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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Praying with A Broken Rosary

On Good Friday, my favorite rosary broke. This rosary is special to me for several reasons and I find the timing of its demise to be especially ironic. You see, this rosary is one that comes in the mail from this or that charity seeking donations. But it's important because it came into my hands a little over three years ago when I prayed to soon-to-be Blessed John Paul II for his intercession in a certain matter - and it happens to have the crucifix from his pontificate. It was also blessed by a friend of mine and is thus a reminder to always include that particular priest in my prayers.

And now, it is broken, and in fact, broke on the day we began the Divine Mercy novena; how apt a sign it is for the present condition of my spiritual life. How apt that this particular rosary would break, now, as we rejoice in a new Blessed, the one whose image is borne on one side of the medal of this rosary. Oh, yes, this is my JPII rosary all the way.

I have found, though, that the inconvenience of its broken chain in the middle of the 5th Mystery makes me ponder a bit more about the love of God for us, our own spiritual condition before Him, and the depths of His infinite mercy.

This rosary is not beyond repair by any means, but it is not something I can fix on my own. I need help to do it. I have to take it to someone else. Do you see the metaphor? So it is when we fall into sin, we cannot absolve ourselves; we must go to someone else in order to be reconciled to God. The rosary may still be prayed, and each time I encounter the premature end, I am reminded of the chasm that exists between God and me.  That break is a physical reminder that I must take my own broken soul to Our Lord, place it into His loving hands and allow Him to give it back to me, restored once again.

Even though we are all broken in some way, we must always pray. There is always hope, there is always God's mercy if we but ask in humility and sincerity.

Eternal Father, I offer you the body, blood, soul, and divinity, of your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world. For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have Mercy on us and on the whole world!

Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have Mercy on us and on the whole world. 

Jesus I trust in Thee! 

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Fire Ever Burning

As a friend reminded me this morning, today (April 29) is the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena, one of my patron Saints. I was thankful for the reminder and prayed wearily this morning for her assistance, and indeed, she came through for me in a big way this evening, just when I needed her most.  And through her intercession, I have been brought closer to Jesus, closer to once again falling in love with Him.

Today, I was especially struck by the second reading for her Feast day in the Divine Office, and so I am placing it here for you, too, in hopes that her prayer will become yours, not just today, but always.

The following is an excerpt from her work, Dialogue, specifically her Treatise on Divine Providence:

Eternal God, eternal Trinity, you have made the blood of Christ so precious through his sharing in your divine nature. You are a mystery as deep as the sea; the more I search, the more I find, and the more I find the more I search for you. But I can never be satisfied; what I receive will ever leave me desiring more. When you fill my soul I have an even greater hunger, and I grow more famished for your light. I desire above all to see you, the true light, as you really are. 

Eternal Trinity, Godhead, mystery deep as the sea, you could give me no greater gift than the gift of yourself. For you are a fire ever burning and never consumed, which itself consumes all the selfish love that fills my being. Yes, you are a fire that takes away the coldness, illuminates the mind with its light and causes me to know your truth. By this light, reflected as it were in a mirror, I recognize that you are the highest good, one we can neither comprehend nor fathom. And I know that you are beauty and wisdom itself. The food of angels, you gave yourself to man in the fire of you love.

St. Catherine of Siena....pray for us! 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Success To the Work of Your Hands

He is Risen! He is Risen INDEED!

Lent was difficult this year, and the Triduum was no exception, and although I had difficulty in prayer and was, for the first time in recent memory, tempted to NOT attend the Triduum liturgies, I went and worshiped as planned. Non-Catholic friends of mine sometimes question why we Catholics are so "ritualistic", and my answer is this: because our rituals do not let us fall into the dictatorship of emotions, but rather help us to honor God because He wills it, even though we may will the opposite.

I am grateful, therefore, for our Triduum "rituals", for they help to sanctify we weak souls who would prefer to flee and "do our own thing".

One of the blessed things about the Triduum, however, was time off from work and because I plan my life to avoid "errands" and other things, I was able to spend some time working on my Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. During Lent I went on retreat and my wonderful teacher and friend, a dear, faithful Religious Sister looked at it with her discerning eye and explained to me some new techniques required by this particular Icon. So it was that during the Triduum, even though I had difficulty with mental prayer, God drew me into the Icon. Even though I am still a student and therefore still focus on technique, it was very prayerful for I was able to speak to our Blessed Mother, to Jesus, and to the Archangels Michael and Raphael.

They responded by guiding my clumsy hand that held the brush, and I was amazed at the effects. Although I continue to make mistakes and see them long after the paint has dried, more and more I am gaining confidence, wondering if, perhaps, one day, I will truly be able to call myself an Iconographer.

The Homily on Holy Thursday was given by a priest ordained only a year ago, and he revealed to us the Bible verse engraved upon his chalice, from Psalm 90, "..Give success to the work of our hands."

His homily struck a chord with me, for ever since, when I approach the Icon I have been praying those holy words. The Icon I write now is ultimately not for me. For whom do I write it, but for God? I write it to give Glory to Him, to ponder on His Incarnation, to meditate upon the Mystery of the Redemption. It is the most Sacred of arts, yet I do not know where it will end up. So it is that I pray it as I go, begging for intercession, praying for success to this work of my unworthy hands.

