Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Love


Occasionally I'll learn a new word, and I'm jarred when I realize that so many other people know that word and all my life I did not know it.  And soon after, I'm hearing it and seeing it other places, and I'm like "oh, there it is!"  I wonder if that's sometimes how we are when it comes to God talking to us.

I have learned that Love is our highest calling.  Love is the meaning of life. All you need is love (love is all you need). In the end, there is only love.  God is love.

We are flooded with that message. But I'm not sure it can be absorbed every time we receive it.

Lately this message has been following me around, and I'm trying to pay attention.  In the wake of several tragedies and a major natural disaster, our minds have been turned to what really matters. Should I be grinding my teeth about the messy kitchen that awaited me when I came home from my exercise class? Should I be belly-aching about how humid the house feels now that it's warming up outside? Should I be obsessing about how many activities we can afford to do this summer on a limited budget?  Well, I am human after all. But still, these are first world problems and there's nothing like a tragedy to shake us up and remind us of Whom we depend upon, for everything.

Why does it take a tragedy to bring out the most beautiful side of humanity? It seems to ask a question to which we can't help but respond, from a place deep within, the place where Love dwells. Love awakens and springs into action before we realize what is happening.

It seems that until everything is taken away, we can not see clearly about what remains when all else is gone.

But to live with this clear, unobstructed vision every day, with purpose and conviction? We're not cut out for that!!! Yet we are called to do exactly that. To expect to meet Jesus in the people around us, the ones who are easy for us to love and the ones who are not easy for us to love. To do ordinary things like balance bills, car payments and mortgages, and in the same day do extraordinary things like Love, to experience our divine calling, our salvation.

We may not all be able to reach our arms out to malnourished children on the African continent, or bring a blanket and a cup of tea to someone in Oklahoma who has lost their home due to a tornado. But our prayers mean just as much.  Ordinary, every day choices to Love can be extraordinary efforts that impact the Body of Christ beyond what we may ever understand.

Be encouraged in your calling to Love. It's what we're here to do, and designed for eternity to do.

ISt. Therese know of one means only by which to attain to perfection: LOVE. Let us love, since our heart is made for nothing else. Sometimes I seek another word to express Love, but in this land of exile the word which begins and ends (St. Augustine) is quite incapable of rendering the vibrations of the soul; we must then adhere to this simple and only word: TO LOVE.
― Thérèse de Lisieux

To help the victims of the tornado in Oklahoma, visit:

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Quiet Thunder

                                                                         Photo: AFP

From a canopy of umbrellas open, eyes and hearts are lifted heavenward.
Flags are waved, and prayers are uttered through misty rain. Hope rushes smoky white from an ancient chimney for what seems an eternity.
A stirring on the balcony and silence falls. Quiet thunder is coming.
Millions gather to glimpse the face and hear the name, who shall this flock call their shepherd?
A man emerges, unadorned and humble.  A gentle slight wave to greet us.  Pope Francis will be his name. Yet there is so much more than meets the eye. A heart swelling with tender compassion to wrap around the world entirely, a voice which can shake heaven and earth with words of Truth.
A collective sigh of relief, an exhilarating revelation. The waiting is done.
All who witness this moment are left with this knowledge that the world has not given up, it is evident that the Church is alive and well. Pope Francis, Papa, you are blessed with our prayers. You are welcomed with arms outstretched.  Guide us to the sacred heart of Jesus, our Savior, so we the world may encounter Him, through us!

Habemus Papam!

*Quiet Thunder inspired by this article by Jose Maria Poirier. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Where do Popes come from? A parent's guide to answering adorable and bizarre questions.

Today is our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI's last day in office. Like so many of us, my little family has been praying over the future of our Church. We have even "adopted" a cardinal for whom we are praying. We've been digging up old pictures of our trip to Rome, explaining the hierarchy of our Church to our kids and delving into its beautiful universality.

And answering questions about the Pope's (possibly) secret holy superpowers.

