Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Thank You Father Rother!

Yesterday, the 28th of July, my in-laws and I headed out on the Northwest Expressway going – you guessed it – northwest to the little town of Okarche, birthplace of Father Stanley Rother. It was a hot, windy day on the Oklahoma plains, a good day for a pilgrimage.

Our destination was Holy Trinity Catholic Church, in Okarche, where we arrived a little before noon. For those who don’t know, a pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred place or shrine; it can cover a long distance, or be a search for some exalted purpose or moral significance. In my case, this was a personal spiritual pilgrimage undertaken in honor of the 28th anniversary of Father Rother’s martyrdom. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve long wanted to tour this town, worship inside the church and perhaps even visit the grave of this inspirational priest. Several times, I planned to take my children, but something always came up. We had called our family homeschool, Father Stanley Rother Academy. We said the prayer for his canonization every morning as a part of our daily prayers … but somehow we never made the short trip to Okarche. I felt a little sad as I arrived and saw just how close the town was to us.

When we drove up, Channel 4 News¹ was interviewing a woman in front of Holy Trinity Church about why she had come today. She had tears in her eyes when she spoke about her admiration for Father. Was it my imagination, or did the questions coming from the interviewer and the camerawoman sound hostile? I handed the woman a tissue when the interview concluded.

Holy Trinity is a beautiful Gothic-style, stone and brick church, which is a well-known historical landmark in the area. Built in 1903, it is older than our state, and its outer magnificence is only surpassed by its interior serene beauty. I had come to do an hour of Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament in response to the write-up in our diocesan newspaper, The Sooner Catholic. (See page 15 of the July 12, 2009 edition for the article.) Even though my in-laws aren’t Catholic, “Mom” and “Dad” joined me for Holy Hour. It was their first experience of this particular Catholic tradition, but they were very used to attending other Catholic events with me, beginning almost twenty-five years ago when they attended our wedding in the chapel at RAF Mildenhall, UK.

After Adoration, we admired the small collection of memorabilia at the back of the church devoted to Father Rother, including some of his vestments. Then we photographed the outside of the church, including the statue pictured above, and went to lunch at the local Tower Café. Just as our food was set down before us, a nice-looking gentleman came up and said, “Didn’t I just see you over at the church a little while ago?” He was specifically addressing my father-in-law who said that yes, we’d just come from there.

With the warmest possible voice and manner and a smile as wide as an Oklahoma plain, he said, “I thought I recognized your bald head! Hi! I’m Tom Rother², Stan’s youngest brother.”

You could have picked me up off the floor … if Tom hadn’t sat down right next to me and blocked me into my booth seat! He proceeded to stay for the next twenty minutes—or so—and ‘shoot the breeze’ with us about “Stan”, their family, Oklahoma and Indiana—where my in-laws are from, farming, families in general, and just general ‘down home’ folk’s talk which just showed that farming and farming folk don’t know anything ‘bout state lines. Tom Rother, I discovered, was just a bit younger than my in-laws and they had a world in common. I reveled in just being the ‘fly on the wall’ for most of the conversation.

Tom had us laughing and feeling like we’d known him all our lives. As he was getting ready to leave, he said, “You are coming to Mass later at 5?” as if it wasn’t so much a question as a statement, and Dad said, “We should be coming back through just about then.”

We did some other sightseeing but we were back at Holy Trinity in time for Mass, after which Tom, and his lovely wife Marty, took us out to the graveyard. There we learned more family history, saw the family plot and gravestones and even encountered a representative and source for copies of The Shepherd Cannot Run ($10) and DVD, No Greater Love… The Story of Father Stanley Rother ($10), both of which I was looking for and will be reviewing in the not too distant future.

As we drove home, my own heart and spirit were soaring with gratitude and love. I have no doubt that Father Rother arranged everything, through Our Lord Jesus Christ. I believe in the Communion of Saints!

Father Rother, your brother and his wife are such warm and wonderful people. I look forward to meeting you too someday! Thank you!

