Blessed among women – by Susan Grunder

(Another guest post today, from Susan Grunder. We actually celebrated the Visitation yesterday, not today, but I did not get to post this on time. Late? This message is always. timely, and we are grateful for the way Susan has shared it with us.)

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Mary, Ely Cathedral photo credit Susan Grunder

Today we celebrated the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  How I love to hear the Magnificat proclaimed!  As a grown woman, Mary’s song of liberation, empowerment and grace never fails to move me.  I don’t recall ever hearing it as a child.  The Magnificat is not part of the Rosary or the Angelus.   It is a part of the liturgy of the hours, which pretty much guaranteed me not hearing it as a child.   And that, I think, is ok.  I think I needed more maturity to be able to connect with the power of this prayer of thanksgiving and liberation.   I came to appreciate the Magnificat in graduate school, both as part of prayer and as part of study.  Today, I heard it proclaimed at the 9:00 Mass.

And it was beautiful.  And powerful.  And challenging.

Today I also attended the funeral of an amazing woman who was a mentor to me in many ways.  She was an empowered lay woman in the church, a long time DRE and Spiritual Director, who shared freely the graces she was given and who had an amazing gift for storytelling and listening.  Mary Lou was able to share the workings of God’s grace in her own life and help others identify grace in their own.  She held so firmly to the belief that her ministry in Faith Formation stemmed from her baptism that she kept a framed copy of her Baptismal Certificate on her office wall rather than a copy of her diploma for her MA in Religious Education.  I came to know her by being invited to participate a regular meeting of fellow faith formation professionals who were older and wiser than me.  Those Continue reading

Praying with an old letter – by Linda Berkery

(This is a guest post written by Linda Berkery and based on an experience of her father’s in WWII, and an experience of Linda’s in the present moment. It is quite moving and powerful, I am honored that she would allow me to share this on the blog.  A slightly different version of this ran in The Evangelist. )

Original scan at 300 Dad facing outMemorial Day arrives between the last Sunday of Easter and Pentecost this year. But when I reflect on Memorial Day, I must go all the way back to Lent. A priest friend suggested that I look for surprises and trust that God would show me something new. I followed his advice, and the Lord led me on a journey of the heart to Denmark.

envelope at 300My father, Bill Styles, died in March 1975, and every March I sort through his papers. This year I found a fragile envelope tucked away at the back of his journal.
Four photos fell out. Photos dated 1943. My heart jumped when I saw my father wearing torn clothing, leaning on a boat rail, strong waves pounding in the background. These were photos from the rescue.

“I remember you very well.” Those five words from a stranger flew Continue reading

Loving Lilacs – A guest post by Linda Berkery

f100_7341-1Loving Lilacs – by Linda Berkery

When you think of the Adirondack Mountains and the majestic Lake George, “lilacs” is not the first word that comes to mind. And yet there they were—crazy lilacs—nature’s own wild landscaping overlooking the lake. Who might have planted these old fashioned bushes so many years ago? I wondered. How wonderful that they remain on the fringe!

An unexpected gift from my daughter brought us to the Adirondack Mountains in May for a few days of quiet rest. My husband settled in with his pencils and sketch book to draw the gorgeous landscape, while I Continue reading

Ash Wednesday, one week later – a guest post by Susan Grunder

shutterstock253202413Ash Wednesday was one week ago. How is it going? Did you start out Lent with the best of intentions?

Last Sunday we heard about God’s covenant with us. In the Psalm, we cry out to the Lord to teach us his paths. To remember us. In the Gospel, we see Jesus driven by the Spirit into the desert. Jesus doesn’t lead the Spirit into the desert. The Spirit drives him. Where is the Spirit driving us this Lent?

