Friday, August 29, 2014

St. John the Baptist

"The time is accomplished, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe the gospel." (Mk 1:15) Every time I read this verse, I think of Charlton Heston playing St. John the Baptist and dunking two soldiers at a time in the Jordan in The Greatest Story Ever Told. But I will post some older artwork for your viewing pleasure. 

I found these prayers in honor of St. John the Baptist so very beautiful. They are in three parts, commemorating his decision to live a life of penance, his preaching to prepare the way of the Lord, and his martyrdom (that we remember today). He is a prophet for all time.


Reynolds, 1776
V. O glorious St. John the Baptist,
R. Greatest prophet among those born of woman, * although thou wast sanctified in thy mother’s womb * and didst live a most innocent life, * nevertheless it was thy will to retire into the wilderness, * there to devote thyself to the practice of austerity and penance; * obtain for us of thy Lord the grace to be wholly detached, * at least in our hearts, * from earthly goods, * and to practice Christian mortification with interior recollection * and with the spirit of holy prayer.
V. St. John the Baptist, precursor of Christ, R. Pray for us.
V. St. John the Baptist, shining lamp of the world, R. Pray for us.
V. St. John the Baptist, angel of purity before thy birth, R. Pray for us.

Tiepelo, 1732
V. O most zealous Apostle,
R. Who, without working any miracle on others, * but solely by the example of thy life of penance * and the power of thy word, * didst draw after thee the multitudes, * in order to dispose them to receive the Messias worthily * and to listen to His heavenly doctrine; * grant that it may be given unto us, * by means of the example of a holy life * and the exercise of every good work, * to bring many souls to God, * but above all * those souls that are enveloped in the darkness of error and ignorance * and that are led astray by vice.
V. St. John the Baptist, intrepid preacher of truth, R. Pray for us.
V. St. John the Baptist, voice crying in the wilderness, R. Pray for us.
V. St. John the Baptist, miracle of mortification and penance, R. Pray for us.

Orley, 1500s
V. O Martyr invincible,
R. Who, for the honor of God and the salvation of souls, * didst with firmness and constancy * withstand the impiety of Herod * even at the cost of thine own life, * and didst rebuke him openly * for his wicked and dissolute life; * by thy prayers obtain for us a heart, * brave and generous, * in order that we may overcome all human respect * and openly profess our faith * in loyal obedience to the teachings of Jesus (☨) Christ, * our divine Master.
V. St. John the Baptist, example of profound humility, R. Pray for us.
V. St. John the Baptist, great defender of holy matrimony, R. Pray for us.
V. St. John the Baptist, glorious martyr of zeal for God’s holy law, R. Pray for us.

V. O God, we rejoice at the apostolate of Saint John the Baptist, through whom we came to know our Redeemer and King. Through his intercession we implore... (Name Your Request) V. We offer this prayer to Thee (☨) God the Father, through Christ Our Lord, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God forever and ever. R. Amen.

Conclude with an Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My Writing Process Blog Tour

riding-the-flume I first got to know Patty in the pages of the ICL newsletter chock full of writing tips and marketing information. A last name like Pfitsch really pops. She’s the author of the MG novels Riding the Flume and Keeper of the Light and also numerous articles and short stories. You can read more at her blog Brooklyn Bound, where she chronicles her adventures in the Big City after being a farmer in Wisconsin for 30 years. All for the love of a child. Grandparents are really wonderful.

I was delighted when she asked me to participate in this blog tour. Being a process junkie, I hopped on the bandwagon right away. Thanks Patty.

