Sunday, February 24, 2013

Confession Explained


For any who may need a little refresher (or who have always wondered) on why we confess our sins to a priest, this little 6 minute video from the Diocese of Richmond is my gift to you on this Second Sunday of Lent.

Remember to keep today (and every Sunday) holy and visit our Lord at His place!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Young Priest Climbs Tall Ladder {and 6 other stories}

Joseph competes in the individual medley relay at the district finals meet
In an all out effort, Joseph nearly earned himself a spot on the state swim team at the culmination of his first year competing in the varsity sport.  About one second distanced him from the opportunity to join his teammates at the state meet this weekend and defend his team's (four-year-running) state championship title in Washington AA swim and dive.  As a small consolation, Joseph and Tim will travel to the state meet and volunteer as timers for the finals, so Joseph will be on site to witness the excitement.  Though he would much rather be in the pool than on the deck, his final swims at the district meet were personal bests with a 1.11 breast 2.24 IM, and his team won the district title (again).

Peter sports his new Star Rank patch
Peter earned his Star Rank this week, after successfully completing all the requirements, which include a Scoutmaster conference and a board of review.  His next goal: Life Rank.  Peter's new leadership position, Troop Guide, will give him an opportunity to mentor the incoming Boy Scouts this spring and summer.  We lift up our prayers for the national leaders of the Boy Scouts of America, at this time when the organization faces a serious well-funded and skillfully launched attack as outside forces attempt to force their Pagan agenda upon it.

A photo texted home by Zachary from his retreat
Zachary's second semester at Notre Dame well under way, he fled campus last weekend with a bus full of dorm-mates and a few clerics for a short retreat on the shores of a frozen Michigan lake.  Talks, confession, Mass, and hours to explore the snowy wilderness gave this Knott Hall retreat its appeal.  We received several messages with photos (a dream come true!) and brief texts relating the successful tracking of various wild animals to their dens and moon lit explorations of the countryside.  Other funny text messages from Zac this week include:
  • "I've spent probably over an hour explaining to people that I'm not afraid of bears." 
  • In response to my apology for 'dropping the news so suddenly' that an elderly parishioner died: "Is there a less sudden method? She half died... three quarters...okay she died. Thanks for the update."
  • In response to my texted request to 'take pictures' after the elated students and fans stormed the floor following the recently televised 4OT win by the Notre Dame basketball team:  "Of my TV?  I didn't manage to get a ticket."  I thought he was watching from the stands, not from his room.
  • "Speechless" first thing in the morning on February 11th, alerting us to Pope Benedict's abdication.
  • "I suddenly have realized why eating fish can be a penance."
Raw expansion opportunity
Tim acquired a new location our next pawn shop, this one in a neighboring town about thirty minutes south.  He will soon be outfitting, staffing and operating our fourth business, and the commute may require him to upgrade from the 1995 Toyota 4Runner he's driven the past decade and a half.  His staff recently expressed regret at the new vehicle possibility, since the roaring engine gives away his impending arrival by about two blocks, giving them plenty of time to get back to work and look busy before he bursts through the door.  No imminent plans for a stealth-mobile, but there's only so many miles his 4Runner can handle before it's mechanisms give up (car talk).

Father Josh on high before Sister first vows
The most unexpected sight at St. Joseph's Passionist Monastery in Kentucky had to be the young priest perched atop a 15 foot ladder just inside the chapel entrance.  Father Josh was pre-positioning a birds eye view camera soon-to-be stealthily operated during the Mass of Religious Profession for my friend, Sister Cecilia Maria.  I met Father Josh in the receiving line in the nuns' parlor after Mass, and learned that he operates Lolek Productions, and is a missionary in evangelizing our culture and sharing the Gospel through the media.  His team's efforts yielded a high quality vocation promotion video for the Passionist Nuns.  Check it out!

