in your life, the men whose hands bring you Jesus.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

To Feel the Pain

"Remember that to reach the Resurrection, one must always climb Mt. Calvary. No one has ever (or will ever) come up with another way to salvation.

You will never know the depth of your own soul, unless you are willing to climb down deep into it and sit there for a while. It is there, sitting in the muck and sludge of our own sinfulness, our own humanity, our own brokenness, that we come to know the saving power of Jesus Christ."
~Deacon Ryan Preuss

I recently met with a woman at work who was pregnant with her fourth child. She told me that her three sons were all incredibly easy to deliver; she just showed up at the hospital and before she knew it she was holding a beautiful baby boy in her arms without having experienced any real pain. I marveled at that and considered her to be very fortunate as labor pains are hardly something that a woman relishes about having a baby. But she disagreed with my point of view. She said that with this baby she was hoping for a long labor and wanted to feel all of the pain. She wanted to experience and savor every moment of the pregnancy, labor, delivery and parenting of her child.

Thinking about her response made me realize the value of her words. Our lives were meant to be fully experienced and savored, but without the pain which is a natural part of life, how can we fully appreciate the joys?

Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to spend some time with some good friends who generously host occasional parties in an old barn that has been converted to a gymnasium complete with basketball hoops, trampolines, slides, rope swings and a foam pit. Don and Anne kindly invite the teen boys, including my sons, who participate in the St. Francis de Sales Seminary camps for boys discerning the priesthood, to come and release some pent up energy while re-connecting with their friends that they met at the camps. They will often invite some priests and seminarians to join us and they ask them to offer a little reflection for the boys to ponder. At this most recent gathering we were joined by Deacon Ryan Preuss and seminarian Kurt Krauss who shared their experiences of the World Youth Day Pilgrimage in Madrid, Spain, with us.

It seems that neither of these young men had a joyous and perfect experience on their pilgrimage, in fact, hardship and difficulty seemed to be the defining description. They spent nights sleeping outside on the cold, hard ground in clothes that were soaking wet from the rain, they suffered the effects of sitting closely with crowds of pilgrims from around the world, they went without eating, they lost members of their groups and were barred from entering the tent for the final Mass with the Pope. Deacon Ryan commented that in some cases it almost felt like purgatory as his group was standing outside of a tent where Eucharistic Adoration was taking place and there was a huge sign that said "Welcome" but they weren't allowed inside because the tent was overcrowded. Yet, in all of their remarks they both overwhelming stated that their pilgrimage was a reflection of the Christian life overall. Life isn't meant to be easy, things aren't always supposed to go as planned, there is no guarantee that we will always be happy; and they wouldn't have it any other way. Because in the challenges and difficulties as well as in the joys and successes, we find God at work, changing us, refining us, loving us.

When my struggles with depression were at their worst, my son Joe, who was often most distraught to see his mother suffering and astutely noticed that the timing of my psychological breakdown coincided with a deeper conversion into my Catholic faith, would often complain and ask, "Mom, why is it that ever since you became a Jesus freak, you have been miserable? Why would anyone want to turn to God if doing so makes you so unhappy?" And in my sorrow, I couldn't clearly think of a response other than to reiterate how much I love Jesus and that my depression was not His fault, but just a part of life; but my words felt lame and inadequate and nothing that I could say to him in response to his question would satisfy him. I was at a loss for an explanation and his words cut me to the quick. In fact, there were many times when I joined in Joe's complaint and put his same questions in prayer to God. But here, in the words of Deacon Ryan and Kurt, and in the viewpoint of the expectant mother, the answer became crystal clear; we aren't meant to escape the pain, we are meant to feel the pain and to endure in our faith despite the suffering we may feel.

To feel the pain is to allow God to work in your life, to let Him draw you closer to His love through the entire experience of life, both the painful and the pleasant moments. If we want to follow Christ, we must travel through the trials of the cross, trials which will manifest themselves differently for each of us, before we can reach the glories of the resurrection. If we really want to bear the name Christian, then like St. Therese we must say "I choose all!" and learn to carry on and work through the pain so that one day, we will be able to fully embrace the joys of heaven. There is no "easy out," we must strive to accept the fact that despite the hardness of life, God will never abandon us and our lives have a deep and meaningful purpose that will only make sense to us when we leave this life for our final destiny where we will then clearly see that all of the suffering we endured on earth was meaningful and beautiful, and God used it all for His glory in the mystery of His plan. In the words of Pope John Paul II from Salvifici Doloris, "in whatever form, suffering seems to be, and is, almost inseparable from man's earthly existence." We were born to feel the pain and to remain faithful despite our suffering. Our call as Christians is to unite our suffering with the suffering of Christ and in our pain, however minor or horrific it may be, we will be assisting God as He redeems our souls and those of the whole world.

