Thursday, November 29, 2012

What About Joseph?

At this time of year, the spotlight rightly shines on Mary.  Wives and mothers can easily relate to her story, especially to the feeling of having a tiny, beautiful, heaven-scented newborn and to the conviction that they would readily lay down their very lives for him or her.  Mary also had something else I can relate to -- or someone else, I should say: Joseph! As my husband often laments, what about Joseph?   

Popular magazines, “chick-lit” novels, and television shows often paint men (fathers in particular) as clueless, in dire need of being improved upon or changed, and only good for handing over cash or credit cards.  I have been blessed in real life, however, as God gifted me with an awesome father and then with a wonderful husband and subsequent father-in-law.  I often cite my hubby as being a saint 95% of the time.  But, I’m guilty of still complaining about the other 5% which mostly is comprised of absent mindedness, zero appreciation for The Notebook and what I believe to be feigned incompetence in loading the dishwasher.  I do try very hard to be his helpmate and number one cheerleader, but even so, he often and willingly takes a backseat to everything that goes on in the life our little family.

Similarly, Good St. Joseph, unfortunately, seems to fade into the background of the Holy Family.  We hear year after year about Mary’s, “Yes” to the Angel Gabriel, but what about Joseph’s answers? If we take a close look at Joseph, there is much to learn from his trust, patience, and whole-hearted submission to God’s plan for him.  Joseph -- the quintessential “strong, silent type” -- does not speak at all in the Gospels.  I would have to argue with my hubby that Joseph doesn’t need us to talk about him; he wouldn’t care for all the hoopla.  But, the Gospel of Matthew does tell us a lot about Joseph and just how much he did indeed submit to.  

Joseph receives multiple angelic messages telling him to accept this, do that, go here, now go there, now do this.  He follows all of these instructions, without fail and without question.  He follows through with God’s plan for him often under dire circumstances and at times completely against everything he had come to know thus far in his lifetime.  Joseph seems satisfied with being told just one step to take, and then simply trusting that he’d be told the next one in due time.  In the meantime, he fulfills his duty of loving husband and father, all the while raising the Savior of the World without complaint, well none that were documented apparently.  He just does the right thing and he’s fine with it.

Most, if not all, of the meaningful men in our lives are much like Joseph.  We frazzled, stressed out, perfection–seeking, what’s next on the to-do list, wives and mothers could learn a lot from the St. Joseph’s in our midst.   Amid the secular Christmas craziness, I ask the Lord for the faith and patience of Joseph (or my husband, or my Dad, or my other Dad).  To have just a bit of Joseph’s ability to take on one task and to wait patiently for the next one (and the next one) would ease my mind not only at Christmas, but all year round.  If I had the ability to filter out the clutter and patiently wait for instruction – would I listen to it? Would I say yes to whatever was asked of me?

I often pray to be more like Mary; perhaps I need to start praying to be more like Joseph as well.

Friday, November 9, 2012

‘Tis the Season for… Confession?

Confession!  Oh boy, the very mention of the Sacrament of Confession spurs heated debate among friends and family, Catholics, non-Catholics, whomever. Personally, I was never really a big fan.  It definitely needed a new name. Torture chamber?  Hot seat?  The confessionals of my youth were of the dark wooden box variety and the Act of Contrition was definitely not taped to the wall inside. I used to write it on my hand for fear that Father Meenan would hear any paper crinkling. Looking back with my now 20/20 vision, Father Meenan hardly cared about that.  He was most likely just happy I was there. I’ve heard more than a few of our good priests remark how Confession is their most favorite Sacrament to celebrate.  Seems like loads of pressure to me, standing in the place of Christ, one on one, heart to heart. But, if you consider the task at hand at the moment of Confession, to hand out mercy and forgiveness to all who come and ask with a contrite heart…what an awesome job! 

The confessional offers time and space for good shepherds to bring about peace of mind, offer advice or perhaps some direction.  I’m sure they hear their fair share of tears being shed; maybe share a muffled laugh through the screen, but most of all they impart His endless and all consuming tender love and infinite mercy upon us. A lot happens in that little box sometimes with lots of words, sometimes with the bare minimum. Either way, we little sheep hurry back to the flock completely reconciled with our Lord. Why would we ever hesitate to go and get that whenever possible?

Since Sr. MM began her education at HGA, my own “adult” spiritual formation has been an awesome and unexpected side effect, even if I feel like a little child in a classroom most of the time. I didn’t have the benefit of a Catholic education and my CCD classes left me woefully unprepared for a spiritually mature Catholic adulthood, but I’m learning at a rapid pace now. I’m like one of those adult college students, the annoying one who asks a question a minute before class is over and $1 beer night is about to start.

