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!” 

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

Hail, Holy Queen

I’ve always been drawn to the Blessed Mother. Even as a little girl, I remember stopping outside the church doors on my way to my grandparents house when the organist was practicing. She often played “Hail, Holy Queen Enthroned Above” which I found magical. I didn’t quite understand how the fullness of the Lord’s love for us was revealed in this one incredible woman at that time. However, I intuited beauty and peace.

A couple years ago, my pastor implored me to familiarize myself with the Memorare. It’s a prayer which calls on the Blessed Mother for her powerful intercession. It quickly made its way into my prayer lexicon, and now I consider it a favorite for its efficaciousness. If you’re still reading this, I’ve likely prayed it for you and your intentions or needs. So, this is me admitting I’m kind of a Mary freak alongside my Jesus girl tendencies. It sort of makes sense. After all, we can learn a lot about anyone by looking at their mother, am I right?

Last week, a lovely Christian friend confided that she just was made aware of a Catholic Holy Day she had never heard of previously. Now, I should share that this woman is incredibly kind and also not a Catholic. She spoke candidly to me, “Shelly, I don’t get it. How is all this Mary stuff supposed to help us humans? I mean I like you and my Catholic friends are good people, but I just don’t get the point of the Assumption, or just your whole obsession with Mary.”

I’m thankful she felt comfortable to ask, and also that I have smart people to lean on who explain things better than me! I gave her a great video by Bishop Robert Barron on Mary. And also, I shared the following personal thoughts.

I told her that Mary, in her heavenly glory, reminds us that this life isn’t our end game. We are aiming higher, for a glorious forever home in eternity. We have to live with our eyes fixed beyond the here and now, and on the beauty of heaven.

This reality is so darn helpful at this moment in time. That’s because the stresses and anxieties of today, then, can’t be permitted to overwhelm us. We’re human and we foul this up sometimes, but we need to look to the example of Our Blessed Mother. That means, we can’t allow the craziness of this world to steal our peace.

The Assumption of Mary (Guido Reni, 1642)

Pope Benedict said, “The luminous sign of Our Lady taken up into Heaven shines out even more brightly when sad shadows of suffering and violence seem to loom on the horizon. We may be sure of it: from on high, Mary follows our footsteps with gentle concern, dispels the gloom in moments of darkness and distress, reassures us with her motherly hand.”

What a beautiful explanation of the Assumption, and the wonderful intercessor we have in Mary!

I hope I helped my friend understand just a little bit more about the reason I love so fiercely the Mother of Our Lord. If not her, maybe one of you…but I’ll leave those outcomes to grace.

Have a great week everyone, and if you find yourself at low ebb, call on Mary. What do you have to lose by giving her a shout out? Just saying. Worth a shot?

Queen of Heaven…Pray for Us!!

Clap Your Hands

Panera Bread was the place where my friend, Janice, and I decided to meet up for a little while this afternoon. After we scored a table, we went up to stand in line. Shortly, a sunny employee headed through the lobby towards the door and as she did so she sang, “If you’re happy and you know it…” and then Janice and I commenced with the appropriate clapping, of course! The singing Panera gal seemed genuinely thrilled at our joining in.

Afterward, my sweet friend commented about how her children would be mortified that she made such a spectacle of herself. Meanwhile, I explained how mine would be relatively unaffected because, well, I let my freak flag show a lot. They might be embarrassed, but they’re largely used to it. I’m genetically predisposed?

I mean, my parents used to make us all sing the Mickey Mouse Club Song when leaving restaurants. M-I-C, see ya real soon, K-E-Y, why, because we like you…M-O-U-S-E. Also, they shoved 14 year old me out of the family mini-van once just before I started high school and refused to let me back in until I belted out the school fight song. I might be immune to total humiliation? So, my point is that the Thieme boys have gotten off easy. Still, I’m their mom and that’s been a character building opportunity for them all, ha?

As we finished up at Panera, that employee we had seen earlier? She showed up at our table with two to-go bags, each holding a cookie. She wanted to thank us for joining in on her joyful moment.

The moral of the story today? If you’re happy and you know it? CLAP YOUR HANDS!!

“Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.” (James Barrie)

Today, I’m grateful for the gal from Panera Bread and my dear friend, Janice Kunkel who both were the face of Christ to me this day with their example of joy. Let’s all quit worrying what other people think about us and be the reason someone smiles today! I believe Jesus would think that’s pretty swell, and isn’t He the one who really matters anyway? Who’s with me?!

Mad for…Cathy

A good teacher is like a candle– it consumes itself to light the way for others. (MK Ataturk)

One quarter on “report card day” when my oldest son was in the 7th grade, he came bounding in the door with a big mischievous grin on his happy little face. “Guess what, Mom??!! DREW GOT A B!!” Nick’s joy was evident. I’ll admit, I silently chuckled to myself. Drew Thieme is now heading back for his sophomore year at Purdue in the fall and that “B” in Mrs. Cathy Cederholm’s 5th grade English class is STILL the only “B” he has ever received! Honestly, I have thanked our good and gracious God numerous times for that tiny bit of imperfection back in Mrs. C’s class because perfect is hard to maintain over a lifetime…and it’s not a fate I would want for any of my three boys in all honesty. For perfectionistic right-fighters like my smarty pants, Drew, ripping the band aid off early is the best kind of gift for a parent!

With only two days remaining in the SLDM timeline for the Thieme family, today I feel called to write about a truly fantastic teacher and even better human being named Cathy Cederholm. She taught both Nick and Drew during their time at SLDM, but she moved out of state a few years back so she never experienced the Z-man. Cathy started the first Mathbowl team at St. Louis de Montfort and she was a teacher who knew how to impart so much more than the basics– she is a teacher who makes sure kids are exposed to what really counts. Her positive, faith-filled influence on countless kiddos made a mark in the SLDM community that can never be erased.

A former Naval petty officer, Cathy also began what has become a truly meaningful Veteran’s Day tradition at SLDM. Each year, that event reminds me that I should be very proud to be an American! She was a teacher for my kids that really mattered because she set high standards for her students and wouldn’t settle for less. In fact, I vividly recall my oldest coming home one day in the 4th grade very upset about the grade he got on an essay answer in religion. He had apparently compared his work with that of a classmate and felt strongly that his answer was better…and yet his score was lower. I suggested that Nick talk to Mrs. C about his concern. The next day, he came home fairly miffed. “She said she expects my best work and this isn’t it.” I smiled and said, “Well, was it your best effort Nick Fred?” He quickly replied, “I’m probably able to write a little better than I did here, but it still seems unfair to me.” His work ethic improved.

Cathy also took his chair away from him and left him standing during class because, I’m sure, he was tipping his chair back or something of the sort. Mind you, Nick never mentioned this to me, but I had my inside sources. I am pretty sure that Nick knew better than to complain to me about such a thing. Cathy is compassionate, talented, sarcastic, and no nonsense. She was AWESOME for both my boys and scores of others. Good teachers are a treasure!!

When one of her former students became very ill and needed to sit out some school due to chemotherapy and other treatment, Cathy stepped in to help and was a constant support. There are SO MANY examples of her Christian witness to the entire community that I simply cannot do it justice here. However, knowing her as I do, I am certain that her integrity and faithfulness are doing for families in Virginia the very same things she became famous for at SLDM.

As the Thieme clan exits SLDM this week, it seemed important for me to let you know, Cathy, that your time, talent and genuine care has had a lasting impact for our family. You are a quality mom, wife, and teacher and we are all better people because you shared a bit of yourself with us. We feel truly blessed that our lives intersected with yours and we wish you, Dave and your kids so much happiness now and in the years ahead! THANK YOU for being a stunning witness of what it means to be a magnificent teacher and faithful Christian woman.

Mad for…Chris

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23)

Awaken to the B.E.S.T. is a women’s ministry held at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Carmel. Awaken offers spiritual and scripture based opportunities for women who desire to deepen and share their Catholic faith in God. As I have previously stated, I might be the last woman in the Carmel deanery to not have attended this enormously successful program. One of it’s presenters is my friend, Chris Moss.

Day 60 of 365.

