Thursday, December 29, 2011

Preacher's Daughter Caught Fighting in School

God has a sense of humor.

I created an event on my FaceBook page. I do it every year.

Please join me in praying for Christian Unity during the Week of Christian Unity, which begins January 18, 2012.

I clicked on most of my FaceBook friends and sent out the invitations.

The "Accepts Invitations" started rolling in.

I just checked how many have agreed to pray. I had a personalized note from Penny. She said that she would pray throughout the week, even though she has to work.

Penny made me smile.

A few decades ago, Penny and I were in 8th grade together in a little middle school in Riceville, Iowa. I remember the day we were in art class. She was standing with her friends and I was sitting with my friends. Our friends were not the same. She was from McIntire, and I was from rural Riceville. She was a bit  rowdy. I was a goody two shoes.

For some reason, she thought I was talking about her that day. I wasn't. But she thought I was, and that created a chemical reaction. When we lined up to leave art class that day, she accused me of talking about her to my friends. I told her I hadn't been talking about her at all.

She didn't believe me.

Really, I wasn't.

Yes, you were. (shove)

Without thinking, I shoved back, and wham. Preacher's daughter and McIntire girl fight in the doorway of the art room.

The two of us keep swinging until the short, overweight English teacher came out of her room and yelled, "That's enough!"

We stop fighting immediately. I burst into tears. Penny runs out of the school and holes up at her grandmother's house a block away. I don't remember very much after that.

Fastforward through a few decades, and there I am, sitting at my computer, smiling.

Penny has agreed to pray that the Christian world will be one. At peace. In accord. Strife ended. All on the same page. No misunderstandings.

Let the past be the past.

This is the kind of irony I love.

God, you have such a great sense of humor.

Penny, God bless you for praying - and for inviting me to be your Facebook friend. Blessed are the peacemakers. That's you, Penny!

And that's every one of us that says count me in. I'll pray. "Father, make us one. As you and the Son are one... so that the world will know that You have sent the Son of God to a crazy, mixed-up world."

But a world that is certainly worth redeeming. Now, go and invite everyone to join us in prayer, even the kid you fought with in 8th grade!

Amen, and amen!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Journal Your Way to God in 2012

In 2003, I had a prayer journal. I started it about six months before I began my daily journal. The difference between a prayer journal and a daily journal is this: a writer captures his thoughts and fears and joys and experiences and dreams and disappointments in a daily journal while a believer documents his prayers and petitions in a prayer journal. Both are excellent ways to document spiritual growth, and I highly recommend starting some kind of faith-based journal in 2012.

I found my prayer journal from 2003 awhile back. I was surprised to discover that every request had been answered, but one.*

I had asked God for a very special thing - that He would restore my father's health. My father passed away on December 28, 2003. Not only had Our Lord not restored my father's health, He had called him into eternity.

That one unanswered prayer was not God's will. While there are probably many reasons why it was not God's will, one reason was that his death was the catalyst for my eventual conversion and journey to the Catholic Church.

Quite simply, if Dad hadn't died, I wouldn't have become a seeker. And Jeremiah is right when he speaks for the Lord, saying: Seek me and you will find me when you seek me with all of your heart.

Before that moment, I didn't truly seek God. Why? Because I thought I already had it all put together. Strange how the death of a loved one changes all that.

Prayer has been a part of my life for many years. I know that God answers prayer. I know that He does not answer prayers in the way we hope He would answer them - sometimes anyway. When that happens, it is because God has something far greater for us than our limited minds can conceive.

Like conversion.

Like eternity.

This blog is a reflection of my journey, a window into that precious daily journal that holds the full story of how I became Catholic by grace.

It has also become something of a prayer journal because prayer is essential in this faith journey. I read recently that St. Teresa of Avila said, "I am certain of it that Our Lord will eventually bring to the harbor of salvation, the one who gives himself to prayer."

There are many reasons why we should pray. This may be the most important one of all.

May you discover the joy of sacred writing in 2012.


*We ought to be persuaded that what God refuses to our prayer, He grants to our salvation.– St. Augustine

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2012 Goodbye Laziness; Hello God's Plan

We just checked in at Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Missouri. It feels great.
It was a long road to this vacation - metaphorically and literally. I just finished a semester teaching ten different classes every day to four different levels of students. On the side, I tutored a fourth grader in Spanish. Oh, and I write for diocesan newspapers.

And I am a penpal via email to a number of potential converts.

And I am a mother and grandmother.

But I will let you in on a secret. I used to be very lazy.

I watched soap operas almost daily. Yes, it's true. (I gave this up about three years ago.)

I considered my day a busy one if I had one event on the calendar. Grocery shopping was an event - in my old life.

So, how did I go from being lazy to being crazy-busy and happy with that?

I have never felt more certain that I am in the center of God's plan than I do right now. And there's more than enough energy to go around when one can say that. I love what I do because I have the sense that this is what God has called me to do.

Miraculously, there is enough energy for all of it

Here's what I did (in case you are lazy and you want to lose that vice during the new year):

1. Be converted. Completely. Totally. Radically. (Try daily Mass attendance and reading the Liturgy of the Hours).
2. Pray.
3. Pray.
4. Pray some more.
5. Wait on the Lord. (What are you waiting for? Peace. Our Mother's gentle nudge. Our Lord's voice.)
6. Be ready to say yes.
7. And pray some more.

Then, the doors will open. You will feel the nudge. You will say yes to the invitations. And you will find that there is more energy. His grace is really, truly, actually, incredibly, mysteriously, miraculously sufficient for every good work.

Go ahead. Say the words. Goodbye Laziness. Hello Divine Plan. You have my full and complete yes.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Once upon a time, when I didn't believe in the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe...

Over 20 years ago, I began my first teaching position at Beckman High School in Dyersville, Iowa. In spite of the fact that Spanish was my minor and I wasn’t a Catholic convert at the time, I found myself the only foreign language teacher in a small Catholic high school, teaching all levels of Spanish to about 160 students. I remember having little confidence as a teacher and even less in the subject matter.