¹ I was told by a friend at work today that she saw me on the news last night. Ah! My three or four seconds of fame and I missed it! We didn't get home until almost nine and then we had a whopper of an Oklahoma hail and wind storm come through which left us without power for two hours, split our pear tree down the middle and knocked over the freestanding basketball hoop blowing out the rear windscreen of one of our old cars. Guess I was just a little bit busy... ☺

² The second picture is yours truly with Tom Rother standing behind Father Rother's grave.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Icon of Initimate Love

Twenty six years ago, in July I visited a cathedral store in Galway, Ireland and found this interesting icon.

The back of my icon reads,

THE ICON OF INTIMATE LOVE. (Russian 16th Century)

An icon of great tenderness, gentleness, love! Joachim and Anne, the parents of Mary, stand together in affectionate embrace. The dignity, royalty, and warmth of their love is symbolised in their red robes. The green pallet on which they stand lifts them high above the darkness of fear and loneliness. In the background, a cloth, draped between their two houses, expresses the mantle of blessings bestowed by God; Blessings on wife and husband and on their families. This icon is frequently presented as a wedding gift in the Orthodox Churches.

Today is the feast day of Saints Joachim and Anne. Not only am I named for Saint Anne, but a year after finding this icon, almost to the day, I met my husband; we were married the following April. The icon has had pride of place in our bedroom in all eight homes we've lived in for twenty-four and a half years of marriage now. As many of you know, icons aren't just pictures, but windows into the Divine; they are deeply symbolic, rich in meaning and meant for prayer.

It is my belief that the Blessed Mother's parents brought my own dear husband to me and has watched over this poor foolish sinner all these years. Now I humbly beg their intercession for my own dear daughters. If it be their vocation to become wives and mothers, may they be as blessed as I have been and continue to be, with a husband who is wise, kind, good and above all, loving.

Dear Saints Joachim and Anne, please watch over and love my daughters as you once watched over your own child, Our Lady. Amen.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Love In A Fearful Land

"We diocesan priests have lost our historical sense. If Stan* had been a Jesuit, twenty books would have been written about him by now."

~~Fr. John Vesey to his fellow priests during a Tulsa-Oklahoma City clergy week 5 June 1984

*(Fr. Rother)

Although not what I was expecting – a straight biography of the martyred Father Stanley RotherLove In A Fearful Land is an interesting and worthwhile book, especially during this Year For Priests because it brings together in one book three incredible priests who never had the chance to meet all together in one place, although two were both friends of Fr. John Vesey.

The author, Fr. Henri Nouwen, the best known of the three, has written over forty spiritual books and yet he was in the middle of a writing slump at the time Fr. Vesey asked him to tell the story of a quiet Oklahoma farm boy who became a priest, traveled to Guatemala in the late 1960s and fell in love with the people there. Writing this book brought Fr. Nouwen out of his slump.

Love In A Fearful Land is agonizingly brief, as was the life of Fr. Stan, this gentle yet strong priest, beloved by his parish. You will probably want to study the all too few surviving pictures of him; I know I did. He is always smiling and so is everyone who is with him. Despite the constant danger he lived in, Fr. Rother was not seeking martyrdom; he just believed a shepherd’s place was with his flock.

On the night of July 28th shortly after midnight, three men broke in to the rectory and attempted to kidnap Fr. Rother as was the practice of the time. There was a civil war in Guatemala in 1981 and the government was powerless – or claimed it was anyway – to stop roving bands of terrorists from kidnapping anyone perceived as a threat. Once kidnapped, the individuals were brutally tortured, killed and their bodies left by the side of the road or worse yet, never found. It was considered far better not to be taken alive. Father Rother, apparently put up quite a fight before he was shot twice in the head. The room where he died is now used as a chapel by his ‘flock’ who has already proclaimed him a saint.

Here is the prayer for canonization the Archdiocese of Oklahoma has written in his honor.

