One prayer, one blessing, one hope, one peace, one church, one people, one love released

Last week, this was sung at the funeral of a patriarch of one our beloved families. We celebrated his life that, by every measure, was a life well lived. The words of this song seemed to speak of the way Tom had lived life. His heart was one with his country, his church and his family. He had served them all with a singular devotion. As I sang (quietly to myself because no one wants to hear me sing), I pondered the beautiful phrase, “one love released.” Tom, in how he had lived life released his love and God’s love. And as I reminded the family at the rehearsal, love never dies.

It is an interesting phrase, “one love released,” and it seems to resonate with the message of the Eucharistic revival we are in the midst of in our Church. For Holy Communion calls us into one faith and one spirit, that Jesus longed for us to be united in. And peace is the fruit of that united community of faith.

What does “one love released” mean? I think it reflects that Jesus released his life for our salvation. And now we are called to release our faith to others. Every celebration of the Eucharist urges us to respond to Jesus’ invitation to follow Him and be, as Al McCauley says, “a walking, talking tabernacle for others” and release the love that Christ has given us, to others.

Diane Nienas, in her book, I see Jesus, wrote, “If we look at love as a necessity, it can only lead us in the direction of God for he is love and if we need love, we need God. God is already in you. He has taken up residency within you and all you must do is accept him.”

I believe great meaning will be found when we give the gift to others of sharing our faith. Nothing compares to the purpose in life we will know from living, as our friend Tom did, with one love released.

One Brief Shining Moment…

Camelot is the story of a mythical place of peace and love in the just and good kingdom of King Arthur. It has since come to signify an idyllic place or time, especially one of great happiness.

This year I had my own Camelot experience, having the privilege and joy of teaching a class, “Family, Church and Society” with my son, Jon, a professor, at Marquette University.  

Neither Jon nor I knew how things would work out, but we thought it would it be a unique experience to teach a class about family as a family. And it was! From day one, we knew we were given a gift. The young adults were open-minded and open-hearted. They were curious, interested, interesting and receptive.

They shared their family lives, ranging from ideal to complicated. Their self-description of their religious beliefs ranged from atheist to deeply committed Catholic. We shared Church documents about faith and research about families and faith.

We were able to discuss issues of family, faith, identity, and the nature of a relationship with our transcendent God, while holding regard for each person- whether others held similar viewpoints or not. They chose to give up the “dominating right to be right” in favor of being kind, nonjudgmental and generously listening to each other. More than anything they were lovers. Lovers of higher things- kindness, respect, belief in something bigger than they knew at that time. In other words, they embraced with dignity, humility, despite being at the pinnacle of health, beauty and privilege in life. While having various personal viewpoints and cultural differences, they held the capacity to consider each other with thoughtful attention, forgiveness, and trust in the Camelot we are all capable of creating in some small way in life.

They reminded me of the saying, “God has no grandchildren.” Each generation meets, knows and loves God in context of their own life experiences. For some this is a gradual process, assimilated through osmosis of a network of secure relationships and a mature faith community. For some, it may come at some point we can’t predict or imagine, purely through the grace of the Holy Spirit. 

They taught me to believe in their generation’s gifts of intelligence, insight, and compassion. They were clearly more unselfish, caring and capable people than I was at their age.

They taught me in the complexity of the world we live in, that what we all still need most is not to be right but to be loved.

They taught me God has no grandchildren because God’s love is fresh each generation, for each’s unique needs, and because it is an intimate love as between a mother and child.

I know that they taught me more than I taught them! I am so grateful for the brief shining moment of Camelot in Room 280, Lalumiere Hall and the hope these Marquette’s finest students left me with for the future. 

Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ. ~ St. Jerome

As a religious educator this statement has, at the same time, haunted and inspired me. If there is something that keeps me up at night it is, “In the time we have with children, teens and adults in their religious formation, are we choosing the best things to focus on?” There is so much that I feel is beautiful in the Catholic faith! Sacraments, in which we believe God is present in a real and tangible way. Prayer, which is the way we develop that personal relationship with our God. Worship, our communal praise of God that I know creates a community of faith. Our Creedal Beliefs, our north star that guides our moral and spiritual choices. And the Scriptures which are foundational to all we know about God and our faith.

