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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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Why God?

“Why do you have to bring God into every conversation?”

This seemingly simple question was posed to me by one of my daughters some years ago. I took the occasion to ponder the question. I believe contemplating our relationship with God is just as relevant today for each of us, especially in these uncertain times.

The world has permanently changed. Everyone is impacted in one way or another. In this calling to live our Catholic faith, where are you at? Are you on firm ground? Have you had to rethink how you will practice your faith? Where is God in all this for you? And, what does it look like going forward?

It is good to examine our hearts, pondering these questions, and being honest with our responses.

At St. Andrew the Apostle, we are also asking some of these questions as we look ahead. We will not be doing business as before, but with greater attentiveness to the needs of our parishioners. How have our parishioners been affected? Where are they in their faith journey? How can we meet them where they are at to share the Good News and reasons for our hope? Know that we are actively working on these matters and if you have suggestions, or want to help make a difference somehow, please let us know.

As far as my own pondering on that important question she asked, I would like to share with you the letter I wrote to her in response. As I read it now, nothing has changed for me, except to be more convicted than ever.

Daughter,

How do I not bring the Author of Life into life itself? How can I speak of the reason for my joy, my hope, my strength without naming its cause? What is the reason for oxygen if not to breath, or for water if not to cleanse and satiate?  How do you describe a rainbow without using color?

How can I not give recognition to the One, who animates all things and brings everything into existence? Without God there would be no bird to sing a melodious song, no leaf to sway in the invisible wind, no eye to see your untold beauty or ear to hear your boisterous, contagious laughter.

Through His great love we all came into being, and it is His immeasurable, inexhaustible, unconditional, and infinitesimal love that helped me find daddy and together in love, incarnate five unique,  unforgettable, exquisite human beings we call sons and daughters.

How does one speak of conquering mountains and surviving floods without mentioning the lifeline that pulled them up or saved them from drowning? God is the blood that courses through my body, and the air that fills my lungs.

God is the lens through which I see the world and even if I should lose my eyesight it would not dim nor change how I interpret the world around me. He is the glue that holds everything together, the stream connecting every water way, the thread that binds, assembles, and weaves all matter together.

He is at once the question and the answer, the reason and purpose, movement, and motion itself.

Because of God I am here and so are you. I am able to listen, respond, love, laugh and cry with you; thus, becoming your source of frustration, amusement, exasperation, and dependability.

In a world that constantly shifts, betrays, disillusions, and deceives, He is the objective truth in which I anchor my existence, when storms thrash and overwhelm me. I get beat up, pulled under, and resemble death more than life, yet God is the tether that holds me firm, keeping me safe and steadfast through it all.

God is light in the darkness, joy in hardship, hope in disaster and the answer to every human cry for help. He is love, forgiveness, mercy, justice. Only He can make sense of the senseless or bring good out of evil.

So, my darling I can only say with conviction and certainty that it is nearly impossible for me not to bring God into my conversations. I am hopeful that because of this fact, that deep down inside, you realize this, and it is why I am worth speaking to at all.

May you one day find, this inescapable verb to be inseparable from any sentence uttered from your own lips and fondly remember this question from so long ago, and now equipped with greater knowledge,  wisdom, and understanding do the same for your children. 

All my love, Mom

My kids will confirm that I never had a short answer for anything. It is the written word that I love, so emails from me were common, especially on touchy subjects, and for their deeper consideration after stupid choices. I invite you to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and state with conviction your own relationship with God. It is a very enlightening exercise for spiritual growth.

The Gift Within

In the uncharted waters of this pandemic in our lives, the media seems to hyper-focus on all the pain, sadness, doom and gloom, they can possibly suck out of this current situation. Lots of armchair quarterbacks and back seat drivers point fingers on what should have, could have, or now, must be done to avert an economic global meltdown and climbing death toll. I don’t know that any of us could have predicted something like this common enemy that would “ground us all” and keep us housebound.

