Thursday, March 22, 2018

On Retreats, Reading, and Education

About a month ago I overheard Michael and Max talking on the phone. Max was busy and wondering if he should take some time off to make a retreat. Michael encouraged him to do so because the studies and work are always there. "Don't be like me and wait until you're 55," he said. I had to laugh--Max has been on a retreat nearly every year in high school and knows how beneficial they are.

Michael made his first ever retreat and returned home so very rejuvenated, he booked another one that he's been wanting to go for quite some time. He was busy mentoring the kids doing robotics and never wanted to miss one of Max's football or rugby games. So, with Max in college, he finally feels like he can take the time to retreat.

I really, really recommend retreating from the daily responsibilities and noise of the world at least once a year. I'm a homebody so it's easy for me to make a retreat at home, but still I have to work on maintaining the silence. But for a man who's been working all his life, I cannot even imagine how wonderful it must've been to lay down his burdens and be free to pray and contemplate deeply.

He was at the same Carmelite retreat center I'd been to two years ago. Fr. Juan Velez led all the prayers and meditations but there were also a couple of guest lectures. Michael said he loved the silence, but he also enjoyed the few conversations he had with the other men at the end of the retreat. He came home with the biography of Cardinal John Henry Newman, signed by Fr. Velez. We've been using the Newman guide to educate ourselves on Catholic schooling and have learned so much about the purpose of education. No, it's not about getting a degree. Or a job. It's so much more. It's fulfilling that deepest desire to know more, where you came from, where you're going, why you're even here! It's trying to appease that restless heart and the only way it will rest and be at peace is when it rests in the Lord. St. Augustine was right all along. I can't believe how late my own real education is beginning but every day there's joy and wonder at all the things I'm learning. I'll be at it till the day I die :)

I'm curious. What do you think is the purpose of education? Are you happy with what you received? Are you hungry for more? What are you doing about it?

We built a home library back in WA and building a smaller one here (you can't see it very well but the overall shape of the crates mirrors the shape of Max's room) and I'm delighted that there's space to add more books. And I'm very organized when it comes to books because books are my friends and I need to able to find particular ones quickly :) Also, all this pleases my inner librarian.

Max's room--adult nonfiction
Hallway--adult fiction/children's F and NF books/poetry
and we won't talk about my messy office :)
I picked up a couple more books and can highly recommend this slim gem of a book by Fr. James Schall: Liberal Learning. And I'm looking forward to digging into Fr. Velez's books.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Renovations, Celebrations, and Ruminations

We've been having Mass in the parish hall so that the floor could be repaired--it was damaged during Hurricane Irma. But we're back in our beloved Stella Maris and even the pews have been refinished and installed on the new floor. But the best part has been the painted dome with stars. My cheapie phone camera doesn't do justice but you can see how pretty it is. And the red sanctuary light showing that the Blessed Sacrament is reserved shows up better too. 

We had a High Mass to celebrate this weekend, along with a potluck supper and how fitting to do this Laetare Sunday. Rejoice!!! I loved the simple Gregorian chant Mass and motets for Holy Communion. There's a reason this music has endured. It truly lifts the soul heavenward. And the rose vestments also remind us that Lent is more than half over. And just a word of encouragement here: if you've failed to keep your Lenten resolutions, begin again. I love that our God is a God of second and third and hundred chances. We can always pick ourselves up after we fail and fall and resolve to do better the next day, the next hour, even. My head hasn't been the greatest and I've failed to detox as I should but I'm starting over.

I'm getting behind in sharing some of the good books I've been reading so without further ado... 

Shaken: Discovering Your True Identity in the Midst of Life's Storm by Tim Tebow and A. J. Gregory is a book for anyone who is struggling with the ups and downs of life. Tebow writes in such a straightforward manner about his own disappointments and setbacks in his football career, but the thrust of the book is remembering Who he belongs to. Always, always, Jesus is the answer. Tebow gives lots of examples from his own and others' lives how Jesus transforms people, gives them hope and faith to weather life's storms. Although this book is probably geared towards sports fans, I found it interesting to read about having a high pressure career like football and how he's able to keep God front and center. Highly recommended for young men. Thanks to Blogging for Books for a review copy.

