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Preparing for the “Synod on Synodality”

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The Pope wishes to “consult with the people of God” through the process of a “Synod on Synodality.” 

He says, “a teaching Church must be a listening Church.” Therefore for this new Synod not only will Pope Francis and the Bishops discuss, pray and discern about Communion, Participation, and Mission in the direction of our Church, but lay people are invited to join in the discernment and discussion as well. 

This may sound strange. Perhaps it is even disconcerting to Catholic ears to have the laity involved in a Synod. However, remember that we too are the Church, not just the hierarchy alone. We should be part of this!  

In order that our leaders may hear what the Spirit may have to say through the people, it is important that we all participate. All of our baptized are called. If you have left the Church, if you no longer practice the Faith, I hope you will also let your voice be heard. We need to hear from you, too. 

Each of us has our agendas, things about the Church that we are upset about or hope will change. Let’s endeavor, however, to be receptive as well as expressive. I think we should take this invitation very seriously in a spirit of prayer and discernment, seeking the will of God in what we are to say.  

How is this process going to work? 

The first phase of this “Synod on Synodality” began with the Bishops and the Holy Father in Rome in October 2021. The second phase, the “listening phase,”  is already underway in our Austin Diocese. Locally, one parish here is hosting open listening sessions.

There will be small groups formed at the session to discuss the questions for consideration, dialogue and prayer together.

The student parish here is holding discussions with its parish council only which I think is disappointing.

Our other three local parishes have not begun the process as yet but they will according to how this should work.   

Should you be uncomfortable discussing these things in public or you can’t make a listening session, there is a survey available on the Diocesan website you can fill out at austindiocese.org/synod to participate. Check with your own Diocese for what is being done for the Synod and how you can participate.

 What happens after all of this listening? What everyone has said will be taken into another listening session with the Bishop who will then take it with him to the next phase of the Synod in Rome in 2023  with his brother Bishops and the Holy Father. Do the Popes and the Bishops have to do as we say? No, they are still the Pope and the Bishops. Their authority is still their authority.  However they do want to hear from us and they do care what we have to say.  They will be discussing how to incorporate this listening process more in the future. 

The prospect of the invitation to be a part of this Synod has stirred new hope in me; the most hope I have felt for the healing and renewal of the Church since 2002 when the abuse crisis broke.  The first step in healing and for the renewal of our communion, participation and mission is this listening and being heard. This will build trust between the laity and the hierarchy and has the potential to renew and restore.  

We live in difficult times for the Church. However, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed…struck down, but not destroyed. (See 2 Corinthians 4:8)   Our Church is sturdy enough to guide us through two millennia of Christianity, and also dynamic enough for the same and into the future. We are still the Church that the gates of hell will not overcome. (Matt. 16:18b.) So let’s take courage and take part, trusting this process and in the Holy Spirit active within it to bring good fruit and new hope.  

Another part of taking this seriously is to pray steadfastly and persistantly for the whole process. As a Carmelite, an important part of living our charism is to pray for the Church.

When I set myself to pray in a dedicated way for something or someone the first thing I do is go to Confession. I have noticed that that sacrament tends to grant me clarity of heart and I think I am better able to discern how to pray the way the Holy Spirit wants me to then. At the suggestion of my friend Julia, I have set an alarm on my phone to pray for the Synod daily at noon. I already pray the Angelus at noon so that is easy. I dedicate the Angelus for Synod and I pray for participation and the movement of the Spirit in the Church through this, for the Bishops and the Holy Father and for all of us to discern the voice of God in what we receive and say, for healing and renewal in the Church.

We can offer any suffering we experience during the day for the Synod, and after the example of St. Therese, offer our small sacrifices through the day, the work we do, remembering this intention at mass when we receive communion.

If the timing works out, we could pray a novena to the Holy Spirit. We can offer a rosary, or our time in silent interior prayer, or your time in adoration. In whatever way we pray and remember God, we can ask for open-ness of heart and the inspiration of the Spirit.

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Here is the prayer suggested by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for this Synod. It is a simplified version of the one used at Vatican II and also during the Synods of the past. 

“We stand before You, Holy Spirit, as we gather together in Your name.

With You alone to guide us, make Yourself at home in our hearts;

Teach us the way we must go and how we are to pursue it.

We are weak and sinful; do not let us promote disorder.

Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path nor partiality influence our actions.

Let us find in You our unity so that we may journey together to eternal life and not stray from the way of truth and what is right.

All this we ask of You, who are at work in every place and time, in the communion of the Father and the Son, forever and ever.

