Our DAILY Bread

For fifteen years I’ve been a freelance writer. Before that I was a full-time artist. These are not the kind of professions with a guaranteed income! And lately, as the jobs and paychecks dwindle into meagerness, I find myself staring at the neighbor lady as she drives off to work every day. Suddenly, I find myself feeling jealous! Wow. That’s a shock!

As she comes out the door at exactly 7:15 a.m. everyday, the neighbor lady flips back her hair which is perfectly combed. She gets into her car and drives away, acknowledging me by raising a hand to her window as I stand with my kids at the bus stop.

But, I’m sure, as she’s driving away, she’s thinking, “There’s Judith. Standing there in grubby clothes and wild hair, ready to go and feed her horses and donkey. What a life she has. No job. No boss. I’m jealous.”

I’ve been praying about this odd turn of events and this is what I realize now:

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew people were tested by God. He sent them manna…bread from heaven! But He also gave a command along with it…no hoarding up for tomorrow. Instead, He said, “Collect only enough for your needs today. Trust me. Rely on me and leave tomorrow alone.”

Then in the New Testament, the Apostles asked Jesus to teach them to pray. I’ll bet they wanted to know how to list their requests so God would answer! I can image them secretly hoping Jesus would give them something really good to say! They were really asking, “Teach us how to pray so the Father in heaven will give us steady work and good pay so we will survive and even thrive during these economic hard times!”

Instead, Jesus told them to begin with words of praise and then to say, “Give us this day our daily bread…”

Just one day at a time! The Lord gives us enough for that. Why does He do this? Well, I guess Jesus gave St. Faustina the answer. He told her that we have a simple prayer to say. It is this…“Jesus, I trust in you.”

If I trust in Him, and offer thanksgiving, all will be well! One day at a time! No guarantees about what comes next. There is no looking glass. No comfortable cushion to rest on in this lifetime. But there is Someone we can trust.

Thank you Jesus!


The Enduring Lesson

The man scoffed when I mentioned I was going to Mass. There was venom in his eyes. “How can you be a Catholic? That church is just a bunch of hypocrites and pedophiles.”

We’ve all heard that kind of thing. And I find it odd. Even though our culture doesn’t condemn public education because of the wrong doing of some teachers; and the culture doesn’t condemn the postal service just because some employees have “gone postal;” our culture likes to bash the entire Catholic Church over the wrongdoings of some priests or over the hypocrisy of some who sit in the pews.

But the truth is that every social or religious institution contains both the good and the bad. The history of the Judeo-Christian faith is a story of leaders who have gone astray and times when the Chosen People turned their backs on God. It is a see-saw history. One minute the people are following God and obeying His laws. They are humble, contrite and worshipful. The next minute they have abandoned their faith and are singing to idols.

As for leaders of faith, the story isn’t much better. In the Old Testament, David was a great leader and wrote powerful psalms. But then he lusted for a neighbor’s wife and arranged to have her husband killed. That’s pretty atrocious behavior! And his son, Solomon, was sought after as the wisest man in history. Yet he married numerous pagan wives and was responsible for the growth of idol worship in his country.

Then in the New Testament, we hear about Peter. In the reading this Sunday we heard that Peter recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior and the Son of God. It was a profound leap of faith to state this belief out loud. Yet, when Jesus tells His followers that He will suffer and die as a part of the plan of Salvation, Peter says, “Oh no. We won’t let that happen.” The words sound like a worldly temptation to Jesus and Peter is severely rebuked.

The point is: progress in faith tends to follow the pattern of 2-1=1 growth. We take two steps forward and one step backward. When toddlers are learning to walk they take a few steps and then go back to crawling. Then they’ll walk for awhile with great independence and the next thing we know, they are reaching up asking to be carried!

We make progress, and then we sin. This is not big news. What is profoundly true, and awe-inspiring, is that our church perseveres. In spite of sin and persecution, in spite of hypocrisy and a few bad leaders, the church keeps on going. As the body of Christ, the church has existed for 2000 years and it will exist until the end of time!

We don’t go to church to be inspired by a powerful, charismatic priest. We don’t go to church to show off our goodness or bask in the powerful goodness of the other people. We certainly don’t go to church because we are people who never sin. Instead, we come before the only One deserving of worship to beg His forgiveness. We go to church for guidance from His words and through His sacraments.

I am proud to be a member of the church begun by Christ so long ago which shines a light in our world today.

So the next time someone says, “How can you be a Catholic when they are all a bunch of hypocrites” you can say, “We are all less than perfect people. I go to church for the help I need to be better.”


Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II has been close to our family for the past year. My son did a research project about the Pope. And it continued all year! We had a huge biography sitting in the living room; pictures of the Pope stacked on the dining room table; YouTube videos of the Pope playing all evening. We listened to Peter practice speaking with a Polish accent and we watched his 10 minute performance "at least a thousand times" according to Peter's sister!

The amazing thing is that the Pope touched us all deeply. When we heard about a mother who was diagnosed with cancer, we offered to pray to blessed John Paul for her. We began asking for his intercession in many things.
From studying the pictures of the Pope, we see a handsome young man who slowly became stooped, gained weight and began to have slurred speech. You can see pain and frustration written on his face. Yet, he continued to appear in public. He didn't hide himself away, or even slow down all his travels, just because he was suffering from Parkinsons Disease.

I decided to create a painting in honor of this Suffering Servant. (Why not? It fits right in with the growing stacks of books on the man all over our house!) Here it is. I hope it will inspire you. This painting is partly 3D...the hands and crucifix come out from the canvas.

Also Peter's performance is now online here.

If you are interested in my artwork, send me an email. Thanks.


