All posts by Kathie Amidei

A Life Well Lived

Is this a phrase you have heard often? It seems it is the final sentence of news stories when reporting on a famous person who has died.

I have thought often recently about this expression, “a life well lived” as we have experienced multiple funerals in a short time. Each person mattered to others. Each one, I could say, was a life well lived, though in different ways. Walking with families through this time, I feel deeply grateful for all they teach me. In each opportunity of sitting with the loved ones of one of our friends that has passed on, I understand there are so many ways to live the life we are given, well.

We may have a long life, a short life or something in between. Our culture focuses a lot of energy on the length of our life. Much less on the quality of the time we have. So many things are put into perspective when we lose someone we love. 

These lessons stand out to me: 

  • Accomplishments are great but unless we cured cancer or prevented a war, our accomplishments often, ultimately, aren’t the most important things of our life.
  • Service to others is more important than most of us think. This may be serving others in our family, or a friend, or devoting our life in a profession that serves others, or clearly living the works of mercy. Serving others seems to matter.
  • Who we loved matters very much. “These things endure, faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:13) This may be the easiest scripture to quote, but I have come to believe it may be the hardest to live and matters the most.
  • It is good to care for ourselves during our life, to be healthy in body and mind. But having our priorities clear might be as important. We chase after so many things in the time we have. How we look. What we have. Power. Beauty. Achievements. I once heard a story of how sad it would be to spend our life climbing up a ladder only to find it was leaning against the wrong wall. 

What does your life, lived well, look like? It doesn’t matter as much how long or short a life is. It matters more how we live it, what we prioritize, who we love during it and that we make the difference only we, personally, can make in others’ lives.

Looking for Angels

We need to be angels to each other, to give each other strength and consolation.  

(Henri Nouwen)

This Advent has had a different focus- I have spent a lot of time visiting a rehab center caring for an elderly relative. Each person I pass makes me sad. My heart and mind have been centered on my friend who had the kind of health scare that switches off your sense of security and the illusion we carry that life will go on forever. I have been in prayer vigil with my friend whose child is not being treated for cancer, as we long for a miracle. We just had a program for the grieving who may be figuring how to “celebrate” when the love of their life isn’t there.

Advent is the season of hope. It calls us to beautiful anticipation of the enigmatic love of our God who chose to be with us in flesh and blood, to share in the incredible elation and despair of life, the Messiah disguised as a vulnerable child come to save us.

Advent always goes too fast for me because I want to savor its lights, sounds, smells, and sense of shared hope with which it transforms the world in songs sung in only this season, family traditions of wreaths with four candles and ordinary trees transformed with lights. I want to watch A Christmas Carol to recover my ten-year-old sense of trust in the goodness of humanity as Scrooge gets his priorities straightened out each year.

Instead of moving quickly doing things: decorating, cooking, preparing for company, I have mostly been standing still, listening, trying to find the right words of comfort and hope. I have had to be very quiet. Waiting in prayer listening for God’s whispers of love.

I have been pondering to find an inspirational thought to share but I find I am standing in the crossroads of Advent hope and winter darkness as this week’s shortest day of light approaches. Sometimes in the dark, the heart must choose the wonder of believing.

Mr. Rogers said when you are in trouble look for the helpers. Henri Nouwen reminded me to look for angels and to remember the possibility that we can be the angels to each other. My faith assures me that angels will herald the saving child who IS hope, Immanuel, God with us, who will always bring light into the dark, hope into the confusion and love where it is most needed. Faith is expressed in the trust angels will appear in the night sky and in our life.

Your Communion of Saints

November is a month dripping with spirituality. How can it not? It begins with All Saints Day and All Souls Day and, at our parish, is followed by our beautiful Memorial Mass where families gather to remember all our loved ones whose funerals we celebrated this past year.

November holds the most thought-provoking holiday of the year- Thanksgiving. Though, not a religious holiday, it celebrates gratefulness, the hallmark of the spiritual life.

For me, it is especially introspective as it is the month of my parents and younger sister’s birthdays, all of whom are no longer with me in this world. And to cap off my personal gratitude, it is the month of my husband’s birthday. He is my rock and the most tangible sign of God’s love in my life.

All this led me to reflect on the Communion of Saints who we mention each time we pray the Creed… I believe in the communion of saints… the teaching that we are united to both the living and the dead because in Christ we are one Body. We live in a communion that encompasses the blessed in heaven and pilgrims on earth. (CCC962)

The communion of saints went from theory to prayer when I thought of my loved ones who surround me like my husband and my grandchildren but also my deceased parents and grandparents. Then I thought of my colleagues, and the intangible bond that ministry forges in the nights and weekends serving God’s Church. And then I thought of the canonized saints who inspire me to faith beyond what I will ever achieve, who I personally draw strength from, St. Theresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Sienna, and Mary. That led me to gratitude for all of you, friends in this parish, with whom I worship, and pray and who are faith community to me. You contribute to the meaning and purpose of my every day.

