Among Women: On Faith, Grace, and Prayer in Marriage and Family Life

Among Women: On Faith, Grace, and Prayer in Marriage and Family Life

UnknownThis week’s episode of Among Women talks about many things that are close to my heart — marriage and family — and the calling to make Christ the center of those relationship and in our home. I hope you’ll join me as I reflect back on 30+ years of marriage and family life, plus have an inspiring conversation with the woman who is part of the team behind the Like Mother Like Daughter blog, author Leila Marie Lawler. Together we discuss one of my favorite new books of the year, The Little Oratory: A beginner’s guide to praying in the home. 

There’s even a chance to win a signed copy of the book from the authors — hear the details on the podcast! 

Finally, I hope you’ll enjoy a look at the little-known mystic, St Umilta, as I read some of her passionate writings about our faith.

Don’t miss this episode of Among Women!

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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I’m over at CatholicMom.com today… with 3 Reasons to Offer Things Up

I’m over at CatholicMom.com today… with 3 Reasons to Offer Things Up

Here’s an excerpt from “3 Reasons to Intentionally Pray: Jesus, I Offer This to You”… from CatholicMom.com

When I was growing up and going through some trial, well-meaning Catholics would tell me to “offer it up.” For a very long time, I didn’t understand what benefit that might bring until I learned that my offering something to God was not about what I was doing with it, but what God did.

In recent months I’ve been using this simple prayer throughout my day: “Jesus, I offer this to you.” I pray it when facing some kind of trial or frustration or problem. Nobody likes to go through unpleasant stuff. Yet offering these moments is lot like praying that beloved and familiar short prayer from the Divine Mercy devotion: “Jesus, I trust in you.”

Many Christians pray the Morning Offering – giving the whole day to Christ. That’s a very holy prayer. Yet Jesus also desires our hearts to come to him throughout the day, as St Paul says, “to pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17).” Giving over both large and small difficult moments to Christ is one way to fulfill that prayer.

Here are three good reasons to pray with intention: “Jesus, I offer this to you.”

1. What is difficult for me can become a blessing for others. 

“Jesus, I offer this to you.” This is much more than Jesus making lemonade from our lemons. Offering up our concerns in much greater than some kind of pious wishful thinking. This is trust that that graces from Christ’s Cross flow even now. Our trial of the moment may remain, but we ask God to use it for good. Through it, graces are unleashed and we participate in Christ’s saving work on earth.

When I suffer something in my own body, I’m painfully away of my own body and blood—the value of my own life and mortality. In some small way I take in the purview of what Jesus suffered for me.

Recently, I prayed as I sat in the oral surgeon’s chair to receive a dental implant — the process that inserts a metal screw inserted into my skull to hold a future porcelain crown. The procedure is a bit jarring. I experienced the disconcerting physical pressure of the drill without the unpleasantness of pain, spared as I was by painkillers. As the dentist drilled into my bone, my little prayer, “Jesus I offer this you” brought about that very image of Jesus’ suffering the nails being driven into his flesh and bones, His being impaled without any anesthesia.

Jesus trusted in His Father to forgive his executioners (Cf. Luke 23:34) and to bring forth something good and holy from his excruciating suffering. Trust and offerings go together.

The key to offering something up to God builds upon the trusting foundation we have in Jesus.

Read the rest at CatholicMom.com.

Among Women 185: The Life of Ryan, with Mary Ellen Barrett

Among Women 185: The Life of Ryan, with Mary Ellen Barrett

This latest episode of Among Women may require a box of Kleenex handy. My most wonderful and gracious guest is  Mary Ellen Barrett.

This week we look at the difficult subject of losing a child to death. Blogger and Long Island Catholic columnist Mary Ellen Barrett reflects on the fifth anniversary since the death of Ryan, her 14 year old son, who died during a camping trip. The search for Ryan, who at first was thought to be lost, went on for some time, and many, including myself, were glued to the internet for news of him during that search as prayers stormed heaven.

