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.

February: First Loved

February is not my favorite month. A few of our Christmas decorations are droopily
hanging outside. It’s just too cold to make the effort to take them down. Does every
family have someone sick these days… with some known or unknown virus? The days
are getting longer… but not that much. Lent is between us and Spring.

For me, love, redeems February. In the middle of the month is the holiday of love,
Valentine’s Day. I so enjoyed the project of decorating a Valentine bag as a child and
making valentines for my classmates. I am happily surprised that my husband invited
me out for dinner on a weeknight. I am up for any reason to crack open the chocolate. I
am looking forward to our all-parish fundraiser, Hearts on Fire. More than anything I am
delighted to have an excuse to lift up the theological virtue, Love, to remind us of the
grace of being loved.

There are so many divisive forces it seems in our local and global world. I appreciate
being reminded of the simple sentiments and symbols of love. My prayer this month is
to try to soak in God’s love. More than anything I want to grow in trust of being first
loved by God. If we need a day, a holiday, a celebration, a season to just remember
that… I am grateful.

C.S Lewis said, “Though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not.” So,
whatever February is bringing, or not, maybe it is a good time in this middle of winter, to
check in on how well we are caring for ourselves and others, how evident is our love, in
our words and actions, remembering, “We love, because He first loved us.” (1John 4:
19)

Groundhog Day Revisited

These past months of this pandemic has been likened to the movie
Groundhog Day, when the main character wakes up to relive the same day
over and over again. The futility of it was exhausting for the main character.

Might we all confess to feelings like this? Seriously, we aren’t out of this
yet? We live in the Groundhog Day of continual news of depressing
statistics of illness, crowded hospitals and overwhelmed healthcare
workers. How many people do you know who had revised plans for
Christmas? Some schools found themselves back to virtual learning.
Sometimes we need a scorecard to keep track of who is in and out of
quarantine. The list goes on of disruptions, disappointments,
inconveniences, cancellations, and even in some cases severe illness and
loss.

The editor of this Newsletter, Michelle Lucas and I were discussing this.
She said, “We attempt to continue life as normal, but it’s not normal. This in
between time is so strange. The constant decision making paired with
analyzing risk is exhausting, yet I feel like we need to live life and model
living life with faith, not fear.”

It seems we are somewhere between the beginning of this and hopefully a
time when it isn’t a main topic of discussion or planning. We are living in
this liminal time. We are not here, and we are there.

I found some direction in Pope Francis’ New Year’s wishes to the world. He
acknowledged, the pandemic is hard, but he encouraged people to focus
on the good which unites us.

The Pope’s words came back to me at our high school sophomore retreat
on Catholic Social teaching this past weekend. The topic itself was uplifting,
thinking about how our Catholic Church has held up the dignity of the
human person and prioritizes care for the vulnerable. “Whatever you do to
the least of others, that you do for me.”

While planning for the retreat I was focused on who couldn’t make it, for
one reason or another. But when I got there, I could focus on who was
there and how beautiful the retreat experience was! I hope every parent of
a student on the retreat or helped with it reads this. You can be so proud of
your sons and daughters. They conducted themselves with respect for the adults, their peers, and the topic. They processed the ethic of care for others with kindness and maturity. Led by Taylor Baar, our outstanding youth minister, and supported by the older teens, college students and
adults, the teachings came alive. I felt uplifted. I was witnessing this
meaningful formation, of the future church.

Here in our own little community, I saw vibrant faith and care for others. I
saw the young church focusing on the good that unites us. This community
was living life in faith, not fear. We aren’t out of this pandemic, but we are
holding together the threads of faith, and the Church is prevailing through it.


Advent Longing

I don’t know if there is a “right way” Advent is supposed to “feel” but this year seems to be off kilter in some ways. Is it just me or is this a collective or shared impression? It seems the events of this season are weighing down the promise of “glad tidings” and “peace on earth.” How do we enter the innocence God invites us to embrace in a world dealing with, as I just heard it called, this “evolving pandemic,” heartbreaking senseless violence, loss of loved ones, December tornadoes and one anxiety evoking headline after another?

