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Grasping the Intensity of Love

“There never was a time, O God of Love, when your mind and your heart were not concerned about me.” (St. J. Eudes)

That is one powerful sentence! It bears deeper reflection. I cannot fathom this kind of pure, selfless love. How could this God of ours truly be concerned for little old sinful me? Or, for any one of the billions of humans who have occupied this planet. St. John Eudes makes a bold claim here and further writes,

“With God, there is neither past nor future, and everything has always been before him as present and visible in his eternal light. He cast his divine gaze upon me from all eternity; he looked upon me with the eye of mercy; he thought of me tenderly and ardently; he disposed and ordained, with wonderous kindness, everything that was to happen to me in body and soul and   in every circumstance, development, and event of my existence and life, even to the hairs on my head.”

This should take our breath away. It sure did mine. “From all eternity,” not just since our birth. It is really hard to wrap our minds around this concept of being loved before we ever existed, presently, or despite our sinfulness.

There was “never a time” when God was not concerned for us.

Never? We humans can be so fickle about who we love and for how long. How many chances do we give someone before we give up on them and withdraw our love? Is there hope for redemption and reconciliation if someone ever crosses “that line” we have established? Our love, unlike God’s, is often generous…but only to a point. I am guilty of this when I really think about it. We measure and count and weigh the limits of our love.

Not so with God. Selfishness is the enemy of love.

Many times, over the years when I have met with couples who are having marriage difficulties, most of it can be chalked up to a failure to love their spouse properly.

Loving as God loves is impossible without God.

St. Teresa of Calcutta wrote, “Love to be real, it must cost-it must hurt- it must empty us of self.” There is no room for ego in love. Ego protects and promotes self above all others. There is no room for “me, me, me” in a marriage. It is no longer about “me, but we.” The same could be true of our relationship with God. It is not about us. God first. Always. Whether convenient, frustrating, or easy. “They will be done.”

Our God does not require much from his distracted children. Love Him, and love our neighbor. Why the whole “love thy neighbor” thing? Basically, there is nothing we can do for God. He is complete in all that he is. He needs nothing from us. He has deigned that our neighbor is the channel whereby we can grow in grace, virtue, and holiness. It starts first with our own relationship with God, flows into our marriage and family and should branch out like the mustard plant from there. Our brothers and sisters and neighbors are the frustrating, nerve-wracking, weirdos the Lord has placed in our midst to practice love. And we are that for them as well. Jesus himself said in Matt 25:40,

“What you do for the least of my brethren, you do for me.”

But why can’t we just love you Jesus? I’ve tried being nice with old cranky Hank, he is insufferable. Yet, he is the person God in his wisdom has placed on your path to grow in patience, love, and generosity. Ugh! Does that apply to my co-workers, roommates, and local politician? Yes. “But it is so hard to love them, you don’t know what they have put me through.” This is true, but God knows. He also knows that the way we treat the people hardest to deal with helps them now and helps us get to heaven.

We were driving to Costco and through a series of events, ended up taking a way that we would not normally take. We stopped for the red light and I was looking south out my passenger window. Something caught my attention. Something that should not have been there. It took a minute to figure out that I was looking at a body of someone, partially clothed, laying face down in the rocks near the shrubbery. I had to ask Mark if he was seeing the same thing. We watched and there seemed to be no sign of breathing. We called 911 to investigate. I asked for a call back, so I had some information. When the officer returned my call, he indicated that it was a woman and that she would “not have lasted another day out there.” They were transporting her to the hospital. I thanked him for his service and time.

How long had she been out there? It was record heat that day. How many people drove through that intersection without noticing her lying there? How many did notice and did nothing?

I cannot get the image out of my head. What is her story? Was she loved? Did she have any idea of the immense love that God has for her? Whose little girl, was she? Does anyone miss her at all?

These times have been hard on everyone, but especially devastating to those who had little to start with or live for. Obviously, I do not know her situation. I may never know what happened, how she ended up where she was or how things might be different in her future. I know right now she is in a hospital bed, getting necessary fluids and medication. I do not know what tomorrow brings for her or the days after. We are praying for her and that might be the only tangible thing we can do.

“There never was a time, O God of Love, when your mind and your heart were not concerned about me.”

Her Father in heaven loves her, but that does not mean anything if every other human that she encounters does not. We are the hands and feet of Jesus. How do we prove to the marginalized, atheists, or haters of Christians that there is a God who loves them, cares for them, and wants to be with them in paradise for eternity?

We show them.

We live this conviction even in the nastiest, most ungrateful, situations and people. Because that is what Christ would do. Living our faith is more than simply just saying we are “Catholic.”

Being a follower of Christ, a Catholic Christian, is an action.

It is being Christ now in the present. It means looking at how we spend our money, what we support, how we love another and how we vote; which must line up with Catholic moral teaching. All lives matter. All souls matter. Authentic love is bigger than our differences.

Authentic sacrificial love is not a doormat, it is a welcome mat.

The world will change when we ourselves change. We must be countercultural and that is uncomfortable and puts us in the crosshairs. It puts a target on our back, and potentially labels us. If my label is Catholic Christian, then I am good with that.

I will say this, amidst all this crazy talk to “defund” police, I vehemently disagree. Thank you on behalf of that woman whose life you may have saved. Thank you for doing your job in a prompt and professional way. Most Americans see the sacrifice you are making for us all, and we are grateful.

We are praying for you and your families.

We are praying for the situations and people that you respond to, and we are grateful to you for the jobs you do. No one deserves to be disrespected because of the poor conduct of another in their profession. Not the good priests, or teachers, or coaches, who often get lumped together with the bad seeds.

Matthew Kelly writes that, “Our lives will change when our habits change.” Let’s start a love revolution.

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Rebellious

For a few months now in the daily readings, I have noticed an overarching theme proclaimed through the prophets. Here are a few examples.

“Return, O Israel, to the Lord, your God; you have collapsed through your guilt.” (Hosea 14:2)

“Unless your faith is firm you shall not be firm!” (Isaiah 7:9)

“Behold, I am planning against this family an evil from which you shall not withdraw your necks; Nor shall you walk with head high, for it will be a time of evil.” (Micah 2:3)

“Why cry out over your wound? Your pain is without relief. Because of your great guilt, and your numerous sins, I have done this to you.” (Jeremiah 30:12-13)

We all should have a heightened sense of hearing in these current times and pay particular attention to what befell the Israelites for so many centuries, due to their failure to be faithful to God. You might be thinking, we are nothing like those people. We don’t worship pagan idols.

No, we don’t worship Baal, but instead ball, baseball, football, basketball.

Maybe it was because they didn’t follow the Ten Commandments, which we may regard as merely outdated suggestions.

Weekly Mass? “I’m really more spiritual than religious. I feel God in nature, not some stuffy old Church.”

The ever popular, “I haven’t murdered anyone.” Abortion counts. Have we helped someone else in their decision to end the life of their unborn child? Do we give funds to those who support pro-choice causes? Do we vote for those who promote the killing of the unborn through all 9 months? Do we kill someones reputation through our tongues?

Adultery? “I haven’t slept with anyone besides my spouse.” Pornography counts. Lusting after someone that is not your spouse is “adultery in your heart” according to Jesus. Porn use is up 400% during the last couple of months. Somebody is watching it.

Without being too much of a downer, I need to point out that I don’t think we are any better and perhaps we are actually worse than the Israelites. You see we have the perspective of learning from their mistakes, from the teachings of Christ Jesus, and from the Catholic Church He left us as a guide.

I had a very dear friend I knew since high school. We were both baptized Catholics, raised in Catholic homes, and received all our sacraments. We both were in each other’s Catholic weddings and Godparents to each other’s children.

Where we strayed was in our political convictions.  It was a topic that I avoided for decades. Call me a coward, gutless, ignorant. I was all of those. I simply was unwilling to risk breaking up our friendship.

Notice the past-tense reference.

I finally spoke up a couple of elections ago, on why I could not vote for her party’s platform as it went against everything that is non-negotiable as a Christian Catholic. I guess I was naive to think that because we were both Catholic that we held the same values.  I had hoped that two longtime friends could have a genuine honest dialogue as we tried to understand where each was coming from. In the end, her political convictions mattered most. She left the faith. She left the friendship.

I rather loathe the election years. It is for me exhausting and terribly divisive. People seem to turn into something out of Jekyll and Hyde.  Tempers flare almost immediately, lines are drawn; words fly like arrows aimed to silence an opponent. Healthy disagreements should be normal. Those sadly are a thing of the past.

