God’s surprise gift of love

My latest column in the Catholic Free Press and Catholicmom.

Last year my dear friend lost her dog and her cat after many years together. When I first met Jackie in 2010 she was able to go out with friends and do her food shopping although it took great effort. Diagnosed with Ménière’s, a disease of the inner ear that causes severe vertigo resulting in nausea and dizziness, it has been difficult for Jackie to walk and to tolerate riding in the car. Now eight years older, she is totally homebound. Losing her two animal friends was a blow.

Coping with decline

Jackie is a woman of great faith whose life is an inspiration to me. There is no one who has understood me better than she. We have shared our deepest, most precious thoughts and feeling with each other. Each week when we visit and I bring her Communion, I take note of how she copes with her slow decline. It is hard watching my best friend suffer.

A surprise

Yet, at the same time, I see the move of God in her life. There is no chance of physical healing, although she prayed for that (along with her family and friends). She has resigned herself to God’s will. But it has not made her bitter nor has it chipped away at her faith. Just last week we spoke of how God has a way of surprising us with His love when we least expect it. Just the night before the Lord provided for Jackie with the gift of a new dog. Although it was not in her plan, it was in His.

Love at first sight

Patches, a mixed-breed terrier, is nine years old. She came from a good family but her owners, an elderly husband and wife, had to enter a nursing home and thus she was given up. Jackie’s daughter found out about the dog online and was intrigued by the description of Patches as loving, craving affection, and enjoying being in the laps of her owners. She sounded like the perfect dog. Patches arrived just after Jackie’s 83rd birthday and proved to be everything she was described to be and more. One look into her eyes and we all fell hopelessly in love. Her friendliness, sweet disposition, and her way of cocking her head and dancing when she got excited captured our hearts in an instant. It was love at first sight, for Jackie, and for Patches.

Reminder of God’s love

Looking at the pleasure Patches has brought to Jackie, I feel wave after wave of happiness and gratitude. When she least expected it, God granted her one of her dearest wishes despite the fact that she thought she’d never own another dog. She did not want to burden her daughter and son-in-law with the care and feeding of a dog but they had other ideas. They too love Patches not only for herself, but for the joy she brings to Jackie.

And this is what led us last week to contemplate God’s surprising love for us. Meditating on a Scripture passage before receiving Communion, I read John 10 aloud. Verse 28 was the standout:  “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.”

Meditating on that verse, we both spoke of the many ways God shows that love. He knew of Jackie’s inability to leave her home. He felt her loneliness since losing her dog and cat, and her resignation at the prospect of never again enjoying the company of a pet. He understood her many challenges and sent a concrete expression of His sweet, fragrant love to ease her suffering.  It came in the form of Patches.

Always beside us

I reflect often on the image of this little dog cuddling close to Jackie. I think of her daughter and son-in-law’s thoughtfulness in providing this new friend. It all makes me smile. Patches is a reminder to Jackie and all those who love her that God hears the deepest longings of our hearts, and provides. Even as we must carry our crosses we are given refreshment along the way to remind us He walking beside us. In the long and difficult journey home, God never leaves our side.

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Speaking to confirmation students as they make final preparations

I was very pleased to speak to our confirmation candidates on April 8 about practical ways to deepen their faith. Each year I help out with the confirmation retreats — the team gives two each year, scheduled during the Christmas rush. Although it can be difficult to take time away during December, the confirmation retreat is a wonderful reminder of why we love and serve the Lord. I am always so grateful for the time I get to spend with these wonderful kids.

Debbie Ziegler, who promotes our parish activities via social media and email, was kind enough to share with me the article she wrote about the talk. I understand from her that a good discussion ensued with her students after the talk. Thanks Debbie!

photo by Debbie Ziegler for St. Luke the Evangelist Parish, Westborough, MA

At their final class before receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation, Sue Bailey; musician, author, member of the Confirmation retreat team and St. Luke’s music ministry; addresses the students, sharing wisdom and experiences with stories, analogies and music. Sue provided excellent and useful advice and resources to help youth on their continuing path of discovery and faith in the Catholic church.

Sue answers the question, “Where Do I Go From Here?” by showing how she was able to recognize, then trust, the call of God; and that in doing so she was led to some unexpected and wonderful new places.

