Saturday, March 22, 2014

Purgatory: The Forgotten Church and the Purgatory Lady

Recently, Mary at the Beautiful Gate, mentioned that Padre Pio had prayed for his mother to have a happy death after she had already died.  That thought just boggles my mind and I have been frequently pondering it. The thought that, with God, there is no yesterday or tomorrow, but only right now, is hard to fathom, and yet, thinking that He could change the past and the future is even more mind-blowing.  With God there is so much hope for us all, isn't there?

When I consider hope, one of the first thoughts that comes to my mind is purgatory.  Purgatory, which at one time had seemed like such a frightening place to me, is truly a place of hope.  The souls who are not immediately drawn to heaven upon death, continue to have the opportunity to reach heaven and the loving arms of God, through our earthly and prayerful assistance.  Isn't it beautiful that our prayer can reach beyond time and space and bring peace and heavenly bliss to those souls who may be waiting to be cleansed and purified before witnessing the beatific vision?

Friar John Clote, OFM Conv., is the creator of a wonderful documentary, Purgatory:  The Forgotten Church, which features my friend, Fr. Jim Kubicki, SJ, the national director of the Apostleship of Prayer, as well as several other experts on the Church's teaching regarding purgatory, such as Cardinal George from Chicago.  The stories of near-death experiences and of souls who appear to selected people who seem to  have a special calling to pray for those who have died are fascinating!  Author Susan Tassone, who often goes by the nickname, The Purgatory Lady, was one of the experts featured in the film.  I had the opportunity to listen to her speak at the Basilica of St. Josephat in Milwaukee recently, and was fascinated by her insight.

Tassone spent over 20 years researching purgatory through Church history and the lives of the saints.  She explained that there are five truths that illuminate the Church's doctrine and reveal significant details regarding purgatory:

Truth 1:  Purgatory exists.  It's a declared doctrine and part of our tradition.  The apostles prayed for the dead and early Church fathers taught us about it.

Truth 2:  Purgatory exists because of God's love, mercy and holiness.  It is a masterpiece of God's mercy.  It is not a punishment.  It's God's loving and merciful way of preparing us to stand before Him.  It's His love that cleanses us.  God is unspeakable purity and we need purification and healing to stand before Him.  Souls in purgatory know that they belong there and they willingly undergo their time in purgatory so they can prepare to see God.  It's a place of restoration.  In purgatory, the outrage we've committed against God's glory is healed.

Truth 3:  Purgatory is not a punishment.  Yes, it is spiritually and psychologically demanding.  Faith, hope and selfless love are fashioned there.  God will purge the remnants so that they may be purified and mature. It's like losing weight, quitting smoking, working through counseling or preparing for the Olympics.  It requires pain to reach the goal.  Purgatory is the pain required to reach the goal of heaven.  We want to do what needs to be done to get to heaven.  It's a joyful pain.  Why joy?  Because the souls in purgatory can no longer sin.  They know they are going to see God and they are saved.  He's preparing us for the joys of heaven.  God does not regard our failures as final.  Shallowness and selfishness are overcome.  Benedict XVI said that "If there were no purgatory then we'd have to invent it.  For who would dare say of himself that he was ready to stand before God?"  Purgatory is a means of receiving God's love.

Truth 4:  The primary suffering in purgatory is the loss of the sight of God.  Upon death, we see God briefly and then purgatory is the loss of that vision.  Once the soul leaves the body it has one desire-to be united with God.  It's as if it is drawn like a piece of iron to a powerful magnet.  The soul sees the providence of God clearly.

Truth 5:  Purgatory is not a physical fire.  The fire in hell is a consuming fire but the fire in purgatory is a cleansing fire, an inner burning, a spiritual fever.  It is God's longing for souls that causes the soul's longing for God.  It's a heartsickness for God.  The saints had this burning love of God here on earth.  St. Teresa of Avila said, "To see God himself would wrench the heart from my bosom."  When the longing for God is denied, it causes these burning pains that cannot adequately be expressed by the human word for fire.