800px-The_Game_of_LentSometimes we look at Lent as a chance to reboot our New Year’s Resolutions. We just change the names to fit the traditional “Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving.” We might call it fasting, but, let’s be honest, we are really hoping to lose some weight while we are at it. We might set aside time for prayer so we can check that box or mark it off of our daily Lenten to-do-list, but are we really engaged in our prayer? Are we opening ourselves up for the activity of the Holy Spirit? For Inspiration in the true sense of word? Are we pausing for a moment to allow Continue reading

Touchstones of Faith – a guest post by Linda Berkery

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For the past twenty-five years, whenever I have faced a difficult trial, or feel uneasiness in my faith, I return to the same “touchstone” memory. It was the day when a change of health taught me to cherish small moments, and write daily prayers of gratitude. It began with the day I focused on the present rather than fear the future.

On a cold January day with a brilliant blue sky I was roasting a turkey and frosting a cake for my husband’s birthday. The baby was napping and four-year-old Tommy was upstairs with his new friend, Glenn. Lego music of clinking, dumping, and swishing blended with giggles. I remember checking the clock when the garage door opened. I was not expecting to see my husband Jack until dinner.

“Why are you home so early?” I asked. Jack mumbled, grabbed some Tylenol, and Continue reading

Unpacking. A guest post by Sue Karpovich

Man covered in cardboard boxes - moving conceptUnpacking.

It’s been a chaotic and challenging few weeks since our relocation to our new home. We lived in NY for 20+ years. That’s a lot of friendships, familiarity, and family to leave behind. Now, it’s just the two of us for the first time in nearly 34 years of marriage. We no longer have five children and all their activities to lead us into new friendships. We’re on our own…in more ways than one.

if-you-dont-feel-like-unpacking-on-your-own-a-local-moving-and-stora_16001126_33773_1_7045639_500-320x200We’ve managed to get the living room functional and the kitchen, too. Our office spaces, now separate in this new house, are up and running and our master bedroom is pretty organized. We can sleep, dress, work, cook, eat, and even relax (when we’re not unpacking boxes!!). We have a roof over our head, food on our table, and each other. We are doing better than many and for that we are grateful.

We’ve unpacked our necessities and are now moving toward those things that make this house feel like home. Pictures of our kids and grandkids. Scrapbooks. Familiar, favorite artwork. We’re building shelves and getting organized. But we’re missing Continue reading

The Forced Gift – a guest post by Linda Berkery

MumsAlong with common autumn tasks — dragging out warm clothes, cleaning windows, planting mums — is my personal fall ritual. Every October, I review the year through photos and journals. Then, in the spirit of St. Therese, whose feast day starts my birthday month, I pray for one simple word to focus the days ahead. “Gracious”, “delight”, and “patience” once served.

The word “downsize” rises in my mind. It doesn’t take long to gaze through that lens.

I notice two long bathrobes hanging behind my bedroom door. Both are mine. One is a faded cobalt blue, threadbare on the cuffs and neck, but comfortable. I bought that robe many years ago to wear after giving birth. Memories fill the torn pockets, along with tissues that dried tears, a penny from the stairs, and ink stains.

The second robe, a lovely cranberry shade with satin braids at the collar, looks perfect. But it remains a stunning symbol of selfishness — a reminder of a motherhood tantrum.

160518-M46644LOne October when my children were young, my birthday fell on a Sunday. I anticipated homemade cards, sweets, and a gift — something small, but wrapped with love. I imagined a family party and chocolate cake after a nice Sunday brunch. But as the morning progressed and nothing was prepared, I reluctantly began cooking.

After lunch I pulled out a bit of ice-cream left at the bottom of a container, and jammed a candle in it. The children sang. I pouted. There should be cake. Why did I have to plan a celebration for myself?

