Week 2 – Daily Mass Project

This week:  St. Gabriel in Mentor, St. Joe’s in Strongsville, and St. Clare in Lyndhurst.

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No this is not a picture from the mass I attended but I wanted readers to see the altar and beautiful cross/design they have here.

Parish #3 – St. Gabriel – Mentor – Sunday January 8th – Feast of the Epiphany 5pm

1st Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6

2nd Reading: Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6

Gospel: Matthew 2: 1-12

Celebrant: Fr. Michael Denk

Assisted by: Deacon Bob Gurczik

Number of Attendees for a 5pm Sunday mass: Outstanding!

Immediately I feel like this parish is incredibly welcoming. Maybe it just appears to be larger than it is but all I know is I have never seen a 5pm mass on a Sunday so packed! It was awesome to witness. Everyone seemed pretty joyful and happy to be there. As soon as I sat down I noticed the choir was made up of a variety of people as well as a few young girls who happily announced where we could find the songs in the hymnal. I didn’t even care that the little girl pronounced Epiphany as “Effany.” Adorable!

Homily Reflection: Fr. Denk has his own website, The Prodigal Father, and he puts his homilies online. So I can “cheat” on this one and copy and paste my favorite part, which was this: Have you had some kind of experience in your life that makes you want to yearn for more? If you have, are you still seeking? Are you still seeking with all of your heart? Because, ultimately, if we are not thrill seekers or Christ seekers, we are going to lead very boring monotonous lives. If we are Christ seekers, we are going to discover the more and more we experience Him, the more and more we are going to long for Him.

If I’m not a Christ-seeker, I sure don’t know what the heck I am!  Because I think even a blind person could see that I’m seeking Christ everyday. And my life ain’t boring, that’s for sure. It’s truly amazing and I do wish everyone had this longing to seek Him out.

Holy Moments: I recognized one of the Eucharistic Ministers as a young man who was on the team for a TEC Retreat I made exactly a year ago. Totally random and a complete God-incidence.  Also, after every 5pm mass on Sundays, St. Gabriel has Eucharistic Adoration for an hour and 45 minutes followed by Night Prayer and Benediction. It became obvious not everyone knew this was happening, either because they didn’t read the bulletin or just never come to this particular mass. So you could see some confused looks on people’s faces. I am a relative newbie to Adoration (just about a year steady) so I’m happy to see parishes making a point to do this after mass/weekly for people to have some alone time with Jesus.

Our Father Orans Posture: I saw MANY Orans poses and MANY people holding hands. Looks like I’m in the minority once again as a “hands folded” poser.


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Parish #4 – St. Joseph – Stronsgville – Monday January 9th – Baptism of the Lord – 6:30pm mass – Chapel

1st Reading: Isaiah 42: 1-4, 6-7

Gospel:Matthew 3:13-17

Celebrant: Fr. Anthony Suso

Assisted by: Deacon Robert Lester

I LOVE chapel masses! It makes me think of when my Mom took me to daily mass as a toddler at St. Anthony’s in Parma, before they built the church that is there now. But it’s also nice to be in a small setting with just a couple dozen people.

Homily Reflection: Deacon Robert had the homily and mentioned there are actually 3 Epiphanies: The Epiphany Feast on Sunday of the Magi, the Baptism of the Lord that we celebrate today, and the third is Jesus’ first miracle of changing the water into wine at the Wedding at Cana. He also mentioned to use not just our words but our actions; that our actions are what matter most in trying to build up the kingdom of God. And that how we act is of paramount importance as Christians.

Holy Moments: There was a program for this mass! That’s always a nice touch. But then I realized they chant/sing the Entrance and Communion Antiphons. A very nice added touch, because usually, we just speak these, we don’t sing them. But these folks did a great job. Their chapel also serves as a perpetual adoration chapel, so I went there first for some adoring time beforehand. At 6pm people started to file in and before I knew it, I was praying a rosary with them! A pleasant surprise.


