Sunday, December 22, 2013

St. Joseph-The First Priest

There is a scene in the movie The Nativity Story, with Keisha Castle-Hughes and Oscar Isaac, where, immediately following the birth of Christ, a joyous St. Joseph holds the infant within his hands, raising him high in the air. 

In watching this, it occurred to me that St. Joseph was the first priest.  I was struck by the similarities between St. Joseph in the manger and the priest at the altar, both holding the living Christ within their hands, faces joyfully exultant at the wonder of His beauty and the awesome privilege of holding our very Savior in the air.  Without speaking a word, St. Joseph seems to say "Behold!  Here is the Lamb!" These are the very words that the priest voices out loud at each and every Mass.  St. Joseph was the first man to have the honor of holding Jesus close, to love and nurture Jesus within his own heart as the Catholic priest is called to do. St. Joseph shared Jesus with the shepherds and kings in the manger as the Catholic priest shares Him with the poor and the rich at Mass.  How blessed we are by the holy, obedient, faith-filled, loving example of St. Joseph!

St. Joseph, the first priest, pray for us!

Prayer to St. Joseph over 1900 years old -from Pieta prayer book

O St. Joseph whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires.  O St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your Heavenly power I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the loving of Fathers.  O St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms.  I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart.  Press Him in my name and kiss His fine head for me, and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw My dying breath.  St. Joseph, patron of departing souls, pray for us.  Amen.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

She Has Loved Much

"While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head."  ~Mark 14:3

My living room shrine includes a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes from the shrine in France, an antique heirloom crucifix from my mother, a relic of St. Margaret Mary, a picture and relic of St. Maria Goretti, several jars of sea glass, and now, my treasured painting of St. Mary Magdalene.

My beautiful and extremely talented friend, Christi Jentz, has blessed me a fabulous and original painting of my favorite saint, Saint Mary Magdalene, entering the gates of heaven while tightly holding onto her jar of precious ointment.  I had her framed and she now graces my living room wall. Every time I see her, I just stop, caught off guard by her beauty, and I offer a prayer of thanksgiving for Christi's prayerful and artistic talent, and for the example of love set by my favorite saint.  I hope and pray that not only will I emulate St. Mary Magdalene's great love upon this earth, but that one day, I, too, will know the joy of walking through that magnificent gate into the eternal wonder of heaven. ( Visit Christi's website, Lumen Christi Art, for more of her fabulous artwork. I highly recommend a thorough and lengthy visit here-there is much to learn and Christi freely shares her artistic and spiritual knowledge.  You will be enriched!)

St. Mary Magdalene captures my attention far more than any other saint.  What was it like, I wonder, to have walked the earth in her sandals, to have the singular grace of physically touching the Lord, of crying at his feet, of looking into His eyes and finding love and forgiveness there?   How unbearably crushing was it for her to stand with His Mother at the foot of the cross and watch in anguish as he gasped his last tortured breath? And after His resurrection, how she must have been beyond ecstasy and unable to keep from sharing the miraculous story of her encounter with the Lord outside the tomb with the rest of the world.  Every person she met must surely have been the recipient of her great joy and left her presence deeply moved by her words, "He is risen!  I have seen Him!"  Don't you think she must have shared her story over and over again with everyone who would listen?  After all, who could possibly be quiet and still after a glorious encounter such as witnessing the resurrection of Jesus from the dead?

And yet, many must have thought her quite mad.  Did they scoff at her, thinking she was simply unable to accept the death of her dearest friend, and was now telling tales of an extraordinary fantasy?  Was she considered an outcast by her community for her insistence upon the resurrection of the Lord?  After all, this was the woman who once was afflicted with seven demons, who was known to live a sinful life.  Why should anyone listen to her?

There is a little known book, St. Mary Magdalene: Her Life and Times as Seen in the Gospels, History and Tradition, by Edith Filliette, which gives a deeper insight into this lovely saint's life experience.  Perhaps most moving to me is the passage that explains how the Lord touched her outside the tomb and how that gentle caress remained with her physically even beyond the death of her body.  Regardless of whether or not anyone believed her words of witness to the resurrection, she knew within her heart, soul and body, that His love was worth living and dying for, that Jesus Christ alone was the Word of Life and the God of Love, our Savior and Redeemer, our eternal joy.

 "When St. Mary Magdalene's body was exhumed, "a  small piece of skin was found attached to the brow. It was smooth, clear and lighter than the remainder of the body, and was the size of two fingertips. As it resembled live skin, it was subsequently named "Do Not Touch Me"-the words spoken by Christ to Mary Magdalene at the Resurrection; it was believed to have been the touch of the risen Lord on the brow of Mary Magdalene."

"This small particle of skin remained unchanged for another 500 years, and no suitable explanation was ever found for the phenomenon. Five centuries after its discovery, it finally detached itself from the brow, and was placed in a separate reliquary." ~from St. Mary Magdalene-Her Life and Times by Edith Filliette

St. Mary Magdalene by Christi Jentz

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Advent Joy

Gaudete Sunday Advent Wreath, Basilica of St. Josephat, Milwaukee
Happy Gaudete Sunday!  What follows is Bishop Hying's Herald of Hope column from the December 12th, 2013  Milwaukee Catholic Herald.  I found it be extremely encouraging and thought that perhaps you, dear reader, might be uplifted by it as well. Wishing you joy during this third week of Advent!

