Recovering the Lost Art of Visiting

The fast changing world we live in today impacts our relationships with one another, especially for women. We may not even realize that we have lost the true art of visiting one another. Recovering the lost art of visiting can begin with something simple.

 

One Fruit of a Novena

In the beginning of February, I started a novena for our daughter, Mary. In the last semester of her high school, she is still discerning where to go to college in the fall and her major of study. In looking for the appropriate novena to pray for her, I chose the Visitation Novena which is based on the scriptures of Mary visiting St. Elizabeth since our daughter is named Mary Elizabeth. I trust that the Lord will answer my petition for our daughter through the intercession of Mary and St. Elizabeth. One fruit of praying the novena for me was the grace of a growing desire to “visit” with people.

 

I am one of those women who makes a big deal of cleaning the house and preparing to host guests in our house. I take hospitality seriously and it is work. I want my guests to be comfortable in our home, enjoy good food, and be delighted to have spent time with us. And we have had many of these gatherings in our home. 

 

Although these events are celebrations of special days and holy days, they are not occasions for true visiting. Visiting is a natural and integral part of life or life in a community that was commonplace only a generation or two ago but seems to have disappeared from our regular life today.

 

The Lost Art of Visiting

Two women, both from foreign countries, reminded me of how visiting, especially among women, is a natural part of living. For many reasons and factors, women today seem to have lost the practice of connecting with other women by visiting. Reflecting on the Visitation brought to mind two isolated instances that made me think about recovering the art of visiting.

 

One was something a woman from Western Europe observed. In the course of a conversation on people having coffee, she said, “You Americans are so funny! When you say, “Let’s have coffee,” it is an event. You take out your schedules and look for a common free time, agree to meet, and write it into your schedule. At the appointed time, you drop everything and sit down with the person you are having coffee, talk for a while and then leave. In my country, having coffee is part of life. We go to a neighbor’s or friend’s house or they come over, have coffee and the hostess continues to do her work or chores while her visitor moves along with her as naturally as she were in her own home.” Her words stayed with me because her observation of how we do coffee was accurate.

 

The other woman, from the Middle East, however, let us experience it. She invited my daughter and me to have tea with her one Friday afternoon. We did not really know what to expect, so we were surprised when we got to her apartment. She had her table set like a tea party – no frills, simple, and I got the feeling that it was commonplace at one time in history or in a foreign land. My daughter got really excited because it felt like the tea parties she used to have with her sister using miniature tea sets. 

 

Time is of the Essence

This one was no pretend. There was a ceramic tea set with a teapot placed on top of a holder that held a burner to keep the tea hot, three matching cups on saucers, matching sugar bowl and creamer. As we sat around the table, our hostess took out an apple strudel that she had baked for us; its aroma filled the room. The combination of all the elements: a beautifully set table, fresh pastry, smells from a warm kitchen, curling steam from our tea and gracious talk, somehow drew us in feminine affinity and we all enjoyed the visit tremendously.

 

I am a one-cup-of-tea sipper, so after the first cup, I was ready to go home. Our hostess poured me a second cup and gave us another sliver of apple strudel. I felt like we were over-staying and started to feel pressed. Sipping the second cup of tea, I forgot about time. After being there for most of the afternoon, which included my daughter looking over our hostess’ collection of nail polish in a shoe box, meeting her high school son and her cat, watching a streamed show from her home country, and looking at a photo album of her parents, we were ready to say good-bye.

 

It surprised us that she actually expected us to stay for supper. She already started the dish in the oven and she cut vegetables while we visited. All the while, I thought she was preparing for her family’s supper. My daughter and I begged off because we had dinner plans at home. She insisted on packing part of the dish for us to bring home and its warm aroma pervaded the car – like the lingering scent of someone’s perfume after they have left the room.

 

Neighbors with One Another

This experience helped me understand even more that visiting is not just an event but part of common living. I was grateful that my daughter experienced her first real tea party and for me, a deeper understanding of what we have lost as women today. Maybe we can recover the simple art of visiting each other, taking time to share our lives in domestic and unelaborate ways, learning to enjoy each other’s company.

 

After this nine-day novena, I felt inspired to be more open to visiting and asked God to lead me. Grace is needed in recovering the lost art of visiting. Although we hear much about “girl-time” which falls under the category of being an event; i.e. dropping all else to gather with other women and do enjoyable things together, the Visitation demonstrates a different way. Filial, feminine, and spiritual describe the time of Mary and St. Elizabeth in the hill country of Judah.

