Extraordinary Flight



Booking our round trip flights to New Hampshire for a campus visit to Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, my seventeen year old son and I selected isle seats for maximum comfort.   Through divine providence, those very seats put us in the middle of a sudden death, a new life, and an emergency landing aboard a 747 on our way home to Seattle.  Perhaps the seats were divinely assigned to allow us to play our part in the New Evangelization.

In line at the gate to board the flight home, I overheard a fellow traveler fretting over a few members of his work crew who were nowhere to be seen, and about to miss the flight.  “That’s what happens when you drink a fifth before you even get to the airport,” he lamented.  He was visibly relieved when his companions came stumbling toward the gate in high spirits just before the final boarding call.

We walked down the Jetway together when our section was called, entertained by the antics of the heavily intoxicated passengers whose co-workers shepherded them along.   Zachary and I were seated across from each other in row 32.  As it turned out, each of us was seated next to one of the members of the work crew, traveling to Washington State for a big project at a Bremerton shipyard.  Next to Zachary sat Rick, one of the inebriated workers who had nearly missed the flight.  Next to me sat JP, the crew’s leader whom I had overheard voicing his concerns in the final moments before boarding.

Rick staggered onto the plane and fell into his seat, grumbling, “I hate middle seats!”  After a few minutes he was asleep (perhaps passed out).  Upon learning Zachary and I were mother and son, JP offered to switch seats with Zachary and sit by Rick.  Zachary had no desire to give up his isle seat for JP’s middle seat next to me, and so he politely declined.

JP admitted that he hated flying and we struck up a pleasant conversation about our families, hobbies, and some details about his temporary relocation to Bremerton for work.  For some reason I was inspired to ask him, “Do you want to know my favorite place in Bremerton?”

“What is it?”  JP answered.

“Our Lady Star of the Sea,” I replied.

“Is that Catholic?”

“Yes.”

Not quite a conversation killer, but close.

As in flight conversations do, ours bounced around a bit, and after a while, JP told me he had been raised Catholic by a devout grandma who made sure he made it to Mass every Sunday.   He told me that when he and his wife decided to marry immediately by eloping, rather than entering the sacramental formation and wait period required for a Catholic marriage, they essentially decided to stop being Catholic.   They knew they were being disobedient to Church teaching by not marrying within the Church, and that they should not receive the Eucharist again unless they married in a sacramental way.

JP admitted that it had been over 20 years since he had been to confession, and that neither of his two children had been baptized.  Neither had been taken to Church.  Their Sundays were spent at motocross tracks and on other exciting hobbies and activities.

I shared my love of the sacraments, and of confession in particular. I admitted that I hadn’t really known what it meant to be fully Catholic for most of my life and that many in our generation lack a basic understanding of our faith due to weak catechesis in our post Vatican II upbringing.

I told JP that Father Lappe, pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea, could frequently be found in the confessional, and assured him that if he made the effort to get to confession he would never regret it.  JP shared memories of the freedom and newness he felt after confessions in his younger years.  I sensed that he truly desired to be reunited with God in a sacramental way and to bring his family to Church.

I promised to pray for him and for his family, and shared my genuine joy in the hope that he and his family could come back to the Catholic faith and be immersed in the graces of the sacraments.  I asked for his email address, offering to send the Mass and confession times for Our Lady Star of the Sea.  He accepted my offer and as we exchanged information I encouraged him to visit the Catholics Come Home website.

Knowing that he was up against a formidable enemy, I posed a question for his consideration: “You know who doesn’t want you to return to the sacraments, don’t you?”

“My wife?”

“No, the enemy!  He’ll do what he can to keep you from making your confession and bringing your family to Church.  But someday you are going to meet our Lord, face to face, and you will have to give him an answer for how you lived your life.”

Then Zachary interrupted, alerting JP, “I think there’s something wrong with your friend.”

JP and Zachary quickly switched seats and I took the opportunity to make a move toward the lavatory at the back of the plane.  I looked back and saw JP pushing the call button to signal the flight attendants.

His friend Rick had no pulse and was not breathing.   His life was slipping away…

To be continued…

God Loves A Cheerful Giver



Bidding my oldest son farewell in a parking lot at the University of Notre Dame and beginning a 2,500 mile drive home without him is a moment I will cherish as a right of passage for both of us.

This day did not come suddenly like a thief in the night; rather, it arrived after days, months, and years of preparation and anticipation.  His entrance to university life was a goal and an exit strategy, established in the first days of home school kindergarten (or perhaps from the womb).  A true mark of success and a great cause for celebration, this day was never-the-less laden with a wide range of emotions and required extraordinary grace from above to be enjoyed rather than endured.

