Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Ex Votos

Ex votos at the Basilica of San Domenico in Sienna.
When Paul and I went to Italy last summer I was so impressed by the silver Sacred Hearts that I saw displayed in so many of the churches that we visited.  I had never seen displays like this in the United States and wondered what they were and wanted to know the meaning behind them.  Our guide in Sienna told me that they were votives, offerings of thanksgiving to God.  I was immediately fascinated and wanted to learn yet more about these offerings.  

Ex votos found at the Cathedrale de Santa Maria, also known as the Duomo or Divine Beauty in Siena

Ex Votos at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Sassia,
also known as the Church of the Divine Mercy, in Rome

While in Rome we found ex votos at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Sassia,
also known as the Church of the Divine Mercy, which were
just dripping with colorful rosaries.

So many rosaries!

Arriving back home, I researched these votives a bit more and found that they are actually called ex votos.  Ex votos are common in Europe and in South America.  In Europe a framed silver heart is often left behind in a church in thanksgiving for a favor received or an answered prayer. Perhaps a loved one has been healed of an illness.  Maybe the longed for beau finally appeared and marriage plans were on the way or a child was accepted to seminary to begin a life of service to God. Sometimes the ex voto is a silver body part such as a leg or a hand to signify the part of the body that was healed.

In South America the ex votos take on a different form.  Rather than using a silver Sacred Heart in thanksgiving, a picture is painted of the actual incident which required prayer and then, in a corner of the painting, the saint to whom the thanksgiving was offered was portrayed.

The only example of ex votos that I have ever seen at home were a display of crutches at Holy Hill Basilica of Mary, Help of Christians in Hubertus, Wisconsin, which, although miraculously dramatic, aren't as beautiful as the hearts.   I've been told that Americans are more practical and we usually give monetary offerings in thanksgiving for answered prayers.

I had become so enamored (obsessed, really) by the ex votos that I wanted to find some of my own.  I searched everywhere on the internet and only found some antique ex votos for sale but the price was in the hundreds of dollars which was beyond my reach.  I did find some reproductions of vintage ex votos on Etsy and purchased two that I found to be particularly charming, but none of those ex votos came with the oval frame that encased so many of the ex votos that I saw in Italy.  I still have not been able to find the simple oval frames anywhere that I have looked.

The beginnings of my ex voto collection.  The two largest hearts were purchased on Etsy.  The heart on the right was made with an embossed stamp.  The ex votos in the middle are antique religious medals.
This display includes two ex votos that I printed from images online and the
ex voto in the middle was made from a heart that I purchased in the gift shop where I work.
The little jar of sea glass and piece of pottery were found at the Adriatic Sea in Italy during a short stop there.

Here's a bulletin board covered in velvet displaying a few more ex voto pictures, some wooden scrolled hearts, and a few framed holy cards.  The Virgin with Child card was purchased in the Holy Land and given to Paul by a co-worker.
 Not Italian, but beautiful nonetheless.

Paul suggested that I find an image of an ex voto and print it and frame it.  I thought that was excellent advice so I did print a few pictures of some beautiful, antique ex votos.  And then I thought, why not make my own?  So I played around with stamps, holy cards and religious medals and found that they stood in quite well for authentic ex votos.  And then, after much searching, I found a roll of heavy-duty craft aluminum and used it to make my own silver hearts which I glued onto red cardstock and this project has kept me busy for quite some time.

Then I came upon a silver, oval embroidery hoop at a thrift store that was run by the School Sisters of St. Francis.  Sister Geraldine told me that I could have the hoop free of charge.  It was such a simple thing but I was thrilled by it!  I framed a piece of red velvet in the hoop and then searched through a jar of my mother's antique buttons looking for every silver button available.  I used those buttons to sew an ex voto heart onto the velvet and am so delighted by my unique ex voto that reminds me of my beloved mother.  Each pull of the needle and thread was a prayer for her soul and a sweet reminder of her love.

