Saturday, February 28, 2009

All About The Women of Salvation History - and Pope Benedict's Prayer Intention for March 2009

To coincide with the Holy Father's March 2009 Prayer Intention. . .

(That the role of women may be more appreciated and used to good advantage in every country in the world!)

. . .the Catholic by Grace blog will be highlighting one woman from Holy Scripture each day.
Join us tomorrow for glimpse into Eve.


Friday, February 27, 2009

Dentist Postcard - Your Last Appointment Was. . .

I am the kind of person who relies on those postcard reminders from doctors and dentists. Sometimes, the postcard isn't even enough. Sometimes, the office has to take the time to call me and personally invite me to schedule my long overdue check-up.

The Liturgical Calendar is a little like those personal reminders. The Church has so many ways to remind us of important things, like repentance, and remembering our Baptismal promises, and journeying with Mary to Christmas (Advent), and journeying with Our Lord to Good Friday and Easter Morning.

If we have a tendency to let life carry us away, the Church is there to help us put things in the right order.

How long has it been since you went to Confession? Are you fully engaged in this Lenten journey? It's not too late to join the pilgrimage. Consider this your personal reminder. It's not too late.


When the Faithful Fast: Quote Cited in Holy Father's Letter for Lent

Jesus Prays and Fasts

Saint Peter Chrysologus writes: "Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others, you open God's ear to yourself" (Sermo 43: PL 52, 320. 322).

Thursday, February 26, 2009

What's Your "Stations" Story?

If you grew up with the Stations of the Cross, you might find my ignorance odd. The first time I saw/prayed (or whatever one does at) the Stations of the Cross, I felt more like an observer. I still feel that way a little.

Today, I stopped by the Adoration Chapel and an elderly woman and her daughter were praying. The older woman stood up and walked to the first Station, carrying a little booklet with her. She paused at each picture and read something from her booklet and prayed; then she moved to the next one. I had never seen the Stations of the Cross prayed by an individual. I've never prayed them by myself.

And I certainly have spent enough time in the middle of the night at St. Joseph's Chapel to do it. It's just, well, I didn't know how one actually does it.

But, I'm going to begin doing this. Lent is as good of a time as any to begin the practice. Like many unfamiliar Catholic devotions, this one will probably take some time. I won't feel like I know what I'm doing for awhile. I'll just be obedient. . . and eventually, it will become a natural expression of the love I have for Our Lord.

I remember the testimony a young Carmelite nun gave to a group of 8th graders a few years back. She told the story of how she went to a retreat for young women at the monastery. She thought God might be calling her to religious life, but she wasn't sure. And if He was calling her, she wasn't sure she wanted to say yes. She went to the chapel and began praying the Stations of the Cross. She said it was hard. Agonizing. A real labor of love. Each step, she wanted to say no, but she felt the call getting stronger, clearer, undeniaby so. By the time she reached the final Station, she was sobbing, she said. Absolutely spent. And yet, she was ready to say yes.

Her testimony was powerful. She thought she was talking to a group of 8th graders about "hearing the call to religious life" - and so she was.

But she was also talking about the power of the Stations of the Cross. I am ready to discover that power for myself.

What's your "Stations" story? I would love to hear it.


Day Two In Our Forty Day Journey Together

A procession of prelates accompany Pope Benedict XVI at the Santa Sabina Basilica, for the Ash Wednesday prayer service in Rome, Wednesday Feb. 25, 2009. (AP photo)


Facebook and "All About Me" - an exercise in discernment

If you are on Facebook, you've probably already been invited to write your own "All About Me" list. It seems sort of self-indulgent, doesn't it?

But I think there is something positive that can come out of studying the events of one's life as well as the quirkiness that make each of us unique. God speaks to us through life events. He whispers to us about our calling (daily opportunities and serious lifetime work) through our gifts, fears, experiences, acquaintances and family and friends.

Last night at Ash Wednesday Mass, Father told us to wake up every morning and tell God one thing: Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.

Sometimes, this is the precise moment that God will make us students of our own lives. Why? Because He has already "talked" to us through our life events and the gifts He deposited in us. Now that we have come to the place where we are servants who are ready to listen, He simply lays our life before us and says, "Look there."

He is the Master Teacher; we are the student. And we begin to study our own lives with His direction. Now, begin your "All About Me" list:

1. What are your greatest fears? How might they be obstacles that keep you from seeing (or doing) God's will? How might those fears be a provision by God to keep you safe from real harm?

2. What life events turned everything upside down in your life or sent you off in a new direction? (don't forget to think about what you learned or how you changed) How might these events have been the Hand of God in your life?

3. What was the first thing you knew you could excel at? What other talents showed up later? Is there any way these gifts might be meant to work in tandem for God? What kinds of things bring you the most "pure" joy? Art, music, academics, sports, being close to creation, animals, literature, children, politics, the elderly, technology) How might God use this as a venue to reach you? How might God use this as a venue for you to reach Him?

4. What are your weaknesses? Are there situations or people that bring those shortcomings to the surface? Use those moments as an opportunity for God to tell you what He wants to change in you. Consider those "enemies" a tool for sanctification. Consider that God may have brought them along in your life for the sole purpose of getting you to heaven (and not to make you miserable).

5. Who is your go-to authority figure? Whose advice do you most value? If this person were standing next to Jesus Christ, would there be any resemblance? If not, who in your life would be a closer match?

Ponder your answers. Sit quietly and let God speak to you. And remember to wake up every morning and say, Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Faithful in Manila - Ash Wednesday

(Picture from Reuters 2/25/09)

Repent, turn from sin. . .


The Sacrament of Confession - from Protestant to Catholic

I'm going to take some time today to "go into my closet to pray" - and I will return to the blog tomorrow. Rather than take the time to write something for Ash Wednesday, I am going to post a diocesan article that went to a number of papers the year I entered the Church (2005). It is about the Sacrament of Confession . . . and how I went from a Protestant perspective on it to fully embracing the Sacrament as a Catholic.

In Anticipation of Reconciliation

One week before Easter Vigil, the RCIA class at my parish went through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Due to a pending annulment from a first marriage, I could not participate in the Sacrament. It was a difficult moment in my conversion to the Catholic faith, because I longed to make this part of the journey with my class and be reconciled to the Lord. Even though the pending annulment meant I couldn’t participate, my classmates asked me to join them in a show of love and support, and so I went along somewhat reluctantly.

The idea of watching my friends enter the confessional and leave with clean hearts and souls (while I remained in the pew, still mired in sin and shame) weighed heavily on my mind. I am so glad that I decided to put that aside and go along as they suggested.

Although I had a desire to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, at that point in my journey I still had lingering doubts about why I needed to seek forgiveness through a priest. While I sorted through the intellectual doubts, my spirit sensed the necessity of this act of humility and Sacrament of Reconciliation. My instincts were confirmed as I watched my new friends leave the confessional with radiant faces. The memory of it still blesses me in a profound way. After they had made their confessions, some suggested that I go in to receive a blessing.

When I entered, the priest was already seated. He said something to me, and I realized that he was beginning the Sacrament. I muddled through an explanation of my situation, and we talked briefly. Then, he blessed me.

When I left that little room, I realized that my Protestant doubt in the confessional was gone. In fact, the experience turned my thinking around one-hundred-eighty degrees. Now, I had doubts in the validity of the Jesus-and-me style of private Protestant confession.

Somehow, I had been given the grace to recognize Jesus in His ordained one, the priest.

