Catholic Schools Week Thoughts

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                                     (Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Boston  –  CNS photo/ Gregory L. Tracy, Pilot)

Last week, Catholic schools around the nation celebrated Catholic Schools Week.  It is a week filled with activities aimed at celebrating the beauty of Catholic Schools and its benefits, and also a time to give thanks for all those who make Catholic Schools what they are.  As a child, I was very blessed to attend Catholic school, and now as a parent, I am so blessed that our children have the gift of Catholic education also.

When I think back to this week as a child, one memory stands out.  When I was in middle school, I was selected with only a couple of other students from my grade, to represent our school at the annual Catholic Schools Week Mass at the cathedral.   I remember feeling that it was a huge honor.  When I stepped into the cathedral I was  fascinated by the size of the building.  I believe it may have been the first time I stepped into the cathedral in my life, and I was enthralled.  The architecture, the pillars, the paintings, the stations of the Cross, the statues and artwork throughout, the ornate altar, the ceiling so high it seemed, in a child’s mind, to touch the sky – such beauty.  It captivated me.   But what was even more amazing was sitting in this huge church filled to the brim with other middle school students from around the Archdiocese.  So many young people of all different cultures, coming together to pray, to listen to God’s Word, to receive Jesus’ Body and Blood, to celebrate and pray for Catholic Schools everywhere.  Students helped in all different areas – singing, reading, altar serving, etc… I still to this day remember the psalm being sung, gospel style.  “The Lord is my strength, whom shall I fear?”  And the petitions… children of many cultures read the petitions, each in their native language. Communion took forever it seemed because there were so many people.  I remember that joy I felt being a part of such a special day.  I find it interesting that I can recall so many details of this day, when I in general, have not many clear childhood memories as other people do.  Perhaps, this one stands out clearly in my mind because it truly is important.  To see the masses of young people, all there to celebrate what it truly means to be a Catholic school student, to be filled with Christ in the Word and in the Eucharist – together – to really walk toward our goal – to be saints – perhaps that is why this memory is so very clear, so many years later.

I believe in one, holy, CATHOLIC, and apostolic Church.  I believe this was my first time experiencing the Catholic Church in that truly “Catholic” sense – with “Catholic’ meaning universal.  I got to the see the Church at such a young age as a whole, as something bigger than just my parish, as something that encompasses the whole world.  And I, this little 7th grader, was a part of it.  I belonged to something, I truly belonged… to this amazing Church that was so vast, extending Her arms throughout every continent, every people,  and yet  at the very same time, so personal, bringing me Jesus in Holy Communion.  How great a God we have, how amazing a Creator and Designer He is, to be able to create this dynamic, don’t you think?

Let us pray for all Catholic school leaders, teachers, priests, and parents, that they may be renewed in their faith and grow deeper in love with Christ, and with that may communicate Christ’s love to the students and children in their care.  And we pray for all Catholic school students, that with the faith and example of their leaders, and the Truth taught in their schools, they may come to truly know Jesus, and love Him deeply, and filled with courage, accept their calling to become Saints!

 

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Necessity of Prayer

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(Captured this photo after Mass one morning… This is little C’s favorite spot to run to before and after Holy Communion.  She runs to our Lady, kneels down, clasps her hands, and offers a very intense quiet prayer, then gets back up and smiles, and carries on her way.  Oh, the fervor of little children!  May I always learn from them to run to our Lady with every request!)

Prayer.  St. Therese calls it a lifting of the heart to Christ.  Some of our prayer is calling out His Name and praising Him.  And there are prayers of thanksgiving.  And there are prayers asking for forgiveness and mercy.  And many, many prayers are ones of asking.  We ask for many things, do we not?  We may ask for healing for a sick person, or a peaceful death for a loved one, for a broken marriage, for our parish priest, for someone to have a baby that is having difficulty conceiving, for our children and their many needs, for our spouse, for a need of a friend, for a complete stranger that we met and just felt compelled to offer a prayer for them, for the EMTs as they race past us in the ambulance and for the person they are going to help, for the ones we know struggling with depression, or addiction, for the beautiful girl we know who is in a bad relationship that she has the courage to get out and regain an understanding of her great dignity and worth, for the family member out of work, for that test to go well, for the ability to make ends meet for ourselves or someone we know struggling, for patience, for understanding …. This list goes on and on.  How many things are on the hearts of God’s people.

