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Archives for October 2013

Sure I love those Red Sox, but here’s a great big win for breast cancer patients: Pass this on!

Sure I love those Red Sox, but here’s a great big win for breast cancer patients: Pass this on!

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Cathy McGrath (r) with her business partner Maureen Cardinal (l).

Today many in Boston are celebrating the big win in the World Series last night. The Gohn family is no different – we’re thrilled with the Red Sox victory. But let me tell you something that is more precious to me than the win at Fenway last night: Women whose love and winning ideas make the world a better place. As breast cancer awareness month comes to a close today, I’m on my way into Boston for a mammogram — 17 years after my diagnosis for breast cancer. I’m a survivor with my own story, but today I’d like to share someone else’s victory over the disease.

In the months following my cancer recovery in 1996, I made a lot of friends who were diagnosed after me. Cathy McGrath (pictured above) was one of those friends. She was mother of one of my young daughter’s classmates and we drove the dance school carpool together. A business woman who worked around her family’s needs, when Cathy took the train in and out of Boston for her cancer treatments, she had a lot of time to think.

How can a woman’s dignity be maintained as she goes through all the continuous disrobing related to surgery, radiation, and chemo treatments? 

How can she stay warm and stay strong when all hospitals provide are ill-fitting “johnnies” for a woman to wear?

At some point Cathy struck on an amazing idea… and it has kept her busy every since, with the design and production an amazing product: The Jacki®.  It is a post-surgical recovery garment for breast cancer patients. And it is a gift for a woman in need. (And yes, there is even a man’s version, known as The Jack.)


Here’s more from Cathy’s website A Little Easier Recovery: 

Some patients require what are called J.P. or Blake Drains depending on the extent of their surgery; the bulb-shaped drains collect fluid from under the incision. The Jacki® provides “all around pocketing” so you can place the drains into the pockets anywhere along the bottom or, if needed, in a higher pocket. There is also stitching between the pockets to enable the drain to be tucked securely. fea1

Limited Range of Motion 
After surgery you may have limited mobility in the range of motion of your shoulder or arm. The Jacki® also works well for step-in or one-handed dressing as the sleeves have Velcro seams. The buttons on the sleeves act as markers to easily find where the Velcro lines up. The Velcro seams also provide easy access for Nurses and Doctors taking blood pressure, blood testing, injections, IV lines, etc… while keeping the rest of you warm andcomfortable. You can dress at home, receive visitors, go to and from the hospital, and do errands. The top button on the shoulders is real, not Velcro. It makes it easy to drop the front down for exams and porta-cath, if present.

All Phases of Treatment and Recovery 
The Jacki® first began as a post-surgical garment but has evolved to all phases of treatment and recovery. In the Jacki®women feel and look more like a person than a patient anddignity is restored. We have perfected the Jacki® to its “incognito, classic style”. Being a patient can seem so consuming at times; the Jacki® can help patients be themselves more of the time.

The Best of The Best 
Patients deserve the best, and the best of the best has been put into the design, construction and fabric of this Jacki®. We designed it using the best input from the finest nurses, surgeons, and patients for over a year. Only the finest materials are used: high performance wicking from Polartec®, baby soft cotton from New York.

Today, the Jacki is handed out to women for free in hospitals all across America, and it has helped thousands of breast cancer patients have a sense of dignity and control of their situation at a time when its most needed.

AND NOW FOR THE WIN: I’m proud to announce that yesterday, Cathy’s non-profit,  A Little Easier Recovery, is a recipient of grant dollars from the Mass Challenge, a group that honors and helps entrepreneurial start-ups grow through mentoring and funding. Congrats to all, and a big thank you to the sponsors, both private and corporate who’ve supported this work thus far. 

You can help get this word out — you can help bring the Jacki to other women through your tax-deductible donations and your advocacy in bringing it to hospitals in your area.

Every woman fighting breast cancer should have access to this garment, but there’s a way to go. Donate! And share this with others!

A peek into monasticism… videos from a Cistercian monastery in Iowa

Ok, so my post yesterday had me sharing a drawing from Sr Grace Remington OCSO that I love to share when I’m giving a retreat that mentions Mary’s role in the work of redemption alongside our Lord. Since I’d like to share this drawing more in the future, I am inquiring at the monastery where Sr Grace lives as to whether or not this drawing can be made into a prayer card, or similar. I did not hear back from the monastery as yet, but in the meanwhile I enjoyed discovering their monastery in Iowa by way of their videos.  Here’s one here…

More videos here.