1) What are you working on?
After a summer of scribbling in my notebook, sipping tea on my back porch (am I approaching the stereotype of a Southern writer yet?) and writing on the go – in the park, at the beach, in the car – it is nice to sit in my office and finally do a bit of productive writing. I am revising a nonfiction children’s book and a contemporary young-adult novel, and for fun, playing with some picture-book texts. I realize this makes me sound like a dabbler, but I've always juggled multiple projects, allowing me no time for writer's block. Like housework, there is always something on my desk that needs attention. 
2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
I don’t really know how to answer this. Most of my nonfiction is commercial and market driven but I bring my own sensibility of the topic to it. The current nonfiction book is a memoir, so only *I* can write it! I have written personal essays but this is the first time I’m writing one especially for children. Since I’m bound by a nondisclosure clause, mum’s the word. The young-adult novel is different from many other contemporary YAs because it is a story about making deep personal sacrifices, which is countercultural in today’s world, especially in YA, which tends to be more self-centered. You see self-sacrifice much more in MG fiction than in YA, but I believe teenagers are capable of greatness too.
3) Why do you write what you do?
I write to understand. I write to give a voice to the voiceless. I write to educate and to entertain.
4) How does your writing process work?
I've always had too many ideas. Perhaps this is why I enjoy writing short stories and articles. It satisfies my curiosity. Usually an idea takes hold of me and will not let go. I know when I keep circling it in my notebook (the old fashioned kind, made of paper) that it's time to switch to the computer and give those amorphous thoughts some structure, but I tend to do my best thinking on paper. My hand knows stuff that even my brain cannot figure out how to access.

Nonfiction is much easier for me to write. The story is already there and all that I’m doing is trying to figure out what it is that I want to highlight. I typically make an outline, and these are very detailed, but this helps me to see the flow of information, whether it is logical, whether I am going from simple to complex, etc. And in the outline form, I can see some overarching ideas emerging. I write an exploratory draft and by the end of it, I usually know how I will present it. Then I revise so that everything points to the big idea I'm trying to convey. I’m usually working with an editor at some point, so we go back and forth. And having to explain things clarifies them for me. I have been blessed with wonderful editors who ask the right questions and help me to bring depth to the manuscript. 
For short fiction, I write the story in one fell swoop. It’s only after I finish that I figure out what the story really is about. Then come many rounds of revisions until I am happy with it. I will send it off to my critique partners, who will point out the various blunders and help me to make the story better. I'm happy to say that by the time it gets to the editor, there are very few revision passes, if any.
For novel-length fiction, the process is similar, though it may take years for a story to gel. Once I am committed to writing a story, I try to outline it roughly so I have a road map of sorts. I know the beginning and ending and some of the high points of the story. I have written two novels and for both, and I'm embarrassed to say I didn't know what the story really was about until after a few drafts. But once I know, revisions go  faster. My critique partners are wonderful because they keep me honest. I tend to be plot driven and they always question whether my character would do something I want them to.
I make the process sound easy, but the truth is, writing is hard for me. I fight with myself about what I want to write. Ideas and story-people compete for attention. Time is limited. I procrastinate. Pray. Pet the cat. Go for a walk with my dog. Watch the children. Play the piano. Cook. Clean. And read, read, read. But all these activities somehow help me to figure out the stories. As you can see, I don’t often know what’s in my head until I start writing, so it is a messy process, with false starts, sputtering and choking. But somehow I manage to write … with the help of saints and angels, the "mews" giving me love bites, and just keeping at it even when the writing doesn't feel like it's going well. I am tenacious to a fault, but I always feel better when I write and figure things out. There's a satisfaction that is unparalleled in getting a story just right. I'm very thankful to have a writing life with my family. 
I am going to tag three of my favorite writer buds -- Marcia Hoehne, Faith Hough and Nancy Butts. I know Marcia is taking a blog break but I have powers of persuasion! She is a mystery-writer extraordinaire. I can’t wait to see her books in print! Faith is raising four little women and still manages to write gorgeous historical fiction (I don’t think she sleeps much). And Nancy taught me how to write a big story. I will always be thankful to her for all the time and effort she put into me. Please consider adding Spontaneous Combustion to your writing library ... I have pulled it out several times already. All three of these women inspire me to do my best. If you’d like to share your writing process, consider yourself tagged and play. Please let me know so I can share a link.

Happy reading, writing and ruminating, y'all.

