Love’s Legacy

This week, an unspeakable sorrow has been weighing on my heart. I am in utter shock and bewilderment at the passing of Siena’s Godfather, Dr. Paul Matthews (50), who was taken from this earth far too soon. My heart breaks for his beautiful wife, 9 children, and 7 grandchildren. I can only imagine how many other lives this man must have touched (especially through his medical practice) who are equally anguished over his passing. Heaven will have gained another saint, that’s for sure.

I was honored and blessed to have the Matthews family in my life when I did. They were quick to welcome us into their home and quick to captivate my heart. I like to think they took me under their wing for the few years I was in Iowa. Although they had a lot to handle in captaining the Matthews ship, they never hesitated in extending their love to those beyond family ties. Paul and Laura both left an indelible mark on my heart and soul, one which I will carry with me all the days of my life. I just want to share a small glimpse of this wonderful man’s life, however limited my scope may be, if only to honor his memory.

How did I meet Paul? Well, I learned weeks after moving to Iowa that I was pregnant with Siena. I was still breastfeeding Dominic, who was 14 months old, so I was shocked to be expecting again. I had been disillusioned with my marriage and my faith at the time. So, God’s Providence led me to the website www.OneMoreSoul.com. There I discovered that in the middle of nowhere, Iowa, in a town of 800 people, I was only 40 minutes from the only Catholic, life-affirming doctor who was also in OB/Family Practice! Some may not think it matters much what your doctor’s philosophy or religion is. But, having a doctor patronize you throughout pregnancy and postpartum visits for refusing birth control, tubal ligation, etc. puts a damper on an already tough experience. When you’re pregnant, you don’t want to feel irresponsible or think of this child as anything but a wonderful miracle God has knitted Himself inside your womb.

As I sat in Paul’s exam room, I looked around amazed at all the literature from the Paul VI Institute. He was the real deal—someone who understood the necessity of an integrated Catholic life. I felt like I could trust this man with mine and my baby’s lives before I even met him. I looked forward to my OB check ups from then on because he shared helpful natural remedies rather than prescribing pharmaceuticals, and we could chat about Catholic current events and the like. He was the closest thing I had to a friend in Iowa at the time.

After Siena was born, I sank into a deep depression. I had hoped her arrival would begin a new chapter in my family life, but nothing had really changed. (Never pin your hopes and dreams on the back of a little baby; their backs are far to small to bear them.) I began to wonder if I was suffering from Postpartum Depression, so I paid a visit to our family doc. I opened up to Paul about how I was feeling at home, and when asked about possible causes, I revealed some personal struggles I was going through.

Paul pulled out his little notepad and wrote down a name and number. He looked at me with compassion and told me I don’t have Postpartum Depression. “You just need some friends, that’s all,” he said matter-of-factly. Then, he handed me the piece of paper and told me it was his wife’s number. She had a Bible study/mom’s group thing that met once a week. “That’s your prescription,” he smiled and patted me on the shoulder. His prescription gave me hope, and I thanked him as I collected my purse. As I was about to leave, he pulled out his phone and said he had a DVD that could help with some of my personal issues. He called his wife to have it ready for me to pick up, saying his house was just across the street (he wasn’t kidding). I was hesitant, a bit embarrassed that my first meeting with his wife would be a clear indication of my (very) personal problems. But, Paul had a way about him that made you feel there was nothing to be ashamed of in reaching out for help (he would always go the extra mile for someone in need). I’m so glad I swallowed my pride because I am a better person for having become friends with Paul and Laura, not to mention the rest of my little Catholic mom’s group in Emmetsburg, IA.

