Saturday, December 29, 2012

Where Discipleship Gets Interesting

This whole Christian discipleship thing would be so much easier if we could all just surround ourselves with people who thought the way we do about the world. We could sit around and affirm each other. Pat each other on the back.

Feel good about ourselves.

But I've been thinking about something lately. What if I take a risk and open the gate a little wider... to people who are not like me, people who don't think like I do, people who find Christianity in general (and the Catholic faith in particular) somewhat offensive?

Ah, now it gets interesting.

If I show the love of Christ only to those who already know the love of Christ, what good is that?

If I show the love of Christ to those who don't find the good news of the Gospel good news at all, then something could happen. Something is bound to happen. And that something just might be something that resembles a miracle.

So, I think 2013 should be the year of opening the gates a little wider. I think 2013 should be about faithful discipleship outside our comfort zones.

Christ had some interesting friends. I think it would be good if I did too.

Because it is quite possible that God wants to raise a few more out of the mire. That can't even begin to happen unless we go to the mirey clay and extend a hand to the person who is stuck there. That kind of metanoia does not begin with casting stones. It begins with love.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Find Your Window

Katie Alexander teaches music. Her specialty? Christmas concerts. She can take 64 K-8 students and create an hour of Christmas joy.

Last week, the teachers at St. Ignatius got the sneak peek. When Katie noticed that a student was hiding behind another taller student during rehearsal, she would remind the timid one to "find your window." The little one would smile and step slightly to the right or left.

Find your window.

I think that is the New Evangelization in a nutshell.

Stop hiding behind the big people. Stop blending into your surroundings. Stop leaving the whole thing to the group at large.

YOU are important. Your little face matters. Someone in that great big world wants to see YOU.

So find your window.

Put a smile on your face and take full command of the view from your window.

Christmas is almost here. It's time to proclaim it loud and strong.

I bring you good news of great joy. Unto you is born this day, in the city of Bethlehem - a Savior. Christ, the Lord.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Praying for the people of Connecticut

Prayers for the people of Fairfield County Connecticut.

St. John of the Cross, pray for them all.


My Fantasy

I have a fantasy.

I think it would be great if I could write a book with my husband and daughter. I imagine the collaboration. My husband and I could marry our talents and produce a book. Our daughter could illustrate it.

I love the idea of working with those I love most.

God did it. He formed Israel and raised her. And she became Salvation History - the greatest story of all time.

The Son - with the Father and the Holy Spirit - formed His own mother. And she became the Mother of the Church, the Queen of Heaven and Earth, the first and best disciple, the Mediatrix of His grace.

And Jesus has formed and raised His Bride, the Church. She has become a living collaboration in the redemption of every generation.

Every relationship God has with humankind is for the Greater Glory of God.

It is not so odd that I would fantasize about collaborating with my husband and our daughter.

It reflects a kind of Trinitarian unity. A collaboration formed by the unity of three. A work of love. A sharing of gifts.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Birth Mothers; Blessed Mother

My thoughts are taking me back in time tonight - to an afternoon in Souix City, Iowa. My 1st husband wanted to find his birth mother. It was an ache he'd had from the moment he knew he was adopted. We knew the place of his birth. Souix City. And we knew his birth mother's last name.

We drove to the court house to look through the birth records. It was a waste of time, I thought. Birth records for adopted babies are closed. There was no way we would find the name of his birth mother. Not a chance.

That's what I thought, even as he pulled the year 1962 from the shelf, even as he thumbed through December births, even as he saw the day he was born but his name wasn't there.

I braced for the disappointment that would surely come. It would be a long, silent ride back home. I just knew it.

And then, I realized something.

Periodically, names were taped over - with a sheet of typing paper covering the entries.

Could it be? Might these be the names of babies who were adopted?

As soon as I said this, my husband grabbed the book and began pressing the blank paper as close to the book's page as he could. And that's when his birth name became visible through the paper.

We had found her name.

He had a name. His mother's name - once hidden - was now burned into his mind. He would never forget it. He couldn't, even if he tried.

Eventually, he hired a private investigator, and she found the birth mother. They met shortly after the Christmas of 1994.

Tonight, I'm thinking about that discovery because I have relived it - spiritually.

The Blessed Mother is my mother. She has been my Mother from the moment of my Baptism in a small Presbyterian church in rural Iowa when I was just 13.

But I did not know her.

In fact, I didn't know I could know her.

The Protestant Reformation covered her over like a sheet of paper on church history.

She had existed, but I might as well put that behind me and consider it ancient history. It wasn't supposed to mean anything to me now.

Let the record of that maternal connection collect dust.

But then, I discovered something amazing. I had a mother, and she wanted me to find her. She wanted me to press my way through the pages of history and find her, buried in the records, and pause when I came to the blank page.

Where her name should be.

Behold your mother.

Here. Ready for the unveiling. Hidden beneath the white page.

I have a mother.

I am still trying to get to know her. This "knowing" is harder for those of us who grow up without her - in that Protestant world where Mary-doesn't-exist-although-she-really-does.

