Friday, December 26, 2014

Myrrh Bearing Women

"The priest is God saying, "I'm here and I'm not leaving you." ~Jacob Boddicker, SJ

Myrrh Bearing Women by Christi Jentz

I've had the great honor of organizing the Monthly Prayer Request for Priests calendar for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee since September 2010.  The calendars are arranged in alphabetical order, listing all of the active and retired priests of the Archdiocese as well as requesting prayer for the Archbishop, bishops, religious order priests, seminarians and those in discernment for the priesthood on days that are fitting to their particular vocation.

During the past four years I've taken occasional phone calls from priests and lay faithful with questions about how the calendar is organized.  One such phone call was from Fr. Paul Weishar, a retired priest who, at the time of the phone call, was coming upon his 92nd birthday.  He was wondering why his name wasn't listed on his birthday and when I explained the alphabetical listing of the calendars he remarked that retired priests are often forgotten and nobody seems to care about them anymore.  How terribly heartbreaking!  Since that phone call, I exchanged a few more phone calls and letters with Fr. Paul and forwarded his name to our Archdiocesan priest who ministers to the retired priests asking him to contact Fr. Paul and to pray for him.

Earlier this month, I heard that Fr. Paul had passed away.  I was grateful that my supervisor allowed me to adjust my work schedule so that I could attend his funeral.  When I arrived at the quaint, little church, I was so happy to see my friend, September S. and her lovely daughter, Lauren, already there.  Like me, September feels it deeply in her heart to pray for deceased priests, whether she knew them well or not.  And, it wasn't long afterward that our friend, Erin Berghouse, the founder of Ahava Productions, joined us in prayer as well.  Sweet Erin had stopped at the parish to drop something off for the pastor, Fr. John Burns, who told her that a funeral was just about to begin for a priest.  She said that as she was walking back to her car, she was struck by the fact that she just happened to stop at the parish immediately before a priest's funeral and decided that the Holy Spirit must have had something to do with that timing and she decided to stay and pray for him.

Following communion as we were kneeling in thanksgiving, I was overcome with the image of the Myrrh Bearing Women in my heart.  I felt that here we were, modern-day Myrrh Bearing Women, offering the myrrh of our prayers at the tomb of an alter-Christus, Fr. Paul Weishar.  My hope is that in the final years of his life, Fr. Paul could feel the prayers that were offered for him and that now, in his death, the prayers for his soul will continue.  May we all offer the myrrh of our prayers for our priests both living and dead, for what would we be without them and the sacraments they so lovingly and willingly bring to us?

Eternal rest grant unto Fr. Paul Weishar, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.  May his soul, and all of the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Advent Retreat with Bishop Donald Hying

“Christianity starts not with us looking for God but with God looking for us.”  ~Bishop Donald Hying

The always humble Bishop Hying and Fr. Tim Kitzke doing the dishes following dinner at my house last August.  Bishop Hying always insisted upon doing the dishes whenever he'd come to dinner.  He's certainly well-qualified to speak about humility as he did during his recent Advent reflection shared in this post.

This Advent I treated myself to an afternoon retreat of Reflections on the Advent Gospels with Bishop Hying at St. Joseph’s Parish in Wauwatosa.  It was a bittersweet occasion in which I had an opportunity to learn from a spiritual giant and a beautiful friend, in person, one more time, before he leaves Milwaukee to become the Bishop of Gary, Indiana on January 6th.  I felt compelled to take notes so I wouldn’t miss one bit of his wisdom.  I've certainly learned an awful lot from him in the past seven years that I've been blessed with his friendship and I'm hopeful that I'll continue to reap many spiritual benefits from all that he has taught me over the years.  What I’ve gleaned from his Advent talk follows.

Being Present to Now

Bishop Hying often speaks of St. Bernard’s Three Advents:  the Advent when we prepare for Christ’s birth, the Advent when we prepare for the final coming of Christ and the Advent of the Present Moment.  He said that it’s easy to always be somewhere else in our mind and not to be fully engaged with where we are.  But it’s essential that we try to focus on the present because this moment will never come again.  We’ll never be in this same particular place with these same particular people again.  The greatest enemy of the spiritual life is the intensity of the stimulation around us.  The secret of the saints is that they were profoundly engaged in the present moment.  It’s in the present moment that God speaks to us.  On Mount Horeb God doesn’t tell Moses, “I was” or “I will be”.  He says “I AM.”