Learning Life’s Big Lessons

Recently 3000 kids gathered in Washington DC for a competition called National History Day. They put together amazing projects that required yearlong (primary source) research which you don't see at the middle and high school level very often. The "back stories" that happen during this experience are fascinating. Although this is a secular competition, the skills of perseverance, truth seeking, and the search for moral heroes comes out of our Christian framework. I always tell my kids, "These kinds of projects have a life of their own!" Here are just a few of this year's stories:

1) Tierra Hudson, age 13, competed this year for the first time. She and her partner, Laura Winn, did a performance about Marian Anderson whose singing became a symbol and a force for change during the Civil Rights era. Tierra's ethnic background is black, Japanese and Hispanic. She and her mom wanted to meet the best friend of Tierra's grandfather during their visit to Washington DC. Tierra never met her grandfather who died a month before she was born. Her grandfather was stationed in Japan during WWII where he met and married his wife. His friend met Tierra and her mother at B Smith's restaurant to share memories and photos. The restaurant owner, B Smith, came over to meet Tierra and learn about her project. B Smith is a model, successful entrepreneur and product spokesperson. She took photographs with Tierra and offered this advice, "Keep working hard and following your dreams. Your dreams are going to take you places!" It was a powerful experience for Tierra.

2) Brigit Brown, age 12, (my daughter) did a documentary about The Mustang Debate. She wrote a letter to the governor of New Mexico about her project and interviewed several key figures at the BLM during her research. The director of the Bureau of Land Management at the Department of the Interior, Bob Abbey, met with Brigit while she was in DC to receive a copy of her work and congratulate her. He said, "The issue about wild horses has become very emotional and there is a lot of misunderstanding out there. We are really proud of you for the work you did to tell the whole story."

3) Grace Sartin, age 12, did her first History Day project this year and was happy to have made it to the national level. "It's an honor and I'm just glad to be here," she said smiling happily. Her sister, Emily, has participated in previous years. One year she did a project about a lady pirate from Ireland. Her project didn't win but an Irish group saw her performance and said her representation was more accurate than anything they had seen. Three weeks later she was surprised to receive an award in the mail. It was a medal from "The Order of the Bard."

There are a lot more stories out there. Stories in every family...

For me, the message is that too many modern kids, with their cellphones and easy access to everything, have forgotten how to work hard. But these NHD kids have poured their hearts into serious work. They are beginning to recognize that effort is deeply rewarding in itself. The outcome in in God's hands. (My husband likes to says, "Do your best. The results are none of your business.")

The dedication, perseverance and willingness to speak to important people in order to keep learning...well, these are qualities that shape character. Getting a medal or some other acknowledgement is not necessary if our kids are going in the right direction toward making the world a better place.

The Poor are With Us

I was sitting in the bleachers watching my son’s basketball practice when a man started ranting about the Catholic Church. He had overheard my daughter complaining about someone at church that day who had said the food she was preparing wasn’t for kids who happened to wander into the Hall.

“What does the Catholic Church have against feeding those in need?” he said. That really threw me. I didn’t even realize the connection until he gestured to my daughter who had made her hungry stomach clear. The man went on to share the baggage he was carrying around.

“The nuns ran the school in my hometown. Kids would come in hungry but they didn’t have money. The nuns wouldn’t let them go through the line at lunchtime and they fired the lady who tried to feed those kids.”

He didn’t let me respond. He was on a roll. “I just read an article about how all the poverty in the world would end if Catholics and a couple other churches would sell all their artwork and statues and gold. But Catholics don’t care. They’d rather have fancy buildings.”

By the time he was finished, my mind had stopped working. I mumbled that it was unfortunate about the nuns he met and that art is important to inspire people’s souls. He rolled his eyes and turned away.

I spent a restless night blaming myself for not giving him better answers. Because I have thought about this and read about it. Why don’t the words come?

What I should have said is this:

If the Church sold all the artwork it holds, there would possibly be several million dollars available for more service work. There might even be billions. If, of course, the artwork could all be sold for high prices. Then we could feed every person in the world. But for how long? A week? A month? Maybe we could give every family in the world a cow. And this would last for how long? Maybe we could give every family some tools either for farming or fishing. But would every family use those tools?

There have been studies about how to end poverty for centuries. And clearly, money alone is not the answer. So, should we could pour billions into a “think tank” about how to end poverty?

The truth is this: eventually, poverty would return.

The Catholic Church is one of the oldest charitable organizations in the world. And the poor may actually have been better off when all Christians were called to be “charitable” instead of institutionalizing the concept and putting the poor on state-directed “welfare.”

The situation of the nuns withholding food is certainly troublesome…I wonder if they tried to help the poor children in ways that were unseen? The church calls for charity and compassion. Yet, in every church and every organization there are individuals who are mean-spirited. Sadly, that will always be true as well.

As for art…I am an artist. I know, from both creating art and admiring it, that art can lift up the spirit of many people. It elevates us, taking us out of the humdrum of our lives and into the world of Spirit.

Images of Jesus make him seem more accessible. Just as we put pictures on our walls to remind us of the people we love who are in a different place, we need images of Jesus to bring our attention back to him.

I teach my Sunday School students a song that goes, “Rise up my soul and give glory to God…” With music, the proclaiming of the Word of God, the artwork and architecture of the church, as well as charitable acts, we all work together to “give Him glory.”

The Church attempts to give glory to God in the structure and ornamentation of its buildings. In this way, the Church also becomes a beacon of light and hope to those who are drawn to these places of worship out of a simple love for beauty. Tourists regularly go to the great cathedrals of the world to be inspired.

But imagine all the artwork has been sold off. All the beautiful buildings are gone. The money that supported the poor is also used up. And the poor still exist.

Where then is our hope, our dignity and our inspiration?

The Catholic Church here in our small town was built by poor people. They didn’t have a lot of money. But they came together to put up the best structure they could using their sweat and calloused hands. Little by little our congregation has added a few statues, a few nice windows. We generally don’t pay people to create new artwork or re-do the kneelers. I have painted banners. Other artists have donated their work. A couple who run a small upholstery shop, donated their time and supplies to fix the torn and tattered upholstery at the church. Our church building is a labor of love.