It's harder to sense her affection. Real-ness. Motherhood. But I know she's my mother. And I just need to give her each day, letting it be an opportunity for discovery and for recovery. Discovery of all that she wants me to know about her. Recovery of all that was lost through the Protestant Reformation.

As a Catholic, I do not need to hire a private investigator to find this mother. She is just a prayer away.

Holy Mary, Mother of God,
it's me.
Your long, lost girl.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Field of Dreams and Hill of Miracles

Over 20 years ago, I began my first teaching position at Beckman High School in Dyersville, Iowa - where the movie Field of Dreams was filmed. 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 and the miracles that took place on Tepeyac Hill 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.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Mary, the Immaculate Conception

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, December 1, 2012

Hyperventilating & Grace

My students take a five-minute walk after lunch. On Thursday, one of my students dashed ahead of a group of older students and tripped, falling headlong down the gravel-covered lane. He screamed. Initially, it was impossible to tell if he was hurt, afraid he was hurt, or simply embarassed. Almost immediately, he grabbed his knee and wailed. Another teacher motioned the students to keep walking and left me behind to tend to our fallen comrade.

By now, he was almost hyperventilating.

I looked at his leg. Nothing was broken. Somehow, I had to get him calmed down and willing to walk back to the school.

I talked softly to him. "It's over now. Everything is going to be okay. Take a deep breath. Good. Let it out. Now, another. And again."

Soon, he was ready to stand and hobble back to school.

This morning, I made it to Saturday morning Mass. The week had been a doozy. I was hyperventilating... spiritually, that is.

I knelt and prayed.

There was nobody there, except me, Jesus-in-the-Tabernacle, and my parish priest.

He held his Breviary and quietly prayed, almost singing the Divine Office. He circled the perimeter, pausing as he passed the Altar to bow.

He circled once.


Three times.

And I was the student who fell. I was the child who hyperventilated. I was the little one being calmed by the Teacher.

It's over now. Everything is going to be okay.

Soon, it was time to stand and hobble back to my life.

The day after my student took a tumble, he was laughing and running and kicking balls. Spiritually, I think I'm ready to do that, too.

Grace. It's all grace.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Kate Middleton, Pregnancy and Advent

It's Friday night, and I felt like squandering a little time at the computer. I worked on an article on marriage, stopped by Facebook to see what family members posted throughout the day, and did a little Christmas shopping online.

And then, I clicked onto Google News.

Kate Middleton's name caught my eye. The question everyone seems to be asking is whether or not she's pregnant. I must admit, I wanted to know.

I didn't have a driving need to know. I just wondered. It's the kind of news that brings a smile. It sure beats reading about murder or suicide bombers or the fiscal cliff.

But nobody seems to know if she is or if she isn't. (On Monday, Dec. 3, the news broke: She's pregnant.)

So, I clicked around some more and now I'm ready to log off.

But my mind is on something else now. I'm about to read my "Consecration to Jesus Through Mary" readings for the day. And I'm looking forward to Sunday.

The beginning of Advent.

The world may wonder if Kate Middleton is pregnant, but the world isn't holding its breath, waiting for that answer.

But the world did hold its breath once. All creation stopped. And. Listened.

May it be done unto me according to your word.

And the Woman conceived. Yes, I'm ready to enter the season of Advent. I love this season of quiet waiting. I need this season of quiet waiting.

It's time to enter into the mystical pregnancy of Mary - and wait.

Blessed Advent! Let us wait upon the Lord!


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Wedding Dance

In those final weeks before my father’s death, I remember talking with him about our father-daughter dance at my wedding reception. That dance is among my most treasured memories.
That’s when he said it, though not as a complaint. Just a passing sadness.
“I don’t know why your mother would never say yes to dancing with me.”
A few months later, my father passed away and my mom grieved. She thought back to their many experiences and intimacies over the years – all the trips and pastorates and friends and memories. She sighed and said, “I wish I had told your dad I would dance with him. I don’t know why I never did.”
It would have been too painful for me to tell mom that dad had voiced something like that as well only weeks earlier.
But I knew why she didn’t say yes. It was a remnant, a final vestige, of her puritanical childhood.
No movies. No French fries. No sleeveless tops. No playing cards. And no dancing.
Not even with your husband.
Over the years, mom had lost almost every taboo, except dancing. She had experienced every marital intimacy, given birth to his three children, listened to every sermon he preached, edited every college paper he wrote, listened to every confidence he shared – but she simply couldn’t say yes to this one simple thing.
A dance between a groom and his bride.
How sad, you might say. But I think most of us are guilty of this.
As members of the Bride of Christ, Jesus invites each of us to dare to dance.
To do something that others may not understand.
To give ourselves with abandon to the lover of our souls.
To take the dance floor – following him somewhere really exciting, or dangerous or far off.
To slip our hand in his and let him lead – any way he chooses.
To take the risk of stepping on his toes – and disappointing him with our lack of finesse.
To abandon our fear of what others might think.
To enter the dance as never before.
This is the moment for a bride’s gentle, perhaps shy, yes.
A life without regret.
His hand is stretched out right now. Where might the dance floor take you?