Parish #5 – St. Clare – Lyndhurst – Wednesday January 11th – 8:30am – School Mass

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1st Reading:Hebrews 2: 14-18

Gospel: Mark 1:29-39

Celebrant: Fr. Stanley Klasinski

Opening Song: Glory And Praise to Our God

Preparation Song: We Three Kings

Communion Song: Rain Down Your Love on Your People

Closing Song: Christ Be Our Light

What’s better than a Chapel Mass? A School Mass! I pull in to the parking lot with 5 minutes to spare but little did I know they began this mass about 5 minutes early, so I walked in to a bunch of kids singing “Glory and Praise to Our God.”  I’m telling ya, if you need a pick-me-up, go find a school mass. The kids will just melt your heart.

These kids, from Corpus Christi Academy, were on such great behavior. And the girls in the choir singing perfectly in tune, especially this adorable blondie enunciating every word. She was very dynamic and quite the singer.

Homily Reflection: The gospel included the line about Jesus going off by himself to pray. So the priest emphasized a prayer life with the children. But he also mentioned how priests pray the Liturgy of the Hours. I have been praying the LOH consistently for about 3 months now and it is awesome and wonderful and literally sets the tone for my day. It’s best to start your day with prayer than by checking your phone to go on social media, check email, or text someone. That stuff can wait! 

Holy Moments: I stayed in the church after mass and as the children were exiting, I made my way over to a kneeler in front of statues of the Blessed Mother and Joseph. All of a sudden the kids who were leaving the church became completely quiet. I think their teacher must have pointed to me as if to say “She’s praying, be quiet,” because I could hear a pin drop. I came to find out after I started to write this blog, that they have a chapel with adoration next door. Duh! I didn’t even bother to ask. Definitely could have used some quiet time but all in all it was a great mass and a great start to the day.

 

Up Next: Heading all the way out to Medina – An early Saturday morning mass at St. Francis Xavier, a weekday mass in the chapel at Holy Martyrs, and a Sunday mass at beautiful and historic St. Martin of Tours in Valley City.

 

Week 1 Daily Mass Project

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#1 – Saint John of the Cross – Euclid – Thursday January 5 6:30pm

1st Reading: 1 John 3:11-21

Gospel: John 1:43-51

Celebrant: Fr. Salvatore Ruggeri, Pastor

Estimated Number of Attendees: 10

So this mass started it all. I was sitting completely alone in this church when I got the idea to start this project. For some reason, I remembered my friend Mike telling me years ago that he has a life goal of visiting every single baseball stadium in America.  He’s clearly a huge baseball fan and I remember thinking how his idea was so interesting to me. What a bucket list item! And then the next thing I know, an idea popped in my head: Why not visit every single parish in the Cleveland diocese as your goal? And so here we are!

Homily Reflection: As Fr. Ruggeri gave his homily, he repeated the following phrase: “Come and see.” What I heard was a repeated invitation to experience all that God has to offer us. Come and see the Word made Flesh. Come and see what God does to those who follow Him. Come and see what He has done and what He continues to do in all of us who open the door to His invitation.

During the 1st reading, I was struck by the line, “Do not be amazed if the world hates you.” This particular week I had read and shared an article which said that Christianity is the most persecuted faith in the world. And that a record amount of 90,000 people were killed because of their faith in 2016 alone. 90,000! I was sitting there thinking how fortunate I am to live in a country where I am free to worship, without fear of being killed. I may get strange looks, I may be called names, and I definitely think I know a few people who hate me because of my faith and strong pro-life convictions. But that’s all the more reason to carry on and persevere.

Holy Moments: As I went up to receive Eucharist, I was given a BIG piece of the BIG host. Not too surprising given the amount of people, but still special.  Fr. also led us in singing opening and closing hymns. This isn’t unusual for a weekday mass but when there are only 10 people, I consider it gutsy. He had a beautiful singing voice which drowned out any tone deaf singers, which I was grateful for. He also chanted and had us sing the responses, which, for me, helps me to slow down and take in all that’s happening instead of rushing through.

