Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Fourth Servant

In Bible Study this week, we were studying the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-29). Before going away on a long journey, a master calls in three servants. To one he gives five talents; to another, two; to a third, one - to each according to his ability. Much later, the master returns and asks for an accounting. The one with five has managed to accrue ten. The one with two now has four, but the one with only one had gone and buried his talent. Therefore, it didn't grow and he only had one to give to his master upon his return. The master was very pleased with the first two servants who had utilized their gifts and made more. The third servant he treated with contempt: "You wicked, lazy servant!" The master then took that one talent from him and gave it to the one who had ten.

The point of this parable is pretty obvious. Even a child would tell you that it means we are supposed to use the gifts that God gives us. He will hold us accountable for what we do with them. It seems rather straightforward. Use our gifts well and they will multiply. Ignore them and they will stagnate. What happens when this doesn't go according to plan, however?

As one of my friends pointed out, the story needs a fourth servant. The fourth servant is given his talents and he (or in our case, she) goes out and tries to do all she can with her talents. And she fails, repeatedly. Nothing multiplies. Every effort comes up short. In an economic comparison, she invests all she has in the stock market and the stock market has crashed. When the master returns, she has little to show for her efforts, except a bucketload of tears of frustration. As my friend said this. I nodded enthusiastically. Yes, this is where I fall in this parable. I imagine many other people feel this way as well.

Sometimes, life is so hard. We pray to do God's will and try to do it, and yet we seem to come up empty. The conventional wisdom is that if you are failing, you aren't doing what God wants you to do - that if you are doing God's will, you will meet with success. But what if you believe you actually are doing what God wants you to do? Where do we fall in the parable? We are not the servant who buried his gifts. We tried all we could. Did the servants who doubled their talents actually struggle in the process? Did they fall down repeatedly before achieving success? Does the parable just not tell that side of the story? That thought gives me some hope.

Our parable isn't done being written yet. Maybe God has some plan we just can't see. Maybe our work, our talents, is bearing some fruit we are unaware of. Maybe we are right where we are supposed to be. All we can do is keep trying. If we are truly doing God's will, then we are where we belong. I am reminded of Mother Teresa's statement: "We are not called to be successful, only faithful." We are the fourth servant. I have to believe the Master will reward us in the end.

February 28, 2010 2nd Sunday of Lent

Their end is destruction.
Their God is their stomach;
their glory is in their “shame.”
Their minds are occupied with earthly things.
But our citizenship is in heaven,
and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Philippians 3:19-20

What do we concern our lives with more in this life - what is here now or what is to come? Obviously, we need to care about what happens here. We need food and clothing and medical care. We need to care for our children and take care of the earth. Yet, we must always keep the ultimate focus in mind. We do not live for now. We live for eternity. That should make a difference in how we conduct our lives. Does it?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

February 27, 2010 Saturday of Lent

Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father"
- Matthew 5:43-45

Who are your enemies? Maybe you don't have any. In that case, who are the people you really don't like? The people who seem to exist just to aggravate you? Have you ever tried praying for them - not praying for them to change and do what you want, just praying for them? I read once (I can't recall the source) that you can't hate someone you are praying for. In my life, I have found that to be true. It may take a while, but you will find peace in the situation. Say a prayer today for someone who irritates you or makes your life difficult.

Friday, February 26, 2010

February 26, 2010 Friday of Lent

If you, O LORD, mark iniquities,
LORD, who can stand?
But with you is forgiveness,
that you may be revered.
- Psalm 130: 3-4

We are all sinful. Our human nature is weak. We all make mistakes on a regular basis. None of us is worthy to stand before God. If God held all of our wrong-doing against us, we wouldn't stand a chance. Thankfully, we have a forgiving God. Each time we fall, if we are truly sorry, He welcomes us back with open arms. Forgiveness is a powerful thing, both to give and to receive. May we strive to offer others the same forgiveness that God so generously extends to us.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Book Review: "Alphatudes"

Alphatudes: The Alphabet of Gratitude
by Michele Wahlder
Dallas, TX: Life Possibilities Publishing, 2010

Gratitude is indeed the secret of happiness. Appreciating what one has makes the whole world seem brighter. In "Alphatudes: The Alphabet of Gratitude" Michele Wahlder offers a unique way to count one's blessings. Suffering from insomnia night after night, she decided to try something other than counting sheep. She began to count her blessings, using the alphabet as a guide. Sleep was the much-appreciated reward. Wahlder began to integrate this in her life on a regular basis and found that it allowed her to "clear her mind and process the events of the day in a positive way." She then began to share this idea with others and discovered benefits for them as well. Thus, "Alphatudes" was born.

This book is a delight to both look at and read. The design is beautiful. Each letter and its corresponding "Alphatude" are illustrated in an inviting two-page spread. Gifts such as acceptance, beauty, dreams, hope, kindness, laughter, quiet, relationships, touch, and work are explored and praised. Wahlder has incorporated quotes from wise individuals from various faith traditions and walks of life to help inspire those who turn these pages. One of my favorite sections was the one on "Hope." Wahlder writes, "All great accomplishments begin as a tiny seed of hope. . . Hope is reduced to wishful thinking only when not accompanied by intentional action. We need to remember that prayer is one such intentional action."

