Feast of St. Andrew Christmas Novena

St. Andrew please pray for us! Holy Hill Basilica Mosaic above the Altar © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011. EA photographer

St. Andrew please pray for us! Holy Hill Basilica- Mosaic above the Altar © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011. EA photographer

Happy Feast of St. Andrew! As this feast is celebrated in both the Western and Eastern arms of the Church, it is one of my favorites. Intuitively, there seems to be something significant in beginning Advent with the feast of a martyr and an apostle. It is as if we are subtly reminded that this season is meant to be one of penance and evangelization.

  Scripture and Sacred Tradition tell us much about St. Andrew. He and St. Peter were the sons of Jonas, and they lived in Bethsaida, which was a town in Galilee on the shores of the Genesareth.  As we examine St. Andrew’s life, there are lessons that may translate into a more personally fruitful Advent.

St. Andrew did not journey out to the desert to see St. John the Baptist out of curiosity, nor was he merely following the crowd. No, St. Andrew was ready to leave behind all that mattered and become a true disciple of St. John the Baptist. In penance and prayer this Advent, we too can follow the voice of one crying out, “Prepare the way of Lord!”

Later, when St. John the Baptist identifies Jesus by stating: “Behold the Lamb of God,” St. Andrew is again prepared to forsake his spiritual security in order to embrace a deeper relationship with the Messiah. For St. Andrew to follow Jesus Christ from Capernaum to Jerusalem, he must leave John the Baptist to his mission in the desert. This Advent, we too can grow beyond the comfort and complacency of our spiritual security, by reaching for a closer union with Jesus. Like St. Andrew, Jesus asks us to risk that which matters most in our lives. Similarly, Jesus asks us to place it all- our fears, dreams and lives- in His hands with confidence.

Once St. Andrew finds Jesus, he introduces Him to his brother Peter. This Advent, we can bring Jesus to those around us. Like St. Peter, they too may feel the call to forsake everything and follow Him. Evangelization doesn’t necessarily mean shouting from the roof-tops (not recommended in the slippery, frozen tundra of Wisconsin). Rather, just by quietly living Christmas as Christians, we bear witness, and bid others to do the same. We are called to invite- He will do the rest.

St. Andrew accepted Jesus’ command to: “Go forth to all Nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit… (MT 28:19).” He traveled beyond his comfort zone preaching the Good News along the Baltic, into what are now Russia, Romania and the Ukraine. St. Andrew was later martyred in Patras, Greece, where he was tied to a cross.  Tradition holds that St. Andrew was crucified on an x-shaped cross out humility- not feeling worthy to die as Our Lord. This Advent, if we embrace our crosses with similar humility it can’t help but bear fruit.

Hail and Blessed Be.... Holy Hill Basilica Window © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011. EA photographer

Hail and Blessed Be.... Holy Hill Basilica Window © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011. EA photographer

One of my favorite things about this feast is the novena which begins today. This novena is a poignant reminder of what really matters during this Sacred Season. The repetition of this lovely verse provides a rhythm that gently flows from day to day- reinforcing the true meaning of Christmas. The rhythm is strong enough to offer an oasis for those of us seeking respite from the chaotic noise of the secular season.

 It is piously believed that whoever recites the following prayer fifteen times a day from the Feast of St. Andrew to Christmas Eve will obtain their request.

The prayer is:

Hail and Blessed be the Hour and the moment in which the Son of God was born of the Most Pure Virgin Mary at midnight in Bethlehem, in piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe, O my God, to hear my prayer, and grant my desires through the merits of Our Savior, Jesus Christ, and of His Blessed Mother.

+MICHAEL AUGUSTINE, Archbishop of New York
New York, February 6, 1897

One may choose to recite all fifteen prayers at once, or it can be or broken up and prayed throughout the day- perhaps with the meal prayer or the Angelus.

I have been praying this novena annually for thirteen years, and have never been disappointed. One Advent, I was reciting this prayer for the child I was carrying. It was a dangerous pregnancy for the baby and I- there was a real chance that both of our lives were in jeopardy. My beautiful, healthy baby girl was born (one month early) exactly ten days after the novena ended. A year later, I prayed this novena for my Dad and his conversion. He was officially received into the Catholic Church fourteen days after the novena ended, and died of cancer just sixteen days later. Each year I have prayed it, I have truly felt an abundance of grace. This novena is powerful!!! I invite you to join my family as we pray the Christmas Novena this year.


Ad Jesum per Mariam,



New Beginnings….

Mother Thrice Admirable Please Pray for Us! © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011.

Mother Thrice Admirable Please Pray for Us! © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011.

Happy New Year! Today we begin a new liturgical year- the Year of Faith. We are all present at a unique moment in history – as Advent 2011 dawned, we inaugurated the use of the third edition of the Roman Missal. This sublime rendition of the Roman Missal reflects a more accurate translation of the Latin. The phrases we (and our priest celebrant) now pray are more direct translations from scripture and the ancient Mass. This third edition of the Roman Missal is truly beautiful- and affords us the opportunity to enhance our worship of God, by participating in a rich and vibrant liturgy.

A year ago today, my family and I had the privilege of being present at another new beginning- arguably the most beautiful, unique wedding we had ever attended. We were guests of the bride’s family- acquaintances for many years. The church was packed to standing room only – indeed some of the crowd stood in the vestibule. The flowers were lovely; the choir angelic. The nervous parents, and family of the bride shone with delight as the guests entered the chapel.