Here on earth we are given the privilege and the duty to help release the souls in purgatory.  The most effective means to release them is by attending Mass.  Who hurt you?  Who do you miss the most?   Have a Mass said for them.  Pray for the most abandoned souls.  Pray for your priest. It's been said that there are many priests in purgatory and that very few people pray for them because it's assumed that they are already in heaven, and they have very little family to pray for them.   At every Mass you attend, say one Hail Mary for the priest saying the Mass.  It's very powerful!  The next most abandoned souls are those of Protestants because they don't believe in purgatory.

The more you pray for the souls in purgatory, the more powerful their intercession is for you.  Are you having legal problems?  Pray to dead lawyers.  Money problems?  Pray to deceased bankers.  Health problems?  Pray to dead doctors.  Spiritual problems?  Pray to dead priests.  Submit yourself to the influence of these holy souls who will help you to recognize your faults.

Never stop praying for the dead.  Even if they are in heaven, they become closer to God through our prayers and their intercessory power is strengthened.  And if they are in hell?  Well, we don't know that.  We are the Church of the Resurrection-we are always hoping.  There is no list of the communion of the damned, only the communion of the saints.  We cannot ever give up on anybody  Don't stop praying, even when it seems hopeless.

For more from Susan Tassone, visit her website here, where her many books on purgatory are available for purchase.

Visit this link to watch the trailer for Purgatory: The Forgotten Church and to place an order for the DVD.  Be sure to click on the "Enroll Souls" link and list the names of your beloved dead so that they will be remembered in prayer at a Mass celebrated at the Shrine of St. Maximilian Kolbe in Chicago on May 13th, 2014.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


I had volunteered to lector for the Ash Wednesday Mass, and when I arrived in the sacristy before Mass, Dave, the sacristan, asked me if I would help distribute ashes.  With forty-eight years of experience as an ash-receiver to my credit, I had never once distributed ashes before, and I found the experience to be deeply moving.

Dave handed me a small card with the words "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel" written upon it.  I clutched the card tightly during the first half of Mass and glanced at it over and over again, afraid that I would forget the words.

When the time came to distribute the ashes, Fr. Joe invited those who were helping to come to the front of church to receive their ashes first.  When he firmly placed the cross of ashes upon my forehead, Fr. Joe said, "Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return."  Maybe he didn't get the cue card, I thought.  But I decided that it would be easier to remember to speak about dust as I was smearing it upon foreheads and so I followed Fr. Joe's example.  After the helpers received their ashes, Fr. Joe turned to me and asked me to place the ashes upon his forehead.

My hand trembled as I shoved my thumb into the dish of ashes, and faintly drew a cross upon Fr. Joe's forehead,  whispering the reminder to him that he was dust.  Something about this sinful woman reminding a holy priest of his littleness felt extremely humbling.  But maybe it wasn't because he was a priest.  Maybe, I was soon to discover with each forehead that was presented to me, distributing ashes was meant to humble the distributor as much as the receiver.  

The church was standing room only, and soon I was smearing crosses upon the elderly, children and babies.  It wasn't long before it felt like a physically taxing exercise as I bent down for the children and reached up for those who were tall.  When my two youngest children and my husband stood before me, all smiles, I recalled all of the moments when I had traced the cross upon their forehead in a blessing, with a clean and dry thumb, sans the ashes, and the words, "God bless you" instead of "You are dust."  

With each person who stood before me, waiting for the reminder of their sinful humanity as they embarked upon yet another Lenten season,  I thought of Christ, with his face down in the dirt of the Via Dolorosa during his three falls and I wished I were wiping the dirt off of their faces, like Veronica, instead of marking them with it.  And yet, when I washed the ashes off my own forehead before I went to bed that night, I prayed that a faint shadow of the cross would remain, reminding me of my need for Him and my gratitude for all that He suffered for the likes of me.


I receive the ashes that label me as His child, His own.

The dust flakes down into my eyes, flirting with my lashes and
blurring my vision of worldly things, reminding me that the
spiritual realm can often contain that which is dirty, dusty and dark.

The ash that marks me settles deep within my soul,
mingling with the sorrow and joy that God's love
has carefully placed within my life.