Our Father Orans Posture: Mixed. This is completely for comic relief because what I find so amusing is that we all seem to have our typical posture during the Our Father. And ever since they suggested we take the Orans posture, I see NO one being consistent with this. I was told it should be whatever the community does. So as a community, we should be consistent. But I’m one of the stubborn hands-folded people. (I know, you hate me now). But I simply refuse to take the Orans posture. I just don’t feel it. So whenever it’s time to say the Our Father, I always take a quick look around to see what everyone else is doing and I have yet to attend a mass where everyone is the same.  Who knows, maybe at the end of this project I’ll be an Orans-er.

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#2 -Sts Robert and Williams – Euclid – Friday January 6 12:00pm

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1st Reading: 1 John 5:5-13

Gospel: Mark 1:7-11

Celebrant: Fr. Scott Goodfellow

Assisted by: Transitional Deacon Eric Garris

Initial thoughts: Beautiful stained glass in the middle of the church. And do feel lucky that I get to see churches decorated with Christmas still before they take them all down. In the back of the church are various statues of Mary and St. Anne, St. Jude, and St. Therese among others. At the front of the church they have statues of St. Robert and St. William. I’m sure there were more but I didn’t have time to do a complete re-con. 🙂 They have a quaint Perpetual Adoration Chapel which I DID spend quite a bit of time in. What’s really different is that the monstrance is located behind glass. And so when someone leaves and there’s no one in the chapel to stay, you just draw little curtains over the glass to keep Him covered up.

As I looked around at the people for mass, I recognized 2 of the local leaders from the pro-life group 40 Days for Life in attendance. I had no idea this was their parish so it’s always kind of fun to see people you never expected to. I was also excited to hear Deacon Eric proclaim the Gospel. He’ll be ordained a priest in May this year. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten to know quite a few seminarians and priests. This isn’t an easy life these men sign up for and I think we all need to recognize that they all need our prayers because it’s very counter-cultural to discern these vocations. So pray for our priests, and especially those that are still discerning this vocation. We need more good priests!

Homily Reflection: Fr. Scott spoke about faith in his homily. Faith is about knowing and seeing. Faith allows us to know Him and see Him everyday in our lives and in each moment and each person we encounter.  He asked us, “How do we make faith real? And he answered the question by responding that we live “incarnately.” Thats not a real word but, I believe he meant we live as the Incarnation, as the Word was made flesh. We make faith real as baptized Catholics by living the Incarnation, recognizing that Jesus comes in the flesh to live in us and with us.

Holy Moments: No singing or chanting but bonus points for chimes during the consecration. And great conversation after the mass with my 40 Days for Life pals as well as Fr. Scott as he begins his Theology of the Body class with his 8th graders.

2 parishes down, 183 to go!

Up next week: I’m all over the place! I take advantage of a snow-free Sunday and make the trek to St. Gabriel in Mentor; St. Joe’s in Strongsville sings the Antiphons in tune, and a children’s mass in St. Clare in Lyndhurst. Read all about it here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The CLE Daily Mass Project

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St. John the Evangelist Cathedral, Cleveland. Photo courtesy of Photography By Francis 

Ahh daily mass. What a gift! There’s something really unique and interesting about this brief encounter with Christ. This 30 minute mass has been instrumental in bringing me back to the Church. 

It may seem difficult to take part in a daily mass due to a busy schedule, but the good news is that is indeed possible. It requires something we don’t like to mention and that’s sacrifice, usually in the form of sleep. Living in a large diocese as Cleveland, I have noticed there’s quite a few parishes that offer daily mass in the evening after work. And they offer it usually early in the morning before work. So most people can attend daily mass if they adjust their schedules. 

I’ve also recently discovered that I know quite a few lapsed and Christmas/Easter Catholics. Reflecting on this I thought:  “What would be a good way to grow in my faith, but also help lead these people back home to the Catholic Church?”

Well, I had an Epiphany during mass (shocker!) and here it is:

I want to attend 1 daily mass at each parish in the Cleveland Diocese, all 185, within the year. And I want to bring people WITH me. That would be the ultimate goal: To help those Christmas/Easter Catholics rediscover their Catholic roots and hopefully bring them back to the Church full-time.


