Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Single Thorn

"Incline your ear, O Lord." Psalm 86:1

I've been contemplating Rogier van der Weyden's Descent From the Cross. Upon close inspection I was struck by the single thorn that pierces Christ's ear. I think of St. Paul's lament about the thorn in his side and the fact that God does not take it away from him despite his triple petition.

Could this one single thorn within the ear of Christ represent a single sin, an evil passion that afflicts our individual souls, the one sin that bothers us the most, the one of which we long to be rid of once and for all, and yet, there it remains aggravating and irritating us again and again? We know it all too well and lament over our inability to remove it from our hearts on our frequent trips to confession. We whisper it to the priest thinking this must be the last time that particular sin will prick our souls and yet, it comes back to tempt us over and over, just when we think we're finally rid of it.

We beg God to remove it; this one, persistant thorn of sinfulness among many great sins, the one that is perhaps the most bothersome source of both our suffering and that of the Lord. And yet the thorn remains, continuously penetrating his ear just as it jabs our conscience. So knowing that on our own we can do nothing, we persistantly offer prayers of supplication begging Him to help us remove it and begin the healing of the wound.

O Lord, incline your ear and take our sin-our selfishness, our pride, our vanity, our lust, our greed-take it all! Listen to how we are distressed by our offenses because they are a source of suffering to you and relieve us of the sharp pain that is caused by our sin. Free us from the stabbing burdens of sin that plague us so that we may peacefully live in Your love. Amen.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The God of the Snowy Field-A Guest Post by Susi Kurek

(My friend Susi is the volunteer coordinator for Catholic Charities in Milwaukee and she has a beautifully poetic soul which she generously shares here.)

Three inches of week-old snow covered the field in front of me. The numbers on the dashboard flashed, warning me that the outside temperature registered at three degrees. Better take the long way home tonight so that the motor is warm before I shut down for the night. I stared out of the window at the tall reed-like dry grasses standing in the snowy field. The stalks were bent with the wind, leaning away from the gusts. The snow formed petite hillocks at the base of each clump of reeds, making the landscape look lonely and barren.

I often feel as if I am one of those dry reeds. Temptations and troubles buffet me and I bend and sway with them like tall grasses in the wind. Those temptations deposit the snows of sin and guilt at my feet and I am anchored in problems caused by my own failings. It’s a cold, lonely and godless place.

The thought of me being compared to a tall, thin reed makes me laugh! I am exactly the opposite of tall and thin! Then why can’t I be stronger against the blustery blast of temptation? I need to be stalwart and steadfast, unwavering in the blast of Satan’s enticement.

Another thought passes through my mind as the car warms enough to safely drive: if we lean away from one thing, we are also leaning toward another. When I flee wrongdoing, I tend to run frantically toward God, as a frightened child runs toward its mother. I seek the comfort of my Parent, needing to be held and reassured. Feeling warmth creeping through my being, I’m not sure whether it’s the car heater or the knowledge that God is always there to forgive, encourage and love. I prefer the latter.

As I drive home, I ponder God’s infinite love and what God has in store for me. St. Teresa tells us that we should be content to know that we are exactly where God wants us to be. I don’t feel that comfort right now. Is it just me? Am I in transition? Your will, Lord, not mine. I’ll lean towards you.

More snow is due tomorrow. I vaguely consider that even with another seven inches added to that field, the dry stalks of grass will still be visible above the blanket of new snow. We may be dry from lack of grace, the winds of temptation may howl, sin may leave our souls in a wintry chill, but we need to stay firmly rooted in our faith. We also should stand tall in our faith, keeping our heads above the lures of evil. It’s easier to see God that way!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ten Minutes

“O let me plead with you, dear ones, to spend at least ten minutes after Mass—I am making this the absolute minimum, ten minutes—and ask Jesus to teach you to realize the personal, intimate character of His Love, to realize the predilections He has shown for you, drawing you to His Heart and giving you the privilege in Holy Communion of resting on the Heart of Uncreated Love.”
~Father Gerald Fitzgerald, s.P.

Last month in my Oblate formation lesson from the Handmaids of the Precious Blood, I found the above direction from Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald,sP, to spend ten minutes in a silent prayer of thanksgiving following each Mass, to be quite daunting, and I wrote to Mother Marietta about my difficutly with that request and shared my letter to her here on this blog with these words:

"I usually have no problem dwelling in silent prayer after receiving Jesus in Holy Communion and I cherish those few precious minutes that I have alone with Him, but I need to look at how I can stretch that minute or two to a full ten minutes after Mass is over. I see that I have a lot of work to do in this regard and I know that it will require a change of habit and a change of heart as well."

After only one attempt to stay after Mass in prayer which was interrupted with visits from other parishioners and the sound of the priest locking the Church doors which prompted me to shorten my ten distracted minutes and leave the Church sooner than I had planned, I gave up even trying to stay with the Lord for ten minutes and put the thought of it out of my mind.

