The Francis Effect

For 17 months we have witnessed and lived the journey with Pope Francis as our leader and guide. It seems no matter where I travel - be it a classroom, parish setting or national organizational meetings - I am constantly asked this question: What do you think of Pope Francis?

This past week I attended the J.S. Paluch Vocations Seminar in Chicago. This gathering was energizing, fruitful and inspiring as we discussed the effects Pope Francis has had on the world. We also discussed his effect on vocations within the church and about the upcoming year on Consecrated Life.

Father_Tom_Rosica
Father Rosica, CSB

During the session we heard from Father Tom Rosica, CSB, who reminded us of the challenges Pope Francis puts forth: globalization of indifference, challenges and temptations of the Church, making the Gospel message an ideology, functionalism and clericalism, just to name just a few.

Father Rosica explained: “Everything the Pope is doing now is not just an imitation of his patron saint who loved the poor, embraced lepers, charmed sultans, made peace and protected nature. It’s a reflection of the child in Bethlehem who would grow up to become the man of the cross in Jerusalem … the Risen One that no tomb could contain … the man we Christians call savior and Lord. Pope Francis has given us a powerful glimpse into the mind and heart of God.”

We also had the opportunity to view an extraordinary documentary on the life of Pope

Sebastian_Gomes-5
Sebastian Gomes

Francis produced by Sebastian Gomes entitled: The Francis Effect. I highly recommend this film as an educational tool for schools, parishes, families and for anyone who is interested in learning more about this man, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Bishop of Rome – Pope Francis.

Pope Francis has given us much to think about concerning our daily lives. His simplicity, tenderness, kindness, prayerfulness and his ability to reach the depths of our hearts is such a gift to us. How do you live the “Francis Effect” in your life?

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Being about the Work of My Father

Notre-Dame-Summer-Retreat-2014

These words were spoken by Jesus to his mother when she found him in the temple. Jesus was sitting amongst the teachers listening to them and asking them questions.

How true is this about us? Are we found in church listening and asking questions after the priest has given a homily?

Jesus’ revealing lesson to us is something that touches all families. It is the struggle between remaining obedient to what God is calling us to live and the expectations of our family members. Oftentimes our parents, spouses, family and friends have thoughts and dreams of what we should be involved in, what path of life we will walk or even what kind of job we should take in the future.

Jesus had this experience too. He had to manage being obedient to his heavenly Father and to his earthly parents (Mary and Joseph). During all of these moments throughout his life, we hear that his mother Mary kept all these things in her heart.

No matter where we find ourselves in life, we are constantly trying to remain faithful to what God is asking of us. The challenge is for us to know how to balance the reality that we live in here on earth while at the same time respond to the call to follow God and listen to him.

The children at the Notre Dame Summer Retreat heard about this from Father John Phalen, C.S.C. when they acted out the gospel of the Sermon on the Mount.

What are some of the obstacles you have faced when making decisions that you believe will help you live the life God is calling you to? How does that fit with your parent’s, spouse’s or friend’s desires for you? How have you reconciled this call to follow Jesus in your everyday life?

 

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Topics: mary, the-finding-in-the-temple, joyful mysteries

The Solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady Celebrated August 15 A Simple Way to Happiness: Following Our Lady

The-Coronation-of-the-Blessed-Virgin-from-Sacred-Heart-Basilica-University-of-Notre-Dame.jpeg-1Believe in the Lord, trust and say “yes” to where He is leading you! This is the simple way to a life of happiness and peace (even in the middle of challenges). This is what our Mother Mary shows us with her life and it is her Assumption into heaven that shows us where a life of grace takes us.

In the early centuries of the Church, theologians began to contemplate the eternal life that the Lord promises to those who live their faith in Him. They soon realized that they could get a glimpse of heaven by reflecting on Mary's extraordinary entrance into it.

In 1954 then Pope Pius XII declared that the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed, body and soul, into heaven. The Dogma of the Assumption was formally defined just 60 years ago, but it is a very ancient part of our faith. This is a completion of what was begun in her at the moment of her Immaculate Conception. Conceived without sin, she lived a life of total faith and perfect discipleship. Befitting such a beautiful life, at the end of her time on earth, she—the one whose very flesh the Lord Himself shared—was taken body and soul into the fullness of eternal life.

She is the Mother of God and in the Feast of the Assumption we contemplate her beauty. She shares total communion with God, body and soul, in a unique way. Yet in her we see the promise for us all - and the beauty of each person who also tries from his heart to live in faith and discipleship.

Let's let the Holy Spirit come upon us too, so that He can lift us up more and more into a life of communion with God, even as we still walk this earth.