Chris is the mother of two. Her son, Nick, is a sophomore at Purdue University and her daughter, Lexi, is finishing up her senior year in high school at Guerin Catholic. They are fantastic and character filled kiddos, undoubtedly, because in part, they were loved by a selfless and faith-filled mother. Husband, Bill, is a peach of a human himself who once bought my sons dinner at the famous Triple XXX Restaurant (because he saw their GC clothing) on Purdue’s campus…and absolutely made their day! Nick and Lexi are two blessed young people to be raised in such a loving family.

I saw the scripture passage above today as I was doing some reading and it made me think to myself about how I am a little short-handed on some of those fruits of the Spirit in my own life. When I contemplated who I knew that most embodied them all, I came up with Chris.

Chris is a bona-fide Jesus girl, and also just incredibly authentic, kind, and good. She’s funny and self-deprecating, and just the definition of a lovely woman of God. She’s one of those people I know who I’ve always wished I knew a bit better. Her breath-taking smile, and her genuine laughter provide warmth that lights any room she’s in. The Lord knocked, and Chris answered and then He moved right on in. That’s what I see when I look at Chris.

Thank you, Chris, for inspiring in me a desire to love the Lord by the friendly, welcoming and sunny way you always greet me– and everyone in your path! You, my dear, are the beautiful face and hands of Jesus to so many and you DEFINITELY make your corner of the world a more godly place to inhabit. I’m grateful to call you friend. BOILER UP!!

Mad for…Fr. Richard

Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, or even at their difficulty, as at the love with which we do them. -St. Therese of Lisieux

Day 52 of 365: Fr. Richard Doerr

Feb. 21, 2019– About 10 years ago, one of my holiest friends noticed I was in a dark place. I’ll spare you the details, except to say that she insisted I should meet her friend, Fr. Richard Doerr. Spiritually and otherwise, I was just a hot mess. Like he does all week long, year after year, with countless folks who seek him out or who are sent to him against their will, he used his considerable pastoral gifts to help me find the Lord.

Priests have long been targets of the enemy of enemies. After all, these good guys, (and I promise you most of them are just that), live their lives in heroic service to others. My friend, Fr. Richard, is such a man. He won’t care for this birthday tribute one bit, but I’m stubborn and unreasonable so I’m offering it here all the same. Sorry for your luck, Padre.As a diocesan priest, he’s the pastor of a parish of over 4,000 families. That’s north of 14,000 souls who are in his care, folks. He’s a Purdue grad and so am I, therefore I will offer you this comparison with which to judge the enormity of the task he’s been assigned. Have you ever attended a basketball game at Purdue’s Mackey Arena? The number of souls he’s tasked with guiding towards the Lord is roughly equal to a sell out crowd at Mackey. Think about that the next time he doesn’t respond to your message in the time frame you’d prefer.

He carries burdens too heavy for his people to bear alone. He consoles every day, and despite the incredible work load, he carries the secret grief, the tragic loss, the family crises, and the painful failures. The needy and the poor know the parish he leads is a place of refuge. He’s pastorally gifted, and he seems to exist in a calm, rational state despite frequent episodes without a reasonable amount of sleep. You see, if someone in his flock truly needs him, the hour doesn’t matter. He goes where he is called. His cross is very heavy, and he bears it with love. Sometimes, he’s maddeningly spent. Always, he’s prayerful, and mindful of the grace and beauty of the life he lives.

Because authenticity is my favorite quality in humans, I’ll offer that he’s a genuine and very real guy who has been known to curse when a good cuss word is just the best option available, and he’s got a wicked, sarcastic and hilarious sense of humor which often carries him through the day. That sense of humor definitely makes his homilies accessible and memorable. He can be both joyfully irreverent and shockingly compassionate.

Don’t forget, though, he’s a human being. He’s got his own family, including a mother, sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews on whom he dotes. Just like the rest of us, he’s needed to take mom to her doctor’s appointment or babysit for the little ones now and then. He needs and tries to take the time to be present for his own family. People forget that humanity and expect too much sometimes. It pleases me that he does an excellent job of looking after his physical health and he somehow manages to squeeze in workouts most days of the week.

