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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A Sewing Circle of Love

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Queen of Peace sewing day

 

Years ago, when a young woman was about to get married or have a child, the women of her community would gather for a quilting bee, creating a unique yet practical work of art to add to the young woman’s trousseau. Some quilts told a story, others were simply colorful and warm. Each was as unique as the woman for whom it was made.

This past weekend, looking around the Commons area of Queen of Peace parish, I felt a little thrill (like those blushing brides-to-be must have) as I saw nearly forty baby blankets fashioned from fleece and flannel, each soft and colorful — and each intended to wrap a newborn that most of these women will never get to meet in person. These blankets are coming with me to Costa Rica, to the babies and their mothers who come to St. Bryce Mission.

Most of these women, I had never met before that day — and yet in a short time we were chatting like old friends. Kelly Pant, my partner in crime, had brought her mother Francie — a veteran quilter who with utmost patience walked me through creating my first baby blanket, a Dora-the-Explorer confection in pink, then a frog-themed green-and-tan offering. She also made a special quilt for Kenneth, the young boy with special needs who lives at St. Bryce. Other women from the community gathered footie pajamas, diapers, and fabric. The Jubilee women’s group donated their annual collection to a special project at the mission. Another family slipped us $100 for the electric upgrade project at the Center.

IMG_2049IMG_2065Yesterday, Sunday, our pastor Father John Eze called our family up with the blankets, to bless us and send us as representatives of Queen of Peace, reciting from the Book of Blessings that God would bless and protect us as we go to share the Gospel — and ourselves — with the people who come to the Center..

I am so very grateful to my family at Queen of Peace. Thank you for taking this journey with us!

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.

 

The Circular Mercy of God

An old Portuguese proverb (sometimes attributed to Thomas Merton), reminds us that “God writes straight with crooked lines.” While God cannot be accused of pointless meandering or false steps — his ways are perfect, after all — the same cannot be said of us. And because he has given us free will, God sometimes allows us to take detours, taking us in circular routes to accomplish his purposes in our lives.

prince of peaceBy way of example, I was twelve when I got my first organist gig at this little country church, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Hamburg, NJ. It was my first taste of liturgy, and the people there (particularly the longsuffering Reverend Richard Izzard and his lovely wife Eileen) were so kind to me. It was a small but necessary step in my spiritual journey, and these dear friends supported me when it came time for my first short-term mission experience. I think it is one of God’s little jokes that, thirty five years later, my family now belongs to Queen of Peace, a homey little Catholic Church in Mishawaka, Indiana.

Although you can’t tell from the picture, this church can be seen for miles, lying at the top of a hillside along U.S. 94. And one wintery day in January 1983, just a short distance down that hill, my life took another unexpected turn … a car accident in which I was badly injured and hospitalized for more than a month. As a result, I was no longer able to have children. But in his circular mercy, God redeemed even this sorrow. That accident took me on a circuitous route through missionary training, into the Catholic Church, and prompted us to adopt Chris and Sarah. In the words of Thomas Merton, “There is no earthly sorrow heaven cannot heal.”

mitchell familyIn just a few weeks, we’ll be heading to Costa Rica to help a dear friend of mine, Colleen Mitchell and her husband Greg. Colleen is the author of a wonderful book, Who Does He Say You Are? in which she shares the story of her own motherly grief, in which the loss of her infant son Bryce and four subsequent miscarriages led her and her husband Greg to create a maternity home for indigenous women and their children in Costa Rica. You can read more about it here.

It kind of takes my breath away, thinking of the way God orchestrated all this. Who would have thought, when I was lying broken by the side of the road, that God would use it all to change the lives of two children who had not yet been born? Who would have thought that, after I left missionary work and became Catholic, God would resurrect that desire to serve as a Catholic missionary? Who would have thought that, in his infinite mercy, God would redeem the brokenness of another family, using it to reach a group of people who might otherwise never have known about his infinite mercy?

I remember the deeds of the Lord,
I remember your wonders of old,
I muse on all your works
and ponder your mighty deeds….
You are the God who works wonders.

What’s your story? How has God’s circular mercy been at work in your life? Please consider how you might help to support the work of St. Bryce Missions, and please pray for us as we prepare to go and volunteer — holding babies all day. I can scarcely wait!

Blessed Imperfection

confirmationTonight we celebrated our daughter’s confirmation — an event that, until fairly recently, I wasn’t sure would take place. The small details — who would be the sponsor, when we didn’t know many people at this parish was near the top of the list — were overwhelming, not to mention the thought that the bishop would actually be looking at her. It was all too much.

But we found the perfect dress, and we pierced her ears, and we worked on her workbook, and her brother agreed to be her sponsor … and somehow, miracle of miracles, it all came together. She chose Mary, wanting the Blessed Mother herself to be her friend for life. What’s not to love about that?

There were still a few blips. At the last minute her best friend couldn’t come, and her favorite sitter didn’t remember, and all our family lives far away. And so it was just me and Craig sitting in the pew, beaming proudly as our kids walked up the aisle. And just as we got to the front of the line where we were going to have our picture taken with the bishop, we were told that he had taken his last family picture – only confirmandi and sponsors. I’ll admit, it stung a little. But as we watched the picture snap, and Sarah’s eyes lit up, I realized these little bits of imperfection really don’t matter that much. The point is, those confirmation graces could start flowing in earnest.

A bit later, a friend of mine and I were talking about our “bucket list,” and when I said I always wanted to walk the Camino, she heartily agreed. That is, until I told her that I’d do it on a moped, if necessary. “Oh, no!” she was horrified. “Do it right, or not at all!”

I had to chuckle. If I’ve learned nothing else as a parent, it’s that life is filled with blessed imperfections. That if you wait for everything to be perfect, you miss it. Sometimes, in fact, the blessedness is IN the tiny, little flaws that wear away the patina of perfection. It’s what we remember, what we celebrate.

Because in our hearts, we know we are imperfect, too.

Happy Confirmation, dear Mary. We love you!