Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Oblates of the Precious Blood Pay a Visit to the Handmaids and St. Maximilian Kolbe's Shrine

A little community of Oblates of the Precious Blood has been springing up in Milwaukee-we now number five!  So a visit to the Handmaids of the Precious Blood was certainly in order!  Plans were made and a date set and off we went!  My husband, Paul, had lovingly taken our car in for a tune-up, gave it a good cleaning and sweetly placed flowers in the pocket of the door for me as his way of wishing me love and safety on our drive to the Lake Villa, Illinois Priory.  A loving husband is a blessing from God! Although the sprig of Bridal Wreath carries no fragrance, a scent of love and goodness was definitely in the air!

When we arrived at the priory we were warmly welcomed by Sister Maristella and all of the Handmaids of the Precious Blood.  The first thing that Fr. Paul Schneider, one of our traveling companions, did upon our arrival, was to say Mass for all of us.  During his homily he spoke about Martha and Mary and Mary's better choice to sit at the feet of Christ .  He told us, "When we have a little bit of Jesus, we want more.  We want more.  We want more."  And he reminded us to "always hold close to the Mother of Christ, to put our hands in hers, and she will never fail to lead us to Jesus."

A Handmaid of the Precious Blood at prayer
Fr. Paul Schneider, OFM Conv. with the Handmaids of the Precious Blood

It was clear that the Handmaids were thrilled to see their dear friend Fr. Paul who is one of the original Oblates of the Precious Blood, having made his Solemn Resolution of Love nearly 30 years ago.  The Handmaids are cloistered nuns and yet we were able to visit with them without having to stay behind an enclosed grille, and, although they are committed to perpetual Eucharistic Adoration, a friend from the local community who comes to adore Christ each day at noon while the sisters take lunch, watched over Jesus in the chapel so that we could have a few precious minutes to visit with all of the small community of Handmaids in Lake Villa.  Each time I visit the Handmaids I marvel at the sweet joy that emanates from their souls.  They are, without a doubt, the warmest and most welcoming women, truly touched by the Heart of Christ and spreading that warm welcome to others so easily.

The conversation freely flowed with talk of the Handmaid's daily schedule, their garden, the upcoming Corpus Christi Procession that they will be hosting, their favorite recreational activities and games, as well as talk about the move coming up for the Handmaids at the Motherhouse in Tennessee.  The life of a Handmaid of the Precious Blood is busy and full, that's certain!  The moments of the day that surround the hours of prayer are never wasted!

The Handmaids had the honor of hosting an exhibit on the Shroud of Turin in one of their buildings and we were fortunate to be visiting them while the display was still on hand.  One of the most moving parts of the display was a crucifix that was created based upon the image on the Shroud.  Because it was so large, it didn't fit in the building with the rest of the Shroud exhibit and was displayed in the Handmaid's chapel.  It was impossible not to be moved by the depth of Our Lord's suffering while gazing upon the crucifix.

Crucifix based upon the image on the Shroud of Turin.

What love He has for us!
To learn more about the Handmaids and Oblates of the Precious Blood, visit this link.  And please remember the Handmaids of the Precious Blood in your prayers, and pray for an increase in vocations to their order, especially this June as prayer for vocations is Pope Francis' evangelization intention for the month.

Following our visit to the Handmaids, we traveled to Marytown, The National Shrine of St. Maximilian Kolbe where Fr. Paul gave us a beautiful history lesson on St. Maximilian, who was martyred in Auschwitz during World War II, offering to take the place of a prisoner who was spared for his family.    Fr. Paul explained that St. Maximilian was the last of ten prisoners in his starvation cell who was still living, and his joyful, hope-filled attitude despite his starvation made the Nazis furious, so they hastened his death with an injection of carbolic acid.  Because of that injection with a deadly drug, St. Maximilian is known as the patron saint of those who are chemically addicted.

A replica of the cell that St. Maximilian Kolbe and nine other prisoners were held in while being starved to death.

Following the fatal injection, St. Maximilian was cremated so there were no bones available from which to create relics.  So how is it that Marytown has a relic of St. Maximilian?  Fr. Paul shared a fascinating story about a barber, a fellow Conventual Franciscan, who was certain that the holy Fr. Maximilian was destined for sainthood, and so, when he finished cutting Fr. Maximilian's hair following his time as a missionary in Japan, he swept it into a bag to save it.  When Fr. Maximilian learned that the barber was saving his hair, he told him to throw it out, but the barber disobeyed, and because of his disobedience, we have relics of St. Maximilian Kolbe's hair.