Who am I to open a window to Heaven? Who will gaze through this window? Who am I to co-create it with God?

Success. What is "Success"? 

In God's eyes, I do not know the definition of "Success".  When I was in high school and college, and in my young adult years, at the "threshold of the universe", I thought "success" was primarily defined by financial means, and the elevation of status within one's chosen field. These days, I see things differently and I have learned the hard way that "success" according to God may not be anything I envision in my fallen perception.

We have all come through Lent with varying levels of earthly "success". What does that mean?

Many of us think we have 'failed", but have we really? If our failures have brought us to the Throne of Mercy, they are not failures but successes in self-knowledge, a huge gift of Grace. If our "failures" have revealed to us something that keeps us from God, then we must recognize a gift given from God's heart to our own.

If our Lenten "failures" have reminded us that of ourselves, we can do nothing, and therefore we have NEED of a Savior...then we have not "failed" so much as been brought closer to Jesus through a breakdown of our Pride.

When we pray, therefore, for "Success", we have to recall that the ways in which we define that word may differ drastically from God's own definition.

As of now, as I pray for success for the work of my hands, specifically for my Icon, I don't know, exactly, what that means. In practice I am praying for my hand to be guided, for my intellect to be informed, for my will to be strengthened, for my Pride to be overcome; for I will and I MUST make mistakes and accept those as I go. It is the mistakes that teach us the most.

It is the mistakes we make, whether in Iconography or in other areas of life, that lead us to ask the most heartfelt and sincere questions.

Difficult Lent - Difficult Easter?

It doesn't matter if our Lent was a big Ol' "FAIL". It doesn't matter. It is behind us now. For those of us who got out of Lent with nothing but this lousy FAIL t-shirt, it is time to let it go and rejoice, not in ourselves, but in Our Lord who foresaw our big fat FAILS long before He was crucified for them.

It is time to celebrate, and if we have failed, then we have a great gift; that of being able to celebrate, purely, the Resurrection, for we can recognize it has nothing to do with our own merit, but Our Lord's. It is a great gift, and we should recognize it as such, for this gift is meant for our own humility. It is my untried theory that we who have difficulty in Lent both need to grow in holiness and need to grow, most specifically, in humility.

And yes, that hurts, and it hurts even more to admit it in public. But then again, for those who know it any surprise that we need that lesson?

Is there, truly, anyone who WOULDN'T benefit from an increase in humility?

We have to remember that none are perfect, we are still being created, and like an Icon, are incomplete until we are with God for eternity. An Icon is not truly an Icon until it is Blessed in a special way, and that is what makes it worthy of veneration. So it is with the Saints - and we are ALL called to be Saints, should we choose to cooperate with that Divine Invitation.

Therefore, let us all pray together, with and for each other, to rejoice in the Resurrection of Christ, and for the blessing of success to the work of our hands...all for Him and for His Kingdom, unto Eternity with all the Blessed.

A Holy Easter to you all, and may God grant you all success to the work of your hands. Amen!

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Before the feast of the Passover Jesus knew that his hour had come; he had always loved those who were his own, and now he would show them the depth of his love. 

~ Liturgy of the Hours, Antiphon for Daytime prayer
I began Lent as Judas, and unfortunately, not much has changed in the last 40 days. The one less I take with me this year into the Sacred Triduum is the very acute, painful knowledge of my own abject wretchedness before God.

This evening, for the first time in many years, I didn't even want to go to the Holy Thursday liturgy, but of course I did go, because I can't imagine not doing so. It would just be...wrong. After all, what other thing could I possibly do that would be a better use of my time? What other thing do I possibly have to do at all?


After Mass I remained and went to the chapel to pray at the altar of repose for awhile, and was grateful to realize that, although I hadn't wanted to come, I didn't want to leave.

I'm grateful to have that sense of loss, of having to tear myself away from the Presence of My Lord, for tonight and tomorrow all the tabernacles in the world will stand empty, the light extinguished, door open. When we return tomorrow, we will be going to enter into Jesus' Passion and death, and lay Him in a tomb.

Perhaps, then, although I began Lent as Judas, I finish as Peter, for although I have fallen many times, I have continued to get up, and although I have denied Him, I have heard the cock crow and I have knelt at His feet, this very evening, and prayed never to betray Him again.

Yet...I know that I will, and that is why He went to the Cross.

Had Jesus not died for me, I would not be able to live for Him.

Thank you, Jesus.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lenten Meme: Why I Love Jesus!

Mike over at What Does Mike Think tagged me for a Lenten Meme, and as this is Spy Wednesday, I’ve pushed this to quite literally the last minute.

The rules:
Those tagged will share 5 things they “love” about Jesus / Or why they love Jesus. Those tagged will tag 5 other bloggers. Those tagged will provide a link in the comments section here with their name so that others can read them.