For you, I hope this November is an opportunity for reflection and gratitude. In doing so, I believe you will find your communion of saints and the spirituality of Thanksgiving.

The Chair

I snapped a picture of my granddaughter, Zoey, sitting in this little chair reading a book. A grandma’s perspective- I was just thinking she was adorable.

But then I started thinking about the chair she was sitting on. It was made for her mom, my daughter, by her godfather when she was the same age as Zoey. It struck me that I never could have imagined 30 years ago this lovely little person, let alone this beautiful moment of her “reading” in the chair.

It seemed interesting I had never thought about that. The chair has been in a special spot in our family room for years and always has had a basket of children’s books right next to it. I had many other moments watching my grandchildren sit and read in that chair. The sight has always made me happy, watching them find a cozy spot to begin the habit of reading that has brought me so much comfort, joy and illumination all my life. Though most of those sitting in that chair cannot technically read, the mystery of the turning pages and absorption of the words and pictures on the pages always lifts my heart, witnessing this first movement toward literacy.

That’s why this moment was different. As cute as Zoey was, and as much as a child looking at books delights me, my focus was on the chair and how a gift from thirty years ago never lost its specialness. It has just become more precious as an invitation to child after child, to sit and read. Neither I, nor the maker of the chair, knew its potential. I could never have imagined the goodness God had in the future plans for my family. I couldn’t have imagined the love these children would call forth in me.

Many of us seem to be more capable of worry than of faith in the future. We are better at imagining the fears more than the surprises of goodness God has in store for us.

The little chair reminds me of the people who are in our future, who we will love and who will bring meaning and purpose into our life. What if we trusted every day, with a heart of anticipation more than anxiety? Can we trust in God’s love and goodness that much? May the God of surprises invite you to live with an open heart to accept the gifts not yet imagined. 

The Leaf Blower

The most significant event of my summer was hosting my family reunion.

The plans for gathering 67 of us was no small feat. For months we planned activities for all ages, rented tables, chairs, and a bouncy house for the kids! We worked all summer on our yard, keeping our flowers alive, planning food and décor, generally obsessing all summer about the event and praying for good weather. (I realize praying for good weather is not especially good theology, but I figure prayer never hurts.)

I felt a responsibility for all who traveled, at great trouble and expense. I was so hoping all of our grandchildren would get to know each other and most of all have a memory better than the pandemic had given all of them these past years.

So, you may imagine my dismay when throughout the night before we had one of the worst storms of the summer. I woke that morning and looking out the window, I saw all we had prepared dripping wet. The rain must have come in from every direction because nothing under our tent had a dry spot. My spirit was as soggy as my yard. I pulled the covers over my head and didn’t want to get up, thinking there just wasn’t time to recover and be prepared for my family who had worked so hard to make this happen.

As I lay there my son, Andrew, called and said he would be over shortly with his leaf blower so we could blow the yard, tables and chairs, etc. dry. This seemed like such simple practical help when I felt alone with the water-logged mess. He and my young grandsons, Mason and Dylan, with many towels and the leaf blower dried everything, finishing the repair work 10 minutes after the start time. Grateful my family kept the tradition of being a little late, we were ready.

I know the drying out of grass is not a corporal work of mercy but that day it was for me. I was reminded of Henry, who had shared with me at his Confirmation interview how he and his dad snowplowed all their neighbors’ driveways just because they could help them. And I thought of my friend, Maureen, who left dinners in the truck parked in the driveway of our friend, who was battling a debilitating illness this summer.

Love and friendship look like such ordinary acts of simple kindness, acts of simple service and simple generosity. We all have moments when we can give and share mercy and help. Mother Teresa said, “Do small things with great love.” It can make all the difference in blessing someone’s life.

I Should Have Had the Crepes

Recently we were invited to a cool little restaurant in the city. Maybe I should preface this with the background that we are creatures of habit. We visit the same few restaurants and I inevitably order the same thing each time. So, I took in the trendy décor of this restaurant, found the menu on the QR code and saw the selection. The crepes caught my eye. Many years ago, I had crepes and when I saw them on the menu the memory of their sweet distinct flavor came back to me. 

