Christmas greetings

December 23rd, 2011by Susan Bailey

CD Recommendation – new updated collection by Carey Landry

December 2nd, 2011by Susan Bailey

If you’re a fan of Carey Landry’s music (“Peace is Flowing Like a River”, “Abba Father”, etc.), I recommend the new collection put out by OCP called “All is Well with My Soul.” Really nice arrangements, peaceful and prayerful. http://www.ocp.org/products/30104938

Inspiring day at the DCU Center, Worcester with Gather Us In 2011

November 9th, 2011by Susan Bailey

I didn’t understand originally why God led me to join the Commission for Women of the Diocese of Worcester, but I’m sure glad He did! The Commission is a dedicated group of 12-15 volunteers who, among other things, puts on a major women’s conference at the DCU Center in Worcester. Known as “Gather Us In,” this women’s conference was the first of its kind in a Catholic diocese. The conference was first staged in 2002 and there have been 5 ever since featuring such notables as Immaculee Ilibagiza, Paula  D’Arcy, Joyce Rupp and Antoinette Bosco.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Gratitude: Acknowledging and Affirming God’s Grace in Our Lives.”

Keynote speakers included local television anchor-turned-minister Liz Walker and singer/songwriter/poet Sr. Kathy Sherman.

Liz’s inspiring and electric keynote spoke of God’s grace leading her to Sudan, and how that country transformed her from a news anchor to a minister. Liz created a grassroots organization known as My Sister’s Keeper and after 10 years, helped build a school for girls in Sudan through that organization.

Kathy Sherman, a sister of St. Joseph, shared her thoughts on gratitude in story and song. Many women were moved to tears by her music, and uplifted as well.

Workshops were also presented at Gather Us In 2011 and included the following presenters:

  • Elizabeth Dreyer, PhD, speaking on how to become a grassroots theologian
  • Pat Gohn, describing how a spirit of gratitude can translate into women becoming spiritual mothers
  • Christin Jezak, presenting her one woman play dealing with encountering Jesus in every person through the lens of Mother Teresa
  • Talk Back – Your Turn, run by Commission members Marie Fusaro Davis and myself, giving the women a chance to share stories and feelings in relation to what they heard at the conference

I feel humbled and privileged to have been elected as the chairperson of this fantastic Commission for Women, they are the best!

Click here to read all about the Gather Us In 2011 conference which includes a slide show of the day.

Thank you, Steve Jobs. God rest your soul.

October 6th, 2011by Susan Bailey

I have to go off topic for a moment to remember Steve Jobs and what his products have meant to me. The last 20 years of my life would not have been possible without him, and this blog would not exist.

I started off my professional career as a typesetter for a newspaper. It was an unlikely career choice as I  knew nothing about computers and had barely passable typing skills. My hometown newspaper, however, was training and I took the job. I found I had a real talent for learning the computer and making it work for me.

Typesetting back then was done on a dedicated system. Several years later, I met the Macintosh for the first time at another newspaper. At first I didn’t like it. The mouse was hard to get used to, the Mac didn’t have the programming capability of the typesetting machine . . . I had my doubts.

But once I got used to the mouse, I was hooked! I had always enjoyed art but had limited ability. The Mac unlocked something inside of me and I just had to have one. Isn’t that the typical story of every Apple user?

I remember spending over $4000 for my first Mac, a an SE and it was so worth it. I “acquired” software for it (yep, I’ve been a software pirate) and started learning desktop publishing. This skill opened the door to endless possibilities and unleashed a resourcefulness I never knew I had. The products of Steve Jobs helped me discover and develop skills I never knew I had.

Apple products made it possible for me to have a career as a musician covering some 18 years.  With a shoestring budget, I was able to create 4 CDs of music (with help, of course!), doing all the artwork and promotion myself. I even ventured into producing and recording music on my own.

For 10 years I wrote, designed and produced an e-magazine supporting a community of Catholic musicians, GrapeVine. I was able to travel around the country and meet many wonderful people, and in the process became empowered. A natural introvert and loner, I emerged from my shell. Although I am no longer recording new music, my songs live on through iTunes and Amazon.

Apple products got me into podcasting where I rediscovered a gift I had long forgotten about – public speaking. As a kid, I was always the one who loved to give the book reports in front of the class, armed with a killer poster.

The skills I acquired during my music career have made this website and blog possible. And I employ all of these skills in my job with Rutledge Properties, where I have worked for 18 years supporting the agents through the creation of materials for their properties, and promoting those properties on the internet through their website and blog.

Thank you, Steve Jobs. You were insanely driven to create beautiful yet functional products that would do so much more than just work. You strove to unlock the creativity in others that you found in yourself. They say you knew what the world needed before the world knew it needed them.

