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.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Religious Freedom, Nevermore

Trisha Niermeyer Potter © November 2012

O beautiful the spacious skies
Of amber waves profaned.
The purple mountains,
Your Majesty,
In the upended plains.

I pledge no allegiance
To this plague
In the United States
Under Obamacare
Nor to this immoral public
For which it stands
An administration without God
Visible with religious liberty for none
But contraception and abortion for all.

Moral relativity from sea to sea
Depravity is keyed
Into the side of these rights withheld. 

The religious leaders and faithful few
Try their best to catechize,
But our elected leaders scandalize,
Slaughter our freedom of religion,
Bring genocide stateside.
Thank you very little.

Turn over a new leaf,
Not abandon all Truth and belief
In a matter of convenience
Devoid of obedience
To anything other than pride.

Granny, get your gun
Before the death panels
Are at your side
To choose
How many days you have left
Before your family is bereft. 

It’s bad enough our patriots
Get treated with such disdain.
Apparently it’s better if we ease
This sort of pain
By tearing babies
limb from limb
Based on the slim chance
that God didn’t really mean:
Thou shalt not kill.

For 40 days
They showed up at your door
Reminding you what
God stands for: LIFE.
Far above any pay-grade,
This verdict was clearly laid
and will never be overturned.

I’m afraid  
Though many remain unaware,
Obama doesn’t care
About the youth in Asia
Killed because they have
Two X chromosomes.

I don’t see Y
The home of the free
Has been turned into the prison
Of a slave
To the Devil’s only weapon:

There are some who refuse.
They are silent no more
After the tears they’ve cried
Over children that died
At their parents’ hands
Not in foreign lands
But on American soil
caked with blood.

Rachel’s project expanded
Since evil sisters
banned parenthood,
demanded the president
Continue this precedent
Of scarring the young and the old
The rich and the bold
The greatest and the least
with the mark of the Beast.

Angels and Saints: A Biblical Guide to Friendship with God's Holy Ones

     In his recently published book, Angels and Saints: A Biblical Guide to Friendship with God’s Holy Ones, best-selling author Dr. Scott Hahn gives an overview of how the heavenly hosts and the faithful who have gone before us can inspire, influence, and guide our lives and the Church now.  He shows the Biblical support and proof of the importance of angels and saints in time and eternity. 
     In part one, he establishes the context through which people have seen and interacted with angels and saints throughout the years.  He offers a number of Scriptural examples of these types of encounters and their significance in the lives of devout Catholics.  He also explains the Church’s in-depth process for canonizing saints. 
     In part two, Dr. Hahn, founder and president of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, does an overview of the biographies and wisdom offered by twelve popular saints.  Sometimes the separation between those on earth and those in heaven makes it seem impossible for the two to interact at will, on a regular basis, and in the midst of daily tasks and undertakings.  What a relief to know that we have the encouragement, wisdom, and strength of the holy ones in heaven even while we’re here on earth! 
     This would be a good book to give someone who is interested in learning about the Biblical support for the Church’s teachings that angels and saints are an essential part of the Body of Christ.  It’s easy-to-read, well-researched, and cited.  Hahn has hit the highlights when it comes to the saints included, using just a smattering of those near and dear to him who were also scholars and teachers.  We’re heartened by the Communion of Saints and encouraged to ask for their help and intercession. 
     I received a free copy of Angels and Saints from Blogging for Books for this review.  For more info or to order your own copy of Angels and Saints, click here.  

Monday, June 16, 2014

Discerning Our Charisms & How God Wants Us to Share Them

     In May our parish gave out a booklet titled Discern Our Charisms as part of the Increased Commitment Campaign for 2014.  I’m glad they’ve provided one of these for each of us to fill out, because I can’t for the life of me locate the charisms survey I took some eight years ago in spiritual direction.  I’m sure it’s here somewhere, but I haven’t found it, yet.  Maybe that’s just as well, because discernment is an ongoing process and our gifts and what we’re called to do with them can certainly, and often do change over time.  I would be very interested to see the particular charisms I identified eight years ago which are still very much a part of who I am now as I know a number of them would overlap with the results I reached through examination and prayer this go-round. 
     During the month of June, each person is being asked to complete a Ministry Commitment Form for July 2014-June 2015.  All of the current ministry rosters are being considered null and void.  If you want to participate in a ministry that you have done in the past, you have to register to be part of it again.  If you’re ready to take on or at least learn about a new ministry, you’re encouraged to do so.  This is a big leap of faith, in my opinion.  There are so many different ministries to be involved with and through our parish that it takes more than a full page of legal-size paper just to list them all.

