Archive for the ‘faith’ Category

The beautiful heart of St. Paul

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Reflection on today’s readings (May 23, 2012) Acts 20:28-38; Psalm 68:29-30,33-36, John 17:11-19

Many women do not like St. Paul. I am not one of them.

Ever since I asked St. Paul to intercede for me for a special need (more on that in a moment), I have found myself reflecting on his life, his writings, and his enormous contribution to Christianity.

From Acts Chapter 20

Today’s reading from Acts moved me deeply. I found myself welling up as I imagined Paul’s impassioned plea to the presbyters of the Church of Ephesus. Knowing they would never see them again, they wept openly, throwing their arms around him and kissing him.

Saying goodbye

Any mother knows the pain of an empty nest when the son or daughter leaves home for the last time. You struggle to hold it in so you won’t embarrass yourself and often times you just can’t help it. I had said what I thought was the final goodbye a few times to my son, first when he went off to college and lastly, when he moved to a neighboring town. That last time was especially hard. Now he is moving out of state at the end of the summer and I haven’t dared to begin thinking about that yet!

Paul’s attributes

What I love about St. Paul is his commitment, love and fortitude. This man emptied himself each and every day out of love for his Lord, but also for love of the people he was sent to minister to. There was never any hesitation. He never pulled back, never worried about what others would think of him. He was focused only on pleasing his Lord.

Knowing who you are

Paul was fully aware of what he had been. He had been forgiven of some pretty horrendous sins and he never forgot to be grateful for the privilege of carrying the Good News. That gratefulness acted like gasoline on the fire of his love.

A special intercessor

I especially love St. Paul’s focus and the example he uses of the marathon runner with the eye on the prize. About a year ago, for some reason, I asked  St. Paul to intercede for me for a very specific intention. I asked him to run beside me whenever I found myself stuck in traffic when I desperately needed to relieve myself. Because of a medical condition, this happens frequently. The pain is unlike any I’ve known and the emotional distress makes the pain more acute.

At the first sign of trouble, I call upon St. Paul to run beside me and we run together. Taking on his focus, my emotions are controlled and the pain is less acute. As a result of these encounters, I have developed an affection for St. Paul which has caused me to read more carefully the extraordinary writings which built on the foundation of our faith.

Empty, and beautiful

It is no wonder that the presbyters at Ephesus felt such a strong connection with Paul who, for 3 years, had spent his life for them. Each day, he was empty, and beautiful.

And I think of that man, that saint, running beside me, comforting me in my little trouble. How good our God is to provide these wonderful saints for us!

Matt Maher, a Christian singer and songwriter, recorded a wonderful song about St. Paul that he called Empty and Beautiful. As you watch the video below, think on today’s reading and the man who knew exactly who he was and what had been given to him. He knew too what to give back and why.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhaHB1Cad_4

From Provincial to Radical: Getting Below the Surface

Friday, May 18th, 2012

I am currently re-reading Henri Nouwen’s last book, Sabbatical Journey The Diary of His Final Year. I read it years ago and found his honesty and vulnerability very moving. There is a journal entry for each day of his sabbatical, and each one sparks reflection.

from http://tennoshima.com/Events.html

In the entry from Tuesday, September 9, Nouwen mentions the occasional retreats he gave with friend Jonas and how Jonas could play the Japanese bamboo flute. He writes, “The amelodic music he plays on the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute, allows people to experience God’s spirit in ways that words cannot express.”

Learning to stretch

In my reading of the gospels over the past year, I have been struck by a recurring theme: Jesus’ insistence that we get beyond our preconceived notions. As the great Spiritual Doctor, He diagnoses humanity with the affliction of narrow-mindedness: we practice our faith by clinging stubbornly to ritual, all the while being oblivious to the actual meaning. It’s easier (and safer) to blindly follow the rules rather than digging deep to understand their intent.

Jesus challenges us to be radical lovers and thinkers; He means to stretch us.

Leaders bound to ritual

This is evidenced by His repeated confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees, the most learned of the people. Despite their knowledge, these leaders adopt a provincial view of life through their observance of the Law. They flawlessly fulfill the rituals yet have no clue as to how the Law applies to their inner lives. It’s all about outward performance and it fuels their pride and arrogance, blinding them to the Son of God who stands before them.