Bishop Hying photo credit:  RScrip Studios

This coming Sunday, we will light the rose-hued candle on the Advent wreath as we celebrate Gaudete Sunday, Latin for “Let us rejoice!”

Joy is always the theme of the Third Sunday of Advent because we have now passed the halfway mark and are closer to Christmas than we are to the beginning of Advent.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul bids the Christian community to rejoice because the Lord is so near to them and loves them so much.
The astonishing aspect of this exhortation is that Paul writes these words from prison. His life is filled with suffering, anguish, rejection and uncertainty. Yet, in the midst of it all, he is filled with a remarkable joy, because his heart is united profoundly with Jesus Christ.
Just scratch the surface of life and you will discover an abundance of sadness and anger all around. There are so many problems, challenges, difficulties and suffering everywhere.
Many people seem to have lost hope in the future, the government, the church and perhaps themselves. Others struggle with depression, anxiety and the effects of dark winter days. Life can feel awfully heavy at times.
Yet, in the midst of the gloom, the Lord calls us to a radical and profound joy, that sense of God’s gentle nearness and peaceful love that grasped St. Paul in his prison cell.
Sometimes, we may confuse joy with pleasure. Eating Cap’n Crunch breakfast cereal, going on a fabulous vacation, buying a new car or redecorating the house can give us great pleasure, but the feelings generated by such experiences do not last. Our hungry hearts will soon seek another pleasurable moment to fill the void within. Pleasure is not joy.
So, maybe we are really looking for happiness. Being in the right career, finding the groove in our marriage or a deep friendship, watching our children flourish into beautiful young adults can make us remarkably happy, which is much more substantive than mere pleasure.
Yet, such happiness can vanish in an instant – the betrayal of a loved one, the sudden loss of employment, disappointment in love, a distressing medical report can bring our emotional world crashing down around us. Happiness is not the same as joy.
Joy is that deep sense of consolation, purpose, fulfillment and hope that comes to us when we experience the remarkable love of God. We may find ourselves in the darkest of nights, life may look crazy and impossible, everything we looked to for security may have vanished, but we know that the Lord loves, sustains and saves us.
As the saying goes, I do not know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future. Perhaps only one who has been held in the fiery crucible of torment and suffering can know joy, because when our face is pressed against the wall and there is no way out, we either choose to believe or despair, to hope or to give up. Authentic joy is not a fake smile pasted over the darkness, but the fruit of much spiritual wrestling with God.
When I think of the greatest Christian heroes – Mother Teresa, Pope John XXIII, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, I picture them with a beatific smile. They had all walked in the dark valley, as we all do, but all had come to know and feel the “Dawn from on High” – Jesus Christ – loving, leading, forgiving and guiding them.
Interned at Auschwitz, St. Maximilian Kolbe voluntarily traded places with another man condemned to death by starvation. Whenever the Nazi guard looked into the cell in which the priest was locked with nine other men, without any food or water, Fr. Kolbe was smiling, singing, praying and encouraging the others. He drove the Nazis nuts with his irrepressible joy. They did not know what to make of him.
I want that kind of joy!
A joy not predicated on external circumstances. A spiritual joy grounded in the love of Christ. A generous joy that finds more fulfillment in what is given away than in what is kept. A joy that can shine in the darkest of nights because it has already tasted the bliss of God’s love. A joy that evangelizes in this world that is often sad, angry and despairing. 

May the greatest gift you discover this Christmas be a deeper joy in the love that the Lord has for you.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Christ Within

Do you ever feel a rush of adreneline, one that comes upon you for no apparent reason, waking you up in the middle of the night, perhaps, and you can't quite put your finger upon what it's all about?  But a certainty overcomes you that God is about to do something big in your life.  And that big thing might be very ordinary like taking better care of your family or your health, or spending more time in silent prayer, but somehow, you just know that He is working, calling out to you, needing you to carry Him into the world in a deeper and more meaningful way, and every cell in your body responds with "Yes!  Here I am!  Use me!"  You might have been feeling insignificant and useless in life, but now, you are certain that God has a purpose for you, something really special, only you just don't know or  understand what it is.

St. Teresa of Avila
Could it be that He is asking you to become more aware of His presence within you, and to bring Him to others in a deeper way? In this world, we are all called to carry Christ within ourselves, to bring Him to each other and to share His love with everyone we meet throughout the ordinary events of our lives.    The saints and mystics have described this eloquently.

Listen to St. Teresa of Avila:

“Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours, yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ's compassion to the world, yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good; yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.” 

And my favorite, Caryll Houselander:

Caryll Houselander

"For the moment, the precious and only now, you alone are the bearer of the Blessed Sacrament into your own little world.  You are the monstrance, the priest giving Communion, the Real Presence, to your husband, your children and your friends; and the reason why, or one reason why, Christ has given himself to you, is because he wishes to be with them, as things are, only through you.  This is an astonishing thought, as every thought about the Blessed Sacrament is, if you bring an ounce of courage and realism to it." 