Being Catholic means that we hold what the Church in her wisdom teaches. All of it. On some issues there is some wiggle room. On others, there is none. No matter our intent or feelings on the matter. Is our Catholic faith the lens that we see everything through; or is it easily dismissed when embarrassing or awkward? I think what makes it so hard is that there are faces that go with the whole matter. People we love and don’t want to hurt. Ours is not to judge the person, rather the action. Ours is to love and this is where it gets messy and confusing. In this culture of “you be you,” loving me means you consent to everything that I consent to, no discussion.

That is not love at all, that is manipulation.

So, as followers of Christ we must have a conviction to truth and goodness. I get it, we do not want to lose friendships, rock the boat, or cause conflict. I miss my friend and have tried to reach out to her. Christ said to His Disciples, “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you…” (Jn 15:18-19)

Dare I suggest that the world is not in a better place by going along to get along.

When we do not speak, evil advances, and more minds and hearts are led astray in the cryptic, illusory, murmurings of the ancient serpent always leading souls to destruction. Know your faith and live it yourself as a tangible, charitable witness. 

Finally, pray with all your strength. It is the mightiest weapon we have in our arsenal. In the months leading up to one of the most important elections in American history, we must use all the weapons at our disposal; fasting, novenas, rosaries, acts of mortification. Pray that God will clear the fog that clouds judgments and obscures vision. And PLEASE, join Catholics all over the nation in praying the Novena for our Nation, from August 15th to October 7th. It is a beautiful way to be united as a country in prayer, seeking the will of God.

Spread the word about this Novena and entrust our country to the powerful intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas. May she come to our assistance in this time, to convert hearts, and intercede for us at the throne of her Son.

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Take Courage

Like the disciples in the Gospel of Matthew, it can feel like we too are in a boat being tossed by wind and waves like a mere toy. We know not how long this tempest will blow or where it will leave us physically, emotionally, economically, or spiritually. We all keep wanting this storm to just “be done,” and blow over. We yearn to get back to our normal lives. The thing with storms, however, is their unpredictable nature and ferocity. Sometimes it takes a mighty storm to clear the air, put things right, and remind us of our feeble nature. Sometimes, God has to do something big to get our attention.

“Normal” is subjective. What we formally knew as “normal” was in fact very abnormal spiritually speaking.

I propose that while we were going about living our “normal” pre-pandemic lives, evil was taking precious ground. With each passing day efforts to normalize sin indoctrinated our minds with catchy mantras, so we would just “go along to get along,” not rocking the boat, least we be called a hater, or worse. We as Catholic Christians were asleep at the wheel blithely unaware as we busied ourselves with our own temporal concerns. We did not pay attention to all the signs of an impending storm. We happily lived life in our own little boats ignoring all the warning signs. And then the outbreak was upon us and everything came to a halt.

Suddenly, the other trivialities of our previous “normal” life did not seem so pressing especially when our boat started taking on water and the visceral fear of drowning loomed heavy. We became focused on survival. The ports were closed. The lighthouse in darkness. There was panic in the air. So, we hunkered down in our little boats afraid. How many of us are still there? Where is God in your storm? Perhaps we are currently so consumed by the erratic nature of this storm that we don’t bother to cry out to God at all. Or worse, we may even think God doesn’t care that we are drowning.

Why doesn’t He do something about this storm that is swirling about making a mess out of my life and future? We literally want to hear the Lord say to us personally, “Take courage it is I; do not be afraid.” Jesus didn’t stop at that, He called Peter out of the perceived safety of the boat. He does the same for us. Do you trust God? Have you entrusted your family, and life to Him? Do you have faith to step out, to live your Catholicism out loud and to reclaim souls for Christ?

Some people are barely treading water. They are trying to outlast a hurricane with little provisions, all on their own. It is too much for us. The casualties are mounting. This has strained the best of marriages, taken a personal toll within our young people, and allowed the spirit of the enemy to actively spread discouragement, fear, and confusion.

What are we called to do as Catholic Christians? Put on the armor of God and fight. Step out of the safety of the boat into the arms of Christ who died that you might live. Reach out to someone who is overwhelmed, alone, in need of the Good News. We have the antidote. We don’t have the luxury anymore to quietly surrender to the “you be you” mantra. We have what the world needs. We have the One who can calm any storm, bring clarity to confusion, and light up the darkness. We must stop living in fear of “offending someone.” It is because we care about their eternal soul and love them, that we must at least try. “You seem overwhelmed, can I pray with you?” Sadly, these words can strike fear in most Catholics. “Do you want to talk? I am here to listen. I know God has a solution.” It means we share our faith. We share our own stories of struggles and fear and the Good News of what God has done in our life. It is not talking at someone. It is listening and sharing. It is throwing a drowning person a life saver.  “I see you are drowning; how can I help?”

At this time in history, there is no place for lukewarm, fearful, or hypocritical Catholics. We were made for greatness; to be saints. That work is done here and now. If not now, when? We are made battle ready when we go to the sacraments. Jesus says to each of us, “Come.” Step out into the unknown. “Take courage, it is I,” and I AM right here by your side.

I will close with these compelling words of Venerable Fulton Sheen,

“Since the basic cause of man’s anxiety is the possibility of being either a saint or a sinner, it follows that there are only two alternatives for him. Man can either mount upward to the peak of eternity or else slip backwards to the chasms of despair and frustration.           Yet there are many who think there is yet another alternative, namely, that of indifference… By the mere fact that we do not go forward, we go backward.                                                There are no plains in the spiritual life, we are either going uphill or coming down.            Furthermore, the pose of indifference is only intellectual. The will must choose. And even though an “indifferent” soul does not positively reject the infinite, the infinite rejects it. The talents that are unused are taken away, and the Scriptures tell us that, “But because though art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:16).”

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An Understanding Heart

On Sunday we will hear about God appearing to young Solomon in a dream and say, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.”

Who needs the lottery! Solomon was granted what most of us can only wish for with the words “Ask anything…” The God who created the universe with merely a thought, brought us up from the dust, and parted the Red Sea asks the young king what he wants.

Anything?

Can you imagine if that question was posed to you by the Infinite God? Would we be cynical at first? Who me? Is this a test? Wait, what was in those brownies? A plethora of questions pop into my mind immediately, why me? What is going on that you are coming to little nobody me? Did you ask someone else, what did they say? Are there any strings attached? Seriously, anything?

We know from Scripture that throughout history God calls men and women to act, to trust, and to be an active force in bringing His saving message to the mongrels and those who have forgotten the long-ago lessons of their youth. He chooses the little, the weak, and the nobody’s of their time. In this situation, He asks the son of David, the future King of Israel. Unlike me, Solomon lays out the situation he finds himself in governing so vast a people. “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.”

A brilliant answer which pleased God and He not only granted what Solomon asked, but riches and glory as well.

God is so generous. We can tend to measure and count, after all we never know what could happen and we might need a reserve just to be safe.

 Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” (Lk6:38)

God sets the bar high and reminds us that we cannot out-give Him.

We have found this to be true in our own lives. When we place God first, and entrusted our humble offering to Him, there was always more than enough for us. This is not just about money, but about our very lives. They belong to God anyway. How can we be so selfish when God gives us His all? Everything is a gift from God. Everything. No Barb, I worked hard for this. No, I kept myself healthy and in shape so I would not get cancer. No, I followed all the prescribed rules and that is why I did not get covid.

The problem with that kind of philosophy, is that we think we are in control over the outcome when in fact, we are not. That is why when the very thing we tried to avoid happens to us, we get angry. We target and blame God. Somewhere inside where we do not want to spend too much time pondering, is the actuality that our continued existence relies completely on our heavenly Father.

I propose a solution, that involves God and teaches us to surrender our false notion of control. Entrusting our life and all that is in it over to God actually frees us from the overwhelming weight of it all. As we practice surrendering and detachment from control, a delightful freedom emerges.  We become open to the Will of God and are less rigid and self-focused. Think of Mary’s Fiat, “May it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38) Mary did not know what was coming next, nor did she demand details. Like Mary, we will not know every twist and turn that God has planned for us. Surrendering, she became His pliable, willing, and highly effective instrument. Her yes changed history.

So, what holds us back?

If any of us would have been told prior to being born, the trials that our lives would undergo, the lost loves, challenges, and failures, we might have said no thanks. It would have been too overwhelming to bear at once. The little things get us stronger for the bigger challenges. God is here for us at each moment in our life, “ask something and I will give it to you.” Jesus in fact said, “Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you.” (Matt 7:7)

Solomon asked and received because it was not self-seeking, nor was it for selfish gain. It pointed outward towards others and their benefit. This is not to say we cannot pray for our own situation, health, or family. Of course, we must!

