Archive for the ‘beauty’ Category

Celebrating 25 years at the Table of the Lord

Monday, June 11th, 2012

On June 10, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Fr. Steven LaBaire celebrated a mass of Thanksgiving. It was the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. There was standing room only in the historic and elegant stone cathedral.

This mass was the closest taste of heaven I have ever experienced. I wondered if I’d even be able to find the words to describe it.

Fr. Steve’s parish, St. Mary’s, is located in Uxbridge, MA, a small mill town. He had been the associate pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist for 15 years prior to this assignment. St. Luke’s is my home parish.

There is no priest who celebrates the liturgy more beautifully than Fr, Steve. He has devoted his priestly life (and heart) to the rigorous study of the minutest rituals (known as rubrics) of the mass, and every single one of them as a result, is pregnant with meaning.

Often such adherence to ritual can be empty, even legalistic. Not so with Fr. Steve. He is an artist and a lover. Every touch, every hand gesture, every prayer is offered with profound love and reverence. The liturgy ebbs and flows in one uninterrupted motion; there is a sense of stillness, of silence even as the readings are proclaimed, the hymns sung, the prayers said. It is the Living Water, pouring from the temple (as cited in Ezekiel 47) into our souls.

The music, provided by a small choir and student orchestra (St. Mary’s is fortunate to have a school), was simple and graceful. It neither competed with nor distracted from the liturgy but complemented it in every respect. Musical choices ranged from standard hymns, to chant, to a haunting French folk hymn known as “J’irai La Voir Un Jour” (see below for a video). Fr. Steve’s family hails from Quebec and he speaks beautiful, fluent French. The voices of the congregation rose in song, filling the cathedral.

The homily was quintessential Fr. Steve: mentions of his grandmother, and the sacredness of the family meal, filled with good food and lively conversation. Fr. Steve often uses the family meal as a means of understanding the great meal of the Eucharist. In this case, he demonstrated how sacrificial love feeds us as much as the food when he describes seeing his grandmother sitting in the kitchen after one such meal, surrounded by a pile of dirty dishes. The exhausted look on her face showed the then ten-year-old boy what went into that meal. It was the beginning of the call that would lead him to the Eucharistic table.

Fr. Steve used the homily to thank His Lord, his family and friends, and his congregation. At the end of the homily, the congregation thanked him for his service with their applause.

The liturgy is the number one priority for Fr. Steve and as a result of his devotion, contemplation and deep love, his celebration of the mass transcends this earthly life. Judging from the enthusiastic participation of his parishioners, it is obvious what his priority has done for this parish.

It was the most perfect union of what makes life meaningful: love, service, sacrifice and the Meal.

Recalling the song, “I Can Only Imagine” by Mercy Me, I think of the following lyrics:

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine

After yesterday’s mass, I know now. All words would leave me and the tears would freely flow.

Here is a beautiful rendition of “J’irai La Voir Un Jour”, performed by the brother-sister group, L’Angelus. The English translation of the first verse and refrain is:

I will see her one day
In heaven, in my garden
Yes, I will see Mary
My joy and my love

In the sky, in the sky, in the sky I will see her one day
In the sky, in the sky, in the sky I will see her there one day

The beautiful heart of St. Paul

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

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

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

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

From Acts Chapter 20

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

Saying goodbye

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

Paul’s attributes

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

Knowing who you are

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

A special intercessor

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

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

Empty, and beautiful

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

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

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

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

One life and how it changed so many

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

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

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

Yet after today, that beauty paled in comparison.

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

It will be a funeral.

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

The essence of Henry

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

“Henry was a gracious receiver.”

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

The story of Henry

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

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

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

A simple life full of love

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

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

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

Henry taught us how to receive

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

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

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

Henry taught us how to love

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

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

What Henry taught me

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

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

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

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

True beauty

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

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

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

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

 

 

Images of Mary from around the world

Friday, June 17th, 2011

At the request of a reader, I thought I would post slides of the posters I used at the Beautiful Godly Women half day retreat showing images of Mary from around the world. What I love about these images is what Keith Fournier said in his book, The Prayer of Mary: that Mary’s beauty is transcendent of culture and physicality. In other words, it’s all about what’s inside – her total love for and surrender to the God she so dearly loves.

