Good for the Soul: On Writerly friends, Pray-ers,  and Sisters-in-Christ

Good for the Soul: On Writerly friends, Pray-ers, and Sisters-in-Christ

I am a blessed woman and I know it. For much of my life I have not only enjoyed the love and friendship of my husband, Bob, but I have known the wealth of women friends who are devoted to Christ and each other. And let me tell you, Bob himself is grateful that I enjoy such a rich sisterhood, as he benefits from a happy and renewed wife when she comes back from visiting with her friends. Smart man.

We women need good girlfriends in every phase of life. Catholic Christian women need to find other women with whom to share their spiritual journey. This is a subject that is dear to my heart.

“Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter;
whoever finds one finds a treasure.

Faithful friends are beyond price,
no amount can balance their worth.

Faithful friends are life-saving medicine;
those who fear God will find them.”

-Sirach 6:14-16-

Spiritual friendships are borne not only of kindred spirits, but of the Holy Spirit. My friend, Lisa Hendey, calls them soul sisters. I call them sisters in Christ. My pal Maureen calls her possé the “rosary chicks”. Whatever you name them, all women need to be about reclaiming the gift of female friendship as a priority in our culture today. We need to affirm and uplift the dignity of Christian womanhood, and bring each other before the altar of God. (I can’t speak for the menfolk. Yet, Lord knows, they need their guy-friends too.)

Besides the busyness of my work this month, October afforded me not one but two opportunities to spend some extended time with two of my writerly friends, true sisters in Christ.

Listeners have heard me speak of Maria Johnson before, and many of you may know her from her blog and work with SQPN. Her day job as a college professor brought her north to Boston this month and I greedily invited Bego to extend her stay for a few days so we could make a pilgrimage to the National Shrine of Divine Mercy. 

I do that a lot: Make pilgrimages out of friend visits. It usually comes about because, to be honest, we need it. Modern women are so busy!

Taking mini-retreat days during our friendly visits or taking in a local church or shrine pays rich dividends in our souls and in the life of our friendship. I love the opportunity to pray daily prayers and rosaries, sure. But I also love all the catching up that goes along with the journey — the walks and the car rides. Going to Mass together and making a pilgrimage to a shrine enshrines the friendship as well… offering it a dignity more sublime than a casual visit might.

Of course, as my favorite Long Island pastor used to say, first comes the holy hour… then the happy hour. Joy in Christ has a spillover effect.

[Click on any photo to enlarge.]

A toast with Maria Johnson at the Red Lion Tavern in Stockbridge MA, Oct 2014.

After Divine Mercy: A toast with Maria Johnson at the Red Lion Tavern in Stockbridge MA, Oct 2014.

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That night outside the Red Lion I took Bego’s picture next to the Great Pumpkin. That ball of light is the pumpkin! (you can kind of see the orange edge of it.) (#camerafail)

Here's one with me in it! This just might be my fav photo of Bego and I-- drinking wine of course and dining al fresco in Boston's North End a couple summer's back.

Here’s one with me in it! This just might be my favorite photo of Bego and I– drinking wine of course (!) — dining al fresco in Boston’s North End a couple summer’s back.

A few years ago on Patheos, author and screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi offered this wisdom in a profound article on how creative types like writers and artists need friendship with those who ‘get them’…

Scripture says he who finds a welcome in a storm “finds a treasure.”

Friendship’s shelter for an artist is a place to retreat amidst the chaos of your creative process to find peace. Friendship’s shelter offers the shade of acceptance when the artist is laboring under the burning heat of criticism or rejection. It is a place where there is the warm light of counsel and perspective when the artist’s soul shivers in the cold darkness of doubt. Friendship is a wall of security against the tearing wind of instability that is the life of the creative person.

The spark of friendship is initially kindled when two people experience what St. Aelred of Rivaulx called the miracle of mutual attraction. In his wonderful twelfth-century work Spiritual Friendship, the Cistercian monk remembered as “the Bernard of the North” wrote that it is already amazing when we meet a person whose personality causes delight in us. When two people experience holy delight in each other—without any motivation of greed or ambition or other unholy need—it borders on the miraculous.

Holy delight means seeing the other person with Divine wisdom, to know her name the way God does. It’s a gift that Adam had and then lost: to know the essential gift and place of each creature. In friendship, we recover it and we are able to see the miracle that is the core in another soul. It is the friend’s gift to still delight when the other really needs a shelter, when her beauty is most obscured by tragedy, or sorrow, or suffering, or, in the artist’s case, by the demands of creativity. A real friend feels tenderness at a condition in which a non-friend would probably feel revulsion. Aelred goes so far as to say that friendship is “the kiss of Christ,” which He mediates through the physical presence of the human friend.

I could not agree more. I’m grateful for the friends who have kept me sane in the writing life in recent years… by offering refuge and camaraderie and counsel. Oh yeah, and they pray intentionally for me. And I for them.