Anxiety and sorrow at the thought of our first parent/child separation began to strike months before the actual event.  As the date of departure approached, waves of emotion could powerfully grip my maternal heart without notice or provocation.  On of the first tangible realizations of things to come hit me last year in Italy, when Zachary’s community college schedule dictated his return to classes twelve days before the end of our family pilgrimage.  On the day he flew home unaccompanied to the United States, we drove from Rome across the Italian countryside to St. Pio’s San Giovanni Rotondo.  My tears flowed freely as I felt the growing pains of his entry into adulthood.

Throughout the weeks leading up to the start of this school year, thoughts of Zachary’s going away would strike without warning.  Something as simple as an expiration date stamped on a food item would ignite thoughts of our impending transition~ this carton will expire after Zachary is gone!  Not that I wanted him to stay; his entrance to a prestigious university is a fitting reward for years of diligent work and a product of thoughtful discernment.

Zac’s choice of university had been somewhat troubling at first, in light of Notre Dame’s recent public glorification of our (outrageously pro-abortion, seemingly anti-religion) president at the 2009 commencement.  However, sound spiritual and tangible advice from trusted leaders, including our priest and our bishop gave us peace of mind and allowed us to put all of our trust in God and his divine plan for our son’s life.  We gave our son the freedom to choose his university, wanting the discernment process and subsequent decision to truly be his.  His formation sound, his faith firm, we believe that the Catholic university, his beloved grandfather’s Alma mater, will benefit by Zachary’s attendance and that Zachary will become a better person for having attended.

On the Feast of St Lawrence, only days before we delivered our first-born son from Northwest Washington to South Bend Indiana, the Word of God set me free from the urgent pre-departure fears and gathering storm of self pity.  As I read St. Paul’s inspired words at daily Mass, a true sense of calm and a deep consolation filled my soul.  It was as if this letter had been sent from God to me, a divine gift to prepare me for the monumental task at hand:

Brothers and Sisters: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work  As it is written: He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever. The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 2 Cor 9: 6-10

Recalling this scripture passage like a powerful antidote, God loves a cheerful giver, I was determined to remain joyful despite the ever lurking temptation toward despair or dwelling on the pain of separation.  Looking to the ultimate role model of maternal love, I fondly and frequently remembered our Blessed Mother and asked her prayers.  Many others here on earth were asked for prayers, too.  The reassurance offered in a hand written letter from one of my prayer anchors was invaluable:
“Mothers give up their sons and daughters for selfish reason and it is a shame.  Indeed it is unacceptable to give up our children for any reason except for God and his will.”

The spiritual training and thoughtful preparation for the moment of farewell paid off.  We prayed together as a family in the parking lot, we each gave Zachary a hug and well wishes for his freshman year at Notre Dame.  Choked up with emotion though I was, by God’s grace the joy of the moment and the excitement of my son’s new life took center stage, as is only fitting.

Parenting with Peace, Joy and Wit



Catholic parenting is a tough business, and we need all the help we can get in raising our children to be holy.  Daily, I employ the assistance of the saints and angels in heaven and my saintly brothers and sisters in Christ on earth for prayers and practical advice.  My best parenting lifelines include a few favorite contacts in monasteries whose prayer request links are easily accessed online and who willingly pray for those of us on the outside who beseech their assistance.

Rarely do I receive an earthly reply to prayer requests sent over the Internet, but just http://catholicdaily.net/discerning/wp-admin/post-new.phpknowing that these urgent prayers for our children and other intentions are being heard and lifted up gives me great peace.  Recently, I was blessed to receive a written reply with practical advice from a Benedictine monk who also promised his prayers for a particular child:

Peace, joy and wit must harmonize when you are communicating your faith to those who are struggling…don’t be afraid.  Speak truthfully, lovingly and candidly. And be willing to joyfully suffer for him.  All will be well.

All will be well… important words to keep in mind when the daily struggles and challenges of parenting seem to overwhelm me.  Yet this platitude is not an excuse to shy away from actively parenting and creatively correcting naughty behavior, which is where my suffering often becomes real.  Avoiding suffering leaves me tempted at times to simply dismiss or ignore a way-ward youth rather than deal with the situation head-on and risk meeting with resistance and forging into an epic battle of wills.