Somehow, the Holy Spirit had helped me realize that the Sacrament of Reconciliation was not merely part of a sequence of events leading up to First Communion. The door to the confessional is the door to Jesus’ forgiveness. From that point on, I realized that when I hear those words of absolution – whenever that blessed day comes along – the words will be spoken by a priest, but they will be the words of Jesus.

In the weeks and months that have followed, the desire to be made clean through this Sacrament has consumed my spirit like holy fire. When I read verses from the Psalmist – verses like “Take pity on me, Lord, in your mercy; in your abundance of mercy wipe out my guilt” and “Wash me ever more from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin . . . for I know how guilty I am: my sin is always before me” – I am filled with an unquenchable desire to be reconciled to the Lord through this Sacrament.

I suppose one could contemplate the Sacrament of Reconciliation forever and never be able to grasp completely the fullness of the mystery, but I find myself trying to figure it out anyway. Why does the confessional trump individual prayers of confession? I think the question is answered in part by another verse in the Book of Psalms. “The true sacrifice is a broken spirit: a contrite and humble heart, O God, you will not refuse.”

The confessional requires humility. Pride is wrestled to the ground, giving way to a broken spirit. The net result is deep remorse and a profound desire to turn from sin and temptation (which is the definition of repentance). Private Jesus-and-Me confessions too easily segue into a mere appeasement of a guilty conscience and not true repentance. Without contrition and humility there is no forgiveness, the Psalmist says. The Lord has provided a way for me to know I am forgiven – the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I realize now that it is next to impossible to sit before a priest and speak of one’s darkest deeds without a profound sense of contrition and humility that leads to a serious desire to turn from sin.

If that wasn’t enough for me to embrace the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I only had to consider the Lord’s words to His Apostles, “Whatever you bind . . . whatever you loose.” Forgiveness is ours because of the Blood of Christ and His atoning work on the cross of Calvary (something I’d always believed), but Jesus said that the one who has the authority to forgive in His name is the ordained one.

Recently, I received word from the Metropolitan Tribunal that I am not bound to my first marriage and the decision will be official within a few weeks. Words cannot describe the joy that comes with knowing that Jesus is drawing me closer, even now bending His finger to me, indicating that He wants me to come all the way home, and that eventually I will be able to receive Him in the Holy Eucharist. I’m still anticipating my first confession; I long to hear the words of absolution. I’m ready to trade my ashes for beauty, ready to wear forgiveness like a crown. I know that Jesus is there and that He is waiting for me to receive the sweet Sacrament of Reconciliation no matter how long it takes for me to be ready.

(This article was written in May of 2005. I entered the Church on 8/14/05, having received the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the convalidation of my marriage, the Sacrament of Confirmation, and First Holy Communion.)


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Changing Colors of the Seasons

I stopped by the Adoration Chapel today. The colors on the altar changed sometime after morning Mass, from green to purple. And so here I am tonight, changing the colors of my posts to match the liturgical season of Lent.

I encourage you to change something in your home or your sacred space that will take you more deeply into Lent.

Let us journey together. . .with prayers for the grace to journey faithfully. . .


When It Seems Like God Isn't Listening

My email is messed up. I've sent a number of emails today, and they all come back with a system failure. It's okay. The emails weren't hugely important. In fact, one was to my husband. When that one didn't go through, I just walked down the hall and found him sitting at the desk in the home office. I told him what I wanted. Dumb, I know. But we have come to rely on email when he is on a business call and I feel like telling him something.

I feel like this sometimes when I pray. It seems like nothing is getting through. My human perception of things tells me there is a system failure. God's not listening. The Saints aren't paying attention. And I'm wasting my time trying.

That's when I realize I have another recourse. It may sound crazy, but I give even the "system failure" to God. I offer it up. I try a more traditional approach (kind of like getting up and walking to the home office). I say the Our Father. And I stop worrying about "getting through" to God.

Then I go back to life and just keep working my way through the day.

About then, my husband announces: "That email you sent. . . it finally came through."

And I smile and say, "Finally."

My husband thinks I'm talking to him. God knows I'm really talking to Him. . . and I know He's listening.


Blessed Dina Belanger and Gracelines

"Very well, I will be a saint. I will provide a patron for those who bear my name."
-Blessed Dina Belanger

This quote was part of today's graceline. In the reflection that followed the quote, we learn that Dina, at age 8, learned that there was no saint bearing her name. This is her response to the teacher who informed the little girl of this unfortunate situation.

Gracelines provide an opportunity to reflect on some aspect of the faith (and the wisdom of a saint) every day. Consider signing up at:

The Importance of Ecumenism and Evangelization

Among my favorite memories of childhood is the memory of sitting at the dinner table and hearing my dad recite poetry. It was usually some dramatic monologue he’d memorized decades earlier while attending his beloved Burr Ridge country school near Hillsboro, Wisconsin. This command performance on the part of my father didn’t happen very often, but when it did, my sister and I would listen with total fascination as the words to “The Highwayman” or “Charge of the Light Brigade” tumbled from our father’s lips.

One of the last conversations I had with my dad was about a poem, only Dad wasn’t trying to entertain me that November afternoon. That day, the poem served as an object lesson. “Do you remember ‘Mending Wall’?” he asked. I said that I did.

As I sat beside his hospital bed, he quoted a few lines, Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, And spills the upper boulders in the sun, And makes gaps even two can pass abreast . . .

After a long pause, he told me to be the kind of person who tears down walls. It was a strange thing for him to say, considering we had been discussing something totally unrelated in the preceding minutes. I suppose everyone reflects on peculiar conversations like that after a loved one dies. I did, anyway.

Tear down walls. That’s a tough one. Our world is founded on dividing lines. They separate everything from countries to counties. They define what’s mine from what’s yours.

One of the things that delighted me when I became Catholic was that the Church has one deposit of faith, one common ground that is terra firma. Do you have a question on faith and morals? There is a place you can go for trustworthy answers speaking with one voice.

I was never a zealous Protestant (even though I was the daughter of a minister). Something has changed now. I believe the fullness of faith is found in the Catholic Church. And I can't keep quiet about it.

After my father’s death, I took some time to think seriously about Frost’s poem. I thought about how the speaker disagreed with his neighbor who thought fences were a good idea. The speaker casually asks his neighbor why good fences make good neighbors. Shouldn’t we just let the wall fall down? It seems inclined to do it anyway. Just look at all the rocks on the ground. Even nature seems to say fences don’t make good neighbors. But the neighbor just keeps on stacking the rocks on the dividing wall.

Jesus would probably agree with the speaker. Father make them one. That was the Master’s prayer the night He was betrayed (John 17).

I read a portion on ecumenism from Vatican Council II documents the other day, and I had this feeling that, if I could just master what the authors of those documents had to say on this subject, I would have the key to this whole thing. I would know how to defend my faith and simultaneously tear down the wall that divides the Christian world. It sounds like a paradox, and maybe it is. Much of theology sounds paradoxical, too. Death into life. Son of God; Son of Man. The King of Kings born in a stable. A young virgin becomes the Mother of God.

The lesson I need to learn is really a lesson of the heart. Like all theological paradoxes, the key has everything to do with love and very little to do with persuasive argument.

It is a lesson that has come slowly. I'm better at it than I used to be, but not yet what I should be.

And yet, it is the key to synthesizing Ecumenism and Evangelization. As Catholics, we do not give a yes to one and a no to the other. We give a yes and a yes.
God bless you as you work to tear down the wall.