Being with beautiful Godly women in Henniker, NH – half day retreat highlights

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

Ann and I had the wonderful privilege of leading a half day retreat for some 65-70 women at St. Theresa’s Parish in Henniker, NH on Saturday, June 11. The theme was Becoming a Beautiful Catholic Women, organized by the Women’s Ministry of St. Theresa’s (and especially Eileen Murray), the day started with a beautiful mass celebrated by a brand new priest (he’s the tall one in the picture)!

We were then entertained by a humorous skit depicting women preparing for the day by making themselves beautiful. The first half showed 2 women frantically getting prepared, putting on make-up, getting dressed, etc. The second half showed 2 women who took time to be with the Lord before getting dressed. You can see some great pictures of the skit, along with other pictures from the retreat, on the slide show at the end of this post.

I then gave the keynote address, using Mary as the model to follow for becoming a beautiful Catholic woman. You can hear the address here, plus some music I played:

 

You can also read my blog posts about this topic.

Ann then led a beautiful scripture-filled prayer service highlighting faith-filled women of the Bible. We all prayed a response after hearing each reading which was read by women attending the retreat. There’s a picture of Ann with the readers in the slide show.

She concluded the morning with a terrific craft project where women made bracelets with beads depicting different pious women of the Bible. It was a wonderful keepsake for each participant to take home, to remember the retreat. In the picture you can see what the bracelet looks like and some of the readings that accompanied it.

Here’s a slide show showing highlights from the retreat, accompanied by “How Beautiful,” sung by Annie Karto and Donna Cori Gibson, from Annie’s “Perfect Sacrifice” CD.

 

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

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

Throughout this series I have shared with you ideas that I had about becoming beautiful as God means for us to be. This has been a deeply personal journey as I have literally lived with this topic for the last 3 months, reading a little bit each day, outlining the chapters in  The Prayer of Mary by Keith Fournier and The Authentic Catholic Woman by Genevieve Kineke. As we know from gardening, a downpour is not going to be particularly beneficial to the flowers – it might beat them down and surely the bulk of the water will run off. It’s those gentle rains, even drizzle, that persist from day to day that bring the real benefit to the garden. This reading, bit by bit, day by day, has acted as a gentle rain on the garden of my soul. Where total surrender to God was once a lofty thought is now something I have embraced, and my journey has just begun in living it.

I find that I am more at peace with my life and can take the longer view down the road while still remaining in the present. Recently my husband, who is a contract worker, was between jobs and was becoming concerned that he would not find a new assignment soon enough to continue with the contracting company which gives him a salary and our health plan. He knew I was praying daily for the unemployed and asked me to remember him which I gladly did. As I prayed, I thought to myself that no matter what happened, even if he lost his job and we lost our health benefits, that everything in the long run would work out for our best. My trust in God was deeper because of this journey of surrender which I had embarked upon.

My love for Mary, our Mother, has truly grown. She truly is the most beautiful woman the world has ever known, and will ever know. She lays out a simple path to follow (simple to understand but not necessarily easy to follow), speaking it plainly at the Wedding at Cana when she instructs the servers, “Do whatever He tells you.” She knew from the many deep experiences of her life that following the Lord wherever He led was the only way to lead an authentic life. She came to understand in the course of her life that this way was not free of pain or suffering; in fact it probably was more intense because she chose a more radical way of living. Her “yes”, however, transformed all of history, helping to open the road to Heaven to every human being going back to Adam and Eve, and going forward to the end of time. She held God incarnate in her arms – caressing and kissing, listening to and consoling Him, and laughing with Him. She witnessed Him risen, saw Him ascend to Heaven, and experienced the Holy Spirit coming upon her at Pentecost. Every moment of her life was a “yes” and every “yes” opened the door wider to God’s grace and mercy.

No wonder she was the most beautiful woman the world has ever known!

I earnestly pray, beg, that God’s light, His image, like those of the beautiful icons, will glow within me and will not be blocked by any shadow. I pray, I beg, that God will help me continue to remove the wall that blocks Him from me, stone by stone and eventually, boulder by boulder as I become stronger in Him.

