Friday, April 29, 2016

St. Catherine of Siena

Today is the feast day of St. Catherine of Siena. Catherine was the 23rd child of Jacopo and Lapa Benincasa. Catherine disappointed her mother by cutting off her hair as a protest against being overly encouraged to improve her appearance in order to attract a husband. Her father ordered her to be left in peace, and she was given a room of her own for prayer and meditation.

She wanted to enter the Dominican Third Order but wasn't allowed in because she was young and all of the other members were widows. She became very sick and, thinking she was about to die, she was allowed to join. Once she had joined the order, she quickly healed. She spent years in a room praying with a crucifix. After many mystical experiences she was told by Jesus that she should serve in the world, which she did. 

Her strong sense of service drew many people to her. As some of her thoughts caused some controversy. Some priests disliked giving her the Eucharist because they thought she got too excited about it. Because she was a Dominican, stories about her reached their authorities who ordered her to cease and desist teaching and appear before them. She greeted the order with joy. When she appeared before the Dominican General Chapter of 1374, they questioned her for three days and, in the end, found nothing in her philosophy/thoughts that were inconsistent with the faith. All charges were cleared, but they did say she needed a better spiritual director and assigned Bl. Raymond of Capua as her confessor.

She only lived to 33 but changed the course of history. She became a counselor to Popes and Princes at a time when Europe had been tearing itself apart She was instrumental in helping to start a process which would usher in a more stable continent.Along with St. Francis of Assisi, she is a Patron Saint of Italy, but also a Co-Patron of Europe itself. She was also declared a Doctor of the Church.

Her spiritual legacy still affects us in the twenty-first century. The two-fold truth as taught by Jesus to St Catherine was quite simply this: we are created, wounded and broken, yet we are also loved infinitely by Christ. Within these statements lies an important value, that of respect for all human life, and for each other. The legacy of St Catherine enables us to gain a clearer understanding of ourselves, and also the opportunity to know Christ. When this has been attained, then we may look with the loving eyes of Christ, learning to recognize in the other, one who whilst broken, is profoundly loved. St Catherine shows us, therefore, how to understand each other – to be merciful - and to love them with the love of Christ.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Powerful Light

On most days, in the back of St. Columbkille Church, near the flickering votive candles and the sculpture of the Madonna and Child, shines a small, but powerful light.

Her name is Gladys.

Gladys has been a regular at daily Mass for decades. And like others who frequent daily Mass, she is a mentor, bringing those new to the parish or new to the faith (and those not so new), under her wing.

Gladys seems to specialize in mentoring mothers like herself. After a school Mass, many stop by her regular place in the back, to share a hug before they go on their way or to join her and others in praying the rosary.

She is quick to share a smile, an article copied from a religious magazine or a devotion from a book. She might ask you to pray for a special intention, or she might offer to pray for one of yours, something weighing heavy on your heart that day. Gladys has said it would be impossible to remember all that she has been asked to pray for, but she knows God will remember. And she entrusts everything to Him.

She sees our Lord at work everywhere. And sometimes when describing His actions in her life, she points up, recognizing where those miracles come from.

She is devoted to the Blessed Mother, particularly under the title of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. And St. Frances Cabrini is a close friend.

I spotted Gladys this morning after the all-school Mass and waited while others hugged and greeted her. Then it was my turn. As we hugged, I joked that I had to wait in line.

"The way I see it, that's a good thing," she said, still holding on to me. "If there were more hugs, there would be more peace in world."

Gladys, in her little corner at church, is a force for peace.

May she continue to shine, and may we draw close to her Light.

Inspired by the Year of Faith, Susan Szalewski began writing weekly columns for us. Although that year is over, we liked them so well that we asked her to keep writing. Thankfully, she said yes. So watch for these on Thursdays and see the Year of Faith Blog here.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

First Communion Novena

My son David, a second-grader, has been counting down the days to his First Holy Communion.

Now we are getting close. His big day will be April 23, when he will receive Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament at the 6:30 p.m. Mass. Other second-graders will have the honor at other weekend Masses.

The timing of this celebration seems perfect:  in the freshness and renewal of spring and Easter and when farmers and gardeners are preparing the ground for planting.

In the same spirit as a gardener, the children -- with the help of their parents and teachers -- have been preparing. Their young souls are to become fertile ground where Jesus can grow and flourish.

And during these final days, a special First Communion Novena, also known as "A Garden Fit for a King," can help. It can be found here.

During the novena, children symbolically plant flowers in their hearts, an idea similar to a spiritual bouquet.

On Day 1, they plant roses, focusing on acts of kindness toward others. On Day 2, they plant lilacs, trying to be patient and gentle when they might otherwise get angry. Day 3 is for forget-me-nots, when children make a special visit to Jesus in an Adoration Chapel or at Church.

The novena continues with prayers and a new flower, with a corresponding virtue or emphasis, for each of the nine days. The simple prayers reflect on the life of Jesus as He was growing up and invite children to imitate Him.

At the end, the garden is complete and ready to present to Jesus for First Communion.

Please take a look at this age-appropriate novena, especially if you know of a special second-grader who might benefit. For years I have struggled at finding concrete ways to get my children ready for First Communion and surely have fallen short. I think this novena is a step in the right direction, especially as excitement for the big day builds and we want to stay focused Jesus, rather than the clothes and gifts and other non-essentials.

May God Himself prepare our children. And may He find welcome in the gardens of their  hearts.

Inspired by the Year of Faith, Susan Szalewski began writing weekly columns for us. Although that year is over, we liked them so well that we asked her to keep writing. Thankfully, she said yes. So watch for these on Thursdays and see the Year of Faith Blog here.

Thursday, April 7, 2016


"This is the day the Lord has made; let us be glad and rejoice in it."

That line from Psalm 118 is so much a part of Easter. We hear, pray and sing those words again and again.

They remind me of a former St. Columbkille pastor, Father Steven Stillmunks, now pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine Church. He began every Mass thanking God for the "beautiful day." Every day was beautiful to him, even if a storm was raging outside.

 Father Stillmunks was wise, knowing each day should be treasured as a gift from God.

I gained a new appreciation for our gift of days when I turned 40. I would have dead by then, a doctor told me, if I hadn't had a life-saving operation at age 21.

I was born with a hole in my heart, but it wasn't discovered until I was in college, when a different doctor detected a heart murmur. I went in for tests over spring break and had surgery scheduled that summer to repair the half-dollar-size hole.

After the surgery, I asked the surgeon: What would have happened if I never had the surgery? He said I would have started having health problems by age 30 or when I started having kids. And I would be dead by age 40, he said.

I just celebrated a birthday (13 years past my 40th) during the Easter Octave. And I might have been tempted to be sad about growing older. But Psalm 118 reminds me that I can't take any day for granted. Each day is His gift, a new opportunity -- not to be squandered, but to be celebrated and lived to the fullest.

So here I am, rejoicing at being another year older, and the mother of nine and grandmother of one.

I know I am blessed with the gift of each passing day. Today -- and every day -- is just another reason to sing.

Inspired by the Year of Faith, Susan Szalewski began writing weekly columns for us. Although that year is over, we liked them so well that we asked her to keep writing. Thankfully, she said yes. So watch for these on Thursdays and see the Year of Faith Blog here.