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Kiss the sky; a blessing

A priest and I have met in a cool, bustling lobby on a hot summer day. We smile at one another. We don’t know one another really except by sight and a few short conversations. But we have a warm, positive regard for one another and I feel safe and encouraged as soon as he comes in. I am so grateful that he is here.

We are about to head up to bless the place where my brother committed suicide. I know this is not a light task to ask someone to come along and join in.

I came here twice before to make sure I could handle it. The first time I sat in stunned silence for an hour and a half without even realizing the time that had gone by. The second time I was pretty sad but I thought I was ready. I am ready.

I am impressed that this priest who barely knows me responded to my request so readily and agreed to come here for this.  He seems to understand the need for healing, both emotional and spiritual for all concerned.

Our plan is also to commend my brother’s soul to God, and to pray in that place for my family’s healing.

Father walks with me toward the elevators, which we take to a high floor. We walk down a hallway, then through a stair exit, and out onto a tiny bare balcony overlooking a pool area.

“Just be however you need to be,” he says reassuringly.

This is the spot where my brother, Mark, sitting on the railing here, shot himself and fell down to the concrete below even as friends and family repeatedly called his cell phone and frantically texted him begging him not to do it while the police looked for him not knowing where to begin. I have thought of those moments over and over, tried to understand, tried to feel the way he must have felt, wondered why it had to be this way, watched my family and our friends do the same.

What is there to say in a place like this?

After a time of respectful silence, Father talks to me earnestly about how the Cross conquers everything. “I believe that,” I say.

He has such a kind face, I think to myself. It’s an easy, open, playful face, too. He is the kind of person who puts others at ease.

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photo Renee Bork

I get out my phone and show Father one of my favorite pictures of my brother. I briefly tell him about Mark, about my symbiotic relationship with him, and what happened to him as best I am able to understand it now.

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This gentle priest takes all this in thoughtfully.

He tells me what he would like to do, how he would like to proceed now.

I show him what I have brought: a grocery bag full of rose petals, some bubbles; a small bottle for each of us.

He smiles. He says the bubbles are a great symbol for what we are doing with the commendation. He blesses them.

He puts a thin priestly stole over his shoulders and smiles at me.

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Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

We begin with the Sign of the Cross together. He prays the prayers for the blessing of a place, telling me we are also reclaiming this place for God. In our prayers we invite the angels to come and drive every trace of evil from here. We bless and bring healing to this place where there was so much pain, where there was such a tragic, senseless death.

Seriously and with purpose, he begins to fling holy water all around us; over the rail, down the stairs, all over the balcony, the walls of the building, and splashes it down to the concrete below. He blesses this place in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

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Photo by Hilary Halliwell on Pexels.com

I tell this dear priest how hard it is not understanding what happened, and how I agonize still about how my brother could do this. Didn’t he know we loved him? Didn’t he know that any of us who loved him would have forgiven anything, given anything, done anything for him? How could he do this to us?

Tears are running down my cheeks.

Father listens closely, nodding.

I tell him how I have come to understand that somehow, that for some reason I will never know, my brother wasn’t able to let our love and support change what he did. Maybe to him we seemed so far away, he just didn’t know his way back.

I have to cry a little bit.

“You’re being really strong right now.”

“Thank you.”

He reminds me that as Catholics we believe every soul is given a moment of choice at the time of death, an encounter with God’s merciful love and truth, so each of us has a chance to choose the embrace of mercy.

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“Jesus” By Bob Chapman

He mentions that our Lord is here on this balcony with us, and that our Holy Mother Mary is here with us, too, to pray with us.

I am moved to talk to her. I tell her I had never thought I would be OK again but now I see I can have a new life and that Jesus wants me to have life. I spontaneously renew my consecration to her offering my life to her and committing to follow her Son better than I ever have before.

I can hear Father quietly praising Jesus as I speak these words of my new hope to Mary.

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I close my eyes and smile. I say, “I love you, God.”

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In his gentle voice, the priest reads a reading from one of the Gospels, and we pray for my family’s healing. We pray the Our Father together. I pray for the deep inner healing of the Holy Spirit for each person in my family. We say Amen.

We talk. We pray more. I tell him about the evolution of my understanding of my brother’s death through the tenderness of God in my prayer life right through all the horror of this death, this overwhelming loss, and fear I had of finding out something that would make this even worse. I explained that I still needed to understand all the same, and how I feel God helped me in His ingenious ways.

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I feel so much less alone as the priest listens quietly and with compassion to all I am saying. I don’t think even I knew how much this day would mean to me. I am grateful for his courage and kindness in coming here.

He said he would like to pray the Prayer of Commendation now, that we use for funerals. He says it is our prayer to send the soul to God, commending the person to God’s mercy and love. It serves as some release to us too, allowing us to send the person forth with love, to God.

So he prays the beautiful Prayer of Commendation.

Together we pray a Litany of the Saints.