I deeply desire to become a beautiful Godly woman that will be evident for all to see. I desire that people will look at me and see not me, but the Lord. I want to be that bold, that transparent. I want to be like those women I admire so much in my own life who to me epitomize holiness – my Noni, the master teacher of hospitality, the realtor in my office who positively glows with God’s light, and my dear spiritual mother whose mastery of sacrificial love in spite of her illness inspires me daily.

Dear Lord, make me like those women! Make me beautiful like Your Mother. Mary, mother to us all and my mother, pray for me.

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

Thank you for following this series on becoming a beautiful Godly woman. Here are links to the other 10 posts in case you missed any:

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

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

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

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

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

Part 6: Beautiful Godly woman – living sacramentally

Part 7: Beautiful Godly woman – hospitality

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

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

Part 10: beautiful Godly woman – the gift of healing

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

Here are links to 2 other companion posts:

Praying in new places, in new ways – an example of a creative routine for daily prayer and scripture reading

Why does love chase away fear? – Total surrender to God chased away fear, allowing us to face anything in our lives

 

Part 10: beautiful Godly woman – the gift of healing

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

In following up on the previous post, the sacrament of Reconciliation is a one of healing, directed at the soul. The Church provides another sacrament that addresses physical ailments and their emotional and spiritual dimensions in the Anointing of the Sick. Genevieve Kineke, in The Authentic Catholic Woman reminds us that this sacrament is far more than than the giving of last rites:

  • It grants the sick person peace and courage to bear the infirmity
  • It helps the sick person to recognize that the infirmity is linked directly to Christ
  • It binds together the sick person with the community as we all come together to pray for the sick and offer up their infirmities
  • When given at the point of death, it gives the sick person grace for the journey

(pages 35-36, The Authentic Catholic Woman)

Kineke maintains that women by necessity are especially skilled at offering healing since it usually falls to them to care for their families (page 36, Ibid). From nursing babies to caring for children with the cold or flu, to taking care of elderly parents, women have many opportunities to offer healing and comfort to others. A natural outgrowth of this is the nursing profession (although it didn’t emerge as a profession until the Civil War). While the doctor may diagnose the ailment and perform the procedures necessary for the healing, the nurse is the one who administers the vital care, both physical and emotional.

There are so many opportunities to be the image of Jesus to the sick, both in taking care of physical needs and spiritual ones. Sickness makes one very vulnerable, and possibly open to spiritual matters. Thus, taking care of of the sick is a corporate work of mercy that mirrors the Church in its concern for the soul (page 38, Ibid).

I recall reading a book by my favorite author, Louisa May Alcott, about her experiences as one of the first nurses in the Civil War. Louisa was itching to serve her country and would have fought had she been permitted to, but instead, took care of the wounded. Her book, Hospital Sketches, her first real success as an author, tells poignant tales of her encounters with the soldiers. She wrote of bathing their wounds, administering medicines, writing letters to loved ones, or just holding the hand of soldiers as they died and offering comfort. Alcott was gifted at nursing, having cared for her dying sister Elizabeth (Beth of Little Women ). Her care of the soldiers was indeed a corporate work of mercy.
(If you wish to read more about Louisa May Alcott as a Civil War nurse, check out my blog called Louisa May Alcott is My Passion.)

Some of my fondest memories of my mother were of her taking care of me when I was sick. She was the best. Although my mother (because of her New England Yankee heritage) was not normally physically affectionate, I could so feel her love and care whenever I was sick. She was extremely thoughtful. I recall as a child, lying on the couch sick, and she came home from shopping with a special book for me called The Littlest Angel. Even now thinking of that book, I feel an urge to cry because the love shown by the gift of that book touched my heart so deeply. Caring for the sick involves such little acts of love and they mean so very much.

When my mother became elderly, I was able to return the favor. I did not immediately embrace the job but rather grew into it. It was hard watching her fading away and even more difficult knowing that she suffered from despair, having no faith in God and even, at times, being hostile to the idea of God. She was not easy to be with but I know she appreciated whatever I could do (along with my sister and brother).

Despite dementia and a morphine haze, my mother knew that we loved her and demonstrated that love to my sister the day before she died through a look she gave to her. My sister was able to discern the meaning of that look and knew my mother had communicated, “I love you” and “thank you” through her eyes.