I pulled activities and assignments from every possible place. Somehow, I came across a little story written in simple Spanish which I thought my upper level students would be able to translate. I considered the story nothing more than an interesting Catholic legend.

Thankfully, I did not propagate my misunderstanding, but rather simply assigned the story to my students and left religion instruction to the religion department.

In January of 2005, while nearing the end of my conversion to the Catholic faith, I received one of many “care packages” from Randy and Mary Hill, a married couple in the Archdiocese of St. Louis that had taken me under their wings when they discovered that I was converting. The box they sent to me contained a book on Marian apparitions entitled A Woman Clothed with the Sun by John J. Delaney. While reading a chapter on Our Lady of Guadalupe, I came across something that would take that little story out of the realm of legend and into the realm of absolute reality for me.

In 1990, while completing a college-level course on Latin America, I learned a couple of Nahuatl words (Aztec language), one of which was “cuatl” (pronounced kwah-tell, emphasis on first syllable). Translated, it means snake or serpent. The Aztec people even had a god named Quetzalcuatl, which literally translates to plumed serpent.

The book I was reading explained that the Aztec pronunciation of the word “Guadalupe” would have been something like kwah-tell lah-shoop-ay. So, when the Lady said her name to Juan Diego’s uncle, he would have interpreted the first part as snake because cuatl and guadal are both pronounced kwah-tell. What I didn’t know—which the book explained for me—is that the Aztec translation of the second half of that phrase literally means to trod on something. When I put it all together, I was stunned. In Nahuatl, the name Guadalupe means One who trods on snake! So when the Lady repeated her name for a poor, uneducated Aztec man, saying call me Santa Maria de Guadalupe, she was actually saying, call me Holy Mary of One who has trod on the snake. In Genesis 3:15, this is the name God reserves for Mary, the second Eve; so when the woman says her name, she gives the name the Lord planned for her from the beginning of time.

I have no idea how I overlooked the miracles behind the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe all those years ago. I’m sure it’s because I didn’t put together that cuatl and guadal have virtually identical pronunciations in Nahuatl, and I had never learned the translation for the rest of the compound epithet. Still, it amazes me that I could teach Spanish in a Catholic high school, assign the reading to upper level classes, and not know the whole story. It cuts me to the heart when I realize that I taught my students about the conquistadors, but not the miracle of eight million baptisms that occurred in the seven years following the vision. Some sources estimate that the actual number of conversions might have been closer to nine million (with the total Aztec population only ten million at that time).

I’ve promised myself that one day I will visit Mexico and see the five-hundred-year-old tilma that bears the image of Our Lady. I just wish I could gather all my former students together in one place and have another chance to teach them the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. With uncensored delight, I would ask them if they have heard the story—the true story—of the Woman who converted a nation with the help of a few Spanish roses, a cloak called a tilma, and one very humble Aztec man named Juan Diego.

I urge you to read more about Our Lady of Guadalupe, and let the story speak for itself.

Santa Maria, mi Madre Nueva, gracias—por todos los milagros y las lecciones del corazon. Holy Mary, my new Mother, thank you – for all the miracles and lessons of the heart.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Immaculate Conception? From total disbelief to utter amazement!

Have you ever watched a television program that changed your life? Well, that’s what happened to me – but it took more than five months for the full impact to hit me. It began on July 16, 2004. I caught the tail-end of a Journey Home program (EWTN), and I was immediately drawn to that night’s guest. On a whim, I wrote Mary Beth Kremski and attempted to explain something that I didn’t completely understand myself – my growing desire to enter the Catholic Church.

I had been fascinated by Mrs. Kremski because she was a Third Order Carmelite – or at least that’s what the tag line at the bottom of the television screen said. I didn’t know what Third Order meant, but I knew that the authors of the books I had recently read were Carmelites. St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila – only they lived in the 1500s. I had no idea that there were Carmelites living and breathing today! What luck! I had to write her. I had so many questions.

We exchanged just one set of letters in August, and then the communication ended. I turned my attention to the local Catholic Church and decided to try RCIA class and see what would happen from there.

In December of 2004, the RCIA leader at my parish introduced the class to the Church’s teaching on the Immaculate Conception. I’ve come to the conclusion that our Blessed Mother was gently guiding me through this part of my journey, but at that moment in time, she seemed to be nothing more than one major stumbling block for me.

I announced to the entire class that I couldn’t accept that Mary was conceived without sin. I was willing to admit that Protestants had let the pendulum swing too far in the opposite direction, relegating Mary to a minor role in the Christmas story, but I felt that was in response to excessive Catholic Mariology. I explained that, while I believed the Lord could do that for Mary, I was convinced it was highly unlikely that he did do it. At that moment, I didn’t even have enough faith to say, I believe, Lord help my unbelief.

The terrible thought hit me then. Where does one go when she believes in Apostolic Succession, the Papacy, Purgatory, the Communion of Saints, and all Catholic Teaching, except the Immaculate Conception? What was the name of that denomination? I felt like Peter when he said, where else can we go? This is a difficult teaching, Lord, but I’ve nowhere else to turn.

After many attempts to help me understand, my RCIA instructor mentioned that I had the option of placing a petition before the Blessed Mother. If I had sincerely given myself to the task of understanding and I still couldn’t embrace this teaching, he told me that I could always ask Mary to show me the Truth.

As an Evangelical, I had placed many petitions before the Lord. That was not a new concept. And I didn’t have a problem with asking Mary to answer my petition. I just didn’t think she would do it.