We blow bubbles and watch them glide out shimmering, into the sun, cascading down the side of the building, drifting out over the pool. We send streams of them up into the blue and watch them float gently. We can’t help but smile.

I open the bag of rose petals and toss some out over the rail. I sprinkle some over Father. ‘Yay! Thank you so much!”

We grab more and more handfuls of petals and throw them out, everywhere, like confetti at a party. Some of the petals drop quietly onto the water below, some waft out on the breeze, some scatter themselves on the patio.

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“Did you SEE that?!”  he exclaims, as, amazingly, some of the petals suddenly spiral upward into the sky and away. Laughing we throw more and more of them everywhere, as if we are showering the world with roses.

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He takes some holy water and blesses me with the sign of the cross on my forehead.

With trembling hands, I drape a rosary over the end post of the rail and fasten two white silk roses to it.

Something I need to say to my brother:

“You’re not that.” 
You are not the way you died.

You’re just… my beautiful brother.”

Smiling, Father and I take pictures of each other, of the balcony, of the draped rosary, and the scattered petals, so my daughters can see what this looked like today.

 

We hug, and peacefully we leave the rose petal strewn balcony.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O God.
~ And let perpetual light shine upon him.

 

St. Philomena, our good friend

Once upon a time in Rome, during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian (in the third century), a young girl gave her life in witness to Christ under harrowing circumstances hard to imagine. She did this in spite of frightened parents, repeated and successively more cruel tortures, threats and even persuasive words and temptations from those around her. She also spent some time chained, bleeding, and broken in the Emperor’s dungeon. There Mary is said to have appeared to her and healed her, strengthening her resolve with the promise of victory and the hope of Heaven. Some of her tormenters were converted to Christ by this child’s astonishing courage, faith and perseverance through punishment after punishment.

Quite a long time later, in the year 2002, in a little chapel in San Antonio, a profoundly wounded young widow (that would be me) knelt to pray for healing for herself and her family as she faced another traumatic trial in life. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it sometimes. I had come on a day trip pilgrimage to the Lourdes grotto of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate with my sister-in-law, Jamie, to ask the intercession of Mary and for her motherly protection and wisdom for myself and my family.

On a small table at the end of my pew in the Eucharistic chapel there was a statue of an intense looking young saint that interested me. Her little pedestal said, “St. Philomena, Patroness of the Children of Mary.” Well then, she was the patroness of me.

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Later at home I found a holy card of St. Philomena under our family Bible. I had no idea where it had come from. Did this girl saint have something to say to me in my painful struggle? I felt compelled to try to find out more about her.

I started to research her life and the devotion to her. Frankly some of the material about her was a little weird, even for me. She sounded like a fairy tale. But I eventually found the official web site of her shrine in Mugnano, Italy where her body is venerated. This site had a lot of solid information and beautiful art. It was Church sanctioned. The resting place of St. Philomena had even been visited by an impressive list of Popes.

St. Philomena’s body was found in 1802 in the catacomb of St. Pricilla in Rome. Her epitaph said, “Peace be with you, Philomena,” and showed the martyr’s palm, a drawing of arrows and an anchor; the instruments of the torture she had undergone for her faithfulness to Christ. Inside were the bones of a 13-15 year old girl. Present also was the phial of blood often collected by the early Christians when one of them was martyred. Miracles and signs surrounded the opening of her tomb, and even of the opening of the phial of blood that day in May, 1802, wonders which were witnessed by many.

It seemed God was saying to the world, “Get to know this young woman. She is very close to Me, and I have given her great works to do in My Name.”

It was hard to know anything more about her. The only accounts we have are private revelation that is approved but not as certain as written testimony from her contemporaries would be of course. According to this private revelation and the hints from the drawings on her tomb, she had been through and survived one martyrdom after another. She sounded like my kind of girl.

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St. Philomena is the only saint ever to be canonized solely on the basis of her numerous miracles, some of them spectacular and public. She came to be called “The Wonder Worker,” and it was commonly said, “to St. Philomena, nothing is refused.” Among the countless people healed by her intercession is Ven. Pauline Jaricot who arrived at the shrine on the verge of death. She was dramatically healed amid shouts and rapping on the saint’s tomb from the crowd that was there. Philomena was St. John Vianney’s favorite saint. He talked to her every day, and had a small chapel built for the relic of her he was given. He encouraged devotion to her. Endearingly, he attributed all his miracles to her intercession.

I decided she definitely had something to teach me, and I began to cultivate a relationship with this mysterious little saint; thinking of her and speaking to her often, doing small things to honor her. I felt like she was with me and understood my darkness, fear, grief and trauma, very well. It seemed she was compassionate to me and laid a prayerful hand on me when I really felt I couldn’t take the suffering anymore. I think she helped me remember that in Christ I can do anything.