There were mom’s groups, Bible studies, dinners, SuperBowl parties, and other gatherings in the Matthews home, memories of which I still hold near and dear to my heart. These were encounters with a truly Christian couple who taught me so much simply by being themselves, by generously allowing me to peer through the window of their family life. He was the kind of husband and father that made wives nudge their husbands and whisper, “watch and learn.” Laura is the kind of wife and mother you sit back and wonder, “how does she do it, and with such grace?” You could see the love between Paul and Laura, even in the quick looks they gave each other across a crowded room. Their love was just awe-inspiring. I’m so happy God blessed them by joining them together at a young age so they could share many years together, although not as many as we had hoped. I witnessed what it means to live a Christian life, something beyond just Church on Sunday’s. Because of Paul and Laura, I re-learned the inestimable values of faith and family truly lived out for God. His home was one of constant learning (he seemed to favor the Socratic method), faith, laughter, and song. It breaks my heart to think of it filled with tears right now. Thankfully, he has left behind a legacy of love that lives on in the lives of his wife and children, and in the many people he inspired during his short lifetime. I pray the Matthews home will return again to the happy home of love and laughter sooner rather than later because Paul wouldn’t have it any other way. I know that if anyone can get through something like this and come out the other side stronger and closer, it is Laura and her children. God’s ways are mysterious, but He never breaks His promises. Paul is still very much alive, and God willing, we will meet again.

Thank you to the Matthews family for sharing such a wonderful man with the rest of us. May God’s holy angels surround you to strengthen and sustain you through this time of grief.

Paul, my heart breaks that God has called you home so soon. I had looked forward to the “one day” we could have a little reunion so Siena could make some wonderful memories with her Godfather. But, God must have some other marvelous plans for you to help work for all of us up there.

As your tender hands ushered each new life into this world, may God’s mighty hands usher your soul to new life, joining in the endless song of the Angels and Saints in the splendor of God’s love. Rest in peace, my dear friend.

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St. Paul to the Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.” ~ Philippians 4:4-13

Time Marches On

So sorry for my extended absence. I have had a lot on my plate (as I’m sure we all have) with holidays, custody hearings, and registering for another semester with Holy Apostles College. I am looking forward to taking 5 courses again this semester: Church History, Epistemology, Dante: Narrative Thomism, The Gospel of John, & Building Catholic Character. I couldn’t any more highly recommend HACS’ online program. Not only are the classes (undergrad and grad) just off the charts, but they help you keep costs down by providing a lot of the books necessary. Additionally, the medium, Populi–used to perform all class discussions, assignment submissions, etc.–is so easy to navigate, and is comparable to something like Facebook for online learning. The whole college works to cater to the needs of their students, which may result in a bit of a wait time or a few hiccups, but they make sure everything is smoothed out and you get what you need.

I’m not being prompted by anyone to plug the school haha, it’s just that amazing, and I want everyone to learn about their programs because they have something for everyone. Patrick Madrid teaches an Apologetics course certain semesters. Abby Johnson and Matt Fraud have taken courses (Matt was in my Catechism class last semester). So if you won’t take my word for it, take theirs! Haha.

Aside from all this wonderfulness with school in my life, I have also had some difficulties. My ex has returned from National Guard training (where he has been for the past 8 months), and I was really hoping he could let go of resentment and spite, but I think there’s still a long road ahead. I have forgiven all that is in our past, and I realize I wasn’t perfect either while we were together. All I want to do is be parents to our kids and look forward. I want to put them first and communicate well with him for their sake. I want them to have parents who don’t hate each other. But, I think he feels moving forward in a positive way would validate my decision for the divorce, and he doesn’t want to do that. He wants there to be consequences, and he wants to punish me for something I feel I had to do, which I felt God’s blessing in doing. So I ask for your prayers for him, so that he can be released of anger for the sake of Dominic and Siena. I will be praying the novena to Our Lady Undoer of Knots for his hardened heart. My greatest hope is for peace in our children’s lives. Although, I feel a little greedy in asking for it when there are families in the Middle East right now who have scarcely known peace in their lifetimes. They fear for the safety of their children, facing daily perils from radical Islamists or extreme impoverishment. So I pray for these families too, it’s all too easy to get wrapped up in our first world problems. I wish I could do more than pray, but I have to believe my prayers are more powerful than any feeble attempts I could make at helping.

