Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Joy of the Gospel

     Genuine joy is contagious in the best possible way.  When we have good news, we look forward to sharing it with others in person, over the phone, in a letter, an e-mail, a text, a Tweet, a Facebook message, a they can celebrate with us. 
     A marriage engagement, new baby, new job, a long-awaited conversion, another life saved, a loved one who is healed…are all exciting developments we want to shout from the rooftops.     
     We have the best Good News there is: God is with us and in us.  He became man, suffered, died, and rose again that we might live life to its fullest.  Our time on Earth isn’t all there is.  Because of the Lord’s infinite love and perfect plan for our salvation, we are invited to spend all eternity with our Creator, Savior, and Father.  It doesn’t get any better than that.
     In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (aka The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis expounds upon the advantages of sharing the faith with a spirit of praise and rejoicing.  In a tone and with suggestions reminiscent of St. Francis of Assisi, our pope tells us we are called to reach out to the poor, elderly, outcasts, those who are marginalized or on the fringes of society in our own towns and around the world with the love of Christ. 
     Doing what the Lord calls us to do, carrying out His will, taking care of the people He’s placed in our lives, and growing closer to Jesus are what bring us true and lasting joy in life.  Who better than a humble man from Latin America, who recognizes we each have in us a spark of God that is beautiful and unique, to write a proposition for a renewed evangelization? 
     The best testimony of how to evangelize joyfully can be seen in the way Pope Francis lives the Gospel each day.  Whether he is washing someone’s feet on Holy Thursday, calling someone he’s never met to share his condolences, or rallying the youth, he illustrates how serving others, compassion, and relationships are essential to missionary work. 
     There is great need and suffering all around us.  Many of us have a number of gifts and resources we can use to help others have their most basic needs met.  Are we willing to open our eyes to what is happening in our families, our neighborhoods, our cities, our country, our world, and allow God to transform us to reach out and take action?  If we are, then we’re ready to participate in the new evangelization.          
     We are invited to be as cheerful and enthusiastic in our discovery and expression of God’s love as we would be if we had a surprise visit from one of our favorite people on the planet.  Hugs, I’ve missed you, I love you are all part of the effervescent greeting.  You feel your heart leap simply being in a dear one’s presence.    
     This past spring I served on a Cursillo Women’s team with a great group.  One of the women on the team lost not one, but two loved ones during our time in formation.  She made a huge impression on me when she quoted this passage from The Gospel of Joy in her talk: “An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!” If anyone could justifiably be a little grumpy or down, she qualified, but that’s not what she did. 
     What's more, she witnessed to me this aspect of the exhortation and included it in her talk:  “Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm…. And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ.”
     I finished reading The Joy of the Gospel for the second time in mid-November.  The first time I’d read it was when my mom let me have the copy she’d printed out to read.  It is just as uplifting the second time as it was the first. 
     This go-round I was more aware of how difficult it is for me to grasp and exude the sort of hope Pope Francis shows is necessary to draw people closer to Christ.  For much of my life I’ve taken a very legalistic, rule-oriented approach to things—one that by itself isn’t likely to attract or interest anyone in the Catholic faith.  My husband Kevin’s better at joy than I usually tend to be. 
     I find it true poetic justice that while I was rereading The Joy of the Gospel my husband was listening to The United States Catholic Catechism on CD.  Kevin’s not a voracious reader like I am, and he certainly didn’t grow up with a penchant toward knowing and following the rules, like me, so this is definitely a Holy Spirit inspired activity that’s bulking up his knowledge of the faith in which he was raised.  We’ve both been led to grow in areas the Lord knew we needed help with, and hopefully, we’ll be better prepared to live out the joy of the Gospel.

     I highly recommend reading and/or rereading The Joy of the Gospel.  I received a free copy of the book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.  For more information or to get your own copy of The Joy of the Gospel, click here.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

How to Have an Excellent Advent: Seven Suggestions

What's the purpose of Advent? Click on the video below to check out Busted Halo's 2 minute take on this season of preparation for Christmas: 

    1. Stay Awake 

7. Wait Patiently   

What is God calling you to this Advent that will bring you closer to Him? 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thanksgiving Weekend 2014

