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.

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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.

My Top Ten Inspirations from the Pontificate of St John Paul II

My Top Ten Inspirations from the Pontificate of St John Paul II

The long pontificate and life of St John Paul will have a lasting impact on the church until Jesus returns. Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 4.23.47 PMGiven his canonization today, I thought I’d share with you some of John Paul’s gifts to the church, and extraordinary accomplishments, that have held meaning for me through the years. He’s been an inspiration to me since I was 18, a college frosh when he was elected. I’m so grateful that in 1979 I was among the youth who greeted him in New York, as I chaperoned a trip to see him. (More on that below.) Decades later in Rome, I was, again, among the throng at a 2004 papal audience alongside my husband and daughter. Both experiences were unforgettable!

Today I woke up at 4am to watch the canonization. This, after giving a women’s retreat at Saint Benedict Parish in Halifax, NS, that highlighted our new Saint’s writings and teachings! But I could not miss it “live”. And as I sat there in my bed in my hotel room before I had to catch a plane home, all the fondness for this Saint flooded back to me. It’s not just who he was, but what he wrote and taught that has inspired me and helped to shape me as a Christian.

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Here’s my Top Ten List of Inspirations from St John Paul II:

  1. The Catechism of the Catholic Church - This was a monumental achievement, as it was the first update to the Roman Catechism in over 400 years. From my archives: some commentary on catechism trivia.  
  2. His Marian Devotion, especially through his Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary, and his writings on Mary, including Redemptoris Mater and Rosarium Virginis Mariae.  The latter gave us the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. I’ve been personally inspired by John Paul’s devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, in the aftermath of the assassination attempt on his life.
  3. The feminine genius, as described in Mulieris Dignitatem and Letter to Women… and other related homilies and writings, such as Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life). I truly believe these were the fruit of the Saint’s devotion to Mary, our Mother. These specific works also had a positive influence in my own life, and I tell that story in my book… which I’m giving away in a free drawing here.
  4. The Theology of the Body - a series of papal audiences and teaching given over several years on human love, sexuality, and anthropology. You can find classes in this area of study here. In the US, there is a Congress this summer.
  5. His Apostolic visits to 129 countries around the world — including 7 trips to the United States.
  6. The myriad of saints he canonized.
  7. Restoration of the Sistine Chapel.
  8. His books, outside of his magisterial teaching, that are now read in popular culture, especially Crossing the Threshold of Hope and Love and Responsibility.
  9. The Jubilee Year 2000 (and the years of preparation for the new millennium).
  10. World Youth Days (I never did get to attend one, but I was at a special gathering for youth in Madison Square Garden with JP2 in 1979.)Below is a favorite quote from WYD 2000.

It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.

Dear young people, in these noble undertakings you are not alone. With you there are your families, there are your communities, there are your priests and teachers, there are so many of you who in the depths of your hearts never weary of loving Christ and believing in him. In the struggle against sin you are not alone: so many like you are struggling and through the Lord’s grace are winning!

Thank you St John Paul for your holy influence in my life! St John Paul, pray for us!

Saving Mothers

Saving Mothers

“The Pro Life Movement has to be about saving mothers.  We need to focus on the women to try to understand what they are suffering.”

-Cardinal Sean O’Malley-
Homily, Vigil for Life, Washington DC, January 21, 2014

It’s an easy equation: save the mother and you’ll save the child in the womb. You might even save a whole family.

I spent a lot of time writing and speaking about motherhood last year, and how the gift of maternity — be it physical or spiritual — is found at the core of what Catholics are coming to know in the last twenty-five years as the feminine genius. And I will do it again in the weeks and months to come.

A woman’s dignity is predicated on the dignity of the human person, and exalted in the gift of maternity. But the bottom line is that respect is the basis, the foundation, of love. All love is build on respect. It is a friendly disposition — this respect — a mutual understanding of another’s right to life and the freedom to flourish. And many times the way we need to do this is woman to woman…. or as I wrote in Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious, we need to be about spiritual mothering in action.

Spiritual motherhood allows us to lovingly serve others, not for what they can do for us, or because they love us back, or help make us feel good. It is doing for their sakes. It is doing it for the sake of God, as if God himself personally asked it of us. Spiritual motherhood involves a willingness to suffer, be inconvenienced, be hurt, or taken for granted—and serving anyway.