That was then, this is now

     I realize it says a great deal about my personality and way of looking at things that reviewing the sheet of all the ministries at our church, I feel bad that I’m not involved in more of them rather than simply grateful that we have so many opportunities for outreach.  Processing and praying has helped me move from feeling I’m not doing enough to being grateful for the many gifts we have in our parish that we use to serve others, while being more aware of the specific ministries we’ve been called to focus on at this point in our lives. 
     This has been a period of pretty intense discernment for Kevin and me as we have been praying about what ministries to be involved in and what God’s calling us to in terms of our work and careers.  I’m feeling greater peace now that the Lord has shown me the ministries we’re involved in are where He wants us to be devoting our time and energy right now. 
     For a while we’ve been serving as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.  We served regularly at the Sunday 5:30pm Mass and have been filling in as substitutes as needed more recently when our Cursillo commitments have had us at different Masses and sometimes even different parishes from one week to the next.  We do miss taking up most of a row at Mass with the three silly sisters and their parents, but fortunately we got to be together for Mass and dinner afterwards on Father’s Day.

Christ Renews His Parish

     Kevin and I have both made a Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP) weekend and served on the teams for the next weekends put on at our parish.  I still gather pretty regularly with my CRHP sisters, both as a group and individually. I first met a friend who introduced me to a couple of other ministries I hadn’t known about before: the Charismatic Prayer Group and Theophostic Prayer Ministry.  This friend has since moved to Chicago to attend pharmacy school, but the connections she created before leaving remain strong.    


Theophostic Prayer Ministry

     Through that prayer group and because of that friend, I learned about a very powerful type of healing ministry called Theophostic Prayer Ministry (TPM).  She invited me to attend a session with her in Chesapeake, Virginia, and that’s how I met the people at our parish and at New Creation Renewal Center who would journey with me as I witnessed and experienced the healing that the Holy Spirit does through this ministry. 
     When they began a group in Richmond that would study Theophostic Prayer, I eagerly joined.  Over the past few years, I’ve been studying and learning everything I can about Theophostic Prayer Ministry through books, workbooks, DVDs, live demonstrations, and by practicing doing the ministry with people who have been doing this for over ten years now.  Over this next year, I will be completing the live practicum portion of my training as a TPM facilitator with the hope that in the summer of 2015, I’ll be ready to take part in a three-day intensive workshop with Dr. Edward Smith, the pastor and counselor who developed this ministry and has been teaching it around the world.  

Spiritual Direction Institute

     Kevin and I have begun a two year course modeled after Monsignor Chester Michael’s Spiritual Direction Institute (SDI) program.  We had our first class last Saturday.  As part of the program, we commit to spending one hour in prayer in addition to doing one hour of study (faith formation) five days each week for the duration of the program. We have two retreats each year.  We have to read at least one book a month and write a one page book report on it.  Obviously this is a big chunk of time and a major commitment which we took time to discern carefully and prayerfully. 
     Anyone who knows me knows that I devour books, often ones that are spiritual and/or religious in nature, so reading a book each month and doing a book report isn’t intimidating for me at all.  The possible challenges posed to me through prayer and when it comes to applying to what I’ve learned from the books is likely to be the most difficult aspect of the process for me.  I knew it would be the prompting of the Holy Spirit if Kevin, who doesn’t usually read books and rarely sits down to write much of anything, discerned now is the time for him to go through this program as well.


