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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. “Thy 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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Do You Reject Satan…

Many of us do not remember the Baptismal promises that were stated at our own Baptism. We relied solely on our parents and godparents to speak on our behalf. This weekend and several times throughout the Church year we are given the opportunity to speak for ourselves. I recommend that we pay full attention to what we say “I do” to as, you can stake your life on the fact, that God does. He takes our “I do” very seriously in these cases, including the ones said at the altar on our wedding day. God takes us at our word because we can take Him at His Word. “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.” (Matt 5:37)

Do you reject Satan? And all his works? And all his empty promises?
Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth?

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?

Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?

Our firm “I do” is only possible with the help of God. On our own, we are too easily swayed when temptation and cultural norms cause us to rethink these promises. I do sometimes… when I agree, and then I do not… when I disagree.

Is our word trustworthy? What does it stand or fall for? When are we silent so as not to rock the boat, stand out or seem too harsh? Not speaking, is speaking. That silence is deafening. Not acting toward the good, is allowing evil to advance. Not knowing our faith and all that the Church teaches for our salvation, easily leads us to be persuaded in directions that muddle or oppose the faith.

After a couple of thousand years of dubious I do’s, opposition, and redirection, we find ourselves at this moment in history. I continue to hear from those who are frustrated and despairing. “How did all this happen?”

In these tumultuous times when all of us have had our world rocked by the pandemic, never imagined events and foul behaviors within our own borders, and seemingly endless deceit by those we should be able to trust, the question I am hearing the most is, “Where is God in all this? We prayed so hard and I feel so discouraged.”

Many of us “old farts,” of which I am now a delegate, can look back over our sixty or more years and think, “what the hell has happened to our country?” I use the word “hell” on purpose because that is exactly what is at play here. We are in an epic spiritual battle the likes of which we cannot imagine nor comprehend. We however get glimpses of its’ effects and how it impacts everyone and everything we once held dear; from the integrity of our clergy and religious from the top down, to the demise of “One Nation Under God.”

We could assume wrongly that God no longer loves or cares for His children.

If you have ever taken the time to do a Bible Study or have read Sacred Scripture you will no doubt recall the wanton history of the Israelites, God’s hand-chosen people. In Deuteronomy chapter five, God bestows to them the Ten Commandments. These were not merely suggestions, but keys that lead to happiness, prosperity, and holiness. In chapter six, God continues to exhort them to follow the commandments and to teach their children.

“Know, then, that the LORD, your God, is God: the faithful God who keeps covenant mercy to the thousandth generation toward those who love him and keep his commandments, but who repays with destruction those who hate him; he does not delay with those who hate him but makes them pay for it. Therefore, carefully observe the commandment, the statutes and the ordinances  which I command you today.” (Dt 7:9-11)

“Be careful to observe this whole commandment that I enjoin on you today, that you may live and increase, and may enter in and possess the land which the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors. Therefore, keep the commandments of the Lord, your God by walking in His ways and fearing him.” (Deut 8:1,6)

Then He continues to remind us over and again through the centuries, and finally through His Son Jesus

“Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matt 19:17-19)

I dare say we failed to learn from their mistakes and have shamelessly repeated them to a greater degree. You might think, this is not the same at all. Read them again my friend and you will see that we brazenly did the same and much worse. What is that saying?

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Santayana

What is a good and loving Father supposed to do to save his children? As a parent myself, I get it. Sometimes we only learn by making mistakes and suffering the consequences. While it is sometimes difficult to watch this process, saving our progeny from learning from their mistakes leads them to never learn the lessons.

We think we are different than the early peoples. We think we are more advanced technically and intellectually. Yet we continue to repeat the same mistakes, cutting out God, making our own fluid rules, disfiguring the human person made in His Image and likeness.

God did not abandon them, and He does not abandon us. He will give us the time to learn, repent and turn back to His waiting arms. I pray we realize the error of our ways quicker than those before us. “Four hundred years” seems to be a reoccurring number before humanity got their heads and hearts in right relationship with their Maker.

In the words of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.”

Never lose hope. Turn to God, grow in love and faithfulness to the Church Christ left to aid us, and trust God has a plan bigger than this current conundrum.

Hindsight is 2020

It is appropriate to take stock of 2020. Like every year before it, there were aspects out of our control. However, there were and continue to be much that is firmly within our power. Some questions we should ponder deeply are:

  1. Where did I grow and improve this past year physically and spiritually?
  2. Where did I draw strength in difficult situations and struggles?
  3. Am I more firmly grounded in my hope and faith in God, and if not, what needs to change?

 After all, as Catholic Christians we must weigh everything with an eternal perspective. Matthew Kelly reminds us in his newest book, Dig the Well, Before You Get Thirsty” of this important point.

