Thursday, October 27, 2016

Bethany Mom's Retreat Yet Once Again, Seeing to Believe

Two weekends ago I was privileged to spend a couple of days at the beautiful Bethany Retreat House with a group of moms from St. Cecilia Academy and Overbrook School. We could not be more fortunate to have the Dominican Sisters teach our children as well as allow us the opportunities to spend time at their Retreat House. Since I was there two years ago, they have finished the new Chapel and Dining Room; both lovely, needless to say. It is a peaceful place to pause from our serving and sit at the feet of Jesus and listen.

Now that formalities are over, let's get to the meat of the subject. I am constantly aware of the "signs" that I believe are sent from above to allow us to draw closer to Christ. Not like weird signs and wonders, but simple occurrences that pop up in front of our faces that make us just say, "Thank you Jesus, I do believe." Ya know. Like, "walk with eyes wide open and receive all He has to give" type of gifts. Our retreat topic was "The Joy of Love - the Family as Icon of the Holy Trinity" given by Fr. Albert Trudel, O.P. and I have to admit was not what drew me to the weekend. And yet, as with most things those Dominicans pull me into, the talks were awesome. Fr. Trudel gently tied together an icon (a window to the soul), Rublev's Hospitality of Abraham, also known as the Trinity, with the love we share with our children and our husband and the love of the Trinity. "As the Three Persons of the Trinity mirror the love of one another, so husband and wife and children should mirror love and help one another toward Heaven." "Love is willing the good of the other as if it is our own."  (Aquinas)

As I knelt in the Chapel, I noticed the image in the picture above behind the Tabernacle. If we look beyond the cross, to the shadows, we see on the top the clear image of a triangle and behind the corpus the images of three people on crosses. Is this lighting purposeful? The image on the left of the Son is clearer than the image on the right. Could be the good and bad thieves. Could be the Father (whom we see more clearly) and the Holy Spirit (He's there but more difficult to make out the figure). I meditated on our lives with the Trinity, us two (husband and wife) with God in our lives. And then, us two as one, with our children and God in our lives. The reading this past week explaining, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh...This is a great mystery..." I meditated on Fr.'s words, "we find our life by giving it away."

Now, I'm just saying, that when we participated in Eucharistic Adoration Saturday night, the shadows behind the crucifix were all gone except for one. For me, in my thoughts, it was clear that in the Eucharist, we are all one, just as the Trinity was joined as One Body inside that Monstrance. There is no separation between the Father and the Son and the Spirit as there should be no separation in the family. We are together in love. And yes, this is a great mystery.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

I Had a Thought and Then...

I was participating in Mass yesterday at the Pastoral Center during the Catechetical Conference and an idea popped into my head and not a few minutes later popped right back out. Drives me crazy because normally when I receive something while at Mass, I want it to stick with me. Who wouldn't? Right? It was a long day, setting up St. Mary's Bookstore on 3 long tables a little after 7 a.m. then selling all day and packing up at 3 to take back to the store and return to the shelves, then close the store at 5. But, I had some great help and got to spend time with great people so I was all good. After dinner I watched a little football with my husband and promptly fell asleep on the couch. When I woke up, I asked about the game and my husband responded that Auburn just couldn't seem to get out of their own way. And that was it! That was the message I received at Mass! I couldn't believe it. It's all about, I mean, it's all about getting out of our own ways.

This past week my youngest daughter had several volleyball games and as I watched them fall short for the 3rd match in a row, I thought, "they just cannot seem to get our of their own way". They did more to beat themselves than the other team did to beat them. Not saying the other teams were not good or didn't deserve the wins but come, work together.

During Mass, the thought came clearly. Come on. Stop beating ourselves. We all need to get out of our own ways and talk, work together. Because after all, it's not really about who gets what or who did this or that, it's about how we treat one another during this mass confusion we call living in this world. Every day we are given many opportunities to be kind, to love, to change lives by what we say or how we say it, by what we do or don't do. Social media especially has become a major player in how we treat one another. Think about some of the things we read and some of the comments made. We really are not very kind to one another. What if we knew that every comment, every action was to test our reaction? Do we discuss topics and work with one another? Or do we react with anger? We are constantly and continually beating ourselves here. We cannot seem to get out of our own way.
I am not good about this but what if we used all the bad things that happen to us or are said about us as the chance to make a difference? Maybe even by not doing or saying anything. Or, maybe by turning bad into good. I think that's the major difference between us and the saints. With the Canonization of Mother Teresa I guess all of this has made me start thinking of the simple things she and the other Missionary of Charity sisters did and still do that all of us can do. Granted, few of us are going to serve the poor in India, but there are plenty of poor in our own cities. Wait. I'm getting off course. We all know we can do and be better. My point here is that we need to stop working against ourselves. We need to stop making what is good and holy seem so difficult. We need to take the simple opportunities put before us day after day and complete the tasks. We need to be kind to the meanest and love the haters and do for the ungrateful. We need to stop beating ourselves with unforced errors so to speak. Let's talk. Let's work together. Let's share our good thoughts and let's stay out of our own way.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows

"Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved he said to his mother, 'Woman, behold, your son.' Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold, your mother.' And from that hour the disciple took her into his home."