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Photo by Alem Sánchez on Pexels.com

My daughter, Maire, took to St. Philomena so much after we read the book
I Ask St. Philomena by Rick Medina, that she made her her patroness when she was 13. Maire’s eventual Confirmation name was Philomena. She always wore Philomena’s cord wound around her ankle or wrist as a kid. She still does. (It’s supposed to go around the waist but Maire never does anything the normal way.) Last year she had an anchor tattooed to her shoulder in her saints’ honor. “Look, Mom! It’s for St. Philomena!”

St. Philomena has been a good friend to us and accompanied our family through many crises and hardships. Her intercession even brought back two people who left the family. One of them, a  young run-away, was found staying only a few miles from a church that had a bone chip of St. Philomena’s. It was like a wink from her. During family prayer of a novena to her we even heard a sudden knocking sound we couldn’t find the origin of. We wondered about it. Then we read that this happened all over the world to other friends of St. Philomena, too, and that it was a sign of her intercession. Another wink.

Other times she seems to have worked the even greater miracle of obtaining for us the grace and strength to accept whatever Christ asked of us, no matter how hard it was, no matter how many times He asked it, and to do it with love, faithfulness and trust in Him, as she did.

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A tiny 2nd class relic of hers went with us to every radiation and chemotherapy treatment, scary doctor’s appointment and MRI my husband, Bob, had during his fight with the aggressive brain cancer, GBM. I anointed him with her holy oil before every procedure and prayed her chaplet during each one.

Bob made it two and a half years, which is an unusually long time for GBM, from his diagnosis to his death in 2012. As he often said, those years were the happiest of his life. He had an excellent quality of life almost to the end of it. He kept working. He kept helping people. He bloomed beautifully as a human being, started painting (very well, too), learned more about love than ever before, and inspired many people with his outrageous courage, sense of humor, undying hope and growth in charity during his struggles. He also fulfilled his heart’s desire of becoming a Catholic during that time. He died a beautiful, holy, love filled death.

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St. Philomena has taught our family through her life and spiritual friendship over the years, that no matter what, it will be OK, and even if it’s not OK, it will be OK. Our lives are God’s. And we are going to Him. What else is there? As Bob said, “We love we, walk on”. And no matter what, “God is it.”

One way we honor St. Philomena in our family (besides having named Bob’s cat after her) is for all of us, and whoever wants to come along, to dress in red and/or white and go out for Italian food every year on her feast day, August11. Red and white are her colors. Red is for her martyrdom, the white for her purity. People sometimes ask what team we are from when they see us. ☺Here is St. Philomena Day in 2010.

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In thanksgiving, we also try to let people know about her. No matter what your troubles are, and if you are suffering very much, St. Philomena will intercede for you in a special way and companion you on your journey. She never gave up. She will help you never give up either and follow Christ to the end. She may bring a miracle that is more than you asked for, or she might help you accept the martyrs’ crown, even with love and joy. She knows better than most that our tears become jewels on our garments in God’s Kingdom and that every one of our trials suffered with Christ helps us grow in the knowledge and love of Him.

We recommend to you her friendship in Christ, and we pray you find comfort in your sufferings and trials, that you receive more grace than you ever thought you could by the intercession and example of our good friend St. Philomena.

Blessed be God, wonderful in His Saints. 

 

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The beautiful story of how San Salvador Mission came about

She remembers walking barefoot on pilgrimage up the road to San Salvador Mission as a child, praying the rosary together with her family and friends, each August, lead by her grandmother, Ouida, to commemorate a healing, a vision, and a community coming together in response to a message from Heaven to build a church.

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She remembers her grandmother’s reluctance to talk much about the three apparitions she received at twelve years old from “a lady in black.” She only ever heard the story from her Italian American grandmother in broken English.

It’s a Scarmardo family story, a story of a community; and though it happened over 100 years ago, it is cherished and guarded by the family as a very special and somewhat private gift. To the local Catholic community it is the quiet, lovely legend behind a beloved little mission church out past the river, whose parent parish is St. Anthony’s in Bryan.

In 1894 getting to mass was very difficult for a small rural Texas community of Italian immigrants, as there was not a reliable bridge to cross the Brazos river and go to Bryan, where the nearest Catholic Church was. They mostly depended on a priest to come to them when he could, celebrating mass on someone’s porch.

One of these times, in the middle of mass, there was a sudden strong gust of wind and the crucifix fell onto the altar. The crash on the altar was so sudden and forceful, the people were uncomfortable and wondered what it meant.

The next day, in her family’s cotton field, in the wake of a gentle breeze, a young girl named Ouida (pronounced “Weeda”) suddenly saw a lady in black who asked why there was no church in this place. “There needs to be a church here.””

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The girl told her parents about it, but they didn’t take it seriously at the time.

Then there was another appearance of the lady, possibly in a dream this time, during which she gave the girl more details about the church she wanted to be built there, even including a list of the men who were to build it.

The girl’s parents wondered but were still not taking this too seriously until there was a yet another apparition, and this time the lady asked why the church had not been built yet.