     We learned about the SDI program from active members in another ministry which we have been very involved in over the past eight years: Cursillo.  Kevin and I attended our first Ultreya  at St. Edward’s the spring of 2006.  We walk into the school hall where the Ultreya was being held, and the first two people we meet are Mary, who was pregnant, and Joseph.  I kid you not.  The married couple who greeted us that evening are actually named Mary and the husband goes by Joey for short.  Their son’s name is Isaiah.  They are still a wonderful, joyful part of our Cursillo family.       
     We have been members of the Cursillo community since June 2006 when I made my weekend at Mary Mother of the Church Abbey and sat at the table Sea of Conviction, but we renamed ourselves the Spiritual Divas, and that’s how we’re known in the community.  Kevin made his in September 2006.  We’ve each served on team before and were asked to do so again this year.  I served on team for the Women’s Cursillo Weekend that took place April 2014.      
     Kevin is currently in team formation for the Men’s Cursillo Weekend being held July 24-27, 2014.  I have been a contributor and the editor of the Cursillo newsletter, The Rooster Review, for the past seven plus years.  I’ve lost track of the number of candidates Kevin and I have sponsored and/or co-sponsored to go on Cursillo weekends, but I’m certain it’s over ten. 
     Through our involvement in Cursillo, we have met some of the most faithful, dynamic, and dedicated Christians we know.  Our close friends, many of whom are already strong people of faith, have been reenergized by making a CursilloThe Cursillo Movement is an international, proven method of evangelization designed to bring people closer to Christ in all areas of their lives.  

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Pentecost Weekend Festivities

      Pentecost Weekend was very enjoyable.  We spent it with loved ones, many faith-filled people who are passionate about serving the Lord and others.  Saturday I had some good prayer, reading, study, and writing time.  In the evening, Kevin and I had dinner with my mom at a delicious Italian place on the Southside called Angelo’s.  Their stromboli is scrumptious!

     From there we headed over to Church of the Epiphany, where Kevin and I were married on September 4, 2004.  Two of our friends from Cursillo were doing a concert as part of their Give Me Jesus tour.  The band S2K they’re in plays for Kairos retreat weekends.  I knew it would be a blast, because our two friends are characters on their own, but are even more hilarious together.  The concert was awesome, and the banter among the guys entertaining, as always! We got to sing along to the praise and worship music they performed, and heard their take a on a few classics that fit in with the theme of Kairos
     In between sets, one of the men in the band would talk about how, when, and why they became involved in prison ministry.  Each of them has gone to one or more Virginia prisons to put on Kairos retreats for the inmates.  It was really awesome to hear the stories of how these men from a variety of faith denominations and backgrounds came together to serve men, women, and juveniles who are incarcerated. 
     One of the most moving testimonies was from a gentleman who had been an inmate on the very first Kairos retreat that ever took place in our area back in 2002.  When released from prison, he began studying to become a minister.  Now he’s one of the chaplains who serves Kairos.  Talk about transformation and metanoia! There you have it!
     Sunday morning Kevin and I went to 11:15 Mass at our church because our friend was doing the second reading in Hindi as part of the celebration for Pentecost.  It was neat to hear the reading in an unfamiliar language, and the music was beautiful.  Afterwards, we headed up the hill for the church picnic that the Knights of Columbus had organized and were preparing for.  I ended up sitting with a few friends from Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP), a couple of whom are now also Cursillistas, and we had a good time.  Good friends, good food, and good fun!
     Then I got to catch up with a dear friend I met through CRHP who has been at pharmacy school in Chicago for the past couple years.  We were assigned to be roommates for the overnight portion of the CRHP retreat, and we stayed up half the night talking and have been good friends ever since.  We weren’t sitting at the same table when we made our retreat, so we wouldn’t have gotten to know each other as well had we not been assigned to the same room.  Another God incident indeed! 
     Lord, thank you for surrounding us with so many people of faith to inspire us and pray for and with us.  We are grateful to have friends who are family steeped in the love of Christ and the dedication to serve His people.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Something Other than God

