Will you pray with me?

If you aren’t familiar with Our Lady of Good Help, it is a national shrine just outside of Green Bay. It is the only Marian shrine in the United States that is a site of an approved apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Catholic Church officially confirmed the Marian apparitions in 2010. The story of Our Lady of Good Help is a wonderful one, beginning in 1831 in Belgium with the birth of Adele Brise. Adele’s family immigrated to this country and settled in the Green Bay area in the 1850’s. It was here, on her family’s property, that the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared three times to Adele and instructed her to teach children the faith.

The story of Our Lady of Good Help is a wonderful one, beginning in 1831 in Belgium with the birth of Adele Brise. Adele’s family immigrated to this country and settled in the Greed Bay area in the 1850’s. It was here, on her family’s property, that the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared three times to Adele and instructed her to teach children the faith.

She asked the Holy Mother “But how shall I teach them who know so little myself?” Mary said, “Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments; that is what I wish you to do. Go and fear nothing. I will help you.”

Adele devoted the rest of her life to this mission. The story of her life and the ensuing years is fascinating but unfortunately too long to share fully in this article. But over the years a shrine has developed, and thousands have made the pilgrimage to visit this place and pray.

I am one of those pilgrims. I hope in the coming year to bring a group from our parish to visit the Shrine, learn more about it and pray together. But for now, there is a wonderful opportunity for prayer that I would like to invite you to share.

From February 1st through the 9th the Shrine will be praying a special novena for families called, “Our Lady of Good Help; Queen of Families.” (A novena is a 9day period of private or public prayer for special intentions.) With the approval of the staff at the Shrine I extend this invitation to you. How wonderful it will be to share this prayer together! You can pray it anywhere, anytime, each day of the novena.

So, if you feel called, please pray this prayer for the nine-day period from February 19. As a parish I am inviting us to pray for our families and any special intentions they have. Just mention them in your personal prayer knowing others in our faith community will be praying with you. Our prayer is that the Holy Family will draw us deeper into faith and the love God has for each of us.

Here is the prayer we are invited to pray for the 9 days of the Novena:

God, our loving Father and Creator, you invite families to participate in Your unique plan for salvation by entrusting to us the lives of our children, inscribing your Divine image in their souls. This image or “icon” illuminates our families with your face, transfiguring our homes into domestic churches.

You stand at our thresholds, knocking, waiting for us to throw open our doors and invite You to enter more fully into our family life. Let us not ignore Your repeated knocking, but welcome You, embracing the graces You wish to give. 

May these graces enable us to pass on the gift of our Catholic Faith to our children, giving them what they need for salvation and growth in holiness. It is from the threshold of our domestic church that our families will bring glory to You and hope to the world.

Our Lady of Good Help, Queen of Heaven, implore your Son to strengthen families in order to teach our children what they should know for salvation.

Amen.

The Rosary Revisited

My friend Mary Matestic told the most beautiful story about her parents. I was so moved by it that I asked her to write it down. She did and I shared it in an article for the Catholic Herald. Here is an excerpt from that article. “My parents were married in August of 1941. Four months later my dad was deployed to the Pacific Front after Pearl Harbor. World War II was in full swing. He had his rosary in his pocket which he prayed daily during the worst of the battles and through the loneliness of separation from my mother. When he returned home three years later, the rosary which had round beads when he left were flattened from use. The chain holding the beads was broken, but he sewed them together with brown thread. Many times, his war diary expressed how much consolation the rosary gave to him on the battle field. (Mary Matestic) Mary said her parents continued to pray the rosary together and it gave them hope and a sense of God’s nearness to them throughout the joys and struggles of their life. There is something about the image of the flattened beads and the broken chain, mended with brown thread, that captures the power of this treasured devotion. Separated by war they were held together in faithfulness to prayer, by a Rosary, in a way that sustained their love of God and each other.”

Mary’s parent’s devotion to prayer and each other is inspiring. In this month of the Rosary, maybe take a chance to pray the rosary or some form of prayer you haven’t tried. I believe God is always happy to hear from us. May God’s boundless mercy and goodness be with you and your family in your joys and challenges in this month of October.

Angel Stories

I grew up in a family that had a soft spot in their heart for angels. We learned that before we were born, we were “baby angels.” My father told us baby angels lived in heaven until they found the family they choose to be born into. He told us how happy he and my mom were that my brothers and sisters and I had chosen our family. Well, as you may guess this is unorthodox theology… and biology… but the legend made us feel loved by our parents and by God. So, all in all, I think it was a good thing. I did not pass the teaching on to my children, but I did tell them “Grandpa’s Theory” of how we became a family and they kind of loved it too.