From a logical standpoint, it will never seem fair. But God’s economy operates with a different scale of values, where giving with no thought of getting makes us better. It makes us more like Jesus.

Then [Jesus] said to all, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.” (Lk 9:23–24; cf. Mt 10:38–39; Mk 8:35; Jn 12:25)

Spiritual mothering responds to the lover we cannot see but who is found in the face of our neighbor. It loves for the sake of someone and something –the truth — we hide in our hearts. So it seems crazy, at times, by the world’s standards.

A spiritual mother is a yes…  She makes room in her person, in her heart, in her life for other people because she welcomes them as God’s plan for her for the short term or the long term. She trusts God and opens herself to his plans and his people. He initiates it, and she receives it. She leaves the results, or what she may come to bear, to him. In doing so, she brings forth life more abundant than she could ask for or imagine.

This is about becoming a woman of holy influence, being a life-giver to others. It’s about finding creative ways to love the generation that’s coming up behind you (and maybe your own peer group), through your feminine gifts of receptivity, generosity, sensitivity, and maternity. One friend describes it as giving others a soft place to land. It also means leaving someone better off for having spent time in your company.

This is how we will save mothers… by mothering them and befriending them in a myriad of ways. This is what a new feminism looks like. We need to act with concern both personally and corporately in order to renew our culture. And we need to find new models of concrete support for all women, especially those facing pregnancy.

This is why I’m so encouraged by what I see as a new vision for pro-woman, pro-life efforts in the work of The Guiding Star Project. Last summer I interviewed founder Leah Jacobson on Among Women, and have been keeping her and her team of colleagues in my prayers.

Just this week Guiding Star announced a fabulous project in collaboration with Abby Johnson.

Abby Johnson, Founder of And Then There Were None and former Planned Parenthood Director, and the Guiding Star Project, a pro-woman organization committed to giving women Life-Affirming health care, are set to announce that the Brazos Valley Guiding Star Affiliate will begin serving the women of the Brazos Valley [Texas] in early 2014.  “I left Planned Parenthood because I realized that I wasn’t helping women there.  I wasn’t empowering them.  I became pro-life but I have never stopped being pro-woman. The Guiding Star Project, with their vision for community based Guiding Star centers, has finally given me the opportunity to do what I have wanted all along – to help and serve women, while respecting their dignity and the dignity of the unborn as well,” says  Johnson, President of the newly formed Board of Directors for the Brazos Valley Guiding Star Center. “Everyone knows the Planned Parenthood here in Bryan/College Station has closed, but this doesn’t mean that our work here is finished,” she said, speaking to the strong prolife community there, “ this means our work is just beginning. Women in the Brazos Valley were concerned that without the Planned Parenthood they wouldn’t have access to women’s health care.  We are here to meet their need – in a life affirming and truly ‘Pro-woman’ way.”

The mission of Guiding Star is not only going to save mothers, it’s going to affirm them by understanding what’s at the heart of a woman’s angst and concerns.

According to Leah Jacobson, Founder of the The Guiding Star Project,“The Guiding Star Project is about bringing together organizations in a community under a shared philosophy and vision to provide women with real alternatives – real health care, real support, in every stage of their child bearing years.  Whether they find themselves facing an unexpected pregnancy and needing support or a home, or whether they struggle with infertility and need help, whether they need a lactation consultant or want to learn how to work with their body’s natural cycles to avoid a future pregnancy, Guiding Star is there to meet their needs in a way that affirms their feminine dignity and empowers them to live their femininity fearlessly.”

“Guiding Star Brazos Valley, which will be the first of its kind, is expected to open in 2014 and will go through three phases of development,” explains Laura Ricketts, Executive Director of the Guiding Star Project who works closely with the Guiding Star Project’s Affiliates in Development, “Phase One will see the Guiding Star Brazos Valley offering a host of Pregnancy Care and Resource services and will focus on the renovating and readying of the Guiding Star Brazos Valley Maternity Home.   Phase Two will include the opening of the Maternity Home.  Phase Three will be an expansion to coordinate services beyond pregnancy support to include lactation consultation, child care classes, fertility care and instruction, birth support and comprehensive women’s health care.  Guiding Star Brazos Valley is designed to be places where women can come and have their needs met in a concrete, pro-active, empowering atmosphere. We don’t make empty promises. We offer substance; something every woman can appreciate.”

