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.

 

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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Voting as a Catholic

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Recently a priest by the name of Rev. John Lankeit from the Diocese of Phoenix delivered a homily shared by EWTN via their Facebook page and has close to 300,00 views in just a couple days. In this homily, Lankeit made clear and concise points about which political/social issues Catholics can vote on based on prudential judgement, and which issues are non-negotiable.

This is an absolute spot-on homily. It takes a lot of guts to preach from the pulpit on the issue of abortion. But we can’t be afraid. Not when it’s taken 60 million lives from us. There is nothing to be fearful of. We have the truth on our side.

Prayers to this priest and all the clergy and laity and all who bravely preach exactly what all Catholics and people who consider themselves Christian, to hear. Souls are on the line. You owe it to yourself and the future generations of Americans to listen to this  or read the text below. We cannot claim to be Catholic while enabling the culture of death to continue by voting for a pro-abortion candidate/party.

If you prefer to watch the Homily instead of listen to the audio that I linked above, EWTN still has it up on their Facebook page from Thursday October 6th.

27th Sunday OT (Year C) – October 2, 2016

HAB 1:2-3; 2:2-4; PS 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; 2 TM 1:6-8, 13-14; LK 17:5-10

The Devil is a divider who will use almost any tactic to separate Christians from Christ…except for one. He doesn’t typically come right out and say, “Deny Jesus Christ!” because he knows that someone who loves Jesus would immediately reject the suggestion. So, he tends to use more subtle means and subtle words. But more on that later…

For now, let’s deal with something closer to home, and very much in the forefront of many people’s minds: the 2016 presidential election. But let’s do so from a Catholic perspective. Let’s consider the intersection of the practice of our Catholic faith and the exercise of our civic duty, especially when it comes to voting.

Let’s first acknowledge that there has never been a political party in the United States that is perfectly aligned with Catholic teaching on every issue. That does not mean, however, that we are therefore automatically free to vote for either major party, because one party can be much further from Catholic principles on the most important issues than the other party. As a result of that, we are often faced with the task of discerning which party and which policies are most in line with Catholic teaching, and which ones aren’t.

So many issues are subject to the prudential judgment of Catholic voters. What does that mean? It means that Catholics can legitimately disagree, for example, on the best way to address issues such as racial injustice, education, the economy, immigration and healthcare and still remain in good standing in the Church.

There are other issues, however, which touch on matters of intrinsic evil—actions that can never, at any time, under any circumstances be committed, promoted or even enabled by a faithful Catholic. But setting aside issues of intrinsic evil for now, let’s consider some of the more common issues for which Catholics can legitimately exercise prudential judgment.

One such issue is Affirmative Action. This program aims to eliminate perceived disadvantages that minorities face when competing, for example, for admission to college. In our nation, one party favors Affirmative Action to bring justice and balance in our multiracial society. The other party holds that it penalizes high achievers by giving limited spots in the college classroom to less qualified candidates, while denying more qualified students access. One party sees affirmative action as a matter of justice…while the other party sees it as injustice.

 

But, suppose a candidate for president promoted a policy that would make it legal for someone to kill a black person if that black person created a hardship for them getting the education they desired.

How many of you would be comfortable voting for that candidate?

Another issue that falls under the category of prudential judgment is immigration. One of the major political parties seeks to allow immigration with very little restriction. The other party is concerned that unrestricted immigration leads to, among other things, non-citizens taking jobs that could be worked by citizens. One party favors open borders—the other favors “law and order”.

Now, suppose a candidate for president promoted a policy that would make it legal for someone to kill a Hispanic person if the presence of that Hispanic person made it more difficult to pursue one’s career of choice.

How many of you would be comfortable voting for that candidate?

Thank God we don’t have a candidate from either party who says that they condone such policies. Nobody in their right mind would say such a thing—that we could kill blacks or Hispanics—or anyone else—just for the sake of protecting personal economic or educational interests.