How do we ask? Where is our heart? Do we have expectant faith that our request will be heard and answered as God wills? It is important however that we have an openness to how God can use our yes in reaching others too. He invites us to be a small part of the work He is doing here and now.

The other important part of what Solomon asked was to “distinguish right from wrong.” That should be our prayer now more than ever so that we can courageously speak truth into our dark and confusing times.

It is vital to our spiritual life to frequent the Sacraments, especially Holy Eucharist but not before a good Confession. How can we hear what God is asking from us and receive his gifts when we are hiding in fear, afraid to engage humanity? We are called to go forth as Christians into the halls and offices, supermarkets and bars, gatherings of friend and foe.

Yes, God wants to empower us to do mighty and small things to change the climate of hate, confusion, and division. He will make us into saints if we will let Him.

Where are all the saints of today you might ask? They are here, God patiently waits for your yes to change the world.

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Why Taking Care of Your Marriage Affects Everything

Healthy, fun, mutually supportive, respectful, and loving marriages are possible. These are not just the realities of your great grandparents’ generation and a few rare couples. No, it is a possibility for all married couples. In fact, it is within reach of even the most dysfunctional relationships. Unlike most of the other aspects of our lives, in this domain we have more control than we think. How we chose to respond, communicate with one another, and forgive can make a huge difference. I have expounded on a few basics which a surprisingly large number of married couples have forgotten or never knew. The good news is that you can start making a difference today.

              Marriage First. Place your spouse in their rightful place as first in your life (after God). Our spouse should be our best friend, and closest ally who always has our back. Marriage is about a “partnership for life.” Are we respectful? Are we kind? Do we assume the best? Do we act in unity or autonomy? Our spouse comes before the kids, before the job, before the other activities and people in our life.  “Before,” not to the exclusion.

Marriage is a total self-gift, a complete self-offering not only for our benefit, but for our spouse, and the marriage. This requires a willingness to die to our own wants and desires. “We before I.” Friction occurs when other people, situations, and circumstances take a priority in our hearts and lives. The quickest way to break those down is to refocus our attention, time, and love on our spouse. Practicing authentic love is sacrificial. St. Paul outlines what love looks like in 1 Cor.13:1-13. It is a wonderful passage to ponder what adjustments need to be made. Sacramental confession is the next place to unload all of the hurt, failures, unkindness. Forgive your spouse as you have been forgiven. Our wonderful priests are so gentle, and the necessary healing will bring peace.

“What’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is mine.” Do we totally share ourselves, our finances, our hearts? The more we keep separate, the more that separates us. It is easy from there to plant seeds of distrust, division, and discord. Either you are all in, everything and every part of your life- or you have placed those things before the marriage relationship…and they will not be there when you most need them.

Practicing a shared faith really does make a difference. It is one more thing that unites, and one less thing to fight about. After forty years of marriage and countless conversations with married couples, it is the thing that binds more than any other effort you can make for your marriage. Seeking the Author of Love to learn how to properly love one another is a noble thing.

We cannot survive without help from above. There are so many forces that want your marriage to fail; “You can do better. You deserve to be happy.”

Marriage is about making each other holy, not happy. Happiness is a byproduct, not the priority. Even if you are the only one willing right now, do it. Pray for your spouse. Practice your faith. Give your heart, marriage, and family over to God to make it new. Too many times I have seen the so-called faithful Christian be such a hypocritical source of frustration for the non-Christian that they are pushed further from God. If practicing our faith is not attractive in the sense of how we love, live out our day, and interact with our spouse, then it is futile. A living faith changes us. It seeks to place others first, to be loving and Christlike.

I proposed that placing our marriage first changes everything, I meant everything including our children, family life and those we encounter. Think of your marriage as the foundation for your home. If it is shaky, broken, or unstable, the whole family is affected negatively. It follows that it will also affect your job performance, friendships, leisure time and how you view life in general.

Is it possible to have obedient, respectful, helpful, and happy children? Yes. It just takes time like a marathon. Stay the course with your marriage and respect for one another and it will rub off on the children. Your home is the preparation for their adult life. What are they learning from observing your marriage?

Do they have basic chores in which they contribute towards the good of the family? They need not be paid for these but there should also be some opportunities for earning money too. This flows into the lesson of the value of money? Life is not about attempting to fill their every want when they demand it?  What that teaches them is how to be spoiled, ungrateful and intensifies their inability to be satisfied. They learn nothing of the value and purpose of money.

Who is in charge? Do you parent which takes patience, respect, and cooperation from your spouse, or are you trying to be their friends? They have friends. They need parents to do their job of preparing them for all that life will throw at them. Their success depends on your help and encouragement, support and love, and consistent fair discipline. Of course, it is difficult to consistently do the hard stuff, but when we do, they have a grasp of reality and of right and wrong. Teach them about the necessity to obey and respect legitimate authority which is not contingent upon their liking of the person.

It is important to help foster a concern and desire to assist the downtrodden, sick, aged, poor, and disabled. An empathetic compassionate heart is a good thing. Your whole family can volunteer from time to time at various organizations. They need us to survive, and we need them to get to heaven. Acknowledge your blessings and be mindful of others less fortunate. It feels good to be able to make a difference in someone’s life, to lift them up from their situation even for a moment in time. Let your children experience this and expand their capacity for caring.

Finally, and I could go on and on. Our earthly life is only the journey, whether you chose to believe it or not. We are not immortal; we will come to the end of our days when we least expect it. When we as spouses live in a manner that points to heaven, and teach our children about the God who created them, loves them beyond all measure, and will never abandon them; we give them the greatest gift to weather any storm in life. They are never alone and can call on supernatural help in the gravest of situations.  We are God’s delight, even when we are a hot mess, in over our heads, or haven’t so much as acknowledged Him ever. We are His. He desires that we share in His heavenly kingdom and was willing to die on a cross to prove it and make it possible. It is up to us to say yes. Both parents must be willing to introduce them to God and model an active faith life. Otherwise, children are truly deprived and we would have failed at one the most critical tasks of being their parents.

Do everything you can to make your marriage a beautiful reflection of love. Treat your spouse with respect and great care and your kids will follow your lead in their dealings with each other. St. Mother Teresa said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.

Go and do the same.

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In God We Trust

We are but a few days away from another Independence Day holiday. I dare say this one will be different than the previous sixty I have been alive to celebrate. This year has been something of a disaster and an opportunity for all of us worldwide. We have had restrictions thrust upon us that continue to one degree or another in severity, due to whomever wields the most power where we reside.

I never thought I would wear a mask into a bank, with nary a thought or intention of robbing it.

I never imagined that I would hear my five-year-old granddaughter talk about “the virus” being a reason she cannot go and play with her friends or at the neighborhood park.

I never assumed Mass would ever stop or I’d be masking up once we returned.

I never believed that the world could come to a near halt for weeks, that sports would ever be interrupted/canceled, or that such fear would grip so many.

I never guessed that in the name of justice, so many Americans would destroy, loot, kill and attack their own homeland and fellow citizens.

What is happening America?

This is the greatest country in the world. I say this from having lived aboard for years in both Asia and Europe and traveling extensively. We have lived through the Cold War, visited countries under Communist rule, and felt the oppression of a Socialist government. There is no place like our country, and we are allowing our own citizens to attack their fellow citizens while those in authority turn a blind eye and are suddenly dumbstruck.

What opportunity do these crisis’s offer us? They allow us to see what we are made of, and the depth of our faith and trust in God. They show us the character, (or lack thereof), of those we elected on every level, as well as, those appointed in authority over Holy Mother Church.

I hope we are paying attention to how our “leaders” are responding or not; tearing down, manipulating, or destroying those things that represent the history of humanity doesn’t change anything. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana) They teach us how far we have come, (or not), and how much further we need to go.

A few years ago, I was doing a study of the Old Testament. What emerged for me was the fact that the Israelites constantly repeated the same mistakes through the centuries. I wondered to myself, how could they not understand that those kinds of behaviors didn’t work out in the long run and usually incurred the wrath of God? Sadly, we are no different today. We humans seem to be stubborn and hardheaded at times. I would love to think we have evolved so much more than they, yet here we are: same behaviors, different names, and varied situations.

Another opportunity presents itself personally; How will I be a faithful, practicing Catholic Christian in these desperate times? How will I speak the truth in love and be willing to be persecuted for Christ? How do we stand up as American Catholics to preserve our nation and the right we have to practice religious freedom without worrying about an angry mob, over-reaching governments, or fear getting in the way?

