Crowned with Peace

Queen of PeaceToday was the annual PeaceFest at our parish, and Bishop Rhoades was the homilist at the event. He mentioned that this year marks the centennial not just of the apparitions at Fatima, but also the year the mother of Jesus came to be known as “Queen of Peace.” In his book, The Life of Pope Benedict XV, Walter Peters notes: “On May 5,1917, he decreed that the invocation, ‘Queen of peace,’ be added to the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”  [pp. 224-225]

This fascinating icon, which I found on the Villanova University website, was written by Father Richard G. Cannuli. It depicts a woman of Middle Eastern origins, reminding us that Mary is revered by both the Christian and Muslim traditions (the Qaran refers to her as “Maryam”). And so it is fitting to ask her to pray for peace in the world for all her children. But in these recent weeks, I’ve found myself thinking about her more and more often, wondering what she would say to us about the pathway to peace even within our own land.

During her own lifetime, the Holy Land was a hotbed of political unrest; zealots and Romans and simple families like her own just trying to survive in a climate often full of conflict and tension. As she saw her own son begin his public ministry, how she must have prayed as she saw him get drawn into the political turmoil. Where did she find peace, at such a time as that?

As I watch my own children grow older, and their own lives erupt in conflict and confusion, the temptation is to rush into the middle of it, trying to solve their problems for them, trying to make them choose prudence. But at 15 and 17, that isn’t always going to happen. And so, when I cannot protect them … Mother Mary, stay close by, and pray for us all. Give us the peace that comes from knowing One who is never surprised by anything we do, loves us just the same.

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Lonely at Church?

clasped-hands-541849_1920Do you ever feel invisible at church? Have you ever gone to a church event and felt lonely? Do you watch people chatting around the room as your kids attack the donut table, and crave some kind of personal connection?

I’ve felt this way, especially after moving to a new home or church. Not knowing how my kids will respond in new social situations, I’m always on “high alert,” and it’s hard to relax. It doesn’t help that I am a lot like my father, and often feel anxious about breaking into new groups — rather surprising, given how much practice I’ve had at it over the years. But there you have it.

I’ve complained to God about this more than once, how Catholic parishes are so different from the church I grew up in, a country church of about 200 families where everyone knew everyone else by name and birthday. They were generous and welcoming to a fault. The year I went to Senegal, West Africa on a year-long mission trip, my church family raised the entire amount I needed–almost $12,000–in just a couple of weeks.   These were not wealthy people — but they welcomed us as family.

When I became Catholic, the very things I most loved about the Church — her rituals, her formality, her mystery — also made it difficult to experience that same sense of family with my brothers and sisters in the pew. A name in the bulletin was the only clue that someone had a medical need. If someone lost a job or had a financial emergency, there were food pantries and St. Vincent de Paul shops … but apart from Elizabeth Ministries setting up meals for new moms, I had no idea who needed cookies.

Women’s group. Choir. Youth Group. Couple’s “date night.” Donuts after Mass.  People were nice enough — at least one person always told us they were glad we came. But I was still longing for that sense of belonging, and never quite finding it.

Right after Easter, I decided I would start going to daily Mass until I left for Costa Rica, to volunteer at St. Bryce Mission. At Queen of Peace, morning Mass is at 8:15, preceded by morning prayer — a chance to learn how to pray the red book! Score! I could drop off my kids at school and go down the street to church, and get in a few minutes at Adoration before morning prayer and Mass. The same twenty people or so were there every day … my friend Kelly showed me how to use the Book of Christian Prayer.

Soon I was a regular, getting smiles and nods — and the connections began to come. Yesterday the president of the Jubilee women’s group came up to say they had decided to donate the missionary offering to me this year, to help St. Bryce Mission. And today between prayer and Mass, a man came up to introduce himself and tell me how much I reminded him of his sister. “She’s a beautiful woman, and so are you!”

As he turned to find his way back to his own pew, I sat and thought about what I’d just experienced. I realized that my approach of trying to get friends, of wanting to receive rather than to give, had been part of the problem. And I discovered that giving, in prayer and presence, is a wonderful way to belong in God’s family.