And we also have a St. Vincent de Paul center and a food pantry that feeds the hungry and pays household bills for those who need it. Quietly, and without fanfare, there are people from our church who visit the sick, the prisoners and the elderly. We have programs for our youth and give money to all kinds of causes.

It is not an either/or thing: Either we put money into a building OR we care for the poor. We should do both. Because BOTH give glory to God. And if our local church were bombed tomorrow, the people here would put it back up again. Because we need it.

So, back to the man in the bleachers. I’ll see him again soon. Do I dare print out the information above (without the mention of his challenge) and offer it to him in a written form? Or can I speak these words? Stay tuned….

Time to Unplug

Am I a voice calling into the wind? I wonder if anyone can hear me? If you stop by for a moment at this page, I hope you will listen.

Reaching our children by marketing new “apps,” creating rap songs for them to download on various gadgets and offering new cartoon/realistic video games could be adding to an already serious problem.

The IDOL of our world is technology. It replaces God for many young people. They are deeply devoted to their gadgets. They cannot live without them. They keep them close at hand and bow to them throughout the day.

Once our children are obsessed with technology, we face the danger that they will become addicted to it--compulsively turning to it without self control. I wrote about this before...scroll don't to my blog on addiction.

I know I sound like a fanatic. My friends remind me of the good things. Our kids have access to instant information. As a study tool, the internet is a marvel. As a communication tool, the internet takes us far beyond what was once only a dream. Through the internet, my son was able to email people in Poland for his history project. He tracked down the phone number of a man in Prague. The world is smaller and readily accessible as a result of technology.

But the problems I am talking about are very serious. We, as parents, must be on guard. The internet, cellphones, Ipads and earbuds should not be made available to kids who are not yet of school age. Fast flashing images, sound waves going directly into their ears, pop-ups advertizing, bizarre content alongside educational content…these are things that cannot be good for children.

The world of modern technology creates a fantasy world. People from far away seem to be near and they are often not what they seem. Images on the screen are so vivid and appealing, that the real world pales in comparison. The stuff that pops up is vulgar and dehumanizing. Yet it’s there alongside the educational stuff. What blares into the kids ears is seductive.

Meanwhile, our Lord, receives less and less consideration. Technology has created a new world and the holder of the gadget plays God. Even the “apps” about Jesus cannot replace real prayer. Video games of Bible stories cannot replace hearing Mom or Dad read the Word of God. Sweepingly beautiful websites are not sacramental.

How are we going to make the world of God’s creation relevant to young people again?

Isn’t it time to practice “unplugging” just to see what life is really about? Give it a try. Take a week break. And let me know how it goes!!


First Communion is Just the Beginning

It was a beautiful day. Sixteen nervous kids held out shaking hands to receive their First Communion last weekend. As a teacher preparing students for this day, I tell them they are becoming tabernacles for Jesus. They will receive Jesus in a way unlike any other.

Yes, Jesus is always with us and we receive his grace in the sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation. We can hear his words in the Gospels and we can talk to him in prayer. But there is nothing like receiving him as the Bread of Life. There is nothing like becoming a tabernacle.

However, the sad reality is that some of the young people who receive the Eucharist for the first time, won’t receive Jesus again for a long time. Too many families see First Communion as the beginning and the end of their obligation for faith formation.

These young people who are so excited on this day, and feel the glow of love for Jesus, are like delicate new buds pushing up out of the ground of the secular world. Their experience is fragile and tentative. It needs to be nourished by weekly reception of the sacrament of the Eucharist. When parents make a big deal out of First Communion and then make excuses for not going to Mass on Sundays after that, they send a mixed message.

The message seems to be that “only the first time is important. Then, if you receive Jesus again once a year, that’s enough.” The bud doesn’t open. The flower wilts.

It is so important that our children see a love, respect and hunger for the Eucharist in their parents. Then their curiosity leads them to desire. And desire leads to deeper prayer and understanding.

One time is not enough. Tabernacle literally means “temporary dwelling place.” If we are to keep Jesus close to us, we need to invite him into the tabernacle of our bodies on a weekly basis.

Then, the tabernacle will glow with his presence. And the flowers unfold in loveliness!

(The photo is my daughter Brigit, at her First Communion in 2008.)


Beware: Technology Addiction is Real

Our society has made technology into a god. If you don’t believe you are susceptible to this violation of the First Commandments, consider these questions:
• Do you carry your cellphone with you wherever you go, even when it is not needed? Do you keep it close by at night?
• Do you send text messages even when you should be doing something else? Do you sneak around to send messages?
• Do you stay up late, answering email, texting, etc.?
• Do you think about texting or social networking or your apps, throughout the day?
• Do you check Facebook, Twitter, etc. during meetings, at school, while cooking, etc.?
• Do you spend significant amounts of money on technology even though it is not necessary for your work?
• Do you have a sense that you couldn’t live without technology?

Consider these same questions for your children. Are your children, even as young as 8, spending significant hours absorbed with cellphones, visiting social network sites or playing elaborate virtual reality games?

The word “addiction” comes from Latin and means “surrendering to something that becomes habit-forming and creates a sense of withdrawal when it is denied.” It is a process of becoming enslaved to a substance of thing. Do you want to be controlled by your cellphone?

Recently, I heard a youth leader telling a group of kids they would have to leave their cellphones at home during a weekend retreat. More than a few of the teens whispering, “There is no way that’s happening.” But they weren’t worried. They have learned how to be sneaky (and that is sure sign of addiction.)

An addiction that leads to sneaky behavior is dishonest. It is a sin. And lying is the doorway to other forms of serious sin.

What if we surrendered to God instead of surrendering to technology? The answers to the questions above would be very different.