 The bride was our friend Rachel. We were acquainted with her family through homeschooling, attending the same parish, and together frequenting the Holy Hill Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians. From a distance, I had watched over the years as this bubbly carrot-topped girl matured in wisdom and grace into a lovely young woman. She and her equally awesome sister, Gabe, were baby-sitters for our young children.  As the guests entered the chapel, I remembered that Rachel had recently graduated from Thomas Aquinas College. I recalled the year prior, lending  Rachel the many volumes of  Copplestone’s History of Philosophy for a course she was taking at TAC, and being impressed at her intelligence and philosophical maturity.

Well here I sat, sincerely praying for this lovely couple- for this formidable young woman and the enormous step in life she was about to take. The music began, the bride glowing in her elegant white wedding dress emerged – wisps of her lovely red hair peeking through the veil. The jubilance of the congregation- full of family and friends – was palpable, as the radiant bride slowly walked up the aisle. There couldn’t have been a dry eye in the chapel.  She nervously smiled at her sister Brides of Christ as she approached her seat. Yes – remember I said this was unlike any wedding I had ever attended- our dear friend Rachel was about to become Sr. Maria Faustina.

Congratulations Sr. Maria Faustina! © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011. Photo by Mr. Joseph Mentink, used with permission of the Yank Family

Congratulations Sr. Maria Faustina! © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011. Photo by Mr. Joseph Mentink, used with permission of the Yank Family

As the ceremony progressed, Rachel, clad in an elegant white gown, was escorted out to exchange her secular wedding clothes for the raiment appropriate to her chosen vocation. She returned wearing her new wedding dress, the lovely blue habit of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary. She professed her promises as a novice, and the celebration of the Holy Mass continued. I remember praying intently for this beautiful young woman, and her fellow novices- four of whom sat supportively nearby. Sr. Faustina is part of a novice class of eight young Brides of Christ. On another part of the globe, two of her fellow novices were being received simultaneously in similar ceremonies in their homeland of Puerto Rico. They would soon return to Wisconsin to resume prayer and study with their novice class.

Blessings! © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011. Photo by Mr. Joseph Mentink, used with permission of the Yank Family

Blessings! © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011. Photo by Mr. Joseph Mentink, used with permission of the Yank Family

After the ceremony, the Sr. Faustina with her family and Community of Sisters walked across the drive to the tiny Schoenstatt Chapel, where Our Lord is always present for Adoration. Here they were able to give thanks for the tremendous graces of this sunny November day. Like any nuptial celebration there were hugs and kisses, smiles and photographs – all mingled with a few joyful tears.

Like any wedding, the reception was an exuberant celebration- the culmination of hours of preparation and labor. At the Schoenstatt Retreat center, the tables were lovely- set with china, candles and flowers. Sr. Faustina’s Mom and Dad (Judy & Joe) greeted guests, beaming with genuine pride and satisfaction as their daughter mingled with visitors and accepted the heartfelt congratulations of so many well-wishers. Her sister Gabe, and brother Tom, shone with approval as well. After the Blessing, there was delicious food, prayer, songs, and much laughter. The celebration lasted for hours.

Forever Family! © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011. Photo by Ms. Jacinta Stephens, used with permission of the Yank Family

Forever Family! © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011. Photo by Ms. Jacinta Stephens, used with permission of the Yank Family

In the year that has followed, Sr. Faustina and her seven fellow novices have grown close to their Groom through intense prayer, study, and work. I love chatting with Sr. Faustina’s parents after Mass, hoping for a word on how she is doing. Throughout the year,  while on weekend retreats at the Schoenstatt Shrine, three of my daughters and I have often seen Sr. Faustina attending to her daily duties. Each time we see her, she is full with joy, just as on the day of her reception. Whether she is working in the kitchen, fielding calls on the switchboard, or in silent prayer in the chapel, there is a sense of peace that envelopes Sr. Maria Faustina.

Each day, she and the sisters of her community give a perpetual fiat– an everlasting “yes” to Christ, just as the Mother Thrice Admirable- Our Blessed Mother did with every day of her earthly life. Their witness is a profound reflection of the love of Christ alive and well in today’s world. Thank you Sr. Maria Faustina and fellow Schoenstatt Sisters for your yes! Thank you Joe and Judy for raising such a incredible daughter! Thank you Jesus and Mother Thrice Admirable for the graces you have given us all through these children of yours!

Happy Anniversary!

M.A.   JMJ


How Lovely The King’s Daughter As She Enters, Her Raiment Arrayed in Gold.

St. Anne and The Blessed Virgin © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011. EA photographer

St. Anne and The Blessed Virgin © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011. EA photographer

Happy Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple! This feast is of ancient lineage, and has its roots in the dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary the New in Jerusalem,, near the site of the ancient Temple. The Basilica was constructed by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in 543 A.D., and later destroyed in the year 614 during the siege of Jerusalem. While the Basilica was destroyed, the Feast in honor of Our Lady blossomed and spread. Through the early centuries it was preserved in the monasteries, and introduced into the Papal Chapel by Pope Gregory XI in 1372. Eventually the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary into the Temple became part of the Roman Missal.