 

31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 24: Talk to God

Have you seen “My Afternoons with Margueritte”? In what may be his most endearing role ever, Gerard Depardieu plays a simple gardener who befriends an elderly schoolteacher. The fruit of this unlikely friendship transforms them both.

Like Germain, the uneducated oaf with the heart of a poet, I sometimes feel as though I am blundering through the circumstances of my life. Perhaps you can relate. Thankfully, I have also been gifted with my fair share of “Maruerittes,” who have come alongside me and illuminated the path.

This happened most recently when I stumbled on Meg Kilmer’s “50 Ways to Talk to God” post. Meg reminded me that how we pray varies not only from person to person, but from moment to moment. Sometimes we pray for others. Other times, for ourselves. Yes, sometimes I’ve even been known to toss up a quick SOS just to shift the burden of the day from my shoulders to God’s infinitely stronger ones.

Growing up, I learned to talk to God just like I was talking to a friend. An invisible friend, yes. A friend I sometimes had issues with, to be sure. But a friend nonetheless. It wasn’t until I became Catholic at the age of 30 that I discovered the benefits of rote (memorized) prayer, like the Rosary. Fingering the cord of beads, especially when the rest of my life was in turmoil, felt as though I was holding a lifeline. And when my mind started down a dark rabbit trail, I could glance at the beads and get myself back on track. In my mind, I would imagine placing each bead in the hand of God, entrusting it to him. Soon the calming rhythms would take over, and either my mind would clear or the tension would ease.

What’s your favorite way to talk to God?

The Enemies Near at Hand

stepping-stonesThe hallmark of the Christian is not one who has no enemies, but one whose enemies cannot disturb their inner peace. In his famous Sermon on the Mount (Luke 6), Jesus taught us that pathway to peace.

Like Teresa of Avila’s famous “interior castle,” this pathway is not linear, from point “A” to “B.” It is a maze of steppingstones through a series of rooms that lead to an innermost destination, which is God alone.

The first stepping stone is reconciliation how we choose to regard those who are no longer in relationship with us:

“But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

For most of us, our true enemies are not the nameless faceless on the other side of the ocean. Not even the anonymous, obnoxious commentators who troll our blogs and belittle our beliefs. By this definition, our enemies are those known to us. Therefore, if we are to follow Christ, we must begin by loving those who cause us pain by their proximity.

  • The child whose choices cost us dearly.
  • The associate whose whispered, underhanded machinations are difficult to confront.
  • The “friend” who betrays out of her own self-interest.

For all these “enemies,” dear Lord, we pray for peace without and within.

Next, the stepping stone of detachment. We express our loving detachment not just in our thoughts, but in our very actions.

“To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.”

 For most of us, relinquishing our “rights,” up to and including our physical comforts, is one of the hardest forms of fasting. But it is the true path of humility and detachment, the place God can hear our petitions most clearly.

  • The one who blindly ignores a mess or problem, leaving it for others to handle.
  • Those who take credit for the ideas or efforts of others.
  • Those who take advantage when we have the fewest resources to spare.

Lord, for all these “enemies,” we pray for your blessed abundance. And for our own willingness to let go.

With the next stepping stone, we take detachment to a whole new level . . . to generosity.

“Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Why would Jesus give this advice? Why would he want us to leave ourselves open to be taken advantage of like this? Recently, I’ll admit, when I read the story of Pope Francis who offered to baptize the infant of the woman who had committed adultery, my first thought was: Why didn’t he, like Christ, tell her to “Go and sin no more?”

The answer is the next stepping stone: Imitate the mercy of Christ with those who know only too well their failings. They don’t need to be reminded of their weaknesses, but of the reason for their hope.

Lord, we pray for those who take without giving thought to what it costs us. Help us to find joy in the giving.

The final stepping stone is at the heart of all authentic love, which pours itself out  not just in giving our possessions, but of our very selves in total self-giving, knowing that the more we give, the more we are emptied. And the more we are emptied, the more we will receive from God’s abundance.

“For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit [is] that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount.”