 

A Trimester

The Holy Spirit came upon Mary and the power of the Most High overshadowed her. Her womb carried God becoming man. In haste, she went to the hill country to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who was in her sixth month (Luke 1:39-56). Scripture tells us that Mary stayed with her for three months – the last trimester of Elizabeth’s pregnancy while Mary’s first trimester. Two women filled with the Holy Spirit and two infants in their wombs, both miracles – for Elizabeth was barren and Mary was a virgin – since nothing is impossible with God.

 

Three months – in the fullness of time. The older mother, in her final preparation for the birth of John, prepares the young mother, who, when the time would come, will be away in Bethlehem birthing in a manger. The younger mother, in beginning the wait for the birth of Jesus, waits on the older mother, who, at a time the Lord saw fit, took away her barrenness. As cousins, their love for each other not only ran through their blood, but also, in their long Jewish heritage.

 

As pregnant women, they shared intimately the joyful maternity of their first born, actualizing in their femininity of bearing new life. Filled with the Holy Spirit, their bond with each other, with their sons in the wombs, with the promised Messiah – was a union no humans have experienced before them.

 

In that blessed three months, the mystery of the Incarnation began to radiate salvation to the intimate small first community of believers in Jesus Christ. In that early dawn of the fulfillment of the prophecy still hidden from the world, two women shared domestic tasks rejoicing: Elizabeth thanking God for taking away her disgrace and Mary singing her canticle of praises to God – two women but one in the Spirit, having one heart raised to God, linking the old and the new into one family of God. The quietness of those months spent together was like the mysterious work of leaven for the new bread offered to humanity.

 

On Recovery

So Ash Wednesday arrived and in thinking about the three practices of lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving, I felt called to an unusual lent of visiting women with whom we have said to each other, “Let’s get together sometime,” when we happen to meet somewhere, but never have taken the time nor followed up with concrete plans. For the first week of lent, I decided to invite the woman who lives by herself next door. We have been neighbors for the last 25 years but we have never invited her over. The excuses were many, like having babies, homeschooling, and the incessant full plate.

 

We tried to be neighborly. Every time I cook beef stew, which always is a big batch, I fill a recycled cottage cheese tub and send one of my kids to deliver it to her. In the fall, she bakes zucchini bread and our children gobble it up. Every time we meet in the grocery store or somewhere else, she always tells me how she loves the gravy of the beef stew I make. I tell her how her zucchini bread disappears in one sitting with the kids. And we usually say, “We should get together sometime.” That has been the extent of our neighborly interactions, in addition to the annual Christmas-caroling at her door on Christmas eve as part of our family holiday tradition of caroling our neighbors. 

 

Last summer, she had a big sign at her window facing the street that said, “Happy 90th Birthday!” We did not know we lived next door to a woman who has lived 9 decades already. To the children, that is like a hundred years.

 

Afternoon Tea

I called Kay and invited her for tea on the first week of lent. She said, “That would be lovely.” I decided to unearth the tea set buried in bubble wrap that came with the china set in storage in the basement. “We don’t ever use these pretty things,” I thought. Paper plates and paper cups make for less work for hostesses of events. I set the end of our table with the tea set and placed freshly baked muffins on a rarely used crystal platter that we got as a wedding present. 

 

When the time came, I watched Kay from the window as she walked slowly from her house to ours. It amused me that she brought along her purse that swung from her shoulder as she made her careful trek.

Life-giving Tea

There is something ceremonious about pouring tea from a teapot. Grasping the handle with one hand and keeping the lid in place with the other, the tea-infused water is poured with focused precision. Little girls and grown women pause long enough to watch the stream of amber liquid fill up a cup before conversing again. Kay and I were no exception. She resumed to tell me that she has lived in the house next door for the last 65 years and narrated the development of the neighborhood within that time.

 

We talked about children, education, books and her water-aerobics class three mornings a week. Not one word was mentioned about beef stew nor zucchini bread. After one hour, she put both of her palms on the table and said, “I have taken enough of your time.” I pointed out to her that she still had half a teacup of tea and that she had not had a muffin yet. She said to me, “Our talking was food enough,” as she determinedly stood up. As I watched her slowly walk home with her purse swinging from her shoulder, I too felt content that a deeper hunger was fed.

 

(This also appears in The Well.)

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The Sanctuary Lamp: 8 Ways to Teach Children Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharist

Do you know what is the greatest treasure on earth?  It is the Holy Eucharist.  It is Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharist that makes it sacred, accessible, and  efficacious for our salvation.

 

A Church Visit

Edith Stein, a Jewish German scholar and philosopher, observed a woman carrying a shopping basket enter into the Frankfurt Cathedral and kneel for a brief prayer.  Edith wrote, “This was something totally new to me. In the synagogues and Protestant churches I had visited, people simply went to the services. Here, however, I saw someone coming straight from the busy marketplace into this empty church, to have an intimate conversation. It was something I never forgot.”