All my people know I love this guy, and so does he. Keeping quiet isn’t a strength area for me. If I love you, I say so. Here’s the deal. This guy stuck with me when any other mere mortal would have told me to hit the road. I am nothing if not needy and persistent. He attempted to buy himself some oxygen by shoving spiritual books in my direction. I read them ALL. I was a sponge and I cried out for more. I fell in love with the saints, whom I had largely not yet met. I learned the Divine Mercy Chaplet, which I can only pray while singing aloud or in my mind, because it played on an endless loop on a CD he gave me. I was captivated by it’s beauty. He introduced me to Caravaggio’s art, which left me breathless. I’m not even going to tell you about the whole Taize prayer service he insisted I attend. Have you ever heard of such a thing? Well, I was moved to tears. You should find one and go. Talk about ridiculous!

When I take myself and my sins too seriously in confession, he says things like “Get off the cross, we need the wood, Shelly.” He makes me laugh at myself and he texts me stupid memes now and then when he’s had a long week or he sensed the same from me. He presides at reverent, beautiful masses and he sings like an angel. In short, he has been the most selfless shepherd I can ever imagine encountering. I realize his vocation calls for him to often be “in persona Christi”… but this guy? It’s like my husband says. He’s not messing around. Fr. Richard wants us to know and love the Lord. He spends himself entirely in the effort. I am but one of his 14,000. The number of people who have told me similar tales of their own powerful conversion which God orchestrated through this particular instrument would make your head spin.

Frequently, with his extra large heart on full display, he asks me for my prayers for parishioners who are suffering. It’s my deep honor to offer them. Today, I’d like to ask you to pray for him. It’s his birthday, and he does a stunning job keeping Christ in the lives of the people in his care. Please join me in asking God to grant him the same in his own. His life is one worth celebrating in a BIG way. Pray for your priest too– again and again. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, FR. RICHARD!

Today’s Prayer for Priests, Offered for Fr. Richard Doerr:

O Jesus, our great High Priest, hear my humble prayers on behalf of your priest, Fr. Richard. Give him a deep faith, a bright and firm hope and a burning love which will ever increase in the course of his priestly life.

In his loneliness, comfort him in his sorrows, strengthen him in his frustrations, point out to him that it is through suffering that the soul is purified, and show him that he is needed by the Church, he is needed by souls, he is needed for the work of redemption.

O loving Mother Mary, Mother of Priests, take to your heart your son who is close to you because of his priestly ordination, and because of the power which he has received to carry on the work of Christ in a world which needs him so much. Be his comfort, be his joy, be his strength, and especially help him to live and to defend the ideals of consecrated celibacy.

Amen.

Mad for…Julie

So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’  Matthew 6:31

Above right, Julie Kiffmeyer pictured with her terrific husband, Joe.

On day 7 of his life on this planet, Matthew, the infant son of Joe and Julie Kiffmeyer stopped nursing.  He began to fuss and cry uncontrollably.  This was their third son.  Julie surmised she was having her first experience with a colicky baby.  Over the next day or so, there were moments of calm, but mostly Matthew was just a wailing mess of a sweet thing.  And he wouldn’t nurse.  She wondered if she’d eaten something spicy, she wracked her mind for ideas. He wouldn’t eat despite her trips to the drugstore for every kind of nipple and bottle available on the market.

Then, he turned a very scary shade of dark red.  She took him to see the pediatrician.  A lengthy examination ensued, which led to more of the same.  Initially, nothing seemed amiss.  Then, suddenly they saw a clue.  His eyes were twitching, and he was clenching his fists.  Her baby boy was seizing.  Every 5 minutes. 

“I was calm,” Julie declares when we asked her to recount the years old details.  “Had I been less so, I think probably they would have sent me home with the usual remedies and suggestions for a colicky baby.  It was my calm demeanor that I think led to a closer look.  I clearly was not an over-reactor.”

It wasn’t long before more tests and an MRI revealed that Matthew had a level 4 brain bleed affecting the left side of his brain.  Although his symptoms and prognosis really are unique to him alone, his official diagnosis was cerebral palsy. 

“My mom taught me to trust in God and not worry.  I was raised in an Episcopalian home.  God gives you what you can handle.  How Matthew is?  That’s how we’re all supposed to be.”