Talking to myself

Rituals affect prayer too. I can use a parochial approach to prayer, doing my fifteen minutes a day mindlessly reciting my rote prayers and feeling a sense of accomplishment at performing my duty. I might as well be saying the prayers to myself. Jesus is waiting for me to sit at His feet and be with Him and I don’t recognize Him standing there before me.

Following the Spirit’s lead

In the book of Romans Paul writes, “the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26). In essence, prayer without the Spirit’s help accomplishes nothing.

Be, not do

The prayers we’ve been taught are good, reinforcing what we’ve learned. They prepare the heart. It’s the next step that requires a more radical approach and that involves acquiescing to the Spirit. My only task at that point is to allow Him to lead me.

It takes effort and fortitude to quiet myself and allow the encounter to begin. Then all effort ceases. And that’s when I sometimes wonder if, in fact, I am praying.

Is it prayer?

Sometimes a wave of peace and gratitude will flow over me.  The result is a sense of love and well-being that wells up inside. It surpasses words and instead, produces tears.

Other times I experience intense pain and swirling confusion, leaving me floundering and helpless.

If during those moments, I turn and face Jesus, they become prayer.

Music as a means to prayer

Nouwen’s description of Jonas’ music reminds me of how easily music leads me to these encounters. I feel almost guilty letting my collection of spiritual and classical music shuffle through my iPod as I drive into work. It’s too easy, there’s no effort.

And that’s when the encounter begins. It’s not my effort that produces prayer but the intercession of the Holy Spirit.

The preparation

Music prepares my heart and soul with a rhythmic kneading, softening what was once hard. I am then prepared to stretch out my hand and allow the Spirit to grasp it, leading me into the inner sanctum.

The experience

In there I could experience a myriad of things: the sense of being loved, deep sorrow for my sins, insight, consolation, maybe even nothing at all. No matter what I may or may  not feel, Jesus is as close to me as my own breath.

Openness to the gift

What a wonderful gift our Lord gives us through His Spirit when we open our minds and hearts and step outside of ourselves. This was the gift He longed to give to the Pharisees but they could not let go.

But like the cripple who, after being healed by Jesus, throws away the crutches and walks freely, I too can employ that same trust, knowing that God will extend His hand and lead me deeper into His heart, and closer to paradise.

God works through the least of His creatures

Monday, September 5th, 2011

This is the story of the tiniest of crises in my life: a tale of a cat. And how God is right there in the middle of this most trivial of moments.

If you are an animal lover, you may disagree that this crisis is small. If you’re not, you’ll know exactly what I mean! :-)

It began 4 weeks ago when I had to take my elderly cat, Bacci in for his physical. Although Bacci had a history of being super sensitive to the slightest change in his routine, I felt he would manage with a physical.

As expected, Bacci was so fearful of the exam that he was shaking, and purred to comfort himself. At 14 he had lost significant weight and had developed an infection due to scratching around his mouth (his gums were bothering him). The vet cleaned up the area around his mouth, put a cone around his head, prescribed antibiotics, and then told me he had a hyperactive thyroid that needed treatment (the cause of the weight loss). I was upset to see the cone because I knew deep down this would never fly. I was so right!

Bacci became unhinged after that visit. He couldn’t cope with the cone and began acting out (by not using the litter box) until I had to remove the cone. The antibiotic did not agree with him and as a result, he was losing more weight. I could see that he was spiraling downward (something I had seen in previous elderly cats) and felt the end was coming. It did come, 1 week and 3 days after the annual physical.

I was devastated. Usually I have my husband doing the “dirty deed” but he wasn’t home. I could feel myself becoming unhinged as I prepared to take Bacci to the vet for the last time.

I felt silly calling upon Jesus and Mary to see me through this but I knew if I didn’t call upon the Lord now, I wouldn’t call on Him for more important matters. I began to pray to His mother for intercession and immediately I felt her unique touch of peace. I just wanted to hold it together so I could follow through with what I knew needed to be done. Bacci was suffering terribly and putting him down was the right decision.

