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Everywhere I turn these days I seem to encounter athletes. One of my friends did a half IronMan this last weekend, we’re in the middle of the Olympics, and I recently learned about Sister Madonna Buder, about whom Nike recently made a great commercial.

Sr. Madonna’s story is fantastic. She has completed over 40 IronMan competitions – for the uninitiated the race includes a 2.4 mile swim, a marathon run, and 112 bike ride, for a total of 140.62 miles in under 17 hours. Oh… and she’s 86.

It’s all very intimidating or inspiring… I can’t decide which one. I’m not a complete couch potato – I play on a few rec leagues, but what these people can physically accomplish is amazing. It makes me want to go out and run a mile. 

My mom always said that I shouldn’t use the word hate. So I won’t.

I very strongly dislike running. VERY strongly.

I love mowing the lawn. I have a super old Dixon lawn mower and for 2 and half hours every weekend I get to mow the lawn. It’s very mesmerizing.

What do these two thing have in common? They are great times for prayer. 

I’m particularly fond of the Divine Mercy Chaplet (I found the one sung by Angelina on Google Play is my favorite) when I’m mowing. It is such a powerful prayer and when sung, it adds time for me to meditate on each iteration of “For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” It’s beautiful and moving and very personally meaningful.

Then there’s running. Did I tell you how I feel about running? Well that hasn’t changed in the last 4 paragraphs. I don’t like to do it.

However, prayer is a great tool for my mental game when I run. It not only keeps my mind busy, but it also helps me keep tempo and sets milestones for marking my run. (Tip – Rosary Rings work really well for this.)

The man who teaches the adult education classes at my church swims as he prays the rosary. He says he can spend an entire half hour on a single mystery.  That is inspiring.

So with rosary ring securely around my finger, I run. I run the rosary. And the results are a slightly better soccer game, physical well-being and an inner satisfaction that can only come from the grace of God.

 

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I LOVE watching the Olympics and I LOVE reading about public figures and their Catholic faith.

So when I heard that Katie Ledecky says a Hail Mary or two before every race, I wondered who else competing in Rio is Catholic.  Here are a few I found with my preliminary search tonight:

Katie Ledecky (Swimming) 

  • Gold in 400m Freestyle on Sunday
  • Godfather is a Jesuit priest
  • “I do say a prayer – or two – before any race. The Hail Mary is a beautiful prayer and I find that it calms me.” 
  • Catholic School educated
  • “My Catholic faith is very important to me. It always has been and it always will be. It is part of who I am and I feel comfortable practicing my faith. It helps me put things in perspective.”  (Catholic Standard)

Sydney McLaughlin – Track and Field

  • Youngest U.S. Olympian to compete for track and field in the Olympics since 1980. She was only 16 years old when she qualified, but turned 17 2 days ago on 8-6-2016
  •  “My Wildwood Catholic teachers, coaches and classmates taught me what it meant to have faith, to work for ideals, and to use that work to make the world a little better.” (Epic Pew)
  • Competes in the 400m hurdles

Kelly Murphy – Volleyball

  • attended Joliet Catholic Academy in Joliet, Illinois

Joe Maloy – triathlete

  • graduated from Wildwood Catholic HS in Wildwood, NJ – the school held a blue & white day in his honor
  • “My Wildwood Catholic teachers, coaches and classmates taught me what it meant to have faith, to work for ideals, and to use that work to make the world a little better.” 
  • On Facebook, he left current Wildwood Catholic high school students with “homework.” “Remember to say ‘thank you.’ No one ever accomplishes anything great alone.”

Usain Bolt (Jamaica) – Track and Field

  • the “fastest man on earth”
  • his middle name is “St. Leo” – named after Great Leo the pope from 440 to 461
  • crosses himself and says a silent prayer before each race

Juan Martín del Potro (Argentina) – Tennis

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This week my sweet daughter Joy is taking the helm. She was pretty stoked about World Youth Day and wanted to lend her voice to the conversation. I also think she may be missing school just a little bit.

So Joy, darling, take it away:

Going into every spiritual retreat, whether that be SEARCH, Totus Tuus, or a diocese youth conference, expectations arise and are, more frequently than not, met. There is also the rare occasion where an event that I didn’t participate in had an effect on my spiritual life.

