Monday, December 28, 2009

phase book

“Hi, I’m booklady and I have an addictive personality,” she drawls, standing up, addressing the circular group.

“Hi booklady,” the group choruses back at her.

Okay. It could be a joke. We certainly use it as a joke around our house whenever we want to laugh at one of our weaknesses.

Or it could be for real.

For many throughout the world, addictions are no laughing matter. They are real and they destroy lives ... homes, marriages, families, schools, and even entire towns.

If we laugh at them it is only because we need to keep from crying—because once we start, we may not be able to stop.

I do have an addictive personality.

Twenty-four years ago I quit smoking. I called it a Christmas gift for my husband the first year we were married. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done up until then.

I continue to struggle with addictions—and addictive-like behavior—in other areas of my life including eating, spending money, relationships, even exercise.

Recently however, I decided to give up facebook. Why? Because I liked it too much. It was wonderful, mindless escapism: collecting “friends”; “visiting” them; building cute little farms; setting up aquariums and towns; playing games; trading Christmas decorations and buddy hugs; sending cards and “hearts”, smiles and saints, chattering, chattering, on and on and and . . .

Woa! Wait a minute! I found myself slipping deeper and deeper into the delightful and colorful little world of iconography that is the spell of facebook … and I suppose other similar computer and technical other-worlds for those of us who find it hard to separate fantasy from reality.

I remembered the old-fashioned method for losing weight: doing push-outs. Push yourself out and away from the table. I’m sure there are many less drastic ways to remain ‘faced-in’ –even for addictive-types like me—but I decided I could live without facebook. What I didn’t know was how I could go on living with it.

One dear friend called me fifteen minutes after I closed my account to discover what had happened. I assured her that I hadn’t been phished or received a virus. Nothing bad had happened to me or my computer; I’d just decided to quit. She understood immediately; she’s that kind of friend.

A week later, my own family hadn’t even noticed I’d quit, nor that I was hardly ever on my computer anymore. (sigh) But then my dear husband didn’t notice when I gave up smoking either.

Well never mind.

We don’t do the right thing for the recognition. We do the right thing because it is the right thing.

That’s my story ... my phase book. Now I'll sit down.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

changing pictures, passing time

One of the hardest things in the world for me to do is change out my children’s pictures. You know what I mean? When you receive the new photos which undeniably reveal they’ve grown another foot, or moved from one stage into another, you can no longer pretend time isn’t passing. Our children – and especially their annual pictures – present us with regular reminders that life is moving in one direction … and it isn’t backwards.

We’re getting ready today to leave for a Christmas trip to visit my family in St. Louis. There’s laundry, packing and a million things to prepare. The cat sleeping in my lap doesn’t know he’s about to be left behind again. Among the many things we’re bringing with us are photos of our daughters. So it seemed as good a time as any to change out some very old 8x10 pictures of the girls – dating back from when they were still in grade school – which have sat atop our living room wall unit all these years. My sister constantly teases me for leaving up old pictures of the kids. Good mother that she is, she faithfully and promptly trades out the new for old pictures of her children every year. She’s even one of those super moms who does scrapbooking and has books from present all the way back to when her oldest was born!

Not me. I started out with the best intentions, but Air Force moves, health problems, homeschooling and probably (mostly!) my own distracted, lazy personality redirected my efforts down other avenues. Or maybe it’s just that I can take the pictures of my girls but then I can’t bring myself to look at them again later. Even the ones hanging on my walls are just there. It isn’t often I really look at them.

Maybe that’s why I procrastinate updating old pictures – I don’t like to be reminded that my babies are growing up.

Today, however, it was different.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit a single person’s home. And this wasn’t just a nice place, it was a really, really nice house. It was in fact lovely: gorgeously decorated, everything new and in pristine order, like a house out of magazine. Every room was a work of art; overall, an exquisite creation of beauty and perfection, a joy to behold.

I felt sad when I left there. When I thought about my own house, I confess to more than a twinge of envy.

Well for one thing, ours is a home and it’s very lived-in. The other night my husband was working hard to get bright pink (fuchsia!) nail polish out of the living room carpet. Our daughters know they are supposed to paint their toes in the bathroom but . . . well, when you live with teenagers, you cohabit with chaos. Does that tell you anything for starters?

Moving on... most of our carpets are at least sixteen years old and they look it. The furniture is that old too, or older. Books spill off the bookshelves and there are baskets of craft projects all over the house; the girls and I love to crochet, weave, bead, draw, etc. Right now my daughter’s miniature origami nativity sets line the kitchen counter. Folded clothes cover table tops and the ironing board is set up in the living room in front of the Christmas tree. My husband and I are giving each other a new hot water heater this year for Christmas . . . and considering ourselves very blessed to be able to afford to do so. It’s certainly a lived-in home. We have many happy memories shared under the roof of this messy, old, lived-in home.

As I mentioned above, I didn’t mind so much changing out the girls’ pictures today. Yes, they are older and so am I. Yes, our home is shabbier and so am I. But I wouldn’t trade my well-worn home or self or my life with Bear and our daughters for the plushest mansion anywhere.

The girls' new pictures look very nice by the way.

From our not-so-fancy home to yours, have a very Blessed Christmas and New Year!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

As we are created to be

From service dog to SURFice dog, Ricochet's wise trainer, let her be who she was created to be.

"The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them."
— Thomas Merton

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Max and Benedict

Shhh! Don't anyone tell but I got this book for my pastor for Christmas.

Today I read and really enjoyed it. Personally I think it's better than Joseph and Chico, Ms. Perego's first children's book about Pope Benedict XVI. I'm not sure exactly why but I think because it doesn't read like a biography forced into a children's story. For me, Max and Benedict seemed to flow. It sounded like what it was, 'a bird's eye view of the Pope's daily life', a story told by a little bird about a gentle, quiet, scholarly man of the cloth.

My pastor (who doesn't want anyone to know what a nice guy he is) leaves bird seed just outside my office window most mornings. I know it's him because I've 'caught' him doing it a few times. A little bird must have told him I like to watch the birds ... or did he just catch me staring out the window so often he figured it out on his own? The secretaries tell me he'd planned to cut down the tree and bushes in our little shared courtyard sanctum and turn the area into office space. Now he's putting out birdseed?

Yes, we do need the office space, but we need that little bit of private nature even more.

I hope that Max in Jeanne Perego's charming little tale wins his heart and convinces him to keep the birds. Perhaps among all the birds feeding outside our windows, there is a little Max observing, singing and telling a story of our parish and the kind pastor who pretends to be so gruff ... but really isn't.

Read and share this sweet story. Thanks to my friend and the parish 'Cookie Monster' for the recommendation! And may you have a very Happy Birthday dear Lyn!

Check out my books on Goodreads!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pink Glove Dance

Linda Van Nelson's daughter-in-law, created, directed and choreographed this in Portland last week for her Medline glove division as a fundraiser for breast cancer awareness. This was all her idea to help promote their new pink gloves. I don't know how she got so many employees, doctors and patients to participate, but it started to really catch on and they all had a lot of fun doing it.

When the video gets 1 million hits, Medline will be making a huge contribution to the hospital, as well as offering free mammograms for the community. Please check it out. It's an easy and great way to donate to a wonderful cause, and who hasn't been touched by breast cancer?