In these crazy, uncertain times what are we going to do to ensure that we do not lose the hard-won rights we take for granted and many lost their lives to preserve? How do we protect all our citizens, respect legitimate authority, and bring order and unity again?

It starts with each one of us, one person at a time, living out our faith in Jesus Christ. It means loving the rejected, calling others out of their sinful actions, and being willing to enter the darkness to bring Christ’s healing light. It means living out the sacramental life, where we receive supernatural strength to know when and how to speak and act.

This is where it matters. We do not need any more passive bobbleheads, sign hangers, or ribbon wearers. It may have been easy to be Catholic and fly under the radar for years, letting our Catholicism peek out when it was safe and convenient. “…where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more (Rom 5:20) It is going to get tougher. This is where we begin the ascent up the narrow road and where saints are forged.

What will we let get in the way of living our faith, practicing our freedom, and being Christ to one another?

If it is God we trust, we need to prove it. He has a little something for each one of us to do in this moment in history. We were made for greatness; we were made for heaven and that might mean fighting the fury of hell itself all the way there.

All that we know, and love depends on each one of us taking up our mission, doing our part, and trusting in the God who knows the outcome, even when we do not. God bless America.

See you in the pews.

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Where Are You?

These infamous words uttered by God in the Garden of Eden are as relevant today as then.  It was not as if God did not know where the newlyweds were hiding after their encounter with the serpent. Nor, that the temptation to eat from the forbidden fruit was too good for them to pass up. The question was for each of them. “Where are you,” in relationship with Me? Where are you in the choices you have made? What beguiled you, so as to cut yourselves off from Me, and from paradise?

So, where are you?

I have thought about this a lot. Where am I in my own life and God relationship? Have I faithfully lived my Catholic faith or picked what I liked of her teachings, and disregarded the tough stuff? Do I love my neighbor as myself, pray for those who hurt me, or those I do not agree with?

I have practiced my faith my whole life and missed mass only a few rare times. There were many years when I was ignorant of what the Catholic Church taught, (and did not bother to find out), so I could live with the sinful choices I was making at the time. Ignorance is bliss, right?

God calls His children to a higher standard.

I sadly admit I have failed to love others as I should. I attempt to do so intermittently, but when it gets really uncomfortable and messy, it becomes harder to separate the sin from the sinner. It is easier to love those just like me. Jesus however calls me to love everyone, especially those not like me.

This is hard. It is where the rub begins to chafe and burn and become difficult to execute. So they walk away.

What gives me courage and motivation is the reality Christ spoke of; we are ONE Body in Him. No human is better than another, simply different. Diverse backgrounds, life experiences, wounds, and brokenness. As a single body entity, when we do good, love and help one another; the whole-body benefits. When we chose to break the commandments-no matter the reason, it hurts us all. Sin is communal. It is like shooting ourselves in the foot, the head, and the heart, repeatedly. A body can only take so much abuse before it rebels against itself. If not for the purity of the Head, Christ Jesus, it would rot, and die.

An autoimmune disease involves the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacking itself. The immune system normally safeguards our body against bacterial and viral germs. With autoimmune diseases, it instead turns on that which it is called to protect.

The Body of Christ is currently suffering from an autoimmune disease. Each of us is called to love and provide for one another. God calls us not to do what is easy, but what is holy. He gave us just “Ten Commandments” and Jesus simplified them down to just two. Love God above all else and love your neighbor as yourself. This is the medicine the Body needs, and it is never too late to apply this healing salve.

Where are you? I am asking you to consider pondering that profound question personally and honestly.

What difference will it make you ask? All the difference in the world.

Think of each of us as a cell in the Body. We can be a cell that attacks and disables, or a cell that heals and strengthens. A cell that chooses to love rather than hate. Each of us though one in the Body of Christ, is uniquely, particularly God’s. It is easy to see what divides us, it takes virtue to see what unites us. Love just loves. Our human body cannot heal without each cell doing its part, and this is true of the Body of Christ. Our small efforts will impact the whole of humanity.

I had the chance to dress up this week and play the part of St. Teresa of Calcutta for a little video Fr. Teilo was filming for his kiddos. Fr. Edward was on camera duty. It is pretty daunting to put on a replica of the habit of the Missionary Sisters of Charity, and not feel humbled. I spent weeks in deeper reflection on her life and in prayer. I did not want to misrepresent her in any way, even in a three-minute video. What I learned was that she had plenty of naysayers. “What difference can you possibly make, there are so many?” She would humbly reply, that she could make a difference for that one today. She said, “Good works are links that form a chain of love.” Each one of us is called to be a link in that chain. She went on to say, “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”

We each individually have a role to play in loving and helping one another. Each part of the body down to the cellular level, has a specific part to play in the health and wholeness of each of its members.

It is time to stop pointing fingers, hiding, and hoping, somebody else will step up. Our hope and trust is not in political solutions. This is our time. It is up to us to make a difference individually and communally. God raises up the greatest saints in the most difficult times.

This four-foot something nun, didn’t wait for anyone to get elected, legislation or permits. She knew what God had called her to do-and she did it.

We are called to nothing less.

God will equip us, protect us, and give us the words we need and the grace to accomplish the work. It is we who must first step out in faith and trust Him alone.

If we do nothing, the Body of Christ will only suffer further and that will be fatal to us all.

Fear not, I am with you always- Jesus Christ

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Co-Vid Claustrophobia

Mark and I had the chance to go out to dinner now that the restaurants are starting to open inside. My sweet husband asked our waiter if it “felt good to be back?” To which he responded, “I just needed to get away from the kids.” In one sense, we got it. This has been a particularly strenuous time with everyone in lock down mode. Kids ended school right after Spring Break, and parents were instantly expected to be teachers, coupled with some, having to work from home. “Yes. Daddy is working in there. Leave him alone.” Little options were left to burn excessive childhood energy. And worst of all, no break for parents except when they went to bed, if they went to bed. There has not been this much “togetherness,” since the kiddos were in the womb.

Our seniors, who were identified as potential unintended targets, kept friends and family at a safe distance. Our young people who are used to being socially active with groups of friends also felt the pinch of solitary confinement; keeping the rules, meant keeping others safe. No one was left unaffected. Our Priests too, Fathers Robert, Teilo, and Edward, stepped into unknown territory as they creatively tried to keep the Church open and Sacraments available. For this we are grateful beyond measure.

In another sense, the waiter’s comment was sad. He could have responded any other way, but he chose to express his desire to “get away” from his children. Now he may have poured himself out in love and attention to them these last couple months and the reality of mounting bills weighed heavily on his mind. I don’t know. I dare say we have all thought the same thing at one time or another about our precious little gifts from God. I can remember thinking during my crazy motherhood years when Mark was gone a lot for work, that if he really wanted to give me a great Mother’s Day, he would take the kids and leave for the day.

I know this forced closeness has also strained the best of marriages, and further crippled those in distress. Weddings were moved, and funerals especially saddened by the inability to have family and friends share the loss by their presence. Pilgrimages to both the Holy Land and ours, with Bishop Olmsted, to Poland, were cancelled. Anxiety and worry are unwelcome guests in our heads, taking up more space than they ought.

As restrictions are lifted slightly, St. Andrew’s offers the opportunity again to attend Mass in person. Parishioners can choose to come Saturday at 5 pm, or Sunday at 7 or 10 am. Always offered, is the live stream 10 am Mass and availability to receive communion after. Of course, there are protocols to follow in this new normal.

I am reminded of the old cult classic Mel Brooks movie, “Young Frankenstein,” back in the seventies. Gene Wilder plays the notorious Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s grandson. He has changed the way his last name is pronounced to distance himself from this association. He has come to his deceased grandfather’s lab to debunk his work. As expected, he too has an assistant named Igor. In one of the funniest scenes of the movie, and there are plenty, Igor has been asked to steal a specific brain from the coroner’s office, of a deceased brilliant man. After finding his grandfather’s secret notes, Frankenstein concludes that, “It might just work.” So, he too experiments on reanimating dead tissue. The procedure is a success and he anxiously awaits his creature, the monster, to wake up. Instead of the expected results using the correct brain of a magnificent scholar, the monster is uncontrollable and dangerous. In a particularly funny and memorable scene, as the monster is choking Dr. Frankenstein, He implores Igor about who’s brain he actually got. “Abby somebody.” He says incredibly pleased with himself. “Abby-normal.”

While we are all entering  our new “abby-normal,” we need to remember that God is in control of everything. God can even use this invisible virus to bring good out of devastation and fear. When we want to cling to the past, or control what little we have control over, it will further exhaust us and increase our stress and anxiety. Its like grabbing a handful of sand and squeezing it tightly so as not to lose a single grain. But the converse happens, the more we squeeze the more we lose.