Perhaps Christ is asking you to bring Him to the food pantry and to offer a gentle touch and a kind word to those who are worried about how they will manage to make a pleasant Christmas for their families with very little money.  Perhaps he wants you to offer a smile to the store clerk who is overworked during the pre-Christmas rush of shopping.  Maybe you are to offer His shoulder to cry upon for a soul who is hurting and in need of a little compassion. What if He wants you to prepare dinner with an extra touch of love for your family today?  Give Christ to everyone with whom you come in contact through your loving words and peaceful actions, your generosity and warmth, your gentle touches and joyful smiles. Strive to keep out anything that threatens to creep into your spirit that isn't purely the love of Christ. 

How will you carry Christ into the world today?  How will you let Him use you for His glory? How will you let others experience Christ through you in each and every moment of your life?  Be the monstrance that contains the Lord and radiates His love out to everyone.  Be the chalice, pouring the life-blood of Christ out into the world.  Emulate the Blessed Mother, birthing Christ into the world.  Feel His loving presence within your very soul and then lavish it upon others without reserve.  And then, allow others to bring the Christ that dwells within their souls right back to you.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


"He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, gave thanks, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied.  They picked up the fragments left over–seven baskets full."  
 ~from Matthew 15: 29-37

Do you ever feel like a fragment; like the left over piece, not completely whole, not quite good enough, standing on the sidelines while the world passes you by, of no use to anyone?  I think at many points in our lives we can say that this sad description fits us quite well.  No one is immune to feeling left out at one time or another.  Consider the last player picked for a team, the employee passed over for a promotion, the youngest child who must stay home while the older siblings enjoy a special night out.  We long to be considered the first choice and the cream of the crop, to be included, but sometimes we must wait in patience for our turn to shine.

A fragment, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, is an "incomplete part."  And of course, we are all incomplete parts of the Body of Christ, waiting for the day when we will be united to Christ's love for all eternity and will become fully whole.   In the above scripture passage, there were so many fragments left behind, that someone bothered to collect them and save them for use at another time, they weren't simply discarded as useless.  They were to be cherished as something to look forward to enjoying at another time, when hunger would strike once again.  And beyond this, we are told that there were so many fragments left that they filled seven baskets, seven being a perfect number.

So if you're feeling a bit cast-off or picked over don't dismay!  God is saving the best for last!  He wills that no part of His body, for we are all the body of Christ,  be lost. When your turn finally comes to shine for the Kingdom, you will be the perfect fit at the perfect time.  Hold fast to your faith and trust in the Lord.  In His time, you will be the favored portion.

My dearest Lord,

I rejoice in your faithfulness!  You never fail to amaze me.  Just when I'm feeling down and out, less than worthy, unneeded and unwanted, You reveal your desire and Your plan for me.  You let me know that I am loved, wanted and needed beyond my imaginings.  You draw me close to Your heart and whisper words of encouragement to my weary soul.  Thank you so much for your steadfast and faithful love!   Thank you for showering myriads of blessings upon me and upon all those who are feeling fragmented in this life.  What a joy it is to belong to You!


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Mark of Our Mother

The Bender family has a new addition to our household!  Last fall, Justin came home with a tabby cat, Roo. We all fell in love with our sweet little pet, including my husband, who mysteriously overcame his "cat allergy" once Roo moved in.

There's a legend about tabby cats regarding the letter "M" that can be seen on their foreheads. As the story goes, when Jesus was born, He was so cold in the manger that the Blessed Mother struggled to keep Him warm.  All of the farm animals moved closer to the creche, hoping that their breath would bring warmth to the Child, but still, the Babe continued to shiver and cry. Then a tabby cat jumped right into the manger next to our Lord and his body heat and rhythmic purring soon lulled the Infant Christ to sleep.  The Blessed Mother was so grateful, that as she patted the cat's head in gratitude, she left the mark of the letter "M" upon his forehead.  To this day, all tabby cats carry the mark of the Blessed Mother upon their heads.

Like the tabby cat, we too, bring warmth to the Christ Child with each act of kindness that we do for love of Him.  When we attend Mass with reverence, spend time in Eucharistic Adoration of our Lord, generously give to those who have not, spread joy with a friendly smile, share our faith with children, visit those who are ill, mourn and pray for those who have died or give Christian love in any other possible way, we are pleasing the Blessed Mother who so deeply longs for Her Son to be known and loved in this world.  And so, in gratitude, she leaves her mark upon us as well, sheltering us under the shadow of her protection and within the gaze of her loving eyes.  We are forever her children and we are blessed by the mark of her love.

You can be sure that during my Advent preparations this year I'll be searching for a tabby cat to grace my nativity set so that for the first time, my Christmas creche will truly be complete!  

(P.S. Dear Reader, did you find this post to be a shameless sharing of cat pictures?  If so, please forgive the indulgence!  I do love that adorable cat!)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Guest Post by Dawn Meyer: Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ,King of the Universe


Dear Friends/Family:

Today is the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe!  Just wanted to share some items of interest with you, to help make this Solemnity even more meaningful for you...