Wahlder has also included some things one might not consider being grateful for. Take "Obstacles," for example: "Obstacles energize us to stretch beyond our routine way of thinking and encourage us to try on an unfamiliar behavior or skill. During the process, we improve upon our perceived weaknesses and turn them into unanticipated strengths. By expressing gratitude for the obstacles in our lives, we uncover our hidden treasures and the wealth of support available to us."

"Alphatudes" is one of those books you will want to sit and reflect upon again and again. It offers an important reminder to be thankful for all that comes our way. It would make a beautiful gift.

Ebay Explorations - Trading Cards and Paintings for Sale

Yesterday in Social Studies, the boys learned about starting a business. They were extremely eager to start one of their own, but they couldn't think of any skill or product they could offer at the moment. I told them they could sell some of their extra Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh cards on Ebay if they wanted. We had a very interesting educational afternoon as a result. They sorted their cards into different lots to sell, and I took photos of them. Then we logged onto Ebay and figured out how to list the items. The boys decided what they wanted to charge for them and how much we needed to charge for shipping and handling. Each of the boys has two items listed at the moment. While we were at it, I decided to list two of my paintings. If you are interested in any of these items, here are the links:

Pokemon Ponyta and Rapidash Cards starting bid 50 cents.

Pokemon 8 Cards - all 50 HP starting bid 99 cents

Yu-Gi-Oh 12 pack mixed lot starting bid $1.50

Pokemon 70 Card Mixed Lot - Lots of Fun! starting bid $4.00



Anna's Tree 9' x 12" original watercolor starting bid $24.99







Reaching for the Sky 9" x 12" original watercolor starting bid $24.99

Thanks!

February 25, 2010 Thursday of Lent

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." - Matthew 7:7-8


Here, Jesus assures us that our prayers will be answered. All who ask the Lord for help will receive it. So, what is the catch? The catch is that God's will will be done, not ours. Prayers are often answered in unexpected ways. Many times in life this is a source of frustration. After all, we know what we want and how we would like to be. We bring that to God, and He does something totally different. Yet, He knows best, and often in hindsight we can see God's hand working in our lives. When we pray, we can trust that God will shape our lives the way that they are supposed to be.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

February 24, 2010 Wednesday of Lent

The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time:
“Set out for the great city of Nineveh,
and announce to it the message that I will tell you.”
So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh,
according to the LORD’s bidding.
- Jonah 3:1-2

The part of this passage I want to focus on today is the first line: "The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time." Why the second time? Because the first time Jonah ran away from what the Lord wanted him to do. He got thrown out of a ship into the sea, where he was subsequently swallowed by a big fish and then vomited by the fish onto the ground. When the Lord spoke the second time, Jonah wisely decided it was better to do what He said. When the Lord asks us to do something, do we agree readily or are we like Jonah and start running away? While we might not get swallowed by a whale, our life does not go well when we ignore what God wants. What is God asking of you today? Will you listen?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

February 23, 2010 Tuesday of Lent

This is how you are to pray:

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
- Matthew 6:9-13

The "Our Father" is the prayer that Jesus gave us. It is the perfect prayer, offering praise and encompassing all our needs. It is a prayer that we are so familiar with that we often say it without even thinking about it. Perhaps today we can say it slowly and reflect deeply on the words that Jesus gave us.

Monday, February 22, 2010

2nd Chapter of "Through the Open Window" now up on Catholic Mom


The 2nd chapter of "Through the Open Window" is now up on Catholic Mom:

Through the Open Window Ch. 2

Check it out!

February 22, 2010 Monday of Lent

Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
Psalm 23:4

Sometimes, we feel like God is with us when everything is going well. After all, God is blessing us when life is good. We have so much to thank God for then. At times when all seems lost, how do we feel then? Do we still think that God is with us? Or do we feel abandoned, that God doesn't care about us anymore? God is always with us. We have nothing to fear. Everything will work out for our eternal good, even if it doesn't seem that way at the moment. I'm reminded of that famous "Footprints" poem, where the man asked Jesus why there was only one set of footprints in the hardest times of his life. Jesus responded that "it was then that I carried you." Is Jesus carrying you today? Trust in Him.

Blessed Stefan Frelichowski (1913-1945)

As many of you are probably aware, this is the Year of the Priest. One notable priest is Blessed Stefan Frelichowski whose feast day is February 22nd. A Polish priest, he ultimately was interred at the Dachau concentration camp during World War II. According to his profile in the February 2010 edition of "Columbia" magazine:

"At Dachau, Father Frelichowski secretly ministered to sick and elderly prisoners by bringing them food and whatever medicine he could attain. He also heard confessions in Polish, French and German. At great risk to himself, he continued to attend to the sick amid a typhus epidemic in 1944. After eventually contracting both typhus and pneumonia himself, he died at Dachau on February 23, 1945 - just weeks before the camp was liberated."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Lenten Purge

This Lent, my family is embarking on a different type of sacrifice. I had heard of the 40 bags in 40 days challenge last year, but quickly dismissed it. In fact, I read about it again this year on Fat Tuesday and dismissed it again. Anyway who knows me or has visited my house knows that housekeeping is not my strong point. Neither is neatness. I had the desk in elementary school that was overflowing with papers. My locker in high school was a health hazard. I once had to explain to a boss that even though my desk looked like a tornado hit it, I knew where everything was and did, in fact, have every task under control. Anyone else see a theme here? My house is much the same. It's not that I don't like neat places. In fact, when I go to clean, neat houses, I feel a small pang of jealousy. Truly, though, I don't know how to live that way. I need visual reminders of what I need to do. If it is out of my sight, it is truly out of my mind. My husband and two children are much the same. We all have the messy gene. Therefore, we coexist rather peacefully. However, the simple truth is that we have too much stuff and some of it needs to go.