Interesting and hilarious conversations have come up. Such as, "does the Pope live in a tower high in the sky so he can be close to God?" "Which special powers does the Pope have? Like, can he fly out of his window from place to place?" "Is the Pope-mobile for real???" Sigh. When we were explaining the Church's age old hierarchy, our eldest asked if there were any knights and pawns at the Vatican.  He wasn't joking, he is just really into chess.

Obviously, we discovered fairly quickly that we have not adequately discussed this aspect of our Catholic heritage with our young children. While we weren't expecting to have to let go of our beloved Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI so soon, his resignation does present a unique opportunity to share this historical moment with our children, and that part is exciting.

It would be impossible for me to do justice to 2,000 years of history. But if you are looking for a basic way to explain things, this may help!

                                            5 Things to teach children about the Papacy

1) The Pope is the earthly father of the Catholic Church worldwide.  The name "Pope" comes from Latin "Papa" and Greek "Papas" for Daddy. His position is designed to last for the rest of his life on earth.  This tradition began with St. Peter when Jesus said to him "You are the Rock on which I build my Church." The Pope's job is to guide the Church in matters of faith and morality in an ever changing world.

2) The Pope lives in Vatican City, which is its own country. Even though it is inside of Rome, it is not part of Rome.  (Cool fact: St. Peter's square is in the shape of a key, signifying the "keys" given to St. Peter to the Kingdom of heaven).

3) He is chosen from the College of Cardinals who form a Papal Conclave 15-20 days after a Pope dies or resigns. Here the Cardinals pray for many days together. They require a 2/3 majority in order to elect the next Pope. They meet in the Sistine Chapel.

4) If a candidate does not receive enough votes, the Cardinals apply a chemical to their voting ballots and send black smoke out of the chimney of the Sistine Chapel.  If a candidate succeeds in obtaining enough votes, they apply a chemical to their ballots to send white smoke out of the chimney, signifying that a new Pope has been chosen. Bells ring, too!

5) The winning candidate will be asked if he will accept his role as the Supreme Pontiff, and when he accepts, he chooses a new name for himself, and is lead into a room where he changes into his Papal garb for the very first time. It is then when the senior Cardinal deacon announces from St. Peter's square the following speech:

Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum:
Habemus Papam!
Eminentissimum ac reverendissimum Dominum,
Dominum [First Name] Sanctæ Romanæ Ecclesiæ Cardinalem [Last Name],
Qui sibi nomen imposuit [Papal Name].
And for those of us with rusty Latin: 
I announce to you a great joy:
We have a Pope!
The most eminent and most reverend Lord,
Lord [First Name] Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church [Last Name],
Who takes for himself the name of [Papal Name].

And the whole world cheers and celebrates, "Habemus Papam," we have a Pope!!!!  

As we draw near the dawn of a new horizon for our Church, let us cherish all that Pope Benedict XVI has taught us, and as we continue to teach our children let us remember this: 
“Dear friends, may no adversity paralyze you. Be afraid neither of the world, nor of the future, nor of your weakness. The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, his name will continue to resound throughout the world.”  
Pope Benedict XVI, pray for us! 

                                                 Me in St. Peter's basilica in 2005. I told you I was digging up old photos!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Prayer and Temperament

This week has reminded me of  Ecclesiastes 3:8.  There has been a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.  Many of us are still processing the resignation of our Holy Father Pope Benedict the XVI... and with Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, Valentine's day and the first Friday of Lent happening in rapid succession...well, our minds and hearts have been on a bit of a roller coaster.

Even though I'm still a bit dizzy, I'm relieved to be entering Lent this year as a desperately welcomed chance to go into the desert to find Jesus and be still and listen.  To prepare for that,  I recently embarked on my first official appointment for spiritual direction. My spiritual director suggested that I should begin by identifying my prayer temperament (I had not heard of this before). She loaned me her well-loved copy of a book aptly titled "Prayer and Temperament" and I have been feasting on it ever since. I thought I'd share a little about it for those who might benefit, too.