Bishop Hying spoke about the difference between Kairos time and Kronos time.  Kronos time, he said, is like when we go to work and the day drags because we’re not enjoying what we’re doing.  Kairos time is like being on vacation or spending time with someone we love.  Six hours of Kairos time can feel like only one.  The Mass is Kairos time where we are united with all of heaven.  We are never alone at Mass.  All of the angels and saints are right there with us.  When we step into the Eucharist, we step into the vast eternity of Christ.  The mystery of the Christian life is to see the unfolding of our lives as Kairos time.  We live in a culture that is spiritually asleep.  If we can abide in the present moment then life unfolds as it is meant to be for us.

“How do we live in the world but as a monastic at heart?” he asked.  John the Baptist reminds us that our faith must be public and inculturated.  Our faith is personal but it can’t be private.  If the apostles kept their faith private we would never have come to know Jesus.  The generations that follow us are dependent upon our public testimony.  In the New Evangelization we look at people who are already in our lives and give witness to them.   We need to cultivate the soil of another person’s life and bring them into a community of faith.  We are to lay the groundwork for Jesus to begin His work like John the Baptist did for Jesus.

Humility as a Way of Life

Bishop Hying went on to speak about humility.  He said that virtues are like a salad buffet and humility is the plate you put everything else on.  If you don’t have humility, nothing else will stick.  Humility is knowing who we are and knowing both our greatness and our littleness.  How do we respond when we’re not noticed or recognized or when someone else gets thanked for something we did? 

Humility sets us free.  We don’t have to try to be anything more than we are.  God is more humble than we are.  If I can’t let God be God in my life, then I always have to be strong and right and in control.  How freeing it is to acknowledge my weakness and my need for God and to let the Lord carry me!  It’s freeing to say “I don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m a sinner, and I’m weak and needy and uncertain.”

St. Paul spoke of the thorn in his side and how, when he asked God to remove it, God told him he had to keep it so that he’ll know that power is made perfect in weakness.  Allowing God to be God allows us to be us.  Humility is a gift.  It’s a gift to be hidden, unknown and misunderstood.  At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what others think of us, it only matters what God thinks of us.

Bishop Hying compared the Annunciation and the Agony in the Garden as examples of humility and openness to God’s life-changing plan.  Both Mary and Jesus are asked to accept something impossible.  Mary said yes to the Incarnation and Jesus said yes to our salvation. They both occur while they are radically alone and they are both asked to embrace the impossible and say yes to it.  It’s tempting to think that everything was easy for them because of their holiness and who they are, but their humanity had to tempt them to say no, and yet, they both said yes. 

For this reason we honor Mary because in her we see perfect discipleship. In her maternity, which is predicated on her faith and attentiveness to God’s impulses and initiatives, she gives herself to that plan.  In the Immaculate Conception she is a stainless piece of glass, immaculate with no stain.  The light shines through her.  Because of her clarity, we don’t see the glass but are overwhelmed by the light of Christ that shines through her.

The bishop asks, “In what ways am I still striving to be God, to be at the center of attention, more important than I am?  How can this Advent take that desire away from me?  Like John the Baptist, we need to say, “I am not the Christ.”  What is it in my life now that God is inviting me to embrace, that seems difficult, and that I should say yes to?  We need to ponder this question all our lives because God is always asking something new of us.  The saints were so free of self that they allowed God to use them however He saw fit.

Advent is realizing that in the Incarnation of Christ everything has changed for us.  If we can understand this and accept it, if we can be truly present in the now, and live our lives with humility, then Christmas becomes more fully what it was meant to be.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Our Lords the Poor

 "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me....Amen,I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me." ~from Matthew 25:31-46

"There are some people whom God takes and sets apart.  There are others he leaves among the crowds, people he does not "withdraw from the world."  These are the people who have an ordinary job, an ordinary household, or an ordinary celibacy.  People with ordinary sicknesses, and ordinary times of grieving.  People with an ordinary house, and ordinary clothes.  These are the people of ordinary life.  The people we might meet on any street.  They love the door that opens onto the street, just as their brothers and sisters who are hidden from the world love the door that shuts behind them forever.  We, the ordinary people of the streets, believe with all our might that this street, this world, where God has placed us, is our place of holiness.  We believe that we lack nothing that we need.  If we needed something else, God would have given it to us."  ~Servant of God Madeleine Delbrel