I am trying to center my thoughts in the images I have reflected on for many Advents. Waiting. Expectation. Peace. Joy. Love. Hope.

But the theme that personally resonates with me this year is the Advent theme of “Longing.” Fr. Ronald Rohlheiser wrote, “Advent is about getting in touch with our longings.” I am longing for ease for those suffering illness, processing violent trauma, and grieving loss.

I am longing for a world where peace reigns and justice is the norm. I am longing for Christmas to bring Emmanuel, which means, God with us. I am longing for the peace that comes from trusting God is with us. Advent is about getting in touch with our longings and letting our yearnings hope in new ways.

I am holding onto Fr. Tony’s words reflecting on the Christmas parade tragedy. He said, the only effective response to evil is to live its opposite, which is goodness, love and maybe holding faith in a better world. If we don’t do this, evil wins.

The Savior came to us as a vulnerable baby saving us from evil and promising deliverance, even from the finality of death. Jesus, born of a virgin, with only a donkey to transport them and Joseph to protect them and no one offering them shelter. Seems like a crazy plan, from our almighty God, for saving us. But a God who could work out salvation with such a plan maybe can take our deepest longings for meaning to come out of chaos, loss and grief and make whole our broken world. I long for that and will allow my heart to hope in that this Advent.  

As I pondered all of this, I remembered a quote from the concentration camp survivor Corrie Ten Boom. She said, “If you look at the world you will be distressed. If you look within you’ll be depressed. If you look at God you’ll be at rest.”

Good advice for Advent longing. May the longings of your heart rest in Emmanuel.

Grateful for Small Mercies

I know the saying is “God will never give you more than you can handle” … Dear God… we are fully booked, and we can’t handle any more for a while. Thank you!!!

This was a quote my sister’s husband posted. I write this sitting at her hospital bedside. She was hit by a car last week which left both of her legs and her arm badly broken. We all say how grateful we are she didn’t hit her head and seems to have no internal injuries. But at best that feels like a good news/bad news point of view as it breaks my heart to watch her begin what we know is a long journey to functioning normally.


I am reminded of a passage in the Anna Quindlen novel, One True Thing.


In the story, she described a family out for ice cream, just before their mother was diagnosed with cancer. The daughter in the story thought back on what she called “the last normal day they had” and reflected, “Afterward I wondered why I hadn’t loved that day more, why I hadn’t savored every bit of it like soft ice cream on my tongue, why hadn’t I 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.”


I am mindful of the day before my sister’s accident as a normal day.


On my way to the hospital, I was so focused on getting here that I literally was “not seeing” the fleeting view in front of me. I realized the road was literally ablaze with the color of the trees. How often do I live, moving onto the next thing, and miss the blessings before me?


But today, I pulled over on the side of the road to look and thank God for the beauty of this day. I will be grateful, when I get up from writing this, that my legs and arms work. I will be grateful that I believe that prayer will support my sister’s healing. I will hug my brother-in-law for giving us all a prayer that made us laugh. I will not take for granted healers that can knit together shattered bones and kind caretakers that are an empathetic presence when they walk in the room. I will be grateful for the small mercies that help us remember to not lose hope even in the times when we long for the normal days.

Dear Parents

Jacqueline Kennedy said, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever
else you do matters very much.” Her words always resonated with me as insight into the
primacy of the calling of parenthood. Since children don’t come with a “how-to” manual
we all bungle things as parents from time to time. Thank goodness they are usually
resilient as we learn to become moms and dads! I know you love your children more
than anyone in the world and you are the conduit of God’s love in their lives.

I am in awe of how beautifully you parents function and love your children even through
months of sleepless nights, juggling jobs, school and childcare schedules, endless
carpooling, shopping, making, and cleaning up meals and a thousand other unselfish
acts of service to your families. No wonder often we have no better analogy of God’s
love than that of a parent!!

You are so busy, that I suspect you didn’t have time to read the most current and
comprehensive research on a topic vital to your vocation, Handing Down the Faith: How
Parents Pass on their Religion to the Next Generation by Dr. Christian Smith, University
of Notre Dame.