The Lord orchestrated a way for my mother to receive last rites from the only priest she ever trusted, the one who had ministered to my father. My sister and I were both at the ER when my mother was brought in but the nurse approached me, asking if we wanted to bring in a priest or minister. I hesitated momentary because I knew my mother would object but then decided that since I was the one being asked, I would say “yes.” That “yes” brought in Fr. Giggi and I knew from then on my mother would be okay. As mentioned before, the administration of last rites grants the dying the grace to make the journey. I actually didn’t know that at the time but now as I write this, I see that granting my mother the ability to receive last rites helped her on her journey home to God. It was something I had prayed for in earnest for years.

Miracles happen every day in the smallest ways. In some ways, these are the greatest and sweetest miracles. It is a constant reminder that the details really do matter. God works through us in the small things of life. Offering the comfort of healing to others really gets down to the nitty gritty of imitating our Lord. He rarely healed from afar but most times touched the person He was healing. How fortunate we are as women to have been especially gifted with the ability to offer healing to others! It is the most beautiful of gifts.

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

Links to all posts in this 11 part series

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

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

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

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

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

Part 6: Beautiful Godly woman – living sacramentally

Part 7: Beautiful Godly woman – hospitality

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

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

Part 10: beautiful Godly woman – the gift of healing

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

 

 

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

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Chapter 2 of Genevieve Kineke’s book, The Authentic Catholic Woman moves from the sacrament of baptism as it relates to purifying and hospitality, to our sustenance – food in its everyday and heavenly forms.

She is, of course, referring to the sacrament of Communion and the Eucharist, the true and real presence of Jesus Christ in the physical form of bread.

The theme of bread

Bread is a core theme throughout the Bible.  God rains down manna (bread) from heaven for the Israelites, sustaining them during their 40 year trek across the desert to the Promised Land:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.”  (Exodus 16, 4-5)

Jesus as bread

In the gospels, Jesus feeds the 5000 (Matthew 14:13–21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:5-15), taking five loaves and two fish and miraculously multiplying them to feed the multitudes. He takes it a step further as shown in John 6, declaring Himself to be the bread of life:

Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” So they said to Him, “What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform?  Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘HE GAVE THEM BREAD OUT OF HEAVEN TO EAT.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” 34 Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.” Jesus said to them,  I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. (John 6:26-35)

During the Last Supper, Jesus makes good on His word, offering Himself as the Bread of Life by instituting the sacrament of Communion during the last passover meal he was to share with the apostles:

And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying,“This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. (Luke 22:19-20)

How can the Eucharist make meal time sacred?

Kineke, taking the literal meaning of bread as food, demonstrates how we can live out our daily tasks of preparing and serving food sacramentally by reflecting on the meaning of the Last Supper. What really happened here?

Jesus gave of Himself in totality to his disciples (and the world), sustaining them in all ways through the gift of the Eucharist. We too can offer ourselves, perhaps not as dramatically as did Christ, but through our daily meal preparation and service.

I am no cook but my husband and his family are wonderful cooks. Much love goes into the preparation of meals, done with utmost care and often, as in the case of my sister-in-law, with an artistic flair. I found meal time at my in-law’s house to be a time of healing and consolation. In my own home, due to a member of the family having an eating disorder, formal meal time first became battlefields and then dissolved altogether with the exception of the holidays. It became too painful to eat at the table so meals were taken in front of the TV.

At my in-law’s home, meals were eaten slowly at the table. Filled with laughter, stories and love, the food seemed to taste extra good in that setting of warmth. Once again, mealtime was a time of family getting together and sharing their love with one another. Holiday meals especially were legendary! :-)

Keeping this in mind, I tried to make sure my own family sat down together  at the table to eat rather than in front of the TV. As the children grew older, this became more challenging with school and work. Yet, every now and then when both kids are at home for a visit, I will get the request: “Can we eat at the table?” So while we weren’t always at the table when we ate, everyone intuitively knew that gathering at the table was special.

