Archive for the ‘love’ 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

God works through the least of His creatures

Monday, September 5th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truly, God IS in everything!

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

 

Enjoying this blog? Subscribe by email and never miss
a post! Receive also updates on Susan’s ministry.

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.

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 9: A beautiful Godly woman is an agent of reconciliation

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Woman’s intuition is sometimes scoffed at, but as women, we know that we possess something akin to radar when it comes to sensing the moods and needs of others. In chapter 3 of  The Authentic Catholic Woman, Genevieve Kineke draws the connection between the sacrament of reconciliation and the unique ability of women to sense hurts and needs, and offer healing. Knowing how to build bridges that heal rifts in relationships brings others closer to our Lord, making us as women agents of reconciliation (pg. 32, The Authentic Catholic Woman).

Jesus as the supreme agent of reconciliation died on the cross to take on the sins of the world. Even as He was dying, He forgave those who crucified Him (“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”) and offered salvation to the penitent thief through forgiveness. The prayer which He Himself taught the apostles says, “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us . . .” We are required to be such agents of reconciliation in order to receive the same from our Heavenly Father. In everything we do, we are to imitate Christ, and what better way than to offer healing through our abilities as peacemakers.

We all know that family life is full of conflict, both large and small (pg. 32, The Authentic Catholic Woman). Nothing hurts more than a falling out between a husband and wife, or a parent and child. Since we are the most vulnerable with regards to members of our family, we are open to being hurt emotionally and sometimes physically. The rifts in the family (the domestic Church) are a small reminder of the disunity in the universal Church, and the pain we feel is the pain Christ knew over these conflicts. Kineke reminds us to unite our own sufferings with Christ as the work of restoration is hard, involving much suffering (pg 33, Ibid).

In the end it comes down to love versus fear, and only love can offer reconciliation and renewal. Fears of getting involved or getting hurt serve only to block reconciliation from happening. We have to step out boldly to affect reconciliation.

I have to admire my two cousins, sons of my father’s brother. For some reason which we will never know (since my uncle has since passed on), my uncle became very angry with our family after my father passed away. At the time it seemed like a small slight with regards to funeral preparations, but it blew up into a feud. It was irrational (and perhaps based on the fact that we did not reach out enough when he lost his wife to cancer years ago), but because it was irrational, I immediately let it go. There was no point in holding on to it. I was sad that he no longer wanted anything to do with us, but reaching out was fruitless.

Or was it? When my aunt (his sister) passed away, we all went to the wake and funeral. During the wake, we spoke at length with my uncle’s oldest son who is truly an extraordinary man. He decided not to involve himself in his father’s feud with us and was very gracious to us (even through my uncle tried to perpetuate the feud even during the wake!). At the dinner after the funeral, I could see how the younger son was torn between loyalty to his father and the absurdity of the feud.

Unfortunately the feud was never reconciled as my uncle was not interested in resolving it or even discussing it. But his sons continued to reach out to us and we to them with Christmas cards and lovely sympathy cards from each of them after my mother’s passing. While it was not possible to reconcile with my uncle, the feud died with him because his sons were willing to take the chance and reach out. I am eternally grateful to the both of them, and their mother would have been proud. Perhaps she, in her spot in heaven, helped to act as the agent of reconciliation between the two families. We’ll find out when we all meet again.

Remembering my brave nephews reminds me that it is always worth it to stick your neck out and try to affect reconciliation. This is what Jesus’ mission was all about and it needs to be my personal mission as well.

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

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

 

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

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

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

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

Prayers for Detachment; time for reconciliation

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

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

Prayer

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

Loving God . . .

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

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

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

Time of  Fellowship

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

Loving Neighbor . . .

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

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

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

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

Blessing of the Hands

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

More information on Vita Nova

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