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.)


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.)


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. 




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.


5 Ways to Live the Liturgical Calendar in the Domestic Church

My mom always recalled our birth-stories on our birthdays and we do the same for our children now.  I am glad that hospitals allow dads in the delivery room, so the eyewitness account we render to our children about their birth is more accurate and can be recounted by both of us.  From the first contractions, to the weather that day, to the drive to the hospital, to medical people who attended to us and procedures done, we recall and share with our children the special moments that made each birth-day memorable – especially when we saw each one for the first time.  My husband, our child and I were all the main characters of the event that day and on each birthday, we make present once more that special event in our lives and the life of our family.  Then we celebrate!



Let Us Celebrate

To celebrate is not just to remember a significant event in the past, for sure – remembrance is central to a celebration; to celebrate engages the whole person: mind, body, heart, and spirit.  We eat cake and ice cream, we sing, we give gifts, we play games, we invite friends, we dance, we take pictures, we reminisce and we pray – all to celebrate a birthday or anniversary.  In making present a significant event in the past, we mark it by making a break from our ordinary routines and engage our whole person, usually with others in a gathering – to celebrate.  It’s a community affair.



Seasons of the Church Year

This is what the Church does in living its seasons around the liturgical calendar.  The Church makes present to us the significant events of Jesus’ life as great feasts: Christmas – the birth of our Savior, Easter – His resurrection from the dead, and Pentecost – the birth of the Church, the body of Christ, as the Holy Spirit enlivened it by tongues of fire.  Seasons of preparation: Advent – preparing for Christmas, and Lent – preparing for Easter call us to attend to our hearts to be open to deeper conversion to Christ. Ordinary time is the season between the feasts and they are punctuated by solemnities, holy days and feast days.  For the Church, these are all times of great celebration!  As disciples of Jesus, we are called to celebrate – to engage our whole person because our mind, body, heart, and spirit participate in joy.



Bring It Home

Parents can make present at home the seasons of the Church calendar to help our family experience in an immediate manner the learning about Jesus’ life and to more fully participate in the life of the Church.  The rhythm of the life of our family mirrors the rhythm of the life of the Church.  Home decorations, family traditions, a Catholic culture at home all contribute to make present and make alive the Faith to our children.


  1. Be intentional – integrate the liturgical seasons in your family calendar of celebrations.
  2. Bring attention to the Church decorations and colors at each liturgical season and celebration at your parish.
  3. Keep a Celebration Notebook – includes celebrations your family does throughout the year, a record of family traditions, family activities, menus, special recipes, books to read to the children, etc. so that every year a family identity becomes more and more established.
  4. Be explicit about the spiritual and faith aspect of the celebrations – make these teaching moments about our Catholic Faith so that the Faith is not separate but integrated into our lives .
  5. Prayer – integrate the relationship with God by praying on family celebrations. Include prayers that reflect the liturgical season or celebration in family prayers.

Making disciples of our children is very much about familiarizing them with Jesus, His life and the life of the Church as much as it is fostering a personal relationship with Him.  Every year, the children eagerly listen to their birth-story and their siblings’ birth-stories even if they already know the details.  As parents, we do not tire of telling them either.  The Church is about to retell our story again – our salvation story.  The Church begins a new liturgical year this Sunday – the First Sunday of Advent.  At this time, the Church makes present once more the waiting for the Messiah.  Our hearts long for the coming of Jesus.


Heartfelt Thanks

It is like a match made in heaven – my husband and children, who love cookies, and a neighbor across the street who owns the best cookie shop in the city.  The Cookie-Lady, as we call her, comes to our door to deliver the special cookies herself – a large heart-shaped one for Valentine’s, fancy colorful iced ones for Halloween, a plate of assorted Christmas cookies wrapped-up with an elaborate bow for Christmas.  Whereas customers pay a price for these cookies, we get them as prizes for being her neighbor!



Enjoyment of the Gift

Saying Thank you when we receive a gift is a social grace and courtesy for acknowledging someone’s benevolence to us; saying a heartfelt Thank you, however, comes only after  we have truly enjoyed the gift.  A gift becomes precisely a gift to us not just because we receive it, but because we fully enjoy it. 