The point of 40 bags in 40 days is to get rid of 40 bags of stuff out of your house during Lent. Of course, donated items count as well. As I was looking around my house on Ash Wednesday, I had the sudden feeling that this was something I desperately needed to do. I grabbed a couple of trash bags and explained the concept to my children. I expected a great deal of resistance, especially from my older son who likes to keep everything that crosses his path. Amazingly, they got into the project. That first day, we cleared two bags of items out of their playroom. I was so excited! The project was off to a great start. The next day, I started tackling the kitchen, and my husband started on our bedroom closet (despite the fact that he hates disposing of items as well).

The beauty of doing one bag a day is that it is doable. One of the things that paralyzes me when facing the clutter is that there is so much of it. I can't do it all at one time, not even one room. Yet, I can do one bag. When I have filled up one bag, I feel like I have accomplished my goal for the day. I cross it off on my things to do list and up the total of bags completed.

Truly, I don't know if we will be able to fill 40 bags or not. As of this writing, we are at seven. Still, I am excited and happy with the progress so far. Admittedly, most of the items cleaned out so far have been in cabinets and closets. Looking around my house, no one would see much of a difference. Still, I know that it is getting done. I'm giving away as much as I can so that I am helping others as well as cleaning my home.

Lent calls us to strip away all that is keeping us from God. Too much stuff can definitely be part of the problem. Lent is a good time to physically remove some of the things that we don't need anymore. I'm embracing this Lenten project with enthusiasm and wonder where removing 40 bags of excess will leave me. Like so many other things in my life, it is a work in progress.

First Sunday of Lent

Having exhausted every way of putting him to the test, the devil left him, until the opportune moment. - Luke 4:13

The Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Lent shows Jesus in the midst of temptation. The devil has brought all he has to offer - food, power, testing the faithfulness of His Father in heaven, yet Jesus resists every one.

Resisting temptation is extremely difficult. The devil knows our weaknesses well and uses them to try to get at us. We all have certain temptations that are especially difficult for us, and sometimes, sadly, unlike Jesus, we give in. You know what those temptations are - they are the ones that lead to the sins that you end up repeating in confession every single time you go. Yet, the important thing is that we keep trying, keep praying,and keep telling the devil "no." For we know the truth, even if the devil did not in this passage. There will be no "opportune moment." The devil isn't the one who wins. Christ died to save us. Our sins can be forgiven. Heaven is once again open for us.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Prayer to St. Jude for Today

St. Jude, you are with me in all that is new. May your path of hope be mine in the days ahead. I promise in faith to share your hope with others, to forgive as I am forgiven by my father in heaven, and to show sympathy and kindness at every opportunity. Guide me, St. Jude, so that I will begin each day with gratitude on my lips, with truth on my mind, and with hope in my heart. Challenge me, St. Jude, so that I will end each day reflecting on my actions and motivations so that I will grow in faith, love, and hope. Amen.

From the Shrine of St. Jude

First Saturday of Lent

You are my God, take pity on me, Lord, for to you I cry all the day. Fill your servant's heart with joy, Lord, for to you I raise up my heart. Psalm 86:3-4


What is the source of your joy? Family? Work? The beauty of nature? All of these are good things and it is right to find joy in them, but it is important to remember that all of these come from God. Take some time today to thank God for the blessings in your life, for all those people and things that come from God. He is the source of all that is good. Let us raise up our hearts to Him.

Friday, February 19, 2010

First Friday of Lent

Is not this the sort of fast that pleases me: to break unjust fetters, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break all yokes? Is it not sharing your food with the hungry and sheltering the homeless poor; if you see someone lacking clothes, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own kin? - Isaiah 58:5-6

Fasting is a good thing. It can help us gain self-control and be a source of prayer and penance. Yet, this scripture passage reminds us that it is worth little if we do not care for our brothers and sisters first. The three pillars of Lent are fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Any one without the other two is not complete. How will we show care to the needy in our midst today?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Book Review: The Spirituality of Fasting

The Spirituality of Fasting: Rediscovering a Christian Practice
by Charles M. Murphy
Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2010

Back in 1966, Pope Paul VI issued the apostolic constitution on fast and abstinence, Poenitemini. The intent was "to rescue fasting from the legalism and minimalism into which it had fallen." The goal was not to remove fasting and penance and sacrifice from Catholic life, but rather to make it a personal choice rather than a command issued from above. Unfortunately, many Catholics took this to mean that these practices simply weren't necessary anymore. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are still called today to fast. Msgr. Charles M. Murphy has written "The Spirituality of Fasting" in order to renew "the practice of fast and abstinence based upon a deeper understanding of its role in our religious life."