Amen.”

I also like this prayer and I say it often.

“Come, Holy Spirit,

come by means

of the powerful intercession

of the Immaculate Heart of Mary,

Mother of the Church.”

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Family Christmas letter 2021

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I can’t remember the last time I wrote a Christmas letter. It was probably when my daughters were little and maybe I wrote about all the new things they had been doing as they grew. They are twenty-four (Roise) and twenty-eight (Maire) now and still changing and growing. I still love them to pieces. I am still very much a part of their daily lives. I am happy about that.

For Maire this has definitely been a year of growth and change. She has been more reflective and introspective lately than I have ever seen her. She has made some courageous decisions this year that cost her dearly but I know she will come out shining as she always has. She still lives in her school bus (converted into a tiny house. I’m told these are called “Schoolies”) She has carried on my mom’s ardent gardening and has done some amazing things out on the land. It looks great out there. It’s such a joy to have her back home in Texas these last couple of years instead of on a mountain top in Oregon. Now she is only forty-five minutes away! She is still working as a secretary, still raising her two little boys, Blaze and Brazos who are having an amazing, imaginative childhood steeped in lore and nature.

Maire

Blaze is the most tender and sweet boy you could ever meet. He is a dreamy little five year old with lovely eyes. He is a great little story teller of the fantastical. He is the loudest kid on any playground since his speaking voice is all shouting. Notably he saw someone whose truck wouldn’t start and asked the guy if he had jumper cables because it sounded like the battery. He volunteered his dad’s jumper cables. Once the truck was jump-started the man tried to give Blaze a dollar. Blaze said, “No that’s OK. I love helping people!”

Blaze

Brazos is the most expressive kid I have ever seen. His facial expressions are eloquent for a two year old, his eyes intense. His face is always changing too, his emotions fluttering by like ripples in a lake. He’s speaking better and better every day. I am continually surprised how he can put sentences together more and even talk in paragraphs like a pro. He is as tough and spunky as his brother and the two roll around and wrestle like a pile of puppies.

Brazos

My youngest daughter, Roise and her five year old daughter Arelani had to move in with me when our apartment complex couldn’t get the rodents out of her building. This has been rough because my apartment is a one bedroom. I had just signed a new lease but I am relieved I can transfer us to a two bedroom where there will be places for everyone and their things. The kitchen is a little bigger too, thank goodness. My mom would have said this one I have now is a “one butt kitchen.” The new one looks like almost a two butt kitchen.

Roise is still hilarious, still a guitarist and wonderful singer-song-writer, still working on becoming a Special Ed teacher. She transfers to Sam Houston this Spring semester. She has kept her grades up in spite of the stress of being a young single mom and going to school full time and being invaded by unstoppable rodents!

Roise

Arelani started Kindergarten this year and is doing very well. She is so smart she drives us crazy with all of her questions and interests. Her vocabulary is astonishing. She has been going through a bit of an existential crisis lately, reminiscent of her mother at this age. The other day, the boys and I came outside and said “Hello world!” Lani said, “The world is nothing and everybody is dust -they can’t answer you.” I tried to explain. She said stubbornly, “ NO ONE will respond!”

Arelani Marie

For me this is the year I finished my book, which will be called Come to Mary’s House: Spending Time with the Blessed Mother. (I wrote more about my book here.) Writing it has been such a spiritual journey. Also I can’t believe there was this much agony over a little 30,000 word book but there was. It is my first book so I was worried that I would turn it in and Our Sunday Visitor would say, “Nope we don’t like it. Kindly pay back your advance and leave us alone.” But they didn’t say that! Thank goodness! What’s happening now is I am working with a “developmental editor.” I was so so scared about what she would change about my book but she didn’t make any, as she called them, “substantive edits.” She loved the book and all she did was a little touch here and there. I would call her work elegant. She made me sound a bit smoother and more grown up and professional than before.

Otherwise I have been working with Zane as his care giver. He is turning eighteen this month which I can hardly believe. He is such a cool kid and I have loved spending time with him. I love his family too. They are all easy to love. Zane is nonverbal but he knows everything! We have a great connection and I feel very close to him. I read aloud to him a lot and like any teen he loves listening to music. I am always looking for new music for him or a book he might like. We spend most of our time outside. He loves being outdoors. Sometimes he walks around outside touching the plants and inspecting everything. Mostly he just likes to hang out. So that is what we do.