God bless all those affected by this difficult disease!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Waiting for God

Samuel Beckett wrote a book called Waiting for Godot. It’s one of the many modern ‘classic’s I’ve yet to read. I wonder if I ever will read it. As a general rule I don’t like modern classics because their very modernity seems to be at odds with the true definition of a classic and the former wins out over the latter. I happen to prefer classic classics—classics which have stood the test of time. And yet, since we can see, ‘waiting for God’ in the title of Beckett’s book, I am intrigued by the potential connection.*

I know I am waiting for God. I’ve been waiting for Him for a very long time—not as long as some, but longer than others: fifty-something years if you must know. When I hit fifty I went through an aging crisis, the first and only time in my life getting older ever bothered me. Looking back I see now it was because I’d lost my way. If one has both eyes on God, then being fifteen or fifty is pretty much the same. Both ages can be a moment from His presence or thirty years.

Most of us don’t like waiting. That was the theme of our pastor’s homily last night. And yet he rightly reminded us about all the benefits God can draw from our waiting experiences: the savoring of anticipation, building of character, and growth in patience, to name but a few. So much good can come from waiting on God, doing things according to His Will, in His Time. If we but wait, when the harvest comes in, how wonderful is the feast! Many of us in America just experienced that as we sat down to our groaning tables Thanksgiving Day . . . and got up an hour or so later, groaning ourselves, from having feasted on His Bounty.

That’s fine for us, but what about those who are still waiting? Still hungry?

And of course that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as we all know. There are many, many other things—issues if you will—still unresolved, which seem to be on-hold, waiting: the poor, immigrants, the unborn, the lost, minorities, the lonely, homeless, the elderly, abused children, the dying, victims of crime, our planet, etc. The list goes on. Who or what are they waiting for? Does God hear their cry? Do we?

I don’t have answers, only questions and observations. I work for a church which pours Charity, not to mention hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, into the surrounding community and yet in recent years has had to install security lights, cameras (which have been repeatedly stolen) and locks everywhere for the protection of those who give so generously.

In our parish, we have those who bring food, clothing and emergency transportation to desperate people at all hours of the day and night, and have done so for years now. These veteran helpers are true Sons of St. Francis of Assisi and their stories are fascinating. In spite of many instances of personal danger, flagrant abuse, and hostility, they remain devoted and untiring ministers to those in need.

Our St. Vincent DePaul hotline receives threatening calls when the disgruntled ‘poor’ feel the service provided isn’t sufficient or prompt enough. “I think Channel XVZ needs to hear your church is doing false advertising! You say you’re there to help us but no one called me back tonight!”

Police vehicles camp in our parish parking lot every evening we have a function. I see them with gratitude but also with more than a trace of sadness, that their presence is necessary.

God we are waiting. We are still waiting. Advent is a time of waiting. We are your children, Lord, and we still await Your Coming.

Lord, come to our assistance. Make haste to help us!

*However, if you read the linked NY Times review of the play, you will learn that Beckett doesn't expect God to ever come to save mankind. Poor man!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Friday, November 6, 2009

Am I Good?

Am I? Is anyone? Are you?

And what is “good” anyway?

In Mark 10:18 and Luke 18:19 Jesus answers the greeting of, ‘Good teacher’ with, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” In Mark’s account it is the Rich Young Man who calls Jesus ‘good’; in Luke’s, it is ‘an official’ who also goes unnamed. However, in both accounts, Jesus is very clear, only God is good.

Yesterday’s Gospel reading was a favorite—the sweet story of the Good Shepherd who risks His whole flock to go in search of that one lost lamb. Who doesn’t see him or herself in that story from time to time?

And yet, we are called to be those righteous sheep who do not stray, those who remain faithful to Our Lord, perhaps rubbing or bumping up against him as a herd of sheep are wont to do.

So I ask myself that question again, ‘Am I good?’

Am I one of the ninety-nine or am I the troublesome lamb which Our Lord has to keep going after?

Today was First Friday. I went to Mass and Confession, said my rosary, and prayed for the souls in Purgatory. I wish I could say I do this all the time. I wish I was always good and never had anything to confess. Rather, I imagine my poor confessor thinking, “Oh no her again! Same old tired sins. Can’t she at least think up some new ones?! But no, I am putting my own uncharitable thoughts in his mind. For all I know, he could be praying for me as I should and will pray for him.

So, no I am not good when left to my own devices.

But yes, I am good because He made me that way.

No, I’m not good when I refuse to cooperate with His plan.

And yet I can be good when I say, “Yes!” to Him.

No, I’m not good when I think I act on my own.

Yes, I’m good when I allow His Holy Spirit to work through me.

Am I good?

Yes and No, depending on my choices.

Please dear Lord, help me choose, “YES!”

Friday, October 30, 2009

Child Abuse Awareness Video

I am posting this in honor of all children everywhere and my catechists who are doing the difficult job of trying to tell their students they don't have to be abused.

I know all the protests from those who say we shouldn't tell happy and safe children about 'such things'--that we should allow them to remain innocent for as long as possible. For years, I said the same thing. As my own children have grown-up, however, they have gone to public school and met so many of these abused children. These same abused ones are now their classmates, co-workers and friends. Over and over, I hear stories of neglect, mistreatment and violence perpetrated on the young and innocent by parents, step-parents, family members, neighbors and others. Where and when will it stop if we don't speak out?

Jesus said, "Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Mt 19:14

Jesus said, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, "Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." Mt 18:1-3

"See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father." Mt 18:10

Our Lord is very clear about His love for His littlest and most defenseless ones. How is it we still have not figured it out?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Two 'Daughters of the Month'

There’s no such thing as a ‘perfect’ family. There are however moments in the life of a family when things happen which make you realize how blessed you are to be a member in something larger than yourself. It’s humbling and exciting at the same time.

My husband and I have always been very proud of our daughters. They are both smart and talented, but more importantly, they have always been good kids—again not ‘perfect’ but dependable, honest, hard-working and nice girls.

We’ve been proud of their accomplishments, such as good grades, piano recitals, Tae Kwon Do belts and various sundry awards, but we’ve been even more impressed by those things they do which never gain them any recognition. For example, Bear can never forget how proud he was of Michelle in a race where she came in dead last—but she never quit running. And for me, one of Meg’s finest moments was when she kept going back to break a board time after time after time even though her hand was hurting, her knuckles were bruised and tears of frustration were streaming down her cheeks. Eventually the instructor–a black belt—discovered the wood was too hard even for him to break and he gave her a lighter piece of wood. She broke it, sore hand and all.

However, even these poignant memories pale when I think about the girls’ relationship, how they get along, continue to stick up for each other, love, and even like each other—most of the time anyway. So many siblings grow up with an intense dislike of one another; they fight constantly. Meg and Michelle have been best friends for most of their lives ... and still are.

Tonight was a good example. My younger daughter, Michelle, came in bringing the October issue of their high school newspaper, Titan Talk. “Here,” she said. “Meg is on the front page,” she showed me where her sister was pictured with her escort as the Cross Country Princess in the Carl Albert Homecoming Court. “And here she is again, ‘Female Athlete of the Month’. I figured I’d better tell you and get you a copy of the paper because Meg would never tell you. I’ll pick up some more copies for you tomorrow so you can send them to people. I can get them at the Library.”

Now I ask you, is that a generous sister or is that a generous sister? I didn’t know who I was more proud of at that moment: Meg for her athletic accomplishment or Michelle for her thoughtfulness. Truthfully, I was unspeakably proud of both girls—proud and humbled at the same time.

In September, Meg became a National Merit Semi-finalist and was recognized as an AP (Advanced Placement) Scholar with Honor, which means she received at least 3.25 on all AP exams taken and scores of 3 or higher on four or more of these exams. In fact, she got 5’s on three out of the four AP tests she has taken so far: AP European History—5; AP U.S. History (Independent Study)—5; AP English III—5; AP Chemistry—3. She is taking five more AP courses this year.

Besides her academics, Meg has won five medals in Cross Country so far this year and just placed, along with the entire Carl Albert girl’s team, to run at State this coming week-end.