A yes and yes people

Our Sunday reading at Mass went straight to the heart of the matter. We are not a people of yes and no. We are a people of yes and yes.

How does this really elusive piece of scripture have application for a people who promote a culture of life in the midst of a culture of death?

The website helps give framework to what we believe and how we act. Priests for Life work to protect the lives of the unborn. They give unborn babies their yes.

They also give all people, from conception to natural death, their yes.

They give all life issues their yes.

It is not yes for one (the unborn) and no to others (elderly, infirm and convicted). It is yes and yes and yes. . .

They also give us guidance, along with the bishops and the Holy Father, to see that some issues may conflict with others as we try to decide on a candidate for public office. In this situation, we must understand that not all issues have the same moral weight (which all Catholics already know). Some life issues eclipse others when we are deciding on which candidate to support (and maybe even which life issue to contribute to).

This, however, is not a yes to the unborn and a no to the elderly or infirm or convicted. It is a yes and a yes. Or rather, it is a Yes and a yes.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Those Brilliant Saints

Educators have talked about the theory of multiple intelligences since 1983 when Howard Gardner first proposed the idea. In a nutshell, Gardner believed that human intelligence manifests itself in many ways. Sometimes, a student will demonstrate great aptitude in the core subjects, and sometimes a student will seem average in traditional subjects, but display incredible talent in other areas, like sports, art or music. Some young people are so mechanically gifted they can take apart almost any household appliance and put it back together again – correctly. Others are born leaders who can prompt a group of peers to do the most wonderful things imaginable or the most ridiculous. Educators realize that there are multiple intelligences, and the unique gifts of these students can sometimes go undetected for a very long time, especially when their gifts are not in the traditional subjects.

I see something like this theory of intelligence when I study the lives of the saints. If we listen closely to their stories, we hear the strains of spiritual greatness. It isn’t an intelligence the world is likely to recognize. In fact, the world may even call them idealistic or foolish or even a little insane. As a people of faith, we see their lives as a call to holiness. We know they have joined the Great Cloud of Witnesses. Like St. Paul, we know these men and women were so holy that the world was not worthy of them. We also know that we would do well to pause and learn from them. Here’s the good news. Unlike other forms of brilliance, this is one gift we can all receive. We all have the aptitude for being great saints, if we let them become the maestro and we the eager prodigy.

Their words are powerful, bringing hope and insight and change just when we need it the most.

Consider their words:

“Live simply that all may simply live.” – St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

“All will be well, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.” - St. Julian of Norwich

“What does it profit you to give God one thing if He asks of you another? Consider what it is God wants, and then do it." - St. John of the Cross

“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, his religion is vain. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” –St. James (James 1:26-28)

Practice “self control with endurance . . . let these increase in abundance . . .” – St. Peter (2 Peter 1: 6,8)

"I knew nothing; I was nothing. For this reason God picked me out." - St. Catherine Laboure.

This is a collection of quotes that challenged me this last year. You won’t find this particular collection in a book or on a website. It is my own personal training manual. Each quote came along at the right moment, a light in the journey, a one-liner that pierced the soul. I recognized brilliance in the words, and I knew it was the wisdom of God.

Look back over the list of quotes. Notice that they cover many facets of this spiritual journey. Some have to do with holiness. Some with encouragement. Some with social justice.

In what way are you growing right now? Who is your spiritual maestro? What is God saying to you through this Saint’s life? Remember, as baptized Christians, we have an aptitude for spiritual greatness. Whose prodigy are you?

What more shall I say? The world was not worthy of them. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.” – St. Paul (Hebrews 11:32, 38; 12:1-2)


Novena for Life - A Prayer for Lent

Father of all mercy, We thank you for this season of grace and light. We know that sin has blinded us. Draw us ever closer to you, in prayer and penance. Since you, O God, are light itself, Give all your people a clearer understanding Of what is sin, and what is virtue. Grant in particular that we may see, as never before, The profound dignity of every human life, Including the vulnerable unborn children. Give us grace to defendOur brothers and sisters in the wombBy our prayers, our words,And our self-sacrificing actions. We pray through Christ our Lord.

For more information, go to:

When Doubts Arise - Death Penalty

I must admit that my initial doubts about the death penalty were the result of a movement in my spirit which I could not explain. I could not say that the death penalty was always wrong. All I could say was that I had my doubts.

I alluded to the changes in my spirit in another post, and I received such a thorough response from one reader that I realized that I couldn’t have a general doubt about it; I had to find out what the Church says.

The writer had quoted some important people, but I know it is possible to take almost anything out of context and make it support one’s position. And so, I went to the place I trust.

I knew it was time to find an encyclical that addressed the topic. It is appropriate for a faithful Catholic to go to a faithful Pope for direction, especially when that Holy Father is writing an encyclical. Isn’t that what we believe as Catholics? So, here are some things I have turned up so far:

From Evangelium Vitae Section 9 (Pope John Paul II quoting Holy Scripture)

And yet God, who is always merciful even when he punishes, "put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him" (Gen 4:15). He thus gave him a distinctive sign, not to condemn him to the hatred of others, but to protect and defend him from those wishing to kill him, even out of a desire to avenge Abel's death. Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this.

(St. Ambrose quoted in that same paragraph)

“God drove Cain out of his presence and sent him into exile far away from his native land, so that he passed from a life of human kindness to one which was more akin to the rude existence of a wild beast. God, who preferred the correction rather than the death of a sinner, did not desire that a homicide be punished by the exaction of another act of homicide.”

So, my doubts in the death penalty remain. I still cannot say that the death penalty is always wrong. But I do believe that it is almost never right. has posted this: The Catholic Church opposes the death penalty in nearly all cases. Pope Benedict XVI, Pope John Paul II, U.S. bishops and other Catholic leaders throughout the world have spoken out against capital punishment as act that stands in contradiction to the belief that all human life is sacred.

It is wonderful when something our spirit suspects is captured in words – and it is even better when those words come from a source we completely trust (an encyclical written by the Holy Father and supported by our bishops).

That said, how can anyone have doubts about the death penalty but continue to vote for a politician who supports abortion (or promises to keep abortion legal)? It seems like everyone, conservative and liberal, would have to acknowledge that the completely innocent deserve full protection under the law.

It is unlikely that the death penalty will end in the United States because, if it ever does come to an end, there will be no logical or rational argument left for taking the life of a completely innocent unborn baby.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Come Home to the Catholic Church this Easter

I am trying to figure out why the mother of the prodigal son wasn’t anywhere in the story. In real life, those anguish-filled mothers are everywhere. They are in every parish in every town. We know their names. We’ve seen their tears. They scan the shelves at local Catholic bookstores for titles that will ease their pain or provide them with tips to help their grown children rediscover their Catholic faith. These mothers even have a patron saint in St. Monica. They find solace in the fact that St. Monica’s bishop said that “it is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish,” and these troubled women nod their heads empathetically.

They relentlessly knock at heaven’s gates, imploring divine assistance. They quietly enter the Adoration chapel and claim an hour of Our Lord’s time. They persistently remain on their knees in prayer long after the aches and pains of middle age demand attention.

They have learned the holy art of praying without ceasing. They can do it anywhere, during their commute to work, while throwing a load of clothes in the washing machine, even while thumbing through a magazine in a doctor’s waiting room.