The science behind "Prayer and Temperament" began with the Myers-Briggs Test Indicator in about 1974, which I've only ever understood in the context of Psychology alone. About 30 years ago, the author of the book Msgr. Chester Michael, worked on a study called the "Prayer Project" where he sought to find the connection between psychology and spirituality. Since then he has established an Institute for Spiritual Direction and his findings have been applied in thousands of retreats and workshops. If you would like to try this out, here is the MBTI online to help identify your personality type.

Of course, each of us are uniquely made, and no one person will fit into a box of human design. This is obviously not an exact science, but it can provide a good idea of where your strengths lie in your approach to prayer.

Msgr. Michael groups the main prayer temperaments within Benedictine prayer, Ignatian prayer, Augustinian prayer, Franciscan prayer, Thomistic prayer, but others are mentioned in the book such as Trinitarian prayer, Marian devotion and Teresian spirituality.  Once you take the MBTI, you can look here to determine which style you may fall under, and learn more about which forms your temperament may prefer. For cradle Catholics like myself who have not absorbed the beautiful knowledge and wisdom that so many others have strived to attain :) my advice would be to do a little reading and stretch your spirituality this Lent.  Allow yourself to experience a style of prayer that you have not tried before, just get your feet wet and see where God leads you. Reach out to your parish priest if you would like some guidance in getting started, and visit your parish library for great resources for your journey. Don't be intimidated!

Some prefer scripted prayers, some prefer contemplation and meditation.  Some enjoy spontaneous prayer and the holiness of daily work. Some marvel at nature. Some delight in music as prayer. Some enjoy reading, some enjoy writing, some are called to be speakers and leaders in ministry .  Our Creator has made us all to be different, but all of us come together in Mass as one family, one body in Christ, as servants to further His kingdom on earth.  Relish in how God made you, and offer your best to Him in prayer, almsgiving and service this Lent. May we all be blessed with a memorable and meaningful Lenten season!


How do you love to pray?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

14 Ideas to Bless Your Marriage in February

February is always a rosy month of winter in my life, since it is filled with festivity in our home. My husband and I both have birthdays, and we have a number of friends who also share the birth month with us. There is always the hope of a light snow in Central Texas in February, since it happened two years in a row. And then there is Valentine's day to celebrate, too.  Yup. There's no doubt about it. I love February!

After a very difficult and tiring bedtime routine, I was rocking our two year old back to sleep and took the opportunity to pray about what I could be sharing this week. A moment later, my husband brought me a cup of homemade amaretto cocoa since he knew I'd be staying up late to write (I know, right??!!)  and then my heart heard its answer. February is a month that celebrates marriage in a special way. In the same manner in which I prepare myself during Advent and Lent to anticipate a joyful celebration, why not do the same for World Marriage Day, with daily reminders to lift up this holy vocation.

 It can be challenging for us, nearly 10 years into our marriage, to demonstrate love for each other as we did when we were first married. Deep in the trenches of parenthood, we feel drained and harried during the day, and at night we get pulled into our different interests. Often these days, love takes the form of letting someone sleep in or making their favorite meal, or folding the laundry together while watching "Dr. Who" on Netflix.  We all need reminders to tune up our marriages, and we are no exception! :)

 Here are 14 ideas to bless our marriages in the month of February.

 1) Ask these 5 questions every week. Allow the quieter person to initiate the conversations. My husband and I have been doing this for a few months and we  really look forward to it (and he appreciates getting air time!)

 2) Trade roles for one day. Maybe the husband can prepare dinner one evening while the wife takes the kids for a walk around the block.

 3) Make eye contact. Hug and kiss in front of the children. Be positive. Meditate on the way God has loved your spouse since the moment they were born.

  4) Unplug your devices. Put away phones, close the laptop, keep the t.v. off.  Light candles and put on your favorite music instead.  The Jack Johnson station on pandora is a fave in our home.

 5) Love letters! Decorate an extra shoe box alongside the kids for special Valentines for JUST you and your spouse. Write words of affirmation and be specific about what you love about your spouse.