This ancient feast commemorates a pivotal event in the life of the young Virgin Mary. According to Sacred Tradition, Mary was the only child of Anna and Joachim. In thanksgiving to God for the gift of Mary, Anna and Joachim brought the young girl to the Temple, and consecrated her to God. The Blessed Virgin remained at the temple – close to God-  to be raised and educated in the manner fitting of her high calling. From her youth, the Blessed Virgin lived a life of prayer, contemplation, sacrifice, and deep union with her Beloved.

One of the beauties of this feast is that it is universally celebrated by both the Eastern and Western arms of the Church. Indeed, to this day it is liturgically celebrated as the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Roman Catholics in  the Western Church, and the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple by Eastern Rite Catholics and Orthodox Churches.

In 1997, Blessed Pope John Paul II enhanced the beauty of this Feast with the inauguration of a new facet: Pro Orantibus Day. Beginning in 1997, Blessed Pope John Paul the Great set aside November 21 as a day of prayer for contemplative religious. As Mary’s young life was one set aside in deep union with God through prayer, how fitting that the Universal Church celebrates Her Consecration with a day of prayer for those who pray. Pro Orantibus Day is meant to be a celebration of gratitude for those in monastic and religious communities who support the church through the essential work of prayer. Without these dedicated men and women the rest of us could not survive.

My son is discerning a call to the contemplative life- he aspires to become a Carmelite priest. Several months ago we were in the car, driving home from Holy Hill, and having a chat about his aspired choice of vocations. I asked why he seemed to be drawn to life as a Carmelite instead of as a parish priest. He said, “Mom, the parish priests are the hands; without them we – as the Body of Christ – would be lost. We need the hands to function. But, the contemplative priests, they are the heart. Without the hands, the body bleeds out; without the heart there is no life’s blood. Mom, I choose to be the heart.” I remember choking back tears, silently thanking God for my son, and praying hard that he achieve the calling of his heart. (Please pray too, for not  only for my son, but for all the young men who are discerning vocations). While I recognize (as does he) that “Who can know the Mind of God?” and  God might very well have other plans for his future, I still loved his analogy.

With it, I have reflected on all the religious (both contemplative and active). who have enriched my life so abundantly. Digging way back into the memory bank, as a third-grader I recall  the tremendous respect I had for Sister Julliet, O.P. Likewise, with fondness I remember the Springfield Dominicans  who shaped my adolescent years. These industrious women of prayer instilled faith, while teaching  Algebra, Chemistry, Biology, Literature, and Music. I remember Sr. Mary Imelda standing as hall monitor, with her fifteen decade rosary slipping through her fingers as her lips moved in soundless  prayer. Her silent witness spoke volumes. Last year when Sr. Imelda finally reached her eternal reward at 101, I hoped and prayed she knew the gratitude that I felt for all those prayers that she, and Sr. Marilyn Brennan, Sr. Theophane, Sr. Patricia Burke, Sr. Catherine Marie, Sr. Mary Paul, Sr. Margaret Mary, Sr. Regina, Sr. Joseph and their community uttered on our behalf.

In college it was the prayers of the School Sisters of Notre Dame- Sr. Joselma, Sr. Carol Marie Wildt, Sr. Patricia Anne Obremski, Sr. Joan Penzenstadler, Sr. Isaac Jogues, Sr. Rose Bast, and many others that wove the tapestry of ora et labora. While in graduate school, I relied upon  the prayers and rigorous academic discipline of  the Jesuit Fathers.

 Now, as my little girls become young ladies- the prayers and guidance of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary: Sr. Marie, Sr. Ericka, Sr. Andre Marie, Sr. Anitza Marie, the effervescent Sr. Maria Faustina,  and their incredible community,  mean so much to our family. We are equally appreciative of the friendship and prayers of Mary Clare Stevens as she begins her new order: The Missionary Servants of the Holy Family, and our Franciscan song-bird (former choir director), Sr. Lorraine De Febbo.

 Most especially, today I pray with appreciation for the Carmelite Friars whose daily presence in our lives is such a tremendous source of grace.  Two of my dear friends, Fr. Redemptus Short, OCD  and Fr. Matthias Montgomery OCD, are celebrating this Feast on the other side of eternity this year, Through the Communion of Saints, I know they continue to pray for us. On August 22, the Feast of the Queenship of  Mary-we had the privilege to be present at Holy Hill as our friend Fr. Cyril Guise OCD celebrated his Diamond Jubilee- his sixtieth year as a Carmelite. How does one adequately say, “Thank you,” for sixty years of prayer? For these, and all the Carmelites, we are so grateful. On this the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple and Pro Orantibus Day,  let us praise God for the blessing of the heart- those who offer their lives in prayer for us.

Blessings, Ad Jesum Per Mariam,  MA JMJ

The Lord Our All Powerful God is King, Alleluia!

Viva Cristo Rey! © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011.

Viva Cristo Rey! © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011.

Happy Feast of Christ the King! This feast was initiated in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. He was reportedly walking in the Papal Gardens with a cardinal, who noted how dejected the pontiff seemed. In the conversation that ensued, the Holy Father discussed his frustration with the flood of –isms that were spreading darkness throughout the world. He detailed the ramifications of:  Mussolini’s Fascism, Hitler’s Nazism, Stalin’s Communism, Freud’s psychological determinism, and the American materialism that was manifest in the roaring twenties. Pope Pius XI  explained that Christ and His dominion remain the solitary answer to humanity’s deepest longing. These other false doctrines fail to satisfy our longing and need for Christ and His Kingship. It is only in submission to Christ as our Sovereign, that the human soul finds fulfillment and peace.

