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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! 

This makes me think… God is way bigger than the devil…

God is infinitely more powerful than the Devil and his hosts. So why doesn’t God prevent them from their evildoing on planet earth? We could ask a similar question about why God doesn’t stop human beings from committing wicked deeds. Evil’s continuing presence among us is a mystery we can’t fully figure out in this life.

Nevertheless, we can say this much: God allows evil because He’s powerful enough to bring out of even the greatest evil a much greater good.

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ provides a vivid illustration of this reality. According to the Gospel, when “Satan entered Judas,” one of the twelve Apostles, he went out to betray Jesus (see Luke 22:3-14). So the worst evil we can imagine — the torture and murder of God’s innocent Son — occurred through the Devil’s influence.

Yet the triumph of the empty tomb transformed the horror of the Cross. Satan was thwarted. When Jesus rose from the dead, He displayed God’s power to bring out of the greatest of evils an even greater good: the world’s redemption.

Meanwhile, our days in this life provide a season for God to test, purify, strengthen, and perfect us, making us fit to live with Him forever in heaven. To that end, demons serve as useful tools for Him as they constantly test us by tempting us, so that we become purer and stronger and closer to perfection every time we resist temptation.

In this sense, we might say, quoting St Augustine: “As an artist, God makes use even of the Devil.”

– Paul Thigpen-

Manual for Spiritual Warfare, TAN books, 2014.

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-

Sheer Grace: A Savior Who Enters Our Dust So That He May Be Our Glory

Sheer Grace: A Savior Who Enters Our Dust So That He May Be Our Glory

A few of my close friends know that I am immersed in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius and much of my recent meditation and reflection has been around the my own need for God, and my need for a savior. The word that keeps coming up for me  is what God said to Adam and Eve after they were banished from Eden:

“You are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
Gen 3:19

As a wife and mother… dustiness is daily life. I’ve been chasing down dust and dirt and grime all my life. It comes with the territory. The goal is to eliminate dust, right? But no matter how we try, we simply can’t shake it. Dust we are. Dust we have. Dust we remain!

IMG_4017This Advent, I’ve really come to know and understand that God loves me so much that He enters into our dust. (Last year, it was all about Jesus entering into my chaos.)

That dustiness represents our sin and death, our frailty, our being lost and confused and broken. It is a grace to know one’s sins so we can turn from them.

It is a grace to know we are dust.

But the greater grace is know that God became man… and entered our humanity — on purpose!

The Lord of Glory took on the dustiness of our life. He was born of Mary into a dusty stable, and visited by dusty animals and shepherds who brought their own brand of dust to his bedside. Jesus is well acquainted with dust. He knows and sees and love the dust of me. And you.

St Paul knew this well. He contrasts the dusty man of Genesis, Adam, with the God-man of the Gospel, Jesus Christ who, though born into this dust, was destined to redeem it…

“The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.
As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven.
Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”
1 Corinthians 15: 47-49

I love that this dusty Jesus cared to entered into my dust and will raise it.

As the Church prayed the O Antiphons this week, I was deeply consoled by this prayer…

O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creatures you fashioned from the dust.

This is Christmas… it is the coming of the savior who is our redemption, God made man. One of the greatest sermons on this truth comes from the mighty pen of St Augustine. I’ll leave you with his wisdom

Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you. I tell you again: for your sake, God became man.

You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.

Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time.

He has become our justice, our sanctification, our redemption, so that, as it is written: Let him who glories glory in the Lord.

Truth, then, has arisen from the earth: Christ who said, I am the Truth, was born of a virgin. And justice looked down from heaven: because believing in this new-born child, man is justified not by himself but by God.

Truth has arisen from the earth: because the Word was made flesh. And justice looked down from heaven: because every good gift and every perfect gift is from above. 

Truth has arisen from the earth: flesh from Mary. And justice looked down from heaven: for man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.

Justified by faith, let us be at peace with God: for justice and peace have embraced one another. Through our Lord Jesus Christ: for Truth has arisen from the earth. Through whom we have access to that grace in which we stand, and our boast is in our hope of God’s glory. He does not say: “of our glory,” but of God’s glory: for justice has not proceeded from us but has looked down from heaven. Therefore he who glories, let him glory, not in himself, but in the Lord.

For this reason, when our Lord was born of the Virgin, the message of the angelic voices was: Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.

For how could there be peace on earth unless Truth has arisen from the earth, that is, unless Christ, were born of our flesh? And he is our peace who made the two into one: that we might be men of good will, sweetly linked by the bond of unity.

Let us then rejoice in this grace, so that our glorying may bear witness to our good conscience by which we glory, not in ourselves, but in the Lord. That is why Scripture says: He is my glory, the one who lifts up my head.For what greater grace could God have made to dawn on us than to make his only Son become the son of man, so that a son of man might in his turn become the son of God?

Ask if this were merited; ask for its reason, for its justification, and see whether you will find any other answer but sheer grace.

From the Office of Readings, Sermon from St Augustine, (Sermo 185: PL 38, 997-999)

This Christmas, I pray you and I will know this sheer grace…

From our house to yours…. Merry Christmas!

Among Women 187: Saintly Models for Charity, Diligence, and Temperance

Among Women 187: Saintly Models for Charity, Diligence, and Temperance

This week on Among Women, I interview author and Catholic Fire blogger, Jean Heimann. We discuss her blogging life and her new book, Seven Saints for Seven Virtues. This new book profiles saints who model the virtues we all need. Traditionally, Catholics have trusted there are seven heavenly virtues that help defeat the seven deadly sins — the root sins responsible for all our sins and mistakes in life.

UnknownOn this episode of Among Women, we focus on Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, St John Paul II, and St Augustine who shine in the areas of charity, diligence, and temperance. Charity, diligence, and temperance are virtues that help Christians fight the vices of pride, sloth or laziness, and lust or lack of self-control (especially when it comes to sex, food, drink or any other over-indulgence).   You might want to know what saints and virtues the rest of the book covers.

They are:

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Model of Charity
St. Agnes, Model of Chastity
St. John Paul II,  Model of Diligence
St. Joseph, Model of Humility
St. Catherine of Siena, Model of Kindness
St. Monica, Model of Patience
St. Augustine, Model of Temperance

Listen to Among Women today!

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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.

:::

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-