This mother is a creative intercessor. On her commute, she sees the road before her, and she prays that her son will be filled with a desire to turn his life around and simply head back home.
She imagines her son’s dirty, stained soul as she throws the clothes in the old machine and adds detergent and laundry booster. She can almost see her boy waiting outside the confessional, like he did when he was young and still eager to please God.

As she sits in the doctor’s waiting room, the mother imagines her son seeking spiritual healing. She longs to have this young man kneel beside her and to hear his deep voice say the words, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
Yes, she is a very creative intercessor. She’s learned to convert all of life’s work into a most efficacious prayer. No bit of suffering is wasted. She calls it spiritual frugality. God calls it faithfulness.

Any remake of the prodigal story would have to include the boy’s mother. In this version, she would glance from the father to the road, waiting expectantly. She would wipe away a steady stream of tears when the music swells and the son rounds the bend, making his way up the long lane. She might even set off to meet their son half-way and slip her arm inside his arm and match him step-for-step all the way home. She would only release him when they reach the front step and she lets him fall safely into his father’s arms. And then the old story would go on as it always has. Get him a new robe. Kill the fatted calf. Our son has come home!

Yes, I’m convinced that any retelling of this story would require the addition of a mother to the list of characters. And I think it has something to do with our transition into the New Covenant.
We have a Mother. Her job description is to get us home to the Father. Jesus Christ gave her that mission from the cross when he said, “Woman, behold your son.”

Every day, she waits and prays. She turns to the Father and implores him to be patient a little longer. The boy will come home. She just knows it in the depths of her Immaculate Heart.
The New Covenant isn’t simply a sequel or a remake of the original. The New Covenant is the redemption story made accessible to all humanity, all nations, all people – of every gender. Yes, there are even daughters mixed in with these prodigal sons. And the Mother is praying for their return, too. The Gospel message of Our Lord Jesus Christ is Good News for every prodigal of every race. The Mother is Our Lady. And she is Mother Church. She waits for us, she intercedes for us, and she meets us on the journey to lead us all the way home.

She is there when we enter the Church through the cleansing of baptism. She brings us the Bread of Life, that we might be nourished and live. She teaches us in the way we should go and sends us into the Father’s presence for His empowering blessing at confirmation. She guides us with wisdom as we discern our vocations. She mends our wounds and dispenses the right medicine when we are ill or dying. And she will always, always lead us to the Father for that ultimate moment when friendship with Christ segues into the fullness of eternal life.
She does this not by her own power but by the merits of her Son. The perfect Son. The Son who gave His Mother this mission.

Imagine that. The only woman who ever had a perfect son agreed to “mother” a world of imperfect (and sometimes rebellious) children. The irony is too much to fathom.

Yes, there would definitely be a mother in today’s prodigal story. This Mother sets the standard for all mothers as she shows us how to pray for the safe return of our children.

Luke 7:12-15 As he drew near to the gate of the city, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother. . . . A large crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” He stepped forward and touched the coffin; at this the bearers halted, and he said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother (NAB, St. Joseph Edition).


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sunday to be "Day of Fervent Prayer" for Holy Father

(CNA)- "Saying Pope Benedict XVI has been 'unjustly attacked,' the head of the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need has called for this Sunday, the Feast of the Chair of Peter, to be a day of fervent prayer for the Holy Father. . ." (read more here)

It is too terrible for words. . .

How can we let this happen to any child?

American and Catholic

My thoughts:

I could vote Democrat very easily. . . except for one thing. It isn't that I am a one-issue Catholic; it's just that the death of so many babies is such a big issue that it eclipses all other issues when I stand in the voter's box. Until that is resolved, and every life is held sacred, I find it impossible to vote for a candidate who gets some issues right but promises to protect a woman's legal right to abort her unborn baby.

One glance at the Catholic Democrats website and I realize that I could be persuaded to vote for a Democrat. . . if the candidate was pro-life. I admire their concern for social justice.

But even as I become more Catholic in my approach to the death penalty and immigration issues and poverty and war. . . I become incrementally more aware of the mandate to protect life from conception to natural death. And as long as abortion is legal in the United States, we cannot delude ourselves into thinking that a Democratic platform (that protects a woman's "right" to abort her unborn baby) merits our support.
It is more than insincere to blame "Republican Politics" for abortion numbers and to lay the burden at the feet of the "Bush Recession" when the DNC promises to protect a "woman's right to choose" (to abort her baby). While a downturn in the economy may have some effect on the number of abortions that take place, the economy is not the culprit. If the economy drove the abortion industry, we would have had more abortions during the Great Depression than any time in U.S. history. No, it is a matter of whether or not abortion is protected under law - or whether or not the life of the unborn is protected under the law.

I simply must vote pro-life. And yet, I am not a one-issue Catholic. I am starting to see that my giving (and my writing) must reflect how much I care about social justice and the needs of the poor, both in the United States and throughout the world.
Here's the thing, I don't have to be a Democrat to work for social justice. St. Vincent de Paul Centers, Catholic Charities, Aid to the Church in Need, and CRS (and other Catholic groups that do so much work to help the poor and needy) - well, they have no party affiliation. They accept donations from almost anyone. Contrary to what the DNC wants Americans to believe, pro-life Catholics can promote social justice without voting Democrat. And most of them do.

It is not easy to be American and Catholic. There is no perfect politcal fit for us. Even so, we must become a constituency that represents the unborn.


Archbishop Chaput underscores Pope Benedict XVI

Archbishop Chaput on Speaker Pelosi, Life and Communion:


We call it the Examination of Conscience - reclaiming the Catholic practice of evening prayer


Friday, February 20, 2009

The Word We Entrust To Mary

In a few days (Ash Wednesday), we will put aside the word Alleluia. I write it in purple, because the background color for Lent will be purple. When I make that change, the word will seem to disappear from the post.

It will not be gone forever. When the background color changes to gold after the Easter Vigil (the liturgical color for Easter) we will again be able to see (and say) Alleluia.

Until then, we will entrust the word to Our Lady for safe keeping. And we ask that she will extend to us the Grace we need to journey through Lent.

Alleluia, Amen.


Alleluia one more Sunday

This weekend, we will hear the words of Isaiah:

See, I am doing a new deed,
even now it comes to light; can you not see it?

I read these words this morning during my Adoration time. (Yes, I peeked ahead to Sunday's OT reading.) And I thought about the entire passage and Isaiah's prophecy.

It seems that God works this way a lot. He says what He is going to do. And often, we don't believe because it doesn't happen in the way we expect or in the instant we had hoped it would occur.
For example:

He speaks to Joseph of old, in a dream. Your brothers will bow down to you. But it doesn't happen immediately. His brothers sell him into slavery. He is mistreated and misused by Potiphar's wife. He rises in the ranks. And when he least expects it, his brothers come to Egypt to ask for pharoah's help - and they bow down to the one who speaks for pharoah. . . not realizing that this is their brother.

He speaks to Moses, I am going to free my people. But it doesn't happen immediately. They go through plagues and Pharoah saying no again and again. Then they have to pass through the Sea. And then they wander forty years. Then they have to cross Jordan. And then they have to "take the land".

Again and again, God says what He will do.
You will have a child. You will be set free. You will inherit a land. You will be my people. You will know the truth. You will have peace.

And because He is God (and we are not), He does it in a way that we cannot envision and in a moment we don't expect.

