Thursday, September 26, 2013

Thrice Bereft

"Lift your soul off the earth; lift it up, bravely, calmly. Do not let its fragrant petals drag in the soil; do not let selfish hands pluck you. Be not afraid that you will be crushed under foot. A Divine Gardener watches with jealous love over your growth, refreshing you with the gentle dew of His Heart's Blood, while he warms the Golden Mantle of His grace. It is true that we are on earth, but our souls are made to be lifted up, up from the earth to God."
 ~Letters from Fr. Page by Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, sP

the altar at St. Joseph's Church, Baraboo, Wisconsin

the twelfth station, Jesus dies on the cross, St. Joseph's Church, Baraboo, WI

St. Joseph's Church, Baraboo, WI

Each year when my family and I enjoy our annual camping vacation, we attend Sunday morning Mass at St. Joseph's Church in Baraboo, Wisconsin.  It's one of my favorite churches, full of beautiful statues and stained glass. Mass at St. Joseph's is always reverent despite the faint scent of campfire that hovers about my family and I while we worship.

This year something caught my eye that I had never noticed before.  While looking at the altar, I was struck by the image of St. Mary Magdalene, bereft, upon her knees in grief, at the foot of the cross. In many churches it's common to see the Blessed Mother and St. John standing at the foot of the cross, but here, they were absent, and Mary Magdalene alone was portrayed in her sorrow. Glancing to my side at the stations of the cross, I saw that once again, there was the Magdalene on her knees, this time joined by Our Lady and the disciple that Jesus loved.  And finally, as I turned to leave the church after Mass, I saw yet another image in stained glass, of the saint who loved much, on her knees before our crucified Lord.

I thought of the three times that our Lord asked St. Peter if he loved Him after His resurrection, and St. Peter affirmed his love with three verbalizations.  In contrast, Mary Magdalene gave three obvious, yet wordless, displays of love for Jesus, not just as seen in the artwork at St. Joseph's Church, but also in scripture.  She knelt at His feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee, with her alabaster jar of ointment, broken open and spilling love for the Lord with abandon.  She knelt at the foot of the cross on Good Friday in utter despair.  She knelt at the entrance of the tomb not realizing the glory of the resurrection that was just beyond that tearful moment.  In each situation, her love was evident without requiring any questioning from the Lord.   She is a fragrant flower, blooming at the stem of Love and Mercy. 

And the Lord blessed her for her openness, for her inability to hold back her feelings, for her willingness to release her sins and accept the forgiveness of God, and then to go forth to proclaim His love to the world.   He accepted her passionate grief, knowing that her own love, watered by her tears, nourished by her compassion, would blossom into a witness for the world on how we, too, are to love the Lord; that is, fully, wholly, unreservedly, through our sorrows and joys, our sufferings and our triumphs, our losses and our gains.

Then, in the end, sweet Mary Magdalene is rewarded for her love with a magnificent entrance into the heavenly gates, carefully holding her jar of fragrant oil, now standing tall, no longer kneeling in sorrow, blissfully entering into the eternal arms of her Savior.

St. Mary Magdalene by Christi Jentz

The beautiful painting above is an original creation of Christi Jentz and is available for purchase in small giclee (pronounced zhee-klay) reproductions and cardstock.  Please visit her fabulous and informative website,  Lumen Christi Art, for more details on how to order her artwork or to simply enjoy the art and background information that she offers.  You'll want to check back frequently to read her fascinating blog updates.   

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Bach's Passions

I really am so thankful to Pope Francis for giving us a glimpse into who he is and what he loves in his recent interview, A Big Heart Open to God.  Ever since I read it, I have been enjoying listening to the Pope's favorite music, especially the Passion of Matthew, but also the Passion of John, which Pope Francis did not mention as a favorite, both by Bach.  Since the music is sung in German, I was looking for a translation, and found such breathtaking poetry interspersed with the biblical passion narratives, that I just have to share some of what I've discovered.  I am certain that the following two soul-lifting passages will become my favorite prayers for years to come.  Don't you love them as well?

"Erbarme Dich"  Matthew's Passion by Bach:

Have mercy, my God, for my tears' sake; 
look hither, heart and eyes weep before Thee bitterly.
Although I have strayed from Thee, 
yet I have returned again; 
for Thy Son has reconciled us through His agony and mortal pain.  
I do not deny my guilt,
but Thy grace and favor is far greater 
than the sin which I ever confess in myself.

from John's Passion by Bach:

Consider, my soul, with a tortured joy, 
and with a bitter burden half stifling my heart, 
your highest good in the sufferings of Jesus.  
Consider how, for you, on the thorns that prick Him, 
blooms the flowers that open the gates of heaven; 
from His bitter wormwood you can pluck sweet fruit in abundance.  
Therefore, never cease to contemplate Him.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Tears of Peter

My family and I went on our annual camping trip to Devil's Lake State Park near Baraboo, Wisconsin this past weekend.  Early Autumn is such a lovely time to camp-lovely, but cold!  It's good to be back home in our warm house.  When I sat down to catch up with the emails that arrived while I was away, I found a flurry that were about A Big Heart Open to God, the interview with Pope Francis published in America Magazine.  Everyone seems to have their own take on it, especially regarding his statements about abortion and homosexuality.  When I read the interview, those hot-topic points didn't stand out to me as having any variance from standard Church teaching.  What I did learn in reading the interview is that our Pope is a humble, joyful, personable man who beautifully compares himself to Matthew the tax-collector, "a sinner upon whom the Lord has turned his gaze."  Instead of focusing on the huge debates of our day, our beautiful Holy Father chooses to focus on mercy and love for all people, perfectly following and teaching the age-old disciplines of our Church.