Regarding the Gospel for today (Luke 23: 35-43):

The episode of the "good thief" appears only in Luke's Gospel. This man (Dismas) shows signs of repentance, recognizes Jesus' innocence, and makes an act of faith in Him.  Jesus, for his part, promises him Paradise.  

St. Ambrose comments: "The Lord always grants more than one asks:  the thief only asked Jesus to remember him, but the Lord says to him, 'Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.'"  (taken from the Navarre Bible commentary)

AMAZING!  How generous and merciful Jesus was to Dismas!  Dismas' faith in Jesus as King and his sorrow for his sins, were the necessary elements in his meriting eternal life. The example of Dismas reveals to us, the power that a simple act of faith has for us pilgrims here on earth!  

Something as easy as making the sign of the Cross when we pass by a Catholic Church, to acknowledge Jesus' Real Presence in the tabernacle, would be one way to make an act of faith like Dismas did.  Or, offer this prayer to Jesus every day:  "Jesus, please take all of my love, the love that you have given me first, and let my love for you remain with you in all of the tabernacles around the world where you are abandoned and not adored.  Let my love for you console your Most Sacred Heart in all the tabernacles of the world!  Amen."  

The good priests of Miles Christi have this to share with us, regarding Our Lord Jesus Christ the King:

"Jesus Christ is truly the Lord of the world.  Therefore, it is a duty of every Christian to fight for the true reign of Christ, first in his own soul, becoming increasingly rooted in Him by means of the Sacraments (especially Confession and the Eucharist), prayer, and the concrete imitation of the Lord in every moment of our life.  

Then, second, to conquer all men for the Lord, so that His blood may not be shed for them in vain.  Pope Pius XI reminded the faithful that, 'it behooves them ever to fight courageously under the banner of Christ their King and to devote themselves with apostolic zeal to win over to their Lord those hearts that are bitter and estranged from Him and to valiantly defend His rights.' (Quas Primas, 24)

A blessed Sunday to each of you!


St. Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Most Holy Theotokos

"Wisdom! Most holy Theotokos, save us. More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim. In virginity thou gavest birth to God the Word. True Theotokos, we magnify thee."  ~from Moljeben in Supplication for the Victims of Abortion

Orthodox Clergy at Moljeben Service (photo credit:  40 Days for Life/Dan Miller)

photo credit:  Mary Anne Urlakis

Fr. Gregory Madlom and Subdeacon Henry Shirley, the clergy from St. Herman of Alaska Orthodox Church in West Bend, Wisconsin, hold a weekly Orthodox Moljeben Prayer Service for Victims of Abortion with an ecumenical congregation outside of Affiliated Medical Services, a Milwaukee abortuary, during every 40 Days for Life Campaign.  The prayer service is beautiful!  It's 30 minutes of chanted prayer with so much incense that the demons must surely be smoked out of that place of torture and death.   I have been honored to take part in several of the prayer services during each campaign.  Our gatherings are always peaceful events; peaceful, that is, until the last prayer service of the most recent campaign, a prayer service that was anything but typical.

About 30 people had gathered in front of the abortion mill to pray on Sunday, November 3rd at 3 PM.  Fr. Gregory was delayed in traffic, and everyone was waiting patiently for the prayer service to begin.  A car approached the abortion mill, and the driver, not bothering to pull over to the curb and out of traffic, rolled down his window and very kindly said hello and then said something about how nice it was to see so many people gathered for prayer.  That, unfortunately, was the only nicety he offered.  Then the back window rolled down, and a man with a megaphone began shouting insults at our group.  He criticized our God, our religion, our belief in the right to life, our politics, our clothing and our hairstyles.  He was a typical bully.  All the while that he was shouting through the megaphone, the man in the front seat continued his rant as well.  They continued for at least 20 minutes.  We tried to ignore them, and many of the men in our group stood with their backs to the aggressors to form a wall.

Shortly after they began the harrassment, a beautiful young lady, being quite disturbed by this hateful display, approached the car to try to reason with the antagonists.  The man in the front immediately laid into her with profanities, and one of the men from our group had enough.  He knocked the megaphone down to the ground.  The man in the front seat of the car was clearly delighted by this bit of aggression.  He said, "Ooh, this is a violent group!!!  You attacked me!  I'm going to call the police and put a stop to this!"  And he did call the police all the while continuing his harassment. I was told that this wasn't the first time that these two men have come to cause trouble at the abortion mill, that they are well known by many members of our group. But there was someone far more powerful who was also very present at the abortion mill that day, someone who would see to it that no harm would come to those who were standing up and praying for the innocent lives of infants who meet their demise at that house of horror.

I had been honored to hold the icon of Our Lady of Walsingham, the work of subdeacon Henry Shirley, and when Redemptorist priest, Fr. Jim White, came and stood beside me, I asked him to lead us in praying the rosary.  Soon there were 30 voices united in prayer and the sounds of antagonism were drowned out, and the embittered men, finding that they were ignored, left.  At that moment, while holding the icon of Our Lady and praying her rosary,  I felt firmly and completely protected by the presence of the Blessed Mother, and was pleased with the speedy departure of those tormentors which was brought about through our Lady's intercession.  Before we could complete the rosary, Fr. Gregory had arrived and our Moljeben began.