I knew a lot was riding on this petition. The Immaculate Conception was the one obstacle that stood between my father (a Presbyterian minister) and the Catholic Church. In fact, if he could have resolved this issue, I’m convinced he would have converted to the Catholic Church thirty years ago. Before I made my petition to Mary, I prayed, “Lord, I will follow you wherever you lead, even if it is down a road my father could not take. I just want to get this right. And so, I beg You NOT to answer the petition I place before Your Mother if this teaching shouldn’t be embraced.” Then I turned my heart to Mary and laid it on the line:


If you are as the Catholic Church says and if you love me, please answer this petition. I want someone to communicate with me by your inspiration. I need the communication to encourage me in the faith, and I don’t want it to be from Catholic friends at the school where I used to teach or my Catholic in-laws. I don’t want it to be from anyone in my parish. All of them—well, I have shared this struggle with some of them, and they may know through earthly tongues that I need to be propped up. Mary, I want the message to come from you to the ears of one who could know no other way. Please choose someone who, for me, would represent the Universal Catholic Church. Then I will know I am right where I am supposed to be and that the Church’s Teachings are ALL correct, terra firma, especially the Teachings about you. Please answer my petition before the end of the year—I know, that’s just two weeks.

This petition is rewritten word-for-word from my journal entry for December 12, 2004, the day I said the prayer. I knew it was unlikely I would receive a response. Almost as unlikely as the Immaculate Conception, I thought.

Our Lady didn’t make me wait very long. In the mailbox the next day was a letter from the woman who had appeared on The Journey Home the previous July. I had not heard from her since August when her one and only letter arrived. BUT, in December of 2004 she decided to write me a second time to encourage me in the Faith and let me know she was praying for me. Her letter was dated December 8, 2004. Above the date, she had hand-written The Feast of the Immaculate Conception. With tears streaming down my face, I read her two-page, single-spaced letter.

I had been ready to abandon the journey. I knew it would drive me crazy to teeter on the fence for very long. That’s why I had put a time restriction on the Blessed Virgin. That letter sealed everything for me. Like Thomas when he touched the wounds of Our Lord, all my doubts were gone instantly.

Mary is my Mother! And like the truest mother, she loves me and knows me better than I know myself. After all, she knew the very thing I would ask of her before I even asked it. Mary Beth Kremski’s letter had been dated four days before I made the petition, arriving less than twenty-four hours after my request for help. Our Lady proved herself to be the Immaculate Conception and a Mother with impeccable timing.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Catholics and Their Endless Rituals

On Friday morning, the students gathered for opening prayer. They do it every day. We always end with the Pledge of Allegiance and a little chant. Do the right thing. Treat people right. Even if you don't feel like it.

Our little morning ritual is full of lessons for the convert.

Rituals matter.

They make us what we are.

We become what we say. We remember what we do repetitively. These things build community and they bind us together.

As Americans, we get a little misty-eyed when we hear the very young say the Pledge. When we look at them and see that right hand resting on a little beating heart, we hear those words fall from a little mouth, we see their eyes firmly fixed on the Stars and Stripes.

The entire ritual moves us. We are glad we have passed these things on to them.

On Friday morning, after the prayers and the pledge, one 7th grade boy picked up the flag and stand and carried it to the church for our Veteran's Day Mass.

This is where my worlds converge. I am American. I completely embrace the Pledge, the patriotic ritual, the repetition of the words and gestures we hold dear. They make us who we are.

How much more so those things we do and say as Catholic Christians. It is right to have rituals. They make us who we are. It is right to pray our prayers, so familiar that we can say them without stumbling at all. Our Father, who art in heaven... 

It is right to fix our eyes on the cross - on the body that is suffering on that cross.

And we pass these things on to them.

There was a time I did not see the value in spiritual repetition. I did not understand the purpose for faith rituals. I thought these things stifled the creative inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

I was wrong.

If the pledge and the flag and a hand over one's heart can make us patriotic and help us to remember that we are proud to be American...

...then a prayer and crucifix and a hand making the Sign of the Cross can help us to remember whose we are... and why Our Lord died and rose again.


Repeated prayers.

They help us to remember. And then, we go out to be what we proclaim.

November 2011 Catholic by Grace Article

My first encounter with the elderly and dying came when I was eighteen. I was a nurse’s aide for about five months. That’s how long it took me to realize I was not meant to be a nurse.
I dropped my plans to go into nursing, but the memories of the people I met in that Nebraska nursing home have stayed with me for nearly three decades.
I remember the stroke victims. The woman who spent each day repeating “Mana, mana, mana.” The man who was able to say a handful of words clearly. All expletives.
Another woman reminded me of Edith from All in the Family. She would nervously apply red lipstick when her handsome husband visited. I remember how much I disliked him as he stood there with his arm around his girlfriend and urged his adolescent daughters to give their invalid mother a hug.
I remember the woman named Mary who said she’d never had cross words with her husband of fifty years. I wondered if she was being honest. I still wonder.
And there was the man who demanded our immediate attention, saying he was related to William Buckley, Jr.  I was only eighteen. I had no idea who William Buckley, Jr., was. I asked the other nurses. They hadn’t heard of him either.
The residents of that Omaha nursing home  fascinated me. I wanted to sit with these people. Talk to them. Find out their stories. Was Mary a saint, or was her husband just easy to get along with? Had the man who swore a blue streak been a swearer before his stroke? Did “Edith” really think her husband would be impressed with her red lipstick? Did it kill her spirit to see him with a mistress, both of them standing near her like they had done their good deed for the year?
Was Mr. Buckley really related to the Mr. Buckley, Jr.?
The first floor of that nursing home was busy, sometimes downright chaotic. There was never a moment to sit and simply be with the patients. There was little dignity in getting old. And something in me said this isn’t right.
I remember one day in particular. Three patients had to be bathed before the evening meal. I gently washed a frail woman, the second of the three patients on my list. I did all the talking while she simply submitted to the process. She weighed almost nothing. I could lift her from the wheelchair to the bath chair and back again by myself. She looked at me quietly as I dressed her, putting on her gown and robe and slippers. If I hurried, I would get the last patient bathed before the floor nurse announced that the kitchen was open.
I wheeled the woman to her room and collected my final patient. A few moments later, the head nurse entered the shower room. She asked me if Lydia had seemed okay when I bathed her. “She was quiet, but nothing unusual. Why?”
The nurse told me that Lydia was dead. I was the last person who had touched her body, bathed her, spoken to her.
And I didn’t know anything about her, except her name.
In that moment, I knew that the elderly deserve more than the hurried care our society gives them. We are so advanced. And yet, we often forget the dignity of the human person.
The unborn.
The man in prison.
The cast-off wife with her lipstick-smile.
The one who spends all day saying mana, mana, mana or a string of profanity. The one who thinks about her deceased husband all day, every day.
I have decided that I want to go to a Catholic nursing home when I’m old. I want to spend my final hours and minutes in a place where I can go to Mass, where a nurse can wheel me into an Adoration Chapel, where I will be surrounded by rosaries and crucifixes and images of Our Lady. I want to pass from here to there with the faith and the faithful all around me.
As Catholics, we believe in the dignity of the human person. I plan to spend my final days in a place where the caretakers know that I am made in the image and likeness of God. And maybe, I will share a few words with a young nurse’s aide, and perhaps she will remember me with a smile.


