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A Meditation on the Sacred Heart of Jesus

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Biblically, the heart is the center of the human being, the seat of decision, the place of prayer to which one withdraws. It is where God comes to make His home in us. The heart is the place of longing, and spiritual thirst, the place of encounter, the place of union.*

Incarnate in Jesus, God now has a human heart, at one with His divine nature, a Heart which we call “The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.” Some version of this representation of Him adorns nearly every Catholic Church and home. Usually the image is of St. Margaret Mary’s apparition of Our Lord with a visible Heart which is on fire with divine love, radiant like the sun, surrounded by the thorns that symbolize His suffering and death, and topped by the cross, the symbol of His victory.

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This is a very dearly loved image of Jesus, and one of great power for us. Jesus’ heart is the center of His being, the seat of His human consciousness, the abyss of His Divine love, mercy, and compassion.

We find in the Scriptures, and we experience, in the practice and grace of prayer, that Christ has thirsted for us, has loved us first. He can easily be found by our withdrawing in prayer into our own hearts, where we are, where He is.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus is one in love with the sacred heart of you, the sacred heart of me, our hearts reflecting His, and His ours, living within one another. We need only be conscious of this to make this truth part of our lives of love, prayer and service, and to look for and find Him in every human heart. 

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Christ living within us has experienced our loves, humiliations, rejections, our own sufferings, deaths and resurrections. We, living in Him, as His Body and Bride, the Church, have experienced His life, too. The Sacred Heart in religious art can also be seen as a symbol of this solidarity and union, this communion and humanity we share with Christ, as well as the mystical union we have with His divinity. More obviously it is a symbol of His love for us, which is the heart of prayer, which is the Heart of our lives.

Sometimes it is hard to remember that Jesus suffers with us and takes our pain upon Himself. In the midst of the extremes of life’s suffering love, we need to know that His tears are mixed with ours, that we have a God who knows sorrow, a God who is Love, a God who wants to give Himself to us in the Eucharist, and share with us His divine life in the Trinity forever.

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In my times of deepest pain, it does not help much to ask why. It helps a lot more to “look” silently at the Sacred Heart of Jesus, into the tender darkness to which I withdraw, into the ruins of my heart, made sacred by His dwelling there, so it can be re-built to His purpose. In that gaze, “why” doesn’t matter, as much as Who this is Who loves me, and is my God. That’s where trust comes from; accepting the Heart of this Lord, Who is Love. What else is there? What more could we need, than to know and live in this Heart, allowing Christ’s Heart to live in us.? What more could we give anyone else, than the knowledge, by our love and presence, that this is so, and that the Heart of Jesus lives in us for them and in them for us? What more could we give our beloved Lord than to “Return love for Love”  as He asked us through St. Margaret Mary, by being attentive to His holy presence in our hearts?

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Jesus took up the cross, the Scripture says, “for the sake of the joy that lay before Him.” It’s easy to think about His joy as His future Resurrection and glory with His Father in Heaven. But we forget sometimes, that part of the joy that lay before Him, was ourselves. Being with us was worth it to Him. After all, this is also why He came to begin with, from the glory He had from the beginning, to take on our humanity, to be with us, to capture our hearts, to transform,redeem and raise us, to be one with us, that our hearts might burn with divine fire. May we  be willing to wear the crown of thorns that love often requires of us, until we share in the victory of the cross, and in His divine life itself, bringing many with us.

Let’s withdraw into the silence of our hearts and find His own beating there as often as possible. We can do this in the moments of recollection we can find through the day, and in the time we set aside to give Him, in silent love, especially before the Blessed Sacrament.  May we grow always and everywhere in awareness of His indwelling, nurture His presence in us, love Him better, be His joy.

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Happy June, month of the Sacred Heart.

May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be praised, adored, and loved, in the tabernacle of every human heart, to the end of time, and forever in the the life to come! Amen.

 

*see CCC Section 4 “Christian Prayer”

Also by me regarding the Sacred Heart: Jesus, give us Your Heart! Make us strong to love!

Praying the News with Mary

I was a conscientious objector to the world as soon as I was old enough to notice how it was going, and how apathetic everyone else seemed to be about it all. “What’s the matter with you people,” I used to think. Engaging in the news just made me feel overwhelmed by the suffering of those who suffered, and filled me with contempt for everyone else for letting it all happen!thumbimage

During my particularly opinionated and concerned teens, my dad disliked watching the news with me because I would become so outraged.

He used to ask me, “Why do you want to save the world so much when you hate everybody in it?”

This is a problem. How do you “want to save the world,” love everyone in it and not freak out when you attend to the day’s news?

 

 

For a while I cut myself off from the media. Who needs a head full of all that stuff and what good does it do anyone to hear it? Especially once I became serious about my prayer life, I felt the news distracted me and cluttered up my mind.