The police did arrive during our prayer service, and as it turned out, the men with the megaphone were in violation of several laws including blocking traffic and the use of amplification without a permit.  Our Lady had shown us that with her protection, the protection of the one who has crushed the serpent's head, there is nothing to fear and we will continue to confidently and boldly step out in service of our Lord in any way He happens to call us.

Our Lady of Walsingham by Henry Shirley

"Most holy Theotokos, save us!  O Mother of God, our queen and our hope, the refuge of the abandoned and the intercessor for those who have gone astray; the joy of all who sorrow and the protectress of the needy; thou seest our poverty, our affliction and misery.  Help us who are weak; feed us who are hungry; intercede for us with thy Son and our God, and may He deal with us as He pleaseth.  For we have no other hope, no other intercessor,  no other consolation except thee, O Virgin Theotokos.  Protect us beneath thy veil, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.  Amen."   ~from the Moljeben in Supplication for the Victims of Abortion

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Betrothed

In Pope Francis' interview, A Big Heart Open to God, he shared the title of his favorite book, The Betrothed, by Alessandro Manzoni.  Regarding this book, the Pope shared:

“I have read The Betrothed, by Alessandro Manzoni, three times, and I have it now on my table because I want to read it again. Manzoni gave me so much. When I was a child, my grandmother taught me by heart the beginning of The Betrothed: ‘That branch of Lake Como that turns off to the south between two unbroken chains of mountains....’"  

That beginning line was enough to entice me, and so with the Pope's recommendation, I immediately requested the book from my favorite library, The Salzmann Library, at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee.  Much to my joy, they were able to fill my order immediately.

The Betrothed, a work of historical fiction set in the early 1600's in and near Milan, Italy, is quite long at 537 pages, and it took me several weeks to complete, but they were weeks well spent in slowly relishing every word of Manzoni.  The tale of Renzo and Lucia, filled with love, betrayal, intrigue, suffering, conversion, and forgiveness was magnificent, and although so much of the story involved a tale of sorrow with a thorough description of the sufferings inflicted by the plague, the author was sure to include clever little sayings that brought a smile to my face, such as this comment regarding the failings of Bortolo, a minor character in the story:  "Perhaps you, reader, would prefer a more ideal Bortolo?  If so, then all  I can say is, make one up for yourself.  This one was like that."

Cardinal Federico Borromeo
By far, the highlight of the story came in the middle of the book, when the reader was introduced to Cardinal Federigo Borromeo, the cousin and successor of St. Charles Borromeo.   I couldn't help but see a great resemblance between the characteristics of Cardinal Borromeo and those of our own dear Pope Francis.  See if you don't notice the similarities yourself.  Here's Manzoni's description of Cardinal Borromeo:

 "Federigo considered alms-giving proper as a very first duty; and here, as in everything else, his actions were in accordance with his principles. His life was spent in continual lavishing of money on the poor...

This man's inexhaustible charity showed not only in his giving but in his whole bearing.  Easy of access to all, he felt it a special duty to have a pleasant smile and an affectionate courtesy towards those who are called the lower classes, particularly as they find so little of it in the world...

He was very rarely irritated, and was admired for the sweetness of his manner, and for his imperturbable  calm; this might be attributed to an unusually happy temperament, but was in fact the result of constant discipline over a disposition naturally lively and impulsive.  If there were times when he showed himself severe, even harsh, it was towards those of his subordinate clergy whom he found guilty of avarice or negligence or any other conduct opposed to the spirit of their noble ministry...

...this same modesty, this dislike of predominating over others, was equally apparent in the commonest occurrences of life.  Assiduous and indefatigable in organizing and disposing when he considered it his duty, he always avoided intruding in other people's affairs, and even did all that he could to avoid doing so when he was asked to; a discretion and restraint unusual, as everyone knows, in men zealous for good like Federigo."

I found The Betrothed to be greatly inspiring, causing me to desire to become more Christ-like and forgiving to those in my own life who have brought pain and sorrow to my days.  I highly recommend a slow and meditative reading of Manzoni's The Bethrothed , so that, like Pope Francis, you too, may claim it to be one of your favorite literary works.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Angel of Death

While resting upon the rock
that juts out into the lake,
chilled to the bone
by the damp, cold November air,
I observed the angel of death
pass over in a lone,
gray cloud, drifting
lower than the rest.

Ripples moved across the lake,
and the crow was silenced.

I waited for the angel
to take my soul
and leave my limp, lifeless body
on the rock.

But, alas, it was not my time.

He continued slowly upon his way
and left me to my silent,
peaceful reverie
of all those souls
whom I have loved,
now passed from this earth
into the eternal arms of God.

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

(a revised re-post from All Soul's Day past)

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Eternal Proof

"I love you," He said.

"Prove it!" we sneered.

And He did.

O Jesus, Heart of my heart,
the wound in your side,
forever throbbing
and without a cure,
inflicted by my shallow,
 doubting mind,
is eternal proof of your love.

How regretful am I
to have required this sign.
Deepen my trust, I pray.
Never let me question You again.

For Your open side reveals
 Your Love
which is stronger
than death
and You are with me,
loving me,
even now,
even now.