Today as we contemplate Our Lady of Sorrows, I remember my visits to the many beautiful Marian Shrines throughout the United States. With each visit came different gifts of grace and peace. My visit to the Basilica of Our Lady of Sorrows in Chicago offered a sense of peace that I had no idea I really needed. Amazing how she knows our true needs as mothers and sisters and fathers and brothers. Funny how things put together 100's of years ago can serve a direct purpose today, how God's plan unfolds and all we really need to do is show up, be attentive, be open, believe and receive. I happen to be alone on my visit to Our Lady of Sorrows. I spend time wandering to the different beautiful altars dedicated to Our Lady. It is a peaceful visit. I wander to a back chapel which was once the Baptistry and I find a rather large marble replica of Michelangelo's Pieta. As described in Visiting Mary: Her U.S. Shrines and their Graces, I am so close that I can see how young this mother is who holds her Son's body across her lap. But I also notice that her lap is greatly oversized compared to the rest of her body and the body of her Son. I realize at this moment that she is inviting me to find comfort for my own sorrows. Her lap, which is filled with her deepest sorrow, the death of her only Son, has room for all I have closed in my own heart. I can do nothing but allow her to take it all, the lose of children and brothers and grandparents and nephew and cousin and uncles and close friends, along with fears and anxieties and worries. I am drained but there is a huge relief of sort. It's  difficult to relate the experience. It's a pure gift of grace.

On this Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrow, as Jesus gives His Mother to John, He offers her to all of us. We would do well to take her into our homes. We would do well to allow her to take our needs and our cares and our concerns, our children and our parents and our friends. We would do well to visit her one on one, to pray her rosary and to trust her with our lives. She has been through it all and in her lap rests the answer to all we need.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Olympics, Race, Marathon

"persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus" Heb 12:2

Like many others around the world, I have been completely enamored with the Olympics. Watching these incredible men and women use their God-given talents to the max is nothing short of inspiring. For some reason I have noticed more than usual attention given to Christian athletics who have displayed their faith either by word or by action. Maybe I'm just paying more attention. Again, extremely inspiring.

There are also numerous videos on youtube from this Olympics in Rio and from past Olympics. One of the videos that caught my attention was "when Switzerland's Gabriela Andersen-Schiess finished 37th in the inaugural women's Olympic marathon at the Los Angeles 1984 Summer Games. Her refusal to quit the race despite the exhausting conditions and suffering from dehydration led to an iconic Olympic moment as sheer determination saw her over the finish line." 

As I watched this runner, more than once, stumbling to make it to the finish line, and as I listened to her interview about her desire just to finish, about her knowledge of where she was going and her need just to make it to the finish line, thoughts of our lives as Christians came flooding through my mind. The idea that this woman had run this same race many times, the idea that she had finished this same amount of miles, made me stop and think how important it is for us to continually and consistently practice our faith. Our life is nothing short of a marathon. Every day that we practice acts of charity, every day that we take time to pray, every day that we strive toward sainthood, we move a little closer to our reward of eternal life with Christ. We should, like these athletes, put our blood, sweat and tears into our workout. We should, like these athletes, leave everything out on the playing field so that at the end of the day we can truly say we gave it our all. We need to practice over and over everyday so that when the going gets tough, when we are completely drained of all our energy, when we experience true dryness and our body fails, our mind and our heart will take over and we will persevere to another day. There is no doubt that we will stumble. There is no doubt that we will be tempted to quit and to jump on the easy ride with everyone else. There is no doubt that we will feel the pain of the struggle. But, what we know as Christians, what we know from the example of Jesus Christ himself and of the Saints who have imitated His life, is that the reward is well worth the struggle, well worth continuing the journey.

In the interview with this amazing athlete, Gabriela mentions that when she arrived inside the stadium, she was cheered on by the crowd. How important it is for us to support one another in our lives of faith! She mentions that there was a Doctor behind her as she struggled through the last lap. How important it is for us to have spiritual help from our priests, our deacons and other spiritual directors! She mentions that she realized that she would never have another Olympic opportunity so she knew she had to cross that finish line. How important it is for us to take every opportunity set in front of us as if it's our last!

Practice. Persevere. Push hard. And like these great athletes, leave it all out there. Everyday. Finish. With our eyes fixed on Jesus.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Baby Birds, Leaving the Nest, Last to Leave

As I was working outside this morning, I noticed this little nest of baby birds in my front tree. The more I look at the photo, the more I love it. How precious this new life! How precious all life! The first thought that came to my mind was that they seem to be a little late in the season. Seems we usually have new babies in the Spring and early Summer. Guess I'm thinking they will be late leaving the nest, last to get out into the real world before Fall.