What I eventually found, as I developed  spiritually over time, is that we can make our intake of news media a form of prayer, and that Mary’s is the perfect example of the praying, listening heart, ready to cooperate with God on behalf of the world, and constantly doing exactly that.

 

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Mary did not and does not sit out on  God’s movement in the world. She was always part of it all her life. If we love, and we want to pray, neither can we sit out.  With that idea in mind,  I try to keep up with the news to a reasonable degree these days. It’s one way of participating in the life of humanity, it’s part of loving, praying, being part of the family.

With a Marian perspective, being informed can become less about taking in information and more about listening to the  world, and interceding for it. We can weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice and this, too, is prayer.

Mary listens to the cries of the world right now and her hearing becomes her prayer in the presence of her Son. We can imitate her listening heart and we can join her in prayer as we tune in to the radio, open the paper, click on a news story on-line. Then we receive the news purposefully aware of God’s presence, actually praying it with the Heart of Mary, rather than just reading or hearing it.

How is this done?

It’s simple and beautiful, and human, just like Mary.

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Have you ever had something from the news cling to you and you couldn’t stop thinking about it and you prayed about it with or without words?

Have you ever had nothing to say to someone’s sorrow except to pray in silence as you sat with him and listened, or you were just present with the sufferer as prayer itself?

Have you ever heard the Scriptures read at mass and you knew God was speaking right to you and you listened and responded to Him from the heart?

Have you ever stopped what you were doing because of something you heard or read or saw, and simply closed your eyes in silent gratitude?

If you have, then you have listened, pondered, and cherished, with the heart of Mary, and God has come through you to comfort the world, to heal and restore it.

You opened a door in your heart, and Heaven came through. It touched everyone.

Isn’t that prayer? Isn’t that what Mary’s life exemplifies?

Her small foot -prints trace a beautiful pattern for us of Christian prayer.

 

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       By her prayerful receptivity, Jesus came to us.
       In our prayer of quiet, we too, are channels of His grace.

       Pregnant with Jesus, she sang the prophetic praises of God in her Magnificat.

       Jesus  lives within us and we too sing the Divine praises.

As a young mother, she pondered the events in the life of her Son, reflecting on them in her heart. We pray and meditate on the Life of the Lord always.

She confronted His seeming abandonment and expressed her hurt dismay to Him at the Temple

She was perceptive of the young couple’s problem at the wedding at Cana, interceding with her Son, eliciting His first miracle, and His disciples believed in Him. We intercede for others and pray that they, too, may be helped in their troubles and opened to God’s self-revelation in their lives.

She walked with Jesus as He carried the Cross. She stood with Him in His suffering. She allowed her heart to be “pierced with the sword” in cooperation with His sacrifice, herself to be given as a mother to the beloved disciple. We accept suffering prayerfully, trusting in God that in Christ He will turn grief into glory, and that through our sorrow He will open us, in compassion, as a gift to others.

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After the Resurrection she stood with the disciples watching Jesus, Who she loved and lived for, ascend into Heaven so that the Holy Spirit could flood the world as He promised. We pray and make sacrifices as well, giving up our own desires as a prayer that others may be comforted and know the love of God.

She was in prayer with the early Church when the Descent of the Holy Spirit changed the world forever and the mission of the Church began. The Church is still in prayer with Mary, and still on mission, full of the Holy Spirit.

What Mary hears and experiences passes through her heart as prayer offered to God. She is the exemplar of the praying, receptive soul who gives the world to Christ, and Christ to the world.

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This is what Mary did with her life, and what she does with her life in Heaven. This is for us to do, too. As St. Ambrose says, “May the soul of Mary be in each one of us to glorify the Lord! “

In Mary’s life with Jesus, the Holy Spirit was most active in her soul, and therefore  in ours as well,  through the prayer of silent, loving receptivity that conceives and gives birth to grace in mysterious ways only He knows. Trusting this brings a deeply spiritual dimension to the everyday experience of keeping up with current events.

We are still going to react emotionally to the news. Praying the news is not a way to escape the piercing of our own hearts. In fact sometimes the news of some atrocity in the world brings more tears to my eyes than ever before. I cannot begin to imagine how Mary feels, how Jesus feels, about these things.

We will still disagree with some things we read or hear sometimes. (I admit I will argue with the radio.) But our own reaction is not our focus anymore. Our focus is to accompany Mary in prayer, and to become “a smooth channel for the outflow of [the] Divine Will into this world.” (Fr. Adrien Van Kaam)

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Among the Lilies: A Resurrection Encounter

All night … I looked 

 for the one my soul loves; 

I looked for him but did not find him. 

I will go through the streets of the city, 

I will search for him my soul loves. 

The watchmen found me as they made their rounds in the city.

I asked them, 

Have you seen my love?”  

The angels pitied me.

