Category Archives: Faith

When St. Francis and St. Anthony Show Up At Your House

It started a couple of years ago with a medal showing up on my bedroom floor. It had two saints on it. One side was St. Francis. The other side was St. Anthony. I asked my husband and children if it belonged to any of them. They all said, “No.” I asked my friends and relatives who had visited anytime lately if it belonged to them. They all said, “No.” I asked my neighbors, who all said, “No.” Where did this medal come from? I had no idea, but I knew that St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony of Padua were going to be with me for a while.

My daughter’s Confirmation was coming up soon. I headed to look for the perfect gift for her. I noticed an entire wall full of Crucifixes. There were probably 100 at least. Suddenly, this one jumped out and said, “Pick me!” I held it in my hands and realized that I really should give her something else as she already had a crucifix. Plus her older brother’s Confirmation gift was quite different from this. I saw exactly what she needed and added that to my basket. I then looked at the price on the Crucifix and thought, “Why am I buying this?” But I bought it anyway.

I immediately hung this Crucifix in our front hall. My husband noticed it and asked me about it. How do you explain this to your very logical, reasonable husband? I just said, “I was supposed to buy it.” He was fine with that but asked who the people were? The Crucifix had Jesus on the Cross along with four people, one on each end of the cross. I told him, “I have no idea.” He said, “Maybe we should find out.” Good idea! So I got online and googled this Crucifix. I discovered it was called the Misericordia Crucifix. Misericordia means “mercy” in Latin, I believe. Anyway, this crucifix was a 14th-century processional cross. It features St. Francis at the top; the Blessed Virgin on the left; St. John the Beloved on the right; and St. Anthony of Padua at the bottom. So here they were, St. Francis and St. Anthony, showing up at my home again.

Then there was the conclave of March 2013. My beloved friend Pope Benedict XVI was resigning and a new pope would be elected. My children and I watched as they announced the white smoke. Such excitement! Who could understand the language of the announcement. I believe it was made in Latin, but our Latin wasn’t up to translating this! Then I said, “Did they just say Francis?” Sure enough. Our new pope chose the name “Francis” after St. Francis of Assisi.

Twenty three years before this, I visited the town of Assisi, Italy. I fell in love with the quaint streets and festival of flowers. Tiny flower petals were placed on the sidewalks, creating entire scenes. One I remember best was DaVinci’s Last Supper replicated with flower petals! When I saw it, all I could think was, “Please, God, don’t let the wind blow!”

The one church I wanted to visit was the Basilica where St. Francis was buried. When I arrived, a notice was posted that an earthquake had made the church unsafe and we would not be allowed to go inside. Such disappointment! I was very saddened because I also had not been able to see the Sistine Chapel because of a major restoration project. It felt like every time I tried to visit a holy place, the doors were closed!

However, St. Francis will not be outdone in mercy. Decades later, he and his buddy St. Anthony showed up at my house and have continued to shower many gifts upon me and my family. During the past two years, so many amazing things have occurred tied to this dear saint that if I listed them all, you would most likely not believe me. Suffice it to say that St. Francis was an instrument of peace, and he brings blessings to all those who are open to God’s grace and mercy. Perhaps that is why his order is 30,000 strong not counting all the orders who share his charism and the lay people who are Third Order Franciscans!

To honor this dear soul, lover of peace and of Jesus Christ, won’t you pray his prayer with me?

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us.

St. Anthony of Padua, pray for us.

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Finding The Little Flower

l owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to a little soul. I have never met her, but she has deeply impacted my life. When my husband and I were in need of tenderness and gentleness, she not only welcomed us with warm kindness, but brought us home with her. She made sure that we were not only well cared for, but that our children were embraced, too. She knew how hard life could be, so she sat with me and told me many stories that would prepare me for the years to come. She had a way of telling stories that made you feel as if you were there. I just knew whatever story she shared from her life, it was going to be important in my life. We became very close friends. At one point, when I least expected it, she introduced me to her best friend. It was just like her to sneak up on me and spring this friend upon me. I loved her so dearly already, how in the world could I not love her friend!? And he was amazing. The more time I spent with him, the more I wanted to spend time with him.

