Choir Pinned!!

Yesterday at Mass, the choir were given pins by Father Ray.

This is my second– the first said “Minister of Care,” when I was bringing Holy Communion to a family. Now I’m serving our parish in the choir instead.

When I saw Father holding them, I went over to claim mine. He pulled his hands back.

A few minutes later, he blessed them all with Holy Water.

They were all the more special for that.

I had to take a picture– you can see the Holy Water droplets on the plastic case holding it inside.

Reminds me of fourth grade, when my class were given a Bible. They were blessed with Holy Water. I still have mine.

Though I admit I don’t read it often.

This little gesture from Father Ray to our choir made me feel so included, part of something special.

Official.

I had someone take a picture of me wearing mine on my shirt. It’s gleaming there– my smile is huge!

I love our white and red choir robes! He asked us to wear our pins with pride each Sunday.

choir pin

I’m delighted to oblige.

A Gift about the Wrist and Medugorje

This morning I was talking to a new friend who asked about my necklace– with the Blessed Mother gold medal with roses around it.

Twice now, a woman has complimented it. I’ve been quietly hoping someone would notice. The first woman said it was “pretty” but never indicated she recognized it as religious.

When I explained to this woman today, she replied, “I have a devotion to the Blessed Mother, too.”

That made my heart swell. That’s a Catholic phrase— “a devotion to _____.” A moment of connection.

Simply, a devotion to any saint or Mary herself involves frequent prayer for their intercession, and a particular interest in reading about their lives and learning about their personalities and miracles on their behalf. We may connect with a particular aspect of their story or feel comforted, as if they offer a specific comfort that we need. We may feel a strong connection as if they are helping us on our journey, in small coincidences and signs that bring us resolve and assurance of the validity of our faith.

We may want to visit their shrines or make a pilgrimage to different sites known to be under their influence.

Devotion toward Mary, mother of Jesus, is called Marian devotion. There are distinctly Catholic terms of endearment for her, such as Our Lady, or the Blessed Mother. She has myriad other titles, but those are some of the most common I’ve noticed.

After this woman’s compliment, I noticed her bracelet. Very simple with wooden beads with a cross on it. I told her I liked it.

She smiled and took it off, offering it to me.

I was floored, especially when she explained she had received it the same way. A woman had given it to her just that way– she was passing it on to me.

As I held it and examined the cross, I saw the word Medugorje written in faint gold ink. It sort of glimmers– but you wouldn’t necessary notice it unless you were looking.

Medugorje is a city where the Blessed Virgin Mary is known to appear on a regular basis since 1981– many of the Faithful make pilgrimages there hoping for a miracle. People of all faiths, not just Catholics, flock there. Conversations and healings are common for those who make the journey to a small village in Bosnia-Hercegovina.

This is also the second time since December 2014 that a stranger (both women) randomly gave me something associated with Medugorje. Immediately, no hesitation, with a smile.

I know many would dismiss these instances as superstition. But for me, they are affirmative and wonderful.

I have a new Catholic friend and a beautiful bracelet to remind me that Our Lady is with me.

Now that’s a blessing.

The Blessed Hat

I have a cheap black stockingcap for winter that I bought this year.

It’s black with “BLESSED,” written in white block letters.

This hat keeps me humble AND warm.

There are so many gross, aggressive and disrespectful t-shirts and clothing out there… I like wearing something simple and positive. I like identifying myself as someone who is basically grateful.

The best part is how strangers smile at me when I wear it. I smile more. Sometimes they comment.

And it reminds me there’s always something I can count in my life as a blessing.

This little hat breaks up the monotony of winter, and brings warmth to me in the kindness of others.

A Stranger’s Christmas Spirit Finds Me: In a Mall

Christmas shopping tonight, I had a chance encounter.

I was at a little stand in the mall, which always sells religious gifts made in the Holy Land.

I was looking at gifts centered on the Blessed Mother.

A woman came up to me and asked me to look at a silver key chain. She didn’t have her glasses.