Your products certainly unlocked and unleased an amazing new life for me.

When I heard the news of Steve’s passing, I was holding my iTouch in my hand. I was surprised how emotional I felt, crying over someone I had never met.

And yet, every day I will hold the legacy of Steve Jobs in my hand.

Thank you, Steve Jobs! God rest your soul.

 

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God works through the least of His creatures

September 5th, 2011by Susan Bailey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truly, God IS in everything!

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

 

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One life and how it changed so many

August 18th, 2011by Susan Bailey

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.

 

 

In honor of the Virgin Mary and her Assumption into Heaven

August 15th, 2011by Susan Bailey

Today on this feast of the Assumption, a simple post: letting pictures and songs tell the story of Mary. We can gaze upon the beautiful faces of Jesus and Mary and thank  God for all the blessings we have received in our lives. We can lay down our burdens at the feet of Mary and ask her to take them to her Son for He will refuse her nothing.

Gaze upon the tender love shared between the two, knowing that we too are included in this intimate circle.

Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us!

Readings for the Day:
Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab, Ps 45:10, 11, 12, 16, 1 Cor 15:20-27, Luke 1:39-56

 

 

 

The price for taking one’s eyes off the prize

August 4th, 2011by Susan Bailey

Today I read two very different things that hit me in a big way.

Quote from classic literature’s favorite mother

The first was a quote from a biography I am currently reading on the life of Abba Alcott, “Marmee” of Little Women (Marmee, the Mother of Little Women by Sandford Meddick Salyer). This quote hit me right between the eyes:

From Abba Alcott: ” ‘Let not your left hand know what your right hand doeth’ is a safer principle than that degree of caution which does little on faith and less in love.”

Balking at His call . . .

Yesterday I balked when the Lord asked me to do some ministerial work. An event was being proposed by a dear friend, someone I have worked together with several times, and our work has always born good fruit.

Excuses, excuses . . .

Yet yesterday I found myself filled with misgivings about the offer and I wrote back, citing a full calendar due to my commitments to the Commission for Women of the Diocese of Worcester as its new chairman (and our upcoming women’s conference, Gather Us In 2011), plus a confirmation retreat happening the weekend after the proposed event.

I wrote back my friend, citing the long drive to his church, the time away from my family, the fact that I don’t have the stamina I used to have, etc., etc., etc. . . .

I even wrote, “I hope this doesn’t sound like copping out (maybe it does).”

What about love?

That’s why Abba Alcott’s quote hit me right between the eyes. All my misgivings were all about me. I wasn’t even giving God a chance to lead me through it. My heart was small, like the Grinch who stole Christmas. The last phrase, that degree of caution which does little on faith and less in love.” hit me with a thud.

Needless to say, I wrote back to my friend today and told him I was interested.

Walking or sinking?

Then today I read an outstanding meditation from the RC Catholic Spiritual Direction blog, using the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday, Matthew 14:22-33. It’s the story of Peter, walking on the water. The title is “Why Do We Doubt?” and it maintains that we don’t keep our eyes focused on Jesus.

Hmmm. That sounds like something I was unwilling to do in accepting the proposed event from my friend. At least Peter gave Jesus a chance! I didn’t.

God’s bright, probing light

During my ride into work today I suspended my usual routine and just listened to music so I could reflect. God took that time to shine that bright-but-painful light into my inner self, revealing a spirit of cowardice, a lack of faith, a heart that is still too small, and a life still stuck in the mud.

A firm and loving message

While that bright light was harsh, it was also loving. Throughout the examination, I felt the presence of God encouraging me to continue on and not allow myself to get discouraged. His presence was firm and His desire was clear – keep my wandering eyes and heart fixed on Him! He alone is worthy of trust – He is the Prize.

Be like Peter – accept the invitation to walk on the water. But don’t be like Peter too – never take your eyes off the Prize.

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Discipline is not a dirty word . . .

August 1st, 2011by Susan Bailey

. . . when you’ve fallen down the side of  the mountain. I’ve hit a brick wall of late with my spiritual life, but if I didn’t have my discipline, I would have fallen off the mountain entirely and not even known why. And it would have been a lot harder to climb back up again (and it’s hard enough as it is!).

Discipline was not an appealing option

Being one of those “free-spirited” souls, I have never been attracted to discipline. It put constraints on my freedom and my time. Despite taking 5 years of piano lessons as a child, I can’t play a note in part because I didn’t have the discipline to practice. Often I feel like I’ve squandered my musical talent because of the inability to reign in my “free spirit.”