As the years went by, I discovered that I was going to be moving away. She had been a very important part of our lives. I really didn’t know how to tell her, but I think she already knew. I introduced her to many of my friends, hoping that they, too, would get to know and love her. I also wanted them to meet her best friend. Some of my friends were very thrilled to meet him, too. About a year ago, I had a chance to go back and visit her. She was just the same, but this time it wasn’t so hard to part ways because we had become so close that she was always with me in my heart. A few months later, a good friend surprised me with a special gift from her. It was a rose petal from her writing desk. Wasn’t that just like her to send her love in the form of a rose petal? It sits on my bedside table and reminds me that I have a dear friend who loves me.

St. Therese of Lisieux, pray for us!

Lovely Lady Dressed in Blue Teach Us How to Pray

May is Mary’s month. Today, my children and I held a May Procession to honor the Blessed Virgin. My eldest daughter was voted “May Queen” and carried the crown of roses. We sang our favorite hymns, processing to our statue of Mary in the front yard. My daughter crowned her as we sang, “Immaculate Mary.” We honored Our Blessed Mother as best we could out of love.

My devotion to Mary is a deep part of my faith life. I completely understand why St. Pope John Paul II chose the motto, “Totus Tuus” for his pontificate. He, too, had a very deep devotion to Our Lady. You see, Mary is the reason I found my way back to Jesus and God. Just like a good mom, she waded down into my mess and helped me rise up through it. She didn’t yank my arm or scold me. She just gently nudged me then offered her hand. Actually, it started one Christmas.

My husband and I had gone to university and become “brilliant.” We both walked away from our faith, although we both now acknowledge we really didn’t even know our faith. We went to a state university and got liberal arts degrees. We listened to the “enlightened” and questioned everything we had been taught, including our faith. Thankfully, neither one of us chose to go agnostic or atheist. We were Christians, but had no clue how to put that into practice outside of the Catholic Church.

We started visiting all different denominations to “church shop.” Sometimes, we would stay for a month or a year. We would always get involved, help serve, join Bible studies and try to get to know the Truth. But, when we asked the hard questions, the minister would either dodge or give a non-answer. The congregation was no help either. Half of them didn’t even understand why we wanted to know these answers. Honestly, we didn’t realize that the questions we were asking were theology questions. That’s how ignorant we were. Most of these denominiations’ theology was illogical or fundamentally flawed. Somehow, we both saw through this pretty quickly. That’s why we never stayed at a church long. To be sure, we were lost, but at least we were seeking the Truth.

Then, one Christmas, we were shopping at Barnes & Noble for Christmas gifts. I have mentioned before that books are my weakness. But after a few hours, even I was “booked” out. My husband suggested we stop at the in store Cafe for a refreshment. The store was absolutely packed. We decided to cut through a row of book shelves to beat the crowd. As we are speedily walking through, I abruptly halt, turn my head and pull a book off of the middle of a shelf. I say to my husband, “I am supposed to get this book.” He says, “What are you talking about? What book is it?” I didn’t know. I read the title, “Medjugorje: The Message” by Wayne Weible. My husband asked, “What is it about?” I said I didn’t know but Mary was on the front cover. He thought I was crazy but said, “Get it if you want.”

As I read this book , it changed my heart. After reading it, I wept in the shower for days. I turned to Mary for guidance and direction. I converted and handed my life over to her in a big way. I didn’t say a word of this to my husband. It was the beginning of a long journey back to our Catholic faith.

A few years later, I met the author Wayne Weible at a Catholic seminar. I introduced myself and shared my conversion story. He smiled and said that Mary has used him as an instrument for conversion. His book is not his own. It belongs to Mary. He shared enough stories with me that I realized that many, many people are finding their way home because the Blessed Mother is gathering them under her mantle. She is so gentle and loving. She shows us the surest path to her Son and like a good mother, makes sure her little ones are cared for along the way.

In all my brokenness, I had turned away from God. The sins of my past life weighed me down like an anchor. Seeking the Truth felt like running in circles because we could not find answers to our deepest questions. Enter Mary. Mary taught me how to pray. She opened the doors of my heart and allowed me a graceful return to my faith. When I was ready, she began to walk me through the life of her Son and explain what He has done for me. I haven’t always been the most disciplined or humble daughter, but she has never given up hope in me. Now, I see just how precious our Blessed Mother is for all of us. Jesus’ gift from the cross of His Mother is indeed one of the greatest gifts we could receive from Him. It is with deep gratitude and humility I pray, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!”