St. Maximilian Kolbe relic and barbed wire from Auschwitz

Strands of St. Maximilian Kolbe's hair.

To learn more about St. Maximilian Kolbe, visit the Marytown link here.  Hover over the name "Kolbe" to find additional links.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

St. John the Evangelist Parish and the Shrine of the Passion of Christ in St. John, Indiana

Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane-Shrine of Christ's Passion

On the Eve of Pentecost, my family and I were blessed to go on a pilgrimage to  the Shrine of Christ's Passion in St. John, Indiana led by Bishop Donald Hying of Gary, Indiana and Fr. Anthony Jelinek of Marytown in Libertyville, Illinois.  The pilgrimage was sponsored by Michael Wick of The Institute on Religious Life.  We were all deeply moved by the experience, so much so that I thought about just titling this blog post "Wow!"

Although a trip out of town is always a fun occasion, a pilgrimage is not just any ordinary trip, but rather, it is meant to be difficult and to change us in some way, helping us to draw closer to the Lord, and so we were well-prepared to deal with any challenges that we might encounter, although, admittedly, we encountered very few.

Our first stop was at St. John the Evangelist Church in St. John, Indiana.  The presider at Mass was our dear friend, Bishop Hying.  It was so good to pray with him, and in his moving homily about the power of Pentecost he shared one of my favorite quotes of his: "One thing is certain. When we give our lives over to the Holy Spirit, nothing will ever be safe or dull again. We will find ourselves blown out to the deep water and then Christ will bid us to get out of the boat." 

Following Mass, one of the parishioners gave us a tour of the church and shared the history of the parish with us.

St. John the Evangelist Parish Church in the diocese of Gary was originally built in 1837.  The original church, the first church in Northern Indiana, was made of logs and is still standing and is used today at a perpetual Eucharistic Adoration Chapel.  The chapel was only a few minutes away from the newer church so we took a few minutes on our way home at the end of the day to stop and pray in that beautiful chapel and were deeply moved to be with the Lord in such an historical treasure.

When the parish outgrew the log cabin, they had built a larger church, and then years later an even larger church right next door.  Now they have once again outgrown that third church but continue to use it for the daily and school Masses.  In 2008, they built this newest church which seats 10,000 people, the number of people who attended this past year's Good Friday service.  Our tour guide boasted that although the original debt for the cost of the building was well into the millions, most of the debt is already paid off.  The architect who designed the church is a parishioner of St. John the Evangelist Parish.  How special it must feel to worship in the building that you designed!

St. John the Evangelist Church as seen from the grounds of the Shrine of Christ's Passion.

A large statue of Our Lady, properly crowned for May.
The grounds of the Shrine of the Passion of Christ can be seen in the background.

A window in the front of the church displays scenes from the book of Revelation.

photo credit:  John Paul Bender

The two-sided tabernacle which opens from the back  is flanked by two angels on loan from a private collection in Rome.  The hand-carved gold leaf angels are over 300 years old.

The angels that surround the tabernacle on both sides represent the Liturgy of the Hours.
They were designed by the same architect that designed the church.
Photo Credit:  John Paul Bender

The Stations of the Cross are made of ceramic by Suzanne Young from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

She captured the expression on Our Lady's face so perfectly here...

...and here, as well.  You can feel her love and her sorrow.

The stained-glass Holy Spirit window mimics the one found at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

Although she's not yet been declared a saint, the church has a
stained glass window of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

St. Pope John Paul has a window, as well.

The Blessed Mother with the infant Jesus were carved by the same artist who made the
statue of the Blessed Mother for St. John the Evangelist Cathedral in downtown Milwaukee.

Upon arriving at the Shrine of Christ's Passion, which is literally in the backyard of St. John the Evangelist Church, we were greeted by a giant, metallic statue of Our Lady of the Millenium, and, just before leaving, our pilgrimage group gathered around the statue to pray the rosary.

Our Lady of the New Millennium
The volunteers at the Shrine who guided us on our prayerful tour of the life-sized Stations of the Cross, were informative, friendly and helpful.  They also are already very fond of their new bishop which made all of us who were visiting from Milwaukee very proud.

As we walked the path from station to station, the path that was measured out to be the exact same distance that Christ had walked on his Way to Calvary, they spoke about nuances of the artwork and shared stories of how past pilgrims have been touched by the Stations of the Cross at the Shrine. Then they played an audio-recorded prayer for each station while hauntingly beautiful music played in the background.

Touch me not!  Our Resurrected Lord meets St. Mary Magdalene.