     Kevin has recently gotten a full-time job after being out of work for over a year, so we are both thankful and relieved about that blessing.  Since he’s back in retail, he was working on Thanksgiving Day as well as at the crack of dawn for Black Friday.  He’s got a cold, so he chose to stay home and rest up until the time he had to go into work on Thanksgiving. 
     I told him before I left for Mass Thursday morning that people would ask where he was, possibly before greeting me.  I can understand that.  Kevin’s very friendly and can be lots of fun to chat with.  
     I sat with some of my Christ Renews His Parish sisters and the patriarch of our adopted family at Mass.  I went over to our adopted family/close friends’ house for the holiday feast solo.  
     I was warmly welcomed and treated as family.  I spent some time with some of my favorite people, including the three silly sisters and their two cute cousins.  I have missed seeing the girls, but I’ve had to sub whenever I can at school so we can make ends meet while Kevin gets into a groove at work, so I haven't had much energy left to visit after hours.  I finally made it over there last Friday to hang with the girls, and I got a chance to catch up with their parents as well, which was wonderful!       We had some interesting faith-based conversations about saints, particularly married women who were also mothers while we ate at the dinner table in the kitchen amidst little ones who occasionally burst in running and screaming around us.  Eventually, the twins crawled up on their mom and started grabbing food from her plate.  No surprise there.  The three silly sisters and their two cute cousins were served first, but the girls weren't nearly as enthralled by the food on their own plates.  There's something about mom sitting down to eat that tends to turn up the appetites of the little ones.  
     I forgot to bring my camera, so I don’t have a single picture of this Thanksgiving.  Other people took a few, though, I might be able to rustle one up eventually. 
     I really missed having Kevin there a lot!  It's been over a decade since we weren't together for all of Thanksgiving.  I’ve had him at my side for so many holidays over the years both when we were dating as well as since we’ve been married that I sometimes forget how out of place I tend to feel when he’s not there.  I did bring him some turkey, a plate of sides, and a slice of chocolate pie which he thoroughly enjoyed later on.
     I didn’t see any of my biological family at all on Thanksgiving which made me feel kind of sad, but hopefully I’ll be able to get together with them on Sunday.  I have been away from Kevin and my family on Thanksgiving, but it was over ten years ago when I was studying abroad in Paris.  All of us in the study abroad program went out to dinner together.  It was fun, but I really missed my family and our normal fare.        
    I had lots of memories come back of Thanksgivings over the years.  I thought back to some of the ones when we were little and we’d go to Uncle Rich and Aunt Linda’s house in Houston.  There were a couple years when my aunt and four cousins came to spend the holiday with us.  Our visits usually consisted of lots of yummy food and various card games we had all learned from Grandma.  One year was particularly memorable, because we all were having so much fun wearing the slippers Grandma had knitted us and sliding on the hardwood floors in our house in Barrington.  Click here to read about some of our other Thanksgiving festivities across the years.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Laughing Together Series (Vol. 2)

     Usually Kevin came over to hang out with all of us.  We had some new boat adventures.  One time he took us out again to show us the sunken tugboat.  Despite a thorough search we never saw the submerged vessel whose existence, by the way, the rest of us question to this day.       
     Another afternoon, Kevin took us down to a restaurant on Irondequoit Bay called Newport House.  The only problem was that he hadn’t informed us of our destination prior to leaving the house, so he was the only one wearing shoes and carrying money.  It was around lunch time on a week day, so the outdoor seating area was packed with people in business attire.  My mom’s the queen of spontaneity, so she didn’t mind.  I was just happy to be near Kevin, so I was fine with it. 
     We got some strange looks when I had to put together a makeshift ensemble to go inside and use the bathroom.  I was wearing little black board shorts and my black Speedo bathing suit without any shoes.  I borrowed a bright blue terrycloth jacket, which was at least seven sizes too big, and Kevin lent me his brown boat moccasins, which clearly didn’t fit either.  Kevin waited outside on the sidewalk for quite some time before I returned with his shoes. 

     As luck would have it, I’d started my period.  Of course, I had nothing with me including money and would have been mortified to go and ask Kevin for a quarter.  Fortunately, a kind woman took pity on me and got me a quarter from her purse.  Eventually I came back outside, and Kevin told me he’d been about to send someone with a fishing pole in for me.  He asked what took so long.  I just smiled, shrugged, and gave him back his shoes.  I sat behind Kevin the whole boat ride home and fought the urge to wrap my arms around him or kiss his cheek.  
     To read Vol. 1, click here.  Check back for more posts in the Laughing Together Series.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Philosophy 101: God’s Not Dead

     The first time I watched the film God’sNot Dead with my mom and my youngest sister.  I didn’t catch everything that happened, in part, because we were talking during some of it, someone decided to search for and order a clothing item online, we were texting (people who weren’t present), and my mom had no idea how to backtrack using her remote control.  I jotted down some quotes and phrases in the little notebook I keep in my purse to jump-start my memory later on about possible writing topics. 
     The egotistical Professor Radisson (played by Kevin Sorbo) is clearly more interested in building up his own image and spreading his anti-theist propaganda than he is in imparting knowledge or promoting logical thinking.  He concentrates on running roughshod over an entire class because domination rather than education is his primary goal. 
     Throughout the film, we hear various philosophical questions, many of which we studied on the creation of the universe and the existence of God in the Philosophy of Religion course I took from Dr. Downey.   I have concluded that Dr. Patrick Downey, philosophy professor at Hollins University, is the perfect foil to Dr. Death-to-Any-Thought-or-Opposition Radisson.  
     God’s Not Dead reminded me of the hours I spent reading arguments and discussions by philosophers who lived and wrote a number of years ago.  That semester I went to class with all of these different theories, questions, and debates in my head, then Dr. Downey would ask us questions that would make us dig even deeper to understand and explain what these men were proposing, what line of logic they followed, and if it made sense.  He was so good at playing the devil’s advocate from every side that I couldn’t tell from what he said in class whether or not he believed in God.  (It honestly wasn’t until I saw him as part of a group of faculty members who came around to the dorms and houses to sing Christmas carols that I realized he is a Christian.)    
     Someone who is so interested in developing his students’ logic and reasoning skills that he’ll take the opposite side of just about any argument to get them to examine it more closely from all facets is a good philosophy professor.  At times, I could almost feel my mind stretching to new lengths and expanding when faced with these universal questions about God and man. Even if the answers weren’t clear, just knowing the questions people thought to ask made me feel like my brain would have to grow in order to contain all the possibilities.
     My favorite day of this course was Friday. Why? Because Saturday was sure to follow? No, it was because after doing my best to sift through, consider, accept, and/or debate so many concepts, I would get into my light blue Pontiac 6000 and drive through a very picturesque valley. I would get out at the top of a hill and could feel God welcoming me, His mother outside waiting for me to enter.
     I always arrived just in time, gave a quiet nod to the other regulars who had come to worship, and sat down ready to let the clutter in my mind exit, so only faith would remain. Before long, the reasons and questions, some of which reason may never understand, were replaced by truth, hope, and love. I couldn’t help but smile as I professed the Creed, reached out my hands to others to pray the Our Father, and give the sign of peace. I yearned for the Eucharist. I had answers and could embrace, even appreciate, the mysteries inherent and perhaps necessary to having faith.
     I would walk out of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church after Mass feeling refreshed in my faith and grounded in the truth. It was a great way to put the philosophers’ voices and nitty-gritty debates to rest so that the Holy Spirit was easier for me to hear in the present.

