Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Celebrating All the Saints (for All Saints Day - Nov. 1st)

On All Saints Day, we take a moment to remember all of those up in heaven who have gone before us to where we hope to go. Most of us have at least a nodding acquaintance with the famous saints – people like St. Peter and St. Paul, St. Patrick, and St. Francis, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Therese of the Child Jesus, to name just a few. Yet heaven is populated with “everyday” saints. Some may be people we were privileged to know here on earth: loved ones who passed on before us; teachers who opened our eyes to the mysteries of the world; doctors; good priests and religious; storekeepers and accountants; indeed people from all walks of life. There are many others whose names we may never know, but we can rest assured that they too offer models of holiness.

The doctrine of the Communion of Saints is one of the most comforting in the Church. We are all in this together. We are all part of the Body of Christ. Whether one walked alongside Jesus in 1st century Palestine or toiled in the Middle Ages or is trying to make his way amidst the challenges of 21st century America, we are all connected. We are here to support each other both in this life and the next. The saints up in heaven have achieved the summit and stand ready to help us climb the mountain. Just as we pray for each other here on earth, they are eager to pray for us up in heaven. We can lean on them for support and encouragement.

And so, on this day we celebrate the “everyday” saints, the ones who have no feast day on the liturgical calendar. We think of the people who lived their lives in relative anonymity, the way most of us do. We remember the mothers and fathers who raised their children to the best of their abilities, the people who went to work every day and did an honest day’s labor, the women and men who practiced works of mercy whenever they could, and the people who prayed for others on a daily basis.

We may look at the lives of the famous saints and think that we could never be like them, but there are as many paths to holiness as there are people on earth. We can look to these unknown saints for inspiration when the days get hard. God calls each of us in our own way. Whether we are doing the dishes, helping our children learn to read, doing data-entry in an office, managing a staff of hundreds, caring for a sick parent, or sitting in a Church praying, if we are doing what God wants of us, we can be sure we are on the right path. God is found in the details of our daily life, just as God was found in the details of the lives in the saints that went before us. They are waiting for us with outstretched arms, eager to welcome us to the promise of eternal life.

Book Review - Take Heart

Take Heart: Catholic Writers on Hope in Our Time
Edited by Ben Birnbaum
New York: Crossroad, 2007

What does it mean to have hope? In “Take Heart: Catholic Writers on Hope in Our Time” thirty-five writers “reflect on the nature of hope and its sources and uses in our time.” Thirty-two of the writers are Catholic. The remaining three include a rabbi, an Orthodox priest and a Lutheran minister, used as a “control group” to compare and contrast the Catholic experience of hope with a more universal sense of hope. Interestingly enough, Ben Birnbaum, the editor of “Take Heart,” is Jewish.

The essays are divided into four sections: Part One – Build, Part Two – Love, Part Three – Believe, and Part Four – Other Voices. Many of the writers seek to define “hope.” All agree that it is not unbridled optimism which often has no basis in reality. Paul J. Griffiths, who holds the Schmitt Chair in Catholic studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, states that “hope and lament cannot be separated in a fallen world . . .To hope in a single-mindedly optimistic way would be absurd and superficial; to lament without hope would be strictly damnable.” Ann Wroe, the special reports and obituaries editor of “The Economist,” defines hope as an action. “Hope is that virtue by which we idealize and create – the landscape in which we build our visions.” A.G. Harmon, who teaches at the Catholic University of America, sees hope as “the energy within, that which sustains us on a passage that would be too arduous and dispiriting otherwise.”

Where does one find hope? As an angry young man imprisoned in solitary confinement, Joseph Pearce found hope in a set of rosary beads. He had no idea even how to pray the rosary, but “it was hope that brought me the first inklings of the peace to be found in Christ. It was hope that taught me humility. It was with this thinnest thread of hope in my hands that I climbed downward to my knees.” He would ultimately embrace the Catholic faith and now teaches at Ave Maria University in Naples. Lawrence S. Cunningham of the University of Notre Dame finds hope in examples of Catholic life in the local community. Colleen Carroll Campbell, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, finds hope in the example of her father who has suffered from Alzheimers for a decade:

Dad always reminded me that hope and suffering were intertwined, and hope had the last word. . . The only hope he has that he can withstand this disease is the authentic Christian hope that sustained my father all his life, the hope that he once tried to teach me through words but ultimately taught by example. It is the hope described in the eighth chapter of Romans that Dad loved so much: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us . . .For in hope we were saved. New hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.”

“Take Heart” probes what it means to be a people of hope. On a personal level, we have hope in the Christian promise. As a group, we have hope in our Church. Hope is not always easy to come by, but indeed, that is when it is most needed. “Take Heart” will help readers reflect on what hope means to them and how to then live that hope. It is time well spent in light of the current state of our world.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Teaching About Mortal Sin

I just read a very interesting article in US Catholic by J. Peter Nixon on "Is This the Best We Can Do?" talking about the need for adult catechesis in our parishes. He frames this in relation to the parent meetings for 1st Reconciliation and 1st Communion that he had recently attended. The talks focused on the importance of modeling forgiveness for our children and the importance of eating meals together as a family. He rightly objected to the "fluff" that we as a generation (Gen X and Y) have been taught in Religious Education over the years - there was a lot of "God loves you" (which is important) but not a real emphasis on the details of the faith.

I am thankful that I did have a strong religious upbringing. I had religious sisters for second, third, and sixth grade who instilled the faith in us. In high school, I studied scripture, morality, and church history. The best teaching I had, though, came from my mother who taught me to pray and made sure religious books were always available for me to read. I am trying to do the same for my own children. What happens in the home is of paramount importance in religious education whether they are in Catholic School or not.

At one point in his article, however, J. Peter Nixon agreed with the catechist that we should not teach our children about mortal sin. I heartily disagree and I wrote the following letter to the editors of US Catholic to present my reasons. I don't know whether they will ever print it, but I am sharing it with you:

I agree with much in the article "Is This The Best We Can Do?" We need to stop underestimating the intelligence of the people in the pews. People are hungering for the truth and the great richness of our faith. I disagree with the idea that we should not teach our children about mortal sin, however.