Today I took my last child to register for her Freshman year of High School then put her on a bus for Freshman overnight. Last week my son started his Junior year of High School and in two weeks I will take my daughter way up north to begin her Freshman year of college. My two oldest are finishing graduate school while my third is working on career decisions and college classes. And, of course, we have our first wedding next March. Leaving is just on my mind.

Seems that whether they are the first to leave the nest or the last, whether they keep up with the rest of the world or go out on their own a little later, whether they come back for a while or stay gone forever, they all, at some point, have to learn to fly. They all, at some point, will take what they've learned inside that nest and they will go out and make lives for themselves. They will build their own nests and they will be responsible for themselves and most likely others. They have been fed and nourished and they will learn to feed and nourish their own.  And we must encourage them to go. No matter how difficult it is to have that empty nest, they need to move along so that as the seasons change, they do not get held down by the storms of life, they do not get washed out or eaten up. We must encourage them to spread their wings and to take that first leap. We must teach them that God will be with them and that when times are tough or seem impossible, they can turn to God for help and He will always, always be there. We must encourage them not just to keep the faith but to spread the faith.

On this day of leaving, on this day of letting go, on this day of changes, I pray these baby birds fly. I pray that while leaving the nest, they take with them all they've been taught and they know how much they are loved. I pray that even the very last to leave receives all they need to make it in this world, to weather the storms and to thrive.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Mother Teresa Canonization, Weeds

Last week Allen and I were in Chicago at the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show bouncing back and forth between promoting my new book, Talking to God, and buying beautiful, new merchandise for the bookstore. In almost every booth we witnessed the excitement of the upcoming canonization of Mother Teresa on September 4th. When asked my thoughts on Mother Teresa, all I could think of were the parables over the past couple of weeks about the weeds among the wheat. For some reason, Jesus' explanation to allow the weeds to grow along with the wheat for fear of pulling up the good while trying to get rid of the bad, reminded me of many holy people who dedicate their lives to taking care of the less fortunate, the sick, the poor, those many may consider problems. Mother Teresa was the perfect example of not just allowing weeds to grow along with the wheat but of believing that those who may be considered the lowest could be nourished and changed into something good. Who is to say that the sick and the poor and the lowly are not the wheat itself and those who walk around them are not the weeds who choke their possibility of becoming something beautiful? It's just food for thought. The week and the Gospel readings made me think about what and who I am surrounded by on a daily basis. The merciful Mother Teresa who worked tirelessly for others, who saw in each person the face of Christ, who herself struggled spiritually, understood that Jesus was not just talking about allowing people, good or bad, rich or poor, young or old, to live together equally, but that we should help one another to be something more, that we should nourish one another and build each other up so that when the final sickle is wielded, we are not cut along with the others we did not bother to try and help. She understood that we could well be the weeds. We, who go to our jobs daily and work hard for a living and provide for our own families, may well be the ones who choke the possible goodness of the less fortunate. Every person is a gift. Every person deserves a chance. Some we may feel have squandered that chance but who are we to judge. Those may be the very persons that Jesus put in our lives to save us. What better way to close the Year of Mercy than with the canonization of one who was Merciful? What better way to continue the work of mercy than to emulate our great Saints, our wheat, those selfless people who knew that all mankind deserves the chance to be saved, to live a better life, to be fed and nourished, to rise above? Weeds and wheat growing together to the end. May we somehow learn to strengthen one another, to plant and to feed and to grow together so that in the end the wheat fields are full of the goodness that God intended.

Friday, July 22, 2016

St. Mary Magdalene

I finally got my side view mirror fixed! I can change lanes without turning my entire body around and my children will once again ride in the car with me. Life is almost back to normal (whatever that is).

When my father was sick in the hospital for weeks, I sort of took it for granted that I could move in and out of the parking garage without thinking much about what I was doing. One night as I was leaving, I whacked my mirror on one of the poles. Man. Like the situation was not upsetting enough in itself!

My dad died in November last year and I just now took the time to replace the mirror. As I got in the car and headed for home, I heard(?), I imagined(?), I understood my dad to send me a message. "Now, stop straining to always be looking in the rear view, in the past. Live for today. Do not worry about yesterday.  Move forward."

