Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Give Me a Word: Wisdom from Desert Monks

The de Chantal Society, "a group of women passionate about praying for vocations and for families in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, gathers three times per year at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary for eucharistic adoration and spiritual formation." Last spring, during Lent, Fr. Tom DeVries addressed the de Chantal Society with an inspiring talk on humility, sin and hope based upon wisdom learned from the desert monks.  Fr. Tom is a great speaker,  and at first I was so focused on listening to him that I didn't think to take notes on what he was saying, so the first section on humility is a little scant as I didn't completely catch all of what he said. Most interesting to me is the Mystery of Sin.  As one who usually beats herself up over sins and mistakes, I had never before considered the fact that our sins could be the beginning of our salvation.  Although these notes are from a Lenten talk and are not complete, the knowledge they contain can be useful to us at any time of year.

Give Me a Word:  Wisdom from Desert Monks
A Talk by Fr. Tom DeVries

The Necessity of Humility

Without God I am nothing, can do nothing.  Humility is being plunged into God.  Without temptations no person can be saved.  With temptations we realize how weak we are and we know without grace we cannot be saved.  We must lose at something, be brought to the edge of all of our resources and realize we can’t control, fix, explain or even understand some of the things that happen to us.  Do not be afraid of failure.  It’s required for us if God will exalt us.  We don’t exalt ourselves; God does.

Realize we are not self-sufficient.  Only God’s grace gets us through.  Then we come to the important place where we say “God, I surrender to your grace.”  I can agree in my head, but it’s hard in my life to get to those places.  God will keep drawing me to the end of my resources.

The Mystery of Sin

The Ambrosian Rite of the Church which was begun by St. Ambrose and is still celebrated today around Milan, Italy, has a prayer for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time that helps us to understand the mystery of sin:  “Lord, you bent down over our wounds and healed us giving us a medicine.  In this way, even sin, by virtue of Your invincible love, served to elevate us to divine life.”  This is echoed in Romans-Paul says where sin increases grace abounds all the more.  There is a mystery to sin, a paradox.   It separates us from God but it’s precisely the route He uses to have us come back to Him.  If we’re honest it’s really our sin that keeps us coming back to God.  We may think we have failed or we are so wounded but it doesn’t stop God’s mercy.  God will use everything to bring us back to Him.

Everything I had deplored about my life was precisely how God kept pulling me back.  I realized what a grace it was that I even became grateful for my sin. 

It sounds heretical but we sing about it at Easter when we call the sin of Adam a Happy Fault.  Even when I was turning away from You, You were more powerful and were drawing me back to You.
We base salvation upon woundedness to level the playing field where everyone has access to God.
Julian of Norwich said:  “Our wounds are our very trophies.  They are the holes in the soul where light breaks through.”  Leonard Cohen, in the song Anthem says, “Forget your perfect offering.  There is a crack in everything.  That is how the light gets in.”

The Mystery of Sin follows on the heels of our understanding of humility but it takes it one more step.  God uses sin to draw close to us.  Julian of Norwich tells us that both the first fall and the recovery from the fall are the mercy of God.  In falling down we learn almost everything that matters spiritually.  All of the things that are achievements feed our ego too much.  There are things we keep so secret because they are just horrible, but if we own that one day we will even see our sin as our trophy.  It is falling upwards.

We often have a hate relationship with the faults, wounds and failures of our lives but take heart; God will use it and we’ll be able to thank God for the circuitous route and for all of our sins because God never left you and He used your failure as the route to Him.  People who don’t get close to God never admit their sin and their failure.

Make a chart of your own life-the ups, downs, failures, wounds, great times and bad times.  Realize in the woundedness and failure that you learn most about your spiritual life.  Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more.

The Challenge of Hope

Julian of Norwich says “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” St. Paul tells us that “Hope does not disappoint because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.”  St. Matthew says, “Behold!  I am with you always even until the end of the age.”

Christian hope is ultimate hope when we know what our destiny is meant to be and that’s why we can go through humility and sin because God is using it all to lead us beyond this world.
Transitory vanities won’t furnish us with our deepest longings.  We are eternal and hope is ultimate and it’s God.  St. Benedict tells us that the present, even if it’s arduous, can be accepted if it leads the way to a goal and the goal is God himself.

There is a difference between wishes and hope.  Wishes are temporal and hope is eternal.  Optimism is the expectation that things will get better but hope is a trust that will lead us to true freedom.  Hope is based upon God’s promise.

We shouldn’t lose the virtue of hope in our world today.  We look at the near future and we can get pretty depressed, but we should not ever, ever, ever be people who have a message of despair.