And then at the same time, we don’t ask enough.   Sometimes we say “I’ll pray for you” or “I’ll pray for your intention,” but do we wholeheartedly  do that and bring that person or intention before God?  Or do we sometimes fall out of asking God for things?  Perhaps we think, ” He knows what is in my heart” or “He already sees me struggling with this; I don’t need to tell Him… I don’t need to bug Him about this… again.”  Sometimes, we have this strange impression that God is a bit too busy taking care of all of the big stuff, that we shouldn’t bother Him, especially when it comes to something for us personally.  Or, sometimes we have to consider if we have lost a bit of our fervor we may have once had.  Have we been too lax and in a way forgotten that we need to pray, that we need to ask the Lord for things, not only for ourselves, but for others?  How many people are dependent on our prayers!  How many graces are ready to to fall from the heavens, but are just waiting on that one prayer of faith from someone down here on earth?  We must not grow tired of asking.  “We must not grow weary of doing what is right” as St. Paul says.

A while back, I came across this beautiful reflection:

“When Jesus died on the Cross for us, the redemption of mankind became an accomplished fact.  Thereafter, every one coming into this world is already redeemed, in the sense that the precious Blood of Jesus has already merited for him all the graces necessary for his salvation and also for his sanctification.  What still remains to be done is the application of these graces to each individual soul; and it is for this that God wishes our collaboration.  He wants it so much that He has made the granting of certain graces, necessary for our salvation and that of others, dependent upon our prayers.  In other words, by the merits of Jesus, grace – God’s infinite mercy- is ready to be poured out abundantly into men’s souls, but it will not be poured out unless there is someone who raises supplicating hands to heaven, asking for it.  If prayer does not ascend to the Most High, grace will not be granted… There is no substitute for prayer, because prayer draws grace directly from its source, God.  Our activity, our words and works prepare the ground for grace, but if we do not pray, it will not come down to refresh souls.”  (Divine Intimacy #325 – a beautiful Carmelite spirituality classic)

Wow.  How important it is to pray.  How necessary it is to ask God… for everything!  “God wants our collaboration.” He is God Almighty, the One who can do all things, and yet He loves us so deeply, that He requests our help in showering these graces down on others.  How He loves us!  Let us not be afraid. Let us not allow fear or anything else stand in the way of accepting this great mission.  Even if we don’t feel worthy, God sees our beauty, our goodness, and is just waiting for us to ask Him.  As St. Therese once explained that Christ says “I await only a prayer, a sigh from your heart!'” And with our heart’s sigh, with that simple prayer, He listens, and He answers, showering down graces upon this world… we need only to ask.

Let us ask our sweet Lady to teach us… to be like little children tugging on the hem of the Father’s robe, looking up to Him eyes wide and full of trust, and as He bends down, that we have the courage and childlike faith to whisper in His ear our request.  How He will smile upon us and the joy we will see in His eyes as He answers that prayer!

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St. Therese and Praying for Souls

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St. Therese had an intense love for souls, and for them to go to heaven.  When she was a very little child, maybe 3 years old, she said to her mother, “How I wish you would die, dear little Mother!” Her mother, quite taken aback, asked her why.  She quickly said, “It is because I want you to go to Heaven, and you say you must die to go there!”  Out of the mouth of babes…

There are so many instances in her short life where she expressed her desire for people to go to heaven.  She would find the biggest and littlest of sacrifices she could make to give grace to another soul.  Smiling in difficult situations, not leaning her back against a chair when sitting, not complaining while in great pain, taking the smaller portion of food, holding her tongue, accepting many opportunities of humility, praying in every circumstance… there are so many examples in her writings.  All done in great love.  All done to lead another soul to Heaven.

I came across these words of hers recently and wanted to share them with you.  It gave me more to ponder, this beautiful reflection.  I hope you enjoy.

“What can I do, O Jesus, to save souls?  You answer me with the words You once addressed to Your disciples, pointing to the fields of ripened corn: “Lift up your eyes and see the countries; for they are already white for the harvest…” The harvest indeed is great, but the laborers few.  Pray ye, therefore, the Lord of the harvest that He send forth laborers.”

“How mysterious it is!  O Jesus, are You not all powerful?  Do not creatures belong to You  who made them?  Why then do You say ‘Pray ye the Lord of the harvest to send laborers?’ Why?

O Jesus, because You have so incomprehensible a love for us that You want us to have a share with You in the salvation of souls, You want to do nothing without us.  You, the Creator of the universe, wait for the prayer of a poor little soul to  save other souls redeemed like it at the price of Your blood.

“My vocation is not to go harvesting in the fields of ripe corn; You do not say to me: ‘Lower your eyes, look at the fields, and go and reap them’; my mission is still loftier.  You tell me:  ‘Lift up your eyes and see…’ See how in heaven there are places empty; it is for you to fill them… you are to me My Moses praying on the mountain; ask Me for laborers and I shall send them, I await only a prayer, a sigh from your heart!”