“The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.”
-James 5:16-

I just got back from three speaking events in California that were planned months in advance. When I realized the close proximity of the dates, and the central California locations, I just had to dial up my dearest friend in the Pacific Time Zone, Lisa Hendey. Fortunately for me, by the grace of God — our calendars aligned for a get-together. This, you will see, really was an act of God.

Besides being the founder of CatholicMom.com, Lisa Hendey is an A-list Catholic author and speaker in hot demand, and she’s about to launch her newest book, The Grace of Yes! But the biggest grace for me was her warm hospitality and the opportunity to enjoy her friendship and have her be a guest at one of my Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious retreats. (She was the paparazzi over here, too.)

It was Lisa’s idea that we escape the cities where I was speaking and head to the coast and to the wine country. She got no resistance from me. But before we departed, I loved praying in the Fresno cathedral of St John the Baptist.  In it, I found the coolest stained glass window of my patron, Patrick… I’m super-sizing it so you can appreciate the details of the wind in his hair and the blowing of the waves…

St Patrick, snake chasin'. Circa late 5th century.

St Patrick, snake chasin’. Circa late 5th century.

But I digress… But the real point here is that not only do we need patron saints, we need patrons in life — little local saints who support the work that we do, but more importantly, the life of faith in us — companions on the journey. I have that in Lisa. She has been such a supportive, generous friend in all the ten years I’ve known her.

And for what’s its worth: I’m so glad we also share a road warrior’s spirit! We put some serious mileage on her car this week.

Lisa and I first headed for Monterey and Carmel where we spent a wonderful afternoon praying in the San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo Mission, where St Junipero Serra – founder of the California Missions — died.

Entry into the chapel off the courtyard.

Entry into the chapel off the courtyard.

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Lisa and I at the mission.

Momma Mary was there too. (Our Lady of Bethlehem.)

Momma Mary was there too. (Our Lady of Bethlehem.)

Mission's altar

Mission’s altar

St Junipero Serra lies beneath the marble in front of his icon.

St Junipero Serra lies beneath the marble in front of his icon.

Then it was off to the Napa Valley . (Where I long to go back already.) I won’t list all the places we visited. A few may show up on Lisa’s Catholic Tourist blog.  Rest assured, we enjoyed the scenery, the wines, the restaurants, and the local church with Mass and adoration!

We interrupt this blog post for this commercial message…

Napa area Catholics: I’m primed to give a retreat in your area! My contact form is below!

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Napa area vineyards.

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I told you: From holy hour to happy hour — God is good!

Once again, capturing images of my friends with giant gourds. Lisa with Great Pumpkin II.

Once again, capturing images of my friends with giant gourds. Lisa with Great Pumpkin II.

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Wishing I could bring a cask home!

After a week of shared prayer and daily life, it was time to part. This New England woman is sad to put the geographical distance of a whole country between Lisa and myself. Our online friendship dates back to CatholicMom.com 1.0. years. Our in-person visits are treasured. Yet, I’m grateful for all the graces of the sacraments and prayer times we shared this week, the good times we had, the digital detox, and the restorative value of retreating with a trusted friend who loves Jesus and Mary.

I’m home now. I still have the messy desk that I left. But I’m full of gratitude.

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Among Women 183: Falling in love with the Trinity — and the feminine genius

Among Women 183: Falling in love with the Trinity — and the feminine genius

This latest episode of Among Women features the faith story of Nan Balfour, whose love and faith in God led her to knowing her feminine genius .

Speaker_BalfourTogether we explore the gift of faith and what it means to fall in love with God, and how it changes the way we love and live. Nan Balfour shares pivotal conversion moments in her life — a life of on-going conversion — and how they led her to what she does now. Nan is a leader with the Pilgrim Center of Hope, and the conference coordinator for the Catholic Women’s Conference in San Antonio coming up Sept 19-20.

In our “Blessed are They” segment, we pray along with Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity — whose faith was wrapped up in love of the Holy Trinity.

Don’t miss this episode, and share it with your friends on social media, and put an announcement in your church bulletin for Among Women.

Don’t forget to like Among Women Podcast on Facebook, and leave a positive rating and a review on our iTunes page. Thanks!

For details on upcoming conferences and retreats with me, Pat Gohn, go here. 

 

St Augustine and me, 18 years cancer-free.

St Augustine and me, 18 years cancer-free.

My buddy Augustine.

St Augustine and I became buddies 18 years ago. I was vaguely aware of him growing up, save the oft-quoted lines from his Confessions. Maybe you know a few of them?

This is perhaps his most famous, the first non-scripture saint quote found in the Catechism. (See CCC, 30.)

You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised: great is your power and your wisdom is without measure. And man, so small a part of your creation, wants to praise you: this man, though clothed with mortality and bearing the evidence of sin and the proof that you withstand the proud. Despite everything, man, though but a small a part of your creation, wants to praise you. You yourself encourage him to delight in your praise, for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.

And of course, this:

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

It was Pope Benedict, (Augustine was the focus of his doctoral dissertation), who said: “St Augustine, in his restless seeking realized that it was not he who had found the Truth but that the Truth, who is God, had come after him and found him.” I think, for me, that might be one of the most succinct ways of describing conversion… that God has been seeking us, and we let ourselves finally be found.