Why I love Jesus:

1. From His very pre-existence, the beatific vision present at His conception, through His agony and crucifixion, Jesus knew everything I would ever do to offend Him – and He suffered and died for me anyway.

2. He is so patient that even when I start out praying and end up writing recipes for seafood salad, He still listens. (And the salad came out great and if He came to my house I'd serve it to Him happily!)

3. Jesus gives us all the ultimate example of the true meaning of love: that it is sacrificial and not just invites, but requires our cooperation and participation.

4. Every time I say “NO!” to Him, He finds another way to get through my stubborn will.

5. Jesus kept His promise to be with us; He continues to give Himself to us in the Sacraments.

 O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine.

It's late and I don't know who to tag anymore - it seems this one has already made the rounds and I'm at the bottom of the barrel. If you haven't been among the chosen, consider yourself chosen!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Meditation on Distraction

This morning, en route to work, I was praying the rosary and specifically meditating upon the Sorrowful Mysteries. At some point though, my mind wandered from Christ's Passion and went through a recipe catalogue somewhere in the depths of my brain. As I prayed Hail Mary's, I imagined seafood salad and came up with an ingredients list then realized how long it's been since I've made that salad.

Suddenly I realized I was praying the last two decades but couldn't recall actually pondering the Crowning of Thorns. The last thing I remembered was the beginning of Jesus being scourged and somewhere after that, the terrible weapons turned into the knives used to slice onions and celery to be added to the chopped seafood.

And I was ashamed. How, exactly, did I go from Our Lord's most Sorrowful Passion to...seafood salad on crackers?

How in the world did I manage to pray Hail Mary's, Pater Nosters (half in Latin, half English), Glory Be's, all in apparent praise of a salad?

I wasn't even hungry!

Oh, sure, Jesus said He would make us "fishers of men" but I'm sure He didn't have a chopped seafood salad in mind when He said that.


I'll let you know how the salad comes out when I make it next. I've got the ingredients.

In the meantime, please pray for me. I'll try to pray for you but I must warn you; I may begin with great intentions but end up prayerfully meditating on summer cole slaw, caprese salad or grilled steak instead.

Monday, April 18, 2011

True Piety

One of the dangers of the spiritual life is to give in to the temptation to compare oneself with others, and that temptation may be especially prevalent during Lent.

Last week I heard an insightful homily regarding outward acts of piety. The priest observed that there are some who seem to have deep spiritual lives, but what they do outwardly is actually covering up for a very deep interior wound. To take it further, he observed that there are those who are ever-ready and ever-armed with liturgical, or other books, and prepared to leap upon the smallest error in the liturgy - yet this isn't really their issue. He surmises that there is something deeper there, covered by the outward anger and vigilance.

To be clear, he was not saying that outward piety was a bad thing or that we do not have a right to a properly celebrated liturgy. Rather, his point was very simple: do not look merely upon outward acts and assume that is the whole story.

All of us are carrying about deep wounds, some bleeding, some scars, and we do different things to cover them up so that others cannot see. This is why we need the Confessional, for there we can bare our souls to the Divine Physician. This is why we need prayer, for there we can bring our spiritual torments to the only One who understands how to make us complete.

It is a temptation to look at the lives of others, and their pious acts, and try to compare ourselves to them. In Lent, it is a temptation to compare our failings to the claimed or visible "successes" of others and conclude that for us, Lent has been a failure.

Do not give in to this temptation!

We cannot judge the souls of others, good or bad. We cannot see if their piety is only outward, hiding a seething mass of anxiety or sin. We cannot see if someone's anger, off-putting in appearance, may truly be fueled by a life of holiness.

It is said that Blessed Mother Teresa was a hard woman, yet there is no doubt about her holiness. They say the light of God just shone through her. Yet we also know how she struggled in years of spiritual darkness. Her outward smiles, her ability to care for and love others, her ability to pray, outwardly, told us only a little about her.

There are many Saints whose flaws were apparent to all, and yet, they lived lives of deep devotion and holiness. There's no such thing as a "cookie-cutter" saint, a Saint that ran around on tiptoes, hands open, floating along on clouds of devotion.

It may be tempting to look at this or that person who spends hours in the chapel and claims to fast and pray constantly, and seek to be like them, but this is one of the biggest spiritual mistakes anyone can make. Do not be "like someone else." Be who YOU are - fully - in the face of God.

During Lent we are called to acts of penance, abstinence, fasting, and alms, and each of us does this with some degree of success or failure. The litmus test before God is not one of comparison with others, but resides entirely in our own relationship with God - and with His Church.

Every Saint became a Saint simply because he or she knew him or herself in relation to God, and responded by being fully who they were called to be. They were all human and had human flaws, but in true piety, they never gave up seeking the face of God. They never gave up falling before His Throne in prayer, humility, and obedience. They did not try to copy someone else, or compare themselves to the Saints that had gone before them. Instead, they brought everything they were, from personality to temperament, to favorite sins and passions, to favorite devotions and, above all, their love for Christ - and they were transformed, little by little, so that they could become holy as their Father in heaven is Holy.

That's true piety. That is what makes a Saint.