 

This was a beginning step for Edith Stein on her journey to become a Catholic, and later a Carmelite nun with the name of Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.  Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was arrested, transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp, and martyred.  Canonized in 1998, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is a co-patron saint of Europe.

 

 

Real Presence in the Eucharist

The woman carrying the shopping basket knew of course that the Frankfurt Cathedral was not empty.  She believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  Jesus in His fullness was present in the consecrated Bread stored inside the tabernacle.  To come into His presence meant to be positioned to experience an intimate heart-to-heart conversation with Jesus.

 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us,” is present in many ways to his Church: in his word, in his Church’s prayer, “where two or three are gathered in my name,” in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned, in the sacraments of which he is the author, in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the person of the minister. But “he is present most especially in the Eucharistic species.”  CCC #1374 states that Jesus’ presence is in the “fullest sense.”

 

8 Ways to Teach Children about the Real Presence in the Eucharist

 

Many Catholics today do not comprehend fully the beauty and depth of the Blessed Sacrament.  A Pew study in 2019 reported that only 31% of Catholics believed in Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist, and 69% did not believe that it was Jesus but only symbolic of His Body.  What can we do to reverse the erosion of belief in this central teaching of the Church?  Parents have the most influence on the spiritual and religious development of their children. 

 

Here are a few suggestions to parents on how to pass on to children knowledge and faith on our Lord Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharist:

 

  1. Receive the Eucharist with reverence.  Modeling a loving attitude that honors the Eucharist will speak volumes to your children.
  2. Bring attention to the tabernacle when entering a Catholic Church.  Teach children to genuflect to show reverence in the presence of Jesus.
  3. Prepare your child for his or her First Holy Communion.  Children have the capacity to understand the love of Jesus for them.
  4. Take your children to Eucharistic Adoration.  The regular experience of prayerful silence prepares them to hear the voice of Jesus.
  5. Form their minds and hearts by reading to them from the Youth Catechism about the Eucharist.  It is Jesus Himself who invites each of them to an intimate relationship.
  6.  Observe the hour fast before receiving Holy Communion.
  7. Teach them to receive the Eucharist worthily.  Teach your children to regularly participate in the Sacrament of Confession, and to avail of it before receiving Holy Communion if they have committed a mortal sin.
  8. Make the Sign of the Cross when driving by a Catholic Church.

Red Lamp

I am grateful for the nuns that taught at the Catholic school I attended.  Those holy women instilled in me the faith of Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist housed in the tabernacle of every Catholic church, and a sanctuary lamp is always burning (except on Good Friday).  I used to stop in a church before and after school to ‘visit’ Jesus.  This awareness of Jesus’ real  presence in the Eucharist is one of those things that has been stamped in my mind since my youth. 

 

Even in my young adult years when I was away from the Church, I always knew that a red lamp burned next to the tabernacle inside each Catholic Church I passed.  One time in a big city, I noticed a man genuflecting and making the Sign of the Cross at a street corner, and when I looked to see what he faced, it was a Catholic Church.  I knew exactly to whom he was reverently acknowledging amid the bustle.

 

Thankfully, the grace of God led me back to the Faith.  Today, whenever I enter a church, I look for the flickering red sanctuary lamp.  Although it is only a tiny flame that gently burns, it acts similar to a great beacon in a lighthouse to guide me safely and directly to Jesus who is truly present there. 

 

 

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This blog post also appears in The Well.

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The Unrepentant Thief: 5 Ways We Enter Repentance in Lent

A special liturgical season rolls in once more and we have the opportunity to receive mercy through repentance in lent.

 

 

Three Crosses

Although the door to repentance is wide open, it is a very tiny door.  We have to be very small to find it, and even smaller to enter it.  Repentance can only begin with humility. Canadian author Michael O’Brien in his epic fiction novel, The Father’s Tale, writes this conversation between a priest and the protagonist that clearly reflects our human experience:

 

 

“You see, Aleksandr, in each heart three trees grow. Life cuts them down, trims them, crafts them into crosses. Then they are lifted high on a hill – a hill like a skull. One is the cross of Jesus, the second the cross of the repentant thief, and third the cross of the unrepentant thief.  . . .

 

We like to think that in times of trial, we will suffer like Jesus. If we are a little bit realistic, we will say to ourselves, “No, I am not much like Him. Therefore I will be like the repentant thief, and go straight to Paradise.” But so often, when the trial arrives, we find to our dismay that in fact we are the unrepentant thief. . .”

 

 

“Yes, Alex said morosely, nodding.  “That is true.”

 

“This is not a cause for sadness,” the priest said with a smile and outstretched arms.  “This is a great victory. To see ourselves as we are is the precondition for repentance.  When we understand that we are the unrepentant thief, then and only then are the wellsprings of conversion opened to us.  We can turn to Jesus hanging in agony on his cross and beg forgiveness from him.  And on that day, we enter Paradise.”