Ouida’s concerned parents decided to take her to talk to the priest in Bryan, Fr. Antonio Simone. It seems the priest soothed their worries about their child because what happened next was that the community discerned that they should and they could do as the Lady from Heaven, understood to have been Mother Mary, had asked.

Each family gave their first crops, another family donated land, and the church was built in six weeks.

It was named for the patronal feast of Cefalu, Sicily, the native village of these Italian immigrants, a feast  they call San Salvador, “Holy Savior,” which is August 6, the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.

First mass was said at its altar in October 1908.

Ouida had breast cancer at the age of 40 and vowed that she would make a barefoot pilgrimage to the church every year on the feast of San Salvador, the Transfiguration, if she was cured. She was cured. And the pilgrimage was made for many years, even revived by a third generation and walked for several more.

San Salvador Mission celebrated its centenary in 2008 with Bishop Gregory Aymond.

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Today there are good bridges into Bryan, and not so many people still live near San Salvador Mission, which still stands in the midst of an expanse of farm land near a country road. But it is cherished nonetheless and mass is attended there still by those who love it.

The first time I went out to take pictures of it, I was surprised to find it locked. A red truck pulled up, and a kindly woman, who told me she grew up right next to the church and still lived nearby, let me in. In the course of our conversation, she let me know that she had come to check on the sanctuary light. When she is at home she gets a feeling when it is out and she goes and changes it to honor the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. When I remarked on how touching I thought that was, she said,

“When you get the grace to pay attention, it’s just an amazing life we live. “

San Salvador stands as a testament to a community that paid attention, and still does.

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*Many thanks to Ouida’s granddaughter, Mary Jo (Scarmardo) Lindsay, and to her cousin, Judy (Scarmardo) Comeaux, two lovely women, for sharing their memories with me.

**Mass at San Salvador is celebrated the First Saturday of the month, at 7PM. You’ll find it at County Road 222 – 1/4 Mile off Farm Road 50 (County Road 286), Bryan, TX 77836

*** No approval for this Marian apparition was ever sought. It is a private revelation given to Ouida that was responded to by her community of faith.

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Praying through conflict

When we talk we can do a lot of good sometimes. When we pray we don’t do anything. We stop doing. Instead we meet one another in the Heart of God. We bring ourselves, and our difficulties before Him in good will and open-ness of heart. What is there to argue about then?

It is a truth I often point out to my daughters, that God will not force solutions on us. “Remember all the times you brought broken toys for me to fix? I couldn’t fix them if you wouldn’t give them to me. God can work with your problem when you trust Him with it and let go.”

We don’t know what God will do but we do know that God responds to prayer, especially humble, open- hearted prayer, and we know it pleases Him when people set aside their differences and come together to seek His will, willing to be changed by Him.

Authentic prayer always brings out the best  in people. It brings them to recognize their own littleness and broken-ness before God, Who is all love, at once perfectly just, full of mercy, and utterly mysterious- thus requiring our open-ness and willingness, for Him to reveal Himself to us. This is when we can come to know the power of His transforming love.

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On the day of Pentecost in the midst of the believers gathered in prayer the gifts of the Holy Spirit undid  the language barrier, the curse of Babylon. People who heard them when they prayed understand now, in the Spirit, no matter what language each one speaks.

God can hardly help Himself, I think, responding when anyone prays with trust and hope. Surely He will bless the prayers of His children who don’t want to fight anymore and don’t know what to do to stop.

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How can we pray through conflict together in our lives?  I think it is of special relevance in families. There is a lot of pain and love in families. There are always issues that need to be brought to the light of the Holy Spirit for forgiveness and unraveling. We don’t always know what to do. Sometimes we have talked and talked or we have tried not talking. We have tried forgetting, avoiding each other, pretending nothing happened. What if we came together in honest prayer and let God begin the healing in His own way?

What if our first reaction, when we had a conflict with someone, was to pray about it with him? Imagine how this might look on social media if people with differences stopped arguing for a minute and prayed together humbly instead?

Praying through conflict can help make difficult decisions people are in conflict about. When my first husband, Blaze, wanted to move back to his native Wisconsin, I knew it was  fair since he had been in Texas with me so long. However, I could not help my grief, and he was upset that I was upset. Our talking about it was not doing any good. We were advised by someone wise to pray about it. Our prayer was to be, “If we are supposed to move to Milwaukee, give Shawn peace about going. If we are to stay in Texas, give Blaze peace about staying.” He got peace about staying and we stayed. It was the right thing.

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Once my dad had read about something and wanted to try it. He wanted to sit down on the couch with me and have us look into each other’s eyes for nine silent minutes.  So we turned off the stereo and we sat on the couch and we looked at each other right in the eyes in silence. After the first awkward, anxious moments of wanting to laugh or run away or cry were over, my heart felt such peace and quiet and love.

“What did you think?” my dad asked when the  long beep of the kitchen timer let us know our nine minutes were up.