But among the onslaught of negativity and fear, there are good things happening that are easily missed. I’d like to readjust our senses and propose a little different trajectory. We rarely hear on the news about the positive responses that are often tucked into life’s disasters, until months or years later, in a “look back, feel good, specialty segment” or, in the last two minutes of a newscast as the credits roll by. Dare I suggest that during a crisis, this is precisely what we need to hear, because it has the power to raise hope, encourage, and uplift humanity.

It is easy when pummeled with doom and gloom, twenty-four/seven, to become hopeless, anxious, and miss the beautiful gifts that are right in front of us. We’ve been forced to slow down, and strongly encouraged to “stay home.” Trendy stars and celebrities offer video cameos, touting this mantra in the hopes young people will listen.

You may ask, “where is the gift, in being laid off, or my business failing?” It is really hard to see the positive side of things in those moments. My husband and I went through that very challenge in our marriage. We were devastated. We had two small sons and one on the way. But as we looked back and talked about that event, we have been able to see the gift in it that was not so obvious at the time. I am sure, that God knew what had to happen for us to change direction. It meant having to trust Him more than we ever had before. It meant letting go of our fears about mortgage payments, and provisions for our family, long enough to really pray and see His hand at work in this unplanned event. In fact, God knew that nothing less than what happened would have changed the course we were on. That painful course correction was a gift we could not have anticipated. We are forever grateful for the turn of events, when what seemed like a curse, was actually a blessing. We have a right to feel the loss, and be angry or sad when all the ripples of this crisis become real and personal. I just ask you to step back after you have had a good cry, and reach out to the One who has answers and a new plan that might be very different than you had ever imagined.

Hopefully, we are connecting again on a more profound level with our spouse, children, and friends. Sure, it can be crazy, and require a little creativity and that is also a gift. We learn new skills, stretch our minds, and try harder to bond. I had never heard of the Marco Polo app which is a free download, until one of the kids suggested we get it. Three of our kids live out of state, as well as four of the grand kids. We have had such fun sending little videos and messages back and forth. It minimizes the distance between us all. This app, (and I ‘m sure there are others) has been a gift in making that happen.

Now that we are all home again, we must relearn to be patient with one another, to overlook little annoyances, laugh, and find strength in who we are as the people God placed under the same roof. Back when we were all going in different directions, there was rarely enough time to get lost in the uniqueness of the other. I believe Matthew Kelly calls this, “carefree timelessness.” What a gift to not have to say, “I can’t talk long.” Some moms and dads are working remotely now, so each is getting to step into the classroom of the others work/home life, gaining a deeper appreciation for what the other brings to the family. In the day to day, our life has changed both inside and outside of the home, and not necessarily in a bad way. What a great gift to strive to work in union with one another as spouses for the good of the family. This is an enormous blessing if you take advantage of it.

Neighbors are now around more, and able to interact from a safe distance. On our daily walks we’ve noticed that people are happier, smiling, and more friendly. I’ve heard stories of how one neighborhood support group, Next Door, has been vital in getting needed supplies to other neighbors on the block. One large family was out of eggs and made it known, and four dozen were delivered to their doorstep by caring neighbors. This has strengthened that whole community. How many of us know our neighbors? How can we assist each other in mutual caring and sharing in this crisis? We have the power to do this. We cannot wait for someone else to fix things around us. Its up to us individually, to do what we humans do best-give the gift of ourselves.

Be that gift. Reach out to others. It can mean a simple phone call or card, food or more practical necessities for someone who needs to know they are not alone in all this. When we as humanity respond to these kinds of crisis with human kindness, ingenuity, and love for our neighbor, (rather than only focusing on our own needs)-something beautiful happens, love is magnified and spreads. It brings joy, despite the messiness around us. We are bigger than the situation we find ourselves in right now. It is in difficult times that we build character, learn what we are made of, and capable of. “Necessity is the motherhood of invention.” (Plato)

Globally, we are using less resources, spending less money, and learning to deal with what we have on hand.

