Monday, May 19, 2014

Practice What You Teach

My family and I were blessed this past weekend to attend the Ordination to the Transitional Diaconate in our Diocese. A young man, whose journey to the priesthood we have been privileged to witness and be part of, was being ordained along with three other men. The Ordination Mass was just heavenly. There was so much richness to the various parts of the ceremony, from the candidates lying prostrate while the choir and congregation intoned the Litany of the Saints, to the laying on of hands by the Bishop, and the vesting of the new Deacons in stole and dalmatic.

One aspect of the ceremony which struck me most profoundly was when each Deacon-candidate knelt before the Bishop and was handed the Book of the Gospels, with the exhortation to "Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach." While Deacons and Priests have a special anointing, by virtue of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, to live out this exhortation - it occurred to me sitting in the pew, that we too, as Baptized Catholics, have a responsibility to live out these words in the world and in our domestic churches.

This realization was made all the more vivid by the fact that just a few short hours earlier, my children had reminded me that I needed to "practice what I teach." You see, our family's pre-Ordination morning preparations were slightly less-than-heavenly. They included a rushed breakfast, several wardrobe changes, tangled hair, a missing card, tears, and a fair amount of yelling on my part about how it would be totally unacceptable to walk in late to the Ordination Mass. The "huss-fuss", as my daughter likes to refer to these type of situations, culminated with my exasperated son saying "Why don't you practice what you preach!". My daughter, not to be outdone by her brother, added: "You know, we depend on you to teach us how to act!"

The sad fact is, they were right. I wasn't practicing what I taught. Not even close. I often ask the children to think of whether or not they would behave a certain way if Jesus was standing in the room with them. In looking back over my actions that morning, I know for sure that I wouldn't want Jesus witnessing my behavior. Our children do depend on us to teach them the right and holy way to handle stressful situations. I had failed, miserably.

The good news about parenthood catastrophes like this one is that the Gospels give us the tools to "practice what we teach" even in these less-than-ideal situations - the tools of love, mercy, forgiveness and good order. As parents, we will make mistakes, and lots of them. We will lose our patience, raise our voices and say things we shouldn't say. Even those incidents can be used as teaching moments for our children - moments which show them how to repair relationships when they injure them. After the dust settled, I asked my children for their forgiveness for my behavior. We all talked about what we can do to minimize the "late of Mass chaos" that seems to rear its head every Sunday morning. Most of all, I told them that even though I was not perfect, I loved them with all my heart.

As I received the Eucharist that day at Mass, I asked the Lord to help me live out those words "Believe what you read, teach what you believe, practice what you teach" more fully each and every day, so that my children can look to me to learn how to act, and react, in a way that reflects the Gospel teachings.

P.S. We did, in fact make it to the Ordination with 10 minutes to spare.

Read more related posts here:
The Angelus: Domestic Church Style
7 Lessons From Teaching My Children To Pray

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Bothering Our Pastors

At a Sunday afternoon Regina Caeli address, Pope Francis instructed the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square to:
“Bother your pastors, disturb your pastors, all of us pastors, so that we will give you the milk of grace, of doctrine, and of guidance.” (watch the short 2 minute video of his address below)

The Pope spoke these words after providing an analogy of the faithful to a hungry calf, who will bother its mother until she feeds it the milk it needs. He describes the calf "knocking" at the udder of the mother until it is able to drink freely of her milk.

These words struck me hard for several reasons:
  • I hate to be a bother.
  • I always feel like I am being a bother when I have a question (or several).
  • I preface nearly every conversation with my priest/spiritual director with either the thought in my head or the words on my lips: "Father, I hope I am not bothering you, but..."
I don't think I am alone in this. I have heard many friends express the same hesitations. The conversations go something like this..."I really don't know what God expects me to do and I would love to ask Father, but I don't want to bother him." of "I have a question about church teaching x, but I can't ask Father because I don't want to bother him." 

Are you with me?  Have you said that too?  I bet you have. It seems to be a nearly universal sentiment among the Catholic faithful I know. 

Which leads me to ask the next question - why do we think we are bothering our priests by asking them questions about our faith, the Lord, the church's teaching or by seeking guidance in how to live our lives according to God's plan?  