Friday, November 23, 2012

Looking For Jesus Over Mary's Shoulder

A reader from Kansas wrote me today. She has given me permission to share her little story here. A few years ago, I consecrated myself to Jesus through Mary. This year, my parish is having a parish-wide consecration which will conclude on December 12. I am tagging along, just because I want to remember what it was like when I consecrated myself that first time. Daily, I learn new things about this beautiful consecration. I suppose that is why Carol's email touched me so deeply. Her story is a metaphor what I am doing right now.

I am looking for Jesus, leaning as far forward over Mary's shoulders as I can get, to get a glimpse of her son.

Thank you, Carol!

And if you happen to know where we can find this image, please leave a comment!

"Looking For Jesus Over Mary's Shoulder"

I’ve been searching for Jesus….not in the usual sense.  I mean, I’m a Catholic Christian and I’m at a good place in my spirituality, though of course I can do better.  No, when I say I’m searching for Jesus, I really mean I’m searching for Jesus…and actually his mother too.

You see, a long time ago, while looking for images of Mary using the almighty internet, I stumbled across the most beautiful and touching graphic.  The artist has Our Lady positioned so that the viewer is almost looking over her shoulder.   She’s kneeling or sitting, holding a bunch of flowers in her arms and is turned mostly toward Jesus, shown as a young boy, maybe 7 or 8.  She reaches up with one hand to stroke his cheek and holds the flowers in the other.  I can imagine him bringing the flowers to her and as a mother would, she’s reaching up to touch his face in a gesture of thanks and love.

As I said, I found the graphic a long time ago…and to this date, have not found it again.  I have often wanted to use just that particular graphic…I’ve prayed for it, but it remains hidden.  So I continue on, scanning through all the other graphics, using variations of the same keywords:  “Jesus and Mary,” “Blessed Mother and Young Jesus,” ”Virgin Mary and Young Jesus”…and while I scan the internet images, looking for “the one”, I think about all the lost souls out there who are also “searching for Jesus” but in even more desperation than myself…..I feel blessed, because though my graphic collection is missing this one beautiful piece, at least I have “found” Jesus in a much more valuable sense….and I am forever grateful.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Skinny Jeans

I’ve crossed into that tenuous zone of middle-sized clothes. The “fat” pants are waiting – ready to see some action. The “skinny” clothes are missing me – afraid they have been abandoned.

Only time will tell if I can moderate my habits better in the next few months than I have in the last few months.

Citizens of undeveloped nations don’t have this problem. It is the great American problem.

But I think Americans can see a spiritual lesson here – if we are willing.

There is no guarantee that I will make it to heaven. I’d like to believe that my choices can’t derail me. I’d like to believe that I will remain faithful to the teachings of Christ.

I used to believe that I was “signed-sealed-and-as-good-as-delivered” to the eternal realm.

I used to look at one event in my life and cite it when I thought about that ultimate question: if you died tonight, where will you end up?

But the answer to that has everything to do with living out the faith by saying yes to daily grace than it does to something I did (prayed) when I was in second grade.

I’m in my middle-sized spiritual clothes right now. And what happens next depends on my ongoing yes to God.

When the Son of Man returns, He will divide the people. Sheep and goats. No middle-sized clothes in that moment. The day of decision is over. If you cared for the least of these, daily making good choices, daily giving your yes to His inspirations, then you will go off into eternal reward.

If you did not care for the least of these, daily choosing to just get through life, indulge in your own little world, refusing to give in to His inspirations, then you will go off into everlasting punishment.

Right about now, I’d like my Protestant confidence that I am signed-sealed-and-as-good-as-delivered to heavenly bliss.

But not all who say to him, “Lord, Lord…” will enter the Kingdom. Only he who does the Father’s will. Daily. Today.

This is the middle ground where eternity hangs in a balance.

Even that holy man, St. Paul, wrestled with his final finish line. To be like St. Paul is to recognize that we are running a race, so as not to be disqualified. So as not to be the one who says, but Lord, don’t you know me?

I’d like to be confident that my skinny jeans will fit again. I’d like to be confident enough in that fact that I can throw out those fat jeans.

But I know me.

I am weak.

Spiritually speaking, I am also weak. And so is everyone that is still living on this earth. If we are prone to go through life and not see Jesus in our neighbor, the poor, the immigrant, the unborn, the priest, the forgotten, the sick, the aging – then we are weak.

Because, if we cannot see Christ in them, Christ will not recognize us on that day when we want most of all to be recognized and called friend.

I long to hear the words: Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the kingdom prepared for you.

We are saved by grace. Our yes to grace yields more faith and more inclination to say yes to good works in Christ Jesus.

I have faith that those skinny jeans will fit.

But faith without works won’t get me in them.

Believing is not enough. Not when it comes to self-control in eating choices.