There is a story I shared this weekend with some of our parents that there is an ancient legend, that holds that when an infant is created, God kisses its soul and sings to it. As its guardian angel carries the soul to earth, to join its body, she also sings to it. The legend says God’s kiss and his song, as well as the song of the angel, remain in that soul forever- to be called up and cherished. But to feel that kiss, to hear that song, requires solitude. We do not feel gentleness inside when all around us there is noise. The song of God’s heartbeat is audible only in a certain quiet, stillness and solitude.

Love this story! Almost as much as the Baby Angel story! Stories like this cultivate our religious imagination and give us the images to remember the truest thing, that is, how much we are loved by God.

This is such a busy time of year as we all get back into the swing of the school schedules. In the midst of establishing these routines, I hope you find a little time of solitude and stillness to let angels visit you and remember you were kissed by God.

The Impact of a Dad

My son, Andrew, was a sophomore in high school when his grandpa died. Andrew and his grandpa were kindred souls.

Recently, Andrew, and my brother, Bill, had a conversation about my dad. The conversation began with a question Andrew asked Bill, “What do you miss most about your dad?” Bill responded: The main thing I missed when Dad passed, and miss to this day, is that whenever I had a big decision to make in life, I would always, always want to talk to him about it. You can talk to your friends about the trivial things of life, who won the big game, what to do next weekend, etc., but the important questions – buying a house, staying in a job or leaving, profound worries about kids, I always wanted to talk to Dad. He was the world’s best listener. He knew instinctively that often good listening and a few gentle questions were what you really needed. He never took the decision from you, that burden was yours, but he was always in your corner, no matter which way you went.”

“The other component was the confidence he had, that in the end, you would make a good decision. He was confident in you so you became more confident in yourself.”

You can see why, many years later, we all still miss him! Following the conversation Andrew observed, that his grandpa certainly made the best of his time here on earth!

Make the most of your time on earth! If you are a dad, think about what your children or grandchildren will miss most about you. Live up to that. You have the most powerful opportunity to be someone remarkable, special and irreplaceable to your family. Lead and live with faith and love. Your family will be eternally grateful.

A Pink Sky

My grandson, Dylan, woke up Saturday, opened the drapes, glanced at the sky, and said, “Look! God made the sky pink today because it’s my birthday!” Dylan has a particular love for the color pink and perceived the morning sky as a birthday gift from God.

How often, when a little blessing comes our way, do we give praise and thanks to God for this good thing? Dylan reminded me that all is gift, including the colors revealed by dawn. I can’t remember the last time I woke up and gave thanks for the color of the day.

I know I have lamented to God more than once, when suffering or misfortune has visited me, “Why me?” That question seems to come easily in the midst of difficulty. But recently when I was asked, “If there was one question you could ask God, what would it be?” I responded with what came to my heart, “Why me?” Why, God, have I been given so much– a wonderful family, a faith community who brings meaning into my life every day, the opportunity for education beyond my dreams? Why do I have such good friends? Why do I live in this country? Why am I healthy?

Why me? If there is a one sin common to many of us, it is to take so much for granted and forget each pink-sky day is pure gift.

Dylan’s comment reminded me of a beautiful story I saw of a boy who couldn’t see colors until fitted with special glasses. His family recorded the moment he first saw color. His response to his father touches me, no matter how many times I see it. It made me wonder if my heart holds awe and gratitude to Our Father for the colors of my life!

Boy sees color for the first time.

View From the Back Pew

Often I sit in the back pew. I like it there. Between me and the altar are the people I know and love. From this vantage point, I remember to pray for all those I know who bear burdens, are hurting, are wounded. As I look out and see all the people who have been kind to me, helped me, and loved me, I more often remember to be grateful.

There is a space, in the row in front of me, that looks very empty right now. Elaine’s spot is empty since she recently passed away. My friends, Dave and Ann, had brought Dave’s mom, Elaine, to our church regularly since she moved to an assisted living facility in our area. I would watch them get her out of the car, into her wheelchair. I wondered how much earlier they had to leave home to get her and bring her to church. Carefully, they would wheel her into “their pew”, with Elaine at the end of the row in her wheelchair. For the most part she sat there, but when we all rose at the Eucharistic prayer, Elaine, grasping the pew in front of her, pulled herself up and stood reverently.