“I think I saw you the way God sees you!”

My dad just smiled.

Let’s go together and look into the eyes of Our Father without words or agendas of our own. Maybe we will finally see each other, and maybe even see God.

“Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelations 21:5)

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Lesson from Elijah: a prayer story

When I answer the door, a wild- looking old hippie guy standing on my porch asks me for some water and a sandwich. I don’t actually have much food in the house right now, as it’s a few days until Pay Day. I’m trying to think what to give him, remembering I am down to the last scrapes of peanut butter, when, seeming to read my mind, he says that I won’t run out of either bread or peanut butter until the next time I get paid. “Just make me a sandwich,” he says in response to my incredulous stare.

In my kitchen, I open a cabinet and find my jar of peanut butter unexpectedly full. I also find a loaf of bread. So I make him a sandwich.

“Should I know you?” I finally ask. “Yes. I’m the prophet Elijah.”

I ask him, “Aren’t you supposed to appear in the end times?” * He looks at me sharply with an expression of terrible ferocity, sadness, tenderness, radiance, and when our eyes meet, I feel exposed to the vastness of space, and I know even that vastness to be flying by, nothing at all. I know myself to be dust, less than dust. Both the prophet and I are dust in the wind together.

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I find myself on a mountainside next to him. I don’t look at his face, but I watch his feet in their dusty sandals as I follow him up. The path is rough, steep, and though well worn, it is still difficult. We climb on and on in silence. This must be Mt. Carmel. Suddenly I take a thoughtless step, sliding and falling backwards down the narrow path, and then over an edge I didn’t notice before.

He catches my wrist, and as soon as his hand closes tightly to catch me and stop my fall, I see what fills the pit I almost fell into- the charred remains of little children, so many, too many to count. The full horror of this scene chokes me. As I hang over this terrible place in Elijah’s grip, I hear the Scripture, “it is not against flesh and blood that we are at war, but with the powers and principalities of darkness,” and the words of Jesus, “Satan is a murderer and he was a murderer from the beginning. “

Suddenly I am back on the mountain path with Elijah, trying to recover my calm. I look at him, his face covered with angry tears, and I remember the priests of Baal he was up against, and I feel I understand the extreme zealous intensity of Elijah. It wasn’t only the worship of an idol, offensive as that was, it was all that this led to, and ultimately, it was the Evil One beneath it all, and who is still our real enemy.

The little children sacrificed to Baal* don’t suffer anymore. It is God who feels it forever, God who is horrifically wronged, the order of the world distorted by every scream, because He is Love and Truth itself, and we are made in His image, to love and to be loved. There is only one way evil can have any effect on God; through the harm or the betrayal of those He loves.

Unfaithfulness to Him inevitably leads the human heart to ruin and darkness and worse. “All who worship them will become like them.”

That pit. I shudder. That place was strangely familiar. I know it signifies much. I will be sorting out its’ implications for a long time.

Elijah seems tired as we continue our climb. “Thank you,” I breathe, feeling that he can hear me, and that he knows I am thanking him, too, for his life of powerful witness to God, of jealous love for Him.

“Zelo zelatus sum,” I think to myself, as we duck into Elijah’s cave. “With zeal I have been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts;” Elijah’s words, and the motto of all Carmelites.* This is why we live, this is why we pray: “As the Lord lives, in whose presence I stand,” that He come through us into this world, that we might arise and burn like a torch in the spirit and power of Elijah against the spiritual forces of darkness, the idols and injustices of our time, with “a double portion of [his] spirit.”

We sit watching the ravens bringing us food from afar. I want to explore the cave, but the prophet’s eyes are closed, and I know we are supposed to pray now, as the sun sets. Just before I close my eyes, I see in the distance, over the sea, a small rain cloud coming up over the water. I understand what this means. “He shall descend like rain on the meadows.”  Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.

I am aware of the profound, incomprehensible tenderness of God in the “still small voice” within Elijah and myself. We cover our faces, and we say His name, the Name of God.

“The fire from the Lord consumed the sacrifice… and the people fell on their faces saying, ‘The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!”icon_elijah_02_in_a_caveNotes:

  • Elijah’s life is in 1Kings chapters 17- 21,  and 2Kings 1- 2:18
  •  *Elijah and the end times http://www.dailycatholic.org/issue/10Mar/030407sm.htm
  • *Baal worship involved child sacrifice.
  • *Carmelites see Elijah and the Virgin Mary as the exemplars of our Christian contemplative life.
  •  The direct Scriptures quotes italicized and in order of appearance, areEph. 6:12, Jon. 8:44, Ps. 115:8, 1Kings 19:10, 1Kings 17:1, 2 Kings 2:9, Ps. 72:6, Rev. 22:20, 1Kings 19:12, 1Kings 18:38

Living the sacredness of Ordinary Time

My daughter, Maire, got in trouble at her Catholic middle school for wearing green nail polish, which was against the rules. (Only clear or light pink nail polish allowed, if I remember right.) When asked about her indiscretion, she said, “It’s for Ordinary Time!”