Listeners or blog readers familiar with this event will be encouraged by the musings and memories of Ryan’s mother, Mary Ellen. Those uninitiated will be blessed by the faith of this Long Island family who suffered the keenest of losses.

Since this is Respect Life Month, my goal with Mary Ellen is to talk about the beauty and dignity of Ryan’s life — his Christian devotion even as a young boy with special needs — as well as the ups and downs that he faced in family life and elsewhere. Finally, we discuss the outpouring of support from near and far for this grieving family, plus offer tips for helping others facing a similar grief.

In our saint segment, I once again look at the life of St Anna Schaffer, whose life of prayer and acute physical suffering offers a witness to us for how to make our heartaches and pains a path of redemptive suffering.

If you’d like to read a little bit about Mary Ellen’s life with Ryan, you might enjoy this recent article in Seton Magazine, or this one from Catholic Digest. I’ve left a few more, plus blog posts from Mary Ellen’s blog, over with the episode notes for Among Women 185.

Listen to Among Women 185 right now!

If you enjoy Among Women, kindly leave a rating and a review over on iTunes!

 

The Catholic Apologetics Academy came to the Boston area

The Catholic Apologetics Academy came to the Boston area

I had some unexpected space free up in my weekend, courtesy of a change in a church calendar, and my husband being away on a business trip. So I asked the Lord — what should I do with my time?

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 3.33.35 PMI think I was one of the last ones to sign up for the Catholic Apologetics Academy  being held in Massachusetts. I was fortunate that there was a seat available, because the meeting room at St William Church in Tewksbury was full of 100+ eager students from around MA, New England, and some folks coming even farther distances!

Patrick Madrid’s Envoy Institute brought together not only the man himself, but also the always amazing Peter Kreeft, and Kenneth Hensley. 

From Thursday night, to two full days on Friday and Saturday, and Mass and a morning program on Sunday, all three gentlemen offered talks to help us learn to defend the faith better, and to do it all with love and gentleness and reverence for Christ and the other. (See 1 Peter 3: 15.) And they did it all — from offering lectures, to taking questions and tackling thorny problems — without an ounce of ego between them. What very calm, yet strong teachers. I’m grateful for their service and commitment to passing on their knowledge and conversational tips and etiquette to the rest of us.

I think Patrick said it best when he offered: “This is not about winning arguments, it is about winning souls… authenticity must accompany our apologetics.” That could be a billboard for New Evangelization 101.

"Pat and Pat" (Gohn and Madrid)

“Pat and Pat”
(Gohn and Madrid)

Finally, adding a touch of class and aural beauty to our experience, was the unexpected gift of Anna Maria Mendeita, a world-class harpist, who sat in on the weekend talks — and sat behind a harp she borrowed from a generous local person. Anna Maria played at Masses, and accompanied our meals and wine and cheese gatherings. Magnificent!

:::

Some photos courtesies of Catholic Apologetics Academy website.

 

This makes me think… about living from the inside out…

God, in giving us life, gives each of us a mission to accomplish and a role to fulfill in his eternal plan. The most important thing, then, is to recognize this particular mission, to discern the divine will in our life, and then to work to make of our entire life and death a means of salvation for ourselves and our brothers and sisters.

We are the good God’s humble workers, the laborers of the Father, and when night falls, we must be able to say confidently that the harvest is ready and that the living Sun may now cause the seeds we have sown to grow.

“Thus you will know them by their fruits.” (Mt 7: 16, 20)

God knows us in all our depths; he is aware of our least desire, the least impulse of our hearts, and the least movement of our will. But others see only what we show on the outside. That is why our actions and words and even our bearing must be the harmonious and truth expression of our interior depths. Others will judge our depths, or what is more important, God will judge them on the basis of the fruits he produces in us and the works he inspires us to do.

-Elizabeth Leseur-
Selected Writings

The F.U.N. Quotient… pee wee football edition

This isn’t just something fun. This is something that will warm your heart. Way to go, boys! Proud that your from MA.

Read more here. 

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.

:::

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-