In the midst of a disciplinary struggle, peace, joy and wit do not come naturally to me.  Annoyance, impatience, grumbling and self-pity do, but these won’t help me teach virtue or correct error any more than ignoring the problem will.   Keeping close to God with set-aside time for prayer, scripture reflection and quiet morning and evening devotions helps build me up and strengthen my resolve to pick up my cross and follow Him even when it hurts and my natural inclination is to hide or withdraw.

A few days ago, one of my boys just couldn’t quite seem to pull his act together with regard to showing due respect and prompt obedience.  The inspiration to respond with peace, joy and whit hit me.  Instead of giving him a menial chore to help him work off his bad attitude (which often does the trick), I pulled a book off the shelf and told him he was not allowed to continue with his favorite pastime until the book had been completed.

My Life with the Saints, by James Martin, SJ, became my sons’ new mission on earth.  He read without ceasing, not because he was engrossed with the content per se, but because he was very anxious to get back to his Nerf gun modification project which had been suddenly put on hold as a consequence for his wayward behavior.  His grumbling and begging to be released from the requirement, attempts at bargaining his way out of the reading assignment, and bitter complaints about how boring the book was did not sway my resolve to enforce the sentence given.  I joyfully suffered right along with him and offered up the annoyances, thanks to the monk’s sound advice.

Not long after the required reading was completed and his Nerf project resumed with a new and improved attitude, fruits from the forced reading began to fall.  My son taught us about Blessed John XXIII’s witty sense of humor and lighthearted way of interacting with people.  He shared Bl. Pope John XXIII’s teaching that each person must seek and find his own particular way to reach God and grow closer to Him.  Hopefully our creative disciplinary measures will assist each of our children to find God in all things and to draw close to Him always.

Blessed John XXIII, pray for parents, that we may always remember to foster a sense of peace, joy, and wit as we fulfill our duty to raise up holy children.  Amen.

First Impressions



The long wait lifted, our new priest processed up the aisle, flanked by a full team of altar servers.  His demeanor solemn and reverent, his calm voice betraying the internal nervousness he must have felt at taking the leadership of our parish into his young hands.  Ordained only two years, this highly anticipated Mass required his careful attention to detail and thoughtful concentration.  Although a daily Mass, the pews were quite full, with many parishioners making a special trip to Church for the momentous occasion.

A sense of spiritual relief flooded my soul at Holy Communion, I felt profoundly grateful to be safely in the hands of our next priest, our new spiritual father.  Following a month of being somewhat father-less after the departure of our beloved pastor of six years, the arrival of our new Father was truly a cause for celebration.   Although I missed my sons and my husband in a particular way at this first Mass, I lifted them in prayer and asked Our Lady’s protection for them during their week at Boy Scout summer camp.

After Mass, a text message from my oldest son arrived, inquiring about my impressions of the first Mass and asking if I had remembered them to Father.  I replied with a promise to do so, provided I should have the chance.

When the opening presented itself, I gave Father the greeting from my summer campers.  “Oh, yes, I have heard of your son… the one who impetuously stepped into the role of acolyte at a recent Mass.”

I was stunned, stopped dead in my tracks, and instantly felt the sting of humility rising.  “So that story has already reached your ears?”  I stammered.

Hours later, while attempting to focus in evening prayer, I found myself stumbling over Father’s mention of my son’s recent misstep in the sanctuary.  I found myself growing annoyed with the person who had told Father and troubled that his first impression of my son, before even meeting him, would be tainted by this incident.  I ruminated on the exact word Father had used -impetuously- and although I thought I knew what it meant, I half-heartedly resolved to take the time to look it up later.

By God’s grace and before too long, I recognized that the root of my emotional discomfort and spiritual disquiet was my own pride and vanity; not that this realization of my faults made it any easier to immediately digest and discard the moment’s trial, but it was a beginning.  I praised God for allowing me another opportunity to grow in humility and asked His mercy upon my soul for being so concerned with the (perceived) judgment.  I resolved to consider it a joy to suffer such a simple (perceived) disgrace without complaining or giving in to gossip or thoughts of revenge, and continued my evening prayer.  Afterward, I set a goal to reach the 50% mark in my Kindle version of St. Teresa’s Life.

St. Teresa of Avila’s words literally jumped off the page as I read her Life in the quiet of my empty house,

How rich will he be who gave up all his riches for Christ!  How honorable will he be who, for His sake, sought no honors whatever, but rather took pleasure in seeing himself abased!

It felt as if this paragraph, written by the Spanish Carmelite nun in the 1500’s, had been written just for me.  Gratitude lifted my soul, and I thanked God for the light of St. Teresa’s wisdom.  And then to my astonishment, the next paragraph revealed another great insight:

Such is the state of the world, and so forgotten are matters of perfection, and those grand impetuosities of the Saints.