God's not dead.  He is truly alive!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Laughing Together Series (Vol. 1)

Kevin came over to say goodbye before we left.  I hugged him, knowing I would miss him and our time at the cottage.  In a July 21, 1997 journal entry, I wrote:                                                  
I’ve been overflowing with emotions lately. It surprised me a little how saddened I was when we left Rochester.  I miss all of the friends and family we saw there!  I often find myself thinking about Kevin and our cottage.  On the way home, I was reading about “chance” meetings in a Catholic magazine Grandma let me bring on the trip.  I thought about Kevin and Harry when I read it.  I thank God that we had the opportunity to meet such nice, friendly people.  I would like to write to Kevin and make a card for Harry and one for his wife, who is in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s.  I hope that we are able to keep in touch with them this year and maybe see them next summer if we rent the cottage.
     When we returned to Richmond, Virginia, I was left feeling like I wanted more to come of my relationship with Kevin, but eventually I resigned myself to accepting reality: we are years apart in age; I was still a minor; he already had a girlfriend; and we lived five hundred miles apart.  At that point, the potential problems with me being a devout Catholic and him not wanting to have anything to do with the Church didn't even occur to me."

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Curious Man: Robert “Believe it Or Not!” Ripley

      I was so incredibly depressed and disgusted by Ripley's alcoholic bent, womanizing tendencies, and his manipulation of so many people and cultures for his profit, fame, and curiosity that I couldn’t bring myself to finish reading the entire book.
     Author Neal Thompson's writing is actually quite beautiful,  interesting, and smooth.  The style of the writing and layout of the book are both perfectly fitting for a biography about such an unusual character.  The photos included are very telling.  The problem I had with the book came in the subject he wrote about in such minute detail.  The moral depravity of the man in question is what shocked me more than any of the peculiar people or practices he wrote about or drew during his extensive jaunts around the globe.  
     I had planned on reading A Curious Man: Robert “Believe it Or Not!” Ripley and joining a Cursillo friend who’s a librarian for the book club discussion he was leading last month.  A series of unfortunate events that took place during the beginning of that week led me to spend most of my time reading spiritual, religious, and hope-filled books instead of forcing myself to make it through the one about Robert Ripley. 
     The wildly popular cartoonist and world traveler's manipulative manner in his personal and professional relationships showed a complete disregard for the value of human life.  From what I did read it seemed he wasn’t able to recognize or muster an ounce of respect for human dignity.  He’d exploit anyone and anything to satisfy his curiosities, placate his self-centeredness, and indulge in whatever pleasures and distractions fit his fancy at that moment in time.
     Believe it or not, Ripley’s ego was bigger than any of his dwelling places.  He was without a moral compass of any sort.  He lived his life like the consummate frat boy: drinking all the time, using people, shirking responsibility, dodging the truth, sleeping with all the women he could get.  He led the unexamined life of a spoiled but intriguing celebrity with very eclectic obsessions and far-reaching influence.    
      I found it quite disheartening to read about the mess he made of things because of his flippant treatment of women and total irreverence for other cultures.  He tainted newspapers and radio with his unconventional fetishes and raging materialism.  His belief that the only higher power greater than himself was a sultry mix of money and fame underlined his desire to remain in a prominent, lucrative, and highly influential place in society no matter what the cost.   
     At the end of the day and his life, I wondered if he ever really inspired or gave hope to another human being by the way he lived or what he did.  A whole lot of people over a long period of time were fascinated by his reporting, his exotic collections, and skewed view of things, but did he ultimately cause more corruption and scandal, influence greater greed, degrade women, and present a derogatory perspective of other ethnicities and cultures?  It’s hard to know for sure.  Each person’s life is so deeply entwined with those of other people.  I don’t suppose the answers to the following questions would cast him in too favorable a light: how will most remember him? who and what was most important to him? for what purpose did he use his time, talents, and resources?
     That having been said I realize people can’t really be contained in or fully explained by anything they produce.  Each project is only a glimpse inside, a part of the mystery, a fraction of the wholeness God created.  Our essence isn’t something others can grasp entirely, nor is it something they can take from us.  It is clear to the Lord alone who we really are, who He made us to be.  No one else gets to determine that or define us, though they may try to.
     There are some inspiring books I’ve read and a great short film I've seen which treat subjects that would have fascinated Ripley in ways that illustrate these individuals are human beings with inherent value and dignity. I highly recommend the following two books as ones that are heartfelt, faith-filled, and inspirational by a man who was born with no arms or legs: Nick Vujicic. 