Do not get caught up in the sin of spiritual comparison. In the spirit and advice of the Saints, assume the best of those you meet, look always to the example of Christ, and always continue onward, for it is He who awaits your love and devotion. It is He who thirsts for you. The world does not suffer from too many Saints; it suffers from not having enough.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Smallest Voice

During Lent, we are supposed to draw closer to Jesus, but that's difficult in a world such as ours, isn't it?  Many of us grew up watching cartoons that portrayed the conscience every now and then. They were typically a cute little red devil on one shoulder whispering sweet nothings of encouragement to do the wrong thing juxtaposed against a very un-fun white angel giving solid direction to do what was right and good.

In our world, we're surrounded by many voices and temptations. We're surrounded by nearly pornographic images in magazines, on buses, on TV, and merely turn on a radio stations to hear the latest gossip of a sexual nature ranging from anything from the guy next door to the DJ's to celebrities or whatever Jane or Joe has grabbed the headline due to some obnoxious and depraved immoral act.  

We are surrounded by voices that denounce our faith by holding up examples of those who didn't meet it so well, or at least are accused of not having done so. 

We are surrounded by people who hate the Church, hate Christianity and are more interested in mindlessly spreading lies about the Church, tempting us to give into those lies rather than seeking the truth for ourselves through legitimate historical documentation the Hitlery Channel and A&E refuse to consider for fear it would completely wreck their ratings.  

These voices tend to become the most shrill during Lent, and even as we try to seek the silence and prayer, we are called into outright battle, either from our knees or in verbal defense of our Faith. And if we refuse to fight, we are at risk of being assimilated into the destruction of  the cacophony of annihilation.

That's what happens to the fallen away Catholics and other Christians; they give in to "The Nothing" in the Swamps of Despair that make up our secular world. 

STOP! What voice are you listening to?

Tonight I was reminded of a training incident in which my life was literally hanging by my fingertip.

In that incident, I can still remember the loudest voices demanding that I do the wrong thing - the thing I KNEW was wrong, and even though I wanted to give in to those terrible demands, and was sorely tempted to do so, there was a stronger instinct to just hang on. To pray. To wait for help, even as I felt the rope slipping away. 

And there he was, the Captain who refused to be shrill, refused to be loud and was only as loud as necessary so that I could hear him. So it was that his instructions cut through the noise, for rather than calling for me to give up, he saw in me a survival instinct he chose, as a good teacher, to build up. He didn't want to see me let go and fall, but rather, to learn from the struggle. 

It was to his voice I responded, for his reason cut through my panic, his brief instruction cut through my defiance, step by step until I could follow him.

It was the smallest voice that was the most powerful, and the voice that may have quite literally saved my life. 

So it is with Jesus.

This Lent of 2011, we have seen the wind, and the earthquake, and the flood, and the fire, (1 Kings 19) but the Lord has not been in those things; only the cacophony of the popular media. The Lord has been present to those who suffer, but it was not He in those things in and of themselves. Those events were mere distractions.

The Lord is in the voice we refuse to hear, the interior voice that gives direction, cutting through the noise and exterior disasters

The Lord is in the smallest voice, the whisper in the wheat the underscores the tornado's gale. It is in the crumble of shale and limestone in the fury of the earthquake, and it is is the silent falling of ash in the tumultuous explosion of the volcano. His voice is in the mysterious footprints in the soot left after the wildfire, and in the most insignificant debris left after the floods. His voice is in the animals fleeing before what is coming, but never leaves anyone behind.

No matter what the source of the Roar, the Lord can be found speaking quietly in a register the gales can't touch, for it flies beneath the radar to pierce us through hidden and deeply personal means. 

I spoke of that day at the Tower, that terrible day, and even now, I am coming to understand the lesson ever more deeply. Truly, I won't ever forget the Captain's voice cutting through my panic, working with me instead of against me, asking me to work with him in following his direction. He saw my faith and called me to reason, knowing that was the bridge between equal failures. 

So it is that we struggle in the same way during Lent. We try, we fail, and every day we are faced with the assault upon our senses and intentions. Every day we are called especially to seek Our Lord, and the sad thing is this: we relegate this struggle only to Lent and, in a lesser way, to Advent. 

Although this struggle takes place every day of our lives, we only give it attention during penitential seasons, and we try to play it down to make it more comfortable. The reality is this: the path to holiness is not comfortable. 

We are willing to sacrifice much to lose weight or get in shape or become healthy or get a better job. But to become holy - we give it two brief seasons encompassing 10 weeks out of 52 in an entire  year, then totally disregard the rest as though our lives and souls are meaningless. 

It's no wonder we complain we can't hear the voice of God; we don't listen long enough to take His voice to heart. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Just Words?

Recently, at work, I was giving a very brief presentation about the upcoming changes to the Roman Missal, explaining the reasons for it and what those changes would be. The woman with whom I was speaking responded in anger and shock. She thought the new translation was ridiculous because of the cost of the replacement of books, and didn't see why the words of the Mass really mattered anyway.

"They're just words!" she exclaimed in self-righteous sarcasm, rolling her eyes to make sure I got her point.