And not when it comes to eternity. For even the demons believe, and tremble.

Christian belief must lead to Christian action.

Loving Christ is easy. It’s easy to love someone who gave up everything for you. Loving Christ in others – ah, there’s the rub.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

To Wed or Not To Wed?

Katherine is working on a degree in family studies. And, she’s a recent convert to the Catholic Church. She sent me an email recently and asked my thoughts on something she was hearing over and over in her classes. “The research is consistent in demonstrating that marriage does not benefit women on a personal, health, social, and emotional level,” she writes. And then she drops her question in my lap. “I remember you mentioning that you married young and divorced, and are now remarried. I would love to hear your perspective on this, as someone who has been on the front line.”

She said that the research, data, and facts are stacked against marriage for women. Men benefit greatly from marriage, but for women, it’s “a power structure in which women are oppressed.”

Her question seemed sincere. It didn’t seem like she was trying to goad. And yet, how could I address her questions honestly, when I had personally experienced some of what she described in my first marriage?

It’s true that many women do not experience anything remotely akin to marital bliss. Many give everything they have to their husbands and children, only to be cast aside when something new comes along. Some of my closest friends are living proof that women get the shaft all too often.

But then, Katherine makes an erroneous assumption. ” When I read the research, marriage no longer looks like it has any potential to be a sacrament.”

Marriage is a sacrament. What is broken is our society. We have taken the beautiful prenuptial dance and reformulated it. It no longer serves as a foundation for the sacrament of matrimony.

We call it marriage. But it is not marriage. And when the “marriage” self-destructs, we sort through the aftermath and come to the conclusion that marriage is passé. It’s so yesterday.

Katherine wants to know my “perspective on this, as someone who has been on the front line” because, as a single woman, the idea of marriage to her seems “absolutely terrible and terrifying.”

I immediately thought of Pat Barnard. Just days before Katherine’s email arrived, I had been with Pat. When I last saw her, she was standing beside an open casket, telling me stories about her life with her husband. Pat and Bob had been in RCIA class with me in 2005. Pat smiled, as she wiped away tears. So many good memories, she said. One of her favorites? The day she sat beside him, wondering if he still remembered her or if the Alzheimer’s Disease had taken that last precious memory, too.

“Do you still love me, Bob?” she’d asked him, not expecting an answer at all.

“I love you exceedingly.”

Somewhere inside that failing mind, the memory of their love still existed. And Pat clung to his words, even as she stood beside his body at the visitation.

Katherine, I can tell you that marriage is not outdated. It is not “a power structure in which women are oppressed” or "the wife usually dissipates and disappears” until there is nothing left of her. That is not marriage and any statistics generated by such a union must never be used to malign the sacrament of marriage.

Just ask the widow standing at the side of her husband’s casket. She’d give almost anything to have those years back again.

Real marriage is life-giving – in every way.

For the man.

For the woman.

For the children.

For the Church.

For the community.

For the country.

Coincidentally, my husband wrote his doctoral dissertation on poverty in the United States. He was the first one to tell me about the current cultural bias against marriage.

According to the 2011 U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey (Annual Social and Economic Supplement), two fifths of single mother families are poor, triple the poverty rate for the rest of the population. Single-mother families are nearly five times as likely to be poor than married-couple families. The poverty rate for single-mother families is 40.7% compared to 8.8% for married-couple families.

The Rand Corporation published an article entitled “Children at Risk: Consequences for School Readiness and Beyond” which says economically disadvantaged children lag behind other children in kindergarten readiness – which measures far more than academic and cognitive skills. The physical, social, and emotional development of these children is also compromised.

Bottom line? Marriage is intrinsically good, not bad. The problem is not with the sacrament itself. The problem rests solely with a culture that has trampled on marriage and now blames a host of societal ills on their shipwrecked recreation of marriage.

Yes, I was married before and divorced. The Church determined that my first marriage was not a sacrament. I married again. And I can tell you from experience. The sacrament makes all the difference in the world.

Katherine, don’t be afraid.

The statistics don’t describe sacramental marriage. They describe the imposter.

And the only authority qualified to make the determination on that which is a sacrament and that which is an imposter is Mother Church. But thankfully, we are not left to figure it out on our own.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Fallen Leaves

Our home sits on four acres. We have only one little tree. A red bud that is not even three feet tall. Even so, this morning, as I sit at the kitchen table and work at my laptop, I see leaves, carried by the wind, landing here and there on our treeless property.

There aren't enough leaves to rake. But there are leaves. And I have no idea where they came from.

Only God and the wind-He-sends can know the answer to that question.

And so it is with the Good News of Jesus Christ, which we share. We don't know where that offering will land. We cannot predict where the Wind of the Holy Spirit will take it. Or whose back yard it will find. We cannot know if it will join a host of other leaves and be raked up and tossed away.

But maybe, just maybe, it will find a home and discretely rest in someone's yard. Almost undetected. And so it will be spared. It will not be discarded.

It will remain through the winter and it will feed the soil, God's compost for spring's new birth.