A week from today, on the 28th of this month, I'm going on pilgrimage to Holy Trinity Church, Father Stanley Rother's home parish, in Okarche, Oklahoma. It's the 28th anniversary of his death in Guatemala. We've been praying for his canonization for many years now, but I've yet to visit his town or parish and ... always wanted to. If you feel so called, please join us in praying for a very special intention that day.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Fighting the Good Fight: The Father Peter Whelan Story Trailer

'Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the LORD. Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, against the shepherds who shepherd my people: You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds. I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow; there they shall increase and multiply. I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing, says the LORD.' Jer 23:1-4

One such shepherd who ministered to the Lord's flock was Father Peter Whelan. In the final months of the American Civil War, this priest went into the hell-hole that was Andersonville Prison where almost 1 out every 3 Union soldiers died of starvation, malnutrition, diarrhea, and/or disease. Once inside that death trap, this brave shepherd said Mass, heard Confessions, anointed the sick, buried the dead and offered solace to all regardless of faith or hometown. They may have been Yankees to everyone else, but to Father Whelan they were God's own and in need of His Loving Care, which they received. God bless this brave and selfless priest!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Prisoner of Love

Hello my dear Prisoner of Love!

You are here! As always when I come to visit you, I find you locked up and waiting … patiently.

You just wait for me to come and pour out my sorrows or joys, my joys and sorrows, or whatever I want to tell you.

You WILL listen, truly listen and hear me, ME … all my cries, all my words, thoughts, everything … anything.

You simply wait … in love. You are a prisoner for love. It is Your love for me which holds You here.

And whatever I say, You will understand. Your love will sort through my rambling words, sifting out needs from confusion, making sense from so much doubt, worry and fear, because You love me so much, though I deserve it so little.

You are ALL Love, a Prisoner of, and by, Your own choice.

Some would call you a fool.

I call You, “My Lord and My God!”

Thank You, my dear Prisoner of Love!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Theology For Beginners

This is my second reading of Theology For Beginners -- mostly because I can barely remember the first. What I do remember was at the time (probably sometime between '02-'04) it didn't seem a book 'for beginners'. This time, perhaps due to the reading I've done in the interim, it was much easier to understand. It's still very theoretical. Theology, after all, being 'the study of' God -- the most impenetrable mystery of all time -- it now amazes me Mr. Sheed has made this book as accessible as he has.

There were many things I liked about this book including the explanation of spirit/soul/body and their relationship(s) to each other. The whole spirit-soul 'thing' actually made sense after reading this explanation, spirit being not only a key word, but the key word. It 'is the element in us by which we know and love, by which we therefore decide.' Souls, on the other hand are marvellous and they animate the bodies, the life-principles, of all living things including plants and animals. So my cat has soul, but not a spirit, if I understand Mr. Sheed correctly. However, the human soul not only animates the body, it has powers of its own, powers utterly outside the possibilities of matter. (p. 62)

And then there were other pearls of Wisdom scattered throughout which I tried to collect (highlight) and add to memory, such as:

- . . . evolution and creation. These are answers to two totally different questions. Creation answers the question why does anything exist, why isn't there nothing? Evolution is a theory as to how the universe did develop once it existed. Upon how it came to exist, evolution sheds no light whatever. (p. 58)

- We are born without sanctifying grace. That is what is meant by being born in original sin, which is not to be thought of as a stain on the soul, but as the absence of that grace without which we cannot . . . reach the goal for which God destined man. (p. 80)

- It is by the saints, and not by the mediocre . . . that the Church is to be judged. A medicine must be judged not by those who buy it but by those who actually take it. (p. 116)

Theology For Beginners is really very basic theology. For some it will just whet the appetite. For others, it will saturate. Whichever is the case, as Mr Sheed says in his Foreword, 'you cannot love someone you do not know. You cannot love God well if you know Him poorly.'