October 2011 Catholic by Grace Column

I wish I had a dollar for every time I felt like a newcomer to the Catholic Faith. I remember the prayer I wrote in my RCIA  journal in 2005. Lord, I am going to look like I don’t know what I am doing as I fumble my way through this. I’m going to look like an idiot sometimes.

Like that first Lent when the Alleluia vanished from the Liturgy, and I didn’t realize that would happen. Or the many times the organist has played an unfamiliar tune to the Gloria. Suddenly, I can’t remember the words.

Like my First Communion, when I had to remember the order of bowing and saying Amen and crossing myself – when all I could think about was Jesus waiting as I walked the aisle so that He could come to me – and I to him.

Or the year I substituted in the English department at Immaculate Conception Parish and the teachers would meet before the students arrived. They would pray the Memorare. Little Mary Beth who was only in seventh grade took pity on me and printed out a copy of the prayer so that I would not have to stand in the teachers’ prayer circle and participate in fits and starts.

Like the time I attended Mass at EWTN and there was a lot of Latin. It seemed like I was the only one who was lost. I remember the embarrassment I felt. I was scheduled to be a guest on one of their programs later in the day, and I didn’t even know how to pray the Mass with them.

Like the time I visited St. Ignatius of Loyola School and bowed my head to pray with teachers and students in the gathering space – only to feel a tap on my shoulder from one of the teachers who pointed to the Crucifix on the wall. That’s when I realized everyone in the room was looking upon the Lord as they prayed, and I hadn’t noticed because my head had been bowed and my eyes closed (like I had done in my Protestant years).

Or the times I have written an article for the column and received a kind letter from an editor who wanted to help me edit the article so that it was more in line with official Church teaching.

Over and over, I have felt like a newcomer to the Faith. I still have moments when I can’t remember whether we stand now or kneel. And those momentary lapses in memory almost always come when I am the guest speaker or the teacher or the Catholic writer – the one who is supposed to know it all.

Lord, I’m going to fumble and stumble around sometimes as I try to figure this out. I’m going to look like a fool as I travel down unfamiliar paths.

Recently, I was talking to a priest. When he realized that I am a Catholic writer, he suggested that I write something about the changes in the Liturgy. “It will be hard for the musicians and some of the people. And it will be hard for priests. We’ll probably stumble awhile, as we try to learn the new wording.”

“Oh, Father! You’ll feel just like a convert!” I said and then I told him about my year in RCIA and the way I still feel at times.

The church secretary who was sitting near us smiled then.  “Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. We all need to feel like a convert now and then.”

She’s right. But it’s not the end of the world. Every convert knows that you get through it somehow. Eventually, you learn. Almost immediately, you love. And the learning and the loving move in tandem.

Take it from one who has fumbled along many times. All will be well. Change is never easy. And this change will be particularly difficult for many. If you are a priest or a musician, offer it up for a convert who finds the entire Liturgy something of a foreign language. Offer it up for the one who longs to be part of the Church family, but feels like he will never fit in as easily as the cradle Catholic sitting beside him. Offer it up for the one who is trying to learn everything in just a few months of RCIA.

And I will let you in on a secret that every convert knows. You will look back on that part of the journey and miss it a little. You will realize that God was there. You knew it. You felt it. You relied on it.

I’ll meet you in the Mass. And we’ll learn together.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ben's Story

On Wednesday, October 19th, Ben Johnson had a motorcycle accident in south Grand Forks, ND that resulted in a severed spinal column (between T5 and T6). As well he suffered from two broken ribs, minor lacerations, two small perferations in his left lung. He was transferred via air to the Hennepin County Medical Center where he is presently being treated.
Ben's senior picture
He has full use of his arms and hands as well as strong respiratory function. He has no feeling or movement below mid-chest.

Ben has been accepted to receive rehab treatment at Craig Hospital in Denver, CO.  For the last number of years Craig Hospital has been listed in the top ten rehab centers in the United States.  They specialize in spinal cord injuries and treat approximately 300 patients each year.  We are very excited for Ben and the possibilities that await him there.
The plan is for Ben and Mary (Ben's mother & my cousin) to travel via air ambulance from Minneapolis to Denver this coming Wednesday.  Nathan, Ben's dad, will be following on a commercial flight.  The average rehab time is between 4-8 weeks.
Pray that all goes well up til Wednesday and that the travel goes well too.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Please Pray

Dear Catholic Faithful,

My cousin’s son is a high school senior, and he was just in a motor cycle accident. He has severed his spinal cord and is being flown to a Minneapolis hospital. Please pray for him.

My cousin and her husband are Assembly of God pastors. I saw my cousin just a couple of weeks ago. She said that her husband had attended a symposium at the local university where he was on a panel discussing faith topics. When he returned home, he told my cousin that he had more in common with the Catholic priest on the panel than any other person there.

Mary and Nathan Johnson and their son Ben live in Minot, North Dakota. They pastor

Many thanks,

Denise Bossert


Sunday, October 16, 2011

God Made You

The other day, I divided three boxes of Sculpey clay into seventeen separate balls and gave each student a lump of clay.

I told the students to form a creature - anything their imagination could think to create.