They said to me,

“Search among the lilies…

He is not here!

He lies not in darkness

Nor in the folds of the cloth.”

But I could not breathe, so sick was I with love,

So I asked the gardener,

“Where have you taken him? Tell me!”

“Woman,” he asked,” why do you weep,

Your beloved is yours and you are his.

He feeds his flock among lilies.

…Miriam… Mary!”

“Rabonni!”

I rose, a rose unfolding, lilies opened at my feet

My love was so complete, my love was so complete

Grave flowers sprang up living, blossoming at our feet

Our love was so complete, our love was so complete.

In that love, I found him, I held him, and I would not let him go.

“Oh! Come to me, Miriam!…but cling not

Don’t grieve for the world past and gone..receive my Heart

Receive the Lily!”

Oh woman who brings the great tiding to Zion

Get thee to the high mountain…

Lift up your voice with strength

Be not afraid, say unto the cities of Judah,

“Behold your God!  Behold your God! Behold your God!”

That Miriam found among the lilies.

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* See: Song of Songs 3: 1-4a, John 20:11-18 ,Song of Songs 2:16, Isaiah 40:9

 

Note:

The relationship expressed in this poem is in the Catholic tradition of Bride Mysticism, explained here http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09703a.htm

In no way do I intend to present any other idea about the life of St. Mary Magdalene, but that which the Catholic Church believes and teaches about her through Scripture and Tradition. (See http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09761a.htm  for a history of the Church’s thought on St. M.M., “Apostolora Apostolorum” Apostle to the Apostles)

Italian Texans celebrate St. Joseph

In the late 1800’s groups of Italians, mostly from the towns of Corleone and Poggioreriale in Sicily, migrated to the Brazos Valley and settled in and around Bryan. By 1905 there were about 3000 Italians living in Bryan. They founded St. Anthony’s Catholic Church  and a little mission church in the country side, San Salvador.

Many of the names that fill the historic Catholic cemetery, Mt. Calvary, in Bryan, are some of the same family names you will hear around town now; Scarmardo, Ruffino,  Patranella, Palasota, Fazzino, and Lampo, are just a few of them. These Italian names are still names of some of the businesses, and streets of Bryan. They are woven into our history, part of our life, as so many of the descendants of those families are still with us here.

Some families still make traditional Italian St. Joseph altars, often in thanksgiving, if they have promised one to St. Joseph in response to prayers answered. When his feast day is coming up, people will get to hear there is an altar and thousands, (yes, I’m serious,) will come from all around. The family and friends hosting the St. Joseph altar will cook for days in preparation. All are welcome. Some years there are no St. Joseph altars. Some years there are several, and one can make a tour of the different houses where the celebrations are being held. These occasions are also considered a chance to share with the less fortunate. The tradition of these St. Joseph altars originated in Sicily, of which St. Joseph is the patron saint, and have several interesting customs associated with them that are still practiced here today.

I visited  Lillian Scarmardo Hughes and her husband, Tom, to learn more about St. Joseph altars, as they prepared to celebrate their own “small” St. Joseph altar celebration at their own home. They are expecting about 60 people.

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Msr. John McCaffrey, Tom and Lillian Hughes in front of the St. Joseph altar

 

There is a lot of variation in St.Joseph altars according to the people who make them. However, there are certain things that are traditional and defining. The altar is set up in a household or common building such as a parish hall or school. It is made up of three tiers to symbolize the Blessed Trinity, and also the Holy Family.

The top tier will hold an image of St. Joseph or of the Holy Family, surrounded by greenery, fruit, and flowers.

Next there will be at least three breads made for the occasion, each in a shape of a symbol of St.Joseph, of Jesus, of Mary. Lillian and Tom have chosen to represent the Holy family with a rosary for Mary, a cross for Jesus, and a hammer shaped bread for St. Joseph. These breads are called panne grosso, “big breads.” Lilly tells me that over the years on some altars around town, the tradition has grown to include other saints as well, and you will seesquartucciata made in the shape of the symbols of other saints as well. People who have a devotion to one of these other saints will bring breads over to represent them for the altar as well.

On Tom and Lillian’s home alter you can also see some lovely porcelain templates from Poggioreriale  for the beautiful intricate pastries made for the altars; fig cookies called cuccidatti.

Lillian and Tom raveled to Italy twice. Lilly was able to be in her grandfather’s home town (he and his brother had left for America in 1880) of Poggioreiale during the preparation of the St. Joseph altars there. She was even able to meet a blood cousin!

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She was welcomed enthusiastically to help make the squartucciati, the ornate fig cookies. and other foods. The women there were amazed that Lillian knew all about St. Joseph altars and how to make the various pastries. They were very moved that the tradition had been handed down and carried on in Texas by their people who immigrated there. It sounded like a magical moment. I could see the glow in Lillian’s eyes while she told me this story and showed me her pictures of it.