All Saints and All Souls

The following is an educational piece that I wrote for our parish newsletter on All Saints Day and All Souls Day:

“How beautiful and consoling is the communion of saints! It is a reality that infuses a different dimension to our whole life. We are never alone! We form part of a spiritual "company" in which profound solidarity reigns: the good of each one is for the benefit of all and, vice versa, the common happiness is radiated in each one. It is a mystery that, in a certain measure, we can already experience in this world, in the family, in friendship, especially in the spiritual community of the Church.” ~Pope Benedict XVI

We are so blessed as Catholics to have so many heavenly friends in the communion of saints to whom we can look up to as examples of faith and upon whom we can call for prayerful intercession to the Father. Who among us doesn’t have a “favorite” saint or two with whom we can identify in our struggles to live our faith each day? Although many saints are given specific days on the church calendar in which we honor them alone, the Church in her wisdom has dedicated one day each year in which we honor all of the saints in the Church Triumphant (those who are in heaven) and the Church Militant (those still living on earth) including those who are known, as well as those who are unknown to us or to the world at large. Together, the saints living and deceased make up the Communion of Saints, to which we confess our belief in the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds.

All Saint’s Day is always celebrated on November 1st and it is a holy day of obligation in which all Catholics are required to attend Mass. The solemnity of All Saints Day can be traced back to Pope Gregory III (731-741) who consecrated a chapel within St. Peter’s Basilica to all of the saints on November 1st, and nearly 100 years later the celebration was shared with the entire Church by Pope Gregory IV (827-844.)

All Saints Day is immediately followed by All Souls Day on November 2nd, where we pray for all of our beloved deceased especially those who are part of the Church Penitential (those who are being purified in purgatory.) Our prayers on this day are meant to help those we love to be released from the pains of purgation for their venial sins and to enter into the glories of heaven. The celebration of All Souls Day can be traced back to seventh century monks who wanted a special day to pray for their deceased community members. By the 13th century it was added to the calendar of the Church. Although All Souls Day is not a Holy Day of Obligation, praying for the dead is a spiritual act of mercy so attendance at Mass on this day and the offering of special prayers for the dead is a beautiful way to love and honor those who have passed through life before us.

Please honor the communion of saints with your prayerful presence at Mass on these days!

Friday, October 28, 2011


"O Lord, we beseech Thee to cleanse the intent of our hearts with the unspeakable gift of Thy grace, that we may perfectly love Thee and worthily praise Thee. Amen." ~Introductory prayer of the ceremony of enrollment as a candidate for the Oblates of the Precious Blood

On the morning of my candidacy enrollment for the Oblates of the Precious Blood, I awoke with great joy in my heart and was determined to spiritually prepare myself for the sacred undertaking I was about to embark upon. With a heart warmed by kind messages from friends who encouraged me with their own offerings of prayer, my oldest son and I paid a visit to the local Schoenstatt Shrine to spend some time with the Lord. We were alone in the tiny chapel and together we prayed a rosary for priests in the presence of the tabernacle.

Later, when I arrived at work, the clinic was swamped with clients and I was left with no time to ponder the upcoming ceremony. On my lunch break I slipped away to the nearby Church of the Gesu for confession. An event like this requires a clean soul. As I stepped out of the confessional, I recognized one of the men standing in line as a Conventual Franciscan seminarian from St. Francis de Sales Seminary. I had never met him before so I introduced myself to him and told him that my family and I spend a great deal of time at the seminary and that I had recognized him as one of the seminarians. He introduced himself as Paul Schneider and told me that he anticipated being ordained to the transitional diaconate this coming April. Then he looked at me intently and said, "Pray for me." I confidently told him that I would, but on the inside, I was utterly amazed. This man had never met me before and had no idea that on this very day I would be committing myself to life-long prayer for all priests, seminarians and those discerning the priesthood. I felt as is if his words, "Pray for me" were spoken on behalf of all priests and seminarians and were inspired by Christ himself telling me that my calling to the Oblates of the Precious Blood was indeed a heavenly inspired vocation which was much needed today. I returned to work and all during the busy afternoon I kept recalling those three simple words-pray for me- as I anticipated what was to come.