What woman will not take in deeply the fragrance of a dozen roses given to her and place the vase where she can appreciate their beauty?  What man will not savor every bite of a favorite meal cooked just for him?  What artist does not experience focused pleasure while applying his creative gifts on a piece of music, design, or art?   What parent does not take delight in just watching their infant’s face?  A true gift brings joy.  The proper response to a true gift is the full enjoyment of the gift.



Joy of the Giver

The greatest satisfaction that a gift-giver can have comes in the delight and relish that the gift brings to the one to whom it has been given.  The joy of giving is matched only by the joy of knowing/seeing that the recipient utterly enjoys the gift.  What man’s heart does not fill with joy as a woman he just proposed marriage to gasps and locks her eyes on the ring he just put on her finger?  What chef will not bask in pleasure as guests relish his masterpiece concoctions?  What parent does not smile at their child who opens a present and becomes ecstatic with joy?



Abundant Life

Let us stop to realize the gifts that have been given to us by our loved ones.  Let us enjoy them to the full.  They are the gift of their love, the gift of their time, the gift of their sacrifices, the gift of their intimacy, the gift of their treasure, and the list goes on.  Let us stop to realize the gifts that have been given to us by God.  Let us enjoy them to the full.  They are the gift of His grace, the gift of life, the gift of faith, the gift of our spouse, the gift of children, and the list goes on.   


St. Irenaeus is quoted to say, “The glory of God is a man fully alive.”  A person fully alive is a person wholly  reveling in grace, totally yielding to the Holy Spirit and using His gifts; faithfully living the gift of a new life in Christ.  Taking the time to enjoy thoroughly all the gifts that have been given to us is the greatest thanks we can give to our loved ones and to God.  The gifts are given to us so that we can “live abundantly.” 


At the end of the day, only heartfelt thanks can be offered, “Let me sing to the Lord for His goodness to me.” (Ps 13:7)  Living in abundance is what our family feels when we receive these very special cookies from the Cookie-Lady who lives across the street.  The cookies never last past a day because we enjoy them so much.  Our children always make a homemade Thank You card; they run to put it in her mailbox.  We hope that she realizes that our thanks are always heartfelt because they truly are.


5 Ways to Pray with Children for Those Who Have Died

I saw my grandmother today – in the mirror!  I was shocked at how I looked so much like her.   She had very long hair and always wore it up in a bun with a comb on either side to make sure it stayed in place.  A Saturday morning of cleaning out the basement necessitated putting up my hair so it didn’t get in the way of sorting many things accumulated and needed to be discarded. 


Catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror temporarily jarred me out of my mission.  It has been several decades since my grandmother died and I haven’t thought much about her.  While my hands got back to working, my mind became busy with memories of her and many loved ones who have died.  Lord, have mercy on their souls.


4 Last Things

November is the month of praying for the the souls in purgatory.  The month of November is at the end of the liturgical calendar of the Church in which the Church directs our attention to the 4 last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell.  The Feast of All Saints and All Soul’s Day at the beginning of November give us opportunities to remember holy men and women and to pray for the souls of our “faithful departed.” 


The Church has clear teachings on the saints and also of souls in purgatory and it is worthwhile to educate ourselves on these teachings so that we may participate in the prayers of the Church on earth (the Church Militant), asking the intercession of the saints in Heaven (the Church Triumphant) and interceding for the souls in purgatory (the Church Suffering).  Together with them, we are brothers and sisters in the one family of God.

Because my mother was widowed at a young age, praying for my father and relatives who have died was always included in our family prayers.  I learned about relatives I never met as she included a litany of family members in the intercession.  When we asked her about them, we not only had a picture of them as persons but we learned of their struggles and trials and choices.  As children, we could appreciate that their lives and choices had real impact on our own lives.  Our lives now is drinking from the same river of life that they drank from.  We pray for them out of love and gratitude. 


Teach our Children

As we make it a point to include praying for the souls of our departed loved ones, we also teach our children to do this as part of their prayer life because our children are members of the Church who prays for our brothers and sisters in purgatory.  These may be ways to pray for the souls of our loved ones:


1. Include this traditional prayer after meals:  “We give You thanks, Almighty God, for all Your benefits, and for the poor souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, may they rest in peace. Amen.”


2.  Let driving by a cemetery be a reminder to pray for loved ones who have died and also for all those buried in that cemetery.  Ask children to join in this prayer.


3.  Remember to pray for loved ones on their death anniversaries.  Offering a Mass for them is a tradition that we should continue and teach our children.