I propose that there are several reasons why most Catholics are reluctant to bother our priests:
  • We have heard the our priests are stretched too thin, overworked and out of time. So, naturally, as good Catholics we don't want to lay additional burdens on them. 
  • We have had a bad experience with approaching a priest and being brushed off by him. 
  • We think our questions are unimportant or not worthy of our priest's time. 
  • Our own pride gets in the way and we find ourselves using the aforementioned reasons as convenient excuses. 
Here are a few suggestions for overcoming this "I hate to bother Father mentality":
  • Yes, priests are busy. So are lay people. We all have busy lives. However, most priests I know rejoice over a person who sincerely wants to learn and grow in their faith and welcome the opportunity to help by answering questions and providing guidance. These conversations are encouraging to our priests and provide them with opportunities to exercise the ministry for which they have been ordained. Plus, they get to talk about the love of their lives - our Lord Jesus! 
  • Having said that, we do need to be respectful and considerate of Father's time. It is not realistic to expect Father to answer your burning questions while he is walking into church to celebrate Mass that is scheduled to start in 5 minutes. Instead, call the rectory and make an appointment to sit down with Father in his office. Try to come prepared for that appointment with the issues you wish to discuss, or better yet, let Father know in advance what you wish to speak with him about. 
  • Invite your parish priest over for dinner or dessert. Let him know that your family would like to ask him a few questions about the faith over this meal. After my husband and I experienced our conversion, we would invite our parish priest over for "Q and A" sessions over dinner. We would write our questions on a chalkboard which hung in our kitchen. All three of us have wonderful memories of those evenings spent together sharing both great food and the goodness of the Lord and as a result our parish priest has become a dear friend. 
  • Have you had a bad experience with a priest? "Church hurts" can be tough ones to recover from. It is important to remember that one priest's behavior is not indicative of all priests - we need to avoid the "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" attitude. Ask the Lord for the grace to forgive the priest that hurt you. You may want to share that hurt with another priest in the sacrament of Confession. The kindness and compassion of another priest, and the grace of the Lord's mercy and healing that is available in that Sacrament can go a long way towards repairing the damage caused by those hurts. 
  • Pray against any spirit of pride, and ask the Lord to give you a child-like humility. The enemy of our souls would like nothing better than to lock us up in a prideful attitude which will prevent our growth in the knowledge and love of the Lord. Pray, too, for your priests, that they may be strengthened and encouraged in their vocation. 
Let us ask the Lord together to help heed the challenge of our Holy Father so that both we and our priests may all grow in relationship with each other and with the Lord.

Friday, May 9, 2014

7 Lessons from Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa

Last weekend, my family and I were blessed to attend the “Awakening the Domestic Church Conference” in Norfolk, VA .  There we were privileged to hear Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, who has been the preacher to the Papal Household for the past 30 years, deliver three powerful teachings. I have read many of Fr. Cantalamessa's books and articles and have learned so much from him. Being able to hear him in person, and to witness the joy and love of the Lord on his face, was such a blessing. Below are seven things that struck me most powerfully in the talks he gave.  

--- 1 ---
The world changes after we encounter Jesus.
Fr. Cantalamessa spoke of three scriptural accounts where the recognition of the risen Lord Jesus changed the lives of the people who encountered him.:
  • A despondent Mary of Magdala is seen on Easter morning weeping and pouring out her grief at the Lord's death to a man whom she initially believed was the gardener outside Jesus' tomb. This "gardener" spoke her name, and she immediately recognized him to be Jesus. Her sorrow disappeared and she instantly ran to joyfully share the good news with the Apostles. Her world is changed. (John 20:11-18)
  • On the road to Emmaus, two disciples, forlorn after the Lord's death, spend hours walking with the Risen Jesus and hearing him explain the scriptures to them, without actually recognizing him for who he truly is. It was only when Jesus blessed and broke the bread that they realized who he was. Their joy at this encounter led them to immediately return to Jerusalem, in spite of the late hour of the day, and seek out the Apostles to share what they had seen. (Luke 24: 13-35)  Their world is changed. 
  • The Apostles, who have returned to fishing after Jesus' death, see a figure on the distant shoreline. This figure calls to them to “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” Following his instructions, they caught a multitude of fish. In that moment, John and Peter recognize the figure to be the Lord. Here we see Peter, in his characteristic bold enthusiasm, plunge into the sea, half dressed to greet the Lord. (John 21:1-14) His world is changed.
In each of these three Gospel accounts we see a common denominator in the reactions of those who have encountered the Lord - they are each filled with joy and an energy that impels them to move forward - to share what they have received; to run towards the Lord with great enthusiasm. Likewise, when we experience this encounter with Jesus, our world will change radically from within. My prayer since the conference is to once again experience a new encounter with the Risen Jesus - to ask the Holy Spirit to continue to "change my world", that I may go forth with joy and witness to the glory of the Lord.