Can I share some research with you that might affirm your parenting choices and
encourage you on the long days and tough nights in one of the most important things in
life, your child’s faith?

This new national study shows that as parents, you, are the most important influence
on the religious and spiritual lives of your children and teens! This research, as well as a
myriad of other studies, confirms that you play the leading role in shaping your child’s
deepest values and the character of their religious and spiritual life, now and well after
they leave home.

In fact, some parents may be surprised to know “the single most powerful causal
influence on the religious lives of American teenagers and young adults is the religious
lives of their parents. Not their peers, not the media, not their youth group leaders or
clergy, and not their religious schoolteachers.” If you are a parent of a teen, you might
be saying, “Oh I know I lost most of my influence when they became teens” (and they
may act as if that were true). But, in most cases, these cultural illusions are not
supported by the facts. Your influence as parents on their religious beliefs, practices
and values lasts for decades and in many cases a lifetime.
“…a large body of accumulated research consistently shows that… the influence of
parents in religiousness trumps every other influence, however much parents and
children assume otherwise.”

I wish this column was ten pages long so I could share more of this fascinating study
that explains why this is true. But let me share one insight- how important it is for
parents to talk to their children about matters of faith during the week. When parents do
this, children integrate the meaning of faith into the lived experience of life. “When parents talk naturally and substantially about religion and its place in life, throughout the
week it effectively indicates to children that, in the mix of life’s many priorities and
values, this stuff matters a lot. And that raises the stakes for children’s decisions about
their own future religious commitments.”

As a grandparent, I look at this from a view on the balcony of the dancefloor of life. For
you parents, who are dancing, I hope this gives you encouragement to know how
important you are. If I could offer you two things you might consider in your parenting
choices, they would be to remember you are the role model of faith and talking with your
children about your faith has tremendous value.
Know that we- your Church, school, faith formation, catechists, teachers, pastor- are
cheering you on and supporting you in any way we can. You are shining stars of love
and faith to your children in the most important job you will ever have!

With love,
Kathie

Advent Journey: A Lesson in Hope

Love, it is said, is the greatest virtue. Faith may be the highest spiritual virtue. But hope must certainly be the most durable virtue. Hope is the enduring virtue that teaches us to persist, and enables us to persevere. It may be the poster child for 2020.

If there is one thing we all may agree upon, it is that the current state of the world– traumatized by this invisible virus– has lasted far longer than we expected.

This Advent, I think particularly of Mary and Joseph traveling and the unfolding of the birth of all that is good in humanity and divinity, in the form of the newborn baby named Jesus.

I think of them still on the road. They must have been weary and discouraged, the journey longer than they imagined. Was Mary in pain? Was Joseph frustrated not to be able to provide a safe harbor for the most important mission he had been given? When Mary said yes to the Angel Gabriel, could she have imagined riding a donkey in the dark night with Joseph, unable to find a place to stay?

They couldn’t know of the manifestation of a sheltering place, of angels greeting them with songs of praise, of shepherds being called to find them, of a star getting brighter to guide them, and of the birth of a child who would bring goodness and light to all humanity.

One of my professors in the seminary explained to us that to be “God’s Chosen” people doesn’t mean being better than others, but to be “chosen” to live by different values, by God’s ways.

I recently heard someone say, “I think we may be God’s Chosen People… who forget.” We can forget on the dark winding roads. We can forget months into this pandemic to trust and be exemplars of hope. The Scriptures are given to us because we forget.

The Holy Family was living love and trusting in faith, but it was the ability to hope that sustained them in the dark night on the journey. They were the first Christians, because they were people of hope.

Hope is the virtue that brings to mind a brightening star, angels on their way, the impending birth of goodness and light. Even before his birth, Jesus was hidden in Mary’s womb. He already was Emmanuel– God with us. Hope is the virtue that remembers even in the darkest moment of wandering, that God, though maybe hidden, is already with us.
To watch a video about hope & why we need it, click on the picture of Fr. Mike Schmitz below…

Trust in 20 Feet of Faith

This year, our family marked the 20th anniversary of my dad’s passing. If you have lost a loved one, you may have had a similar feeling that the time they are gone feels like a brief moment, but at the same time, you hold a heartache like a faint white scar that reminds you, you will always carry traces of that wound.