She wanted to know if it had the Blessed Mother on it– which it did. She also wanted to know what it said in script on the bottom: “Medugorje.”

I read it to her.

She told me that she is a survivor of brain cancer– and her faith is very strong. She tells everyone about it, to spread hope– especially for those who are ill. “I know God is gonna use me,” she said.

Though she still battles her illness, all she spoke of was being blessed. Being grateful. She’s made so much progress with great doctors, hard work and a lot of faith.

Mainly, she spoke of never taking anything for granted.

She had such light in her smile, she radiated kindness.

She was looking for a silver key chain to match her car key starter. She had family who had gone there and been healed– that’s why she was attracted to it.

I looked for another– but there was only one.

I told her that I’ve heard of Medugorje myself, and I’d love to go there one day.

It’s unlikely that’ll ever happen, but it’s a nice dream.

It was so refreshing to talk with another believer– a total stranger, right in the middle of the Christmas rush to buy.

Though she was initially going to buy it for herself, she offered it to me.

I refused and told her she should keep it.

But she told me that no, she thought I was meant to have it.

That maybe God had meant her to give it to me.

I accepted her offer, and I bought it for myself.

Little moments like that, how can you not believe?

God showed me much-needed evidence of Christmas spirit in that woman.

Ohhh, MARIA! Celebrating Our Lady Today

I was earlier today delighted when my parents called and asked if I wanted to go with them to MY new parish for the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, a Holy Day of Obligation.

This is the first time they’ve ever volunteered to go where I wanted– usually I either go to theirs or I go alone. Compromise! What a blessing.

This year in particular I have really fallen in love with the Blessed Mother! I’ve seen her everywhere– her statues pop up in the oddest places, just when I need comfort. I know she’s reaching out to me.

But during Mass, I was thinking about this song. And then we sang it as the closing hymn! (The traditional version.)

Thinking of the Blessed Mother just brings me so much joy. Most people say us Catholics are boring and reserved. That’s not true! We are overflowing with a lively adoration and deep reverence. If you read the lyrics in some of our hymns, it’s impossible not to notice.

“Gentle mother, quiet light; morning star, so strong and bright; Gentle mother, peaceful dove, teach us wisdom, teach us love.”

But nothing captures the abundant love of The Virgin Mary quite like this song, from “Sister Act:”

I hope she brings the same to you! If you can, offer up a prayer to her.

She will protect you, guide you, and comfort you when you need it. Mary is everyone’s mother.

A Small Book of Devotions

At Mass tonight, the woman in front of me was praying hard.

And I noticed she referred to a small plastic book throughout– it had a picture of Jesus on the cover.

It held prayer cards. During the pauses, she was reading and praying those.

After, I tapped her shoulder and told her I liked the idea. She said people ask her about it all the time. I asked her if she had one for The Blessed Mother as well? She does. She also has others for different Saints. What a great way to keep them close.

She was a very small woman, but her smile was huge. She was older. Her husband was there with her.

It’s very practical. We keep pictures of our family and friends close to us.

I think this woman is on to something. I hope I see her again.

Where do you even find little plastic sleeve books like that these days? A dollar store? Since pictures went digital, nobody carries around those little picture books. It’s all on the phone now!

But I’ve got a few, if nothing else.

I’ve certainly got enough prayer cards! Maybe this is a good way to organize them.

What’s Wrong with Religion?

It’s fashionable these days to identify as “spiritual, not religious.”

But I ask, what’s the taboo on claiming a religious identity?

If you have any religion, good for you. If it makes you happy, that’s what matters.

I’m aware that for many people, religion has been a radically different influence in their lives. They have good reason to distance themselves from it and to be suspicious of anyone associated with it.

But for me, prayer and Mass and the Sacraments have been the bedrock of my life.

I’ll tell you what I know.

I cherish all the benefits of religion: tradition, structure, discipline, dogma, family heritage.

Religion is more than a belief system, it’s a tremendous supportive network. It’s a rock in the storm of life.

For many, I think the term itself implies some sort of zest beyond what is acceptable.