I immediately recognized the beginnings of the gifts of knowledge and understanding.  With a click of the Kindle, I soon learned the actual definition of the word which had haunted my overactive imagination and given me (unnecessary) grief:

Impetuous (adj):  of, pertaining to, or characterized by sudden or rash action, emotion, etc.; impulsive;    Impetuous (and) impulsive both refer to persons who are hasty and precipitate in action, or to actions not preceded by thought.  Impulsive emphasizes spontaneity and lack of reflection: an impulsive act of generosity.

My own ignorance, pride and self-righteousness had been at fault all along (big surprise!). Mistakenly presuming that the word used to describe my son had meant impish –mischievous- I had misjudged Father’s passing comment to be a criticism and so reacted accordingly.  My Jesus, mercy.

Heaping grace upon grace, and further aiding my growth in understanding, the daily Office of Readings this morning offered an excerpt from (none other than) St. Teresa of Avila.  From The Way of Perfection:

You see, the gift our Lord intends for us may be by far the best, but if it is not what we wanted we are quite capable of flinging it back in his face.  That is the kind of people we are; ready cash is the only wealth we understand.

Ready cash is indeed what I had desired, in the form of my new Father’s immediate approval and acceptance.  But in His great mercy, my Heavenly Father gave me a greater gift, one that I needed rather than wanted:  an increase in humility and a better knowledge of my own weakness.   He also gave me the gift of a new friend in the communion of saints, in my morning reading from St. Teresa’s Life.   Remembering a dearly departed holy confessor and trusted friend, Father Peter Alcantra, St. Teresa wrote:

One of his companions told me that he would be occasionally eight days without eating: that must have been when he was in prayer; for he was subject to… the impetuosities of the love of God, of which I was once a witness myself.

Through Saint Teresa, my Lord has gifted me with a new intercessor for my impetuous son, and indeed for my impetuous self – St. Peter Alcantra, pray for us!

Fishing for Souls



On his first day in a walking cast, my twelve year old son hobbled off toward the fishing pond with his friend.  Poles and tackle in tow, the two boys had high hopes of catching trout on this early morning expedition.  The arrangement included a ride to the park, an agreed upon time to call for a ride home, and the ‘buddy system’ rule in full effect.

Unfortunately, the boys had accidentally left the phone behind, which I did not discover until almost an hour and half had passed without any contact.  I rushed off to retrieve the boys, expecting that I might see them walking (hobbling) home, but there was no sign of them on the short route.

I parked illegally and ran to the shores of the pond, but I could not see them anywhere.  Slightly anxious, I yelled, “PETER!” (silence) then asked an elderly man parked on a bench near the shore if he had seen two young boys with fishing poles, one wearing a cast.

“No, but I’m having a great time watching the drama unfold up in that tree.  See the bald eagle?  He’s been repeatedly mobbed by the crows and a blue jay landed on a branch behind him and started jumping and flapping his wings to try to scare him off.  But you know, animals have a sixth sense, a way of knowing whether or not they are in danger, and right now they know that the eagle is not a threat so they are leaving him alone.”

You are no threat, sitting here taking in the beauty of nature. Clearly you did not harm the boys… but I do need to find them now, so our little chat about the birds must come to an abrupt end.

“Excuse me, but I am going to go and look for the boys now.” I hurried off, praying: Saint Michael the Archangel, protect us in battle.  Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.  May God rebuke him we humbly pray, and do thou oh Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.

As I jogged down the trail along the shores of the lake, I called my 9AM appointment to inform her that I would be late due to complications with my son and his friend at the fishing pond.  A fellow park-goer overheard my slightly frantic phone call and interrupted to ask if I was looking for two boys with fishing poles.

“Have you seen them?”
“Yes, we passed them on the road on our way down here.  One was wearing a cast on his foot, and the other was wearing the fishing net on his head.”

Not a second later, my phone rang as my husband called to inform me that the pair had arrived safely home, just boys, no fish.

Walking back around the pond lifting up prayers of thanksgiving, I was stopped by the eagle watcher, who asked me if my son had injured his foot playing soccer.

“Yes, he tore the ligaments in his ankle.”

He immediately launched into a monologue on his passion for the game and his hopes of someday writing a book about the beloved sport.  He then abruptly stopped the soccer talk and asked me if my son attended the local Catholic school.