She plans to return to Sicily at least one more time in her life.

The cooking begins very early. It is usually a meatless spaghetti dinner and plenty is made so the poor can also be served. An egg is added to the sauce for each guest, to represent new life.

For nine days before the altar is actually presented, a novena to St. Joseph is prayed, along with a rosary sung in Italian.

At some point a priest will come and bless the altar.

Some common objects on the alar will be fava beans, which the Sicilians usually fed their cattle but were reduced to eating during a terrible drought and famine. They prayed to the patron of Sicily, St. Joseph and their prayers were answered. This is how St. Joseph altars began; in gratitude to St.Joseph.

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The flowers, vegetables and fruit represent the harvest and gratitude to God for His gifts and providence.

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There will also be wine to represent the wedding at Cana.

IMG_2045There are other symbols, as well, of St. Joseph, such as bread crumbs which represent saw dust.

There may be Squartucciatis made to look like sandals, carpentry tools, monstrances, crosses, doves, and other Christian symbols.

There are usually lilies at the altar, traditionally St. Joseph’s flower.

There is often a basket on the altar for people to put in their written petitions to St. Joseph.

On the day of St.Joseph’s feast, or the closest day the family can accommodate family and friends, the celebration is held.

There will be the Ceremony of Saints, during which people representing Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, knock three times and ask for shelter. This is called the “Tupa tupa” part of the ceremony. They Holy Family is refused twice, but the third time are welcomed in, along with people representing a variety of other saints.

The person representing Jesus, most often a child, blesses the altar with holy water and a sprig of mint.

The Holy Family is served first in three small courses. Sometimes the host will wash their feet and hands. In some families the feet of children are kissed.

Everyone is served a small glass of wine as a token of unity and friendship.

Then the altar is “broken” and all are served. Everyone is welcome, plus there is plenty left over to go out and serve the poor of the community.

Lillian loves these celebrations and grew up with them. Her mother, Rosalie Scarmardo, is remembered for having been particularly talented in helping people with their altars

After the representatives of the Holy Family are served, a spaghetti dinner and general celebration takes  place. Everyone is sent home with a goodie bag of the ring cookies, fig cookies, a fava bean, and some holy cards of St. Joseph.

Be blessed, St. Joseph, be welcome among us, pray for us. 

Thank you so much to Lillian and Tom Hughes, and to Becky Scamardo for their help and generosity.

For more, please see my upcoming column in The Eagle on March 24, or read my post at ATX Catholic.  

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Meditating on the Word: a lesson from the Desert Fathers and Mothers

The Eucharist is the Word of God made flesh that we take into our bodies and souls with greatest reverence. As Jeff Cavins says, The Bible is “… the Word of God made text,” that we take into our eyes, ears and minds.  We are to let it dwell in us richly, living and active in us, abiding in us, hidden in our hearts.

One way to allow Scripture to truly live and work within us, is to memorize passages, and not only come to know the words, but cherish them in our hearts in prayer and meditation.

 

The Desert Fathers and Mothers * lived lives of radical simplicity in order to be more attentive to God. They spent a lot of time memorizing Scripture so they would  have it within them.

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Internalizing Scripture is itself a form of prayer. This is different than reading it analytically or studying it.

God’s Word is alive. (Hebrews 4:12a)

“Meditatio Scripturarum” is simple, based on faith in the power and life of God’s Word. In this prayer we take a passage of Scripture we have memorized and hold it in our hearts, turning it over and over. We leave what it does up to God, whose Word never returns to Him void, but always does what He sends it to do. We silently “hear” it, and cherish it intentionally in our hearts as a communion with God.

“Ponder [the Word] without analyzing it. Give it space to speak.” (Christine Paintner) We allow the Sower to sow the seed, prayerfully tending the soil to encourage deep roots.

Desert Father, Abba Poemen  said, “The nature of water is soft; that of stone is hard. But if a bottle is hung above the stone, allowing the water to fall drop by drop, it wears away the stone. ” When we continually ponder the Word of God, it will surely soften and open our hearts to its mystery.

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Choosing a Passage: To begin with, choose a passage you especially love, or feel drawn to, or one that seems to speak to your current life situation. Make it the average length of a Psalm or Canticle: not too short, not too long. If you are in crisis or in discernment about something, you may want to humbly ask someone else to prayerfully choose a passage for you:  a spiritual director, a priest or a friend, trusting in the Holy Spirit to work through that person. You may want to follow the Lectionary and let the Holy Spirit lead you in the daily Mass readings of the Liturgical Year. We should make sure we don’t habitually pick passages that suit our self will, but remain receptive so we can be good soul soil.