Sandro Botticelli [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sandro Botticelli [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Today’s feast day, 1996

That summer, eighteen years back in 1996, I was in my 30s and well aware that God had found me. I trusted him with my whole life. That kind of trust means that everything is open to God, it’s all on the table. But I realized that my love had not yet been tested until I found a lump one morning. Breast cancer had found me and I found it.

After a surgical biopsy, and later, a lumpectomy, failed to remove “all of it” — meaning the cancer — there were still no clean margins. We’d have to do more. Clean margins were something I reckoned with school-ruled paper and grade school cautions to write between the lines. Clean margins meant something different entirely. Life went from pretty neat and orderly to all kinds of scribbly.

After more consultations and weighing risks and benefits, I consented to a mastectomy with reconstruction. And there was a date placed on the calendar several weeks hence. August 28. It became burned in my brain. Ever since my finding of the lump, a shadow seemed to be cast that was hard to shake. August 28, we would pray, would vanquish that.

Looking for any kind of redemption for that day, I opened the church calendar to find that it was St Augustine’s feast day… perhaps the greatest mind of Western Christianity — with over five million words written as a bishop and theologian, after his legendary conversion. God did his best work in Augustine after Augustine relinquished all to Him.

Augustine’s feast day brought me great hope.

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I am 18 — These are my gravy years.

IMG_3256You can see that God kept me around some more. Today, on the feast of St Augustine, I am 18 years cancer-free. Alleluia.

About two years after cancer struck, and when I was much recovered, I was blessed to take my first trip to Fatima. It was there, alone with Jesus in the chapel, when He started asking what my dreams were. Like, what were my dreams before cancer struck?

Job 1: Watching my children grow to adulthood.

Anything else would be gravy. 

God already knew this about me. But the question persisted. God wanted to show me that the dreams He dreamed for me were still alive somehow. I was tentative with him, not wanting to be presumptuous about the number of my days, and he dealt gently with my fears.

Well, these are my gravy years.

I’ve witnessed all my children’s sacraments — even a marriage! — graduations, and college degrees… the last one set to walk for his diploma in May.

I have traveled with my husband and children across the USA and into Europe. To see Rome, and Paris,  Fatima and Lourdes, oh, and more.

I did earn that Masters in theology in 2008 — year 12 post-cancer — and two certificates besides, and working on a third one now.

I always longed to go back to radio or broadcasting in some form, and these days God has me using a microphone to share the faith, both as a speaker on retreat and conferences, as a catechist, and as a podcaster. Gosh, back then, I never even dared to think I had a book in me.

All that happened in these last 18 years… and I know how truly blessed I’ve been to live to see dreams come true. Many of my friends from cancer-support groups have not fared as well.

I know what true gratitude is, and that nothing ought be taken for granted. Nothing. There have been many best days.

Over the years, I haven’t forgotten about St Augustine. There is a parish in the Merrimack Valley that bears his name and his image and its a lovely place to pray when I get the opportunity. 

Augustine’s prolific writing and speaking continue to inspire me. I’ve given numerous talks and written articles about his “restless heart syndrome” and how Christ is the cure. One talk I gave at a “theology on tap” setting was called “St Gus and the Restless Hearts.” What a privilege to share his story, knowing how his feast day has become a cause for rejoicing in my own life. God brought me through a tough date, and now it has become a special anniversary of God’s fidelity and graces to me.

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Praying.

I went to Mass this morning to thank Jesus and Mary for all their care over these years. The Holy Spirit gently brought so many names and faces of so many family members and friends who brought me through the cancer crisis and recovery, and those who’ve encouraged me to grow and take on new challenges. I went to adoration to continue my thanksgiving. As I was praying the rosary, I looked at my hands and the beads. My hands are older, and the body is feeling her age, but my heart is full. My rings remind me of my vocation, and my rosary bracelet, my consecration to Jesus through Mary. I thanked St Augustine for his inspirations and asked his coaching in whatever writing needs to come next.

This is where God found me, again, today.

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my thoughts may all be holy.

Act in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my work, too, may be holy.

Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit,
that I love but what is holy.

Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit,
to defend all that is holy.

Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit,
that I always may be holy. Amen.

- St Augustine of Hippo-

Here’s to the mundane, the ordinary, and the works of mercy we cannot live without.

Here’s to the mundane, the ordinary, and the works of mercy we cannot live without.

Today I had a thought. A complete thought. And that’s a good thing amidst a million distractions.

Here’s to the mundane.

Here’s to the stuff of earth and all the little things we do — the unspectacular, unexciting needs met for love of God, and love of others. For God notices what we do, even when we forget He is there.

St Therese of Lisieux got it right when she said, “Without love, deeds, even the most brilliant, count as nothing.” Therese’s wisdom points to the beauty of the little way.

Every day, I need to pray in the morning: what is God’s will for me now? That’s where my peace is.

Some days there might be brilliant deeds, but honestly, for me, most of them are pretty ordinary.

So here’s to the mundane. Because that’s where He wants me right now.