4. Offer and teach children to offer little sufferings and sacrifices for the souls in purgatory.


5. Learn about and understand indulgences and teach older children about them. 


My grandmother had golden hoop earrings that she wore permanently and I remember them because she always had her hair up.  I just bought myself a pair of golden hoop earrings.  I do not wear them permanently but they remind me of persons who lived before me, generations of them, who cooperated with God and participated in relationships that transmitted life to me and have transmitted to our children.  Some of them probably lived as saints, most as sinners like me, so I pray for them and teach our children to pray for them.  It is an act of love and gratitude as well as a spiritual work of mercy.


6 Ways to Introduce Saints to Our Children

Even very small things that possess beauty can move us. From one of his trips to China, my husband brought home a gift for me that I keep on my nightstand. It inspires me to reflect on the saints. It is an inside-painted snuff bottle, and I am fascinated by how the artist painted it. Snuff bottles are very small bottles that fit comfortably in the hand. During the Qing Dynasty in China they were used by rich and influential people to carry powdered tobacco, which was believed to be medicinal. The bottles were usually intricately and elaborately made to reflect the owner’s status in that society.


Today, the decorated bottles are made as souvenirs. An inside-painted snuff bottle has images painted on the inside cavity-walls, and the painted images are visible from outside of the bottle. Similar to these clear bottles, we are able to marvel at the beauty that God paints in the saints’ interior lives that is revealed through their exterior living.


Made by God

Saints are the most beautiful creatures made by God, because they allow the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts. They are deferential to the work of the Great Artist to conform them to His Son Jesus, docile to the work of the Potter to transform them in love, and submissive to the chisel of the Master Sculptor to form into reality what already exists in His mind. God, who is Beauty itself, creates the beauty of His image and likeness in souls who cooperate with Him.


Mary, the mother of Jesus and our mother, is the Queen of All Saints. Her fiat, “Let it be done to me according to Your will,” expressed her complete submission to God’s work in her life. She was ‘filled with grace’ which irrevocably made her the most beautiful woman.  As disciples of Jesus, we must also give our personal fiat to God. Becoming saints is the fruit of a life surrendered to God in response to His love.


An interesting thing about the inside-painted snuff bottle is the very small opening on the top of the bottle through which the artist may work with a brush to paint the cavity-walls inside of the bottle. The very small opening of a snuff bottle is not a hindrance to the artist but the artist does need the cap off in order to do his work. For every saint and for each of us, the YES to the invitation of Jesus to be in relationship with Him is what is necessary for the Holy Spirit to begin to produce in us a work of beauty as a new creation. Preferring the will of God to our own will is trusting in His ability to “make all things for good” – and not only good, but beautiful.


An interesting thing about the inside-painted snuff bottle is the very small opening on the top of the bottle through which the artist may work with a brush to paint the cavity-walls inside of the bottle.  The very small opening of a snuff bottle is not a deterrent to the artist but the artist does need the cap off in order to do his work. 


For every saint and for each of us, the YES to the invitation of Jesus to be in relationship with Him is what is necessary for the Holy Spirit to begin in us a work of beauty as a new creation.  Preferring the will of God to our own will is trusting in His ability to “make all things for good.”  Jesus teaches us in His parables that the Kingdom of God starts in our hearts from very small beginnings – like the mustard seed or like leaven, that grows by a hidden power.



A Plan of God’s Design

While most painters begin with big strokes for background on a canvas and then add details to define images, the artist of a snuff bottle starts with the small details in the foreground of the images as seen from outside of the bottle and ends with the background strokes. The painter of a snuff bottle already has a design in mind before beginning to paint.


The artist knows all of the details and where to strategically put them in relation to each other in order to complete the picture. A dot here, a line there, a smudge here, a stroke there – they may all seem random at first in the blank cavity-wall, but as the artist adds each hue and shade, an image appears, a story is told. 


“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord in Jeremiah 29:11. Saints humbly trust in God, completely hope in His goodness, and faithfully embody the love of God to others. Holiness and beauty on the inside always shows on the outside, because love is expressed in attitude and action.



Friends in High Places

Let us introduce our children to the saints, who despite sin, struggles and challenges persevered with the one thing necessary; they chose the better portion and it was not taken from them.  (Luke 10:42)


Our children need real people who model holiness and love for God.  These may be helpful tips to encourage our children to have friends in Heaven who are alive in perfect union with God:


1. If our child has a patron saint or is named after a saint, learn about the saint and celebrate the feastday of that saint annually.  Teach the child to ask for the intercession of that saint.