Memorizing: I like writing a passage out and keeping it in my pocket all day to read and go over again and again. You can take turns with a friend at work giving each other a passage now and then, quizzing each other when you have a chance, until it is memorized. Read it right before going to sleep and repeat it to yourself as you head into that twilight just before you slip into the unconscious. Sometimes the passage will go with you into sleep. Work on it when you’re filling the car with gas, standing in line at the grocery store, or at a boring meeting.

Meditating: Set aside time to be alone with the passage once it is memorized well. Sit in a quiet, private place, in a position in which you can be both alert and relaxed. Once you are recollected, begin to go mentally over the passage very slowly- not too slowly but don’t rush through it, either. You will find your perfect pace and phrasing. “…He…humbled… himself…. taking the form… of a slave…. being born… in the likeness… of men… “

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Let the phrases be like a string of rosary beads slipping slowly through your fingers. When you get to the end of your verse, phrase or passage, begin again.

If you are distracted just bring yourself gently back to the words. A small distraction merits gentle redirection. But if the mind has completely left the passage and is doing its own thing, patiently let it know that when it does this, you will be starting again at the beginning of the passage, and then do. The mind doesn’t like that but it won’t rebel too much. You will find it runs off much less often as you practice, once it learns you mean business.

This is time you spend in intimacy with God, attentive to His Word, quietly and tenderly abiding in Him and allowing Him to rest also in you.

How much time you decide to  spend on this prayer is up to you. Thirty minutes is customary but even five can do. The most important part is to do it and to practice it every day you can, for however long. Then His language will be your language and His thoughts will become your thoughts. When you call He will answer- often with the perfect verse.

When you are ready, move on to another passage. And another.

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Blessed are those who hear the word of God

 –and cherish it in their hearts.

(Responsory from the Liturgy of the Hours)

*Desert Fathers, and Mothers: early Christian hermits and communities of semi-hermits, whose practice of simplicity, work, prayer, counsel to spiritual seekers, and hospitality in the Egyptian desert, beginning in the 3rd century, formed the basis of Christian monasticism.

A reflective guide to Confession

When I first came into the Church, the Sacrament that stumped me the most was Confession, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It wasn’t the idea of it. It wasn’t the theology of it. It wasn’t even claustrophobia. It was learning how to contain myself into this little ritual. This was difficult for me because of my lack of experience and also because I couldn’t seem to narrow down what it was right to confess. My confession should not be a wild arrow that misses the Heart of Jesus or a list that makes Him sleepy. I want to hit the bull’s eye and sink the arrow deep. I had a hard time with my archery for a long time and I think for Jesus, my attempts to participate in this sacrament made me a crazy moving target hard for Him to hit.

I had some memorable reactions from priests to my confessions that puzzled me: everything from, “That’s not really a sin.” to “You sound like a monophysite,” to simply bursting out laughing.
I needed to find a way to contain myself in the narrow field of what I was supposed to actually do with Confession in order to let it be the conscious encounter with Jesus that it should be. I realized going to Confession was not just about me and my feelings. It was something I did for Jesus and for the good of the Church as well. I really needed to find a way to hit the mark and hit it in a way that was more transformative and open to grace.

The power of God is not limited to our personal perceptions of course. But the Sacrament isn’t “magic” either. It’s a real encounter with Jesus and His merciful love. I need to participate as fully as I can.

“Art…consists of drawing the line somewhere.” (G.K. Chesterton) I needed a way draw some lines, within the ones given to us by the Church, and still have my confession come from the heart.

Over the years I developed a way of ordering my examination of conscience and my confession into a more meaningful and sensible form that fits into the confessional “box” better than the disorganized, emotionally based way I had been doing it before.

 

How I prepare for Confession

First I ask Jesus what He wants me to Confess. It doesn’t have to be about everything in the world down to spilling my milk (not a sin by the way.) It could be about one particular situation God wants to work with me in. I try to be receptive as I think about my life. I pray to be guided and trust that I will be.

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I write down the basic issues that come up. Then I look in the Scriptures and/or the Catechism to see what the Word and the Magisterium have to say about these things. I reflect on what I have read- especially a word or phrase that really stands out to me. A lot of the time I can see more deeply into a situation and where I am at fault, what graces and virtues I need to pray and work for, and where I need to make amends in my relationships, when I do this. I make a brief outline of what I have found out. Then I make a prayer about each sin I need to confess. After all, the priest is in persona Christi and this is a holy sacrament so why not make my whole confession a prayer? It helps me a lot to do it this way. I think I am more guided and I am more likely to find meaning and grace when I take my time to do this in a reflective way, making use of the Bible and the Catechism along with receptive prayer. Also this way I don’t lose track of what I am doing when I am there (as I often used to do.)