I want to know everything about the Church. I want to experience everything again, catch up on what I missed out on and make up for time lost while I was a Christmas/Easter Catholic. I’ve tossed out what used to be my list of items that I would pick and chose from as far as what I believed or practiced as a Catholic. I’m all in.

Confession has been a highlight of my rejuvenated faith. I have found that fighting the gentle, but persistent internal nudging to go to confession was futile. Apparently it’s true - the heart wants what the heart wants. For a very long time, my heart was full with love, marriage, children and seemingly everything I needed, save one thing – the One who gave it all to me. I was frolicking along in my own personal fairy tale and neglecting my role in this heavenly deal. I had conditions to adhere to and promises to uphold to make my part in it at least somewhat comparable with what I had so generously been blessed with. I was going to Mass, but was avoiding confession. Why?  It’s darn scary. It sounds easy enough, wait in line (or make an appointment!) confess my sins in number and kind, receive absolution and resolve to sin no more. How does that work when you get cut off trying to leave the parking lot and, “@#$@#!”  Do I turn around and go right back in?

Usually, confession is a hot topic during Lent, but I find the upcoming Holiday season (that seems to begin earlier and earlier every year) to be a little less intimidating as far as mustering up the courage to actually go. We begin with thanksgiving and then prepare for a joyous event and what better inspiration than a new tiny baby to make you want to make the world a better place starting with your own little soul.

So as the season gets hastily underway and your to-do list is giving you hives, remember the one thing that you could do to approach the season at peace…be not afraid and go to confession!  This is not the confession of your childhood or of the stories you’ve heard with priests who scold and nuns outside the door pointing you toward your penance seat. Our kids do it – we can do it. Of course their sins (hopefully) are very tiny and we may feel that ours are far too big or, worse, embarrassing. But, no matter how big or small, or embarrassing – go. Get rid of it all. Make this the one present you wrap up, however messy, and hand it over to your Lord and let him carry it away from you. He’s happy to do so and is just so happy to see (or hear) you. I promise you’ll feel fantastic when you are through… until you try to leave the parking lot.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Perfect read for control freaks like me...

I read a lot, probably too much on occasion.  The benefit of this particular obsession, however, is once in a while you come across things that ring so true for yourself that it almost hurts to read it.  You start to read something and begin to recognize your very core in it, you stop reading in protest to rationalize all the ways it's not really about you, only to return because in your heart, you know it is. 

From Jennifer Fulwiler at Conversion Diary comes this gem of enlightenment...

When “carrying my cross” is code for “I’M A HUGE CONTROL FREAK WHO CAN’T LET GO!!!”

I think I love and hate her now. Sometimes the truth hurts so good.

Friday, October 12, 2012


It’s almost time for ghouls and goblins, haunted hayrides, the Great Pumpkin, and dares to conjure up “Bloody Mary” in the bathroom mirror. Television programs abound with ghost hunters and countdowns of the most haunted places...ever. I have to admit I like being a little bit scared. I enjoy a good thriller film, not the slasher variety, but I do enjoy a good psychological thriller. I especially like the ones where when all else fails they call the Catholic Priest to fix everything. I don’t get to watch a lot of scary shows though because Hubby is too chicken to join me. Okay, so he’s not really chicken, it’s more of an outright refusal because he thinks it’s quite ridiculous to watch something just to get the wits scared out of you. I listen to his words of caution, and then watch anyway. Then I tear up the basement stairs convinced the boogeyman is after me. (Thank you to my big sister for that scar for life!)

It does make me wonder though, why I’m so willing and able to face the made‑up fears in movies and on TV. I know going in that it’s going to be scary, but the fear doesn’t stop me. However, facing the things that scare me in real life proves much more difficult. There seem to be many more things to fear nowadays, big and small. Whether the news headlines are horrible, or I’m pacing the floor waiting for Chad’s plane to land across the country, or wringing my hands waiting for yet another skin biopsy result, or whatever the worry or fear of the moment is – where is my trust in Him? 

