Sunday, October 7, 2018

At Home With the Blessed Mother

Some of my most memorable childhood experiences took place in the kitchen with my Mom and Grandmother. In an Italian family (as, I suspect, in most families) the kitchen is mission-control - the place where all the action takes place. In our family, it was the place where meals were eaten, homework got done, tears were wiped, bruises tended to and corrections given. Even the fittings for my wedding dress took place with me standing precariously on top of my Grandmother's kitchen table while she pinned and re-pinned my dress until it was perfect.

I can't even begin to count the lessons I learned spending day after day, year after year just living life alongside my Mom and my Grandmother, sharing my thoughts, hopes and dreams with them as I watched (and sometimes helped) them perform the most mundane household tasks. What I know for sure, is that watching and working alongside them helped form me to see the world through their eyes, with their unique perspective and point of view.

I sometimes wonder what life was like in the kitchen of the Blessed Mother in the Holy Family's home at Nazareth. How many lessons did the young Jesus learn by observing his holy Mother busy about her household tasks? Paintings and artistic renditions of the Holy Family often look a little sterile, but the truth is, they lived a very real home-life, full of all the hustle and bustle, cares and concerns, struggles and triumphs that are part of family life. It was within the context of this home-life that the Blessed Mother helped form the humanity of Jesus, her Divine Son.

While we do not have the ability to physically transport ourselves back to the home of the Holy Family, Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae offers this beautiful thought: "The Rosary mystically transports us to Mary's side as she is busy watching over the human growth of Christ in the home of Nazareth. This enables her to train us and to mold us with the same care, until Christ is “fully formed” in us." (Article 15)

Mary is our Mother, given to us from the cross by Jesus himself. As a good Mother, she desires to form us, to help us see the world through her own eyes, with her unique perspective and point of view. When we pick up our Rosary, and deeply meditate on the mysteries we pray, we find ourselves seated at her feet in the kitchen of her home. It is there that we can pour our questions, problems, fears and doubts to our Mother who loves us. It is there that we can learn how she handled the difficulties and challenges she faced as she watched her Son, grow, suffer and die. It is there that we can allow her perspective challenge and correct our own, as she seeks always to lead us to her Son and conform us more closely to Him. It is there that we can allow her to dry our tears, soothe our fears and fill us with the courage to face another day.

The next time your pick up your Rosary, I encourage you to imagine yourself, seated in the Blessed Mother's kitchen, asking her to walk with you through the mysteries of the life of her Son.

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us. 

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Emergency Procedures

What do you do in an emergency?

Call 911 of course.

Calling 911 in the event of an emergency is a procedure I have drilled into the heads of my children since they were old enough to talk. It is second nature to most of us that this is the first thing we should do in the event of an emergency, fire, crime, poisoning or other calamity. We call 911 to quickly alert those who are in a position to help us that we are in trouble and first responders are dispatched immediately to come to our aid. The system is universal and virtually foolproof -but is it enough?

As human persons we are comprised of both temporal and spiritual components. Calling 911 addresses the temporal side of an emergency - we need to have procedures that address the spiritual side of the emergency.

Spiritual Emergency Procedures
You may be thinking  - what on earth would constitute a spiritual emergency? Aren't spiritual issues something we can just wait until Sunday Mass or our next confession to take care of?. I would submit to you that anything that qualifies as a temporal emergency, should also be addressed as a spiritual emergency.

Don't merely call 911 in an emergency - call also upon the Lord, the Blessed Mother, the Communion of Saints and the Heavenly Hosts of Angels  - our supernatural first responders. 

Specific Spiritual Emergencies....

Here are a few circumstances that always get my family and I marshaling up the help of Heaven with short prayers:
  • The sound of a siren.
  • The sight of a hearse.
  • Passing a hospital or funeral home
  • Turning onto the campus of a church (we live in the 'burbs) - you can do this when you pass a church
  • Witnessing someone with a physical, emotional or spiritual disability.
  • Finding ourselves in a situation that is difficult, uncomfortable or unsafe. 
  • Beginning a long car ride. 
  • Learning of a friend (or even a stranger) struggling with an issue or in need of intercession. 
  • Reading about a tragedy in the news. 

In these situations, our family may pray an Our Father, a Hail Mary or a Prayer to St. Michael along with a request in our own words for the Lord's assistance and presence. 

Blessed Mother Teresa's Emergency Novena
Some situations in life are so difficult and challenging that they require more than a quick "prayer".  A serious accident or illness, the death of a loved one, loss of a job, addictions and more require persistent prayer and trust in the Lord for his help and the grace to endure the cross. One of my favorite forms of persistent prayer is Blessed Mother Teresa's Emergency Novena.
"Fr. Andrew Apostoli, CFR, Yonkers, NY re-counted his first meeting with Mother Teresa in New York. Fr. Andrew has given retreats for the Missionaries of Charity contemplative sisters in the South Bronx on several occasions. On our first meeting, Mother Teresa gave me a rosary and commented that "the Blessed Mother is all over the world bringing people to Her Son." She told me a story stating, "whenever I need a special favor, I do an Express Novena. An Express Novena is 9 Memorares in a row." (source: EWTN)

The Memorare (x9)
The Memorare is a simple prayer acknowledging the graciousness of the Blessed Mother and her steadfast help for her children in need. Relying on her maternal love and mercy, the prayer requests her intercession for our petitions.