All I could do was just shake my head at such a juvenile response, for indeed I did get her point; that I shouldn't waste any time tossing any more pearls before swine. Just words? Really?

When are words "just words"?

Words are powerful. What's that old adage?  Oh, yes, right: "The pen is mightier than the sword." If the pen is writing mere words, how in the world can they cut so deeply and have effects that last throughout history, affecting people from generation to generation? Anyone ever heard of the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution? Or the famous 1st Amendment guaranteeing "free speech"? If words are "just words" why have an Amendment protecting them?

Anyone ever heard of Martin Luther's theses? Were those "just words" or didn't they create a schism that exists to this day and continues to splinter?

How do people end up being sued for libel over "just words", especially when their crime destroys reputations and lives? How can so many priests, like Fr. Gordon MacRae, among so many others, end up in prison as the result of slander if that slander is "just words"?  How many people have gone to the electric chair, guillotine, firing squad, or some other equally unpleasant way of death, innocent or guilty, when the verdict of "GUILTY" is just a mere word?

Words can destroy people - they have that power.

They also have the power to get unqualified people elected to the Presidency by the fluke of media propaganda.'s "just words". So I guess that result is meaningless.

Words have the power to begin wars, to free slaves, to install Kings, to change history - and even re-write it such that people will believe the lies simply because it is in print.

Words have the equal power to reveal Truth even in the face of the worst deception, and in so doing, set people free from intellectual bondage.

Words can encourage, elevate, support, uplift, inform, educate, and bring tidings of great joy to a world lost in darkness. Words revealed the Birth of Christ to the poor Shepherds - but they were "just words", weren't they?

Then we come to the Mass, where we come together in worship of the Almighty God. Are the prayers of the Mass, the prayers we utter in the desperation of our hearts and souls, the prayers uttered in praise and thanksgiving...are those "just words"?  If so, why are we there?  If they're "just words" why should God listen? 

In the Sacrament of Baptism, when we are baptized "In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit", if they are just words, then we are "just sinners" and not children of God.

In the Sacrament of Confession when the priest says, "...I absolve you in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit", if those are "just words", then we are not forgiven and never can be.

And the Consecration: when the priest, through the power of the Holy Spirit, utters the words that change the bread and wine into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ - are those "just words"? If so, then Christ is not present and He lied to us a long time ago.

If they are, in the famous statement of Flannery O'Connor, if those are mere, meaningless words, "Then to Hell with it!"

Oh, right...her words were "just words", too. Yeah..I guess words don't really have any meaning. They certainly don't affect us at all, do they? Words have no power, no meaning. They don't do anything. We have the power of speech for no reason whatsoever.

What about the Bible, the "Word of God", and Jesus, "The Word Made Flesh" who dwelt among us?

I guess Jesus has even LESS meaning, then, because He is just "the Word", not even worthy of an "s" to make Him plural.

Just words. Right.

There's no such thing as "just words".

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Springtime in the Northland

On Monday, I left to go on a retreat and for the last couple days have been experiencing community life and prayer and...more iconography. I brought my icon with me to work on, and am amazed at what a little direction and time will accomplish! Although I have a long ways to go before it will be done, I admit I feel more confident in my ability to proceed.

This morning we drove out to the Oratory where the community will reside when the renovations on the Priory are completed, and it was my great pleasure to end my retreat with four solid hours of prayer. Of course, there was the rosary en route (in private as I drove solo), then once there, chanted Divine Office, Morning Prayer, Adoration, Little Office of Mary, Daytime Prayer, Holy Mass in the Extraordinary Form, Novena to St. Joseph, and Stations of the Cross (the version by St. Alphonsus Liguouri). Whew! Talk about marathon prayers!

On the way home, at Sister's suggestion, instead of driving straight to the freeway, I took a brief but parallel detour along peaceful farmland so that I could stop and pick up some fresh cheese curds.

My friends, one of the great pleasures of living in the upper Midwest, and most specifically, of passing through Wisconsin, is being able to pick up fresh, still-squeaky cheese curds fresh off the family farm.

As I left, squeaking on curds, enjoying the rolling hills of Wisconsin farmland, I realized how grateful I am both to be Catholic and to live in the upper midwest. This is GOD'S COUNTRY, my friends, and I don't think I'd ever want to live anywhere else.

I've even come to appreciate the oft-parodied accents of our region, and associate the most prominent with the friendliest, most-down-to-earth people one would ever care to meet.

At the same time, as I inhaled the fresh farm scents, I also realized how distasteful it is to have to actually reside within the rotting urban putrescence we refer to as a "suburb", kept apart from the incredible beauty of the tilled land that makes up most of the Midwest.

An old song from the Indigo Girls came to mind as I drove along, musing, so I couldn't help but create my own parody of it.  Just so you get the melody, first check it out here then come back and sing with my edited version.