As a mother of two young boys, I want them to have a strong sense of right and wrong. There are some acts that are intrinsically evil. There are levels of sin. Telling a small lie is not on the same level as murder or abortion or premarital sex. There are some things that can be seen in terms of black and white and it is possible to make choices that will cut you off from God until you become reconciled. God doesn't want it this way but we have free will and we have the ability to turn our backs on God.

As the Act of Contrition states, "I detest all my sins, because of your just punishments, but most of all because they offend you, my God, who are all-good and deserving of all my love." Yes, we should do the right thing out of love, but a healthy fear of God and his "just punishments" can help children do the right thing while they are growing up. I know it helped keep me on a straighter path than I might otherwise have taken. I don't consider that a bad thing.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Positive Reinforcement from God

This was posted on the Catholic Writers Group I belong to:

You say: "It's impossible"

God says: All things are possible

(Luke 18:27)

You say: "I'm too tired"

God says: I will give you rest

(Matthew 11:28-30)

You say: "Nobody really loves me"

God says: I love you

(John 3:1 6 & John 3:34 )

You say: "I can't go on"

God says: My grace is sufficient

(II Corinthians 12:9 & Psalm 91:15)

You say: "I can't figure things out"

God says: I will direct your steps

(Proverbs 3:5- 6)

You say: "I can't do it"

God says: You can do all things

(Philippians 4:13)

You say: "I'm not able"

God says: I am able

(II Corinthians 9:8)

You say: "It's not worth it"

God says: It will be worth it

(Roman 8:28 )

You say: "I can't forgive myself"

God says: I Forgive you

(I John 1:9 & Romans 8:1)

You say: "I can't manage"

God says: I will supply all your needs

(Philippians 4:19)

You say: "I'm afraid"

God says: I have not given you a spirit of fear

(II Timothy 1:7)

You say: "I'm always worried and frustrated"

God says: Cast all your cares on ME

(I Peter 5:7)

You say: "I'm not smart enough"

God says: I give you wisdom

(I Corinthians 1:30)

You say: "I feel all alone"

God says: I will never leave you or forsake you

(Hebrews 13:5)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Big Book of Women Saints

The wonderful thing about learning about the saints is that there are so many of them, each person is bound to find someone she can relate to and look up to as a positive example. In "The Big Book of Women Saints," Sarah Gallick has done a tremendous job of bringing together information about 500 women saints. While all the famous women saints are included, there are also many who are relatively unknown. Gallick divides her book into a reading for each day (some days feature groups of saints such as the four martyrs of Wangla featured on June 28th). This set-up makes it very easy to read and reflect on a life of a saint every day.

In the "Introduction," Gallick describes the canonization process for Catholic saints, a process not formalized until the 10th century. Prior to this saints were "recognized by popular acclamation, which was later confirmed by the local bishops." Interestingly enough, the first woman officially canonized by the Vatican was Wiborada of Saint Gall in 1047. She is featured on May 2. Gallick goes on to state that each of the women profiled in this book "shared a unique quality that has been called the feminine genius." Indeed, on each day's profile, Gallick includes a description of that woman's particular genius, the example she offers to each of us as we travel along our spiritual journey. Another helpful portion of "The Big Book of Women Saints" is the "Annotated Sources and Web Sites" which lists each saint and offers sources for further study about that person. She also provides a general bibliography.

"The Big Book of Women Saints" is a fascinating book, unique for the number of women saints Gallick profiles. It would be a wonderful companion throughout the year to learn more about these women who, coming from a variety of circumstances, have all had a profound effect on the Church and their respective communities. Their stories also provide hope and inspiration for all of us trying to live holy lives.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Vision Books on Saints

My children love the "Vision" series of books on saints by Ignatius Press. These are chapter books of about 150 - 200 pages in length. We have read a couple of them already, and the boys were eager to get more. Today Isaac and I visited our local Diocesan book and gift shop, The Open Window and we picked up "Bernadette: Our Lady's Little Servant," "St. Thomas More," and "St. Anthony and the Christ Child." We also put four more books on order. This should keep us busy for a little while! Seriously, though, I am trying to get my children to know as much as they can about the saints as positive role models before anti-religious peer pressure starts kicking in. Right now, they are eager learners and I want to take advantage of that. The saints are interesting people. I enjoy these stories as well and always learn something from reading them. It is good to know more about our friends up in heaven.
Here is the full list of books in the series. Click on any of these links to be brought to the Amazon page to learn more about the text or to order the book.

Saint Ignatius and the Company of Jesus (Vision Books)

The Cure of Ars: The Priest Who Out-Talked the Devil

Saint Therese and the Roses (Vision Books Series)

St. Dominic and the Rosary (Vision Books)

Saint Elizabeth's Three Crowns (Vision Books Series)

Saint Isaac and the Indians

Father Marquette and the Great Rivers (Vision Book)

Saint John Bosco and the Children's Saint, Dominic Savio

Edmund Campion: Hero of God's Underground (Vision Books)

Bernadette: Our Lady's Little Servant (Vision Books)

Francis and Clare: Saints of Assisi (Vision Book Series)

Saint Anthony and the Christ Child (Vision Books)

St. Catherine Laboure and the Miraculous Medal

Mother Cabrini: Missionary to the World (Vision Books)

Kateri Tekakwitha: Mohawk Maid (Vision Books)

Saint Francis of the Seven Seas (Vision Book Series)

St. Pius X : The Farm Boy Who Became Pope

St. Philip of the Joyous Heart (Vision Books)

Saint Thomas More of London

St. Benedict: Hero of the Hills (Vision Books)

Saint Katharine Drexel: Friend of the Oppressed

Vincent De Paul: Saint of Charity

Mother Seton and the Sisters of Charity (Vision Books)

Saint Joan: The Girl Soldier (Vision Books)

Our Lady Came to Fatima (Vision Books)

St. Thomas Aquinas: And The Preaching Beggars

Father Damien

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Vision Vocation Guide

I had picked up a copy of the latest "Vision Vocation Guide" when I was visiting my spiritual director a couple of months ago. I finally had the chance to read it this week. It is full of great stories of people following the call to religious life as well as good advice on following your own call from God as well as ads featuring many different types of religious communities.