After it was done, I cried and cried. Bacci had been adopted from my mother’s nursing home and I felt guilty that I had not been able to provide him with the peaceful life I promised. Bacci had had a tough time in our home as he was not used to other cats, and the other cats sensed weakness in him and tormented him. I felt it my mission to make this cat feel safe, showering him with attention, hugs and kisses. And ironically, just before the physical, he seemed to have reached a happier place. It was a bitter end to the story.

It was also the last physical tie to my mother and I began grieving over her all over again.

Such a small matter, putting down a cat. So many people are hurting in this world and I lose it over a cat!

And here I discovered that the Lord is truly in the midst of everything in our lives, right down to the most trivial of details. He showered me with unspeakable graces and consolation, even in this smallest of crises. My daughter came home on a dime when I called to tell her of Bacci’s fate. My son sent me a beautiful letter telling me that my care of Bacci despite all the difficulties showed him the example of kindness and gentleness that he wanted to emulate.

God’s light had actually shown through me by the care of one of His creatures. This trivial matter was used to broaden my heart and show others that love.

I learned through Bacci that God will use anything and everything to demonstrate His gracious, abounding and unending love.

Truly, God IS in everything!

Here I wrote a tribute to Bacci if you’d like to know more about this sweet cat of mine.

 

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One life and how it changed so many

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Yesterday I began my vacation. I enjoyed an exquisite kayaking trip up the Sudbury River in Concord, MA to the Great Meadows National Wildlife Reserve. The day ended with a wonderful family dinner to welcome home my brother-in-law as he visits from California.

I remember sitting in my kayak, looking at the scenery and thinking,  “It doesn’t get more beautiful than this.”

Yet after today, that beauty paled in comparison.

My favorite day of vacation won’t be the glorious kayak trip or the family reunion dinner.

It will be a funeral.

Today I witnessed something so beautiful that I couldn’t stop weeping. I was not sad; I was overwhelmed.

The essence of Henry

A very special man had died. He was a member of our parish family and our town for several decades. His wake was crowded and the funeral mass nearly full. Our pastor summed up the story of Henry this way:

“Henry was a gracious receiver.”

What in the world does that mean? Monsignor Mike used the gospel reading as the key.

The story of Henry

Monsignor had chosen John 13: 1-17 where Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. It was a different choice for a funeral mass. But Henry was a most unique man.

Henry had fallen prey to a mental illness when he was 19 and spent many years institutionalized. Years later he was placed in a new experimental program where he would live in the community, and he moved to a small apartment in downtown Westboro, MA where he was to live out his days. He joined our parish, St. Luke the Evangelist, and began to use his special gift.

At first people were put off by Henry’s odd mannerisms and ways. But as eulogist Charley O’Neil pointed out, it didn’t take long for those same people to count this dear man as their friend.

A simple life full of love

Henry loved people. He exuded joy and made it a point to meet and greet as many people as he could. He never forgot a name nor a face. He was a fixture at daily mass, loving our Eucharistic Lord most passionately. He prayed his rosary regularly and became known as a powerful prayer warrior.

Henry was also a man who recognized his needs and weaknesses and never hesitated to call on parishioners for help. Charley remarked that once Henry asked you for help, you were a member for life of his little community!

His gift of “gracious receiving” enabled a large part of our parish family to be more like Jesus.

Henry taught us how to receive

Monsignor Mike pointed out Peter in the gospel, how he first refused the Lord’s offer to wash his feet. When Jesus told Peter that he could not be a disciple unless he received this gift, Peter understood and allowed the Lord to wash his feet. In turn, Peter would care for many of the flock throughout his life with greater love than he could have imagined.

Monsignor explained that Henry did that for people. He asked for help and received it graciously. As a result, Henry was Jesus to many and allowed others to be Jesus to him. He helped people live the verse from the parable of the Last Judgment: “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me drink, naked and you clothed me, sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:36, paraphrased)

Charley O’Neil as a key member of  Henry’s beautiful community of friends, driving Henry places and each year, hosting a big birthday party for him at his home. I imagine that each year, the guest list got longer.