Northland in the Springtime

Maybe we'll make Fargo by the morning
Light the flood-swamps with our tail lights in the night
300 miles to Stillwater from the state line
And we never have the money for the train
I'm in the back seat sleepy from the travel
Rocked our hearts out all night long in the Windy City
I'm dirty from the diesel fumes, drinking coffee black
When the first breath of Eau Claire comes in clean

And there's something 'bout the Northland in the springtime
Where the waters flow with flooding and destruction
Though I miss her when I'm gone it won't ever be too long
Till I'm home again to spend my favorite season
When God made me born a yankee it was pleasin'
There's no place like home and none more reasoned
Than the Northland in the springtime

In the Northland nights are colder than a blizzard
Within a snowcone someone's brother formed in hand
With the farmland like a tapestry passed down through generations
And the birch trees stitched across the land
There'll be cider up near Redwing off the roadside
And warm cheese curds in a bag to warm your fingers
And the smoke from the chimneys meets its maker in the sky
With a song that winter wrote whose melody lingers

And there's something 'bout the Northland in the springtime
Where the waters flow with flooding and destruction
Though I miss her when I'm gone it won't ever be too long
Till I'm home again to spend my favorite season
When God made me born a yankee it was pleasin'
There's no place like home and none more reasoned
Than the Northland in the springtime

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Norbertine Fathers - Gregorian Chant

It has been my great pleasure this week to have received the honor of a reviewing Gregorian Chant - Requiem, sung by the Norbertine Fathers of the St. Michael's Abbey.  It is also a great pleasure to be able to review this incredible album on the 5th Sunday of Lent, in which we just heard the gospel account of the death and resurrection of Lazarus.

In this season of Lent in which we contemplate the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord, there is nothing better than a Requiem chant to aid in contemplation of His sacrifice. None of us are untouched by death, that terrible result of original sin; all of us need the reminder of our final ends, and the price paid for our salvation. All of us have experienced the death of a loved one at one point or another in our lives, an experience that is repeated more and more as we progress in years.

In Lent, as we approach Good Friday, we all share in the depths of grief of the Blessed Mother as we approach the shadow the Cross - it is on Holy Thursday that we enter, united through the Church, into a period of mourning and for those who have suffered loss, it may be all the more poignant, for inherent within that deep sense of grief remains an eternal hope.

A Requiem Mass, for those who are unfamiliar, is a Mass offered for one who has died. Those unfamiliar with it may find more information at the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on the subject.

The Norbertine Fathers have produced a hauntingly beautiful recording of the traditional prayers of the Requiem Mass, made even more so by the Providential weather on the day it was created. As the letter that accompanied the review copy stated,

The Old cliche' of a badly written novel beginning with the words: "It was a dark and stormy night..." could well apply to the recording of this album, as the date that worked for all the singers to record was the day of one of the longest and most violent tempests of 2010. The abbey's cantor, Fr. Chrysostom Baer, decided that, far from detracting from the quality of the recording,t he howling winds actually added to the haunting tones of chant. This is the reason for the atmospheric effects heard in the background of many of the recorded tracks.

Indeed, Father Baer is correct. I find the sound of wind to be especially proper to the music, for Gregorian Chant has long been referred to as "the breath of God", given its regular tones, rising and falling, natural pauses, all reminiscent and conducive to human need to breathe in order to sustain life. Chant is particularly profound, for it blends physical life with the spiritual need to breathe in communio with God, the author of all life, who created us as body and soul together. It is in this form of music that God is most profoundly glorified, for the theology of the body and the theology of the music, physically and spiritually, reveals the fullness of our Faith and has inherently within it a vivid, sung witness not just to the hope of eternal life, but also to the resurrection of the body.

I found the howling winds to be most prominent in the Kyrie, Dies Irae, and De Profundis, and rather than detracting from it, I was drawn even more deeply into the ancient tones of the chant, chilled to the soul, yet held within the protective warmth of the sacred prayers.

The CD comes with an insert containing the Latin words with English translation, so those who fear they won't understand the music have nothing to fear and can pray right along!

It should be noted that these chants are taken from the Norbertine Liturgy, with which many of us are probably very unfamiliar in name, although it followed very closely the Roman Canon of the Mass.

The chant most striking to me about it was the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) for the Requiem:

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem sempiternam.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant them rest.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant them rest.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant them eternal rest.

I don't want to spoil the CD for you so all I can tell you is this: it is available in Stores, physically and digitally, this Tuesday, April 12, 2011 and you really NEED to go out and get a copy so that it can aid your contemplation during Holy Week!

To purchase, go to

As always, pray that more souls will answer God's call to serve Him in these holy Vocations of the Priesthood and Religious Life. 

The following information is provided by Jade Music:

Available in Stores, physically and digitally, on April 12, 2011

This is the third Gregorian chant album by the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael's Abbey in California. This is not an actual Mass, but the traditional Requiem music according to the ancient Norbertine Rite, a form of the liturgy similar to the ubiquitous Roman Rite but the exclusive patrimony of the Norbertine Fathers. The album is available in stores on April 12, 2011.

