Sunday, August 30, 2009

What Does it Mean to be Church?

It has been a rough week for the Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts. Mirroring similar processes that have occurred across the country, the Most Rev. Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell announced closures and mergers of parishes that will impact 22 faith communities. The hardest hit was the city of Chicopee which will go from ten to five parishes. This latest surge of closings follows ten closings that took place January 1st in other sections of the Diocese. It has been a long, painful process that began two years ago with an in-depth study of the viability of all the parishes in the Diocese followed by listening sessions with various groups, both clergy and lay. Everyone knew it was coming, yet the pain and shock are still there. The realization that parishes, which often feel like second homes, are coming to an end, is a sad one. I am not immune to that pain. While my current parish will continue and hopefully prosper, the parish I grew up in and made my sacraments in will be closing its doors.

The simple reality is that there were simply too many churches for not enough Catholics. One stretch of road in Chicopee featured three different ethnic parishes. One hundred years ago, this was desirable. It can no longer be justified by either economic or pastoral considerations. Bishop McDonnell acknowledges that these closings are difficult. He stated that he realizes that church buildings often serve as “memory boxes” for life’s significant moments. He urged all of us to remember, however, that those memories exist forever in our minds. They are not tied to the physical buildings. He also invited us to remember that Christians are a pilgrim people. Our ancestors traveled here over the past two hundred years and established new faith communities far from their native lands. We now have the challenge of building new faith communities of our own.

All of this prompts the question, what does it mean to be Church, to be the people of God? We are a Christian people who believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We believe that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We gather around the Eucharistic table and celebrate that reality. It shouldn’t matter who we are sitting next to or what building we are in. We are all one family. This reconfiguration of our parishes is an occasion of grief, but it is also an opportunity to rebuild our community of faith on stronger footing. It is an invitation to create new bonds in our parish families.

The closures were announced at all masses this Sunday. The mood was somber and reflective. In the midst of it all, however, a young child showed the way. It was the memorial acclamation and the choir sang out, “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.” As the music faded, a toddler screamed out “Yeah!” While no doubt his mother immediately tried to quiet him, that child, the future of our Church, proclaimed a great reality. That statement is the hallmark of our faith. To be Church is to gather together with others who share and celebrate our faith. Our Church will continue and thrive. May God bless us during this difficult transition.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Healing Prayer to St. Jude

Most holy Apostle, St. Jude,
friend of Jesus,
I place myself in your care
at this difficult time.
Pray for me; help me know
that I need not face
my troubles alone.
Please join me in my need,
asking God to send me
consolation in my sorrow,
courage in my fear,
and healing in the midst
of my suffering.
Ask our loving God
to fill me with the grace
to accept whatever may lie
ahead for me and my loved ones,
and to strengthen my faith
in God's healing power.
Thank you, St. Jude,
for the promise of hope
you hold out to all who believe,
and inspire me to give
the gift of hope to others
as it has been given to me.

Amen

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New Blog - Spun from the Web

Peggy Weber is a writer I have admired for many years. She writes for my local Catholic newspaper "The Catholic Observer." I'm pleased to announce that she has just begun a new blog: Spun from the Web. Please stop by and offer her a few words of encouragement on this new endeavor.

Welcome to the blogging world, Peggy! So glad you have joined us!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

St. Monica - Offering Hope for Mothers

As a woman who persevered in a difficult marriage, dealt with a cantankerous mother-in-law who shared her home, and prayed unceasingly for a wayward son, St. Monica serves as a wonderful role model for wives and mothers who are struggling in their vocation. St. Monica was born to Christian parents in 333. She was married at a young age to a pagan. Her husband Patritius was a government official in Tagaste. He had a violent temper and was unfaithful. As a result, her marriage was very unhappy. Her equally unpleasant mother-in-law also lived with them and did all in her power to make Monica’s life harder. Monica’s difficult home situation was well-known and she served as something of a role model to other suffering wives and mothers in Tagaste as she patiently endured.

Monica had three children: Augustine, Navigius, and Perpetua. She wanted to have them baptized, but Patritius refused. Ultimately, through her prayer and patient example, both Patritius and his mother converted to Christianity. Patritius died one year later. By this time, however, Augustine has been sent to Carthage to continue his studies. Here, he fell into serious sin and became a Manichean. Monica was so disgusted that she banished him from her table, but after having a vision, she changed her mind and welcomed him back. Still desperate, she sought the advice of an unknown bishop who reassured her with the famous statement that “the child of those tears shall never perish.” As a result, she stuck close to Augustine, perhaps a little closer than he liked.