Let’s take an example of a sin I have often committed as a parent, though I’m sure none of you ever do; freaking out and yelling at my kids. The prayer I write out for that may look like this:

“My God, in Your Word, You have said “Do not be harsh with your children but admonish them in the Lord.” For all the times I have lost my temper with my children lately, I am sorry. Please forgive me and help me to be as gentle with them as You are with me. “

Or this: “Lord, You have taught through Your Church that parents are the primary educators of their children. For the times I have failed to teach my daughters patience and gentleness by modeling these things for them, the times I gave them a bad example instead by losing my temper and being harsh, I am sorry. Please forgive me. Grant to me the grace of patience and help me to do better.”

In the Confessional

Confessional at San Salvador Mission, Bryan

When I am in the confessional, I tell the priest before I begin that I have written out my confession this way. I have never had any one of them mind about that. Otherwise, of course, The Sacrament of Reconciliation proceeds as usual.

I do think a personal, devotional act adds to the experience, (as long as it doesn’t detract from it.) It can bring us closer to love, and give us a sense of the fact that we are entering into something sacred. My friend, Shawna, takes her shoes off and kneels when she begins Confession. I think that is beautiful. Things like that remind us of our devotion, give us the sense of the fact that we are entering into the sacred, and help us to be humble in God’s presence.

Like my friend, Shawna, I like to kneel too- not during my confession but during absolution. Why I don’t take my shoes off the way she does I will leave to your imagination.

There is a saying, “The narrower the field the deeper the dig.” That has been true for me in Confession. I don’t need to dig all over the place; just enough in the right spot, in the right way, to find that Pearl of Great Price that I am willing to sell everything else to possess.

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Stations of the Cross, with love from Mary

 

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After Christ’s Ascension, Mary, the mother of Jesus, would go out and walk the way of the Cross again, the way of our salvation and hers. She could be seen sometimes in the early morning, walking slowly, pausing.”He fell here. And again here. He spoke to the women here.”

Her prayers of Good Friday returned to mind, “My Son, my Son, my Lord, how far will this go? How much of this will You allow? If it be Your will, let me  suffer all with You, die with you! My Son, God’s Son. I will go with you as far as I can.”

She remembered, “This is where our eyes met. This is when I knew. Here is the place where Simon of Cyrene took up the Cross. Here is where Jesus was crucified and- unthinkably, died. Oh what those people said to Him, what they did to Him! Father, forgive them! May His mercy capture their hearts forever! Let me lead our children, Father. Allow me to lead them by heart and prayer, to our Son.”

And then she would walk back to her home with John, grinding grain and making cakes for his breakfast, kneading bread for the visitors who would come, spending her day in prayer and service, humbly telling the story of her Son to all who wanted to be set free.

So much of the Gospel depended on her witness. And her sons, the Apostles, needed her prayer and presence. She would stay as long as she was needed, until God took her home to her Son. As Spouse of the Holy Spirit, she prayed for, companioned, and mothered the early Church, living also as a daughter of the Church as long as God willed her to stay on earth.

People started to follow her when she walked the way of the cross. At first a small group of the women disciples walked with her. Soon many people went out early and walked with her in the quiet morning, recounting and reflecting on the Lord’s Passion and death, reflecting on what had been done for them, and that His spirit within them was so real it would raise their bodies, too, from the dead. In awe of the living proof and witness of His divinity and humanity that she was, they, too, paused in silence, and in that silence the Scriptures were opened for them, and their hearts burned within them as the Spirit, too, accompanied them and taught them all they needed to know as they walked with His Bride, the little and simple, humble and human Mary, mother of Jesus.

As persecution grew, barricades were set up by the authorities to keep the Christians from walking the Via Dolorosa, and the Apostle John took Mary with him to Ephesus for her protection.

There, she carried stones she had brought from Jerusalem to the back of the house and set them along a path she marked out in and around the garden. She would pause at each one of the markers she had made, pause and remember: Here He fell, and again here. He spoke to the women here. Our eyes met here. Simon took up the cross here.

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In the end there were fourteen stations where she could stop to pray. The Ephesians from John’s church would visit her and walk this way of the Cross with her, and with her remember and reflect on all that had happened.

The Gospel had not yet been written. But it was recorded and treasured in the heart and in the footsteps of this mother who, lowly and barefoot, walked and pondered, in remembrance of her Son’s suffering and death. This walking reflection of hers became the Stations of the Cross represented in every Catholic Church, on which we meditate each Friday of Lent to this day, and especially on Good Friday, the day of our Redemption.

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This is only a legend about the evolution of the Stations of the Cross, filled out by my prayerful imagination, but it makes deep sense to me. In a way it is true whether it’s factual or not. Mary is the one who treasured the truth about Our Lord for us in her heart. She was the one person who truly knew where He came from. There are parts of the Gospel that could have only come from her, including some of her inmost thoughts… and the fact that she treasured and reflected on all these things in her heart. Even if she never walked the Stations of the Cross in such ritual fashion while on earth, though it is easy to imagine she did, we know she carried it in her heart. We remember her, and she remembers us when we pray it now, and she joins us, her Son’s Church, in prayer, as she always did.

