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“Late have I loved you …” St. Augustine’s dive below the surface

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

from The Confessions of Saint Augustine

This prayer of St. Augustine reminded me that it’s not enough to ride on the surface of life.

It’s like how I feel when I go kayaking. I take in the scenery, enjoy the splashing of the water as I paddle, and drag my hand through the water to cool off. I always have such a sense of well-being when I go kayaking.

It’s all wonderful but I realize I am just an observer.

640 stream

What if I became more a part of things?

Surrounded by the warm, clear water and subjected to the heat of the sun, the urge to go swimming takes over and I jump in. All those wonderful feelings of peace and contentment are magnified when I immerse myself in the cool water.

It takes some effort to enter the water. Maybe it will be cold. Painfully cold. I won’t know what the bottom will feel like. Will it be squishy with plants and mud? Will there be rocks to hurt my feet? Maybe a fish will bite my toes!

I can’t see all the way to the bottom so I have to go on faith.

Is it worth the effort? I think so. It’s always worth it in the end.

Deciding to go below the surface in our lives is a risk too.

We have no idea what we will find. We have to trust in Something beyond ourselves leading us into the unknown.

For St. Augustine, going beneath the surface of his life turned out to be a life-changing experience. He finally heard the invitation. And it was so compelling that he took the risk and dove in.

We can gather from the words of his prayer that it was well worth the risk. It was the first of many dives into a wonderful unknown for this saint.

Are you being invited?

Perhaps this is the invitation you are hearing this Lent, to stop being a bystander and become part of the action. We can sit in our boats and ride on the surface or we can take a chance on jumping into the water.

St. Augustine makes it sound quite inviting to me. How about you?

Here’s a beautiful song by the St. Louis Jesuits based on the prayer of St. Augustine:

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Loving this world, warts and all: Reflections on the Sunday Gospel John 3:14-21 by Father Steven LaBaire

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

In preparation for mass this Sunday:

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish.” The world that God loves is not some idealized place where people try to live in justice and peace.

It is this world: with all the crime, dishonesty, wars and constant feuding that divide people. With all the greed and pettiness; this world with all its sickening teenage bullying and Ferguson Missouris: this is the world that God loves so much. This world is so loved by God that he seeks to bring healing and new life to it.

Faith or “believing,” is the “ladder” out of the chaos we humans create in this world. It is ladder freely provided by God. But it is also ladder we freely choose to climb. No one can climb it for us. We must faithfully climb it ourselves.

Faith is not just a matter of saying “Lord, Lord” or simply wearing a cross around our necks or cleverly being able to quote bible verses. To believe in Christ is to live the life he asks of us. It is to pursue good and resist evil. Believing demands a constant striving for integrity in our lives and relationships. Climbing the ladder is challenging. It requires perseverance and energy.

But this is how the world in all its craziness is transformed: person by person, relationship by relationship, family by family, community by community, each choosing to “climb the ladder” toward harmony with God ,with ourselves and with our neighbor.

We’re now halfway through Lent. Let’s pray for one another. Pray, that we’d each find and embrace our own way of transforming our little piece of this word, the world God loves so much.

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My traveling companions for the Lenten journey

My monthly column for The Catholic Free Press and Catholicmom.com

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I decided this Lent that I would not travel alone. I asked St. Bernadette, the visionary of Our Lady of Lourdes, if she would accompany me.

In the course of our walk together I am rediscovering someone I had long forgotten but who has not forgotten me.

A classic movie

It began on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes with a suggestion from a friend to watch “The Song of Bernadette,” a critically-acclaimed 1943 movie based on the book by Franz Werfel. It was available on YouTube so I could watch it at my leisure. The movie is long so I viewed it on my tablet over the course of three nights.

Unexpected emotions

That was a good decision. I did not expect to be so moved by the film and was glad I could cry in private. Each time “The Lady” appeared to Bernadette, the tears would flow. I did not know why. Was it the beautiful music? Was it the way Bernadette (played by Oscar winner Jennifer Jones) looked at “The Lady” with such love?

Maybe it was because of Mary herself. Perhaps my heart was telling me how much I missed her in my life.