 6) Pray for each other. Ask each other for prayer intentions and then pray for those intentions together.

 7) Date night! If you don't want to brave the crowds on Valentine's day, then have one earlier or later in the month, but get out of the house and do something together, it doesn't have to be extravagant to be special. Take turns planning future date nights by buying tickets in advance or saving money in designated envelopes. Commit to making one envelope for every month of the year.  Line up a sitter so you have extra accountability! :)

 8) Praise each other in front of friends and family.

 9) Let the early bird sleep in and bring them breakfast.

 10) Read Pope Benedict's first encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" together, and refresh your memory on the Catholic history of Valentine's Day.

 11) Attend a marriage vow renewal Mass or celebrate World Marriage Day with friends whose marriages inspire yours.

 12) Make a top ten list of your favorite romantic movies, and see how many you can watch during the month. Let the less opinionated movie-watcher have the input! Here's my list if you're interested!

 13) Be silly. Have a pillow fight, a food fight, a dance party. Swing on the swings at the park, jump on the trampoline, with and without the kids.

 14) Take some quizzes on the For Your Marriage website and browse through the many great ideas and resources to strengthen your bond with your spouse!

 ‘'How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in home, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice … Nothing divides them either in flesh or in spirit … They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they visit God’s church and partake of God’s banquet; side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another; they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts … Seeing this, Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives His peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present.’' - Tertullian 

Thursday, January 17, 2013


I have been contemplating the unique role of godparents this month, since my husband and I began the new year by celebrating the baptismal date of our sweet goddaughter with a family dinner. We lit her baptismal candle for a song and prayer with her family, and she opened a gift from us with dessert. The evening was treated as a spiritual birthday party and it was absolutely perfect.

We have waffled in the past about which traditions we would like to create and continue. We felt so glad to find one which fit so beautifully for the early years. Unfortunately for us, our other godchildren live out of state. So we are giving some serious thought to what we can do which would have the most lasting significance, as the children are growing.

My own godmother lives in India, and we wrote to each other when I was young. I would marvel at her letters written on parchment paper sent in crinkly blue envelopes with foreign stamps. She came to my First Holy Communion, and my wedding, and she always remembered me in prayer, with lovely gifts, and gave me the best advice. She has been like a spiritual mother to me all throughout my life.

I did a little reading about the origin of godparents in our early Church history. As I understand it, the tradition first began during the rule of the Roman Empire when the Church was being persecuted. The sacraments of initiation were all performed together, and it was critical to appoint a guardian for each Christian child in the event that the parents were martyred. The role of the godparent sponsor was not only to make the profession of faith on behalf of the infant, as well as to promise to instruct that child in the faith if his parents had failed in their duty to do so…but also to pledge to assist them in preparing for the remaining sacraments and helping them to live out their call to the Christian life.

The Arnolfini Portrait, by Jan van Eyck 1434
So much more than a warm and fuzzy title, this is a spiritual parenthood we are taking on. Just like with most roles and positions in our faith, the higher the honor, the more true servanthood it requires. This is clearly about so much more than having people bow to kiss your hand every time they see you (no disrespect to the Godfather Trilogy, of course).

I spoke with some women in the Catholic community of Bryan/College Station and asked for some of their experiences. For Stephanie Arnold, having godparents was truly a way for her to experience the faithful love of God. She grew up in a family which she felt let her down in many ways, and her godmother was always there in her moments of need. “I chose my patron saint after her, St. Joan of Arc,” Stephanie says.  ”And their children have become my children’s godparents now. They come from out of town to every single celebration for our kids, and whenever they are with all of our kids, they pray a rosary together.”

Jessica Gerngross is blessed to be part of a big family and shares several godchildren of varying ages with her husband. “With our teenaged godchildren, we usually send them for example a Matthew Kelly book, or media like the Matt Mahr cd or a movie like The Nativity Story. We also send Kerusso shirts.” Another treasured family tradition is to send godchildren a Fontanini figurine to add to their own nativity scene when they begin their own home. “Also, we try to stay current with our godchildren by sending them texts and emails, and we try to send to them good articles that we’ve read,” Gerngross says.