The Death of a True Spiritual Mother… I think she’s one of God’s little saints!

If you read my book, I hope you’ll come to understand that every woman is called to spiritual motherhood, and many of us are called to physical motherhood.

Sister Antonio Brenner was both.

Her recent death is mourned by many inmates who lived with her in a Tijuana prison, and many outside the prison who knew her.

From the LA Times, in 2002: There’s one thing Sister Antonia did not leave behind when she swapped her upscale Southern California life for a nun’s habit and a tiny cell in one of Mexico’s most notorious prisons.

Her giggle.

In between visits of succor and support to a seemingly endless number of prisoners and guards, the 76-year-old, who stands 5 feet 2, erupts in peals of laughter from dawn till dark.

With a mischievous chuckle, she confirms that prisoners have tossed their guns away when she has marched into the middle of their deadly riots. They don’t want the woman they call “Mama” to see them fighting.

Another chuckle accompanies her explanation of the way she trained for life in a cell surrounded by 4,500 murderers, thieves and drug dealers: “I’m the mother of seven children,” she said. “I’m prepared for everything.”

A quarter-century ago, after her children were grown and divorce had filled her heart with sadness, Mary Clarke Brenner gave away her evening clothes, shut the door on her beach house in Ventura and moved to a cell in Tijuana’s La Mesa State Penitentiary. Until it was cleaned up last summer, it was one of Latin America’s most lawless, violent prisons.

Madre_AntoniasmI love that this feisty woman mentions that her mothering skills prepared her to this new role. This is more than the story of one woman’s search for a new purpose and meaning in midlife. This has all the earmarks of heroic virtue, as in saint-in-the-making radical love! This is a gutsy women who took Jesus at his word to tend to the poor among us.

(Note Bene: We Catholics have quite a few saints who were both wives and mothers and went on to live as part of a religious community — such as St Elizabeth Ann Seton, or St Francis of Rome.)

From Sister Antonio’s obituary from October 17 in the LA Times, she is quoted as saying in 1982: “Something happened to me when I saw men behind bars.… When I left, I thought a lot about the men. When it was cold, I wondered if the men were warm; when it was raining, if they had shelter… I wondered if they had medicine and how their families were doing. …You know, when I returned to the prison to live, I felt as if I’d come home.”

The obit continues…

Small of stature, with blue eyes peeking out from under her traditional black–and-white habit, Brenner cut a strikingly serene presence in the overcrowded prison of 8,000. She lived as any other inmate, sleeping in a 10-by-10-foot cell, eating the same food and lining up for morning roll call.

She would walk freely among thieves and drug traffickers and murderers, smiling, touching cheeks and offering prayers. Many were violent men with desperate needs. She kept extra toilet paper in her cell, arranged for medical treatment, attended funerals.

Guards and inmates alike started referring to her as the prison angel. In the cellblocks she was known simply as “Mama.”

In a somewhat untraditional way, Sister Antonio’s religious vocation was accepted by the local bishop in Mexico, according to her official bio.

…with permission to take private vows, she put on a religious habit. After a year, her service to prisoners came to the attention of Bishop Juan Jesus Posadas of Tijuana and Bishop Leo Maher of neighboring San Diego. She was officially welcomed and blessed by both Bishops: Bishop Maher made her an auxiliary to him while Bishop Posadas made her an auxiliary Mercedarian, an order which has a special devotion to prisoners. At age fifty, she had become a sister.

News of Sister Antonio’s work and life in La Mesa penitentiary spread to others, and she is credited as the foundress for the Eudist Servants of the 11th Hour, a unique order of mature women who are between the ages of 45 and 65. Each Sister must be self-supporting economically and provide their own health care. Vows are taken for a one year period and then renewed annually, if mutually agreeable.

In 1997, Sister Antonia’s mission expanded. Many had heard of her ministry and offered to help and some even wanted to follow in her footsteps. With encouragement from the Bishops and many other supporters, Sister Antonia initiated the process of forming a religious community. It was to be known as the Eudist Servants Of The Eleventh Hour. In 2003 the community was formally accepted by the Bishop of Tijuana. (See more details about the community, whose name comes from St John Eudes.)

Interested readers will want to look into the Pulitzer Prize winning book on her life: The Prison Angel, by Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan.


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This makes me think… about Mary as the New Eve

This makes me think… about Mary as the New Eve

In Mary, Eve discovers the nature of the true dignity of woman, of feminine humanity. This discovery must continually reach the heart of every woman and shape her vocation and her life.

-Blessed John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, par 11.