Then I received the next lesson from Mother Marietta, HPB. This lesson which I am currently reading and reflecting upon is centered on the Holy Eucharist and again in this lesson I found the same words from Fr. Fitzgerald pleading for those ten minutes after Mass. I felt disheartened because I knew that there is no way around it, God is calling for me to spend that time with Him each day and I cannot refuse.

I was surprised to find that I almost felt a repulsion to spend that time with the Lord and I looked for excuses as to why I couldn't do it such as having to give up my exercise time and how it might look to others who already see me as quite over the top in my faith and I wondered if I should abandon my dream to become an Oblate of the Precious Blood, thinking that this one simple request for a short period of time each day was one request too many upon my already burdened shoulders. I wondered if possibly, this wasn't the right time in my life for me to embark upon this new and holy endeavor.

I spoke with my husband and children about it and those dear ones encouraged me to continue on the path and helped me to think of ways that I could fit ten extra minutes of prayer into my daily schedule. They assured me that my fears about how my extra time in church would look to others were unfounded. They reminded me that I have always told them not to worry about what others think of them, but to be leaders in the faith, doing what they know is right despite the taunting and teasing of others. Sometimes we need others to remind us of the advice we give when we ourselves are the ones in need of advice!

So today, after Mass and Our Lady of Perpetual Help Devotions, I kissed Jack and Mary good bye as they headed off to school, and I fell back to my knees to begin spending ten minutes with the Lord. I closed my eyes and soon the voices of everyone else who had been at Mass drifted away and I was alone with Jesus. When I opened my eyes once again, I found that the lights had all been turned out and the only light that shone was the flickering candle beside the tabernacle and the devotional candles on either side of the church. Then I saw a man enter the side door, bow to the tabernacle, stand in prayer for a short time before bowing once again and leaving. I thought that he must have been a school parent who simply could not come near the church without coming in to spend a few short minutes with the Lord and my heart was uplifted by his prayerful presence.

Shortly after he left, a woman from the bereavement committee came in to prepare the church for a funeral and I looked at my watch and found that 15 minutes had passed. I left the church and began the treacherous drive to work through the ice and snow and I thought about my mother and her final days on this earth.

"Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me." ~Matthew 26:38

When my mom was in the hospital recovering from a second surgery to remove a brain tumor, my son Jack, who was six months old at the time, and I, went to visit her. We only had a few short minutes to spend with her because my husband was expecting us back home. With that short visit we were able to bring a little bit of needed joy to my mom. She was especially pleased to be able to see her beloved grandson whose smile lit up the room. She told us that she was very frightened and lonely and begged us to stay a little longer but I refused because something (which to this day I cannot remember what) was very important at home and we needed to be there. It was the last time that I saw my mother alive. Shortly after we left she developed a headache and slipped into unconciousness from which she never recovered. She died three days later on Mother's Day. I have always regretted the fact that my mother needed me in her final days of life and I refused her my presence for something that was clearly so unimportant that I can't even remember what it was.

So tomorrow I will remain with the Lord for ten minutes after Mass, just resting in His love with a heart full of gratitude for the great gift of His Eucharistic Body. And I will do so again and again, day after day. Jesus is begging me to stay with Him to relieve some of His fear and loneliness and there is nothing that is more important than answering His desire for my company with a short and thankful visit after Mass.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Open Up the Roof

"Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him." ~Mark 2:4

Each day as I spend a few early morning moments in prayer with the daily readings before I attend Mass, I pick out one line to reflect upon throughout the day. Some days that line becomes more meaningful to me than others and the words of scripture with which I have prayed come back frequently as a gentle reminder of God's presence in my life. Yesterday's gospel reading from Mark contained one line, "open up the roof" that seemed to make a particular impact upon me.

My weekends are usually unbelievably busy and this weekend in particular was exceptionally packed with activity. Within our family schedule we had seven basketball games which included my required 8 volunteer hours in the concession stand all to be managed around the weekend work schedules of my husband and I and our three oldest sons and our son Justin's Confirmation retreat, a funeral,a birthday party and the seasonal chore of snow removal. Sometimes it is really difficult to get everyone where they need to be when we are scattered into so many places at once and even with four drivers in the house we still only have two cars so our busy weekends end up being a combination of divide/carpool/conquer!

And somehow, in the midst of all that chaos, I was able to open my roof and allow God to find his way in and to make a profound impact on my life.

On Friday afternoon I raced from work to the funeral of Pat Jakus, a friend of mine from Roses for Our Lady. Pat was such a beautifully holy and energetic woman who always gave her all for God and even the way she died was a testimony to the joys that God offers to those who love Him. Pat was a lector at her parish and last week while offering her service as a lector during a funeral Mass at her parish, she proclaimed this beautiful passage:

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." ~Romans 8:38

Then she looked over to the priest, offered a big smile, and as she proceeded to climb the steps to the choir loft she suddenly felt tired and out of breath. She sat on the bottom step, rested her head against the wall and died while the choir was singing "Alleluia."