 The students enjoyed her presentation, which concluded with her song, “Will You Teach Me” and contemplation of the lyrics:
Oh, will You teach me to be loved
And will you teach me to receive
The bounty of Your endless grace
You gave me reason to believe
There’s something greater than me

Sue Bailey’s song “Will You Teach Me”:

Can’t go away on retreat? Try this stay-at-home multi-media retreat for Lent, “A Journey Within”

Jesus in the desert

Welcome to this Lenten Mini Retreat of self-examination and discovery:
“The Journey Within: Seeing Ourselves in the Eyes of God by Following the Path of Jesus”

This retreat consists of an hour-long presentation of word and song. It is broken up into sections and features several short videos. You do not need to do the entire retreat in one sitting. In fact, I recommend that you do a portion each day over several days so that the lessons really sink in.

You will need three additional items in order to participate in this retreat:

Following the example of Jesus

I present this retreat to show that by following our Lord’s example we find that the journey of self-discovery is not a self-indulgent act but one of love, towards ourselves and our Creator. It is an act of humility where we come face to face with the ugly truths and weaknesses in our lives and give them over to God. It is a fruitful action, empowering us with the confidence and vision to carry out the wonderful life plan that God has given to us.

This presentation is drawn from chapter 6 my book, River of Grace. You will be led on a rich journey where you begin to see yourself as God’s beloved child, fearfully and wonderfully made with a glorious mission to fulfill.

Let’s begin.

  1. Listen to Part One of this retreat–it is the longest segment, lasting approximately 34 minutes:

a. Watch the video:

2. Listen to Part Two (3 minutes, 55 seconds):

a. Watch the video:

3. Listen to Part Three (6 minutes, 35 seconds):

a. Watch the video and sing along:

4. Listen to Part Four (1 minute, 50 seconds):

a. Watch the video:

5. Listen to Part Five (1 minute, 41 seconds):

a. Watch the video and sing/pray along:

6. Listen to the last portion, Part Six (13 minutes, 1 second):

I hope you have enjoyed this mini retreat–perhaps it will lead to a lifelong habit of self-discovery. Remember always to keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and follow every footstep of his path.

Citations:

  • 00 cover smallThis retreat quotes extensively from Chapter 6 of River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times
    by Susan Bailey and published by Ave Maria Press. Flow Lesson handouts also come from this book.
    Copyright 2015 Susan W. Bailey
  • “Lead Me to the Wilderness” copyright 2016 Susan W. Bailey
  • “In His Eyes” sung by Mindy Jostyn; written by Mindy Jostyn and Jacob Brackman, available on the album In His Eyes. Song used by permission.

Share with your friends

Going on a retreat with a friend can make it extra special. You can easily share this retreat with your friends
on social media – just click on the links below:

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For more aids to your Lenten journey, visit the Lenten Resources page for posts, podcasts, music and videos.

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Getting beyond “I’m not good enough” – this week’s Gospel 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.

This Sunday’s gospel is about some fishermen who encounter Jesus. (Luke 5:1-11)

One of the fishermen, Simon Peter, is so overwhelmed by his meeting Jesus that he actually tells Jesus to go away. Yes, he really says that to Jesus.

“Go away from me, for I’m a sinful man.” In other words, “ Leave, please leave … I’m not good enough.”

Have you ever had the experience of feeling “not good enough?”

  • Not “good enough” to make the team.
  • Not” good enough” to be invited to that party.
  • Not “good enough” to be her friend.
  • Not “good enough” to be loved by him.
  • Not “good enough” to be remembered or thought of… by “them.”

One of the saddest experiences of being a priest is when I ask someone to serve the church in some way and instead of a smile of acceptance, I see a bewildered face that replies:

“Father, I’d love to… but… I’m not good enough.  I’m unworthy of that…”

(In other words, I’ve got some stuff I’m not proud of. I’ve got “skeletons” in my closet.  I’ve got a past. There are parts of my story I don’t want to share or for you to know about.)

Like Simon Peter, we cannot imagine God passionately in love with us, who so often have felt “not good enough.”

But that is the “mystery” of God: that God loves us despite ourselves. We’re loved anyway. (Hard to really  get that through our heads sometimes, isn’t it?)

Notice that Jesus refuses to heed Simon Peter’s request “to go away.”

And Jesus goes on to tell him. “Don’t be afraid.” ( In other words: Don’t be afraid of being imperfect. Don’t fear your humanity. That’s the way you were made. God will put it to good use.)

Beryl Allee Skeletons in My Closet, Flickr Creative Commons
Beryl Allee Skeletons in My Closet, Flickr Creative Commons
Leonard J shoes of the fisherman, Flickr Creative Commons
Leonard J shoes of the fisherman, Flickr Creative Commons

Simon Peter then leaves everything behind and follows Jesus.

When we stop being afraid of “not being good enough,” God can lead us down some amazing paths. God will even make us better people.

Being imperfect is no excuse for not doing the work that Jesus calls us to do. Being imperfect doesn’t exclude anyone from being loved by God.