As Catholics we believe God is revealed to us through our Sacred Tradition and through Scripture. In my doctoral research one finding that emerged (which I was not looking for) was parents expressed concerns that they did not feel comfortable reading and praying about Scripture on their own. They “didn’t feel qualified.” In fact, as parents they didn’t feel they could pass on a love of Scripture because they themselves lacked education, understanding and appreciation for God’s Word in the Bible.

Over the years we have incorporated many ways to address this. Currently, our gifted Adult Director of Faith Formation, Al McCauley, offers continual studies that are well attended and he is our main teacher for adults in our Family Program and Emeritus group. While these are phenomenal opportunities, I know true devotion and appreciation of the Bible is cultivated over a lifetime.

Which is why Bible Camp, for our children, has always been close to my heart. We have had a tradition of Bible Camp for almost 30 years. I thought if our children came to know and love five Scripture stories each summer, they would cumulatively have a rich store of stories in their mind and heart. This year, leadership is in the capable hands of our dedicated Faith Formation staff, led by Tasha Baures.

We have devoted resources to bring back a weeklong Catholic Bible Camp June 17th-21st and added Wrap Around Care for working parents because we believe it is this important not to let another generation of Catholics be deprived of the grace and guidance of knowing Scripture by heart, literally and figuratively.

If you would like to help, or have your children part of this special week, you can find more information at this link. If we, as a community and as individuals, care enough to make this a significant experience, we will be giving the next generation the gift of a lifetime, a relationship with the Living Word of God.

“Learn the heart of God from the word of God”

– Pope St. Gregory the Great

Our Holiest Days

A friend recently wondered about how their family could observe the Holy Week well “on the road” since they will be traveling during that time. She was contemplating how to keep the Triduum holy “on the go” and considering which Easter traditions will travel with them.

I remember the year our family was traveling, and we completely missed Easter Mass because we misread the Mass times at an unfamiliar church, thinking the time was pm, when it was am. So much for setting any example to follow. Other years we were more successful in participating in celebrations at other churches where we were staying. It can be an interesting experience to participate in services at churches where we might be visiting. It is admirable that a family tries to observe these religious traditions while “on vacation.” 

Thinking about this, what came to my mind was the advice my friend, Colleen, gave me years ago. She said, as only a former nun and a wise person could say, “You don’t need to look for Good Friday. Good Friday will find you.” Two things about her advice held meaning for me. One, participating in the liturgical celebration of Good Friday was a way I could prepare myself for the “Good Fridays” that would find me in my life, the times of loss, suffering, the dark days we all will have in life. And second, to remind me of the importance of internalizing the lessons of liturgical feasts and seasons that help me to live faithfully. While the liturgical year, something I participate in with my beloved faith community, is public worship, it also is something I carry in my heart and mind to help me find meaning and hope and God’s presence in my life journey.

So back to my friend’s question about how to observe these holy days on the road. I offer these suggestions:

One, find a community to worship with. It may be different than the way we celebrate at our home parish. But what a wonderful lesson for children to learn there will be other Catholic communities in many places to discover in their life.

Two, this may be an opportunity to talk about “internalizing” the central core lessons of our holy days so when sadness, sacrifice and suffering come into your life, trust in hope, resurrection and new life are also there.

Three, make these days different in some way. Perhaps an act of service, even serving someone within your family on Holy Thursday, or a small sacrifice or time of quiet reflection on Good Friday, and some wonderful celebration on Holy Saturday, maybe even getting up early to experience a sunrise together.

Make these days different and meaningful and sometime when you need the lessons of the holy days of the Triduum in your own life they will be tucked away into your heart.