To Love Fasting: the Monastic Experience by Adalbert de Vogue is a slim book that reminds people that Jesus expects us to fast, to pray, and to give alms. He doesn't say, if you pray, if you fast, if you give alms, rather *when* you pray, *when* you fast, *when* you give alms. However, the practice of fasting has all but disappeared from the lives of most Christians. This hermit-monk details his own experience as he returns to the rule of St. Benedict, gives the history of fasting, and the reasons for its decline and also for a revival of the practice, so as to love it.

I also like the companion book: Fast with the Heart by Fr. Slavko Barbaric. Both books have a similar message to revive this practice because it is a very Christian thing to do. 

Catholics are required to abstain from the flesh of warm-blooded animals all the Fridays of Lent and Ash Wed. and expected to fast on Ash Wed and Good Friday. However, most Catholics find fasting very difficult and it's because we do not practice it. Since the beginning of our conversion we decided to keep the Friday abstinence in place always (because the problem with choosing your penance is that you'll end up choosing nothing at all, or silly things like giving up Brussel sprouts). Michael and I started to fast on a regular basis only last year (see this post about Nineveh90) and the first six months were difficult. The latter half of the year went much easier. Fasting on Fridays is a habit now. And Michael is becoming monkish in his ways. But I see how it has drawn him closer to God, how much more self-control he has in all aspects, and a side benefit has been weight loss. I've begun to do longer fasts for therapeutic reasons alone with excellent results. Something about longer fasts resets the body so that the migraines stop. I also combine this for special intentions.

I happened upon The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera (translation by Sonia Soto. Isn't it a pretty cover? It exudes a certain lightness. But what it is, is a love story to a more traditional, simpler life, where neighbors care for one another, take care to educate the children well, and have delightful conversations about books and philosophy. I don't think I spotted a single cell phone :) The story is Miss Prim's discovery of San Ireneo when she responds to an advertisement in the newspaper. "Wanted: a feminine spirit quite undaunted by the world to work as a librarian for a gentleman and his books. Able to live with dogs and children. Preferably without work experience. Graduates and postgraduates need not apply." Why, Miss Prim reminds me just a little bit of myself. And her incredulity at discovering children knowing Virgil was mine as well. Her awakening mirrors mine. My only quibble is that I was just a little bit annoyed at the reference to Miss Prim's employer as the "Man in the Wing Chair"--it was fine for a chapter, but not over and over, given that she knows the names of the other people in the village. In any case, if you are interested in the Benedict option, this is a book you will enjoy. 

I picked up An American Childhood by Annie Dillard for a buck at the Friends of the Library book sale. Hardcover. In perfect condition! What a delicious find! I love her writing--so specific. She paints a picture with words. I'm savoring it slowly. I think every children's writer should read this book because of how deeply she delves into the mind of a child. I recognize so many of the intense emotions of childhood--the joy of being alive, the belief you can fly if you run fast enough, the fear of the moving shadows in the dark.  

Another book that I'm thoroughly enjoying is Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. It's so gratifying to read that I'm not the only procrastinator. Haha. In fact, I'm convinced that writers are the best at it. I have several full-length memoirs but these little snippets of hundreds of writers, artists, composers is a gem. It's well-researched with many quotable quotes. Here's a random entry about William James: "I know a person who will poke the fire, set chairs straight, pick dust specks from the floor, arrange his table, snatch up a newspaper, take down any book which catches his eye, trim his nails, waste the morning anyhow, in short, and all without premeditation--simply because the only thing he ought to attend to is the preparation of a noonday lesson in formal logic which he detests." This he told his class. I daresay he was speaking about himself! 

And that's all folks. I hope the rest of Lent is fruitful for all of us as we draw nearer to Jesus. Easter is almost here. Local friends, I'll be at the Mt. Pleasant Town Center Sat. March 31 at 11 o'clock for story-time, egg-hunt, and book-signing. Please come!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

First Spring Break

What joy to have Max visit with his friends from Ave Maria University. We had a wonderful whirlwind of a weekend together, full of good food, conversation, and games. I've not met a more joyful group of young people. They were a great blessing to us.  



Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Lenten Thoughts

We're two weeks into Lent. I just loved the Gradual for last Sunday. Not sure if you can read it: Ps. 24, 17, 18. Relieve the troubles of my heart and bring me out of my distress, O Lord. Put an end to my affliction and my suffering, and take away my sin. I kept praying this over and over all day Sunday. And although I'd resolved not to whine about the migraines during Lent, I could not bear the pain nor the discouragement, so failed in my resolve. A wise friend reminded me that we don't get to choose our Lent. I'm so grateful for all who pray for me and listen to me patiently. God hears our prayers and even says Yes when He wills! Praise Him! Every Mass is a healing Mass. I am so conscious of the Divine Physician--His molecules becoming part of my body. Monday morning I knew I'd turn a corner. Today, a glorious spring day that melted away the pain and sorrow of the past 15 days. I was also happy to meet my Feb. deadlines!

Monday was also Max's birthday. It's strange not having him home to celebrate. But I wrote a meditation and it's a gift. I don't know whether he's had a chance to read it, but I hope he does. This year I purposely chose to write the Daily Gospel Reflection for dates having some meaning for me--the kids' birthdays and our acceptance into the Church. I find it amazing that even when I've chosen random dates, the Holy Spirit always leads me to choose what I need to learn the most.

Anyway, I'm going to attempt another round at detoxing from the painkillers. I never take the same thing more than two days in a row but it's ridiculous when you take something every single day, even if it's just an aspirin. It's not normal. It's frustrating when all the things you try work for a while and then stop. I bought a TENS unit (read the 2nd review--it's hilarious) but my hair was getting in the way so had it cut short. Not thrilled with it, but it's Lent and I can give up vanity too.

I hope those of you who are celebrating Lent are finding yourself growing closer to Jesus. And if you've failed at your Lenten resolutions, begin again and again. Tomorrow's a new day!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

An American Tragedy

News of the school shooting in Florida was sickening. This type of tragedy is typically American and people are quick to blame the gun. Yes, but there's a person behind that gun. And that is whom we have to address. A few years ago, at the thrift-store I picked up We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. The moment I began to read the first pages, I knew I was in the hands of a master storyteller. The premise was good--nature vs. nurture, a mother's sorrow of the crime her own flesh committed. Layers upon layers. And the end is devastating--it is even more horrifying than what I knew at the beginning of the book. It is a descent into hell getting to know Kevin. He is probably the smartest person in the whole book, but he's evil. A psychopath. I think perhaps we all should read this book if we want to understand how these killers are made in our society. 

Our pastor gave some good thoughts on the first Sunday of Lent. We heard the powerful account of how Jesus was tempted in the desert before He began His public ministry. We need to repent, re-form ourselves into Christ, start over--give up sinning, bad habits, bad attitudes. Believe in the Gospel. Father spoke about how each and every one of us has to change, so that the change can come about in our communities and our nation. First, we have to reform how we care for the mentally ill. Many are in prison; many are homeless. Second, our attitude towards guns. How is it that an 18-yr-old can buy a military-grade weapon? Third, our media glorifies violence. Fourth, the family is being destroyed; many children do not have a stable home environment. Fifth, we live in a culture of death. We have lost respect for life. He said something very interesting: Evil is always crazy. It's the absurdity of sin--we choose to sin even though we know it won't make us happy. So change begins with each and every one of us.

Archbishop Chaput said it best at the end of his short statement: “This is Lent. As a people, we have a lot to repent and confess. And let’s not lie to ourselves that tighter gun restrictions — as vital and urgent as they now are — will solve the problem. We’ve lost our respect for human life on a much broader scale, and this is the utterly predictable result.”

I'm praying for all of us to have a blessed and fruitful Lent. Saint Francisco and Saint Jacinta, pray for our children and pray for us!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Happy St. Valentine's Day

Putting on of Ashes, Missal à l'usage de Saint-Didier d'Avignon, c. 1370 
Memento homo, quia pulvis es et in pulverem reverteris:

Remember man, you are dust and to dust you shall return.

The children's writing community is shaken from the allegations of sexual harassment. But we are no different than others in the entertainment industry. Just because we write about bunnies doesn't mean that we haven't breathed the same air that puts Hugh Hefner on a pedestal. We live in a culture that objectifies women and women are sick of it and finally pushing back. But until we can see people as people and stop using them like things, nothing is going to change. 