The answer is to open-up our hands.

So too with our fears and worries about what if and what was. Open up those concerns before God and lay them in the hands of the Almighty. Sounds quippy, too easy, and simplistic. God does not make it complicated to love and trust Him. We do. So, trust me when I tell you what I have found to be true my whole life through so many unexplained, unexpected, and unwanted curve balls of my own.

Let go!

Every time we do, every time we let God be the Lord of our lives, things become more manageable and profitable to our salvation. God is, God the Almighty, the Alpha and the Omega, the One who loves us beyond compare or limit. Do you trust Him? Because now is as good a time as any.

This “abby-normal” reality is going to be around for a while. I believe with all my heart that our life is a preparation for life eternal. Situations that are out of our control, are not out of God’s control. We need only begin to entrust ourselves and our well being to the One who is trustworthy in anticipation of the future glory and union with Him in heaven.

Now that’s a reality I can wrap my heart around.

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Not According to Plan

There are the plans we make; and then there are God’s plans. Sometimes, they line up. Take for instance last week. I thought I had it all figured out. Easy trip to the airport with one small caveat, the necessary requirement of bringing the old family dog into the friendly skies. Never having done this before, I believed I had taken care of all the necessary requirements based on information I was given. Standing there at the critical moment I was informed otherwise, and it all fell apart from there. As a result I missed both my intended flight and the following one. After spending some time seeking alternate solutions, I was left with what felt like the only recourse; crying in exasperated frustration in the parked car while the elusive solution evaded me. I prayed. I cried. I said some things I wished I hadn’t.

I haven’t been that flustered and infuriated all at once in a long, long time.

After an expenditure of way too much energy and finally finding a temporary solution, I began to put things into perspective. A good friend of mine was currently having her chest breeched for repair surgery and would spend Christmas break, in painful recovery. Longtime dear friends of ours had shared in their Christmas letter the day prior, that each of them has cancer and are undergoing chemo together. They stated how grateful they were for whatever time remaining they could have as a married couple. There are those who are hungry, lonely, terminal, broken and suffering.

 I was just “merely inconvenienced” said my son, who was on the receiving end of my phone fury. Out of the mouths of babes…

In a moment of clarity, I decided that rather than continue my whining and plotting my retort to the person who gave me the incorrect information, I would instead attempt to offer up my little cross for those with much bigger ones than I.

Part of my morning prayer for years now, goes something like this, “I give you praise and thanks for the many gifts you will send me including the gift of my small sharing in the Cross.” I guess God wanted to take me seriously and send a little Christmas something my way that day. 

In the whole scheme of things I should never, ever, ever, utter a solitary complaint to heaven. I am blessed beyond all telling.  Anything the Lord brings my way is for my benefit to grow in holiness and virtue, or my opportunity to place others in their need, before me.

I grossly failed that day to be as patient as I could have been in the situation presented.

Funny how after over fifty years of practice I am still a neophyte when it comes to that virtue in particular. So my loving Father continues to give me lots of chances to keep working on this; and I am grateful.

I have the best intentions when I read that Morning Prayer. I really want to embrace the crosses that come my way. The problem is I really just don’t seem to recognize them when they are right between my eyes. No, I don’t see them for what they were until the opportunity had passed. That is the sad part; all the missed opportunities to grow, to love, to become the tiniest bit more holy.

So as we move towards another new beginning of another year, I hope to once again redouble my efforts and get my cross examination in order. I guess what I am praying for is that the Lord makes the crosses He sends really obvious, so that I may quickly see them, embrace them, and lift them up. May 2014 come to a close with a deeper appreciation of the many blessings I have been given and all the disguises that they may come in, especially the cross-shaped ones. May 2015* find us all welcoming whatever the Lord has in store for us as He seeks

*Note: This article was written and published in December of 2014. As I reread it in 2020, I am struck with the realization that after having asked the “Lord to make the crosses He sends really obvious…” little could I have known that just three months later I would get a cross I could not miss. The car never saw me until I hit the windshield. I guess I need to be more careful what I ask for because the crosses since then have been, big, obvious, and painful. Not just “inconvenient.

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The Ministry Relic

I sometimes feel like shag carpeting with lots of life left and great stories to tell- but not as vibrant and exciting as the new Berbers. Yet, I believe with all my heart, that God called me to ministry at St. Andrew the Apostle.

God’s timing is perfect. Never in my life would I have imagined myself working first as a Youth Minister, and then in Marriage Ministry. Yet, as I look back at all that I experienced in life, I can see God’s hand laying the groundwork in preparation for this work for which I am called.  God was moving me on the path that landed me right where He wanted me to be, doing the work He equipped me to do.

This can be said of all our amazing staff and clergy. Not one of us feels that we are worthy for the work we have been called to, but we said yes and left the rest to God. If ministry isn’t challenging enough on its own, fighting the devil and all- life tosses in the current pandemic. Church closures, work from home, and lots of ever-changing restrictions. Who would have ever thought we would be wearing a mask to buy groceries, not alone to Mass? We texted a photo of Mark and I to our kids the first time we ventured into Safeway with our hats, sunglasses, and masks on. “Mom, dad,” our kids told us, “you guys look like bank robbers.”

There is talk of opening-up America again, and of course that includes our churches. What will this look like? How many will stay home and play it safe for a while longer? How many will not come back at all?

It cannot be “business as usual” once again. Things will never be exactly the same as before, and it is unrealistic to think they would be. Some things, however, will never change. Like the necessity to keep the faith alive in our homes, hearts, and lapsed loved ones.

Our response during this crisis, or any crisis of this magnitude, is very revealing to those who are on the fence about the whole God thing. I was reminded of my own frequent lamentation years ago, “God, I help others come to know you, what’s going on with my own kids?” 

When they were small, we might have been a three-ring circus at Mass, but we were there, and they were totally into loving Jesus. Their teen years were a different story altogether.  They pushed back and found excuses not to go. It felt like they took turns having their crisis of faith, as they tried to figure out their place in the world, where God fit in, and the significance of their Catholic beliefs.  As a mother and a Youth Minister at the time, it was absolutely overwhelming trying to figure out when to push, how hard to push, and when to simply give them over to God.

It is awesome to know that as your children grow, your teens mature, and your young adults strike out on the path towards adulthood; that it does not solely depend on you. In God’s amazing plan, He knows exactly what and who it takes, to bring your kid around, sort of speak. The Church in her marvelous wisdom, invites people back through various times in their lives, to rediscover Catholicism, and the God who dreamed them into existence. I see it all the time in marriage ministry. They have been away for years, usually starting in college, but love, true love, causes them to desire more for their lives and their future marriage and family. The values they fought so hard against in their youth are the very values they want to pass on to their children. Those snarky Lishko teens, turned into incredible adults who love the Lord, practice their Catholic faith regularly, and pass that faith on to their own children. God is so good.

Back in the day, as a youth minister, some of the teens used to tell my kids what a “great Youth Minister” they thought I was, “I just love your mom.” My kids would roll their eyes and make some indistinguishable snorting noise. The difference being, those kids did not have to live in the same household with crazy Barb as their mom, and my kids knew it.  I often wondered at the time, how I could play such a pivotal role in some other kids’ faith life, and at the same time repel my own.  But here is the beauty in God’s plan, He places others in their path who will make a difference for them, speaking to their hearts in their own unique way.

We have a wonderful catechetical team at St Andrew’s that you can be assured love your children, teens, young adults, and even you.

We each have our own path to take towards God. We must never give up praying. One of my frequent prayers used to be, “Lord, place someone in their path that will bring them home to you.”

Together, we make up the One Body of Christ. We are all children of our Heavenly Father. I have heard it said that some of the greatest sinners, made the greatest saints. St Augustine comes to mind.  This fact should encourage us all. It reminds us to never loose hope, never stop praying, and always trust completely in God’s plan for our lives and those we love. 

In the thickest part of the battle it is hardest to see the victory, but victory is eminent because we do not fight alone, no matter how scary and dark the trials we face.

Let us bravely walk into the unknown, confidently trusting God with joyful hearts. This faithful witness has the power to compel others to return home to the Catholic Church.

 Heaven is the goal, and it is going to take all of us, to pray the rest of us home.

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Mothering the Masses

Being a mom for thirty-six years has had an effect in every aspect of my life.  I feel a real need at times, to mother the rest of humanity.  Everywhere I look, I see ways to mother people.  I cannot seem to help myself. The words just bubble up and I act without even processing at times. This could be a problem for a spouse, co-worker, or friend.