"While it is obvious that an ignorant man can be virtuous, it is equally obvious that ignorance is no virtue." ~~Frank Sheed

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Catholic Youth Witness

Sometimes our kids surprise us in good ways.

Saturday when my younger daughter, Michelle, returned from Falls Creek she was so tired she could barely keep awake during Mass. However, after Mass, she hopped in my car, opting to ride home with me rather than her Dad. We arrive at our parish for Vigil Mass in different cars out of expediency, because I get off from work just before I need to be at church which is very close to my place of employment, and not because we don't like each other or particularly like traveling separately. Usually dear daughter (DD) chooses to go home with Dad so she can get in some extra practice driving time; she’s hoping to test for her license next month. I was just flattered she wanted to see me more than she wanted to drive! And after a week’s separation, I confess, my mother’s eyes and ears were hungry for her face and voice.

Last year when she went to Falls Creek, I awaited Michelle's return with trepidation. I hadn’t wanted her to go. She was only fifteen. It had been a difficult year followed by an even more stressful summer. Although I stayed home with and homeschooled our children since infancy, they began attending public school that year—for many reasons. Michelle was in 9th grade; she began wearing make-up, cut and started straightening her hair. She began to look very different … from the outside. But what I wondered – and constantly worried about – was, what was going on, on the inside?

She’d wanted to go to this camp and it threatened to be the big issue of the summer. I asked around. People assured me Falls Creek was lots of prayer, music, preaching, fun and fellowship, but not much sleep. The Baptist counselors would ensure her physical and moral safety. I still had doubts about the spiritual environment. How would she weather that? Was she strong enough to withstand the pressure from 7000 non-Catholic Christians, some of whom would be bent on convincing her that much—if not all—she’d been brought up to believe was wrong? And yet, when was I going to ‘let her go’? When was I going to begin to trust her? She was a good girl, smart, honest, polite (mostly) and worthy of the opportunity. And, she wanted to go so very much…

After much soul searching, prayer, discussion and yes, some anguish, we agreed.

I waited and prayed.

Before Michelle left, I would have described her as an average Catholic, not especially devout perhaps but I knew she received the Sacraments regularly and read her Bible every night before bed. Like many young teens, although she’d been baptized and raised in the Faith from the cradle, she sometimes seemed to take her Faith for granted—or at least that’s how it appeared on the outside. However, that’s also how I’d describe her outward attitude toward family … and yet everyone (including Michelle!) tells me I’m wrong. She cares very deeply; it’s just not “cool” to show such things.

In any event, she returned … not only Catholic, but almost militantly so! The pressure to ‘give her life to Jesus’ offended my DD who was thoroughly convinced she had already given her life over to Jesus Christ. She stood firm—or perhaps stubborn…? Who am I to say? I wasn’t there.

She loved the music, endured the non-stop praying, and spoke of being exhausted. She joked about some of the things she saw and heard there, but took umbrage at others. Her overall assessment, “I’m glad I’m Catholic!”

In April of this year she received the Sacrament of Confirmation.

A few weeks ago when Michelle expressed a desire to return to Falls Creek, I was a little surprised. “I thought you said they prayed too much? And didn’t they try really hard to get you to ‘give your life to Jesus’?” Yes, yes, all that, she agreed, but she still wanted to go. Her friends were going. It was fun. They had a great ropes course!

Also, I knew this could be the last summer before she’d have a regular job which would probably preclude youthful things like camps. So… she went back.

“You know what one of the counselors said to me?” she began recounting her experiences from this year. “We were all dancing to the music and it was so great and everyone was having a wonderful time. And he leans over and says, ‘I bet you don’t have this at St. Philip Neri, do you?’”

Michelle apparently didn’t answer, but she did get angry. The man’s attempt to make a point backfired on him. Instead, she was offended and put off. “You know, Mom, I went there and listened to all that they told me all week long – even though I didn’t agree with a lot of it – and I didn’t tell any of them they were wrong to believe like they do. Why did he have to say that?”