Hope is for the long road and we need to believe in God’s promise.  Presumption and despair are sins against hope.  We don’t want to wait; we don’t want to live through difficult times.  But as Julian of Norwich reminds us “The Lord did not say you shall not be tempest tossed but he did say you shall not be overcome.”

Friday, May 27, 2016

How to Live Our Faith

Last fall I had the pleasure of attending a morning breakfast and talk hosted by Cardinal Stritch College with Bishop Donald Hying, the bishop of Gary, Indiana, as the speaker.  I took notes on his excellent talk and only now re-discovered them. What follows are the main points of his talk.

How to Live Our Faith a talk by Bishop Donald Hying

What does it mean to really live the Gospel and Catholic faith with authenticity?  The ideal seems so high.  How do I put that practice into my life?

The mission of the Church is found at the end of the Gospel when the disciples are told to make disciples of all nations.  There is no detailed plan, just a general instruction that we are called and sent.  In the words of Cardinal Dolan, Jesus says, "Come here" and then says "Go forth."  Jesus is calling us to him and then sending us out.  The Church is always on the move.  The Catechism tells us that the laity are called to sanctify the world, to make the world holy and to remind it of its fundamental purpose.

What does it mean for us to make the world holy?  This begs the question, what does holiness mean? The original Hebrew word for holy is "different'.  When we say "holy, holy, holy" at Mass we're really saying "different, different, different."  We are called to make and be that difference in the world.

Our whole identity is summed up in the great commandment, "Hear O Israel, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself."  We exist to fall head over heels in love with God because He is head over heels in love with us.

When two people are in love with each other it completely changes how they spend their time.  Think about the anointing at Bethany.  Mary spends three-hundred days wages to buy aromatic nard and she wastes it, breaks it open.  That's the extravagance of a soul that is head over heels in love with God.  Contrast that with Judas who was asking why that money was wasted.  Mary is a maximalist.  When we're in love we don't count the cost.  Judas is a minimalist.   If we practice of our faith as a romance between God and us then we are well on the way to living our faith in the world.

When I was first ordained a bishop I went to Rome for Baby Bishop School where the basic message was that as a bishop you're responsible for everything.  I met a new bishop from Europe who described a bleak situation in his country with a steep decline in Catholics, very few priests and no seminarians.  When I asked him what he was going to do about it he said that he was going to go back to Pentecost and drink deeply of the Holy Spirit and introduce people to Jesus as if they never met Him before.

I'm obsessed with Pentecost, the birth of the Church.  I'd love to be a fly on the wall in the upper room when the Holy Spirit descended.  What happened?  Did the apostles hair catch on fire?  Did they get thrown against the wall?  All we know is that the experience completely changed them.  Before they were frightened and now they are courageous.  Three-thousand people
 were baptized in a day!  When I think of that moment and compare it to this moment I know that we are called to reclaim the Church.

During the Protestant Reformation the Church built walls, retreated from the world, entrenched itself. In doing so we lost some of the urgency of the mission.  The Church is not a gas station where we service the people who show up.  There are one hundred people in Gary who are convinced that I'm going to be murdered at the Cathedral because it's in such a rough neighborhood.  But where else should I be?  Where else should the Church be?

We're all baptized into the priesthood of Jesus Christ.  How many realize that you are priests?  The ordained priesthood only exists to serve the laity who at baptism entered into the priesthood.  The ordained priest connects us to God and leads us to the love of the Lord.  The laity may be the only Christ that someone ever meets.

The spirituality of St. Francis de Sales tells us that by the virtue of our baptism every single person is called to holiness. It's absurd to think that the mother of five living in the world will practice the same spirituality as a cloistered nun.  There are unique distinctions between vocations.  Because we are who we are we will have a unique experience of God.  Our obligation is to share that unique facet, to add our piece of the mosaic to the picture of life.

There's nothing wrong with teaching people a method of prayer.  Prayer should be consistent and daily.  If we begin the day in silence with prayer and meditate deeply into the heart of the Lord, the rest of the day will unfold perfectly.  When we pray every day in silence we are so connected to the Lord that nothing can shake us.  Yet there are still days that I don't pray as I should.  We all struggle with prayer.  The point is to never give up, to ask ourselves how can I improve?

We're called to a radical generosity.  Everything we've been given is a gift from God.  During my time in the Dominican Republic I befriended a very poor family.  They had a small house with one chair and one chicken.  One night after visiting with them and watching the stars together they gave me their only chicken to take home with me.  I tried to refuse several times but then realized that if I didn't accept their gift of their only chicken I would be insulting them.  So there I was driving down a bumpy road with a chicken bouncing along next to me.  The Sacramental event is Christ giving us the chicken.  He gives Himself away in love, kenosis and self-giving.  God is more humble than we are.