Peter, Father Joseph, and Joseph at Benediction
Our Lenten prayers are joined with the worldwide Church for Pope Benedict XVI in these final weeks of his pontificate, and for his successor.

'Luke' looks up to Peter in goal
Our delightful former foster twins routinely beg to come and visit us, according to their mom.  We schedule visits as often as we can, and love hearing their new words and funny expressions.  She still begs for food, he's still ambivalent towards meals; he loves to zoom around the house on the plasma car and she prefers to be next to someone.  They are in the potty training process, so they come with pull ups rather than diapers these days.  Two two and a halfs guarantee entertaining visits, but the fact that these two ask to go to Church whenever we're riding in the car together gives me something even greater to smile about.

Click over to Jen's place where nearly 200 other bloggers have shared their 7 Quick Takes!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

I Love Pope Benedict XVI {St. Valentine's Day Musing}

Our family's view of Pope Benedict XVI on March 30, 2011, at Saint Peter's Square in the Vatican
One of the most memorable moments of our family pilgrimage to Italy in 2011 happened in sunny St. Peter's Square as Pope Benedict XVI wheeled past us following his inspirational, thought provoking weekly audience.  We were within a few feet of our Papa as he rolled along toward the sea of faithful visitors crowded in the piazza below, our seats being on an upper platform very close to the chair from which of our Holy Father preached.  If we had been holding a baby, we could easily have secured a Papal kiss!

The thrill of making eye contact with Pope Benedict surpassed any expected excitement or anticipated joy, and I reacted by screaming, "I love you Pope Benedict!" and throwing him several kisses in rapid succession.  I almost certainly caught a glimpse of a papal smirk at my antics.  Would that be too hard to imagine given the fact that I came unglued like a heart-struck teenager suddenly within reach of her pop star hero?

More far reaching than any pop superstar, Pope Benedict XVI has led our Church and taught us well during his pontificate and throughout his lifetime.  Now he is leading us, or perhaps allowing us to be led in a new direction, as he abdicates his position and retires to monastic life in a few short weeks.

This is our family's second pastor in less than a year to make this same sudden and surprise announcement, seemingly out of the blue.  Yet with holy priests like Pope Benedict and our former pastor Father Qui Thac (now knows as Father Marion in his Benedictine habit), what seems like sudden or shocking news to our eyes and ears is actually the manifestation of light given to them as fruits of a profoundly devout prayer life and an intimately personal relationship with our Lord.  In Pope Benedict we are given another fine role model to follow and imitate, teaching us by his example the virtue in letting go of everything and anything when God calls us to abandon ourselves to a closer union with Him.

Pope Bendict's message at our papal audience in 2011 focused on the life St. Alphonsus Ligouri, however the very words he used to describe St. Ligouri could aptly be repeated to sing the praises of our soon-to-be-retired Pope Benedict XVI.  I share the quote Father Z style; my comments in red:
St Alphonsus Maria Liguori {Pope Benedict XVI} is an example of a zealous Pastor who conquered souls {including mine} by preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments combined with behaviour impressed with gentle and merciful goodness that was born from his intense relationship with God, who is infinite Goodness. He had a realistically optimistic vision of the resources of good that the Lord gives to every person and gave importance to the affections and sentiments of the heart, {even love-struck ladies at papal audiences} as well as to the mind, to be able to love God and neighbour. 
St. Peter's Square, Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday

A frozen lake in Michigan; Zachary sent this image home from his retreat with Notre Dame's Knott Hall.
Catholics line up for ash application today, aware of our need to humble ourselves, repent and return to the Lord.  Some of us return to the Church on Ash Wednesday after lengthy absences and waywardness, and many who don't faithfully attend Mass on Sundays do come to Church on Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation (unlike each and every Sunday), however many Catholics feel called to attend Mass today and receive ashes as an outward sign of a new beginning of inner conversion.  Today is a good day to go to confession.  If for some reason you don't go to confession today, make a sincere confession in your heart, asking God's forgiveness for your sins against His love, and please confess your sins to a priest very soon.