When she did, her son, imperceptibly, but carefully, ever so slightly, rearranged her chair so when she sat down it would be positioned perfectly. I had come to look for this sweet dance; Elaine’s life force still there, Dave’s slight glance checking on her, and the tiny movement, re-positioning of her chair. As I watched Dave, I thought about this small gesture of care and love for his elderly mom. In fact, I looked for it every week, so touching I found it. She didn’t know he was doing this for her, anymore than I imagine Dave knew the thousand, maybe million, little gestures of care and love his mom had done for him, even before he was old enough to be aware of them. His mom did this long before he had any clue to say thank you. Somehow, the love story told on the altar, was made more real in the little story that unfolded as I watched it from the back pew.

And I wonder is this how we learn to love, by being part of the circle of many indiscernible unremarkable caring gestures shown to us and then passed on?

Godincidences

This story will only have meaning if you know something about me. It is this. I don’t remember dates. Even dates I should know. I have to practice my husband’s and children’s birthdates. I review them in my mind like multiplication tables. These simple facts just don’t stay in any accessible place in my brain.

If you do know me you may remember I lost my beloved sister unexpectedly in the fall. I have tried to keep in touch with my brother-in-law as best I can. But by most standards my attentiveness has been less than stellar. We text and email occasionally and have gathered at family events. I have wanted to take the time to visit just with him but between the hour drive and an especially busy schedule I have postponed arranging a time to meet over and over again.

This week I realized I had a meeting scheduled near his work. Finally, I got in touch and we arranged to meet this afternoon. We had a lovely visit. Shortly before we parted Tim said to me, “I am so happy you asked to meet me today. Today would have been our 25th wedding anniversary.” I was speechless. The fact that this overdue visit happened today amazed me. I felt we had been given a gift in our care for each other. I wonder if that is how the love of God is made incarnate in our world. We try to love each other in our imperfect way and God’s Spirit works with the little love we manage and blesses it with meaning.

You may think that today being Mary and Tim’s 25th wedding anniversary is a coincidence. I am sitting here, honestly, a little sad remembering their beautiful wedding and the love they pledged to each other that day. This was not the anniversary Tim wanted but I knew that in being able to share a meal together was consolation, not a coincidence but a Godincidence, the Holy Spirit guiding ordinary events into occasions of grace.

The Journey

When I was younger, I thought there would be a time when I would be grown-up. I thought at a certain point I would be a “completed grown-up” where I was pretty much finished growing, learning, becoming. I had no idea I would be here decades later still maturing.
Just this past week I was very upset with two interactions with others. I told my husband these people are pushing the same button in me…and it wasn’t a good button! He noted a similarity in both cases that reflected a negative relationship in my past. Somehow just figuring that out allowed me to grow up just a little more and find a bit more peace in my heart and compassion for them. Self-knowledge can have a huge impact in the quality of our life and I have come to believe we never get to that “finished” place I previously thought existed. We all are “works in progress” and that makes life interesting. Through that lens I see how God still is working on me and in my life every day. I more clearly see God must love me to have not given up on me.
This is what Dr. Doug Meske and I wrote about in the book, The Journey. For years we each had worked, not only on our own life journey, but also accompanied many other folks along the way. We decided to write down and share what we learned about the emotional and spiritual lessons we had discovered over the years.
For each of us- our life is an adventure, a challenge, a miracle, an opportunity, a responsibility, a gift. It is a journey we will only take once.

Prayer Corner

I was listening to a discussion on Relevant Radio today and someone said “Don’t just give up or do something for Lent. Let whatever you do or don’t do be something that brings you closer to God.” One way we probably can’t go wrong this Lent is to incorporate some prayer practice, perhaps a new one, the Examen or the Labyrinth or just dust off one we already know, the Rosary or maybe just saying the Our Father slowing at the beginning and end of the day.

Lisa, mom of Nate and Maria, told me, that after being at the Prayer Fair her children came home and each made a “prayer corner” in their living room. Not a traditional devotional space with candles, a Bible, and religious pictures, but a cozy space complete with soft blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals; a comfy spot to curl up and enjoy some personal quiet time with God. Later she sent this picture and message. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church it says “The Holy Spirit, the artisan of God’s works, is the master of prayer.”

I think the Holy Spirit is at work in a church that encourages prayer, in the home that found room for unconventional prayer corners and in the creativity of children who want to pray. John Roberto said the walls of his Italian grandmother’s home breathed Catholicism. May our homes breath with the beauty of prayer this Lent.