One leaf.

It is so small.

Its smallness saves it.

Today, I choose to be small and let the Holy Spirit send my gifts wherever that Holy Wind chooses to blow.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Year of Faith and little me

I feel a little like a kid on the bench, watching the coach for a sign that I might get to go in and help the team.

If you are Catholic and you know anything about the Year of Faith, you just might feel like I do.

The Church on earth is called to evangelize. And we are about to make the Good News known throughout the world. It all starts on October 11 and it doesn't end until November 2013! It's time to be Catholic with PURPOSE!

Promise God that you will share the Gospel message every time you get the chance to do it.

Promise God that you will speak up for Christ and His Church, no matter if you are with only one other person or if you are given the platform in the center of a stadium.

Promise God that you will use the talents you have been given for the building up of the Church and the spreading of Christ's message.

Promise God that you will receive the Eucharist often. Plan to take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Call your guardian angel to action. Seek the intercession of your Confirmation Saint. Pray the rosary often and with purpose.

Promise God that you will evangelize yourself!

Keep your eyes on the coach. Wait for a sign that you're up. And hit the field like you might never be there again.

What we do next matters. It may have eternal ramifications.

P.S. When you get tired and take your eyes off the ball, surround yourself with other Catholics who will pick you up and get you focusing on what really matters.

Thanks Beth, Maria, and Fr. Tom! You keep me going!


Monday, September 24, 2012

Day Two: Novena to St. Therese St. Therese of the Child Jesus, who during your short life on earth became a mirror of angelic purity, of love strong as death, and of wholehearted abandonment to God, now that you rejoice in the reward of your virtues, cast a glance of pity on me as I leave all things in your hands. Make my troubles your own, speak a word for me to Our Lady Immaculate, whose flower of special love you were -- to that Queen of Heaven “who smiled on you at the dawn of life” Beg her powerful intercession the grace I yearn for so ardently at this moment...and that she join with it a blessing that may strengthen me during life, defend me at the hour of death, and lead me straight on to a happy eternity. Amen.

O God, who did inflame with the Spirit of Love, the soul of your servant Therese of the Child Jesus, grant that we also may love you and make you much loved. Amen.

Almighty God, giver of all good gifts, who did will that Blessed Therese, being watered by the heavenly dew of your guiding grace, should bloom in Carmel with the beauty of virginity and patience in suffering. Grant that I your servant may go forward in the order of her sweetness and may be found worthy to become a devoted and loyal follower of Christ. Amen.

St. Therese of the Child Jesus, pray for us.

*Original Novena found at:


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Day One: Novena to St. Therese

O St. Therese of the Child Jesus, who during your short life on earth became a mirror of angelic purity, of love strong as death, and of wholehearted abandonment to God, now that you rejoice in the reward of your virtues, cast a glance of pity on me as I leave all things in your hands. Make my troubles your own, speak a word for me to Our Lady Immaculate, whose flower of special love you were -- to that Queen of Heaven “who smiled on you at the dawn of life” Beg her powerful intercession the grace I yearn for so ardently at this moment...and that she join with it a blessing that may strengthen me during life, defend me at the hour of death, and lead me straight on to a happy eternity. Amen.

O God, who did inflame with the Spirit of Love, the soul of your servant Therese of the Child Jesus, grant that we also may love you and make you much loved. Amen.

O Therese of the Child Jesus, well beloved and full of charity, in union with you, I reverently adore the majesty of God, and since I rejoice with exceeding joy in the singular gifts of grace bestowed upon you during your life, and your gifts of glory after death, I give Him deepest thanks for them; I beseech you with all my heart’s devotion to be pleased to obtain for me (...mention request here). But if what I ask of you so earnestly does not tend to the glory of God and the greater good of my soul, do you, I pray, obtain for me that which is more profitable to both these ends. Amen.

St. Therese of the Child Jesus, pray for us.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Parents as 1st Teachers; God as Last Teacher

The verdict was never in question regarding parents as first teachers of their children. Parents really are the first teachers in the lives of their children.

Eventually, the teachers and catechists pick up the ball and keep it going. We inspire, we prod, we impart knowledge. We keep the learners going and growing.

But we are a kind of middleman in the whole process of learning. We know that learning is a life-long process. If we don't teach them how to learn, their education will end when they graduate from high school or college. We have to help them to discover a love for learning so that they will choose to become their own best teachers.

With regard to religious education, though, the process does not end there. The student must become a teacher-of-self., but the final teacher must be God.

Spiritually, parents are first teachers in the lives of their children. Then, the Church and catechists keep the ball going. At Confirmation, the young person promises to keep growing in the Faith. But he is not self-taught. The Holy Spirit, through the guidance of the Church, leads and guides him. In a very real way, God becomes our last teacher.

Granting wisdom and understanding.
Right judgment and courage.
Knowledge and reverence.
Wonder and awe in the Lord.

The one who sees himself as his last teacher will almost always fail - spiritually. We do not lean on our own understanding. We keep going back to the Source and Summit. We keep drawing deeply from the Wellspring of Life.