Henry taught us how to love

And Charley reminded us that Henry indeed represented the least of us, a man disabled who had to depend on others for his needs. Henry was a man who would normally be shunned and forgotten, but he refused to play that role. His great joy and fearless love, fueled by his devotion to the Eucharistic Lord, enabled him to achieve the kind of legacy we could only dream of. (read Henry’s obituary here; read a letter to the town of Westboro about Henry here)

Surely Henry is “free of his demons” as Charley said, and “rests in the arms of the Lord.”

What Henry taught me

And why could I not stop weeping? Because, here was a man with a heart so big and so full that, despite his “demons” was able to change so many lives for the better.

Only this week the Lord has been showing me the painful truth of my small heart which I liken to the Grinch who stole Christmas. So small and stingy. So afraid.

Today I was exposed to a heart and a life that was lived fearlessly, in great joy. Henry’s light was so bright and although I barely knew the man, his funeral and life story would change me forever.

Henry understood the delicate balance of receiving and giving. “So simple,” said our pastor, and yet so profound.

True beauty

Today I saw a beauty and a truth that reminds me yet again that there is nothing in this world that can even begin to compare to the love of our God.

I may have kayaked down one of the most scenic rivers in the world yesterday. I may have enjoyed a wonderful dinner with family, full of laughter, love and stories.

But all of that paled in comparison to the truth of God’s love as shown through the life of “the least of these.”

Henry, you’re in heaven now and I bet your giving has just begun. You gave me a most precious gift today. And I will continue to ask you to pray for me that God will grow my heart to be as big and generous as yours. Rest in peace.

 

 

Lay down your burden

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

I just loved the homily given on Sunday by our pastor, Monsignor Mike Foley. He shared a true and compelling story of how he applied the above verses from the gospel reading to his own life.

Several years ago, Monsignor Mike was pastor to the largest parish in our diocese, St. Ann’s in Milford, MA. With approximately 3500+ families in the parish, St. Ann’s at one time had 5 priests to serve. Back in the early 2000′s, the death of a pastor caused the bishop to effectively “shuffle the deck”, redistributing pastors and promoting an associate to pastor to fill the various needs of the diocese. Monsignor was at the bottom of the deck. In the end, he was left alone at St. Ann’s without even the help of a deacon because the deacon was sick. He would not be able to get extra help for at least 3 months. On top of everything else, it was during the height of the sexual abuse scandal which rocked Boston and surrounding communities.

Monsignor knew he was in trouble. He described the various ways he could have reacted:

  • Get angry with the bishop
  • Work himself to death
  • Or turn to the Lord in prayer

He decided to turn the Lord in prayer. At at time when one would think more hours would need to be devoted to work, Monsignor Mike took 2 extra hours (together) out of his day to spend time with the Lord in prayer. He confessed his need and allowed the Lord to give him rest. He took the will of God (His yoke) on his shoulders, surrendering his own will for what he thought ought to be done, and surrendering the will and expectations of others.

In the end,  God showed him how to prioritize his work, helping Monsignor in his decision making, and ultimately, remaking the vision of the parish.

Monsignor Mike really shared from his heart. At one point, standing in front of the altar, he pointed back to the gospel book stating, ” I know that it works to allow God to carry your burden. I’ve lived it!”

All the while I’m marveling at the fact that this holy priest would spend 2 solid hours in prayer. As always, he, in essence, fertilized the desire already in me to deepen my prayer. It’s so helpful when God sets before you such wonderful examples like Monsignor Mike. We at St. Luke the Evangelist in Westboro, MA are so fortunate!

Thanking my angel – better late than never!

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

I have a long commute to and from work which leaves lots of time for prayer and thought. Yesterday I was reminiscing about my high school days, prompted by the discovery that a youth minister I had known back then had passed away. Although raised in the Catholic faith, I started exploring when I was 15 and ended up joining a non-denominational youth group which originated out of Park Street Church in Boston. The youth minister was the Rev. Wayne Anderson (eternally grateful to you, may you rest in peace). I accepted Jesus as my personal savior when I was 16 and enjoyed the companionship and safety of palling around with a large group of like-minded and fun-loving Christian teens. We spent time playing competitive team sports, singing contemporary Christian hymns as lustily as we could, studying the Bible, listening to dynamic teachings about Jesus, and praying for each other.