Oh, yes, I am wearing my WWU Catholic sweatshirt, and so he was curious…

“No, we home school our children.  We thought they would attend Catholic school as we did, but when I attended the open house for kindergarten I had a kind of spiritual experience and just knew that it wasn’t a good fit and we decided to home school instead.”

With a sly grin he announced, “I am a recovering Catholic myself. But I find God present in His amazing creation and not in the man-made constructs of the Church.  The whole Jesus cult thing just doesn’t hold water for me.” He went on to bemoan the disparity between the rich and the poor, in particular the stark contrast between the US and Mexico visible at the international border.

“There’s no such thing as a recovering Catholic.  You’re a fallen human being, just like the rest of us.  Jesus left us His Holy Catholic Church and His Body and Blood to sustain us until we can be with Him in heaven.  You are right to celebrate God’s creation; this is an amazing thing to behold.  So also is the amazing beauty present in His Holy Church.  You should come home.  Jesus taught us to love one another with His selfless love, and to serve one another.  If you are only listening to yourself you are leading yourself astray.”

“I remember the time I went to St. James Cathedral,” he continued, “the violins were playing and the bishop came down the aisle wearing his flowing gown.  Who does the bishop care about? You know who he’s hanging out with?  The bishop is dining with rich people, drinking wine and…”

Now, sir, your talons are visible, and you are no longer at peace on the bench.  You are clearly on the attack.

“Not our bishop.” I announced. “You have no idea what you are talking about!  He knows my name-MY name.  We met once, and he remembers me, and calls me by my name!  Our Bishop Peter Sartain is a very holy man, not even close to what you are describing.  Why don’t you come home? Come on in for yourself and discover the truth about our Church.  You are clearly being misled about the true Catholic Church.  Come to Sacred Heart, any day.  You’ll see us there, every day.  Please come to Church, come home.”

I really need to go now, but I don’t want to just leave..

“What is your name?”

“My name is Mike.”

“Michael!  You have a very powerful patron saint! Do you know I asked St. Michael’s protection as I left you a few minutes ago to search for the boys?  Do you know the St. Michael prayer?”

“No.”

“St. Michael the Archangel, protect us in battle…”

After teaching him the prayer, and listening to him recite Tennyson in reply, I promised Michael that I would pray for him, and I made a dash for my illegally parked car in hopes of making my appointment.

Interestingly, although the boys’ walk home intersected with my drive to collect them, neither of us saw the other.  I think maybe God wanted me in the park with Mike and the bald eagle.

 

Pray with me for Mike, will you please?

Comments Pending



I am used to being ignored, in a way that many parents may find familiar, as in having to ask repeatedly before a dishwasher gets unloaded, or a dog gets fed or a load of trash gets hauled to the bin.  But recently I thought I had been muted by my Protestant friend, who took a few days to approve my comments on a recent blog post about her failed marriage.  She had shared a painful, sad story which at one point alluded to a conversation she initiated with her pastor regarding the teachings of the Catholic Church on marriage.  My comments, written intentionally and thoughtfully in the hope of providing comfort and inspiration in her time of suffering and loss seemed to have been deemed unfit for public consumption.  As I wondered about the possibility of being censored, I thought, “Perhaps I am too Catholic for approval.”  Ultimately knowing it was her decision to publish what she wished on her own site, trusting she must have had her reasons, I held no grudge.

In her post, she described the tearful day she told her pastor, “If I was Catholic this wouldn’t even be considered a marriage, since it was never consummated.”  At which point her pastor replied, “But you aren’t Catholic.  And you are married.”

Perhaps I was inspired by a quote from the daily reading:

It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard. ~Acts 4:20

And so I prayed, and commented:

May God be praised for your honesty and charity in sharing your story… and may your experience be helpful for others and bring you closer to Christ…

The teachings of the Catholic Church on marriage are unbelievably beautiful, and give us great peace of mind (even in great trials) and true hope for the future…

I will continue to hold you in prayer, and my offer is always open if you want to come and pray with me… Praying in the Real Presence of Christ is an incredible grace. Even non-believers experience tremendous peace and deepening of (or beginning of) faith when they spend time with Him in person.

If you ever want to know and understand why the Catholic Church teaches what she teaches, please don’t ask someone who isn’t a devout, knowledgeable Catholic…you will only get an opinion (sometimes an extremely distorted and misleading, or even harmful answer {not that they would do it on purpose, it’s just that they pass on what they’ve been taught, which is most often untrue}). You cannot get the (whole) truth about the Catholic Church from a non-Catholic or an ex-Catholic or a lukewarm Catholic. (It would be like asking a vegan to explain all the details of living as a diabetic…Absurd!)

