Healing Thoughts

How are you doing?

I really wish I could ask each one of you this question. During the uncertainty, upheaval, and confusion of this strange time I would love to know how you REALLY are and if your faith is being challenged or deepened? Has your relationship with God changed? Intensified? Expanded? I’m sure it would be enriching to discuss how you are experiencing this time.

There is a group, “Journey to Healing,” I meet with regularly. I think of them as my “healing friends.” Several had been to a conference on the topic and felt called to reach out to a few others to continue the dialogue about healing in our lives.

I do not remember exactly how I got involved. I did not feel a special need for healing when I said “yes.” But each day into this pandemic I realize the collective need for healing is pervasive right now. Physical healing. Emotional healing. Spiritual healing.

I believe in God’s design for us, individually and for the world– a paradise where love is the ethic, serving is the work, and Christ is our companion. In this pandemic of illness, I see an invitation to healing from what keeps us from embracing this reality– that our God is always with us. And that changes everything.

I want to share a peek into this healing group that I have experienced. Laura Smyczek, editor of this newsletter, has a love of and expertise in art history. In the group she shares some thoughts about this beautiful picture you see below. I hope you will “see” in it a prayer, as she describes it to us.

I think it is fair to say we are all in a collective storm right now. I believe that can be an invitation to radical trust, if we remember our God is in the boat with us! Always wanting to transform our fears into trust, in a relationship of perfect peace.

Hope to hear from you! Sending love and healing thoughts,
Kathie

Easter Expectations

What were your expectations for Holy Week before all of us were living Plan B, Safer at Home?

I envisioned our families at Holy Thursday Mass washing each other’s feet, our teens sharing the story of Jesus with our little ones in the Living Stations and praying at the Easter Vigil with my husband.

Like you, what I envisioned isn’t going to happen. So many things we looked forward to aren’t going to happen.

This year made me think of my eighth-grade Easter. 

I was expecting two things, singing in the choir and wearing high heel shoes to Mass. (I recognize this story reveals my spiritual maturity in middle school…lol.)

I can’t tell you how I looked forward to the joyful celebration, the church being full, singing the joyous songs we had practiced, the end of the somber sacrifices of Lent, and loving it all from my new height in those shoes!

But that Easter morning was blanketed in a foot of snow. As I headed out the door for Mass, my mother looked at me and said, “Kathie, put your boots on!” I looked at her as only an adolescent girl can look at her mother and with a distinctive eye roll, responded, “Boots? Are you kidding?!?”

I won’t go into more of the story, but you can imagine the mother-daughter dialogue that followed. That Easter I walked to church and sang in the choir in my big old boots.

I share that embarrassing memory because it makes me laugh, and these days, we all need a laugh. But, also, to remember that sometimes the unexpected offers lessons and gifts. 

One, it is never about what happens to us that matters the most. It’s always about how we respond. Sometimes even our most humbling moments can offer our clearest lessons about life. Sometimes our most stressful moments later reveal strength we never knew we had. Sometimes the loneliest moments teach us how much belonging to a community is never to be taken for granted. Sometimes faith in God and each other is what we hold onto most dearly as we live six feet apart.

Two, God always wants more for us than we can imagine for ourselves. I wanted to wear those shoes, but God wanted me to remember decades later that my mom loved and protected me, and she taught me to laugh at myself. God wanted me to be nurtured in a community of faith that has been my rock through transitory challenges, as well as unthinkably difficult times. I wanted so much less for myself than God wanted for me.

This Easter, because we aren’t gathering for brunch or hunting for Easter eggs in the backyard with our family or heading out for Spring Break– perhaps because we won’t be “doing” any of those wonderful but distracting things, we will have the time– take the time to remember our extraordinary identity. Each of us is a child of God, and we share a heritage in Jesus, Son of the Almighty God, whose mission was to save us from ourselves and our limited expectations of who we can become. He lived and died so that when we face death, our expectation can be everlasting life with our God who loves us. This Easter, whether you are alone, disappointed, discouraged, or wearing big old boots, remember you are loved, and our good compassionate God is with you and will give you all the wisdom and strength you need. 

Know that my love and prayers are with you and that I am wishing you the great expectations of what God wants for you this Easter!