I initially referred to it as a Challenge (because it will be) but I also thought of the word Project, due to the goal of getting others involved. Kind of like a team effort. I’ll then write a short blog about what I experience at each parish I visit. But I want to make it clear that it won’t be a Critique or Review as if I’m going to a restaurant and reporting on the food by rating it on a point system.

Can you imagine?!

I give this priest 3 out of 4 hosts for the Homily but I’m giving 2 hosts for Overall Atmosphere based on that sorry excuse for a nativity scene. And what is up with the design of that tabernacle?  Clearly this church was built in the 60’s, which is probably the same decade these kneelers were installed. Ouch! Will be back again but hoping for a different lector who is a little less monotone and knows how to pronounce “Colossians” correctly.

Yeah that wouldn’t go over too well. 

My Six Commandments

In the meantime, I’m giving myself some rules. Feel free to apply these to yourself if you care to join in:

  1. I can attend a church by myself that can count toward the challenge but only if it’s within a 5* mile radius of my work/home. If it’s outside the 5 mile radius then I must provide a legit reason for attending – This includes: A social event nearby within a 1.5 hour timeframe, a baptism/wedding at the church, having an appointment within the area, etc. If I cannot provide a legit reason for going, then I must follow rule #2.
  2. I need to bring someone to mass. In other words, I can’t just drive to Painesville** for mass to check a parish off the list. I must find a friend to meet me/go with me. If I don’t find someone, I can still attend but it won’t count as a part of the project. I still have to go with someone in order for it to count and to reinforce the point which is to bring people (literally) closer to Christ. 
  3. I must provide a few words/thoughts on the homily and what message I heard during the mass/what I experienced. I can also write about what the church was like and what the atmosphere was, people I saw, any interesting occurrences that might be noteworthy. Of course, only in a positive light because again, the point is to bring people closer to Jesus and not criticize something such as the vestments the priest wore: “Is that supposed to be Rose for Gaudete Sunday? He looks like human cotton-candy coming down the aisle.”
  4. Reflections will be posted on Wednesdays and will include the previous week’s masses attended.
  5. Sunday mass will count for the project but only if I can never make it to a daily mass with a friend/a daily mass is not offered/I can’t find a willing friend to go with me. Most applicable for parishes that don’t offer mass in English and parishes in the far counties like Wayne** and Ashtabula** as I have zero friends in those counties. 
  6. No double dipping. (One mass per day, unless I have a legit reason for going to two. For legit reasons, see rule #1)

*May change to 10 mile radius to expand my territory to make it more do-able.

**Lake, Wayne and Ashtabula Counties will be squeezed into the non-winter months. Because even Jesus wouldn’t live in the snowbelt.

Some Final Thoughts

  • Daily Mass is intimate. That’s the most appealing part of it! But there’s no intimacy if others don’t even know that they can have the same relationship. I don’t seem willing to share the benefits of going to mass with many people besides my fellow Super Catholics. Which is great but I can do better.
  • The most costly part of this will be mileage on my leased car. I’ve had people make jokes that I must drive all over the country considering I’ve put 40K miles on my car in 18 months. But I always respond the same: I’m happy to go where I’m needed and where I’m called. And it’s an honor and privilege to have 3 part-time jobs which take me to all parts of the city. I may as well try and encounter Christ while I’m at it. If the gas/mileage is just too much of a burden at some point, I’ve already have had friends express interest in giving me rides, which helps accomplish the goal.
  • The friend(s) I attend mass with may contribute to the challenge by telling me their responses to #3 and #4, which will make the blog post more of a conversation and dialogue than just my own scattered thoughts. It would also be very interesting to hear what someone heard at their own daily mass at a different parish from a different priest. 
  • The end goal may be an ebook or something, I haven’t quite figured that part out. I just know that God put this idea on my heart and I’m trying very hard to see it through. If you have your own ideas/feedback about this, I’m all ears! Feel free to comment!

So stay tuned! This Wednesday’s post will include reflections from St. John of the Cross and Sts. Robert and William, both located in Euclid.