I found the entire interview to be a fascinating glimpse into the background, thoughts and insights of our Pope, but I have to say that there were a few particular points that made me stop in my tracks and take notice.

Perhaps it's because I see myself as a wounded soul, and we're all wounded in one way or another, and also because the clients with whom I work are often suffering from the pains of life that have nothing to do with the nutrition counseling for which I am trained to help them, that I found this passage to be deeply moving and true:

“The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.... And you have to start from the ground up."

I also enjoyed learning about how the Pope prays.  An hour at the end of each day spent before our Eucharistic Lord is so spiritually healthy, and what a wonderful example he gives for all of us with this daily form of prayer.  I found it particularly humanizing that he confesses that he sometimes gets distracted or falls asleep during his moments of prayer.  That bit of knowledge helps me to feel a little less alone in my own distractions and drowsiness during prayer.

But by far, for me, the highlight of the interview was the section on Art and Creativity.  How wonderful to gain that little insight into the Pope's favorite artists, movies, books and music!  I couldn't wait to listen to his favorite composers and the music that moves his heart.  I immediately had to look up all of the compositions he mentioned, none of which I had ever heard of before.  Pope Francis mentioned his favorite:  "The piece by Bach that I love so much is the ‘Erbarme Dich,’ the tears of Peter in the ‘St. Matthew Passion.’ Sublime."  I completely agree with the Pope, it is sublime; the title alone is achingly poignant.  Just listen to it here and see if you don't also agree!

And if you are hungry for more of Pope Francis, I highly recommend reading The Light of Faith-Lumen Fidei, his first encyclical, begun by Pope Emeritus Benedict.  It's now available in hardcover through Ignatius Press.  I share my thoughts on it here.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Love Thy Neighbor

" thy neighbor as thyself. There is no commandment greater..." Mark 12:31

Finding a balance between standing strong for what is right, and gentle acceptance and love for others is always a challenge, isn't it?  I often waver back and forth between being a completely obtuse and angry woman and a weak and wimpy door mat.  Learning to forgive and let go of a grudge can be a never-ending challenge.  I'd much rather prefer to be everyone's best friend and just play nice 24/7 instead of dealing with challenges that come my way. Unfortunately, life isn't always a pleasant place and sometimes I've just got to pull my head out of the sand and deal with the difficulties of life.

Many years ago I got into a dispute with my next-door-neighbor over lot lines, fences and bushes.  It was a biggie which led to us not speaking to one another for several years.   It was so bad, that my husband and all of our children were also angry at her except for my daughter who was only two years old at the time. She thought that our neighbor was the loveliest person in the world and would run to her and hug her every time she saw her, which was, of course,  very awkward for me.  It was so bad that my next-door neighbor complained to some of the other neighbors about me telling them that I was a lousy Catholic who lacked the capacity to forgive.  I scoffed at that, thinking she had never asked for my forgiveness, but in my heart I knew she was right.  I was a lousy Catholic who struggled to forgive.  I still am.  But, after two years of battle, I finally dragged my lazy self to confession and spilled the beans about my bad behavior and the terrible example that I was setting for my children.

And for my efforts in the confessional I received the hardest penance I had ever been given in my life.

I was told that I must apologize to my neighbor and to keep on apologizing until she forgave me.  I was further told that if my words of repentance weren't enough, then I should bake her some cookies as a proof of my contrition.

I went home in pure grief thinking that I could never do that.  I complained to my sister who told me that I didn't have to perform my penance immediately.  She told me that I could take my time until I was really ready.  Since that confession occurred in early December I waited a few weeks until it was nearly Christmas and I placed a Christmas card in her mailbox with these few additional words:  "I'm sorry that I hurt you."

I received nothing.  No reply, no acknowledgement.  Nothing.

Darn,  I thought.  Now I have to make her cookies!  I wasn't quite ready to do that so I followed my sister's advice once again and decided to wait some more.

Spring arrived and I was outside doing yard work.  My neighbor came outside and called out to me from her porch.  She said, "I got your Christmas card and I want you to know that I am sorry, too.  And...I love your daughter."  Do you think my neighbor also has a sister who told her that she could wait a while before apologizing?  But I couldn't help but smile at the reality of that old saying "A child shall lead the way." (Isaiah 11:6)

My neighbor and I are friends once again, not as close as we once were, but we get along just fine.  That's why what happened last year really rattled me.

I had to work on the morning of my wedding anniversary but Paul was fortunate to have the day off.  He told me that he planned to spend the day putting up a new basketball hoop on our garage.  When I pulled up to the front of our house after a long and stressful morning at work, I was horrified to see that all of the bushes in our front yard between our house and my neighbor's had been cut down to the ground!