 

Seeing Ourselves

 

“To see ourselves as we are is the precondition for repentance.”  It requires humility to recognize that we have failed to love God and neighbor with our thoughts, words and actions. To offer no excuses, justifications, and explanations for our lack of charity requires dismantling the bulky armor that defends our pride. Arrogance and self-righteousness obscure our objectivity.

 

When was the last time a loved one acknowledged that they wronged you?  When was the last time you approached someone to admit blame?  Challenging as it may be, repentance should be a solid thread in our lives as followers of Jesus.  Our lifelong transformation in love does not happen without it.  The Church gives us the season of Lent as a chance to see ourselves as we are, repent of sin, and return to the Father. 

 

 

5 Ways to Enter Repentance in Lent

 

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent.  Repentance in lent allows us to experience the tender mercy of God for us, His children. Let us humble ourselves before God and enter into this penitential season as the chance to turn from sin and turn to God.  The following are 5 ways to enter repentance in lent:

 

 

  1. Ask God for the grace to recognize our own sins – what we have done and failed to do.
  2. Acknowledge our sins – Name the wrongful acts/thoughts and accept responsibility for them. When we are in a personal relationship with God, our sorrow for sin is motivated by faith and love of God.   
  3. Repent – Turn from the darkness of sin and turn to God for forgiveness and healing.  Only God forgives sins. Our merciful Father does not delay in embracing a repentant son or daughter. He is ready to make us new again.
  4. Confession, Penance, and Reconciliation – “Sin is before all else an offense against God, a rupture of communion with him. At the same time it damages communion with the Church. For this reason conversion entails both God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with the Church, which are expressed and accomplished liturgically by the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. (CCC 1440)”  Encountering Jesus in this Sacrament provides us not only absolution for our sins, but we also begin to receive healing from the effects of sin in our hearts.
  5. Receive grace – This return to God with all our heart effects interior conversion.  It will inflame us with the desire and resolution to change our lives with hope in God.  We start anew, reorienting our sight and trusting in Him.

The Gift of Lent

When Lent comes around, a little anecdote always helps me to take this penitential season seriously.  As I get older, I take it even more earnestly.  

 

 

Upon death, a person faces Jesus and says, “Lord, I did not have enough time to reform my life.” To which, Jesus replies, “I gave you Lent every year.”

 

We may be like the unrepentant thief: 5 ways to enter repentance in lent will turn Jesus’ mercy upon us. Let us humble ourselves before the Lord. Find that tiny door of repentance and enter through it. There, we will encounter Jesus, our God who emptied Himself on the cross for our sake.

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(This blog post also appears in The Well.)

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Virtue of Perseverance

Going Deeper

Instead of setting new externally-focused goals this year, I have decided to delve more deeply into my personal calling from God. Inspired by Simeon and Anna the Prophetess (Luke 2:22-38), who both persevered in their lifetime of waiting for the promised Messiah, I want to recommit to staying the course set by God’s call in my life. Perseverance commonly connotes effort and hard work to complete a goal despite barriers and obstacles.  In the Christian sense, however, perseverance is a virtue. Perseverance involves fortitude (which is both a cardinal virtue and a gift of the Holy Spirit) and patience (which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit).

 

Developing the virtue of perseverance requires both grace and personal effort, much like operating a sailboat and harnessing the power of wind to propel the craft. Simeon was not only a “righteous man awaiting the consolation of Israel,” but also “the Holy Spirit was upon him.” Anna worshipped God night and day with fasting and prayer. The combination of grace and effort is also reflected in the Catholic Dictionary, perseverance – “remaining in the state of grace until the end of life.” This year, I hope to persevere (and remain in the state of grace) in prayer, in my vocation, and in loving others.

 

Perseverance in Prayer

“Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.” Romans 12:12

 

Prayer is encountering Jesus like the woman at the well—receiving from Him life-giving water. Jesus was already there waiting for her. Whatever my feelings or circumstances may be, I must continue to choose to come to the well to listen and talk to Him, because He provides the water I require to live a good life. Besides faithfully praying at set times, different experiences throughout my day will prompt me to pray spontaneously. Jesus tells His disciples, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

 

Fortitude in My Vocation

“Let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us.” Hebrews 12:1

 

My vocation to marriage and family is a calling from God as the normative path of my transformation and sanctification. This is the race in which I run and hope to finish. To persevere in my vocation is to make choices every day to love my spouse and children for their highest good in spite of difficulties. The terrain is demanding (endurance becomes imperative), and the road long (requiring stamina), but the panorama is breathtaking (I would rather be here than anywhere else).