Nobody would say it, but, as you’ll see in a moment…

There is a candidate, in this 2016 race for president, who along with that candidate’s political party does, in fact, sanction the killing of blacks and Hispanics in the situations previously described…under one…particular…condition:

That the black person or the Hispanic person is still in his or her mother’s womb.

Now, this candidate and party certainly won’t say it that way, not publicly anyway. Instead, they use words like “choice” or “reproductive rights” or “women’s health” or other sanitized statements in order to cover up what abortion is and what abortion does.

 

Now, before we go any further in discussing the extremely sensitive issue of abortion…

I want to say a word to any woman in this congregation here today—or among those watching or listening on TV or radio—who has chosen abortion:

God’s mercy is bigger than your sin and your pain. In ten years of priesthood, I have often been blessed to welcome a woman back to the merciful embrace of God the Father after she has admitted to, and repented of, her abortion in the Sacrament of Confession. A priest in such a situation has the privilege of assuring the woman that she has never lost the love of God the Father, nor her dignity as his beloved daughter, no matter what she did. And so I say to these women today: You do not have to hide from God any longer. I know it’s exhausting to pretend that your pain is not real, that your loss is not immense and that your choice was not devastating. But when you experience God’s loving mercy even after the abortion, you will really come to know and experience that God’s love in forgiving our most serious sins is even greater than his love in creating us. Your Father has been waiting for you for a very long time. It’s time for you to come home!

So, now, having shared that important word with grieving mothers let’s return to the subject of our duty as Catholics in the public square.

When we consider that a woman can walk into Planned Parenthood and have her baby put to death because she doesn’t want to jeopardize her education or career, we must acknowlege that the shocking scenarios described previously are not only possible…not only real…but also among the most common reasons for abortion in America.

Even the word “abortion” has been drained of its meaning—we treat it like nothing more than a term that starts a heated debate rather than a procedure that stops a heartbeat. Many want to treat abortion as merely one issue among many—but that requires that a person pretend not to know what abortion is and what abortion does.

So let’s stop beating around the bush with regard to the current presidential race:

  • Do you know which candidate and party in this election promotes abortion and even promises to expand its availability here at home as well as abroad?
  • Do you know that this candidate and party intend to make you and me pay for other people’s abortions with our tax dollars—something that has always been illegal?
  • Are you aware that this candidate and party, which until recently, said that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare” no longer even bothers to say that it should be rare—but rather, that it must be available any time, any place, even up to the last moment that the fully formed, full-term baby remains in the womb?

    If you do not know which candidate and party I’m referring to, then you should not even consider voting until you do know! Ignorance in this area is unacceptable, because ignorance in this area costs millions of babies their lives and jeopardizes the souls of many Catholics voters.

    On the other hand, if you DO know which candidate and party want to promote and expand abortion, and you still intend to enable them to continue their war on the unborn with the help of your vote, then it is my duty as a priest to tell you that your soul will be in grave danger, especially if you present yourself for Holy Communion after casting such a vote with the full knowledge of what you’re doing.

    Every election season, when a priest addresses such topics from the pulpit, a certain portion of the population complains that he’s preaching politics:

    “A priest has no business discussing politics in church!”

    That’s what some people say.
    But what does God say to the priest whom he has designated to be spiritual father for the people entrusted to his care?

    The same thing he said to the Prophet Ezekiel: “…I have made [you] a watchman for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked man, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked man shall die in his [sin], but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way; he shall die in his [sin], but you will have saved your life. (Ez 33:7-9)

Another of the Devil’s tactics is to encourage us to make excuses for our participation in really bad things by appealing to other good things that we support, which we try to convince ourselves somehow “cancel out” the grave evil we enable.

Take capital punishment, for example. If you bring up abortion, some people will say, “I’m against capital punishment…and if you’re against abortion, then you should be against capital punishment!” Fair enough. What is the biggest objection to capital punishment? That innocent people might be mistakenly put to death. And it must be acknowledged that innocent people very well could be unjustly executed due to the many flaws in our legal system.

And this very reason for opposing capital punishment is precisely the reason that Catholics must never willingly support or even enable abortion with their vote. Because, while some innocent people have no doubt been put to death mistakenly through capital punishment, in abortion an innocent person is always put to death, and never by mistake. It’s always chosen…always intended.