“Our quest for ease and comfort is killing us, body and soul. Life is difficult. Anybody who tells you otherwise is not to be trusted.”

Matthew Kelly

I am currently reading the book. Like most things, it came at the perfect time that I needed it. This book is a unique combination of inspiration, motivation, prayer journal, and a method of discernment. It is an easy read. You may instantly think, “I don’t like to journal so it’s not for me.” Consider this, when we take time to journal, we are better able to discern various patterns over time which help us identify our values and character. Additionally, we can look back and note any progress or pitfalls. It is simply a means of measurement, so do not let that dissuade your desire to move forward to rediscover yourself and the habits that either help or hurt your progress. The real effort comes in the required work that is necessary to discover the best version of ourselves. Included is a section called, “Twenty-one Questions” designed to get us thinking. For example, “What needs to be on your not-to-do list?” Or “How do you want your life to be different one year from now?” Or, my favorite, “What is on-hold in your life, and how would addressing it change your life?” In the step-by-step discernment process, you will learn how to listen more attentively to God and to discern His Will for your life.

“When we lose our connection with the Divine, we go mad.”

Matthew Kelly

I highly recommend it, especially as we close out 2020, but more importantly as we begin each new moment of the rest of our lives.

Matthew Kelly is fond of saying, “Our lives change when our habits change.” This could not be truer, and I think we realize this at our very core. Breaking bad habits and forming good healthy ones takes time, discipline, and effort.

What does it take to move from a mediocre version of ourselves, one that trudges through life, neither hot nor cold about anything, not unhappy, but not passionately on fire either; to becoming someone that naturally exudes a positive energy and faith, joyful, self-motivated, and possessing an inner peace- despite outside circumstances to the contrary? I believe we all want to be the best version of ourselves but often settle or “feel like” we are too busy, too tired, too lazy, or too distracted, to even consider it. Perhaps it is easier to think we were not dealt a great hand, rather than to become all that God desires and equips us to be. Look at our Blessed Mother Mary as a example of a human like ourselves who allowed God to form her into her best self which continues to bear incredible fruit that impacts humanity for all time.

Is there a mystery to becoming the best version of ourselves? Is there a secret map or formula required which is only available to some people? No. It is obtainable to all of us. I read somewhere that when you are not sure what to do next, simply take “the next right step.” We are all capable of that. If we are spending too much time with friends who bring us down or lead us into negative behaviors, the next right step is to lessen or end that relationship for our own well-being. That may seem harsh, but what are we willing to do to become our best self? What needs to go or to change for that to happen?

Either we think we are worth the effort and deserve to become all that we were meant and created to be, or we simply settle for a third-rate version of our self.

God is always speaking to us through various means, are we listening or paying attention? We let so many distractions drown out the voice of our Creator. “Learning to hear God’s voice in our life throughout the day is like having the ultimate friend, coach, consultant, advisor, and teacher always at your side.” There is no wiser, more inspiring, or all-knowing friend than the One who brought us into existence.

I wonder if we are sometimes fearful at times of what God might ask of us. We need not be. That is the whisper of the evil one, and fear is one of his greatest weapons. God would not ask anything of us that would not bring us great joy and happiness. This I know first-hand and He continues to equip me to do things I never imagined. Matthew Kelly further asks us to ponder a deeper meaning and God’s voice through questions like these, “What is God saying to you today…through other people, or the emotions you are experiencing?”

We can have mixed feelings when it comes to making New Year’s resolutions. We are not limited to the beginning of each calendar year to start anew and intentionally move in a direction toward an improved physical and spiritual well-being.

Each new day is a new beginning to either stay on the same mediocre path or to seek excellence.

Don’t be afraid to take the next right step in becoming the best version of yourself so that six months from now you will see a notable difference in yourself, in your relationship with God and others, and you will have the satisfaction of making positive strides towards the best you ever.

With God’s help, I will strive to become the best me possible. This path ultimately leads us to becoming a saint which is our goal after all. God will bless any efforts we make as we move closer to that amazing destination.

Naughty or Nice

Naughty or nice is our choice after all

Even when life throws us a curveball.

No one can make us kind or sweet, not in life, nor in a Tweet.

Our mothers tried to do their best may their efforts be forever blessed.

For us to choose rightly is their bequest.

We are big kids now, our own paths we must plough, and all things naughty, disavow.

Today is a bright new opportunity, to shed all that lowers and causes disunity.

If germs can be passed and we acquire immunity, so does love and joy, build community.

There is no mask that can save us from eternal impunity.

Do it now, make the decision, have a beautiful world vision.

Hate, impatience, and distrust; only brings division.

A lazy cow you are not. You have a mind, heart, and brain,

Live each day to the fullest and not in vain.