In this relatively brief book (105 pages), Murphy explores the many reasons why fasting is important: it integrates prayer as being both of body and spirit, it is part of a long-standing tradition of Jewish and Christian practice, it helps to heal our relationship with God, and it helps us stand in solidarity with the poor and hungry. Overall his discussion of these points is extremely well-done. Based firmly in the witness of the Bible and pillars of the Christian faith, his argument that fasting is important and necessary is a strong one.

This being said, I offer one minor criticism. Murphy offers the example of Simone Weil in his chapter on standing in solidarity with others. He writes: "Simone Weil died on September 3, 1943, in exile from France in England, at the age of thirty-four, having starved herself to death. Suffering from tuberculosis, she refused in solidarity with her countrymen in Nazi-occupied France, to eat more than they were able to eat. She stands as a witness to social justice and to the significance and hazards of religious fasting." That word "hazards" indicates that Murphy did realize that Weil went too far. However, in the following paragraphs he really does hold her up as a role model. I respectfully disagree. Fasting to the detriment of one's body is not in keeping with the respect God wants us to have for our bodies.

Thankfully, in the chapter which offers practical ways to incorporate fasting into one's life, he advocates a much more healthy take on fasting. Following in the footsteps of St. Francis de Sales, he writes: "Your work and state in life are primary; fasting should not impede your ability to perform your duties , or endanger your health." I like that, unlike some other books on fasting that I have read, he acknowledges the worth of a partial fast - of simply giving up one meal, or cutting back on what one eats. He also agrees there is much to be said for other types of fasting and sacrifice, such as fast from media, or talking unnecessarily.

Murphy also makes the important fact that fasting is not a negative activity - it is a life-giving one. In truth, it enables us to feast. Just as one cannot appreciate light without the darkness, one can not truly appreciate feasting until one has experienced some lack. "We fast not just for fasting's sake, but to be able to feast, to live in the present with great pleasure and a joy that lasts."

"The Spirituality of Fasting" does much to encourage readers to make the practice of fasting part of their lives. It is good reading for Lent or for any time of the year!

Stations of the Cross for Women

This is a repost, but these stations have been well-received in the past, so I thought I would post them again in the event anyone wanted to make use of them.

During this season of Lent, I invite you to spend some time meditating on Jesus' road to Calvary, and on the ways we can better carry our own crosses in life.

1. Jesus is Condemned to Death

Jesus stood before Pilate an innocent man yet he was condemned to death.

Dear Lord, help me to not be so quick to judge others. Help me try to understand them and why they act as they do. Help me to see other people as you see them.

2. Jesus Carries his Cross

Jesus, already tired and broken, picked up the heavy cross to begin the journey to Calvary.

Dear Lord, help me, even when I am exhausted and worn out, to fulfill my daily duties. Please help me to accept the crosses that come my way and to bear them with a willing spirit.

3. Jesus Falls the First Time

Jesus falls down under the weight of the cross, yet somehow he finds the strength to get up and try again. Many times I feel overwhelmed and ready to collapse under the weight.

Dear Lord, help me to keep going even when I feel I can't take another step.

4. Jesus meets his Mother

Even in his darkest hour, Jesus' Mother Mary was there.

Dear Lord, please help me to be with others in their pain. Help me to offer comfort and consolation and to be a source of strength for others as they travel through life.

5. Jesus is helped by Simon


Simon wasn't looking to help. He was just one of the crowd, but he was pressed into service.

There are many times I don't want to help, either. It's easy to turn away and think someone else will do the work. Dear Lord, help me to help wherever I am needed. Don't let me turn my back on anyone in need.

6. Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus


Veronica reached out to Jesus, offering an act of kindness at a time when he needed it most.

Who do I know who is hurting? Dear Lord, help me to be the person who comes in to offer kindness when the whole world has gone out.

7. Jesus Falls the Second Time


Again Jesus falls and again he gets up.

Sometimes life can be so discouraging. It feels like the whole world is against me. I want to give up, to fall down and surrender the fight. Dear Lord, please help me to have the courage to continue. Help me to face another day.

8. Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem


Even in the midst of his pain, Jesus stops to comfort the women who were weeping by the side of the road.

It is so easy when I am in pain for me to just think about me. Dear Lord, even when I am hurting, help me to remember that others are hurting also. Help me to not be self-centered and to continue to reach out to those who need me.

9. Jesus Falls the Third Time

The end of the journey is near and Jesus falls again. He struggles to get up and continue one last time.

Dear Lord, help me to continue when the way is hard and I have lost all hope. Please guide my faltering steps.

10. Jesus is Stripped of his Garments


In the end, Jesus had nothing, not even his clothes.

Dear Lord, please help me to share my material goods with others, to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Also let me help those who are emotionally naked and who have been left exposed to the world. Help me to never revel in another person's shame but to instead reach out a helping hand or offer a word on her behalf.