Samantha Vosters and Shannon Seegers  (Photo Credit:  Tom Klind)
My family and I are blessed with the friendship of a lovely young woman, vibrant and joyful, who has committed her life to serving the poor, working at our parish's Riverwest Food Pantry.  On the Feast of Christ the King, Samantha Vosters made a personal vow of poverty, chastity and obedience giving her heart completely to Jesus and the Church as a laywoman, modeling her life after Servant of God Madeleine Delbrel, a Frenchwoman who was also committed to serving Christ through the poor.

During Mass at St. Casimir Church, concelebrated by three priests with a standing room only crowd, Samantha vowed to remain poor and pure and to follow God's will in her life as she gives herself more completely to serving the poor.  Those in attendance included not only Sam's family and close friends, but also all of those in the parish and community whom Sam serves in her work.  The love that the congregation has for Sam, and the admiration that they feel for the good that she does, was palpable.

photo credit:  Tom Klind

In his homily, the priest, a personal and long-time friend of Sam's, was visibly choked up as he shared the story of how, when he first came to know Sam, he felt that she was simply a happy and joyful person, full of laughter and smiles, and he didn't see much beyond her good-natured personality.  But when he came to see her heart, he knew that she was someone truly special with a deep love for the Lord and a desire to give her all to Him.  I was moved to tears by the priest's emotion.

But it was during the offertory that I really became emotional.  It's the custom at our parish for members of the congregation to come forward bringing gifts, both food and financial donations, leaving them at the foot of the altar for the poor within our community.  As people were moving forward, I noticed an elderly woman walking very slowly and deliberately, not to the altar with a gift, but to where Sam was sitting with her parents.  Sam turned to the woman, grinned her huge smile, and stood up to embrace the woman.  They held each other long before the woman finally released her hold and shuffled slowly to the back of the church and out the door.  It was a deeply touching and beautiful scene, evidence of the kind of love that Sam so freely gives and receives day in and day out in her life devoted to giving to the poor.  And I knew that it wasn't just any elderly woman embracing Sam, but it was Christ in the distressing disguise of the poor, giving love and gratitude for a saintly young woman who has already, and will continue, to give her life for her brothers and sisters in need.

"The poor are not only brothers and sisters to be loved in a brotherly way because they are our brothers and sisters, they are also "our lords the poor" because the poor man is Our Lord.  He is the sacrament of our encounter with Christ, of our love given to Christ."  
~Servant of God, Madeleine Delbrel

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Hiding Place

“In darkness God's truth shines most clear.”  ~Corrie ten Boom

“Dear foolish of me to have called for human help when You are here.”   ~Corrie ten Boom

My sisters and I are big on reading and sharing books, but when  Cindy put Corrie ten Boom's Her Story into my hands, I groaned.  Three volumes in one book, 497 pages, is one heavy reading list!  But she assured me that I'd love it and it didn't take long before I realized that she was right!

Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who was born and died on exactly the same date, April 15th, living 91 years, from 1892-1983. The first biography of the volume, The Hiding Place, tells the story of Corrie's experience during World War II, assisting Jews as they escaped from the Nazis, and eventually being captured, along with most of her family, and sent to prison camp.

Now I've read quite a few harrowing tales of WWII and concentration camps such as Elie Wiesel's Night, Etty Hillesum's The Interrupted Life, The Diary of Anne Frank, Franz Jagerstatter's In Solitary Witness, and Fr. Alfred Delp SJ's, Advent of the Heart. And I've read and studied many other stories of martyrs such as St. Maximilian Kolbe and heroes such as Irena Sendler, but this book moved me in an entirely different way than any of those.  Not only was I filled with horror for the terrors imposed upon humanity by the Nazis, and great admiration for those who defiantly fought against them while standing up for their beliefs and saving the lives of many, but through Corrie ten Boom's story, I found myself examining my conscience over and over again, and with each search of my heart, I found myself coming up woefully short of the beautiful ideals that Corrie and her family lived by in such dark times.