     Prepare to be inspired by Something Other than God.  Oh, wait, Jennifer Fulwiler already tried that approach, and it didn’t go at all the way she planned.  The high-powered job, racy sports car, fancy house, decadent parties, and expensive vacations she thought were essential to be content in life weren’t enough.    
     Fulwiler relentlessly pursued wealth and the finer things.  She met and married someone as ambitious and single-minded as she was when it came to work and worldly measures of success.  They were on the way up the corporate ladder to the penthouse suite when the arrival of a small, helpless human being changed everything.  It was more than sleep deprivation and the weight of being responsible for the safety and well-being of a newborn that made her question all aspects of her life up to that point.  Though she fought against such introspection, she was most distraught over losing her grasp of atheism.
     Raised as an atheist who made fun of the many Christians around her trying to talk her into accepting Christ as her personal Savior, she was horrified to find herself being drawn to answers that were beyond her understanding and comfort level—ones certainly above her pay-grade.  She became obsessed with reading about Christianity, the Bible, researching as much as she could, and questioning everything along the way. 
     As you can imagine, there are some very amusing scenarios that factor into Fulwiler’s full-blown existential crisis.  Conversion Diary, the blog she began so she could ask the tough questions about Christianity, morality, ethics, and get responses from people who were willing to answer her questions and concerns on both an intellectual level as well as a spiritual one remains tremendously popular.  What started as a hobby as she was seeking Truth, opened her up to the Catholic faith and a vocation of sharing her journey with others through her humorous writing, harrowing, often humbling tales of motherhood, and her struggle against her tendencies to be a mostly inert introvert.
     There are a number of people I’ve thought of whom I’d love to have read Something Other than God.  Fulwiler writes in a compelling way that brings to light the many questions she grappled with and the answers she came to over time.  This memoir is an account of how one woman set out to achieve worldly success and how, through the grace of God, she discovered a greater longing, a deeper void, which nothing and no one other than God can fill.  Fulwiler slaved over this memoir while raising several young children, dodging dubious scorpions, inadvertently providing exercise entertainment for her neighbors, and attempting creative ways to corral her children enough to maintain her sanity (most of the time), so the least you can do is buy it, read it, and recommend it to all your friends—atheist or otherwise. 
     For more information about this book or to order your copy, click here.  To read more about Jennifer Fulwiler's current life events, funny happenings, and daily struggles, check out her blog Conversion Diary.  I received a free copy of this book from Aquinas and More in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A Subtle Grace

     A Subtle Grace is the latest masterpiece by bestselling author/editor Ellen Gable.  It is the sequel to the award winning novel In Name Only.  I’ve really been looking forward to this sequel, because I was so thoroughly impressed by the first book, which vividly depicts the lives of the O’Donovan family in the late eighteen hundreds.  I love when I get so drawn into a book that I can picture myself in the scenes and have a real sense of the thoughts and emotions surging through the characters.  She blends dialogue and descriptive prose to create full-bodied personalities.  It is easy to identify and relate to each person’s unique charms, quirks, and flaws. 
     There are scenes in certain books, plays, and movies that stick with us because of how disturbing or upsetting they are.  Maybe it’s an image from one of the ghost stories popular at sleepovers or an urban legend that hits a little too close to home.  We can all think back to a particular scenario we’ve envisioned and relive the emotions as if it was happening to us in the present.  Adrenalin starts pumping.  Our heart beats faster.  Our palms sweat.  Our muscles tense.  Every sound is amplified and ominous.  We are sure of our safety, nevermore. 
     In each of these novels, there are a number of scenes I found myself reacting to on a visceral level because of how powerfully crafted and carefully portrayed they are.  The suspense made me not want to put the books down even when the turn of events caused me to cringe.  Gable manages to treat a number of the scenarios I would definitely include in my top five biggest fears of all time in ways that compel me to continue onward through the horror and devastation to discover what’s waiting on the other side.  I can’t exactly say that I enjoy feeling awful, but to me it’s a mark of good storytelling if you can get me to empathize with the characters so deeply that a real sense of sorrow rises within me when they are suffering and a genuine joy comes over me when they have triumphed over it.
     This is one of my favorite contemporary works of Catholic fiction.  (For purposes of classification, I'm defining contemporary as works written between the 1980 and today) .  The storytelling is masterful, the characters fascinating, and the writing is of high literary quality.  People are imperfect—past, present, and future—but each is given the opportunity to grow, change, learn, and be redeemed.  In this story it’s shown how the greatest mistake of our lives can be turned into one of the most amazing blessings and even be a source of hope for others.  Life’s messy.  People are complex.  We’ve all got some skeletons in our closets, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t also fit some trophies and triumphs in there as well. 