Read the whole Guiding Star press release.

Please pray for this need, and if you are so moved, donate!  Find out how you can get involved.

Advent Journal Entry: Mt 11: 4… “what you hear and see”

Advent Journal Entry: Mt 11: 4… “what you hear and see”

Here I am with another Advent journal entry. You can read my earlier entries from week one here, and week two here.

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John the Baptist offers one of my most favorite lines in reference to Christ from the New Testament: “He must increase, and I must decrease. (Jn 3:30)”  I think it is an accurate summary of the Christian life. I’m thinking of him, as he made an appearance in last Sunday’s gospel. But I digress.

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In the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Advent, we hear some of the final words of John the Baptist from his imprisonment before his death. He is the forerunner, the one who is making ready the path for the Savior who is to come. John sends word to Jesus, and asks forthrightly, “Are you the one….?”

Jesus does not answer with a simple yes to John’s question. He describes the powerful miracles he works as an affirmative and unmistakeable reply.

When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ,
he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question,
“Are you the one who is to come,
or should we look for another?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” (Mt 11:2-6)

I’ve mentioned here before that this Advent I’m asking the Lord for what in particular he wants to show me each week. This week, it’s a way to evangelize… how to share the truth about Jesus: “Go and tell… what you hear and see…”

Yes, I am internalizing the words of this particular gospel for myself, asking what do these words of Jesus say to me? I am already convinced: I already believe he is The One. So what must I do? Give evidence of this faith.

How should I share this truth of the saving love of Jesus with another person? For starters, by sharing what I hear and see about Jesus.

How does Jesus work in my life? What do I hear and see?

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I’m so very grateful that I heard the gospel proclaimed boldly when I was a teen. On a retreat in my parish, given by several Spirit-filled adults and teens, I gave my heart to Jesus. Decades later, my commitment to Jesus must continually be renewed, at Mass and through the sacraments, and through my daily prayer and actions. Part of that is giving witness to what I hear and see.

My adult life has been punctuated with many physical maladies, so its really no surprise that I pay attention to Jesus’ words of healing in this gospel. It’s also no surprise when I find there is more going on besides.

After a year of recurring chalazion cysts in my eyes, one day in prayer I felt Jesus nudging me to find another eye doctor, to get a second opinion. It was the right move: I’ve recently been diagnosed with ocular rosacea. (I never heard of that before! I don’t have skin rosacea either!) Yet Jesus is helping me heal slowly from it, with medication and diet. Some days this is slowing down my work and my pace of life, but I’m getting by, and grateful for a solid diagnosis. Blindness in my life need not be related to physical sight, it can be spiritual too… I can be blind to the needs of others due to my own selfishness and pride, or blind to my own laziness at times. Jesus has been trying to cure me of that too, in his direct, yet gentle ways.

In one chapter my book, Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious, I wrote about a kind of lameness that I’ve experienced for many years. A congenital deformity — bi-lateral hip dyplasia — has led to one hip replacement in my 40s, and another one to come in the future. What a gift to finally be able to walk straight after my hip got repaired in 2008. Before that point, I often used a cane and limped. I thanked God for using medical science to bring me relief from that lameness and pain. Recently, there are more signs that the other hip, similarly afflicted, is deteriorating. There are days when the pain gets the best of me. Jesus is even using this somehow — especially when I remember to offer it up for the needs of others. He’s reminding me that lameness of spirit is a more deforming and detrimental condition than my hip. So he is calling me to daily disciplines that are designed to build up spiritual muscle in the meantime.Acer Image

I’ve never met a leper, though I know the disease still exists — but I know what it is to have a disease nobody wants. My breast cancer diagnosis in my 30′s left me pretty scared and beat up. Yet here I am, still chugging with double digit years of survivorship. Jesus saw me through that painful time too. I write about some of that in my book too. Cancer is the club that nobody wants to join. Just this month my husband was diagnosed with melanoma, the worst form of skin cancer. Yet despite the shock I felt that morning when he got the call, we were both already on our way to Mass that morning — the very best place we could be. Jesus gave us strength that day. We are grateful that Bob has an early stage of the disease. It was caught very early and is treatable by surgery.