The Norbertine Fathers and the Pacific Symphony

Thanks to the buzz and press coverage surrounding the previous two album releases, Carl St. Clair, the music director of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra, invited the Norbertines to perform with the Orchestra. The three concerts, which took place in late February 2011 at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, CA, were extremely popular and well received. 
The Expansion Project
St. Michael’s Abbey has been blessed with many vocations since its beginnings in the 1960s, and the boarding preparatory school consistently receives the highest ratings for its classical education and formation. Because of its growth, the community needs to expand its facilities. When the community began to consider expanding, it discovered that its current site is geologically unstable so the community will have to move to new land
Jade Music
Jade Music has a proven dedication to releasing quality classical and spiritual music for more than 20 years. It established itself as the premiere record label of the choir of the Abbey of Santo Domingo de Silos, Spain. Jade Music is distributed by ADA/Warner Music Group in the United States, Universal Music in France, JVC in Japan, and Warner Music International in the rest of the world.

1. Rain and Bells  2. Introit: Requiem 3. Kyrie 4. Gradual: Requiem 5. Gradual: Si Ambulem 6. Prose: Dies Irae 7. Tract: De Profundis 8. Offertory: Domine Jesu Christe 9. Preface 10. Sanctus 11. Agnus Dei 12. Communion Antiphon: Lux Aeterna; Requiescant 13. Responsory for the Commendation of the Soul: Subvenite 14. Antiphon for the Procession of the Body: Suscipiat vos Christus 15. Antiphon for the Procession of the Body: Chorus Angelorum

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Finding Happiness in the Cross

It is HARD to be holy, and working on the habits that increase virtues is sometimes a very harsh labor – yet it’s one lightened by love. The penances and chosen deprivations of Lent help us to take stock of our spiritual lives, our sinful habits, our willful disorder, and in so doing, help us to know ourselves more clearly in the face of God. Yes, it’s difficult, but it is the difficulty that bears fruit, for we must all pass through the Cross in order to have eternal life. During Lent, more than any other time of the year, we know the weight of the shadow that falls over us and we walk with Christ towards Calvary, joining our own bloody footprints to His.

It is easy to become frustrated with the world in which we live; the world that hates Our Lord and anyone who sincerely seeks to follow Him. It is easy to become angry with those who claim to be Christian and then legislate things completely contrary to Christianity. It is easy to give in to despair when we look around at the multiple disasters, both natural and man-made, that plague our globalized society, and it is easy to let slip vitriolic condemnations.

We are fallen creatures and even when we’re trying to grow in holiness, we fail miserably. Constantly. Because of this, it’s easy to want to give up.

Some mornings I don’t even want to get out of bed for it seems that I awake only to the anticipations of the sufferings of that day. Then I gaze upon the Crucifix and ponder…if things are so bad now, how much worse would they be if Jesus had not come? How much worse off would we be if Jesus had not sanctified the world with His Incarnation and restored our relationship with the Father through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection?

It is the Cross that gives us Hope, that beckons us onward, calling us to Faith, demanding that we follow this life-giving paradox of sacrificial Charity.

Today I went into the chapel to pray. As always, I was flooded with a sense of relief. When I arrive, Jesus already knows what I’ve done and what I haven’t done. He knows the state of my soul perfectly, and still, He allows me into His Holy presence. When I kneel and enter into conversation with Him, nothing else is important. Entering the church, entering the chapel is entering Eternity; a place where time does not exist, where the problems of the world melt away, and I can collapse at the feet of my beloved Savior.

He is the one who makes life worth living. It is for Him I arise each morning, and for Him I work each day. It is Jesus I seek when I have no happiness, for real happiness can only be found in Him. It is Jesus who gives me the strength to go on, and continues to pull me forward and upward when I’m ready to give up. Through this long winter, this long season of Lent, through this desert of spiritual aridity punctuated by the thorns of sin, I continue forward because I know, ultimately, how this will end. I may not be very holy now, and I may fall constantly, but as long as Our Lord is there, I will always have a reason to get up again and continue pressing on.

Thank you, Jesus for our crosses. Every single one. And especially yours.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Like A Queen Never Crowned

Recently I attended a talk, and the man (in formation) giving it spoke of his work in ministry, work that focused on women, specifically. He spoke about how women have been treated and continue to be treated; how we deserve to be treated as Queens, to be respected, and yet, that is not what happens in today's society.

I have to admit his talk brought tears to my eyes, because, of course, YES! That is what we not just want, but need. Sure, I've had boyfriends my friends said "treated me like a Queen", yet they weren't there behind closed doors to see what really happened and what was "expected" of me.

I still recall, back when I was 19 or or 20, going with my boyfriend at that time (he was 26, I think)  to his older sister's home. She was sweet and gracious and I liked her immediately, but it was a hot, humid day and although she and her husband grilled a lot of food, I simply couldn't eat much. Still I enjoyed what I had and thanked her for it, complimenting them on the meal.

My boyfriend, though, snapped at me, accusing me of eating more when we were out, suggesting, outrightly, that I "had a bigger appetite when he was paying for it."