As I write this, Meg is practicing her piano. Michelle just returned home. After she said hello to me, her first words were to her sister, “Did you know you were ‘Athlete of the Month’?”

Thank you God for letting me know, love and play a role in the lives of these wonderful young women. It is an honor and a privilege to be their mother. Please dear Lord continue to watch over and protect them.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Living Water . . . or . . .

I can’t help it; I just like the places in Holy Scripture where Jesus interacts with women. As a child I hungered for stories about children. As a grown woman, I seek out books and other forms of inspirational media involving women. I suppose it is only natural.

One such event described only in the Gospel of St. John is the story of the Woman at the Well. Jesus and his disciples had just left Judea and returned to Galilee passing necessarily through Samaria, alien territory. In the little town of Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph was a well which still bore the patriarch’s name. John tells us that the disciples had gone into the town to buy food and Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well about noon. Along comes a woman to draw water.

What the evangelist doesn’t tell us—but most people of the time knew—was that most respectable women got their water in the cool of the morning or late in the evening. This was done as much for practical reasons as for social ones. Therefore, the Samaritan Woman was most likely an outcast. She was getting her water during the heat of the day when she was least likely to encounter her neighbors. Have you ever run errands at ‘safe’ times? To avoid people who didn’t like you? Bullies, maybe or popular groups? I find myself intrigued by this Samaritan Woman.

Jesus asks her for water and she replies, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?" She may be a social leper but she’s practical and knows the score; Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.

But Jesus has something much bigger in mind than social mores. He is thinking, seeing and answering her as God does, "If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."

Her reply is all too human and earthy: "Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water?”

Here I see myself. Here I become the Woman at the Well. I am holding the bucket. He wants to give me Living Water. I persist in asking Jesus ‘bucket’ questions:

‘Where is the water? How do I get it? Are you going to give it to me? What's the 'catch'? The cost? How is this whole thing going to work? Can we get this all arranged so I can get out of here before my unfriendly neighbors come out and I have to deal with them?’

But the real question is, can I let go of my ‘bucket’ questions? My limited perspective?

When will I stop trying to fit God into my little bucket?

I went to the well today at this particular time to avoid meeting people I was afraid would embarrass or upset me—and what did I find?

Who did I meet? God Himself!

And He is offering me something which surpasses my wildest dreams!

His Living Water is more, better, bigger, tastier and more satisfying than anything I can imagine!

Now, can I set my bucket down?

Can I drink fully from His Living Water?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Don't Be Fooled: Abortion is in Health Care

Watch this new ad: Don’t Be Fooled: Abortion is in Health Care Reform, and tell your friends and family that their tax dollars could go to abortion in health care reform.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Once upon a time many years ago a little girl was trying to select a Confirmation saint from among the many famous ... and infamous ... Catholic saints. She finally lighted on St. Thérèse de Lisieux or Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus because of her ‘Little Way’. Fast forward many years and that little girl gives birth to her own first child, a girl, on the Feast Day of The Little Flower of Jesus, as Thérèse is also known. Eighteen more years pass quickly by. The first little girl is middle-aged; her daughter on the threshold of womanhood. The mother thinks she has outgrown her childhood patron saint, so she has adopted a saint she feels suits her age and maturity, Thérèse's senior Carmelite sister, Santa Teresa de Jesus. But saints aren't so fickle as we silly humans. They don't abandon their spiritual children so easily.

I know. I'm that silly little girl who thought she outgrew Thérèse, as if anyone, no matter how old, could ever outgrow the ‘Little Way’.

Two weeks ago I embarked on a new job, more of a career actually. It was a job I'd been offered several times but kept turning down, first because I was still homeschooling my daughters and later because I still wasn't ready for full-time employment. Finally, I was asked a third time to consider this job. I did. It started on the 1st of October, the Feast day of St. Thérèse. That was my first rose. Every day since has been another rose from her ... no not all happiness, but Beauty. To walk the ‘Little Way’ doesn't mean you will travel in peace or comfort or without trouble; it only means you walk with Truth in the Light.

Today is the Feast day of St. Teresa of Ávila or Santa Teresa de Jesus, a doctor of the Church, sixteenth century reformer, who along with St. John of the Cross, was co-founder of the Discalced Carmelites. This was also my first day on my own in my new job. And yet, I knew I wasn't on my own. My two senior sisters-in-faith were there, watching over me. As I've said many times, I believe in the Communion of Saints. We are not alone. Death is not the end.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Face the Truth (1 of 2)

At the Abortion Clinic they told Dave and his girlfriend that their unborn child was "like a little ball." They lied. Dave and his girlfriend scheduled an abortion, and Dave agreed to pay for it.

Then he saw one of our signs in downtown Chicago, at Jackson Street and Lake Shore Drive. Dave saw the truth about abortion. And he couldn't go through with it.

Across the country, babies—and their parents—are being saved from abortion by Face the Truth—a bold and effective pro-life initiative that exposes the truth about abortion:

We Need Your Help To Save Babies
Throughout the year, pro-life activists all around the country are conducting Face the Truth tours. Holding pictures of beautiful unborn babies and huge graphic signs of aborted babies, we line the roads at major intersections, to show Americans the truth about abortion.

We need you to help show people that abortion is the deliberate taking of an unborn child's life. If you believe that abortion is murder, this is your chance to stand up and be counted. Join us this summer as we line the roads at major intersections to show our fellow Americans the ugly truth about abortion.

Go Forth and Teach
Jesus told His followers to "go forth and teach." Face the Truth responds to the Gospel call by teaching the truth about abortion. The truth is that abortion kills innocent human beings, made in the image and likeness of God. That is why we must take the pro-life message to the streets of our cities.

We are living in the midst of a national atrocity. Since the 1973 Supreme Court abortion decisions, over forty million children have been destroyed before they were born. Our signs depicting prenatal life and the aborted child reveal the hidden victims of this atrocity.

While the signs are displayed along the roadways, other volunteers distribute literature to passing motorists and pedestrians to help them understand the gravity of the Culture of Death.

Pictures Expose Lies
Photographs and films of human beings stacked like cordwood outside Nazi concentration camps exposed the murderous truth of Nazi genocide. Disturbing as these images are, we all recognize the value of squarely facing the truth of the Holocaust.

Similarly, our pictures of aborted children lay bare the blatant lies and hypocrisy used by the abortionists to conceal the wholesale slaughter of unborn babies. Photos of these aborted children rip off the mask of "choice." The truth hurts, but the lie hurts so much more. Once people have faced the truth, they are less likely to become involved in abortion.

A Graphic Reminder
When Christ died for us, it was in a very graphic way—a public crucifixion. His body, twisted, disfigured and covered with blood, hung on a cross for three hours in full public view. He said He had to be lifted up in order to show His love for us and to show us the seriousness of sin.

Likewise, our pictures graphically portray the reality of abortion in the public square, and show the seriousness of taking the life of an unborn child.

The Tragedy of the Culture of Death
One of the tragedies of abortion is that innocent children cannot be sheltered from the truth that one-third of their brothers and sisters, classmates and friends have been aborted. We use large warning signs to help parents shield their children from our pictures, but the only way to really protect our children is to stamp out the Culture of Death. We invite all concerned parents to join us in restoring a Culture of Life.

Awaken the Nation
Nationwide, Face the Truth Tours are showing Americans the hidden slaughter of its unborn children. If people are troubled by these graphic pictures, they should stand up against the killing the pictures expose.

This text from:

Monday, September 28, 2009

This Jesus Challenges Me

I use force, and He says, Forgive.

I am afraid, and He says, Take heart.

I doubt, and He says, Trust.

I feel anxious, and He says, Be calm.

I desire to be left alone, and He says, Come, follow me.