11. Jesus is Nailed to the Cross


With each nail, the pain grew greater, each blow a vivid reminder of our sins.

Dear Lord, thank you for your love for me. Thank you for dying to forgive my sins. Help me to do your will.

12. Jesus Dies on the Cross


Jesus suffered immeasurable torment on the cross, both physical and emotional. He cried out to his father in heaven, "My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?" Yet he also found the strength to forgive his persecutors.

Dear Lord, at times when I feel abandoned, help me to remember that you understand and are always at my side.

13. Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross

Jesus was taken down from the cross and his lifeless body was laid in his nother's arms. The pain Mary must have felt as she held her son. She was the mother of a convicted criminal. Truly a "sword had pierced her heart."

Dear Lord, help me to remember the mothers who have lost children to violence and criminal activity. Help me to pray for them as they suffer so much pain.

14. Jesus is Laid in the Tomb

And then there was darkness. The tomb was a place of transition for Jesus - a stopping place between death and new life.

Dear Lord, please help me as I go through my own times in the tomb, times when I feel lost and scared, fearful of change. Help me to see your light, guiding me safely to new life.

Stations of the Cross for Children

In preparing some Lenten activities for my CCD class, I came across this wonderful site featuring Stations of the Cross for children:

Stations of the Cross for Children

First Thursday of Lent

I am offering you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live. Deuteronomy 30:19-20

I have a love-hate relationship with free will sometimes. Indeed, it can feel as if free-will itself is both a blessing and a curse. Yet, God has given us it as a gift, and we must choose to use it wisely. It is up to us to choose the right path, one day at a time, one decision at a time. Will we choose life today? The ball is in our court.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Book Review: Ida B

Ida B: . . . and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World
by Katherine Hannigan
New York: HarperCollins, 2004

I picked up "Ida B" at the library to read to my kids because it looked like a fun book, perhaps a "Junie B. Jones" character for kids who were just a little bit older. And it did have its moments of humor. My kids did laugh out loud on several occasions. Mostly, though, this book deals with some very big issues. Ida B. is an imaginative young lady, who spends her days talking with trees and the brook and learning at home. After a disastrous first couple weeks in kindergarten, her parents had decided to homeschool her, and she spent four wonderful years that way. As a homeschooling parent, I was very pleased with Hannigan's description of home education. But then, her mother gets cancer and everything goes wrong. Her mother is always tired. Her father has to sell some of their land to pay for medical bills. Worst of all, Ida has to go to public school. Her young life has crashed in a big way and she decides she is not going to take it sitting down. She makes up her mind to hate school, not make friends with anyone, scare off the people building a house on "her" land, and maintain only the minimum of polite conversation with her parents. During the book, readers get to see how these plans turn out for Ida B. It is a book that deals with very real issues of trust and love. Hannigan also includes a very sympathetic 4th grade teacher who never gives up on Ida and in the long run, makes all the difference. Ida learns some important lessons and so will readers. Don't let the cover or the title fool you.

Ash Wednesday

"But now - declares Yahweh - come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning." Tear your hearts and not your clothes, and come back to Yahweh your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, and in relents about inflicting disaster. - Joel 2:12-13

Yes, it is time once again - Time to reflect on our sinfulness, on the ways we have failed God and neighbor. Those ashes on our foreheads remind us of our humanity, that "We are dust and to dust we shall return." Our time here on this earth is short. It is time for us to turn back to God and realize he is the source of all that we are. We are nothing without Him. We can't make it alone. He is "slow to anger and rich in faithful love," always ready to welcome us back when we have strayed.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It's the day before Lent

Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras - whatever you call it, it is the day before Lent. One last chance for rejoicing before the somberness of the Lenten season sets in. Some years, I really feel like I have liturgical whiplash going from Advent to Christmas, experiencing a short break, and then being thrust into Lent. How does Jesus go from baby to 33 so quickly? It doesn't seem to make much sense. And yet, this year I feel ready for it. I'm ready for the time of fasting and prayer and sacrifice; ready to see where the season will lead me.

I had great hopes of offering a Lenten reflection for every day of the season and having them ready for all of you. Then, life got in the way, and other tasks had to come first. Still, I hope to offer as many as I can.

So, yes, today, rejoice! And may God bless you on your Lenten journey.

Pope Benedict XVI's Lenten Message

In his Lenten message released on February 4, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged Christians to work for just societies.

"The Christian is moved to contribute to creating just societies where all receive what is necessary to live according to the dignity proper to the human person and where justice is enlivened by love. . .

Conversion to Christ, believing in the Gospel, ultimately means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one's own need - the need of others and God, the need of his forgiveness and his friendship."

Monday, February 15, 2010

Lenten Opportunities for Faith Renewal

The Boston College School of Theology and Ministry is offering a free mini-course on "The Death of Jesus: Four Gospel Accounts." Find out more here:

www.bc.edu/c21online/us

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Fame in this World or the Next?

“Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, will save it. What benefit is it to anyone to win the whole world and forfeit or lose his very self?” – Luke 9: 24-25

The Gospels are full of messages that contradict what the world at large tells us to do. These words of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke are no exception. We live in a society that values fame above everything else. Everyone needs to market themselves. We need to create a brand and have a platform. One’s talents must constantly be put on display. One must have as many contacts as possible through as many venues as possible. It is necessary for career and life success. There are always new opportunities for self-promotion to pursue.