Also, I had to say goodbye yesterday to my dearest friend, my rock, who is committing a year to being a Catholic missionary, ministering to the homeless and imprisoned. I really wish I could have had an opportunity like this earlier in my life. Hopefully, I can get my kids more involved with volunteer work when they get a little older. For now, I am viewing my time at HACS as training for being able to offer people spiritual nourishment in the future. Oh, and this will also be a period of discernment for my friend as well, so if you could keep him in your prayers, I would appreciate it.

I honestly don’t know what I would do without my tremendous Catholic faith to console me and lift me up, and it makes me all the more determined to share my faith with others. It’s a nourishment of the soul we ought not keep to ourselves. I believe God has great things in store for me, as he does for each of us. We need to recognize just how important we are in our mission on this earth, how completely indispensable each human life truly is.

If you’re not seeking, you won’t find Him. How many around us aren’t even bothering to seek Truth? At the very least we ought to encourage those around us to embark on this journey toward Truth, even if they aren’t sold yet by the answers we have to offer. They can’t find the answers if they aren’t asking the questions.

11 For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will be found by you, says the Lord…”

~ Jeremiah 29:11-14

I pray this prayer along with a rosary for the novena…

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Relinquishing Roses

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One rainy day in November, Siena (5) and I stopped by the grocery store to return some items. A wilting rose lay on the customer service desk, its long stem hanging over the edge of the counter. Not tall enough to see what it was, Siena reached up and grabbed it to happily discover a beautiful rose bud at the other end. I told her to leave it alone since it wasn’t hers, and she put it down; moments later, she grasped it again to briefly gaze upon the beauty of the rose. I shooed her hand away from it and sternly told her not to touch it. So, she grabbed onto the edge of the counter and started hopping up and down just to steal glimpses of the flower. I finally settled my business, and the kind clerk smiled at Siena and told her she could keep it. Siena’s eyes lit up as they glanced up at me for permission. I nodded and smiled as she hurriedly took possession of her new rose, lest the clerk or I change our minds.

We then headed out to the chapel of perpetual adoration. I peered in my rearview mirror at Siena who was simply twirling her rose, admiring its beauty. We pulled up to the chapel, and I explained to her the importance of what we were about to do: “God wants all people to be like a big family. We should love everyone and help one another reach heaven, even people who have died. Most souls go to purgatory after death, which is fire that cleans their souls so they can be with God forever. Our prayers can help them get cleaner faster so they can go to Heaven.” I briefly told her that the week after Halloween is special because we can request gifts from God called indulgences for the poor souls. We hopped out of the car and raced through the rain. Together we threw open the chapel’s heavy, solid oak door to see 5 elderly women inside. Siena proudly paraded her pretty rose in front of the kneeling ladies, sharing her joy over this wondrous blossom of God’s creation.

Siena plopped down in the front pew while I genuflected. It was such a cozy atmosphere with the warm lighting overhead as the rain streamed down the oversized stained-glass windows. We cozied up to each other, and in a hushed voice I told her that people often leave flowers at graves and statues to show their love for those who are in Heaven, since they can’t get our hugs anymore. Then, I asked if she would like to give her rose to Jesus to show her love. She nodded excitedly, and I took her hand to walk her up to the altar. I unlocked the guardrail, and I didn’t dare look at the faces of the women around me, for fear of looks of disapproval. I kept my eyes fixed on Jesus, hidden in the simplicity of the Eucharist, and I led Siena to the altar, where she placed her beloved rose at the foot of the monstrance. We smiled at each other and exited the altar, locking the guardrail behind us. She glanced over her shoulder as we walked back to the pew, and her smile faded into a fretful frown. Turning to me, she asked in a sweetly sorrowful voice, “Wait, do I have to leave it there forever?” I brushed her hair away from her big blue eyes and sat her on my lap and whispered near her ear: “Oh no, sweetie, you don’t have to leave it. Jesus only wants it if you want to give it to Him. But, you know what? You have a treasure chest up in heaven, and every time you show God or others love, He pours a treasure of graces into your chest. When you get to heaven, He will give you all the treasure you stored up in your life.” I didn’t want her to think Jesus would be disappointed if she didn’t give up the rose, so I told her she could take it back if she wanted; He would still be happy she let Him borrow it for a little while. Siena shook her head and insisted Jesus keep it. She smiled, but that light in her eyes from when she held her rose had clearly been extinguished.