Today, as we celebrate the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, we hear Jesus say, "Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, 'I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." Hmm. This message made me think about the message from my dad (so to speak). I think, he wants me to move forward, to live my life without worrying about the past. Maybe even to let him move on...but I know that's a stretch to believe that I would get that kind of message. But, thank God for the faith to even believe that a Scripture passage could give us such comfort about the one we love who has gone before us. Thank God for the faith to believe that as I drove home and could not control my emotions that maybe my dad was trying to tell me to let go of the past. Even if the message for us today is to stop hanging on to "things", to go to confession and relieve ourselves of our problems so that we can move forward. Even if the message from Mary Magdalene today is to share with others the Risen Christ, to go to our brothers and tell them that it is all real, He has Risen and He dwells among us. Even if the message is merely to believe. Even if all of these things...we should be grateful for the moment, for the opportunity, for the truth, for our faith. On this feast of St. Mary Magdalene, we hear Jesus ask, "Whom are you looking for?" Let's face it. Everyone is looking for a Savior whether they realize it or not. Stop looking in the past. See clearly without straining. Live fully this day. He is right here in our midst. Believe and live.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Pennies from Heaven

He came in a little before 5, as we were about to close, saying that he had found a penny on the ground, looked up and saw our Pennies from Heaven sign. Then, as if from nowhere, he mentions that his mom died and we extend the traditional, "So sorry." But he continues to tell us that as he found the penny and read the sign he could feel her presence and understood that she wanted him to come into the store and buy something. The girls and I were moved. He kept wandering through the sale asking what it could be that she wanted him to purchase. He was from out of town and had limited time to shop. We didn't mind waiting. We too wanted him to find his answer.

Here's the thing. This morning, as I contemplate the encounter, I realize that what matters, what we learn from gifts like this that God obviously has a hand in, is not what the man was sent to purchase but that the man was sent to witness to the fact that we should all be aware of the signs He sends. We should all be open to the idea that nothing happens by chance. Everything and everyone we encounter has a purpose. All is grace. All is gift. That man at that moment experienced a close moment with his deceased mother and shared that moment with the young girls in the store and they in turn experienced the truth that there is so much more to life after life. That man at that moment shared the faith of his mother and the rewards of a life well lived for Christ. That man at that moment turned a simple sign, a penny (what some people consider worthless), into a Godincidence. His message seems clear. Stay awake. Be aware. He dwells among us and He has gifts to give that make a difference to us and to those we encounter. It may seem like something minor, something simple, just a penny, but it can turn into something worth so much more. Maybe riches...of the Kingdom.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Day after Day

Are we tired of the same routine day after day? Do we even realize that we may be in a rut? Are we really living or are we just following the path of least resistance? One of the most difficult challenges in life is to go against what everyone else is doing. It's so much easier to just "go with the flow". Relax. Enjoy the ride. We may be shocked at the number of times we say when we are younger and we hear when we are older "come on, everyone's going, everyone's doing it". And yet, we hear today, "how narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few." Have we found that narrow gate, that constricted road? Are we truly living? Is what we do every day living the life that God has chosen for us? Let's think about our day. Are we living a purposeful life? At this point, do we even know? Is this what Jesus means? Have we even scraped the surface? As we pray throughout the day, as we make simple decisions, maybe even at this point just automatic choices, let's really consider, Is This Choice Taking Me Down the Path That Truly Leads to Life? Is this really what is intended for me? Today, maybe we should mix it up. Contemplate making decisions that go against the grain of this life and lead to new life. Do something different. Surprise our family and our co-workers and our kids. Journey the road less traveled and live. It's not as simple as it sounds but the end result seems like it may be worth the effort.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Perfection, Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, Faith

When the rising sun hits the outside wall of the church Chapel just perfectly, the beautiful stain glass window is projected through the Chapel doors onto the wall behind the altar. As we can see, the image clearly tells the story of life and death, the beginning and the end, and yet it tells so much more. Mary and her Son are sectioned off from the angels and yet their lives are fully supported and heralded by the Holy Spirit and the angels. Jesus' left arm seems to disappear into His Mother's garment. They are in perfect communion, in sinc. Their lives are as one from the beginning to the end, guided by the Holy Spirit as they follow the will of the Father. "Yes Lord." "Thy will be done." The perfect answers. The perfect examples. Plastered on the front wall because of perfect timing. 

In our weakness, they are our strength. Their love holds us up during our times of crisis. They want us to be in sinc with them as they give their entire lives in obedience to the Father. "By the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit", they give us light so that we can see goodness and can in turn do good. This image, projected by the light of the sun, gives us hope, tells our story and leaves us to trust as Our Lady trusted, to have faith, to believe that there is more. As the sun rises and hits the window at the perfect moment, so too does Her Son rise in glory and perfection.

What do you see? The images of the men? Our reflection in the story?