The relationship between our five kids and I started getting wobbly when they were teens.  They would one by one, weird-out usually starting around their sophomore year. The next few years would be spent doing what teens do best, mentally torturing their parents. My tendency to mother other people’s teens is something that mortified my youngest during her teen years. “Barbara,” she would say to me, “just mind your own business they can figure it out.” She would call me by my first name when she was frustrated with the youth minister/mother to the world side of me.

None of our other children ever called me by my first name except on rare occasions when they did not think I was listening.  She is different; she was the one who had to deal with me the longest as “Barb the Youth Minister,” at St. Andrew’s during her tumultuous teen years.

Believe me, no teen wants to have their mother as their Youth Minister. So, I get it. I am sure it was frustrating for her when there is so much angst as one begins to pull away towards independence and autonomy.

St. Andrew the Apostle has always had an amazingly vibrant ministry to teens and youth and that tradition continues with the great work Robert and his core team have been doing for years. Fr. Teilo and his dedicated team are also doing really beautiful ministry to the “kiddos” in religious education. We are very blessed at St Andrew with these two men taking the helm and steering the youth towards a straight, God-centered future.

Fathers, however, are not mothers, and that is a beautiful thing.

We mothers do not draw the lines at only our own children.  All kids are fair game when it comes to needing a mother’s influence. It really does take will power and a real presence of mind on my part, to know when to act and when to walk by. If I daydream for long, I shift into my auto-mother piloting system and go off on a mission to save society from malnourished teens and snotty-nosed kids.

I am the oldest of five kids. I guess it started a long time ago when I think about it.  Maybe it stems from some deep-seated need to boss something around that started about the time my brother was born.  Nonetheless, I don’t think it is a habit I’ll ever outgrow.  At times it is a heavy burden, I can’t even go about my daily tasks without seeing some situation that clearly needs a mother’s input.  I feel like there is a huge radar screen in my head always scanning subconsciously for something to pop up. Red Alert! Red Alert! Target acquired, untied shoe at four o’clock. Danger! Danger! Launch Kleenex dead ahead. Why just the other day I had to stop myself from asking a bunch of teens outside a local eatery to clean up after themselves. I mean really… I can’t be the only mom on patrol

Our youngest daughter seemed to anticipate an impending attack and would try to move to intercept as quickly as she could. “No, mom!” She would strategically station herself right in my path, “Barbara! Are you listening to me?” Sometimes she was successful, but mostly I was a missile poised on a target and she was no match. “Geez, I can’t believe you just did that. How embarrassing!” she would sigh.

These days, I am trying to use more will power and stay focused on simply mothering my own brood but, they are grown up now, and have moved away. With the current virus situation, I don’t get to see them or the grand-kids as much.  So, I happen to have a surplus of all this “untapped mothering” that is searching for targets. Beware.

I often ponder about our dear sweet Mother Mary and her life on earth. Having been preserved from Original Sin would have given her a real insight into the hearts of humanity.  Raising the Son of God would have given her all the experience she needed to assume “Mothership” as Jesus handed us over to her care, while he hung dying on the cross. 

As a mother myself, I can only imagine the pain, sorrow, and grief she must bear observing her earthly children. It is my hope however, that we also offer her a chuckle from time to time and mostly, that we cause her heart to sing with joy as we make our way on the right path towards her Son.  Knowing that she intercedes for us is a constant source of strength for me personally.

To all the mothers who love to mother, and all our spiritual and extended moms who have given us guidance and wisdom as we walked this path; I wish you the most joyful blessings this Mother’s Day. The world needs mothers to do what we do best, with great quantities of love and patience, and when we do, we make the world a better place indeed. Happy Mother’s Day!

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Given to Give

We all eagerly await the time when we can return to Mass and receive the Eucharist. It has been a long Springtime away from the “Bread of Life.” The closer we get to something that we want, the harder it is to contain our excitement.

So, it is with the Co-Vid 19 virus. The big decision on how to proceed is new territory for everyone on the planet, and that is no exaggeration. Do we push go or pause a little longer?

St. Andrew’s is on top of any new developments because we know you trust us to keep you as safe as possible once the decision is made. We want to begin to open the Church for Mass as soon as we have the green light.

We have all been home longer than intended and the novelty is wearing off. The junk drawers, closets, and lost buttons have been attended to. Perhaps we have organized, categorized, and gotten to those things we always intended to. Well mostly. So, what is next?

Several parishioners have wondered as much and inquired on how they could help since they had extra time on their hands. It is a beautiful thing to behold, God’s children sharing their talents at their Father’s House. As His children we want to take pride and ownership in the maintenance and upkeep of God’s House.

Through our Baptism, we are one big family. Just like at home, there are always chores to be done, ideas to be hatched, plans to unfold. Did you know that in God’s amazing Providence He has provided each parish with what they need to accomplish His Will?

God provides. God gifts. God equips. “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. (1Cor 12:7)

Every individual parish has people God has gifted to do specific work that parish needs in building the Kingdom of God. In this Divine Economy, God thinks of everything. The Universal Church is part of the One Body of Christ. As the human body functions down to the cellular level, so too the Body of Christ. Each of us has a purpose. There is a plan for our life. We are necessary. When we share our God-given talent, the whole Church, the whole Body of Christ benefits. “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. (1Cor 12:27)

What are you good at? What brings you joy, passion, energy?

As the Churches begin to open across the nation and the world, we are going to need to rely on the gifts and talents of our parish family. We want you. We need you.

You might say, “Barb, I tried to call and volunteer years ago. Nobody ever got back with me.” For this, I can only apologize and ask forgiveness. But it is not a reason to give up. Rather, be persistent as you know God wants you to share those gifts. It also highlights a void and the necessity for gifted individuals to step up. Is organization your thing? Do you have people skills, or communicate effectively? Are you good at matching talents to needs so God’s gifts can bear fruit?  Perhaps you possess crazy good data entry skills, or love to plant flowers, but feel you do not have time in your busy life. There is always a way to make it work. Do not be afraid to reach out, you may find yourself genuinely surprised at the joy you receive in sharing these talents.

Almost twenty years ago I sat in the pew at Corpus Christi, as they announced the need for RE teachers. Surrounding me were, five pre-teens, Mark, and my parents. We had moved home after being in Illinois for nine years. My mother leaned over and whispered, “Don’t.” She knew my plate was full. I knew my plate was full. But by the fourth Sunday in a row, and they had resorted to begging; I had to cave in. One of our boys was that age and would need a teacher anyway. After two short exciting years, I was hired to work full time as the Jr. High Coordinator. I was not looking for a job. I did not have credentials to work for God. Yet, I could not imagine anything else that would give me such joy and fulfillment outside of my family life. Three years later I was recruited to St. Andrew’s in nothing less than a move orchestrated by God.

It was St Andrew’s where our little family would now attend Mass. St. Andrew is where my ministry flourished under God’s watchful eye. It was St. Andrew’s where I continued to say “Yes” to what God had begun in me, despite the fact, that I thought I had little to offer.

God equips those He calls. I am proof positive of that.

I have had the honor of collaborating and volunteering with some of the most wonderful, generous, inspirational people whom I have come to call friends. Together, God was building up something amazing and life-changing for those He was calling to work in His vineyard. Nine years ago, I felt a strong calling to move into marriage ministry. I would have never thought I could have loved something more than youth ministry, but God did.

You see, when we say “Yes” to God, He will take us to exactly the place He has equipped us for, and we will find more fulfillment there than we ever thought possible. Ask anyone who is in ministry. When we share what was freely given to us for the building of the Kingdom, it is a win for everyone, but most of all for one’s self.

It has been my incredible privilege to work beside you. Worship and pray with you. Teach, and especially encourage you in your challenges and trials. I am nobody special. God took my “yes” and has given me all that I needed and so much more. If I had said no, I would have never met you nor had any of you in my life.  That is a sad thought indeed.

I invite you to say “yes” too.

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Seeking Peace

Sitting here in the glory of this spring morning, a quiet breeze touches my cheek and tickles the leaves as it passes by. It’s intoxicating fragrance dances in my nostrils. Amazingly I am at peace, sucking in every possible ounce of this moment. I am usually running at breakneck speeds as I untangle, connect, and attack my seemingly endless mounting workload. Today however I am away from all that and in my own little corner of paradise which makes this time all the more sweet.