I laughed hearing about that. At least she remembered what season we were in as Church, and it meant something to her.

We have just begun Ordinary Time, that big section of green, the liturgical color of the current Church  season, that fills most of the wheel illustrating the Liturgical Year.

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We have special things we do at other seasons in the Church year. What about Ordinary Time?

Ordinary Time has it’s own feel. I associate its’ post Pentecost beginning with that first breath of cool air from the church door as I step into the intimate hush of daily Mass on a hot Summer day. This season is a contrast of calm and peace after the penance of Lent and the holy fire of Easter and Pentecost. It’s a return to the simple holiness of daily life. 15039609_10211644917782949_4725375496342074872_o

 

One of our family albums is titled, “Ordinary Time.” It is a scrapbook of our family life during a few months of Summer and Fall. Into it I recorded our daily “rule of life;” (or sometimes not-so-rule,) song lyrics to music we were listening to at the time, the every day prayers we prayed, the silly things we did on the spur of the moment like a spontaneous family dance in the middle of dinner, as well as our little celebrations of the feasts of Ordinary Time, such as the Nativity of Mary (September 8.)

We always made Mother Mary a birthday cake. “Chocolate. What other kind of cake would she eat, right?” the caption  says in green ink.

We remembered this part of the Church year by keeping green candles on our family alter. We prayed a “kid version” (when the kids were younger,) of the Liturgy of the Hours I put together for family prayer, which always reflected the current season.

Ordinary Time in Dubina
Ordinary Time at Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Dubina

At Mass, the vestments and alter cloths will be green or have green trim. My mom, always the gardener, used to say this was because “green is the color of life.” In Ordinary Time, the focus shifts from the culminating moments in the life of Christ and His Church; the birth of Jesus, His death and resurrection, and then Pentecost, to the space in between where most of life is lived.

 

“Ordinary” comes from the word, “Order.” So we enter into the daily order of the Church at this time of year, and the emphasis of the Gospel readings is on the ministry of Jesus; His preaching and healing, His daily encounters with people, His conversations, his journeys.

Ordinary time can be a time we pay special attention to our own encounters, conversations, and the events of our own lives, and how God speaks to us in these. How does the life of Jesus unfold in your own?

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What do you do every day? I know I spend a lot of time coping, and sometimes I need to cultivate more conscious awareness of life so it doesn’t just happen to me and I miss it.

I am not by nature a very rule or schedule oriented person. But I do know paying attention to my loosely interpreted cadenza of a life, makes it more of a little holy rule instead of a stream of consciousness in which I might forget to practice the presence of God. * When I can lightly observe the rhythm of the day with holy intention, I feel peaceful and connected.

Ordinary Time is a great time to learn to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, to read the daily mass readings, (or maybe just the Gospel each day, as my youngest adult daughter and I do.) It’s a good time to get in the habit of sanctifying time by stopping, or at least pausing, in our day, to pray, even for a moment. It’s a good time to remember to look around and notice how beautiful God is, and how He is everywhere represented and speaking to us.

Now is a great time to carry Jesus into the work we do, and to consciously do all we do as it truly is; through Him, with Him and in Him. We can try doing every task with gentleness and love. Whether we sit, or lie down, or are talking to our children, whether we are in our house, driving our car, doing the shopping or at work, when we are sitting with friends, or going for a walk, we can try always to be remembering the nearness of God, even in our breathing.

“God is alive. I am standing in His presence.” ~Antiphon from The Carmelite Proper for the feast of Elijah the Prophet (July 20)

We can each day seek to understand how it is that His yoke is easy, His burden light, His Heart meek and humble. We can slowly begin to incorporate that lightness, that easiness, that meekness and humility of heart into our lives as we become more aware of the sweet companionship of His spirit every day.

This is how we enjoy life as people who consciously live in God; by bringing the remembrance of Him into the sacred Ordinariness of our time.

from my out door reading grove :)

“See that I am God. See that I am in everything. See that I do everything. See that I have never stopped ordering my works, nor ever shall, eternally.

~ Revelations of Divine Love by St. Julian of Nowich

* The Practice of the Presence of God is a term coined by the Carmelite mystic, Brother Lawrence, and is the title of a collection of his writings.

on our family land outside of College Station
Green, the color of life

 

 

 

A magical day with Mom

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“Remember” by Red Moore

When mom and I got out of the car, at the Antique Rose Emporium* it was as if she shed her dementia and I forgot all about it. We wandered into a timeless, and for us, almost mythical place.

Roses are healing.

She walked, smiling, down the lovely rose-lined paths with her now faltering steps, and I followed her, no less affected than she seemed to be.