If a person is against capital punishment, then, they necessarily must be against abortion because the intention of abortion is to knowingly and deliberately kill an innocent boy or girl—each and every time.

What about war? People who vigorously oppose the wars in the Middle East, for example, often quote statistics on the great number of innocent people accidently killed in the crossfire. “Collateral damage”—the innocent people killed in war—is, perhaps the greatest tragedy of war. But if a person opposes the accidental killing of innocent people in war, while enabling the intentional killing of the most innocent human beings on the planet with their vote—well…this is hypocrisy of the most extreme kind.

If a person opposes war because of the accidental, unintended deaths of innocent people, they necessarily must oppose abortion because the killing in abortion is neither accidental nor unintended, but always directly willed.

Sometimes we hear the stupendously deceptive claim that a candidate or party will reduce abortions by improving economic or social conditions, while simultaneously promoting abortion as a right worth protecting.

 

But let’s face facts: Abortion is not caused by economics or social conditions. Economic and social factors are, no doubt, circumstances that affect a mother’s decision in some cases, but they are not causes.

After all, if eliminating abortion were merely a matter of economics, or access to healthcare, or other socioeconomic factors, then why do wealthy mothers also abort their babies?

There are plenty of Catholics who, quite rightly, have criticized bishops and priests in recent years for not having spoken out more forcefully against the sexual abuse of children by priests.

Why, then, do many of these same Catholics want to silence bishops and priests who speak out forcefully against killing innocent children?

Why is opposing sexual abuse of children a matter of justice, but opposing the murder of children a matter of “preaching politics”?

Regardless of the resistance, a priest must follow the example of Peter and John in the Acts of the Apostles when it comes to preaching difficult truths. To those who sought to silence their proclamation of the Gospel these Apostles boldly responded:

“Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for I cannot but speak of what I have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19- 20)

A priest is not only protected by the 1st Amendment (at least for now). He is also bound by the 5th Commandment—Thou Shalt Not Kill.

If a priest doesn’t speak up for those most vulnerable in our society, and if the Catholic faithful don’t actively protect the most vulnerable in our society by refusing to enable their deliberate destruction with their vote, then such Catholics are condoning the killing by their cowardice.

And what did St. Paul say to Timothy about cowardice in today’s 2nd Reading?

 

God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self- control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord…but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. (2 Tim 1:7-8)

 

Part of every Catholic’s share in the hardship for the Gospel is that we must repent of our actions that are offensive to God and destructive to our brothers and sisters. And we must oppose the threats to innocent life that are most real and most urgent. Make no mistake! There is no single issue that threatens innocent human life more directly, consistently and urgently than the deliberate killing of baby boys and baby girls in their mother’s womb. No…issue!

In the time since this homily started, at least 30 children have been deliberately executed in the womb in the United States—and that’s just the ones that are reported.

Let me sum up with some very challenging words:

“We have a serious obligation to protect human life, and especially the lives of the most innocent and vulnerable among us. Whoever fails to do this, when otherwise able to do so, commits a serious sin of omission. They jeopardize their own spiritual wellbeing and they are a source of scandal for others. Should they

be Catholics, they should not receive Holy Communion.”

Catholics in the Public Square, 4th Ed., p. 25

Now, I hope you realize that it takes a lot of courage for a priest to communicate such challenging words as these—reminding his people that some actions are so gravely sinful that they render a Catholic unworthy to receive Holy Communion until there is complete repentance.

A priest who is more concerned about the state of his people’s souls than they are themselves, deserves the esteem of his people for his willingness to speak such difficult truth to them with genuine love—to put the welfare of his people’s souls ahead of his own reputation, popularity or comfort. Such a priest should receive respect, admiration and support, rather than their resistance or criticism.

So please pray for, thank and encourage the spiritual father that God has appointed for you and who loves you enough to tell you the truth.

Because the priest who said these particular words…is your bishop…and mine.