For convert Terri Duhon, living in a Catholic community is helping her to establish the Catholic roots she so desires for her children. She says of her eldest daughter’s godmother “she marks her baptism birthday every year and shares memories and pictures of the day. My daughter looks forward to hearing the story of her baptism.”
We will all come from different backgrounds in our Catholic heritage, some of us will be richly blessed by years of tradition, and others will feel as if they are starting from scratch. But as parents and godparents we must try to get the most important thing right, we must remember to walk the extra mile to make a spiritual investment in the lives of our godchildren. It may come in the form of money on special days, or treasured books or keepsakes. Maybe it is letter writing or becoming a source of constant prayer and making it known. Whatever it may be, it is sure to make a difference when that difference is needed most!

“Then, too, from the day when we first heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and requesting that you be filled with the knowledge of his will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of God, being pleasing in all things, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened in every virtue, in accord with the power of his glory, with all patience and long suffering, with joy, giving thanks to God the Father, who has made us worthy to have a share in the portion of the saints, in the light.”  Colossians 1:10

Any traditions or memories you can share with us here? Please do!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

25 Ideas to Pray as a Family in the New Year


Despite what some feared might be our last few days on earth on the twenty-first of December, our Lord has given us the gift of a fresh, new year of life, and all around us people are forming resolutions for self improvement.

I myself have a modest list of resolutions this year, and at the very top is "more family prayer." Going through the seasons of the liturgical year as an adult has taught me a few things, and one of the more practical lessons that has remained with me has been how to set spiritual goals which are realistic and specific. It's not that I don't have a million things I should improve, but more that I realize I need to tackle the ones that matter the most, first.

I find that I can be very impatient with myself.  It seems as though where prayer is concerned, some people are scaling mountains and slaying dragons while I feel like I keep lighting a small candle that the wind blows out several times a day.  It's good to keep in mind that as we seek to grow closer to Jesus and the promises of heaven that we remember that there is no finish line in the pursuit of holiness. Everyone will be going at a different pace, and the path will not always be in an upward linear fashion. There is a lifetime to reach our goals and to discover the rich treasures which our Faith gives to us. We must not be afraid to make mistakes,  bounce back from set-backs and reflect on what we feel have been failures. These are all parts of our spiritual growth and journey. The important part is not giving up!

In my searchings, I came across this article written by a Catholic author named Paul Thigpen in 1995. I found his suggestions for family prayer to be very wise and thorough, and I asked him for permission to share them. If you too are looking for inspired ways to pray with your family, do not wait for the perfect "thing"to happen, or worry about what another family is doing that isn't working for you. Just start with something small that fits with your family, and see where it leads. God will bless and multiply your efforts!

25 Ways to Pray as a Family
1. Find a regular time for daily family prayer that fits everyone's schedule, then make it a priority. A thousand distractions will try to keep you from establishing this discipline in your home, but persevere. No matter how much you pray alone, your family needs to pray together as well.

Try setting aside ten minutes a day at first. Once you've formed the habit, you can expand the time without much difficulty. The important thing is to get started and stick with it.

2. Teach your kids the basic elements of prayer. Making requests is only one aspect of talking to God. To remember the other important elements, think of the letters of the word "ACTS":
  • A is for Adoration: praising God for who He is.
  • C is for Confession: admitting to God our sins and telling Him we're sorry.
  • T is for Thanksgiving: recalling all that God has done for us.
  • S is for Supplication: making requests, both for others (intercession) and ourselves (petition).
Not every prayer needs to have all these elements. But taken as a whole, our prayer times should reflect a balance of them.

3. Join family prayers to the Scripture. Pray a psalm responsively as you do in church. Read together from the Scripture lessons designated for the day and let the words shape your thoughts in prayer.