I’ve always been moved by this illustration.


Crayon & pencil drawing
by Sr. Grace Remington, OCSO.
Copyright 2005,
Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey


Meet Missionaries Jonathan and Kristen Weiss – Married Twenty-Somethings with Family Missions Company

Meet Missionaries Jonathan and Kristen Weiss – Married Twenty-Somethings with Family Missions Company

Catholic Missionaries: Jonathan and Kristen Weiss and family

Catholic Missionaries: Jonathan and Kristen Weiss and family

Today is World Mission Sunday. Missionaries are on the front lines of the new evangelization!

Meet Jonathan and Kristen Weiss, a young married couple with two small children who are part of the lay community of missionaries with Family Missions Company. 

Listen to a podcast where Jonathan and Kristen Weiss share their story of how they became missionaries, and the rewards and challenges they face in the missionary life.

This post is part of the Bloggers on a Mission Campaign.


Faith, Fiat, and Fidelity to a Catholic Way of Thinking and Living

So I’ve been reading Francis’ encyclical and writing about it over at Patheos. My latest piece on Lumen Fidei’s chapter three is up over at my column, A Word in Season.

I’d like to zero in on one section of chapter three that I write about in the longer piecethe unity of faith is the unity of the Church. The unity of our faith — that we Catholic Christians assert to believing in the deposit of faith that has been handed on since the time of Christ and the Apostles — is the source of our communion, our belonging to God and to one another. We are made for communion with one another by virtue of our human dignity, and by virtue of our baptism we are especially made for communion with God and the Church. The unity of the Church depends on its members believing in the same profession of faith, and its tenets that flow from that.

Allow me to quote a portion of it here.

True believers understand that Church presents a unity of faith and an integrity of faith. St Paul taught “There is one body, and one Spirit… one faith (Eph. 4:4-5).” This faith unites all believers to a common vision; “we receive a common gaze (LF, 47)”.

This is a further development of the idea that we do not live the faith alone, and cannot live it in a vacuum. This common faith brings us into communion — a unity of faith — with one another.

By professing the same faith, we stand firm on the same rock, we are transformed by the same Spirit of love, we radiate one light and we have a single insight into reality. (LF, 47)

This unity in faith is derived from the integrity of what we believe. This faith is consistent and does not change. It is we who are changed by it. This is one of the primary roles of the institutional Church, to be the guardian of the deposit of faith, and to be on mission to share it with the world.

The faith is based on the whole truth handed down with integrity from the Apostles, with the continuity and assurance of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus himself guaranteed.

Since faith is one, it must be professed in all it purity and integrity. Precisely because all the articles of faith are interconnected to deny one of them, even those that seem least important, is tantamount to distorting the whole. Each period of history can find this or that part of faith easier or harder to accept: hence the need for vigilance in ensuring that the deposit of faith is passed on in its entirety (Cf. 1 Timothy 6:20) and that all aspects of the profession of faith are duly emphasized. (LF, 48)

When I read these lines from Lumen Fidei, I am challenged and reminded that we must not fall into a kind of “cafeteria Catholicism” that rejects the integrity of faith that the Church has maintained. Tempting as it might be, we cannot select what doctrines of Catholic belief we wish to believe and live by, as if we were selecting items from an a la carte menu.

Further, we reject the unity of faith when we choose to ignore or live without certain beliefs; we are breaking our communion with God and with each other. If we forsake the unifying and universally Catholic way in order to go our own way, we make our preferences into a god of our choosing. We oppose rather than trust the God who first chose us. We bring discord, disunion, and disintegration of the one faith and one Church.

Francis goes so far as to suggest that our unity of faith indicates our unity with the Church, and without it, we are breaking the bonds that Christ died to create.

Indeed, inasmuch as the unity of faith is the unity of the Church, to subtract something from the faith is to subtract something from the veracity of communion… harming the faith means harming communion with the Lord. (LF, 48.)

This is a stirring measure with which to examine our own hearts and minds to discover the real depth of our faith and true communion with Christ and the Church.

Read the whole thing if you have time.

This is the great invitation of our faith, and the very essence of being Catholic Christians: To belong to God and to one another — universally connected to the God who made us, and to all of creation.

Lumen Fidei affirms that there have always been periods of history where some tenets of the faith have been harder for some people to accept than others. When we think of our world today, we probably both can name certain beliefs that the Church holds that folks have trouble with today, or just clearly want to reject for any number of reasons. A wise priest once preached that the Gospel is meant to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. Us having to wrestle with certain dogmas or doctrines is not a new thing. But wrestle we must.