They went to work right away, and the classroom was abuzz with activity. The students carefully created figures, formed eyes, carved out mouths and showed off their handiwork to one another.

"Now, I want each one of you to look at your creation and imagine that it could suddenly come to life."

Their eyes danced with the mere thought of such a great thing.

"Imagine that you could name your little friend, that your little one could say your name, talk to you - love you back."

"That would be great!" one student said and the rest of the students agreed wholeheartedly.

To order, click here
"And imagine what fun you would have together." And then I paused.

"But what if your creature decided to hop off of your desk and run away. What if he picked up the toothpick you've been using and poked you right in the eye, and then jumped to another student's desk and decided to give someone else love and attention? What if he forgot all about you?"

They were ready now for the lesson. The real reason we had spent the entire religion class with clay.

"You are the clay creature, my friends. God made you. He loves you. He wants you to love Him back. But He will not force you to do it. He permits you to turn and go the other way."

Choose this day.

To love Him.

Your Creator.

The One who formed you and knows you by name.

Take your creature home. And every time you look at him-- remember.

We are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works that God has prepared for us in advance, that we should live in them. Ephesians 2:10

Saturday, September 10, 2011

His Grace is Sufficient for Every Good Work

I sent out the October submission today. Always thankful that God keeps using my little offerings.

My dear friend in Scranton was spared the flooding. They had to spend some time in a hotel (on higher ground), but they are back home safe and sound.

The school year is going great! Again, what a blessing to be able to share our Faith with the next generation!

Grace and Peace!


Sunday, September 4, 2011

September 2011 Catholic by Grace Column

We greeted each other in the narthex a few months ago. As it so often does, our conversation turned to the faith.
Margaret told me she had never thought of faith as a kind of journey - until she met me. Her life as a cradle Catholic was steady. Unquestioned. Loved. Still, it simply was. More like a state of being rather than a journey.
But she said it's different now. She senses that her faith has always been a journey whether she realized it or not. A journey has been taking place on a level just below her consciousness.
And she suspects that it’s like that for other Catholics, too. Her parents. Her sister. The countless people who stop by the parish office to sign their children up for religion classes or the youth athletic programs or to learn about baptism preparation or marriage instruction. It’s even like that for those who are there to make final arrangements for a loved one. The faith that they’ve been living has been a journey. Each event has been a kind of mile marker. The Sacraments have come to them at just the right moment, bringing just the right help for the journey.
It began when they were so young, they may not even remember it. Their parents carried them at first. Then those parents put their children on the path and took them by the hand. They walked together like that, perhaps for many years. Then, mom and dad let them run ahead. And their parents’ hearts were filled with great joy. They could entrust their grown children to the journey. It was a safe path in a world with so many unsafe paths.
“Maybe we’re all on a kind of journey,” Margaret said. Margaret sees it all. She’s the parish secretary.
That day in the entrance of the church, we talked in similes and metaphors, and our conversation was poetry and prose all mixed together. We eventually got around to the subject of music. In addition to being our parish secretary, Margaret teaches piano. Music is her second language. As we talked, I realized that it was my turn to learn a new metaphor for this life of grace.
Margaret's song - her life - has been a lovely piece of music, soft and beautiful, mostly pianissimo, in steady 4/4 time.
In contrast, my journey started out as a simple song. Like Twinkle, Twinkle. As for substance, it was mostly just a bare minimum theology. A tune that could be plunked out with one finger on a keyboard.
Jesus loves me, this I know.
The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me.
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.
The theology was about as complicated as my daughter’s first-year piano music.
But then, a dissonance interrupted everything, and all I wanted was some resolution. I wanted desperately to stop those notes that didn't seem to go together. I wanted my simple Twinkle, Twinkle kind of faith once again. Instead, the music was loud and demanded my attention and cried out for chords that worked – a sound that made sense.
And then it came. The understanding and knowledge. Those beautiful gifts of the Holy Spirit. Right judgment. Awe. Reverence.
A complicated arrangement replaced the cacophony, and - for the first time - I experienced advanced dynamics that pulled at the soul and carried me higher. The music of faith transitioned into a movement of exquisite sweetness, made all the sweeter because it followed the dark dissonance.
. The Climax. The Resolution. The moment when grace sings the melody and all instruments highlight her voice.
Faith is a journey. Grace is a song.
Whether we are aware of it or not.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

How To Use Journey Home Episodes in Middle School and High School Classrooms: Mark Kurowski Lesson Plan

I recommend setting aside two Friday's of the month for the Journey Home Lesson Plans. You will cover one convert during each of these Friday sessions. Here's how to do it:
  1. Click on the link.
  2. Preview the whole show OR simply view the recommended times. (The minute-segments are the PRECISE segments that I show to my classes.)
  3. Before the students view the suggested segments, pass out the following handout. You may cut and paste this handout and create your own document. The answers are given in italics. I recommend that you make one ANSWER KEY that contains the italicized answers and then delete the italicized answers and print a STUDENT COPY. Students will use their copies for note-taking while viewing the suggested segments.

I hope that your students enjoy these Journey Home episodes which have been distilled into a series of segments that will hold their interest while 1.)building up their understanding of the Catholic Faith and 2.)giving them a glimpse into the why&how stories of many converts. I will post another show and lesson plan in a couple of weeks. Love your Faith -- and give your middle school & high school students a reason to love it as well!

Journey Home Show
First Segment: 0:00-13:30 and 20:00-21:30 and 22:32-23:41
Second Segment: 25:39-26:03 and 30:20-35:00
Third Segment: 38:40-42:40
Bonus: 46:25-47:30 How we, as Catholics, can help converts.
Bonus: 49:48-50:48 Mark describes what it was like to receive the Eucharist that first time (very moving clip).
Total viewing time: approximately 26 minutes

Convert’s Name: Mark Kurowski
1. What was this convert’s early faith formation? (Answers in First Segment)

There was no faith formation in this convert’s early years. His parents were divorced. He was the ninth and youngest child in the family. Even though the family did not have a formal faith home, his mother was pro-life and placed a high premium on living out her values. There was much anger in the children as they were growing up, and this convert battled anger issues. As a child, he wanted to make people happy, but he struggled with insecurity (due to the lack of a father’s love and presence in his life). His mother was a big part of his life, but he felt a mother “was supposed to love you.” His insecurity made him an angry kid with a foul mouth. He describes himself as “just a mess.” His grandfather tried to fill the void.

