Sunday, July 29, 2012

Let It Be A Challenge To You

When I was in high school I was pretty fond of my guidance counselor.  I would often go and talk to her about little daily events, knowing that she was a good listener and sensing that she cared about me.  At one point I must have complained to her about something that I resisted because I found it to be difficult.  All she said was, "Let it be a challenge to you."  To this day I cannot remember what it was that I complained about but I do remember that those few words of hers were mighty powerful; so powerful in fact, that they have remained with me to this day and whenever I struggle with difficult tasks I echo her words to myself:  "Let it be a challenge to you."  

In many ways I feel that the Catholic Church speaks those same words to each of us today.   The Church holds up truths of the faith, truths that are often difficult to accept such as the fact that birth control and abortion are intrinsically evil, that marriage is the union of one man with one woman, that the Blessed Mother was conceived without original sin, that the Body and Blood of Jesus become His real presence at each and every Mass, that celibacy is a holy vehicle for increasing a loving relationship between God and His priests, that all life is sacred and loved by God, and that we can offer our trials and tribulations of daily life to God for the good of others.  There are times when we want to cry out like the disciples and say "This is a hard teaching!  Who can accept it?"  (John 6:60)

But the Church says, "You can!"  Continue reading at

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What Makes You Beautiful

We all have different styles of prayer.  Some of us are contemplative and prefer to spend silent hours on our knees before the Blessed Sacrament.  Others prefer to pray in community and take every opportunity to join in prayer with others.  Some consider work to be their prayer and they offer all of their daily efforts to God.  Then, there are those who prefer tactile prayer, working the beads through their fingertips each day and there are some who are moved to prayer visually.  My son Joe would fall into the latter category of visual prayer.

This summer Joe is working at our parish doing cleaning and light maintenance work.  While cleaning the church he discovered that the image of Jesus on the statue of the Holy Family has a strong resemblance to one of the band members from the group, One Direction.  He sent me a picture and I found that he's right!  Now the next time I hear the song "What Makes You Beautiful" I am going to consider it to be a prayer, joining in with those who best pray with music!

You can watch the embedded video here and pray along with me!  Don't you know that Jesus is singing these words to your heart all the time?   You are beautiful and He wants you to know it!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Take Only Your Walking Stick

"He told them to take nothing for their journey except a walking stick--no food, no traveler's bag, no money." ~Mark 6:8

St. Francis de Sales Seminary has a wonderful new vocations director, Fr. Luke Strand, (pictured next to Bishop Hying) and he is just full of energy and fabulous ideas!  He has begun a new initiative called Mission Milwaukee which is a young adult outreach of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, a project for the New Evangelization.  Every Tuesday night a group of about 40 young men gather at St. Robert's Parish in Shorewood for dinner and fellowship and a group of women gather at the Newman Center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for dinner and fellowship, as well.  Then they all join each other for a holy hour and benediction followed by Mass.  At the end of the evening, the men return to St. Robert's Parish for night prayer.

As part of Mission Milwaukee, Fr. Luke has also organized a walking pilgrimage from St. Francis de Sales Seminary to the Basilica of Mary, Help of Christians at Holy Hill.  The pilgrimage covers about 50 miles on foot and is expected to last four days from start to finish.  My son John is taking part in this pilgrimage.  He is on the front right-hand side in the above picture.

The pilgrimage began with Mass at 7:30 AM on Thursday, July 18th and then proceeded to Bishop Hying's office at the Cousin's Center for a blessing.  The morning of the first day included stops at several churches along the way until they arrived at St. Anthony's Parish on Mitchell St. for morning prayer.  The next stop was Marquette University Campus with a visit to the St. Joan of Arc Chapel.  Since the Marquette Campus is only two blocks away from my office, I invited the group to stop at my office for lunch.

It was near 12:45 PM when the travelers arrived at the WIC Clinic, an environment that is primarily made up of women and children, but which was now graced with the presence of nine wonderful young men who were grateful to come in out of the damp mist and humidity to relax with a hearty lunch.  I decided to incorporate this meal into the cooking challenge that my friend Christi and I are working on this summer. You may recall that Christi and I have agreed to invite priests and seminarians to our homes to prepare Italian meals for them using recipes found in From A Rectory Kitchen which was written by Fr. Matthew Mauriello and Franca Bosio Bertoli. You can read my previous post on this subject here and can order your own copy of the cookbook here.