I am marked as His own and will carry that mark
from my forehead to my soul
beyond this season of Lent and into forever.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The de Chantal Society/St. Catherine of Siena

The de Chantal Society of St. Francis de Sales Seminary, led by Lydia LoCoco and Bishop Donald Hying, is now into its third year of bringing women in the Archdiocese together for an evening or morning of quiet prayer and reflection followed by socialization, three times each year.  The description found on the seminary website is quite lovely and enticing:

"We invite you to take a short respite that promises, like a breath of fresh air, to offer you silence, prayer, meditation and spiritual formation - time for you.

We are the de Chantal Society. Sponsored by Saint Francis de Sales Seminary and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee's Nazareth Project, our mission is to spiritually form and inspire Catholic women like St. Jane de Chantal, who are integral to our families, vocations and the Catholic Church.
We ask nothing of you (except prayer!). Our mission is to support you.  Please choose the gathering that works best for you."
Attending the de Chantal Society is one of my very favorite things to do.  Not only do I enjoy the quiet of silent prayer before our Eucharistic Lord, and the joy of fellowship with other Catholic women, but Bishop Hying never fails to inspire as he shares stories of the lives of women saints upon whom we can model our lives.  
At the most recent de Chantal Society gathering, Bishop Hying shared the story of St. Catherine of Siena of whom I knew very little, so I took careful notes and am happy to review them and share the gist of his reflection here.

Quotes from St. Catherine of Siena:

"Love transforms one into what one loves."
"You are she who is not. I am He who is."
"If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire."
"I am the fire and you are the sparks."

St. Catherine of Siena (source)

As far as saints are concerned, according to Bishop Hying, St. Catherine of Siena is in the stratosphere.  She was a mystic, which means that she had a direct knowledge of God obtained through subjective experience. She knew God, not just through an intellectual belief, but through a real human experience.  For St. Catherine, God was so real that she could actually reach out and touch Him, and then boldly act upon that vision.

Like many saints, St. Catherine of Siena only lived on this earth for a short time, dying at the age of 33.  It was almost as if a fiery explosion propelled her into the world, and like a meteor she flew through the heavens and then sparked out.  To be holy like St. Catherine and other saints who die young, Bishop Hying says it seems as if we have to "get it right quickly and then check out, because the longer we stay around, the more we mess it up."

She was born during the time of black death, on March 25th, 1347, was one of 22 children, many of whom died during infancy and childhood, and had a very strong will.  She had her first vision of God when she  was only five or six years old.  She saw Christ seated in His glory.  By age seven she vowed to give her whole life to God.  It's as if God reaches down and chooses certain souls to show us who He is, and St. Catherine was one of them.  There are two types of saints-those that are born holy and those who are wild and have a conversion.  St. Catherine was clearly of the first type.

She didn't feel called to marriage or to religious life.  In fact, when her sister died in childbirth, her family expected her to marry.  She performed a massive fast to get her way and avoid marrying her sister's widower. Eventually she became a Dominican Tertiary which was a mendicant order, meaning she didn't live in a convent or monastery, but remained in the world.  Most of the others in her order were older and lived in community, but she chose to live in a little shack in her parent's back yard.  She learned to read and lived in silence and solitude.  She demanded nothing for herself, rarely slept, and performed many long fasts often only eating the Eucharist.

At age 21 she had a mystical and emotional marriage with Jesus.  She wore a ring on her finger that no one else could see.  She took care of the poor in hospitals and homes.  People would often gather around her and she gave communal spiritual direction.  She was called to delve into the world as if God had pushed her to live an extension of His life.  Like St. Catherine, we, too, are called to be in the world but not of the world, by living in deep union with Jesus.

She advocated for reform of the clergy.  During her lifetime there was a schism in the Church with three separate popes. She felt empowered to go to the real pope and convince him to return from France to Rome.  How many people can go to the pope, tell him what to do, receive a personal audience and then watch as he follows their advice? The fact that St. Catherine was able to achieve this shows that true power doesn't come from office, it comes from holiness.

She was taken by the transcendence and immanence of God-He's above us, but also has entered into our experience, close to us and within us.  This is the amazing truth that before the world was created, each one of us was already loved in the mind and heart of God.  We exist and that is the ultimate expression of His love for us.  The trinity dwells in us through sanctifying grace; the astounding conviction that through the sacraments, God comes to live in us.