Now that three of our sons are out of the house we have a little more space so Paul and I have decided to decorate our spare room with mementoes from our pilgrimage.  We're calling the room our Italy Room.  My ex votos have filled the walls and shelves quite nicely and serve as a wonderful offering of thanksgiving for the miracle of being able to take that fantastic, life-changing trip.

A homemade ex voto using heavy-duty foil and cardstock.  The "GR" stands for "Grace Received."

The "M" stands for our Mother Mary, of course!

 A mini ex voto tree to complement a sea glass tree.

The button ex voto underneath framed photos of the ex votos I found in Italy.
I just had to add a few clusters of rosaries!

One-of-a-kind antique button ex voto.

Friday, December 16, 2016

A Year of Daily Offerings by Fr. James Kubicki, SJ

A Year of Daily Offerings 

Would you like to grow in your faith but feel that you can't make time for one more activity in your busy day?  Do you want to gain a greater understanding of the church but feel that most of what's available to read is too hard to understand?  Do you want to deepen your prayer life but don't know where to begin?  Well here's the answer to all of those questions!

Fr. James Kubicki, SJ, National Director of the Apostleship of Prayer and author of the bestseller A Heart on Fire, has compiled his daily Relevant Radio Prayer Reflection recordings into a book format called A Year of Daily Offerings. Now those who aren't able to tune in to the radio to hear Fr. Jim share a few words for the day may read them over and pray with them at their leisure.  What a great way to start the New Year and each day!

My preordered copy arrived last month and I have now been praying with and enjoying Fr. Jim's reflections every day.  Fr. Jim's easy-to-understand explanations about the saint or feast of the day bring a deeper understanding of the Catholic faith to my often frazzled mind.  Fr. Jim follows the explanation with a prayer for the day, just a few words to draw me closer to God. The prayer is followed by a "Word for the Day", a thought that I keep in the back of my mind throughout my busy day to help me stay connected to the offering of the day.  He closes the reflection with an "Evening Review", a question to ponder in my daily examen.  A Year of Daily Offerings has been a delight to begin my mornings with before rushing off to work.  I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to grow in my faith with Fr. Jim's words of wisdom and prayer to start each day!  I'm sure that this book will soon be well-worn as it will be  faithfully used each day for many years to come!

From Ave Maria Press: "A Year of Daily Offerings is a prayerful 366-day experience immersed in the lives of the saints, the rhythm of the Church calendar, and the stories of ordinary people who lived the Eucharist in their daily lives. It will help you reorder not just your devotional life, but the entire way of looking at your day.

This thoughtful, yearlong book of morning meditations from Rev. James Kubicki, S.J.—national director of the Apostleship of Prayer and bestselling author of A Heart on Fire—provides a rich array of reflections based on Ignatian spirituality that invite you to begin each day with a sincere offering of your life to God.

Combining a contemporary tone with a strong Biblical understanding, Fr. Kubicki shows you how to live your Eucharistic offering each day. He provides a fresh perspective on the promise of connecting with God through the practice of morning prayer by using prayers of the saints, a word to carry throughout the day, and an evening reflection to reflect on the day you offered to God."

You can order A Year of Daily Offerings, as well as A Heart on Fire, from Ave Maria Press.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Beguine Spirituality

"Anyone who has waded through Love's turbulent waters, now feeling hunger and now satiety is untouched by the seasons of withering or blooming.  For in the deepest and most dangerous waters, on the highest peaks, Love is always the same."  ~Hadewijch of Brabant

"I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax."~ Psalm 22:14

A drawing of a Beguine from Des dodes dantz, printed in Lübeck in 1489. (source)
At the most recent meeting of the de Chantal Society at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee we were treated to a topic on which I had never had any previous knowledge but found fascinating, Beguine Spirituality.  The speaker was Fr. Dennis Saran from Christ King Parish in Wauwatosa. After a period of silent adoration Fr. Dennis began by telling the women gathered that we are very much like an ancient community of women called The Beguines.  He told us that we occupy our time with caring for our families and friends, with serving the sick and the poor and we live very ordinary lives devoted to God.  The Beguines, he said, were ordinary lay women, as well.  They lived very normal lives and occupied their time with caring for the sick and the poor and yet they were deeply connected to God despite not being part of a religious community.