I rushed into the house and immediately laid into Paul, anniversary or not.  "You had nothing better to do today?" I accused.  What happened to putting up the basketball hoop?  How about mowing the lawn?  What on earth caused you to cut down all of our bushes?"  He looked at me with a puzzled expression on his face and asked "What are you talking about?  What bushes?"  I pointed to the front yard and he was as astonished as I was to see the destruction.  He said that our neighbor's daughter was there doing some yard work and she must have cut them.  Then he said that if I didn't go over there and say something, he would.  We both knew that I would be more diplomatic than he would, and so with my rage diffused after taking it out on my husband, and resignation settling in, I walked over to my neighbor's house and rang the doorbell, praying, "Please God, not again.  I just want to get along.  Please don't let us fight again!"

When she answered the door I surprised myself by remaining calm and kind.  She was equally calm and  I could tell that she didn't mean to upset me and that she had good intentions behind her actions.  I realized that she probably did me a big favor in cleaning up my front yard, and some lousy bushes were nothing to allow myself so much distress over.

So I went back home and hauled out the mixer.  Paul stared at me with a puzzled look upon his face so I explained to him that I was making cookies for our neighbor...and for him. After all, I hadn't exactly been the picture of kindness in blaming him unjustly, especially on our anniversary.  I figured a sweet little penance would be the perfect antidote to the anger and resentment that threatened to destroy my treasured relationships.  

Forgiveness is hard.  I don't know if I'll ever be any good at it.  But within a few months I noticed that my bushes had grown back and they look really nice, much nicer than they had looked before.  I think I should bake some more cookies for my neighbor to thank her for the kindness she showed me in cleaning out my weeds and in unwittingly softening my hard and unruly heart.  For God has shown me that if I can just hold the anger back from my tongue and believe the best of others, He will see to it that the prayer of intention that I whispered on my neighbor's front porch will be answered.   I will learn to get along with others without so much fighting.  Let there be peace on earth, and lots of cookies, too!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

National Day of Remembrance for Aborted Children

Photo Credit:  Sheila Axt, Women's Support Center, Milwaukee
"In 1984 children playing near a dumpster in Milwaukee discovered the remains of aborted babies whose bodies had been dumped by the driver of a courier for a bio-hazard waste company. When police questioned the children, they simply replied that they had been playing with the "Little People"-26 unborn children who had been aborted at the Milwaukee Bread and Roses Women's Health Center. The bodies of these aborted babies were buried by compassionate pro-lifers at Holy Cross Cemetery. 

Four years later, on September 10, 1988, approximately 1,200 more aborted children were buried at Holy Cross. The bodies of these babies were set out for trash pick-up on a loading dock of the Vital Med pathology lab in Northbrook, IL, and they were retrieved by Citizens for a Pro-Life Society and the Pro-Life Action League

These "Vital Med" babies included hundreds of unborn children aborted at two, now closed, Milwaukee clinics: Summit Women's Health Organization and Metropolitan Medical Services."
~from Pro-Life Wisconsin website

Photo Credit:  Sheila Axt, Women's Support Center, Milwaukee

Photo Credit:  Sheila Axt, Women's Support Center, Milwaukee
Across the nation, on September 14th, the National Day of Remembrance for Aborted Children, pro-life advocates gathered at cemeteries to pray for the millions of innocent lives that have been lost to abortion.  Here in Milwaukee, about 200 people gathered at the children's section of Holy Cross Cemetery in front of the gravesite where over 1200 aborted babies have been buried, to listen to speakers, to sing and to pray, and to grieve together over what might have been, indeed, what should have been.

Pro-life clergy including Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz from Lincoln, Nebraska, Bishop Donald Hying, Fr. William Kurz, SJ, and Lutheran Pastor Reverend Mark Knappe, some of whom had been present to assist with the burial of these babies, gave moving statements about the evil of abortion and the value of life.  Leaders of several pro-life organizations including Pro-Life Wisconsin and Citizens for a Pro-Life Society spoke about their memories of finding these aborted babies.  Most moving was the tearful testimony shared by Laura Brown from Silent No More Awareness Campaign about her own abortion and the pain she endured since that horrific day when her baby died. The excruciatingly painful stories of life ended too soon were unbearable to listen to.  Tears were freely flowing from nearly everyone's eyes.
Laura Brown-photo credit:  Sheila Axt, Women's Support Center, Milwaukee

The 40 Days for Life Campaign begins on September 25th and runs through November 3rd.  Won't you please sign up to prayerfully witness to the sanctity of life in your area?  Until the day that all of the abortion clinics are closed, and abortion is no longer a scourge in this country, we cannot rest.  We must all pray and work together to bring about an end to abortion, and to bring healing to those who have suffered from the effects of this murderous action.