The transforming power of the Eucharist.
Fr. Cantalamessa, quoting from Pope John Paul II's encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia emphasized the need for us to discover a "Eucharistic amazement" - an attitude of awe and wonder at the reality that the Lord Jesus, the Son of God and Creator of the universe is really present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist. How do we stir up this "Eucharistic amazement" in our hearts? Through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Fr. Cantalamessa described the Eucharist as a marriage - in which the "body of the bridegroom (Jesus) belongs to the bride (the church - us) and, likewise, the body of the bride belongs to the bridegroom)." He explained, in some of the most powerful words of the weekend, that "In the Eucharist, there is a wonderful exchange - Jesus takes our body, our sin, our weakness and he gives us his holiness."

This exchange of myself, with all my failings, sins, and struggles, for the power, holiness and majesty of Jesus seems terribly unfair and unbalanced. What do I have to offer in such an exchange? Very little, it seems. What have I done to deserve this great gift? Not much. Yet, in Fr. Cantalamessa's words I heard an invitation from the Lord that said - Come to me, Debbie, give me all of you. I desire to give you all of me because I love you.

I continue to ponder these words and the mystery of this "wonderful exchange" and ask the Lord to help me to fully offer all of myself to him without reservation in the Eucharist and to open my heart, mind and soul to fully receive all of Him and in that way allow the power of the Eucharist to transform my life.

We all need a "perennial Pentecost."
Fr. Cantalamessa began his teaching on Pentecost by quoting from Pope Paul VI – “The Church needs a perennial Pentecost. She needs fire in her heart, words on her lips, prophecy in her outlook.” He went onto explain that every "new Pentecost" must be "renewed" - that life changes each and every day and to deal with these daily changes, we need a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit daily. Pentecost is not a one time deal - but a way of life.

Father's words led me to really examine my heart. It is tempting for me to look back on the "Pentecost experiences" of my life and think of them as past events. Giving into that temptation locks the work of the Holy Spirit into a nostalgic "photo album" in my soul. I am daily asking the Lord for the grace to make Pope Paul VI's desire for the church my own personal prayer - "Lord, let me be open to a perennial Pentecost - a daily outpouring of your Holy Spirit - your gift of transforming love. Let my life be transformed by your Spirit and let my actions reflect this transformation."

Knowing God as a loving Father is key to our Christian life. 
Fr. Cantalamessa began his discussion on the love of God the Father by asking a question of his listeners: "What feelings stir in us when we recite the Our Father and say the words 'thy will be done'"? You could hear chuckles ripple through the crowd as he posed the question, but this nervous laughter revealed how powerful Father's point was. Our answer to this question exposes our image of God the Father. If we bristle at these words of the Our Father, it is likely that our views of God the Father are colored by our own less-than-ideal human experiences of fatherhood and authority.

Father went on to assert that in his view the "main reason for a joyless Christianity among believers is a distorted view of God the Father."  What is the solution? How can we experience a true understanding of God the Father? The answer is the Holy Spirit. Father pointed out that what the Apostles experienced at what Pentecost and what we experience when the Holy Spirit touches our lives is precisely this: the transforming love of God the Father. Once we experience this love, life is different - we no longer "obey" God out of a joyless duty, but we earnestly seek do God's will out love for him.