Growing up, Corrie ten Boom learned from the wisdom of her parents and siblings, and especially from her sister, Betsie, that Jesus and His love overcome every evil in the world.  Corrie was so moved by the example of her sister who kept a peaceful and loving countenance all while suffering in the concentration camp, that she went on to dedicate the remainder of her life to promote healing, not only for the Jews and others who suffered at the hands of the Nazis, but for the Nazis themselves, despite the difficulty she often struggled with in learning to forgive them for all of the harm they had done, causing her own suffering as well as the suffering of others.

It was hard to choose just one or two examples from the story that stood out enough to share here. The entire book was filled with heroic, loving situations!

I loved how her wise father gently talked her through her first and only heartbreak:  “Do you know what hurts so very much? It's love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill that love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel.  God loves Karel--even more than you do--and if you ask Him, He will give you His love for this man, a love nothing can prevent, nothing destroy. Whenever we cannot love in the old, human way, Corrie, God can give us his perfect way."

And he explained things to the young Corrie that were beyond her childish comprehension so beautifully:   “And so seated next to my father in the train compartment, I suddenly asked, "Father, what is sexsin?"  He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case off the floor and set it on the floor.  Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?" he said.  I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.  It's too heavy," I said.  Yes," he said, "and it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It's the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger, you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you."

I was particularly moved by the description of how Corrie and her sister Betsie, while standing outside in the cold at attention while in the prison camp, would try to move to the inside of the group of women, where it was warmer. But then, chastising herself for her selfishness in disregarding the needs of the women on the outside of the group, Corrie allowed the other women to move to the center and selflessly stood on the cold edge herself.  Not many women would put others first in such a situation, and her explanation of how she brought herself to be so selfless is astounding:  “Oh, this was the great ploy of Satan in that kingdom of his: to display such blatant evil one could almost believe one's own secret sin didn't matter.” 

Corrie's sister Betsie was particularly saintly.  She gave very little thought to her own suffering, or even the plight of the other prisoners.  Her thoughts were purely focused on Christ and on bringing His love to her enemies, as evidenced in this description:  "We had arrived at the main camp at Vught.  "Betsie!" I wailed, "How long will it take?"  "Perhaps a long, long time.  Perhaps many years.  But what better way could there be to spend our lives?"  I turned to stare at her.  "Whatever are you talking about?"  "Corrie, if people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love!  We must find the way, you and I, no matter how long it takes."  Slowly I took in the fact that she was talking about our guards and I wondered not for the first time what sort of person she was, this sister of mine." 

And when the guards struck Betsie on the neck, causing her to bleed from the red welt, she would not allow Corrie to feel pity for her.  "Don't look at it, Corrie.  Look at Jesus only."  Christ's suffering was at the forefront of Betsie and Corrie's thoughts at all times, despite their own sufferings.

I have never read about or encountered such deep faith, love and beauty. I pray that in my ordinary life, where it's doubtful that I will ever taste the deep despairing evil of a concentration camp,  that I will find the courage and fortitude to be as loving and grateful as Corrie ten Boom, despite any difficulties or hardships I may struggle through,believing that in God's hands, every situation will be used for good, for the building up of His kingdom and for His glory.  Like Corrie, I may struggle at first, but with the help of God, I will overcome the temptation to selfishness and will strive to love others in all circumstances, knowing that He resides and suffers in all of humanity, and by putting others first, I will be putting Him first.  What a wonder that kind of love and forgiveness could bring to this world, forgiveness as evidenced by Corrie's description of the time she met one of the guards after she had been released:  “Even as the angry vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him....Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness....And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world's healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives along with the command, the love itself.”  

If you've not yet read The Hiding Place, I highly recommend it.  Be prepared to be spiritually uplifted and challenged to grow in your faith.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Vatican Museums 3D- A Review


After my thrilling and highly educational trip to Kansas City with my friend, the talented artist, Christi Jentz, last summer to immerse myself in the world of sacred art, (see links 1, 2 and 3) I have kept a keen eye open for further news of the art world.  So I was terribly excited to learn that SpectiCast Distributors, in collaboration with Vatican Museums Directorate, have released an hour long 3D film of the inside story behind the Vatican Museums art collection.  The Vatican Museums 3D offers a never-before-seen view of some of the most magnificent and breath-taking art that can be found in the Vatican's collection, as well as sharing some of the stories of the artists who were commissioned to create the sacred art that has moved our hearts and souls through the centuries.