Parents are the first teachers in the faith. Catechists stand beside the parents during the formative years. The student picks up the mantle at his/her Confirmation.

But God is the Last Teacher.

Proverbs 3:5-6
Lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will make straight your path.
John 14:26
The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name--he will teach you everything and remind you of all that (I) told you. -Jesus
I Timothy 3:15
If I am delayed, you will know how to conduct God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Catholic by Grace Hits Its 49th Diocesan Paper!

Orange County Catholic is our 49th diocesan paper! AMDG!


Friday, August 31, 2012

4-H Club Memories and Catholic Apologetics

I found 4-H Club overwhelming as a child. The pledge with its four-H motto. Head. Heart. Hands. Health. The procedure of each meeting, like we were some CEOs of a Fortune 500 hundred company or something.

And the Howard County Fair. I was as afraid to face the judges in the baking division as a child is to face Mom and Dad after he misses curfew. And one was expected to enter something. Baked goods. Hand-sewn items. A calf or lamb.

I couldn't sew very well, and my dad was a preacher, not a farmer. So the livestock option was off limits.

Still, my sister and I entered our cheesy bread the year I was in sixth grade. We were given the opportunity to present our recipe to the judges - while an audience watched us -  live - like some kid- version of the FoodNetwork television show.

We had practiced our Cheesy Bread recipe schtick. We had it down.

The day of the presentation, I fell into the set dialogue and introduced our subject matter.

"Hi. I'm Denise Johnson and this is my sister Karlene, and we're from the Saratoga Presbyterian Church."

Dad was in the audience. His laughter cut through the murmurs and County Fair noise in the big tent. I paused. What was so funny? My sister looked at me. Her eyes spoke volumes:

I can't believe you just said that.

That's when it hit me. I was supposed to say that my sister and I were from the Saratoga Sunbeams 4-H Club.

Instead, I had told the entire audience that my sister and I were from the Saratoga Presbyterian Church.

That's how it is when your dad's a preacher. It is everything. It is such a big part of who you are that you fall into the image, the inheritance, the identity of it - even when you don't mean to do it.

I am a preacher's kid.

Forget Saratoga Sunbeams. I had just told everybody that we were Saratoga Presbyterians. And my dad was falling off his chair. Laughing.

I haven't changed all that much.

Sure. I'm Catholic now, but even when I don't mean to do it. Even when my mind is somewhere else. Even when I'm dog tired or one Margarita into the evening or at a ball game or a party or a family reunion. It comes out.

Hi. I'm Denise. And I am from the Catholic Church. You think I'm here to make some bread or buy some groceries or get my daughter's back-to-school physical, but you're in for a surprise.

I'm here to tell you that I'm Catholic. All the rest of it is a setting, a backdrop, a epoch that appears to be focused on some unrelated event.

You are wrong.

I'm from the Church of 2,000 years. Go ahead. Give me a script. I'll manage to find a way to say what really matters.

You think you are here to witness a food demonstration. But I'm here to evangelize.

I can't get around it.

I've stopped trying.

And the best part of all? I can hear Dad laughing.

That's my girl.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tulips and Tidbits

I found this on a tulip website. It is a list of events that signal the time for planting bulbs. There is nothing Catholic here, but it is a such a great list that it made me smile. So, I am passing it on to you.

There really is a season for everything under heaven. Enjoy the list:

Signals that will work well in most regions:
  • Soil temperatures in your area are approaching 55°F
  • Fall nighttime temperatures stay between 40° and 50°F
  • You blow out the irrigation system before the winter freeze
  • The Fall striped bass run is on
  • The Fall foliage has moved just past peak
  • Squirrels are digging in acorns as fast they can
  • Birds start grouping
  • You start to smell wood smoke
  • The soft woods in the high peaks start to yellow
  • In the north you start closing windows In the south you start backing off the air conditioning
  • The grapes are ripening on the vine
  • You don't hear the crickets any more
  • You start turning the heat on in your car
  • While driving, you see leaves bouncing along the interstate
  • The hostas start to lie down
  • You catch a whiff of that organic, decaying leaf smell
  • The dog stops lying in that round hole he dug in the garden, and moves to a sunny spot
  • Your kids start putting on their jackets without any nagging from you
From Colorblends

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Last Farewell

I blame it on the fall. If we didn’t have original sin, we wouldn’t have the word goodbye. No adiós. No arrivederci. No auf wiedersehen.

And Roger Whittaker would not have made a fortune on songs like "The Last Farewell."

Our hearts long for more. We want reconciliation, and reminiscing, and restoration. We love hello, a word that holds promise and hope.

Young people love the word hello. We remember the Renee Zellweger line, “You had me at hello.”

Hello is so much better than goodbye.

Couples who hope to reconcile wait for hello. They dread goodbye.

Old friends smile at the word hello and immediately pick up where they left off.

Parents need hello when their college-aged children have said that first serious goodbye.