I experienced that previously this year on the March for Life, where I had many friends get stuck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and I was able to see their effect on the world, a world which had, earlier, chosen to ignore the large number of buses from across the United States to peacefully protest.

I was blessed enough to experience the same world-wide feeling of unity reading about World Youth Day. The gathering, starting in 1984 by Saint John Paul II with 300,000 responsive youth has grown to hundreds of thousands of young people from all over the world to gather to hear Pope Francis’s message of hope: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

The amount of people that are still open to God’s love continues to prove Saint John Paul II’s questions to still be true: “Who claimed that today’s youth has lost their sense of values? Is it really true that they cannot be counted on?”

This year Pope Francis focused on the idea of mercy, encouraging the young people of the world to not be afraid to trust in mercy and in the hope of a better future. He said “People may judge you to be dreamers because you believe in a new humanity, (…) one that refuses to see borders as barriers and can cherish its own traditions without being self-centered or small-minded.”

It was in this way that Pope Francis encouraged the young generation to guide the world into being better by being merciful. It was in the number of youth responding that encourages hope in a more merciful world.

For me this means that I can live with less fear because God’s mercy is in my future. So any pain from today is temporary. There’s a happily-ever-after.

So that means I can contribute to the revolution without fear. I can go to daily Mass during the summer, or go early on Sunday to pray the rosary or Divine Mercy chaplet. I can make the revolution grow by inviting my friends to come with me, knowing that any pain of rejection or judgement would be temporary.

JPII started a revolution to last for centuries. The symbol of the Youth Day Cross, symbolizing the love of Christ for humanity, entrusted to the youth, gives hope in mercy, starting with little acts. How can you start the revolution for mercy this week?

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There is a scene in the film “Sgt. Bilko” where Phil Hartman’s character Major Thorn is on a date with Glenne Headly’s character Rita. They order some wine and trying to impress Rita, Major Thorn picks up the cork and sniffs it.

Rita asks “Why do you smell the cork?”

And Major Thorn responds with “Your eyes are hazel,” obviously not knowing the answer to her question. (Rita’s eyes are actually green.)

I felt like this a while ago when my brother-in-law asked me why we (Catholics) cross ourselves on the forehead, lips and heart at the beginning of the gospel reading at Mass. I vaguely remembered something Sr. Jane had said way back in 3rd grade about mind, tongue and heart, but didn’t have any details to fill in. 

I did not comment on his eye color, though. (Blue, I think?)

Turns out, it boils down to courage. Admitting fault in ourselves and preparing ourselves to receive the word of God in a way that we can change ourselves for the better is no easy task. 

For the word which Christ brought and which is set down in this book we are willing to stand up with a mind that is open, we are ready to confess it with our mouth, and above all we are determined to safeguard it faithfully in our hearts. (CIN-Origin of the Sign of the Cross, Father Mateo, July 28, 1991)

In this action we are also mimicking the action of the priest who silently prays “Almighty God, cleanse my heart and my lips that I may worthily proclaim Your Gospel” as he bows before the Gospel reading. He then not only crosses his head, lips and heart, but starts by crossing the reading.

We too want (and need) the Word to penetrate our thoughts, words and actions. This small gesture is a physical reminder to ourselves to be open to whatever transformation the Word will make in our life. It’s a prayer for bravery.

So in what small way have you been brave in your faith this week? What is one small thing you can do this week?

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I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this… but every once in awhile we get an order for an item we didn’t even know we had.

And it happened today. An order for 50 St. John Berchmans medals came across the order table. And there they were 2 feet from my face the whole time (and by “whole time” I mean “3 years”).

The natural reaction whenever an obscure inventory item pops up is to research! (Being that Travis is a high school debate coach – research is a favorite past time around here.) Here’s what I found:

At 7 (SEVEN!!) John (who was named for John the Baptist) would get himself out of bed early – 5 a.m. early – so that he could serve 2-3 Masses for the priests each day. Hence why he is the patron saint of altar servers.

Try to think back when you were 7. If you were anything like me, sitting through a single Mass on Sunday morning was difficult. Now multiply that times 7 (each day of the week) and that times 2-3 (# of Masses served per day). Somehow this child was imbued with an understanding or a thirst at an incredibly young age. Beyond serving at Mass he was known for his love of the rosary and prayed it while walking through the streets. All of this from the age of 7-9 (about 1606 to 1608). He often said “If I do not become a saint when I am young I shall never become one.”