I smiled at the gluey card from my little ones, the effort organized by my nine year old. There was nothing from my husband — he simply forgot. This was a new experience for me — my Continue reading

Where Are the Shepherds? A guest post from Shannon O’Donnell

Where Are the Shepherds? A guest post from Shannon O’Donnell

On Advent Sundays this year, I pondered the shepherds. At a funeral we sang, “Shepherd Me, O God. A homilist repeated the pope’s admonition that pastors should be shepherds who smell like their sheep. Our inner city parish is far from any sheep’s pasture, but I sit in the pew and I ponder shepherds.

donation-box-foodAs the gifts are prepared, young children converge on the basket before the altar. In their hands are peanut butter, soup, mac and cheese, packages of rice and noodles,. All of it goes into the basket, headed for the food bank.

Todd, a tall lanky dad, carries his not-yet-walking son on his shoulders. Connor tosses in a juice box with glee.

Food Collection basket_2Four-year-old Sean pulls his younger sister along. Together they stand before the basket. He’s holding a multipack of ramen noodles. Lily doesn’t want to let go of the box of crackers. He places the noodles in the basket, then steps back and points. She frowns. Sean pokes her shoulder. Lily leans over and at the very last moment, she lets go of the box. She raises her hands. Victory! They skip back to their parents on the sidelines.

Some approach like old-timers, well-practiced in the art of giving. Others need a guiding hand or verbal urging (“Come ON!”)

Later, lines for Commuion form and move.

sign-of-peace-600-400-300x200Brian shakes hands with every person he sees until his wife runs gentle interference. His Alzheimer’s is more pronounced these days. Jeanne and her mother gather up the grandchildren. Susan gets her mother’s walker in place. Michael’s mom wheels her laughing son forward. One of the L’Arche assistants leads Sherry from a pew, a familiar dance between them.

Where are the shepherds? They are all among us, watching their flocks, smelling like their sheep.

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1474562_10202284427985779_1840724417_nShannon O’Donnell is an author from Tacoma, WA. Her book, Save The Bones, is a deeply moving account about memory, Alzheimer’s disease, and her (now recently deceased) mother Marie Cain. Shannon also blogs about life as a Catholic jail chaplain at Finding Grace Within. It is an honor to welcome Shannon’s work to the blog today.

This post may have you scratching your head and wondering what it has to do with the Christmas season, and even more specifically, with the Holy Family. Shannon is looking back at Advent and wondering where the shepherds are now. When I read it, I thought about the less-than-perfect holy family that we all are when we are church together. And what better reminder is needed today and always?

Advent is too hard – A guest post from Kristine Rooney

996666_10201964235281177_928651135_nI’m going to be honest…I’m not that wild about Advent this year. Advent is an impossible task. I am trying not to listen to the Christmas carols, and I’m not getting stressed over the holiday rush of what gift to buy which relative. Still, there is a lot to do. Presents don’t buy themselves, trees don’t magically appear in the living room and all of the normal stuff of life still happens whether there are Christmas preparations or not. Leaving the Christmas to-do list aside, Advent itself has its own expectations. I feel like I’m being bombarded with prayers, reflections and ideas on what I SHOULD be doing this Advent. I actually have a little Advent reflection book that starts out asking me to sketch out what my plans for Advent are. I have no plans! Am I supposed to have plans? Now I’m stressing over my lack of plans. Is this what Advent is supposed to be like? Feeling overwhelmed and guilty?

Nope, I’m not going there. Whatever is not life-giving is not God-giving. As a matter of fact, I don’t know if God is anywhere in the “SHOULDs”. Doesn’t that feel freeing? Maybe it’s not that there is so much to do…there’s just so much that we feel we SHOULD do. And Advent is here to say no to that. Stop. Pray about the “shoulds”. Do I feel called to do this? Does it help others? Do I feel a “yes” inside when I think about it? These questions will help make the choice of whether something is a “should” or a life-giving action. And through prayer, God will be part of that choice. Advent is all about prayer, reflection and anticipated life, right? Maybe this Advent stuff isn’t so bad after all.