In my own experience, I can remember the exact day and time when I powerfully experienced God the Father's love. Nothing was the same after that - the tangible flood of his love filled me with a sense of security and well-being that I had never experienced before. It enabled me to trust him in a new way and gave me the desire to fully surrender to him. It is the key to my own living out of the Christian life!

--- 5 --- 
We must be the Body of Christ.
Consider the following analogy Fr.Cantalamessa gave to illustrate what it really means to live as a member of the body of Christ. He said that although the hand and the eye are totally separate parts of our body and perform very different functions, if a rock were thrown at the eye, the hand immediately reacts by defending the eye from the danger of injury. The hand would not hesitate in its actions, or object that there was no need to react at all because its safety was not directly threatened. Do we react like our hand if another member of the Body of Christ is threatened? 

This analogy really hit me between the eyes (pun intended). More often than not, my reaction to a brother or sister in need is to utter a quick prayer, perhaps send a text with a vague offer of help, and be on my way without another thought. Fr. Cantalamessa's challenge was to do much more than that - his challenge was to view any struggle in another member of the body of Christ as something that merits a response from me as if it were happening to me. 

Rising to the challenge of truly living as the Body of Christ is something that I know will take a lifetime of effort and boatloads of God's grace. Come Holy Spirit and enkindle in my heart the desire to live as one with other members of the Lord's body and the grace to manifest that unity in my daily actions. 

Motive matters.
For me, the most profound and convicting lesson of the conference came when Fr. Cantalamessa described the Pentecost event as an undoing of the building of the Tower of Babel. In his description, he pointed out something I had never heard before. The sin of the people building the Tower of Babel was not that of erecting a tower, but that of trying to make a name for themselves.(Gen 11:4)  They were building a temple not for the glory of God, but for their own glory. By contrast, the apostles at Pentecost set out to build a tower as well, that of the Kingdom of God, not to make a name for themselves, but with the sole purpose of giving glory to God.

Fr. Cantalamessa explained that this same conflict exists in every single one of our actions and that we must examine our hearts to determine if our motive for doing something is to "make a name for ourselves" or to give glory to God. He bluntly stated: “If we want to build the kingdom of God, we must stop being self-centered and start becoming Christ-centered."

Tough talk, indeed. The temptation to receive accolades for our accomplishments is strong and not easily overcome. For me, it requires a moment by moment, conscious surrender of my plans, goals, and desires for human rewards - and it is not one that I am always able to do without considerable struggle. As with most of the convicting moments in Father's teaching, I find myself again asking the Holy Spirit to purify my motives in all my endeavors, so that I too, may build the kingdom of God through my actions.

God's plans are not our plans.
It was a great joy for everyone present to hear Fr. Cantalamessa share his personal testimony with honesty, humility and humor. Among the many highlights of his testimony was when he described how, after many years of serving as a professor of Theology at the University of Milan, he felt the Lord calling him to give up this prestigious post in order to become an itinerant preacher. He sought the counsel and approval of his superiors who advised him to wait and pray for a year before making any changes. Finally, after the year was up, he received his superior's permission and resigned his teaching post. He stressed that at this point, he had no idea where or how he was going to begin this new "career" and so he went on a retreat to prepare himself for whatever the Lord had in mind. While on that retreat, he received a phone call from his superior saying that Pope John Paul II had requested him to become the Preacher to the Papal Household, a position he has held ever since.

I learned several valuable lessons from this:
  • God's plans are not always our plans. As a "planner" I like to have my future neatly mapped out, with me solidly in control of everything that will happen. This rigid desire for control, however, throws up obstacles to the Lord's plans for my life and is something that I am working on surrendering every day. 
  • When we believe that the Lord is asking us to make a radical change in our life's direction, Fr. Cantalamessa stressed that we should submit those plans to a Spiritual Director or Confessor for their discernment. This discernment protects us from acting on our own impulses and helps us see God's hand in our lives. 
  • Life as a Christian is full of God's glorious surprises.  We can trust our loving Father to only allow what is best for us and with that attitude of trust, wait for these special moments of grace and thank the Lord when they come. 

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Receive new posts directly via email. Sign up for free today by entering your email address below!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Mother's Day Gift Ideas: Catholic Style

Looking for gift ideas for Mother's Day?  Here are a few suggestions that will provide blessing, honor and encouragement to your Mom, Grandmother or Godmother.