     A Subtle Grace has all of the elements that good Catholic fiction should.  For more information about In Name Only or A Subtle Grace, click here.  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.            

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Like a Good Neighbor, My Husband is There

     I find it tremendously ironic that I was selected to give the Action/Evangelization talk on the Women’s Cursillo Weekend held April 24-27, 2014.  Not only was I on team with a number of people who have a great deal more experience in performing the corporal works of mercy than I do, but I’m also married to someone who is naturally not just a good neighbor to the many people who live in our building, but who is often a very Christ-like one. 
    He goes above and beyond the usual, signing for a package if someone has asked you to hold it for them until they get back or letting someone know they’ve left their headlights on.  I can’t tell you how many times
he has helped the people who live in our building.  He’s done work on their vehicles or assisted them with repairs, given individuals who are handicapped rides to the store, taken care of cats while their owners are out of town, provided bags of groceries when people were struggling to put food on the table, helped people network who were looking for a new job, let someone borrow his bicycle for several months so they wouldn’t have to buy one to train for a competition, changed light bulbs and done other various household chores too challenging for those who are elderly and/or have disabilities, reported suspicious activity to the police, listened while people tell them about their day or about their whole life story, provided encouragement and support to those who have been struggling in mind, body, or spirit…
     He’s the one who knows everyone’s name and asks them how things are going then actually listens to the response.  We saw one of our neighbors in a wheelchair, and Kevin found out after a few different attempts (because my husband doesn’t speak Spanish) what had happened to him.  The husband and father of two girls fell 20 feet off of a ladder, breaking both of his ankles.  Kevin noticed that the front tire of their car had been slashed.  It was completely flat and would need to be replaced, so he offered to go and get a new tire and put it on for them.  They agreed to this.  When he went to return the car keys, they wanted to pay him, but he refused any compensation for the new tire or the labor.  We agreed it was a very practical way that we could offer them assistance during a difficult time.
     Kevin is preparing to give the Laity talk on the upcoming Men’s Cursillo Weekend being held July 24-27, 2014, at Sacred Heart, New Bohemia.  He’s got a number of wonderful descriptions of the roles of laypeople in the Church.  What amuses me is that he hasn’t yet included any of the number of day-to-day things that come naturally to him and count as ways to minister to others.  Isn’t that often the way, though?  The people who are best at doing something are the ones who question their aptitude, downplay their abilities, or doubt the validity of what they have to offer. 

     When I see so much everywhere I look that I feel I could or should be doing, it’s refreshing to look at my husband.  He reminds me just by being who he is and where he is he’s glorifying the Lord.      

Friday, May 23, 2014

You Are Not Alone & A Partial Potter Update

Dear Family and friends,
     We want to be there for you always.  We want you to feel comfortable calling us for whatever you need   whenever you need it, especially during the most difficult times! For those of you who we have been there for at least some of the time, please know that you are not partially responsible or at all responsible for the times when Kevin and I are feeling worn out and/or rundown.  Even if we have not been as good about calling, visiting, or checking in with you lately as we could be, please rest assured that you our on our minds, in our thoughts, and certainly in our prayers.
     Our struggle has a lot more to do with being upset for the times we don't feel we have much to offer anyone, even each other and those closest to us.  We struggle with feeling like we’re not enough, not who anyone wants or needs us to be, not living up to what anyone would like or expects of us.  It’s painful when some of the ways we’d like to be able to reach out and help others, we no longer are in a position, physically, emotionally, spiritually, or financially that we can offer the assistance we’d like to offer and in many cases have given in the past. 