As the early Fathers of the Church contemplated Mary gloriously assumed into heaven, they realized that God did this so that, fully united to Him, she could be fully our Mother of Mercy and our great Intercessor.

Holy Mother help us on our journey into God!  

 

 

 

 

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Topics: feast-day, Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary

The Joy of Industry

joy-of-working-together

While walking along the beach in Narragansett, RI, I observed a child of about 5 years old who was busily digging a hole in the sand.

Off to the side there were two similarly aged children who had just arrived. They hung back, apparently wanting to play too but not familiar with the industrious little boy.

Finally, they walked up and without saying a word, began helping.

Next thing all three of the children went to gather up a bit of ocean to fill the hole. Back and forth they went, running to the water and slowly carrying their filled buckets back. What struck me was that they were just sharing the pure joy of industry.

The scene brought back to mind Robert Frost’s poem, “The Tuft of Flowers”. In this poem the narrator goes from thinking how we all must work alone to understanding that “Men work together … whether they work together or apart.”

Later as we went to dinner I began to ponder how we were working with this waitress even without knowing it. She was serving us so that we were fed while we on the other hand were there to be served so she had a job. It made me appreciate our relationship. We were no different than those children working and playing together.

In so many ways in our everyday world we can see a growing sense of entitlement in people. This is most evident by a lack of gratitude; the expectation that we are only getting what we should receive. This devalues others. We are all in relationship whether we realize it or not. We are interdependent. The joy in this is that we do indeed work together and are able to share in the joy of life and living.

May we realize how much we have to be grateful for from everyone we interact with … and even those we never see.

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Topics: gratitude, joy, inspiration

Lourdes: Learning Prayerful Trust

Procession_Lourdes
I just spent a month at Lourdes, France, serving in the Family Rosary Center we are operating there this summer. Maybe another day I will blog about that mission but today I want to share some personal thoughts about what it has been like to be there … this place which so many people have found to be so extraordinary since Our Lady appeared there to Saint Bernadette in 1858.

Over the years, I have been able to visit the Shrine a number of times and each time I experience a sense of peace that is so palpable you could almost cut it with a knife.

The VIPs there are the sick and the handicapped. It is very moving to see people of all ages, from all over the world, who have given their vacations to come and take care of them. They push wheelchairs, help the sick into the healing spring waters, and attend to their personal needs. They are Mary sharing the Lord's love and grace.

Now, spending four weeks at Lourdes opened me to a deeper experience, still. I was there for a mission that kept me busy … yet I noticed that my mind and heart were being drawn to recall so many friends and situations in the Church and in the world with a simple clarity and the loving attentiveness I often long to attain. It was concern, yet it was not worry! In my heart was a deep sense of trust and deep connection with all.

Grotto_Lourdes

Whatever happens, live in prayerful trust! I sensed somehow that I was being drawn into the Heart of Mary which is the Heart of the Church! Being in Lourdes for a few weeks, I seemed to gracefully be allowed to stay there, seemingly effortlessly, so as to learn this once again and more deeply.

I share the experience of this grace with you so that together we can live something so simple yet so important for our world.

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Topics: prayer, mary, lourdes

Even God Rested

If we fail to establish regular practices of stillness and rest, our creativity will either be exhausted or shallow. Our countenance, instead of reflecting a vitality of fresh creative energy that is sustained by the restorative depths of stillness, will be listless or frenetic. Creativity without rest and productivity without renewal leads to exhaustion of our inner resources.

The Book of Creation, J. Phillip Newell

Rest is essential for the spiritual life but also for the creative life and intellectual life, for life itself.

Observing Sabbath was one of the Ten Commandments. God himself rested after the creation of the earth. Have you ever noticed how often Jesus mentions rest? He takes it as he slips away early in the morning to pray. He gives it, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”  (Matthew 11:28) 

Rest is not simply doing nothing, but ceasing our normal work, stepping outside of normal pressures. It is in these times that we get perspective, not by continuously rehashing our situation, but by allowing the mind and heart time to quietly make connections. 

Remember in the midst of summer activity and work to take time to look up at the clouds, sit by a pool, stroll through a park or pray in quiet corner of the house. 

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Topics: prayer, summer, rest

Be Still …

Sometimes the Lord calls us to rest and it is a sacrifice I find most difficult to offer. We run about doing good but become like whirling dervishes; set in motion and unable to stop, breathe or reflect.

Summer: time to rest, pray and refreshIs this really what the Lord is asking of us? Sometimes we need to go apart to pray as Jesus did so we can set a new pace. I find for myself that often I don’t stop until I have a migraine. For others it may take a fall, an accident, the flu, getting fired, or what have you. Wouldn’t it be better if we could hear God’s voice calling us to rest and pray before we have gone over our physical, emotional, and spiritual limits?