It may be necessary in today’s world, but in light of this Gospel reading, it gives me pause. At what cost do we seek to “gain the whole world?” Do we lose ourselves, our true selves, in the process? At what point do we lose sight of what really matters? It is a difficult question.

Jesus’ whole message focused on love – love of God and love of others. It is all about what we can do for the other people in our lives, not what the world can do for us. It is about giving rather than taking, shedding light on others rather than seeking the spotlight for ourselves. For many of us, careers are important. The work we do matters. Being successful in them enables us to provide for our families and contribute to society. Therefore, self-promotion becomes part of the package.

Perhaps the key to whether we are losing ourselves in the process lies in the intent. Do we seek fame and attention for its own sake or as a means to achieve something of more lasting value? Is it a way to stroke our own ego and say “aren’t I wonderful?” or is it a way to get out a message and serve others in the process. That line can be a fine one. We are all human and our egos speak loudly. Most of us want to be noticed and appreciated for our gifts. Perhaps our motives aren’t always pure, but we can work on them. We can strive to put the attention on, and give the credit to, God who gave us our gifts. We can make an effort to always put others first.

The praise and attention we get on this earth is transitory. Think of those who gain the highest levels of fame in our society. Do we remember the majority of these people even five years after they have had their names plastered on television and on the cover of magazines? That type of notoriety is short-lived. Even lasting recognition matters little once one leaves this world. When we die, God will not ask us how many headlines featured our names, or how many contacts we had on social networking sites. He will ask us how well we loved and served the human beings we walked through life with. That is the ultimate task and the one we must focus on. It is only in giving up our own life for God and for others that our own lives will matter.

Read "Through the Open Window" on Catholic Mom


Looking for a free Catholic romance novel to read online over the next few weeks? The latest edition of CatholicMom's book club will feature Through the Open Window by Anne Faye. It starts Monday, February 15 at 10 am Pacific Standard Time. Find the link here:

Catholic Mom Book Club



Friday, February 12, 2010

Interview with Linore Rose Burkard

After enjoying and reviewing The Country House Courtship , I am very pleased to offer this interview with author Linore Rose Burkard. She creates Inspirational Romance for the Jane Austen Soul. Her characters take you back in time to experience life and love during the Regency England era (circa 1800 - 1830). Ms. Burkard's novels include Before the Season Ends ,The House in Grosvenor Square and, The Country House Courtship . Her stories blend Christian faith and romance with well-researched details from the Regency. Readers experience a romantic age, where England from the past comes alive and happy endings are possible for everyone!

Linore, Your tag line is "Inspirational Romance for the Jane Austen Soul". How did a girl from Queens, NY become enamored with the Regency era and come to write novels in that genre but with an inspirational twist?
By my twenties I had discovered Georgette Heyer (called the Queen of the Regency Romance) and then I re-discovered Jane Austen. Christian fiction was just starting to take off, and I kept hoping for a Christian regency to read, but it never materialized. I finally realized that if this book was going to be written, it would have to be by me! So, I wrote the book I wanted to read.

How has Jane Austen's work influenced yours? Who else has inspired your writing?
Austen shows that "romance" does not have to be seen as less literary than other genres, and that wit, taste and depth of character are as important as plot. Georgette Heyer, as I mentioned, was an influence; and beyond them, I suppose it is just that I always read a great deal, and really longed to fashion a story where the gospel was included, but to have it in there naturally, so that readers wouldn't feel preached to. I love all the James Herriot books, Dickens, the Brontes, and other English writers.

You graduated magna cum laude from the City University of New York with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. Did you pursue that degree with the goal of becoming a novelist?
No, I wasn't confident enough to ever think I'd write novels and have them published. Writing was something I couldn't seem to get away from, but I never dreamed I'd succeed at it. I majored in English Lit. just because I love it!

What do you hope readers will take away from your books?
I hope my readers will feel as though they've been transported to an amazing world of the past, with living characters and places so real they can almost reach out and touch them. I love it when readers write to me to say they just had a wonderful mini-vacation--reading my book! Some say they've had a spiritually encouraging journey while reading--and that means everything to me.

Any Regency romance is going to be compared to Jane Austen's novels ~ how are your books similar / different?
I don't think most regencies are written to be like Jane, and mine are no exception. I'm not competing with Jane Austen; I'm re-visiting the world she wrote about, though; and that is the similarity. When readers say my writing is "Austen-like", I take that as a huge compliment, but that's when I think it's wise not to believe my own press! (smile)

Do you have more Regency novels planned?
Right now I'm working on a regency time-travel that is dying to be a screenplay! I'm writing it as a novel, but little scenes creep in where, at their end, I actually type in "fade to black," before I realize what I've done. That's all I'm going to say about the new book for now, but readers can rest assured that it will be different enough to delight them, but similar in the sense that it's still me writing, it's still my voice.