• I am aware that Jesus is present, walking close to me throughout my day, so I talk to Him. He knows me. He is with me. He is trustworthy.
• I say prayers when I begin every activity. I want to do His will, not my will.
• I offer myself to God and ask Him to use me for His purpose. I surrender to Him.
• I am detached from the things of this world. How unimportant and insignificant technology is! The blinders are off now. I see that phones, cameras and computers are merely tools. I will not let these things enslave me. Instead, I stand before the Almighty One, the Holy One, the Merciful One and ask for help!
• All life comes from Him. My “thank you” for this gift is to offer my life to Him. As Jesus said, “Let it be done onto me, according to thy will.”

Consider--do you have an addiction? Are you ready to change? The time is now.


I tell my Sunday School students, “”If your grandma lived 2000 miles away, would you only call her once a year and begin the conversation by begging for birthday gifts?” They usually say, “no” and tell me stories about how often they talk to Grandma. They have some awareness that it’s not polite or respectful to beg. (I guess they make an exception to that rule when the person they are talking to is Mom!)

So they begin to get the idea that prayer is not about sharing a list of demands, couched as requests, for help. But I also want them to understand that whole idea of “distance.” If we don’t see someone very often, we don’t really know them. We may say, “Hi Grandpa. I love you.” But do we really? Knowing someone requires frequent contact and watching them to understand who they really are. Who is Grandpa? What kind of person is he? How does he think?

In a similar way, it may seem as if God is far away. And it may seem impossible to really know God. But we really can get to KNOW Him. It is possible. It requires several things.

God reveals Himself to us if we read the Bible. He reveals Himself to us if we study the life of Jesus and comments of the saints. He reveals Himself to us mostly especially during prayer. But prayer requires talking, listening and trusting.

St. Teresa of Avila was a great teacher about prayer. In a book called Conversations with Christ, the author, Peter Thomas Rohrback, summarizes Teresa’s practice for deeper prayer.

1. Beginning- Be aware of Jesus. He is here. Now.
2. Selection--Read a short passage about Jesus or visualize a picture of Him. Teresa often referred to the image of Jesus in the Garden or the Scourging at the Pillar. I find it helpful to SEE Him in my mind based on images I have seen.
3. Consider the Love of Jesus--Reflect on this image or the words to go deeper into the mystery and love of Jesus. Why is Jesus in the Garden, dripping with blood? What does it mean?
4. Conversation--Converse with Our Lord. Offer adoration, praise, express sorrow, love, thanksgiving. Then be quiet to LISTEN.
5. Conclusion—Reflect on this time of prayer. Offer thanks. Dedicate yourself to greater focus and attention.

The author describes a process of coming back to Jesus frequently throughout the day. This can be done by short repeated phrases or prayers. O my Jesus, help me. Our priest says often, “God is good.” A friend says, “Thank you Jesus.”
My young Sunday School students may not really grasp all of this. But I hope to get them thinking about HOW they talk to God. And HOW will they get to KNOW HIM. We don’t have to rely only on formalized prayers.

My neighbor told a story about being hospitalized. She asked if they would give her a thicker gown, so the nurse found a heavy green one. Lillian went down the hallway to stretch her legs. A man in another room thought she was a nurse and called out, “Could you pray with me?” He was a tough, working class fellow. Lillian talked out loud to God on the man’s behalf. She used her own words and talked to God as a trusted friend.

Awhile later the hospital chaplain tracked her down. He said the man in that room told him, “The lady in green prays better than you.” He wanted to know what she did.

Lillian said, “I just talked to God in my own words. You don’t need to open up a book and read. That man just wants you to give him permission to talk to God from his heart.”

Be Alone with The ALONE

I came across this phrase and it seemed to shoot an arrow in my heart. “Be alone with the Alone.”

God alone created everything.

God made everything in heaven and earth out of nothing, and “He saw that it was good.” Yet He was still alone.

He made man in His won image and yet humans turn away in their arrogance. He is still alone.

When Jesus left His Power and Glory in heaven, in order to come to us and be like us, we still left Him...In the Garden, He was alone.

When He hung on the cross, He carried the whole weight of the world’s sin. Alone.

When we pray to Him and wait with Him in the Silence of the Alone…then and only then, do we join Him.

No one can do this for us. It is our task…alone.

So now is the time to be alone with The Alone.


Spiritual Fitness: This is the Time

We hear a lot about physical fitness in the media. People seem to recognize the importance of a regular workout. I try to run for 15 minutes every day because it gives me more energy. But there is another kind of “workout” that is far more important. Unfortunately, it gets no press. There is no “Biggest Losers” TV show about spiritual fitness. But there should be. Those who neglect their prayer life may very well be “the biggest losers.”

Spiritual fitness is a process of tuning into the silence of the heart in order to connect with God. It’s not easy. I read somewhere that cultivating an interior life is “rarified air.” That image makes me think of a room that has been closed up for so long, even the air feels stale. Our world is so noisy and demanding, even a drive to the store isn’t quiet. The phone buzzes. The children squabble. The road signs blaze with messages. Quiet. Where do you find that?!

But that step of finding some quiet time is only opening the door of the gym. It’s the very basic first step. Lots of people open the door, but seem to change their minds and shut it again!

The real “exercise” begins in the quiet of the heart. And part of that exercise is to try and keep quiet on the inside. The mind is so full of chatter.

And talking to God isn’t easy because we have ignored Him for so much of lives. We’ve forgotten how to even get started. God seems at first to be very reclusive…actually, we are the ones who have tried to hide from Him. So it seems hard to start. We look to old prayers and they seem dry.

But that’s OK because God wants “us.” Not the stuff we like to put between us and God. The prayer practice of St. Teresa of Avila appeals to me. She tells us to call to mind an image of the life of Christ. Jesus with the children. Jesus healing the blind man. Jesus in the Garden, sweating blood. Jesus meeting His mother on the road to Calvary. Jesus meeting His disciples who don’t recognize Him after the Resurrection.