Life without Limits and Unstoppable 

     Nick has done music videos, public speaking, and also is in a great short film called The Butterfly Circus. The story's about people with special talents and abilities being exploited in a freak show setting and how they are rescued, become a family of sorts who join together to entertains others, but without dehumanizing themselves or anyone else.
     It occurred to me when reading this book that we have so many opportunities to use our talents to glorify the Lord or instead to cater to our own self-centered desires for pleasure, renown, and success.  The choices we make not only affect those we come into direct contact with but thousands of others who are influenced by the decisions we make for good or evil.  If Robert Ripley had a bucket list, he probably crossed off a number of things on it before he died.  He became famous, got to travel the world, draw cartoons, write, influence many people...But what I’m left to wonder is what was on God’s Bucket list for his life? 

Friday, October 31, 2014

True Halloween Spirit

The Sweetest Treat: A Boo Baby       

     Most of the time we went to houses in our neighborhood, but one especially memorable evening that forever changed our family was unusual in more ways than one.  My grandma was in town, and arrangements were made for us to go trick-or-treating with one of our neighborhood friends and her brother.  Their dad drove us all to an apartment complex where we could get more candy and cover more ground than would be possible on the relatively small cul-de-sac we lived on off of River Road back then.  My sister and I were smitten with the prospect of collecting so much candy.  Our sort of make-shift, last minute costumes didn’t bother us much. 
     We were used to having our parents walk with us to each house, but our friend’s brother was a little older, so his dad just drove around following us from one section of apartments to another.  He had “Monster Mash” blasting out of the car speakers.  The windows were down and the sunroof was open. 
     Back before cellphones were mainstream, and when car phones were still exceptionally rare, we received an extra special message.  Suddenly, “The Monster Mash” stopped playing and we heard the life-changing words: “You have a new baby sister!”  Our lives were never the same.    

The Costume Kid Turned Dancing Diva

     The year she turned one, my youngest sister had a really cute cow costume.  Friends of ours owned a donut shop, and my mom took a picture of her and wrote a sign by it “Got milk?” which they had up at Daylight Donuts for quite some time in the 90s.    
     As a little girl she loved Disney, dress-up clothes and had an unbelievably wide selection of pretty costumes to choose from since a close family friend would get discount costumes from Wolff Fording to use for the annual Musical Revue she put together at St. Mary’s School.  My sister owned a ton of princess costumes which she insisted on wearing everywhere during that particular period in her life.  Some people thought it was really cute and endearing, but as a teenager, I was mortified to have to go around with my youngest sibling dressed in some get-up.     
     I grew up taking dance, mostly ballet, tap, and jazz, so I had a number of costumes for recitals that doubled as ones for Halloween.  I’ve even worn a couple of costumes "Miss Reesa Lynn" wore in her later dance recitals to parties. 
     I had perhaps a little too much fun one year decorating for my sister’s Halloween/birthday sleepover party.  She had a large Lamb Chop's play along stuffed animal which I dressed in a black graduation gown and hung.  I also stuffed a pair of striped stockings with stuff to make it look like a witch had crash landed into the shower in the basement.
     When in high school, the dancing diva told us she wanted all of us to dress up as Disney characters.  Our middle sister asked if she was kidding.  Obviously not, since she’d gotten a Tinkerbell costume to wear that year.  During the day, Kevin had a costume contest at Circuit City.  We dressed up as Men in Black, both in blacks suits, white collared shirts, black ties, and sunglasses.  Kevin went so far as to paint a water gun we had to make it look a bit more like the weapons they use in the movie.  Then that evening, I turned into Mulan for my sister’s Disney themed birthday party. 
     This is our absolute favorite Halloween bit from Seinfeld’s “I’m Telling You for the Last Time:” Jerry Seinfeld on Halloween (Stand-up in New York)

"Trick or Trunk?!"    

     I’ve heard of the popular custom of having kids don their costumes to go to a church parking lot and “trick-or-treat” from one car trunk to the next, but I am a bit concerned by the sign outside of one church that I saw advertising a Halloween “Trick or Trunk.”  I’m not sure quite what this entails, but I had visions of extreme trick-or-treating scenarios and possible outcomes.  It sounds like something that a gang might come up with—either that or a group of parents of wayward adolescents that have had enough and are ready to take drastic measures.  Of course this suggestion also seems very much like one father of three silly sisters would come up with as an advisable alternative to dressing up your kids in costumes and walking them around the neighborhood ringing doorbells and demanding candy from strangers.    

