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.

Solitude, Tacos and Our Lady of Guadalupe

It was quiet, hardly any customers. It was before the dinner rush set in.

I had brought my gray suede journal with me and was writing on the first page. I felt a bit lonely.

The hostess sat me at a small table next to the wall. Maybe that’s why I noticed— I took the chair facing the entrance. She was directly in my line of sight.

Seeing a statue of the Blessed Mother isn’t really a surprise in a Mexican restaurant– it’s a culture steeped in Catholicism with a strong devotion to Mary in particular. But it’s interesting that I’m only just noticing it– after being a regular customer for several years.

And this statue is beautiful in a quiet, dignified way– Our Lady of Guadalupe, a popular Marian image. Some months ago, I met a woman with a tattoo very similar to this version of the Blessed Mother.

I notice that I see these images of her at times when I feel troubled– and I’m almost always alone.  I’ve been praying to her more the past 1.5 years.

She was underneath the specials menu, on a pedestal. Not commanding your attention. I was comforted to see her there.

Maybe my heart is opening more, and now I’m more receptive to noticing her.

Whatever the reason, I want to share this picture with you.

Open your heart, and maybe you’ll see her somewhere unexpected too.

Image

With a Little Help from Mary and Her Son

I lose my car keys. All the time.

So often that I separate them from my house keys, so at least I won’t be locked out of my apartment. In theory, I will always at least have ONE set.

On both key chains, I’ve got something a little bit holy attached. Not blessed, but it carries the image and sentiment.

On my car keys, I’ve got a silver key chain I bought around Christmas time at a stand in the mall. The guy makes things from Jerusalem and visits every year to sell them. It was $5, so I bought it for myself. At first glance, it appears to be the Blessed Mother in her robes, looking demurely down. But when you examine it, you find it’s two separate pieces. The front is her image, but the back is actually Jesus. Inside, they both have an image of the other inside. Each piece is connected at the top by a small triangle fixture, which then connects to the key ring itself. The pieces swing opposite ways to reveal inside a picture of the other, in color. You have to handle it to notice the detail.

I love that. Such a simple and beautiful way to show that mother and son are always connected. And really, they both derive their powers from the other– both mother and son are divine, and yet were human. They devoted their lives to each other.

I’ve “lost” my keys twice in the last week! I’m a bit absent minded and set things down while looking around in stores. But to my relief, my keys are never missing for long– not usually more than 10-15 minutes. They always seem to miraculously turn up.

No one steals them. Some good-hearted person alerts me, or if I ask, someone helps me look– and they turn up.

It happened today. I feel so blessed.

It may sound absurdly superstitious and extremely Catholic to a cliche degree. But I believe these small tokens keep me safe, and able to find my keys despite my scatterbrained personality. Whatever help I can get, I’ll take!

On my house keys, I have a small silver “guardian angel” key ring, designed to fit into your purse over the ledge. You can hang it inside your bag, whether it’s a small purse or a larger one. I often have a lot of junk inside my bigger bag. I may need a to root around in there, but I always find it. I bought it in a hospital gift shop.

St. Anthony must be working over time with me! He answers whenever I call him.

A Moment Too Real: A Woman Who Needed Help

Recently, I was outside enjoying a hot dog and a strawberry shake at a local ice cream joint.

It was beautiful outside– warm enough for shorts. I had planned to do some writing in my journal.

And then life broke into the narrative– something too real.

A woman ran up to me at my table in the parking lot, desperate. She was wearing large, dark sweats in the heat.

“CAN I USE YOUR PHONE? I JUST NEED TO CALL MY HOUSE, CAN I JUST MAKE A CALL?”

Her volume matched her fear.

Wary, I didn’t know what to do. I was worried she might be on drugs– was this just a ploy?

There were three teenage girls who had been chattering at the table next to me. They went silent and watched my reaction.

I looked at the woman with concern but wasn’t sure how to answer.

“Please,” she begged. ” I JUST GOT AWAY FROM MY HUSBAND. I need to make sure my SON is alright.”

She was such a mess, there was such pain on her face. I knew she was telling the truth.

“Let’s go inside and see if they’ll let you call,” I said. “I’ll go with you.”

She didn’t seem to believe me, but headed toward the doors anyway.

She was still very loud– I didn’t want her to scare the woman behind the counter. She started to rave again, but I made eye contact with the woman and asked calmly if she could use the phone. The cashier consented and brought the phone over to a side booth.

The woman climbed in the booth and dialed, gripping the phone. She was kneeling, facing the phone.

“He’s not answering,” she said. Tears. I saw the bruises on her face- slight, but still there.

I asked her if she wanted a ride to the police station– no.

Then I suggested another local place– she asked what it was.

“They have counselors,” I said. “They can help you decide what to do.” I told her the location– about five minutes drive.

She nodded and went with me to my car. I cleared my junk out of the front seat, turned off my music.

I asked her name, and introduced myself. I will call her Jane., to shield her identity.

As we drove, I told her, “I’m glad you got away.”

She was frozen in thought. As we neared our destination, she talked a little bit more– frantically.

We pulled up and I parked. We walked in and I buzzed the secretary.

I explained that Jane needed to speak to someone in Groundwork (the domestic violence program.)

The woman nodded and buzzed us in.

Luckily, there was a counselor available immediately.

Jane sat down and I got her a paper cup of cold water. She was so agitated she didn’t even touch it.

Minutes later, a counselor appeared and they left together.

I had no idea how long they would be gone, what I should do next.

Within 10 minutes, Jane re-emerged– thoughtful. She finally drank the water in one gulp.

We left together– I was scared. Did she need a ride home? Now what did I do?

On the steps outside she said that she just needed to take a walk for a little while.

“It’s overwhelming,” she said. “I’ll come back here but I need to think first.”

It was clear she wanted no further assistance from me– she wanted to handle this on her own. Proud.

“Thank you,” she said.

“You’ll be in my prayers, Jane,” I said. She walked away, deeply concentrating.

I went back to my car– and saw the big statue of the Blessed Mother adjacent to the building, over to the left.

Image

She was high up, watching from a ledge in a stone wall. How many broken women and families had prayed to her?

There was a wooden bench in front of it– I knelt and asked The Blessed Mother to protect Jane and her family. She’s been in my thoughts. I hope she is safe– that she will find the encouragement there through staff that is needed to protect her family.

I’m sharing this story because I hope that you will include this woman and her family in your prayers as well. God was watching out for us both. I’m glad that I was able to help, and that I knew where to take her. I

I wonder, how many people did she have to ask before me? How many people didn’t want to get involved?

That day I had been thinking about things that frustrated me– bills, things I need to clean up at home. And then God reminded me that my problems are very small compared to this woman.

All Jane wants is a safe place, the opportunity to save herself and her son. She is making one of the most important decisions of her life, no doubt. I can’t imagine how scared she must feel. NO one, woman or man, should have to deal with such questions.

But they do, every day.