This youth group was exactly what I needed at that time of my life. It was a safety net and so much more. My own home life was strange to say the least, in fact dysfunctional, yet because I lived in the middle of it, I never really thought much about it. I only knew that I felt very alone and this group took me in. I gained 1 eternal and 2 lifelong friends out of that experience (one of them being my husband of 32 years).

When I entered college, I no longer had access to this group and I keenly missed the fellowship. My faith came upon hard times and I found most of my beliefs being systematically stripped away. Only one thing remained: all through my teen, college and 20-something years, I never stopped attending mass. My husband had a lot to do with that but I also think it was because I had a gut feeling about the Eucharist. As a child I experienced some beautiful times of prayer after receiving the Eucharist (images of a gleaming hardwood floor, cleaned after receiving; also of a rose bush growing in my heart) and in a sub-conscious way, it taught me that Jesus was present in that bread, somehow.

This foundation was very important to my remaining with the Catholic church. My time in that youth group built on that foundation, showing me what it was like to have a personal relationship with our Lord, and  to share that with other believers. After college I wandered around in a spiritual desert for 18 years, but I never lost that hunger and thirst for God.

At 37 I had a conversion experience that brought me home for good. But in reminiscing yesterday, I realized that I had led a charmed life, and I suddenly started thanking my guardian angel for helping to lead me to where I am today.

I have never paid much attention to my poor angel (whom I have dubbed “Celeste”) but lately I find myself thanking her whenever I escape bodily injury from a potential car accident, tripping, falling down the stairs, etc. In thinking about my life’s journey yesterday, I knew at that moment that she had been leading and guiding me.

So, after 55+ plus years, I want to say a public “thank you” to my dear Celeste and I promise, I will pay more attention to you! God has been so good to give you to me.

Do you remember the Guardian Angel Prayer? Let’s see if I do . . .

Angel of God, My Guardian Dear
to whom God’s love commits me here.
Ever this day be at my side
to light and guard and rule and guide.

Amen.

Yeah, I had to look it up! :-)

Part 4: What makes a beautiful Godly woman? The way of beauty

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

In the last post I talked about holiness and how it creates an inner light. Mary was holy and she had that inner light. She must have been so beautiful to behold. That inner light, that holiness, made it possible for her to accept God’s will without question. Yet there must have been some preparation in her life for that moment. A farmer doesn’t just drop seed on the ground – it wouldn’t grow. The ground has to be prepared, tilled, aerated, watered . . . so that the seed can germinate and grow. How did Mary prepare? How can we prepare?

Tradition has it that Mary was raised in the temple. Certainly in the temple she was trained in prayer and scripture. She likely had a thorough knowledge of the prophesies regarding the Messiah and was obviously grounded in prayer. Notice that the angel Gabriel did not need to explain much to her for her to understand the implications:

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”

Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)

Mary only asked one question – how would it happen? She understood the rest. The lifelong cultivation of her spiritual life through consistent prayer and study of scripture had prepared her to hear the words of Gabriel and accept them. Her eyes didn’t need to be opened by any explanation – they were already open.

Keith Fournier in his book, The Prayer of Mary, (chapter 2, The Way of Beauty, pages 9-14) maintains that Mary was beautiful because she grounded herself in this lifestyle. The angel declared that she was “full of grace” and Fournier says that makes Mary “beautiful.” She radiated a deeper, spiritual beauty flowing from her relationship with God (remember my example of our new real estate in the last post?). This inner glow was her beauty.

Fournier gives the example of Blessed Mother Teresa, a woman who was not physically beautiful by any means but who radiated joy and love in such a way that she became known internationally for her spiritual beauty. Grace does not change our physical appearance as much as it changes us from the inside out.