~ St Therese of the Child Jesus, Letter 114

Going Home

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“If you are lonely,

open your door.

Invite people in.

Hug them.

Make them feel welcome.

Give the gift of a flashlight to light their way home.”

Last week, we had the gift of attending a funeral of a friend’s grandmother.  A beautiful faith filled woman that I have had the privilege to meet a few times.  A woman very, very dear to our friend and her family.  A woman who lived a long, full life, and loved deeply.   The words above were spoken by her daughter at the end of the Mass, as a “mission statement” she felt her mother lived by.  It was so simple and so profound.  This was how she lived her life, her door always open, and her heart even more. And I see this same way of looking at life lived on through her granddaughter and her family.  She and her husband have always been so welcoming through the years, and as soon as we enter their home, we really feel “at home.”  They have the real gift of “being present.”

Those words have sat with me, and really given me something to ponder.  What a beautiful way to live life, isn’t it?   What good advice.  In a world where people are always tempted to shut themselves in, so often behind the comfort of a screen, hide themselves, their loneliness, their pain, and even their joy…  How timely these words come.  Lord, give us the eyes to see and the courage to truly be open and accessible. May our hearts always be open and inviting.  May we see the beauty in every person, truly seeing Jesus in Him. May that gift of being truly present warm the other’s heart and make them feel truly loved and more assured of their dignity.  And may that warmth and love they have experienced light their way Home.

Eternal Rest grant unto her, O Lord, and may perpetual Light shine upon her.  May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

 

Merry Christmas

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( Picture of my Christmas morning … a quiet 30 minutes with Baby Jesus before everyone started to wake.  I love early mornings.  🙂  Best Christmas gift.)

He came.  He really came.  Love Himself.   To our home.  To our manger.   To our hearts.

He came.  Whether or not there was enough hay in the little manger we have made for him.  Whether or not our hearts were fully tidied and ready for Him.  How He loves us!

He loves us so deeply that He came down from Heaven, and entered this world in the most humble way, a little babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, in a manger, a feeding trough for the animals.  And yet this same Christ would one day give Himself to us in the Eucharist, to be our very own food.

And how beautiful that God chose to come in the form of a little one, so sweet, so simple, so vulnerable.  Imagine holding Him for a moment, you looking at Him, He looking at you.  The King of the Universe, the God who made all things, Who truly holds the world in His Hands, looking at you, with such love.  Can you just imagine how our Lady must have felt to hold Him those first few moments in the quiet, before the shepherds came?

This Advent, though quite a bit slower paced than in years past, went by too fast.  My little heart didn’t quite feel ready.  I wanted it to be more ready to welcome the Savior in.  I suppose I feel like this every year in some sense.  If only I could….

And yet – He came.

He came into my heart, and

He rested.

He let me hold Him and look into His eyes of Love.  In that quiet moment, He taught me gently, once again, how to love and be loved.   He put everything else aside, my unworthiness, my sinfulness, my fears.  And filled me with His Love. I am so grateful.

He has come to your heart too.  I pray you allow yourself to hold Him and enjoy His loving glances.  His love for you is so great, so deep.  No matter how unworthy you may feel – He has come to rest in your heart. Welcome Him in. Let Him love you too, my friend.   Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

Our Lady of Guadalupe

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(Last year with our Lady of Guadalupe at the Sister Servants of the Eternal Word, AL)

Today is the great feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe!  This is a big feast day in our family, and, well, we love our Lady, and we have been so blessed to be a part of the Latino community wherever we go.  When we were only 9 months married, Dan and I moved to Eagle Pass, Texas which is right on the border of Mexico, to serve the Church there.  Dan had served a year in Belize and was fluent in Spanish, and the food, and I had quite a lot to learn besides the language and adjusting to the heat, being a city girl from New England.  🙂  In many respects, we settled in quickly.  The people were so very kind, and welcoming.  We immediately felt part of the family of the parish and school where we worked.  We learned that the Mexican people had many beautiful faith traditions, and how strong their faith was.  One of those traditions was the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  The serenading of the mariachi band at dawn, the rosary, the Mass, the pan dulce and hot chocolate, the little children dressing up to dance and re-enact the story of Juan Diego, more music, the homemade Mexican food – the entire day was a feast from morning to night, filled with prayer, food, song… and JOY!  Everyone was so joy -filled.  And everyone came together, the rich and the poor, the young and the old- everyone came to give honor to this Lady who in one way or another has brought joy and comfort to their hearts.