For more contributions on the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the First Friday link-up at O Most Sacred Heart blog, visit here.  This month's theme is:   "The Love of the Sacred Heart is stronger than death."  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Chotki

"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’"  ~Luke 18:13

my chotki, a treasured and much used gift from a dear friend
My friend, Christi Jentz, who writes a beautiful blog, Lumen Christi, shares the background of the chotki as she learned from our mutual friend, Mary Anne Urlakis, here in this post.  The chotki, a traditional prayer rope in the Orthodox tradition upon which one prays the "Jesus Prayer," is a favored prayer form of Pope Francis.  Fr. Robert Barron teaches that when praying the Jesus Prayer, one should breath in, as in taking in the Holy Spirit, while praying, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God," and then exhale, as though releasing our sins, while praying, "have mercy on me, a sinner."  When you are through, you may use the tassel to dry your tears. Such prayerful meditation, while counting the knots of the chotki, is sure to bring peace to the soul.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Kneeling Pilgrimage

Old St. Mary Church-photo credit:  panoramio
I'm fascinated by stories of pilgrims who visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe or the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, and, for various reasons, such as a greater sacrifice or in atonement for their sins, perhaps, walk to the Shrine on their knees, often while praying the rosary.  Even though many wear knee pads for this kneeling pilgrimage, the pain must still be quite difficult to endure.  Although I like the idea of such a drastic form of prayer, I'm not sure that I could muster up the resolve to make a pilgrimage of that nature.  But now, I've found my own little form of making a kneeling pilgrimage which is not too difficult too endure, and which brings immediate rewards of satisfaction, and hopefully, many spiritual rewards as well.

As I help to clean Old St. Mary Parish each week, one of the tasks I have taken on is polishing the name plates at the end of each pew.  Back in the 1980's, when the church was renovated, memorial donations were made, and to honor those people on whose behalf donations were made, brass name plates were made and attached to both sides of the pews in church.  Over time, the name plates become tarnished and the names are hard to read.  So, I get down on my knees, and walk from pew to pew with a bottle of brass polish and an old rag, to bring those brass plates back to the gleam and shine they once knew when they were first installed.

photo credit:  panoramio

My pilgrimage is hardly difficult as I kneel on soft carpeting, inside a warm and beautiful church, beneath the soft glow of the antique lights, always under the watchful and loving eyes of Jesus in the tabernacle.  As I make my way down the aisle, I offer a prayer for each of those parishioners who who have gone before me and who are forever memorialized in brass, as well as for their families.  It's both a prayer of gratitude for their example of faith, and of petition of trust for the needs of their soul.  I can't help but reflect deeply upon the fact that the very walls of the church are soaked with so many whispered prayers offered throughout the long history of the church until they are drenched with faith, hope and love.  It is an honor to make that walk of faith upon my knees, in prayer for so many holy people whose perseverance built the very church that I have come to love, and to join my own prayers to those that have gone before me.

photo credit:  panoramio

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Very Special Consecration

On Sunday, October 13th, when Pope Francis consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Rome, Roses for Our Lady in Milwaukee, joined the Pope in spirit with our own consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary during our holy hour for vocations with Fr. Jim Kubicki, SJ, the National Director of the Apostleship of Prayer, with nearly 100 Roses for Our Lady members and friends in attendance.

Fr. Jim shared the story of when Pope John Paul II had been shot by a would-be assassin on May 13th, 1981, the 64th anniversary of the original visions of Our Lady of Fatima by Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco in 1917.  Regarding the fact that his life was spared, Pope John Paul II proclaimed that "one hand held the gun and another guided the bullet."  The hand that guided the bullet was that of the Blessed Mother whose intercession kept the bullet from fatally wounding the pope.  Later, the bullet that shot Pope John Paul II was inserted into the crown of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima.  It was a perfect fit, as if the crown, made in 1946, was created to hold the bullet shot in 1981!

Following the picture of the crown below, are the pictures from the holy hour with Fr. Jim in Christ King Chapel at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary.  All of the holy hour photos are courtesy of Mary Anne Urlakis. Below the pictures, you will find the consecration prayer of Pope Pius XII that we prayed at the holy hour, and then the prayer that Pope Francis prayed at the Vatican.

Crown of Our Lady of Fatima (source)

A Solemn Act of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Most Holy Virgin Mary, tender Mother of men, to fulfill the desires of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the request of the Vicar of Your Son on earth, we consecrate ourselves and our families to your Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart, O Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, and we recommend to You, all the people of our country and all the world.

Please accept our consecration, dearest Mother, and use us as You wish to accomplish Your designs in the world.

O Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, and Queen of the World, rule over us, together with the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ, Our King. Save us from the spreading flood of modern paganism; kindle in our hearts and homes the love of purity, the practice of a virtuous life, an ardent zeal for souls, and a desire to pray the Rosary more faithfully.

We come with confidence to You, O Throne of Grace and Mother of Fair Love. Inflame us with the same Divine Fire which has inflamed Your own Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. Make our hearts and homes Your shrine, and through us, make the Heart of Jesus, together with your rule, triumph in every heart and home.