Here’s to the everyday and to the myriad of things we might do that never get noticed by anyone other than God. They matter.

God’s plan for my life these past few months included countless things that I would not have chosen for myself. Yet God very much intended these activities and places to be on my calendar. Since late spring, I’ve been absorbed in a whirlwind of tending to others’ needs. God has kept me busy.

IMG_2539I have not had a lot of time to write because I have not had time to process it all. It has been much more important to just live it, not chronicle it… staying present to the people I’m with and the tasks I’m given. I sometimes think I place an unrealistic expectation on myself to constantly write about things. Not to mention I’m tempted by the alluring social media zeitgeist of our plugged-in culture beckoning me to come and play and escape for a while. But, for now, I’m not answering.

Yet I wouldn’t be honest if I did not confess that I struggled with acquiring that virtue.

I went through a withdrawal of sorts regarding my unplugged status. For the first few weeks of this shift, I was constantly feeling guilty that I was not producing new material for my writing career… a daily mental nagging that my slow disappearance from my online platforms was hurting my career’s visibility and viability.

The withdrawal period came to a halt when I remembered Who is in charge of everything, from my day’s agenda to my life’s work. My expectations are not his. My ways are not his ways. This became the basis for my relearning how to tune out my own perfectionistic expectations and continue to trust in God’s plan for me. My expectations usually always become worse by media noise — the digital megaphone yelling at me reminding me what I’m supposedly missing every day.

His will equals my peaceIt plots the path for my knowing which way to choose, and what to pack and what to leave behind.

So, here’s to the mundane, to living the hidden life that is oh so necessary.

Hiddenness is an essential quality of the spiritual life. Solitude, silence, ordinary tasks, being with people without great agendas, sleeping, eating, working, playing … all of that without being different from others, that is the life that Jesus lived and the life he asks us to live. It is in hiddenness that we, like Jesus, can increase “in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and with people” (Luke 2:51). It is in hiddenness that we can find a true intimacy with God and a true love for people.

Even during his active ministry, Jesus continued to return to hidden places to be alone with God. If we don’t have a hidden life with God, our public life for God cannot bear fruit.

-Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, 1995-

Here’s to the routine earthiness that grounds ordinary life — the roll of the day, the humdrum of what needs to be done. And honing a mature vision to see and act.

Here’s to finding a whispered sense of the sacred in every day… to knowing God is with us wherever we are, whatever we do.

Here’s to trusting God is found in every single person we’re with. Honestly, some days I have had to work harder to see that. But my faith acknowledges it, and right thinking does indeed lead to right action, most of the time.

Here’s to being in the moment with someone who needs me, to being about My Father’s business, to His will, not mine.

Of late, I’ve been caregiving in a variety of ways. I’ve been visiting the sick, clothing the naked, wiping the dirty, feeding the hungry, tackling the moldy and the dusty, driving to the hospital, the nursing home, the physical therapy appointment, and back again. I’ve been smiling at the next step taken with a walker, the graduation to solid food, the progress of wounds closing, and the dosage of pain meds lowering.

It is rather mundane and simple. Routines have to keep going, for the sake of others. I’ve been picking up after others, and tending to the dressing, the laundering, and the meal prep. It has reminded me of my years of hands-on motherhood, but to those I’ve been tending, I am no mother. I’ve been caring for parents who have been dealing with a longterm health crisis and a very slow recovery. Then my husband was unexpectedly sidelined with a back ailment. Then, in the midst of that, over the last six weeks, three of my friends have buried their fathers.

Some days the only good I think I can do is in prayer. But besides the prayer, there is a spiritual motherhood that I’m being called to – that of lifting up the lowly and the depressed, and making the things I serve taste good even if I can’t make the people eating them feel good. It is standing by and staying awake and in between, I’m providing friendship, nurture, coffee, and yes, adult beverages.

I’ve had to do things that I have no taste for either – like reading up on medical issues, prescription dosages, geriatrics, Medicare, financial planning, and wills.

I’ve been conversing, cheering, cajoling, joking, arguing, admonishing, strategizing, and soothing. I’ve been praying, crying, grieving. I’ve been shooting the breeze and swearing a bit too much. I’ve not been getting enough sleep. Yet my fatigue is no excuse for the many times I’ve tripped headlong into the sinful gulch that runs deep alongside the river of my would-be sanctity. I’m not the most patient person. But I’m trying to remember all the times when I was the patient and others were caring for me.

Still, here’s to the mundane.

There is simply holy work that must be done. It is the caring for a family and home, for the sick and for the dying.

The corporal and spiritual works of mercy never really make headlines but they make the world go round. We’d be loveless and lost without them.

When doubting our effectiveness, some days all we can do is offer it all up. It still counts before a Father who sees all and knows all. My stay-at-home-Mom years taught me a valuable lesson when serving… I call it not keeping score. There is a time and a season for everything under heaven. (Eccl. 3:1.)IMG_3063

Today love means tending to the ones most needy and the work most pressing. Right now, that means not much writing for me. There have been a few short respites. I’m watching the calendar pages change. My presence is all that is required for now. Soon there will be time to pick up the things I’ve laid aside temporarily.