I make my plans, and He says, Let's go this way.

I want security, and He says to me, You will be persecuted for my sake.

I want to live, and He says, Give your life.

I believe I am a good person, and He says, That's not enough.

I want to be in charge, to give the commands, and He says, Serve, obey.

I want to understand, and He says, Believe.

I want clarity, and He speaks to me in Parables.

I want poetry, and He speaks of Realities.

I want tranquility, and He wants me To be disturbed.

I think of revenge, and He says, Turn the other cheek.

I speak of peace, and He says, I have come to bring a sword.

I want to hide, and He says, Let your light shine.

I seek out the first place, and He says, Sit in the last place.

I want to be seen, and He says, Pray in secret.

I want to hang on, and He says, Let go.

I want to win, and He says, Surrender.

No, I don't understand this Jesus. He provokes me. He confounds me.

Like many of His disciples I, too, think I would like to follow a different teacher; one who would be more clear, and who would ask less of me.

But it is as true for me as it was for Peter. When Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.

I wish I could claim to have written this, but I didn't. I can only say that every word of it is as true for me as it was for the actual author, a Kenyan priest. My friend, MAM sent it to me and I love it!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

'Responding to your message'

Yesterday I got a message from my Senator who wrote—again—in reply to one of the many surveys, polls, letters, etc. I've sent expressing my commitment to Life from conception to natural death. Here is what he wrote:

'Dear Ms. Booklady:

Thank you for contacting me regarding abortion services in the debate on health care reform. As your voice in Washington, I appreciate being made aware of your concerns.

Throughout my service in public office, I have taken an ardent stand protecting the life of the unborn. I will continue to oppose all legislation supporting unrestricted abortion. Legalized abortion takes the lives of more than one million unborn children each year, robbing this nation of vast potential. Moreover, it destroys some of our nation's most cherished values: family, responsibility, and commitment.

As you know, the issue of federal and taxpayer funds being used to provide abortions has been raised during the current debate on health care reform. There is no explicit guarantee in any current proposals that public funds will not be used to pay for abortions or abortion-related services.

I am adamantly against the use of taxpayers' dollars for abortion or abortion referral services. The taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize abortion or programs that promote them. As the Supreme Court ruled in 1980 (Harris v. McRae), "Abortion is inherently different from other medical procedures because no other procedure involves the purposeful termination of a potential life." Clearly, the government should not be required to fund programs that explicitly encourage the destruction of human life.

The Declaration of Independence affirms all people are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." The right to life is a foundational right, fundamental to the strength and vitality of this great nation. I believe in the value and dignity of human life at all stages of life.

As your Senator, I will join you in speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves. I will continue to be a supporter of pro-life legislation as it is brought before the Senate for consideration and will work to defeat pro-abortion legislation, such as the Freedom of Choice Act. Our government has both a moral and constitutional obligation to protect the sanctity of human life.

Thank you again for your correspondence. Be assured that I will continue to work to transform health care for Oklahomans and all Americans to ensure that affordable health care is available to all in a fiscally responsible manner with the most choices available while upholding the sanctity of human life.'

God bless you Senator Inhofe, and all those who speak up on behalf of the unborn, the voiceless, and helpless, those who only want a chance to live. Thank you for all you do and please know how much I admire and support you and politicians of principal and integrity!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Enough Crosses

Tonight my husband and I were discussing our daughters and their boyfriends. As is usually the case when this subject comes up, we marvel over how different things are today—compared with how they were when the two of us were in high school light years ago. Then we review the current relationships situation and finally we move on to possible outcomes. This evening my husband took the doom-and-gloom perspective; usually that’s my role.

Listening to him, it suddenly occurred to me, “What do I want for my daughters?” Not just in these teenage romances, nor even their education objectives or career goals, but what are my dreams for my children for the rest of their lives? Do I even have any? Have I envisioned their future? How do I love and pray for them?

I thought about parents who want or expect their offspring to become doctors, lawyers, priests, mothers, musicians—without taking into account God’s plan for those children. Do I do that? I don’t think so; I hope not.

I started seeing this ‘letting go and letting God’ philosophy from a much broader and bigger vantage point. So what do I want for the girls?

I don’t know.

Some days I don’t know how to work out my own life, what I should do next, if I need to change this or get rid of that—how can I possibly be qualified for this huge responsibility of parental authority figure? In one sense I’m not qualified and never will be. But in another, I’m qualified by virtue of the fact that these children have been given to me by God.

After some thought I told my husband, “It all comes down to this: I want them to go to Heaven. I don’t know how they’re going to get there. It may be that like their silly old mom, they have to go down some dead-end streets, over a few waterfalls, even a cliff or two, take plenty of detours and always always always carry a cross ... or two.” So in the end, the ‘how’ doesn’t matter. It’s the getting there that matters.

I’m a mom who loves her children. Very much. But even so, I don’t love my children anymore than the Lady of Sorrows. Without Her Son’s Cross none of us could ever reach Heaven.

My oldest daughter collects crosses and crucifixes of all sorts. She has quite a collection as you can see. She started her collection at her First Communion when she received several crosses as gifts. Since then, we’ve continued to give her unusual crosses as gifts for other special occasions. It has made me more aware of the Cross as sacred symbol.

On this the Feast of the Exaltation of Holy Cross, I pray my children, husband and I have enough crosses to get us to Heaven.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

New Regulations on Indulgences

Let’s be up-front about things: when you say the word, ‘indulgence’ or ‘indulgences’ to most people—including most Catholics—some grotesque system of medieval fraud and abuses is often the first thing to come to mind. Sadly, this misconception persists in spite of the deep-seated psychological need within most human beings to do something to ‘put things right’ after becoming aware of lingering guilt from past sins and transgressions, never mind the Biblical basis for this most ancient of Church traditions.

This little gem of a book defines¹ clearly and simply what an indulgence – with a small “I” – is and then gives the two types: partial and plenary. There is no more ‘determination of days or years as regards partial indulgences, only the words “partial indulgence” are used. This does away with the need of trying to explain what is meant by so many days or years. How much (temporal punishment) will be remitted depends upon the “the degree to which the charity of the one performing the act is greater, and in proportion to the degree to which the act itself is performed in a more perfect way.”’ (page 22)

What I found most enlightening about this book was when I recognized the three general ‘concessions’ under which partial indulgences are given. The first I learned is prayer or, raising the mind and heart to God in frequent invocation. After that, the text of the book gives reference after reference from Holy Writ reminding us of the importance of constantly calling on – and out to – the Almighty: Matthew 7:7-8, Matthew 26:41, Luke 21:34-36, Acts 2:42, Romans 12:12, 1 Corinthians 10:31, Ephesians 6-18, Colossians 4:2, and 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18, “Pray without ceasing. In all things give thanks.”

And what is the second general concession? Have you guessed it? It’s the giving of oneself or one’s goods in the service of those who are in need, i.e., in more quaint terms, almsgiving. So I don’t have to tell you, do I, what the third concession is … it’s fasting, or when one (in a penitential spirit) of one's own accord abstains from something permitted and pleasing.

According to St. Peter Chrysologus, 5th century bishop of Ravenna, Italy, and Doctor of the Church,

“There are three things, my brethren, by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other.”

But going back even earlier in The Book of Matthew, Chapter 6, Our Lord also tied these three disciplines together, teaching us to fast cheerfully, give alms secretly and pray privately.

A very affirming quick read. Indulgences have gotten a bad name and one they don’t deserve. We need them, along with every other help God and His Church can offer us.

¹ "An indulgence is the remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, a remission which one of the faithful, properly disposed and under certain definite conditions, can acquire through the Church which as a minister of the redemption authoritatively dispenses and applies the treasure of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints."

