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Among Women Espresso Shot #10: Gratitude and the Universal Prayer

Among Women Espresso Shot #10: Gratitude and the Universal Prayer

20 years cancer-free.

That’s what August 28, 2016 means to mean. That. And it’s the feast of one of my favorite patrons, St Augustine.

This short Espresso Shot celebrates my deep gratitude to the Lord who has done “great things” for me. Come join me in prayer. And raise a cuppa joy. IMG_0232

(It also celebrates a return to the studio after the summer of battling aging equipment and installing new parts and upgrades!)

Listen to this Espresso Shot! 

For love of Augustine, or, what I did over my summer vacation.

For love of Augustine, or, what I did over my summer vacation.

A Patron for Life

St Augustine has become a patron of mine for a few reasons. There’s the obvious one in that he is a saint who was one of the greatest writers and teachers in Western Civilization. What’s not to love when you do the work that I do? Then, there is the more personal reason, or how I came to focus on this saint and go deeper in reading him and understanding more of his life.

19 years ago today, before I was deeply into reading the lives of the saints, I was scheduled for a mastectomy and reconstruction after a diagnosis of breast cancer. I wrote about this more extensively last year.

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. [Read the rest.]

And, here I am, again, asking for Augustine’s great intercession and his inspiration to be a source of both of intercession and inspiration in my own life. Year 19 has included thus far a wonderful summer, even it has been keeping me away from the writing desk and from Among Women.

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Visiting St Augustine

Listeners of Among Women, and my close friends, know that this summer I was far from home for about six weeks. It started out great. At the end of May, Bob and I took two weeks to drive down to Florida. Our final destination at the end of those two weeks was Clearwater, where I would go to spiritual direction school. Or what I’m affectionately renaming as my Summer Jesus Camp. (I hope to share something of that time a bit later on.)

In the first ten days of our road trip, we were able to visit Gettysburg,  the shrine of St Elizabeth Ann Seton in Maryland, drive the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, visit family in Myrtle Beach, enjoy Charleston, and attend the CNMC in Atlanta with all our podcasting friends... and former colleagues.

The last four days were spent on Florida’s northern coast in St Augustine, and Cocoa Beach, to tour the “space coast”, AKA the Kennedy Space Center. But first we treated ourselves to a mini-pilgrimage in the Cathedral of St Augustine. (Now down there they say AWW-gus-teen. Up here we say a-GUS-tin. But I digress.)

It was a real joy to pray in the oldest parish in the United States, and to honor my patron in sickness and in health… and a real intercessor when it comes to teaching the faith!

Note: Click on photos to enlarge them.

The view of the main altar. Upon entering you notice the very dramatic red ceiling.

The view of the main altar. Upon entering you notice the very dramatic red ceiling.

 

A close up, behind the altar.

A close up, behind the altar.

 

The pulpit, or ambo, with a majestic Holy Spirit depicted.

The pulpit, or ambo, with a majestic Holy Spirit depicted to the right of the altar.

 

St Augustine, Basilica in St Augustine, FL

St Augustine, Basilica in St Augustine, FL

 

The video below describes the amazing restoration of these paintings.

The video below describes the amazing restoration of these painted ceilings.

 

The view from the front to the rear.

The view from the front to the rear.

 

Atop that choir rail is this lovely statue of Mary with the Infant Jesus

Atop that choir rail in the rear is this lovely statue of Mary with the Infant Jesus. Love the colors… (but wait a sec, is Mary wearing pants?? Not likely.)

 

IMG_4554

Bob and I spent time in the quieter Eucharistic chapel. The mosaic about the tabernacle is of the Last Supper.

 

The Eucharistic Chapel.

The Eucharistic Chapel.

 

Details of the mosaic...

Details of the mosaic…

 

right side of "the table"...

right side of “the table”…

 

IMG_4555

and the left side.

 

This is a minor basilica.

This is a minor basilica.

 

There were some lovely side chapels as well. 'Tis himself! St Patrick! My patron!

There were some lovely side chapels as well. ‘Tis himself! St Patrick! Another of my patrons!

 

Lovely art honoring Our Mother.

Lovely art honoring Our Mother.

 

And the Cuban influence is found here too -- Our Lady of Charity. (Sadly she was behind glass and my camera did not get the shot clearly.)

And the Cuban influence is found here too — Our Lady of Charity. (Sadly she was behind glass and my camera did not get the shot clearly.)

The Life of Augustine in Glass

Yet what was most dramatic about this church was the stained glass. Some of the most beautiful I’ve seen of late, created at the beginning of the 20th century in Germany, over 100 years ago. All portrayed scenes from St Augustine’s life. Here’s a few…

Augustine's baptism

Augustine’s baptism

 

Augustine's ordination.

Augustine’s ordination.

 

Augustine preaching

Augustine preaching

 

At the seashore.

At the seashore.

 

At St Monica's death. (The mother of Augustine whose feast day was yesterday.)

At St Monica’s death. (The mother of Augustine whose feast day was yesterday.)

And I’m saving my favorite for last… I simply love this rendering of the relationship between a holy mother and son. The colors here do not do the glass justice. See the video below for more.

St Augustine with his mother, St Monica.

St Augustine with his mother, St Monica.

 

All photos above are 2015 Copyright Pat Gohn, All Rights Reserved.

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A brief history of the Cathedral of St Augustine... Catholics landing in Florida in 1565, and its extensive renovation in recent months..

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My favorite prayer, and there are many attributed to St Augustine…

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-

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.

:::

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-

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.

:::

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?

:::

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.

Splinters from the Cross… on perfectionism

Splinters from the Cross… on perfectionism

So I missed a week of blogging due to my travels… but now I’m back.