This communion idea — a common vision and a common life — is a countercultural message in a world that glorifies individualism to a fault.

Our society celebrates our self-made separateness, our freedom to do as we please, and to believe in whatever suits our fancy, and live according to our own rules. Many people, including many Catholics, reject the idea of our being subject to another’s authority, much less the Church’s. Yes, I know church members themselves have made a poor showing of the Gospel message. Yet even with all the times that I can acknowledge that both church leadership and church members have made grievous mistakes that must break God’s heart, we Catholics continue to assert that the Holy Spirit guides and leads and upholds the fundamental framework that is the Church, in message and in mission. That means, even though the human side of the Church can mess things up pretty badly, the divine side is worthy of all our trust and belief. We see this in the Church’s prolonged 2000 year history. Something bigger than herself keeps her afloat.

Here’s what I’m getting at: When we debunk the authority of the Church, we debunk the Holy Spirit’s hidden yet profound guidance contained therein. We need the power of God (through graces) to live out the Christian life. When we separate ourselves from the source of grace (the Church and her sacraments), God doesn’t lose, we lose. And the Holy Spirit grieves this. We need the Church and we need to be church.

I see this as one of the great needs of the new evangelization – to find ways to repair the breach between our faith and our daily lives, and between our personal faith lives and our unity with the church. There is an ache in my heart for every one who something along the lines of “I’m a Catholic but I just don’t buy it all. I love the Mass, but I don’t believe in ________.”

All of us must ask ourselves the penetrating questions: if the faith has been passed on to us, has it indeed taken hold in our own lives?

Are we changed and transformed by it in such a way as to desire to conform our minds, hearts, and wills to the Lord and his Church in gratitude for all he has done for us?

Do we hold tight to some tenets of the faith while discarding others? Are there doctrines we choose not believe, seemingly carving an idol of our opinion as superior to what is held by the universal Church? Do we profess the faith only marginally or just part of the time? As opposed to the full gospel all the time?

Do we live from that deep place of gratitude, and knowing our faith is inseparable from the faith of the Church?

The Church holds that there is an indissoluble union between Christ and his Church, if we reject something that the Church teaches, it is almost like asking which part of Christ would we prefer to live without? How could we reject any part of HIM?

We need to grow in fidelity to Christ and the Church. That means we need to find ways to mend the disunity and the disconnection we may have with the Church, to be Christians full time, even as we wrestle, and struggle, and wonder if we can really submit to all that is required? The Holy Spirit will help us. Just like the Holy Spirit flowed through Mary’s yes, her fiat, to say yes to God’s ways and not our own.

Don’t be discouraged: I’m so encouraged the Church calls us to on-going conversion… that it takes time to grow in faith and love with all God calls us to be and do.

Here’s something else that is encouraging:  Francis’ recent homily of consecrating the world to Our Lady… the woman of the radical yes to God, the fiat…. 

Mary said her “yes” to God: a “yes” which threw her simple life in Nazareth into turmoil, and not only once. Any number of times she had to utter a heartfelt “yes” at moments of joy and sorrow, culminating in the “yes” she spoke at the foot of the Cross. Here today there are many mothers present; think of the full extent of Mary’s faithfulness to God: seeing her only Son hanging on the Cross. The faithful woman, still standing, utterly heartbroken, yet faithful and strong.

And I ask myself: am I a Christian by fits and starts, or am I a Christian full-time? Our culture of the ephemeral, the relative, also takes its toll on the way we live our faith. God asks us to be faithful to him, daily, in our everyday life. He goes on to say that, even if we are sometimes unfaithful to him, he remains faithful. In his mercy, he never tires of stretching out his hand to lift us up, to encourage us to continue our journey, to come back and tell him of our weakness, so that he can grant us his strength. This is the real journey: to walk with the Lord always, even at moments of weakness, even in our sins. Never to prefer a makeshift path of our own. That kills us. Faith is ultimate fidelity, like that of Mary.


Among Women 168: The Silver Jubilee of Mulieris Dignitatem

Among Women 168: The Silver Jubilee of Mulieris Dignitatem

Among Women looks at the 25th anniversary of Blessed John Paul II’s apostolic letter, Mulieris DignitatemMy guest is author-blogger Genevieve Kineke who has long studied this document and who recently released a commemorative book edition of John Paul’s letter with commentary and ways you can study this ground-breaking document for women.