A Spiritual Bouquet
Instead of buying a traditional (and often overpriced) bouquet of flowers, give your Mom a bouquet whose fragrance will last for all eternity. A spiritual bouquet is a collection of prayers, devotions and acts of sacrifice or service that are gathered together in a card, mini-album, or scrapbook. These prayers are offered for the
intentions of the recipient.  

Every member of the family can participate in the creation of a spiritual bouquet - each providing their own unique "flower" to the arrangement. If you are giving one to a Grandmother, invite all her children and grandchildren to participate. Ask everyone to hand-write a note which honors Mom and thanks her for all she has done for them. Encourage them to make the notes personal and specific. Along with the note, have everyone include a specific spiritual offering they will make to the Lord for Mom's intentions.  Some examples of spiritual offerings are:
  • Praying the rosary each day for a month for Mom
  • Setting an alarm at 3:00 each day and offering a special prayer of intercession during the hour of mercy for Mom. 
  • Spending a Holy Hour with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and offering it for Mom's intentions. 
  • Little ones can offer to pray a Hail Mary each day for their Mom. 
Have a Mass Offered For Mom
We often think of offering a Mass only for the deceased members of our families, but a Mass intention can be offered for those who are living.  In fact, St. Anselm is often credited with saying that 
"A single Mass offered for oneself during life may be worth more than a thousand celebrated for the same intention after death." 
To have a Mass offered for your Mom, visit or call the parish office where you would like to have the Mass said. Make sure you indicate that the Mass is being offered for the intentions of someone living (this will be worded differently than a Mass offered for a deceased person). Make sure to attend the Mass, (along with your Mom), if possible, when it is celebrated!

Honor Your Mom in a Video
One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is to honor them with words of affirmation. Proverbs 16:24 tells us “Kind words are like honey – sweet to the soul and healthy for the body”.  In a world filled with Hallmark cards, it is very tempting to offer someone else’s words to express our feelings. However, our own words are far more powerful and meaningful. Whatever they lack in eloquence and poetry, they make up for in sincerity.  

Consider video taping a variety of people in your Mom’s life and ask them to share on the video words of encouragement for your Mom. Ask them to make their words brief and specific – highlighting a quality of your Mom that has particularly blessed their lives. For example, “Mom, I honor you for always going out of your way to back a homemade dessert for my birthday – you always make me feel special and loved and I thank you for that! Some of my greatest childhood memories are standing by your side helping you bake.”  By recording these personal words, you will give your Mom the opportunity to watch them again and again, whenever she needs a boost of love.  Beats Hallmark everytime! 

Email or Text Your Mom a "Quote of the Day"
Mother's Day does not have to merely be celebrated on only one day of the year. Brighten up the start of your Mom's day each morning by sending her an encouraging scripture quote, a quote from a favorite saint, or a short prayer.  These quotes can be related to motherhood, or can just be something that you know that your Mom will love or that has reminded you of her.

One of my favorite quotes about motherhood is by Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty - I have given it to many of my friends when they were expecting their first child and nearly 12 years after I first read it I still find it to be such a powerful testament to what a blessing it is to be a Mom.

Receive new posts directly via email. Sign up for free today by entering your email address below!

Monday, May 5, 2014

May Daybook - A Snapshot of My Life

Outside My Window
It is a gorgeous, sunny, spring day and the Cherry Blossom trees in my backyard are in full bloom. Days like this often leave me thinking that the color of my manufacturer-labeled "Sky Blue" shirt pales in comparison to the vivid depth of the blue sky outside. No one paints a landscape quite like the Lord and no man-made color, no matter how vibrant, can ever match the richness and the depth of the colors of creation!  
View from my kitchen window.
I am thinking...
of a way to be able to take my children to daily Mass each day. The parish closest to us has Mass at 9:00AM, which pushes back the start of our school day until around 10AM - not impossibly late, but challenging. However, after attending a powerful conference this week with Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher to the Papal Household as the keynote speaker, I was strongly convicted to try receive the Eucharist daily. I know that I am not the only homeschooling Mom who struggles with this - please share your thoughts, struggles and victories in this area in the comments box - I would love to hear them! 