Fournier then goes on to explain specific ways that Mary was beautiful:

  • Her ears, because they were open and attentive, allowing her to hear a message so profound that it would change the world.
  • Her heart, because she emptied herself and allowed it to fill up with God’s grace. She also allowed it to be broken so that God’s ultimate will of saving of us all could come to pass (consider Michaelangelo’s famous Pieta statue)
  • Her feet, because she brought the glad tidings of her pregnancy to her cousin Elizabeth immediately after she heard (see Isaiah 52:7).
  • Her arms and hands, because they caressed the Christ. Imagine for a moment holding the dear baby in your arms, knowing that you are holding the Son of God . . .
  • Her face, because she saw God face to face.  Remember how Moses, after his encounter with God, had to wear a veil because the glow was so intense. 2 Corinthians 4:6 states the the Glory of God was revealed in the face of Christ, a face that Mary saw daily for 33 years! Imagine how her face must have reflected that glory.

If you see paintings and icons of Mary from different cultures, you will see that she is depicted in many races and many forms. Why is this? Because Mary’s beauty transcends every cultural definition – her beauty is reflecting God who transcends all.

How do you suppose Mary’s beauty played out in daily life? In my next post, I will consider portions of Genevieve Kineke’s book, The Authentic Catholic Woman, where she gives numerous examples. Here’s a tease – it involves leading a sacramental life . . .

*******************************************************

Links to all posts in this 11 part series

Part 1: Discovering the beauty of woman through the eyes of God – a multi-part series

Part 2: The beauty of a Godly woman – learning to say “Yes.”

Part 3: What makes a beautiful Godly woman – Holiness.

Part 4: What makes a beautiful Godly woman? The way of beauty

Part 5: What makes a beautiful Godly woman? Modeling ourselves after Holy Mother Church

Part 6: Beautiful Godly woman – living sacramentally

Part 7: Beautiful Godly woman – hospitality

Part 8: Becoming a beautiful Godly woman – how meal times can become a beautiful sacramental expression

Part 9: A beautiful Godly woman is an agent of reconciliation

Part 10: beautiful Godly woman – the gift of healing

Part 11: Conclusion – Becoming a beautiful Godly woman – the journey is just beginning

 

 

Letting Go of Fear

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

(The Red Room website was calling for articles about letting go in honor of Lent so I submitted this post. This isn’t really about Lent, but it is about letting go, and it shows that it doesn’t have to be swift and painful for it to work. God is gracious and merciful).

I profess to have faith in God and as such, am supposed to trust in God. But when it came to the family finances, I never seemed to be able to find that pool of trust.

My husband and I are talented at many things, but managing money is not one of them. Even though my husband works as a financial analyst, he has no interest in using those talents to balance our checkbook. I am quite motivated, but often have to add up the numbers more than once on the calculator to get the right answer.

As a result, we always seemed to be in financial trouble, and this caused me a lot of stress. It would usually play out in the wee hours of the morning, the dreaded 4 o’clock hour: waking up, stomach hurting and palms sweaty over the big monster in the closet. Somehow that monster always shrank when the sun would rise and I’d get up for the day. The monster may not have been physically present, but the fear was very real.

I prayed to God about our finances. First it was, “Please send us extra money get through the month.” Then it was, “Please teach us how to handle our money.” I wanted a miracle, I wanted to win the lottery. But that’s not how God works.

Finally, a few years ago, something broke and it came about because of a purchase: the purchase of a tandem kayak.

We had moved into an area full of lakes, streams and ponds, and my husband kept bugging me to use the credit card and purchase a kayak. I have abhorrence for credit cards and kept saying no, but finally to keep the peace, I gave in. It turned out to be a momentous decision.

Some husbands and wives should never work together and that was us – just too competitive, each of us always wanting to come out on top. Yet, when the kayak came, that all changed. Very naturally we took our places – he handled the physical end of the boat (how to put it up on the car, how to carry it, etc.) and he graciously allowed me to sit up in the front to determine where we would paddle to. The smooth silence of the water complemented by the beautiful hot summer days made for blissfully peaceful trips down lazy rivers and streams. We’d drift and look at birds, run our hands through the warm water, stop to go fishing, all the while talking to each other in soft voices. In the kayak, I could let go of everything that was bothering me.