 This conversation prompted Pope Pius XI to write the encyclical Quas Primas, and initiate the Feast of Christ the King in 1925.  The Holy Father envisioned that this Feast could have multiple effects. First, He hoped that that rulers of this world would understand that they are bound to respect Christ (Quas Primas 31). Pope Pius XI also hoped that the nations of the world would accept that the Church has a right to freedom, and immunity from the state (Quas Primas, 32). Similarly, the Pontiff hoped that The Feast of Christ the King would empower Christians with courage and strength, as we are reminded that Jesus Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, bodies and wills (Quas Primas, 33).

As contemporary Americans, the concept of kingship seems a bit foreign to us. Didn’t we throw that off in 1776? That staunchly independent streak of ours seems to balk at the slightest hint of subservience to royalty. We like to think of Jesus as our friend and brother (as indeed He is), and even accept Him as our Merciful Savior; however, when it comes to acknowledging Jesus as our Sovereign King, and submitting ourselves to His Reign, there we find difficulty.

I’ll admit that I often feel empathy with Job, in just wanting to have God come on down and “talk things over like reasonable adults”. As Job’s companions wag their fingers and add to his grief, Job laments: “But I would speak with the Almighty; I wish to reason with God (Job 13:3).” In my arrogance, like Job, how often have I thought, “O.K., we must just have a misunderstanding here- Lord, let me just restate my position, my plan, my perspective, and I’m sure You will agree…”  I really hope God has a sense of humor at such moments.

Without that sense of awe, the gift of the Holy Spirit that is Fear of the Lord, it is easy to forget that Jesus is enthroned at the Right hand of God the Father. In His humility, He meets us where we are- on our level. Yet, even so He remains our God and King. We owe Him that homage and respect.

When Pilate asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?”  Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.” So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth (John 18:33b, 36-37).”

Scripture clearly identifies Jesus Christ as our king. Again in Revelation we read: “Out of His mouth shall come a sharp sword to strike the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod…. He has a name written on His cloak and on His thigh, ‘King of Kings, and Lord of Lords (Rev. 19:15-16).”

How marvelous of our Holy Mother Church to give us this Feast of Christ the King, this solemnity, to remind us of our need to submit to the Kingship of Christ Jesus. For it is only in the act of viewing ourselves rightly- seeing our insignificience against His Magnificence- and placing our trust in Him that we achieve our true destiny. Our ultimate happiness lies in the freedom to truly pray: “Lord, Thy Kingdom Come!”

 Blessing, Ad Jesum per Mariam,


If I Had the Faith of a Child. . . .

Faith of a Child © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011

Unless you become as a small child, you cannot enter the kingdom of God. © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011

If I had the faith of a child, I would welcome each day with delight.

With reckless abandon, I would pursue the task of Life.

If I had the faith of a child, I would treat God as my Father,

With confidence I would speak to Him about little things throughout the day.

If I had the faith of a child, I would view His creation with a sense of wonder.

With gratitude, I would thank Him for the flowers, and snowflakes, and autumn leaves….


If I had the faith of a child, I would realize my smallness,

And I would seek shelter in His Magnitude.

If I had the faith of a child, I would not let a sense of time constrain me,

Rather, I would marvel in the timelessness of eternity.

If I had the faith of a child, I would not grow anxious about complex matters,

Instead, I would trust in His Providence to make it all right.


If I had the faith of a child, my prayers would be simple.

With innocence, I would reflect His purity.

If I had the faith of a child, I would tell Him, “I’m sorry,” when need be,

And I would believe in my heart that His Mercy is greater than my weakness.

If I had the faith of a child, I would see miracles every day,

With simplicity, I would accept the incomprehensible.


If I had the faith of a child, I would make God laugh.

He would delight in my littleness, and I in His Omnipotence.

If I had the faith of a child, I would feel His unconditional Love,

He would fill me with His gifts and I would share them.

If I had the faith of a child, I would possess true wisdom,

For, he would reveal the secrets of His Heart,


If I had the Faith of a child, I would enter the Kingdom of God!

I would hope for Heaven, yet see the Kingdom here around me now.

If I had the faith of a child, I would trust that my every prayer would be answered.

Lord, please, grant me the faith of a child!

MA     JMJ

Words, Words, Words!

Someday a priest? © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011.

“Words, words, words,” Hamlet decried. Likewise, Liza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, seemed to be a having a wee bit of trouble when she also lamented, “Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words!” Necessary for robust communication, these little packets of information also serve as the nexus of misunderstanding.

In our home, communication collisions are a daily occurrence. A few weeks ago I was preparing PB&J for the kids, and my nearly 5-year-old popped up with, “Mom, is there any Gramma fat in this?” Nice to know she was paying attention during her sister’s science and nutrition lesson. Though, in certain circles the phrase “Gramma fat,” would likely raise eyebrows and blood pressure, and needed to be discouraged.  On another occasion, one of my little girls brought me a pebble, and shyly questioned, “Mommy, every night we pray for the people in ‘a-rock,” well, here is a rock, how did the people get in there?”