Where and how we feed others

Most women seem to be especially adept at feeding others, and we do it in so many places:

  • in the womb
  • from the breast
  • at the dinner table
  • at a picnic table
  • at a soup kitchen
  • spoon feeding an elderly parent

Feeding others is an act of giving of ourselves and it always needs to focus on others. If it turns into a performance where we are inviting praise or are too stressed out over the preparation, the point is lost. By focusing on the sacramental nature of feeding (reflecting on the ways Jesus gave of Himself as food), we find the richness that is hidden behind the veil of ordinary life (The Authentic Catholic Woman, page 23). The mundane becomes sacred.

So even for those of us who are not good cooks, we too can give love and sustenance to others through our humble efforts, especially if it is done in the spirit of love. This is something I need to think about the next time I struggle over making a meal that may be far from perfect. Perfection in the art of cooking is not the aim. Rather, what counts is the love that is put into it with the intent of giving that love to others. This lifts even the plainest of meals into something sacred, and beautiful.

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

Links to all posts in this 11 part series

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

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

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

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

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

Part 6: Beautiful Godly woman – living sacramentally

Part 7: Beautiful Godly woman – hospitality

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

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

Part 10: beautiful Godly woman – the gift of healing

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

 

Part 7: Beautiful Godly woman – hospitality

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

In the last post on this subject (Part 6), I spoke about mirroring the sacraments in our daily living, beginning with baptism, and how it related to cleaning and purifying (as described in Chapter 2 of Genevieve Kineke’s book, The Authentic Catholic Woman). Through an understanding of the sacraments, we can apply their principles to our living, keeping us closer to God. This develops our inner beauty, slowly but surely. I had mentioned how difficult a time I had linking cleaning the house to the sacrament of baptism (with the principles of cleansing, purifying and dying to self to rise with Christ), and I realized I needed to stop thinking about my dislike for the job and rather, think about the benefits a clean and orderly house has on my family and their daily living.

The value of hospitality

Cleaning and purifying paves the way for hospitality, the art of welcoming someone into your home and your life, and offering them service through your love. After all, a dirty and disorderly house is hardly welcoming! Hospitality in ancient times for people in the Middle East was not only a nicety, it was a necessity. There were no stores or restaurants along the long, hot paths, no places to drink or to eat, and very few homes along the way. People in that time knew that offering hospitality to a traveler was necessary for that traveler’s life. Hospitality was live-giving.

St. Gianna Beretta Molla

While hospitality today may not be necessary for physical sustenance, it offers vital emotional sustenance. As Kineke points out, hospitality “provides an essential forum of love and comfort to all” in every phase of life  (page 18, The Authentic Catholic Woman). In most cases, we provide food, shelter and comfort, but in some cases it can be literally a matter of life and death. This was the case with St. Gianna Beretta Molla who “welcomed” a child into her womb and bore the child despite the fact that it cost her her life. Her daughter attended St. Gianna’s beatification, thanking her mother for the gift of life, once by allowing conception, and then again by allowing her to be born.

Mary as the example

Mary displayed hospitality by allowing the same – she welcomed God incarnate into her womb where she bore Jesus Christ and then took care of Him, offering vital physical and emotional sustenance. In taking in Jesus, she was able to gaze upon the face of God daily, hold Him in her arms, caress and kiss him, feed and bathe Him. Remembering how the face of Moses glowed after he would speak with God (see Exodus 33), imagine how Mary’s whole life must have glowed!

L to R, my mother-in-law, Noni, my sister-in-law, and her great grandmother

All about the love

Hospitality is a gift of love. I recall my husband’s grandmother, “Noni”, as the model of hospitality in my life. It took me years to understand why her gift was so special because I needed to look outside of myself to see it. Noni’s welcoming of people and providing food and comfort were not merely duties or chores, they were acts of love, acts as natural as breathing. I recall the time my brother-in-law got married – people were coming and going all weekend long and yet there was always the same welcome, the same offer of food and conversation. Suddenly my eyes were opened and I saw a gift I longed to have. Hospitality does not come naturally to me but I work at it now, always keeping my Noni in mind as my example. She lived in a sacramental manner.

Providing a safe haven

Hospitality not only offers care and comfort, but a safe haven. This part at least I did understand and I made it a priority from the first day my children came into the world that our home would be just that. In this safe haven they were to be respected as people with their own ideas, even from the youngest age. They would be listened to. God has blessed this effort tremendously in that we have excellent relationships with our two 20-something children who happily share their lives with us and know to come home when they need a safe haven.

