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."