In the article, "How do I know God's will for me?" Fr. Paul Boudreau writes:

It says in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that people have a "natural desire for happiness. This desire is of divine origin: God has placed it in the human heart in order to draw man to the One who alone can fulfill it." (no. 1718) . . . It means the good desires in your heart and mine are from God. They're put there to guide us to God, where they can be fulfilled. You want to know God's will for you? Look in your heart. . . .Doing your heart's desire while keeping close to God in prayer and while staying connected to the church will lead you to God, even if it doesn't always feel like it.

To download a copy of the "Vision Vocation Guide" or order free copies, please visit:

Words of Wisdom from St. Margaret of Hungary

I am currently reading "The Big Book of Women Saints" by Sarah Gallick. In it, I came across this wonderful quote from St. Margaret of Hungary:

Many of the people who look forward to a long life put off doing good works, since they think that they will have plenty of time before they die. As for me, I prefer to be among those who consider that they have no time to lose if they wish to God all the glory that they can before they die.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Catholic Music

Searching for some modern Catholic music? Check out the following sites:

Catholic Music 247
Catholic Jukebox
Catholic Music Network
Catholic Sound

A Good Way to Remember Types of Prayer

The October 2007 issue of Extension magazine featured a special pull-out edition for kids. It included a mnemonic device for remembering the four types of prayer: Keep a PACT with God.

PACT stands for:


It is a good reminder (regardless of our age) to use these four types of prayer on a daily basis.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Book Review: Saints in Love

“Saints in Love: The Forgotten Loves Between Holy Women and Men and How They Can Make Our Relationships Divine”
by Carole Hallundbaek
New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 2007

When we think about the saints, we often lose some of their humanity. We become acquainted with them through short biographies that idealize their life and work. In art, they are depicted in glowing forms to illustrate their holiness. This is all well and good. The saints are indeed holy and their relationship with God is at the heart of their being. But their relationships with others were also important. Like all of us, the saints existed here on earth where they had to co-exist with other people. They experienced human emotions like loss and frustration. They also experienced friendship and love.

In “Saints in Love: The Forgotten Loves Between Holy Women and Men and How They Can Make Our Relationships Divine,” Carole Hallundbaek explores the powerful life-changing friendships that existed between four pairs of saints: Clare and Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, Catherine of Siena and Pope Gregory XI, and Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal. “These relationships often shed light on marriage, work, family, healthy attachments, emotional healing, and more. . . Their discoveries offer valuable lessons for our relationships today – at home, at work, in community, and with God.” It is interesting that she chose male-female pairs. She illustrates that contrary to popular wisdom, men and women can be friends without a physical sexual relationship although sexual complementarity certainly does play a role in the relationships.

Hallundbaek begins each chapter with a short biography of each saint, which is very helpful for placing the saints in context. She is less concerned with their individual lives, though, than with the way that their lives intersect, the impact that they had on each other, and what we can learn from their relationship. Francis and Clare lived in an era of courtly love. They were the best of friends, lived separately and never consummated their relationship, yet they were truly two people in love. “They held God first in their heart and vision; then they held each other.” They “turned to each other, forsaking all others, all earthly options, all worldly distractions, both wills rooted in the love and service of God. Placing our spouse or partner beside our image of God creates the basis for a permanent longing and intimacy, because in the end, our desire for each other is our desire for God.”

Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross were sixteenth-century mystics, both eventually named Doctors of the Church. Together they would work to reform the Carmelite order, to bring it back to its roots and its emphasis on poverty. Unlike Francis and Clare of Assisi, who were very similar people, John and Teresa were opposites. They appreciated the holiness in each other, but aggravated each other with their differences in management style. They were co-workers who despite their mutual appreciation sometimes struggled to get along. “Teresa and John were able to work, to love, and to be profoundly creative, through all manner of challenge, obstacle, illness, and even persecution . . .With God at the beginning and the end of all their hopes, goals, and endeavors, Teresa and John were able to take personal conflicts and limitations in stride and overcome much larger obstacles with grace.”

Hallundbaek refers to Catherine of Siena and Pope Gregory XI as the “Peacemakers of Metropolis.” The pair lived in the 1300s. Catherine lived in Siena, Italy where she became a Dominican at the age of 16. Gregory was “a good and honest man living in a time of great conflict and corruption.” He was one of the Avignon popes during a time of great confrontation between Italy and France. Gregory decided to restore the Papacy to Rome, but it would not be an easy process, nor would he do it alone. His first advisor was St. Brigit of Sweden. When she dies in 1373, he sought out Catherine, who had become widely known for her wisdom. “Their exchanges would range over a variety of issues, but overarching these was their common desire for peace in Italy, the reform of clergy, and the return of the papal seat to Rome.” This pair lived at a time of great upheaval. Through it all, they sought to live authentically, to be true to God and to themselves. They also shared a great concern for the world at large. “Catherine and Gregory always experienced and understood the interdependence of people, of families, of neighborhoods, of courts, of city-states, of countries . . . of our world with God. As a result, their ultimate goal was a community of heaven.”

Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal would found the Visitation Order in the seventeenth century. He had become a lawyer to please his family, but he would eventually give it up to follow his true calling of becoming a priest and bishop. Jane was a widow who had loved her husband deeply. After his tragic death in a hunting accident, she worked to ensure the financial solvency of her family which included four children. Once that was on sure footing, she became desolate, unsure of what to do next. The pair met when Francis delivered a sermon in Dijon in 1604. “He stressed the importance of finding God right where we are, at any place, at any time, and under any circumstances.” He became Jane's spiritual director. In 1610, they would found the “Congregation of the Visitation of Holy Mary.” It was an order open to those who often were not welcome in other communities: widows, those in poor health, the elderly, and the physically challenged. As a true sign of the modern spirit of this movement, Jane was allowed to bring her youngest daughter with her to the community. “She would be able to raise her there, while continuing to build the order and live out her calling. . . Jane was allowed to be a mother at work.”The Visitations sought to bring spirituality to the common people. “With Francis and Jane, God is experienced not only in church; God comes out of the temple and into the streets, the office, the shops, the schools. . . They understood that God is at the center of our life and all our relationships.

Hallundbaek has a poetical writing style. Her words resonate off the page, bringing the relationships of these holy pairs to life. The book is beautiful, an enchanting and insightful read, which invites the reader to discover the Holy in his or her own relationships and to learn from these masters how to love God in loving others.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Praying for Desperate Cases

The Gospel passage for this week (Luke 18:1-8) tells of a widow pestering a judge in order to obtain justice. Jesus used this parable to instruct his followers of the value of persistence in prayer. It can be very hard to be persistent in prayer, especially when no answer seems to be forthcoming. Yes, those are the moments, days, months, and years when faith is truly tested. Do we believe enough to keep pestering God while trusting that the answer will come in the manner and time in which God intends?

Perhaps it is fitting that this week also marks the time for the annual Novena to St. Jude (October 20 – October 28). Of course, we can make a novena at any time of year, but this particular time frame corresponds with the saint’s feast day of October 28th.

St. Jude is known as the patron of impossible causes. In one of her visions, Jesus inspired St. Bridget of Sweden, who lived from 1303 – 1373, to turn to St. Jude with great faith and confidence. In accordance with his surname, Thaddeus (which means generous, courageous, kind), Our Lord said, “He will show himself most willing to give help.”

The Gospel tells us that St. Jude was a brother of St. James the Less, also one of the twelve. They are described by St. Matthew (13:55) as the “brethren” of Jesus, probably cousins. The Hebrew word for “brethren” indicates a blood relationship. His mother, Mary, was a cousin of the Blessed Mother.

After the death and resurrection of Jesus, St. Jude traveled throughout Mesopotamia, Libya, and Persia with St. Simon preaching and converting many to Christianity. St. Jude died a martyr’s death. Later, his body was brought to Rome and placed in a crypt under St. Peter's Basilica.

Each year at this time, my parish holds a novena of masses to ask for St. Jude’s intercession. The evening masses coincide with the time at which my children are getting ready for bed. As a result, I am not able to go. A few years ago, however, when my children’s bedtime was earlier and we lived right around the corner from the Church, I was able to make the novena. I indeed had a very desperate cause to pray for. I was praying for my older son to be potty-trained. He was 3 ½ and I had been trying to train him for nine months. To say it was an arduous process would be a huge understatement. I had tried every suggestion in every parenting book and he was no closer to being trained than he was on day one of the process. He would cry and scream whenever he would even try to use the potty. He would say he needed to go and would try for a half-hour with no success. He would pull up his pants and go in them fifteen minutes later. It was all so frustrating.

His doctor worked with me for a while after he had been treated for severe constipation. My child was so stressed out by potty training he refused to poop and as a result ended up with chronic leaking stool. After that problem was resolved with regular doses of mineral oil, the doctor set me up with a schedule of “trying” and rewards to be offered. When my child resolutely refused to cooperate, the doctor told me there was nothing I could do, saying that he would use the potty when he was ready. I felt abandoned and a failure at my first big test of motherhood. All of my friends’ children who were of a similar age were trained. I endured stories of children being trained in a week and I would go home and cry. Every time I overheard a proud mother at the park telling how her two-year old was now in underpants, I wanted to shrink into the ground. I prayed and prayed but received no answer. So, I turned to St. Jude.

I sat there in that Church every night for those nine days, hoping beyond hope that eventually my child would learn. I looked around at my fellow petitioners and reckoned that I was probably the only person there praying for a child to use a potty. It seems like such a silly thing to pray for, but nothing is too small to bring to the Lord, and I assure you, at that moment in our lives, this was anything but a small problem.

The novena came and went and my child continued to pee on the floor, until one day in December when he got up in the morning, went to the bathroom and told me he didn’t need me to help. He continued to use the bathroom all that day and the day after and the day after that. He was completely trained. I had my miracle. Maybe that day would have come anyway. It is possible. But I am inclined to believe that St. Jude had a great deal to do with it.

Prayer to St. Jude

St. Jude, glorious apostle, faithful servant and friend of Jesus, the name of the person (who betrayed our Lord) has caused you to be forgotten by many, but the true Church invokes you universally as the Patron of things despaired of. Pray for me, who is so miserable; pray for me, that I may finally receive the consolations and the succour of Heaven in all my necessities, tribulations, and sufferings, particularly (ADD YOUR PERSONAL REQUEST HERE), and that I may bless God with the Elect Throughout Eternity.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Tis the Season to be Sneezing

Yes, the cold and flu season is once again upon us. Every member of my family is currently suffering from a slight cold. Thankfully, it is a virus that still allows us to be functional as long as we are medicated. I do not enjoy being sick (who does?) but sometimes it does offer the excuse to take a little better care of myself. Like most moms, a day off is out of the question, but I can go to bed earlier without feeling guilty. I don't feel the same need (or even the ability) to do it all, all the time. I think God allows sickness to give us the chance to rest a little. It isn't fun, and I absolutely hate it when my children are sick, but it is a reminder to be thankful when we are all healthy and to take care of each other (and myself) when we are not.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Download Music and Support This Blog

Amazon has just announced that for a limited time, associates (of which I am one) will receive 20% of all sales on music downloads that originate from our site. So, if you like to download music, please consider clicking through below and checking out Amazon's offerings. Thank you for your support!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Catholic E-Greetings

I just became aware of this great site which offers free Catholic e-greetings. The artwork is beautiful!