2. Many parishes give away calendars in the beginning of the year with saints’ feastdays on them. This is a good way to become familiar with many saints and to look up something about some of them on their feastdays. 


3. Give children books on the lives of saints or books written by saints as presents.  During lent, reading these books could be a way to do something special for this holy season to rouse our family towards holiness. 


4. Several places, churches, schools and organizations are named after saints.  Let us point these out to our children and remind them something remarkable about these saints. 


5. Many Catholic families have their children dress up as saints to observe All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and celebrate this holy day with other families. 


6. Begin family traditions for some feastdays of saints like St. Nicholas or St. Juan Diego.  Many of us come from immigrant families.  Learn about and celebrate patron saints of the countries from where our families emigrated. 



Becoming a Saint

Leon Bloy wrote “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.” God redeems us for a holy life, which is a path of conversion and love. By the grace of our Baptism, we are made with the capacity for holiness, and reaching that full potential for holiness is to become a saint. Jesus is the fount of holiness. The Holy Spirit sanctifies, and our part is to cooperate with grace to be transformed.


Just as a work of beauty, no matter how small, reflects its creator, the saints give glory to God. Let us become saints. Let us trust in God and His wondrous plan for us. The Great Artist has a design in His mind for each of us – the masterpiece He has begun inside you and me is not only one-of-a-kind, but will be one of eternal beauty when completed.

(Also appears in The Well with the title: The Great Artist at Work”)



Fostering Intimacy in Prayer

The very first time I saw the movie, “Fiddler on the Roof,” as a teen.  I was very much impressed at how Tevye, the Russian Jewish peasant prayed to God in a very personal and familiar way while he  worked in the barn or in the field.  Growing up in a praying family and believing God to be good and loving, my experience of prayer had been mostly communal and when I prayed on my own, they were formal prayers, and an occasional, “Lord, help me do well on my test.”  


I thought that Tevye talked to God that way because he is one of the Chosen People, and they must know Him in a genuinely personal way.  I believed that God knew me because He made me, but that was the extent of it. God knows the number of hairs on our head but intimacy in prayer constitutes entrusting our hearts to Him


As intimacy is a relational thing, intimacy in prayer stands on the love relationship between the Person of God and us – there is that exchange of gifts: us – entrusting our hearts to God and God responding to us in love.  The beautiful thing about intimacy with God is that God also reveals and entrusts His heart to us and we can respond to Him in love.  We desire intimacy with God because our hearts long to know God and yearn to be known; and God’s heart desires to know us and longs to make Himself known to us. 



Intimacy with God

Prayer is this love relationship with God where because we are His children, He sent the Spirit of His Son, Jesus into our hearts crying out, “Abba, Father!”  (Galatians 4:6).  Relational Prayer bridges our hearts to the Father’s heart.  The following dynamics can be incorporated with any method of prayer like praying the Mass, Lectio Divina, the Rosary, Scripture reading, contemplative prayer.


  • Acknowledge – Notice, name and admit our thoughts, feelings and desires – be aware of what is going on inside our minds and our hearts.
  • Relate – Choose to entrust what is in our hearts to the Lord by telling Him about it honestly, being just as we are, letting Him into our subjective world.
  • Receive – Be receptive to God’s response that may come as an insight, an image, an awareness of His presence, a peace, or even a correction.  God may speak to us through the Scriptures, events and people in our lives – we need to be listening and attentive to the movements of the Holy Spirit.
  • Respond –  When we receive from God, we respond accordingly.  If we are called to act, let us act.  When we are invited to trust Him, let us put our trust in His goodness and power.  When we receive understanding and insight, let those guide us.  When we are being corrected, let us repent and follow His way.  

Teaching our Children Intimacy with God

Modeling intimacy with God in prayer is the best way to teach our children.  If the habits and dynamics of intimate communication are part of the home culture, intimate prayer with God will feel normal and natural as part of loving relationships.