After his grandfather passed away, Mark had the same dream five times, in which his grandfather came to him and told him that God had something very important for him to do.

Mark went to Mass as a young teen – on his own – but nobody reached out to him, so the Catholic faith didn’t take hold at that point. In fact, Mark fell away from God and the pursuit of holy living. He did like to sing. In high school, a teacher invited him to sing in the church choir at the Methodist church. It was in that church that Mark had a kind of 1st conversion – to Christ.

Mark sensed a call to become a minister. In this final portion of the first segment, Mark talks about the call and has a great quote about discernment by St. Ignatius of Loyola.

2. What event or thought process led to the beginning of the conversion process?   (Answers in Second Segment)

Mark worked on a political campaign and met his future wife at that time. She was a Catholic. The two eventually married, and they bounced between churches for a while.

While in seminary, Mark wrote a paper about Wesley (Protestant theologian associated with the Methodist denomination). In the paper, Mark traces Wesley’s concept of sanctification to a Catholic monk by the name of Macarius. This patristic father explains that the path to holiness comes by putting into place holy practices in daily living. This is how we become holy people. Mark realized that the Book of Common Prayer (Protestant) is based on the Catholic tradition of the Liturgy of the Hours. At this time, many beautiful Catholic practices became part of his daily life.

 3. What obstacle did this convert have to overcome? What stood in his way in the process of conversion? What event finally prompted him to enter the Catholic Church? (Answer in Third Segment)

This convert did not express describe obstacles to conversion. His journey seems to be a progression of revelations on the beauty of Catholic practices and the connections he made between Wesley’s concept of sanctification and the Catholic theology it was based upon. Mark and his wife moved to Gary, Indiana, where he served a multi-ethnic parish. There was a group of priests in the area who worked in this part of the city. They opened Mark’s eyes to the beauty of the Catholic Church and the writings of St. Justin Martyr on the Eucharist and the order of the Mass.

It might be helpful at this point to discuss the need for Holy Orders for the Consecration in the Mass. While the convert was beginning to understand the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, he does not point out the essential element of the priest and the indelible mark God places upon him in Holy Orders. Be sure to point out to students that the Eucharist comes to us in the Mass through the words of Consecration, spoken by a validly ordained priest.

If you have time, consider playing the two bonus clips and discussing the topics listed with the given time frame for each bonus segment.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Nearing the Assumption

I had a terrible time with the Immaculate Conception when I was studying the Catholic faith - what a year it was -  that year before entering the Church. But the Assumption of Our Lady was easy in comparison.

It just made sense to me. 

Once I accepted that Mary was conceived without sin, full of every grace from the moment of her conception, the Assumption seemed obvious.

She would not - could not - suffer from sins' final destructive force. Of course, the Lord would want to reach down and lift His mother out of the world.

Of course, He would want to bring her to Himself. There is no way on God's green earth that He would let His mother's perfect body remain here until the end of time.

If we believe that Christ will return one day and receive the faithful, that He will raise the faithful from the earth and give them new, glorified bodies, then why in heaven's name wouldn't we believe that He would first do it for His own mother?

A perfect son (who also happens to be the Word of God Incarnate) would most definitely break through the veil that separates this world from the eternal world and call His mother to His side.

Certainly, He would not wait for the end of time. Not a chance.

And this is the final clue that the Catholic Church got this one right. It doesn't take a rocket scientest to realize that the Church has gone to great lengths to preserve and venerate the remains of every saint they possibly can. If the Blessed Mother's body had not been assumed into heaven, every Catholic would know where her remains were buried.

Why do we not have the remains of Our Lord's body? Evangelicals respond immediately by saying, "Because He is not here. He has ascended, and He will come again."

Ah, yes. They are right. But why do we not have the remains of Our Lady's body? It is not a coverup. It is not a clever game. It is really very simple and altogether lovely. Our Lord loved His mother so much that He broke through the great divide and said, "Come."

And the entire Church, the Bride of Christ, looks to this event as a sign of hope. One day, He will come for us as well. One day, the heavens will open and the Lord will say to us, "Come."

It is not too difficult to understand. Not too difficult at all.


How To Use Journey Home Episodes in Middle School and High School Classrooms: Mike Carlton Lesson Plan

I recommend setting aside two Friday's of the month for the Journey Home Lesson Plans. You will cover one convert during each of these Friday sessions. Here's how to do it:

  1. Click on the link.
  2. Preview the whole show OR simply view the recommended times. (The minute-segments are the PRECISE segments that I show to my classes.)
  3. Before the students view the suggested segments, pass out the following handout. You may cut and paste this handout and create your own document. The answers are given in italics. I recommend that you make one ANSWER KEY that contains the italicized answers and then delete the italicized answers and print a STUDENT COPY. Students will use their copies for note-taking while viewing the suggested segments.

I hope that your students enjoy these Journey Home episodes which have been distilled into a series of segments that will hold their interest while 1.)building up their understanding of the Catholic Faith and 2.)giving them a glimpse into the why&how stories of many converts. I will post another show and lesson plan in a couple of weeks. Love your Faith -- and give your middle school & high school students a reason to love it as well!