Great Saint Craft

Lisa Hendey has just posted a great article on Catholic Mom on an easy-to-do craft for All Saints Day (or any time of year you want to get your kids involved in celebrating the saints. I could definitely see this as a great craft for a CCD class or Religion Class in school. Check out this great craft by Alice Gunther:

Saint Spoon Craft

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Cultivating Humility

“Humility is the virtue that requires the greatest amount of effort.” – St. Philippine Duchesne

Humility is a very misunderstood virtue. It is easy to think that it means to make oneself low, to not value oneself, to always consider oneself less than others. In reality, however, it means seeing oneself the way God sees you – both the good and the bad. God has given each of us our special gifts. To devalue those gifts and feel they are nothing is to not appreciate the great generosity of our Father in heaven. We have an obligation to make the most of our gifts and to use them in the service of God and our neighbor.

The flip side of this is that we also need to recognize the gifts God has given to others. It is all too easy to look at someone else efforts and think, “I could do that better!” or to be envious when someone else achieves some success and recognition that we feel we deserve. Humility calls us to be happy for our neighbor. St. John Chrysostom instructs us: “Would you like to see God glorified by you? Then rejoice in your brother’s progress and you will immediately give glory to God.”

Humility comes when we turn our lives over to God and do all for Him. It comes when we stop caring what others think of us – both the positive and the negative - and simply care what God thinks of us. It also comes when we are willing to perform any service if it is what we are called to do at the moment. When we are humble, nothing is beneath us.

In many ways children help us mothers become more humble. Mothers are called to serve, especially when children are small. We are required to perform tasks such as changing diapers and cleaning up vomit and bathing others. We clean the floors and do the laundry and scrub the toilets. It is nearly impossible to have an inflated view of yourself when you have spent your day engaged in these types of activities. The same is true of anyone who works in a service profession.

All, however, are called to serve our brothers and sisters. In any walk of life, when we find our fellow humans in need of our help, it is our obligation to provide it. When we do all for the glory of God and in service to God, we have taken a giant step toward becoming truly humble.

The world is always telling us to toot our own horn, to strive for the greatest success possible. Sometimes we do need to do that. One of the hardest things for me in working as a freelancer is marketing myself and charging a fair rate for my work. As my husband will attest to, I’m not great at it. Thankfully, he takes it with a sense of humor that I often work for free or very little pay! I’m still learning that sometimes making the most of our gifts requires us to put ourselves out there, try for a better job, and show others what we can do.

We do need to have confidence and do our work to the best of our abilities. The difference between a proud person and a humble person is the motivation. A proud person works for his or her own glory. A humble person does it for God. By the same token, a proud person is reluctant to let others use their gifts for fear of being upstaged. A humble person is willing to allow each person to contribute to his or her full potential. A proud person trusts in himself and gives himself credit when things go well. A humble person knows that every good thing comes from God.

As St. Philippine stated, humility does require a great deal of effort. Pride seems to be imbedded so deeply in our being. Yet there is a peace that comes from humility, from not always being concerned with being the best or with what our neighbor is doing. As St. Teresa of Avila wrote in her “Way of Perfection,” “humility does not disturb or disquiet or agitate, however great it may be; it comes with peace, delight and calm. . . The pain of genuine humility doesn’t agitate or afflict the soul; rather, this humility expands it and enables it to serve God more.”

Friday, October 12, 2007

On Vocations

I have been cleaning out and organizing the Religious Education library at the school where I work. I came across a bookmark today put out by the Knights of Columbus. It offered the following thought:

Memo to myself: I have a vocation from God.
If I already know what it is, I pray to be faithful.
If I am still searching, I pray for an inner ear to hear his voice and a generous heart to respond.

Book Review - What Paul Meant

St. Paul has been a center of controversy probably since the day he first encountered the Risen Lord and began to change the course of history. He sparred with St. Peter over the issue of circumcision and the relationship of Gentiles and Jews. Later on, his words would be used as a cornerstone of the Protestant Reformation. In modern times, he has been accused of starting a religion that Jesus never intended and has been attacked for his bias against women.

Garry Wills in "What Paul Meant" seeks to rehabilitate St. Paul's reputation and get to the bottom of what he actually wanted to convey. Of the thirteen letters attributed to Paul in the New Testament, Biblical scholars today only accept seven as certainly by him: the 1st Letter to the Thessalonians, Letter to the Galatians, Letter to the Philippians, Letter to Philemon, 1st and 2nd Letter to the Corinthians, and the Letter to the Romans. Wills relies only on those letters to form his picture of Paul.

Wills spends much time comparing and contrasting Paul's versions of events with the version provided by Luke in the "Acts of the Apostles." Wills refers to Luke as a "theological artist. He creates for a purpose, and the purpose can shift from one part of the story to the next." As a result, his words are not necessarily historically accurate although they were used to illustrate theological truth.

"What Paul Meant" explores Paul's travels, his relationship with Peter and the other brothers in Jerusalem, his feelings on women (which really weren't all bad), and what he was trying to accomplish with his letters. It makes for interesting reading and a good introduction to the life and times of Saint Paul. The appendix of the book on "translating Paul" is especially enlightening, showing how words which Paul used have been translated into terms that he would never have considered using, such as "Christians, Church, Gospel, etc.) because they didn't exist yet.

Someone interested in finding out all about Paul would probably want to do further reading in order to get a more balanced portrayal of his thought, but it is always good to get some new insights and this book does provide them.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Final Analysis

"You have said harsh things about me," says Yahweh. And yet you say, 'What have we said against you?' You have said, "It is useless to serve God; what is the good of keeping his commands or of walking mournfully before Yahweh Sabaoth? In fact, we now call the proud the happy ones; the evil-doers are the ones who prosper; they put God to the test, yet come to no harm!"