"The Beguine movement was a lay woman's movement that arose in the early 13th century.  The Beguines did not follow any established rule, but lived lives of apostolic poverty and chastity, doing works of charity among the poor and sick.

This style of life led to a spirituality that was both in and out of this world, using rich and captivating imagery.  They tried to capture the longing and love for the Other through their use of everyday experiences."

In the history of the Church there have been three types of spirituality.  The first is Monastic, the kind that Church fathers said could only exist in the desert with proper time for prayer and contemplation. You could only get to God if your prayer was constant.  The requirements promised union with God but only after years of constant devotion.  The common person couldn't approach this difficult lifelong commitment.

The second type of spirituality is Scholastic Theology.  This is the use of reason and philosophy to find your way to God.  St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica is an example of this.  We use reasons and proofs to experience God.  Until the 1950's this was the primary theological source for anyone who wasn't monastic.  The Baltimore Catechism was a product of this, as well as the theology of Fulton Sheen.  Scholastic Theology was popular in a masculine dominated Church as it was a problem-solving approach.  A personal relationship with God was not considered.

Vernacular or Common Spirituality is the third type of spirituality which accents personal relationship with God through our daily lives and sees nature as a sign of God's love for us.  The fact that we can learn compassion and good acts is feminine in its foundation and is championed by most female mystics.  It flourished in homes among spouses and in churches.  Here we seek union with God through private piety.

Vernacular Spirituality offered the possibility of achieving spiritual union with God to anyone in any walk of life.  This spirituality was supported by local clergy who saw a need for spirituality for the common people.  This male-dominated society where women were to be obedient was now Christ dominated.  A popular example of this was championed by St. Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century who added another dimension to our view and image of God.  Here God was seen not as a King or a Judge but now a Lover and a Bridegroom.  Sin was felt to be a betrayal.  We are the Lover and Jesus is the Bride.  You prepare yourself for the kiss of Christ.  This nuptial mysticism was foreign to the clergy of that time.

At the same time this idea of God as a Lover and a Bridegroom was expressed in the Beguine Movement.  Some people have thought of the Beguines as heretical.  It was the first European women's lay religious movement incorporating a life of prayer to draw closer to Christ.  Women could be married, widowed or single.  No vows were taken with the exception of an informal vow to remain celibate but this had no obligation attached to it.

The Beguines originated in Germany and France.  The women lived lives of charity and poverty and included both private prayer and corporate worship.  Several women had a personal, mystical union with Christ.  They did not write about God in an abstract sense; it was personal and much of the writing was romantic.  Many of these mystics are totally unknown to us.

"God leads his chosen people along strange paths." 
~Mechtild of Magdeburg

File:Mechthild von Magdeburg.jpg
Mechtild of Magdeburg

One of these mystics whose words have been passed down through the centuries was Mechtild of Magdeburg who wrote the book "The Flowing Light of the Godhead" on courtly love with common sense.  Her book identifies daily tasks that can be used to serve God.  She talks about God walking with us in our daily lives.  It is often through suffering that love is defined and deepened.  Our greatest joy in heaven will be the love of God's will.  Here we will be one with God and will delight in his will.  Everything you do can be transferred into joy.  Suffering elevates you to God. We wear everyday work clothes when we're well but wear brides clothes when we are ill because our illness unites us to God.

Our longing for God is a hunger, thirst, ache, excitement.  We are all made for union with God.  Our nature is to be one with God.  Suffering and love are intimately tied together as seen in childbirth and parenting.    We are ever-longing in soul and ever-suffering in body.  Small sins harm perfection. What often impedes our spiritual life is that we pay no attention to our small sins.  But little daily efforts reveal the joys and love of God.  We aren't asked to become cloistered but to do small things with joy as echoed by St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Teresa of Calcutta.  Even small acts of compassion cleanse our souls.