At the age of twenty-nine, Augustine told his mother he was going down to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. He actually took off for Rome where he was planning to teach Rhetoric. Monica was not deterred. She followed him there, only to discover when she arrived that Augustine had gone on to Milan. She followed him there as well. She was a woman who was not going to give up, and her persistence was rewarded. At Milan, she received her heart’s greatest desire and saw Augustine baptized by St. Ambrose after he had fought baptism for seventeen years. Augustine and Monica set out for Africa soon after, but Monica would not make it. She died in Ostia in 387. Her death prompted Augustine to write his “Confessions.”

St. Monica is a role-model for all of us who feel we pray in vain. In a world which cries out for immediate gratification she reminds us of the importance of patience. God does not always answer our prayers in the time frame we hope for. Sometimes, we need to pray and pray and pray for years and trust in God’s timing. St. Monica is the patron saint of alcoholics, married women, abuse victims, and mothers. Her feast day is August 27th.

Prayer to St. Monica


Exemplary Mother of the great Augustine, you perseveringly pursued your wayward son not with wild threats but with prayerful cries to heaven.
Intercede for all mothers in our day so that they may learn to draw their children to God. Teach them how to remain close to their children, even the prodigal sons and daughters who have sadly gone astray. Amen.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Book Review: "Passing It On: A Road Map for the First 52 Weeks of your New Life"

Passing It On
by F. Barton Davis
Pelham, AL: Magi Media Publications, 2009


“Passing It On: A Road Map for the First 52 Weeks of your New Life” by F. Barton Davis was written to help the newly converted Christian in the first 52 weeks of his or her new life. Davis argues that after a new Christian is converted, he is often abandoned to navigate his new way alone. He maintains that “leaving our children to fend in the wild is a bad strategy for any family, especially the church.” It is the role of all of us who are farther along in the faith to mentor those just starting out.

Davis offers a reflection for each week of one year, beginning with “God is Right” and ending with “Persecution.” In between are a variety of important topics such as “God is Love,” “God is Fearsome and Compassionate,” “God is Holy,” “The Miracle of Prayer,” and “Repentance.” Each reflection offers an introduction, bible passages to read and ponder and questions to foster conversation.

“Passing it On” is a very useful book for those embarking on a new Christian journey and those trying to lend them a helping hand. Davis is meeting an important need in writing this book.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Staying Awake with Others

My eight-year-old son has been having many bad dreams lately. They often come just as he is drifting off to sleep. He will come out of his room and ask me to say the “bad dream protection prayer” again that we say each night and then sit outside his door for a little while. That simple act of my sitting there brings him comfort and eventually he does drift off into a peaceful sleep.

So many people are having a hard time right now. It seems that even in my own small circle of friends, everyone is hurting in one way or another. As one of my friends aptly phrased it, “everyone is under attack.” Unlike a child’s nightmares, these problems are not so easily solved. They might not be solvable at all. The hurts go deep. There is the pain of disease and failed relationships. There is economic pain and lost jobs. There is psychological and spiritual pain. I can fix absolutely none of these problems. Neither can any of my friends. We offer whatever assistance we can which is helpful, but this assistance is like putting a small bandage on a gaping wound. We pray and turn the problems over to God which is of utmost importance, but sometimes we still want to do more.

So, then, what can we do for others in their time of heartache and need? I’m reminded of Jesus suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Then Jesus came with them to a plot of land called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Stay here while I go over there to pray.’ He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee with him. And he began to feel sadness and anguish. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is sorrowful to the point of death. Wait here and stay awake with me.’ . . . He came back to the disciples and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, ‘So you had not the strength to stay awake with me for one hour?’”

Our Lord and Savior was in the midst of the greatest suffering of His life. He knew what was coming and was terrified. His humanity was at a breaking point. He knew his friends could do little to help him. He would have to face his future no matter what. The pain was not going away. Yet, the thing he desired most at that moment was to have his friends with him. It isn’t always easy to sit with someone in the midst of their pain. It isn’t easy to let the tears fall or listen to the anger and suffering, especially when we know we are powerless to help the cause. It is easy to get caught up in our own pain and feel that we don’t have the time to spend with another’s burden. Like the disciples, we may simply be tired and want to sleep. Yet, sometimes that simple act of sitting with someone and sharing in their pain can be a huge help. We may not be able to alleviate another’s suffering but we can help bear it. Like a small child who takes comfort in the simple presence of his mother, staying awake with another can be a huge help. May we all be there for each other during these difficult days.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Launching of Rosary.com on Feast of the Assumption

Happy Feast of the Assumption! I'm pleased to announce that Rosary.com is now being run by The Catholic Company. More than just a Rosary store, it also will offer resources and articles on the Rosary. The Rosary is one of my favorite prayers and I wish them every success!

