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  

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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