I knew exactly what she meant.  You see, Matthew is the same age as my middle son, Drew.  They are both teenagers now, and anyone who knows Mattie knows he’s an amazing, sunny kid.  When I met the Kiffmeyers, Matthew was about 4 years old.  We were both busy Catholic school moms with kids the same ages.  A lot of people would look at the situation as an obstacle, but Julie?  She revels in every single success, and she flat out just celebrates the gift of her son—actually all of her 4 children.  Andrew, their oldest, is in grad school in St. Louis, a physical therapist.  Jimmy is a UC Bearcat, next comes the aforementioned Matthew and then sweet Sarah is an 8th grader with my Zach at SLDM.  I’ve never detected anything but gratefulness and I’ve heard a whole lot of laughter as I observe her family. Personally, I think it’s hereditary.  AND, like all our best qualities, the positivity I see in her children, well, I think it’s a gift born of God and passed down by their mother!  Ha?!!  Ok, maybe they won the double DNA lottery.  Dad, Joe, is a pretty fantastic human too. 

Julie is graced with the outward looking smile.  This smile is one which is aimed at another for his or her benefit.  It’s the silent and powerful acknowledgment that she sees the presence of Christ in that person.  Love is a decision.  When we love, we are making a decision to look outward.  It’s not about impressing someone or looking the part.  Have you ever considered how you might answer the question if God asks you “How did you love me?”  Julie has.

Do you know anyone who smiles with their entire body?  I know a lot of people with beautiful smiles who are just showing their teeth and flashing their cuteness at me when I see them.  People who smile are pretty much my most favorite people, I’ll be honest.  However, there is a vast difference between smiling and radiating a glow that envelops those in your path.  A real smile is authentic, and it simply can’t be faked.  It’s a response to all the joys and chaos of life, and it attracts admirers.  Do you know anyone that smiles like that?

My well-adjusted, authentic, bright, warm and compassionate friend Julie is such a person.  With all the energy in a 3-foot radius, she smiles, hugs and giggles to greet others.  She knows what to savor and what to disregard.  Her positive perspective can turn any problem into an opportunity for growth.  She listens.  She notices.  Quite simply, she sees the value of each passing moment.  She’s content and aware in whatever moment she inhabits in a way few others can manage.

This is a woman with 4 amazing children, but she’s had moments of struggle.  I shared the story of her son Matthew to illustrate this point. Life hasn’t been perfect.  She knows her life belongs to the Lord and she trusts God and just lives today better than almost anyone I’ve ever met.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ.”  When we exhibit the virtue of joy, we recognize that happiness is rooted not in things of this world, like money or power or possessions, but in being believers of Christ.  Our joy is in being a beloved child of God.

Julie is a Jesus girl.  She is a happy and amazing woman of God. 

Thanks for showing me what JOY is supposed to look like, Julie.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!  I LOVE YOU, FRIEND!

Mad for…Caroline

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. (Phil. 2:3-4)

It’s a rare and truly faithful gem when we uncover someone whose genuine concern seems to always first be for the good of others. In the case of Caroline, I’ve mostly admired that authentic spirit and sparkle from lurking nearby in sports venues over the years. She’s generous and selfless in the most rare and beautiful way. What I’ve come to understand from paying closer attention is that she really is more than that, she’s a glittering jewel of a soul.

Caroline Godfrey is the mother of 4 (mostly) grown children, and she recently became the mother-in-law to two more. She’s the wife of a very fine man she always calls “Billy”. Most of what I know about her family firsthand, I uncovered on a couple of lazy afternoons in Vincennes, Indiana. Now, no offense intended if you are a Vincennes Alice, but once you’ve seen St. Frances Xavier Basilica and maybe even ventured over to peek at the George Rogers Clark Historic Monument, you’re left with the movies and a slice of pizza at Bobe’s. That about covers Vincennes. When you’ve made the annual trek with the Guerin Catholic Basketball team to the annual holiday tournament on numerous occasions, well, it’s been done. At this point, a booth at Gilbert’s Pub with a couple of cold beverages is really the most appealing option for the long afternoon breaks. Because they were more experienced GC basketball parents, when we found our way to Gilberts, the much more saavy Godfreys had already taken up residence.

What I already knew and loved about Caroline (and Bill, too) from afar was cemented for me on that second trip to Vincennes. She’s authentic, funny, kind and utterly humble. If I’m honest, I thought to myself that I’m not quite sure how someone pulls off an afternoon of beer, chips, and salsa giggling all the way and STILL she left me feeling I had been in the joyful presence of a woman who so reminded me of our Holy Mother. How is that even possible? All I can say is, Caroline is just an extra large scoop of awesome sauce. I know, I know…my eloquence is nothing if not overwhelming. Ha?

It was the ultimate come as you are party. Mostly, we laughed and talked about our kids and confessed to our most hilarious parenting fails. She reminded me that day that we don’t have to have it all together, we just have to know and love the One who does.

I could share personal stories of encouragement she’s offered to myself and others, kindnesses to those who have less, her giftedness listening and caring– but if you know her you’re already aware. She’s never drawing attention to herself in any of it. It’s just who she is. Caroline is the face of Christ to all around her.

A couple years or so before that silly afternoon at Gilberts, I had prayed over Caroline with a large group of GC basketball moms right in the middle of the Noblesville High School gym after our kiddos finished a game. She was about to undergo surgery for breast cancer, and the moment was powerful. Her humility that evening, and the way God shined was wholly spectacular. When I heard more recently that her cancer had returned, I was convicted completely of the need to pray without ceasing for this lovely woman of God. It was less a choice and more a calling. I’ve been working the beads for you, sister.

Have you ever met someone and thought, “How on earth is she for real?” That has always been me where Caroline is concerned. She’s just the definition of lovely, authentic goodness. She carries herself with grace. I have known instinctively for some time now that the Lord meant me to notice and learn from her powerful witness of what He means us to be as a wife, mother, and faith-filled woman of God. These are sometimes the stunning gifts the Lord bestows on us when we are members of a thriving Christian community. I’m going to need some significant work…but He sure gave me a beautiful example in Caroline.

My friend, there’s a heavenly arsenal of warriors fighting alongside you with our prayers for your healing in mind, body and spirit. Please know that we are with you, and so is the Lord. THANK YOU FOR YOUR AMAZING WITNESS OF FAITH AND FOR SO OFTEN BEING THE FACE OF JESUS TO OTHERS, INCLUDING ME!

The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom should I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom should I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)

Mad for…Danny

Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God. -Karl Barth

This twinkle-eyed kid on the left is Danny. God loves the way he shines. Danny reminds me of the scripture verse from the book of Matthew, the very famous 25th chapter. “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters, you did for me.”

What makes Danny so special is how kind he is. He’s remarkably gifted with young children, and so many times I have witnessed him comforting “the littles” in his own family. Younger siblings Ryan, Maddie and Shannon simply beam in his presence. I have no doubt that’s because they are absolutely certain that he’s just crazy about them.

“To maintain a joyful family”, Pope John Paul II once said, “requires much from both the parents and the children. Each member of the family has to become, in a special way, the servant of the others.” This is the quality I most readily identify with the dimple cheeked, friendly, and affectionate Danny Hall. He is a natural born servant leader.

Danny’s family is a truly unique and stunningly beautiful one, born of the darkest kind of tragedy. When he was 8, he lost both of his parents in a act of domestic violence that breaks my heart still. His mother, Shannon, was a friend. Her sons remind me of her so very much, and I know she is looking down from above full of pride for both her incredible boys. I know she also sees how compassionate, gentle, good-hearted Danny is every darn day. His immensely loving extended family and the entire community have stayed ever at his side, which makes all the difference, for sure. He’s being raised by his aunt and uncle, Colleen and Doug Stine. I could, and chances are good that I will write about them later. He has an older brother, Connor (the biggest Auburn fan EVER), and those three little cutie-pies I mentioned earlier.

Here’s what I’d like Danny to know. I see you. I’ve noticed and so has Jesus. What you did, He saw. What you said, He heard. You might not even remember it. It was just a little thing, a part of who you are because of whose you are. It wasn’t little to Him, just like it’s not little to Ryan, or Mads, or Shan, or Moms…..or any of the people around you that you love up day after day. You are one phenomenal kid. When your smile reaches your eyes and the words come from your heart Danny, it’s a light that fills the room. Your kindness? It’s a gift from you to God. He loves you for it, and so do I!! You are a blessing to your family, to all at St. Louis de Montfort, and far beyond, kiddo.

Thank you, Danny, for helping me see God by the way you light up a room with your smile. You make me want to be kind to others, just like you!!

Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Luke 18:16)