Still Searching

     Kevin’s been looking for work ever since he lost his job on Labor Day, and though he’s had some good leads and applied to a number of places, nothing’s come together, yet.  He’s networked with some great people and been given some prospects to check out.  He’s kept an open mind, kept praying, and kept pounding the pavement.  Last week, he received the letter saying that he’d been sent his last unemployment check.  He was hit with a wave of frustration, anger, and anxiety that he hasn’t found a new job, yet.    
     Regardless of what other things are going on, I’ve needed to take pretty much every subbing job I’ve been offered due to our financial situation.  Don't get me wrong; I love working at school with different age groups of children and a number of great teachers teachers.  I’ve learned a great deal and have come to appreciate the Montessori method as an ideal way of educating children.  However, as anyone who has served as a substitute knows, it can be more exhausting than usual when you don’t yet know the routine or all of the kids and specifics of the role played by the person for whom you’re filling that day.  There’s so much to try and remember and learning on-the-go can be a challenge in an environment where there are already a significant number of important Department of Social Services rules, regulations, and procedures to keep in mind. 

Running on Empty

     Over the past couple months, I’ve most often felt like I’ve been running on empty.  We’ve had so much going on that it’s been hard to catch my breath.  I’m behind on a number of things as is really obvious if you look around our apartment or consult any one of my “To Do Lists.”  I can’t seem to relax much, because I always feel like there’s something else I should be doing.  Yes, I know that I just finished reading Crash the Chatterbox twice in a row, but it’s so flipping difficult to put it into practice day in and day out. 
     Anywhere I look, I see and think about something I should be doing for our marriage, our family, friends, to improve our financial situation, to straighten up our place, to minister to others, and it just makes me more discouraged when I get so caught up in all that I could be doing and some of what I should be doing that I haven’t yet. 

Enjoy the Ride

     A Cursillo friend of ours who is single and lives alone was recovering from knee surgery and then had shoulder surgery at the beginning of April and needed help with rides to and from her physical therapy appointments, and such.  I think of her regularly and get upset with myself for not having checked up on her recently or at the very least sent her a card.  Kevin and I were blessed to be in position that we could help. 
     I showed up to give our friend a ride and couldn’t pull it together soon enough before I got to her place that she could tell I’d been crying.  There are few things that make me feel as ridiculous and pitiful as feeling the least bit sad or depressed when I’m well aware that others are suffering way worse than I am.       
     Did my friend get in the car and ask me what could I possibly have to cry about since I didn’t recently have to have a series of IV infusions just so I could finally have the knee surgery, followed by shoulder surgery after a car accident a year before that wasn’t even my fault?  No.  Did she tell me that I should be wildly rejoicing because I’m able to move around without difficulty, have a husband who loves me, don’t live alone, have family nearby, and friends who care about me?  No.  She got in the car and was genuinely concerned about what had happened that made me feel so upset that I am not enough in any area of my life and that I can’t seem to do anything right.  (Unfortunately, these are beliefs about myself I have struggled with most of my life that sometimes drag me down further than other times.  I’m better at fighting them sometimes than others).
     I am amazed by this woman’s fighting spirit and can do attitude.  She is persistent and insistent that she get through these surgeries and get back to an active lifestyle.  She’s assured those of us who used to gather weekly for prayer group that come summer, she’ll be running circles around all of us again.       

An Influx of Family Visits

     The week leading up to the Women’s Cursillo Weekend was even busier than I’d expected it to be and more tiring.  Holy Week is usually a full time for us anyway, but we had even more packed in this time.  On Good Friday, Kevin’s sister and brother-in-law stopped in while driving down to meet their newest granddaughter, so we spent some time with them before heading to church for the Veneration of the Cross.  Saturday, we met them in the morning, then we headed over to my sister’s house to see my uncle, aunt, two cousins, and their two friends, who were in town for lunch and an afternoon visit at my sister’s house before they drove back home to upstate New York.  That evening, Kevin and I attended the Easter Vigil at St. Michael’s, which was quite beautiful, as always. 

A Window of Opportunity

     I spent a good chunk of time that week putting together blog posts, journal entries, and writing a very long letter to Michele Morris, so I could send her a package of things during the two weeks after Easter when she can receive, read, and respond to mail to let her know what’s going on in our area with Cursillo, mutual family and friends, etc.  In the letter I sent her at Christmastime, I’d let her know that I would be serving on team for Cursillo on the weekend of Divine Mercy Sunday, so I knew she would be praying for everyone participating on the weekend, especially during that time. 