Each day we should say, "Jesus, my love, what do you want of me today?" and then say it the next day and the day after that.

For more details about Mechtild of Magdeburg with links to some of her beautiful poetry visit this website.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Fr. Cliff Ermatinger's Homilies on Purgatory


It's been a great blessing to have Fr. Cliff Ermatinger presiding at some of the early morning Masses at Old St. Mary.  He is a powerful homilist and so very reverent.  Attending Mass when he is presiding keeps me from distraction and I'm always inspired.  My pen flies when he begins his homily because I don't want to miss a thing he has to share!  He recently gave two very engaging homilies on purgatory.  During this month of prayer for Holy Souls,  Fr. Cliff's words are encouraging for all of us who are striving to be saints and to spend as little time as possible in purgatory.  Here you will find the Gospel reading and my notes on Fr. Cliff's homily.


Jesus said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west you say immediately that it is going to rain-and so it does; and when you notice that the wind is blowing from the south you say that it is going to be hot-and so it is.  You hypocrites!  You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?  If you are to go with your opponent before a magistrate, make an effort to settle the matter on the way; otherwise your opponent will turn you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the constable, and the constable throw you into prison.  I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”  ~ Luke 12:54-59

This is the foundational text for belief in purgatory.  If we have the smallest speck of disordered attachment in our heart we need purgatory.  Purgatory is God’s mercy so we can see God’s face without shame.  Purgatory is painful in its shame, yet souls are happy there because they know they are going to heaven. 

Our venial sins and attachments keep us from union with God.  We have a choice.  We can have purgatory in this life or in the next.  The trials that come our way are God’s mercy.  It’s our chance to offer it up without complaining and in doing so our hearts are re-ordered to see the face of Christ.

The Lord gives us opportunities to configure ourselves with him; to suffer in a meritorious way.  In purgatory suffering is passive.  There is no possibility of any more merit.  The purpose of our trials in life is for our own configuration with Christ.


Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem.  Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” 

He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.  After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’  Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.  Depart from me, all you evildoers!’ And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out.

And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the Kingdom of God.  For behold, some are last who will be first,
and some are first who will be last.” ~Luke 13:22-30

Pope Benedict looks at key scriptural words and their use in other parts of scripture.  The mustard seed becoming a large bush is compared to the Kingdom of God, but elsewhere he says if your faith is the size of a mustard seed you can tell the mountains to move and they will.  Then “faith” and “kingdom” become interchangeable terms.

Making an act of faith is the work of grace.  It’s not from ourselves.  It’s our will in cooperation with grace.

Knowing that new life comes when the seed dies we see the truth of the ancient Christian saying that the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christianity.  We see martyrs today in the Middle East and in France and their deaths strengthen the Kingdom and our faith.  They prove to us that there are things worth dying for.  The martyrs don’t pass through purgatory.  Their martyrdom is their sacrifice.

Our sacrifices are powerful. When our faith is tried and encroached upon as is occurring right now in this country, then our faith is strengthened.  In our trials and crosses we’re given a chance to grow, to bear fruit and to be configured to Christ.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Italian Pilgrimage: Rome and Home

Waiting for the Pope
So here we are, we've come to the last day of this amazing pilgrimage.  We had to be ready to go extra early for our big audience with Pope Francis.  Once again Patrizia warned us about the crowds.  She told us that we'd be surprised to see Catholics behaving so aggressively with pushing and shoving as people jostled for the best seats and she advised us to hold our ground, to stay close together and not to let anyone cut into our places.  Let me tell you, following Patrizia's advice was challenging!