And then I saw the cheese omelet, my usual-go-to-choice. As we chatted with our friends waiting to place our order, I thought about this “big” decision. When the waitress came to take our order I said, “Cheese omelet, please. It was fine, but as soon as we walked out, I immediately thought what a boring choice I had made. It might be another 30 years before I am offered crepes again…

I have (obviously) thought about that choice and wondered how often I have done this same thing. To not be (even a tiny bit) adventurous. How often do I simply not live with passion, joy, fun?

I recently heard a delightful poem called, “If You Had Your Life to Live Over.” It suggested we might consider eating less cottage cheese and more ice cream, relaxing more, worrying less, watching more sunsets, caring more about actual troubles and less about imagined ones. Life is short, isn’t it? I believe our God wants us to live aware of the beauty, variety and splendor that the simple things of life give us.

Children are teachers of this posture toward life. Doesn’t a child more often say, “yes” to walking in puddles, jumping off anything higher than the floor, hugging another child, and wondering at the bugs on plants, worms in dirt, clouds in the sky? This childlike mindset toward the little things in life might improve our adult hearts.

There are so many big problems in the world. Sometimes things just go wrong, go sideways, fail or break. There is so much we can’t control about both small and significant things.

I believe God would want us to appreciate the gift of life and accept joy in simple things. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” I know he wasn’t talking about my breakfast, but I think at the heart of that comment was recognizing our journey as human beings on this earth is a transient gift! Can we find God’s generosity even in life’s small offerings? Can we live with joy?

So, when life offers it, maybe once in a while, maybe next time, I will order crepes. 

Summer Spirituality

Do the different seasons call forth something specific in your spirit? I think each season has a distinct spirituality for me.

I hold a summer spirituality that feels freeing, being liberated from the layers of mittens and jackets, a freedom of simply walking out the door that evokes a spontaneous joy that spring ushers in. Each year I get older and feel it in my joints, but what happens in my soul is the same, year after year, as spring turns into the magnificent warmth of summer. I listen to the cleansing rain that clears the air and feel the warmth of sun on my back. Summer, with the coming to life of the green leaves of the trees and the budding flowers and birds singing, happened yet again! It is a beauty that almost startles me each year. 

There is something about summer that helps me to feel my childhood again. I have such treasured summer memories. As a child, I remember the first day I wore thin sandals and could feel contact with the ground after a winter of wearing thick boots separating me and the earth. I hold memories of summer at my grandparents where we could walk to the corner store and buy an ice cream cone (for ten cents). The pure vanilla, soft on my tongue, its calorie count a non-existent issue. I remember swimming in lakes, riding the waves in the ocean, total refreshment of diving into the clean cool water of the municipal pool.

Anna Quinlin wrote of a summer memory, saying, “Afterward I wondered why I hadn’t loved that day more… why I hadn’t known how good it was to live so normally, so everyday. But you only know that, I suppose, after it’s not normal and everyday any longer.” The spirituality of summer is an opportunity to be present to the everyday, the slower pace, the chance to have our feet on the grass, in the water, hiking on a trail. It is a chance to feel warm wind in our hair, sun on our nose, and watch our neighbors emerge from their winter hibernation. It is to know the beauty of God’s creation, glorious, gorgeous, blooming with life, and filling our souls. Does your heart have different seasons? I hope you revel in the simple irreplaceable gift of this summer. 

Mary Undoer of Knots

At a very low point in my life, I sought the help of a therapist. When he asked what brought me there my only description was, “I feel like I am a tangled ball of yarn. I have no idea where to even begin to unravel my life.” I remember the response coming from my gut and a feeling of hopelessness pervading my spirit.

Maybe that is why the devotion of Mary Undoer of Knots and the story behind it has always resonated with me. The tradition originated with a meditation of St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon, in the second century, when he compared Eve’s disobedience, tying humanity in knots, and Mary, by her obedience, undoing the knots.

The resulting devotion originated later, from a 300-year-old painting depicting Mary untying the knots of a wedding ribbon. A German nobleman, Wolfgang Langenmantel’s marriage was about to end when his wife Sophie wanted a divorce. Distressed, Wolfgang sought counsel from a wise Jesuit, Fr. Jacob Rem. Wolfgang met with the priest four times in 28 days. On the fourth visit Wolfgang brought their wedding ribbon to the priest. It was a custom of the time for the maid of honor to tie the arms of the bride and groom to symbolize union for life. Before an image of Mary, Fr. Rem prayed for the couple while untying the knots in their wedding ribbon. As he did, the ribbon became dazzling white. The priest and the couple took this as a sign of Mary hearing their prayers, and with her intercession they resolved their differences and remained married for the rest of their lives.