But in my life, a devotion to religion is, and always has been, normal. Both sides of my family, plus my step-mother’s family, are all Catholic. Irish, German and Italian! I’m a cradle Catholic who attended Catholic school till I decided to transfer to a public school after my freshman year. I wanted some variety.

My parents always took me to Mass on Sundays. The idea was if I was too sick for Mass, I was too sick to do anything else. As a child, I thought of it as boring. But now I’m thankful– my parents cared enough to instill a respect for routine and specifically, religion, in my life. We prayed over meals– though quickly! I know many parents say their children can choose to be religious when they are 18. But I think it’s sad that many are not raised with religion as children. If you’re raised without it, it seems the majority never understand the beauty and power of having that as part of your life. If you’re raised without religion, you’ll most likely continue as an adult without it. Or you’ll spend your life as a spiritual nomad, looking for a denomination or religion that seems to fit you. At least if you’re raised with SOMETHING, you have a starting point. You can choose to leave it and join another, or you can reject it entirely, or dedicate yourself to developing a deeper relationship with it. In my case, I rebelled for awhile in college by not going to Mass.

But I never stopped praying. I never stopped loving Mary, or the Saints. I kept close friendships with nuns and the priests my family had known for decades. And they helped guide me.

When you’re raised with religion, it feels natural to participate in it and share it with others. I feel a peace with other Catholics that I treasure. It’s like having a giant extended family. I love that in almost any city, I can find a Catholic church. I’m lucky that my religion is often in the majority.

I grew up surrounded my nuns and priests, especially since my favorite aunt was a Catholic nun. Reflecting as an adult, I’m both surprised and somewhat sad that she didn’t talk about the Bible to me. But for 10 years, she took a leave from her convent and lived with us. She was a living example of Christ’s love. She was FUN.

She had no enemies. She never said a bad word about anyone. We never prayed the Rosary together, although we did pray often. She just exuded a gentle and steady love. When she moved back home with her community, she would send me prayer booklets, icon cards, and religious cards for my birthday, holidays. In college, her e-mails and care packages helped sustain me when I was desperately homesick. What little money she had, she was always sending me little gifts. She was always telling me that I was special and that God has a wonderful plan for me.

We kept in touch with cards by mail and often prayed over the phone together. She’d pray the Guardian Angel prayer with me. She was a gifted listener. When I would feel afraid or nervous, I’d call her and cry and just talk it out. She didn’t often give advice but her calming influence always reassured me. She would always remind me to be kind, to give the person who had upset me the benefit of the doubt. To consider why they may have acted that way– without malice. When she died in 2010, it was if a light in my life had been snuffed out. It was a Dark Night of the Soul for awhile.

But that loss of her only drove me closer to the faith I’d shared with her all my life. Now I feel she’s a guardian angel to me herself, protecting me and reassuring me still. Now I pray to her. I keep her close to me by being more resolute as a Catholic. I remember all the times she asked me to go to Mass with her and I said I was too tired and didn’t want to get up that early. She was never angry and always accepted my decision– but she never stopped asking.

Now I see it was something she wanted to SHARE with me. It’s harder to find people now to go to Mass together.

I realize now what an act of love it was for her to want to go with me to Mass. And I feel bad that I bypassed so many opportunities in my life to do that with her.

And now, on my own, I’m starting to want to delve deeper into Catholicism. I’m beginning to read The Bible more. I’m feeling closer to the Blessed Mother, praying to her more often. I’m feeling a desire to pray the Rosary, though it’s intimidating.

I even have a Non-Denominational friend who wants to learn to pray the Rosary with me. How beautiful is that?!

If you weren’t raised with religion, please try to open your heart and consider it.

You might be shocked by the peace you feel. And if you are afraid to pray, that’s why we have so many prayers.

Just read it out loud and I promise, God will hear you. Here’s one you can try:

The Guardian Angel Prayer

“Angel of God,
my Guardian dear,
to whom God’s love
commits me here.
Ever this day,
be at my side
to light, to guard,
to rule and guide.

Amen”

He always does, even if He doesn’t answer right away.