Fr. Jelinek lies prostrate at the crucifix and leads us in prayer.
The highlight of the Shrine visit were the reflections offered at each station by Fr. Jelinek.  In his rich Hungarian voice, he added relevance to each station regarding how we live our lives today.  He cautioned us against gossip, spoke about the importance of turning to the Blessed Mother whenever we are in need, reminded us of the importance of a good and frequent confession, mentioned that if we don't forgive ourselves it will be impossible for us to forgive others, at the eighth station pointed out that only women were present and mentioned that even today most church-goers are women, and then spoke about how important it is for men to have a deep and personal relationship with the Lord.  At each and every stop, Father stressed the need for prayer.  Fr. Jelinec spoke with conviction in a "fire and brimstone" manner, warning us to be on our guard at all times so that when our personal judgment arrives, we won't be one of the many who hear "I never knew you."

Fr. Jelinek shares the story of how Our Lady was a help to him while he was persecuted in Communist Hungary.

I'm planning a return pilgrimage to the Shrine of Christ's Passion with my sisters and nieces in late June.  I can hardly wait!  For another perspective on our pilgrimage, visit my son, John's blog here.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Language of Love with Fr. Tim Kitzke

Fr. Tim Kitzke at Roses for Our Lady's May Crowning
On May 20th, his 26th anniversary to the priesthood, Fr. Tim Kitzke, the pastor of four parishes (including 7 churches), spiritual advisor for many groups within the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and newly appointed Vicar General of the City of Milwaukee, a role in which he hopes to bring peace and hope to the city which has been beleaguered by violence, came to speak to the de Chantal Society at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary.   The de Chantal Society is led by Susan McNeil of the Nazareth Project and Lisa Brielmaier of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, and their mission is to "spiritually form and inspire Catholic women who, like St. Jane de Chantal, are integral to families, vocations and the Catholic Church."  Following thirty minutes of silent Eucharistic adoration, Fr. Tim's talk was lively and inspiring and within it he gave us three challenges for the spiritual life.

The Language of Love by Fr. Tim Kitzke

Fr. Tim said that whenever he's preparing a homily or a talk, the Lord gives him little signs to help him in his preparation, and recently these signs came through a little girl, Magdalena, or Lena, for short, who accompanies her mother  when she meets Fr. Tim for spiritual direction.  


Fr. Tim said that his office is not child-friendly, and in it he has a large portrait of Our Mother of Perpetual Help that is on the floor leaning against the wall.  When Madgalena was a toddler and was learning how to crawl she used that picture of Our Mother of Perpetual Help to hold onto as she was learning to stand.  Fr. Tim, feeling nervous about the picture, told himself, "Tim, it's just a thing, let it go."  And the next thing he saw was little Lena looking at the image on the painting, and then she took her pacifier out of her mouth and tried to put it into baby Jesus' mouth!  He said this was a great symbol!  We're supposed to be pacifiers if we're living the language of love.

When Jesus ascends to heaven it's not to leave us as orphans, but so that we can take our proper role.   If Jesus were still here living in the world and walking among us, we wouldn't want to be listening to Fr. Tim, he wouldn't have a job. We'd be sitting at the feet of Christ, hanging on to His every word. But because Jesus ascended, we have to become peacemakers.  It's our first challenge. 

If you say that you love Jesus Christ, then you have to find peace in your heart before that peace can go out to others.  We have so much to worry about-the world, the Church, our children-but Jesus wants us to pray first of all for real peace to begin in our own hearts.  We have to find peace so that we can be peace and then we can find ways to pacify the world.

Open Doors

After Lena tired of sharing her pacifier with Jesus, she went to every door and tried to push it open.  That's our second challenge.  We're to open doors for others, and whatever door you open, open it wide.  We have a tendency, like the disciples, to stay behind locked and closed doors for fear.  But we need to engage, to open up our hearts to possibility.  Fear is paralyzing.  It closes our heart off.  There's an old Portuguese Proverb that says:  "A life lived in fear is a life half-lived."

Our demons come and they wake us up in the middle of the night causing us to lose sleep.  You have to cast out fear and get rid of whatever is demonic in your life.   Name your demons.  Give them a name  For example, there's the demon of self-loathing. Ask him to please leave.  And then pray to St. Michael the Archangel for his help.  Think about our baptismal promises.  Do you reject Satan?  The demonic powers have personal power.  They know the chinks in our armor and they know what will set us off into tailspins of fear.  We have to open the doors of our house to grace and peace.

Think of Jesus facing the demon in the desert, and in death, and when he descended into hell.  Why did Jesus have to go to hell?  One thought is that he had to face the devil in his own territory as an example to the disciples.  Another thought is that he went to hell because he was looking for Adam and Eve.  He had to go to the lowest part of hell to find them because they started this mess.  And there he found Adam with apple juice caked on his chin and Eve with tears crusted over her bereft eyes.  He tells them, "You weren't created for this.  Come with Me now."