"O God of Justice and Mercy, send your healing graces to the parents of these aborted children.  We pray for their conversion, and the conversion of the staff and abortionists who killed these little ones.  May they come to know your truth and your love.  And please, O God, bring an end to the injustices of abortion."  ~Citizens for a Pro-Life Society

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Celebrating Our Blessed Mother's Birth

On Sunday, September 8th, Roses for Our Lady celebrated the Nativity of the Blessed Mother with an outdoor Eucharistic Rosary Procession at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary during our monthly Holy Hour for Vocations.  We were blessed to be joined by Roses for Our Lady's spiritual advisor, Bishop Donald Hying. We presented gifts of non-perishable food for a local food pantry in our Lady's honor, and then, following the holy hour, we enjoyed a birthday party.  The pictures below are courtesy of Mary Anne Urlakis and her family.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Lumen Christi Art

My dear friend, Christi Jentz, has put together a lovely new website featuring her beautiful sacred art, the product of many hours of prayer and work to honor the Lord.  Lumen Christi Art features sacred  and medieval art, design, and purchase information, as well as a blog where Christi shares fascinating tidbits about the art world.  I highly recommend trying to decide which statues of the Blessed Virgin and the Christ Child belong together in this post.  Christi is well-versed in painting icons, several of which have been featured here at Imprisoned in My Bones, including the Myhrr-bearing Women, above (story here) and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, below.  Of course, the images on Christi's website are much clearer than my copies seen here.  Please pay a visit or several to Lumen Christi Art and enjoy art, beauty and inspiration from a Catholic perspective.

 Every movement of the brush
every drop of paint carefully
released to the wood

is a prayer written with care
from a heart
overflowing with love

and I look at the icon of
Christ, the King of my heart
and I pray

for the one whose
craft brought this image
of Christ to life

the icon of Christ
is alive for me
I can almost see His heart beating

hear His voice calling to me
whispering words of love to me
His servant

my King reminds me
that the pains of this world
will be overcome

and one day I will rejoice with Him
forever in the splendor
of His Most Sacred Heart

O Jesus, King of my heart
how I long for that day
when our hearts will eternally be one!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A New Kind of Missionary

The September 12th Madison Catholic Herald featured a story on Wisconsin Catholic Blogs, including yours truly.  Thanks to Kevin Wondrash, the reporter who came up with the idea and followed through with the story.  You'll want to visit each of the fine blogs mentioned in the story, if you haven't already.

MADISON -- Whether you’re an active web surfer, or just like to keep up on modern jargon, you may be familiar with the term “blogging.”

If you look in a dictionary, a blog (short for web log) is “a website on which an individual or group of users record opinions, information, etc. on a regular basis.”

The vast electronic space of the Internet is full of blogs for celebrity news, politics, sports, and of course, religion.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Catholic-related blogs. They are written by a new kind of missionaries: priests, Religious, and laypeople of all ages. We talked with four of these people — a small sampling, but strong examples of Wisconsin Catholic representation in the blogosphere.  Continue reading...

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

3 Reasons I Love Catholicism Vol. 6

It's time once again for the monthly link-up with Micaela at California to Korea in which bloggers are invited to share three reasons for their love of Catholicism.  Here I offer my humble contribution, sharing three more reasons why I love my Catholic faith from a list that grows more and more each day.

1.  Preferential Option for the Poor

"Oh how I would like a poor Church, and for the poor."  ~Pope Francis

As a long-term employee of the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) Program that offers nutrition education and vouchers for healthy foods to low income women and their young children, I love that my Church focuses on the importance of helping the poor and disadvantaged and offers many programs such as meal sites, food pantries, homeless shelters and other resources for those who are financially down and out.  I think it's significant that the Church offers not only practical help to the poor, but also spiritual help for their souls.  There are many downtown and inner city churches whose doors are open throughout the day, allowing the poor and homeless a place to sit and rest in the quiet of the presence of the Lord. How can time in His presence not spiritually enrich those who partake of it?

Recently, it was announced at my parish, that a fairly young man who had regularly patronized the parish food pantry, had recently passed away. He had few friends and family as depression had caused him to alienate himself, so when he died he had no funeral; there was nobody to pray for his soul.  When the parish volunteers who run the food pantry heard about this sad situation, they quickly sought to remedy it, and they planned a memorial Mass for Stephen Luchinske at Our Lady of Divine Providence (St. Casimir's) with Fr. Tim Kitzke presiding.  There, at that Mass, Stephen's soul was given a reverent and prayerful offering to the state of eternal rest.  What a beautiful example of serving the poor, whether in life or in death!

Eternal rest grant unto Stephen Luchinske, O God, and let perpetual light shine upon him.  May Stephen's soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

2.  Large Families

"How can there be too many children?  That is like saying there are too many flowers."  ~Mother Teresa

As the youngest of nine children and the mother of five, I love the fact that the Catholic Church teaches about the sanctity and value of all human life, and requires that married couples be open to all life within their marriage.  I can't imagine my life without a houseful of people around me.  There is always someone nearby to talk to and embrace, and with whom I can share every aspect of life.  I can never complain that life is dull or boring or lonely for long, before I become engaged in the needs of those who depend upon me, or am filled with the joy and peace that comes from being surrounded by those who care for me.  We are definitely a relational Church and healthy relationships have their ideal beginning in the Catholic home filled with love, faith and prayer.  When people look at my family and say, "You must be Catholic!"  I hold my head up high and exclaim, "Yes, we are!"