 

Is your marriage white, chocolate or lemon?

I traveled this weekend to say goodbye to the family farm. It has been in the family for over 150 years. My great-grandfather came from Germany and “pinned” the land. He gave each of his sons a farm. This gift meant a whole lot during the Depression. Our family didn’t suffer much because by then, we owned the land free and clear, along with the fact that growing food and livestock was part of the farm plans anyway.

Fast forward to the current generation of owners. My father and his three siblings jointly own the land. We have rented it to other farmers for decades. With the financial needs for medical care mounting for my elders, they have finally decided to sell.

So, we gathered for a “Farewell to the Farm” celebration. We also celebrated a 50th Wedding Anniversary, a 17th Wedding Anniversary, and a Wedding Engagement. Three generations of family celebrating the various states of marriage. My talented cousin whipped up one of her famous wedding cakes. It was a three-tier cake: white, chocolate, and lemon.

Isn’t that just like marriage? In the beginning, it’s white–pure and simple. Your love for each other helps you see just how wonderful that person is. Truly, your spouse is a gift from God. The white tier was the largest tier. That makes sense. Lots of people get married and love their spouse.

Then, as you progress through years of parenting, job changes, life changes, things can get a little murky. You begin to see your spouse’s faults so clearly, even while you ignore your own! But through this process, if God is the center of your marriage, love becomes much richer and deeper because it is a choice, not an emotion. This chocolate cake was the second tier and it wasn’t quite as big as the white cake. That also makes sense because many people don’t put God at the center of their marriage. When they finally see their spouse, warts and all, they want to divorce. Never mind that they have their warts, too! Yep, not as many marriages make it to the chocolate stage.

Finally, if you make it through the gauntlet, you arrive at the realization that you picked a lemon, but you managed to make lemonade! You’ve learned to take the sweet and sour of life together in stride. This was by far the smallest tier on the cake. Many people make it through those child-rearing years, only to find that they no longer know or care about their spouse. God was never the center of their marriage, and they were just getting through life, holding it together for the kids. Once the kids are gone, another portion of marriages end in divorce. Definitely, the smallest amount of marriages arrive at lemon.

All this to say that although “farewell to the farm” is sad, our family celebrates as it continues to grow and welcome new members with love. And yes, some marriages will not make it, but we pray that each couple keeps God at the center of their lives together and find that sweet spot called lemon.

Worry or Pray

I occasionally struggle with worry, especially when it comes to my dear ones facing problems that are out of our control. Today, a friend of mine shared this story:

A long time ago, a wise judge was faced with a room full of upset people. They all had many worries and wanted his advice. He asked them all to write down the one most important worry that they had in their life and place it in a large earthen jar. After everyone had placed their worry in the jar, he asked them to now draw one worry out of the jar. As probability would have it, each drew a different worry than their own. After reading their selected “new” worry, they all decided they would like to have back their own original worry!

As a Christian, I know that I am called to either worry or trust. It is that simple. But as a human, I find myself with my stomach in knots and my mind racing about how I can help. I get so caught up in the emotional side of the event, that I totally neglect the spiritual side.

This week, my family received heart-breaking news. It was so out of our control that we all felt helpless. Being physically far away forces me to simply pray because it’s all I can do. I realize now that it is what we should do first anyway! While my family scrambled to take action, I took to prayer. In my many sighs and tears to God, He revealed to me that the family member needed healing–spiritual healing. That’s when I took action. I made phone calls and helped arrange for a priest in another city to visit this family member. At first, I met with lots of barriers. But I have a not-so-secret weapon called “The Divine Mercy Chaplet.” At the hour of mercy (3:00 p.m.), I begged God to send me a holy priest. I was getting nowhere by myself and needed His help. Within 30 seconds of finishing my prayer, the phone was ringing and a priest was on the line. The ending of this Chaplet prayer is: “Jesus, I trust in you.” Such a simple prayer, yet so easy to forget, and even harder to do!

Are You Building Up or Breaking Down?

Have you have ever watched a home or a building being constructed? It can seem to take forever to complete. Digging the foundation is a big job. Weather conditions have to be just right for many parts of the construction. There is an order that must be followed or you will end up with an unreliable structure. All of this to say that building or unifying is hard work. It is God’s work and it is often beyond what we are capable of doing on our own.