Granted, standards of behavior were much stricter then and there (born 1599 in Diest, Belgium; died 1621 in Rome) than they are here and now, but even in that atmosphere the difference in John that was noticed by priests and family was his eagerness and yearning for perfection. John sought to follow the rules of the Jesuits as perfectly as possible. One of the symbols that appear in images of St. John Berchmans is a Jesuit rule book.

John had a reputation for volunteering for more chores and harder chores than his peers. He sought opportunities to work hard. He was a boots-on-the-ground Catholic. I imagine that in today’s world he wouldn’t be the one to make Facebook posts about social ills, he’d be out in the community finding ways to fix them. He was known to be friendly and easy to talk to. 

In the fall of 1618 John walked 1,000 miles to Rome in order to continue his philosophy studies that he began in Belgium. He died of dysentery there almost 3 years later in August of 1621. 

Sometime during his short life, St. John Berchmans composed the Chaplet of Immaculate Conception, stemming from his deep devotion to Mary.

St. John Berchmans was beatified 244 years later in 1865 and canonized in 1888. Although it took a long time for sainthood, his image was printed and spread across Belgium due to the large number of miracles attributed to him. However, the miracle that tipped him into sainthood took place in Louisiana in 1866 when a very ill novice Mary Wilson prayed for his intercession, had a vision of John Berchmans, and was immediately healed.

EWTN notes that it wasn’t anything extraordinary about John Berchmans that made him a saint – no single deed or heroic action – it was that “He made kindness and courtesy as well as constant fidelity an important part of his holiness”. And that may not be something we can all attain, but we can reach for it.

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Fr. Gary at St. Lawrence in Milbank, SD always has a great homily. But his opening line this week struck me dumb, and I've been thinking about it ever since.

He stated:
 "You will be the only bible many people in your life will ever read. What verse will you be?"

I'm going to go off on bit of a side note here: I'm not good in crowds. Just the idea of networking frightens me. So calls from the pulpit to evangelize don't necessarily fall on deaf ears, just very shy ears. The soul is willing, but the nerves are weak.

Back to Father Gary:

His point was that we don't need to be out there lecturing on our faith - attempting to convert everyone we meet - we just need to be true examples of our faith. Hence the question of the bible verse. 

I've picked a few below, but I'm curious as to what your picks would be. Comment below to add to the conversation.

1. On our love for my family:
"We love because he first loved us." 1 John 4:19
What it means to me: The love I have for my family is a gift. Be grateful to God for all the love I'm able to give and receive.

2. On treating those against whom I have a grievance:
"As the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do." Col 3:13
What it means to me: To that guy who decided to light off fireworks right in front of our car last night - I forgive you. It's a whole lot easier to sleep at night without a collection of grudges from the day piling up next to my pillow. 

3. On treating both friends and strangers: 
"Do to others as you would have them do to you." Luke 6:31
What it means to me: Empathy and sympathy - before I paint someone with a broad stroke or judge them - surround them in love, take a breath, and put yourself in their shoes.

4. On work:
"Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others" Col 3:23
What it means to me: There are days... and there are days, as my mother says. Sometimes work is a real grind and it's hard to get through. However, if I am able to bring my mind back around to "why" I work and the differences that I make, it's easier to change my attitude. And if that fails, offering my work up to God and doing my best for Him brings perspective.

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Dealing with a Prayer Desert

The last day of prayer of the Divine Mercy Novena is dedicated to “Lukewarm hearts.”

And sometimes I worry that it’s referring to me.

It comes and goes, stays for different lengths of time – days or months. There doesn’t seem to be any rhythm or particular trigger. It just appears on my heart without warning. A prayer desert. 

Ugh.

A prayer desert for me is when I’m just not “feeling it” when I pray. My prayers feel rote, my imagination wanders, and there’s a lack of connection. And it’s miserable.

Mother Theresa famously had a thirst for God that she couldn’t quench. 

Can you relate? If so, here are a few tools I use to find an oasis in the desert.