I couldn't find any sandwich recipes in the cookbook, or any other entrees that would be easy for me to prepare at home and then take to work with me in the morning, so I made an Italian sub sandwich from a recipe I found online.  I prepared the Insalata Caprese (Caprese Salad) from the cookbook but used grape tomatoes and fresh mozzarella balls, thinking it might be easier to eat on the way, instead of the sliced tomatoes and cheese as called for in the recipe.  The meal was rounded out with garlic Sun Chips and fresh grapes, lemonade and water.  For dessert I prepared the Biscotti Zia Giuseppina (Aunt Josephine's Cookies) recipe and chose the option of scooping balls of dough instead of forming logs of biscotti.  When preparing the cookies I found that I was out of vanilla extract at home so I substituted lemon extract.  The recipe had called for lemon juice in the frosting but I replaced that with water to keep the cookies from being too tart. (The recipe is below.)

Domenick, one of the seminarians, commented that the Calabrese Salad reminded him of the time that he spent studying in Rome, and another young man, Joe, mentioned that the cookies brought back fond memories for him of an old family recipe that he used to love.  The lunchtime conversation consisted of highlights from the morning walk and comments about how alive the Catholic Church is in the Milwaukee community.

I  asked Fr. Luke if he would bless my office before they left and he gladly obliged.  He offered a prayer asking for God's holiness to shower down upon me and all of the clients that I serve and asking that the devil  be cast out forever in this now sacred space leaving me in a work environment filled only with the aura of God's holy presence.

After Fr. Luke and the seminarians and discerners were well fed and rested they resumed their journey.  As they walked along the busy downtown Wisconsin Avenue, they handed out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to some homeless people and made their way to the Schoenstatt Shrine on 50th and Wisconsin Ave. for afternoon prayer.  They had hoped to reach Christ King Parish in Wauwatosa around dinner time and then arrive at their first overnight destination, St. Mary's Visitation Parish in Elm Grove by nightfall.

Tomorrow morning the pilgrimage will continue as the men walk toward St. Charles Parish in Hartland where Fr. Luke's brother, Fr. Jacob Strand, is working this summer, and then they will spend the night there.  The final destination, The Basilica of St. Mary, Help of Christians at Holy Hill is in sight for Saturday.  Please hold these pilgrims in your prayers as they journey to spread the Gospel message throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.


 Biscotti Zia Giuseppina 


1 C. shortening
1-1/4 c. sugar
6 eggs
2 T. vanilla extract
3 cups flour
2 T. baking powder

Mix shortening and sugar until creamy.  Add eggs and extract and mix well.  In a separate bowl, mix flour and baking powder together.  Gradually add to the egg mixture, incorporating well.  Place on two lightly greased cookie sheets with a spoon, forming a total of four logs.  Bake in a preheated, 350 degree oven for 20 minutes.  Cool for 5 minutes, slice diagonally, place on cookie sheets and return to oven until both sides are lightly toasted.  You can also cool the baked logs completely, thena spread the lemon icing, found below, on them, and slice.  Do not return them to the oven to toast.

Note:  For individual cookies, this batter can also be placed by the tablespoon on the cookie sheets before baking.  Then, after they are baked and cooled, they can be iced with the following:

Lemon Icing:

Using 1-1/2 cups confectionary sugar:  for each 1/2 cup of sugar, mix in 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice.  You can also substitute Anisette in place of the lemon juice.  Mix to a smooth but not runny consistency.  Add more sugar or more juice a bit at a time if needed to get a spreadable consistency.  You can decorate with colored sugar or rainbow sprinkles.