f297734e9ae7178be7dd99e69007fdb1I started to feel guilty, thinking, “Uh oh, did I just guilt her into giving up her rose? Did I make a totally bad Catholic-mom move? Will she grow up and point to this moment as the single reason she will never raise her kids Catholic?” Before I was entirely consumed with worry, I put myself in her shoes, thinking back on my faith as a child. I remembered watching the ushers at mass bringing the baskets of money to the altar. When they returned, their baskets were empty as they placed them on the floor next to our pew. I would sit in awe at every mass, believing God to have magically taken up the money Himself to distribute to the poor. A peace washed over me as I felt confirmed I hadn’t done anything wrong. So, in an attempt to cheer her up, I beckoned the beliefs of my childhood: “Siena, how about we come back tomorrow, and if Jesus wants you to share your rose with someone else, we can take it back from the altar. But, if it isn’t there, it means Jesus took it to heaven to give to the souls who are entering heaven because of our prayers today.” The light beamed in Siena’s eyes once more as she pondered aloud, “I wonder if Jesus will give it to Mary for me.” Then, I told her He absolutely would because Mary loves roses, which is why we have the Rosary; when we pray it, we are offering a bouquet of flowers to Mary, who is our mother in heaven.

We stayed for the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and Siena’s voice was boisterous each time she prayed the responses, “Have mercy on us, and on the whole world.” She probably just liked hearing her voice echo off the walls of the chapel. Nevertheless, it was very moving hearing her little voice among the typical women’s voices at the 3 o’clock hour. I could feel how much Jesus loved this little child’s prayers: “Out of the mouth of babies and infants you have brought perfect praise” (Matthew 21:16). Despite any lack of understanding Siena may have had, there was certainly no lack of belief. To my surprise, when we were leaving the chapel, a woman with a wooden walking stick chased after us. She stopped us to tell Siena she felt so blessed to be there to witness her offering the pretty rose to Jesus. Siena just smiled, clinging to my leg. I was happy I wasn’t the only one to appreciate the beauty of a child’s faith in that moment.

We returned to the chapel the next day, and Siena was all aglow with wonder when she saw the rose was no longer on the altar, “God took it to heaven, mommy!” I told her He must have really loved her rose and wanted to share it with souls in heaven and with Mary. I explained that her love for the rose made the rose so much more valuable as a gift to God, more precious than gold. How often do we forget Christ’s command to be childlike? There’s so much we can learn from the simplicity of children, especially when it comes to the faith.

We are welcomed to stop and appreciate God’s beautiful creations, but we must always have our heart fixed on Christ: “Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.”[1] We must be ready and willing to give up what we love most because sacrifice is inherent in love. Sometimes we don’t have a choice, and possessions or people are taken away from us too soon. So, it is best we develop the habit while we can, preparing for times when our only options are to accept the path God has called us down or to rebel against Him. Joachim and Ann offered their loveliest rose—the presentation of Mary in the temple. Mary offered her priceless rose—her Son’s presentation in the temple, where she was told a sword would pierce her own heart. The greatest rose of all, however, was God’s gift to man: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The fruit of this pure, sacrificial love has been our salvation. Are you prepared to relinquish your rose?