Sometimes our communication issues result in overly high expectations. There was the time when (then) 7-year-old Kenny eagerly waited for the UPS man. I told Kenny that I had purchased a thesaurus, and it would help him with his schoolwork. Never had I seen a child so exuberant over a reference book!  Days passed, and the UPS man finally arrived. Kenny seemed puzzled and disappointed by the small parcel. He examined his new book carefully, and thanked me politely. Now I was puzzled.  It was only weeks later when he admitted that he had thought a thesaurus was a kind of dinosaur that I finally understood.

Ronald Regan was known as, “the Great Communicator,” and the errors that  frequently occur in our home, make it all too clear that I am not even a mediocre communicator. As JM turned four, it was time for him to begin preschool, as the 4 older children had before him. Again, he eagerly anticipated his new books and crayons, as the others had.  With true joy, he told all his friends, family, and neighbors that he would soon be starting preschool, and all shared his infectious excitement. Our mornings include morning Mass, breakfast, and schoolwork. Though this little guy also loves to don his child-size vestments, turn on EWTN, and pretend he is concelebrating Holy Mass with the good Franciscan friars on TV. One day, shortly after JM’s preschool year began, I asked him how it was going. To which he responded, “great Mom, but when can I go up to the altar and really ‘do’ Mass?” Confused, I responded, “Well JM, if God calls you to be a priest, then someday when you are much older, after many years of prayer and school, you will be ordained. Then you would really be a priest, and celebrate Holy Mass.” Shocked, he looked at me and responded, “Mom, I am already in priestschool, aren’t I?”

While most of our communication mishaps are accidental- a result of errors in perception or accuracy, some are more deliberate. I recall one very naughty, three-and-a-half-year-old, Grace Marie in dire need of a “time out.” I specifically told her to sit on the second step of the stairs, while I washed the dishes in the other room. A few minutes later, I noticed that the typical noises were not emerging from the staircase as anticipated. As I stood akimbo at the base of the stairs, I called up to her, with a stern, “Young lady, did you hear me tell you to take a time out on the second stair?” To which my budding canon lawyer replied, “but you didn’t say whether you wanted me on the second stair from the bottom or the top.”

Corpus Christi! © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011. E.A. photographer

While communication among my earthly companions is wrought with errors (what can you expect from a group of imperfect, finite beings), I also struggle in my communication with God. The real difference here, is that I can’t blame the mistakes on anyone but myself. God is omniscient- He knows my every thought even before they are formed.

 Lord, You have probed me, you know me;

you know when I sit and when I stand;

you understand my thoughts from afar.

My travels and my rest you mark;

With all my ways you are familiar.

Even before a word is on my tongue,

Lord, you know it all.

Behind and before you encircle me,

And rest your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is beyond me,

Far too lofty for me to reach….

Probe me, God, know my heart.

Try me, know my concerns.

Psalm 139: 1-6, 23

God knows everything, and His plans for me and those I love are magnificent. I know His plans are greater than anything I could possibly conceive, and I trust. Yet, like Job, every once in awhile I have that feeling that we’re just not communicating. Like communication with my children, it is often a case of lack of clarity. I understand that God is trying to communicate, I just cannot correctly decipher His intent.  I have been known to utter the prayer, “Lord, I know you are trying to tell me something, but I’m too dense to understand, could You please speak a little louder, or make Your intentions a bit more clear.” I always get an answer to this prayer, though not always the one for which I’m looking.

Even though my prayers are poorly worded, I know the Holy Spirit makes it all right. For scripture tells us:

“In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groaning. And the One Who searched hearts knows what is the intention of the Sprit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s Will (Romans 8: 26-27).”

Often I find that I cannot hear God, because I am talking too much. I suppose He is just waiting for me to take a breath, so that He can get a word in edgewise. When I have the presence of mind, to merely sit in His presence, adoring Him hidden in the Tabernacle or visible in the Monstrance, it is amazing how much real communication takes place. Then with Job, comforted that I am dust, I rejoice that He is God, and I am not. With the trust of child, I place all that I am in His capable Hands.

Blessings, M.A.  JMJ

“Pilgrim’s Progress”

Queen of Heaven Please Pray for Us! © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011

What would get 140 people to crawl out of bed on a damp, dark, windy Sunday morning, and forfeit the extra hour of sleep guaranteed only once a year? Yes, they were boarding 3 motor coaches for what is affectionately termed Wisconsin’s “Frozen Tundra.” But this time, the Packers weren’t even in the state, and although a cheer erupted as the bus convoy passed Lambeau Field, our destination was not a mere sporting event, but a pilgrimage to what may become the most revered spot in the United States. Our sacred destination was a place near and dear to my heart, having visited here about 40 times in the past 7 years.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion is the only Church authenticated, officially approved Marian Apparition site in the United States. In 1859, it was here that our Lady, as the Queen of Heaven, appeared to a simple Belgian Immigrant, Adele Brise and commissioned her to: “gather the children in this wild country, and teach them what they should know for their salvation. . . .”  Our Lady promised to help the alarmed Adele, instructing her: “Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments; that is what I wish you to do- Go and fear nothing!” Our Lady made good on her promise of help.