On the other hand, destroying is quick and easy. A couple of well-placed explosives and some front-loaders and dump trucks can clear a building or bridge rather quickly as we witnessed recently in our neighborhood. It is relatively easy to take down a building or a family. Divisiveness or destruction is the Devil’s work. He is completely thrilled when he sees us giving into this temptation. There is no need for help when it comes to sin. We are perfectly capable of doing this all on our own. The real lie we often believe is that our personal sin affects no one but ourselves. Ha, ha, ha. That is a really great “whopper” of a lie. Because when we sin, we separate ourselves even further from God. We separate ourselves from each other. Our sin can divide our friendships, our church, and ultimately our family.

Keeping a family together demands God’s help. We must practice forgiveness daily. We must serve each other, not use each other. We must practice charity when we would really like to “give them a piece of my mind.” We must keep God at the center of our family— not soccer, not television, not money. Unifying your family is a real challenge in today’s world. When the media is screaming that we should want more, do less, and live a life of vice, you wonder where the truth has gone. I say we must fight this good fight and not allow Satan to have his way with ourselves or our family. And it starts with visiting the church of two-knees!

 

Looking Back at Missed Opportunities

At Mass today, I couldn’t help but notice her. She sat by herself, nicely coiffed, with her dark black curls fixed just so and her petite size 4 designer clothes immaculately pressed. Her posture reminded me of a ballerina, except that she had a humility that is hard to find in a dancer. I’m guessing that she is in her late 70s or early 80s.

The reason I couldn’t stop seeing her was because she was by herself. Many years ago, when my children were young and I was hopeful to attend daily Mass, she and her two sisters would always stop and talk with us. Over weeks and months, we got to know them better, and they each had their own sweet personalities. They had such a similar look and mannerism that my children may have thought they were triplets. It was like having three Grandmas cooing and adoring my passel of children. Even though they were not related to us, they knew how to love and my family basked in their warmth.

As life goes, we moved away and moved on. We haven’t seen these ladies in years. Today, we went back to celebrate Mass for Mother’s Day with my husband’s mom at her church. That’s why I saw her. So many questions I wanted to ask. Were her sisters still living? I hope they had just moved into a nursing home. Was she the youngest? Did any of them have children? What is life like when your best friends and also your sisters die before you?

As Mass ended, and we headed out the door, I turned to see if she was in the crowd. That’s when another friend and her family spied us and interrupted my thoughts. “Happy Mother’s Day,” she said and gave me a hug. I smiled and hugged her back. When I remembered to look back, my elderly friend was nowhere to be seen. I hope she has a lovely Mother’s Day and may the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.

 

 

Hard Work Brings Its Own Rewards

What happened to good ol’ hard work? I mean really? What happened? When physical work went away, we lost the lessons that came with that hard work and I don’t think we realized it. As an example, my children have no idea what “hanging laundry” means, but I can close my eyes and hear Grandma singing and smell the flowers she diligently planted and tended in her yard by the laundry lines. I can smell those crisp white sheets that she ironed and put on the guest bed for me. Yes, it was hard work, but both the results and process were amazing!

How about homegrown vegetables–remember those? Both sets of my grandparents had giant gardens that produced more than they could ever use. They canned what they might need in the winter, but then they shared with neighbors and whoever was in need. The closest my children can come to understand this is having a commercial canned food drive for the food pantry at church. I would like to say I learned to garden from my grandparents, but I grew up in the city where my parents had moved which was far from the family farm and small town where my grandparents lived.

My paternal grandparents were farmers, although both had college educations which was rare for those times. My maternal grandparents were a barber and housewife who took in washing and ironing. Both sets of grandparents knew what hard work meant. My parents were wise enough to send me and my siblings for long visits during the summer. It was during these trips that I learned to hand wash dishes, hang laundry, make beds, weed gardens, fish for dinner, herd cattle out of the corn, drive a vehicle, walk to daily Mass, and build wood bridges over creeks.

Telling you all about my grandparents makes me miss them terribly since they have all passed on. They loved me in a very special way. My own husband never really knew any of his grandparents because they had all died by the time he was five years old. He did get to know three of my four grandparents which was a blessing for him.