St. Valentine Day/Ash Wednesday Combo

This year Lent had such a unique start with Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day landing at the same place in the calendar. As the day began and I watched the morning news, it appeared this day was going to be all about the secular holiday of Valentine’s chocolates, cards, and romance. Then, in the afternoon, I was at Marquette, and as I walked across campus, I encountered one cross smudged forehead after another, and I was heartened to think room had been made for the religious tradition. When I saw my sweet friend Janie with her Ash Wednesday ashes on her forehead and holding her beautiful rose, I was delighted to be reminded there is room for both the symbols of sacrifice and of love in the human heart.

My amazing editor, Michelle Lukas, expressed this same sentiment beautifully as we discussed this:

“I’ve been really appreciating the lens that this Ash Wednesday has given us. I’ve always viewed Lent first through the lens of sacrifice, both in what I fast from and Jesus’ sacrifice. But this year, I have found myself viewing Lent first through the lens of Love. Jesus’ love for us, showing love to others, and loving myself through what I ‘give up.’ As I put these thoughts in writing, it seems pretty obvious that Love was always the first lens to view Lent through, but, for me, it’s taken the St. Valentine’s Day/Ash Wednesday combo to really open my eyes.”

Our willingness to sacrifice for others always expresses the best part of our human nature. And, hopefully, this Lent we will find some sacrifice we can make for the good of others, giving something to someone who needs our resources, our time, our care. But the inner work of Lent is internalizing the belief and understanding that the greatest sacrifice was God’s when he gave us his Son and the Son’s sacrifice to suffer for us out of pure and unconditional love. So maybe the confluence of the holiday for expressing love and the feast that begins the season of Lent to remember Jesus sacrificial love can have meaning for us in a special way this year.

May your Lent be filled with blessings of the love you share and the love you know in your deepest heart from the God who loved you first and loves you most.

Begin with the end in mind. ~Stephen Covey

This is my favorite advice from the famous leadership giant. So simple and so true. If we are taking off to travel from Chicago and don’t know if we are going to LA or New York, it is very difficult to proceed. But if we know, at least that much, and go off course it is always easy to realign to get to our destination. Such a critical question! Where is our life heading?

Fr. Tony and I meet with families as they prepare for funerals. We usually begin asking, “Tell us about your mom, your dad, your spouse, your child.” Almost never do we hear how successful they were, how important they were in their work, how much they had achieved or amassed in wealth.

Going back to my notes from these meetings I noticed these were the most often mentioned responses: kind, hard worker, positive, loyal, honest, wise, made the best of any bad situation, humble, respectful, creative, fun, great sense of humor, no enemies, always happy to help someone. And three things that almost always come up. He/she loved their family! He/she was always there for us! And they speak of their loved one’s faith. Many times, it is of a deep faith, mentioning a special devotion to Mary, Jesus, a saint or the Holy Spirit.

Many of the people were successful in their career but it is more often mentioned how much the person loved the work they did. It seems it isn’t so much the amount of money someone made but were they generous with what they had? Not so much about the talents they had but how they used them to help others. Not just having faith but that they shared their faith, making others more hopeful and feeling loved. Not so much their achievements but the value they put on relationships. One of our parishioners had a saying, “Love makes sacrifice a pleasure.” This was especially beautiful, when his daughter remembered he said it while doing the most unglamorous jobs like cleaning out the latrine of their camper.

So as this year begins, it is an opportunity to consider where we are heading in life. If we know what is important and valuable, might it be easier to live a good life that is a lasting gift to those we love?

Blessings to you in this new year! May it be a year that we are heading toward what matters most, so our life will be a life that matters.

The Shepherds’ Field

As many of you know, our pilgrimage this past summer to the Holy Land was a graced experience. Like many pilgrims before us, we experienced incredible sites, stood on the ground of profound events and walked the Via Dolorosa, the Way of the Cross, remembering the last journey of Jesus. But for me the place that deepened my faith the most was the quiet visit to the Shepherds’ Field in Bethlehem. There were no grand churches there. No gift shops or guides. There were rolling fields and a cave marked with a star. We celebrated Mass in a primitive structure seated on rocks and simple wooden benches.