It’s all about being engaged

As a natural loner, I prefer not to engage with people. Jesus, however, is calling me to engage all the time and to be welcoming at a moment’s notice. It can be as simple as offering a smile and a greeting. Perhaps it’s taking care of others on the job with a pleasant and willing attitude, even if people seem unreasonably demanding. Maybe it’s putting aside the desire to go out after work to a desired activity so I can be home to offer dinner and companionship to my husband.

Hospitality is not about the chores and duties, it’s all about the love. When hospitality is lived in the spirit of baptism, it becomes sacramental, and special.

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

Links to all posts in this 11 part series

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

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

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

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

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

Part 6: Beautiful Godly woman – living sacramentally

Part 7: Beautiful Godly woman – hospitality

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

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

Part 10: beautiful Godly woman – the gift of healing

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

 

Part 6: Beautiful Godly woman – living sacramentally

Monday, April 18th, 2011

Today’s Gospel reading tied in so beautifully with the next topic I wanted to discuss in my series on becoming a beautiful Godly woman that I had to include in today’s post. The reading was from John 12:1-11; John describes a extravagant act of worship and devotion on the part of Mary, the woman who knew that sitting at the feet of Jesus was the most important thing to do. We read in verse 3:

Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil
made from genuine aromatic nard
and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair;
the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.

John describes the scene in such a compelling way that you can experience it with your senses. I found myself turning it over and over in my mind while driving in to work today.

This leads into Genevieve Kineke’s examples of living according to the sacraments, using Holy Mother Church as our best example. In Chapter 2 of her book  The Authentic Catholic Woman, Kineke talks about the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist) and how we can mirror them in our lives. Baptism was the one that came to mind while reading today’s Gospel and here’s why.

On page 15 Kineke writes:

“It is God’s gift to us that we can lift up our mundane tasks of washing and purifying and link them to Christ’s own work.”

She gives a couple of compelling examples:

Example 1: Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity wanted to minister to patients in a Russian hospital but they were only allowed to scrub toilets. Rather than complain about the menial work, the sisters conducted their work with such fidelity that the beauty of the Spirit shown through everything they did. This most menial of tasks ended up changing the hearts of the officials who then allowed the sisters to minister to the patients.

Example 2:  The women who visited the tomb of Jesus went there to attend to His corpse and prepare it for burial by washing the body and anointing it with oil and spices.

In a sense, this is what Mary was doing in anticipation of Jesus’ death as Jesus points out in verse 8:

So Jesus said, “Leave her alone.
Let her keep this for the day of my burial.
You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

In order to anoint the feet of Jesus, I am guessing she had to wash them first,  not a pleasant job since feet were largely unprotected from the elements and the main mode of transportation. But she attended to His feet with such love and tenderness, turning a possibly unpleasant job into something beautiful. It was an act that transcended time so that you and I could meditate on it today.

I must admit, I never could make cleaning sacramental. I am not good at cleaning and I dislike the task very much. I only do it when I have to and then it’s such a big job that it gets me very aggravated. I tend to complain loudly while I’m doing it and put myself in a bad mood over it which will spill out in the way I treat others. Hardly sacramental!

I tackled spring cleaning yesterday and tried hard to remember the idea of making it sacramental. I can’t say I succeeded but at least I remained calm and didn’t take out any bad mood on my family. I’m guessing I don’t have a clear enough understanding of baptism yet to make the connection. Or perhaps, it’s just a matter of coming outside of myself and turning towards Jesus, as Mary did. She certainly wasn’t put off by His dirty feet! She relished the idea of ministering to Him in such an intimate manner.

So, with an example like Mary, perhaps cleaning will take on a new dimension. I also love reflecting on those Sisters of Charity and how even cleaning toilets could be used as a way to bring Jesus to others.

I’ll be doing more spring cleaning this week and will try to keep those examples in front of me. I know I need to ask God for help before I begin any task. I’ll let you know if I make any progress. :-)

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

Links to all posts in this 11 part series

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

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

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

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

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

Part 6: Beautiful Godly woman – living sacramentally

Part 7: Beautiful Godly woman – hospitality

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

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

Part 10: beautiful Godly woman – the gift of healing

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