Winter came and the kayak was put away but I longed for that peace and harmony to continue, especially when I’d wake up at 4am worrying about money. That’s when God went to work, slowly changing me, pouring His grace upon me like a light mist falling on fallow ground, until that ground became soft and bore fruit. He used the imagery of the kayak trip to teach me about floating down His river of grace, all the while letting go and letting Him steer. Slowly I shed the worries that burdened me and turned them over to Him, letting them flow downstream. I began to sleep through the night and let the sun wake me up in the morning rather than the monster in the closet.

I learned how to let go of my fear. I learned how to trust. The good and gentle God took me by the hand, used something that was so sweet and delicious to me and taught me how to trust. And I haven’t turned back since.

“Loving God . . . Loving Neighbor: A Lenten Transformation” Retreat Wrap-up

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

This past weekend (March 11-13), my partner Ann Wagstaff and I had the privilege of presenting to a group of extraordinary women at the Vita Nova Women’s retreat at the Barbara C. Harris Center in Greenfield, NH. The weekend exceeded our wildest expectations! The spirit of fraternity, affection and fellowship coupled with a real move of the Holy Spirit made it a weekend we all will remember for a long time to come.

Here are pictures from the weekend, and below the pictures, a description of what went on (including one of the talks that you can download).

Prayers for Detachment; time for reconciliation

After settling in on Friday, Ann and I led a prayer to help the women detach from their cares and focus solely on God. Music, prayers, candles and sweet scents lifted hearts to Heaven. Each woman wrote down their cares on a piece of paper – all the papers were put in a bag that was attached to mylar balloons that would lift the bag up to the ceiling!

After the prayer, everyone went to the Sacrament of Reconciliation with 3 wonderful priests, setting the tone for a Spirit-filled weekend.

Prayer

Prayer was a central part of the retreat – the Sung Rosary was done throughout the day using a Power Point presentation with images, scripture and the music of the Sung Rosary. Here’s a sample:

Loving God . . .

On Saturday morning, the presentations began. The theme of the retreat was the Two Great Commandments, based on Mark 12:28-34 – loving God, and loving neighbor.  A strong emphasis was placed upon priorities – how important it is to love God first and allowing that growing relationship to spill over into loving your neighbor. I shared teaching  on why loving God first was so important in my talk on Martha and Mary (read the text of the talk here), and Ann proceeded to share from her life about her struggles to balance between being a Martha and a Mary, and how she is becoming a “contemplative in action.”

I then spoke about how service happens through an outpouring of grace resulting from loving God, and how that grace can equip us for difficult service (in my case, helping to care for my dying mother).

The morning session concluded with an Emmaus walk, where the women, after hearing the scripture about the disciples’ encounter with Jesus at Emmaus, were instructed to take their own individual walk around the grounds as the disciples did, conversing and listening to Jesus.

Time of  Fellowship

Mealtimes at the dining hall were a highpoint as the food was so well prepared, and everyone was so warm and friendly. There was an extraordinary move of the Spirit through all the women which created a wonderful atmosphere of fellowship. It was a taste of Heaven.

Loving Neighbor . . .

The afternoon session focused on loving our neighbor by discovering and developing our natural talents and gifts, and then becoming aware of and praying for the spiritual gifts (based on scripture from 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4) . Ann and I gave a talk tracing our time lines to see what talents and gifts kept appearing throughout our lifetimes as a way of identifying what we do well (I also traced my husband’s interesting time line which led to his vocation as a deacon). I also spoke on what I termed “hidden gifts”  – those things such as being hospitable, being a good listener, or being a good caregiver – talents our society does not value but God does.  Each woman took a written survey to dig deeper into their own gifts and talents, and small group discussion followed sharing what they found out.

The scripture on the parable of the talents from Matthew 25:14-30 set the stage for a talk on the responsibilities we have to use our gifts to serve others. Blessed Mother Teresa was held up as the best modern example of a woman who used her immense gifts to help the poorest of the poor and that her ‘secret’ to her success what that it was all for Jesus. She had a unique talent for seeing Christ in every person she saw. I shared my song about Mother Teresa, “Teach Me to Love” (click here to listen).