Then those who feared Yahweh talked to one another about this, and Yahweh took note and listened; and a book of remembrance was written in his presence recording those who feared him and kept his name in mind. "On the day when I act, says Yahweh Saboath, they will be my most prized possession, and I shall spare them in the way a man spares the son who serves him. Then once again you will see the difference between the upright person and the wicked one, between the one who serves God and the one who does not serve them."
Malachi 3:13-18

Times don't really change that much, do they? The same complaint can be made today. We look around and see people doing bad things but having all the success the world can offer, and those who do good suffer. This scripture passage offers some comfort for that emotion. In the end, who we are before God is what matters. Everything else simply fades away.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Jonah Days

The 1st readings the past few days have been from the book of Jonah. It is one of the shortest books of the Bible, only a couple pages, and most children could probably tell the story of Jonah and the whale. What makes the story more interesting as an adult, however, is Jonah's relationship with Yahweh which I think we can all relate to.

Yahweh tells Jonah to go to Ninevah to warn them of the consequences of their wickedness and Jonah promptly runs away. How often do we do that? We hear God calling us, either loudly or softly, to go and do something and we try to hide. We have free will, of course. We can actually refuse to do what God asks, but God has free will also. God can certainly keep pursuing us, gently or not so gently pushing us to do what he wants.

Jonah gets himself passage on a boat going a different direction. It was a good plan, except that God sends a big hurricane. The sailors draw lots to find out who is to blame for bringing this bad luck and they all point to Jonah. He tells the sailors to throw him overboard. They do so, and Jonah promptly gets swallowed by the aforementioned whale. At which point, Jonah starts praying. Like many of us, we may run from God when he is asking for something from us, but as soon as times get tough, we are on our knees begging for God's help. God responds and Jonah is expelled by the fish, apparently no worse for wear.

Now God tells Jonah to go back to Ninevah. After his experience with the fish, Jonah has learned that resistance is pretty futile and he heads on his way. His words to the people of Ninevah are remarkably effective. The people repent of their evil ways. God saw this, was pleased, and decided not to send his wrath down upon Ninevah after all. One would expect Jonah to be happy about this, but he's not. He's upset. He figures that now his words have rung hollow. He says to Yahweh, "Please, Yahweh, isn't this what I said would happen when I was still in my own country? That was why I first tried to flee to Tarshish, since I knew you were a tender, compassionate God, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, who relents about inflicting disaster." (Jonah 4:2) He basically tells God, "I told you so!"

But God has one more lesson in store for Jonah (and for us as well). Jonah sits down to see what is going to happen to Ninevah and Yahweh allows a large plant to grow to provide Jonah shade and help him feel better. Jonah is thrilled with his plant. The next day, however, Yahweh decides to have a worm eat the plant causing it to whither. Then he sends a "scorching east wind" and the sun beats down on Jonah to the point that he begs Yahweh for death. Yahweh asks Jonah if he has any right to be angry. He answers, "Of course I do!" Yahweh then points out to him that he cares about the plant which he had really nothing to do with, how much more should Yahweh care about the people he had created.

God does indeed care about all of us with a love we can barely comprehend. He is always ready to forgive us. Like Jonah, we may get angry at God sometimes and not understand what He allows, but God always has our best interests at heart.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Art Quilt Workbook

Today was a day off from school for my boys so I was trying to take it easy as well. As part of my relaxation, I read the latest issue of the Quilters Newsletter. I love to quilt. The quilts I make are very simple in style and structure. I sew by hand because I find it relaxing and I work on my quilts in the rare opportunities when no other project is demanding my attention. I have been working on my current project for over two years!

There are wonderful artists, however, who make quilts I can only dream of. While I have always made the patchwork variety, made up of small pieces of fabric sewn together to make a pattern, there is a style of quilting referred to as "art quilts" in which various techniques are used to create a whole new style of quilting.

The "Quilters Newsletter" reviewed a new book the "Art Quilt Workbook" which shows how to create these masterpieces. It is designed for for people who are new to this method of quilting and has small homework pieces (9" x 12") for students to create in order to learn. It sounds very interesting.

Getting Ready for Advent

For local author Peggy Weber, Advent is a time to reflect and pray as a family on the many ways that Jesus blesses and cares for us. In A Time for Tiny Miracles: Advent for Families 2007, she shows how daily acts of family love and service are signs of our love for God. She offers beautiful Advent prayers and practical and fun family activities. The booklet is very inexpensive - only $.99! To purchase visit:

A Time for Tiny Miracles

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Calling on the Holy Spirit

I began preparing for this article by praying to the Holy Spirit for inspiration. This is not unusual. The Holy Spirit has heard a lot from me over the years in my search for wisdom and understanding, from my days in school when I used to pray for help on tests, to the present day when I search for a cure for writer’s block.

As I was praying tonight, I began to reflect on how little we actually think about the Holy Spirit. We reference the Holy Spirit as we make the “Sign of the Cross” or pray the “Creed” or “Glory Be.” We talk about the Spirit at Pentecost and at Confirmations and imagine the Spirit as a dove hovering over Jesus’ head at his Baptism in the Jordan. Some may recall being told that our bodies are “Temples of the Holy Spirit.” But how much do we actually know about this mysterious Spirit? Who is this third person of the Holy Trinity?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “it belongs to the Holy Spirit to rule, sanctify, and animate creation . . .Power over life pertains to the Spirit, for being God he preserves creation in the Father through the Son.” (CCC 703) The Holy Spirit leads us to Christ who in turn leads us to the Father. The Holy Spirit “comes to meet us and kindles faith in us.” (CCC 683) The Spirit has no voice unto himself. Rather, he enables us to hear God’s word and welcome Christ in faith. (CCC 687)

St. Gregory of Nyssa tells us that “the term ‘Spirit’ translates the Hebrew word ‘ruah,’ which in its primary sense, means breath, air, wind. Jesus indeed uses the sensory image of the wind to suggest to Nicodemus the transcendent newness of him who is personally God’s breath, the divine Spirit.” (CCC 691) The Holy Spirit provides us with our very breath. Jesus also referred to the Spirit as “Paraclete” which translates “he who is called to one’s side.” The Spirit walks with us, providing support and counsel as we travel through life.