And every other place God has put us over the years, He introduces us to a community who celebrates this great feast.  And, the celebration is similar, and the food so good, and the people – so kind and welcoming.  And the JOY!  It is everywhere. It is a home.  And even though we just moved, we are already finding that home here.  I cannot tell you how surprised I was when my husband brought home a Latino faith newsletter from the diocese and told me I needed to look at this one picture.  It was a large group of children sitting listening to a speaker.  As I looked closer, I couldn’t believe my eyes!  The sister with whom at had worked at the parish, my dear friend from Eagle Pass, was right there in the midst of the children!  I think I actually screamed in delight – the kids were definitely taken aback.  We had lost touch through the years.  Now, we were together again, an hour apart!  We have since connected and recently brought all the children up to visit her and the other sisters at their convent.  It was a beautiful visit – so much joy.  I feel home again.  God is good.

Most of us know the story of St. Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe (if you don’t, please look it up – such a beautiful story).  I grew up knowing her story, and developed a devotion to her as she was the patroness of the Americas, an intercessor for the respect of life and the end to abortion, and her image was always a part of our youth retreats.   But, it wasn’t until a certain priest came into our life, that I knew her better.  Several years ago, at a parish in Virginia, a new pastor came to town.  He had a particular devotion to our Lady, and especially to our Lady of Guadalupe.  He loved her, and the rosary so very much.  (There will be more on him and the rosary soon).  He had such a way of preaching, that you would remember what he would say, and often gave us tangible reminders.  He gave us a card with our Lady’s picture on it, and on the back were the words that our Lady spoke to Juan Diego.  I had never read them before then, but they were so beautiful.  I have continued to keep these words close to me, especially in difficult moments.  I will leave them below for you to read and ponder.  If there is a cross you are carrying right now, whether it be big or small – give it to our Lady.  Ask her to help you.  She is our Mother who never leaves us, who will never abandon us, and who loves us so very much.  Cling to her; she will always carry you to her Son, in whose Heart you will find great comfort.

“Do not let your heart be disturbed.  Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more? Let nothing else worry you, disturb you.” 

                                      ~ Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego

 

“What’s for Dinner, Mom?”

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Just about every day, I get the question “What’s for dinner, mom?”  And with 8 kids… I might get that question 6 times (the 2 little ones will be asking soon enough.)  Sometimes they forget they asked and ask again.  It has taken some trial and error, but my new answer is “Food.”  It is not a satisfying answer, but they are getting used to it.  I use that answer for a few reasons.  One – so I don’t get stressed out if I don’t have the menu planned, or am tossing two different recipes around in my head and haven’t decided.  Two – so I don’t hear the complaints ahead of dinner that they don’t like it… because really, cooking is a bit of art.  It’s an opportunity to be creative, make something, and (hopefully) have somebody appreciate your little bit of creativity.  And Three – I love surprising my children.  Everything is a surprise in our house, everything.  Many times they have no clue where we are going when I get them into the van… and the shock and awe (and sometimes dismay) when we show up to a strawberry field, or a donut shop in the middle of a town we’ve never been to, or a new park, , or a zoo, or a craft store.   I will say that most times, if there had been any groans, by the end, they are grinning and burst out how great it all was to their dad when he returns from work.  So… I stick with the surprise effect.

Anyhow, I want to start sharing some recipes for when you might be at a loss for recipes, just want something simple to put together, and want there to be a chance that your kids might like it.  Nothing gourmet (unless my husband does a guest post here, because he is an amazing cook – that kind of person that just takes a bunch of assorted things out of the fridge and pantry, and poof – a gourmet meal).

And so… Chicken Tortilla Soup.  A dear friend of mine showed me how to make this when the big kids were little and time in the kitchen was unheard of… diaper changing and playdough snowman making demanded my attention.   It still works today when those little kids are big and have school and sports and the littles still need playdough time.  It’s a great (and easy) recipe.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

6 or so boneless skinless chicken thighs (or you can use a couple chicken breasts)

1/2 packet of taco seasoning

1 cup of salsa

2 (14 oz) cans of diced tomatoes

2 cans of black beans

(shredded cheese and sour cream can be served on top of each bowl)

You can either put all this together in a pot on the stove, bring to a boil, and then simmer til the chicken can be shredded, about one hour.  OR  (my preference) put it in a crockpot on low for 4 hours.  With our size family – we double this recipe – always.

You can serve it as is, or over rice to make the meal stretch further.  We always offer a dollop of sour cream on top, and if we have shredded cheese handy, that is offered too.  You can serve with a salad or cornbread – but that’s up to you.  Many of our meals we will just cut up some fresh veggies for a side- cucumbers, baby carrots, peppers – our kids love raw veggies.

Hope this makes one of your meals a little easier.  Happy dinnertime to you and yours!