Mary at my side

Note: This article was originally published in the Catholic Free Press and Catholicmom.com. It was noticed by Spirit Catholic Radio and they called me for an interview! The interview appears at the end of this post.

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Our backyard is my little slice of paradise. After the loss of our above-ground pool a few years ago, we replaced it with a carefully planned patio. The space includes a lovely koi pond (without the fish), equipped with a fountain. Complementing the pond are plantings of yellow lilies and tall grass. A cherub statue, looking up as if pondering, sits on one of the rocks.

This is my place of prayer during the warmer months. On a loveseat next to the pond I spend twenty minutes each day at dawn saying my morning prayers and meditating on a hymn. I look forward to this time of quiet. Some nights I go out and brave the mosquitoes to meditate at the pond; the fountain’s LED light causes the water to sparkle.

A few weeks ago I felt a sudden impulse to add someone else to my pond – The Blessed Mother. Recalling a statue in the basement, I brought it up and placed it on a rock next to the cherub. I love gazing at her as the fountain sprinkles water down like rain around her. And at night, the LED light shines on her.

Mary and I have had an on-again, off-again relationship but it is certainly no fault of hers. I have spent a lot of time with Mary in prayer groups and in reading yet I could not seem to grasp in my head or or my heart how or why I should spend time with her. It took a small family crisis to answer that question and draw me back to her side.

A short while ago my son and I had a serious falling out. We fundamentally disagreed on an issue and could not find our way back to each other. It broke my heart. We had always been so close, sharing thoughts and dreams together. The day of after that falling out, I thought of Mary and fled to her side. I prayed by the pond both day and night, shedding tears and asking for her help.

Like her Son Jesus, Mary does not ask, “Where have you been? Why have you been ignoring me?” She does not pass judgment or make me feel guilty. She opens her arms and welcomes home her errant child. I felt no hesitation in turning to her. She is a mother; she knows.

Over the course of a month I turned to her daily. I even repositioned the statue so I could see it from my bedroom window. She is a constant reminder and a perfect reflection of that sweet and special love of the Father, Son and Spirit. A love freely given to me, and one I do not deserve. And yet I can accept it and that, to me, is one of the great mysteries of a relationship with the Omnipotent God. He has no reason to love me other than the fact that He is Love itself.

Mary, of course, heard my prayers and set to work, and in the end my son and I reconciled. That first phone call that set things right again was a balm on my heart, dispelling the grief and healing the wound. Mary had sent a sign signaling the change of heart, one which I was fortunate enough to recognize because she opened my eyes to see it.

She heard me. Even though I had turned my back on her in the past, she attended to my needs. All it took for me to reconcile with my son was a simple invitation; it was the same with Mary. With Jesus, she waits for any sign of turning around, of coming home. Like the Father to the Prodigal Son, she too rushes to my side.

That line from the Shakers hymn, “Simple Gifts,” says it perfectly: “To turn, turn, will be our delight; till by turning, turning, we come round right.”

Here is my interview on Spirit Catholic Radio –
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Navigating this war-like world as a non-combatant, with a strong woman to guide me

There is no doubt we are living through difficult and uncertain times. As someone who seeks peace at any cost, I find myself confronted more often than I’d like. Civil discourse and reason have been replaced with hot emotions and shout-downs. I’ve found myself editing my Facebook news feed to filter out all political discussion. Surrounded by those who feel differently from me, I do my best avoid debate because I don’t think well on my feet. I am cordoning off a part of myself as protection. Continue reading “Navigating this war-like world as a non-combatant, with a strong woman to guide me”

Little things mean a lot to Mary — offering music for Our Lady

In honor of the birthday of Mary, the Mother of God, here is my September column for The Catholic Free Press. I have an exciting announcement at the end of the post.

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madonna-and-childRecently while driving to work I listened to a song about Our Lady of Gaudalupe, I felt a surge of emotion and recognized a feeling I had not experienced in a very long time – Mary’s special touch of peace. I felt elated quickly followed by regret that I had been so negligent in my devotion to our Blessed Mother. It’s so easy to rattle off a “Hail Mary” without a thought! Continue reading “Little things mean a lot to Mary — offering music for Our Lady”

Living each moment of 2016–a reflection 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.

January is named for the ancient Roman god “Janus,” a two headed deity looking forward and backward.

New Year’s is a moment when people tend to look back over the past year and reflect over the events and people that shaped the last 365 days.

And we look ahead. We predict, plan and make resolutions for the new year before us.

mary and jesus facesOn January 1st the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, the gospel states that Mary, “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” (Luke 2:16-21)

The turning of the calendar year is an opportunity to ask:

  • Where have I come?
  • To where am I going?

But, we can’t really act meaningfully unless we fully live and embrace the present.

BK Pablo, Flickr Creative Commons
BK Pablo, Flickr Creative Commons

There’s an old saying: “Every NOW is a new beginning. Make it count.”

Let’s pray that as we begin to count the days of a new year, that we’d live more fully in the present; focusing more on the here and NOW.

–Mindful that we cannot do a thing to change the past; and the future will never be exactly what we planned.