In 1700, 85 years later, Wolfgang’s grandson, Heironymus Langenmantel was inspired by the story of Wolfgang and Sophie. He commissioned artist Johann Schmittder to paint for the family a picture of Mary, depicting the narrative. The painting became known as Mary Undoer of Knots.

Eventually the family bequeathed it to the Carmelite Convent in St. Peter Church, Germany, where it remained unknown until 1980 when Jorge Bergoglio saw it and took the image of the painting back to Argentina in a postcard. The image of Mary Undoer of Knots became popular as he promoted it. It came to worldwide notice when Jorge became Pope Francis, and the world learned the story.

I know we can all have times, like I did, when our life seems to be in knots that are hopeless, when we lack peace and serenity. I have no doubt that with the help of my therapist friend and the grace of God, the ball of tangled yarn in my heart found a way to untangle. We always can ask Mary for help and trust in God’s mercy. She leads us to the Lord and unties the knots of our life with a mother’s love. Mary reminds us, with God’s mercy, nothing is impossible.

Click here for ideas on how we can draw closer to Mary, who will lead us closer to God.

Easter People

Christian leader, Floyd McClung, wrote about a conversation he had with his daughter.

“When she was little and we were living in Amsterdam, my daughter asked me, ‘Daddy, what does God look like?’ She saw a lot of old men wandering the streets in Amsterdam, so I told her God didn’t look like an old grumpy grandfather. God’s not like a judge, measuring every wrong thing we do… I told her God looks exactly like Jesus. Jesus took children into his lap and told them stories. Jesus wasn’t afraid to be seen with a really bad woman. Jesus went to a wedding feast and saved a family from terrible shame. We have images of God that have been imposed upon us by others. Nobody gets to do that—we need our own experience of Jesus that defines him for us. The most incredible thing in the universe is that God has broken into our world to show us who he is, through his Son, Jesus.”

I pondered this story as I struggle to live as an Easter person in what seems like a world simply not in sync with living like Jesus. It feels like a disconnect of faith to go about life as usual when we watch the daily news of global, national and local mindboggling senseless violence of one human being towards another. What’s the spiritual and emotional bridge from the troubled world we live in, to the radical love of God, in Jesus?

Christian theologians are now making the case that two things keep us in touch with our soul: relationships and ritual. As I pondered the truth of this I thought, isn’t that what an authentic Catholic Christian community offers us? Will we be in touch with Jesus and live in Easter hope, through our relationships and in ritual? In a year of coming back to Mass after the pandemic, as we create relational experiences like mission trips, retreats, bible studies, family program, etc., isn’t our Church simply and continually inviting us to ritual and relationships? Didn’t we just experience ritual in our three Holy Days of the Triduum with faithful family and friends? I live in hope that by staying close to my Church, of relationships and ritual, I am able to walk as an Easter person, even in this broken world.

I wish you, my friends, all the blessings Easter offers us! May you walk in hope!

Just to be is a blessing… (Abraham Heschel)

Observing sacrificial practices for Lent seem to be in the bones of Catholics. Prayer,
Fasting and Almsgiving are the traditional ways to prepare for the Holy Triduum and
celebrate the pascal mystery; the dying and rising of Jesus Christ, which broke the
chains of death for humanity. It is a penitential season when we examine our lives and
own the sinfulness. It is a time to try to transform our lives to more reflect our faith in
God, our desire to follow Jesus, to simply become a better person.

This week when visiting a friend in Hospice, it came to me, that one sin I could claim, is
that of taking the good things in my life for granted. As I walked out to the parking lot I
thought, I am going home. My friend and his wife were not going to sleep peacefully,
that night, with their children in their home. I shouldn’t take going home for granted.
I shouldn’t take for granted that I can walk to my car! After helping my sister for several
months as she recovers from an accident that left her with shattered legs and now is
learning to walk again, I shouldn’t take that I can still walk for granted.

I write this after just finishing our uplifting Confirmation Retreat and listening to witness
talks of the hardships some of our friends have endured. I thought I shouldn’t take my
health for granted. I shouldn’t take this community for granted. I shouldn’t take that I
was born to a family that raised me in a faith-filled and loving home for granted. It is so
easy to take the everyday goodness of being alive for granted. The Confirmation talks
were a witness of faith because each person found strength and goodness beyond their
challenges.

How would we be better people if we weren’t taking things in our life for granted? What
if we practiced being grateful this Lent and renounce the sin that takes the many gifts of
life for granted?

Unshakable faith develops as we take each moment, and thing, and person and
experience, as gifts from God, not for granted.