 

Like all vocations, I cannot genuinely live out its privileges and responsibilities without the grace of God who called me into it. Marriage and family life are messy. Ample opportunities for self-donation present themselves daily. If I begin to run out of steam in living my vocation, I can look to Jesus. He transforms my heart so I can find joy in staying true to my vocation. I press on. “For the sake of the joy that lay before him Jesus endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2) for the sake of His Bride, the Church.

 

Patience in Love

“Patience is the queen who reigns over all virtues because she is the heart of love. She conquers and is never conquered. Her companions are courage and perseverance, and she returns home victorious.” – St Catherine of Siena in her “Dialogue.”

 

How is my capacity to hang-in-there with others? When someone voices an opposing opinion, do I cancel them and walk away? When a loved one complains, do I start looking for greener grass? When a neighbor shares her troubles, do I seek an escape?

 

To persevere in loving others and walking beside them through their challenges takes time and long-suffering on my part. I am called to help lighten others’ burdens just as Jesus invites me to yoke myself to Him to lighten my burdens. I cannot instantaneously drum up patience by my own will power. Patience is an actual fruit of the Holy Spirit, resulting only from an ongoing relationship with Him.

 

Growing in Virtue

I must admit that many challenges in 2020 made me weary, and at times even tempted to lose heart. On the other hand, those challenges revealed the faithfulness of God to care for us. They tested and strengthened the commitment of spouse and family members to each other, and garnered the sincere support of neighbors and friends. In 2021, I pray to God for the grace to grow in the virtue of perseverance: in prayer, in my vocation, and in loving others. The wind in my life constantly changes in strength and direction and I hope to grow in my ability to sail the course set for me by God. I lean on Him who remains constant with a love that endures forever.

 

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(This blog also appears in The Well.)

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We, an Easter People

Indeed, we are Easter people and our song is alleluia! The joy of Easter is not only that the resurrection of our Lord Jesus triumphed over death, but that His resurrection floods us with hope that we, who put our faith in Him, will ultimately experience triumph over death. As disciples, the power of the resurrection is at work as the small deaths we experience transform us.

 

 

Small Death

“Oohhh, the red screen of death,” the cellphone repairman’s resigned pronouncement came down like a guillotine for our teen-age daughter.  I observed that day how she had to go through a small death, not so much a threat to her life, but to life as she knew it.  Sadness, disorientation, anger inevitably resulted from her loss.   

 

Recognizing that she is a teen, when the developmental phase is marked by active social participation, and that she belongs to Generation Z, those born into and living with the reality of smartphones, the small death was real for her and no less painful.  I was tempted to challenge her on her attachment to the device but thought it would be as unfair as if someone were to challenge me on my attachment to refrigeration.  This is life as we know it and sudden change is not welcome.

 

Small deaths usually accompany change, especially the involuntary kind, and no small suffering usually accompanies these lesser deaths.  Change, whether they are unplanned or self-determined, demands an eradication of the “familiar” to make room for something “different”.  A young mom with children was just diagnosed with cancer and is going through agonizing dread for herself and her family.  Another mom is overwhelmed by the arrival of a new baby and the demands of her growing family.  Graduating from college, a student anxiously faces uncertain next steps and unknown territories. 

 

In the midst of a dilemma, we ask our children, “Which one of you is willing to make a sacrifice?”  Even a small death is a harrowing and bitter pill to swallow.  Our minds revolt and our stomachs lurch with repulsion.  Disciples of Jesus are not immune to change, in fact, discipleship denotes precisely a life of transformation.

 

 

Small Resurrections

We are Easter people who believe that death is not the final ending.  Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again, this is the mystery of our Faith.  This too is the mystery of our lives as followers of Jesus.  The small deaths we suffer can be occasions for small resurrections.  The mystery of mysteries that took place inside the tomb on the first Easter happens in our hearts when Jesus reigns on its throne. 

 

He is the silent and hidden power that conquers death in us.  Suffering decreases us to the point of extinction of our selves.  Grace, on the other hand, raises us to new life and Jesus increases in us even as we continue to bear the wounds of our small deaths.  As Easter people, the series of lesser deaths we undergo are no small deaths, and the series of lesser resurrections are indeed, no small resurrections.  They mark our transformation from glory to glory that we may be wrought more and more to be like Jesus.

 

 

Easter People

The much anticipated package arrived.  As our daughter was opening it, I reminded her how sad she felt when her phone died.  She quickly retorted, “It’s ok, I got a newer one!”  Immediately plugging in her new phone to charge its battery, I asked her if she was happy with this one.  She replied, “- ish!”

 

The joy of Easter overshadowed Jesus’ suffering and pain that came before it. The light overcame darkness. Life triumphed over death. We, an Easter people experience within us both death and resurrection, and with Jesus we too will triumph over death.   