Or, look up your question or a topic of interest on a reputable website like www.Catholicscomehome.org  See the link on the main page for non-Catholics.

I am honored to call you my friend and a sister in Christ…

Signing off…with love,
Bridget

 

While this comment lingered in the land of ‘pending approval,’ I carried my friend close to my heart and prayed that she would find true peace in Christ and healing through His Real Presence. Ultimately it is her blog, and her life, and she wasn’t asking me for my opinion or my advice.  It was freely given; hers to accept or reject.

He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”  ~Mk 16:15

This morning I found my comment and a few dozen others, all offering kind and supportive messages had been approved.  As my friend begins a new chapter in her life, I pray that my Catholic comment will inspire her to seek the truth where the truth may be found.

{Post updated and edited 4/16/12}

Angels for the Homebound



Taking Holy Communion to sick and homebound Catholics brings great grace and joy even in the face of serious illness, staggering pain or impending death.  The spiritual benefits of homebound communion reach not just to the recipient, but to everyone touched by the True Presence of our Eucharistic Lord.

On Easter Sunday my oldest son, Zachary (17), and I had the awesome task of bringing Holy Communion to a loyal parishioner who had just returned home from an emergency surgery and subsequent hospitalization.  Despite a 2AM bedtime after the three and a half hour (amazing) Easter Vigil and a two hour (packed) Easter morning Mass, we gladly made time to deliver our Risen Lord to our recovering friend and his faithful wife.   Our family’s egg hunt and dinner with grandparents could be postponed.

While driving to their home with the consecrated host concealed in a pyx-bag around my neck, I imagined our van surrounded and protected by attending heavenly hosts who dutifully praise God continually and guard the Blessed Sacrament.   Homebound ministers are trained to take Jesus directly, and if possible, in silence, with extreme reverence to the waiting recipient(s).  As I drove, I praised God in my heart for the privilege of bringing Him to our friends in their time of need.

Upon entering the home, our friends introduced us to a visiting couple, their dear Protestant friends who had stopped by to visit and spend Easter Sunday afternoon together.   We invited them to remain in the room while we set up a simple home altar with a crucifix, candles, and a mini corporal cloth upon which the gold pyx containing our Eucharistic Lord rested.

Before we began the prescribed liturgy, our friends apologized for the incessant barking of their little dog who had been relegated to the back deck and who stood yipping non-stop at the sliding glass door.   As owners of two excitable, often-obnoxious-barking labs, the gentle yips of their little pet seemed like whispers to our ears.

After the examination of conscience, Confiteor and proclamation of the Gospel, we attempted to relate a few highlights from the Easter Sunday homily.  As Zachary offered a synopsis of one aspect of the sermon, I was struck with a deep sense of gratitude for his willingness to minister to the sick and to participate both as the reader and in sharing Father’s teachings.  One reflection we relayed from the lesson centered on the idea of Christ’s five wounds redeeming and sanctifying our five fallen senses.  When our recovering friend heard this message, his jaw dropped and he exclaimed, “I have five wounds from my surgery!”  The healing power of the Word had obviously touched him and seemed to impart a profound consolation as he discovered the similarity between his own physical suffering and the wounds of Christ Crucified.

In union with the Universal Church, we said the prayers of the faithful and the Lord’s Prayer followed by the final preparation and pleas for mercy before the distribution of Holy Communion.   A profound silence followed their reception, allowing our friends and us the opportunity for personal prayer before our final sign of the cross and concluding prayer, “May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life.”

Our mission accomplished, Zachary and I collected our things and offered parting Easter greetings and promises of prayer for our friend’s full recovery.   Before our departure, as the barking dog carried on his relentless protestation at being left outside, the Protestant woman remarked incredulously, “Did you notice that the dog stopped barking during the Most Important Part?”  I secretly thanked the attending angels for a job well done.

Total Consecration Through Lent



Discerning ways to grow closer to Christ through the season of Lent takes perseverance.  Myriad distractions seem to constantly erupt and attempt to block my good intentions, even of making a simple decision as to what to ‘give up’ or ‘take up’ this Lent.

This year one of my Lenten ‘take up’ disciplines came as a gift from God in the form of a phone call from a dear friend whose simple question about St. Louis de Montfort’s method of Total Devotion to Jesus through Mary inspired me.  She was discerning and soon decided to start the prescribed preparation on a suggested ‘beginning’ date which was quickly approaching (and has now arrived).