Applying discipline to my spiritual life didn’t seem to fit either. I remember watching The Nun’s Story with Audrey Hepburn and noticed the way she chafed at the bell ringing for prayer. She hated the interruption and even openly complained to her superior that the bell disrupted important spiritual conversations with patients or interfered with her work as a surgical nurse.

Little did I know I would be applying the concept of the bell to my own prayer life. And it’s proving to be most effective.

A fire burning to a fire dying out

For the last several weeks I have been reading Fr. Thomas Dubay’s book, Fire Within and it is helping me to find the fire within me. It’s a primer on contemplative prayer according to Saints Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. I was reading about Teresa’s seven mansions of prayer when the dryness hit.

I fell away from reading and found prayer increasingly difficult. Deep emotion and consolation turned into dryness and flatness. In the blink of an eye, I felt a million miles away from God yet I knew He had never left my side.

Discipline, technology and concrete measures

The regimen that I had initially set up for prayer was proving to be my lifeline.

I use technology to assist me in my prayer and I have several different rituals that I use to assist me:

  • I have set up my iPod to ring like the bell of a monastery to remind me to pray at different times during the day. Since reading about Teresa’s support of using concrete means to pray, I have loaded spiritual pictures and icons on my iPod so I can look at them as I pray. I also thumb my rosary ring when I pray the Divine Mercy at 3pm.
  • I have been praying a scriptural rosary each day to keep my mind from wandering (The Rosary Army has an excellent one that you can get on iTunes or listen to online. My own Sung Rosary has a scriptural Rosary book which I’ve used).
  • I listen to the daily readings from the USCCB website in the morning and at night, go to sleep listening to the daily mass using the CatholicTV app.
  • In the past I have prayed the Divine Office using the podcasts from divineoffice.org.

And slowly, ever so slowly, I feel myself clawing back up the mountain.

Discipline is life-giving

Rituals can sometimes rule your life, but they can also help to save it. I am so very thankful to Holy Mother  Church for providing the daily mass, the structured prayers and most of all, the wisdom to recommend that we use these resources. I hope that I will always remember how much discipline and structure are helping me to come closer to God.

Emotion is sweet but fleeting. Discipline can be just as sweet, and it’s a lot more dependable too. God does indeed supply all that we need!

 

 

 

Prayer in the midst of distraction

July 16th, 2011by Susan Bailey

In my reading of Thomas Dubay’s book, Fire Within, I have come upon the chapter describing St. Teresa of Avila’s seven mansions. As a preliminary to the discussion of the mansions, Fr. Dubay described her teachings regarding vocal prayer.

Letting go of old habits

As a pure beginner in contemplative prayer, I have felt confused of late as to whether I should be using my imagination to conjure up images during prayer, or think of concepts. From my reading I have gathered that my imagination falls very short of what is possible just by letting go of everything human and allowing myself to be drawn into God’s presence.

Being a creative sort, and a visual learner, putting aside my imagination has been hard to say the least. I have found some wonderful consolation in prayer doing such things, and have also pondered many wonderful ideas. These things aren’t wrong, but they just scratch the surface. God is inviting me to go much deeper and to do that, I must put aside these primitive ways of praying.

Concrete suggestions

Bless St. Teresa and her innate understanding of human nature. She offers concrete ways to enter into this prayer, and I tried one this morning amidst an array of distractions.

She suggested focusing on a favorite image of Jesus and I have an icon I treasure that hangs on wall across from the rocking chair in our bedroom where I will pray and write. It’s pictured to the left.

I began to pray my rosary and focused on the picture. Now mind you, there was an unusual amount of noise and chaos going on around me – the roofers had arrived promptly at 7:30 am and were tearing our roof apart! Shingles were falling like rain!

Peace in the midst of chaos

In the middle of the rosary, one of the workman knocked on the door, needing to get into our basement to access the chimney. I calmly let him in and resumed my prayer.

My son then came in and we discussed plans for the day. I continued to remain calm and returned to prayer as if nothing happened.

This has never happened before!

Interruption to prayer always entailed frustration, aggravation, irritation. Yet this time I managed to stay in the presence of Jesus and remained calm. My peace was not disrupted.

Gazing upon the face of Jesus

The only thing I can think of that I did differently was to keep my focus on Jesus and just gaze upon Him.

My spiritual mother daily sits in her rocking chair and just contemplates the face of Jesus. I was in awe of that and envied her.

Now I have a taste of what she experiences.

Possibilities

It’s possible for me, and it’s possible for you too. Fr. Dubay reminds anyone who will listen that we are all called to deeper communion. St. Paul reminds us to “pray always.” It can be done.

And the more you taste it, the more the desire will grow.