Recently I was offered the opportunity to watch an online preview version of the film.  Although I'm sure that the presentation is much more dramatic on the big-screen, seeing this foretaste was enough to whet my appetite to continue my quest to learn more about sacred art and to fuel my desire to visit the Vatican in person one day.  I was fascinated to learn a bit about the history behind Michelangelo's painting of the Sistine Chapel and Vincent Van Gogh's creation of the Pieta, among other artist's stories. The film was a marvel from beginning to end.

However, the film was not without its disappointments.  From time to time, a museum docent was shown explaining the art while an English interpretation spoke over his voice.  I found the two languages spoken simultaneously to be distracting and it made it difficult to understand the English version.  I also found the depiction of the artists portrayed by actors, as well as the loud sound-effects and music, to be unnecessary and a bit overdone.  To see the beauty of the art and to be educated through a non-visible narrator would have been all that was needed to make this film a not-to-be missed educational wonder.

The Vatican Museums 3D definitely left me hungry for more as I'm sure that it's impossible to share all of the religious art, and offer background details on its creation, in an hour long movie.  I hope that a series of feature-length films on The Vatican Museums will be coming in the future.

The Vatican Museums 3D will be shown in more than 500 theaters in the United States, none of which are in Wisconsin, unfortunately.  According to the press release, THE VATICAN MUSEUMS 3D will be in theaters everywhere beginning December 10 in partnership with Fathom Events, and will be shown in 2D and RealD 3D. Additional shows will be in select theaters December 11 and 14.   To find a list of theaters where it will be shown, as well as to learn more about the film and watch the trailer, visit this link.

Much thanks to Kevin Wandra at Carmel Communications for this opportunity to preview and share my opinion of The Vatican Museums 3D.  Enjoy the trailer below or at this link.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pro-Life Eucharistic Procession

photo credit:  Tim Townsend
Milwaukee's Forty Days for Life Campaign closed out its fall season in a big way with its second Pro-Life Eucharistic Procession led by Milwaukee's Auxiliary Bishop Donald Hying.  The Sunday afternoon procession was marked by an unseasonably early snowfall and cold temperatures, but despite that, turnout was high with over 100 participants enduring the weather to offer sacrificial prayer for an end to abortion, and specifically, for the closing of Affiliated Medical Services and the success of the Women's Care Center which is directly across the street from the abortion provider, and which offers free help to women in crisis pregnancies, allowing them to keep their babies.
photo credit:  Tim Townsend

photo credit:  Tim Townsend

photo credit:  Tim Townsend

The rosary procession, which moved around the entire block where the abortion facility is located, and then ended at the Women's Care Center for benediction, was beautifully peaceful with the exception of a few anti-Catholic and vulgar remarks and gestures from passersby.  What a blessing it is to endure cold, wintry weather and crude comments for the sake of our faith!  How blessed we are to suffer these hurts in union with the suffering that our Lord endured on his walk to Calvary.

photo credit:  Tim Townsend

photo credit:  Tim Townsend

 I love the reflection in the door in this photo! It's as if Bishop Hying and Jesus are right inside of the door of death and are bringing peace and love within to remove the pain that resides there.
photo credit:  Tim Townsend
In his final remarks, Bishop Hying stated that he was moved by the fact that we stood in front of the abortion mill which is a present-day Golgotha, representing death and destruction, and then moved to the Women's Care Center which is a current form of the Resurrection, representing life and hope.  What a blessing the Women's Care Center is to young women in need of assistance during their pregnancies!  Please pray for its continued success and support it financially if you are able.

photo credit:  Tim Townsend
photo credit:  Tim Townsend

photo credit:  Tim Townsend

photo credit:  Tim Townsend

For more photos from this procession, all courtesy of Tim Townsend, visit Milwaukee's Forty Days for Life website here.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Continue the Journey

"Stand up and go; your faith has saved you."  ~Luke 17:19

Fr. Luke Strand (source)
This past Wednesday, Fr. Luke Strand, the Vocations Director for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, presided at Cor Jesu, the popular  Holy Hour with confessions and contemporary Christian music, which is followed by Mass.  Cor Jesu is held every Wednesday evening beginning at 7 pm at St. Robert's Parish in Shorewood, Wisconsin.  It was the last time that Fr. Luke will be present at Cor Jesu, which he founded, for the remainder of the year, as he takes some time away to receive necessary treatment for the colon cancer with which he was recently diagnosed.