The origin of the Memorare is unknown but it is thought to have dated back to the 12th century and is sometimes attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux. It was made popular by another French priest, Fr. Claude Bernard in the 1600's, who used it extensively in his ministry to the poor and prisoners. (source: Preces-Latinae)

I vividly remember Sister Mary Austin teaching my 4th grade class this beautiful, simple prayer and it has always been a favorite of mine.

Enlist Some Prayer Warriors
As Catholics we don't have to live as lone-rangers. By virtue of our Baptism, we are part of the Body of Christ and we can rely on other members of that Body for prayer and support. It has been a great source of comfort, consolation and encouragement to me to be able to reach out to a few trusted prayer warriors when I need some "back-up prayer" for a particular issue. I know these faithful friends will intercede from their heart for my intentions, as would I for theirs. Being able to support another person with prayers, especially during difficult times, is a source of blessing and a living out of the Jesus's great commandment to love our neighbor. If you don't have your own prayer warriors - enlist one today by asking a friend to be prayer partners and then pray for one another's intentions. 

Is This in Your Wallet?

While we are on the subject of emergencies, I have told my husband, children, friends or anyone else who would listen, to please, please, please call a priest if I am ever in danger of dying - even before you call an ambulance (or at least at the same time).

As Catholics, we believe in the power of the sacraments, and in particular the Anointing of the Sick.  The Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament of healing that can and should be received not only in the case of imminent death, but also whenever there is a serious threat to one's physical health. It is important to make any wishes that you have to receive this sacrament known to your loved ones before you are in any serious danger of death. Too often, Catholics are denied the reception of this sacrament because their loved ones do not know of their desire to receive it, and do not fully recognize or believe in the power of the sacrament.

A good practice is to carry a card in your wallet that specifically states: "I am a Roman Catholic. In case of emergency, please contact a Roman Catholic Priest." If possible, include the phone number of your parish rectory on that card. Your soul is worth it.
This post is part of the Catholic Women Blogger's Network monthly blog hop. To read more inspiring posts about Catholic prayer and devotion click here. 

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Friday, April 13, 2018

The Wisdom of Springtime

Spring! It's finally here!  Afher what seemed like a never-ending winter, the birds are chirping, the sky is blue and the flowers are blooming!

The Word of God teaches us that all of creation worships the Lord and we see his glory and wisdom shine forth in the beauty and order of the seasons.

What is the wisdom of God that springtime wishes to teach us?

Spring Always Follows Winter
"For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone.The flowers appear on the earth..." (Song of Songs 2:11-12)  The Song of Songs poetically speaks to us of a truth that is easy to forget in the dead of winter: spring will come again. This principle does not solely pertain to the weather but can be applied to all areas of our lives. Spring always follows winter. All of us experience seasons of suffering, darkness and pain in our lives. It is during those challenging times that the seasons that the Lord has created in nature remind us that the storms will cease, the sun will once again shine and the flowers will bloom. We have only to wait with patient trust.

"Hope springs eternal."
Alexander Pope's famous line "hope springs eternal" is never more powerfully illustrated in nature than in the picture of a spring crocus poking through the snow-covered ground. The image of new life muscling through obstacles in its path is a sign of hope in the resilience of living things. Most of us have encountered, at one point or another, someone whose life has been one of surmounting difficult, if not impossible challenges. Perhaps we are that person. For the person who struggles, hope is the virtue which drives them to rise above the day to day battles and continue to persevere.  This spring, let us ask the Lord to stir up hope in our hearts and the hearts of those who need it most.

Variety is to be celebrated.
For me, the temptation to envy the gifts and talents of others is one that I am constantly battling. Spring once again reminds me of the wise words of St. Therese of Lisieux on this matter: "...the splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not take away the perfume of the little violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all flowers wanted to be a roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty, and the fields would be no longer be decked out with little wild flowers." (Story of a Soul) 

The variety that God has built into nature is also present among his children. St. Paul reminds us in 1 Cor 12:4-7 "There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit."  The Lord has given us our own unique gifts for the purpose of building up his Kingdom. We don't need to be in competition with one another's gifts - instead we need to celebrate and encourage them. Together all our gifts make up a tapestry as beautiful as the meadows of spring flowers.

Take time to smell the roses.
On an early morning walk last spring, I looked up at a picture-perfect blue sky and back down again at my blue tee shirt - the color of which was labeled by the manufacturer as "blue sky."  My "blue sky" shirt paled in comparison to the vividness and depth of the blue sky above. I stopped and stood in awe. No one paints scenery quite the way the Lord does. The beauty of spring makes it the ideal season to get outdoors and admire the majesty and intricacy of God's creation. In the busyness of life in 21st century America, we don't always make time to stop, pause, and reflect on the world around us. We are missing something wonderful by not doing that. The tiny, perfect details of God's creation reveal to us something about God himself - his beauty, his goodness, his splendor and the meticulous way he cares for all he has created. This spring, don't just go out and smell the roses, stop and ponder every last detail of them and give thanks to God for them! 