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil; for though art with me.” (Psalm 23) The shadow of death!  And I’m not to have any fear?  I’m afraid of my own shadow, but I’m not supposed to be afraid of death or evil. That gives “easier said than done” a whole new meaning.
I think the key to gaining that kind of strength and courage lies in surrounding oneself with people who already have it. Hubby has it and not just because he doesn’t watch scary movies. Sure, he has his moments of doubt and fear, but they remain momentary for him until his faith chases them away. I think it may be genetic because my mom‑in‑law isn’t afraid of anything. She’s never afraid and she doesn’t worry. She once told me (well, probably more than once actually) that worry is disbelief in God’s promises. Such steadfast courage is rooted in an unwavering belief in God’s providence.  If you believe, really and truly believe that God’s promises are real – what is there to fear?
What am I afraid of?  Sometimes…everything! I’m afraid I’m not a good wife. I’m afraid I’m not a good Mom. I’m afraid I left my flat iron on. I’m afraid a tornado is going to touch down in my neighborhood at night when I’m asleep. I’m afraid of losing my parents. All that fear takes up a lot of time and energy. Even if I’m able to quell the fear temporarily while distracted by mom and wifely duties, it creeps back in the quiet of the night. In those moments before I fall asleep, worrisome and fearful thoughts can and do consume me. What’s the solution?  Faith.
If only it were that simple. But alas, it is, well… simple. There is a choice to be made. Either we believe or we don’t. And if we choose to believe, then don’t doubt, or at least try to learn not to doubt. I’ve found that I have to have some sort of touchstone that brings me back from the precipice of fear and worry. It can be the rosary hanging on my headboard, the cross around my neck, the 75 pound Golden Retriever hogging the bed, or the feeling of Chad’s hand clasped in mine. We all need those things that remind of us of how much we are loved and protected. I need the tangible to remind me of the intangible. There is proof everywhere of the ever present love and protection that God promises us and on those things is where we must focus our gaze so that there is less and less room for fear.

Whatever the fear may be that stalks me, be it ghosts or goblins, death, evil, terrorism, or the unknown, I can and should find rest in the promises of my God. So can you! Whether it be on Halloween night and we’ve stayed up late trying to get through the Exorcist for the 100th time, or watching our little one teeter off on the two wheeler for the first time – we have to let go of the fear and hold on to the Faith.  Whatever your boogeyman may be... be not afraid!  
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed,
for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  Isaiah 41:10

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux, A Way for All of Us

As parents, we all have a hundred things on the “to-do” list, a small number of which actually make it to the “done” list. Our days are filled with the realities of home, work, is there a uniform clean for today, what’s for dinner, and how did that piece of gum get there of all places? It’s hard to find the time to be what we may think is a great Catholic…pious, prayerful, and humble. It’s equally difficult to find time for solitary prayer or prayer as a family. How bad must it be if I fall asleep during the first decade of a well-intentioned rosary? Perhaps, in the midst of our quest for our near sighted view of perfection, the answer lies in letting ourselves off the hook ever so slightly and attempting instead the “Little Way” of St. Therese of Lisieux.

“Without love, deeds, even the most brilliant,
count as nothing.”  St. Therese of Lisieuxst_therese.jpg
The smell of fall in the air reminds me of one of my favorite traditions at the girls’ school, the All Saints Day Procession. There are countless saints that we can look to for guidance and encouragement. Visit any Catholic gift shop and you will find hundreds of medals and icons to inspire you. Do a little research and pick one! Most of us have put the Blessed Mother in our window for good weather or have buried St. Joseph in the ground (upside down of course) to sell our house. St. Therese is one of my “faves” because she teaches that having a good faith doesn’t necessitate some huge accomplishment, no grand sweeping display of how Catholic we are. Her way was to be a child of God in ALL that you do, not just the “Catholic things” you do. Her way was a little one, and if we try, every day, to be that good Catholic in a little way – it will pay off in a big way.

“What is the meaning of ‘the little way’ of St. Therese? It is an image that tries to capture her understanding of being a disciple of Jesus Christ, of seeking holiness of life in the ordinary and the everyday. St. Therese based ‘her little way’ on two fundamental convictions: 1. God shows love by mercy and forgiveness and 2. She could not be “perfect” in following the Lord” (Rev. John F. Russell, O.Carm., Seton Hall University). Well, if a wise Saint knew she could never be perfect – why even try? But, herein I miss the point. No, I don’t need to be nor will I ever be perfect, but I can strive to be relatively perfect in my little world. How do I do that? If we follow St. Therese’s philosophy - going about our daily activities with love – then we’re on the right path. There will be time later, when our children are way too cool to hang out with us, time for, dare I say it aloud, an hour of spiritual reading, prayerful meditation, a visit to the Blessed Sacrament? But, for now, in between the homework, and lunch packing and being a Mom taxi – we can remember why we are doing it all in the first place. God has blessed us all with these precious little humans, entrusted them to our care without the slightest thought of our past transgressions or behavior that, on paper, wouldn’t qualify us to be the best candidates for parenthood. But, in His infinite love, He sent them anyway and if we can keep that gift in mind, then all we do will be done with love. The love remains even when we don’t feel it - when we are screaming, “No, you cannot have ice cream before dinner” for the 20th time that day. We are all children of God, so we should act like it. And if we fail to act like it, at least try to remember it in our hearts even when our behavior shows otherwise. There are always going to be no good, terrible, horrible days, but at the end of even those, if we manage to tuck the kids into bed and say a prayer with them (even through gritted teeth) and for them (even after the fighting over what pajamas to wear and who gets the toothpaste first), then we are well on the “little way” of being a disciple of Christ.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