Friday, June 10, 2016

Visiting, Taking Time, Shining Light

Funny how things happen. I fully intended on using this picture of the display in St. Mary's for a blog about my book, Visiting Mary, because quite frankly the summer is a great time to take the opportunity while on vacation to visit the many Shrines and Grottoes that we have in the U.S. But I became immediately distracted with the idea that the picture I took was just too busy looking, too distracting. Which, coupled with the Gospel readings this week, prompted me to realize how easily we are distracted by the busy background of our lives. If you're like me, you may take the readings from Scripture and try to focus on sharing God's message throughout your day, whether to your family or your friends or your co-workers or complete strangers. We try to take what we believe His message is for the day and live it out, shine the light, not leaving it "under a bushel basket". We try to live the Commandments and the Beatitudes. We may leave our morning prayer time or morning Mass and think, "I've got this. I can do this all day long. I am focused and today I will simply be kind to everyone I meet. I will love God and my neighbor." Then, bam. Life causes distractions. Our focus is blurred by the busy background. We can no longer see what's really important. The next morning we start all over again. And the next morning, again. And little by little we realize that life is just busy. The times when we cannot see Jesus or His Mother against all the background "stuff" is the time when we probably need them the most. The times when we cannot hear Jesus or His Mother against all the noise is the time when they probably should be heard the loudest. If we stay focused, we can see light. If we listen, we can speak truth. If we keep Him in our hearts all day, we can truly love. The ways of this world keep us hopping from one "thing" to the next. The ways of God keep us centered on what's important.

P.S.The OT reading today was Elijah trying to find God in the wind and the earthquakes but only finding Him in a whisper. At some point today, or maybe all day, may we quiet ourselves enough to hear His message in the whispers. And the message before the Gospel reading,
" Alleluia, alleluia. Shine like lights on the world, as you hold on to the word of life. Alleluia, alleluia." AMEN.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Two Graduations, Two Diplomas, Two Roses, One Weekend

It's a bittersweet moment when the last child graduates from Grade School, especially when we have had a 22 year run at the same school. It's a bittersweet moment when the third daughter graduates from High School, especially when it's the same High School attended by your grandmother, your mom, your sisters, your nieces and you, and it's on the same weekend as the Grade School graduation. Can we jerk the emotions around a little more please?! But I must say, it was a beautiful weekend with family and friends, old and new.

Friday morning with Baccalaureate Mass brought the traditional presentation of roses from the High School girls to their parents. Pictures were made of all the graduates and their alumnae moms. Friday night brought on the conflict of the High School Graduation and the Grade School Banquet occurring at the exact same time. It was very difficult for the Grade School daughter to miss her sister's graduation. I rushed over to the banquet after graduation and made it just in time to receive a rose and a note of thanksgiving from my youngest. Together we left immediately after the class video to meet the rest of the family for a late dinner. So busy and so much fun.

The next morning as I put the two roses together in the same vase, I realized how the High School rose was slightly more open than the Grade School rose. I noticed how the High School rose had opened just enough to let me know that a full bloom was on the way. I noticed that the Grade School rose still needed time and attention. The creation that God placed in front of me was to be cared for and tended to and yet, the need for my hand in it all would not last forever. I am blessed to be given these opportunities to experience all that the Creator has to offer, all that creation has to give, all the beauty of two roses from the same bunch growing at different rates, blossoming at different times into true beauties. I am grateful for two Graduations, Two Diplomas and Two Roses over one long and beautiful weekend.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Go To Your Room

"Go to your ROOM!" I can tell you that I heard these words as a young girl many times a week. Maybe even daily. Let's just say that I enjoyed life to the fullest. As number 6 of 8 children, maybe I felt it was my duty to give the parents a shot in the arm. You know, add a little spark. Grease the rusty wheels. But that can't be right because my brothers and sisters before me spent equal amounts of time in their rooms too. My parents were hopping from beginning to end. No rest for the weary shall we say. But they rarely complained and seemed to have a pretty good time along the way. 

In the past couple of weeks, I have done four radio interviews to promote "Talking to God" and in each the question has been asked, "In your book you suggest 'making a private chapel in your heart'. How do you go about that?" And actually, I use a quote from the 17th century Carmelite, Brother Lawrence that suggests we should “make a private chapel in our heart where we can retire from time to time to commune with Him, peacefully, humbly, lovingly; everyone is capable of these intimate conversations with God, some more, others less; he knows what we can do.”  

As I sat in the Chapel this morning and for the past several weeks, I have pondered this idea. Throughout my day, I try to have this place within myself where I can go when I feel like screaming. I try to have this place where I can retreat when I am tempted. We all can have this same place where we can go when our world is ridiculous. We have a place to go instead of jumping in on the office gossip or laughing at an improper joke. This morning as I thought about this place that everyone seems to be interested in, I pictured the many times when I was sent to my room before I got into something that I could not get out of. I thought about the time when I was sent to the library in High School before I got in-school suspension with my friends. I thought of Jesus telling me that the same elements in the Chapel where I was sitting could be in my heart where I could retreat right before I made a bad choice. I envisioned Jesus telling me, "Go to your Heart room" to contemplate my actions or reactions. 

I ran back up to our Chapel to take the above picture and I was reminded of this verse. "And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart." Luke 2:19  I'd say that we're in good company as we work on "making a private chapel in (y)our heart(s)."