 

 

 

 

The Gift of a Public Faith

“Authentic Christianity is meant for the world and will always be a challenge to the corruption of the world.” – Bishop Robert Barron

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The past few weeks I’ve heard and experienced a very clear message from several public figures in the Catholic world: Faith wasn’t meant to be privatized. Christianity is not a privatized religion. It must be shared publicly in order to fight the resistance of the world.

I think now, more than ever, it seems we need more public displays of Christianity.

Why?

Well, not only to fight off evil, which is a good enough reason of course. But more to dispel the myths of who Christians are and what they look like and how they act. To clear up the confusion! Because I gotta tell you, there are a LOT of confused people out there who have a warped idea of who an authentic Christian is.

Due to the rise of secularism and people identifying as being either non-religious or just plain old “spiritual,” a common assumption is that we are all just like the group of Westboro Baptists. I was astounded to hear this!  Not only is this completely FALSE but it’s also disgusting and hurtful to be associated with this very very small group of individuals. In doing research for my post today I actually went to their website just to confirm that this group has nothing good to say and I was right. Sadly, they are all very misguided. They preach hate. Plain and simple. It was sickening and most of all, discouraging.

I thought to myself, “This is what non-Christians think of us? That among the 30,000 different denominations of Christianity, we are all associated with these people who preach nothing but hate and make it their duty to protest funerals?”

Isn’t this even more of a reason to publicly express our faith and what we believe, in love and with compassion? It won’t do us much good to retreat to our cozy homes or stay inside our churches and just keep our faith to ourselves.

So it starts with us; with me and you.

But where to begin?

The smallest acts can go a long way

Something as simple as saying grace before every meal, even when you’re someplace like a fast food place or a restaurant can go a long way.  How? Well, because you are being SEEN. Others notice that kind of thing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said grace before eating a meal and have gotten just a simple smile from across the room from folks. Almost like a nod of approval or a just a simple gesture to show that they respect it. And it serves as a reminder to others that may have stopped practicing this ritual.

I read somewhere recently to always pray before eating a meal at a restaurant and make sure to pray before the waiter/waitress leaves the table after placing the order. That way, you take that moment to ask him/her if you can offer up any prayers for them, too!

It could be something like just bringing your Bible somewhere. Or the Magnificat or the Liturgy of the Hours. Plenty of people are nosy, I have found. They’ll strike up a conversation with you just about anywhere. (Unless it’s just a friendly Midwestern USA thing?)

Take for example, reading a book. Any place that’s public like a beach, or park or commuting on the bus or at the airport is a place where you find many people are reading while waiting for something. I’m always curious what people are reading so I have no problem just asking someone, “What book is that and is it any good?” Fr. Tom of the TOB Institute mentioned that he brought his Breviary with him on a fishing boat recently and it always gets the locals talking and asking him, “What’s that? Is that a Bible? You some kind of holy man or something?” It’s a great icebreaker.

I will give just one small example from my own life that I thought was interesting. It took place at the car dealership where I was getting my oil changed. Of all the places, I ended up evangelizing to the service guy!  He initiated the conversation by asking, “So is it Sister Michelle? I noticed that book in your car when I went to move it.” The book in question was called A Vowed Life that one of my dear friends loaned to me.

I laughed and said “Oh no, it’s most definitely not Sister Michelle.  But funny you should mention that because I’m actually discerning consecrated life, which is different than religious life.” So he proceeded to ask me all kinds of questions about that which was fantastic. Then I went to see my sales guy and he had heard from the service guy what we talked about and so then HE proceeded to ask me more questions about consecrated life and what that would look like, etc. So we had an awesome conversation about discerning one’s vocation. Both of these men had discerned married life so I explained how and why I discerned that married life is not my vocation and how I came to that conclusion. What a place to have this random encounter, at a car dealership of all places.

The point is that when out in public, and not just in the pew, we are being seen. We are being observed. Is our conduct in line with what our faith teaches us? Are our actions one of faith or one of what the culture tells us we should be doing? Are we going to let non-religious people stereotype us as “those hateful bigots?” Or are we going to stick up for what we believe while simultaneously preaching the love of Christ?