I sat there at about a quarter to four this morning and I read these words. See, I am doing a new deed, even now it comes to light; can you not see it? Isaiah spoke hundreds - thousands - of years ago. But He spoke of a New Covenant. A Messiah. The Hope of Israel. He spoke of one who would take our sins, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. And we would be able to come to Him. Sit with Him. Enter the holy of holies.

And in that moment, I raised my eyes to the Eucharist and I knew that I was seeing the fulfillment of Isaiah's words.

This new thing that God has done. . . can you not see it?


Thursday, February 19, 2009


Have you ever received an email that said just one word or an unfinished phrase because the sender accidentally hit SEND before finishing the email?

This morning, I received an email that said one word. "If"

A minute or two later, the finished email came through, which began, "Okay, let's try this again."

I liked the first email the best.

It made me think. So much of what our parents, teachers, and even our faith says to us begins with the word "if" - and it usually implies a "then" that is pretty cool. That email that began with "if" was the beginning of so many possible if/then propositions.

Here are some of the possibilities:

If you choose life. . .
If you choose blessing. . .
If you embrace Lent. . .
If you remember to honor your parents . . .
If you treat others the way you want to be treated. . .
If you honor the Lord's Day. . .
If you do it for the least of these. . .
If you remain faithful until the end. . .

But also:
If you eat all your vegetables. . .
If you clean your room like I asked you to do. . .
If your dad gets that bonus. . .
If I get a raise this year. . .

And it all begins with the word "if".

So many possibilities.

What is the "if" proposition in your life right now?

Our Lord says, I place before you blessings and curses. You choose. It is the ultimate "if/then" proposition. Choose wisely.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Lessons From The Domestic Church (at home)

I don't just post a "simple living" idea every day; I try to follow them myself.

A few days ago, I suggested that you simplify your life by teaching your children to take on a few of the household duties you do. Monitor their progress until it seems they have the new skill mastered.

My ten-year-old now gets the mail. That doesn't sound like much, unless you know that our mailbox is not near the house. It requires bundling up in a coat when it's cold and going for a walk down the lane.

I can see her from the doorway. The other day, I watched as she weathered the elements, watched for traffic to pass, and stepped in front of the mailboxes to gather together our mail.

A big, gusty wind came right about that moment and one little envelope went sailing out of her hands and into the ditch. She looked at the envelope, and then turned toward the house without retrieving it. As she walked, the wind took the envelope and sent it across the road and into the neighbor's property.

Not good. What if it is important? What if it is a tax document? Or a letter? Or a check? That happens - sometimes.

When my daughter finally made it back to the house, I asked her about the piece of mail that was in danger of ending up in the Land of Oz.

"Yeah, the wind took it." She said it quite matter-of-factly. No biggie.

I told her to get in the car. I told her that we had to go get it. She looked at me like I was nuts. It's just an envelope, she seemed to say without saying a thing.

I tried to explain the importance of every piece of mail. But my immediate response, my "get in the car now," left no room for misunderstanding.

Our faith is very much the same. If we give our children the impression that even one little bit of it is not important or if we jettison some aspects of the faith ourselves, what hope do they have of keeping the faith?

They need to know, by what we say and what we do, that everything matters. It all holds together. . . or it falls apart.

Make sure your children know that you are very serious about the Catholic faith. Make sure they know that every little bit of it matters. And it will all matter to them.


Pope Benedict XVI to Nancy Pelosi - interesting

I need a reminder to trust. . .

Sometimes, I have to be reminded of something I already thought I knew. I wrote an article last year that talked about drawing the world the way we would like it to be - as Harold with his purple crayon - or trusting that God was "drawing" all things well.

It's hard to remember that. . . when close relatives are diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, lymphoma, and ovarian cancer.

Three relatives in only a few months. It's hard to cling to trust and hope and faith. It sort of makes one want to pick up a purple crayon. And yet, this is where faith becomes real. . .

The article below ran in a number of diocesan papers. I reprint it here for my good - and maybe for your good as well.

The Purple Crayon and Harold

In 1955, Crockett Johnson introduced the world to a character named Harold, and we fell in love with the toddler who expressed his imagination through a purple crayon. Harold could wield that crayon and create almost anything. If he could imagine it, he could create it.

As a writer, I have a bit of the Harold Syndrome. My imagination likes to run amuck. I want to write about grace and conversion and the good news of the Gospel. I want the stories to inspire and convict and generate a zeal for the New Evangelization. I can just imagine how the stories might go – and how those stories might stir the hearts of readers.

Unfortunately, reality is rarely good fodder for my pen.

My imagination typically resembles the world of purple crayons rather than the reality of God’s plan. As a writer, I imagine how another’s conversion should go, and I want to write the story into reality. The story is big and fantastic and dripping with grace. All the ups and downs come together for a climactic moment that rivals the best of conversion stories.

The fundamental problem with all of this is that the story is just a story. It exists only in my imagination. And living in the land of purple crayons ultimately leads to frustration and disappointment. It isn’t real.

Real life is messy and difficult. Grace doesn’t usually show up when or how I’d like. As a Catholic writer, I am writing nonfiction. And nonfiction doesn’t consult the writer. Nonfiction is a combination of God’s will and human weakness. It’s usually messy and difficult, and only rarely good for spiritual storytelling.

As much as I would like to be Harold with his magic crayon, I am just a woman with a pen and a prayer. Thankfully, I have a role model in my patron saint.

When I converted, I chose St. Teresa of Avila for my saint. She was a Catholic writer who lived hundreds of years ago, but in reading her books, I saw the Church in a new and beautiful way. It made me want to be Catholic. Eventually, it made me want to be a Catholic writer.

I wanted to stir another person’s soul as she had done for me. I wanted to write words that would cause another to see the Catholic Church as the treasure that she is. I’ve come to realize one thing about St. Teresa of Avila. It wasn’t her pen that converted me. It was her prayer life, both on earth and in heaven.

She didn’t change my world with a purple crayon (or a quill and inkwell); she changed my world through prayer.

My life was messy and difficult and you know what? It still is. I think St. Teresa can relate to all of that. And I think she would say that the messiness of life can be a good thing. Maybe it doesn’t make for a good story, but it certainly drives us to our knees and keeps us there. Prayer is the most important tool in our spiritual arsenal. She may have been a writer, but St. Teresa chose prayer over the pen.

The Catholic pen simply captures what prayer has wrought.

Like my beloved saint, I find the greatest peace when I am on my knees in front of the Blessed Sacrament, not when I am writing. I find my greatest contentment when I am yielding to God’s will, not writing story lines as my imagination would have them go.

And I thank God for my saint, who continues to intercede and guide and to teach me to put down my purple crayon and embrace the greatest tool I have as Catholic Christians. Prayer.

St. Teresa of Avila, pray for us!


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

If you still haven't read Render Unto Caesar. . .

You probably should read it.

He doesn't tell us to be Democrats. He doesn't tell us to be Republicans. He tells us that "the most powerful 'political' act Catholics can make is to love Jesus Christ, believe in his church, and live her teachings. . ." (73-74).

He goes on to say that
we must engage the public square - and even the world.

On poverty, he says that "we can choose to ignore that [Christ told Peter to feed his sheep]. All of the damned do"(37).

On racism and abortion, he says "Catholics who know their faith know that publicly opposing racism and publicly opposing abortion flow from the same Catholic beliefs about the human person" (59).