The Spirit also provides the life for the Body of Christ, the Church here on earth. The Holy Spirit bestows upon us our gifts to be used for the benefit of the whole Church. “The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. . . .The fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory. The tradition of the Church lists twelve of them: ‘charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control [and] chastity.’” (CCC 1831, 1832)

The symbols of the Spirit are many, from the waters of baptism that cleanse us and bring us new life to the tongues of fire that hovered above the Apostles at Pentecost signifying the “transforming energy of the Holy Spirit’s actions” (CCC 696) to a cloud that covers and overshadows as in the Transfiguration and the conception of Jesus. Each of these symbols has value and helps to illustrate the many ways the Spirit works in our world.

The Holy Spirit, like the wind which he is often compared to, is known by what he does. We cannot see the Spirit, but we can see the effects of living life in the Spirit. We can call on the Spirit to aid us as he has helped countless Christians before us. The Holy Spirit is much too important to be left as an afterthought in our image of God. The following prayer, attributed to St. Catherine of Siena, is a good place to start for inviting the Spirit to play a more active role in our lives:

Prayer to the Holy Ghost

Holy Spirit, come into my heart; draw it to Thee by Thy power, O my God, and grant me charity with filial fear. Preserve me, O ineffable Love, from every evil thought; warm me, inflame me with Thy dear love, and every pain will seem light to me. My Father, my sweet Lord, help me in all my actions. Jesus, love, Jesus, love. Amen.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Do Ordinary Things with All of Your Heart

One of the books featured in "One Hundred Great Catholic Books" that I blogged about yesterday is "Abandonment to Divine Providence" by Jesuit Jean-Pierre de Caussade. Included was this quote:

"Accept what comes to you - the situation you find yourself in is the very place you will encounter Christ and find salvation. And as a natural result: Live wholly in the moment you find yourself in, not in the past that cannot be changed or the future you cannot control. Caussade calls it 'the sacrament of the moment.'

'Abandonment to Divine Providence' proclaims that holiness is basically easy -- it is just a matter of doing ordinary things with all of our heart."

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

One Hundred Great Catholic Books

What if you had a dear friend who was able to recommend one hundred great books in the Catholic tradition for you to read? That is the service Don Brophy provides in “One Hundred Great Catholic Books.” What makes a book “Catholic?” For Brophy's purposes, the primary criteria was that the author be Catholic because as he correctly states, “people are Catholic, books are not.” In a couple of instances, Brophy does include books whose authors were not Catholic because they wrote about Catholics or collaborated with Catholics.

Of course, there is a danger whenever one tries to make a list of one hundred great anything. There are always going to me some favorites that are left out and some included that people feel shouldn't be. Brophy is to be given credit for taking on the challenge. In addition, he includes a list of fifty other books at the end that come highly recommended as well. Brophy has chosen wisely, including most of the great classics of spirituality such as St. Augustine's “Confessions,” “The Cloud of Unknowing,” St. Teresa's “The Interior Castle,” and St. Therese's “Story of a Soul.” He has attempted to also include a broad spectrum of works, including history, apologetics, autobiography, and fiction. In these entries, one becomes acquainted with works by Flannery O'Connor, J.R.R. Tolkien, Maria Montessori, and Gerard Manley Hopkins. For each book, Brophy provides a two-page synopsis and indication of why this book was important. One can learn much about Catholic thought simply by reading these capsules. Hopefully, however, “ One Hundred Great Catholic Books” will inspire you to go out and actually read some of these classics. A reader ambitious enough to read all of them would have a strong understanding of Catholic thought.

A Living Rosary

I just came in from attending a "Living Rosary" which was held on our parish lawn after the 8:15 am mass. The senior citizens who normally attend that mass (thank goodness we have all of them to attend mass and bear witness on a daily basis!) came together with the third graders from our school to pray in such a meaningful way. Each person attending was responsible for saying an "Our Father," "Hail Mary" or "Glory Be." It was truly beautiful and I am so glad that I had the opportunity to take part.

October is traditionally the month of the Rosary, with October 7th being the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Because that feast falls on a Sunday this year, the feast is not being celebrated by the Church in a formal way. The rosary is one of my favorite devotions. I say it daily. If you wish to learn to say the rosary, please visit:

How to Pray the Rosary

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Getting Out the Door in the Morning

I was talking to one of my colleagues at work the other day. She lives quite a distance from our school and I commented that she must have to get up really early to make it to school for our 7:30 am start time. She replied, "No. I just shower and go." Ah, yes, life without children. I vaguely remember that. Obviously, getting yourself out of the house while getting children out of the house at the same time presents more of a challenge.

Here are some tips for making that challenge a little bit easier:

1) Do everything that can be done the night before the night before - make lunches, iron and lay out clothes for the next day.

2) Make sure homework is done and in the correct folder in the correct backpack (obviously older kids can take responsibility for this themselves). The same goes for any signed papers that have to go back to school.

3) If you can, get up before your children so that you have time to get yourself put together before dealing with child morning stress. I set my alarm for 5:30 am. I actually roll out of bed at 5:45, get dressed and say my morning prayers before the children get up at 6:30.

4) Make sure your kids know the morning routine. In our house breakfast has to be done by 7 am at which point it is time to go to the bathroom, brush teeth, get dressed (I find it better to have them eat before they get dressed - if food is dropped on themselves it lands on their pajamas rather than their school clothes) and get out of the house by 7:15 am (thankfully, we live relatively close to school).