The public square is open. It’s up to us if we’re going to step into it and declare our faith to all who can hear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gift of: Wasted Time

monstrance1For the past 7 months I’ve been kind of sneaking around.

I’ve been lying to my friends on Saturday nights. They wouldn’t have noticed if you asked them because I normally don’t stay out past midnight on Saturdays, if I am out. (I’m old I know).

But if there’s an event or a get-together on a Saturday evening, I’m usually the first to head home as soon as the clock strikes midnight.

No one ever really questioned me or harassed me why I would leave “so early.”  But I never did speak up and say why, although I really wanted to. But there’s that little voice that would say: “Don’t bother. They won’t get it.”

But, I think my friends can handle it:

I get up at 3:45am on Sundays. Why? Because I signed up 7 months ago to be an Adorer at my local parish from 4am to 5am. An adorer is a person who volunteers to sit with the Blessed Sacrament (AKA, Jesus) so He is never alone.

Pretty comical to me that I actually chose 4am on a Sunday to do this. But I gotta say it’s kinda cool to have Jesus all to myself. Not that it’s supposed to be that way, but let’s face it, 4-5am on a Sunday is a bizarre time to be out and about.

Several parishes in the area have a 24 hour adoration chapel actually. (I’ve been to almost all of them, because I’m crazy like that) and all of them have the same request in the bulletin – Adorers are Needed!

So allow me to sell you on this:

You have this great opportunity to sit in a quiet space in front of Jesus for just an hour and pray or listen (preferably both). I normally say a Rosary, journal, or read some sort of spiritual book. Most chapels have a little “library” to borrow from if you don’t have anything to read. And trust me when I say they will have a rosary (or 20) to borrow as well.

In the past I’ve also brought my (gasp!) phone with me to read emails of prayer requests. I usually look at the person’s name and substitute their name for “us sinners” in the Hail Mary as I pray the Rosary. I’ve listened to homilies online, I’ve read prayers from my favorite saints. But much of the time, especially if it’s the 4am time slot, I’ll sit in silence. And because it’s 4am, it’s quiet outside too. So it’s probably the quietest time I’ll ever have. By the way, if you live in a loud household with pets and kids, you will LOVE the quiet and stillness of a chapel, I don’t care who you are. It’s a terrific break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life..

Another good suggestion, especially for visual folks –  Take the photo collage of the seminarians (I assume all dioceses print these out, right?) and look and read each name of the young man and say a prayer for him. It’s gotta be rough being in the seminary, wouldn’t you think?  All I know is they could definitely use some prayers. And since there are so many of them, this usually takes up a good chunk of the hour.

As someone who has spent probably more hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament than actual working hours or hours at the gym this past year, I can tell you there are some incredible things that happen to you as you sit in silence and meditate.

I’ve had emotional highs and the lowest of lows sitting there. I’ve laughed and smiled, and  I’ve cried my eyes out. And sometimes, yes, I feel nothing. (But only later to discover that my prayers were indeed answered).

I’ve had funny experiences and downright bizarre experiences. Especially at 4am.

Being a frequent adorer at various churches in the area, I can tell you which parish has the creakiest sounding roof and the church with the comfiest seats. I now know which chapel to avoid on a Sunday afternoon when the ice cream truck goes by outside while you’re trying to remember the words to the Apostle’s Creed but that darn jingle is echoing through the walls. I can tell you someone will most likely distract you with their snoring (it’s EASY to fall asleep) and their growling stomach (Fasting and prayer go together like PB and J).  I can tell you you’ll more than likely run into people who don’t abide by the “quiet” rule and proceed to pray in a loud whisper, making it really uncomfortable to hear their prayer requests. (Bring headphones!)

But the little distractions that can occur during your holy hour are actually helpful in that they force you to really call out His name to focus your attention back to prayer. And really, that’s the whole point. I read once from a Saint (can’t remember which) that even if you just sat in the chapel calling the name of Jesus for the whole hour, that would be sufficient and a completely suitable prayer! So what we might consider a “waste of time,” would actually be considered a very worthwhile prayer.

