Far from Home

My Uncle Jim just passed today…. cancer.

And I am heartbroken because I can’t be with my family right now. We’re from Kansas but live in Illinois.

And while I love my new job, I haven’t earned any time off and have barely been there a month– I can’t ask. Even if I could, I don’t have the cash to go by car or plane. My parents can’t either.

And you can send flowers and make a tearful phone call to express sympathy…. but nothing replaces a real hug. Or holding hands together at a service, and those wonderful stories people tell that breaks the tears into laughter.

So many times, we’ve been stuck here when family members passed on both sides– my dad’s and my mother’s.

I have an incredible, hardworking, loving, affectionate, close family. But I hardly know them beyond visits for a few hours or a weekends when we can make it back– usually every few years. Phone calls.

I got to talk to my Aunt Judy, his widow, for a few minutes tonight at least. I’m glad we got to cry a little bit together.

I feel terrible because Uncle Jim sent me so many cards over my lifetime– birthday cards and even money for years even into adulthood. He even wrote me letters for awhile. Usually it’s the woman in the family who maintains correspondence but he was the one who signed their cards.

He was a journalism major in college also, and a competitive runner in the senior Olympics. He was so happy I’d found running. Even when I would call to check on him and how chemo was going…. he barely mentioned himself. So humble. He was always “okay”– he wanted to know what was happening with me. He was honest about how he felt, but he had such a deep faith that he always had a positive attitude about it.

His Catholic faith was part of the bedrock of his life. He was a husband, father and business owner.

Uncle Jim, I miss you so.

Thankfully, a good cry usually makes me tired and I sleep well.

Please keep him and our family in your prayers.

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.

Sacrifice is the POINT: defending Lent (and Catholicism.)

I had a quick conversation today with someone very averse to Catholicism.

I mentioned my Lenten promises as an icebreaker joke. And she promptly told me that she grew up Roman Catholic and has since denounced it– proudly. She is not participating in Lent, no way!

I quietly listened, but was not impressed. I wish I had a better memory for the details, but basically she just said the idea of Lent turns her off to religion because it’s a sign of spiritual commitment.

I ask, what is wrong with that?

Next she bragged that her family has nothing to do with Mass! She seemed to identify it with control, as even oppressively controlling. She had been told by a parish that her child could not receive the sacrament of Baptism unless she had been a member of that parish for a year, I believe? Instead, she converted to Episcopalian.

I found her indignation immature. Like she expected the benefits of Catholicism for her children without anything in return, no sign that they would be raised in the holy tradition appropriate to those corresponding sacraments.

Today I realized how deep my Catholicism truly runs– and that I’m proud.

Usually I try to be impartial and understanding of anyone who isn’t religious or Catholic.

But today, I felt no empathy. I felt both defensive and proud to be Catholic.

Because being Catholic is not SUPPOSED to be easy or convenient. That’s part of the pride for us. It is an intense spiritual discipline. One that we choose. Many distance themselves in adulthood or go to a different Christian denomination.

I’ve chosen to stay.

To draw an analogy to Jimmy Dugan’s profession of love for baseball in “A League of Their Own,”

“It’s the HARD that makes it good.”

There is definitely a lot of crying in Catholicism! If you’re the type who cries– some do.

If you’re taking a hard look at your conscience, as we are taught to do.

And for me, crying is cathartic. I sometimes weep at Mass, or alone during Adoration. Or just praying by myself.

I know He sees them, and he hears me.

Those tears connect me to Christ, to my faith walk, to knowing He sees my struggle.

So today I didn’t talk back to this woman– I just listened.

And she revealed to me without knowing just how vital my Catholic identity is to me.

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.

Milkshakes and Laughs

Just got home from a night out with two female friends of mine, it was just what I needed!

We met up at a ’50s diner, my idea. It was perfect– I couldn’t stop jamming along to all that old-school rock n’ roll! The three of us sat down and just caught up. Hamburgers, fries, and milkshakes. We usually hang out in a larger group but I wanted to get to know the two of them this time. I like plans one-on-one or groups of three best. It’s just easier for me to hear and keep up with the conversation.