A Loved One Lost

     The Wednesday before Cursillo began, Kevin and I had a funeral to attend that morning at Epiphany on the Southside.  Kay Marie Geiger, who had been really sick with cancer for a number of months, went to be with the Lord, so we gathered with her family, many friends, and Cursillistas to celebrate her life and legacy.  (Life has been so crazy, busy, and hectic since then that I have yet to finish writing my tribute to this wonderful woman who has been such a loving, compassionate presence in our lives). 

Now is the Time: ACTION

     The evening of April 23, 2014, we spent several hours at Shalom House unloading cars, moving lots of furniture and beginning to get things set-up for the Women’s Cursillo Weekend that took place April 24-27. 
Thursday, another team member and I arrived back at Shalom House in the early afternoon to continue preparations.  There was so much running around and taking care of things that I managed to go the entire weekend without having a really in-depth, intimate conversation with anyone at all.  I have a hard time keeping up with all the running if I don’t connect with anyone on a deeper level than discussing the weather, meals, logistics, and other surface stuff. 
     Everyone on our team was wonderful, pitching in wherever needed, regardless of their assigned roles, but we were down an “angel,” those responsible for making sure everything and everyone is where they need to be and where it needs to be at or by the time specified.  One of our angels had to have a double mastectomy a few weeks before the Cursillo, and she blessed us by coming for a few hours when she was up to it and to give her talk, but her work and offerings during the weekend itself, understandably, needed to be predominantly prayers since she was still recovering from surgery.  I should have visited her or sent her a few cards by now, but again, I haven’t.  She’s certainly been in my thoughts and prayers, though. 

Sharing Straight from the Heart

     Two of the talks given on Divine Mercy Sunday as part of the Cursillo weekend I knew would hit me really hard.  One talk was given by a woman who bravely shared the story of how she and her family have felt God’s presence and love in the months since last September when their youngest son committed suicide.  The second talk was given by the woman who has also found strength and hope in the Cursillo community when she was diagnosed for a second time with breast cancer and this time had a double mastectomy and will also need chemo and radiation.  I made it through each of these talks by sitting in the way back of the room, letting the tears stream down my face, then leaving the minute they were finished to go back and have some quiet time to myself in our room.  By Sunday evening, I was physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted and ready to collapse.

While You Were Gone

     Within the next couple days, we learned of troubling news about some of our close friends.  One friend, whom I had invited to come on the weekend and who discerned that this wasn’t the right time for her to go, informed us that the previous Thursday she’d found out that her ex-husband had been found dead in his apartment.  He had not been in good health, nor had he taken very good care of himself, but it was still unexpected and, of course, hard on the family.  Kevin and I devoted an evening to help clean out the ex-husband’s apartment, which we needed a mask and gloves just to enter.  There were a number of things that reminded me of my dad and his declining health and struggles at the end of his life, so that wasn’t easy to manage.  We attended the funeral Mass held at church which was quite beautiful, but again reminded me of losing my dad at a young age.   

Not much rest for the weary

     The Monday after the weekend, I slept and rested most of the day, then met several team members and their spouses back up at Shalom House to clean up, move furniture back, organize and put supplies away, and such. 
     We also found out that a good friend of ours had been hospitalized for the second time in one week.  That Tuesday, Kevin and I were on our way to Mass at St. Benedict’s.  Actually we were in the parking lot, when I happened to check my phone before going into 5:30 Mass.  I’d already turned the ringer off, but something nudged me to look at my phone again before heading in.  Our friend whose husband had been hospitalized called asking if we would be so kind as to pick up dinner and bring it over to her at the hospital.  We left to go be there for our friends while they were facing a difficult time. 

We’ve got your back

     As we've said to the dear friends of ours who are fighting some tough stuff, including one of them having recently been diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer, it's nice to be able to do some practical things to let you both know we love you.  Sometimes, it's hard to know how to help or what to do, so having specific things to take care of makes it easier.  I need or ride or a meal or for you to get this from the store for me are tangible things we can do to offer assistance.  We are saddened by the burdens that some of our family and friends are carrying, but we are also very hopeful for each one of you in the midst of these crises. 