I believe with all my heart and it is confirmed in Scripture and many of the writings of those much closer to God than myself, that God wishes to pour his peace on us. It couldn’t have been more evident than when we read the account after the resurrection when Christ first appeared to his disciples in the locked upper room, “Peace be with you.” He didn’t reprimand the disciples for abandoning him or denying him. He just breathed on them and wished them his peace. Wow! That is so unlike any human response I might give in the same situation. Jesus goes on further to say, “My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” In Sunday’s Gospel Jesus reminds us again, “Do not let your hearts be troubled…”

Is there a reoccurring message there we might need to hear?

It seems to me that while it can look like we are amid chaos, uncertainty, and unrest, it is very possible to have an inner peace where it is still, and calm. This is the peace Christ wishes to extend to us. Fr. Jacques Philippe gives us this example, “In order to understand this we can use an image that can be illuminating. Consider the surface of a lake, above which the sun is shining. If the surface of a lake is peaceful and tranquil, the sun will be reflected in this lake; and the more peaceful the lake, the more perfectly it will be reflected. If on the contrary, the surface of the lake is agitated, undulating, then the image of the sun can not be reflected in it. It is like this with our soul in relationship to God. The more our soul is peaceful and tranquil, the more God is reflected in it…the more his grace acts through us.” That imagery I found helpful in my desire to strive more readily for peace.

God’s Word is meant to be for us a source of strength, encouragement, recollection, hope, inspiration, education, and empowerment…need I go on? Do we “feed” on the Word of God to mine all the treasures God has planted there for us to discover and rediscover? For me, in all honesty, I find so much wealth in God’s Word but even more so at times, in the reflections of saints, mystics, and even modern day writers. I receive so much from the reflections of others who also walked the earth, strained in the everyday and cried out to God for answers to each unique situation. It compels me to reflect deeper in terms of my own spirituality. I find the “Magnificat” subscription to be for me a priceless treasure because it has done much of the heavy lifting by collecting and presenting compilations from others. Through their own work of unpacking and chewing on the Word of God their insight fuels my own thoughts, writings and what I share with others. Servant of God Madeleine Delbrel writes, “…we do not know the great heights at which our holiness lies… we shouldn’t try and hold back this sort of free-fall of the Word into our depths.”

Free-fall? That evokes both sheer terror and sheer exhilaration at the same time.

That however, is what we need to do. We need to jump, let go, and freely unreservedly give ourselves over to God who desires to do amazing things with our lives. What are we afraid of? Why won’t we let go? These are questions we must ponder and ask ourselves? Do we believe and trust God? Do we live in the fear of what if?

God’s open palms are right there to catch us. Do we believe that?

We must submerse ourselves in the Word that will transform our fear into willingness to trust. We must pray and believe, asking God to increase in us his holy presence through our attention and participation in the sacraments. Because when we let the Word transform us, then it will also transform everything we do no matter how sublime.

Will we consent to be the saint God imagined in us? Are we willing to persevere in the difficult but immensely gratifying work of the Kingdom? Glory, honor, great joy and peace beyond all telling is there waiting for our yes.

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The Elusive “Y” Cord

I would like to think that it all started with a “Y- cord.” Years ago, at one of my very first marriage prep classes, I got sucked into using more technology at St. Andrew’s when teaching. It has been a love/hate relationship ever since. Sometimes no matter how prepared I am, how much I pretest the equipment, when it is “go time” the gremlins come out.

We have all had to learn a whole new language, haven’t we? “Live feed, Smart phone, HDMI, Pro Presenter, and so much more. Our reliance on those “savvy techy types” who know amazingly more than me, is unnerving. When I am vexed by my presentations lack of cooperation, despite previously testing it, and sixty faces impatiently look at me like I am the last dinosaur of its kind,  I anxiously vacillate between calling and not calling Robert on his day off. It is like my one lifeline that will either result in freedom or a lynching.

This Covid-19 situation has forced us to think outside the box in offering the Mass and virtual classes. Specifically, for me, that means marriage preparation classes. I cannot tell you how grateful I am that God puts people all around me to make good things happen in the area of technological innovation.

We have been streaming our Mass for over a month now and for the most part, we have clear, unpixelated, audible streams. This past Sunday was not the case, despite, all the necessary sound checks, proper cord placement, and functioning equipment. If you could see all the wonderful work that happens behind the screens you would be amazed. I know I am every time. I am just the dork in the pew with a laptop, trying not to mess anything up. We observed on the feed that the picture was fuzzy and kept cutting out. It was nerve racking to watch, and frustrating for those trying to figure out the problem. Monitoring the comments, I read, “picture fuzzy”, “keeps cutting out,” “sound too low” and similar remarks. I can only imagine how exasperating this must have been as you tried to pray the Mass. Behind the screen, where you cannot see, there is commotion in motion remedying the elusive invisible glitch that came out of nowhere.

This is new territory for all of us. Well mostly me, but I would like to thank all those who are doing their best, those whom you do not see, whose efforts unite our community, even if only remotely for Sunday Mass.

So how are the marriage preparation classes being affected you ask? Good question. We have gone virtual as well. I notice that our happy little couples however, like to turn off the video feed, which hides their faces. That, coupled with the necessity to mute their mics, is frankly, like teaching in a bathroom with the door closed. There are no encouraging smiles, or frowns to turn upside down. No nods of the head, or colossal yawns. Just a blank screen with my own face staring back at me.

My mind wonders back in time, to Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. Unavailable until thousands of years later, were presentation tools, or sound systems. Jesus did not have the Apostles set-up the “mount” with big screens, projecting special effects to dazzle the crowd in the pre-sermon show. Lacking were the huge jumbo-trons with giant images of Christ while he spoke.

No. He just spoke.

The Apostles had a hard-enough time figuring out where to get food for everyone. Imagine if they were asked to find a Y-cord.

This all leaves me in a bit of a quandary. Jesus, I am not. Nor can I command a crowd as He did.

Imagine the kind of hold Jesus had on His listeners. They hung on His every word, let it sink in, roll around in their minds and produce a response. Sometimes it was positive, and trans-formative. Other times, negative and they picked up stones. That means He got their attention because, they were listening.

So, what will we do if this method of reaching out must continue a little longer?

I think personally, I will try and minimize the effects and maximize the message. It means I need to know my material and more importantly, be one with its Divine Source. I will need to trust that the Holy Spirit can work in these fickle modern times and give me the words as promised?

Jesus is after all, the Word.

That Word, His Word, has the power to cut to the bone and into the marrow; to pierce hard hearts, to plant seeds on fertile ground, and to set souls on fire.

It will take prayer and surrender to the Holy Spirit to lead us. It requires courage to entrust our audience over to God and simply be His conduit in bringing His electrifying message home to their hearts.

While the task sounds daunting and scares the crud out of me; it is also a grand relief. It is not all up to me or wowing anyone with spectacular presentations. God’s ability to convert souls is not limited to functioning technology. I am tired of placing my trust in man-made materials. It is time to plug into the Divine.

So, despite our best efforts, there will be times when technology will fail us. But that is okay. And for goodness sake, if the picture is blurry from time to time, or the sound fades a bit momentarily, be patient, and please whisper a prayer. You can bet that we are scrambling and working hard to offer something beautiful.

It will always be second best to actually being present there. You know it and so do we. For now, it will just have to suffice until we are united in the pews, in song, and receiving Jesus together.

I anxiously await that day.

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Feeling A little Like Job

A couple of months ago I was having lunch with some friends. Remember what that felt like? Most of us have been quarantined for weeks now due to the COVID 19 breakout and global pandemic. Just two months ago, no one could have guessed that something invisible to the naked eye, would cause so much havoc so quickly. Our world as we knew it, is grinding to a veritable halt.

So back to my lunch story. The greeting I receive most frequently is, “so how are you feeling? I’ve been praying for you.” I’m getting used to it after years of being stricken with weird and crazy illnesses. After a brief update, the friend says, “yah, my husband refers to you as Job.” Hmm, I think to myself. Never thought of myself as Job before, but from his vantage point, he could make a good case for that. (Pun intended; he is an attorney)

Not having read the “Book of Job” in years, I thought it helpful to meditate on in Lent. You know how the story goes, Job was very blessed with health, herds, wealth and family. While we personally don’t own, “seven thousand sheep, …camels, oxen, or she-donkeys,” or “have a very large household…” (Job 1:3) We do have five children, their spouses, and seven grandchildren which I know, can look like a herd, to others. It was no coincidence, that I often referred to our little insane brood when we went out in public, as a “freak show.” Our second oldest has since quipped, “yah, and every freak show needs ringleader.” Yep, that’s me.