"Elizabeth of the Epiphany" on Catholic Blog Fiction

I'm pleased to announce that "Elizabeth of the Epiphany" by Charlotte Ostermann is now up on http://catholicblogfiction.blogspot.com/. Check it out!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Book Review: Your Personal Apostolate


Your Personal Apostolate: Accepting and Sharing the Love of God
by Michele Elena Bondi
Rochester, MI: Joseph Karl Publishing, 2009



“Your Personal Apostolate: Accepting and Sharing the Love of God” is a small book that packs a big punch. Walking in the footsteps of St. Therese of Lisieux and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Michele Elena Bondi explores what it means to “accept, return, and share God’s Love.”

Bondi is a mother, writer, and clinical psychologist. Her words are full of insight and wisdom. She combines words from scripture and the saints as well as reflections on her own personal (and sometimes painful) experience to offer testimony to the great Love of God. She acknowledges that all three aspects: accepting God’s love, returning God’s love, and sharing God’s love can be very challenging at times. At the conclusion of each chapter, she offers questions that can be used for personal reflection or in a group setting. This book would be a wonderful resource for a Bible Study or prayer group. I heartily recommend it.

Here are some powerful quotes from “Your Personal Apostolate” to offer some food for thought and personal reflection:

“How crucial it is to remember not to discard our faith when we need God the most! We must persevere and not abandon Him during trials, for He remains with us and He has important plans for us. . . We must remember that God knows and sees things that we do not.”

“The members of the Holy Family were obedient, though doing what God asked did not always make sense to them. They were obedient when the outcomes of their efforts were not guaranteed in advance.”

“Handing one’s life over to God completely is not always easy or comfortable. In fact, it can be downright frightening. However, it is crucial to our relationship with Him, to our sanctification, and to our life’s work.”

“God wants us to ask for healing and also embrace repentance and forgiveness so we can share in His great ministry of love. God is always ready and available to heal us, so ask God to mend the wounds you have acquired during your life.”

“Ordinary work is made extraordinary with the power of God’s love.”

For more information, please visit http://www.godisatworkinyou.com/

Monday, August 10, 2009

Generosity in Hard Times

This was the first reading for this morning (August 10th):

Reading 1
2 Cor 9:6-10

Brothers and sisters:
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly,
and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion,
for God loves a cheerful giver.
Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you,
so that in all things, always having all you need,
you may have an abundance for every good work.
As it is written:

He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.

The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food
will supply and multiply your seed
and increase the harvest of your righteousness.


It's a good reminder to be generous even in these hard times. Maybe it is all the more important in the present economic situation. So many people are hurting that selfishness simply cannot be defended. As Beth Dotson Brown wrote in today's reflection for Living Faith: "God's word reminds us of a reward beyond our present circumstances." We need to give without counting the cost. We need to help all those we possibly can and trust that God will provide for us.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

St. Dymphna - The Lily of Fire

St. Dymphna, sometimes known as “The Lily of Fire,” is the patroness of those suffering from nervous and mental disorders. Her story is rooted in legend and cannot be verified, but the general story is as follows. She was born in 7th century Ireland. By this time, Ireland was almost fully Christian, but her father Damon, a chieftain, was a pagan. Her mother was Christian, however, and raised her daughter in the faith, preparing her for baptism. At a young age, Dymphna decided to take a vow of chastity and consecrate her virginity to Jesus. Sadly, her mother passed away when Dymphna was only fourteen years old.

Her father was besieged with grief. His advisors suggested that he find a new wife to help ease his pain. He instructed them to find him a woman who would match his first wife in beauty and character. It is reported that they returned empty handed and told him that the only woman who came close was his own daughter. Somewhat deranged, he also decided that marrying Dymphna would mean the stabilization of his property. He proposed to his daughter who was duly horrified, but bought herself some time by asking for forty days to consider the proposal. During this time, she consulted with a priestly friend, Fr. Gerebran, who advised her to flee and offered to accompany her. They set off for Antwerp where they were warmly received.

Her father soon discovered her flight and set off after her. He discovered them in Belgium. He attempted to convince Dymphna to return with him and become his wife. She refused and Fr. Gerebran tried unsuccessfully to show him the wickedness of this idea. For his efforts, Damon had the elderly priest killed. Damon then once again turned his attention to Dymphna who remained resolute in her refusal. Her mentally ill father then pulled out his dagger and cut off his own daughter’s head.