More, more …

saint bernadette soubirous by francis trochuWhen the movie ended I wanted more. From the bookshelf I pulled out a work by Abbe Francis Trochu entitled Saint Bernadette Soubirous. I was doubtful that a book written over sixty years ago could speak to me today but those fears were soon put to rest.

My “go-to” person

I skipped over the apparitions to my true interest–the life of this saint in the aftermath, as a religious. What I found was a quiet yet powerful holiness based upon the smallest of details. Bernadette would soon become my “go-to” saint for lessons on fidelity, patience, charity, composure and self-control.

A counter-cultural saint

St. Bernadette sought to be hidden and forgotten, a difficult task for someone whose fame was widespread. To desire such things today is counter-cultural, even laughable; recognition and fame are hotly pursued by so many who believe it will supply the love they crave. It is an empty promise. Having experienced it herself, Bernadette knew where the true source lay.

I. Want. This.

Abbé Trochu writes, ” This triumph of Our Lady of Lourdes rested on [Bernadette’s] own testimony … It would have been enough to turn the head of a conceited youngster. But, forgetful of herself, the unique visionary was thinking solely of the Apparition’s glory, and was lost in her radiance. And so along she went, paying no heed to the crowds, wholly absorbed in her own interior happiness.” (pg. 244)

I want that; to be so attracted to God as to be single-minded, losing myself in heavenly thoughts in the middle of a noisy world. It is that submission to God’s grace, that total immersion into holiness that unleashes the power of transformation.

If I seek to become like Bernadette: faithful, patient, composed and in control of my emotions; if I desire to confront my weaknesses, then I must learn her way of holy absorption.

Starting with Mary

mary and jesusThinking on Mary as Bernadette did is a good start. Mary is the epitome of faithfulness, patience and composure, fueled by love of her Son. Mary longs to mother me and I need mothering. The many tears I shed while watching the movie revealed that longing; it’s time I listened to her call.

The little things

With my two companions I can begin to learn this art of holy absorption by continuing my reading on St. Bernadette, asking for her intercession, and cementing the habit of praying the rosary each day. When I take communion to my homebound friend each week, I can pause for a few moments to hold the Eucharist in my hand as Mary held Jesus as a baby, and together, we can adore the Lord of Hosts. I could also meditate on the Eucharist as St. Bernadette did: “I think to myself that that the Blessed Virgin is giving me the Infant Jesus, I welcome Him, I speak to Him and He speaks to me.”

All little things. All done in secret but never done alone.

Copyright 2015 Susan W. Bailey

Artwork: all photos by Susan W. Bailey

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Every creature matters–remembering little Peter, one year later (or, things I learned from crazy cat people)

I was surprised but I shouldn’t have been.

This weekend marked the first anniversary of the death of a 4-day-old kitten named Peter. After witnessing his passing with a thousand other kitten cam viewers on The Critter Room Kitten Cam, I wrote about this tiny creature’s impact on a community (click here).

640 ghostbusters cropped mom and peter

Peter’s anniversary was noted on Facebook this past weekend
with an amazing outpouring.

Cat lovers are likely the only ones to understand this phenomenon; everyone else would shake their heads in disbelief and dismiss us as “crazy.”

Before discovering the Critter Room community I would have done the same. Now I am one of those “crazies” because The Critter Room community demonstrates again and again that every creature matters, animal and human.

Tactile remembrances

Peter (for those of you who don’t know) was part of a litter known as the Ghostbuster kittens(in honor of Harold Ramis who had recently passed away). Peter’s two brothers, Egon and Ray, and their mother Janine, were adopted as a family by one of the kitten cam viewers whom we affectionately dub “Ghosties.” In her remembrance of Peter, “Ghosties” recalled the lovely acts of generosity that resulted from his short life:

Adoption day is a big deal for every foster kitten and mama cat – the day that they graduate from being a rescue to being a permanent member of a loving family. All of the Critter Room fosters – kittens and mama cats – have been adopted. And to one very special kitten cam viewer, it just didn’t seem right that Peter would be forever a rescue, that he would not graduate with his brothers and his mama. And so it was that on adoption day not only did we learn that an anonymous kitten cam viewer had kindly paid Janine’s adoption fee, but we learned also that another anonymous viewer had adopted Peter, and would be receiving his tags.