  1. Recognize where you are, and where you want to be. And tell God. And keep telling Him. James 4:8 says “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” Be explicit in what you are experiencing.
  2. Go to confession/Adoration/Mass – Immerse yourself in spiritual experiences offered by the Church.
  3. Try a different form of prayer – The rosary, pick a novena, Lectio Divina, sing, silence, read the Psalms.
  4. Adult religious education classes/bible study – I love the adult education at my church because it not only gives me a chance to ask [dumb] questions, but I can surround myself with other people who are yearning to learn more. If your parish doesn’t offer classes, perhaps a nearby parish does.
  5. Get out of your comfort zone and serve. Soup kitchen, litter cleanup, retirement home, Big Brothers Big Sisters. Put yourself in situations to see Jesus in other people.
  6. Rinse and repeat – just do it. If worse comes to worse, slog it out. Don’t give up!

Have you ever had this experience? What do you do?

Divine Mercy Novena

Find all things Divine Mercy

Blessed Sacrament Chaplet

Find the chaplet for your chosen devotion.

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One of the most difficult classes I took in college was Honors Religion. One concept that we discussed for weeks was “the numinous” – holy spaces – or more specifically – What is it about certain spaces that give them an aura of “holy”?

This discussion has stuck with me and gets dug up in my brain every time I encounter a place that rings the bell of “numinous” just so. Blue Cloud Abbey outside of Marvin, SD was one of those places.

Blue Cloud was founded in 1950 by a group of 40 Benedictine monks.

The monastery was a self-sustaining community with the mission of ministering to Native American tribes. Over the years, the brothers also successfully managed a popular retreat center for groups and individuals.

So a few years ago when the monks were shuttering the Abbey and relocating to different monasteries across the United States, it came as a particularly devastating blow.

Not only had we spent every Christmas Eve night well into Christmas morning (about 1:30 AM) at Blue Cloud, but we had seen the innards of the Abbey and the handiwork of the monks.

The Abbey had a smell to it, and sound quality that I’ve never experienced anywhere else. The long stone hall with the beautiful stained glass held my attention through hours of masses even as a very small child. The long lines of monks processing in before mass and singing hymns that echoed off the walls made of solid, massive, smooth stones – the effect was something so holy, and so tranquil that it has stayed with me all these years.

After Sunday Mass, we would all file down to the large dining room in the basement. I was mesmerized by the honey dippers in wooden bowls of honey – from bees on the grounds of the abbey and cared for by bee-keeping monks. We helped ourselves to cookies and juice, and while the adults talked we went exploring. We rolled down the grassy hills, stared in awe at the native art, and perused the gift shop at length until we knew the inventory by heart.

When I was older I discovered a treasury of fabrics and notions in a workroom where priests’ vestments were made by the monks. They kept cattle and gardens. The grounds were vast and supported the monks in their ministry.

So when news came that the monks could no longer support themselves and care for the grounds due to their aging population, the fact that they were selling Blue Cloud Abbey came as devastating news.

After what felt like years on the market (perhaps it was) a group of Catholic families banded together to buy the Abbey.

What a relief! They have methodically and painstakingly restored little bits of the Abbey at a time. And while the church has been decommissioned, the space maintains it’s numinous quality. The beautiful stained glass has been retained.

And while they are not allowed to call the facility Blue Cloud Abbey, The Abbey of the Hills has become a retreat center, concert hall, outdoor recreation center and so much more.

I am so proud of my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Rausch, and the other people who breathed life back into the Abbey. I am so grateful for the sacrifices they have made to do it.

So if for any reason you are in northeast South Dakota, or your looking for an excuse or a retreat, please consider visiting the Abbey of the Hills.

What about you? What is a numinous space in your life that has somehow gone through a transformation, but retained its holy quality?

Enrich your prayer life with a deep selection of Chaplets. This encyclopedia book lists over 170 chaplets and Rosaries with prayers.

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My husband will confirm that I’m not the most outgoing person. I get nervous in rooms full of strangers. The idea of introducing myself to people and starting a conversation from scratch gives me the heeby-jeebies. (Oddly, I love public speaking… but that’s beside the point.)

Pentecost is this Sunday and when I place myself in the position of the apostles in that house where the Holy Spirit filled them, those same feelings creep over me. I recognize that we are all called to evangelize… and that scares me. I think of all the ways that I am not following this call.