Back in the Day

     For a while, because my birthday is near Halloween, we’d have costume parades or parties for my celebration.  There are pictures of a morning costume parade in our neighborhood and donuts that marked one of my under five birthday celebrations. When we were growing up, we didn’t use those little plastic pumpkin buckets for our candy.  We got pretty hardcore after a while and used pillowcases, since those were easy to carry, and you can fit a whole lot of candy in them.  We’d walk as far as we could talk our parents into going. 
     Our ritual at home was the same every year.  We’d sit down on the living room floor and dump all of our candy out in a pile, so our parents could check it for anything suspicious (or particularly delicious).  Our main concern was counting how many pieces we had, in hopes that we’d somehow gotten more loot than the other person.  Then it was time to trade for the candy we liked most with the yucky stuff that we’d resort to only once we’d eaten all of the name brand candy.

Wild Thing, You Make My Heart Sing

     One of “my two little guys” who is now in his double digits is going to Disney World with his family for Halloween.  That has got to be such a cool place to be when half the people in there are already in costumes.  I’m looking forward to seeing the photos. 
     I couldn’t resist dressing one of the boys up in the shark costume he had for Halloween and taking him to visit Kevin at West Marine, the retail store where he was working at the time.  I brought goldfish crackers for the boys to eat, and let them play around the dinghies and small personal watercraft on display in front of the store to get some really cute photos. 

A Celebration's In Order

    Today we’re looking forward to celebrating Theresa’s birthday as well as our brother-in-law Jordan’s as a family.  I can't imagine what this life or our family would be like without my youngest sister Theresa in it. She has brought so much joy, smiles, laughter, love, and hope into our family. May the Lord continue to bless you, love you, and keep you ever close to Him as you use the many gifts He's given you to inspire others. We love you dearly! Looking forward to celebrating this evening.
    My mom’s famous homemade chicken fingers, mashed potatoes, and apple pie are going to be involved.  We’re also hoping to see the cutest mailman on the planet.  Our nephew’s dream is coming true: he gets to be a mailman for the day.
    Happy Halloween!  Lord of all souls, Father of all creation, thank You for the gift of loved ones, for the joy of new life, and the hope of eternal life You have given us.  All you holy men and women, pray for us!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Why Be Catholic?

     When I read the title of this book to my husband, he said: “Cause it’s good for you.”  I had to laugh and couldn’t argue.  Fortunately, others have put a bit more thought into their answer.  Why be Catholic is a question I’ve been asked in a myriad of different ways.  My answers have always been tailored to the person in front of me, though sometimes with limited success.  Here’s a succinct answer for you by popular author and president of the Catholics Apologetics Academy Patrick Madrid to the question why be Catholic: “because in the Catholic Church you will receive everything in its fullness that God desires to give you to make you happy and free” (p.208). 
     In Why Be Catholic? Madrid describes the fundamentals of the faith as well as the historical and Biblical accounts and proof for why the Catholic Church is the one true faith begun by Christ.  He devotes an entire chapter to clarify the doctrines on the Blessed Mother and another one solely to clean up the plethora of common misconceptions about papal infallibility and succession.  He explains why the Church is holy, though it always has and always will be made up of sinful people. 
     The part I found the most fascinating was on which religious orders have seen vocations on the rise and why.  We’re reminded to pray for vocations all the time in our diocese, and rightly so; we certainly need them.  Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) “Vocations Report” indicates a significant rise “in vocations to religious orders in which the Catholic faith is proclaimed and lived out uncompromisingly and without ambiguity.” (p. 190)  This makes total sense.  It takes strong catechesis taught unwaveringly by priests, deacons, religious, and the lay faithful in order to bring people closer to Christ and to a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the basic tenets of the Catholic faith. 
     What’s missing in many places?  A dynamic duo that can’t be subverted: prayer and proper catechesis for all ages.  If Catholics don’t know what the Church teaches and why, then it’s difficult, if not impossible for them to live it out much less explain it to others. 
     There has been an unfortunate trend for a number of priests, deacons, and lay leaders to emphasize some Church teachings while completely neglecting others, especially those that are controversial and countercultural.  Something I once heard a priest say in a sermon has stuck with me: “A lie is never pastoral.”  He told us that one of his professors in seminary would often remind them that.  Lying about and/or purposefully refraining from informing people about what the Lord is asking them to do in order to live in the fullness of His love is a tremendous disservice.   
     We are all called to grow closer to the Lord.  This is the crux of the New Evangelization.  So how do we begin?  By being open to ongoing personal conversion and lifelong faith formation.  It is even more necessary that the lay faithful remain committed to ongoing formation, because many aren’t getting the fullness of the Catholic teachings, not even from the priests, deacons, or lay leaders of their parishes.
     Madrid also provides a good refresher on Catholic social teaching and doctrine—which is even more essential to have spelled out when the media keeps skewing what is part and parcel of the faith—not an optional side item from the Protestant buffet.
     I highly recommend Why Be Catholic? for all who have been asked this question as well as for all those who have made such an inquiry.  Patrick Madrid uses humor and a wealth of wisdom to provide ten answers to a very important question. 
     For more information about Why Be Catholic? or to order your copy, click here.  I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Harvests and Special Celebrations

   This school year's Harvest Fest was my favorite one yet, because Kevin and I got to share it with five of our favorite people.  Two of our best friends brought their daughters to the Harvest Fest we had at school last Saturday.
   Their girls (the twins are our Goddaughters) I have referred to elsewhere as "the three silly sisters" are the ones I was nannying for over the past few years.  I was so excited that they got to come and enjoy the fun.  Of course, I love being around children, in general, but these girls will always have an extra special place in my heart.
   Who wouldn't like getting the following greetings from three adorable little ones?  "I've missed you sooo much!" and another one: "I love you!" and the third just runs over and gives me a big hug.
    Kevin, their mom, and I each ended up chasing one of the girls around the playground, field, and festivities.  Their dad came by after work to join us for face-painting and popsicle eating/smearing fun.  There were slides, pumpkins, balloons, snacks, apple cider, and even an alleged Rainbow Dash spotting.