St. Catherine had a deep love for the Trinity and believed that heaven is standing at the heart of the Trinity. She knew that there is an overwhelming force of God's love for us to the point where we are moved to tears, where our head knowledge of God suddenly explodes in the heart.  St. Catherine's lived experience of God changed everything.  She said, "God pressed Himself into my being and that's who I am."  She had ecstasies that took her out of herself and transported her into the heart of God.  It is only for a few rare souls that this is possible on this side of death.

As a priest, Bishop Hying says that there are times during the elevation when the host is so light and times when it is heavy.  There are moments when he is unmoved and then at other times he is deeply moved by the Real Presence.  There are times when God seems close and other times when He seems far away.  The moments of grace are the times when, in a profound and real way, we feel His overwhelming love for us.  St. Catherine felt His overwhelming love all the time.

What matters for us today is that we take the things she teaches us and live them out.  St. Catherine of Siena shows us that God's love for us is prodigal, infinite, unending, divine fire.  We are to see ourselves as an extension of Jesus in the world.  St. Catherine was so submerged in God that there was a fine line separating the two.  Her divine power came from the Lord using her, but God is the one who is; she is the one who is not.

To read Catherine's works is daunting and overwhelming, but she has something to say to all of us, and that is that throughout her life she took the next step and stayed true to herself because she knew who she was in God's eyes.  Holiness doesn't make us odd.  Like St. Catherine of Siena, holiness makes us beautiful.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Riverwest Food Pantry

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in."  ~Matthew 25:35

"Statistics are human beings with the tears wiped off."  ~Paul Brodeur 

"To ensure that no one lacks bread, water, clothing, housing, work, health we need to recognize each other as children of the heavenly Father and so as brothers to each other, and conduct ourselves accordingly."  ~Pope Francis

Chef Paul, Sous Chef John, First Cook Mary

For the past eight months, my family and I have been spending the first Saturday mornings of the month volunteering at our parish's Riverwest Food Pantry.  It has been a beautiful opportunity for Paul and I to teach our children the importance of giving the gift of our time and love to others, as well as an opportunity to begin to build relationships with the poor in our community and to come to learn that despite any differences we might have, we really have a great deal in common with those who struggle with poverty, as we are all God's beloved children.

The Riverwest Food Pantry, under the direction of Vincent Noth, has been looking to expand its services beyond the simple distribution of food, and has developed a Health and Wellness Committee led by volunteer Jean De Vita.  One of the goals that the Health and Wellness Committee hopes to achieve is to teach the clients who regularly use the food pantry how to prepare healthy, low cost meals at home. Since my husband, Paul, and I, both have backgrounds in the food and nutrition industry, Paul as a chef, and myself as a dietetic technician working as a nutritionist for the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) Program, we were eager to help in this regard.

Last Saturday, the Riverwest Food Pantry held its first-ever food demonstration.  Paul, myself, and most of our five children, prepared a vegetarian chili recipe that was high in protein, yet low in calories, fat and sodium.  Paul offered a quick demonstration on preparing the chili and explained its versatility in regards to adding or eliminating ingredients or using it for other menu items such as a tortilla filling or a stuffed pepper ingredient. We offered chili samples to all of the food pantry clients and Vincent had copies of the recipe prepared for the clients to take home with them.  In addition, many of the recipe ingredients could be found at the food pantry so that the clients could more easily prepare the recipe for themselves in the upcoming week if they so desired.

My family and I had so much fun working together to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ in this very simple and easy endeavor, and we look forward to offering many more nutritious food demonstrations in the future.  I ask you to please support the Riverwest Food Pantry, or your own local food pantry, with your prayers, your gifts of food, time and service, and your financial donations, not only during this upcoming sacrificial season of Lent, but always.

Please visit the Riverwest Food Pantry website here to learn more.

Chef Paul's Vegetarian Chili-12 servings 
(a great meatless entree for Ash Wednesday!)