How do the secrets of your characters come to life?
Slowly. Some writers can easily locate the secrets of their characters, but mine usually take time. I need time to discover their weak spots, their tender points, and their regrets. I have to often ask myself, "Why? Why is this character acting or saying what they do or say? Why are they the way they are? Their secrets lie in the answers to these questions.

You are married and have five children. How have you been able to strike a balance between your family and your writing career?
This is not something you can do once, and then rest in. People are always growing and changing, and as the needs of my family change, I have to change too. Early on, I only wrote when my kids were asleep or when my husband watched them for me. I believe my word from the Lord at that time was that family had to come first. They were my first ministry. As they got older, I found more windows of time to work in, but striking a balance is sometimes like walking a tightrope and other times making conscious choices. No one can do everything. I try to put people before things (emotional needs come first, before a clean house, for example); and I use lists, career goals, monthly goals and daily to-do lists to help me balance it all.

What insight can you offer to aspiring authors?
Dare to dream big, because God is big! Remember that your success never depends solely upon you; there's a bigger plan at work and if you stay plugged in to your Guide, He'll move you along it. But you must work hard, seek to improve your craft by learning from those ahead of you, listen to advice and criticism-and get on the web. Start a blog if you aren't ready for a website. Join the ACFW-The American Christian Fiction Writers (if you write fiction). Or the Writer's Guild. Or another professional organization of like-minded writers. Network, do conferences, and write, write, write.

Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins, or do you have to tweeze each word out?
In general, I write more than I need and later have to cut back. I don't use a word count, but I may set a goal of one chapter a day or two chapters for a busy week. Other times, I don't think in terms of chapters at all, just events. I may break an event down into four scenes, say, and so my goal for that day will be to get the whole event on paper. In other words, finish the four scenes. Life changes so rapidly with the children, that for me, a hard and fast writing goal just wouldn't work. And, I focus on results, not time spent. Instead of, "Now I'll write for three hours," I say, "Now I'll have this or that happen to a character, or, 'I'll show a different side to this person." When I have accomplished that goal, no matter how long it took, I feel satisfied, and only then.

Thank you, so much, Linore, for offering your wisdom and advice!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Book Review: "The Country House Courtship"

The Country House Courtship
by Linore Rose Burkard
Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers

"The Country House Courtship" by Linore Rose Buckard is billed as an "Inspirational Romance for the Jane Austen Soul." That is a high standard to aspire to, but this book lives up to it! This is the third book in a series focusing on the Forsythe family, living in Middlesex, England in the early 1800s. I haven't read the first two books, but was quickly engrossed in this tale which focuses on the younger Forsythe sister, Beatrice. She is a young woman eager to experience a London season and hopes of making a wealthy match. Mr. Tristan Barton seems to offer all that she wants, but when a country clergyman begins to capture her heart and she is forced to face her sister's life-threatening illness, she must make difficult decisions about what matters most to her.

"The Country House Courtship" will appeal to all those who enjoy romantic stories of status and manners. It is an extremely delightful read!

Two New Paintings

I'm sharing my latest two offerings from my Saturday night painting sessions.




Blue, Teddy, and Goose

I did this one for my boys. These are their three favorite friends. Blue and Goose are Isaac's. Blue has been well-loved. He has one velvet eye and a velvet nose that replaced the ones he originally had. Teddy has been David's companion since the day Isaac was born.



Waiting

I had taken a photo of this mailbox when I was on vacation this past summer. I like mailboxes and I love getting mail. This one has a letter just waiting to be picked up and sent on its journey.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Concerned about bullying?

I know I was bullied as a child. 6th - 8th grade was horrible. But at least when I got off the bus at the end of the day, it was over. Today, thanks to the wonders of the internet and texting, bullying is an ever-present reality. For children being bullied, there is truly no escape. The PACER center in Minnesota has a new website dedicated to ending bullying:

http://www.teensagainstbullying.org/

There is Nothing You Would Rather be Doing

What would you rather be doing right now? Pat Gillespie has written a very interesting article on Free Will, God's Will, and the choices we make in:

There is Nothing You Would Rather Be Doing

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Conscience 101

I think that one of the hardest things about being a Mom is the realization that I am no longer only responsible for my own soul. I am also accountable for my children’s souls as well. I have to teach them right from wrong and how to make good decisions. I need to teach them how to pray and how to lean on God always. I must show them what is important in life. I also need to help them know what to do when they make a mistake.

My sons are young (nearly nine and seven), but are growing up quickly. These are their prime formative years. They are like little sponges, absorbing everything they are exposed to. They are very concerned with what is good and bad, and what is “medium” – their term for something moral-neutral. They both have made their 1st confessions and now attend that sacrament on a regular basis. They are concerned about sin and doing what is right. I never thought that I would be called upon to make a moral determination about almost every action they make throughout the course of a day. Some days, it is truly exhausting. Yet, I realize the importance of it. If they are going to have a well-formed conscience, it is up to me to help make it that way.