 

The Gift of Teaching Others How to Pray

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For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.

—St. Therese of Lisieux

I just love the different people I encounter at adoration on any given day.

Just the other day, as I was praying the rosary, a woman in the row of seats next to me seemed restless. She kept getting up and going to the back of the chapel to get some books. She didn’t seem to comfortable just sitting there and looked like she needed something to read.

As I went on with my rosary, the woman asked, “Excuse me, but do you have the Our Father over there by you?”

I rummaged through my bag o’ books and had to laugh: Of all the prayer cards and books I have on me at any given time, how could I not have the Our Father, the most common prayer?!

I apologized for not having it handy but then informed her it was in the Bible. (Matthew 6 for future reference.)

She had no idea and was so grateful that I mentioned this to her.

I went back to my rosary but couldn’t help think: “How sad that this person didn’t  know the Our Father!”

And then I realized the hard truth: There’s no prayer in public schools anymore. There’s no prayer on tv. There’s no one praying out in the open for fear of being sued or ridiculed. So why should I be surprised that this middle aged woman didn’t know the most common prayer in history?

If I hadn’t been raised Catholic I may not know the Our Father, either. But I also didn’t start really praying from the heart until a couple years ago. I started seeing people sincerely speak words from their heart, as they would pray either over me or with me or even before a meal and I thought, “I gotta step up my prayer game. These people are professionals!”

There’s lots of books on contemplative prayer, and meditative prayer and repetitive prayers, novenas, chaplets, devotions, etc. It can seem overwhelming if your goal is just to learn how to pray everyday.

I’m no expert but I thought, if I were to try to help someone learn how to pray, here’s what I would suggest:

Books to Pray With

Two books by Jacques Philippe are great recommendations:

Time for God  And his follow-up book is called Thirsting for Prayer

Both books are under 150 pages, which is why I like them so much. Sometimes I think we say we don’t have time to read about how to pray, but we do. We just have to make the time. And these books can easily be read in a couple of days.

Meditation and Contemplation

There’s also a great way to pray with scripture called Lectio Divina. I’m not too great with this. My poor Spiritual Director had suggested it to me and I really struggle with this one. I can’t quite do this by myself but I have found it to be helpful in a group setting. It’s harder to become distracted with others around, for me at least.

Thomas Merton is probably one of the more widely known teachers of contemplative prayer. His book,  Contemplative Prayer is one of the most popular spiritual books out there. According to reviews, ”

Another great author is Richard Rohr. He has a book entitled, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer.  Rohr also has a great website where you can sign up for his daily meditations. Richard Rohr, OFM – Center for Action and Contemplation

There’s an App for that

If books aren’t really your thing and you’d prefer to use an electronic device to pray, I have to mention two that are FREE and worthwhile.

The first is called Examen and it’s my favorite app to use.  Not only is it helpful with your prayer life, it gets you to take a look back at your day for some self-reflection. In our busy day-to-day hustle and bustle, it’s really key to take time to reflect on not only all the good that God provides for us, but the moments when maybe we weren’t really acting or thinking with the mind of Christ.

The second app is called iBreviary and it’s used to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. This is what most priests use and religious as a way to pray for the Church and to mark each hour with prayer and song. I try to pray at least morning and evening prayer and lately I’ve been on a roll praying all 5 times throughout the day. It doesn’t take long and what I like about it is that this forces me to slow down and take a breather to focus on what’s really important. It’s amazing how SANE I feel and how any anxiety I have melts away after I pray this way.

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Mt 18:2

Recently, I shared with my 7th graders the 5 Finger Prayer. It was an easy way for them to understand a certain order to pray in because let’s be honest, sometimes we just don’t know where to begin after we make the sign of the cross.

Here’s an easy way to remember that even a kid can understand:

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“But when you pray, go in your room and shut the door and pray to your father who is in secret.” Mt 6:6

I’m in awe of people who create and construct their own home altars. Whoa. That’s a bit advanced for me.