The Pentecost was a huge beginning for the apostles. Speaking in tongues they left for foreign lands to evangelize. Holy cow! Seriously! The transformation from timidity to strength and and faith was immediate. The gift of fortitude helped them to follow this calling.

[The seven gifts] make the soul capable of taking in the special lights and inspirations He sends in a much higher way than what is had in ordinary graces. We do not notice much of any effects from these Gifts until we have advanced rather far in the spiritual life, for great docility and purity of heart are needed. (EWTN)

It’s good to remind myself of these gifts. In case you need a refresher as well:

  1. Wisdom – desire to contemplate God and good things from Him
  2. Understanding – allows us to understand our Catholic faith
  3. Knowledge – guides us through life and helps understand God
  4. Counsel – guides what actions we should take
  5. Fortitude – strength to follow through through Counsel
  6. Piety – desire to worship and serve God
  7. Fear of the Lord – desire not to sin or offend God, acknowledge our dependence on Him

The trick is, that once these gifts are given to us, we need use them and hone them. In order for these gifts to be at their full potential in our lives, we need to keep growing in our spiritual lives.

And that’s where it gets tricky for me. When I’m feeling short on fortitude, it’s my own doing. I’m reminded of my need for the God in my life and all the ways I’m failing to abide in Him.

That’s why Pentecost makes me nervous. I could be doing SO MUCH BETTER.

This week I’m praying for counsel and fortitude. It is sometimes a long leap between the “should do” from Counsel to the “do it” of fortitude.

What gift of the Holy Spirit do you most identify with? Which do you wish was stronger? Comment below.

Novena to the Holy Spirit

Seven Swans Swimming Ornament (Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit)

Holy Spirit Chaplet

Continue reading Why Pentecost makes me nervous

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Ok, so this isn’t a true ode in terms of all the lyrical stanza, and it really doesn’t do justice to my mother.

I love my Mom. And I know that’s not a unique thing to say, but there are those who have life circumstances where that’s not an easy or true statement for them.

I am so blessed with my Mom. Thanking God for that gift every day doesn’t seem like enough. How is it that I can live my life in a way that shows Him how grateful I am for this blessing of a mother such as mine?

The earliest memory I have of my Mom is being outside in the garden with a red bandana holding her hair back while she worked. My mom is not one to sit around. Always “doing”, and doing something for the betterment of her family.

Because of her I had a childhood full of discovery and love. I was given room to make mistakes and test my limits. Sure, there were times when I wrapped up a sandwich and sweater, tied it up in a hobo bandana at the end of a stick and “ran away” (went and sat in the woods), but I always returned home, because that’s where the love was.

Mom embodies so many values and characteristics that I admire and want to wrap into my own life. The first of these that stand out is her grit and determination to make the world a better place whether it wants it or not. Fighting against tides of indifference and outright scorn, she has fought for as long as I can remember for her community and family.

And it’s all done out of love. You don’t make the sacrifices my mother has made without deep love. And that’s what sacrifice is – love. And all of these sacrifices were done so that we (her kids) could become the best possible version of ourselves, and follow God’s plan.

My mom and Our Mother Mary share some of these same things. I bet you can find some of these in your own mother.

Our Mother Mary made many painful sacrifices for her son. At the wedding of Cana she knew that by asking Jesus to perform a miracle she was asking him to begin his ministry, and knowing who her son was and what the prophets had said, she knew his ministry would not end in a ripe old age and natural death. She knew pain was coming.

However, she had a job to do as well. God had a plan. From the moment she said “Yes” to Him thirty years before that, she consciously became a target. She was pregnant, and not by her husband. Imagine the social implications that meant for her. Think of the fear she experienced when fleeing to Egypt with her husband and infant son. The panic when Jesus was lost for three days when he was hanging out in the temple in Jerusalem after everyone else had gone home, and the utter sorrow a the Passion. (Lectio Devina is a great way to place yourself inside scripture and prayerfully explore the personal experiences in the bible)

And today as the Mother of the World, she continues her love for us by turning our eyes toward her Son. She wants us to love Him, to see what He has done for us, and to follow Him and to “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).

I strive to be like my mothers. All the good things they are, the strong, determined, make-this-world-better-come-what-may drive, and turn my eyes to what they should be focused on.

And for them I am eternally grateful.

 

 

 

Header image is photo of the Innocence plaque shown here.

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