What a beautiful way for Pat, or for anyone, to die! Clearly Pat lived her life with her roof wide open and so even in her death it was easy for Jesus to find His way into her heart.

Later that night, with thoughts of Pat and the funeral still working through my mind and heart, I was serving up hot dogs and popcorn at my son Jack's basketball game while two teams were battling it out on the court. The sounds of shoes squeaking, fans cheering and coaches calling out plays were ringing through the air. The plays that the coaches call are usually the names of college basketball teams, but at one point I was sure I heard a coach call out "God's will!" Maybe it was just my over-tired imagination having it's way with me at the end of a long day but I thought whether or not that was actually what the coach said, "God's will" would be the perfect name of a play for shouldn't we all plan out every action of our lives with God's will as the ultimate playbook behind our movements? And so the words that I imagined the coach to say became a reminder to me to keep my roof open at all times to allow the will of God to reach me.

I was feeling a bit of sorrow that I wasn't able to convince my boss to let me have Saturday morning off from work because there was a big pro-life rally planned in our Archdiocese and I had really wanted to attend, as if I didn't already have enough going on this weekend! So when I awoke on Saturday morning and opened my email, I found a message from our local 40 Days for Life leader inviting early arrivals to come pray at the abortion mill as there was word that a 14 year-old-girl might be coming for an abortion today. I wanted to open my roof and respond.

My oldest son John was my designated car-pool ride to work, so he and I left home early so that we could spend some time praying at the abortion mill before I would have to leave for work. We arrived at the abortuary at 7:15 AM dressed for the arctic tundra as the temperature was only 16 degrees outside. (Hard to believe that it had been an unseasonably 60 degrees just a few days before!) When we arrived we were the only ones at the clinic but we were soon joined by a woman and three men holding signs. Just before we left, three clinic employees arrived ready to begin the work of death. All morning while at work, my heart remained in those frigid temperatures outside the abortion clinic praying for that young, pregnant girl and all of those affected by abortion including those three employees who seemed so cheerful about beginning their work day. And I prayed, "Dear God, open the roof of the hearts of the abortion mill employees and those seeking an abortion to allow the light of Your love and truth to enter in!"

It seems so strange to consider the differing locations of a beautiful funeral, a rowdy basketball game and a desolate place of death as places where God's will can be heard and acted upon equally and yet this weekend I found it to be very true that it really doesn't matter where we are or what we are doing, if there is joy and love in our hearts and a desire to please the Lord, He will always have His way with us and it is His will that will be accomplished in all things and all ways if we only open our roofs to allow it.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ponderings on the Priesthood

While I was still in the hospital after the birth of my fourth son, a woman from church came to give me communion and as she left my room after feeding me the Body of Our Lord, she carelessly said, "Poor thing! Four sons! One day they will all get married and leave you!" I was left a bit dumbfounded, but not enough to leave me without a retort so I shot back, "Who knows? Maybe they'll all become priests and leave me anyway!"

And when my children were small, my only prayer for them was that God would bring them to goodness and holiness. I didn't pray for their success, their intelligence, their popularity, their health or their happiness. Just their holiness. I didn't pray for them to become married or to become priests. I prayed for them to know God's will and to live it.

So when my oldest son, while still at the tender age of ten, announced that he felt called to the priesthood, I was pleased and carefully nurtured his prayer life along, being cautious not to push and doing my best to always let him know that no matter what path he would eventually follow in life, he would always be loved for who he is, my beloved son and God's beloved son, not for what he does with his life.

Now he is actually in the process of applying to the seminary and it feels as though my world has turned upside down. Now why should it feel that way? It's not my vocation, not my life, but still I'd be untruthful if I said that I wasn't a bit unnerved and stressed right along with him as he fills out the application forms and keeps his appointments with doctors, dentists, psychologists and priests for the necessary interviews and poking and prodding required of all applicants to the priesthood.

I can't help but feel overwhelmed by the entire process, by the thought of my oldest son soon to be packing up and leaving home for college of any sort and the worry that it is very possible that his hopes and dreams won't come true and that he won't be accepted to the seminary. I'm challenged by how difficult it is to listen to his worries and his stresses and to not take them as my own.