I would suggest trying to find your own “cell” or private space in which to pray everyday. If you tend to become easily distracted, like me, then praying in the middle of a house full of people/kids/blaring tv, etc just isn’t going to cut it. A table or a desk and maybe enough space for a couple of books (the Bible being most important of course) is really all you need!

Speaking of the Word, if there was just one book you need or require to get started praying, the Bible is really the only one you need. And while there are Bible apps, I would suggest an actual Bible. And perhaps a notebook to act as your prayer journal. Because chances are, once you start to really pray religiously (ooooh see what I did there?) you will no doubt want to jot down thoughts that the Spirit stirs in you. Plus it’s a neat way to look back after a few months to see how some of your prayers have been answered!

When all else fails, when you feel overwhelmed by all these methods of prayer, just go back to the beginning and think of the woman I spoke to during Adoration. The most basic prayer you can pray is the prayer Jesus taught us:

Our Father who art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done

     On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And forgive us our trespasses

    As we forgive those who trespass against us;

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.

Amen.

 

Finding the Spirit

Reblogging one of my all-time favorite stories about my Mom, Christmas, and hope after loss. Enjoy.

The Joyful Celibate

A few weeks after my bodybuilding competition, around Halloween, my sister Nicole and my nephews, Matthew age 11 and Sean age 5, came over to hang out.  My sister all of a sudden had a desire to decorate the house like our Mom used to.

My mom was beyond festive.  She decorated the house for every holiday.  It was adorable and sweet and so fun to walk into the house, even around St. Patrick’s Day, and see little shamrocks everywhere and the house decorated in green decorations.  You know how most people just have boxes in their basement labeled “Christmas”?  Yeah, we have ones labeled “Easter” Valentine’s Day” “Memorial Day” “Halloween.”  You get the drift.

So Nicole started bringing up boxes from the basement and in the closets that were labeled “Halloween/Thanksgiving.”

She opens up the first box, reaches in…and sees a little note with my Mom’s handwriting on it. …

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The Dark and Silent Night

Have you ever had the urge to get in your car and drive out to the middle of nowhere to see a giant statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe?

No?

Just me?

Well, not too long ago, I had this feeling, like a calling, to go to pay a visit to this Shrine that I had literally just heard about a few days prior from a couple friends at church.

The night I decided to make this 40 minute trip to the middle of nowhere (Middle of Nowhere being Windsor Ohio) was November 8th.

The reason? I wanted to be anywhere except in front of a TV to watch the election coverage. I just wanted to get away. And I really did feel like this was the place to be.

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On a farm in Ashtabula County, Ohio, stands the worlds largest and most magnificent statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe ever created. It towers 50’ above the landscape and is adorned with over 450,000 hand placed mosaic tiles.

The website said the grounds were open until 10pm. I got in my car, already 7:15 at night and getting close to pitch black because of the time change, and thought, “This is by far the craziest thing I’ve ever done.” Especially since I didn’t tell anyone I was going and had no idea where the city of Windsor Ohio was. I just knew it was 40 minutes from my church.

I wish I would have video of just how dark it was driving out there. It was the kind of dark that even when you have your brights on, it doesn’t matter. It’s still dark. Literally this is the middle of nowhere. Where you pass a farmhouse every quarter of a mile. Where you pass a car only every few minutes or so. Or sometimes not at all and it freaks you out and you think, “Am I still in Ohio?!”

After 40 minutes, I arrive and pulled into a gravel lot, almost missing the small sign that indicated it was just to my left.

I got out of the car and locked it, which is laughable because there was literally not a soul around. I couldn’t see much at first because the shrine itself was blocked by the gift shop. I thought initially that I had the wrong place.

But when I walked a few yards towards what seemed like the right way to go, I turned and saw this sight:

15042000_10154043966077544_785485455238980838_oI actually don’t have photos of my initial location which was about 2 football fields away. But even from that far off I could see she was radiant. The other thing I couldn’t get over was the quiet. Total silence. Not a car. Not a cricket. Not an owl. Not a deer. Nothing. I think the only noise was the sound of all the electricity from the light bulbs that lit her up.

Silence.