    Our outing last weekend reminded me of another event several years ago in the spring that was way more fun one year than any other: The Walk for Life.  I was taking care of one of "my two little guys" so his parents good get a much-needed overnight away, and that happened to be the Saturday of The Pregnancy Resource Center's Walk for Life which my family and I have taken part in for years.  I packed him up in his stroller, and off we went.  He had a ball.  My parents, Kevin, and I did, too.

   We've been part of the village helping to raise, love, nurture, and care for a number of children over the years.  The present I have most hoped for just about since our nephew's birth has been to have two of our best friends and their daughters come to meet my sister, brother-in-law, and our nephew.  We will hopefully have the joy of such a gathering as part of a pretty picnic and playtime at the park excursion Sunday afternoon.
     Lord, thank You for the blessing of family and friends with whom we can celebrate the gifts of life, love, laughter, joy, and hope.  To read about other fond memories involving Harvesting God's Abundance, click here.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Ear of the Heart

     I was really encouraged by The Ear of the Heart about Dolores Hart’s journey from Hollywood to a cloistered monastery in Connecticut, because at the beginning of this month especially, I was missing Michele.  It’s been particularly difficult not having her here to talk and spend time with this week, so it was the perfect time for me to read this book.  It reminded me of her and the many things she’s been through in life, but the second part renewed my hope that our close friendship can continue in the future and for Michele’s life (as well as mine and Kevin’s) can and will be brought together and used to glorify God in amazing ways. 
     I received an e-mail the first week of August from Michele’s mom.  I knew August 6 was the one year anniversary of her entry into Carmel.  This year it’s the day they had the Clothing ceremony for Michele Morris and shared with the public her new name: Sister Mary Magdalene.  I’ve been silently saying her new name over and over again while praying for her this week, getting used to it.  At the beginning of this month, I was feeling really down because my dear sister in Christ isn’t hear to talk, laugh, pray, or cry with, but reading The Ear of the Heart has given me hope.  Though it was very difficult for Dolores Hart to adjust to life in a cloistered monastery, the strengths, experiences, personality, and passion she brought with her to the community have been put to good use in ways she probably didn’t expect would happen.

     When Dolores Hart entered Regina Laudis, the mindset was very much that postulants and professed members of the community should pretty much keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves and not interact much beyond what is called for by the Benedictine order.  Loneliness, sadness, and a dark night of the soul during which she felt God was far from her all made her transition to religious life in the community more challenging.  I find it tremendously encouraging how she’s incorporated how she felt during that time and has used it to change how postulants are treated and how others relate to them, from soon after they enter. 
     I’m always inspired when I read, hear, or see how God has used the seemingly disparate elements of someone’s life in a beautiful, unifying way.  Dolores didn’t have to throw out or leave behind the part of her that loved and embraced acting.  Over time, the Lord used those gifts to work in and through her to benefit other members of the community and eventually to educate and involve family, friends, and other people in the public with their mission.  Each is now recognized for and encouraged to develop her special gifts and talents, so that they can be used to further the good of the community as a whole, and ultimately be one way God brings others closer to Christ.
     I still have the voicemail message saved on my cell phone of when Michele called to tell me she’d been offered the grant from Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations.  From her letters, photos I’ve seen taken of her since she entered, and from what her mom has shared with me, she is indeed joyful and where God wants her to be.  Interestingly enough, the Abbey of Regina Laudis, where Mother Dolores Hart resides, was one of the ones Michele visited early on in her discernment as a possible option.  She was confused when she returned, unsure of what step to take next.  When she visited the Carmelite Sisters by the Sea, she immediately felt at home.  Now it is her home and her new family.  I hope they love and enjoy her company and her child-like spirit as much as we have. 
     For more information about The Ear of the Heart or to purchase your own copy, click here

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Monsignor Chester Michael: Well done good and faithful servant