I’ve thought a lot about my grandparents and their hard work ethic. I think the real secret to their ability to work hard was their ability to rest. They had a mid-afternoon rest time where we would all gather in their living room and pick our nap spot. They had the most comfortable pillows in the world. I can still see them and feel them in my mind’s eye. And somehow that room was cool, even though they didn’t have air conditioning. We would rest for an hour and it was wonderful. We were ready to go with another round of work once we had rested.

Even better yet, as hard as they all worked, they loved God even more. So on Sundays, after Mass, we enjoyed time together over a large meal. We did nothing on Sundays except be with Christ and be together. It was slice of heaven on earth. All my grandparents had faith and lived it the best way they knew how. I may not have learned how to garden from them or how to run a farm, nor do I have the rewards of the type of hard physical work they knew, but I have something even better — their faith.

Finding the Good in Good Friday

Only God could take something as brutal and wicked as a crucifixion of an innocent man and make it into something good and holy. We call today “Good Friday,” and it is good in so many ways. However, as my children are presenting a live “Stations of the Cross” today due to a request from an audience member at their Passion Play, I am vividly aware of the brutality and evil that was present during our Lord’s Passion. As I watch my children act out these scenes, I shudder. The same crowds that sang “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is the he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest,” when Jesus entered Jerusalem are now asking for his death, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” I think the Lord has a very clear understanding of the human heart.

Sacrificing your only begotten Son in itself is heart-wrenching. I think about Abraham and Isaac. God put Abraham to the test and asked him to sacrifice his son. I personally am not sure how I would respond to such a request. I would like to say my faith is such that I would gather up the wood and head up the mountain. But I know myself well enough to realize that I probably would begin a long argument with God.

But not Father Abraham! His heart must have been so pure. And I think he must have done a pretty good job raising his son Isaac because Isaac was carrying the instruments of sacrifice. Isaac even realized what was going on and asked, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” Fast forward in the story and Abraham is getting ready to sacrifice his son. Abraham was elderly and his son Isaac was a youth. I think Isaac could have fought off his father and escaped, but he clearly didn’t. Did Abraham share his faith with his son at such a deep level that even Isaac understood that God’s plan is the best plan no matter what? God stopped Abraham before he could sacrifice Isaac, but God surely saw just how much Abraham loved Him. He also saw how much Isaac was obedient to his own father and to God’s plan. This must have pleased God very much.

God asks a lot of us. He even asks for sacrifice at times. We are only capable of doing this because of His great love within us. But God never takes us over the edge. He may take us to the edge, but never beyond what we can handle. Only He is willing and able to do that as He shows with his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, on the Cross for our salvation. And that, my friends, is why He is God!

Jumping Off a 7-Story Building

I would not say I am a risk-taker, but I did choose to throw myself off a 7-story building when I was in high school. It took a lot of courage to do it and here’s why: I was being held only by a rope and spotted by others down on the ground. Of course, I had been rappelling over a few smaller cliffs and had trained to get to this point.

Standing on the ledge of a 7-story building can change your perspective. I wondered if I would really go through with this. I remember the feeling of backing up to the edge of the ledge and realizing that I just had to go for it. Talk about understanding the meaning of trust! I had to trust that I had reliable equipment, knowledgeable instructors and attentive spotters.

At this point, many people would choose to walk away, but not me! There was an added dilemma to this whole ordeal. We were working from a building that the fire department uses for practice on high-rise fires which meant that there were no windows. The building was just a concrete structure with giant holes shaped like rectangles for the windows. I remember my instructor saying, “Just be careful not to swing sideways because you don’t want to swing into an open window hole. That would be bad.” As he is saying this, I am immediately thinking of all the variables that could make that happen, like wind, my trembling hands, and lack of experience. It took a lot of courage, but in the end, I jumped. I followed all the rules that I had learned to safely rappel. When I got to the bottom, I was ready to go again.

This is how it is to trust God’s will for us. Often, we must jump without knowing with certainty how things will land. Isn’t that the definition of faith? Such a simple word, but so hard to put into practice. God will give us the grace we need in those moments, just like I had the equipment and people to help me jump. God has also given us some very wise instruction in His Word (also known as the Bible). God has considered all the variables and knows how to help those work for our good. And when we land safely, we are so happy to know that we have true faith and we are ready to go further, higher, deeper, wider for our good God. And maybe even bring some others along to try it, too!