Serves 12 or more.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Bands of Love

"I drew them with human cords, with bands of love;  I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks."  ~from Hosea 11:1-4

While I was pregnant with my daughter Mary, an ultrasound showed that there were amniotic bands in my uterus.  Amniotic bands are pieces of uterine wall that have broken free from the lining and float in the amniotic fluid.  They are a threat to the growing baby because as the baby moves around in the fluid, the bands can wrap around the baby's limbs or neck and cut off the limbs or strangle the growing child.  My sisters and I called an emergency rosary and we gathered in fervent prayer.  When I went back to the doctor for a follow-up ultrasound, all of the bands had disappeared.  The doctor felt that they had either never been there to begin with, and the first ultrasound was misread, or the bands had re-attached themselves to the uterine wall.  Either way, it was a miracle and we offered praise and thanks to God for blessing our family with a perfect and beautiful baby girl eleven years ago.

But after reading today's first reading, I thought of those amniotic bands a little differently.  I thought that maybe those bands were God's way of reaching out to my daughter.  Of course He loved her with His infinite fatherly love and maybe He wanted so desperately to touch her that He was reaching out to her while she was still in utero.  But the prayers of my family held off His touch and He had to wait to hold her through the arms of Paul and I after she was born.  Our arms are the human cords, the bands of God's love.

Now Mary is a wonderful and well-loved daughter.  Not a day goes by that Paul and I aren't holding her and telling her how much we love her and thanking her for being such a constant joy to our days.  (OK-full disclosure:  She doesn't hear about our love and gratitude when she is singing Justin Bieber songs at the top of her lungs.  Of course we still do love her despite the volume of her voice and the choice of musicians she admires-we just don't express it very well at those moments.  She wouldn't be able to hear us anyway!)

God loves all of us like that; He can hardly stand to let a minute go by without wrapping us in His loving embrace.  He gives us friends and family to reach out to us and hold us in their arms and to whisper kind words of love and care to our hearts.  How important it is for all of us to be the bands of God's love for one another, to lift each other's spirits like an infant to our cheeks-so tenderly and with the greatest of care.

Yesterday, I posted some links to a wonderfully uplifting blog by Meg, a young girl with a gift for reaching out to others with human cords of encouragement, and her post You Are a Princess, was along these very same lines; it was a reminder that God loves each of us exactly how we are, we are His beloved daughters (and sons!)  But sometimes we need to hear that message of God's love more than once, at least, I often do!  Today God sent me another message of His deep and abiding love through the words of Bishop Donald Hying's column published in the July 12th Milwaukee Catholic Herald.  Read it and know that you, too, are loved by God, your adoptive father, who only wants you to know that He will love you forever and always and will never let you go.  He holds you in his bands of love and He always will.