Therein lies the gift of Christ’s timeless peace…

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Healed of Christmases Past–the cure is in plain view

Here is my December column for the Catholic Free Press.

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It’s here. The Christmas season. How does this make you feel?

Is it excitement as in days of old when you were a child?

Or, is it long to-do lists that never end? Shopping till we drop? Noise and chaos and endless obligations that make us tired and cranky while all the while we are told to be “merry?”

Is it dread, trying to stretch limited financial resources to fulfill gift obligations? Is it regret, frustration and guilt that we cannot buy what we wish for our loved ones?

Is it loneliness? Are we missing someone, loved ones who have died or moved away? Do we feel empty, sad or bitter?

Miguel Fraga, Flickr Creative Commons
Miguel Fraga, Flickr Creative Commons

The Christmas season evokes powerful memories and emotions, magnifying every joy as well as all the hurt, disappointment and loss we have experienced in our lives. Our reaction to any unattended and festering wounds will be visited upon everyone around us, especially those we love.

Tucked away in the midst of all this is a liturgical season often overlooked: Advent. It is the antithesis of a chaotic, noisy commercial Christmas; a soothing and sanguine contrast to a season clouded by wounds and losses. Advent does not look mournfully to the past; it draws our attention to a hopeful future while being firmly rooted in the here and now.

Jorbasa Fotografie 4. Advent 2011, Flickr Creative Commons
Jorbasa Fotografie 4. Advent 2011, Flickr Creative Commons

Advent features the key players of our faith: Mary, Joseph and of course, Jesus Christ. It features some of the most moving and poetic passages from the Bible–prophesies of old heralding the coming of the Messiah as the shoot of Jesse, filled with the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and of strength, knowledge and fear of the Lord (from Isaiah 11).

Barta IV Jesus Joseph Mary, Flickr Creative Commons
Barta IV Jesus Joseph Mary, Flickr Creative Commons

It documents the greatest act of obedience in history when a young virgin accepts the invitation from God to bear his Son. That obedience is not an onerous “do not” but a joyful “I do!” as evidenced by Mary’s rushing to the side of her kinswoman Elizabeth (thought barren yet pregnant) and spontaneously praising God with her and the babes in their wombs in the exquisite prayer of the Magnificat.

It illustrates sublime acts of trust, surrender, generosity and courage in Joseph who fully embraces the responsibility of taking Mary to be his wife despite the fact that she is carrying a child not his own. Going against the grain of longstanding tradition and enduring the naysayers, he knows there is a bigger picture to consider: Mary’s child is God’s Son. And he makes room for them.

So how does all of this help to sooth frazzled nerves, heal the wounds of Christmases past and fill empty and grieving hearts?

I can’t say how specifically. I only know that each year as I focus on Advent and turn away from a commercial Christmas, I have felt that soothing, that healing. My empty heart is filled.

I still grieve for loved ones. I still struggle with squeezing out the last dollar. I still battle with a heart that is small (although it is growing). I only know that the other day when I went to the Christmas Tree shop to finish off a gift basket for church, I felt serene, even enjoying the experience. To me, the Christmas Tree shop is the quintessential representation of a frazzled, noisy, chaotic commercial Christmas. And yet I felt deep contentment.

It’s the fruit of Advents past, reflecting on the readings, listening to the music, and looking to Mary and Joseph as the examples. Philippians 4:8 sums it up perfectly: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” (NIV)

Immersion into the refuge of Advent has healed my Christmas.

Broken dolls, injured kittens . . . Beth March, Cassidy the miracle kitten, and the message of Pope Francis

Last night as I watched Pope Francis speak with thousands at the Festival of Families in Philadelphia I was amazed at his energy. This 78-year-old man has been at break-neck speed all week, traveling first to Cuba, then to Washington, DC, onto New York and now Philadelphia. His schedule has been non-stop. He has given several long speeches in English which he has admitted, is a difficult language for him. Continue reading “Broken dolls, injured kittens . . . Beth March, Cassidy the miracle kitten, and the message of Pope Francis”

In honor of the Solemnity of Mary: Mary’s silent burden, and her solace

This is my latest Catholicmom.com / Catholic Free Press column.

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As the Solemnity of Mary approaches, I recall a homily by our pastor about the true meaning of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception: we celebrate Mary’s conception, not our Lord’s. While preaching about Mary being born without Original Sin, he made an important point: Mary was the first creature to be born since the creation of man without the veil that separates us from God. Our true selves are meant to be in total union with God and the veil of Original Sin acts as a wall, impeding that relationship. Jesus came to lift that veil so that we could be one with God again even though sin was still a reality. He opened the door to heaven for us so that one day, the veil could be completely lifted and sin could be wiped out of our lives.

Mary was one with our Lord, right from the first moments of her creation; no veil separated her from her Creator. She was born to be her true self; singled out to be completely pure. How ironic then that Mary, who was chosen to bear the unknowable, unfathomable God incarnate in her womb, had to bear the ‘sin’ of being pregnant before being married.

mary-and-her-solace-featured-be-as-one

Continue reading at Catholicmom.com.