I suppose this is my plea for you to check out your neighborhood church my Catholic friends. Adoration is the best thing ever! Even if you don’t belong to the parish you can still volunteer to adore Him. I would suggest that even if you know you can only take that hour for a month and then you’ll be on vacation or whatnot, just sign up! The people in charge will be so grateful.

And Jesus will be thrilled to see you too!

 

 

The Gift of: Spiritual Adoption

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The Sacred Family

I cannot stop staring at this picture. The first time I saw it was at a (surprise surprise) Catholic Women’s Conference in Columbus where one of the vendors was a pro-life organization. There was a stack of prayer cards on the table. The prayer was on one side, this picture was on the other.

The prayer is this:

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I love you very much. I beg you to spare the life of the unborn child that I have spiritually adopted who is in danger of abortion.”

The prayer is from Venerable Fulton Sheen who wrote it in 1973 after abortion was deemed legal in the United States. He encouraged Catholics to pray this prayer daily for nine months in the name of the baby. He believed that, by such “spiritual adoption” of specific babies — one prayer at a time — the advance of the culture of death in America and abroad could be thwarted.

I spiritually adopted an unborn baby the week prior to reading this card, although I didn’t quite know it.

I had been asked, along with many of my friends, to pray for a young college student who found herself unexpectedly pregnant. We were asked to pray that this young woman would cancel her appointment at the abortion clinic the following week. We knew nothing more about this woman except for her first name.

A week later I was at this conference and saw this prayer card. Little did I know that the unborn baby that I knew of that was in danger of abortion, was scheduled to have an abortion that very day.

It is still unclear, about 3 weeks later, if this young girl went through with her abortion. No matter what, I find myself still praying for her. And I pray for her unborn baby as well all of the unborn everyday.

It’s difficult to express especially to those that aren’t pro-life, the sadness I feel for all women who are faced with an unplanned pregnancy. Pretty sure many pro-choicers assume that I’m anti-woman.

I cry for these women.

I’m sad for them because I know 4,000 women each day abort their child. I’m sad for them because they usually receive no support from the father of their child or from their parents or friends. I’m sad for them because the only “friend” they find themselves talking to is the abortion worker. I’m sad for them because they have believed the lies that so many of us women have believed for far too long: “You’re weak. You’re helpless. You’re not strong enough to have this baby. This baby will ruin your life. In fact, it will end your life.”

I believed these lies for SO long. I remained convinced from 8th grade until just a couple years ago: “If I ever get pregnant, my life is over.”

Who told me this lie? No one specifically. It was more of the “mantra” of my teenage and college years. Almost like a “Scared Straight” episode but with pregnancy as the “drug” that will do you in. A baby TRAPPED you. A baby was a BURDEN. A baby was a MISTAKE.

I’ve written about my conversion to the pro-life side here. But what I’d like to end with today is a letter to the unborn. It seems that “An Open Letter To…” posts tend to be popular. I just saw someone wrote one to a certain Presidential Candidate who shall remain nameless. But in the abortion industry, people write letters too.

For example, did you know you can write letters to abortion workers telling them they are praying for their conversion and that they were there to help, like the Love Letter Campaign from And Then There Were None? People write letters to women who’ve had abortions who claim they have no regrets about ending their lives of their offspring, like this one from Rep. Diane Black. People write letters to women who are hurting and feeling suicidal due to their abortions (simply Google “An Open Letter to Post-Abortive Women” and you’ll see tons of examples, especially from those who have had an abortion).

I found myself writing the following letter that I addressed to the unborn. I know most children that I “spiritually adopt” in the womb will never read this. But I am still comforted by the fact that they will one day understand that there were many of us that fought for the least of these:

To The Unborn-

I don’t know you, little one. I don’t know you or your mother. But I pray everyday that you hear my voice in that little womb of yours. If you hear echoes of “protect” and “save” and “choose life,” that’s me and my friends. We fight for your life everyday. Some days we might say this prayer called a Rosary where we pray for our Mother Mary to intercede for us to save your life.