I have been burned out in the past through ministry. These times were not just difficult for me but also for those with whom I worked. The more fatigued I became, the more I pushed. The more I pushed, the higher expectations I put on others. It was a vicious circle. I didn’t use my vacation time nor comp time because I couldn’t afford to get further behind … until I had to stop and take a long period off work. How much better it would have been if I had used my vacation time to rest, pray and play. 

In the past year I have been with eleven hospice patients and I love this volunteer work. It is a supreme privilege to be present with these individuals during such a critical time. Last month, I suddenly realized that I wasn’t quite bouncing back between patients. I found that even on my visiting day I would be wiped out. I know there is always a need for volunteers but I also knew it was time for me to take a break.

During these beautiful days of summer, which is such a short time in New England, may we all take the time to rest and pray. Then, being refreshed in the Lord, we may express His love in so many more ways from the wealth we have received.

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Topics: prayer, summer, rest

Our Lady of Mount Carmel: Finding Peace and Finding God

You might have wondered why there are so many different devotions to Mary all over the world. They are all about the beautiful and varied ways that Our Holy Mother wants to share her Love, Jesus Himself, with people of different times, places and cultures - and how these people have returned that love.

There is another important thing to note. In each devotion, there is some unique part of the Gospel message that she wants to teach and that she herself lives and represents for us as Mother of the Church.

A good example of this is Our Lady of Mount Carmel, whose feast we celebrate July 16. She is the Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Pray for us.Patroness of the Carmelite Order but it's striking that this devotion is pretty universal in the Church, even in places where there the Carmelites have not reached. You can see this in the very widespread use of the "Brown Scapular" of Our Lady of Mount Carmel through which Our Lady promises to help us with a grace-filled and peaceful death and lead us to eternal life. It is a way that she wants to walk with us, as our Mother.

Further, as we look at the history of the Carmelite Order we can get a sense of what she wants to teach us. Around the year 1200, some men who had gone to fight in the Crusades in the Holy Land settled as hermits on Mount Carmel. They looked to the Prophet Elijah and the Blessed Virgin Mary as models of a prayerful and holy life infused by prayer and the Gospel. The Prophet Elijah had encountered the Lord in a gentle breeze (see 1 Kings 19:12 , i.e., in stillness and peace) and the Blessed Virgin received the Word so totally that He was made flesh within her.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel calls us all to live prayerfully and reflectively! In a world where we are constantly barraged by our telecommunications and electronic devices she wants us to find God - and along the way to discover ourselves -  through a lot more peace and quiet!

The Crusaders who became monks in hillside caves made a radical move that not many are called to. Still, in today's world it takes a personal decision to carve out little space for peace in your life and in your home! But we all need it! We all know that the noise and the pace of life can drive us crazy.

'Don't know how to begin? Pick up your rosary for 5, 10, or 15 minutes a day - every day ! - and let Our Lady help you. Help those you love to do so too. 

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Topics: rosary, our-lady-of-mount-carmel, feast days

A Goal for God

This week has been very exciting with the World Cup soccer games taking place in Brazil. Fans are gathering together to cheer on the players, show pride for their countries and enjoy their favorite sport. The streets are crowded with people from all parts of the globe. Visitors are chanting about which team is better and which country will win. There is plenty of positive energy being shared among so many faithful fans.

Futbol-Ball-2As we watched the United States play Belgium, I could feel the excitement build. As we watched the goalie from the US play his best in blocking shots, the enthusiastic crowd seemed to get louder and louder. Although he did his best, the US lost their chances to win the championship. After the game, although disappointed because of the loss, the fans cheered their team and praised the goalie who played an outstanding game.

While experiencing all of this I could not help but think about the similarities to our faith journey. The Paschal Mystery also included loud cheers … for Jesus coming into Jerusalem and people cheering Hosanna! Then Jesus is arrested and put to death. After which he rose from the dead and lives among us in spirit. Our own lives are also filled with moments of joyful victory and agonizing defeat.

Even in the everyday activities of individuals, friends and families – whether it is watching a World Cup soccer game, helping your children with homework or visiting with a friend - we can always see the presence of our Lord in our midst. Jesus continuously reveals something about our humanness, about ourselves or about those around us.

How do you live the moments of victory and defeat that we all face in life? How often do you really pause to feel the energy of excitement and the tears of sorrow that is part of our journey in life?

Even in the game of soccer there is always an opportunity to score a goal for God.