Traveling Serenity Prayer

Years ago, when I must have been fretting about something, my mom gave me a small framed copy of The Serenity Prayer. I have always kept it on my bathroom counter as a reminder of how to live. 

But several years ago, when my husband Jim was going through a difficult time, affecting his employment, shaking the core of his self-esteem and his whole sense of security about life, I quietly moved the prayer from my side of the bathroom counter to his. It has been there for several years. Over time, his work issues resolved, and he has been in a stable place for years now, but the prayer remained there.

Well, I don’t know how you are doing, but this pandemic has ramped up every anxiety I harbor. I worry about everyone and everything. Each time I think, ‘Okay, I’ve heard the worst, now I can cope,’ another shoe drops, and there is something uniquely new that concerns me. Will my family be okay? How will my church function? What about the poor? Will someone I love get sick? Who will take care of the sick if the caretakers get sick? I think the facts that this enemy is invisible, and that uncertainty is a daily state, fuels all the more fear.

So yesterday, my sweet husband, picking up on my rising anxiety, moved The Serenity Prayer back to my side of the bathroom counter. I smiled when I saw that and remembered the sound spiritual advice it has always given me. 

That is, we are in God’s hands, in God’s good, good hands. I must surrender myself and my loved ones to God’s care. And while there are some things I can control, and there is much I cannot, I can only use my gifts-including time-to serve others. That is how I will continue to find meaning. My anxiety will be manageable if I let wisdom guide my heart. Please let me know if I can do anything for you during this time.

Be well. I send love and prayers to you and your families.

Give thanks with a grateful heart…

Give thanks with a grateful heart… the words of the children’s meditation for our First Communions, often echo in my mind, the reminder to simply live with a grateful heart.

There is a parable told by Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis, of a man who complained to Jesus about the hiddenness of God. “Rabbi,” he said, “I am an old man. My whole life, I have always kept the commandments. Every year, I went to Jerusalem and offered the sacrifices.”

“Every night of my life, I have not gone to bed without first saying my prayers. But… I look at stars and sometimes the mountains– and wait, wait for God to come so that I might see him. I have waited for years and years, but in vain. Why doesn’t God show himself?”

Jesus responded gently, “Once upon a time, there was a marble throne where sat 3,000 kings. All of them called upon God to appear so that they might see him, but all of them went to their graves with their wishes unfulfilled.”

“Then, a pauper, barefooted and hungry, came and sat upon that throne. ‘God,’ he whispered, ‘the eyes of a human being cannot look directly at the sun, for they would be blinded. How then, can they look directly at you? Lord, turn down your splendor so that I, who am poor and afflicted, may see you!'”

“Then- listen, old man- God became a piece of bread, a cup of cool water, a warm tunic, a hut and, in the front of the hut, a woman nursing an infant.”

“‘Thank you, Lord,’ the pauper whispered. ‘You humbled yourself for my sake. You became bread, water, a warm tunic and my wife and son, in order that I might see you. And I did see you. I bow down and worship your beloved many-faced face!'”

Paula D’Arcy said, “God comes to you disguised as your life.” So often we seek some grand manifestation of God. And like the kings, we can let our lives slip by, missing the God that was there all along. We find God’s love in a warm home, clean water, and ample food. God’s light is in the kindness found in community, in the day-to-day blessings of family and friends who soften the hard edges of life. Holy moments fill our lives.

I wish you and your family a wonderful Thanksgiving! May we all have grateful hearts for the God who humbled himself so we could see Him.

Spiritual Siberia

“Spiritual Siberia.” This is a phrase I regularly use to designate a certain period of my life. Have you ever felt like you were in Spiritual Siberia? The phrase came to me at Mass when I had 3 boys- ages 4, 2 and a baby. I felt the community was gathered, but we were in some other place that was cold, isolated, and lonely.

Going to Mass was a kind of circus, with someone under the pew, someone needing a diaper change, or me in and out of Mass.

I wondered what I was “getting out of this.” I wondered who was benefiting from these dogged attempts at prayer that felt something more akin to a gymnastic meet than a mystical experience. I was self-conscious of the noise my sweet boys made. I was embarrassed when I got a “look” from someone as I walked in and out multiple times with someone in my arms.

