Category Archives: Lifelong Faith Formation Connections

Articles from St Anthony on the Lake.

Summer Spirituality

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

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

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

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

Mary Undoer of Knots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easter People

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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: 

Blessings of Mercy: Unreasonable Love

My all-time favorite scene in a dramatization is in Les Misérables. In the well-known story, the bishop defines mercy. The character, Jean Valjean, had been cruelly imprisoned for stealing food for his hungry family. After being freed, he was shown kindness, being fed and housed by the bishop. In turn, Valjean gets up in the night, steals the bishop’s silver and runs away. He is caught by the police and brought back to the bishop to confirm the robbery. The bishop attests that the silver was a gift and reprimands Valjean for not also taking the candlesticks he had given him!

That is the moment that gets me. The candlesticks are a symbol of extravagance in mercy. The bishop redefines who we are, in the light of experiencing mercy. He says, “You are a new man… I have ransomed you back from fear and hate, and now I give you back to God.” Life is transformed by the generosity of unreasonable love.

Last Sunday, at the parish session on addiction and substance abuse, I was reminded of the many mercies the Lord has shown me and my family. The discussion was about the theory that addiction can occur when original wounds are not healed in our life-when trauma, loss, or personal abuse are not acknowledged or addressed-and we mask over the suffering by dulling the pain we find hard to bear, in self-destructive ways. Having help that heals deeply when we needed it, my family has known this kind of mercy.

Jesus knows the need for the kind of love required to heal the brokenhearted. The teaching of Jesus is to love beyond what we seem capable of reaching. The bishop’s radical love gave new life to a broken man. This is one of those stories that I never tire of remembering.

Pope Francis was asked by a child about whether a relative with no faith would go to heaven or hell. The pope told the child a story about St. John Vianney: A woman asked him if her husband, who took his own life by jumping off a bridge would end up in hell, to which the saint responded, “Look, between the bridge and the river, there is the mercy of God.” That is the kind of mercy I hope I am showing to myself and others.  

If you have 3 minutes, take a mini-retreat and watch the scene from Les Misérables here.

Connecting

Nothing makes me more aware of what relationships mean than the hellos and good-byes of life.

I get weepy every time I see a military mom or dad greet their child in a surprise reunion played on the news. A story is told in the hug between child and parent revealing the cost of personal sacrifice for the good of the wider community. It is a testimony that after separation between loved ones, we connect where we left off.

I get emotional at Baptisms, whether I know the moms or dads, or the babies. I cry at everyone’s weddings. On the first day of school, I loved meeting my teacher and now, as a teacher, greeting my students.

Just launching a grief support group, I am reminded how deep into the heart we go in the good-bye of loss. Death, divorce, job loss, the distance when at odds with a loved one, or when a child simply grows up– all remind us of how precious our connections are, and how much the void simply hurts.

I think of the old story of the child, in fear, crying out, “Mama, come and hold me.” Attempting to calm the child, the parent responds, “Don’t be afraid– God is with you,” to which the child responds, “Okay, but right now I need a God with skin on!”

If the essence of God is love, we will surely recognize God in the space between ourselves and those who matter to us. Does it stand to reason that the more we love others, the more we will know God?

Life is so much better when we connect, and how much sweeter it is when we become that grace of “God with skin on” for each other!