Zane and me

At this writing Roise is out of town so it’s just me and Arelani. She is engaged in building a fort. My apartment is in absolute chaos so she may as well drag the furniture and the bedclothes around anyway.

The most horrible thing that happened this year was the police shooting of a young black man in front of my apartment. I wrote about it here.

The saddest news I have from this year is that we lost my wonderful mama-in-law on August 1 to cancer. She was my favorite atheist, an activist and social justice warrior. She was intelligent, warm, and loving. She was the most Jesus like atheist you could ever meet with a great heart for service and dedication to the greater good. She never made a big deal out of her good deeds. Being altruistic and caring for others was just who she was. She and I became as close as we were when we were my husband, Bob’s support team as he fought Brain Cancer. We supported one another through that tough time too, as well as afterwards. When Arelani learned to read I wanted to call her. I’m always wanting to call her.

Ann Chapman, wonderful mama- in- law

Our Christmas plans involve migrating across the land of parking lot in hopes of a better life in the other apartment. There I plan to set up the Christmas tree and have all the kids over to make cookies and decorate. I already have the cookie cutters. We will do a family prayer service and bless the tree and the Nativity scene as always. Our family tradition also includes singing, “I want to walk as a child of the Light” when I put the star on, last of all.

Our traditional family music for Christmas is Dead Can Dance’s album Aion. We also like the old classics like Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald and all those guys. We are sure to gleefully listen to Aye Aye Aye it’s Christmas too, by Ricky Martin. A neighbor gave us the CD years ago and we still listen to it every year. Traditionally, like a lot of people around here, we have Tex-Mex for Christmas dinner. I’m vegan so I make my stuff separately otherwise the meal is vegetarian, involving lots of cheese, beans and rice, chips and salsa and iced tea.

We will blow out the candles on Jesus’ birthday cake and I will make everyone sing him the Happy Birthday Song (and many mooooooooore!)

I haven’t shopped for Christmas yet so I had better get with it. The important thing is that though we have lost so many people in our family, the girls and I still have each other and we have these amazing kids with us as well.

God bless you all this Christmas! May you have a moment in the midst of all the activity and family time to immerse yourself in the clear light of Christmas and encounter the tender Savior deep in your hearts.

Arelani, Brazos and Blaze

How to pray the “Prayer of Recollection” of St. Teresa of Avila

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“Give me the grace to recollect myself in the little heaven of my soul where You have established Your dwelling. There You let me find You, there I feel that You are closer to me than anywhere else, and there You prepare my soul quickly to enter into intimacy with You … Help me O Lord, to withdraw my senses from exterior things, make them docile to the commands of my will, so that when I want to converse with You, they will retire at once, like bees shutting themselves up in the hive in order to make honey.”

St. Teresa of Jesus (Avila)

The Prayer of Recollection is an extremely simple method of prayer described by St. Teresa of Jesus (Avila) in Chapter 26 of The Way of Perfection. She says it was a method the Lord Himself taught her, and that she never knew what it was to pray with satisfaction until she learned it.

Over time, the method was embroidered with all kinds of steps and complications I can’t follow. I much prefer the simplicity of her original teaching.

To begin with, make time to be alone with God in silence. Relax in whatever way works for you. Close your eyes and be conscious of His presence. Make the Sign of the Cross.

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Make an examination of conscience and silently pray an Act of Contrition, either the set prayer or your own words. I sometimes think of this as the Lord tenderly washing my face as a mother does her child’s.

Now, knowing Jesus is with you, pray with Him, slowly and attentively the prayer He taught us. As you do this, pay attention to what you are saying. Be aware the whole time, of Who it is you are speaking to. Pray “Our Father…”

Now, as St. Teresa says, “look at Him.”

How do we “look” at Jesus? Where is He? We know Jesus is present within us, living and accessible. So we bring our awareness to this truth and we stay there, attentive to Him. It may help you to imagine Him looking at you, being with you, because it is true. Imagination can help us stay anchored with Him. So can silently praying His Name, or mentally hearing Him speak His words from the Gospel directly to you. Eventually Imagination, words, intellect fall away and are not needed anymore in prayer. That will be God’s doing. Always be receptive to that. But when imagination, His Name, or words of Scripture can help you keep the eyes of your soul on Him, they are good tools.

I am not asking you now to think of Him, or to form numerous conceptions of Him, or to make long and subtle meditations with your understanding. I am asking you only to look at Him. For who can prevent you from turning the eyes of your soul (just for a moment, if you can do no more) upon this Lord? 

St. Teresa of Jesus

Your mind is going to go everywhere. This is normal. The important thing is to bring it back gently every time and continue to be attentive to Him with you.

Now, fully were of Him and present to Him is there anything you would like to say to Jesus? Do you have anything to ask Him? Do you feel He is saying anything to you? Let yourself talk with Him, and try to be receptive to His presence and love, to anything He may be communicating to you.

Stay with Him.

I like to close with a set prayer such as the Glory Be.

Now make the Sign of the Cross.

Make this prayer a part of your daily life, and make spending time with the Friend who you know loves you, a consistent priority, so that your friendship with Jesus will grow better, richer, deeper and more solid than ever before. Start with a few minutes and as you can add time, do so. The standard amount of time is half an hour with this prayer. However, any amount of time you can give to this God can work with!

Once again I assure you that, if you are careful to form habits of the kind I have mentioned, you will derive such great profit from them that I could not describe it even if I wished. Keep at the side of this good Master, then, and be most firmly resolved to learn what He teaches you; His Majesty will then ensure your not failing to be good disciples, and He will never leave you unless you leave Him. Consider the words uttered by those Divine lips: the very first of them will show you at once what love He has for you, and it is no small blessing and joy for the pupil to see that his Master loves him.

St. Teresa of Jesus

Truly prayer is about love. So sit with Jesus and let yourself be loved. Doing this you also become a spiritual channel for the outflow of His love and grace to the whole world.

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How a St. Francis statue changed my life

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I was 19, and living back home with my family for a while, when, coming in one evening, I found everyone very bemused with me.

“We got a call from the Christian book store that the book you ordered is in…….?” My mom queried.

“OK.”

“We thought it might be a wrong number……?”

“No, that’s the book I ordered about St. Francis.”

They all looked at each other.

As I headed down the hall to my room, I heard my brother ask, “What? Did you hear that?”

My step dad said, “Well… you never know what Shawn is going to do.”

At that time I was getting ready to go to Corpus Christi to spend some time with my Granny.

I planned to re-paint the St. Francis statue she had in her back yard while I was there.

Someone had given it to her in the distant past, to set at the grave of a beloved family dog who had died long ago. The worn, concrete statue was of a serene faced man in a tattered habit, a hood drawn over his head. He is holding a small, trusting bird against his chest, his eyes closed in prayer, or perhaps gazing down tenderly.

This statue had stood under the cottonwood tree year after year. It was a marvel of Granny’s household, having survived three major hurricanes without tipping over, even though it was a knee high concrete statue anyone could lift.

One night, however, the St. Francis’ face had been vandalized; spray painted an ugly red and black. I planned to fix that.

None of us knew much about St. Francis the person.

How a st. francis statue changed my life

We had heard he had been known to communicate with animals.

Granny was in the habit of adopting injured, stray and abandoned animals to the point her house was filled with them. (It’s a good thing she cleaned all the time!) Most of her grocery bill was for pet food, and the veterinarian down the road heard from her often.

Generally Granny had a rough, colorful personality. However, she would break down sobbing over the suffering or death of an animal.

She had a special love for birds, and daily fed the ones who frequented her back yard. Crowds of them weighed down the branches of the giant oleanders, and sang in the orange and mulberry trees around her garage each evening. A few sea gulls usually circled above. She would hear their “racket,” and go out to her waiting admirers.

She would raise an old metal trash can lid, turned up and filled with birdseed high above her head, and a whirl wind of wings would surround her. Some of the birds settled on her shoulders, or even in the palm of her hand. It looked like magic.

She had the quaint habit of talking to animals seriously, as if they were people, and they seemed to listen to her.

A saint who could commune with animals would naturally interest her. I had only recently begun to believe in God, and to learn to pray and meditate a little. I was not open to religion.

I thought it would be nice, however, to learn about St. Francis while I worked on his statue.

So we would put on a pot of coffee now and then each day, and as she worked her trade of re-weaving,*  I sat on the floor by her work table. As I had done since I was a little girl, I read aloud to her.

francesco-7p

I don’t know what I expected, but The Way of St. Francis by Fr. Murray Bodo, was a very reflective book. Reflective Christianity was a new experience for me.

I was impressed with the author’s depth, warmth, humility, and spirituality.

St. Francis surprised me, too. His Christian faith made him more authentic rather than less so. His unabashed love for Jesus led him to embrace people and ideas he had always been afraid of, and to renounce social acceptability when it got in the way of going where God, where love, was leading him.

Because he wanted to be a faithful Christian, he practiced radical inclusiveness, and unconditional love.