 Twelve years to the day of her apparition, a group of faithful Catholics emerged from a terrifying evening of prayer, petition, and procession, to thank Our Lady for her life-saving intercession. It was the morning of October 9, 1871 that this grateful prayer cenacle emerged from the wooden Shrine Church to realize that the Peshtigo Fire (to this day the largest, most deadly fire in U.S. history), had passed them by, leaving the tiny 5-acre, consecrated parcel as an “emerald isle amid a sea of ash.” The Peshtigo fire burned 1.5 million acres (about the size of the entire state of Rhode Island), and yet passed over the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help; sparing those pilgrims who sought her protection, processing and praying the rosary (on their knees) throughout that long, terrifying night. The exact death-toll (settlers and Native Americans) of the Peshtigo Fire will never be known, but it is estimated that between 1,200-2,400 individuals lost their lives in this 2,000 degree hurricane of fire that raged through Northern Wisconsin, jumped Lake Michigan at Green Bay, and devastated countless families.

On this cool November morning, as our comfortable motor coach convoy traversed the lovely autumn countryside, not a trace of the ravages of the conflagration remained. From our comfortable seats, it was difficult to imagine the stifling smoke and ash that billowed from the relentless inferno- a fire so hot that sand and wind combined to spin strings of glass in places where trees had once stood. Today, the promise of Our Lord to “make all things new (Revelation 21:5)” is certainly visible in this lovely vista.

Bishop Don Hying blesses us with Our Lord Jesus© SalveMaterDei.com, 2011

Shortly after we arrived at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, Bishop Don Hying, Fr. Peter Stryker, and Fr. Jewel celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Chapel is beautiful- simple, warm, and inviting. The Tabernacle shines beneath a translucent veil, and one can truly feel Our Lord’s Presence in this Chapel- His Mother’s house. It was a joy to once again see my son serve Holy Mass in a sanctuary built above the very spot where Our Lady descended from Her celestial throne to instruct, warn, and protect.  Bishop Hying reminded us that Wisdom was not the same as knowledge or information. No, true Wisdom is synonymous with possessing a will that is completely in tuned with God’s Divine Will. Bishop Hying explained that Our Lady’s will was so absolutely in harmony with God’s Divine Will, that She is rightfully known as the Seat of Wisdom. He expounded on four of St. Louis de Montfort’s meditations, and directed us to consider our progress toward our ultimate destiny in light of the brevity of this life.

Pilgrims in the Pieta © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011

Holy Mass was followed by Benediction, a Eucharistic Procession around the Chapel, and the recitation of the rosary. After lunch, we again gathered with Bishop Hying for the outdoor Stations of the Cross. The Bishop gave a short, but profound meditation at each station. At the seventh station, as Jesus Falls the Second time, Bishop Hying spoke to us of the need for perseverance. He recognized how challenging it is to be in the middle- the middle of life, of a career, of marriage, of a vocation, etc., – and yet the need to persevere through the daily struggle, carrying the cross that is ours, to the glory that is to come. The breeze was no longer gentle, dark clouds began blanket the sky, and few drops of rain trickled down. The turn in weather suited the mood of the stations and helped to focus our attention on the suffering of Christ. As we processed behind the Bishop, I noticed the faces of the crowd of pilgrims reflected in each and every station. It was as if we were present with our Lord along the Way of the Cross. This was particularly striking when we approached the thirteenth station, the pieta- Jesus is laid in Mary’s Arms. In her private moment of unbearable anguish, we, her newly adopted children, were already present in her heart. God’s Love, and Our Lady’s fiat transcend time and space. Mary’s intercession was as powerful as she beheld Him after the Crucifixion, as it was in 1871, as it is today, and will be tomorrow. With Our Lady’s Good Help, we shall behold the face of Her Divine Son.

It was an awesome trip!

Blessings, M.A. JMJ

** My son continues to post a now 11-part history on the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help at his blog: http://godalonesufficeth.wordpress.com/

Three Days of Grace

Bishop Hying at Holy Hill Basilica © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011

© SalveMaterDei.com, 2011

 I can’t imagine that it gets much better than this! I feel like we’ve been bathed in grace for three solid days. As a family, we have been able to celebrate three special days of prayer- each led by Milwaukee’s dynamic, new Auxiliary Bishop, the Most Reverend Donald J. Hying. From the all-night First Friday Eucharistic Vigil, to the closing Mass of the Bl. Pier Giorigio Frassati Day, and culminating in the bus trip to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help- these three days have been a blessing. I had hoped to write a post each day, but time constraints thwarted that plan. So today, I’ll focus on the First Friday Eucharistic Vigil at St. Francis de Sales Seminary, and Bishop Hying’s Saturday Mass at Holy Hill Basilica, National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians. Tomorrow, I hope to post on the pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.

Forty-seven years ago, Fr. Redemptus Short, O.C.D. answered our Lady of Fatima’s call for First Saturday prayer and reparation by instituting the monthly all-night Eucharistic Vigil. Each month Milwaukee area Catholics have gathered in a spirit of reparation to petition Our Lord in Adoration for peace and vocations. The vigil rotates through different parishes within the Milwaukee Archdiocese that are willing to host this grace-filled event. Each vigil opens with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at 8 p.m. (usually on the First Fri), followed by Benediction, rosary, procession, informative speakers, confessions, stations of the cross, and ends with the repositioning of the Blessed Sacrament and Holy Mass at 5 a.m. on the First Saturday. Most folks are not able to stay for the entire vigil- but Our Lord and Our Lady are never out-done in generosity, and they return a 100-fold blessing on whatever time is freely given.