     The funeral Mass was quite beautiful and not surprisingly very well attended for Monsignor Chester P. Michael this past Wednesday, August 6, 2014.  The celebration of his life took place on the Feast of the Transformation, a fitting God-incident since he was instrumental in inspiring change, transformation, and true conversion in countless people throughout our Diocese and around the world during his 72 years as a priest
     Most Reverend Bishop Francis Xavier DiLorenzo presided at the funeral Mass held at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Charlottesville, Virginia.  As is customary for our leader and resident history buff, he gave a homily that compared and contrasted what life was like in the world when Monsignor Michael was first ordained a priest in 1942 and the myriad changes he witnessed from World War II until the present. 
     The bishop posed three very poignant questions about the 97 years God gave Monsignor Chet on Earth. 
     1.Did his life mean anything at all?
     2.Was his life a waste?
     3.What was the meaning of his life and ministry?
     Bishop DiLorenzo covered a smattering of the ministries and various levels of involvement and influence Fr. Chet had in them.  Basically, he responded to the above questions with this summation of answers: 1.Absolutely.  2. Not at all.  3.He did so much it would be hard to mention it all, estimate the number of lives he’s transformed, or how his work to spread the Good News will continue to inspire others.    
     In closing, Bishop DiLorenzo said: “We thank God for his ministry, and we say well done good and faithful servant.” 
     After the celebration of the Eucharist, Andy Macfarlan offered some Words of Remembrance about Fr. Chester Michael.  He shared some of the stories, themes, passions, quirks, and characteristics of the beloved priest and popular spiritual director.  Looking around the church, I saw dozens of people Kevin and I know through Cursillo.  I found it a perfect Mass for our seminarians to attend even while on their yearly retreat.  What better testimony can you give than that of a good priest who served God’s people in many different ways over the 72 years since he was ordained to serve our Diocese?  He’s been an inspiration to priests, deacons, seminarians, consecrated religious, and laity for quite some time. 
     Kevin and I never formally met Monsignor Michael, but we’ve heard a number of stories about “Fr. Chet” as many of his close friends and spiritual directees called him.  We are aware of only some of the countless ways this man has touched our lives.  In 1963, he brought the Cursillo Movement to the Diocese of Richmond where it has flourished as a tool for the new evangelization in place long before that term was popular.  Over 8,000 individuals have made Cursillo weekends in our Diocese since then.  That’s a lot of lives to touch and enflame with the Holy Spirit! 
     But wait, there’s more.  Fr. Chet also created Open Door Ministries and the Spiritual Direction Institute (SDI) to encourage laypeople to grow closer to the Lord, learn about themselves, and how to live the Gospel in new ways through a more intimate walk with Christ.  There have been over 600 people who have gone through the SDI program he developed since it first began.  Kevin and I just began the SDI program this summer.  I read and highly recommend the three books to the left written by Monsignor Chester Michael, and used as some of the primary resources for his two year course.  
     It boggles my mind to think of how many souls he’s affected just through Cursillo and SDI.  He’s been involved in so many really powerful ministries over the years, ones I don’t know as much about but which are described in detail on his website.  Kevin and I have been fascinated to read about his life, humble beginnings, ongoing education, and the numerous ministries which he started and/or brought to the Diocese of Richmond over the years.  He has touched the lives of so many different groups of society, I’d venture that when it comes to ministry in Richmond, there could be a game that would probably only show two or three degrees of separation at most between Catholics currently active in our Diocese and their connection to Monsignor Chester Michael and the ministries he’s created and supported.  To read a more complete biography of Monsignor Chet’s life at least up to 1992, click here.
     Today is the five year anniversary of my father’s passing which has gotten me thinking about the influence one person’s life can have on so many others.  We don’t know how much time we have left to make a difference.  Fr. Chet had a lot of years to do all the work God intended for him. 
     What is God calling us to be or do right now?  Are we taking ample time to listen to the whisper of His still small voice?  Are we grounded enough in prayer and edified through study so that we are filled with the love of Our Lord, ready to go out and proclaim the Gospel through our lives?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Candles in the Dark

     Candles in the Dark has been in a stack on one of our bookshelves for a while now.  Saint Benedict Press sent it to me thinking it would be something of interest to me.  They were right, but it wasn’t the right time for me to read it, yet.  I’ve considered picking it up a few times, but then ended up choosing other books to read which, as the Holy Spirit would have it, were exactly what I needed at that time. 
     The other day when I was attending daily Mass at St. Benedict’s a young man in front of me who is a very devout and joyful Catholic was wearing a T-shirt with a quote on it from Fr. Richard Ho Lung and the Missionaries of the Poor (MOP).  Yes, God will speak to us however He likes, even through the messages on T-shirts.  The quote and priest quoted reminded me of the book once more.  Intrigued, I removed Candles in the Dark and dove in.
     Is he a male Mother Teresa as some have said?    Both of them were called to the religious life and were teaching when they each received what’s been described as “a call within a call” to serve the poorest of the poor, those left literally and figuratively, to die in the streets.  They are each devoted to prayer, living among and serving the poor, and using their clout to speak out about the atrocities of our times. But the answer is not really.
     I can’t think of a better time for me to be reading a book about a man who has devoted his life to serving the poor.  Fr. Richard Ho Lung is nicknamed the “Ghetto” priest for good reason.  The slums in Jamaica are where he was born, where he lives now, and that’s where he has been called to serve Christ “in distressing disguise.”  Some know him because of his illustrious singing career.  Not only has he had a number of hit songs, but he has also written and produced full-length musicals and operas.  Others are familiar with him because of his success as a distinguished literature professor, poet, and Jesuit priest.    
     As has happened a number of times throughout my life, there is someone whose health and well-being I’m very concerned about who is of no relation to me.  Wondering and praying about what course of action would be best while reading the story of Fr. Richard Ho Lung’s life and the Missionaries of the Poor reminded me that I should not limit what I am willing to do if God asks me to.  I’ve needed this reminder often in life, so this was another way of repeating the lesson.  Consulting the proper authorities as well as other concerned parties, I’ve now taken a good first step toward getting help for an unsafe living situation.
     One of the things I really appreciated about Candles in the Dark is that Fr. Ho Lung talks about how disgusted and repulsed he was by the condition he would find people living in, but he always knew that he was ministering to Christ in each person he helped.  I have definitely experienced and found myself in some situations I’d rather avoid, but when God brings us into them with the intent that we be an agent of change, we eventually get the courage to speak up. 
     I’m really hoping to find and view one of Fr. Richard Ho Lung’s musicals sometime soon.  I admire him greatly as a man who has answered the call to be a man of prayer, hope, and love to the many people God has brought and will continued to bring into his life.
     I highly recommend Candles in the Dark: The Authorized Biography of Fr. Richard Ho Lung and the Missionaries of the Poor by Joseph Pearce.  The writing is genuine, fresh, and captures the priest’s personality, faith, and passion for serving the poor.  I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  For more info or to get your own copy of Candles in the Dark, click here.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Glory Bee to God!