Because He loved God, He loved the created world for His sake.

He did delightfully crazy things.

He was charming and challenging.

He was adventurous and full of joy, love, and humility, ready for anything.

I had never heard of living simply, in solidarity with the poor, out of love for “the poor Christ,” or of voluntary poverty as a spiritual discipline.

It was healing for me that he did not seem to trample on other people’s feelings or their sense of self. Instead, they were won over by his kindness and love, his respect, his happiness, and by the fact that he really did visibly live what he believed in, even down to his love and obedience toward Church authority.

He knew suffering, but he found inner joy from knowing God, and from loving with abandon.

I felt very impressed with the beautiful, joyful life of love St. Francis lived.

As I sanded the statue, and carefully painted it in calming shades of blue and gray, I found myself thinking about him and smiling.

images

I had not known it was possible to listen for the voice of God in one’s heart, and to actually be inspired be that.

Striving for a certain type of life was also a new idea for me.

I loved learning about Francis’ soul friend, St. Clare. I had never heard of contemplative Christianity before. What a deep, poetic, courageous woman. She was the first of many women mystics I would read from or about in the years ahead, opening my heart, a little more at a time, to God and prayer.

images-3

Granny and I both loved the stories about St. Francis. Of course she really liked hearing that he had preached to the birds, and tamed the wolf of Gubio. My favorite was the surprising story of Francis and the Damietta prostitute. 

I was inspired to memorize the St. Francis prayer, and to use it as a point of meditation for years to come. Later, Granny sent me a prayer card of it that I still have.

Over the next several years, I would sand down and re-paint the statue on my lone visits to Granny. It became a kind of ritual for me.

Granny started to talk to St. Francis over her morning coffee on the back porch before she got to her work, and at other times during the day, and to pray more often.

I earnestly tried to begin to live a spiritual life and to learn to love, little by little.

I don’t know if all of my attempts were directly inspired by St. Francis, but I think he and his example had a lot to do with it.

I tried several things that changed the way I lived and saw the world.

I began to try to reach out and connect with people even though that was hard for me, and to try to see the good in everyone.

I got over my embarrassment and started to talk to homeless people whenever I saw them, to give them what I could, to hug them if it was OK with them.

I attempted to smile from the heart at every human being I saw. I still try to do that.

I became more interested in prayer.

I made conscious efforts to live more simply, as a spiritual practice, and so that I could share more with others.

I recognized joy, love, and humility, as virtues to respect, to look for and see in others, to hope for, for myself.

I rediscovered my childhood connection to nature and to animals. I saw beauty more and more, and learned how to drink it in and enjoy it.

I started to notice my hardness of heart and to try to become more open and loving.

I was not about to become a Christian, (so I thought.) But getting to know St. Francis began to give me new ideas about life and about God.

Many things happened over time that drew me slowly into the Catholic Church, and inspired me to live the faith as fully as possible. Maybe my friend, St. Francis was helping me along.

Eventually, my granny was baptized and confirmed as a Catholic. She chose the name Francis at her Confirmation.

When she was asked, “Ruth, what do you ask of God’s Church?” She unconsciously went “off script” and answered from the heart, “I want to love and to be loved.” Everyone smiled.

That St. Francis statue stands faithfully at my grandmother’s grave today. It is even more worn by the weather now, into a wonderful blend of shades and textures from years of being outside, and from my different loving restorations of it. Since I set it there beside her head stone, I have chosen not to repaint it anymore. It is beautiful just as it is.

How a St. Francis statue changed my life

*Re-weaving was the trade of re-weaving cloth that had holes, flaws or tears in it, making it look new. My grandmother was the last re-weaver in Texas.

Soul and Service

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 Pope Francis has said, “Do not be afraid to go out to encounter the marginalized. You will find you are going out to meet Jesus.” Dr. Esther Miranda is always up to something in this regard and she is practically bursting with ideas, projects and collaborations, with stories of soul and service.   

Esther moved to Bryan-College Station thirty years ago, having grown up in India in the presence of Mother Teresa where the Missionaries of Charity used to meet in her grandfather’s house.  “Poverty is much more visible there. Every day there were people at our gate.” Early in life she learned how much getting to know the poor could open her eyes, and she was inspired to do more. 

When she came to College Station for the first time, she thought, “OH what a beautiful town!” It seemed so clean and prosperous. She didn’t even see any poor people around. She assumed this was because there were none. She volunteered at St. Vincent de Paul Society, a Catholic organization that works with people in need (where she is now Vice President,) and was quickly disabused of this notion. “There were people living with no windows, no bed, no electricity! There might be eight people sleeping on the floor, getting up and working all the time but there was no food in the kitchen!”  