After we call to mind an image, we can reflect on what it means for us. Why is it important? What does it teach us about Jesus? Why did He come to earth, leaving behind His heavenly glory? We must seem pretty lowly to Him…and yet He loves us. And His love is not a collective, generalized “yes I love all of you.” His love is personal. He loves me in all my unworthiness. Wow!

Then we can praise Him. Thank Him. Love Him. After that it is time to be quiet in His presence. He is near. He is here. Be with Him.

I asked my son to try this and told him to see the word “Jesus” if he couldn’t see an image of Jesus. Eventually, what he saw was a blue flame. A flame of love, burning away everything else.

I tend to come back to the image of Jesus in the Garden. Because He was human, He knew fear. He knew the pain and the heavy load of sins that He would carry. And for a moment He may have wondered if there wasn’t someone else who could do this. Couldn’t it happen a different way? He gave this question to the Father. And then the load was lifted. There was peace. He surrendered to the Father’s will.

Peace. That’s the gift of Spiritual Fitness. The load is lifted. The burden is light because we are doing God’s will and God is lifting us up.

So, here’s the pitch for this fitness program: On the one hand there is the inevitability of Hell if we neglect God…And on the other hand, there is the great gift of peace that comes when we pay attention to Him!

Open the door…and begin. He is near.

Beware: Cancerous Soup for the Soul is Doled out Daily!

By Judith Costello

All the feel good books are have titles about Soup for the Soul…stories meant to be warm and comforting, reassuring and easy to swallow. But this is Lent…time for a tougher look.

It’s time to consider how cancer grows in the Soul. Fr. Larry called sin a “cancer” last weekend. He said we should be able to diagnose this “sickness” just like we diagnose the physical stages of a spreading cancer. (This is my version of that concept.)

Stage 1: Unchecked Emotion.To Heck with Faith and Reason. I FEEL Bad—The modern world recognizes feelings over reason. I was thinking about this when I heard a young woman who whined between every meal, because she had decided to fast from between-meal snacking. Since she was used to snacking all the time, she felt grouchy. And no matter how much anyone pointed out the purpose of fasting and the value of discipline, she continued to punish everyone around her with her grouchiness.

It’s easy to see from the outside of this situation, that the purpose of fasting is defeated if we have to tell the world how hard it is! But the same thing happens to all of us and it’s not at all humorous. We are irritated and let it show. We feel envious and try not to show it at the moment. But then we gossip about that person later on.

Emotions are meant to be just the “garnish on the plate.” They add color but they should never be the main course! Unleashing our emotions, allowing them free reign, guarantees the spread of a cancer in the soul. The main course on the plate of our lives should be faith.

Faith requires self discipline in order for it to nourish us.

Stage 2: Rationalization.
Once the emotions go unchecked then the devil offers lots of easy rationalizations. One of the best rationalizations among church-goers is: “God loves us so of course he doesn’t want us to suffer. He certainly doesn’t care if we eat between meals. This whole fasting thing is just something made up by stuffy old guys.” I’ve heard it said. And I have to admit I used to use the “God is love, and a loving, nice-guy God wouldn’t expect this.” We have lost perspective.

It helped me when I started to really study the Catechism and prayer. Our job is to get to know God. And yes He is Love. But the love He demonstrates is all about sacrifice. Love is not easy. Love is not a feel good, chicken-soup thing. Love is the cross.

The season of Lent is a wake-up call about avoiding Stage 2 Cancer of the Soul.

Stage 3: The Blame Game.
Adam said, “It was Eve’s fault.” And Eve blamed it on the serpent. So I guess we can blame the “blame game” on our original parents! It is very easy to unload our responsibility. There is always an excuse.

Someone else led us here. Or it’s our upbringing. Or something someone else said caused this reaction.

But sin is sin. We are responsible for our actions and responsible for making a U-turn when Stage 3 Soul Cancer has taken over our lives.

Stage 4: From One Sin to Another.
Once the door to sin is open, sin snowballs. The tools of the first three stages are in place. Like physical cancer it now starts to take over in more severe ways. Excuses, desires and scapegoats provide the necessary equipment. Now it’s just a smooth ride of self-indulgence.

I’m sure that’s how people, who appear to be good, decent folks, end up stealing millions from an employer. All it takes is this—Never Tell the Truth. That person never admits to “stealing,” it’s only been a process of “re-directing.” It is not “lying” it’s “telling a different truth.”

Stage 4 Soul Cancer can be fatal. Once this sin cancer begins to grow, the road to health is a battle.

But there is good news. The Savior came for just such souls.

Now is the time. Today is the day. Resolve to make the Lent a time for these things:
• Truth Telling
• Personal Responsibility
• Confession and Sacraments
• and a Renewal of Faith.


What's In Style?

Children (and adults) sometimes wear name brand clothing as a badge of honor. My daughter was nine, when she came home comparing her clothes to those of a friend at school. Brigit's classmate bragged, "This blouse cost $50 because it's the best. And these are designer jeans too." Brigit felt discouraged. There were no flashy labels on her clothes. She was beginning to get the message that money was to be used to show off.

But the truth is we don't have that kind of money at our house. In fact, many of Brigit's favorite clothes come from the thrift store or yard sales. And those are the kind of places some children are taught that only "lower class people enter." So it was time for a lesson. We visited the thrift store that day. And God provided as always! A nearly new, name brand shirt, in exactly my daughter's size, practically jumped off the shelf into her arms. The price tag was $1.

We talked about what it meant:

* Would you rather spend $50 so you could say you got that at a fancy store, or spend $1 here so you have $49 for more necessary items such as food?

* And this shirt is practically new. So someone spent a lot of money to buy it, but hardly wore it at all...Do you think that is wasteful? Should you buy something just because others will think it's "cool"?