You can win a copy of Genevieve Kineke’s book on Mulieris Dignitatem! Enter the free drawing by sending your comments me, Pat Gohn, at amongwomenpodcast@me.com, or visit the Among Women podcast facebook page. The contest will close on Oct, 31, 2013.

Also of note to podcast listeners, the Pontifical Society for the Laity in Rome invited over 100 women from around the world to meet to study Mulieris Dignitatem anew, we’ll also look at the life of a little-known 8th century hermit, St Ulphia of France, and I’ll tell you where I’ll be speaking next in the next few weeks.

Listen to the Among Women podcast here. 


This makes me think… about women as guardians of life

The maternal mission is also the basis of a particular responsibility. The mother is appointed guardian of life. It is her task to accept it with care, encouraging the human being’s first dialogue with the world, which is carried out precisely in the symbiosis with the mother’s body. It is here that history of every human being begins… with an exclusive and unmistakable plan of life.

-Blessed John Paul II, Angelus message, July 16, 1995-


I write about this theme in Chapter 8 of Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious. 

The F.U.N. Quotient… keepin’ the beat version

Posted in honor of my son-in-love, who used to be in the drumline during his college days.

Go Eagles!

The powerful light of the family table — a place of belonging and the sign of the domestic church

The powerful light of the family table — a place of belonging and the sign of the domestic church

This article is currently posted at CatholicMom.com. Go there for great content for families!

I grew up with an old saying: “The family that prays together stays together.” And that’s a maxim that I believe in and it’s something my husband Bob and I tried to encourage in every stage of our parenting life. For us, as Catholics, that translated into Sunday Mass, grace at meals, prayers before bedtime, and spontaneous prayers during the day. Not to mention devotions outside of that, like the Rosary, and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, or observances in keeping with the Liturgical Year.

Yet, equally important was the family dinner table. Dinner has always been a point of connection, of conversation, of visiting with one another, checking in and talking about the highs and lows of the day. Often what was on the menu was never as important as what was shared around the table. What a gift it is to have someone care enough about you to ask, “how was your day?”  It’s such a simple notion of belonging, but it builds connections and grounds intimacy. And now that Bob and I are quasi-empty nesters, and the daily table is smaller, we still need to offer that gift to one another, and find ways to invite others to join us.

Recently, The Onion posted a social commentary that I feel was right on the mark called, “Lonely Nation Gathers Outside Window of Happy Family Eating Dinner Together.” It was a touching spoof  but I found it achingly painful to think that so many people have gone without this humble social connection, this domesticity, this rootedness. The light from within the home shined out of the windows illuminating the crowd gathered outside in the dark to observe the dinner hour.

There is a small little ritual at our home table for dinner. The person who usually sets the table lights a candle. This is not to dim the lights or to be romantic. It is to remind us of the Light of Christ — as in Jesus is the unseen guest, the One who is present with us. He sees us, hears us, is with us. There is a sanctuary light always on in a Catholic church to remind visitors there of the Holy Guest — Jesus — in the tabernacle. We light our little candle on our table in all seasons to be mindful that He is ever-present.

When each of my children left for college, I told them we would remember them around this table every night… we would see them in this light. For, thanks to the Body of Christ, they are with us, even still. This little candle reminds my mother’s heart that there is a connection, unseen and unheard, and Someone’s eyes and ears are present to my children wherever they are in the world. I feel the same way about our parents, siblings, relatives, and loved ones near and far. They are with us in Christ.

In a larger way, the importance of the Christ connection in our Church is what can and should draw us to Mass on Sundays. The table is set, the candles lit, and the meal is prepared. It’s something we need and truly long for, even when we have to fight the calendar and the current cultural norms to commit to it. At Mass we listen and we converse with Jesus. We tell him about our day, our week, and what’s on our mind and heart. He is present to us, truly present in the Word and in the Eucharist, and He keeps us close at heart after we depart.

I’ve just learned that Pope Francis is calling for a Synod on families. Speculations are varied as to the themes of marriage and family, of divorce and remarriage, that may be discussed there in October 2014. With this announcement, as with The Onion’s “news”, I heard a call for every Catholic home to deepen the bonds of its domestic church, or to begin anew, to organize itself around the table more. This, truly, is one way we can evangelize and spread the good news to one another, in the simple call to be in relationship around the table. On the global scale, I’m glad the Universal Church will be taking up the bigger questions that affect the family. Many of our sisters and brothers are missing at our Sunday table at Mass. Our family that is the Church needs to do more to invite them inside.

Let us pray for how we ought to respond in our homes and in our churches…


How do you share the light of faith around your table?