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[1] C.S. Lewis, Problem of Pain  

Triumphant Song of Confidence

Today I received a unique penance. I was told to go read whatever Psalm corresponds to my age, so I got Psalm 27. There couldn’t have been a more perfect prayer for me in that very moment. I need this plastered on my wall, or better yet on the inside of my eyelids. Reading this just melted every doubt or worry that weighed heavily on my soul. I just love the Psalms.

Triumphant Song of Confidence

A Psalm of David

27 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold[a] of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me,
    uttering slanders against me,[b]
my adversaries and foes,
    they shall stumble and fall.

Though a host encamp against me,
    my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
    yet I will be confident.

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after;
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
    and to inquire in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter
    in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent,
    he will set me high upon a rock.

And now my head shall be lifted up
    above my enemies round about me;
and I will offer in his tent
    sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
    be gracious to me and answer me!
Thou hast said, “Seek ye my face.”
    My heart says to thee,
“Thy face, Lord, do I seek.”
    Hide not thy face from me.

Turn not thy servant away in anger,
    thou who hast been my help.
Cast me not off, forsake me not,
    O God of my salvation!
10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
    but the Lord will take me up.

11 Teach me thy way, O Lord;
    and lead me on a level path
    because of my enemies.
12 Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
    for false witnesses have risen against me,
    and they breathe out violence.

13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living!
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    yea, wait for the Lord!

JPII We Love You

St. John Paul the Great was a poet, philosopher, athlete, and Pope. He’s a great example of someone who doesn’t flee from the world in order to achieve personal holiness, but one who immerses himself in the world so as to change the world. I was incredibly blessed to attend World Youth Day in Toronto with JPII in 2001. It was truly awe-inspiring to see so many young people who were in love with their faith, basking in the paternal embrace of the Holy Father, Christ’s vicar on Earth, who communicated God’s love to the world in a very tangible way. Was he perfect? No, but light scatters the darkness, and his light burned long, hot, and bright. There’s no denying the world of good he accomplished in his lifetime from his days as Karol Wojtyla keeping alive the Polish culture amidst Nazi occupation to his days battling communism as JPII alongside Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. If you don’t know much about him, I suggest at the very least watching the movie, Karol: A Man Who Became Pope (See More Here). His encyclicals are amazing, whether his beautiful work about Mary Redemptoris Mater (Read it Here) or Mulieris Dignitatem (Read it Here) about the dignity of women. Then there’s the genius of Theology of the Body or Love and Responsobility, which is summed up nicely by Edward Sri in his book: Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love (See More Here). I’ve only skimmed the surface of much of his work, and I look forward to reading more by him and about him. There is no more extraordinary way to be moved to live out the Gospel than when you see it lived out in the lives of the Saints. St. John Paul the Great, please intercede for us on this first feast day of your Sainthood!! Amen!

A Catholic Goes to Court

 

Despite this being my 5th trip to court, it remains a disorienting place to be. You feel the tension and discontent stifling the atmosphere. Not one person wants to be here; even the security guard’s face grimaces in spite of my masking smile as I pass through the metal detector. My heart aches, longing to be home seeing Siena devour the birthday waffles I woke early to make so she wouldn’t be too disappointed when I had to leave. I also wanted to bring her to mass for those special birthday blessings I told her about. Instead I’m having to face the reality of those thoughts I have become an expert at batting away on a daily basis.