And on that most difficult question of whether or not a Catholic can vote for a pro-choice candidate when there is a pro-life candidate on the ballot, he says it would have to "be a reason we could, with an honest heart, expect the unborn victims of abortion to accept when we meet them and need to explain our actions - as we someday will" (229-230).

I urge you to get the book. It is full of zingers like these. If you are like me, you won't be able to put the book down and his words will stay with you long after you finish the last page.


A Pro-life Friend Writes. . .

Dear Friends and Intercessors:
> Get a red envelope. On the front, address it to
> President Barack Obama
> The White House
> 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
> Washington, D.C. 20500
> On the back, write the following message.
> This envelope represents one child who died in abortion.
> It is empty because that life was unable to offer anything to the world. Responsibility begins with conception.
> Put it in the mail, and send it. Then forward this letter to every one of your friends who you think would send one too. I wish we could send 50 million red envelopes, one for every child who died before having a a chance to live. Maybe it will change the heart of the president.


The Visitor Tracker

On January 29, I added a visitor tracker to the blog. I'm fascinated by the thing. When I go to the map, I can see how many people have stopped by for a visit - and which countries they are from.

I realized that it is a very small glimpse into a very real mark of the Church. We say that the Church is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. And we know that the word catholic means She is everywhere. She is universal.

If I had named the blog after any other Christian faith community, I don't think there would be so many people from so many countries interested in stopping by. Visitors come because they identify themselves as Catholic. Mother Church is everywhere; so her little ones are everywhere.

She isn't American-made. She isn't German-made. She isn't British-made. She is Christ's Church and she really did go into all the world.

(Casi) El Mismo Articulo en Espanol. . .

The article that went to three continents

During Lent a few years ago, somebody ran a television campaign which encouraged Catholics to “Come Home for Easter.” Those ads were so well done that they made even me want to “come home” – and back then, I was still a strong evangelical Protestant. I think it’s time we put together another television campaign.

(Marcus Grodi of CHN above)

This time, I think we need to throw the net out even further.

What if we decided to invite everyone to come back home this Easter. What if we sent an invitation to the Baptists and the Presbyterians and the Lutherans. Maybe we could cast out even further and invite those of other faiths – and those with no faith.

I have heard many American Catholics commiserating about how many young people they have lost to other churches. “How do we keep our young people Catholic?” they ask. Maybe you’ve said those words yourself.

Here’s an idea. Why not try to reach those zealous, turned-on, deep-in-love-with-Jesus Protestants and encourage them to become Catholic? Not possible, you say. I have an idea, and I think it just might work. But be ready to stand back, because the RCIA classes at your local parish will be so large that they may have to move to the fellowship hall or a nearby auditorium. Maybe it will be a great Protestant exodus and all we need is one Moses – or about 1000 of them – to lead the way.

According to the Coming Home Network International, about 1000 Protestant clergymen and clergywomen have converted to the Catholic faith. It’s time to get the word out. If it is possible to put together another quality ad campaign, we will not only stop the hemorrhage of young people to Protestantism, we will help our separated brethren come home en masse.

The scene opens with a close-up on Dr. Scott Hahn. He smiles and says, “Hello, I’m Scott Hahn, a former Presbyterian minister.”

Cut to another image. “I’m Alex Jones, and I’m Robert Rice, and we’re former Pentecostal preachers.”

“Hello, I’m Doug Gonzales, former Nazarene preacher.”

“And we’re David Twellman, Mike Franklin and Paul Thigpen, former Methodist ministers.”
“I’m Peter Holmes and I’m Noah Lett, and we’re former Lutheran ministers.

”My name is Al Kresta, former non-denominational pastor.”

“We’re John Scott and Steve Wood, former Presbyterian pastors.”

“My name is Jeffrey Bail; I’m a former Baptist pastor – and so are we,” says Fr. Gray Bean and countless others.

“And we’re former Episcopal and Anglican priests (Michael Cumbie and others).”

“I’m Larry Dimock, former United Church of Christ pastor.”

The camera uses a wide-angle to reveal a room filled to capacity. One gentleman stands in front of the group of nearly 690 people. He smiles, with that kind, gentle, pastoral smile we converts have come to love and respect deeply. “And my name is Marcus Grodi. I am a former Presbyterian minister. And all of us here today have a few things in common. First, we love Jesus Christ with every part of our being, and we have a deep, sincere, and very personal relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ. We also happen to all be . . .”

In unison, and with a great triumphant chord, they all say, “. . . Catholic.”

“Yes, we are all Catholic,” Marcus Grodi says. “Won’t you consider coming home to the Catholic faith? Isn’t it time you found out what the Catholic Church really believes?”

As a former Protestant, I can honestly say the Protestant viewers will be stunned. And many will begin the journey home. What’s more, the cradle Catholics sitting beside them in those Protestant churches will take notice, probably even break out in a cold sweat and sprint home to the nearest Catholic Church.

Consider doing something to help make this possible. Print out this article and send it with a dollar or two (or as much as you can send) to:

The Coming Home Network International
P.O. Box 8290
Zanesville, OH 43702


Monday, February 16, 2009

High Expectations of God. . . and mothers

My daughter and I just completed a school project (ugh). She is a creative child, and she has an independent streak as wide as the Mississippi. After some deliberation, she decided she wanted to dress up like the subject of her project, a 19th century American painter by the name of George Caleb Bingham.

After a little research, we discovered that Mr. Bingham wore a suit that looked something like Doc Baker on Little House on the Prairie. My daughter said I could make her a suit like that in her size – or just whip up a vintage art shirt. Whatever. She was easy.

Are you kidding me? The project is due in two days. I couldn’t manage that if I had two years.

I could tell that it was a huge disappointment that we were going to have to go for a more simplistic approach. I threw out some ideas.

My ideas didn’t “meet expectations” and she was sure her project wouldn’t either - if she listened to me.

I sometimes approach God in the same manner. I have the whole thing worked out in my head. This is how the answer to my prayers should go. God, whip this up in two days and all will be well. Everything will turn out great. Everybody will think I am really something special. And I just might think so too if you do this for me.

Thankfully, God doesn’t get quite as frustrated with me as I do with my daughter. And, while he can pull off anything I can envision, his ways are higher than my ways.

So, while I try to bring my daughter back down to earth and insert a bit of realism into her pie-in-the-sky ideals, God is actually widening my scope of how things could be.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).


Last Chance Opportunity

Nine full days until Lent.

Some people are probably thinking that means nine more days before they have to give up their favorite things. Some people aren't thinking about Lent one way or the other.

But then there are those who are really trying to think of the right sacrifice for this year. And the time period of nine days is like a little bell ringing.

Nine days! Why, I could do a novena. Just enough time remaining for a novena!

If you don't know what Our Lord wants from you this Lent, spend nine days in prayer and ask him to reveal it to you. Lent should be transformational. You plan everything else in your life. Why not take nine days and spend a few moments in prayer? But you should know something first. . . Lent can really change you!

Check out the clip below and consider his Sacrifice. . .


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Do you remember when you were that age?

Middle school is awful. Suddenly, everyone is catty and crazy and even good friends talk behind your back. You even find yourself losing your way every now and then. . .

But then, you get these wonderful glimpses of where God might be taking you. Sometimes, you even believe that you were created for something specific. You are special, and you know it deep down inside, though not very many people tell you that anymore.

Today, I have the great joy of helping with the 8th grade Confirmation retreat. I know the group that is coming to do the retreat - and so I'm already excited for the young people. They are going to be blown away (is that an outdated expression?).