Here’s to the mundane.

Here’s to today. God made it. He sees it, knows it and loves it. Everything He makes is good.

Do not be anxious, saying, `What shall we eat?’ or `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.

Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.
-Matthew 6: 31-34 rsv-

Catholic Photo Challenge # 5: “Filial trust.” (Or, after Mass in a small town)

Catholic Photo Challenge # 5: “Filial trust.” (Or, after Mass in a small town)

Steve Nelson’s Everything Estaban blog continues to intrigue me with the Catholic Photo Challenge. The theme for this week’s challenge is from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“322 Christ invites us to filial trust in the providence of our heavenly Father (cf. Mt 6:26-34),
and St. Peter the apostle repeats: “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” (I Pt 5:7; cf. Ps 55:23).”

Steve writes:

For this photo challenge, capture a scene or event that expresses joy in a carefree moment. A scene when you, or someone else, is living in the moment, not fettered by worries or needing to be in total control.

Anyway, since I’m caregiving and not really keeping my usual schedule, I had not planned on participating in this current challenge until something unexpected happened after Mass yesterday.  This was a photo I just happened to snap — without even trying to do the challenge… but it just happened to work out that way.

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I attended Sunday Mass at my parents’ parish which is St Joseph the Worker — a combined collaborative of St John’s in Clyde, St Patrick’s in Savannah, and St Michael’s in Lyons, NY. Dad and attended Mass at St John’s today. Since my mother is still in the nursing home getting rehab, I decided to take a few photos of the church for her, since it has been several weeks since she has been at Mass in this church.

After Mass I was busy taking photos of the tabernacle and the major statues very quietly as the church emptied out. As I focused my lens in on the statue of St Joseph, a woman quickly stepped into my frame just as I pushed the shutter. It was not until I looked at this later on, did I realize that this would make a great depiction of “filial trust in the providence of our heavenly Father.”

From top to bottom… within the artistic rendering of the statue we first see Jesus gazing confidently (with filial trust) into the eyes of St Joseph, his foster father. What a model for us!

Then, in the lower portion of the photo we see this darling woman placing her own filial trust in her patron, St Joseph. She prayerfully lights a candle as she trusts Joseph’s spiritual fatherhood — after all, he is the Patron of he Universal Church — with her special intention.

Finally there is the implicit and ultimate to call to you and to me — as stated in CCC 322 above — to trust in the providence of our heavenly Father. St Joseph was the Heavenly Father’s choice and provision for his Precious Son, Jesus. Joseph, the gospel attests, was an upright and just man. He was a humble follower of God whose own filial trust in God allowed him to carry out his vocation as the earthly father of Jesus.

This photo reminds me that both Jesus and Joseph trusted the Heavenly Father to provide for their ultimate good. Those are pretty good endorsements. May we all aspire to such deep and abiding and childlike trust in our Father, “the one who searches hearts (Rom. 8:27)”.

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Check out the latest Catholic Photo Challenge, and be sure to read Maria Johnson’s poignant entry too.

Priests grow up in families — like yours!

Every priest was once a mother and father’s little boy. Every priest is born into a family. The family, most often, has great impact on the life of a priest and his receptivity to God’s call in his life.

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has a wonderful new video that shares this idea very well.

There you go — we who raise families are the incubators of future vocations to the priesthood. We must be afraid of this — after all, God wants us to live generously as parents — and ultimately raise saints!  

Finally, I’d like to spend a few words on that subject as it relates to mothers of families, and all women, no matter what their state in life.

The Congregation for the Clergy (at the Vatican) has a wonderful document that asks a woman’s spiritual maternity to be directed to priests. It is a call for all women, in imitation of the Blessed Mother, to spiritually “mother” priests and future priests through the gift of our prayers for them – most especially when we are before the Eucharist in Adoration. This is a particular call for consecrated religious women, but it is also a call for the rest of us to consider this hidden ministry of spiritually adopting a priest by name as we pray before Jesus in Blessed Sacrament.

Independent of age or social status, any woman can become a mother for priests. This type of motherhood is not only for mothers of families, but is just as possible for an unmarried girl, a widow, or for someone who is ill. It is especially pertinent for missionaries and religious sisters who have given their lives entirely to God for the sanctification of others.

Every priest has a birth mother, and often she is a spiritual mother for her children as well. For example, Giuseppe Sarto, the future Pope Pius X, visited his 70-year-old mother after being ordained a bishop. She kissed her son’s ring and, suddenly pensive, pointed out her own simple silver wedding band saying, “Yes, Giuseppe, you would not be wearing that ring if I had not first worn mine.” Pope St. Pius X rightfully confirms his experience that, “Every vocation to the priest- hood comes from the heart of God, but it goes through the heart of a mother!”

One sees this particulary well in the life of St. Monica. Augustine, who lost his faith at the age of 19 while studying in Carthage, later wrote in his famous “Confessions” regarding his mother:“For love of me, she cried more tears than a mother would over the bodily death of her son. Nine years passed in which I wallowed in the slime of that deep pit and the darkness of falsehood. Yet that pious widow desisted not all the hours of her supplications, to bewail my case unto Thee where her prayers entered into Thy presence.”