Court cases are called before mine, most getting a divorce on the spot after a simple swearing of irretrievable breakdown. Why can’t my divorce be this simple? Some of these people were only married a year, and most likely not in the Catholic Church. It seems so unfair. I have honorable reasons for what I am doing; it took me years to come to this decision! How many of these people simply came to the kitchen table one night and decided together there must be something better out there? Prior to being called before the judge, I pray my rosary and ask Mary to help me. At first, I pray for everything to turn out how I want it to. Then, I realize I ought to be praying rather that the judge reach a just decision. Of course I have specific desires that I believe are best for me and my children, but I also know that I have a very limited perspective. Above all, I want God’s will, even if it doesn’t coincide with mine. That isn’t easy to say either; it took me a long time to get to this point. Uttering those words, “Thy will be done,” are easy enough. They’re in the Our Father we pray so often. But to actually mean them when you say them; that can seem an insurmountable task. I held my fists up and tried fighting for my way for quite some time during this whole process. Each time I landed on my ass exhausted. I finally had to say, “Ok God, clearly you know something I don’t.” I had been locked up in a prison, throwing myself up against the iron bars, which only hurt myself. That hadn’t furthered my cause for release either. In fact, it only proved that I needed to be there. God had to show me who was in control, not in a sadistic way, but in a loving way: like a father who needs to ground his child. Only when he hears the throwing of items and the punching of walls cease will he come into the cell to help us understand the position we are in and how to get out. I had to stop resisting the only Person who could really help me.

I feel trapped right now; I don’t feel comfortable communicating with anyone on his side of the family. I closed all the doors to them out of fear once I saw the terrors of the court room. I felt the need to hide myself and protect myself and my children. I just want this all to be over so I can feel free to communicate with everyone without fear of my conversation somehow being used against me in a court of law. Being under scrutiny in regards to your parenting strikes fear into the very core of your being. No matter how much everyone tells you how good a mom you are, it’s hard to believe when you also know your many flaws. All that comes to mind is losing your temper,  slacking off in disciplining, or selfishly putting kids to bed early to catch the hockey game. We hear all these horror stories of CPS taking kids away from their parents for the most ridiculous reasons, so it’s hard to feel safe when an investigator visits your home. My thoughts swirled with fear: the fence to the backyard isn’t completed; Dominic’s bunk bed is awfully close to the ceiling; the kids play in an unfinished basement sometimes. When you face a system that seems to be devoid of common sense, it’s terrifying, to say the least. My only consolation is trust in God. I have to trust that no matter what happens, He will be there fighting for me, for my kids.

So, I pray that above having the judge side with me, the judge sides with God, which I hope also coincides with my desires. Ultimately, I want what is best for me and my children, and I think I know what that is, but I know I’m human and I could be wrong. I pray that my divorce goes through sooner than later. But, I know that God has their best interests at heart, and mine. So the only thing I can truly pray for is justice, that this judge and the lawyers be concerned with what they are in the business of promoting: JUSTICE.

Most of all, I pray to stay persistent in my Faith. I can see God’s guiding hand through all of the turmoil in my past when I look back. Things make sense now, and the suffering seems worthwhile. So I am hoping that whatever is coming my way, I can remember that God ONLY works for GOOD. Whatever in our short-sightedness we are enduring, there is something greater on the other side of it. Hope is an amazing thing, no, it is everything. Without it, we are doomed to fall into thinking suffering is meaningless, and that is fatal. Without suffering having meaning, life has no meaning. Life is suffering. It’s other things too: Joy, Peace, Love. But it is also undeniable suffering. A Suffering Servant for a Savior now makes a lot more sense, and I pray that those who are suffering without Christ discover him sooner than later. It’s never too late, as long as you’re alive that is.

(Photo Cred: http://cbswashington.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/84611044-1.jpg?w=620&h=349&crop=1)

“Do What He Tells You”

 

So many people think it odd that I pray to Mary, but my relationship with Mary is so precious to me that I feel compelled to give a short and simple defense. If someone dissed your mama wouldn’t you come to her defense? Well, I think there is a wrongful equating of prayer and worship, first off. Prayer is not itself worship, but a conversation. How many of us have friends or family who have died, who we believe we can speak with still as they “watch over us.” God is the God of the living, not the dead, after all (Mk 12:27). So we believe our beloved’s soul is now joined with God in eternity. We ask our friends and family to pray for us, so why wouldn’t we ask those who are at God’s side to pray for us as well? Who better to ask to bring our petitions before God than Mary? She is surely more perfect than I and more worthy to approach God’s throne in Heaven. Who is closer to God than she who bore Him in her womb and lived 30 years with Him during His private life? Surely, Jesus could have spent his 20s doing His public ministry? But he didn’t, He gave those years to Mary and Joseph.