As we queued up to move through security the crowd was tight.  I was pretty nervous about losing our group or losing Paul and getting lost in the shuffle so I asked my fellow pilgrim, Brandon, if I might hold onto the back of his shirt as we moved along and with my other hand I was firmly gripping the corner of Paul's jacket.  I'm so glad that I was connected to both Brandon and Paul!  As soon as we started moving forward a woman started pushing on Paul and I trying to separate us. She had an angry look on her face and although I'm certain she didn't speak English I kept telling her, "That's my husband!  That's my husband!" hoping that she'd stop pushing and allow us to stay together. Thankfully she finally let us pass and stay together.

Once we got past security and were inside of the gate we quickly moved to our seats.  We each had a ticket but I believe that was just to get in the gate, not necessarily for an assigned seat.  But our Patrizia! She was amazing!  She walked us to several rows of seats that were all right next to the fence where Pope Francis would pass in his popemobile!  Before she left us she cautioned us once again not to let anyone come and try to take our seats away.  Well, sure enough, several women did come and try to move to the fence in front of us but we were determined to hold our ground and several pilgrims in our group firmly told them to find another place to go, that we weren't going to let them get in front of us.

And then it happened!  Pope Francis began his circuit around St. Peter's Square in the popemobile.  He stopped right in front of us to kiss a baby and we were so close, right in the front row!!!!  I was intent on capturing this momentous event on video and had my camera raised high moving along with the pope calling out "Papa, Papa!" along with everyone else around me.  Tears of joy and amazement were welling up in my eyes.  After he had passed I turned off my video and wanted to immediately watch what I had just filmed.  But guess what?  I actually had not turned the video on in the first place!  I was just moving a turned-off camera along with Pope Francis.  When I thought I had turned it off I had actually just turned it on and all that I captured were my fellowthe nearby pilgrims saying "Wow!  That was amazing!  I can't believe it!"  Thankfully, my fellow pilgrim Rita, who was standing right next to me, shared her pictures of Pope Francis with me.

Swiss Guard-this is how close I was to the pope!

Swiss Guard

Our Papa!

Viva Papa Francis!

He's so close!

We love you Pope Francis!

While giving his address-now we're so far away!
Bishop Hying is somewhere in the group of bishops on the right.
When Pope Francis had completed the rounds in his popemobile he climbed the steps of St. Peter's and took his seat in his chair. Now we sat in St. Peter's Square for at least an hour while an announcer shared the Pope's messages in multiple languages and called out the different groups that were at that day's audience.  Finally he said "The Diocese of Gary, Indiana."  Yay!  That was us!  

He said, "I greet all of those pilgrims from English speaking nations.  In this Year of Mercy I invoke upon all of you joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.  The Holy Father bestows his blessing upon you and upon your whole family.  He especially blesses your children and those who are sick.  He also intends to bless any religious articles you have brought with you."

When it was all over, feeling satisfactorily blessed and jubilant, our group scattered for some free time once again.  Paul and I headed in a different direction than we had walked the day before and we came across a magnificent church that we had heard our fellow pilgrims, Steve and Marcia, talking about the previous day with much enthusiasm.  I was ecstatic to be at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Sassia:  The Shrine of the Divine Mercy!  

Church of the Holy Spirit in Sassia:  Shrine of the Divine Mercy

This church was magnificent!  I think I might even say that it was my favorite church in all of Rome!  Not only was it beautiful but within it we found a shrine of Saint Pope John Paul II with his relic and a shrine of St. Faustina with her relic.  Hanging along nearly every wall we found ex votos of all sizes and multiple colorful rosaries just dangling in bunches.  I'd never seen anything like it.  It was so beautiful!  

The church was filling up quickly and Mass was about to begin but I just couldn't leave without praying a Divine Mercy Chaplet here.  So I knelt in a back pew and quickly and silently prayed the Chaplet for all of my family and friends and for all priests.  I couldn't let an opportunity to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet during the Year of Mercy inside the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Rome pass me by.  This was too marvelous to be true!