I was moved to look upon the land and wonder about the shepherds. Though they were considered of the lowest status of their time, it was to the shepherds the angel appeared and told them to go to a child, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. “So, they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph and the infant lying in a manger… and they went away praising God for what the angel had told them, that the child was the long waited for savior, the Messiah, the Lord.”

As I gathered with a group of moms reading our Bibles, in a faith sharing group recently, I was reflecting on God sending a savior, his Son, to redeem us, to forgive humanity, to promise us eternal life. How could this event of such significance have begun in this absolutely remote place? How could this story have survived throughout centuries?

At that time in those barren fields in Bethlehem there would be no way to effectively communicate this news to the nearest town, let alone around the world! There was no printed word for centuries, no mass communication, no university educated tellers of this story. How is it that I am sitting here in the lower level of our church with these sweet women in 2023, and we are contemplating this story?

This Christmas I hope you will share my awe of that small cave, in that remote place, where the child Jesus was born. It is a wonder that generations have continually passed down the truth of that story of the first Christmas. God so loved us to send his very son so we would know Emmanuel, that God is with us. 

I wish you always will have a heart of hope knowing God can do great things, impossible things. God chose to come to us in the most tender, humble and real way. We must continue to be tellers of the story of how God wanted to be close to us, so we know how loved we are!

Christmas blessings to each of you. May you ponder, as Mary did, all these things in your heart.

Upon Further Reflection

We recently celebrated our annual Memorial Mass for those who lost loved ones this year.

I often think that when we experience significant loss of any kind, we can feel disoriented. The usual landmarks of our life can be lost: relationships we count on, how we spend our time, and the rituals that mark the habits of our life. The image of something (maybe of ourself!) falling or coming apart comes to mind. But, upon further reflection, my experience has been that those of us left to continue in the face of loss have benefited greatly from a caring community of others trusting in God’s benevolence and care for us. It seems:

  • There is great power in coming together. We have seen the gift it is to share, in words and even tears, with others who understand at this time of loss. It can be comforting and healing.
  • Grief is a journey, and willingness to be in relationship with others, to see others who have not only survived but have thrived, who never stop missing their loved one, but learn how to find continued meaning in their life, is a powerful witness to the resilience of the human spirit.
  • As we gather, we borrow and share strength from each other. Some days you have it together and I am falling apart and vice versa. I was one of seven children, and my mom would say, “You can all fall apart but just not all on the same day.” This perspective gives us companions who understand and care on the days we are handling things and are there for us those days we need a friend.
  • Healing has many layers. We have learned those who travel through loss with others often achieve a deeper healing of heart and soul.

Upon further reflection, a part of life is to love, and a part is to lose those we love. Love is the best in life. Loss may be our most profound challenge. We are in this together, in loving and in losing. It is a blessing to travel this road with others who care and put their trust in our good God who walks with us, and who “wipes away every tear from our eyes.”

Have you ever had a heavy heart?

I think of myself as optimistic and grateful for most everything in my life. But the war in Israel feels like a weight in my heart. Perhaps because of our recent pilgrimage there, the space between war and peace seems very narrow. I think of the people we met, Christians, Jews and Muslims, who we came to know and whose stories we carried back with us.

I think of our beautiful hotel on the West Bank and the Muslim call to prayer, blaring out of a loudspeaker you could hear from our balcony each night. I think of the most gracious Palestinian owner of our hotel, Nabil, who went out for special treats for us so they were there when we got back from a day of prayer and experiencing the sites. He and his family evidenced extraordinary hospitality.

I think of Fr. Garrett, the young Jesuit priest we met, originally from Milwaukee, currently serving in Bethlehem teaching Muslim women. He lives with an 80-year-old priest in a dwelling with only basic needs. When you meet him, you can only wish for what he has, as he radiated such joy and goodness.

And I carry our guide, Nasser, in heart and mind with fondness and concern. He exemplified faith with such intelligence, kindness, strength, and compassion! I worry and wonder how this war will affect his livelihood, his family, and his new granddaughter.

So, the grateful part of me is amazed that our timing allowed us to be in the Holy Land when we were. But I am so sad for all the people who are hurt, suffering, displaced and living in this land at war. I am just so sad for our world.