Our Holy Church gives us a short list of Precepts.  These 'non-negotiables' guide our external behavior as faithful Catholics; our obligation to follow the Ten Commandments and all teachings of Christ assumed.  On Ash Wednesday one of these external precepts, or rules, is in effect ~ the requirement to fast and abstain.  Only one other day ~ Good Friday ~ carries this strict requirement to fast and abstain.

Somehow the teaching of these rules, or precepts, fell through the cracks for many of us post Vatican II Catholics.  This partially explains why so many Catholics today do not faithfully attend Sunday Mass, and when they do return, approach Holy Communion without any thought as to their spiritual readiness to receive our Lord.  Just like me, these Catholics either were never properly taught, or they do not really understand the gravity of receiving Holy Communion in a state of mortal (deadly) sin.  These teachings on preparing for Holy Communion come directly from Sacred Scripture:
"Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup" (1 Cor. 11:27–28)
Catholics in a state of mortal (deadly) sin should (are obliged to) attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days.  However, receiving Our Lord in Holy Communion while knowingly in this state is a grave offenseChristian writings from as far back as A.D. 70 make these teachings abundantly clear. Catholics raised without a proper understanding of Church teachings are now raising their children and the cycle of un-knowing continues; or they fall away completely, unaware of the treasure they have abandoned.  Some of us have had the incredible fortune of being taught the faith by our children, and/or by zealous orthodox priests and evangelists, whose hunger for truth and desire to follow and share it have sparked our appetite for the fullness of faith.

Precepts of the Church:
I. To attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, and resting from servile works.

II. To observe the days of abstinence and fasting.

III. To confess our sins to a priest, at least once a year.

IV. To receive Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist at least once a year during Easter Season.

V. To contribute to the support of the Church.
A wise and holy priest once told me that my concern for the souls of my loved ones who no longer attend Mass or confess their sins, would be better directed toward fervent prayers for the healing of their inner dispositions (an increase in faith and a greater Love for God) than simply focused on a change in their outward behavior.  I myself am proof positive that prayers for the conversion of souls are answered!

Pray without ceasing...

Monday, February 11, 2013

Holy Hospitality {Passionist Monastery}

Sister Cecilia Maria and me on the day of her first vows as a Passionist Nun
Following the Mass of Religious Profession of Sister Cecilia Maria, the guests of the monastery were treated to a reception and cloister parlor receiving line. The holy, habited Passionist Nuns stood on one side of a simple wooden half-wall and we, their guests, passed through the parlor in a receiving line fashion, stopping to meet and visit with them before they returned to their cloister.

My turn to greet Sister Cecilia finally arrived, after perhaps an hour, and she gave me a hug and thanked me for attending her profession of vows.  After a short visit, I moved along the half-wall and met the other sisters, each reflecting the love of Christ like beacons.  Many knew (of) me, due to my frequent e-prayer requests, and inquired about my family. I felt deeply welcomed and wholly loved by each and every sister.

A beautiful buffet waited in the gathering space of the guest house, graciously hosted by the Passionist Oblates (lay Passionists), each wearing the Passionist insignia on a chain.  At the buffet, I made the acquaintance of Sister Cecilia Maria's college roommate, Noreen and her husband, Joel, both attorneys.  We were joined by the homilist, Father Rodger Hunter Hall, and Sister's sister, Whitney, and a lively discussion about Settlers of Catan ensued.  

Having received advanced permission from Mother Superior to ‘hop the fence’ (exit the enclosure) following the formal receiving line, Sister joined her family and a few remaining friends in the parlor’s sitting area where we visited for about an hour until the bell rang for evening prayer at 6PM.
Sister Cecilia describes the fitting of her Passionist ring, a visible sign of her marriage to Christ as Dr. May looks on.

Praying the Liturgy of the Hours in the chapel with the sisters was sublime.  Her family and friends joined as we prayed the psalms and sang the hymns, being assisted by Father Hunter Hall who helped them find the right pages in the chapel breviaries.