About two years ago, my eldest son was invited to participate in the vigil by one of the founding families. For many months, each First Friday night, I waited for him to arrive home- usually around 2 a.m. He’d burst through the door, full of zeal, bubbling over with the theology he had just absorbed through several hours of inspiring talks.  We would stay up and chat about the beauty of the Mass that he had just been privileged to serve, the rosary, and the Eucharistic procession.

I remember on one occasion, when the vigil was hosted by an East-side Milwaukee Parish, Kenny burst in the door and announced “Mom, you should have seen the jaws the people outside the tavern drop, when our Eucharistic procession passed by! Some people slammed their doors and windows, others just stopped and stared, but we brought the Real Presence of Christ to them. It was awesome!” I recall marveling at God’s grace. Other area moms might also spend Friday night waiting up to the wee hours for their teenage children, but, with gratitude, I realized that most have not been given the privilege to reminisce about the evening in quite the same way that we do.  As the months passed, Kenny’s zeal became contagious. Our whole family began to attend the monthly vigil. With our range of ages: 3-50, the 2 a.m. thing was out. However, we do manage to last through the celebration of Holy Mass, Benediction, the Eucharistic Procession, and recitation of the rosary.

555th All-Night Eucharistic Vigil © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011

Friday’s vigil was the 555 consecutive All Night Vigil of Reparation and Prayer. It was hosted by St. Francis de Sales Seminary, in Christ the King Chapel. The Holy Mass was so beautiful! Bishop Hying spoke eloquently regarding the Four Last Things, Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, and the Last Judgment. He reminded us about the finite nature of our earthly lives, and the need to prepare to make a good account before Our God, and Judge. November 13, will mark one year since our dear Fr. Redemptus was called home. With his photo near the Fatima Pilgrim statue, I was reminded of how much good one individual can do. Because of this sweet, gentle Carmelite friar’s efforts how many prayers, acts of reparation, rosaries, hours of reparation, sacramental confessions, and Holy Communions had been received! His legacy, and this vigil live on, and we are challenged to perpetuate the grace that began forty-seven years ago, with his first all-night vigil. What an inheritance; may I one day bring as many souls to Christ! When I stand before His throne, may I make an equally good account.

Still basking in the warmth of grace of the First Friday Vigil, our family joined a nearly packed Holy Hill Basilica, to assist with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, celebrated by: Bishop Hying, Fr. Don Brick O.C.D., and Fr. Luke Strand. What a Mass! The first dozen pews on the left were full of young adults who had participated in a day-long retreat at the annual Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati Conference. Their energy seemed to fill the church. The readings again focused our attention on our ultimate destiny- the end to which our lives are directed. Bishop Hying reminded us of the need to make good use of gift of life we’ve been given. Our time here is precious, use it for what really matters.

As the sun set behind Holy Hill, and our family received Bishop Hying’s blessing, I again marveled at the magnitude of God’s goodness, and contemplated the joy of tomorrow’s pilgrimage.

Blessings- M.A. JMJ

The Souls of the Just are in the Hands of the Lord. . . .

May they rest in peace. © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011

Today we celebrate the feast of All Souls Day. Like yesterday, we once again gather to rejoice in the communion of saints- celebrating the unbroken unity that is the Church Triumphant (those in Heaven), the Church Suffering (beloved souls in Purgatory), and the Church Militant (those of us on earth striving to reach our eternal beatitude). While yesterday’s solemnity was a joyous celebration of virtues of those saints who stand in perpetual adoration of the Lamb of God, today’s celebration is a more subdued supplication for our beloved siblings in Christ who- though saved- have yet to reach the eternal celestial joy of the saints. The Church teaches that Purgatory is the name given to that final stage of purification of the elect; a purification that those who die in an imperfect state of grace undergo before reaching blessed communion with the Most Holy Trinity. Today’s First Reading reflects the scriptural basis for this doctrine which was reiterated through the Church Councils of Florence and Trent (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1031).

“The souls of the just are in the Hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us utter destruction. But they are in peace. For if before men, indeed they be punished, yet their hope is full of immortality.  Chastened a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of Himself (Wisdom 3: 1-5).”

I believe with my heart that our prayers can relieve the burden of the souls in purgatory. Yes, I believe it as a matter of faith because the Holy Church teaches it; however, I also believe it because I have personally felt its fruits.

Almost eleven years ago, I lost my Dad to multiple myeloma. I was devastated. My Dad – the kids’ Grandpa George- had been my hero, and my closest friend. I used to tell him that I felt I had an inkling of what God the Father must be like, because of his humility, and gentle goodness. Dad lived with us prior to his death, and his memories were everywhere I turned. My heart was in shreds. About three weeks after his death, it was my birthday, and I was feeling particularly low. I prayed my heart out, and begged Jesus for a sign. I remember asking very directly: “Lord, I know I’m not supposed to test you, please don’t think of this request as a test. However, I really need a sign that Dad’s O.K. I need to know he’s in Heaven. Pardon me for being specific, but could I please have a single rose- a white one, just so I know he is ok? Now I don’t want a dozen red ones, just a single white rose, would let me know he is ok. Thanks Lord.”