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Topics: faith, jesus, soccer

Two Hearts: Back-to-Back Feast Days

Sacred-Heart-of-Jesus
The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus comes upon us in the Liturgical Year as something of a sweet dessert after the rich feast which is the Easter Season. Moreover, the People of God know that the Heart of Jesus can't be separated from the Heart of His Mother, so we celebrate the Two Hearts, back to back. The Immaculate Heart of Mary is celebrated the day after the Sacred Heart.

As I have visited homes of Catholic families, rich and poor, all over the world, I have been moved to see how pervasive is the practice of enshrining an image for the Sacred Heart and next to it, one of Mary, often times the Immaculate Heart. It is a clear statement of faith that they preside over and protect the family. The practice has fallen off some in the US, Canada and Europe but I pray people will pick it up again because it communicates so much.

This has been important in popular religion since the 17th century when devotion to the Heart of Jesus and, soon thereafter, to the Heart of Mary, took off. In our times, similar experiences with great devotions to the Divine Mercy and Our Lady of Fatima too. Mother Mary appeared in Portugal to tell us of the triumph of her Immaculate Heart!

These images aren't magical. They are a way of "painting the Gospel," so that we can express that which we know and we experience – that God loves us so much – and our Mother Mary too! Contemplating the images helps us to hear this word of God, to deepen our experience of it and put it into practice. We let Jesus and Mary come into our hearts and our homes and we grow in love of them in return.Immaculate-Heart-of-Mary

Yet there is another dynamic going on that we would do well to be more aware of. Simply put in human terms, we become like what we love. Letting the Lord love us and loving Him back we become like him. We see in the Heart of Mary the perfect example of this: her heart is totally united with his.

I highly recommend one of my favorite ways of praying, particularly when I wake up in the middle of the night or at other times that I just need some simple way of reaching out to the Lord and to Our Lady. I repeat over and over and over again: Sacred Heart of Jesus, Immaculate Heart of Mary, I trust in you! You will feel them near, drawing you close.

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Topics: mary, jesus, feast-day

Take One!

Salt-and-Light-Catholic-Media-FoundationThis week I had the privilege of visiting the office and staff of Salt and Light Television in Toronto, Canada. I was invited to be part of their program Vatican Connections hosted by Alicia Ambrosio.

Alicia asked me questions about the role of women in the church and the effect Pope Francis is having on the church. These topics – so life-giving and dynamic for me personally – created quite a fruitful and energizing conversation.

We discussed the role that Mary has in the church: how we draw strength from her example and how her Yes was said only after the Angel Gabriel spoke the words, “Be not afraid.” This powerful statement is also meant for us and calls us to be courageous, to be fearless and to follow in her footsteps to know her Son and our brother, Jesus.

As women, we need to be bearers of new life. We are invited to create and carry life within us, in all that we do. We need to be reminded that we were not created to be in competition with men but rather to complement them, walking side by side … together in all that we do.

This engaging interview for the television program offered me the opportunity to reflect on how I see myself as a woman in the church, involved in a ministry that encourages families to gather together to pray, especially the praying of the Rosary . In the Mysteries of the Rosary , Mary always brings us to her Son, in all that she does, in her whole being. She desires that we follow her Son and get to know him. When reflecting on the life of Jesus, he teaches us how to interact with others, how to respond when we are in difficult or challenging situations and how to be a faithful and loving person, caring for the needs of others.

I invite you to also reflect on some of these same topics. How do you see women involved in the church? If you are a woman, what has been your personal experience as a woman in the church? How have you responded to the needs of those around you?

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Topics: Mysteries of the ROsary, mary, rosary

Taming Hearts

praying-rosary-GracieRecently I reread The Little Prince by Saint-Exupéry. This is on my list of favorite books and is one of those fairy tales for adults. In this story the fox tells the little prince that he must be “tamed” and that will make all the difference. Now all these months later Gracie and I have tamed each other, so to speak.

For months I had been attending the weekly Rosary at an Alzheimer’s facility. Gracie must have been there since the nurses tell me she never missed it but in my mind’s eye, I only recall many wheelchairs and that there were people in them … not their faces. Then she became my hospice patient.

The first time I came to visit Gracie I told her I was a hospice volunteer. She raised her eyebrows, shook her head, and shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “What next?” At the end of my second visit she thanked me for coming to visit and asked me to come again. By the third visit I was so aware of how sweet her temperament is as I observed her interaction with the help; Gracie consistently waits until she has eye contact with a person and then says, “Thank you” with a toothless smile. Week after week we pray the Rosary together, either in her room or with the group. Then we sit and chat or sing, if she likes.

