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

Musings on caffeine, prayer and addiction by Susan Grunder

8747XLarge(Guest contributor Susan Grunder is back, with a beautiful reflection that invites us to think about our dependencies and about God. So perfect for this point in Lent.) This morning I found myself in a semi-dark kitchen grinding coffee beans. I hate having to grind the beans in the morning (my apologies to all of coffee purists who might be reading). But not having my half-caf in the morning would certainly be worse—for me and for all those around me. This is a first world problem, I know. I have the luxury of fresh coffee beans, clean running water, electricity to light the pre-dawn darkness of my cozy kitchen, and the time to reflect on my coffee addiction.

8846747041822As a younger woman, coffee wasn’t my drug. I was a Diet Coke girl. In college I could roll out of bed, grab a “DC” and head to class. I’m pretty sure that if I had cut myself during my young adult years, I might have 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

Fasting as an act of love

FoF1cHaving just read a post about food, fasting, and mean abstinence over at Catholic Sensibility, I was reminded of this post. In fact I quoted a portion of it in a comment over there. This essay was posted on this blog in October 2012, but it was originally published early in Lent in 2008,  at The Parish Blog of St. Edward the Confessor. How I wish that I could tell you that I wrote this essay, but I did not. A friend wrote it, and he wished to remain anonymous when it was first published. I honor that anonymity once again as I repost the thought provoking essay here today.

images-1One thing that is on my mind is this… Many of us fast from meat and eat fish on Fridays during Lent. But is eating fish really eating simply these days? Honestly, I must admit to having eaten ahi tuna this past Friday; it was hardly a sacrifice. How can we approach the Lenten fast with a sense of solidarity with the poor? What about Lent with an inclination to reveal our own inner poverty? This post continues to give us a lot to think and pray about. Fasting does not have to mean food alone, although it helps to connect eating small simple meals and sharing what we don’t eat or spend with others in some way. But there are many ways to open space for God.  Ultimately we must discern, what is God asking of us through our sacrifice and our fast? Read our guest post today, our guest re-post, I should say and see what touches you. 

10_15_Teresa_of_ÁvilaHow can the simple, everyday task of eating become an act of compassion?
One of my favorite saints is Teresa of Avila. She was a typical teenager – she loved boys, clothes, flirting and rebelling. When she was 16, her father sent her to a convent because he thought she was out of control. At first she hated it but she grew to like it due to her growing love of God and the fact that the convent was less strict than her father.

When the time came for her to make a decision between marriage or the convent, Teresa had a difficult time choosing one over the other. She had watched a difficult marriage destroy her mother. On the other hand, being a nun didn’t seem like much fun. Religious life won out, according to Teresa, because it seemed the better place for one “so prone to sin.”

What I appreciate about Teresa is her sense of humor and how her religious sensibilities helped her find peace and meaning as she focused on and became reliant on God’s tender and merciful love. She had the ability to seize the moment and live it to the full. Never one to allow sin, gloom and despair to 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?