An answer to prayer, I discovered that this Total Consecration which can be celebrated or renewed at any time was highly recommended by St. Louis de Montfort to be made on the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25).  Beginning the preparation period now allows ample time for the suggested readings, meditations, prayer routines and even a general confession to form us and ready us to make a promise or consecration to Jesus through Mary on the Feast of the Annunciation.  With a renewed desire to follow the five-week formula, I decided to join my friend (and her husband) on this prayerful Lenten discipline.

My previous attempt at following the prescribed preparation saw me extending it over the course of five months rather than the suggested five weeks. I stayed with the program and found it highly valuable, but did not regularly commit to the daily readings, meditations and prayers as suggested.  The general confession was a great source of grace and well worth the effort.  I trusted that when the time was right, I would be able to make a Total Consecration in a meaningful way, perhaps with others.  The time is now!

I will once again be using a book edited by Fr. Libietis, which contains all the suggested readings from a wide variety of sources (Holy Gospels, Imitation of Christ, St. Louis de Montfort’s writings) and a wealth of information on various devotions and prayers.  I first received this book as a loan from a devout friend who made the Total Consecration herself and highly recommended it to me.  I decided to purchase a copy, when I realized the wealth of treasures it contained within.

However, this particular book is only one method of many now available to assist with the preparation.  Online resources abound, including a new iTunes Total Consecration app by Matthew Sich.

If you find yourself searching for a way to deepen your prayer life and grow closer to Jesus through our Blessed Mother this Lent, please consider joining those of us who are following in the footsteps St. Louis de Montfort. There are no hard and fast rules with the preparation or with the actual devotion; rather St. Louis offered a number of pious practices, proposed prayers and practical methods to grow in holiness.

Even if you are not able to follow the five week preparation period at this time, I highly recommend reading “Tips on Prayer and Meditation” at the beginning of Fr. Libietis’ book.  Perhaps your parish library, local library or archdiocesan resource center owns a copy or would respond favorably to a request to purchase it.  Encouragement and heavenly promises abound in Fr. Libietis’ “Tips”:

Do not expect every day to be a profitable day of meditation.  Sometimes the well can be dry.  Sometimes the tensions of daily life make the rope break. Let us not be afraid of the labor, for God seeing our good intentions and perseverance will presently come with a deluge of heavenly graces and raise us to a higher level of prayer. (p16)

May you give yourself the gift of a renewed spirit this Lent, and truly prepare yourself for Christ’s Resurrection at Easter.  Know that you are in my prayers.

 

Consecration to Mary: St. Louis De Montfort’s True Devotion : {Complete Five-Week Preparation : Prayers, Daily Meditations, Spiritual Guidance, Ceremony} by Louis-Marie Grignion De Montfort (Author), Helmuts Libietis (Editor), Angelus Press, 1998.

Hosting Jesus



Somehow I did not inherit my mother’s phenomenal hospitality genes.  While my mom and my little sister gracefully and effortlessly host gatherings of all sizes, and entertain like professional caterers, the mere thought of having company over gives me a weak stomach.  Their guests are literally waited upon; mine are often wanting for a simple glass of water.   I understand in theory, how to host an event or welcome friends into our home.  But in practice I am just not very graceful at it.

Despite my apparent lack of charism as a hostess, we do sometimes open our home for special guests or a grand celebration.  We spend hours preparing.  Deep cleaning, beyond the usual tidying routines, finds us capturing the dust bunnies and dragging off the cobwebs that otherwise may have gone unnoticed.  Our eyes are opened to even the little messes that don’t bother us on a day-to-day basis.   Everyone pitches in and understands our common goal: to transform our place so it’s not just presentable, but inviting.

Every Sunday (or each day) that we visit Christ truly present in our tabernacles and receive His body, blood, soul and divinity into our beings at Holy Eucharist we should carefully fortify our spiritual hospitality for this most important Guest.  Have we properly arranged our houses and cleared out the cobwebs to make room for our King to enter in?  Have we thoughtfully examined the state of our souls where our beloved Lord comes to rest?

Readying ourselves for Mass, when put in the light of preparing ourselves to truly Host Jesus as our personal Guest, takes on a much deeper meaning than slipping into our Sunday best and making sure we keep the required fast.   True preparation for Holy Mass involves entering into deep cleaning mode to ensure that our house is in proper order for welcoming our Savior.  If the only examination of conscience we undertake on a regular basis is during the three second pause before the Confiteor in the penitential act at the beginning of Mass (or if we habitually arrive late for Mass and miss the rite of forgiveness) we are like the unprepared hostess who sweeps the mess under the couch to hastily make an appearance of readiness for her guests.