  • Foster intimacy in family relationships so our loved ones learn how to entrust and express what is going on in their interior selves and also learn how to respond to others sharing, 
  • Personal Prayer Life – Help family members to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus.  Help young children develop habits of prayer like prayer before meals, a Morning Offering and a nightly Examination of Conscience and Act of Contrition and spontaneous prayer – no matter how simple.  
  • Pray with them – When our children come to us and share their thoughts, feelings and desires, we can respond by turning to God together, “Let us pray about this,” and together with our child, pray to God out loud expressing to God what the child has shared and together, entrust it to God.
  • Encourage Relational Prayer – As our children get older and when they share their innermost thoughts, feelings and desires, we can encourage them to also share them with God, “When you pray today, tell God what is in your heart and be listening.  I will be praying for you also about this.”

Because I have many thoughts, feelings and desires, turning to God in prayer comes more naturally now – praying while washing dishes or shopping or brushing my teeth.  We too are chosen.  Jesus tells His disciples, It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.”  (John 15:16)

6 Ways to Foster Intimacy in the Domestic Church

There were few occasions when my husband missed our son’s  games.  I usually reported the games to him with the major plays and included the contributions our son made in the games.   At home (or on the phone if my husband was out of town), he would ask our son, “How was your game?”  Despite knowing the outcomes of the games, the high and low points, and particular details of  how our son played, my husband always wanted to hear about the game directly from our son.  They would proceed to go through a blow-by-blow account of the game with lively commentaries and earnest critiques.


Going beyond the objective, getting past mere information about our spouse and children, intimacy with them allows us to enter their subjective world.  It opens the door to their minds and hearts and not only lets us know who they are, but it also frees them to discover more deeply who they are as they share and reveal their inner selves to us.  Intimacy strengthens the familial bonds.



Exchange of Gifts

It takes at least two persons to practice intimacy because it is a relational thing – there is an exchange – a precious gift is entrusted and a response commensurate to the gift is granted.  In communicating thoughts and feelings, one is given the opportunity to entrust himself to another and the other person is provided the chance not only to be in his shoes, but also to respond to him personally – to walk with him, a privilege to be savored.  


First, a gift is given and received; then by the response, the recipient gives and the giver receives. At the end of their game reviews, my husband would respond depending on how our son felt about his game.  He would give our athlete a big dose of encouragement if he had a bad game or congratulatory affirmation if he had a good game.



Sharing of Minds and Hearts

Fostering intimacy takes time and patience; we can cultivate a culture in our homes that encourages expressing, sharing and responding.  When trust is established, it paves the way for loved ones to share what is in their hearts.  Modeling intimacy is the most effective way to teach and foster it in our family relationships:


  • Carve out time for regular and casual sharing – eating dinner together comes as a natural way to do this or time in the car with the radio off.  Parents openly express and share their own thoughts and feelings – and encourage loved ones to share their thoughts and express their feelings.  When troubles and serious things arise, sharing about them will seem normal and natural.
  • Begin a couch time with your spouse, when for a few minutes a day, you can share what is in your mind and heart – doesn’t have to be deep – just get in the habit of sharing with each other.  This models to our children the primacy of the husband-wife relationship and what married relationship looks like.  Added bonus: When children see their parents sharing and having a close relationship, it strengthens their sense of security.
  • Let us be available and ready to listen when loved ones talk about what is going on inside of them, even if it seems trivial to us.  If we are busy or not ready, we tell them – “I am busy right now, give me five (or plus) minutes, I want to hear what you are saying.”  Then give them your full attention.
  • Let us ask them to explain further their thoughts so that we may understand their ideas. Many times, verbalizing thoughts helps speakers clarify ideas for themselves.  Let us give feedback to their ideas without being dismissive.  
  • The tone of their voice or facial expressions may indicate that real emotions are at play even if the explicit words express only facts.  Let us ask them to identify what they are feeling so we can respond accordingly.  Feelings are real  but not always easy to identify.  Identifying feelings helps a person to be in touch with what is going on inside of himself.  Together with our children, we’ve looked at a list of feeling words like, angry, disappointed, surprised, delighted, etc. to give us words to use to more accurately express our feelings.  
  • response is important in fostering intimacy; it closes the loop – indicating to our loved ones that we not only understand their minds and hearts but that we care for them.  For example, when one expresses sadness, we respond with comfort; or when one expresses joy, we respond with jubilation.  An appropriate response constitutes our relational expression of affinity and affection for them.  They are precious moments when a child responds with kindness to a parent who has shared particularly challenging feelings.