It was as if we both felt a sense of peace, restoration, familiarity and relief; those bright, curving walkways leading us to the past, expanding the present, making the future irrelevant for now- while the roses looked on, their sweet, serene faces gently swaying in the breeze, glowing in the mild, fall sunshine. They seemed to welcome us.

We walked, reading their names, these names as familiar as a litany of cousins, brothers or household saints; part of my mother’s every day language.

Duchesse Brabant, Old Blush, Abraham Darby, laMarque, Baily Red, Ducher, Cecile Brunner, Red Cascade, Mermaid, the Fairy, Graham Thomas, Dame de Cour …

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found rose

We meet here in dreams- meet each other, or friends, sometimes even family members long gone. Here where past and present merge, and moments are easily savored,  it is a perfect place for the kind of dream that imprints itself on the soul forever.

We meet here often in reality too: picnics, Mother’s Days, birthdays, tea parties with mom and her best friend, Ellen, or to pick out roses for planting time.

On some visits Mom and I were so engrossed in roses, we didn’t notice the kids under our feet, or that they were running down the path, disappearing with the wagon.

Pictures of us all in this place dot our family albums, as well as mom’s massive volume of photos, labels and histories of her own roses.

I was tired and did not want to take any pictures that day. Mom had left her camera in the car, too. Pictures can only snatch at time. They never really catch anything.

We wandered happily in the temple of our many meetings.

Mom and I exclaimed over scents, over loveliness both new and familiar. We passed the big old house with its wrap-around porch, walked down brick paths and gravel, around fountains and enclosures, past the statue of Our Lady of the Rosary, where we had often stopped to pray with the kids. We stood in the center of the gazebo where my brother and his wife were married on another fall day years ago. Silent and still, we held hands, smiled and remembered.

“Roses are healing,” I said aloud, and the roses seemed to nod and smile.

“Yes,” she said, “they are.”

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She chose four rose bushes, becoming more and more distracted, wandering off now and then, so that the process of buying them took a long time.

The spell, like all spells, must wear off.

I loaded up the roses, and we drove back to reality- or a different one, anyway. But I think we were both conscious of a special blessing.

Roses are healing. Roses are holy. And some places are made timeless by love.

 

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My mom, Delphia, on her front porch with her dog, Devon, 2011.

 

*  https://www.antiqueroseemporium.com/

Holiness of House Work :)

As soon as my friends and family stop laughing that I am writing anything about this subject, we can begin in earnest, Gentle Reader…

Well, never mind then. We will just go on anyway. I deserve it, I know. If cleanliness is next to godliness then I had better meditate on Philippians 2:12,b EVERY DAY! My step dad, Tom’s reaction to my writing this was, “OK, you got guts!”

Actually I enjoy housework. It’s just that with my ADD (I believe I mentioned it to you before a time or two) it is very hard for me to stay on task and to be consistent or  plan my work very well. This is called a lack of executive function, I believe. Also I have trouble practicing habits that make it so I don’t have to play bulldozer when I do clean (that’s called being a bit of a slob I believe.) I am quite likely, as my witnesses know, to pick up a book to put it away and suddenly  realize I’ve been sitting on the floor reading it a good while, or to start a grand project and then find myself staring out of the window thinking of my next “hum” in Pooh-Bear fashion.

I’m not lazy. I like hard work. My last job was in the press room at the local newspaper, which was very hard physical work. I loved it. So work is not the problem. As long as I am not distracted or confused, I will be fine. An overwhelmingly  messy laundry room, however, causes a kind of short in my circuits that makes me gaze unseeing or become instantly distracted. OK, maybe I run away.

My difficulties confessed, I do think I have something to say about housework and its sacredness. I may even offer some advice for other ADD and AD/HD sufferers or people with small children and/or busy schedules (or maybe just anyone!) that might not be so out of line about getting a modest amount of work done in a prayerful way.

My house is clean right now. Roise was slightly helpful in the way that a mopey 15-year old can be when she really wants her friend over, and Mom has said, “Not until this house doesn’t know what hit it!” Still it was mostly myself working on this goal. Roise took a few Facebook breaks as mopey teen agers will.

When my kids were small, I used to go with them one room at a time to work with them side by side. We used to offer up our work in each room for a different prayer intention. Maire, at age 7, usually offered her room cleaning for Brittany Spears. She was always worried about her. When we finished a room, we bowed, before lighting some incense in the clean room; a ritual we got from their dad, Marc Blaze, that added a sense of completeness and made our work feel sacred.

My second late husband, Bob, taught me a lot about the holiness of work around the house and of conscious service to the family. He said this was part of what he called  his “skin religion.” He said his work in the yard, for instance, was a form of prayer. He was mindful, as he mowed the lawn, picturing Maire and Roise’s bare feet on the grass and how nice he was making it for them, how soft it would feel on their feet. He said he wanted us to look around and see the things he had done for us around our house and feel like each one was an “I love you,” from Bob.

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House work and yard work seemed to open him to the “sacrament of the present moment” * and to fill him with love.