So, start this moment to be the best YOU, and no regrets if this you do.

A Blessed Christmas to one and all

Christ is here when we call, and does not count all the times we fall.

Why not invite Him into your life, and he’ll show you the best way once and for all.

Pain is Gain

Working at a Catholic Church feels like I am right there in the vineyard of the Lord at times. It certainly does not imply that only those who work in churches are knee deep in grape juice. No, the world is the vineyard and opportunities abound in every corner of it. Specifically speaking, it is the part of the vineyard where broken and wounded souls wander when they are finally ready to actively seek the Master.  Perhaps they have tried to fix matters on their own through various means good and bad and have come as a last resort hoping to find within her walls, answers that have eluded them. In other words, I occasionally am honored to be a bridge along the pathway that leads to the Shepherd.

Youth ministry was my initial passageway into church work, but for years now, I work with adults preparing for marriage, or have challenges therein.

Age is of no matter, hurting souls need a listening ear and sometimes clarifying tongue. It is hard especially now, to find someone who will speak Christ’s truth and light into the darkness. I never know what someone will need to talk about when they come to my office. My prayer is always just to be God’s instrument and voice. I know I have my own thoughts and experiences which God uses to assist someone in a similar situation. Ultimately, although each person is unique, most situations are common and require the person to speak out loud as they process. Most of us know what we need to do in our hearts but lack encouragement to follow through. Listening will always be a big part of what I do. When we are all willing to hear the various narratives that are part of the human journey it benefits us all. 

There was a time that I gaged everything I did according to tangible, measurable work. It was how I determined if I was productive that day or not. Some days I would be frustrated because I felt I had “not gotten anything done.” I imagine I am not alone in this thinking. We ask our spouses, friends, and neighbors the same thing when they return home from work or at Happy Hours. We are more akin at times, to be human doings rather than human beings.  

A few years back I read, Katrina Zeno’s book, “Every Woman’s Journey.” It was instrumental in helping me understand and define my time, and I believe it is helpful for both women and men.  In fact, it gave me a whole new outlook on a different kind of productivity that cannot be measured, fruitfulness.  Let me explain. When I take time to listen to someone who needs advice, encouragement, or loving support, I am being fruitful. Willingly entering into another’s deepest pain is sharing the raw reality of the human experience. It is an honored place where trust in God, empathy, and love, are the tools that help navigate the darkness and confusion bringing light and hope.

Some days are very fruitful, but cannot be measured on a spreadsheet, or in a tangible detectable way. It is not something I seek out. There is nothing to tabulate, ship, or shelve.  Its effects may never be known nor bear fruit for decades. Yet its worth is incalculable. God knows, God sees, and God magnifies the little work we do in this area producing efficacious results.

An amazing consequence I finally discovered was that in all those things of life that often make us crazy, leave us questioning why, or the suffering we encounter- are just more sources we can use in fruitful work. I cannot tell you the number of experiences in my life that at the time, I begged God to take away or to lessen, which turned out to be the very salve necessary to help bring comfort to someone else’s wounds. It is a miraculous gift to behold what God accomplishes when we share our stories and afflictions.   I don’t have to buy it, make it up, or search the world for it. “It” is our own real experiences and God’s pure and free gift for us to share with our brothers and sisters. I would have never guessed that many of my own painful experiences would be useful later to help another. What a generous and perfect present. So personal, so real, yet it cannot be wrapped, purchased, or cloned. Our painful moments can be a source of healing and strength for another.

We are one week away from Christmas in the year we all wish would go away. It is easy to be caught up in gift buying and preparations for our facemask-clad celebrations. Do not underestimate this gift of 2020 wrapped up in corona paper. It is something universal, much like Catholicism.  Rather than simply commiserate and complain, try instead to reach out and share wisdom and hope through the eyes of faith during your holiday. That gift may be the priceless present someone dear to you desperately needed to receive.

So, when we encounter someone in the midst of confusion, doubt, despair, and hopelessness or are there ourselves, receding into self is not the answer; reach out. We are here to help one another, and we have the balm of the Good News and the salve of hope that soothes.

May you and your family laugh and be filled with joy this Christmas season and upcoming year. In the words of Fr. Edward, “God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.”

Never forget that.

Am I Not Here, Who is Your Mother?

Mothers are a sturdy bunch. In fact, motherhood is not for wimps. We all had one, and it is easy to overlook the role and influence our mother had in our lives. While there is a plethora of “how to books” and plenty of unsolicited advice, there is not much that can adequately prepare a woman to be a mother. It is on-the-job training, in a sometimes-hostile environment, with natives who don’t speak the language, where one must rapidly adapt while grossly sleep deprived.  After all, children are beginners at life outside the womb.