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy

Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy refers to the total number of decades in the complete rosary—fifteen ... as it used to be before the addition of the five Luminous Mysteries. It is also Rumer Godden’s title for an incredible book about the lives of women, real women—suffering, tainted, fallen women, modern-day Mary Magdalenes. It is fiction and yet it is set in a very real historical context and based on an actual society of sisters, the Sisters of Bethany, many of whom were former prostitutes and prisoners who through Grace and the ministry of other sisters, gave their lives over to God and ministering to the poor, the outcast and the imprisoned.

The story centers around Lise, or Elizabeth Fanshawe, an innocent, young British woman caught up in the liberation of Paris at the end of World War II. Swept away in the delirious debauchery of the time period, Lise finds herself far from home, and totally dependent on a man who runs a brothel when the post-war madness finally ebbs. Oh, and she has the bad fortune of being in love with him as well.

From the beginning of the story we know Lise has a deforming scar on her face and that she has gone from bordello, to years in prison, only to enter a third form of ‘bondage’, a convent. But why? And how is such a transition possible? Who is Vivi? Why has Lucette followed Lise? What is the significance of the rosary to the English Elizabeth, raised Protestant, turned prostitute, then prisoner, finally cloistered nun? These are some of the many questions the story confronts us with as we try to put all the pieces together.

Ms. Godden’s novel is intriguing from start to finish, both as a story and as a commentary on human weaknesses, the longing for God and the never-ending struggle to overcome the self. Two of my favorite passages are these:

'It was a revelation to the aspirants that the sisters, some of them elderly impressive nuns, filled with quiet holiness, should publicly admit their faults. Could Soeur Imelda de Notre Dame, the calm saintly person, really have snapped sharply at anyone? Could Soeur Marie Dominique have lost her temper? “Then do you go on being you until the end? they could have moaned. “Even after all this trying and training?” “Always,” Soeur Théodore would have told them. It was a good thing Compline finished with a prayer to Mary Magdalen: “Intercede and pray without ceasing for us, Marie Magdaleine, you who are most close to our Lord Jesus.”' (page 156)

'“I wish I had your imperturbability,” said Lise.
It was not just a shell; Lise herself could keep her face and voice in control when in reality she was in turnmoil; this was deeper—the nuns were not perturbed over things like this. “When you have seen as much of God’s providence as I have,” said Soeur Raymonde, as any of the nuns would have said, “seen the unfathomable ways in which He works, if you have any sense at all, you learn not to question or to judge—only to trust.”' (page 212)

Prayer and trust: two simple words, two powers actions.

For those familiar with Ms. Godden’s better known novel, In This House of Brede, Five For Sorrow picks up some of the same themes and re-examines them in a new light. However, although both books deal with convent life, they are totally different stories. Which is better? I’d be hard pressed to say. They are both excellent!

Someone's birthday is coming up...

What will you give our dearest Mother for her birthday this year?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Mental Prayer, Part 7

A leper came to him (and kneeling down) begged him and said, "If you wish, you can make me clean." ~~ Mark 1:40

Today I finally—and somewhat reluctantly—finished Dom Chautard’s, The Soul of the Apostolate. I’m also almost finished with Pope Benedict’s The Spirit of the Liturgy. Both books have been long, slow, meditative reads—unlike what I usually do, which is to “gobble” my books.

It’s interesting when you read two classic works simultaneously; you get to see how the thoughts of Great Minds—separated by time, space and even death—can sometimes synchronize. The Scripture above, interestingly enough comes from a selection I was reading in the Pope’s book and not Chautard’s, but it seemed a very appropriate lead in to what will be the last post in this particular series, and hopefully just the beginning of something even bigger.

In his book, Chautard recommends daily Mass; in his book, the Holy Father shows us why participation in the Liturgy is essential to our ‘transformation by it into the Logos (logisiert), conformed to Him and made the true Body of Christ.’ (page 174)

Making time for Mass is one thing, participating is another. For a fuller appreciation of our Catholic Liturgy, I cannot recommend a better guide than this incredible book by Pope Benedict, for all it is not the easiest text by him, nor is he writing at the usual 8th grade level of most popular Christian books today.

However, this series being about mental prayer, I want to leave you with what I have learned—thus far—from my repeated efforts to persist in fidelity to mental prayer. Some of these “lessons” are practical and some philosophical. I debated dividing them up but found that impossible, so here they are. The list is in no way authoritative, nor definitive, nor do I claim originality. Most likely everything I write has been recorded before by those much holier, wiser and more experienced than me. That’s just fine. This is my list and my experiences. If they are helpful to anyone, I am most humbly grateful; if not, it has still helped me to compile this list. Mostly I'm just deeply humbled and grateful for all I've learned. What I share below is just a fraction of it.

1. Schedule time for mental prayer every day-no matter what! Some sources recommend thirty minutes; others say we should give a minimum of an hour to our mental prayer each day. Seek the counsel of your spiritual director and/or confessor based on your particular vocation and current life requirements. But whatever, you decide, be faithful to daily mental prayer. If you know you will not be able to accomplish your prayer first thing in the morning, make sure you do it as soon as possible.

2. Prepare for the next morning’s mental prayer by thinking and praying about it the night before. Lay out your materials: breviary, rosary, Bible, prayer books, cards, icons, notes, lists, etc. Decide (if possible) what will be the focus of your prayer time. I found this to be a vital first step as I often wasn’t sufficiently awake first thing in the morning to make important decisions. However, if everything was organized and ready, things went much more smoothly.

3. Begin by asking the Holy Spirit for the Grace to pray well. Invoke your Guardian Angel’s protection. Often formal prayers are/were a good way to start, especially if I was tired. Many days I read from the Daily Readings and used those as ‘launching pad’ for discussion. However, it wasn’t long before, I found my own faults and failings provided plenty of material! This brings me to the opening quote from the leper—when I read that today it jumped out at me because it reminded me of something God and I had been talking about earlier today. Since I’ve begun mental prayer, the daily readings at Mass have come ALIVE! They breathe with the fire of the Holy Spirit, like they never did before.

4. Invite Jesus to sit down next to you or across from you. Find or place a favorite chair near yours so that you may talk to Him one-on-one. Or, if you prefer, kneel down in front of Him. Sitting or kneeling, you are in His Presence and He is in yours. Be with Him. He is with you. Close your eyes if you want. See Him in your mind. Talk to Him ... silently or aloud. Begin by telling Him how much you love Him and need Him. Know He loves you as well!

5. Accept that you are with Jesus . . . wherever your mind goes. This is NOT to say we shouldn't bring our attention back to Our Lord each and every time we become aware it has wandered off; it is only recognition and acceptance that, in His eyes, we are but spiritual children and He knows our weaknesses and understands our struggles. I will write more about this later when I begin a new series on the Interior Life, delving into Santa Teresa’s beautiful book, Interior Castle, but for now, think of Jesus as you would a benevolent parent or trusted spouse. Even when you are with your beloved, you have your moments of time where each of you think your own thoughts. This is understood and accepted by married couples and loving families everywhere. Why should Our Lord, who made you, knows and loves you better even than your own mother, expect what is impossible from His children? The answer is, He doesn’t. He wants us to strive and keep striving for perfection. With His Grace, may we always do as much. There is much more to be said on this particular point. However, in the meantime, let no one be unduly harsh with him/herself in this matter, nor set unreasonably high expectations.

6. Use holy objects which help you begin or refocus your prayer. These items may include, but are not limited to: candles, icons, prayer cards, rosaries/chaplets, statues, spiritual reading(s), and lists of things to talk about and/or people to pray for. If such aids will or might help you, consider keeping them near your prayer chair for those particularly dry times; it’s comforting to have something to fall back on.