Later she did have a one-on-one with two of the more receptive adult counselors and she told them that although she appreciated her time there, she still couldn’t accept some of their ideas.

For example, Michelle asked, “You mean if I was to kill someone after I ‘accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior’, I’d still go to Heaven?” ‘Yes’ said the lady. “Well, I can’t believe that,” my daughter answered her. “I believe in sin and forgiveness and going to Confession. And I do believe there is Purgatory.” She told me that she went on to explain things to these adults such as Apostolic Succession, the Sacraments and the Real Presence.

“They didn’t have much to say except that I could always tell Jesus I was sorry anytime I wanted. I know that. But I explained why confessing your sins to a priest is the same as telling them to Jesus.” I wanted to stop the car, pull over to the side of the road and hug her. I kept on driving.

She told me she watched her peers – all of them but her – go up for the ‘altar call’ and still she didn’t go. Why? “When those other kids went up there this week, the adults asked them all these questions and they just kind of went along with whatever they said,” she told me. “But I accepted Jesus a long time ago. I just knew one day, I wanted to do what Jesus wants me to. I don’t remember exactly what day it was, but I know I came and told you.”

I’m sure she did too. I wish I had a better memory. I wish I could recall that wonderful day all those years ago. Sadly, I probably wasn’t paying attention. That’s why I’m writing all this down now … before I forget this incredible testimony. God bless you my dear daughter. I am so very proud of you!

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Priestblock 25487: A Memoir of Dachau

"This was but a prelude; where books are burnt human-beings will be burnt in the end." ~~the German poet Heinrich Heine in 1820

Although I visited Dachau years ago¹ and I've read many books--both fiction² and non-fiction³--dealing with life in concentration camps, I don't recall ever reading any individual accounts specifically about this particular camp, until I encountered this poignant diary by Father Jean Bernard from Luxembourg. Nor do I recall reading about the internment tortures reserved for priests and other Christian ministers.

As I was reading Priestblock 25487: A Memoir of Dachau it was hard not to recall the eerie silence of Dachau's vast empty spaces marking off where derelict huts had once housed skeletons. But for the Grace of God, Father Bernard, too, would have joined the many souls who died there. His memoir is unique in several respects and worth reading, no matter how many books you may have read about the Holocaust.

First, it is about what happened to Christian, both Catholic and Protestant, clergy at the hands of the Nazis. For those who may have thought the Jewish nation alone suffered during those terrible times, they need look no further. In fact, there were punishments vindictive guards delighted in reserving just for priests on special feasts and other holy days.

And yet the strength of the story comes from the author’s intelligence, compassion for his fellows, and lack of self-pity or belaboring the horrors. The suffering endured by these men is beyond imagining; that is sufficient.

However, for me, it was Father Bernard’s unwavering faith in Christ through it all which speaks louder than anything and is the most important reason to read this book.

Worth reading and rereading—a reminder of how blessed we all are...perhaps most especially in our priests!

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¹ 1985 to be precise, just after my husband and I were married. We went together; it was a trip we never forgot!

² The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, I am Bonhoeffer, The Book Thief, The Valley of Light and Angel Girl being some of the fiction I've reviewed here on my blog and on Goodreads.

³ Night, Man's Search for Meaning and Concentration camp Dachau, 1933-1945 are a few of the many non-fiction books on the Third Reich which I've read and reviewed; most of rest I've not gotten around to reviewing yet.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Obama Sandwich

This picture is compliments of my dear husband. Here is what he writes: For those of you who haven't been here in Okieland, JT's barbecue is about the best there is. (It's located on Sunnylane; I had my retirement feed catered by them). Here's a sign that was out there a while back... This mailing was making the rounds at Tinker, had to send if forward.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009