I want you to know that I desperately want you to live. Sometimes people out here don’t understand what they say when they yell and scream or even just talk to one another about “Choice” and “Reproductive Rights.” I know these words don’t mean much to you now but I assure you there are people who claim these words mean that they can end your life before you see your Mom face to face.

Just know that your Mom loves you. She doesn’t understand what’s happening right now. And maybe some people are lying to her. They make her feel weak and inadequate. They tell her that she’s incapable of taking care of you. They tell her things that make her feel like she’s making the right “choice.” They use language to make her feel like you are nothing but a problem that needs to be destroyed. That you are a mistake. And a burden.

But many of us know better. We know destroying an innocent life like yours is not going to solve any “problem.” Please know that in addition to praying for your soul, I pray for your parents too. I want them to meet you and God someday so I know how important it is to pray for their souls. 

Unfortunately, your parents don’t understand the JOY and HAPPINESS that your life could bring them! But I know, without a doubt, your Mom IS strong. I pray she knows that. And your Mom IS loving. I pray for her to know that too. She may say or think that she’s “not ready to be a mother.” But what she doesn’t know is that she’s already a mother. The second you were conceived, she became a mother and your dad became a father. They are parents and always will be, no matter what.

Most of all I pray for you and your little soul. Many more people that you don’t even know and will never meet are praying for you right now, too. Many of us end up crying, begging, and pleading with God that you’re life is spared from death. That you get a chance to take a breath outside your home in your mother’s body.

So stay strong. Don’t be scared. And forgive your parents, especially your mother. The pain you may feel will be quickly forgotten once you experience the bliss and joy of entering heaven’s gate and see Mary, Our Mother, her arms wide open to welcome you home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gift of: A Happy Death

O Blessed Joseph, who died in the arms of Jesus and Mary, obtain for me, I beseech you, the grace of a happy death. In that hour of dread and anguish, assist me by your presence, and protect me by your power against the enemies of my salvation. Into your hands, living and dying, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, I commend my soul. Amen

March 10th 2016 will mark three years since my Mom passed away.

I’ve written about Mom in the past – this one is the fan favorite.

I wanted to write about so many things today in an effort to celebrate this most blessed anniversary of hers.

But after several drafts and re-writes, it seems I’m supposed to write about those 3 days. A Friday, Saturday and a Sunday 3 years ago.

Clearly, this will be a brief version with just the highlights.

There were many of us in the family that were there those 3 days but in an effort to protect their privacy, I’d like to just share my own views of those final days of my Mom’s life.


 

She requested hospice on a Friday and was gone by Sunday. 3 days…just like someone else we know.

“I hope I’m making the right decision.” She just kept repeating that…over and over. How do you even respond to that?

She was incredibly lucid in those first hours, especially that first day, to the point where we were in disbelief that the hospice nurse said she wouldn’t last more than 2 more days.

“But it’s Friday! What do you mean she won’t make it the weekend? This IS the weekend!”

It’s incredibly surreal – The hospice nurses instruct you when and how to administer the morphine and it’s like watching a movie, almost like it’s happening to someone else’s family.

“Will she tell us when she needs the morphine? How do we know if it’s too much? Or not enough?”

But then it becomes too real and you just want it to be over. But you can’t wish for that because this isn’t your battle. This is hers and you just have to be there.

We were told that she is going to go through a “life review” which at first you don’t quite believe but then you actually witness it. And it’s heartbreaking and mesmerizing and awesome and awful all at once.

By Saturday we had to laugh at certain points because if we didn’t we’d go nuts.

“She’s going to be so mad when she sees what she’s wearing and that we let the hospice nurses see her like this.”

The worst moment for me – I sat at her feet when she was in the recliner (before she had to move to the hospital bed) and just looked up at her and realized this was it. I cried at her feet and I can still hear her saying and repeating, “It’s okay, it’s okay. It’s going to be okay.”