On this cold day in February, about a half-hour after I uttered that prayer, my doorbell rang. Astonished, I opened the front door, to find a floral delivery truck- “Flowers by GEORGE!” The delivery person was standing there with a single RED rose in a glass vase. I was thunderstruck! After I stammered something to the kind delivery man, I hastily read the card (which remains in my Bible to this day). It was from a woman named Mary, whom I had met once while touring the senior living apartment my Dad had hoped to call home had he survived the bone marrow transplant.  Thrilled as I was to have received an immediate answer to my prayer, I was confused. This was a single RED rose. I had requested a WHITE one. I immediately thanked our Lord, and pondered what this sign meant. Was Jesus telling me- He picked the sign, that I shouldn’t? What could this mean? I took it to mean- at the very least- that Dad was ok. I still continued to pray for the repose of his soul (and do to this day).

Over the years there would be an occasional white rose in my garden, and I’d question- whether it might be the rose of my request. Though deep in heart, I always knew prayers were needed.  About seven years after Dad’s death, we had just attended the All Souls’ Day Mass at St. Boniface- the very Church where we celebrated both of my parents’ funeral Masses. I was winding though the bottle-necked crowd with seven small children in tow, and counting heads to make sure all were present and accounted. Deacon Jim was deep in discussion with a fellow parishioner as my little convoy passed by, when he abruptly interrupted his conversation. He said, “Excuse me, but this lady needs this,” and proceeded to hand me the largest, most gorgeous long-stem, single WHITE rose I had ever seen. As my tears began to fall, there was a chorus of little voices at my feet- “Mommy, does this mean Grandpa is in Heaven?”  I responded that it may very well mean just that. We returned to the Church, to give thanks. Later, I brought my precious white rose to the Shrine Chapel at Holy Hill, in thanksgiving to Our Lady for her intercession.

I have pondered often the significance of my sign. Truly I KNOW Jesus answers our every prayer- not necessarily in the way we want, nor in the time-frame we want. However, He does love us deeply, and responds to our needs from His Abyss of Love. I still pray for the repose of the souls of both my parents, my father-in-law, my godson Dan, and so many other loved ones. Yet, I know they are safe, and have every confidence in the words of today’s reading, “The souls of the just are in the Hands of God, and no torment shall touch them. . . .”

 Please join me in praying for the Poor Souls, and have a Blessed All Souls’ Day- M.A.  JMJ

Eternal light will shine upon your saints, O Lord!

My Little "Saints." © SalveMaterDei.com, 2011

Each year the kids delight in celebrating the Solemnity of All Saints. As soon as the October air begins to chill and the leaves turn color, the house begins to buzz with plans for this sacred feast. The kids research their favorite saints, and begin to scour the house for requisite costume pieces.  Old lace curtains are transformed into veils, and brocade table clothes become mantles.  The energy is palpable- everyone from toddler to teen finds joy in celebrating the essence of the solemnity. This year’s heavenly court included: Our Lady of Kibeho, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, St. James the Greater, St. Joseph Cupertino, Blessed Jacinta Marto, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Catherine Laboure, and St. Patrick- even the young lady who helps us homeschool joined in as St. Bernadette Soubirous.

 At Holy Mass this morning, Fr. Jude reminded us that this is our Feast- the saints of the Church Triumphant- the saints of the Church Suffering, and even those of the Church Militant. We are ALL called to be saints- canonized or not- it is our eternal destiny, our call, our heart’s deepest longing. All Saints’ Day offers a unique opportunity to reflect upon the progress we have achieved. Our role models, the saints, provide a tangible goal. We see in the sanctity of their lives what our lives could, and should be. They fought the good fight, ran the ultimate race, and- with God’s Grace -persevered.  Now as Church Triumphant, these real men and women- whose eternal souls have been forever “washed clean in the blood of the Lamb,” stand ready to assist us in our struggle to achieve the same beatitude that they now  forever enjoy.

 The doctrine of the Communion of Saints is such a comfort and a blessing! In truth we form but one eternal ring- glorifying God beyond the limits of space and time. Today, as we celebrated the lives of the saints, and sought to emulate their virtues, we also focused on our beloved suffering souls in Purgatory. On the way home from Holy Mass at Holy Hill Basilica, National Shrine of Mary, the kids and I stopped at the cemetery to pay a visit to my parents, and pray for their eternal happiness. I know Grandpa George and Grandma Lorraine were in turn praying for their beloved grandkids as we knelt and said an Ave by their grave.

 In Her Wisdom, the Holy Mother Church has granted a special blessing – a plenary indulgence applicable only to the souls in purgatory for each of the eight days of the Solemnity of All Saints’ Day. The usual conditions are binding, and include: attending Holy Mass and receiving Holy Communion on the day the work is performed, sacramental confession within  eight days prior or afterward, freedom from attachment to sin, prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father (an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be suffice, but other chosen prayer is also acceptable). For this particular indulgence, a visit to a cemetery and prayer for the faithful deceased is also required. In our house we call this “The November Novena,” never mind that it is Solemnity, and only eight days- we usually begin on All Hallows Eve for a total of nine days and a partial indulgence on the extra day. Each year the kids and I look forward to it- knowing our little prayers and cemetery visits are of real assistance to suffering souls- perhaps for Grandma and Grandpa, Poppie, my nephew Dan, and other loved ones, or perhaps for forgotten souls whose graves are left unmarked and whose lives are long forgotten here on earth. The grace that this “November Novena” brings is immense.

 As this beautiful All Saints’ Day Solemnity draws to a close, and the costumes are stashed away for another year;  we begin our evening office, and a deep sense of abiding joy remains.