1 15oz can Kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz can Black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz can Pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz can Garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red or white onion, diced
½ cup diced celery
1 T. minced garlic or ½  tsp. garlic powder
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 12 oz can tomato paste
1 cup water
1 T. chili powder
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
Optional:  ½ cup sliced fresh mushrooms

Combine all ingredients.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until all flavors are blended and vegetables are soft, stirring occasionally.

Yield:  12 servings 1-1/2 cup each

Nutrition Information per serving:  200 calories, 2 g fat, 95 mg sodium, 20 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, 6 g protein

Note:  1 pkg. chili seasoning can replace the chili powder and cayenne but keep in mind that the sodium content will increase. And all beans can be substituted-for example-use four cans kidney beans or 2 cans black beans and 2 cans garbanzo beans, etc.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Look For the Helpers

source:  Razoo Blog

On Wednesday,  January 22nd this world lost a good and wonderful man, Edward Slattery, to head and neck cancer, after a hard-fought battle lasting about three years.  I had written about Ed last year when there was a fund-raiser held at St. Florian Parish in West Milwaukee to help raise money to pay for the medical bills from his long-lasting cancer treatment.  Ed's story was also featured in the Milwaukee Catholic Herald, and this year, just a short time before he died, the Milwaukee Catholic Herald included Ed's story in their list of the most inspiring stories of the year.

Over the course of the last year, from the time we first learned about Ed's cancer, our family held him deep in our daily prayers. My daughter, Mary, prayed especially intensely for a miraculous healing, and she believed that God would surely help Ed to become a cancer survivor.  We had gone to visit Ed several times, and for my 12-year-old daughter, it was extremely difficult for her to see how rapidly the cancer spread and deeply he suffered.

After we received the unbelievably tragic news that Ed had died, I found my daughter hugging the family cat and overheard her talking to him, saying, "Roo, do you get God?  I think He's mean."  For Mary, the thought that God would not will for Ed's complete healing was unfathomable. I struggled to find the right way to help her to accept that God does not always answer our prayers in the way we would want or expect Him to.  I wanted her to understand that even though sad and tragic things happen in life, God is only good and only Love, and He suffers right along with us when we weep and mourn.

I thought of Mr. Rogers and his kind and gentle way of explaining everything in life.  I remembered his often quoted statement about "looking for helpers" during tragedies and I was able to comfort Mary with the fact that in the suffering that Ed endured, she was a helper. Her prayers, her visits, and her loving concern, all helped Ed to cope with his cancer, to know that he was loved, and to move toward his inevitable death with peace. God used Mary to help Ed, and Mary willingly complied with God's use of her in giving her compassion and love so generously.

It was easy to see that Ed had many such helpers along his journey with cancer.  In his life filled with selfless giving, so many others came to know and love Ed, and wanted to give back to him. He never seemed to have a shortage of helpers, most notably in his beautiful wife, Lisa.  If I were to choose an example of a perfect marriage, I would look to Lisa and Ed.  Lisa never left Ed's side for one minute during his illness. She loved him and cared for him and believed in him.  She did everything she possibly could to give him comfort and support and to promote his healing.  She relied heavily upon prayer, and despite the fact that physical healing didn't come, the prayer that she and Ed shared surely fostered a spiritual healing that carried Ed into the arms of God upon his departure from this earthly home.

When we attended Ed's funeral, we found a packed funeral home for the wake, and an even more packed church for the Mass.  There was not a dry eye to be found as Ed had touched so many lives in this corner of the world.  Some of his siblings, and all four of his young sons, all spoke about what a wonderful man Ed was, and, before the Mass ended, over 100 young men that Ed had coached in basketball, including two of my sons, stood at the foot of the altar in tribute to the man who had taught them not just how to play a game, but also how to make their way through life with perseverance, passion and hard work.

In his life, Ed had been a helper to many, and in his sickness, so many people were able to return that help to him.  Now, in his death, those helpers continue to pray for his soul and for his surviving family.

My daughter and I are learning to look for the helpers in every situation and to be willing to be a helper to all. And in our helping, we are bringing the love of God to the world around us. What an honor it is to help God, to bring his healing to those who suffer through our words and actions, to pray for those we care about and even for those we don't know so well.

Look for the helpers.  They are each of us and they are everywhere.

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

The Slattery Family