5) Allow a little bit of wiggle room in your routine. Make sure you have at least 5 extra minutes in there somewhere to allow for the unexpected.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Lessons from St. Therese

An argument started between them about which of them was the greatest. Jesus knew what thoughts were going through their minds, and he took a little child whom he set by his side and then he said to them, 'Anyone who welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me. The least among you all is the one who is the greatest.' Luke 9:46-48 (NJB)

It is fitting that this was the Gospel reading for today, the feast of St. Therese. St. Therese was a Carmelite nun in the late 1800s. She lived only to the age of 24 and spent nine of those years in the cloister, yet her "Little Way" of spirituality is known around the world and she was named a Doctor of the Church in 1997.

If you have never read anything about St. Therese, I would encourage you to do so. Her story is inspiring. Below I have linked to some books available on Amazon as well as the "Therese" DVD which I have heard is very good. Here, I am including a reprint of an article I wrote a couple years ago about the lessons I had learned from her:

Lessons from St. Therese

I first read "Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese" as a young girl of eight or nine. My mother had a deep devotion to St. Therese and encouraged both my sister and I to emulate her. At that age, I dreamed of a life in a cloister devoting my life to being a bride of Christ. Therese's "little way" seemed so easy, so simple. I was a child myself and knew no other way!

Life has a way of changing us, however, and while I reread "Story of a Soul" as a teenager and again as a young adult in college, I had lost my childlike sensibilities. Reading Therese's words were like visiting an old friend, but my dreams of a cloistered life had been replaced by dreams of a career, a husband, and children. While I frequently turned to her in prayer, Therese's brand of spirituality no longer seemed to have particular relevance for my life.

Returning to her autobiography now as a thirty-something married mother of two, I wondered what insights a twenty-four year old Carmelite who had lived over a century ago might offer to my life. I was pleasantly surprised. These are five of the lessons St. Therese had to offer:

1) The Importance of Bringing up Children in a Loving and Faith-Filled Environment

Therese was no doubt chosen by God for the particular role she was to play in history. The faith of her family, however, nurtured the seed and brought it to fruition. She was raised in an environment of love. Therese recalls that "the first memories I have are stamped with smiles and the most tender caresses." (1)

After her mother's untimely death when Therese was only four, her father and older sisters took over her instruction. Therese had a deep love of God and her sisters were patient in explaining the mysteries of heaven. At one point, her eldest sister Pauline had Therese get her father's large glass and her own small thimble and fill them both with water. "She asked me which one was fuller. I told her each was as full as the other and that it was impossible to put in more water than they could contain. [She] helped me understand that in heaven God will grant His Elect as much glory as they can take, the last having nothing to envy in the first." (2)

How important it is that we teach our children about God, how to pray, and patiently answer their questions! In that way, we can help them become the people God wants them to be.

2) The Power of Persistence

Therese felt called by Jesus to enter the cloistered order of Carmel at the young age of fifteen, yet many obstacles stood in her way. Her uncle, the Superior of Carmel, and her local Bishop all voiced their opposition. It happened that she was making a planned pilgrimage with her father and many other travelers to Rome to have an audience with the Pope. Although forbidden to speak, she threw herself at the feet of the Holy Father Leo XIII to ask his permission to enter Carmel. Even he, however, would not give his consent, merely giving her the encouragement that "You will enter if God wills it." (3) Therese was carried away by two guards! How many of us would have continued to persevere in the face of such odds? Even though she was heartbroken, she continued to believe, and her faith was rewarded. While she did not get her wish to enter Carmel by Christmas of that year, a miracle did occur, hearts were changed, and the Bishop granted her permission to enter after Lent.

It is sometimes so hard to continue in the midst of opposing forces. Yet if we truly believe that we are doing what God wills, we need to put one foot in front of the other and trust that God will take care of the outcome.

3) The Value of Small Sacrifices

Therese states that she "applied [herself] to practicing little virtues, not having the capability of practicing the great." (4) She made small sacrifices such as sitting in her chair without leaning back or being extra kind to a sister she didn't particularly like, or biting her tongue when some object that belonged to her was missing.

We have so many opportunities to do the same in our daily lives. A mother's life is full of sacrifice, but do we perform these sacrifices grudgingly or do we offer them up to God with joy and gratitude? The attitude makes all the difference. We can choose to be kind to those we live with or work with, even when we may not feel like it. We can sacrifice our time, our money, our desires, and offer them to God as a simple gift.

4) How to Trust God when He is Nowhere to be Found

We all go through dark nights of the soul when God seems to be among the missing. Therese was no exception. As she waited to hear if she would be allowed to enter Carmel, "bitterness filled [her] soul, for Jesus was silent. He seemed to be distant, nothing served to reveal his presence." (5) Near the end of her life, Therese had a crisis of faith in which she doubted the existence of heaven. She tells us "when I sing of the happiness of heaven and of the eternal possession of God, I feel no joy in this, for I sing simply what I WANT TO BELIEVE." (6) At those times when we have no feeling of faith, we need to make the intellectual decision to believe anyway.

5) Be Happy Being the Person God Made You

Therese looked at gardens and noticed all the different varieties of flowers God had created. "And so it is in the world of souls, Jesus' garden. He willed to create great souls comparable to lilies and roses, but He has created smaller one and those must be content to be daisies or violets destined to give joy to God's glances when He looks down at his feet. Perfection consists in doing His will, in being what He wills us to be." She goes on to instruct us that "our Lord is occupied particularly with each soul as though there were no others like it." (7)

While considering herself one of the "little flowers," Therese celebrates her uniqueness and so should we celebrate. We are special in God's eyes and should rejoice in that fact. Our quest should not be to be different from what we are, but rather to make the most of who we are and the gifts God has given us. Then, we shall bring Him joy!

1) "Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese," trans. John Clarke, OCD, Washington, DC: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1975, 17.
2) ibid, 45.
3) ibid, 135.
4) ibid, 159
5) ibid, 136
6) ibid, 214
7) ibid, 14.

Making the Most of <i>Menopause Moments</i>

  When I unexpectedly got in a review copy of Menopause Moments: A Journal for Nourishing Your Mind, Body and Spirit in Midlife , I must adm...