     A cute little Carmelite postulant named Michele Morris sent Kevin and me a package.  The instructions on the outside were for us to open it together, so we did.  When she’d written at Eastertime, our dear friend/sister in Christ, mentioned she had a surprise for us.  We never in a million years could have guessed what it would be.   
     Ever since the spring a few years ago when I gave Michele a Pieta prayer book, we’ve been talking about “glory bees.”  In the prayer book is a Novena to St. Thérѐse of Lisieux which includes twenty-four “Glory Be to the Father” prayers each day.  Upon seeing this, she turned to me and exclaimed: “That’s a lot of Glory Be’s!”  At which point we both started laughing imagining bees with halos buzzing around glorifying God.  Thus began our affection for “glory bees.”
     That Easter, I presented Michele with a stuffed animal bumblebee with candy in the zippered pocket and a makeshift halo out of silver pipe cleaner.  It was one of the few personal possessions she brought with her when she entered the Carmelite Monastery of Our Lady and St. Thérѐse.  Subsequent gifts to one another after that Easter often carried a theme of bumblebees.  I have a bumblebee pillow pet, a tall mug featuring a cartoon drawing of our adopted mascot, and a pair of yellow and black striped knee socks with bees on them all from Michele.
     When learning to make rosaries, Michele thought it would be fun to make “Glory Bee Rosaries” for Kevin and me.  She was given permission to do so.  We are now the humbled owners of the first two “Glory Bee Rosaries.”  The community liked the idea, so she made a whole batch of them to go to the mission in Uganda.  With some bee research under her wings, she came up with a brochure using for graphics the picture of the bee I gave her with the halo and some of the bee graphics I used in making a memory book for her before she left. 
     Inside the package was one self-portrait drawn with brown marker, one “Glory Bee Rosaries” brochure, two black and yellow beaded rosaries, and a five page handwritten letter from Michele.  I was laughing as I read the letter out loud about how she went from learning to make rosaries, to being inspired to make “Glory Bee Rosaries” for Kevin and me, to the project being blessed by the community. 

     Here’s an excerpt of her letter:
    For Trisha the gift is special in other ways as well.  It is also for you:
1.      A bridesmaids gift.  In thinking about and cherishing our “Girls Day Out” it occurred to me that as the bride-to-be I never did give you a bridesmaids gift-as is custom.  So I made one for you as well as Carrie and Betty J
2.      Something tangible to hold onto as reassurance that I am with you and praying for you.
3.      Tangible evidence that God does indeed work through you—inspiring others—good inspirations. 

     Since July 16 is the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel as well as the two-year anniversary of the first performance of “Teresita” the original play Michele wrote, directed, and performed, and also the day when Michele received the letter accepting her as a postulant to the Carmelite Sisters by the Sea, I thought I’d share this story and the joy it has brought us. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Self-Portrait of a Cute Carmelite Postulant

     Michele Morris actually drew the self-portrait on the right with brown marker and sent it to Kevin and me in a package with some fun surprises I'll share about in another post.
     The note on the top left of the drawing is how she and I would say goodbye to each other in person, letters, phone calls, e-mails or text messages: Love, hugs, and glory bees (a variation of the love, hugs, and prayers I often sign in letters to loved ones).  "Juice" is printed on the top right because one of the many times when Michele appeared at our door it was the first word out of her mouth.  Normally, I'd offer her something to drink upon her arrival, and she often asked for juice and a little snack to go with it.
     One fine day after chatting with Kevin outside for a bit while he was working on his motorcycle, she became particularly parched.  When Michele finally made it upstairs, she knocked, I opened the door, and without so much as a "hi" she said: "Juice!" with the innocence and insistence characteristic of a toddler.  I was completely amused and acquiesced immediately.  
     Michele really cracks me up. Even though she's in a cloistered monastery across the country and I haven't heard her voice or seen her in close to a year now, I can still picture her laughing and smiling, being silly and bringing great joy to The Carmelite Sisters by the Sea in Carmel, California.
     Lord, help us to be open to Your will in all areas of our lives.  Make us mindful of the promptings of the Holy Spirit, so that we are sensitive to how, with whom, when, and where You want us to serve.  Amen.
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