3.  Statues 

"If it is, as it is indeed, a good and virtuous thing to kiss devoutly a book in which Christ's life and death are expressed by writing, then why should it be a bad thing to kiss reverently the images by which Christ's life and Passion are represented by sculpture or painting?"  ~St. Thomas More

For me, one of the highlights of my role as President of Roses for Our Lady comes when I go to Catholic Conferences or other events where I am able to set up a table to promote Roses for Our Lady.  I always bring our statue of Our Lady of Fatima with me and place her on the table with her scapular and rosary in hand and a lit candle before her.  As I busily visit and share the history of, and events sponsored by Roses for Our Lady with those who pause at my table, I am often struck by the number of people who stop in their tracks with a look of deep love and devotion upon their faces as they gaze upon the statue of the Blessed Mother.  Many people will reach up to tenderly touch her face, or to give her a little kiss or a hug.

What joy it brings us as Catholics to have these visual reminders of the saintly ones who have gone before us, leading the way to our own sanctity by their holy examples.  Our desire to physically kiss a statue or a crucifix is simply a sign of our love for God offered through a reverent gesture of gratitude and love to those who have given their lives completely over to Him.

Photo credit:  Huffington Post

Want more reasons to love Catholicism?  Visit here for my previous posts on this topic and visit Micaela to find even more contributions.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Sam Lucero: Photographic Genius

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words.  It's cliche, I know, but absolutely true.  I could write on and on for hours and still not be able to adequately capture the beauty of God's glory that is evident in a single photograph of a glorious sunset that blazes with color, the perfection of an infant's foot, the joy of a child's toothless grin, the love of an elderly couple holding hands, the peace of a woman kneeling in prayer, or the wonder of an Archbishop embracing a newly-ordained man so tenderly that it resembles the way that God will surely embrace each of us when we finally meet him face to face.

I have shared my favorite photograph of now-Cardinal Dolan embracing a young man more than once on this blog.  That picture has moved me deeply.  But, what I failed to do in sharing my love for that photograph, is to give credit to the photographer whose genius and skill captured the moment that captured my heart.  I can only imagine how it must feel to be looking at a story on the internet, only to find your own words written on someone else's blog without giving credit to the original author, and the same is certainly true, and even more so, for photographs.

So to Sam Lucero, whose brillliant skills give glory to God over and over again in his photographic work, I apologize for not recognizing the gift that you have given to the world through your wonderful work.  And I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your gentle reminder in a blog comment, when you very well could have been outrageously angered over my use of your picture without giving you credit.  You are a true gentleman, of that I'm certain.

And so, dear reader, I encourage you to please pay a visit to Sam's website, Inspired Images,  where you will find more evidence of his beautiful photography that is sure to uplift your soul to the heights of heaven. 

Photo Credit:  Sam Lucero

Friday, September 6, 2013

Cardinal Dolan: Who Do You Say That I Am?

my favorite photo of Cardinal Dolan-credit:  Sam Lucero-visit Inspired Images website
This past Wednesday, at daily Mass, Bishop Sklba shared a charming story about Cardinal Dolan.  It seems that Bishop Sklba spent some time in New York visiting the Cardinal and they decided to go for a walk to a museum that was about a mile away.  It was probably the longest mile they ever walked because Cardinal Dolan couldn't take more than two steps before people would recognize him and ask him to pray for them or would share their concerns with the good Cardinal.  Bishop Sklba said that he imagined that Cardinal Dolan has a good idea of what Jesus felt like in  the passage from Luke 4:38-44 where the people were all bringing their sick to Jesus and tried to preventing him from leaving their town because they were so pleased with all of the good he was doing.  Everybody just wants him to stay nearby.

It's clear that the people of Milwaukee are certainly pleased with Cardinal Dolan for all of the good that he does and we want him to stay nearby as well, as was evident by the crowd of 4000 people who showed up at the Milwaukee Theater to hear him speak at the tenth annual Pallium Lecture, the lecture series that Cardinal Dolan himself started when he was Archbishop of Milwaukee.

The evening's emcee was Fr. Paul Hartman, the president of Waukesha's Catholic Memorial High School.  On surveying the size of the crowd, Fr. Paul cracked that it was a normal size for Cardinal Dolan's typical Sunday Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, the size of a symposium given in San Francisco by Bishop Sklba, and the size of Bishop Hying's fan club!  Cardinal Dolan commented that the crowd of 4000 was bigger than a normal Met's game!

Cardinal Dolan's topic was "Who Do You Say That I Am?  Encountering Christ and Responding to Christ through His Living Body, the Church."

Cardinal Dolan began his talk with these loving words:  "My seven years in Milwaukee were extraordinarily happy ones and I miss you."  Then he joked that four cardinals have come from Milwaukee, and one day Milwaukee will have it's own version of Mount Rushmore with the four cardinal's faces all engraved upon the Allen-Bradley clock tower!