When you wake up in the middle of the night tormented by demons, go to the medicine cabinet, and after you get over the shock of seeing yourself in the mirror, tell yourself, "You weren't created for this."

Use the Keys

After Lena found that pushing on the doors wasn't going to open them, she dumped out her mother's purse, found the keys and took them to the doors and tried to use them to unlock the doors.  Like Lena, we have the keys, it's the Church.  The Lord said to Peter, you are the rock and upon you I will build my Church.  We are challenged to use the keys of the Church to open and release fear, doubt, and anxiety.

Read holy scripture, pray the rosary or other devotions, spend quiet time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, go to Mass twenty minutes early or stay twenty minutes after Mass to pray.  Spiritual reading and coming to the de Chantal Society are also keys that will help us to live a spiritual life.  These are the keys that will help us to face the devil in battle.

Facing Failure

When Lena found that the doors were still locked and that her mother's keys didn't open them, she threw them down and jumped into her mother's lap.  Like Lena, we're going to face failure in the spiritual life.  We're going to obsess and face difficulties.  But the spiritual life is not a matter of success.  It's a matter of fidelity.  Half of life is just showing up!  So sometimes we just have to jump into our Mother's lap-into the arms of the Church and our Mother Mary's arms.  Yes, sometimes you will fail, but learn the language of "I kept trying." Sometimes you have to just let go and trust.  Faith is often a walk in the dark.

Fr. Tim said that after 26 years of the priesthood he's discovered that the more you let go, the better it is.  Somehow God works things out.  That's why we call it the mystery of grace. God will write straight with the crooked lines of our lives.

Realize that there have been people who have gone before you that know the way.  The saints give us an example and encouragement.  Aren't we lucky as Roman Catholics to have the saints?  We have a body of witnesses to walk with us.  They have a ladder of love that will take us to heaven.  

What the World Needs Now

Fr. Tim shared a story about his mother and how, in her last years on earth, he and his three siblings would all go to take care of her in her home.  They would clean her house, do the laundry and cook for her.  Fr. Tim went every Monday but one week his sister filled in for him.  The next week he asked his mom who cleaned better and his mom told him that he did.  So he called his sister to brag and she said, "That's odd because mom told me that I clean better!"  So Fr. Tim went back to his mom and asked her why she told both of them that they clean the best and she replied, "Oh Timmy, I only tell you what you need to hear!"

We all need to hear that we are loved unconditionally and irreplaceably.  As  St. Augustine says, God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us and He wants to help you.  Bask in the love of God.

If we take this seriously we can learn a new language, the language of love.  Or, as Fr. Tim has been frequently saying in his homilies and talks, what this world needs now is love, sweet love.

The next de Chantal Society meets on November 18th and 19th, 2015 at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, 3257 S. Lake Drive in Milwaukee, with Bishop Richard Sklba.  The hour of adoration, benediction and spiritual formation is always followed by a wine and cheese or coffee and cake social.  It's a wonderful time for women to be uplifted and to visit with old friends, as well as to make new friends.  Visit their website here for more information.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Good Samaritan Dad

"How do we change the world?  One single Act of Random Kindness at a time." 
~From the movie Evan Almighty

“On the parable of the Good Samaritan: "I imagine that the first question the priest and Levite asked was: 'If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?' But by the very nature of his concern, the good Samaritan reversed the question: 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”  ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

"And he said to them, 'Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him,' and he says in reply from within, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed.  I cannot get up to give you anything.'  I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence."   ~Luke 11:5-8

Paul and Mary
It was 9:45 on a Saturday night and  the whole family had all gone to bed when someone started ringing the doorbell and banging on the door. I was afraid to answer it. We sure weren't expecting anyone at 9:45 at night!  In the twenty-three years that we have lived in our home we've witnessed lots of questionable and illegal activity right outside our windows like drunk drivers crashing through the fence at the dead-end, tumbling down onto the railroad tracks, SWAT teams entering the candy store across the street for a drug search, graffiti sprayed in the alley and on our garage, bikes stolen from our back yard, our car tires slashed, and teenagers smoking pot in their cars right in front of our house.  And just last week the kids and I witnessed a robbery at a neighborhood dog grooming store resulting in a violent display right on the sidewalk as we were driving to the grocery store.  So I felt justified in my fear thinking that anyone who's ringing doorbells late at night can't be up to any good.