~Venerable Pope Pius XII

Consecration Prayer of Pope Francis
Holy Mary Virgin of Fatima,
with renewed gratitude for your maternal presence
we join our voice to that of all the generations
who call you blessed.
We celebrate in you the works of God,
who never tires of looking down with mercy
upon humanity, afflicted with the wound of sin,
to heal it and save it.
Accept with the benevolence of a Mother
the act of consecration that we perform today with confidence,
before this image of you that is so dear to us.
We are certain that each of us is precious in your eyes
and that nothing of all that lives in our hearts is unknown to you.
We let ourselves be touched by your most sweet regard
and we welcome the consoling caress of your smile.
Hold our life in your arms:
bless and strengthen every desire for good;
revive and nourish faith;
sustain and enlighten hope;
awaken and animate charity;
guide all of us along the path of holiness.
Teach us your own preferential love
for the little and the poor,
for the excluded and the suffering,
for sinners and the downhearted:
bring everyone under your protection
and entrust everyone to your beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus.
[Translation by Joseph Trabbic]
~source:  Zenit

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Glory to God for All Things

"I kiss the soil as if I placed a kiss on the hands of a mother, for the homeland is our earthly mother."  
~Pope John Paul II

"Nature, therefore, becomes a gospel that speaks to us of God."  ~Pope John Paul II

O Lord, how lovely it is to be Thy guest. Breeze full of scents; mountains reaching to the skies; waters like boundless mirrors, reflecting the sun's golden rays and the scudding clouds. All nature murmurs mysteriously, breathing the depth of tenderness. Birds and beasts of the forest bear the imprint of Thy love. Blessed art thou, mother earth, in thy fleeting loveliness, which wakens our yearning for happiness that will last for ever, in the land where, amid beauty that grows not old, the cry rings out: Alleluia!

Thou hast brought me into life as into an enchanted paradise. We have seen the sky like a chalice of deepest blue, where in the azure heights the birds are singing. We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest and the melodious music of the streams. We have tasted fruit of fine flavour and the sweet-scented honey. We can live very well on Thine earth. It is a pleasure to be Thy guest.

Glory to Thee for the Feast Day of life
Glory to Thee for the perfume of lilies and roses
Glory to Thee for each different taste of berry and fruit
Glory to Thee for the sparkling silver of early morning dew
Glory to Thee for the joy of dawn's awakening
Glory to Thee for the new life each day brings
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Why Mary?

Mary, Queen of Hearts and St. Louis de Montfort
There are times, more frequent than I care to admit, when my faith waivers, when I feel stuck in my spiritual growth, when I'm tempted to give up, to just quit everything and cry out "What's the use?" And then God leads me to someone whose words and example offer me inspiration and allow me to carry on with the work that He has called me to in His service.   Fr. Matthew Widder, pastor of St. Clement and Holy Name Parishes in Sheboygan, Wisconsin,  recently led the 60th Marian Day of Consecration at Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Milwaukee, home of the Mary, Queen of Hearts Shrine.  Each year, Mary Ann Ristow, whose mother raised the funds for the shrine in the 1940's in gratitude for prayers answered through a novena to Mary, Queen of Hearts, hosts this inspirational day, and I am so grateful to have been blessed to attend this annual event for the fifth time.  Perhaps, like me,  you are also in need of a spiritual boost.  If so, my notes on Fr. Matthew's talk are below.  Read on and be inspired by the example of the Blessed Mother to persevere in whatever it is that God wills for your life.

Fr. Matthew Widder (image from Heart of the Nation television Mass)

"Why Mary?" by Fr. Matthew Widder

A mother is someone who pushes us, nags us, and loves us unconditionally.  Whenever I meet with a mother or a grandmother, she doesn't like to talk about herself, instead, she spends her time telling me about her children and her grandchildren.  They are all that matter to her.  So it is with the Blessed Mother.  She wants to share Jesus with us, to talk about Him, to help us to know Him.  In all she does, she leads us to Jesus.

St. Joseph accepted Mary into his home upon the word of an angel in his dream, and we, too, should not be afraid to accept Mary into our homes.   Just as most earthly mothers have a decorative flair and know how to make a home attractive, Mary does the same thing with our prayers.  When we pray with Mary, she places our prayers on a golden platter and adds her heavenly fragrance to them before presenting them to Jesus.  With Mary in our home, everything we do becomes more beautiful.

It's frustrating to be locked out of our homes or cars.  During my teen years there was a time when I arrived home late from a night out with my friends and found the door locked.  I had to ring the bell and knock on the door until my mom let me in.  We need our Mother Mary to unlock the door for us.  She is on the inside with God and when we pray with her she unlocks the door to God's grace and allows us to enter.
Mary, Untier of Knots

Mary is always humble, and she teaches us to be humble.  During the Visitation, Mary pointed to God's greatness with her Magnificat.  She didn't point to herself.  Pope Francis likes the image of "Mary, Untier of Knots."  Her obedience and humility untie the knots of our sins.  She keeps nothing for herself but lets our prayers pass through her to God.