How about it for you? Have you ever thought about making a private Chapel in your Heart? Is it just a quiet place for prayer as mine has been in the past or is it a retreat from the ridiculous or is it a safe place to avoid sin? Is it a place where you can "retire"just as the Chapel is near the Church? Something to ponder I guess. I sure have been asked a lot.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

May Crowning

As I have said every year around this time, I love May Crowning. The girls and boys all dressed up, the flowers presented to Our Lady by the students and then the crown of roses placed upon her head, all remind me of the honor and respect and gratefulness we have toward Our Mother. She takes it all, our needs, our wants, our failures, our successes, our joys and our sorrows, and she presents them to her Son and she makes us look so much better than we really are...just like any good mom would do for their children. She deserves a visit and prayers and flowers and a crown and anything else we'd like to present to her.

One of my favorite stories about May Crowning is still the one from Sr. Mary Samuel, O.P. when she taught in Memphis. Check it out. Happy Month of May and may Our Lady bless you abundantly and fill you with her gifts of grace and peace!

Thursday, April 28, 2016


With the launch of my new book "Talking to God" I have had many questions about the book but the one that I had to think about most is "Why another book on prayer?" Why did I write another prayer book and why is it different from the stack of others on the table next to my bed? I knew as I was writing this small prayer book that I wanted something that would slip into a purse or fit in a console and still be packed with prayers for many ages and the many stages of life that women experience. With input from my mother and my daughters, this handy book includes prayers for women who stay at home or work, women who attend school, who are married or single, young or old, with children or without, to Mary and from Scripture and the Saints both traditional and original. But most of all, this little book is all about talking to God who, no matter what we do or how we feel, understands and listens and loves us through all of life's joyful and sorrowful moments.

In my morning reading of "The Way of Trust and Love"  I found it no coincidence that Fr. Philippe says, "sometimes we lose a taste for prayer. What does that trial mean? It is a call to continue praying all the same, because we don't pray just because we enjoy it or experience satisfaction, but first and foremost to please God. When we find great pleasure in it, that's fine, but when prayer is difficult, we need to keep going just the same! (And this is why Talking to God - to help us to 'keep going' when we cannot find the words or are too sick or tired to express them) That purifies our love for God, which becomes freer, more disinterested, more genuine, and not just a selfish search for ourselves."

Fr. Philippe hits the nail on the head! We need these books of prayer so that we can keep praying when we cannot find our own words. We need prayer to "purify our love for God", to please Him especially when it is most difficult to pray but also when we find joy in it.

Can I get an "Amen"?!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Simply No Coincidence

I  have many Williams in my life, both living and deceased, that I have been praying for with much intensity lately. My nephew and my son of course are always in my prayers but recently these other Williams too have been heavy in my thoughts and prayers. Included are my friend William who made rosaries for the Bookstore (his story) who just recently died, my grandfather William Theodore, my Uncle William and my husband's good friend William who suffered a terrible stroke and is struggling to recover. My dad William died in November last year and I'd like to share a little lesson he sent me.

I try to go to daily Mass in the small Chapel of our Church after I drop my daughter off for school. (If you know me, you know I need all the help I can get.) As many of us do, I have my "assigned seat" in the Chapel and pretty much get that seat each morning if I am early. About 3 weeks after my dad's death, I went to my seat and my kneeler was missing. I thought simply it was my dad telling me that I needed to do penance to at least make it up to, if not farther than, where he is in paradise. (I know he loved the idea that there are "many mansions", perhaps different levels...who really knows, but...) So each morning I'd go in and kneel on the floor as others knelt comfortably on their cushioned kneelers (believe me, these people probably do not need the penance I need). Anyway, many, many weeks later, I was given a message through the homily or through something I read or through a thought that came into my head that my dad was teaching me that sometimes we have to do what is "uncomfortable" in this life to truly do the will of God or to gain a spot in heaven. We need to talk to those who make us uncomfortable or reach out to the man on the street or to those in prison or call a family member who drives us crazy or a coworker who unnerves us or scares us. We need to go to confession and reconcile with others. We have to deal with what God gives us especially if it is out of our comfort zone. I felt good. I felt I understood the message. The next week, my kneeler was back! 

Then, my niece got sick and I felt like since her name is Grace and I (slow as I am) realized while praying the rosary that I say her name as I pray Our Lady's prayer that I should share that idea. I felt the nudge to share it with my siblings and ask them to pray Hail Mary's for Grace each day until she heals. Well, I was uncomfortable for some reason to ask them to pray the Hail Mary every day. I don't know why. I guess I felt like they knew to pray for her and I didn't need to tell them. But, I'm just sayin...2 days later, I went to the Chapel and my chair was missing. I got right on my phone after Mass and group texted the family that we should pray the Hail Mary for Grace each day and all agreed that it was a good idea. Forget being uncomfortable. God wants us to ask. He wants us to be bold. And, a couple of days later, my chair was back. And please do not get me wrong, I know it's not my dad coming and moving around furniture in the Chapel, but the timing is uncanny!