I share this because someone encouraged me to just keep showing up. And we somehow made it through those years. I am so grateful someone said it was important to keep coming. I did it for my children, thinking it would be formative for them. I don’t know if it was- you’ll have to ask them. But I can tell you it made all the difference in my life. I learned over time to let the ritual carry me into prayer, and that the grace of God’s love penetrated even into my sporadic attention to my children and God’s Word. We learned to sit near the music, which kept their attention and masked some of our noise. As I struggled to have a “spiritual experience,” God’s love was working in me in ways I didn’t even realize and certainly did not appreciate at the time.

There is something that happens to us by simple exposure to the “Real Presence” of the Eucharist. I was feeling lost, yet somehow, I was being found.

I know there are different seasons of our spiritual lives. For me, that season was a tough one. Had I relied on my “best judgment,” I would have simply stopped coming to church for a few years. I have no idea if I would have come back. I may go through another challenging time, a dark time, a lost time. I hope I remember the good advice I got in those years: Just show up! Don’t give up on God. God will never give up on you.

Thought for the Month… Why Me?

Why me? This is a question that came to me like a little thought bubble one morning. I can’t remember what my husband did, but I do remember it was something nice. When I asked if he could follow through on some household problem (I didn’t want to deal with) his response was. “It’s taken care of.” I said thank you, but I thought, “Why me?” I felt grateful that someone cared for me in such a practical and helpful way.

Taking things for granted robs us of gratitude. Big things, like who loves us, aren’t really in our control. Awareness is the essence of the grace that grounds and surrounds us. It is a prayer of mine to dwell in simple appreciation for what I have, including a life partner who does more than half of life’s chores, is crazy about our children and cares if I am happy.

I don’t know what it is in your life narrative for which you say, “Why me?” Is it unconditional love you received from a parent or grandparent? Children who are happy? A community of friends who share your values and make you feel you belong? Good health? Recovery after cancer? Access to clean water? Living in a safe neighborhood? Meaningful work? Trust in Jesus’ love for you? Faith-filled, faithful companions? Words from Scripture to guide you?

Too often we only ask the question, “Why me?” on the dark days, on the lonely nights, in the failures and losses we experience along the way. I grieve the times I have just been too busy to appreciate the good things and people right in front of me!

But as we look at what callings mean in our life this year, I wonder how it would transform our self-concepts, our relationships and our faith community if we were intentionally focused on “Why me?” with gratitude for God’s goodness in our life. I wish for all of us for the wisdom to recognize grace pursuing us and God’s abundant generosity being the end of most chapters of our life stories.

To everything there is a season and a purpose under heaven…

I’m sure that quote from Ecclesiastes is familiar to you. That was the reading for Mass on Grandparents’ Day at my grandson’s school. During his homily, Father described the things mentioned in the reading as part of life: planting, uprooting, mourning, dancing, seeking and losing…

He invited us to turn to someone and share a time we thought was difficult or seemed wasn’t going to be good, but turned out well. I asked Natey, my 8-year-old grandson, that question. He said, “Mondays.” “Really? Every Monday?” I asked. He responded, “I don’t want to get out of bed. I don’t want to go to school. But when I get there, I think, this is pretty good.” So, getting out of bed, I thought, is the issue. I come from a long line of “slow-waker-uppers.” I turned to my son, Jon, his dad, and said, “Sorry, he got that from my side of the family.”

I also knew on a deeper level that Natey was saying, “It is hard to move out of the safe place of my home and be a person in the larger world.” I could resonate with that sentiment. Whether it is embracing a new idea, a new relationship, a new spiritual practice, a new technology, or a new day, the challenges of life can be exciting but also anxiety-producing.

I am convinced that the belief that God is with us makes all the difference. To know God is guiding our “Mondays,” as well as helping us carry the heaviest cross, is the act of trust that changes our life.

It is to never forget we are in the hands and heart of our good, great, unconditionally loving God, who as St. Mother Teresa said, “writes straight with the crooked lines of our life.”

I wish you all good Mondays and a sense that God is with you all days!

God loves tenderness, small kindnesses, a humble heart

This thought came to me as I was researching this weekend’s Feast of Divine Mercy. I wasn’t very familiar with this feast, recently added to the Church calendar in 2000, when Pope John Paul II canonized St. Faustina. (That’s recent in Church timing…)


This liturgical feast is based on the private revelation of the visions of Jesus to St. Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), a sister of the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. The more I learned about Faustina, the more intrigued I have become about the impact she has had on so many.