Please do hold Fr. Luke deeply within your prayers during this time of his healing, praying especially for the intercession of St. John Paul II and St. Luke.

Poignantly, he spoke about healing in his homily; not physical healing, but spiritual healing.  We enjoyed Luke's Gospel account (Lk 17:11-19) about the ten lepers who were healed, but only one of them returned to offer thanks to Jesus for his healing.  Fr. Luke said that we, like the lepers, are all in need of healing, not necessarily from leprosy, but from our sin.  And like the lepers who were afraid to come too close to Jesus, who stood at a distance calling out to Jesus to have pity on them, we are often afraid, too, of coming too close to the Lord.  We're afraid that our sins are too terrible, that Jesus can't really heal us, that we are too enmeshed in the darkness of our sinfulness.

Fr. Luke noted that the lepers weren't healed at the moment when they called out to Christ, but rather, their healing occurred as they journeyed away from Jesus to show themselves to the priests.  The journey is what seems to be the key.  Regardless of where we are in our walk of faith at the present moment, despite our sinfulness and infirmities, we need to continue the journey, to carry on without stopping, for it's only in the journey that our healing will occur.

The leper who returned to offer thanks to Jesus, wasn't necessarily healed for all-time, according to Fr. Luke.  His illness may have returned at a later time, and he might have had to return to the Lord to seek healing again.  And, once again, he may have been afraid to come too close to the Lord.  We, too, once healed from our sinfulness, might find ourselves falling back into sin again and again, and will need to go back to the Lord to seek spiritual healing many times over the course of our life's journey.  But journey on in faithfulness we must go, trusting that the Lord will always be waiting to lovingly heal us if we but turn to him in humility and trust.

Dear Lord,

We ask that you allow your faithful servant, Fr. Luke, to continue his journey of faith.   As he turns away from Your service to show himself to the doctors for medical care, heal him from his cancer.  Keep him from fear and allow him to enjoy many return visits to You, unabashedly coming close to Your Heart, to ask for whatever healing he may need.  Assist him in carrying his cross and allow him to use this time of suffering to enhance his already holy service to those who are burdened with crosses and leprosy of their own.

Thank you for blessing our Church with this holy, wise and faithful priest.  In deep trust, we pray.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Proverb for a Husband

"Dad, I just want to say thank you for always being there for me and being on my side even when I am wrong.  Thank you for disciplining me when I do something wrong.  It's always nice to have someone like you to help put me on the right track.  I love you, Dad.  You are my champion."  ~Mary's written message in Paul's 49th birthday card

Mary's expression upon seeing Paul get choked up while reading her message in his birthday card

There's a scripture passage in Proverbs (12:4) about a worthy wife being a crown for her husband.  I love that passage and hope that I am proving to be a worthy wife and mother.  But, there really should be a passage about worthy husbands being a crown for their wives and children, for if there was such a thing, I would proudly proclaim it in gratitude for my husband, Paul.

It isn't easy being a dad these days, but Paul has proven to be exemplary at his calling.  No matter the difficulties he faces in raising five children, now all well into their teens and young adult years, no matter how tired he may be working two jobs and volunteering at our parish food pantry, giving cooking demonstrations to those in need, he continues to stand firm in offering loving discipline to our children and loving assistance to me in all situations.

And I turn to God in absolute amazed wonderment at the beautiful gift He has bestowed upon me in the form of my cherished husband.  I've done nothing to deserve such a joyful life, and in fact, have sinfully grumbled and complained more than necessary despite the fact that I have suffered nothing more than ordinary sorrows in the now and then.  I look around and see tragedies and hardships befalling many in all walks of life. Like the rain falling on the good and the bad alike, so do heartbreaks afflict all, both holy and wayward.  But me?  God chooses to place a strong and holy man beside me, one who never backs down from his responsibilities, who lifts me up when I stumble and points me ever so gently toward the good God from whom all of life's blessings are bestowed.  And I fail more often than not to be truly grateful.  It is, perhaps, my greatest sin.