(This blog also appears in The Well.)

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Easter – The Great Rescue

All our guests were involved in this unlikely Easter drama.  International graduate students and visiting scientists, several of whom have not heard about Jesus, joined our family Easter celebration.  As my husband drove into our driveway with some guests in the van, they noticed two cats jump out from our egress window well, obviously startled by the approaching motor.  Investigating why those cats were in the window well, they saw a baby bunny in one corner with its head burrowed and its white tail up in the air.  There are bushes on either side of the well; we guessed that the hunters and the hunted must have all fallen into the window well while in the midst of a frantic chase. 

 

 

Trapped

It was obvious that the van scared the cats in the nick of time or the baby bunny would have been lunch for the domesticated hunters.  The rest of the drama unfolded as the guests and everyone in the house came out to watch my husband go down into the window well, which was about 4 feet deep, catch the panicked baby bunny and set it free.  The spontaneous cheers and clapping probably scared the bunny even more as it instantly scurried away as soon as its legs hit the ground above the well.  

 

 

To Live in Freedom

At the heart of Easter is the greatest rescue of all.  Trapped in sin, there is no way out for each of us – no matter what we say, think or do – we all face the wages of sin, which is sure death.   Dante’s, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here,” is an accurate label over our lives and destiny as sinners.  But in God’s infinite love for us His children, in His absolute mercy for us in our predicament, in His utter compassion for us in our helplessness, He came down – not only to save us from total destruction,  but also to restore us to freedom to live as His sons and daughters.

 

 

Jesus Saves

After enjoying a selection of main entrees (some guests do not eat pork, some do not eat beef, some only eat plants) and lots of pies and Easter eggs for the children, we shared with the guests the significance of the Greatest Event of the Church, Easter –  Jesus is risen from the dead, is alive today and invites each one to live with Him.  Jesus, whose name means “God saves,” invites all people, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live.”  (John 11:26)

 

 

Easter Life

The drama of the Easter bunny that everyone witnessed when the guests arrived portrayed more clearly and more powerfully for all of us what our human condition was before the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus.  We all understood the imminent danger the bunny was in with the ravenous cats poised with their deadly claws and powerful pounce.  We were all relieved to see the bunny unscathed and overjoyed that it ran away free to live its bunny life.  After we bid our guests farewell and while walking to cars in the driveway, the children and some guests went by the egress window well to peer into it once more.  It was empty.

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Seeds of Kindness

Kindness reflects a tenderness of heart that is touched by the plight or suffering of others that moves one towards generosity and graciousness.

 

A Little Kindness

There’s a half-dead bird on the driveway,” my daughter came in to tell me.
“What do you mean half-dead?” I asked. 
“It is on its back with its legs up but one leg is broken.  Its eyes open and  close,” she described.
“What shall we do about it?” I asked her.  (I was going to tell her that it happens that birds get hurt and it is nature’s way and that we should let nature take its course.)
“Let’s put it on the grass,” she replied.
(At that moment, a choice was before me: either tell her there is not much we can do about it and leave it alone, or recognize her kindness for this bird which can die on the grass instead of on the concrete.)  “Let’s go.”

 

Goes a Long Way

Kindness often is a small act for the person doing it but for the one receiving it, kindness makes all the difference.  We can imagine the plight of the dying destitute in a gutter of Calcutta, not only physically suffering but alone and abandoned, already half-dead.  The simple act of someone, like Mother Teresa, cleaning their wounds and being present to them changes their remaining days from misery to dignity.

 

How easy it is to give a loving kiss to a spouse who had a rough day or an understanding hug to our child who is struggling, yet their burden is immeasurably lightened.  How effortless it is to hold an elderly person’s hand or offer a kind word to one who feels hopeless, yet to them it is like water on the parched land.  Kindness is like the tiny seed that bursts forth in its recipient and unfolds life.

 

Unexpected Blessings

We have been recipients of kindness and we’ve experienced how it strengthens our hearts and re-ignites our hope.  My mother used to say of those who did kind deeds to us, “That person is a child of God.”  She was a widow with six children and she knew when kindness was extended to us, acts that made a significant effect on the situations we were in.  Small and simple acts became unexpected blessings for us that often were answers to her prayers.    

 

It was not a pretty sight – the bird’s leg was broken where it’s ankle would be and its foot was waving like a flag on a pole in the autumn breeze.  My daughter came out with a box and announced that she had looked online for instructions on what to do with an injured bird.


(“Oh, no, this will just delay the inevitable,” I thought.  But I didn’t have the heart to squelch the care she showed for this wounded creature.)  We brought the bird in the box into the house and my daughter put water and seeds in the box like she read online.