First Community

Intimacy opens the path from one heart to another heart and back.  Without intimacy, we live in the shallow surfaces of our relationships that often leads to loneliness and isolation.  Our priest tells us that most people in their death beds talk singularly about their loved ones; regrets and satisfactions of their lives are measured by the state of their family relationships.  


The family is the domain of significant relationships and it is in these relationships that intimacy should naturally be fostered.  Skills for intimate interpersonal relationships are learned and honed in the primary relationships of the family.  These interpersonal skills are the same ones exercised in prayer; as Christians with a personal relationship with Jesus, intimacy with God is possible.  Our Father wants to hear everything directly from us.  Let us allow Him into our subjective world; He listens and He does respond.


Fostering Intimacy – Part 2 will be posted next week.
Intimacy with God in Prayer and Teaching our Children Intimacy in Prayer

A Gift for Our Children

By Tyler Wheeler


A Treasure Found

One of the more transformative moments in my walk with Christ was when I first went to a Benedictine monastery for a retreat.  Here I found something that I didn’t know I had lost: silence and quiet.  At first it was simply a physical silence.  There just wasn’t much noise, both literally and figuratively; no TV, no radio, no co-workers, nothing.  This physical silence left me uncomfortable and restless – but I stayed.  I didn’t want to and every ounce of me sought to run but I stayed (well…because I’d already paid for the retreat).  


I entered into the silence, the emptiness.  I knew I had to face myself and my Creator. This exterior silence that was almost painful at first slowly began to create an interior silence that was healing and enlightening.  I felt God was working, as He had always been, and now, I finally stopped to listen.  In the silence, in this encounter with Christ, I was laid bare, naked before God.  I had to face Him and through that, see myself more clearly. 


This retreat experience fundamentally changed how I seek, or rather, try to be open to Christ – I realized that I need periodic silence (daily, yearly retreat, etc.), a stripping away of all my noise and distractions, to encounter God at a more intimate level.  The lesson I learned at that retreat is still very much true today. 



Seeking a Cave

“There he went into a cave and spent the night…The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.  Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.


After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”
                                                                                                                                    1 Kings 19:9, 11-13

My world is inundated with noise; an unholy clanging fills my ears and mind.  I know I need silence but unfortunately our world is a tornado of noise.  The Word of God struggles to find a resting place within me.  What I learned on that retreat is that I must go away to a cave, like Elijah, to let the Word nestle in my heart, to hear His gentle whisper. 


The cave is a place of exterior silence that leads to interior silence.  It can be a moment of pause in a busy day or a week long retreat.  It’s creating a space where there can be an interior “stripping away,” a going into the desert, a removal of crutches and false idols.  There’s nothing to do in the cave but listen for the Lord.  God is found in the whisper.  



But What about Our Children

What I found at that retreat and what I still seek, I want for my children.  I want it for them now and also in the future.  I want them to taste the sweet silence of God now but also to equip them to enter their cave for the rest of their lives.  In theory this sounds wonderful but…. the reality is – they are kids!  I happen to have 3 sons and one daughter whose main vocation in life, it seems, is to fill every second of silence with as much noise as possible.  


Yet, I know they yearn for it.  They, whether they know it or not, and like many of us, can say, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You, O’ Lord.” (St. Augustine)  I, as a parent, must help them to find something they don’t know they desire; I must give them a gift they’ve never dreamed of asking for.  How?  I don’t know in all honesty, but here are a few things my wife and I are trying:


  • Have “quiet time” every day.  This time is to be filled with reading, coloring, or some quiet activity that they do apart from everyone else.  We do 30 minutes but I know other parents do it for both shorter and longer time periods.
  • Don’t fill their time with planned activities but allow them to be bored.  Let them explore, let them do menial undirected activity.
  • At appropriate times and places, remind your child(ren) when they are creating unnecessary and unfruitful noise.  Help them to quiet their minds and hearts by quieting their mouths and bodies.
  • Give them chores that are substantial and are done alone.  I once heard a priest attribute the discernment of his vocation to farm chores.  During chores he was forced to “enter the nothingness.”
  • Go to Eucharistic adoration.
  • When you pray with them, have an extended silent time to quietly call upon the Lord.  Teach them to be comfortable with silence and to listen.

As our family continues to seek to create quiet where we can encounter Christ, we will pray that your family may find Christ in the silence as well.