7. And last but not least, what about Interruptions? Interruptions used to throw me into a positive tizzy! I tried turning off the phone, locking myself in my room, putting signs on the front door, wearing ear plugs, etc., all in an effort to get myself some quiet in a noisy home with children. Sooner or later, all my efforts backfired. Finally I settled on a simple rule of thumb: all interruptions come from God to further test my patience. I can either accept them gracefully or what is the point of my prayer time? However, accepting them, doesn’t mean I have to respond to them all equally. Now I start my prayer time before anyone else (except my dear hubby) is awake so the kids, phone and doorbell usually aren’t the problems they once were. Still, if the phone or cat or child(ren) do happen to enter during prayer time, I deal with it/him/her/them accordingly. Then, if the prayer session is less than ½ over, I go back and finish it; if the interruption occurs after the midway point, I call it a day.

‘Mental prayer is a furnace, in which the watch-fires of vigilance are constantly rekindled. Fidelity to mental prayer gives life to all our other pious exercises. By it, the soul will gradually acquire vigilance and a spirit of prayer, that is, a habit of ever more frequent recourse to God. Union with God in mental prayer will lead to intimate union with Him, even in the midst of our most absorbing occupations.

The soul, thus living in union with God, by custody of the heart, will draw down into itself, more and more, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the infused virtues, and perhaps God will call it to a higher degree of prayer.’ ~~ Dom Chautard, page 292, "The Soul of the Apostolate"

This is my closing prayer for this series . . . and the promise of more to come!

In Him,

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Gold Star Religion

‘Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.’ ~~James 1:27

Have you ever noticed how life imitates Scripture? Or do I mean to say, have you ever noticed how when you hear – or read – something in the Bible, you are reminded of an example of it—either good or bad—in your own life?

Does that ever happen to you?

It happens to me all the time.

Usually, I am reminded of someone I love, or admire, who lives out the positive exhortation, the Gospel command. Most often, that ‘someone’ is my husband, the Godliest man I know.

Last night at Mass when we heard that lovely definition of pure and undefiled religion, I thought of my Bear the afternoon 21 years ago almost to the day when he came home to our little German apartment sweaty, dirty, and distraught beyond words, trying to communicate the horror he had just witnessed at the worst air show disaster ever.

He had done what he could for the injured, the dying, the terrified and their rescuers. It hadn’t been enough. It took him months before he could sleep again without nightmares—and he knew how blessed he was. We both did.

A little over a year ago, a B-52, Raider 21, went down just off Guam with all crew lost. The B-52 Stratofortress, the “Buff” – as it’s been affectionately nicknamed by those associated with it – has one of the safest flying records of all the airplanes in the United States Air Force. It was the last aircraft I was privileged to work with while I was still on active duty and it’s my favorite of all. It’s old, 40’s technology, brought into the inventory even before I was born in 1955, but reliable. So when we learned about Raider 21 going down on 21 July 2008, it felt like a family loss. Even though my husband is now retired from the Air Force, he still works on and with issues involving the B-52’s. He knows the history of most of the planes, the aircrew, missions and other bits of minutiae that would put an aviation trivia expert to shame. He’s been to the USAF Aircraft Accident Investigation School and he followed the investigation of this mishap with his usual micro precision. In tribute to the men who died and recognition of their sacrifice, Bear painted the above picture and had prints made.

Fast-forward a year. Last month, I overheard a colleague mention to our supervisor she was still trying to get out of jury duty so that she could fly to Guam for an Air Force ceremony in honor of her son. I kept eavesdropping. This sweet, reserved woman, some years senior to me doesn’t speak often. She's always there to lend a hand, has a ready smile but goes her own quiet way. I learned her son had been on Raider 21 and died last year—her only son.

I told Bear. I knew he’d want to help. He knows a lot of people. He started making some phone calls and pretty soon, she was off jury duty and on her way to Guam.

Last night, Bear and I had the distinct pleasure of taking that lovely Gold Star Mom out for dinner. We didn’t know a lot about her before the night began, but we learned that she’s been a widow for many years now. Up until his death, her son was her best friend, yet she didn’t whine, complain or bemoan her fate. She shared her pictures of the trip with us, told us how lovely everyone had treated her and her father, and all the other surviving family members from Raider 21. She was gracious, eager to tell us about her son and his children, but also wanted to hear all about our Air Force experiences. Even the restaurant we tentatively suggested, she said, was her favorite and one she’d go to her by herself just for the food, she liked it so much. Was she just being nice? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I think she’s just one of those genuinely good souls.

Later she showed us the home her son had bought her. She was very proud of it—and him. She still didn’t have a lot of things on her walls, but we saw the print of my husband’s Raider 21 painting and her Gold Star Mom banner.

I can say I have met a Gold Star Mom. She really is Gold Star all the way.

And so is my Bear. At one point, this bereaved mother asked about the body of her son, which the authorities had recommended her not view. My husband got a little choked up when he explained a few things to her, but she remained calm, and she said she appreciated his technical explanations.

As I reread St. James’ definition above, I see the world’s ‘staining’ not so much as sin—because we all sin while we walk this earth—but as becoming embittered by the horrors we encounter. My dear husband has seen things which make him cry, strong man though he is, yet he is able to rise above his own pain and help widows and orphans in their affliction. I am his witness. May God bless and preserve him in this life and reward him richly in the next.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

time to remodel

Jesus said: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. But these you should have done, without neglecting the others. Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.” ~~Mt 23:23-26

Remember when you were a kid and the teacher really ‘gave it’ to some kid—or group of kids—who really deserved it?! Didn’t you sit there in your chair and secretly (or not so secretly!) smile, feeling rather smug that you’d witnessed justice-in-action? It so often goes the other way that it’s nice when the “bad” guys get their due.

What am I saying? Even as adults, we rather enjoy watching our powerful enemies step in their own traps, embarrassed or brought to shame by excesses or crimes. So to have someone of Jesus’ impeccable reputation chastise the scribes and Pharisees in that way must have been satisfying for his audience.

And yet, I read—or heard—somewhere once that we’re always supposed to put ourselves into every situation in Scripture; that in order to derive maximum benefit from the stories and situations, we have to imagine ourselves capable of every sin committed.

We cannot view the scribes and Pharisees as “other” but that we are them.

Jesus is talking to us.
To me.
I am blind.
I am full of plunder and self-indulgence.
I am in need of cleaning, first on the inside.

Jesus’ harsh admonition in today’s Gospel is a personal invitation to ‘remodel’ ourselves ... myself from the inside out.

I know I have some serious work to do, but with His help, it can be done. He knows my Pharisaical insides and yet He loves me even so. Jesus’ words sound harsh, but just think how beautiful something is after it is remodeled—from the inside out. He alone can do that, because He alone KNOWS me.

It was no coincidence the Responsorial Psalm today is 139. Listen to these beautiful words and be filled with Hope, Joy and Peace:

R. You have searched me and you know me, Lord.
O LORD, you have probed me and you know me;
you know when I sit and when I stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
My journeys and my rest you scrutinize,
with all my ways you are familiar.
R. You have searched me and you know me, Lord.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know the whole of it.
Behind me and before, you hem me in
and rest your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
too lofty for me to attain.
R. You have searched me and you know me, Lord.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mental Prayer, Part 6

“Let nothing disturb thee; Let nothing dismay thee; All thing pass; God never changes. Patience attains All that it strives for. He who has God Finds he lacks nothing: God alone suffices.” ~~ St. Teresa of Ávila

“Be gentle to all, and stern with yourself.” ~~ St. Teresa of Ávila

One of the (many) things I like about Santa Teresa de Jesús is the way she seems to contradict herself. I contradict myself too. But then if you read Jesus carefully in Holy Scripture even He seems to say one thing and turn around and say almost the opposite a few chapters later. Know what I mean?¹

We humans are a complicated and contradictory lot. But then Life is a strange and confusing journey at times, isn’t it?