Journey Home Show

First Segment: 0:00-5:02 and 6:05-7:04
                (Terms for discussion: “River Tiber” and “Protestant” & “Protest”)
Second Segment: 8:30-14:30 and 15:20-16:31 and 17:00-18:32
Final Segment: 19:14-22:05 and 24:46-26:30 and 30:22-35:43
                (Concepts for discussion: “Early Church Fathers” and “Where did the Bible come from” and “Church definition of Scandal – CCC# 2284”)
*Bonus Segment on the Blessed Virgin Mary: 38:00-38:57
Total viewing time: approximately 24 minutes

Convert’s Name: Mike Carlton

1. What was this convert's early faith formation? (Answer in First Segment)
Mike Carlton was raised Presbyterian, and his family has a Scottish background. (Note the connection between Presbyterian and the Church of Scotland) Mike was very active in his Presbyterian congregation as a youth. He had some friends who were Catholic, but he never thought he would become Catholic. Mike went on (Presbyterian) youth retreats and enjoyed those. When he was a teen, he heard the word “Protestant” and wondered why his faith heritage was associated with the word “Protest.” He went off to college and attended Presbyterian churches often, but he began to realize that the people he was meeting in college had many different kinds of beliefs, and he began to wonder why one person believes as he does and another believes something different, and so on.

2. What event of thought process led to the beginning of the conversion process?.     (Answers in Second Segment)

Mike met his future wife in college. While planning their wedding, the question came up regarding whether or not they should have a wedding with the Eucharist or without the Eucharist (because his side of the family would not be able to receive the Eucharist as they were not Catholic). The couple decided to have a wedding without the Eucharist. Mike felt like outsider because of the closed Communion in his wife’s Church. At this point, Mike became overtly anti-Catholic.

PAUSE THE PROGRAM AT 12:20 and talk to the students about why we have a closed Communion in the Catholic Church.
“We believe this is really and truly the Body of Christ that we are receiving in Holy Communion. Only those who are in full Communion with the teachings of the Catholic Church may receive Communion. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our Faith. One must be in union with Our Eucharistic Lord and the teachings of His Church before receiving Christ in the Eucharist. For this reason, the Catholic Church has a closed Communion. It is the hope and the prayer of all Catholics that all people will come into complete union with Christ and His Church. God willing, this will happen, and when it does, the Church will receive them with open arms and invite them at that time to the Table of Our Lord. Other Christian communities have an open Communion. These faith communities permit everyone to receive the bread and wine (or grape juice). Typically, these Protestant denominations believe in a symbolic Communion – that the bread and wine do not change, but merely symbolize Christ’s Body and Blood. They also do not require that believers hold to a common set of beliefs.”

 During the first 8 years of their marriage, Mike and his wife looked at different faith communities, but Mike was really looking for reasons to not be Catholic during that time of his life. He continued to feel like an outsider at gatherings/holidays with his wife’s family. They moved to Atlanta where his wife met some Catholic neighbors, and his wife’s Catholic “seeds” from growing up as a Catholic started to come out.
He continued to ponder the problem with so many Christians believing so many different things. He realized “two things can’t be true and yet opposing.” Somebody had to be right. Some had to be wrong.

3. What obstacle did this convert have to overcome? What stood in his way in the process of conversion? What event finally prompted him to enter the Catholic Church?

Mike decided it would be okay to raise the children in the Catholic Church, but he would never become Catholic. One day, he was running on the beach and felt the Holy Spirit say “search for truth but be open.”

 He began studying the Early Church Fathers and started connecting the Catholic Church to the full Deposit of the Faith and combined that with reading some works by Dr. Scott Hahn. Even so, he still struggled with the scandals that were plaguing the Church at that time.

The final portion of his journey came when he was on his way home from Alabama to Georgia and, on a whim, followed a road sign that said there was a shrine ahead. He kept going, and the real journey ended at The Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament where the final pieces came together. He was ready to come home to the Catholic Church.

*If there is time, play the bonus segment on the Blessed Virgin Mary and talk with the students about our veneration and devotion to Mary. Explain to the students that there are other Christian communities who do not have a place for Mary beyond her role in the Christmas story.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

How To Use Journey Home Episodes in Middle School and High School Classrooms: Skylar Testa Lesson Plan

I recommend setting aside two Friday's of the month for the Journey Home Lesson Plans. You will cover one convert during each of these Friday sessions. Here's how to do it:
  1. Click on the link.
  2. Preview the whole show OR simply view the recommended times. (The minute-segments are the PRECISE segments that I show to my classes.)
  3. Before the students view the suggested segments, pass out the following handout. You may cut and paste this handout and create your own document. The answers are given in italics. I recommend that you make one ANSWER KEY that contains the italicized answers and then delete the italicized answers and print a STUDENT COPY. Students will use their copies for note-taking while viewing the suggested segments.

I hope that your students enjoy these Journey Home episodes which have been distilled into a series of segments that will hold their interest while 1.)building up their understanding of the Catholic Faith and 2.)giving them a glimpse into the why&how stories of many converts. I will post another show and lesson plan in a couple of weeks. Love your Faith -- and give your middle school & high school students a reason to love it as well!

Journey Home Show
For class viewing
First Segment: 0:00-14:00
Second Segment: 15:34-17:50 and 19:33-20:30 and 22:30-25:55
Final Segment: 29:02-31:21 and 33:13-37:07 and 39:20-39:32
Total viewing time: approximately 29 minutes

Convert’s Name: Skylar Testa

1.    1.    (Answers in First Segments)
Describe this convert’s previous faith formation.

 Mostly non-denominational background
Faith formation of his parents - father: Catholic & mother: Jewish
The parents set aside their faith heritage and began raising their family as Jehovah's Witnesses.
One of the three sons had special needs, and the family turned to a non-denominational church to fill their need for a vibrant faith. Later, the family began attending another non-denominational church that was charismatic (very lively style of worship).

2.   2.     (Answers in Second Segment)
What event or thought process led to the beginning of his conversion?

 Skylar began acting. His manager was Catholic. Eventually, he met a group of actors/producers who were Catholic, and he joined their Bible study.

3.    3.    (Answer in Second Segment, specifically in 22:30-25:55)
What obstacle did this convert have to overcome? What stood in his way in the process of conversion?

He was content right where he was. He felt happy with his personal relationship with the Lord. He describes it as being in a little boat that is comfortable--and it seemed unnecessary to jump from that little boat to the Mother Ship (Catholic Church) even though he was beginning to see some wonderful things in the Catholic faith.