Prayers and Presence

     Two of our friends each lost a parent in the past couple months.  We weren’t able to attend either of those funerals.  Another couple we know through Cursillo lost their 20 year old son who committed suicide a couple weeks ago.  When we arrived at the Ultreya that Friday evening that was at their parish, they were outside to receive an outpouring of love, hugs, and condolences.   I’ve prayed for all of these people, their loved ones lost, and the families in mourning.  I’ve given each of our friends hugs when I’ve seen them in person and expressed my sorrow over their losses, but I have yet to send any of them sympathy cards or letters.

More than meets the eye   

     There are many crosses Kevin and I are carrying which only a handful of people know about at all.  Only a select few people know the weight and depth of these burdens and what we’ve gone through to keep moving forward despite them.   It's been a struggle for us to trust in God in these areas when it seems like there's no change or improvement, not just recently, but over a period of many months, even years.
     Seeing the hope and courage of others in the face of major challenges and drawbacks inspires both of us.  We are grateful that family and friends share their joys and sorrows with us.  That's how it's supposed to be.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Crash the Chatterbox

     I love how humble, willing to be vulnerable, candid, humorous, and honest Pastor Steven Furtick is in sharing examples from his own day-to-day struggles with the chatterbox, the internal monologue that goes on in our minds that can keep us from living in the fullness of God’s love and freedom.  The lies we believe keep us from hearing, heeding, and accepting the Truth about God, how He sees us and others.  Identifying the lies is an essential step in order to “Crash the Chatterbox.”  Furtick explains that the lies we believe often fall under one of these four categories: insecurity, fear, condemnation, and discouragement.
     Furtick offers Biblical truths about the children of God as proof that many of the thoughts we have that fall under one of the four categories mentioned above are contrary to who God says we are and how Our Creator sees us.  The importance of daily prayer and ongoing Scripture study are emphasized as keys to combating lies.
     If you voiced aloud to someone else some of the exact same things that go through your mind about yourself, would they be horrified, offended, or hurt?  Probably.  The thing is the lies we believe not only affect us and our openness to God, but they also affect those around us in big and small ways.
     Furtick doesn’t suggest that any negative emotion we have is a lie.  Sorrow, guilt, and regret are all very real, truth-based, and can be indicators of sinfulness for which we need to repent and accept forgiveness.
     It’s rather freeing to find out that some things are intended to be part of our daily struggle to grow closer to the Lord and become more Christ-like.  There’s not some point at which we’ll have overcome all fears, temptations, lies, roadblocks and can coast along without any more obstacles internally or externally—at least not this side of Heaven.
     I can identify best with people who are down in the trenches still fighting spiritual battles, though able to see and share some of the insights and grace God has given them to keep fighting.  I prefer to read about and hear from a fellow prayer warrior who may be a bit frazzled, but who continues on confident in Christ. 
     Through humor, personal stories, and pound the chatterbox nuggets, Furtick reminds us that the negative influences, thoughts, and feelings in our lives aren’t going to disappear.  We’re in this battle against darkness and evil, but Christ has already conquered everything we’re fighting against.  We’re given the mercy, grace, forgiveness…all of the tools we need to win every fight we have with fear, discouragement, insecurity, and condemnation.  We just have to admit that we need these blessings and stock up on them through study and prayer. 
     When a thought goes through my mind, it can be helpful to ask myself whose line is this, anyway?  If it’s of God, I may be called out and asked to change in some way, but, ultimately, I will be lifted up and affirmed as a beloved child of the Lord.  If the line of thinking is governed by fear, insecurity, condemnation, and discouragement without an ounce of hope or freedom in sight, then it’s time to suit up.  When all else fails, go get your armor!
     I highly recommend Crash the Chatterbox: Hearing God’s Voice above All Others by Steven Furtick.  It’s one of the few books that I have read twice in a row, because there are so many powerful truths and reminders about how to recognize and combat the lies Satan tries to feed us.  I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.  For more information about the book, or to order your own copy, click here.
     There are some great links, interviews with some of the experts that are quoted in the book available on the website.  It’s another really good resource that will help you get the most from this book.
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