 

After a few hours, she went to look into the box and I was expecting her to find a lifeless bird.  Instead, somehow the bird had turned over and had eaten and drank and was “sitting.”  
“Mom, it’s still alive and it looks better.  What should we do?”  She was as surprised as I was.
“Take the box outside and let’s see what it will do.” I replied.  
She put the box under a tree in the backyard.  The unexpected blessing happened for the bird.

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ordinary-time

Ordinary Time

Ordinary time in the liturgical calendar is the time outside of the major seasons.  Catholics are tempted to take ordinary time for granted, but there is nothing ‘blah’ about it.

 

“May I go to Mass with you tomorrow?” – an unexpected request from our next door neighbor who attends the largest evangelical church in town and in which her husband is an elder.   “Sure,” I replied, “May I ask why you want to come?  She mentioned that she and her husband and a group of couples were reading a book about worship and she was curious about the Catholic worship service, the Mass.  She included, “The author mentions that some churches even have water at the entrance of their church to remind people of their baptism.”  I said, “That’s us.”

 

With New Eyes

Bringing someone to the liturgy who has not been to Mass before becomes a privilege for wonder because you get to see things anew through the eyes of someone who sees it for the first time.  On the one hand, you discern their disorientation and perception of objects, words, actions and people at the surface level.  You sense their feeling of alienation despite their attentiveness and you try to view how the “newness” of the details around may seem to them.  At the same time, you know the significance and meaning of the objects, words and actions but they have become all too common to you and you have taken them for granted.  You become alerted once more to comprehend with all the saints, the breadth and length, height and depth of Christ’s love (Eph. 3:18) that is made present at Mass.  

 

Human Nature

Our Catholic faith is experienced with our senses, understood by our reason and leads our souls to enter into the mysteries of revelation that are beyond our limited capacity to understand.  The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual. (CCC 362).   Because we are corporeal (having a body), we touch, smell, taste, sit, stand, speak, sing – we use our whole body to worship God in the liturgy.  Because we are spiritual (having a spirit), we can know, love and adore God – “we can worship in spirit and in truth.”  (John 4:24)

 

Things Unseen

The practice of our Catholic Faith comes with signs, symbols, gestures and sacraments because Jesus was incarnated, He became a man and lived amongst us.  The liturgy uses ordinary things like water, oil, bread, wine and candles, words and actions.  These simple elements, however, are not ends in themselves but they bridge the physical to the spiritual, the exterior to the interior, the concrete to the abstract because Jesus is divine.  The Holy Spirit present in our worship, transforms these ordinary things  and makes them efficacious to effect a real encounter with the Living God.  They not only signify but they usher spiritual realities in which God acts and we participate, where grace transforms us, where our salvation is being worked by Jesus Christ.  

 

Who is the neighbor?

On the way home from Mass, I asked our neighbor, “What do you think?”  She said, “What is this?” trying to mimic the gesture we do before the Gospel reading – touching her forehead and lips and chest.  I told her it is a gesture of small crosses to let Jesus lay claim on our minds, lips and heart.  It is a gesture that comes with a prayer right before we hear the Gospel proclaimed, “Lord, may Your words always be on my mind, on my lips, and in my heart.”  She was astounded.  “That is beautiful!”  I said, “Yes, it is beautiful.”

 

 

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit in Family Life

We were incredulous that our guest gave us a most unusual gift on Thanksgiving Day.  Hosting  international students to join our family in celebrating this American holiday, we usually receive  gifts such as foreign candy, trinkets, scarves, and even a stuffed camel with actual camel hair.

 

We were surprised to receive from one of them a shower head with a hose!  We politely thanked our guest and wondered how he came up with the choice of this gift – who does that?  We shared many laughs with family members at receiving a piece of household hardware.  It was one of those things that make for interesting conversation and filed in the funny family memories.  However, two days before Christmas, our shower head cracked – causing water to spray in numerous crazy directions all over the bathroom! 

 

 

Open to the Holy Spirit

Many times, we turn to God when the heat of the noon day sun beats on our hearts or the raging waters sweep us away.  We silently pray and earnestly ask for the gifts that we already received but have left on a shelf un-used.  The Holy Spirit who is our Teacher, Comforter, and Helper not only dwells in us but the gifts of the Holy Spirit have been bestowed on us, particularly when we received the Sacrament of Confirmation.

 

For most of us, these gifts of the Holy Spirit remain as noble words but play no active role in our daily lives: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, fear of God.  These gifts of the Holy Spirit, known as sanctifying gifts, are characteristics of Jesus that He manifests in their perfection and that He freely shares with His body, the Church.