We do look around and see his “love notes” all around us. One can hardly look anywhere and not see something he did for us.

I was at Bob’s side a lot of the time as we painted our house the exact blue of my sister-in-law, Jamie’s, eyes. I felt a sense of loving gratitude toward my house as we painted and like I was getting to know our house better. We thought about how meaningful it was to be painting this house that had been drab, dirty white for so many years. We were covering it with brightness like a metaphor for how colorful our lives were now that we were together and so happy after so many years of loneliness for both of us. It felt like an act of gratitude and a recognition of the sacredness of our home. Later Bob made me a painting of our house shaped like a heart with the two of us contemplating it. We went on to paint the garage green and to put in a pink antique front door.

When I wash my mixing bowls, which belonged to my granny and then to my mom and now to me, I have a sense of being close to them, and that those bowls are holy. So are all the dishes on which I feed my family and all those who come to my house as guests. Cooking is holy too. The Sufis believe food cooked with love, especially by your parents, carries a special blessing- which indeed it does. We should always try to cook with love. My mom did.

by Robert Chapman
painting by Robert Chapman “Breakfast Please”

I have a few habits when I am working around the house that help me stay in tune with the holy and remind me that my housework is not only an offering but it can be an adoration of the Lord who is continuously present with us in all we do. I know it’s weird but I have a tendency to pause and genuflect now and then in the kitchen. Bob used to ask why I did “church stuff in the house.” I said I was just praying while I worked. He understood that.

My Carmelite Community has a “Day of Recollection” each December.  One time the Holy Cross Brother leading us in our day asked us what we imagined ourselves doing as holy people, as we are all called to sainthood. What did we see ourselves actually doing? He said he saw himself writing. I was surprised that I saw myself sweeping the floor. Well! That’s already true. I could think that’s pretty disappointing, or I could think that is worth pondering. Maybe God is telling me to find Him in these things I am always having to do anyway. It is true that He has given me some great moments of insight and growth in the middle of a daily task like sweeping the floor or folding laundry.

This sense of love and holiness involved in caring for my house makes me more mindful of each task and even makes me handle material objects with a loving gentleness more like I would if I were putting the vessels of the alter away, were I to be doing that. I do sometimes feel an infusion of love and awareness of  God’s presence when I am engaged in simple tasks.

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So why is it so hard for me to be consistent, to get started on a project and stay with it? You remember. I’m terribly ADD.

If you are too, or have young children, or are otherwise busy and pre-occupied, here are some things I do to get myself through an afternoon of housework and grow in the awareness of God’s presence at the same time. Maybe you have some tips for me, too. I bet you do.

First, Roise and I ask the prayers of St. Anne, the patroness of our house, as well as patroness of house wives. This is her house so I ask her to pray for me while I clean. Sometimes, if I am badly distracted or overwhelmed, I lay a novena to her out on the kitchen table and set the oven timer for 30 minute increments. I will stop and pray another “day” of the novena each time the timer goes off. It keeps me going.

Also I trick myself.  I tell myself I am only going to fold five towels (when I have a huge, intimidating pile of laundry) and then I’m quitting. Once I get going, it is not an unpleasant task so I keep going. Anyway, it fascinates my cats.

The timer is also useful for seeing what I can get done in 15 minutes. My house used to be a duplex and my dear friend, Andrea, lived on the other side. One of us would watch our kids in the back yard for 15 minutes while the other rushed around her house to see what she could get done in that much time. We were amazed at how well this worked and how much we got done in such a short, focussed period. Both of us still do that sometimes even now; set the timer for 15 minutes and see what we can accomplish.

It’s hard for me to stay on task so one thing I do is follow a rule that it doesn’t matter what I do as long as I don’t stop doing things, just keep moving  and bringing myself back to housework like I bring my mind back to prayer when I get distracted. Audio books help me a lot too. They get me to stay in the room, and if I’m caught up in St. Julian of Norwich the work is a breeze; I’ll stay right with it and listening to her could only increase my consciousness of being immersed in the Source of all Good. Holy music can help with this too, though I like Metallica for mopping.

I saw a painting  of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, in which she is washing dishes and holding up a dinner plate like an offering. I liked that picture a lot. It expresses well what I am trying to do.

Brother Lawrence, author of The Practice of the Presence of God, said that he felt just as close to God when he flipped an omelet for love of Him as he did on his knees in chapel as if there was no difference. As St. Teresa of Jesus said, “God moves among the pots and pans.”

That he does. Finding Him and hanging out with him there is what I’m working on a lot lately; even if I have to trick myself to get started.

Laugh. It’s OK. I don’t mind. 🙂

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“Father, may everything we do begin with Your inspiration and continue with Your saving help. Let our work always find its origin in You, and through You reach completion.” (from the Liturgy of the Hours Monday Morning Week I)

“You who work in this house…. Mary counts your steps and your labors.” ~ Sister Miriam of Jesus Crucified

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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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