On New Year's Eve for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, my family and I attended a nearby church that offered an 11:00 PM Mass sponsored by the Rosary Evangelization Apostolate and celebrated by our friend, and family member in our hearts, Fr. Matthew Widder. Fr. Matthew had asked John if he would help as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. John has never participated in this ministry before and watching him offer the Body of Christ to those at Mass, including me, for the very first time, really took my breath away. It was as if I was seeing a vision of his possible future, holding the Body of our Lord in his hands and offering Him to others and my heart felt torn by the mix of sorrow mingled with joy with which it was filled. And then I recalled the following passage from Caryll Houselander's Passion of the Infant Christ:

"A young priest was celebrating his first Mass. In the front of the church his mother and his young brothers knelt. It was easy to know them by their likeness to him-a family of dark, golden-skinned boys, and the mother like them.

When the Mass was ended, and the new priest came back into the sanctuary for the blessing and the kissing of the consecrated hands, the family hesitated shyly, almost paralyzed by wonder and love; and before they could go first (as they should have done) to the altar rails, the crowd had pushed past them, strangers had taken their place. The faithful were flocking around their new shepherd, and his mother and his brothers had become part of the crowd, waiting their turn until the end.

For one moment the young priest looked over the bowed heads into his mother's eyes, and his face shone.

"My mother and my brethren are they who hear the word of God and do it."

Because the priesthood had made him the Christ of the people, he belonged to them; he was their kith and kin, their son and brother, their Christ, their priest at the altar.

People often seem to think of our Lady aggrieved, slighted when this happened to her! I think she and her son looked across the heads of the crowds to one another with just that understanding and gratitude that shone on the faces of the young priest and his mother."

And so I pray that if John will be accepted to the seminary and will prepare for priesthood, that my heart will be as open as that of the Blessed Mother and the mother in this story, that I will understand that this offering up of my son for the good of others is the greatest blessing a mother could ever know. Please hold John in your prayers as he continues this process of discernment and application. And for some really good reading about a mother's hopes for her son, I encourage you to visit the Archdiocese of Milwaukee blog where one of my favorite local writers, Karen Mahoney, courageously shares her hopes for her son, Erin.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Baptized in Christ-A Homily by Fr. Dan Murphy

As always, those who attend daily Mass at St. Matthias are treated to a fabulous homily whenever Fr. Dan Murphy celebrates Mass with us and today was no exception. Please enjoy his comforting and uplifting words:

“You are my beloved son. With you I am well pleased."
-Mark 1:11

Today, most commercial airplanes rely on a radio beam. A directional beam is sent out to guide the airplane to its destination. As long as the pilot keeps on this beam, he knows he’s safe. He's safe even if he has to go thru fog and clouds in the darkest night. As soon as the airplane gets off the beam there’s great danger.

We see that Jesus had a beam that kept him safe and on the right course. After he had received the baptism of John, three things happened to Jesus: The skies opened: The Spirit descended in the form of a dove; And a voice from heaven was heard.

Throughout the gospel, we notice that Jesus has to take time out to pray. There may be people who need to be cured; the apostles may need to be taught, Jesus himself may need to sleep and rest. But all these necessary things, all these good things will have to wait because Jesus needs to get back on the beam, Jesus needs to pray.

If prayer was so necessary for Jesus, how much more necessary is it for me and for you? We can see ourselves going off the beam when we start to notice that we’re afraid; afraid of the future, afraid of the unknown, afraid for our health; afraid of being afraid.

We start going off the beam when we stop praying. Maybe your prayers aren’t being answered the way you think they should. Maybe you just don't have a taste of prayer or you find yourself in a period of dryness when God seems far, far away.

In all these situations, you need to get quickly back on the beam by quietly dedicating some time to God, if only 10 minutes a day. Let God's presence find your soul. Let God's love and intelligence take over; give God a chance to keep the promise he made in Psalm 46: "Be still and know that I am God". You’ll know you’re back on the beam when daily prayer is as much a part of your life as eating, breathing or sleeping.

What happened for Jesus at prayer will happen for you. First the skies opened. As you become more faithful to prayer, you can expect the skies to open and let more sunshine into your life and those around you. You’ll surprise yourself when you notice that you’re more optimistic and hopeful than you used to be. The second thing that happened to Jesus will also happen to you. The Holy Spirit descended on him. You’ll have a power within you to face and conquer the challenges of life. You’ll also encourage your neighbors and friends to trust in God's power. This is the action of the Spirit in your life and it happens when you’re a person of prayer.

Finally, for Jesus, the voice was heard: “You are my beloved son. With you I am well pleased!” Jesus needed to hear that encouraging voice often. And so do you. There are so many forces within and without that try to tear you down, to make you believe that you don’t count. The psychologists are unanimous in stating that most of the crimes committed in America are not because people have too high an opinion of themselves, but exactly the opposite; they’re due to a very low self-esteem.

When you and I were baptized, many years ago, it was announced to us, our families and the world that we are children of God. If we were baptized as little babies, we were told before we could even understand it, that we were very special in the eyes of God. That’s still true. I, for one, need to hear those special words every day. How about you?

“You are my beloved son; my beloved daughter.
With you I am well pleased."