Church of the Holy Spirit in Sassia:  Shrine of the Divine Mercy

Church of the Holy Spirit in Sassia:  Shrine of the Divine Mercy

St. Pope John Paul II Shrine-the altarpiece was donated by Stanislaw Dziwisz

St. Pope John Paul II relic

Jesus, I trust in thee!

St. Faustina Shrine

St. Faustina relic (see the Divine Mercy image on top?)
ex votos- aren't these scrumptious?
ex votos

and more ex votos

Love these rosaries!
As we headed back to meet our group for the visit to the Catacombs we passed an imposter Scala Sancta.  I was excited for a minute and then scoffed and kept walking realizing that it wasn't the real deal that we had seen two days ago.
An imposter Scala Sancta outside St. Peter's Basilica

We saw many newly married couples dressed in their wedding garments walking all around St. Peter's Square.  The newlyweds receive a special blessing from Pope Francis if they attend the audience in their wedding clothes.
Newly married couple
We met up with our group once again and walked underground to the bus station.  It was dark and a bit scary down here so I was glad to be with such a large group.  We saw many homeless people sleeping on the ground and a young gypsy boy, maybe ten years old, playing When the Saints Go Marching In on an accordion.  I thought the song rather appropriate for our group of (hopefully) saints-in-the-making.  Our next stop was to visit the Catacombs.

Catacomb Gardens

Catacomb Chapel-photo courtesy of Ria Fink
The thing that most impressed me about the Catacombs was learning that there are eleven miles of tunnels beneath Rome where early Romans had been buried.  Eleven miles!  And they run in a twisting labyrinth so it's very easy to get lost and to never be found again.  Scary!  So this is why we were told that we couldn't take pictures in the Catacombs, because if we fell behind we might not find our group again.  Contrary to what many people believe, the Catacombs were not used as a hiding place for Christians but have simply always been a burial place.  Many of the tombs had been pillaged by barbarians looking for jewels during the eighth and ninth centuries.  Since most of the people buried here were poor Christians, very few jewels were found and the barbarians gave up, so there still are some tombs that have been left untouched after all these centuries.  Our guide was wonderful, but truthfully, I felt a bit of pity for her.  I think it would be very depressing to give tours at an underground cemetery all day long and rarely get to see the sunshine!

St. Paul Outside the Walls
Our last stop on our last day was to St. Paul Outside the Walls, so named because the church is in Italian territory but not within the Vatican City State.  This is the church where Milwaukee's own Cardinal James Harvey lives along with Milwaukee priest Fr. Jacob Strand, both of whom we had a chance to meet.  I had only met Cardinal Harvey once before and that was several years ago following a Cor Jesu Holy Hour and Mass so I was amazed when he told me that he remembered me. I'm sure I'm not that memorable, but Cardinal Harvey must have an amazing gift for recalling names and faces!

St. Paul Outside the Walls was amazingly large and beautiful!  I was most impressed by the alabaster windows and the mosaics of all of the popes that are embedded along the entire ceiling of the church.  Pope Francis is already up with his smiling face.  Patrizia told us that there is room for six more popes so the world can't end just yet!

Paul and I felt very blessed to be at this church, to pray before the sarcophagus of St. Paul, his namesake.  We held hands and prayed very intently for Paul trusting that St. Paul would be an inspiration for holiness in our lives.
St. Paul Outside the Walls

St. Paul Outside the Walls

St. Paul Outside the Walls-I love the cross on the door!

St. Paul Outside the Walls

St. Paul Outside the Walls-The windows are alabaster!

And an even closer look at the alabaster window

Mosaics of all of the popes surround the church ceiling.

A close up of the Pope Francis and Pope Benedict mosaics.

St. Paul Outside the Walls

St. Paul Outside the Walls

I don't know the significance of this but isn't it interesting?

The foot of the pillar above.  Fascinating!

The sarcophagus of St. Paul (it's hard to see, I  know, but it's there)

The chain that held St. Paul in prison

A closer look at the chain.