“It’s about opening eyes, Shawn, opening eyes.” 

She goes on to say passionately, “We are the hands and feet and heart of Jesus in this messy world! Sometimes we have to reveal the mess to do any good!” 

Her favorite representation of Jesus is of him as the Good Shepherd knocking on the door for us. “He is there waiting! In quiet, just ask him to tell you about himself.”  

She doesn’t think that is all we should do though. 

“So many people want to talk talk talk talk about knowing Jesus.” She thinks the proof is in what we do. As St. Teresa of Avila said, our prayer must lead us to good works. 

Esther says, “You want to know Jesus, get in my car! I’ll show you!” 

If you’re nervous about meeting those in poverty or crisis, remember, “You don’t have to have all the answers for them. More than anything, listen. They need that! It’s good for us too. We shouldn’t assume they have nothing to teach us.” 

Pope Francis says, “The poor always evangelize us  because they show us the true Face of the Father.” 

After the martyrdom of Pope Sixtus in Rome (259AD,) St. Lawrence was ordered to turn the treasures of the Church over to the Roman government in accordance with the law that an executed Christian should have his property confiscated. 

First, Lawrence distributed every bit of it to the poor. 

 Then he presented himself to the prefect, and when ordered to deliver, he presented the indigent, the crippled, the blind, the sick and the poor. “These are the true treasures of the Church!” 

“OOOOOOH! I LOVE THAT STORY!” cries Dr. Miranda. Of course she does. It’s her story; holding dear and caring for the true treasures of the Church.  

Some have objected, “The job of the Church is evangelization.” Esther doesn’t see the conflict. She is evangelizing!

“ Have you ever seen anyone come to church from preaching? I haven’t! If people’s physical and emotional needs aren’t met, none of that stuff makes any sense to them! They can feel Jesus in a warm meal, in someone who cares. They aren’t waiting for a Bible verse, they need someone to care about them and to show it!”     

She repeats several times her favorite maxim, “REACH BEFORE YOU TEACH!” 

“When someone is hungry and has no place to sleep or take a shower, you give them these things, and you listen to their stories. This is what they need, and to know somebody cares. The next morning, maybe they are feeling a little bit better. You get them some coffee and maybe after breakfast you can say, ‘Would you like to pray with me?’ They may say, ‘yes I would love that,’ or maybe not, or maybe they will do it because you have been kind to them.” We should never judge them or require them to do anything in order to be helped. Always respect their dignity. Then maybe you can find out what to do next to help them along their way. 

She says maybe you have planted a seed just giving them a good example of a Christian who is kind and compassionate. “Today this is not the impression a lot of people have of us and it’s very sad. If we can help them see the heart of Jesus in us we will have done something important.”

Dr. Miranda has some tips for being a better listener with people who are in trouble.  “If you are talking, ask yourself, ‘Why am I talking?’  Remember to slow down, to pause, to listen. Own what you are about and remember that listening doesn’t threaten that. Welcome what they have to say.” 

Esther started a furniture ministry five years ago that has grown from two volunteers to thirty- two and has helped two hundred and fifty local families in need so far.  

St. Vincent de Paul and the furniture ministry are not all she wants to do. Esther decided to spend “the year of Covid,” calling every organization that does anything for the poor, getting to know the work they do. She asked each one, “Tell me what doesn’t happen, what frustrates you, what you wish somebody would do.” She found out there was so much she didn’t know about what others were doing. 

She realized, “Our beautiful town needs a community center that does not seek to duplicate the work anyone else is already doing. We need a place where anyone, regardless of who they are, can come, where they can easily get answers! When people are in the depths of despair, they don’t need yet another brochure or list of numbers to call, that may end up being a wild goose chase or a series of dead ends. They don’t need to be told to fill out a form online when they don’t have a computer!” 

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Dr. Miranda envisions a place where a single mom can come in and use the computers for her children’s homework, even ask someone to hold the baby for her. 

“If people have one problem, there are a whole slew of problems, complex problems,” she says. We can have the information right there and call for them, help them fill out the forms they need to fill out right there!” 

She wants people to be able to come in and be given a cup of coffee or something to eat, have someone listen to them as long as is needed, and walk them through their next steps.  