So in this month when my husband of twenty-three years has entered his final year of his forties, and in this month when giving thanks is the custom, I offer long-overdue thanks to God for my husband, Paul, along with heartfelt contrition for all of the ways in which I've failed to be gracious and thankful for him in the past.  If I were a writer of scripture, this would be my proverb, and it would perfectly describe Paul:  

"A good husband is a valiant guard.  He protects his wife and children from sin and calamity, and when even his best efforts to keep them on the straight and narrow appear to be in vain, he never gives up or backs down.  He is constantly looking to the future and trusting that God will prevail beyond our sinfulness.  He is the tower rising above the rubble of dismay and regret.  He lovingly cares for his family, providing for all of their needs and leading them in the ways of God, and doing so with joy in his heart and laughter in his throat.  He stands firm in all circumstances.  Let him be praised here on earth and into eternity where he will meet his divine reward and proudly wear his crown of blessing."

Friday, October 31, 2014

The True Tree of Life

"Happy the soul in which Mary, the Tree of Life, is planted; happier the soul in which she has acquired growth and bloom; still happier the soul in which she yields her fruit; but most happy of all: the soul which relishes and preserves Mary's fruit until death, and for ever and ever. Amen." ~St. Louis de Montfort

I've been working full-time these days, which leaves little time for blogging, and little from which to draw writing inspiration, it seems.  But today, since I was too wimpy to take a walk outside in the first really cold day of the season (I mean, we did have snow flurries earlier in the day), I spent my lunch time walking the stairwells and sky-walks at  the hospital where I work while praying my rosary.  I've walked these paths many times and have always admired the lovely stained glass window display in the middle of my walk.  But today, for the first time, a particular window caught my eye. It was the Tree of Life!  Considering all of the time that Christi Jentz and I have spent working on our sea glass version of the Tree of Life, I don't know how I missed this one before!  

Although we have been focusing on the passage from the Book of Revelation (22:2) in regard to the Tree of Life, I'm fascinated by St. Louis de Montfort's description of Mary as the True Tree of Life.  In The Secret of Mary, he tells us how to cultivate the true Tree of Life within our souls:  


[A. The holy slavery of love. The Tree of life.]

70. Have you understood with the help of the Holy Spirit what I have tried to explain in the preceding pages? If so, be thankful to God. It is a secret of which very few people are aware. If you have discovered this treasure in the field of Mary, this pearl of great price, you should sell all you have to purchase it. You must offer yourself to Mary, happily lose yourself in her, only to find God in her. If the Holy Spirit has planted in your soul the true Tree of Life, which is the devotion that I have just explained, you should see carefully to its cultivation, so that it will yield its fruit in due season. This devotion is like the mustard seed of the Gospel, which is indeed the smallest of all seeds, but nevertheless it grows into a big plant, shooting up so high that the birds of the air, that is, the elect, come and make their nest in its branches. They repose there, shaded from the heat of the sun, and safely hidden from beasts of prey.

[B. How to cultivate it]

Here is the best way, chosen soul, to cultivate it:

71. (1) This tree, once planted in a docile heart, requires fresh air and no human support. Being of heavenly origin, it must be uninfluenced by any creature, since a creature might hinder it from rising up towards God who created it. Hence you must not rely on your own endeavours or your natural talents or your personal standing or the guidance of men. You must resort to Mary, relying solely on her help.

72. (2) The person in whose soul this tree has taken root must, like a good gardener, watch over it and protect it. For this tree, having life and capable of producing the fruit of life, should be raised and tended with enduring care and attention of soul. A soul that desires to be holy will make this its chief aim and occupation.

73. Whatever is likely to choke the tree or in the course of time prevent its yielding fruit, such as thorns and thistles, must be cut away and rooted out. This means that by self-denial and self- discipline you must sedulously cut short and even give up all empty pleasures and useless dealings with other creatures. In other words, you must crucify the flesh, keep a guard over the tongue, and mortify the bodily senses.

