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.