I attended the Stations of the Cross the evening of this writing. This time I walked it in my soul with Mary, from the original events of Good Friday to after the Ascension, to her last days in Ephesus, joining her on the Way of the Cross, consciously drawing on her memories.

Learning from Mary is so easy. She is full of grace. It’s what she has to share.

We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you–because by your Holy Cross, You have redeemed the world.

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Lent: luminous darkness, hidden seeds

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I love Lent.

I am always happy to hear that I am dust, and that to dust I shall return.

When I close my eyes to pray, I can really tell I am dust. In here where I live, it’s quiet and dark. Simple. Nothing to it.  Who am I?

Dust.

Clay.

Nothing.

Everything.

Inwardly quiet and dark,

yet full of exploding light in the cave of my heart,

just like you.

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As St. John of the Cross points out, sometimes what seems like darkness is the over-whelming brilliance of God’s light.

Maybe that is why we close our eyes when we pray. Outside what we can see with our senses is wonderful, but only a reflection of the invisible God. When we close our eyes, we are alone in God’s luminous dark within us. We know there is light in us by faith. We know our being is created in the image of Him who is light.  Even though we rightly experience ourselves as dust, our hearts are secretly bright because of Who lives there.

At this time of year, roots, bulbs, and seeds under the soil that have “fallen to the ground and died,”  all winter have been nourished by the Lord of mystery and love, though we the farmers are unaware.

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How did Jesus rise from the dead? We don’t know. We know it happened, and Scripture says we also will rise, “through the power of his spirit dwelling in us.” And this is so real it is a physical truth as well as a spiritual one.

In the dark secret of the tomb Jesus physically and spiritually, in divine mystery, rose again.

I want to follow Jesus into the desert and recommit my life to the Father. I want to share the Passover with Him and the family of the Church, I want to accompany the Lord on the Way of the Cross. I want to wait quietly in the dark simplicity and trust of the grave.

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I am dust returning to dust, but my Christian soul is empowered by Him to do and be all these Christly mysteries.

So let us return to be fearlessly this dust in desert wind, this Way of the Cross, this dark quiet of faith, this soil seeded with mystery.

At the same time as we traditionally renew our commitment to Jesus and his mission, to His Church, to the poor and marginalized, to fasting, penance, and to prayer as we know it, let us also re-consecrate ourselves in silence, and holy solitude, resting in the starry night of expectation.

As children of God we know that darkness also brings forth love, unfurls light, and floods our souls with renewed grace during this sacred time we are given that is Lent.

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We surrender to this Lord of mysterious rising. We consecrate our souls to His purposes in ourselves and what He wants us to bloom into for Him, for this world, for the sake of His Kingdom.

We step into this night of Lent consciously.

We can remember this intention in our moments of stillness and waiting. We can take a little time each day also to purposely  rest in quiet love and allow ourselves to be prepared for Spring in secret.

Let us make Lent a secret retreat into our hearts. It only takes faith, hope, and love and God will pour over us the brightness of his invisible light.

Let this Lent be a time for seeds, for dark, shining mysteries at work in we who believe… until the morning star rises in our hearts.

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  • Warning: God is a creative genius and anything can happen when we surrender to Him completely. We might emerge from Lent new creatures in the power of His Resurrection. Let’s expect it!
  • Inspiration here: https://youtu.be/eDA8rmUP5ZM

Don’t Freak Out

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photo Maire Manning-Pauc

Putting up with things that irritate us builds character. I think that is because when we are in a situation we can’t change, the only option is changing ourselves. “This is a good life skill,” I tell my kids. It is also a good skill for developing the spiritual life because it’s good training for the mind, for self control and endurance. Besides it’s no fun to freak out all the time. What does it get us…. but a lot of freak-out? And there’s nothing you can’t make worse by more of THAT!

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Art by Bob Chapman

Here are some things I have tried to help me not freak out.

Paying bills can be stressful. You know how when you are paying bills your shoulders get really tense and sometimes your back too, and if anybody says anything to you, you say, “Leave me alone I’m paying BILLS!” I decided that attitude needed work.  I tried a change of venue. I picked a place that it seems silly to pay bills. Then I could be amused. I try to amuse myself as often as possible. It helps a lot with life. So I paid bills in the tree house. I kept smiling because it was a goofy thing to do.

I wrote,  ” thank you so much,” on each bill. Thank you for the electricity. Thank you for the car. Thank you, veterinarian,  for helping when my dog was sick.
Thank you, God, that I can pay these bills. Thank you. Gratitude is an even better tool than self -amusement.

I enjoyed puting rose petals in the envelopes of each payment. I imagined the various possible reactions to this. “Made my day? Is it anthrax? Who’s does that?” This also amused me.