I stared at him, shocked, and so did his sister, as I mumbled my embarrassed, self-conscious reply that it was good but I was full.  His sister, taking no slight, clearly insulted not by my behavior but by her brother's, said, "Well...she ate a full plate, and in a restaurant, that's what you eat...a plate."  I was grateful for her diplomacy and her commiseration, for I realized she saw and experienced what I did, and was trying to both make me feel better for the abuse and gently chastise her brother for dealing it out. I'm sure she was more direct when I wasn't there - she had the air of being a good older sister, and I'm sure that had he and I remained together, she and I would have been great friends.

That said...thank God that relationship ended. He didn't love or respect me, even if his family did.

Several years later, I got into a serious relationship with a guy I thought I wanted to marry and was convinced wanted to marry me...and sometimes, I still dream about him. I always wake up aching for what was lacking.

That guy is married now, and has children, and yes, I'm happy for him. I'm grateful not to be married to him, my own personal King Henry VIII, and I pray he raises his own daughter to be respected in a way he never learned; I pray fatherhood makes him vigilant, knowing that his baby is not a member of society's harem.

Society's Harem

Although I grew up Catholic and with a certain knowledge that sex and marriage are bonded and sacred, I also grew up in a society that expects women to be part of a cooperative harem and men to be members of a pool of donors.

So  it was that I gave in to the culture, desiring to be "treated like a Queen" yet having to give in to the expectation that I act as a member of the King-Of-The-Moment's harem, for really...that's all I was.

That guy I'd wanted to marry? Yeah....he would have assumed I wasn't "interested" if I hadn't been willing to offer him everything within a month.

That was his reality, his expectation, which he'd been conditioned to understand.

I remember being shocked, and I remember, over the term of our relationship, trying to describe the importance of....waiting. every other guy I'd ever known, he wouldn't listen, he wouldn't hear, and he didn't care. If I wouldn't give it over, he'd find someone who would.

So much for being "Queen". Welcome to the Harem.

Just Another Member of the Rejected Harem

Sometimes I wonder if my struggle to know my Vocation is based not upon hope, but upon abuse. I honestly don't know what it's like to be treated well, to have a "healthy relationship", to know that being, and remaining  a Queen is not based in being lottery-winning member of a harem.

I honestly feel like my entire dating life was wasted, like a bug under glass, an experiment for some impersonal scientist who cared nothing for me as a person, but wanted me only for my pleasingness to his eye, my ability to satisfy baser "needs".

I don't know what it's like to receive flowers "Just because", or an invitation to dinner simply for my company. I don't know what it's like to have potential in the eyes of another, and I've long given up potential in the eyes of myself.

Yes, we women, we want to be treated like Queens so that we can treat the ones we love like Kings...but there are so few princes.The Princes of this world know only depravity, leaving us abandoned.

Sometimes I wonder if I only ponder a Vocation because Jesus is the only One who has not and will not abuse me. Do I suffer from not responding to a Vocation, or am I a Vocation rejected by my secularized peers?

I am not a Queen, and don't want to be so, but for the one to whom I am pledged. Life is short and my years are getting longer in the teeth...I am but a Queen never crowned, and I'd prefer to remain in this limbo rather than to give into the depravity of our society.

Indeed I am pursuing a Vocation, but I admit a huge obstacle is one of mistrust: who would EVER want me? The men I've met have rejected me, or wanted something I'm not willing to offer without eternal commitment.

They'd rather relegate me to their societal harem, along with the women who fought for freedom but found only sexual slavery in our culture of "tolerance" and "equality".

I wonder where I can find value as a human being in a society that relegates my value to be that which is contained by the pleasurable usefulness found in my chemically suppressed yet sexually enhanced reproductive organs.

How can I, as a woman, find value in a culture that pushes "female hormones" upon me to suppress life, tries to mindbend me into believing life is bad for society, and then tries to sell me on the idea that I should have self-esteem? How does THAT work?

How does ANY of that make me feel like a queen, to accept any type of crown?

I haven't been allowed to feel like a real  human in our society for a very long time.

It'a a good thing the pursuit of holiness isn't based upon mere "feeling", isn't it?

~ Comments Closed ~ 

Saturday, April 02, 2011


Tonight I'm craving cupcakes.

Dunno why; I rarely eat cake, much less cupcakes. The last chance I had to eat them I turned them down with no regrets. Then again...they were store-bought.

That's not what I crave.

What I crave is that little soft, moist cake baked in a tiny cup, topped with homemade butter-cream frosting.

I need that little cake of loving Mom-made goodness, that taste of homey simplicity, the flavor of classroom intercession, family pride and welcoming fellowship with...whoever imbibes.

There's just somethin' about Mom's cupcakes, even about the word itself.

It's the cutest word in the English language:  cupcake.  Cup. Cake. A piece of cake that fits in a cup. A little cup. It's a cute little cake in the likeness of a cup but it's made up by the substance of a sweet, delectable cake. Mmmm....cake. Cupcake. Single-serving perfection with icing on top.

The best cupcake I ever had is the kind made by Mom.

Dang it! I'd feel so much better right now if I had such a simple little cupcake.


If Jesus came to my house, I'd bake Him a cupcake, if I had the ingredients. Just like Mom's.

Jesus would love cupcakes.