2012 Women's Day of Spirituality: "Faith & Femininity"

Are you in need of some "me time?" Looking for a way to jump start your personal Year of Faith? Register now for the Women's Day of Spirituality, sponsored by the Bishop's Commission for Women. This year's event will be held on Saturday, November 3, 2012 at St. Catharine of Siena Parish in Berks County, Pennsylvania, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Faith & Femininity
Saturday, November 3, 2012

As a member of the Bishop's Commission for Women, I would like to cordially invite my readers to this special day. This is the fourth Day of Spirituality sponsored by the Commission, and the first year it will take place right here in Berks County!

To further promote awareness of the evolving roles of women in the church and society Dr. Maura Hearden, Assistant Professor of Theology at DeSales University, Carole C. Chuk, Former Director of the Office of the Catechumenate and Assistant Director of the Office of Worship in the Diocese of Allentown, and Chairperson, Bishop's Commission for Women, Norine Burghardt, will fill the retreat day with faith-inspired talks. These gifted speakers have embraced as their theme Pope Benedict XVI’s “Year of Faith” which begins in October 2012. We Walk by Faith; The Blessed Virgin Mary; Heroine of Faith, Let’s Talk: Prayer-full Conversations with God; and Mary, into the Heart of a Convert are the topics they are offering to continue to enrich the faith journey of the women in the Diocese of Allentown. The Most Reverend John O. Barres, D.D. will be the main celebrant and homilist at Mass. Don’t miss this opportunity to be renewed and refreshed in your faith.

The Details:
  • Registrations must be received by October, 26, 2012.
  • A fee of $15 includes lunch and light refreshments.
  • You may register by mailing your $15 non-refundable check, payable to the Diocese of Allentown, to the Secretariat for Catholic Life and Evangelization, The Commission for Women, 900 S. Woodward St., Allentown, PA 18103 or Click Here to register and pay online.
  • If you have any questions, please call 610-289-8900, ext. 228. 
About the Bishop's Commission for Women
The Commission for Women shall serve as an advisory board to the Bishop of Allentown offering the woman’s perspective on issues of concern to our Bishop and the Church.  The Commission for Women is committed to identifying and exploring issues in which consideration of feminine perspectives and insight deepens our collective awareness and understanding of those issues.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

CCD for Grown-ups - I'm so cool I can't stand it.

Last night was my first class of "CCD for Grownups" or, more officially, the Core Curriculum offered by The Institute for Catechesis and Formation of the Diocese of Allentown.  The first offering is ICF 101 The Mystery of Faith - and can I just say that I learned more about a lot of things in last night's 2 1/2 class than I have in - well lets just say in a long time.  The description of ICF 101 is:
"This course explains God's revelation of Himself in Christ, the relationship between God and humanity, the need for salvation, and God's plan for accomplishing it." 
That's a very small nutshell for some very big truths, facts, theology, ideas, contemplation, internalization, questioning, thinking...  Our very competent instructor on this Mystery is Rev. Msgr. Walter T. Scheaffer who definitely knows what he is talking about, but I think he may have ulterior motives of not only teaching us about the Mystery of Faith - but leading us to love it.  He also introduced us last night to Lectio Divina - which I had heard of but didn't know a lot about - I still don't know a lot about it, but I want to know more and I think I'm going to love it when I do.  

Whew, I hope I have the brain power to make it through all six Core Curriculum classes that are offered through the year.  I signed up for all of them and I'm just way too geekily excited for them all.  I didn't go to Catholic school.  I had very poor catechesis in the 70's and 80's - woefully poor.  Sr. MM was coming home from school all the time talking about things about our Church that I didn't have a real idea about or maybe I knew of something but didn't really know it at all.  There was a lot of talk about Scripture last evening as well - my head is still spinning about some of it and this too is another area where a lot of cradle Catholics are seriously lacking some knowledge.

I guess my point is if your Diocese - or you happen to reside in my Diocese already - is offering CCD for grown ups - take advantage of it.  Swallow your pride and admit what you don't know.  It's going to be awesome, I just know it.