That evening our living room was arranged into an informal church setting with flowers and candles and a statue of Our Lady of Fatima. Finally, the moment I had been waiting for since last June arrived. My friend Kurt Keidl, who had kindly written a letter of recommendation to the Handmaids of the Precious Blood on my behalf and Fr. Jim Kubicki, SJ, who also had taken the time to write a letter, both arrived and the Mass began. My family joined in the celebration as my son John read the first reading, my daughter Mary read the psalm and my son Jack served as acolyte. Fr. Jim, who had just returned that very afternoon from a two week visit in New Jersey where he led a retreat for a convent of cloistered Carmelite nuns, spoke about his gratitude to cloistered nuns such as the Handmaids of the Precious Blood who pray for priests, and also of his gratitude for lay people who pray for priests. He said that no priest can handle his responsibilities toward the Church alone, that they all need the gift of prayer from others.

Following Holy Communion, Fr. Jim officiated at the short enrollment ceremony which included a reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians 1:3-10, a questioning of the candidate, a presentation of a medal of Mary, Queen of the Clergy, a prayer of the candidate and a final prayer and blessing.

The Mass and enrollment ceremony were followed by a dinner celebration with a special treat, Holy Spirits Wine, and all too soon the evening came to an end. In the morning, Fr. Jim would be off on another retreat trip for the Apostleship of Prayer, this time to Minnesota. How wonderful it was that he was able to spend his short time at home helping me to dedicate my life to prayer for all priests. It was a gloriously blessed evening and I am filled with joy to prayerfully begin my formation period and to devote my life to prayer for all priests.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

slipping into silence

silent tears
in the silent rain
silent sorrow
and silent pain

silent shame
from a silent past
silent suffering
now the silence is cast

silence remains
in a silent heart
can you feel the silence
rip your soul apart?

silent day
and silent night
silence continues
its silent plight

silence holds
and silence ties
looking down
with silent eyes

yet here in the silence
He speaks to me
my soul is listening
I can clearly see

the deep love He has
in His heart so dear
His silent presence
is love ever near

beautiful silence
I will embrace
this quiet time
this silent space

and into forever
silence will remain
a sign of His love
and His kingly reign

silently His heart
melts into mine
and our hearts become one
in a silent shrine

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Speed Bumps and Other Helps

Yesterday I posted highlights from Fr. Wade Menezes talk on the Blessed Mother from the Gazing on the Face of Jesus with Mary conference sponsored by the Rosary Evangelization Apostolate. Today I am giving Dr. Edward Sri his due. His talk was so engaging and uplifting-really most enjoyable! If you are ever offered the opportunity to hear him speak, I recommend that you do!

His words:

Some people consider praying the rosary to be as easy as saying your ABC's but others say it is difficult to pray it without a wandering mind. Some look at the rosary as a difficult chore and pray it just to "get it over with and check it off the to-do list," and for others every decade seems to last ten years, or they are so busy all day that when they finally sit down to pray the rosary, they fall asleep. But we should never walk away from praying the rosary feeling discouraged or defeated. Simply pulling out the beads and praying is giving something beautiful to God. St. Thomas Aquinas said that just the intention to pray is in itself the beginning of prayer.

If we pray the rosary and go to Mass and it doesn't go well and we're distracted, God sees the intent of our heart and He loves us for it. We should remember that the only one who wants us to be discouraged is the devil. But we do want to get better at prayer. Sometimes it's helpful to focus on meditating upon the mystery of each decade and at other times we want to focus on the words of the Hail Mary prayers. In either case the Lord will take whatever we give Him.

People may criticize the rosary as vain repetition. Jesus himself repeated his prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed "Father, not my will but your will" three times. Repetition is the language of love. Every couple repeats "I love you" and they don't sigh and say "Could you come up with something more original?"

When we pray the words of the Hail Mary we are joining in the joy of heaven with Gabriel and the joy of earth with Elizabeth who first uttered these words of prayer. Gabriel who knew God in heaven from all of eternity is in awe over the mystery of the incarnation. And how does Elizabeth know that Mary is pregnant? It's through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which gave her prophetic insight. So the first half of the Hail Mary prayer is all about praising God-praising Jesus. The second half of the prayer, the Holy Mary, is simply asking her to pray for us. But it's the center of the Hail Mary prayer, the hinge, where we find the Holy Name of Jesus. We should treat his name in this prayer like a speed bump, that is, slow down and speak his name with reverence and love.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Get Into Your Prayers

Last weekend I had the great honor of hearing Fr. Wade Menezes and Dr. Edward Sri speak about Marian Devotion and the rosary at the Rosary Evangelization Apostolate's Gazing on the Face of Jesus with Mary conference at St. Jerome's Parish in Oconomowoc, WI. What follows are some highlights from Fr. Wade's talk:

Each mystery of the rosary is re-lived at Mass, either directly or indirectly.