Darkness.

The only light was coming from this huge statue and the bulbs that make up the Rosary that surrounds her.

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It really felt like this was my way of turning off the world. Just me and this 50′ tall statue.

In the middle of nowhere.

And it was exactly what I needed at that moment.

I don’t have video of it and I know the pictures may not do it justice. So I would encourage everyone to experience something like this for yourself. It doesn’t have to be in Windsor Ohio. It can be your own backyard. It can be in front of the Blessed Sacrament. It can be reading a book. It can be in your room, just praying and meditating.

But I really do think we could all use some silence in this chaotic world. We all need to just take the time to realize what is really important. What’s important is NOT who is President. What’s important is NOT how your best friend votes or how your cousin votes or anyone else.

What’s important is how we can all do our part to develop relationships with one another, to make a real difference in this world, to realize our potential and to learn from each other. We can only do that if we silence ourselves and listen.

I didn’t really do a lot of listening in my young adult years. Or if I did listen to anyone, it was the culture. And friends. Which is probably what led me to vote for our current President. Twice. And I can’t really tell you why exactly. I like to blame the fact that I lived in Chicago for 8 years (and lived there during his first term) and so it was basically you voted for him, or else. Plus, I bought into the Hope and Change slogans. I really thought a President would change my world.

I had put my faith in man to save me and this country.

And I slowly, gradually, realized I was foolish to do so.

So as I sat there praying and looking up at Mama Mary, all these years later, all alone, I was comforted because I knew the sun was going to rise on November 9th, no matter who was elected.

I left there somewhat elated, actually. I was reassured that this world is just a temporary stop on the way to our final home.

So it shouldn’t cause me to melt or to become angry or end relationships and friendships over something like an election.

Because, honestly, my guy already won.

 

 

Made for Community: An Afternoon with Alpha

 

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Life was never intended to be lived alone; community with God and one another was always the plan. The desire for community is built into our DNA. – Dan Blythe

 

Let’s talk Alpha folks.

No doubt you’ve seen the billboards around town about it. Or maybe you’ve heard about it from a friend or co-worker. Or maybe you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. In any case, let me tell you about my short but very fruitful encounter with Alpha this past weekend.

My first encounter with Alpha took place last fall at a friends’ house. I was sent an invitation to it via email and was told there would be food (let’s be real here, I had said “YES” before I even read the rest of the invitation) as well as a short video followed by a discussion in a small group.  All we who were invited were told was that we would be learning about the basics of Christianity and that all would be welcome, no matter where we were on our faith journey.

In a nutshell this is what Alpha is: An informal and casual environment for people of all walks of faith and all backgrounds to engage with other people about what it means to be a Christian.

Looking back, it was an incredible experience. The food was delicious, the videos were inspiring and easy to understand, and the conversations we had were thought-provoking, not superficial or mundane. I LIVE for conversations like this! These are the kinds of discussions I WISH I had with my family and friends!

The weeks flew by and I was legit bummed when it was over, but I had gained SO much insight and perspective about Christianity that I had never bothered previously to explore or consider. And did I mention the food???

More than just a random visit

Fast forward to a year later (just about a month ago) and I’m in the midst of emailing a woman named Kathy, who works at a parish in the Archdiocese of Detroit called Our Lady of Good Counsel. I told her I had felt compelled to visit OLGC since this summer and would it be okay to go to the Church for mass one day over the weekend, pretty please?

Before I tell you her response, you may be wondering why *this parish? It’s actually a long story but I will say most TOB-addicted peeps such as myself have most likely heard of the pastor, Fr John Riccardo. I would encourage you to visit their website or their YouTube page and just explore. Guaranteed you’ll find something that makes you think, “Whoa. What did he just say? That’s different.”

Back to my email convo with Kathy…

Can I visit? Well the answer was of course affirmative. But the noteworthy part was this: There was an Alpha retreat taking place that Saturday and she invited me to join.

I replied back with a resounding “YES! Sign me up!” Clearly, God wanted me there for a reason.  But for what reason exactly, I wasn’t so sure.


