Category Archives: Lifelong Faith Formation Connections

Articles from St Anthony on the Lake.

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.”

Mary’s Lesson

We know Mary, the mother of God, from a relationship of prayer with her, from her apparitions but perhaps it is from Scripture we learn of who she is and what God wants us to know about her. These are some lessons I take into my life:

The Visitation. Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel asking her to allow God to come to her, as her child. Mary gave her Fiat, her “yes” to this request/invitation/call, though she didn’t have any idea how that would happen or what it would do to her life. I call this my lesson of WHOLEHEARTEDNESS. Mary teaches it is wholehearted openness to God’s callings in life that leads to our true heart, our truest path.

The Nativity. I have long pondered God’s decision to come to us on this earth as a baby. Why not full-grown and powerful, a superhero wowing us, a king ruling us, rich, famous, beautiful- with all the things that give worldly status? Why a vulnerable, helpless baby?

I have wondered, did even God want to know a mother’s love? A mother’s love creates the most fierce and tender human relationship. Mary teaches UNCONDITIONAL LOVE to all God wants to give birth to in our life. We only need to trust we can bring Christ’s love unconditionally into the world to find the meaning and purpose we all yearn for.

The Wedding at Cana. Few words of Mary were recorded in Scripture. And so those words must be very important. When Jesus, who didn’t seem to have a miracle that day as his Plan A, was asked to help the wedding family caught short on the wine, Mary said to the stewards, “DO WHATEVER HE TELLS YOU.” Mary teaches us, to let Christ lead and trust God will do remarkable things with the simple gifts we are willing to give, our time, our humble talents, our heart.

Standing at the Foot of the Cross. There are many more lessons, obviously too great for this little column. But one last image is Mary teaching us to be willing to STAND AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS with others on hard days. There are times when we can’t help another in their suffering. But it makes a difference if we stand with them through it or walk away. It makes a difference for them and for who we become. Never be afraid to love those who suffer. Don’t leave them standing alone.

May God kindly and richly bless all of you moms who are doing the hard work of raising children to be good people and love God. And may God bless all of you who have raised children, and have learned, though the physical work is completed, there is nothing about the connection that diminishes. It is a bond forever.

And to all friends, may Mary, Mother of God, continue to lead us to the Divine by the path of wholehearted, unconditional love.

Passing Something Important On

My husband recently had some health issues that involved a medical procedure that was supposed to take an hour but instead took three. I am sure you have had moments like this when you just don’t know if things are going to turn out OK. You pray differently under such circumstances. My coping mechanism was to read Scripture. You hear Scripture differently under such circumstances. God’s Word sounds more personal when we are frightened, suffering, alone, anxious. Maybe in our vulnerability we have ears to hear.

Honestly, it is the same way I feel about the Sacraments. I most often look forward to being at Mass but when I feel scared or sad or anxious, I don’t go to Mass, I run to Mass. I have found it is the routine of prayer or Scripture or participating in the Sacraments that, over time, forms some kind of cocoon of intimacy of relationship with God that feels protective, comforting, and powerful.

This is what I wish I could communicate to the younger people in my life, but I don’t know how to do that without fearing I will sound preachy. I want to share with those I love that it is in the practice of faith, the routine, the everydayness of it, when something will imperceptibly deepen in your heart and mind that will protect you on the sad days and the scary days, on the worst days.

It sounds too transactional, too practical. Too simple. Just show up. Participate. Be there. Be present. Yet, that relationship with God forged in the everyday practices of faith can make the difference in the spiritual experience of having an occasional encounter with God and dwelling in the secure place of trust we feel in the shelter of someone we know loves us for who we really are. There were those who taught this to me in my life. Though I realize, as I look back, they may never have known they led me toward a path of faith and mattered so much to me.  

This is what I long for those of you I love that you will have guides that lead you to the practices that strengthen your spirit and witness God’s love. May the Presence in the Eucharist and The Word nourish your soul. May you be blessed with a heart of prayer and time to invest in it.

Pay attention to others … pay attention to those near you … pay attention to the saints in your lives, there are many of them. Pay attention. (Rev. Craig Butters)

Prayer Works

I don’t know how prayer works but I know it works. By that I mean, prayer changes things. Does it change God’s mind? I doubt it. But it changes our hearts. It changes the understanding of the meaning and purpose of our lives.

It somehow (and I really don’t know how this happens) aligns our heart and mind with God’s plan… now that is a phrase that deserves more contemplation… I don’t mean to imply some prescribed preordained blueprint. I don’t envision God with a book about each of us, stored in heaven’s library with God the only cardholder. That implies we have no efficacy about the trajectory or purpose of our own life. So, I have always preferred the phrase God’s design of our life. That describes something more complex and beautiful that resonates with the value of the choices we make in the little span of time we each get to live on this earth. Putting our trust in God’s design requires we live with humility. God is God and we are not.

So, prayer is opening our mind and heart to change our soul to accept the gift of peace that comes when we trust God is caring for us, guiding and moving in and through us and our relationships, to order our life with what is best for us.

Recently, I have been in several important circumstances that have reminded me why prayer is so important, why it is the foundation of relationships. “I am praying for you” is not a phrase we should underestimate. When we say that, it is a pledge to unite whoever we are, with whatever we have, to will good for them and whatever is God’s design for them. So, sometimes it looks like what we pray for doesn’t happenIt is in these moments that we learn to lean into our trust of God’s love for us, even though that love may not, at that time, be apparent.

St. Therese of Lisieux said, “For me prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”

I think it is helpful to remember to glance to heaven often. I also believe prayer is a turning toward each other, uniting us together in that “surge of the heart”. It is the act of surrender that brings the peace that only God can give even in the most difficult of times. Lent is a good time to trust that prayer is the practice that changes everything for us and the gift we can give each other.

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.