Adopted Sons and Daughters of God by Bishop Donald Hying

One of the astonishing truths of our faith which can keep us grounded and joyful through the hardest times is our divine filiation or spiritual adoption in Jesus Christ. Let me explain.
As Christians, we believe that in Jesus Christ – his life, death and resurrection – we receive a new identity, initiated at baptism, by which we enter into the very life of the Blessed Trinity as sons and daughters of the Father. The Sonship which Jesus enjoys in relation to the Father and Holy Spirit is graciously shared with us.
In multiple places in his epistles, e.g., Romans 8, Galatians 4 and Ephesians 1, St. Paul articulates his understanding of spiritual adoption. On a mystical level, Paul came to believe that the Christ event fundamentally changed humanity’s relationship to God. Jesus gains for us the forgiveness of sins, the promise of eternal salvation and a new intimacy with God, sprung from our filial relationship with the Father.
Jesus loves us so much that he shares his total self, even his divine relationships. Clinging to nothing as his own, Jesus opens up his own relation to the Father to us. What he is by nature, we become through divine adoption. In baptism, we can call God “Abba” just as Jesus does, because we are sons and daughters of the Father, brothers and sisters of Jesus, temples of the Holy Spirit. One gets the sense in Paul’s writings that he never got over the amazing graciousness of this divine filiation.
As St. John says, we are children of God, baptized into the priesthood of Jesus Christ, anointed by the Holy Spirit, created for love, destined to live forever. When we fall into sin or despair, we suffer from temporary amnesia; we have forgotten who we are.
I know this probably sounds crazy, but when I am walking through an airport or sitting on a subway, I feel the urge to go up to people and ask them if they know they are children of God. Maybe they do, but oftentimes it seems we have lost our way, as we painfully see the violence, poverty, hatred and disregard for human life that daily wracks our planet.
When we know our identity in Christ and our divine purpose, we can do all things through the One who strengthens us. Our lives matter and what we do in this life has eternal implications.
All of us struggle to authentically love ourselves. I know people who almost despise themselves, so often because they were not loved and nurtured as children. When we wholeheartedly embrace our identity as children of God, we can ground our self-esteem in the love of the Father. Then it doesn’t matter so much what other people think of us, or even what we think of ourselves.
The greatest truth is that God finds us loveable and good. I find the greatest antidote to self-hatred, despair, fear, anger and self-pity to be a solid meditation on spiritual adoption.
When the saints experienced the extraordinary love of God, they came to know themselves, the deep and real “soul” of their human nature, as a daughter or son of the Father, loved and created to love. When Paul experienced Jesus on the road to Damascus, when Francis of Assisi kissed a leper, when Augustine heard Ambrose preaching, when Therese of Lisieux read I Corinthians, when Edith Stein observed a stranger at prayer, when Mother Teresa picked up her first dying person, an explosion of divine love occurred which changed them forever.
The extraordinary deeds of the saints are grounded in their self-understanding as children of God.
Try meditating every day for several minutes on who you are in Jesus Christ. Go to the index of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and look up the passages on adoption in Christ. When I do this, I find peace, patience with others and myself, a deeper ability to forgive, a greater capacity to see the bigger picture; I find it easier to love others because they are children of God as well.
In heaven, we will all be walking around more radiant than the sun, filled with the glory of God, free of sin, conflict and division. So why do we need to wait until then to live out our identity as beloved children of the Father? Let’s go live it now!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Amazing Writing

There are some seriously beautiful and holy young people in our midst and our Catholic faith is so enriched by them.  I would like to introduce you to two of them who share their faith via blogs.   Please meet Meg who blogs at "Held By His Pierced Hands" and my son John who blogs at "Writings of a Boy Discerning God's Call."

I just discovered Meg's blog this past week and wow!  This young woman has completely floored me with her wisdom and her love of God.  These four posts in particular have left me in amazement and wanting more of her writing, wanting more of Him to whom her writing leads.  I am sure that you will feel the same way.  Please check out these links and then make regular visits to her blog for more wonderment and bliss and inspiration.

Why I Go To Mass Everyday

With Gratitude To All Priests

Your Screaming Kids Are Distracting Me

You Are a Princess  (A post at Suscipio Blog)

My son John has been writing a blog for the past three years, usually only posting once a month.  As his mother, it's natural that I would hang onto his every word and think that everything he writes is wonderful.  But, his two most recent posts, both short, but oh-so-sweet, have particularly touched my heart more than anything else that he has written.  Maybe they will touch yours as well.

Family Instills and Promotes Faith In Us

Summer Continues to Teach the Importance of Hard Work

Please hold both Meg and John in your prayers as they continue to discern God's call in their lives and happy reading!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Skin of God

"I know that God will be here with me, but I need someone in this room who has some skin!"  
~Fr. Ronald Rolheiser

It's been six months since I began the practice of remaining for ten minutes after every Mass to offer thanksgiving for the gift of the Eucharist.  When I attend early morning daily Mass I usually extend that ten minutes to 45 minutes and include the Stations of the Cross in my morning prayer and then stop to light a candle for a friend on my way out of church.  My silent time with the Lord has come to be a daily treasure that I do not want to forgo.

And yet, there are times...

There are times when it feels so lonely.  There are times when I feel so anti-social, turning my back on my friends who are visiting and laughing with one another as I silently kneel before the tabernacle.  I long to join them in conversation but I can't bear to leave Jesus alone in His golden tabernacle.  There are times when I wish someone would join me, just silently kneeling beside me offering their own act of thanksgiving to the Lord.  And there are times when I wish someone would walk the Stations of the Cross with me, being my companion in that journey of loving prayer.