I went to my thirty year class reunion a few weeks ago. I enjoyed seeing some old friends and reminiscing. Still, it left me a little sad. I realized again how time presses on - moving from first encounters to last goodbyes. Sometimes, it happens, and we don’t even notice it. We find ourselves checking in at a hotel a few miles from our alma mater and hours later, we’re chatting with a friend from junior high that we haven’t seen in three decades. At the end of the night, we hug and slip into our cars and return to our lives, doubting as the poet Robert Frost says, that “I should ever come back.” And that's kind of sad.

Three weeks later, I’m at a funeral.

It’s been seven years since I was in RCIA with Bob and Pat. Today, Pat is burying her husband. And I think of Roger Whittaker and last farewells and first hellos.

Yes. I'm convinced. This word goodbye is all because of the fall. This is not how it was meant to be. Wives are not meant to say goodbye to their husbands. Mothers aren’t meant to bury their children. Friends aren’t meant to drift in and out of one another’s lives as though friendship was as transient as a daffodil in spring.

I walked into the funeral home and saw Pat standing beside the casket, and I knew that goodbye was not God’s plan for us.

Bob had suffered from Alzheimer’s. Pat said that one of her best memories was visiting Bob during those last months of his illness. She already missed him, though he was still physically present. She looked at Bob one day, and asked – almost without expecting an answer – “Do you still love me?”

“I love you exceedingly,” he said. It was marital grace – as beautiful as their first hello. No. Even better.

It’s the human condition. Children grow up and move out. Friends drift apart. A husband outlives a wife, or a wife outlives a husband. Goodbye doesn’t get easier.

I began walking over to Pat as she stood there next to her husband, and I recalled meeting them in RCIA class nearly eight years ago. I remembered the story of their journey, how they had neither one been Catholic, but both felt the Spirit’s call simultaneously. I don’t know another couple that can say that. But as I watched Pat from across the room at the visitation, I realized that Bob had made one step in this journey that took him further down the path.

In the middle of their goodbye, I crossed the room and said, “Hi Pat.” My little hello, what good could it possibly do in an overwhelming and irreversible goodbye?

She reached for my hand and smiled.

Original sin may have given us the word goodbye, but God’s grace has given us the word hello.

At any given moment, there is someone who is waiting for hello.

I don’t know who it is in your world. But I think you probably do.

Go ahead. Say it to someone right now.

There is a wellspring of grace in the little word “hello.”


Friday, August 10, 2012

Women "Get" Giving Birth to God's Plan

The Second Vatican Council message to women December 8, 1965:
“But the hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of woman is being achieved in its fullness, the hour in which woman acquires in the world an influence, an effect, and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel can do much to aid mankind in not falling…”
Doesn't that make you want to give your fiat  to whatever God sends you to do, to whatever God asks you to be, to whatever cross God asks you to bear?

It's an exciting thought...

What if every Catholic woman took this to heart?

Come on, ladies. Let's give birth to something amazing today.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

My Sunnyvale Visitor

Dear blog visitor from Sunnyvale, California,

You visit every day. You seem to be making your way through blog postings in a very methodical fashion. I've noticed. Just wanted you to know.

I would love to know your story.

(And to other visitors-- I would love to know more about you as well.)

May the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with you, now and always--


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Have a Friend Who is Ready for RCIA?

"Now Is The Time"
Catholic by Grace diocesan article

Without a doubt, you know someone who is ready and just needs a little nudge. Chances are, you sit by him almost every week at Mass. Chances are, you work with her, and your conversations have turned to the topic of faith now and then. Maybe, you even kiss this person goodnight and call the same four walls home.

There is a strong possibility that you know someone who is not yet Catholic, but someone who is curious about the Catholic Church. Moreover, you may be the only link between Mother Church and that person's full communion with Our Lord.

Why is it so easy for us to invite a friend shopping, encourage a co-worker to try a new coffee shop or persuade our spouse to get a membership at the local gym, but the idea of inviting that same person to look into RCIA classes makes us break out in a cold sweat?

One day, we will all stand before Our Lord, and it will be a day of reckoning. Okay, here are the ones I put in your path, Jesus will say as he shows us an instant replay of our lives. Now, let's take a look at what you did to help them come home. How often did you pray for them? How often did you bring them to Me as your special intention for Holy Communion? How well did you live out the life of faith in front of their eyes? Did you ever invite them to explore the faith?

Our beloved Church has made it so easy for us to help the seekers discover the joy of reconciliation. Our beautiful Church has made it possible for us to just point a finger in the right direction. We don't have to have all the answers. We don't even have to be a stellar Catholic, and we certainly don't have to be a saint to help a lost lamb back into the fold. We have only to love Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the Church He established. We have only to cling to this firm foundation and say, "There she is, my friend. There's the fullness of the faith. Mother Church. Home. Complete Truth. Peace and joy. I'll walk with you every mile of the journey. I'll hold your hand. I'll find the answers when you have questions. And I'll pray for you. Man, oh man, will I pray for you."