She eventually she had to be moved to the hospital bed. She just kept looking at it. She knew her own mother died shortly after being moved from the recliner to the hospital bed. I’m sure that’s what she was thinking. I know she was trying to prolong her stay here as long as she could. Not for herself, but for us. To spare us the pain of seeing her die.

She said goodbye to my nephews who recorded a beautiful voicemail for her that we played on speaker so everyone could hear. The look on her face as she listened was pure joy. I had never seen her smile like that in weeks. It was probably the most heartbreaking moment of all as we realized this was the last time she’d hear their young voices. Her grandsons were her source of joy. Hands down, they were her world. Especially Sean since he was so young and so oblivious to what was happening to “G.”

Time for a sidenote/side story:

Just two weeks prior to her death, she had ended up in the hospital again to drain fluid from her lungs. I was having a particularly bad time dealing with this and went over to my sisters to see the boys. Sean (the younger of the two) was hanging out with my brother-in-law. Out of the blue he pointed out that “Daddy has a cut on his head from shaving.” I glanced and saw, yes indeed he had a tiny cut on his head. Sean was asking me to look at it. I said I saw it but was clearly preoccupied with my Mom’s illness to not particularly care all that much.  Sean looked me in the eye and said in his sweet little 4 year old voice: “I’m going to pray that my Dad is healed from that cut. Because you know what auntie? God hears my prayers. Did you know that? He hears my prayers.”

Twice. My nephew said this twice and looked at me in the eye as if he was channeling someone.  I just looked at him and almost started crying. I wanted to tell him, “God DOES hear your prayers. And right now can you please pray that G is healed? Please?! I don’t want to lose my Mom!”

But I didn’t. I just remember that moment as being so surreal. How innocent a child prays. It wasn’t even a question – “Do you think God hears my prayers??” It was a STATEMENT. “God hears my prayers Auntie.” I will never forget that.

Sunday – I remember that morning as the one that my Mom saw her Dad. She spoke to him and said things like “Daddy, I’m afraid.”

“Afraid?  This wasn’t in the brochure! She’s not supposed to be scared!”

She also said things that were incomprehensible as she flowed in and out of lucidity. Sometimes her eyes were opened and she spoke but you could tell she wasn’t talking to us. I don’t recall responding too often so as not to confuse her. But I also felt like if I spoke or responded to her, that would be…rude. 🙂  She was clearly having a private conversation with someone and I was not about to interfere with that.

It was a sunny day and I thought “What a beautiful day to leave and go home!”  However, things didn’t progress that well. In fact, we called the hospice nurse on call to tell us what to do. We were concerned she was in pain! After all, she kept saying she was afraid. So that must mean she’s in pain, right?

“She’s in spiritual pain. Have you prayed with her?” – the hospice nurse asked.

The look on my face was complete embarrassment.

Had I prayed with my mother on her deathbed?  NO! Duh!!! What the heck was wrong with me?

I prayed with her as best I knew. I think many of us said the Our Father because that seemed to be the only prayer we all knew.

“How do you pray with someone who can’t hear you and can’t speak?”

I was clueless.

Sunday evening – We called her priest to come and give her last rites. He also managed to ask a question I was all too embarrassed to NOT know the answer to –

“What’s your mother’s favorite prayer?”

I went from feeling like a decent daughter to being the worlds worst. I had never even bothered to ask my Mother’s favorite prayer.

We ended up praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet at her bedside which I think she would have approved.

Shortly before she passed, I ran out of “prayers” and instead took all the cards anyone had ever sent her and read them all out loud to her. I took her hand, told her it was okay for her to go and said I would see her in the morning.

My dad took over the “shift” change.

I went up to bed and prayed and cried to God to please ease my Mom’s sickness.

An hour later she passed away with my Dad at her side.

I don’t even recall crying. I immediately thought God heard my prayer just an hour before.  (Thanks to Sean for restoring my faith in prayer).


 

My Mom was always happy and forever smiling during her life and in countless pictures.

As her body lay there, I stared at her. She looked so….GOOD! As if she would just sit up and say, “What are you looking at? Be happy for me! I’m home!”

I couldn’t help but think …

…that’s how you die a happy death.

 

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