Sometimes I can almost sense the eyes of the maintenance man who busily cleans while I pray, and who is my silent company in church most days, looking at me as if I were nothing more than a pious old church lady, as if that were a derogatory term,  and it makes me feel even more lonely in my prayer.

But I want to be with Jesus.  I want Him to know that I love Him.  I want to feel that He loves me.  So I firmly commit to my daily time of prayer despite the loneliness that it entails.  Sometimes I feel sorry for Jesus, because even though I physically remain in His presence, my heart is often far away and my thoughts wander....

That's where I was this morning, full of wandering thoughts...thrilling for a friend who just brought home a beautiful baby from China...fearing for a friend who's son was undergoing surgery for a collapsed lung...worrying about all the daily tasks that await me at work and at home and about all of the problems that weigh heavy on this worn and weary mother's heart.  I wanted to share them with a real person, to pray about them with someone, instead of silently giving them to God who was only offering me silence in return.  With my face buried in my hands as I knelt before the tabernacle, I tried to give my day and my worries to God, and I barely noticed the soft footsteps approaching. I peeked through my fingers and saw my son, Joe, standing before me.

Joe has been working at our parish for the summer, helping with cleaning and yard work.  He told me that his job today would be to dust-mop the church floor, carefully cleaning between and beneath every pew.  His appearance felt like an answered prayer and even though he wasn't able to kneel beside me or walk the Stations of the Cross with me, just sensing his presence as his mop bumped around the pews, gave me peace and reassurance.  It was as if God came to me in the person of my son and accompanied me in my prayer.  Joe became the "skin of God" with a dust-mop for this lonely and pious old church lady.  And as my time of prayer was coming to an end, I embraced him, whispered my love, and then lit a candle for him in the hopes that the flame of that prayer would burn brightly for him throughout the day, assuring him of my gratitude for his presence within my prayer.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Sweetest Kiss

"Oh please don't go-we'll eat you up-we love you so!"  Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

I've always tended toward scrupulosity and easily lay excessive and unwarranted guilt upon myself.  A few years ago, when I first began blogging, I read many blogs where discussions over the better way to receive communion, on the tongue or in the hand, were held.  The consensus of those that I read was that the holiest way to receive communion was on the tongue.   But I've been a lifelong hand-receiver and wasn't comfortable receiving the Lord directly on my tongue so the whole online conversation became a source of stress for me. It wasn't until I spoke about it with my spiritual director who reassured me that either way of receiving is correct, that I finally let go of that worry.

Recently I watched an online video called Jesus is on the Floor  and it brought the subject back to my mind.  The video highlighted the very real concern that crumbs of the host can fall on the floor while receiving in the hand and for some reason, this time around, that disturbed me enough for me to reconsider my stance.  I decided that I wanted to take better care of the Lord, to keep him from being offended or hurt by my actions.  Receiving the Eucharist on the tongue seems like such an easy way to show my love and affection for Him in a deeper way than receiving Him in my unworthy hands.  I decided that it was finally time for a change, not motivated by stress and scrupulosity, but motivated by love.

It can seem a bit awkward to begin doing something new.  There have been several hitches along the way, such as a little dance with the host the first time a priest, who has only known me to be a hand-receiver, tried to figure out why I didn't make a throne with my hands, and the time when a Eucharistic minister almost missed my mouth entirely.  But, I'm sure after a bit of adjustment, receiving the Eucharist on my tongue will become second nature to me.

Still, I'm glad that it isn't second nature right now.  I'm glad that it is new and strange to me because I feel as if I appreciate the gift of the Eucharist more than ever and I don't want that feeling to go away.  When I receive Jesus on the tongue I feel as if it is an unobstructed kiss from the Lord.  I don't have to "put" Him into my mouth, He enters right in.  The only effort required on my part is to be in a state of grace and to have the desire to receive Him.  And with that desire He allows me to eat Him and He will stay with me, become a part of me and forever remain within me.  Again and again, each time I receive Him, His presence intensifies within me.  Receiving His Body directly into my mouth is the sweetest kiss I have ever known.