I pray that God will begin to reveal some of his plan for their lives - and that they will have the grace required to say yes to whatever that call may be, for there is no greater joy than saying yes to God.

If you have forgotten what it was like to believe God has a plan for you, if you haven't said yes to him in a very long time, let yourself say one little yes today. You will be surprised by the joy you will find in the journey. May the grace of your confirmation flow through you again today!


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Parsonage on Walnut Street

My father’s pastoral assignment in Cedar Falls, Iowa, lasted about two years. I was nearing my ninth birthday, and it was the time in childhood when memories become really powerful life-shapers and faith-makers.

Like the sweltering summer day when my best friend and I sat on the sidewalk in front of the parsonage (a Wesleyan version of the rectory) where my family lived from 1972-1974. After trial and error, we found a rock that worked like sidewalk chalk, and we practiced drawing stars with a new method. Two inverted triangles rather than the star formed by an unbroken string of five lines. A lady came up the sidewalk and smiled at our work. She was older than my mother, a member of that indefinable period of womanhood that exists somewhere between the age of moms and grandmas. “Are you Jewish?” She asked the two of us. We stared at her blankly. “That’s the Star of David,” she explained. “The Star of my faith.”

My friend wasn’t Wesleyan (a denominational line that came by way of the Methodist denomination, by way of Anglicanism, by way of the Church of England, by way of the Catholic Church), but she didn’t know any more about Jewish faith than I did. So we sat there in silence. The lady shrugged her shoulders and kept walking.

Onna and I returned our attention to sidewalk drawing. My friend Onna was at my house more than she was at her own. We rode a bike together, just two of us on one bike. I sat on the front end of the banana seat and pedaled like crazy while Onna sat behind me and steered the handlebars from the back. We never crashed, a sure sign that there are guardian angels in this world.

My friend also came with me to Good News Club. One afternoon a week, the elementary students in the neighborhood met in our church basement. We sang songs about Jesus and his disciples, and we earned little trinkets for memorizing verses like John 3:16.

After the flannel graph story – where we heard about talking donkeys and the walls of Jericho – we were encouraged to ask Jesus to come into our hearts as our personal Lord and Savior. Mom explained that everybody has sinned, and sin is what separates us from God. And the only way to get to heaven is to have Jesus take away the sin.

I don’t remember very much about the day I was “born again”, but I do remember feeling very sinful. I had a secret that Mom didn’t even know. A secret that I had carried with me from the previous pastorate.

I must have been about five when it happened. At five, you don’t know much about good and evil. You don’t know that there are predators – even ones as young as thirteen – ready to compromise your innocence. You assume that the children of your parents’ dearest friends can be trusted. And you don’t know that it’s not your fault when they lure you into darkened Sunday school rooms and make you take off your clothes. Even when they slip a pocket knife into the palm of their hands and wave it in front of you, making threats about what they will do if you tell – even then – you don’t know that the threats are big talk or that it isn’t at all your fault.

When my mother gave the invitation for repentance a year or two later, I knew I wanted to be forgiven. Today, I wonder what it would have been like to have the confessional, where a priest could have led me to Jesus and extended forgiveness to me, but also given me the spiritual guidance that would lead me out of the murky waters of undeserved guilt. But that was not the childhood I knew. We didn’t have priests or confessionals. We sorted out those hidden corners of the soul on our own. Even so, there was grace there, and I do remember feeling the power of the Holy Spirit and the peace of forgiveness.

While we didn't have confessionals or the sacraments, as Wesleyans, we were deeply spiritual. Wesleyans love to have people give testimonies in church, and I found myself listening to the stories with great interest. (It is important to note that Wesleyans also do not talk about visions or certain gifts of the Holy Spirit. It simply wasn’t part of my spiritual schema.)

One afternoon when I was nearing my ninth birthday, I was playing in our back yard and just started thinking about how great it would be to have a testimony that would inspire others to live for Jesus. This line of thought made me sad suddenly, because I realized that I would never have a personal testimony – at least not a very interesting one. I believed that I was already saved. I was the daughter of a preacher, and already spiritually on the right track. I realized sadly that my life wouldn’t go so wrong as to be a “good story.” On the contrary, my testimony would be brief and boring.

She was born into a preacher’s family and saved at the age of eight. The end.

Suddenly, everything grew quiet inside of me and I saw a vision. In my mind, I saw myself as a middle-aged woman. And I knew in my spirit that this moment had already been called into being. It would happen, because it was already marked out to happen. The old woman was in a room, and I was the woman. As I looked out into the room, there were many people, and they had come because they had heard pieces of my conversion story, and they wanted to hear the whole testimony. In the instant that I had the very disappointing thought that I would never have a story to tell, a voice said, wait, oh but you will – look. And there was the room filled with people. The gentle narrator’s voice was inside me and outside me and everywhere. While the voice was not audible, it was strong and real and not my own.

I didn’t run into the house screaming. I just remember being very quiet.

These things happened thirty-five years ago. The truth of the matter is, I’m rapidly approaching the age of the woman in that vision. In the fall of 2007, my youngest daughter’s soccer team played an away game against a local parish. At the end of the game, I walked up the back hill to restrooms as my husband took our daughter to the concession stand. Suddenly, I smelled something that reminded me of that house, that backyard, that entire period of life. I looked down and the ground was covered with walnuts, the green outer husks turning a fecund black, exposing the nut inside. And the memories came in a great rush. Walnut Street!

In 2005, I converted to the Catholic Church, and I started writing about how grace showed up in my father’s suffering and death, to lead me to St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, and how those two Saints took me by the hands and led me all the way Home. Since then, my daughter and husband have entered the Church.

In 2005, on a whim, I took a little piece of my journal, and sent it to a diocesan paper. The editor ran it on the commentary page. To date, I have shared numerous aspects of my conversion with twenty-five diocesan papers, reaching a combined circulation of more than 800,000. Some editors ran just one article. Some ran the column every month.

I have been blessed to have a testimony of God’s grace in my life and to have a burning desire to share that testimony with anyone who will listen. I am blessed to have become Catholic by Grace.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Into Our Mother's Arms

It has been a very long day. In fact, it's been a long week. In times like these, I realize how good it is to know that I have a Mother who is waiting with open arms.

It doesn't take away from my Heavenly Father, and it doesn't diminish my love for Jesus Christ.

She wraps her mantle around me and whispers into my soul. . . about how to love her son more perfectly, how to trust more fully, how to give more completely.
This one who is the most perfect daughter of the Father, the most perfect bride of the Spirit, and the most perfect mother of the Son of God. . .

she has taught me to take baby steps into her arms. On days like today, I am thankful for the gift of the Blessed Mother.


Inside, Outside, Upside Down - and becoming Catholic

As a child, I read this book a hundred times. It isn't just a collection of prepositional phrases and cute pictures by Stan and Jan Berenstain. It summarizes the disorienting experience of going into a new environment and having everything turned upside down.

In short, it's a little like entering the Church. A bit disorienting at first, and everything is turned upside down, and then you realize that you have just had the greatest ride of your life.

Joy to those on the journey. . .

Thursday, February 12, 2009

"Good Christians Sometimes Disagree"

"Good Christians sometimes disagree." My husband hit the button so the radio would stop scanning stations, and he just listened a minute as the evangelist elaborated on his profound analysis. (I think John does this just to test my patience.)