It’s one thing to be caught off-guard at the unexpected arrival of an unannounced human guest; it’s quite another thing to willfully forgo the necessary steps to ready ones’ self to receive Christ truly present in the Eucharist.  St. Paul’s strong teaching on the life and death matter of properly preparing for Holy Communion, begins first by proclaiming the truth that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist:

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you,that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgmenton himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying. If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment; but since we are judged by [the] Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

1 CORINTHIANS 11: 23-32

If we are in the habit of a daily (or frequent) examination of conscience and regular confession, our souls can usually be fitted for Holy Communion by a good looking-over followed by a humble and heart-felt apology (Confiteor).  In other instances, when we have been away from confession for a long time and/or willfully disobey God’s commands (received as Church teachings), our souls are quite beyond a quick sweep, and long for a deep cleaning followed by a fresh coat of paint.  This necessary deep cleaning of our souls will, by God’s grace, properly dispose us to host Jesus and to fully benefit from the amazing graces in the Eucharist.  It takes time and serious effort to sort and be rid of compound clutter, especially the kind that we’re attached to or that has grown on us.  It might even hurt.  But it’s better to earnestly seek purity and receive Him appropriately than to try to hide the mess under the carpet and risk condemnation.

Shaving Sin



Yesterday, my 17 year old son shaved his face and cut his hair for the first time in months.  The transformation was dramatic and complete:  from a wild looking thuggish character to a clean-cut youthful cherub, his before and after images are as different as a mug shot and a holy card.   A similar image overwrite happens to my soul, and yours, each time we are shaved clean of sin by the grace of God in the sacrament of confession. Only on the outside we still look the same.

Zachary’s hair and beard grew wild as his varsity swim season progressed, the chlorine damaging his hair so that it refused to be tamed by any amount of combing or conditioning.  So do our souls grow dimmer, darker, and wilder in the weeks, months or (God forbid) years that we stay away from the confessional.  It becomes harder to see clearly as the hair of sin hinders our vision, and we find ourselves generally uncomfortable and ill-at-ease with the itchy scratchy growth attaching to us as the sins pile up.  Disordered thoughts, desires and actions have their way with us, and our attempts to groom or tame these are short-lived and not very effective.  On the outside we may look the same, but inner darkness reigns.

With total freedom only a few steps away in sacramental confession, what could possibly keep us from coming clean?  Certainly, some are afraid, others are kept back by pride, for some it’s simply laziness or laxity in the spiritual life; but many are ignorant of the commands (precepts) of our Church regarding sacramental confession.  I myself let years pass between my confessions during certain stages of my life, unaware that not only was I missing out on the tremendous graces of confession, but that I was living in total disobedience to the teachings of my Church.

Our Holy Catholic Church, in her wisdom, outlines for us, her faithful children, five basic obligations or precepts to guide us toward holiness and eternal life.  According to these precepts, the sacrament of confession is not optional, but a must for us our journey toward heaven.  The Precepts of the Church (below) are not multiple choice, they are THE five positively stated principles handed down to us by the magisterium (from Christ, through the apostles) as a ‘bare minimum’ for our sanctification.

Precept number two requires that we confess our sins at least once a year.   Like a loving parent requiring an adolescent son to shower (and change socks) for the sake of cleanliness in the family home, the Church requires us to get clean in confession so that we may worthily receive Christ in the Eucharist.  Our venial sins are forgiven in the Mass, preparing us for our reception of Jesus in Holy Communion.  But our mortal sins are only forgiven through sacramental confession, and to approach Holy Communion, to receive Jesus, in a state of mortal sin is itself a grave (mortal) offense against God.  How I wish I had known this Catholic teaching during those years when I scarcely considered confession and yet regularly came forward to receive Holy Communion.

I pray that many souls will be moved to return to confession who have been away too long, or will come soon if confession has been put off.  Make a fresh start on life, give your soul a breath of fresh air, meet Christ in confession!

II. THE PRECEPTS OF THE CHURCH

2041 The precepts of the Church are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life. The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor:

 

2042 The first precept (“You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor”) requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days.

 

The second precept (“You shall confess your sins at least once a year”) ensures preparation for the Eucharist by the reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, which continues Baptism’s work of conversion and forgiveness.

 

The third precept (“You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season”) guarantees as a minimum the reception of the Lord’s Body and Blood in connection with the Paschal feasts, the origin and center of the Christian liturgy.

 

2043 The fourth precept (“You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church”) ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.

 

The fifth precept (“You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church”) means that the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability.

 

The faithful also have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his own abilities.

 

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church