So what does Teresa mean when she says on one hand that patience attains all, but on the other to be stern with ourselves? Which is it? And is she even referring to prayer in these quotes? Good questions! With Teresa, one never knows ... exactly—which is why it is very dangerous to take her out of context, just as it is to take Our Lord's words apart from, or out of, Holy Scripture. And even reading her writing in context, one must be very careful, as she freely admitted, which is why she was stern with herself; she knew herself. She knew and recognized her own shortcomings—and that is the real point of that second quote.

Recently when I was reading Father Christopher Renger's The 33 Doctors of the Church, I discovered Teresa’s title was “Doctor of Prayer”. In light of what I've been trying to write about and do in my own life, I was amazed by this. And yet, why so? If we Catholics truly believe that it's God who passionately loves us and initiates all, then why is it so strange to think that our patron saints choose us and are actively involved in our lives?

Ever since watching the mini-series on Santa Teresa many years ago, I’ve been drawn to her like a fly to honey. I share her enthusiasm for books, love her sense of humor, have a deep affection for my brother and know I possess all of her faults without having yet acquired her virtues. Still, when I visited her home town of Ávila (in 2007) I begged for her help and protection—and believe she is giving it to me every day.

In a previous post, I spoke about my firm belief in the Communion of Saints. Every time we say the Rosary or the Creed, we say, “I believe in the Communion of Saints!” Do we mean it? Do we really mean it?! We call – and call on – our earthly friends all the time, but what about our Heavenly ones? They are nearest Him who we profess to love. They long to help us in our prayer. Ask them to help you. Beg for their help every time you pray ... which is also becoming the poor beggar.

Begin all things in prayer and be a beggar when you pray.

'“To make a lame man walk without a limp is less absurd than to try and succeed without Thee, my Savior” (St. Augustine). Why do my resolutions bear no fruit? It can only be because my belief that “I can do all things” is not followed by; “in Him Who strengtheneth me.” And this brings me, then, to that part of my prayer which is in certain respects the most important of all: supplication, or the language of hope.

Without Your grace, Jesus, I can do nothing. And there is absolutely nothing that entitles me to it, Yet I know that my ceaseless prayers, far from irking You, will determine the amount of help You will give me, if they reflect a thirst to belong to You, distrust in myself, and an unlimited, not to say mad, confidence in Your Sacred Heart. Like the Canaanite woman, I cast myself at Your feet, O infinite goodness. With her persistence, full of humility and hope, I ask You not for a few crumbs but a full share in this banquet of which You said: “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me.”' ~~DOM JEAN-BAPTISTE CHAUTARD, O.C.S.O.

Which Beloved of God has chosen you? Is calling to you ... asking you to continue 'to do the will of Him' by following in that Saint's footsteps?

¹ Matthew 10:34 and Matthew 26:52

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mental Prayer, Part 5

“We are to love God for Himself, because of a twofold reason; nothing is more reasonable, nothing more profitable. When one asks, ‘Why should I love God?’ he may mean, ‘What is lovely in God?’ or, ‘What shall I gain by loving God?’ In either case, the same sufficient cause of love exists, namely, God Himself.” ~~ St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Sometimes I’ve thought I mistitled this series of posts, “Mental Prayer” when it might have been more appropriate to give it the broader heading of “The Interior Life”. Well, it’s too late to change now I suppose, but just so you realize they go hand-in-hand, although they are not interchangeable. Mental prayer is the fuel for a powerful and rich Interior Life. In an earlier post we mentioned the first three of eleven Truths laid out by Dom Chautard in The Soul of the Apostolate. Notice he doesn’t call these ‘important’ or even ‘crucial’ but ‘Truths’. His description of them reads:

'“What Is the Interior Life? In this book the words life of prayer, contemplative life will be applied, as they are in the Imitation of Christ to the state of those souls who have dedicated themselves to a Christian life which is at the same time out of the common, and accessible to all, and, in substance, obligatory for all. Without embarking upon a study of asceticism, let us at least remind the reader that EVERYONE is obliged to accept the following principles as absolutely certain, and base his inner life upon them.


FOURTH TRUTH. In proportion to the intensity of my love for God, my supernatural life may increase at every moment by a new infusion of the grace of the active presence of Jesus in me; an infusion produced:

1. By each meritorious act (virtue, work, suffering under all its varying forms, such as privation of creatures, physical or moral pain, humiliation, self-denial; prayer, Mass, acts of devotion to Our Lady, etc.).

2. By the Sacraments especially the Eucharist. It is certain, then (and here is a consequence that overwhelms me with its sublimity and its depth, but above all, fills me with courage and with joy) that, by every event, person or thing, Thou Jesus, Thou Thyself, dost present Thyself, objectively, to me, at every instant of the day. Thou dost hide Thy wisdom and Thy love beneath these appearances and dost request my co-operation to increase Thy life in myself. O my soul, at every instant Jesus presents Himself to you by the GRACE OF THE PRESENT MOMENT — every time there is a prayer to say, a Mass to celebrate or to hear, reading to be done, or acts of patience, of zeal, of renunciation, of struggle, confidence, or love to be produced. Would you dare look the other way, or try to avoid His gaze?'

When I read this I was reminded of the saint whose feast day we celebrate today, the great Mellifluous¹ Doctor of the Church, St. Bernard of Clairvaux. One of his greatest works, On Loving God is available on-line through Christian Classics Ethereal Library which I highly recommend if you’ve never tried any of their services.

According to Father Christopher Renger's The 33 Doctors of the Church, St. Bernard worked more miracles in his lifetime than any other saint whose miracles are recorded. He was a man of strong friendships, charming personality and a delightful sense of humor. A story is told where 'once, when he had cured a possessed man, he brushed aside the admiration caused by this by explaining, “It were small wonder that the devil suffered defeat; for with such a helpmate as I, God could not fail. Besides, we were two against one.”' (p. 290)

And yet despite all his activities and accomplishments St. Bernard was—is—one of the world’s great contemplatives. Or perhaps I should write, because St. Bernard was such a great contemplative, through the power of the Holy Spirit, he was able to accomplish so much. 'It has been claimed that the Imitation of Christ, printed more than any other book Catholic book except the Bible is in substance contained in the works of St. Bernard.' (p. 295)

Oracle of the Twelve Century down to our own, Last of the Church Fathers, Arbiter of Christendom, Thaumaturgus² of the West, St. Bernard pray for us that we may learn to adore, love and serve Him as you did!

¹ 1. Flowing with sweetness or honey. 2 Smooth and sweet: "polite and cordial, with a mellifluous, well-educated voice" (H.W. Crocker III).

² Miracle worker

Monday, August 17, 2009

days like today

Today my oldest nephew starts high school.

Today is also my brother's 47Th birthday. Funny how things like that work out. My daughter, Michelle, is named after Michael. And she even looks a little like him too.

He would have loved her so much I know. He would have been a wonderful uncle but he never knew any of his nieces or nephews.
I don't mourn him for myself anymore, but every so often I can't help mourning all that my children and their cousins missed out on. Perhaps especially my two nephews, locked in worlds of their own by the strange and complex family of disorders known as Aspergers and autism.

Michael was always an introvert, quiet but good at making things. What would his relationship have been with Eric and Luke? And Meg and Michelle, too, for that matter? I suppose it doesn't matter now, but still I wonder ... on days like today.