I postponed writing this, hoping to find something uplifting to share. But I decided, sometimes, though we feel woeful for the world, we should remember our good God can, as Teresa of Avila said, “write straight with the crooked lines” of our humanity. Sometimes we just must pray from where we are, even if it is discouraged, sorrowful or feels heartbreaking. When our heart is heavy for whatever reason we just may need to trust God who, though we don’t understand how, can make “all things new.”

What I Did This Summer… and Who I Met

I was one of 103 pilgrims who went to Israel and Rome this summer. You probably would get 103 different responses to the question, “What was the most significant thing about your trip?” I would say that there were a thousand awe-inspiring moments. But topping my list wasn’t an “it” but a “who” – our guide in Israel, Nasser.

He greeted us every morning with, “My friends.” And I thought of Scripture, “I have called you friends because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.”  Everywhere we went Nasser would share something fascinating about Israel. He understood ancient history, religious perspectives, as well as today’s complexities of culture, political loyalties and conflicts. An empathetic appreciation of humanity emanated from him. He seemed to walk through one of the most volatile places on earth with peace and regard for everyone. Nasser helped us appreciate the lessons even in our hotel destination. He said his heart was with one charming hotel overlooking the Sea of Galilee, run by a Jewish family, serving perhaps the most wonderful food I have ever eaten. And our other beautiful hotel on the West Bank was owned by his friend, a gracious Palestinian man, who made our large group feel like we were honored guests. It was as if Nasser wanted us to know the best of all God’s children.

Obviously, a brilliant man with a delightful sense of humor, he carried himself with an aura of humility. It was as if everything he knew was in service of us, sharing his faith and love of this land, as God seemed to, having chosen this place, the Holy Land, to reveal his Son, our Savior, to us.

The week we traveled with Nasser he was awaiting his daughter giving birth to his first grandchild. And so, we probably got a glimpse into the sacredness of life through his heart and eyes as he shared with us his vulnerability of precious life in God’s hands. We prayed with him when she went into early labor and rejoiced with him at his granddaughter’s healthy arrival with celebratory baklava and warmest cheers from us, his 50 closest bus friends. He was universally loved. We all knew we were given some special gift to have him truly guide us on this holy journey.

When one friend in our group had his phone pick-pocketed, I believe most of us would have bet he would never see that phone again. But when we got to our meeting spot, we were able to tell Nasser. He “negotiated” with the local folks to get it back. We witnessed this, involving words in a foreign language (and dramatic gestures) from the thief that, let’s just say, weren’t an apology. Nasser kept coming back in a firm loud voice. When we asked Nasser later what was said, he calmly recounted, “Oh he was swearing at me. I just kept saying, give me the phone back.” If I ever wondered what God’s justice might look like I imagine I was witnessing, it. Not an eye for an eye justice but authority that rights wrongs.

We visited the Church of St. Ann, known for its acoustics. People from all over the world, including our group, come to sing there. Just before we were about to board the bus Nasser said, “Gather our group, I want them to hear why this church was created.” We did and he stood in front of us and chanted. It sounded like a pure form of prayer and praise. I didn’t understand a word, but I will never forget its celestial sound.

In our final evening together, Nasser stopped at our dinner gathering before going to meet his granddaughter (having sacrificed the first days with his grandchild to not leave us) and spoke to the group. He asked us to support the Christians in Israel as they are only 2% of the population. Again, my sense of the human community I am part of  expanded. Finally, his last words to us were, “Read the Bible. It’s all there.” I never heard the Living Word of God explained quite so simply, eloquently, or accurately.

Nasser seemed to love everyone unconditionally, each of us as individuals, but also the people of different cultures. He was so kind. He made everyone feel that they were valuable. I have always been a little envious of others who have some visual and emotional image of Jesus. That just hasn’t been a gift I had been given but that week I believe that God gave me a glimpse of that and spoke in my heart, “I am like Nasser.”

Click below to watch and listen to Nasser in the Church of St. Ann.