After his conversion, Augustine said thankfully, “My holy mother never abandoned me. She brought me forth in her flesh, that I might be born to this temporal light, and in her heart, that I might be born to life eternal.”  [From Eucharistic Adoration for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Motherhood]

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Related: How to Grow a Priest, by yours truly.

Catholic Photo Challenge # 2: Darkness and Light and a writer’s prayer

Last year, on a date with my husband, we lingered in an antiques shop, where I found this blast from my past. I snapped the photo with my iPhone4s.

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As a young child, I loved tapping out words on our family’s ribbon typewriter. Often our first loves as children translate somehow into our adult loves. I think that’s why I was drawn to take a photo of this typewriter. As a writer today, in this avocation and apostolate of writing for the Lord in the Catholic sphere of publishing and new media, I work daily with an electronic keyboard. Yet my delight never wavers to see new words appear on paper, or on a screen.

This new Catholic Photo Challenge considers darkness and light as captured in Isaiah 9: 1:  “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Upon those who lived in a land of gloom a light has shone.” 

The darkness and light — the black and white of the machine and the letter keys — stands out for me as a writer. It reminds me of the joy and the responsibility of writing within this sphere of Catholic life. Ever present in my work are the silent rhetorical evaluations: are my words bringing light to darkness, joy to gloom, direction to seekers?

It is a work that is both humbling and awesome.

One of my favorite books of the bible (I have several) is 1 John. The opening sentences of that letter allude to the profound joy in meeting and knowing Jesus. And the author offers this declaration of his letter’s intent, a kind of definition of writing.

We are writing this so that our joy may be complete. (1John 1: 4)

John’s phrase could easily capture my own reasons for writing. I write for the joy of the writing, sure enough, but I write that my deepest joy, my faith and life in Christ, might be seen and realized in what I say and do. In many ways, when I get to write about my own faith experiences, it wraps a proverbial bow around the gift of faith, making it complete. But in truth, the catechism teaches that faith is not complete until it finds itself in love’s action. Faith is not real faith until it is given away by words and deeds.

The apostles were compelled to share the faith, the message of the Jesus Christ. The message was “gospel” or “good news”. Indeed , their words and their witness brought light to darkness — as they shared about the fulfillment that is found in Jesus Christ, who is the object of all the longing capture in the prophet’s heart in Isaiah 9: 1!

In his very next sentence, John makes his meaning plain, revealing the echo of Isaiah and the prayer of his own writerly heart…

Now this is the message that we have heard from him and proclaim to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. (1John 1: 5.)

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Add your photos and commentary to the Catholic Photo Challenge at Everything Esteban. 

7 Shows from the “Best of” Among Women — Great testimonies (Conversions/reversions)

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The new evangelization rises and falls with all of us sharing our stories of coming to know Jesus, to encounter the Lord of Love in a personal way. I’m happy to dive into the Among Women archives to bring you the inspiring stories of these Catholic women! You may wish to bookmark this post to come back to it!

AW 178: New Life in Christ – When an unplanned pregnancy interrupts this successful single career woman’s life plan, she returns to the faith of her youth and discovers God’s plan for her in a new way. Listen! 

AW 175 An Appointment with God - Catholic speaker, Allison Gingras, shares her reversion to Christ and what it means to be a friend of Jesus. Listen!

AW 43 A Chat with Amazing Catechist, Lisa Mladinich – Get to know the founder of Amazing Catchechists, author Lisa Mladinich, who tells the story of her reversion to the Catholic faith. Listen! 

AW 109 Metanoia! - A story of Erin Miller’s reversion — and the role Among Women played in her life. Listen! 

AW 40 Becoming a Catholic - This episode talks with Earline Tweedie, a former Methodist, now a Catholic, by way of the RCIA. Also inspiring is her sharing her story of mothering a son with Down’s Syndrome. Listen! 

AW 1 — The Among Women Premiere - (and there’s a part two) Join me on my very first podcast from March 2009, and after I overcome the jitters, listen to Virginia Kimball, a PhD in Mariology today, discuss her life and growth as a Christian, and her eventual return to school in midlife to study theology. Listen!

AW 131 The Vocation Story of a Young Nun — More of a memoir of her faith journey, Sr Emily Beata Marsh FSP, one of the newest members of the Daughters of St Paul describes her vocation experience and her recent vows. Listen!

Catholic Photo Challenge #1: Seeing God in the Works of Creation

Catholic Photo Challenge #1: Seeing God in the Works of Creation

Last week I posted a rather lengthy reflection with several photographs I took in our yard. I tagged my pals Steve Nelson of Everything Estaban, and  Maria Johnson at Another Cup of Coffee about it on Facebook because they are both camera geeks.

Since then, Steve has announced a link up using photography and Catholic themes: aka the Catholic Photo Challenge. I don’t know if I can participate every week, but I’ve got one below. Here’s the gist of the challenge if you wish to participate:

1. Create a post on your blog with the photo that represents your interpretation of the current Catholic Photo Challenge.