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For the Fridays in Lent, I’ve been reflecting on the trials we have in life, and looking at them as if they are splinters from the Cross of Christ. To catch up on this theme on “splinters from the cross” you may wish read the poem that the phrase comes from by looking back on my original post on anger, and the one on worry.

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I have long struggled with perfectionism. It’s really a clinging to some kind of control in different situations, as a form of power over things or circumstances. It has been a liability that I’ve tripped over time and again… that things are not good enough, or worse, that I am not good enough. This tendency has been something God has asked me to lay down, time and again. And slowly, over the years, I’ve gotten better at spotting perfectionism sooner rather than later.  A real turning point for me came in the days leading up to a health crisis, a time of grace that God used to lavish me with his unselfish, unfathomable merciful love… reminding me that he really does have my best interest at heart, even when I face a cross.

In the summer of 1996, in the few days between the biopsy surgery for breast cancer and getting the results, I went to a conference sponsored by Franciscan University on “Mary, Mercy, and the Eucharist.” There I heard a profound talk by Fr George Kosicki, CSB, on the divine mercy message. Fr Kosicki explained several spiritual things, including the path to heaven. Paraphrasing him now, he shared this keen insight that has never left me: if we want to be saints and go to heaven, the quickest way to heaven is to die for the faith. Indeed, Christian martyrs go straight to heaven when they die. For the rest of us, he said, we have to die daily.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

– Matthew 16: 24-25 rsv –

We have to die daily. That’s another way of saying that the Cross comes to all of us in ways that are meant for our good, for our transformation. It configures us to Christ.

But let’s face it, back then when I heard Fr George’s words, I was a tad hypersensitive about that whole subject: I didn’t want to die! No, no, NO!  I was 36 and scared I was facing a disease that might pre-empt the rest of my life — the life where I would live to see my children raised and grown — the life that was supposed to be a “happily ever after” with my husband. I was afraid to die. Afraid to leave things undone, unfinished, unsaid, and, ahem, out of my control. My plan was not going according to plan.

I never knew how strong my perfectionism streak ran until I came across something like cancer, something that totally made me undone… and completely at its mercy for where it might take me. (Fortunately, six months earlier, God saw what I would need — precisely when I would need it — and prior to any threat of breast cancer, I had already sent in my application to attend the conference on Mary and Mercy.)

In the course of that weekend, I spent a lot of time on my knees experiencing the deep and wide mercy of God. I had a good, cleansing confession, and I came away from Mass with a sense of supernatural peace that came from a new and deeper trusting of Jesus than I had before.

In sounds like a cliché, but it was true: God was in control. Not me. I left that conference knowing I was in a state of grace, unlike I had ever known before. I had encountered Divine Mercy.

Meanwhile, life was going to seem quite a bit out of control very shortly thereafter. Hours after my return home from the conference, the biopsy results came in positive. And the rest, as they say, is history. Surgeries and check ups and recoveries dominated months out of my life. But I was so grateful for the palpable presence of Divine Mercy, and the Christian community that surrounded me through it all. One of the fruits of the state of grace is that we can do things that would not necessarily be within our own powers, for grace builds on nature. The weeks that followed my diagnosis were the first time that I ever knowingly, willingly, embraced the words of Jesus to pick up and embrace my cross. What’s more,  in so doing, even more graces were released. Prior to this time in my life, I had always received crosses with an attitude of disdain, of inconvenience, of “why-me?”

Divine mercy showed me the inverse: true power is picking up the hurts and struggles — the splinters– with love, a love that comes from the Crucified One, who is truly with us in our pain, our own Good Fridays.

Years later, even though I’m quite scarred in body, these little aches and pains that come both physically and emotionally from cancer continue to be an opportunity to die daily. More than that, they are an opportunity to remember Who is in control, and whose Cross lightens my own. Carrying my own cross becomes another way I can be grateful for God’s mercy on me.

To die daily is the antidote to my perfectionistic bent. The little annoying splinters from the cross that come my way are helping to heal me of the need to want to control things, to be in charge, to make things perfect. My struggles with perfectionism has not ended but they are lessened — for the goodness of grace builds on my weak nature. Thanks to grace from the sacraments over the years, I can see a change. I’m not as obtuse to perfectionism as I was, and I can “let go” of things a lot sooner than before. Perfectionism is one more thing I can offer up… to release the things that vex me… as a way of better fitting the cross to my shoulder.

 

 

Photo taken by Maria Johnson

 

Among Women Podcast 149: Special Edition for Breast Cancer Survivors –        H.O.P.E is our Super Power

Among Women Podcast 149: Special Edition for Breast Cancer Survivors – H.O.P.E is our Super Power

My Mom and me

The new Special Edition of the Among Women podcast is a a departure from our usual format. This week, I’m sharing a talk I gave earlier this month. I was the guest speaker at a breast cancer support group known as the Visions of Hope, in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. Visions of Hope is an organization made of up breast cancer survivors with the mission of educating others about the disease and supporting those struggling with it. My talk was held at their “Celebrating Life” luncheon, where my mother, a three-time survivor, is a member. It was good to travel to visit my parents for the occasion, and I thought, since breast cancer will affect one in eight women, a few folks in our audience might appreciate this message.

This was a different kind of presentation for me to make. I’m very comfortable being a catechist and talking about the life in the context of faith. The audience at the luncheon was not a Catholic one per se, but I managed to talk about my faith in the context of my personal life and share some thoughts about the universally known virtue of hope. I might title this talk, “A Recipe for Hope”  or better yet, “H.O.P.E. is our Super Power”. This podcast is a slightly edited version of that talk.

This is breast cancer awareness month and as I mention in the talk, I’m the poster child for breast self-exam. Know your body, ladies! Early detection saves lives. Remember, if you’re over 40, get an annual mammogram.

Listen here.