Community, Connection and Christ at the Center

There’s not nearly enough space to discuss how the Holy Spirit was moving within me the entire weekend. But let me just say, it was palpable. Much of it was felt at the retreat but assuredly the entire weekend was full of God-incidences.

The retreat itself was less than 8 hours but even in this short period of time, I felt an immediate connection with the people there. While I didn’t have a solid outline of the schedule, I had a general idea of what to expect given the typical Alpha schedule. But I also knew we would conclude with the opportunity to have people pray over us individually, which is such a unique and powerful experience.

In fact, my first real experience of someone praying over me occurred at a retreat just a few months ago. The gentleman who did it? An OLGC employee. Hence, one of the many connections I felt to visit this place.

After introducing myself as the “Clevelander just visiting,” I immediately felt welcomed by a table of 7 other folks. Normally, I’m pretty outgoing and can be quite chatty, but I felt a sense to just observe and quiet myself. I did talk, but only when I felt the Spirit calling me to. I mostly heard the Spirit say, Just listen and allow these people to teach YOU something. You are here for a reason. Let me reveal it to you.

When the Holy Spirit talks, you listen.

Just as my first experience with Alpha went, the conversations were profound and insightful. Just a few things of what I heard:

  • The significant growth individually and collectively in just the 7 weeks this particular group had been meeting
  • Their struggles with having faith and raising a family in our current culture
  • The difficult of having friends and family members who don’t agree with their particular views
  • The suffering and sickness of family members and children and how they were able to get through it
  • The balance of marriage and career and as well as being an example of the faith to their children
  • How to pray to the Holy Spirit for wisdom, for knowledge and for the right words to speak and the right actions to take in order to lead others closer to Christ

One word kept coming back to me as I listened: Community. Here in front of me I had the privilege of observing community in action. I’m not sure if they realized it, but they were essentially evangelizing to each other by sharing all of these stories. And this was just one afternoon!  I think they’re on the verge of calling each other friends rather than just acquaintances. And isn’t that what forms a community? People who may be on different parts of a spiritual journey but have a common goal of sanctification and living in eternity with God?

By the end of the weekend, I truly feel God called me there to be something that I have failed at for the past year:  A witness. A real live, public witness. I talk a good game, but in the end, do I really live this out? Do people look at me and talk to me and think, “That’s a witness. That’s a person unashamed of placing her trust in God.”

I hope I showed this in the small amount of time I was there. But I distinctly felt that this Alpha retreat was supposed to prompt me to engage with others in a more concrete way.

I think this was God’s way of saying: You’ve done a lot of work this past year growing in your faith, and acquiring “data,” as Fr. Riccardo would say, but now I need you to really move and to speak up and be that living example I have called you to be.


One last word about Alpha

Alpha is a program you need to experience for yourself. If you are lost, join. If you are seeking, join. If you are confused, join. If you are prideful like me and think you know it all, join. You can find one near you here.

There are a few people who have been on my heart that I believe would benefit from Alpha. Please pray for me to have the courage to be a witness and lead them to an Alpha course. 

As I was dropped off at the house I was staying at for the weekend I remarked to my new friend from OLGC, “You all are so unbelievably nice to me. But it’s more than being nice. I feel as if you truly CARE about what happens to me and you don’t even know me.”

He simply responded: “Well, we love you.”

Ahh, I thought. So that’s what being a witness looks like.

May we all strive to echo this same sentiment, love each other as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and be a living witness to everyone we encounter.

I can’t adequately describe how hospitable, generous, and kind every. single. person. at OLGC I met was to me. Granted, you don’t have to travel 3 hours out of state to find generous and kind people. But I’m going on record as saying some of the best people are in Michigan.  (Don’t hate me, Buckeyes!)  Thank you to the amazing people at OLGC parish for your hospitality and generosity:  Mary, Pete, Kathy, Jennifer, Chris, Fr. John, Deacon Dave, Dr. Steve, Mary, Kristi, Heidi, John, Susan, Brad, Lauren and Nicole – You are all in my prayers and I can’t wait until we meet again. 

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