2. Click on the button at Steve’s blog that says “Add your link”, for example, the one on this page at Everything Estaban for week #1.

3. Paste the URL to your specific post with the photo, not the main URL of your blog.

4.  Include a link back to here in your post.

5.  Come back to this page and see what others have posted.

Questions?  Email photo@everythingesteban.com

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Theme: Seeing God in the Works of Nature

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You’re looking at the petals of our flowering pear tree. This is an iPhone4 zoom into a single blossom. I love that you can notice the pollen and the delicate veins of each petal. You can almost feel the life of that flower as you observe the dew drops on it.

God sees us this way — up close and detailed. Intimate. He sees into us, the stuff that’s below the surface… where the real drops of life reside. Yet, we are part of beautiful whole of creation. We might be tempted to think that we might be overlooked when you imagine us amid all the other blossoms out there… like this wider shot of the pear tree:

And the flowering pear at a distance...

And the flowering pear at a distance…

But no. We are not lost. We are not overlooked. We are unique, just as the blossom’s position and veins and hairs make that it unique. God loves us and knows us intimately. He breathes life into every thing he has made, from least to greatest. From majesty of the steadfast mountains and fathomed oceans and the vast cosmos… to the littlest blossom that  lives for just a few weeks and then falls to earth. It is His delight.

 Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
But if God so clothes the grass which is alive in the field today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you…

-Luke 12: 27-28-

“Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12 (a journal entry plus photos)

“Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12 (a journal entry plus photos)

“So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
– Ps 90:12-

That’s what I want. A heart of wisdom.

I’ve desired that since giving my heart to Jesus Christ as a young teen. That was probably the first wise thing I’ve ever done. I’m a middle aged woman now and over 14K days have passed since.  I’m still seeking wisdom, and catch glimpses of it now and then. It’s, mostly, a holy struggle.

Lately, I am numbering my days. I am taking stock before the Lord. There are two ways to do that, just as there are ultimately two ways for just about all things. We can count up the woes, and the waste, and the worries. Some of us do that temperamentally. The second and more profitable way is by counting our blessings and, more importantly, making good use of the time God gives us. Not just in the “make every day count” kind of way, but in living our days in light of eternity. When we do that, course corrections become a regularity, not something to eschew.

The midlife years tend to be where most people bump into the reality of their mortality. That happened somewhat prematurely for me, in my thirties. Eighteen  years ago this week, as the joy of a new spring was upon me, I found a lump in my breast. It was unmistakable. Time stood still; that moment a mental snapshot forever. From the first I knew it was cancer, and the first words that came to my heart were Lord have mercy. That challenging time imbued a ‘numbering of days’ like no other. Thankfully, I don’t think about cancer every day anymore. Yet, the last few days I’ve been dealing with what I call background noise… the buzzing of that long ago memory found its way again into my consciousness. It’s like the soul alerts the psychic part of the body with a disquieting anniversary alarm… Oh yes, I remember now. The specter of death lurks despite the new life you see.  And that fear grows silently. Sure, you look fine on the outside, but…

But, that was then. That’s when I learned that Someone else was in charge of the actual numbering of my days.

My very self you know…
When I was being made in secret…
Your eyes saw me unformed;
in your book all are written down;
my days were shaped, before one came to be.

-Ps 139: 14b-16-

The biggest course correction for me in those days was the mortality reality check to deepen my faith: to embrace grace radically. Embrace Christ fully. Thereby you can embrace the ones you love with abandon. Kiss all the boo boos. Laugh at every opportunity. Pack as much life as you can into a day. Number every day without regret. Embrace life.

Fast forward to today. As spring finally breaks on New England, I find myself dealing with after effects of a hard winter… both seasonally and interiorly. It’s another time of course correction for me.

Spring is seven weeks old, and I’m examining things, inside and out. Outside, there’s been a lot of damage.

Foraging deer this winter ate all of our euonymus hedge along the front of the house.

Foraging deer this winter ate our euonymus hedge.

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The mountain laurel, and we have much of that, has what I call freezer burn.

On the inside, since Advent, I have felt a little like that frozen bush. The harsh winter has brought sadness, death, extreme illness, and want and need, to those I love. The prayer needs have been mounting. Those closest to me know what’s going on, and for the sake of other’s privacy I cannot spill it all here. (I can tell you that I am healthy and well.) Yet the profound numbering of days in the lives of those I love has jolted my own heart. Praying and keeping close to the sacraments — for their sake and mine — helps a lot. But I am wearying. The demands of love are beginning to pinch.

Bob researched the mountain laurels’ leaf situation. In almost twenty years here we’ve never seen such leaf damage: it comes from the plant thirsting in the cold. Yes, there can even be a drought under the earth in winter, even when its covered in snow.

Thirsting.

That describes me.