But that wasn’t enough. Peter needed to be reunited with his brothers and his mama, to be with them forever. And so care for his tags has now been entrusted to us, bringing him in spirit into our household and family, alongside Egon, Ray, and Janine. It brings us an extended family too, since this doesn’t change who adopted Peter, and who will always be his family. And of course, his memory is entrusted to all of us who knew him, however fleetingly. Click here for the full story.

This lovely shadow box tells the story:

ghostbusters shadow box

Generous living and giving

The Critter Room community is but one example of kindness and generosity poured out for cats and their owners. The first live cam that I followed was known as Seven Kittens. In that litter, a little runt with no hair who resembled Yoda captured our hearts.

loki then and now

“Runty” turned into the magnificent Loki. Recently we learned that Loki, at only two, has developed a heart condition that will likely shorten his life. The enormous cost of his emergency visit to the vet after suffering heart failure was immediately assumed by his Facebook page community, literally within days of the event.

Loki’s owner, Nat, has experienced first hand the caring of a community.

Needed reminders of love and grace

I write about many things on this blog, all with this in mind: we are surrounded in our world with tactile reminders of love and grace. When we choose to belong to something bigger than ourselves that is life-giving, great things will happen.

With all the ugliness of the world splashed all over our TV screens and throughout the internet, it is helpful, and necessary, to remember that good does exists all around us.

Good exists in quiet pockets, populated by quiet and gentle people who laugh, cry, mourn and celebrate together.

Whether it be “in the flesh” through our families and friends, or in the virtual world through Facebook and other social media, good is still out there, alive and well and thriving.

This is why, for me, live kitten cams go far beyond obsessing over kittens. It’s a concrete reminder that grace exists, moving us to life-giving and wonderful things.

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Is it really all in the details? Wisdom from the story of St. Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes

Do those pesky little details really matter?

Ask an engineer. A manufacturer. And a surgeon.

One detail can make all the difference.  A slip of the knife, a screw in the wrong place can spell danger and disaster.

However, surgery performed well and products  built precisely to specs can and do enhance and save lives.

A mother know the importance of details . . .

. . . remembering each child’s birthday year after year with a specially planned party  . . . or creating the perfect Halloween costume . . . cooking up that favorite dish to perfection just because . . . saving all those little masterpieces made and then given to her with such love.

Later the grown children will find these artifacts and be reminded of how cherished they are.

I remember my mother changing the sheets on our beds faithfully once a week. My bed felt so inviting to sleep in as I turned back the covers and climbed between the crisp, cool sheets. The smell, the feel  . . . these little details remain to this day a tangible reminder of my mother’s love for me.

Yes, details do indeed matter. In our lives out in the world, and in the world inside of ourselves.

How we live our interior spiritual lives matters a great deal, right down to the last detail.

song of bernadetteI have taken on as my Lenten journey the study of St. Bernadette Soubirious. This journey was inspired by a Facebook post back on February 11 by Father James Martin, SJ. In honor of the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes he recommended the viewing of “The Song of Bernadette,” a critically acclaimed 1943 movie starring Jennifer Jones. He wrote, “The film, based on the book by Franz Werfel actually corresponds very closely to the real-life story of St. Bernadette Soubirous, with only a few exceptions.” You can find the movie on YouTube – just search for “The Song of Bernadette.”

Moved by the film

I have always enjoyed this film and so happily watched it again over the course of three nights (the film is over two hours in length). I surprised at how moved I was as I watched, crying whenever Bernadette saw “The Lady” and crying too over the poverty of her home life and the humiliations she faced over and over again.

Attraction to the life of Bernadette

saint bernadette soubirous by francis trochuI wished to know more about Bernadette as I was particularly drawn to her interior life and how she bore with what she suffered. I had an old book, written in the 1950’s by Abbé Francis Trochu who had written many spiritual biographies.

