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.

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,

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: