YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A SUPERHERO

Holiness grows fast where there is kindness.  I have never heard of kind souls going astray.  The world is lost for want of sweetness and kindness.  –St. Mother Teresa

“When you leave your stuff on the floor outside the shower like that, I lose the spa vibe I was hoping for when we built this master bath, Shell.”

Those words, spoken to me a while back, were a gently filed (but valid) complaint being lodged against yours truly.  I still recall that particular fraternal correction by my husband because of the humor and kindness with which it was spoken.  It made me roll my eyes, but I laughed.  I do fail still, but I have made a concerted effort to keep that particular area relatively tidy since then.  Honestly, it’s because he was candid, but respectful and funny.

Here’s my point.  It takes less effort to grumble than it does to be thoughtful in how we speak to others in our path. We honestly have zip for a clue what most folks are up against today.  Do you know what’s powerful?  A sense of humor is compelling and persuasive, of which well-intentioned smartassery is my personal favorite variety.  Basic compassion and kindness are also pretty magical.

Days we encounter might be difficult, even tragic.  There might be sad anniversaries, grief, health challenges…or a million other mountains you’re climbing.  Still, let’s work on not being a thorn in someone’s side, huh?  The world is so freaking hard and full of insanity.  You can choose to be positive even if you don’t love the day, because I truly believe there’s something good in each one of them if you keep your heart and your eyes open.  You are important to more people than you know.  It’s tough to remember that sometimes, but it’s true.

Here’s what else.  It’s better than okay to apologize when we screw it up.  I love this quote by Kelly Hayes who said, “There’s no shame in admitting you were previously speaking from a less informed place.” A to the MEN, Kelly!

I’m mostly running on lattes and Jesus most days.  My hair isn’t really long enough for the ponytail I constantly shove out the back of my baseball cap.  There are 55 boys on the GC tennis team, and I’m a team mom just trying to keep them fed and hitting tennis balls that still bounce.  My father-in-law passed away 3 months ago, we’re nowhere near closing out the estate, and his son to whom I’m married has had zero chance to properly grieve yet given the endless mayhem that tends to befall anyone to whom the word “executor” applies in these matters.  Our lives are blessed in many ways, but I could keep adding to that list of stressors for a while yet if I chose to continue on like this in today’s post.  We all have our hands full.  A whole spectrum of emotions cover us up each day.  It’s okay to feel all those emotions.  That’s what it means to live life.  None of us has a perfect one.  You are who you are because of your life and experiences.  And you, my friend, are flipping awesome.  You’ve trudged through thunderstorms people can’t see.  You’re still here, and you are okay.  God sees.  You are not alone.  You are loved. 

Who are you really??  Ask yourself if you are living authentically, because that’s the whole ballgame.  Let me tell you who I am.  I’m the kind of girl who wears my heart on my sleeve.  I burn too hot, and I cry too easily.  I laugh so hard that I can’t breathe and tears fall down my cheeks.  I’m menopausal and my hair is falling out, so I try to hide it.  I love hard and am overly dramatic.  I don’t have an inside voice and patience isn’t my virtue.  “Calm down” doesn’t work at all with me. I’m obsessed with leggings that have pockets and I hate story toppers, being late and diet Pepsi.  Most importantly, though, I believe it’s important to be honest and forthcoming, but considerate in the way we treat others. When I fail at that last part, I am hard on me.  These things are who I am today.  If I was pretending to be someone else, I couldn’t possibly have what it takes to do the work God calls me to do today, and neither could you.  Today, He asked me to remind a few folks about the power of kindness. I kind of wasn’t in the mood to type things this afternoon, but He asks and so I answer.  Maybe someone needs to hear something in this ramble?  That’s not my business, I suppose.  That’s up to the Lord.

Because giggling is good…

The thing about kindness is that to the many people who feel the cruelness of the world overwhelming them, your little gift often has an impact you might never realize.  Do the obvious.  Be kind to your family, friends, and the total strangers in your day.  Show grace even when others are casting stones.  Be a person who chooses to love. If you have something legitimate to correct, go with Tom’s tidy bathroom method and do it with a smile.

Say nice things to each other.  Thank the darn barista, because she’s probably spent 8 hours busting her rear.  Offer to pray with or for someone.  Send a funny meme.  Hold the door.  Tip too much.  Don’t look aways when someone is hurting.  Look him in the eye and tell him he is not alone.  Empathy is powerful!!  HOLD EACH OTHER UP.

Only people who are dissatisfied with themselves are unkind to those around them.  If you notice that’s you, ask for the grace to turn it around starting…right now.  Ask for a heart like Jesus.  Some days are so hard we have to brace for impact.  It’s just one day. Tomorrow is a new one, full to the brim with all the grace and mercy you can imagine.  We are going to make it.  It’s easier when we lean on Jesus and work together. 

You don’t have to be a superhero to save the day.  For the right person, your intentional kindness can change everything.  People like that make the world beautiful. 

I’m going to close by sharing a prayer that was recently shared with me by a holy, affirming, and hilarious friend named Deanne.  It’s my new favorite way to end the day.  I invite you to try it before you close your eyes tonight! 

PLEA FOR THE NIGHT (Ignacio Larranaga)

My Father, now that the voices have hushed and that cries have ceased, my soul rises to you to say: I believe in you, I hope in you, I love you with all my might. Glory to you, Lord.

I commit into your hands the fatigue of the battle, the joys and the disappointment of this day which has ended. If my nerves betrayed me, if self-centered impulses had the best of me, if I allowed resentment or melancholy to invade me, forgive me, Lord. Have mercy on me.

If I have been unfaithful, if my mouth spoke idle words, if I was a thorn for someone, forgive me, Lord. I do not want to fall asleep without feeling in my soul the safety of your mercy, Lord, sweet and unbinding. I give you thanks, my Father, for you were the refreshing shadow that shielded me all through the day. I give you thanks because all along these hours you surrounded me– invisible and affectionate– you watched over me like a mother.

Lord, all around me is silent and calm. Send the angel of peace over this house. Relax my nerves, appease my spirit, set my mind at rest, flood my being with silence and serenity. Watch over me, beloved Father, when I surrender to sleep, confident as a child happily sleeps in your arms. In your name, Lord, I will rest peacefully.

Amen.

This Makes Me the Dog

I know Ann, I gotta go because I am at the grocery now, but I don’t know what she’s thinking letting her daughter go to that school next year with all those backward, elitist Catholics!

Several years back, I overhead these disquieting and decidedly unchristian words spoken in a local grocery store.  During the last few weeks, the memory of that morning continue to find their way to my mind and heart as I take in giant ladles full of moral relativism and anti-Catholic sentiment. 

Back then, I spoke up (albeit not in the moment) about why it’s okay to be proud to be Catholic.

At the time I heard them, I said nothing and simply turned away. It felt like a very personal blow all the same. To be fair, I arrived at the grocery store in a bit of a bad head space, not unlike the one I’m in now. Therefore, the longer I thought about it, the more annoyed I became with this stranger. To call me BUGGED would have been considerably inadequate at the time.

I watched a similar encounter between two friends just this past week (over six years later) that has me similarly riled.  One can choose silence as a response to uneducated attacks on the Lord of life, or the state of the world. Or, we can speak up.   My head is right in the middle of the muck coming across my Twitter feed and TV and I am certain many of you are right here with me.  Allow me to share what I know to be right and good about our collective Christian community by using the example of my own parish as I begin.

I’m an active member of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church, at which the 13,000 sq. ft. Merciful Help Center is located.  Jayne Slaton, the amazing woman who runs the operation, would literally be the last person on earth to say, “Hey, look over here!  We’re amazing!”  Truth be told, THEY ARE.  The center houses a large food pantry, the Trinity Free Clinic, and serves thousands annually. They meet the needs of marginalized people from all walks of life every single day. Their network of volunteers from doctors and dentists to retirees, as well as housewives and their children, is astounding. 

Above: Food packages prepared by Merciful Help Center Volunteers is ready for delivery to Hamilton County families in need of assistance.

Guess what? I know you good Catholic people with your sleeves rolled up all over your own community, and I know you don’t really give a rip how much “credit” you get for who you help. Largely, you simply want to be the hands and face of Christ to those around you. You inspire me. You make me want to be more and do more!  You are literally EVERYWHERE.

According to the Pew Research Center, there are over 17,000 parishes that serve a large and diverse population just here in the United States.  The Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental provider of education and medical services in the world.  Catholic Charities, for instance, serves over 10 million individuals annually.  Some of its more well-known partner organizations include Habitat for Humanity as well as Catholic Charities Disaster Relief. In short, they work hard to reduce poverty and provide emergency relief throughout the US and well beyond. It’s hardly an insignificant contribution.

To understand the social services impact of the Catholic Church, though, I think, one needs to understand that our country is home to a vast network of Catholic hospitals and health systems, and that the University system in our country was largely a Catholic invention, and that our thousands of parishes ALL contain ministries similar to the ones I mentioned at mine.  Each contributes in its own way and within its own capacities to combat hunger, domestic abuse and poverty.  They provide resources to families struggling with elder care needs, children in foster care, to pregnant mothers, those in mental health crisis, and so much more. 

The Church runs 5,500 hospitals, 18,000 clinics, 16,000 homes for the elderly and those with special needs, with 65 percent of them in underdeveloped and poverty-stricken areas. 

Now, add up the smaller scale charitable works of the Catholic parishes I mentioned, and be sure not to leave out those undertaken by individual religious orders like the Missionary Sisters of Charity, the Franciscans, Jesuits, Dominicans, and many others I’m forgetting. 

You see, we Catholics know that Jesus was never indifferent to the sufferings of others or the dignity of life.  So, when someone yells “You Catholics don’t even support [insert social concern here], so we know you don’t really care about life”, they are just ill-informed.  I’ve heard it said this way. A dog barks if his master is being attacked.  I guess this makes me the dog.  If hunger were easy to fix, or abuse, or poverty…then they would be solved already.  Georgetown professor J. Brennan recently stated it this way on his May 3, 2022 post on social media.  It says, “I am against Russians killing Ukrainians, but I might for all sorts of reasons oppose the US government aid to Ukraine.  I don’t think my neighbor should murder his kids and yet that doesn’t mean I believe I am obligated to feed his kids.”  This particular academic admits he sides against Catholics on many issues but acknowledges that some in his camp misunderstand some of the pertinent issues at hand.  What I’m trying to say is, the argument is not only an invalid one, the premise is also completely false. 

There are more nuanced conversations and smarter arguments out there for why being authentically Catholic and proudly so gives great glory to God.  Pope Benedict XVI called us “an expert in humanity.”  I quite agree.

To those in who cry out in anger, who are suffering, or who are searching, I offer the following invitation in all sincerity.

When you are down on your luck, come find us. We are literally EVERYWHERE. We’ve got nuns that will help care for your Uncle Henry who needs a hand up, priests who will tend to his spiritual needs, and pastoral associates who will help his daughter find a counselor and a great gal named Jayne who will get her a bag of groceries.

We’ve got Universities who help underprivileged young people get a college education who couldn’t otherwise afford one—and college students filled with so much heart they are building houses for people on the weekends and tutoring students in your local public school for free.

We’ve got hospitals. We’ve got grade school kids making PB&J’s who will pass one to you to take along for the road after you leave the food pantry. We’ve got HS kids taking their day off after finals to come rake your leaves. We have thousands of those little old “church ladies” and countless Catholic prayer groups who will pray for you– and if you need help with food for your brother’s funeral–we’ve got your back.

Stop in and see us.  Find out who we really are.

When you call us names or tell us we’re backwards, we’re human. It makes us sad. When you think it’s okay to disrespect our beliefs, and especially where it relates to ending the lives of the most vulnerable, it makes our hearts weep. Broken hearted people don’t always think straight or articulate well. For those times when we have failed, we ask your forgiveness. We will work on our behavior. It doesn’t change the fact that we are right here and we want to help—no matter who you are or where you live.

Catholic friends, when did disagreeing become something that must express itself venomously? WE, as a group, need to do a better job understanding that people weren’t exactly a big fan of Jesus either (and we are CLEARLY NOT HIM), and rest in the Lord. That’s all. The anger and defensive posture are unbecoming.

As my youngest son often says, “We’re a good family.” Like all good families, we are full of flaws. But don’t be led astray. Our church is born of Christ Himself, and it’s okay to be proud to be Catholic.

With God’s help, we’ll keep trying to respect one another and do better. We must.

If I have the chance to talk sometime directly to the heart of folks like the woman I overhead at the grocery a few years back, or the one filled with venom this week? I would say this. “I’m worried about some of you guys. Some of you don’t see how BELOVED YOU ARE. Hey you! Yes, you! God loves you. He’s better at loving than any human being could ever be, and He sees everything amazing about you.”

My faithful friends, if you know that, really KNOW THAT, in your heart, then you are blessed beyond words. I’m asking you to please join me in prayer for our country? It’s full of angry people who do and say evil things which means they don’t know God loves them.  It breaks my heart. I’ve been there. It’s a really crappy place to be. Let’s ask God to use us to be His face and His hands to show them what love looks like.

When you feel worn out or lack the courage to speak life and be a proud Catholic, remember these words spoken by St. (Pope) John Paul II, “Never tire of firmly speaking in defense of life from its conception and do not be deterred from the commitment to defend the dignity of every human person with courageous determination.  Christ is with you:  Be Not Afraid!” 

I’m No “Sermonator”

After you have made a decision that is pleasing to God, the devil may try to make you have second thoughts. Intensity your prayer time, meditation, and good deeds. For if Satan’s temptations merely cause you to increase your efforts to grow in holiness, he’ll have an incentive to leave you alone. –St. Ignatius of Loyola

A couple of weeks ago, a total stranger reached out to me. That, in and of itself, is fairly ordinary. Usually that sort of introduction comes at the behest of a mutual friend who wants me to use my powers of persuasion (and maybe a caffeine-laced latte) to help said beautiful soul feel a little more comfortable in his or her own skin. Life is full of battles. It’s easier to stomach them over Starbucks, some affirming words, and a smile.

Generosity of spirit is what I aim for, in general. This time, I hesitated. You see, the request was for me to come and speak to a Mom’s prayer group at a nearby parish. After I thought about it for just a few minutes, I decided it was a bad idea.

Allow me to walk you through my excuse-laden brain. First of all, I’m not a speaker. Secondly, the event was in just a few days. Thirdly, I’m not a speaker. Did I already mention that? It’s not that I am afraid of speaking. I used to do it as a regular course of action in my job. However, that was a million years ago and also I was definitively not speaking to those folks back in the day about Jesus.

So, the event was a no go. I mean, also THIS parish? My mind began to wander to the most comedic and ridiculous places to avoid this assignment. These poor women are probably super nice ladies but I guarantee they aren’t even aware that Jane Mullin issued sanctions against them and their cheater pants 4th grade CYO coach 15 years ago. Allow me to explain. The whole parish lost their sainthood. Yep. Stiff penalty, I agree. We took away the word “Saint” in front of their parish name and referred to them henceforth with just the name of the Apostle after whom the parish is dedicated, ha? Very mature, am I right? I don’t know if those were lifetime sanctions or not. I’d have to check with Janie about that one. Maybe it’s time to let it go…? Ha? As I read that back, I’m not sure that our 15+ year grudge over a 4th grade CYO basketball game feels so classy? I mean, it was the championship game…but still?

I’m joking because that’s what I do when I’m in the middle of making bad decisions.

Interiorly, I was angsty. I’ll be as elegant with my diction as I was able at that moment. I freaking love You, Jesus. Where I was compared to where I am now is the epitome of pure grace. It’s just that I’m not right for this particular job, Lord.

I confided in a friend who never lets me off the hook. Clearly, I’m mentally unwell. He replied by telling me that when it comes to speaking about faith, the important thing is that we love Christ. He went on some rant about a guy called “Herman the Cripple” who had cleft palate and cerebral palsy and all sorts of daunting disabilities and limitations but evidently, he was a remarkable man who achieved much, and who wrote one of the most beautiful prayers ever conceived– The Hail Holy Queen (Salve Regina).

I think I just texted him back and said something like, “Come on. Really? This is total BS!”

He texted “Hahaha! Google him! It’s possible other people can see your gifts more clearly than you?”

Yep. You can bet your sweet hind end the guilt trip worked and I said yes. I might be confused about why I am being called, but once I’m fairly certain what God’s will is, it’s very challenging for me to say no. The Lord speaks to all of us, but I personally think His voice and methodology is a little different for every person. I mean, I’m not sitting by a bush waiting on the God of the universe to catch it on fire and talk to me like He did Moses.

Here’s the thing, though. I don’t think the Lord is into confusing me. He already knows I confuse easily. We’ve chatted about it. We have a relationship. He does know I love Him sincerely and I ask Him every day to help me love Him more. I want to do what pleases God. I mean, I fail to do it…like a lot. But I really do want that.

The (very) senior associate at my parish is a joyful priest named Fr. Dan Gartland. He won’t like the adjective I put in parentheses in that last sentence one bit. He told me the story of a parishioner bringing him a t-shirt that said “SERMONATOR” on it. The man is a gifted speaker. We all know it, and he does too. He’s entertaining, accessible, and just a guy who makes me laugh and want a piece of whatever he’s got. At a daily mass recently, he told a very hilarious story about a bunch of high school kids he used to torture a little during his years in Lafayette, but then he always finds a way to pivot to a meaningful conclusion. On this day, he implored us all to “do what is right as a sacrifice to the Lord and then trust Him with the rest.” A to the MEN, Padre.

So, I’m no “Sermonator”. I wish I could speak with ease like Fr. Dan. I was marginal as a speaker. Actually, I do think my message was solid. Thanks be to God. It’s simply that I talk too fast and I read from my notes a lot.

However, these are challenging times we live in. People need to be reminded that they are deeply loved by the Lord of the universe and that our faith matters. Our little kindnesses aren’t little at all. Jesus uses us to be His hands and feet. If He calls, He’ll provide the grace. I stood there living the message I was trying to share. So, at the very least it was genuine.

Naive and foolish that I may be, I didn’t give in to the temptation to forget God’s call to serve Him that night last week with the lovely ladies and their prayer partners at their end of year dinner. For that much, I am proud.

I did what pleased God the best I could– nothing less, nothing more. When given the chance, I hope you will too. It might be as easy as taking the trash cans up the driveway for the old lady next door! Goodness is usually available and simple.

This Holy Week, I am feeling called to remember that the cost of my sins is more than I can pay. His gift of love for our sake is so much more than we can imagine. This week, I pray I can be a touch more still than normal so that I can hear Him whispering “I did it just for you.”

The only response that makes sense to me falls very short. It’s all I’ve got. THANK YOU, JESUS. I LOVE YOU BACK.

Holy Week is a privileged time when we are called to draw near to Jesus; friendship with Him is shown in times of difficulty. –Pope Francis

TOO MUCH

The too much in me…honors the too much in you!

That was the response I received today when I thanked a treasured friend for her over the top kindness to me during my birthday festival.  I love birthdays—yours and mine.  I think they are a great opportunity to celebrate the great gift of life.

Mitigating factors are at play, I admit.  For instance, I was raised by a birthday loving mother who has a long-stated wish to be “on the water” for her birthday each year.  Some years, that means we have been at the beach on August 10th.  Other years, it has meant a pontoon boat ride, or even just lunch outside overlooking Morse reservoir.  We make it work—because her life is one worth celebrating in a big way!!  She always made the rest of us feel extra special on our day too. As kids, I recall her making us our favorite dinner, for example.  I remember she always went out of the way to make me my favorite angel food cake.  If you’ve ever made one, you know it’s something you only do when you love someone.  It’s a hassle!

Yesterday, I received a lovely birthday message from my friend Jenny.  She might be the most genuine and affirming person I’ve ever met.  She’s a beautiful soul and pure sunshine.  That’s why it surprised me when we had this text exchange after the birthday love.

Me:  Life is short.  And sometimes so hard.  We must celebrate whenever possible!

J:  Remind me that when I turn 50 next month!!  Hard to celebrate that.

So, I did some digging and I learned from a mutual friend the date of her birth.  However, I was warned that she absolutely does not want it to be celebrated. Hmm. 

Listen.  I’d never want to upset anyone, and we all have our quirks and “isms”.  Here’s the thing.   I’m speaking to all you people who are anti-birthday and using Jenny in an anecdotal way here. I respect your right to feel how you feel, folks.  You’re just so wrong and I’m right….ha?!

The “too much” in me that I am always warned about is kind of twitching interiorly.  This gal?  She’s the face of Christ to literally EVERYONE in her path.  She’s human sunshine.  Honestly.  In my head and heart, celebrating her life is quite literally honoring the Lord and an opportunity to be grateful for the gifts He has bestowed on us all through her presence.  It’s the same reason I say things to my husband like “we can celebrate you in a low-key way if you prefer, but if you think I’m skipping your birthday, you must be high!”

I’ll never convince some of you about my birthday fetish.  I get that.  Nevertheless, to me it is just the best kind of pro-life activity.  Plus, every single one of us needs a day to be reminded that our lives matter, that we’re worth it, and that we are infinitely loved by the God of the universe.  He does that largely, by the way, using us humans to be His face and His hands.  In fact, (and I say this constantly) He loves us more that we love our kids, our parents, our dearest friends…because He’s better at loving.  He’s God and we are not.

Yesterday, I started my birthday early at 6:30am mass.  Afterward, I snuck in a quick confession.  Sin-free is a great way to start the day, am I right?  Then, I went to get my nails done as a special birthday treat to myself.  When I arrived, the owner of the salon presented me with sunflowers.  You see, the friend I mentioned in the opening paragraph here?  She had gone over and delivered them and paid for my manicure so that I’d be surprised.  Later, I had lunch with Mom and Dad.  Best of all, Nick drove over from Cincy and Drew and Erika drove home from Purdue to have dinner with me.  You guys.  Tom even went to the MALL DURING TAX SEASON to get me a couple thoughtful gifts. Tax season Tom doesn’t shop, you all.   This was an act of love.  He says he knew from the visa bill that Athleta was the move.  That made me laugh. How blessed am I?  How much does God love me? 

Birthday number 51 with my guys!

Every birthday isn’t as life-affirming as this one, I’ll admit. The thing is that 2022 is a tough moment in history and I’ve had some discouraging moments. Haven’t we all? There has been some struggle and loss in my life recently, just like a lot of you. Going to the gas station is even depressing, and I wish I had never heard the word “hospice.”

Yet here was this beautiful, joyful day where I turned 51.  God made me for this moment in time and He also needs when I need fresh air.  He chose you for this moment in history too.  I know we’re up to it, even when we don’t feel like it.  I know this because I trust the Lord.  I’d like to trust Him as well as Mary. I’m not there yet. Today is the day we are reminded of her FIAT.  “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord.  Let it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

It’s an important day, the Annunciation.  I’ll be honest.  I feel like in Mary’s spot, I’d have had another reply.  Something like this, “Umm.  Pregnant by the Holy Spirit?  Are we confident this is the best solution, Mr. Angel, or are we still exploring alternative ideas?”

See the thing is, God knows what He’s doing.  That “YES” to God was the world’s greatest ever unplanned pregnancy. 

I propose this solution for the anxieties of living life right now.  Let’s do our best to be fully present in each day, attentive to the desires our Creator has for our time.  Sometimes, that means He wants us to eat tacos with our family and blow out the candles on a birthday cake your kid picked up at Kroger, grateful as heck for your own life!  More often, it means visiting someone you love who’s nearing the end of life after a brutal battle with cancer, or taking a meal to a sick friend, or stepping into the gap for someone in need.  However, make no mistake. ALL of these are holy acts.

God is good all the time.  All the time, God is good.

Immaculate Heart of Mary, Pray for Us.  

Author’s note:  To all of you who reached out to wish me well on my birthday, I’m incredibly grateful.  For those who apologized for sending belated messages, there’s no such thing.  It’s a festival.  I pray I never lose my joy and enthusiasm for life and for celebrating it big.  For those who want no celebration at all?  I can’t make promises, but I’ll make an effort to tone it down.  That said, don’t let anyone ever tell you that you are too much.  You are just exactly the right amount, I promise.  God knows what He’s doing, and He made you. 

He’s NOT Wearing Green

Life is beautiful; It is a gift even when it is lived in difficult circumstances.  It is always a gift.  (Pope Benedict XVI)

One of my rarely broken rules of this blog involves not invoking stories which include what could be construed as unflattering tidbits about my husband, Tom. You see, I’m pretty into harmonious marriage. For the sake of making a point which I feel is valuable, I’m letting that one go today. He’s working so many hours right now, maybe he won’t notice, ha?

Tom and I, at our anniversary dinner. It wasn’t 6:45am when this was taken. Ha!

As you likely know, today is St. Patrick’s Day. I got up a few minutes early so that I could dig out some appropriately green clothing item and still get to 8am mass on time. Like any sane long married couple, we usually start our days best when NOT sharing bathroom space first thing in the morning. I like sleeping in and Tom likes seeing zero other humans, so it usually works out.

 Use of blow dryers is frowned upon in the wee hours, as is casual conversation.  Tom is NOT a morning person.  In fact, my irritatingly cheerful “Good morning!” used to be greeted with “Is it, though?”  I outed my handsome guy on that one, and he’s curtailed it.  I’m proud of him, as I know it’s not easy being married to me, especially at 6:45am.

Today, my mistake was pointing out that he wasn’t wearing green.  “Do you think I give a rip about wearing green?” he barked. I retorted by pointing out that his Irish grandmother is looking down disapprovingly at this move and steered him to the area with the green golf shirts just begging to be chosen.  My idea was summarily and immediately rejected. 

Transparency is important here.  It’s tax season for my favorite CPA.  When I went to bed well after 11pm, he was still in our home office working.  Also, we’re on the verge of WWIII, it costs $100 to fill up a tank with gas, the pandemic refuses to end, and his Dad has end stage colon cancer.  This moment in history is a difficult one for so many of us.  Some of the reasons we share, and some are our own crosses.

Voracious.  That’s the word I’d assign to myself where reading is concerned.  I definitely read my fair share of beach smut, but I am also drawn to historical works—fiction and nonfiction.  Many of my favorite books are based on the stories of ordinary heroes who stepped into the gap for the sake of others at some of the most cruel and terrifying moments of World War II.  For much the same reason, I am inspired by the stories of the saints.  The tie that binds the most inspiring people I’ve read about is hope.  They were hopeful folks, which allowed them to be fully present in the moment.

Hopeful people show others the light.  They are sacrificial and kind.  They raise money for one small family fleeing the Ukraine.  They show up with Starbucks on a rainy day.  They clear a stranger’s sidewalk of snow or offer to take a friend to the airport.  Hopeful people are upbeat, cheerful, sanguine and they keep the faith.  Interiorly, there is something inside these heroes.  I’ll call it grace.  This grace allows folks to somehow intuit that they start the world spinning again towards peace, towards compassion.

Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier. (Colin Powell)

The Lord isn’t calling most of us to do something as dramatic as say, St. Maximilian Kolbe.  He was a polish priest who volunteered to die in place of another man (who had a wife and children) at Auschwitz.  However, Jesus might be calling you and I to be beacons of hope. 

Are you feeling down?  The absolute best solution that exists is to be present in the day you’re living and think “what can I do to make someone else’s day sunnier?”  Then, just choose one small, optimistic thing.  Call your Dad.  Buy coffee for the fireman you see at Panera.  Teach a first grader how to play “crazy 8’s”.  Pray a decade of the rosary for a friend—then tell her!  These signs of hope send goodness into the world, and it is transformed.  The same goes for your own heart. 

I’ll give you a personal example.  At the beginning of the year, I was having a particularly blue week.  I then learned that several of the regular volunteers at the Merciful Help Center (a food pantry and so much more) near me were all out with Covid.  I offered to fill in for a day doing whatever was needed.  The hours that I spent that day simply making phone calls to folks in need were nothing special—or so I thought.  The truth is, that day left my bucket filled.  When we focus on what we can do for someone else, the Lord has a magical way of using our compassion for the good of folks in our path to other ends as well.    

Hopefulness expressed outwardly is a big fat “Get behind me, Satan.” 

The world is full of overwhelmed people.  The danger of surrender to the collective consciousness, to the attitudes that surround us have long been a warning siren.  Mark (chapter 8) tells us “Do not go into the village” for what I personally think is this exact reason.  The polarization created by technology is absolutely an existential threat to us as well in this same way.  We can no longer agree on truth. 

The solution I propose is this.  Focus on being the best friend you can.  Don’t wait to be invited.  Notice.  Listen.  Smile.  Give more than you take.  Make the time. 

This past fall, I heard a great talk from a Dominican Sister.  My takeaway from that talk was the pairing of these gems spoken by our Blessed Mother.  They are out of wine…do whatever He tells you.

In other words, if you spot someone whose eyes are are dead today, if it’s your own heart that’s battered, (or even if it’s just that your husband doesn’t even have the good sense to put on a green shirt on St. Patricks day, because life is just A LOT) first, notice who’s “out of wine”.  Then, listen to Jesus and do what He says. 

My solution for Tom was pretty small. It won’t solve what ails him that I ran a couple errands specifically for him today or that I have pork chops waiting for him when he gets home (because no tense German guy wants corned beef after working a 14hr day) even if it is St. Patrick’s Day. Maybe, though, a little part of him will be assuaged by love.

Trust in Him.  In defiance to all that is difficult or even evil, be hopeful today.  In optimism, there is victory. 

St. Patrick, Pray for Us!

Curious Minds Wonder about Catholic Education

Celebrating Catholic Schools Week 2022 with a Long-Winded Open Notes Tribute

As a freshman in high school, I received a phone call from a mom with whom I was somewhat familiar.  I didn’t really know her daughter, but her name was Dawn, and she was a year younger than me. The family was contemplating a move to my Catholic high school.  They had a lot of questions and pre-conceived notions and worries about Catholic schools, yet they were drawn.  Some were correct, by the way, and some of their assumptions and concerns were utterly without merit.  It was the first time I received such an inquiry, but the next year, a similar call followed from a long-time family friend.  That trend has continued almost non-stop throughout my life.  I was 15 then, and I’m 50 now.  That’s a lot of years of clarifying, explaining, and offering my two cents.

Pandemic experiences have rendered many folks a touch fragile. Worries about our children, their mental health, and the quality of the education they are receiving are absolute reasonable, in my view.  This has led to me to many more conversations than usual on this topic.  Here are some recent parent questions I thought were especially interesting, and the answers I have shared.  These are merely one gal’s personal perspective, mind you.  However, as this year’s Catholic Schools Week has largely been spent snowed in, it seemed a good way to honor both the phenomenal educators and the faith tradition I hold dear to share these in a more open format. 

Q.  How much time do the kids spend on religion classes, mass and stuff like that?  I guess I’m worried they won’t get all the skills they need.

A. You’re not asking the real question. You already know the education is solid or you wouldn’t be considering a move. What you’re asking yourself is, “How Catholic is it?” There are other options if what you want is a private education. Do you want a faith-based education for your child? Do you want them in an atmosphere that is saturated with the Catholic faith all day long, everyday? Kindness, charity, service, prayer, faith formation and intentional discipleship are at the heart of Catholic schools. Also, you should show up for one of those masses you’re worried about. They will cleanse your soul and renew your spirit with a wholesomeness you had forgotten existed. Have you ever heard or seen 750 kids singing worship music, at the top of their lungs like they’re at a rock concert? You have to see it to believe it, but it will melt your heart.

Student section fun at the football game this fall.

Q. I’ve heard Catholic Schools are just really over the top with rules and I wonder if my son will be frustrated?

A.  Heck yes, your son will be frustrated at times.  He maybe won’t like having to wear khakis with a belt, and he definitely won’t like the no hoodie rule, and he’ll be annoyed that he’s required to do 30 hours of community service.  But do you know what you’ll like?  The same guy who sent him to detention because he didn’t have a belt on is likely to also be the guy who notices he needs a little extra love because he’s struggling with self-doubt, or a family situation.  His guidance counselor will know his name and will ask him how football season is going for him when she spots him in the hall.  The music teacher will notice he’s great with younger students and share that with the Campus minister one afternoon and before you know it he will be helping to lead a retreat group, or tutoring a struggling freshman in math.  Catholic schools are big on accountability and bigger on love.  Students and teachers in this kind of environment are encouraged and empowered to express their care and concern for one another in a way they simply cannot do in other schools.  The public schools in our area are phenomenal in many ways, but in a school that has winter break instead of Christmas break, Christian community isn’t part of the equation. Here, everywhere they turn they will find prayerful support.  Faith is alive in the hallways.  So, are there a lot of rules?  Sure there are.  He’ll live.  He’ll learn.  He’ll grow.

Q. What is your favorite thing about the Catholic School experience?

A. The community of faith-filled people!  Let me explain.  My mom is an incredible, caring human being. She was an amazing grade schoolteacher—a Golden Apple Award winner!!  I know she made a huge difference in the lives of her public school students and I am so proud of her.  That said, she never took her class to the chapel and skipped math class for the day because one of her 4th graders had a mom who was terminally ill and the youngster needed to be prayerfully supported.  Here’s another example.  My son and his high school tennis team gathered a couple hundred others and after school one day last fall, they prayed the rosary together at the grotto for their tennis coach who was in Boston to remove cancer from his brain.  The friends that surrounded my children throughout their school experiences were amazing kids and had families who were like-minded.  We knew they were safe in each other’s care.  Many of those folks remain our closest friends to this day.  That Christian community is one of our greatest blessings! 

Q.  What is your least favorite thing about the Catholic School experience?

A.  It’s expensive.  It’s also PRICELESS.

LET US THANK ALL THOSE WHO TEACH IN CATHOLIC SCHOOLS.  EDUCATING IS AN ACT OF LOVE; IT IS LIKE GIVING LIFE.  – Pope Francis

I hope in these questions and answers you will hear authenticity and genuine gratitude for my Catholic faith and the amazing gift of Catholic education in my own life and that of my children.  Its value is inestimable. If you’ve played a part in the Catholic School experience of our family as a teacher, pastor, administrator, or friend…THANK YOU! We love you.

Lastly.  The fine print.

I was asked (in a grocery store checkout line) to “qualify myself” on the matter of Catholic education.  So, for the sake of a stranger named Scott, any anyone else who cares to know, here’s my resume.

I am the product of 12 years of Catholic school.  I attended grade school (1st-8th grades) at St. Lawrence Catholic School, followed by 4 years at Central Catholic High School—all in Lafayette, Indiana.  My husband, Tom and I met in high school.  He attended grade school at nearby St. Mary’s and middle school at St. Boniface in downtown Lafayette, before I met him at LCC.  We have three sons, ages 24, 22, and 17.  Next year when our youngest, Zach, graduates from Guerin Catholic High School, that will conclude 40 (individual) school years of tuition payments. Whew!  St. Louis de Montfort Catholic School in Fishers, IN graced our family with 24 of those blessed school years, twelve will have occurred at Guerin Catholic, and four were logged by Nick (our oldest) at Xavier University in Cincinnati. Nick now lives in Cincy and works for Fifth Third Bank. Drew, who is 22, graduated early from Purdue University and will finish his master’s degree in May before starting his career with a local accounting firm in Indianapolis. Zach, 17, will be a senior at Guerin Catholic in the fall of 2022. Someday, I’m hoping they bring me armloads of grandchildren to babysit, but for today, I’ll settle for someone to help me shovel the snow out of the driveway. Be safe out there, everyone! –ST

Mad for…Deacon Rick

“The future starts today, not tomorrow.” St. Pope John Paul II

A number of years ago, ten to be exact, my oldest son started high school at Guerin Catholic. His principal at the time was a likeable guy named Rick Wagner. He hadn’t yet been ordained a deacon, but one could spot that Jesus-loving twinkle in his eye from a mile away. Although we’ve met briefly (several times) since then, the truth is that we really don’t know one another at all. Candidly, this is precisely the reason I have chosen him as my “Person of the Week”.

Allow me to explain.

Deacon Rick has a rather special charism through which the Lord clearly uses this particular man. He is a profoundly gifted storyteller. What makes him especially effective is his accessibility. Conveying the importance of loving and serving the Lord with one’s life in a way that each person in his path can clearly understand is a piece of cake for Rick. Fancy, complex language is not his thing. Authenticity, genuine care, and kindness are more his jam.

From afar, I’ve noticed the way he honors his marriage and expresses his love for his wife, Carol, and his children and grandchildren. Just yesterday, for instance, he posted a beautiful and touching “Happy Birthday” message to his wife on social media. What made it spectacular was the photo he chose to accompany his touching words– he was dressed in an inflatable “Pillsbury Doughboy” costume and Carol was in some ridiculous dinosaur get up. To me, that was a life filled with love and laughter summed up rather succinctly, and I found it inspiring. It was also hilarious!

Carol and Rick Wagner. In that order.

If you follow Deacon Rick on social media, and I sincerely hope you do, you’ll quickly pick up his impressive ability to shepherd others towards Christ. He’s self-effacing, but he’s also convicted. He gives guidance about how to draw closer to joy, peace, and love itself with humor and patient reminders about what truth looks like.

Author Bob Goff is one of my favorites for his uncanny ability to spot the Lord in the everyday. Personal storytelling is his forte, and just like Deacon Rick, the thing that makes the humorous personal anecdotes truly work is that they are reliably other-focused and Christ-centered. I don’t know either of these men, but it hasn’t stopped them from making a significant impression upon my life and a difference in my daily choices. Both of them are personal heroes of mine.

Over the years, Rick Wagner has written down so many lessons and given countless numbers of beautiful talks and retreats. The following are among the lessons I’ve taken in and tried to improve upon in my own life, largely due to hearing them as themes in his work or talks. I’m saying them much less well than he does, but you’ll get the idea. Here’s one for each day of the week.

  1. I can notice others, make sure they feel seen.
  2. Invest in relationships– with God and others. It’s worth the time.
  3. Be yourself. It makes people feel like they can be real too.
  4. Christ is with me, THIS SECOND.
  5. TODAY is a powerful word. We are called to be the light of Christ for others- NOW.
  6. I am not worthy or capable? Fake news. Not of God.
  7. We can be joyful in all circumstances. Yes, I said ALL.

The badassery of Deacon Rick’s giftedness is not properly conveyed here, though I’ve tried to give you a taste. In many hundreds of previous blog posts, I truly don’t think I’ve ever suggested you fine folks follow anyone on Twitter. Let’s be honest, it’s the wild, wild west online. That said, you brave souls who want to find the sparkly part of the internet should give him a peek @DeaconRWagner or check out his blog at fromthedeaconsdesk.wordpress.comfromthedeaconsdesk.wordpress.com.

Deacon Rick and his beautiful wife, Carol, without the costumes. Thanks for sharing him with us, Carol!

Yesterday, on the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the good Deacon shared this quote, which is an apt description of exactly what I see in him and why I chose to tell you about him today. But first, I want to say one more thing. It’s important that each of us remembers that our little bit of sunshine can bring light to others– even those we do not know. That’s what Deacon Rick has done for me, and so many others. So many, in fact, that I found myself talking about him behind his back at a meeting today. Essentially, what I attempted to say about him i that meeting is contained in this quote he shared just a day ago.

“Faith is like a bright ray of sunlight. It enables us to see God in all things as well as all things in God.” –St. Francis de Sales

THANK YOU, Deacon Rick, for all you do each day for others. You have been the face of Christ to me on many occasions by sharing your faith journey, and I am way past overdue to express my gratitude!! Your reward is my “person of the week” honor, which comes with exactly zero prize money and even less prestige. CONGRATULATIONS, ha?!

Deacon Rick Wagner serves at St. Pius X in Indianapolis and is currently the President at Guerin Catholic High School in Noblesville. He’s a proud husband, dad, and grandpa to a family full of truly blessed humans.

Mad for…Justin

“Don’t shine so others can see you. Shine, so that through you, others can see Him.” –C.S. Lewis

Rolling gingerly to my side, I’d grab for a nearby pillow and slide it ever so gently between my knees at 2am or so. Sometimes, when my alarm sounded, I’d lie flat on my back and draw my knees up to my chest one at a time in a futile effort to loosen it up. The point I’m making is, the pain of standing after another night of fitful sleep was just about upon me one morning a few months back.

Once I got both feet on the floor, I knew the effort to stand up straight was going to be both painful and futile. My husband called me “S” shaped. My youngest son tried very hard to teach me the stretches he learned from the pretty fantastic Jaime Waymouth (Guerin Catholic’s Strength and Conditioning guru) to help me. He also rolled his eyes a lot and said, “Mom, FIGURE IT OUT!”

This went on for well over a year. For a while, I was able to get some relief from walking. After 20 minutes or so of making my way around the neighborhood, I’d slowly be standing more erect. Then, one very cold morning, I found my Aleve-aided self desperately walking in the driving rain. I was hunched over like a 90-year old man when I began, and when I ended, I looked like a soaking wet 90-year old man. I looked in the mirror and laughed at myself. Then, I literally looked at the ceiling and spoke aloud to the God of the universe. “Lord. I’m a damn fool. Also, I’m a stubborn, willful PIA who needs help. I give up. Let’s try Your plan.”

Here’s what you need to know. A solid and genuine “Your will, Jesus” has never failed me.

Later that day, in a text exchange with my friend and pastor, we traded stories about our respective mornings. His was a lovely story about ministering to a family in need, and mine was a whiny tale about being a soaking wet and very cold fool. Also, he said, “Call Justin Gilmore. He’s a spiritual son of mine and good at what he does.”

Dr. Justin Gilmore

Suddenly, I recalled this piece of paper a dear friend had shared with me months earlier. It was a certificate she had purchased at a parish auction for a free initial consulation. The name of the chiropractor said…”Dr. Justin Gilmore.”

Got it, Lord.

When I arrived to visit Gilmore Chiropractic a couple of days later, the two most kind women greeted me. Kristen and Kelli could not have been more welcoming at the front desk…and the X-rays were soon underway. Dr. Gilmore, when I met with him a couple of days later, indicated that he felt there was a strong chance he could help me. He did NOT overpromise. He simply shared he felt it was more than worth a try and explained the problem in a way that a smart girl (that’s me) who also was pretty terrible in biology class (also me) would be able to understand.

I began visiting Dr. Justin Gilmore a few times a week. Sooner than he predicted, my pain lessened. In each and every visit, Dr. G was friendly. His office is also the cleanest, most efficiently run medical office I have EVER encountered. I know zip about chiropractic care and as far as I know, I’ve never met another chiropractor. His goodness, honesty, and skillful work give a good name to the entire profession, in all honesty.

I don’t know a lot about Justin other than he’s a very handsome man from Terre Haute who’s married to a woman named Laura who he clearly treasures. He also has a little girl he adores who really likes the stroller she got for her doll this Christmas. My guess is that both of those lovely ladies are incredibly blessed…because no one can fool me for long. After 24 visits, I’d have detected and ascertained his lack of authenticity if it existed. I’ve got a gift in this area.

I’m happy to report that as of this writing, I’m pain free, by the way. Even if I weren’t, I’d still be a big fan of this unassuming, but very bright and faith-filled man. To be candid, I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d wake up feeling this way again… where my back is concerned. I’m 50 years old and I simply figured there wasn’t much to be done. I was wrong. It turns out that once again I have learned the Lord loves me and turning to Him is the move. I recommend the prayer thing strongly, by the way, even if you do so in a way that might not impress others as the most pious or articulate approach. He listens.

He heard my slightly pathetic prayer (probably rolled His eyes) and then sent me to this capable, terrific human through whom the love of Christ shines in the respectful and compassionate way he uses his gifts to serve others each day.

I’m so grateful I met you, Doc. THANK YOU for all you do for so many of us. I was joking when I asked you to move in with me after you cracked my back the first time, but seriously…you’re the REAL DEAL. For this reason, you are my person of the week. It’s such a HUGE honor. I hope it doesn’t go to your head, ha?!

St. Andre Bessette, Pray for Us!

Mad for…Emily

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. (Is 43:2)

As a mother of three incredibly sweaty, but terrifyingly amazing sons, I have had the occasion to enter into a fairly repetitious monologue with each of them during their teenage years. It’s the kind of “speechification” that typically elicits yawning and no small amount of eye-rolling. What can I say? I have a gift, ha?

Nevertheless, my job as a Catholic woman of faith and a mom is to make sure that I drive home the message to my children that no matter our circumstances we can always be confident that God is with us, He is in control, and He is trustworthy. Those poor kids of mine get pretty darn sick of hearing my Jesus girl ramblings. The Lord never sends any of us into battle alone, though. In a variety of ways, He is ever-present…supporting us always.

Enter Emily McAulay. I’ll be utterly candid. With fair certainty, I can tell you that I have never officially met Emily. However, this absolutely does NOT disqualify me from declaring her a faith-filled savant who specializes in the successful evangelization of teenagers. I want to tell you more about what she spends her life doing that absolutely glorifies the Lord. Sharing how she is the face of Jesus to human beings she’s never even met seems like the best way to start.

Like all of us do at various times, my youngest son has traveled a bumpy stretch of road the last couple years. Honestly, it’s nothing overly eventful as these things go but that doesn’t mean Z’s cross doesn’t feel heavy. Raising young men of character, integrity and strong faith is far from simple… and families, school, health, sports, and covid-related chaos all can add up. This is especially true for young people who are just beginning to try and navigate in a more adult and less childlike fashion. Being a parent in 2021 is complicated. God never sends us into situations alone, though. He walks beside us every step of the way. This past week, He did that in the person of one Emily McAuley.

When a rain-drenched, bleary-eyed, Santa hat wearing Zach Thieme arrived at the passenger side door of my car with a big smile on his face, I knew that his junior retreat had gone well. I didn’t even have to utilize the open-ended questions I had prepared, because Z was in a talking mood on that car ride from the St. Joseph Retreat Center in Tipton back to Carmel. The first thing he did when he mentioned his retreat group leader, Emily McAuley was say, “Oh my gosh, Mom, she’s just an absolutely AMAZING person! She was totally awesome!!” And just like that, I thought to myself how fantastic it was that for this moment in time, my relentless effort in pursuit of Christian virtue for my son felt a little less lonely. She might have thought she was helping kids, but it was so much more. Whether they know it or not, there are 7 other families to whom God sent a modern day Simon of Cyrene last week. In the person of this young high school guidance counselor from Guerin Catholic, there was a selfless woman who has chosen to be the light with her life. Who in their right mind decides to spend 72+ straight hours, with little sleep, (drinking cherry flavored ginger ale some 17 year old provided) while devoting herself to the faith formation of other people’s sons and daughters? A few other crazy people did the same. Today, though, I’m focused on the gal who made a difference for the Thieme family.

What I know about Emily personally is very little– you see she’s not assigned to our part of the alphabet as a counselor. She’s evidently a unicycler from Texas. That’s what it said when I stalked her Twitter profile. The young people she counsels described her to me as kind, soft-spoken, and “not super outgoing”. In my observations from a distance, I’d add friendly, conscientious, and joyful. She has a glorious smile too.

It doesn’t matter. I know enough. So, I’d like to just take a moment to give a shout out to a beautiful soul who happens to be a selfless, joyful light of Christ to a whole lot of young people and their families. I feel confident that those for whom she works each day in her role at Guerin Catholic are very blessed by her competence, compassion, and care for her students. She’s so much more than a woman who makes sure kids get into the proper classes, though. One mom said it best. She said, “Emily is a difference maker.” A to the MEN.

Today, I wanted to make sure she knows we see her– and so does Jesus. Sometimes, we are quite aware that our presence in the lives of others and in the work that we do makes a difference. Other times, we honestly don’t have a clue that our efforts are in the least bit worthwhile. Emily? This week you reminded my son that He is loved without conditions. A guy needs to hear that from someone besides his momma sometimes. THANK YOU. You are a big ladle of awesome sauce and what you do matters so very much!

“Wherever God has put you, that is your vocation. It is not what we do but how much love we put into it.” –St. (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta

This week, let’s all aim to make the world a better place by trying to be a little more like Emily? What do you say, friends? Be the love.

They Have No Wine

When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:3-5)

For the past month, I’ve been a little busy at church. It’s Respect Life Month and I’m quite involved in the Gospel of Life ministry at my parish. These are angsty, tumultuous times in which we live, and our wise pastor, Fr. Richard Doerr, decided that it might be prudent to give those of us in his very blessed flock an antidote of sorts for what ails us all this month. That is to say, in what might appear to be a diversion from the typical life-affirming activities at a Catholic parish in the month of October, our shepherd decided that what we all needed was some oxygen. We needed to be reminded of the life-giving truth that being authentically Catholic is much more than a salve. We needed and received some beautiful fuel for our own tanks these last four Sundays. For me, it turned out to be one of the most life-affirming months in memory.

We heard from four stunningly different and yet remarkable religious speakers (from four different orders) each Sunday evening. Our final speaker was Sr. Mary Madeline Todd, O.P. She is a Dominican Sister of the Congregation of St. Cecilia. She’s taught elementary through college aged students, and she earned her doctorate in Sacred Theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. She has multiple master’s degrees, she’s written and contributed to many notable books and articles on topics related to spiritual and moral theology. She’s offered retreats across the world. What I’m trying to say is, Sr. Mary Madeline is REALLY FREAKING SMART.

Also, there’s this. She loves Jesus and it shows. Her joyfulness and optimism were an infectious force in my week. Maybe it was because she’s a big smarty pants that her words struck a chord…but I don’t think so. What feels more certain to me is that the Lord sent this instrument into the parish hall over there on 146th St. because He loves me and He knew how to reach me. You see, I’m stubborn. However, Sr. Mary Madeline is loud. She talks fast and her overwhelmingly authentic giggle is completely contagious. She began to talk, and I did something which is rare for me. I locked in. I knew Jesus was saying, “Hey, Shell…focus up. This is for you, sis.”

The demons of discord have been intensely present for me, like many folks, of late. People around me are hurting. I’ve been a little underwater. That’s what the culture of death does to us, if we let it. What Sr. Mary Madeline did was remind me that because I love the Lord, I cannot stand for evil and I am compelled to speak truth to others, and to pray for them, even when it’s inconvenient or I’m just flat SICK AND TIRED. The white flag of despair is not who we are. Hope is our jam as authentic Catholics. It wasn’t lost on her that there is tumult, scandal, fear, lies, abuse, immaturity and so much more going on in our world. She shared, with an infectious smile and in a spirit of life and truth, that we need more time speaking to God and less time on screens. She challenged us to put down our phones and pray the rosary, to talk to Jesus, and to NOTICE others just like Mary noticed the wine was just about gone there at the wedding at Cana.

Sr. Mary Madeline is a little gray at the temples, so she must be a little older than she seems? She’s so inspiringly full of life. I don’t know how old she actually is, but her spirit is exuberantly youthful. She told us that when we encounter folks who are lonely, whose eyes are dead, that we are doing a beautiful thing, like Mary. We are noticing the people of God around us. She also said she prays for them by saying quickly and simply, “They are out of wine, Lord.” In that simple act of faith, she has given that soul over to Jesus, because we know He is love. Then, our work is to LISTEN to Jesus and do whatever He tells us.

A few years ago, when I was feeling the tax season and wintertime blues, I sent a few mass intentions to a priest I didn’t know. I had been told by someone close to him that he’d moved to a new parish and that there weren’t any. My mother in law had recently passed away, and I wanted to offer a little sacrifice for her soul and a few others, so I figured I’d send a few mass intentions his way. The few extra dollars in his pocket were something I knew he needed, so it was a win-win. I sent a list of souls and for whom I wanted masses offered and asked that one final mass be said for my personal intentions. Nothing helps a case of the blues like a good deed, I find.

Months passed by and I forgot all about these requests. One day, in the mail, I received a note from the parish secretary. It was a quick list of all the dates on which the masses were said. The last mass was to be said that very day that I had received the note. It was March 24th– my birthday– and the mass was to be for my intentions that very day. Do you get it? I had received the best birthday gift in the world– from the GOD OF THE UNIVERSE. I wept at my desk. I sent my water, you see, and Jesus sent me the most delicious wine in return.

A love note from God is impossible to forget. Trust me. Even when things aren’t going my way, how can I NOT muster up the energy to remind others that they are loved? How can I allow the smoke of the devil to cloud my mind or slow these efforts? Sr. Mary Madeline jolted my heart loose by the sheer volume of her laughter and joyfulness. Hers is a beautiful soul. I’m so blessed I had the chance to meet her and hear her inspired words.

We have to love the dignity of all lives, folks. Our own and those around us. All of us belong to the kingdom of God. With her glorious prayer (that I’m TOTALLY STEALING ALREADY) “They are out of wine, Lord” what Sr. Mary Madeline helped Jesus remind me is that when we pray for vulnerable people (including ourselves), when we trust in Him, we are giving God an opportunity to provide. Jesus knows how to turn water into wine. He might need me to fill some jars with water, but the heavy lifting which is turning that water into the best wine at the party? The miracles of life? When we turn to him and trust Him, He will provide what we need and the graces too– peace, forgiveness– to do what’s hard.

Thank you, Sr. Mary Madeline for helping me focus on the good things of God. I’m thankful for your example of interior docility. It’s a spirituality of gratitude, the knowledge that God provides for us, that He loves us all. You are my “Person of the Week.” It’s a high honor which comes with zero prestige and no prize money, HA?! Congrats!!

For those of you who’d like to hear the audio of her talk, here it is.

Peace out, friends!