To get through the anniversary, spontaneous emails from my siblings were shared of a particular memory or thought about our dad. They were all beautiful, but I would like to share with you, my brother Mike’s reflection:

Just a couple weeks ago, I was reading a book that included a quote from Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit philosopher also trained in geology and paleontology. It reminded me of a Saturday back when I was about 7 years old. Dad brought me along with him to light a candle and say a prayer at St. Francis Church. We took a walk afterward and he began to talk with me about what it did, and did not, mean to light a candle and say a prayer as we just had. He told me about Teilhard de Chardin and some of his ideas. He said that de Chardin taught us that humankind was always evolving and still was a long way from really being able to understand God or the mysteries of faith. We should use all our gifts, including our intelligence, to our fullest ability. Good would come from that, but not a full understanding of the sacred. He wanted me to understand that just because we could not achieve that kind of understanding, did not mean we could not have faith. He said that we may not be able to jump 20 feet in the air, but that did not mean 20 feet in the air did not exist. So, he told me, we go to church, light a candle, and say a prayer not because we blindly imagine that some magic occurs, but as a way of embracing faith. As I look back on that day, I realize that he must not have said all of that in that exact way. But I really think it was pretty close to that. And I do remember for sure: Dad wanted me to understand that there was no need to sacrifice thinking for faith they were not in conflict.

This year it can feel as though loss has permeated our culture. During times like these when we need the kind of faith that allows us to see beyond the present moment and ponder things beyond our understanding, my dad’s spiritual counsel anchors my occasionally unmoored heart. It reminds me to hold onto our values of faith even in a world that can seem in constant conflict, underpinned with fear, and burdened with stress. We can use our good minds to think about how to negotiate the issues we face and not lose sight of the values of our faith- acting with civility and kindness, choosing carefully our words, holding unselfish intentions and, in our care for ourselves and others, having faith in ”twenty feet” of God’s love that we cannot see but nonetheless is there sustaining us.

Bitter or Better?

Challenging times often bring out the best in us… or not.

Learning to ride a bike did not come naturally to me. I have a memory from my 5th birthday. My dad tried to teach me how to ride a two-wheeler on a Friday evening. I was not getting the hang of it.

I got up very early the next morning and put on my little plaid jacket and went out of the house by myself. I went up and down my sidewalk on my bike until I finally could balance enough to ride. I remember the joy of moving faster than I could run and my dad laughing that I taught myself to ride while they were all sleeping.

I recall thinking I had hit upon a good strategy, being the oldest of three children. If faced with a challenge, get up early and figure it out. Parents are busy people, and it feels so good to learn how to do things yourself!

Well, that was a joyful challenge and a memory made warm recalling my dad’s laughter.

Today we are faced with the challenge of a worldwide pandemic. It will take more than getting up early to meet this challenge. I hope I am not overly optimistic, but I believe there are smart, good people who will help us just the way people have with other difficult problems throughout our history.

What will help us spiritually in this challenge?

Trust God more than we trust even those smart, good people referred to above. When life changes and things are taken away from us, we have a choice, to deepen faith or abandon it. It is God who holds us in life and death and who will see us through this.

Offer compassion and resist judging others. Most people do the best they can. Help them; don’t turn on them. Anger and frustration are emotions which, when expressed with hostility toward others, aren’t helpful and weaken us as a community.

Challenges are the arena in which we can discover resilience in persevering– when times are difficult– and find the ability to bounce back from adversity. In fact, the term ‘grit’ refers to the passion to continue to persevere, regardless of reward or recognition. We may find ourselves isolated socially, perhaps financially stressed, and have lots of reasons to feel anxious and insecure. But even in this crisis– this challenge– faith calls us to our higher purpose: to love and be loved. One moment at a time. One person at a time. Grit shows true strength of character when we have passion for our faith in God and devotion to each other.

If we focus on these, we will come through this time– stronger, kinder, better.