4.     4.   (Answer in Final Segment, specifically 33:13-37:07 and 39:20-39:32)
What event finally prompted him to enter the Catholic Church?

On Valentine's Day 2007, Skylar had jury duty. He had been given a book by Dr. Scott Hahn called Rome Sweet Home. It sat on the shelf until the day of Skylar's jury duty. Skylar took the book with him to kill time. He was given enough time to read the entire book, and just like that, when he finished the last page, they said he could go. They didn't need him anymore for jury duty.

He entered the Church.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

August 2011 Catholic By Grace Diocesan Article

I used to place a high premium on getting a good night’s sleep. On nights when I battled insomnia, I considered throwing the alarm clock at the bedroom wall. I tried every nesting routine that had been successful in the past, stopping short of walking in circles on the bed like a dog. When I didn’t get a solid night’s sleep, everyone knew it the next day.
I used to love eating in restaurants. Someone else made the meal. Someone else cleaned the messy dishes. When we had to rein in the spending, our eat-out budget got chopped. After about two weeks, I would simply have to go to Denny’s and get the Grand Slam.
I still hope for a good night’s sleep, and I still enjoy eating out. But something is changing. I’m craving a spiritual diet and rejuvenation time with God more than a meal out and blissful sleep.
I’ve learned to turn insomnia into prayer time. I’m learning to be okay with what is in the food pantry at home. I’m learning to offer these things up to the Cross.
The saints tell us that we can do little things for God. If we let God transform us in little ways, He will begin to transform us in all ways.
Every little sacrifice, every little suffering can become part of God’s redemption story.
Catholics have a phrase for this little act of faith. It’s called offering it up. I mention it to my family now and then. I’m careful about when and where I say it. It should never be said in place of a snippy get over it.
Offer it up is not the same thing as get over it.
The first phrase is an encouragement; it is filled with hope. It has the potential to transform the smallest thing into something good and holy and lovely.
The second phrase is a chastisement; it seeks to control and silence another person. It has the potential to destroy whatever is good and holy and lovely in these little moments of sacrifice.
So, I remind my family to offer it up when I really do hope and pray that they might do it.
My youngest daughter gets it, like she gets all these Catholic things. She gets it because she has no memory of a time before we became Catholic. She was only five when I converted.
Not John. Like me, my husband didn’t grow up in the Catholic Church. And he has never been the kind of guy to accept something that’s more fluff than substance. So, the first time I suggested that he offer it up, he chuckled and said, “I have no idea what that means.”
I quoted Colossians 1:24 and he said he still didn’t get it. He added a quick, but that’s okay. “I don’t have to get everything to know the Church has it right,” he said.  Catholic theology went from one perspective (among many) to truth for him in 2008. Sometimes, though, he just likes to see if I’m up to the challenge of defending our new faith.
These are some of my favorite moments with John. He knows how much I like talks like this. But sometimes, it’s frustrating because mysteries can’t be contained in 800 word articles – or two minute conversations between husbands and wives.
“Just try it. You don’t have to get it to give it a try.” Sometimes, that’s all I can say. Sometimes, there are no words or great analogies.
“Sort of like fake it until you make it,” he says.
“No. More like ‘I believe, Lord, help my unbelief,’” I tell him.
John says, “Okay.” I smile then, knowing he’ll keep asking me for explanations when this comes up. Not because he thinks it is nonsense. It has simply become one of those little dialogs we have. It’s almost scripted. It’s the dance we do. And it is awesome.
A dialog between two lovers that somehow reminds us that we like being together and talking about stuff like this.
Kind of like offering it up, which is also a dialog between lovers. This time, it’s between the Beloved and the human soul. An offering of everything from insomnia to simple meals at home. Little things offered with great love. Moments we repeat again and again, like a divinely scripted dialog. Go ahead, offer it up.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What a Catholic Can Do When Another Is Grieving

It was the beginning of a new school year, and the middle school and high school teachers at Beckman were beginning to fall into a familiar routine. David taught across the hall from me. He was a convert, so he was something of a translator between me and the Catholicity of our school. He’s the one who taught me how to make the Sign of the Cross so that I could open all my classes with prayer and not stand out as the foreigner, the Evangelical Protestant, in a world that was completely Catholic.
We both had small children of our own; I suppose that’s why the news at school that morning rattled both of us so completely. One of our fellow staff members had lost her infant son to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
We fought back tears, hugged each other, felt the flash of pain that came from remembering the first year of our children’s lives. How we’d checked them in the middle of the night, placing a hand on their chests or backs to be sure they were still breathing. How we’d wake them sometimes, accidentally, because they seemed so still that we couldn’t be sure. How the first birthday had been a celebration, a milestone that marked the end of that fear and the beginning of many different fears. We couldn’t imagine what our co-worker was going through.
What do you say to someone who is living your worst nightmare? How do you find words to match the empathy you feel in your hear? I chose to say very little. I prayed, and I hoped that Christ would intercede, because I simply didn’t know what to do or what to say.
Thankfully, Christ does intercede for us to the Father, so that every request, every praise, every thanksgiving is right. It doesn’t matter if our words are eloquent or break every grammatical rule in the book. When we pray, we have a Lord who edits our prayers so that they are perfect.
I’ve learned a few things since that year of teaching. I’ve learned that there are no good words to share that will ease another’s pain. I know this, because I have gone through my own season of mourning.
I’ve also learned that if I must go through pain or loss ever again, I want to do it as a Catholic. Even the most senseless tragedy – perhaps especially in the most senseless tragedy – there is a source of comfort in knowing that we can offer up our sorrow. We can stand with Our Lady and lift up our pain with her, and offer it all to Jesus
St. Paul said, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church.” I don’t understand this fully, but I believe Sacred Scripture has the words of truth and life.
I have come a long way from those early days as a non-Catholic first-year teacher in a Catholic school where I first made the Sign of the Cross.
And all that I have learned is somehow bound up together in that Cross, a mystery I understand better and better every day.
Thanks be to God.