Thirsting to pray more. I need to re-set the morning pace. My fatigue from recent travels for ministry and family obligations has been cumulative. It’s been too easy to ignore the alarm in what must be the most heroic moment of the day. I must renew the luxury necessity of getting up with the dawn, like I did not so long ago. Very soon, I will also be on a bit of a retreat, and bit of intense learning as I travel to take a few courses in spiritual direction. These will be full days with Jesus. And I am both happy and appropriately nervous to be going.

Thirsting to return to the page. My writing time has suffered a lot in the last few months. I tend to focus on one thing at a time. I know this about myself. If I’m with you, I’m fully with you. If I’m working, I’m fully engaged. Writing in snippets, well, shoot me, please. Maybe its the menopause. My writing only flourishes when I have watered it well with solitude. And a lot of my recent time of has not been my own, it has been shared. Oh, its all holy distractions. I’d gladly trade my hours at the page for the time needed for family and friends and ministry. Yet I hear it calling. The writing, that is. I sometimes think I need a cave — but then I’m afraid I’d likely imitate a cranky Jerome. But maybe I already am. *sigh* Being cranky, I mean.

Thirsting to be outdoors. Here in Massachusetts we are just starting to get the real bloom. I’m taking the allergy meds to prove it. We’ve already let the MGB out of hibernation in search of nesting Great Blue Herons. Marvelous!

I will be walking more. Bob and I discussed that we both need more of this.

The first buds to open were the magnolia trees. So today I decided to walk around and take some photos on our property with my iPhone 4S. It was a rejuvenating few minutes with God in the middle of my day.

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(I like playing with the zoom/macro setting on the iPhone.) The way the zoom carried this off in the sunlight makes this look like a painting.

(I like playing with the zoom/macro setting on the iPhone.) The way the zoom carried this off in the sunlight makes this look like a painting.

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This is one of our weeping cherry trees.

I love those delicate buds.

I love those delicate buds.

The forsythia is out too.

The forsythia is out too.

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And the azaleas…

again with the macro

again with the macro

Look who flew into my shot

Look who flew into my shot

And he stayed around to pose...

And he stayed around to pose…

His wings beating too fast for the camera.

His wings beating too fast for the camera.

This shot lets you see his wing, but a bit out of focus

This shot lets you see his wings, but a bit out of focus.

I think God was trying to put a new kind of buzzing in my brain. The kind that reminds me to see Him in all things. The natural and the supernatural. The good and the bad. The busy and the solitude. He knows and he sees all of it.

All of me.

Always.

Here's some of my favorite… flowering pear blooms.

Here’s one of my favorites… flowering pear blooms.

Again…

Again…

And the flowering pear at a distance...

And the flowering pear at a distance…

As I was walking the property I felt like God was showing me something of the measure of my days, and of the wisdom in my own heart, and He used that pear tree in particular.

That pear tree is probably one of the finest specimens we have — there are several flowering trees, and I bless the previous homeowner who planted them when they were tiny when she owned the home over twenty years ago.

If you look at the trunk of that pear tree, a closer inspection reveals that it is a casualty of our weather. There is a gash in the trunk and about 25% of the tree’s foliage was lost. A major branch broke off in that freak October snow storm in ’12.

ouch!

ouch!

That large branch that came down with such force it took out our Japanese Maple with it.

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All that is left of the Japanese Maple’s demise.

I have lamented the loss of that part of the wounded pear tree ever since it happened. But God gave me such joy is seeing the grandeur of its blossoms today, I’d almost forgot its deforming injury.

I love how its branches keep reaching to the heavens.

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Pear blossoms in the sun

I walked across the yard to get another full picture of the pear…

Beautious!

Beautious!

And then I heard Father God say in my heart: That’s how I see you, kid.

Reach for heaven. 

Don’t worry about the scars.

Don’t lament what’s been lost from the past season. 

You’re planted right where I need you now… and you’re beautiful.

That’s enough wisdom for this day and for many other days to come.

:::

As a theology geek I read a lot of books. One that made a great impact on my soul was St Louis de Montfort’s Love of Eternal Wisdom. His description of the gentleness of Jesus in revealing the Father’s love to us reminds me of my experience out in the yard today. God’s providence offered me a gentle way of seeing myself, and the gouged-out pear tree, with new eyes.

 If we consider him in his origin he is everything that is good and gentle. He is a gift sent by the love of the eternal Father and a product of the love of the Holy Spirit. He was given out of love and fashioned by love (Jn. 3:16). He is therefore all love, or rather the very love of the Father and the Holy Spirit. He was born of the sweetest, tenderest and the most beautiful of all mothers, Mary, the divinely favoured Virgin. To appreciate the gentleness of Jesus we must first consider the gentleness of Mary, his Mother, whom he resembles by his pleasing nature. Jesus is Mary’s child; consequently there is no haughtiness, or harshness, or unpleasantness in him and even less, infinitely less, in him than in his Mother, since he is the eternal Wisdom and therefore pure gentleness and beauty. 

-St Louis de Montfort-
Love of Eternal Wisdom, Chapter 10

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This shot captures almost all of it… the magnolia, the cherry, the azalea, the pear tree, even the bumble bee!

 

All photos by Pat Gohn.