And that’s more than being “good enough.”

That’s  grace.

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Keep up with news and free giveaways regarding Susan’s new books, River of Grace
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Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read Susan’s blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

Find Susan’s books here on AmazonPurchase Susan’s CD.

Be a Light: Living Christmas through Advent 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.

The Advent wreath, located on the right side of the sanctuary is a centuries-old Christian tradition.

Christine McIntosh Advent wreath completed, Flickr Creative Commons
Christine McIntosh Advent wreath completed, Flickr Creative Commons

The wreath itself is rich in symbolism: Evergreens signify undying life; life even amidst the barrenness of winter.

The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning and no end, symbolizes the eternity of God, and everlasting life found in Christ.

The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent.

Three candles are violet and one is rose. The violet candles represent the color of the sky before sunrise; a sign of hope and a new beginning.

The rose candle lit on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, signifies the joy that hope and a new beginning bring.

The progressive lighting of the candles expresses light overcoming darkness; the light of Christ conquering whatever is contrary to love, mercy and compassion.

Of course, the wreath is meant to signify what Christ calls us to do: Bring light to wherever there is darkness.

Darkness is not confined to San Bernadino, California or Paris, or to the hearts of those who would wish us or anyone harm.

All kinds of shadows and shades of darkness can be found around us:

  • In the home where a child is beaten by hands or by hurtful words;
  • In the office where injustices and dishonesty are overlooked in the name of profit;
  • In the loveless marriage where partners are deaf to the needs of the one they promised to love and cherish;
  • In the residence where the elderly waste away, abandoned by their families;
  • On the playing field sidelines where the push to win the game at all costs, crushes a child’s feelings;
  •  Among friends when an addiction is never addressed;
  •  In our mouths when we speak criticism without being willing to help in the solution;
  • In cyberspace when a 14 year feels as if her reputation has been destroyed;
  • In popular culture, when prayer is mocked and faith is labeled as a “weakness of the intellect.”
  • In that family, where the gay son has been disowned and told that he does not belong;
  • Or, in a parish, when numbers of people and the almighty dollar are more important than fidelity to what Christ taught.
martinak15 83/365 Light in the Darkness, Flickr Creative Commons
martinak15 83/365 Light in the Darkness, Flickr Creative Commons

None of us are strangers to shadows. We pass through them every day.

Advent beckons us to bring light to wherever there is darkness, whatever be the shade.

How are you being called to bring  “light” to someone, somewhere?

Pray for an increase of light. Pray for the nerve (and for the energy) to be that light.

Amen.
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Keep up with news and free giveaways regarding Susan’s new books, River of Grace
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Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read Susan’s blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

Find Susan’s books here on AmazonPurchase Susan’s CD.

Diving deep into River of Grace with Elizabeth Reardon, host of “An Engaging Faith”

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In this in-depth hour-long interview: we dive deep into River of Grace – gratitude in the midst of difficult times – obedience as a joyful “yes” to new adventures, new life after loss and restoring the joy of living, life metaphors for grace … Also, a quick sneak peak at Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message! Elizabeth Reardon really did her homework! Check it out.

Visit An Engaging Faith on Facebook.

00 twitter profile 400x400both books river first-640Join my Email List (special surprises just for you!)
to subscribe to this blog.
Keep up with news and free giveaways regarding Susan’s new books, River of Grace
and Louisa May Alcott: Iluminated by The Message!
Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read Susan’s blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

Find Susan’s books here on AmazonPurchase Susan’s CD.

Facing challenges in our lives–an interview on Relevant Radio.

relevant radioI had a wonderful conversation with John Harper on Relevant Radio’s Morning Air program. He did a great job of encapsulating the hopeful message of River of Grace. Here’s the interview:

I was in good company judging from the guests:

morning air

Be sure and visit the show’s archive page to hear these other guests. I have Sarah Reinhard’s wonderful book, Word by Word, on the Hail Mary and just received Lisa Maldinich’s book called True Radiance: Finding Grace in the Second Half of Life (with a stunning front cover). Great stuff out there!

You can find River of Grace in paperback, audio and ebook on Amazon.

For those of you who live in the Central Massachusetts area, come on out to the Westborough Public Library in Westborough, MA between 12 and 3 on Saturday, the 14th. See you there!

00 twitter profile 400x400both books river firstJoin my Email List (special surprises just for you!)
to subscribe to this blog.
Keep up with news and free giveaways regarding Susan’s new books, River of Grace
and Louisa May Alcott: Iluminated by The Message!
Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read Susan’s blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

Find Susan’s books here on AmazonPurchase Susan’s CD.