 

If we are open to the work of the Holy Spirit within us, these gifts come to bear not only in having the “power” to live the demands of a holy Christian life but they also equip us in our relationships, especially in our marriage and family.  In effect, they are given to us so we can become like Jesus and love like He loves.  Let us waken to the presence of the Holy Spirit in us and use the gifts which are lavished on us. 

 

 

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Let us ask the Holy Spirit everyday to stir up in us His gifts to be active in our relationships.  How many times are we called to respond to our spouse and be at a loss as to what to do?  “Lord, give me the wisdom. I ask for the ability to judge this situation rightly and act according to Your truth.”  How many times do we face an immediate situation and not know the possible consequences of our decision?  “Lord, give me the understanding to penetrate beyond the surface and see what is at the heart of this situation.” 

 

Everyday, we parent our children of varying personalities in different stages of development, “Lord, I ask for counsel, direct me in this particular matter so that it moves my child towards You.”  As Christian spouses and parents, we know what is the will of God in many situations, but we feel weak to follow through because of our own frailty or the influence of others.  “Lord, give me the fortitude, the firmness to do good and to avoid evil.”

 

Many conflicting and confusing messages assail us and our family to obscure the Christian message.  “Lord, help me, my spouse and our children to know the right path and not wander from it.”  When the world teaches us and our children to elevate ourselves and our own choices, we pray, “Lord, give us the gifts of piety and fear of the Lord that we may worship you above all else, honor you with our lives and obey your teachings that bring life.”

 

 

Use the Gifts

“. . .  and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”  (Romans 5:5) 

When we are docile to the Holy Spirit and use the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially in our relationships, they do not remain on the shelf as spiritual gifts, but they become incarnated in our words and actions and bear fruit in our relationships.  A gift is activated when it is used for what it was designed.  Although we enjoyed the shower head as a conversation piece, our family appreciates it more for showers.

boundaries

Teaching Children Boundaries

Boundaries and Decisions

Helping to make good decisions for themselves begins with teaching children boundaries.  In the domestic church this can be achieved by identifying non-negotiables.

 

Entitled, “My Parents Should Let Me Get Guinea Pigs,” one of our daughters handed us a paper she wrote.  She proceeded to give three reasons why: first, she had enough money to buy a pair; second, she has proven herself responsible as she had pet hamsters when she was younger; third, she spent a year exploring the types of guinea pigs, the characteristics of each type, and the necessary daily care regimen for the type she wanted to get.  She wrote this paper because we asked her to write one before we would consider the idea of guinea pigs as pets for her.

 

Decision-Making 

Many decisions we make are driven by emotion, desire or passion which may blind us to the responsibilities or consequences that those decisions bring to our lives.  Some of these choices may be trivial and may have small effects in our lives.  Some of these decisions, however, may be grave and may impact our lives and our family in a big and lasting way.  

 

Big or small, taking the time to consider decisions to be made is part of being a responsible person.  Teaching our children responsibility includes teaching them the process of making decisions.  Having clear boundaries steer us and our children to make good decisions even before engaging in a process.

 

 

Non-Negotiables

Clear boundaries for choices and behavior act like fences that keep decision-making focused on what is moral, safe and responsible while keeping out those that are immoral, dangerous and irresponsible.  There are three boundaries that we have taught our children when they were young, which we called non-negotiables.  This means that no negotiation or compromise or discussion was allowed in these areas.  They represented the basic boundaries within which their choices were to be made.  “Think before you make a choice and use these guidelines:”

      1.  If the choice is between right or wrong (morally):  Choose to do the right thing.
   2.  If the choice is safe or unsafe (physically):  You must act only if it is safe and will not endanger or harm yourself  or others.  
      3.  Chores:  You must always do your chores.

 

Giving children firm boundaries help them to practice self-discipline because boundaries provide clear guidelines for choices by which they can abide.  Within the boundaries, most everything can be negotiable with other factors considered.  That means choices can be open to discussion, compromise, flexibility and personal preferences. 

 

There are few exceptions to the non-negotiables – like not being able to do chores when they are sick.  As they get older, fine-tuning of the decision-making process develops as their understanding, maturity and ability to direct themselves grow.  They also learn the rare exceptions to the non-negotiables, which must always be based on love.  For the most part, the non-negotiables remain.

 

 

Secure Within

Clear boundaries not only act as guidelines to the decision-making of our children, but they also provide them with a sense of security, responsibility and the practice of virtue.  Virtues are good habits of doing what is right and loving.  Making decisions for good and love becomes easier for  our children as the habit to choose them is continually supported and practiced. 

 

Enjoying the fruit of well-thought out decisions and choosing virtue foster within them a confidence in their ability to make good decisions.  Our daughter is in the third year of daily caring for her guinea pig pets and they give her much joy.  Although she does all the care and maintenance for them, they have become pets for the whole family.