But Paul, who is always much braver and kinder than I am, went to the door and found these two young, teenage boys who asked to use our phone.  They said that they had been playing basketball all day at the nearby playground and their ride didn't come to pick them up and they didn't know how to get home. They said that they came to our house because they knew that Mary lived here. 

Paul realized that one of the boys was Mary's friend from school.  When Mary first transferred from our Catholic parish school to the neighborhood public school, she used to complain about this boy frequently because he  bullied her so much.  It was such a problem, in fact, that I had involved the principal for help in addressing how he treated my daughter.  But over time, Mary and this boy came to be good friends.  In fact, Mary shares so many stories of him during family dinner each night, that the older brothers have all taken to teasing her about him.  

One of the things that Mary has shared with us about her friend is that his family had been evicted from their home and have recently moved to the inner city and he has to take a city bus all the way across town to school each day.  As Mary often says, there are a lot of poor kids at her school.

So Paul told the boys that he'd get dressed and take them home.  We woke Mary up and asked her if she'd like to ride along and she quickly got up and, although bleary-eyed from sleep, joyfully accompanied her father and her friend on the ride across town.  

 I feel so grateful for all of the blessings that God has showered upon my family, and my  heart aches for that young boy and his family who endure so many hardships the likes of which I have never known.  I pray that this one small act of kindness that Paul showed to these boys will long inspire them to show kindness to others; that this will be a pay-it-forward experience that brings goodness to this small part of our world in many small but loving ways.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

St. Lucy

St. Lucy relic, photo courtesy Kurt Keidl, OFS

St. Lucy relic, photo courtesy of Kurt Keidl, OFS
I work with a beautiful young woman who is always energetic and enthusiastic.  In the past year since she began working in my office I have only ever known her to be upbeat and positive, forever smiling and laughing, even about her mistakes...even about my mistakes.  She is a joy!

Late last fall she was suffering from a lot of headaches, and, thinking it was from her contact lenses, went to the eye doctor and was told that she had a detached retina and needed immediate surgery.  She was out of work for six weeks during which time she had to lay down face down in a special chair the entire time.  Can you imagine laying face down, unable to move, for six weeks?

When she came back to work she was right back to her cheerful self without a single complaint about what she had been through.  She still had many follow-up doctor appointments to attend and last month at one of her appointments she was told that she might need a surgery on the other eye and that it was likely that she could never have children because the strain of pushing a baby during childbirth could permanently damage her vision.  She's newly married and she and her husband have just purchased their first house so the hope of starting a family is something that she has been looking forward to.

When she shared this news with us at work it was the first time that I saw her visibly upset about all that she was going through and she asked me to pray for her.  I told her that I would pray to St. Lucy, the patron saint of eye troubles, and I shared the story of St. Lucy and a novena prayer with her and another co-worker, and we all agreed to pray it together even though neither of my co-workers are Catholic.  We began the prayer immediately.

The next morning she was to have a follow-up doctor appointment where she would learn more about the next eye surgery.  While she was at the appointment, I decided to share the novena with the rest of my co-workers (there are only 12 of us.)  I wasn't sure how it would go since only a few of my co-workers are Catholics and I don't really know how everyone else feels about prayer and God.  But I did know that most of them are devout Christians and also that everyone is very fond of our friend with the eye ailment and would like to see her suffering end.  So I took a big breath, whispered a silent prayer to St. Lucy, and shared copies of the novena prayer with everyone in my office, asking them to pray with me.  I was met with great interest in St. Lucy and  overwhelming support for the prayer.

I had just finished sharing the St. Lucy novena with everyone when our friend came in from her doctor appointment and announced that she was perfectly fine, that the only surgery she might need in the future would be for possible cataracts.  And, she further shared with us the great news that her doctor told her that she could go ahead and have children and resume all of her old activities.

It was a miracle, I'm sure!  Our girl St. Lucy is one powerful saint!  Thanks be to God!

St. Lucy's incorruptible body, photo courtesy of Kurt Keidl, OFS

St. Lucy's incorruptible body, photo courtesy of Kurt Keidl, OFS

Prayer to Saint Lucy

Saint Lucy,
Whose beautiful name signifies 'LIGHT'
by the light of faith which God bestowed upon you
increase and preserve His light in my soul
so that I may avoid evil,
Be zealous in the performance of good works
and abhor nothing so much as the blindness and
the darkness of evil and sin.
Obtain for me, by your intercession with God
Perfect vision for my bodily eyes
and the grace to use them for God’s greater honour and glory
and the salvation of souls.
St. Lucy, virgin and martyr
hear my prayers and obtain my petitions.

Visit this link for the story of St. Lucy's life.