One of my friends commented recently that the only thing she got from attending Catholic school was a conscience. I told her that wasn’t a bad thing to get. Yes, sometimes having a highly-formed conscience can seem like a burden. Wouldn’t doing what we want without those feelings of guilt make life so much easier? It seems like that is how most of the world operates. Aren’t they the ones who are truly free, the ones who get to enjoy life? No, it only seems that way. It is evil’s illusion.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “The education of the conscience is a lifelong task. From the earliest years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognized by conscience. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency, born of human weakness and faults. The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart.” (CCC 1784) We will be happier in the long run if we both learn and do what is right. The choices aren’t always easy. The guilt when we act in error can be huge and long-lasting. Yet, it is much better than the alternative – living without a moral compass.

How, then, is a good conscience formed? Divine law must always be the first consideration. What do the Ten Commandments dictate? They are our guidelines for living in right relationship with God and neighbor. Sometimes there are situations where the decisions are not easy, but a person “must always seriously seek what is right and good and discern the will of God expressed in divine law.” (CCC 1787) One may need to seek the “advice of competent people, and the help of the Holy Spirit and his gifts.” (CCC 1788) The Catechism also offers three rules that must be followed in all cases: “One may never do evil so that good may result from it; the Golden Rule: ‘Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them;’ and ‘charity always proceeds by way of respect for one’s neighbor and his conscience.’” (CCC 1789)

Forming conscience is a long-term project. My children will not know what to do in every case by the age of ten, or fifteen, or even twenty. Yet, I must do my best to give them the tools to make the best decisions they can in light of God’s direction. It is the same thing I strive to do in my own life (while acknowledging that I sometimes fail). It is an awesome task, but one that every Catholic parent must take on.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Book Review: The Handbook for Catholic Moms

The Handbook for Catholic Moms: Nurturing Your Heart, Mind, Body, and Soul
by Lisa M. Hendey
Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2010


Reading The Handbook for Catholic Moms: Nurturing Your Heart, Mind, Body, and Soul is like having a warm and inviting conversation with a group of your closest Mom friends. Lisa Hendey, founder of CatholicMom.com, shares her own wisdom garnered from 18 years of parenting, as well as the collected wisdom of the Catholic Mom community.

Divided into four sections, Heart, Mind, Body, and Soul, Hendey explores all aspects of a mother’s life. Heart focuses on “developing nurturing relationships with our family, our friends, and ourselves.” Mind centers on “becoming life-long learners, seeking creative outlets, exploring career and work issues, and employing time management and personal productivity tactics. Body stresses “nutrition, fitness, sleep, stress reduction, and preventative care matters.” Soul spotlights “coming to know and love the many resources, devotions, and concepts in the fullness of the Catholic Church that can help us care for ourselves and for the most important people in our lives.”

“The Handbook for Catholic Moms” offers concrete advice on all of these topics. The suggestions are based on real-life experiences. For each topic, Hendey offers personal stories and counsel from other Catholic moms (I was honored to be among those invited to offer a reflection). Each chapter features “Mom’s Homework” which includes suggestions on action steps one can take to work on the issue under discussion. There are also web resources for further information.

“The Handbook for Catholic Moms” is the perfect resource for moms at all stages of their parenting journey. You will find yourself nodding in agreement, laughing at some of the stories and tearing up at others. You will gain important kernels of knowledge you can put to use. Most importantly, you will feel encouraged in your vocation as a Catholic mother.

"Tale of Manaeth" on the Catholic Blog Fiction Blog

Check out the Catholic Blog Fiction Blog for an excerpt from "Tale of Manaeth" by Philip Campbell.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

"Tale of Manaeth"

Philip Campbell wrote me today to spread the word about his new fantasy Catholic fiction novel "Tale of Manaeth."

Written in the epic style of such classics as the Silmarillion and the Iliad, the Tale of Manaeth tells the story of a young princess reluctantly thrust into a position of leadership among her people and faced with a hostile and powerful foreign aggressor. Through much hardship and many savage battles she leads her people to triumph and becomes the foundress of a nation.

As the youngest girl in a family of six, Manaeth is an unlikely candidate for the throne of the Kingdom of Asylia. But when her entire family is murdered by agents of a cruel foreign king, she becomes the heir to the throne and the unexpected source of unity for her scattered and persecuted people. Though desiring peace she is forced to become a sovereign of war, and through fortitude and the shedding of much blood (and the supernatural assistance of a mysterious stag) she labors to free her people from foreign oppression.

To find out more about the book and read the reviews, please visit: http://www.taleofmanaeth.com

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Prayer to Our Lady of Knock

Mary Mother of God,
Queen of Ireland,
your presence at Knock
touched the lives
of many faithful throughout the world
as well as the lives of those
who actually saw you there.
Knowing we can call upon you
to intercede with God on our behalf
gives us consolation in times of need.

Our Lady of Knock, pray for us.
St. Joseph, pray for us.
St. John the Evangelist, pray for us.

Our Father . . .
Hail Mary . . .
Glory Be . . .

Monday, February 01, 2010

What to do when a friend miscarries

It can be hard to know what to say or do when a friend miscarries. Phases of Womanhood has an excellent article up today on that very topic:

Helping a Mom after Miscarriage

Win an Autographed Copy of "The Handbook for Catholic Moms"

Check out this video to see Lisa Hendey and learn how to win an autographed copy of "The Handbook for Catholic Moms." I got my copy in the mail today! The review will be coming soon!