Afterwards, the women gathered in small groups where they read sayings from Mother Teresa about service and applied them to their lives. The work they did produced some wonderful ideas – I took pictures of all the work they did so you can see for yourself and perhaps apply them to your life:

A beautiful meditation of the Stations of the Cross (a Power Point presentation with narration) was presented in the evening.

Blessing of the Hands

Sunday morning we were treated to a beautiful mass by Father Benedict of the Franciscans of the Primitive Order out of Lawrence, MA. Afterwards, we gathered back in the gym for our sending forth ceremony known as the Blessing of the Hands. Father blessed the water and the bowl was passed around from woman to woman; each woman dipped a finger in the water and did a sign of the cross in the hand of the woman next to her as a litany was read.  Eventually the litany was opened up and women shared their own blessings. It was a very moving ceremony with many tears shed. The ceremony strongly demonstrated the spirit of love and fellowship that bound together these new friends.

More information on Vita Nova

Ann and I were delighted and honored to have been a part of this event. The Vita Nova team (all volunteer), led by Rose Marie Cussom and Shannon Best were extraordinary in their efforts; their support made it possible for Ann and I to focus solely on the content and presentation of the material. I can’t rave about the team enough! Vita Nova is holding other events – be sure and check out their website for more information.

Prayer leads to insight, even on the little things

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Readings for February 25, 2011
Sirach 6:5-17; Psalm 119:12,16,18,27,34-35, Mark 10:1-12

Couples who have been married for a long time will relate to this. My husband and I were quarreling over an issue that has dogged us throughout our entire relationship. We’ve known each other since we were 16 and have been married 32 years. That’s a long time to be habitually quarreling over one issue!

Because of the long history, we were  tired of talking about it. We had both long ago hit brick walls trying to understand each other. What used to be hot and noisy fights has now turned into silence and getting the cold shoulder. And then stewing and steaming . . . It wasn’t a quarrel that would cause a split, but it did cause misery.

One tactic that my husband and I have adopted when we need to have one of those “difficult discussions” is to use email. Email has a way of creating some emotional distance thus creating a more objective view; it also allows each of us to express ourselves fully and thoughtfully without interruption. We used this tactic today.

At first it didn’t go well. I started out feeling very conflicted and despaired of an honest discussion – that grew into open anger. Praying was extremely difficult with that wall of anger separating me from my husband, and ultimately from God.

At noontime, my iTouch alerted me that it was time to pray the Angelus. I sighed and prayed it, admitting to God that my heart was not in it, and asking for direction, insight and guidance. Within the hour, He answered my prayer.

Through our discussion, my husband revealed the true nature of the problem. He had actually told me many times before what the nature of the problem was, but I never could see it. I started a prayer journal a few weeks ago (on my iTouch using the Pauline Media app called Healing Prayers) and added that intention on my list, asking for understanding and insight. Today, because of those prayers and by praying the Angelus, I received the insight I was looking for.

After a frank discussion with my husband, I was able to offer a solution that made him very happy. The language softened right up and we started discussing happier things, such as going to Boston tomorrow night to see the Beatles tribute band, Rain (a last minute decision :-) ).

Not that I needed direct proof, but I received it anyway that prayer leads to insight, even on the smallest issues, and even on those stubborn ones that occur again and again. Truly, nothing is impossible withe God!

So what does this have to do with today’s readings? At first I didn’t think there was a link, but my deacon friend pointed it out while we chatted online by quoting today’s responsorial psalm – Guide me, Lord, in the way of your commands.

How true! It also affirmed something. I recently took up the habit of listening to the Invitatory Psalm of the Divine Office on DivineOffice.org, the daily readings from the iMissal app, and the podcast of the day from the Pray As You Go podcast. I’m half asleep when I listen to these things and wondered if they were having any impact at all. This morning I was convinced it was a useless exercise. The things that happened today tell me otherwise. It’s possible that subconsciously I did absorb the readings. After all, I did ask the Lord to guide me in the way of His commands.

It really goes to show in the end that faithfulness to the smallest things is the key to the spiritual life. Right now as I write this, I have a growing and profound sense of gratitude.

Thank you, Lord.