Mary is blessed not because she bore Christ within her womb and nursed him at her breast, but because she heard the word of God and kept it. We are to follow her example in this regard, to hear the word of God and keep it.

The Eucharist is the only Sacrament that is what it signifies; the other Sacraments effect what they signify such as baptism which washes away the stain of original sin, but the Eucharist truly is the Body and Blood of Christ.

All Marian devotion is Christocentric and points to Christ. Mary's name is never mentioned in scripture without an implicit reference to her Son. A perfect example of this is Mary's direction to the waiters at the wedding feast at Cana. She said, "Do whatever He tells you." She says the same words to us.

In the rosary Mary stands in the background of every mystery. Even the Assumption and Coronation are but glimmering foreshadows of what we hope to attain for ourselves based upon Christ on the cross who came to save us.

Using St. Thomas of Aquinas' definition of humility: "Humility is seeing your place and taking it." Mary shows her humility by taking her place in the stable, the home, the foot of the cross, and as the Queen of Heaven.

Just as Mary stood at the foot of the cross, she is standing today right next to you, ready to help and support you no matter what may be going on in your life.

The rosary is a contemplative prayer where we are conformed to Christ with Mary.

According to John Paul II the role of the Christian family in the modern world is the foundational and innate vocation of the human person to love.

The goal of Catholics is to stay right in line with the Chair of Peter and to swerve neither to the right nor the left as both camps cause confusion and the devil is loving every minute of it. It doesn't matter if you fall out of the Barque of Peter to the left or to the right-either way you risk drowning.

The spiritual life is not limited to liturgy. The liturgy is the source and summit, but Christians must also go to their room to pray in private and pray without ceasing.

Don't just get your prayers in-get into your prayers!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sancta Maria

In honor of the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary I am going to spend a busy weekend attending the Rosary Evangelization Apostolate's special Mass and rosary conference where I will promote Roses for Our Lady followed by Roses for Our Lady's monthly Holy Hour for Vocations with an outdoor Eucharistic Rosary procession on Sunday. Before I know it the weekend will be over and I will be too exhausted to post anything, but I just couldn't let this extraordinary feast day pass by without some special words in honor of Our Blessed Mother, so I found this classic poem to share...

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!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sunday, October 2, 2011

My Neighbor

"You shall love the Lord, your God,with all your heart,with all your being,with all your strength,and with all your mind,and your neighbor as yourself." Luke 10:27

Looking back to the weekend just past, my time was filled with fun and meaningful events like attending the Rector's Dinner, the largest fund-raiser for St. Francis de Sales Seminary, going to a wine tasting with my husband and his sister, cheering on my daughter at her double-header volleyball games and standing witness with my parish at the Life Chain.

But by far, the highlight of the weekend was a special little trip that my oldest son John and I made on Sunday evening. John and Justin both work at a nearby nursing home in the dietary department. They love to share stories about the people who live there, and our family almost feels as if we know the sweet residents of the nursing home after hearing so many wonderful tales.

One woman, in particular, seems to be the topic of discussion at our home quite a bit. H. lives in the independent apartments that are attached to the nursing home. Poor H. seems to be ready for assisted living as her memory is quite poor and the boys often say that she is poorly cared for, and on top of that, many of the other nursing home residents dislike her and criticize her for her memory loss.

The independents are allowed to come to the dining room for dinner during the week, but on weekends the food served at the nursing home is for the assisted care residents only. (I don't understand that rule, do you?) It seems that on both Saturday and Sunday she came down to the dining room looking for food and the staff had to send her away because it was a weekend. John was especially heartbroken when he came home from work on Sunday afternoon and he told us that once again H. was looking for food, complaining about how hungry she was, but the staff had to send her back to her apartment or they could get in trouble for breaking the rules and feeding her. (Time to change that rule, don't you agree?) John overheard one of the nursing assistant's say that H. didn't have any food in her apartment. H.'s only son lives out of state, so she is all alone with no one to care for her.