Spring cleaning is a good thing. Really.
The words "spring cleaning" don't exactly cause me to jump up and down for joy. In spite of intensely disliking the process - I sure do look forward to the results of the annual spring cleaning. Closets neatly organized, winter coats and boots put away, windows scrubbed - these are the fruits of my efforts each spring. I am always shocked as to how much "stuff" I am able to accumulate in a single year. The effort of decluttering is eye-opening and freeing.  Spring cleaning for our soul can also be a good practice.  We can easily get into a rut in our relationship with the Lord leading our prayer to become routine and stale. Like our homes, our soul can accumulate a fair amount of junk and the process of cleaning it out, while not always fun, is extremely liberating and healing.  I recently found this simple yet powerful Examination of Conscience posted by Father James Searby that has really helped me get to the heart of the matter I look forward to some soul-cleaning this spring.

Spring reminds us of Resurrection. 
For all Christians, the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord is the highlight of spring and the cornerstone of our faith. Through Jesus' life, death and resurrection we have been given the promise of eternal life and the resurrection of our own bodies. The early church apologist Minicius Felix beautifully describes the relationship between the season of spring and the resurrection of the body: "A body in the grave is like the trees in winter: They hide their sap under a deceptive dryness. Why are you in haste for it to revive and return, while yet the winter is raw? We must await even the spring of the body." (Octavius 34:11–12 [A.D. 226]) 

Thank you, Lord for the gift of spring and all the ways that it points us to you! 

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Sunday, April 8, 2018

A Thank You Note to St. Thomas

Dear St. Thomas,

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for having the courage to say what everyone else was probably thinking!

Because of you, I am unafraid to express the doubts that sometimes plague my heart. You have made me realize that doubts are not a detriment to my faith, but a natural part of my faith journey. Through your bold proclamation of "My Lord and my God", I have come to realize that vocalizing my doubts and humbly asking Jesus to help me work through them can actually lead to a stronger faith for myself and those around me.

I know you have a reputation as a "doubter" but I like to view you as someone who understood the seriousness and the full import of the Resurrection of Jesus and just wanted to be sure about something so critical and life-changing.

Please pray for me that I may always have the trust to honestly share all my doubts, troubles and concerns with the Risen Jesus, knowing that he will patiently and loving answer my questions.

With humble gratitude,

"Do you really believe that it was by chance that this chosen disciple was absent, then came and heard, heard and doubted, doubted and touched, touched and believed? It was not by chance but in God's providence. In a marvelous way God's mercy arranged that the disbelieving disciple, in touching the wounds of his master's body, should heal our wounds of disbelief. The disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples. As he touches Christ and is won over to believe, every doubt is cast aside and our faith is strengthened."
                 -St. Gregory the Great, Office of Readings, Feast of St. Thomas

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Friday, March 30, 2018

Am I The Centurion?

The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over Jesus feared greatly when they saw the earthquake and all that was happening, and they said, “Truly, this was the Son of God!” (Mt 27:54)

Unlike Jesus' friends and even the Pharisees, who were present at the crucifixion because of the vested interest they had in Jesus' death, the Centurion and the other guards were there because they had to be, not because they wanted to be. The scriptures tell us of how the Centurion, after witnessing the signs and wonders which occurred in nature after Jesus' death came to believe in him. The Centurion experienced conversion - a shift in his heart from cold, distant unbelief, to lively, certain faith that led him to boldly proclaim that Jesus was the "Son of God".

Father Cantalamessa, in his book Life in Christ, urges all of us to experience the Passion from the inside out, not merely as detached observers recounting a piece of history.  He says:
 "An earthquake must take place in the life of every man; he should feel in his heart something of what took place in nature as a warning, at the moment of the death of Jesus when the curtain of the temple was torn in two, the stones broke and the tombs opened. It is necessary once and for all that a holy fear of God should shatter our proud hearts, which are so sure of themselves in spite of everything." (62)
Perhaps we identify with the centurion this Holy Week - attending Holy Week services as a casual observer, not allowing ourselves to enter into the truth about what we are witnessing, just watching the clock and waiting for it all to end so we can get back to our "normal" lives.  Let us ask the Holy Spirit to allow us to experience the "earthquake" of deep conversion and  the heartfelt understanding that Jesus is the Son of God who died to save each one of us from our sins.

Jesus, I had been keeping guard over you for hours; just doing my job, watching you suffer in agony as you endured the brutal death by crucifixion  I've seen it all before and I really couldn't allow myself to get caught up in the emotions of those people at the foot of your cross. I was just waiting for time to pass so I could leave that place of death and suffering, when suddenly I felt the earth shake beneath my feet, as if revolting at your death. More than the outward signs, I felt a revolution in my heart and mind and I am filled with the certainty that you truly are the Son of God. In an instant I know that my life will never be the same. Help me, Jesus, to understand what I have experienced - help my to truly know you.

Read Other "Who Am I? Holy Week Reflections Here:
Am I the Good Thief?
Am I Simon?
Am I Pilate?
Am I Peter?

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