* Our world offers hundreds, maybe thousands, of flashy new products every single day. Some people spend hours looking at them, and they frown on anything that speaks of poverty or a lack of money, such as these stores. But we are finding good and useful things here. Do we really want to spend hours fantasizing about things we don't need and being tempted to spend money we don't have, for such things?

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from a secondhand store or yard sales. Lessons about waste, consumerism and the value of a dollar. And there are spiritual lessons too as we consider what is truly important. What do we really value? Have the things of the world been turned into "gods"?

I began to take Brigit with me to the secondhand store on a more regular basis. One day we ran into her friend with the flashy clothes there. The girls both seemed embarrassed, but in a few minutes they were running around the store trading ideas about what looks good--without regard for whether it's a name brand!

God is Watching Over Us

I let the pigeon fly free. We have two of these birds--given to the children as pets. And the pigeons have been living behind a divider wall inside the chicken coop. But I worried that they needed more space and opportunities to really fly. So one day, when my son had tucked them in his jacket to keep them warm, I told him he could let them fly outside the chicken coop. One of the birds flew high and far. She was impossible to catch. The other returned quickly to the safety of her enclosure.

The pigeons are like children. Some like to play it safe, eager to follow the rules. But others are risk takers, always testing the limits and boundaries of family life.

"A member of our family is missing?" my husband said with moist eyes after I admitted that I let the pigeons fly free and one of them hadn’t returned. My husband is a worrier. He went outside in the cold wind and stood by the chicken door, hoping the bird would come nearby and he could personally welcome it home.

I had assumed the bird could find its way back through the various holes in the coop. But my husband didn't believe it. As the day wore on, he was convinced the bird would be dead within hours, attacked by other birds or dashed to the ground by the now fierce wind. As our family watched from the windows, we spotted our bird with its distinctive markings, trying to get acquainted with other pigeons. They seemed to attack her. Our bird was chased out of trees and off the telephone wires.

And so we prayed for the pigeon. "What else can we do but pray?" I asked my husband. He looked over his glasses with an accusing stare. "Not let them out in the first place. That would be a start," he said. But once a thing has happened, prayer is an answer.

Why do we minimize it? Prayer is a great answer!

I prayed that the children’s pet would be safe. And I prayed that my husband would forgive me if my impulse to give more freedom, caused the bird's death.

That afternoon, when I went out to feed the animals, the wind was so punishing, there were no birds anywhere in sight. I wondered where they all hide when the weather is bad like this. Our yard is normally filled with sparrows and blackbirds and pigeons.

I went to the chicken coop, ready to admit it--the worst had happened. That's when I heard cooing. I looked behind the wall. Both pigeons were there! And they were climbing all over each other--happily saying, "You're safe. You're home. All is well."

My husband continues to playfully repeat, "There is a bird missing."
In a way, he is acknowledging that when a family member takes a step toward independence they take a part of us with them. He was also acknowledging in his playful way that I was right to have faith in the bird's ability to find her way home. And, it is important to trust in God who said He watches over everything, even the little birds.

But my husband's words, "A bird is missing," are also a reminder to me that we parents need to find a balance between supporting our children as they try out new things, and keeping them safe. They need both the boundaries and the options--the parent who would give them freedom to explore, and the one who would guard them.

And they need our prayers for those times when we can’t be present. Our children need their heavenly Mother to watch over them at all times.

Let us pray, "Mother Mary, guide our children as they explore the world. Be with them to keep them safe and show them how to live a life saying 'YES' to God."


Silence in the Heart

I was reading an old text that recommends “silence in the heart.” Saint Diadochus of Photice, a bishop of the fifth century, said our mind should be like still waters. Then we can see the pollutants (temptations) and recognize “the fish” (grace).

It sounds wonderful. Such great advice. But it seems impossible to achieve in this modern era, especially in busy houses with children. How is this possible?

Today, for example, there is no school because snow has enveloped the state of New Mexico. And the children have important projects to do which means lots of interruptions for questions. And the barnyard animals are struggling with the severe cold so we are going outside more often to bring warm water. And I have a big editing job due soon. And the living room is a mess because of all our projects. And the kids eat all day long so the sink is full of dishes…

And…And…And. You get the drift. Chaos reigns.

Silence would be wonderful. But I don’t suppose St. Diadochus meant it would be easy to achieve. In fact, he says we need the assistance of the Holy Spirit and a persevering nature.

So here is my plan to still the waters of my soul. For whatever it’s worth, maybe it will help someone else.

1) Discipline. Getting up just a bit earlier means there is time for quiet prayer.

2) Repetition. It’s possible to repeat simple prayers over and over to drive away the distracting thoughts and temptations. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, help us.”

3) Holy Spirit Help. The Holy Spirit comes into our hearts with a simple invitation.

4) St. Michael Help. St. Michael drove Satan out of heaven. He is a good protector.

5) Breathe. Breathing puts us back in our bodies and helps achieve stillness.

6) Study. Reading the Bible or other spiritual material opens the heart to long for Jesus.

7) Pray. It’s like a corridor to heaven!

8) Sacraments. Frequent reception of the Eucharist is a gift. We make room in our hearts for Jesus.

Come Holy Spirit. Into the troubled waters of my soul you come. Bring silence. Help me to calm my mind so there is room for You.


Where are the Models of Virtue and Sacrifice?

Could it be that the absence of moral and noble role models in the modern world leads to young adults who feel they are “owed a good life without effort”? Some sociologist will have to take up that question.

But I think it’s safe to say that our children begin looking for role models, beyond the example of their parents, as they enter the “tween years.” And the glorified images they see in the media today are less than wholesome. There are images of arrested athletes who are quickly excused so they can play in the next game. Or movie stars who perform in heroic scenes but are drunken playboys off screen.

These may be models of sin and the need for redemption, but they don’t offer images of virtue and sacrifice.

So, it is with great joy that we should celebrate the news that Pope John Paul II will be beatified in May! He is a true modern hero.