He shared the story of how, when he was still an auxiliary bishop in St. Louis, he was called to the apostolic nuncio's office.  He was offered a cigarette and he declined because he doesn't smoke.  Then he was offered a drink, and he said no thanks, he'd wait until they went out to dinner.  Then the nuncio told him that Pope John Paul II wanted him to be the Archbishop of Milwaukee and to that the Cardinal said, "I'll take that cigarette and drink now!"

After the laughter subsided, Cardinal Dolan became dead serious about his topic for the evening.  He began by sharing the story of St. Paul falling from his horse and the Lord's question of him, "Saul, why are you persecuting me?"  He didn't ask, why are you persecuting my Church, but why are you persecuting me.  That's because Jesus and His Church are one, synonymous, a package deal.   St. Paul loved the Church and Jesus passionately because they are one.  He then quoted Henri de Lubac regarding the Catholic Church:  "For what would I ever have known of Him without Her?"  He said we can't call God our Father if we don't call the Church our Mother.

Cardinal Dolan spoke about the post-ecclesiastical world in which we live where we want the King without the Kingdom, to believe without belonging, spirituality without religion and Christ without the Church.  Impossible!  He quoted Archbishop Listecki who said, "There is no freelance Christianity.  Without the Church, there is no Christ."

In speaking of the many Catholics who refer to themselves as "former Catholics," those who have fallen away from the practice of the church, he suggested three possible roads as a model to bring those lapsed Catholics back to the fold.

1.  Family

The Church is my spiritual family.  Ninety-nine percent of Catholics are born into the faith.  It's in our DNA, our bones, our genes.  We might drift and get mad and be scandalized or confused by it.  So what?  Our spiritual family is just like our human family.  We get angry, scandalized and confused by our human family too.  "Have you ever met my brother Bob?" he joked.  But we never leave our family.  We are there at all of the pivotal moments-Christmas, Easter, births and deaths.  We're at the table every Sunday.  We're stuck with our last names whether we like them or not.  Catholics are marinated, seasoned in the Church.  The Church is my spiritual family.  It's my  home.

He shared an example from the book, "The Power and the Glory" by Graham Greene.  In it, a whiskey priest from Mexico was hiding in a barn, and a young girl who was helping him suggested that he renounce his Catholic faith for his safety.  The priest replied that it would be impossible, he could never do it.  And then the girl understood that the Catholic faith is like a birthmark, it is always a part of who you are.  You are born with it and it will remain with you forever.

2.  Apologetics

Apologetics is the art of credibly, convincingly presenting our faith.  It's not  in-your-face and brash,  but rather a humble, cheerful, rational, confident grounding in faith.  The Cardinal used an example familiar to every parish priest at this time of year.  A young man leaves home for college after a strong Catholic upbringing with regular Sunday Mass attendance and an education at Catholic schools.  At his first visit home he tells his parents that he doesn't go to Mass anymore.  Instead he is attending the church of his roommate.  The parents are filled with sorrow and question how this could have happened.  The answer is because the roommate was well-off in apologetics and swayed their son away from the Catholic faith.

The Church is necessary for salvation.  We have survived dungeon, fire and sword. Apologetics prepares us to defend our faith against those who would take it from us.  Those liberators might be late-night talk show hosts or writers of newspaper editorials.  We have to be strong in knowledge of our faith so that when they accuse us of worshiping the Pope, or of being cannibals, or of treating Mary as if she were God, we can remain strong.  We need to let them know that we cherish our Church and are prepared to care for it.  That is apologetics and we need it more than ever.

3.  Repentance

We need to fess up to the sinful side of the Church.  We need it.  People are shocked, saddened and sickened by acts of the clergy and hierarchy.  It's been said that the Catholic Church is clearly from God because no human organization that is run with such imbecility could have survived two weeks let alone 2000 years!

It was Flannery O'Connor who said, "Suffering for  the church doesn't bother me.  It's suffering from her that's hard to take!"  Blessed Pope John Paul II apologized fifty-five times during the Jubilee Year for the past sins of the Church and Ronald Rolheiser describes the Church as Christ hanging between two thieves.  But where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.  After the resurrection, Jesus showed us that His wounds remained.  We are also wounded.

The Cardinal shared a story from Bishop Skbla about a parish in the northern regions of the Archdiocese that was being closed.  The parishioners came to accept the closing and after all of the sacramentals had been removed and only an empty building remained, it was decided to burn the building down as a sacred offering.  Everyone came to watch as the volunteer fire department set the blaze which burned so intensely that everyone had to back away.  The next morning, Bishop Sklba returned to find people with gloves on gathering up the thick nails that were stacked up along the foundation.  They were collecting them as souvenirs.  It was the nails that had held the church together.  It's the nails of Christ that hold the Church together.  We are a wounded Church and we love Her all the more for Her wounds.

When people say that they left the Church because She's so sinful, we say we cling to Her because we are too. St. Francis de Sales had a simple motto written on his tombstone:  "He loved the Church."  That needs to be our motto, too.  We believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and She gives us the answer to Christ's question, "Who do you say that I am?"