Lord, we are grateful for the opportunity to give as you gave, to love as you loved. Empty us of every last ounce of our own effort, so you can fill us more completely out of your abundance. 

“But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful.”

STEPPING STONES FOR PEACE

And so, dear Lord, we offer our prayer for mercy.

Mercy without and mercy within.

Mercy near and mercy far, mercy deep and wide.

Mercy for those who know their need for it,

And mercy for those who will understand only in eternity.

Send your Spirit over these troubled waters and burning nations.

Do not let us destroy ourselves through our own pride and ignorance,

But enlighten and heal, and raise us up,

Illuminated by the Light of the World shining within us.

Have mercy on us, and on the whole world. Amen. 

“The Touch of the Musician” (The Love Project, Day 39)

stream2

The marvels of God are not brought forth from one’s self.
Rather, it is more like a chord, a sound that is played.
The tone does not come out of the chord itself, but rather,
through the touch of the Musician.
I am, of course, the lyre and harp of God’s kindness.

HILDEGARD OF BINGEN, attributed, Soul Weavings

Eucharist of Divine Love (The Love Project, Day 20)

divine mercyToday’s quote is taken from the Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska (1239).

O living Host, O hidden Jesus. You see the condition of my soul. Of myself, I am unable to utter Your Holy Name. I cannot bring forth from my heart the fire of love but, kneeling at Your feet, I cast upon the Tabernacle the gaze of my soul, a gaze of faithfulness. As for You, You are ever the same, while within my soul a change takes place. I trust that the time will come when You will unveil Your countenance, and Your child will again see Your sweet face. I am astonished, Jesus, that You can hide Yourself from me for so long and that You can restrain the enormous love You have for me. In the dwelling of my heart, I am listening and waiting for Your coming. O only Treasure of my heart!

Today’s Love in Action: Print out this little prayer and bring it with you to Mass today. Offer it to the Lord with all your heart. He is waiting to meet you there.

Girlfriends . . . from Heaven

My friend Anne Marie poked her head in my office the other day. “Did you lose a medal, Heidi? Corinne [a mutual friend and coworker] found one in the parking lot, and thought of you.”

I examined my “medal pin” and discovered the clasp for St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was broken, and the medal gone. “Yes! I’m missing Edith Stein.”  The next day, Corinne returned my “girlfriend” to me. “I found it in the parking lot, and thought of you right away. I didn’t know it was yours … but something told me to pray for you right then.”

I smiled and thanked her. My girls were at work again.

Since January, I have carried over my heart five religious medals: My favorite saint is St. Scholastica, St. Benedict’s lesser-known twin sister, who used her powers of intercession to move the stubborn heart of her brother. St. Teresa Benedicta, the Jewish convert and philosopher who died at Auschwitz, understands what it is to be forced apart from loved ones. St. Teresa of Avila, patroness of migraines and strong-willed women, I had recently replaced when the original medal (I had picked it up at her childhood home in Avila, Spain) disappeared during my move. No sooner did I  replace it, I found the original – and so had a spare to give a young woman who has been taking care of Sarah. She recently decided to being RCIA – and is also a migraine sufferer.

These three “heavenly girlfriends” have always been close to my heart, and in the past I’ve worn them – along with a Miraculous Medal of the Blessed Mother – anytime I’ve done any serious writing, asking for their intercession. But since Christopher left us in January, I’ve taken to wearing them over my heart, along with a fifth medal, St. Christopher’s. It seems only appropriate to add him to the group.

Now, not all Christians – not even all Catholics – wear religious medals. To some, this kind of thing borders on superstition.  In reality, these kinds of tangible faith signs are at the very heart of the Catholic sacramental worldview: because we are by nature embodied souls, God reveals the hidden mysteries of our faith through the “stuff” of the physical world. These small bits of precious medal remind me in a powerful way of my faithful intercessors in heaven, who radiate the kind of perfect love that is at the very heart of the most blessed Trinity.

At the end of this month we will be celebrating All Saints Day, when we remember the communion of saints that is all around us, interceding on our behalf.  How do you keep the saints close to your heart?