Friday, August 22, 2014

On Meekness and Humility

Learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart; and you shall find rest in your souls. Matthew 11:29

THE PHARISEE AND THE PUBLICAN, historiated initial 'D' on a leaf from an ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT GRADUAL ON VELLUMThis month St. Alphonsus exhorts us to be humble. I have been reading and re-reading this chapter because I struggle so much with this. The moment I attain some level of humility, I am proud of it. I am like the Pharisee who says, "thank God I'm not like those other people ..." I used to say all the time, "I could be much worse" and continued with my sinful ways feeling quite superior to others. I didn't have a contrite heart at all. Now, I am appalled at my past. I am like the publican who says, "O Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner." But pride still rears its ugly head too often.

St. Alphonsus says:

"Humility is called by the saints the foundation and safeguard of all the virtues. If it is not the most prominent among the virtues, it occupies, according to St. Thomas, the first place as the foundation of the rest. In the erection of a building, the basement comes before the walls and pillars, even though the latter be of gold. And so in the spiritual life humility must precede everything else in order to banish pride, to which God is so opposed.

"The Son of God descended from Heaven to teach man by word and example the value of humility, and with this end in view He went so far as to 'empty himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man. He humbled himself ... even to the death of the cross.' Phil 2:7. His first appearance on earth was in the humble stable of Bethlehem; the greater portion of His mortal life was spent in humble retirement at Nazareth. He departed this life, humbled and despised, on the summit of Mt. Calvary.

"'Lord, give me the treasure of humility,' prayed St. Augustine. Humility is called a treasure because the Lord sees to it that the humble abound in good things. When man's heart is full of himself, there is no room for God's gifts. Man must therefore, as it were, be emptied of himself by the knowledge of his own nothingness. 'He that is mighty hath done great things to me,' said the Blessed Virgin Mary, 'because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid.' Luke 1:48.

"Humility and meekness were the favorite virtues of Jesus Christ and He recommended them in a particular manner to His disciples when He said, 'learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart; and you shall find rest in your souls.' Matthew 11:29 

"Our Divine Redeemer was called the "Lamb of God," not only on account of the Sacrifice He was to make of Himself on the Cross in expiation for sin, but also on account of the meekness that characterized His whole life and particularly during His bitter Passion. 

"When He hung upon the Cross and His enemies loaded Him with insults and ignominy, He turned to His heavenly Father and said, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Luke 23:34.

"How dear to God are those meek souls who bear all manner of offenses and indignities without giving way to anger!"

St. Alphonsus reminds us that even when we must discipline, we must do it with meekness. Like the good Samaritan, we must heal the wound with oil and wine.

"Meekness accomplishes far more than anger and bitterness."

Finally, St. Alphonsus reminds us to be meek towards ourselves, when we have committed a fault. "To be angry with oneself after committing a fault is not a sign of humility, but of secret pride; it shows that we do not regard ourselves as the weak and wretched creatures that we really are. St. Aloysius said, the devil likes to fish in troubled waters, where we can distinguish nothing.

Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val"We must turn to the Lord with humility and confidence. We must do as the Apostles did when they were tossed about by the stormy sea; they had instant recourse to their Divine Master; He alone can still the storms of the human heart."

This post is rather long, and bless you if you read it all the way. This chapter has been a turning point in my path to holiness. I hope it will be of help to you as well.

I leave you with the Litany of Humility by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930)  -- it is one of the most difficult prayers to recite and I still cannot pray it with my whole heart. Dear friends, pray for me and I will pray for thee. 

O Jesus meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, Jesus.
That others may be loved more than I,
   Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I,
   Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That in the opinion of the world, others may increase, and I may decrease,
   Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
   Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
   Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
   Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I become as holy as I should,
   Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

For the Best 20 Years of My Life

What can I say, but "Thank You!" Marriage, children, and our Catholic faith are forever. On the Feast of St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, I'm looking forward to celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary with Mass, a summer concert, and a small supper afterwards. I don't think it's coincidence that he is the patron saint of families, or that our firstborn is named Max, or that we share several important dates and devotions. All this was unknown to us at the time of our marriage ... but I don't think we choose saints. They choose us. 

Here we are, five years ago, after receiving the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. How we've grown!!! The graces have been overflowing. I wish we'd done this 30 years ago!

I was reading about weddings in the time of Jesus on the ADW blog and came across this beautiful Palestrina: Surge, propera, amica mea. Enjoy!