Richard Rohr and John Bookser Feister explained this idea so much better than I am in a December 1989 Catholic Update entitled “Christmas Watch: What Are We Waiting For?” They said, “‘Come Lord Jesus’ means that all of Christian history has to live with an expectation – to live out of an inner longing or emptiness, a kind of chosen non-fulfillment. For the fulfillment we await is always to come.” Many of the expectations we have will never be met. We are not supposed to have everything figured out. We don’t have to have a plan. What we can do is live a life of prayer. And hope. Because no matter what we do, or feel we SHOULD be doing, Lord Jesus is coming.
-Kristine Rooney

(It is an honor and a pleasure to be able to share this post from Kris Rooney. Kris oversees Adult Faith Enrichment and Evangilization at St. Kateri Parish in Niskayuna.)

The Beauty of Touch – A Guest Post by Karen Bond

This is a guest post written by Karen Bond. When she shared this with me earlier, I knew it had to go on the blog. Like Karen, I am one to touch things, even if it says “do not touch!” The other thing that struck me was how important a component doubt is as we discern and come to grow in faith. I hope you enjoy her words and imagery. And the reminder that we are an incarnate and tactile people.

-1I love when inspiration hits; a memory of something good; a phrase that sets my mind wandering and that happened in a wonderful way at today’s Mass.

Today was the Feast Day of St. Thomas the Apostle.

Thomas needed to see that Jesus had risen from the dead before he would believe it. It wasn’t because he didn’t trust his friends or Jesus’ word, but Thomas needed to touch him. How many of us does he represent?

When the priest described Thomas as touchy-feely and gave an example from his own life; of his three year old self touching a hot oven after his mother warned him not to, so many things in my mind came flooding to the front. We all have those moments.

This touchy-feely part of the sermon clicked and immediately I thought of my first trip to England and my visit to Warwick Castle.

I am a Doubting Thomas.

If you tell me the water’s too hot, I must put a finger under the tap.
I like to open cabinets and the drawers in the refrigerator, and in a museum, I am an absolute horror to bring along. If it doesn’t specifically say in big bold letters DO NOT TOUCH, it’s a safe bet that I will touch it. Granted, I have not ever climbed up onto a Revolutionary era cannon at The Smithsonian as I saw one young child do, but I have my other moments.

I’ve slid my fingers along the woven edges of medieval tapestries at The Cloisters.
If I’m in an art museum with a roped off masterpiece, I must run a finger along the velvet rope that keeps me from the painting itself.

I’ve touched the fire truck at The State Museum.

When I was visiting my close friends, often a touch on my shoulder relieved any anxiety that had been rising, a hand grabbed and squeezed in friendship elicited a smile, fingers brushing as a cup of tea was passed was a small hug.

Most recently In Wales, the only thing that kept me from rocking and weeping during the flight was my hand on my pocket frog, the cool Lucite against my palm, my thumb rubbing the same spot over and over again. I also liked to rest my hand against the cold stone of thousands years old castles and brickworks and abbey walls.

Touch is the most soothing thing when it’s wanted or when you least expect that you wanted it. I feel this at daily mass every day during the peace part of Mass. I’m a little lost when there is no one around me to shake my hand. That simple touch sets my whole day on a positive note.¬

In Warwick, though, we were able to take a tour of the castle, and we eventually came to a room with a large, stunning chest. We were told that this tower (known as the Ghost Tower) was known to have the ghost of Sir Faulk Greville who was murdered by his servant, and we should listen for it. I think we all chuckled nervously.

The chest was next to a locked door and yes, I turned the old knob. The door didn’t budge in case you were wondering.

As the tour group was heading into the next room, I touched the top of the carved chest. I looked around and tried to lift the lid.

It opened!

It opened quite easily. I was just about to peek inside when a voice began to speak.
I jumped at least ten feet, dropping the lid that fell noisily into its original closed place. I looked around the empty room and ran out after the tour group as fast as I could catch up.

When I met up with them, I realized that it was the tour guide on the other side of the door speaking at the exact moment I lifted the lid. Not quite the ghost I had just started believing in.

Touchy-feely is one of the more adventurous and a most beautiful part of human nature.