To learn more about the Pallium Lecture Series visit this link.  Photos below courtesy of Mary Anne Urlakis.  Thanks, Mary Anne!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

How I Fell in Love with the Sacred Heart of Jesus

There is a beautiful new blog, O Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, which will be offering a First Friday link-up to honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  I am thrilled to the bottom of my very own heart about this blog and the opportunity to give honor and praise to my beloved Sacred Heart of Jesus!  The suggested topic for this month's post is "How did you first learn about the Sacred Heart."  I choose to go beyond that topic and share not only how I learned about the Sacred Heart, but also, how I fell in love with the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

As a child, my family and I were members of Sacred Heart Parish in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.  My parents were deeply devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and we were sure to attend First Friday Mass and devotions each month without fail.  An image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was displayed prominently in our home with the words, "I will bless every house where an image of My Heart will be exposed and honored."

So the Sacred Heart of Jesus was a big part of my life for as long as I can remember, but I can't say that I had a deep devotion until I met Fr. Jim Kubicki, SJ, who is the National Director of the Apostleship of Prayer.  One of the goals of the Apostleship of Prayer is to promote devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and I would say that Fr. Jim excels in this task.  It was Fr. Jim who inspired me to read as many books as I could get my hands on about the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and St. Margaret Mary Alocoque and St. Claude de la Columbierre, the saints who are best known for spreading this devotion.  And it was Fr. Jim who gave me a precious relic of St. Margaret Mary, and who came to my house to assist my family in enthroning the Sacred Heart of Jesus in our home.  And, as if that weren't enough, Fr. Jim also wrote a fabulous book, A Heart on Fire:  Rediscovering Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  So, Fr. Jim gets the credit for fanning the flames of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus within my own heart, preparing me to fall in love with the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  And here's where the love story really begins...

Heart of Glass

It was three years ago when I was praying the novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in preparation for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  I am blessed to live near Lake Michigan, and I love to spend time walking the shore, searching for sea glass.  Sea glass are little pieces of broken glass that have been discarded in the water, and over time are tumbled smooth by the rocks, waves and sand.  It had only been the second day of the novena, and I was feeling a bit down, when I went to the shore to search for the treasured bits of shards.  There I discovered a beautiful red piece of sea glass lying all by itself just on the edge of the shore.  Red sea glass is extremely rare.  As I inspected it more closely, I noticed that not only was it heart shaped, but it also had a gash in one side and scratch marks that made me think of the crown of thorns!  I took this to be a sign of love from Jesus, a gift from His Heart to mine,  and I knew that whether or not my novena intention was answered favorably, the love of my Sacred Heart of Jesus would remain with me forever.  I made my sea glass Sacred Heart into a necklace and I wear it every single day as a reminder of His love for me.  Safely hanging about my neck, I can frequently reach for it during the day whenever I am in need of a reminder of his love, and He never fails me.

O Sacred Heart of Jesus, be King of my heart!

For more stories about devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, be sure to visit O Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, and while you're there, share your own story of devotion to His Heart as well!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Polishing Prayer Covers

On Thursday mornings I have 45 minutes to spare between Mass and the beginning of my work day, so I volunteer to help clean the church and I have been greatly enjoying taking part in this small, hidden way to serve the Lord and my parish.  My chores have included cleaning the windows of the doors, polishing the holy water fonts, and dusting  the sacristy.  Recently, I've been asked to polish the brass candle covers that a parishioner had lovingly made for the large red votive candles some 30 years ago.

When Mass is over, a few people remain on their knees, silently praying in the darkened church.  I allow myself a few minutes on my knees to offer my own prayer of thanksgiving before I enter the sacristy and find the rags and polish in the cupboard.  I remove several candle covers from the large votives and take a seat at the long sacristy table in view of the crucifix and the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  As I work the polish into the metal, removing the soot and restoring the brass to a high sheen, I think of all of the prayers that the soot represents.  The black grime that I wipe away came from wisps of smoke rising to the Lord and the belief that He will hold on to those prayers, warm them with His love and kindly answer them in the most favorable of ways.  I consider my work to be a prayer united with the prayers of the many people who have deposited their donation into the tin box, removed the bamboo stick from the sand, gently igniting it with the flame of an already-lit candle, and then placing the flame intentionally upon an unlit wick, whispering a word or two of prayer for a loved one, trusting that the flame will carry their prayer to heaven and the Heart of God.

With ten minutes of polishing, the gritty reminders of the old prayers are wiped away, and I return the now-shiny cover to the candle where it awaits the soot from future prayers of flame.  Then, I light my own prayer candle of intentions, a nosegay of prayer filled with words of love and gratitude, to my crucified Lord and the Sacred Heart of Jesus on behalf of the people I hold closest to my heart, before departing for work.

Prayer to Say When Lighting a Candle

Accept, dear Lord, this votive vigil light, to burn before Thy shrine,
it's gentle rays to offer Thee, this lowly heart of mine.
While my poor soul, weighed down with care, will often fondly turn,
to Thy dear shrine, where through the hours, this vigil light shall burn.
This light my prayer shall keep alive, though I am far away,
amid the world's distracting scenes, my place it takes to pray.
Thus through the toilsome day of life, this silent sentinel,
it's vigil long and loving keeps, my love for Thee to tell.  Amen.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Secret Sorrows/Prayers for Priests

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."  ~Ian MacLaren

Each day on my lunch break, I walk a few short blocks from the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) Clinic where I work, to the Marquette University Campus, while praying the rosary.  The campus setting is so park-like and beautiful, and as I pass all of the college students cheerfully talking to each other, or texting on their cell phones, or slumped under the weight of their backpacks, it occurs to me that despite their carefree outward appearance, each and every person I pass is carrying a hidden sorrow in their heart.  I pray the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary and I think about how each of these students re-live our Lord's sorrows in their own mysterious ways of which others may never know.  We all have our secret sorrow.