There is an old saying that most of us learned when we were honing our typing skills. "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country." I have no idea where the line originated, but it keeps coming to me as I think about this time of year. Now is the time for you to speak up. Now is the time when most RCIA classes are forming. Now is the time for you to be an instrument of peace, unity and reconciliation. Now is the time for all good men (and women) to come to the aid of the one God has placed on your heart right now.

All it takes is one finger, as long as it is pointed in the right direction. Don't know where to begin? Well, the next time grace opens a door for you to bring it up, try saying this: "Are you interested in exploring the Catholic Church and what she really teaches? Well, there is a class specifically designed for non-Catholics who are a bit curious about the Church. I'd love to be your sponsor. I'll even make the call if you'd like."

Does the idea of evangelizing scare you a bit? Well, then get on your knees and ask for sufficient grace and enough love to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And remember, now is the time . . .

Share the article. Fill the Church. Prepare the Way of the Lord.

Why August is a VERY Important Month to the Church

"Why August Matters"
Catholic by Grace diocesan article

It is one more way Protestants and Catholics are different from one another. Someone walks through the door of a Protestant church, they say they want to be a member, and that’s it. They are signed up. Maybe they take a course for a week or two – but probably not. Then, they stand in front of the congregation, profess the faith publicly or present a letter of transfer from another denomination or congregation. And they’re in.

Catholics don’t work that way.

Everything takes time. Lots and lots of time. Potential converts aren’t usually invited to Mass. They sort of wander in. There’s almost no reason for it, except that the Holy Spirit is alive and well.

These converts-in-waiting pop in and out each week, without being bothered very much, and after a few months (or a few years), someone thinks to invite them to RCIA class.

Without knowing why they are saying yes, they agree to give it a try. Something tells them that they are ready for this. It is time. That’s all they know.

And timing is everything.

That’s why August is so very important. It is the perfect month for discernment. It is the right time for Catholics to look around and figure out who they have overlooked. Maybe someone has been visiting for a long time, and they need a nudge. Maybe there is someone who hasn’t even made it to Mass one time, but the Holy Spirit is telling you that person needs Mother Church. That person is craving the Eucharist, and she doesn’t even know it. But when you invite her, you think she will probably sense it as well.

August is the right time to discern where the Holy Spirit is working and who the Holy Spirit is calling. It’s time to step out of your comfort zone. I like the old saying each one reach one. What would happen if each one of us tried to reach just one other person? Some potential converts would say no thank you. But be honest, would that take any time off your life? What have you really lost if that happens? Sure, it’s possible that nothing will happen when you activate evangelization in your sphere of influence.

But then again, maybe something will happen.

And that something is the mightiest miracle on earth. A life is changed. One more person encounters Jesus Christ and His Church. You have brought another human being to the Eucharist, and he has received the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord.

You have nothing to lose. And they have everything to gain. So, what’s stopping you? It’s August. RCIA classes are forming in parishes all over our country.

This year, discover just how important the month of August really is.

If you take just a little initiative, imagine where your friend could be standing next Easter Vigil – and you, right behind him with your hand on his shoulder. If God blesses you like that, I can tell you from experience, the tears will be difficult to contain.

Miracles are like that. But they usually start in the quiet heat of an August evening. Make a call. Stop for a visit. Send an email. Invite someone to try RCIA this year!

Share the article. Fill the Church. Prepare the Way of the Lord.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Year of Faith... and so it begins

Image from Diocese of Down and Connor, Ireland.
Used with permission from the
Catholic Communication
Office of the Irish Bishops' Conference.
We are about to begin the Year of Faith.

For the Bosserts, it will probably be a year of great change. There is a very real possibility that we will be moving before the Year of Faith is over.

Not a move across town.

Not a move to a bigger house.

Not even a move to down-size.

A move away from family and friends and school and parish and everything that we know. A move out of state. A move out of the Midwest.

We don't know anything for certain yet. A fitting beginning for the Year of Faith.

We don't know if we will move. We don't know when we will move. We don't know where (exactly) we will move.

I don't know what I will do. Will I teach? Will I write? Will I speak? Will I go back to school? Will I be a stay-at-home mom?

Will I have too much time on my hands or will it be a lot like my life here. More to do than I can possibly get done - except by the grace of God.

Welcome to the Year of Faith. And so it begins...

I think women are good at this "not knowing" - it's kind of like being open to life. One little plus or minus sign means that everything is about to change.

I can do this faith thing. I don't give myself enough credit. It's all wrapped up in one word. Yes. May it be done unto me according to your word.

Spiritual pregnancy. Women get it intuitively.

I think I will throw myself into this Year of Faith. No holds barred. Yours, oh Lord, without reservation.

Yes, Blessed Mother, I'll do whatever He tells me to do.

Who knows what might happen - everything, anything -  from nothing, to a change of venue, to a change of purpose, to a change of heart.

Faith is exciting. Anything can happen when we decide to abandon everything to Divine Providence.

Welcome to the Year of Faith.

Buckle up.

You are about to give birth to Mystery.