I love praying the Rosary, which allows me to contemplate Jesus’ life through Mary’s eyes. When you meet a significant other, who is the best person to meet to get a more complete picture of who he is? Who is it that will sit you down and pull out the old photo album and share the best stories about your beloved that you’ve never heard before? Mom of course! In contemplating the mysteries of the Rosary, Mary takes my hand and guides me through each event in Christ’s life, helping me to see it in a new light and, being my mother as well, she helps me see how I can imitate Christ better in my own life. Let’s look at Jesus’ last words on the cross in John’s Gospel: “When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (John 19:26-27). All that is included in the Bible is significant for us; there is no action or words of Jesus that were meant solely for those standing before Him. The most weighty words a man can utter are those as He lie dying. He chose as His last act to give Mary as gift to us, to take into our homes. If we are all to “put on Christ” and if we are all indeed members of Christ’s body as Paul tells us, then how much more must Mary truly be our spiritual mother? She holds our hands and guides us into Christ. If you love your spouse’s mother, is he going to think you love her more? Absolutely not, he wants you to love his mother! You can’t love Mary more than Jesus did anymore than you can love your spouse’s mother more than he does.

One of the most telling mysteries of the Rosary about the relationship between Jesus and Mary, I think, is at the Wedding Feast at Cana. We read in John 2:3-5, “When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’” I absolutely love this intimate interaction between Mary and Jesus. Mary perceives a need of the wedding couple, which may seem somewhat trivial in the grand scheme of salvation, but to the couple would have been very great indeed. So often, there are many trials we experience, which when seen within the big picture are very small, but personally they exert the weight of the world on our shoulders. Mary sees the little things, and being a loving mother she longs to help by asking the one Person she knows can and will help. Jesus responds that the time for His public ministry hasn’t arrived yet. I wonder if perhaps Jesus, knowing the implications of starting His public ministry, desired to have a little more time in the intimacy of His family life with Mary. Mary knows that once Jesus performs a miracle, there is no going back to the life they knew. But Mary longs to take care of people in things both great and small. She not only wants to help the wedding couple, but she also longs to begin the work of salvation in the world. Even after Jesus’ seeming objection, Mary still tells the servants to listen to Jesus, having confidence that He will answer her intercession. Jesus does do what Mary asks, even though He seems to think it is not a matter of import. This is exactly how I see Mary interceding on our behalf up in Heaven. If you love your spouse, you will pursue a relationship with his entire family, especially his mother. So, why is it so scandalous that we as Catholics love and honor Mary and praise God for giving us such a splendid gift? I am in love with my Spouse, and I also have plenty of room in my heart for His mother, not in spite of, but because of my tremendous love for Him. Do we need to go through Mary to get to Jesus? Nope. But I need the support of a big spiritual family, and we could all use all the help we can get. So why not open your hearts to Mary, who is waiting for you to ask for her help? She is a loving gift from God to us, but of course it’s up to you whether to take advantage of all He has given to aid in your salvation.

Photo Credit: http://www.catholictradition.org/Mary/cana2.jpg

Gratitude Changes Your Perspective, Changes Your Life

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I’ve been dreading winter, it rained for a whole week and I felt myself slipping into the dark corners of my mind. I was constantly fearful of the depression lurking around the corner, lying in wait to tackle me to the floor and hold me in its death grip. Then today happened.