Details, details …

As I read, I see how the smallest of details meant a great deal to Bernadette. She was always very particular in the way she told her story of the apparitions; it was important to her that she report as accurately as possible so as to honor The Lady’s wishes. Her consistent telling of the story was a crucial part of the process whereby Church determined the authenticity of the apparitions.

This attention to detail carried over into her religious life as Sister Marie-Bernard;
she practiced a life of fidelity.

I was struck in particular by this passage; it’s a little long but without reading it all, you cannot feel the power of the point that was made:

Postulants or novices were often sent to the infirmary, chiefly for cleaning the wards, and thus came under the more or less direct control of Sister Marie-Bernard. She managed these young people with understanding and tact, but she also found means of helping their religious training in her own individual way. There was, for example, the story of the copper knobs that went the rounds of the noviceship several times. Sister Marie-Bernard had been in office for only a short while, as the incident occurred in 1868.

I was still a postulant [related Sister Justine in her old age], and I had been given a job in the infirmary. Well, one day when we were giving the place a thorough cleaning, I had spent the whole morning dusting, rubbing and polishing. Then the bell rang and I was getting ready to leave when Bernadette said: ‘The work is not finished. There’s still this and that, but you haven’t time now. It will do some other day.’ Then I foolishly said with a certain satisfaction: ‘I’ve rubbed the copper knobs with polishing powder.’ This referred to the knobs on the iron bedsteads. Bernadette replied: ‘Yes, they are shining brightly. You’ve polished them well and thoroughly. You have taken great pains with this work because it catches the eye.’

She delivered me this reprimand so nicely that I wasn’t hurt, but I felt the little pinprick to my vanity all the same and I carried the lesson away with me, saying to myself: ‘You understand? You have taken great pains over the knobs because they show, but the work that doesn’t show, the work that remains hidden and which God alone sees, did you do that so carefully?’
I have always remembered those copper knobs.

pages 293-294, Saint Bernadette Soubirous by Francis Trochu; bold is my emphasis

I felt that “pinprick to my vanity” too.

How faithful was I to those little tasks that no one sees? How much fidelity do I apply to what I do, especially if I don’t want to do it? And, does it really matter?

If I profess to love God, it matters a great deal.

How can I claim to love him if I care more about what others think of what I do rather than what he thinks?

How shallow it is, really, to perform tasks only so that I can earn a compliment from my boss or a “thank you” from my family. Shouldn’t it be just enough to do the task well, without currying favor?

God sees all. Isn’t his favor enough for me?

Just how much am I willing to do in secret for my Beloved?

Am I even willing to do good in secret even though it might be misunderstood,
even criticized by people I care for?

I don’t have answers yet to these questions but it gives me much to ponder this Lent.

You never know what you can learn from a movie. Or a book. God uses every opportunity to teach us. I look forward to learning more from Saint Bernadette Soubirous.

I would appreciate hearing from you if you have pondered these questions. Are the details important to you?

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Clinging to and Letting Go: Reflections on the Sunday Gospel John 12:20-33 by Father Steven LaBaire

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

In preparation for mass this Sunday:

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” That’s from this coming Sunday’s gospel reading.

I’m reminded that every step of life, every advance toward growth and maturity requires a kind of “letting go” and the “death” of something that once was in order that something better and more fruitful can come to life.

Couples in love

A young couple in love learn this quite soon into their relationship. Gone are the days of endless freedom and going and doing “whatever I want, whenever I want.” Now, love compels them to navigate life together, conscious and mindful of each other’s needs and feelings. If either of them tries to cling too much to the way things were before, the relationship will not survive. A sacrifice, a “letting go” is necessary in order for love to thrive.

Expecting a child

This same young couple will relearn the lesson of “ letting go” all over again on the day they learn that they are expecting a child. Once again they will be challenged to “die to self” to that they can live their lives more focused on the life that will soon be born. In doing so, they will discover love on a new and different plane.

All of us, whether married or single, young or old, are caught up in the process of letting a part of our lives die in order to discover a fuller life.

Loss of our youth and the changing landscape

Some of us mourn the loss of our youth. Others confront the death of some of their dreams. Or, we may be grieving the loss of a certain idea about God or the Church or even a fantasy or plan about how life was “supposed” to be. No one says all this letting go stuff is easy. It’s tough to do.