The preacher went on to cite the Council of Jerusalem in the Book of Acts. He explained that sometimes good Christians have to sit down together and talk things out. Sometimes they have to agree to disagree. Sometimes, he said, they figure it out by doing what those men in the Acts of the Apostles did.

I couldn't take it anymore. I'm sure my husband was just waiting for my little outburst. I didn't make him wait very long. Within minutes, I started talking to the radio-evangelist like he was sitting right there in the car with us. And then Peter stood up and they all listened to him. And that settled the matter at the Council of Jerusalem. And what's more, it was a Council. Get it? As in Vatican Council II and all the other Councils throughout Church History. You are right about one thing. We should all be doing what these Apostles did. That's where I stopped talking to the radio and turned to my husband. But of course, this preacher doesn't believe any of that because that's all Catholic!

John just smiled. Two years ago, we would have been on the brink of an argument. But not anymore. Now, my husband has studied enough Church History that he knows I'm not just making it all up as I go along. He's read the Catechism and weighed Holy Scripture against Church History. He's asked these same questions, and he's gotten answers. Now, he just likes to play with me and see how long I can stay quiet.

And he knows that it is true that Christians sometimes disagree. But thank God we both know that we have a place to go, a place where matters are settled.

"The apostles and the presbyters met together to see about this matter. After much debate had taken place, Peter got up. . ." Acts 15:6-7


The Table

The table is an antique. It's so big that I don't have a table cloth that fits it, but it is our kitchen table, and we love it.

We love it because we work out our problems here.

We eat here.

We do school work at this table. My husband works on his doctorate, my daughter works on fourth grade math, and I write articles for diocesan papers at this table.

And, as you can see from the picture, we eat cake or ice cream or any number of home baked goodies at this table. And on really special occasions, the extended family (all three grown children) come home with their spouses and we have one enormous celebration.

According to our parish priest, this table is an extension of the Communion Table. In fact, like so many other aspects of family life, what we do in our home is a reflection of the perfect plan in the Kingdom of God. Around the Holy Communion Table in each of our parishes, we learn how to be part of the Family of God. We rejoice there. We grieve there. We work out our differences there. And this is where we gather when we come home.

Perhaps it is time for you to come home. There is a place for you at the Table.

The Next Chapter. . .

As wonderful as it was to have my husband enter the Church (after thinking it would never happen), I found myself wondering, "What next?" I realized that most of the writing came out of the disequilibrium that ensues when only one converts. Until his conversion, I had transferred that frustration into writing about the Faith and explaining how I went from "there" to "here." Now that my husband was Catholic, I didn't have anything to write. There was a kind of "done-ness" that followed his conversion. The peace and unity in the home sort of eradicated the energy that had generated so many articles.

I decided to spend some time reading what the writing-saints had to say about the writing life. I’ve discovered an interesting thing about them. For the most part, saints like St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Liseux didn’t really want to write. Their superiors told them to do it, and so they did it. For them, writing was never about putting themselves in print. It was only about obedience and fidelity to what God wanted them to do.

So I asked myself, what am I supposed to be doing as an act of obedience and fidelity to God?

I’m realizing there is a definite advantage to the team approach now that my husband is also Catholic. Together, we have come to the humbling conclusion that we have much to learn from the faithful Catholics we know and the sermons Our Lord preached. Most Catholics do not sit at the computer and write articles. They are out there. Feeding the poor. Speaking for the voiceless. Clothing the needy. They are about the business of spreading the Gospel message by what they do, not by what they write. Their lives are the Gospel message.

Through Catholic Charities. St. Vincent de Paul Centers. Catholic Relief Services. Quilting circles. Priests for Life. Centers for young mothers, for the homeless, and for the under-served in our communities. The have-gots sharing with the have-nots. The Catholic faithful ministering to those labeled by society as a fetus or an illegal alien or a welfare case. All those places where religion is made real by action. Where contemplation is rooted in charity and charitable work is the fruit. What comes next? I'm still not sure, but I think it may be saying yes to whatever comes - and whatever remains.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Love Letter

For all those who thought they would be making the journey alone. . .

The letter didn’t come on Valentine’s Day. I didn’t receive it on an anniversary. The best love letter I ever received came from my husband on Christmas Eve 2007.

While John was raised Baptist, much of his extended family was Catholic. His parents’ siblings had married Catholics and raised their children in the Catholic Church. But John’s mom was Baptist, and John and his sister first discovered God’s love through their mother in a Baptist church.

When John was in middle school, his mother died of breast cancer. He tried to go to church regularly for awhile, but it just became too difficult without a mother’s prompting. John’s dad decided to send his son to a Catholic high school, hoping it would be a soft, safe place for the boy who had experienced a terrible loss at such a tender age.

Like most students in Catholic high schools, John gained a strong identity by being part of a private school. He wore the school’s name (St. John Vianney) with pride, even though he did not convert.

After high school, John headed off to college, but church wasn’t a big part of this phase of his life. One day, while commuting to graduate school, the radio station paused its regular programming to announce that the Federal Building in Oklahoma City had been bombed. The tragic news made John take stock of his life, and he decided that it was time to return to his faith, because he realized that for all of us, there are times when faith is all that's left to go on.

Like when a mom dies and a boy is only half-grown. Or when tragedy comes suddenly, and there is nothing anyone can do but pray.

John and I met about a year later. The timing was ideal. I needed some ballast in my life. John was rock solid, and that was an important thing to a single mother of three small children.
After a brief engagement, we married. We attended the Presbyterian church where my father preached. When Dad became ill and left pastoral ministry, we attended the Baptist church where John’s mother had taken him as a small boy. Then my father died, and I went searching for answers. I found a copy of Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross and eventually found my way to the Catholic Church.

“I think I’m supposed to become Catholic,” I told John one day. He nodded and told me that was fine, but he wasn’t interested in becoming Catholic. I agreed to keep my Catholic journey private and preserve our Baptist identity as a family. Back then, I thought that would be enough. I barely understood what was happening to me, and I didn’t think I was in any position to help anyone else become Catholic. In time, however, things changed. I wanted all of us to be Catholic and on the same page with our faith.

But that doesn’t always happen the moment you realize how much you want it.

Grace has its own timetable. Another’s free will can’t be forced. And while I prayed for this one conversion, I must admit, I didn’t think it would ever happen. “Remember St. Monica,” my parish priest said. “Would she have become a saint if she had not had a son who needed her prayers? And then we never would have had St. Augustine.” Okay, fair enough.

So I prayed in earnest. At Mass. During my hour of Adoration. But it is very difficult to hope for something you cannot imagine.

On Christmas Eve of 2007 everything changed. While waiting for Mass to begin, John passed me a card. I looked at it for a second, and while my heart filled with joy (because John’s love letters are always very special), I still did not know what was about to happen. I opened the letter and began to read. I love John’s handwriting; it’s so familiar to me, like all the other things about him after eleven years of marriage. I read the words, about how deeply he loves me, and how that had prompted him to consider the Catholic Church.

And so, I enter the Church this coming Easter. I read the final sentence.

He smiled as the tears gathered in my eyes. I tried to wrap my mind around this news. “When are you going to begin?” I whispered, unsure that the unfolding miracle could really be true. And he told me that he had been secretly studying with our parish RCIA leader for months.

The impossible had happened. And I realized that his life, like my own, has been dotted by one grace after another. Some moments had seemed very good, some very difficult, but all of it pointed to conversion, our “yes” to the great call of divine love.

God’s love letter to us.