I don’t want this time to end, it’s so peaceful. An anxiety creeps up in knowing the time is drawing near. But I won’t let it steal my peace. Instead I choose to feel grateful, grateful for these few moments that are a gift to me. I’ll enjoy these moments and gather all the strength I can from the joy and peace that is here. They will have to sustain me for days, weeks, maybe months to come. I don’t know when the next moment will be, but that’s ok. They come and they go and they come again. I thank God for the trials because I am at least alive to experience them, I thank God that even among the many trials I also experience joy, love, and peace. If I had to choose death or a long life of suffering that had even a glimmer of hope of experiencing a few short moments like this, I would choose life, because it is precious and it is a gift from God, even when it hurts. Be grateful, it will change your life.

I cling to the image of flying above the clouds on an airplane with the sun’s warm rays on my face, and then descending to my destination, only to find out it was gray and rainy. The sun will continue to shine, even when I can’t see it or feel it, it’s there, and I will see it and feel it again. Winter is coming, but so is summer.

Happy Feast Day to Siena

Today we remember a wonderful Saint who was a mystic and Doctor of the Church: St. Catherine of Siena. She is a Saint very near and dear to my heart. When I was in the second grade, I fell in love with her story after reading the popular TAN children’s book about her life written by Mary Fabyan Windeatt. In high school, I read the book Lay Siege to Heaven by Louis de Wohl, which is a more in depth exploration of her life. I came to respect and honor her as a true heroine, whom I aspire to emulate.

Some fun facts about St Catherine of Siena
– She was one of 25 children
– She cut off all her hair to protest her mother’s attempts to marry her off
– She often experienced visions of Jesus and Mary, even as a small child
– She was actually a third order Dominican (lay person) not a nun
– She persuaded the Pope to leave Avignon, France and to return to Rome
– She experienced the stigmata
– Her body was found incorrupt, and her severed head is on display at the Basilica San Domenico in Siena, Italy
– The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena is a published work containing her conversations with God, which were dictated to her secretary

My favorite quote of hers is: “If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire.”

My freshman year of college I had strayed quite a bit from my faith, and I hit a real low on the last day of classes. When I returned home, I was reminded of the beauty of the Catholic faith my parents had instilled in me. In a moment of prayerful penance, I pulled a “Catherine” and cut all my hair off hoping to rid myself of the vanity and sin that had been plaguing me. Not long after, I received an invitation from my eldest sister to join her on a pilgrimage to Rome that summer. It was quite the experience, and I learned a lot about myself thanks to the guidance of my sister and the awe-inspiring beauty that is Rome. We also happened to meet some wonderful women in the little Catholic group we were a part of who were going to hit the road and tour Tuscany. They graciously invited us along, and we seized this wonderful opportunity to travel and see some of the paramount Italian towns of the Catholic faith (Assisi, Orvieto, and yes Siena). Unfortunately we made it to Siena right after the Basilica had closed its doors, and I frantically ran around the building knocking on every window and door to try and get in. We were only in town for a few hours, and so I never did get to see inside. Well, that just means I will have to return one day to finally look upon the incorrupt body of my favorite heroine. I’m okay with that 🙂

I returned to Rome to study in the Spring semester following that summer. I didn’t have the funds to travel to Siena, but I came to feel as if Rome were my second home. I was incredibly blessed to be confirmed at the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore during that semester and my confirmation name was indeed Catherine Siena.

Fast forward two years, and I discovered I was pregnant with my daughter. I had no hesitation in declaring that I must name her after my favorite Saint. The only problem was that my sister had already taken the name Catherine for her daughter. So, my daughter was Christened Siena Catherine instead 🙂 I can’t wait until she is older (she is 4) so I can read her the story of this incredible Saint. I hope she feels as drawn to St. Catherine’s life story as I was because she is a true role model.

Have a blessed day! And if you don’t know much about this Saint, I suggest you take some time to learn more about her. She isn’t a Doctor of the Church for nothing 😉
Some Lessons from St. Catherine of Siena

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