After evening prayers, extra chairs were moved into the small dining area in the guest house, and so the four friends without lodging at the monastery were invited to stay for dinner.  At one dinner table with Sister's grandma sat Noreen, Joel, and Sister’s professor, Dr. Jim May, the former dean of her Alma mater, St. Olaf Lutheran College.  At the other table, I joined Father Hunter Hall and Sister Cecilia's parents and sister.

A pair of joyful Passionist Nuns delivered our evening meal, served buffet style.  Entering and exiting through the Dutch doors marking the cloister, the sisters left us to our noisy fellowship and joined their sisters for a meal taken in silence.

Father Hunter Hall, a Passionist Oblate himself, offered exceptional hospitality and took special care to see that we had table settings and felt welcome as last minute additions to the guest list for dinner.

Over dinner, Father Hunter Hall, an employee of the US Government, shared a bit about his work as the intake expert for Catholic documents at the US Library of Congress in Washington DC.  A convert to the Catholic faith, and a descendent of Scottish nobility, he was raised in Texas, entered seminary and was ordained in an Italian diocese, and wrote his dissertation on Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.   

Very recently I had been reminded of an ominous prophecy given to St. Seton, and here I found myself at dinner with a St. Seton expert!  I inquired about the 'black box' prophecy, and Father related the prophetic vision of Saint Seton:

the devil would enter American homes and families through a black box

This vision, a private revelation which we are free to believe or to doubt, baffled her contemporaries in the early 1800’s.  Imagine the sounds of it at that time, how absurd it would seem.  The implications are fairly clear today, in our modern age when various types of black boxes fill our homes, hands, pockets, and vehicles, clamoring for our constant attention and offering morally poisonous content in ever greater volume.  

Although we could have lingered much longer at table, special permission had been granted for Sister Cecilia to re-join us for another parlor visit after dinner, so we wrapped up our conversations, relocated to the parlor, and rang the bell to indicate our readiness.

Sister’s undergraduate professor, Dr. May, a well-traveled and highly educated man, happened to also be a great story teller.  He related experiences from his monastery stays in Greece and in so doing, sparked a lively conversation with Sister’s mother, Jane, about the fantastic beans offered there, which one loved and the other despised. Joel
asked Sister several insightful questions about the Mass and her daily routine as a nun which she answered like an expert apologist with the tenderness of a mother and the humility of a child.  

An admirable hand crafted wooden display case, built by Sister’s father, Tim, was passed around the room.  A crucifix adorned with the objects of Christ’s Passion (which someone had gifted to the sisters) had been beautifully mounted, housed in a glass-front case branded by a small custom-made stamp bearing the Passionist badge. 

A bell summoned us to return once again to the chapel for night prayer.  After prayers, at the final blessing, Father Hunter Hall crossed into the enclosure at Mother Superior’s unspoken gesture of invitation, and sprinkled each nun with holy water as they approached and bowed for the blessing.  I am guessing that on ordinary nights, this blessing would be bestowed upon the sisters by Mother herself.   

Following the holy water blessing, I overheard someone in the pews quietly remark, “I have no idea what just happened!”  How this memorable day of first vows ~following Sister's conversion into the Catholic Church and discerning a call to the cloistered life of a Passionist Nun~ would be viewed by someone outside the Catholic faith is a mystery to me.  But the fact that Sister's family and friends entered wholeheartedly into the monastic experience despite their different beliefs shows both the depths of their love for her and a great willingness to set aside any prejudices for the sake of supporting her vocation.

Two by two, the nuns processed by candlelight toward their cells in silence, my final glimpse of the holy, cloistered, consecrated women.  As I drove away from the monastery heading back to my hotel, I stopped to photograph the chapel, lit and reflecting upon the pond under the starry sky.  

Bright lights in the darkness...