My son, Peter, started a yearlong project last fall to study this pope for a special project of his own. This project has given our entire family an opportunity to learn more about Karol Wojtyla.

Pope John Paul had a beautiful way of communicating. He would take what someone else said, or a belief held by many, and find some kernel of truth in it. Then he would move to the big Truth and the Light that needed to be understood in that situation. It was a non-confrontational way to say, “Yes there is an Absolute Truth we can point to. And Truth is not open to compromise.”

Truth is a beautiful thing to discover! Pope John Paul expressed love AND strength. He was an athlete, a poet and a man of prayer. And for me, his willingness to sacrifice and give of himself, makes him a perfect role model for our youth. As the disease of Parkinsons began to ravage his body, he refused to hide. Instead, he allowed the world to see his suffering and his great effort to persevere on behalf of Truth and worldwide healing.

As Peter researched the life of the Pope, he came across a much lesser known hero.

A Catholic Who Volunteered to Enter Auschwitz

A contact in Poland shared the story with us of Witold Pilecki. He was a young member of the Polish Army in 1939. Pilecki went into hiding after the Nazis took over his country.

Pilecki came up with a plan to assist his homeland. He wanted to make a firsthand record of the atrocities happening at Auschwitz in order to get more support from the Allies. So he allowed himself to be arrested. He was tortured for two days and then sent to Auschwitz. While in the camp he organized the prisoners and distributed the few supplies available. When the Nazis learned that he was plotting a massive escape plan, Pilecki was forced to escape with only one other prisoner. After that he assisted in the uprising in Warsaw and disrupted Nazi supply lines.

In 1945 he was recognized as a hero of World War II, the “Volunteer for Auschwitz.” But shortly afterward, he was arrested by the new communist government and tortured. He was labeled an “enemy of the state—an imperialist spy” and was shot in the back of the head. His heroic story was buried by the government and his name could not be spoken for the next forty years. It wasn’t until Pope John Paul inspired the nonviolent overthrow of communism in Poland, that the Pilecki story was uncovered in 1989.

These are stories of two Catholic men who exemplify faith, courage and sacrifice.

Journalist Michal Tyrpa has hopes that Hollywood will make a movie about Pilecki. Meanwhile he has put together a website called "Let's Reminisce About Witold Pilecki" ("Przypomnijmy o Rotmistrzu") and has written a letter to Pope Benedict XVI asking that a case be opened to consider Pilecki for sainthood. For more information on that story visit

Pope John Paul, pray for our families. Pray that our young people, who you cherished, will be inspired by stories of faith. Help them to rise above the temptations of the world. Help them to live with fortitude, Grace and virtue, as you did.

One Cold, Dark Night....

When our furnace died, one terribly cold night, it became an opportunity to huddle together and focus on the warmth that comes from faith, family and love…

It began at 4 p.m. when our gas furnace rocked and rattled. The serviceman confirmed what we suspected. The blower was shot. Unfortunately, the nearest supplier was an hour’s drive away and our serviceman didn’t have time to take out the old one and drive that distance to get it fixed or replaced. He advised us to bring build up a fire in the fireplace.

So, this could have been the start of a nice, change-of-pace, cozy night. Except one of our fireplaces was labeled “dangerous” the last time it was checked. And the other fireplace is in the back of the house and doesn’t send heat very far into the house.

The temperature was dropping fast. It was five degrees outside according to the thermostat but colder than that with the wind chill. Brigit, age 11, was coughing in allergic reaction to chimney smoke. I was in denial. This couldn’t be happening, or could it?

As the warmth inside the house quickly dissolved, we huddled together in one room. Under a pile of blankets we watched the old Titanic movie. Not the love story version, but the original film, showing terror, heroism and devastation. It all happened in a single night back in 1912.

It gave us the opportunity to talk about what we would do in that situation, faced with jumping into the frigid ocean. “I’d move my legs a lot and pray hard,” someone said.

We piled on blankets and pretended we were living in the earlier times when cold nights were an everyday experience. And we tried to be thankful for our blessings…for the blankets that came as Christmas presents and for movies that helped us keep our perspective about our troubles.

Especially we prayed for Jurgen, my husband. He is in seventies and has health problems. But he courageously kept the fire going in our back room fireplace so that we had one spot of warmth in the house.

When dawn finally came, it was as if our eyes were opened in a new way. Light brought a feeling of renewal and warmth. All things are possible when there is Light.

I share this story by way of saying that any time of trouble offers an opportunity to be renewed in faith. The contrast of warmth and cold, fire and ice, light and dark are important images for us. We are called to trust in Jesus when there is cold, ice and darkness.

Then the Light of the World will shine for us. And then the darkness is conquered. The warmth is re-kindled.

From our family to yours, we pray that our eyes will be opened. The Light is always there dispersing the darkness if we but turn in faith to Him.

And then “the peace which transcends all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4: 6-7) Isn’t it amazing to think that St. Paul wrote those words while he was in dark prison cell?! Clearly, he could see the Light.

Elevating the Ordinary

They were simple words and ordinary gestures. Yet, these four moments in time were transformative. It reminds me that God can take the smallest offering we might make and turn it into something miraculous.

Every action we take can either glorify God—or do the opposite. I think that’s what St. Paul meant about, “Take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5)

But back to those simple moments of transformation!

The first example: I was a strayed Catholic for over 25 years. But one day my husband and I entered a Catholic Church thinking we might send our young children to Sunday School there. The choir began singing, “Come back to me with all your heart…” The words are from the prophet Hosea. It wasn’t sung by a magnificent chorus…just simple words and a simple melody. But in that moment God came and tapped on the door of my heart. He used that choir to reduce me to tears. I imagine they sang it as if it were just any old song. Certainly they knew nothing of the small miracle happening in the pews. But their efforts led to a transformation.