Mothering is often the brunt of jokes or looked down upon. While it is important to laugh, to be laughed at is contrary to the dignity of that noble calling. In this disordered culture, their contribution is looked upon as a less important in the scheme of possibilities and careers for women. Somehow raising the next generation, influencing the future of society, and forming healthy, happy, hardworking citizens is “demeaning” for women. Nothing is further from the truth. Yet, it requires heroic virtue, cosmic patience, and supernatural strength for this work.

Nothing can turn a mom to mush faster than an inconsolable, eight-pound, un-swaddled miniature version of herself. Her work does not often produce ripe fruit for years.

I am curious why society has disdain for such a critical contribution to the good of humanity. Then again, the devil doesn’t trouble himself with things that are not a threat. Attacking marriage and the family, distorts the Image of God who made us.   Deluding and engrossing men and women into pursuits far worthier of their time and effort, than “just having kids.”

Yesterday was the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I began to write my thoughts at two am having every intention of posting it by eight am on the feast day. Clearly, I am now a day late and a dollar short. Life happens and yet the reminder is valuable and so I beg you to continue to read on.

Under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mary is the Patroness of the Americas. This is one of the many titles of our Blessed Mother. Like any loving and caring mom, she is active and present in the lives of her children, encouraging and imploring them to turn from evil and leading them to her Son. At Guadalupe she appeared as mestiza in this her first appearance in Mexico to Juan Diego. It was on the feast of the Immaculate Conception which was December nineth in the calendar at the time. It was later moved to the eighth as we know it today.

“Juanito, dearest Juan Diego. Juanito, my dearest son, where are you going?  

Know and understand well, you my most humble son, that I am the ever-virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God for whom we live, of the Creator of all things, Lord of heaven and the earth.”

Notice the tenderness in which Mary addresses Juan Diego in this short segment of her greeting.

The Bishop asks for a sign from Juan Diego and he delays for a bit due to taking care of his sick uncle. Mary finds him. You cannot hide very long from your mama. She always knows where to find us. Mary inquired why he had not done what she asked. He replies to her that the Bishop wants a sign.

On the fourth visit she says in part, “Hear me and understand well, my little son, that nothing should frighten or grieve you. Let not your heart be disturbed. Do not fear that sickness, nor any other sickness or anguish. Am I not here, who is your Mother? Are you not under my protection?… My dear little son, this diversity of roses is the proof and the sign which you will take to the bishop…”

The “sign,” was a variety of flowers not native to the region and Castilian roses all blooming in the dead of winter on Tepeyak hill, modern day Mexico City. Juan Diego picks them placing them in his tilma. Mary, herself arranges the flowers for him. He heads to see the Bishop.

As Juan Diego opens his tilma the flowers fall out and a miraculous image of this beautiful lady is left there on the tilma. That gets the Bishops attention. There is no record of any divine painting other than this beautiful gift from God to us in this image of Mary.

If you get a chance to read more on this fascinating topic and get to know your Mother more personally, I highly recommend these books; first by Carl Anderson, “Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mother of the Civilization of Love,” or Bernal Diaz, “The Conquest of New Spain.”

Every feature on the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe is significant. For example, “The reflections that have been detected in the eyes of the image. If the tilma is laid horizontally across a map of Mexico, the major glyphs, the large symbols discernible to the Aztecs, all line up with the major volcanoes of Mexico. The constellations on Our Lady’s mantel are the precise constellations of the sky at the moment on December 12th.The image of our Lady of Guadalupe is reproduced more than any other image of any woman in history. God painted the image of Our Lady for us all to see and still miraculously survives to this day in the Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. It is the most visited pilgrimage site, getting about 20 million visitors annually.

Everywhere our Mother Mary has appeared, she takes on the appearance of the people she is there to aid. She is the Mother of All Nations and Peoples. She is the Queen of Heaven and our Mother too. I encourage you to read more about Marian apparitions, and to pray the Rosary which she has asked us to do countless times. As our Mother, who loves us dearly, she is trying to help us avert future chastisement, but there is only so much any mother can do. She can ask and ultimately it is up to the person to decide if they follow that advice and act.

To think that we can continue in the debauchery and outright flagrant sinfulness and think God is ok with it or has somehow turned a blind eye is exactly what evil would like us to think.

It was said that at Kibeho, when she appeared to the girls in Rwanda, as she tried to warn them to pray to avert the genocide, that she was inconsolable. Can you imagine the Mother of God, being inconsolable because as hard as she is trying to help us, we chose to go about our merry lives excluding God and doing our own thing?

Any mom is heartbroken when one of her children makes bad choices. Mary is trying to help all of humanity. We must do our part. Let us seek to please our dear sweet Mother and do what we are told.