And yet, this isn't a sad post but a happy one, because as I said, my nephew, Eric, is starting high school today. After almost eight years at private and/or special schools, my sister and her husband are mainstreaming him in a public school nearer their home. This will mean less driving for my sister who will still need to get Luke to his special school. Eric is considered a highly functional child with Aspergers. With Luke, the situation is more difficult. He is more typically autistic in most ways, although interestingly, more affectionate than his brother. Please remember my dear sister and her family in your prayers. Still, this is an exciting day, a milestone, and a day made extra-special because Eric starts high school on his Uncle Mike's birthday.

One other important event happened today: yours truly submitted her first ever real, professional job resume. I won't know the outcome for almost a month, but I've done my best, so I turned it all over to Him. And I can't help feeling good about whatever happens knowing that I applied for this job on my brother's birthday.

May your day be blessed by the love of God, family and many friends!

P.S. My sister let us know Eric had a pretty good first day of high school. He found all his classes (he said he had to ask for directions a few times), he sat with someone for lunch (and could even remember the boy's name!), he had homework in two subjects but found time to do it during classes and overall came home in a great mood. Apparently, he was happiest because he saw a fire drill schedule and there isn't one of those until the 27th. ☺ Thanks in advance for prayers!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Mental Prayer, Part 4

Wisdom calls, “Let whoever is simple turn in here; To the one who lacks understanding, come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.” ~~Proverbs 9:1-6

It's been a week now and I admit there were times I thought I was crazy to have started this ‘mental prayer’. There were also times I wondered where God was? Here I am trying to pray and nothing is happening. I mean NOTHING! I’m thinking to myself, ‘This is the biggest waste of time ever. I could be doing A, B, C ... Z!’ And then came yesterday – the biggest setback of all. Here's what happened...

I could barely make myself get to work on time at 6:30. We had extended hours for back-to-school sales and I asked for early hours so I could get to evening Mass, but then I was still tired from working late the night before, etc., etc., so I decide to fore go getting up even earlier and instead devote my lunch hour to my mental prayer.

My lunch time comes, I down my coffee, head for the Blessed Sacrament Chapel (5 minutes away) for a peaceful prayer time and there’s a funeral going on at our parish. Where am I supposed to go?! Where can you find 30 minutes of quiet at a busy shopping mall on the Saturday before schools resume? I sit in my hot car, first with my air conditioning on, then with it off and hot Oklahoma winds blowing through open windows.

Do I need to tell you it wasn’t a good prayer time? I caught my mind wandering; no that's an understatement—I couldn’t stop my mind from wandering. Oh great! God, this is hopeless! I’m supposed to be here praying and look at what I’m thinking?! I drug my wayward mind back and there it went again. I was thinking dishonest, playful and even prideful thoughts, and then grumpy, frustrated, disorganized ones until finally I started to veer off into despair. WOW! How can anyone get herself in so much trouble just trying to pray?! Then it dawned on me. Calm down booklady. This is perfectly normal. The mind is an undisciplined, runaway young colt; you know that. That’s the whole point of this mental prayer: to learn good mental habits, to learn how to ignore, overcome and eventually transcend these episodes. Just another step along the road of training...

So I thanked God for the lesson, closed my prayer session with formal prayers—which I was very, very grateful to fall back on—and returned to work.

Today, my mental prayer session was the most profitable, in terms of actual things I took away from it, of any I’ve had so far. These are the realizations I had:

1. I’ve engaged in mental prayer many times in life without knowing I was doing it.
a. Usually I read a book, often Holy Scripture, for a period of time, then closed my eyes and used it as the basis for my conversation with God.

b. Several years I had prayer journals with selections from spiritual classics (Imitation of Christ, God Calling and Streams in the Desert) which I read and wrote in. As the writings were directed to God—much as a friend writing a letter to another friend—they constitute another form of mental prayer.

c. My belief is most devout people engage in a regular practice of mental prayer, either with or without realizing they are actually doing so.

2. Morning mental prayer needs to be combined with daily Mass and regular Confession as much as possible.

3. It seems to be allowing me to let go of things more easily, i.e., I don’t find myself as troubled by events, people or even my own follies and sins. Things that in the past would have stayed with me for days, I resolve in hours or less. Other matters, even more quickly. I just seem able to let go and move on.

4. I find myself with a longing to love more deeply – as Jesus does – and an awareness of how often I usually don’t.

5. There’s a growing awareness of His Presence and an abiding sense of Trust in Him.

Jesus said to the crowds: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” ~~John 6:51

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mental Prayer, Part 3

‘We congratulate you sincerely upon having brought out so clearly the absolute necessity of the interior life for those engaged in good works, a life so necessary for the success of their ministry.’ ~~ Pope Benedict XV to Dom Chautard, author of The Soul of the Apostolate

Why mental prayer? If I'm going to spend at least thirty minutes every morning doing something, I want to be very, very sure I'm engaged in a worthwhile endeavor. So, why mental prayer?

‘So many enterprises in our time, and yet so often fruitless: why is it that they have not put society back on its feet? … Why? Because they are not firmly enough based on the interior life, the Eucharistic life, the liturgical life, fully and properly understood. Leaders of Catholic Action, at the head of these enterprises, have been full of logic, talent, and even of a certain piety. They have poured forth floods of light, and have managed to introduce some devotional practices: and that, of course, is already something. But because they have not gone back nearly enough to the Source of life, they have not been able to pass on to others that fervor which tempers wills to their great task.’ ~~ Dom Chautard, The Soul of the Apostolate, pp. 186-7

Once again, I can attest to the truth of the good father’s words—as if he needed my endorsement! But for what it’s worth, I remember so many past efforts where I attempted to do what I thought were “good works”, even going so far as to pray to do “God’s Will”. And yet, in retrospect – looking back – the reason my efforts bore so little fruit may have been because I neglected my interior life.

Jesus is the only source of Life. In and through Him we receive all power to do whatever it is He has given us to do.

‘I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.’ John 10:10 The development of the interior life – through regular mental prayer – is the recognition that Christ dwells within us and wants to aid His apostles in performing His Father’s Will.

Father Chautard teaches Eleven Truths regarding the Interior Life: (I will list the first three today, continuing on with the others in future posts.)

1. ‘The supernatural life is the life of Jesus Christ Himself in my soul, by Faith, Hope and Charity; for Jesus is the meritorious, exemplary, and final cause for sanctifying grace, and as Word, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, He is the efficient cause in our souls.’ This, isn’t to be confused with the Real Presence proper to Holy Communion, but a presence of vital action which lies deep within us and God ordinarily hides from the soul so as to increase the merit of faith. Our text contains more on this…

2. ‘By this life, Jesus Christ imparts to me His Spirit. … And thus I tend to realize the ideal of the INTERIOR LIFE that was formulated by St. Paul when he said: “I live, now not I, but Christ, liveth in me.”’

3. ‘When Jesus … becomes my light, my ideal, my counsel, my support, my refuge, my strength, my healer, my consolation, my joy, my love, in a word, my life, I shall acquire all virtues.’

One other thing Fr. Chautard stresses is holy reading in the evening, reading which will awaken in the apostle the desire to begin the following day with mental prayer. It is also useful to make many loving ejaculations throughout the day. Just as the modern person calls, texts, e-mails or talks to friends, family, loved ones, Our Lord Jesus should be “called” very often throughout the day:

“Hello Jesus! This is your dearest child! I am here! How are You right now my sweet Jesus? For once I don’t want anything, except to worship and adore You! I lift my little heart to you. Join it with Your Sacred One! Stay close to me tonight dearest Savior and thank You so so much for all of the many ways You have blessed me today. Kiss Your Mother for me! Good night!”

The Food Which Endures: Living a Eucharistic Life: Devotion to the Sacred Heart