Faustina, one of ten children, grew up in a humble home in a small town in Poland. She had just three years of elementary education. Her writing, recounting profound experiences of visions as a mystic, was unknown to most during her lifetime. Because of her lack of education and sophistication, she most often was given simple jobs at her convent.


One story captured my heart. Faustina was responsible for answering the door at the convent gate, and on a cold, rainy night, a young man, barefoot and dressed in poor clothing, came to the gate asking for something to eat. She gave him a bowl of soup. Suddenly she realized this was Jesus. Surprised, Jesus told her that he “came down from heaven because he wanted to experience mercy himself.”


The picture depicting Faustina’s revelation of Christ’s divine mercy often has the words, “Jesus, I trust in you.” I wonder how challenging it us for us to depend not on ourselves, not on our abilities or strengths, but on God’s love for us. Jesus told Faustina, “Humanity will not find peace unless it learns to trust in Divine Mercy.”


I wonder if I can learn to trust more in this beautiful gift of God’s mercy in the big and small concerns, worries and anxieties in my life… something to pray about this Second Sunday in Easter, the Feast of Divine Mercy.


If you, too, would like to learn more about this topic, click on the image of St. Faustina to watch a short video: 

Blessings of Mercy: Unreasonable Love

My all-time favorite scene in a dramatization is in Les Misérables. In the well-known story, the bishop defines mercy. The character, Jean Valjean, had been cruelly imprisoned for stealing food for his hungry family. After being freed, he was shown kindness, being fed and housed by the bishop. In turn, Valjean gets up in the night, steals the bishop’s silver and runs away. He is caught by the police and brought back to the bishop to confirm the robbery. The bishop attests that the silver was a gift and reprimands Valjean for not also taking the candlesticks he had given him!

That is the moment that gets me. The candlesticks are a symbol of extravagance in mercy. The bishop redefines who we are, in the light of experiencing mercy. He says, “You are a new man… I have ransomed you back from fear and hate, and now I give you back to God.” Life is transformed by the generosity of unreasonable love.

Last Sunday, at the parish session on addiction and substance abuse, I was reminded of the many mercies the Lord has shown me and my family. The discussion was about the theory that addiction can occur when original wounds are not healed in our life-when trauma, loss, or personal abuse are not acknowledged or addressed-and we mask over the suffering by dulling the pain we find hard to bear, in self-destructive ways. Having help that heals deeply when we needed it, my family has known this kind of mercy.

Jesus knows the need for the kind of love required to heal the brokenhearted. The teaching of Jesus is to love beyond what we seem capable of reaching. The bishop’s radical love gave new life to a broken man. This is one of those stories that I never tire of remembering.

Pope Francis was asked by a child about whether a relative with no faith would go to heaven or hell. The pope told the child a story about St. John Vianney: A woman asked him if her husband, who took his own life by jumping off a bridge would end up in hell, to which the saint responded, “Look, between the bridge and the river, there is the mercy of God.” That is the kind of mercy I hope I am showing to myself and others.  

If you have 3 minutes, take a mini-retreat and watch the scene from Les Misérables here.

Connecting

Nothing makes me more aware of what relationships mean than the hellos and good-byes of life.

I get weepy every time I see a military mom or dad greet their child in a surprise reunion played on the news. A story is told in the hug between child and parent revealing the cost of personal sacrifice for the good of the wider community. It is a testimony that after separation between loved ones, we connect where we left off.

I get emotional at Baptisms, whether I know the moms or dads, or the babies. I cry at everyone’s weddings. On the first day of school, I loved meeting my teacher and now, as a teacher, greeting my students.

Just launching a grief support group, I am reminded how deep into the heart we go in the good-bye of loss. Death, divorce, job loss, the distance when at odds with a loved one, or when a child simply grows up– all remind us of how precious our connections are, and how much the void simply hurts.

I think of the old story of the child, in fear, crying out, “Mama, come and hold me.” Attempting to calm the child, the parent responds, “Don’t be afraid– God is with you,” to which the child responds, “Okay, but right now I need a God with skin on!”

If the essence of God is love, we will surely recognize God in the space between ourselves and those who matter to us. Does it stand to reason that the more we love others, the more we will know God?

Life is so much better when we connect, and how much sweeter it is when we become that grace of “God with skin on” for each other!