After spending several un-quiet weeks with this profoundly quiet book, I think – hope – it is finally starting to exert a positive influence over my life. A ‘poustinia’, for those who may not be familiar with the term is a Russian word, which literally translates, “desert”, but actually means many different things depending on how it is used. It can describe quiet, lonely places, set apart from the world where special people go to seek God and live out their lives in prayer and solitude. It is also the word used to refer to the Spartan-like hermit huts favored by those who venture into temporary “desert”, or retreat from the hustle of human society. At the very end of the book, the author, Catherine Doherty*, offered a third definition for her title term: ‘…not a place at all—and yet it is. It is a state, a vocation, belonging to all Christians by Baptism. It is the vocation to be a contemplative.’ (page 184)

This book is – or can be – a beautiful, prayerful read. I listened to most of it, read in the soothing voice of Fr. Émile Brière, a poustinik himself and a close friend of the author. I highly recommend that option if it’s available. How many times during this turbulent summer was I able to turn on the CD and tune out so much else, including my own noisy mind.

The book is a collection of explanations, meditations, talks and a brief history of the Madonna House which Doherty has assembled to give the reader the fullest possible experience of the contemplative life –short of a full-fledged pilgrimage. In the first section, she gives her own Russian background and the historical and geographic context of poustinia, as well as the person of the poustinik, himself. Part 2 is devoted to talks she has relied on to inspire a deeper awareness within all of us of the presence of God and His eagerness to speak to us in silence. In the third section, we spend a day inside a poustinia. During this time, we seek a word (insight) which may be shared with others—because the purpose of going into poustinia is not for oneself but to share the gift of received wisdom with others. In conclusion, we learn that ‘poustinia’ isn’t about going away to the mountains or living alone in a little house; it’s really for all of us, wherever we are. Poustinia is about going within and finding God in the heart of our prayer and sharing all we have and are with whoever is in need.

I will want to return to this book again and again and again!

Thanks ever so much for the recommendation Jennifer!

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* Her cause for canonization as a saint is under consideration by the Catholic Church.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Diary of a Country Priest

The Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos is a deceptively quiet book which starts off very slowly. Though I knew it had to be going somewhere, it is easy to see why some readers miss its depths—I stopped and started it several times myself. Lacking a clearly discernable plot, especially in the opening pages, I couldn't get into it.

I had even decided to put it on a backburner when a Goodreads friend, Fred, from Deep Furrows, commented on my update, 'Better to read sooner than later. Not a ponderous classic, but eavesdropping on great dialogue.' Well that was clear enough for me. I reopened 'Diary' and finished it in less than a week...with much appreciation.

The gist of the story is an inexperienced, young priest arrives at his first parish, a little place out in the country and begins to keep a diary. We also learn he is poor, devout, idealistic and ascetic. None of these traits particularly endear him to his parishioners. He seems to have but one fellow cleric friend, a worldly priest, de Torcy, who would have him ‘toughen up’ and stand up for himself. Sometimes, I confess I felt a little exasperated with our curé myself. Other times, his self-effacing meekness brought out my motherly instincts and I wanted to help this young clergyman—who so many seemed to despise or take advantage of. What makes the saga so compelling is the gentle, uncomplaining way the new priest tells about his many failures and humiliations. As his audience we see his kindnesses misunderstood and his simple mistakes turned against him. And yet he is determined to go out and visit all within his parish despite mounting health problems.

Most of the ‘action’ – if it can even be called that – in this novel occurs in the brilliantly constructed conversations between the curate and another character: a confused little girl, an atheist doctor, a long-grieving countess, her malicious teenage daughter, and a soldier of fortune to name a few. It is in these epic dialogues George Bernanos' reason for writing this testimony to faith is truly revealed.

It isn’t an action book. It’s much, much better than that! I can see why some – used to reading a different sort of literature – have discounted this book. It has to be read carefully, slowly and perceptively. Also, some background on the author, George Bernanos, and the French movement, positivism, would be extremely beneficial. The best review I've read on the book was this one written by Amy Welborn.

Highly recommended! One of the most faith-affirming books I’ve read this year! Thanks so much Fred for the gentle nudge.

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