Dymphna’s remains, as well as those of Fr. Gerebran, were originally placed in a cave. Several years later, they were moved to a small church where they began to be venerated. When that Church was destroyed by fire in 1489, a new magnificent “Church of St. Dymphna” was built and dedicated in 1532. Dymphna became famous as the patroness of those suffering from nervous disorders and mental illness. More and more patients were brought to her shrine and many miraculous cures were reported. Eventually the “Infirmary of St. Elizabeth,” run by the Sisters of St. Augustine, was later built in the area for the care of patients.

In addition to being the patroness of those with mental illness, Dymphna is also considered the patroness of incest victims, rape victims, psychiatrists and therapists. Her feast day is May 15th.





Prayer in Honor of St. Dymphna

Lord, our God, you graciously chose St. Dymphna as patroness of those afflicted with mental, emotional, and nervous disorders. She is thus an inspiration and a symbol of charity to the thousands who ask her intercession.

Please grant, Lord, through the prayers of this pure youthful martyr, relief and consolation to all suffering such trials, and especially those for whom we pray. (Here mention those for whom you wish to pray).

We beg you, Lord, to hear the prayers of St. Dymphna on our behalf. Grant all those for whom we pray patience in their sufferings and resignation to your divine will. Please fill them with hope, and grant them the relief and cure they so much desire.

We ask this through Christ our Lord who suffered agony in the garden. Amen.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Book Review: "Plain Pursuit"


Plain Pursuit (Daughters of the Promise, Book 2)
by Beth Wiseman
Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009


“Plain Pursuit” is Beth Wiseman’s second contribution to the “Daughters of the Promise” series published by Thomas Nelson. This series focuses on different women’s journeys “into an Amish Community where she discovers new meaning to the words faith, hope, and love.” Carley Marek is a reporter whose mother died six months earlier in a tragic car accident, an accident that also left Carley with a life-altering injury. She is trying to cope by pouring herself into her work, but even there she has lost her edge. When her boss insists she take a vacation, she decides to visit her friend Lillian who recently married an Amish man and adopted the Amish way of life. While she is there, she will help reconcile a family torn apart, rediscover some of her own faith, and perhaps find love in the process.

“Plain Pursuit” is an enjoyable novel. Wiseman offers a clear window into life in an Amish community and what it means to be shunned from one. The romance is sweet and fraught with just enough obstacles. It makes for a very pleasant read as well as reflection on what it means to be part of a family.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Pondering the Transfiguration

The Gospel of Mark tells us of the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2 – 8). Jesus takes his closest friends, Peter, James, and John, up onto a high mountain. “There in their presence he was transfigured: his clothes became brilliantly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them.” Elijah and Moses joined them. Peter was at a loss of what to say and so he makes a very pragmatic offer – “let us make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Then, the voice of God comes from the heavens, echoing the message that was revealed at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my Beloved Son” and adding a new injunction, “Listen to Him.” Then, everything goes back to normal. Jesus tells his Apostles not to tell anyone, and He immediately gets back to the work of caring for the people.

The Transfiguration is an amazing event. The chosen Apostles were given a glimpse of Jesus as the Christ, in all his glory. It is significant that this event takes place immediately after Jesus has explained the cost of discipleship – “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) The cross is the way to glory. Christianity offers us a reason for our suffering. Those who preach a Gospel of prosperity are not preaching the Gospel of Jesus. Jesus did not promise that our way in life would be easy if only we believe. He did not promise us money and worldly success. Indeed, He promised the opposite – that believing in Him and following in His path would cost us our very lives – “Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” What He did promise was to be with us in the midst of the suffering and to reward us in the end. We, too, have the opportunity for glory. We, too, have the opportunity to be transfigured. Jesus has offered us eternal life. We only need to pick up our cross and follow Him to be granted that gift.

The Transfiguration also invites us to recognize the moments of grace and beauty that permeate our lives. The Transfiguration was but a brief moment of time in the midst of a busy day. Work was done both before and after. In that moment, however, the Apostles were given a tremendous gift. We, too, are given gifts of moments of grace, glimpses of the beauty that awaits us in the next world. They may come to us while contemplating creation, or holding a child, or praying before the Blessed Sacrament. While they might not be on the scale of the Transfiguration, they do invite us into the mystery that is greater than what we know here on Earth. These moments are usually all too short, but they can be life-changing. They can assure us of the love of God and offer great consolation. They can sustain us when life gets hard and the cross is heavy.

In the Transfiguration and in those gifts of grace that we experience, Jesus is inviting us to experience and be part of His glory. Will we accept the gift?