4. When you pray together, combine spontaneous prayer with fixed forms of prayer such as the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be. Both kinds of prayer are important: Fixed forms help us find the right words, remind us of concerns we might otherwise have forgotten, and relieve us of the burden of trying to make every prayer new and different. Spontaneous prayer, on the other hand, allows us the flexibility to tailor our prayer to the needs of the moment and keeps us aware that we're having a conversation with a living Person.

5. Make song a part of family prayer. Music can lift our hearts to God and allow us to express our feelings in ways the mere spoken word can't even touch. Sing praise songs throughout the day. If no one in your home is musically gifted, don't worry--as one old Bible translation puts it, just "make a joyful noise unto the Lord!" (Psalm 66:1 KJV).

6. Tell your children that prayer is a two-way conversation. We should spend some time listening to God as well as talking to Him. Sometimes after a few minutes of silence in His presence, we can hear in our minds His words of comfort, discipline or direction, or we can simply feel His love and concern.

7. Teach your kids that prayer is a discipline and a privilege. So much in our culture leads them to assume that to be worthwhile an activity must feel good and be entertaining. Let them know that even though prayer is often a pleasure, it is also work. We pray, not for fun, but because it's the right thing to do.

8. Divide up intercessory responsibilities when you pray together as a family. Make sure each person has at least one concern to focus on, then take turns leading in prayer.

9. Any time family members have a concern they want others to bring to God, have them add it to a family prayer list on the refrigerator door. Then pray through the list during family prayer times.

10. Take on a prayer project with your kids. Discover a need someone has that only God can fill, then commit yourselves to interceding for the situation until you see an answer.

11. Encourage your children to start a prayer journal, perhaps in the form of letters to God. Writing down their conversations with the Lord can help them clarify their thoughts. Later they'll profit from reading over what they wrote in light of later events.

12. Keep a "thanksgiving book" of your family's answered prayers. Review it whenever you need to stir up your faith in God's provision. Swap stories of answered prayer with other families.

13. Pray together for people and situations in the news, especially government leaders and victims of war or natural disaster.

14. Build a family habit of taking problems to God as soon as they arise. Make prayer your first response to a challenge, not your last resort.

15. Pray about the small things together. Whatever concerns your children concerns the Lord. Be specific and concrete in your prayer requests.

16. Pray your family table grace in public places without embarrassment or apology. Show your kids you're not afraid to let strangers see your faith.

17. Be on the lookout for the "prayable moment." Maybe you and your teen have just watched the sunrise at the beach, and you feel close to God just now. Perhaps a favorite pet just died and your preschooler needs the Lord's comfort. Some occasions naturally invite us to pause a few minutes and talk with God.

18. Make basic, perennial concerns permanent items on your family prayer list,such as the Church, the poor, the sick, and the government. Honor the Holy Father's request that children everywhere pray for world peace.

19. When your family receives a bit of good news -- the announcement of a new job, the birth of a nephew, top grades on a report card -- celebrate together bypraising God on the spot. Give the Lord a round of applause, a rousing cheer, or anything else that says to Him, "Thank you!"

20. Help your children practice daily self-examination in prayer. Bedtime is the traditional time for a brief review of the day, with thanksgiving for God's favors and confession of our failures.

21. Discuss the meaning of the words in the prayers of the Mass so your kids will understand what they're saying in Church.

22. Pray the rosary and an occasional novena as a family. Talk to your children about how the words of repetitive prayers can press themselves deep into our hearts and free our minds to meditate on the mysteries of faith.

23. Teach your children about the saints and how God has granted us the great favor of their intercession. Join your family in asking them to pray for you.

24. Tell your children about their guardian angel and teach them to ask his protection daily. Read to them what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about the role of angels in our lives (see sections 328-336).

25. Finally, remember that the best way to teach prayer is to model it to your children. Make prayer a way of life. If your family sees that you and God have frequent, intimate conversations, they'll be more likely to want to build their own friendship with Him.

Wishing you and yours a very happy and blessed new year, and may you prosper with God's blessings in all you seek to do!