Example 2: Several years later, the children and I went to a communal penance service. Peter, 11, was tired and sore after an intense football practice. He didn’t want to be at church. But, as the priests processed out to go to their places after being introduced, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal made himself known to us. Fr. Robert, with small, half closed eyes, and a round smiling face, tapped Peter on the head. He chuckled and pointed to the back of church. “That’s you on the painting back there,” he said.

Peter had been my model for a banner about Jesus blessing the children. The friendly friar recognized him in the artwork, in spite of his eye impairment. When Peter went to see him for confession, the friar called Peter a “leprechaun”. He challenged Peter to spend ten minutes a day reading the Bible! It was a big request and not meant as penance but spiritual direction. Peter rose to the challenge and has been reading the Bible almost every day for four years now! It was Fr. Robert’s inner vision that guided this transformation.

Example 3: Jurgen and I could hear the children playing a game in the living room. “It’s done this way.” “No. That’s not in the rule book.” Jurgen hurried into the room to put an end to the bickering. He ordered the children to put away the game. When Brigit spoke up in disbelief, Jurgen sent her to her room.

I know. You’re thinking this doesn’t sound like a moment of Godly transformation. But that’s only the beginning of the story...

Jurgen realized he had overreacted. So, he explained to the children the importance of acting kindly toward each other and then allowed them to take the game out again. A few minutes later they were playing and laughter filled the air.

Jurgen walked out to the living room with his hands on his hips. His eyebrows were lowered. He looked furious. “There is way too much laughter out here. If you’re going to keep laughing, we’ll have to take this game away.”

When the children realized he was joking they laughed even harder. It was a moment of joy. I was the one who was transformed. I witnessed a different way of helping the children learn and grow.

Example 4: During the weekdays at church, there are few people in attendance. But our new priest still delivers short sermons. On this day, my daughter and her friend were altar servers. Father said he was going to address the sermon to them. He turned from the ambo and looked directly at them. His sermon was about performing at 100%. “Don’t just do your work to get the grade, forgetting the content of your studies. Dedicate every project to God and give it your all. Then we are glorifying God. We are thanking Him by our actions. That is what it really means to earn 100%.”

Brigit absorbed everything the priest said. She came home and created a poster about it. She brought it to church the next day after putting it in an envelope marked, “Feedback on your sermon.” Father had touched deeply.

But the rest of Father’s sermon is really what this essay is all about…

The reading of the day was on the miracle of the Loaves and the Fishes. Jesus could have fed the people with a simple blink of His eyes. Instead, He asked the disciples, “What do you have?” They brought Him everything they had access to. It wasn’t much and they surely couldn’t see how it would be useful.

Still, the followers of Jesus did their part. And God made a miracle happen. Such transforming miracles happen every day. The credit goes to God. But the simple actions of trust and goodness are our responsibility.

It’s time we paid closer attention to the command, “Take every thought captive for Christ.”

Rise Up My Soul and Give Glory to God

Now that we have two teenagers in the house, (well one is 15 and one is 11, but she acts like 16!), I read the article with interest. It was about how to reach young people to encourage deeper prayer and faith. That’s always a topic that gets my attention.

The author of the article advised that we reach our young people by joining them in the culture…to reach them through their music, their technology, their texting language, their games, etc.

Whoa! Not again! This is a frequent message delivered to modern parents. As if we don’t already have enough to do. We are supposed to keep up with whatever is new and enticing. We are told the world, and the worldly, is where our children live. But that assumes two things:
• First, it implies that all our young people fully embrace the mainstream, consumerist culture and that is all they understand. (I’m sorry, but that degrades them.)
• And second, this implies that our young people won’t listen to us if we ask them to step outside the culture. (Again, that idea is degrading to young people.)

I beg to disagree.

First, not all young people are as enamored with the bombardment of truncated language and flashing screens as some would have us believe. At our house we have one of each. Our daughter, age 11, is certainly fascinated with all technology. But she is increasingly recognizing that it mustn’t become an “idol.” And our son, age 15, has no interest in technology except as a tool to update sports statistics!

Young people can and should be made aware that technology can only play a limited role in our lives. It may seem appealing to communicate in ever faster ways, from email to networking, to twitter and texting. But “faster, faster, faster” can be simply an addiction to adrenalin! And the reduction of language to “LOL” is not only unnecessary; it degrades the essence of communication. Least we forget, the purpose of communication is about sharing and bringing about “community,” which comes from “unity”, which is a godly principle. We are one Body, in the one Lord.

Second, we as parents are responsible for the moral and spiritual health of our children. Therefore, we must challenge them to join us in an otherworldly place. Let us call them to higher realms beyond the press of “buy, buy, faster, faster.” The place of the Word and the truth about Jesus is deeply meaningful. And meaning is what we all long for.

Of course, I admit that I went on a long detour into worldly ways as a young adult. But the foundation I received in childhood always called me back. It beckoned to me until I remembered and paid attention.

As a child, my mother insisted we say the rosary every night on our knees. Mom insisted we should do regular volunteer work to recognize our role in helping others. We were “deprived” of every new thing that came along, but we had instead, a powerful sense of family as a result of these things.

I remember vividly, the time we were in the car, driving to the hospital. My brother had an infected hand and the doctor said surgery was required. Mom led us in prayer the whole way there. And, miraculously, by the time we arrived, the redness was fading and no surgery was required.

That image, of prayer and family, is far more powerful than any image of the current cultural fads. I have no memory of the things we didn’t have that other kids had.

My husband Jurgen likes to remind us often that we are called to “Capture every straying thought and turn it toward God.”(based on 2 Cor. 10:5)

It’s easy for all of us, both teens and adults, to let our minds drift into images and thoughts based on the world of “stuff” that clutters our lives. But it is possible to take control of our minds and hearts.

And when we do that, as parents, we can challenge our children…Let’s ask them to Rise Up. Give Glory to God. And then go forth as disciples. (And communicate with our voices, using sentences and body language to bring about true community!)

That’s the parenting I grew up with. And that’s the advice I want to live by.