Today I was carrying my own sorrow, deep within my heart.  It was announced at Sunday Mass that a local priest, Fr. Quintin Heck, had taken his own life.  My heart broke right open upon hearing this tragic news, and I could not keep from crying during the remainder of the Mass no matter how much I tried to remain stoic.  I didn't know Fr. Quintin, but my heart grieves for him as if he were my closest friend.

"In strengthening the priest, you strengthen the whole Church...Strengthen the priest and you strengthen the whole foundation, you strengthen everything in the Church."  
~Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, sP, Founder of the Handmaids of the Precious Blood

It's unfathomable to me how a priest, beloved by God and by the Church, his family, a man who promotes the Catholic value of dignity and sanctity for all life, a man who transforms an ordinary piece of bread into the very Body of our Lord within his very hands, a man whose life is committed to saving souls, could take his very own life, that indescribably precious gift from God. Depression is a dark, tormenting and deadly disease, to be sure, and it does not care whose life it takes.  But it seems that beyond the disease of depression, there is an evil that is lurking within the Church, wreaking havoc and causing distress beyond measure.  Considering that Fr. Quintin is the second priest in Milwaukee who has taken his own life in the past month, it appears that our Church, and especially our priests, are under attack and we are all suffering victims in this battle.

"This kind can only come out by prayer and fasting."  Mark 9:29

For me, as an Oblate of the Precious Blood and the organizer of the Monthly Prayer Request for Priests calendar for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, I take this tragic news very personally and easily become discouraged, as if the many hours I spend in prayer for priests has been for naught.  But deep down I know that all prayer is fruitful, that my words uttered to the Lord within the silence of my heart on behalf of the priests of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee do somehow help them to cope and to thrive, as they tremulously balance upon the straight and narrow path, duty-bound to God despite the tremendous difficulties that they may encounter in the spiritual battle for heaven.  God always wins, after all, and the demons of depression and suicide are not the end of the story.  It's vital that we remain strong, especially on behalf of our priests whose shoulders are burdened with not only their own crosses, but also those of all the Catholics who depend upon them to be a witness of strong faith, as well as the source of the Sacraments in which we meet Christ.

Handmaid of the Precious Blood
Today I implore you to please visit the Monthly Prayer Request for Priests website and bookmark the page or print out the calendars, keeping our Milwaukee priests in your daily prayers.  If you do not have a Monthly Prayer Request for Priests within your own diocese, please consider starting one.  I will gladly help you get started-it's not terribly difficult or time-consuming.  If you feel called to do even more, visit the Handmaids of the Precious Blood and spiritually adopt a priest, or prayerfully consider whether or not God might be calling you to look into becoming an Oblate of the Precious Blood, or to a religious vocation as a Handmaid of the Precious Blood.

"Be close to your priests with your affection and with your prayers that they may always be shepherds according to God's heart."  ~Pope Francis

Our priests deserve our attention, encouragement, gratitude, support, love and prayers.  Let's give them our heartfelt and faithful daily prayers which, through the grace of God, will hold them up when they grow weak and weary.  And please, remember the souls of our deceased priests within your prayers as well.

Eternal rest grant unto Fr. Quintin Heck, and all of our deceased priests, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

By the late John J Cardinal Carberry

Keep them; I pray Thee, dearest Lord.
Keep them, for they are Thine 
The priests whose lives burn out before
Thy consecrated shrine.
Keep them, for they are in the world,
Though from the world apart.
When earthly pleasures tempt, allure --
Shelter them in Thy heart.
Keep them and comfort them in hours
Of loneliness and pain,
When all their life of sacrifice
For souls seems but in vain.
Keep them and  remember, Lord,
they have no one but Thee.
Yet, they have only human hearts,
With human frailty.
Keep them as spotless as the Host,
That daily they caress;
Their every thought and word and deed,
Deign, dearest Lord, to bless.

Daily Prayer For Priests (St. Therese of Lisieux)

O Jesus,
I pray for your faithful and fervent priests;

for your unfaithful and tepid priests;
for your priests laboring at home or abroad in distant mission fields.
for your tempted priests;
for your lonely and desolate priests;
For your young priests;
for your dying priests;
for the souls of your priests in Purgatory.
But above all, I recommend to you the priests dearest to me:
the priest who baptized me;
the priests who absolved me from my sins;
the priests at whose Masses I assisted and who gave me Your Body and Blood in Holy Communion;
the priests who taught and instructed me;
all the priests to whom I am indebted in any other way
(especially …).
O Jesus, keep them all close to your heart,
and bless them abundantly in time and in eternity.