Mass in the side chapel at St. Paul Outside the Walls -photo courtesy of Michael Wick

The stalls inside the side chapel.

We were blessed to have our last Mass in a side chapel of this magnificent church.

From Bishop Hying's homily at St. Paul Outside the Walls:

"St. Paul is a living example of what happens when someone moves from living the law to living the heart of Christ.  Jesus says to Paul, why are you persecuting me?  He doesn't ask why are you persecuting my Church, but why are you persecuting me?  Jesus identifies himself with the Church, with us.  Once you taste Jesus Christ and experience his infinite love for you, the law doesn't mean enough.  Once you give your life to Christ he dares you to go farther than you thought possible, to fall so much in love with Christ that you become a new creation.

It's a blessing to do a pilgrimage in the Year of Mercy and to go through so many Holy Doors and taste the mercy of Christ.  When the soldier pierced the side of Christ what came out was the blood and water of mercy.  What didn't come out was vengeance, hatred, or wrath.  What comes out is a torrent of mercy.

I know you are all feeling tired on this last day of pilgrimage.  Your tiredness means that you've had a great pilgrimage, you've given of yourself.  The challenge will come now when you go back to your regular life, when life takes on its normal hum and rhythm, when we don't see extraordinary churches or come downstairs to find breakfast already prepared.  But we will still find grace and mercy hidden in what is ordinary."

All in all we walked through seven Holy Doors in this Year of Mercy.  It's impossible to express how incredibly blessed I feel to be Catholic and to have had such an amazing opportunity to visit Italy with such a lovely group of pilgrims from Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and California during this special holy year.  This pilgrimage was made extra special because of the lovely people we traveled with who befriended and inspired us so easily. Thanks be to God for His amazing goodness and mercy!

When we returned to the hotel it was quite late and we had very little time to grab some dinner before packing and preparing to leave the hotel at three am to catch our plane so Paul and I made a quick run to, yes, I'm cringing as I write this, the McDonalds that was three blocks away from our hotel.  The Italian Big Macs and fries taste just like at home.

When we finally arrived in Chicago the following day dripping with graces and with souls soaring, we were greeted by my beautiful sister-in-law Laura and her boyfriend Paul "T".  When we had first told Laura and T that we were going to Italy and leaving from Chicago they told us that we couldn't leave O'Hare without having someone to see us off so they generously took vacation days from work to take us there (along with my sweet mother-in-law) and to meet us when we came home.  What a gift that was!  Laura sure knew how to make us feel loved with signs and all!  It's so good to be home!  
Welcome home sign from Paul's sister Laura!

I couldn't wait to get busy making my own ex votos once we got re-settled.  Along with some framed pictures of Italian windows and doors and my Italian sea glass these will all be displayed in our new Italian Room, the room that Paul and I are remodeling now that three of our sons have moved away from home.  The nest is getting emptier of people but fuller of wonderful memories!
my homemade ex votos in thanksgiving for an amazing pilgrimage
Thank you for virtually traveling with me!  It was a joy to relive this amazing experience through writing these posts and sharing these pictures! Ciao!


A final thought about Italy:  It was just about a month before we left for our pilgrimage when an earthquake struck the country causing the loss of about 300 lives.  One of the cities that was affected was Norcia, the birthplace of St. Benedict.  Norcia had been on our itinerary but because of the earthquake we didn't visit there.  After we returned home, Norcia was the site of two more earthquakes which, thankfully, didn't bring about the loss of life but did cause thousands of people to lose their homes and the complete devastation of every church in that city including the Basilica of St. Benedict which was built over his birthplace.  Also affected was St. Paul Outside the Walls which suffered a large crack to the outer wall.  The Benedictine Monks of Norcia will rebuild and a wonderful film has been made to highlight their order, their church and their need for financial assistance.  You can read more here and view their magnificent film here.   Please keep the beautiful people of Italy in your hearts and in your prayers as they work to rebuild and restore.

The crack in St. Paul Outside the Wall (source)