It’s a gift to know how to do things “old school.” Pinterest and Youtube, to name a few, are chock-full of recipes, how to’s, demos, and ideas for getting to those projects we never really had time for previously. Learn to do simple important tasks like sewing on a button, balancing the checkbook, repairing a tear, checking the oil or tire pressure in your car. Teach your kids.

Most importantly, as Catholics, whether we were regulars or occasional worshipers, Christ is always inviting us into deeper relationship in and through the complicated times of our life. When we cannot attend Mass and receive the Eucharist, how are we using this time to grow closer in love of Him who gave everything for us? It can be as simple as just reading the Bible and pondering the Word more deeply. There are more podcasts, and websites that can help with this, than I can possibly name. Formed.org is an amazing subscription resource offered by many parishes. Don’t waste this precious gift of time, or become bitter over any course corrections. Recognize and look for the gifts in your everyday.

I’d love to hear about the gifts you have discovered in this time.

And, when that moment comes for us to be “un-grounded,” I pray we will hold onto that which is good and beautiful in our families, at all costs.

Nothing. And, Extravagant Love

There is nothing you can ever do to make God love you less. Nothing.

This is very hard for us human creatures to wrap our heads around. A love so generous we can’t do anything to lessen it. Jesus came to make this point perfectly and tangibly obvious through His life and death. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, (Luke 15:11-32), Jesus illustrates this love in a brilliant, multifaceted story that not only affected His listeners back then, but should rock our world today.

I’ve heard this parable for over fifty-five years. There have been countless sermons, commentaries, and articles, to tease out the nuances of the parable and help us find deeper meaning. Yet at times, I can still fall into the trap of thinking it impossible for God to continue to love me, a habitual sinner and screw up extraordinaire. I am grateful for God’s abundant, patient, and ineffable love.

I recall hearing a speaker at a Catholic conference once answering questions. Someone asked why Jesus had to go through the Crucifixion. “If only a drop of His Precious Blood would have been enough, wouldn’t a paper cut have sufficed?” I hear this question from time to time myself, and was interested in what the speakers had to say. “God doesn’t just do the minimum, His love is extravagant” In choosing to die in the most cruel and heinous way Christ did, He left no doubt about the length He would take for love of you and I.  Loving us with an infinite, unconditional love, He then stretched out His arms and proved it. “Man has no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15:13)

Had you ever thought of the crucifixion in this way before? Love to the extreme. Freely given, freely chosen. He was no hapless victim here. I often will point to the Crucifix on the wall in my office, and tell couples preparing for marriage, that “this is what real love looks like.” If that doesn’t scare them away, nothing will. It is a perspective we all need to ponder everyday but especially during this Easter Octave.

This leads me to the other “nothing” I want to elaborate on. Nothing happens outside of God’s Providential knowledge. Nothing.

I remember reading this quote from Monsignor Giussani, that impacted me deeply and has stayed with me especially in those moments when nothing seems to make any sense at all. “Nothing I experience is useless; not even one second is in vain…because everything is for His plan.”

I just passed the five year anniversary, of when I unexpectedly was hit by a car. I know I have spent a lot of time pondering that very statement. Had I not the faith and trust that God was using this seemingly senseless event for good reason, something like that, could have caused great bitterness and anger in my life.

Nothing is coincidental, karma, or even random. Nothing. Take that perception and apply it to the many moments in your life that appear meaningless. When things go south, blow up in our faces, or just hurt like crazy, try and remember that God has a purpose in it. “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28)

So “nothing” after all, is really in fact, something. It is not a void, wasted time, or deficiency, but perhaps just a Divine mystery we need to ponder deeper in each situation. Like all mysteries, time will reveal, in hindsight, or bits and pieces, God’s greater purpose.

These mysteries I believe, are also opportunities for us to practice letting go of our perceived control over life, and learning to surrender and trust in the Love that never ends, as we patiently await to be amazed at the work God is doing in the place we call “nothing.”