Friday, August 8, 2014


Every once in a while I come across a book that is so breathtaking, I wonder whether I should even be writing. But then I remember that even my small, domestic stories have a place in the world, with the capacity to touch another heart, and I again resume studying and writing.

I assume most people know of the brilliant Artemis Fowl series of books by Eoin Colfer, but perhaps many do not know of AIRMAN. This is historical fiction at its best. We meet the hero when he is born -- in a balloon -- and follow him through his childhood on the Saltee Islands until he becomes a man. And what a devastating journey it is to manhood. We despair with him, we rejoice with him, we may even disagree with him and the choices he makes, but in the end, his good nature prevails over the vilest of men (and poetically too) and he saves his family from the murderous villain (aptly named). Boys and girls who love adventure, a tale steeped in science and lore, are sure to love this book.

I want to mention a couple of other books on writing. I had checked out Flannery O'Connor's MYSTERY AND MANNERS twice from the library and when I was thinking of it a third time, I decided I needed to own it. Her essay on Writing Short Stories is worth the price of the entire book. Reading this book is like sitting with a good friend and a master storyteller.

Some quotes from her essay:

"When you can state the theme of the story, when you can separate it from the story itself, then you can be sure the story is not a very good one."

"When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story. The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experienced meaning ..."

It should give us pause as to how we teach writing, no? I try to be mindful of this when I do workshops with kids, giving them tools to write and express themselves, but above all emphasizing the "habit of art" so that they can go about their day looking for meaning in all they experience. 

I am also enjoying the essays ON MORAL FICTION by John Gardner. He is provocative and does not hesitate to criticize his peers. This passage struck me deeply:

"I agree with Tolstoy that the highest purpose of art is to make people good by choice. But I do think bad art should be revealed for what it is whenever it dares to stick its head up, and I think the arguments for the best kind of art should be mentioned from time to time, because our appreciation of the arts is not wholly instinctive. If it were, our stock of bad books, paintings, and compositions would be somewhat less abundant."

Both authors speak about not being didactic or preachy, but allowing one to discover what is good, and true, and beautiful, so that the reader goes through the process with the writer.

Happy reading and writing folks.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Missing Flannery: A Road Trip

A lovely friend from Church offered to stay with our pets, so we all took a road trip to Memphis to visit my brother. We didn't have a whole lot of time for sightseeing but we know the places we'll stop in the future. So the biggest job was deciding where to eat ... and boy did we eat. We were piggies!  



 Alabama has got to be the most beautiful state ... so green and lush! We got a chance to attend Mass at EWTN. What a beautiful little chapel. I should've taken a picture when we first arrived and it was very brightly lit. But still you can see some of the beauty as the pilgrims pray the rosary. The outdoor shrine was also lovely. I bawled throughout Mass... it was the Feast of St. Martha and you can see why here.

In Memphis, finally, with my brother. We shared a lot of laughs and memories and it was good to see him polish off a Big Leonard!

We headed off to Nashville and even though we had all good intentions to get up early to attend Mass with the Dominican nuns of St. Cecilia, there were no heroic moments. We stayed up too late visiting with good friends of Michael's parents. So lovely to be taken care of so completely and to meet various members of the family. Their two little great-grandkids kept Max and Dagny fully occupied.

And then it was time to head on home. Max got quite a bit of high-speed driving experience which he loved. But I still prefer being able to hold hands with my sweetie. Half the fun of taking a road trip is the journey itself and seeing this beautiful country.

I could have titled this post: the places I didn't get to visit this summer. Andalusia, the farm where Flannery O'Connor wrote her stories and raised her peacocks, was a bit too out of the way and Michael knew if we stopped there, I wouldn't be satisfied just to look at her typewriter ... so we'll make a special trip just for that. Today is the 50th anniversary of her death so I offered a few prayers for her soul and asked for her prayers as well. Here is a beautiful article about her ... but better yet, read her stories, essays and letters. And if you are a writer, you must check out Mystery and Manners.

We also didn't go hiking or rafting in the Smokies. By the time we got there, we were exhausted and just wanted to get home. And it is always good to be home to our incredibly loving pets.