She wants there to be not only a focus on service and collaboration but on education and leadership. There can be skills classes people need to better their lives, classes for people who want to serve, programs to train young people to be community leaders. “Government and churches cannot fix these problems alone. It takes small groups of committed, like- minded people.” 

Dr. Miranda is “so grateful, so grateful” for all of the people who have joined her on this journey. “So many wonderful people!” She welcomes everyone to join her in this new echumenical collaboration. 

She has dreamed of this but she felt that Jesus said to her not long ago, “Esther! What are you waiting for?” 

“So I have to go forward in faith! And Jesus has never once let me down! Everything comes to me when I have that attitude! If one organization or one person won’t help, I try not to let it anger me too much or discourage me! I move on! I move on to the next one, and the next one, and the next! And it’s working! It’s coming together! God is making it happen!” 

As for us who are among the more materially fortunate, she says, “We all need places where we can go to get closer to Jesus.” This center will be one. 

  • This piece originally appeared in The Bryan-College Station Eagle newspaper in my monthly column. This is the extended uncut interview with Dr. Miranda

I hear you.

Our Lady of Sorrows 2021

May 23 2021, a young black man was shot to death by police in front of my apartment. During the commotion that preceded the shooting I had rushed onto my balcony. I saw the whole thing. I called out to him while he lay in the parking lot as the police shouted at him to put his hands up. He couldn’t seem to do it so I was saying, “You can do it please do as they say! I’m praying for you!” I didn’t want them to shoot him again. Finally he was able to raise one shaking hand. He couldn’t seem to bring up the other arm.

He had come out of his apartment (next to mine) waving a gun earlier. When I saw that I knew they were going to shoot him. I decided that I was not going to turn away from what was about to happen. I felt I had no right to. I should remain.

As soon as he had finally put one hand up, a couple of officers turned him over on his face. It was raining. The parking lot has a lot of cracks and dips in it, repairs in the shape of square patches. He was in a bit of a puddle, still alive. His pants had fallen down when he was turned, exposing his naked butt and nobody pulled his pants up for him. The blood from his chest began seeping into the water around him.

That’s the scene that runs through my mind at least once a day.

He had looked so shocked when they shot him. He swayed and looked around at all the faces in front of him; each human face in the arc of police who had fanned out and then closed in. He looked at everyone before he collapsed.

Another neighbor had been caught between two cars and was hunched down crying. I went downstairs to hug her even though she was talking to her son on her cell phone. I heard the young man’s girlfriend screaming and the police shouting at her to stay back. I ran over there, worried she would get herself shot too, or arrested. I put my arms around her and reminded her that he needed her now, and she wanted to be able to be there for him so she should comply. She called to him that she loved him and she was there and she wasn’t going anywhere. She stayed back.

However when she saw her mother across the parking lot she ran to her with police shouting at her the whole way so I went with her and said over and over that she was just going to her mother. As we went past the stretcher, my arm brushed the young man accidentally and his head lolled to the side.

Everything happened so fast that day. I don’t know how objective I could ever be about something like this. I’m not trying to be.

I’m also not writing down everything that happened. These are the parts that have stayed with me the most, that tend to replay for me.

Soon after, maybe the next day, I saw a woman downstairs obviously overcome with traumatic grief. I went out on my balcony not knowing what to do but wanting to do something for her. She looked up at me so I called down to her and asked if she would like a hug. She said she would and I went down and held her close. She needed to sit down so we halfway got in her car and I held onto her.

“I can’t believe they shot my baby! How could they do that?”

There was nothing to say except “I don’t know.” Because that is the truth about these things. We can never understand them no matter what anyone says. At the bottom there is just no real answer.

This is what I am thinking about on this memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. We can say all of these exalted things about Mary’s sorrow and I know they are all true. But maybe we love her best when we remember that no answer satisfies a mother’s shattered heart.

Happy Birthday Mother Mary

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Today, September 8, is Mother Mary’s birthday! (Well we don’t know when it actually was but we celebrate it today!) Time to burn rose incense and get out all of her baby pictures and make a cake! (Chocolate! What other kind would she eat?) Happy birthday to our mother, our sister, our Queen, the one who was continually amazed. In her companionship may we come to live in a state of wonder as we follow her Son at her side.

Here is a little family prayer service I used to do with my kids before we had Mary’s birthday cake and that I will be doing with my daughter and granddaughter this evening.

(You might set a statue of Mary on the table, and any flowers or candles you may have.)

Opening Prayer:

Leader: We give thanks for the gift that Mary is in our lives in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

All: Amen

Reader:

A reading from the book of Judith (13:18)

“Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth.”