This was God's last plan to redeem us:  Mary obediently accepting God's will.  Mary is "full of grace."  Grace is the perfect presence of God, the absence of sin.  What the devil lost by his pride, Mary redeemed by humbly accepting God's will.  The most beautiful creature in the entire world is the creation of a saint.  Mary is that beautiful creature leading us to paradise.

Be open to the surprises of God.  Pope Francis often tells us that the spiritual life is full of surprises.  But we don't like surprises.  We like things to be planned out.  But God surprises us.  The scriptures are full of sudden detours.  I think of the saying that there are two seasons in Wisconsin-winter and road construction.   Everytime I see that my normal route is closed due to construction, I don't want to believe the "road closed" sign the first time I see it and I'll try to somehow get around it.  But it doesn't work and I have to retrace my steps.  We do this in the spiritual life as well, we try to do things our own way, the same way we've always done it, not being open to change.  But Mary was always open to the surprises of God.  She was open to God's detour.  We need to accept the detours in our lives, because where there is a detour, so there is Jesus.

Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament
 Mary teaches us about outreach to others with her trip to the hill country to visit Elizabeth.   My favorite image of Mary, the one I chose for my ordination, is the image of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament.  Mary is holding Jesus out to us and she is looking out.  We all like to hold a baby close and to not let go, unless they're crying.  Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament is holding Jesus out and asking, "Will you accept my Son?"  It's symbolic of the New Evangelization.  Don't keep Jesus to yourself, pass Him on.  Don't be content to keep your Marian devotion to yourself.  We need to share what Mary has done for us, we have to pass on our devotion, to be on the lookout for the poor and those in need.  Accept Mary as the Queen of your heart, spread your love for her and give testimony.

How do we live out that devotion?  We obey Mary's words to the waiters at Cana, we "do whatever He tells you."  St. Louis de Montfort teaches a radical devotion to Mary, he tells us to be a "slave" of Mary.  He contrasts the word "slave" with the word "servant."  A servant has time off, but for a slave there is no getting away, there is always work to be done.  We are challenged to give our lives to Mary with our eyes fixed on Jesus.  Give Mary everything-our works, sacrifice, prayers, penance-entrust them to our Lady because she knows best how to use our prayers.  Allow Mary to open the door from within and trust that she will make the best use of our graces and good acts.

The best way to honor Mary is through the rosary.  Pope Francis tells us not to pray like a parrot, speaking words without understanding their meaning.  Sometimes when we pray the rosary, the words click by and we're not really praying them with meaning.  I once heard someone pray the rosary in ten minutes.  We need to slow down our prayers.  I heard a speaker on relevant radio say that as we pray the rosary we should treat the name "Jesus" as a speed bump.  Say His name with reverence and meaning.  Another way to pray the rosary is to bring the name of the mystery into each Hail Mary we are praying following the name of Jesus.  For example:  "Jesus in the Annunciation" or "Jesus in the Resurrection" or "Jesus, in the Agony in the Garden" or "Jesus at the Baptism."  When we pray the rosary, we should picture Mary taking us by the hand and leading us into the crescendo of the Glory Be at the end of each mystery.

How do we pray at Mass?  Give Mary our Holy Communion.  When we receive the Eucharist, introduce Mary to her Son.  Say to Mary, "Behold your son."  Our souls are a home for Christ.  When we visit someone in their homes, we encounter them in a sacred way.  We see how they live, and learn things about them that we didn't know.  Before we receive Communion we pray, "Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed."  During Communion we are inviting Jesus with Mary into our home so that He may really know us.

God knew that we would need a helper in the spiritual life and so He gave us a beautiful gift in our Blessed Mother Mary.  Mary leads us to Jesus, she teaches us humility and obedience.  She shows us how to be open to God's surprises and to pass grace on to others.  Our prayer is to make Mary the Queen of our Hearts.  Give your heart to Marian devotion.  Speak about your devotion to others.  Don't be afraid to tell the story of your devotion to Mary, to give witness to the blessing of Mary in your life.

Efficacious Prayer  to Mary, Queen of our Hearts
O Mary, Queen of All Hearts,
Advocate of the most hopeless cases;
Mother most pure, most compassionate;
Mother of Divine Love,
full of divine light,
we confide to your care the favors which we ask of you today.

Consider our misery, our tears,
our interior trials and sufferings!
We know that you can help us 
through the merits of your Divine Son, Jesus.
We promise, if our prayers are heard,
to spread your glory, 
by making you known under the title of 
Mary, Queen of the Universe.

Grant, we beseech you,
hear our prayers,
for every day you give us so many proofs of your love
and your power of intercession to heal both body and soul.

We hope against all hope:
Ask Jesus to cure us, pardon us,
and grant us final perseverance.

O Mary, Queen of all Hearts, help us,
we have confidence in you. (3 times)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

St. Margaret Mary

It's the feast of one of my favorite saints today so I'm celebrating with a picture and a poem that I love....

St. Margaret Mary

There were so many thorns
about his brow, 
so many red lips 
to prove the reality 
of His love, 
so little fertility 
in the soil of
His creature's affections,
so much of winter everywhere:
need we be surprised that
when the Gardener
found a rose
fragrant with remembrance
He should lift it
to His Heart?

~Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, sP 
Paths from Bethlehem