74. (3) You must guard against grubs doing harm to the tree. These parasites are love of self and love of comfort, and they eat away the green foliage of the Tree and frustrate the fair hope it offered of yielding good fruit; for love of self is incompatible with love of Mary.

75. (4) You must not allow this tree to be damaged by destructive animals, that is, by sins, for they may cause its death simply by their contact. They must not be allowed even to breathe upon the Tree, because their mere breath, that is, venial sins, which are most dangerous when we do not trouble ourselves about them.

76. (5) It is also necessary to water this Tree regularly with your Communions, Masses and other public and private prayers. Otherwise it will not continue bearing fruit.

77. (6) Yet you need not be alarmed when the winds blow and shake this tree, for it must happen that the storm-winds of temptation will threaten to bring it down, and snow and frost tend to smother it. By this we mean that this devotion to our Blessed Lady will surely be called into question and attacked. But as long as we continue steadfastly in tending it, we have nothing to fear.

[C. Its lasting fruit: Jesus Christ]

78. Chosen soul, provided you thus carefully cultivate the Tree of Life, which has been freshly planted in your soul by the Holy Spirit, I can assure you that in a short time it will grow so tall that the birds of the air will make their home in it. It will become such a good tree that it will yield in due season the sweet and adorable Fruit of honour and grace, which is Jesus, who has always been and will always be the only fruit of Mary. Happy is that soul in which Mary, the Tree of Life, is planted. Happier still is the soul in which she has been able to grow and blossom. Happier again is the soul in which she brings forth her fruit. But happiest of all is the soul which savours the sweetness of Mary's fruit and preserves it up till death and then beyond to all eternity. Amen. "Let him who possesses it, hold fast to it."

Here are the some images I captured of the stained glass windows at my downtown hospital-isn't it wonderful that they have been preserved?

I was hungry and you fed me
I was a stranger and you invited me

I needed clothing and you clothed me

I was in prison and you visited me

I could not get a picture of this beauty without a reflection from the window interfering

Monday, September 22, 2014

Retreat to Durward's Glen

Durward's Glen, a charming retreat center and natural haven in Baraboo, Wisconsin, has been one of my favorite family hiking spots to visit whenever we take our annual weekend camping trip to Devil's Lake, one of Wisconsin's finest State Parks.  I'm not so big on camping these days like I had been when the kids were small.  Too often we find our camping weekends to be freezing cold, or we get rained out like we did on our most recent trip, finding our tents and sleeping bags to be no defense against the thunderous downpours that bear down while we sleep causing us to awaken to a wet and muddy mess-inside our tents!  But I do enjoy hiking, and for the opportunity to make a mini-family hiking retreat to Durward's Glen each year, I will gladly put up with rain and cold and any other weather related mishap that comes with abandoning ourselves to God's great outdoors.

Someday I will go on an actual retreat at this lovely, hidden piece of heaven in the middle of Wisconsin, but until then, I'm so glad that I took lots of pictures on our recent visit so that I can reflect upon them, pray with them and forever remember the grace of quiet time with God and my family at Durward's Glen.  Although I didn't take pictures of the Stations of the Cross, it is noteworthy to mention that each station is built in ground that has been brought from the Holy Land and Medjugorje. For more information about Durward's Glen including its fascinating history and information on the retreats offered there, visit the website here.  For more of my pictures of Durward's Glen, visit my facebook page, and for my 2011 post about Durward's Glen and my family camping adventure from that year, visit this link.

the artist's cottage

Mary's Shrine

Cornerstone Hermitage

the spring
a close-up of the spring

a stairway to heaven?...

...well, practically, because it leads to the Holy Family!

the cemetery where many priests and religious are buried

St. Mary's Chapel of the Pines

some of my companions and I reflected in the window as if we were inside

an adorable statue of St. Francis of Assisi guards the door

"Jesus replied, "Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." ~Matthew 8:20 

I pressed my phone up against that glass window to take this interior photo

These folded pieces of fabric tied with string to the boughs of a pine tree fascinated me!
Could they represent answered prayers?

an adorable planting

This oak tree is over 400 years old.

Don't you just want to wander down this path and lose yourself in prayer?

I love Durward's Glen!