I am thankful...
Scene from the movie "Maria Goretti"
for Seton Magazine, who just published my very first official article entitled "The Moral Theology of St. Maria Goretti." St. Maria Goretti is by far one of my favorite saints and her witness is extraordinary.  I am humbled to be able to share her story. To God be the Glory. Click here to read the article.  If you would like to learn more about St. Maria Goretti, I highly recommend the 2007 movie Maria Goretti from director Giulio Base.

I am also thankful for Jessica over at Shower of Roses who is allowing me to sponsor a giveaway of Colleen Carroll Campbell's book "My Sisters the Saints" and her Lighthouse talk "Feminine Genius." Click here to head on over to her blog to participate in the giveaway.

Many many thanks to the warm welcome I have received from the Shower of Roses readers. Your kind words, comments and encouragement have meant a lot to me!  Thanks for reading!

In the kitchen...
My husband and I both need to lose a few pounds and incorporate more fruits and veggies into our diets. In an effort to do that, we have decided to attempt to eat a salad for dinner every day for the next 31 days (with a few days off for some special occasions coming up) .I need some help here!  If anyone has some good salad recipes (our limited repertoire includes Caesar Salad and an occasional dried cranberry and walnut over mixed greens salad), I would be most grateful! We are hoping to limit our salad toppings to beans, veggies, nuts and possibly some cheese.  Please feel free to share any of your recipes in the comments box - we would be most appreciative!  

I am wearing...
Black pants, clogs which are way too hot for this spring day (waiting for my new summer sandals to arrive in the mail), and a red tee shirt. 

I am creating...
Images incorporating pictures of our Blessed Mother with various quotes from Marian Apparitions on my new favorite addiction photo-editor, Canva. Here's my first completed one: 

I am going...
nowhere. After spending the past four days away at a Catholic conference, I am in laundry lockdown today. 

I am reading...
The Four Cardinal Virtues by Josef Pieper for a class on Christian Moral Principles that I am currently taking. The book draws upon St. Thomas Aquinas' teaching on the virtues and presents an in-depth, challenging view of the four cardinal virtues, their interconnectedness and their role in the Christian life. It is a great book and I am learning so much from it - most significantly, the fact that our modern day understanding of the virtues of prudence, justice, temperance an fortitude is a far cry from the classical understanding of these virtues.

I am learning...
that trying to homeschool two kids after 4 days away on a beautiful spring day is an exercise in the virtues of patience and self-control (which, I might add, are sorely lacking in this house:-) Can anyone say "good day for a nature walk?" 

I am praying...
for families, especially those who are close to me and are struggling with financial issues, difficult marriages, grief at the loss of a parent, serious illness, addictions and children who have walked away from the Lord. I pray, that through the powerful intercession of the Holy Family of Nazareth, the Lord will touch these families with the power of his healing love and the gift of his peace. 

I am looking forward to...
my daughter's Chorale group's Mother's Day concert on Sunday featuring songs from Broadway plays such as the Sound of Music, Oklahoma and South Pacific.  What a great treat for Mother's Day! 

A favorite quote for today...
"We must ask the Holy Spirit to enkindle in our hearts a Eucharistic amazement." Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa

A few plans for the rest of the week:
  • Studying for my final exam for the Christian Moral Principles class which is coming up next week.
  • Writing a blog post entitled 7 Lessons From Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, capturing the things I learned from hearing him speak this past weekend at the "Awakening the Domestic Church Conference" in Norfolk, VA. 
  • Trying to get out for a walk and/or bike ride with the kids a few days this week to take advantage of this gorgeous weather and get some family exercise.
  • Listening to Dr. Taylor Marshall's podcast on "Why did they stop teaching virtue?" which I am hoping will enhance my reading of Pieper's book. 
A peek inside my day:

Top shelf of my desk - loving my new black and white storage boxes from Target! 

For more Daybooks please visit The Simple Woman's Daybook

Please note that this post contains Affiliate Links - which basically means that if you click and shop 
through any of the Amazon or Lighthouse links, my domestic church will receive a small commission. 
Woo-hoo! We greatly appreciate the support!