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Profession of Passionist Vows {Sister Cecilia Maria}

Sister Cecilia Maria wears the white veil of a novice in the chapel cloister at St. Joseph Passionist Monastery, KY
Thirteen hours of travel (4 driving; half in a rental car from Tennessee to Kentucky) brought me my hotel in Owensboro at about midnight.  Twelve hours later I was on my way to St. Joseph Monastery, arriving early for the 1:30 Mass of Religious Profession for my friend Sister Cecilia Maria.

Following the Liturgy of the Word, including an exceptional homily by Father Rodger Hunter Hall, the Rite of Religious Profession began as Bishop Medley called Sister Cecilia’s name.  She stepped forward for the examination, “In your desire to follow Christ Crucified more perfectly, are you resolved to cherish in your heart a loving and grateful remembrance of the mystery of the Passion, and to express it in your life, observing consecrated chastity for the sake of the kingdom, embracing voluntary poverty, offering to God the gift of your obedience, and observing enclosure?   
To this examination, Sister Cecilia replied, “I am so resolved.

Sister Cecilia Maria responds to the examination by Bishop Medley as the Rite of Religious Profession begins.

Bishop Medley led the congregation in solemn prayers for God’s grace for Sister Cecilia Maria, after which she made her profession of vows.  Sister spoke her vows with great conviction, kneeling before her Superior, Mother Catherine Marie, seated at the foot of the altar. As Prioress of the Passionist Nuns at St. Joseph Monastery, Mother appeared jubilant and deeply peaceful, tenderly speaking her acceptance of Sister Cecilia’s vows with such love.

Mother Catherine Marie receives Sister Cecilia Maria's profession of vows

Sister Cecilia Maria receives her new black veil from Mother Catherine Marie.
Newly professed as a Passionist Nun, Sister Cecilia Maria received a black veil and Passionist ring, signifying her marriage to Christ Crucified.  The Passionist sign was placed on her habit over her heart as a constant reminder of her Divine Spouse and the sorrows of His holy Mother.  A crown of thorns set upon her head and a simple cross positioned on her back, Bishop Medley bid her to be faithful to her vows and to follow Christ in humility, obedience and self-denial.  Together with her sisters, she sang “Veni, Sponsa Christi” (Come Spouse of Christ), a love song.   
The Lord of lords holds your life in His embrace.  The King of kings fills your soul with His own grace…
Sister's new black veil proclaims that she belongs entirely to Christ.
Sister appeared in that moment as a living icon on fire with divine love.

Through tears of joy I photographed these moments as best I could without moving from my pew or causing too much distraction.
Wearing a crown of thorns as a reminder to follow Christ in humility, obedience and self-denial, Sister prepares to receive Holy Communion at her Mass of Religious Profession on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple.

The cloistered sisters’ heavenly liturgy and simple, holy music, with sung Latin responses (Sister Cecilia’s preference), created a slightly surreal ambiance at Mass.  A baptismal ‘river’ runs the entire length of the center isle of the monastery chapel ~ holy water breaking the ground to mark the nuns' enclosure.  At the presentation of the gifts, the sisters processed on one side of the holy river and Sister Cecilia’s mom and grandma processed on the opposite side of the isle.  Sister Cecilia crossed out of the enclosure within the sanctuary at the sign of peace, at which time her parents, grandmother, and close friends approached her for an embrace.  
Bishop Medley incenses the gifts and the altar, at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer.
Holy water flows through the center isle of the monastery chapel.

Gustav Holst’s “O God Beyond All Praising,” the recessional march and closing hymn, played expertly by Sister Cecilia Maria's younger sister, Whitney, on violin, happened to be the same song to which their parents had recessed on their wedding day. How fitting that their daughter’s wedding song would voice theirs:   

And whether our tomorrows be filled with good or ill, we’ll triumph through our sorrows and rise to bless you still; to marvel at your beauty and glory in your ways, and make a joyful duty our sacrifice of praise.