In the first five versus, we get a peek at Job’s prosperous and happy life, and then everything changes. Why? A few passages later, we listen in on a conversation between “God and Satan.” Satan is convinced that Job only loves God and remains faithful because he has been so blessed. The Lord says to Satan, “He is in your power; only spare his life.” (Job 2:6)

Ok, whoa. Wait a minute. This is quite frankly a scary thought. God allows Satan to have at it with Job. Satan doesn’t pull any punches and goes after all that Job has and loves. He is finally left alone, with boils festering all over his body, sweltering outside in the sun. His so-called “friends” show up and challenge him emotionally and spiritually during this crisis of his existence. While I am honored to be thought of as Job, I have not been dealt that severe a blow. However, there are moments when, like Job, I have felt the full weight of it all and wonder if there was another conversation between God and Satan involving my name.

Being a parishioner at St. Andrew the Apostle has been the most amazing gift through it all. Countless people have been praying on my behalf for years now. Thank you one and all! God knew I would need all that prayer and support to sustain me on this journey. This is what we do for one another as Catholic Christians. And my family and “friends” unlike Jobs, are willing to even to step up and clean my bathroom for me. Now that’s love.

I know we’ve all been there, when it feels like evil is pouring forth its vile hatred upon us, and God seems nowhere to be found. Wave after wave crashes in on us, we can hardly come up for air when another wave almost drowns us. It can lead to despair and hopelessness and a crisis of faith or even, affect our trust in God. Afterall, why would a “loving God” allow cruel things to happen to His children that He claims to love?

Notice I said, “it can.”

Mother Angelica writes in her book, “Suffering and Burn Out,” that, “True love is built on sacrifice. It grows in time of trial. It is purified by detachment and intensified by suffering.”

This vital information is key to understanding God’s ways, and should in times of trial, propel us onward. Offering up our suffering, anxiety, and fear with Christ’s suffering on the Cross becomes redemptive and a gift God can use to aid humanity. Pope St. John Paul II when asked why there is suffering, stated that, it “releases love.” When we think about it, that is exactly what happens. We come out of ourselves, we try to lift the burdens of others, we pray more, we love more.

That alone, helps me make sense out of what can seem senseless, or cruel. A Father who loves me, will do whatever it takes, to get me ready for heaven. Because we are inclined towards sinful behaviors, the work that needs to be done is often painful spiritually, physically, or emotionally. Of course, we don’t like to suffer, or see those we love suffering or ultimately dying. In those times we can either surrender and trust that God is doing something beautiful that we may never see or understand, or, we can become bitter and resentful.

We are made for heaven. Life is only the journey, not the destination.

During these times when we do not know what new restrictions are coming, or personal cost this pandemic will have on us; we must, like Job, remain faithful. Our love of God is being tested and purified as He prepares us for life eternal.

We can do this. We are not alone. Eyes on Jesus. Together as a family of faith, we must pray and encourage one another. Let us know how we can help you, even if it is just listening and praying with, and for, your concerns.

In this holiest of weeks, we have our example par excellence in Christ Jesus. He showed us the way. He has gone before us and prepares a place for us in eternal bliss.

This virus too, will pass. Let us pray that it will leave us stronger, more trusting, and grounded in our conviction as Catholic Christians to continue bringing Christ’s light into this time and place.

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Why Think of My Life As a Gift…

The easy answer to that question is because it is, but so is yours. We each are so beautifully, uniquely one of a kind. A precious and irreplaceable jewel.

As an exquisite priceless jewel there is nothing you can do to increase or decrease your value. You are gorgeous just being you and shimmering in the light of the noonday sun. We are however so much more than an inanimate sparkly object glistening in the sun. As humans made in the Image and Likeness of God, we have innate dignity, value, and worth. There is a purpose for me and for you, exactly where we are.

As humans we can think, imagine, wonder, care, act…we were brilliantly, perfectly crafted and called to make a difference in this place and time in history. We recognize beauty, truth, and goodness when we see it and hear it.

  • How will those in our sphere of influence be better having known us?
  • How can I, in an act of unselfish love, chose to make someone’s load a little lighter, or day a little brighter; just by being the me I was intentionally created to be?

When we chose to look outside of ourselves and our own situations, and seek to make a small difference in the world of those around us, we are being gift to them.

If we all begin to do this, the world is incredibly impacted and filled with love. It becomes the world we want to live and work in. The world we want to raise our families in. But it must start somewhere, it must start with you and I.

I have been pretending to be a writer for years and have gathered a collection of my stories on various topics; some profound, some spiritual, some humorous, some just my goofy view of life. I hope you will enjoy them and see your experience in there somewhere too.

Be blessed. Be who you were created to be. Be a gift.

Barb

 

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Ominous Words

“Lord, Lord open the door for us!” But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matt 25:13)

I have had my share of bad news as many of you have. Getting a diagnosis which leaves us reeling and dazed is often sobering. I remember once over a decade ago, when I was told some unexpected news, even saying a “Hail Mary” was difficult. Not because I was overwrought, but in my nervousness and confusion I could barely remember the words. I have said the Rosary for over fifty years, this should not have been an issue. I have come to realize that at those kinds of moments in our life where words can fail us; all we need do is fall into the arms of our Heavenly Father.

There however are no words more ominous and frightening to me personally than, “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.”

Here again the Lord is reminding us to be vigilant, for we do not know when it is game over for each of us personally.  Game over? Nah, I will just put some more tokens in and keep playing.

Remember the early video arcade games that would milk you for quarters to keep the game playing? I do. Life sometimes feels like that. Try this age-defying elixir. Take that bold new prescription. What is inevitable for each of us however, is at some point usually when we least expect it, time is up. Death is inevitable. There are no do overs once the game of life is over.

While there are lots of opportunities for U-turns, reboots, and start overs when we are alive, when we die, we can do NOTHING for our own good and must rely completely on the prayers of others. Can you see the danger of assuming someone is “in heaven already” thus, no urgency to pray for their souls?

A sobering thought and practical habit of taking stock of our lives is a good way to get an indicator of where we might be spiritually. This is not to pump us up with pride or to depress us, rather to realize the shortness of life and the endlessness of eternity.

This life is the shortest period of our overall existence. Matthew Kelly likes to say, “Life is short, and we are dead a long time.” Yet, what we do here in this short period of time means everything regarding where we spend the rest of eternity. Hence the urgency of this message and all the Scripture passages which remind us of this fact. “He who created us without our help will not save us without our consent.”  Saint Augustine.

What can we do right now to make a positive difference in our eternal destination?

Go to confession regularly. The momentary awkwardness, and humiliation is good for us to realize sin is messy and has a cost. The feeling after a good confession is priceless. It is time to get rid of that load you have been carrying.

Get to Mass weekly. “But our churches aren’t open yet.” Then watch on the TV or check out all the different live streams all over the world. If something is important to us, we will do everything in our power to make it happen. We are still offering Communion after the 10 am live stream mass at St Andrew’s. These practices are eternally important and are particularly beneficial right now to receive grace.

Pray daily. Make time to converse with the Lord. Visit the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament or just make a visit to any Church if Wednesday doesn’t work for you. Pray for yourself and others. Pray for your family, our nation, and the world. Our Blessed Mother has asked us repeatedly through her apparitions to” pray the Rosary daily.” If you don’t know how, here is a helpful resource.

Did you know that having a Mass said for someone while they are living is more efficacious than for someone who has died? I just learned that recently. It is not one or the other. Yes, have masses said for the sick and the dead but get one for yourself and family members too; especially for the really difficult hard hearts that are not listening, nor open to the faith.

All these things will help you love your neighbor more and willingness to be Christ to them.

I personally would like to be on the other side of that proverbial door. The inside part.

What is really at stake in being known or unknown by the Lord? Everything. This is it, the pearl of great price, the gold at the end of the rainbow, the eternal lottery.

Am I spending time at the feet of our Lord as Mary did, or am I like Martha running around and getting a lot of stuff done for the Lord? Am I in Mass or at Mass? Is my heart and mind in prayer or simply doing prayers?  Sometimes we can be busy about many things, but forget the one thing necessary, the Unum Necessarium.

It takes time, but time is of the essence. I do not think it is about quantity, rather quality.

The Scripture passage quoted at the opening of this reflection should not make us fearful, rather awake and striving to be vigilant. It should rouse us from our lethargy to seek to know the Lord now while we can. Let us be fearless in our trust of God’s mercy.

St. Augustine wrote these profound words not just for the people over a millennium ago, but for us today as well. “Now is the time for mercy, repent… Keep awake in your heart, awake in your faith, awake in hope, awake in charity, awake in good works…”

As we do just that we will draw closer to the Lord through our brothers and sisters. So that one day, Jesus Himself might say to us, “Well done, my good and faithful servant…” (Matt 25:23)