Some people might look at my life and not see a single miracle in any of this stuff I’ve shared. And you’d be right… there were no miraculous restorations to my former health, just ways of keeping me alive, and dealing with illness and disability… both physical and spiritual. Yet, the depth of my gratitude, my blessings, and my joys are innumerable. Jesus has seen me through. He guides my steps. He re-aligns my faltering ones. My life is on his timetable, not mine. I belong to him. He’s the One who is the source of all my good.

If I’m looking for miracle, I can tell you where I find one.

The real miracle is Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharist at every Mass, or in Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. No matter what shape you’re in, no matter the highs and lows in your own life… go to Him. Spend time with Him there.

Then tell me what you hear and see.

Then tell someone else.

Advent Journal Entry: Advent Advice from Romans 15:7: “Welcome one another…”

Advent Journal Entry: Advent Advice from Romans 15:7: “Welcome one another…”

Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you,
for the glory of God. (Romans 15:7)

I’m having a different kind of Advent where I’m trying to walk, not run… think, not speak… fast, not feast…(yet)… be mindful, not forget… Love, not withhold.

So I’m asking Jesus to help me to not only see the whole big picture — the way my theological-analytical-critical-creative skills might drive me — but to see the smaller, particular, personal things he needs me to know, see, and be.

This lone verse comes to us from the longer epistle for the Second Sunday of Advent. My love of St Paul’s good counsel always makes my heart desire to lean in to what he is saying.

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Welcome one another…

Oh, to be welcomed!

…Momma and Daddy welcoming a newborn…

…Kids coming home after school and there’s hot cocoa and cookies and snow day tomorrow!

…A beloved son or daughter returning home from a semester away!

…A husband waiting to meet you for a special date he’s planned!

…A long-distance friend arriving at the airport!

…Your most fun guests arriving at your front door!

…Or like the one you’ve longed for, prayed for, to come back to your family, or to their family, or to the church!

It warms the heart to offer such welcome… to lavish one’s love on the one being welcomed. Or to be the recipient of such a welcome.

What a watchword for me. How’s my welcome? Of Christ? Of others? How can it improve? What does this call me to in terms of hospitality, and generosity?

O Mary, help me with this… help me welcome Jesus and others into my heart, my life, my home, like you.

…as Christ welcomed you…

Yes, this is the Little Child of Bethlehem welcoming his Momma and Poppa into His Sacred Heart… who smiles at angels and the warmth of their song… feels the breath of animals nearby and nods at the shepherds with their sheep in tow… and goos at the holy magi who came a distance. This, too, is Jesus who see us kneel tenderly before the creche in our homes and churches.

Yes, this welcoming Christ really is the One all our hearts long for — that took on flesh… so we would know his face, his touch, and the Father’s heart through His. The same Christ in whose name we merit Baptism — a true welcome into union with God and with the Church.

Yes, this is the same Christ who takes on a living Presence in the Eucharist and welcomes us to an intimacy with God that is beyond our wildest imagining, and our deepest hopes.

…for the glory of God.

It’s true. Jesus has already come. He is already Present. And He will come again. This thrice-Advent welcomes us in!IMG_0308

It’s true, the glory of God lives in us by baptism: “Christ in you, the hope of glory!” (Col. 1:27)

It’s true, the glory of God is the end of our story.

The welcome we give to others must imitate the welcome Christ bids to us…. and Lord-willing, to foreshadow the welcome we’ll receive in our heavenly home, as we all sit together with Christ at the head of the heavenly banquet.

“I Jesus have sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star.”

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” Let the hearer say, “Come.” Let the one who is thirsts come forward, and the one who wants it receive the give of life-giving water.  (Rev 22:16-17)

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Bonus Chorus from “The Messiah” (G. F. Handel):

“And the Glory of the Lord will be revealed… and all flesh will shall see it together… for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”

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You can read the first journal entry for the first week of Advent here.

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