On Sundays I always like to make a big family dinner, and since my husband has taken a second job and had to work and my daughter was eating dinner at a friend's house, we had lots of food left over. So, John and I made up a plate of dinner and packed up a bag of groceries and took it to H. at her apartment. John's description of her was quite accurate; she was incredibly sweet but also noticeably forgetful. She recognized John but didn't remember his name. She asked me if I was his girlfriend and when I told her that I was his mom she so kindly told me that I don't look old enough to be his mother. I immediately fell in love with her after that! When I told her my name she mentioned that Anne is her favorite name. Then, five minutes later, she asked "What was your name again?"

When we offered her the dinner, she mentioned that she did eat dinner already so we put the dinner and groceries in her nearly empty refrigerator, said goodbye, and went downstairs for a tour of the kitchen. One of the girls who was doing the dishes told us that H. did come down for dinner once again and she didn't care if she got in trouble or not, she gave H. a bowl of chili. (Good girl!) It did my heart good to know that there were staff members there who would risk getting "in trouble" at work to assure that a hungry 94-year-old woman had some nutritious food in her stomach.

Six blocks from my home a sweet little woman lives all alone in a world that often mistreats her for her mental capacity. During this month dedicated to respecting life I will remember that woman who is only six short blocks from my home. She is my neighbor and I will strive to love her as I love myself.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Solemn Resolution of Love

“He who would truly honor the priesthood must do so by helping priests. I would rather have a hand in getting one priest back to the altar of God than to write a thousand books on the priesthood, or to preach a million sermons on the glory of the priesthood, for neither the sermons nor the books can hold Christ in their hands and offer Him to the Father.”
~Very Rev. Gerald Fitzgerald, s.P.

One of the things that I most enjoy about blogging is the ability that we all have to learn from such diverse sources about the varied communities and groups within our Catholic Church of which we might not ever have a previous knowledge. Joe, at Defend Us In Battle, who writes from Alaska, had recently written about a group of contemplative nuns at Cor Jesu Monastery in New Mexico, The Handmaids of the Precious Blood, which touched my heart here in Wisconsin and has changed my life in a profound way.

The Handmaids of the Precious Blood devote their lives to perpetual Eucharistic Adoration for the sanctification of Priests. They offer several external prayer apostolates so that those who are not in their community may join them in prayer for priests at whichever level may best suit their lives.

The Handmaids of the Precious Blood were founded in 1947 by Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, SP and the lay apostolates were added in the 1980's by Fr. John Hardon, SJ who replaced Fr. Fitzgerald as the order's spiritual director upon Fr. Fitzgerald's death.

Since I had begun a Monthly Prayer Request for Priests in Milwaukee last September, I felt that an opportunity to become an Oblate of the Precious Blood would be a beautiful way to deepen my prayer of love for the priesthood, so I applied to the order to determine whether or not God might be calling me to this life of deeper prayer.

"Begun under the guidance of the Servant of God Father John A. Hardon, S.J. on the Feast of Corpus Christi, June 21, 1981, the Oblates of the Precious Blood program was founded to allow priests, religious, deacons, and laity to more closely affiliate themselves with the mission and spirit of the Handmaids of the Precious Blood. Oblates of the Precious Blood bind themselves to our apostolate of prayer and sacrifice for priests by willingly committing themselves to lives completely dedicated to God, doing everything out of love for God and for the sanctification of priests. From their homes, their families, their work, their rectories, their dioceses, their missions, their hermitages, and their cloisters they reach out spiritually to priest souls in need, offering every joy and sorrow, all pain and suffering to God in love on behalf of priests. They dedicate themselves to learning the spirituality of our Founder, Father Gerald Fitzgerald, s.P. and give themselves in a lifelong resolution to live for God alone. Candidates undergo a formation period by correspondence conducted from our Motherhouse in New Mexico before making a private Solemn Resolution of Love. The Oblates are not a third order and members of third orders may apply for candidacy. World wide, there are at present over 420 Oblates of the Precious Blood. " ~from the Handmaids of the Precious Blood website

On Thursday October 27th, my friend, Fr. Jim Kubicki, SJ, will officiate at a ceremony following Mass in my living room in which I will become enrolled as a candidate for Oblates of the Precious Blood. Following the ceremony, I will begin a formation period through correspondence with the order and, God-willing, it won't be long before I make a Solemn Resolution of Love and become accepted as an Oblate of the Precious Blood and will offer every aspect of my life and prayer for the sanctification of priests.

I ask you to please keep me in your prayers as I move ahead with this effort. Also, I encourage you to visit the website of the Handmaids of the Precious Blood to learn more about this beautiful order and their saintly founder.