All of three of us don’t do drugs and and they aren’t heavy drinkers either. It’s just so refreshing to go somewhere wholesome and enjoy each other’s company without having to say no to alcohol. It wasn’t even on the menu! Without dodging pot smoke, or smoke at all.

As much as I love my other friends who are different from me, it’s been an incredible comfort this year to get closer with and meet a few more female Catholic friends, as well. They’re both married, but I didn’t feel left out at all. The conversation was naturally light-hearted and flowed well between us. It was a lot of good news, laughing, questions about our lives.

When I had been having a rough week, just being around their calm influence balanced me out. As much as I’ve got a rebellious streak in me, I’m really a pretty simple woman. There’s no tension between us, we all have the same core beliefs. I need that relief once in awhile.

I think I know why Catholicism is important to me. It’s the closest I come to a feeling of family. As much as I love my family, we all work and don’t get to see each other often. These two women are conservative and I realized that deep down, so am I. We are sisters in spirit.

They reminded me of something wonderful: when you have a deep faith, life is generally happy and relaxed. Good things happen. You have stability and less worries. They are the example I need.

I know I’m on the right track!

And with great girlfriends like these, I’m not worried about when I’ll arrive wherever I’m going.

I know I’ll get there.

God, Again

Today I had a shorter shift, so I did something I rarely get to do: went to Saturday afternoon Mass.

Right here, in Joliet.

And it was just what I needed. I could hear everything.

The priest’s Homily talked about Adoration and the Real Presence of Christ.

That’s what makes Catholics special– that’s why we are so devoted. We believe in the Real Presence.

He talked about how we naturally want to spend time in Christ’s presence. That’s why we go to Mass, that’s why we sometimes go to Adoration.

When I try to make sense of Jesus by reading the Bible or other religious literature, it just doesn’t work.

But when I go to Mass, I feel calm. I feel loved. I see people all around me who believe what I believe.

And I realized today that whenever I’m in a Catholic church, I’m home. I don’t need to go to Chicago to experience something special or exciting. I see the Body of Christ all around me, reciting the Nicene Creed.

I can find it right here in my hometown. Even better, I saw a co-worker during Communion. I NEVER would have guessed him to be a man of faith– especially not mine! I felt then that God definitely has a sense of humor.

I realized I prefer the word Christ to Jesus. It’s more reverent. Majestic.

The power of Christ is gentle. Steadfast. Open.

If you’ve ever wondered what Catholicism is about, you won’t find it in a debate on facebook. You certainly won’t find it in a Salon.com article.

Stop looking for ideas and research and “proof” to validate your beliefs. Stop obsessing about dogma.

Look to the people around you who love you. Look inside your heart.

If you allow yourself to be vulnerable enough, you may just FEEL something. Something wonderful.

Something mysterious and loving. And THAT is God.

Just consider going inside a Catholic church– it’s quiet. A sanctuary. If you’re lucky, there may even be real candles you can light. And just be there. Maybe pray. Or not. You’ll be safe.

You don’t have to be one of “us” — just go. Just see. No one’s going to kick you out.

If one parish or church doesn’t feel right to you– there are so many others. Don’t give up.

Today, I felt that I wanted to invite someone to Mass with me. I used to think of that as so aggressive and even annoying. But now, I feel like it’s something I want to share.

I still feel shy about it. But I’m at least open to the idea.

Open Heart, Healing Energy

Lately it seems as if my mind is just opening in tandem with my heart.

I’m feeling an inviting, giving energy.

There is so much more to life beyond Christianity. Beyond Catholicism. Beyond the confines of what defines religion.

Spirituality is a gift, anyway you find it.

We don’t have to choose a side.

We can coexist. I hate this tradition of one belief having to nullify others.

I’m re-connecting with my artistic friends, inviting truth and positivity into my life. Forgiveness, reconciliation.

I don’t want to judge. I think about that ASTROLOGER I criticized, and she’s just a woman trying to make a living.

She’s a small business owner. She lives in Chicago, and it’s a tough world there. She pays rent to work there.

That IS an honest living. Maybe she does possess some power, and has tried making a living “the regular way.”

What caused me to judge was my knee-jerk reaction, knowing that Christianity labels her business as dangerous.