Although I have never been harassed at a writer's conference (there are perks to being older and wiser), I have observed and heard inappropriate comments by the few men in attendance. I was grateful that it wasn't as bad as it was in academia/science where women were in the minority. Alas, these days, in our efforts to be just like men, it's not unusual to hear equally crass jokes from women. Sigh. I do hope that bringing this infection to the surface is going to allow us all to heal. Lord, help us to stop sinning.    

The antidote is, of course, real love. In the preparation for Lent we heard the passage from 1 Cor 13:4-8 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.  It's fitting that this St. Valentine's Day falls on Ash Wed. I include a link for a wonderful article on dying to self for love. Wishing you a happy St. VaLENTine's Day. God bless.   

Friday, February 9, 2018

Immaculee Ilibagiza -- Light and Salt

Last Friday, we had the wonderful opportunity to listen to Immaculee Ilibagiza, author of LEFT TO TELL, a miraculous story of hope and forgiveness during the Rwandan holocaust of 1994. I'd read the book a few years ago when a good friend recommended it to me, and then Max read it in his Theology class. We both agreed that it's grace from God that allows a person to forgive such heinous crimes. Briefly, in 1994, when the plane carrying the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down, within the hour, Hutus began killing Tutsis. It had been well-orchestrated. The world did not intervene to stop this massacre--I remember hearing the news and could not understand why nobody would stop the killing--and by the time they did, three months later, 1 million people lay hacked, shot, or burned to death. It was neighbor against neighbor. People forgot their friendships. Immaculee says hatred masked any and all love and the truth. She prayed what Jesus prayed on the Cross, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do."

This short video: gives a good summary and this slightly longer one shows how and where Immaculee, along with other women, survived:  and this short article explains the conflicts between the two so-called tribes. And our local newspaper did a wonderful write-up of the event.

Briefly, Immaculee's parents were prominent teachers in their community, devout Catholics. People came to them for advice but they only had their faith. She said that her father told her to go to a Protestant preacher's house. He was Hutu and would keep her safe. He put her in a tiny bathroom (3 ft x 4 ft) off his bedroom. She said, "I can't stay here. It's too small." But no matter. Things can always get worse. He returned with five more women. And later still, with two more. They had to be absolutely quiet and they stayed like that, sitting, standing, sleeping on top of one another for 91 days! The preacher would bring a plate of food whenever he could and the eight women would share the meal.

After a week, she was fed up with the fear and anger and sorrow in her heart. The preacher kept a radio in the bedroom so that they could hear the news. Private radio stations were used to propagate hate. They were giving away prizes for the most number of Tutsis killed.

She had the presence of mind to ask for a Bible from her protector. He gave her one and she already had her father's rosary. Prayer brought peace. She prayed many rosaries each day. I loved how she explained it--the rosary is simply meditating upon the life of Jesus with His mother Mary in a very organized manner. And Mary really teaches her to pray--to pray with her heart. She'd being with "Our Father" and get stuck.  "Are we really all His children? No, no, no. Not the evil people who are trying to kill us. Alas, they too are God's children and He loves them." That simple "our" helped her to see her would-be killers as her brothers. In our Lord's Prayer, we ask to be forgiven as we have forgiven those who've trespassed against us. This is the verse that she could not pray. So she skipped it. However, Our Lord is very patient and eventually Immaculee was able to ask for the desire to forgive and later was able to forgive those who killed all her family (except for one brother who was out of the country at the time).

She told a very interesting story about Our Lady of Kibeho. It is the only Marian apparition that has been approved on the continent of Africa and the message from our Lady is not just for Rwanda or Africa but for the whole world. She appeared to three young girls and encouraged them to pray from the heart, take the faith seriously, and to love one another. She showed them visions of what would happen--the massacre--if the people did not turn to God. Immaculee remembers this from the time she was a child, how the girls shook from the terrible visions they had. This was twelve years before the massacre.

This is the same message of Fatima--return to God. But we don't listen. Immaculee is trying to change that. She is light and salt with her message of hope and forgiveness, without which there can be no peace. Parce, parce, Domine!