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Loud neighbors can be annoying. I had neighbors last year who screamed at each other and honked car horns several times a day. One time when the screaming and car horns started, I thought. “I HATE THIS!” This is a red light for me mentally. I usually don’t allow my mind to think, “I hate this,” about anything since that thought never leads to anything good. I took a deep breath, and I remembered St. Therese the Little Flower and all she did to train her mind in the face of annoyance to leave it free and peaceful for God. What could I do?

I told my family that from now on that screaming and honking was code for, “Smile, Jesus loves you!” It worked. From then on whenever the yelling started, one of us would say, “Smile, Jesus loves you!” and we would start laughing. I’m glad we learned how to let that frustration go. When my husband was sick, those very people came over and helped me when I needed it. If I had stayed mad at them all the time and just thought of them as “the screamy neighbors,” I would never have gotten to know them. They had some wonderful qualities.

The young people who live next door now play very loud music at times. I was enjoying a quiet fall day on my front porch one time when they started that noise. First I amused my self with the thought that I can out blast them any time. I have some enormous speakers. What got me laughing and letting go was the funny thought of getting a recording of a nice, quiet fall day and blasting that. Suddenly the young people would be overcome with an unaccustomed sense of inner peace, and they would be stunned! That made me laugh. They turned it off after a while. I diffused my inner volatility with a series of funny images and thoughts. I win!

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Waiting in line or being stuck somewhere can be maddening.  One wild grocery store day, stuck in line, I tried looking at the covers of magazines by the register to entertain myself. These seemed not good for anyone to look at ; you know- magazine covers about who looked bad in her bathing suit this week, or with titles like “Potato Juice Keeps You Young and Sexy.”  My other choices seemed to be  lighters, candy and soda. I asked Jesus silently, “What would You look at if You were here?” The thought came to me that Jesus would look at the people. “Look at the people and love them.” So I started working on that. I looked at each person around me and noticed how they seemed to be doing. I mentally blessed each one or prayed for each one. I felt very peaceful and entertained.

During long, boring trips to Lowe’s with my husband, Bob, I always had a rosary in my pocket. I thought I may as well try and be useful to the world while I suffered. Another thing I tried was to ride in the cart and have him push me around. That helps too. He wanted to bring me, after all. It made us both laugh for me to do this. He enjoyed throwing his items into the cart on me too.

Being overstimulated makes it difficult to think.

If there is too much going on and I need to concentrate, I go within myself as I would for prayer. I close my eyes, and I go to that dark interior center of myself where God is. Staying there even for a second can restore me to sanity and renew my perspective. I might imagine resting my face on Jesus’ chest for a minute. I may go someplace calm in my mind momentarily. It helps.

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photo Shawn Chapman

We Catholics have a great array of “mantras” of our own; prayer words, short prayers, and litanies that are useful when we feel overwhelmed. I have a little note up that says, “Keep calm and say a Hail Mary.” Or I repeat the Jesus prayer or the Holy Name, or one of those one-liners like “May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be praised adored and loved.” Saying over some memorized Scripture is helpful too in times when I feel a sense of overload, frustration or impatience.

When somebody pulls out in front of me in traffic, my daughters know I will growl, “RAWR!” Then right away I will say, “God bless you have a nice day and I hope  there is a happy surprise for you when you get home, maybe cake, maybe puppies….,” and I’ll go on with this stupid list of things until either I’m laughing or my girls are.

Being interrupted is irritating. When I am interrupted, it helps if I interpret the interruption as the Holy Spirit’s action in my day. Sometimes I plan one kind of day but it works out totally differently. It can be jarring to be interrupted  when I am busy or to have my day go “out of control.” It helps if I let go and let God order my day. I ask Him to show me what He wants. I try to forget what I wanted to do and just be with who ever I am with, pay complete attention to what’s happening in the moment I am in. Often when I get to the end of a day that could have been exasperating, I will see the grace in the interruptions. It is usually the demands of love and relationship that interrupt us. At the end of the day that’s what matters most anyway… the love and the relationships.

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My daughter Maire, my grandbaby boy, Blaze, and my son-in-law, Jon

Philippians 4:8 tells us to fill our minds with beauty and we will know God’s peace. Jesus said peacemakers are children of God. Sometimes temple tables actually need to be over turned or some Pharisees stood up to. However most of the time, I think I should tend towards a more peaceful, elastic, accepting mind that God can work with. My brain believes what I tell it. Usually I tell it stuff is funny and that everything is in Divine Order. Sometimes I say to myself, “This will make a great story some day.” And it does.

By the way, as I wrote this article, I was interrupted twice by each of my kids and also had to listen to some music I didn’t really like and the kitten would not stop mewing. But I didn’t freak out. 😉

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photo Shawn Chapman

 

 

 

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