So, I am sitting in a book group several weeks ago with a Dominican Sister who tells us about the graces she has received from reading some of the writings of one of their former Mother Superiors, Mother Marie William, O.P. She says she's probably a saint for all she had to struggle through for their order during her time as Superior and we should feel free to pray to her for our intentions. She had no idea when she shared that that I had Williams on my mind. The idea of praying to Mother Marie William, who I knew, for my Williams, simply gave me goosebumps. Actually, tears filled my eyes. And then.... I got on their website and found the quote below. It is simply No Coincidence. Go. Venture out of your comfort zone. Be bold. Follow Him.

Because God chose us and we were willing to make our pilgrimage along a narrow road, the travel is bound to be less comfortable and more demanding of us than of other Christian pilgrims. …Our perseverance in faith and vocation depends on the depth of our prayer life and our fidelity to our vows. So does our happiness. Whatever we do, Sisters, let us do it for one purpose—God’s greater honor and glory. Be faithful to your prayers—lead the common life, practice regular observance with freedom and love. (Mother Marie William MacGregor, May 26, 1971)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Talking to God

Very excited about the release of "Talking to God: Prayers for Catholic Women"! Here's what to expect...

"Talking to God: Prayers for Catholic Women is a beautiful book with words redolent of the peace only Jesus can give us. Embellished with a sprinkling of great quotes from the saints and spiritual writers, it is a treasure for yourself and for many to whom you will want to give it." -Ronda Chervin, Ph.D

"This book has everything I love: heartfelt pleas, traditional prayers, Scripture, and, from my favorite spiritual giants, quotes that pack a powerful punch. It's my new go-to prayer book." -Karen Edmisten

"Tender and heartfelt, Julie Cragon's delightful Talking to God is not only practical for busy people in search of new ways to pray, it is also wise and thought-provoking."
- Gary Jansen

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Gift of Grace

"but he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ for when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:9,10

Over and over I have received this same message, "when I am weak, then I am strong." I have written previously about listening to Fr. Jacques Phillipe speak on this subject and after I attended the talk, I began reading "The Way of Trust and Love". Needless to say since this particular book is filled with the "little way" of St. Therese, Fr. Jacques leads us in depth through this particular truth, "when I am weak, then I am strong".

What I find most amazing, and surely a moment of grace, is that I am reading two other books, Consoling the Heart of Jesus by Fr. Michael Gaitley and the novel, Elijah in Jerusalem by Michael O'Brien, and both authors mention this same truth. Honestly, I received the messages in each book about the same time. Hmmm. A gift of grace no doubt. God wants me to believe this truth and to understand it from many perspectives and to use it in my life. From the novel, "Always- always-weakness had been his strength. Unknowingness. Simplicity. Trust." The message over and over to trust, to go to Him, to sit at the foot of the cross with Him, to Console Him and in return, to receive all we need. Strength for the journey. Only if we give it all to Him, become like children and trust, can we gain strength.

I find it no coincidence that on this day I looked up the full verse which contained this truth and found the line, "My grace is sufficient for you." On this day, my niece, Grace, has her second brain surgery and all we can do is place her in the hands of Jesus, in the arms of Our tender Mother, and pray. We are weak. With confidence, we place our trust in Him.

If you happen to read this in the next several weeks, please send up a prayer for sweet Grace and her family and for all the sick, especially our children.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Crucifix

This is what we can hear Him say as we gaze upon the Crucifix. “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” And as we know the "rest of the story," He is risen and dwells among us. He is real and He lives in each of us. He is flesh ad bones and all He asks is that we love one another. I personally find it the most difficult challenge of my day, but the Crucifix reminds me to stay the course. "Do not be afraid." Gaze upon the Crucifix and listen to Him speak. He is love. We can go to daily Mass, pray the Rosary daily, do special Penances, etc...but if we have not loved, if we have not shown mercy, "we are but a noisy gong." Listen to Him. What do you hear?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Smell of Fresh Lumber, the Fresh Smell of a New Book

The smell of fresh lumber is almost as exciting as the smell of a new book. Both open new opportunities and new adventures. Both can offer something to build upon in our lives. Both offer the opportunity for work, whether on our homes or our businesses or our lives. I love the chance to renew and refresh different parts of our house or our business. And, I love to find just the right books to refresh and renew different parts of myself. After reading a great title, don't we all just love to recommend it to our family and friends so that they can get the same feeling we have received? Building...physically, psychologically, spiritually...building one another up, especially those who have been torn down, that's really what we'd like to pass on to one another. I am reading Fr. Jacques Philippe's The Way of Trust and Love among others and building bookshelves, with the help of my sister, to put all these wonderful titles in as I finish them. Hopefully, I'm building up more than that with my children and reading good books always helps with that task.What about it? Building something? Reading a good book you'd like to share?