Petitions:

Leader: St. Therese the Little Flower said she felt bad for you, Mary, because unlike herself, you don’t have a Blessed Virgin Mary to love! Thank you Mary, for your gift of self.

Respond All: Be blessed, sweet Mother of God.

You are the glory of Jerusalem, the joy of Israel; you are the fairest honor of our race. We praise God because of you.

Be blessed, sweet Mother of God.

Pray for us, Holy Mother, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Be blessed, sweet Mother of God.

May we live in your kindly companionship, meditating in our hearts on the Gospel your Son with love.

Be blessed, sweet Mother of God

Leader:

Happy Birthday to you, dawn of our salvation, lover of God, friend as we follow him.

(Pray together a Marian Prayer such as the Hail Mary)

Sing happy birthday.

Close by blessing the cake and allowing the youngest person present to blow out the candles.

Mary, we love you! Happy birthday!

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It’s been a couple minutes

I’ve been gone forever. There are a lot of reasons for this. One of them is that I was writing a book. I tried to keep up with my other writing but I could only keep up with my column at the paper and even so I often used old material. It seemed like even when I wasn’t engaged in writing my book, I was constantly writing it in my mind, or reflecting on an idea for one of the devotional entries.

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The book is about friendship with Mary, based on the fact that Mary is real and accessible. I really had fun writing…. when I wasn’t agonizing. It is a devotional with reflections on Mary and her contemplative spirituality, her role in our lives; the sneaky ways she leads us to Jesus, and to deeper and deeper prayer. Each devotional is followed by an imaginative sequence about coming to Mary’s House to hang out with her. In the appendix I have written about how to get started with contemplative prayer: four different methods and some tips and words of encouragement.

I turned it in on August 31, which was so scary. Here goes. I hope they like it!

What happens next is that it will be in editing for a while.

I chose an artist who has done a wondrous job creating art that fits beautifully with the book. Hopefully they will like it too at Our Sunday Visitor!

My friends and family have put up with hearing the parts I was working on over and over and over! And also listening to me freak out.

Mary, I have really enjoyed this year and a half writing about you. It seems like this little book of 30,000 words should be so much longer for all the time it took to write. But truly, that is just how long it took. It was an adventure with you and you took me in different directions at times than I expected. I feel closer to you because of it. I pray others will feel closer to you, too when they read and pray along with it. I hope this book has made you happy.

And so, reader, just so you know, that’s what I have been up to. Hopefully I can think of other things to write about now sometimes.

My book’s working title is Come to Mary’s House. I will let you know what happens next with it.

Photo by Isabella Mendes on Pexels.com

Our Lady of Sorrows

The profound suffering of another person is frightening to be present to. When my husband’s cancerous brain tumor came back after two years of remission, he asked to be alone for a while. When he wanted me there I came and got into his chair with him and held him. I listened to him talk about his feelings of raw desolation, anger, and even shame, of terror, of feeling there was no comfort anywhere.

I had no mitigating words to say. Even if I had they would have been inappropriate and insensitive. Even with the intense devotion and deep bond I had with him, there were moments I wanted to run out in the back yard away from the enormity of what he was expressing. So I prayed as I listened; just the names of Jesus and Mary every time that urge came up. That simple effort made me able to share that space with him.

When he eventually asked how I felt about this on a spiritual level, all I had was the fact of Christ’s suffering. At least as we went through this we had a God who didn’t die in a shower of rose petals but naked and bleeding like an animal, nailed to a cross, with a cry of spiritual abandonment only just having died on his lips.

My husband nodded gravely.

I thought of Mary, surrounded by mockers, violent men, her weeping friends, silently sharing the space with her Son.

I believe she was near to me as I tried to open my heart to its fullest in the weeks that followed; through Bobs creeping paralysis, his growing confusion, his final inability to speak. She was close, I know, when I tried to surrender with love at the right time to set my husband free when he was ready.

Mary was the face of love to Jesus as he suffered. I tried to be that too, to lay my own grief aside. I have no doubt that is what she did at the Cross. I am sure she thought to herself, “I will grieve later. Right now I have to be here for him, I want to look at his beautiful living face as long as I can in these last moments.” I am sure about this because when you love, that is what you do.

May Our Lady pray for us when we are called to walk with someone who suffers terribly, which all of us are in some way at some time. May she companion us when we must find a way to love more than we feel able, to seek the true meaning of profound compassion that she embodied at the scene of her Son’s execution.

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