There is an urgency to evangelization for us today.  Every active Catholic should be busy cultivating one or two people.  We can do this by turning ourselves inside out, letting people see our soul, not to say "look at me" but "look at Jesus."  We need disciples who realize that they are called as claiming their vocation in the Church, as being formed, realize that we are being sent.  Translate talk into action.  What we are doing is meaningful!

It all comes down to falling in love with God and to realizing that God is in love with us.  When we make ourselves available, God is going to use us.  Realize the shortness and brevity of our lives. Death becomes a frame around our lives.  Compared to eternity life is a twinkling of the eye.  We're going to be alive forever in eternity with or without God.  The drama of our lives is in the short amount of time that we have to do what we are called to do.  In twelve minutes we will be standing at the judgement seat and God will ask us "What did you do with your life?"

Thursday, May 19, 2016

To Honor Our Mother

The beautiful tradition of honoring the Blessed Mother during the month of May has been carried out with a May Crowning and Eucharistic Rosary Procession by Milwaukee's Roses for Our Lady for the past 36 years.  This year on the day of the May Crowning the group was blessed with beautiful weather and the presence of Archbishop Listecki and four Milwaukee priests, we were treated to beautiful singing by the Andress and Urlakis sisters, we were delighted by many reverent First Communicants and were joined by many religious and laity.  What a beautiful day and wonderful way to spend Mother's Day honoring Our Blessed Mother!

Here are images and video of Roses for Our Lady's 36th Annual May Crowning and Outdoor Eucharistic Rosary Procession held on Mother's Day, May 8th, 2016 at the Archdiocesan Marian Shrine in Milwaukee.  Photo credits to Mary Anne Urlakis, Terry Boldin, Jazmin Trujillo and Mary Bender.  Video credit to Sylvester Markowski.  You may view the videos here and here or at the bottom of this post.

Thursday, May 12, 2016


“Love seems swiftest, but it is the slowest of growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century.”
-Mark Twain

Paul and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary last month.  Just writing that out makes me smile.  We've been married for exactly half of our lives.  It feels so comforting to know someone so well, to have traversed illness and health, joy and sorrow, struggles and ease, side by side with the same person who loves you even when sometimes they might not like you very much.

We spent quite a bit of time discussing how we might celebrate this milestone, and in the end decided that we would take a full week of vacation from work and spend each day doing some small, enjoyable activity together.  It was the first real, week-long vacation that we can remember taking in many, many years.  We rented bikes and went riding downtown, we walked in scenic parks and out on the pier of  Lake Michigan, we visited antique shops and my hometown of Manitowoc, and we loved every minute of it.  But the highlight of our anniversary week was when we traveled to Indiana for a short stay.

The morning of our anniversary I was as nervous as a new bride as we drove to meet our friend Bishop Don who said Mass for us and invited us to renew our vows. I was surprised to find that Paul was just as choked up and emotional as I was. Following a delicious Italian lunch we bid farewell to our friend and traveled to northern Indiana for an overnight stay at Serenity Springs, a resort with private cabins overlooking a small lake.  It was so peaceful and quiet.  The resort was definitely well named!  When we arrived we were taken by horse and carriage to our cabin.  I had to resist recreating a scene from my favorite movie, Barefoot in the Park.  I wanted to stand up and shout "We just got married!" but to Paul's relief, I refrained from embarrassing him.  We completed our vacation with a stop at Michigan City, an artistic little town with a sea glass jewelry store where I had my favorite piece of glass re-wired, and a nice hike in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.  I never wanted the anniversary week to end.

Serenity Springs horse and carriage ride

Serenity Springs

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore-half of the trail had been burned by the DNR

The burned forest-not exactly my kind of paradise; this sign made me laugh.
Now this looks a little more like a paradise valley.

And Lake Michigan must be pretty close to paradise!

A week later, we drove to Lake Villa, Illinois to bid farewell to our friends, The Handmaids of the Precious Blood, at a final Mass as they prepared to move to their motherhouse in Tennessee.  On that sunny afternoon we took the backroads instead of the freeway for the one hour trip and were treated to a delightfully scenic drive that included farms, horses, white fences and fresh spring flowers.  It felt like an anniversary vacation all over again!

That night I dreamed that Paul and I were in heaven, and the heaven of my dreams looked very similar to that drive to Illinois, only we were walking together instead of driving.  I do hope and pray that after at least twenty-five more years of wedded happiness, when the time arrives for Paul and I to leave this earthly life, we will truly be walking hand in hand together through paradise.