My relationship with Gracie has exemplified what the fox teaches the little prince, “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is like a hundred thousand other little boys and I have no need of you. You on your part have no need of me … But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me you will be unique in all the world. To you I shall be unique in all the world … It is the love you spend on your rose which makes all the difference.” *

Gracie is my rose and is unique in all the world to me. I’m glad she has lived beyond 95 years so I am able learn her lessons and grow to love her. Since she has recovered so well, she has been discharged from hospice. I will continue to visit but no longer as a hospice volunteer but now as a friend.

* The Little Prince, written and illustrated by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Harcourt, Brace, & World, NY, 1943.

 

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Topics: rosary, hospice, Alzheimer’s disease

Pentecost

Gifts-of-PentecostNow that we are celebrating Pentecost I am reminded of the disciples hastening out of their hideout to spread the good news.

I think the most familiar example of this for us is falling in love. The world changes all around us. We love everyone and everyone is a friend. Every day is beautiful. But we know too that we could not live forever with that intensity. It is the habits we develop while in this joyful state that provides the foundation of a deeper love which continues to permeate our lives but in a much less obvious and more profound way.

Often I am amused how nothing empties out faster than a church parking lot after mass. Where are we all off to? Certainly we are not off to preach or proclaim the Word … or are we? We could be doing that as well, even without knowing it. As we leave Mass, we are permeated with the gifts of the spirit, Eucharist and the community of believers who have come together to worship (even if they think they are only doing their duty.)

We are usually not aware of this as we ride off to breakfast, or home to read the paper, to take the kids to games, or whatever. On days like today it’s a nice reminder that the Spirit is alive in our hearts. And as love grows deeper beyond the original passion, may we know that our faith, and grace goes deeper until we just live in that grace and it spills over to everyone around us as it moves and impels us to grow, reach out and yearn for more.

So on this Pentecost Sunday my prayer for us all is that we are increasingly aware of the gifts we have received and recognize them as we live out each day doing whatever we need to do.

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Topics: pentecost, mass, feast days

Walking in the Footsteps of a Saint

This past week I traveled to Krakow, Poland …

What an exciting place to be in light of the recent canonization of Pope John Paul II !  

st-john-paul-II-statue-krakow-polandIf you did not know that he was proclaimed a saint in April, well let’s just say, we could not miss the news in Krakow. It was so emotionally exciting to walk the same grounds that he did as a child, as a youth, as a priest and then as bishop. My heart was full of joy to be this close to his history, to learn more about this person and to witness what he did and said throughout his lifetime.

I visited his hometown, the place where he was baptized and the neighborhood where he lived. I read about his family history in the museum and spoke to people who are so proud to call him a native son.

One evening I attended vespers and Mass with the monks at the Dominican church. I was so profoundly struck to see that the church was packed … beyond standing room only! There were people sitting in the aisles, standing all around and even out the door. My heart was full of excitement, joy, gratitude and peace. I could only imagine what it must have been like for the apostles in the upper room when the Holy Spirit came upon them ( Acts 2:1-4 ). It was awe-inspiring to be with the youth and college students among the local people of the area, all celebrating the Eucharist with a reverence so profound and with such meaning – it was simply a powerful experience.

As we approach the celebration of Pentecost  - the birth of the church - we are reminded of the journey each one of us lives within the faith of the church. We listen to our current Pope Francis giving witness to what it is that we are called to live – what it is to be a follower of Jesus. I ask: What do you do to share the spirit living within you? How are you a follower of Jesus?

 

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Topics: pentecost, saints, feast-day

You've Got Mail- Lots and Lots and Lots of Mail

Youve_Got_lots_of_Mail

A priest friend of mine recently told me that  upon returning from a retreat and logging into his e-mail, he found he had over 4000 messages.   I used to get excited when the voice of AOL used to say, "You've Got Mail"  whenever I logged onto the service.  Now, not so much. I really love the ways we can keep in communication with each other and the accessibility of information, but like many people, I find myself deluged by e-mail everyday.  E-mail can be a time-consuming and distracting reality.

     Chuck Murphy writes a blog on Internet and New Media.  In his recent entry he offers 10 Productive E-mail Habits.  Here are three I found very helpful:


    1. Email is not meant to be a discussion chain. If it requires more than 2 replies consider resolving the issue with a phone call.

    2. Save the CC function for only people that have asked to be copied on an email. It was not meant to keep people in the loop, in fact getting CC’d at the end of a long chain requires a lot of effortt understand an issue.

    3. If you can address an email in less than 2 minutes, take care of it and get it out of the way.

  How do you use e-mail in your life?  That is a message I would welcome. Read More

Topics: Family Rosary

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