Which way is life-giving?

But, clinging to what can no longer be is draining and ultimately toxic.  The journey of the Christian is an on-going embrace of the journey: to “let go” and embrace a new reality so as to allow the blooming of a new season of life, of existence.

Death to life

This is the faith that live even to the threshold of our own death where we relinquish the “outer shell” and everything familiar to us, so as to be embraced by something infinitely more awesome than what we can imagine. This whole journey goes to the heart of what Easter is all about.

So, how are you doing? How are we doing… on the journey?

Copyright 2015 Steven Michael LaBaire

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Cleaning house: Reflections on the Sunday Gospel John 2:13-25 by Father Steven LaBaire

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

In preparation for mass this Sunday:

“ He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area…spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables…He said, ‘Take these out of here and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.’”  That’s in this Sunday’s Gospel.

Cleaning house

During his life, Jesus’ words and actions “overturned” more than money tables. Jesus “overturned” people’s ideas about God and life, about love and death. He challenged people rid themselves of the “clutter” that gets in the way of living and thriving.

A living temple

Have you ever thought of yourself as a living breathing temple of divine energy and potential? Well, you are!  (That’s the teaching of the Church. It’s rooted in the scriptures.)

Spiritual housecleaning

What kind of mental “clutter” is holding back your potential? What assumptions and ideas about yourself and life need to be “overturned?”

What are the unnecessary distractions in your life that are keeping you from focusing on what you know in your heart that you really need to focus on?

Let’s face it: sometimes the way we think can be our worst enemy. Some spiritual  “housecleaning” is in order.

Getting angry and then trying to channel  our anger to make constructive changes is one way of going after a more abundant life.

Another, more peaceful (and deliberate) way, is to make good use of the season of Lent.

Reflect on your life daily. How are things going? Be honest with yourself about your relationships, behaviors, and ways of thinking that are getting in the way of you being the person you want to become; the person Christ would want you to become.

Then, seek out people who will help and support you in making changes, especially difficult ones. Spend more time in contexts that encourage you to improve and thrive.

Breathe in, breathe out

As a temple of God’s own Spirit, breathe in a grateful attitude toward what you already have, what you’ve already accomplished. Breathe out the urge to cling and hold on to what is negative or hostile.

You may be surprised at how much more alive you feel for having “overturned” a few habits that may be robbing you of the energy that is God’s gift.

copyright 2015 Steven Michael LaBaire

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Seeing with new eyes: Reflections on the Sunday Gospel Mark 9:2-10 by Father Steven LaBaire

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

In preparation for mass this Sunday:

In the ancient world, the journey up a mountain often symbolized “enlightenment” or “seeing” things in a “new” or different way from previously. In this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus takes his students (disciples) up a very high mountain. (Mark 9:2-10)

There they see Jesus in a completely different “light.” He is “transfigured” before their eyes. They begin to understand this rabbi from Nazareth as much more than just a very wise teacher. He is the one who reveals our ultimate destiny and that world beyond what our eyes can see.

Lent is a season inviting us to “see” things in a new and different way; perhaps in ways we’ve never contemplated before.

How do envision your life? Do you see it as a series of goals to reach and tasks to fulfill daily?  Could you look at it in a different way: an amazing  pilgrimage revealing at different stages and seasons different gifts and insights?

How do you look at your death? Do you view it with dread as the cruel ending to our brief stay here on earth? Or, could you gaze upon it as a horizon beyond which is beauty and love beyond imagining?

How do you see the Church? As a centuries-old organization trying to maintain commandments and rituals? What would it be like think of the Church as a community of apprentices, striving to learn, struggling to love as Jesus taught?  What would it be like to regard each apprentice as unconditionally  loved, thoroughly loved…even when he or she messes up big-time,  no matter whether the apprentice is young or old, a hair- dresser, an executive or a bishop?

How would things change for you, if you asked for the grace to see things in a new light?  Are you open to taking a “hike” up the mountain to new insight?

The journey (each day) might become infinitely richer and beautiful.

copyright 2015 Steven Michael LaBaire

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