Thursday, March 3, 2016

New Bookshelves, New Book

I just love to renovate! Well I love to tear things out so that someone (my sister) can come rebuild them bigger, better and as I imagine. We are cutting this bathroom closet in half. It is very deep and my office is on the other side so I imagined built-in bookcases and guess what? Donna said YES. I started the demolition last night, exposing the electrical and tearing out the carpet so we can see what we're working with here. I say we, but I mean she...honestly.

I am excited about having new bookcases. Right now my office is halfway done from last summer with a small bookcase, leaving the rest of my books in the closet of my previous office. I like to have all those books surrounding me to give me strength as I write. All those great authors in one room, staring at me as I squeeze any bit of knowledge I have from my brain. And, speaking of writing, my new book, Talking to God: Prayers for Catholic Women will be released next month and I am very excited! This prayer book includes prayers for many situations in the lives of women, whether married or single, young or old, along with traditional prayers and quotes from many of the wonderful books which fill my bookcases. There are incredible Catholic classics, such as, Imitation of Christ, My Other Self, the Bible, He Leadeth Me and the Practice of the Presence of God and authors, such as, Mother Teresa, St. Francis de Sales, Henri Nouwen and St. Therese that help us contemplate prayer more deeply. Anyway, hopefully this new little book will not only help women in their prayer life but also their choices for further reading in the spiritual life. I guess I can relate the closet renovation and the prayer life renovation, cleaning out, using what we are given more efficiently, making time and space for great words of wisdom, enhancing, bettering, renewing.

What about it? Renovated lately? What's new?

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Fr. Jacques Philippe - When I am Weak, I am Strong

One week ago yesterday, I attended a talk by Fr. Jacques Philippe offered at the St. Thomas Aquinas Forum through the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. The topic Father worked with was the paradox "When I am Weak, I am Strong" and he used several examples from Scripture along with examples from the lives of St. Therese of Lisieux and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. He spoke in French as his interpreter beautifully relayed his message in English.

I found it no consequence that on the following Sunday, the meditation in the Magnificat reinforced Fr. Philippe's message. The Scripture reading Sunday centered around temptation and the meditation by Fr. Peter Semenenko read:

"In our present condition, virtue cannot take root without the help of temptation...

Faith, hope, charity, chastity, patience, and every virtue must be tried. Otherwise there would be no virtue, a reasonable, considered act, freely willed and directed toward good. Growth in virtue is conditioned by temptation...

Therefore we can distinguish...two reasons or purposes for temptation: [one is] to become more perfect, for strength is made perfect in weakness, so that virtue becomes something that is definitely ours... "

This French priest from 2016 and this Polish priest from 1886...together in thought, pertinent for today, all about virtue, gift of the Holy Spirit.

Think of how often this happens in our lives! Godincidence. What's yours?

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes

On Thursday, February 11, 1858, 14 year old Bernadette Soubirous was out gathering firewood with her sister and a friend at the Grotto of Massabielle outside Lourdes, when she reportedly had the first of 18 visions.

When Bernadette asked, the beautiful Lady responded, "I am the Immaculate Conception".
The Lady told Bernadette: "Go, tell the priests to come here in procession
and to build a chapel here."
In the Summer of 1999, I was 7 months pregnant with my 5th child. I journeyed with my mom, two sisters, niece and sister-in-law to this place, where we washed in the water and we prayed the rosary as hundreds processed in honor of our Lady. It is a place of healing. It is a place of forgiveness. It is a place of prayer.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday

"Today, on Ash Wednesday, the pope leads a penitential procession from the Monastery of St. Anselm to the Basilica of Santa Sabina. Ashes are sprinkled on his head before he turns to distribute ashes to those in the community.

We too are marked with the Sign of the Cross in ashes as an acknowledgement of our sins. We do not have to put on sackcloth and sit in ashes or wear a hair shirt to show our sorrow and our need for forgiveness. As we wear those ashes on our foreheads in our everyday lives, we are recognized as people in repentance for our sins. We are recognized as Christians beginning a long forty days of prayer and fasting. No matter how far we have strayed, no matter how bad our sins, Jesus is always there, accepting us back into his life, reminding us to pray and to repent. 

Lord, we begin each Lenten season with the mark of ashes upon our foreheads. This mark reminds us of our sinfulness, of our mortality, and of our need for repentance. May we witness this reminder to come to you throughout the year. May we remember this cross of ashes.

Thank you for guiding us in the right direction. Thank you for bringing us to our knees for others and for ourselves. Thank you for always welcoming us back when we have strayed.

Today, we pray for our world. Father, in your great mercy, forgive us."